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Title: Collected Stories Vol. II
Author: Rafael Sabatini
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Language: English
Date first posted:  March 2013
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Collected Stories Vol. II

by

Rafael Sabatini


CONTENTS


Annabel's Wager
Gismondi's Wage
Intelligence
Out of the Dice Box
Playing with Fire
Sword and Mitre [a.k.a. Rendezvous]
The Act of Sequestration
The Captain of the Guard
The Copy Hunter
The Devourer of Hearts
The Driver of the Hearse
The Ducal Rival
The Duellist's Wife
The Dupes
The Locket
The Lottery Ticket
The Malediction
The Marquis' Coach
The Matamorphasis of Colin
The Night of Doom
The Red Owl
The Sacrifice
The Scourge
The Siege of Savigny
The Vicomte's Wager
Tommy


Annabel's Wager

London Magazine, March 1905

I once knew a man who, being under sentence of death, was fretted, the night before they hanged him, at having taken cold—which may serve as an instance of how it is not so much the greater of foreshadowed ills that harasses us as the more imminent. To this construction of the human mind I may set it down that, lying besieged in Penhilgon Castle, with the assurance that should we fall into the hands of the Roundheads that were besetting us there was an overwhelming likelihood of a short shrift in payment for our obstinate resistance, I was a thousand times more plagued and vexed by the coldness of Sir Andrew Penhilgon's daughter than by any contemplation of what might befall did His Majesty's move from Oxford fail to take place in time to save us.

You may say that I was a fool not to discern that a maid could hardly opine the season one for dalliance; but defer your judgment until you have heard what else I have to tell.

A time there had been when it had seemed that my suit with Annabel was like to prosper, and this it had done but for the coming to Penhilgon of Master Steele—a man as out of place in that stern garrison as a shaveling monk in a regiment of cavalry. He was a pretty fellow—thus much justice I will do his looks—but it would seem that Nature jested in that he had been born a man. At heart, I'll swear, he was a woman. He had a woman's daintiness of speech, a woman's mincing ways of gesture; like a woman, he inclined to the pursuit of flowers and verses, and he was stirred by all a woman's gentle horror of war and bloodshed. He started did a musket crack, and the flash of a drawn sword would make him blench and shudder, whilst the sight of blood turned him as squeamish as the sight of virtue might old Satan.

It was over-strange how Annabel, the child of a warlike race, should come to suffer the attentions of this feeble creature, scented like a nosegay and beribboned like a church in time of victory. Yet this she did; and whilst I went about my duties at the castle in sombre, jealous moodiness, and Sir James scowled damnably upon the business, Master Steele sunned himself in her smiles, walked with her in the quadrangle or upon the ramparts, sat with her at the spinet, and, in short, was never from her side. That he was named Steele was but another irony. Had I had the naming of him I would have called him Water.

Enough was Sir James put about by the siege, and I dared not intrude my grievance upon the anxiety wherewith already he was over-burdened. Moreover, for all that he disliked good Master Steele, yet were his views less rancorous than mine, for, after all, he was but Annabel's father; and a father is oft wont to be less troubled by his daughter's choice of a lover than are other men.

I stood one night upon the ramparts to the north, looking down upon the lights gleaming in the Parliamentarian lines, and wondering how soon the King would come. There was a bloody bandage about my head, for there had been sharp work that day, and though we had repulsed the enemy effectively for the time, yet the victory had been dearly bought in lives and limbs. Annabel approached me softly in the dark, and her voice was tender as a caress.

"My poor Jocelyn, does your head hurt?"

I started round, and, my mood being boorish and surly with jealousy "'Tis naught," said I. "The graze of a pike. A little more and it had made an end of me; yet I know gentler hands that deal wounds less bloody but more hurtful."

"'Tis perhaps that you wound yourself upon the weapons of those hands."

"Mistress," I answered, "I have not a poet's mind to grasp these nice distinctions. Master Steele," I went on, with my back turned, "I pray you make clear to me her meaning."

"To whom are you speaking?" she asked. "Master Steele is not here."

"Is he not!" I cried in feigned surprise, and turning as if to assure myself of his absence: "why, what hath chanced that he is not beside you? And just as I so needed him! Lackaday!"

"Jealousy lends you a poor wit," said she, "and outrivals Nature in making you a dullard."

"Madam," said I with a great dignity, "a wounded head is a not over-useful thing to think with."

She came a step nearer at that, but ere she could speak there was a heavy tread behind us, and Sir Andrew's voice.

"Is it not strange, Jocelyn," said the knight, "with what insistence they press us here on the northern side?"

"I had indeed remarked it," I replied. "Our weakness in this quarter cannot be apparent to them from without, yet, by a singular ill-chance, each attack has been directed against it."

"Ay," he growled sourly, "it would almost seem as if they had information from within."

"Impossible," I answered quickly.

"So you say, yet I cannot repress the suspicion. There is one here of whom we know but little save that he fled to us for shelter."

"Monstrous!" cried Annabel, divining of whom he spoke.

He laughed contemptuously, and looked to me for an answer.

I hesitated for a moment. The rivalry that lay between Steele and me made me pause before uttering what otherwise I had spoken boldly. Yet in the end, deeming the season other than one for scruples, and realising how much foundation there was for Sir Andrew's suspicion, "It might not be ill," I hazarded, "to apply some test."

"'Tis what I had thought," he agreed, whereupon Annabel cried "Monstrous" again; then turning to me, "'Tis cowardly in you," she exclaimed. "Master Steele is an honourable gentleman, and I would as soon suspect you of being the traitor."

I smiled wistfully, and held up my left hand, from which the two middle fingers had been lopped by a Puritan sword some months ago.

"'Od's life, Annabel," I answered, "I wear the signs of my loyalty for all to read."

"And so does he, for those that have discerning eyes. He is aglow with loyalty. Could you but see the verses he has written on the King—"

"Bah!" snarled Sir Andrew, rudely interrupting her.

"Verses are but words," said I, "and words need not express our true sentiments. Of what value, for instance, is a liar's word?"

"You dub him liar now!" she cried, with a woman's faculty for subverting a man's meaning. "I vow 'tis very noble of you!"

Whereupon, seeing how her mood had grown of that quality in which the merest word offends, I held my peace.

But coming later to ponder what Sir Andrew had said—and aided, maybe, in some unconscious way by my dislike for Steele—I grew more and more distrustful of the youth; to such a degree at last that, seeking Sir Andrew on the morrow, I counselled that some measure of test be applied.

"Do what you will," said he. "I mislike the coxcomb with his oily, insidious ways; and if you do no more than prove him a craven, and cure Annabel of her unaccountable kindness for him, 'twill be something."

He set his hand on my shoulder, and, letting his eyes meet mine, he sighed.

"Before he came to us it seemed that Annabel was growing fond of you, Jocelyn." Then, bracing himself: "Make your experiment, lad. Put him to some test; and may Heaven send you success, and prove him a rogue!"

With that encouragement I set to work. And, my plans being laid, I went in quest of good Master Steele that evening. I found him in one of the rooms overlooking the courtyard. He sat with Annabel, citing lines—whose virtues he was extolling—from the words of one Thomas Campion. Annabel, who reclined in a great chair, listened with great show of attention.

"Master Steele," said I, as politely as may be.

"Your servant, sir," said he, in a tone that implied the very contrary; then added that anon he would give me his attention. I told him, with a brevity that held more peremptoriness than wit, that my business could not wait, for it was desired that within an hour, as soon as it grew dark, he should leave the castle. Before I had got further Annabel was on her feet, and eyeing me with some show of anger.

"This is your doing, Jocelyn!" she exclaimed hotly.

"In a measure it may be; yet things are not as you think. There is no question of Master Steele's dismissal. On the contrary. I come from Sir Andrew to afford him an opportunity of very signally distinguishing himself, if he is minded to undertake the task I shall propose."

He was toying stupidly with a lock of his hair, his jaw fallen, and his cheeks, methought, a little paler than their wont.

"Master Steele," I resumed, seeing that he had no word to offer, "as you may in a measure realise, our circumstances here are growing sorely straitened, and we shall not be able to resist the crop-ears much longer. We have just had news that Rupert is at Stafford; and we require a messenger who, escaping the vigilance of the Puritans, will make his way to the Prince, and bring him with all despatch to our assistance. It is Sir Andrew's wish that you undertake this."

"But why send Master Steele?" cried Annabel. "He is not a soldier."

"Of that," I answered drily, "I was dimly aware. But for this work a messenger is needed, not a soldier."

Steele stood before me in a very stricken attitude; and from the fact that he betrayed no alacrity to be about the business, I already began to think that we had misjudged him; for, were he a spy, what easier than, upon leaving us, to join the Roundheads, and tell them of our plight, leaving the message to Rupert undelivered?

"But—but," he stammered, taken aback, "I am all unversed in these affairs. Were it not better, Master Varley, to employ one of the men of the garrison?"

"We can ill afford a single man," I answered; "though, even if we could, matters would be no better. We require someone who will carry a message by word of mouth, and not by letter; else, did our messenger fall into Puritan hands, our condition would be discovered. We require a gentleman who will permit himself to be hanged ere he will betray us; and we can think of no likelier person than yourself."

'Swounds! How those reassuring words of mine froze him with their foreshadowing of violence! Pale as the dead, and with eyes that would not meet my glance, he stood and spake no word—he whose tongue we knew for as glib and pert as that of a hostelry wench. Annabel was watching him; and as moments passed and still he uttered never a syllable, a frown of displeasure fell between her fine eyes.

"You will go, of course, Master Steele?" said she at last.

"Why—why, yes," he faltered, ashamed at least of the pusillanimity he was manifesting. "Since it is required of me, I'll go. You say that I am to be sent out in an hour?"

"As soon as it is dark," I answered.

Under pretence of making ready he left us upon the instant; and I never doubted but that it was shame that drove him to hide his palsied condition from Annabel's eyes.

Her wrath boiled up as he departed, and like a fury—the sweetest, loveliest, daintiest fury that ever graced the realms of Pluto—she turned upon me.

"I read your motive, Master Jocelyn," quoth she indignantly, "as plainly as though you had told me of it!"

"My motive, Madam," said I testily, "is to get a message to Rupert by means of Master Steele."

"Not so," she cried. "You sought but to prove him a coward in my eyes."

"And have I failed?"

"Most signally. For you see that he is prepared to go."

"He could be no less, in your presence, if he would not be branded a craven by you."

"You do him wrong," she cried, with loyal heat, "as you yourself shall confess. You think because he is not a bloodthirsty swaggerer of your own kidney, that he has no valour; because he prefers to smell of musk rather than to reek of leather, you account him a milksop. But already has he proven you wrong, for you see that he goes."

"Ay," I replied unguardedly. "But he shall prove me right ere the business is concluded."

"You confess it, then?" she cried in triumph.

I bit my lip, and swore softly to myself.

"Why, yes. It seems I do."

She measured me with her eyes for a moment, and a curious smile sat on her lips.

"Jocelyn," said she at last, "have you a mind to make a wager with me touching this?"

"A wager? I'll wager all I am possessed of. What do you lay against it?"

She was silent for a spell, and, turning half from me, she looked through the open window into the gathering dusk. Then: "You have oft wooed me, Jocelyn," she murmured, "have you not?"

"Why, yes; and until this milksop appeared it seemed that I did not do so quite in vain."

"And are you still of the same mind concerning me?" she asked.

The throb of my pulses quickened. I took an eager, yet hesitant, step in her direction, for with my sudden hopes were blended fears and doubt of her.

"Annabel!" I cried. But she waved me back, growing of a sudden very chill, and her answer fell calm and deliberate.

"So sure am I of Master Steele's high spirit, Jocelyn, that I am willing to wager myself against whatever you may incline to lay as of equal value that his courage will be proof against any test that you may apply to it."

"Done!" I cried hotly. "By my soul. I have naught of equal value, yet all I have I'll stake."

"You will be a poor man to-morrow, Jocelyn," she laughed.

"Mayhap," I answered, turning to depart in quest of Master Steele, "and, mayhap, a passing rich one."

From Sir Andrew himself did Steele receive his parting injunctions, and anon we saw him leave the castle by the postern-gate, despite his fears and tremors, and vanish into the darkness of the lowering night.

Now, the news that I had said we had of Rupert had been brought us by one Richard Cartwright—a nephew of Sir Andrew's—who had ridden from Stafford to reassure us with word that the Prince was moving to our relief, and should reach Penhilgon on the morrow. Since this Cartwright was unknown to Steele, I entrusted to him the leading part in the comedy that was about to be enacted, giving him for companions a half-dozen men taken from the stables, and likewise unknown to our coxcomb. We had tricked the men out in plain cuirasses and steel-pots, over scarlet coats, to give them the air of soldiers of the Commonwealth. And these knaves, having left the castle in advance of Master Steele, brought him back within a half-hour of his departure bound and blindfolded. They carried him to one of the lower rooms of the castle, which we had prepared with furnitures of a Puritanical severity, and where, with more troopers of a Parliamentarian aspect, Sir Andrew and I, in cloaks and steeple hats, awaited him. To the uncertain light and our shadowing headgear we trusted to go unrecognised; and, the better to ensure this, we stood not forward, but mingled in the crowd of men-at-arms. Annabel, too, was there by her own desire, but well in the background and the shadows, and wearing also a broad-brimmed hat and a long cloak.

We had strewn the place with accoutrements; and at a littered table Dick Cartwright—looking as sour and solemn a Puritan as ever discoursed through his nose—took his seat and ordered the bandage to be taken from the prisoner's eyes.

"Thy name, fellow?" Cartwright arraigned him harshly.

"Roland Steele, sir," faltered the poet.

"Art well named, you that come stealing here in the night like a devouring lion bearing down upon the fold of Israel. Confess art a spy sent out by that blasphemous, drunken, swaggering knight of hell, Sir Andrew Penhilgon—is't not so?" he roared.

"He's an eloquent man, on my soul," grunted Sir Andrew at my elbow.

As for the miserable Master Steele, who had more the look of a mouse than a lion, he fell to trembling very violently, and his eyes were open wide in affright.

"You are in error, sir," he cried. "By my every hope of heaven I swear I am no spy!"

"Are you not from the ogre's castle?"

"From Penhilgon? Yes, sir. But—but—I am a servant there, and—"

"A servant, thou, and in those garments?" bellowed Cartwright, the veins on his forehead swelling with the rage he simulated. "Liar, dost think to catch me with such a falsehood? Go capture an eagle with birdlime! 'Twill prove easier."

"You see," whispered Annabel, "that he is no Parliamentarian spy, else had he made himself known to them."

"I confess I had realised thus much," I answered. "Yet your wager with me touches his mettle rather than his loyalty. They are about to apply the test."

Already Cartwright was speaking. With much mention of the Lord of Hosts, and here and there a proverb interlarded, he was giving Steele the reassuring news that he was to be hanged at once.

"Take him away," he ended, with a wave of the hand, "and get it over speedily."

Then a wild, blood-curdling shriek rang through the apartment, and the coxcomb had fallen on his knees, and was mumbling an incoherent prayer for mercy, swearing with great readiness of oaths that he was no spy.

"Take him away," Cartwright repeated more peremptorily; and a couple of men advanced and laid rough hands upon him.

"Spare me, my masters," he shrieked. "I'll buy my life from you. I'll buy it with information that may be of value to you."

Cartwright raised his hand.

"Stay," he commanded, and the men fell back from the prisoner. "Now, sir, you grow more reasonable. What information have you? Come, sir."

"First promise me," said Steele, "that I shall go free if I tell you all I know."

"If you do that, and answer faithfully such further questions as I may put you, you shall go free," Cartwright promised.

Having received that assurance, Master Steele recounted how hard pressed we were, and so at the end of our tether that he was on his way to Stafford to urge Prince Rupert to hasten to our relief. He assured Cartwright that, did he press the castle without delay, it must fall, adding that on the northern side lay our weakness.

"The dastard!" Annabel breathed fiercely in my ear.

"Wait," said I. "It is not ended yet. He is to drink the cup of Judas to the dregs."

"Before I release you," said Cartwright to the prisoner, "there is a service of incalculable value you can render us, and which will satisfy me of your good intentions. You say that you left Penhilgon Castle by the postern-gate. Could you re-enter it by the same means?"

"Assuredly. If I make myself known to them they will readmit me."

He was speaking more calmly now that the shadow of impending doom was lightening.

"You shall do so then, and we will go with you. You shall return to the postern, and you shall announce that you have information of value for that ruffianly Sir Andrew's ear—news of importance to that godless, bottle-emptying Amalekite."

"His stock of epithets is passing vast," ...snorted Sir Andrew.

"They will open for you," pursued Cartwright, "and as they do so we will rush their gates. Thus shall the chosen ones of the Lord triumph over these Babylonians. You agree to this?" he demanded sharply.

Steele bowed his head in silence.

"Go, then," said the pseudo-Roundhead, rising. But, as the troopers made shift to lead him out, "Stay!" he commanded, "It were best to blindfold him. Once a traitor, always a traitor; and should he by any chance escape us, it will be best he shall have seen naught that he may anon betray."

I was with with them at the postern when, presently, after having borne him three times round the castle, we halted at the little gate, and the bandage was again removed from his eyes.

"'Tis here, is it not?" whispered Cartwright.

He peered about him in the gloom.

"Yes," he answered softly. "It is here." And, urged by Cartwright, who was on his right, he stepped up to the gate and knocked noisily. I myself was close upon his other side, confident that in the dark, and my face all hidden by my Puritan hat, he would not know me.

He was hailed from within, and in reply he called upon them to open.

"Who are you?" demanded the sentry, and as he seemed to hesitate I gripped him suddenly by the arm to urge him.

He shuddered in my grasp; for a second he faltered; then, to our ineffable amazement, "Let Sir Andrew look to his gates!" he cried in a loud voice. "The enemy is here! God save His Majesty!"

That said, he stood in an attitude of fearsome expectancy, as well he might; for had we been the Roundheads we represented ourselves, a dozen sword-thrusts had laid him stark at once.

For a moment the surprise of it had robbed me of speech. When at last I recovered, I did a thing in which I take pride to this day. I clapped him on the shoulder, and, "Bravely spoken, Master Steele," quoth I warmly. "I crave your pardon for the wrong I have done you in holding you a coward, and submitting you to this test."

And then the door of the postern swung open, and lanterns gleamed within, disclosing—among the men-at-arms assembled there—Sir Andrew and Annabel awaiting us. On our shoulders we bore him into the castle, acclaiming him a hero as we went; and that same night a banquet was held at Penhilgon, whereat he sat in the place of honour, 'twixt Sir Andrew and Annabel, flushed with victory, and acknowledging with smiles the toasts that again and again were drunk in his honour and to his heroism. Annabel sat beside him, smiling and treating him with a kindness perchance the greater because she sought to make amends for the moment's doubt that she, too, had entertained. On every hand was laughter, mirth, and song, for wine flowed over-freely, until the only glum countenance at that jovial board was mine. For what manner of wager had I not lost? And how much had I not stood to win?

At last, towards midnight, the company rose, and the men sought their beds, the greater part of them lurching uncertain 'neath their load of wine. I was going by way of the southern rampart to my own apartments when suddenly I came upon our hero giving Annabel "Good-night." I was in too sombre a mood to desire aught but to escape unobserved, and so I flattened myself in the angle of a buttress, waiting for them to leave me a clear way to depart. But as it chanced they turned and came in my direction, so that I was forced to overhear what passed. Steele's loud voice and the thickness of his utterance placed his condition beyond doubt.

"It may be a goodly thing to have thews and sinews and a knowledge of arms," he was boasting, "but meseems I've proven it a greater thing to have a generous share of mother-wit and a quick brain."

"How so?" she asked.

"Why, 'slife," he laughed, with a hiccough, "when that jealous dog Jocelyn Varley gripped my arm at the postern, a slow-reasoning, dull-witted clod would have profited nothing. But on the instant I knew the touch of that maimed stump of his, and detected the two missing middle fingers. I tell you, sweet Annabel—"

"More than enough you have already told me!" she broke in, with a fierceness of which even I hardly thought her capable—and heaven knows I had tasted the edge of her temper more than once. "You craven, you cheat, you hound!" she cried. "And you sat at table and let them make a hero of you! Why, you—"

"Nay, nay! I vow I'll—" he began, all of a sudden all subdued, and awake to the indiscretion he had committed.

"I vow you'll leave Penhilgon Castle at daybreak," she cried firmly. "Else will I tell them what you are; and you may come to know the sting of a rope-end, or worse, ere you are driven forth. Now go, and never let me see you—"

"On my soul, blood and wounds, you go too far!" His voice grew threatening and he stepped towards her.

"You would dare? Go!" I heard her say again; and, thinking it high time to show myself, I stepped out into the moonlight.

"Did I hear this lady bid you go, good Master Steele?" I asked him sweetly. "I pray you obey her." And so, prompted, maybe, by the generous share of mother-wit he boasted, he took his departure without more ado.

When he was gone Annabel turned to me, and hung her head.

"It seems, that, after all, I have lost my wager," said she.

"Annabel," said I very tenderly—for methought that haply she might have cared a little for Master Steele, and that his vileness had hurt her—"if you regret your wager we will forget you made it."

Her eyes flashed me a sudden look I could not understand.

"Fool!" she said, and, turning on her heel, she would have left me, but that I put forth my hand and caught her.

"Annabel," I pleaded, "Annabel!"

"Would you have the wager forgotten?" she asked and her voice trembled never so lightly.

"Would I? I stand to gain much, Annabel. The best there is to be gained in life. But you—"

"Think you I had risked so much had I not been disposed to chance the losing?" she broke in.

With a cry I drew her to me, forgetting the wager and how else I had come to wring that confession from her lips; for when we have gained what we desire it is the way of our weak nature to forget the means by which we have gained it.


>Gismondi's Wage

Cosmopolitan Magazine, January, 1910.

Benvenuto Gismondi, thief and scoundrel, sat his horse, breathing hard and grinning. Supine and cruciform, with arms flung wide, lay Messer Crespi in the snow, grinning, too, but breathing not at all. Midway between Forli and Rimini, on the long road that, coming from beyond Bologna, runs southeastward to the sea in a line of rare directness, had this murder been committed in the full glare of a brilliant January noontide. And no witness was in sight as far as eye could reach, onward toward the hazy spires of distant Rimini, or backward in the direction of Forli.

So, well content, Ser Benvenuto, grinning under the shadow of his morion, got him down from his horse to reap the profit of his morning's work. What though in falling the dying man had cursed him? It is true that Benvenuto's superstitious soul had quaked under the awful malediction from those writhing lips, but only for an instant. He was as nimble with spiritual as with lethal tools, and to avert his victim's curse he had crossed himself devoutly, and devoutly breathed a prayer to our Lady of Loreto, whose ardent votary he had ever been. Moreover, he wore armor against such supernal missiles as the moribund had hurled at him: the scapulary of the Confraternity of Saint Anne hung upon his breast and back, beneath his shirt, to turn the edge of any curse, however keenly barbed.

Easy therefore in mind and conscience he got him down into the snow, all trampled and slushy where their horses had circled in the fight, and having tethered his own beast he fetched Messer Crespi's a cruel cut across the hams that sent it off at the gallop in the direction of Forli. Next he applied himself to the garnering of the spoil. The dead gallant was richly arrayed; it was this very richness of his raiment that had caught in passing the eye of Ser Benvenuto and lured him by its promise. But the raiment that had erstwhile tempted, mocked him now; for his prize, it seemed, was gilt, not solid gold. He rose from an unfruitful search cursing the poverty of the dead man's pockets, cursing himself for the risk he had run in so poor a cause, and weighing in his palm a trumpery jewel he had plucked from Crespi's cap and a silken purse containing but some five gold pieces. Then in a frenzy, half disappointed rage, half greed, he returned to his investigations; carefully, piece by piece, he examined his victim's garments, nor paused until he reached his skin, but all in vain. Then he bethought him of the dead man's boots. He dragged them off and, handsome though they were, tore them soles from uppers, in the ardor of his search. He had all but flung them from him in despair when a certain stiffness in the leg of one arrested him.

There came a gleam into his foxy, close-set eyes; thoughtfully he rubbed his lean long nose and leered. His perseverance had been, it seemed, rewarded. To rip the outer leather from its lining was an instant's work. He withdrew a package composed of several sheets of paper. With disappointment rising anew, he spread one of these. Swiftly his eye played over it. It was a letter couched in Latin, and from that letter it was that he learned his victim's name. But more he learned, for Ser Benvenuto had been reared for the Church by a doting mother, and had. not yet forgotten the knowledge he had gained of the Latin tongue; he learned sufficient to make his eyes to gleam anew. He had chanced upon something that might be worth a hundred times its weight in gold. But not here, not on the open road and in the glare of light from the sun-drenched snow, would he investigate his prize. He stuffed the papers into the bosom of his doublet, and climbed back into his saddle.

His spurs dripping blood he rode his cruelly-punished horse some three hours later into the town of Rimini, and drew rein at the Osteria del Sole. He had a way of command with him, had Messer Gismondi, despite his sinister face, half wolf, half fox, and though a courtier might have mistaken him for a lackey, a lackey would certainly have mistaken him for a courtier. The host of the Sole received him with all deference, and since the common room was thronged with Borgian soldiery, for the Duke of Valentinois was in the town, he set a room apart for Messer Gismondi's convenience. There for an hour the rascal pored over those documents, mastering the details of a plot aimed at the very life of the Lord Cesare Borgia himself—details that the Lord Cesare should pay for handsomely.

He would not stay to sup, but rising presently he took up his cloak and there and then directed his steps to the Palazzo, where his highness lay. After much questioning—for Duke Cesare had grown cautious since the plot of Sinigaglia some weeks ago—he was at last admitted to the Borgia's presence, to tell of the discovery upon which he had chanced.

The duke, a slender, shapely man, finely featured, auburn haired and with beautiful restless eyes whose glance smote fear into the rascally soul of Messer Gismondi, listened gravely to his tale and scanned the papers which the masnadiero set before him. But surely his nature had been misrepresented to Gismondi, for he betrayed none of the ferocious satisfaction that the latter had looked see in him. Instead he posed Gismondi a question that almost turned the villain sick with sudden apprehension, so cold, so deadly cold, was Duke Cesare's voice.

"How came you by these papers?"

Gismondi paled; he stammered; he was unprepared for this. He could scarce conceive that he had heard aright. He had brought the duke proof and details of a plot against his life—a plot involving some of the best blood in Italy, a plot so far-reaching that scarce a subjected state of any consequence but was sending its envoy to the assassin's gathering that was to take place that very night in Rimini. Yet the duke could pause coldly to ask him how he came by those papers, as though so small a thing could matter where so great an one was at issue.

Observing his confusion, Cesare smiled, and his smile was the deadliest that Gismondi had ever seen. It turned the scoundrel's soul to water; it froze the marrow in his spine. He felt his skin roughening like a dog's; he sought in vain to dissemble the terror glaring from his eyes; but the duke's smile grew and grew till it ended in a laugh, short and terrible as a note of doom.

"I see," he said, and pushed the papers back across the table to Gismondi. "What is your name?" And under the play of those awful, beautiful eyes Gismondi answered truth, feeling that he dared not lie, that to lie was idle.

Cesare nodded shortly. "Take you these papers of which in the way of your scoundrel's trade you have become possessed. Memorize their contents. Then go at midnight—as the letter appoints—to the Palazzo Mattoli. Play the part of Messer Crespi, and bring me news tomorrow of what these conspirators intend and who their associates elsewhere."

Gismondi fell back a pace, his cheeks blanching. "My lord," he cried, "my lord, I dare not."

Cesare shrugged his shoulders "Oh, as you please," said he most sweetly, and raising his voice, "Lorenzo!" he called.

The captain in steel who had stood by the door all ears came sharply to attention. The duke made a sign.

"Wait, magnificent!" cried the masnadiero, startled by this fresh terror. "If I do this thing—" he began, and stopped appalled by the very contemplation of it.

"If you do this thing," said Cesare, answering the uncompleted question, "we will not inquire into the death of Messer Crespi. Our forgetfulness shall be your wage. Fail me or refuse the task and the hoist shall extract confession from you, and the hangman make an end of you. The choice is yours," he ended, his tone most amiable.

Gismondi stared and stared to that beautiful young face, so mockingly impassive. His terror gave way to a dull rage, and but for the presence of that captain in steel he might not have curbed his impulse to attempt upon the duke to anticipate the work of Messer Crespi's friends. He cursed his folly in setting trust in the gratitude of princes; he mocked his own credulity in thinking that his tale would be received with joy and purchased at more gold than he could carry. In the end he staggered out of the Palazzo pledged to betake himself at midnight to the house of Mattoli at the imminent risk of his life, and assured that he would be watched and that did he fail to perform the task he had undertaken the risk to his life would be more imminent still.

He spent the interval closeted in that room of his at the Osteria del Sole, poring over the papers that had been his ruin, and learning by heart—as Duke Cesare had urged him—the matters they contained that he might be well instructed in his fearful role.

Midnight found him at a wicket that opened into the garden of the Palazzo Mattoli. He was muffled in a black cloak, a black vizor on his face; for his papers told him—and he gathered some comfort from the knowledge—that the conspirators were to present themselves in masks. The Palazzo Mattoli, be it known, was at the time untenanted, and had therefore been chosen for this secret meeting. Gismondi boldly thrust the gate open, and went in.

A tall figure, black in the faint luminosity the night gathered from the snow, confronted him. "Good evening, friend," the stranger greeted him, and Gismondi was conscious of a thrill of fear. Nevertheless he answered bravely with the countersign in which he had schooled himself.

"It would be a better evening were it warmer."

"Warmer for whom?" the other catechized him. Yet, following his instructions, Gismondi answered not until the question was repeated: "Warmer for whom? A corpse might find it warm enough."

"A corpse shall find it so ere the winter's done," Gismondi answered, at which the guardian of that place stood aside, and bade him go forward to the house. Already others were advancing from the gate; but Gismondi stayed not to look at them. He pushed on as he had been bidden. He bent his steps to the small doorway that had been indicated in Crespi's papers. He pushed the door, and it fell open. He entered, closed it after him, and groped his way forward through Stygian darkness till, of a sudden, strong hands gripped him and brought him to a halt. Despite himself he was afraid; yet, mastering his growing terror, he answered in a steady voice the questions that were set him, and so won through.

He was led forward, a guiding hand upon his wrist, round a corner and on until at last they came to a halt. There was a creak, and suddenly he was blinking in the blaze of light that smote him through the open door of a vast apartment. His companion thrust him swiftly across the threshold, and he heard the door closed softly again behind him. The sound chilled him, suggesting to his fevered mind the closing of a trap. He heartened himself with the reflection that he had learned his lesson well; he persuaded himself that he had naught to fear, and he went forward into a handsome and lofty chamber, that had been the late Count Mattoli's library. The room was tenanted by seven other plotters masked and muffled as was he, and they sat apart and silent like so many beccamorti. He found himself a chair, sat down and waited, glad enough that the secrecy of these proceedings precluded intercommunion. And presently others came, as he had come, and like himself each held himself aloof from his fellow plotters.

At last the door was opened to admit one who differed from the rest in that his cloak was red, and red the vizor on his face. He was followed by two figures in black, who had the air of being in attendance, and at his entrance the entire company, now numbering fifteen, rose to its feet as by one accord. Had Gismondi known more of this affair in which an odd irony had forced him to play his part, he might have wondered why this man—who was obviously the head and leader of the congiura—should come masked at all; for while the identity of the plotters was secret from one to another, yet their leader was known, at least by name, to each and all, as all were known, by name at least, to him. But the first words the red mask spoke when, having taken his seat at the head of long table around which all gathered, he had waved the company to their chairs, were in elucidation of this very circumstance.

"You may wonder, my friends," said he, and his voice was rich musical, "why, since my name is known to all of you, I should come masked among you." He paused a moment, and Gismondi wondered half contemptuously what might be the meaning of this mummery. When the president's next words made clear that meaning Gismondi was nigh to fainting from affright, and he breathed a prayer of thanks to the Virgin of Loreto that he had a mask upon his face to conceal its deathly pallor.

"I have taken this measure of precaution," the red mask had added, "because among us here there is a traitor, a spy."

There was a rustle as of a wind through trees, as the muffled company stirred at that fell announcement. Men turned about and scanned one another with eyes that flashed fiercely through their eye-holes, as though their glances would have burned their way through the silk that screened their neighbors' countenances. It seemed to Gismondi in that moment of panic that the entire company stared at him; then he knew it for a trick of his imaginings, and betide what might he set himself to do as others did and to glare fiercely in his turn at this and that one. Some three or four were upon their feet.

"His name!" they cried. "His name, magnificent!"

But the magnificent shook his head and motioned them to resume their seats. "I know it not," said he, "nor in whose place he is here." Whereat Gismondi breathed again more freely. "All that I know is this: a body was brought into Rimini this evening after sunset; it was that of a man who had been found murdered some three leagues from here on the Bologna road His clothes were disordered, his points untrussed, his pockets empty, from which it was surmised that he had fallen at the hands of some common bandit. But it seemed to me the work had been over-arduous for a thief, and when I came to investigate more closely I found that his boots had been torn to shreds in a frenzied search for something." The president paused a moment, then continued. "That was enough to waken my suspicions. I contrived to have the handling of one of his boots, one in which the lining had been divided at the top from the outer leather. I thrust my hand into that secret pocket that the thief had opened, and at the bottom I found a scrap of paper, no more than a corner that had been torn from one of the documents I now know that it contained. Upon that shred of paper I found but two words written, two words of no account whatever—save that the character of the writing was my own."

He paused again, and in a deathly silence the company waited for him to proceed.

"I knew for certain, then, that the murdered man was one of our comrades in the affair on which we are met tonight. Had I made the discovery earlier, had I known where each of you was lodged, I had found means to warn you not to come here tonight. As it is I can only hope that we are not yet betrayed. But this I know: that the man who came possessed of the secret of our plot sits here among us now."

Again there was that rustling stir, and several voices spoke, harsh and hot with threats of what should be the fate of this rash spy. Gismondi gnawed his lip in silence, waiting and wondering, the strength all oozing from him.

"Eighteen of us were to have foregathered here tonight," said the red mask impressively. "One of us lies dead, yet eighteen are here. You see, my friends," said he, a sardonic note vibrating in his voice, "that there is one too many. That one," he concluded, and from sardonic his voice turned grim, "we must weed out."

He rose as he spoke, a splendid figure, tall and stately. "I will ask you one by one to confer with me apart a moment," he announced. "Each of you will come when summoned. I shall call you not not by name, but by the city from which you hail."

He left the table, and moved down into the shadows at the far end of the long chamber, and with him went the two who had attended him on his arrival. Gismondi watched them, fascinated; the two attendants, no doubt, would do the uprooting when the weed was found; that, he thought, was the purpose for which they accompanied the gentleman in scarlet, and for that was it that they withdrew into the shadow as more fitting than the light for the deed of darkness that would presently be done.

"Ancona!" called the voice of the president, and the name echoed mournfully through the chill air. A masker rose upon the instant, thrusting back his chair, and marched fearlessly down to confer with the master-plotter.

Gismondi wondered how many moments of life might yet be left himself. There was a mist before his eyes, and his heart was thumping horridly at the base of his throat with a violence that seemed to shake him in his chair at each pulsation, and he marveled that the boom of it did not draw the attention of his neighbor.

"Asti!" came the voice from across the chamber, and another figure rose and went apart, passing the returning Ancona on the way. Bologna followed Asti, and now Gismondi began to realize that the president was taking them alphabetically, and he wondered how many more there might be ere Forli was called, for Crespi he knew was from Forli. He wondered, too, what questions would be asked him. From the knowledge those papers had imparted to him, he found that he was able to surmise them, and he knew what answers he should make. Still, his terror did not leave him; some other question there must be—something for which those papers did not make provision.

"Cattolica!" came the summons, a fourth conspirator arose, and then of a sudden the whole company was on its feet; mechanically, and from very force of imitation, Gismondi had risen too, and the heart-beats in his throat were quickened now with sudden hope. In the distance there had been a sound of voices, and this was followed on the instant by a heavy tread in the corridor without, a tread accompanied by the clank of armor.

"We are betrayed!" cried a voice, after which in awful silence the masked company stood and waited.

A heavy blow smote the door, and it fell open. Across the threshold, the candlelight reflected from his corselet as from a mirror, came a mighty figure armed cap-a-pie; behind him three men-at-arms, sword on hip and pike in hand, pressed closely.

Three paces within the room the captain came to a halt and surveyed them with eyes that smiled grimly from a bearded face. "Sirs," said he, "resistance will be idle. I have fifty men with me."

The president advanced with a firm step "What may be your will with us?" quoth he, a fine arrogance in his voice.

"The will of his Highness the Duke of Valentinois," was the man's answer, "to whom your plot is known in its every detail."

"You are come to arrest us?"

"One by one," said the captain with an odd significance and a slight inclination of the head. "My grooms await you in the courtyard."

For an instant there was silence, as well there might be at that pronouncement. The memory of the terrible justice the duke had wrought in Sinigaglia was still fresh in every mind, and Gismondi understood—as all understood—that here in the courtyard of the Palazzo Mattoli these gentlemen caught red handed were to meet the fate that had overtaken Vitelli and his confederates.

"Infamy!" cried one who stood beside Gismondi. "Infamy! Are we to have no trial?"

"In the courtyard," replied the captain grimly.

"Not I, for one," exclaimed another. "I am as noble as the duke himself. I'll not be strangled in a corner like a capon. If die I must I claim by right of birth the ax."

"By right of birth," the captain mused, and smiled. "Indeed, your very birthright, so it seems. Come, sirs."

But others stormed with interruptions, and one there was who called upon his fellows to draw what steel they carried and die with weapons in their hands.

Gismondi, apart, with folded arms, watched them and grinned behind his vizor. It was with him an hour of exultation in the revulsion from his recent terrors. He wondered to what length of folly these rash fools would go. He thought he might witness a pretty fight; but the man in red disappointed him of such expectations. He came forward to the table-head, and his voice was raised to dominate and quell the others.

"Sirs," said he, "the game is lost. Let us pay the forfeit and be done."

Again for a moment a silence fell. Then one, with a sudden strident laugh, stepped forward. "I'll lead the way, my brothers," he said, and bowing to the captain, "I am at your orders, sir," he announced.

The captain made a sign to his men. Two deposed their pikes, and coming forward seized that volunteer. Swiftly and without word spoken they hurried him from the chamber. Gismondi smiled. This entertainment amused his cruel nature better than had done that other of a little while ago. Swiftly the soldiers went about their work, and in a brief ten minutes there remained but four of the conspirators. One of them was the man in scarlet, who, as their captain, reserved to himself the honor of going last; two others were the men who had been attendant upon him, and the fourth was Gismondi.

The men-at-arms reentered, and the man in red made a sign to Gismondi that was plain of meaning. Gismondi shrugged, smiled to himself, and stepped forward jauntily. But when the soldiers seized him he shook them off.

"A word with you, sir," said he to the captain.

The captain eyed him keenly. "Ah!" said he. "You will be he whom I was told to look for. Tell me your name that I may know you."

"I am Benvenuto Gismondi."

The captain nodded thoughtfully. "I must permit myself no error here. You are Benvenuto Gismondi, and—?" He paused inquiringly.

"And," answered Gismondi with impatience, "I am here on behalf of Duke Cesare Borgia."

A quiet, wicked laugh broke from the captain's bearded lips. One of his heavy gauntleted hands fell upon Gismondi's shoulder, the other tore the vizor roughly from his face.

"Does your excellence know the villain?"

"I do not," answered the man in red, and added, "God be thanked!"

He clapped his hands, and now it was that Gismondi saw into what manner of trap he had fallen, what manner of ruse the master-plotter had adopted to weed out, as he had promised, the one who had usurped the place of him that had been slain on the Bologna road. That clapping of hands was your summons, in answer to which there came trooping back into the chamber the entire company of muffled plotters. No farther than the corridor had they been taken, and on arrival there, to each had been explained the test that was afoot.

Betimes next morning Don Miguel—Cesare Borgia's Spanish captain—waited upon his master with a dagger and a bloodstained scrap of paper. He had to report the finding of the body of Benvenuto Gismondi under the trees in the square that fronted the Palazzo Mattoli. The dagger that had slain the man had been employed two attach two him the label Don Miguel presented to the duke, on which was written, "The property of Cesare Borgia." Don Miguel wondered did his magnificence desire the culprits to be brought to account.

Cesare shook his head and smiled.

"It has fallen out as I intended," said he, and fell to musing. "It would have grieved me had they not discovered him, for it would have put me to the need of sterner measures. As it is, I think their discovery will have heightened their dread of me and of the ubiquity of my spies, and in their terror they will have scattered, their plot abandoned. It is best so. To give them open trial and expose their plot would be to invite imitators to follow in their lead, for man excels himself in playing the ape. You may go, Miguel. I think Messer Benvenuto Gismondi has served my purpose as excellently as I meant he should, and, incidentally, he has had his wage."


Intelligence

Grand Magazine, Jan 1918

For an hour Professor Kauffmann had been deep in the slumber that is common alike to just and unjust provided that physical conditions are healthy, when he was aroused, first subconsciously, then consciously, by the loud insistent trilling of the electric bell.

Professor Kauffmann sat up in bed, switched on the light, and verified that it was ten minutes past two. A little while he sat quite still, an oddly intent alertness in the grey eyes that looked so very light by contrast with his swarthy black-bearded face and the black hair, cut en brosse, that rose stiffly above it. At last, moving leisurely, he left the bed, and from a chair-back near at hand he took up a heavy quilted dressing-gown. He was a tall, active man of about forty, who did not look as if he were an easy prey to fear. Yet he trembled a little as he put on that garment. But then the night was cold, for the month was December—December of that fateful year 1914. From a small table near the bed he picked up a life-preserver, a slight weapon of lead and whipcord, and he thrust it together with the hand that held it into the roomy pocket of his gown.

Then—the bell still ringing—he left his bedroom, passed down the heavily-carpeted stairs of that choicely appointed little house in Mayfair, and went to open the door. As it swung back, the light from the hall behind the professor fell upon a slim pale young gentleman in a fur-lined coat over evening clothes.

Professor Kauffmann's relief showed itself a moment, to give place almost at once to surprise and irritation.

"Elphinstone!" he exclaimed. "What the devil...? Do you realise that it is after two o'clock?"

His English was so fluent and colloquial that he might easily have passed for an Englishman. It was only occasionally that a too guttural note proclaimed his real origin.

The young gentleman lounged in without waiting to be invited.

"Awfully sorry, Kauff, to drag you out of bed. But I never imagined you would answer the bell yourself."

The professor grunted, and closed the door. "I am all alone in the house. My man is away ill," he explained. And he added without cordiality—"Come along in. There may still be a fire in the study."

He led the way upstairs, opened a door, touched a switch, and lighted up a spacious lofty room, the air of which was pleasantly warm and tobacco-laden. In the fireplace the remains of a fire still smouldered under an ashen crust. The professor went to stir it into life, and as he passed the massive writing-table that occupied the middle of the room he put down the life-preserver which the event had proved to be unnecessary.

Elphinstone removed his opera hat and loosened his heavy coat. His hands trembled a little. He was very pale and rather breathless. Uneasiness was stamped upon his weak face and haunted the restless eyes that took stock of the room, from the gleaming bookcases flanking a blank-faced mahogany press to the heavy purple curtains masking the French windows of the balcony above the porch.

"I'm a dreadful nuisance, Kauff, I know," he was apologising. "But I certainly shouldn't have knocked you up at this time of night if the matter hadn't been urgent." He paused nervously, to add a moment later—"I'm in trouble rather."

Kauffmann came upright again and looked round calmly, still grasping the poker. "Have a drink," he invited, and pointed to a side-table and a tray bearing decanters, glasses, and a syphon.

"Thanks."

The visitor crossed, poured himself a half-tumbler of whiskey, squirted a tablespoonful of soda into it, and gulped it down.

The professor's light eyes watched him inscrutably.

"Been playing bridge again, I suppose," he hazarded. "I've told you before that you ought to give it up. You know that you're not lucky, and everybody else knows that you can't play. You haven't the temperament."

"Oh, shut up," was the peevish answer. "It isn't bridge this time."

Elphinstone flung himself into the padded chair at the writing-table and looked across it at his host. "As a matter of fact, it isn't chiefly about myself that I'm troubled. It's about you."

"About me? Oh! What about me?"

Watching the man's calm assurance Elphinstone's lip curled in a deprecatory smile. He half shrugged.

"What do you suppose? Do you think a man can go on behaving as you do in such times as these—with the country excited about spies?"

Very quietly the professor put down the poker. In silence he crossed the room, and came to lean upon the writing-table, facing Elphinstone at close quarters.

"I don't know what you mean," he said in a very level voice.

"Oh, yes, you do. I mean that your damned mysterious ways of life have brought you under the notice of the Home Office. I don't know whether there's occasion for it or not, and I don't want to know. I've got troubles enough of my own. But you've behaved rather decently to me, Kauff, and...well, there it is. I thought you'd like to know that you're being watched."

"You thought I'd like to know it?" Kauffmann smiled. "Of course it gives me the liveliest pleasure. And who is watching me?"

"The Government, of course. Have you ever heard of Scott-Drummond?"

The light eyes flickered, and a keen ear might have detected the faintest change in the voice that asked—"Scott-Drummond? Do you mean Scott-Drummond of the Intelligence?"

"Do I mean...? What other Scott-Drummond should I mean? What other Scott-Drummond is there?"

"Ha!" Kauffmann stood upright again, his hands in the pockets of his dressing-gown. "I know of him—yes," he answered easily. "What about him?"

"I have good reason to believe that he is in charge of your case. He is having you shadowed—or whatever they call it. That's what I came to tell you, so that you may take your precautions."

The professor laughed outright, a thought too heartily perhaps.

"That's very kind of you, Elphinstone—very kind. But what precautions need I take? Good Heavens, if Scott-Drummond chooses to waste his time over my affairs, the more fool he. Have another drink?"

But Elphinstone ignored the invitation. His weak mouth was sullen, and it was an impatient hand that thrust back the rumpled fair hair from his brow. "It's not very generous of you to pretend that my warning is of no value," he complained. "I don't suppose they'd suspect you without good reason. And I can tell you that I've come here at considerable risk to myself."

The professor smiled at him tolerantly as one smiles at a foolish child.

"You really believe that, do you? Well, well!" He sat on the edge of the writing-table. "Tell me, anyhow: Where did you pick up this priceless piece of gossip?"

"It's more than gossip. I happened to overhear something from a talkative young under-secretary at Flynn's this evening. And from what he said I should clear the country quick if I were you, Kauff. That's all."

"Bah! You've stumbled on a mare's nest."

"You know best, of course." There was vexation in the thin voice. "But at least you'll admit that I've acted as a friend to you—that I've taken a good deal of risk in coming here."

"Not much risk, really," laughed the professor. "Still you are very kind, and I am grateful to you for your friendly intentions."

"Oh, that's all right. I think I'll be going." He rose slowly. The uneasiness that had marked his manner throughout became more manifest. "That's all right," he repeated, faltering. Then he paused. "There's another matter I wanted to talk to you about," he said. And then, speaking quickly, like a man who, resolved, takes things at the rush—"Fact is, I am in a bit of a mess," he confessed. "I absolutely must have a hundred pounds by morning. Do you think you could...I mean, I should be most awfully grateful to you if you would..."

He left the sentence there, glancing self-consciously at his host.

Kauffmann's eyes considered the weedy degenerate with frank contempt. He even laughed shortly, through closed lips.

"I thought we should come to that sooner or later," said he.

Elphinstone made a movement of indignant protest. His cheeks flushed faintly.

"You don't suppose," he cried, "that I am asking you to pay me for the information I have..."

"Are you quite sure," Kauffmann cut in, "that you didn't manufacture the information for the express purpose of placing me in your debt?"

"Kauffmann!"

"Are you quite sure," the other continued, his light eyes almost hypnotic in their steady glance, "that you are not simply making capital out of silly suspicions of your own, and that this story about Scott-Drummond is not a pure fabrication?"

"What do you take me for?" was the resentful question.

"For a young gentleman who plays bridge for stakes far beyond his means, who loses persistently, and who is reduced by his losses to perpetual borrowing."

The flush deepened in Elphinstone's cheeks; then it ebbed again, leaving them paler than ever. With a great show of dignity he buttoned his coat and reached for his hat. "It's no use being angry with you..." he was beginning.

"No use at all," Kauffmann agreed.

Elphinstone shrugged, put on his hat, and turned to go. But his need was greater than his pride. He paused again.

"Kauffmann," he said seriously, "I only wish for your own sake that I could confess that you are right. But I haven't said a word that isn't absolutely true. From what I overheard I'll lay fifty to one that if you remain in England until to-morrow night you will spend it in prison."

"Don't be a fool." There was a note of irritation creeping into the voice that hitherto had been so smooth. "A man can't be arrested in this country without some sort of evidence against him, and there's not a scrap of evidence against me; not a scrap."

"If Scott-Drummond makes it his business to find evidence that you are in the pay of Germany—naturalised British subject though you may be—he'll find it."

"Not if it doesn't exist; and it doesn't exist; it can't exist. I tell you," the professor added vehemently, "that I am not in the pay of Germany. In fact, you would be insulting me if you weren't boring me, and after all you're obviously only half sober. It's very late, Elphinstone, and I want to go to bed."

"All right," was the sullen answer. "I am going."

But it was one thing to announce the resolve, and another to find the courage to carry it out. Far, indeed, from doing so, Elphinstone broke down utterly. Quite suddenly the lingering remains of reserve fell from him.

"Kauff, old man," he exclaimed desperately, "I'm in the very devil of a mess. If I don't get a hundred pounds before morning I don't know what will happen."

"Pooh! Creditors can wait."

"It isn't creditors—not an ordinary creditor. It...it's a case of borrowed money."

"As one who has frequently lent, I confess I don't perceive the difference."

Hoping to move him, Elphinstone was driven to make a full and humiliating confession. "This money was borrowed without asking permission. If I don't put it back before it is discovered it will look like...Oh, you know what it will look like. I shall be ruined. I don't know what'll happen to me. Kauff, for God's sake..."

But the professor remained entirely unmoved, unless it were to a deeper contempt.

"Do you know how much money you owe me already?" he asked coldly. "Do you realise that it amounts to close upon a thousand pounds?"

"I know. But I shall be able to pay you back very shortly."

There was a whine in the pleading voice.

"I am glad to hear it. But until you do I'm afraid I can't help you any further."

"Not after what I've told you?"

Elphinstone was overcome with horrified amazement.

"It's no use, my boy. You must get it from someone else. I can't afford it at the moment."

Elphinstone's lips tightened. His weak face became ghastly.

"You absolutely refuse me, then?"

"Sorry, of course." The professor's blandness savoured of contempt. "But I can't afford it."

"You can't afford it?" Elphinstone looked at him, and sneered. At bay, his manner assumed a certain truculence. "What about all this German gold you are receiving?"

The professor eyed him stonily a moment. Then—"Drop that, Elphinstone," he said shortly. "It won't pay you."

"Won't it?" Elphinstone's angry excitement was rising; his voice grew shriller. "I am not so sure. You think I am a fool, Kauffmann. If I've kept my mouth shut it's because you've been kind to me and helped me when I was in trouble. But it doesn't follow that I've kept my eyes shut, too. I know more than you think. I could tell Scott-Drummond something that would..."

And then Kauffmann became really angry.

"Get out of my house," he ordered. "Do you think I am the man to submit to blackmail? Get out at once."

The tall vigorous figure and grim swarthy face became oddly menacing. Elphinstone was scared.

"Wait a minute, Kauffmann." He was cringing again. "I didn't mean it. I really didn't. I am up against it. I..."

"I don't care whether you meant it or not. Go to Scott-Drummond and tell him anything you like. But don't forget that he may have some questions to ask you. Don't forget that it will come out that you have had about a thousand pounds from me, and that a jury of your countrymen will certainly want to know what it was for."

"What it was for?" Elphinstone stared in amazement. "I never intended..."

"No. But I did," Kauffmann answered dryly. "I don't pay a thousand pounds to seal a man's lips without taking good care to see that the seal is going to hold. My dear Elphinstone, when you realise that you are a fool you will have taken the first great step towards wisdom. Meanwhile, I have had enough of you. Get out before I throw you out."

"For God's sake, Kauffmann..." Elphinstone was beginning desperately.

Kauffmann advanced upon him round the table. "Get out, I tell you." He seized the young man by the shoulders to thrust him towards the door. But Elphinstone squirmed and twisted in his grasp.

"Take your hands off me, you damned German spy!" he cried, thoroughly enraged at this indignity. He wrenched himself from those compelling hands and sprang away, round the table. With an oath Kauffmann turned to follow him; and then the thing happened.

By purest chance Elphinstone's hand had found the wicked little life-preserver that lay among the professor's papers. Fierce now as a cornered rat he snatched it up, and in his blind unreflecting fury brought it down upon the head of his aggressor.

There was an ominous squelching crack. Kauffmann's hands were jerked violently up to the level of his shoulders with the mechanical action of an automaton, and he collapsed in a heap at Elphinstone's feet.

Standing over him, still clutching the weapon, Elphinstone apostrophised the fallen man, breathlessly, almost hysterically.

"That will teach you better manners, you dirty spy. That will teach you to keep your hands to yourself. If you thought I was going to let myself be man-handled by a..."

He broke off. There was something ominous about the utter stillness of the body and the red viscous fluid slowly oozing from his head and spreading to the Persian carpet.

"Kauffmann!" His voice shrilled up and cracked. "Kauffmann!"

In shuddering, slobbering terror he went down beside the professor, and shook him.

"Kauffmann!"

The body sank limply down again as Elphinstone relaxed his grip of it and it lay still and unresponsive as before. A sudden horrible realisation was borne in upon the young man's senses. With a whimpering sound he shrank back, still kneeling. "Oh my God!" he gasped, and covered his white face with trembling hands.

The next moment he almost screamed aloud, for somewhere in the room behind him something—someone—had moved. He whipped round in a frenzy of terror.

The heavy curtains masking the French windows had parted, and on the near side of them stood now a slight man in a shabby suit of tweeds, a faded scarf round his neck, an old tweed cap on his head. He had a keen, hungry-looking hatchet face and dark eyes which were considering Elphinstone and his work with almost inhuman emotionlessness.

For a long moment they stared at each other in silence. Then the newcomer spoke, his voice so quiet and self-contained as to sound almost mocking.

"Well?" he asked. "What are you going to do about it?"

Elphinstone sprang up. "Who are you?" he asked mechanically.

"Just a burglar," said the other, indicating the window behind him, from which a square of glass had been cut.

"A thief!"

The burglar let the curtains fall back into place, and moved forward soundlessly. "You needn't be so superior," said he. "I'm not a murderer, anyhow."

"A murd...! My God! He's not...he can't be dead!"

"Not if his head is made of cast iron."

There was something almost revolting in the cynicism with which the newcomer accepted the fact. He knelt beside the professor, and made a swift examination.

"Dead as mutton," he pronounced nonchalantly. "You've smashed his skull."

Elphinstone sank limply against the desk, and clutched it to steady himself. Breath seemed to fail him.

"I didn't mean it," he whimpered. "I swear I didn't. I...I did it in self-defence. You must have seen how it happened. It was an accident."

"Oh, I saw how it happened all right," the other answered, rising. "But you don't suppose my evidence would help either of us very much. This may be very nasty for you."

The burglar met the stare of the young man's dilating eyes, and saw purpose suddenly kindle in them, saw the hand that still held the life-preserver tighten its grip. But he was swifter of purpose and action than Elphinstone, and on the instant the latter found himself contemplating the nozzle of a pistol.

"Drop that weapon! Drop it at once," the burglar commanded, and there was steel in the voice that had been so languid.

Elphinstone's nerveless hand let fall the life-preserver.

"You didn't think..."

"No. But you might have been tempted, and one broken skull is enough in one evening." He slipped his pistol back into his pocket. "Well?" he asked again. "Have you made up your mind what you're going to do about it?"

"Do about it?" Elphinstone echoed dully. There was a gleam of perspiration on his brow. "You'll not give me away," he was beginning to plead, then suddenly he realised the situation as it affected the other, and from that derived a confidence that rendered him aggressive. "You daren't," he announced. "It would look pretty black against you, my friend. If anyone were to find us now, which way do you think appearances would point? Who's to say that it wasn't you who killed him?"

"No one—unless you do."

"Exactly," said Elphinstone, and he almost sneered. He had fancied that the burglar winced under that last question of his, as well he might. Far from being disastrous, it began to be clear to him that the advent of the thief was providential; that he, himself, was entirely master of the situation. In this comforting persuasion he recovered his nerve almost as swiftly as he had lost it.

"You had better not attempt to keep me here, or it may be the worse for you. You can get away as you came, and there's nothing to prevent you taking whatever you came for. There's no one in the house. His man is away ill."

"I know. I informed myself of that before I came."

"Very well, then. He's got a collection of jewels in there that is worth a fortune," and Elphinstone pointed to the blind face of the mahogany press standing between the bookcases.

"I know," said the burglar again. "That's what I came for."

"Then let me get out of this, and you can help yourself."

"Who's keeping you?" the other asked him in that uncannily cool, matter-of-fact voice of his. "I'm certainly not. In your place I should have cleared already. So long as you don't interfere with my job I don't care whether you go or stay."

He swung round with that, crossed to the press, turned the key, and threw open the double doors, revealing a safe immediately behind them. He knelt down to examine the lock. Then from one of his pockets he took a chamois-skin bundle. He unrolled it and placed it on the floor beside him, displaying an array of bright steel implements. From another pocket he took a bunch of skeleton keys, and proceeded to make a selection.

For a moment, Elphinstone stood watching the man's cool, expert address in amazement. At last he roused himself, shuddered again as his eye fell upon that thing on the floor, and he sidled away towards the door.

"I think I'll be going," he said. With his hand on the knob he checked. "Someone may have seen me come in, and may see me going out again."

"That'll be all right," said the burglar, without turning. "They'll know nothing about this until morning." By a jerk of the thumb over his shoulder he indicated the body. "And it'll look like burglary by then. It'll look uncommonly like burglary by the time I'm through. You needn't make a secret of having visited him. No one can say that this didn't happen after you had left. It will certainly look like it. You're quite safe. Good night!"

"Ah!" said Elphinstone, and on that he went out.

To his terrified, conscience-stricken imagination the night seemed alive with watching eyes. He dared not shut the front door of that house lest the bang should draw attention to his departure. Leaving it ajar, he slunk fearfully away, and as he went his panic so grew upon him that by the time he had turned the corner into Piccadilly he was persuaded that by leaving as he had done he had determined his own doom, walked into some trap unperceived by himself but quite clear to that incredibly cool burglar whom he had left behind. Already he saw himself arraigned and sentenced for the murder of Kauffmann. A sick giddiness of terror overtook him; his teeth chattered and his legs so trembled that he was scarcely able to walk. And then suddenly, upon the utter stillness of the night, rang a loud metallic sound that brought him shuddering to a standstill. It was the ring of a police inspector's baton, striking the pavement to call the constable of the beat.

For a moment Elphinstone's disordered mind connected the summons with himself and the thing he had left behind him. Then inspiration flashed upon his mind. There was a clear course that by definitely fastening the guilt elsewhere would make him absolutely safe. That burglar must be caught in the act by the police.

He ran forward in the direction whence the sound had reached him, and a moment later he was breathlessly delivering himself to a stalwart inspector.

"...Over there, in Park Gardens," he heard himself saying, "a house is being burgled. I saw a man entering a window from the balcony over the porch."

Two constables joined them as he was speaking. There was a brief exchange of question and answer, and then the four of them went back together at the double. Elphinstone pointed out the house, and the inspector was intrigued to find the door ajar.

"Looks as if we were too late already," he commented, and ordering his men to go up with Elphinstone, himself remained there to keep an eye upon the street.

They went softly upstairs to the study, burst into it and surprised the burglar still at his work. The safe was standing open, and there was a litter of its contents on the floor; among these were half-a-dozen small showcases containing the collection of jewels of which Kauffmann had been so proud. One of the constables shouted to the inspector below before the pair of them sprang at the burglar and overpowered him. Even as they did so, and the man offered no resistance, Elphinstone moving round the table almost fell over the professor's body.

The policemen heard his outcry; they saw him reel back, appalled. He was really acting very well.

"Look here!" he called to them, and dropped on his knees beside the dead man. "Lord! He's dead! Dead!" He looked up at them blankly. "We're too late," he said.

"We've got the murderer, anyhow," he was gruffly answered by one of the constables, who, leaving the handcuffed man in the care of his colleague, came round himself to view the body at closer quarters.

Elphinstone looked at the burglar, and the burglar's eyes met the glance. The fellow appeared to have lost none of his cool masterfulness and none of his cynicism, for as his eyes met Elphinstone's, his lip curled in contempt of the fellow who had made him a defenceless scapegoat.

"I had the idea," he said without resentment, "that this was what you would do."

And then the inspector came in. "What's this?" he asked as he entered.

"Murder," cried Elphinstone stridently, "that's what it is—robbery and murder. And there's the murderer. Caught absolutely red-handed. Caught in the very act."

"In the act of burgling—not murdering," was all the prisoner said, quite gently.

The inspector stooped over the body. He met the eye of the constable who had been making an examination, and the subordinate nodded with ominous eloquence.

"A clear case," said the inspector. "Fetch him along, and..."

The inspector looked full at the burglar, and quite suddenly he checked, stiffened, and stood to attention.

"Beg pardon, sir," said he with a quite extraordinary deference. "Didn't know as how it was you. What's this, sir?" indicating the body. "Had an accident?"

"No. It's murder all right as that fellow says, and he should know, for he's the murderer. It was he who killed Professor Kauffmann. I saw the whole thing from behind those curtains. I gave him his chance to get away. Very wrong of me, of course; but I didn't want any publicity on my own methods. Besides," he added slyly, "I thought it very likely he would come back with the police, and so save me all trouble. He would naturally imagine that a burglar could have nothing to say in his own defence."

"I see, Mr. Scott-Drummond. Very good sir," was the inspector's respectful answer, and he came forward with quick concern to remove the handcuffs from the prisoner.

It was then that Elphinstone roused himself at last from his horrified amazement.

"Scott-Drummond! Scott-Drummond!" he repeated, foolishly.

The burglar stooped to pick up a slender case of japanned tin, which he had dropped when the constables seized him. The lid had been wrenched off and the edges of a sheaf of blue tracing papers protruded.

"We had good reason," he said, "to suspect Professor Kauffmann of being an agent of the German Government, and I came to get hold of evidence. I've found what I was looking for—more even than I expected—so I'll be going."

He glanced across at the stricken Elphinstone standing limply between the two constables.

"You'd better take that fellow to Vine Street," he said quietly. "I'll forward my report. Good night, inspector."


Out of the Dice Box

Royal Magazine, October 1900

The dice rattled merrily upon the table, and the two men bent over to watch the issue of the throw, their faces white with eagerness.

At last the rattle ceased—it had been one of those impetuous, half-angry throws which send the dice rolling across the board—the cubes came to a standstill, and with bated breath the men counted the fateful black dots. Then with a half-stifled oath, Stanislas de Gouville—the younger player—sank back into his chair. The muscles of his livid face were contracted for a moment as though he had been beset by physical pain—for a moment and no more. He had been a gamester too long not to have learnt how to lose like a gentleman, with smiling countenance, even though—as in the present instance—the loss might be total, irreparable and pauperising.

It was with a smile—albeit a ghastly one—that he turned again to his companion.

"I pray you forget my momentary excitement," he said wearily. "It was unworthy of me; but what would you, my dear La Fosse? I am like Francis the First after the battle of Pavia—I have lost all save honour."

La Fosse wore a look of polite contrition. There is a weighty responsibility in having diced every night for a month with a man, and in having during that time won first his money, then—steadily, yard by yard and acre by acre—the land of his estate, and, finally, his very château with all the treasures it contains. It is, perchance, a thing to be merry at, but decency forbids this mirth to be indulged in the presence of the vanquished. And so, albeit happy enough at heart, La Fosse's breeding compelled him to look glum and pained. He was anxious to quit Gouville's society; but here again politeness interfered, for the house was his, and he might not order Gouville to leave.

Stanislas de Gouville, on the other hand, showed scant eagerness to be gone, He sat in his chair, toying listlessly with the dice-box, which he had not relinquished since his last disastrous throw, and wondering vaguely how he might live henceforth—or whether he would live at all. He thought too—and this was the bitterest thought that could beset him—of the beautiful and queenly Mademoiselle de Grandcourt, and of how he must now abandon all hope of ever winning her for his wife.

He tilted the dice-box upwards, and gazed for a moment into it with vacant eye; then flinging the cursed thing that had wrought his ruin, on to the table, he gave vent to a mirthless laugh.

"La Fosse," he cried in a voice that was curiously playful, "has your good fortune made you dumb? St. Gris, but you are the dullest fellow I ever sat with."

"What would you?" deprecated La Fosse with a shrug.

"What would I? I would see you merry. In Heaven's name, let us have more Armagnac. That bottle has stood empty for the last half-hour."

La Fosse mumbled an apology for his abstraction, and more wine was brought, of which he drank half a goblet. Gouville finished the bottle quietly, unconsciously, and babbling away at scraps of court gossip the while. And gradually as he drank, the ice of misery that had gathered round his heart was thawed, and he became again the merry, reckless Stanislas to whom it was said, belonged the wittiest tongue and sharpest sword at the court of Louis XIV.

Bottle followed bottle, and at last, as midnight was striking from the belfry of St. Jacques, Gouville staggered to his feet, and passing his hand across his forehead mumbled something about having drunk over-much, As he rose, André de La Fosse, who had sat silent and pensive for the last quarter of an hour, rose also.

"Let me express my regret, Stanislas," he murmured not unkindly, "at the scurvy treatment you have suffered at the hands of fortune. Come, mon ami, better luck next time!"

Stanislas gazed vacantly round the richly furnished room, then laughed.

"Too late, La Fosse, too late," he answered. "There will be no next time. This," he added, taking up his sword from a chair, and holding it aloft by the baldrick—"is my last and only possession. It is the only piece of value saved from the wreck of my fortunes, and, I take it, La Fosse," he concluded flippantly, "that you are not in want of a rapier."

La Fosse answered nothing for a moment. Then with a quick exclamation, such as escapes a man who is suddenly smitten by a great idea—

"God knows I am!" he cried. "I am in want of a rapier—of your rapier, Stanislas."

Gouville stared at him for a moment, incredulous.

"Then, by the Mass, there it is," and he dropped it with a clatter on the table. "How much will you stake against it? Say fifty pistoles—the hilt alone is worth as much—'twas chiselled by Le Cannu."

La Fosse went white to the lips.

"Not fifty pistoles, but fifty thousand. Nay more—I'll stake everything that I have won from you during the past month. Every acre of your estate in Normandy will I lay against that sword of yours on a single throw."

Stanislas drew his hand across his brow, as if to brush aside some unseen mist that clogged his understanding, and stared with drunken solemnity at his companion.

"And yet, La Fosse," he said in a puzzled tone, "it did not seem to me that you drank over much to-night. But perchance I did not notice."

"Oh, I'm sober enough, Gouville, never fear."

"You are, eh? Then, by my life, I must be more drunk than I had thought. Did you say something just now about dicing for my sword?"

In a voice that shook with excitement, La Fosse repeated his preposterous offer.

"Perdition take me if I understand how a sword can be of such value to you."

"Not a sword, Stanislas, but your sword. Your sword with your unerring arm and brain to guide it."

"Peste! I understand. You have an enemy."

La Fosse nodded.

"Well—you wear a sword yourself."

"Aye, but a useless one in this matter. Sit down and listen to me," he cried excitedly. "To begin with I am in love."

"You are wasting words, La Fosse. It goes without saying, that in a case of this character there must be a woman. And wherever there is a woman it is a forgone conclusion that you love her. Your susceptibilities are proverbial, mon cher."

"Possibly," said La Fosse—too eager now to entertain resentment. "But the present affair is no jest. It is my intention to make Mademoiselle—er—the lady in question, my wife. Unfortunately, that accursed bully, the Marquis de Belcourt, is of a like mind touching the same lady, and to gain his ends he will, if necessary, have recourse to violence. Would you credit it de Gouville, that here in this very room not a fortnight ago he had the effrontery to threaten me that if I ever dared to wed her, he would send me a challenge before I left the altar?"

"What was your answer?"

"I vouchsafed him none. I ordered him from the house."

"That was well done. And now?"

"Until to-night it was my intention to disregard the threat, and, should my suit prosper—as indeed I have good reason to believe it will—to marry the lady, albeit I might leave her a widow before I took her home. I put myself in the hands of Mathurin, the fencing master; he did his best for me, but it is of no avail; I am a clumsy fool with a rapier, whilst Belcourt is with one exception the best swordsman in Paris."

"That one exception?"

"Yourself," he answered, eying the slender, dissipated, and almost effeminate-looking young man before him. "Ah, Gouville," he went on hurriedly, "I am ashamed to crave your aid in a matter which a gentleman should settle for himself. But life is sweet—at least, it will be sweet if she is kind. You tempted me to-night when you dangled your sword in the air. The temptation has proved too much for me. I offer to stake the fortune I have won from you against this service. Nay more, Gouville, I will do this: I will set the Gouville estates against your sword. If you win, your fortune is restored to you and the matter is ended so far as it concerns you. If you lose, I claim your services to pick a quarrel with Belcourt and rid me of him, and I will give you back your estate so soon as you have fulfilled that part of the bargain. Whichever way the dice fall out they will set you in the position you have lost. Allons, Gouville, accept!"

La Fosse's accents had well nigh become a whine, and as he stopped, he held out his hands supplicatingly. But Gouville was irresponsive.

"What if by luck or skill Belcourt proves master, and runs me through?" he enquired coldly.

"I'll take the risk of that."

"Vraiement! it seems to me that I shall take the risk of that. Tell me, La Fosse," he added, "why should I not use the sword you covet, against you now? I might choose to be insulted by your proposal, and kill you for it on the spot. What then, my friend? Who would there be to say that I had ever lost the Normandy estates? Tell me; what is to impede me from doing this?"

"You are a man of honour."

"You acknowledge it, La Fosse, and yet you ask me to do the work of a common bravo? Bah!" he cried, staggering once more from his chair. "Where are the dice? You are taking an infernal advantage of me because I am drunk. But it had best be done now, for there would be no excuse for me were I sober. The dice, man, pass the dice!"

La Fosse obeyed him in silence, and with trembling fingers gathered the cubes into the box and handed it to his companion.

"St. Gris, have you got the palsy, La Fosse? Here goes, and may the devil help me, for he is of a certainty in the business."

He threw quick and carelessly.

"There," he cried, surveying the three aces with a scowl, "I knew it, Did you ever see ill-luck cling more fondly to a man? Do not give yourself the trouble of throwing, La Fosse. It is not worth the time you'll waste on it. Be good enough to pass me my hat and call your servant to light me down the stairs. Good-night, La Fosse," he babbled on. "I am a rich man again, but Pardieu, you have the best of the bargain. Belcourt had better make his peace with Mother Church; he'll want a shrift presently. Good-night!"

As Gouville walked home he was far from happy with himself. Cloak it as he would, the fact remained that he had accepted a bravo's task. There was a moment when he was on the point of going back to tell La Fosse that he preferred to starve in honour than to thrive with the stain of an unclean action on his escutcheon. What would Madeleine de Grandcourt say if ever she knew? But on the other hand, how could he press his suit if he were a beggar?

The thought decided him. He must pursue the road upon which Fortune and his friend, La Fosse, had thrust him that night.

Still, during the days that followed, he was loth to bring matters to an issue, and did little towards seeking a quarrel with Belcourt. Most of his time was spent in the Louvre, and—as often as she would tolerate it—at Mademoiselle de Grandcourt's side. But his wooing wore not a favourable aspect. Did he grow serious, Mademoiselle's rippling laugh would mock him. Did he wax ardent, did he attempt to speak of what was in his heart, Mademoiselle's cold glance and curling lip would freeze him into silence.

There were moments when this woman would so sting his spirit with a cruel word or glance that he wondered why he did not hate her. How often did he not register the vow to see her no more? And yet next day would find him at her side again.

He had all but forgotten the task which La Fosse had set him, and seeing that La Fosse had not the entrée to the Louvre, where—as I have said—the best part of Gouville's time was spent, there was not his presence to remind Stanislas of what lay between them.

They met in the Place Royale one day, about a fortnight after the compact had been made, and La Fosse chided his friend for his inertness in the matter. Gouville was out of humour at the time, fresh from the torture of Mademoiselle's indifference, and ready to shed blood—no matter whose. It needed only La Fosse's information that he had seen Belcourt enter the auberge of L'Epée de Bayard a few minutes before to send Stanislas hurrying to the inn in quest of the Marquis.

He found him in the common room, at table with half-a-dozen friends, and as he hurried through, he contrived to tread upon the Marquis' foot.

"You clumsy, ill-bred clown." bellowed the Marquis, "Have you no eyes?"

Stanislas turned sharply and faced the bully.

"Surely, Monsieur," he said with a calm, sinister smile, "those words were not addressed to me?"

Now a bully is wont to become a coward in the presence of a better man. Belcourt recognised Stanislas, and his manner changed with the rapidity of lightning.

"You hurt my foot, Monsieur," he made answer, "and for the moment I forgot my manners. I have no quarrel with you Monsieur de Gouville."

"Ah! Since you apologise the affair is ended," quoth Gouville with marked impertinence; and shrugging his shoulders he turned away and seated himself at some little distance. He had expected thus to have exasperated Belcourt and provoked him into further forgetfulness, but he was disappointed. The bully reddened slightly, and followed Gouville's graceful, foppish figure with his dark, scowling eyes, but was silent.

The evident timidity which the Marquis displayed upon this occasion, proved, however, an incentive to Stanislas, who contrived thereafter to find himself as often as possible in the company of Belcourt. Three days later a fresh chance presented itself.

It was at one of St. Auban's famous supper parties; M. de Belcourt was entertaining the company with the details of a duel which had been fought the day before at St. Germain between two celebrated dandies of the court. He was describing the manner in which M. des Cazeaux had tricked his opponent so as to obtain the opening for the lunge in tierce which had brought the combat to an end, when Stanislas, who now heard the particulars for the first time, interrupted him.

"M. de Belcourt is mistaken," he said leaning across the table, "the lunge was not in tierce."

The Marquis raised his eyebrows in astonishment, and stared for a moment at the young man.

"Will M. de Gouville be pleased to tell us what the lunge was?" he enquired with a scowl.

"Certainly. It was in quinte."

"I will confess that the stroke was delivered rather high, nevertheless—"

"It was in quinte," Gouville insisted rudely.

"It was not," thundered Belcourt, determined not to be outdone in politeness.

There followed a dead silence whilst the two men eyed each other across the lavishly appointed table—Belcourt flushed and threatening; Gouville calm and disdainful. Then Stanislas pushed back his chair and rose slowly to his feet.

"You have heard me state, Messieurs, that the lunge we are discussing was delivered in quinte; you have heard M. de Belcourt say flatly that it was not. In other words, Messieurs, you have heard de Belcourt say that I lie."

"Sangdieu!" cried Belcourt. "You misapprehend me."

"Ah?"

"Did you witness the encounter?"

"That question should have preceded your contradiction, M. le Marquis," was Gouville's diplomatic answer. "It is now beside the matter. I have said that the lunge was in quinte, and if you still entertain a doubt, I shall be happy to convince you by showing you the identical disengage at any time convenient to yourself."

Those present looked askance into each other's faces; was ever an affaire d'honneur hung upon a weaker peg? But Belcourt's answer struck the flimsy weapon of pretext from Gouville's hand.

"Bah!" he cried with a laugh of affected bonhomie. "There is no quarrel between us, M. de Gouville, and, by my faith, I do not see that a difference of opinion concerning the stroke which sent M. de Cazeaux to the devil, should occasion one. Hence I see no reason for troubling you to illustrate the lunge."

To persist after that would be to betray his purpose, to provoke M. de Belcourt into a duel.

Bitterly did Stanislas complain to La Fosse next day of his lack of success. Belcourt was eager enough to fight as a rule, but he unquestionably stood in awe of Gouville, and was determined at any cost to avoid a rupture with him.

Fortune appeared to have churlishly turned her back upon Stanislas, and he fared as ill in love as at play and in war.

His Grace the Duc de Sauveterre gave a great ball during the following week to celebrate the fiançailles of his eldest son. The court was graciously pleased to attend the fête, which accounted for the presence at the Palais Sauveterre of both Mademoiselle de Grandcourt and M. de Gouville. M. le Marquis de Belcourt was also there, resplendent in a suit of white satin, and intent upon avoiding Stanislas—a precaution which he might have spared himself, for Gouville was too eager upon a quest of his own to even remark his presence.

When Mademoiselle whispered to him that the heat was stifling and that a breath of cool air would be a boon, Stanislas realised that for once the gods were kind. He offered her his arm, and led her from the gaily thronged ball-room out on to the terrace.

The moon was up and the tepid breath of that summer night was sweetened by the scent of the rose garden beyond. As he sank down beside her on the stone seat, Stanislas felt himself overcome by the seductions of the hour, the scene, the perfume, the music floating out to them from the windows behind, and—to crown all—by her beloved presence.

And she—she too appeared to be under the magnetic spell of her surroundings, and when he spoke, softly at first, then passionately and convincingly, she did not interrupt him with her wonted raillery. Yet when he had done, and stood bending over her—so close that for a moment his long black locks were mingled with her auburn hair—and craved, with suppliance in his tone, an answer, she drew away with a merry laugh.

"You are a pretty fellow, M. de Gouville," she said airily, "truly the prettiest I know, and you have a vastly seductive tongue. But what you ask is impossible."

Gouville was crushed. His ready wit found no reply, and he stood with bowed head and clenched hands cursing the presumption that had bidden him hope to win where so many better men had failed. Was it for this that he bartered the honour of his sword?

"You are a courtier. M. de Gouville," Mademoiselle pursued, "and I do not want a courtier for a husband."

He found his tongue at last, stung to anger by her heartlessness.

"Had I foreseen, Mademoiselle, that your ambition is to wed a churl, I should have spared you this interview."

"So! We are angry now? Nay, nay, not a churl, Monsieur," she answered sweetly, "but a brave man; a bold, daring, manly man; not a man with two yards of lace and a score of ribbons to his doublet, and with the perfume of a dozen bouquets in his dainty clothes."

"Duguesclin has been dead some centuries, Mademoiselle," he said in a hard voice, "did he still live you might hope some day to marry. We had best go within."

There was a commanding note in his voice which was new to Madeleine, and which made her will subservient to his. Meekly she rose, and taking his arm without another word, allowed herself to be led into the ante-chamber, where he bowed with averted eyes, and left her.

With fire in his bosom. Stanislas went forthwith in quest of Belcourt. Whilst the mood endured that was then upon him he felt little doubt but that he should be able to force a quarrel upon the Marquis and thus fulfil the compact upon which he had entered with La Fosse. With bitterness he thought of the motives that had urged him to undertake the task and of the disappointment he had suffered, but, albeit a motive there no longer was, there was still his plighted word, and—even had that been lacking—there was the angry mood that beset him and drove him with ferocious joy to meditate bloodshed.

But again fortune showed him scant favour. Belcourt was nowhere to be found. From room to room he went seeking that conspicuous figure in white that he had remarked earlier in the evening, yet ever without success.

He made enquiries, and learnt at length that M. le Marquis had left the Palais Sauveterre an hour ago. Whither he had gone his informer could not tell him, so that Gouville was forced to set a curb upon his impatience and abandon, for the while, his quest.

The light and mirth about him being ill-attuned to his mood, he wandered out into the garden again, and there flung himself upon the very seat where but awhile ago his suit had been derided.

Hardly was he seated when the gravel behind him crunched 'neath an approaching step, and—

"Do you seek M. de Belcourt?" said a man's voice at his elbow.

"I do, indeed," he answered, turning sharply and beholding to his surprise a lacquey, "can you tell me where I may find him?"

"I escorted him to his carriage half an hour ago Monsieur; he was met by two men to whom I heard him give as a rendezvous the Rue du Guet at midnight."

In an instant Gouville was upon his feet, and, having rewarded the fellow for his information, he went within to get his cloak and sword. It wanted a quarter of an hour to midnight, so that there was just time for him to reach the Rue du Guet afoot.

He dismissed his carriage at the door of the Palais Sauveterre, feeling himself beset by that restlessness which impels a man to physical action. Thinking of many things, and cursing most, he stalked moodily along until he had reached the corner of the Rue du Guet, when suddenly his attention was arrested by a woman's cry for help. As he paused to listen, the cry was repeated, and so piteously that it drove all thoughts of Belcourt from Gouville's mind, and without another moment's delay, he set off at a run in the direction of the sound, drawing his sword as he went.

Not two hundred yards down the street he came upon a coach, from which three men were endeavouring to drag a resisting woman. The body of a man lay inert upon the ground, and Stanislas was quick to surmise him to be the luckless coachman.

He was upon the ruffians before they suspected his approach, and had run his sword through the nearest of them ere the fellow could draw.

Alarmed by this sudden and unlooked-for interference, the other two sprang back from the coach, and one of them plucking a pistol from his belt fired upon the intruder. But in his haste he aimed too high, and before he could repair his error the point of Gouville's sword was protruding from his back.

So quickly had it all taken place that Stanislas had disengaged his blade and stood ready for the third, before the fellow had got out his sword. He might have fallen upon him and slain him before he could guard himself, but his chivalrous spirit withheld him from taking so mean an advantage from a single man. He lowered his point and surveyed the tall, lithe figure before him, vainly endeavouring to pierce the shadows which the man's hat cast upon his face.

"Draw, sir," he cried, "I await you."

The man was quick to comply with so gallant an invitation, and the next moment their blades clashed. It was a short combat, though the tall man fought well and fiercely. Stanislas was his master and presently his sword glided in under the fellow's guard, and the deadly point caught him in the throat. He fell without a groan, and, as Stanislas knelt to see if he were dead, a cry of surprise escaped him, as there in the moonlight he beheld the livid, distorted face, and staring eyes of the Marquis de Belcourt. The rendezvous which the lacquey told him Belcourt had appointed was suddenly remembered, and, in a flash, he understood the situation.

Then, before he had recovered from his astonishment, he felt a hand upon his shoulder.

"Bravely fought, my gallant knight! You were wrong, Duguesclin still lives, but his name to-day is Stanislas de Gouville."

In an instant he was upon his feet.

"You!" he gasped, at the sight of the girl who stood before him with hands held forth in a mute appeal for comfort and forgiveness. For a moment the memory of their last words rose up before him, and he stood aloof and half disdainful. Then her glorious beauty and the look in her eyes defeated his ungentle purpose. He opened his arms and took her, half laughing, half sobbing, into their shelter.

"My note of hand, La Fosse," cried Stanislas gaily next morning as he burst in upon his friend. "I have fulfilled my part of the bargain. St. Gris, I was in luck last night! The same blow that killed Belcourt won me the heart of the loveliest woman in France."

And briefly he related what had taken place.

"'Tis passing strange," murmured La Fosse with a clouded brow. "Who is the lady?"

"Fool! Did I not say the loveliest woman in France? Mademoiselle de Grandcourt."

With ashen face La Fosse turned hastily towards a small sécretaire, from which he took a paper.

"There is your note of hand for the Normandy estates, Gouville. I thank you for ridding me of Belcourt," he continued, mastering his agitation, "and with all my heart I wish you joy of your conquest."

Gouville crumpled the scrap of paper into his pocket with a smile.

"Au revoir, mon ami," he cried, putting forth his hand, "and may your suit prosper as well as mine, now that the obstacle is removed from your path."

La Fosse took the proffered hand, and answered his unsuspecting friend with a brave smile.

But when Stanislas was gone, and La Fosse was alone with his feelings, he gave vent to a bitter laugh at the irony of it all. He had restored a fortune to the bankrupt Stanislas as the price at which he was to remove the man who opposed his wooing of Madeleine de Grandcourt, and whilst Stanislas had accomplished this, he had wooed and won the lady for himself.

Sinking into a chair André de La Fosse buried his face in his hands, and cursed the fates that had played him so scurvy a trick.


Playing With Fire

The London Magazine, February 1913

Spencer Baynes was widely known as "The Anachronism," and there can be little doubt—as this story is intended to show—that he thoroughly deserved the by-name.

He was, in a dilettante way, something of a historian, a writer of monographs, who specialised in eighteenth century subjects. And he loved his eighteenth century. He was so profoundly steeped in the lore of it that some of its atmosphere actually clung to him, tempering his point of view, his actions, and, at times, his very speech. By nature—deep down—Spencer Baynes was prone to emotionalism and sensationalism; there was a neurotic seam in his temperament, which, however, he was able to conceal under an iron self-control very rare in men of his type. But, though he succeeded in concealing the real visage of his nature, he by no means succeeded in dissembling the mask itself.

It had been apparent throughout his rather painful interview with his wife on the subject of Frank Montford's excessive attentions to her; it was more marked than ever in the words of finality with which he brought the discussion to a close.

"You are getting yourself talked about," he said, calmly severe, and holding her cloak for her as he spoke. "So now you understand why it must cease. Come; here is your wrap."

But Emily Baynes did not move in response to the invitation. She remained by the overmantel, her left hand, delicately gloved, grasping the edge of it as if to steady her; and she attempted to stifle her indignation at this jealousy of her husband's which she accounted as stupid and humiliating as it was unfounded.

"I—I am getting myself talked about!" she echoed; and then she laughed to express her scorn. "Oh, but that's absurd! It isn't true—it can't be!"

"It only remains," he said stiffly, "that you should not believe me."

His tall, symmetrical figure, the faultless set of his garments, his shaven, young-old face under the dark hair, so very symmetrically grey at the sides, all heightened his histrionic air.

His wife looked at him with increasing dismay. She was small, fair and agreeably plump; pretty, too, with a fading prettiness that even in its freshness had reflected for the discerning something of the trivial, though kindly, little soul within.

"Come," he said again, insistently urging the cloak upon her; "we shall be late."

In the carriage she would have reopened the discussion, but he resisted it.

"My dear child," he said, as largely tolerant in manner as he believed himself to be at heart, "there is really no more to be said. If I am jealous, it is of your good name, which is my name. That, and my certain knowledge that you are giving occasion for talk, have led me to speak as I have spoken. I do not choose to believe that there is the least ground for this talk...but you have been indiscreet, and it is my duty to point out your indiscretion, and desire you to put an end to it. Your good sense, I am sure, must show you that I am right, and so there is no more to be said. That rose in your hair is most becoming."

She did not answer him. She sat back in her corner of the comfortable carriage and sulked.

And that night she danced with Frank Montford, and when the waltz was over she permitted him to lead her into a secluded nook of the conservatory.

It is true that she had sought, at first, to excuse herself. But under Montford's insistence she had consented—partly because she thought the opportunity would be a good one to tell him that his attentions to her must cease.

Montford announced that he had confidences to make. His confidences usually concerned his career and his ambitions, for he was your egotist who has no subject but himself. Failing to appreciate this latter fact, she had conceived herself most delicately and subtly flattered by confidences which she imagined were a tribute to her understanding.

To-night, however, there was that other matter on her mind, and no sooner were they seated in the worst lighted and most secluded spot in that conservatory than she straightway broached the subject. Not a little nervously and plaintively, she set herself to tell him that there must be an end to their sweet friendship. Delicately she was hinting that the odious world began censoriously to couple their two names when the mischief happened.

She had overdone the plaintiveness; and Montford, this clever, rising politician, hope and glory of his party, who was in some things as much a fool as any other utter egotist with a taste for philandering, misunderstood her completely. His arm had been lying behind her, along the back of the cane settle. He moved it forward to encircle her, and with a fatuous murmur he leaned over and kissed her cheek.

She was sitting in a half-crouching attitude, and in that attitude she remained, as if she had been a thing insensible. He had taken her too completely by surprise to give her time to resist; the thing was done before she suspected the intention, And when it was done she sat on, motionless and breathless. For even as he had committed the odious act she had raised her eyes, and seen her husband standing before them. She stared at him under the shock of what had now become a double horror, until Montford, observing her strained expression, looked up for the explanation, found it, and gasped.

Baynes advanced towards them, perfectly master of himself, the faintest of bitter smiles about his thin lips. Here was a situation which a man with eighteenth century habits of mind might carry off better than another. He bowed ceremoniously to his wife, and offered her his arm.

"I thought I should find you here," he said. "Lady Maud is asking for you." Montford he completely ignored.

She rose, took his arm, and departed, helpless and fascinated. It seemed to her that she was in a nightmare. She wanted to cry out, to pour out to him her bitter resentment of the cowardly insult of which she had been the victim, and to demand that he should punish the offender. Yet not a word of this could she bring herself to utter, realising how pitifully obvious it must sound—a guilty woman's lying protest against convicting evidence.

After the things that Spencer had heard, he must now think the worst of her. He must believe that he held proof of how well founded were the scandalous falsehoods he had disbelieved. She looked at him in terror, and found him smiling icily upon her.

"Delightful band they've got," he murmured, like a stranger making conversation. "But of course, the Green Bulgarians are famous. Lady Maud tells me that it is quite a year since she saw you, Emily. I hope she will find that you are looking well. You're a little pale, you know."

She made as if to stop, hanging more heavily upon her husband's arm. But he bore her relentlessly forward until he deposited her, half demented, in a chair beside the harsh-featured, deaf old lady who had so inopportunely sent him in search of her. Then, with a bow, he turned and went back to the conservatory.

He met Montford coming out, hands deep in his pocket, head bent, and eyes on the ground. The rising statesman stood aside without looking up. But Baynes did not pass.

"May I have a word with you, Montford?" he said, conscious—or subconscious—that his voice had the correct, politely sinister, eighteenth century ring.

Montford looked up. He realised that he was confronted by a situation, and that he must brace himself to meet it.

He nodded stiffly.

"Certainly." he snapped. "But this is hardly the place—"

"I have considered that," Baynes cut in. "Come this way, will you?"

He led the statesman up the broad staircase. It was his sister's house and he was at home in it. On the first floor the anachronism ushered his enemy into a small, book-lined room—his brother-in-law's study.

"I think," he said, as he closed the door, "that we can talk here without fear of being disturbed."

Montford screwed his single eyeglass into position, and with hands clasped behind him, head slightly forward, crossed slowly to the fireplace; there he turned and faced the outraged husband.

"Well?" he said.

"I suppose," Baynes inquired, faintly disdainful, "that it would be idle to ask you to cross the channel with me to-morrow morning?"

The glass dropped from Montford's eye and tinkled against one of the studs of his shirt. It hung there, a gleaming disc.

"Quite idle," he said, his voice hard and final. He had caught the other's meaning instantly.

Baynes looked him over and shrugged faintly.

"Now that's a pity," he said. He considered his finger-nails a moment. "My views may be a little out of date, but I have always held the abolition of duelling in England to be not only a mistake, but a mark of absolute degeneracy."

"The practice is the pride and ornament of the nation that retains it," sneered Montford.

But Baynes did not heed him.

"There are certain situations," continued the latter, "that are satisfactorily to be solved—honourably to be solved—in no other way. Such a situation has arisen between us."

"Now look here, Baynes," was the impatient rejoinder, "we may as well be practical. We may as well ignore a solution—as you call it—that is not possible in England."

"I am not so sure," said Baynes, quietly sinister.

"But I am," returned Montford. "So don't talk rot."

Baynes coloured slightly, his eye hardened, his manner became more pronouncedly histrionic.

"There is, of course, the law," he said, and it was his turn to sneer, whilst Montford actually paled. "But," he added slowly, "I do not care to invoke the law where my honour is involved. An encounter between us in England is out of the question, and you will not cross to France with me. You definitely refuse me that satisfaction?"

Montford was at a loss. Above all, he wanted to explain, to clear the air. But explanations for a husband who has caught you kissing his wife do not readily present themselves, even to a politician. He floundered mentally.

"This is all rot, Baynes, you know!" Sonorous and orotund as were the prepared periods he delivered in the House, in private life he had frequent recourse to the terse expressiveness of slang. "The duel is so—so un-English!" he declared.

"I see," said Baynes. "And you imagine that having said that you have snugly cloaked your cowardice, eh?"

Montford reddened violently and clenched his hands.

"Take care, Baynes," he growled. "Don't drive me too far!"

"My difficulty," was the answer, "is to drive you far enough. For you are curiously timid."

"Timid!" cried Montford, goaded now into a towering rage. "You're a coward, Baynes—a bully, let me tell you, although perhaps you don't realise it. You ask me to cross to France with you to fight a duel, knowing that I have never fired a pistol or handled a foil in my life, whilst you are a dead shot and one of the best swordsmen in Europe. What is that but cowardice? You want to murder me under the sham of a fight."

Baynes smiled gently, and rubbed his hands together.

"Very true," he admitted. "But if things were more level—the chances more equal, my skill neutralised—would you accept my proposal?"

"Whatever it might be," said Montford rashly, driven by his anger.

"Excellent!" said Baynes, "I am afraid I did your courage an injustice." He opened a drawer of the table by which he stood. "We'll fight the matter out here and now, since that is the case—with these." He produced a pack of cards, and dropped it on the table. "The loser shall shoot himself within twenty-four hours. Do you agree?"

Montford's rage was quenched now by his utter bewilderment. He felt that he was trapped. He stared at Baynes, and remembered vaguely at that moment that he had heard him called the anachronism.

"My God!" he gasped at last. "Can you really be serious?"

"Why not?"

"Why not? Because it's madness, sheer madness!"

"It was sheer madness to kiss my wife."

"But—but—" Montford spluttered, and stopped dead. The he broke out wrathfully: "Good heavens, man, do you suppose that I really care a rap for your wife, or your wife for me? Why, I tell you it was just—just—" He spluttered again. "There is nothing in it, absolutely nothing! I swear there isn't!"

"It naturally follows that when a man kisses another man's wife he invariably tells the husband the precise truth of the matter," said Baynes.

"If you don't believe me, ask your wife. Anyway, I've had enough of you. I'm off." And Montford strode towards the door, exasperation in every line of him.

"Just a moment, Montford. You may as well know the alternative to my proposal. It may interest you. You have thrust me into a position which I will not endure—the position of the poor, deluded husband, the man who is the recipient of the commiseration—the half-mocking commiseration—of the world in which we move. If you want a scandal, you shall have a scandal—a ringing scandal that will break you utterly. I shall carry a horsewhip with me in future, and when next I meet you, wherever it may be, I shall assault and thrash you until you can't stand. That done, I shall instruct my lawyers to file a divorce petition and cite you as co-respondent. Now you can go."

But Montford didn't move. His fingers left the door-knob, which he had already grasped. His jaw fell. His face turned as white as his shirt-front.

"But it's monstrous!" he cried. "What evidence have you got?"

"Enough, at least, to beat up such a scandal as your political career will never survive."

"Oh, you're mad! You'd ruin me!" Montford was genuinely scared.

"Why not?"

"You'd absolutely destroy my career! I should have to leave Parliament! And for what?" he demanded passionately. "Because I may have been a little indiscreet, because I—"

"Really, really, Montford!" Baynes broke in, soothing, suave. "There is no need for so much heat. I have told you what lies before you. If it appalls you, as well it may, there is still the alternative I should myself prefer, and to which you have, in a measure, pledged yourself already."

Montford looked in the other's eyes, and saw the man's deadly resolve.

"Very well," he snapped feverishly, "I agree." He came back to the table. "You leave me a choice of evils, and I am driven to take the lesser. But it's madness—stark, wicked madness. If you would only listen to reason, I—"

Baynes interrupted icily. "You quite understand the stake, I think. What shall the game be? Shall we cut best of three, or shall we play three hands at poker?"

"Oh, any blessed thing you like! The whole affair is so hopelessly insane."

"Three hands at poker, then," said Baynes, tearing away the cover of the pack. "It allows for just a modicum of skill. Cut for deal."

Montford cut a deuce, and took the pack. They sat facing each other across the table, Montford livid, his hand shaking; Baynes, always the actor, outwardly calm and collected, inwardly, perhaps, the more over-wrought of the twain.

Baynes drew one card to fill a straight, and failed. Montford took three to a pair of knaves, and, without improving his hand, was the winner.

"One to you," said Baynes. He took up the pack in his turn, and dealt.

Montford drew three cards to a pair of fives without improving; Baynes took one that proved useless, but won the hand on the original two pairs.

"One all." he said, as Montford gathered up the pack. "This decides it."

He was pale, but his hands were steady and his lips still smiled, although somewhat stiffly. Montford, on the other hand, was by now in a pitiable condition. He dared not trust himself to speak, and his hands were so shaky that when presently he took up the pack he sent the cards flying in all directions.

"A little nervous, eh?" was the anachronism's dry comment, whilst Montford groped under the table and about his chair for the cards he had upset.

At last he sat up again, pack in hand. And then, quite suddenly, he revolted, and put the cards down. "I won't do it!" he cried. "I can't! It—it's absurd!"

"As you please," said Baynes. "The divorce court and the scandal if you prefer it that way."

Montford flashed him a glance of utter hatred, and swore viciously, Then he set his teeth, braced himself, took up the cards again, and dealt. He left his hand lying face downwards whilst he waited for Baynes's discards.

"Three!" said Baynes.

Montford dealt them, then slowly picked up his own cards, discarded two, and drew two fresh ones.

"Three tens," Baynes declared, in a confident voice.

Without a word Montford spread his own hand upon the table, revealing three queens to dash the other's confidence. Then he fell back in his chair, limp and faint.

Baynes's pallor increased until his face was as livid as Montford's. But his lips never lost that frozen smile, and his voice preserved its steadiness when at last he broke the horrible silence.

"Ah, Montford, the proverb hasn't come true: 'Lucky at love' you know." He pushed back his chair and rose. He uttered a bitter little laugh.

"Look here, Baynes—for God's sake!" gasped Montford, leaning forward across the table and flinging out an arm in appeal. "Let's forget this. Let's wipe the thing out. It was nonsense—a joke—a—"

Under the haughty stare of Baynes's handsome eyes the statesman babbled off into silence. Then Baynes's smile slowly returned, but laden now with a contempt unutterable. "There are some things," he said, "you are quite incapable of understanding." He crossed to the door, opened it, and let in the strains of the voluptuous waltz from The "Contes d'Hoffmann," which the Green Bulgarians were playing. "Good-night, Montford, and good-bye."

Montford rose to check him.

"Baynes!" he called frantically, "Wait, Baynes!"

The slamming door was his answer. He sat down again, took his head in his hands, and groaned.

Ten minutes later Baynes and his wife were driving home. At another time she might have resisted his desire to leave so early. But to-night she was but too anxious to be alone at home.

They sat in silence throughout the drive. She felt again as she had felt when he was escorting her from the conservatory. She burned to pour out the true explanation of the odious thing he had witnessed. But, as before, the icy barrier about him repelled and held her silent.

Thus they reached home. He bade her good-night in the hall, his manner quiet and courteous, adding that he had some writing to do that would detain him below.

He made no sign of kissing her as usual, but this was more than she could endure. She came to him, and put up her face, smiling half piteously. For a second he considered her, hesitating. Then, abruptly, his arms tightened about her and he kissed her almost fiercely. The next moment he was his cold self again.

"Good-night," he said, in a level voice.

Emily Baynes went to bed, to lie awake with her misery for some hours, and, at last, to fall asleep for a little while. She awakened with a start at a few minutes to five. A sense of evil oppressed her. She rose, took a wrap, and gently opened the door of the dressing-room where her husband habitually slept. By the daylight filtering through the blinds, she saw that the bed had not ben disturbed.

With growing anxiety she went downstairs. From the hall, flooded with the morning sunshine, she passed into the study, where the blinds were down, her husband, entirely oblivious that it was daylight, busily writing at his desk by the light of an electric lamp.

At the sound of the opening door, he turned towards her a face that was white and haggard.

"Spencer!" she cried. "What are you doing? Do you know what time it is?"

The phrases were mechanical. She crossed quickly to his side, and, obeying her impulses, put her arms about his neck.

"Go to bed, dear," she urged him; "you look so tired and worn."

And then, without knowing why, she found herself weeping.

"Why, Emily! What is the matter?" His voice was hoarse, his tone weary.

"Oh, I don't know!" she cried. "I am tired and miserable. I can't sleep. I've been waiting for you to come up. I want to talk to you, to—to explain."

He made a gesture that was almost petulant. It stung her, and the thing so long pent up broke through at last.

"There is something to explain," she cried angrily. "You know there is, and you prevent me by setting up this—this wall of reserve. It—it isn't fair, Spencer. If your mind is full of bitter, ugly, cruel thoughts of me, why don't you utter them, and let me answer? I've been silly, perhaps. I am silly, I know, and—and I'm perhaps too fond of admiration."

"But for what Mr. Montford did to-night nothing that I have ever said or done gave him the slightest pretext. I was actually in the very act of telling him that his attentions to me were giving rise to talk; that I resented this, and that they must cease. Then, without warning, he—he kissed me. Oh-h!" Her little hands were clenched, her face burning with shame and anger at the memory. "I could never make you understand what I felt—my humiliation, my sense of insult, of injury, my utter loathing and abhorrence of that man.

"And then I saw you standing there; and the fear of what you might imagine left me paralysed. I don't know what you may have said to Montford. But I am sorry that you came just then; for nothing that you can have said or done could have lashed him as what I should have said to him had we been alone together for another second."

Her fierce earnestness rang true in every word she uttered; and Baynes had the knowledge that not once in their five years of married life had she told him an untruth. That she was speaking the truth now, the pure and simple truth, he knew beyond all doubting. But the knowledge that should have brought him relief and gladness brought him nothing but an added bitterness. It came too late. His arm crept slowly round her shoulder.

"Emily, dear," he murmured caressingly; and there was a suspicion almost of tears in the voice of this odd man who was in danger of losing his iron mask of self-control.

"Spencer! You didn't really believe that I—that it was other than I have said! You know, Spencer, that there is no one, that there never could be anyone but you—you, my husband!"

He groaned miserably, oppressed now by the full sense of the awful thing he had done—the worse that he stood pledged to do.

If she had only remained in bed, how easy—comparatively—might it not have been for him! If he could only have gone out of life sustained by his resentment and the belief that he was no longer wanted by her! But now! And yet the thing to which he stood committed must be done. His pledge was irrevocable. His honour demanded it. That was no anachronistic notion; it was a notion of all time. He had played a man with a certain stake upon the board. He had lost, and that stake was forfeit. He must pay, however terrible the price, for if he did not he could never respect himself again.

He realised now that he had fooled and blundered the whole thing. He was ending where he should have begun—by hearing his wife's explanation of the incident.

His wife stirred in his arms. Her eyes sought the litter of papers on his desk, half idle, half inquiringly. A little pile of long envelopes was ranged in an orderly manner along one side; the topmost, she saw, was addressed to his solicitors. A vague dread filled her—a dread that would have turned to positive horror had she known that amongst those envelopes was one addressed to herself. She was about to express her dread, to ask a question, when suddenly the doorbell pealed long and insistently, followed by a vigorous knocking.

They were on their feet, looking at each other, startled.

"Who ever can that be—at this time?" he wondered. He turned to his desk, swept the envelopes into a drawer, turned the key, and withdrew it. Then he went out.

She heard him open the front door, heard him utter an exclamation, heard steps in the hall, and a vigorous "Thank God!" in a voice that she recognised as Montford's.

Then the door closed again.

"What is it?" came her husband's level tones.

"I was afraid I might be too late—horribly afraid," said Montford, who was still in his dress clothes, and prey to an overwhelming agitation. "Look here, Baynes; you mustn't do this thing. I've come to tell you that you can take the other course, if you like. I'll stand the racket."

Only by the greatest effort did Baynes preserve his self-control. Temptation had him by the throat. Then he flung the thing off with loathing. He spoke, dropping his words one by one.

"Really, Montford! Really! Do you come here, disturbing the house at such an hour, to tell me this? I wonder that you dare! The matter is out of your hands. And you have no right to assume that I could or would go back upon what has been done."

Montford made a gesture of exasperation.

"The whole thing was so—so mad, don't you know! We don't live in times when that sort of thing can be done."

"I shall hope to convince you that we do," said Baynes coldly, betraying no slightest sign of the battle in his soul between his old-fangled notions and the almost overwhelming temptation that Montford offered him. "I am afraid I am detaining you," he added in dismissal, "and I don't think there is anything more to be said."

Montford hesitated a moment.

"But there is one other thing," he said slowly, looking Baynes straight in the face, "and I think it makes a difference—I cheated."

Baynes started; his eye quickened; a flush crept slowly into his cheek.

"You cheated!" he echoed, his voice trembling.

"Yes," said Montford brazenly. "You remember how I upset the cards, and had to grope for them on the floor? That was my opportunity—and I took it."

In the immensity of his relief—the relief of a man reprieved in sight of the gallows—Baynes could have taken Montford to his arms. But he repressed the impulse, as he had repressed his other feelings.

"Ah!" said he, "And what are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing. You are not to suppose that I am going home to blow my brains out. I am not. You can take what course you like—though Heaven knows you've no real cause to take any."

Baynes reopened the front door for his visitor.

"Be under no apprehension," he said, coldly sarcastic. "After all, it would be a pity to deprive your profession of one who promises to become so great an ornament to it. Good-morning!"

Montford hesitated still a moment; Then, with a shrug, he passed out in silence. Baynes closed the door.

His puzzled wife, standing on the threshold of the study, saw his face transfigured. The haggard look was gone, the eyes were bright, and there was a faint tinge of colour in his cheeks as he came quickly to her, and took her, in deepest thankfulness, to his heart.

She never quite understood the reason of the welcome change that came over him from that day. But, for that matter, neither did he. For he never learned that this Montford, whom he despised for a cheat, was no cheat at all—at least, not in the sense in which he had represented. Montford's only fraud had been his statement that he had cheated. And, after all, there was something heroic in that falsehood, of which he had availed himself as a last resource to save Baynes from the consequences of his anachronistic folly.


Sword and Mitre

Royal Magazine, December 1899
Munseys, July 1929, as "Rendezvous"

I

The Marquis de Castelroc stood smiling before me, and in his outstretched hand he held the appointment which, unsolicited, and even against my wishes, he had obtained for me in Lorraine.

For some moments I remained dumfounded by what I accounted a liberty which he had no right to take, and yet, imagining that feelings of kindly interest had dictated it, I had not the heart to appear resentful.

At length I broke the painful silence.

"Monsieur is extremely kind," I murmured, bowing; "but as I told you a week ago, when first you suggested this appointment to me, I cannot and will not accept it; nor can I fathom your motives for thus pressing it upon me."

The smile faded from his handsome, roué face, and the hard lines which characterized his mouth when in repose reappeared.

"You refuse it?" he inquired, and his voice had lost all that persuasive gentleness of a moment ago.

"I regret that I cannot accept it," I replied.

He dropped the parchment on to the table, and going over to the fireplace, leaned his elbow on the overmantel. With his gaze fixed on the ormolu clock, he appeared lost in thoughts of no pleasant character, to judge by the expression of his face.

I endured the ensuing silence for some moments; then, growing weary, and remembering a pair of bright eyes that were watching for my arrival in the Rue du Bac, I coughed to remind him of my presence.

He started at the sound; then turning, came slowly across to where I stood. Leaning lightly against the secretaire of carved oak, and laying a shapely hand, all ablaze with jewels, upon my shoulder, he gazed intently at me for a moment with those uncanny eyes of his.

"You are still a very young man, M. de Bleville," he began.

"Pardon me," I interrupted, impatiently; "but I was twenty-four last birthday."

"A great age," he sneered lightly; then quickly changing his tone as if he feared to offend me, "I speak comparatively," he continued. "You are young when compared with me, who am old enough to be your father. Youth, mon cher Vicomte, is rash, and often does not recognize those things which would revert to its own advantage. Now, I mean you well."

"I doubt it not, monsieur."

"I mean you well and take more interest in you than you think. I have noticed that you are growing pale of late; the air of Paris does not agree with you, and a change would benefit you vastly."

"I thank you, but I am feeling passing well," I answered with some warmth.

"Still," he persisted, puckering his brows, "not so well as a young man of your years should do. Lorraine is a particularly healthy country. You will take the appointment."

"A plague on the appointment!" I exclaimed, unable longer to restrain the anger which his impertinence excited. "I do not want it! Do you not understand me, sir? Notre Dame! But your persistence grows wearisome. Permit me to bid you good night; I have a pressing matter to attend."

So saying, I reached out for my hat which lay on the table beside the lighted tapers. But he caught my arm in his hand with a grip that made me wince.

"Not yet, vicomte!" he cried huskily. "I take too great an interest in you to let you go thus. We must understand each other first."

His pale face had an evil scowl, and his voice a ring of mockery little to my taste.

"Your life is in danger, monsieur," he said presently; "and if you persist in your determination to remain in Paris, evil will befall you."

"And from whom, pray?" I inquired haughtily.

"My Lord Cardinal."

"Richelieu!" I gasped, and I know that I paled, although I strove not to do so.

He bent over until his lips were on a level with my ear. "Who killed Beausire?" he whispered suddenly.

I recoiled as if he had struck me. Then, in an access of fury, I sprang upon him, and seizing him by the costly lace about his throat, I shook him viciously in my grasp.

"What do you know?" I cried. "Answer me, sir, or I will strangle you. What do you know? Confess!"

With an effort he wrenched himself free, and flung me back against the wall.

"Enough to hang you," he snarled, panting for breath. "Keep your distance, you young dog, and listen to me, or it will be the worse for you."

Limp and mute, I remained where I was.

"You may not know me well, Bleville"...he spoke now in calm and deliberate accents..."but those who do will tell you that I am a dangerous man to thwart. Your presence in Paris is distasteful to me. I have determined that you shall quit it, and go you shall...either to Lorraine or the Bastille, as you choose."

"I choose neither, sir," I answered defiantly.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"There is no third course open for you, unless, indeed, it be Montfauçon and the hangman. Come, be reasonable; take this appointment and go to Lorraine to recruit your health. Remember, vicomte, the cardinal has not forgotten his nephew's death, and it will go hard with you if I but whisper your name in his ear."

"You cannot substantiate your calumny!" I exclaimed.

"Ho, ho! Calumny, eh?" he jeered.

"Yes, calumny," I repeated, thinking to have found a loophole.

But my hopes were soon dashed.

"Pish!" he said; "but I have proofs, boy; written proofs. I have a letter which Beausire wrote to his wife on the morning of his death, wherein he told her he was going to St. Germain to a rendezvous with de Bleville."

"And why," I inquired suspiciously, "if such be the case, why was this letter not shown to Monseigneur de Richelieu by the widow?"

"Because it contained a request that if he fell, no disclosure should be made. The widow was forced to respect his last wishes. But she died last week, as you may possibly be aware. She was my sister, as you may also know, and after her death I found this letter among other treasured papers.

"What do you say now? Will you accept the appointment?"

"It was an honorable duel," I murmured sullenly.

He laughed.

"You can explain that to His Eminence," he answered derisively, "if you think it will weigh with him."

I knew full well that it would not; for, besides the royal edicts which forbade duelling...and in virtue of which we had gone to St. Germain to fight without seconds, trusting to each other's honor, so that there might be no witnesses, and so that the survivor might not be pestered with the law...Beausire was the cardinal's nephew.

Again Castelroc repeated that monotonous question, "Will you accept the appointment?"

For an instant I wavered, and had it not been for the memory of Mlle. de la Haudraye, who, at that very moment, would, I knew, be waiting for me in the Rue de Bac, I believe I should have ended by assenting. As it was, I could not leave Paris then. It was but the night before that I had tasted of the cup of life's happiness, when she had promised to become the Vicomtesse de Bleville, and I would make a desperate stand before the cup was dragged from my lips.

"Would you vouchsafe to tell me why you desire my absence?" I inquired at length.

"Because your presence annoys me," he answered surlily.

"That is no explanation, monsieur. I must have a reason."

"And, by Heaven, you shall!" he retorted furiously. "Listen, sir. There is a certain lady in Paris whom I love and whom I desire to wed; but I may not do so while you are by."

The absurdity of his explanation was such that I could not withhold a laugh.

"I do not understand how my presence can affect your affaires du coeur."

"No more do I! Mort de ma vie, I do not!" he answered vehemently. "But women are strange things, and this one has the bad taste to prefer you to me."

"And you think," I answered banteringly, not because I believed his preposterous tale, but because I desired to humour his mendacity, "that if I were absent; if this amorous maid's heart were no longer set aflame by the sight of my beauty, she might turn kindly to you?"

"You have said it," he cried bitterly. "For you are young and rich, and she would marry you for your money alone, whereas I am not so young, and far from wealthy."

I looked at the richness of his apparel, and of the room wherein we stood and smiled.

"But, M. de Castelroc," I exclaimed, "how can I be guilty of all this? I do not seek to wed the maid."

He looked at me in blank astonishment.

"You do not seek to wed Mlle. de la Haudraye?"

"Who?" I thundered, starting forward.

"Mlle. de la Haudraye."

For a moment I stared at him; then, stimulated by anger and scorn, I burst into a long, loud laugh.

"It amuses you?" he said icily.

"Par Dieu! In truth it does! Imagine the presumption of a man of your years and reputation, aspiring to the hand of such a woman as Mlle. de la Haudraye! Mon Dieu, 'tis passing droll!"

And with my hands on my sides I gave unrestrained vent to my hilarity, forgetful for the moment of the cardinal and the dungeon yawning at my feet.

But Castelroc sobered me suddenly by picking up that plaguey parchment.

"When you have had your laugh, you young fool, perhaps you will reconsider the advisability of accepting this document," he snarled, white with passion.

"May the devil take you and your document," I answered, picking up my hat. "Do what you please. I remain in Paris."

"I will give you twenty-four hours to deliberate," he cried.

"My mind will be unaltered in twenty-four years."

"Then, mon Dieu, I will go at once."

He touched a bell that stood upon the table.

"My hat and cloak, Guitant," he said to the servant who answered his summons, "and order my carriage. I am going to the Palais Cardinal."

"And I to the Rue du Bac," I cried, as the door closed upon the lackey. "To the Rue du Bac, to tell Mlle. de la Haudraye what manner of man you are, and what you are about to do. Now, master mouchard!" I exclaimed triumphantly, "if you imagine that your suit will prosper after that; if you imagine that the Comte de la Haudraye will permit his daughter to wed one of the cardinal's spies, you are a greater fool than I hold you for."

It was a rash speech, but for the life of me I could not have withheld it.

"You shall not go!" he roared, turning livid. "You shall not leave here but to go to the Bastille." Then raising his voice: "Ho, there, some one! À moi!"

My sword was out in a trice, and I rushed wildly at him, for his threat had frightened me, and I saw that my rashness was like to cost me dear.

He drew as I sprang forward, and was barely in time to parry a stroke that threatened to end his intriguing for all time. Before I could disengage, my arms were seized from behind, and, struggling madly, I was held there at his mercy.

But he only laughed and, sheathing his sword, said the cardinal would deal with me.

I was flung rudely down, and while one servant pinned me to the ground, another fetched a rope wherewith they bound me firmly, hand and foot. Then Castelroc rolled me over and struck me on the face.

I opened my mouth to tell him in fitting terms what I thought of his act, when, quick as lightning, he gagged me with a poire d'angoisse; then, with a parting gibe, he strode away and, locking the door after him, left me there, stretched upon the ground, powerless, inert, and mute.

II

For perhaps ten minutes I lay where I had been thrown, too stunned by the rude manner in which I had been handled to indulge in active thought. I did not think...at least not coherently; I was content to lie, like the human log they had made me, with a dull sense of anger at my defeat and powerlessness, and with a dismal feeling of despair.

Presently, however, I revived somewhat. The ticking of the ormolu clock was irritating to me, and I felt a burning desire to dash it from its shelf and silence it. But as I gazed upon the ornament I turned my thoughts to the time it measured, and in spirit I followed the Marquis de Castelroc to the Palais Cardinal.

"Even now," I thought, "he will be there; say he is kept waiting five minutes, it will be half past eight before he has speech of the cardinal, another five minutes to relate his story, and ten minutes for his return, accompanied by an officer of Richelieu's guards or of the Mousquetaires.

"By a quarter to nine I shall be arrested; by nine o'clock I shall be in the Châtelet, and by to-morrow in the Bastille."

I shuddered and groaned alternately for the next minute...and groaning with a choke-pear in one's mouth is not easily accomplished.

Next I remembered that I had my own rash tongue to thank for the ropes about me. Had I held my peace I might have been left free to proceed to the Rue du Bac, and warn Adeline and her father of what was about to take place. I could have gone calmly to the Bastille, afterward, reassured by the vows which I knew my lady would utter, and...I thought...fulfil, to wait for me. She might have to wait a few years, but even the Cardinal de Richelieu could not live forever; he was already old, and, in the end, I should be released, and we might still be happy.

But to disappear in this fashion, as if the earth had consumed me...it was dreadful! She would not know that it had been Castelroc's handiwork, and after she had mourned me for a few weeks, with that villain at hand to console her, who could say what might happen?

Women, I told myself, were fickle things, and many had an unhealthy fancy for a profligate, especially when, like Castelroc, he chanced to be courtly, handsome, and gifted with a persuasive tongue.

As these thoughts paraded themselves tormentingly before my brain, I was nigh upon becoming mad with anger. In a paroxysm of rage I writhed like a wounded snake upon the polished floor, and rolled myself over and over, until I had almost broken my pinioned arms.

I paused at length in my futile struggles, and lay panting, on my back, staring stupidly at the hands of the time-piece, which now pointed to half past eight. In another quarter of an hour Castelroc would return.

Oh, if I could only have that quarter of an hour free, so that I might yet go to the Rue du Bac!

Then the thought of escape presented itself, and I was astonished that it had not occurred to me before. The next instant, however, I laughed inwardly...the choke-pear prevented me from laughing aloud...as I remembered how impossible it was. But I set myself to think.

If only I could release my hands! But how? I looked about. My sword lay on the ground, but I could devise no means of employing it.

Then my eyes alighted on the tapers that had been left burning, and my heart almost ceased to beat at the idea they suggested.

I glance at the clock. It was already twenty-five minutes to nine. If only I had time. And at the thought I fell to cursing myself for not having acted sooner.

In ten minutes Castelroc would be back. Yes, but that was if he gained immediate audience. What if the cardinal kept him waiting? He might spend a half hour, an hour, or even two hours in the antechamber. Richelieu was not particular, and he had tried the patience of better men than Castelroc in this fashion.

Still, fortune favors fools and rogues as well as brave men, so it would not do to build my hopes upon a moonbeam. Of ten minutes I was certain, and what a desperate man could do in ten minutes, I would do.

With the agility of a reptile I wriggled across the room, and having turned myself upon my face, I contrived to kneel. Next, with my chin upon the table, I strove to raise the weight of my body.

I had almost succeeded, when of a sudden my feet slipped, and I fell heavily to the ground, dragging the table with me. Two of the tapers spluttered and went out, but the third, fortunately, still burned upon the floor.

With a wildly thumping heart I lay there listening, wondering if the noise of my fall had attracted attention. But as all remained quiet, I crawled over to the lighted taper, and having gained my knees, I bent over it backward, holding the rope that bound my wrists in the flame, heedless of the searing of my flesh.

In half a minute my hands were free, although severely cut and scorched. To draw the gag from my mouth, and cut the cords at my ankles with my dagger, was the work of an instant.

Then, having righted the candle and recovered my sword, I made stealthily across the room to the window.

III

I opened the window and looked out. It was a fine night, and clear enough, although the moon had not yet risen, for which I was thankful.

Pausing for a moment to inhale a deep, invigorating breath of the pure April air, I glanced about me for a means of escape, but groaned as I beheld the street pavement a good forty feet beneath, and nothing that might assist me to climb down, as I had hoped.

I wasted a full minute in cursing my ill-fortune, as I realized that, after all, there was nothing for it but to submit to the inevitable, and remain.

Only three minutes left! The thought acted on me like a dagger prod, and served to quicken my tumultuous thoughts. I turned wildly this way and that, and at last my eyes fastened upon the sloping roof of the adjoining house, not more than twelve feet below the window whereat I stood, but quite three feet away to the left.

For the moment I thought of jumping it; but the peril was too great. I would of a certainty have been dashed to pieces. Then a bright thought occurred to me, and I rushed back for my cloak, which lay in the room.

An iron stanchion protruded from the wall, a little to the left, and some two feet below the window. I know not what it did there, nor for the moment did I care. It was already a quarter to nine.

Reaching out, I tied with trembling hands a corner of my cloak to that most apropos of stanchions. Even as I completed the task, a carriage came rumbling down the street; I felt myself grow cold with apprehension. Could this be Castelroc?

I went near to dropping from my perch on the window sill at the thought. But the coach passed on, and I took its advent as a good omen. I would cheat the dog yet! Verily, I laughed as I lowered myself gently from the window.

For a moment I clung to the sill, suspended in mid-air; then, moving my right leg across, I got astride of the stanchion, wondering for the first time if it would bear my weight, and sweating with fear at the thought.

But the iron was stout and firmly planted. Presently I was sliding slowly down my cloak, until there was perhaps a yard of it above my head. Next, taking a firm hold, I set myself to swing backward and forward, until at length the roof of the adjoining house was immediately below my feet.

Twice might I have loosened my hold and dropped with safety, but a miserable fright made me hesitate each time until it was too late. The third time, however, realizing that the strain was beginning to tell upon my arms, and that I might not have strength enough left to swing across again, I commended my soul to God, and let go.

Down I came with a crash upon the tiles, and it is a miracle that I did not slide over the edge of the sloping roof, plunging into eternity. I did, indeed, slip for a foot or so, but in wild terror I clawed the roof like a cat, and caught myself betimes.

Panting, and covered with perspiration, I lay there for a minute or two to regain my breath and steady my shaken nerves, gazing at my still dangling cloak and at the lighted window above, and marveling greatly that I had had the daring to undertake so desperate a journey.

Castelroc had not yet returned, so I concluded that the cardinal had kept him waiting, Still, he might appear at any moment, and I was too near my prison to feel safe as yet.

So picking myself carefully up, I crawled along on hands and knees for a while, until presently, growing bolder with experience, I rose to my feet and hurried as rapidly as I dared along that elevated highway.

For some five minutes I pushed steadily onward, with naught save a stray cat or two to keep me company.

Albeit the road was passing new to me, and vastly interesting, I began to weary of it, and paused to think how I might descend to the more usual walks of men.

I had reached the corner of the Rue Trecart by then, and looking about me, I saw an attic window conveniently situated on one of the roofs to my left.

Turning, I wended my steps in that direction, and with infinite pains I crawled down until I stood beside it.

The window was fastened; but it was an easy matter to put my foot through it, and afterward my arm, and thus gain admittance.

I stood for a moment in a small, unfurnished room, to listen if there might be any one at hand to resent my intrusion. Hearing naught, I went forward, opened the door, passed out on to the landing, and in the dark I felt my way stealthily down the stairs.

I had reached the first floor and was debating whether I should go boldly down and quit the house in a rational manner by the street door, when suddenly, hearing male voices and a certain raucous laughter, suggestive of the bottle, I deemed it best to risk no meetings that might be avoided.

I applied my ear to the keyhole of the door by which I stood. As all remained still, I turned the handle and entered. There was nobody in the room, which I could just discern was tastily furnished, and contained a bed; so, closing the door after me, I stole across to the window, which opened on to a wooden balcony.

As I reached it my attention was arrested by the clash of steel below.

"What," I thought, "brawling at this hour, and in the very streets of Paris, in spite of the edicts?"

Softly I opened the window and stepped out on to the balcony. The sight which met my eyes filled me with astonishment and anger.

A tall, well-built cavalier, with his back against the wall immediately beneath me, the crown of his hat almost on a level with the balcony, which was not more than six feet from the ground, stood defending himself with masterly dexterity against the onslaught of three evil-looking knaves.

If these men had no respect for the laws of the king, they might at least have some for the laws of chivalry. I did not hesitate a moment what to do, and forgot my own affairs utterly. Drawing my sword, I vaulted over the low wooden railings and, like the warrior St. Michael from heaven to do battle for the right, I dropped, with a yell, into their astonished midst.

IV

Notre Dame! How those three ruffians stared at my unexpected and inexplicable advent!

And I, having seen what manner of men they were, felt no compunction at profiting by their surprise to run my sword through the nearest of them, from breast to back. He uttered a sharp cry, dropped his rapier, clawed the air for a moment; then, falling in a heap upon the ground, lay still.

With a shout of rage another one sprang at me before I could release my sword. The lunge he directed upon me would assuredly have sent me from the world unshriven, had not the cavalier interposed his blade and turned the murderous stroke aside.

The next moment, however, he had to defend his own skin from the third ruffian, who sought to take the same advantage of him that his fellow had endeavored to take of me.

But the respite had permitted me to regain my sword, and I now engaged my assailant across the body of his fallen comrade, and kept him busy, albeit the light was bad.

As I had expected, he was but a sorry swordsman, and his parries reminded one of a windmill. Nevertheless, he kept up a vigorous cut-and-thrust play of the old Italian school, which, although soon reckoned with in daylight, is mighty discomposing in the dark, and on a slippery ground with a body at your feet to stumble over if you lunge too far.

During the first few passes I laughed at his labors, and asked him banteringly if he were wielding a battle-ax; but presently, when I had been forced to turn my sword into a buckler three or four times, I recognized that the season was ill-timed for jesting.

If only I could catch that busy arm of his quiet for a second, I knew I should have him.

Presently he essayed a direct thrust, thinking to force my guard, but I caught his point, and with a sharp riposte, which ended in an engage in tierce, I brought his play to a standstill at last.

The opportunity was not to be wasted; so, with a quick one, two stroke, I sent my point round under his elbow, and while he went fumbling away to the right for my blade, it was grating against his ribs on the left. The man uttered no sound.

He fell heavily across his companion's body. Then, raising himself by a stupendous effort, he fastened one arm around my leg, and attempted to shorten his sword. The exertion soon overcame him, however, and as I kicked my leg free, he sank down in a swoon.

The whole affair had not lasted two minutes. The chevalier was still at work with his opponent; but when, turning, I advanced to his aid, the remaining ruffian sprang back, and setting off at a mad gallop down the street, was soon lost to our eyes and ears alike.

"I am deeply indebted to you, monsieur," said the chevalier in a curiously muffled voice, as he held out his left hand to me. "My right hand is bleeding slightly," he explained.

I took the proffered hand and, in answering him, I looked up at his face and saw he wore a mask.

"I am happy to have been of service to so valiant a gentleman," I said, bowing. "But how came you, if I may inquire, into such company?"

"I was decoyed hither," he answered with a bitter laugh. "I was bidden come alone, and I was foolish enough to accept the invitation."

Whereat, thinking that possibly there was some jealous lady in the matter, and knowing how such affairs are managed, I inquired no further.

"Had it not been for your timely arrival," my companion added, "there would have been an end of me by now. But whither are you bent?" he inquired suddenly.

"To the Rue du Bac," I answered, as my own forgotten affairs came back to my mind.

"Then I will take you there in my carriage; it is waiting not many yards from here. I can thus make up to you for the time that you have lost on my behalf. But let us see these knaves first."

We turned the two fellows over. One of them was but slightly wounded; but the other one...the first to fall...was quite dead. We dragged them under the balcony, and propped them against the wall.

"I will send some one to attend to them," said my companion. "Come, it is not safe to linger. The patrol may pass at any moment."

With that he linked his arm in mine, and drew me away from the spot. And as we went he fell to thanking me again, and ended by praising my swordsmanship...albeit he had seen but little of it himself...and saying that it was an accomplishment one should be thankful for.

"And yet, monsieur," I exclaimed, "although I am thankful enough to-night, since it has afforded me the opportunity of serving you, yet I am at this very moment in grievous trouble, thanks to my rapier play."

"Ah!" he murmured, with a show of interest. "And if I am not impertinent, what is this trouble? I may be able to assist you...who knows?"

I required no second invitation, for youth is ever ready with its confidences, and, as we walked along, I began my narrative. When I spoke of Castelroc as a spy of Richelieu's, he stopped abruptly.

"The Marquis de Castelroc is no spy of the cardinal's," he said coldly.

"Ah, pardon! I have offended you, monsieur!" I exclaimed. "Castelroc is a friend of yours."

"God forbid!" he ejaculated.

"But you know him?"

"Yes, for the greatest rogue unhanged. But pursue your tale. You interest me."

V

Briefly I told my story down to the point where I had sprung from the balcony to his assistance.

"The dastard!" he uttered, then quickly added, "Hélas, my poor friend, your case is indeed grave; but if you were to seek audience of the cardinal and explain to him...qui sait?...he might forgive. The affair is old and probably forgotten. Moreover, you appear to have been forced into this duel with Beausire, and, ma foi, I fail to see how a gentleman could have done otherwise than fight under such circumstances."

"Aye, monsieur," I answered, shaking my head; "but the cardinal will not trouble to inquire. His edicts forbid duelling. That is sufficient. But of more were needed...Beausire was his nephew."

"You misjudge him."

"Nay, monsieur, I do not, I recognize in His Eminence a great and just man, too just to err on the side of mercy."

At that juncture we turned the corner and walked full into a patrol coming in the opposite direction.

My companion surprised me by bidding the sergeant go attend to the wounded man we had left behind.

"Has there been a duel?" the fellow inquired.

"Possibly," answered the cavalier with great composure.

The sergeant eyed us suspiciously for a moment, then bade us return with him.

"We have business elsewhere, and the affair does not concern us," answered my companion.

"I know not that..." the other began, when suddenly:

"Peace, fool," the cavalier muttered, and drawing forth his right hand, which he had said was wounded, and hitherto kept carefully under his cloak, he held it up.

I knew not what magic was in those fingers, but at the sight of them the sergeant fell back with a cry of dismay; then, recovering himself, he bowed low before us, and bade us pass.

A moment later, and before I could master my surprise at what I had witnessed, we entered a carriage that stood waiting hard by.

"Palais Cardinal!" said my companion.

"No, no!" I exclaimed, making for the door; but the coach was already in motion. I turned to expostulate with my companion. He had removed his mask, and a wild panic seized me as, by the light of a street lamp, I recognized...the cardinal!

"Well, my young friend," he laughed, "you are in luck to-night; and since you have caught Richelieu breaking his own edicts, you have a right to expect that he will not judge you over harshly, and that for once, this 'great and just man' will err on the side of mercy."

"Your Eminence!" I cried.

He raised his hand, upon which I now beheld the sacred amethyst which had so subjugated the sergeant.

"Say no more," he said; "You owe me nothing, while I owe you my life. As for this Castelroc, I am sorry to keep you from Mlle. de la Haudraye for a few moments longer; but I shall be grateful if you will afford me the amusement of beholding his face when we walk in, arm in arm, to grant him the audience for which he is, no doubt, still waiting. I know the gentleman of old; he was involved in a Gascon plot last winter, and had a finger in one of Anne of Austria's tasty pies a few weeks ago. I have lately been thinking of finding him a change of lodging, and your story has decided me. I do not think a sojourn in the Bastille would be amiss, do you?"

I confessed with a laugh that I did not, and a few minutes later Richelieu's fancy for studying facial expressions found ample entertainment in the countenance of the marquis.

As ten was striking...so quickly did it all occur...Castelroc and I left the Palais Cardinal in separate carriages, he going to the Bastille with a mounted escort, and I...at last...to the Rue du Bac.


The Act of Sequestration

London Magazine, August 1908

When Monsieur des Charolles first heard the rumour that the Mayor of Argentan was paying addresses to his sister, he smiled his disdainful unbelief of so monstrous a contingency. But rumour oft repeated, however monstrous the facts it bruits, has a way of undermining incredulity and compelling attention. On the fifth occasion that the story was borne him, des Charolles still smiled, but no longer scornfully. It was with a grim set of the lips that boded ill for the Mayor should the rumour be proven true, that the member of the chètive noblesse of Normandy reached for his hat with the determination of at once repairing to his sister and obtaining from her lips the denial of this vile tale.

Ordinarily, des Charolles was a man of peace, whom the library afforded more joys than the manége. It was by virtue of this strain in his character that he had made over by deed of gift to his only sister—whose business capabilities were of the highest order—the family estates of Bar-le-Roi and Antonville, retaining for himself no more than the Château des Charolles and its contiguous lands. From the splendid management of Eugénie des Charolles it had resulted that now, after five years of her dominion, the rent-rolls of Bar-le-Roi amounted to almost twice the handsome figure at which they had stood when handed over to her care.

The deed of gift by which des Charolles had transferred these estates to his sister contained the proviso that upon her death they should pass on to the heir-at-law. That Eugénie should ever marry had never entered his calculations; for the consideration that she had reached the age of forty-five, and lacked such charms as are looked for by discriminating men in the women they would espouse, seemed to assure her immunity from such an accident.

It now entered into Carolle's speculation that it was not impossible that a man of the base quality of Prèvitaeu—the Mayor—might be willing to take to his arms the withered bride for the sake of the fat rent-rolls that were her portion. But the next moment he was laughing at such fears. It was a preposterous old wives' tale. Old maids may be foolish, and a woman of forty-five may fall an easy prey to a designing man, but his sister, Eugénie des Charolles, surely did not belong to that base category.

He had all but set his mind at rest by the time that he reached Bar-le-Roi. And when a servant informed him that mademoiselle was in the garden, he hastened to her with a light step and a bright smile of greeting. But that step of his grew of a sudden heavy as he crossed the terrace, the smile froze on his lips, and his glance hardened with anger as they lighted on the obese figure of the elderly Prèviteau, tricked out like any gallant of the Louvre in splendid silks and fluttering ribbons, pacing, with such sprightliness as an elephant might effect, beside Eugénie des Charolles.

"Eugénie!"

Charolles' voice came harsh and sudden to break upon that touching idyl of autumnal love.

They started round at the call, and some of the colour fled from the Mayor's pendulous cheeks at the sight of that tall, commanding figure, whose eyes were bent so sternly upon him. He made a deep obeisance, like that of some fat taverner welcoming a noble guest, and remained apart whilst Eugénie went forward to greet her brother.

"That—that—man!" quoth des Charolles, his finger raised to point, his lip curling in a scorn ineffable. "What makes he here?"

She bridled at the contempt implicit in his question.

"It is Monsieur Prèviteau, the Mayor of Argentan," she answered, her thin lips compressed, her gaunt cheeks flushed. "You know him, Henri?"

"I know him—yes," he answered, his iciness increasing under this evidence that there was some truth in the vile rumour for whose refutation he was come. "I know Gilles, the taverner of the Three Pigeons; Antoine, the ostler at the same resort. I know Prudhomme, the spicer of the Rue Cracquemart; Mauxcorne, the saddler of the Place de l'Avoine; but I should not look to find any of them in your rose-garden with you at Bar-le-Roi."

The Mayor shivered in the background. He would have effaced himself, had there been a way, from the eyes of that dreadful man who ranked him so brutally with taverners and ostlers, saddlers and spicers.

But Eugénie drew herself up—a lean, arrogant, masterful old maid.

"I hardly understand you, Henri," she told him, "unless your aim be to insult this gentleman. And that were ill-advised, for Monsieur Prèviteau has done me the honour to ask me to be his wife."

Years seemed to fall of a sudden from the quiet, studious Charolles; and the man who now faced those lovers was the fire-eating Charolles, who had lent a hand at the siege of La Rochelle some twenty years ago.

"Par le mort Dieu!" he roared. And he took a step in the direction of the Mayor, who simultaneously took a step backward. "This insult—" he began. But his sister barred his way and his words.

"Insult?" she interrupted, with a fine hauteur. "What is this babble of insult? I account Monsieur Prèviteau's suit so far from insulting that I have consented to become his wife."

Charolles fell back. Some of the colour left his cheeks, and, open-mouthed, he gaped at his sister. In the background, Prèviteau, taking some courage from his air of discomfiture, and bethinking him, too, that as a gallant, rake-helly young lover, it was time for him to take a hand in the affair, stepped forward with an outward boldness that was second only to his inward misgivings.

"You will please to remember, Monsieur des Charolles, that your sister is of an age to direct her own affairs," was his unhappy remonstrance.

"By God, yes!" roared Charolles, choking with a sudden laughter that was particularly unpleasant. "None will gainsay you in the matter of her age. But that she should lack the wit to fathom this monstrous suit of yours, Monsieur le Maire, serves to show how little wisdom has come to her with years, and how much she is in need of my assistance."

"Neither do I need your assistance nor desire your presence!" was mademoiselle's angry rejoinder. "Let me beg you that you will set a term to this visit before I summon my grooms to drive you from my house!"

"From your house?" quoth he, in stupefaction. "And since when have I ceased to be the head of the family of Charolles?? Since when has it ceased to be my house?"

"Since by the deed of gift you made it over to me with all the lands of Bar-le-Roi and Antonville," she answered him.

He had hardly considered the full force of this until that moment, and for an instant he was staggered by it. Then his anger welled up hotter than it had been.

"And do you," he asked stormily—"do you, who have considered all this, fail to perceive that such is the very reason why you are sought in marriage by this toad?"

"Sir, you insult both the lady and me!" put in the Mayor with a portentous dignity.

"I shall hope to insult you further!" blazed back the nobleman. "Shame on you, you fat vassal, to come here tricked out like a harlequin in a blaze of colour to do this disgraceful wooing, your second wife not three months dead! Have you considered that, Eugènie? Woman, what illusions can remain you? Do you not see that it is the enjoyment of Bar-le-Roi and Antonville that is coveted by this greasy rascal? Or do you imagine that you who at your best, with but half the years that you now reckon, had not beauty enough to get you a lover, can do so now? Does your mirror tell you no truths, foolish old woman?"

"These brutalities—" she began.

"Are not a little distasteful to me," he assured her, "yet do they seem the only means by which I can bring you to a sense of your position."

A wiser woman might have been swayed by him. But where shall we find a woman of forty-five with a first lover who is wise? Of these was not Eugènie des Charolles. The chance of marriage had come to her at last, and upon marriage was she bent. Of that firm resolve she gave her brother the most unequivocal assurance.

It calmed him to the point of coldness, and this, coming instead of the fresh burst of passion she had looked for, filled her—as it did her lover—with a curious apprehension.

"Monsieur le Maire," said Charolles, "you have here an illustration of the futility of attempting to reason with a headstrong woman. Let me hope that with a man of your undoubted good sense I shall prevail better."

But Prèviteau was not minded to wait for Charolles' arguments. He felt that he must appear the cur that at heart he was did he not support Eugènie's firmness with a firmness no less emphatic.

"Monsieur des Charolles," he interrupted, "I beg that you will spare me any reasonings. I am fully resolved to wed your sister; and it is in consideration of this fact that I am willing to overlook and to forget the—the unseemly expressions of which you have made use, and the—the flagrant injustice which you have done the sincerity of my affections."

Charolles perceived that here deeds, not words, had become necessary. He shrugged his shoulders, peeled the glove from his left hand, and stepping close up to Prèvitaeu, he flicked the man's heavy nose with the fingers of it.

"To the insult of my expressions, which you so nobly incline to overlook, let me add the insult of this blow," said he. "I shall wait to hear from you."

By his lights he had adopted the only course that remained to save his family from ridicule—to kill the Mayor. But the Mayor was none so easily led to the slaughter.

He turned a sickly green, and his knees trembled under his large bulk. Thus for a moment; then he recovered. He bowed with a ludicrous attempt at ceremoniousness.

"I am desolated, Monsieur des Charolles," said he, "that even in this small measure I must deny you the satisfaction you seek, It would little become me to break the law of which I am the upholder and administrator in Argentan. I beg, monsieur, that you will bear in mind His Eminence's edict."

Hat on head, a contemptuous smile on his lips, Charolles moved his eyes to his sister's flushed and angry countenance.

"You hear him?" he asked pregnantly. "You hear this hot-blooded, gallant lover of yours, this plump Cupid, this fair Adonis, this passionate Corydon?"

Then, with a sudden gust of anger, he turned once more upon the Mayor.

"You hound!" he rasped. "You miserable, pitiful cur, who shield yourself behind edicts, and have the effrontery to seek in marriage the daughter of Gaston des Charolles, hear me now! Pursue, if you dare, the perilous road of this wooing; but be warned that on the day you publish the banns of this marriage—on that same day, as Heaven is my witness, I shall seek you out and kill you!"

And with that Henri des Charolles turned on his heel, and, without word of farewell, took his departure.

That night the Mayor of Argentan slept ill. He wondered whether even the rich prosperity of Bar-le-Roi were worth the risk which its acquisition carried. A nature of less cupidity would have abandoned the suit. But the Mayor was a mighty covetous man. Much thought brought some counsel. His life had been threatened. He would appeal to the Cardinal for protection against the brawler. And so he did. That very day he indited a letter as bulky and ponderous as his own gross personality, and dispatched it by a special courier to His Eminence Cardinal Jules Mazarin.

And thus it was that the affair came into the hands of Bernouin, who was nominally the Cardinal's valet, but in reality his secret agent and most trusted ambassador.

Bernouin was on the point of starting for Brittany to convey to the seneschal of that province certain acts of sequestration of the estates of some misguided nobles who had been concerned in one of the treasons of that weak-kneed, busy plotter Gaston d'Orlèans.

To Bernouin, Mazarin entrusted the letter from Prèviteau, desiring him to sift the matter in passing and to make his report.

So it befell that one Sunday—about a month after the stormy interview at Bar-le-Roi—sleek-headed, black-eyed Bernouin rode quietly up to the inn of the Three Pigeons at Argentan, and requested a room. He ordered supper, and it was his intention to leave his business with the Mayor to wait until morning. It was a hot night, and Bernouin sat with open windows. And presently, just as he was helping himself to a fat slice from the breast of a juicy capon, there came from without a sudden roar for help, succeeded by a thunder of shouts, and, dominating all, the clash of steel.

Now it was not the nature of Bernouin to let such sounds go unheeded. His master had an edict against the display of naked swords in the street, and, as his master's representative, it was his duty to inquire into this affair below. He gathered up his hat, and, with his sword tucked like a cane under his arm, he darted down the stairs and out of the inn. The shouts had subsided, but the ring of steel was still there to guide his steps, and presently he came upon the scene of action.

A tall and seemingly agile gentleman had his back to the wall, and was stubbornly fighting against three others, one of whom was remarkable for his portliness of frame and wheeziness of breath.

Now, let his master make what rules he liked against brawling, Bernouin was a very human man, and he played a pretty rapier, which accomplishment he was never weary of displaying. In a trice he had bared his sword, tossed the scabbard from him, and ranged himself alongside the tall man. He announced his arrival by playfully pricking the corpulent gentleman about the body—most tempting of butts—and then, whilst his victim fell back shrieking that he was slain, he turned aside a stroke which one of the others aimed at the man he had elected to support, and returned the lunge with a lightning reposte that transfixed the fellow's sword-arm.

"To me!" roared he, whom Bernouin had befriended. "Charolles! Charolles!"

At mention of that name, the valet halted on the verge of pursuing the last of the opposing party. He would have questioned the tall man, but suddenly there came the tramp of approaching feet. The fat man, with a roar of triumph, turned about and came upon them now with a posse of soldiers at his heels.

"To the corps-de-garde with them!" he shrieked, "Assassins!"

"Monsieur," said Charolles to Bernouin, "I thank you for your gallant aid. Here is no more to be done. I beg that you will save yourself while there is time."

But Bernouin had other notions. The corps-de-garde of Argentan had few terrors for him. At his nod the prison doors should open.

"It is too late," he rejoined. "I am afraid, monsieur, that we are to be companions in bad fortune, even as we were just now in good."

"At least," laughed Charolles, "it would seem that I could not be in better company."

Bernouin bowed in the gloom, but his bow lacked grace, for a rough hand fell upon his shoulder, and a pike-butt was thrust between his legs to trip him up. Soldiers surrounded them now, and plucked their weapons from them. On the skirts of that military crowd hung the fat Mayor, now howling with the pain of his trivial wound, now bellowing unnecessary orders to the young officer in charge of the gens d'armes.

Thus Bernouin and des Charolles were hurried away to prison, and in a dim and dirty cell they were lodged together, there to lie until morning, when, they were told, the Mayor should deal with them.

Charolles snorted scornfully as the door closed upon them.

"The Mayor shall deal with us," he snarled. "Monstrous! The man with whom I fought in the streets to-night is to oppose us in open court to-morrow!

"Was that obese person the Mayor of Argentan?" asked Bernouin, marvelling how strangely Fate had brought him into the very affair that he was charged to investigate.

"Ay, the Mayor and a couple of his knaves. He has had himself so attended for the past month, and never stirs forth without a bodyguard. But I had passed him my word that on the day of the announcement of the banns of his marriage to my sister I would kill him, and so, bodyguard or not, I set about keeping my word to-night."

"Crèdieu!" swore Bernouin softly, "you are a stout man, Monsieur des Charolles. When I came to your rescue I accounted you the attacked party. Am I inquisitive in seeking to know more of the quarrel that lay between you?"

"By the assistance you so gallantly rendered me you have acquired every right. For a man should know in what quarrel he stands embroiled." And with that Charolles gave him the story of what had passed—a story that shed a new light on the matter contained in the Mayor's letter to Mazarin. Charolles was a gentleman, and Bernouin might not doubt the truth of his assertions. But he was at liberty to doubt his conclusions in one respect.

"You are assured, Monsieur des Charolles," he asked, "that the Mayor is actuated solely by cupidity in this suit of his?"

"By what else could he be actuated?"

"Why, there have been marriages—at least, so I have heard tell—founded upon natural affection. Might not the Mayor be stirred by love of mademoiselle your sister?"

Charolles stared at him in the dim light of the smoky lamp which had been left them.

"I would to Heaven that you could see mademoiselle my sister, monsieur!" he cried. "That should be assurance enough for any man."

The door opened, and a soldier entered to know if they would have supper sent for. Bernouin rose, a slim figure, not over tall, and dressed entirely in black as was his wont and as became his position. There was nothing about him that was impressive save those eyes of his and the set of his lips, which had a commanding way.

"You will do me the kindness to ask the officer in charge to step in here," he said quietly.

The soldier stared at him.

"But certainly, monseigneur," said he, with a mock respect. "Shall I say that it is the King of France, or only the Sultan of Turkey?"

"You will say that one his prisoners requests his immediate presence. And you will do that, or I give you my word of honour you shall be flogged out of your worthless senses in the morning."

The tone was one that impressed Charolles no less than it did the soldier. Whilst this latter went upon his errand, the former turned to Bernouin with eager inquiries, which the Cardinal's valet quietly nipped.

"I am about to leave you, Monsieur des Charolles," he answered coolly, "but I may be able to assist you. I promise that you shall hear from me before very long, and I beg that you will do nothing until you do. Here comes the officer. Monsieur, good-night!"

In answer to the lieutenant's surprised and supercilious inquiries Bernouin handed him a small sheet of parchment, on which he read:

Be it known by these presents that the bearer is in my service, and that whatsoever he shall do I shall account well done. I charge all loyal subjects of His Majesty to aid and further him in whatsoever purpose he may require their aid, and I warn those that would hinder him that they doso at their peril.—JULES MAZARIN

Beside the Cardinal's signature was his seal, and he had been a bold man that did not bow low, as did now the lieutenant before the plenipotentiary who was the bearer of such credentials.

"You will kindly inform Monsieur the Mayor that I escaped," said Bernouin. "No more than that, as you value your position, nor will you any way allow it to transpire that I am His Eminence's agent."

The officer bowed again, and, within five minutes, to the entire mystification of Charolles, Bernouin was on his way back to the Three Pigeons to finish his interrupted supper.

Next morning, arrayed in a coat gayer than usual, and with a brown wig to cover his sleek head, lest the Mayor should otherwise have recognised one of his last night's assailants, Bernouin waited upon Prèviteau. Very obsequiously was Mazarin's emissary received by the Mayor, and very soon was he hearing once more the story of the feud betwixt Prèviteau and the Sieur des Charolles.

Bernouin was all affability and graciousness. He evinced the keenest desire to assist the Mayor against this brutality on the part of Charolles, but he deprecated his failure to see a way by which it might be accomplished.

"I fear, monsieur," he ended, "that there is no ground upon which His Eminence would be justified in taking action."

"But consider, monsieur," cried the Mayor, who was very pale as a result of the fright Bernouin's scratch had occasioned him last night—"consider that I go in danger of my life. Charolles has threatened to kill me."

"Unfortunately the law of France does not allow a man to be punished for his intentions. We must wait, monsieur."

"In God's name, what must we wait for?" gasped the Mayor.

"For Monsieur des Charolles to kill you. Then there will be a clear case of murder against him."

The Mayor bounded from his chair, his eyes protruding from their puffy sockets.

"You make a mock of me, monsieur," he cried.

"Ah, but no! I state facts. If you knew of any other crime on this man's part—if, for instance, he had ever been implicated in any treasonable dealings—we should be able to rid you of him."

The Mayor's eyes suddenly narrowed. Guile entered his rascally soul. It was misfortune that he should know of no treason, but it was by no means a misfortune that might not be remedied. He had heard some rumours once. He had disbelieved them then, Why should he not believe them now—now that it would fall in so well with his own interests? Why not, indeed? To that temptation he succumbed, being the grossly unscrupulous self-seeker that he was.

"I know him for a traitor of the very blackest!" he burst out.

Bernouin turned, his air suddenly alert. He smelt the lie as though it had been a concrete thing. Here was a noose by which this fat rascal of a Mayor might hang himself most speedily.

"Tell me of it," he begged. And the Mayor told him. Such a tale was that! It would have hanged a dozen men if it had held together a little better, But, being impromptu and unconsidered, it implicated nobody but the Mayor—and him with a monstrous falsehood.

"Set it in writing," said Bernouin quickly. "Affirm the truth of it upon oath, and this Charolles is a broken man."

"You promise me that?" cried the Mayor, scarce believing so much good fortune. And Bernouin grinly promised it him, asking where this Charolles might be. Upon hearing from Prèviteau that he was in prison, Bernouin advised his immediate enlargement.

"Such a state of things might give this document of yours a savour of vindictiveness," was his explanation. And the Mayor, rubbing his fat hands, chuckled at Bernouin's shrewdness, and promised to follow his advice.

Bernouin left Argentan bearing with him the Mayor's signed accusation of Charolles. He returned within a week, and he waited upon the Mayor with a bundle of papers and parchments of a very legal aspect tucked under his arm.

"Monsieur," said he, "I have the pleasure to announce to you that you have won. It but remains for me to set the law in motion."

"What have you accomplished, my friend?" asked the Mayor. "What have you there?"

"I have here an act of sequestration, by virtue of which the entire Charolles estates, comprising the Château des Charolles and the demesnes of Bar-le-Roi and Antonville, are confiscate to the Crown. It is thus that His Eminence deals with traitors."

Prèviteau stared at the valet from out of a face that had grown pale and seemed of a sudden aged by years.

"But, monsieur," he gasped, "you cannot be aware that the demesnes of Bar-le-Roi and Antonville are the property, by deed of gift from Monsieur des Charolles, of Mademoiselle des Charolles, his sister."

Bernouin affected a pitying concern. "Hèlas!" he sighed, "it is the way in this world that the innocent shall be involved in the punishment of the guilty. Of such a transaction as you mention the Crown could take no cognisance, for where there is seqestration for treason the whole family must suffer."

He paused a moment. Then:

"Monsieur, I observe your concern," said he, "and I honour you for the nobility of heart which it displays. But since I understand that you are about to wed Mademoiselle des Charolles, it is fortunate that her future is assured her."

"You understand amiss, monsieur," cried the Mayor, his colour returning with a rush. "Such was, indeed, the state of things, but I have concluded that with the brother opposed to me, as is the Sieur des Charolles, there could be no hope of happiness in such a union, and so I had already determined to release the lady from her promise to me. I was on the point of so writing to her when you arrived." He paused a moment. "I have a favour to ask," said he presently. "That you delay the execution of that act for tweny-four hours lest she should do me the injustice to suppose that—that her altered fortunes have induced this change in me."

This promise Bernouin gave him. Then, having made his adieux, he withdrew.

On the stairs his gravity deserted him utterly, and he burst into a laugh, which he suddenly suppressed lest the echo of it should reach the ears of Prèviteau.

On the morrow he repaired to the Château des Charolles, and greeted its master with a question as to whether he had received any communication from Prèviteau.

"My sister has had a letter," answered Charolles. "Can it be that you have had a hand in this mystery? I beg that you will come with me."

Bernouin was ushered into the library, where he beheld a tall, elderly lady, whose eyes were red from weeping, yet whose bearing was haughty and frigid. He bowed. She ignored him.

"Eugènie," said Charolles, "here is a gentleman who may be able to explain your letter from Prèviteau."

"The only possible explanation is a further revelation of brutalities on your part, which Monsieur Prèviteau here assigns as the reason for his withdrawal. You may have the satisfaction of knowing, Henri, that you have ruined my life."

Henri made a gesture of impatience, and turned to Bernouin.

"You have a communication to make me, monsieur?" he inquired.

"A week ago," said the valet, "Monsieur Prèviteau, in casting about him for means to encompass your destruction, hit upon the expedient of sending His Eminence, by my hand, a document signed and sworn to, testifying to certain treasons in which you had been implicated."

"I?" roared Charolles. "But it is an infamous falsehood! What—"

"Hear me through, I beg," Bernouin interrupted. "As a consequence of this, I returned yesterday, and I was able to inform the Mayor of Argentan that I had here"—and he raised the formidable mass of tape-bound documents—"an act of sequestration, by virtue of which your entire estates of Charolles, Bar-le-Roi and Antonville became the property of the Crown."

"My God," cried Charolles, whilst his sister looked up with an air of one thunderstruck. "Does His Eminence proceed to these extremes on the unsupported word of such a knave as this? But—" And then his rage passed from this to another aspect of the subject. He wheeled sharply round, and faced his sister. "Are you convinced now, Eugènie, of why you were wooed? Do you realise what manner of knave was that who deserted you so soon as he learnt our destitution?"

The poor woman bent her head. Two tears trickled down her withered cheeks.

"I am punished," she muttered brokenly. "God has punished my vanity, and I have wrought the ruin of my house."

"Had you not better look at the matters contained in the act of sequestration?" suggested Bernouin quietly, as he set the mass of parchments on the table.

With trembling fingers Charolles untied the fastenings of the package. Its bulk swelled up, and it fell open. He turned some sheets over, then he looked at Bernouin. Then he continued his search. At last—

"Is this a jest, monsieur?" he roared. "The papers are all blank."

Bernouin shrugged his shoulders, and his thin lips smiled.

"You behold," said he, "the act of sequestration. Are you not content? It sufficed the Mayor, who saw no more than the outside of the package. Should it not suffice you, who have seen the inside?"

Then Charolles understood, and his burst of relieved laughter brought his sister to his side. She looked at the papers and at Bernouin's face, and the matter grew clear to her. She turned to her brother.

"Henri," she said, in a concentrated voice. "You will kill this base-born Prèviteau?"

"Pish!" said he. "Think of the edict. We are well rid of him, little sister." And he affectionately slipped his arm round the waist of the old maid whose first lover was likely to be her last.


The Captain of the Guard

London Magazine, May 1905

Sleek, black-haired Bernouin, with his bright, observant eyes and his thin-lipped, circumspect mouth, stood at his window, gazing idly across the courtyard of the Palais Cardinal.

The afternoon sun, falling athwart the quadrangle, whilst leaving his window in the shade, illumined the interior of Captain d'Attignac's room opposite, and revealed to the eyes of Bernouin that worthy gentleman writing busily. Now, for all that the Cardinal's valet was no spy, yet it had long been his habit—and who am I that I should cast a stone at it?—to observe all things that were to be observed. And so, since chance and the afternoon sun revealed to him the Captain of the Guard at a time when the Captain did not dream himself observed, Bernouin concluded that to neglect the opportunity would be unworthy of a man of sense. That Captain d'Attignac should write at all was in itself a fact to be remarked, but that when he had written he should take up his hat, and carefully conceal the letter he had penned in the lining, was a matter that struck Bernouin as curious. Then d'Attignac went to the door, opened it, and appeared to call; which done, he went back to his table and sat down again. A few seconds later his door was opened, and into his room stepped a soldier of the Guard, who saluted and stood hat in hand, awaiting. In this new-comer, Bernouin recognised a dull-witted clod from Béarn named Barseau.

And now the Captain's behaviour grew singular to a degree. He was not famed for affability, yet he waved the Guardsman to a chair; and when the fellow was seated he pointed with his pen to the table, saying something as he did so; and Barseau placed his hat there. Beside it stood a little bowl of goldfish. For some moments Attignac wrote assiduously, and Bernouin asked himself what little comedy he might be about. At last he stopped, and, without looking up, put out his hand for the sandbox; and so clumsy was he that in taking it up his elbow caught the glass bowl, and shot its contents into Barseau's hat. In the hat, on the table, and on the floor itself Bernouin could see the flashing of the leaping, wriggling fish. Barseau was on his feet grabbing at and catching them, only to find himself empty-handed, again and again to grab and catch. In this manner one by one they were got back into the bowl, which Attignac had righted, and in which there was still some water left.

The Captain appeared to be uttering endless regrets. Barseau was ruefully shaking his sodden castor, its beautiful red feather turned limp. Then Attignac rose to the occasion, and, snatching the dripping thing from from the fellow's hand, he pressed upon him his own hat, which lay close by, and which Bernouin remembered had a letter in the lining. Barseau protested, but the Captain was inexorable in his generosity; and so, with Attignac's hat on his head, and Attignac's second letter in his pocket, Barseau presently quitted the Captain's room.

"Odd!" muttered Bernouin. "I wonder now—I wonder—" He paused, turned abruptly from the window, and as abruptly left his room; for Bernouin had a passion for unravelling mysteries; and here was one that gave fair promise of being interesting.

He overtook Barseau almost at the Palace gates.

"Hi, Barseau! Monsieur Barseau! A word with you."

The Guardsman turned, a sharp answer that he was in haste trembling on his lips. But when he saw who it was that called, he left the words unspoken, for in common with many another stout fellow he stood in awe of this lean, quiet man with the pale face and the keen eyes.

"I was on my way to the Guardroom to inquire for you," said the valet, who had learnt, in the Cardinal's service, to lie with easy dignity. "Will you step into my room? I have something to say to you."

The tone, though free from menace, was of a vagueness that filled the poor Béarnais soldier with uneasiness. He muttered something touching his errand for Captain d'Attignac, but Bernouin peremptorily swept the objection aside; the message could wait a few moments. Indeed, he hinted that it might be necessary to find another messenger, whereat with tremblings of spirit, but never another word of protest, Barseau went with him. As they moved down the long, gloomy gallery, Bernouin made a sign to a couple of idling Guardsmen, who at once started to follow them. This Barseau observed, and his uneasiness grew apace. The valet ushered him into his room, and, closing the door, he left the two attendant Guardsmen without. Barseau uncovered his head, for Bernouin was not a person to be lightly treated, and stood waiting in an attitude of exceeding humility.

"I am desolated to say, Monsieur Barseau," the valet began, "that there is a very grave charge proferred against one of His Eminence's Guards, whilst the evidence we have gathered points strongly to you." The Guardsman started. "It is so grave a matter that I hardly dare disclose it to you yet; since, should I find you not to be the culprit, it will be as well that you should remain in ignorance of the affair."

"But, Monsieur Bernouin, unless I know with what I am charged, how can I defend myself? My conscience, I assure you, is clear, and makes me no reproaches."

"I am glad, sir. His Eminence has left me to sift the matter; and there is one simple method by which I can deal with you, and ascertain your innocence. Will you do me the favour to tell me where you were to be found at ten o'clock last night?"

"At ten o'clock? I was at the Green Pillar Inn in the Rue St. Honoré."

"Ah!" And Bernouin's face took on a smile of encouragement. "Come, monsieur, that is good news! There were, no doubt, others with you who can prove this?"

"But certainly, Monsieur Bernouin."

"Do me the favour to sit down at that table and write out the statement you have just made to me, and the names of those who were present—the names of, say, four or five of them."

Deeply puzzled, Barseau put his hat on a chair, and sat down to do Bernouin's bidding. Whilst he wrote, the valet opened the door and bade the two Guardsmen enter. When Barseau had written, and before he had time to rise, "Messieurs," said Bernouin to the two soldiers, "take Monsieur Barseau into that alcove, and wait there until I call you." Then, turning to Barseau, "I shall lay this before His Eminence, and I hope within a few moments to inform you that you are cleared of all suspicion. Take him away, messieurs."

When the door of the alcove had closed upon them, Bernouin took up the hat from the chair, where it had been left, and, pulling down the lining, he set himself to seek the letter he had seen concealed there. He had need to look closely, for the paper which he ultimately found was so thin and small that it would certainly have escaped the notice of any man not acquainted with its existence.

On this scrap of paper, which bore no superscription, Bernouin read:

"Mazarin has been warned that at the masque at the Hôtel de Liancourt to-night the plotters will meet. He knows the password that will gain admittance to the chamber set aside for them, and it is his intention to attend. He will wear a green domino and a black mask. The occasion should be propitious."

Bernouin took a deep breath and sat still a moment. Mazarin had suspected that the Frondeur supporters of the Duke of Beaufort were meditating something to gain their champion's enlargement from Vincennes; and it had not surprised him when he learned that the conspirators had arranged a meeting. In resolving to himself attend it, he had for object to ascertain who were the ringleaders, that he might draw their fangs. He had been far, however, from suspecting that his being made acquainted with that meeting was but the part of a deep-laid scheme for his own undoing, as this letter now made clear to Bernouin.

The valet wondered for whom this letter might be intended, but, remembering the other missive which he knew Barseau to be the bearer of, he saw that this would not be difficult to ascertain. Deep in thought, the valet sat a while, pondering what course he should take.

His first impulse was to go straight to Mazarin, and lay the letter and the facts before him. But, upon second thoughts, he resolved to act on his own initiative.

He thought, too, of d'Attignac, this upstart who owed his position to the Cardinal's favour; and he cursed him for a foul, ungrateful traitor to have so projected selling his master. And then, in a flash, a measure of poetic justice suggested itself.

Acting upon this, he replaced the letter in the lining of Barseau's hat, and put the hat on the chair where the Guardsman had left it. That done, he strode over to the door of the alcove, and threw it open.

"Monsieur Barseau, you may come out," said he pleasantly. "I rejoice to inform you that His Eminence is satisfied that you are not the man we are seeking."

Barseau, who had spent a very uncomfortable quarter of an hour, allowed the joy occasioned by this prompt release to shine on his honest, stupid countenance as he took his leave of Bernouin.

"You said something of an errand," murmured the valet. "I trust we have not unconscionably detained you. To whom are you bound?"

"To Monsieur le Marquis de St. Marcel with a letter from Captain d'Attignac."

Again expressing the hope that the delay would give rise to no inconvenience, and promising forthwith to explain matters to Attignac, Bernouin dismissed him, and repaired, as he had said, to the Captain's quarters.

D'Attignac received him cavalierly. He accounted himself a very exalted personage, whose dignity it would ill become to sort with lackeys, even where it was a question of His Eminence's body-servant. Bernouin was distant yet respectful as he delivered the Captain a fictitious order from the Cardinal. This message enjoined Attignac to set out at once for Choisy, and there receive at the Hôtel de Connétable certain documents that would be handed him by a gentleman from Béarn. The name Bernouin could not disclose; but the matter, he urged, was of the greatest moment, and His Eminence required a trusted messenger. Attignac's brows went up in dignified astonishment.

"Why," he inquired, "did not His Eminence send for me and give me his commands in person?"

"Is it for me to explain His Eminence's motives?" Bernouin reproved him. "The matter is pressing, and Monseigneur expects you to start without losing an instant. Should you be the first to reach Choisy, His Eminence wishes you to await the arrival of the gentleman in question."

With that he left Attignac and repaired to the Cardinal's ante-chamber, so that, should the Captain seek His Eminence before setting out, Bernouin might intercept him. But from the windows which overlooked the courtyard the valet had the satisfaction of watching Attignac's departure some ten minutes after their interview.

Satisfied that he was gone, Bernouin quitted the ante-room, and presently he rode out himself, armed, cloaked, and booted. He trotted briskly up the Rue St. Honoré, and then down a side-street towards the river, which he crossed by the Pont Neuf, making his way to the Rue Serpente—a dismal, narrow lane off the Rue de la Harpe. Before a dingy hostelry, choicely named the Devil's Tavern, he drew rein and entered. Crossing the common-room with the assured step that bespeaks acquaintance with the surroundings, he opened a door and descended a short flight of steps into an unclean hole of a room where two men were blaspheming over three dirty dice.

They sorted well with their surroundings, did these two; and it was a matter for some marvelling that a man of so fastidious and scrupulous an exterior as Bernouin should smile so affably upon beholding them.

"Ah, you are there, Pistache," he exclaimed; and at the sound of his voice one of the men—the taller, fiercer, and more unkempt—sprang up and removed his dirty hat. "I was afraid you might be absent. I need you and a friend you can trust."

Pistache bowed and pointed with his thumb to his companion. "There is Grégoire here. He will follow me to the death," he said grandiloquently.

Grégoire bowed as he pocketed the dice, and Bernouin acknowledged the bow by a brief nod.

"Buckle on your swords," said the valet sharply. "I am in haste. At the corner of the Rue de la Harpe you will find a groom with two horses. The word is 'Choisy.' Utter it, and he will surrender you the reins. Mount and ride back in this direction; then follow me—but at a distance. Come, bestir yourselves."

"I thirst," growled Pistache. "A stirrup of Red Anjou ere we—"

"Ouside!" thundered Bernouin. "Have I not said that I am in haste? To-night you shall have the wherewithal to drink yourselves as full as a Spanish wine-skin. There are ten pistoles for each of you when the business is over; and no risk to speak of. Now be off."

The mention of the gold showed the advisability of swift obedience, and out they went with a fine swagger and a majestic flutter of their tattered cloaks.

About an hour later Bernouin pulled up before the sign of the Connétable at Choisy, and waited for them to come up with him ere he dismounted. He sat with hat thrust forward, and his cloak well across his face, concealing it.

"Pistache," said he shortly, "you will enter the common-room with Grégoire, and you will sit drinking a stoup until I call you or until you hear a smash in the inner room. Thereupon you will come to me immediately. You understand?"

Pistache protested with many a tavern oath that he was all comprehension, and Bernouin got down and entered the inn. He called for a jug of wine for his attendants, and requested the host to lead him to the gentleman lately arrived from Paris, whereupon he was ushered into the presence of the waiting Attignac, in the chamber beyond the common-room. The unsuspecting Captain bowed.

"I understand that you have letters for His Eminence," said he.

"That may be," replied Bernouin, thickening his voice. "But you will forgive me if I hesitate to deliver them to a traitor, to the man who conspires with the Marquis de St. Marcel against the hand that pays him."

"Par le mort Dieu!" swore Attignac, setting hand to his sword; "you are over well informed to live."

A burst of laughter answered him from the folds of the masking cloak.

"I am right, then, in my surmise," said the valet, "and you are clearly the very man I want. Put up your sword, sir; I did but seek to ascertain that you were indeed he of whom St. Marcel had spoken to me."

His mouth agape, and his sword half drawn, d'Attignac stood, looking very foolish.

"The blow," said Bernouin, "is, I have just been informed, to be struck to-night at the Hôtel de Liancourt, whither His Eminence is being lured. Monsieur, I have no letters for Mazarin. That was my pretext to gain this interview; for if the conspirators have resolved to go to extremes I would humbly offer myself as the instrument of vengeance. I have my reasons."

Before proceeding to deal with Attignac it was Bernouin's object to gain comfirmation of his suspicion that it was the Cardinal's life that was threatened. From what he had said—although much he could not understand—Attignac could not doubt that this man was one of them. Else how came he so well informed?

"You are singularly correct in your surmise, monsieur," said he. "Mazarin is doomed. But for the rest, another hand is to have the honour of despatching him. It is the task Monsieur de St. Marcel reserves for himself. My God! You!"

The cloak had fallen from Bernouin's face. He had hitched it from his shoulders; and as it fell about his feet he kicked it clear of him, and drew his sword to defend himself against the Captain's furious onslaught.

"Fool!" sneered the valet; "you lack even the discretion of a plotter. Fie, Monsieur d'Attignac! To blab so weighty a matter in a roadside tavern to a stranger who does not show his face! I blush for you!"

"As God lives you shall bleed for it! I'll kill you!" bellowed the Captain of the Guard. But scarcely was the boast uttered than he realised how fraught with difficulties was its fulfilment. For by a smart turn of the wrist Bernouin had counter-parried his deadliest botte, and got inside his guard in a disconcerting manner. Why he had not pushed the advantage to the end, Attignac could not understand; but he did understand that this fellow, whom he had regarded as a mere man of costumes and pomades, was a fencer of an awe-inspiring calibre. A feinte and a lunge drove him back until he was shouldering the wall, and Bernouin, as he advanced, took up with his left hand a large earthenware jug that stood upon the table.

"Voyons," he sneered, "I could cut you into ribbons, you boaster, were I so minded. But I have a better purpose for you. I mean to employ you in the saving of His Eminence's life to-night." With that he flung the jug into the fireplace, where it fell with a crash.

As promptly as though they had stood waiting for the signal—as indeed they had, alarmed by the ring of steel—the door was flung open and Bernouin's tatterdemalions rushed in, their rapiers drawn, to his assistance.

"Do not hurt him," cried the valet sharply. "Beat the sword from his hand. Pshaw! Stand aside, fools," he commanded, noting the rough manner in which they went about it. He made a thrust, which the Captain parried; then, instead of disengaging, he continued the stroke, as if no parry had been offered, until his hilt struck his opponent's and forced his sword so that it pointed upwards. Suddenly putting forward his left hand, he seized Attignac's rapier by the quillons, and before the Captain could tighten his hold he had wrenched the weapon from his grasp.

"Now take him and truss him up," said Bernouin quietly, and they obeyed, the Captain too demoralised to offer them resistance.


At the Hôtel de Liancourt that night the twelve conspirators who had the slaying of Mazarin for scope were on the very tiptoe of expectation. Some anxiety, too, was theirs. Would he come? they asked one another, fearful lest some contretemps should yet thwart so excellently contrived an opportunity. Meanwhile the fiddlers fiddled blithely, the maskers stepped the coranto with verve and sprightliness, the air was heavy with the scent of ambergris, and little was there to indicate that that merry scene was but as the fine linen that hides a cancer.

At nine o'clock, during a pause in the dancing, a stir ran through the assemblage, and the eyes of those present were drawn to a couple of fresh arrivals. They were both men of tall, imposing figures, to which the long, flowing garments added height. One of these wore a green domino and a black mask; the other a black domino edged with white, and a black velvet visor.

Their arrival seemed as a signal for the twelve plotters to pass one by one from the ballroom and repair to the chamber which was to be the scene of the projected drama. The last to enter was St. Marcel himself.

"Messieurs," he said softly, "they are coming."

"You are sure there is no mistake, Marquis?" inquired a cautious one.

"Perfectly. I stood close beside them a moment ago, and I heard Bernouin whisper 'This way, Eminence,' to his companion, In five minutes, gentlemen, France will be rid of this foreign adventurer. God give me strength and accuracy!"

The twelve stood grouped in the middle of the room as the door opened, and they were quietly joined by the victim and his companion. One of the conspirators detached himself from the group, and went to secure the door.

"Messieurs," came St. Marcel's harsh voice, "but twelve of us were bidden to attend here, and I count fourteen. There are spies among us, it would seem." He was close to the green domino by now. "I need not trouble you to unmask, for there are two men present who do not wear the badge."

Bernouin, looking about him, observed that on each man's shoulder a ribbon of crimson silk was shown.

"Tuez!" cried a voice. "Kill the interlopers!"

"That is well said," St. Marcel made answer, "and may France be as easily rid of all interlopers!"

His arm was suddenly raised, and in his hand glittered a steel which a moment later was buried in the breast of the green domino. The tall figure swayed a second; then, as the murderer withdrew his dagger and plunged it in a second time, that tall, imposing figure suddenly collapsed, and sank in a heap on to the floor without so much as a cry.

But a cry there was from Bernouin, who, shouting that murder was being done, sprang to the door of the chamber to escape. After him, in swift strides, came St. Marcel, his reeking poniard upraised again. And into the middle of Bernouin's back that blade descended, there to be snapped by the shirt of mail the valet had seen fit to don ere he entered that murderous company.

"Tenez!" exclaimed the Marquis; "this dog is armed, The door, Flamand!"

But Bernouin caught Flamand in his strong, nervous grip. He took him by the throat with both hands, and, dragging him from the door, he flung him in the middle of the room.

St. Marcel now had the valet by the shoulders, but he lacked the strength to hold him. He had wrenched the door open, and his voice sounded to alarm.

"To me!" he shouted. "To the rescue. Á moi, Brulin!"

Now, Brulin was the sergeant of His Eminence's Guard, and that Bernouin should call him thus told the company that soldiers were at hand. With quaking hearts they stood, to hear the regular tramp of the Guards approaching by the gallery, and knew themselves trapped. St. Marcel made an attempt to rouse their drooping spirits. Ignoring Bernouin—for of what account was the life of a lackey?—he turned to them and removed his mask.

"What does it signify, gentlemen, that we be taken? Our task is done. They cannot restore life to that carrion; and if they hang us for this night's work, we shall be but martyrs in a noble cause, and we shall have for consolation and reward the knowledge that we have rid France of that plague."

And he pointed to the weltering body on the floor.

Then Brulin, the sergaent, appeared on the threshold; and, at his heels, a company in blue and silver, numbering a full score.

"What is afoot, Monsieur Bernouin?" he inquired.

"Murder has been done!" cried the valet.

"Not murder, sir—justice," St. Marcel amended. "There, Brulin, lies he who was your master; and I, Eustace de St. Marcel, have killed him!"

"Arrest him!" said Brulin shortly; and two of his followers—the whole company was now ranged inside the chamber—advanced to seize the Marquis.

The door had been closed, but now it was flung open suddenly; and a stalwart Swiss stepped forward, to electrify the company with the announcement:

"His Eminence, my Lord Cardinal!"

St. Marcel caught his breath. His face turned grey, and it seemed to him that his pulses had stopped, frozen by the sight of Mazarin himself, towering upon the threshold with questioning eyes. His fine, majestic figure was arrayed in his scarlet robes, and on his lofty Italian countenance sat a grim look of scorn and mockery.

"Who is that you have murdered, St. Marcel?" he demanded coldly. Then more sharply he added: "Remove his visor, one of you. Let us look at his face."

A Guardsman stooped to do his bidding; and every man present, forgetting almost his own desperate condition in the excitement of that moment, craned forward to behold the face of the dead.

And at the sight disclosed by the removal of the mask and the uncovering of the head, a shudder ran through their ranks and then a cry of astonishment. For the countenance, distorted, in part by a hideous death grin, in part by the cruel choke-pear with which he had been gagged, was that of Attignac, the Captain of the Guard, their fellow-conspirator and the Judas who had sold his master.

Mazarin looked on unmoved, his face an expressionless mask, whilst in the lines of Bernouin's thin mouth lurked the faintest smile of contempt.

The Cardinal understood the fate that had been prepared for him as he noticed on the body the domino he was to have worn, as he saw the gag which had kept d'Attignac silent, and the fellow's arms strapped to his sides, whilst dummies filled the sleeves of his domino. It had been a cunningly contrived justice.

"I know not, St. Marcel, what motives actuated you to slay poor Attignac," said Mazarin. "But this I know; that you are very like to hang for it. As for you others, if any one of you sees the outside of the Bastille within these next ten years he will be singularly fortunate. Come, Bernouin, attend me!"

And, turning on his heel, he passed out, calm and stately, leaving them to ruminate upon the fact that no fame of a great conspiracy would attach to them, no glamour of martyrdom be shed upon their punishment. France would account them no more than the perpatrators of a vulgar murder.

And as Bernouin, reflecting upon this, followed His Eminence down the steps of the Hôtel de Liancourt, it occurred to him that in the matter of administering poetic justice he might yet learn something from my Lord Cardinal.


The Copy Hunter

Boston Daily Globe, Janury 1906

Martin Vossicker beheld a slender, girlish figure and a gentle, tender, girlish face with fair hair and the softest eyes conceivable. A pathetic air of helplessness seemed to envelop her, and this was the magnet that first attracted Martin, being himself an athletic animal of something over 6 feet and as little like the popular notion of the popular novelist as possible.

She was idling away a summer morning with her aunt, Mrs. Randall, at the Manor, where Martin, who lived in an ivy-clad cottage at Saxton, was a frequent and ever-welcome visitor.

When he came to talk to her he found her less helpless than at first she had the conveyed the impression of being—which is often the way with women. Nor were her eyes always as soft and gentle as the first glance from them had seemed to him—which, again, is often the way with women.

Charmed at first Martin was dazzled presently. He found her bright and witty, with a subtle, scholarly wit which would have pleasantly surprised him in a man, but which he found inexplicable in a woman, for he was one of those who—frequently to their undoing—have a rather low estimate of the intellectuality of the so-called weaker sex.

Of what they talked as they sat under the beeches that summer afternoon, with Mrs. Randall purring in her wicker chair beside them, Martin would have found it difficult to say; for it was all so provokingly intangible.

But he went home inspired by a profound admiration for Rose Gerard and promising himself that, so long as she remained at the Manor he would find his way there even more often than usual.

He kept that promise so well that from a frequent he became a daily visitor. He was busy at the time upon one of those anaemic novels which had brought him a fair measure of fame with a decadent public, and each afternoon, when his four hours' work—Martin only worked four hours a day—was done, he would stroll over to the Manor for tea.

Saxton began to talk, for in Saxton there was a good deal of human nature—particularly of that brand which is patronized by elderly ladies and by ladies on the border-line between girlhood and old maidenhood.

Saxton waited on tiptoe for the announcement of the engagement of its popular novelist to Mr. Randall's charming niece. But Saxton was disappointed. Martin Vossicker was certainly making love to Rose, but the love was purely artistic—without yet being of that art which conceals art.

For the first time in his career he had come upon an opportunity of making copy out of a real, live person. He set himself to make it and she appeared to be assisting him with a degree of sympathy and understanding which, while it amazed him considerably, pleased him still more. He would drop into a chair beside her, tea cup in hand, and what time he handed her muffins and crumpets he would behave and talk like an ordinary human being of average self-respect.

But when they strolled away by themselves, as had presently become their custom, Martin would drop into strange mental attitudes.

His favorite pose was that of a victim of unrequited love. This the exigencies of his case demanded, for such were the circumstances under which the hero of his anaemic novel was laboring.

Never for a moment had he permitted himself a hopeful tone. From the outset his attitude had been pathetically despondent; it insinuated that he loved her hopelessly, and that, while he was consumed by his passion, he was persuaded—and wished to continue so—that she was unmoved by it.

Rose had fallen a victim to his mental suggestion, and she accepted the situation with characteristic—if hardly feminine—readiness. She seemed to play the part he had assigned to her just as he—half-consciously only—was playing the part he had assigned to himself.

Martin, outwardly gloomy and saturnine, made phrases and talked in epigrams and inverted proverbs. She, taking her cue from him, replied in kind, with a wit and brilliancy that delighted his artistic sense while heightening the artistic gloom upon his countenance.

In short, these two young people behaved and talked as young people behave and talk in books or upon the stage, and, while each appeared to be fully conscious of the pose, each seemed content that it should be so.

But it was affording Martin something more than amusement, as I have hinted. It was equipping him with much rich material. The mental-notes he made whilst in her company he transferred to paper each evening, to be anon molded into his novel.

And so his book grew apace, and the frothy brilliancy which his readers had come to look for in his work was reaching in "The Futile Quest," a height to which it had never soared before.

At last, as the end of July approached, the time drew near for Rose's departure from Saxton. The hero of "The Futile Quest" had come to the stage of proposing to the heroine, and for two or three days Martin had been unable to decide whether to rely purely upon his imagination for that which should be the culminating scene of his book, or whether to avail himself once more of Rose Gerard and to first live through the scene.

He feared this might be driving his copy-hunting a little too far; but, on the other hand, the benefits his work might derive from it were—to judge by the past—likely to be considerable. He was tempted very sorely.

At last he took his resolve. He would propose to her. He was assured that she was no more in love with him than he was with her. She would be amused by this consummation of all the poses they had hitherto assumed, and he never doubted but that she would rise to the occasion and supply him with the coloring he sought.

Opportunity came to him after tea. Of the few visitors that had dropped in; some had departed, others had gone indoors, whilst the remainder had strolled to the croquet lawn, leaving Rose and Martin alone together—a circumstance to which they were by now thoroughly inured.

Yet today a certain embarrassment seemed to hang over them. Martin realized it and appreciated it. He felt sure that this was the proper atmosphere, and he closely analyzed his feelings, that he might later on describe them.

"Rose," he said presently—they had come to call each other by Christian names a week ago—"do you know that I am glad you are going?"

"There are certain joys which it is more polite to dissemble than to express," said she, sententiously.

"It is not a question of politeness," he answered lugubriously. "What, after all, is politeness?"

"A lost art?" she suggested.

"It is the veneer with which modern civilization compels us to cover the true inwardness of our natures. In great moments it drops from us like a garment, and we stand—ah—" (He was about to say "naked," but it occurred to him that the metaphor might be a shade indelicate). "We stand revealed as we really are."

"If you cannot reveal yourself more graciously, I would rather that you left yourself unrevealed. Why are you glad that I am going? For my own part, I am sorry."

His hand fastened instantly upon her arm.

"Do you really mean it?" he asked, with sudden fervency.

"Why, of course," she laughed. "I am very sorry to leave auntie; she has been so very kind."

He removed his hand from her arm.

"O! Mrs. Randall!" he complained. "You can think of everybody but me."

"Why should I think of you, since you confess yourself glad that I am going? Why are you glad?"

He hesitated. Then, looking up and encountering the steady gaze of her brown eyes—

"I am glad because"—his voice trembled—"because it is better so: better that I should see no more of you." He dropped his glance.

"My lot does not lie in the smooth places of the world." he continued, tragically. "It is not such an existence as I could ask any woman to share. That is why I rejoice that, in a couple of days, we shall have passed out of each other's way of life."

He paused. Somehow, he was not doing at all well. He was beginning to feel ashamed of himself. This was driving a pose too far, perhaps—a fact which, in his absorption in the artistic side of the question, he had not hitherto contemplated.

On the whole, he thought it best to drop the subject, and effect as orderly a retreat as possible. But it was her hand that now fell upon his sleeve, and her voice quivered slightly.

"Do you mean that you care?" she asked.

Inwardly he groaned. He was not to be allowed to retreat, after all. As he was a gentleman, he could not do so now. He had overreached himself in his infernal copy-hunting, and he must now go on, although a church and a nuptial service should be at the end of the road he was following.

"That," he faltered, "is what I mean."

"But if that is so," she murmured, "why should you rejoice at my going?"

He shivered at the thought of all the things her words seemed to suggest.

"Have I not said that it is because my road through life is one which I cannot ask a woman to tread?"

"But if—if she cared?" The brown eyes flashed him a glance and were veiled again.

He trembled. The artistic researches that had lured him into this situation were all forgotten. He did not even stop to analyze what might be his true feelings for Rose. The pose had so become a part of him that his real nature was smothered by it.

But at the moment he was dominated by suddenly aroused instincts of self-preservation. He felt like one who had stumbled into a trap, and his only thought was how he might extricate himself.

"If she cared," he replied unsteadily, "that would be all the more reason why I should go."

"There speaks no lover," said she quietly. "It is too cold and calculating. If you really cared, you would make a bid for her, and ask her, at least, whether she were not willing to risk the future with you, whatever it might be. No, Martin my friend, you have deluded yourself. You do not care; you only fancy that you do."

"I fancy nothing of the sort," he broke out, half angrily, feeling that he was called upon to make some protest.

"What," she retorted. "You do not even fancy it? Your pose is not sufficiently ingrained to delude you?" And a soft ripple of laughter, at once gay and mocking, broke from her. "Let us go and join the croquet players," she cried, rising. "You are too dull for conversation this afternoon, Martin."

He looked at her, and he could not say whether anger or relief was swaying him. He seemed no longer capable of effective introspection.

"You have no feelings!" he exclaimed at last. "I can say of you—as Carlyle said of Ruskin—you are like a beautiful bottle of soda water."

That was practically their last interview before she left Saxton. He was filled by an unaccountable sense of injury. For some days it lay more or less latent in him, His work absorbed him, and he pursued it feverishly until his novel was finished. Then in the idleness which followed its dispatch to the publishers, his thoughts reverted to Rose, and the sense of injury returned.

Next the explanation of it came home to him little by little. He was in love with her. He had become so absorbed in his mental attitude that the natural inclinations of his heart had gone unperceived.

It occurred to him to obtain her address from Mrs. Randall, and to follow her. But when he recalled their last words that day at the manor, he lacked the courage. He had burnt his boats, he argued; and, after all, it might be better so.

He contended that he was a poor man, and that there were others in the world who, no doubt, would make her happier. And so, with one consideration and another, he turned down that page of his life, and resolutely combatted the desire to reopen it.


"The Futile Quest" by Martin Vossicker was published in the autumn. A week after its appearance, Martin was in town, and one afternoon at his club an acquaintance thrust a paper under his nose, and pointed to a review article headed "A Literary Coincidence."

"Have you seen that, Vossicker? You are in good company, anyhow."

Martin, glancing at the article, saw his name coupled with that of Sebastian Rule, an author who had leapt into fame a year ago and whose work was being everywhere discussed. In gathering surprise he perused the article, which ran:

"We have lighted upon what we think our readers will agree is the most astounding literary coincidence that has ever been recorded. Last week saw the appearance of 'The Idealists' by Sebastian Rule, and 'The Futile Quest' by Martin Vossicker. Each of these novels is remarkable for vigor, power and insight, but more remarkable still for the amazing resemblance that exists between them.

"It is true that in the matters of plot and mise-en-scene these two works have, perhaps, not much in common; but the characters of the hero and heroine are not only almost identical in each case, but they utter identical sentiments frequently in identical words, and a fitting climax to this astounding coincidence of thought and expression is afforded by the parting sentence which the hero addresses to the heroine.

"In both novels we find him taking leave of her with the words: 'You have no feelings! I can say of you—as Carlyle said of Ruskin—you are like a beautiful bottle of soda water.'"

This was followed by the reviewer's theories and speculations in explanation of this remarkable fact.

But Vossicker didn't trouble to read what the reviewer thought. His own thoughts were more than enough for him just then. He let the paper fall, and, reclining in his chair, he gave himself up to the luxury of conjecture. But it proved for once rather more of a torture than a luxury.

He was quick to evolve a theory of his own. Rose must be very intimate with Sebastian Rule, and must have confided in him touching that curiously conducted wooing of his at Saxton. If what the reviewer said was true—and it hardly admitted of doubt—there could scarcely be any other explanation.

Having reached that conclusion Martin rose. He must see Rule at once, and they must discuss what attitude they were to take before the public, particularly if the seemingly inevitable imputation came to be cast upon their work of having been plagiarized from a common source.

To this end he repaired there and then to Brett & Hackett, Sebastian Rule's publishers, with a view to ascertaining Mr. Rule's address. He was received by Mr. Brett, the senior partner, who welcomed him cordially, for Mr. Brett was in a state of considerable excitement at the astounding coincidence which would presently be the talk of the literary world.

Martin demanded Mr. Rule's address, informing Mr. Brett that it was his intention to see that gentleman at once.

"Mr. Rule," said the publisher, "chooses to maintain the strictest incognito, and I am under promise not to divulge his address to anybody. But if you care to write to him I will see that your letter is forwarded."

Martin, however, did not care to write. He insisted upon seeing the author of "The Idealists," and he contended—with expressions of much justifiable strength and even of some profanity—that, whatever Mr. Rule's instructions may have been concerning his address they had to deal with a very exceptional case which would demand very exceptional treatment.

In the end he won his way, and he left Brett & Hackett's with Sebastian Rule's address in his pocket.

Half an hour later saw him on the doorstep of a pretty villa in St. Johns Wood, asking to see Mr. Rule. The inquiry seemed to cast the maid into some agitation, and for some moments he was kept waiting in a room on the ground floor.

At last the door opened and Martin gasped to behold Rose Gerard herself standing before him.

"How do you do?" came her pleasant greeting.

"What are you doing here?" he blurted out.

"I live here—with my mother. This is my house."

"But Mr. Rule," he asked. "I—"

"I am Mr. Rule," she answered with a quiet, half-wistful smile.

"You?" he cried in unbelief, "you?" and his fine eyes were opened very wide, "You are Sebastian Rule?"

"Yes," she reassured him, "I am the man." Then with a laugh, "Don't look so shocked, Martin," she continued, "I know that you find it hard to credit—you, whose opinion of woman's intellectuality is so unflattering to us. But, if you will think for yourself, you will see that it could not be otherwise. You have, of course, seen what the Daily Wire says about this literary coincidence? At least, I assume that that is the explanation of your presence here."

Then Martin understood everything. He understood the sympathy with which she had entered upon those make-believe conversations at Saxton. Whilst he was making copy of her, she was making copy of him. Each had been posing unconsciously for the other's benefit.

When, at last, he put his feelings into words, his diction lacked that artistic finish which had characterized his old-time expressions.

"We have," said he, "made a very charming mess of it."

"Hardly as bad as that," she laughed. "People will wonder, and the wonder will advertise our books."

An expression of settled gloom overclouded Martin's good-looking face. Rose knew it of old. It had been the expression he adopted when he struck his mental attitudes. But her keen perception told her also that for once it was a sincere reflection of what was passing in his mind.

"I was an ass," he acknowledged with melancholy conviction, and for the moment—as he met her brown eyes—he forgot the literary coincidence. "I was an ass," he repeated.

"No, no," she answered with soothing politeness.

"But I was," he insisted. "You don't know the worst."

"Tell me," she begged. She was standing close to him. The proximity seemed to affect him. His hand fell upon her arm as it had done that day at Saxton.

"By dint of posing as lovelorn I became lovelorn," he bluntly avowed, "and without knowing it. But I found it out after you had gone away, Rose, and I wanted to come after you. But I didn't dare. I don't suppose that you'll ever forgive me. I'm sure I don't deserve that you should. I behaved—"

"Silly boy, you forget that I was just as bad. If you talk of forgiving, you have quite as much to forgive me. And, O, Martin, I have been punished!" she cried.

"Punished?"

"Just as you have been punished. I acted a part until it ceased to be acting, and—"

"Rose," he exclaimed, and at that moment the literary coincidence was completely forgotten.

"It's true, Rose?"

"It's true, dear," said she, "and I think that in future we might collaborate very satisfactorily—don't you?"

"Rather! Sebastian Rule and Martin Vossicker united should prove an overwhelming combination. We were born to collaborate, Rose."

"And at least we shall be safe-guarded against coincidences," she concluded with a smile.


The Devourer of Hearts

The Realm, September 1904

She came upon me unexpectedly as I was walking in my garden at Choisy, bewailing the Autumn that swooped down apace like a bird of prey to devour my cherished blossoms. The rumble of a coach heralded her coming, and as in my curiosity I craned my neck to see who my visitor might be, out stepped Léonie herself, as beautiful a thing, I'll swear, as any of God's making. She came to me all smiles and archness; and in that sisterly manner which she was wont to assume toward me, but which of a certainty she had refrained from adopting had she guessed how deeply it hurt, she announced that she had need of my assistance. I swore myself her humblest slave as ever, and she proceeded:

"I have been to the King, Guy," she cried, "and my intercessions have won Lawrence's pardon. See," and she drew from some mysterious corner of her gown a portentous parchment. "Here is the Royal warrant. His Majesty's sole condition is that the Vicomte shall absent himself from France for three years, until Castelnaudary and this rebellion be forgotten."

"His Majesty is very clement," said I. "But then—you interceded."

She laughed coyly, and her blue eyes flashed me a well-pleased glance—for, bon Dieu! she was the vainest beauty in all Paris.

"I shall carry him this pardon myself," she continued. "The poor boy is hiding somewhere in Languédoc, and we must find him, Guy."

"We?" quoth I. "What companions have you chosen?"

At that she felt confused, but only for a moment. Presently her eyes were raised to mine again, and she was smiling in allurement.

"I came to ask you to go with me, Guy. You see I am all alone, with the exception of Madame la Comtesse, who is much too enfeebled to undertake the journey. Then, too, on such an errand a male escort is of necessity, and my brother is with his regiment."

"But, Léonie," I cried aghast, "bethink you what you are proposing. What will the world say? Mademoiselle de Montivry has left Paris under the escort of Guy de Chatellerault. A fine story that, on my life!"

"What shall it signify what the world says? I go to my affianced husband, and when I return it shall be as his wife, and so sheltered from evil tongues."

I vow I turned pale at that. That some day she would wed the Vicomte I knew, just as I knew that some day I must die. The thing had been arranged while she was in her swaddling clothes, and she had been educated to the idea ever since she had begun to grow into the lovely creature that she had become. She did not love the Vicomte—indeed, she scarcely knew him, for she had not seen him half-a-dozen times all her life. But her marriage to him she looked upon as an inevitable something that must come to her with womanhood. It I seem to suggest that she did not love him because she did not know him, let me hasten to disabuse your mind. Because she did not know him she did not hate him.

No worse, perhaps, than most courtiers of the days of Louis XIII, yet I vow he was as bad as any, and the scandals that attached to his name defied all reckoning. Since his father's death his indiscretions had grown more flagrant, until in the end His Majesty had banished him for a spell from Court. Smarting under the indignity, he had offered his sword to the Duke of Orleans and had fought at Castelnaudary among the Spanish riff-raff that Gaston had brought into that field of scurvy memory. Proscribed and hunted as were his fellow-rebels, from Montmorency downward, his fate—so richly deserved—had been a source of unrest to that angel, Léonie, until in the end she had interceded and won his pardon from Louis.

That her wedding should be accelerated by the very facts that should have retarded it, shocked me inexpressibly. I was filled with a dull anger against Villebon, against her, against myself; and that anger, to my shame I write it, found expression. I had known her from childhood; we had been as brother and sister, until it had come to me to alter the relationship. That was two years ago, and since then I had made love to her desperately, ardently, passionately—but, alack, fruitlessly! Ever had she chid me for my gentle ways, my slender frame, my dainty hands. I was a man of songs, she had said, of pretty utterances; whilst her lover—but that she was already affianced—must have been a man of action; a hero of great deeds; the victor of a hundred combats. This I cast back at her now in my reply.

"What shall a writer of verses do upon such an enterprise?" I asked her bitterly. "You will require a paladin for your escort."

"But no," said she, ignoring the ungenerous quality of my words, "there will be no fighting."

At that my manner grew yet worse. I was brusque as any clown. I bade her—the precise words I have mercifully forgotten—seek elsewhere for a protector. But when I had done she nestled up to me; her eyes raised to mine, and her hand was laid caressingly upon my arm, so that all my harshness fell from me on the instant.

"That is unlike you, Guy," said she. "Are my troubles of so little account to you—you who call yourself my friend?" I humbly craved forgiveness, and swore my readiness to do whatever she might command me.

"Now you are the Guy I know. The dear, kind, gentle Guy who is my friend." She moved a step or two away from me. "When you are so I have a kindness for you," she said.

"Yes," I rejoined, my bitterness returning, "such a kindness as have I for my roses when they bloom." And I waved an angry hand over a faded bush.

"And were I not affianced to M. de Villebon—" She stopped short, and over her shoulder she threw me a glance from eyes that laughed at once in mockery and affection.

"Léonie!" I cried, and in an instant I was beside her. I caught her in my arms and held her there with a force that must have hurt, whilst into her ear I poured once more the story of my love for her. I reminded her that this Villebon was nothing to her; that she did not love him; that she would never love him—yet was I gentleman enough even in my madness to say nothing of those ugly tales that all Paris was reciting touching the Vicomte's disreputable adventures.

At last she broke from me, and confronted me panting, an angry spot of red on either cheek. Then she smiled wistfully.

"You have told me all, Guy, have you not?" she asked softly. "And we will speak of it no more—is it not so, my friend? You have confessed. I absolve you, and here make you your act of contrition and sin no more, for if you do I may not even count you my friend. And so I value your friendship, Guy. But love"—she sighed—"it is something that I think will never come to me; which, after all, is very well, for I am to marry M. de Villebon. You'll not desert me, Guy?"

What could I answer? What could any man answer who truly loved with a devotion that amounted almost to awe—as true love should do. I promised that I would allow my folly to transpire no more. I would curb and suppress it, and she might count upon me to help her find the worthless Vicomte to whom she was betrothed.

On the morrow we started for the South—she in her coach, attended by her maid; I on horseback, with my servant Charlot riding at my heels. Yesterday's scene seemed all forgotten by her, and when she saw me booted and spurred for the journey, encased in a jerkin of leather and with a great sword girt to me, she laughed and made a mock of my warlike trappings and the martial air which she swore I had put on with this grim raiment. I suffered her jests in silence; I even smiled when she called me Duguesclin: for all that the gibe cut me sorely.

Some slight adventures had we when we came into Languédoc, and during the diligent search I instituted for M. de Villebon, owing to the suspicions of the peasantry, who were one and all for the Duke Gaston, and who doubted the intentions of our quest for one of his adherents. At last, however, success attended my efforts, and I gleaned the information that at Les Martyrs—a little village on the spurs of the Cevennes—I should probably find him we sought.

Thither we rode, therefore, and we gained the place one evening at dusk. We repaired to the Auberge Béarnaise—the only hostelry of any consequence in the only street of that hill-side village. We proceeded with caution, and it was not until we had seated ourselves to sup in the common-room—there was no other—that I thought it well to broach the matter which had brought us. Such knowledge as they might have they were inclined to deal with as a snail with its horns.

There were four men in the room, sitting over by the chimney with the landlord, and by way of introduction I called upon the host to lay a couple of his best bottles at their disposal. It was done with alacrity, and, having thus gained their good favour, I engaged those burly, evil-looking mountain men in conversation. I touched in passing upon the state of France and the late disturbances, and I spoke of the Cardinal with a grimace, of the King with a sneer, and of Gaston with a sigh and an adjective of praise. My manner gradually thawed them, and when presently I grew bolder in my allusions, to the point, I'll swear, of being guilty of high treason, an air of utter good-fellowship settled over us.

Mademoiselle supped in silence, but her glance of approval was encouraging. She had been kinder to me of late; for perhaps she had come to see that when the occasion demanded it I could become, to some extent at least, the man of action that she chid me for not being.

Deeming them ripe at last, I touched more closely upon the business that had brought us, informing them that we were in quest of a gentleman who had followed the fortunes of Gaston into the disastrous field of Castelnaudary, and whom we desired to equip with the means of taking himself into safety beyond Pyrenees.

"If you were to tell us his name, Monsieur," said Dangeau, the landlord, "we might assist you." He was a superior fellow, this Dangeau, a man of speech and manners somewhat above his station, and no doubt a man of much consequence upon that countryside, holding himself in high esteem.

"It is Monsieur le Vicomte Laurence de Villebon whom we are seeking," said I, and had I cast a bomb into their midst it could not have surprised them more. Seeing them start, and noting the significant glances that passed between them—"Clearly, my masters," I added, "the name is not unknown to you."

"It is not indeed, Monsieur," returned Dangeau, with a greater cordiality than he had yet shown us, "and if your friend be the Vicomte, you are very welcome."

A girl who had entered the common-room at that moment, hearing the words, stood still to survey us. She was a handsome wench, strongly resembling Dangeau. She was tall, with a shapely length of limb and an admirably poised head, richly crowned with soft, lustrous black hair. Black, too, and remarkable were her eyes, and as I now returned her glance it crossed my mind that one might travel far before chancing upon her equal in looks and grace. That air of superiority to the surroundings that I had remarked in Dangeau was carried in her to the point almost of aloofness.

"These voyageurs," said the landlord to the girl, "are friends of M. le Vicomte." The girl continued to stare at us in a fashion that showed me plainly her manners were far below the level of her grand air.

"I am charmed, M. l'Hote," said I, "to discover that we have fallen among people who appear no less friendly disposed to him. Where, sir, can I find the Vicomte?"

He seemed on point of answering, when suddenly the girl set her hand on his arm.

"Are you satisfied that we can trust them?" she inquired.

"Ah," quoth Dangeau, taking a deep breath. Then to me—"Monsieur will forgive me, for you must appreciate the dangers. Can you give me any proof of your attachment to M. le Vicomte? What is your precise relationship with him?"

"This lady, Master Dangeau," I announced, "is the Vicomte's betrothed, and she has journeyed into Languédoc to wed him and to go with him into exile."

Now if awhile ago the mention of Villebon's name had sown surprise amongst them, the effect it had produced was as nothing compared with the disorder into which this fresh announcement appeared to throw them. Again there were gasps and glances exchanged, whilst the girl's great eyes seemed to dilate, though otherwise she remained erect and cold. Then Dangeau exploded.

"It is a lie!" he shouted, bringing down his fist upon the table so violently that a jug of wine was overset into my lap. That said, he eyed me a moment with deepening suspicion, and as I essayed to rise he thrust me back into my chair. "Look to the door, Pierre," he called to one of the four ruffians. "We have spies amongst us, it seems, but, by God, we shall know how to deal with them."

"When you have recovered the use of your wits," said I, coolly mopping the wine from my haut-de-chausses, "perhaps you will explain how I have provoked this thunderstorm?"

"You need explanations, do you?" he sneered. "You have told, me plainly enough that it is for no friendly purpose that you seek the Vicomte. Bah! I know you well enough. The province is infested by spies of your kidney, lending themselves to the work of trapping these poor fugitives. You played your rôle finely, and had you not overshot the mark, you had duped us. But when you present your companion as the Vicomte's betrothed, you go too far; for the Vicomte's future wife, my master, stands there."

And he pointed to his daughter. There was a sudden catch in Mademoiselle's breath as she rose to her feet, but the swiftness with which she grasped the situation and the calm with which she spoke amazed me.

"Since that is so, Monsieur, our journey has indeed been wasted, and nothing remains for us but to withdraw, regretting the intrusion."

The words were ill-timed, and they added fuel to the host's suspicions.

"Withdraw?" he roared. "By the Mass, you shall not stir foot from here until it please me, and it is more than likely you'll never stir at all. We have a short way with spies. Here, my lads, lay hands on these friends of my Lord Cardinal."

Mademoiselle grew pale at that for all her spirit, and her eyes that were turned toward me said, as plainly as if she had spoken: "If only you were a man of action, my poor Guy!" And be it that that glance spurred me to it, or be it that the latest militant instincts of my blood welled up to meet the occasion—a man of action I became. I had risen now, and picking up a three-legged stool—for my sword I realised would avail me little in the rough-and-tumble that was like to follow—I waved it lustily.

"Let but a finger be laid on Mademoiselle, and I'll brain the man that dares it," I threatened.

There was a short laugh from one of them, and he sprang toward me. I have a notion that I closed my eyes—for I was new to skull-cracking, and haply a trifle squeamish. But I brought my stool down with a sickening crash upon his stupid head, and felled him. Again I raised that improvised battle-axe, and this time, with eyes wide open that I might not err, I caught another ruffian, who had set hands upon Léonie, so well gauged a blow that he staggered backwards, and throwing up his arms dropped full length, whilst the blood, streaming from a gash in his forehead, seemed to cover his face in an instant.

With a moan of horror Mademoiselle shrank back against the wall and put her hands to her eyes. I—suddenly transformed into a very Jupiter tonans—stood my ground defiantly, ready to launch that thunderbolt of a stool upon the next who should try conclusions with me. Then suddenly old Dangeau seized a musketoon that had stood in a corner, and it would have fared ill with me but that before he could raise it to his shoulder a cry from his daughter arrested him. The door had been pushed open, and on the threshold stood the Vicomte de Villebon himself. A pause fell upon all present, as with a look of the profoundest amazement the Vicomte advanced into the room, his eyes devouring Léonie. It was he who broke at last the silence that now reigned.

"You here, Mademoiselle!" he exclaimed.

"As you perceive, Monsieur," said she very quietly, her face giving no sign of concern beyond its extreme pallor. "If you have any influence with these good people, perhaps you will give yourself the trouble of prevailing upon them not to cut our throats."

"But what has happened?" he inquired, and in the place of the easy, graceful dignity that was usually his, his bearing was now a mixture of bewilderment and sheepishness.

"These people," Dangeau explained in truculent accents, "came here to seek you, but they introduced themselves with the falsehood that this lady is your affianced wife."

"It is a falsehood, is it not, Laurence?" cried the girl, stepping close up to him, and putting the question in beseeching accents.

"Oh ça, my dear Sophie," he laughed brazenly, as who would say: "How could it be other than false?" Then to Dangeau—"Let me have a word in private with these good friends of mine," said he, his attempt at jauntiness failing miserably. "They were well-intentioned in the statement that they made; for that they may have transcended accuracy in their zeal to discover me."

Scarcely believing my ears, I looked at Léonie. She was smiling curiously.

"If you are playing fast and loose with us," began Dangeau, his brow black with menace. But the Vicomte, drawing himself up with an assumption of his usual arrogance, cut him short—

"Monsieur," said he, "what I have pledged my word to do I do."

But when presently we three—the Vicomte, Mademoiselle and I—were in an inner room, Villebon's words were less high-sounding.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "to you it will be clear that this undignified position in which you find me has been forced upon me by necessity. My marrying this girl is a matter too preposterous for consideration."

"Ah," said she coldly, "and the breaking of that child's heart no doubt a matter too insignificant to need consideration either."

At that his manner became suddenly offensive.

"Why are you come to Languédoc, Mademoiselle?" he demanded insolently—so insolently that I had visions of resuming my performances with the three-legged stool.

"To drive a bargain with you, M. le Vicomte," she answered, a note of anger ringing in her voice as well. "Tell me—how came you into such relations with that girl?"

Villebon, the devourer of hearts, answered her with easy flippancy and an expressive shrug.

"Faut s'amuser," he declared. "It was so dull and ennuyant hiding from the King's gentlemen."

Léonie demanded details, and he afforded them. It was just such a story as I had expected to hear. Dalliance was to the Vicomte as the breath of his nostrils—a necessity of life. The trouble that in Paris it had visited upon him had not taught him any salutary lesson; in the provinces he had resumed the pastime, and heaven alone knows how many banal affairs he had not scattered in his passage through Languédoc. But here at this inn at Les Martyrs he had entered upon one that was to bring him more serious consequences. Whilst in hiding there, protected by this staunch Orléaniste, Dangeau, he had amused himself by making love to Sophie. To him it could be no more than amusement; but it was an amusement of which the poor girl—not being a fine lady of Court—knew nothing. To her it was a serious matter, and she accepted each well-worn phrase of gallantry in its literal sense, as a true expression of sentiment. Realising at last the indiscretion of his behaviour, Villebon had sought to beat a retreat. But at the first sign of this, old Dangeau had stepped forward. He had observed, and in his simplicity taken as earnest the Vicomte's wooing of his daughter—for those montagnards of Languédoc have a curious ignorance of the distinctions of rank that prevail in other provinces—and he was not minded that this debonair young rebel should break his daughter's heart. He had protested against the Vicomte's departure; he had reasoned with him touching Sophie, and I am satisfied that the musketoon was advanced as a weighty piece of logic. Moreover, Villebon realised that Dangeau might even avenge himself by delivering him up to the King, and he had no appetite for being broken on the wheel, so that out of fear he had temporised by a promise to marry Sophie so soon as he might conveniently do so.

"But," the Vicomte concluded, with a deprecatory smile, "you will agree, Mademoiselle, that it were a heavy price to pay for the amusement of expressing a few pretty sentiments."

"I own it heavy, but you must pay it, Monsieur," she said, whereat I stared at her in my amazement.

"'Tis a good jest, that," he laughed, displaying his fine teeth.

"It is no jest at all, Monsieur."

His jaw dropped, and he eyed her in bewilderment, sobered by her sternness.

"But, Mademoiselle, I am betrothed to you!"

"We will not speak of that again, if you please," she answered coldly. And, ashamed, he hung his head, realising that indeed for one who had promised marriage to Dangeau's daughter to speak of being betrothed to Mademoiselle de Montivry was an insolence too gross.

They wrangled awhile after that: she telling him that he must wed the girl, he laughing the notion to scorn.

"You pledged your word," she cried at last, burning with indignation—for she was beginning to know this very choice Vicomte. "In my hearing you renewed the pledge. Will you be dishonoured?"

At that he abandoned mockery, and grew solemn as a father-confessor. He expostulated with her, whereupon she turned to threats and to the bargain which she had come to drive with him.

"Monsieur de Villebon," said she, "at Jarnages, this afternoon, we passed a company of the King's dragoons. They are closing round this part of the Cevennes, and at this hour your escape will already be impossible. By morning you will be a prisoner. Your fate you can guess, Monsieur."

He turned pale at that. On the battlefield he may have been brave as a lion; but the thought of the wheel gave his stomach an unpleasant turn.

"Now, Monsieur, attend to this. I have it in my power to save your life. I can open a way for you into Spain, and within three years I can promise your return to France, where you shall find your estates unsequestrated. But before I do this for you I will see you wedded to Sophie Dangeau."

"How will you fulfil all these fine promises?" he asked, amazed.

"I do not lie, Monsieur. I have said that I can do it. Be that sufficient. Will you accept my conditions, or will you be taken to Toulouse and the scaffold? Resolve yourself."

For all that his heart was numb with fear, he still sought to temporise. But Mademoiselle was obdurate. When he advanced that Sophie was not a wife he could take to Paris, she answered him that there was no need for it. Indeed, Paris would be unhealthy for him for years to come. There was his estate in Picardy. Let him take her there when he returned from Spain, and let him spend the first year of their wedded life in preparing her to become a creditable Vicomtesse. In the end the gallant Villebon was beaten and forced to yield.

He was barely in time, for scarcely had he accepted Léonie's terms when the door opened to admit Dangeau, with a scared face.

"Les Martyrs is surrounded by dragoons, Vicomte," he announced.

"Trust to me," said Léonie. Then turning to Dangeau—"The Vicomte," she informed him, "is safe, but he will be compelled to start at sunrise for Spain. Your daughter, he will tell you, goes with him as his wife. There is no time to lose, and you had best send for Monsieur le Curé at once."

While the priest was being sought the dragoons arrived, and the officer in command entered the inn and formally arrested Villebon. But Mademoiselle took the Captain aside, with the result that five minutes later he desired the mystified Vicomte to be in readiness to start for Spain at daybreak under his escort.

We saw the nuptials solemnised that night, and when as day was breaking the troop was ready to conduct the Vicomte across the border, Léonie took him aside.

"So far I have done what I promised," she said, "and you may rest assured that I shall keep my word till the end. When the three years of your exile are at an end you shall receive a pardon warranting your return to France. But this I promise you only on condition that you are good to that child, and that you make her a worthy husband. Fail me in that, and you are not likely to see France again as long as you live."

Solemnly he swore to resign himself to what he now accounted his destiny. With that oath he took his leave of Léonie and accompanied by his wife he set out in the charge of the dragoons.

When at last he was gone—

"An eventful night, Guy, was it not?" quoth Léonie. "And I think that we both acquitted ourselves well. I have wronged you in the past, my friend, for you fought like a lion."

"The greatest fight was yours—on that girl's behalf," I answered.

"Nay, Guy, not on her behalf; on my own. It was my liberty from Villebon which I was fighting for."

"You are wonderful, Léonie," I cried, adding with a sigh—"I wish with all my heart that I had not promised you a week ago, in my garden at Choisy, never to speak of love again."

She looked at me for a moment with a smile so tender and kind that a doubt surged wildly through my mind. Then holding out both hands to me she turned my doubts to certainty.

"We will go back to your garden at Choisy, Guy; and if you should elect to break your promise, I'll think you none the less a very gallant gentleman."


The Driver of the Hearse

The Queenslander, 1 November 1919

When I tell you that I am an obstinate sceptic on the question of supernatural manifestations you will not expect me to offer you any explanation of the facts I am about to lay before you. I am of those who will not accept a facile supernatural explanation of events, however much they may appear to be inexplicable otherwise, until it has been demonstrated beyond possibility of cavil that natural causes are excluded. Such demonstration is humanly impossible, the limitations of human knowledge and human intelligence being what they are. Therefore, I have neither explanation nor theory to offer you. I merely chronicle the facts as they occurred within my own witnessing.

To begin with she was the last woman of my acquaintance whom I should describe as spirituelle; although I know it to be held that the possession of what I believe are described as "mediumistic powers" does not in itself imply any acute order of intelligence. She was just a gentle, sweet-natured slip of a girl of three or four and twenty, with the normal more or less mechanical accomplishments of her kind. She spoke French execrably; knew enough music to realise what an indifferent performer she was on the piano, and not enough about painting to save her from copying the works of third-rate artists, and having them afterwards framed at considerable expense in the hope that we would accept them for decorative purposes. It was the only thing she did to annoy me in the six months she spent with us, the only thing that ever went seriously near to marring the serenity of my relations with my wife, whose sister she was.

It was during that visit to us that she met Gastonleigh at somebody or other's At Home, whereupon Gastonleigh became an assiduous visitor at my house. He was a charming fellow with excellent instincts, the average supply of brains, and more than the average of good manners. Also he was young, well set up and personable, and deputising as I did, in a sense, for Susan's father I did not hesitate to consider him in every sense a most desirable son-in-law. I was still young enough to be in sympathy with young lovers, and I hoped the course of the affair would be smooth for the sake of Susan. The difficulty lay in getting them comfortably into wedlock. From the beginning I foresaw trouble with his people. Susan is the daughter of a moderately wealthy, unimpugnably respectable, but—from the Gastonleigh point of view—deplorably plebeian Chicago middleman. The Gastonleighs never forget, or allow anybody else to forget, that they are of royal blood, however curiously diluted. They belong to the quite considerable group which is Britain's more or less putative heritage from the monarch appropriately called the Merry. All things considered—especially the frail seventeenth century lady chiefly concerned—it is not an origin to which I should, myself, be disposed to draw too much attention. But the Gastonleighs are true to their blood in that—like their ancestress—they take broad views on these matters. The swarthy, sardonic face of King Charles II smirks down upon you from the drawing room overmantel at Severnholme Place, and the Gastonleighs—especially the female members of the family—unfailingly refer to the royal satyr as "grandpapa."

You will conceive, therefore, what a shudder it was that ran through Severnholme Place when the heir to the title announced that he was committed to a mesalliance. He had cabled to Susan's father, and Susan's father, also by cable, had constituted me his proxy. Whereupon I had bestowed his consent and blessing upon the children.

The family took it very badly. There were threats of disinheriting Gastonleigh—wild, unconsidered threats, for the bulk of the property was securely entailed. When, finding that they could do nothing material to bring him to what they called reason, they attempted other means of coercion, Lady Severnholme announced—and her angular daughters echoed the sentiment on their own behalf—that nothing would ever induce her to receive this daughter of a Chicago pork-packer. As a matter of fact, my father-in-law is not a pork-packer, but the term has an unpleasant ring; which renders it an admirable instrument of invective. When Gastonleigh, suavely and exasperatingly keeping his temper, persisted nevertheless in his intention, her ladyship had recourse to writing a letter to Susan which would have given ample grounds for an action for criminal libel.

It was the last straw. Susan had her pride, and that pride had been very considerably bruised by the Gastonleighs already. She had more than once threatened to break the engagement and her own heart at one blow, and this time she announced it as her irrevocable determination. It took Gastonleigh a week to make her revoke it. Even then I do not think he would have succeeded without my collaboration. I used trite enough arguments I reminded her that she was not marrying Lady Severnholme, or Lady Severnholme's angular daughters. They might be as offensive as they pleased at present; but the sweetest revenge was to marry Gastonleigh in spite of them. Once safely married to the heir to the title, she would be in a position to whistle the pack to heel, particularly as the fairly human old earl seemed disposed to accept the situation.

Her great brown eyes—she had the most alluring eyes in all the world—considered me with wistful doubt.

"You believe that? I wish I could. Have you ever heard of the evil eye?"

"What on earth...?" I was beginning, for she is not usually irrelevant.

"Of course you don't. You're too...too sensible." This was sarcasm. "You'll probably laugh when I tell you that I am convinced of the power of the will for good or evil, that I believe that where any one wishes you ill with all the strength of his soul, you are in danger of suffering evil. Lady Severnholme must be very ill-disposed and malevolent towards me, or she could never have brought herself to write me such a letter. It...it frightens me, Tom."

I had her at my mercy. Gastonleigh's fight was fought and won.

"So that's it!" I crowed. "You are afraid—afraid of shadows."

"Oh, not of shadows." She was very solemn.

"But afraid of something, anyhow. Hitherto I have respected you, Susan I have believed that you were concerned for Gastonleigh, that you feared to complicate his life unduly. Instead, it seems that you are concerned only for yourself, afraid of something to yourself. And because of this you are prepared to let that splendid fellow suffer as he is suffering."

It startled her. "I hadn't thought of it like that. You may be right. Perhaps it is because I am a coward. But I can't help it. I have had a sense of evil hanging over me ever since I received that letter. I feel that wicked old woman's malevolent will exercised against me, and I..."

"Fudge!" I interrupted her. "Let her exercise it, by all means. She can't hurt you half as much as you'll hurt her when you become Lady Gastonleigh."

My wife agreeing with me, Susan allowed herself to be persuaded. But the sense of evil abode with her, and increased as the time of the marriage drew nearer.

"Once Bob and I are married" she told me one day, "I know this cloud will be lifted."

"How do you know?" I inquired.

"I just know."

There is no arguing with a woman who talks like that. "Capital," I agreed. "The thing to do is to shorten this engagement as far as is decently possible."

I said this as much in her own interests as in mine, for I could see there was to be no peace for me until Gastonleigh took Susan away. At last the wedding was fixed for the first week in October. It was to be a quiet one in view of the uncompromising attitude of the Gastonleigh family; nevertheless we decided that my wife and I should take Susan up to town and let her be married from the Hotel Britannia.

One evening, exactly a fortnight before the day appointed for the wedding, Susan was standing at the window of my study, looking out for Gastonleigh who was coming down from town by the six-thirty train. Suddenly I caught from her the sound of a sharp, apprehensive exclamation. I heard it subconsciously, for I was writing busily at the moment. And it may have been some four or five minutes later before my consciousness received it, and I looked up. With her back to the window, she was facing me across the wide room.

"What is it?" I asked her.

She shuddered before replying, and the shudder was still in her voice when she spoke.

"Oh! Such an evil omen!" I was disposed to be impatient. The child saw omens now in everything. "Didn't you see it?"

"How could I? I was busy writing, Susan. What was it?"

"A hearse."

"Oh well, people do die, you know, and it's necessary to bury them."

"But it stopped at the gate, and the driver looked at me over the top of it—such a dark, wicked face!"

"Really?" I spoke casually, judging it the best way to deal with nerves in the condition of her own. "They are usually such fat, rosy, jolly chaps. Have you ever noticed it?"

She began to sob. It was very exasperating. I threw down my pen, and went to comfort her. I attempted seriously, to take her to task, showing her the folly of allowing idiotic fancies to paralyse her reason. She listened very patiently. "I am sure you're right, Tom, and it's awfully—awfully good of you to be so patient with me—"

"I'm not!" I said. "I have no patience with you at all."

"I will try to...I really will try. But"—her lip trembled and the brown eyes grew troubled again—"but I am sure I shall never marry Bob. Something dreadful will happen to me. I know it. I feel it. Lady Severnholme—"

"There you go again! Is this how you try, Susan?" After that she did try, as she promised, and in the days that followed she largely succeeded. She was becoming more like the bright, laughing girl that had stolen the heart from Gastonleigh, and I was congratulating myself that at last the prospect of a happy marriage was overcoming the effect of a mass of ill-considered, ill-digested reading on the subject of the supernatural.

And then exactly a week later the trouble broke out worse than ever. It was just after tea. We were sitting round the fire in my wife's boudoir, when Susan, who had wandered aimlessly across to the window, uttered a gasp that was almost a suppressed scream. I sprang to my feet in alarm.

"It's there again—the hearse."

I crossed quickly to the window, and looked out. There was nothing to be seen. I said so. She turned, and looked again, verifying that it was as I told her.

"He must have driven on," she said.

"I didn't hear him. Did you, Margaret?" I asked my wife.

"No, I heard nothing."

And then I did an extremely foolish thing. I threw up the window, and looked out. We command a view of half a mile of road through that Kentish village on either side of the house. Not a vehicle was anywhere in sight upon it. Susan would not believe me. She came to verify the fact for herself, and it was only when I saw her deathly pallor that I realised the harm that I had done.

"No hearse?" she said, her voice low with sudden fear. "It wasn't there at all! But I saw it, I saw it, Tom. Oh!"

It was idle of my wife and me to get her in a chair by the fire, and then seek to argue with her that what she had seen was but a reflection of her own overwrought imagination, the result of having allowed the hearse seen a week before to have made so ridiculous an impression upon her.

"How do you know that that other hearse was there at all?" she asked.

"Oh, come, Susan, that way madness lies. What you saw last week, you saw and you very foolishly allowed it to impress you. What you saw just now was—"

"Was exactly what I saw last week. The same hearse and the same driver. He looked at me over the gate again, and I recognised him."

"Merely the complete recollection of what you had actually seen a week ago," I insisted. Of course it didn't convince her at all, and I could only possess my soul in patience and wait until her marriage with Gastonleigh—her superstitions being what they were in the matter—should exorcise the ghosts her morbid fancy had evoked.

She was rather a wan, listless thing that week, obsessed, I know, by the conviction that Lady Severnholme's implacable willing of evil would overtake her before the wedding. She took the most casual interest in the handsome gifts that poured in by every post, and almost less in the contents of boxes from dressmaker, milliner, shoemaker, and other purveyors with which the house was becoming choked.

At last we were on the eve of the wedding. Her boxes were packed, and every thing was ready. We were going to town that night, and we were in my study, where I was giving some final instructions to the butler whilst waiting for the car. Suddenly Susan screamed. I span round, to see her standing again by the window, sheer terror in her eyes.

I ran to her as she swayed towards me, and sank feebly into my arms, conscious but limp.

"I looked out to see if the car was here," she said. "Instead I saw the hearse standing at the gate. I should have known it would be there. This time...the driver leered at me."

I looked through the window. There was nothing to be seen; but even as I looked the long limousine slipped into view, and came to an almost silent standstill at the gates. I resorted to a subterfuge that atoned for the blunder of the last occasion.

"You silly child," I said, and laughed outright. "It's the car, and your precious hearse-driver is Groves. Look for yourself. Now do you realise what a state you have allowed yourself to get into?"

"But—"

"You can't argue it away, my dear. You may find authorities to confirm your belief that the immaterial can be visible, but you'll find none to support your pretence that the material can become invisible, and that's what must have happened if you saw a hearse instead of a limousine, and a hearse-driver instead of a chauffeur."

If the subterfuge did not work as well as I could have wished, at least it worked better than I hoped. We got her up to town more or less pacified, more or less convinced she was the victim of her own brooding. Gastonleigh dined with us at the Britannia, and left early, whereupon we all retired. I looked at my watch, as I said good-night to Susan.

"In twelve hours' time, my dear, you'll be the happiest woman in England."

"If I live until then," she answered me very soberly. "Good-night, Tom dear, and God bless you whatever happens. You've been sweet to me."

I went to bed miserable, I confess.

Next morning all was bustle in our apartments from 6 o'clock onwards, a bustle increased towards 10 by the arrival of the three bridesmaids. At half-past 10 we set out, Susan on my arm, Margaret on her right, and the bridesmaids following. In this order we proceeded more or less processionally down the thickly carpeted corridor. The general excitement had raised the little bride out of her preoccupations.

An obsequious chamberlain had preceded us towards the lift, which glided into view behind its iron lattice as we approached it. The lattice clashed aside, and the lift-attendant, a slim, swarthy faced man in a blue and gold uniform, stood respectfully waiting.

Susan stepped briskly forward, and then checked. Almost in the very act of putting her foot across the metal lintel of the lift, she stopped dead. She shrank back against me so violently that I was almost thrown off my balance. I could feel her body trembling violently against mine, whilst her hands clasped my arm, and her face was overspread with livid, unutterable horror. Faintly, I caught her words, half-wail, half-whisper.

"No, no! No, no! I can't!"

Thus we stood in that state of indefinable suspense, what time the chamberlain, back obsequiously bent, too polite to stare, held the door aside and waited, and the lift-attendant within the cage frankly looked his mingled concern and astonishment. Thus for a full half-minute, and then quite suddenly a report, like the shot of a gun, reverberated through the corridor; lift and liftman plunged down the shaft, with a rattle and clang that ended in a terrific crash below. Above the gaping space where an instant ago the lift had stood dangled the ragged ends of the steel hawser which had snapped.

We took the half-swooning Susan back to her room, and there applied restoratives. When presently she had regained some self-control her first question concerned the lift-attendant. She was told that he was very seriously injured; my own suspicion was that he had been killed.

She turned to me. "Did you see his face, Tom?" she asked me, almost wildly. "That dark, evil face? It was the face of the driver of the hearse."

And that is all. I understood then why she had shrunk against me with such signs of terror; why she had hung back from entering the lift, and so saved her life and ours. I say that I understood; but as a matter of fact I understood nothing, for to understand is to have the faculty of explaining, and that is altogether beyond me, as I have said. Susan of course explains it, and by way of proof that she knows what she is talking about, she urges the fact that her premonition that Lady Severnholme's power of evil would cease with Gastonleigh's marriage has been confirmed by the events.


The Ducal Rival

Ainslee's, November 1903

Across the serene sky of the Duke of Starlingford's mind there fell a cloud in the shape of a letter from Vavasour.

"I don't know what you're thinking of," wrote that worthy gentleman, "that you don't look after your property. There is an outsider down here, a lawyer chap named Hawksley, who is making some devilish strong running with Miss Martingale. If I were you I should run down and put matters right, or, if filial awe renders this impossible, you might get your solicitors to write to the fellow and explain matters. His present address is Nayad House, Stollbridge."

As he read the duke grew very angry, Vavasour was not a man given to exaggeration, and he knew that he might believe every word that his friend wrote. In spite of the fact that he was very fond of Helen Martingale, he could not deny that she was a very impressionable, willful, and capricious young woman. This "lawyer chap" might be quite good-looking—it frequently happened that these plebian creatures were. That he might possess any mental attractions did not enter into the duke's considerations. He was a man of marked limitations, and his knowledge of the world and his fellowman was confined to that which he beheld upon the surface.

Now, it was common knowledge to everybody who was anybody both in his world and Helen Martingale's—which were not quite the same worlds, after all—that between the duke and the lady a tacit understanding existed; that, in fact, she was secretly engaged to him, and that next year, when he came of age and could act independently, he would marry her. In the meanwhile a mother who was rather a dragon, and who by no meams approved of the affair, had insisted that the duke, her son, should not go near that impossible Martingale person. It was understood that a distant relative of hers had once manufactured something.

As the Duchess had it in her power to make things extremely uncomfortable for him during his minority, and as he, himself, was a poor, weak thing, morally (physically he had the attributes of a bulldog) a slave to the creature-comforts whereof his mother threatened to deprive him in quite an appreciable degree, he dared not defy her wishes for the present.

But that letter from Vavasour, as I have said, disturbed him. Preposterous though it appeared that Helen should for a moment seriously entertain the wooing of a bourgeois attorney, while he, the Duke of Starlingford, was behind the arras waiting for the hour to strike when he should come forth to claim her, still the duke's mind—which was not a great matter—was far from easy.

He determined forthwith to go down to Stollbridge. And so it came to pass that, having changed into a suit of tweeds and a Panama, he left Paddington a couple of hours after the reception of Vavasour's letter.

On the platform at Stollbridge station he put his hand in his pocket for that letter, only to find that he had left it in his other garments. He had a bad memory—he had really never had occasion to remember anything in his life—and the name of the man he had come down to see was forgotten. He had only read it once. Then a doubt crossed his mind. Was it Nayad or Dryad? The duke knew of some vague connection between the two, and he naturally hit upon the wrong one. He hailed a hansom.

"I say, do you know of a place about here called 'Dryad House'?"

"D'yer mean Nayad House, sir?" inquired the driver, led to the conclusion by the similarity of sound.

"That's it—Nayad House. Can you tell me—I mean, do you know the name of the occupier?"

"Mr. Lumley, sir," answered the man, promptly.

"That's it—Lumley; that's it. Drive me there, will you?"

He got in and recited the name half a dozen times in quick succession, so that he might not again forget it.


"I shall not be in for dinner to-night, Roody," said Hawksley, as he lounged into the poet's study.

The poet looked up languidly from the proof sheets of "Autumn Leaves"—the embryo of his first book of poems.

"That," said he, "is an unnecessary announcement. You don't usually dress to dine with me. I am far from wishing in any way to restrain you from following the bent of your inclinations, but I should like to ask you whether, my dear Tommy, you are supposed to be staying with me, or merely sleeping at my house."

Hawksley's chubby red cheeks grew a shade redder with indignation.

"I like that, Roody, on my soul, I do," he ejacualted. "You are so delightfully naïve at times."

"Yes," murmured Lumley, "I am considered rather guileless."

"I should like to ask you in return whether you ever heard of the duties of a host? If I have been occasionally absent, it is owing to the absolute impossibility of being anything but alone here. It isn't good for man to be alone, and in this house of yours I'm devilish lonely, thanks to the interminable proof-sheets of your 'Autumn Leaves.' I should say," he continued, opening his opera hat, and speaking in his most withering manner, "to judge by their quantity, that you have collected the cast-off clothing of every forest in England. By the time the book is thrown upon an unsympathetic world, I may begin to think about the holiday I came down here to spend in your company. Had you merely said 'in your house,' your invitation would at least have been a more accurate one." And, setting his hat on the back of his sleek head, the lawyer struck an attitude worthy of Cicero.

"That," said the poet, smiling, "is a beautiful oration, and when one hears your sonorous, forensic tones, and the pregnancy of your expositions, one wonders that you should have been such a failure in the profession to which you have been relegated."

"Good-evening," said the lawyer, huffily, and was gone.

Rudolph Lumley laughed as the door closed upon his departing friend, and turned his mind again to his work. He was disturbed half an hour or so later by the entrance of his man.

"A gentleman to see you, sir."

Lumley took the card with an annoyed air. He did not wish to be interrupted. But the annoyance on his fine, young face melted quickly into wonder. The card bore the name of Starlingford, and though excellently connected, the poet did not number a duke among his callers.

"Hum—did he say what he wanted, Martin?"

"No, sir," replied the man, in tones that intimated that a duke was not a tradesman. Lumley thought for a moment, then:

"Show him in here," said he.

An instant later the poet beheld a young man of middle height in a suit of tweeds, thick-set and ungainly of shape, with a brick-red face of coarse features. Lumley looked with interest at his patrician visitor, and inwardly commented that Lavater would, at sight, have pronounced him a plowboy. He arose and inclined his head slightly.

"You are Mr. Lumley?" the duke suggested.

"Lumley," amended the poet, "is my name."

"I have taken the liberty of calling upon you," said the duke aggressively.

"Ye-es," assented the poet, wondering vaguely what firm the duke might be traveling for. "Won't you sit down?"

"No thanks. I mean, I shan't stay long. The fact is, sir—what I mean to say is that you are very—very unwarrantably interfering with me."

"I—interfering with you?"

"Yes, and I—I mean I'm not going to stand it."

"I see," said the poet. He wondered whether this might not be some escaped lunatic whom it were politic to humor. The man's preposterous statement, and his still more preposterous attitude, awakened in Lumley a spirit of gentle badinage.

"If I am interfering with you," said he, "I quite agree with your determination not to endure it. No self-respecting man could."

The duke was staggered. He had come to wage battle, and to beat down resistance. Acquiescence disarmed him, and he was at a loss how to proceed.

"If you will give yourself the trouble of reciting the sum of my interference, we may arrive at some mutually desirable understanding," said the poet.

"I refer to Miss Martingale," the duke announced, and the poet remembered suddenly that he had heard her name mentioned in connection with Starlingford's.

"I beg your pardon?" said he.

"I refer to Miss Martingale. You may not know that between the lady and me—I mean that there is an understanding between us."

"I heard something to that effect, sir, and I'm sure that it is very flattering to have you come here to confide in me. But may I venture to inquire how the matter concerns me?"

"Damn it, Mr. Lumley, don't you think it would be as well if you stopped asking questions?" cried the duke, rudely.

"It certainly appears rather useless," sighed the poet.

"I am not a fool, sir," the duke protested, getting heated.

"Indeed?" murmured the poet.

"And I mean I'm not going to stand by and see another man pay attentions to her in my absence."

"May I suggest that such a course—that of standing by and seeing things, and yet being absent—would border upon the miraculous?" quoth the poet, playfully.

The duke was speechless with rage for a second. It had just dawned upon him that this smiling bounder was pulling his ducal leg.

"I have warned you off, sir, and I shall be glad if you'll take my warning," he thundered.

"One moment, your grace," said the poet, in surprise, comprehension dawning at last upon him. "Do you lay it to my charge that I have been paying attentions, as you call it, to Miss Martingale?"

"Everybody knows it," growled Starlingford.

"Then everybody knows something that is false. I am happy to set your mind at rest, sir. You have been misinformed."

"Now, that's not true. I mean, it's a deliberate falsehood," cried the duke, goaded to it by his opponent's coolness.

Lumley's brows contracted suddenly. He pressed a button on his desk.

"I don't know where the devil you learned your manners, sir," said he, "but it must have been a low sort of place. Martin, show his grace to the door, will you?"

The duke grew livid.

"You shall hear from my solicitors," he threatened.

The poet bowed, and sat down once more to his proof-sheets, while the duke—who never in his twenty years of life had been so insulted—suffered himself to be shown out.

But when he was gone, Lumley found work impossible. He thought over the duke's accusation, and weighed the absurdity of it. Then he thought of the beautiful Miss Martingale, and, somehow, after a little more thinking, Starlingford's charge appeared less absurd. He had seen her quite frequently lately—they were neighbors of his—and she being usually the brightest and smartest girl available, it was natural that he had singled her out on most of these occasions. Clearly, people had noticed it, and talked; proverbially, onlookers saw more of the game. Perhaps she had noticed it herself. He remembered that she had always been particularly pleasant to him.

Then an all-illuminating flash fell across his brain. Good Lord, how blind he had been! How blind to his own feelings, even! She was a charming creature, he swore, and from his present introspection he discovered that he had fallen in love with her without noticing it. It had taken this yokel-duke of hers to pluck the scales from his eyes, and he had actually told the duke an untruth. Well, the duke was clearly an ass, and if the duke intended to be jealous of him, he would see to it that the duke should not lack for cause. If he should end by cutting Starlingford out altogether—which then seemed to him an eminently probable solution of the problem—the duke had only himself to blame for it. She should find the laurels that would anon—in a figurative sense—encircle his poet's brow, more alluring than the strawberry leaves with which an accident of birth had crowned his grace of Starlingford.

Thus ran the poet's thoughts, and by such sophisms did conviction sink into his soul, inspiring a vista of the future which he should tread on rose-strewn paths beside the beautiful, the ravishing Helen Martingale—who had preferred to know a great love rather than to share a ducal coronet.

That he had frequently had such visions in which other women were to have been his companions did not at the time occur to him.


The poet and his guest, the lawyer, met at breakfast the next morning.

"Been in long?" inquired Lumley, as Tommy entered the room.

"Sweetest of youths, most gifted of poets, let me recommmend you a little gentle exercise as an antidote for the ugly matutinal penchant for sarcasm."

"And what," inquired the poet, selecting a kidney, "is your programme for to-day?"

"In the morning I am doing nothing. In the afternoon I am going to a garden party at the Loddingtons. In the evening I shall be at your disposal if you can tear yourself away from those withered 'Autumn Leaves' of yours."

"Will the Martingales be at the garden party?"

Hawksley looked up quickly. Had the poet got wind of his attachment to the divine Helen?

"I believe they will—I have heard so," he replied, cautiously.

"A fatal name, Helen," murmured the poet, rhapsodically.

"There was, I believe," said the lawyer, "a lady of that name in a place called Troy, a little while ago. She gave me no end of trouble, I know, because a gentleman of your profession wrote some verses about her. Rather a flirt, wasn't she?"

"I dare say. Most women are, when they are good-looking enough to be flirted with."

"You've found them so, have you? Hum! Some more coffee?"

"I'm going with you to the Loddingtons," said the poet.

Hawksley grew uneasy.

"What about the 'Autumn Leaves'?"

"They'll keep."

"They're certainly dry enough."

He affected nonchalance, but in reality Hawksley was alarmed. He knew the poet's susceptible heart, and the tornado-like manner in which it was his habit to sweep all before him when he set himself to play the game of dalliance—which was unconscionably often. The situation was trying enough already, with a duke in the background. With the poet on the spot, it must become positively unbearable.

So he set himself to dissuade his friend; he assured him that the affair would be an awfully slow one.

"I like 'em slow." said the poet, inscrutably, and he went.

Helen was there; very beautiful; very vivacious; very fascinating. The poet's fall was consummated when his eyes alighted on her. He approached, and her reception of him proved to him what a blind fool he had been in the past. The brightening of her eye as it met his was a thing unmistakable. The beautiful Helen was conquered. He would sing of her as Homer never sang of that other ancient Helen.

The brightness of her mood infected him. It usually did infect such men as were capable of infection. He talked with a glib smartness that amazed himself. The little knot of men about her grew silent at his coming, and gradually melted away until only Hawksley was left to look on with a gloomy countenance, and make monosyllabic and unheeded efforts to obtain a share in the conversation. At last she dispatched him on some useless errand to her mother, and Lumley was alone with her. She asked him had he seen the boxwood alley. He answered her that he had not, and together they wandered toward it, vanishing from the sight of the other guests.

"You haven't a flower, Mr. Lumley," said she, presently.

"I never wear one."

"But if I offer you one, I defy you to refuse it."

"Give me the flower, but spare me the defiance. From your hands, dear lady, there is nothing that I could but receive upon my knees."

She laughed, and broke a rosebud from a bush in passing. He observed the act, noted that the rose was red, and prepared a speech of dainty metaphor wherewith to receive it.

"There, sir." And she held it out to him.

"Dear lady," he began, theatrically, bending over her hand as he took the flower. Then the little gasp that broke from her lips made him look up. He met the eyes of the Duke of Starlingford, who was approaching them.

Lumley straightened himself, wondering what would be the most convenient pose, and determined upon the adoption of persiflage and effrontery. Starlingford raised his hat coldly to the lady.

"May I ask you, Nell—I mean will you allow me to have a word with this gentleman?" said he.

"Why, certainly not," cried Nell, with a coolness that won her the poet's profoundest admiration. "I am showing Mr. Lumley the grounds, and I am not going to relinquish him."

"Which, though they be of small account," put in the poet, gracefully, "are quite my own feelings in the matter."

"Perhaps you, sir, will allow me to say a word to this lady?"

The poet's eyes asked Nell a question.

"If you don't mind waiting for me, I shall not keep you a moment," said she, and withdrew.

"Now look here, Nell," the duke threatened, "I mean, if you have anything more to say to that fellow, I shall never speak to you again. What I mean to say is, people are talking about you, and I won't stand it. I came here to speak to you about it, and I hardly expected to—well—I mean—"

"Oh, yes, you always mean well," she cried, impatiently, "But isn't your coming here rather imprudent? Your mother, you know, might hear of it."

What the duke said may be charitably described as discourteous.

"I shan't speak to you again, Helen," he wound up, "unless you do as I wish."

"I shall be sorry, of course," she answered coldly, "but you must please yourself."

The duke was even more impolite in his utterance than before. Her cheeks grew scarlet.

"You forget yourself." she cried. "And you forget that the fact of your having been born a duke does not relieve you from the ordinary obligations of a gentleman." And with that parting sting she left him to rejoin the poet.

Now, as it happened, the Duchess of Starlingford did come to hear of her son's transgression, and he spent an uncomfortable half hour with her next day. This resulted in his leaving England on the morrow by her command and on pain of the cessation of the liberal allowance which she made him.

Curiously enough, Lumley crossed the channel on the same day, summoned suddenly to Cannes to the deathbed of one of his aunts. He left the lawyer to make his excuses and explain his sudden departure to a host of common friends. But to Helen he wrote, himself, a letter rather longer than the mere communication of his departure demanded, and containing dark hints of happenings when he should return.

But he returned not so speedily as he expected. His aunt recovered, and expressed the hope that he would stay on—she found him so useful. His cousin Marjory had grown up a remarkably good-looking young woman, he discovered, and so he stayed until the winter had set in.

Some friends of his aunt's who had stopped at Cannes on their way to Algiers in December, invited him to join them. The party contained a delightful creature fresh from a Paris convent school, untouched as yet by sophistication. The poet tore himself away from his cousin Marjory, and went.

He wintered in Algiers, and in England none but his solicitors knew of his whereabouts. In April he proposed to the lady who was to blame for this, and was refused. For two days he was very miserable, then suddenly—similia similibus curantur—he remembered Helen Martingale, and marveled that in the contemplation of a shallow schoolgirl he should have so long forgotten her.

Three days later he left for England. At Calais the first man he saw on the packet was the Duke of Starlingford. His grace treated him to a glare, and he the duke to a mild irrecognizing glance.

He put up at a hotel in town; looked in at his club, and permitted a man he knew to carry him off to a reception. There again one of the first men he met was his grace of Starlingford. It occurred to him that the duke must by now be of age, and he wondered whether his grace would enter the lists with him again. He rather hoped he would; he would enjoy the contest.

The duke looked at him, and speculated upon the uses to which Lumley might have put his absence—ignorant also of the fact that Lumley had been out of England for the past ten months.

That very morning Starlingford had come across the year-old letter from Vavasour. "There is an outsider down here, a lawyer chap named Hawksley, who," etc. The duke had smiled over Vavasour's mistake in the name. "So like Vavvy," he said to himself, "he always did mix up these bourgeois names horribly."

He looked across at the poet now, and scowled. But the poet was smiling ecstatically. His gaze had just rested upon Helen Martingale's face. She came toward him, smiling also. The poet was transported by the sweetness of that smile. What a fool he had been to have lingered abroad!

They shook hands effusively.

"Wherever have you been hiding all these months?" she cried. And the duke, within earshot, winced and wondered.

"Hiding from the sun," murmured the poet.

"Sh!" she laughed. "Tommy will be jealous if he hears you."

Just then Lumley caught sight of Hawksley's rubicund visage—more rubicund even than when last he had seen it. The man of law grinned a welcome.

"Nellie has wonderful eyes," he cried, "she spotted you the moment you entered the room."

The poet was mystified. No less so was the duke in the background. Then a lady swept up to them.

"Ah, my dear Mrs. Hawksley, there you are," she cried.

The poet felt a cold perspiration start on his brow, and glanced at Tommy with a smile that was positively sickly.

"Hawksley," muttered the duke in the background. "Hawksley!"

Then realization swept down upon him like a flood.

"Well, I'm hanged," said he.

As Lumley, in a very dejected frame of mind, was leaving the house, some one touched him on the shoulder. It was the Duke of Starlingford.

"I owe you an apology, Mr. Lumley, for not believing you last year at Stollbridge. I mean that in fact there was a mistake. I was told that a man named Hawksley was—well, I mean—was paying address to Miss Martingale. I somehow mixed up his name with yours, and well—I mean, I'm sorry."

"You mixed up his name with mine," echoed the poet. And his memory calling up his interview with the duke that day, he also realized even as the duke had done a few moments before. And even as the duke had muttered so did he now mutter:

"Well, I'm hanged," or words of very similar sound. Which shows that in moments of great emotion a duke and a poet may avail themselves of very similar phrases to express very similar feelings.


The Duellist's Wife

Ainslee's, October 1903

His first book of verses—"Autumn Leaves"—had run into a third edition within six months; the reviewers had been more than kind; the public was reading him, and he was in a fair way to realize the ambitions of his youth.

Yet Rudolph Lumley was unhappy.

His thoughts were retrospective. They dwelt upon the different women, a transient affection for each of whom had inspired the verses which had been collected and given to the world under the pathetic title of "Autumn Leaves."

Particularly and with much bitterness did they dwell upon the last of these flames to which he had played the moth, and who had married a friend of his.

He brooded so much and so bitterly over this that in the end he took a determination to again leave the England to which he was but newly returned.

On a visit of congé he sought out a friend of his who had recently wed.

"I've only come to say 'good-by,'" he announced in reply to his friend's cheery greeting.

"But," cried Burleigh, "you've only been in England three days!"

"Three days too long," growled the poet.

Burleigh—who had seen similar symptoms before—eyed him narrowly and sniffed.

"On the warpath again, eh? Well, what's her name?"

"My dear Herbert," said the poet loftily, "whatever matrimony may have done for you it has not improved your manners."

"It would be vain," returned the other, "to seek to improve that which the gods have made perfect. But if not a woman—what is it takes you away again so suddenly?"

"The wish to be rid of the society of women. I have done with them for good."

"My dear Roody," quoth the critical Burleigh, "however fascinating a pursuit may be we can render it stale by abusing it. I quite understand your feelings. As a pastime you found love charming, no doubt. But you wore away its charm by indulging it too freely, too frequently and—may I add?—too indiscriminately. Love is the sugar of life. But what happens to the man who takes sugar with all his viands? I will tell you."

"You needn't trouble; it really doesn't matter. Besides, it no longer concerns me; I have done with the sex. Women are the most inconstant, the most fickle, the most—"

"Hang it all," cried Burleigh, "you forget I'm married."

Roody might, and was on the point of offering condolences to his friend. For obvious reasons he restrained himself.

"I shall probably be in Paris the day after tomorrow," he said presently, "and I should like to look up old Fournailles. Can you give me his address?"

"I have his card somewhere," answered Burleigh, and turning to a little escritoire he began to search for it. "Poor old Fournailles," he sighed.

"Oh, he's poor no longer," returned the poet. "He has become both rich and famous."

"Still," objected the other, whose sentiments were eminently patrician, and whose cult was the adoration of the useless, "it is a trifle derogatory for a man of his birth to be compelled to open a fencing school and turn what was a pretty accomplishment into a profession."

"The profession of a master of fence is a most gentlemanly one."

"Quite so, quite so, and it makes a man respected, which is much. Ah, here's his card."

Roody took the card, which bore the name of Jules de Fournailles, the description "Maître d'armes," and the address "Rue Copernic No. 13." He glanced at it and slipped it into his case with a sigh.

"I'll look him up for the sake of old times, and perhaps a bout or two with the foils may shake me into a more optimistic frame of mind. Exercise is a great antidote to despondency. I'll give him your love, Herbert."

Gloomily Rudolph Lumley paced the deck of the Calais-bound packet. A look of settled melancholy chastened his intellectual—if weak—face, and, combined with its natural pallor, gave him the interesting air of one who has done with the follies of the world and looked deep into the eyes of sorrow.

That was precisely the air which the poet wished to assume, for in a deck chair, a neglected magazine in her lap, and her eyes fixed pensively upon the glistening water, sat a strikingly pretty woman in black.

Of course she nowise interested Lumley. Her sex to him was a book wherein he had read but sorrow, and which he had closed for all time. Still he could not but observe that she was a pretty woman, and as for the tenth time he passed before her, his sorrow wrapped about him like a cloak, he caught himself drawing a parallel between the color of her eyes and that of the water they contemplated—a comparison by which the water suffered in a marked degree.

At Calais he hovered near her with a satellite-like movement, hoping for no reason whatever that her French might prove insufficient and that he might lend her some of his. But in this he was disappointed.

He heard her tell a porter that she was going to Bâle, and again he suffered—for no reason in the world—a pang of disappointment. He saw her pass out on to the platform with an elderly lady and a maid. He observed the grace of her figure, the stateliness of her carriage, the ruddy wealth of her hair, and again he registered—with a sigh—the fact that she was an enchanting creature.

Then, having almost an hour to spare, he sauntered into the buffet, and delivered himself up to the material pleasures of gastronomy.

He emerged once more on to the platform of the Gare Maritime as the end of the Engadine Express was vanishing out of the station. It occurred to him that she would be on board the train, and he smiled sadly and cynically without any apparent reason.

Suddenly, to his amazement, he beheld her on the platform talking excitedly to the Chef de Gare, and her words being wafted to him, he learned that her mother and her maid had gone on the express, which she had unfortunately missed. The station master advised her to wire that she would follow by the ordinary train leaving in half an hour's time.

She brushed past Lumley on her way to the telegraph office, and some subtle, delicate perfume that she exhaled bewildered him and completed the rout of his senses. Before she had vanished he had resolved that he, too, would go to Switzerland. What did he—a saddened misanthropist—seek in Paris, that pandemonium of human folly, that altar raised to the elusive god of pleasure?

No. It was the mountains, the eternal snows, the peace and majesty of nature that Lumley wanted, and in which he might find solace for his lacerated heart. He pretended to forget that the beautiful unknown with the Venetian hair and the statuesque figure was going to Bâle. How could that possibly interest him or affect his movements?

A quarter of an hour later he boarded the train for Bâle, and quite accidentally he saw her as he passed down the corridor, and entered a smoking compartment next to hers. He was alone, and he spent his time alternately in reading, thinking and going out into the corridor, ostensibly to admire the flat inadmirable landscape, surreptitiously to glance at her. She was sharing her coupé with a harsh-featured woman; a circumstance which though small in itself happens to have afforded the motif of that which followed.

At Laon the poet alighted to bolt an exceedingly bad dinner. He returned to find his carriage occupied. Metaphorically he rubbed his eyes upon discovering that the tenant was the beautiful unknown. She met his glances calmly, and without embarrassment.

"I trust, sir," she said, with great dignity, "that you will pardon my intrusion. But the lady in the next carriage has very pronounced views on ventilation, which unfortunately do not coincide with my own. She insists upon an open window. I could endure it during the day, but it is out of the question in the evening. I knew this to be a smoking carriage, but I also knew that it had only one occupant, and I thought you wouldn't mind. The fore part of the train is so crowded, and I don't mind tobacco in the least."

The poet protested that she need not say another word. He even went in his excitement the length of saying that he was charmed, and he sweepingly condemned the selfishness of travelers in the matter of ventilation.

His papers he placed at her disposal; she thanked him prettily and accepted the offer. Presently she let drop a desultory remark upon literature, which he snatched at to open a conversation. She had read everything, and held most definite and original views which enchanted him. They talked of the stage next. She had seen everything and everybody. The stage as a topic was succeeded by music and art, and he found her no less versed in both these subjects.

Then quite suddenly he asked her if she had read "Autumn Leaves". She had, and she admired the work. He withheld all mention of his authorship. That was something with which he would surprise her when they were better acquainted. From which it will be seen that already he was looking ahead.

At ten o'clock the attendant from the wagon-lit came to announce that his berth was ready, and he left her—his head in a whirl, his misery forgotten, and with it the fickle cause thereof.

He lay awake an inordinately long time, and his thoughts were of her whom he had but left. It was absurd, he said—forgetting the impressionable quality of his nature—that he should so dwell upon a woman whom twelve hours ago he had not seen. He thought of her wit, her beauty, her grace, her charm of manner, and he told himself that here was a woman fitted indeed to be his mate. A woman that would understand and help him in his work.

They met at six o'clock next morning on the platform at Bâle, and he learned that she was going to Zug.

"How fortunate," he exclaimed, in well-feigned surprise. "I am going there myself."

He did not deem it necessary to add that he had only just made up his mind to do so. They took their coffee at the same table, and the poet's spirits were rising fast. He saw to her luggage afterward, and had it put on the Gottardbahn, via Zürich, into which train he presently handed her.

They travelled vis-à-vis, and all went merrily until Olten was passed, when suddenly—

"At what time did you say we get to Lucerne?" she inquired.

"You mean Zürich—"

"No, no. Lucerne, of course."

"Lucerne?" he echoed, in surprise. "We don't go to Lucerne."

"We don't go to Lucerne?" she repeated after him, as if she didn't understand.

"It is not the usual way from Bâle to Zug," he explained reassuringly. "The direct route is via Zürich without changing."

"But my mother is waiting for me at Lucerne! I telegraphed her to do so."

"Oh Lord!" he ejaculated, adding the suggestion that she had better wire.

"But I don't know where to find her. She will meet this train—I mean she will meet the train I should have gone by; it gets there at nine something. Oh, how stupid!"

"I am ever so sorry," said the poet, penitently, "and I am afraid that it is all my fault. You had better telegraph to all the hotels in Lucerne; but I would suggest that you do so from Zug."

After that the poet was crestfallen. He felt that he had lost ground in her good graces.

Zug, however, was reached, and they went to the Zugerhof, whence he assisted her to dispatch telegrams to each of the principal Lucerne hotels. This done they sat down to await events. Easier in mind, she permitted him after lunch to show her around the quaint little town. Together they admired the Rigi and the Pilatus, and the poet waxed rhetorical on the subject of eternal snows.

At his suggestion they took the steamer across the lake to Arth, and it was evening before they got back to Zug again.

"I really can't thank you sufficiently for your kindness," she said as they paced the deck of the little ferry steamer.

"Say rather that you cannot sufficiently blame me for my stupid blunder this morning."

"No, no, it was quite my fault. I should have told you. However, we have had a delightful day—if," she added, archly glancing up at him, "an exceedingly unconventional one."

"Like stolen fruit," said he, daringly, "our association—may I say?—has been all the sweeter on that account."

She looked up sharply, meeting the solemn glance of his wide-set, thoughtful eyes, and she laughed.

"Well, you know, mother is not very far away. Just behind that little mountain," and she pointed to the Pilatus.

"Yes," he agreed, "quite close to, in fact. Close yet invisible and beyond earshot, like a considerate chaperon. I look forward to meeting that estimable lady."

"She will thank you for having taken care of me, Mr.—," she broke off in some confusion, to add: "Why, I don't even know your name! Is it not droll?"

The poet braced himself for his coup de théâtre. Already in his fancy—his imagination was boundless—he saw the light of interest leaping to her eye at the disclosure of his identity with the author of "Autumn Leaves," which she admired. Inspired by her, who could say that but before the next autumn closed around them he might not have a second and a worthier book to offer her?

"My name, dear lady," said he, dreamily, his black eyes expressing a sort of sad deprecation, "may possibly not be unknown to you."

"Ah, you are then a personage?"

"A very humble one, I fear."

"What a deprecating tone!"

"Life teaches a man to shrug his shoulders," he replied, pathetically.

"You are a politician?"

"Oh, no. Nothing so consequential and useful. I am only—"

But a cry from his companion arrested him in his introduction.

"What's the matter?"

"My husband," was the pregnant answer.

And he, following the direction of her glance, beheld a tall, slender man in black pacing the jetty which they were approaching. Something very like a groan escaped him.

"Now, isn't that fortunate?" she cried.

"Damnable I call it," said the poet to himself.

"He was to have joined us at Lucerne, and I suppose one of the telegrams must have found mother, and brought him over here."

But she was wrong in her conclusions. Monsieur Bernadot, her husband, had indeed met her mother at Lucerne, and had been sent on to Zug to prepare for their coming. He had gone to the Hirsch Hotel, where, a couple of hours after his arrival, he had received an alarming telegram from his mother-in-law, to the effect that his wife had disappeared.

In dismay, he had been on the point of going to Lucerne, when, in the station, his eye fell upon a dressing bag which he recognized as his wife's. He was informed that it was being taken to the Zugerhof, and thither he repaired hot-foot to receive the news that the lady owning that bag had arrived there that morning accompanied by a gentleman. Monsieur Bernadot, who was of an extremely jealous nature, fell into a paroxysm of rage. He was told that the lady and her companion had gone out with the intention of taking the steamer to Arth and back. And so on the jetty he waited, his anger white-hot, to receive them.

In a private room of the Zugerhof sat Madam Bernadot very pale and tearful, while her lord and master crossed and re-crossed the chamber in great strides, waved his arms like a windmill and talked steadily at the rate of some three hundred words—one hundred of which were vituperative—to the minute.

Lumley, calm, serene and suave, sat upon the sofa, and waited until the Frenchman, for want of breath, should be compelled to pause, and would allow him to insert a word or two. To Lumley the situation presented a humorous as well as a tragic side. It was unfortunate that he had not told the lady his name after all; upon the fact of her not knowing it rested the present situation. Believe that she really did not know it, Bernadot could not; he very naturally inferred that she purposely withheld it.

At length, with a dramatic gesture, the Frenchman challenged the poet to say something.

"With pleasure," said Lumley, with a charming smile, and in a French that contained not the faintest vestige of an alien accent. "In the first place, monsieur, permit me to observe that you are behaving in a very ridiculous manner."

"Ridiculous?" roared Bernadot.

"In the second place," continued the poet, calmly, "you are behaving in a very unworthy manner, and you are placing this excellent lady, who has the misfortune to be your wife, in an exceedingly, and wholly unnecessarily painful position."

"Has monsieur the effrontery to assume a tone of persiflage? I demand that you explain yourself."

"The demand is an interruption that only serves to retard the explanation." was the bland reply. "I had the honor to meet this lady twenty-four hours ago at Laon."

And he proceeded to give the details of their meeting en voiture, of the slight services that he had had the good fortune to render her, and of the mistake in which these had culminated that morning at Bâle.

"And," demanded Bernadot, with a sneer, "do you expect me to believe this ingenious narrative?"

"I am in the habit of speaking the truth, sir," said the poet with dignity.

"Your habits, monsieur, are of no interest to me. I do not believe a word of what you have told me."

"Monsieur!" cried the poet, rising.

"Explain to me, if you can, the mistake owing to which I find you taking a trip on a lake steamer with my wife."

"It was no mistake. One must kill time."

"Kill time, hein? Indeed, monsieur has a talent for explaining. Is monsieur in the legal profession?"

"Monsieur," began Lumley, angrily.

"Oh, don't excite him for Heaven's sake," implored the lady, in English. "He is a great duellist."

This information seemed suddenly to rob the poet of a good deal of his aplomb.

"It appears to me that he is exciting himself," said the poet with an ease which he was far from feeling.

"Que dites-vous?" demanded the husband, to whom this exchange of words in a foreign language savored strongly of collusion.

"Perhaps, monsieur," said the poet, politely, "you will permit me to terminate a rather unfortunate interview by withdrawing."

"Withdrawing?" snarled Barnadot, showing his teeth. "For what do you take me, monsieur? Do you think that I am a man that allows his honor to be trampled in the dust, and then permits the offender to withdraw? Monsieur, I demand satisfaction."

"I have already given you all the satisfaction in my power. If you do not find it sufficient, the fault, monsieur, must lie with you."

Bernadot grinned horribly.

"There is a satisfaction of another sort, monsieur, which you shall render me."

The poet's heart sank. He had spent a very pleasant day with Madam Bernadot, but to be butchered for it was rather, he thought, a heavy price.

"I should like monsieur to observe," said he, "that the violence of your expressions is frightening this lady."

Bernadot was very rude in his retort, which he wound up by repeating that Lumley must give him satisfaction.

The poet shook his head.

"What you ask is impossible, monsieur. I beg that you will think it over calmly."

"Does monsieur suggest that I am anything but calm at present?" he roared.

"I suggest only, monsieur, that you think it over. Discuss it with madam. I am sure that upon reflection you will bring yourself to see the case as I have put it."

"You may be right, and you may be wrong, but I do not like the tone that you have taken. I have observed throughout a certain note of persiflage that I consider peculiarly insulting. You have used expressions that I cannot forgive."

"Endeavor to forget them," suggested the poet.

"I shall do so when I have avenged them."

The poet shuddered.

"Monsieur, I most willingly apologize for those expressions."

"Bah!"

"I will take back those expressions, monsieur."

"Here is my card," cried Bernadot. "If you will favor me with yours I will find a friend to wait upon you to-morrow. For the rest, in five hours we can reach France."

The poet was on the horns of a dilemma. To refuse to comply would be an act of cowardice which he did not care to perform in the presence of a lady. The easiest solution appeared to be to give Bernadot his card and start for England by the first train. Accordingly, he drew his case from his pocket, and from that a card which he handed to Bernadot.

"There, monsieur, since you insist; but I trust that you will come to see that a meeting would be most inconvenient."

The Frenchman took the card, and as he glanced at it the expression of his face changed suddenly to surprise. Immediately his tone became respectful in the extreme.

"Monsieur, you are very magnanimous," said he. "I will take you at your word and accept the apology which a moment ago I refused—churlishly perhaps."

"Why then," cried the poet, in mingled surprise and joy, "no more need be said."

He took his leave of them with gracefully expressed regrets for the misunderstanding which he had been so unfortunate as to bring about, and Bernadot went the length of begging him to say no more.

Bernadot and his wife withdrew to the Hirsch Hotel, and Lumley did not see them again. He left next day for Paris.

On the morning after his arrival in the French capital it occurred to him to pay his visit to Fournailles, not only as a friend, but as a pupil, for the poet suddenly realized that a knowledge of fence may be desirable and useful.

He took out his cardcase and emptied it in his search for Fournailles' card. But in vain; he had lost it. Then all at once he remembered Bernadot's abrupt change of manner, and he suddenly grasped the meaning of it.

He had given Fournailles' card to Bernadot, and Bernadot had not unnaturally shrank from the ordeal of meeting a fencing master with cold steel.


The Dupes

The Ludgate, January 1900

Chapter I

I was kept waiting for nigh upon an hour at my illustrious client's hôtel, in a room of surpassing elegance, sadly out of tune with the rags I wore.

Had the insolent lacquey who escorted me suited his own taste and judgment, I should have been less pleasantly lodged until the Seigneur de Launay arrived; but I had a word or two to say as to where I would wait, and when the fellow remonstrated, a threat to thrash him on the spot and have him dismissed anon, silenced him effectively.

As my ill-shod feet trod the soft carpet, and as I gazed about me at the different articles of value wherewith the room was furnished, I was sorely puzzled to understand how my cousin—whose means I knew to be far from ample—came to be so admirably lodged. To sustain such wealthy surroundings as those I contemplated, must soon bring him into a state of destitution akin to my own.

But still greater was my wonderment at the intimacy wherein, to judge by his position in the cavalcade which I had stood to see go by in the Rue St. Honoré, he was held by Louis XIII.

Was the Cardinal asleep that he detected not this wolf in sheep's clothing? Or had the Seigneur de Launay abandoned the interests of that arch-plotter, the Duke of Orléans, and attached himself in soul as well as in body to the King?

I could not tell—for 'twas two years since my disgrace and banishment from Court—two years since I started on that downward route at a headlong pace which had brought me into the tatters that hung about me. I knew not what had taken place at Court during the period, but I did know that when I turned my back upon the Louvre, Ferdinanad de Launay was already deep in the mire of half a score of Orléaniste plots, which, I had thought, would have earned him a dungeon in the Bastille long before the day whereof I write.

My speculations were ended at last by his arrival. It was announced to me by a clatter of hoofs in the courtyard below, followed by a bustle which would have honoured a prince of the blood.

There was a quick step in the ante-room beyond, then the door opened, and my cousin, handsome, flushed and breathless, stood before me.

I had expected that, seeing me in my sorry plight, chivalry would have bidden him forget our feuds, and that his greeting, if not cousinly, would at least be friendly—especially when considered that 'twas he, not I, who sought this interview.

Not so, however. The right hand, which still clasped his hat and riding whip, remained at his side, the other rested on the pummel of his sword, and his eyes travelled over me, from my unkempt head to my well-worn boots, with a disdainful curiosity which made my gorge rise.

"So Verville," he said at length, in a scornful tone, "'tis to this that your profligate's career has brought you!"

"Even as your treachery has earned you that suit of velvet," I retorted, towering grimly above him in my rage.

Notre Dame! How my words smote home! How I chuckled inwardly to see the flush die from the boy's face, and his teeth catch at his nether lip.

"What do you mean?" he enquired.

"Pah," I answered; "you understand me well enough."

He gazed at me intently for a moment, as if searching in my bold eyes to read how much I really knew. Then, flinging down his hat and whip, he advanced toward me with outstretched hand, and a false, courtier's smile upon his lips.

"Forgive me, Eugène," he said, "if I was brusque, but the sight of your garments pained me deeply, and—"

"A truce to all this, master courtier," I broke in surlily, and putting my hands behind me, "my temper is passing short and has been greatly tried this morning. Will you explain, I pray you, why I have been forced hither without being asked if I chose to come?"

He fell back a pace, and his face assumed a look of sorrow.

"Believe me, Eugène," he exclaimed, "I would have sought you out, but that I believed you dead."

"And had not some evil angel bidden me to gape at you," I retorted sharply, "your thoughts would have been correct ere this, for to-day I am houseless and foodless, and I was on my way to the Seine to put a fitting end to a mis-spent life, when I stopped to see the Royal cavalcade go by. Sangdieu! but you cut a bold figure at the King's side," I continued, with a wild laugh that startled him. "You reminded me of Cinq-Mars—'twas thus I saw him ride by the King; 'twas thus I saw him smile at the monarch's vapid jests; may you have the courage to mount the scaffold, when your turn comes, with as firm a tread!"

He went white to the very lips.

"For God's sake, Eugéne, be silent!" he said, scarce above a whisper. "I mean you well."

"Then you have altered greatly since last we parted," I rejoined coldly.

But, say what I would, I could not anger him as I thought to—for I was bent upon ascertaining the reason of his increasing friendliness, and I knew that in anger a man's tongue will oft betray him.

He persisted in his protestations that he meant me well, and he did but desire to help me retrieve my fortunes.

It sounded marvellous from the lips of scheming, selfish de Launay; but, in the end, when, among other things, he told me that he was about to marry, I, remembering how often the influence of a good woman will make a rogue honourable, and a traitor true, recognised the change that had been wrought in my cousin's character, and believed in his sincerity.

And so my fortunes altered, and I had that day the satisfaction of beholding the eyes of the lacquey who had that morning so haughtily addressed me, grow round and large at the sight of the suit of grey velvet that encased my stalwart figure.

For nearly a month I stayed on at the Hôtel de Launay, and what with sumptuous dinners and generous wines, I became each day more grateful to my cousin for having rescued me from the brink of suicide, to bring me back to a world of warmth and ease, such as I had not known for many a day. The mistrust which penury breeds in all of us was excluded from my heart by good living.

But, albeit in a measure, my old gay recklessness was upon me, yet at times I would chafe at the manner of my life, until in the end I broached the subject to Ferdinand. In his reply methought I found a motive for his kindness, and again I grew mistrustful.

He urged me to espouse the Orléans' cause, gather what friends had returned to me in my new prosperity, and when the time was ripe, to either join the Duke in Lorraine, or strike for him in Paris, as should seem best; I heard him through; then, with a sad, bitter laugh—

"So, Ferdinand," I said, "it is for this that you saved me from the Seine? Hélas! I had ascribed a better motive to your generosity."

"Nor were you wrong in doing so," he cried hotly. "It is naught to me whether you serve the Duke or not; you are still my cousin, and my most trusted friend. But, when you ask me for employment, would you have me counsel you to take service in a cause to which I am at heart averse?"

I was forced to grant that he was right.

"When first I saw you in the Rue St. Honoré," he continued, "I will frankly admit, Eugéne, that your condition struck me as that of a desperate man, ripe for any enterprise that might put a coat on your back and a meal in your stomach, and it was chiefly in the hope of obtaining another recruit for Gaston d'Orléans that I sent my servant after you. But, before I saw you here, nobler thoughts had overcome my purpose, and again I say to-day, that it matters little to me whether you serve the Duke or not."

Before so frank an admission my mistrust melted like snow before the sun, and for some days no more was said. When at length we did revert to the subject, it was I who led the conversation, and I listened earnestly to my cousin's arguments.

I knew much of the state of France, but chiefly as seen through the eyes of Richelieu's enemies; for, during the past two years, gamesters and bullies had been my chief associates, and such men as these cordially hated the Cardinal, who made war upon them and their brawling customs. Coupled with this was a (hitherto passive) hatred for the King, who had disgraced me; so that it is not unnatural that I turned a willing ear to my cousin's doctrines—and so persuasive was his tongue that in the end I became as bold an Orléaniste as you might find in France, awaiting impatiently the time to unsheathe my ever-ready sword.

Chapter II

And so the weeks wore on apace, and the trees grew green again, in their April garb, until one day my cousin startled me by suggesting that I should accompany him to Court. I reminded him of the manner of my dismissal; but he laughed at my scruples, saying the King's memory was short, and that, as his cousin, I might rely upon a gracious welcome.

His arguments prevailed, and I went. But I had not been wrong in my surmise that Louis XIII would remember, and still hold me in ill-odour; for, at the very mention of my name, his brow was wrinkled by an angry frown, whilst Richelieu watched surreptitiously through half-closed lids.

But de Launay bent forward, and said something in the Royal ear which drove the frown from Louis' face, and, with a gracious smile, he held out his hand for me to kiss.

And as I turned me, after that ceremony was over, I found his smile reflected upon the faces of his courtiers, one and all, and everywhere was I received with friendly words and an attention almost servile—so high in favour stood my cousin then.

This was truly the beginning of a new era in my life, for amongst that throng of courtly stars there was one that to me shone more brightly than all the rest, and drew me towards it to become its satellite.

'Tis passing strange, and to me inexplicable, that I—who thought to have done with all the follies of adolescence—should at the age of thirty have found in a heart grown so callous and hard with the reckless life I had lived, a spot still vulnerable to a woman's smiles. But more inexplicable still was it to me to find my love returned—to see the blush mount to my lady's cheeks and pleasure brighten her eyes at my approach.

And so it fell out that I was less often to be found at the Hôtel de Launay than at the side of Mademoiselle de Troiscantins.

I was no longer a ruined gamester; no longer a man of blighted hopes and gloomy moods; but a courtier once more—a gallant! a fool! My life became one round of fêtes. Not that these vapid merrymakings pleased or amused me, but they kept me near to her I loved.

My bygone recklessness arose before me like a reproachful sprite, and as I gazed upon the lovely Madeline, so pure and saintly, a blush of shame would warm my sallow skin, evoked by the realisation of how vile and utterly unworthy I was of the tenderness she lavished on me.

My cousin would quip me at times, and mock the decorum which now marked my once ribald tongue, and I would sullenly resent his jests, and pursue my endeavour to cleanse my over-maculate honour.

Then again, as I remembered that, in spite of all, I was but a penniless adventurer, whose very finery belonged to another's wardrobe, I would determine to quit Paris and take my unfortunate presence to some other clime. But when I went to say farewell, my courage failed me—my adieux were unspoken and I lingered on.

Next I determined to have done with plotting; but here a rude shock awaited me, for, when I broached the matter to de Launey.

"I'll be sworn," he said, "that your leathery conscience, which has at last been awakened to a sense of duty by Mademoiselle de Troiscantins, has something to do with this."

"Peste!" I replied impatiently; "can you not leave Mademoiselle out of the discussion?"

"Nay," he rejoined with a laugh, "methinks I do well to mention her, for let me tell you, Master Saint, that there is no more fervent Orléaniste in all France than this chit of a girl."

"Impossible!" I cried angrily; "she is no plotter! Look at her face, man. Why, 'tis a mirror of purity and innocence!"

He laughed a cynical laugh that angered me, as, with a toss of his fine head, he answered:

"Who speaks of plotters? I will allow that this angel of yours is—so far as a man may judge—an incarnation of virtue and sanctity; but be her soul in whatever state it may, her heart, her sympathies are in the Orléaniste cause."

I was in no mood to allow his rascally tongue to paint for me my lady's character, so, taking up my hat, I went to seek the lady herself, and from her own lips, I learned that what de Launay had said was true.

Cordieu! How differently I viewed the Orléanistes from that day. We were no longer plotters and traitors, but apostles and martyrs of a holy cause in the defence of which I was prepared to sacrifice everything down to the last drop of blood in my veins—so mighty a sophist is love!

There was but one touch wanting to turn my treason into fanaticism, and that touch came from the King's own hand.

It was at a levée one morning. He paused before me in the ante-chamber and ran me over with an almost mocking glance.

"Ha! Chevalier," he murmured, "what a courtier you have become; you are never absent from our side."

I knew not how to read his words, nor what might underlie them, but the tone in which they were delivered boded ill.

"Your Majesty is gracious enough to permit me the honour of being near you," I answered, bowing.

"Yes, yes," he said, so loud that all might hear him. "It gives us pleasure to see your cousin's clothes—he is a man of taste."

A titter went through the crowd, and for a moment I stood dumbfounded, unable to believe that a King's lips could shape the vulgar taunt, whereby I recognised that I was again dismissed from Court.

I stood before that Royal fool, white with passion, and the glance I bent upon him was so terrible that he quailed before it, and maybe, repented him of what he had said. Then of a sudden, I broke into a loud discordant laugh which frightened those about me, and the old foolhardiness which had made me scoff at destiny was again upon me.

A stinging retort was on my lips; but remembering that it might cost me my life, or at least my liberty, and that whilst I lived I might be avenged, I checked my tongue betimes, and, turning on my heel, without another word, stalked boldly and firmly from the Royal presence.

And as I hastened home, to tell de Launay of the insult which had been offered me, there arose in my mind the memory of certain words that Mademoiselle de Troiscantins had spoken days before:

"If by some act of God this worthless King were set aside, and the impending civil war averted, how much misery would France be spared!"

Yes, Mordieu! I was resolved! My hand would be the act of God, and with one bold stroke I would gain the day for Gaston d'Orléans without the butchery of battle. One man should die; Louis the fool—'twas thus I dubbed him in my anger—and his death should spare many a woman tears of widowhood.

My cousin appeared frightened by my fury and by the resolve which I communicated to him, and sought at first to dissuade me. But when, growing calmer, I reasoned with him, and showed him what a victory it would gain for the Duke of Orléans, he wavered, and at last bid me take counsel with Mademoiselle de Troiscantins and be guided by her judgment.

I agreed to this, and entering de Launay's carriage, I drove to the Rue de l'Epée.

I found Madeline in a state of great excitement, for news had been just brought her of what had taken place at the Louvre; and upon seeing me, she vented in unmeasured terms her indignation at the gross insult which I had received.

"The King will repent, never fear," I cried, "but not until—"

"Until what?"

"Until it is too late—until his hour is at hand!"

She recoiled from me, and her cheeks went deadly pale. "Do you mean to kill him?" she gasped.

Calmly I told her what was in my mind, adding that I had come to her, so that she—who had become the guiding star of my life—might give me counsel in this extremity. Nor did I forget to point out what a solution it would afford to the Orléans difficulties.

After she had overcome the natural horror wherewith at first my purpose had inspired her, she pondered deeply for some moments; then, raising her wonderful eyes to mine—

"Can you do it without peril to yourself?" she asked.

"I think so," I replied. "Moreover, there will be small risk, for when the King is dead, Orléans will be master; and I do not think he will forget me."

"Then go," she said, placing her arms about my neck, and speaking in a tender, almost tearful voice. "Go, Eugène, and strike this great blow for a good and sacred cause; and when it is done, come back to me—I will shield you, my love, and, if you ask me, I will marry you, so that none thereafter shall reproach you with your poverty, for I am rich."

My senses swam; I seemed drunk with happiness, and for a moment all in the world but this lovely woman was forgotten. Then, as the memory of grim realities awakened in my mind, I tore myself from those clinging arms and went to lay my plans.

There was to be a fête at the Palais Bourdois upon the following night. Then would I reckon with Louis the Just.

Chapter III

Craftily and cunningly did I prepare, so that no suspicion might attach to me—for the fate of Ravaillac, the last regicide, was still in my mind, and I had no stomach for the brodéquin and the scalding oil. Moreover, there was happiness stored up for my future, and remembering that if I had tasted so little of it in the past, it is but natural that I clung to a life which had suddenly become of value to me.

The King, I had ascertained, would return alone to the Louvre. It was my purpose to follow him, disguised as an attendant, conceal myself in his bedchamber, and strike as soon as he was alone.

Albeit I had received an invitation, I dared not be present at the fète; but having assumed my disguise—retaining, however, my sword, lest I should have need of it—I entered the grounds of the Palais Bourdois as eleven was striking.

I wandered aimlessly about the garden, watching the lighted windows, my mind dwelling more upon Madeline and the days to come than upon the task before me, when, suddenly, a murmur of voices close at hand arrested my attention. I stopped and, crouching behind a tree, I peered about me.

For some moments all remained still, and I was beginning to think that my over-wrought fancy had tricked me, when my vigilant eye caught the shimmer of something—probably, I told myself, some garment.

Stepping gently forth, I moved on tip-toe and under cover of the trees, drawn, nolens volens, towards that inhabited spot. Once the gravel crunched, and once a twig snapped 'neath my tread, and each time I paused, with beating heart and listening ears; but all was still safe for that faint sound of voices. Then 'twas a laugh, a woman's smothered laugh, that startled me; but when at last from my position I was enabled to distinguish two human faces, faintly discernible in the light which fell upon them from the palace windows, it seemed to me that my heart had stopped beating, and that I was nigh upon death from the shock of what I beheld.

On a stone bench sat Ferdinand de Launay and Mademoiselle de Troiscantins!

His arm was about her neck, and her head—that lovely head I knew so well—rested upon his shoulder. The light was uncertain, and as I stood there, not ten paces from the traitors, with clenched teeth and the breath rushing stertorously through my nostrils, I prayed to God that either my eyes were being cheated, or else that I might awaken from the ghastly nightmare that was upon me.

Then, of a sudden, my own name came wafted towards me on the gentle breeze, followed by a sigh, a laugh, and a mocking epithet, and I knew at length that I was the victim of neither dream nor hallucination, but of treachery—dastardly, unseemly treachery; and in my anger I drew nearer to the trees that shaded them, until I could hear their whispered words.

Oh God! Why did I live to learn what their conversation told me? Why had not some merciful assassin ended my life an hour before, whilst I was happy in the belief that I was loved?

I cannot, even now that years are past, go over that conversation of theirs in detail—it was too horrible, too revolting. Enough when I tell you that I gathered from it that my cousin, whose extravagance had well-nigh ruined him, had betrayed my father and my elder brother, for association in a Gascon plot. My father had already mounted the scaffold at Toulouse, and my brother was to follow soon. It but remained to remove me, and for this my cousin had befriended me, and with his diabolical cunning had inveigled me in the Orléaniste cause.

I understood how all those hints thrown out by Madeline, of a bold hand that should end the battle at once by felling one of the leaders, were but meant to fire my enamoured senses.

It was de Launay himself—I gathered it from what he said—who had whispered in the Royal ear the insult which I had received from the King, whereby he meant to bring matters to the crisis to which they had come. I was to slay Louis XIII; he would denounce and destroy me, seat Orléans upon the throne of France, and, himself, inherit the Verville estates and the title which were mine, although I knew it not.

Mille diables! But they had schemed well, these two! And had it not been for their imprudent conversation, they would of a certainty have succeeded.

Oh, the bitterness of that disillusion! I was a fool! A shameless woman's dupe!

"To-morrow, Madeline," I heard him say as they arose to return to the palace, "to-morrow, when this second Ravaillac shall have done his work and been rewarded, I shall be a rich and powerful man. You will share my power and my wealth, sweetheart, and we will—"

I heard no more. It was with difficulty that I saved myself from swooning as I stood there, clinging for support to a friendly bough, peering after their retreating figures and invoking my heart's unspoken curses on their heads.

Chapter IV

I met the Seigneur de Launay half-an-hour later, as he emerged from the Palais Bourdois. He started at seeing me.

"Is anything wrong?" he whispered feverishly.

"Nothing of moment. But unless swift measures be taken, something will be."

I spoke calmly and even mildly, my fury mastered for the while.

"Dismiss your carriage," I said, "and come with me. We must pay a visit."

"Is it necessary that I should accompany you?" he asked; and I new full well what was in his craven mind.

"I can trust to no other companion; go alone I may not; yet, if I do not go, the King will still be alive to-morrow, and our chance will be lost."

"What is it," he enquired.

"Treason!" I answered fiercely; "black, dastardly treason. But never fear, I shall be in time to choke it before any harm is done. Come!"

In silence he walked along beside me for some ten minutes, during which he appeared lost in his musings. So lost, that he marked not the way I led him; until, as we entered the Rue de l'Epée, he suddenly lifted up his head.

"Ho there! Eugène, whither are we bound?" he cried, recognising the street.

"But a few steps further," I answered abruptly, and paced on until we stood before a door, upon which the number "24" was just discernible in the light of a lamp hard by.

"We are arrived," I said, stopping and turning to face him.

"But this, if I mistake not, is the house of Mademoiselle de Troiscantins."

"Precisely," I answered with a laugh, "and it is here that the treason, the damnable treason whereof I spoke, was hatched. The die is cast, most noble cousin; you and that woman have made an Orléaniste of me; I may not go back, for you have duped me too far, therefore I go on. To-night, I set out to join the Duke of Orléans in Lorraine, but before I go, there will be a reckoning."

I faced him now, and my breath was hot and my eyes ablaze with the fury that possessed me. His jaw fell, and his handsome face grew ashen, as he caught the meaning of my words.

"I do not understand," he stammered.

"You will understand everything in a few minutes," I answered derisively, "for we are taught that in death all is made clear. You will understand how you duped me, and how I, in my turn, have duped you to accompany me hither so that justice may be done."

I laughed, and at the sound he recoiled as if I had struck him.

"You are mistaken," he gasped, trembling in every limb.

I flung down my hat and cloak, and unsheathed my sword as I advanced upon him.

"Draw! Traitor! Hound! Judas! Draw!" I thundered, flashing my blade before his eyes.

"You are mistaken," he repeated feebly, shrinking from me.

"What!" I jeered, "Can one so bold to plot be so slow to draw? Is there no manhood in you, that you stand there trembling like one smitten with the ague? Or has the sight of steel struck terror into your woman's heart?"

He threw back his head at the taunt; then, with a muttered oath, he drew and fell on guard.

Mortdieu! how I toyed with him! The hour was late, and none came that way to interrupt us. For full ten minutes I humoured his blundering swordplay, and mocked him the while with a recitation of his sins, asking him how it felt to die unshriven. He saw his death in my eyes, heard it in my voice, felt it in my wrists. The sweat burst into great beads upon his forehead, and in that ten minutes he suffered twenty agonies.

A fearful shriek burst from his lips; he writhed for a second on my point like a wounded worm; then fell forward, and was dead before I had turned him over.

Seizing him, I dragged him from the middle of the road where we had fought, to the door of Mademoiselle's house. With his own dagger I pinned a slip of paper to his breast, whereon I had written: "An offering of her dupe, 'the second Ravaillac,' to Mademoiselle de Troiscantins."

Her coach was coming down the street as I completed my revengeful task; so, sheathing my sword and straightening my cloak, I moved swiftly away, leaving that carrion across her doorstep to greet her with its ghastly message.


The Locket

London Magazine, March 1904

"Shall we cut again?" enquired M. de Noailles, with a smile of polite insouciance.

For over an hour already the game had resolved itself into a duel 'twixt him and me. One by one the others had dropped out to become—some amused and some interested—spectators at the pitiable plucking of a fool. That fool was I. As the hour advanced, Noailles' lips had closed tighter in their sinister determination. For once that he lost, thrice would he win, and thus the gods of chance made cat and mouse of us, allotting to me the meaner role. Once, when in a frenzy I had doubled the stakes and won the cut, young Labresque, who was a cadet in my regiment, set a restraining hand upon my sleeve.

"Come, M. de Lescure," he murmured, "let that suffice you; see, the day is breaking."

The others scowled at him who to-day I know was my only friend about that board.

"For shame!" cried one. "Would you have him pause even as fortune smiles? Let him regain his losses, boy. Come, Lescure, it is the turn of the tide."

The argument sorted well with my inclinations. Again I doubled; again I cut; but this time—alas!—I lost. Noailles gathered in my gold.

"Again?" he enquired with a smile.

My breath came fast, and the fever of the game drew sweat to my brow, for all that the room was chill with the air of that September morn.

"I have," said I hoarsely, "a little land by Beaugency. If you are interested—?"

I paused. His face took on an expression of concern.

"A thousand regrets that it should have gone so far, Lescure—"

"Pish," I broke in irritably, "it is not that. I have no use for that plot of ground."

Noailles shuffled the cards.

"At your own price," said he, setting down the pack.

"Five thousand livres?" I asked impatiently. He inclined his head and cut a seven. A deadly stillness followed. The smile faded from Noailles' lips. Those about craned their necks to see my cut. With hope I put forth my hand. In despair I let the cards flutter from it. I had turned a six.

"Peste!" he deprecated, raising his eyebrows, "fortune scowls on you! But what will you? Lucky at love, mon ami—you know the adage."

The onlokers grinned. Our rivalry—which, however, we had not allowed to interfere with our relations—was well known, as was the greater favour wherein I stood with Mademoiselle de Trécillac. There was a sneer in his words that angered me. That night at play he had all but ruined me, and 'twas like to go hard with my suit in consequence.

Hotly—and without warrant—I made answer that the love wherein he held me lucky was the only thing he might not strip me of. A frown darkened for a moment his smooth, almost boyish, face, then it passed, and with a smile and a sigh—

"Helas, I wish I might, Lescure," said he, "I wish I might. But we waste time. Shall we cut again?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"For to-night, at least, Noailles, we cut no more. You shall have my note of hand for the Beaugency property."

"Have you lost heart?" he cried.

"No; but I have lost everything negotiable."

His fingers drummed absently on the table; his brown eyes met mine; his manner was a strange mixture of eagerness and hesitation.

"May I still suggest a stake?" said he. "I fear I am taking a great liberty, but it is prompted to me by something that has been said. You wear a locket set in diamonds, Lescure."

My face grew hot with anger. "Would you have me risk such a possession?" I cried.

"But why not?" quoth he suavely, "'Lucky at love' you said. Let it be the symbol of your love. Have you no faith in symbols? Do you not think that the love you boast is yours will stand your friend?"

To me just then, a prey to all a gamester's superstitions, the argument seemed specious. Indeed, methought, since he was powerless to win from me the love of Madeline, so, too, would he prove powerless to win from me the symbol of that love—the locket she had given me. Dolt that I was! Fool that I was! I caught at that fancy. I bethought me of my heavy losses, of my father's anger when he should hear of it—as hear he must—and of my compulsory withdrawal from Paris and my regiment. I bethought me of how my straitened circumstances must perforce hamper my wooing of Madeline, and the inevitable postponement—or worse—of the marriage I so ardently hoped for. All this I saw, and how by one cut of the cards the whole might be righted. 'Twas as much for love of her as for any other reason, I told myself, that I consented.

"What do you stake against it?" I asked hoarsely.

"All that I have won to-night," said he, his face alight with eagerness.

"I'll take that wager, Noailles," I shouted, rising to my feet.

He rose also, and, bowing for answer, he took the pack and cut a five. With a sigh he replaced the cards, and pushed the pack towards me.

"You were well advised, it seems. Your symbol has indeed stood your friend. But cut—for form's sake."

Already tasting victory, I put out my hand and lifted half the pack. Noailles was the first to see the card, and a cry of satisfaction escaped him, despite his wonted courtly coolness. I had turned a deuce. In fascinated horror I gazed upon the card, then my fingers relaxed their hold and the paste-boards fluttered from my grasp, and striking in their fall the table's legs, were strewn upon the ground around me. Trembling, I sank back into my seat.

"The gods are very good to me to-night, Lescure," he murmured deprecatingly. "Another time you shall have your revanche."

With fingers that seemed numb, I drew the locket from my breast. Passionately I snapped the slender chain that held it. For a moment I gazed upon the sweet face that smiled at me from its glittering setting of diamonds, and in that moment the devil prompted trickery to me. My cheeks burned as I conceived the thought, acting upon which I set myself to open the locket.

"What is it you do?" inquired Noailles.

"Eh?" I returned, with an affected unconcern that was pitiably transparent. "I am removing the picture."

"What?" he exclaimed. And as I looked up I met his glance black with anger.

"We said the locket, did we not, Noailles!" I asked. "There was no mention of the portrait."

On every face about me sat a smile, here grim, there scornful, there again pitying.

"Ho, ho! my dear Lescure," laughed he unpleasantly. "But you could not have misunderstood me. Is it likely I should have staked against those diamonds four times their value in moneys and in land? Or again, when we played for your Beaugency property there was no mention of the trees and tenements that stand upon it, yet such there is no question I have won. And so, too, have I won the locket and its portrait."

I made a vain, a pitiful, a shameful attempt to bluster it.

"Nay, but this is trickery," I shouted.

"Trickery!" he echoed in a tone that was the forerunner of a challenge.

"Aye, trickery," I repeated furiously. "What comparison can lie 'twixt the trees and tenements of the Beaugency estates and the portrait in this locket? Thoes trees and dwellings are an inseparable part of the property; they are immovables, and therefore included in the wager. But not so this picture; it is no more a part of the locket than your clothes, Monsieur, are a part of your person."

He was white by now, yet he held the reigns of his anger with an iron hand.

"Monsieur de Lescure," said he in a voice that was forcedly calm. "I will put the matter to these gentlemen, and it shall be as they decide."

At that I protested that there was naught to be decided; that the matter was clear. Again I spoke of trickery, and artfully I went to work to pick a quarrel with him. My moneys and my lands I had lost, if not without a pang, at least without a murmur. But ere I parted with this portrait I was mad enough, blind enough, to court a quarrel which—to my shame I write it—must have involved the rending of my honour. But those present intervened, and to such purpose that presently with feelings of shame and rage such as a detected and baffled cheat may experience, I was forced to relinquish the portrait of Madeline which in that evil hour I had staked and lost.

With the portrait it seemed to me then that I had also lost the original; that in my last glance at her beloved face I had made my adieux to Madeline herself.

The use to which Noailles meant to put the locket I could not doubt. He would carry it to the lady; tell her how he had come by it, and thus prove overwhelmingly to my undoing how unworthy was I of its possession. With an aching heart I sat back in my chair, a prey to remorse and grief, and not a little shame at the unworthy trick by which I had sought to cheat him of the picture. I heeded not their cold farewells as they trooped out to leave me alone in my chamber with my sorrow and the dawn.

There sat I, my chin on my ruffles, amid the disorder that told of that night's play, for some three hours or more. I sat in a strange, waking sleep; my mind active in its poignant grief, my limbs benumbed and powerless.

From that stupor I was at last aroused by my servant, Duboscq, with a letter which had just been brought by a messenger from M. de Sartines.

"Ciel!" I cried, springing up, "what o'clock is it?"

"It has just gone nine, monsieur."

The note proved to be a brief, peremptory summons to the presence of the Lieutenant-General of Police. With the bitter reflection that unless my father should prove singularly lenient, forgiving and generous, I should soon cease to be troubled with such commands, I went to change my wig and my apparel, and remove, as far as possible, the traces of the night's sleeplessness from my countenance.

By ten o'clock I stood before M. de Sartines. His impassive, owl-like face, with its wide-set, observant eyes and beaky nose, gave no sign of the impatience with which he had awaited my coming, and which his words betrayed.

"I have been waiting for you, M. de Lescure."

I made my excuses, ill at ease beneath his inscrutable stare.

"You are looking pale, Lieutenant," he said. "I propose to send you for a ride into the country that will restore the colour to your cheeks. I am informed," he continued, "that M. de Noailles left Paris by the barrière d'Enfer two hours ago."

I started, whereat the faintest of smiles parted his thin lips.

"A curious coincidence, is it not, that the matter in which I require your services should concern him? M. de Noailles has mixed himself in affairs that he had been well advised to have avoided. His arrest in Paris was fraught with the risk of publicity, and his uncle, the Duke of St. Simon, might have given us trouble. Well, he has left Paris, and now is our opportunity. Two hours ago I requested His Majesty's permission to employ the most intelligent and discreet officer in his Guards on a business of the greatest delicacy."

I bowed amazed, and hopeful already that herein I might find a way to mend the night's disaster.

"My choice, M. de Lescure, fell upon you; not only because I know you to be possessed of these qualities, but also because I think that in this matter you may have interests of your own to serve, which will increase your diligence."

Amazing indeed were the powers that this man wielded by virtue of his network of espionage.

"M. de Noailles," he pursued, "took the road to Orleans. Have you an idea whither he has gone?"

The chateau de Trécillac was situated in Berri some fifteen miles south of La Chatre. That that was his destination I did not for a moment doubt.

"I think I know, monsieur," I replied.

"Good. You will take six men and you will straightway set out to follow and overtake him. Here, M. de Lescure, is a letter of cachet commanding the Governor of the Bastille to receive and hold at His Majesty's pleasure the person of Stanislas de Noailles. But—" he paused significantly. "I do not wish—His Majesty does not wish—M. de Noailles to be brought to Paris."

I was bewildered.

"We should much prefer that you induce him to pursue his journey south as far as Spain, and that in awe of the imprisonment awaiting him he shall keep out of France for a year or two."

"You mean that I am to allow him to escape!"

"No doubt,"—and Sartines smiled—"you will find a way, armed with this." And he placed the letter of cachet in my hand. "But should you fail, should Noailles be deaf to all inducements, and refuse to quit France, then bring him here as quietly as may be. In a word, we wish him to disappear. We desire his removal, but do not wish to be called to account for it to St. Simon and his noisy supporters. You understand?"

I left M. de Sartines' presence with an elation as great as had been the despondency in which I had answered his summons. I saw a clear way to execute my commission in accordance with the King's desires and simultaneously serve my own interests.

Speed was of the first importance, and I so well contrived that within an hour of my interview with the Lieutenant-General I was riding down the Rue d'Enfer at the head of a troop of six well-mounted mousquetaires, and so on to the Orleans road. Neither ourselves nor our horses did we spare, and with the magic words of "In the King's name," we levied frequent relays along the road. An hour after nightfall we reached Artenay, where our exhausted condition compelled a halt for the night. Confident that we should overtake Noailles on the morrow, I slept tranquil, and cradled by hope. But at Orleans, where we stopped next day, I learnt at the Hotel de l'Epée that a gentleman answering the description of Noailles had arrived there the evening before on horseback, but that hiring a berline he had pushed on, clearly intending to travel all night. The news dismayed me. If Noailles pursued this method of travelling by day in the saddle, and yet again by night resting in a coach, my chance of coming up with him ere he reached Trécillac was indeed slender.

Scarce giving my men pause, I ordered them back to their saddles, and not until we rode into La Motte Beuvron, on horses dropping with exhaustion, did I allow them to draw reign again. That night we lay at Vierzon, and when on the morning of the third day I roused my mousquetaires ar six o'clock, I was greeted with more than one murmur. But deaf to complaints I urged them on. Myself I seemed in my impatience impervious to fatigue. A fever at once consumed and sustained me. We dined at Chateauroux, and crossing the Cher pushed on towards La Chatre. In Berri at last, our journey's end was in sight. But with every hour of it my anxiety increased. Of de Noailles I could gain no news on the road, save at Chateauroux where the host of the "Pâon" had told me that a gentleman such as I described had arrived there in a berline the morning before. At that my heart sank. If he was a day in front of us now that the goal of our journey was so near I might abandon all hope of coming up with him this side of Trécillac, and although I might arrive in time to execute the royal commission, I should be overlate to serve my own purpose.

But when towards sunset we rode, a sorely jaded company, into the yard of the Hotel de Berri, at La Chatre, my heart suddenly leapt within me, for there, talking to the ostler, stood Stanislas de Noailles himself. Here within fifteen miles of Trécillac I had run my quarry at last to earth.

He started upon catching sight of me and turning a white, weary face upon me, he smiled bitterly, I thought.

"You here, Lescure?" said he. Then his smile broadened and he laughed outright.

"Why yes, I might have guessed you would come after me."

"Your guess proves right; not so the grounds on which you base it," I answered stiffly. "I am come on the King's business."

At that his face grew a shade paler—the consciousness of the work he had been at in Paris knocked at his heart, no doubt, and he must realise how thus, in the eleventh hour, his visit to Mademoiselle de Trécillac was to be frustrated. I could almost pity him for the bitterness of the disappointment that must be his.

"May I have a word with you in private, Monsieur?" I asked.

"But certainly," said he, and we went within. In a room of the upper floor of the hotel I produced the letter of cachet that was my warrant. The first shock over, no bearing could have been more admirable than was his.

"Who plays stakes, and who loses, pays," said he airily. "It seems I have lost, Lescure. But, voyons, I have friends in Paris; my uncle St. Simon—"

"Will know nothing of your arrest," I broke in. "You shall disappear utterly and completely."

He looked up sharply at that; then with a sigh and a laugh—

"You will sup with me, Lescure?" said he.

I answered that I would, adding that henceforth, until the Bastille entombed him, waking or sleeping, journeying or resting, he should find me ever at his side. His self-possession angered me with the anger of envy.

When we had supped he called for cards. Nothing could have sorted better with my wishes; it was the cue for which I had waited. I seized on it to ask him what he had left me that I might stake; to revile him for having already wrought my ruin; to protest that, thanks to the condition to which he had reduced me, I should be compelled to quit the King's service, and withdraw into the country.

Encouraged—as I intended that he should be—by that tirade of mine, he made the next move by suggesting a bribe.

"What if I were to make restitution?" he enquired with a kindly tone of concern that robbed the question of all its coarseness. "What then, Lescure? Would you do aught for me?"

"Do? Do what?" I asked in feigned perplexity.

"To regain the position which you have lost, would you"—he sank his voice almost to a whisper—"would you allow me to go free? I could be out of France in three days."

"Nom de Dieu!" I cried, springing up. "Is this an offer to make a gentleman?"

A shade of disappointment crossed his face.

"I feared that you would answer thus," said he. "And yet, believe me, you are foolish. It would but mean exchanging a disgrace that is inevitable and will soon be public, for a disgrace that none need learn of. Men do such things. Think, Lescure, there is your Beaugency property, and the matter of ten thousand livres that I won from you."

"Do not tempt me." I cried.

"As you will," said he, tapping his snuff box. "My heart bleeds for your father. The disgrace of it will kill him."

"Better a disgrace that is but financial than a tarnished honour."

"It will break your mother's heart," he sighed.

"Silence!" I thundered.

"And have you no thought for Mademoiselle de Trécillac?"

"Mon Dieu!" I cried out like one in despair, and paused, only to add as though in pursuance of my thoughts—"But no, no, it is impossible. Besides, my men have seen you."

"But they do not know me," he cried eagerly, leaning forward. "You were wise enough not to utter my name. They may think me some chance acquaintance. To-morrow you can rouse them and pursue your quest for M. de Noailles, whom you will not find."

"And return to the King and M. de Sartines with a lie. Monsieur, I will hear no more."

Nor did I, but for that night I thought that we had done well enough. Both into my hands and into the hands of the King was Noailles unconsciously playing.

On the morrow, as we broke our fast, I broached the subject anew myself.

"I have given thought to your last night's words, Noailles," I muttered. "Indeed, they kept me awake for hours. Temptation is a tough foe to fight."

There was astonishment in those fine eyes of his.

"Your reflection, I hope, leads you to see the wisdom of what I suggest."

"In a measure it does," said I. He caught his breath, and stared at me, a light of joy leaping suddenly to his eyes.

"You agree, Lescure?"

"Let me understand what you offer," I returned, affecting the harshness of one driven to a repugnant step.

"Ten thousand livres and your property at Beaugency."

I leant across the table and spoke quickly.

"Add the locket with the portrait of Mdlle. de Trécillac, and you may walk out of this inn," said I.

At that he scowled, and I blushed to think what a base traitor I must appear to him.

"Well?" I demanded roughly.

"You ask too much."

"You refuse?" I demanded.

"I refuse."

"Bethink you, Noailles—"

"It is useless to talk, M. de Lescure. I cannot restore the locket!"

"Then you will come to Paris."

"I cannot restore the locket," he repeated coldly.

At that I got up in a rage that was not simulated, and strode to the door.

"Very well, M. de Noailles," I threatened. "We shall see if we cannot find it for ourselves." Then opening the door I raised my voice. "Baptiste, André!" I called.

"What will you do?" he exclaimed, springing up.

"Arrest you," I replied with a disdainful smile, "and have you searched. We shall see now. M. de Noailles—"

"Stay," he commanded sharply. He gazed at me with a look so pregnant with disgust that I could have struck him. "This is the second time in connection with that locket that you would cheat me," he commented bitterly. "But there, M. de Lescure, I do not wish to anger you with recriminations. I wish rather to withhold a step that must be irrevocable and which will yield you nothing. The locket is in safe keeping."

"So shall you be unless you produce it," I retorted. "My men are coming up."

"Send them back, Lescure, and I will at least attempt to restore your locket. I cannot promise, but I will do my best, and if I fail, you can still arrest me."

My pulses throbbed. The horror of the Bastille appalled him at last. He was about to melt.

I looked at him for a second, then I did as he desired, and sent off my men on a trumpery errand.

He walked to the window and looked out, then turned to me again.

"If I get back this locket for you," he asked, "what guarantee do you give me that I shall be allowed to go free?"

"I swear it on my honour," I answered.

He smiled sadly.

"I must be content with that, for all that your behaviour recently hardly justifies an excess of faith."

"Monsieur!"

"Pish! I am your prisoner. Give me pen, ink and paper, and within four hours it may be that you shall have your portrait. But with your permission, Lescure, I will so couch this note that it shall do duty against you if you break your word."

"Write as you please, monsieur," said I impatiently.

He paused a moment, pen in hand, then holding it out to me—

"Better still, Lescure, you shall write the note yourself at my dictation."

I took the pen (What did it signify who wrote the note?) and at his bidding I set down the following:

M. de Noailles is my prisoner here, at the Hotel de Berri, at La Chatre, and upon the warrant of a lettre de cachet, I am to deliver him to the Governor of the Bastille. But in consideration of his restoring to me the locket which four nights ago he won from me at play in Paris, I do hereby undertake and solemnly pledge my honour to allow him to go free.

"Sign it," said he, and I obeyed him.

He left me for a moment to despatch a messenger, whose return thereafter I awaited with impatience, yet well pleased with the outcome of the adventure, which was such as was desired by both M. de Sratines and myself.

Early in the afternoon, as I sat with Noailles, a waiter entered with the announcement that I was being asked for below. I desired him to conduct the visitor to the room in which we sat, and a moment later, to my amazement, Mademoiselle de Trécillac herself was ushered in.

"Madeline!" I cried, and would have rushed forward had not something in the glance of her eyes, in the poise of her head, restrained and chilled me. Looking past me at my companion—

"I have received this letter, M. de Noailles," she said, "and I ask your pardon for having doubted your word. I see that you told me the truth. Though repugnant, I cannot in consideration of what has befallen, refuse to comply with what I understand to be your wishes."

"Madeline!" he cried in his turn, but in accents of joy as he advanced to kiss the hand she yielded him with a sad smile. The turning to me—

"M. de Lescure," she said very coldly, "I am come to purchase M. de Noailles' liberty from you at your own price. Here is the locket against the return of which you have pledged yourself to set him free."

She placed the little gem-framed picture on the table, whilst I stood like one who has drunk overmuch and whose wits work slowly. Then little by little I came to understand what earlier I should have guessed—that when I had come upon Noailles the day before in the inn yard, the gentleman was already on his return journey from Trécillac to Paris.

I drew myself up with what assumption of dignity I could command.

"M. de Noailles," said I, "you are free to depart. But see that you tarry not in France."

Without touching the locket, I bowed to them, and sore beyond all conception, I left them together and went below to order my men to saddle. And as I rode back to Paris, my only consolation was that, from M. de Sartines' pont of view, my mission had succeeded admirably. As much consolation did it prove to me as a fine landscape may prove to a blind man.


The Lottery Ticket

Ainslee's, March 1901

Andreas Schumacher had been a failure in life. Moreover, he had grown fat.

To look at the dumpy little old man as he climbed on to his high stool at Messrs. Hartmann, Stoffel & Co.'s office, it would have been difficult to have pictured the bright, slender, well-groomed youth who had come to London thirty years before, to study the English system of commerce.

It had been his father's desire that he should remain three years in England to perfect his knowledge of the language and of business, and then return to the partnership which Schumacher the elder would offer him in the then prosperous Hamburg house of Schumacher & Steinholz.

But a great bank failure supervened and dragged that eminent firm through the bankruptcy tribunals. Old Schumacher died of heart disease accelerated by the disaster, and Andreas was left a penniless orphan to fight his battle of life unaided, uncheered, and unloved.

He remained in London, and Messrs. Hartmann, Stoffel, & Co., moved to their inmost soul by his misfortune, befriended him to the magnanimous extent of twenty-three shillings and sixpence a week. They offered him this extravagant salary partly in consideration of the many favors they owed the late firm of Schumacher & Steinholz, and partly because they thought it unlikely they would find anybody else willing to do the work they apportioned him for less. He took it in the same spirit, realizing that elsewhere he might not get as much.

He had fought shabbiness a hard battle—eventually succumbing—and had studied temperate habits of living with an assiduity beyond praise.

For thirty years he had lived the miserable, soul-crushing life that fate had forced upon him, without a smile, without a groan, and almost (one might opine from his appearance) without a wash. Parsimonious living is not conducive to an excessive degree of cleanliness.

But gradually his lot had improved. By dint of hard work and a sacrifice of everything that constitutes the verb "to live" he had proved himself worthy of an increased salary. By the time he had been for twenty years a dingy fixture of Messrs. Hartmann, Stoffel & Co.'s dingy office, his stipend had reached the full tide of three hundred a year. For ten years after that there had been no further advances, nor could he hope for any, nor—for that matter—did he wish for any. To wish for things one must have ambition, to have ambition one must have a soul, and poor Schumacher's soul had been drowned in ink long ago.

He had grown fat. Not the pale, puffy, fat of good fare and sensuous indulgence, but the moist, crimson fat of stupidity, selfishness, and too much sleep—the slothful obesity that begins in the mind, or in the lack of it.

His character, like most men's, was to be read in his clothes—baggy, faded, irregularly adorned with grease spots, whilst with your finger you might have written your name in the dust on his hat.

How far removed he stood from this world's vanities was attested by his supreme indifference to the shape or fashion of his buttons, shoe laces, and neckties.

Such was Andreas Schumacher at the age of fifty-four, an unclean thing to look at, with a round red face, a large mouth shaded by short, stubbly mustache, small eyes that peered suspiciously through a pair of steel rimmed spectacles, and no nose to speak of. His hair alone gave you a suspicion of the artist. Its general untidiness and lordly contempt of the comb was such as is affected by priests of the muses.

He had never married. He had never thought of it. When he was too young he had not the means; now that he was old he had not the figure to inspire passion—even had he had the inclination.

But of late he had found lodgings uncomfortable. He had moved into a small, dismal house in Bloomsbury and engaged a housekeeper—a decayed lady who had the conventional qualifications of having seen better days and a husband who drank himself to death.

He spent a hundred pounds a year on himself, his housekeeper and his establishment. The other two hundred he banked. Not that he had any definite object in this; he had acquired the habit, and although he might suffer discomfort, two-thirds of his income he set aside.

For two years he lived in this fashion, peacefully, sordidly, and sleepily. Then a snake entered his slothful paradise. He discovered that Mrs. Leighton, his housekeeper, gambled.

Now, men of Schumacher's stamp are usually virtuous. Their lethargy of soul is too intense to be pierced by temptation; moreover, vice costs money, and if there was one thing that would appeal to Schumacher as sinful, it was that which cost money. Imagine, therefore, how appalling to him would appear the crime of gambling. What to him could be more immoral than the purchase of a lottery ticket? Was it not wicked, useless waste of six shillings?

As he thought of all the things that could be bought for six shillings his bosom swelled with righteous indignation. It was worse than spending money on tobacco!

He spoke severely to Mrs. Leighton, and with a dirty forefinger he emphasized his demonstration of her crime.

She was a slender, fragile woman of fifty, easily daunted, and she listened meekly, with folded hands, then sighed and looked penitent.

"I suppose it's very wrong of me, Mr. Shoemaker, and since you put it that way, I promise to have no more to do with it. But, dear me, Mr. Shoemaker, I've bought a lottery ticket twice a year for the last six years. I've always had a hope of winning something, and then, ye see, I might—"

"Herrgott," Schumacher interrupted—usually his English was fluent enough though guttural, but in rare moments of excitement he would take refuge in unseemly expressions of his mother tongue—"you have bought two tickets a year; twelve shillings a year, which," he pursued, setting the matter at once upon a sound mathematical basis, "makes seventy-two shillings in all. Donnerwetter! Think, woman, think how much that is! What you want with any verfluchte lottery? What have you won? Nothing." And spreading his flabby hands before her, he screwed his face into an awful expression of condemnation and disgust.

Mrs. Leighton repeated her assurances that she would have no more to do with such things, and to show how earnest were his words, she put the ticket on the table and bade him take it and do what he liked with it.

But he recoiled from that certificate of crime—which bore the name of the "Fortuna Gesellschaft," and in large, black figures, the number 5400—and with many Teutonic adjectives of vituperation, he solemnly vowed that he would not touch it.

So, with another sigh, she returned it to her shabby purse, and with renewed protestations that she would gamble no more, the incident was ended, and Andreas went to sleep in his chair.

A week went by, and the incident was all but forgotten, when, chancing one morning to open the Hamburger Tageblatt—which paper was regularly received at the offices of Messrs. Hartmann, Stoffel & Co.—his eyes alighted upon the number 5400 conspicuously printed in the center of the page. There was something familiar about it that arrested his attention. It represented his age multiplied by a hundred, and he had a hazy recollection of having thought the same of some number seen not long ago. Then he read the equally conspicuous heading, "Fortuna Gesellschaft," and he remembered. With trembling hands, he held the paper whilst he perused the announcement that the holder of ticket No. 5400 was the winner of 50,000 marks—roughly, twenty-five thousand pounds sterling.

The paper fluttered from his grasp, his flabby cheeks grew white, and his lips opened to whisper the name—Theresa Leighton.

Then his miserly soul was filled with envy and a sort of rage. He fell to reviling himself for not having bought the ticket from his housekeeper without stopping to consider whether she would have sold it, and utterly oblivious of his own moral attitude towards gambling. Like many another he confined his moral objections to the unprofitable.

His mental anger was suddenly interrupted by another thought. What if Mrs. Leighton were yet in ignorance of her good fortune? He knew that it would take perhaps two or three days to trace the lucky ticket. What could he do in two or three days? Buy it from her? No. That was out of the question. She would divine his motive for wasting six shillings.

He thought hard for some moments—harder than he had ever thought in his life—and at last the only solution presented itself. He must marry her. But how could it be done in two or three days? There was Sharpe. Sharpe would know; he had been in a lawyer's office.

Andreas slipped down from his stool, and shuffled quickly into the outer office. In his quiet, unobtrusive way, he sneaked up to Sharpe's desk, and peering at him through his spectacles in a strangely perturbed fashion.

"Mr. Sharpe," he whispered, timidly. "Will you come and have a drink with me?"

In the profoundest amazement, Fred Sharpe turned round and stared at the little German.

"I beg your pardon," he said at last.

"Will you come and have a drink with me?"

Without another word, Sharpe reached out for his hat. He was a young gentleman of twenty-one who cut a lordly figure in the world on twenty-five shillings a week and reversible cuffs. Schumacher was not his ideal companion, but a drink was a drink, and Schumacher, for some mysterious reason, was going to pay for it.

Intimating to his fellow clerks that he was "just going round to the bank," Sharpe followed Andreas out of the office, and piloted him round to a quiet little house in a back street close at hand.

He ordered a whisky and soda, whereat Schumacher winced. All unversed as he was in refreshment tariffs, he realized that a drink concocted with two fluids must be more expensive than an unmixed one. He requested a small lemonade for himself, and having gone through the agony of paying, he proceeded to obtain the requisite information and advice.

"What's the quickest way of getting married, Mr. Sharpe?"

Mr. Sharpe eyed him with evident alarm. An idea that had occurred to him when Andreas had displayed the unusual trait of generosity was confirmed. Old Schumacher was going mad. It was only when Andreas repeated the question that he answered: "Special license."

"That's the quickest, is it? Well, how can I get one?"

"Thirty pounds, a reason and an affidavit that there's no impediment."

"Thirty pounds! Herrgott!" And he went as white as chalk. Then remembering the stake he was playing for he regained courage and his normal complexion. "What would be considered a reason?"

Sharpe supplied him with half a dozen.

"If you can substantiate any one of those, swear no impediment, the thing's done."

"But I can't substantiate any one of them."

"Then what the dickens do you want to get married for?"

Andreas ignored the question.

"Is there no other way?"

"No. You can lie, of course, but the Lord help you if they find you out."

Schumacher realized that he would have to lie, and accepted his fate with surprising resignation.

"Supposing I get the license, when can I be married?"

"If you look sharp you might do it tomorrow morning. But you'll have to look very sharp."

That was enough. Schumacher ordered another drink for his matrimonial mentor, and proceeded to learn from him what he should do and say. How he should explain his haste to the Bishop and how substantiate his explanation in all necessary details.

Then Schumacher returned to the office, and having informed old Mr. Hartmann that he was feeling very ill, he got into his green overcoat—originally it had been black—and left. Sharpe saw him go, and half an hour later a wonderful story was current in the establishment.

Meanwhile, Schumacher went straight to the bank, and, for the first time in his life, he drew a check. He drew thirty pounds and ten shillings—the ten shillings he thought might be necessary for his wedding expenses.

With the notes safely stowed away in his breast pocket, he reached Bloomsbury three-quarters of an hour later, and alarmed Mrs. Leighton by the unusual event.

He told her that he didn't feel well, and so he had thought that a few days' holiday would do him good. She applauded his resolution. Indeed, he looked anything but well—the anxiety that was consuming him gave him a sickly air.

Fools are often cunning. But the cunning displayed by Andreas on this occasion might have done credit to a clever man. In five minutes he was able to breathe freely, in the conviction that she knew nothing of the result of the "Fortuna Gesellschaft" lottery.

Then he went craftily to work. He had thought it all out on his way home, and what he said made Theresa Leighton realize to the full how she had misjudged his character, and how bitterly she had wronged him hitherto.

He was growing old, he said, and the slight indisposition he felt that day had reminded him that it might not be very long before he would have to pay the debt of the flesh and visit another world—whether a better one or otherwise, he did not specify.

"You have been very good to me, Theresa," he simpered. "And the thought struck me what would become of you if I die. You are getting old, dear friend, and you cannot work very much longer. I have savings. I have two thousand pounds. That would be something for you. I am fond of you."

He stopped and breathed, whilst she dropped her eyes and turned red. Then he took her thin, emaciated hand in his great, fleshy paw, and with a clever shake in his voice: "Will you marry me?" he inquired, softly.

"Oh, Mr. Shoemaker!"

"Will you marry me?" he repeated.

She was silent for a moment, and during that moment she considered the situation.

She compared him to her late husband. The gay, handsome, drunken Mr. Leighton was very different indeed, and how passionately he had wooed her! Andreas proposed like a jellyfish. But Andreas had two thousand pounds and an income of three hundred a year. Then, what he had said of her position was only too true; she was growing old. Altogether she had much to gain from accepting him. He was evidently fond of her. So in the end she raised her eyes and whispered her acquiescence.

Had he ever read a novel he would have known what was expected of him. He would have gathered her to his adipose bosom, and impressed the bond-sealing kiss upon her lips—there is a world of wooing deportment to be gathered from a novel. But Andreas knew nothing and cared less about such trivial pastimes.

With an anxiety that brought great beads of perspiration to his brow, he proceeded to tell her how he had hoped for this; how he had resolved whilst walking home that day that if she consented, they should avail themselves of his present holiday to get married at once and have a day or two in the country.

She thought it very sudden, but he explained that his holiday would be so very short that they had best do as he suggested. Moreover, he added with sudden inspiration, they were both growing old, and they had a right to grudge every moment of the life of connubial happiness that lay before them. Let them enter upon it without delay, and, if possible, get married next morning.

She was rather frightened for a moment, but no suspicion crossed her mind, and it never occurred to her that there was anything very strange in the affair. What he said appeared reasonable enough, and having no notion of the cost of a special license, there was nothing to arouse her mistrust.

And so, to be succinct, they were married the following afternoon. Andreas lost a couple of pounds—avoirdupois—during the twenty-four hours that preceded his marriage, out of sheer anxiety lest at the last moment she should get wind of the fortune that belonged to her.

At last when he heard her utter the fateful "I will" a great sigh of relief escaped his lips, and he felt ready to caper with joy—he would have cut rather a curious figure capering.

He was rich. Hartmann, Stoffel & Co. might go hang. He would keep no more books for them.

He drew another check for ten pounds, and they went into the country for a quiet honeymoon, abandoning themselves to the all-satisfying contemplation of each other.

At his request, Sharpe had sent him a bundle of copies of the Hamburger Tageblatt, among which was the one containing the result of the "Fortuna Gesellschaft" lottery. He read them all on the second evening of their holiday, ignoring the announcement in question. He greatly preferred that she should learn of it through another quarter.

But when a third day went by and she continued in ignorance of what had taken place, he thought it would be only kind of him to enlighten her.

He was turning the papers over in a careless way, that evening, when suddenly he uttered a sharp cry and seizing one of them he set himself to read vigorously. She raised her head at this sign of excitement.

"What is it, Andrew?"

"What was the number of your lottery ticket?" he cried.

"Five thousand four hundred," she answered. "Why? You don't mean to tell me that it's won anything?"

"Won anything? Potzteufel! It's won the big prize—five hundred thousand marks. Look!" And he held out the paper, setting his fat, unclean finger against the number.

Mrs. Andreas Schumacher did not look. She sat rigid and white, staring at him with parted lips.

"It's your fault, Andreas," she said. "You bullied me so about wasting money that I sold the ticket next day to Mrs. Armstrong."

Then seeing the spasm of pain that crossed his face, and thinking—poor, unsuspecting soul!—that her harsh reproof had caused it, she forgot her loss and grew tender.

Going over to where he sat, she put her arm round his neck, and drawing his head on to her shoulder: "Never mind, dear," she said, softly, "you were quite right in a way, and we have each other."

"Yes," he echoed, mechanically, "we have each other." And as he realized fully what that meant, "we have each other," he repeated. "Herrgott! We have each other!"

And he fainted.


The Malediction

Royal Magazine, June 1900

I stood erect and defiant, the point of my sword—to which the rash fool's blood still clung—resting upon my boot, and with cold contempt in my glance, I let my eyes wander over the score of idle dogs that encircled me—dogs that barked, yet dared not bite.

Two of them had raised my vanquished and unconscious opponent from the ground, and were endeavouring to staunch the blood which spurted freely from the wound I had given him. The others stood around us in a circle, growling and snarling like the curs they were, but taking care to keep beyond my reach.

"It is a nasty wound, Mein Herr," said one of those who tended the fallen man.

"The quarrel was of his own seeking," I exclaimed, angrily, "and he received his wound in fair fight. If there be one here who says that it is not so, to him I'll answer that he lies, and prove it upon his body if he dare to come forth and play the man."

Their snarling was arrested by the fierceness of my tone and gesture, and albeit their looks were black and sullen enough, their tongues were silent.

I vented my contempt in a harsh laugh of derision.

"So, my masters," I said, sheathing my sword and moving towards a point where the rabble was thinnest, "since none disputes my word, I pray you let me hence."

A way was opened at my approach. Not for me—as I had thought at first—but for another.

A tall, spare man, in the habit of a Capuchin monk, and with the cowl drawn over his head, elbowed his way through to where I stood.

His deep-set eyes met mine, and for a moment he held my gaze with a look of mingled sorrow and anger.

"So! You have been at your foul work again, Master von Huldenstein," he said in even, solemn tones that brought the blood to my face.

"You presume upon the safety of your sack-cloth," I answered hotly.

"And you, you presume upon the death of the Duke of Retzbach," he retorted with a show of righteous indignation. "When the Duke lived the edict was enforced, and men of your kidney were appalled from the ways of murder by the grim shadow of the Schwarzenbaum gibbet. But take heed, sir," he continued, raising his voice, "you shall not pursue your accursed trade with impunity. I will appeal to the King if need be, and you shall learn that there is still justice and retribution in Schwerlingen."

White with passion I stepped up to him, but he brushed me aside with a gesture almost of scorn, and my tongue—usually so nimble—clove to my teeth.

He bent over the unconscious man, whilst I looked on quivering with rage, and vainly racking my brain for a fitting answer.

Presently he turned to me again with flashing eyes.

"This man may die, sir," he cried. "Do you hear me? He may die!"

"Then do your shaveling's trade, and shrive him," I answered with callous cynicism.

Wonder and indignation seemed to choke his utterance for a moment. Then—

"Oh, God will punish you, you son of Cain," he exclaimed. "Your own murderous sword shall work your undoing, and if ever in your wasted life there should open out a way for better things"—he raised his right hand aloft, and his gaunt frame seemed to dilate and grow before my fascinated eyes—"may your accursed sword prove an insuperable barrier. In such an hour, if ever it should come to you, may God's curse strike you, and may His vengeance lay you low!"

A shudder ran through the crowd, as much at the words as at the frightful tone in which they were delivered, and many crossed themselves as if that monk had been the Devil.

"Silence, priest," I muttered, stepping close up to him, with my eyes on his. "Do not drive me to do that which I might regret hereafter."

"Hence, hence!" he retorted boldly enough. "There is more already on your soul than—"

He stopped abruptly. Almost unconsciously I had half drawn my dagger, and his eyes caught the glitter of steel. The colour left his cheeks, and he fell back mumbling some Latin fragments.

I laughed at his sudden fears, and pushing back my poniard I turned to depart. The crowd made a way for me in silence, and thus I passed out of his presence. I retraced my way to the city which half-an-hour earlier I had left in the company of him who now lay between life and death, tended by a vulgar rabble and a Capuchin monk.

The sun was setting as I passed beneath the arch of the Heinrichsthor, and little did I dream of all that would come to pass before it rose again, or of how the dawn would find me.

I stalked moodily along towards the inn of the Sword and Crown, where, methought, I was likely to find an evening's entertainment.

In my heart I carried many an evil thought against the priest who had dared to beard me in public, and launch upon my head his puerile malediction, but scarcely one for the poor wretch I had transixed, and who—for aught I knew or cared—might die before morning.

From the scene of my encounter to the Sword and Crown inn I had come direct, and at a fair pace, yet the news of what had taken place was there before me. Even as I set my foot upon the lintel, old Armstadt came hurrying forward, his wonted suave and obsequious manner laid aside and replaced by a rude and offensive bearing that was new to me.

"Not into my house, Master von Huldenstein," he cried harshly, barring my way with his burly frame. "You shall find no fresh victims beneath my roof."

This was plain speaking—and from a scullion to whose house I had brought endless custom! Herrgott! had I lived to be refused admittance to a tavern, and insulted by a gutter-bred wine-seller?

"Sacrament! You do not mince your words, you knave. Stand aside!" I thundered advancing a step.

But he did not budge.

"This house is mine," he answered insolently, "and mine it is to guard its reputation. Shall I have it said that the Sword and Crown is a harbour for assassins and deriders of priests? Away with you!"

For a moment I looked about me in doubt, anger bidding me punish the insolent hound as he deserved, prudence telling me to begone.

Three or four passers-by had already stopped, curious to see the outcome of this unusual altercation. To own myself beaten and withdraw beneath their eyes was hurtful to my pride. And yet, to linger and persist in a desperate endeavour might provoke a scene from which withdrawal would be still more humiliating.

With a dull feeling of baffled rage, I realised that I must go; and so I went with the best show of dignity I could muster, and watching to see if any of the onlookers dared to comment upon my going. By my soul, if one of them had so much as smiled I would have picked a quarrel with him. But knowing me, they were wise, and let me go in peace.

Clearly I realised as I quitted the threshold of the Sword and Crown, how the wine-shop was from that hour symbolical to me of the attitude of all Schwerlingen. The town was closed to me. Go where I might the same reception would await me. To remain in the capital of Sachsenberg I must starve, and starving is an unpleasant occupation.

I realised to the full how much the Capuchin's malediction was accountable for this, and in my heart I repaid that meddling monk with curse for curse.

A pretty situation, truly! And yet not unexpected. Long ago I had foreseen that such would be the end of the vile life I had led, ever since my father had thrust me from his house in just and righteous anger.

Aye, I had seen it coming. Step by step I had come down the steep incline of knavery and dishonour, clearly beholding that which lay below, yet never striving by a single effort to stay my infamous descent. Possibly the devil had courted a greater blackguard, probably he had not.

Was there any degradation left through the mire of which I might still drag the proud old name of Huldenstein and my besmirched escutcheon? Methought not. I was like a man who had sunk into a morass—too deep to ever extricate himself, too firmly gripped to be able to push on, and for whom there is no choice but to await the end in the foul spot he has floundered upon.

But if I must wait, I would not wait in Schwerlingen where I was known, and where every glance bestowed upon me would henceforth be an insult. I must go at once! Go where?

This was indeed an unanswerable question.

Then a sudden longing seized me. A longing to behold again the castle of my father in the province of Hattau, the home that had once been mine, and that belonged to all who bore my name, saving myself—the outcast. I grew suddenly eager to see those from whom I had been separated twelve years ago.

There was my old father. Who could tell?—perchance old age had softened his heart, and the approach of death would cast a forgiving mood upon him. There were my sisters; Esther, the eldest—she would be grey by now—and little Stephanie, who cried the night I left the castle. Then there was Fritz. Would he still remember the big brother who had been the first to teach him to sit a horse and hold a sword? I shook my head in doubt. Twelve years had slipped away since then, and Fritz was a boy of ten in those far-off days. He would be a grown man ere now!

As I brooded over all these things the resolve grew strong within me. I would go, I would set out at once! Then suddenly I came to a standstill, and a groan escaped me.

How was I to go? I had no horse—I had sold my last one a fortnight before; I had no money; I might almost say that I had no raiment. The very doublet on my back was threadbare and worn to its extremity; my breeches were in no better plight, and my boots were such as any groom might blush to own.

And yet go I must, and, by the Mass, go I would—aye even if—. Horror-stricken I checked the ugly thought. A while ago I thought there was no quality of dishonour that I had not tasted. I was mistaken; there was still one. I might still become a thief, and demand money at the sword point. But I could not do it! I was still something of a Huldenstein!

Then I laughed—or was it through my lips, perchance, that the very devil mocked my better self? I know not. Suffice it that I derided my own scruples. I had grown over-nice in my conscience of a sudden, that I shrank from wresting an over-loaded purse from some rich fool who would not miss it. I had done deeds as foul if in a different way. Why should I stop at this? To a man whose honour was clean, it would be indeed, impossible; but to me—Bah! 'Twas the only course, and it would lead me—home.

I had wandered aimlessly through the streets during my ill-starred musings, and meanwhile night had fallen and it had grown late. The air I clearly recollect was sharp and frosty, although we were in April.

I came to a halt before the Church of St. Oswald, and stood for a moment with bent head, whilst the Tempter wrestled with my Guardian Angel. For the nonce the Spirit of Evil was overcome, and I turned at length, and wended my way towards the dismal house in the Mondstrasse, wherein I occupied a room on the ground floor. My way lay through the Northern quarter of the town, in which no lamps were hung until Wallenheim became minister in 1645—two years later than the events I now set down. There was a fair moon, however, and the sky being clear, the light was tolerably good—would that it had been otherwise!

I turned the corner of the Mondstrasse with a brisk step, and was already within fifty paces of my own door, when my attention was drawn to a tall cavalier approaching from the opposite end of the narrow street. His cloak fluttered behind him in the breeze, and the silver lace on his doublet glinted in the moonlight. That it was that, coupled with his stately bearing, made me suppose him a bird worth plucking, and—again fostering the vile intention which awhile ago I had stifled—drove me back into the shadow of a doorway.

I glanced up and down the street. Not another being was in sight. Absolute silence reigned, saving only the ring of his spurred heel on the uneven pavement. Of a truth the devil was in the business to deliver him thus into my hands!

I felt the hot blood surging to my head—driven there by shame for myself and the vile act which circumstances seemed impelling me to perform. The air was full of mocking sounds, even the faint rustling of the wind seemed to hum the word "thief" about my ears.

I loosened my sword in its scabbard and stood waiting. How slowly he came! I put my hand to my brow, and withdrew it moist with perspiration—the cold perspiration of horror. Pshaw! I was a fool, a sickly coward! Life is a game and the dice had fallen against me.

He was abreast of me, walking with bent head, and humming softly as he went.

Deaf to the last appealing cry of honour and conscience, I sprang out from the shadow, and drawing my sword I set the point against his breast, and barred his way.

He looked up, throwing back his head like a horse that has been suddenly reined in, and showed me a thin, aquiline countenance and pointed beard.

His lips parted, but before he could speak—

"If you utter a cry, as God lives, I'll drive this home!" I said fiercely.

"You are a bold knave," he murmured in tones that were light with easy banter, "but you are presumptuous. Holy Virgin, do I look like a woman, that you fear I shall cry for help at the sight of a single scare-crow?"

"Bravely and most wisely spoken, O fool!" I answered, stung not a little by his attitude and words. "Maintain that reasonable frame of mind, and our business will soon be settled."

He smiled serenely, the condescending, tolerant smile that a great lord might bestow upon a horseboy.

"You speak of business, may I inquire its nature?"

"Your purse and jewels. Quick!"

"If that be all," he said, composedly, drawing a couple of rings from his fingers, "we need waste no time."

He held out the trinkets, and I put forth my hand to receive them, keeping my eyes on his the while. One of the rings dropped into my palm, the other brushed against the edge of my hand, and fell to the ground. Instinctively I attempted to follow it with my eyes. That was my undoing. Quick as lightning, he availed himself of my momentary inattention, and knocking up my sword, he sprand back with a laugh.

Before I quite realised what had taken place, and the trick that had been played upon me, he had whipped out his rapier and thrown himself into a defensive attitude.

"Now, my master," he jeered, "I am in a better position to discuss with you the question of right to my purse—if, indeed," he added with fine scorn, "you still be minded to pursue the argument."

I was loath to do it, but there was no help. Courage, or rather the contempt of death, which only those who own a worthless life can know—was the last semblance of a virtue left me. To be held a coward, even in the estimation of one who knew me not, I would not suffer.

My sword clattered against his, and there we stood, engaged, with every nerve alert, and every muscle ready. Then of a sudden the priest's malediction recurred to me, and struck a chill through me. Was that glittering point that danced before me in the moonlight, destined to carry out the Capuchin's curse?

I shook the grim thought from me. Indeed, he forced me to it. It would need all my wit and strength if I would keep my life, for if ever Caspar von Huldenstein met his match 'twas then.

Up and down that silent street we went in our fierce combat, with set teeth and stertorous breathing. Trick after trick I essayed to circumvent his guard, and yet, for all he had a parry and a counter. Moreover the light was bad and the ground uncertain. But in the end I coaxed him to attempt a lengthy lunge; I swerved aside; he over-reached himself, and before he could recover I had run him through from breast to back.

He sank down at my feet with a stifled groan, and there lay still.

I glanced about me with a feeling that was near akin to dread. There was no one in sight.

Then I knelt down beside him, and scarce knowing what I did, I completed my vile task, and stripped him of his jewels and a heavy purse. I arose staggering to my feet, and looked again fearfully about me. For a moment it occurred to me to attempt to dress his wound; but I dismissed the notion. I knew the nature of the hurt from the course my sword had taken. Why prolong his agony?

Next a wild panic seized me, and I fled madly down the street to my miserable lodging, which was but a dozen paces from the spot where he lay.

The door was locked, and I had not the courage to knock, lest whoever came to open should see the figure on the ground. I struck my hand against the window. It proved to be unfastened, and opened to my touch. A moment later I stood in my room, shivering with the full consciousness of the foul deed. I flung away the purse as if it burnt me. My God, what had I done? Would I ever dare to go home now, and clasp my father's honourable hand in mine—mine that was now soiled with this double crime? How long I stood there thinking over what I had done, and sorrowing that it was not I who lay out yonder, I cannot tell.

Ah! Shall I ever forget those terrible moments? Shall I ever forget how the sudden realisation of the long career of sin and debauchery that lay behind me—the career that had culminated in the vile act just committed—how it overcame me and shook me with a strange, unknown terror—a feeling that the monk's malediction had in truth been the malediction of God? No; all this I am certain to remember until my dying day. Nor shall I ever forget how those dreadful fears for a moment passed away to give place to old memories that were as beautiful as they were sad. I lived fleetingly through the years which had preceded my downfall; and it was just those placid, trivial hours, when we neither enjoy deeply nor are deeply pained, that came back to me with such poignant force. For are they not the happiest hours of life—those hours of mere peace and content? All this swept through my brain in a few moments, and once again the present, with its peril and crime, returned, and, rousing myself with an effort, I crossed the room and groped for the tinder box. With trembling hands I struck the flint perhaps a dozen times before I succeeded in lighting the taper that stood upon the table. I flung myself down on the nearest chair, and burying my face in my hands, I sat there until a light tap at the door made my heart stand still. I sprang up to listen. Perchance I had been seen, and the guard had been summoned. If it were so—who knew?—perchance the monk would make his appeal to the king, and the edict would be enforced. I should die the felon's death at the hangman's hands, and then truly would his malediction fall upon me.

Then I laughed at my fears. Pshaw! The law came not with so timid a knock. Again I heard it, and unable to endure the suspense, I seized the taper, and went to the door. As I opened it a body fell across the lintel. It was my whilom opponent, and at the sight of him I shuddered, beset by a thousand fears.

He must indeed be a man of strong vitality to have dragged himself thus far. Was it mere chance that brought him to my door? It must be so.

Quick, before he could raise his eyes, I had let the taper fall and extinguished it with my foot. Then I knelt beside him and raised his head.

"Thanks, friend," he murmured faintly. "The light from your window guided me hither. I am dying. I was set upon by a robber in the street. He has given me my death wound in exchange for what money I possessed."

"Let me see to it," I answered, dissembling my voice.

"'Tis useless; you will but waste time, and I have not many moments left. Listen, I have something to say."

He paused for a moment, then—

"Do you know in this Schwerlingen a man named Huldenstein—Caspar von Huldenstein?"

"I have heard of him," I answered, with a vague tightening at the heart.

"Then seek him out. Tell him—tell him that he is now the Lord of Huldenstein. Tell him that his father died a week ago, and, dying, forgave him all. With his last breath he charged me with this message, and I came hither rejoicing that I might convey to one who, I believe, is destitute the news of his altered fortunes. As you see, he will never hear the message from my lips, but promise me that you will deliver it to him tomorrow. Promise me!"

"In God's name, who are you?" I cried.

"I am Fritz von Huldenstein, his brother," he gasped. He added something which I did not catch, then his head fell forward, and he lay still in my arms. I dimly recollect how—almost bereft of reason—I relighted the taper, and closely scanned the face of my dead brother, seeking to find some traces of the features of the boy I had known and loved. Then I flung away the light, and with a wild, mad shriek I fled from the house leaving the door wide open.

And that is how it came to pass that at sunrise I fell fainting on the threshold of the convent of the Capuchins at Loebli, and that today Caspar von Huldenstein is no more.

In his place there is Caspar, the lay brother, who in sack-cloth, with vigils and scourge, with fasting and prayer, seeks to make some atonement for the past; whilst waiting for the hour of his deliverance from the mental anguish for which there is only one cure.


The Marquis' Coach

Ainslee's, January 1901

Paris had suddenly become unhealthy for the Chevalier Gaston de Brissac. Why this was so, it is not my present duty to chronicle. In passing, I may mention that André de St. Auger was abed with a nasty sword wound in that part of the body known to physicians as the right breast, but which Brissac would more significantly speak of as "low tierce."

Chance took him to Autune, in Provence. Chance led him to visit Antoine Moret.

With the fortune which his father—an armorer of some repute—was said to have amassed during the siege of La Rochelle, Antoine Moret had withdrawn from Paris, and come to Autune, to build himself a square white house beyond the village, and dream himself a seigneur.

It was no more than natural that M. de Brissac, who had been one of old Moret's best customers in days gone by—before the Cardinal made war upon duellists—should, when he heard of Antione's so-called Château be curious to ascertain how the armorer's son bore the airs of a country gentleman.

Three months before Moret had married the daintiest maid Autune could boast of, and for a brief while life for him had lain along a rose-strewn path. Often as he looked into his wife's gentle eyes, and stroked the fair head that nestled to his breast, he had sighed the sigh of a heart that holds more joy than it can carry. Often he had murmured fears—idly and without attaching faith to them—that their happiness might be too great to endure.

And now the blow had fallen. Fallen with brutal suddenness. Come upon him like a thunderbolt out of a serene sky. His wife was gone—stolen by the Marquis de Taillandier.

Thus was he found by M. de Brissac, and into the courtier's ear he poured the bitter story of his shame. He looked for sympathy. He found contempt.

"Ventegris, Master Moret," quoth Gaston, flashing a scornful eye upon the simpering fool, "can you do no more than sit and mope and groan like a newly-birched schoolboy when your wife has been stolen from you? Pardieu, meseems that one who can do so little to keep a wife has but scant right to wed one."

A dull flush showed through the tan on Moret's cheeks, and for a moment he forgot grief in resentment.

"I might have known it," he exclaimed. "Fool that I was to tell you of it! You are all alike, you fine gentlemen—"

"And a bourgeois is always a bourgeois," Gaston broke in sharply. "Ever a clown with the body of an elephant and the heart of a rabbit. Pah! You make me sick!"

And before the fellow could stay him, Gaston took his plumed hat from the table and setting it jauntily upon his curls, strode gayly away.

But as he went forth it occurred to Brissac that he had been cruel—that he might have spoken softer words to the honest fool, and even proffered him assistance. Then realizing the drift his thoughts were taking, he laughed aloud. It was something for Brissac, the scoffer, to find himself wasting pity upon a man whose wife had been stolen.

Still, in the present instance, he felt a pity for Moret, despite himself. The fellow was so helpless, and Taillandier so powerful, that his sense of chivalry which—whatever may have been his sins—ever drove him to espouse the weaker cause, was strongly appealed to.

And presently, as chance would have it, the veriest accident came to decide the matter and to enlist the Chevalier in the service of Moret.

As he strode into the inn of the "Clef d'Or," where he had taken up his lodging, he was much surprised to find the common room occupied by a slender, over-dressed young man, all lace and fripperies, who carried with him an atmosphere of musk, and whose pose and gestures—as he conversed with the obsequious host—would have been in better tune with the ante-chamber of the Luxembourg or a lady's boudoir, than the dingy common room of a country inn.

With increasing wonder, Gaston recognized in this pretty fellow the Vicomte de Vilmorin, a former acquaintance, and—he suddenly remembered—Taillandier's cousin. This Vilmorin was a proverbial coward who had fled from Paris a year before, and repaired to his estate in Provence, to hide the weals of a horsewhipping which he had received—it was rumored—at the hands of the beautiful Mademoiselle de Grandcourt.

He raised his head languidly as Gaston entered, and their eyes met. He started slightly at the unexpected rencontre, and bit his lip in annoyance.

"Well met, Vicomte," cried Brissac. "You are the very man to give me certain information which I stand in need of."

Vilmorin eloquently professed his delight at an opportunity of serving M. de Brissac, and permitted himself to accept the chair which Gaston offered him.

"I was about to visit your worthy cousin, the Marquis de Taillandier," began Gaston, seating himself opposite to the Vicomte, and leaning his elbows upon the table. "I trust that he is well?"

"Hélas, monsieur, I grieve to say that he is not," Vilmorin replied. "He was thrown from his horse three nights ago and had the misfortune to break his arm."

"Three nights ago," mused Brissac. "Ah! that would be upon the occasion of the abduction of Madame Moret, would it not?"

The Vicomte started and changed color.

"You have heard of the affair?" he exclaimed.

"Yes," Brissac answered, easily; "I heard of it from the forlorn husband himself, and it is upon this very business that I desire to speak with you."

"You had much better see my cousin," cried Vilmorin in sudden alarm. There was a look in the duellist's eyes which he did not relish, and he made shift to rise, but Gaston stayed him by grasping his arm.

Vilmorin shuddered.

"I assure you, monsieur," he exclaimed in a voice that trembled slightly, "that I have no desire to rise. I am so delighted to have met you that—."

"You overwhelm me, Vicomte," Gaston broke in ironically. "But we are straying from the subject. I am interested in Madame Moret, and I was about to visit your cousin, the Marquis, to discover the matter of the abduction. In the event of not finding him disposed to give me the satisfaction which I desire, it was my purpose to request him to take a turn upon the lawn with me. Since you tell me, however, that he has broken his arm, I am inclined to think that my visit would be both inopportune and useless. Therefore, my dear Vicomte,"—and he smiled sweetly at the pale face of the craven before him—"I will talk the matter over with you instead."

"But I assure you that I know nothing of it," Vilmorin stammered, "I am in total ignorance of my cousin's affairs."

"That, monsieur, is a circumstance, which for your sake I deeply regret," And he raised, as if by accident, the hand which held his glove. "Monsieur de Taillandier has interfered with me," he added grimly, "and as you well know, I do not suffer interference. Luckily for himself, he has broken his arm, and cannot fight. But unluckily for you," he continued, with a sigh and a regretful shake of his head, "you have not broken yours. Monsieur le Vicomte, I see nothing else for it but to request you to take your cousin's place."

"But—but—" stuttered the Vicomte, mopping the beads of perspiration from his brow, "this is an injustice. It is preposterous, monsieur! My cousin's escapades are no affair of mine!"

"Perhaps not. But he has broken his arm, and I cannot wait until it is mended. Believe me, Vicomte, it will grieve me beyond measure to visit your cousin's sins upon you, but you leave me no alternative. See! Those gentlemen are watching us. I shall be obliged to remove that fleck of dust from your face, unless—unless—."

"Unless? Unless what, monsieur?" cried the other, excitedly.

"Unless you tell me what your cousin has done with Madame Moret, and where she is to be found."

The sunlight, coming through the window, fell athwart the room and was reflected upon the duellist's sword hilt with a brightness which dazzled Vilmorin's eyes, and drove terror into his heart. No more was needed. In a quavering tone he told his formidable antagonist that Françoise Moret was a prisoner in a house situated on the Tarbes road, at about two miles from the village, and within a hundred paces of the forest of Autune. Not only this, but he so minutely described the house and the postion of the room wherein she was confined, that Brissac could have no difficulty in hitting upon it.

Having obtained his solemn promise that he would make no mention of what had passed between them, and promising in return to kill him if he failed to keep his word, Gaston left the Vicomte to his own devices, and went in search of Moret.

The news he bore awakened the fellow's energies with a vengeance. He was for starting out, there and then, and go boldly to demand his wife. But Gaston—who had ascertained among other things that the house on the Tarbes road, which belonged to Taillandier, was guarded by six of the Marquis' bravos, prevailed upon him to wait until night had fallen, and unfolded a scheme which should succeed.

As ten was striking, they rode through the village, and taking the Tarbes road, they cantered briskly along in silence. They were both well armed, and the angry craving for vengeance in the one, coupled with the wild, adventurous spirit of the other, were like to bring about strange doings before morning.

The night was clear, and—to Brissac's mind an unfortunate circumstance—the moon had risen. It was this that made him suddenly lead the way from the white, shining road into the shelter of the forests of Autune which they had been skirting. They drew rein at last where the trees came to an end, on the edge of a cornfield, and Gaston slipped down from his horse.

"That is the house," he said, pointing to a dark building at an easy stone's throw from where they stood. Moret assented with a grunt, and would have dismounted had not the Chevalier remonstrated. An altercation arose between them, for Brissac was as determined upon going alone as the armorer's son was upon accompanying him.

"Plague take your stupidity," cried Gaston, impatiently; "two will blunder matters. Leave it to me to get your wife out of the house!"

Antoine cursed and entreated in a breath, but to no purpose, and presently he was forced to bend his will and consent to remain.

Having divested himself of his cloak, so as to leave his arms free in case of need, Gaston stepped out alone into the road.

The armorer's son watched the slim, lithe figure, sharply outlined in the moonlight, as it moved away in the direction of the house; then, with a heart beating anxiously and a spirit chafing at the inaction imposed upon him, he settled down to wait events.

Upon reaching the house, and after looking cautiously about him, Gaston vaulted over the low wall which ran beside it, and made his way hurriedly to the field at the back. From the description which the Vicomte had given him, he had no difficulty in determining the window of the room she occupied. Picking up some loose clay, he began to pelt it, first with small pieces, then with larger ones, and at last—impatient at receiving no answer—he let fly a handful, which rattled so loudly that he feared it must wake the household. But still there was no sign from the window, and Gaston cursed Madame Moret for a heavy sleeper.

Fully alive to the danger he ran were he detected, not only that of having to take his stand in an unequal combat, but—what to his mind was still worse—of seeing his plans frustrated, and Moret's wife more a prisoner then ever, Gaston could stand the delay no longer.

There was a pear tree in the corner by the wall, and close to this ran a shed from the roof of which a man of his stature might, by standing on tip-toe, contrive to reach the window. He would try. Wrapping the rope ladder, which he had brought with him, round his waist, he drew off his boots, and set himself to swarm the pear tree—wondering how many years had elapsed since this form of exercise had afforded him amusement.

From the tree it was an easy matter to drop on to the roof of the shed, and then make his way along, with his hands against the wall, until he reached the end of it. The window was not immediately above him, but slightly to the right, and although he stretched out until he stood in imminent danger of overbalancing himself, he could do no more than grasp the stone sill. The panes were beyond his reach.

He swore softly to himself for a moment or two, then—determined that after coming thus far he would not go back empty-handed—he took a firm grip of the sill, and being strong in the arms, he drew himself up until his chin was on a level with it and his eyes were staring at the black glass. He wriggled his left forearm on to the stone so as to obtain a further support; then, as he looked down, he realized that it would be a miracle if he ever contrived to leap back on to the roof of the shed. The ground was fifteen feet beneath him, and looked a good twenty. To think of the drop was unpleasant; so raising his right hand, he began to scratch at the window, and presently to knock softly.

At last there was a movement within, and presently he distinguished something white; then a woman's face was pressed against the glass.

It occurred to him that a woman who was particularly anxious to return to her husband might easily let herself down by means of a twisted sheet, but he had no time wherein to follow such speculations just then. The strain was beginning to tell upon his left arm, and the perspiration was standing out on his forehead. He knew that he could not endure the position much longer. With his right hand, he signed frantically to her to open, and when at last she had done so, he waited not to answer her question as to what he sought, nor did he even look to see if she were pretty, but raising himself on his arms until his waist was against the sash, he flung himself forward and took a header into the room, alighting upon his hands.

In an instant he was standing upright before her, and gazing into the face, which even in that dim light he saw was a pale and handsome one, from which a pair of startled eyes returned his searching glance.

"Who are you?" she exclaimed. "What do you want?"

"Hush," he answered, mysteriously. "You may be overheard."

"It does not signify."

"To you perhaps not. But to me, who have come here to rescue you, and who may get a knife in my back at any moment, as my reward, it signifies much. Come," he added, peremptorily, beginning to unwind the rope ladder from his waist, "your husband is waiting for you, a hundred paces from here, and I have no desire to prolong my visit unnecessarily."

"My husband!" she echoed, mechanically.

Brissac paused to stare at her, and in his mind he approved of Taillandier's taste. She was unquestionably beautiful.

"Yes, woman, your husband," he answered testily, "Or do you imagine that I am come on my own account to steal you from the Marquis, as the Marquis stole you from that fool Moret."

He stooped to fasten the ends of the ladder to the frame of the window.

"You are mistaken," she said, "The Marquis did not steal me from that fool Moret."

"Ohé!" he ejaculated, with a whistle, "So, my pretty one, you came of your own free will, eh? Ma foi, I half guessed as much when I saw the window." Then dropping the rope, he turned to stare at her again, a doubt in his mind. "But what am I to do now?" he inquired in a puzzled way. "Shall I leave you here, or will you come with me?"

Her bosom was heaving beneath the thin white garment she wore, and her breathing was that of an excited person.

"I will come with you," she answered. "Wait."

She left his side, requesting him to remain at the window, and keep a sharp look-out, concealing himself if he saw any one approach.

He obeyed her. And through what seemed to him an hour—although in reality it was but some ten minutes—he remained where he was, his eyes and ears on the alert for the slightest movement below. At last he heard her treading softly behind him, and he felt a tap on the arm.

"I am ready," she said. She wore a long cloak, and the hood which was drawn over her head, masked her face in its shadow. He felt tempted to make some caustic remark concerning the alacrity with which she had prepared. But feeling that enough time had already been wasted, he flung out his ladder and assisted her to descend.

He paused for a moment, when they had reached the ground, to draw his boots on again. Then they set off round the house with stealthy speed, Gaston keeping a sharp look-out, his hand on his sword hilt. But nothing stirred, and he was able to congratulate himself upon the success of his undertaking.

As they drew near the wood, a horseman rode out leading another horse by the bridle. It was Moret, who came to meet them.

Shutting his ears to the rapturous words that fell from Antoine's lips, Brissac assisted his companion to mount in front of her husband, then leaping into his own saddle he turned his horse's head towards Autune.

"Allons, Moret," he cried. But a great oath was his answer.

"What baggage have we here?" thundered the armorer's son. "This is not my wife!"

Brissac turned in his saddle.

"Not your wife!" he echoed, with bated breath, "Not your wife! Then who, in Heaven's name, is it?"

There was a pause while Moret tore back the hood, the better to behold her face. When he spoke again it was in a voice from which all the former anger had gone—a voice that shook with fear.

"Mon Dieu!" he cried, "is it possible?"

Gaston wheeled his horse around.

"Who is it?" he inquired, impatiently, for he saw that whoever it might be, Moret had recognized her.

"'Tis Madame la Marquise de Taillandier!" was the astounding answer.

For a moment there was silence, and Brissac's eyes rolled curiously. Then his long peal of boisterous laughter broke upon the stillness of the night.

"A wife for a wife," he roared, "Pardieu! 'tis a fair exchange." But his companion did not join him in his mirth.

Madame de Taillandier stared from one man to the other, and her indignation was aroused by Gaston's indecorous laughter. She was not accustomed to ridicule, and was on the point of telling him so when Brissac suddenly became serious of his own accord.

"Perhaps madame will be good enough to tell us what we are to do," he said. "If you desire to return, I do not doubt but that the ladder still hangs from the window. Perhaps it would be best to waste no time in availing ourselves of it before it is discovered and removed."

"No, monsieur," she answered quickly, "I shall not return. I gathered the nature of your mistake from what you told me. I gathered also that my husband had abducted Madame Moret—and I make no doubt that it was in that pretty adventure he was rightly served with a broken arm. I came with you to learn more of this affair. If you are willing, gentlemen, we will proceed to Autune."

"But my wife!" cried Moret. "She is in yonder house. I shall not return without her."

"Your wife is not there, Master Moret," she said, "I can answer for that. And I think that I can also promise that your wife will be restored to her home to-morrow. So let us push on. I wish to hear this story from you, and also to give the Marquis a bad quarter of an hour when he hears of my room having been found empty and a rope ladder hanging from the window. He will perhaps know what it feels like to have one's wife stolen."

As they rode, much was explained by what the Marquise told them. A slight outbreak of smallpox had been discovered at the Château that evening, and although the Marquis had made light of it, and sworn that he would not move, Madame de Taillandier was of a different mind. She had a well-bred horror of such things, which determined her to leave the Château and repair to Taillandier's house on the other side of Autune.

"I make no doubt," she said, "that what that booby Vilmorin told you was true. Only, in his confusion, it appears to me that when he mentioned the second window from the left, he meant from any one looking from the house, whereas, you took the second window from the left when facing the house. The other window, as you would have seen had you but looked, is protected by iron bars. It is evident that upon learning my intentions," she concluded, turning to Moret, "he sent some one to take away your wife before I should arrive, and she is probably in the Château at present."

"Then Ventegris, I'll pay the Château a visit to-night!" ejaculated Moret. It had taken much to rouse him, but now that he was aroused he was bent on seeing the matter to an issue, blind to dangers which had formerly deterred him.

"It will be wiser to leave matters until morning and trust to me," the Marquise suggested.

They were within half a mile of Autune, and the Auberge de Navarre was just in front of them.

In consequence of the detour which they had made through the woods, the two men had not passed this inn on their way from Atune.

It was a small, wayside auberge, usually deserted at this time of night. As they rode up, however, they were surprised to see the light falling across the road from the open door, while from the yard came sounds of voices and of hammering.

Brissac and his companions moved to the other side of the road, and would have passed on in silence, but chancing to glance into the yard, Gaston saw something which made him draw rein.

In the middle of the quadrangle stood a coach, which evidently had sustained some damage, for three or four men were grouped round one of the wheels to which another was applying a hammer. But it was the man in the red velvet coat and plumed hat who stood holding a torch aloft, that attracted Brissac's attention and made him pause. There was something familiar about the pose of the figure.

Then, suddenly, Gaston started. The sound of the Vicomte de Vilmorin's shrill voice floated across to him.

"That will suffice, André. We shall be able to reach the Château."

In a moment the Chevalier had dismounted and was striding across the road. The Vicomte's words had given him some precious information.

The four men were still bending over the wheel talking amongst themselves. And so intent were they as to be unconscious of Brissac's approach until his hand rested upon Vilmorin's shoulder.

"Ha, Vicomte, an accident?"

Vilmorin bounded backwards as if he had been struck, and stood gaping and trembling, the very picture of abject terror. The men stared stupidly at the newcomer, but did not move.

"Our meetings are always opportune, Vicomte," murmured Gaston, with that sweet smile which Vilmorin most hated. "I am on my way back to Autune, weary after a somewhat long walk, and I find you with a coach. I trust that it will not inconvenience you to take me as far as the 'Clef d'Or' on your way through the village."

"I—I should be charmed," mumbled the Vicomte, "but—but, unfortunately, I am travelling in the opposite direction."

The men looked at the Vicomte in some surprise.

"'Tis a long way round to the Château by any other road save that which takes you through the village. You had better follow it—moreover, you would be obliging a friend."

"But the coach is full," shrieked Vilmorin, mad with rage and terror.

"Then, of course, I must crave the permission of your companions to travel on the box," was the ready answer, and stepping up to the vehicle, Gaston laid his hand upon the door. But Vilmorin was there before him, and caught him by the arm.

"You shall not! you shall not! Help, you knaves!" he cried, turning to the men.

They did not budge. When the coach came into the yard with a wobbling wheel, Vilmorin had alighted and closed the door, which had not since been opened. To them it seemed just now that the coach might contain something which should not be there. The coachman alone made shift to obey the Vicomte's summons, but at that moment he was seized from behind by Moret, who had come up with them.

Hurling the Vicomte aside, with an angry oath, Gaston wrenched the door open, and seizing a lantern from the ground, he held it so that the interior of the coach was lighted by its yellow rays. The men, craning their necks, saw what Gaston saw. And by the words which fell from their lips it was like to go hard with the Vicomte. Within the coach sat a woman securely pinioned and with a thick cloth tied about her face and gagging her.

There was a fierce cry behind him, and Brissac was thrust roughly back by Moret, who took the woman in his arms and lifted her to the ground. To cut her bonds and remove the cloth from her face was the work of an instant. Then, as the poor, frightened creature gave vent to a burst of hysterical sobbing, she was gathered close to her husband's breast, and words of comfort were whispered by a beloved voice.


In one of the rooms of the Château de Taillandier a tall, heavily-built man of florid countenance, paced up and down in an impatient fashion, glancing at the clock each time he turned and going ever and anon to the window. He was stripped of his doublet, and his right arm was thickly bandaged and carried in a sling.

"Ventegris!" he exclaimed, "what has happened to delay the fool? He should have been here four hours ago. I trust Madame la Marquise has not—." He stopped to listen. "At last," he cried, as the rumble of wheels caught his ears. He stood at the window for a moment, then turning, he strode across to the door, and passed hurriedly out.

As the coach drew up at the foot of the terrace the Marquis had also reached the spot. The door swung open, and a man sprang lightly to the ground. He was taller than the Vicomte by two inches—which the Marquis noted in a puzzled way—but as he raised his head and showed his face, Taillandier started forward in surprise.

"Brissac!" he gasped, incredulously. Before he could add more, the gay chevalier turned to assist his companion to alight.

"Vilmorin is indisposed," he said, "and so has been obliged to leave Autune somewhat suddenly. Being an old friend of his, I was glad to facilitate his departure by relieving him of the duty of accompanying this lady to the Château. The carriage met with an accident, otherwise it would have been here four hours ago, though possibly," he added, with a laugh, "its occupants might not have been the same."

The Marquis did not reply. His eyes were fastened upon the woman now standing beside Gaston. Surprise, anger, bewilderment were all mingled in his glance. At last Madame de Taillandier broke the silence.

"I could not endure the thought of leaving you here a sufferer, Henri," she murmured. "I have ventured in spite of the smallpox."

Taillandier scowled for a moment, then turning to the servant who stood by:

"Charles," he said, "escort Madame la Marquise indoors. I will see you presently, madame, if it be your pleasure to await me."

With an inclination of her head to Brissac—who answered it with a low bow, and a magnificent sweep of his plumed hat—she left them. When she was gone and they stood alone at some little distance from the coach, the Marquis turned furiously upon Gaston. "What does this mean, monsieur?"

"It means that that is the coach which should have brought you Monsieur le Vicomte de Vilmorin and Antoine Moret's wife," answered Brissac suavely. "Instead, it has brought you—."

"A curse on what it has brought me," the Marquis broke in passionately. "What am I to understand?"

"You had much better ask your wife," suggested Gaston, naively.

"Do you dare to laugh at me?" roared Taillandier.

Brissac drew himself up with that formal hauteur he could so easily assume.

"I do not permit men to ask me what I dare," he said coldly. "And let me add that if your sword arm were not broken I should take the liberty of calling you a scoundrel—."

"Monsieur!"

"As it is, I shall await your return to Paris to impart the information to you. Good-night!"

And turning on his heel, he strode away with his hat slightly on one side, and the faintest suspicion of a swagger in his walk.

Taillandier called something after him, but receiving no answer, let fly a volley of imprecations—then went within to interview the Marquise.

What passed between them was never clearly known, but the servant who assisted the Marquis to undress that night has been heard to say that his spirit was as badly broken as his arm.

Brissac left Autune next day. So did Moret and his wife.


The Metamorphosis of Colin

Ainslee's, September 1904

Colin Hartington came home to find himself famous.

He had left England four years ago, giving out that he was going abroad for pleasure—the pleasure, scandalmongers had it, being that peculiarly immoral delight which some people find in the evasion of clamorous and insistent creditors.

He had done himself pretty well, had Colin Hartington, in the three years that lay between his coming of age and his abrupt departure from England. He had done a little—a very little—work, made a little love, and spent a little money—the "little" in the latter case representing all that had been left him by the none too wealthy gentleman who had the honor of being his father.

Abroad he had worked. Lacking the means to devote himself to the enjoyable idleness ever dear to his heart, he had turned to the cultivation of the gifts he unquestionably possessed, though mainly latent. He had sent his work home. It had found a ready market, grown in value, and in four little years brought him enough fame to turn the head of any ordinary young man of twenty-seven. But Colin was not an ordinary young man. Success left him cold and unchanged, not even going the length of straightening out the moral obliquity of his character concerning his debts. He overlooked them one and all—if indeed the word may be employed to express an attitude wherein accident had no part.

And so it chanced that a few of his creditors, who had hailed his triumphs and his home-coming as the heralds of a settlement, discovered that they had run before their horse to market. Some went the length of bearding him with their claims; but he wriggled and slipped through their hands, as he wriggled and slipped through every other unpleasant thing that life offered him.

He was sorry—there were at times tears in his voice when he protested it—he was desperately sorry for the inconvenience they were suffering, but he besought them—and here his accents would grow seductive as a siren's—to give him time. He had no means to speak of, and if they pressed him they would only disgrace him to no purpose, while if they waited and gave him an opportunity of earning something he would satisfy them. Fame was his. In the wake of fame, fortune has been known to journey.

"Give me a chance and you will see," was his manner of winding up his conciliatory, patience-inspiring addresses.

The last thing they thought they were likely to see was their money. But—realizing perhaps what a broken reed for a creditor to lean upon is the law—they reluctantly agreed to wait.

And while they waited, Colin Hartington spent his not inconsiderable earnings with that delightful recklessness characteristic of his happy-go-lucky nature.

How long this atrocious state of things might have prevailed but for the intervention of Mary Escott, there is no saying with any degree of certainty, though we might hazard a guess that it would have prevailed until a second flitting from England became imperative.

She, however, was destined to work his metamorphosis, to arrest his progress along the road of unconscious dishonesty that leads to perdition in the abstract and the County Court in the concrete.

In the years of his adolescence Colin had been very fond of Mary Bishop—Bishop was her maiden name. There had been certain tender passages between them, and the building of a love that Colin's financial shortcomings had cruelly nipped. Abroad he learned that she had married. At the news he had sighed prettily, and smiled with fond, retrospective amusement, for he had known one or two other, and even greater, passions since that which Mary had inspired. Later he had learned that her husband was dead, and this time he had sighed perfunctorily and without smiling, believing himself genuinely affected by the picture of her widowhood which his mind had conjured up. Thereafter he had forgotten her, which platitude-monging cynics tell us is human nature's vile way.

And now of a sudden he came face to face with her once more. It was at a regimental dance in his native town of Stollbridge, and the colonel's wife had hustled him across and presented him as the lion of the hour.

They had smiled upon each other the quiet smile, fraught with never so little sadness, that is peculiar to souls stripped of their illusions.

The colonel's wife had gone far away, and Colin, seating himself beside her, was scribbling hieroglyphs on her dance card with a clumsiness that would never have led you to suspect his penmanship to be worth something like sixpence a word. Then he looked at her for a moment, and, in words robbed by the genuineness of their intonation of the last vestige of impertinence, whispered:

"Molly, how beautiful you have grown!"

"Colin," she mocked back, "how clever you have become!" And they laughed together.

"Tell me," said she presently, "how does it feel to be a lion?"

"One longs for the mouse to come and gnaw the cords and allow one to get up and stretch."

She knit her brows.

"What an artificial speech!" she cried. "Why do you talk like that?"

"It's expected of me, I suppose, and it illustrates my meaning when I refer to the cords that bind a lion and the stretching of the limbs so ardently desired."

"I have read your books, Colin," said she, after a pause.

"Can you see anything in them?" he asked, contemptuously.

"I can see you in them, Colin. They reflect you constantly, they sound like you."

He flushed with pleasure, not at the words, but at the laudatory tone in which they were uttered.

"No? Do they, though? Molly, I'm glad at last that I wrote them. I never thought much of them until now, but if they served to bring me to your memory, my work has not been wasted."

His fine, dark eyes were bent ardently upon her. She laughed and set herself to gently move her fan.

"You mustn't stare at me like that, Colin. People are looking at us."

But Colin was not to be repressed. The whole world might look on, for all that he cared. The old feelings of some four years ago were being resuscitated. He was quite conscious of the fact. "Love," he murmured rhapsodically, "is a flame difficult of reignition, where once it has been quenched. But let that reignition take place, and its blaze is all-consuming."

"Is this apropos of boots?" she inquired with a puzzled air.

"Perhaps," he answered boldly, "but it is something that I have just realized. I have cultivated the habit of thinking aloud."

"How uncomfortable!" she commented, nervously.

But however fully Colin realized his statement, he was to realize it more fully still when some two hours later—toward the close of the evening—he found himself at Molly's side in the conservatory. He rejoiced his eyes in the contemplation of the perfect curve of her white throat and the glistening masses of her ebony hair, while in the clear depths of her frank gaze his soul at last was drowned. His hand closed upon hers, his fine, foolish, young head was bent until he felt her tresses aginst his cheek.

"Molly," he stammered, before he knew what he was saying, "I—I love you."

She moved her head from the dangerous propinquity of his. The action was a rebuff, but the soft, seductive laughter that rippled from her lips negated what effect it might have had upon hot-headed Colin. He took it for a challenge, and upon the instant his arm was about her, and he was seeking to draw her to him. But she broke from his clasp, and pushing him forcibly backward, she stood up suddenly. She laughed no longer. Her breath came quickly, and her tone was one of stern rebuke.

"Colin, I am very disappointed in you."

Poor Colin sat morally crushed and defeated, where a moment ago he had tasted the joyous anticipation of victory. He felt extremely foolish and annoyed with himself and with her. It became now a matter of extricating himself from a situation that he realized to be extremely undignified. A retreat from the position he had taken up would, he felt, be more ridiculous still. At all costs he must push on.

"What have I dared that should offend you?" he demanded, in accents of beautifully modulated aggrievance. "Is it an insult to tell a woman that you love her?"

She made as if to answer, but before she had time, he was on his feet, close beside her, speaking very fast.

"There are some things in life that endure as long as life itself, things that we cannot blot out, strive as we will. My love for you, Molly, is one of those things. When four years ago I left England you cannot dream how it hurt me to go from you. But I hoped—I—I don't know what I hoped. Then I heard abroad of your marriage, and I never wished to return home. I was crushed—broken-hearted, people call it. Then, later, I heard of your widowhood, and in my selfishness—for what love worthy of the name is not selfish?—I was almost glad of it. Success came at last, and thinking ever of you, I determined to come home and lay my laurels at your feet, asking you, as I ask you now, Molly, to do me the honor to become my wife."

Her attitude during that lengthy address of his had been one of forebidding iciness. But as he brought it to a conclusion with the offer of his hand and name, a change seemed suddenly to come over her. She bent towards him, and on her face he might have read surprise, wonder and some pleasure too—or perhaps it was amusement. You see, she knew him so very well.

"Molly!" he cried, and put forth his arms. But she drew back again. Some one had entered the conservatory.

"Come and see me to-morrow," she had murmured, and slipping her hand through his arm, impelled him to conduct her back to the ballroom.

When he reviewed the scene in the sober light of the following day, Colin was not a little surprised at himself. He had made a mistake, and to get out of offending her he had lied like a gentleman and asked her to marry him—than which nothing could have been farther from his intentions. Her beauty, however, tempered his dismay, and pursuing his reflections he concluded that he might do much worse than wed her. He came to the conclusion—among others—that it was just by such accidents of a momentary concession to the emotions that half the world's matches were effected.

In the afternoon he called upon her. She welcomed him as though there had been no such scene as that of the night before between them, and seating him in a wicker chair she gave him tea under the beeches on the lawn. He dissembled as best he might the nervousness that despite himself possessed him, sipped his tea and talked small talk in his best society manner, Gradually her admirable self-control thawed him, and at length, as he set down his cup, he opened his batteries.

"Molly, I have come for my answer."

"Answer?" Her eyebrows went up and her blue eyes looked at him in silent surprise.

"To my last night's—er—question," he enlightened her.

Her gaze fell and became engrossed in the white, shapely hands so demurely folded in her lap.

"You were in earnest, then?"

He murmured some triteness about the earnestness—the solemnity—of the subject, which entailed a lifetime of devotion. He attempted to tell her how much she was to him; failed in a masterly manner, and broke down with a touching suggestion that no words could do justice to his feelings.

"You do me a great honor, Colin. I—I never thought that you felt like that."

"How could you mistake me?" he cried, reproachfully

"Before I answer you, Colin," she said, disregarding his outcry, "I have something to say to you. You see I am not like a foolish young girl, ignorant of the world and its ways. Matrimony has taught me a certain wisdom which prompts me—cold and sordid though it may appear—to remind you that your reputation is in rather a bad way and requires mending."

"My reputation?" he cried, aghast. She nodded.

"But what can anyone say against it? I have only been a week or so at home, and during the time, I can assure you that my circumspection has been in every way above reproach."

"Oh, I know all that. We are at cross-purposes perhaps. I refer to your debts."

"Oh!" said Colin, and his jaw fell. She had touched the weak spot in his armor.

"You do not deny them?"

"Deny them?" he echoed, with a touch of satire. "No fear of that. My creditors might proceed to extremes if I did."

"You speak with a levity that hurts me, Colin."

"Good Lord! Molly, we are not discussing religion."

"I am not so sure. We are discussing what appears to be your religion—that of not paying your just debts."

"But, my dear child," he protested, "this is absurd. Where is the man who is without them?"

"In moderation, perhaps."

"Moderation? And does anyone dare to suggest that mine are immoderate?"

"I do."

"Oh, I say. Come now. A few thousand would clear them all up."

"Then why don't you clear them all up?"

"Because—well, because I haven't thousands enough."

"But surely you might pay the more important ones. You know, Colin, it hurts me to talk to you on such a subject, but I do so because, knowing you as I do, I feel that you do not realize the positive dishonesty of your behavior."

"Dishonesty?" he gasped.

"It never occurred to you in that light, did it?"

Colin got up. He felt that she was going rather too far.

"Look here, Molly, what on earth are we discussing this for? I am sure I didn't come here to talk about my debts."

"I am quite sure you didn't. But I thought that, after what you said last night, I had a right to go into it. I could never consent, under any circumstances, to listen to the advances of a man who deliberately refuses to pay what he owes."

"But I do not deliberately refuse," he answered with some heat. "I intend to pay every penny. Besides, Molly, these debts of mine are vastly overrated, no doubt by those people who do me the questionable honor of talking of my affairs. I have really only one formidable creditor. To the others I owe perhaps a couple of thousand in all. I'll settle up those to-morrow if you wish it and clear off the other one—the big one—as soon as I can comfortably manage it. Will that convince you of my good intentions?"

"How much does the big debt amount to? she asked, implacably.

"About seven thousand."

"Heavens, Colin! How did you manage it?"

"Well, you see, they were my father's solicitors, and they advanced me money—about ten thousand or so—on stock that I inherited and which I was holding for a rise. I was unlucky; instead of the rise there was the deuce of a slump, leaving me in Wilfrid and Lagdale's debt to the tune of some seven thousand pounds. Sheer ill luck, Molly!"

"And you wish to leave such a debt—a debt of honor—to be paid when you can comfortably manage it," she cried in horror. "Colin, I am ashamed of you."

"But what am I to do? If I were to scrape together every available penny I might just manage to pay it. But the inconvenience would be appalling."

"No matter what the inconvenience, you should liquidate that debt without a moment's delay. It is worse with you than I thought, Colin. This is no ordinary debt. It's payment at the earliest moment is a sacred duty."

Colin hung his head, realizing that she was quite right. It was a sad reflection. Then he raised his eyes and they met hers. She smiled at him, and he told himself that she was very beautiful. To win her even the effort—the sacrifice—she demanded would be but little.

"Molly," he declared, "for your sake I will do it, no matter how much it hampers me. But when it is done—"

"Do it first," she checked him with a laugh. "We will talk about the rest afterwards."

Thus was the metamorphosis of Colin effected, and thus was he prevailed upon to pay the heaviest portion of his debts and abandon the careless ways he had trodden.

He posted a check to Wilfrid and Langdale, and two days later he called upon Mary Escott with the receipt in his pocket and a fever of anticipation in his soul which he mistook for the glow of satisfaction said to result from the performance of one's duty.

She received him with metaphorically—and only metaphorically—open arms.

"My dear Colin," she cried before he had said a word, "you have behaved nobly, and I shall ever feel proud to think that I was instrumental in recalling you to a sense of your duty."

Colin looked askance.

"You know that I have paid Wilfrid and Langdale?" he faltered.

"Why, yes. I had a letter from my husband this morning, in which he mentioned that he had received your check."

"Your husband!" he echoed, with mouth agape.

"Yes; Mr. Escott, you know, is the present Wilfrid and Langdale—has been for the past two years."

"But—but—What are you talking about, Molly? Mr. Escott has been dead for over two years."

"Oh, dear no, Colin. Surely I should know. You are thinking of Mr. Plunkett, my first husband."

Colin's eyes seemed to roll in his head. He certainly turned pale. For a moment she thought he would burst out into denunciations. Then with a sudden, jerky movement he reached out for his hat.

"Good morning," said he, and was gone before she could say another word.


The Night of Doom

Premier Magazine, June 1919

That long-faced, ingenuous young gentleman, Sir Thomas Overbury, who for a time was all but King of England, was diligently writing verses. To be more exact, he was composing a love-letter in verse—a passionate, burning, swiftly throbbing plea for fond compassion calculated to melt the iciest heart in England, much less the heart of that wanton Essex woman to whom it was addressed, a heart languishing for the opportunity to melt.

As he wrote he smiled. It was not merely that he took a poet's complacent satisfaction in the ingenuity of his jingles, although that pleased him, too. His real satisfaction lay in the deeper ingenuity prompting this rhymed production, the subtle secondary purpose of his own which it was to serve, as distinct from the obvious primary purpose for which it was intended by the elegant minion on whose behalf and in whose name it was being written.

A very subtle gentleman was Sir Thomas Overbury, with a head astonishingly old and cunning for the nine-and-twenty years he counted to his age. A wit and a scholar, he was endowed with a grasp of affairs, a gift of statecraft, and a genius for intrigue that might have carried him far indeed but for the lovely viper which crossed his path, and upon which he chanced to tread—the woman to whom he was now inditing, in another's name, this passionate rhymed epistle.

As it was, those gifts of his made him, as I have said—in a phrase that perhaps needs explaining—all but King of England. King James I.—that wisest fool in Christendom—was under the spell of his handsome favourite Robert Carr; and Carr was naught without Overbury, who mended out of his own abundant store Carr's lack of learning, supplied the soul and brain without which the minion had been fashioned. Thus Overbury ruled Carr, who ruled the king, who ruled England.

The friendship between Carr and Overbury was now some ten years old, antedating by some six years Carr's admission into royal favour. They had first met in Edinburgh, in 1601, at a time when Carr, a lad of about Overbury's own age, had been a page in the service of the Earl of Dunbar. On Overbury's return to his native England, he was accompanied by the comely young Scot, who came to seek his fortune at the Court of the Scots king. That fortune Carr found, as is well known, unexpectedly perhaps, in the tilt-yard at Whitehall. He had entered the service of his countryman, Sir James Hay, the favourite, and with him rode to that tilting-match, and there by his flaxen-haired comeliness and straight-limbed grace at once inspired the admiration of King James. When, his horse stumbling under him, he took a fall, it was to tumble headlong into the very lap of fortune; and although he broke one of his straight, shapely legs he had no cause to blame Fortune on that account. It was her way of serving him. For his plight merged compassion—the pity that is akin to love—into the admiration which his beauty was arousing in the maudlin spirit of King James. It was the king himself who disposed for his being tended, and the king, as much as anyone, who nursed him, keeping him company for long hours at his bedside what time his leg was mending, discovering in him an endearing ingenuousness and a gay, sunny temperament, and conceiving for him then that extraordinary affection which was ultimately to make him the lad's utter slave.

When Rabbie—as by now the king was fondly calling him—rose at last from his bed, his leg mended, and its vigour and symmetry nowise impaired by his mishap, it was to plant his foot firmly upon the first rungs of fortune's ladder. His ascent of it was swift and easy, and to this Overbury contributed.

At the very outset the rising favourite had held out a hand to his friend that he might mount with him. And in this way he may have served a twofold aim—the first to help Overbury, the second to help himself. He was conscious of his own shortcomings, doubted his strength to mount unaided and to maintain himself at the summit when it should be reached; knew that he lacked learning and those gifts of mind which bring immunity from giddiness in the high places of the world. In Overbury, that quick-witted man of parts, sometime scholar of Queen's College, Oxford, and bencher of the Middle Temple, he perceived the strength which he himself lacked. Whilst singly neither might go far, united the twain might conquer the world itself. Carr possessed the physical beauty which had claimed the attention and now held the affection of the king. Overbury could supply the mind and soul, without which that beauty must in time reveal itself for an empty husk. Indeed, of this emptiness the king seemed already apprehensive, for he was diligently seeking to mend the lad's lack of learning, just as he was lavishly mending his lack of wardrobe. If he commanded tailors to wait on him and deck his loveliness becomingly, himself he set about educating him and teaching him Latin, though some suggested that it would be as well to begin by having Carr taught English. But the king was slow to perceive the lad's shortcomings in this, since his own accent was as broad Scots as Carr's.

Upon the knighthood presently bestowed on Carr had followed presently, at the new favourite's request, a knighthood for Overbury. He was also made a gentleman of the King's Household, to the great disgust of the queen, who held these royal minions in profound disfavour. Detesting the new favourite, yet in view of the king's exceeding fondness for him not daring to express it, she was glad to find a vent for her feelings in open hostility to Overbury.

It was largely as a result of this that, in 1609, Overbury withdrew from Court, and went to spend a year or so in France and the Low Countries, critically observant, storing his mind with further learning of a practical kind, and more fully equipping himself for the part he was soon to play in the political life of England.

On his return he found Sir Robert Carr so increased in fortune and favour as to be in the way of becoming the fount of all patronage, his doors and ante-chambers thronged with suitors. And Carr welcomed his friend's return right joyfully. More than ever now did he require Overbury's mental strength by which to guide and steady himself if he were to go further. His ambitions had swollen with his fortunes. He aimed at absolute power, yet knew himself incapable of wielding it unaided.

So now he took Overbury for his counsellor and guide. The queen's disfavour was to-day a matter of no moment; the aegis of the favourite had grown to such proportions that he who sheltered under it need fear no one, however highly placed. And Overbury, working in obscurity at first, and keeping himself well in the background, acquitted himself in so masterly fashion of his mentor's task that presently the doting monarch slobbered with joy to observe the growing mental power of his favourite, the extraordinary grasp he was acquiring of affairs, and the hitherto unsuspected acuteness of his judgment.

Even Carr's correspondence acquired a scholarly grace and a rhetorical force which were a further joy to the heart of James, who accounted them the fruits of the pains he had taken with the unlettered Scot.

In a contest of wits on a matter of policy with that astute old statesman Cecil, Lord Salisbury—who hated Carr for a minion, and despised him for an unlettered, ignorant upstart—King James was to see this man, grown old in statecraft, which he had first practised in so masterly a manner under Elizabeth, outmatched and defeated by his darling Rabbie.

James wept for joy—he was very prone to tears under stress of emotion—and thereafter Carr's advancement was swift and certain. Within the year we find him created Viscount Rochester, invested—together with Charles, Duke of York—a Knight of the Garter, made Keeper of Westminster Palace for life, and granted the castle of Rochester in fee simple, whilst his wealth and power grew so amazingly that you behold him firmly established as the most puissant gentleman in England—he who some four years ago had been a simple, needy Scottish squire in the train of Sir John Hay.

Thus well had Overbury served him; and as well was Overbury serving him now in this matter of that lovely child, Lady Essex, to whom my Lord of Rochester had so lost his heart that he proposed to enter the lists against the Prince of Wales, her acknowledged lover.

That the grace of his figure should have wrought upon her my lord had cause to hope from the soft glances he had detected in her eyes when turned upon him. It remained to complete the conquest by revealing the graces of his mind—in reality the graces of the mind of his alter ego, Sir Thomas Overbury.

To this end Sir Thomas laboured at his rhymes, and, labouring, smiled, as we have seen.

He smiled because he did not mean quite to be so used, not would ever have lent himself to such base uses, but that it suited his own ends. For Sir Thomas had ambitions which soared far beyond the confines of this ghosting for my Lord of Rochester. Gradually the ghost should put on flesh; gradually men should come to know the master-mind that instructed Rochester in policy and statecraft. That little old man Salisbury could not live for ever. Already he was showing signs of failing. Soon the office of Secretary of State would fall vacant, and Sir Thomas dreamt dreams concerned with the succession of that office.

Meanwhile, let Rochester amuse himself. His lordship required little encouragement. Of late, seeing how completely Overbury was master of affairs, and how confidently he might leave them to his care, Rochester's mind had turned more and more to pleasure.

It was a condition of things that Sir Thomas desired to encourage. Let my lord by all means spend his days and his nights in pursuit of the Essex butterfly. That was to Sir Thomas's advantage.

Then, too, was she not a daughter of the too-powerful family of Howard, which Sir Thomas so cordially detested? Scandal in connection with her would hardly please that stiff-necked family, and scandal there was very likely to be—indeed, there was already in abundance. Thus by his versifying on that summer afternoon he subtly advanced his interests.

He had accomplished his task, and was sitting back in his chair, the feathered end of his quill between his teeth, his thoughts a thousand miles away upon the steep road of ambition, when my Lord Rochester came to dispel his reverie.

If, at the instance of a king who loved pretty fellows well-arrayed, his lordship had changed his tailors often of late, at least he had changed them to some purpose. His doublet, peaked sharply at the waist, was of cloth of gold, its slashed sleeves laced over an undergarment of white silk; of cloth of gold, too, were his ballooning trunks, which descended almost to his knees. Below these the shapeliest, straightest legs in England were encased in creaseless silk stockings the colour of ripe apricots. His cloak was of white beaver, edged with gold lace, and even his snowy ruff was delicately laced in gold thread along its cobweb edges.

For the rest his beautiful face, with its blue eyes and red-gold beard, and his tall, straight, graceful figure were worthy of such dazzling raiment. And there was about him, too, an engaging air of sunny gaiety and of irresistible light-heartedness which enhanced his gifts of face and form.

To see this creature of sunshine was to love him, unless, like my lords of Salisbury or Pembroke, you found his influence with the king a stumbling-block to your own ambitions, or, like Prince Henry, you were too austere and too perceptive of the mental and spiritual shortcomings under all this outward bravery.

He came forward briskly, and threw an arm about the shoulder of his friend and secretary.

"Well, Tom! Well? And is it done? Is it done?"

Impatient eagerness stressed the broad Scottish accent, which was accounted by many an uncouthness in so lovely a courtier.

"It is that," said Overbury, catching, as by infection, something of the bur, a smile half amiable, half mocking on his long, pale face. "Look, and content you, for I have laboured on it these two hours or more. Not Ben Johnson himself could have served you better."

My lord leaned forward, and read the first line aloud:

"O lady, all of fire and snow compounded—"

There he broke off from sheer enthusiasm.

"Man! That's a grand conceit! 'O lady all of fire and snow compounded!' A grand invocation, Tom! And it expresses her finely. A soul of fire and a chaste purity, cold and spotless as the driven snow."

"Ahem!" coughed Sir Thomas. "The image was intended to be purely physical," said he drily, and explained: "The fire is in her red-gold hair, her glowing eyes, her scarlet lips, perhaps—which no doubt could be fiery enough upon occasion; the snow is all the rest of her that is so wondrous white."

"Ay, ay, very true. But why not spiritual, too? Why not?"

"Because I would not have her imagine that you wrote either as a fool or as a mocker. A woman has no love for either."

"A fool or a mocker?" My lord was frowning. He took his arm from the other's neck, and stood stiffly upright, half-facing him now. "Why must I be either?"

Overbury smiled a little wanly, and shrugged his shoulders.

"It is whispered, I believe, that the Prince of Wales singed some of his puritanical austerity at her shrine. Indeed, he is in danger of being quite burnt up, unless you make haste to rescue him by substituting yourself as the holocaust. Though I doubt he'll not prove grateful."

"Ha!" It was a short laugh from Rochester, the stream of his thoughts swung by the last words into a fresh channel. "Already Prince Henry does not love us, Tom. He'll love us less hereafter."

"With the exception of the king, who loves you and detests me—who am, of course, detestable—I don't think that between us we count a single friend in the royal family. It would not trouble me but for the thought that this young Puritan will be king some day, and then we may have to shift our lodgings from Whitehall. But that's in the future—and the future is less real than the past, which is itself unreal when compared with the present. The present is yours. Enjoy it, Robin. And here's the means."

He thrust the momentarily neglected verses under my lord's attention.

My lord read, and as he read his eyes kindled, his cheeks flushed delicately with delight.

"Man, ye've a gift!" he cried at last.

"Several gifts, Robin, several, as is known to all the world, and to none better than myself. Will they serve?"

"Serve! Good lack! It is the very key of heaven. There's magic in them."

"Of course. I wrote them."

"And the fee? Name it yourself. Ask what you will."

"Nay, I might ask too much, which would lower your admiration of the work, or too little, which would cheapen it. It shall be a gift to you, Robin. 'Sh! Not another word. And now to get this chaplet of sweet conceits into my lady's lap. There is the masque at Somerset House to-night. There will be dancing. That should be your occasion."

"None better, Tom. I had thought of it myself."

"You flatter my poor wit."

"Derider! Come, now, make a copy in your fairest hand."

"And so prove you an impostor. Oh, Robin, Robin, what would you be without me? Man, don't you see that your own pothooks must serve for this, to match the signature you'll append to it?"

"Then give me pen and ink, and lend me what aid you can."

My lord drew up a chair and sat down. Overbury, the scoffer, proffered a pen.

"Here it is—from the pinions neither of Pegasus not turtle-dove, either of which would have been apposite enough, but of a goose, which is more apposite still. To it, Robin."

And my lord grew busy upon that key of heaven, as he called it.

It was to prove, ere all was done, the very key of hell for him—the very passport to ruin and dishonour. But that was not yet. At first it won him admittance to that garden of delight which he deemed paradise. For it did its work swiftly upon the lady to whom it was addressed, and in whose little hand his lordship left it that same night. It evoked from her a swift response—due less, perhaps, to the shrewd magic of its appeal than to the passionate longing with which the lady had desired some such token from my lord.

A week or so thereafter the saturnine Sir Thomas Overbury was himself to witness a pregnant sign of the mischief he had so sweetly wrought. That old fox, Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, and Lord Privy Seal, brother to that Duke of Norfolk who had lost his head out of love for the Queen of Scots—King James's mother—gave an entertainment at Northumberland House, which was graced by the presence of the king, Prince Henry, and Prince Charles, the Duke of York.

Sir Thomas found himself at one moment in conversation with the earl. There was inevitably between the Lord Privy Seal and the secretary of a man so powerful in the State as my Lord of Rochester a certain political intimacy, grown from the almost daily intercourse that passed between them relating to affairs. Outwardly their relations were perforce friendly; yet neither had any illusions about the other, whence it naturally followed that in reality there was no love between them—for, as Overbury would have said, there can be no love where there is no illusion.

Sir Thomas knew my Lord of Northampton for a recusant, a secret Papist, and suspected him of aiming at the re-establishment of the Catholic faith in England. This, indeed, was the main reason why Northampton urged upon the king the marriage of Prince Henry and the Infanta of Spain, a matter which was splitting the Court into two great parties; the Spanish party, of which my Lord of Northampton, closely supported by all the powerful tribe of Howards, was the acknowledged head, and the anti-Spanish party, led by Prince Henry and the austere Earl of Pembroke, the queen's friend and the Howards' enemy. So far Sir Thomas had contrived to keep Rochester aloof from either party. The time, in his opinion, was not yet ripe to make a choice of sides, although he saw that it could not now be very long delayed. The Howards—and Northampton in particular—were assiduously wooing the king's favourite, with the aim of obtaining his weighty influence on their side. If they won him, they might account that they had won the king himself, since the king's will was now in Rochester's keeping, even as Rochester's was in Overbury's. And knowing this, Northampton wooed Overbury, whilst mistrusting him and disliking him for his shrewdness. It was a shrewdness which—as Northampton uncomfortably suspected—saw to the very roots of the earl's schemes, whilst at the same time veiling his own—which is to say, Rochester's—intentions.

Already Overbury perceived that ultimate alliance with the Howards was becoming inevitable, that it was being rendered so by the arrogant stupidity of the other party. Stiff-necked Pembroke and the austere Prince of Wales—whose austerity was, however, somewhat damaged since he had been caught in the toils of Lady Essex—would not stoop to woo the all-powerful favourite to their side, preferring the luxury of indulging their hatred and contempt.

Overbury, cursing their inflexible stupidity, gave them back hate for hate—particularly Pembroke, whose arrogance provoked Sir Thomas's own arrogance, which was inferior to no man's. He had thought to delay the inevitable decision, frustrate it altogether perhaps, by helping to precipitate a scandal involving Rochester and Lady Essex. That might provoke the Howards, whose daughter she was, and convert them from wooers of the favourite into his enemies. But shrewd and cynical as he was, Sir Thomas had reckoned—as he was to learn to-night—without certain factors of human baseness.

Standing there, on the edge of that glittering Court throng, in conversation with my Lord of Northampton, Overbury's eyes were suddenly caught by the handsome figure of Rochester sweeping past with Lady Essex on his arm. She was, says one of her contemporaries, "a lady of transcendent beauty and full of fire," whilst another describes her as "of a sweet and bewitching countenance." It was barest justice that they did her. Slight and small and exquisitely graceful was she. Above the broad, starched ruff Sir Thomas beheld a delicately featured, almost childish face, with great blue eyes and a mass of red-gold hair, in which a jewel glowed as if gathering light and fire from its setting. Below the ruff the bodice of her gown was cut very low and square, revealing a breast which, as in his rhymed epistle he had so justly said, would for whiteness shame the very snows.

But what caught his glance, and the glance of the swart-faced little earl beside him, was the unwonted flush upon her cheeks, the light that sparkled in her eyes as they glanced upwards with betraying shyness at her tall companion.

The radiant pair flashed past and were gone, eclipsed to the eyes of those two by the little throng that followed. But, in passing, the lady had dropped a glove, and a courtier stooped now to pick it up. Rising with that slender, perfumed simulacrum of a lovely hand, this courtier came face to face with a slim, shapely, sensitive-faced lad upon whose breast hung a George suspended from a broad riband.

The courtier was either a fool or malicious. He bowed low, and proffered the glove to the young man.

"May it please your highness," he lisped, "the glove of my Lady Essex."

The prince, who had been pale already, turned now a deathly white; the frown that had marred his brow grew deeper, and his eyes blazed on a sudden, whilst he stiffened and recoiled as if shrinking from the touch of something unclean and vile. Deeply resentful, deeply affronted as he was, not merely to see himself outbidden in the affections of this lady to whom he now accounted that he had stooped, to whose witchery he had fallen a prey, so that his will was weakened, and he was false to all his high ideals, and outbidden by one whom he had despised and accounted utterly detestable, he seized this chance to give expression to a contempt that was in itself but the expression of mortification.

"And what have I to do with it?" he asked in a tone that withered the smirking courtier before him. Then his lips curled terribly, and in a voice that carried far and rang in a score of eager ears: "It has been stretched by another," he added, and swept on.

In the momentary hush that followed this deliberate and deadly insult, Sir Thomas looked aslant at my Lord Northampton. He was baffled by the expression on the earl's aquiline face, so different was it from all that he could have expected. His lordship's long, slender fingers were combing his beard, his eyes were narrowed, and he almost seemed to smile.

Was it that, looking beneath the insult, he saw the lacerated feelings that had provoked it, and maliciously rejoiced in that hurt to a young man he did not love? Or could it be that Northampton would take satisfaction in the prostitution of his niece for the sake of the greater hold which through her he might obtain upon the all-powerful favourite?

Sir Thomas, who could be bold to insolence on occasion, would have sought of Northampton then and there a solution of this riddle had Northampton tarried to afford him the opportunity. But whilst he was considering words with which to approach the subject, the earl slipped from his side and was lost in the crowd. Sir Thomas did not attempt to follow. He turned about, and moved in the opposite direction, proceeded slowly, and using his ears the while to catch stray comments upon the behaviour of the prince. Suddenly he came face to face with the austere and stately Pembroke. The great nobleman nodded coldly.

"Your master, sir, grows daily of an increasing boldness," said he sourly.

"Nay, my lord—not grows. He was born so."

"Ha! I have known men better born who walked more circumspectly."

"Why, so have I," says Overbury, staring straight at the earl. "They are common hereabouts. That is why my Lord of Rochester achieves distinction."

"I wish him joy of such distinction as he has achieved to-night."

"He will be flattered by your lordship's interest when I convey it to him."

Pembroke snarled.

"Does my Lord Northampton walk these ways with you?" he asked, with supercilious scorn.

"Ah! Now you probe too deep in emptiness, my lord. For what should I know of my Lord Northampton's designs? I who occupy so small a place, a very rutae folium, as Martial picturesquely puts it."

The Welsh earl smiled disdainfully.

"In that respect, sir, perhaps I can mend your lack of knowledge." The venom bubbled out of him. "My Lord of Northampton may at times have lapsed from wisdom, but never yet to the extent of leaning on a rotten staff."

"'Tis picturesque," said glib Sir Thomas, "almost as picturesque as Martial. But it lacks his accuracy." He was looking over Pembroke's shoulder, and beyond him, and his smile—the smile that the Welshman found so maddening—broadened. "For the staff—to keep to your lordship's well-chosen image—is far from rotten, and as for leaning on it, why—where the king's majesty leans so heavily, there may my Lord of Northampton also lean with confidence. Look for yourself. Look behind you, my lord."

Down the middle of the room, through the parting crowd of courtiers, came the king, his right arm about the shoulders of my Lord Rochester—as much to express his fondness as to support himself and relieve his weakly legs of the weight of his ungainly, rather obese body. The jewelled fingers of his none too clean left hand were twirling some strands of the thin, fading beard that adorned his chin. His pale, rather watery eyes looked up with almost fawning devotion into his minion's face. He pinched the young man's cheek, smiled and smirked, mumbled and slobbered in his full-mouthed way.

My Lord Pembroke looked on, and his long face lengthened with loathing and chagrin. He realised the meaning of this ostentatious display of royal fondness. It was an amend offered by the king to his favourite for the affront which the prince had indirectly put upon him. There was by this time so little love between the king and his eldest son that to belong to the party of the one was almost to be opposed to the party of the other, and James may have intended now to warn such men as Pembroke to beware how far they presumed to take their tone from that which the prince's rank gave him immunity to adopt.

Looking beyond, Pembroke had a glimpse of the full face of the queen, and the fine, sensitive countenance of the prince, and on both he saw reflected something of his own disgust and anger.

A laugh, soft but infinitely mocking, rippled behind him. He set his teeth in rage, and span round to face that saturnine derider. But he was no more than in time to see Overbury retreating through the courtly press.

Though the last laugh in that encounter may have been with Overbury that night, yet he took little satisfaction from it, troubled as his mind was with that riddle concerning my Lord Northampton, and troubled the more because he had seen that the matter was exercising Pembroke, too.

Doubt, however, was not to plague him very long. Two days thereafter Rochester came once more to claim the services of his scholarly pen. He brought a letter from Lady Essex, which he frankly, almost ostentatiously, laid before his secretary. In this, brief as it was, her ladyship extolled the grace and beauty of his lordship's composition. Thereafter:

"My uncle," she wrote, "bids me chide you for that you do not come oftener to a house in which all are devoted to you. He desires that you honour him at dinner to-morrow. There will be none other, unless you so desire it, and then you shall find for company whomsoever you be pleased to name. So I pray you send me word, my lord, that I may comfort my uncle."

"You see, Tom—I am to find for company whomsoever I be pleased to name. What make you of that?"

"That the lady asks you to woo her," said Sir Thomas bluntly.

"You are brutal, Tom."

"Merely in words. In thought no more brutal than her ladyship. Her expression is less blunt than mine, but what she means is: Bid me to be of the company, and you may have your desire, being assured that unless you also name another there will be none other there. Faith, never was invitation plainer. It is yours to say yea or nay."

"Ay, ay," says his lordship, between satisfaction at the matter of his letter and vexation at the manner of his secretary. "Ay, ay. It will be as ye say, no doubt. And now to answer it."

"To be sure you must."

"Nay, nay, but it asks subtlety. 'Tis a task for you, Tom. The answer must be full worthy o' what has gone before. You see what she says: 'The silver-dropping stream of your lordship's pen—' You must continue what you have begun, Tom. Bear with me."

Sir Thomas fetched a sigh from lips that smiled sardonically, and sat down to indite an answer. And thus my lord, being further committed to this imposture of employing the choice elegancies of his secretary's pen, was thereafter forced to continue in it. Sir Thomas, being endowed with a very fertile literary gift, and a full sense of subtleties of thought and melody of words, found in the task some measure of that self-expression which is the craving of every man of letters. Where Rochester would merely have made love, Overbury made literature as well. He wrote, in fact, precisely as he would have written had he been himself the suitor, which at times he almost imagined that he was. Into the growing amorousness of these letters he wove exquisite patterns of tender philosophy and graceful poesy, revealing coruscating beauties of mind that could not fail to dazzle and enchant.

Rochester, in high delight, proclaimed him a wizard, and with good reason, for he observed the daily growing effect of that wizardry upon my lady. In their frequent meetings now at Northumberland House her theme would often be the subject of those prized letters that he wrote, a theme in which it was not easy for him to do justice to the pen that passed with her for being his own. At first it had been the splendid beauty of the man that had attracted her, appealing irresistibly to her senses, and so provoked from her those languishing, inviting glances which had set afoot this mischief. But to that erstwhile physical admiration came to be added this intellectual, spiritual delight in him, so that what in its beginnings was no more than wanton fancy was grown by now into a very ardent worship on my lady's part, believing as she did that such beauties of body and mind had never yet been combined in any single man.

And worshipping him so, it is not strange at all that she should become impatient of the brevity and restraint of such meetings as took place between them at Northumberland House. For, be her scheming uncle never so accommodatingly disposed, there were limits sharply defined by rank and custom upon the extent to which he could countenance and abet the growing intimacy between his niece, who had a husband of her own, and my Lord of Rochester.

One day at last she gave free and frank expression to her impatience.

"My love," she murmured—for it had come to that by now between them—"are we to suffer for ever this parching thirst for each other's company? Are we never to do more than quicken it by these furtive, fleeting glimpses and stolen words?"

Tenderly, wistfully he looked down into the upturned face of that lovely child-woman.

"Sweet," he said, "how choicely you express it! Tantalus, in his damnation, suffered no such torture as I am suffering. But there are ever a hundred curious, peering eyes upon us. We are watched and spied upon on every hand, and could I suffer it that you should afford these crows of the Court reason to pluck and tear at your fair name, to befoul it with their scandal? I am bound like Prometheus to his rock, and my heart is being devoured by longing. Could I devise a way—"

"Do you desire it?" she flashed in quickly.

And he saw at once that she had considered and resolved the difficulty that would not yield to his own wits.

"Desire it? Do I desire Heaven?"

"Then listen, Robin. I know a place—a sweet garden by the river, within an hour's ride of Whitehall—where we can freely meet, and spend whole hours together in secret from the world. Will you come to-morrow, as soon after noon as you can contrive? I shall be waiting for you."

"Tell me but where," he answered, out of breath.

"At Hammersmith, at the house of a safe friend of mine, who will not talk. Her name is Turner."

"At noon to-morrow I shall be there," was all that he had time to answer before Northampton joined them.

That evening Sir Thomas heard of it from his friend.

"So, so," said he, "the pace quickens. But keep your head, Robin. It becomes doubly necessary when a man has lost his heart."

For only answer Rochester laughed on a note of high exultation.

"And now that other matter. There is this trouble with the Commons on the score of supplies, set on by this pestilent Sir Roger Owen. Hard-pressed for money as he is, the king is fretted and vexed by this opposition. What view d'ye take of it, Tom? Have you considered?"

Overbury's fine, long face grew overcast with thought. He lay back in his deep chair and brought his slender finger-tips together.

"I have considered," he answered slowly, musingly. "But the matter is all knots and tangles. If the king resists, and arbitrarily exercises his prerogative to dissolve Parliament, he will have trouble. If he yields, he will have set up a precedent destructive of future power, displayed a weakness that will hereafter be most certainly abused. It comes to a choice of evils. And when that is forced upon us, sighs and vexations avail us nothing. It only remains to decide which is the less."

"The former, surely."

"So I should say. But it is the king who must decide—so that he may blame no one else for the consequences, if they are evil. Which is not to say that he should not be guided in his decision—provided always he believes in the end the decision to be his own."

"Then what do you counsel?"

"In your place, I should confine myself straitly to presenting the position much as I have just presented it."

My lord advanced his tablets.

"Ay, ay. Set it down for me."

Overbury wrote swiftly as he was desired.

"And now this question of the Spanish marriage. Have you thought of that?"

"I have. But—let me sleep on it before I finally pronounce."

"These French proposals make some decision urgent."

"We can always temporise at need. We may have to do so even when we have decided. Temporisation is the first principle of statecraft. But I hope to have resolved it by to-morrow."

"I'll trust to that, Tom," said his lordship; and went off to see the king.

Alone, Overbury settled more deeply into his chair, a frown of thought between eyes that looked out through the latticed window at the blue summer sky and the gently stirring tops of the trees in the Privy Gardens.

Northampton's attitude—for that matter the attitude of all the Howards—regarding my Lady Essex and my Lord Rochester was a riddle no longer. To obtain a dominant hold upon the favourite, who was all-powerful with the king, they would make use of Frances Howard, Lady Essex, and they welcomed the opportunity offered them by the passion that had sprung up between the twain.

Overbury held them all in supreme contempt; Northampton; Privy Seal, the secret bigot in the pay of Spain; Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, her ladyship's father, who unscrupulously and simoniacally used to his own profit his position as Lord Chamberlain, urged on in this by his coarse, unmoral, shamelessly acquisitive wife. Their corruption, for which he had always despised them, now filled him with disgust.

A man does not write, even as a proxy, such love-letters to a woman as Overbury had been writing to Lady Essex without finding himself caught, however slightly, in the spell of sentiment he weaves. A gentle compassion for her whose honour was being made so unscrupulously to serve as a pawn in this game of statecraft and ambition welled up from his soul to increase his loathing of those corrupt ones who so used her almost against the very dictates of nature. He was moved, out of that loathing, to thwart their ambitions, dash their schemes to pieces. He had the power. Rochester would not move in this path, which was so full of pitfalls, without Overbury's counsel and pledged support.

The resolve grew swiftly. But it grew as a bubble that is blown, and, like a bubble, burst as suddenly. It burst the moment Sir Thomas realised that he was inflating it with sentiment.

In such matters sentiment could have no part. Interest must be his only guide—though it was interest of a vastly different sort from the interest of those others which had moved his scorn, for, in the matter of simony, and of profiting by patronage, Rochester's hands were clean, nor would Overbury have them otherwise.

Cynically he set himself to consider where they stood. The State was divided into two main parties, and so far, by following that first principle of temporising which he vaunted, he had kept Rochester free from espousing either. Towards the party of the queen it was impossible to lean. The hostility of her Majesty and of Prince Henry to the favourite would always have made that difficult.

Since the outrivalling of Prince Henry in the affections of Lady Essex it was become impossible. The party of the Howards was, as a party, no less powerful. But it was too corrupt and unscrupulous to be quite safe. Northampton in particular was too sly and slippery, and also far too dominant. If Overbury were to open the door to Northampton, he might presently find himself thrust out, and Rochester a mere tool in the earl's hands.

So the temporising must continue. But he would yield to the extent of an alliance with the Howards—an alliance, however, in which Rochester must remain an independent power. He would open a wicket to the Howards, but he would keep the door itself tight locked against them still. And to keep them in play the matter of the Spanish marriage might be considered, but considered only. There must be no deciding just yet awhile.

The result of all this was that presently we have the comic spectacle of Rochester discussing with the king the matter of the marriage of Prince Henry, who detested him, and even writing—through the pen of Overbury—letters to the prince on the same subject, letters which, out of respect for the king his father, the prince was forced to treat at least with outward deference, whilst inwardly writhing and raging to have the bestowal of his hand in marriage so calmly treated by this detested upstart who had robbed him of his mistress.

I doubt if any of those concerned, with the sole exception of Overbury, apprehended and appreciated the bitter comedy as it deserved. It is certain that Rochester did not, for Rochester was sinking deeper and deeper into his amorous morass, caring less and less for affairs, leaving the conduct of them more and more to Overbury, and depending daily more absolutely upon his secretary's brain, his own being all bemused and drugged with love.

And then, quite suddenly, out of that fair summer sky dropped a thunderbolt upon that bower of love, that fair garden by the river in the pleasant village of Hammersmith.

Mention has been made of my lady's husband. He was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, son of that brilliant courtier whom Elizabeth had loved, ennobled, enriched, and then beheaded. The great estate which Elizabeth's bounty had bestowed upon her favourite had been confiscated with his head. But they had been restored to his son, the present earl, by King James.

The wealth of this lad had been the lure to the insatiable greedy Suffolk pair, and had led them to arrange a marriage between their daughter, the Lady Frances Howard, and young Devereux. The boy, though not more than fourteen at the time, but of a grave, thoughtful mind considerably in advance of his years, was not only made sensible of the advantages to himself that must accrue from his marriage with the daughter of the most powerful house in England, but was also stricken by the ravishing white beauty of the child of thirteen who was offered to him for a bride.

As for poor Frances, her will was never consulted. The chronicler Wilson is less than just to her when he terms her "too young to consider, but old enough to consent." The trinkets and gewgaws, the apparel, the pageantry of a Court wedding, and the chief rôle assigned to her, giving her the centre of the stage, were the sum of that to which her child's mind consented. Of the responsibilities and duties that marriage imposes she had no real apprehension, for the staid, grave-faced young bridegroom scarce a thought; he was no more than one of the stage properties necessary, it seemed, to her in this pretty play.

Thus lightly had that grave step been taken some eight years ago.

The children parted at the altar, Frances to go back to the care of her parents, Robert Devereux to make the grand tour, to complete abroad his education, and there learn the trade of soldiering.

For two years Frances remained quietly in the country. Then, matured in beauty, and with an air of confidence derived from the consciousness that as a countess by marriage she was a great lady, she came to take her place at Court, and receive the homage commanded as much by her personal charm as by the circumstance that she was the daughter of that fount of patronage, the Earl of Suffolk.

Thus Wilson sums it up: "The Court was her nest, her father being Lord Chamberlain; and she was hatched up by her mother, whom the sour breath of that age had already tainted, from whom the young lady might take such tincture that ease and greatness and Court glories would more distain and impress on her than any may wear out and diminish. And growing to be a beauty of the greatest magnitude in that horizon was an object fit for admirers, and every tongue grew an orator at that shrine."

In that luxurious, evil atmosphere, with no other guardians than a corrupt father and a spendthrift, wanton mother, she quickly became prodigal of expense, covetous of homage, and, in her excessive femininity, light of behaviour, utterly indifferent to the honour in her custody of that husband whom she scarcely knew. Such faint impression as he had made upon her young mind at the two or three fleeting meetings, that had been a prelude to the more fateful meeting at the altar, the years had by now effaced, and other sharper, deeper impressions entirely overlaid. He was not a reality to her. She was no more than vaguely conscious that he existed somewhere, and utterly incapable of conceiving a life in which this stranger should have any part.

Thus, like a butterfly in the sun, taking no thought for the morrow, had she lived in youth's sweet irresponsibility. And now of a sudden, out of nowhere as it seemed, this crushing blow had fallen. He was coming home to claim her.

In that Hammersmith garden by the river her eager lover came upon his lady pale and tearful. Distraught, grief-stricken eyes, that hitherto he had never known other than laughingly alluring, gave him to-day a piteous, unsmiling greeting.

He sprang to her with all a lover's quick solicitude.

"Why, Frances child, what has happened to you?"

For answer she proffered him a written sheet, on which he read:

"Sweet Wife,—I come at last to ease a heart that has been sick with absence through all these years of our separation. It is a heart that has been ever true to the gracious loveliness it did discern in thee, and beats at last the quicker as the hour of its reward draws near. Within some few days I sail from France, impatient to set foot on English soil, the dearer to me because trodden by thy lovely feet. I shall come to thee as fast as horse can bear me, so that soon after this my herald shall have reached you you will behold me craving the welcome of your arms. In all these years one image only—"

His lordship read no further. He had no patience with maudlin outpourings of unbidden love from this ridiculous boy-husband grown now to manhood, and no desire to nauseate himself by reading further. The news was all that mattered, and this he now possessed.

He looked at her with eyes well-nigh as grave as her own. His face had lost some of its colour, his air a deal of its usual magnificent assurance.

"Oh, 'sdeath!" he broke out. "What needs the fool come home to trouble us? He was well enough abroad. What brings him?"

Her lips twisted into a crooked little smile.

"He tells us plainly enough," she answered, and then a sudden gust of passion shook her. "To write to me so! To dare!" she panted.

"Indeed, it is very sickly stuff," said his lordship, with unconscious humour.

"And from a man I do not know, with whom I have hardly spoke—an utter stranger to me, and one of whom I desire to have no more knowledge than I have at present. It—it is not decent. I—I felt shamed as I read. What care I that my image may have been ever in his thoughts? I dare swear it has been ever in the thoughts of many another man. But would any of them dare to claim me for his own? And what is this fellow to me more than any other stranger?"

White-faced, she stared out across the gleaming river. She sat in a cool, green arbour above the brown river-wall of that terrace-garden. My lord stood beside her, his face overcast, his arms limp at his sides.

One of those arms he flung now about her bare, white shoulder, and he set his face against her own, so that his cheek was wetted by her tears. He was shocked and grieved for her beyond all expression; but like the egotist he was, he was even more shocked and grieved for himself, on account of difficulties that he now foresaw. He was sufficiently detached even in his grief to observe in passing that tears are so unbecoming as to mar even the most flawless beauty.

"My poor child, my poor child!" he murmured soothingly. "Comfort ye, and let us consider now."

"Consider? What is to consider? What is to consider when death approaches? And this is death."

"Don't, don't!" he begged her. "You must have known that one day this would happen."

"I did not!" she answered passionately.

"You thought him dead?"

"I never knew he lived. What was he to me?"

"Your husband, plague on it!" was the rueful answer.

"Ah, no; not that. That he shall never be."

Rochester sighed.

"Unfortunately he is so already."

"Ah, surely, surely not. It is not the altar and the toothless mumbling of a bishop that makes a marriage. There must be on both sides the will and consent to mate. And what will was there on mine—what consent was ever asked of me? I was bestowed on him, as you may bestow a blind puppy out of a litter. I was too young to know what it meant. I was a child, taking a child's pleasure in a rare show, that is all, as Heaven hears me. And that he should come now to take me for his own, to bend me to his will, to make his wife and creature of me, who want nothing of him, to hold me in his loathsome arms, to kiss—" She broke off, shuddering, and covered her face with her hands. "Oh, Heaven!" she moaned. "The horror of it!"

And so fell to sobbing.

My lord stood dazed and confounded. What was he to do, what say to comfort her, to fight off the horror of this reality? That she should have lived her irresponsible life without taking thought for this thing scarcely amazed him, who knew her light, joyous nature. He said nothing, which perhaps was best; and presently she spoke again. She drew her hands from her face, which violence of emotion had rendered almost haggard, and reaching out she seized his left hand, and drew him down beside her.

"If I did not love you, Robin," she faltered, "it might be easier. But loving you, how could I be unfaithful? That is what I should be if I suffered my Lord of Essex to claim me, and I should go in horror of myself."

It was a point of view that bewildered and troubled him. He had no words, therefore he could but draw her closer, most eloquent expression of his deep distress and emotion.

"Love me always, Robin! Love me always!" she implored him piteously.

"Can I help myself, child?" he asked her wanly. "But this—this thing? What is to be done?"

"What counsel do you give me? I will do whatever you tell me—always, Robin, always."

He stared before him blankly, with clouded eyes and crumpled brow.

"What counsel can I give, dear Heaven? I must think! I must think!"

That was the truth of it. He must think—which was another way of saying that he must take counsel with that brain of his—Sir Thomas Overbury. Until he had talked this out with his secretary he could hope to find no gleam of guiding light.

To Overbury he came towards evening, all shaken still by the passionate, clinging leave-taking which had ended that day's unhappy meeting in Mrs. Turner's garden. Sir Thomas was not in the study, but from another adjacent room of Rochester's apartments that opened on to the Privy Gallery came a click-click of steel on steel, and the soft, padding thuds of quickly moving, stockinged feet.

Guided by the sound, my lord thrust open the door and entered. In the middle of that considerable chamber, which was almost empty of furniture, Overbury, in shirt and trunks, long, lithely vigorous, and graceful, was at sword-play with his man Davies. Such was his daily practice. He was not only skilled with the rapier, but intended so to keep himself, and he knew that constant exercise is the only way to accomplish it. Walking precariously amid enemies as he did, he never knew the moment when one of them, not daring otherwise to hurt him out of regard for the protection he enjoyed, might force a private quarrel upon him in spite of edicts against duelling. Therefore, he practised daily for an hour with the foils, and took care to let all the world know that he did so. It kept folk civil, he found.

He checked, fully extended in the lunge, and turned his head to see who entered without so much as by-your-leave. Beholding Rochester, he came upright.

"You are early returned," he said. Then, observing his lordship's troubled countenance, he caught his breath. "Is anything amiss?"

Rochester came forward.

"Leave us, Davies," he bade the servant.

With swift, silent obedience the man set down his foil, stepped into his shoes, drew on his doublet, and shuffled out.

My lord flung himself down on the embayed window seat, his back to the latticed panes. He sat hunched there, his elbows on his knees, his chin on his clenched hands. Before him stood Overbury, long, lean, and active, arms hanging full-length beside him, one hand clutching the hilt of the foil, the other the blade towards the point, and between them bending it like a whip.

"Tom, it's the very devil of a business!" groaned his lordship, when the door had closed. "Robert Devereux is coming home."

"I thought that would be it." Overbury had not so much as flickered an eyelid. "I knew of his coming."

"You knew? How?"

"Faith, isn't it my business to know everything that happens in the world? How should I serve you unless I were a sponge to absorb knowledge? There's a dispatch come from Paris—from Digby. His Majesty sent it to me that you might see it, and consider some of the matters in it. I have prepared some notes. You'll find them, together with the dispatch, in your study when ye've time. Among sundry news items the dispatch contains is mention of the fact that my Lord of Essex is leaving for home."

"Home!" said Rochester, and his lips writhed.

"Yes," insisted Overbury. "I have been expecting it."

"Why? What knowledge had you?"

"Worldly knowledge, that is all. Knowledge that husbands have an inconsiderate trick of turning up when not required. Demned intruders, husbands—especially this one."

"Man, don't laugh!" growled my lord, his northern burr accentuated.

"Tears won't help you. Besides, I doubt you'll have had a surfeit of them already. What are you going to do?"

"That is what I have come to ask you. I want advice."

"You mostly do. But, as my only advice in this case is nauseously distasteful, you'll refuse to follow it. Write finis to the chapter of my Lady Essex."

"I can't! I won't! No, by heaven, not for a dozen husbands."

"Very well, then," said Overbury the imperturbable. "In that case you had better pull off your boots and take a turn with the foils. You'll need to practise diligently, or one day soon it will be guard, guard, and—biff—the point in your liver!"

"You're a fool, Tom."

"So my father always told me, and yet—"

"Men of my rank don't fight duels." He fancied himself a prince of the blood, you see, no less. "Besides, there are edicts."

"Yes; and there are street-corners and dark nights and daggers for the backs of gentlemen whose dignity does not suffer them to render honourable satisfaction to outraged husbands. Come, come, Robin. I'll be full of sense, if sense is what you need or want. Essex is coming home, and you must accept the fact that you have run your course. You've held the lists quite long enough. In the gentleman's absence you have been a poacher on his preserves. If you persist, now that he is coming back to look after his own, you'll meet the fate of any other poacher, and earn as much sympathy from the general. No, no! The comedy is played out. Let down the curtain, and go home to forget the play and return to the realities of life."

"My Heaven, man, is there aught in life more real?"

"You'll think so in a year's time. Meanwhile, accept my word for it, or resign yourself to being so much dead meat before that same year is out."

This last was the contingency that Overbury feared; and it was precisely because he feared it that he gave his advice in such downright fashion, with the full intention to persist in it until he had bent Rochester's mind to his will. His motives were at once his affection for Rochester, which was sincere, and his affection for himself, which was still more sincere. My lord of Essex—Sir Thomas had been at pains to obtain information—was grown an austere and downright fellow, a puritanical, masterful soldier, free from all subtleties. Sir Thomas knew precisely what might be expected from such a man—six feet of earth for Rochester if he should be caught dangling about my lady. And if Rochester were removed at this stage what was to become of Overbury himself? His own feet were not yet sufficiently squarely planted. It was still Rochester who held the reins of power, so far as the king was concerned, by virtue of his handsome face and figure. Overbury enjoyed the Royal protection at second hand, and that protection would vanish if Rochester were removed. He would be left at the mercy of all his enemies, secret and avowed, who, amongst them, would make a speedy and unmerciful end of him. Moreover—as you will have gathered—the affair between my lord of Rochester and Lady Essex had been threatening results quite other from those which Sir Thomas had foreseen when first he had encouraged his patron to embark on it. The Howards—Northampton in particular—were obtaining upon the favourite a hold far greater than suited Overbury's ends.

He doubted if, in the pass to which things had come, he could succeed much longer in keeping them in play. Reluctant as he might be to break with them altogether, yet that seemed to him the lesser evil. Therefore, whatever the return of Essex might be to others, to Sir Thomas it was most opportune and welcome, as affording the means to shake off the Howards without an absolute breach with them. Whole-heartedly, then, Sir Thomas set himself now to preserve his patron, to hold him by main force out of the looming peril.

It was a task demanding all the wit and resource and strength of purpose with which Overbury had been endowed. In the end, by the indefatigable exertion of all these, he made his will prevail, and obtained my lord's promise to make an end of the affair between himself and Lady Essex.

Rochester pleaded with his masterful secretary to be allowed to go in person to convey that resolve, and take a last farewell of the lovely Frances. But Overbury denied him in such masterful terms that at last Rochester, entirely dominated, agreed to Sir Thomas's counter-proposal. Sir Thomas would write her one of his inimitable letters, couched in such terms of melting despair and grief that it should contain some echo of the breaking of his lordship's surcharged heart. It should blend love, despair, and wisdom so cunningly that my lady must find it impossible to rebel against its decision without forfeiting the worship in which the writer held her. It should subtly convey that this decision, taken in suffocation of every selfish instinct that urged the contrary, was entirely for her sake; and it should conclude on a note that bade her accept unquestioningly, as a last act of homage, this renunciation which prudence and wisdom dictated for her sake.

When that moving piece of writing was accomplished, my lord shed tears over it, and admitted that since this thing must be done—and he had been persuaded by now of the wisdom of it, and of the folly of persevering in an adventure that might end in ruin—it could not be better done.

Her ladyship submitted perforce. All alternative had been cunningly abstracted. Her answer came. A little note of some half-dozen lines, comprising a sob of despairing submission, and a vow of eternal fidelity to their love, which made no exception in favour of an obtrusive husband.

Sir Thomas smiled in secret as he wrote "finis"—prematurely, as we shall see—to that chapter of my Lord Rochester's career. Thereafter he plunged his patron more deeply into the business of the State, and set himself also in a subtle fashion to break down and lessen the intimacy which had grown up between Rochester and Northampton. This Northampton was not slow to perceive, and the perception did not increase his scant love of Overbury.

At first Sir Thomas found it difficult to wean Rochester from his passion. Gradually, however, he succeeded, assisted by events which found their climax, in the following spring, in the death of Salisbury, the Secretary of State. The consequences of this to Rochester, absorbing him wholly for a time, completed his cure, and so rendered him once more entirely the gay, sunny, laughing courtier in whom the king delighted.

It was for Rochester, and in even greater measure for Overbury, who as usual was the driving force, a time of stress and deep intrigue. The office of Secretary of State stood vacant, and the filling of it was a matter of great moment. The seals, meanwhile, continued in the hands of Sir Thomas Lake, who had acted as Salisbury's deputy during the earl's last illness; and Lake had every hope of being permanently appointed, and a considerable party to support him.

Then there was Sir Henry Neville, put forward as a candidate by the Commons, who came to seek Rochester's interest on his behalf. Rochester received them favourably, but said them neither yea nor nay. It was his intention, upon Overbury's recommendation, himself to take over, without any formal appointment, the duties of the office of Secretary of State; and the king favoured a project which would enable himself and his favourite to keep the control of affairs so completely in their own hands. This is what in the end took place, and Sir Thomas Lake was commanded to deliver up his seals to Rochester.

It was now that Overbury became more than ever invaluable to his friend and patron, acting as a skilled pilot in the troublous waters through which Rochester must steer. And, thanks to that supreme skill of his, Rochester was enabled to display to the king such a masterly grip of affairs, such a genius for intrigue and statecraft, that James's esteem for him and confidence in him were further increased.

But there were some others who knew better than King James. Having regained his normal mood, Rochester was athirst for pleasure as of old; and because of his confidence and trust in Overbury he did not hesitate to seek it, and so beguile the days, leaving to Sir Thomas the transaction of affairs. Thus Overbury's power continued to grow, and by some his hand began to be seen and to be recognised as that of the real secretary, the helmsman of the Ship of State. The first to become aware of this was, of course, Northampton, who, by virtue of his office of Privy Seal, was constantly in touch with the Secretary of State. He found himself dealing more and more, and at last exclusively, with Overbury on public affairs. It was with Overbury that he treated such matters as those concerning the forthcoming marriage of the Princess Elizabeth, the farming of the Customs, the granting of manufacturer's licences, the duties upon imports, and the treaties with foreign Powers.

It was into Overbury's hands that all secret dispatches were now delivered, so that he came to know more of foreign policy than the king himself. Out of this consciousness of power he grew more arrogant and sardonic than ever. Yet he played his game skilfully, and in the main was loyal to Rochester, content to await the reward that must in time inevitably be his, and must accord him the full fruition earned by his talents for his ambition.

He reckoned without two factors—Northampton and Northampton's niece.

With regard to her ladyship, events had been moving for her, too, during the past year, since Rochester, under Overbury's advice, had broken with her. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, had come home breathlessly eager at last to realise the dream of these past years of exile. He had flown straight to his wife, whom he fondly pictured awaiting him as eagerly. The reception she gave him staggered and dumbfounded him, shattered at a blow his dream and rent his pride. For the sight of him nothing tempered her ladyship's disdain. She found herself looking upon a grave, silent man, uncouth of countenance, puritanical of air and dress, a man who first with clumsy eagerness, then gravely, and finally sternly informed her that he was her husband, and he had come to take her down to his home at Chartley.

She answered him in words that already she had rehearsed in her last talk with Rochester. He was a stranger to her; she did not admit his right to claim her to wife; she had been bartered to him before she had the will to give herself, and give herself to him she never would; he was a fool if he had imagined that things could be otherwise, and she begged him to do her the only favour that it lay in his power to do her, and that was never to let her see his face again.

It was a very hang-dog earl when she had finished; and it may be that he was hurt the more for finding her so very lovely and desirable. But he was young—not yet quite twenty, in fact—and possessed of youth's inexhaustible fund of hope. He would be patient, he would wait; he realised the justice of some part of her complaint, but he would teach her to find him estimable. That was at first. But when, in spite of all his patience, she continued obdurate, when he realised that he would never win her, who refused him so much as the chance to woo her, he grew brutally stern once more, and stood upon his rights.

He was of a weak, obstinate, dull-witted nature, incapable of grappling with a situation of such complexity as this, a situation in which the first principles by which he had ever lived his life could avail him nothing. Yet he proceeded by them. He appealed to her parents, and it but remained for them to point out to their daughter that their granting or withholding their consent was as nothing. His was the power to compel her. Therefore she had best yield where she could not help herself.

It was the last drop in the cup of her despair. Benumbed, bereft, and feeling herself widowed of the man she loved, the man she deemed her true and natural mate, it required but this added horror to make her turn to thoughts of self-destruction.

In the end she resolved that, since she could not help herself, she would go down to Chartley with him as he commanded. But beyond that she would not yield an inch. She would make life as hideous for him as he had made it for her, and he should yet repent in bitterness this unchivalrous, unmanly exercise of force upon a defenceless woman.

And then he fell ill, dangerously ill, and her hopes soared wildly. It was then that she came to realise what his life meant to her, what his death would mean. It was his life that stood between her and the full achievement of her desires. Once he were dead, she would be free; no obstacle would stand between her and the man she loved. They would marry, an ideal union in a worldly as in a personal sense, that would give them, united, a power second to none in England.

She prayed then as she had never prayed before in her frivolous, butterfly life, prayed fervently that Devereux might die. And when in the end he recovered, and she perceived that Heaven was indifferent to her sufferings, deaf to her passionate entreaties, she turned in her despair to invoke the powers of hell.

It came about in this way. Seeing that as soon as her husband was restored to strength she must willy nilly to Chartley with him, she was moved to make a pilgrimage to the ground that love had consecrated for her.

In that sweet Hammersmith garden, in that very bower above the river where last Rochester and she had clung each to each in passionate distress, she walked sadly now with that questionable friend who had lent her house to those assignations. A pretty woman this Mrs. Turner, widow of a physician whom she had ruined by her riotous living. She came of a good family, and was chiefly renowned in the world of fashion as the inventor of the yellow ruff. She had friends in high places; but straitened circumstances, and the questionable shifts by which she was forced to live, had driven her to seek friends in low places, too.

Such, in brief, was the confidante into whose sympathetic ear my lady poured the bitterness that filled her soul, and the handsome, needy, wicked little widow was very prompt with her advice.

"Your remedy, child, lies in divorce."

"Divorce? And the grounds—I who have not lived with him?"

"But you will be doing so soon."

Her ladyship smiled bitterly.

"Once that has come to pass it will be too late for any divorce. My lord's love for me will be dead by then, killed by what he will account my unfaith—if it is not dead already. Oh, these bitter, bitter months of emptiness that are sped."

"You let him go too easily," said the widow, and sighed.

"What choice had I? He wrote me in such terms that my soul was torn. It was as if he wrote with his life's blood, and how could I increase the sufferings of one so anguished by refusing to obey what he accounted Fate's inexorable decree. I gave it thought. I am not all evil, nor all selfish, Turner. Such a nobility of soul as his is of itself ennobling, and points the way of duty, even of sacrifice. I saw that it might be very ill for him if I did other than he wished. Sometimes I am sorry. I am weak, you see. I nourish myself upon the hope that some day—some day—" She broke off, choked by her sobs. Then, controlling herself in part: "But once I go to Chartley with my Lord of Essex it will be to close the door upon all hope, to close the very door of the tomb. What then could a divorce avail me? Besides," she ended, almost impatiently, "what divorce is possible?"

But Mrs. Turner had not lived upon her wits these years for nothing. She had amassed in the course of her adventures a considerable amount of very questionable, but very useful, knowledge. Some of that knowledge she now displayed, and saw her ladyship's innocent blue eyes grow rounder and larger with amazement at first, then quicken with sudden eagerness.

"Yes, yes!" she cried. "Oh, priceless counsel, my sweet Turner." And then, as suddenly, her eagerness all fell away. "But it will come too late. My lord's love will be cold by then, if it is not so already."

But here, too, Mrs. Turner had advice of an unusual kind.

"There are ways to stir up and quicken love, to give it birth, or resurrect it from the dead—unfailing ways, my child. I know of my own knowledge, for once I was in need of help, and found it."

"What help? What manner of help?"

"The help of the unseen."

"Wizardry?" Her ladyship was disposed to be scornful. "Philtres and incantations and the like?"

She had heard of all this. Indeed, the reign of James was famous for its witch-hunting. But, in spite of persecution, there was no lack of warlocks in the land, who took the risk of being burnt for the sake of the rich and easy profits which their dark trade brought them.

"You laugh," said Mrs. Turner. "So do many—until, like myself, they have learnt to know better. There was a time when I, too, laughed. Yet I tell you that your needs can be supplied unerringly, that you can bind your lover to you with hoops of steel which no mortal power can break."

So solemn and emphatic was Mrs. Turner that my lady grew serious, and craved more knowledge.

It would be a fortnight later, and my Lord of Essex now progressing in his convalescence, when Rochester came one day into that pleasant room above the Privy Gardens where Sir Thomas conducted the affairs of England in his lordship's name. He carried in his hand a note, and there was a frown between his brows.

Sir Thomas looked up from his work—he was writing briskly—to bestow a greeting and ask a question. One and the other Rochester answered abstractedly, then stood hesitating. Finally, he crossed the room, and flung himself into a high-backed chair in the window embrasure. There he sat long, gnawing his golden beard, and ever and anon casting an eye upon the sheet of paper that he held. At last he rose, and spoke:

"Tom, here is a letter I have just received. It is anonymous. Look at it."

Sir Thomas looked. The writer, professing to address his lordship out of interest in himself and a certain lady who pined for love of him, who had suffered deeply in her separation from him, informed him that this lady, under the compulsion of the detestable man to whom she had been married, but was not, nor ever should be, her husband, would soon be going to share his home. That was affliction enough for this poor lady, but a greater affliction lay in her fear that his lordship should suppose her to go willingly, or even resigned, to martyrdom. It would immeasurably comfort her distress to know his lordship sure of her mind and constancy. Finally, would his lordship, out of his charity, give her a sign that he knew and understood, and that she still held in his thoughts the high regard she coveted above all other worldly possessions; and this without betraying the writer of the present letter by any allusion to it, such as in itself must mar the act of grace for which the writer pleaded entirely without the lady's consent, or even knowledge.

Sir Thomas read that curious letter twice. Thereafter he sat bemused awhile, then read it yet again, and again considered. Suddenly his sneering laugh rang out. His acute mind had pierced the heart of the riddle.

"Bah! A fortune teller!"

"A what?" said Rochester.

"Why, don't you see? My lady has sought knowledge of the future at some wizard's hands. To loosen her purse-strings he has foretold her that which she desired. To encompass the fulfilment of his predictions, and so bring her to his toils again, he sends you that touching letter, which he begs you not to mention. It is very simple."

"Simple?" said Rochester, and fetched a groan, then went away to the window again, and stood there, his back to the room, tapping the pane, what time the sunshine struck a nimbus of light from his flaxen head. Long he stood there, lost in dreams. Then he turned and quitted the room without another word, leaving Sir Thomas very thoughtful, doubting the wisdom of having resolved that riddle for his lordship.

Anon, when, some hours later, word was brought him—for he employed by now a tribe of spies—that my lord had gone to visit the Earl of Suffolk at his house—the house in which my Lady Essex had her temporary dwelling—Sir Thomas knew that he had been ill-advised. He feared the worst, and his mood was one of exasperation. But nothing followed, save that soon thereafter my lady accompanied her husband down to Chartley, and with her going Rochester lost his gaiety, and grew moody again and full of sighs.

The coming of the Elector Frederic in the autumn to marry the Princess Elizabeth, and the banquets, masques, and plays and tilting-matches that made up the festivities with which the occasion was celebrated, provided the handsome favourite with occupation and excitement enough to lift him once more out of the slough into which he had been sinking.

And then, quite suddenly—although for months he had been ailing—occurred the death of Henry, Prince of Wales. He succumbed to a mysterious, wasting sickness, and inevitably the rumour went about that he had been poisoned.

That matter kept the gossips busy until the following spring, when a fresh scandal was sprung upon the Court. Lady Essex had left her husband, and was back at her father's house, and it was said that she would presently divorce the earl.

Essex had dragged his lady down to Chartley, and my lady had seen that Chartley should be made into the likeness of hell for him until such time as he thought fit to desist from his course of stupid obstinacy, and learnt that a woman's love is not to be compelled by hectoring. Weary of the struggle, at last he had consented to let her go; and, his love for her now turned to hatred, he was eager to get rid of her and to regain his freedom; so eager that he consented to the divorce upon any grounds on which she might think fit to sue.

And now my lady wrote to Rochester, and told him how things stood, begging, for the sake of what lay between them, his influence with the king to obtain the Royal consent to the divorce that should set her free at last. Rochester went off to visit her at once, and was thereafter in daily attendance.

When Overbury learnt what was afoot, and that the thing he had most feared a year ago was come to pass, a panic seized him. He learnt it from Rochester himself, and was so wrought upon that he never hesitated bluntly to question Rochester as to his intentions.

"Why," said Rochester simply, "I intend to marry her as soon as her present marriage shall have been declared null."

"Null?" said Overbury dully. "Upon what grounds, pray?"

Rochester explained.

"Does Essex consent to this?" quoth Sir Thomas.

"He does. Her ladyship has brought him to it."

"But the courts will never pronounce in favour of such a divorce. Too much is known—"

"I think they will," Rochester cut in. "I have won the king's consent. It is just such a tangle of spiritual and temporal law as his mind loves. He is given the opportunity to expound learnedly and at length. Already he advances argument and precedent, biblical and legal. The archbishop may prove reluctant, I hear; but with the king for our advocate the end is foregone."

Overbury was very white. When he spoke—after a long moment's pause—his voice shook.

"Yet there are certain facts concerned with your relations with my lady which, if known, would prick this bubble for all time, so that not even the king would dare to insist that the courts should pronounce such a divorce."

"But they are known only to a friend of her ladyship's, who is safe, and to yourself, Tom, who are incapable of betraying my trust in you."

"And you intend to marry her?" said Overbury slowly. "You intend to make this wanton your wife and the mother of your children?"

"By Heaven, Tom—"

"Hear me out, man. I am your friend, I have been these years the keeper of your very soul and conscience, until I know more of you than you know yourself."

"Even so I will not suffer you to utter defamatory lies—"

"It is the truth—the truth." And Overbury struck the table with his fist. "Think man; look back. Before you there was Prince Henry, and, before Prince Henry how many were there? After she is your wife, and the thrill of running you into harness shall have passed, how many will there be again? There's wantonness in her blood, inherited from that bawd, her mother."

Rochester got up, his face livid, his blue eyes afire.

"Another word on this, Sir Thomas, and we quarrel. Already you have said more than I should endure from any other living man."

And he flung out of the room before Overbury could answer him.

Thereafter for weeks there was a coolness between them, and the name of her ladyship never once was mentioned, which rendered Sir Thomas the more anxious. Under the calm mask into which he schooled his countenance rage was seething in his soul, a rage that was being fanned by the reports he received from his spies—or, rather, from his man Davis, the only spy he could trust in such a matter.

He learnt now that there were frequent secret meetings between Rochester and Lady Essex at a house in Paternoster Row that belonged to Mrs. Turner. This was an indiscretion which, with those divorce proceedings pending, might yet ruin all were it discovered. But that afforded Sir Thomas little consolation and little ground for hope. Where all the parties were willing and consenting, there was no one who had an interest in discovering the truth.

Then, too, he observed between Northampton and Rochester a growing intimacy, and into Northampton's manner with Sir Thomas there crept a subtle change, a gradual increase of haughtiness, a display at times of positive hostility, which he had not earlier dared reveal. From this Sir Thomas read the confirmation of his worst fears. Northampton was gradually obtaining a surer hold upon Rochester, Rochester was daily now at Northumberland House with the earl, and—what made the matter infinitely worse—he sought to keep those visits secret from his secretary.

If before it had given Overbury anxiety to see Lady Essex become the mistress of Lord Rochester, with what feelings could he contemplate the measures that were to make her his patron's wife? The very manner in which Northampton and her parents lent their support was in itself eloquent of what must follow. Rochester would pass entirely into the power of the Howards. He would become their puppet; was, indeed, already fast becoming so. Once he was allied with them by marriage, the Howards—through him—would hold the reins of power.

Thus there would be an end to all Overbury's dreams, the frustration of his ambitions, the shattering of his confident hopes, the cruel waste of all his labour through these years that were gone since he set himself to make Rochester nominally, and himself actually, the greatest man in England.

When he learnt that a commission, headed by Dr. Abbott, Archbishop of Canterbury, had been appointed by the king to hold a preliminary inquiry into the lady's plea, Overbury exerted himself to make a last effort. He spoke to Rochester on the subject for the first time since that incipient quarrel some weeks ago.

"You are determined, Robin, to go through with this divorce and marriage?"

His lordship frowned.

"I am determined," was all he answered, coldly.

"Quis Deus vult perdere prius dementat," quoted Sir Thomas bitterly.

"What's that?"

"You are mad—stark mad. And you go to your ruin, wasting all that has been done. By Heaven, Robin, how shall I hope to make you see reason, that you may come to—"

"If you please, we will not talk of this any more—or ever," Rochester interrupted him. "You presume with me in giving counsel that is not sought."

"It would not be the first time," Overbury retorted bitterly, stung by that new accent of superiority, which seemed to mark a difference in their stations that had never yet been defined by either. "And never in all your life have you stood more sorely in need of counsel—sane counsel."

"Have done, I say." Rochester's cheeks empurpled. "You transcend the functions of your office. My marriage affairs are mine alone."

"You'll have forgotten that I wrote your love-letters," sneered Sir Thomas—"letters which won you this woman, revealing as they did beauties of mind which she took to be your own and for which she came to love you."

"I see that you want to quarrel with me."

"Heaven forbid, Robin. I want to stand your friend, as I have always stood. Have I ever in all these nine years that we have been together ceased to study your fortune, reputation, and understanding? Should I now want to study aught else? Will you not listen, Robin?"

"I will not. I have heard too much from you already."

It was the end. One card only remained with Sir Thomas. It was a powerful one, yet dangerous to play. If it failed, his own utter ruin would follow. But there was a slender chance that it might prevail; and no chance can be too desperate in a situation otherwise hopeless. If he did nothing he was surely ruined. The Howards would see to that once the power to accomplish it were safely in their hands and Rochester allied to them by marriage. Therefore, he resolved to play that final card.

He remained working very late that night, awaiting my lord's return. Towards midnight, at last he heard his steps in the gallery. He rose, went to the door, opened it, and stepped out to confront the viscount.

Rochester fell back at sight of him standing there tense and purposeful in the square shaft of light that fell from the door upon the half-gloom of the gallery.

"How now?" says my lord. "Are you up yet?"

"Nay, what do you here at this time of night?" was the rejoinder. "Will you never leave the company of your base woman?"

Rochester took a step forward, an inarticulate cry of anger on his lips, his hand half-raised to strike. But Overbury, undeterred, continued:

"I give you warning that if you are set on marrying this creature and so ruining your honour and yourself, you and I must part. I will leave you free to stand on your own legs."

Rochester controlled himself.

"Why, as to that," said he, "my own legs are strong enough and straight enough to bear me up. But, by Heaven," he added, with increasing passion, "I will be ever with you for this!"

"To-morrow morning you will let me have that portion that is due to me, and so we part."

"Right gladly," snapped his lordship, and turned to go.

But Sir Thomas stayed him.

"Even so; do not think to run counter to my advice in this matter. I shall never consent to see you married to that woman; and the power to prevent it is mine. I need but tell a little of what I know to put an end to this divorce. My Lord of Canterbury is an honest man. Give you good-night, my lord."

And he thrust past his lordship and away.

Rochester, his anger chilled by sudden fear—for he was not slow to understand the threat—swung round to follow; then he checked. He heard a movement in the gallery behind him, and looking over his shoulder was in time to see a shadow flit and vanish. The interview had been overheard. But to that he paid little attention, with this other thing to engage his mind. And because his mind, accustomed always to lean for support upon another, was unequal to deciding it alone, you see him betimes next morning seeking my Lord of Northampton at Northumberland House, and finding there her ladyship before him.

Those three held a council together upon the news that Rochester bore of Overbury's threat to thwart the divorce proceedings.

"He must be put away," said Northampton promptly, advice as obvious as it was sensible.

"Ay," breathed my lady, whose child-like eyes had grown hard and steely.

"Put away?" echoed Rochester, staring, his face grave to the point of horror.

"Put away somewhere where he can't talk, until divorce and marriage are accomplished, and until it will be too late for him to do a mischief," Northampton explained; but it may or may not have been what originally he had intended.

The crafty old earl was of a fluidity that could adapt itself ever to the vessel of circumstance.

Rochester's face lightened with relief, but my lady's grew darker with disappointment. Her wrath against the man who would rob her of the fruit of all her strivings, sufferings, and humiliations—and not until much later would these be revealed in full—was of such a quality as not to be satisfied by anything short of his head upon a charger. But she held her peace what time her uncle slowly developed a cunning scheme by which Sir Thomas might be snugly bestowed out of harm's way until all was done.

And so my lord goes back to Whitehall, and straight to Sir Thomas, whom he discovers, very downcast and gloomy, alone in his study.

"How now, Tom, are you sober yet?" asks my lord, planting himself squarely before his secretary. "Are you still set on leaving me?"

Sir Thomas looked up. He was by now a prey to the reaction of the gamester who, in a moment of desperate exaltation, has staked all upon a throw, and lost.

"What else?" said he, a little suspicious of my lord's half-friendly tone after what had passed last night.

"Very well, then." His lordship sighed. "But after nine years of such friendship as ours, we must not part in anger. Nor is there any need. If you must leave me, you shall. Perhaps, in all the circumstances, it is best. But at least stay until I can find you some office worthy of your talents, to be your reward for your loyal service to me."

A sneer passed over Overbury's face, and was gone before my lord perceived it. He understood, he thought. They sought to bribe him now to hold his tongue. He considered. After all, what could it profit him to talk? His blow had failed. Bewitched by that wanton, my lord had done with him. Whether he betrayed the things that could thwart the divorce or not, himself he was ruined. Why not, then, take the chance of this office, and use it as stepping-stone to the greatness which he believed he could then reach by his own talents. He returned cold thanks, that in themselves implied reluctant consent.

In the days that followed his relations with Rochester were, so far as the latter was concerned, as if naught had happened. And then, at the end of a week or so, my lord brought him word that he had spoken to the king, and recommended Sir Thomas's appointment to some office of importance in the State, and that the king was entirely favourably disposed.

Two days later—on April 21, 1613—Sir Thomas was waited upon by the Lord Chancellor, who came on behalf of his Majesty to offer him at his own choice the embassy to France, the Low Countries, or Russia.

A little dazzled by so glorious a prospect, far in excess of anything that he had dreamed, Sir Thomas spoke of the embarrassment of riches, and begged to be given until the morning to decide upon his choice. An hour later he was overwhelming Rochester with genuine thanks for the nobility of this recompense for his services, and begging his lordship to assist him in deciding which of the embassies to accept.

"Refuse all three," said my lord shortly, leaving Overbury aghast. "Pish!" he continued. "This is the hand of Pembroke. He knows what I have in mind for you, and thinks to thwart me by dazzling you with these. Refuse the embassies, and trust to me to find you a better office here at home."

"A better?" quoth Sir Thomas.

"The Secretaryship of State has, after all, remained vacant ever since Salisbury died," said Rochester, narrowing his eyes. "Why should not you hold the office, who have discharged its duties? Besides, to be frank, it is an office in which I must have a sure friend. Trust to me."

It was heaping coals of fire upon Overbury's head—so Overbury felt. He was overwhelmed with gratitude, shame, and confusion.

When, next morning, the Lord Chancellor returned for his answer, Sir Thomas, acting upon Rochester's advice, politely declined his Majesty's gracious proposal, pleading reasons of ill-health.

The Chancellor, who saw before him a lean, active young man showing every sign of vigour, was amazed, and said so, adding that his Majesty intended this for Sir Thomas's good and preferment, and that he would be very ill-advised if he refused.

Sir Thomas shrugged, and in that impatient, supercilious way that was by now habitual to him:

"I will not leave my country for any preferment in the world," said he.

Within three hours he was, by order of the king, under arrest for high contempt, and committed to the Tower.

Yet he was very far from suspecting that a trap had been baited for him, and that he had been taken in like a simpleton. There was no deep guile in Rochester to have suggested anything of the kind to Sir Thomas, and it did not occur to him just then that Rochester might have been merely acting upon the instructions of that wicked old father of guile, the Earl of Northampton.

It took five months of bitter and close captivity to bring Sir Thomas to a realisation of how utterly he had been fooled, to make him see that the replies to his letters which he received from Rochester, with their repeated assurances that his release was at hand, were no more than evasions, and that it was not intended to release him until such time as the events themselves should have robbed him of the means he had of thwarting them.

When understanding came to him at last, his strength had wasted in that close confinement, where no one from without was allowed to approach him, where he saw none but those who ministered to his needs.

The food procured him was dainty and appetising, proper for a prisoner of his position in the world. But he began to be taken with sickness, and saw the flesh waste from his bones until little more than skin remained to cover them, and he had scarce the strength to move. He was very ill, as was found by his brother-in-law, Lidcote, who obtained at last permission to visit him on one occasion, and a physician was desired to attend him. The physician came, was mystified by his condition, prescribed for him, and went his way.

Sir Thomas did not mend, and at last, on September 7, Weston, his gaoler, introduced into his room an apothecary's boy, who came to administer an injection.

To this Sir Thomas submitted. He was by then too weak to think or care of what might betide. A violent sickness followed almost immediately upon that injection, and thereafter the wretched man writhed in agony for a week, until finally he died.

The world received the news of his death almost at the same time as that of the pronouncement of the divorce of Lady Essex, who thereby became the Lady Frances Howard once more. But years were to pass before the connection between the two events was to become apparent.

In November, Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester, was created Earl of Somerset by his doting king, and a month later, with great pomp and ceremony, he was married to the Lady Frances Howard at Whitehall.

He had reached his highest honour, touched the high meridian of his fortunes, which thenceforward steadily declined, gradually at first, now that the place of the strong man who had been his brain and soul was empty, and finally went down in ruin to infamous extinction.

It was two years later when the first stone was knocked out of an edifice which thereafter crumbled rapidly. Sir Ralph Winwood, who was then Secretary of State, received information that Sir Thomas Overbury had come to his end in the Tower by foul means. An English lad, who had been an apothecary's apprentice, dying in Brussels, had on his death-bed confessed that he had been bribed to administer to Sir Thomas Overbury a poisoned injection, of which Sir Thomas had died.

Sir Ralph, who was a shrewd and capable man, sought an explanation at the hands of Sir Jarvis Elvis, the Lieutenant of the Tower, with astounding results.

Sir Jarvis confessed that he had entertained suspicions of this fact; he had discovered earlier attempts to poison Overbury on the part of the gaoler Weston, who had been placed in attendance upon the prisoner by the suggestion of the Earl of Northampton. Considering the powerful people protecting Weston, and assuming him, indeed, to be no less than their agent, Sir Jarvis had hesitated to interfere in what seemed to him to be a matter of State. He had, however, done his utmost surreptitiously to save Overbury. He had brought Weston to recognise the hideousness of what he did, obtained from him a promise to desist from further attempts upon the prisoner's life, and had thereafter kept a close watch upon him. Nevertheless, he suspected that, in a moment when his vigilance had been relaxed, the thing was done.

Sir Ralph laid the matter before the king, and received James's orders to proceed in it, but with caution and secrecy.

How far James suspected the implication of his minion—now Earl of Somerset—does not transpire. Whether a couple of years earlier, apprehensive for his favourite, he would not have ordered Winwood to drop the matter, is also a subject for speculation. But it happened that by this time he was becoming a little weary of Somerset, who was growing haggard in looks, careless in dress, irascible in temper, and subject to fits of moodiness and sullenness, where earlier he had been so comely and sunny.

Matters were made worse by the rise of a rival star in that handsome youth, George Buckingham, who had been deliberately thrust upon the King's attention. And, Somerset's jealousy being fired, he abandoned himself to a petulance that was almost feminine, upbraided, and at times even reviled, his king, who, though disposed to be long-suffering with his favourite, was growing very weary of this.

And now follow in quick succession, each incriminating the other, the trials of Weston, the gaoler, Sir Jarvis Elvis, Mrs. Turner, and Dr. Franklin, a wizard.

The Earl of Northampton would have been of the number, but that he had cheated justice by dying before these matters came to light. From the proceedings against these prisoners, each of whom was tried and hanged in turn, was drawn the dreadful, sordid story of that crime. All is disclosed, partly from their admissions, partly from old letters which were seized. How Mrs. Turner had procured for my Lady of Essex the services of the wizard Franklin, to ensure her, by means of incantations and witchcraft, the love of the now Earl of Somerset, and the withering of her then husband.

The waxen and leaden images employed in these loathsome, uncanny rites were displayed in court, to the deadly shame of my lady, who in her despair had lent herself to such foul practices. How poisons had been obtained by Mrs. Turner from Franklin and others for her ladyship, and how her ladyship had used these in tarts and jellies which had been sent to Weston to be given to Sir Thomas Overbury. How, when some of these measures had been frustrated by Sir Jarvis Elvis, so that the poison reaching the prisoner was not enough to make an end of him, Mrs. Turner had, on the countess's behalf, bribed the apothecary's lad with twenty pounds to administer a poisoned injection, to which Sir Thomas had finally succumbed.

When all those lesser criminals had been swept away to the hangman, came the turn of the Earl and Countess of Somerset, who were already in the Tower.

Somerset had been at Royston with the king in the previous October—just before the trial of Weston—when he received a summons from the Lord Chief Justice to go up to London for examination. He had until then refused to take the matter seriously, for the full facts were not yet disclosed, and he protested indignantly against the insolence of this summons. But James, who still showed him every tenderness, pacified him.

"Thou must go then, for if Coke send for me, I must go, too."

Anon, accompanying him to the waiting carriage, James wept over him, embracing him and praying him to make haste back.

Yet, when he was gone, the king was heard to sigh and say:

"I shall never see thy face more."

Somerset went up to London arrogantly confident. He went to learn the truth about the woman to whom he had sacrificed his friend, the beautiful child-woman who, when brought to trial in the following May, pleaded guilty to these revolting charges of witchcraft and murder, and yet, such was the magic of her beauty, filled the court with compassion.

Her disillusioned husband's trial followed. The case against him was weak, and had he been more master of his wits he could have rent it into shreds and triumphed over the enemies envy had made for him, enemies who stood gloating now over his downfall, his peers assembled there to judge him.

Oh, to have had Overbury then! Overbury, with his swift wit, his acute penetration, and his perfervid rhetoric. Overbury, to have revealed the hollowness of these charges, to have drawn sharply the line of my lord's association with his wife and her infamous uncle, and to have vindicated his own innocence.

Instead of Overbury, there was Overbury's last letter to him from the Tower, written when Overbury had no illusions left that he was being juggled by his former friend, fiercely upbraiding him his falseness and broken faith. And this letter was being read to him. Its closing sentence thundered through his tortured brain:

"So if you will deal thus wickedly with me, I am provided that, whether I live or die, your shame shall never die, but ever remain to the world to make you the most odious man living."

Thus Overbury had prophesied, and that prophecy crippled now his lordship's wits, robbed him of all defence.

He was found guilty, and sentenced, and he went back to the Tower, but not to die. Weston, on his trial, had said that the little fish would be taken and the big ones escape the net. That was another prophecy fulfilled. Somerset and his wife received a Royal pardon.

Their enemies accounted this an excessive mercy on the part of James. But in reality it was an atonement than which none could have been more bitter. They departed together from the Tower to go and hide their shame in the country, leaving behind them all the glories they had known, bereft of power, and became now objects of contempt. Their love was dead, and abhorrence—the abhorrence that comes of too much evil knowledge—now the only bond between them, who for love's sake had schemed and laboured so unremittingly and unscrupulously.

Her ladyship did not long survive. But Robert Carr lived on to a ripe old age, despised and forsaken of all save the ghost of his murdered friend, the man who had been the keeper of his soul, and who in death may well so have continued.


The Red Owl

Royal Magazine, August 1900

My Lord Cardinal was beside himself with passion. His face was livid; his dark eyes seemed full of uncanny yellow flames, and his long, white fingers kept tugging at his stiff grey beard, which almost seemed to bristle as I watched him.

"I will find the hound," he muttered. "I will find him if every house in Paris has to be torn from its foundation!"

I had earned during my thirty years of life the reputation of a brave man, quick alike with sword and tongue—but upon this occasion I fear me that I belied my reputation.

In a moment of levity, spurred by the praises of Richelieu, which I had heard fall from the lips of one of those cardinalists whom I hated, I had dared to vent my feelings in a poetic satire of twenty stanzas. I had called my poem "The Red Owl," and albeit my craft as a poet was of a sorry character, the secret detestation in which the Cardinal was held by many of those who cringed in fear about him, rendered my verses more than acceptable. Before a week was spent they were lisped by every court-gallant and guffawed over by every soldier, whilst within the month there was not a scullion in the whole of Paris who did not know them by heart.

The affair grew serious. An ill-advised dog of a musician, named Rouget, set an air to them as harsh and discordant as the words themselves; nevertheless—so inexplicable a thing is public taste—that air was being yelled in every wine-shop, and hummed in every ante-chamber.

The storm had burst the night before. His Eminence was playing chess with the King at the Louvre. With one of his bishops he had imperilled Louis' queen, and as he lay back in his chair to await the Royal move, some pestilent croaker must perforce pass under the window singing that infernal song.

The Cardinal pricked up his ears at the sound, then turning to Saint Simon who stood at his elbow:

"What is this new air that seems so much in vogue at present?"

A dead silence followed the question, during which the twitching of St. Simon's face was fearful to look upon. Then a page who stood by the door was apparently taken ill. He clapped his hand to his mouth, from which there came a stifling gurgle, He staggered, caught his foot on something, and crashed against an ornamental suit of armour, dragging it with him to the ground. Not content with the noise he had made in falling, he lay on his back emitting shriek after shriek of wild, unearthly laughter.

Nothing is so contagious as mirth. In the twinkling of an eye the train which that accursed page had fired wrought irreparable damage, and the suppressed merriment of the company spluttered for a moment, then exploded.

Now, whatever Richelieu may have been, he was not a fool. His piercing eye scanned each distorted face with a look of contempt, which told me that he had more than half guessed the riddle of their amusement.

It is a mystery to me how I contrived to remain in the room without betraying myself by my sober countenance. Fortunately the Cardinal's scrutiny of those about him was brief and contemptuously careless.

Without a word he calmly turned his attention once more to the chess-board, and waited for the King to move. But when the game was over, he got himself a copy of the verses in one of those mysterious and far-reaching ways at his command.

Next day I was visited by a lieutenant of Richelieu's Guards with a message from His Eminence that I was to attend him at once at the Palais Cardinal.

Albeit we were in June, a cold shiver ran through me at the summons, which I dared not disobey.

And that is how I came to find myself in the unenviable position whereof I write, face to face with the irate Cardinal, who threatened to have the author of the verses I had written broken on the wheel.

It restored in part my courage to find that I was unsuspected, and that Richelieu had merely sent for me in the hope that what he pleased to term my astuteness would aid him in his search for the culprit. I may mention that he held a great opinion of my judgment ever since I had unmasked that plot against his life which is known as the "Conspiracy of Pont St. Michel"; for, at the time of that conspiracy, I had held a lieutenancy in his guards which I had since relinquished in order to accept the commission in the dragoons which the King had graciously accorded me.

It was owing in a measure to that erstwhile appointment of mine in his guards that His Eminence still continued to honour me by employing my services. I had it in my heart to wish, as I stood before him now, that I had left the conspirators to carry out their work unmolested, for I knew him too well to expect mercy for the poor poet who had held him up to ridicule, and struck so deeply at his pride.

"Have you read the verses?" Richelieu inquired suddenly, holding up a copy of the fateful manuscript.

"I have not, Your Eminence," I answered without a blush.

"Then do so, Rouvroy," he said, "if you have the patience, which indeed, I doubt in a man of your taste. They are abominable drivel. I can understand the popularity they have attained in the wine shops, for I could swear that they were written by some drunken soldier, and, what is more, written when he was drunk, if one may judge by the stumbling rhythm."

My blood boiled at the sneers he thus launched upon my work, and in the heat of the moment I so forgot myself as to remark:

"I thought them smooth enough, your Eminence."

He eyed me for a second in blank surprise.

"I understood you to say that you had not read them," he remarked coldly.

The sweat seemed to burst through every pore of my body as I realised how unhappy had been my remark.

"But I have heard them sung in the streets, Monsigneur," I hastened to explain.

"Ah, true, true," he murmured; "and you told me nothing of it, Rouvroy! That was unkind of you; we might have had this fatuous minstrel ornamenting Montfauçon, or pondering over some fanciful translation of the 'De Profundis' in a dungeon of the Bastille, ere now—eh?" he cried with a chuckle that made my flesh creep. "But never fear, Rouvroy, we shall have him yet—this writer of epics—and when we have him"—his tone became a snarl, and his hands tightened viciously over the manuscript he held—"we will break him on the wheel—will we not, Chevalier?"

"Indeed I trust so, your Eminence," I answered with a shudder.

Thereafter he questioned me closely concerning the poem, and he seemed disappointed to find that I could throw no light upon the matter. In truth, what with his questions and his disappointment he angered me not a little, and had my position in the matter been a less delicate one, I should have asked him whether he desired to insult me by counting me among the spies he told me that he had at work. As it was I deemed it best to preserve a smiling countenance, until, in the end, he grew sick of my ignorance, and dismissed me, giving me his ring to kiss, and murmuring a valedictory "benedicat vos."

Now, albeit, when I left the Palais Cardinal my thoughts were gloomy enough, in the evening I found myself making merry with half-a-dozen roysterers at Valençon's, and turning my interview with Richelieu into a pretty story, which provoked many an uproarious burst of laughter.

And when I depicted the Cardinal's rage (without yet betraying my authorship), my uncle, the Duc de St. Simon, who was present, was the only one who took no part in the hilarity my narrative excited. On the contrary, his stern face became sterner as we became more boisterous.

He took an early opportunity of speaking to me alone, and then I noticed that there was an ominous solemnity in his manner.

"Claude," he said, laying his hand upon my shoulder, "you were unwise to write that satire, but you must be mad to make a jest of your interview with the Cardinal. 'Tis a sorry business, nephew, and I marvel greatly that you have the heart to laugh and make merry over it when at any moment your life may pay the penalty."

"'Tis a bad philosophy, monsieur, that teaches us to brood to-day over the thought of a possible death to-morrow, and one which a soldier cannot understand."

"A plague on your philosophy, sir," he answered with a grimace. "What philosophy was it made a poet of you? The Cardinal's spies," he continued, "are at work in every quarter. At any instant you may stand revealed to His Eminence as the author of 'L'Hibou Rouge.' What then, my friend, eh?"

And he made a significant and discomposing gesture by drawing his fingers gently across his throat. I shuddered despite myself, noting which:

"You may indeed tremble, nephew," he cried; "but harkee! Last night when that disastrous affair occurred at the Louvre"—and at the memory of it he could not repress a smile—"I foresaw what would ensue, and determined to send you a journey, which you must indeed undertake if you wish to escape the gallows. A trusty messenger is required to carry certain documents and a verbal message to His Majesty, Gutave Adolphe of Sweden. I obtained leave from the King two hours ago to entrust you with the mission."

A cry of joy escaped me.

"Your Grace has saved me!" I exclaimed.

"I sincerely hope so. You will start to-morrow, as early as you choose. Come to my hotel at noon, and I will give you your orders, and an escort of six troopers. You can send them back when you reach Stockholm. As for yourself, you will no doubt find sufficient interest at the Swedish court to detain you there until this affair is forgotten, or until I summon you to Paris. You understand?"

"Perfectly. How can I show my gratitude?"

He gazed at me for a moment with a twinkle in his roguish old eye.

"Hum—by writing no more poetry," he answered drily.

When a few moments later I rejoined Valençon and the others I was as blithe as a lark at dawn. Now when a man is merry he is wont to be thirsty besides; and as my joy was great so was my thirst excessive. Hence the events of that night are involved in a nebulous atmosphere which does not permit my retrospective glance to behold them over clearly.

Suffice it that after we had pledged every man and woman our memories could hit upon as deserving of a toast, and drunk confusion to "The Red Owl," by which sobriquet my lord Cardinal was now popularly known, I took my leave, and set out afoot and with unsteady gait to find my way home and prepare for the morrow's journey.

But the wine had drowned my wit so utterly that, as I stumbled up the Rue St. Antoine, I raised my voice and sang à pleine gorge the first lines of my satire.

There's an owl from church, That hath found a perch On the back of the royal throne, With a crafty head And a robe of red, And a dismally hooting tone.

Then, as I paused for breath, I was startled to hear a deep voice take up the thread of my song.

All honest folk pray That this red owl may To the devil take flight ere long. To hang him we hope, With a good stout rope On his gibbet at Montfauçon!

A moment later a tall and gaily dressed cavalier, in whom I recognised my friend De Merval, stood beside me, and pausing in his vociferations, greeted me with a hearty laugh.

I took him by the arm, and having grown thirsty again, I dragged him to the nearest cabaret, and there, over a bottle of red Anjou, I let my tongue run wild. I remember that he asked me if I knew the author of the song, to which I answered that the Cardinal would give his ears to know as much as I did on that score.

I dimly recollect that as I made this foolish statement the knave who was attending to our wants bent over the table, and eyed me for a moment with great scrutiny, then asked me bluntly if I were in earnest. Naturally I grew angry that a tavern servant should dare to join in the conversation of gentlemen, and ordered him away with small waste of compliments. But as the knave stirred not fast enough to please my mood, I hurled a bottle at him, then springing up with my sword already half unsheathed, I would have made short work of him had not de Merval caught me in his arms. And as he bore me forcibly out into the street, he stilled my frantic struggles by whispering in my ear:

"Be calm, Rouvroy! 'Tis Moinier, the Cardinal's spy!"

The words fell on me like icy water upon an overheated man. I realised fully what a fool I was for having let such words be overheard, and I shudder to think of what I might have added had not Moinier's excessive eagerness checked the tide of conversation.

It need, therefore, cause no wonder that I was at my uncle's hotel at an earlier hour next day than the one which he had appointed, nor yet that I effected my departure from Paris without taking leave of my Lord Cardinal.

I did not breathe freely until I was out of France, for at every moment I expected to be confronted with some potent messenger who would bid me return to Paris and acquaint His Eminence with the meaning of those rash words spoken in the presence of Moinier.

But—as I afterwards learnt—it was not until twenty-four hours after my departure, and when I was already well beyond pursuit, that the Cardinal was informed of my absence. The letters which I received at Stockholm from my uncle gave me certain tidings concerning Richelieu's attitude, calculated to quench any eagerness of mine to return. Indeed, I might have been well content with the Swedish Court, and minded to remain there for many a day, as St. Simon advised, had it not been for Antoinette de Rémy, whom I had left in Paris.

As it was, home-sickness beset me after two months absence, and I spent my days in endless sighings over the portrait of my lady, and vaguely wondered as to what she thought of my sudden disappearance—for in my haste I had dared to indulge in no leave-taking. I had sent her a message by my faithful friend Gaston de Brissac—the one man in all Paris who, besides my uncle, knew me for the author of "The Red Owl." But to that message no answer came to me at Stockholm, and this lack of news of her I loved, was proving a somewhat heavy burden to my spirit.

I knew not how much longer I should have endured my banishment, had not at last a letter reached me, brought by a gentleman of the court of Louis XIII, who chanced to journey to Stockholm some three months after my arrival there. The letter ran as follows:

"MY BELOVED CLAUDE,—Why am I without news of you? Why do you not come to me? I am in despair. My father has promised my hand to Monsieur de Chevalier Gaston de Brissac, and I am being forced into this hateful marriage. If you have not forgotten me, as they say; if you still love me, tarry not, but come at once and rescue your distressed—ANTOINETTE."

I set the letter on the table and pinned it there with my clenched hand, whilst I turned the strange news over in my mind.

Brissac, of all men! ...Brissac, who, for all his sins—and they were numerous indeed—I had loved and trusted as my dearest friend! Brissac knew how my affection stood. He would not serve a friend so scurvy a trick.

Moreover, it was preposterous that the Comte de Rémy should compel his daughter to wed Brissac—Brissac the duellist, the gamester, the libertine, the pauper.

This much I said to M. de Presnil.

"From what I have observed, Chevalier," he answered, "I gather that Brissac is possessed of some secret concerning M. de Rémy—the Count was ever a plotter, with an unhealthy penchant towards Orleans."

"Pardieu!" I ejaculated. "I understand. Brissac has forced the Count to give him his daughter in marriage in exchange for his silence. I left Paris, M. de Presnil, because I was possessed of certain information, which my uncle informs me, my Lord Cardinal will drag from me by torture if he can seize me. But as God lives, Monsieur, I shall be back in Paris before the month is out—Cardinal or no Cardinal."

I left Stockholm that very night, and a week later I set sail from Gottenburg. Another week and I was landed at Antwerp. Then away—as fast as whip and spur could drive horseflesh—for Paris. Madly I went, through Termonde, Ninove, Valenciennes, Cambrai and St. Quentin, nourished by a fever of haste that made me crave but scant food or rest.

And so it befell that on the nineteenth day after my departure from Stockholm, I drew rein—grimy with sweat and dust, haggard, parched and travel worn—at the gates of the Hotel St. Simon in the Rue St. Honoré. Yet when in answer to my inquiries, a lacquey informed that M. le Duc was in the library with the Chevalier de Brissac, I forgot fatigue and grime, and more like one freshly out of bed than from the saddle, I bounded up the stairs, shaking a cloud of dust from my boots at every stride. I paused a moment outside the library to prepare myself for what must inevitably follow; then turning the handle without warning, I opened the door and entered.

My uncle and M. de Brissac were seated at a table with a backgammon board between them, intent upon the game.

"What the—" began my uncle peevishly; then, recognising his nephew behind my mask of dust—"Claude!" he gasped, digging his hands into his portly sides, and bending upon me a look of ineffable surprise. "What new folly is this?"

"'Tis no folly, sir," I answered, with a certain dignity in my meekness. "My honour demanded my immediate return."

De Brissac, upon whose face I kept my eyes, paled slightly at the words, and drummed absently with his fingers upon the table.

"Your honour?" echoed my uncle. "Faugh! What of your life? Have you forgotten the dangers that threaten you in Paris?"

I needed no further invitation to explain, and this I did as succinctly as I might, yet without restraining one jot of the bitter scorn and contempt for de Brissac which rose to my lips. More than once he sought to interrupt my narrative, but my uncle prevailed upon him to be patient to the end.

When I had done, I drew from my pocket the letter that I had received from Antoinette, and handed it to the Duke as proof of what I stated.

St. Simon took the paper from my hand, and in silence he perused it. Then bending upon de Brissac a look of utter loathing, he bade him leave the house.

De Brissac took up his hat, and pressing it well over his brows—"I shall not go," he said in a cold, formal voice, "until I have received from M. de Rouvroy satisfaction for the insult offered me."

"To demand satisfaction, and not to render it, have I travelled to Paris and jeopardised my liberty," I answered with equal loftiness. "I am at your service, M. de Brissac."

He laughed, and tossed his handsome head disdainfully. Then suddenly he appeared to ponder.

"Stay, M. de Rouvroy," he murmured. "Since you put it that way, I don't think that I shall fight."

"Not fight?" I cried.

"You ask me for satisfaction. I have none to give, and I will not risk the penalty of the edict for killing you."

From other lips this would have sounded boastful and indecent, but de Brissac's swordsmanship was so far famed a thing that even he himself could not make pretence of ignoring it, and when he spoke of dealing death, it seemed a natural enough assertion to which past victories had given him the right.

"Hound!" I cried, beside myself with fury, and had not St. Simon got in the way I should have flung myself upon him.

"Steady, fool," snarled de Brissac. "I have a deadler weapon for you than my sword. Monseigneur has a score to settle with you for running away. He will thank anyone for the news of your return, and—Mortdieu!—he will be still more grateful for such information as I might impart to him concerning the author of a famous lampoon." He laughed harshly, then, doffing his hat, he bowed mockingly before us.

"Adieu, Messieurs!" he murmured. "There is a word that I would whisper in the shaveling's ear. 'Tis but a name. The name of the man who wrote the immortal lines of 'The Red Owl.'"

But this was more than I could brook. Mad with rage, I drew before my uncle could interfere.

"You Judas!" I cried. "Look to yourself!"

The Duke no longer sought to hinder me. He realised that I had no alternative. For a moment de Brissac still hesitated.

"M. de Rouvroy," he expostulated, with an effrontery that was past crediting, "believe me this is unwise. Let us rather—"

"As God lives, sir," I broke in, "if you do not draw, I'll kill you as you stand."

He saw the madness in my eyes, and knew that I was in earnest. He shrugged his shoulders and cast his cloak from him. The next moment there was the clash of our meeting blades.

With the first few passes I grew calmer, and for some moments I fought mechanically, a dull despair creeping into my heart with the reflection that do what I would, Antoinette must lose her only protector. I had no doubt as to the issue. I might fence closely for a while and keep his point well checked, but soon I would tire; my parries would grow wider, and then—the end.

It may seem strange to some that, realising all this, I had insisted upon fighting. But the law of the code of honour by which I had lived left me no alternative.

Then, of a sudden, I waxed fierce and desperate. Why despond? This was not playing the man! My fury was soon apparent in my fencing. I pressed him hard, and he gave way before me. Madly I followed him, and I had all but had him with a quick thrust in low quarte. He parried with more vigour than caution, and for a second he was uncovered. I saw the opening and lunged with my whole weight and to my fullest stretch—forgetting it was a polished floor we trod—and as I lunged I slipped. My left knee struck the floor, and simultaneously my sword—from which my eyes had been diverted—seemed caught in mid-air.

I saved myself with my left hand from rolling over sideways, then, as I looked up, Expecting at any moment the coup de grace, there was a topple and a crash, and de Brissac was down, too, upon his knees, with my sword transfixing him from breast to back. My uncle explained to me afterwards that, upon seeing me slip, de Brissac had lowered his blade, and that owing to the shadow which he cast in front of him, he only discovered when it was too late that in spite of my mishap, my right arm maintained the rigid attitude of the lunge.

Bewildered by this sudden ending—which seemed to me like an intervention of Heaven—I withdrew my sword, and, flinging it from me, I caught de Brissac in my arms as he fell forward swooning.

In the silence we raised him, and laid him gently upon a couch. Whilst I unfastened his doublet, and vainly attempted to staunch the blood with my kerchief, my uncle turned to go for assistance.

An exclamation escaped his lips as he did so, which caused me to look round. For a moment I believed my over-wrought mind had conjured up a phantom to dismay me, as, framed in the doorway, I beheld a tall and well-known figure in scarlet robes. A pair of glittering eyes met my astonished gaze, and seemed to fascinate me.

'Twas my uncle's voice that broke the spell at last.

"What intrusion is this?" he queried proudly. "Mort de ma vie, Monseigneur, is not a man's house his own?"

"You are somewhat brusque and hasty in your speeches, Duke," said Richelieu—for, by the Mass! 'twas he. "News was brought me half-an-hour ago of the arrival in Paris of my honoured friend, M. le Chevalier de Rouvroy. His sudden return causes me as great joy as did his abrupt departure give me pain, and"—his voice was now cold and harsh—"I hastened hither to welcome him."

His restless eye, which had kept travelling from St. Simon to me, and ever and anon to the figure on the couch, was now bent full upon me.

"It is regrettable that I did not arrive a moment earlier, so that this tragedy might have been averted." Then, suddenly recognising the face of him who lay upon the couch, "What!" he exclaimed in astonishment, "de Brissac fallen at last! Ma vie, M. de Rouvroy, you have wasted no time since your return."

His tone had become a snarl, and I read my doom in it. I had killed a man, and His Eminence might, in virtue of his edict, have me hanged for it, if it so pleased him. He would offer me my life, I thought, in exchange for the author of "The Red Owl," and whether I gave him the information or held my peace it would all be one.

Suddenly de Brissac stirred and clutched my arm w ith his hand, striving to raise himself.

"Ah," he muttered in a faint voice, "Monseigneur has come to me. I may die content."

I turned to him once more, and for the first time gave serious attention to his wound. At a glance I saw that he was dying.

"Aye," he said with a bitter smile, "de Brissac has fought his last fight. Diable, but I deserved a better end than to be spitted by accident. But wait, I have not done yet." Then raising his voice slightly and at great cost, "Monseigneur," he called, turning his eyes towards Richelieu, "will you deign to approach? There is something that I would say to you concerning 'The Red Owl.'"

The Cardinal started eagerly at the words, then moved to the side of the dying man.

St. Simon shot a sharp, eloquent glance at me as I stood there, mute and despairing, to hear my death sentence. Then de Brissac's low voice broke the silence.

"I was to have married Mademoiselle de Rémy," he began. "My friend, Claude de Rouvroy, learnt this at Stockholm. He loved the lady, and she loved him. He hastened to Paris to expostulate with me, arriving to-night and meeting me here. I would not listen to his pleading, and so he swore that since I had thus betrayed his friendship and his trust, he would no longer shield me at his own cost and at the peril of his life."

My uncle started violently forward, but fortunately the Cardinal's back was towards him, and Richelieu noted not the movement.

"He was about to visit Your Eminence," de Brissac pursued—his voice growing weaker and his breath coming in quick, short gasps—"to tell you something which he alone could tell. He wished to give you the name of the author of 'The Red Owl.' I barred his way, sword in hand. He defended himself, and retribution has overtaken me."

Again he paused, and the Cardinal's impassive face bent lower.

"Who wrote the poem?" he inquired in a curious voice.

"I did," replied Brissac, in clear, distinct tones; then his head sank back, and again he swooned.

I stood like one turned to stone, and it is a marvel that I did not betray myself when the Cardinal addressed to me some words wherein he lauded my former self-sacrifice, which had made me suffer banishment in order to shield a friend.

Slowly I realised how much de Brissac's falsehood meant to me. I was no longer a fugitive from the Cardinal's vengeance. I might go about freely and fearlessly as I had done before I wrote those accursed lines, and I might marry Antoinette upon the morrow if I chose. If ever a lie stood to a man's credit in the Book of Judgment, surely 'twas that magnanimous lie of the dying duellist.

When the Cardinal was gone, and I had no longer a part to act, I flung myself upon my knees beside the couch, and took de Brissac's hand in mine. He opened his eyes, and as they met my gaze, he attempted to smile.

"Forgive me, Gaston," I cried.

"Claude, dear friend," he murmured, "do you forgive me my treason towards you."

He raised himself by a last supreme effort.

"Farewell Claude! Farewell Duke!" he said. Then, as he sank back again—"Ma vie," he cried, with something between a laugh and a sob in his voice, "I may have lived like a blackguard, but I die a gentleman!"

And thus he passed.


The Sacrifice

English Illustrated Magazine, February 1904

"Paul, you must go away; you must leave Marseilles," she wailed.

He turned from the window at which he had stood—a fine figure, straight and lithe as a rapier, and a fine face which dissipation had made white and haggard. His sable hair was tied into a slovenly queue, and escaping streaks of it were matted about his forehead. His dress, though slovenly as well, showed yet signs of a modishness which it was dangerous for a patriot to affect, lest the ever-ready breath of suspicion should whisper the fatal charge—aristocrat. He laughed a laugh that was half a sneer.

"You forget, Citoyenne, that I am not in Marseilles for my amusement, but upon the business of the French Republic—One and Indivisible. You forget that I am become a priest of the gospel of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death."

"Do you mock me, Paul?"

"Mock you? Oh no, Citoyenne, I mock myself. I am reminded to-day that it was for you that I became all this; whilst you"—he paused, his lip curling contemptuously—"you have married. Oh, no, Citoyenne, I do not mock you. I admire your well-balanced mind that led you to make so wise a choice, and link your fate with that of a man so powerful as the Prefect, your husband." He spat the last word from his mouth like a foul thing.

"Paul, you are cruel. You do not know what you say. Ah, Dieu! I have been a coward, but no worse. After you left Boisvieux, I was suspected of being in correspondence with emigrés. There was no foundation for the suspicion, but of what account is evidence in these times? I was thrown into prison. The guillotine was ever hungry, and victims were everywhere being sought for it. I was doomed, and I was afraid to die. And then, in my extremity, Duroc saw me in prison. He returned again and again; he spoke to me, and in the end he offered to save me if I would marry him. As I live, as Heaven is my witness, Paul, his offer was loathsome, and I thought of you. But I thought also of death. Ah, do not sneer, Paul! Had you been there, or had I had news of you to strengthen me, I think I could have withstood him. But it was six months since I had heard from you, and—and I was afraid to die."

She paused and sat rigid, her frail hands clasped and gripped between her knees, her grey eyes looking up to him out of her pale delicate face, in an agony of appeal.

Meeting her gaze he smiled. Then his face took on a grim expression.

"This is true, Berthe?"

"It is true, Paul."

He approached, and set a strong nervous hand upon her brown head; she started under his touch, and drew away.

"Berthe," said he, quietly, "few know the power that is mine. Before long my name shall ring through France as that of one of the great ones of the Republic. Few know the business that brings me South. Your husband certainly does not. In Paris a battle of giants is being fought, and Robespierre, who is my friend, and on whose business I am here, shall triumph. My mission to Marseilles, Berthe, is of such a character and invests me with such power, that at a word from me this husband of yours shall vanish as the snow vanishes beneath the sun. I have no need to even lie away his life. I need but say that I have learnt that he uses the power intrusted him to advance his own interests, to serve his own vile ends. He has done this in your own case, as you have told me. For this, within a little week, the Citoyen Prefect, Cassius Duroc, shall mount the steps of the patriotic guillotine. And then, Berthe—," he cried, opening wide his arms, and smiling down upon her. But she drew away from him with a cry of horror.

"No, no!"

He stood still. His arms fell heavily to his sides, and his face grew hard.

"I understand. You have lied to me. This story of the fear of death was a fabrication to—"

"It was true, Paul. I swear it as Heaven is my witness."

"Heaven!" he sneered. "There is no Heaven. The Republic has abolished it—just as it has abolished truth and honesty."

"Paul," she pleaded, stretching out her hands, "have pity!"

"Pity!" he echoed fiercely, and as he spoke he caught her wrists in a grip that made her wince with pain. "Pity on whom? On you or on him? Speak, you little fool. Answer me. Let me know something of what is in your heart. On whom shall I have pity?"

"On me and him. Leave Marseilles. Forget me, Paul. I am only a poor, cowardly thing."

He flung her hands from him, and turning, he crossed again to the window.

"What need to fool me? Why could you not in honesty have said that you had changed your fickle mind? that this provincial Prefect, this kennel-bred canaille, pleased you better than the unfortunate Paul de Lavoisie? Is it ever a woman's way to act a part—to live a lie?"

"I have done neither; I have told you the truth," she insisted.

He swung round again, his black eyes afire.

"But you love this man?"

"I have a child," she murmured, "and it is my duty to my little son to preserve his father."

He made a sudden gesture of anger or of loathing. Then checking himself, he crossed to the table and took up his cocked hat on which the Convention's Tricolor was ostentatiously displayed.

"Citoyenne," said he, deliberately and coldly, "I shall leave Marseilles within a week. While I am here, I shall not again intrude myself upon you. Will you give yourself the trouble of telling the Citoyen-Prefect Duroc that I regret not to have found him here, but that I shall expect to see him without delay at my lodging—32, Rue de Larive? Say the Deputy Lavoisie on pressing business of the Republic. Adieu, Citoyenne."

He made her a bow of the old salons, where first they had met, and setting his hat upon his black, ill-kempt head, he passed out and down the stairs into the sunlit street.

In a marvelling silence she watched his departure. Once her face grew almost eager, and she half rose to call him back. But ere she could obey the impulse the light had faded again from her grey eyes, and sinking into her chair she sat and thought, and presently she wept.

Later she dried her tears, and her mood was one of resentment. What right, she asked herself, had this man to come to her out of the past? She had thought him dead: indeed, for the past two years she had already ceased to think of him, and now of a sudden he was returned to sow unrest and fear in her soul. He was returned invested with an awful power, and her knowledge of his bold, unyielding character gave rise to the fear that he would over-ride all obstacles that lay betwixt them, recking nothing of the cost. Her husband, the father of her child, was doomed if this man had his way. Had he not shown her how a word from him could destroy Duroc? It was true that she did not love her husband, but Habit often sits so closely in the place that should be Love's that the one may be confounded with the other. So was it now with her. She remembered only that Duroc was the father of her boy. She confessed to herself that perhaps she did not love him, but neither did she any longer love Lavoisie. Had he come to her hunted and proscribed, pity might have re-ignited the old flame. But he came powerful; commanding where he should have pleaded; harsh where he should have been tender; scornful where he should have been compassionate.

Since he had left her side it seemed to her that she had grown to hate him, for as fine and as easy to overstep is the line between love and hate as that which divides the lofty from the grotesque. And so out of her sorrow had anger grown, and out of anger hatred, bringing with it hatred's desire for the destruction of the hated. As she sat and thought her resolve grew strong and assumed a definite shape. Ere Lavoisie could be given time to strike her husband he must himself be laid low. In Paris he might be powerful, the beloved of the sans-culottes, the friend and confidant of Robespierre, the very arbiter of the Republic. But here in Marseilles was not her husband equally powerful, given that, forewarned, he should have the advantage of the first blow? Would not a word from him arouse the rabble—that greatest power in terror-ridden France—His Majesty King Mob.

She had known Paul in the old days for an aristocrat; his name had then been de Lavoisie. Would it not suffice that she should tell her husband this? Her zeal for the Republic would please him. His own zeal and his vulgar sycophancy to the majesty of the People would do the rest. He would visit Lavoisie with the rabble at his heels. There would be no tribunal, no chance for the young deputy to present his papers, the tone of which might intimidate the public prosecutor and make him pause to communicate first with the great ones in Paris. No; he would be pointed out to the mob as an aristocrat; his name and title—the Chevalier Paul de Lavoisie—should be their warrant; he would be lanterné upon the spot, and thus should her fears be laid to rest.

Had she but had for one brief moment the gift of Asmodeus—had she been able, through walls and roofs, to take one glimpse of her poor lover—perhaps she had been less pitiless in her fell determination.

In the mean lodging he had hired in the Rue de Larive sat the Deputy Lavoisie, his chin in his palms, and his eyes upon a bundle of letters spread before him on the table, whilst his soul was writhing under the pain of the old wound whose cicatrice had been so rudely re-opened. The letters were letters she had written him long ago, and which he carried ever with him, treasuring them as the faithful treasure the relics of their patron saints. Again he read pages here and there, fervid with the instinctive poetry that is youth's when it loves. They mostly began "Mon bien aimé"; they mostly ended "Whilst I live I am thine—Berthe." They were mostly undated—for what does love reck of time or days?

"Whilst I live I am thine," he read aloud. Then with a hard, sudden laugh he rose, gathered the papers together and tied them into a bundle, which he contemptuously flung into the valise lying open on the floor.

Thereafter he set himself to pace the chamber, awaiting the Prefect's visit. By not so much as one hair's breadth had he swerved from his determination to depart as soon as he should have concluded the Convention's business at Marseilles, never again to cross the path of Berthe Duroc or her husband, and well might she have spared herself the playing of the treacherous rôle she was resolved upon.

The evening faded into dusk. Mechanically Paul lighted the candles on his table, and sat down to prepare his report for the Incorruptible.

At last steps sounded on the stairs, and a knock fell upon his door. He went to admit a short, bulky man with a red, coarse face and straggling greasy beard and hair of black, wearing a sword and a dirty Tricolour sash. He was followed by two soldiers of the National Guard. Marvelling at this military escort, Paul eyed the man with pardonable curiosity and justifiable disgust.

"You are the Citoyen-Prefect Duroc?" he inquired.

"I am that humble servant of the Nation," answered the newcomer grimly.

"I have been expecting you these two hours. Will you be seated?"

Paul closed the door, observing that the soldiers ranged themselves on either side of it, as though to guard the threshold.

The Prefect advanced slowly towards the table, his lips pursed and his shaggy head bent forward. He had not taken the line of action his wife had suggested. She had dared tell him nothing of what she knew of this man's present connection with Robespierre. She had not foreseen that to Duroc it should appear more profitable to arrest and arraign Lavoisie, and thus cover himself with glory, not only in the eyes of the people of Marseilles, but also of the Executive in Paris for his shrewdness and diligence in discovering and apprehending a suspicious ci-devant. In this spirit had he come, leaving Berthe in an agony of apprehension.

He turned now, and bent a bloodshot eye on the young deputy.

"So you expected me?" he leered. "You had cause to, in all truth. I am glad not to disappoint you."

"You take a strange tone, Citoyen-Prefect. Do you know who I am?"

"Perfectly," answered the other, with grim facetiousness. "You are the ci-devant Chevalier Paul de Lavoisie, and I arrest you as an aristocrat, an enemy of the Convention, and a danger to the public safety." He made a sign, and the soldiers to place themselves on either side of Paul advanced before he could recover from his astonishment. "We have eyes in Marseilles, my aristocrat," said Duroc, with an unpleasant laugh.

"You have fools, too, it seems," returned the deputy with an answering laugh no less unpleasant. "The Republic, my friend, has a way of curing folly by depriving fools of the cause of it—their heads."

The confidence of Paul's tones gave the Prefect pause. "Is that all you have to advance in your defence?"

The temptation to allow this man to execute his egregious blunder and carry him before the tribunal of Marseilles proved irresistible to Paul. In his pocket was Robespierre's passe-partout, the sight of which should make the public prosecutor very humble, and cause Duroc anon to pay very dearly for his mistaken zeal.

"Neither is this a time, nor are you a man to whom I have any defence to offer. Even at the proper season I shall have no defence to advance—merely a fact."

"You brazen it after the manner of your kind," sneered Duroc. He shrugged his broad shoulders and took up one of the candles. "Meanwhile, my friend, we will look through your effects."

What is there swifter than thought? In a second of time Paul had remembered Berthe's letters; he had remembered that they were undated; he had in that second considered the brutality of this man's appearance, the possible—the certain—brutality of his ways; in that second he had had a vision of the future—Berthe's future—with this loathsome creature informed of the contents of those letters, ignorant of when they were written, ill-treating—possibly going the length of killing—her in his jealous brutality. At all costs—even at the sacrifice of the pleasure of working this ruffian's discomfiture before the tribunal—he must declare himself and prevent the search being made.

"Wait!" In a shout that was like the crack of a pistol, he delivered the imperative word.

Duroc turned, candle in hand, and raised his eyebrows. The note of sudden alarm in the voice hitherto so calm had not gone unperceived.

"It seems I have touched you, eh?"

"Fool!" thundered the deputy. "I was the Chevalier Paul de Lavoisie; but I have marched with the times. To-day I am the Citoyen-Deputy Paul Lavoisie, a member of the Executive, and here on the Convention's business, as this warrant of Maximilien Robespierre shows."

He stepped forward now and thrust his warrant under the Prefect's nose. The soldiers, hesitating in view of this announcement, hung back. Duroc saw the warrant, and his countenance fell. Then suddenly remembering again the unmistakable alarm with which Lavoisie had arrested him in his intention to search, and coupling it with this disclosure following upon the declaration that this was neither the time nor Duroc the person to whom he had any defence to offer, the Prefect's suspicions awoke again.

"It seems in order," said he, guardedly, "and had you shown it me when first I entered, all would have been well. But you appear to conceal something, Citoyen, and I shall not bow to that document until I have made my search."

"But do you not understand that a man in my position has papers which are not for the eyes of everybody. I warn you that in tampering with State secrets you risk your head."

The Prefect grinned for answer.

"You talk like a follower of Capet. The Republic, my friend, has no secrets she cannot make known to her officers and to the nation. You forget that the Republic is the people. I shall make my search."

"At your peril."

"Pah!"

Turning, the prefect came upon the valise. He stooped, and when he rose again Lavoisie was at his side.

"What are these?"

"Private papers of my own," answered Paul, whose cheeks were very white.

"Let us look at them."

Duroc turned again to the table, and set down the candlestick. For an instant he put down the packet to unfasten it. In that instant Paul had pounced upon it, and suddenly drawing a pistol from his breast, he presented it at Duroc's head.

"If you or either of your men moves an inch, I'll shoot you," said he, with a calm smile on his pale face.

Duroc blenched.

"You fool, this will cost you your life," he muttered.

But Paul answered nothing. With his right hand holding the pistol to the head of Duroc, he was weighing in his left the bundle of letters, just as in his mind he was weighing the step he was about to take. If he gave those letters up to Duroc he had nothing to fear for himself; if he did not, everything. But on the other hand was Berthe. He settled the matter in his mind, and, that done, he held the letters over the flame of the candle.

"Bethink you," cried Duroc, "that by burning those papers you are acknowledging their treasonable nature in the presence of three witnesses, and you are destroying yourself."

"I know it," answered Paul coldly. The letters were curling up and beginning to crackle with the heat.

"Do not delude yourself that your warrant from Robespierre can save you from the consequences of such an act. Robespierre himself, were he to come hither in person, could not save you from the guillotine."

"I know it," answered Paul again. "I have thought of all that."

The package burst suddenly into flame. The blaze crept up and licked his hand; but like a modern Mutius he shrank not, nor did he relinquish his hold until the flames were dead, and naught but a little heap of black ashes was left to flutter from his scorched and blistered hand. Then, with a ghastly laugh, he stepped back, and flung his pistol on the table.

"Do your will, Citoyen. I am your prisoner."

And thus did Paul Lavoisie, who had entered that house one of the most powerful personages of the Revolution, pass out a doomed man. He had for consolation the fact that he was sacrificing his life for the sake of the woman he loved; he did it without regret, with, in fact, a glow of exultation in his soul. But even of this was he to be robbed.

"Citoyen-Prefect," said he, struck by a sudden thought, "how came you to learn that I was the ci-devant Chevalier de Lavoisie?"

"From my wife, Citoyen," said Duroc, who saw no reason for concealing the fact. "She is from Boisvieux, and she recognised you when you presented yourself at my house to-day."

One of those all-illuminating flashes of revelation that at times we are accorded—and which often it were better we were not—came then to Lavoisie. He reeled suddenly forward, his hand going up to his head.

"Mon Dieu!" he gasped.

"What is the matter?" inquired Duroc.

"Nothing, Citoyen. A sudden faintness; the pain in my hand," he faltered. "Give me your arm, Citoyen Soldier."


The Scourge

Premier Magazine, Mar 1916

Chapter I.

The colonel bethought him of George Monk, who, as the result of a supple conscience and a sort of weather-cock facility in adjusting himself to any wind that blew, was now Duke of Albemarle. Between Monk and himself lay that which had made him count upon the duke's favour and protection, and so, upon arriving in England a month ago, he had gone straight to Whitehall in quest of Albemarle. Albemarle had given him a friendly reception, and had offered him an appointment in those Indies which the Queen had lately brought to the English Crown as her marriage portion.

Colonel Holles, being attached to the fleshpots of Europe, and accounting himself too old at forty to exchange them for life among savages—as he conceived the inhabitants of Bombay—begged Albemarle to think of some better employment for him at home.

"At home!" Albemarle had cried. "Ye're surely mad. A man of your past, of your association with the Commonwealth and the regicides! Overseas is the place for you. You'll be safe bestowed there, out of the sight of those who might pry into your antecedents; the pay is high, and—"

"But is there not a Bill of Indemnity?" cried the colonel.

"Why, so there is," said the duke, "and there are those who trusted to it. If you go by way of Fleet Street some of their skulls will grin down at you from Temple Bar. I tell you, man, there is none so high but the King's vengeance will drag him down, none so low but it will pull him up. Will you wait to be disembowelled at Charing Cross?"

"Faith, no!" said the colonel. "I haven't the stomach for it."

"Then you'll accept this post in the Indies. I tell you it is greatly coveted, and the pay is good. Think of it."

"I'll think of it," said the colonel, without enthusiasm.

He had left the great man's presence, and thought of it no more until now, as he sat at the window of the Paul's Head, thinking of it, perforce, at last, under the spur of desperation.

"Oh, the great and the dreadful God!" came the preacher's voice in a scream, meant to arrest his thinning audience.

Startled, Holles flung a curse at him, then lapsed back into his hopeless contemplation of the Indies—to him a land of greasy black women, and evil-smelling, apish men. It revolted him to think of ending his days in such a land and finally quenching there the lofty ambitions of his youth.

Time was when he had seen himself a leader of men riding among the great ones of the world. Time was—some twenty years ago, alas!—when he had boasted that he would bend his steps to such a destiny. His mind swept back to those ardent, happy days when, as a lad of twenty, the pure white flame of adolescent love had fired him to his lofty purpose. He beheld again—with those eyes that seemed to be staring at that mouthing scarecrow on the cathedral steps—the lovely face of Nancy Sylvester, a mere child of sixteen, the little maid who had awakened high ambition in his soul.

He was the son of a prosperous Kentish yeoman, who had farmed some three hundred acres of land in the neighbourhood of Ashford whereof Nancy's father had been the vicar. He had inherited the thews but not the spirit of a farmer; he had ever been a dreamer of dreams, and when he fell in love with Nancy and found his love returned, those dreams of his became insistent in their demand for fulfilment. Because he loved her he had promised to go forth and conquer the world that he might one day return and toss it into her lap as a trifling earnest of his homage.

He sighed, and a little smile fluttered under the beard that masked the hard, resolute mouth. He had been a clean-limbed, clean-minded lad in those far-off days. Clean-limbed he was still—the hardness of his life had kept him so—but as for his clean-mindedness, he had left it in the stews and kennels of the Low Countries, lost it in the quagmire of a soldier's life, through which he had pursued in vain the Jack-o'-Lanthorn of his ambition. And yet, like some sweet flower blossoming upon a dung-hill, there abode with him still the fragrant memory of Nancy Sylvester, whom he had never since beheld.

He had sought her once, ten years ago. He had returned to Ashford as empty-handed as when he went forth, a weary, jaded, embittered man, seeking repose, ready to earn it even at the price of rusticity, since he was satiated with the dyspeptic fare of the great world through which he had hacked his adventurer's way to nothing. But the vicar had been dead six years, and Nancy had gone none could tell him whither. His father, too, had been long dead, and in his stead the colonel's elder brother reigned and reared a family of his own. He had given the wanderer so cold a welcome that it had set him wandering again forthwith. He had gone abroad, and but for the war with Holland and that cursed spark of patriotism he would not be in England now.

Again the voice of the preacher disturbed him.

"Repent!" it cried. "The pestilence lays siege unto this city of the ungodly. Like a raging lion doth it stalk around, seeking where it may leap upon you. Yet forty days, and London shall be destroyed. Yet forty days, and—"

An egg flung by the hand of a butcher's apprentice smashed full in his face and cropped his period short. He staggered and gasped as the glutinous mass of yolk and white crept sluggishly down from his beard to spread upon the rusty black of his coat.

"Deriders! Scoffers!" he screamed, with arms outflung in imprecation. "Your doom is at hand. Your—"

A roar of laughter drowned the rest. At last he drew attention. Passers-by halted in their stride to mock his misfortune and grotesque appearance. Tradesmen came to their doors to bear their share in the mirth at his expense. Apprentices flung out into the street guffawing and bawling ribaldries. Another egg shot past his head, and after it a shower of offensive missiles, including a living cat, which clawed itself against his breast, spitting furiously.

Overwhelmed, the prophet of doom turned and fled precipitately up the steps and into the shelter of St. Paul's.

As he vanished Holles turned from the window, where he had risen to his feet, the better to view the happening. There was an end to his dreams, driven out by the sordid thing he had witnessed. Turning now, he faced realities and his associates, Tucker and Rathbone, still busy with their dice. He stepped to the table, and stood over them, a tall, lean man, whose carriage advertised vigour and activity and something of that swaggering arrogance acquired by all who have rubbed shoulders long and closely with the world.

Tucker looked up at him invitingly.

"Wilt throw a main, Ned?"

"You must be jesting," said he, but without bitterness. "I have thrown my last main, with Fortune for my adversary. Mrs. Bankes gives me to choose between paying what I owe for my lodging in the attic here or finding a bed in the streets, and so I think it will be Albemarle and the Indies, although I'd as soon chew hemlock."

"There is still that jewel in your ear," said Rathbone.

Holles fingered it thoughtfully. It was a long, pear-shaped ruby of considerable value, remarkable for its fire and its size—it was as large as the egg of a thrush—a touch of foppery, you would say, most oddly at variance with the colonel's general appearance. For he was dressed outwardly almost entirely in leather; a leather jerkin, stained and frayed, cased his upright body and concealed all his shabby doublet but the protruding sleeves of wine-coloured, threadbare velvet. Long riding-boots of untanned leather fitted his legs to the thighs— although he did not possess a horse, nor had ridden for weeks—and served to conceal the worn condition of his small clothes. From the plainest of leather baldricks hung the long steel-hilted sword of your adventurer. His hat of grey beaver, frayed at the edges, was adorned by a purple feather, faded, limp, and out of curl. Yet from his left ear hung that precious jewel of a fashion long departed, glowing and twinkling as if to mock the stark severity of all the rest of him.

"I keep it as a last resource," he said.

"The gift of some fat Flemish burgomaster's dame," sniffed Tucker, leering.

"You might suppose it," said the colonel, with a weary smile. "But the truth is that it was given me by a Royalist lad whose life I spared at Worcester."

"A ransom, then?"

"Not even that. I spared him for his beauty—he was a very lovely lad and very young—and he gave me this in memory at parting. I never learnt his name, nor cared what it might be. It was just the youth and beauty of him moved me. Some maid must surely have mourned him had he fallen."

Tucker choked on a deep oath of profane and sardonic merriment.

"'Fore Heaven, Holles, I never dreamt you could be mawkish."

"It was long ago," said Holles, as if in explanation. "Myself I was young then."

"I suppose you were. Though being so no longer does not explain why you should starve whilst carrying a fortune in your ear."

"A fortune!" said Holles. "Body of me! It would pay my debts and keep me in lodgings perhaps for three months, and then I should be in no better case than now. No, no. I am for Whitehall, Albemarle, and his pestilent Indies. Will you walk, Tucker?"

"Have you thought on what I told you yesterday?" said Tucker, lowering his voice to a mutter, and casting an eye about the room to make sure that they continued alone there, and that the door was closed.

"Not I!" was the careless answer. "My trade is a soldier's, not a politician's."

"It is as a soldier that Danvers and Sidney need you. Gad's life, Ned, you can't say you've prospered at the hands of the Monarchy."

"Nor can I say that I prospered at the hands of the Commonwealth which Sidney's crack-brained plottings would restore. What's it all to me?"

He would have said more but that Rathbone cut in suddenly.

"Crack-brained?" he echoed, between anger and contempt of wits that could deem it so. And again: "Crack-brained! Sink me, Holles, you never were anything of a prophet, else you would not have found yourself always on the wrong side. You served the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth foundered. And now, forsooth, you'ld serve the Monarchy, and I tell you the Monarchy is on the point of foundering."

"Ay; you tell me so," said Holles, angering the other further by the sneer.

"And the signs tell you so, if you can read them. But you never could, which is why you lie on straw."

"Whilst you go in velvet and fine linen!" rasped the colonel's sarcasm.

"I shall!" roared Rathbone, smacking the table.

"Not so loud!" Tucker admonished him, and himself swung round on his stool more fully to face Holles.

This Tucker was by much the graver and more sober man of that broken twain whom misfortune had associated with Holles.

"You are wrong to dub Algernon Sidney a crack-brain," he said quietly and impressively. "Here is no rash scheme, no forlorn hope, no desperate adventure. The time has been cunningly chosen, and the instruments carefully picked. From Holland Sidney guides all through Danvers here. First to sow disaffection, and so complete the popular contempt into which the Monarchy has been brought by its lewd ways. And then, when the time is full ripe, to bring the Dutch to complete the King's overthrow and restore the Commonwealth. D'ye think we shall fail? D'ye think we can? D'ye dream by what underground ways we burrow to our ends and undermine this rotting State?" He lowered his voice still further. "You saw and heard that fellow preaching damnation just now from Paul's steps over there. He is our man. We have a dozen such at work within the City."

Holles laughed silently—a curious laugh, characteristic of the man.

"A fine earnest he of your success. You saw how the mob received him."

Tucker came to his feet, and set a hand upon the colonel's shoulder.

"True, the mob is like that. But if the Plague spreads how long will it continue in that mood? And mark me, Holles, spread it will now that summer is here. Already St. Giles', St. Clement Dane's, and St. Andrew's, Holborn, are rotten with it. In St. Giles' alone they buried a hundred cases last week."

"Still the City continues healthy," said Holles.

"Does it?" sneered Rathbone, who watched them, elbows on the greasy table.

"You're mistook, Holles," Tucker answered him. "The pestilence has got within the walls already. It is kept secret. But we are watching, and we know. Four have died of it within the week—one in Wood Street, one in Fenchurch Street, and one in Crooked Lane. Already those who know are showing their uneasiness. Already men are moving out of London. Let this weather continue, and wait a week or two. Then see if the mob will pelt those who preach the doom of the City, the doom of England, those who will tell them that this punishment has been brought upon them by the dissoluteness of the King and his debauched Court. In its terror the people will listen; they will believe; and they will rise, or I know nothing of the soul of a mob in panic."

"That will be the moment, and we shall know how to seize it. Already we are strong—far stronger than anyone dreams. But we need more. We need such as you, Holles—men of experience in the leading of men and the use of arms. High destinies await you in our ranks, and you stand paltering there, and think to sell your services to a Monarchy whose knell is sounding. Go pawn that jewel, man, and wait upon events. I bid you, who am your friend."

Holles stood thoughtful, but unconvinced.

"You do not fear to tell me this?" he asked. "I might turn the knowledge to account."

"As how? What shall you tell? That I have said so much to you? Bah! Our plans are too secret and too well laid to be blown upon so lightly. Do you inform, and it will be your word against mine. And if my word be worth little, faith, yours is worth no more."

"Ay," said Holles coldly. "The word of a broken soldier of fortune carries little weight. They might even suspect me of a fraud to obtain money. And so, since I cannot make my fortune that way either, it must needs be the Indies. I am for Whitehall." And he made shift to go.

"I've talked in vain, then!" said Tucker, with chagrin.

"What will convince you?" growled Rathbone.

Holles checked in his stride, and looked at them over his shoulder.

"Success," he answered. "Set up again this Commonwealth, and I will offer it my sword. My trade is not to overthrow Governments, but to serve the Government in being. With its rights or its wrongs I have no concern. A good-day to you both!" And he went out with a clanking step, erect and arrogant of port, leaving them to curse him for a fool.

In the narrow passage his arrogance met Mrs. Bankes, the landlady of the Paul's Head, a squat, untidy woman, with hard eyes and a hard mouth.

"So you go forth, sir?" she said, her arms akimbo. "And this rent of mine?"

He broke in upon her, losing nothing of his stiffness.

"I go to seek it now," he said. "If you detain me, you delay by just so much the payment due. So give me passage, woman, that your interests may be served."

Mumbling sourly, she fell aside, and he went on and out into the bright sunshine to take his way on foot to Whitehall, since he lacked the means to use horse, coach, or chair. He went moodily, considering what Tucker and Rathbone had told him, and asking himself whether in truth he were not wiser to think more of their scheme. Beyond Temple Bar, as he trod the filth of the Strand opposite St. Clement Dane's, he was aroused from his musings by a voice that called to him:

"Keep your distance, sir!"

Checking, he looked up and to the left whence the order came. He found it to have been uttered by a man with a halbert, who stood before a padlocked door that was smeared with a red cross a foot in length, above which, also in red, was painted the legend: "LORD HAVE MERCY UPON US."

Taken thus by surprise, the colonel shuddered, and stepped out into the middle of the street, and so pursued his way, after a glance at the closed windows of the infected house. It was the first that he had seen; for although he had come this way but a week ago, and the plague had then been active in the neighbourhood, yet it was then confined to Butcher's Row, on the north side of the church, and to the mean streets that issued thence. To find it thus upon the main road between the City and Whitehall was an added reminder of what Tucker had said, and so he found his thoughts thrust more closely than ever upon this matter of the simmering revolution and upon the uses which the revolutionaries could make of this dread pestilence.

And at Whitehall itself he discovered fresh evidences of the growing panic. There was an activity and bustle such as he had not found there on his former visit to Albemarle. And he guessed, before he was told, that it was the bustle of imminent departure.

The Court had taken fright before the spread of the plague, which its own wickedness was already being accused of having attracted, and was on the eve of removing itself beyond its reach.

At first Holles feared that he had come too late. That no doubt the duke, too, would be at his preparations for departure. In this, however, he was mistaken. He was ushered into the presence of Albemarle, and found the great man unmoved either by the plague in the town or by the ferment in the palace. He appeared to survey the one and the other with a characteristic phlegm of mind that sorted well with his slow-moving, fleshy bulk.

When Holles expressed polite fears that he came inopportunely, that he intruded, perhaps, upon the duke's dispositions to accompany the Court, Albemarle reassured him. His Grace was to remain, to represent the king, and hold the reins of Government what time his Majesty took himself to the more salubrious airs of Salisbury, accompanied by his Court, his mistresses, and his lap dogs, human and canine. You are not to suppose that his Grace expressed himself in any such terms. These are no more than the colonel's mental translation of what he said.

Having been invited by the duke to state in what his Grace could have the happiness of serving him, Holles came bluntly to the point.

"It is in the matter of that post in the Indies. I have considered, and, if it please your Grace, I will accept it."

Albemarle's big, swarthy face was darkened by regret.

"If it please me?" said he. "It would have pleased me excellently, as I told you. But you have been over long considering. The office was bestowed but yesterday upon young Stanhope, whose father sought it of me with a recommendation from his Majesty. I am sorry, Holles. I would have served you. But you had left the matter undecided, the office was vacant, and the King's wish—"

He shrugged regretfully, and looked at Holles.

The colonel's heart sank within him like a stone through water. The post scorned until this moment instantly became, now that it was snatched from out his closing grasp, of all things in the world the most desirable. Its loss seemed an emblem of the evil fortune that had ever pursued him, thrusting him lower and lower into the mire of misadventure. It seemed as if life's every door must be barred against him in the very moment that he set his hand upon the latch.

He swallowed his mortification.

"A pity," he said, as coolly as he might. "I've been a fool in the matter. Yet, since my need grows urgent, if your Grace had aught else to offer—"

His Grace pursed his thick lips, and shook his great black head slowly, regretfully.

"At the moment there is nothing—that is, nothing abroad, and, as I have told you, at home I dare offer you nothing for both our sakes. To do so were to draw attention to you, and attention might cost you your head on the score of what is passed. This post in Bombay was greatly coveted, as I told you. Young Stanhope was overjoyed to obtain it. Something else may offer; but in the present confusion, with war impending and the plague spreading here, appointments will be hard to seek for awhile. And I do not think you are wise to tarry in town. But should you do so, and I should hear of aught, I will send you word."

"I have nothing to lose but my life," said Holles, coldly. "And when it is so a man reckons little the loss of that. I would even risk an office at home—"

"But I would not risk the bestowing of it," said the duke. "Myself, I might be called to account. Where are you lodged, that I may send to you, should anything offer?"

"Until they fling me into the street or send me to the stews for debt I am at the Paul's Head in Paul's Yard."

"If I can do aught to alleviate your present stress," said the duke kindly, "there is my own purse. I am desirous above all of proving myself your friend."

But to that offer of money Holles returned an almost curt refusal. It awoke in him a pride long dead. He had taken money from others for questionable services; he had bubbled men at dice and at cards and in other ways. But Albemarle had known him in the days of his eager, honest youth, before the blighting hand of misfortune had made a scoundrel of him, and whatever betide, however fallen he might be, he would that Albemarle should continue to respect him.

The refusal was spontaneous and impulsive—instinctive almost—yet as he dismally retraced his way towards the City, and looked into the blackness of the future, he felt no slightest regret for that proud impulse that had made him reject pecuniary assistance. It was the last flicker of a pride that was near extinction.

Chapter II.

Whatever may have been lacking in his moral equipment, Colonel Holles possessed in an extraordinary degree that resilience of temperament which is the first essential of your true adventurer. Suspense he could never bear with any equanimity. Whilst waiting—as he had often waited—to see which way the tide of fortune would turn for him, he was given to impatience and despondency. But when adversity stood to be faced, there was no man could face it better, once the first shock of disappointment were overcome. He had a way of accepting the situation, however desperate, and making the best of it without further repining for the good things missed.

Thus was it now. Though he stumbled out of Whitehall with black despair in his heart, yet before he had reached Temple Bar the cloud had lifted. There remained that revolutionary venture to which Tucker and Rathbone had been committed by Danvers, and to which, in their turn, they sought to commit himself. Since it was now the best—indeed, the only thing—that offered he must take it. Fate had decided the matter, and before Fate's decision he resolutely put aside the distaste he had for the folly of treason to a reigning Government. Having accepted thus the situation, he came to consider it more closely, and even to find it good. After all, Tucker had been right. The way to fortune lay in being a successful revolutionary—as witness the success of that fellow Albemarle whom he had just visited. What George Monk had achieved, Edward Holles could achieve.

By the time he was come to the Fleet, he already saw himself a man of substance and position under the Commonwealth which he should have assisted to restore. He strode briskly up the Hill towards St. Paul's, almost rejoicing that Fate should have taken the matter out of his hands and decided it for him. He confessed himself something of a fool for not having sooner seized the golden opportunity which his friends had offered him. But he would seize it now, and as a beginning there should be an immediate dissipation of his present difficulties. Danvers would no doubt dispose of ample funds, and to win to his side a soldier of Colonel Holles' experience would be willing to advance a sum sufficient to remove his present embarrassment.

In this mood of resolve he came to Paul's Yard, to find a crowd assembled before the door of the Paul's Head tavern. It was composed of people of all degrees, merchants, shopkeepers, 'prentices, horseboys, scavengers, rogues from the alleys that lay behind the Old 'Change, idlers and sharpers from Paul's Walk, with a sprinkling of town gallants and soldiers. And, notwithstanding the efforts of the constable and watchmen summoned by Mrs. Bankes to disperse it, this crowd was steadily swelling and all in a simmer of excitement.

With a premonition of evil in his heart, the colonel stood at gaze a moment, then advanced and questioned a soberly clad City gentleman who tip-toed about the skirts of the gathering. The City gentleman looked him up and down with the evident mistrust with which men of his kind must ever visit a ruffler who looks his trade. Nevertheless, perhaps because he had also the timidity of his kind, and beheld in the man who addressed him one whom it was safer to answer than affront, he gave him the information that he sought.

"They've lighted on a plot to destroy the Government," he said. "A scoundrelly plot to murder the king, seize the Tower and burn the City, no less. Save us! These be villainous times, with the plague all about and treason and sedition in our very midst. They came from the Tower not half an hour since and arrested a couple of the plotters at the Paul's Head here—a knavish-looking pair they was, especially one of them whom they called Tucker. 'Tis said they've carried them to Newgate, so I hope they'll hang them. We want no revolutions and no Commonwealth. The Monarchy may seem to some to have its faults, but there is no Government without faults, and at least we have been prosperous since the glorious restoration of his Majesty—God save him!"

The fellow spoke, of course, from his own point of view. He was a glover and dealer in minor fopperies which did not thrive under republican austerity. Being astride of his hobby, he would have rambled on, descanting upon the open-handedness of courtiers and those who hung about a king, and the stinginess of those who favoured a Commonwealth, but something in the colonel's face gave him pause.

"Why, sir," he cried, "you seem took aback. They'd not be friends of yours, these traitorous fellows?"

He would have recalled the words no sooner were they uttered, terrified by the sudden wrath that seemed to blaze upon him from the ruffler's eyes.

"Friends of mine, d'ye say, you greasy hog?"

The colonel glared a moment, looked as if he would strike the citizen, then swung on his heel and strode briskly away.

Thus had the last door been slammed in his face by Fortune, and his own escape from being caught in it as it closed had been of the narrowest. Indeed, he was by no means sure even now that all was well. He had kept company with those two plotters, and when that was coupled with his antecedents, provided these should become known, it might prove enough to send him to share their fate, which, after all, would be none so great an injustice seeing what his intentions had been. It may be that his consciousness of those intentions magnified his apprehension of the doom that overhung him. He saw Mrs. Bankes demanding payment now by means of a threat more formidable than that of merely turning him out of doors or handing him over to the law for debt. She had greedily eyed that jewel in his ear more than once when insisting that he should pay his growing score. At last, it seemed to him, the hour was come against which he had treasured up that ruby. It was all that had stood between himself and utter destitution, if not, indeed, the very gallows.

Wearily, then, he took his dejected way down Cheapside, looking for a likely shop in which to transmute that ruby into gold. The street, ever a busy one, was more than ordinarily thronged at present, the usual traffic being swelled by the many people of wealth who, taken with panic at the encroachment of the pestilence, were on their way to the Lord Mayor's to obtain the exacted bills of health that should permit them to follow the example of the Court and remove themselves to the country. These, in their coaches and chairs, crowded the issues of almost every street from Wood Street to Ironmonger Lane.

To all this the colonel paid no heed. But one chair he met, coming westwards, was destined to draw his attention, in consequence of a wild-eyed fanatic who followed after it screaming foul denunciation.

"There goes one of those who have drawn the Lord's judgment upon this impious city!" he was shouting; and men were halting to look where he pointed. "There sits a play-house wanton in her silks and velvets while the God-fearing go in rags, and the wrath of Heaven smites us with a sword of pestilence for the sins she brings among us."

Two or three of the scurvy sort, that are ever on the watch for such opportunities, hung now upon the skirts of the fanatic.

"'Tis Sylvia Farquahrson of the Duke's Playhouse, a daughter of Belial," raged her persecutor. "'Tis for the sins of her kind that we are suffering, and shall suffer until the iniquities of this city shall be no more!"

He was alongside now of the chair, and thrusting forward his dirty, malevolent face to catch a glimpse of the woman he tormented. The knaves who had joined him were hustling the chairman, and the affair began to look as if it would have an ugly ending.

The colonel looked on, almost idly, all steeped as he was in the consideration of his own misfortunes, and thus the chair came abreast of him, and he had a glimpse of a woman's white face of a rare loveliness, stamped now with a look of fear.

And then quite suddenly, emerging from the gathering passers-by, seeming almost to materialise on the spot, to come out of nowhere, appeared a tall gallant in a golden periwig and a blue velvet coat that was stiff with gold lace, a man no longer in his first youth, but of an extraordinary beauty of face and elegance of person. Two lackeys in livery followed at his heels, and a murmur ran through the crowd announcing his name.

"His Grace of Buckingham."

Like a bolt from the blue he descended upon the fanatic, swung his gold-headed, beribboned ebony cane, and broke it in two across the zealot's scurvy head, whilst his lackeys drove off the ruffians who had been threatening the chairmen.

Colonel Holles had stopped suddenly at sight of that gallant, and stood now gaping quite foolishly, a man profoundly amazed. People gathered round, and would have closed about the chair to gape and hinder in the aimless, stupid way of crowds. But the gentleman in blue stepped ahead, and waved the stump of cane that he still retained.

"Away! Give room!" he bade them, with the air of a prince speaking to his grooms, and so clove a passage in the gathering press through which the chairmen hurried after him with their burden.

The lackeys acted as a readguard; but none attempted to hinder or molest them, and none troubled to follow save only Colonel Holles. Mechanically he had turned, and, all else forgotten, stepped quickly after the chair, his eyes upon that splendid rescuer of threatened beauty.

Thus they came as far as Paternoster Row, where the traffic was slight. There the fine gentleman halted, and at a sign from him the men set down the chair. He advanced to the window of it, swept off his gold-laced hat, in which a drooping ostrich feather was held by a clasp of brilliants, and bowed until the curls of his peruke almost met across his face.

"I was never frightened in my life until to-day," he said. "What imprudence, Sylvia, to show yourself in the City! None may call me devout, yet I thank Heaven I was there to save you from this peril."

Holles stood by, looking on, none heeding him. He saw the lady in the chair lean forward, noted the white lustre of her beauty, and marvelled at the readiness with which she appeared to have recovered her composure. She was smiling slightly, a smile that curled her delicate lip and lent something hard and scornful to eyes that were naturally soft and gentle.

"Your Grace was very opportunely at hand," was all she said; but there was a world of mocking meaning in her tone.

"I thank God for it and so may you, Sylvia," was the quick answer.

"Is your Grace often east of Temple Bar?"

"Are you?" quoth his Grace, possibly for lack of better answer.

"So seldom that the coincidence transcends all that yourself or Mr. Dryden could have thought of for one of your plays."

"Life is a marvellous coincident," said he, as if determined not to perceive her raillery. "Coincidence is the salt that rescues existence from insipidity."

"So? And it was to rescue that that you rescued me, and that you might rescue me no doubt you yourself contrived the danger."

"Sylvia!" It was a cry of mingled pain and indignation. "Can you think it of me!"

"Think it of you! Lord! I knew it, sir, the moment I saw you take the stage at the proper cue, at what you would call the dramatic moment. Enter hero, very gallant! I was a fool in that I let myself be imposed upon by those other silly mummers, the first murderer and his myrmidons. Oh, sir, it was mightily contrived. It carried the groundlings in Cheapside quite off their feet, and they'll talk of your brave carriage and mighty mien for a whole day at least. But you could scarce expect that it should cozen me, since I am in the play, as it were."

It was said of him that he was the most impudent fellow in England, this lovely, accomplished, foolish son of a man whose face had made his fortune. Yet under the whip of her raillery he stood in a hangdog attitude, utterly out of countenance.

"I vow—I vow you're monstrously unjust," he contrived at last to stammer. "You ever have and ever will think the worst of me."

"Does your Grace wonder?" she asked him coolly.

"I would to Heaven I had left you to those knaves that persecuted you."

"I wonder what turn the comedy would have taken had you failed to answer to your cue?" she mocked him. "Oh, but enough! I thank your grace for the entertainment, but since, as you see, it has proved unprofitable, I hope you will spare yourself the pains of providing another for me. After all, such amusement as it affords me scarce compensates for the trouble to which I am put by your clumsy contrivances. You get a forged message to me to send me into the City on a fool's errand, and yet suppose I could be imposed upon by this paltry third act with its silly rescue of beauty in distress! Oh, sir, if you can take shame for anything, take shame for your invention. It explains the dulness of your plays." She swung briskly to the foremost chairman. "Take up, Simon," she bade him. "Let us on, and quickly, or I shall be late."

She was obeyed and borne away, whilst his Grace stood crestfallen, white with anger, gnawing his lip, conscious that she had made him look a fool. Behind him his lackeys sought with pains to preserve a proper stolidity of countenance. At last he ground his heel in a sudden spasm of rage, and would have turned to follow, but that in that moment a hand touched his arm.

"Sir! Sir!" said a voice.

He swung round and scowled into the bearded, aquiline face of Colonel Holles. Conceiving here another witness of his shame, his anger, seeking a vent, flamed out.

"What now, fellow? Do you dare touch me?" he snapped.

The colonel, never flinching, as another might have done, before that white face and blazing eyes, made answer simply:

"I touched you once before, I think, and you were not wroth, for it was to serve you that I touched you then."

"Ha! And 'twill be to remind me of it that you touch me now?" came our fine gentleman's quick, contemptuous answer.

Holles crimsoned under his tan. His eyes gave back contempt for contempt with something of interest, and without a word he swung on his heel again to depart. But even as he turned, a flash as of red fire smote the gallant's eyes, so that he gasped in sudden amazement, and in his turn caught the other by the arm, in his turn arrested him with the cry of:

"Sir! A moment!" They were face to face again. "How came you by that jewel?"

But out of his deep sense of injury the colonel answered him:

"It was given me after Worcester by a fatuous fool whose life I thought worth saving."

Without resenting the words, the other stared long and searchingly into his face.

"Ay!" he said slowly. "The man had such a nose, and was of your inches; yet otherwise you hardly look the Cromwellian who befriended me that day. You were shaven, then, and wore your hair of a godly length, as they had it. But you are the man. Besides, it was foretold that we should meet again—ay, and that for a season our lives should run intertwined."

"Foretold?" said Holles. "By whom?"

"By whom? By the stars—they are the only prophets, and speak plainly to him who can read them. Have you ever sought that lore?"

"I am a soldier, sir," answered Holles, in a tone that implied his contempt of charlatanry:

"Why, so am I—or have been—which does not prevent me from being also a reader of the heavens, and a writer of verse, and a courtier, and many other things. The man who is one thing only might as well be nothing. To live, my friend, you must sip at many wells of life." There was an indefinable charm in his air and manner which was fastening upon our adventurer even as it had fastened upon him fifteen years ago in that brief hour of their only but fateful meeting. He linked his gorgeously sleeved arm through the colonel's shabby one. "But, sir, we have not met here and thus to part again without more. If you have business, it must wait upon my pleasure." Over his shoulder he addressed his waiting lackeys sharply in French, then drew the colonel on with him back towards Cheapside. Holles, unresisting, curious, conquered by the charm of the duke's personality, allowed himself to be borne whither the other would, as a man drifts upon the stream of Destiny.

"We'll to Proctor's at the Mitre in Wood Street, which is the best house of entertainment hereabouts, and you shall tell me of yourself. There was that baggage, Sylvia," he added, "but she can wait. If I owed you nothing until now, I owe it to you that you can rescue my mind for an hour or so from the tormenting thought of her. You saw how she used me, the little wanton?" He laughed, all anger having left him now. "But I contrived the thing clumsily, as she said, and deserve to be laughed at for my pains. And yet—oh, but a plague on the woman! She shall pay me with interest one of these days for all the trouble she has given me. Well, sir, and what are you now that once were a Commonwealth man?"

"I am nobody's man at present," said the colonel. "I have seen a deal of service since those days, yet they have brought me small prosperity, as you can see."

"Faith, yes! I should not call your air a prosperous one."

"You may call it a desperate one, and so describe it most exactly."

"Is it so bad? Nay, now, but I am grieved. Yet naught but desperation could bring a Commonwealth man to show himself in London these days. What is your name, sir?"

"Holles—Edward Holles, lately a colonel of horse in the Stadtholder's service. And yours, sir?"

The gallant looked at him almost in surprise, surprise that one should live who did not know him.

"I am George Villiers," he said.

"The Duke of Buckingham," said Holles. "I remember now that I heard you named by the crowd. Besides, I might have guessed it from the pursuit in which I found you."

"Pursuit, you say. Oh, excellent word. Pursuit indeed that never overtakes. Yet it shall, Colonel Holles. I swear it shall, no matter what the cost. Meanwhile, sir, you shall tell me how I may serve you. You shall explain to me how Colonel Holles, sometime of the Commonwealth Army, and more lately in the service of the Stadtholder, happens to be endangering his neck in the England of Old Rowley—this king whose memory for injuries is as long as a lawsuit or as a list of his own amorous adventures."

Colonel Holles told him. He told him of the ill-fortune that had attended him and to what it had reduced him; told him of the mistakes he had made by following impulses that were never right; told of the office in Bombay that he had missed and not desired until he had lost it, and in a surge of frankness—feeling it impossible to fear anything from one so debonair, and standing, moreover, so deeply in his debt—spoke of how he had decided to join the plot in which Tucker and his fellows were engaged, and how there again Fortune had thwarted him and yet saved him for once.

All this he told as they took their way up Wood Street, and ended the tale when they were already at table in a private room at the Mitre that his Grace had commanded. And the Duke was airily sympathetic, condoled and jested in a breath, and when finally they parted—the duke being by then in an advanced stage of intoxication—his Grace almost wept as he flung himself upon the colonel's bosom, calling him his deliverer, and swearing that he went at once to engage himself on his behalf, and that he would know no rest until he had sent the colonel upon the high road to fortune.

That done, he went off in a coach that had been summoned for him, his French lackeys trotting beside it, whilst Colonel Holles, with his head in the clouds and a greater swagger than ever in his port, to emphasise the shabby condition of his person, rolled down Wood Street into Cheapside, fingering the jewel in his ear.

It had served its turn at last, in the eleventh hour, and he might sell it now without a pang, to put himself in funds for the next few days, until his Grace of Buckingham should make his fortune for him as he had undertaken. The result of this mental attitude was, of course, that he was villainously swindled, and got but fifteen guineas for a ruby that was worth a hundred. But he cared nothing. What was a handful of guineas more or less to a man who stood upon the very threshold of Fortune's treasure-house?

Chapter III.

Whatever the future's uncertainty might hold, you see Colonel Holles with fifteen guineas in his pocket to stand between himself and the utter destitution in which we lately found him. Some five of these he owed to Mrs. Bankes at the Paul's Head, which—the ugly truth must be told—he never paid, leaving her instead in possession of some paltry gear that was hardly worth as many shillings.

I do not wish to make excuses for him, yet neither do I wish to do him any injustice. It is probable that, but for the arrest of Tucker and Rathbone, he would have returned to his old lodging and settled his score now that he possessed the means. But when he came to consider things, he found that he had no reason whatever to trust Mrs. Bankes. A word from her to the justices, and he would go the way of his late associates. Although they could have nothing against him so far as the plot which had led to his friends' arrest was concerned, yet when they came to examine him no doubt they would unearth his connection with the regicides, and, as we know, it would have availed him nothing to have cited the Bill of Indemnity.

Finding himself in this position, I leave you to judge whether he is greatly to be censured for showing himself no more at the Paul's Head, and for persuading himself that Mrs. Bankes would be amply repaid by that worthless gear of his which she could now retain.

Urged partly by the same considerations, and partly by the love of fine clothes, which is as inevitable as the love of toothsome viands and good wine to one who has roamed the world, the colonel took his way to the second-hand clothiers in Birchin Lane, and spent close upon half his worldly possessions upon a brave suit of maroon velvet and a new hat. Next, to complete the transformation in his appearance, so that none whom he might meet should recognise him for the sometime associate of Rathbone and Tucker, he repaired to a barber's shop, where his beard and moustachios were removed and his face restored to its smoothness of other days. He came forth looking ten years younger at least.

If you conceived that he husbanded the balance of his slender possessions, then you do not know his kind at all. Whatever virtues it may practise, economy is not amongst them. Consider, too, that Holles, having passed through a season of enforced Lent, found himself the more sharp-set for the good things of the world, and you will understand that he sought out the choicest ordinaries in the town, and for a week ruffled it with the best and indulged his appetite like a gentleman. In an evil hour he permitted himself to be drawn into gaming—another thing which your adventurer never can withstand—and thanks to his skill, for he was versed in the potentialities of a bale of dice as any rook that lived by them, he won at first, until, meeting his match, he came to be relieved of his last guinea.

Thus you find him at the end of the week very much as he was on the day of his meeting with the Duke of Buckingham, save that he was the richer by a brave suit of velvet. But since a man may as easily starve in that as in a leather hacketon, he was awakened from his fool's dream by the pangs of hunger, and despondency overtook him once again. He had expected to hear from the Duke before this, having apprised him of his change of address. The fact that he had heard nothing increased and magnified his despondency. He was in a state of reaction from his hopes, and those who know into what depths of despair such reaction usually plunges a man will not marvel at the letter that he wrote the duke forthwith.

In it he spoke of himself as a broken, desperate man, ready for any work that should earn him the wherewithal to live until the dawning of better days. He told the duke that his Grace was now his only hope, that he had hesitated between writing this letter and jumping from London Bridge, and that he would most certainly take the latter course should the other now prove fruitless. He remained his Grace's humble, obedient servant to command in any service, be it never so mean.

He scraped together some few pence wherewith to hire a messenger, then tightened his belt, and sat down to wait.

This was at the end of June. The Court had just left for Salisbury, and there was something approaching panic in the City as a consequence of the orders of the Lord Mayor concerning the plague. In the week that was passed it had broken forth here and there, springing perhaps from those four cases Tucker had reported, so that Sir John Lawrence and the aldermen had been constrained to appoint examiners and searchers, and to take measures for isolating infected houses—measures so rigorous that they dispelled at last the fond illusion that there was immunity within the City walls, and made men realise the peril in which they stood.

A wholesale flight followed, and a sort of paralysis settled upon London life and the carrying forward of its business by the rapidly thinning population. In the suburbs it was reported that the plague was raging fiercely, and that men were dying like flies at the approach of winter.

Preachers of doom multiplied, and were no longer laughed to scorn or pelted with offal. They were listened to in awe, and so reduced in ribaldry were the London 'prentices that they even suffered a madman to run naked through the streets with a cresset of live coals upon his head, screaming "Woe!"

But Holles, obsessed by his own misfortunes, gave little heed to the general dismay, and his Grace of Buckingham, obsessed by a misfortune of his own, was quite as negligent of what was happening, may even have conceived himself immune by reason of his station, for so far the plague had used a proper discrimination and confined itself to those of the poorest classes, and in particular to the women and children of these. Be that as it may, the duke had not accompanied the Court in its flight, nor did he hesitate to go abroad as before, with the result that two nights after Holles had written to him he stepped from a chair at the door of the Bird in Hand, in Paternoster Row, where the colonel was now lodged.

"Colonel Holles," he said, when they stood face to face above in the adventurer's room, "your despair comes opportunely to my own. We are desperate both, though in different ways, and each can mend the other's case. Indeed, I think destiny has made us for each other."

And he sat down.

"If your Grace was made for me, I am ready enough to show myself made for your Grace," said Holles.

"I wonder now," murmured the duke, and scanned the other's seared face. "Gad's life," he said, "though I should no longer recognise you for the man I met some days ago, yet I recognise you for the man I met at Worcester. I commend the prudence of the change. But to the business of your letter. You say that you are ready for any service?"

The duke watched him; and Holles noted the straining look, noted the deep shadows under his Grace's eyes, the pallor and hardness that seemed to have crept into that lovely, dissipated face.

"I said so. Yes, I say so again."

The duke seemed relieved. He drew forth a handkerchief and dabbed his lips. A faint smell of camphor and vinegar reached the colonel. It seemed that though his Grace went forth where the plague stalked yet he took the prescribed precautions.

"I know not how much of squeamishness, of what men call honesty, your travels may have left you."

"None that your Grace need consider," said Holles, on a note of self-derision.

Yet his Grace seemed to hesitate.

"Very well," he said at last. "I warn you that the business I am come to propose is fraught with danger."

"We are old friends—danger and I."

"Grave danger," the duke insisted.

"Good! Presumably the reward will be proportionate."

"It shall be as great as my somewhat reduced exchequer will permit."

"Then let us to it, in the name of Heaven."

"Ah, no, not in the name of Heaven, my friend. In the devil's name, if you will, or in the name of George Villiers, which is much the same." He paused again. "Let me warn you that you may find the task distasteful."

"If I do, I shall tell you so."

"Just so," said the duke. "That is why I warn you. For should you tell me so, you will please tell me without roaring, without the airs of a Bobadil or a Pistol or any other of your fire-eating, down-at-heel fraternity. You have but to say 'No' to it, and spare me the stormings of outraged virtue."

"There's no virtue left in me to outrage," Holles assured him.

"You are to remember that I am here at your own invitation to offer you any service. No doubt in your time you have played many parts, Colonel Holles?"

"Ay—a many," said Holles.

"Have you ever played Sir Pandarus of Troy?" the duke inquired; and his narrowing eyes watched the other's face keenly for some sign.

But the colonel was indifferently acquainted with the classics.

"I have never heard of him. What part may that be?"

The duke took another way to his ends.

"Have you ever heard of Sylvia Farquahrson?" he asked.

"A baggage of a play actress at the Duke's Theatre? I heard of her on the day I met your Grace. I saw her, and heard her, too, and admired her liveliness. What has she to do with me?"

"Something, I think, or else the stars are wrong; and the stars cannot lie. It was foretold that we should meet again, you and I, that we should be concerned in a fateful matter with one other. That other is the lovely Sylvia. You behold in me a man distraught, racked, consumed by my feelings for that woman." He came to his feet, and his pleasant voice was momentarily thickened by the stress of his emotions. "Yet she has spurned and scorned me, and made a mock of me until I can endure no more. Yourself, you say, you heard her; ay, and you admired her liveliness, her scorpion's sting of mockery. If it were virtue that prompted her, I should go my ways, bending to her will. But I know it for mere wantonness, for caprice, for woman's infernal subtlety and zest to torture a man whom she sees perishing and wasting for love of her!"

He clenched his hands one in the other, and his face was livid with the deep emotion that possessed him—that curious and fearful unconscious merging of baffled passion into hatred.

"I could tear the jade limb from limb with these two hands, and take joy in it; or, with the same joy, could I give my body to the rack for her sweet sake! To such a state has she reduced me."

He sat down again and took his blond head in his jewelled hands. Holles looked at him with a glance in which scorn and amusement were blending with surprise.

"Is your Grace come to me for advice?" he wondered. "If so, you have come for the one thing I cannot give. I am but indifferently schooled in the ways of the frail sex."

"For advice, you fool!" blazed the duke. "I am come to you for help. I am come to offer you employment."

A faint colour stirred in Holles's cheeks, but his voice came cold and level.

"Your Grace has hardly said enough."

"I mean to make an end of the prudish airs with which this wanton jade repels me!"

And he adapted a line of Suckling's:

"Since of herself she will not love, Myself shall make her, The devil take her!"

"I scarce see how I can serve, your Grace," said Holles. "Will you not be plain with me?"

"Plain?" echoed Buckingham. "Why, man, I want her carried off for me!"

Holles conned him in silence a moment, his face blank, so that the duke watched it in vain for some sign of how he might be taking the proposal. At last he smiled somewhat scornfully.

"In such a matter your Grace's own vast experience should surely serve you better than could I."

`The duke dismissed the scarcely perceptible sneer by a wave of his fine hand.

"I'll tell you more precisely how I need you," said he. "I have a house of my own in Knight Ryder Street, lately deserted by its tenant, who has gone into the country out of fear of the pestilence. That house you shall take in your own name at once, and thither shall you convey the jade. That is all I ask of you; the rest you may leave to me. But it needs despatch, for there are rumours that the Duke's Theatre is to be closed, and with that our chance may be lost. Your best opportunity should be some evening after the play, taking what men you need to waylay and capture her chair as it is being borne home. We'll consider that more closely."

"But," said Holles, who desired to understand something that puzzled him, and who was keeping his temper for that purpose, "since the house is already at your Grace's disposal, would it not be fitter if your Grace yourself took the matter in hand? Thus there would be less time lost."

"On my soul, your wits are sluggish!" was the answer. "Why do you suppose I seek to hire you, and promise to pay you handsomely, for a service that, were it as simple as you conceive, and cut-throat could perform for me? Do you not perceive that I desire to use you as a screen? I have no mind to be gaoled, or perhaps hanged, for abduction— which is a hanging matter. It is already blown abroad that I am a dissolute rake, and although in ordinary times I should care little for the rabble's malicious tongue, yet, scared as people are with the plague, and crying out against what they call the vices of the Court, which they say have brought this visitation upon the City, they would be but too ready to make me a victim of their stupid anger. That is why, should any accuse me, I must be able to reply that it is a lie, and prove it by showing that the abduction was the work of another, who bore her to his own house, whither I followed as a rescuer. D'ye see?"

"I see," said Holles, in a voice that shook with unleashed anger, "that your Grace is led by your vices like a blind man by his dog! Will you go by the door or shall I throw you from the window?"

The duke rose quickly, but he was very cool and masterful. Instantly he wrapped himself in a mantle of arrogance, which sharply underlined the difference between their respective stations in life.

"I warned you, sir, that I should suffer no heroics, that I will have no man play Bobadil to me. You asked service of me; I have shown you how I can employ you."

But Holles interrupted in a voice strangled by indignation.

"I claimed repayment of a service that I did you once, the honourable service that one gentleman may do another, and I desired from you repayment in kind, not this insulting proposal that I—"

"Why, you impudent dog," the duke interrupted, in his turn, "for what you did I paid you then, and handsomely! The jewel I gave you in quittance was worth a hundred pounds, payment enough, in faith, for turning your back whilst I made off from your crop-eared friends!"

"Had I known what a mangy cur it was I succoured," was the answer, "I would ha' wrung your neck there and then!"

The duke's pale face turned paler. He looked at Holles in silence, controlling himself, and dabbing his red lips with his scented handkerchief.

"Very well," he said at length. "Your insolence I disregard. I can even understand the stupidity that prompts it. You have yet to realise, my friend, that there is no music without frets. I have offered to make your fortune in return for a trifling service. Since you refuse, there is no more to say. I'll leave you to starve." He took a step or two towards the door, cool and self-possessed, yet very watchful of the other. Then he checked, for, after all, his needs were very urgent, and he knew not where he should find another man as desperate as Holles to do his work. "But as to the starving, indeed, I can reassure you. You are in no danger of it. Edward Holles, who was lately in the ranks of Cromwell's army, in the service of the regicides, need not fear death by starvation."

Holles started at the covert threat.

"You mean, sir?"

"I mean that if that in itself were not enough to hang you, there is the notorious fact that you are in hiding, and that you have made certain changes in your appearance lest you be recognised as the late associate of Tucker and Rathbone, two of the tools of the traitor Danvers. I tell you that Parliament is to attaint by name a number of other conspirators who are still at large, and I promise you that I shall see your name included among them."

Holles felt the icy hand of fear clutching suddenly at his heart; in imagination the rope was already about his neck, and those high ambitions of his were to find their final fulfilment at Derrick's hands on Tyburn. Nevertheless—

"I care not an apple-paring," he growled.

"Be it so." The duke reached the door, there paused again. "You are a fool, Holles."

"I have long known it," answered Holles bitterly; "but I was never so much a fool as when I saved your filthy life. You pay me, I suppose, as a fool should be paid."

"Nay, you pay yourself in fool's coin. I offer you on the one hand—what shall we say now?—a thousand guineas, and in the other a yard of hemp. You choose the hemp, and I ask you, are you not a very fool?"

Holles stood towering and scowling.

"I think," said he, with cold menace, "that I had better do what I should have done at Worcester, and wring your neck now. If they hang me for that, at least they'll hang me for a meritorious deed."

And he advanced upon the duke.

But the duke smiled, entirely unintimidated.

"My grooms are just beyond the door," he said; and threw it open, disclosing them.

Holles checked in his advance, and Buckingham stepped out. From beyond the threshold he looked back over his shoulder.

"To show my gratitude for the service you once did me," he said, "I will give you until this time to-morrow to decide which it shall be—gold or hemp, fortune or Tyburn."

And on that he went, his lackeys following after him.

Holles slammed the door and stood there cursing his Grace of Buckingham and the ingratitude of man, until he realised that in cursing lay no profit. Then, since he had neither food nor the means to buy it, and because he was hungry, he scraped together some little remaining tobacco, and sat down to smoke it and so cheat his stomach.

The pipe brought with it calm reflection, in which he considered this door of salvation that was opened to him as a means of escape, not merely from adversity, as he had hoped, but from the very gallows. Its portals were choked with foulness, but then he had waded already through so much in the course of his adventurous existence that perhaps the duke was right in deeming him a fool to hesitate here. And what, after all, was at issue? It was not as if the lady to be carried off were some tender, virtuous maid of gentle birth and rearing. Was he to set a rope about his neck for the sake of qualms touching an impudent playhouse drab?

Yet, for all that, it still revolted him. His conscience evoked for him the wistful face of Nancy Sylvester—wistful as he conceived that it must look could she know of the thing his mind was balancing. Often in the years that were sped the thought of her had acted as a curb when evil beckoned him. Thus now it seemed as if her spirit were with him to assist him in this battle with temptation. Perhaps because of that he strove to turn his mind to the danger to life with which the thing was fraught. But that, he reflected, was an ordinary risk, and he considered the high scale of the payment commensurate with the peril.

Need we follow his reflections further? The ultimate road they took will be obvious, since you know that necessity drew him forward by the nose, whilst the fear of death whipped him on from behind. You need not marvel that early on the morrow he wrote and despatched the following letter:

"My Lord Duke,—I have considered, and I will do your will, and so I beg that you will command me further. May it please your Grace to give the bearer a shilling for his pains, since I have not so much as a groat myself.—Your Grace's obedient servant, EDWARD HOLLES."

Chapter IV.

THE taking and equipping of that fine house in Knight Ryder Street took most of the days they had at their disposal. The carrying off of Mistress Sylvia Farquahrson was to be attempted immediately after the last performance should have been held at the little theatre in Salisbury Court; earlier was out of the question, since she must at once be missed and the hue-and-cry raised forthwith.

It was, therefore, one evening a week or so after he had engaged himself in this infamous business that Holles landed, at dusk, from a boat at Whitefriars Steps, and, with a word of injunction to the watermen, took his way to Salisbury Court. Hackney-coaches and chairs were becoming scarce in the City in consequence of the plague; moreover, it was not wise to employ them, lest infection might linger in them from their having carried someone stricken with the pestilence. But, apart from these considerations, the river was the better road for such an affair as the colonel had in hand.

Upon reaching the theatre, Holles found the scanty audience that had attended this last performance of "The Lovers' Quarrel" streaming out from under the pillared portico. To avoid being seen, and already informed of the way she must come, he took a turn in Water Lane, preferring to await her and waylay her there. And presently the chair that bore her came swinging into view, dimly outlined in the gathering dusk.

At sight of it, the colonel went running to meet it down the street.

"Back there! Back!" he cried. "You cannot go this way. There's a riot in Fleet Street, and the mob has broken open an infected house that was closed, and they're scattering the plague to the four winds."

It was a loose tale, none too well conceived, but the scoundrelly chairmen, who were in his pay and prepared for this, at once set down their burden, and gave tongue to their counterfeit alarm. The actress leaned forward to demand the reason of this halt. One of the chairmen raised the roof of the chair, whilst another threw back the apron, inviting her to alight, and informing her of what they had been told, adding that they themselves could hear a faint echo of the din.

Whether she feared a trap or not, I do not know; but if she did the behaviour of the man who had checked their progress very effectively disarmed all suspicion. Having issued his warning, he seemed utterly to disregard her, and, continuing his way like one pursued by fear, would have gone past her, but that she herself checked him by a question.

"But which way then?" she asked.

He paused, impatiently as it seemed.

"Which way do you go," he flung at her, breathlessly—"east or west?"

"I go eastward."

"Then do as I do," said he. "Take sculls from Whitefriars to Dorset Steps, and pursue your way thence."

And upon that he went hurrying on with so scant a chivalry that it would have been ludicrous to have suspected him. The chairmen added their counsel to his own, and in a moment she was speeding after him down Water Lane alone; for the fear of the plague was by then a very urgent thing.

As she reached the steps he was on the point of entering a boat, which apparently he had summoned. Seeing her, he stood aside, and now it was that, remembering her persecution at the hands of Buckingham, the fear of a trap assailed her. But he quenched her fears almost as soon as they arose.

"Take you this boat, mistress, if you are in haste, and since you are alone. Another will serve for me, who am going further."

And, without waiting for her reply, he made a trumpet of his hands, and, raising his voice, shouted:

"Sculls!"

A faint hail answered him from the water, followed by the dip of oars.

His indifference to her made him seem a desirable escort, where some escort was to be desired, since it was not well for a woman to be alone at dusk.

"Will not one boat serve us both?" she asked him.

"Why, madam, why—if you will. Why not? And you are alone, which is not wise at all. So be it then."

He stepped after her into the boat, and sat down beside her in the stern. The men pushed out into the tide, which was ebbing strongly at the time, and they were swept eastward.

In a moment almost they were at Dorset Steps, and they had flashed past them before she could protest, which she did sharply.

One of the watermen swore fiercely for answer.

"It is the tide, mistress; the ebb is over strong. Hold her, Tom! Fetch her round. Bend to it, man!"

"I'm a bending, plague on you," growled his companion. "I am a-bending fit to break my back. She'll not be held up in this tide. Let her run, Jack, and we'll make Blackfriars instead!"

But at Blackfriars they fared no better. Tom flung out a boathook as they passed, missed the steps, and they were swept on. Swearing with all a waterman's famed fluency, he dropped the boathook and clutched at his oars to stem their too rapid progress.

And now the lady becoming seriously alarmed, Holles raised his voice, and reassured her by cursing the watermen for a couple of clumsy cobblers who didn't know a keel from a gunwale, swearing that unless they put the lady ashore at the wharves they would have to deal with him. The men played in this comedy the parts he had assigned to them, and answered him whiningly that they did their best, that it was getting plaguey dark, and the tide was stronger than they had ever known it, but that they could be trusted to make the wharves.

And, indeed, this they accomplished with an ease so apparent that it might almost have proved to the lady that their failure to make the steps had been intentional.

"I shall have to trudge back at least a mile, unless I can find a coach," she complained as she stepped ashore, assisted by one of the watermen on one side and the colonel on the other. She was seeking her purse, when the colonel, who had sprung out beside her, flung them some money, and they pushed off. She looked at him.

"Why, how is this?" she asked. "Do you go no farther then?"

"Anon," he answered her. "I could not leave a lady thus. This is your way, madam," and he pointed up Paul's Chains.

But she stood back from him, ignoring the invitation.

"Not so, sir," she replied coldly. "I have been brought far enough out of my way already."

He did not attempt to argue with her, knowing it futile, but for answer caught her up in his stalwart arms, and, before she realised what was happening, she found herself flung across his shoulder. Taken then with sudden terror, she fought and struggled desperately; but he held her firmly, and in such a way that she could do little damage with her nails. Carrying her as if she had been a child, he went quickly up the street. She screamed, of course, incoherently at first, then coherently, calling for help to the few people that were still abroad.

As a consequence, before they had gone far, two sturdy citizens, attended by a link-boy with a torch, attempted to bar the colonel's progress.

"Stand, villain!" cried one of these.

But Holles had foreseen this possibility of interference, and was ready for it.

"She has the plague!" he cried to them. "Keep your distance on your lives. She is out of her mind, poor child. She has the plague!"

If they had any doubt, they did not dare to put it to the test. Her struggles might well be those that usually beset the victims of the dread scourge. So they fell back hastily, and gave him a free passage, as did one or two others presently who would similarly have intervened in response to her wild appeals.

Thus the colonel brought her to the handsome, well-appointed house in Knight Ryder Street, a house of which he was represented as the tenant. As he reached it, the door was opened by a man who had evidently been waiting his arrival. He entered, still carrying his burden, bore it down the narrow passage and into an elegantly furnished, brilliantly-lighted room on the right. There, at last, he flung her down on a cushioned settle under the shuttered windows, and stood to regain his breath and to mop his brow, for the sweat run down him like basting on a capon.

But no sooner had he released her than she was on her feet again. As breathless as himself, white of face, and with eyes ablaze, she stood confronting him.

"Sir," she said, "you shall let me depart at once, or you shall suffer for this villainy. You shall—"

And then she broke off abruptly to stare at him, her parted lips and dilated eyes bearing witness to an amazement so overwhelming that on a sudden it had overridden her anger.

Her voice came hoarse and tense:

"Who are you? What is your name?"

He stared in his turn, checked in the very act of mopping his brow, wondering what it was she saw in him to be moving her so oddly. He was still wondering how he should answer her, what name assume, when she spared his invention further trouble in the matter.

"You are Ned Holles!" she cried. "You! You of all men—and to do this thing!"

And now, where there had been amazement in her eyes, he beheld a growing horror. She staggered back, covering her face for a moment, and in that moment Holles understood. The years rolled back, he saw himself, a lad of eighteen, going out into the world with a lady's glove in his hat, bent upon knight-errantry for that sweet lady's sake, and he saw her—this Sylvia Farquahrson of the Duke's Theatre—as she had been in those long-dead days when her name had been Nancy Sylvester. Those eighteen years had wrought in her appearance a change that utterly disguised her. Where, in this resplendently beautiful woman could he discover the slender little child of sixteen whom he had loved? How could he have dreamt of his little Nancy Sylvester transformed into the magnificent Sylvia Farquahrson, whose name was a byword for gallantry, lavishness, and prodigality, whose fame was as wide-spread and questionably lustrous as that of Moll Davies or Eleanor Gwynne? Small wonder that he had found her to have vanished utterly when he had sought her ten years ago; small wonder that he should never have suspected her real identity until this moment in which she thus revealed herself to him.

He reeled against the table in his amazement and in the horror which the situation brought him.

"Gad!" he groaned aloud.

At another time the discovery might have filled him with horror of another kind. His soul might have been swept by angry scorn to find Nancy Sylvester, whom he had placed as high and inaccessible as the very stars, whose memory had acted as a beacon to him, casting its pure white light to guide him through many a vile temptation, reduced to this state of evil splendour. But just now the consciousness of his own infamy blotted out all else.

He staggered forward and fell on his knees before her.

"Nan! Nan!" he cried, in a strangled voice. "I did not know—I did not dream—"

"You did not know!" Her voice was a very sword of sharpness. "It is as I thought, then. You are so fallen that you play the hired bully. You have done this at the hiring of another—and I can guess that other, the master-villain who employs such jackals. And you did not know that it was I—that it was one who loved you once when you were clean and honest, as deeply as she loathes and execrates you now for the foul thing you are become. You did not know that it was I you were to carry off. And you dare to urge that ignorance as your excuse? I hope you are punished in the knowledge; I hope that, if any lingering sense of shame abides in you, it will now scorch you to the soul. Get up, man!" she bade him, regally contemptuous, splendidly tragic. "Shall grovelling there mend any of your vileness?"

He came instantly to his feet, yet not so much in obedience to her command as to the thought that flashed upon his mind.

"What I have done I can undo," he said. "Shall we stand talking here instead of acting? Come, Nan! As I carried you hither, so will I carry you hence again at once, while there is time. You shall have your fill of upbraiding me when you are safe bestowed."

"You will carry me hence?" she sneered. "Whither will you carry me?"

"Out of this," he answered frenziedly. "Come away, I say! There is no time to lose!"

"And should I trust myself to you?"

"You must! Can you doubt me—can you doubt how I should act by you? Come!"

He caught her by the wrist, and drew her after him across the room. She went, after a glance at his livid, distorted face, reflecting the torture of his soul.

"Quickly—quickly, then!" she had breathed; and she panted now in her eagerness, in her suddenly revived anxiety to be gone from this house.

But as they reached the door it was thrust open from without, and on the threshold, all in white satin, like a bridegroom, with jewels in the lace at his throat, and a baldrick of garter blue across his breast, stood his Grace of Buckingham, eager expectancy upon his handsome face.

"Out of the way, my lord!" roared Holles. "Out of the way! Let us pass."

Taken aback by that harsh address, Buckingham recoiled a pace.

"What now?" he demanded, scowling. "What now, Bobadil, my roaring captain? What antics are these?"

"This lady is in haste to be gone," said Holles shortly. "So give way."

"Save us now! Have you lost your wits? Get you gone yourself, fool! You are no longer needed here."

"Ye're mistook," Holles answered him. "I was never needed more." And he whipped out his sword. "Out of my way, you lovelorn ninnyhammer, before I do you a mischief."

Now, Buckingham was unarmed, but not unattended. Behind him in the passage waited his two French lackeys and another. He stepped aside, summoning them.

"À moi, François, Antoine!" he summoned them; and on the instant three men sprang forward to make a barrier within the doorway.

Nancy was taken with sudden fear, and cried out. But Holles laughed softly, almost glad of being afforded the means of proving to her that he could be something more than a mere hired abductor of women.

"Must I carve a way out for us?" he asked. "Be their blood on your own silly head, my lord."

And he advanced boldly, keeping the lady close and slightly behind him.

"Keep to your clubs, lads," the duke admonished his followers. "We'll have no shedding of blood if we can help it."

They rushed to meet him with the staves they carried, and pressed him so hard that he was forced to give back, for there is no parrying the blows of clubs with a slender rapier. He retreated, seeking an opening in their defences through which he could thrust home and rid himself one by one of his antagonists. Behind them followed the duke, watching and scornful, confident of the issue.

Holles thrust high, at the throat of the foremost of his assailants. But the lad was quick to the parry, and dashed the blade aside so violently that he shivered it against the club of his neighbour, leaving Holles disarmed save for a hilt and a stump of sword. Yet even then the colonel did not yield him. He thrust out his left arm to catch a descending blow, and crashed his hilt full into the face of the lackey who had disarmed him, so that the fellow dropped as if fulminated. But the next moment Holles himself went down under a blow that took him squarely across the head and laid him unconscious at Sylvia's feet, his limbs twitching faintly.

The duke stepped forward.

"Out," he bade them, "and carry Antoine with you. Then return for Bobadil, and make him fast. I'll deal with him later."

As they were obeying him he advanced towards Sylvia, who recoiled at his approach, watching him with eyes of terror, realising that she was utterly and hopelessly in his power.

He bowed very low and gracefully.

"Ah, my Sylvia, you shall forgive me the shifts to which my love has driven me, and this last shift of all with that roaring fool's heroics and what they have led to. Blame not me; blame that cos amoris, your own incomparable loveliness and grace, the very whetstone of love."

"Love!" she answered him, with scorn unutterable of lip and eye, for she was none of your swooning madams, but a woman of a high spirit. "You call this violence love!" She stabbed him with a short, sharp laugh. "Sir, if you do not instantly suffer me to pass and go hence, I swear that you shall hang, though you be duke of twenty Buckinghams."

"Lady, you mistake me. You do as little justice to my wits as you have ever done to my poor person. No charge against me could be heeded in the circumstances. You were forcibly brought hither to his own house by a ruffian named Holles, whom Parliament shall attaint for other crimes. I came to rescue, and I have stayed to comfort you in your natural distress. The facts will prove my story. What shall prove yours?"

She shrugged contemptuously.

"You are a very master of the art of lying. But I promise you it shall not avail you. Let me pass, or it shall be the worse for you. Let me pass, I say!"

Majestically, like the queen of tragedy she was, she flung out an arm in a gesture of command. It loosed the silken scarf that had been wound about her throat, so that this fell away and trailed from her shoulder, revealing the delicate whiteness of her skin.

Buckingham looked at her, craned forward a moment, and then, quite suddenly, she saw his expression change. Into his staring eyes there crept something of incredulity and horror; his jaw fell loose, and the colour perished in his cheeks, leaving them white and haggard. Thus he stood for a long moment, and in that moment Holles stirred where he lay, groaned, thrust back his tumbled hair matted with blood from his cracked head, and, looking up, saw the duke point with a hand that shook at Sylvia's throat.

"Gad!" came the duke's voice, no louder than a whisper. "The tokens!" And he repeated it more loudly with an increasing horror. "The tokens!"

He reeled back in gasping dread as his servants were returning, and faced about.

"Back!" he bade them, in a voice rendered shrill by terror. "Back! Away! She is infected! She has the plague!"

They stood at gaze an instant, their faces blenching; they beheld, as he had done, the tokens stamped upon the white loveliness of her skin; then they turned and fled incontinently, himself following them.

The actress, scarcely realising what had happened, stood there and heard the clatter of their footsteps in the passage and the slamming of the door. Then she looked at herself, and saw the brand of the pestilence upon her. Whether it was the sight of it, or whether from the workings of the fell disease which excitement had hitherto suppressed, she was instantly taken with nausea; the room rocked about her; the ground seemed to heave under her feet. She would have fallen, but that suddenly she felt herself supported. Looking up she beheld the blood-smeared face of Colonel Holles, who had risen to spring to her assistance.

"Do not touch me," she cried. "Did you not hear? I have the plague."

"So I heard," he answered.

"You will take the infection," she warned him.

"'Tis what I most desire," said he; and lifting her as he had lifted her once before that night, he bore her to the settle and laid her there.

He stood above her, his mind half numbed by anguish at seeing her thus, and for a spell she lay there realising her condition and staring up at him wide-eyed.

"Why do you tarry here?" she asked him at length in a dull voice. "You had best depart, and leave me to die. I think I shall die the easier for being rid of your company."

He made as if to answer her, then bowing his head, he passed out of the room in silence. She sat straining her ears, listening to his footsteps in the passage, and finally heard the slamming door announcing to her his departure. Knowing herself alone, a great fear then overtook her. For all the brave words she had used, the thought of dying alone in this empty house filled her with terror, so that it seemed to her that even the company of that dastard would have been better than this horror of loneliness.

She flung herself down upon her face and sobbed aloud until the searing pain in her breast conquered even her self-pity and stretched her writhing in agony as if upon a rack. At last a merciful unconsciousness supervened. From this it would seem that she passed into a sleep, for she was aroused by a sound of steps and voices. The door of her room opened, and through a mist that had gathered before her eyes she saw the tall figure of Colonel Holles enter, followed by two strangers. One of these was a little bird-like man of middle age, the other was young and of a broad frame and a full countenance.

Both were dressed in black and each carried a red wand—as enjoined by the law upon all whose duties took them into infected houses, so that those whom they passed in the streets should be warned thereby to give them a wide berth.

The younger man remained standing by the door, a handkerchief smelling pungently of vinegar held to his nostrils, and his jaws working the while, for he was chewing a stick of snake-root as a further measure of precaution. Meanwhile, his companion—who was evidently a physician—approached the patient, and made a swift and silent examination of her case.

She suffered it in silence, a lethargy overwhelming her too profoundly to admit of much care as to what might betide. He held her wrist for an instant in his bony fingers, the middle one upon her pulse; then he examined the blotches upon her throat, and finally raised one of her arms, and bade the colonel hold a candle whilst he scrutinised the arm-pit.

A grunt escaped him at what he beheld. With his forefinger he tested the consistency of the swelling he discovered there, sending thence sharp, fiery streams of pain through all her body, as it seemed to her.

"It is well," he said, as he straightened himself. "Recovery is possible if suppuration can be induced, and since the swelling has already manifested itself there is a chance. But great care will be necessary."

He spoke to Holles as if to her husband, conceiving him so indeed from the circumstances.

"Nurses are scarce and difficult to find," he continued. "I will send you one as soon as possible. But, meanwhile, all will depend upon yourself."

"I am ready," said Holles dully.

"In any case, the law does not allow you now to leave this house until you can receive a certificate of health—which cannot be for at least a month. Those are Sir John Lawrence's wise provisions for checking the spread of the infection."

"I am aware of them," he answered.

"So much the better then. As I have said, I will send a nurse-keeper as soon as possible. But it is of the first importance that no time should be lost in applying remedies and inducing perspiration. So that, if her life is to be saved, you will get to work at once. I came prepared, and I can leave you all that you will require. You will rub the swelling well with a stimulating ointment which I shall give you, and then apply to it a poultice of mallows, linseed, and palm oil. You will administer a dose of mithridate as an alexipharmic, and some two hours later a posset drink of Canary and spirits of sulphur. Make a fire and heap all available blankets upon her. For to-night, if you do that, you will have done all that can be done. To-morrow I shall return early in the morning, and we shall then consider further measures." He turned to the man standing by the door, who was one of the official examiners. "You have heard, sir?" he asked. The man nodded.

"I have already bidden the constable send a watchman. He should be here by now, and we will see the house locked up when we go forth."

"Very well," said the doctor, and again he addressed the colonel. "I will see her put to bed, then take my leave of you till to-morrow."

That, however, was a service the lady was still able to do herself. When Holles, scorning the doctor's aid, had, single-handed, carried her to the room above, she recovered sufficiently to demand that she should be left to herself; and, despite her obvious weakness, the doctor concurred that she should have her way in the matter.

The effort so exhausted her, and awoke such torturing pains, that when finally she got to bed she lay panting in a state of half unconsciousness.

Placing upon a table all that Holles would require, and repeating his injunctions, the doctor took his leave at last. The colonel accompanied him to the door of the house, which was standing open, whilst, by the light of a lantern held by the watchman, the examiner was completing the inscription "Lord have mercy upon us," under the ominous red cross which he had daubed upon the panels.

Doctor and examiner departed together, leaving the watchman on guard before the door to prevent any unauthorised person from passing in or out. Holles heard the key being turned on the outside, and knew himself a prisoner in that infected house for weeks to come, unless death should set him free meanwhile.

He smiled grimly when he remembered how an hour ago he had shouted that she had the plague to those who would have rescued her from him. How far had he been from conceiving that he spoke the truth! It was almost as if a poetic justice had overtaken him. It was odds that neither she nor he would ever leave that house alive again, and, all things considered, this seemed to him the best possible consummation.

Upon that thought he went to prepare the ingredients the doctor had left him wherewith to combat the disease. Armed with these, he returned presently to her chamber. Lying there in that deep lethargy which, whilst leaving her a full consciousness of all that had occurred about her, seemed to have deprived her of all power of speech or movement, she watched him with her wide, fevered eyes. Anon, under the pain which him ministrations caused her, she sank into unconsciousness, and thence into a raving delirium, which for days thereafter was to alternate with periods of lethargic, exhausted slumber.

Chapter V.

For five days she lay as one suspended between this world and the next. The merest straw of chance would suffice to tip the balance, the slightest lack of care and watchfulness to snap the slender thread by which life was still tethered to her wasting, fever-consumed frame.

Had the ordinary nurse-keeper fetched on the morrow by the doctor been alone in charge of her, it is long odds that she would never have survived, for no hired attendant could ever have ministered to her with the self-sacrificing devotion of the broken adventurer who had once loved her. Not for a moment did he suffer himself to relax his vigilance.

Not content merely to take his turn in watching her whilst the nurse rested, he never slept, and was never long absent from her chamber in all the hours of those five days and their attendant nights. To the remonstrances of Mrs. Bates, the nurse—a capable, motherly woman of forty—he was insensible, until once he snarled at her for her solicitude concerning him, whereafter she troubled him with no more of it.

Yet there was more than self-sacrifice in his behaviour. He deliberately sought death. He hoped—indeed, he would have prayed, but that he had long since lost the trick of it—for the infection. Morning and night he would bare his breast and finger his arm-pits in expectancy, eager to find upon himself the tokens that the hand of death had touched and claimed him.

Yet the irony that ever pursued him thwarted now his desire for death, as it had thwarted his every other desire in life. Living and moving in that house of pestilence, breathing its mephitic atmosphere, he yet remained as immune as if he had been a "safe-man," and this notwithstanding that he neglected every precaution prescribed him by the doctor, scorned the use of electuaries, and would arm himself with neither vinegar nor balsam of sulphur against infection.

It is true that he smoked a deal, sitting by the window of her chamber, which was kept open day and night to the suffocating heat of that terrible July. And it is true that the great fire maintained, notwithstanding this, by the doctor's commands, did much to cleanse and purify the air. And these things may have helped to keep him safe despite himself, unconsciously disinfected.

And, meanwhile, as if incubated by that terrific heat, the plague was spreading now through London at a rate that seemed to threaten the city with the utter extermination that the preachers of doom had promised. From the doctor he learned of that sudden pestilential conflagration, of the alarming bill of mortality, and of the fact that the number of victims within the walls amounted in that week to some seven hundred. And he had abundant evidences of it even in his confinement there. From that window by which he spent long hours he beheld Knight Ryder Street—that once busy thoroughfare—become day by day more utterly deserted.

He could see the closed houses—and there were six of them within his view on the opposite side of the street—each with its red cross, and an armed watchman day and night before its padlocked door.

Victuals and what else was needed from outside reached them through the watchman. To him Holles would lower money in a basket. (He was well supplied with money still, the remains of the funds he had received from Buckingham.) And by the same means would the watchman send up what was required. Nightly was he distributed soon after dark, and again just before peep of day, by the hideous clang of a bell—hideous because association of ideas had so made it to him—and the creak of wheels and a raucous voice that awoke the stillness with its dreadful summons:

"Bring out your dead!"

Peering down, he would see the dark outline of the ghastly dead-cart loom into view as it came slowly down the street. Invariably it paused before his own door, arrested by the cross upon it, and the bell would clang and the summons rise:

"Bring out your dead!"

Then, at a word from the watchman on guard below, the grim vehicle would move slowly on, and Holles, with a shudder, would fling a glance at the sufferer where she lay, wondering fearfully whether he would be ready to answer that summons when next it came.

On the morning of the sixth day the doctor found the fever much abated, and the patient in an unusually easy tranquil slumber, from which she awakened to full consciousness at the touch of his hand upon her wrist.

She was helped to a realisation of her surroundings by the words the doctor was uttering:

"The danger is overpast. She will recover, thanks to your tireless care of her, and it is yourself gives me more thought now than does she. Leave her now to the care of Mrs. Bates, and do you go rest yourself, man, or I'll not answer for your life. See, she is waking."

Her eyes sought Holles, where he stood at the foot of the carved bed, and she beheld a gaunt, hollow-eyed ghost with pallid, sunken cheeks frammed in a coarse stubble of unshaven beard. Meeting her conscious gaze, he moved aside and staggered to a chair.

"Naught ails me, doctor," he answered; but already his voice came thick, and his words were almost indistinct. "I would sooner—"

He was suddenly fast asleep. It was as if the assurance that she was out of danger had snapped the reins of will by which he had held his lassitude in subjection. Instantly nature had claimed from him the dues he had long withheld.

She looked at the doctor.

"I have the plague, have I not?" she asked him.

"Say, rather, that you had it, madam," he answered her; "and give thanks to God and your husband that you are recovered."

"My husband?" she inquired.

"Indeed, yes—and a husband in a thousand. I have seen many husbands of late, and speak with knowledge. I have seen terror of the pestilence blot out all else in them. But Colonel Holles is not of these."

"He is not my husband, sir."

"Not your husband? Gadso! Perhaps that explains it. What is he, then, who has all but given his life for you?"

She hesitated a moment how to define him.

"Once he was my friend," she said.

"Once?" quoth the physician, raising his brows. "And when, pray, did he cease to be your friend—this man who stayed with you in this infected house when he might have fled, who has denied himself sleep or rest of any kind in all these days that he might be ever at hand against your need of him, who has risked taking the pestilence a thousand times for your sake?"

"Did he do all this?" she asked.

The doctor explained precisely the extent of the colonel's self-sacrifice.

"He may once have been your friend, as you say," he concluded, smiling, "but I cannot think that he was ever more your friend than now."

She lay very thoughtful and silent for a time, staring at the ceiling, her face an expressionless mask in which the inquisitive little doctor sought in vain for a clue to the riddle of the relations of these two. Had he obeyed this inquisitiveness he would have questioned her, but professional instincts restrained him. Nourishment and rest were to be prescribed, and he saw to the former before he departed, out of sheer charitableness, not only to her but to Holles, whose sleep he could not bring himself to disturb.

When he returned that evening he was again accompanied by a public examiner, who came to assure himself that the danger of infection being now overpast, the re-opening of the house could be permitted after the prescribed lapse of thirty days.

Holles, who had slept uninterruptedly until their advent, awakened, and stood dully at hand whilst the examiner assured himself that all was as the doctor stated. When they left the room he went with them, and he remained below after they had gone, and so continued, grim and lonely, until three days later, when the nurse came to tell him that Miss Farquahrson was risen, and desired to speak with him.

He turned pale and trembled at the summons. Then he braced himself and went.

He found her seated by the open window, where he himself had sat throughout the greater part of those five days and nights when he had watched over her and fought back hungry death from her pillow. She was very pale and weak, yet her loveliness seemed to draw added charms from her condition.

She had been dressed with care in a gown of grey and purple—the same that she had worn on the night when he had carried her off—and her chestnut hair was intertwined with a thread of pearls. Her eyes seemed of a darker, deeper blue than usual, perhaps because of the deep brown stains her illness had left about them. She seemed oddly changed, too, so spiritualised that she appeared to have recovered something of her early youth, so that she looked less like Sylvia Farquahrson, the idolised player, and more like the Nancy Sylvester that Holles had known in the old days.

He stood mutely before her, like a lackey awaiting his orders, whereupon a tinge of colour crept into her cheeks.

"I have sent for you, sir, that I might thank you for your care of me, for your disregard of your own peril in tending me; in short, sir, for my life, which had been lost without you."

He avoided the gaze of her eyes, that were like wet sapphires.

"You owe me no thanks," he said, and his voice was almost gruff. "I but sought to undo the evil I had done."

"Nay, now, the plague—it was no fault of yours that I took it. I had it when you brought me hither."

"No matter for that," he said. "Reparation was due. I owed it to myself."

"You did not owe it to yourself to risk your life for me."

"I think I did, but the matter is not worth contending."

He did not help her. Yet she persisted.

"At least the reparation was a very full one," she said quietly.

"It would comfort me to hear you say it, could I believe you," he answered grimly. "If you have commands for me, madam, I shall be below until the house is re-opened, and we can go our ways."

And upon this he bowed and left her.

He was in a mood from which there was no issue. Shame hemmed his soul about like prison walls, and he saw no way out save through the door that death might open; yet death obdurately refused. And so the weeks passed, and from Mrs. Bates he heard of the progress of Miss Farquahrson, and of how she was daily gathering strength. Yet never once did he go to visit her, and not again did she summon him to her presence. He kept to his quarters below-stairs, smoking continually, and drinking deeply, too, until he had consumed the little store of wine the house contained.

Thus August found them, and from the watchman he heard incredible stories of the city's plight, and from the window he nightly beheld the comet in the heavens, the flaming sword of wrath—as the watchman termed it—that was hung above the accursed city, from Whitehall to the Tower.

They were within three days of the re-opening of the house, when one evening Mrs. Bates brought him word that Miss Farquahrson desired to see him in the morning. He received the message, and dismissed the woman with an incoherent sound that conveyed neither assent nor dissent; then he sat down to smoke and think. And the more he thought the more his terror of that interview increased. It was himself he feared, himself he mistrusted. Where once the boy had worshipped, the man now loved with a love that was consuming him, a love that heaped up and fed the fires of shame within his soul.

In her eyes he could never be but the vilest of men, for he had done by her the vilest thing a man may do. And yet there was her cursed gratitude for the life which he had saved. And that very gratitude was based upon a misapprehension which made a cheat of him. She could not know that it was his desire to take the infection and perish that had made him so assiduous, so seemingly reckless of consequences to himself. She deemed his behaviour a noble reparation, and so, should he speak of his love, should he fling himself at her feet and pour out the tale of his longings, out of her sense of debt she might take him—this broken derelict of humanity, and so doom herself to be dragged down with him into the kennels that awaited him. And, because he could not trust himself to come again into her presence preserving the silence that his honour demanded, he suffered torture now at the thought that to-morrow, willy-nilly, he must behold her, since such was her desire.

One way out there was, a desperate one. Yet, since no alternative offered, he resolved that he must take it, and take it he did. Towards midnight he gently opened the window and peered down. The night watchman, who had come on duty two hours ago, had propped himself in a corner of the doorway, and the sound of his snores informed the colonel that he slept, no doubt assured that no evasion was to be feared from a house that in three days more would be thrown open.

Holles fetched hat and cloak, then straddled the window-sill, and let himself gently down until he hung full length, his feet but a yard or so above the street. He dropped almost without a sound, and set off at once in the direction of Paul's Chains.

The watchman, momentarily aroused, heard his retreating footsteps, but never conceiving them to concern him, settled himself more comfortably in his restful angle, and slept soundly until, towards dawn, the rumble of the dead-cart and the clang of the bell awoke him.

Meanwhile, Colonel Holles, with no other aim than to place as wide a distance as possible between himself and the house in Knight Ryder Street that sheltered Miss Farquahrson, came by way of Carter Lane into Paul's Yard. He hesitated here a moment, then struck eastward down Watling Street, plunged into a labyrinth of narrow alleys to the north of it, and might have walked all night, but that, lost in the heart of this dædalus, he was drawn by sounds of revelry to a narrow door. From under this door a blade of light was stretched across the cobbles of the street. He stood hesitating on the threshold, peering up at the sign, which he could faintly make out to be a flagon, so that he conjectured the place to be a tavern. In the end he might have passed on, but that, whilst he hesitated, the door opened suddenly, and a couple of drunken roysterers lurching out, discovered him, and dragged him into the glare within with loud cries of insensate hilarity.

Holles suffered them to do their will with him, whilst the taverner made haste to close the door, and shut out of sight and sound the fact that he was breaking the rigorous laws lately enacted against such assemblies.

The colonel looked about the unclean den into which he had strayed, and found himself in a motley gathering of debauchees. They were men whom circumstances, and the fact that no further certificates of health were issued, confined to the plague-ridden City, and they took this means of drowning the terror in which they lived and moved in this stronghold of death. Holles joined them. He had a few guineas in his pocket, and he spent one of these on burnt sack before that wild company broke up, and its members crept to their homes, like rats to their holes, in the pale light of dawn.

Thereafter he hired a bed from the vintner, and slept until close upon noon, when he rose, broke his fast on a dish of salt herrings, and went forth again on his aimless way. He won through a succession of narrow alleys into the eastern end of Cheapside, and stood there aghast to survey the change that a month had wrought. That thoroughfare, usually the busiest in London, was now almost deserted.

Where all had been life and bustle, a hurrying of busy men, and a continual stream of chairs and coaches, all was now silent and empty of life. Not a single chair or carriage was to be seen abroad, and but an odd straggler on foot tenanted the length of that empty street. And these few whom he met wore, he noticed, a furtive, watchful air, and kept to the middle of the street as they walked, drawing off still further when they passed him or another. But few of the shops remained open, whilst almost every other house was close shuttered, its door padlocked, marked with the red cross, and guarded by its armed watchman. Last of all, he noticed that blades of grass were sprouting between the kidney stones with which the street was paved, so that, but for the houses, looking so grim and silent on either side, he must have supposed himself in some suburban lane.

He turned up towards St. Paul's, his steps echoing in the empty street as if he had been some reveller who took his midnight way towards home. He turned into Paternoster Row, as silent and deserted as Cheapside, and made his way towards his old lodging at the sign of the Bird in Hand, which at least he found still clear of the infection.

Although the house's trade was all but completely paralysed, yet he was given but an indifferent and suspicious welcome to his old quarters, where for the present he determined to abide. What the future would bring he could not surmise. He would have left the City, but that his going was impossible now that certificates of health were being withheld. Moreover, he could not in the circumstances have submitted himself to questions as to his antecedents without finding himself sequestered and flung into gaol for having committed what then was accounted the most serious offence against the law, in escaping from an infected house before the authorities had reopened it.

And, meanwhile, in that house in Knight Ryder Street, his evasion had been discovered and published abroad. When word of it was borne to Miss Farquahrson, she received it without spoken comment. But her white face announced how it affected her; she sat a while, as Mrs. Bates afterwards related, as if she had been stunned, and thereafter moved like a woman in a dream until, two days later, when she was presented with a certificate of health by the examiner, and informed that she was at liberty to depart.

A chair was fetched for her, and she was carried home, there to make the discovery that her servants had fled after plundering her handsome house.

She sat amid the dust and disorder of her once elegant boudoir, and her sense of desolation reached its climax.

Chapter VI.

Had you asked Colonel Holles in after life how he had spent the week that followed his escape from the house in Knight Ryder Street there was little he could have told you, for the ugly truth of the matter is that in those days he was never sober. His memories were all obscured and befogged. Odd events that he could recall he recalled but dimly, like objects seen through a mist. Of these was the faint recollection of an excursion in quest of his Grace of Buckingham, to vent a sense of wrong that came to the surface of his sodden wits like oil to the surface of water. He remembered vaguely setting out with intent to cut his Grace's windpipe into pieces—to use his actual expression; but of how the excursion ended he had no recollection whatever beyond a sense of disappointment.

He slumbered throughout most of those days, and waking towards evening, with a mind which sleep had partly sobered, he would roll out, and be seen no more until the following dawn. Those nights were invariably spent at the sign of the Flagon in that dismal alley off Watling Street whither chance had led him in the first instance. What attraction the place held for him he could scarcely have defined, but there is no doubt that he was drawn by the company of men in similar case to himself—men who sought the nepenthes of the wine-cup, forgetfulness of their misery and desolation in riotous debauch. Low though he might previously have come, neither was it the resort nor were its patrons the associates that he would ordinarily have chosen. Fortune, whose sport he had ever been, had flung him thither; and thither he continued, since he could find there the only thing he sought until death should bring him final peace.

The end came abruptly. One night—the seventh that he spent in this fashion—he drank more deeply even than his deep habit, so that when, at the host's command, he lurched out into the dark alley, the last of the roysterers to depart, his wits were drugged to the point of utter unconsciousness. His limbs moved mechanically, staggering under him, and bore his swaying body in long lurches down the lane, until he must have looked like some flimsy simulacrum of a man with which the wind made sport. Knowing nothing of whither he went, he came into Watling Street, crossed it, plunged into a narrow alley on the southern side, and reeled on until his feet struck an obstacle in their unconscious path. He fell forward on his face, and, lacking the energy to rise, lay there, and so sank into a lethargic sleep.

Came a bell tinkling in the distance. Its sound grew nearer and louder, and was accompanied by the fall of hoofs and the groan of wheels. Presently was heard the cry on the silent night:

"Bring out your dead!"

The vehicle halted at the mouth of the alley where the colonel lay. A man stood there, holding a flaming link above his head, casting its ruddy glare hither and thither, searching the dark corners of that by-way. He beheld two bodies stretched upon the ground—the colonel's and the one over which he had tripped. He called to a companion, and the cart was brought nearer by one who walked at the horse's head, pulling at a short clay pipe.

Whilst the first of these ghoulish fellows held the light, the other rolled the body over, then stepped on, and did the same by Colonel Holles. The colonel's countenance was as livid as that of the corpse that had tripped him, and he scarcely seemed to breathe. They bestowed no more than a glance upon him, then turned to the other. The man with the link thrust this into a holder attached to the front of the dead-cart, then the two of them took down their hooks, seized the body, and swung it up into the vehicle. Coming next to Holles, they pulled off his boots and his doublet, then took his hat and cloak, made a bundle of the lot, and dropped them into a basket attached behind the cart.

"He's still warm, Nick," said he of the pipe.

"He'll be cold enough 'or ever we come to Aldgate," answered the other; and the next moment their hooks were in such garments as they had left him, and they had added him to the ghastly load that already half-filled the cart.

They trundled on, going eastward, pausing ever and anon as they went, either at the call of a watchman or at what they found for themselves, and ever and anon adding to the grim load which they bore away to peremptory burial in the plague pit.

They had all but reached Aldgate, when the colonel was aroused, his wits quickened by Nature to rescue him from suffocation. He awakened, thrusting fiercely for air at a heavy mass that lay across his face. At first his efforts were the feeble ones to be expected of his condition, so that he gained but short respites, in each of which, like a drowning man who keeps coming to the surface, he gasped a breath of the contamination about him. But finding each effort succeeded by a suffocation that became more painful, a sort of terror gained upon him and pulled his senses out of their drunken torpor. He heaved more strenuously, and at last won clear, so far as his head was concerned. He saw the paling stars above, and was able to breathe freely, but the burden he had thrust from his head now lay across his breast, and the weight of it was troublesome. He put forth a hand, and realising that what he grasped was a human arm, he shook it vigorously.

"Afoo' there, ye drunken lob!" he growled in a thick voice. "Afoo', I say! D'ye take me forrer couch, to pu' yourself to bed across me? O's my life," he continued more angrily, getting no response "Gerrup! Gerrup! Or I'll—"

He stopped, blinking up at the glare of light that suddenly struck across his eyes, and beheld the two horrible figures of the carters, who had mounted the wheels of the vehicle, summoned by the sound of his voice. There was something so foul and infernal in their faces as seen in the ruddy glare of the torch that he made an effort more completely to arouse his senses. He struggled up into a sitting posture and looked about him, endeavouring to conjecture where he was.

"I told ye he was warm, Nick," said the voice of one of those ghouls.

"Ay, ye did so," was the answer. "An' what's to be done with him now? Best take him along. If he's not dead already he soon will be."

"And what of the examiner, fool? Turn him out. He's but a drunken cove that was sleeping off his wine. Lend a hand."

But there was not the need. Whether it was their words, or what he saw about him, that helped him to realise his situation, the colonel had struggled first to a sitting posture and then to his knees. Loathing and horror completely sobered him. He gripped the sides of the cart, flung a leg over, and leapt down, stumbling as he reached ground and falling his full length.

By the time he had gathered himself up the cart was moving on again, and the peals of hoarse laughter of the carters seemed to fill the silent street. Holles fled from the sound, back the way he had come, but not knowing where he was, and feeling, moreover, utterly bereft of strength, he sank presently into the shelter of the doorway of a deserted house, and there fell asleep.

When next he awakened it was to find himself in the full glare of a hot sun already high in the heavens. In mid-street stood a man dressed in black, leaning upon a red wand, and regarding him attentively.

"What ails you?" the man asked him, seeing him awake.

"The sight of you," growled the colonel, rising.

Yet on the movement a giddiness assailed him; he reeled and sank back to the step that had been his couch. Acting on a sudden thought, he tore open his shirt. On his breast the flower of the plague had blossomed while he slept.

"I lied," he said. "Look!"

And he laughed as he displayed almost with pride those dark red blotches to the man in black. And that was the last thing that he remembered.

There ensued for him a period of fevered activity, of dread encounters, and terrible combats, of continual strife with an opponent dressed in white satin, who wore the countenance of his Grace of Buckingham, and who was ever on the point of slaying him, yet, being unmerciful, never slayed. He lived in a world of delirium, whence at last he awakened one day to sanity—awakened to die, as he thought, when he had taken stock of his surroundings and realised them by the aid of his last waking memory.

He lay on a pallet near a window, through which he caught a glimpse of foliage and a strip of indigo sky. Overhead were the bare rafters of a roof that knew no ceiling; down the long room on his left were stretched a dozen such pallets as his own, and upon each a sufferer like himself, some lying still as if in death, others moaning and struggling with their keepers. He turned from them to contemplate that strip of sky, and from his heart he thanked God that at last the sands of his miserable life were running swiftly out, that peace awaited him. In that peace at last would be blotted out the shame that haunted him even now in these first moments of returning consciousness, the spectre of the contempt and loathing which he must have inspired in her against whom he had so grossly sinned. Yet it would have been sweet before he passed out into the cold shadows to tell her all that had gone to making such an utter villain of him. It might perhaps have mitigated that contempt of hers did she know how Fate had placed him between the hammer and the anvil. Tears gathered in his eyes and rolled down his wasted cheeks.

Steps approached his bedside. Someone was leaning over him. He looked up, and a great fear possessed him, so that his heart seemed to contract. Then, aloud, he explained to himself that apparition.

"I am at my dreams again," he complained softly.

"Nay, Ned; you are awake at last," said Nancy.

And now he saw that she, too, was weeping.

"Where am I, then?" he asked.

"In the pest-house in Bunhill Fields," she told him.

"And how come you here?"

"I was here before you. Being desolate, I offered myself as nurse-keeper, and the authorities sent me hither to tend the victims of the plague."

"And you tended me—you?"

"Did not you tend me?" she asked him. "Did you not stay to do so, and risk infection, when you might have fled and so been safe? Dr. Dymock told me of it all."

He made a gesture with one of his hands, grown so white and thin.

"Pish! That was the meanest measure of reparation, as I told you!" He sighed. "God is very good to me, a sinner. As I lie here now, all that I craved was that you might know the full truth of my villainy, of my temptation, and my fall; and no sooner do I wish it than you are come—that by confession I may die the easier."

"Why talk of death?" she asked him.

"Because it comes, and I shall make it welcome. To die of the plague is what I most deserve. I sought it, and it fled before me, yet in the end I stumbled upon it by chance. It was ever thus with me. In all things have I been the sport of Chance, even in my dying, as it seems. But I have a deal to tell you, and I am weak. If I delay perhaps I shall go before the tale is told. Listen, then!"

And, lying there while she continued to bend over him, he told her all. The evil choice that Buckingham had offered him, his desperate condition, and the utter hopelessness that had led to his succumbing.

"I am dying," he ended, "and I would not seek your forgiveness by a falsehood. I desire not to make the thing I did appear less vile. But I swear by my last feeble hope of heaven, if a heaven indeed there be, that I knew not that it was you I was to carry off, else I had gone to the hangman 'fore ever I had lent myself to the duke's business."

"You told me that before," she said; "and, indeed, I never doubted it. How could I?"

"How could you? Easily, all things considered," he answered grimly. Then he looked at her with piteous eyes. "I scarce dare hope that you'll forgive me all."

"But I do, Ned. I have forgiven you all long since, even without knowing what you have now told me. I forgave you when I learnt what you had done, how you risked your life for me."

"Say it again," he implored her.

She said it, weeping.

"Then I am happy. What matter all my unrealised dreams of crowned knight-errantry, what matter all my high-flown ambitions! To this must I have come in the end. I was a fool not to have taken the good to which I was born. Then might we have been happy, Nan, and neither of us would have sought the empty triumphs of the world."

"You shall get well again," she assured him through her tears.

"That surely were a crowning folly when I may die so happily," he answered.

But he did not die. What he had done for her, she had now done for him. By unremitting care of him in the endless hours of his delirium she had brought him safely through the Valley of the Shadow, and already, even as he spoke of dying, deluded by his weakness into believing that he stood upon the threshold, his recovery was assured.

Within a few days he was afoot again, and pronounced clear of the infection. Yet, before they would suffer him to depart, he must undergo the prescribed period of sequestration. He went to take his leave of Nancy under the elms of the garden of the farm that had been converted into a pest-house.

Slimly graceful stood she before him, and regarded him with white-faced, wide-eyed dismay.

"Can you then think of leaving me again?" she asked him, driven herself to woo this man who would not woo her.

He turned pale as herself, and trembled where he stood, growing conscious too that he made but an ungainly figure in the garments with which the public charity had supplied him.

"What else is there?" he asked her hoarsely.

"That is a question you had best answer for yourself."

He looked at her, and then away. He moistened his lips and stifled a curse.

"I see, I see!" he said. "You would gather up the shreds of this shattered life of mine with the hands of pity?"

"If that were my pleasure, should it not be your law?" she asked him.

"Your pleasure? Ha! Your pity, I said."

"Why, then you said wrong. Must I ask you to marry me, Ned, before you will catch my meaning? Or do you think that, having been a play-actress once, I am so fallen that—"

"Stop!" he bade her almost angrily. Then, looking at her. "Why do you try me, Nan?" he said. "You cannot need me. What have I to offer?"

"Do women love men for what they bring?" she asked him. "Is that the lesson your mercenary life has taught you? Oh, Ned, you spoke of Chance, and how it had directed all your life, and yet it seems you have not learnt to read its signs. A world lay between us, in which we were lost to each other, yet Chance brought us together again, and if the way of it was evil, yet it was the way of Chance. Again we strayed apart, and as irrevocably again we have come together. Will you weary Chance by demanding that it should perform this miracle for the third time?"

He looked at her steadily, a man redeemed, driven back into the paths of honour by the scourge of all that had befallen him. Then he took her hand, and, bending low over it, he bore it to his lips.

"If I have been Chance's victim all my life, that is no reason why I should help you to be no better. For you there is the great world, there is your art, there is life and joy, when this pestilence shall have spent itself. I have naught to offer you in exchange for all that. And so, God keep you ever, Nan."

And upon that, abruptly, he left her, nor heeded the little fluttering cry of "Ned! Ned!" that followed after him.

But Chance had not done with him yet. When a month later, without seeing her again—since that, of course, would have been denied him, as it would have nullified his sequestration from infected persons and surroundings—he went forth free to go where he pleased, he remembered the debt that still lay unsettled between Buckingham and himself.

It was not mere revenge that drove him. It was the hideous thought that what his Grace had attempted once he might attempt again, and perhaps with better fortune. The colonel looked upon him as a peril to be removed from Nancy's path. With this intent he took his way to Whitehall on that day of September.

There he was informed that his Grace had left town some weeks ago, having gone to join the Court at Salisbury, and that in all probability he would now be found at Oxford, whither the King's Majesty had transferred himself. He was turning away, determining that he must find the means to get him to Oxford, when, as he came down the steps of the palace, he was brought face to face with a huge, dark man who had just alighted from a coach.

The man checked and stared at sight of him, and the colonel put off his plain, unfeathered hat in greeting to his sometime friend the Duke of Albemarle.

"Why, Ned Holles, as I live!" cried his Grace. "Where the plague have you been?"

"With the plague mostly," answered Holles.

His Grace stared.

"You're certified in health, I hope?" said he, on a note of anxiety.

"I am. I carry no infection."

"Then you never had my letter?" said the duke. "Or are you come in answer to it now?"

"What letter?" quoth the colonel.

"Come in, man." The duke linked his arm through the colonel's and led him within again. "I wrote to tell you that Stanhope had taken the plague and died. You'll remember 'twas Stanhope had the office that you sought. So the office was yours again for the asking. That was a month ago, I waited a week, and hearing nothing from you, I appointed another gentleman of promise. He was to have sailed for Bombay yesterday. But he, too, took the plague, and died three days ago. So the office is vacant again, and if you still have a mind for the Indies, you may go fill it. I begin to think it fortunate that ye've had the plague, and so cannot die of it, as all seemed doomed upon whom I bestowed the appointment. Will you go?"

Holles could scarcely command his eagerness to answer becomingly.

"Good!" said the duke. "The office is a good one, my friend, and may carry you high if you use your opportunities. How soon can you sail?"

"In a month's time," said Holles promptly.

"A month!" cried Albemarle. "Nay, you'll need to sail sooner. Time enough has been wasted already."

"Yet a month it must be. I may have a companion who cannot be ready before then, and I am resolved that, sooner than go alone, I'll stay where I am."

He explained himself, and won the duke's sympathy in the end. With this, and the parchment bearing the signature of the Secretary of State conferring upon him that distant post, and a heavy purse advanced him by the Treasury for his outfit, the colonel took coach at once and went straight back to Bunhill Fields and the pest-house.

On the way thither a great fear took him lest he should no longer find her there. But this fear was instantly set at rest by the elderly matron who received him.

Miss Sylvester, she informed him—for Nancy had resumed her old name when she offered herself to tend the victims of the plague—was taking her noontide hour of rest. She led him to the garden where he had parted from Nancy a month ago, and pointed her out to him where she sat under the elms, then left him to go forward alone.

The turf deadened his steps, she was unconscious of his approach until he stood over her where she sat, all lost in thought. She looked up as his shadow fell beside her, and at sight of him uttered a little cry, and grew very white.

"Chance," he said, "has performed her third and greatest miracle—the one you said was not to be looked for. At last I have something to offer you, Nan, in exchange for all that you will resign in taking me. It is not much, but such as it is I offer it."

And he tossed his parchment into her lap.

She looked at the white cylinder, and then at him, and a little smile crept about the corners of her mouth and trembled there. Into her mind there came a memory of the big boast of conquest for her sake with which he had set out in the long ago.

"Is this the world you promised me, Ned?" she asked him

"As much of it as I can contrive to get," he answered.

"Then it will be enough for me," she said; and rising, held out the parchment, still unfolded.

"But you haven't looked," he protested.

"What need is there? Since it is your kingdom, I will share it whatever else it may be."

He met the glance of her eyes that were now aglow.

"It is situate in the Indies—in Bombay," said he with indifference.

She considered.

"I ever had a thirst for travel," she said deliberately, "but its whereabouts matters very little."

He felt that it was due to her that he should explain how he came by it, and to that explanation he proceeded. Before he had quite done, she was suddenly in tears.

"Why? Why? What now?" he cried in dismay. "Does your heart misgive you."

"Oh, Ned," she cried, "I weep for gladness that what I had ceased to hope for has come to pass. Do you not see that I need comforting for the month of hopeless anguish I have spent?"

"My dear!" he cried; and gave her forthwith the comfort she invited.


The Siege of Savigny

Chambers' Journal, November 1903

Heigh-ho! A man of twenty in love is a sad fool. Yet who would not be a sad fool that he might be twenty and in love?

I sat idling in the guard-room of the Castle of Nogent one July morning, my twenty-year-old mind running upon a lady who dwelt at Juvisy, whose very name was unknown to me, but whose eyes—the bluest that I ever looked into—had nathless made a fool of me. That pair of eyes had drawn me oft of late to ride across the league and a half that lay 'twixt Nogent and Juvisy, so that I might pass beneath her window, and earn for all reward perchance a glance, perchance not that. So, thinking of her, as had become my constant wont, sat I that July morning when one of M. de Crecqui's men came to bid me wait upon the Governor.

I was genially received by my kind patron with the intimation that a hazardous enterprise awaited me if I were minded to undertake it: the business being his own rather than the King's. The Château de Savigny, which lay some ten leagues distant from Nogent, and thirty leagues this side of Paris, and which was the property of M. de Crecqui, had been forcibly seized by his brother-in-law, M. de Monravel, upon the plea— inaccurate, my patron said—that the demesne formed part of his wife's marriage-portion.

M. de Crecqui had garrisoned the place pending the legal settlement of the business, confident in his influence with the King to bring it to the issue he desired; but the audacious Monravel, knowing how weighty an argument at law is the possession of the disputed ground, had duped my patron's men, and seizing the château, had set a slender garrison of his own—six men, as I afterwards learnt—to hold it against M. de Crecqui. Monravel relied as much upon his influence with the Parliament to establish the justice of his pretensions as did Crecqui build upon his influence with our good King Henry the Fourth.

In such a pass stood matters now; and, piqued by the affront that had been put upon him, it was M. de Crecqui's desire that I should start forthwith for Savigny, taking half-a-dozen men-at-arms with me, and there by force or strategy oust Monravel's knaves, and at any cost regain possession of his castle, holding it as a place de guerre.

I liked the business much; yet I was not blind to the risk that I ran did the Parliament prove the place M. de Monravel's. But my patron promised me in all solemnity that he would sustain me against all risks, and himself answer to the King for all that I did as being done in his name and by his express commands.

Thus reassured, I picked my men, and with the six of them in back and breast plates and pots of burnished steel, I rode out for Savigny without more ado, and preserving the utmost secrecy as to our destination.

I went by way of Juvisy, and had for my reward a glimpse of my lady coming out of the Church of St. Jacques as we rode by. She was attended by an elderly waiting-woman, who came behind her at a respectful distance, and she walked with eyes demurely downcast and folded hands, as becomes a maiden fresh from her devotions; but the clatter my fellows made in passing caused her to lift her eyes. They met my impassioned gaze, and for a moment they were not withdrawn. Mayhap the ardour of my glance it was, mayhap the brave figure I cut in my glinting corslet and plumed hat: I know not which of these, but this I know—that into her eyes, which hitherto had never bestowed upon me but an indifferent, almost contemptuous look, if they had looked at all, there seemed to leap a light of interest. Her lips—surely it was not my enamoured fancy—assumed the faintest of smiles; a smile of kindliness methought it. The blood rushed to my head, and so far drowned my usual timidity that, bending low upon the withers, I doffed my hat in the courtliest fashion I was master of. Thus far did impulse bear me, but no farther. Draw rein I dared not, but passed on; and, growing presently conscious that my troopers' faces were all agrin, I swore softly to myself, and harshly bade them travel faster.

It is not my purpose to set down in detail how we took possession that very night of the Château de Savigny. The thing was accomplished with a simplicity rendered possible by the carelessness of the garrison and the unexpectedness of our attack. I turned all Monravel's creatures from the place, with the exception of an elderly dame who had charge of the kitchen, and whom we thought it convenient to keep with us. Four of our six troopers I sent back to Nogent, retaining but Barnave and Grégoire, for the place was of such strength that three men alert might hold it against an army.

Four days later an huissier sent from Paris by the Parliament presented himself at Savigny to demand of me that I should let down the drawbridge and deliver up the castle. I answered that I did not know him, and that I would obey nought but a written order from M. de Crecqui, who had entrusted his castle to my keeping. That black-coated rascal answered me with threats of the hangman; whereupon I bade Barnave open the postern beside the portcullis and throw a plank across the moat. This done, I invited the bailiff to enter. He came gingerly enough, for he was unaccustomed to such narrow bridges. Had he known what awaited him he had not come at all; for when he was midway across, the plank was suddenly tilted over, and he was flung headlong into the slimy water. With a rope we rescued him, and sent him, wet and sorrowful, back to Paris and his Parliament.

This outrage must have made a fine stir, for three days later Savigny was visited by no less a person than a councillor, who came with all the pomp of office and a guard of honour of six archers. He was prodigal in threats—so prodigal that, grown weary of them, I bade the plank to be thrust out to him; but, knowing what had befallen the bailiff, and deeming that I intended him a like affront, he grew purple with rage, and with a parting volley of threats, he rode off in high dudgeon. Had I been older it might have afforded me uneasiness to think that I had derided the Parliament, flouted its commands, and insulted its ambassadors.

It was on the morning of the second day after the councillor's visit that Grégoire brought me word that a lady was at the gates demanding speech of the master of the place. Now, if that information caused me some slight astonishment, it was as nothing to my amazement when, upon looking out from the postern, I beheld the very lady that was mistress of my thoughts: the lady of Juvisy. The horse she rode was bathed in sweat, flecked with foam, and breathing hard.

'Are you the master of this castle, monsieur?' was her panted greeting.

'I am in command here, madam,' I answered timidly.

'Then, monsieur, of your courtesy, of your chivalry, I crave shelter. I am being pursued.'

'Pursued, madam?' I cried, touched already by the distress in her voice. 'By whom?'

'Oh, what does it signify?' she cried, glancing fearfully behind her. 'By M. de Bervaux, my guardian. For Heaven's sake, monsieur, protect me!'

What answer could I make any woman who thus appealed to me? What answer could I make to her of all women?

'Holá there!' I shouted. 'Barnave! Grégoire! Quick, let down the portcullis.'

Breathing a prayer of gratitude to the god of lovers for this signal favour, I went hat in hand to assist her to alight in the courtyard, the while a very torrent of thanks rained down upon me from her lips in a voice so rich and musical that I listened as one enthralled; and when presently she paused abruptly, I looked up to find her eyes riveted upon my face, and her brows knit, as though she looked on something that was puzzling her.

'Surely, surely, monsieur,' she said at last, 'we have met before?'

I went red from chin to hair. 'Indeed—indeed, madam, I have seen you often,' I stammered.

'At Juvisy, was it not?'

'Yes, madam, at Juvisy.'

'Ah!' And with the utterance of that monosyllable, so kindly and so witching a smile lighted her face that I know not what folly I had wrought but that shouts sounded without at that moment.

Grégoire came up with the news that a party of mounted men stood before the castle.

'Monsieur!' cried the lady in high distress, 'you will not give me up? Pity me, monsieur! I am a poor defenceless maid, and there are those without who would force me into a hateful marriage for the sake of what little wealth I am possessed of.'

'Say no more, Mademoiselle.'

'Ah! but, monsieur,' she broke in tearfully, 'you must tell them that I am not here. In your mother's name, monsieur, I beg you, pity and help me!'

'I swear they shall go hence without you,' I answered firmly; whereupon she caught my hand and kissed it, blessing me for a brave and noble gentleman—my lips envying my hand the while.

At length I bade one of my knaves call Catharine, the woman that had been left behind by Monravel's men, and to her care I consigned mademoiselle. That done, I approached the window and looked out. I beheld a very magnificent gentleman, bravely arrayed and well mounted, and with him two fellows whom at a glance I took to be serving-men.

'Holá, my master!' I shouted, 'what seek you?'

'I am in search of a lady,' he replied, with princely hauteur.

'Ohé! A lady? Has she fallen into the moat?'

'You are pleased to jest, Master Jackanapes,' quoth he with a scowl. 'I am in search of the lady who has sought shelter in this castle.'

'Jackanapes in your teeth, you dog!' I answered. 'Were I not'—

'Answer me, sir,' he thundered, interrupting me. 'Are you harbouring a lady? I demand it.'

'Oui-da! You demand it? Monsieur, I would have you know that my name is Armand de Pontis, and that.'—

'I am answered,' he broke in angrily, 'And you shall smart for it, you knave. I am the lady's legal guardian, and deliver her to me you shall.'

'If you stay there another minute,' I answered, losing all patience, 'I'll deliver you a handful of carbine-shot.'

'I shall appeal to the Provost,' he threatened.

'Appeal to the devil, sir!' I retorted; and, slamming the window, I left him to his own devices.

As I turned I found mademoiselle standing behind me, her eyes alight with excitement.

'We have gained a respite, mademoiselle; but I fear that he will return, and the Provost with him.'

'What then, monsieur?' she cried in alarm. 'You will not abandon me to them?'

'Never, mademoiselle,' I answered resolutely. 'We shall fight this battle out together.'

To seal the bargain—and deeming that I had earned a right to this—I gallantly raised her hand to my lips.

'And I warrant you we will prove good comrades,' quoth she with an arch coyness that made me dizzy with hope.

Now, albeit M. de Bervaux was gone, he had left behind him his two servants on guard in the clearance before Savigny. It occurred to me to make a sortie and scatter them, and I mentioned this to Grégoire in mademoiselle's presence.

'Twere easily done,' said he; 'but it would avail us little unless'—His glance at mademoiselle completed the sentence.

'Mademoiselle remains here,' I answered, interpreting his glance.

That evening a letter reached me from M. de Crecqui.

He lauded in it my treatment of those whom the Parliament had sent to me, and urged me to stand firm and give way to no threats, since he would be answerable for all. He was on the point of setting out for Paris to lay the matter before His Majesty. He ended with some touching professions of friendship, and promises of future advancement did I continue in this matter to show myself as staunch and trustworthy as hitherto. That promise of his was a pretty thing to dwell upon, and with his letter for a foundation I built myself as glorious a 'castle in Spain' as ever sprang from the hopeful soul of an ambitious boy; and in that castle of fancy dwelt I and Henriette de Chandora—for such, she had told me, was her name. I pictured myself a knight of romance, and her the lady I had rescued in her hour of need; and as the days sped by this pleasant fancy grew and absorbed my every thought.

M. de Bervaux returned that night with the Provost and twenty men-at-arms—half of whom appeared to have been enlisted from the peasantry of the neighbourhood; and I was now called upon to give up the lady I had kidnapped. 'Kidnapped' was the word the Provost used, and 'tis small wonder I was out of temper at it. I was discreet, however, and did no more than swear by my honour that I had kidnapped no lady. He persisted that I held her a prisoner in Savigny; and, since I would not grant him leave to enter and search the place, he despatched a messenger to Paris to inform the King and the Parliament of what was passing. That done, and with wild threats of using cannon against me, he encamped his men in the clearance before the castle, and sat down to besiege me.

Four days went by ere the Provost's messenger returned, and were I minded to set down in detail all that had passed in those four days 'twixt mademoiselle and me, the thousand things we said, the million thoughts I kept for later utterance, I should fill a volume as copious as the Bible.

On the night before the messenger's return we were walking on the ramparts—she wrapped in a man's cloak, and trusting to this and to the darkness to screen her from any prying eyes of our besiegers. I stalked along, talking as only a man of twenty will talk when the stars are overhead, the air is warm, and the woman of his heart doth bear him company. She listened and answered, and was kind, and so the thing came about; and before I quite knew what had chanced I was on my knees holding her hand in mine, offering her myself and all that I owned, and bewailing that my offering was so poor a thing—in which, in all truth, I did myself no more than justice. She said me neither yea nor nay, yet from her kindly tone and the touch of her sweet hand upon my head I gathered hope, and promised to wait, as she besought me, another day. She cried out that I bewildered her; that she must think at least until the morrow. And so we parted.

The morrow brought a more imperious summons from the Provost and M. de Bervaux. The Provost had word from the Parliament that I and those with me were to be held outlaws and taken dead or alive unless I could prove that Mademoiselle de Chandora was not in the château. The news staggered me. What was M. de Crecqui about that such a decree as this was passed? And then I bethought me that this matter of mademoiselle was a thing apart from the mere holding of Savigny against M. de Monravel, and beyond the pale of M. de Crecqui's influence. The fear of disaster loomed suddenly before me.

'What proof will satisfy you, Master Provost?' I demanded.

'None but a search of the château,' he answered firmly.

'I have already told you, sir, that M. de Crecqui, my master, has forbidden me to open the gates to any one.'

'Have a care how you trifle, M. de Pontis,' he cried. 'I am empowered by the Parliament to proceed to extremities if you withstand me. M. de Crecqui's affairs are nought to me. Unless you admit me before sunset I'll send to Juvisy for cannon, and talk to you with them.'

Here was a pretty situation! And what would M. de Crecqui say if Savigny were demolished by cannon? I went over to the northern wing of the château, where mademoiselle had her apartments, and having found her, I told her what had passed.

'There is but one remedy,' said she, with a sigh.

'That is?'

'To hand me over to my guardian.'

'Were I minded to do so vile a thing, 'twould be too late; for if the Provost can prove that I have detained you I shall certainly be arrested.'

'Oh monsieur,' she cried, wringing her hands, 'is it for such a reward that you have befriended me? What can I do—what sacrifice can I make to save you from the consequences of your generosity?'

'So that you love me'—I began, when some one knocked. With an oath I strode to the door.

Barnave was there with a letter. It had been flung on to the ramparts with a stone attached to it from the eastern side, which was unguarded by our besiegers. Taking the package, I dismissed him, then eagerly tore it open. As I had already guessed, it was from M. de Crecqui, and dwelt at some length upon the charge which had ben preferred against me.

'I more than half suspect,' he wrote, that this is a trumped up lie of Monravel's, a pretext to gain admittance to the château and to overcome you. But the accusation is a serious one, and you must admit the Provost and one or two men—not more—to make their search. Keep close watch over them whilst they are in the place, and see that, as they enter and depart, your gates are not rushed. If by any chance the story be true—which I canot bring myself to credit—and you have a woman in the castle, we are all undone. I shall of a certainty lose Savigny, and as for you—may God have mercy on your soul!'

My heart sank at the last words, and in silence I handed the letter to Henriette. She took it, read, and fell to pondering with knitted brows. At length she looked up.

'If you were to get me secretly out of the château,' she said slowly, 'and then let the Provost make his search, would not the difficulty be overcome?'

'Ay, ma mie,' I answered, 'it would indeed. But how is it to be accomplished? The château is besieged.'

'On one side only,' she returned quickly. 'The eastern side is unguarded.'

'There are no gates,'

'But there are windows.'

'The lowest is thirty feet above the moat.'

'I might climb down a ladder.'

'Into the moat?' I asked. 'Child, the wall sinks sheer into the water.'

The information baffled her for a moment. 'I have it,' she cried presently. 'You have a rope-ladder in the château?'

I answered her that we had such rhings, and thereupon she suggested to me that after nightfall I should descend by it from the lowest window on the eastern side, and swim the moat, bearing the end of the ladder with me; then, having landed, I was to hold it taut, so that it sloped clear of the water. Down this she would descend; and, once she had reached the ground, it would be easy for me to re-enter the castle in the same manner I had left it.

'But you, mademoiselle!' I cried, 'Where will you go?'

'To the Carmelite convent at Bernault; it is a little more than half a league distant, and I know the way.'

I still protested that the descent would be fraught with peril; but she made light of my fears, and so the matter was settled, and the determination taken to carry out this plan of hers after midnight—in the hours when nature would have set the vigilance of our besiegers at its weakest.

It wanted a little to two o'clock in the morning when, having assured myself that all was quiet in the Provost's camp, I made my way down to the courtyard by the light of a lanthorn. As I stepped into the quadrangle I came suddenly face to face with mademoiselle, who had been waiting for me by the door.

'Where are your men?' was the question wherewith she greeted me.

'My men?' I echoed. 'Why, asleep upstairs'; and with a jerk of the thumb I pointed over my shoulder up the steps that I had just descended.

'And the woman Catharine?'

'Is asleep also, I imagine.'

There was a pause. Then, laying her hands upon my arm, and bringing her face so close to mine that I could feel her breath upon my cheek, she said in a whisper, 'It had been better that you had brought Grégoire to guard that door. I am afraid of that woman. I mistrust her. She has been watching me all day, and I have begun to fear that she is spying upon me.'

'Par Dieu!' I gasped, 'tis possible. She was a creature of Monravel's.'

'Hist! What was that?' and her fingers tightened on my arm.

'What?'

'Behind you, on the stairs. Did you hear nothing?'

'No,' I answered. Then, smitten by a sudden thought, 'Wait,' I said, and, stepping back, I softly closed the heavy oaken door, and locked it.

'Now,' quoth I with a chuckle, 'she may follow us, but not beyond that door. She may knock or shout, but none will hear; the door is too solid. Come, mademoiselle!'

I drew her across the courtyard and through the narrow doorway leading to the eastern wing. We hurried up the flight of steps and along the corridor to the window upon which we had fixed. Softly opening it, I peered out. Nothing stirred; and, although the faintest of crescent moons hung in the sky, the night was dark enough to please and befriend us. Swiftly uncoiling the ladder, I made the hooks fast to the sill; then, drawing off my doublet and my boots, I set myself without more ado to climb down towards the water.

I had gone half-way, and hung but some fifteen feet from the moat, when of a sudden something gave way above me. It seemed to me that the thin streak of moon swept suddenly across the sky; nay, the whole firmament had shifted, and where it had been I now beheld the earth, then the still, black waters of the moat as I splashed into them.

Dazed by my fall, and understanding naught of what had chanced, but still clutching the ladder, I rose to the surface and spat the fetid water from my mouth, thinking that, albeit I was not drowned, 'twas odd I should be poisoned. Too bewildered than to act other than by instinct, I struck out for land. I stretched out my arms to catch at something that might help me from the water, when suddenly I felt it taken in a grasp and found assistance, as unwelcome as it was unlooked for; for as I was dragged out I realised with a shudder that the splash of my fall must have drawn the Provost's people.

Lanthorns began to gleam, and men seemed to spring up around me as by enchantment. I stood up at last with a little knot of fellows surrounding me, and more than one mocking laugh smote my ear. Facing me I beheld M. de Bervaux, and by his side the Provost I had derided. Apprehensively I glance up at the window; but the darkness left me in doubt if mademoiselle were still there or not.

With a laugh, M. de Bervaux inquired what fancy it was had led me to bathe in the moat at such an hour; and I will not dwell upon the score of jests wherewith this was followed by these merry gentlemen. Sick at heart, dripping, and shivering with cold—in truth, very miserable—I was led round to their encampment.

From the dejected state I had been in before, I went beside myself with rage as, upon coming into the clearance that fronts the castle, I beheld what was toward. The postern stood open, and up a plank that was stretched across the moat the Provost's men were filing into the château. How had this thing come to pass? Who had opened the postern? Nor Barnave nor Grégoire, nor yet Catharine, for I had locked them up in the northern wing of the building when I left it with mademoiselle. A light broke suddenly upon my mind, a light by which I saw things as they were; and in that hour I knew that I had been duped—the hooks of my ladder had not slipped from the sill by accident. I bethought me of M. de Crecqui, of his faith and trust in me, and a groan burst from my lips.


They took me a prisoner to Paris, and in my company went Barnave and Grégoire, whose glances I could not bear to meet. Them they set free; but me they flung into the Châtelet, and there I lay for a week, bitterly reviling myself and my fortunes, and yet more bitterly dubbing the fair sex the 'infamous sex,' with the gallows of Montfauçon looming sinister on my mind's horizon.

On the eighth day of my captivity my sour-faced jailer bade me arise and follow him, saying that Madame de Monravel was come to visit me. He ushered me into a room where I beheld the woman who had brought me to this sorry pass. Beside her stood he whom I had known as M. de Bervaux. From her first words I gathered not only that—as already I suspected—she was none other than Madame de Monravel herself, but also that the gentleman whom she had called her guardian was her guardian by right of wedlock.

I scowled fiercely upon the pair of them, whereupon she came forward with her sweet, scornful smile.

'Nay, not so glum, M. de Pontis,' she cried archly, 'I bring you news of your release and your free pardon for resisting the Parliament's authority. My brother, M. de Crecqui, has lost the Château de Savigny; but I think he recognises how desperate was his case, and I am sure that it will not be long ere he restores you to his favour. The Parliament would have made an example of you, M. de Pontis, but I insisted upon your unconditional pardon. I owed you that, methinks,' she added slyly, 'for the sake—for the sake of Henriette.'


The Vicomte's Wager

The Story of how he made and lost it

Harmsworth Magazine, September 1899

I

To honour the fair sex is the first law of chivalry—a law well understood by the gay roysterers seated around the Comte de St. Auban's generous board; for in a few short hours we had paid right loyal homage to woman by toasting every beauty at the court of France, and for that matter at every court of Europe.

I was young then—let this be my excuse—and I fear me I was vain and foolish. At least, I know that my reputation was not quite what a young man's reputation should be.

But on that night at St. Auban's, what little wit the gods had given me must have been smothered in the fumes of wine.

The conversation had assumed a character which I cannot recall in detail, but which had for scope the discussion of woman's beauty—a very fit and proper subject for half a score of idle young fops who knew no occupation save the study of fashion, gallantry and perfumery. I was appealed to for my opinion upon some question of feminine susceptibilities, and, with a boldness derived from much indulgence in the goblet at my elbow, I replied by a loud and lusty boast, that the woman was yet unborn that could withstand my personal charms and lover's wiles.

The burst of laughter which greeted this remark, instead of the silent awe to which I deemed it entitled, disconcerted me somewhat; but when the Chevaler de Brissac, leaning across the table, loudly anounced that he could find a lady who would be no more affected either by my personal beauty or charm of manner, than one of the marble statues in the Louvre, I became angry. Had it not been that de Brissac's fame as a swordsman was apt to make him in a degree respected, and cause one to think twice before saying that to him which would have been unhesitatingly said to another, I doubt not but that some smart witticisms would have been exchanged. But I washed down my annoyance with another goblet of Anjou, and sweetly desired him to name this modern Penelope.

"I will pledge her!" he cried, rising to his feet and lifting his glass on high, with fingers that shook ever so lightly. "I drink to the bright eyes of the Marquise de Grandcourt."

It was de règle that we should stand to pledge a lady, and so our chairs were pushed back, and several unsteady pairs of legs supported their owners' bodies, which swayed, some gracefully, some otherwise, as the toast was noisily responded to.

The Marquise de Grandcourt had the reputation of being as heartless as she was beautiful, and many were the ardent wooers whose discomfiture she had encompassed. I remember how upon many occasions, when I had met her at the Louvre, she had been wont to glance disdainfully at my brave apparel, and turn up her perfect nose as if my delicate perfumes of ambre and iris were offensive to her dainty nostrils. And as I remembered this I was inclined to regret the rashness of my boast.

Still, when presently I encountered de Brissac's sardonic smile, and heard him murmur in bantering tones, "Are you satisfied, Vicomte?" I laughed derisively.

"Satisfied? I am satisfied that what I have said is true, and I will prove my words."

"Or eat them," he added. "Chut, Vicomte, I'll wager you a hundred louis that not if you pester her with your scented attentions for a whole year, will you so much obtain her permission to kiss her finger tips."

"Bah!" I laughed, "a hundred louis would not pay the expenses of my wooing."

"If you require tempting, Vicomte," came St. Auban's voice from the head of the table, "I will gladly lay you a thousand louis."

"Done, with you!" I roared, utterly oblivious of the fact that if I were to employ every blandishment I could think of, towards every Hebrew gentleman of my acquaintance, I should not succeed in raising half the sum. "How long will you give me?"

"What say you to three months?"

"Three months!" I echoed, "Do you take me for a clown? I should indeed be a clumsy wooer could I not earn your money in a month."

"No, no," replied St. Auban generously, "there is no fairness in the arrangement. You have taken a good deal of wine, Vilmorin, and I think it would be better for me to repeat my proposals tomorrow, when your head is cool."

"La, la," I answered, quickly, for the smiling eyes that were turned upon me had aroused my temper, "Undeceive yourself, St. Auban. If you were half as sober as I am you would be less willing to put a thousand louis into my pocket."

The shout of laughter that applauded my courageous coxcombry well-nigh shook the glasses on the table.

"As you will," answered St. Auban, "'tis then a wager that within a month you will have conquered the heart of the Marquise de Grandcourt."

"Neither in one month nor twenty if I know the lady!" ejaculated de Brissac.

"Say you so, Chevalier?" I cried, springing to my feet, and angered by so much opposition. "Say you so? Then hear my answer. My name is not Camille de Vilmorin, if I do not bring the Marquise de Grandcourt on her knees to me—on her knees, mark you—before I am a month older. And failing to do so, I shall forfeit a thousand louis!"

With that I sat down amidst the wild vociferations of the assembled company, and emptied my newly filled bumper to quench the thirst which my vigorous speech had excited.

II

With an aching head and a sluggish mind did I set about recalling, next day, what had been said and done at the Comte de St. Auban's supper-table. But the memory of the whole evening was as blurred and confused as a quickly revolving wheel of many colours.

One thing, however, stood clearly defined before me, and sent a stab of regret through my heart—my drunken wager.

Misunderstand me not. I would scorn to appear before you in false colours, for, whatever may have been my sins, I never was a hypocrite, nor do I wish to be one now. My honour was not father to my regret, as it should have been. Like many of those who prate loudly of honour, and make it their most sacred oath, it seems to me now that I but understood the practice of that virtue dimly. My regret was born of a fear that I should fail to win my wager, and be called an idle boaster.

I met St. Auban and de Brissac at the levée in the Louvre that morning, and they smilingly inquired whether I had yet paid my addresses to the Marquise. My answer lacked much of that suave flippancy which I affected, and was unaccompanied by my wonted laugh.

It must have been my brusqueness upon this occasion which gave rise to the rumour amongst those who, having been present at St. Auban's supper-table, were privy to the wager—the affair was kept amomgst us in the profoundest secrecy—that I had no intention of paying court to the lady, or, in fact, of approaching her.

When I heard of this, two days later, my dormant energies were aroused, and, as ready money was an uncommonly absent commodity, I must perforce set to work without further dallying to bring the Marquise a-kneeling before me, or else resign myself to the sale of my horses and jewelry.

As a Vicomte de Vilmorin would cut but a sorry figure in the world without these accessories, the sacrifice was not to be thought of.

Therefore I set about discovering what manner of man the Marquise would consider as at all approaching her ideal. I soon gathered that if this living icicle had any penchant towards the opposite sex, it was for soldiers and warlike men. I winced at the information, for such men, in my estimation, always reeked of leather, and were prone to brusque, unseemly manners, which I had no stomach for emulating. That thousand louis, however, danced before my eyes like a tormenting sprite, and must be conquered.

I looked about me for a sombre suit that might have escaped the scent bottle, but, not finding any such within my wardrobe, I was forced to visit a tailor whom I honoured with my patronage, and who, in virtue of my handsome figure, was not too pressing in his demands for payment.

This commodious threader of needles sent me out into the world garbed in a sombre suit of velvet with silver lace, over which I buckled on a baldrick of embossed black leather, bearing a bronze-hilted rapier, of prodigious length, in a leathern scabbard.

Imagine me—whose baldricks had ever been of gaily coloured and richly embroidered silks, whose sword had been more hilt than blade, and all ablaze with jewels—thus fashioned, like some moping night bird, or some canting, moral-mongering follower of the English puritan Cromwell.

Nor was that all; for when, at home, I surveyed my appearance critically before a mirror, I cursed the smooth skin and meek expression of my girlish face, and, having got a servant to bring me a hot iron, I attempted, by an upward curling of my moustachios, to give them a warlike, bristling look, which might add ferocity to my otherwise gentle beauty.

When that was done, and I had pressed upon my locks a tall-crowned hat decorated by a single feather, I sallied forth a-wooing. And de Brissac, whom I met as I went, and who knew me not at the first glance, seeing me—the gay, roystering Vilmorin—thus spurred and booted, and begirt with such a sword, puffed out his cheeks in wonder, and asked me what adversary I was going to meet.

"There is no duel afoot," I answered, in stiff accents, born of the dignity borrowed from my raiment; "I am about to visit the Marquise."

"Then, by the Mass," he cried, eyeing me from hat to spurs in a sardonic fashion, "why come you not armed back and breast?"

But, heeding not his sarcastic allusion to my apparel, nor his parting request that I should present his compliments to the Marquise, I hurried on.

I found the lady whose favour had an intrinsic value for me surrounded by a group of lisping gallants, whom, but a few hours back, my finery would have extinguished wholly. As it was, they looked askance at me, and some who knew me marvelled greatly, no doubt, at the change which had been wrought, whilst some who knew me not eyed me in a supercilious fashion, as I might eye a lacquey.

But I threw back their scornful glances, and, clanking my scabbard, drew their attention to the length of my rapier, with a significance which they could not misinterpret, as I elbowed my way to the Marquise, to whom I made my courtliest bow.

"Monsieur le Vicomte," she murmured, when I had announced myself, "I cannot clearly recollect you. Is it long since last we met?"

"Some little time," I answered suavely, remembering that it was exactly a week, and praying to heaven that she might not remember it too.

We entered upon an interesting conversation, and it was not long ere I realised how well-advised I had been to clothe myself with such sobriety. For soon those gilded, lisping fops who stood about us began to move away, until at last the beautiful and greatly courted Marquise de Grandcourt and the warlike Vilmorin were left alone.

We discussed the men that filled the room, and, having ascertained that I was not likely to be overheard by any of my acquaintances, I launched forth upon a vigorous abuse of their effeminate dress and manners, whereat her glorious eyes sparkled with enthusiasm for a subject which, I soon discovered, she was herself never tired of expounding.

When I arose, at the end of an hour, "It does one good to see such a man," she said, "in these days of scented puppets."

And as I bent over her shapely hand, so white and slender, she murmured a wish that we might meet again—a wish that, for obvious reasons, found a fervent echo in my heart.

III

Such was the commencement of my courtship. And for a week it continued more or less as it had begun, save that each day my tongue shaped bolder words and my eyes more ardent glances, until the Marquise could have no doubt but that it was to her that my court was paid each time I visited the Louvre, and not to His Majesty.

It was then that, deeming matters to have gone far enough in this fashion, I bethought me to fill her boudoir with flowers, and letters couched in tender language, which, strange to tell, were all returned to me.

This set me pondering, and I concluded that perchance the Marquise, being a lady of exalted and fastidious tastes, cared not to be wooed in prose. So I hired me a poet, who wrote me odes and sonnets by the score, which I sent along with my floral offerings.

But here agin no better fortune met me; for, like the prose, the verses too were returned.

I cast about me for some new means through which to show her my devotion, and hit upon the idea of engaging some minstrels then performing at Court to serenade her. I paid them well, and bid them do their best. But either they ignored my injunctions, or else the lady had no more stomach for serenades by night than for elegant prose and tender verse by day; for of the three I sent, but one returned—and he with a broken head—to tell me that they had been set upon by her ladyship's servants, and that his companions had been carried home on shutters.

He cursed me roundly, and called me some names, which, out of pity for the fellow's lack of manners, I withhold. Suffice it to say that it cost me fifty louis—twenty-five of which I borrowed from a friendly Jew—to pacify him.

That night I slept but ill, for it seemed that my courtship took not a favourable turn, and as my busy thoughts were searching means wherein to mend affairs, they banished sleep.

But in those waking hours I determined upon a plan which must perforce succeed, and in accordance with which I boldly visited the Marquise upon the following day. I chose an early hour whereat she would have no visitors, and therein I was successful, for I found her alone and in a gracious mood.

I chided her gently for having treated my messengers with such scant compliment, whereat she looked regretful and cast down her eyes.

Noting my advantage, and deeming the citadel of her heart now ripe for storming, I knelt to her—as I had knelt to a score of women before her—and told her, in words that from much repetition had acquired an eloquent fluency, how deeply I loved—I who had never known before what it was to love.

She heard me through with a gentle hanging of her lovely head—a symptom which, experience told me, should augur well—and when for very want of breath I stopped, she laughed in tones that made me wonder had the long-concealed passion which she had fostered for me turned her head.

Thinking it must be so, and hearing already the chink of St. Auban's gold pieces in my pocket, I sprang joyfully to my feet, and, catching her round the waist, I awoke the echoes of the room with the sound of a hearty kiss.

Were I to live a hundred years, I shall still remember the change that came over her face, from which all colour fled, and the terrible look that flashed upon me from her eyes.

I liked it not, and, scenting danger, I became suddenly aware that it had grown late, and that I had an appointment at noon, which must perforce be kept.

I looked about me for my hat, and, having found it, I made shift to go, when suddenly she broke the painful, uncanny silence.

"Tarry a moment, monsieur," she cried, and methought her eyes had taken fire. "Tarry a moment, I am loth to part with you!"

Had I heard her aright? Did she desire my company, and were these signs of impending storm but affected, so that—womanlike—she might conceal her joy? Thinking it must be so, "I am your slave," I murmured, with a gallant bow, "your humble slave, Marquise. Command me as you will, and those others may wait."

She laughed curiously, and her eyes wandered towards a riding whip which lay at hand, and which had I seen betimes, mayhap I should have been more prudent.

"You have given me something, Monsieur," she said, "and as it hurts me to remain a debtor, I will give you something in return."

In vain did I protest that what I had given her was of no consequence, and required no payment. She was of a different mind.

"I will call again, Marquise," I exclaimed, "you can repay me then." And, knowing full well what was in store for me did I tarry, I stalked towards the door.

But she forestalled me, and barred my passage, whip in hand.

Seeing how matters stood, and having no illusions left, I deemed it best to grow dignified.

"I trust, madame," I ventured in my gentlest tones, fearing to arouse her anger further by any too great a show of firmness, "I trust that you will remember that I am a gentleman."

"I never knew it, sir," she thundered back, in withering accents, "and from what I know of you, I can but remember that you are a knave."

Had I lived to be knaved by a woman? Mordieu! she carried her jests somewhat far!

"Let me pass, madame," I exclaimed angrily, advancing towards her as I spoke.

But her hand went up, and the threatening whip checked my progress of a sudden. I deemed it best to effect a compromise.

"I assure you, Marquise—" I began; but she cut me short.

"I need no assurances from you, monsieur. You imagined that I was your dupe when first you came to me, tricked out in warlike feathers. You imagine that I scented not the coxcomb they masked—The roué, Vicomte de Vilmorin. How dull you were!"

And here again her laughter jarred upon my nerves.

"Deeming that you had made a deep impression, and that you had an easy conquest, you pestered me with your letters and your poems, and, lastly, with your musicians. Nor did you take warning when your offerings were returned, and your musicians carried hence with broken heads; but you must come here, to me, to offer me this crowning insult! You hound!"

And with that gentle apostrophe her whip came down about my shoulders, causing me to regret that I had not come to do my wooing arrayed in back and breast, as de Brissac had suggested.

This was a disillusionment! And, mordieu! what an arm she had; and yet, how beautiful she was!

Had I witnessed her thus chastising another I might have bent admiring eyes upon her; as it was, I withdrew into an angle of the chamber, so as to present as little surface as possible to her vindictive lash.

Huddled up in my corner, I shrilly denounced her as a coward.

But my loquacity only served to arouse her shrewish temper further, for, seizing me by the collar of my doublet, she dragged me forth from my shelter into the middle of the room, and there, despite my groans of pain and my entreaties, she did so mercilessly belabour me that the memory of it sets me writhing even now.

And when at last she paused, exhausted, and I, crushed alike in body and in soul, sank down upon the floor, a mass of aching bruises, she bent over me to whisper in my ear a piece of sound advice—"Next time your fancy leads you into a drunken wager, see that there be no listening servants."

How I reached home it matters not. Suffice it that by the aid of some kind soul I was enabled to crawl into my bed-chamber an hour or so after my interview with that fury in female form.

I penned a note to Monsieur de St. Auban, begging him to hold me excused from the revels he was holding that night, and alleging that a fall from my horse had injured me somewhat painfully.

I will not offend the nice sense of my readers by a recital of the humiliations that were put upon me by my erstwhile boon companions. Needless to say, I was too much the gentleman to smirch the fair name of the Marquise by recounting the story of her outrageous conduct towards me. But, despite my own reticence, the thing was known all over Paris the next day.

That gay city seemed to grow suddenly dull and uninteresting to me, and, after paying St. Auban in full, I deemed it best to leave court—at least for a while.

I have since lived the peaceful life of a country gentleman, which somehow seems to suit me better than the vicissitudes of a roysterer's career, and the consequence attendant on it.


Tommy

The Royal Magazine, February 1901

At the time that Uncle Harry was thirty-five, I was just bordering upon eighteen, with that vast knowledge of the world peculiar to my age, an appetite that was rather more than healthy, and a moustache of whose existence I alone seemed cognisant.

We went just then—Uncle Harry and I—to live at Stollbridge, in a large, old-fashioned house on the river. There was a lawn that ran down to the very water's edge, and an empty boathouse. By dint of endless blandishments I induced Uncle Harry to put a Canadian canoe into it, and after I had upset the beastly thing four times on four successive days, I began to master the art of keeping it right side upwards with a fair degree of success. In the process I ruined four suits of clothes, and five pounds' worth of upholstery with which the boat had been fitted; I lost a gold watch, a silver cigarette case, four six shilling novels and no end of self-respect.

Uncle Harry had pointed out in the most discourteous manner imaginable that my four shipwrecks had cost something like fifty pounds, and consigned the canoe to a remote, torrid zone that is not to be found on any Christian school maps.

"Let me catch you again bringing half the river into the house in your clothes," he wound up, "and I'll burn that infernal boat of yours."

His words sank deep into my heart, for at the time there were more reasons than one why I should desire to retain the canoe. The most potent reason of all was Tommy. Her real name was Amy Learoyd, but everybody called her Tommy. She was the bonniest maid conceivable; the very incarnation of Gilbert's "Beautiful English Girl;" healthy in limb and mind, rosy of cheek, and merry of eye, with a laugh that was good to hear, and she laughed often—at me.

We had met at Buxton a couple of years before, and at the time—precocious urchin that I was—I had fallen badly in love. But we had gone our different ways, and at sixteen one's memory is short in such matters. When I came to make the discovery, however, that the Learoyds were the occupants of Holt House—some three miles up the river—my recollections were stirred up, and kindled in me a burning desire to renew our acquaintance.

I became a very constant visitor at the Learoyd's, and for a while I was content that Tommy should teach me to play tennis as tennis should not be played. Then followed the canoe episodes, and finally when I had, as I have shown, mastered the thing, it occurred to me that it would be exceedingly pleasant if, in return for her tennis lessons, I were to teach Tommy to paddle.

Accordingly I made my way up stream one bright summer afternoon, and found Tommy sitting on the low wall of her garden, in a white gown that defied description. I did not mention the little mishaps that I had recently encountered; such a task I took to be both unnecessary and unprofitable. Her mind jumped at the idea, just as her body would have jumped into the canoe, had I not imbued her with a due sense of the caution necessary to effect a dry and successful embarkation.

"How delightfully comfortable," she purred, as she sank back on to the gaudy, new cushions, which I had brought out partly to do her honour, and partly because the wishy-washy appearance of the others told a story that might have shaken her confidence in my skill. "How delightfully comfortable! You dear, thoughtful man."

Our trip was in every respect a success, and it is not surprising that it should have been followed by several other equally successful ones, until at the end of about a month I became so rabidly in love that I began to take a serious view of things, and—although Tommy was four years my senior—to look at life as one long, delightful journey a deux in a Canadian canoe.

The impending crisis was unexpectedly accelerated by Uncle Harry one evening at dinner. He had been rather silent during the meal, and whenever he chanced to address me it was with an asperity of tone that was not calculated to render our board a festive one. As soon as Stephen—his jack-of-all-trades of a servant—had left the room, he fired his bomb.

"I want to say a word or two on a rather painful subject, Charles, if you will be good enough to listen."

Urbane and polished though he always was, there was a strained politeness about him that augured anything but well.

"Ye—es," I answered.

"I saw you on the river to-day, about a mile above Holt House. I don't think you saw me; I was on the steam launch"—he alluded to a noisy little steamer that did a ferry service up and down the river.

"You were not alone," he added impressively.

"No—o, uncle." In my heart I was glad he had found me out. He was saving me a lot of ice-breaking.

"You had a—er—female with you."

The disrespectful epithet, which he had chosen with great care, was decidedly discouraging. Nevertheless, I overlooked the fact at the moment, and made the rapturous exclamation:

"Isn't she lovely, uncle?"

He fixed me with a severe eye.

"She may be ravishing," he answered with biting sarcasm; "nevertheless, you are committing the gravest of errors if you imagine that I approach so painful a subject for the purpose of discussing this—er—person's charms."

"But, uncle—"

"One moment, if you please. I wish you to understand, Charles, that I have cause to be displeased with you. You have not behaved with that uprightness characteristic—on your mother's side at least—of the family to which you have the honour to belong. You have led me to believe that these long excursions of yours in the canoe, which in a moment of weakness I purchased for you, were undertaken so that out in the open air you might, by reading, make amends for the years that you wasted at College. I do not say that you have deliberately told me an untruth, but you have suppressed the truth, which amounts to the same thing."

"But, uncle—"

"Interrupt me once again," he said calmly, "and I shall give orders for your canoe to be broken up for firewood." Uncle Harry had the faculty of calmness largely developed. He would deliver himself of the most scathing speech conceivable without permitting a muscle of his face to move, and without altering in the least the monotonous inflection of his level tones.

"I do not wish, Charles, to be under the unpleasant necessity of again reverting to this distasteful topic, and I shall look to you not to give me cause to do so. To ensure for myself the peace I seek, and to which I believe myself entitled, I ask you now, Charles, to give me your word that you will not again permit yourself to repeat the folly which I had the misfortune to witness this afternoon."

"I am very sorry, sir, but I can't promise," I answered boldly. "I couldn't keep my word if I were to give it. I am glad in a way that you mentioned the matter, uncle, because I intended to have spoken of it to-night. I wish to—to ask you to sanction my engagement to—"

"Charles!" he burst out excitedly. Then suddenly recovering himself: "Please say no more," he continued. "Forgive me if I call you an idiot and if I bewail the fact that you are my nephew. Definitely allow me to answer that nothing could ever induce me to sanction such an act of folly. You are eighteen years old—an infant at law, and a baby in intelligence—and you wish to become engaged to the first scheming petticoat you come across! If you were not my nephew, my sister's son, I should laugh at you. Unfortunately our relationship denies me even that scant satisfaction.

"But uncle—" I cried indignantly, "you are most unreasonable. She is Miss—"

"I have not the least desire in the world to know who she is," he interrupted, rising. "She is a woman. A woman, Charles, as you will learn when you are older, is a creature that preys upon men of weak intellect with the object of inducing them to commit against themselves the crime of matrimony." He pushed his chair forward, and leaning over the back of it—"Let me hear no more of this, Charles," he said with sudden sternness. "Since you won't give me the promise I ask of you, understand at least that I forbid—utterly forbid—the continuance of these clandestine meetings. Let me see or hear of a repetition, and I shall effectively stop matters by sending you out to your brother in Jamaica; and in Jamaica you shall remain until you have reached the age of manhood—the age of reason, I am afraid, you will never reach. I am going into the garden."

The threat to send me to Jamaica had been worn too threadbare to inspire much fear. I had heard it about once a week, on an average, ever since I had lived at my uncle's mercy, so that I came to look for it as the peroration in each reproving discourse to which he treated me.

Nevertheless, three days went by before I again launched the canoe. Uncle Harry was nowhere to be seen; in fact, I believed him to have gone into the town. But suddenly, just as I was pushing off:

"Charles," came his voice from the lawn behind me, "I trust that you will bear in mind our conversation of Tuesday night."

"All right, Uncle Harry," I shouted back, as I got out into the middle of the stream, and then made off as fast as I could drive the boat. And as I went I made up my mind that with my uncle's sanction or without it I would propose to Tommy Learoyd before I returned home that evening.

The lawn at Holt House was deserted when I got there, so landing and drawing up the canoe, I went in quest of the family, as it seemed probable that where the family was there would Tommy be. I found them in the tennis court at the back—the two girls, Mrs. Learoyd and a young man from town with yellow hair, whom Tommy was teaching to play tennis. That girl never wasted a chance of teaching a man tennis.

"Hullo!" she cried when she caught sight of me, then added in a breath, "Forty, love," followed by her inevitable laugh.

After that ladylike and affectionate greeting, there was nothing left for me but to drop into a wicker chair besides Mrs. Learoyd and listen to her dissertation upon that profound and many-sided question—the weather.

At last the set was over, and Tommy came across to where we sat, flushed with victory and exertion, and bringing her defeated and perspiring opponent with her, she introduced him to me as Mr. Palethorpe.

"Did you bring the canoe?" she asked me.

"Yes. I thought that you might like a ride."

"So I should." Then turning to Palethorpe, "I can paddle beautifully," she declared with touching modesty. "I'll take you out after tea."

"That would be delightfully cool," said Palethorpe.

Of course, I professed myself delighted with the arrangement, and after tea I assisted them into the boat, and pushed them off; then I sat down in solitude by a clump of bushes, and set myself to invoke untold blessing upon the iniquitous soul of Leslie Palethorpe.

Some fifty yards below Holt House the river took a sharp curve to the right, and round this curve in a moment came a man in a whiff, pulling as if he had a train to catch.

"So long, Charlie," Tommy sang out as she headed the boat up stream. "You can think about me until we come back. We won't be long."

Palethorpe declared that it "was an awfully jolly boat," smiled a feeble smile, and waved a feeble hand at me, then, happening to catch a glimpse of the man in the whiff—

"Boat ahead!" he yelled in terror.

"Look out!" I shouted from the bank.

The next instant there was a crash, followed by an oath from the man in the whiff, a cry of alarm from Tommy, a terrified gurgle from Palethorpe, and a terrific splash from all three. I beheld a vision of Palethorpe's white face and straw-coloured hair, then that of a pair of black trouser legs, as he disappeared. He came up again and clutching wildly at the capsized canoe, spluttered and gasped for a moment, then set up a lusty yell for help.

I plucked off my shoes and was on the point of going in to render assistance, when suddenly a glimpse of the face of him who had brought about the disaster—the man in the whiff—brought me to a standstill. It was Uncle Harry!

All idea of rescuing anybody left me forthwith. With visions of Jamaica surging up before me, and forgetful of all else, I crawled behind the bushes, and thence I watched the strugglers in the water.

Uncle Harry, who was a good swimmer, took in the situation at a glance, and naturally turned his first attention to the lady. But Tommy called him to look after Palethorpe, who was drowning, and struck out for land unaided.

From behind the bush I watched her undignified struggles as she crawled up the bank, but I didn't venture out to assist her. She must have been puzzled to account for my abrupt disappearance, and presently as she stood up—looking as a mermaid might look, if mermaids wore twentieth century gowns and twentieth century millinery, and crawled up banks of twentieth century mud—she glanced about her with an expression of surprise that I could easily account for.

"Tommy," I whispered from my shelter, "Tommy—hush!" I added raising my forefinger to my lips as she caught sight of me. "Awfully sorry for you, but I must be off. Send someone to get the canoe out. I'll come back in an hour or so and explain. Run in and get dry things on. Hush!"

She gave me a long puzzled stare as if doubting my sanity, whilst I—keeping the bush between myself and my uncle's range of sight—retreated on all fours until I reached the hedge; then, stooping, I sped along under its protecting cover. At another clump of bushes at about a hundred yards from the scene of the disaster, I halted, and set myself to watch Uncle Harry's rescue of the wretched Palethorpe.

I saw Mrs. Learoyd come hurrying down the lawn, followed by Miss Learoyd, the butler and the gardener. Tommy spoke to the latter pointing to the canoe and the whiff which were floating down stream, and forthwith the man got into the dinghy, which was moored by the steps, and gave chase.

Palethorpe and Tommy proceeded disconsolately and inelegantly towards the house, leaving Uncle Harry on the lawn with Mrs. Learoyd who was talking with great vigour—yet keeping a fair distance from her dripping companion. I didn't know whether she was treating him to a lecture on careless sculling or inviting him to go inside and make an exhibition of himself in some of Papa Learoyd's clothes. Presently however, when the gardener returned with the two boats in tow, the whiff must have been found unfit for use, for after examining it and further talking with Mrs. Learoyd, Uncle Harry got into the dinghy, and taking the sculls, he set out to return to Stollbridge, wet as he was.

When he was quite gone I came out of my ambush and retraced my steps.

But my mind was singularly barren that evening, and when presently Tommy did reappear wearing dry clothes and a face that was serious to the point of anger, I was still without the shadow of an idea.

"So you are there yet, are you?" was her greeting.

"I certainly am here," I answered, seeking refuge in banter, "and it only shows the lack of confidence you have in your own eyesight when you ask the question."

"Dear me! Well, to tell you the truth, I find it hard to believe my eyes after what they showed me this afternoon. You said that you would explain."

"That, my dear Tom, is precisely what I can't do."

She looked down at me as I lay on the grass at her feet, and her eyes were full of surprise and severity.

"You can't? Do you mean to say that you had no motive for acting as you did—for behaving like a coward? Hiding yourself when people were struggling in the water, in danger of drowning?"

"You were not in danger."

"You didn't know that. Anyway, poor Mr. Palethorpe was. What if he had been drowned?"

"I should say from what little I have seen of Mr. Palethorpe that such a contingency might have given rise to considerable rejoicing," I answered, adopting Uncle Harry's best style of satire.

"How very witty!" she commented in scathing accents. Then, after a pause: "It's a good thing," she said, "that there are a few such men as Mr. Pomeroy."

"I don't at all agree with you. If it were not for such men as Mr. Pomeroy who fancy that they can scull, there would have been no accident."

"Oh! You are insufferable! Instead of feeling shame for being a coward, you actually have the audacity to speak slightingly of a brave man."

"I'm not a coward."

"Then what are you? Why did you behave like one?"

"Clearly she was ignorant of the fact that Mr. Pomeroy was my uncle and guardian. How then could I confess to her—to her whom I had that day intended to ask to become my wife—that I had hidden because I was afraid of Uncle Harry?"

"Well?" she inquired presently. "Are you going to explain?"

"But, my dear Tommy—"

"Will you explain, or will you not?"

She was very pretty, and while her beauty almost drew the explanation from me, yet at the same time, the knowledge that she would only laugh at me, made me withhold it.

"Good-bye, Mr. Burton," she said, seeing that I did not answer. "I am very disappointed in you, and I don't wish to ever see you again."

And with that she turned on her heel and hurried off towards the house. In an instant I was upon my feet. At all costs I must pocket my pride and tell her what there was to be told, sooner than allow myself to be dismissed in this fashion.

"Tommy!" I cried as I started to follow. But she didn't answer, and at that moment the infernal Palethorpe appeared on the scene. My chance was gone.

When I reached home, I found my uncle walking about the garden, and looking none the worse for his immersion.

"Where the blazes have you been, sir?" was his greeting.

"Been?" I echoed. "Been boating."

"You are not to go boating any more."

"Oh I say, Uncle Harry—"

"Hold your tongue." He stood before me in the most bellicose attitude that I ever saw him assume. "This afternoon I went up the river in a whiff to look for you. I wished to ascertain whether you still followed the undesirable pursuit in which I surprised you some days ago."

"Well, sir," I answered hotly, "I hope you were satisfied with your investigations."

There was an unfortunate inflection in my voice that awakened Uncle Harry's suspicions.

"What do you mean, Charles?"

"That I hope you consider yourself becomingly repaid for your trouble by the bathe you enjoyed."

Uncle Harry winced.

"Charles, you forget yourself. You are impertinent. Did you see the accident?"

"See it? Good Heavens, no," I answered without a blush.

"Then how do you know about it?"

"How? Why the whole river is talking of nothing but Mr. Pomeroy's ducking. I heard about it at Widenham ferry. Pooh. I expect it's all over Stollbridge by now, and you'll probably find a highly coloured paragraph on the subject in to-morrow's 'Chronicle.'"

Uncle Harry flushed for once in his life. He could not endure ridicule.

"It amuses you, does it?" he said savagely. "It amuses you that your uncle is to become the laughing-stock of the place, and that a rag of a provincial newspaper shall advertise his misadventure? But why does this take place? Because I have a jackanapes of a nephew who is not to be trusted, who contracts undesirable acquaintances, with idiotic views of matrimony, and on whom I have, out of a sense of duty to his deceased mother, to keep a sharp eye, so that he shall not make a fool of himself. Very well, sir. Stollbridge may laugh till its sides ache. But it shan't laugh a second time, for I shall pack you off to town next week for good—for good, do you understand?

"Oh, very well," I answered indifferently. I felt indifferent. What did it matter whether I remained in Stollbridge or not? As a matter of fact, I was glad to leave the place. It had ceased to attract me.

Uncle Harry kept his word, and next morning he busied himself making arrangements with some distant relative of ours in London for my removal thither. He went out in the dinghy after lunch, and I naturally supposed that he was taking it back to Holt House. When he returned (afoot) he was late for dinner, and I fully expected that at Holt House he had learned all there was to learn. As, however, he had nothing to say when he returned, I saw that I was mistaken, and that the Learoyds had never thought of connecting Mr. Pomeroy with Charlie Burton.

On the following day, which was Friday, he surprised me by going out in the canoe after lunch. Possibly because he wished to make sure that I didn't use it, and possibly because he wanted to get away from me, as our somewhat strained relations made association painful. Again he was late for dinner. On the Saturday the same programme was observed, and yet again on Sunday.

On the Monday I left for town. My uncle relented somewhat at parting, and whilst giving me the usual valedictory advice, he forebore—I imagined out of delicate consideration for my feelings to caution me in the usual manner against the insidious wiles of woman.

Three days before Christmas—six months after my departure from Stollbridge—there were two letters beside my plate at breakfast that drew my most particular attention.

The first one that I opened was from Uncle Harry and contained a generous cheque for a Christmas card. Its contents amazed me.

My dear Charlie,—I want you to come and spend Christmas with me at Stollbridge. It will be my last bachelor Christmas, for even your uncle has fallen a victim to those snares against which he took such pains to warn you. This may surprise you, but not half so much as will the letter your future aunt is writing to you.—Your fond Uncle—HARRY.

The other letter which I tore open with trembling fingers ran:

My dear Charlie,—Will you be very much astonished to hear that I am going to marry your Uncle Harry next spring? Isn't it funny? I only learned the other day that he was your uncle, and I was amazed. It all began that day he upset us and saved Mr. Palethorpe's life. He became a constant visitor after that. He happened to speak of you the other day, and of course I was very inquisitive, and—well I understood at last why you acted so curiously on the day of the accident. My poor Charlie, I was very horrid with you that day, and I haven't seen you since. Never mind, I'll make you a splendid aunt.

Your uncle tells me that you are coming to Stollbridge for Christmas. You must come and see me.—Yours affectionately, TOMMY LEAROYD.


THE END

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