a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
|BROWSE the site for other works by this author
(and our other authors) or get HELP Reading, Downloading and Converting files)
SEARCH the entire site with Google Site Search
Title: Loaded Dice and Other Stories Author: Rafael Sabatini * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1700481h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2017 Most recent update: May 2017 Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
(Ainslee's Magazine Nov 1901)
2.Of What Befel at Bailienochy (Ainslee's Magazine Dec 1901)
3.After Worcester Field (Ainslee's Magazine Jan 1902)
4.The Chancellor's Daughter (Ainslee's Magazine Feb 1902)
5.Carolus and Caroline (Ainslee's Magazine Mar 19020
6.In the Eleventh Hour (Ainslee's Magazine Apr 1902)
Where is the man who deems himself loyal that can ponder with heart unmoved upon the indignities whereunto my liege and master, the Second Charles, was subjected during that year of his mock-kingship in Scotland? A king in name, surrounded by the outward pomp of kings, but beset by spies, and less a king than the meanest knave of the Kirk Commission that ruled and made a vassal of him.
How it befel that when in their purgation--as they called it they banished from his court the noble Hamilton, Lauderdale, Callender and all those others whom they dubbed malignants, they should have left me beside him doth pass my understanding. For verily--to use another of their words--besides the malignancy, which quality those irreverent dogs assigned to the loyal party to which I had the honor to belong, they might in me have noted a malignancy of another sort--and one which I was never at any pains to dissemble--a deep-seated malignancy towards themselves and all that concerned their infernal covenant.
Did the King play at cards on a Sabbath he was visited by a parcel of sour-faced ministers, who preached to him through their noses touching the observance of the Lord's Day, while did they but hear of his having chucked a maid under the chin, they thundered denunciations upon his reprobate head and poured forth threats of exchanging his throne for a cutty stool.
It is, therefore, matter for scant wonder that when on that September evening the Marquess of Argyle came to Perth Castle, his ill-favored countenance monstrous sober and dejected, to acquaint His Majesty with the Scotch disaster at Dunbar, instead of the outburst of grief which he had looked for:
"Oddsfish!" quoth Charles, with a hard laugh. "I protest I am glad of it!"
"Sire!" cried in reproach the dismayed M'Callum More.
"Well, what now?" the King demanded, coldly, while his fiery black eyes flashed such a glance upon the covenanting marquess that he fell abashed and recalled, mayhap, some lingering memory of the respect he owed his King.
For a moment Charles stood surveying him, then turning on his heel and signing to Buckingham to attend him, he passed into the adjoining chamber, where, I afterwards learned, he fell on his knees, and, for all that Cromwell was his father's murderer and his own implacable enemy, he rendered thanks unto God for the Scotch destruction.
A dead silence followed the King's departure. My Lord Wilmot exchanged smiles with Sir Edward Walker; Cleveland and Wentworth looked at each other significantly, whilst the Marquis de Villaneuffe, who stood beside me, put his lips to my ear to whisper:
"Observe milord Argyle's countenance."
And truly the scowl the marquess wore was an ominous sight. Sir John Gillespie approached him at that moment and they spoke together in low tones. Presently they were joined by Mr. Wood, of the Kirk Commission, who had also heard His Majesty's rash words, and as I gazed upon the three in conversation a feeling that was near akin to dread took possession of me--'twas, perchance, a premonition of that which was to follow, of a harvest whose seeds I make no doubt were sown in that consultation.
A gayly dressed young man approached me, and hailed me in words more attuned to my tastes and calling.
"Will you throw a main at hazard, Mr. Faversham?"
I looked into the lad's face--a smooth, girlish face it was, set in a frame of golden love locks--and for a second I hesitated. He was not rich, and in two nights he had lost a thousand crowns to me. The thing was, methought, well nigh dishonest, but he spoke of the révanche I owed him, and to that I could but answer that I was his servant.
And so we got to table, and for an hour my Lord Goring and I played at hazard, fortune favoring me, who scorned her for once. 'Tis ever thus with fortune--a shameless jade that hath most smiles for him who flouts her.
At the end of an hour Lord Goring proposed that we should change the game to passage, and this we did, yet the blind goddess was no kinder to him.
One by one, those who stood about took their departure, and presently we had the chamber to ourselves, save for Sir John Gillespie, who came to stand behind Lord Goring's chair and watch the play.
The poor boy sat with a white face, his lips compressed and his eyes a-burning, striving to win as men strive against death, and damning every throw. As midnight struck he at last pushed back his chair.
"I'll play no more to-night, an' it please you, Mr. Faversham," said he in a voice which his breeding vainly strove to render indifferent.
"Mr. Faversham is truly a formidable opponent," quoth Sir John. "He hath learned much in France."
There was that in the voice of this covenanting creature and kinsman of Argyle that I misliked, yet left unheeded. I rose, and expressing polite regrets at his lordship's persistent ill luck, I pocketed a hundred crowns. Five times that paltry sum it might have been had I so willed it.
I had hoped that Gillespie's remark touching the much that I had learned in France might have proved an admonition to my Lord Goring, and led him to play thereafter with some opponent whose skill was on a level with his own. Not so, however; the boy was blind to the fact that I was his master, and attributed his losses to luck alone.
In this fashion things continued for a week, until in the end naught was talked of but Lord Goring's losses and Lionel Faversham's winnings. Men gathered round the table to watch our play--Sir John Gillespie ever in the foremost rank--and my luck grew at length to be a proverb.
One day, at last, His Majesty drew me aside with a smile that had some thing serious in it.
"Lal," quoth he, laying his hand upon my shoulder, "had I half your luck I should be King of England now. But if you love me, Lal, you'll play no more--leastways, not at the castle. You know my position; you know the crassness of this Kirk Commission. We shall have them denouncing my court from the pulpit as a gaming house, and assigning to that cause the loss of the battle of Dunbar."
"My liege," I exclaimed, "forgive me--"
"Nay, nay," he laughed. "'Tis I who crave forgiveness for inconveniencing you with such a request--but there is the Kirk Commission." And His Majesty added something under his breath; perchance, it was a prayer.
I was glad of so stout an excuse when next Lord Goring approached me with his daily invitation. But Sir John Gillespie was at hand to propose that, if we were anxious to pursue our amusement, there was the hostelry of the Rose in the High Street.
I might have asked this Presbyterian hound what interest of his it was that made him urge us to follow a pursuit at war with his religion. But my position, as you may see, was grown somewhat delicate, and it would ill become me to evince reluctance to play with my Lord Goring.
And so it befel that two nights thereafter we were installed Goring and I--in a cheerful room on the first floor of the hostelry of the Rose. With us came his grace of Buckingham and a party of gentlemen who sat down to lansquenet in the adjoining room, and besides these there was the unavoidable Sir John.
He played not at lansquenet, but stood at Goring's elbow--like Satan, methought, watching a tempted victim. Truth to tell, I had conceived the notion that Sir John was plotting something against either Goring or myself, and I had a monstrous inclination that night to pick a quarrel with him. I had thereafter cause to repent that I obeyed not that prompting.
The mischief chanced upon the following night. Again Buckingham and his friends were in the adjoining chamber, the door of which stood open, so that from where we sat we could see them by the mere raising of our eyes. Sir John lolled in a chair beside us watching Lord Goring lose, and wearing a sardonic grin upon his lean, saturnine countenance.
The hour waxed late; the candles were burning low, and my wits grew dull with the vapors of the sack I had drunk; but for that circumstance mayhap I had coped better with that which followed.
Of a sudden, Goring flung the box down with an oath, and sprang to his feet so violent and clumsily as to overset his chair, which fell with a crash behind him. Through the open door I saw Buckingham turn his head, and I heard his laugh and his words:
"'Tis but Faversham's luck, gentlemen."
'Twas the first time Goring had been betrayed into so unseemly a display of temper, and it surprised me all the more considering that his losses that night did not amount to fifty crowns, while at other times he had risen with a smile from a table at which he had payed me hundreds.
"In the future, Master Faversham, you may play with the devil," said he.
Now, in my cups I am the sweetest-tempered fellow living, and but for the bottles of sack that I had emptied I should have been sorely put to it to have slit his lordship's nose for those words. As it was I did but laugh, and then before I had recovered--for sack maketh a man's laugh long-drawn--Sir John stood up, and:
"Will you throw a main at passage with me, Mr. Faversham?" said he. "I am curious to break a lance with this wondrous luck of yours."
"My lord here proposes I should play the devil," I answered, with a hiccough. "Well, I take it the devil is much the same as a Presbyterian, so come on, Sir John."
He darted a venomous glance at me, and drew up his chair. It never occurred to me how strange a thing it was that this pillar of the sober, virtuous Kirk should play at passage, and for that thoughtlessness again I blame the sack.
Goring set his elbows on the table, and with his chin in his hands he watched us.
Sir John gathered the dice into the box, and handed it to me. I threw; he threw; I threw again, I passed, and won the five gold caroluses he had staked. We began again, and ended in like fashion.
"Come now, Sir John," I cried, "confess 'tis more diverting than a sermon. It thrills you more, doth it not, Sir Jack? Aye, rat me, it--"
I checked myself suddenly, and gazed in fascination at his forefinger and thumb, 'twixt which he was balancing one of the dice that I had just thrown. For a second he held it steady; then slowly, but surely and fatally it turned. My first thought was that the sack had made me dizzy and a prey to illusions; but Goring's words, hissed into my ear, told me otherwise.
"You blackguard!" he said, and what with the wine and my bewilderment I had not the wit to strike him down, but sat, with mouth agape, staring at Gillespie. At length the Scotchman spoke.
"So! we have discovered the secret of your good fortune, Master Faversham," and with a gesture of ineffable disgust, he flung the loaded cube onto the board. At that I found my voice.
"The secret, Sir John!" I cried struggling to rise. But he pushed me back into my chair.
"Hush, sir," he answered, "or those others will hear you. I do not seek your disgrace."
"Disgrace!" I echoed. "Damn me, Sir Jack--Sir Jack Presbyter you shall answer to me--"
"Be silent," he commanded, so sharply that despite myself I obeyed him. "Attend to me, sir. I shall answer to you for nothing. My sword is for men of honor--not for discovered cheats, men who play with loaded dice. Nay, keep your hands still! If you so much as draw an inch of your sword, I'll call my Lord Buckingham and those other gentleman, and show them these dice. Lord Goring can bear witness to the service they have been put to."
I sat back in my chair, and the sweat came out upon my brow while my wine-clogged brain strove vainly to unriddle me this desperate situation.
"Lord Goring," quoth Sir John, pointing to a side table, "will you favor me with that inkhorn and pen?"
His lordship brought him the things, whereupon having found a strip of paper, Sir John set himself to write, while I watched him like one in dream.
"What is it you do?" I asked at length, and in answer he set before me the paper, whereon I read, with some difficulty and no little horror, the following:
I, Lionel Faversham, do hereby confess and declare that on the evening of the tenth of September, of the year of our Lord l650, while playing at hazard and passage with my Lord Goring and Sir John Gillespie, at the hostelry of the Rose in the High Street, Perth, did with the nefarious intent to plunder the said gentlemen, make use of loaded dice, at which foul practice I was discovered by Sir John Gillespie in the presence of my Lord Goring. In witness whereof I do hereunto set my hand.
"Sign," commanded Sir John, in answer to my glance of inquiry; and he offered me the pen.
"Sign!" I echoed, aghast. "Are you mad, Sir John?"
"Sign!" he repeated.
Ah, 'tis easy to say now what I should have done. I should have upset the table and kicked Sir John downstairs. But so befuddled was I 'twixt sack and the dread of public dishonor that I did neither of these things.
"Sir John," I protested, "I swear 'tis a lie--a vile, monstrous lie. If the dice be clogged indeed, then we have both used them so; how they came here I know not. But we have both used them, I say."
He laughed harshly and pointed to the pile of gold at my elbow sixty or seventy crowns, there may have been.
"Yet you alone contrived to win," he sneered. "You, who in the past week have won thousands from Lord Goring. Come, Master Faversham, sign."
"Not I," I answered, stubbornly.
Sir John stood up.
"I fear, Mr. Faversham, you do not realize the gravity of your position. Unless you forthwith sign that paper, I shall be compelled to call hither his grace of Buckingham, and those with him, and make this matter public. There lie the dice, there the money you have won, and here my Lord Goring, a witness. Perchance, you can picture what must follow."
I could indeed! And I grew cold at the contemplation of it. In my imagination I beheld myself already disgraced, dismissed from court, and--worse than all--dishonored for life.
"If I sign," I inquired, huskily, "what use will you make of it?" "None, given that you comply with my demands, and that they have also Lord Goring's approval."
"That you never again touch either dice box or cards, and that you return to Lord Goring the moneys you have won from him during the past week. On such conditions I am content to keep the matter secret. Are you agreed, my lord?"
His lordship nodded.
"But, gentlemen," I protested, "I swear by honor--"
"The honor of a man who uses loaded dice," sneered Gillespie. "Have done, sir, and sign."
In despair, I snatched up the pen, and set my name to that bond of infamy. No sooner was it done than, quickly, as though fearing I might repent of it, Gillespie seized the paper and signed to Lord Goring to collect the crowns that I had won from him as honestly as ever crowns were won at play.
* * *
I awakened next morning with a dull, aching head, sorely harassed moreover by that which had befallen at the Rose. At first I was beset by rage that I had allowed myself to sign so damnable a document. But anon, when I gave more sober thought to it, I realized indeed that no alternative had been left me. My character itself was one that could not have borne so heinous a charge. I was known--among other attributes--for a desperate gamester, and one indeed who well-nigh lived upon his wits at play. For saving the pittance which His Majesty allowed me, I was as penniless a fortune hunter as any of his followers--the Parliament having stripped my father of his last acre of land. Further, my fortune at play--wedded to my skill--had of late bordered upon the miraculous, all of which would give vraisemblance to Gillespie's accusation.
I had taken a morning draught of muscadine and eggs when some one tapped at my chamber door, and Giles--my body servant admitted Sir John Gillespie. I sent Giles on an errand that was like to keep him absent for an hour or so, then turned to my visitor.
"Are we alone?" asked Gillespie.
"Quite," I answered.
"Mr. Faversham," said he. "You no doubt are harassed by the recollection of the paper you signed last night?"
"Need you ask, sir?"
"And were the opportunity afforded you of regaining possession of that scrap of paper, you would eagerly avail yourself of it, eh?"
"Again, need you ask?"
"Well, Mr. Faversham, I am come to bargain with you. There is something that you can obtain for me, and in exchange for that something you shall have your document."
"Name it," I cried, eagerly. "What is this something?"
"The King," he answered, coolly.
"The King?" I echoed. "I don't understand."
"The King. Charles Stuart. Let me explain, Mr. Faversham. You were present some nights ago when this misguided young malignant protested that he was glad the Scotch were destroyed at Dunbar. Well, sir, those words have rankled; not with me alone, but with other eminent members of the state. On the same night a letter from Charles Stuart to the Duke of Hamilton was intercepted, wherein there were such things as no covenanter could suffer even from a king. 'Tis to him, this accursed prince, to his debaucheries and those of the blasphemous libertines about him that we assign our destruction. 'Tis his godless, malignant ways that have drawn the wrath of the Lord upon our heads."
"Forbear, Sir John!" I thundered, unable to brook more of this. "You are a traitor."
"Better to be a traitor to an evil King of earth than a traitor to the King of Heaven," answered the fanatic, rising. "Hear me out, Mr. Faversham. We are resolved--I and some other humble instruments of the Lord--to rid Scotland of this impious prince. The sectary Cromwell clamors for him; on his head, then, be the boy's blood. To Cromwell we shall deliver him. But the majority in Kirk and the Parliament, I grieve to say, are averse to this, and so strategy is needed. The Lord hath set a weapon in my hand; that fool of a lordling whose money you have won was in despair at his losses and his debts. Cromwell offers no less than three thousand pounds for the worthless person of Charles Stuart; with, those three thousand pounds I have bribed Lord Goring. I paid him that sum of money yesterday, in advance, for his help to fuddle you with sack, and to bear witness that you had played with the loaded dice which I, myself, set upon the table."
"'Slife!" I cried, beside myself with rage. "Call you such lying, deceitful knavery consistent with your religion--you instrument of the Lord!"
Sir John smiled coldly.
"The end justified the means."
"And, by God, the end shall justify me for slitting your throat!" I sprang toward my sword as I spoke, but ere I could reach it Sir John had leveled a pistol at me.
"Sit down, you fool," he snarled, "or I'll blow your brains about the chamber."
I resumed my seat. What alternative had I?
"Now, sir," he proceeded, "I duped you because I have need of you. You are intimate with Charles Stuart. More than once have you been his companion upon some escapade of infamy; his mentor upon some debauched enterprise. You must be so again to-morrow night. Lure him from the castle--I care not upon what plea or pretext. But see that by ten o'clock you have him at the corner of the High Street and Maiden Lane."
Loud and long and derisively did I laugh when he had done.
"Out of my sight, you cur, you son of a race of curs!" I cried at last. "You do well to hold a pistol in front of you while you come upon this Judas errand."
He rose calm and unruffled.
"I am going," he said, coolly, "to lay the paper you signed last night before the King. Thereafter I shall lay it before the Kirk Commission, together with certain knowledge that I have of your late connection with James Graham, Earl of Montrose. Ah! you change color, eh? By Heaven, 'tis not without cause, for methinks I have conjured up for you an unpleasant picture--first dishonor, then the hangman. I have you in the hollow of my hand, Mr. Faversham. If I but tighten my grip I crush you, and tighten my grip I will unless you obey me."
Of what avail to detail further this painful scene of a man thus tortured by fears--not of death alone, but of dishonor? I still resisted, but more and more feebly, until in the end--shame on me that I must write it!--I agreed to do his bidding.
I was to bring the King in a chair. In the High Street at the corner of Maiden Lane, Sir John would meet me, and after assuring himself that 'twas indeed the King whom I had brought he would hand me the paper.
"For the rest," quoth he, "you will yourself see the futility of playing me any tricks. Warn the King, or denounce me to the Parliament, and I have but to produce this document to prove that you sought by a lie to destroy a man who holds such a piece of evidence against you. And see that you come alone, for I shall take precautions, and if in any way you play me false you yourself will be the only sufferer."
"What of Goring?" I inquired.
"He has no knowledge of what is afoot. The fool was desperate with his losses, but even should he repent him of what befel last night, he dare say nothing for his own sake. Good-day to you, Mr. Faversham; see that you do not fail me."
And so it came to pass that during the day I found myself at the King's side, and I proposed to afford him right merry entertainment if on the following night he would go with me to the Watergate. His Majesty, ever ready for a frolic that would relieve the dullness of his Scotch kingship, assented eagerly. And thus the thing was done, and I was left a prey to the tortures of my conscience for the foul work whereon I was embarked.
On the following day Charles, who was in the best of humors, mentioned it in open court that he and I were bent that night upon an adventure to the Watergate. Sir John Gillespie, who was present, approached me a moment later to whisper in my ear:
"You have chosen wisely, Mr. Faversham," whereunto I returned no answer.
Goring was not there; indeed, I had not seen him since the affair at the Rose. But towards seven o'clock that evening while I sat in my chamber a prey to misery untold, he suddenly burst in upon me. He was pale, his eyes bloodshot, and his looks disordered. He closed the door and coming forward he drew from beneath his cloak two leathern bags that looked monstrous heavy, and which, as he set them down upon the table, gave forth the chink of gold.
Deeply marveling, yet saying naught, I watched him.
"Mr. Faversham," he began, speaking hoarsely and with averted eyes, "I am come to very humbly make what reparation is in my power. There are in these bags some three thousand pounds that I received from John Gillespie to aid him dupe you the night before last at the Rose. For duped you were, Mr. Faversham--the cogged dice came out of Gillespie's pocket. The money, sir, is more yours than mine; at least, I will have none of it; dispose of it as you think fit. Your pardon, Mr. Faversham, I dare not crave. My offense is too hideous. But should you demand satisfaction I shall be happy to render it."
I sat in my chair and eyed the broken fool. Calmly and coldly I eyed him. Oddslife! Here was something the cunning Sir John had not reckoned with.
"Are you prepared, my lord," I inquired, sternly, at length, "to come with me to the King and make a full confession?"
He shrank back, turning a shade paler.
"No, no!" he cried. "I dare not. It means disgrace and dishonor."
"Doth the paper in Ruthven's possession mean less to me?" I demanded, coldly. "You spoke of rendering me satisfaction."
"The satisfaction of arms, I meant," he explained, timidly.
"Think you 'twill avail my honor aught to kill you?" I asked, with a contemptuous laugh. Matters, it seemed, were not mended after all. Then in a flash there came to me, I know not whence, an inspiration.
"How came you hither?" I inquired, abruptly.
"How? By the south gallery."
"Did you meet no one?"
"None but the guard at the castle gate. Why do you ask?"
"Why? Because I would not have it known," I cried, facing him with arms akimbo, "that I have been closeted with a man charged with high treason, and for whose arrest there is a warrant."
"My God! What do you mean?" he gasped, in pitiful affright.
"Mean, you fool? That next time you link yourself with a knave of Gillespie's kidney and enter with him upon a villainous enterprise, you first ascertain what be the real business that is afoot. Pah! my lord, you have set a noose about your handsome neck."
"Mr. Faversham," he wailed, "I beseech you to explain."
And explain I did, but with many reservations and modifications that rendered my meaning at times obscure, how the money that Gillespie had paid him was from Cromwell for the person of the King. I showed him how he had made himself a party to a betrayal that fortunately was discovered, and for which Gillespie lay already under arrest. So full of terror did I strike him with the picture I drew of the disgrace and ignominious death that awaited him, that in the end he groveled before me, clasped my knees, and besought me to save him by bearing witness to the truth.
"And thereby bring suspicion upon myself, and risk my own neck?" I sneered. "Not I. But attend to me, Lord Goring, I can smuggle you out of the castle and out of Perth if I so choose, and this much I--who am convinced of your innocence of treason--am willing to do."
"Oh, thanks! A thousand thanks, my preserver, my--"
"Get up, you fool," I broke in harshly. "Come, let me look at you. Yes, you will do. Your figure is much of the King's height, and you may thank Heaven also that your shape is similar to his, for to-night you will have to impersonate the King."
I explained my meaning fully, and to all that I proposed he eagerly concurred, for truly he deemed himself a drowning man, and the business I suggested was his straw.
Bidding him on no account quit my chamber, I left him to go in quest of Giles. To my ready-witted servant I made known my wants, and the outcome of it was that by nine o'clock we had tricked out his lordship in a suit of black with gold lace borrowed from His Majesty's wardrobe. His golden locks we concealed 'neath a ponderous black wig that was the very counterpart of His Majesty's hair; his creamy white skin we stained with walnut juice to the gypsy tint of the King's complexion. With a burnt cork Giles drew him a pair of long black eyebrows, so that in the end he looked not at all like Lord Goring and sufficiently like Charles Stuart to play by night the part I assigned to him. And when we had given him a cloak, and he had flung it across his shoulders so that it masked his chin and mouth, his resemblance to the King was wondrous true.
Moreover, his lordship was an able mimic, and entering into the spirit of the business, he assumed before us such characteristic attitudes of Charles that he must needs be lynx-eyed who could see through the deception, particularly when considered that 'twould but be seen in the fitful light of torch or lanthorn.
It wanted a quarter to ten when we quitted my room, and going by the south gallery we made our way--Goring and I--to the King's apartments. His Majesty being, as I had conjectured, still at supper, the antechamber was empty and but dimly lighted. But I had scarcely pushed my companion into the embrasure of a window when the sound of steps and voices announced the King's approach.
I sprang forward as he entered.
"So you are here, Lal?" he exclaimed. "I was marveling at your absence from the table."
"Sire," I whispered hurriedly, "I beseech you bid your attendants wait without, and permit me to close the door."
He looked up in surprise, but there was that in my voice that impelled him to grant my request.
"Why, what folly is this, Lal?" said he when the door was shut.
"Sire, I pray you ask me no questions now. There is to be no entertainment to-night at the Watergate. But if your Majesty will enter your chamber, and see no one until my return, I promise you a narrative of ample entertainment."
Naturally, he was inquisitive, but I urged him so, and spoke so fearfully of a matter where lives were involved that in the end he consented to do my will, and I held his chamber door for him.
"Now, my lord," I whispered, drawing Goring from his hiding place. "Play the King, and you are saved."
We crossed the antechamber; then as I held wide the door, and those without bowed low before him, I was astounded to hear what was for all the world the King's voice issue from the folds of his cloak.
"Oddsfish, Lal, 'tis a mad conceit!" He inclined his head to the throng of unsuspecting courtiers and strode on before me.
In the courtyard, before entering his chair, he must needs sniff the air, and for the benefit of those assembled.
"Oddsfish, Lal," he cried in the voice of Charles, "the air is chill." Then to the bearers who stood waiting, "Step on apace, my good fellows," quoth he.
Chancing to turn as the chair was lifted, I beheld Gillespie watching us from the gate, and I was glad that Goring had spoken.
It was a bright, moonlight night, and the chair swung rapidly along. I stalked beside it down the High Street, Sir John following, some fifty yards behind. As we reached the corner of Maiden Lane, half a dozen men emerged from the by-street and stood there while we passed, then started to follow. I fell behind, and a moment later Ruthven was beside me.
"You have done wisely, Mr. Faversham," he sneered. "There is your paper. You had best see to the saving of your own neck."
With that piece of advice he left me, and for some moments I watched the little procession as it moved toward the Watergate. I glanced at the paper, and by the light of the moon I could make out that it was the document I had signed at the Rose. Then I turned and ran every foot of the way back to the castle.
I entertained His Majesty that evening with a narrative of what had taken place, with, however, certain slight alterations that I held necessary, and whose purport it is not difficult to guess.
Nor is it difficult to imagine what befel when Sir John Gillespie discovered what manner of king it was he was bearing to Cromwell. A warrant was issued next day for his arrest. But he was not seen again in Perth; nor was my Lord Goring.
I had conceived how with senses ensnared by the seductions of the hour a man might stumble upon love. A tepid atmosphere; the scent of flowers; the song of birds; in your eyes the sunlight and the springy turf to your feet; a mind well rid of care, and a heart that sings within you to the lilt of nature's melodies--then let her appear, and whilst the poetry that the time affords doth lull you, the thing may come to pass.
But it came not thus to me. 'Twas chill October, and the trees stood gaunt and stripped, mere frameworks of their summer glory; the ground was hard with the touch of an early frost; the sky dull and sullen. There was scant poetry in the hour, and my nose I'll swear was blue with the sting of the blast that faced us from the Grampians. Thus did love find me; in a flash, it came, as wrapped tight in my cloak I stepped along beside my lady, 'neath the wall of the castle of Bailienochy.
I was no boy. Indeed, at the time I scarce held myself young, for albeit no more than twenty-seven, the much that I had lived gave me the feeling of a riper age. I had taken three wounds and looked on a field of stricken battle ere my wisdom teeth were cut.
As in war, so in love, too, had I served my apprenticeship--for ever in the wake of Mars stalks Cupid. But in the presence of my sweet lady Margaret I blushed for very shame at the memory and wished--as sinners wish for Heaven--that there had been less of it. For until that hour of a verity I had not known real love.
She was a little slip of a girl, numbering, perchance, some twenty years, with a sweet, winsome face, dark hair and gray eyes, amid a smile that would have made of hell a heaven. Proud she was, for all her sweetness, and arch and witty beyond all women that I had known.
Her father was Sir Everard Fitzmorris, a gentleman who, like myself, had been beggared by the Stuart cause, and who in this forlorn castle of Bailienochy had sought and found a refuge from Cromwell's canting bloodhounds.
Hither a week since was I also come, to crave an asylum against the Covenanters, from whom I had good reason to fear hard usage. I had been one of the abettors in that ill-starred flight of Charles from Perth--that which is now known as "the Start," and which but for the timidity of Wilmot and Buckingham might have spared my liege and master ten years of penurious wandering.
With me had come my Lord Carleston--whose plight was no better than mine own--and Sir Everard had received us graciously and kindly, as also had his sister, Lady Grizel--our real hostess, and the owner of Bailienochy--and his daughter Margaret. To us and our retinue--my servant, Giles, and the two attendants who accompanied my Lord Carleston--had been assigned the northern wing of the castle, and there for a week we had lain secure and at peace.
And during that week my love for Mistress Margaret had crept into life, until of a sudden it had stood revealed before me on the morning whereof I write, and had thrown me into a silence that must have made me passing tiresome to my companion, for presently she left me upon some trifling pretext and went within.
Scarce was she gone when Lord Carleston stepped out onto that barren strip of soil which they misnamed a terrace, and approached me with a cynical smile upon his high-bred face.
"Faversham, you rogue," quoth he, "have a care! It is an hour since you and Mistress Margaret came forth, and she hath but returned within this instant."
I knew him for a libertine, yet no worse than most of us that had been nurtured at the court of the Second Charles. He was a youth of parts, and gifted with a caustic tongue, and during the week that was sped we had been much together. Over our sack we had sat of nights, and entertained each other with the narrative of past adventures. I had grown fond of him as a man will of another with whom he exchanges confidences, yet at that moment I wished him far from Bailienochy.
"The lady is the daughter of our host," I said, sternly, thinking to rebuke him.
"And a sweet lass to boot," he answered flippantly.
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Come, Faversham," he cried, no whit abashed, as he linked his arm in mine. "Damn your sour looks! She is a winsome maid; she hath the brightest eye, the sweetest lips, the daintiest ankle--"
"A plague on you! Have you not grace enough to see that such as we are unfit to touch the hem of her garment!"
"Go your way, hypocrite," he broke, "I swear that line is from the Scriptures. The hem of her garment, forsooth! Pshaw, you make me sick! Who seeks to touch it? Did you say her lips now--"
I drew my arm from his, and stood still, the flush of anger mounting to my brow.
"Carleston," I began; but again he interrupted me with a laugh. "Oh, have done! I'll say no more. Yet if you are to wager me fifty gold caroluses that within three days I shall have won a touch of those saintly lips--"
"Blood and wounds!" I began, then changed my anger to contempt and gave vent to it in a laugh "Pshaw, were it less blasphemous, I would win your money to teach you to curb your vanity. For neither in a week nor in a month will you so much as gain her consent to soil her finger tips with your mustachios."
"Oddslife!" he cried, tossing his fine head, "say you so, Master Faversham. Well, since you'll not wager, I do now bind myself to kiss the fingers of this sweet lady, the hem of whose petticoat we are unfit to touch, within the week; and failing to do so, I swear by my honor to pay you two hundred caroluses."
I looked at him in wonder for a moment, then:
"Look to it, Carleston, that you employ no force," I said.
"Pshaw, you pay me a poor compliment."
"I mean not only the force of strength, but the force of fair, false speeches and lying promises. Remember her simplicity, her innocence, and remember, too, that you are a gentleman."
He changed color at that, and we stood measuring each other with our eyes. Then he laughed and shook his golden love-locks.
"Gadzooks, Faversham, these Scotch mists have addled your Kentish brains. But there, my caroluses are yours if I fail. I have sworn it. Of what may follow, time enough to deal with it when it comes."
We parted thus--not lovingly, as you may think. And with every hour the breach betwixt us grew wider. Carleston opened the campaign that night. He appeared at supper tricked out in the gaudiest doublet he had brought with him, with a ribbon wherever he could stick one, and a score of other fripperies. His fine, white hands were all bejeweled, and his love-locks scented like a court lady's lapdog. Sir Everard looked twice at him as he took his seat beside Mistress Margaret, while my Lady Grizel opened wide her eyes; then--being a woman--she glanced from him to her niece, and smiled softly to herself. For mine own part as I gazed upon his handsome, courtly figure I felt that I had never truly hated a man until that hour.
The comedy that was begun that night was pursued upon the morrow, and so every day for a week. And during that week I scarce had two words with Margaret, for Carleston was ever at her side, and--what embittered me the more--she appeared no-wise averse to this. I grew sullen and morose, and my temper suffered sorely. Had it been an honest contest betwixt us for her love, I might have borne the burden of it with a better grace. But knowing that 'twas no more than a matter of my Lord Carleston indulging his vanity, my heart hardened, and I swore that did he earn her affection and permission to kiss her hand, then come to me with a laugh and the boast of it, I would desire him to take a turn with me on the braes of Angus, and there I would leave him cold and stiff with a pink stain on his pretty doublet.
On the morning of the seventh day after my lord had embarked upon this undertaking I observed them together in the garden. A few moments later Carleston entered the hall where I was pacing, and I remarked that his face, usually so gay and reckless, wore now a scowl of sour displeasure.
"You are glum, my lord," I sneered. He forced a laugh in answer.
"Crush me! I have good reason to be. That artless jade is like to cost me two hundred caroluses. But rat me," he added, as he turned away, "I have not lost yet. Not until to-night."
I answered nothing and he departed.
In that same hall I came toward noon upon my lady. She greeted me with a smile, and her, clear gray eyes were fixed for a moment on my face.
"You are looking pale, Mr. Faversham," said she, with kindly concern in her voice, "and sad of late I have remarked. I am afraid this enforced captivity tries you sorely, and that you pine to be gone from Bailienochy."
"Madame, you do me an injustice. The cause of the king I serve is in a state to make all loyal men look pale and sad. But for the rest, sweet lady, there is that at Bailienochy that makes me sigh rather at the thought of going hence than at the time that I am like to spend here."
I gazed at her as I spoke, my boldness springing, I doubt not, from the discomfiture that a while ago I had remarked in Carleston. She dropped her eyes before my glance, and some of the color left her cheeks. That she took my meaning was clear, since she asked no questions, and an awkward silence followed. To my rescue came the quick patter of feet without. The door was flung open, and into the apartment dashed one of Sir Everard's gillies with wild eyes and a scared countenance.
"Ou, ou!" he wailed, in his barbarous northern accent, "the laird o' Carleston, the bonnie laird!"
"What of him, fool?" I cried.
"Droonit, nae less," he blurted out.
"Drowned!" gasped Margaret, with horror.
"Nay, nay," came another voice, "not drowned we hope. There is life in him yet." And across the threshold come Carleston's two attendants carrying their dripping master. His arms trailed limp beside him as they set him down before the fire; his eyes were closed and his cheeks a deadly hue. But his heart still beat, and he breathed, albeit faintly. In a trice, Margaret's fingers had undone the collar of his doublet. She called for usquebaugh, and kneeling beside him set herself to chafe his brows and hands.
"See, Mr. Faversham," cried Margaret, "he breathes more freely."
At that moment Carleston sighed deeply, and opened his eyes. He encountered Margaret's gaze, and for a second or two he returned it vacantly. Then:
"'Tis you, sweet mistress," he murmured. "And I am not dead! 'Tis you who have brought me back to life!"
He had caught her hand in his, and slowly he was carrying it to his lips.
'Twas a natural enough action as matters stood, yet even as I remarked it I guessed the trick that was being played. I remembered that Carleston was a stout swimmer; that the blue tint of his cheeks was no more than the very natural fruit of an October immersion in the icy waters of Loch Esk, and like one fascinated I watched the hand drawing closer to his lips. He had those slender fingers within their own breadth of his mustachios, when of a sudden the hand was whisked away. It was poised for an instant in the air, then it descended with a resounding cuff upon his lordship's ear.
"There, my lord," quoth Margaret, with a scornful laugh, "that will do much to aid to restore your circulation. For the rest you may pay Mr. Faversham the two hundred caroluses, for even this pretty trick hath failed you, and methinks 'tis unlikely now you'll essay another."
I stood aghast, scarce believing that I had heard aright, whilst Carleston got on his feet with an alacrity little to have been looked for in his exhaustion of a moment back. His brow grew black in a most formidable scowl, and the anger in his eyes was a thing to make a man look to his weapons.
"Damnation!" he snarled, turning upon me. "You have played me false, you knave!"
"Knave in your teeth, my lord," I answered coldly. "You have lied!"
With a bunch of oaths, he put his hand to his bilbo, but before he could draw Margaret had got between us.
"Gentlemen," she cried, "let this matter go no further. Mr. Faversham has not played you false, my lord. I myself heard your boast. I could not help it, for yours is the common failing of boasters--you speak over-loudly."
"So, pretty lady," he muttered with a sneer that made me burn to strike him, "since you played eavesdropper, I marvel not at the turn affairs have taken. But as for letting the matter go no further," he vented a mirthless laugh, "by Heaven, madame, it shall go further. Further than is dreamt of by you or this cavalier of yours."
"My lord," I began, when Margaret again interposed.
"Enough, and more, has been said already, Mr. Faversham. Lord Carleston will doubtless see fit to depart."
He left Bailienochy an hour later, without word of farewell or thanks to his host.
For another week we had peace, and--for my own part happiness at Bailienochy. That which had passed served to draw my lady and me closer together, and much time we spent in each other's company. So much, indeed, and so kind was she, that one fine day words that I had never meant to say were spoken, and I--a cavalier of fortune, a penniless adventurer--knelt to that pure, sweet lady as one might kneel before a shrine.
Her gentle eyes were moist, and her voice shook slightly as she gave me her hand to kiss and bade me rise. And as I did so my joy was dashed by sudden qualms born of the honor which this love of mine awakened.
"Sweet mistress," I cried, "I have presumed too far. I had forgotten in the moment's happiness my sad condition. I am a poor soldier of fortune--a landless, houseless ruffler."
"Nay, Lal," she answered with a tenderness beyond all words, "not that, but a loyal, worthy gentleman whom a noble devotion to his King hath beggared. And for this reduced condition of yours I love you, Lal, as much as for your own dear self."
Such was the dawn of our happiness--a happiness, alas! that was about to suffer a sorry interruption.
It would appear that when Carleston left Bailienochy, he quitted at the same time the loyal party to which hitherto he had belonged. It would appear from what I learned anon that he had repaired to that cross-eyed pillar of the Covenant, the Marquess of Argyle, and offered to become a traitor and informer in the service of Kirk and State. He sought my ruin, and that of Sir Everard Fitzmorris with me. In the service of M'Callum More he came upon an infernal Presbyterian villain and kinsman of Argyle, named Sir John Gillespie, betwixt whom and me there lay as hot and goodly a hatred as ever led to the striking of stout blows.
This Gillespie--a dog who had once sought to sell the King to Cromwell--found ample employment for his treacherous instincts in hunting those loyalists that had taken up arms to do battle for their prince's honor. No sooner did he learn that the business with Carleston was to seize the person of one Lionel Faversham, than he joined hands with his lordship.
In his eagerness to see me trussed, Gillespie allowed his zeal to outrun all prudence, and without waiting until Argyle should grant him the posse of men he needed for the undertaking, he got together a parcel of hired cut-throats and with these at his back, and accompanied by Carleston, he came north in quest of me.
I had the news of his approach--and enough, besides, to make me infer that which I have here set down--but an hour before his advent at Bailienochy. 'Twas brought me by my faithful Giles, who had been overtaken by Gillespie and his party at Kirrienmuir, and who had traveled hot-foot to warn me.
Forthwith I repaired to Sir Everard, before whom I laid the whole matter from the beginning, pointing out the peril that was sweeping down upon us. He heard me calmly, even when I told him that I loved his daughter, for the time was come to make all things clear.
"I have seen it for some days, Lal, and I had looked to hear from you ere this."
"Sir Everard--" I began, but he cut me short.
"There is no time at present, lad. The myrmidons of the Kirk are at my gates. The times are sorry, Lal, but we will hope and pray for a speedy and blessed restoration of His Majesty to his throne of England, and when that comes to us also will be restored that which we have lost in the service of the King, our master. Time enough then, Lal, for you to think of marriage. Pish, lad, enough said. I will quit Bailienochy forthwith, with Lady Grizel and Margaret. I have friends in Inverness. Thither will we go, and if you are minded to come with us--"
I shook my head, albeit not without reluctance.
"No, Sir Everard," I answered, for all that I would fain have gone whither my lady went. "Middleton is still in the north, with some ten thousand men, 'tis said. I will make an effort to join him, for it may come to pass that a blow will soon be struck."
He did not seek to alter my determination, for indeed had he numbered but my years 'tis certain he would have acted in like fashion. He was on the point of leaving me to bid the ladies prepare for the journey, when a shouting without, and the clatter of arms, told us that already our enemies were upon us and that our retreat was cut off.
We stood in the lofty hall of the castle, and at that unwelcome noise we instinctively clasped each other's hand, and a look of anguish passed between us. But on my part this weakness was short-lived. With an oath, I sprang to the table where lay a brace of pistols. I seized them and looked to their priming.
"What would you do, Lal?" cried the old nobleman, aghast.
"Do, Sir Everard?" quoth I. "Why, take as high a price for my life as I can, and die here. Think you I have a stomach for a gallows at Perth?"
The words were but uttered when the door was flung rudely open, and into the room strode Carleston, followed by Gillespie and six as ill-looking ruffians as ever escorted a man of his position.
"I am returned, you see," cried his lordship, with a coarse laugh, "returned to pay my reckoning."
I stood erect, my hands behind my back, concealing the pistols that I grasped. Upon Carleston I bestowed not so much as a glance, but addressed myself to Gillespie. "Give you good-day, Mass-John," quoth I, contemptuously. "What is your Judas traffic now?"
He advanced toward me with a sour look on his lean, sallow face. "I am come to arrest you, you son of Belial, and you, too, Sir Everard," he answered, grimly.
"Upon what charge?"
"That of malignancy and conspiracy against the Covenant."
He stood within a yard of me, and before he could guess my purpose I had set a pistol at his head.
"If any of your ruffianly followers move hand or foot, Sir John," I cried, in a loud voice, "I'll blow your rascally brains out."
Rat me, but I could have laughed at the hush that fell upon them, and to see them standing as if turned to stone, none daring to brave my threat. Sir John alone had courage to raise his hand, but before it had reached the level of his belt, the cold nozzle of my pistol was pressed against his forehead, and--
"Have a care, Sir John," I thundered, "or by the living God, I fire."
There was that in my voice and glance that told him how deadly earnest was my purpose. I saw the conviction of it writ plain upon his now livid face, and I was quick to use the advantage I had gained.
"Bid your men throw down their weapons, Sir John," I commanded. There was a moment's pause. "Did you not hear me, sir?" I growled. "Bid them throw down their weapons or I'll show your Presbyterian soul the road to hell."
In a choking voice he gave the command, and it was followed by a clatter of falling swords and pistols that made joyful music to my ears. "Have they all complied, Sir Everard?"
"All but Lord Carleston."
"Take this pistol, sir," I said, holding out my left hand, "and shoot him without mercy if he still refuses."
Keeping his face toward Carleston, Sir Everard took the pistol, and a moment later, in answer to his rasping challenge, I heard his lordship's sword rattle on the parquet.
"Bid him stand yonder with those other ruffians," said I, and presently, when in that also my will was done, I desired Sir Everard to collect the relinquished weapons and place them upon the table behind me.
"And now, Jack Presbyter," said I to Gillespie, "bid your ruffians march through the door on their left."
"Whither does it lead?" he demanded, sullenly.
"What's that to you? Bid them march, you dog." And to urge him I pressed the nozzle harder still against his temple. I was obeyed, and in a moment the hall was empty save for Sir Everard, Sir John and myself. "And you shall follow your men, Sir John, so that you may know whither they are gone. Step backwards. Slowly. So!"
I guided him step by step to the door of the chamber into which his myrmidons had already disappeared across the threshold. I drove him, then reaching forward I closed the door upon them and shot the bolts. 'Twas a stout piece of oak that would resist any efforts, while the chamber was lighted by a single window too small to admit the body of a man.
We had them safely caged. I turned to Sir Everard with a laugh of exultation. The old knight was pale with excitement, and the moisture stood thick upon his brow.
"'Twas bravely done, lad. Oddslife! I never saw a bolder thing."
"Come, Sir Everard," I cried, "let us depart."
"But what of them?" he asked, jerking his thumb toward the door. "Let them rot there."
Some discussion I had with Sir Everard, who censured the barbarity of my notions, which presently was ended by the appearance of Lady Grizel and Margaret. They came shuddering with dread, and great was their rapture upon beholding us safe and unharmed. And when Sir Everard related to them with enthusiasm and much kindly exaggeration the paltry thing that I had done, there was a flush of pleasure in my sweet lady's cheeks, and a glance of pride in the gray eyes that beamed upon me and claimed me for her own.
At sunset, some two hours later, they set out at last upon their journey to Inverness, bearing with them what valuables they could carry and escorted by half a dozen of Sir Everard's gillies. We parted in the courtyard of the castle, for since I went by way of Lochnagar our roads lay not together. Margaret lingered a moment after the others, and if our parting was fraught with sadness, yet it was lighted by the hope of happy days we each felt the future held in trust. Fondly she bade me look to my safety and remember that I belonged to her.
"Farewell, my cavalier," she murmured, when at last I led her to the gate where Sir Everard waited. "Be loyal, brave and fortunate, and until next we meet wear this in memory of me."
She was gone at last, and I stood in the gateway, my eyes riveted upon the lumbering coach, and in my hand the locket which at parting she had left me, and which inclosed a tiny miniature of her angel face.
With a sigh that was not all pain, I turned to find Giles behind me, with our horses ready saddled for the journey.
Bidding him await me, I mounted to my chamber to make my final preparations.
'Twas soon done, and armed and booted I descended again to the hall to take a last look at the door that shut in Gillespie and his party. My foot was on the stairs when of a sudden my ear caught the thud of hoofs. At the sound my heart misgave me, and dashing down the intervening steps I made for the first window on the landing and thence looked out.
Coming up the road toward the castle at a sharp trot, I espied a party of men, a score maybe, in corselets and pots that bespoke their calling. This was no ruffianly out-at-elbow crew such as had attended Gillespie, but an orderly company of troopers--their service, one glance was enough to tell me, was the Covenant's.
I must make a dash for it, I told myself, and with that I sprang down the steps four at a time.
Breathless, I reached the courtyard.
"Giles," I shouted. He turned toward me a face that wore a settled look of despair, and before he could do more than rap out an oath the troop was at the gate.
Well, the game was played, and clearly the day was, after all, the Covenant's. It but remained to let my bearing give luster to my defeat, and so I met with a courtly bow the young officer that rode forward. And then when fortune appeared to have deserted me, she showed me a curious and unlooked for favor. To this day I cannot fathom the source of that officer's misapprehension, beyond the fact that seeing me so fully equipped did dupe him into it. Suffice it that the words wherewith he greeted and astounded me were:
"Have I the honor to address Sir John Gillespie?"
I may lack the nimble wit of an ante-chamber fop, but I have never known my sense to fail me in a moment of peril. And so despite the profound amazement that beset me, I bowed and answered without a moment's hesitation.
"Your servant, sir."
"I am Captain Campbell," said he, alighting and throwing the reins to one of his men. "I was told that I should find you here. I bring you this letter from the Marquess of Argyle."
"You are sorely needed here, sir," I said, coolly, taking the letter and breaking the seal. "Those malignant dogs, Faversham and Fitzmorris, proved not the easy capture I expected. They met me with a parcel of godless followers, and but that I held a pistol to the head of the elder of those sons of Baal, and threatened to shoot him unless his ruffians obeyed me, you would have come too late, captain. As it is, for all that I have got them safely under lock and key, but for your timely arrival I should not have known what to do with them. But what says my Lord of Argyle?"
I turned my attention to the letter whilst the officer laughed over that which I had told him. It was a peremptory order to Gillespie to deliver up what prisoners he had taken to Captain Campbell, and forthwith to proceed to Lochnagar, there to effect the capture of two notorious malignants who were described in the letter.
I handed the paper to Campbell.
"There are your orders, Captain, and mine. My horse is ready, and I will start at once. Since the prisoners here are to be intrusted to you, go up and take them; the din they are making will lead you to them. I wish you joy of your capture."
He looked up in some astonishment, and fearing lest this should be followed by suspicion, I was quick to add, "Will you lend me three troopers to help me in this business?"
His brow cleared and he smiled.
"Verily you are impatient to smite the enemies of Israel," quoth he. "Take six."
"Three will suffice," I replied, getting into the saddle. "Too many might prove dangerous." In which there was more truth than the captain suspected.
Five minutes later, with Giles and the three troopers, I rode out from Bailienochy, whilst Campbell and his Sassenachs went to secure their prisoners. Like the wind I went, for methought pursuit was imminent. Yet fortune smiled on me to the end, and in the dead of that winter night, Giles and I--with the connivance of a heavily bribed landlord--left the inn where we had halted without taking leave of our slumbering escort. Before daybreak twenty miles of difficult country separated us from them.
Two days later in a hostelry at Inverury I heard the story, told with vast unction by a loyal Highlander, of how a young spark of the court had fooled two parties of Covenanters to do battle at Bailienochy, each deeming the other a body of malignants. It would appear from what I then learned that when Campbell unbarred the door, Gillespie and his men--albeit unarmed--flung themselves furiously upon the troopers. Not until four of them had been cut down did they discover their error.
But fortunately for my escape it took Gillespie some hours to convince Captain Campbell of the trick whereof he had been made the victim.
From the dawn at Worcester of that disastrous Wednesday, the third of September of '51, until the noon of Thursday when I flung myself down, jaded and worn, in the woods near Newbury, it seemed to me that not of hours but of years were the things that had befallen me.
I had been one of the gallant troop that, led by our valiant liege himself, had ridden out from the Sidbury Gate and charged the rebels on Perry Wood with a fury that drove them hell-to-leather from their guns. I had been one of those who in that brief hour of exultation had turned eager eyes toward Leslie and his Scottish horse. I had seen the traitor watching us, muffled in his cloak, but stirring never a foot to complete for us the work of victory so well begun. And when, anon, Cromwell's Ironsides recovered and returned to scatter us down the hillside like leaves before an autumn breeze, and I knew that Worcester field was lost to us because Leslie had failed, in my heart I cursed that treacherous, Presbyterian Scot, as to-day--dead though he be--I curse his memory.
I had been one of the maimed and bleeding troops that had fled back to shelter within Worcester Gates, with guns belching hell upon us from behind. I was one of that last little knot that had hacked a way for the King through the Roundhead press about the Sidbury Gate, and at length--covered with blood and grime, yet with no worse a hurt than a pistol bullet through the fleshy part of my left arm--I had stood and heard the cry of "Save himself who can," in Worcester streets.
'Twas a miracle that I got clear of the town as night was closing in upon that shambles, and made my way along the Severn toward Gloucester.
Guided by the outline of the Cotwold Hills, I rode on toward Cirencester until--after midnight--my martyred brute stopped, shuddered and fell beneath me. For some few hours I slept in the shelter of a hedge, a sleep from which I awakened shuddering, for in my dreams I had seen again the horrors of the day before. The steely gray of dawn was in the sky, and my limbs were numb.
I found a horse grazing in a field--a poor, sorry nag--and on its back I set the saddle of my fallen charger. I forsook the roads, and, having crossed the Thames, I went by fields and woods until some three hours before noon that melancholy horse would go no further. Leaving it, I dragged myself wearily into the shelter of a neighboring wood.
Guided by the murmur of waters, I crawled along until presently I came upon a shallow stream splashing merrily along in the sunlight that fell upon it through the half-denuded trees. I flung myself prone, and like an animal I lowered my head until I could reach the water. I drank--God, how I drank! And there, jaded and worn, with never a thought of what might betide, I fell asleep.
I awakened with a start to find the sunlight gone from the water and the long shadows cast athwart it by the trees, bespeaking evening. Something rustled behind me. I turned sharply and the unexpected sight of a human figure had almost wrung a cry from me, when I saw 'twas no more than a girl. A little slip of golden-headed womanhood it was, of some twenty years at most, with a winsome face and merry blue eyes that looked down upon me half saucily, half timidly.
"Oddslife, child," I cried at last, "you made my awakening a rude one. What o'clock is it?"
"Past six, sir," she replied composedly. Then running her eye over my dusty and disordered apparel, my great boots and spurs, my plumed hat and lengthy sword, and noting mayhap the gold lace upon the coat that lay beside me, and last of all the haggard face that was turned to hers, her curiosity must have been aroused. "Whence come you, sir?" she asked, and in a breath she added: "You are not from Newbury?"
"Newbury, girl?" I echoed, fastening upon the word. "Why talk you of Newbury? Am I near the place?"
"'Tis but a mile or so away."
I struggled to rise, and inadvertently put forth my wounded arm. I gasped at a sharp twinge of pain.
"You are hurt, sir," exclaimed the maid, coming nearer.
For all reply, I tore aside the bloodstained cambric sleeve and laid bare the wound, which now bled anew. 'Twas a mere nothing, as I have said, but the blood gave it an ugly look, and my little maid went white to the lips at the sight of it. Yet controlling her feelings bravely, she ran to the stream, and dipping her kerchief in the water, she returned and bathed the swollen limb, and when that was done she made shift to bandage it.
"'Tis said a great battle was fought at Worcester yesterday," quoth she.
"Yesterday!" I repeated. "Was it but yesterday?"
Those eyes of hers grew round at that. "You cannot have been there," she murmured, half questioningly.
"Say you so--" I began, then remembering that I knew not to whom I spoke, I stopped abruptly.
"You are afraid to speak, sir. What do you fear?" she cried petulantly. "I am but a woman."
"So, madam, was Delilah."
"Go your ways, sir," she answered, rising with a pretty show of indignation. "Had I known with what a churl I dealt I had not wasted charity upon your arm."
For all my sudden mistrust, I grew sorely alarmed lest she should leave me where I lay.
"Sweet mistress, forgive me," I begged. "Pity the plight of a poor hunted cavalier, who, did an angel come down from heaven to minister to his wants, would suspect it of being in league with Cromwell."
She stopped and turned again, and her gentle eyes were full of pity. "You are that, sir?" she asked.
"I am that, child," I answered. "I am a Kentish gentleman, Lionel Faversham by name, who fought yesterday beside his king on Worcester field; a poor, unfortunate cavalier, whose head is worth a handful of guineas to any one who may care to deliver it to the bottle-nosed lord general."
Thus was our peace made, and my heart beat joyously at the news that her father--a farmer in those parts--was secretly a royalist, and that in his house I might count upon a welcome shelter until I had gathered strength to resume my journey toward Chichester. She sat down beside me by the brook, and there by this wise child's advice we waited until night had fallen. At last we ventured forth, and albeit the distance was but half a mile or so, it was to me a weary journey. Our way lay across a meadow from which we passed by a gate into a garden, and stood at length in the shadow of a large and not unimposing house.
The gate clicked behind us, and, as if those within had been on the alert, the door was opened, and in the flood of light that fell from it a burly figure was outlined on the threshold.
"Is it you, Kate?" came a man's deep voice, adding, as she ran forward, some mild reproof touching her long absence. This and my presence needed explanation, and that she set about giving her father. But no sooner did the yeoman learn my quality, my condition, and whence I came, than, cutting her explanations short, he drew me into the house and closed the door. I stood before a huge fire, in a roomy kitchen, blinking like an owl in the light that smote my eyes, and listening with not a little emotion to the burly farmer's cheery welcome.
They set me at table, and the honest fellow and his good dame stood by to minister to my wants.
The meal done, Melland brought forth a black jack and set me in the corner seat by the hearth and there I rested, pervaded by a delicious sense of well being, such as seemed never before to have been mine. Anon my host renewed his questions, whereupon, with the yeoman, his wife and his two children for as rapt an audience as ever rejoiced the heart of story-teller, I related to them how Worcester had been fought and lost, the horrors that I had witnessed, and that which in my flight I had undergone.
Next morning found me sick and feverish and unable to quit my bed.
At the end of three weeks, thanks to the unflagging care bestowed upon me by Mistress Melland and Kate, I was sufficiently recovered to quit my bed and sit a while in my chamber. But I was monstrous weak, and another week sped by before I dared venture out of doors. Thereafter my strength returned apace, until one day, in the early part of October. I drew my host aside and after expressing to him some little measure of the gratitude that filled my heart, I added that methought 'twas time I should push on to Chichester and the friends upon whose help I counted. But the burly yeoman flouted the idea. I was not yet strong enough, and it was a long ride for one in my condition.
Later, on that same day, Melland came to me with a suit of sad-colored garments and a steeple hat such as Puritans affected.
"Mr. Faversham," said he in apologetic tones, "I am taking a great liberty. That gold-laced coat of yours savors too much of the cavalier to pass unobserved in so humble a house as mine."
"But who is there to observe it, my good Melland?" I laughed.
His face grew very serious.
"There is one coming to-day who might look upon it with disfavor--one Colonel Jackson of the Roundhead army, and so, if you'll forgive the liberty, methought it wise to bring you these somber clothes so that you may don them should you so think fit."
"But this Colonel Jackson," I asked, "what does he seek at the Knoll?"
"He is the son of a neighboring farmer, and for years--since his childhood--he has been wont to come and go here as he listeth. Myself I prize his sour looks but little, yet he is too dangerous a man nowadays to make an enemy."
"Very well," I broke in with a laugh, "he shall find me as thorough a Roundhead as ever sang litanies to St. Satan. Give me these godly clothes, Melland."
Arrayed in that devil's livery I sat taking the air in the garden that afternoon, when Kate came out and stood with her head on one side surveying me mockingly.
"Come hither, Kate," I commanded, with ironical sternness. "Come hither and deride not the godliness of my appearance. See you this letter, child?" And I drew a package from my pocket.
She nodded and came nearer.
"That you may know how great is the service I require of you, let me tell you, Kate, that it is to a lady in Inverness--a lady who may some day--unworthy though I be--do me the honor to become my wife. I doubt she is anxious to learn what hath befallen me, and I would have this letter reach her without delay. Will you see to it, Kate? Myself I dare not venture into Newbury."
She took the letter and gazed abstractedly at the superscription.
"Is Mistress Margaret very beautiful?" she asked abruptly.
I turned to look at her, marveling at her question. Then I laughed as I bethought me of what interest such matters are to a woman.
"Beautiful, Kate?" I cried. "Stay, you shall form your own opinion!" And drawing from my bosom the little jeweled picture my lady had given me, I held it before her. For a long minute she looked intently upon my Margaret's sweet face, then she cried:
"How you must love her!"
"May you be loved some day, child, as truly and loyally as I love her. Some day, perchance, she may know you and thank you for all that you have done for her lover, more fittingly than my clumsy tongue can thank you, little friend."
I patted her hand affectionately as I spoke, for indeed I had grown fond of winsome Kate. She smiled a half sad little smile, and her eyes looked moist. She was about to speak when the gate clicked. I looked up sharply, to behold a tall, gaunt man in black approaching us. One glance at that funereal figure was enough to tell me that this was the expected Colonel Jackson. He was a man of some twenty-five years of age, whose pale, thin face was rendered more somber even than nature had designed it by the shadows that fell on it from his broad-brimmed steeple hat. His eyes were deep-set and red-rimmed, and his nose the bill of a bird of prey; his mouth wide, thin-lipped and cruel. Altogether, he was a damnable-looking knave, and from the moment that I beheld him I believe I hated him. Such feelings are oft reciprocal, and the glance he bestowed upon me was not one of love.
In a surly tone he gave my companion greeting in the Lord, and in an unmannerly fashion inquired my name of her.
"'Tis Master Turner," she answered, "a friend of my father's."
"And of thine, wench?"
"And of mine," she replied calmly, whereupon he scowled at me.
The motive of his unwelcome visits was not long a mystery to me. He came a-wooing, and little Kate was his quarry. That wooing of his was like no other that I have ever seen. He pressed his suit with lines from Holy Writ, and where a lover would have waxed poetical, he cited texts and proverbs.
That Kate detested him was soon apparent, as also that she feared him not a little, and in my heart I wished her rid of him. One morning--the fourth after his coming--from my window, which overlooked the garden, I heard high words out there betwixt them, and from what I caught I gathered that I was the cause of their dissension, and that this singer of psalms was jealous.
Their quarrel gave me an idea, which later in the day I took to Kate.
"Little friend," said I. "I owe you much, and if in some slight measure I might serve you by ridding you of this crop-eared plague, say but so and the thing is done."
"How?" she cried. "You could rid me of him?"
"Can I?" I echoed. "Why, rat me, child, it hath been said that Lal Faversham plays the prettiest sword in England."
"Oh, no, no!" she cried, with a shudder. "I did not understand you. You must not think of it. Promise me that you will not, Mr. Faversham."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"I'll think of it no more. Yet should you change your mind, and find him growing past endurance, command me as a brother."
'Twould seem, however, that not only in my mind but in that also of Master Jackson was the thought begotten that a little sword-play might afford us some diversion. He came to me that evening whilst I sat by the fire, and resting his elbow upon the overmantel he scowled down upon me.
"Art like to remain long at Knoll, Master Turner?"
"Longer I doubt than will give thee pleasure," I answered pertly. "Have a care, Master Turner," he snarled, growing livid.
"A care of what, sirrah?" I retorted, springing up. "Dost threaten me?"
"I am no vain boaster to threaten men," he answered, with more restraint. "I do but warn thee to have a care, Master Turner--if, indeed," he added, with a cunning leer, "Turner be thy name."
"Oddfish!" I cried impetuously. "Did you but know my name I warrant me you would bear yourself less boldly."
Scarce were the words uttered than I realized their indiscretion, and looked to Colonel Jackson for an explosion. Instead, however, the Puritan's face grew blank with surprise, and in his eyes was the look of a man who has stumbled upon a great discovery.
I could not guess that his suspicions, set upon a spoor by my hint of an identity that should command respect, and by the royal oath that I had made use of, had traveled over my long, lank figure, my black lovelocks and my swart countenance, bringing him to the conviction that before him stood none other that Charles Stuart, since these particulars vaguely agreed with the description given of the royal fugitive. But learning all this in the light of that which befel thereafter, I can measure Master Jackson's surprise, and marvel not that for a moment it left him speechless. Then recovering himself:
"I profess 'tis no more than I suspected--thou art a malignant. I am no tipstaff, Master Turner; yet endurance hath its bounds; if in four days thou art still at the Knoll or in the neighborhood, I shall arrest thee. Be warned and be grateful for a generosity greater than thou deservest."
'Twas a speech well conceived to deaden my alarm, and--fool that I was--I let his treacherous cunning cozen me, and rested satisfied that for four days he would take no action.
The day was Monday; I resolved that on the following Wednesday I would depart. Had I been possessed of a grain of wit I had quitted the Knoll that very night. Instead, I set about making ready for my departure with all ease and leisure. On the morrow I commissioned Melland to purchase me a horse, and that same day he brought me a stout sorrel for which I paid him twenty caroluses.
Wednesday's sun rose and set, and for the last time I found myself at supper at Master Melland's hospitable board. One hour more had I to spend 'neath the roof that had so long sheltered me, and of which I shall carry to my grave a memory laden with gratitude and affection. I sat spurred and booted, and in the stable my horse awaited me, ready saddled for the night journey.
Opposite to me sat the colonel, a leer of triumphant mockery on his face, begotten, methought, of his joy at my departure. Melland was speaking, when of a sudden a tramp of feet without came to startle us. It was the regular tramp of trained bands, and in the sound there was something ominous and menacing. It was followed by a knock that was like the blow of a weapon against the door.
In silence Melland rose and went to open, giving me in passing a look that was eloquent with fear. Mistress Melland, Kate, and her sister Betty looked on with white faces, but said no word. Jackson alone remained calm, that sinister smile upon his lipless mouth. In a flash, it came to me that he had betrayed me, but before I could voice my discovery the door was opened and on the threshold stood a short, fat man. The sight of that portly figure and vulgar face with its great red nose brought me to my feet in an instant, and a madness seemed to fire my blood--'twas the arch fiend, Cromwell, himself!
"Greeting to all in God's name!" he exclaimed, in a deep, sonorous voice. My answer was to snatch a knife from the table, and fling myself in a blind access of rage toward that loathesome murderer.
But scarce had I taken two steps when, from behind, a couple of arms caught me about the middle; a leg was thrust around mine; and tripped, I fell, with Master Jackson on top of me. Before I could realize what had chanced, I was on my feet again with a trooper on either side of me, and my hands pinioned behind me. For a moment Cromwell eyed me with a glance of cold contempt.
"Who is this that cometh betwixt the lion and his prey?" quoth he in a voice of thunder.
"'Tis he," answered Jackson, "the young man, Charles Stuart."
"This, Charles Stuart!" returned Cromwell in accents of mingled scorn and rage. "Is it on a fool's errand thou hast brought me hither?"
"If you came to find King Charles," I put in, "your errand was indeed a fool's, Master Oliver. His Majesty, whom God befriend, is in France."
"Thou liest!" he blazed.
"You would not dare say so if my hands were untied, you bottle-nosed brewer," I retorted contemptuously.
"How shall I deal with him to stop his ribald tongue?" cried Jackson.
The lord general's baleful eye rested coldly on me for a moment. "What is thy name, fellow?" he asked.
"Lionel Faversham," I answered recklessly, "gentleman-in-waiting to his Majesty, King Charles the Second, and lately a captain in his Majesty's army at Worcester."
"The which," he added, "by a crowning mercy of the Lord of Hosts has been scattered as the Philistines were scattered." Then in a sterner voice: "Deal with him as Aman was dealt with, Jackson. Take two men and hang him to the first tree--Stay," he amended. "I will be the destroyer of no man's soul. Let him have till daybreak to make his peace with God."
* * *
I lay that night in Newbury gaol, listening to the chiming of a neighboring clock by which I reckoned the approach of eternity. I fear me that I did no praying. My course was run, and methought that to seek by a few hours' supplication--because, forsooth, I lacked all other occupation--to make amends for so many misspent years, were little short of an impertinence. I thought much indeed of my sweet Margaret, in far-off Inverness, and but for that thought I might have looked with indifference upon my end. Death and I were no strangers, and after all, to die, I take it, is the chief purpose for which man is born.
A thought or two I bestowed also upon Kate, and I wondered would the gentle child shed a tear for the poor soldier of fortune she had befriended.
Day broke at length, and a bell tolled somewhere in the prison or the neighborhood, I know not which. There was a drawing of bolt and a clatter of keys. The time was come. Heigho! No more remained but to give these crop-ears a lesson in the art of dying.
The door opened and a man bearing a lanthorn entered my cell, followed by another wrapped in a cloak. I rose and bowed.
"Your servant, gentlemen," said I.
Guided by that silent couple, I marched down a long corridor.
"A chilly morning, my friends," I murmured.
"Knows thy ribald tongue no peace, even in such an hour as this?" came Jackson's voice from the folds of the cloak.
"So! 'Tis you, O crop-eared son of Israel!" I answered.
"Peace," he snarled, whilst he of the lanthorn opened a door on our right, and signed to me to enter. Marveling, I did as I was bidden; then the door was closed and locked upon me, and I found myself in another cell.
I sat down and waited. Moments went by, and presently there came the tramp of feet and clatter of arms. At last, I told myself. But they marched past my door and on in the direction of the cell that I had quitted. I heard them halt, then a piercing shriek reached me. Presently I heard them returning, and with them one whose cries and blasphemies curdled my blood as I listened. Clearly there was another execution at Newbury that morning.
The bell tolled on and on, and at length ceased. Still I waited. The sun rose, and yet none came to me. Anon a gaoler brought me some coarse food and a beaker of water. I questioned him, but he answered naught. And thus the day wore on and evening followed. Weary, I stretched myself upon my pallet, and despite the suspense that held me, I went to sleep.
I awakened with the glare of a lanthorn in my eyes to find beside me the same two figures that had visited me at daybreak.
In surly tones, Jackson bade me rise and go with him, and I, thinking that another day had dawned and that at length he was come to lead me to execution, sat up and drew on my boots. Then rising for I had lain down fully dressed--I professed myself ready. We quitted the cell and proceeded along a corridor and down a flight of steps, and by a doorway we emerged into a courtyard. The sky was black overhead; so black that turning to Jackson I asked him what o'clock it was, and received the answer that it wanted an hour to midnight.
A moment later we were in the street--alone, and this following upon those words of his begot in my mind a suspicion and a hope.
"What doth this mean, Master Jackson?" I asked. "Whither go we?"
"Thou shalt learn presently."
We turned the corner of a street, and in the gloom I discerned the outline of a horse, and a human figure that suddenly advanced toward us.
"Kate!" I cried, springing forward. "Is it you again, little friend? Have you moved the stony heart of this Puritan to gain my liberty?"
"It may be that my prayers have had some little weight with him. To him it is, however, that your thanks are due for your liberty. He is saving your life at the peril of his own."
"Zounds, Master Jackson," quoth I, holding out my hand. "I crave your pardon by the injustice that in my thoughts I have done you. My thanks--"
"I seek them not," he broke in churlishly. "The hour grows late, Master Faversham, and your journey is a long one. Yonder stands your horse. Mount and begone, and see that you tarry not."
Amazed by so strange a mixture of churlishness and generosity, I made shift to follow his advice. I bade farewell to little Kate, and left her, in memory of one she had served and in earnest of the gratitude that should ever fill my heart, a little ring--the only trinket that I had about me.
Following their directions, I rode through Newbury streets, until of a sudden a voice hailed me:
"Master Faversham, in God's name go no farther until you have heard me." It was the voice of Tony--a servant at the Knoll Farm, and a Papist. Therefore, one who out of his hatred for Roundheads was my friend. His earnest accents, and the strange fact that he should lie in wait for me, commanded a hearing and so I bade him speak.
He besought me to accompany him to a hostelry whose landlord was his friend, and nothing loath, since a stirrup cup would be right welcome, I fell in with his proposal. He roused the host of the Black Horse Inn, and bade my nag be cared for.
In deep amazement, I followed the lad to a room of the hostelry. "Forgive my freedom, Mr. Faversham," he began, "but know you the price that is being paid for your liberty?"
"Price, fellow?" I echoed.
"Aye, sir--price," he repeated. And forthwith he told me that, which but for the witless fool I was, I should have suspected. He told me that to purchase my liberty Mistress Kate had consented to become the wife of Jackson. The colonel had offered to save my life, naming his price, and this she had consented to pay. The governor of Newbury gaol stood for some reason in awe of him, and consented to close his eyes whilst the thing was done. The gaoler he had bribed with fifty pounds, and they had removed me from my cell half an hour before the time appointed for the execution, substituting a poor wretch lying also under sentence of death. Him Jackson had hanged in the presence of the two troopers Cromwell had left him and they, duped by drowsiness, sloth, and the gray half light of dawn, had suspected naught. To Cromwell, Jackson had sent by one of them the message that Lionel Faversham had suffered death.
Tony had overheard the bargain driven by Jackson, and the details that I have set down, and had determined to frustrate his plans if possible. With what mingled emotions I listened to him!
"Leave me, good Tony," I exclaimed. "I swear to you by my honor that Mistress Kate shall not be sacrificed. I hold Master Jackson in the hollow of my hand."
I lay at the Black Horse that night, and next morning I rode out of Newbury betimes, and followed the Kennet for half a mile or so in the direction of Colonel Jackson's house. But I was spared the trouble of going there to seek him, for of a sudden a turn of the road brought me face to face with the Roundhead himself, riding in the opposite direction. He changed countenance upon beholding me.
"Art mad, Master Faversham," he gasped, "that I find you here when you should be far on your way to the coast?"
"I am not riding to the coast at present," I answered coldly. "Whither I turn my horse's head depends upon yourself, for unless I find you reasonable, and docile as a godly man should be, London is my destination."
"Aye, man, London--Whitehall. Nay, stare not so. I shall but go to tell your ruby-nosed lord protector that the godly son of Israel, Colonel Jackson, is a perjured liar, who whilst sending him word that he had hanged the malignant Faversham for attempting his august life, did, in fact, let that godless follower of Charles Stuart go free."
Very white was Colonel Jackson's face, and very baleful his eye. "Is it thus thou repayest me for the gift of thy life?"
"You looked for payment of another sort, and in another quarter, eh? As for this life of mine, I scorn the gift at your hands, and had I known the price that was being paid you, I had refused to quit Newbury gaol."
"What is the price to thee? What is the wench to thee?"
"One who befriended me in my hour of need. No more than that--but less than that shall she be to you, for, as God lives, Master Jackson, either you swear to me upon the Book to forego the payment you had exacted, and to press your hateful suit no further, or I go straight to Whitehall. You have reckoned for once without your host, Master Jackson. Come make your choice."
"I have no choice to make," he answered passionately. "I will not choose. Dismount, sir, and let us end this matter."
"Right willingly," I cried, "since to die will please you better."
And so it befell that we faced each other in a meadow by the wayside.
His onslaught was ponderous as a charge of cavalry, and as clumsy.
At the third disengage I slipped his guard, and got my point into him in the region of his heart. For a second he writhed, then fell in a heap--stone dead.
I lingered not, but wiping my blade straightway got to horse again and rode off. At a crossroads, half a mile away, I came upon Tony. "You have seen the colonel?" he asked.
"Aye, I have seen him, Tony."
"What says he?"
"At present naught--unless he be quoting Holy Writ to the devil."
"He would have it so," I deprecated. "We fought in the meadow yonder, where you'll find his carrion if you have a mind to."
The lad shuddered and for a second he was silent. Then:
"You'll go to the Knoll, sir?"
"I think not, Tony. 'Tis best I should get hence without delay. You'll tell Mistress Kate that she need no longer pay the noble price she offered for my life--a price too high by far for a thing so worthless. Fare you well, Tony."
I wrung his hand, leaving ten caroluses in his grasp. Then, driving deep my spurs, I rode on.
London wore still a festive air. Men rejoiced and drank deep, and "the King" was their toast.
For nine long years had I possessed my soul in patience, waiting in exile for such a time as this; yet now that it was come, for me at least it was come too late.
Beset by a grief so poignant that methought I must die of it, sat I in my chamber overlooking King Street. The heart in my breast seemed paralyzed and frozen, and in my hands I held a letter, a ring and a lock of hair.
My Margaret was dead, that letter told me. A last pitiable farewell it was from the sweet mistress who for nine years had awaited my return and the Restoration that should mend my fortunes. The ring was one that long ago I had sent to her from France. The lock of hair was cut from her beloved head in the last hour of life.
Loyal and true to her had I been through that long exile. Jubilantly had I set foot again with Charles upon English soil--my troubles done, methought, and Margaret to be mine at last. And then but a week or so thereafter, when on the point of setting out for Scotland to claim the reward of my long waiting, the inexorable fates had smitten me this cruel blow.
Of the season that followed--when again I sought the company of men--I think with loathing. Headlong I plunged into the wildest excesses of that licentious court.
And thus time and debauchery assuaged my pains, or rather was it that my heart grew numb, and the blood in my veins was turned to gall, for this I know--that when I had ceased to mourn I had also ceased to care for aught that life could give, enduring it with bitter mockery and mimicked mirth.
Yet for all my callousness, it was not without a pang that I heard from the King, one morning, the proposal that I should wed.
"Your follies, Lal, transcend all bounds," said he, "and we must curb them with the silken bonds of matrimony."
"Sire, I beseech you--" I began.
"There is no cause for that. Already I have thought to your circumstances, and I have found a wife for you. She is not ill-favored, and much courted, a maid of honor to my sister, and what she may lack in beauty she makes up for in endowments."
"Have patience, Lal," he laughed, "and you shall learn her name." He took my arm affectionately and drew me into the embrasure of a window that overlooked the river. "Now, sir, what say you to my Lord Chancellor's daughter--Mistress Hyde?"
I slowly shook my head.
"Sire, I do not wish to wed."
"Zounds, Sir Lionel!" he exclaimed, a scowl upon his dark face. "You try my patience. Is aught amiss with the lady, or is there some other one whom you prefer?"
"Neither, sire. Yet, an' it please your Majesty, I will not wed."
"But it doth not please me," was the testy answer, and I marveled that he should insist thus hotly. "There is no reason in this obstinacy, Sir Lionel. Come, you will think of it, at least!"
"I will think of it since you bid me, Sire."
"Words, words!" he returned, the frown gathering again. "Let me see you no more until your mind is shaped to my desires--until such a season you are excused your duties near me."
He left me with those words, which plainly told me that I could either wed Anne Hyde or take myself away from Whitehall. Of such a quality is kingly justice and royal gratitude!
For a day or two I pondered o'er the matter, keeping it a secret not even shared with Roger Marston--of the Duke of York's household--whom during our exile in France I had grown to love as a brother. The King's petulance and insistence were matter for no little wonder in me, albeit to-day I understand this clearly enough.
In the end I determined that sooner than again become a wanderer I would fulfill his wishes. I sought an audience, and told him of my decision, whereat he appeared vastly overjoyed, and bade me set about my wooing.
That very day I came by chance upon Mistress Hyde in the Privy Gardens. A tall, queenly woman was she, not perchance beautiful, yet with an eye and air that were capable of much. I greeted her courteously and was received with a coldness that argued she already knew me for her suitor. Awhile I paced beside her, and talked of this and that, stupidly enough in all conscience, until at length she stopped in her walk to face me with the question:
"Sir Lionel, know you no better art of wooing than this?"
"I see, madame, that you are informed of the honor to which I aspire," I answered, clumsily.
"Aye, sir, and to which you will aspire in vain."
"Madame," I blurted out, "you relieve me vastly."
Her glance of astonishment was a thing I could have laughed at.
"I do not apprehend you, Sir Lionel," said she at length. "But it signifies little. I have been told to look for your addresses, and that you had gained the King's consent to woo me. I will be frank and save you trouble, sir, by telling you that I love another."
"Mistress Anne, I am rejoiced to hear it," I answered, bowing with a touch of mockery. "Do but grant me leave to carry your words to his Majesty, or do yourself tell him that which you have just told me, and believe me that Lal Faversham will ever after be your grateful friend."
"I do not understand," she confessed.
"Why, madame, great though the honor be, I do not wish to marry you save inasmuch as I wish to obey his Majesty at whose bidding am I come a-wooing. But I can now say to him: Mistress Hyde will have none of me, she loves another--and thus the matter ends. Give you good-day, madame. I go to the King."
"'Twere injudicious to tell his Majesty what hath passed betwixt us. You may tell him that your suit prospers none too well, but that you have hope."
"You give me hope? Madame, 'tis to plunge me into despair."
She echoed my laugh, but without mirth, and her glance was not nice, which, after all, is not strange, for albeit a woman loves you not and tells you so, 'tis in her eyes no cause why you should not pine for love of her.
Thus we parted--she to resume her walk, I to carry her lie to the King. It gave him pleasure, and ere three days were sped it was noised about the Court that Lal Faversham wooed the Lord Chancellor's daughter, and that his Majesty looked favorably upon the business.
On every hand, men spoke to me of it; some openly, and some by hints, till presently I grew sick to death of the very name of Hyde.
One night--a week perchance after the day when first I had presented myself to Mistress Hyde--I sat alone in my lodging at Whitehall, when I was visited by Roger Marston. He was just returned from Devonshire, and the sight of him gave me no little pleasure, for I had grown to dearly love the merry-hearted knave.
'Twas a hot night of early July, and I sat taking the air at my window when he entered. I had not called for lights so that I missed the expression of his face, but his tone warned me that something was amiss, for instead of its wonted merry note, it rang harsh and petulant. Scarce had he greeted me when:
"What's this I hear, Lal, of your betrothal with Mistress Hyde?" he asked.
"May the devil tan every Hyde that ever bore the name!" I burst out. "If you love me. Roger, you'll talk of some thing else."
"It is not true, then?"
"Yes, crush me, but it is. True as perdition, and that's the rub! I am bidden by the King to marry Mistress Hyde or get me out of Whitehall. A week ago I cared not a fig for Mistress Hyde; to-day I hate her as much as I hated the Kirk Commission in the old days."
"And she?" he asked, eagerly.
"Oh, she--she loves another. A man as good and noble as I am dissolute--those are her very words."
"She loves another! Oh, Lal, tell me all."
"Blood and wounds, sir," I gasped, "are you the other one? Oddslife, I should ne'er have guessed it from her description of you."
I told him all that had passed, and albeit it relieved him to find that he had not in me a rival whom the lady favored, yet was he sorely troubled by the King's attitude.
"I care not if it blight my fortunes Lal," he cried, impetuously, "but Mistress Hyde I'll strive for though a dozen kings oppose me!"
I called for lights, and far into the night we sat talking of Anne Hyde.
Before many days were passed he had given the whole Court cause to talk of her, coupling her name with his, and mine, whose rival he was thought to have become.
The King spoke of the matter to me, and bade me look to my laurels. I answered him with a laugh, that my mind was easy since Mistress Hyde and I understood each other perfectly--which was in all conscience true enough.
That evening had a surprise in store for me. I had left the King's apartments and was going by way of the Privy Gardens to my lodging, when of a sudden a woman's cry greeted me from the opposite end of the Stone Gallery upon which I had just entered. It was followed by a quick patter of feet, and the rustle of a gown, and a moment later a lady was in my arms, in a state of monstrous agitation. It was Mistress Hyde.
"Sir Lionel," she cried, recognizing me and clinging to me for protection. "Mr. Marston hath taken leave of his senses."
Not five paces away stood Roger, who had followed her--his young face flushed and angry.
"If I have gone mad, madame, the fault is yours," he cried passionately. "Am I a toy or a buffoon that you should use me so? Aye, cling to your protector--to your lover," he added, anger blinding him to all sense of fitness and to all reason. "Cling to your lover, madame, and laugh together at the poor fool you have made a mock of. But there is a proverb touching him who laughs last. As God lives, madame, I will have a reckoning, and if you find the payment heavy, Mistress Hyde, remember that heavy also is the debt."
"Who dares to threaten Mistress Hyde?" came a loud voice behind us.
"Who presumes to ask Roger Marston what he dare?" was the lad's proud answer, and he boldly eyed the three men who came up, for all that I doubt not he had recognized the voice of the Duke of York.
"Doth a gentleman of my household speak to me of presumption?"
For a moment Roger's face wore an odd look that made me tremble for him. Then, mastering himself betimes he bowed.
"Your royal highness sees perchance something of my condition," he said, in a low voice that still shook with passion. "At another time, if you will permit me, I will explain."
"That explanation, sir, I shall demand to-morrow," was the cold rejoinder. "Mistress Hyde, permit me to reconduct you."
He moved away with her, followed at a respectful distance by the two gentlemen who attended him. At length I made shift to follow them, but before I had gone two paces Roger was at my elbow.
"A word with you, sir," he exclaimed, so loud that the duke's attendants heard him and paused to listen.
"Not now, Roger," I answered, calmly. "We have an audience. In an hour's time at the Horseshoe in Drury Lane."
"As you please," he assented curtly, and we went our ways.
It was striking nine as my chair was set down at the door of the Horseshoe tavern, and I alighted. I called for a cup of canary and inquired of the landlord whether Mr. Marston had arrived. He informed me in answer that Roger had come to the hostelry half an hour ago, but that soon after his arrival a boy had brought him a letter, upon reading which he had again gone forth. I stayed a while in the house, then, seeing that Roger came not, and having dismissed my chair, I set out to walk back to Whitehall. The evening was a fine one, and I strolled slowly along, so that it was after ten before I had regained my apartments.
Next morning Killigrew was regaling the Court with a monstrous story touching Anne Hyde and Roger Marston. The gallant Roger, mad with love, had sought, he had it, to snatch a kiss from Mistress Hyde in the Privy Gardens, whereupon she had flown to the arms of Lal Faversham, and Faversham had not only protected his betrothed, but, athirst for vengeance, he had spent the night hunting in London for the man who had offended her. 'Twas a vile fabrication from end to end.
The Duke of York asked me if I knew aught of Roger's whereabouts; to which I naturally replied that I did not, I had not seen him since we parted in the Stone Gallery the night before.
Later in the day there were strange rumors afloat. Roger Marston, it was said, had disappeared. And when presently I learned that his hat and cloak and broken sword had been found on Tower Wharf, I was filled with vague uneasiness.
It was not until the morrow, however, that this uneasiness of mine had cause to take a definite shape. I was in attendance upon his Majesty in the banqueting house during the morning, when the Lord Chancellor entered and approached the King. They stood apart in conversation for some moments, and I observed that Hyde handed something to Charles which the latter examined closely. He returned to my side presently, and stood chatting easily with me for some moments, then dismissed me. But as I was on the point of leaving the apartment he called me back and pointed to a handkerchief that lay upon the floor.
"You have dropped something, Lal."
I turned, and retracing my steps lifted the kerchief, on a corner of which was embroidered the Faversham eagle. Thanking him, I pocketed it, wondering abstractedly that it was so curiously soiled, and again I made shift to go. But again he called me back--this time in a cold, imperious voice.
"You are certain that that kerchief belongs to you."
I pulled it forth again, and again I examined it--unquestionably the thing was mine. I told him so, asking myself what cause there might be for so much ado about a piece of cambric.
"Know you where you let it fall?" he asked, severely.
"Why even now, sire, upon this floor."
"Not so, Sir Lionel. 'Twas I who cast it there. It was brought me awhile ago by my Lord Chancellor. It was found where the pieces of Roger Marston's sword were found--on Thames Wharf. How came it there, sir? Unriddle me that."
I looked askance from him to those about him, and that frown of his reflected upon every face, turned me cold with apprehension. I guessed the thing that was in their minds.
"Oh, sire!" I cried. "You do not accuse me of this?"
"Of what, sir? I have accused you of nothing. 'Tis your conscience and that kerchief that accuse you. Sir George," he added, turning to Etheredge, "be good enough to call the guard."
"But your Majesty--"
He silenced me by a lofty wave of the hand.
"Anon the matter shall be sifted. In the meantime, Sir Lionel, you shall remain a prisoner in your own apartments."
They that have a king for friend lack not for enemies, and the downfall of Lal Faversham was cause, I doubt not, for more joy than sorrow.
Clearly, I saw that whether Roger were dead or living I was the victim of some foul plot whose depth and purport I could not measure. I had been heard make an assignation with Roger Marston on the night of the scene with Mistress Hyde. It was known that I had sought him and there were none to prove that I had not found him. In my chamber I was left alone, a sentry at my door night and day, and another beneath my windows in King Street. Communication of any kind was interdicted, and I saw no one until toward the evening of the third day, when I was visited by Dick Talbot. He came from the King to tell me that his Majesty would himself look into the affair upon the following morning. Dick Talbot was my friend--one of those who had shared my exile. I swore to him by my honor that I was innocent and ignorant alike of Roger Marston's fate, and he believed me. He cheered me with the news that after all his Majesty was favorably disposed toward me, and with a parting word of encouragement he would have left me when of a sudden we were startled by a noisy altercation outside my door.
Some one remonstrated with the sentry, demanding admittance, and the loud, angry voice made my nerves tingle with excitement. "Dick," I cried, "'tis Roger Marston's voice!"
In a bound, Talbot had crossed and bidden the sentry stand aside; a second later the man of whose murder I was accused appeared in the doorway. He came hatless and disheveled; his face was white and haggard; and there was a bruise over his right eye, his clothes were soiled and disordered, and in the shoulder of his Camlett coat gaped a great rent. Still he it was, and with a shout of joy and relief I sprang to greet him. But he met my gladness coldly and with a scowl.
"Back, you hound--you hypocrite!" he thundered.
"Are you mad, Roger?" I gasped, and to such a cause indeed I assigned for the moment his disordered looks.
"Mad?" he echoed, with a contemptuous laugh. "No, no, I am sane enough, friend Lionel."
"Then why greet me in this fashion--me who am accused of your murder, and lying here under arrest for it?"
"And fitly so, for, crush me, 'tis no fault of yours that I am not murdered; though, perchance, it had been better for you had your assassins done their work outright."
"My assassins? I swear by my honor, Roger, that I know not to what you allude."
"Oddslife, will you deny that you sent me a letter to the Horseshoe, bidding me come to you at the Red Lion in Thames Street? Dare you deny that at Tower Wharf your ruffians fell upon me, stunned me and carried me off to a house in Seething Lane, whence I have just made my escape at the risk of a broken neck?"
"I do deny it, all of it. Where is the letter?"
He gave me a glance of ineffable contempt, then handed a piece of paper to Talbot.
"Read that, sir," he said. "Then let its author see it again."
"You must not forget, Mr. Marston," said Talbot quietly, after he had glanced at the paper and passed it on to me, "that such a document may easily be forged. I have known Lal Faversham these many years, Mr. Marston, for a gentleman. A gentleman, sir, does not do these things, particularly when his swordsmanship is of the quality of Sir Lionel's. Bethink you, sir, that had he desired to rid himself of you, he had no need to employ such means."
"Thank you. Talbot." I said, then turning to the boy who stood livid with anger at this fresh opposition--"Roger, this letter is forged, I swear it. Be assured by this and Mr. Talbot's reasoning."
"I care not a fig for your lies or Mr. Talbot's reasoning," was the passionate answer.
"Oh, have done this farce," he returned, with a bitter laugh. "What of your protestations that you did but woo Mistress Hyde because the King had bidden you--that you cared no whit for her nor she for you? Did not her action in the Stone Gallery prove that you had lied?"
"Mr. Marston," put in Talbot calmly, "your purpose here is clear, but I entreat you let this affair be conducted with decency. Sir Lionel is no longer under arrest--at least, he will not be when I have told the King that I have seen you. Let me prevail upon you to withdraw and send a friend to wait upon a friend of Sir Lionel's."
"No, no, Talbot," I cried. "The boy is beside himself. Surely we can bring him to see reason. Remember, Roger, how long I have been your friend."
"Such a friend as was the Iscariot," he retorted, at which fresh insult I lost all patience.
"Dick," I said, with a shrug, "since he will have it so, perhaps, you will do me the honor of arranging this affair."
I withdrew into the adjoining room, and an hour later I was informed by Talbot that we were to meet at Rosamond's Pond in St. James' Park, at six o'clock next morning. The sentry was removed from my door, and my sword returned to me.
Albeit it wanted still a few minutes to six on that glorious July morning, when Talbot and I reached Rosamond's Pond, we found Roger Marston with his friend, Lord Falmouth, already pacing 'neath the trees. There was little said, and we made ready swiftly. Our swords were measured, and we faced each other. Then, at my request, Talbot made a last appeal to Roger, but the lad was beyond reason, and we crossed swords--I, reluctantly and sadly, he, with an eagerness that proved how deep was his resentment.
I was determined not to hurt the lad, despite the affront he had put upon me, and in this purpose I went to work. For what he lacked in skill he made up in fury, and for some moments he kept me busy enough. But in the end came a favorable opportunity and ere he well knew what had befallen him, I had twisted the sword from his grasp, and sent it flying over his head.
"Will that suffice you, Roger, in reparation for your fancied grievance, and will you listen to me now?"
"I will hear naught from you. Kill me disarmed if you will; if you will not, let my sword be returned to me."
I bowed my head, and a moment or two later we were at work again. Seeing how little it availed me to disarm him. I was now intent upon getting my sword home in his sword-arm, and thus by a slight wound disabling him. Calmly I fenced, and waited. And then of a sudden, whilst my eyes were intent upon my opponent, there came a ringing clash, and our swords were knocked up by Lord Falmouth.
"Gentlemen," he cried, in alarm, "the King!"
And truly enough, as I turned, I beheld Charles advancing toward us by great strides of his long legs. He came unattended, and his swart face wore a look that was monstrous ugly.
"How is this, gentlemen?" was his angry greeting. "Do I find you with drawn swords in the very grounds of my park? Are you so eager, Sir Lionel, to give truth to the accusation so lately brought against you of having caused the death of Mr. Marston?"
"This quarrel, sir, is none of my seeking," I replied, boldly. "I was visited yesternight by Mr. Marston, who came to accuse me of having caused the abduction whereof he has been the victim. To my denial of the imputation he answered that I lied."
Charles turned to him.
"If I pledge you my kingly word that I am convinced Sir Lionel had no hand in that affair--that, in fact, as I have since discovered, it was a plot rather against him than against you--will that satisfy you, Mr. Marston?"
"So far as that affair is concerned it must perforce, sire. But Sir Lionel and I have another cause of quarrel that is at the root of this one."
"What is this cause?"
"Mistress Hyde, sire," I ventured.
"Mistress Hyde!" he blazed, turning upon Marston. "What is Mistress Hyde to you?"
"I love her, sire."
"Why, so I have heard, and that she loves you not, therefore let the matter end. Oddsfish! I am sick of this business, and Sir Lionel shall marry her this very day if I have any power in England. Don your doubtlets, gentlemen, and attend me. I charge you both upon the pain of my lasting displeasure to let this matter go no further."
We did his bidding, and a sad procession we formed as we crossed the park in the direction of Whitehall. Roger gnawed his lip and wore the look of a newly birched schoolboy, Talbot and Falmouth followed crestfallen at the loss of a morning's sport, while I stalked alone, the saddest of the melancholy party. In my heart I cursed Roger devoutly, and blamed his mawkish love-sickness for having so precipitated matters that I was compelled to wed a woman who--at the thought of it--grew loathsome to me.
But that morning was rich in surprises. We were all but out of the park when in amazement our steps were arrested by no less a sight than that of Mistress Hyde and the Duke of York strolling toward us arm in arm, and all absorbed in the contemplation of each other. For a moment we paused; then, with a vigorous oath, Charles strode forward with quickened step, we following upon his heels. They stood still upon beholding him, and Mistress Hyde let fly a little cry of fear.
A hundred rumors touching Anne Hyde and James of York, that I had heard but left unheeded, holding it mere Court scandal, recurred to me at that moment, Then as in a flash I understood why Charles sought to wed me to the Chancellor's daughter. He sought to place her beyond his brother's reach.
Out of deference we paused, unwilling to intrude upon the scene we saw was imminent, and so I missed the greeting that passed between the royal brothers, and which I take it had little that was brotherly. They controlled a while their voices, but at length a loud, mocking laugh burst from the King, who, turning, bade us approach. As we drew near I caught the words from Charles:
"By gad, James, it shall take place to-day."
"Sire." replied the duke, "it is too late. There is no Mistress Hyde to give in marriage." Then taking her by the hand, and bending upon her a look of eloquent affection: "Let me present to your Majesty, and to you, gentlemen, her royal highness, the Duchess of York."
Scarce believing our ears, we stood by and heard the gasp that escaped the King.
"James, 'tis false!" he cried.
"Nay, sire, 'tis true. We have been wed these three months."
There was an ominous pause.
Then realizing that this was now become a family affair, Charles dismissed us by a wave of the hand, and we--but too glad to escape from so trying a scene--made off to my lodging.
As we mounted the stairs Roger gripped my hand.
"Forgive me, Lal," he murmured, brokenly. "We have both been duped."
We had indeed, for it was now clear to both of us, that Roger's abduction was the work of the duke, as also was the raising of suspicions against me, with the connivance--as I afterward ascertained--of her father who was privy to the marriage. In this fashion he had sought to remove the two suitors whose liberty was a menace to the secret which in the end he had been forced to disclose--thanks to the King's early rising.
It was on a Saturday early in August of the year of His Majesty's blessed Restoration that court and town alike were set agog by the news that Sir Charles Sedley had that morning been caned in Hyde Park.
The King was gone by water to the Tower to dine with Sir John Robinson, the lieutenant, and having naught to keep me at Whitehall I went forth to seek for more news of this incredible affair, to learn at whose hands and for what sins the gallant Sedley had suffered this chastisement. I took Dick Talbot with me, and in the Rhenish wine house we came upon a company of gentlemen--some four or five there may have been--whose tongues were wagging noisily upon the very business whereon we sought enlightenment, yet who knew no more of it than did we. Anon, however, we were joined by that buffoon Killigrew, who was better informed--as, indeed, he was in all matters, from the rascally habit he had taken of thrusting his lean old nose into the business of his neighbors.
"Gentlemen," quoth he, "I make no doubt that you have heard that a caning was administered this morning to the gay Sedley?"
"Heard of it?" cried Falmouth. "Why, 'tis the talk of the town."
"H'm!" sneered Killigrew, twirling his gray mustachios, "the town talks much, and like all who talk much knowing little, it lies much. Gentlemen, let me scatter the mist of falsehood that envelops you. Sir Charles was not caned in Hyde Park this morning--nor, for that matter, anywhere else at any time, so far as my knowledge reaches."
"Go your ways, Tom," said Denham. "What jest have you brought us?"
"Jest! Oddslife, 'tis no jest. Shall I tell you what really befell? Lend me your ears then. There is at the Cockpit Theater a handsome young dog of an actor lately hoisted into fame by his playing in The Loyal Subject, who is well known to all of you. I speak of Ned Kynaston. You may have remarked that of late he hath cut a brave figure abroad, in clothes that are closely copied from those worn by Sir Charles--whose taste in such matters is beyond compare. Sedley hath noticed this, and being for all his wit the vainest puppy in England, he hath conceived the notion that Kynaston seeks to pass for him. Incensed by what he deems an unwarrantable presumption, he determined to read the actor a lesson. And thus it befell that when this morning Kynaston was taking the air in the park arrayed in a gorgeous brocaded doublet, the very counterpart of one in which Sir Charles had been seen but two days ago, he was accosted by a burly hireling of Sedley's who addressed him as Sir Charles Sedley. Now, the poor lad hath an unfortunate propensity for a jest, and no sooner did he conceive that by virtue of his coat the fellow had mistaken him for Sedley, than turning, he assumed on the instant the manner of Sir Charles, and demanded the fellow's business. Thereupon, without more ado, the giant takes him by the collar of his brave coat, and sets about belaboring him in merciless fashion. Vainly doth Kynaston yell that there is a mistake, that he is not Sir Charles. His protests do but incense his assailant further, and the more he protests the more is he belabored, the other swearing that he seeks by a falsehood to evade punishment. When at length Kynaston gets his sword out and is like to repay the fellow's attentions with interest, the onlookers numbering half a score or so--rush in between and separate them. That, gentlemen, is the truth of what occurred."
There fell a silence upon the company when Killigrew paused, broken at length by Lord Falmouth with the comment that in a measure Kynaston was already avenged, since 'twas Sedley's reputation was like to suffer.
"Pooh!" cried Killigrew. "Before to-morrow all London will have heard that which I have told you. What say you of it, Lal?"
"Say?" I answered. "That 'tis vastly ill-done, and worthy of none but a fop of Sir Charles Sedley's kidney. You may tell him that Lal Faversham says so," I added, and with that I rose and took my leave of them, full of indignation at what I had learned.
Now, by a curious chance I had not gone far along the Strand when of a sudden I came face to face with Kynaston.
A singularly handsome lad was this actor--who could not at that time have numbered over eighteen years. Slight, graceful, and shapely of figure was he, with a face as noble and as delicately chiseled as any that I have ever seen on either man or woman. He wore a Camlett coat of black with silver lace, sober and simple, yet of an elegance that heightened his distinguished air. Actor though he was, I'll swear no courtlier figure might you see at Whitehall.
"Whither away, Ned," was my greeting.
"Give you good-day, Sir Lionel." he answered, with a graceful bow. "You have heard of this morning's affair?"
"Even now, from Mr. Killigrew, and rat me but 'twas a cowardly business."
He laughed softly, and pointed with a heavy riding whip that he carried to a house across the street, bearing the sign of The Dolphin.
"Sir Charles Sedley is in that house," said he, "and if you'll tarry here a while you'll see a reckoning paid and a gentleman carried home to bed." And he shook his whip to make his meaning clear.
"Ned," I cried, aghast, "this is madness!"
My exclamation drew from him a recitation of his wrongs in that wondrously melodious voice that moved me as it had moved thousands at the play. Yet when he had done I, too, waxed eloquent, for my sympathies were all with him, and I would not have him do that for which he might be visited with chastisement far heavier than that morning's caning. To such purpose did I talk, and to show him the folly of the step he meditated that in the end I won him to my way, and taking him by the arm. I led him thence to my lodging at Whitehall, where I kept him until the following morning. But for all that when he left me then the boy had abandoned his mad project of horsewhipping Sir Charles, he swore that he would have his reckoning in another coin, and that he would not rest until he had made Charles Sedley the mock of the town.
But days went by, and the affair was forgotten without any further sign from the young actor, or any further allusion of his to Sedley. Meanwhile he was achieving new triumphs at the Cockpit by his wondrous playing of the part of Lady Macbeth--for it was not until some months later that women began to play female characters upon a London stage.
Some two weeks after the Hyde Park affair, I received a letter from my old friend, Lord Chesterton, telling me, among other things, that he was newly wed to the loveliest woman in England--Caroline Brentwood. I had known Caroline in the old days, before Naseby was fought, and I recalled the little child of five for whom I had--when a lad of seventeen--made daisy garlands.
The wars had drawn me from my Kentish home, and since then I had not seen her. Twenty years were sped since then, and Caroline must now be a woman of five and twenty, no longer a child, 'tis true, yet too young by at least a generation to be the bride of Chesterton--a widower who counted more than sixty years.
But there was the letter, and the rest was no affair of mine. He added that he hoped soon to present the son of his old friend--my father--to his divine Caroline, since before August was well out he looked to be in London. And indeed I had the news of their arrival but a few days thereafter, and I hastened to the sumptuous house they had taken in Pall Mall, to pay my devoirs.
I found Lady Chesterton--to whose beauty, methought upon beholding it, her husband had done no more than justice in this letter--in a state of high distress. She greeted me with the lament that scarce were they arrived than they were overtaken by a courier who had ridden after them posthaste to beg my lord to return forthwith to Allington. His brother had fallen from his horse, and sustained such hurt that the doctor said he would not live above a week.
At length, when she had told me this and I had condoled with her, we had leisure to look at each other, and marvel foolishly at the change that twenty years had wrought in our appearances.
"I am certain that I should have known you. Sir Lionel," said she. "Madame, your memory does me too much honor."
"Not too much, but more, methinks, than yours doth me."
"What would you, dear Lady Chesterton? Between a pretty child of six and a grown woman of dazzling beauty, there lies a gap which imagination, not memory, must bridge. And yet something of little Caroline I'll swear you have retained, for even as I look at you I find a something in your face that gives bridle to my recollections, and which, did I not know you, would doubtless tax my mind no less than it might tax my heart."
"You have profited by your sojourn in France, Sir Lionel."
Before I could reply, we were interrupted by the advent of Sir John and Lady Denham, into whose care it would appear that Chesterton had--in a letter penned that morning ere he had set out to return to Allington--commended his young wife.
I took my leave shortly thereafter, and as I went, my thoughts dwelt much upon Caroline Chesterton.
Truly there was little of a country maid about this modishly bedizened beauty. And methought that in character she was like to show as little simplicity as she did in raiment.
Nor was I wrong, yet hardly right, for that which followed was more by far than I would have dared conjecture. Before a week was passed all London rang with talk of Lady Chesterton.
Daily a line of chairs and coaches stood before her house in Pall Mall, and in her antechamber you might swear that you were at Whitehall, such was the crowd of courtiers that stood elbowing one another. All went, and for a season all were alike welcome, and while this endured, danger I felt was slight. But in the end that which I dreaded came to pass. Out of that crowd of courtiers she singled one to be her cavalier. Her choice, methought, could not have been more ill-advised; it fell upon the handsome, dissolute Sedley. 'Twas not his doing; 'twas hers; she drew him on with her ogling, and he, but too willing, fell a victim of it.
Blood and wounds! Here was a pretty course for things to run! The name of my Lord Chesterton's wife on all London's vile lips, coupled with that of Charles Sedley.
One evening when the air was warm, although we were in the first days of September, her guests had, after supping, strolled out into the gardens. I had followed, but no farther than the porch where I stood leaning, watching the gay scene--for the place had been prettily illuminated--and wondering how soon Chesterton would return to put an end to these mad doings. There was a balcony immediately above my head, and as I stood within the shelter of the porch, a murmur of voices was wafted down to me. At first either that murmur was indistinct or else was my mind bent on other matters, but presently the word "Caroline" smote my ears, and the voice that uttered it was Sedley's.
"Release my hand, Sir Charles," came the answer. "You forget that I have a husband."
"I wish the devil had him, instead, sweet Caroline. Why remind me of that gout-ridden parcel of dotage and senility to whom they have fettered you. What is he to us, sweet Caroline? We who--"
"Sir Charles," she broke in, angrily, "you are speaking of the man in whose house you stand--of Lord Chesterton, my husband."
"D--n your husband, madame!"
In their excitement they had both flung prudence to the winds and sought no longer to restrain their voices.
"Release my hand!"
"Caroline, your lowly slave obeys your cruel law, but first doth homage to the peerless hand for whose release you clamor."
There came the soft smack of a kiss, followed by another and yet another, and lastly by a smack of another fashion--the loud, crackling smack of a buffet.
"Let that help you to better manners in the future, Sir Charles."
"Perdition!" I heard him snarl, then thinking that perchance my services might be required, I turned and went within. On the stairs I met my Lady Chesterton fanning herself vigorously. She greeted me as airily as if naught had happened, asking me why I moped there while the others made merry in the garden.
"Madame," said I, in an undertone, "by chance I overheard your conversation on the balcony with Sedley. Your husband is not here to punish insolence, but if you'll grant me leave I'll take his place, and none shall know the cause."
She gave me a curious glance, and growing of a sudden very serious, she stood before me with knitted brows and fingers plucking at the fan on which her eyes were bent.
"Men say, Sir Lionel," murmured she at length, "that you play as pretty a sword as any man in England."
"Such as it is, madame, it is at your service. Say that you wish it so and I'll pick a quarrel with this puppy Sedley ere the night is out. The cut of his coat will serve for a cause."
She pondered for a moment.
"If you think--" she began, then checked herself, and broke into a laugh. "No, no, Sir Lionel, I will not have it so. Forget what you have heard. Sedley," she added, spreading her fan before her face and glancing at me coquettishly over the top of it, "hath already suffered punishment."
With that, hearing a step upon the stairs, she fled, and a moment later Sedley descended with one cheek white and the other red.
I went home that night, thinking not only that henceforth Sir Charles was like to be seen no more in her house, but also that none knew of what had passed betwixt them. Before noon next day, however, it was on every lip that Sir Charles Sedley's ears had been boxed by Lady Chesterton--and I was vexed and puzzled to think how it could have got abroad. Before night I heard a lampoon recited in a tavern, entitled "Carolus and Caroline."
I went in the afternoon to Lady Chesterton, but she would not see me, and so I took a turn in the park, where I came by chance upon Kynaston. He began forthwith to talk of Sedley and of last night's affair.
"Rat me, Sir Lionel," he exclaimed, "but I am sorry that Sedley hath been so soon discouraged, for methought that in this business I saw a way to pay my score."
"For my own part, Ned, I am glad of it. Lord Chesterton was my father's friend, and I would not have dishonor fall upon his white hairs."
"So much was not necessary. It was, in fact, my own design to prevent matters from coming to such a pass as that. But there, Sir Lionel, women are fickle things, and I do not yet despair."
How justified he was in this I realized when on the following night I supped at Lady Chesterton's and found Charles Sedley of the company. And so well received was he by her that I found myself again asking how soon her husband's brother would see fit to get his dying done.
Then one morning the news fell like a thunderbolt that Lady Chesterton had eloped with Sir Charles Sedley.
If I could have come by a miracle into the presence of that dog Sedley, Kynaston's wrongs would have been avenged as well as Chesterton's.
Touching Kynaston, Dick Talbot brought me word that afternoon that he had disappeared, and that a rumor was afloat that he was gone after the runaways. I paid little heed to the matter at the time, but chancing that evening to walk along Pall Mall, I beheld a coach standing before Lord Chesterton's door. The jaded, steaming horses argued that they had come a journey long and swift. I had with me Dick Talbot--in whose company I had left Whitehall--beside Killigrew and young Jermyn, who had since joined us, and no sooner did we set eyes upon that vehicle than we cried out in chorus that Lord Chesterton was returned at last. Conceive, however, our surprise when, as we reached the house, the door opened, and while a lacquey held it for him, out stalked Ned Kynaston.
He hung back in apparent hesitation, and also methought some confusion, upon beholding us, but I stepped quickly up to him.
"What is this, Ned?" I cried. "They say that you went in pursuit of them. Is this your coach?"
He nodded, and made shift to pass me.
"Well, man," I shouted, "did you overtake them?"
"I did, Sir Lionel. In fact, I have done more. I have prevailed upon Lady Chesterton to return. She is within." And he jerked his thumb in that direction.
"You have done that, Ned! May God bless you!" I cried, wringing his hand.
"Yes, may God bless you, and protect you also, for, rat me, you'll need it when Sedley returns." croaked Killigrew. "Where left you the gallant Charles?"
"At Newark," answered Ned. "But I'll take no credit for the business; I am no protector of love-sick wenches. What I have done I have done not for love of Chesterton, but for hate of Sedley. I swore to make a mock of him, and he himself hath afforded me the means. I knew, gentlemen, of the elopement almost as soon as the pair had started, and also what road they took--how I knew it is too long a story. I followed them in disguise, and I overtook them about noon at Newark. I espied Sedley in the inn yard, and I had the good fortune to find a ruffian who for a brace of broad pieces was willing to fling Sir Charles into the horse pond. I gave him the money, and in the twinkling of an eye he had sent this Don Juan hurtling into the slimy water. Before they had realized at the inn what had befallen, my hireling had vanished, and Sir Charles stood among them, cursing lustily and dripping mud from every ribbon. Next, while the irate Sedley was changing his raiment, I gained access to the lady, and-- Well, gentlemen, I am accounted something of an actor, and the rest was easy. It was a matter of moments to bundle Lady Chesterton into a coach, and here we are returned."
"Oddslife, 'tis the sweetest vengeance I ever heard tell of," was Killigrew's comment.
The story spread like wildfire, and Kynaston's name stood prominently in it. Too prominently, methought, for his safety, as was proven on the morrow.
I was at The Dolphin with Killigrew, Talbot and several others, and we had Kynaston with us, when into the room came Sedley unannounced. His eyes alighted upon Ned, and his face was so altered by rage at the sight of him, and at the mocking smile wherewith the actor met his glance, that he grew ugly as the fiend.
"You insolent dog!" he cried, in a choking voice. "I have found you."
He took two quick steps toward Kynaston's chair, and raised his cane. But the actor, who had watched his approach, without relaxing his smile forestalled the attack by seizing the bumper of muscadine that stood before him, and letting fly the contents full into Sedley's face.
"A challenge!" cried someone, and as such Sir Charles appeared to interpret it.
He might have caned Kynaston and refused to fight him afterward; but stomach such an insult he could not. His whole manner changed on the instant.
"So, you fool, you prefer my sword to my cane? By Gad, you shall have it!"
Kynaston looked about him for a friend. In an instant I was upon my feet--an action which appeared to astonish Sedley, for haply he imagined that among those present 'twas unlikely Kynaston would find a supporter in such a business.
Talbot acted with me, while Falmouth and Etheredge represented Sedley. The meeting was arranged for the following morning at seven in Leicester Fields.
I feared rather for Kynaston, for albeit Sedley was by no means a formidable opponent, the actor might prove still less so. He had desired us to go straight to the fields, where he would join us, and this we did, although it was unusual.
Upon reaching the ground, a few minutes before seven, we found Sedley and his friends already there, besides a party of nigh upon a dozen gentlemen who were come to see the sport, but there was no sign of Kynaston.
Suddenly we espied a chair approaching from the direction of St. Martin's Lane.
No sooner was it set down than I advanced--then stopped, and stood rooted to the ground in amazement as out of it stepped Lady Chesterton wrapped in a long cloak. My feelings undoubtedly were shared by all who stood there, for a sudden hush fell upon the company. In no way discomposed by the sight of so many spectators, Caroline walked, calm and stately, toward Sedley, before whom she dropped a curtsy.
"Sir Charles," quoth she, "I am come to tell you that there will be no fighting."
"How, madame?" he inquired, coldly.
"I sent word to the King last night of what was afoot, and to prevent this duel he has placed Kynaston under arrest."
"Oddslife, madame, what affair of yours was this?"
"Methinks it was greatly my affair. But--" She hesitated, and for a moment some of her assurance appeared to leave her. Then, "I will explain, Sir Charles, if you will step aside with me."
It was his turn to hesitate, while pride, vanity and curiosity fought their battle in his soul. In the end, however, he bowed assent, and they moved away together.
Then Caroline turned and beckoned me.
"You also may hear my explanation, Sir Lionel."
A look of displeasure crossed Sedley's face, but he said no word as I joined them.
"Charles," she began, when we were out of earshot of those others. "I could not endure the thought of your shedding that lad's blood." And she turned a melting glance upon him.
"What is the fellow to you, madame?" asked Sedley, stiffly, his arms akimbo.
"Naught. I was not thinking of him, but of you. You, Charles, who are so great a swordsman, so skilled and deadly, opposed to a boy who scarcely knows how to hold a weapon. Oh, fie, Charles, it would be murder. Because the town lies will you punish an innocent boy?"
"Innocent!" he shouted in a frenzy. "Innocent! Are you mad, my lady? Did not Kynaston bring you back from Newark?"
"Charles," she said, slowly, "I solemnly swear to you that no one came to me at Newark yesterday; that I listened to no persuasions, and that I returned to London alone and of my own accord."
I stood amazed, wondering whether 'twas she or Kynaston that lied. There was a pause, then:
"In that case, madame," quoth Sir Charles, with a sneer, "your whims dumfound me."
"But at least they in no way concern this boy whom you wish to kill; whom you, Charles, my Charles"--and her voice sank to a murmur that was wondrous soft--"are seeking to murder."
"Can you explain why you left me at Newark?" he asked, and 'tis no miracle that his voice grew gentler.
She gave me a glance which clearly bade me withdraw, and I obeyed, albeit reluctantly.
"What farce is being played yonder?" quoth Killigrew as I came up.
"I make no doubt that we shall soon learn," I answered.
A little while we waited, watching those two as they stood apart in earnest conversation. Now she caught his hand; now she set hers upon his shoulder, and thus they stood a while; then he took that hand in his, and, stooping, raised it to his lips. 'Twas clear she had conquered.
They came back together, and Sedley forthwith addressed the company.
"Gentlemen," said he, "you have heard from Lady Chesterton that Edward Kynaston is under arrest, and thus prevented from keeping his appointment. This lady, gentlemen, hath been gracious enough to explain certain matters, and I am satisfied that false rumors have maligned to me the conduct of him who was to have been my opponent here. At the instances of Lady Chesterton, I renounce all quarrel with Edward Kynaston, and do solemnly pledge my word to do him no hurt whatever."
His oath was followed by the silence of intense surprise, broken at length by a loud, long peal of mocking laughter from Caroline. It was a laugh that seemed to strike some chord of memory within me, and suddenly there surged before my mind a scene in the first act of Macbeth, and the figure of Kynaston--that inimitable player of female parts--in the character of Lady Macbeth.
I glanced at Caroline's face, and that intangible, familiar likeness that had struck me when first I had seen her at her house in Pall Mall, and which I had attributed to dim memories of the child I had known, did now assume a definite shape.
Like a torrent realization broke upon my mind, and I smote my forehead with my hand, dubbing myself a fool for not having understood before. And yet what manner of dupe had not Sedley been--Sedley, who had spent hours of sweet dalliance, and ended by eloping with him.
As I looked, the feathered hat and gorgeous wig of glossy black were whisked away, revealing the actor's fair hair beneath. Casting aside the long woman's cloak in which he had come arrayed, Kynaston himself stood before the gasping company.
Those present stood thunderstruck, and for some moments silent. Then a great burst of laughter went up, at which Sedley was so maddened that with a roar he sprang at Kynaston.
But half a dozen rushed in between. "Remember, Charles, you have pledged your honor to do him no hurt," cried Falmouth, and Sedley groaned.
Kynaston, however, professed himself ready to cross swords if Sedley wished it, but those about would not permit it. The game had gone against Sir Charles, and he was dishonored if he went back upon his word and his solemn oath.
Dick Talbot and I carried Kynaston home to breakfast with me. In my coach, he entertained us on the way with a recitation of the discourse that had passed 'twixt him and Sedley on the occasion of their elopement. He added, too, the information that he was himself the writer of the letter that I'd received from Lord Chesterton, who had--so far as he knew--no notion of taking a second wife.
"And should this matter come to his ears, I shall look to you to make my peace with him, Sir Lionel," he added. "For the rest, the house in Pall Mall and the suppers I have given have cost a handsome sum, but my revenge on Sedley hath been no whit less handsome."
Fortune was come at last! There are men who say of Charles that he had a longer memory for enemies than for friends, and that although he sought out and compassed the destruction of all who had been concerned either in his august father's death or in his own exile, yet many of those who had been stripped of everything by their loyalty to the Stuart cause were left to perish of want in the denuded state to which the Commonwealth had reduced them.
Haply, they have good cause for their complaint. But in me at least it were unfitting so to speak, for albeit tardily, yet my own restoration was come, and my broad Kentish acres were mine again by an act of kingly justice.
Truly, then, have I written: Fortune was come at last! But Fortune, with that blighting irony wherewith she is wont to sour the feasts she spreads, was come too late.
Of what avail these rich estates when she--the only one with whom I might have shared them--had lain these past three months in some remote Scotch grave? In the same pocket that held the deed of restitution lay cheek by jowl, as though in mockery of it, the letter that from her deathbed my gentle Margaret had penned me; while on my finger I wore the ring that once had been mine, then hers, now mine again. Nine years of loyalty; nine years of waiting; nine years of exile--for such an end as this.
I moved idly about Whitehall, rather with the air of a man beset by some dire calamity than of one so suddenly enriched.
Being one afternoon at the Mitre, in Wood Street, I came suddenly face to face with a tall, superbly-dressed man of my own age or thereabout, in whose handsome, florid countenance there lay a something that was familiar to me. He eyed me for a moment, then approached the table at which I sat alone, and calmly seated himself before me.
"Have I not the honor," quoth he, in a low voice, leaning, as he spoke, across the board, "of addressing Sir Lionel Faversham, gentleman-in-waiting to his Majesty?"
Time had given portliness to his form, and a masking grossness to his face, but the voice it had left unchanged. I started at the sound of it, for it was as a voice out of the past; a voice belonging to that time, nine years ago, when first I had met and wooed sweet Margaret Fitzmorris; a voice that last I had heard in the castle of Bailienochy, some months before Worcester was fought.
I sat and stared at him, unable to do more than gasp this name: "Carleston!"
He laughed his easy, debonair laugh of old.
"I am right, it seems," said he. "You are paler and thinner than of old, and in your hair a thread or two of gray begins to set the seal of age, but otherwise you are much as you were on the day you held a pistol to my head at Bailienochy. That was our last meeting." And again he laughed, as though the memory afforded him amusement. "We parted enemies, but we were good friends before that, and so, Lal, for old time's sake, and to drown that enmity that may have stood betwixt us, let us crack a bottle."
"Your pardon, Lord Carleston," I answered stiffly, and pushing back my chair I rose. "I have kept odd company in my time, for fortunes such as mine have can bring one strange bedfellows. But never yet have I sat at table with a traitor, to my knowledge, nor will I do so now."
"Gadswounds!" he muttered, looking sharply round to see if any had overheard me. "If to change one's cause because, having perceived the errors of the one he follows, a man doth wish to mend his ways, is to become a traitor, why, then, I take the title."
"I am a man of no great wit, my lord," I answered, "more used to blows than arguments--haply to this I owe it that I cannot see your actions in the light you seek to cast upon them. But this I know, Lord Carleston," I added sternly, "that you must perforce be a bold man to show your face in London at such a time."
"Have done, man," he cried with some show of anger. "It is well known that I fought and bled for good King Charles--"
"And," I added, in a whisper, "it is also well known to some that, because a royalist lady would have none of you, you turned traitor and took service with the solemn League and Covenant. Get you back to Scotland, my lord; back to the hills, and there lie hidden until his Majesty shall have wearied of revenge."
"There is," said he, "but one man in London who can accuse me of this treason, as you call it, and he will not."
"How know you that?"
"How? Why, crush me, because, firstly, Lal Faversham is neither spy nor tipstaff, and, secondly, because when I shall have told him that 'tis for his sake that I am come to London--into the lion's maw methinks his heart will dictate gratitude and friendship."
"For my sake!"
"Ay, for your sake, and a pretty greeting have I had. To tell you," he went on slowly, doling out each word as a miser might dole out gold, "to tell you that Margaret Fitzmorris lives, and sits in Perth pining to death because the lover to whom she plighted her troth nine years ago returns not."
Had a blow been dealt me across the head methinks it would have stunned me less.
"You lie, Carleston!" I gasped, at length.
He shrugged his shoulders, and turning, called for wine.
"There, drink, man," he bade me, when it was brought, "and I will tell you more."
Tacitly I took the bumper in my trembling hands, and gulped the contents at a draft.
"I say it is a lie, Carleston," I repeated. "I have in my pocket a letter written me in her hour. I have the ring which she returned to me."
"You have been the victim of a foul plot of Sir John Gillespie's hatching," he announced. "You remember him?"
"Remember the man who sought to sell the King to Cromwell? Ay, I remember him," I answered grimly, "no less than he remembers me."
"He doth indeed remember you, and his hatred is as green as ever. The letter you have received was forged by him; the ring he stole from Mistress Margaret. 'Tis true enough, Lal. I had it from him one night, a month ago, when he was deep in his cups, as also I had it that he had sent a letter to Mistress Margaret which purported to come from you. Close upon the heels of that missive came the news of your betrothal to Mistress Hyde to confirm its contents to poor Margaret."
"Blood and wounds, man, is this the truth--or--or--"
"It is the truth, as it is the truth that Margaret lives."
"Why did Gillespie do so foul a thing?" I asked suspiciously.
"For hate of you, and love of her."
"And you," I exclaimed suddenly, "you who were Gillespie's friend and associate, why do you come to tell me of it? You loved her once yourself, Carleston. 'Twas that and her indifference made a traitor of you."
"I love her still, Faversham," he answered, with a sigh. "It is because of this love I bear her, and since it is not mine to win her for myself, that I can not endure to look upon her affliction at your supposed faithlessness. This it is that hath brought me to London to seek you out and bid you to Scotland. Now, you may deliver me to the King's justice if you have a mind to; my task is accomplished, I--"
I held out my hand.
"Carleston," I said, in a voice that was sorely shaken, "I have wronged you, and I crave your forgiveness. The debt in which to-day you have set me is too deep ever to be repaid. But for the sake of the old days you spoke of, Carleston, for the sake of the old friendship that linked us, let us crack the bottle that a while ago I churlishly refused."
The wine was brought. We sat down and filled our glasses.
"'Twas for her that we became enemies," said he, very sadly, "for her, and in her name let our peace be made. I drink to your speedy union." And we drained our glasses.
Then, as I set my bumper down, the full realization of the happiness, so little looked for, that was to be mine, burst fully upon me, and unnerved me. A mad laugh broke from my lips to startle those who may have heard it; then folding my arms upon the table I buried my face in them, and there, in the common room of the Mitre inn--strong man though I count myself--I fell a-sobbing as I had not sobbed for thirty years. I set out that very night for Perth, none knowing save Carleston the true errand that took me north. Him I left in London, it being his purpose to find a vessel that would bear him to France, in which country he deemed his head would rest more securely upon his shoulders than in England.
I traveled night and day in a fever of impatience that made me rail at the trifling halts necessary for the change of horses, and by prodigality of threats and lavishness of gold, I did so contrive that betwixt the Tuesday night on which I had set out and the following Friday afternoon I had reached Berwick. Within a mile of the town the axle of my carriage broke, and I was compelled to set out afoot and walk the distance. I repaired to the Crown inn, and weary though I was, my first thought was for another coach. But in this endeavor I failed, despite the vast sums of money that I wildly offered, and at my failure I cursed and raved, little thinking how before to-morrow dawned I should have cause to thank God upon my knees for the mishap that had befallen me.
At last, and for a monstrous price, a horse was found me; and on this, despite my scant knowledge of the country and my spent condition, I determined to push on that very night to Edinburgh.
I left Berwick at sunset, and rode along for mayhap ten or twelve miles, when a fresh mischance overtook me, and the nag I bestrode cast a shoe. Perforce, I must get down, and taking the bridle on my arm, trudge along through the night that was fast closing in upon me. For some two hours I plodded on--scarce knowing whither--leading that lame brute and cursing the fates that did thus make a mock of me. To add to my discomfort, a fine rain was beginning to fall, when, at length, I espied the lights of the hamlet of Lenmuir.
When I was within half a mile of the place a horseman passed me at a perilous gallop, and with ne'er a glance in my direction. A man afoot, leading a horse, he may in the dark have held to be some peasant homeward bent. I shouted to him, for I would have bought that mettlesome horse of his for any price that he might set upon it. But either he heard me not or left my cry unheeded, and in this again Providence befriended me, for 'tis odds that had he turned, my sands had been run within the hour.
By the door of an inn too mean to own an ostler I came some ten minutes later upon his tethered nag. The place was little better than a hovel, yet the light that streamed from door and window was inviting.
Through that window I shot a passing glance, then stood as if frozen there, and stared with eyes wide open, and whose sight I dared not credit, at a tall, swart man who formed the center of a group strangely ill attuned to that foul chamber.
That man--at a glance I knew him--was Sir John Gillespie, Argyle's kinsman, the man who, ten years ago, had sought to sell the King to Cromwell; the covenanting dog who was Carleston's friend, and whom Carleston accused of having tricked both me and Margaret; the man than whom in my thirty-seven years of life I had had no bitterer enemy.
Little did I dream as in my astonishment I gazed upon that stately figure--which time appeared to have left untouched--that I--drawn thither by God's almighty providence--did myself supply the motive for that gathering and the subject of their talk that very moment. Gillespie's voice it was, harsh and loud as of old, that discovered to me what was afoot. He addressed himself to a knave who, cloaked and booted, stood hat in hand before him, in a respectful attitude, and whom I guessed to be the man that had ridden past me on the road.
"At Berwick you say he has been compelled to lie?"
"Yes, Sir John. His coach lay with a snapped axle a mile or so beyond the town as I rode by. In the yard of the Crown I came upon him raving at the landlord; but no fresh carriage can he have until tomorrow, and, perforce, he must remain there to-night."
"It seems, then, gentlemen, that the Kirk must wait another day," said Gillespie. Then turning to the messenger again--"How left you my Lord Carleston?"
"In excellent health, as his letter will doubtless tell you."
A letter from Carleston! I set my teeth hard and clenched my hands, for in that hour I knew upon what errand I had been sent to Scotland. Once a traitor, ever a traitor--I should have known it. Vainly did I search in my mind a purpose for this betrayal, and next a chill dread beset me as I asked myself how far he had lied. Was it a lie that Margaret lived?
"Gentlemen," came Sir John's voice, "you may depart since he comes not to-night. I shall await you here by eight o'clock to-morrow morning. Good night to you."
I had sense enough to slink away and crouch 'neath the shelter of a hedge to await their departure. Since Sir John bade them good night he remained. I thanked God for that.
A few minutes went by, then from the rear of the building, they came riding out--four of them in all--and took their way along the road by which I had arrived. Presently the messenger came out, and mounted. With a "Good night, Sir John," he rode away in the wake of the others.
Some moments yet I tarried 'neath that hedge, then, coming forth, I crept cautiously toward the casement, and peered in. By the dirty table of coarse deal stood Sir John perusing a paper which he held to the trembling light of a greasy candle. Doubtless this was Carleston's letter, and the one purpose predominating in my mind was to become possessed of it. A moment I lingered by the window, watching him and wondering how I might compass my design; next, with no plan formed beyond the fixed resolve to get that paper at any cost, I softly drew my sword, and crept round to the door.
On tiptoe I stole across the threshold, then paused to observe him. A little while--while a man might tell a dozen--I stood there motionless, with not six paces separating us, and watched him, and although his back was toward me, methought the throbbing of my pulses loud enough to betray my presence. But intent upon that precious letter he made no stir until the end was reached; then with a chuckle he folded it and was thrusting it into his pocket as he turned and came of a sudden face to face with me.
Like some apparition must I have seemed to him, as I stood there, grim and silent, my naked sword in my hand. For a second he stared with wrinkled brows and open jaw; then his sudden gasp told me that he recognized me.
"Sir John," said I politely, "I must trouble you for that letter."
His answer was a bellowed oath, and before I could move to prevent it, his sword was out.
"Fool!" he cried, with a sardonic laugh. "Come, take the letter. I'll save the Kirk the trouble of hanging you."
No invitation could he have given me that I had more eagerly accepted, and for some moments we were wondrous busy in that hovel. The clash and slither of steel was the language in which Sir John and I discussed the enmity that for ten years had lain betwixt us. It was soon ended. He parried overwidely, and one opening he gave me that was too tempting to be left unheeded. He saw the error of it when two thirds of my cold bilbo were through his vitals.
He sank writhing to the ground, carrying the rickety table with him in his fall, and extinguishing the light. Swiftly I pounced upon him as he lay twisting and cursing in his last agony, and from his left hand I wrested the letter which with his fast-ebbing strength he feebly strove to clutch.
I rose up to find a man--whose figure was barely discernible in the gloom--standing in the doorway. I take it he was the landlord. As I turned he sprang forward wielding what appeared to be a club. He swung it aloft and aimed a blow at me; I leaped aside, and there was a crash as his weapon struck the floor. Another door, leading toward the interior of the hostelry, was opened, and a woman appeared bearing a rushlight.
This door was close beside me, and scarce knowing why, I bounded toward it, and brushed past her. I found myself in a smaller room, which in the fleeting glance I gave it appeared to be the kitchen. There was a door beyond, leading toward the open. I made for this, and outside I came upon an urchin holding a horse--Sir John's, I opined.
I snatched the reins from the lad's hand, and vaulting into the saddle, I buried my spurs in the animal's flanks.
It was past midnight when I drew rein before the hostelry of the Crown, and got down to kick at the door until 'twas opened by the night-capped host. I pushed past him into the house, bidding him see to my horse, and paying scant heed to his grumbling. Then seizing a taper I drew forth the letter that already had cost a man his life that night, and read:
Dear Jack: It is my hope that the first messenger I dispatched to you, to warn you of the coming of Lal Faversham, hath reached you without mishap. From that letter you will have gathered that the fool took the bait I offered him with avidity. Within twelve hours he was on the road to Scotland, and not a moment too soon, for my angel Margaret arrived here but two hours after his departure. His absence, and the news which her father culled at Whitehall of his sudden flight, have set at rest her last doubt touching his faithlessness. She must perforce confess to me that things had fallen out as I predicted, and, in a fit of scorn at the cowardice of a faithless knave who dared not stay to face her, and at herself for ever having given him a thought, she did consent, within three hours after her arrival, to become my wife. Am I not the luckiest of men, Jack? And is not Faversham the most witless of fools? It is midnight--but six hours since Faversham's departure for Perth, yet so much already is accomplished. This letter should reach you at Berwick before Faversham can gain the place, for whereas he goes by coach, the bearer travels on horse back, and will deliver this at York to another courier, who will pursue the journey. They have ample relays awaiting them along the road. Margaret has consented to marry me on Monday. The haste is necessary as I leave England with her immediately afterward. If you can contrive to consign Faversham into the hands of the Covenanters in time, and you care to adventure your handsome neck in London, you will add another ray to the happiness that is to be mine on Monday.
I set down the hideous missive, which bore Carleston's signature, and stood dumfounded at the revelation which it brought me. Margaret lived--that at least was true. But unless I could get me back to London by Monday--and this already the dawn of Saturday--Carleston's devilish plan must succeed. But I made a solemn vow that should I reach London too late to hinder Margaret from becoming the wife of Carleston, I would at least mend matters by making her also his widow.
In a frenzy, I called the host and bade him fetch back the horse that a while ago I had bidden him bait. Agape at my apparent madness, he went to rouse the ostler, from whom some moments later I received that stolen nag which, fortunately, was a stout and able animal. And I did so use it that by the noon of Saturday I was in Durham--albeit 'tis unlikely that horse would ever carry another man. I reached York toward ten that Saturday night, and there, more dead than living, I was compelled to halt and rest for a few hours.
All Sunday I rode, and all Sunday night--using three more horses on the journey, and well-nigh riding to death the last one, on which I ambled up King Street on Monday morning shortly after nine. Jaded beyond conception, and travel-stained as I was, I went forthwith in quest of Killigrew, the likeliest person to afford me the news I sought. I had the good fortune to find him still abed, for a royal frolic had kept him from his couch till daybreak. He was able to tell me that Carleston was to be found at the Dolphin, and Sir Everard Fitzmorris in Pall Mall. I waited for no more, but left him, and taking a hackney coach I went forthwith to the Dolphin Inn.
I found Carleston dressing, with the aid of his body servant, and humming a gay measure as I entered his chamber unannounced.
He caught sight of my reflection in the mirror, and wheeled sharply round, his cheeks going ghastly white.
"Gadswounds!" he ejaculated, as his eye rested on my dusty person.
"You had best dismiss your servant," I suggested, as coolly as I might, whereupon he passively motioned the fellow to withdraw.
"So, my good friend Carleston," I began, "you are arraying yourself for your nuptials, eh? 'Tis a mistake, my fine fellow--a mistake. 'Tis I who am to be the bridegroom, after all, not you. Yes, man, I--Lal Faversham. I have ridden hard so that I might come in time; harder even than your couriers who bore this letter to Sir John Gillespie," and I flourished the paper under his nose.
He recovered partly his composure at that, and sought to bluster it.
"Pah!" he laughed. "You have found it out, have you? Well, what now, my master? Are you come to pick a quarrel with me?"
It was my turn to laugh.
"Oddslife, no, you fool! Think you I would pick a quarrel on my wedding morn? Besides, 'tis but three days since I killed a man--your friend Gillespie."
At that he started and changed color.
"No, no," I pursued, smiling upon him as though he were my dearest friend. "I am come to pick no quarrel. I am rather come to give you a friendly word of counsel, Carleston. See that you are out of London before noon, and out of England before dawn to-morrow."
"D--n you! 'Tis to threaten you are come."
"Fie, Carleston! Who talks of threats? I do but advise. The King is like to hear at any moment, not only of your presence here, but of your achievements in Scotland after Dunbar. In truth, my dear Carleston," I added, with another smile, "I chance to know that he will hear of all this before noon to-day. The vengeance of Charles Stuart is far-reaching, and I counsel you not to return to England while he fills the throne. Give you good day, my lord."
And, turning, I left him standing there with mouth agape, the very picture of a fool. Yet but that it was my marriage morn, 'tis likely I should have left him in a plight yet worse.
Assured that he would take my warning, I repaired in the first place to my lodging at Whitehall to don my gayest suit, and thence, with scant delay I hastened to Sir Everard's house in Pall Mall. In a fever, I followed the lackey who admitted me; my eyes burned in their sockets; my lips were dry; my mouth parched, and in a mirror I caught in passing a glimpse of a face that was gaunt and deadly pale.
I found Sir Everard in the library. His hair was become snowy white, and his tall frame had lost much of its upright firmness of nine years ago. In me mayhap he saw scant change, for at the first glance he knew me. He rose to receive me with a frown of anger 'twixt his brows.
"Faversham!" he exclaimed, then added before I could make answer, "What is your business here and on such a day?"
"Upon no fitter day could I arrive, Sir Everard."
"Know you not that my daughter is to be wed at noon?"
"I do indeed, Sir Everard, since I am come to be the bridegroom." The blood mounted hotly to his forehead.
"Is this some graceless jest? Are you so lost to shame? Is it not enough that your faithlessness hath well-nigh broken my poor child's heart--for 'tis the way of woman to love those that are most unworthy. You who, like the craven hound you are, fled from London and the reproaches with which you fancied she might importune you!"
"'Tis false!" I thundered, silencing him by my very vehemence. "False as the foul lips that told it to you."
"False?" he echoed incredulously. "Is it false that when you landed in England, some four months ago, you wrote to Margaret that your heart had changed? Is it false that you are to wed Anne Hyde? Despite that vile letter, sir, and the news we had of your approaching nuptials, my poor Margaret sought still to believe in you. She would not wed the man who by eight years of unflagging devotion had proved the quality of his affection; until first she had come to London and stooped to have speech with you. I allowed her this whim, to what purpose? To find you fled like a craven at the news of our approach. Tell me, sir," he added, with withering contempt, "is that also false?"
"By God, sir, I will tell you," I cried.
And then, in hot, passionate, maddened speech, I told him of the letter which, that night four months ago, I also had received--the false message that I had credulously believed was penned by my Margaret's dying hand. That letter I showed him, and the ring. In burning words I painted to him my grief, and the bitterness that had soured for me the joys of the Restoration. Then I spoke of Carleston's message delivered to me a week ago, and of the hope new-risen in my heart that sent me flying north. I told him how Heaven had guided me to the hostelry at Lenmuir, and I read aloud to him the letter that had cost Gillespie his life.
"Oh, Lal, Lal," he cried, holding out both hands to me. "Let us thank God that you are yet in time."
"I do, Sir Everard, and shall do so all my life," I answered, seizing his trembling hands in mine. "Take me to Margaret, Sir Everard," I cried a moment later. "For nine years have I waited, but not a moment longer."
"Nor shall you, Lal," came a voice behind us, and as I turned I saw the curtain that masked the doorway drawn aside, and standing there I beheld my love at last. I forgot as I looked that nine years of exile were sped since our last meeting, and meseemed that the very maid of seventeen that I had left was this. The same slight form, and the same sweet, tender face, though very pale and wistful now.
For a moment I stood as one robbed of all volition, then, with a loud cry, I sprang forward and fell on my knees before her. I caught her hands in mine, and with a sob I drew them to my lips.
"You heard me, sweet mistress?"
"I heard all, Lal," she answered.
"And you believe?"
"Believe? I do indeed believe."
Gently she drew her hands from mine, and taking my face betwixt them, she raised it until my eyes looked into hers. And as her father had said a while ago--but in a voice that was infinitely tender, ineffably sweet:
"Oh, Lal, my Lal, thank God that you are come in time!"
Such was the morning of my wedding day; such the dawn of the happiness that Heaven hath vouchsafed me; such the true beginning, and not the end of the fortunes of Lal Faversham.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia