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THE pale March sunshine (this cold spring was like a prolonged winter) fell directly through the two tall windows of the drawing-room of Sir Miles Coningsby's house in Westminster, and cast a chill light on the two figures that faced each other there, the woman seated, the man standing, and both with a look of bitter discontent on their young faces.
Eleanor Coningsby sat in a brocade chair near the open hearth on which a few logs smouldered unheeded. She was a grave-looking girl, small featured, with a rich colouring of ruddy brown in hair and eyes, rather formally dressed in dark cloth with a laced jacket and a knotted cravat of thin cambric.
The room was also formal, the walls oak panelled, the stiff furniture all covered in dull yellow and blue brocade, straight curtains of the same at the long windows, and a dark rug on the worn floor.
The only bright things were the large steel andirons that glowed red with the reflection of the dying fire; the house was old and in this small room there was a sense of age and melancholy and ordered gloom.
Between the windows stood the young man and stared at the girl.
She sat stiffly, her fine hands folded in her lap and her gaze directed into the heart of the flameless fire.
There was about her something the same air as there was about the room, a restraint, a formality, a precise and choice aloofness—while on her face was that expression of bitter rebellion that spoiled the softness of her youth.
The young man looked both sad and angry; he stood quite erect with his hands behind him resting on the smooth wall; in any place and in any company he would have been a notable figure by reason of his height and strength and remarkable face, which, coarse in line, in texture, and colouring, was yet pleasant; a powerful and sombre personality he seemed, and older than his years, for his cheek and chin were dark from close shaving and a small moustache outlined his thick lip.
His plain gray suit and his linen were of the cheapest material and make, and he had no air of wealth nor importance.
They both remained silent, but the thoughts of each were tumultuous and more packed with fiery emotion and angry protest than either of them would have had the skill to put into words.
There was love between them but love that was thwarted, unhappy, futile, barren of joy and pleasure, and impossible of fruition. Both passionately resented this, he with the man's self scorn at his own inadequacy in the face of fate, she with the woman's petulance at rightful happiness sharply withheld; both dumbly raged against destiny, both kept a proud exterior.
'Have you anything to say?' he asked, and his voice was as harsh as his face, yet of good manly quality and not ugly.
She turned, and there was something faintly hostile in her glance, as if she included her lover in her present mood of hatred to the whole world.
'I am robbed of words,' she returned. 'I am silenced.'
It was almost as if she accused him—'You should have a remedy for this! You fail, how can I do otherwise than remain mute?'
His look was downcast and sullen as he replied:—
'My misfortunes grow upon me—I must add to them your displeasure.'
She smiled bitterly, not mollified; her face was illuminated in that white shaft of sunlight, the clear skin, the level brown eyes, the feeble modelling of the gentle features, the smooth waves of heavy brown hair.
'We are both unfortunate,' she said.
'Tell me you blame me,' he answered sternly. 'The accusation is in your look.'
Eleanor could not reply, a storm of words lay heavy on her heart, a sense of forlornness, of outrage, almost of fury, held her dumb.
'I will go back to Jersey,' he said.
At that her sensitive face hardened with despair, for she thought most disastrously that she loved him.
'Go,' she said, 'and forget me.'
At the weak, womanish words the young man smiled; it changed his face to tenderness and made him her complete master.
'My foolish little love,' he said.
She was silent at this, almost brought to tears; she turned her face sharply aside and her fingers pulled at her cloth skirt; he came into the room and into the patch of sunlight, which showed how fine and shapely he was, from his dusky thick curls to his square-toed shoes, what life, richness, and splendour there was in his heavy lineaments and the deep eyes that were of a foreign darkness.
'My dear,' he said. 'I will begone. What is there for me in London? I know not why I came—to gape at what I may not touch, like a country fool.'
'What will you do in Jersey?' she asked, looking desperately round at him.
He did not know and they stared at each other disconsolately, the world seemed to them like an unknown sea on which they drifted helplessly; there was nothing tangible to which they could direct their course.
Their love was so hopeless as to be absurd; she was the daughter of a wealthy courtier, and herself one of the maids of honour to the Duchess of York; her father destined her for a noble cousin; all her life she had had grandeur and homage and money; he was the son of a Jersey farmer, whose uncle had brought him up on a living of a few pounds a year, and who had taken him to London while he pressed a petition on the court, a foolish petition for help for some poor people of the island who had served His Majesty during his short exile there.
His sole acquaintance in London had been Sir Miles Coningsby, who had been among the cavaliers who had fled to Jersey in the time of their distress.
In those days Sir Miles had been a friend of the humble pastor, but he was now a great gentleman, and what kindness he might deign to retain for the Jersey folk could not be anything but gracious patronage.
The old man had come to solicit this patronage on behalf of his parishioners, and had journeyed to London, bringing his ward and nephew with him. Sir Miles had been very pleasant, and six months had passed easily in the capital till now the young man found himself with this tangle to unravel.
He had come to love the daughter of Sir Miles and she to love him, and therein lay their misfortune.
Though considered scarcely a gentleman he had a noble name and claimed a noble descent, being by repute a scion of a branch of one of the noblest Huguenot families of France—de Rohan, but this claim, unsupported and unproved, was his only distinction.
He had been born and educated at the little parsonage of the village near to Mont Orgueil, and he knew nothing save the rocks and tides, the two castles, and the twelve parishes of Jersey, until he came to London and there discovered that he had been equipped for nothing but idleness, and had no money with which to maintain idleness.
'A man can always do something, dear heart,' said Eleanor, speaking out of her desperate impatience with fate.
'Listen while I tell you how I am situated,' he answered. 'And you shall judge.'
He paused and his look was hard; his was a position more than any other hateful to youth, that of humiliation before the woman he loved.
'I have nothing behind me,' he continued, 'nor any relations beyond my uncle and he has but a little land in Jersey, which has been in our family since the Calvinistic days and is worth below one hundred pounds a year. He taught me book learning and the English tongue, and I learnt myself manly exercises—and that is all. And with what I may hope to have I can do nothing but farm the little land that may be mine, or become a vulgar adventurer on the face of the world.'
'But your uncle,' said Eleanor, 'he has brought you to court—is it not to ask some post for you, some favour? M. de Rohan was very zealous for His Majesty when he was in Jersey.'
Jacques de Rohan smiled cynically.
'So were many. And do not they all cluster about Whitehall now, like flies round a honey-pot? And I tell you, Nell, my uncle has one great hope, and that is to have the living of St Brelades that was his father's in the time of Sir Philip Carteret. And nothing else. And there is no talk of me, nor any thought but that I shall return to Jersey. And for nothing am I equipped or trained,' he added with great bitterness. 'Now judge if I can keep a wife.'
As he spoke he wildly hoped she would throw all prudence aside and declare herself ready to follow his meagre fortunes, but the girl sat quite still and looked at him keenly.
'It is a strange thing,' she said, 'that a young man such as you are should have been brought up in this barbarous fashion without opportunity or chance. And yet your uncle does not seem to me an unworldly man.'
Jacques de Rohan's heart swelled.
'So I have lived, away from the world—nor would he ever permit that I should have a post at Castle Elisabeth or Mont Orgueil, or become a captain of the parish, as my father was. And now I have been six months in London and he has never taken me to court. Nor have I ever seen the King, save publicly.'
'Yet M. de Rohan is often at Whitehall, and most friendly with my father,' replied Eleanor. 'Sir, cannot you force the opportunities that come not willingly your way?'
He frowned at her formal mode of address and because he knew her accusation to be true; he had always been indolent and averse to grappling with fortune; he knew quite well that another youth would have left Jersey ten years ago and had his fate in his own hand by now.
'Make it as bitter for me as you can,' he said. 'I deserve it. For I had no right to tell you what I did.'
Eleanor Coningsby rose; her heart heaved beneath the tight bodice.
'Do you think this is pleasant to me?' she said stormily, 'this love that may not be told? This lover who hesitates and withdraws? I feel as if I had given myself unbidden.'
He turned away; he was not drawn to her by her attitude, which savoured of unreasonableness, nor by her words, which savoured of railing.
'It was my fault,' he repeated stubbornly.
He meant what he said, he had the man's instinctive philosophy that told him nothing should be undertaken, even with the dearest of women, that could not be carried to some definite conclusion; to hesitate, to turn back, to show any weakness or inadequacy was to court complete failure. He should have made this girl love him so that she would follow him to his humble life in Jersey, or he should have left her alone.
He had done neither, and he felt cynically conscious of mistake and disaster.
Eleanor saw nothing of his point of view; she was only angrily aware that the love that she had longed for and dreamed of had come her way and she was unable to take it, that her lover had found her and could not claim her, that all her hoped for joys were withered.
'Your fault!' she said, in her youthful misery. 'I think it is your fault that you will not make an effort to change your fortunes.'
'Ah, now you hate me,' he said softly. 'I can say nothing in my defence.'
'You have said too much,' returned Eleanor. 'Cannot you do something?'
His soft, almost drowsy eyes showed no sign of anger at her goads.
'You speak more like an enemy than a lover,' he answered. 'Can you not have pity on my weakness, Nell?'
He looked, even as he spoke, so typical of all that was strong and masculine that his words might have sounded absurd to an unprejudiced ear, but Eleanor was melted utterly.
She went up to him and caught hold of his shoulders, he was a head taller than she and her gleaming curls were crushed against his coat as she reached up to him.
'I do love you, Jack, indeed I do,' she murmured, in a childish voice full of sobs. 'Could you not, for my sake—make an effort against this evil destiny? I would wait—anything would do, a pair of colours in the Guards, a secretaryship—'
'Could you, Nell, for my sake, come to Jersey and live as my mother lived, on a humble farm?'
Eleanor was silent, though she still clung to him.
'I am answered,' he said.
The sunlight faded about them as they stood in their grief, and light snow clouds, the last of winter, closed over the pale sky, the room was dull save for a final gleam of red in the heart of the forgotten fire, and suddenly a hurry of snow began to fall outside, the flakes agitated by the wind, were thrown swirling against the window.
'I must go,' said Jacques. 'I would not do you the ill turn of being found here.'
She withdrew from him as if offended; little of her heart's desolation appeared in her mien.
'Good-bye, then,' she murmured.
'Do not be unkind, Nell. You know how I suffer—eh? also how I am shamed.'
'I want no words,' she said sullenly; she felt that love had betrayed her, laughed at her, and she wished to be revenged on love.
He looked at her and hesitated; he had little knowledge of women and no practice, and therefore was too proud to woo her in those tempestuous methods that would have made her ready to follow him across the world; for pale and cold as she looked, he could have won her then to any madness had he but unlocked his own heart.
At last he picked up his cloak and hat.
'Will you kiss me, Nell?' he asked.
She looked at his dear dark face and the sad timidity she saw there spurred her to further cruelty.
'No,' she said.
He took her at her word, bowed, and left her; he was not angry with her; it was natural for women to be like that when crossed; their love affair was spoilt—and over.
As he came into the narrow street the last snow was flung into his face before a cold wind that was blowing the sky clear.
'I ought not to have accepted this,' he thought in his pain. 'I should have fought for her—but how?'
His circumstances were so utterly hopeless; he had no friends, no relations beyond his uncles, no profession, no money—his family, his country, his life were utterly obscure.
He knew enough now of London to know that his uncle would never be able to do anything for himself nor for his nephew, there were too many hungry mouths at Whitehall for any sop to be flung to the poor Jersey parson; Sir Miles must know this, and be merely acting out of lazy, mistaken good humour when he encouraged his whilom friend to waste his time and his substance waiting in the capital—either for the poor people of his parish or for his own chance of the good living of St Brelades.
Eleanor had thought that her lover might have snatched some chances even from this barren prospect, this was partly because she did not understand her world, and partly because she did not understand the character of the man she loved. If the court of Charles offered no foothold for needy obscure place-hunters, neither was Jacques de Rohan the man to wrest any good from the grasp of adverse destiny.
'No doubt,' he thought, as he walked against the snow and wind, 'other men would have gained something from this journey to London—but I have obtained nothing but this contrary love.'
There was something perverse and whimsical in his nature that made him smile at himself, even in his present trouble.
The little snowstorm ended as abruptly as it had begun; the pallid blue sky shone out again with a pale dazzle of light.
Jacques turned in the direction of the palace; he passed it every day but he had never been inside the low, long collection of buildings on the bank of the Thames that formed the residence of the court.
There were always a certain number of cavaliers coming and going and to pass them made the young stranger feel very alien; he knew so little of them or their lives.
He passed the palace gates very quickly to-day; he felt as conscious of his one good suit, so provincial and plain, his modest sword, his country air, his utter obscurity, as if 'failure' was written across his face.
Now that everything was over with Eleanor Coningsby surely it would be better to go back to Jersey, where he was at least known and, perhaps, liked. With this thought in his mind he returned to the Black Bull, Holborn, where he and his uncle lodged.
The place was not princely, yet patronised by gentry of the better sort, and Jacques had often wondered how his uncle could so long support the expenses of residence here; it seemed so foolish too for the old man to spend his savings in this crazy attempt to attract the king's attention to the merits and suffering of a few poor people in Jersey.
Savings that would have been useful to himself, Jacques reflected as he entered the inn, and, now that his love dream was over, he resolved to leave no argument untried in the effort to induce his uncle to return to Jersey.
The old man was in his room, seated at a table covered with papers; those old letters, petitions, notes, and records that Jacques knew so well.
He was not in the least like his nephew, being slight and fair, wrinkled and fresh coloured, and attired in a minister's garb that bore, in its severity, traces of the theology of Geneva that had so largely influenced the church in Jersey.
As the young man came upon him, M. de Rohan gathered up the papers with a hasty hand.
'Ah, monsieur,' said Jacques in French, which was his native tongue, 'I am resolved we must return to Jersey.'
'And why this sudden desire, Jacques?' asked the minister.
His manner towards his nephew was curious, being almost timid, almost deferential, as if the older man was overwhelmed by the powerful personality of the younger; yet Jacques was so quiet in his bearing, it did not seem as if he tried to exercise any influence over any one.
'Listen,' he said, standing by the little table and gazing absently down on the scattered papers. 'Thou wilt never get St Brelades—the home folk will never get their rights, and I shall get my heart broken... Dost thou think to remind the king—now? Mon Dieu, it is seven-and-twenty years ago!'
A slight agitation was visible in the minister's countenance.
'Yes—seven-and-twenty years ago,' he said, 'but the king has not forgotten.'
'WHAT does the King remember?' asked Jacques. 'That he used a few poor people's services and never paid for them?'
The minister looked down.
'The King will see justice done,' he answered nervously. 'Patience, Jacques, patience.'
The young man smiled.
'Why should I be patient? I have nothing to gain from the King.'
M. de Rohan looked up at him sharply.
'You are discontented, Jacques, a little angry,' he said quickly. 'What has happened?'
Jacques sat down; he gave a short laugh and stared at his strong hands locked on his knees.
'I love Eleanor Coningsby—and I might have her if I was—anything.'
The old man was strongly startled now.
'Dieu!' he exclaimed.
'You have not seen it, monsieur?' asked Jacques dryly. 'Yet we have been much together. Sir Miles also has been blind. Doubtless I am too insignificant for you or he to trouble about my love affairs.'
M. de Rohan sat silent like one abashed.
'Well, it has happened,' continued Jacques, 'and I must forgo her—she is for a great lord, or a moneyed merchant—there, I say I will go back to Jersey.'
'You certainly must not think of marriage,' said the old man rousing himself. 'Jacques, I entreat you—'
The young man's dark face flushed as he answered:
'Did I not say that she was foregone? We parted to-day.'
'She gave you up, Jacques?'
M. de Rohan gave a little sigh of relief that greatly irritated the sore heart of his nephew.
So that was the way he took it—he was merely glad that the girl had been so sensible and that he had been spared any scandal or unpleasant trouble with his old patron, Sir Miles.
'I do not know why you brought me to London, uncle.'
'I had a reason, Jacques, I had a reason.'
'Forgive me,' came the angry voice of the young man, 'but your reason must have been folly. What did you think I could do in London? When I followed you from Jersey I knew nothing, now I just know that I am useless.'
He suddenly turned to the old man and stood over him with an air that seemed to hold menace.
'Why did you bring me up like this, monsieur? My father was a soldier was he not?'
'Your father—' repeated the minister stupidly.
The young man continued unheeding:—
'My mother was a soldier's daughter—do you not think that if either of them had lived they would have wished to see me a soldier also?'
M. de Rohan seemed to make an effort to rally himself; his fine old face was flushed, his hands trembled.
'I—I did what I could, Jacques. You had such training as the island afforded. You know there was never much money.'
'I do not reproach you,' interrupted Jacques in a softer voice, for he loved the old man, though in a careless fashion. 'But I would that you had brought me up differently. You knew the Governor. I might have had some post befitting a gentleman—or have learnt some trade befitting a man—as it is, I am nothing.'
M. de Rohan looked earnestly up into his troubled young face.
'I wished to, Jacques, indeed I did—I suggested it.'
Jacques caught him up.
'Then who prevented you, monsieur? Who had any authority over me besides yourself?'
'Why, no one,' replied the old man confusedly and hastily. 'But the means always lacked, the means!'
Jacques shrugged his shoulders in an annoyance that was yet good humoured, for he looked with a certain tenderness at the agitated countenance of the little minister, which was that of the only relation he had in the world; he was, in his heart, quite sure that something could have been done for him, that he need not have been allowed to drift and dream into idleness and uselessness—it came too easily to him to drift and dream.
These thoughts had not come to him in Jersey, where the leisurely primitive life had roused no ambition, where there was never any contrast, no knowledge of anything else.
The cruelty had been in bringing him to London, in allowing him to meet a woman like Eleanor Coningsby.
But railing was not in Jacques de Rohan's nature, and that freakish humour of his told him that he might as well rail against the deaf fates themselves as against his uncle—both would be equally impossible to convince.
'Eh, well,' he said kindly. 'You will never understand my point of view. And I suppose I can hardly understand yours.'
The reply was unexpected.
'Some day you will,' said M. de Rohan gravely, without looking up. 'I am not quite, and never have been, Jacques, the passive foolish creature I have seemed—had you been my own son, I had done differently, but I was but blindly fulfilling a trust.'
'One my father left you?'
'Yes, one your father left me.'
'I have never heard of it.'
'I was not allowed to tell you. Now I may—and some other strange things soon,' he sighed a little wearily. 'Perhaps you will hate me.'
'Hate you, monsieur?'
Jacques smiled at the old man; his heart was very full of his own bitter trouble, but he was moved by the obvious agitation of his uncle; he had thought of late that the excitement of his journey and mission had preyed on the minister's mind and unbalanced his reason, so strangely would he look and speak; now, he was talking vaguely and wildly, it seemed to Jacques, instead of showing any interest in the tremendous subject of Eleanor Coningsby.
It was his first love, and the young man was piqued.
'I am not thinking of hate but of this lady,' he added slowly.
M. de Rohan looked at him in quick alarm.
'But you have given her up!' he exclaimed.
Jacques laughed angrily; was it possible the old man knew so little about love?
'We will not talk of it,' he said.
'No,' replied the minister. 'You will have other matters to occupy you. But I beseech you, whatever your private thoughts and inclinations, to have no dealings with this lady or any other. Marriage is not for you, yet. Any entanglement of this kind would lead to disaster.'
'You mean I must return to Jersey, to the little farm—and marry, some day, one of my neighbour's daughters.
'I mean,' said M. de Rohan, 'nothing of the kind.'
The young man went to the window, and, leaning on his elbow, looked out.
The snow was again victor over the sun in these last struggles of winter; the sky was gray above Holborn and the dirty waters of the Fleet, and the big flakes were melting against the window panes.
Jacques thought of Eleanor, perhaps still as he had left her, crouching by the dead fire with a sad face and an angry heart.
'She despised me,' he thought, 'she despised me utterly. She despised herself because she loved me.'
He frowned out at the dreary weather; in no direction did his life open up any prospect that afforded him pleasure to contemplate.
He seemed not to fit into any position that it was possible for him to occupy and to be unequipped in every way for the existence he must lead. Now that he had seen London, the forty miles of Jersey would be intolerable, now that he had seen Eleanor the women who had once seemed so pleasing would mean nothing—the little farm, the little church, the little village, all would seem stale and monstrous, yet he would rather return to them than continue in England now that Eleanor was lost.
These thoughts of his were so deep and so intense that he forgot that he was not alone, and his face and figure relaxed into lines of absolute unconsciousness.
M. de Rohan regarded him with a painful, eager keenness, as if he was studying some stranger on whom much depended.
It was a curious scrutiny for a man to give to his brother's son he had brought up as his own, there was something in it so anxious, so doubtful, so moved and agitated. Jacques was a handsome creature to look at in his absorption; his tall, heavily-made figure, his rough features, splendid eyes, and long, rich, thick locks, his brown healthy complexion, his air of brooding that was yet not sullenness—all gave him a distinction hardly to be expected in the son of a humble Jerseyman and a farmer's daughter of Sark.
As M. de Rohan looked he sighed, and on Jacques turning sharply at the sound, he quickly stifled the sigh and disguised his scrutiny by bending over the papers before him.
'If I told you that a piece of fortune—the strangest piece of good fortune—was in store for you,' he asked, in a voice that strove rather too obviously to appear unconcerned, 'what would you say?'
'That you had been too long loitering round Whitehall, monsieur,' smiled Jacques, 'and were confused in your thoughts.'
'Eh,' said the old man with another sigh. 'When you have heard all, you will think me indeed mazed.'
Jacques was rather irritated by these vague hints; he in truth thought that his uncle had become foolish through the excitement of waiting on the court, so different to the humble round in which he had passed his life.
'No fortune would be good to me unless it brought me Eleanor Coningsby,' he answered.
'The usual folly!' exclaimed the pastor sharply. 'This turn will put you far away indeed from women like Sir Miles's daughter.'
'Then it is of no use to me,' said Jacques, but lightly, for he did not take the thing seriously, and turning again to the window he sunk into his reverie.
The snow had ceased and the day was full of a cold light without gleam or colour; like my life, he thought; he forgot that this was early spring and that such days as this were potent with the promise of all summer richness.
M. de Rohan left his place and took his hat and cloak from the wall.
'I shall be long gone,' he said, 'but you will not be dull while I am away.'
Jacques glanced round from his self-absorption.
'I have passed many such days,' said Jacques. 'You are going to Whitehall, monsieur?'
'Yes, Jacques, yes.'
Without further look or word the little pastor went his way.
'How quietly he takes what I told him!' thought the young man. 'Even he thinks that my aspirations are below contempt—or is it that he is too occupied to give it a thought at all? Mon Dieu, but this must end!'
He began to consider how he might manage the return to Jersey—alone if his uncle would not come, and he was deep in these melancholy calculations when the drawer entered the room.
'There is a gentleman would see you, sir.'
'Sir Miles!' was the young man's instant thought, and a great flush mounted to his face as he descended to the inn parlour.
His visitor was not Sir Miles, but a man who was a stranger to Jacques.
It was a gentleman, very plain in a buff riding suit and a fair peruke, rather florid featured, with weary, swollen eyes and a compelling manner, as of one accustomed to great authority, yet veiled with gentleness.
Even as he bowed he gave Jacques a darting look of great curiosity.
'M. de Rohan?'
'You would see my uncle, I doubt not,' answered Jacques, 'for I take it you are from the court, and with that I have nothing to do.'
In his heart he was sorry that it was not the father of his beloved; he would have liked to have come to grips with fate in that fashion; he could not approach Sir Miles himself, but if Eleanor had summoned courage to do so, he would have been glad.
'It was M. Jacques de Rohan I wished to see,' replied the stranger, 'and you are he, as I can tell.'
The other ignored that.
'My name is Merrilees,' he said.
This meant nothing to Jacques, he had never heard the name before.
'Are we private here?' asked Mr Merrilees.
'I have no other place that I can take you to save my bed-chamber,' replied Jacques. 'Does my uncle know of your visit?' he added, with a sudden wonder as to whether this man had anything to do with M. de Rohan's mysterious hints.
'I met him as I was entering the inn,' said the stranger pleasantly.
'You know him, then, sir?'
'Our acquaintance is of ancient date—I was in Jersey in exile.'
'Ah—with the King?'
'No doubt my uncle has approached you, sir, to help him—on the grounds of this ancient acquaintance—acquit me of a folly like to his—I know we are on a crazy errand.'
His pride urged him to speak like this, for he believed that this gentleman that had come to courteously tell him that M. de Rohan's importunity was becoming wearisome to the officials at the court.
The stranger remained standing, and when Jacques put forward one of the stiff oak chairs he declined it; he was extraordinarily civil.
'Do you know why your uncle has come to London?' he asked.
'To beg for the living of St Brelades,' replied Jacques impatiently, then corrected himself with impulsive good humour. 'Nay, I wrong him. Sir, there were certain poor people who were of service to His Majesty when he was, as Prince of Wales, in Jersey—you recall he was in Jersey for a few months, twenty-seven years ago? Well, these services were never paid for, and some of the folk have since fallen into distress, and there is one fellow, old now, who built a painted barge that was His Majesty's sole amusement, who has now come to ruin.'
Mr Merrilees interrupted.
'All this I know,' he said, 'and I can tell you, sir, that M. de Rohan will have the living of St Brelades until that of St Saviour's is vacant.'
'St Saviour's is the richest living in the island?' exclaimed Jacques.
'Then who gives it to my uncle?'
'Is my uncle then so much in favour at court?'
'His Majesty remembers him very well,' returned Mr Merrilees.
Jacques could not understand; he almost suspected some trap—some trick or deceit.
'And the purpose of this interview?' he asked with a rather cold pleasantness; he had, naturally and quite unconsciously, much of the grand manner of a great gentleman.
'You must wonder,' said the other frankly. 'You will wonder more when you know the rest. Believe that I am your—well-wisher—the word is wrongly chosen, but I can give you no better now, sir.'
He smiled, and Jacques thought how charming he was; with men such as this he could be friends and pass his time pleasantly; he knew the type—he had seen it in the great family of Jersey—the de Carteret.
'There is some mystery or talk of a mystery, Mr Merrilees, that I do not understand,' he said, with more friendliness than he had yet used.
'You know nothing about it?'
'Nothing whatever—as far as I myself am concerned, I am in London on a fool's errand—my place is in Jersey, where I hope soon to return.'
He spoke bitterly, for the image of Eleanor was still uppermost in his thoughts.
'I think that you will never go back to Jersey,' said Mr Merrilees. 'Be patient a little longer, and you will learn everything. You may,' he added, with a curious look, 'curse the knowledge.'
'I cannot yet learn what you want of me,' replied Jacques.
'I am not permitted to tell you. Another will do that. I am come to take you before him. Will you now tell me something of yourself, M. de Rohan?'
Jacques felt a vague excitement; was there, after all, to be some colour woven into the dull fabric of his life? Was it possible something was going to happen that would bring him nearer Eleanor?
'My history is obscure and ordinary,' he said. 'My father, Franēois de Rohan, was a Jersey farmer, my mother the daughter of a farmer of Sark, my father was Captain of his Parish (we divide the island into twelve for military purposes) during the Rebellion, but he had little chance, for while the Prince was at Mont Orgueil, my father was drowned in a storm crossing to Sark to see after some of my mother's property. And she died a few months later, when I was born. My father had a brother and a sister, both unmarried, and they brought me up. Last year my aunt died. Soon after, my uncle would come to London—the rest it seems you know—what else?'
He spoke with a slight touch of defiance, conscious of the poverty of his brief history.
'And your dispositions?' asked the other.
'I know them not,' replied Jacques, 'for neither myself nor any other has troubled to discover them.'
'WHATEVER your dispositions, sir,' replied Mr Merrilees with a smile, 'I think you have a gallant mind, able to bear turns of fortune.'
'I have to-day heard much of fortune,' said Jacques.
'You shall hear yet more. I look to you to acquit yourself well in a difficult circumstance.'
'What do you know of me that you should expect that?'
'Nothing of you, sir. Something of your house.'
'That of de Rohan?' said Jacques, and his pride made him add. 'I have little claim there—some cadet of that noble house came to Jersey in the time of the Huguenot persecutions, and retained the name.'
'Ah, yes,' said Mr Merrilees. 'Will you accompany me to the presence of some gentlemen who will tell you what I may not?'
Jacques smiled; his pulses tingled a little; he very much wanted something to happen; what, he did not care; he had the recklessness of the gambler with nothing valuable to stake.
'Take me where you will, sir,' he replied. 'I have, as usual, an empty afternoon.'
'It were best that you came plainly,' said the other.
'I have but this one town suit,' smiled Jacques, with, however, a little flush. 'And a hat and cloak of the same cut and stuff—my revenues,' he said, with a whimsical air, 'do not permit of any extravagance.'
Again the other gave him that sharp glance of almost painful curiosity.
Jacques fetched from a peg in the hall the garments he had mentioned, and the two set out together through the pale March afternoon.
'You have been dull in London?' suggested Mr Merrilees.
'As a country Hodge must be in the capital, sir.'
'There are amusements.'
'I care nothing for them.
'I found one—'
'I fell in love,' said Jacques grimly.
Mr Merrilees appeared utterly startled and dismayed.
'You are not married?' he asked anxiously.
'No, nor like to be.'
The other was obviously relieved.
'The lady is infinitely above me, I do not even dare to make my pretensions known,' said Jacques grandly.
To no one save his uncle could he confide the lady's name, nor the fact that his affection was returned.
'I am glad,' returned Mr Merrilees. 'You are over young, sir, for any choice. Wait until you see a little more clearly before you—'
'It is a matter on which my mind is settled,' replied Jacques. 'And I shall account no fortune good that does not bring me nearer this lady.'
'We may leave that to time.'
Mr Merrilees said no more on this matter, but began to discuss casual things, remarking on the new buildings they passed and pointing out the devastations caused by the fire that had swept over London the same year of the plague and the burning of Chatham by the Dutch; he was full of lively anecdotes of these events and Jacques found him an entertaining companion.
'You have never been interested in politics?' he said suddenly.
'Parochial politics only, sir,' replied Jacques. 'We hear little in Jersey. Since I have been in London I have learnt a little. How the Duke of York is unpopular because of his papacy, the Queen barren, the Duke of Monmouth ambitious, and the King easy.'
'This is what the vulgar know,' said Mr Merrilees quickly. 'Were you at court you would hear different tales. There is a fine complication now. Believe me, the Duke of Monmouth has no chance.'
'One would not think so, seeing the Duke of York is heir.'
'But you have learnt how unpopular he is? The country would hardly endure a papist—eh, well, we shall see.'
They now stopped before a small armourer's shop in St Martin's Lane, and Mr Merrilees told Jacques to enter.
He did so, and beheld three gentlemen leaning over the counter examining pistols; the shop was very dark and he could see nothing but their figures and perukes.
Mr Merrilees touched one on the arm and said, 'I have brought him.'
At which all three looked up and glanced at Jacques.
The man who was showing the pistols also looked up and Jacques felt himself confronted by four pair of eyes.
He was glad of the dim light, for he felt embarrassed, both by the intense scrutiny and by the fact that these men were of a different quality to those he was used to mingling with; like Mr Merrilees they were obviously of the court.
With one accord, as if the thing was previously agreed upon, they moved into a little room at the back of the shop.
Jacques, drawn after them by the gentle, yet insistent hand of Mr Merrilees, found himself crowded upon by these strangers in the small apartment.
The shopman had followed also, he still carried a large holster pistol; Jacques thought that it showed strangely in these surroundings.
The other three, gentlemen of great quality they seemed, seated themselves on chairs that were obviously ready prepared for them, Mr Merrilees beside them, the shopman behind them, so that Jacques was left standing inside the door, facing these others, like a man before a row of judges.
Nor was he invited to sit, and the keenness of the scrutiny turned on him, which seemed full of some powerful emotion, began to overwhelm him.
But he carried his head high.
'I wait your pleasure, gentlemen,' he said lightly.
This strange atmosphere somehow pleased him, and he returned the curious gaze of the strangers with no languid interest.
One of them wore a little riding mask such as was fashionable, Jacques had lately learnt, among ladies and even the more effeminate cavaliers; this was of white satin, in the Venetian fashion, and allowed nothing to be seen of the wearer's face save that it was coarse and bilious in complexion; for the rest he wore a prune-coloured velvet cloak trimmed with black fur and carried a muff of the same.
His black hat, with a panache of black feathers, was pulled well down over his dark peruke, and his hands, in huge gauntlets embroidered in silver threads, rested on a long cane; he was tall and powerful, even inclined to heaviness in his figure.
The gentleman who sat on his right was stout and small-featured; he also wore a velvet cloak, but kept his hat on his knee.
The third was, Jacques was quite sure, a Frenchman; he was handsome and very elegantly dressed in dark blue satins and a pale riding coat.
The shopman was perhaps the most remarkable figure of any of them.
He appeared to be a foreigner, and was dark, lean, and clean shaven, attired with a Puritanical fashion, with short hair and a linen band, in great contrast to the flowing perukes and voluminous garments of the other three.
None of these men were young, not at least as Jacques de Rohan counted youth.
It was he in the white vizard who spoke first.
'You are the young man from Jersey?' he asked, using the purest French.
Jacques was surprised by this use of his native speech.
He gave his name without preamble or compliments.
'Jacques,' repeated the masked man. 'You were baptised James,' he added.
Jacques knew this to be a fact, but the French form of his name (which had been given him after the Duke of York he had been told) was that which had always been used, and he was at a loss to understand how this stranger could possibly be acquainted with so slight and intimate a detail.
'You know something of me, sir,' he said.
'It pleases you to be mysterious,' said Jacques, rather haughtily, though secretly he was on edge with curiosity and a certain pleasurable anticipation.
The white mask laughed.
'Mon Dieu! the right spirit!' he cried, his voice was like his figure, large and eminently masculine; he glanced at his two companions, who remained absolutely silent and expressionless save for that look of eager curiosity; then he pulled off his gloves, showing fine dark hands, and looked down at them, turning about his rings with an air of deliberation. Then he began to subject Jacques to a minute cross-examination.
He asked Jacques about his life at home, his companions, his means, his prospects, his views and opinions, what he had observed in London, and the impression made on him thereby.
The young man answered to the best of his ability.
There was so little to say about anything; the account of his obscure birth, his empty youth, was soon given.
As for other events beyond these personal ones; he knew nothing, his six months' residence in the capital had brought him no nearer the heart of things.
Several times those five facing him smiled at the simplicity of his answers, and his knowledge and opinion of affairs founded on what gossip he had heard in the parlour at the Black Bull.
Jacques smiled too, he was ever one to be amused at his own shortcomings, he knew that he could have been very differently informed about passing events had he wished, or taken the slightest interest in them; but one thing had absorbed all his faculties and that was his love for Eleanor Coningsby.
'You laugh,' observed the white mask, at the end of his questions, 'and indeed the state of ignorance you are in is a pretty happy state, eh, my lord?'
And he nodded towards the stout gentleman beside him, who smiled, slightly cynically, at which wry face the others smiled also.
'This all seems to me very futile, sir,' said Jacques, speaking in English, which was the last language his interlocutor had used, 'and with your leave, I will now return to my supper at the Black Bull. Especially,' he added, 'as your courtesy stops short of a chair.'
He had indeed remained standing, leaning against the panelled door while the quick question and answer had passed.
The white vizard now directed the shopkeeper, the only other person standing, to give Jacques a chair.
'I have one more important question to ask you, M. de Rohan,' he said in English, which he spoke as easily as French. 'What is your religion?'
This was a matter that Jacques had always taken very much for granted; brought up in the family of a clergyman, he had never questioned the Church of England as understood in Jersey; that is to say, Anglicanism cloaking Calvinism, for the secession of the island from the State religion had been healed more in the letter than the spirit.
'Church of England,' said Jacques.
'You know nothing of the Roman faith?' asked the white vizard.
The other seemed to reflect on this answer.
'Are you ambitious?' he asked again instantly.
Jacques was not so ready with an answer to this question.
'I do not love my present life,' he said at length. 'I would be willing to take any chance offered me.'
'I wonder,' said the white mask rather grimly.
A look now passed from one to the other of the gentlemen, and, as if at a given signal, all rose.
Jacques also got to his feet.
'Sir,' he appealed to Mr Merrilees, the only one of these strangers whom he knew by name. 'Will you explain this comedy? For what purpose have I been brought here, and who are these gentlemen?'
There was a pause, and Jacques observed that all of them looked towards the white mask as if he was their leader.
To him Jacques addressed himself; he stood with his back to the door looking very splendid in his youthful strength and handsomeness.
'I must speak to you alone, M. de Rohan,' said the mask.
At this the others at once made to leave the apartment, and Jacques stood aside to allow them to pass.
Again a sense of excitement caused his heart to beat strongly; the little room seemed full of the atmosphere of strange happenings, and the unknown man who confronted him likely to be the herald of great changes in his own monotonous life.
For the first time for months Eleanor Coningsby was in the background of his thoughts.
The two men, who were much of the same height and build, surveyed each other intently now that they were alone.
It was almost like two antagonists measuring each other.
The mask spoke first.
'I will be frank with you as you have been with me. You have told me nothing but the truth. And I perceive that I can trust you.'
'You are too sanguine, sir,' replied Jacques, 'for I do not trust myself.'
'Still, I trust you,' persisted the other. 'For my purposes at least I believe I can trust you.'
As he spoke he took off his mask and looked at Jacques from under the shade of his beaver. There was a second's hesitation, incredulity, then the young man flushed with the shock of an extraordinary surprise.
In the heavy saturnine features and Italian colouring of the man looking at him so intently he recognised the King.
Although he had never lacked assurance he was now without words.
'Come,' said Charles easily. 'You know me, M. de Rohan?'
Jacques bowed; he felt awkward and stupid and utterly at a loss to account for what had happened.
'You need not be amazed,' continued the King in the same tone. 'The explanation is simple—your father rendered me a great service when I was in Jersey, and I have always followed your existence there—with interest, M. de Rohan. At my wish your uncle brought you to London, where for six months I have had you under observation. I am now satisfied that you are the kind of man I want. I am willing to take you into my service.'
During this speech Jacques trembled with joy and gratitude; with a great throb of delight he thought of Eleanor Coningsby.
'You will leave the Black Bull,' continued the King briefly, 'and take up your residence with the man who keeps this shop—who is in my confidence. Your uncle will come and see you and give you my instructions. I have no more to say, M. de Rohan.'
'I have much, sire, could I find the words,' stammered Jacques. 'Your Majesty cannot guess what this is to me—'
'I can very well,' replied Charles kindly. 'Be loyal, secret, and ambitious and I remain your friend.'
'Your Majesty's extraordinary favour—' began Jacques, feeling giddy with pleasure. The King raised his hand.
'Keep your gratitude, M. de Rohan,' he said, 'until you know what is required of you—until all is clear between us—we shall be better acquainted,' he finished, smiling curiously. He held out his hand and Jacques remembered enough of courtly manners to bend and kiss it; as his lips touched the long fingers he felt that Charles slightly shuddered.
The hand was quickly withdrawn.
'M. Hilton will tell you what you have to know now, said the King hastily and left the room.
Jacques sat down in the chair Charles had used; he felt suddenly rather faint; the relaxing of the tension left him quite weak; his head seemed to ache and his heart to throb unpleasantly; he remembered foolishly that it was a long time since he had had any food, and then, with a great start, that of course he must go and tell Eleanor of this extraordinary good fortune.
But still he did not move, lassitude overcame him; he sat where Charles had sat, the King's words beating in his brain to a throb of excitement.
All the gray of his life had suddenly flamed into colour; the King had noticed him, marked him out for favour, promised to stand his friend, and yet but that morning it had seemed utterly hopeless for him to try to see the King even in a public audience.
Then, as the first sense of overwhelming joy at his luck passed a little, he began to think how extraordinary it all was—first, the mystery, why had his uncle never told him how matters stood, never, until that day, even given him a hint?
And who was Mr Merrilees—and who were the other gentlemen who had been with the King, and who was this Mr Hilton, so entirely in the confidence of Charles, who yet kept an armour shop?
And, greatest wonder of all, how came it that any of these people, beginning with the King, took this trouble to see him in this manner, question him so minutely and secretly—if his father had rendered so conspicuous a service to the King that His Majesty felt really grateful, why had not he, Jacques, been summoned openly to Whitehall?—and why this delay of six months before the King had taken any notice of him?
These questions forced themselves on him one after another, until he suddenly rose, determined to return to the Black Bull, to find and question his uncle.
But Mr Hilton was in the shop and stopped him; it was His Majesty's particular wish, he said, that M. de Rohan should not go abroad yet, doubtless the pastor would come round that evening, meanwhile he could give all the information M. de Rohan was likely to want.
'But I want to know so much—' began Jacques.
Mr Hilton interrupted.
'First you will have some supper, sir. Let me show you your room.'
JACQUES, always sensitive to his surroundings, was pleased at once by the room into which Mr Hilton showed him.
Although it was simple it was very different from the bare inn room at the Black Bull which he had grown to so dislike.
The panelled walls were well polished, the bed and window were hung with pink, blue, and white stuff, the leather chairs, though worn, were easy, there was a cheerful fire, a shelf of calf-bound books, an oak table, a Persian carpet, and a big mirror framed in red tortoiseshell; the bulging low window looked out on to the bustling life of the street and was filled with the stout green leaves of geraniums growing in red pots.
A meal for two was laid, the table being drawn close to the fire.
Jacques saw at a glance that the appointments were extraordinarily rich, the cloth of fine lace, the knives and forks agate-handled, the candlesticks of heavy silver, the wine in a gilt and crystal flagon, while expensive delicacies were displayed, such as Chinese sweetmeats in a clear blue bowl and a salver of exotic fruits.
At sight of the food Jacques forgot everything but hunger; it was long past his supper hour.
Mr Hilton invited him to be seated near the fire.
'When we have eaten we can talk,' he said pleasantly; he no longer made any disguise of the fact that he was no common shopman; he had an air of great culture and ease, and his dark, smooth, suave face was clever and attractive.
Only his eyes were disquieting, too dark, too small, and too close together, they were full of a restless light and the fiery eagerness of the bigot, the fanatic, or the enthusiast.
He wore the common clothes and cropped hair of a citizen of the meaner sort, as he lapsed into his natural manners these showed as absurdly incongruous.
He sat down to table with Jacques, and an extremely quiet serving-man waited on them with trained perfection.
The little meal was the best Jacques had ever tasted; the meat, the pies and jellies, the creams and sauces, the wines, were all of a quality hitherto unknown to him; the exquisite food, so exquisitely served, gave him keen pleasure, the easy chair and the clear fire, the cheerful candlelight, the pleasant almost deferential manners of Mr Hilton combined to lull him into a mood of dull enjoyment; if this was a specimen of his new life he was going to like it well.
Mr Hilton said very little until the meal was cleared away, then he, quite abruptly, broke into the subject that was all the time uppermost in Jacques's mind.
'You are wondering what all this means, M. de Rohan?'
The food and wine had taken away Jacques's reserve; glorious visions of the future bewildered his fancy, all his doubts had vanished; he was keen for any adventure that might be offered; already it seemed impossible to him that he could ever return to the life in Jersey.
'I am in your hands, sir,' he answered.
The other looked at him keenly.
'You are in your own hands, M. de Rohan,' he said gently.
Jacques waited; every nerve in his body tingled with pleasurable anticipation.
'What may be before you is more splendid, more wonderful than you can possibly imagine,' said Mr Hilton quietly, then he broke off, and asked, 'What is life to you, M. de Rohan?'
Jacques, flushed with ease and wine and the flattering company of this subtle man, answered with a recklessness new to him.
'Until to-day—disappointment—dullness and disappointment.'
'Adventure,' said Jacques.
'Ah, you look upon it like that, so, I take it, you would be ready for anything?'
'Anything,' agreed the young man, with a readiness that caused the other to faintly smile.
'You mean that?' he asked.
'Mon Dieu!' cried Jacques, 'why should I not mean it? What do you think, sir, life has been for me? I was never happy in Jersey. I was kept in an extraordinary fashion—never allowed any chance, never taught any profession, without relations or friends, without money. I would not blame my uncle, but I think he treated me strangely. He has since told me that he was under orders to do so—it is all part of the mystery.'
'It is quite true,' said Mr Hilton quietly. 'M. de Rohan acted as he had sworn to act—he was under oath.'
'Well?' breathed Jacques.
Mr Hilton ignored the entreaty in his voice.
'Did he keep another part of his compact—did he ever interfere with your religious faith?'
Jacques was disappointed at this turn to the subject.
'I never gave much thought to that,' he said impatiently. 'My uncle is no fanatic—he makes no parade of what is more his livelihood than anything else.'
Mr Hilton interrupted quickly.
'Then you have an open mind on that matter—no convictions—no scruple—no conscience—you would, if need be, change this faith you have held so lightly?'
'I am a man,' said Jacques, 'not a priest.'
'You would serve the King—in whatever he asked of you?'
'Is not the King head of the Church?'
For the first time since the conversation began Mr Hilton appeared slightly at a loss; he looked into the fire, whose glow gave a false colour to his pale face.
Jacques rose; he felt somehow master of the situation, so potently did his own superabundant vitality surge in his veins, so magnificent did his own youth and courage appear to his recently aroused hopes.
Never again could life be what it had been; these last few hours had opened up possibilities that had changed everything for him, even his own temper and humour it seemed.
He now felt bold and self-confident; with a warm rush of love he thought of Eleanor and of the joy that would be his when he was able to tell her how the sun had suddenly shone into his life.
He was on the point of mentioning her to Mr Hilton, she was so tremendously important to him that he could hardly keep from naming her, but his natural shrewdness, of which he had plenty, bade him be silent; for he remembered how disconcerted both his uncle and Mr Merrilees had been when he had mentioned his love.
He looked keenly at Mr Hilton, who was sipping a glass of rossolis, that compound of Spanish wine and spices which was now so fashionable, and put his hand, almost unconsciously, on his plain rather cheap sword. 'Will you not tell me what His Majesty wants of me?' he said. 'I know not how I can serve him save as a soldier, and that, indeed, would be my choice.'
His highest ambition was now a pair of colours in the Guards, he wondered if the King's kindness would stretch as far.
'His Majesty wishes you to enter his secret service,' said Mr Hilton quietly. 'He will pay £500 a year and asks of you obedience only—complete obedience.'
The spirits of Jacques fell; the money meant to him a fortune, but the words 'secret service' did not appeal to him; he had always set his heart on soldiering, and police work seemed odious in comparison.
Also he was acute enough to see that in exacting obedience the King was exacting everything.
Yet it was not for him to choose; his quick mind saw that no man could be more completely in the hands of another than he was in the hands of the King.
'I must do as I am bid,' he said. 'His Majesty has but to command.'
'Naturally,' agreed Mr Hilton, then he added, as if he was carefully choosing his words:—
'But the King requires more than blind obedience, M. de Rohan. There are many men from whom he can exact that. From you he needs a complete loyalty.'
'Complete loyalty is a tradition in Jersey,' said Jacques simply. 'There is no one in the island who does not love His Majesty, and no one who has not suffered in his cause.'
He paused, his handsome brows gathered in a puzzled frown.
'What was the service my father rendered His Majesty,' he asked. 'And why have I never been told of it?'
'I cannot answer you,' replied Mr Hilton, 'until I have permission.'
Jacques had the unpleasant sensation of being a pawn or puppet and his spirit, always wilful, revolted.
'All this,' he said, 'leaves me without words or action.'
'Patience,' advised Mr Hilton.
Jacques was silent.
'And there is one other condition attached to His Majesty's service.'
'You are not to engage yourself to marry without the King's consent.'
'Perhaps,' added Mr Hilton, observing him closely, 'your affections are already pledged to some lady?'
'Yes,' said Jacques shortly.
'We parted. Only to-day. It was all so impossible—but now—'
'Now,' finished Mr Hilton quickly, 'it is even more impossible.'
He rose and came close to Jacques as if to give his words more weight.
'Forget her. The love of women is easily forgone. You will have so much else with which to fill your life.'
Jacques laughed shortly.
'You are the third person who has given me that advice to-day,' he said grimly. 'Can you believe that I should take it?'
'You had better do so,' replied Mr Hilton in a tone that was suddenly imperious. 'For on it depends all your prospects.'
'All my prospects,' said Jacques, 'are nothing to me if they exclude this hope.'
A fleeting anger, instantly controlled, passed over Mr Hilton's face.
'When you know a little more you will speak a little differently,' he said.
It seemed that he would have added something, but the quiet serving-man entered to say that the elder M. de Rohan was without.
'I will retire and leave you to speak with your uncle.'
With these words Mr Hilton left the room, rather casually saluting the Jersey pastor, who entered as he passed out. Jacques looked at his uncle with a curious hesitation.
A certain old affection stirred, yet he knew that he had never been very attached to this sole relative of his, and that he had rejoiced at the thought of being removed entirely from the influence and sphere of the old clergyman; he owed him, too, a certain grudge for having kept him in the dark about these mysteries of which he had lately heard.
Still there was the bond of use and familiarity, and because of this he was glad to see his uncle.
The elder M. de Rohan came straight to the hearth; he looked tired and agitated; his small, rather feeble features were pale and puckered.
'I never meant this,' he said hastily, 'I never meant this.'
'I cannot answer you, monsieur,' replied Jacques in French, 'because I am entirely bewildered by the turn of events.'
'What have they told you?'
'Nothing. The King—'
'You saw the King?'
'What did he say?'
'He spoke of a service my father had rendered him.'
The elder M. de Rohan hung his head.
'Why did you keep something so important back from me?' demanded Jacques.
The pastor counter-questioned.
'What has the King promised you?' he asked keenly.
'He wishes me to enter the secret service at five hundred a year.'
'My God!' exclaimed the elder M. de Rohan.
'Is it too much?' Jacques was startled by the passion of his uncle's exclamation.
'Too much?' the old man's face worked uncontrollably. 'If you knew how little it is!'
'I had hoped for a pair of colours,' admitted Jacques, 'but how can I refuse what His Majesty offers me? Will you not tell me,' he added earnestly, 'what you know of these mysteries?'
The other's agitation increased.
'I cannot. I am bound by an oath. Also perhaps by fear. I have been very uneasy since I have been in London. I believe that my life has been attempted.'
Jacques stared at him; it was difficult to believe that the old man's reason was not unsettled—yet he could not think that in face of his own experiences.
The pastor came closer to his nephew, took him by the arm, and said in a lowered voice:—
'I am where I am now through folly and weakness and mad loyalty—I have put myself and you in a miserable position. When you know you may curse me. Could I have foreseen this I—but it is no use for me to lament—I am bound hand and foot, helpless—'
He paused and sighed.
'You never loved me, Jacques,' he added. 'I always knew that. And I was afraid to love you. But we have been together for a lifetime and perhaps you have a little affection for me—'
'Monsieur, the greatest,' replied Jacques readily; he was moved by the old man's keen distress and confusion.
The pastor warmly pressed his hand.
'You will think I have betrayed you,' he said, in a quivering voice. 'And I can make no amends—only this.'
He looked keenly round the pleasant room as if he expected to see some one lurking in the shadows beyond the candlelight.
'Only this,' his grip became tighter on the young man's wrist—'this piece of advice—return to Jersey as quick as you can and stay there an obscure farmer, despite all bribes and temptations.'
Jacques laughed in his face.
'Refuse the King's service?' he cried.
'As you would that of the devil.'
'Perhaps I could sooner serve him than return to Jersey.'
'You do not know what you talk of,' said the pastor earnestly and sadly. 'No good is meant you by the King—or these others. You will be used as a pawn, a puppet, your heart broken, your life ruined—shame and tears and misery will be your lot—a fate such as I can hardly tell you—'
Again Jacques laughed, the clear, careless laugh of youth.
'And if I prefer to risk all this?'
'I implore you not to be so wilful—'
'Do you think that I am so cold-blooded and so simple as to refuse all these chances offered me?'
'No, I suppose you will not listen to me. You are wild and untaught—'
'Ay, untaught,' caught up the young man bitterly. 'Why was I left to grow up in careless idleness if there were these opportunities ahead of me? If I refuse the service of the King what is before me?'
'Peace, perhaps happiness.'
'Never that. For I should have to forgo Eleanor Coningsby.'
'Never will you have her,' said M. de Rohan. 'Do not dream of it—'
'I can have what I can take,' replied Jacques; his eyes flashed and he looked at the old man almost with enmity.
'Fond wretch!' cried the pastor. 'Will you then go headlong to your doom? Will you not listen to me? On my honour and on my soul, the one thing for you to do is to fly—fly for your life—'
'I neither can nor wish to,' replied Jacques obstinately, 'and nothing that you could say, monsieur, would shake my resolution.'
'Nothing that I could say—nothing?'
'Not this—Yes, these two things I can tell you without impinging on my oath.'
'I entreat you tell them to me,' asked Jacques eagerly.
'Very well,' the elder M. de Rohan moistened his lips. 'First—Mr Hilton is a Jesuit priest—second, he and all those men you saw to-day, including the King, are in a plot so deep and shameful that were it discovered it were death to all concerned—'
'Even to the King?'
'To the King it would mean dethronement.'
'And you are concerned in this?' asked Jacques breathlessly.
'God forbid! But I have learnt some of it perforce—does this deter you?'
'No—if others can risk it, why not I? And I have nothing to lose.'
The elder M. de Rohan gazed intently at the flushed, eager young face, ingenuous despite its dark masculinity.
'I will tell you something else,' he said in a moved voice, 'the name you bear is not your own. You are no relation of mine.'
AS soon as he had spoken he was frightened at what he had said, if he could have withdrawn the words he would have done so.
But the thing was done and for ever; those two sentences marked a big gulf in the life of both of them; never could anything be the same to either.
'Who am I, then?' asked Jacques after a bitter pause.
His look was hostile, it was as if he had put himself far away from the man who till now he had looked upon as his nearest relative.
'I can tell you no more,' said M. de Rohan; he was shivering and his look was piteous. 'I have said too much—God help me—'
Jacques snatched hold of his arm.
'Do you think that I shall leave it at this?'
'Have I not told you enough?' answered the old man. 'Cannot you guess for yourself the secret I have sworn not to reveal? Jacques, Jacques, I love you, and for your sake I have betrayed myself—'
'Betrayed yourself?' he was still utterly in the dark.
'I want to save you. They are lying to you, using you—fly from them all, you can be happy in Jersey.'
'You want me to return to Jersey,' cried Jacques, 'When I am not a de Rohan?'
Before the other could reply Mr Hilton entered the room.
Jacques, looking at this man, could only remember in a stupid way that he was a Jesuit.
The word had never meant anything to him before he had come to London, and now only was associated with something evil and furtive; the impression he had received from vulgar gossip always busy with rumours of Papist plots.
'You raise your voice too high, M. de Rohan,' said the Jesuit quietly. 'I heard you without.'
The pastor mastered himself to the appearance of calm, but it was plain that he was suffering from a severe nervous strain.
'The King offers you the living of St Brelades,' added the priest, 'and advises that you return there to take up your duties.'
Jacques looked from one man to another.
'You both bait and deceive me,' he said furiously. 'And I will be fooled by no man—not even by the King himself—my name is taken from me—'
The Jesuit interrupted.
'By an indiscretion on the part of M. de Rohan. But he only anticipated by a little the revelation I was ordered to make to you—if you have lost one name I can give you another.'
'Let me go,' cried the old pastor, turning towards the door. 'Let me go.'
'Sir,' said the Jesuit, opening the door, 'it is best that you should go.'
The bent, timid figure disappeared into the darkness of the stairs; Jacques, in the midst of his own excitement, felt a movement of pity.
'Why has he gone?'
'He is an old foolish man, returned the Jesuit smilingly. 'Very simple and ignorant, and by no means fitted for the secrets he has had to hear.'
Jacques looked at him curiously.
'And you are a Jesuit?'
'Of a necessity.'
Jacques put a hot hand to his hot forehead.
'I do not understand any of it—'
The other interrupted him with an accent that was quick and sharp as a sword stroke.
'I will enlighten you. Your name is James Stewart.'
The young man was dully silent; he found himself staring at his hands which rested before him on the mantelshelf; then there came strangely to his mind the memory of another pair of hands, lean and dark like his own and long fingered...
He looked quickly round at the insignificant figure of the man who was so intently watching him.
'I am the King's son,' he said, and to his own ears his voice sounded far away and feeble.
'Yes,' answered the Jesuit.
A thousand aspects of this incredible thing, like the thousand facets of a glittering jewel, dazzled before the mind of Jacques; one gleamed more insistently than the other—he was of royal blood—the King's son!
The Jesuit smiled, very faintly.
'You had never thought of it?'
The young man could not answer; his old world had fallen away from him and he stood in a chaos from which his new world was slowly shaping itself.
It seemed now absurd that he had never thought of it—absurd that he had ever believed the Jersey pastor to be his uncle, absurd that he had ever been content with the island; the whole thing, somehow, had a crazy sound; he was more bewildered than pleased.
The Jesuit, still in his shopman's garb, moved to the table and carefully snuffed the smoking candles; the young man turned to him with a passion of questions trembling on his lips, but the priest evaded this by ringing the little hand-bell.
Immediately the quiet serving-man appeared and proceeded to clear the table and make the room ready for the night.
Jacques went to the window and unlatched the casement.
The windy dark without was full of rain; the fresh sting of it was grateful on his face as he leant out.
He had always longed for adventures, and here was an incredible adventure beginning; yet his feeling was not one of exultation; he was base-born—and who was his mother?
These two thoughts were lashes at his pride. The freakishness in his disposition made him almost resent what he had been told; he had a wild desire to refuse everything this revelation meant to him—to fling back these late favours; there flashed into his mind how the Duke of Monmouth was being treated—and he was the elder son.
He turned back into the room in a dangerous humour.
An extraordinary bitterness held him by the throat; he felt the fury of a man who has been utterly fooled.
The serving-man had gone; by the mended fire stood the Jesuit; the candles, now placed on the mantelshelf, left his face in shadow; his attitude was thoughtful.
'What are you going to do with me?' asked Jacques.
His voice was almost threatening, and the priest looked up quickly.
'I am not going to play with you,' he answered in a steady, earnest voice. 'I understand what manner of man you are and I will tell you the whole truth.'
This was like a dash of cold water in the face to Jacques; it sobered him, yet made him shiver.
Somehow he believed what this man said, and that he would, in a way, deal honestly with him; he also felt that fury and passion would spend themselves in vain against the trained poise and judgment of the Romanist priest, so he made an effort to control himself; but it was a painful effort; that he was shaken, body and soul, was too pitifully obvious.
'This is a great test for you, my son,' said the Jesuit, in a soft and kind tone. 'You will find yourself in a labyrinth—involved in a coil of unknown forces—exposed to fierce temptations. Whether you are overwhelmed or whether you attain ambition's summit depends entirely on yourself.'
'I have been ill trained to meet such circumstances as these,' replied Jacques bitterly.
'My son,' said the priest, 'you have been greatly wronged.'
These words, spoken softly as a caress, comforted Jacques.
'You promised me the truth,' he said unsteadily, 'tell it me and let me judge if I am wronged or no.'
'As I have promised—I will tell you,' answered the other, 'but first, there is one thing I must impress upon you—one thing that you must understand and keep ever before you.'
He spoke with such force and solemnity that Jacques shuddered through his strong emotion; he began to fear his destiny.
'And this thing is,' continued the Jesuit, 'that you are utterly in the power of the King. What I am about to tell you is useless without the favour of the King. He can raise you to any height—or crush you—like this—'
And he set his heel delicately on a spark that had fallen from the crackling fire.
'Justly or unjustly,' added the priest, 'the King holds you utterly at his mercy—remember that through all I tell you.'
'Speak,' said Jacques hoarsely. 'Speak.'
'Remember what I have just told you,' replied the Jesuit in a tone of warning, 'and hold yourself in check.'
'You mean that I am a helpless fool?' cried Jacques passionately. 'I see that—by God, I see it!'
The Jesuit caught his wrist.
'Your mother was Mary Stewart of the Earls of Mar, a Lennox of royal blood—the King married her.'
For a full minute the young man did not realise the meaning of these words.
'The King married her?' he repeated foolishly.
'M. de Rohan married them in Jersey. Your mother remained behind when the King left the island. Six months later you were born and your mother died. By the King's orders M. de Rohan brought you up as his nephew. The tale was plausible, as he had a sister married in Sark who died about this date, having previously lost her husband at sea.'
'Who knows this?' demanded Jacques breathlessly.
The Jesuit smiled; he had expected that this would be the first question.
'There were two witnesses—there was the lady with whom your mother stayed—there is M. de Rohan. All are sworn to secrecy.'
'Their names?' cried Jacques.
'You will never know them.'
'M. de Rohan brought them to England and gave them to the King.'
The sound was like a long sigh; the young man was as pale as if he was about to faint.
'There is no shred of evidence beyond what the King holds?'
'And if I was to speak, make any claim, I should be laughed at for a madman and impostor?'
'My son,' said the Jesuit in a tone of admiration, 'your attitude shows considerable acumen—you have instantly understood what I feared it might take a long time for you to realise—that you are entirely at the King's mercy.'
'Why did you tell me this?' demanded Jacques fiercely.
'Did I not promise to tell you the whole truth?'
'And this is the truth?'
They looked at each other keenly—both alert and terribly in earnest.
'I can swear it,' returned the priest. 'I have seen the marriage certificate.'
'Who are you to be in this deadly secret?'
'Father Marchiafava of the Society of Jesus,' said the Jesuit. 'No more. I am the Pope's secret emissary to England.'
'And so close with her Protestant King?' exclaimed Jacques.
'His Majesty,' returned the Jesuit, 'is already of the true faith.'
'You trust me with a dangerous secret!' flashed the young man.
'Your very life depends on your loyalty,' said Father Marchiafava.
And the quiet words were distinctly a threat.
Jacques tried to moisten his lips—his throat and mouth were parched and burning as if he had swallowed something acid; his head was aching; the unusual quantity of wine he had drunk, though it enabled him to endure the shock of the priest's revelation, made him sick and giddy.
'I do not thank you for what you have told me,' he said grimly. 'I see myself a defrauded, disinherited, cheated fool—God!—what am I? The Prince of Wales?' he laughed dismally.
'By right you are the Prince of Wales,' said the Jesuit.
'And in reality? A poor, penniless adventurer, nameless—a mirth, a jest—no, I do not thank you for your tale!'
'The King will look after you.'
'Five hundred a year in his secret service!'
'The King may acknowledge you.'
'He would never dare—why should he?'
'The Queen is barren, the Duke hated. Serve the King and he will serve you.'
'What is this service the King wants from me?'
'Have I not said? Blind obedience. And his first command is that you do not seek to see or hold communication with M. de Rohan. He returns within the week to Jersey.'
'Poor wretch!' exclaimed Jacques bitterly. 'His mouth stopped with a bribe and his conscience salved by the thought of his loyalty.'
'He has served the King well.'
'And the Prince of Wales ill!'
The young man walked heavily to the bed, which stood in the shadows and sat down on the foot board, resting his head against the end of the pillow.
'Oh, my God, my God!' he cried.
The Jesuit looked anxiously at the crouching figure; he also was exhausted by this quick, fierce conversation; he felt like a man at the end of a grim fencing bout, tired, and with the echo of the clashing steel in his ears.
He knew that he had played a bold if not a dangerous game with this new pawn in the intricate play of European politics, and he had some qualms as to his success as he gazed at the distraught figure calling so fiercely on his God.
The Jesuit had often called on his God during his strange and arduous occupation, called with the passion and bitterness of the fanatic—the conviction and force of the bigot.
This young man with his fantastic history, his strange temperament, his cloudy future, was nothing to the priest but a possible implement in the gigantic work of regaining England for the Pope.
The tragedy, the irony, the possibilities in this story of a King's secret folly did not move the Jesuit.
He saw only one thing and saw that clearly—the use this unfortunate young man might be to the Roman cause, and those complicated policies in which France, England, and the Holy See were secretly involved. Without emotion he, Italian and Jesuit, gazed on the fierce and passionate young creature in his attitude of angry grief.
He felt he had said enough for the moment—too much, perhaps; it was just possible that this James Stewart would prove rebellious stuff to deal with.
But this did not greatly trouble the priest; there were many easy means of disposing of a foolish, obscure, difficult young man.
FOR days the young man who was no longer Jacques de Rohan, and who could not believe that he was James Stewart, lived enclosed in the house in St Martin's Lane, as far removed from the world as if some prison gates had closed on him.
Father Marchiafava told him that it was the King's wish he should remain thus quietly until he received further orders; he thought, afterwards, that this pause was given him in which to collect his thoughts and realise his extraordinary situation. He was allowed to write to M. de Rohan and to Eleanor Coningsby; to the pastor he referred to the marvellous knowledge that had been imparted to him by the Jesuit—to the girl he said nothing beyond a statement that such good fortune had now befallen him that their parting was no longer inevitable; both these letters the Jesuit undertook to have delivered for him by the discreet serving-man, who was also a novice in the Society of Jesus, his real name being Brother Hicks. These two kept the young man constant company and waited on his every want with unobtrusive care.
After dark they would accompany him in long walks through the city and out in the sweet smelling lanes by Highgate or Hampstead, or along the fields on Primrose Hill and by St Pancras Church.
Father Marchiafava, a man of wide education and deep experience, full of humour and quick intelligence, proved an absorbingly interesting companion to the youth who knew so little and who had seen and heard nothing beyond the forty miles of Jersey. He did not dwell much on the special problem of the young Stewart, but treated it more or less lightly, glossed it over, in fact, while he discoursed of other matters of the great world; even these he passed over with a certain indifference—for the point of his speech was always eternal salvation and the glories and splendours of the life to come. The young man's talk, vague and ill-informed, of the various churches—of the Protestant faith, caused the Jesuit to smile gently.
There was only one Church, he told Jacques, as there was only one faith—those who did not belong to her were heretics, it did not matter what they called themselves.
He enlightened Jacques as to the true character of the Jesuits, who were ignorantly regarded by the vulgar as a band of unscrupulous monsters, ready for any disreputable intrigue or dark crime in pursuance of their intricate aims.
It was astonishing, the Jesuit said, how even educated people held this view, and the scandalous lies and slanders that were spread concerning all Papists, and the Jesuits in particular.
He described, carefully and moderately, what the Society of Jesus really was; he told Jacques the story of Ignatius Loyola, the noble Spaniard, who had been converted from a sinful life during the long illness that had followed the wounds he had received in battle, and how he with a few companions had banded themselves together as Knights of Christ, with the intention of travelling to the Holy Land to convert the infidel.
Father Marchiafava told of the wanderings, suffering, and heroism of this little band, who had forsaken everything for Christ; he described how they were delayed in Venice through war, and while they waited there served in the hospitals, tending all the loathsome and infectious cases that others refused to touch; how, shocked and overwhelmed by the abominable outbreak of heresy in Europe, they abandoned the idea of their journey to the East, and went to Rome to offer the Pope their services in the fight against the heretics.
For a long while, said the Jesuit, they were discouraged and even suspected of being heretics themselves in disguise, but the noble enthusiasm of Loyola and his companions, among whom were such great and learned men as Xavier, Lejay, Le Fevre, and Laynez, triumphed, and, despite much opposition from the Cardinals, who believed there were too many Orders, the Society of Jesus was founded, their one great object being the service of the Pope and combating heresy.
Father Marchiafava described how the Order grew, and how Urban granted them privilege after privilege, until they were practically independent of the Papal chair and responsible only to their own Generals.
He described the constitution of the Order, the four vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and submission to the Pope exacted from these Knights of Faith, their schools and colleges, and their mission, so different from that of any of the other Orders who lived a life of contemplation, of living in the world and working actively for the Pope by converting the heathen and fighting the heretics and schismatics produced by the so-called Reformation.
There were no convents in the possession of the Order, only houses where the members might occasionally meet together, and the colleges, for the Jesuits must never live in idleness but scatter themselves all over the world labouring in the service of the Roman Church, especially by the spiritual education of the young and the conversion of adults.
Father Marchiafava related to Jacques many curious and romantic stories of the energy, devotion, and courage of the Jesuits in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and of the marvellous work that they had achieved since the Order was first founded, not much more than a hundred years ago.
He also spoke of the immense power of the Order, which was such as no similar institution had ever enjoyed before, and he related in some detail the Papal decree of 1545 which gave the Jesuits extraordinary powers, among which were—the right to teach and preach in any place, to found everywhere professor's chairs, to grant absolution for any sin, to exempt from all church penalties and curses, to dispense with vows and pilgrimages, and to administer the sacrament without the consent of the local priest or bishop; he descanted on the immense power thus placed in the hands of the Society of Jesus, and how this power had grown through the obedience, industry, and self-sacrifice of the members until it was more potent than any king, perhaps than the Pope himself.
He also gave Jacques a description of the organisation of the Order as it was decided by Loyola himself in 1546, viz.: the three classes of members, those who had taken on themselves the four vows, the pupils or novices, who were aspirants for membership, and the coadjutors, who were subdivided into secular and spiritual.
He described how the finest and most spirited youths were selected and brought to the domus probationis and watched by the Magister novitiorum for twenty days, after which, on being found suitable, they were promoted to be true novices and entered on a probation of two years, when this was completed the three vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity were administered to them and they were promoted to spiritual coadjutors, from which they were advanced to the various grades of professors, rectors, preachers, and confessors, being now termed coadjutores formati; there were also the coadjutores saeculares, or lay brethren, who were not priests and who performed menial duties; to this class belonged Brother Hicks.
There were also affiliates, brothers who remained in the world and from whom no special service was exacted; Father Marchiafava said that many crowned heads had belonged to this class of the Order.
Lastly, there were the professed members themselves, selected from the coadjutores and entrusted with the highest posts and most important offices; it was these who formed the general Chapters held at Rome, and it was from their number that the General was elected.
To this class belonged Father Marchiafava, and he told Jacques many enthralling tales of his various missions and the far distant parts of the globe he had visited; he had been rector of the college in Naples, his native town, when he had been sent to England on this secret mission, which was no less than the conversion of the King, but he seemed to regard it calmly and with no greater interest than he had displayed in any other work he had undertaken; he knew that he was in a position of great peril, despite the fact that the two queens and the Duke of York were Papists, so cordially were the priests hated, it being even believed that the late fire of London had been started by them, together with other legends, equally wild, yet firmly held by the English.
When Jacques asked if Father Marchiafava might hope for any preferment if he succeeded in his delicate task, the priest told him with a smile that the Jesuits, contrary to the custom of all the other Orders, never accepted any rewards or dignities, Loyola having made this law when King Ferdinand wished to confer the Bishopric of Trieste on Lejay, and having himself refused a Cardinalate.
Church preferment, he explained, was not compatible with their obedience to the Pope, which might require instant and secret service of them at a moment's notice.
Jacques, even though his absorption in his own overwhelming adventures, was interested in and soothed by the Jesuit's account of his Order; the conversation of this fervent and learned man opened up a new world to Jacques and gave him a sense of proportion with regard to his own affairs which somehow seemed small in the light of Father Marchiafava's discourse.
It was, the Jesuit admitted, a strange destiny for which he must prepare, and might be a very glorious one, but he warned the young man to expect long delays, much frustration of hopes, much turmoil of spirit, perhaps bitter disappointment as his final reward.
Everything depended on the King. If His Majesty failed to acknowledge him, any claim that he might make would be treated as so much craziness, and he could, and probably would, be clapped up to silence him.
On the other hand, if the King acknowledged him, he might gain a position like that now occupied by his younger brother, the Duke of Monmouth.
As to the marriage, the Jesuit thought it of little value; it could hardly be proved, and would always be disputed, and it was doubtful if it was legal—or at least, if the Parliament would admit it to be so—still, if the Queen had no children there was always a faint chance that Jacques might become at least a pretender to the throne.
But all this, the priest hastened to add, was but the wildest conjecture and referred to long distant years; England was at present in a curious state of ferment and no man could tell what might happen; for one thing the King might achieve what was nearest his heart—Toleration—and that, said the priest, would make a difference to a great many things.
He talked a good deal about politics, of which he seemed to have a most intimate knowledge, and left Jacques a little mazed and bewildered at such contradictions and complications in the affairs of men, but of the story of the marriage he would tell the young man little.
Perhaps, as he said, he really did not know very much.
Of his mother Jacques could learn nothing beyond that she was one of the Lennox Stewarts and very young; of where she lived, and how she had died he could learn nothing, nor could he discover if her marriage had been known to her own people, or if, in the fallen state of the royal cause, her short romance had been suffered to bloom and fade unnoticed; mystery and oblivion seemed to have closed over the whole episode.
The King must know, but the King had not spoken and might never speak.
The names of witnesses or of people who knew the secret, the Jesuit could not or would not disclose; there was only M. de Rohan, and with him the young man was forbidden to communicate.
Sometimes the whole thing seemed to him a fantasy invented for some political purpose, he was hardly himself convinced of the truth of the story.
But during the long days spent with the priest he regained his calm and poise, the first feeling of outraged despair passed away, he became interested in the chances and possibilities offered by his peculiar position.
He had no sensation of gratitude or loyalty. He felt bitter towards all of them and rebellious, but these emotions he concealed; he had no intention of being a pawn in any game of politics, and, though he could not in the least see what they intended to put him to, he was sure that it was for some such end that he had been drawn from his obscurity; indeed, the Jesuit was quite frank about it, but could not, as he said, go beyond his knowledge; he admitted that 'Mr Merrilees' was the Duke of Buckingham, that one of the gentlemen with the King was the Earl of Arlington, another member of the Cabal (as the Ministry was called), and that the third had been a French envoy sent privately to the King.
He also went so far as to say that the King contemplated leaving the Triple Alliance and making a secret treaty with France; Jacques had heard as much in town gossip and knew how the Cabal was suspected and hated because of the rumour of these designs, it being quite commonly feared that the King meant to destroy the States, change the religion of England, and take to himself more arbitary power than that which his father had lost his head for aiming at.
'What have I to do with these things?' asked Jacques. 'They do not even interest me.'
He found, on searching his own heart, that he was not ambitious—all he wanted was honourable independence and Eleanor Coningsby. A pair of colours still seemed to him more desirable than these fantastic pretensions in which he could hardly believe himself.
He was shrewd enough to see that the Jesuit either could not or would not tell him anything more, and he resolved in one of his freakish, lawless impulses to disobey all commands and to seek out M. de Rohan.
He remembered the agitation of the little pastor at their last interview, and believed that he would have little difficulty in obtaining, from the man he had so long thought his uncle, every detail of his own story.
Therefore he left the house one morning when both the Jesuits were engaged in the little armoury at the back of the shop and went straight to the Black Bull.
He was met by the news that M. de Rohan had left nearly a week ago—there was no address, no message.
Jacques stood stupidly leaning against the posts that divided the footway from the road and watching the busy passers-by; it was a wild day and the wind swept great eddies of dust and rubbish round in circles and tugged at the men's cloaks and the women's hoods.
Jacques felt curiously lonely; he had not thought that the old man would abandon him thus, without a word.
He would have liked to have followed to Jersey, but this wish brought him sharply to the fact that he was penniless—literally penniless.
All his money had been paid him by M. de Rohan—he had not even his clothes and his books; since he had been in St Martin's Lane the Jesuit had supplied him with everything.
He turned back to the inn to ask after his luggage, but was told that M. de Rohan had taken everything with him.
Aware that he was rousing the curiosity of the host, he turned away and walked aimlessly along the crowded streets.
He wondered if any one in the whole city was as lonely as himself; his sense of rebellion grew and mad projects formed in his mind, among them that of going to Whitehall and seeking out the King... a cool, audacious courage was one of his rather dangerous assets.
Then he decided that he would try to see Eleanor.
She had not answered his letter and he felt a great need of her; he would tell her everything—he was under no vow of secrecy.
Or perhaps he would not tell her everything, as she was a woman, but he would tell her enough to convince her that she must wait for him... perhaps only a little while. Why should not the King, in lieu of all claims, pay him that five hundred a year?
That would be enough for them—that and some honourable post that would satisfy Eleanor.
He quickly reached the house in Westminster, and, as he pulled the bell, quivered with the thought that she might be there herself and that he would soon see her face to face.
The serving-man, who knew him well, told him with sympathy that Mistress Coningsby had gone into the country, to Sir Miles's house in Kent, he thought, but was not sure.
Here again was no message.
Jacques turned away with a sensation of the bitterest disappointment—he felt not only cheated and forsaken but humiliated, for he had not the coach fare out of London in his pocket or any means of raising any sum whatever.
He returned to St Martin's Lane, where Father Marchiafava received him pleasantly with no comment on his absence.
But Jacques was not deceived.
'I recognise that I am in powerful hands, sir,' he said, with a sour smile, 'and that I am cut off from every one.'
'It is well,' answered the priest calmly. 'On expeditions such as to-day you waste your time.'
'What do you want of me?' asked Jacques.
'YOU think that I am utterly at your mercy,' said Jacques, 'but no man is ever utterly at another's mercy. I could always evade you.'
'You think so?' asked the Jesuit keenly.
'While death lurks in a handkerchief knot what cannot one evade?' smiled Jacques calmly.
'What do you mean?' asked Father Marchiafava.
'Only that it is useless for you to press me—I am of that temperament that I would rather leave the world than play some part in it that I dislike.'
'Why should you imagine that you will be asked to play some part that you dislike?'
'I see that you arrange me for a puppet in some tragedy or comedy. You have trapped me and confined me—and need me for some secret plans. And I am not minded to help you.'
'You are a very extraordinary young man,' said the Jesuit.
'Maybe. At least the tale you have told me does not move me. Dear Lord! It is a great bubble that you put into my hands—it is a wisp of smoke that you would have me chase!'
They stood facing each other in the little parlour behind the shop where Jacques had met the King, and the young man's dark, unusual personality seemed to dominate even the powerful priest.
'I will not serve you,' said Jacques still smiling. 'Neither your politics nor your religions interest me.'
'The King will be disappointed in you,' answered the priest sternly.
'Disappointed?' he cried harshly and passionately. 'I am what the King has made of me. It is too late to make a prince of me, father. I am what I was trained to be, a Jersey farmer.'
The Jesuit walked up and down the room; he had not been prepared to meet this attitude; the youth was more strange and difficult than there had been any reason to expect; his trained astuteness told him that frankness was the only way of dealing with this bitter, obstinate waywardness.
'What do you want?' he asked curtly.
'Will the King recognise me?' demanded Jacques in the same tone.
'Then I want nothing save Eleanor Coningsby. Give me the position, the money whereby I may wed her, and I will never make any claim.'
'You mean that.'
'I do,' flashed Jacques. 'I will be no pretender to these honours of which I have been cheated. Give me the five hundred a year and a pair of colours, and I will take any oath of eternal silence that you wish.'
'You are not ambitious,' replied the Jesuit, 'but you ask what you cannot have.'
'Because the King has other designs for you.'
'And if I care nothing for these designs of His Majesty?'
'There are great awards attached.'
'I have told you the only rewards I care about.'
'My son,' said the priest firmly and with infinite patience. 'You do not yet know yourself. You throw away, in a moment of hasty impulse, that the value of which you cannot dream. You do not know yourself—you are not aware of half the emotions of which you are capable. This Mistress Coningsby is merely a fancy of yours—she is not beautiful or strange, you do not know yet what a woman can be.'
'You do not move me,' smiled Jacques. 'I do not budge an inch from my terms—means to marry this lady or nothing.'
The Jesuit shrugged his shoulders.
'I did not think you a fool,' he remarked grimly.
'From your point of view I am a fool,' admitted Jacques. 'A very hopeless fool.'
He smiled again with that look of dare-devil obstinacy that the Jesuit found more disconcerting than he cared to admit, even to himself.
He had known from the first that his task would be difficult, not until now had he realised how difficult; for among all the obstacles he had thought to encounter in his task he had not reckoned the peculiar temperament of the young man with whom he had to deal; he knew that this was a flaw in his plan, and a lost point, and the knowledge of his own mistake spurred him into making every effort to retrieve it, his thin face set and his deep eyes shone as he paced to and fro, quickly resolving his plan of action.
Jacques, leaning against the wall, as he had leant when the King spoke to him, watched the priest with a certain air of sombre amusement; the fact that he cared nothing for anything the other could offer him made him master of the situation, in a way, and there was a certain cruelty in his proud indifference.
He had not always disliked Father Marchiafava; it was the disappearance of his two sole friends, Eleanor Coningsby and M. de Rohan, that had roused in him this attitude of bitter defiance; he was haughtily determined that nothing should make him forgo his own lady.
Indeed, in his present loneliness he longed for her fiercely; her love seemed the only good in the world, compared to which all these crazy sounding tales were as nothing.
'I do not know what you are thinking,' he said grimly. 'But I tell you that any scheme you may have to bribe or allure me is useless. You must know me fairly well—you guessed that I should disobey commands and go to seek out M. de Rohan and Mistress Coningsby, or you would never have troubled to get them out of the way.'
'I was mistaken,' interrupted the Jesuit quickly. 'You shall see both of them.'
The tension of the young man's attitude instantly relaxed.
The Jesuit, closely observing his opponent's sombre handsomeness, felt relieved—his frankness had disarmed the other.
'I can see Eleanor?' asked Jacques.
'And M. de Rohan?'
'Yes,' consented the priest, with the slightest hesitation that was hardly perceptible to Jacques in his excitement. 'But you will wish to see the lady first,' he added dryly.
'Yes,' said Jacques; he was silent a moment, revolving the situation in his mind, it was difficult for him to think clearly, so complicated and strange was his position.
'May I speak to her freely?' he asked at length.
'You have already shown,' replied the Jesuit, 'that you do not regard any commands, so what is the use of me telling you what I do or do not wish?'
'You leave me free,' said Jacques, 'because you think that even if I told her my story she would not believe me. Be assured I should never trust such a matter to a woman.'
'You have, then, so little faith in your divinity?'
'I have full faith,' flashed Jacques, 'but I should not wish to burden a delicate creature with what I find myself hard to bear.'
'You can tell her what you wish,' replied the Jesuit calmly. 'There will be no constraint on you whatever.'
'When can I see her?'
'When she returns to town. It cannot be for some days.'
'Meanwhile,' said the priest, 'perhaps you will listen to what His Majesty wishes for you?'
'I will listen,' replied Jacques, 'and if my marriage is forwarded I will accept any service that the King offers me.'
'Your marriage is incompatible with the service the King requires of you.'
Jacques flushed in anger.
'Then it is impossible—all is impossible!' he cried.
The priest paused in front of him and gave him a full look of searching scorn.
'As if any woman was worth what you throw away!'
Jacques lowered his eyes but his thick brows remained drawn in obstinate lines.
'What do I throw away?' he muttered.
'I have told you,' replied the young man violently, 'how I regard your wild schemes—how I value them!'
The priest turned away.
'Very well—you shall see this lady. And afterwards we will speak of this again.'
'Tell me now—and have done with it, what you require of me.'
'I am ready to do so. The King requires you to become a priest of the Roman Church.'
To Jacques the limit of fantasy seemed reached; he stared incredulous, then broke into an angry laugh.
The priest sternly checked him.
'Command yourself,' he said haughtily, 'or I shall indeed consider and treat you as a fool.'
Jacques stood silent.
'I promised to tell you the truth,' continued the Jesuit, 'and when I offer it to you you laugh in my face—will you hear it or no?'
'I will hear it,' said Jacques, with a certain weary contempt that augured ill for the priest's success.
But Father Marchiafava was not daunted; with clarity, energy, and a restrained passion that dignified his discourse, he put before the young man the King's secret policies. His Majesty, he said, had been of the Roman Church, even in the days of his exile, his link with Rome being his kinsman, Charles Lennox D'Aubigny, and a Roman Cardinal; when this priest died Charles had had no one with whom he could freely unbosom himself on the subject of his faith. It was too dangerous to confide in his brother, the two queens, or any of their retinue of priests, who were all marked people and spied upon in the most searching manner.
All priests who came and went did so at peril of their lives, added Father Marchiafava, the English toleration only extending to those few who were in attendance on the foreign mother and the foreign wife of the King.
Therefore the King had sought for some one who should be unsuspected, obscure, intelligent, and entirely bound to his interest; who, though a priest, might attend the court as a cavalier, confess and absolve the King secretly, and be his private emissary to and from Rome. He had been in correspondence with D'Oliva, General of the Jesuits, on this matter, and as it was the peculiar province of that order to convert heretics, he had thrown himself with zeal into the undertaking, and Father Marchiafava had at once been despatched to England.
In his very first interview with the King, Charles had told him of his marriage in Jersey and the existence of his son, and had confided to him this scheme of righting the wrong done to his eldest born (which had long been, he said, on his conscience) by revealing his identity to him and associating him with this vital matter.
It seemed, said the King, as if God had ordained that this early offence against his laws should be turned to this wonderful account, and that his soul should be saved through the means of the child that he had abandoned.
It was, perhaps, a scheme savouring of fantasy, but it was one on which the King had set his heart and he had entrusted Father Marchiafava to carry it out.
Briefly the whole affair mounted to this—Jacques was to become a priest and the King's secret confessor, he would thus be in as intimate relation with Charles as any man could be, the keeper of his conscience, the saviour of his soul.
If he pleased the King in this capacity he was to have his choice, either of remaining in the Church and obtaining a Cardinalate, or of returning to secular life and being acknowledged (when Toleration had been obtained) as the King's son, possibly as his heir.
All this had to Jacques a mad sound, but the Jesuit managed to convey to him that the proposition was genuine.
Even the details had been arranged.
Jacques was to go to the Jesuit college at St Omer and afterwards to Homburg, he was to have letters to Cristina of Sweden, who resided there, and who would make his period of study pleasant to him, he was to be hurried through his novitiate and to take Holy orders as soon as possible when he was to return at once to Whitehall.
Meanwhile he might stay in England till after the visit of the Duchess d'Orleans in May, be attached to the King or Queen's person, and learn something of the policy of the Court.
Jacques listened patiently if rather disdainfully. When it was his turn to speak he merely said:—
'I will undertake nothing that separates me from Eleanor Coningsby.'
To so much had the trained eloquence of the Jesuit amounted! But he had not relied entirely on his eloquence, his plans were ready and he easily assented to the hot demands of the young man.
'You shall go to see your mistress when you choose,' he said. 'I will give you a letter to her father which will make everything easy for you. There is only one condition,' he added quietly.
'Ah, yes—a condition?'
'That you return here in three days and report to me your decision.'
'Whether you will obey the King or follow the lady.'
'That decision is taken,' said Jacques impetuously.
The Jesuit held up his hand.
'Wait—you are to see this lady, speak with her, and return here to me.'
'Very well—it makes little difference.'
'And you are,' said Father Marchiafava, 'to take your oath not to reveal what you know about His Majesty and what you know about myself, or perhaps there is no need for an oath,' he added, with a little smile. 'You must know what an indiscretion would cost you.'
Jacques laughed in his face.
'Remember what I told you—you cannot bind a man who fears nothing. But you may trust me. I have no object in betraying you.'
That night Jacques wrote to M. de Rohan, addressing the letter to the old home in Jersey that he remembered with a curious sort of pang—as if he was a little homesick for the life that had been so distasteful and was so suddenly ended.
He wrote in affectionate terms and begged M. de Rohan to tell him the complete truth about his birth; at present, he said, he was in the dark about so many things and there was no one whom he could really trust, he demanded the reason of the pastor's sudden departure from London, and pleaded for frankness in everything.
While Jacques was composing this letter the Jesuit was sending a message to the King, written in a secret cipher, which read:—
'He will do nothing because of the girl, but I think this obstacle will be soon removed, as she is no beauty and has never had another lover. And then we shall have to our hand a very fit instrument for our purpose, for he is sincere, fanatical, fantastic, and fearless.'
The next day Jacques rode down to Kent with the letter for Sir Miles; the Jesuit made no mystery of this, for he showed it to Jacques before it was sealed.
It merely stated that Jacques had been selected for the King's service in the business Sir Miles would know of, and had come into the country to receive advice and instructions. This letter was signed by my Lord Arlington, and Jacques began to perceive that this plot was very widespread and involved many men.
He asked how much Sir Miles knew, and was told that he was concerned deeply enough to cause him to be very discreet.
Besides the letter, Father Marchiafava gave Jacques some money, with which he bought himself a slender equipment and hired a horse, together with a dark travelling cloak to go over his one gray suit.
The Jesuit also allowed him to arm himself from the weapons in the shop, and he selected a beautiful sword and a brace of pistols far too rich for his other appointments, which gave him extraordinary pleasure.
As he rode out of London, still in the early hours of the day, his heart was singularly light.
He felt as if he had triumphed over some difficult enemy; he was going to see Eleanor—he was going to wring from fortune enough of her favours to win Eleanor, it was impossible that they, when he stood firm against their temptations, should continue to refuse him the little he asked—a small pension, some honourable employment.
He wondered himself that no throb of ambition disturbed him and that he rather thrust away the full meaning of the secret knowledge of his position, as a thing more hateful than glorious, but it was so.
The spring was late that year, and as he came to the fields and orchards the trees were only bearing faint green leaves, and in the cottage gardens the clumps of primroses and daffodils were few and drooping in a keen wind from the east.
HE arrived at Coningsby Hall in the evening, but while it was light.
Cold gray clouds were closing over the west, and it was sharp enough for frost; in the dusk the trees looked bare as winter; but as Jacques entered the garden the perfume of wallflowers came richly on the still air.
His mood was curiously quiet, his heart was full of Eleanor and nothing but Eleanor; during his ride he had gone over, again and again, what he should say to her—they were to have three days together, in the spring, in the country.
In that thought all his fantastic fortunes were forgotten and a serene happiness filled his soul.
The groom who took his horse told him that Sir Miles was expecting him, and directed him to the terrace, where Jacques went without entering the house, which was more beautiful and splendid than any residence he had ever seen before, except Castle Elisabeth and Mont Orgueil in Jersey, for he knew nothing of England, beyond London, and these woods and lakes, lawns and gardens, this fine Tudor house and buildings, all of which he saw in glimpses as he passed to the terrace, seemed to him pleasant beyond words.
He understood now, a little bitterly, why Eleanor had refused to follow him to Jersey, and he wondered if the five hundred a year with which he was prepared to be content would be enough for his wife.
He gained the terrace by a few shallow steps, at the top of which were great vases filled with the wide pale leaves of still bloomless tulips.
A man came forward: Jacques saw that it was not Sir Miles, and stopped.
As he recognised the other his spirits suddenly clouded.
It was the gentleman who had called himself Mr Merrilees, and who Jacques knew now to be the Duke of Buckingham.
'Sir Miles is not here?' asked Jacques.
'He and Mistress Eleanor are in the house,' replied the Duke.
The two men were now face to face, and looked at each other in a strained fashion.
'I did not think to see you here,' said Jacques heavily. 'Has your grace come on my business?'
'On the King's business,' replied Buckingham in a low voice, 'and to see the woman for whose sake your Highness throws yourself away.'
Jacques flushed angrily.
'You shall not mock me,' he retorted haughtily. 'I am no prince... and no pawn... I make my own game.'
'The odds are against you,' replied the Duke, still in a tone of respect, 'but you have great stakes to play—why should you, sir, cast them aside?'
'We are never likely to understand each other,' said Jacques. 'I wonder why you are here?'
'Come in the house,' returned Buckingham, 'it is cold.'
Jacques followed him through an open window into a large room in which the candles had just been lit.
It was a pleasant apartment, hung with stamped leather and fresh logs burnt between the gleaming iron dogs.
In this light Jacques turned to face his companion; he was angrily astonished to find this man, whose reputation he knew by vulgar report, in the home of Eleanor Coningsby.
The Duke wore black velvet and rose-coloured brocade and a large fair peruke, and carried himself very quietly; there was nothing about him of the shallow fribble, the coarse profligate that by repute he was supposed to be, and Jacques acknowledged that the powerful minister and magnificent courtier was a man of no common attraction of person and manner.
And his heart throbbed to the echo of the Duke's 'your highness' as it had never throbbed to the most flattering insinuation of the Jesuit.
But he sternly subdued these sensations, and with a certain disdain of himself looked full into the Duke's florid, charming face.
'You were sent to meet me here,' he said.
'It is not so,' he replied. 'We meet by chance. I have business with Sir Miles. And I enjoy the company of Mistress Eleanor.'
'You mean to be insolent,' said Jacques, 'but I am too weary to take notice of you, my lord.'
Buckingham was unperturbed.
'Do you really suppose that I am here because of Mistress Coningsby?' he said in a low voice, and his tone was worse to Jacques than if he had declared himself a rival, so distinctly if delicately did he convey a slighting opinion of the lady.
Jacques controlled a rising anger.
'However you chose to put it, I think that you have come here to vex me,' he said.
He turned, as he spoke, to the open window through which all the sweets of the garden were sending their perfume on the cold air; the white moon looked through trees that seemed winter trees and the purple of the sky was obscured by wreaths of black clouds.
He was curiously disconcerted by the presence of the Duke of Buckingham, for he had never heard that the great minister was any friend of Sir Miles, whose position at court had never been, as far as Jacques knew, of much importance.
And the Duke, whose name was a byword, was a strange guest for a man to entertain in his home where his young daughter was hostess.
'Are there other guests?' asked Jacques.
'In the house, no. But at the inn is a lady with whom I wish to make you acquainted, sir.'
'But I came down here for one purpose only—to see Mistress Eleanor Coningsby.'
'You shall see her—and at once.'
With this the Duke left the room.
'There is some trick or play here,' thought Jacques uneasily, 'but I shall soon see her and then nothing will matter.'
Yet he was conscious of a gloom and agitation not appropriate to the moment, and when he heard the door open, he turned, expecting again to be cheated of the coming of his love.
But it was she.
She came forward slowly, and, as his watchful fancy thought, with a certain reluctance, and stood at last by the fire.
She was silent, and disappointment chilled him so that he did not move to greet her.
'Dear,' he said, 'are you sad at seeing me?'
She looked at him sharply; even the firelight could not disguise that her face was pale and strained; she was dressed with more magnificence than he had yet seen her, in a wine-coloured silk and thick lace, too old for her years. She answered him, and her words were worse than her silence.
'Why have you come?'
'Do you need ask?' he cried.
It was so different to the meeting he had dreamt of; it seemed now as if it was a very long time since he had met her and that she had changed in the interval. On her side, the girl was plainly discomposed and seemed in the same resentful mood as she had been when he last saw her.
'I have taken you by surprise,' he said tenderly. 'You did not know that I was coming.'
'Yes, my father told me that you were being sent here.'
'Why, then, do you give me this scant welcome?' asked Jacques.
She looked at him almost impatiently.
'We parted, did we not? We said good-bye—I wept for you—I endured all the pangs of that farewell—so what is the use of this?'
'Did you get my letter?'
'Then some one has played me false!'
'It does not matter,' said Eleanor hastily, 'it is all over. We went over it all so often, everything was explained and discussed—and—then we parted. I—I haven't the strength to go over it again.'
'But everything is different with me—I am likely to obtain favour with the King.'
'I know. It was my father who gained you this favour. He guessed at our attachment, and when he saw we had parted he resolved to reward our obedience and good sense, and obtained, through Lord Arlington, a post for you in the secret service. I think it is to be worth five hundred a year, but of course it is conditional on our parting. So you see it is useless for us to discuss—anything.'
Jacques was dumb; so this was what they had told her—and Sir Miles was in the plot then, too.
He beheld himself so bound and involved that he could see no way of escape—even if he told her the truth (which he had so haughtily promised not to reveal) it was not likely that she would credit what he could hardly believe himself.
'These are not the words of love,' he said desperately.
'When you left me,' cried Eleanor, 'did you expect me still to love you?'
In this proud question she showed the root of her attitude; he had left her, he had not wooed her as she had wanted to be wooed—and now he came back offering her the favour her father had flung him; did he think that such a post as this qualified him to be her husband?
So it seemed to the girl in her young pride and her young cruelty, and the intoxication of a new emotion that pervaded her entire being.
'It is a weakness in you to return to me,' she said. 'And a folly. You gave me up—'
'By God, I never did—'
'You said good-bye, you left me—I thought it was over—and since then things have changed for me,' she added, with a great flush.
Jacques came close to her; to his tenacious affection she looked very beautiful in her defiant agitation.
'What do you mean?' he asked quietly.
'I mean that I want you to leave me—Jacques, Jacques, it is over, indeed it is.'
She bit her lip with vexation at what seemed to her his stupid obstinacy.
'I have not the strength for this,' she repeated.
This irritated Jacques more than he had believed anything said by Eleanor could irritate him.
'Strength for what?' he demanded.
'Love has strength for anything.'
'But we no longer talk the language of love.'
'You are strong enough, Nell,' he said angrily. 'You have borne well our last interview—it is not so long ago.'
'It is over,' she insisted desperately. 'You gave me up.'
'You know that is not true.'
They faced each other in a cold passion, both misunderstanding the other, both wilful and proud and ajar with circumstance; he was in no mood to conciliate or implore, and her one desire was to be rid of him; she felt now that she had never really been in love with him, only with love, and since that moment of anguish when she had parted from him love had come to her feet in a far more entrancing guise than any Jacques had been able to give his affection. Her lover looked at her as she stood in her obstinate defiance, in her rejection of his claims, and he recalled all that had been lately said to him about the folly of his fidelity to this woman and how he had, without a reflection, given up everything for her sake.
'Nell,' he said gravely. 'I must tell you something, of the truth—which is not what your father told you. Since I saw you I have learnt something that alters the whole of life for me—that, at the very least, assures me wealth—prosperity.'
'May I know this secret?' she interrupted; she stood looking at him, her head a little lifted and her face pallid in between the heavy curls, that looked, in the warm shade, the same colour as her dark-red gown.
Jacques smiled sadly; even if at one time he had been tempted to divulge all to her, she had now given him such a proof of feminine weakness and unstability that he could trust her with nothing.
'I may not speak,' he answered, 'but if you love me—if you ever loved me, you will believe me. It is not true that your father found me a post—and the desire to separate us is not because of the meanness of the match for you—but because the service required of me does not permit of my marriage.'
At this statement, so little flattering to her vanity, the girl was further estranged.
'I must believe my father,' she said.
He felt that he was losing her, and a terrible sense of desolation depressed his spirits.
'Why do you think my Lord Buckingham is here?' he asked desperately, 'to watch me, Nell, and divide us.'
She flushed and sparkled into an excited laugh; a defiant triumph lit her eyes; Jacques read her meaning as clearly as if she had spoken.
'It is by flattering you that he seeks to divide us!'
Eleanor hardened and turned abruptly away.
Jacques in his outraged affection and wounded pride, his fury at the use to which Eleanor was being put in this cursed scheme, made his mistake worse, nay, unforgivable.
'Do you think,' he asked, 'that such a man as Buckingham is infatuated with you, Nell? Do you think he would take any trouble over any pretty face—my God, that you should let yourself be fooled.'
The girl was deeply angry now, wounded beyond cure; she could not disguise her hurt, and the tears gleamed in her eyes as she made her furious reply.
'You have come here to insult me—to lie to me, you are what my father always called you, an adventurer—I will not endure your presence in this house—My lord will turn you out.'
He saw now something of what he had done and tried to make clumsy amends.
'Nell, Nell, has it come to this? Why, child, you do not understand.'
She stamped her foot.
'Good-bye, good-bye,' she cried, 'do you understand that?'
And she ran out of the room.
Jacques stood looking down at the fire.
'Poor child!' he murmured; his anger was over, he saw how clumsy he had been with her; of course, a man like Buckingham could make a girl lose her head and forget a plain fellow like himself; it was all part of the plot, he saw that clearly; when the Jesuit had consented to his seeing Eleanor he knew that the girl had been practised on to be faithless; they knew something of human nature these priests.
And now, what was he to do? how to win her—how to convince her?—how to defeat my lord.
He felt very lonely and tired; nothing seemed much worth while; the net that was closing round him he had hardly the desire to break; as they all said—was she worth it?
He had been obstinate in his loyalty to his love, but what was his love?
Hardly this poor weak child, as she had now revealed herself.
He did not move when Sir Miles entered.
'I came not before,' said that gentleman, 'because I promised my daughter to let her speak with you alone.'
'Ah, yes,' answered Jacques. 'Father Marchiafava would tell you that—to leave us alone that we might destroy our love, tear it to pieces between us.'
Sir Miles did not reply.
'How much do you know?' demanded Jacques harshly.
'More than I wish to,' said the courtier, with a shudder of vexation and distaste.
'How long has the Duke of Buckingham been here?'
'Three days the cavaliere servante of your daughter?'
Again the courtier had no answer.
'Ah, what are we all,' said Jacques drearily. 'And for what do we strive with all our tricks and subterfuges?'
He took the Jesuit's letter from his pocket and gave it to Sir Miles.
'And now my errand is done and I take my departure with the dawn.'
Sir Miles was deeply agitated, his weak face, which had a certain grotesque likeness to the delicate features of his daughter, was flushed and quivering.
'I am entirely in the hands of others,' he began. 'My life is neither happy nor safe. I have to submit to expedients that are not to my taste, God knows. For her sake and yours, my daughter's attachment to you must be thwarted.'
'You know who I am?'
'I would to God, sir,' said Sir Miles with sincerity, 'that I did not.'
'There are many entrusted with this secret,' remarked Jacques dryly.
'I was involved against my will; I have known for years,' returned the courtier.
Jacques at once suspected that he had been one of the witnesses to the Jersey marriage, and told him so.
'Sir,' said Sir Miles. 'There was no marriage. If you have been told that tale it is but an invention of the Jesuits.'
This did not shock or even greatly surprise Jacques; it was his own opinion.
'I shall soon know the truth,' he said. 'I have written to M. de Rohan and he would not deceive me.'
Sir Miles appeared relieved at the general quiet of his visitor's behaviour.
'You take it well,' he said. 'Heaven guide us all safely out of the whole confusion.'
'You seem to be in this against your will, Sir Miles.'
'I am,' replied the courtier hastily. 'Like many another I have meddled with the Papists and am now in their power. More I dare not tell you. It is hardly likely that we shall see much of each other—I trust to you to leave my daughter!'
'Sir,' said Jacques grimly, 'she has left me.'
JACQUES would have liked to return at once to London, but it was easier to stay the night, and he was in the mood to choose the easy way.
He went early to his chamber, avoiding a second meeting with either Eleanor or the Duke.
Indeed, neither seemed to wish to seek him; the old house was very still.
Jacques wondered if these two were together, and the thought caused him no pang of jealousy.
He lay awake, fully dressed, all night, on the great unfamiliar bed, staring across the dark room at the pale patch of the window and endeavouring to bring order into the confusion of his thoughts and emotions. He was astonished at his feeling towards Eleanor—when she left him she seemed to have taken his love for her with her; he regarded her now quite coldly, with a faint compassion. This vexed him, for he had been very proud of his deep and constant love and of the sacrifices he had so magnificently made for this girl.
And now it was all over, and he perceived that he had never been in love, at least with Eleanor Coningsby.
Perhaps with some creature of his own creating... perhaps only with himself.
He smiled into the dark, remembering the words of the Jesuit—'women are so easily forgone'—it seemed as if this was true, and Jacques wondered where the fault lay; was she of so light a quality that she could not hold, was his affection too delicate to endure the least strain, or was her character too shallow and his too fastidious to make love possible between them?
At least it was over, and he had no wish to revive it—absolutely no wish.
His own inconstancy hurt him and made him acquit Eleanor of all fault.
He saw clearly now the flaw of weakness in his passion that had lost her—she had hesitated, then gone, because he had never had that swift strength of feeling that would have swept them both over all difficulties...
Well, she was gone... and there remained his life, foolishly on his hands.
In the chaos of his destiny there was only one fact to which he could hold—he was the King's son.
Of that he was convinced without proof; for the rest he was in utter confusion.
In the marriage he had hardly believed; he had from the first considered either that the Jesuit was himself deceived or that he had thrown out this tempting bait to whet his victim's ambitious appetite.
The whole tale had always had a fantastic, crazy sound, and was so unsupported by any evidence; and even if it was true, it had, as the Jesuit had been so careful to point out, no value whatever beyond what the King chose to give it; everything rested with the favour of Charles.
And before the King's favour could be hoped for there was this extraordinary service to be performed.
The cynical, whimsical humour that was so strong in Jacques caught at the adventure the Jesuit had suggested, especially now this fancied love affair was over; if he must be thwarted in his plain honest wishes for a pair of colours and a wife, he was ready for any strange venture or fantastic enterprise—for the sake of fantasy and strangeness, not because he had the least interest in intrigue or politics.
Indeed, he had hardly troubled to remember what the Jesuit had so carefully explained to him about the concealed religion of the King and the contemplated secret alliance with France.
All forms of faith were one to Jacques, he had not yet paused to think whether he believed or no.
His thoughts went to M. de Rohan; there was the one person he could trust, the one person who knew the truth and who would surely tell it to him; he resolved to do nothing till he had an answer from the letter he had sent to Jersey.
On the reply of M. de Rohan would depend his acceptance or refusal of the offer the King had made through Father Marchiafava; Jacques knew well enough that the consequences of a refusal might be perilous for himself, but he was prepared to risk that; if he decided to take the pastor's advice and retire to the obscurity of Jersey he would be able to scorn the anger of the King and the Jesuits. Near the dawn he fell into an uneasy sleep from which he was awakened by a great song from the birds in the garden to find the sunlight streaming between the curtains.
He rose, feeling light-headed and strange, and opened the casement to let in the fresh air of the early morning.
The garden lay cool and fragrant under a cloudless sky; many flowers seemed to have come to bloom in the night, so packed with sweetness were the beds that had seemed so barren in the twilight.
Wallflowers, primroses, violets, and daffodils bordered the walks and pressed round the beds where the rose trees showed their first green.
Beyond the garden was a low fruit wall and orchard, and beyond again the rolling fields still bare and groves of trees faintly tinted with the hues of spring. As Jacques leant from the window, grateful for the exquisite air that played on his weary face, he saw two figures coming down the centre of the garden paths, Eleanor, in white with a long osier basket on her arm, and the Duke of Buckingham.
Jacques leaned his sick head against the millions and watched.
The girl looked fresh and happy, her figure had the graceful lines of buoyant youth, the sun gleamed on her rich uncovered hair. Her companion was cutting long stemmed flowers with his jack-knife, and as he laid them in the basket for her their fingers lingered together.
Jacques could see how it had been done—how easily it had been done.
The Duke had not even made love to her—he had only conveyed to her what his wooing could be; he had insinuated, suggested an ideal of a lover that had completely dazzled Eleanor.
He was not young and he had lost his always coarse good looks, his reputation was that of a rascal—yet he had been able to lead this girl's fancy exactly where he wished; Jacques marvelled at the power of the profligate courtier.
Did his attraction lie in his dukedom, his power, his easy manners, his ready tongue?—Jacques could discern no other qualities in him besides these.
Well, it did not matter; the priest had sent the rake to estrange the girl from the lover and the trick had succeeded... so pitifully well.
They were parted now, and Buckingham would ride away to-day—and Eleanor? Had she a heart to break or only vanity to smart?
In either case he was sorry.
As he watched her he tried to persuade himself that he was still in love with her; surely the ache of regret would have been better than this indifference. But her fair young figure meant nothing more to him than the flowers or the rose bushes; she had lost for ever all magic and all charm.
Not that he despised her; rather he despised himself for so quickly changing.
He was sick of all of it, tired and disgusted on this perfect day of early spring.
The two came nearer, and he heard the man's laughter, false, worldly, and saw the girl flush and sparkle to it and look at him with her silly soul in her eyes.
Jacques dropped the curtain.
Within half an hour he had left the house; to stay any longer would be a mockery, to take leave of any one would be a farce; he went round to the stables himself, paid the groom with some of the Jesuit's money, and rode away.
But he had not got far beyond the park gates before another horseman overtook him.
'Sir, is not this early riding something discourteous?'
Jacques looked round to see the Duke of Buckingham.
'You have been swift, my lord.'
He spoke sternly and his heart contracted with a sudden pang for Eleanor.
The Duke set his horse at the same pace, so that he was beside Jacques.
'Have you forgotten that I wished you to meet a lady at the inn here?'
'No. But I do not wish to meet any lady of your acquaintance, sir.'
And Jacques smiled in a way that robbed the words of their commonplace stiffness.
'Well, another time, then,' returned Buckingham. 'You will meet her some day.'
'Is she,' asked Jacques, 'one of your spies, my lord?'
'She is one of the King's agents,' said the Duke.
Jacques stroked the gleaming neck of his horse, that glistened in the sun.
'Sir,' he said, 'you are all slow to learn that your intrigues have no interest for me—they seem stale and foolish.'
'Why, so they do to me,' replied the Duke, 'but they did not when I was your age.'
He reined up his horse.
'I think you went supperless to bed and have not breakfasted,' he added; 'will you not eat with me? A mile farther there is an inn and post house.'
'I thank you, sir,' said Jacques simply.
The truth was, that he, in consequence, perhaps, of this fasting on which the Duke had remarked, had a most pleasant lightness and drowsiness in his mind, and seemed to be moving more in some fairy tale than in the real moment; the exquisite beauty of the parkland through which they rode, the vistas of blue distance seen between avenues of budding trees, the space solemnity and peace of the landscape in these early hours, the roots of primroses and violets by the wayside, the road itself that twisted away into the enchantment of the distance, affected him like a spell; this was the first time he had seen the English country in its bloom.
'And all this magic road leads to—the town,' he said abruptly.
Buckingham looked at him curiously.
'Had I been the Jesuits,' he remarked, 'I had left you in your obscurity.'
'You understand, then, that I shall be of no use?' asked Jacques.
'Sir, I do not think that you will be.'
'You are right.'
'What, then, do you intend to do? I cannot think that you will return to Jersey.'
'I wait for M. de Rohan's reply to a letter of mine.'
'You think he will tell you all that he knows.'
'He would not dare. He was sent back to Jersey to keep him quiet.'
Jacques half turned in his saddle.
'Sir,' he asked earnestly, 'what do you know of me?'
The Duke took off his hat, he wore a short, fair hunting wig and his face looked blotched and heavily wrinkled in the fresh morning light.
'I know that you are the King's son,' he said slowly.
'And—the marriage? The Jesuit told me that there was a marriage. Sir Miles said there was none.'
'Sir,' replied Buckingham, 'the King has never told me the truth. I think that it is a matter on which he will unbosom himself to no one!'
Jacques smiled bitterly.
'Why this special mystery about me? The Duke of Monmouth flaunts openly enough.'
'Sir,' replied the Duke, lowering his voice, as if afraid of being heard, even here, on this lonely road. 'It was the lady's rank, she being a relation of the King; and then the great youth of His Majesty and the immense pains taken to hush the matter up. I believe that there was a marriage and most mighty pains taken to conceal it, for fear of complications in the event of His Majesty regaining the throne.'
'Then why should it be all raked up now?' demanded Jacques.
'Because the King has fallen very much under the influence of the Queen Mother and the Duke of York, and has been greatly prevailed on by the Jesuits, and has taken much to heart this scheme of your entry into the priesthood, so that you might be his secret confessor.'
'An expiation and a convenience,' smiled Jacques.
'Sir, you might make your profit out of it. I think that the King would be liberal in his rewards.'
'And you,' said Jacques, still smiling, 'have robbed me of the one reward I cared to claim.'
The Duke lifted his shoulders.
'I have cured you of an infatuation for a silly girl.'
'I do not thank you. She was much to me, that silly girl.'
'I did not do it for your thanks,' replied the Duke.
'The King sent you?'
'I shall not forget,' said Jacques quietly.
They were now in sight of the inn, that stood back a little from the road, with a huge chestnut-tree in front covered with pale green leaves bursting from the varnished sheaths.
'Women are so numerous and so cheap,' said the Duke, 'you will find them where you go, and if you will you may win them, and though you may find several of excellent beauty, witty, fine, and pleasant company, you will never find one you cannot easily replace. Since you need neither money nor an heir you do not require marriage yet—rather keep yourself free and discover what life can be to one who is—young.'
Greatly as he was prejudiced against the Duke, this speech made a certain impression on Jacques; he felt that his insistence on his affection for Eleanor had been disproportionate to her real value or importance in his life, and he was sure now that he never would have been so absorbed in the girl had not his days been so barren.
They dismounted in the inn courtyard and passed into the cool golden dark of the oak parlour.
The casement was open on to a garden, where stocks grew beneath a cherry tree just white with blossom.
After the manner of English weather, the late arid spring had suddenly flushed into early summer; the sun was quite warm and the light of it full and golden.
They breakfasted well off meat and ale and cold pies, and by the time the meal was finished Jacques no longer disliked the Duke at all.
He was certainly an excellent company, and there was something about his careless philosophy, his easy advice, his amused interest in all things, and yet his composed indifference to everything, that appealed to the dreamy, lazy, whimsical temperament of Jacques.
'Why not do what they want of you?' suggested the Duke. 'There is no need to remain a Jesuit, and what was your life before? You are not asked to give up everything.'
'That is quite true.'
Jacques thought of Jersey with a slight shudder; every hour now it was becoming more impossible for him to return.
'There are chances,' continued the Duke. 'The King would be very much in the hands of his confessor—who was also his eldest son.'
Jacques stared out of the window at the cherry-tree, the stocks, and the row of beehives.
Buckingham's pleasant, cajoling voice went on.
'Surely what is offered you is better than what is taken from you. If you are a man of a discerning humour, as I take you to be, you will find much of interest in this new life.'
Jacques turned sharply.
'Why are you, sir, so interested in persuading me?'
The Duke returned his scrutiny with an unabashed smile.
'I strive to succeed in whatever I undertake, whether it be a chemistry experiment or a political coup,' he replied. 'Success is the greatest pleasure in life, sir. The King set his heart upon your acceptance of his offer and I have done what I can to help him.'
Jacques argued no more; the Duke's practised astuteness and calculated frankness made him an opponent not to be lightly grappled with; Jacques was sure he was engaged in work as ugly as vulgar rumour credited him with, and that he was, in common with the other ministers of the Cabal, betraying England and her ally, the United Provinces, to France.
But Jacques had always considered himself as French and no outraged patriotism stirred within him, only a faint, sick disgust.
By the evening they had reached London, taking separate roads long before they came in sight of the river.
Jacques went straight to the armourer's shop in St Martin's Lane.
A letter from Jersey awaited him; it was addressed in a strange hand and as he tore it open his own letter to M. de Rohan, with the seal unbroken, fell out.
The brief communication was from a friend, the news abruptly given—M. de Rohan was dead. In a few hours from his arrival at St Brelades he had died of a stroke.
IT was a long while before Jacques really understood what this news meant to him.
Not only was it a complete severance from the old life, it was the last chance of finding anything of his secret gone.
There was no one now who could or would tell him anything of this mystery which seemed to be closing round him more and more.
Everywhere he turned he was baffled.
And it was so strange, almost incredibly strange, that M. de Rohan, so healthy and robust, should have died in this sudden manner.
And left no message.
Jacques sat down at once and wrote to this Mr Domville who had sent him the news, begging for full particulars and details of the will, also announcing his intention of coming at once to Jersey.
He was leaving the house with this letter when he met Father Marchiafava in the shop.
The Jesuit was pleasant in his greeting.
'You saw Mistress Coningsby? You have not stayed your full three days.'
Jacques turned and leant against the counter.
'You knew I should not stay long. You know what this girl was going to say to me. She had been lied to about my appointment, told it was her father's work. And the Duke of Buckingham had been sent there to make her forget me.'
The Jesuit looked at him steadily.
'I know nothing of all this.'
'And M. de Rohan is dead,' said Jacques suddenly.
'That is a shock for you,' said the priest, 'but it is of no great matter. He had passed out of your life.'
'He knew what I wanted, above all things, to know,' replied Jacques.
'Do you think it was of slight importance to me?'
'Well,' smiled the Jesuit, 'it would not really have made any difference to you whatever this old man had said.'
'I told you that he had surrendered everything, even the page out of the registry, to the King.'
'But he could have told me what happened.'
'You already know.'
'I know nothing! Sir Miles told me there was no marriage.'
The Jesuit shrugged his shoulders.
'I was told there was. But it is not of much importance. I have tried to impress on you that you are entirely in the King's hands. That is all that matters to you, the King's favour. You will never find out anything save through the King.'
'I'll try,' said Jacques.
The Jesuit looked at him steadily.
'I thought that you were a man of some philosophy—why, then, do you chafe and fret against bars you will never break?'
'I will go to Jersey and look into my uncle—M. de Rohan's—affairs.'
'Have you any means for your journey?'
Jacques stared; again he was brought sharply up against the fact that he was penniless, and therefore helpless.
'The King will advance no money for such purposes,' added the Jesuit.
'But you promised me that I should see M. de Rohan?'
'M. de Rohan is dead.'
Jacques was silent.
'You see,' said the Jesuit patiently, 'how much time you waste.'
Jacques answered stubbornly.
'I may send this letter—to my friend in Jersey, M. Domville?'
'I have asked him for full details.'
'He, of course, knows nothing. And will never find out anything.'
'It is intended that he shall find out nothing?' demanded Jacques.
'Of course,' answered the priest dryly. 'When will you understand that. And how much time you waste.'
'Waste! Waste!' repeated Jacques fiercely. 'What is time to me? I flounder like fish caught in a net that draws ever closer about him and in no way can I break through.'
'Why should you wish to? You detested your old life. Your future was but a dream. And one that would have never been realised with Eleanor Coningsby.'
'My love fit is over,' returned Jacques grimly. 'You have burst that bubble. But what do you offer me in exchange?'
'Everything,' said the priest quickly, 'everything. Adventure, power, experience, all that the world has of strange and wonderful. And the chance of saving your immortal soul alive.'
This last sentence was spoken with a deep emphasis that echoed in the troubled heart of Jacques.
'And what is the alternative?' added the priest. 'A lonely obscurity in Jersey. You do not know how M. de Rohan has left his scanty fortune—it may be necessary for you to earn your livelihood—and how would you do it?'
'The King would leave me to starve?'
'If you disobey him.'
'I seem to be of great importance to your schemes that you take these pains to win me,' said Jacques bitterly.
'I take pains in whatever I undertake,' replied the priest. 'I do not know if you are of importance or not, but I was bidden to persuade you. And it seems to me only a matter of common sense that you should be persuaded.'
Jacques put the letter down on the counter.
'Send that or not, as you will. I suppose it does indeed make little difference, since you are leagued to blind and baffle me at every turn.'
'It shall go,' said Father Marchiafava.
Jacques turned away and went upstairs to his room.
He hardly knew why he was standing out and resisting; the promises were fair enough—and he had nothing to lose.
Not even his love-dream now—nothing, nothing.
And it was perfectly clear that he would never be able to find out anything, he was too closely watched, too dangerous, too important a person now, and the organisation of the court was too complete and practised for him to ever hope to struggle against it; he despised them all; he saw all their tricks and lies and plots with the cold vision of one utterly disinterested in such things; on his own account he hated the King.
Yet could he not play, at least for a while, a part among these people?
If not, what else?
His thoughts, twisting in a circle, always came back to that—what else?
His was not the temperament to force the hand of fate; always he had been idle, drifting, fantastical, of a cynical humour.
It would be so much easier to allow these people to do what they wished with him—it might be, it must be, so much more amusing, than a return to Jersey, there to pick up the worn threads of an empty life.
He thought of M. de Rohan with a considerable pang; it was so strange that he should have died like that; Jacques remembered the old man's fear, his agitation, his sudden withdrawal from London, and felt a faint sick suspicion of foul play—yet that seemed too wild for these times and this country. Dismissing this twinge of horror from his thoughts, he tried to recall what the priest had said as to his part in the King's secret policies.
Charles was a concealed Papist, and about to betray England and Holland by a secret treaty with France, and he, the King's eldest son, of whose existence no one knew, was to be hurried into the priesthood in order that the King might have a secret confessor and the Jesuits a secret agent at Whitehall. And for playing this part with discretion the reward was to be a possible Cardinalate, a possible recognition as heir to the English throne.
The whole thing had a crazy sound, even to Jacques, who was by nature attuned to the strange and the fantastic.
It was a wild and desperate game that he was asked to play, but the stakes were high and he had nothing to lose.
Always his thoughts ended in that—he had nothing to lose.
Before he went to bed he descended into the parlour at the back of the shop, where the Jesuit sat over a book of Latin devotions.
The light of the one candle fell over his dark, composed, tired face.
He looked up at once as Jacques remained standing on the threshold of the room.
'You have come to tell me your decision?' he asked quietly.
'Yes,' said Jacques.
He also looked weary; his nerves had been too long on the stretch; last night he had not slept, and his imagination was so disordered that fragments of scenes through which he had lately passed were as vivid to him as the scenes in which he moved; he saw Eleanor standing by the fire looking at him with vexation, fear, almost dislike; he saw that garden with all its secrets unfolding to the dawn and those two figures wandering side by side between the bloomless roses; he saw the dewy park land through which he had ridden with the Duke of Buckingham, and he seemed to see himself, standing in the dark little shop looking foolishly at the letter from Jersey.
'You have had your supper?' asked the Jesuit.
'Yes, I have, as usual, been well served.'
Jacques came to the table and the two weary men stared at each other.
'I will go,' said Jacques. 'I will do whatever you want of me.'
No sparkle of triumph appeared in the priest's lined face.
'Sit down,' he said. 'Sit down.'
As he spoke he rang the little hand-bell beside him and Brother Hicks appeared immediately; Jacques had never ceased to admire the self-effacing, patient, perfect service of this Jesuit, it seemed so typical of the extraordinary Order to which he belonged.
'Some rossolis,' asked Father Marchiafava, 'a little rossolis.'
It was instantly brought; Jacques found himself staring at the tall bottle, the two glasses, and the salver as if they were really important objects.
The Jesuit closed his book and poured out the wine.
'I am glad that you have so soon decided,' he remarked quietly.
Jacques took the glass offered him and drank; the heady mixture cleared away much of his mental fatigue.
'Yes, I have decided,' he answered. 'I will do your work.'
'I am glad.'
'But I may not do it well,' said Jacques, 'understand that.'
'You carry your fate in your own hands. You can succeed if you will.'
Jacques gave a savage laugh.
'Perhaps I shall not try. I warn you. You have forced me.'
'No,' said the priest. 'No.'
'I say that you have forced me. You left me nothing in life to turn to but these damnable plots of yours. You took away even my name.'
'If you will serve the King, nothing else matters,' said the Jesuit.
Jacques leaned across the table, the wine had flushed his heavy face; to the keen eyes of the priest he was extraordinarily like the King.
'I will serve him as long as it suits me. I take no oaths, I protest no fidelity, I admit no obligation. As I enter your Order, so I may leave it.'
'I have nothing to do with that,' said the priest, sipping his rossolis.
'I am warning you. Do you know me by now, father?'
'I know you for a strange fellow.'
'Remember I am wilful, disappointed, and desperate, lawless and hard,' he smiled fiercely, leaning towards the priest, the solitary candle dividing them with its orange flame and yellow glow.
'You do not know yourself,' said the Jesuit. 'You cannot tell what outside influences may make of you.'
'I am as I have said,' replied Jacques obstinately.
'It may be. I have dealt with the character before, it is that of the King. But whereas he is a libertine, I think you will sooner be a fanatic—which, maybe, His Majesty will also become,' added the priest with a smile.
'As I may become a libertine,' said Jacques. 'It is all in my family, is it not?'
He suddenly rose, with a fierce gesture as if he swept away from him something he detested.
'I might even betray you all,' he said.
Not a quiver passed over the priest's serene face.
'It is possible,' he said.
'And what then?'
'The King would repudiate you. And so would the Society of Jesus.'
'I thought so. And I should be considered a madman, eh?'
'I do not know,' replied the priest calmly. 'It does not matter what you would be considered. You would be finished—of no further value or use to any one. You would have a very miserable life—probably a short one.'
'For all that I might betray you.'
'It would be the action of a fool.'
'I should not do it for gain.'
'I know, therefore I said a fool, not a villain,' returned the priest.
'And if one pleases to be a fool?' asked Jacques defiantly.
'One pays for any pleasure.'
Jacques laughed impatiently.
'We fence with words. But I warn you not to count on me. I do not lose either you or your master, I hate your policies, I do not believe in your rewards. I serve you—because it is the easiest thing.'
The priest's small dark eyes looked straight up into the unhappy young face.
'I think you belie yourself,' he said. 'But it does not matter. We work out our destinies as we must. Will you go to Dover with the King?'
'I may if I wish?'
Jacques hesitated a second only.
'I do not wish to see the King—yet.'
'Very well. Then you may go direct to St Omer.'
Jacques seated himself.
All the fire had faded from his demeanour—he looked quiet, almost dull.
'You have told me how long, difficult, and arduous your training is—yet you would make a man like myself one of your priests—in a few months?' he asked.
'I have told you that the General of our Order is as powerful as the Pope—he may make, or dispense with, any rule. Your case is exceptional and will be dealt with in an exceptional manner.'
The priest spoke steadily, but his voice sounded faintly weary.
'I am not even a Papist,' said Jacques tauntingly.
The priest rose.
'I have done what I was told to do,' he said. 'I will conduct you to St Omer. After that our ways divide, I think.'
'You will not return to England?'
'I do not know.'
The two men, so different to each other, animated by such different motives, of such different character and temperament, yet brought thus together to work for the same cause, stared at each other strangely.
Then the Jesuit leant forward and trimmed the candle.
'What are you thinking of?' asked Jacques.
'I was thinking that you are certainly the son of the King of England.'
'I am like him?'
'Will not this be remarked when I am placed about his person?'
'It will hardly matter if it is.'
'Like him!' cried Jacques suddenly, 'in face and temperament, you say! And yet I hate him.'
'Because you think he has wronged you?'
'He need never have told you of your birth,' interrupted the priest.
'And was there any kindness or justice in that action? Was it not rather the keenest torture?'
In a fierce restlessness the young man paced about the mean, narrow room.
'Tell me who my mother was,' he said rapidly. 'You must know.'
'I do not.'
His harsh face was threatening.
The priest raised his hand and let it fall with a gesture of slight weariness.
'What do I know of these things? Only what the King told me. And that may be a lie. He said she was of his own family, and so high he dare not name her.'
Jacques was silent.
He felt he hated his mother too; why had she not spoken, why had she not lived to defend her child?
He seemed to see her face, far away at the end of the vista of the past, and he thought that her dim youth looked at him with mocking eyes.
She, as well as his father, had cheated him.
'Some day the King shall tell me,' he said sullenly. 'Why not, eh, father? Under the seal of the confessional;' he laughed and filled up his glass.
'Ah!' said the Jesuit swiftly, 'you are not so motiveless as you appear. You do this that you may be avenged on the King.'
THE daughter of Gustavus Adolphus looked up from her writing.
'This is the third time this young Jesuit has desired to see your Majesty,' said the secretary who had interrupted her studies.
Cristina pushed the writing aside.
'I will see him,' she said.
'I do not think he is a person of any importance, madam, I have often observed him about the Jesuit College—he was but lately a novice.'
'He is in orders now?'
'Madam, I think so.'
'Well, I will see him,' said Cristina, with a slight smile on her peculiar face. 'One must not, in any way, offend Holy Church.'
The secretary, a young Italian who looked in mien and attire a priest himself, withdrew, to shortly return with the Jesuit.
The queen leant back in her chair and looked at him calmly.
And he as calmly returned her scrutiny.
Each of them had something remarkable to hold the attention; Cristina of Sweden, perhaps the most illustrious convert ever made by the Church of Rome, the woman who had given up her throne for her faith, was as extraordinary in appearance as in character.
She was not young and had lost whatever feminine charm she might have possessed; her clever face, with the bold features and hawk nose, was framed in a brown wig of thick curls, like a masculine peruke, and the rest of her costume, cravat, waistcoat, coat, was shaped like a man's attire.
Her hands were rather beautiful, and her large, clear, and full-lidded eyes might have been those of her hero father who had died for the faith she had forsaken, in combating the faith for which she had sacrificed a throne.
There was little sign of feminine caprice or charm in the handsome chamber, with the books, busts, and desks, the stained walls and painted ceiling, and large windows with the green lattices drawn against the Roman sun.
The man at whom she gazed in her cool, capable, deliberate fashion was almost as notable a figure as she was herself.
Although wearing the Jesuit garb, the straight black coat and cape, the flat, corded hat, the shaved head and face, the crucifix on the breast, his build and carriage, tall, powerful, and graceful, were more those of a soldier.
And his heavy, dark, interesting face seemed altogether familiar to Cristina.
She dismissed the secretary.
'Well, father,' she said briskly, yet with that shade of deference with which she treated anything belonging to the Church of Rome. 'What do you want of me? I am a busy woman.'
'Then it is useless for me to speak to you,' said the Jesuit calmly. 'I must, madam, have a little of your leisure. If you cannot give me this I will take my leave.'
'Who are you?' asked the Queen sharply.
'On the College books I am entered as Jacques de Rohan of the Isle of Jersey—that is not my name, madam.'
'Ah, what do they call you?'
'Father de Rohan—now.'
The Queen looked him up and down.
'Now who are you?'
'The son of the King of England,' he answered dryly.
'Prove that,' said the Queen unmoved.
Jacques smiled as if he admired her unruffled demeanour.
'I can prove it.'
He took from his breast a little packet and laid it on the Queen's desk.
Cristina's pretty hands quickly opened it, her bold eyes glanced rapidly over the contents, which were several affectionate letters from King Charles to his son, acknowledging him, inquiring after his health, encouraging him in his vocation as a priest and expressing the keen hope of seeing him soon.
'I hope that you will remain in the Church,' one sentence ran; 'if you do I can certainly gain you a Cardinalate—if you should prefer not to, I can do for you all that I have done for your brother Monmouth.'
'Why do you show these to me?' asked the Queen, returning the letters without a sign of surprise.
'Madam, I have been often urged to wait on you by the King, and the General of the Jesuits,' replied the young man.
'How long have you been in Rome?' demanded Cristina.
'Nearly a year.'
'And why, then, have you not come to me before now?'
'Madam, I was too indifferent.'
The Queen rested her face on her hands and stared at him.
'You are a curious fellow.'
'That has always been said of me,' smiled Jacques.
'Sit down,' said Cristina.
He took a deep leathern chair between the two windows; his black attire and his dark face were blurred in the shadows.
'You are like your father,' added the Queen, 'but not so swarthy.'
'You remember him, then, madam?'
'Very well. We met at Frankfort. I had just resigned my crown and he was endeavouring to regain his.'
'And he mentioned me?'
'Yes. He was moved to make that confession when I spoke of religion. He confided in me his leaning to the true Church, and told me of a son he had—the son of his early youth whom he had never acknowledged.'
'Did he speak of a marriage, madam?'
Cristina looked at him shrewdly.
'I do not know why I should answer you. What is your reason in coming to me?'
'I am going to England in a few weeks—as the King's confessor.'
Cristina was surprised now.
'The King's confessor? I did not know that he was a Romanist.'
'You see how frank I am with you, madam. What I have just told you is a secret of the most considerable importance. I give you this confidence because I hope to have yours in exchange.'
'What do you want to know?'
'What the King told you at Frankfort,' replied Jacques.
'Why are you so suddenly curious?'
'Because I go to England so soon.'
'I wish to know the truth before I go, madam,' said Jacques.
'The truth! And you are a Jesuit. Where is your training?'
'In the diplomacy.'
'My training was superficial—a few months at St Omer, a few at Homberg, under a year here, and I have reached a position the Jesuits usually take years to attain.'
'This by influence?'
'By the King's direct request to D'Oliva.'
'And why do you tell me all this, you imprudent young man?'
'Because I want to know what the King told you at Frankfort.'
'A claimant to the throne of England?' smiled the Queen.
'Do I look a fool, madam?'
'No—but wise men in your position might do foolish things.'
Jacques pointed to the letters lying on the Queen's desk.
'You see the promises my father makes to me—I hold them valueless.'
'I hold them foolish also,' continued Jacques unheeding. 'If I am the Prince of Wales they are not enough, if I am not, they are extravagant.'
'Prince of Wales!' repeated the Queen. 'If there had been a marriage it would be of no value in the eyes of the English law. You know that, of course?'
'There was a marriage!' exclaimed Jacques, 'and you know it?'
'Have not the Jesuits told you?' evaded the Queen.
'Yes, before I left England. But another man, who should have known, denied it. And I can find no proof.'
'When did you first hear?'
Jacques told her his story in a few direct words; he mentioned everything save Eleanor Coningsby. The Swedish Queen listened attentively; the only matter on which she questioned him was the death of M. de Rohan.
'You never went to Jersey to see into this man's affairs?'
'Never. It was quite clear to me that some emissary of the Government had been to St Brelades. My friend, M. Domville wrote to me that a man from the castle had come and taken away all papers and effects. After that I knew that it was hopeless for me to attempt to discover anything. Besides, I was already completely in the power of the Jesuits.'
Cristina looked at him keenly.
'Of course, there was a marriage,' she said, 'and of course you cannot prove it. It will spoil your life,' she added.
'There was very little to spoil,' returned Jacques grimly.
'You are a fine young man,' remarked the Queen coolly. 'You ought not to speak so cynically.'
'I have been cheated. Every one whom I have met has been a cheat.'
'And you yourself—are you not also a cheat, James Stewart?'
The young man flushed.
'Do you think so?' he asked.
'You are a priest, with no priestly thought in your mind. I doubt if you are even a good Catholic. You have taken orders from merely ambitious motives.'
'No, I am not ambitious—my motives, if I had any clear motives—were those of revenge.'
'On the cheats.'
'On your father?'
'Do you know him?' asked the Queen.
'I met him once. Before I knew.'
'He is the same type of man as you are.'
'That does not make me love him the more.'
'It should make you more tolerant, to reflect that he has acted as you would have acted in his place.'
'And had he been in my place? I think he would have acted as I am going to act.'
The Queen smiled.
'But you do not know what you are going to do.'
'How can you tell?'
'I am a student of character. You will always drift to the current of every mood and humour. Passionate, idle, disappointed, fantastic—like your father.'
'You read me right. Did I not say that I had been cheated?'
'You are what you have always been. Nothing would have changed you. You would make a bad king. You will make a bad priest. You will not be your father's confessor for long, I think.'
'You scorn me, madam.'
'No, but I do not need to flatter you. I left all that behind when I quitted Sweden. Thank God, I have no need to speak any one fair.'
'I have asked your help—even your compassion,' said Jacques sullenly.
'I cannot help you. Your father told me that there was a marriage but I cannot prove it.'
The young man was silent a moment, as if the quick exchange of words had tired him; he was, and had been from the first, rather pale, he did not look as strong and healthy as was natural to his make and type, and his black dress emphasised the sallowness of his complexion. The Queen continued to regard him intently; she was always very interested in anything unusual. She had been attracted by Charles Stewart, and she was attracted by his son. Suddenly Jacques spoke and his voice sounded sharp in the drowsy silence of the large room.
'Who was my mother?'
The Queen had expected this question.
'A Stewart—of the Earls of Mar.'
'Do you know anything else, madam?'
Cristina lifted her shoulders.
'I can guess it all—a boy and girl, a prince who never thought to enjoy his heritage, the boredom of exile, the cousinly walks and talks, the licence of a disorganised court, scruples one side, infatuation the other—the hasty, secret marriage, the parting, a pining girl, who dies of chagrin—'
'It is that pining girl I will revenge,' interrupted Jacques.
'I do not know why you blame your father. He would have done something for her had she lived. It was all a piece of great folly on her part too.'
'I used to think that. It seemed to me that she also was a cheat. She should have lived. Yet lately I have felt a tremendous sorrow for her.'
'She is beyond your reach now—why not leave it all alone?'
'What then should I do with my life?'
'Are you a hypocrite or a simpleton?'
'Neither. I ask you because you are an extraordinary woman. I have always admired your history, madam.'
'Imitate it, then,' said the Queen dryly.
'Leave everything for the Church. Become in heart what you are in habit.'
'I do not believe in your Church.'
'Did I not say you also were a cheat?' cried the Queen, with some scorn.
'No, because I told them and they decided to use me the same. It is your Majesty who cheats.'
Cristina flushed now.
'You are rather daring,' she remarked.
'I never learnt that art of flattery which your Majesty has forgotten.'
His splendid eyes fixed her with a coldness equal to her own.
'Tell me,' she asked. 'How it is that I am a cheat?'
'Because you gave up nothing for which you cared. A throne was a detail to a woman like you. All you wanted—power, luxury, leisure—you have retained. You are more a queen in Rome than you ever were in Sweden. Do not talk to me of cheats, madam.'
She lowered her eyes and shrugged her shoulders; it was like a gesture of surrender.
'We are both of us adventurers at heart and understand each other,' she said. 'But you have not my advantages or my definite desires. I, once more, cannot help you.'
The young priest rose.
'You have done what I wished, madam. I wanted to know what the King told you. And you have satisfied me.'
The Queen rose also; she came round the desk, a short, rather clumsy figure, her long riding-skirt trailed on the ground and a number of curious jewels that looked like talismans, in strange shapes and colours, dangled at her waist; and Jacques was now able to observe that her fingers were stained, as if with some chemical.
'So you are going to Whitehall?' she said curiously.
'In that disguise!'
'It is hardly a disguise. I am really a priest,' smiled Jacques.
'And really a prince.'
'Really James Stewart,' added Cristina.
'I think you mock me.'
'No. I was thinking how strange it was. How curious it will seem to you at Whitehall—how very curious. I rather envy you.'
'You envy me!' he said bitterly.
'A remarkable experience, yes. You will see so much—from behind the scenes. I wonder what you will do.'
'I do not know.'
He sighed and his face clouded as he spoke.
'Perhaps it will tempt me,' he added. 'Perhaps I shall want to return to my cloistered studies. I have not disliked my college life.'
'There is little so satisfactory as learning,' replied the Queen. 'I expect you will return to Rome. Unless you fall in love.'
'That is over for me.'
'Well, it will be amusing to see. I think you hold your vows very lightly, and you know that you can easily be relieved of them. Come and see me again,' she added abruptly.
'If I have leisure. I leave very soon for England with letters from D'Oliva to the King.'
'I like your bluntness,' smiled the Queen. 'I have not had one compliment from you. You are not at all amiable—it pleases me—but take care at Whitehall.'
She returned to her place at the desk and handed the young priest his letters back.
'Good-bye,' she said curtly.
'Madam, I thank you for this interview.'
He took his dismissal as coolly as she gave it, and in a few moments was outside in the hot glaring street.
He walked slowly through the dusty heat of the Roman afternoon; a dry wind was blowing from the Campagna, the plants in the courtyards of the palaces were shrivelled and covered with dust. Jacques turned in the direction of the Church of the Gesł.
JACQUES was glad to lift the leathern cover from in front of the little side door and enter the dark perfumed solitude of the church.
The huge building was profusely decorated with gold, precious stones, and rare marbles that were redeemed from vulgarity by the golden shadows and dim lights which gave a mysterious richness and a mystical glory to much that was ordinary and even cheap.
Paintings, tapestries, altars loaded with jewelled symbols, heavy carpets and massive statuary at every turn bewildered the eye and impressed the mind; a sense of sanctity was conveyed by the silence, the steady glow of the lamps and candles burning before the various shrines, and the perfume of stale incense.
Jacques wandered up to the high altar, which was majestic and even awe-inspiring in its grandiose pomp.
Several other Jesuits, both coadjutors and novices, were in the church, Jacques avoided all of them and took a small rush-bottomed chair near the altar.
He already belonged to the third class of Jesuits, i.e. Spiritual Coadjutors, a degree which was usually only attained after the third year of probation, and meant Holy orders, the power to hear confessions, to teach, and to preach, but he was still far from belonging to that inner body, the Professed Jesuits, who really constituted the Society; these were only elected after five years' probation and had to be men of considerable learning and attainments. They had also to take a fourth vow, in addition to those of obedience, poverty, and chastity, that of complete submission to the Pope, at whose bidding they were to fly to the furthermost ends of the earth without question; even this vow, however, being so worded by Loyola that the General of the Order could nullify it if he wished.
Jacques had not found his training irksome; his stunted mind had eagerly drunk in the knowledge freely offered him by persons skilled in the art of teaching; he had found learning to be a delightful thing, and among his companions he had discovered many whose fellowship was stimulating and interesting.
The life, too, pleased him, it supplied so much that was lacking in his own character—order, direct purpose, discipline.
To one of his disposition, there was something bracing in the sobriety, punctuality, decorum, and austerity of life in the Jesuit colleges.
He perceived how wild and foolish were the general conceptions of the Society and how false and slanderous the general reports of their behaviour, for, during the whole of his novitiate, he saw nothing that was not earnest, self-sacrificing, and most orderly.
Neither could he refrain from admiring the excellence of this vast organisation, the smoothness with which it worked, the skilful running of every department, the able use of wealth and power to obtain further wealth and power, the learning, wisdom, and authority of the superiors, and the submission and self-abnegation of the inferiors.
At the same time he was quite aware that he really knew very little of the Society of Jesus; the inner administration and the endless ramifications of their policies were alike unknown to him; he had merely seen the working of the three colleges where he had been trained, St Omer, Homberg, and Rome.
Father Marchiafava he had never seen since that priest had escorted him to St Omer; he was told that the energetic Neapolitan had been sent to America.
Brother Hicks, who belonged to the temporal coadjutors, who could never take Holy orders, was now working as a cook in the Roman college.
The several Rectors under whom Jacques had been, the occasional Provincials who had spoken with him, had been, in demeanour at least, quiet and studious men, entirely absorbed in the affairs of the Order.
Yet Jacques knew perfectly well that the political power of the Society was immense; every Catholic Sovereign in Europe had a Jesuit confessor, and by the coming and going of priests, nearly always in disguise, from the Roman college, he knew how mysteriously active they were.
D'Oliva, the General of the Order, he had never seen; the great man lived in a villa at Albano, and when he was in Rome dwelt retired in Sant' Andrea; he seldom gave an audience and seemed, as far as Jacques could judge, to relegate all the business of the Society to subalterns, yet it was obvious that he was a personage of vast power and that the affairs of the Society were extremely prosperous.
Spiritually, Jacques remained utterly unaffected by his surroundings; the training he had undergone, the vows he had taken, the solemn services, the grave ceremony of his own ordination, had all left him as cold as had the Calvinistic ritual of M. de Rohan in Jersey.
No belief came to him nor did he try to force it; the thing was admirable, was interesting, but it had no hold on him, and though it pleased him now he knew that one day he would suddenly tire of it and want to fling it off as impetuously as he had taken it up; that day was not yet, but he knew that it would come.
The thing that had held him lately was the enchantment of Italy.
The lazy sunshine, the colour, the lovely outdoor life, the laughing people, the constant music, gala, and fźte, the cloudless skies and entrancing landscape, the gorgeous pomp of the nobility, the picturesqueness of the peasantry strongly appealed to his temperament.
He had a longing to go south—to Naples, to the sea.
Had he possessed the means he would very gladly have dreamed his life away in some villa among the Alban or the Sabine hills.
As far as he had a scheme, it was this, to go to Whitehall, to face the King, to serve him, perhaps, or to leave him, perhaps—and to return to Italy either as priest or layman and wander about the exquisite country, from city to city, finding wayside experience, wayside adventure; he was still not ambitious nor had he noticed any woman since Eleanor Coningsby had run from him in the drawing-room of her father's house. Yet all this was vague.
Everything depended on the King's treatment of him, on what he found at Whitehall.
He would willingly have delayed his departure; these blazing Roman days, this life of study, of ease and meditation, pleased his present mood.
As he sat in the seclusion of the church he went over in his mind what the Swedish Queen had told him—not much, but something.
He could not doubt now that there had been a marriage.
Useless knowledge perhaps, but it strengthened his hatred of the King.
He had been sitting in the church a great while, sunk in these moody reflections, when another Jesuit came out of the shadows of the church and sat down beside him.
Jacques knew him; he was a young Englishman who had just completed his novitiate; Jacques had met him first at St Omer and the two were as good friends as the reserved nature of each would allow.
'It is late?' whispered Jacques.
'Nearly sunset,' replied the other. 'You will wait for vespers?'
A few people came into the church; Jacques roused himself and attentively followed the short service.
When it was over he followed the other priest, Brother Peter Blount, out of the great church into the warm, strong sunshine that filled the Piazza del Gesł like rich wine in a marble cup.
'You have been out all day,' said Brother Blount.
'I know—I am excused all duties and studies and given a few days for quiet meditation before I go to England.'
This was what Jacques had been bidden to tell his companions, none of whom knew of his secret mission nor of his birth.
And there was nothing in the statement to cause any surprise, all the Jesuits were always ready to go anywhere at a moment's notice.
'I wish I were going with you,' said the Englishman simply.
'You are homesick?'
'Nay, but it would be pleasant in England now.'
'I prefer Italy,' replied Jacques with a touch of passion.
'Preferences are not for us,' said the other quickly, lapsing into his even, trained manner. 'I spoke carelessly.'
They did not speak again till they reached the college and then Brother Blount told Jacques that the Rector wished to see him immediately on his return.
The young man's interview with his superior was brief.
The Rector merely informed him that he was to go to D'Oliva's villa at Albano early the next day.
'I myself,' added the Jesuit, 'do not know why, nor the reason of this journey of yours to England. The spiritual affairs of the Order are alone my concern. Therefore your instructions will come direct from the General.'
Jacques had often wondered if the Rector knew who he was; he believed now that he did not, and that the secret had been considered too important to be confided to any one but D'Oliva himself.
Next morning he took the Sacrament at dawn, and attended by Brother Hicks, who was to act as guide, set out for Albano.
They rode mules and set out leisurely across the flat plain of the Campagna Romana, leaving the city gates before the sun was well over the horizon.
Brother Hicks had been evidently chosen because of his association with Jacques in London; whether he knew the truth or not Jacques could not tell, so perfect was his discretion.
The young priest rather thought that he did, he had been so entirely in the confidence of Marchiafava.
But no attempts to draw his confidence succeeded, and Jacques dare not go too far; while he was in the power of the Jesuits he knew he must be careful.
Besides, it suited his own purposes to be close about his secret at present.
Brother Hicks proved a pleasant companion; he knew all the points of interest in the Roman landscape, the antique tombs, the broken Claudian Aqueduct, all new to Jacques, who had not been so far from the city before.
The prosperous farms, the orchards, fields of grain and vineyards, the luxurious trees, the wealth of flowers, the purple mountains in the distance—and over everything the magic of the sun, affected powerfully the spirit of Jacques; he forgot his garb, he forgot his errand in a drowsy enjoyment of the delicious scene.
They took a light meal under the dusty, vine-hung pergola outside an inn and rested during the hours of the fiercest heat; when they began to climb the olive and ilex-clad slopes leading to Albano it was already late afternoon.
D'Oliva's villa was situated a little outside the town and surrounded by a grove of chestnut-trees that completely hid it from the common view.
The two Jesuits had their credentials very carefully examined by the porter at the lodge before they were admitted into the grounds, and when the great gates finally closed behind them Jacques felt as if he was entering some magic palace in a fairy wood.
For a little way the trees continued and then they came to a terraced garden built on the slope of the hill and facing Rome, which was just visible in the silver and azure haze of the distance; the white dome of San Pietro glimmered into the sky at the farthermost edge of the plain.
The terraces were divided by marble balustrades, paved with marble flags and shaded by groups of ilex, cypress, and yew; in the centre of the top one was a fountain, a group of alabaster nymphs with vases in their hands from which the water splashed into a huge marble basin which overbrimmed and ran over shallow marble steps from one terrace to another, until, at the end of the last one it was lost in the green shadows of a laurel grove.
The fall of this water, glittering over the marble in a thousand translucent lights, making melody as it went and seeming to reflect the azure of the sky and the gold of the sun, seemed to Jacques the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen.
There were other statues in the gardens, some of stone and moss-grown, and some of marble and shining white, and roses of all hues and beds of carnations filled the beds in the even sward.
Jacques was so occupied in gazing at these terraces that his companion had to twice call his attention to the palace itself.
When he at last looked up he was startled.
The long, flat building, faced with Numidian marble, stood back on a wide terrace and looked directly towards Rome, behind, the mountain, clad with olive and laurel, sloped up to the dazzling sky.
The evening sun caused the yellow marble to glow against the dark foliage; a lattice was in front of each of the three rows of windows, and a fountain flung up a tall spray of water in front of the entrance.
Passing through the garden they reached the palace.
All was silent and no one seemed about; in the far, far distance a dove faintly cooed.
Jacques stood still in amaze.
This upper terrace was covered with the rarest and most exotic flowers.
In vases of stone and alabaster, in jars of terra-cotta, and in the beds between the paved walks bloomed the strange flowers of the East.
Some, in shape and colour and perfume, were as marvellous as if they had been brought into being by witchcraft; Jacques knew the names of none of them save the pomegranate and pepper-trees that he had already once seen in Rome.
Brother Hicks smiled at his amazement and gently drew him on through the gorgeous garden.
'The General has a great passion for these rare flowers. There is no such other collection in Italy.'
The black hideous dress, the pale, unhealthy face of his companion, was a blot on the fantastic and luxurious beauty of the scene—Jacques knew that he looked the same; he remembered the vow of poverty and smiled.
'The General lives like this?' he asked.
'He lives as he pleases,' answered the other calmly. 'He is answerable to no one under Heaven. It is not for us to question.'
Jacques was silent.
The little respect that he might have had for D'Oliva vanished.
'He also is a cheat,' was the thought with which he crossed the princely threshold.
The interior of the house, by an instinct of good taste that he could not but admire, was not ostentatiously luxurious. But it was spacious, cold, and beautifully ordered, and at every turn showed some exquisite work of painting or sculpture, small, rare, and perfectly placed.
A lay brother showed Jacques into a plain chamber the chief charm of which lay in the magnificent view from the shaded window which Jacques glimpsed between the lattices.
A little excellent wine and some resplendent fruit was on the table by the bed, and in an alcove was a marble basin and water running perpetually through this into a hollow in the floor from whence it drained away.
Jacques washed off the dust of the Campagna; his skin smarted and his eyes pricked from the heat of the sun.
He could not get the dust off his black vest and coat, the long skirts of the coat had never ceased to annoy him since he had first put it on, to-day they seemed more than ever hot and heavy.
He thought how glad he would be when he put them aside, as he certainly must when travelling to England, and how pleasant it was to be wearing the boots and breeches that to-day's journey had made necessary. In a short while the same lay brother came to ask him if he was rested and composed.
Jacques replied 'Yes,' and the other begged him, very respectfully, to follow him into the presence of the General.
Feeling intensely curious, the young priest accompanied his guide down a long light corridor, the white walls of which were painted with wreaths of coloured flowers.
At the end of this a door stood open on a small circular chamber into which the evening sun streamed through blinds of loosely woven straw.
The lay brother bade Jacques enter this room and himself withdrew.
As the young priest crossed the threshold he was instantly aware of the occupant of the chamber, who was facing him and who rose at his entrance.
D'Oliva wore the straight black clothes of common material such as was used by the humblest member of the Order; in person he was tall and stout, with a full, clever face, aristocratic, self-indulgent, and worldly in expression.
In a grotesque way he reminded Jacques of the Duke of Buckingham.
There was nothing remarkable in the room of light summer furniture.
But Jacques noticed at once two huge blue carnations, with the blooms supported on discs of gilt cardboard, that lay on the little table between the windows.
D'Oliva spoke, in Italian, with a strong Genoese accent.
'I am more than happy to see you—I have been keenly awaiting this day.'
JACQUES stared at D'Oliva as he had stared at Buckingham; it was a type that interested him immensely.
The General of the Jesuits was a Genoese, of a noble family, with pleasant, delicate manners; he was supposed to be a man after the Jesuits' own hearts, and to be more popular and successful than any of his predecessors since Loyola himself.
To Jacques he seemed essentially commonplace, and the young priest wondered in what lay the great man's power.
Meanwhile the extreme civility of his reception flattered him and predisposed him in the General's favour.
D'Oliva gave him a chair with his own hands and showed him the two blue carnations.
They had just been sent in to him, he said, by a gardener proud to have achieved two such perfect specimens.
He added, with great pride, that nowhere else were carnations of such a colour to be seen, though some, verging on this hue, had been grown in the gardens of the Villa Papa Guilio.
Jacques sincerely admired the flowers, this fantastic kind of beauty always appealed to him; he envied D'Oliva; he would have liked to live in such a villa and grow such flowers. The General slowly replaced the long-stalked blooms on the table as if he reluctantly turned his thoughts to other things.
'I must begin with a reproof,' he said, smiling gently.
'You have been making a confidante of a woman,' added D'Oliva.
Jacques looked up startled.
'Monsignor, it was the Queen of Sweden,' he stammered.
'A woman, a haughty, capricious woman,' said D'Oliva.
In some considerable confusion Jacques was silent.
'It was the Society of Jesus that converted the Queen of Sweden—you have heard that? Macedo, the confessor to the Portuguese ambassador, first brought her to see the truth, and two priests sent from here induced her to resign her throne—you see we know all there is to know about the Queen of Sweden.'
Jacques felt considerably foolish, and puzzled also as to how the knowledge of this interview had so soon come to the ears of the General; he suspected Cristina's confessor; or very possibly the Jesuits had spies in that strange household of the ex-Queen.
'Cristina was already in possession of the secret,' he said.
'King Charles told her of your existence when he met her at Frankfort. He has since repented the indiscretion and written to me to beg me not to let this lady know of our present designs.'
'I was never cautioned.'
'My son,' said D'Oliva sternly, 'you were bidden to do nothing without first consulting your superiors.'
Jacques had no answer.
'When the Rector of your College wished you to wait on the Queen of Sweden, you declined. Then, without his knowledge, sought her out and confided to her secrets that were not wholly yours,' continued D'Oliva.
Jacques could not for long control his reckless temperament.
'Well, monsignor,' he said with his usual dangerous frankness, 'I wished to know more of my own history before I went to England.'
'Was this the way?'
'I thought it might be.'
'And you are disappointed?'
'Not altogether. The Queen knew that there had been a marriage.'
'Knew?' repeated D'Oliva. 'She says King Charles told her so. It is very slight evidence, my son.'
Jacques shrugged his heavy shoulders.
'I want to know the truth,' he said, obstinately fixing the General with a bold glance of his powerful eyes.
'You were told the truth from the first,' smiled D'Oliva.
A sneer lifted the young priest's lip; he hesitated, then said earnestly.
'Monsignor—do you believe then, that I am, by right, and before God, the heir to the throne of England?'
'Most certainly I do,' replied D'Oliva without a second's pause.
'And your conscience permits you to keep silence?'
'I perceive, James Stewart,' said D'Oliva, speaking very courteously, 'that you are yet undisciplined and impetuous.'
'Which makes me wonder,' continued the other, 'if you are yet fitted for the extraordinary post for which you have been chosen.'
'Send some one else to Whitehall,' replied Jacques. 'I, monsignor, would very willingly stay in Italy.'
D'Oliva fingered the two blue flowers, lifting them up and gently pulling their petals out against the circles of gold cardboard.
'You know there is no one else whom we can send.'
'Monsignor, I should have thought that there would have been several.'
'I think you know, better than I, how Jesuits are looked upon in England. How jealously the King is watched.'
'But the confessors of the two Queens?'
'Their very steps are dogged. They are more suspected than any one.'
'And how am I, monsignor, to escape this general suspicion?'
D'Oliva put the carnations down.
'You will travel as a wealthy young Italian nobleman, you speak Italian well enough now to deceive Englishmen, and your English, I am told, has an accent. You will have credentials from the Dukes of Modena and Ferrara and from the Doge of Venice. These will give you free access to the court. You will live well but quietly. You will feign to be a sceptic or even an atheist. The means for your permanent stay at the court will be decided later. The King will probably send you back after a while with letters for me, and then you must return under another name—perhaps as a Huguenot refugee.' As he spoke D'Oliva's blurred eyes looked keenly at Jacques.
'Do you not wish to go to Whitehall?' he asked sharply.
'Very well, then. These are the arrangements. Your Rector will give you full detailed instructions as to your journey, your servants, your means.'
'And I am to be the King's confessor?' asked Jacques.
'It is an important office.'
'I shall hear secrets—'
'—that would cost the King his throne—his life.'
'I already know one such secret,' said Jacques calmly.
'The fact of the treaty of Dover.'
'You know that?'
'I heard it before I left England. Father Marchiafava told me.'
'It is a very important secret,' said D'Oliva dryly.
'And most carefully guarded,' added the General quietly.
'I know,' continued Jacques. 'The terms with France, the betrayal of the Dutch—of the English Church. The pensions to the King and to his ministers—I know that Madame d'Orleans, maid of honour, who accompanied her to Dover, now maitresse en titre to the King, is a French spy.'
'Well?' asked D'Oliva, watching him. 'Well?'
'How is it that you are all so sure of me, monsignor?'
'Sure of you?'
'The knowledge that I possess would be valuable to—the Commons of England.'
'In brief,' said D'Oliva calmly, 'you might betray us.'
'Is this the first time that you have thought of this?'
'No—I told Father Marchiafava so—before I left England.'
'Laughed at me.'
'I also laugh at you.'
The General of the Jesuits leant slightly forward as he answered, scanning lightly yet intently the swarthy face, at once sad and contemptuous, of the young priest.
'You are the King's son.'
'You cannot betray him.'
'He has betrayed me.'
'He endeavours to make atonement,' replied D'Oliva. 'And whatever his behaviour—he is your father and your King—and he has trusted you with secrets that might mean his life.'
Jacques was silent.
'Besides,' continued the General, 'such an act would be one of the most utter folly on your part. You would not be believed—if you were you would not be rewarded but be held in great contempt. On the other hand you have everything to gain by retaining the King's favour. He has told me, in his letters, that he intends to recognise you as soon as he can obtain Toleration—and that if you wish to remain a priest he will endeavour to obtain for you a Cardinalate. That would mean that you would have to leave the Society of Jesus—but it would be arranged. On the other hand, should you be attracted by the life of the world, which you will now see for the first time at Whitehall, he promises you dignities and preferences in no way short of those enjoyed by the Duke of Monmouth.'
These succinct words were spoken in precise, level tones and with an air of complete detachment, as if D'Oliva was in no way interested in the matters of which he spoke.
Jacques moved his chair slightly, a ray of the setting sun had pierced the lattice and fell full on his face.
A dusky glow of veiled light was in the pleasant room—the black figures of the two Jesuits showed crude and almost shapeless.
Jacques was himself aware of this; he saw a mental picture of the light cool room with the two strange flowers burning in curious colour from the shadow, and the two monkish-looking men in their black, leaning towards each other and talking of ugly things.
'No,' he said, 'I cannot betray the King, monsignor.'
'If you did,' answered D'Oliva, 'you would be extinguished like the flame of a dropped candle.'
'I know,' said Jacques.
'Then we waste time in discussing such a possibility.'
'Let us then, monsignor, talk of something else—there are several points I wish to completely understand.'
'I am here to enlighten you.'
'Well, I am supposed to be like the King—will not this resemblance be very inconvenient at Whitehall?'
'It can be disguised—you will wear a fair peruke, shave your eyebrows, and even use powder and rouge in the French fashion—and be careful to avoid any of the King's tricks of speech or deportment into which you might easily fall.'
'Then—who is to give me my introduction to the court?'
'Your letters are direct to the King. You will wait on him at once.'
'And my house, equipage, and servants?'
'A house has been taken for you in London, the King has arranged that through the Duke of Buckingham. Some servants you will take with you, the rest you will engage in London on your arrival.'
'And my instructions?'
'There are none. I bid you recall your vows and meditate on them.'
'My vows,' said Jacques slowly.
He looked at the two carnations and then straight into D'Oliva's dissipated face.
'The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience,' he added cynically.
'My son, the most vital is the last,' remarked the General, with meaning. 'Have you anything else to ask?'
'No, monsignor—at least but one thing, and that is a personal matter.'
'Do you know, monsignor, anything of—my mother?'
'What do you know?'
Jacques shrugged his shoulders.
'I have heard she was also a Stewart, of the Counties of Mar.'
'It is true, had she lived she would have been Queen of England as sure as Anne Hyde is Duchess of York. Yours is a hard fate, my son.'
'A bitter one.'
'You can wring the bitterness out of it. The unchanged and unchangeable doctrines of the church should bring peace to your unquiet mind.'
Jacques did not answer; his eyes flickered, under the heavy lids.
'We have talked enough. Will you walk in the gardens a little before supper? I have a water organ that is considered curious and pleasing.'
The young priest could not refuse, and the General, after carefully placing his carnations in a vase of Urbino ware, opened one of the long windows, lifted the blind, and stepped out on to the terrace.
Jacques followed and found himself at the side of the house.
The marble pavement was broken by a large shallow basin of water, near which, close enough to catch the moisture, were plants of flowers, gardenias, lilies, magnolia, camellias, and roses all shaded from the excessive heat by the light foliage and tasselled pink flowers of the tamarisk-tree.
D'Oliva went up to these and examined them one by one with tender care, as if they had been children.
'You will find no beauties like these at Whitehall,' he observed.
'I well believe it,' replied Jacques. 'There has never seemed to me a greater folly than that of calling women roses and lilies and comparing them to rubies, pearls, and diamonds, so poorly do the paint of women compare with the perfection of flowers or the brilliancy of gems.'
'I am glad that you are so clear eyed,' replied D'Oliva. 'It will serve you well at court, where you must be much on your guard against women.'
'I shall avoid them.'
'You must not do that either. You must be respectful to the Queen, though she is not in our confidence, and confidential to the Queen-mother, who is.
'And the—French woman?'
'Louise de la Querouaille—the Duchess of Portsmouth?'
D'Oliva was looking down at the exquisite dazzling purity of a spray of gardenia.
'You, will, naturally, become a close friend of the Duchess of Portsmouth.'
The young priest suddenly laughed; D'Oliva looked up and gave him a darting glance.
'In this, as in everything, you will be careful,' he added.
'Yes,' said Jacques. 'Yes.'
The hot air was redolent of the perfumes of the exotics, drawn from them during the day, which came in gusts on every little breeze.
A soft blue shadow was falling from the house across the back and side of the garden, and the sky was taking on a hue of purple; in the now deeper mists of the distance, the dome of the Vatican Church still showed a gleam across the fruit and flower laden plain which blossomed beneath the open sky.
Jacques was most acutely conscious of the loneliness of the garden, the glory of the flowers against the marble, the fragrant freshness of the green, the charm of the fountains and the tall trees—the whole atmosphere of ordered yet poetic beauty and cultured luxury.
He could have lingered long in such a spot, but when D'Oliva had seen, had examined jealously his favourites grouped round the fountains, he led the way back to the house.
And then Jacques learnt that flowers were not the sole interest of D'Oliva, for a most extraordinary supper, more fit for a Vitellus than a Lucullus, was served in a little dining-room painted with red and black frescoes in the Pompeian style.
WHEN Jacques found himself again in London all the time that had elapsed since he was there before seemed to suddenly vanish into a half-remembered vision.
The sun of Italy, the life in the Jesuit college, all the colour and strangeness of that year abroad became unreal, and he felt as if he had never left London.
Two Jesuit lay-brothers had been sent with him in the guise of servants, Brother Hicks was not one of them, as it was thought he might be recognised, having been in England too often before. Jacques had full instructions and sufficient, if not very much money, and to all purposes appeared what he claimed to be, a wealthy young Italian, travelling for pleasure.
The house that had been taken for him was in St Giles-in-the-Fields, a pleasant place that overlooked the meadows sloping to the river and was surrounded by a walled garden full of fruit-trees.
It belonged to a gentleman of Cumberland who but seldom visited town, and was glad to let his house, which had become a charge on his hands.
The furniture was good without being rich, and the same agent (Jacques did not know who this person was) who had secured the house had also engaged the necessary English domestics, the two Italian Jesuits being employed as steward and valet; both spoke English and worked with that absolute abnegation of self that Jacques had never ceased to admire in all the members of this extraordinary society.
D'Oliva had told Jacques to wait until some one from the court called upon him, and on the third day of his residence in London the Duke of Buckingham came.
He seemed to Jacques to have aged a great deal since he had seen him last, and to look unhealthy and dull, also to be very indifferent to their intrigues; he called Jacques 'father' with an air of dissolute mockery, and his tongue fell readily into blasphemous turns of speech.
'It is astonishing,' said Jacques, 'that a man like your grace, not a Papist—even without a religion—should risk so much to bring England over to the Church of Rome.'
'It is also astonishing,' replied the Duke calmly, 'how a man like you can come on such an errand in such a disguise—for you are no more a priest than I am.'
'I have been ordained,' he said. 'I am indeed a priest, sir.'
He could scarcely have looked less like one; his shaven head was covered by a light brown peruke, very large and curling, and his complexion was powdered to disguise his sallowness; his well-made clothes were fashionable and ornate in the French style, and he carried these fripperies, as well as his sword, with ease.
He was quite a distinguished figure, and looked very foreign. As he had not spoken English for a year his accent was very marked, he even faltered now and again for a word. English had never been anything but an acquired language to him.
Buckingham desired him to wait at once on the King, who had been greatly looking forward to this.
'He has been much cast down,' added the Duke, 'since the death of Madame d'Orleans, his sister.'
'It is supposed she was poisoned?'
The Duke shrugged.
'Such suppositions are best left alone. It was strangely tragic so soon after the Treaty of Dover. I believe the King thinks that you will help to console him.'
Jacques had not much to say, he did not altogether trust the Duke of Buckingham.
Yet, when the brief interview ended, it was the Duke who warned him.
'Remember that our secret is one that would mean death to all concerned,' he said lightly, yet with as much emphasis as he ever gave to anything.
'I have never forgotten it,' replied Jacques.
The Duke also conveyed a civil greeting from the Duchess of Portsmouth.
'You will like her,' he said. 'She is a good woman, and well bred.'
Jacques could not tell if he spoke in malice or no, and being indifferent, let the matter pass.
When the Duke had gone, Jacques wished that he had asked about Eleanor Coningsby.
He had often thought of her since his return to England, more with curiosity than any other emotion—still, he had thought of her.
If she was still at court she would be sure to know him—had her father thought of that and schooled her?
Jacques had wanted to ask Buckingham, but he had not been able to name Eleanor to the man who had taken her from him.
Not that he any longer felt sore over this love, but from some inner reticence that he could not have explained himself.
It was in a strange mood that he started for Whitehall; he was deeply agitated, yet lately he had so controlled himself that his outward state was one of unnatural calm.
He put on his finest clothes, of dark satin, and went in the coach he had hired to his London visit; he was called Don Carlo Visdomini, and though he looked as different as possible from the young man from Jersey who had idled away six months in London a year ago, he felt the name a thin farcical disguise that any one could easily pierce.
As he drove into the courtyard of the palace, he endeavoured to procure some thrill of satisfaction, even of triumph, from his situation.
He recalled how he had so often passed these gates and looked with envy on the courtiers coming and going so easily—now he was going in, the King's son.
But it was all useless—he could rouse nothing but bitterness in his own heart by any such reflections. Buckingham met him in the ante-chamber and told him that the King was walking in the garden, and that he was to go to him at once.
Jacques followed the Duke in silence.
He had a quick, confused impression of the palace, it was one of crowd, heat, and a certain soiled magnificence.
There seemed to be a great many people about and nothing being done.
The untidiness, noise, and idleness were strange to a man fresh from the quiet order of a Jesuit college.
He noticed no beautiful nor pleasing face, and many of the dresses of men and women were tawdry and even dirty.
He was glad to get out into the garden, which was well kept and charmingly placed along the banks of the river, though dull and flat after D'Oliva's garden at Albano, that Jacques kept so vividly in his memory.
It was a very soft and lovely morning, silver and veiled, with now and then a ray of sun parting the light clouds; here, the scents of the river was very strong, there was something of the luminous transparency of water in air; the buildings of the palace on one hand and the houses across the river on the other showed in mellow and faint colours.
They quickly came upon the King, who was walking with two gentlemen by a bowling green shaded by tall trees.
Jacques knew him at once, but, like Buckingham, he seemed to have aged, his heavy face was deeply lined and sad in expression; his very heavy black peruke gave his bilious complexion a gray shade; he was rather carelessly dressed. As the two men approached him, he turned round and looked directly at Jacques. He then advanced and the two with him fell back.
The Duke murmured some words of presentation. Jacques bowed and presented the credentials given him by D'Oliva.
Charles took them without lowering his eyes from his son's face.
'Forgive me for receiving you in this informal fashion, M. de Visdomini,' he said in French. 'Will you come now to my cabinet while I read these?'
Jacques bowed in silence.
He felt such an agitation, such a weight of fierce and angry emotion, that he certainly could not have commanded himself to speak.
The Duke strolled over to the other two gentlemen, and Jacques followed the King.
As they crossed the lawns Charles talked of the journey from Italy.
'I hear you had great heat in Rome,' he said.
He did not wait for an answer, but continued to discourse on indifferent topics.
As they entered the palace there were many curious glances for the King's new companion; Jacques looked a fine cavalier, and some of the women openly smiled as they lounged along the galleries.
He was conscious of no one but the King, whose tall figure and melancholy face seemed to fill the world for Jacques.
He was glad when they reached the little cabinet and Charles had shut the door behind them.
As soon as they were alone the King's manner became confidential.
'Well?' he asked eagerly. 'You came safely—no one guessed?'
'No one, sir.'
'No incident—no trouble?'
Charles took the young man by the arm and looked into his face.
They were nearly of a height.
'My dear James,' said the King. 'My dear, dear James.'
Jacques did not reply; the name the King had given him sounded strangely in his ears; he wondered irrelevantly why the same name had been given to the Duke of Monmouth.
'I cannot tell you,' continued the King, speaking rapidly and eagerly, 'how I approve the career you have embraced—the resolution you have taken—'
'Sir, it was not of my choosing,' interrupted Jacques.
The King took no heed of this.
'Nothing,' he said, 'could have been more suitable or desirable.'
'For your Majesty or for me?' asked Jacques quietly.
His agitation was beginning to leave him—a rather deadly composure like a physical numbness seemed to possess him; he looked round the room and saw everything in it in a clear and painful manner.
The dark, plain furnishings, the view of the garden they had just left from the square window, even the details of the methodical looking desk, the tall clock, and the worn leather of the chairs were impressed vividly on his mind.
'Have you thought,' asked Charles, 'hard things of me?'
Father and son looked at each other; there was only sixteen years between them, and but for the accident of dress and the disguise of artificial hair the likeness would have been unmistakable.
'I have thought hard things of all the world,' replied Jacques.
'But not since you entered holy orders?' said the King.
'Your Majesty thinks that should have brought me great peace?'
Jacques did not answer, the hypocrisy of the situation seemed to him unbearable; he had not been prepared for the King's attitude of pretended belief in his, Jacques's, genuine conversion.
'I envy you your choice of life,' added Charles quickly. 'I rejoice with you—in a sacrifice I could not make, for one.'
'And if I do not wish to remain in the Society of Jesus?'
'You have my letters—my promises, James? My definite promises?'
'I left them with the Rector of my college in Rome, sir. It was not considered prudent to travel with them.'
'But you recall them?'
'Every word, sir.'
'Well,' said Charles. 'I add nothing to those words. So much, James, depends on yourself.'
'I should wish you,' added the King, 'to remain in the Church.'
'I could obtain preferment for you. As I said, a Cardinal's hat.'
'That would be for the future, sir?'
'While you are with me in England you would have to remain in disguise. But things will not always be like this. I wait for the Act of Toleration.'
'In which case your Majesty would acknowledge me?'
'And if I left the Church, sir?'
'I have told you.'
'I could hardly believe it.'
'You may. You are my eldest son. A pledge of my affection for one of the highest ladies in the kingdom. Well, I never meant to wrong you—I will make amends.
'Make amends,' repeated Jacques.
'You think I cannot do it?'
'I think you will not, sir.'
Charles gazed at him earnestly.
'You hate me, perhaps?'
'I want to know the truth, sir.'
The King laughed.
'God! the truth!'
'At least what you know of it, sir,' added Jacques.
Charles turned away and went to the window. He stood with his back against the light, a dark figure; it was difficult to see his expression.
'You and I meet strangely,' he said. 'It is not altogether my fault. Remember that I need not have told you anything. You might have lived and died a Jersey farmer.'
'I might have been happy that way,' replied Jacques.
'You may be happy this way—but happiness? You pursue that will-o'-the-wisp?'
'So far, sir, I have pursued nothing—I have but drifted.'
'I think you are very much my son—even to the ugly face,' smiled the King.
Jacques looked at him straightly.
'Have I nothing of my mother, sir?' he asked boldly.
'Yes—her courage,' replied Charles grimly.
'A strange quality for a woman, sir.'
'It was one she needed.'
'You will tell me nothing, sir?'
Charles appeared to struggle with some agitation before he replied.
'Some time, then?'
'God knows. I am not a free man—nor a free King.'
Jacques said nothing; he was conscious of a fierce passion tearing at his heart that he could by no means express.
He felt inadequate, confused, and impotent; he had had a year in which to think over this interview, yet he felt totally unprepared and eager to get away and commune with himself in some quiet place.
The King began to speak again.
He talked at great length and rather confusedly; at least, much of what he said was incoherent to Jacques.
He spoke of the difficulties of government, the unpopularity of his Popish brother, the impossible temper of the various parties, the unsettled state of the nation, the unreasonableness of public opinion on the religious question, and his own great hopes for Toleration.
Also, and this was rather in the nature of an apologia, he gave some explanation of his secret treaty with France and his betrayal of the United Provinces.
It was, he said, to give his rights to his nephew, the Prince of Orange, that he had undertaken this war, the Grand Pensionary being a mere usurper, and much more in the same strain, so that Jacques could hardly understand him; he seemed, however, ashamed of this treaty and the secrecy of his religion, and laboured at his explanations like a man who knows that he is in the wrong.
He railed against his mother, his wife, and his brother, and he had a hard word for almost every member of his court, but it was all in a good-natured sort of way, and he seemed as much amused as vexed.
With a great deal of preamble he asked Jacques to remain in England as his secret confessor, and to leave everything else to the future.
'I shall call you Don Visdomini in public,' he said, 'and in private Father Rohan—our relationship we will leave in abeyance. Be assured that you will soon be satisfied.'
He added that he sometimes ventured secretly to the Duke of York's private chapel to hear the Mass, but that it was very dangerous, and he thought of having a little oratory fitted up off his chemical laboratory, where no one but his most intimate friends ever went.'
'Your Majesty suffers much for conscience' sake,' said Jacques faintly.
'If I am damned,' replied Charles, 'it will not be for lack of taking pains to prevent it. Now, we have been together long enough. You will come to the court to-morrow?'
'I wait your command, sir.'
'Come every day.'
'To-morrow I will present you to some people you must know—the two Queens, Lady Portsmouth, the Duke of York, and Mrs Brooke, who has a great influence with my brother.'
The interview ended thus, in what seemed to Jacques a very flat and dull fashion.
He left Whitehall feeling both angry and depressed.
THE Duke of Buckingham accompanied Jacques to the house in St Giles-in-the-Fields. Under his light manner, which had now become rather mechanical, he seemed very uneasy. He talked a great deal, endeavouring, as he said, to acquaint Jacques with some of the personages and current intrigues of the court.
He repeated much that the King had said, and was even more rambling and incoherent; the treaty of Dover was a bad business, it seemed, and required much explaining; Jacques thought that if the English nation knew of it the King would certainly not long retain his throne; meanwhile he was receiving sufficient from the French king to make him independent of the Parliament.
Jacques felt that if he had been a Englishman he would not long have endured the present state of affairs; it was curious that the nation that had beheaded the first Charles should endure his son.
This one ugly betrayal stood out, for the rest he could make little of the confused policies of the court—and he cared no more for them now than when the Jesuit had tried to instruct him in them a long year ago.
The Duke noticed this.
'You are so disinterested in everything,' he said, 'that I wonder that you ever came to England at all.'
'I am very interested in my own soul,' replied Jacques.
'Ah, I forgot that you are a priest.'
'So did I. My priesthood is a mere accident. It makes no impression on me at all. I said soul—I meant, perhaps, myself.'
'Well, that is what we all mean—but we have different ways of expressing ourselves. What do you hope for?' added the Duke abruptly, and slightly suspiciously.
'Hope for? Oh, I assure your Grace that I am not ambitious.'
'You mean that you will not confide in me.'
'There is nothing to confide.'
Buckingham shrugged his shoulders.
'I can give you this warning. Do not believe in the promises of the King.'
'Why do you say that? The King has been a good friend to you.'
The Duke laughed.
'Do you think that he will be to you?'
'Your Grace was one of those who persuaded me he would—once.'
'Certainly he will better your fortunes. But he has made fantastic promises—recognition.'
'Well?' interrupted Jacques rather sharply.
'You must know that he could never do anything of the kind.'
'There is the Duke of York, his daughters, the Prince of Orange, Monmouth, and the Duchess of Portsmouth in the way.'
Buckingham smiled maliciously as he spoke.
'The King is more powerful than any of these people.'
'Do you think that he is more powerful than all combined?'
'He would tell the truth if he wished,' said Jacques with suppressed violence.
'He would not be believed. It would be a great scandal—nothing else. It is all too obscure; too long ago.'
'What then is to become of me?'
'Remain in the Church. As the King's confessor you may achieve power.'
'Power!' cried Jacques, 'why, you all talk of nothing else but power and pleasure!'
'What else is there?'
'Many things—though I do not suppose that your Grace could put a name to them.'
That afternoon he was taken to wait on the two Queens.
The weather had changed, and the hazy radiance of the morning had given place to a gray and rather chill dullness; the trees in the palace gardens showed strange in their summer bloom against a cold, colourless sky.
The two Queens received Jacques together; the apartment seemed to him very dark and sombre and plainly furnished; the Queen-mother was withered, vivacious, and yet dry—Queen Catherine plain, quiet, and with an air of stupidity; both had an atmosphere of bigotry, as if their faith was the most important thing in their lives. They were very generous in their reception of Jacques, treated him even with a certain deference in his character of priest.
The conversation was entirely about religion and Rome.
Jacques became very fatigued by this feminine small talk; he had the impression that neither of these women were of any importance, one having outlived her day and the other being entirely insignificant.
Neither did they, when the first curiosity was satisfied, evince much interest in him, though they were very civil and even kind, presenting him on his departure with a gift of jewels.
His subsequent interview with the Duchess of Portsmouth was equally dull; he found her far less beautiful than popular report painted her and infinitely better behaved.
She seemed to him a good woman, faithful to the King and believing herself his wife before God, by some extraordinary reasoning of a superstitious conscience; a Frenchwoman, she stood for France and was, quite frankly, in the pay of King Louis; she was clever, well educated, and possessed unbounded influence over Charles, partly perhaps because she had the power of France behind her; she appeared sincerely religious and very pleased that the King should have a confessor; she promised Jacques her entire protection, as she naturally looked upon him as of her own party; she earnestly begged him to remain in the Church, at least for a great while.
Jacques liked her, principally because of her fine gentle manners and a certain calm decorum with which she maintained an infamous position that yet she evidently justified before her own by no means bad heart and soul.
The Duke of York Jacques met casually; this sad prince was not in the secret; despite his bigotry it was not considered safe to trust him with so delicate a matter, seeing he was heir-presumptive and of a jealous, narrow nature.
But he knew that Jacques was a priest in disguise and therefore treated him with deep deference; he was now completely ruled by priests and women; the convent was obviously his goal, but he was taking many diversions on the way to its gates.
His present favourite was a Mrs Brooke—Jacques heard many jests about the plainness of this lady, the Duke's choice had never yet fallen on a beautiful woman.
Mrs Brooke had been married and left, but she was very young; somehow Jacques sickened at the thought of her; she seemed the butt for all the ribald and ugly stories; in a court of infamous women her reputation seemed the most damaged of any.
On the third day Jacques met her; he was told that he must pay some court to her, as she had considerable influence over the Duke, and if he once took a dislike to the King's confessor the position would be indeed difficult; he was already slightly incensed (for he had no prudence and all the headlong enthusiasm of the bigot) that one of his own favourite priests had not been chosen for this delicate post.
So Jacques, to whom this was all like some gigantic puppet-show, went to the apartments of Mrs Brooke.
It was afternoon, still dull weather, and cold, with the peculiar creeping coldness of an English summer.
The lady's rooms looked on the gardens and the river and were full of a gray light; the appointments were fashionable and handsome, black and gold lacquer cabinets and table, chairs and a sofa in blue and yellow tapestry.
A lady rose as Jacques entered; it was Eleanor Coningsby.
Even now he felt a throb of anger to see her in such a place.
'Is Mrs Brooke your friend?' he asked impulsively and harshly.
She was overdressed and painted; she looked tired and spiritless; he saw now that she must always have been a plain woman; now that her bloom had gone she was, to him at least, without charm.
Without speaking she stared at him; her eyes had a strange, greedy look.
'Have you been ill?' asked Jacques. 'You have changed so much. And it is only a year ago.'
'For God's sake don't be a fool,' she said sharply. 'I am Mrs Brooke.'
Her voice had changed as much as her face; it was quite hoarse.
She stamped her foot.
'Did you think I had become a nun because you had become a priest?' she asked rudely, and flung herself into one of the gaudy chairs.
'I never heard that you were married,' he said dully.
'I suppose you did not hear much in your Jesuit college.'
'No,' he said. 'No.'
Mrs Brooke sat forward so as not to disarrange her artificially pressed curls, which had lost their pretty brown hue and were a dull yellow.
'I married an old man,' she said. 'Of course I could not endure it.'
'You need not tell me any more,' answered Jacques.
'Naturally you would have to preach,' she sneered. 'But I have done nothing that I am ashamed of.'
She tossed her head.
'Why did you not stay in your monastery?' she asked.
'It was not a monastery,' he said patiently. 'The Jesuits do their work in the world—not in a cloister. Where is your father?' he added abruptly.
'I am glad.'
She flushed and turned on him narrow eyes.
'Why have you come here?'
'I was sent.'
'To gain the favour of the Duke of York's—woman,' she finished for him. 'And you a priest!'
'It is true.'
'Then you are no better than I;' the sneer in her voice was very bitter.
'That is the worst of all,' he smiled. 'But I am only a spectator, Nell.'
'Oh, yes—you were always that—or you would have married me—but it is better like this, much better.'
'How you have changed, Nell, how you have changed!'
'And you! And you!'
'In a year.'
She continued to look at him with that hard defiance; he noticed how yellow her teeth seemed between the carmine on her lips; a year ago, was it possible?—God! she could not be more than twenty now.
'Well?' she challenged. 'You are shocked, of course,... but we had parted.'
'While it lasted it was very wonderful—the dreams, the hopes.'
'You never loved me.'
'No—oh, no—but I thought I did.'
'I knew it—you were so cold. Why I was a fool then, I did not know, now I would not endure the lover you were then for half a day.'
'You would get no such lover now, Nell.'
She twisted the long chain of false pearls she wore round her fingers.
'We talk at random,' she said. 'I suppose you want me to help you. Tell me why you are here. I saw you yesterday, and knew you at once, though you are such a magnificent cavalier. And the Duke told me that you were the King's confessor.'
'The Duke tells you things like that?'
He did not answer, and she went on, speaking rapidly.
'I suppose this was the secret service my father procured for you? I never thought that you would get a position of such importance.'
These words reminded Jacques that she did not know who he was and really believed him to be Jacques de Rohan.
'It was strange for you to join the Church of Rome,' she continued. 'I'm a Papist also. 'Tis the fashionable faith.'
He shrank from her; he marvelled that she could ever have been the object of his love dream; yet she had always had in her what made her what she was now; he recalled her vanity, her failure to respond to his invitation to leave all for him, the easy way she had parted from him, her instant submission to Buckingham... she had always been the same, only hidden in that sheath of fresh girlhood that had so deceived his ignorant fancy.
She studied him while he was watching her; perhaps she guessed that he was thinking of the Eleanor of a year ago, perhaps the memory of some of her own far-off dreams faintly touched her, some passing pang of the might-have-been stirred her foolish heart—for her shallow brown eyes clouded and her painted lip quivered.
'Why did you come back?' she asked roughly. 'I was quite happy.'
'Be happy still.'
'You—you scorn me.'
Her words tinkled stupidly in his ears; he was glad to turn his glance from her to the cool garden and the gray river beyond the window.
'You must be courteous to me,' she went on. 'I might do you some harm—you were sent here to flatter me, were you not? Did Buckingham send you?'
She shrilled with sudden laughter and looked pleased in a self-conscious way as a vain woman will when she alludes to a man whom she flatters herself admires her; Jacques could not look at her blatant silliness.
'I do not think that I shall need your help,' he said. 'I am not staying long at Whitehall.'
'Not long?' she seemed disappointed.
'No. I have to return to Rome. At least for a time.'
'I do not understand any of it,' she pouted, with the affectation of a pretty woman's graces. 'There is something I am not told. I shall make his Highness tell me.'
'It would not interest you, Nell—there is no need for you to think of it any more. Only remember that I am Carlo Visdomini now and that no one knows that I am Jacques de Rohan and a priest.'
'I suppose you think that I cannot be of any use to you—but I could—the Duke.'
He interrupted her sharply.
'Need you keep speaking of him?'
'Why should I not speak of him?'
She was crudely defiant again; everything she did seemed unutterably commonplace.
'Once I thought of you as my wife,' said Jacques sternly, 'and I do not like to hear you flaunt what you are now.'
She was flattered at that, for she thought that he was jealous.
'I did care for you,' she said in a moved voice. 'But you—you never insisted. And then I could never have lived in Jersey.'
Her speech was full of emphasis and yet made the impression of great weakness.
She looked at him rather wistfully.
'I like this life—really,' she said. 'It was what I always wanted.'
'And will it last?'
'I need not think about that yet.'
'But does it never frighten you?'
She rose with a certain feeble violence; the gray light made her rich dress look garish and was cruel to her face, so young in contour, so artificial in colour, so old in expression.
'I suppose you have come to talk about my soul,' she said, 'to terrify me. Well—why should I be punished—more than any of them?'
'Do you believe in hell?' he asked curiously, for he thought that she was frightened at the idea of a future state, and he had not meant that at all, but this life.
'I have no more need to think than any one else,' she maintained obstinately. 'I am not a wicked woman. And there is absolution. That is why I became a Papist.'
'Then you do believe,' he said.
It was strange to him that this woman should have the faith that was denied him.
She turned her face away.
'We will not talk of it,' she said.
'I did not mean to talk of it—I meant this world.'
'Why should I be afraid of this world?'
'Sir Miles left you his fortune?'
'Oh, no—a cousin has all.'
'And your husband?'
'Of course he gives me nothing,' for a moment she looked worried. 'There are debts, naturally—and I am so unlucky at cards, I lose so much—still, why do you make me think of it?'
She tapped her foot against the floor; for an instant she seemed to be the Eleanor of the house in Westminster and his eyes misted.
Some regret, some tenderness, some horror stirred her; she caught hold of the chair back and began to laugh.
'Think of it!' she cried, 'think of a year ago—and now—you a priest—and I a—'
He silenced her roughly, and she sat down and began to cry, untidily and noisily, like a child.
'There is no need,' said Jacques, 'there is no need, Nell—I shall not trouble you—behave as if I had never come back.'
'Oh, it is not that,' she sobbed through her handkerchief. 'Do not think I'm not happy—only weak—I—I have been ill—I am not strong.'
He turned away from the spectacle of her maimed womanhood; she began to dry her tears and rise to speak, but he left her, closing the door on her passionately.
JACQUES returned at once to the house in St Giles-in-the-Fields.
His interview with Eleanor Brooke had left him silenced with the shock of a great and sudden disgust.
He tried to reason away this feeling; there was no need why he should concern himself about this woman; he had known that she was foolish; he had left her; during the past year he hardly had thought of her—why then had it hurt so to find her what she was?
Perhaps because she had always been to him symbolical of womanhood, perhaps because she was the only creature to whom he had ever talked of love.
Now she was symbolical of other things than womanhood—the corruptions, deceits, dishonesties, and littleness of the court.
When he took his thoughts back to that six months when he had come up from Jersey and recalled her sedateness, her freshness, her sweet, rather reserved manners, their pleasant communion together in such snatched moments as they could find, all their mutual dreams and hopes, he wished that one of them had died before it had come to this.
He did not in the least excuse himself; he saw that he had become as ugly a thing as Eleanor Brooke—a priest of a faith in which he did not believe, a tool in the hands of men whom he held in contempt, drifting, purposeless, useless, with no object in his life but a vague hatred and a vague desire for vengeance—on whom, for what, he hardly knew—on the Fates for a spoilt life—on the King as representing Fate.
He felt so sick at heart that he would not return to court though he knew that the King was awaiting him; instead, he remained in the garden of his house.
The place pleased him greatly; even though he longed for Italy, he liked this gray coolness, this green shade, the lush grass of the neglected lawns, the misty meadow and low orchards that surrounded the house, the quiet, and the distant view of the river.
He liked the rooms, too.
They were large and lofty and the trees grew so near the windows that even on sunny days they were quite dark with a cool green darkness, as if they were under water.
While the foliage without showed the colour of amber with the sun behind each leaf, and glimpses of the garden between the boughs looked remote and silent as vistas in fairyland.
Jacques did not use half the rooms in the house, and it was easy for the two lay-brothers to arrange a small apartment as an oratory, the key of which was always in Jacques's pocket, and where he secretly celebrated Mass every day.
When he laid aside his court trappings and stood there in his priestly robes, tonsured and shaven, administering the Sacrament to these two fellow Jesuits, a certain feeling of peace possessed him; for the moment he could almost believe; the reverence he always maintained almost imposed upon himself.
Sometimes a sentence of the service would remain with him all day and occur to him in the most unlikely places and with a swiftness that made it seem as if the words were suddenly being said aloud.
When he returned from his interview with Eleanor Brooke he called the Jesuit, Brother Ponchelli, who acted as his valet, and took him into the garden.
They found a seat under a huge elm-tree—the low clouds held rain and the wind was chill.
Brother Ponchelli was not a young man, but very vigorous and active; Jacques had often envied his perfect serenity.
He and the other lay-brother always treated Jacques, as their priest and superior, with a deference that seemed to put them far apart, yet they were both older than he and had been much longer in the Society. Now in his heart sickness he turned to one of them.
The Italian waited for him to speak and he did not know what to say.
In his rich clothes, sword, and heavy peruke he looked most unpriestly; his type had never been suited to the Jesuit garb, but he easily assumed the look of a courtier.
At last he asked about Father Marchiafava—what had become of him?
Brother Ponchelli thought that he had gone to Paraguay.
Jacques questioned about this; there was something soothing in conversing with this tranquil man in the green shade of the old garden—something that made him a little forget Eleanor Brooke.
The lay-brother told him about Paraguay and the work the Jesuits did there, regardless of the perils of the most hideous forms of disease and death.
He described the Reductions, or colonies into which they had formed the Indians who lived there in the greatest happiness and security.
He described how these Christian Indians were ruled, guided, taught, and trained by the Jesuits, how these little republics were self-supporting, every man and woman doing some work for the common good, and how both the fathers and lay-brothers led a life of complete abnegation in this curious exile, few of them ever returning to Europe.
It all seemed so utterly remote to Jacques, the very name, Paraguay, had a fantastic sound; he slightly shuddered; he could not conceive of himself leading such a life.
But this was nothing, the brother added, compared to the sacrifice some of the fathers made when they carried the Gospel of Christ into the wild parts of North America, Africa, and Asia, where many of them had met the most terrible deaths of torture and disease.
Yet there were never lacking others to follow them.
Some even had penetrated to the dreadful city of Tibet, and the farthest verge of the north to preach to the Indians on the icefields.
'They are men,' said the lay-brother, 'who lead such an intensely spiritual life that it is a matter of indifference to them where they are—a court, a city, a desert, a virgin forest, all is the same to them, a thinly coloured veil through which they see God.'
Jacques thought of D'Oliva's villa at Albano and wondered.
'You, father,' added the Italian, 'play a dangerous part in a distasteful place.'
'You also,' smiled Jacques.
'I am not a priest.'
'But you are a Jesuit. Do you think the vulgar distinguish? I think that we should be torn to pieces if we were discovered. There is no one the English hate as much as the Jesuits—they would never give them even justice. We should be taken to Tyburn on a hurdle.'
'Many fathers have suffered there,' replied the lay-brother composedly.
He did not know the secret of Jacques's parentage, and the young priest had a wild impulse to tell him and ease his confused mind and troubled heart by a full confession, but he restrained himself, feeling the time not ripe yet for any action.
But his conversation with the Jesuit had had its effect; he felt more calm and tranquil in mind; his spirit was as much soothed by the presence of this humble man in his servant's dress as his eyes were by the deep shades of the green tree that overshadowed him and the soft colour of the grass of the careless lawns.
'This place has a cloistered air,' he remarked.
'It is a sad climate,' said Brother Ponchelli, 'yet pleasing.'
'You are from the south of Italy?'
'Yes, father. From Naples.'
'It is a city I have much wished to see. Father Marchiafava comes from Naples.'
'Yes. There is a very large college there.'
'You are never homesick?' asked Jacques curiously.
'Nor I. I come from Jersey. I lived there all my life till under two years ago—yet I never think of it, or think of it only as some childish dream.'
'Is any of the world anything else, father?' asked the lay-brother simply.
Jacques was silent.
Sitting here in this peaceful solitude with this peaceful man nothing seemed to matter very much—not even the King, not even Eleanor Brooke.
His own indifference startled him; was it possible that he, so young, with such strange chances before him, had done with love, done with ambition?
And if he had, what else was there in life? He had no religion—impossible to him the existence of those fathers in Paraguay.
The other noticed his sad abstraction—the elderly lay-brother had a sort of protective affection for the young priest weighed with such a difficult, dangerous, and delicate mission; perhaps he wondered why such a man had been selected for such a post, but his perfect training allowed of no hint of question or surprise in his manner.
'You have a hard task, father,' he said, 'one that will tax you to the utmost.'
'More distasteful than hard,' answered Jacques quietly.
'You hate the court?'
'It is so ugly. I have seen no splendour, not one fair face; not one happy smile—much tinsel, but no gold.'
'And the King?'
'The King?' repeated Jacques slowly.
He searched in his heart for terms in which to describe the King.
'The King is a troubled man,' he said after a little, 'ill at ease with himself, distracted by his brother—his people, and his son. I think he has not much joy even in his pleasures, he loves idleness, yet attends more business than the people think. I do not believe that he will be faithful, even to the Church of Rome.'
'You mean that he will never declare his faith?'
'Then our hopes must be in the Duke of York.'
Jacques turned away his face; the Duke of York and Eleanor Brooke—his uncle and Eleanor Brooke...
'That prince is very zealous,' added the lay-brother.
'I know nothing of him,' said Jacques sharply, 'except that he is ruled by women.'
'Ah, the women!'
'They are there at every turn, waiting, like animals, to be whipped or fed.'
'The Queen is a good woman.'
'But a cipher.'
'And the Duchess of Portsmouth?'
'She is really the French ambassador and a clever one.'
'A good Catholic.'
'Perhaps. She was very civil to me. I did not think her very handsome, but sensible and pleasant.'
'She will help you?'
'Yes, but she seemed afraid. She said the feeling against Catholics is extraordinary, the war with the Dutch is most unpopular. A secret treaty with France is suspected. The King dare not call a Parliament.'
'It is marvellous then,' said the lay-brother, 'that the King has the courage for even this secret conversion.'
'He, too, is afraid.'
'Of something besides the people of England.'
'Of God, perhaps.'
'That is a thing to be greatly thankful for, is it not?'
'Yes,' smiled Jacques.
'And you, father, as his confessor, will have great power over him.'
'Perhaps,' said the young priest sternly. 'Perhaps not.'
'Assuredly great power, father.'
'How must I use it?' asked Jacques abruptly.
The lay-brother could not conceal some surprise.
'You ask me, father?'
'But D'Oliva will have given you full instructions.'
'I know. But I was not thinking of politics.'
'Of what then?'
'I ask you, as one man to another, how should I influence the King of England if I gained any power over him?'
Brother Ponchelli answered at once.
'By persuading him to Toleration.'
'It would be useless.'
'Then he is useless to us. If he has not the courage to remove the penalties from the members of his own faith and in his own kingdom, he is a poor king and a worse Catholic.'
'The Duke of York would do.'
'Then he is the better man.'
'But he would also lose the throne.'
'He would gain another.'
Jacques rose; he was weary of these polemics; instead of clearing his mind they further confused it; 'cheats, cheats, all cheats,' sounded in his tired head.
The rain began to fall, splashing so heavily on the thick foliage that it fell in great drops on the two men sitting beneath.
They went back into the house, which the passing storm had rendered quite dark. Jacques found a visitor awaiting him—a quiet-looking man, dressed like a merchant of the better sort.
Jacques guessed him to be a priest, and as soon as they were alone he in fact announced himself to be Father Mansell, a Jesuit and confessor to the Duke of York.
He was an Englishman, middle-aged and of a powerful personality; the manners of a courtier leant a certain charm to his heavy ordinary features.
Jacques felt raw and foolish before him and conscious that, under these pleasant manners, the elder priest was on his guard, neither wholly liking nor wholly trusting the new-comer.
He referred at once to recent letters he had received from D'Oliva, and said how vexed the General was at that imprudent visit to the Queen of Sweden, which had taken a great deal of explaining away, as the lady had proved most inquisitive.
'You must be more prudent at Whitehall,' he added.
'You know who I am?' asked Jacques very shortly.
'This carefully guarded secret seems to be known to a great many.'
'To all the Jesuits, I think. Which is like saying it belongs to one person only. And that it is inviolable. No member of the order ever betrayed a secret, even under torture.'
Jacques felt rebuked, and sat silent, rather sullenly.
It is most essential that you and I, sir, should work together,' continued Father Mansell. 'For the present our interests are identical—our object the same—Toleration.'
'And the succession?' asked Jacques.
The other gave him a quick look.
'It is early to talk of that. We as Jesuits can hope for nothing better than that the Duke of York should be King.'
'And my claims?'
'Sir, they are fantastic. And when you took your vows you naturally renounced them.'
'I could be released from them.'
Father Mansell smiled.
'We must not discuss this now. I think that you may obtain satisfaction for your ambition—'
'I am not ambitious,' interrupted Jacques. 'I spoke out of curiosity.'
'I applaud your attitude,' replied the other gravely. 'I am here,' he added, 'to give you a few words of advice.'
'I am grateful.'
'You will find the King difficult.'
'The Duke of York is our great hope.'
'If you remained in the Church he would be exceedingly generous to you.'
'At present he is governed by a succession of worthless women. I and the Duchess combat this influence, which is most pernicious. You have met Mrs Brooke?'
'Well, I believe she is a spy for the Protestants. At least she is a vile creature and must be got rid of—I warn you to trust her with no secrets and to use all your power against her—most unfortunately his Highness has already told her you are the King's confessor—this deplorable weakness!'
Jacques did not reply; after a little further talk Father Mansell left, and the young priest went upstairs and unlocked the secret oratory.
He stared at the simple altar and the plain crucifix, which was all the room contained, save the chest for the vestments and vessels; the rain splashed on the window driven by the wind that tossed the boughs against the glass, the room was dark and cool and sweet.
'If only I could pray,' thought Jacques dully, 'or cease to think.'
FOR several days Jacques would not go to Whitehall, though Buckingham came and told him that he was seriously angering the King.
This to Jacques did not seem to matter at all.
His utter indifference to court favour showed in everything that he did, and amazed all who came in touch with him.
Father Mansell, as a fellow Jesuit, spoke to him sharply.
'What do you want?' was the sum of his reproach.
Jacques could not tell any one what he wanted; he only knew himself in half formulated, inarticulated longings and desires.
He certainly did not want either of the bribes the King had offered, neither the Cardinalate—nor the position occupied by the Duke of Monmouth.
That young man seemed to him a foolish fribble and his position only what a foolish fribble could endure.
At least he knew that he should find it impossible—he had neither the light heartedness nor the gaiety, nor the shamelessness required; and always at the bottom of his heart was that hatred of the King—that master cheat of all the cheats who had thwarted his life.
Neither did Jacques want love; all women seemed to him like Eleanor Brooke; the glimpse he had had of the tarnished creatures of the court blurred his imagination; his fantastic sensitiveness turned from all of them.
Yet he had nothing to which to turn; spiritually he was vague and lost; it seemed to him as if his soul gazed on to a dark night without a single star.
No faith, no hope, no God, no dream illuminated this darkness.
The words of the Christian ritual that he performed with reverence every day were just words, though they haunted and sometimes stung him.
He did not care about the world, yet he saw no good reason for renouncing it; the court repelled him; yet he shuddered from the thought of the cloister. The Jesuit training, hurried and artificial as it had been, had taught him to think, he could no longer drift as he had drifted before, in more or less placid discontent.
He grew to love the old dark house and the heavily-shaded gardens and the flat meadows leading to the reaches of the river.
The rooms were full of mirrors, and the scant light reflected in the dull greenish glass heightened the illusion of water, transparent, cool, and silent, filling the air instead of light.
There were curious old books, too, on the shelves of the dining-rooms; great vellum tomes in white and rubbed gold, with red silk markers, printed in Paris a century before, mostly the Latin classics with notes, or works of religious controversy, with here and there an old romance.
Jacques thought that it would be pleasant to live awhile in such a house in complete seclusion and without a troubled mind, to dream over old legends and fantastic speculations until the unreal became real.
At length he went to the court, and Charles received him without anger, indeed affectionately; but he ignored their relationship, and even when they were alone together addressed him as Father Rohan.
Jacques celebrated Mass in the Duke's private chapel, when the King was present, and the doors carefully locked against possible spies; before this he had confessed the King.
It was all quite formal, and the young priest lost all sense of anything personal, he seemed but a set figure in a set show. Afterwards Father Mansell congratulated him on his calm and dignity, and the Duke of York was humble in his deference.
This prince, Jacques noticed, was in an abased mood; his devotion during the Sacrament had been extreme, he had even wept, and his fervour had been almost passionate.
Jacques had thought of Eleanor Brooke, but in a tranquil manner.
He began to notice, more and more, how the donning of the priestly vestments gave him calm, and how soothed he felt when he officiated at the altar.
To avoid all possible suspicion, he left the palace almost at once, in his cavalier's dress; Charles had asked him to come frequently to Whitehall and to make acquaintances among the courtiers, but this he could not yet bring himself to do; he went back to St Giles-in-the-Fields and the remote, cool house.
The two lay-brothers had dismissed most of the servants Buckingham had engaged; they thought it safer not to have many strangers in the house, and they were well able to look after it themselves. There was only one old woman in the kitchen and a boy who came daily, and the Jesuits were ready, at the first suspicion, to get rid of these.
Being freer, they now held vespers every day, there was not much fear that the woman in the great kitchen far away would hear them.
But to-day, when Jacques was already in his priest's dress, the old creature's thin voice came calling up the stairs. Jacques stepped into the room used as the oratory and shut himself in.
Brother Ponchelli (the lay-brethren never changed their attire) went downstairs.
'There was a lady at the door,' she said, 'wishes to see the master.'
'And who is she and what is her business?' asked the Italian in his careful English.
The old woman did not know; she was not interested in her employers, who talked together in a foreign language and were to her no better than monkeys; she grumbled a good deal at their manner of living and at the strange dishes she was asked to cook; the Jesuit saw her assumed stupidity and sent her back to the kitchen.
He himself went to the door.
It was quite dark in the garden now and raining fast; the boughs of the great trees dripped heavily on the long grass. A woman stood on the step holding her hood under the chin.
'I wish to see—Don Carlo Visdomini,' she said impatiently.
The Jesuit was instantly on the alert.
'And your business, madam?'
'Are you a priest, too?' she asked with a little hoarse laugh. 'You see I know all about you. I want to see Jacques de Rohan.'
He allowed her to pass him and closed the door carefully
'We are not alone in the house,' he said quietly. 'Will you please be cautious?'
'Oh, you may trust me,' she answered carelessly. 'Will you take me to'—she shrugged—'whatever you call your master?'
He conducted her into the long, dark dining-room; the wet green of the boughs pressing against the window was the only colour in the room, the drip of the rain without the only noise.
'What a place,' shuddered the woman.
'What is your name?' asked the Jesuit gravely.
She treated him like the servant he looked, and even displayed a certain haughty impatience, but when he left her the defiance faded from her attitude and she dropped into a chair and put her hands before her face.
When Jacques entered she looked up but did not rise.
He wore a long cloak open over his priest's garb and no peruke concealed the tonsure. She was startled and stammered some incoherent words, drawing back in her seat.
'You did not believe what I told you?' he asked.
'Yes—but it is so strange to see you—like this.'
He came to the other side of the table and looked down at her calmly.
'Why have you come? It is a folly,' he said tranquilly.
'I have nowhere else to go.'
'You have left Whitehall?'
'Do not be so merciless, do not look at me, can you not understand?'
'Not easily, Eleanor.'
She rose, pushing back her chair.
'Well, the Duke has given me up—Father Mansell and the Duchess worked on him—and he has dismissed me.'
She added some words of angry abuse that he could not imagine Eleanor Coningsby using.
'And you have nowhere to go?'
'The Duke will not provide for you?'
She laughed long and harshly and dragged out from her cloak the long string of false pearls.
'This is all he ever gave me!'
Jacques believed that it might be true, the Duke of York's meanness was as well known as his bigotry.
'You have no money?'
'And your people?'
Again the noisy laugh.
'They think I am a wicked woman.'
Jacques stood silent, he felt wrapped in a profound melancholy.
The sombre shadows of the room softened the woman's daubed face and frizzed hair; she looked more like the Eleanor of a year ago; and her eyes were genuinely frightened and her mouth genuinely pitiful.
A fool, of course, a wanton, of course, perhaps worse than either, yet helpless in her present misery.
Jacques could see it all very clearly; the Duke wrought upon by confessor and wife had cast off a woman of whom perhaps he was already weary, and the Italian Duchess had not hesitated to use her triumph—Eleanor Brooke publicly dismissed was publicly disgraced... even in Whitehall she could obtain no footing now unless she found a powerful protector.
And it was obvious that she had none.
'Why do you come here?' he asked.
'You loved me.'
He smiled; it was astonishing how the egotism of women would flourish on the meagrest diet, how they would press claim after claim on a bankrupt love.
'That was a long time ago, Eleanor. You dismissed me and I have gone my ways.'
'I suppose I am nothing to you now?' she asked.
'Oh, you are a priest, too, like Father Mansell.'
'You see it.'
'And I was a fool to come.'
They stood silent facing each other, his cloak falling back from his vestment, hers from her bare throat and the chain of artificial pearls.
'What do you think I can do for you here? You know my position?'
Her lip curled.
'Yes. I know too much. I suppose they none of them thought of that. I know what would set all England in a ferment.'
He looked at her with a calm before which her futile fury faded.
'I was warned that you might be a spy.'
'Why should I be loyal—to any of you?' she cried violently.
'There is no reason, Eleanor.'
'You are not afraid?'
'Of what I know.'
'No,' he smiled.
She was baffled; the secret that the Duke's incredible folly had put her in possession of seemed somehow worthless now.
The quiet dark room, the man in the priest's attire, the sense of remoteness, of silence, of peace, baffled and oppressed her.
'I might know that you would be cruel now you have entered their bloodless church!' she cried.
'If you only knew, Eleanor, how I am troubled and torn—and ill at ease,' he smiled. My indifference is that of despair.'
'You did love me then?'
'Oh, love!' he cried impatiently. 'I was not thinking of that.'
She wrung her hands.
'What are you going to do with me?' came her impotent wail.
He looked at her cowardice, her selfishness shivering before him, and his soul sickened.
'You might ruin me,' he said, 'by coming here—have you thought of that?'
'No—oh, do not blame me.'
He checked her protests.
'You cannot stay here.'
She stood sullen, obstinately leaving her problem for his solution.
'There is one person we have never mentioned,' he said.
Eleanor Brooke shivered under these words.
'Would he take you back?'
Her face was derisive.
'I suppose he would murder me.'
'Nay—he has left you unmolested, he cannot be a man of violence.'
'He is old.'
'He should, then, be the more merciful—where does he live?'
'In the country.'
'He is rich?'
Jacques paused a moment, and she watched him anxiously.
'You left him?' asked the priest at last.
'You have not seen him since or written to him or heard from him?'
'He was kind to you?'
She had made her replies with dry lips, her frightened, furtive eyes on him the while.
'Well,' he said heavily, 'well—a kind old man, you shall go back to him.'
'I would die first.'
Without taking heed of her he left the room and went up to his chamber where the two lay-brethren waited.
They at once begged him to change his clothes, as the old woman would soon be preparing the supper; Jacques submitted, and they helped him to alter from priest to cavalier.
'Father,' asked Brother Ponchelli, 'who is this woman?
Jacques told him, and both the Jesuits were disturbed.
'It is a gross imprudence,' said Brother Adriano, 'you must turn her out into the street at once.'
'And if she shouts aloud who I am? We play with dangerous secrets.'
'The Duke is to blame.'
'And Father Mansell.'
'He never thought of what she knew.'
'The King must be told.'
'Yes, he could hide her.'
Jacques remained silent during this whispered talk; he put on his peruke, his sword, his pistols, and his riding boots.
His appearance was completely changed.
'I will take the woman back to her husband. A kind old man, she says. She is only a girl, and perhaps he loves her.'
'But, father, you cannot leave the house with her.'
'Who is to know? I can be back to-morrow afternoon. Go down and give her some food—and light. She is in the dark.'
Brother Adriano obeyed instantly.
The other lay-brother remained to quietly protest.
'Father, you jeopardise too much by this journey—let me go.'
Jacques looked an unhealthy colour in the candlelight wearing the fair peruke that so ill suited his complexion.
'She would not go with you. She knows me—a year ago we were—acquaintances.'
He went back to her, still fumbling with his sword straps.
She was seated at the long table that was all in darkness save for the taper in front of her that lit a napkin and some food and drink set before her.
She was eating in a leisurely fashion.
'Now I know you,' she said, with a full glance. 'But you go more handsomely than you did before.'
He ignored both the look and the words.
'Will you come with me to Mr Brooke?' he asked.
'Yes—I will. You are right—it is the only place for me—and perhaps he will forgive.'
Jacques felt his heart lighten.
'Very well, we will go at once—you and I and Brother Ponchelli, the horses are fresh and we should be there by early morning.
She eyed him curiously.
'How fantastic you are,' she murmured.
'When you have finished,' he said sternly, 'go into the closet off this room and wash your face and dress your hair plainly and take those gaudy beads from your neck.'
Her eyes narrowed, but she rose at once and obeyed him.
He went to the window, opened it, and listened to the long swish of the rain; why was he doing this—prudence, chivalry, pity?
He heard her return and looked round to see a haggard young woman come into the circle of light cast by the one candle; now all artifice had gone she looked really ill.
'I am ready,' she said; her hoarse voice sounded harsh.
JACQUES knew that the two lay-brothers considered his action hardly justifiable; their vows of obedience made it impossible for them to expostulate once he had given his orders, but they scarcely concealed their quiet disapproval.
Jacques was aware that they were right; he knew that D'Oliva would never have approved of his interference in the fortunes of Eleanor Brooke, and that his one object with this woman should have been to keep her pleasant and to ensure her keeping the secret so foolishly entrusted to her by the Duke of York.
The General of the Jesuits would probably even have sanctioned a pretence of love on his part, a return of the old affection—anything to beguile and silence Eleanor Brooke.
But Jacques could not do this; he had not the Jesuit cause at heart sufficiently even for him to endeavour to serve it now; he wanted to be rid of the woman, but he did not want her to come to harm.
He thought that he could persuade the husband, this kind old man, to take her back; she was so utterly broken, and passionate hatreds and desires for revenge could not really greatly trouble the ancient heart of John Brooke.
Jacques heard that he lived at Sheen and cultivated foreign fruits and flowers; it did not seem clear why he had married Eleanor, save that he was her father's friend, and Sir Miles had forced on the match in the hopes to save his daughter from the attentions of the Duke of York.
Eleanor, it seemed, had lived for a few weeks at Sheen; the subject of her first quarrel with her husband had been the extravagance of her housekeeping, yet he had never cared what he spent on his flowers, his glass houses, his tulips from Holland, and his Berhamot cherries and prickly pears.
Jacques was reminded of D'Oliva, another dry, old, quiet man with this passion for the most gorgeous, luxurious, and fantastic of Nature's products.
When he saw the disapproval of his companions, he suggested that Eleanor should go alone with Brother Adriano for company.
This she absolute refused to do, and he promised to accompany her; the journey presented several difficulties; he had no coach and commonly went abroad in a hired chair, nor could he, as late as this, procure even a hackney carriage without causing the commotion he wished to avoid.
At the same time it was imperative that the woman should not be found in this house in the morning; there was the old creature in the kitchen to consider, a possible visitor, the youth who came daily, the difficulty of getting her away unseen by daylight.
Brother Ponchelli suggested the river; they kept, as a precaution in case of necessary flight, their own boat, and all three could handle the oars; it would not take long to row down to Richmond and they would be free from observation.
There seemed no alternative to this plan, and though Jacques did not like it because it forced him to take at least one of the lay-brothers, he was obliged to agree.
Eleanor consented rather sullenly to the walk down to the river and the walk the other end from Richmond to Sheen; she complained about the wet, and her shoes, and the extraordinary hour at which they would arrive at her husband's house.
She gave Jacques an impression of triviality so intense that he almost lost sight of her personality and ceased to think at all of her feelings or emotions.
He chose Brother Ponchelli to accompany them, leaving Brother Adriano in charge of the house, and the three set out with a lantern across the wet fields.
It was still raining slightly and nearly dark; the moon would be up presently, and the rapid movements of the low clouds gave promise that they might use her light; meanwhile the lantern the Italian carried served them along the paths Jacques already knew well.
Eleanor, shivering in her cloak and hood, clung to the young priest's arm, picking her way rather clumsily and shrinking from the fine rain on her face.
Jacques took no heed of her; he noticed how the four long beautiful rays of the lantern showed in a dim, unreal light, now a foxglove growing in the hedge, now a couple of poppies, now the trunk of a tree covered with wet moss, and presently, when the hedge dipped away, the folded leaves and crimson blossoms of the clover that edged the footpath.
He liked the feel of the fragrant rain, the silence, and the strong breeze blowing straight from the sea across the Essex flats; so much effect did this have on him that he became serene and even joyful, without any reason whatever.
Among the private boathouses on the reaches of the river they easily found their own, and with some labour launched it; the tide was coming in and the current in their favour. The woman huddled into the cushions, complaining of the cold, and the men took to the hardly necessary oars.
The arch of the sky seemed immense to Jacques; it was a long time since he had been at this hour in a solitary place, and he liked this blotting out of humanity, this sense of lonely space the darkness gave; the illusion did not last long, the river traffic soon became murmurous and the sense of the life of the city pressing down close either side of this strip of water was not to be resisted; they passed the long rows of lighted windows of Whitehall and the press of barges at the royal steps; Jacques expected to hear Eleanor rail against the glories that had closed to her, but she was silent, and on his turning to look at her, he saw she was asleep in a huddled attitude; fatigue, the walk, the cool air had acted on her like a drug; she was heavily unconscious.
'Poor fool,' murmured Jacques.
The Italian was guiding the boat through the traffic and did not answer, only when they had shot free into a clear space of water did he speak.
'You know she means to betray us, father?' he asked in Italian.
Jacques stared at the neat figure in the servant's attire the lantern light showed.
'Betray us?' he repeated stupidly.
'Of course,' came the quiet, whispered reply. 'It is so—obvious.'
'Explain,' said Jacques.
'She is a Protestant agent—paid by the party who support Monmouth and the Protestant succession.'
'How do you know?'
'It has been my business to discover,' replied the lay-brother.
'Ah,' said Jacques quickly, 'you have had instructions, secret instructions from Rome?'
'I am always bound to watch the interests of the Society.'
'But you have been told to watch me?'
'To watch for you,' said the Italian gently.
But Jacques was now sure that this man had been set as a spy on his actions; he might have known, he told himself, that D'Oliva would never really give him a free hand; he was too new a convert and his secret was too important.
'Father Mansell got rid of her because she knew,' continued the lay-brother. 'It took some time because the Duke was infatuate—when she failed she came to you—to see if she could learn anything from you, but you repulsed her and she resolved to betray you—'
The Jesuit's laugh came in the darkness.
'To the husband.'
'John Brooke, secret agent of the Protestants—paid spy of the Prince of Orange.'
Jacques was silent a moment, staring at the black water and plying his oars mechanically. 'I am, then, a fool,' he remarked at last with bitterness.
'You are ingenuous for the work you do,' replied the other.
Jacques shrugged his shoulders.
'After all, what does it matter?'
'A great deal,' said the other sharply.
'The King's secret discovered.'
'Every Romanist in England hounded to death—the banishment of the Duke of York, perhaps of the King.'
'None of that matters much to me,' replied Jacques.
'Father, you are a Jesuit.'
The quiet words recalled Jacques to himself with a shock, he had forgotten his calling, his mission, his trust, but though these might be light matters to him he knew that they were very vital ones to his companion.
'I did not speak as a priest—but as the King's son,' he added; for he knew now that this man must be aware of his secret.
'We must think and act as Jesuits,' replied the lay-brother quietly. 'Nothing else is any business of mine.'
They rowed for a while in silence, nearing Chelsea by the light of the rising moon.
'Why, if you were so sure of this issue, did you let me come on this journey?' asked Jacques at last, still using the Italian in case the woman woke.
'She is so clumsy,' returned the other. 'Then there was never much danger. You and I could account for John Brooke, who will be unprepared. She has acted like a fool on an impulse of anger, of course; when you suggested her return to her husband she could not resist the feminine desire—a showy vengeance. You were to be introduced to John Brooke and denounced in a breath.'
'You know something of human nature,' said Jacques wearily.
'A necessary knowledge.'
'You know something of England and English policies.'
'I have often been in England before.'
'And you have been instructed to watch me, eh?'
The Italian was silent; the moon was now clear of the trees on Chelsea Reaches and glimmered faintly in the water; Jacques looked at his companion, an ordinary figure in the lantern light, and realised that he must be a person of importance, probably no lay-brother at all, but one of the inner circle of Jesuits acting under D'Oliva's direct instructions, and the real head of this mission to England; Jacques felt himself a fool to have ever supposed that he would be left a free hand in affairs of such importance to the Jesuits. How he was bound and tied, enmeshed and entangled!
He wondered if this man could denounce him and procure his recall, for he knew that he had not acted in any manner to please the Jesuits.
Curious thoughts touched him; he recalled how M. de Rohan had died; so abruptly, so conveniently, and the story of the stranger who had come from Castle Elisabeth to take all his papers.
Both he, Jacques, and Eleanor Brooke, might die like this; all the old grotesque stories of the crimes committed by the Jesuits occurred to him, stories that he had smiled at since he had known something of the Society of Jesus; but supposing they were true?
If the Jesuits had had a hand in the death of M. de Rohan... How easy for Brother Ponchelli to push the sleeping woman into the river now—how easy to murder, in that lonely house, the priest who had failed.
He roused himself; a glance at his companion's serene face made him ashamed of his wild suspicions.
'What shall we do with the woman?' he asked.
'It is easy—we will set her ashore on the tow-path as soon as we reach the open country, and return to Whitehall.'
'But she will at once denounce us.'
'No—John Brooke will by now have been arrested. I left instructions with Brother Adriano for Father Mansell, who will easily obtain a warrant for the arrest of these Dutch spies.'
'You mean that Brother Adriano went to Whitehall?'
To Jacques's vague, vacillating mind such prompt action was extraordinary.
'Who are you?' he asked.
They were now clear of the town; the river was narrowing and bordered by trees and fields that the moon showed uncertainly.
'We are nearly at Richmond,' said the lay-brother. 'We can leave the lady here.'
Jacques's mood now turned to one of pity for Eleanor; she was so futile, so wretched, such a failure... what was she going to do during the long years ahead of her?
It seemed to him a cruelty to leave her here in the lonely dark, to stumble her way to the house, where she would find her accomplice arrested and perhaps the King's secret service men waiting for her; as the boat jarred into the bank he leant down and woke her; she sat up shivering.
'Eleanor, do you mean to betray us?' he asked.
She stared at him in a frightened fashion.
'Woman,' said Brother Ponchelli calmly, 'I know that you and your husband are spies of the Prince of Orange, and that the letters you copy in the closet of the Duke of York are read in the Hague.'
She collapsed completely and began to cry without restraint, like a terrified child.
'You have brought me here to murder me. Oh, my God! My God!'
Jacques held her shaking shoulders.
'Eleanor, did you mean to betray us?'
She looked up, breathing hatred.
'You always were—such a fool! I would have saved you—but you preached—wanted to take me back—to the kind old man!' She broke into stupid laughter.
He let her go and shuddered with disgust.
'How I loathe your politics,' he said violently.
'Get up,' the lay-brother commanded the wailing woman, and half helped, half dragged her from the rocking boat which he had fastened to an overhanging tree. 'You can find your way to Sheen from here. You had better stay in your husband's house—quietly.'
'You have informed about us,' she said, with the intuition of terror.
'Your husband will be arrested, but you are safe—if you keep quiet.'
She raged with bitter fury.
'This is Father Mansell's doing... a lot of damned Papists... I could fit halters to all your necks—'
Jacques sat quiet in the boat; the scene was horrible to him, mean—detestable.
He could not believe that the voice coming out of the darkness was that of the woman who had been Eleanor Coningsby.
His mind went back stupidly to all the dreams once attached to this name, to the splendour of those days of illusion that at the time had seemed so sad; he thought of the old pastor and those monotonous Jersey days—they seemed clean, sweet, and desirable compared to this.
He felt no further desire to interfere in the fate of Eleanor Brooke; he heard her fierce futile talk die away into sobs; he thought dully that she must be tired and utterly worn out, and that she had a long walk in front of her and no welcome at the end; once he would have guarded her with his life from any discomfort.
He shook up the cushions that her body had pressed, and as he heard her move away through the growth of tall weeds and rushes he put his hands before his face.
The lay-brother returned to the boat, which he had unfastened and pushed off from the bank.
Jacques mechanically picked up his oars and helped to send the boat out into mid-stream.
Vapourish clouds had come over the moon and a light rain was again falling. Jacques felt tired; as tired as the woman stumbling away over the riverside footpaths must feel.
What a mean ending to it all, what a miserable conclusion—all emotion swallowed up in this dull sense of physical fatigue.
WHEN the boat ground against Whitehall steps Jacques was startled from a maze of unhappy dreams which had formed themselves from the dark, rainy night and the steady flow of the river into a reality more poignant than his actual surroundings.
Brother Ponchelli left the boat moored, and conducted Jacques through the gardens to a side door, evidently well known to him.
'You, not I, should have been the King's confessor,' whispered Jacques a little bitterly.
'It was the King's whim,' replied the Jesuit, 'and you, had you wished, could have made much of it.'
'You mean that that chance is gone?'
'That is not my business,' answered the other quickly, as if he already regretted having been betrayed into an expression of opinion; his manner was again respectful, almost deferential.
'Why do you bring me here?' asked Jacques. 'I follow you as if you were my master.'
'It is necessary,' said the other briefly, 'that we should learn how we stand.'
'I loathe your plots,' replied Jacques harshly; but he followed the man dressed as his servant up the back stairs to an apartment that he recognised as that of the Duchess of Portsmouth.
It was now well into the night and the palace seemed asleep, only a small lamp here and there illuminated the corridors, but when the lay-brother tapped at the Duchess's door it was instantly opened by Father Mansell.
'Come in,' he said softly, then to Jacques, 'So you have finished your adventure?'
Jacques felt a fool, a puppet—and weary of it all; his fatigue made him dull, while the two Jesuits talked together he sat down on a chair in the ante-chamber.
The cheats, he had called them all, but what was he, with his nobleman's dress and his tonsure, and yet neither courtier nor priest, but a poor, nameless adventurer jerked about like a doll with strings to its limbs in the midst of these intrigues of which he understood so little.
He looked wearily at the two Jesuits talking so closely together in an undertone that did not reach him; how seriously they took it all, and how little any of it seemed to matter!
He wondered if they were going to denounce him as something useless, perhaps dangerous to their cause, if he would be sent back to Italy in disgrace... a failure, like Eleanor Brooke.
Presently Father Mansell turned and asked him, very courteously, to accompany them into the next room.
He followed into a pleasant chamber lit only by a small hand lamp on the table by the window.
Beside this sat the Duchess of Portsmouth turning over a great number of papers; her attitude, her look, reminded Jacques of Cristina of Sweden, so much the statesman and so little the woman of pleasure or fashion did she appear.
She was rather carelessly dressed and looked worried, yet she had an impressive air of resolution and self-command.
'Gentlemen,' she said, using her own tongue, which was more familiar to Jacques than English, 'it was time that John Brooke was arrested.'
'He has been long under suspicion, madam,' replied Father Mansell, 'but while the Duke of York was under the influence of the wife we could do nothing.'
The lady frowned at the documents before her, which Jacques saw must be the papers of John Brooke, seized on his arrest, and brought, not to the King, but to the woman who was, in the eyes of the Jesuits, more powerful than the King—the representative of the greatest Catholic monarch in the world.
She turned to Jacques now.
'This man,' she said, 'was on the tracks of the Treaty of Dover—and was aware of your presence in England. To-morrow despatches with this information would have left for Holland—we are fortunate, M. de Stewart,' she added dryly.
'Madame,' asked Jacques, 'what would it have meant had the Prince of Orange come into the possession of this knowledge?'
The Duchess stared at him with incredulous blue eyes.
'A very fierce blow for France,' she said, and as an afterthought, 'and ruin for the English Catholics.'
'Nothing,' affirmed Father Mansell, 'could be more disastrous than such an event as that we have averted.'
'Disastrous to the King?'
'The King of England?' asked Louise de la Querouaille,
'He would deny everything, send all Papists to the block, and escape that way,' she said calmly.
'It is certain,' agreed Father Mansell. 'He is not his father, to lose his throne and his life for conscience' sake.'
'A fine master to serve—' said Jacques.
'Monseigneur, I serve the King of France,' replied the Duchess.
'And we serve the Pope,' added Father Mansell. 'What is England to any of us save as a means in our mission to extend the sovereignty of His Holiness?'
He looked at Jacques sternly as he spoke.
'Is it not so?' he asked, and he added, 'M. de Stewart,' as if he did not recognise the priest, but spoke to the King's son.
The Duchess did not allow Jacques time to answer.
'It is very needful, M. de Stewart,' she said, 'that we should all understand each other, and I am glad that you are here to-night. My task is difficult and delicate, and the interests entrusted to me of vast importance.'
She spoke as an ambassador might have spoken, as if her relation with Charles were of no consequence; this was strange to Jacques, who knew how she was spoken of, hated and despised as a mere extravagant wanton.
'You must learn your King's character,' she continued, 'unstable, slippery—treacherous.'
She spoke calmly, but as if she disliked Charles; her small, fair face held a quiet look of judgment. 'Well,' she finished, 'no doubt you know your part, D'Oliva must have schooled you.'
'Not well enough, I think, madam,' returned Jacques, for I find myself in a maze—and lost among your politics.'
'A pity,' she returned with a sharp look. 'But Father Mansell will instruct you—the King's confessor must not be ignorant of anything.'
With that she turned to the other two Jesuits, and began to discuss the ramifications of the results of this discovery of the Protestant agent's letters and the horrible danger of the country becoming aware of the Treaty of Dover and how the court was ruled by the Jesuits.
Jacques listened, as he was meant to listen, with a painful attention.
His fatigue slipped away from him and his senses quickened as he heard these three earnest people talking together of their schemes and plots, which were all segments of one large scheme or plot which embraced the whole world—the attempt to restore the supremacy of Rome and the temporal power of the Pope.
For the first time Jacques really grasped the immense significance of the movement in which he had become involved. He saw all these agents, priests, beautiful women, D'Oliva himself, the hard-working lay-brother, toiling for this one end, enduring everything, patient, laborious, fearless in the endeavour to regain for the Church of Rome the countries of the heretics.
He saw what a tremendous thing it was for all of them, and what an extraordinary institution must be this unchangeable Church that could so subjugate people of different temperament and race to so passionately labour in her service.
Louise de la Querouaille was not a loose woman, she did not love the King. What she did had been for the Church; doubtless she had priestly sanction for her mode of life; the priests bore themselves respectfully before her.
Jacques stared at her fair figure, lit by the rays of the little lamp; again he thought of that other woman, so different, who had given everything for the Church of Rome, in this case a throne.
It was difficult to understand the men—more difficult to understand the women.
Regardless of the hour and their own obvious fatigue, the three continued to talk, always with eagerness, animation, and resolution. Several times they glanced towards Jacques, several times threw him a word, but though they were always courteous and Brother Ponchelli still deferential, he felt that they left him entirely out of their calculations and treated him as the merest incident in the drama in which they themselves played such important parts.
He marvelled at the emotion they showed, and as he stared at them he realised that sincerity always puzzled him and that in reality he had never believed, never thought, never experienced any strong emotion, but that his life had been a series of impressions and sensations, few of them going deep enough to influence his actions, which had always been the result of choosing the easiest thing.
He had let love go by when it became difficult (if indeed it had been love as others knew it), he had wanted to be a soldier, but he had allowed that dream to vanish, he had let them make a priest of him—he had drifted deep into their intrigues that he loathed; if these Popish plots were discovered he would lose his life for a cause in which he had never believed; just as he had risked much to take Eleanor Coningsby home and at the same time cared very little what was to become of her; he had been depressed by her leaving the boat to trudge away in the wet and the dark, but that was only a matter of sensitive receptiveness; now he was more impressed by the look of the group in the lamplight and the shadows of the noble room than by the theme of the conversation. He had believed that he hated the King, yet now that he had met his father there was no feeling in his heart but a dull bitterness, not strong enough to urge him into any action.
He had fancied that he wished to avenge his mother, but he knew now that she was a mere legend to him and a matter of cold indifference.
As he sat there communing with himself a great disgust for his own nature came over him; he saw himself as unstable, dry, without feelings or desires, interested only in little details, marvelling always at his own transient sensations, incapable of the strong, the direct, the worthy. The Treaty of Dover, the betrayal of the United Provinces, the ascendancy of France, the duping of England, the machinations of the French mistress, the intrigues of the busy courtiers, all fingering foreign bribes, the wiles of the women using their spurious charms as the men used their spurious wits, in this grubbing for place, power, money—what were any of these things to him...
He leant his sick head against the wall, feeling a great wish for sleep.
At last the Duchess rose; Jacques noted that her young face was full of lines and her lips as pallid as her cheeks, only her bright, glinting hair remained vivid and full of life.
'You have had a lesson in politics, M. de Stewart,' she said with her well-trained smile. 'Father Mansell will take you to his rooms to-night and to-morrow the King will see you.'
Even as she spoke Jacques knew that she had decided what to do with him, and that she meant to instruct Charles, as the King might instruct his minister.
'I know I have failed,' said Jacques, standing straight before her.
She had all a noble Frenchwoman's grace of manner.
'Circumstances have failed us, monsieur,' she said kindly. 'M. de York's grave imprudence in trusting any one with the secret of your position here has made it very difficult.'
She looked at him pleasantly, but without any interest; Jacques felt that she already considered him of about as much use as a spent rocket, a nonentity, only tolerated before because of the King's whim, and now to be tolerated no longer, even on that account.
She wanted another type of man than this in the important position of the King's confessor.
'You think, madam, that Mrs Brooke will blow abroad the King's secret?' asked Jacques.
'She must be dealt with,' replied the Duchess; 'now her husband and his accomplices are under arrest she cannot do much. Her story would sound very wild. I expect she will fly to Holland.'
'To take the tale to the Prince of Orange?' asked Jacques.
The Duchess bit her lip; she saw that she had presumed too much on this man's stupidity.
'Monsieur,' she said, answering his thought and not his speech, 'it is dangerous to take so much interest in the King's enemies.'
'Madam,' he replied, 'there can be no danger to one who fears nothing.'
'You know, then, that you will have to leave Whitehall?'
'I have no ambitions to satisfy in Whitehall or in England.'
'Your hopes are in the Church, M. de Stewart?' asked the Duchess, with more respect.
'I think I have no hopes.'
She looked him up and down and finally smiled, holding out her hand with an air of frankness.
'I perceive you are a philosopher, and that is very fortunate for one in your position—now—good-night.'
He kissed her hand and withdrew behind the two Jesuits; Father Mansell showed him a bed in a closet and told him to be ready to receive the King early next morning.
Jacques thought that these two had also lost interest in him; he wondered, with a whimsical smile to himself, what their private report to D'Oliva would be; and Father Marchiafava would be blamed tor ever having recommended one so unsatisfactory for such a delicate business.
He slept ill that night and went before the King still oppressed with a sense of fatigue.
Charles, too, seemed dull; he looked old and seemed troubled and vexed; evidently the Eleanor Brooke episode had depressed him greatly, and the Duchess of Portsmouth had been insistent that the instant departure of Jacques was necessary.
'If you remain, suspicions may be aroused that I can by no means allay,' said Charles; he seemed in a great dread of losing either his uneasy throne or his easy life.
'What, sir, do you wish to do with me?' asked Jacques.
The King looked earnestly at the heavy, dark face that was, for all the disguise of the fair peruke, so like his own.
'I swear that I will keep my promises to you,' he said.
'I exacted no promises from your Majesty.'
'I know, I know—but I am always your affectionate father—I hope you will remain in the Church, if we get Toleration you might be an English Cardinal.'
'You must leave England. Go, as you came, in the guise of Don Carlo Visdomini. I will give you letters to D'Oliva, he will tell you what to do. I hope you can soon return.'
He spoke hurriedly, and with a certain agitation; he gave Jacques the impression that he was thinking only of his own safety and security—and this roused his son to some emotion.
'Sir, before I go will you be frank with me?'
The King gave him a sharp look; he was standing in the window-place, the cold light of a wet summer day behind him; Jacques was in the shadow by the dull marble of the chimney-piece.
'I have told you, James. I will keep my promises.'
'Will you acknowledge me, sir?'
'When I can.'
Jacques smiled bitterly at this evasion.
'Will you tell me, sir, now, and for my private satisfaction, my mother's name?'
Charles hesitated; it seemed that he began to grow cold and angry.
'I will not discuss this.'
'Will you tell me—if there was a marriage in Jersey—remember, sir, you speak to a priest and one who is still your confessor.'
Charles was startled, but vexed also, and his hesitation was only that of a second.
'No,' he said in a high voice. 'No, there was never any marriage.'
But Jacques knew that he lied.
THAT afternoon Jacques was again at the house in St Giles-in-the-Fields; the two Jesuits had arrived there before him, but he saw neither of them, for he went at once to his room and, after eating, slept till the evening.
When he came downstairs in the dusk he found the Duke of Buckingham waiting for him in the dull, green-lit parlour.
'I did not have you roused,' he said. 'I knew you would be weary.'
He seemed anxious and desirous to be pleasant.
'Did your Grace see Brother Ponchelli?' asked Jacques.
'Did he tell you anything?'
'Nothing at all?' insisted Jacques.
'What should he have to tell me?' asked the Duke impatiently.
'Your Grace fences with me. You know that I have been a failure.'
Buckingham swore violently.
'What are you,' he asked angrily, 'and what do you pretend to be?'
'I do not know,' said Jacques bitterly. 'A fool, I suppose you think me, sir, perhaps a knave—maybe I am either—or both.'
'Nay, you are neither—you are not frank enough for a fool or clever enough for a knave—before God, I do not know where to place you.'
'Call me a failure,' said Jacques.
He went to the window, leant his sick head against the mullions, and looked out into the wet green shade of the neglected garden; it had rained all day, and the dock and sorrel leaves, and the tall grasses heavy with their summer flowers, bent and dripped beneath the weight of water and showed a cool, luscious colour free from any particle of dust.
'Why have you come here?' asked Jacques.
'You have quarrelled with the King?' demanded Buckingham.
Jacques looked curiously at the Duke; this heavy, middle-aged man, who had lost health, reputation, and looks, was obviously agitated for his own prosperity, his own safety.
'My lord,' said Jacques, 'I thought that you were a good gambler. Did you not know from the moment the Treaty of Dover was signed the peril of the game you played? Did you not think that you might lose? The stakes were high... each way. As for me, I throw down my cards and leave my place at the table.'
'A philosopher!' sneered Buckingham. 'Well, the King trusts you.'
'And you do not.'
'No, by God!'
'Because you have no heart, no convictions, no ambition—one with the spirit of a cur would have made a fight for his rights in your place—you know you are the King's son—yet you falter and falter, become a priest and yet are no priest, join with the Jesuits yet dangle round a spiteful Queen, ugly, too, by God! You are all whims and fantasies, without aim or purpose, neither of the world nor withdrawn from it—no, I do not trust you.'
'You think I might betray you?'
'I do. I have thought so ever since the King had this fool's fancy to acknowledge you and confide in you.'
The Duke spoke harshly, and his soft face was red from his muslin cravat to the loose curls of his huge blonde peruke.
'I shall not betray you,' said Jacques. 'I am not interested enough. I do not care if England be Papist or no—or under France or free, or whether the United Provinces are on the sea or under it.'
The Duke swore again.
'It is lukewarm fellows like you that make the world intolerable.'
'Well, you have the truth. I never disguised it. I simply do not care—not whether the Duchess or the Queen rule in Whitehall, nor whether Monmouth or York succeed to the throne. I would not take it if it were offered me.'
'Have you never wanted anything?' demanded Buckingham.
Jacques turned round.
'A pair of colours and Eleanor Coningsby,' said Jacques fiercely. 'I was cheated of both.'
The Duke gave a brutal laugh.
'You could now have at least the lady.'
'Your wit is stale,' smiled Jacques. 'Why have you come?'
'On a message from the King and for my own satisfaction.'
'You bring the letters I was to take to D'Oliva?'
'I was to return to Whitehall for them to-morrow.'
'I know. But the King does not wish to see you again. You agitate him.'
'You and Madame Portsmouth persuaded him to this decision,' said Jacques calmly.
'I am glad. I have no wish to see the King,' answered Jacques.
He came to the table near where the Duke sat, and striking flint and tinder began to light the candles (church candles of pure yellow wax) that stood ready. In each spurt of light the Duke stared at the young man's heavy, dark, sad face.
'You are the strangest creature,' said Buckingham.
'Can you imagine what you want?' continued the Duke curiously.
'But you have not tried everything—you do not know how splendid life can be.'
'There are other things that I mean to try,' answered Jacques.
He looked straightly into the courtier's flushed face.
'Why is your Grace so interested in me?' he asked.
The Duke's answer was prompt.
'Because you could send us all to the block.'
'I always wondered why you all trusted me.'
'It was,' said Buckingham vehemently, 'the King's mad whim.'
'Fostered by the Jesuits?'
'Fostered by the devil!'
'Well, you are quit of me. I leave England to-morrow.'
'The King already talks of your return—soon.'
'I do not think that I am likely to return.'
Buckingham took a leathern bag and a packet of letters tied with a silk twist to which was affixed a dangling seal.
'I was to give you these. Letters to D'Oliva and money for your journey.'
Jacques took up the little bag and untied the neck; it was full of English gold—to hold so much money in his hand (he had never even seen such a sum before) gave him an extraordinary feeling of strength and power.
Buckingham continued to look at him doubtfully.
'Will you give me your receipt?' he asked.
Jacques went to the desk in the corner and wrote the receipt; he was thinking all the while of the bag of money; it seemed to him that this had marvellously solved all his problems.
The Duke, with a great deal of hesitation in his manner, rose to go.
He still did not in the least trust this eccentric young man; yet there was nothing that he could do; as the Duchess of Portsmouth had said, the best thing to do was to get Jacques out of England and to induce the King to forget all about him; the young man, she had said roundly, was a dangerous fool, like his uncle the Duke of York, and must certainly be got rid of, despite the King's faltering affection, half-religious fear, half-remorseful sentiment, towards his eldest-born son.
Buckingham agreed with the lady; yet he did not at all care about leaving Jacques with these letters that would, as he had said, send them all, including perhaps Charles himself, to the block.
As he left the house he managed a private word with Brother Ponchelli and advised the Jesuit to get Jacques out of England as soon as possible, to watch the letters to D'Oliva, and keep a close guard on the messenger.
Jacques alone in the old, dark room, was not thinking in the least of the letters that caused Buckingham such perturbation, but only of the money.
He counted it out on the table, enjoying the glitter of it in the candle-light; there was a hundred and sixty pounds.
How much easier that made everything. D'Oliva had supplied him with just enough to enable him to keep a few coins in his pockets; the expenses had all been paid through Brother Ponchelli; he had never had any money while he was in the colleges at St Omer or Rome—in the Jersey days he had always been penniless; how keenly he could recall, even now, the sting of those six months in London, when everything, even his love-making, had been coloured by the lack of money.
Now he had a hundred and sixty pounds. This would go a long way—in Italy.
He thought of the south, of his longing to see Naples, of the delightful, wonderful life one might have there with this gold.
No need to cheat or to be cheated, to masque as courtier or priest; one might be oneself, free, sincere, ready for any adventure that came.
As long as a hundred and sixty pounds lasted.
He pulled himself up with the question; but what did afterwards really matter; for one who had never been afraid to die no future could hold much menace.
He laughed as he gathered up the money; he did not even remember the letters, but left them lying on the table by the candles when he went upstairs.
By the light of one taper he turned over his wardrobe; he had nothing but the attire of a priest or a courtier and he disliked both these false habits.
At length he selected his plainest suit, put on his travelling coat and boots, and a plain sword and pistols; he would have liked to have discarded the fair peruke, but he had no other, and while the tonsure showed on his head he did not dare go without a wig.
He had no jewellery or trinkets, no souvenirs, no private letters; his life was oddly bare of such things.
Something of the old bitterness swelled up in him as he thought of his unknown mother, of the King his father—nothing from either of them, nothing—not even the little amulet the commonest folk might cherish.
As he went downstairs he thought out his plan of action; he would take the night mail to Dover, cross by the first packet, and make his way across France and Italy to Naples.
He was about to leave the house when he remembered the letters that Buckingham had given him; he hesitated a moment, then decided to destroy them; he would take them with him, and, since it would be difficult to burn them, this not being the season for fires, he could tear them up and cast them into the sea during the crossing.
Absorbed in this resolution he entered the parlour.
Standing by the table were the two Jesuits, and Brother Ponchelli held the King's letters.
The yellow candle-light, a mere splash in the gloom of the long, dark room, showed the Italian's dark figure in the servant's dress, his fine hands and tranquil face, and the red ribbon that held the impression of the King's private seal.
Jacques had been so filled with his own plans that he had really forgotten the two Jesuits; he was startled and silenced to see them and stood foolishly inside the door.
Brother Ponchelli turned at once and peered through the shadows.
'You are attired for travelling, Monsieur de Stewart,' he remarked in Italian.
For a second Jacques contemplated the usual lines, allaying the suspicions of the Jesuits and slyly escaping, then he recalled that he had done with cheating...
In silence he came forward.
'Give me the letters,' he said coldly.
'No,' returned the Jesuit, 'for you do not intend to deliver them.'
Jacques was in the range of the candle-light now; he saw that both of the Jesuits were armed; it seemed as if the net was closely being drawn round him again; if they took away the money he would be helpless. He recalled the joy of the last few moments, when he had believed himself free, and passionately rebelled against this turn.
'Give me the letters,' he repeated, 'they are mine—they were entrusted to me.'
'Entrusted to you,' repeated Brother Ponchelli. 'How were you going to fulfil that trust? Ah, monsieur, do you think that I cannot read you?'
'If you think that I was going to betray you,' said Jacques violently, 'you cannot!'
'Had I thought that,' replied the other, with his tranquil smile, 'you would not be here now.'
Jacques looked from one to the other; the calm, dignified faces irritated him, but he had no violence left now.
'We will deliver the letters,' said Brother Adriano.
'Who are you?' asked Jacques roughly.
'No. I am D'Oliva's secretary,' said Brother Ponchelli.
'Cheats, all of you!' cried Jacques, his passionate anger flaring up again. 'Sent to spy on me—'
'D'Oliva sent you to please the King of England—he sent us in the interests of the Society; we all, of course, knew the manner of man you were.'
The Jesuit spoke so gently that Jacques was baffled, but his anger increased.
'I have been made a show, a jest,' he said. 'Turned here and there, fooled—well, I will have no more of it, I make an end! Do you hear? I will cheat no more—if I leave this room alive I will blazon broadcast who I am! Do you hear? I'll shout the King's secret from the housetops.'
'But you will not betray him,' said the Jesuit softly.
Jacques was pulled up in his outburst.
'No—you will see to that,' he answered sullenly. 'What are you going to do with me?'
He folded his arms ready for death, but thinking dismally of the money weighing his pockets and of his lost liberty with a savage regret.
'Why, go,' said Brother Ponchelli, 'you are no longer any use to us. Politically you are nothing. Go where you please.'
'I will not work for you—I will not remain in your Order.'
'The General will absolve you from your vows. We do not need you.'
Jacques gazed at the speaker with narrowed eyes; he mistrusted this cold generosity, but his heart leapt at the chance it offered.
'I mean what I say,' he insisted.
'So do I. You repudiate your chances, the King's favour, your faith, your vows, your future, for a mad gamble with the few pounds you have in your pocket. It is what I expected. Go where you wish and when you wish.'
'You let me go—knowing what I know?'
The Jesuit merely smiled.
'You understand,' continued D'Oliva's secretary, 'that as you repudiate so you will be repudiated? Neither the King of England nor the Society of Jesus will ever acknowledge you, countenance you, or help you whatever extremity you may be in.'
'I want nothing from you but leave to go my way.'
'Go,' said the Jesuit.
Jacques hesitated, it seemed incredible that they should let him go like this.
'One word,' said Brother Adriano; he rose, and Jacques stood silent, dominated by this man who had hitherto been in the capacity of his humble servant. 'You have been of our Order—Father de Rohan does not exist, nor does the Prince of Wales, but James Stewart can always claim pity from the eternal forgiveness of the Church.'
He detached a little crucifix from inside his coat and gave it to Jacques—who took it with an ironical laugh and shrug.
'Keep it,' said the Jesuit quietly, 'until everything else fails you.'
THE narrow street was full of the perfume of autumn fruits and the late flowers, carnations, roses, and blossoming laurels that hung from the low balconies; the green shutters of the white houses were closed against the ruddy sunshine that hazed the azure sky with gold.
It was the midday hour, churches and shops were closed, even the inns did little custom, and the street hawkers had disappeared; for a short time the sun beat noisy Naples into silence.
At one of these houses in this crowded street by the Castel dell' Uovo, where the Via Brigida crosses the Via Roma, a girl was sitting at one of the windows, the lattice being slightly opened so that she could look out on the blazing street.
She was vivid in person and dress, in the perfect bloom of early Southern beauty, her black hair plaited smoothly to her head and stuck with the heads of carnations, her white shawl and white skirt stamped with a brilliant pattern of roses, her black velvet bodice laced with scarlet, and a string of large coral beads round the smooth, honey-coloured throat.
On the floor beside her was a loose rush basket filled with grapes, yellow and pink, huge lemons, pears, ripe figs, and nectarines.
The ochre-painted front of the house had 'Locanda' scrawled across in red letters, and a dusty bough of olive attracted attention to a small sign advertising wine; the girl was the innkeeper's daughter and dressed in her festa costume, but her hands showed signs of rough work.
When she heard what she had been listening for, a footstep in the silence of the deserted street, she stepped out on to the balcony, regardless of the sun, that was sending rays like swords between the houses, and leant between the pots of sweet basil that were fastened on the top rail of the balcony.
A man came quickly into sight and entered the inn without looking up; the girl instantly left the window and ran to meet him. She caught hold of him on the dark stairway.
'Where have you been?' she asked with eager jealousy.
He kissed her lightly.
'Why, Teresa—already waiting? It is still early and too hot to go abroad.'
'You have been abroad.'
She drew him into the room she had just left.
'I know,' he laughed, not wishing to enter into explanations. 'And now we will rest awhile, and then I will take you out as I promised.'
He spoke a careful Italian, very different to her Neapolitan dialect, but they appeared to completely understand each other; he was a tall, swarthy young man, whose own black hair fell just into his neck in thick curls and whose dress was both rich and careless, being an embroidered coat and breeches and fine shirt, such as was worn by the upper class, and a light felt hat and feather.
He wore a sword, yet appeared neither soldier nor courtier; there was something fantastic about his appearance, an air of melancholy romance; he did not seem in the least happy.
Teresa Corona showed him the basket of fruit.
'See, I have arranged this for you—as you like it, is it not?'
He gave her a kiss for her pains and made her sit beside him on the worn sofa that stood against the wall, which was covered with blue wash and painted crudely with views of Naples and Posilipo.
The whole room was very poor and mean, but full of a beautiful golden shadow and the luscious scent of the fruit.
'Will you take me to Santa Lucia?' asked the girl softly.
'I would rather go into the country—it is so beautiful beyond the town.'
'But I like the booths, and the singers, the noise—the lights—'
'A new dress, new ear-rings!' he laughed.
'You have given me too much,' she said, with a look of adoration in her large, liquid eyes that had never been spoilt by labour of tears, vigils, or pain.
The man, who was called Giacopo Stevardo in the tongue of this humble family, looked long at this untouched beauty offered to him so generously... he did love her, he told himself, he must love her, if he could not what else was there in life?...
'Teresa,' he said suddenly, 'when we are married I want to go away from Naples to Sorrento, perhaps, or Capri, somewhere where we could live alone on a little farm—alone.'
Her face clouded.
'Oh!' she said dismally.
'Does that not please you, Teresa?'
'I love Naples,' she replied eagerly. 'I want to be near my people—I want every one to know that I have married a great nobleman!'
'Child, how often have I not told you that I am no great noble? Only a poor stranger with an unhappy history, who wants to forget the past and begin life again.'
She tossed her lovely head.
'Every one thinks you are a prince in disguise.'
'That is only silly gossip, Teresa. It will do me great harm.'
He looked gravely into her sweet child's face.
'I heard to-day that your father has been boasting about the hundred doppie I gave him for the wedding expenses—it is all over the quarter. It makes me very conspicuous. I am looked at askance.'
'Of course my father has been showing people the money and talking about you,' she replied innocently. 'He is very proud that so grand a personage should marry me. Why, no one in this street has ever seen even fifty doppie before.'
James Stewart (he could never think of himself as Jacques de Rohan now, that cheating was over) bit his lip.
He had, in his usual impetuous fashion, overlooked the consequences of giving this simple man money.
It had been so pleasant to do—as pleasant as giving Teresa the jewels the two English queens had presented to him in Whitehall; it was so delightful to procure this wild pleasure for this humble family that loved him, and with whom he meant to spend the rest of his days in placid content—surely, ah, surely, in this Neapolitan inn he had found what neither court nor college could give—happiness. He had called himself by his real name, but he had made no pretensions—an English gentleman who had left his country for ever—he had given this as an account of himself, and it was true; he never meant to leave Naples or Teresa Corona.
In the very simplest of things, in easy idleness, in natural living, in throwing his lot in with these common, ignorant folk he hoped to find the satisfaction life had hitherto denied him.
But already this peace was being disturbed, the girl had shown her jewels, the man his money, the whole family had boasted of the mysterious stranger who was so wealthy and so magnificent.
In truth, James Stewart was not wealthy at all; there were only a few gold coins left of his father's gift and some trinkets left from Whitehall days; he had told Francesco Corona this and that he did not need money, but meant to live on what could be gained by the few soldi any one could earn.
The careless Neapolitan heard but did not believe; James began to find that his frankness defeated his own object; the truth was so strange that no one would credit it.
He tried now to impress Teresa with the need of discretion; there was an English agent in Naples, and, of course, Jesuits.
The lovely girl, nestling in his arm, only laughed.
'My prince!' she cried. 'My prince! What are you afraid of?'
'That this dream may come to an end,' he said so sorrowfully that she checked her laughter.
'There is black magic in this?' she asked in sudden terror.
'No magic, carina,' he smiled.
'But I wish you would go to church.'
'I do—I do—' he evaded.
'But never with us—and you do not tell me who your confessor is—'
He hushed her as he had hushed her before; he could not shock her with his avowal of disbelief in the Church, if he wished to enter her Paradise he must use her key; they were to be married at San Francesco di Paolo fuori della Porta Capuano, and he had conformed with the observances of the Church, in so much cheating still.
But that he was lukewarm had not escaped even the innocent eyes of Teresa, and this tinged her adoration for her wonderful and mysterious lover with a certain terror... This he observed, and sometimes a bitter pang of self-hatred took him when he reflected that if she knew he had been (was still) a priest, she would loathe and curse him... a cheat still!—perhaps, indeed, a meaner cheat than he had ever been.
Her unconscious hand rested on his shoulder, and they were silent in the drowsiness of the golden afternoon and the close chamber.
He meant to be at least sincere and frank, to have done with all pretences; well, he would be when they got away from the city, the Church—away in the beautiful peace of the country among the trees and the animals, the happy changes of season, the even life of rustic pleasure... he pictured an existence such as he had glimpsed from the pages of Horace and Virgil; this dear woman's simple love would satisfy his days... at last he would be free of all falseness, at last honest with himself, with the world.
And yet, even now, he was not really thinking of Teresa Corona at all, but of a tired woman asleep in the bottom of a boat, of a frightened woman stumbling along the river bank in the rain and the dark—of poor, draggled worthless Eleanor Brooke... he hated her for obtruding into this new life that was to be so different...
Presently Francesco Corona came in and he went with them to Santa Lucia after all. He bought Teresa a posy and a bright striped apron, and drank lemonade with her from the stall radiant with the golden fruit, but as the luminous night descended the chattering, pressing crowd irritated him, and he left father and daughter abruptly, regardless of their disappointed faces, and strode clear of the populous quarters until he came to the quieter streets, and walked on rapidly until he was in sight of the full circle of the bay and the Castel dell' Uovo rising out of the islet in the dark purple sea, the enchanted castle which the great wizard Virgil was said to have built on an egg.
The whole town looked enchanted now in this faint fading of the light, with the stars beginning to flash above the dark red spurt of flame from the giant bulk of Vesuvius, that showed across the plain of the Campagna Felice; behind the volcano a ring of other mountains, shadowy and unreal looking, closed in the horizon.
James Stewart continued to walk towards the now deserted Castel dell' Uovo; the city was behind him, and the quiet was grateful to his senses; even the crowded, dirty quays and wharves were peaceful now, blotted with the shadows and the packed dirt of streets that clustered round the walls of the Church of the Carmine, and silent too; the Toledo, the Corso, the Castel Sant' Elmo, the Priory of San Martino, all the old, brown, twisted city, winding up into the long semicircle of hills, was veiled with an obscure enchantment by the evening hour.
A cool wind blew from the mountains and brought with it a scent of roses; they must be growing somewhere near, the young man knew, and in great profusion.
The sun had set now behind Posilipo, and the western sky was only faintly tinged with gold; there were fishing boats in the bay, coming from the Torre dell' Annunziata, their three-cornered sails dipping this way and that; from some smaller craft nearer the shore came the fishers' endless song of 'Drunghe, drungheta.'
James wandered aimlessly farther and farther from the inn of the Corona, farther, too, from thought or fancy of the peasant child, his bride to be.
This he would not admit to himself, for he had impressed fiercely on his heart that he loved her and would love her all his life, and find with her and through her the panacea for all his ills.
A dark figure crossed his path, a hand touched his shoulder—he found himself face to face with Father Marchiafava.
Save that he now wore the habit of his Order, the priest looked exactly the same as when James had met him in St Martin's Lane.
'I have been following you,' he said pleasantly in English, 'but you were so deep in thought that you did not hear me.'
Many emotions shook the young man, leaving blank anger.
'I might have known I should be spied upon,' he said harshly.
The priest smiled.
'No one has any interest in spying on you,' he said pleasantly. 'I saw you by chance. I am only in Naples for a short time. Before the winter I return to Paraguay.
Before this gentle calm James felt ashamed of his violence.
'Father,' he said hastily, 'your presence disturbs me. I have done with the old life—I am no longer a priest, no longer a pretender—I mean to live here, as a peasant with a peasant wife.'
'So I heard.'
'My movements, then, are known?'
'D'Oliva told me. Father Ponchelli sent the news from England.'
'You—you were not disappointed?'
'Disappointed? The matter of the conversion of the King of England is no longer my work.'
'You do not blame me?'
'It is not for me to judge you—and I can admire any honest action.'
A sudden bitterness flared up in the heart of James.
'I wonder if I am honest, even now,' he said curtly.
'Shall we not walk a little way?' suggested the priest. 'There is no need for rancour because our paths lie so differently.'
The darkness was closing round them; the fires had sunk on Vesuvius, and in place of them a banner of smoke was spreading over the Campagna Felice; above the city the stars were blazing.
'You must hate me,' said the young Stewart rapidly. 'I was a tool that broke in your hands.'
'Not the first nor the last,' put in the priest tranquilly.
'And I have betrayed my vows.'
'That is between you and God.'
They began to walk slowly along the cobbled street; the young man was in a deep and nameless agitation.
'You are happy?' asked the priest.
'I should be—but I remember.'
'Ah, memory is the half of life. How often do we think of that, I wonder, when we make the days for our future to dream over?'
'I am happy,' insisted James. 'I am going into the country—with the animals and the fruit and flowers. I shall have a wife and children. I shall forget that I was ever prince or priest.'
'Oh, yes, yes,' said Father Marchiafava. 'It is all what I should have expected of you—you had to go through it all.'
'What do you mean?' asked James angrily. 'The Society is watching me—I know too much—is it not so?'
'No. To the Society and to the King of England you are dead. Go your way, my son, unmolested.'
'Will you leave me, father? You remind me of the old—evil days.'
The priest smiled; James thought that there was a look of pity on his keen face; he stopped and they looked at each other in the light of the rays of a foul little street lamp.
Then the Jesuit spoke a kindly farewell and turned away without a backward glance.
The young man, his mood utterly perturbed, walked on stumblingly, little heeding where he went.
When he hesitated, half in fatigue, half in doubt, as to his way, he found himself before the door of a great church, which was open and full of light.
He leant against the porch and found that he wanted to go in... but he resisted this impulse; he would return to Teresa, there was his salvation; the little family would be waiting for him about the cheerful supper board; he must return at once.
As he left the church, he ran, in the dark, against a little body of men.
They closed round him; his hands were quickly and skilfully pinioned, a scarf was twisted round his mouth, and he was hurried along back streets.
When the bewilderment of the shock of rage had passed, he understood that he had been arrested by soldiers of the Viceroy, and he was sure that the Jesuits had betrayed him.
THAT night James Stewart was lodged in the Vicaria.
This was the prison for debtors and political offenders, situated by the Porta Capuana, a now vile portion of the town which James had always avoided; but he had never guessed at the squalid horror of the interior of the prison.
He was thrust into a noisome dark cell, worse than his dreariest imaginings had pictured, and there left alone for what seemed countless hours.
Bitter reflections visited him in this hideous solitude; he saw the police searching the Corona Inn, the terror and shame of Teresa—the English jewels, the English money confiscated, and with them all his dreams of happiness vanishing into darkness.
He was sure that the Jesuits had betrayed him; to the English agent at Rome, of course, who had advised the Neapolitan Viceroy; for all their affectation of high-mindedness they had considered him dangerous and this was how they had treated him; he remembered the sudden death of M. de Rohan and wondered if he was to die in the same convenient fashion... he could easily be disposed of in the depths of the Vicaria.
In the morning, after a scanty and coarse meal, he was taken before the Governor of the prison and there learnt either that he had falsely suspected the Jesuits, or else that they were working against him in very secret ways, for he was accused only of being a mysterious and doubtful character, and of having so much money and jewels in his possession as to give rise to the suspicion that he was either a robber or a forger.
The Governor, a middle-aged Spaniard of energy and capacity, was pleasant and reasonable.
'If you can give me a good account of yourself, sir,' he said, 'I can instantly set you at liberty.'
James, tired, dishevelled, passionately rebellious against his fate, stood defiantly between the two windows.
The orderly, dark, and handsomely furnished room, the capable official at his desk, reminded him of all that he had wished to put out of his life—Whitehall—the Jesuit Colleges, Queen Cristina in her villa.
'Upon what grounds have I been arrested?' he demanded.
'Well,' returned the Governor, eyeing him keenly, 'you must admit that your behaviour has been peculiar. You have the appearance of a gentleman, you come here and lodge in a low quarter of the town, you betroth yourself to the innkeeper's daughter, you give her valuable jewels and her father a considerable sum of money, and you vouchsafe no information about yourself beyond the fact that you are a foreigner.'
'You have your facts very clear,' remarked James bitterly. 'You have taken a deal of pains over a very obscure little incident.'
'Naples is well policed,' returned the Governor with some satisfaction, 'and there has been a deal of false coining lately. But I have no doubt that you can satisfy me that you were merely indulging in some whim or wager.'
As he spoke his trained eyes were noticing every detail of the other's appearance—the dark, heavy, unusual face framed in the thick hair, the rich, sombre, careless attire, the powerful, graceful figure, the elegant hands, the whole air and manner of indifferent melancholy.
The Spaniard was sure that this was no criminal, but he was very puzzled, very curious.
'Will you tell me the truth, sir?' he asked patiently.
'I will tell you the truth,' replied James, 'but you will not believe it.'
'Which means that you will tell me some fantasy.'
'Who, then, are you?'
'James Stewart—the name I have given since I have been in Naples—Giacopo Stuardo.' He put the name into Italian, which the Governor spoke fluently.
'But who are you?'
'The son of the King of England.'
'Ah, Dios!' the Spaniard leant back and smiled; so this was, after all, a crazy adventurer.
'Born in wedlock,' added James, 'in the isle of Jersey.'
'This is a foolish tale for you to tell,' said the Spaniard with irritation.
'I did not expect that you would believe me.'
'Where have you come from?'
'And this money?'
'The King gave me a sum for the expenses of my journey. That is the remainder.'
'And these jewels?'
The Spaniard opened a box by his hand and showed the pearl and ruby rings and the emerald buckles poor Teresa had worn with such joy.
James paled with anger to see them there.
'They are mine,' he said violently. 'The Queens gave them to me at Whitehall. You had no right to touch them.'
The Spaniard continued his pitiless questioning.
'Why are you in Naples?'
'I left the King's service. I wanted nothing more of any of them. I meant to live my own life.'
'How comes it that you speak Italian?'
'I have been nearly two years in a Jesuit college.'
Though he still half believed that the Jesuits had betrayed him he was resolved not to betray them—nor yet his father, the vital secret of the King's faith and his own position at Whitehall should be for ever locked in his heart.
'I will tell you nothing more,' he added hotly.
'Well,' said the Governor slowly, 'if you will tell me nothing more, I am bound to consider you a cheat.'
James was stung by this word, so often in his own mind.
'Yes, I am a cheat,' he answered, 'but not in the way you think.'
The Governor was distinctly puzzled; he could not think of any reason that should induce any one to tell such an impossible story; he suspected some political intrigue at the bottom of the mystery.
'Have you any proof to support your tale?' he asked.
'My papers are with the Rector of the College of Sant' Andrea at Rome.'
The Governor made a note.
'Does any one else know of your identity?'
'The King of England—Cristina of Sweden—D'Oliva.'
'I will send to all of them.'
'It is very likely that they will deny me,' said James.
The Spaniard shrugged his shoulders.
'Meanwhile, I must keep you in prison.'
Hideous despair held James silent; the Governor, despite his professional insensibility, was moved by the suffering in his prisoner's face.
'I can send you to Sant' Elmo, where you will be better treated. And I will write to England with all despatch.'
But James wanted nothing but his liberty, the detention in prison, the inquiry, the scandal would ruin the hopes of an obscure peace with Teresa Corona; he was as deep in the toils of the world as he had been in London or Rome.
He raised his right hand and let it fall, and turned his head away.
He thought that Eleanor Brooke must have felt as he felt now when she had trudged away in the darkness.
'Is there any request that you would like to make?' asked the Governor kindly.
'I could not see Teresa Corona or her father?' asked James listlessly.
'That—I fear not,' replied the Spaniard, who already suspected the innkeeper and his daughter of being this strange man's tool in what intrigue he was concerned with.
'Nor send a letter?'
'Then they are to think they were deceived by a common malefactor?'
'When they come to inquire about you I will tell them what you have told me.'
'I thank you,' said the prisoner, who was now dully quiet. 'Can I see a confessor?'
'Not the prison priest. There is a Jesuit in Naples—Father Marchiafava—I know him, could he be sent for?'
'I will do this if I can,' replied the Governor.
He then ordered the young man to be taken to Castel Sant' Elmo, and was sufficiently impressed by the incident to go at once to the Viceroy and put the tale before him, with the result that letters were sent that day to England and to Rome.
James Stewart, in the Castel Sant' Elmo, knew nothing of this; he seemed shut away from the world, enclosed in his own gloom and despair, anger, and scorn.
He had often looked at this castle standing on the height of the Pizzo Falcone, and heard the legend of the secret underground passages supposed to run underneath it to the Castel dell' Uovo, and the enchanted treasure chambers lying beneath the waves that beat upon the reef where the Castel dell' Uovo stood and the great magician Virgil was buried; often had he turned his eyes with something of dislike to the dark shape of the fortress with the long priory in front, which dominated the city with the double symbol of temporal and spiritual power.
And now he was enclosed in the dark castle, in a narrow chamber with a narrow window that looked out on to the ridge of rock and the sea.
The new life that he had so carefully built up for himself had been suddenly shattered—proved to be a silly dream; Teresa Corona seemed as far away as Eleanor Brooke; he felt a certain indifference to his fate, yet somehow a great curiosity as sullenly he watched the hours go by, marked only by the changing lights on the sea.
Towards evening of the first day of his captivity Father Marchiafava came to see him. At sight of the Jesuit all the emotions he had held in dull abeyance sprang into violence.
'Why have you come to look at your handicraft?' he demanded fiercely.
'Why did you send for me?'
'A whim, a folly!' cried James. 'Perhaps I meant to appeal to you—but now I wish for nothing.'
'You were ever unsettled and fantastical,' said the Jesuit. 'I had no object save compassion in coming here, and if you wish I can at once return.'
James made a restless movement, his soul was chafing against circumstance like the waves were chafing against the rocks without.
Father Marchiafava looked with pity at the handsome, haggard figure, huddled on the prison stool and pressed close to the slit-like window, through which fell the last golden light of day.
'Why could you not let me be?' cried James, in a misery that was suddenly near to tears. 'I was harmless enough.'
'You do not suppose,' asked the Jesuit quickly, 'that I have anything to do with your misfortune?'
He came up to the young man, laid a cool hand on his heaving shoulders, and looked at him with the fanatic's gaze of steady purpose and idealistic ardour.
James remembered those eyes, close set, keen, eager, transforming the hard, commonplace face to a look of something powerful and unusual—remembered them in the face of the supposed shopman in St Martin's Lane, that cold spring day that seemed so very long ago.
This man was a different character from Brother Ponchelli, but of much the same outward type, and to James none of these priests had any individuality—they seemed merely segments of the vast Society that had so overshadowed the last years of his life.
'Whatever you have done personally, of course the Jesuits have betrayed me to the King of England.'
'You are utterly wrong, my poor boy,' replied the Jesuit tranquilly.
'Why, then, have I been arrested?'
'For the plain reason that was given you—your behaviour was extraordinary, you attracted attention—you are suspect as a coiner or thief.'
James was silent; if this was true, destiny was indeed ironical—had he escaped the King and the Church to be tripped up by his own folly and a peasant's boasting!
'You were always,' continued the Jesuit, 'of a blazing indiscretion.'
'I wished to have done with cheating!' cried James. 'I wanted to be honest—I wanted to be happy.'
'Were you?—nay, you were not.'
'How do you know?'
'Because you have forgotten God.'
'It is useless to talk to me like that. I am further than ever from any belief.'
'And further than ever from any happiness. You are no more bitter now than you would have been in those Virgilian days you promised yourself with your peasant wife.'
There was a silence in the prison chamber, from which the light was slowly receding, leaving it dull and chill indeed.
The priest kept his hand on the young man's shoulder and gazed over his bowed figure at the cup-shaped bay, now darkling against a clear sky from which the light was fading.
'I have told the truth,' broke out James at last. 'I said that I was the King of England's son.'
'I betrayed nothing.'
The Jesuit smiled.
'It would have mattered nothing—no one would have believed you.'
'Ah, you reckoned on that—not on my fidelity!'
He was angry with himself for having betrayed anger, and took his head in his hands with a great bitterness, turning his shoulders to the priest.
'I have done with you,' he added. 'Leave me to my—destiny—a grand word for a poor thing.'
'Do you know how poor a thing?' asked the Jesuit. 'If you are convicted of being a vagabond and a coiner you will be publicly flogged and cast out of the town, everything you possess being confiscated.'
'It will never come to that,' replied the young man sharply, without looking round.
'Do you rely on the King of England?' asked the priest.
James was silent.
'You failed him,' continued the Jesuit, 'it is to be expected he will fail you.'
'There are others.'
'The Jesuits? You also failed them.'
James looked round now, showing a haggard, angry face.
'It is impossible that I should be left to such a fate!'
'Did not Father Ponchelli warn you of this when you left England?'
'I never thought of this extremity,' replied James. 'I never believed that I should be denied in my bitterest need.'
'In brief, you thought to indulge your fantasy and not to pay for it—it is not, sir, ever done.'
He spoke so gently that for a wild instant James was tempted to ask his help, his pity; but pride, and a sense of the implacability of the forces he had offended, held him silent; he still relied on Charles.
But one favour he brought himself to ask.
'Will you see the Corona family, father, and tell them I am no impostor, and that if I am ever free of this I will be with them as I ever was?'
'I have no permission to say that you are no impostor,' replied the priest, 'but the other part of your message I will deliver.'
'I thank you for your charity,' said James bitterly.
He wished that the priest would go—this dark figure standing in the twilight of the cell brought him no comfort, but filled him with a vague shame for his broken vows and whimsical unstability; after all, he had gained nothing by his impetuous flinging away from the work to which he had more or less pledged himself, and he could not face with courage the thought of being publicly branded as an impostor and a vagabond and flogged through the streets of Naples... and suddenly he recalled that he was a priest and that he had asked another priest to take a message to his betrothed wife and he began to laugh foolishly... there was something sinister in the extraordinary tenderness with which the Jesuits were treating him.
He laughed and laughed, leaning his head against the stone mullions, with his back to the cell, and when at length he turned weakly to peer into the darkness the priest had gone.
With a pang of panic fear the young man ran round his cell, with the futile movement of a bird beating round a cage; and when he realised, by feeling the walls, how small was the space in which he was confined, and how hopeless was any dream of escape, when he thought of himself as forsaken, and saw ahead unspeakable depths of humiliation, a passionate impulse to dash his head against the walls and end it all seized him—but somehow his fingers, pulling open his coat for air, clutched at the little crucifix D'Oliva's secretary had given him in the house in St Giles-in-the-Fields. He could not tell why he had always worn it or why the feel of it quieted him now.
He mocked at himself for a superstitious fool, but he no longer thought of suicide; he went to the window and stared at the sea, glimmering in the darkness of the moonless night.
AS the sad days faded one with the other, James gained an apathy not unlike peace; the little chamber in Castel Sant' Elmo took on something of the cloistered calm he had known in his room in the Jesuit College; he was not ill treated; he learnt that the Viceroy was paying fifty scudi a month for his maintenance; he was supplied with fresh linen and a change of clothes, less fantastic than the rich suit he was wearing when arrested; a barber visited him daily, and his food was good and plentiful.
These things encouraged him to hope that his story was believed, or even that private instructions had been received from the English agent in Rome that he should be well treated.
On the other hand, his own money, the remainder of the King's dole, and the jewels given him by the two Queens were confiscated, nor was he allowed any news of the outer world.
Father Marchiafava came to see him once and told him of a visit to the Corona family.
'You have bewildered and hurt these poor people,' said the Jesuit. 'They think that you are an impostor or a wizard, and though the girl still loves you she does not dare say so.'
'Did you say no word for me?' asked James sullenly.
'I said that you had not meant to deceive, but I could tell them nothing more; and when the maiden asked if you were godly and one for her to think of as a husband, I told her that for her soul's sake she must think no more of you.'
'So you tore to pieces my carefully-woven happiness! I was a fool to ask you to go.'
'I should have gone in any case—and what else did you expect from me? The woof of your happiness was lies.'
'Lies!' cried the young man. 'I was, at least, frank.'
'Did you tell the girl you were a priest?' asked the Jesuit.
'That was all I concealed from her.'
'You have often spoke of cheats,' interrupted the Jesuit, 'but you have always been a cheat yourself.'
'No more,' replied the young man stormily, 'than I have been forced to be. After all,' he added bitterly, 'how can I be true even to myself, when my own soul is veiled from me?'
The priest looked at him with pity.
'All the failures of the world,' he said, 'are men of your type—men who are false to all their opportunities. I never had any faith in you from the first, but the King's whim bound me to do what I could.'
'The King's whim!' echoed James. 'Yes, it was no more.'
'Well, have not you too had your whims? You are more fantastical, unstable, and flighty, more full of moods and caprices, than ever your father was.'
The young man did not answer, and the priest continued speaking in a quiet tone and with a detached manner.
'Do you think that this scheme of yours to marry this peasant and live with her in poverty on some Calabrian farm was anything but a whim? Do you think it would have lasted beyond the first novelty? And when you had tired?'
Still James did not reply; he sat, in his usual position, close to the window, and stared out at the distant azure flash of the sea beyond the dark rocks of the enchanted castle, where the bones of the wizard guarded the caverns of fabulous treasure.
The truth was that he had almost forgotten Teresa Corona; she had made very little impression on his life; his love for her had been merely the result of his desperate attempt to find, if not happiness, peace, which he had persuaded himself he would find with this simple creature in a simple life; now that dream was over his love was over too; in the long musings that had occupied his captivity the little peasant had found no place.
It was Eleanor Brooke he thought of; he knew now that if he had not loved her then it was not in his nature to love any one, neither good nor beautiful nor desirable; still she remained the only creature in whom he had ever taken a profound interest; he speculated and wondered far more often about her fate than he did about his own.
The Jesuit soon left him, and with no promise of returning, nor did James ask it; he did not care for the way in which the priest held up the mirror for him to gaze into, showing by the light of serene personality, the freakish confusion of James's own life.
It was not likely that he would come again; the Jesuits had no need to trouble themselves any more about this broken tool; it was quite certain that he could do them no harm; whatever he said would not be credited.
He was no longer of interest or importance to any one—not even to Teresa Corona.
So he reasoned with himself when the priest had left him, and a deep melancholy clouded his brooding spirit.
'False to your opportunities—'
These words remained in his mind, for they impressed him as bringing a new point of view before him; he had never considered that he should be loyal to his chances, that an opportunity brought with it a responsibility, that he should not have only considered his own likings or distastes, but the obligations imposed on him by the gods when they placed their gifts in his lap.
He had rejected all of them with a fierce disdain and a wilful impatience, until at length the gods had offered nothing more and were now withdrawn, with veiled faces, into their heavens.
'I have missed everything,' said James.
Though he was still so young he felt as if his life was over; even if there were long years ahead it seemed to him that they would be as useless and as monotonous as the endless waves that chased each other to break into nothingness against the reef on which the wizard's castle stood, the waves that, with the rare clouds that sometimes dimmed the purple skies, were the only moving things he saw during the dull days of his captivity.
One brilliant afternoon in late October he was taken before the Viceroy.
The drive through the streets, the feel of the sun and air on his face, the common sights of daily life, all acted on the prisoner like a heavy draught of wine.
He felt almost gay as he entered the Castel dell' Uovo, and confident of his future.
Now he had no doubt that the King had owned him, and that he would be allowed to go free and even treated with respect.
He resolved to give up his dream of Virgilian ease and return to England; he would beg the King to take him into his service again and let the future atone for the past.
With vigour and decision he would arrange his life now—Teresa should have the jewels, they would form a dowry that would gain her a prosperous husband, who would take her to Santa Lucia every evening, poor child... and he... he might meet Eleanor Brooke again.
With shoulders squared and a look of energy not common to him, he entered the presence of the Viceroy.
The room was large and splendid, with the splendour bequeathed by the terrible arrogance of kings who had lived here during their cruel reigns; James felt and liked the atmosphere of a court.
The Viceroy, who was a very fine grandee, dressed in black velvet and white lawn, sat by the window space with two secretaries standing behind him; James crossed the long, shining floor until he also stood in the full light of the window.
He was sallow and thin from his confinement, and not all the honey-coloured glow of the autumn sunshine could soften his haggard look, which was emphasised by his heavy brows and heavy black hair, that now hung in thick curls on to his shoulders; he wore dark colours and carried neither sword nor cane.
The Viceroy glanced at him, then down at something that he held enclosed in his thin, graceful hand.
'You say that you are the son of the King of England?' he asked.
'Sir,' said James Stewart, 'that is the truth of my parentage.'
'I have written to England, reporting your case, continued the Spaniard, without seeming to attach any importance to the young man's words, 'and yesterday received the answer.'
'Sir, I wait,' said James, with a quiver in every nerve, but his heavy eyes steady.
'His Britannic Majesty informs me that you are a low impostor—that never has he had a son born in Jersey, nor ever before heard of any one under this masquerade.'
James stepped back into the shadows.
'Do the Queens—Buckingham—Father Mansell, do they deny me?'
'Do you suppose that anything more was needed than the word of His Majesty?' asked the Viceroy.
'Then no one else was referred to?' insisted the young man doggedly.
'The ex-Queen of Sweden was written to, as you requested. She says that she never saw or heard of any son of the King of England born in Jersey.'
Though James had expected this he could not save himself from a sense of shock; at the last moment he had allowed himself to be fooled by his own hopes; in the joy and exhilaration of leaving the prison he had allowed himself to believe that Charles would never abandon him; even now he could hardly credit the thing; he recalled the King's affectionate words, the strong feeling that had made him seek out his son and place him in such an extraordinary position of trust and responsibility—and all those others who knew his secret, who seemed kind, reasonable people, and who had shown a certain sympathy and liking for him—was it possible that they had all combined to betray him... he did not think how he had failed them, how bitterly he must have wounded the King by his fantastic fickleness; he did not remember the warning of the Jesuit before he so impetuously left England—he felt as if a great wrong had been done to him; he was bitterly angry—and he had no right to be angry—a subconscious sense of this made him the more furious.
The Viceroy was regarding him intently, and now and then casting his glance down to whatever it was he held in his hand.
'So, as you are not the son of the King of England,' he said in his careful Italian, which was hardly more correct than that used by James, 'you must be a vagabond and cheat.'
James started at the words.
'You know I am the prince,' he said violently, 'or else,' he added quickly, 'why do you waste time on me?'
The Viceroy did not answer, and James felt he had a momentary triumph; he knew that his case was quite hopeless, but with his back against the wall he fought the losing ground inch by inch.
'An ordinary vagabond is not treated as I have been treated. Why do you see me yourself?'
'Curiosity,' murmured the Viceroy.
'I think your Excellency has not much time to waste on curiosity. Why have I been so well lodged, who paid for my maintenance?' demanded James.
'Until an answer was received from England there was always a chance that your story might be true.'
'You know it is true.'
The Viceroy shrugged his shoulders.
'I do not know what you are—it is not any longer my business to inquire. You can go free provided that you leave Naples.'
'Is this the way that you treat cheats and vagabonds?'
'No,' replied the Viceroy. 'Properly you should be publicly whipped.'
'And why this mercy,' asked James grimly. 'You have had secret instructions from England.'
'You mistake,' said the Spaniard, 'you have a woman to thank for my clemency.'
'A respectable girl came in great distress to the Vicereine and begged you might be spared any punishment. She said she was to have married you and pleaded very sadly for mercy.'
'I think that was the name.'
'She came to ask pity for me?'
'Pity for me?'
'And because she moved the Vicereine, and I take you more to be a half-witted fantastical fellow than a knowing criminal, I am willing to allow you to go free, provided you leave the Kingdom of Naples.'
James now touched the depths of humiliation; never had he imagined a moment so bitter as this—that the peasant he had almost forgotten should be the means of saving him from the malefactor's punishment to which his father had abandoned him.
'I would rather have been whipped,' he said passionately, and turned his face away.
The three Spaniards exchanged a glance, and the Viceroy slipped the object he held into his pocket.
'You can go,' he said, not unkindly. 'I will take the responsibility of returning to you your money and jewels.'
'I want neither,' replied James hoarsely, 'they are all the Stewarts ever gave me and they have brought me bitter ill luck... Send back the gems to the two Queens... and the money to my father... the remains of the poor dole with which I tried to purchase happiness. I never feared life or death until this moment, and now, between you, you have made both very hateful to me... When your Excellency next writes to England, tell the King that he will never hear of me again... and that I shall not betray him.'
The Viceroy rose.
'I do not know your history and I do not presume to pity you—but I can see that you have made some terrible mistakes and I regret that you should have to so painfully pay for them.'
They looked at each other keenly.
'Believe me I am sorry, M. le Prince,' said the Spaniard softly in French.
James winced, hesitated, then straightened his shoulders.
'I thank you for your justice, monseigneur,' he replied, and with a bow quickly left the room.
The Viceroy turned to his two secretaries.
'I hardly believed that it could be true till I saw him,' he said, 'but look—'
He took from his pocket the thing he had held in his hand during the first part of the interview; it was a copy of a portrait of Charles II. taken shortly before the battle of Worcester.
'Line for line the same face,' remarked the Viceroy.
'It is certainly the King's son,' replied one of the secretaries.
'My friend,' said the Viceroy, 'it is certainly the Prince of Wales. The Jesuits assure me there was a marriage.'
'An extraordinary tale,' observed the secretary, 'and surely a dangerous person to leave at liberty.'
'Dangerous to no one but himself,' answered the Viceroy. 'He will, of course, never do anything notable.'
'A fool—your Excellency thinks?'
'A fool, I suppose,' returned the Viceroy thoughtfully.
'And he is to go like this?' asked the second secretary.
'What do you think could happen?' smiled his master. 'He is penniless, degraded, stamped as a cheat.'
'The King of England really denied him?'
'Officially—yes—but the English agent in Rome paid the expenses of his imprisonment and requested that he should suffer no indignity or longer captivity—also that his property should be returned.'
'Then it was not the girl's prayers?'
'She came to beg pity for him and that served my turn—I could not give away the English. After all, it none of it concerns us—save in as far as we must keep well with England.'
'I tell you this,' he added as he rose, 'that you may make a secret record of it—and state that everything was done as the English King wished.'
'And the money and jewels, Excellency?'
'He will probably go to the Corona family—send a messenger there to offer him the return of his property.'
'And that is all, Excellency?'
'That is all.'
ONLY when Jacques was far out in the street, with the everyday noises and sights around him, did he realise that he was free—that he had been allowed to walk out of the palace unmolested and unquestioned.
With a sensation of great desolation and loneliness, he stopped short in his aimless walk; the wave of emotion that had helped him through his interview with the Viceroy was spent.
He felt rather light-headed, and as lost and foolish as on that occasion, that now seemed so impossible, long ago when he had stood outside the Black Bull in Holborn after hearing of M. de Rohan's sudden departure and had watched the people hastening up and down the street, all, save himself, with some purpose or object.
So he stood now, Jostled by the crowd, alone, vague, and abandoned.
With an effort he forced himself to think of the future; the passers-by were staring at him, he began to move on; he had been in prison long enough to feel freedom strange and his limbs cramped; he tried to fix his thoughts on something definite... of course, there was Teresa.
She would be expecting him; he owed it to her that he had not been publicly flogged, perhaps publicly hanged—it was obviously the only thing to do—to return to Teresa; he endeavoured to think of her with love and gratitude and joyful anticipation, but she was as unreal to his imagination as one of the dreams of his captivity, that had come with the incessant lapping of the waves against the foot of the enchanted castle—another real, poignant figure accompanied him—that of Eleanor Brooke, like himself, disowned, dishonoured, degraded, and humiliated like himself, lost in the great tides of humanity, that swept on not caring for the fate of such as they.
He walked steadily to the Via di Toledo, which was full of autumn sunshine from end to end, and stopped before the little inn where he had once thought he had found perfect contentment and peace, but which now looked to him unfamiliar and foreign.
Bunches of grapes and strings of figs were hanging drying from the balcony, and there was an acrid smell of new wine. Jacques went through the open shop, where a few men were talking and drinking, to the little high-walled courtyard, full of green plants, at the back, where Teresa usually spent her mornings.
She was there now; she had watered the plants, and the leaves and the earthenware pots were wet in the shade—in the little strip of sunlight that fell over one corner of the courtyard she was standing, bending over a little trough of pulped tomatoes that she had arranged on a low trestle. Her hands were stained with the fruit, she was barefoot, and her clothes were faded and a little torn; Jacques had often seen her like that before, yet it all seemed strange; it was one of the results of his character, full of whim and freakish fancies, these sudden rebellions against what had once seemed so desirable.
This girl was now stripped of all glory in his eyes—as bare of any adornments of his fancy as she was of the flowers and gay finery she used to put on for his pleasure.
She looked up, saw him, and made the sign of the cross.
'Am I something evil?' asked Jacques impulsively.
Then he remembered that he was a priest, and a superstitious shudder shook him; a priest—folly to him those vows of his, but something vital to her; he leant against the wall where a trail of vivid creeper clung to the yellow plaster, and put his hand to his tired eyes.
'Do you not want me to come back, Teresa?' he asked.
'No, oh, no!' she answered trembling. 'The priest told me that you must never come back.'
So Father Marchiafava had spoken against him; yet even now, in his humiliation, Jacques could not blame the Jesuit, who had acted according to his own ideas of the girl's good.
'Did he say why?'
'He said it was not his secret to tell—I suppose he was under the seal of confession—but he warned me, as I value my soul, to send you away. Oh, Madonna, why is a poor girl thus tormented?'
'Tell me,' insisted Jacques, 'what Father Marchiafava said.'
'Only that, and that you were a great gentleman in your own country—and that there was a reason why you could never, never marry.'
'And you were satisfied with this, Teresa?'
'Did not the holy father tell me?' she exclaimed.
'And you asked nothing further.'
'I dare not,' she replied, piteously clasping her hands.
'You think,' he cried bitterly, 'that I am wicked—a monster—a criminal.'
The girl began to weep.
'I never meant anything but your happiness, Teresa.'
To himself the words sounded feeble; he wanted to say: 'I never lied to you,' but this falsehood he could not utter, for in concealing his priesthood he had deceived her on a matter most vital to her—probably she would have considered herself eternally damned by any union with him, and he had hardly thought of that at all, so absorbed had he been by his plans for his own happiness. She was crying, not prettily, with her apron flung over her head... this was his Virgilian bride—the heroine of his idyll!
He tried to remember his obligations to this common little fool.
'You pleaded for me, Teresa, you went to the Vicereine?'
'The priest told me to.'
Jacques could not understand this—nor why the Jesuit should have employed this indirect way of saving him; he sickened at all of it; his head ached and he needed food; the stale smell coming from the inn was unsupportable; he had always loathed the Neapolitan cooking, with its hideous fish dainties, and to his weary senses the odour was doubly nauseous now—it seemed, too, to add a fatal touch of the ridiculous to the foolish scene.
And that this was the end of what was to have been his fine, perfect, and pure happiness, caused his very soul to wince. He knew that it was quite over, and that there was nothing to do but to go away; yet he lingered from sheer weariness—and because he did not know where to go; that was the more pitiful.
He had not a soldo in his pocket or a second shirt in his possession, or any place where he could go and repose, even for half an hour.
The girl made no offer of any hospitality, not even of a glass of water; she waited, weeping and frightened, for him to go; plainly she regarded him as something evil, if not inhuman, and when she wiped her eyes with her apron and half turned away from him, he saw that she was making with her left hand the sign used against the Jettatura or evil eye.
She had no art or wit or cunning to help her to deal with the moment; she stood like a terrified child, waiting for the object of their dread to go.
'I am sorry that they took your rings and buckles from you,' he said.
'Signor, I am glad,' she answered ingenuously, 'or I should have thrown them into the sea with the other things I had from you.'
'Is that what you did, Teresa, with the pretty trifles I bought you at Santa Lucia, that pleased you so much?'
'Well, good-bye. I am very sorry, but it is foolish to talk any more.'
'You are going?'
'Please do not come back, signor, for pity's sake!'
'I shall not come back.'
'You are leaving Naples, perhaps, signor?' she asked eagerly.
'Yes—I am turned out of Naples.'
'I will pray for you,' she said with an air of relief. 'I will pray for your soul day and night, signor.'
'I thank you for your charity,' he answered. And turned and left her; there was no pang in this for him, only a deepening of his sense of humiliation, of failure.
He passed through the dark room of the inn and stood in the sunny street, pulling his hat over his eyes.
There was now no obligation upon him, no responsibility—he was perfectly free from any restriction, any tie, any burden.
At the same time he was utterly lonely and without any resources or prospects, detached almost from humanity.
He shrugged his shoulders and went on slowly up the street; the people looked at him with curious and unfriendly glances; evidently a version of his story not to his credit had got abroad and he was regarded as a rogue, a magician, or worse.
He quickened his pace to gain a quarter where he was not known, though he was aware that there was something about his appearance that always attracted attention, especially now when he was gaunt from imprisonment and swordless.
He believed that the Jesuits would give him at least charity, but he did not intend to avail himself of their pity.
The day was hot and heavy, an autumnal richness in the air, and everywhere a smell of new wine; Jacques felt his head ache and weariness increase on his body and spirit.
He turned at length to the Carmine, meaning to sit in the church and try to think out a little of the future; but his step was slow and lagging, and it seemed to him that he had hardly the heart or courage left to reach his destination.
As he was making his way along under the overhanging balconies, grateful for the shadow cast by the houses, one of the idlers lounging about the street passed him, repassed him, and touched him on the shoulder.
James looked into the face of a stranger, a gentleman of middle age, well dressed.
'Sir,' said this person in English, 'will you dine with me?'
James laughed faintly.
'You are aware that I am in want of a meal,' he answered.
'I am aware of everything,' replied the other quietly and in a low voice, 'save only what I am to call you, Jacques de Rohan, Father Giacopo, Carlo Visdomini, or—James Stewart.'
'Who are you?'
'Why, there is no mystery about this. I am Robert Waters, the English letter-writer, sent here by the agent in Rome.'
'A spy,' said James, 'a spy set over me, eh?'
'I have certainly had you under observation. 'What sir, did you expect?'
'That I was too worthless to trouble any one.'
'There you are mistaken, I have had the very strictest orders concerning you.'
'It has been very well done,' replied James dryly. 'I was not aware of your interest—did the Viceroy send you after me?' he added.
'I act entirely on English instructions,' replied Mr Waters, 'and now will you come to my inn and dine with me?'
'My next meal depends on charity,' said James, 'it may as well be yours, sir.'
He was inclined to believe that there was some sinister design against him; he could not credit that Charles, after publicly disowning him, any longer felt any tenderness towards him; rather did it seem likely that he was considered tiresome, if not dangerous, and that there was some plan for removing him or silencing him.
He followed the Englishman to one of the best inns in the town, where a meal was laid in the garden under a pergola covered with a creeper hung with scarlet flowers; James noticed this; it seemed, somehow, the most important thing about the episode.
He smiled at himself, recalling the good meal the Jesuit had given him in St Martin's Lane, and how it had affected him; he could remember yet the shape of the glass and the blue dish that had held the sweetmeats.
Now, as then, the food was choice and well served, the wine excellent, and Mr Waters as pleasant a companion as Father Marchiafava.
He was equally reserved and cautious.
'I dare not exceed my instructions,' he said, whenever James pressed him on any particular point.
But when the meal was over he began to show his hand.
'It is, of course,' he remarked, 'understood that you make no more of such absurd pretensions as your claim to the Viceroy?'
'Whenever I am asked for the truth I shall give it,' replied James.
'And his Majesty will give it a prompt denial.'
'Maybe. But it remains the truth.'
'I cannot, sir, go into that.'
'The fact that you trouble to have me here now,' said James, 'proves it is the truth.'
'No—it proves you might be a source of annoyance to the King. I do not deny that,' replied Mr Waters. 'Pretenders, impostors, and cheats have shaken governments before now.'
'Do they still think that I am ambitious?' exclaimed James.
Mr Waters did not answer; he was very cautious indeed; it was impossible to tell how little or how much he knew; everything, James suspected, even to the connection with the Jesuits.
'I suppose the King wants me out of the way?' asked James, 'Why was I ever released from St Elmo? I might have rotted there and been never missed. All this seems to me very vexatious—needlessly elaborate.'
'You are a strange young man,' said Mr Waters, as so many had said before of this Stewart, 'and I will be quite frank with you.'
James stared up at the scarlet flowers; how familiar it all seemed—the old moves, the old phrases—he hardly listened as the agent, with professional glibness, went on to make words.
James easily saw to the gist of the matter; Charles was afraid of him; the declaration of his identity in Naples had been mistaken and taken as a challenge; the King feared that his son would come to England, spread abroad the cherished secret, make a scandal, form a party, not difficult in the present times, and perhaps expose the royal conversion to the Church of Rome.
Of course, James could prove nothing, but there would always be some who would believe his story... Then there was the likeness, and so many powerful men, like Buckingham, knew the truth and might any moment declare it; so, James could see, the King had argued when he had sent his secret instructions to the agent in Rome.
And at the end of it all came the expected bribe; this time a position in the French service—a pair of colours in Louis's guards, an income from England, as well, all dependent, as usual, on discretion and good behaviour, 'loyalty' it was called.
The details had been worked out; D'Oliva was to absolve from the Jesuit vows, but James was to remain a Catholic—he was to return to his former identity and be known as Jacques de Rohan, nothing should be lacking for his equipment, he could be well introduced at the French court.
'All this for an impostor?' demanded James.
'All this out of his Majesty's goodness,' replied the agent gravely.
James laughed, then checked himself; after all, Charles could, as he had said himself, have left him to wither in Sant' Elmo, or even have had him disposed of as a malefactor; his wild behaviour had made that possible, even easy.
'I accept,' he said. 'I have no alternative—but I would like one thing first—do you know of Mrs Eleanor Brooke?'
The agent stared at this change of subject.
'Will you, when you write home, find out if she is alive or dead?'
'I will make inquiries.'
'And I may stay here till you have?'
'That can easily be arranged.'
JAMES stayed with Mr Waters, in his comfortable rooms, while preparations were being made for his departure for France.
These could have been hurried forward, but the young man asked for delay that he might wait the answer from England concerning Eleanor Brooke.
'It is a lady in whom I take much interest,' he said.
Mr Waters concealed his own opinion of this strange young man and proved a pleasant and civil companion.
James now saw Naples from another point of view, far removed from the plane on which he had met the Corona family; Mr Waters moved among a circle of better class people and had indeed the entrance to any society; he did not, certainly, and for obvious reasons, introduce his guest to any one, but James got a different aspect of life than that he had obtained either from the inn of the Via Toledo or the prison of the Vicaria or Sant' Elmo.
This orderly, well-regulated, secure existence attracted his roving fancy; he believed that he could be quite happy in the position that had been mapped out for him; he had always wanted to be a soldier. He smiled when he considered that Charles was offering him now exactly what he had so passionately wanted at first... how dull and futile the gift seemed now compared to what it would have seemed then!
Then there had been the love dream, attached to the radiant image of the woman, to shed a refulgence over all... and now there was still Eleanor Brooke.
It was on a vague impulse that he had asked Mr Waters to write about her; she was married, and probably full of her own schemes, yet in some way he hoped he might attach her to his life; there was always the chance that her husband had died or forsaken her; James, all his life, had dealt so much in chances.
She might be in exile, in distress; she might in some way want him; it was not very likely that she would be long able to do anything much for herself or that she would find many men to help her, poor, plain Eleanor.
He remembered when he had thought her beautiful; he believed that if he had married her he would have found her beautiful still, in his own fashion he was very faithful; it was her defection that had jarred his whole life and set it out of tune; that seemed to him very obvious now, if only the woman had remained faithful he would never have embarked on these fantastical adventures; he must have loved her more, far more than he had known... and never could he have been as indifferent as he had thought; he was sure that he had ceased to love her long ago, but he could never rid his mind of the thought of her ordinary, weak, foolish personality.
At this time nothing interested him much save this waiting for the English mail.
He remembered afterwards the curious flatness of these golden days, the richly coloured life about him in which he had no part whatever, the dancing waters of the bay, the smouldering fires of Vesuvius and the canopy of smoke spreading over the Campagna Felice, the great buildings he passed in his daily walk, the Carmine, the Castel dell' Uovo, and in the distance always the prison where he had passed his strange captivity, and the enchanted castle, far out at sea on the reef of rocks. It was all to him like a painted scene, set for a play in which he had no part, but in which he merely crossed the stage and stared about at the scenery and those who were really playing.
At this time he would not go near a church; he stepped aside when he met a priest, and lived in dread of seeing Father Marchiafava; he feared that the Jesuit would hear of his change of fortune and seek him out; but as the days passed and no one came he began to hope that all had been arranged in Rome with D'Oliva, and that he was really free of the Society of Jesus.
Mr Waters assured him that Charles would arrange everything with D'Oliva, but Mr Waters was a Protestant and did not attach much importance to Papist institutions.
James tried to shut the whole thing from his mind and to think of himself as a layman and a soldier—a free-thinker who had ridded himself of all superstition.
Not even Mr Waters knew that he had been the King's confessor or even of the King's secret faith; James liked to keep this secret, it seemed somehow the one piece of honour in his life that he had been able to keep this trust—yet he knew that it was the King's dishonour he was concealing, and when he thought of that the complications of human standards wearied him, and he conceived a disgust for all the institutions of mankind.
He often now indulged his love for the country and wandered alone towards the Posilipo, where he could peer among the withering vines that trailed across the discoloured marbles of the ruins of Roman villas, and when facing the blue of the bay of Baię, the outlines of a noble theatre could be traced gaunt upon the lonely creek.
There he would sit for hours watching the flashing light on Ischia and Nisida, and lulled by the golden ripple of the autumn sea—and there endeavoured to tinge his musings with some radiance from the shattered fairyland of the past, to muse on the opulent splendours of Baię and Misenum and Cumę, and clothe his own thoughts in some of their magic.
It was a melancholy occupation, but one suited to the apathy of his mood; lying there under the pine-trees, on the short, hot grass, among the lonely ruins and green slopes in the country that Virgil, a wizard indeed, had made enchanted, he endeavoured to catch some of the pagan Joy of life; but always it eluded him.
Dead indeed were the Virgilian glories, as one with the dust, as the bones of the great poet himself, resting in the magic castle by the sea.
No dryad looked from the branches of the dark pines, no faun's footstep caused a rustling in the dry grass, no wan form of nymph ever broke the flashing waters of the bay—only in the lonely winds that blew from the channels of shining sea, between the islands and the mainland, did he sometimes catch what seemed like the last faint echoes of the dirge of Pan.
He had been out on the Posilipo on the most tremendous day of his life, a day that made all other days seem poor and meagre in comparison.
He came back to the inn towards sunset, and found Mr Waters waiting for him; the evening meal was set under the pergola, where the last of the scarlet flowers showed vivid in the last rays of the sun.
The air was very luminous, even the shadows being full of radiance; the bay, glimpsed between the brick supports of the pergola, was like a bowl of blue light.
Mr Waters was seated at the table, which was spread with fruit and wine; against a bowl of peaches was leaning an open letter.
'I have heard from England.'
James paused, resting his hand against the hot brick, and looked across the bay, his mood was peaceful; he did not really want to hear any English news, he rather regretted the impulse that had made him inquire after Eleanor Brooke.
'What news?' he asked idly.
Mr Waters gave him a shrewd look.
'Are you very interested in this Mrs Brooke? It seems she was a most ordinary person—favourite, for a brief time, of His Highness, and a spy in the employ of the Dutch—'
'I know all that,' interrupted James. 'She was always a fool, too, and missed her opportunities—always—like I did. A plain woman she became—No, I am not greatly interested in her—it was a mere impulse of curiosity;
'Well then,' said Mr Waters more cheerfully, 'I have the better heart to tell you my news.'
The Englishman shrugged.
'Mrs Brooke is dead—she died six months ago, of a chill and fever.'
James was conscious of an extraordinary shock—as if something vital had gone suddenly out of his life; he turned his head away to hide his confusion.
'So now there is no obstacle to your journey to Paris?' asked Mr Waters.
'None at all,' said James.
And he kept telling himself resolutely that the death of Eleanor Brooke could make no difference to him—no difference whatever...
'Was there any news of her husband?' he asked carefully.
'Yes—he is in Holland—they were both of them obscure people and I can find out very little about them—will you not come to supper?'
'I supped at a locanda as I came home,' said James quickly, it was not true but he felt that he could not eat, that he must, at any cost, be alone.
So strong was this feeling that he snatched up his hat, with a low mumbled excuse, and left the terrace, leaving Mr Waters staring after him with astonishment and some suspicion.
James walked straight out of the inn and along the street, not caring in the least where he was going.
He knew how Eleanor Brookes had died, he knew now why the remembrance of that figure stumbling away in the rain had always haunted him; she had got so wet in the boat, sleeping, and then wet again on that long walk, and there would be no fire at the house, no food, no change of clothes, and she had been ill, she had talked of weakness, and she was very thin.
His mind ran over all these homely details as he pictured her death; she had died of chill, of cold, her poor body frozen as her poor little soul was; in the infinite compassion that he felt for her fate he forgot her treachery and remembered her as a creature who had belonged to him and whom he had forsaken.
And now he could never make it up to her; it was too late for anything—she would never know even that he had been sorry for her; the last thing she would remember of him would be his relentless anger when he had forced her to land on the Richmond shore.
Never again under any circumstances whatever would he meet Eleanor Brooke.
This thought frightened him—it was as if never before he had realised the finality of death. Slowly he walked on through the alien streets, remembering, remembering... his heart heavy with all the dead yesterdays of his life.
He walked slowly and without heed of his surroundings.
When he at length paused he found himself near the door of a church.
He smiled bitterly at the trite and foolish idea that this could give him consolation or even fortitude—an idea that had touched his mind from some force of old association; but he was tired and wanted somewhere to think quietly, so he turned into the old building and sat on one of the rush-bottom chairs behind a great pillar inside the door.
He did not know what church it was; it seemed like all the others, dark, full of the scent of stale incense, with red lamps and guttering candles lighting the tawdry decorations of the side altars; there were a few people about, their footsteps sounded clearly on the worn red-tiled floor.
James sat quite still, and gradually that sharp unaccountable pain at his heart was soothed.
He began to consider his own life with a certain dreary impartiality.
And, like one slowly realising an infamy, he began to see how little he had had out of this life of his; he had never really done what he had wanted to do, he had always fitted into circumstances, he had always played parts in other people's stories, never made them play in his; others had played upon him and bent him to their purposes, never had he bent any one to his; he had lost Eleanor, he had lost the King, the Jesuits, even Teresa—none of them had he been able to make serve his turn; cheats, all of them.
And he had cheated too.
But always to no purpose—whereas the others had always got something out of their cheating; even Eleanor, however she had paid in the end, had done exactly as she liked first.
And he (his mind kept coming back to that) had never done what he liked.
He knew it must be his own fault; of all the cheats who had defrauded him, he had been the worst himself.
And now he was actually going to do it again; he was going to allow this man Waters, or whoever he stood for, arrange his life for him, like a puppet for ever changing his stage, but with the same hands pulling the wires; he was now to be moved to Paris, without the least wish on his part to go; he was again drifting.
'I will not do it,' he said.
He got up and left the church.
It was now night, but the moon was up and by the light of it he again wandered out towards the Posilipo.
He did not pause until he was out in the open country among the ruined villas, and then he flung himself down on the short dry grass.
And there, lying quite still, he tried to let the influences of the moon-filled night surge into his void mind.
Then he rose and wandered on a little way and sat down between two short, broken pillars covered with rough, wild vines.
He began to feel almost happy; a curious delicious sense of anticipation tingled through his veins... almost as if he was to meet Eleanor shortly, Eleanor Coningsby again, lonely in his love.
He felt free, absolutely free at last, only fumbling to know his own wishes, his own purposes.
Presently he slept, and as he slept he put his hand to his heart, where, inside the loose shirt, was the Jesuit's crucifix.
He awoke with the dawn, coming from dark realms of sleep that left him completely refreshed, as if his very soul had been washed in clean, sweet water.
He sat up and looked about him, at the great bay with the swiftly-running sea, the purple islands, at the green slopes beneath the groves of fir, the volcano wrapped in its own slumbering clouds, and the great arch of the luminous sky.
It was the ruin of a portico of some temple facing the sea in which he sat; the wild vines clasped the broken shafts of stained marble, the little, dark, bitter grapes, withering in the sun, were scattered over the floor of the interior, which was open to the sky.
The young man moved and turned; the crucifix slipped through his fingers; he wondered why he had always worn it; he sat still, enjoying the great beauty of the dawn; then he rose and walked across the floor of the broken temple.
At the end, on a pile of fallen masonry, was a Christian shrine; a crude carving in wood; the cross, the Christ dominant over the pagan ruins.
James came face to face with it and stood still.
A priest—he was a priest—if he had cheated men how had he not cheated God!
God had never cheated him, nor had his Church, unchanged and unchanging, not easy to understand, but infinite and unalterable.
The pendulum of his life, after swinging so uneasily to and fro without purpose or rhythm, came with a shock to its appointed place from which it would never move again.
A priest... how was it he had not always known that this was what he must be?
He felt radiantly happy, as a man must when he discovered his true vocation; much was still obscured from him, his faith was only dawning, but the mists had cleared from the road and he knew what the end would be.
He went down into the town and to the Jesuit College; he asked for Father Marchiafava.
'So you have come back,' said the Jesuit.
'Yes. I understand. At last.'
'I knew that you would.'
A few days later two Jesuits started for Paraguay, and Mr Waters was writing to London:—
'As for that eccentric young man, I can find no trace of him. His end, as his birth, is enveloped in complete mystery—'
And with that the King of England had to be satisfied, neither he nor any other heard of the Jersey-born prince again.
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