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   Chapter 3 THE MUSIC OF THE WORLD

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 20544

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


If a philosopher, learned in the human mind as Flamsteed in the courses of the stars or the great Newton in the laws of external nature, were to take one possessed by a strong passion of love or a bitter grief, or what overpowering emotion you will, and were to consider impartially and with cold precision what share of his time was in reality occupied by the thing which, as we are in the habit of saying, filled his thoughts or swayed his life or mastered his intellect, the world might well smile (and to my thinking had better smile than weep) at the issue of the investigation. When the first brief shock was gone, how few out of the solid twenty-four would be the hours claimed by the despot, however much the poets might call him insatiable. There is sleeping, and meat and drink, the putting on and off of raiment and the buying of it. If a man be of sound body, there is his sport; if he be sane, there are the interests of this life and provision for the next. And if he be young, there is nature's own joy in living, which with a patient scornful smile sets aside his protest that he is vowed to misery, and makes him, willy-nilly, laugh and sing. So that, if he do not drown himself in a week and thereby balk the inquiry, it is odds that he will compose himself in a month, and by the end of a year will carry no more marks of his misfortune than (if he be a man of good heart) an added sobriety and tenderness of spirit. Yet all this does not hinder the thing from returning, on occasion given.

In my own case-and, if my story be followed to its close, I am persuaded that I shall not be held to be one who took the disease of love more lightly than my fellows-this process of convalescence, most salutary, yet in a sense humiliating, was aided by a train of circumstances, in which my mother saw the favour of Heaven to our family and the Vicar the working of Betty Nasroth's prophecy. An uncle of my mother's had some forty years ago established a manufactory of wool at Norwich, and having kept always before his eyes the truth that men must be clothed, howsoever they may think on matters of Church and State, and that it is a cloth-weaver's business to clothe them and not to think for them, had lived a quiet life through all the disturbances and had prospered greatly in his trade. For marriage either time or inclination had failed him, and, being now an old man, he felt a favourable disposition towards me, and declared the intention of making me heir to a considerable portion of his fortune provided that I showed myself worthy of such kindness. The proof he asked was not beyond reason, though I found cause for great lamentation in it; for it was that, in lieu of seeking to get to London, I should go to Norwich and live there with him, to solace his last years and, although not engaged in his trade, learn by observation something of the serious occupations of life and of the condition of my fellow-men, of which things young gentlemen, said he, were for the most part sadly ignorant. Indeed, they were, and they thought no better of a companion for being wiser; to do anything or know anything that might redound to the benefit of man or the honour of God was not the mode in those days. Nor do I say that the fashion has changed greatly, no, nor that it will change. Therefore to Norwich I went, although reluctantly, and there I stayed fully three years, applying myself to the comforting of my uncle's old age, and consoling my leisure with the diversions which that great and important city afforded, and which, indeed, were enough for any rational mind. But reason and youth are bad bedfellows, and all the while I was like the Israelites in the wilderness; my thoughts were set upon the Promised Land and I endured my probation hardly. To this mood I set down the fact that little of my life at Norwich lives in my memory, and to that little I seldom recur in thought; the time before it and the time after engross my backward glances. The end came with my uncle's death, whereat I, the recipient of great kindness from him, sincerely grieved, and that with some remorse, since I had caused him sorrow by refusing to take up his occupation as my own, preferring my liberty and a moderate endowment to all his fortune saddled with the condition of passing my days as a cloth-weaver. Had I chosen otherwise, I should have lived a more peaceful and died a richer man. Yet I do not repent; not riches nor peace, but the stir of the blood, the work of the hand, and the service of the brain make a life that a man can look back on without shame and with delight.

I was nearing my twenty-second birthday when I returned to Hatchstead with an air and manner, I doubt not, sadly provincial, but with a lining to my pocket for whose sake many a gallant would have surrendered some of his plumes and feathers. Three thousand pounds, invested in my uncle's business and returning good and punctual profit made of Simon Dale a person of far greater importance in the eyes of his family than he had been three years ago. It was a competence on which a gentleman could live with discretion and modesty, it was a step from which his foot could rise higher on life's ladder. London was in my power, all it held of promise and possibility was not beyond the flight of my soaring mind. My sisters exchanged sharp admonitions for admiring deference, and my mother feared nothing save that the great place to which I was now surely destined might impair the homely virtues which she had instilled into me. As for the Vicar, he stroked his nose and glanced at me with an eye which spoke so plainly of Betty Nasroth that I fell to laughing heartily.

Thus, being in great danger of self-exaltation, I took the best medicine that I could-although by no means with intention-in waiting on my lord Quinton, who was then residing at the Manor. Here my swelled spirit was smartly pricked, and sank soon to its true proportions. I was no great man here, and although my lord received me very kindly, he had less to say on the richness of my fortune than on the faults of my manner and the rustic air of my attire. Yet he bade me go to London, since there a man, rubbing shoulders with all the world, learnt to appraise his own value, and lost the ignorant conceit of himself that a village greatness is apt to breed. Somewhat crestfallen, I thanked him for his kindness, and made bold to ask after Mistress Barbara.

"She is well enough," he answered, smiling. "And she is become a great lady. The wits make epigrams on her, and the fools address verses to her. But she's a good girl, Simon."

"I'm sure of it, my lord," I cried.

"He's a bold man who would be sure of it concerning anyone nowadays," he said dryly. "Yet so, thank God, it is. See, here's a copy of the verses she had lately," and he flung me the paper. I glanced over it and saw much about "dazzling ice," "unmelting snow," "Venus," "Diana," and so forth.

"It seems sad stuff, my lord," said I.

"Why, yes," he laughed; "but it is by a gentle man of repute. Take care you write none worse, Simon."

"Shall I have the honour of waiting on Mistress Barbara, my lord?" I asked.

"As to that, Simon, we will see when you come. Yes, we must see what company you keep. For example, on whom else do you think of waiting when you are set up in London?"

He looked steadily at me, a slight frown on his brow, yet a smile, and not an unkind one, on his lips. I grew hot, and knew that I grew red also.

"I am acquainted with few in London, my lord," I stammered, "and with those not well."

"Those not well, indeed," he echoed, the pucker deepening and the smile vanishing. Yet the smile came again as he rose and clapped me on the shoulder.

"You're an honest lad, Simon," he said, "even though it may have pleased God to make you a silly one. And, by Heaven, who would have all lads wise? Go to London, learn to know more folk, learn to know better those whom you know. Bear yourself as a gentleman, and remember, Simon, whatsoever else the King may be, yet he is the King."

Saying this with much emphasis, he led me gently to the door.

"Why did he say that about the King?" I pondered as I walked homeward through the park; for although what we all, even in the country, knew of the King gave warrant enough for the words, my lord had seemed to speak them to me with some special meaning, and as though they concerned me more than most men. Yet what, if I left aside Betty's foolish talk, as my lord surely did, had I to do with the King, or with what he might be besides the King?

About this time much stir had been aroused in the country by the dismissal from all his offices of that great Minister and accomplished writer, the Earl of Clarendon, and by the further measures which his enemies threatened against him. The village elders were wont to assemble on the days when the post came in and discuss eagerly the news brought from London. The affairs of Government troubled my head very little, but in sheer idleness I used often to join them, wondering to see them so perturbed at the happening of things which made mighty little difference in our retired corner. Thus I was in the midst of them, at the King and Crown Tavern, on the Green, two days after I had talked with my lord Quinton. I sat with a mug of ale before me, engrossed in my own thoughts and paying little heed to what passed, when, to my amazement, the postman, leaping from his horse, came straight across to me, holding out in his hand a large packet of important appearance. To receive a letter was a rare event in my life, and a rarer followed, setting the cap on my surprise. For the man, though he was fully ready to drink my health, demanded no money for the letter, saying that it came on the service of His Majesty and was not chargeable. He spoke low enough, and there was a babble about, but it seemed as though the name of the King made its way through all the hubbub to the Vicar's ears; for he rose instantly, and, stepping to my side, sat down by me, crying,

"What said he of the King, Simon?"

"Why, he said," I answered, "that this great letter comes to me on the King's service, and that I have nothing to pay for it," and I turned it over and over in my hands. B

ut the inscription was plain enough. "To Master Simon Dale, Esquire, at Hatchstead, by Hatfield."

By this time half the company was round us, and my Lord Clarendon well-nigh forgotten. Small things near are greater than great things afar, and at Hatchstead my affairs were of more moment than the fall of a Chancellor or the King's choice of new Ministers. A cry arose that I should open my packet and disclose what it contained.

"Nay," said the Vicar, with an air of importance, "it may be on a private matter that the King writes."

They would have believed that of my lord at the Manor, they could not of Simon Dale. The Vicar met their laughter bravely.

"But the King and Simon are to have private matters between them one day," he cried, shaking his fist at the mockers, himself half in mockery.

Meanwhile I opened my packet and read. To this day the amazement its contents bred in me is fresh. For the purport was that the King, remembering my father's services to the King's father (and forgetting, as it seemed, those done to General Cromwell), and being informed of my own loyal disposition, courage, and good parts, had been graciously pleased to name me to a commission in His Majesty's Regiment of Life Guards, such commission being post-dated six months from the day of writing, in order that Mr Dale should have the leisure to inform himself of his duties and fit himself for his post; to which end it was the King's further pleasure that Mr Dale should present himself, bringing this same letter with him, without delay at Whitehall, and there be instructed in his drill and in all other matters necessary for him to know. Thus the letter ended, with a commendation of me to the care of the Almighty.

I sat, gasping; the gossips gaped round me; the Vicar seemed stunned. At last somebody grumbled,

"I do not love these Guards. What need of guard has the King except in the love of his subjects?"

"So his father found, did he?" cried the Vicar, an aflame in a moment.

"The Life Guards!" I murmured. "It is the first regiment of all in honour."

"Ay, my lad," said the Vicar. "It would have been well enough for you to serve in the ranks of it, but to hold His Majesty's Commission!" Words failed him, and he flew to the landlord's snuff-box, which that good man, moved by subtle sympathy, held out, pat to the occasion.

Suddenly those words of my lord's that had at the time of their utterance caught my attention so strongly flashed into my mind, seeming now to find their explanation. If there were fault to be found in the King, it did not lie with his own servants and officers to find it; I was now of his household; my lord must have known what was on the way to me from London when he addressed me so pointedly; and he could know only because he had himself been the mover in the matter. I sprang up and ran across to the Vicar, crying,

"Why, it is my lord's kindness! He has spoken for me."

"Ay, ay, it is my lord," was grunted and nodded round the circle in the satisfaction of a discovery obvious so soon as made. The Vicar alone dissented; he took another pinch and wagged his head petulantly.

"I don't think it's my lord," said he.

"But why not, sir, and who else?" I urged.

"I don't know, but I do not think it is my lord," he persisted.

Then I laughed at him, and he understood well that I mocked his dislike of a plain-sailing everyday account of anything to which it might be possible by hook or crook to attach a tag of mystery. He had harped back to the prophecy, and would not have my lord come between him and his hobby.

"You may laugh, Simon," said he gravely. "But it will be found to be as I say."

I paid no more heed to him, but caught up my hat from the bench, crying that I must run at once and offer thanks to my lord, for he was to set out for London that day, and would be gone if I did not hasten.

"At least," conceded the Vicar, "you will do no harm by telling him. He will wonder as much as we."

Laughing again, I ran off and left the company crowding to a man round the stubborn Vicar. It was well indeed that I did not linger, for, having come to the Manor at my best speed, I found my lord's coach already at the door and himself in cloak and hat about to step into it. But he waited to hear my breathless story, and, when I came to the pith of it, snatched my letter from my hand and read it eagerly. At first I thought he was playing a part and meant only to deny his kindness or delay the confession of it. His manner soon undeceived me; he was in truth amazed, as the Vicar had predicted, but more than that, he was, if I read his face aright, sorely displeased also; for a heavy frown gathered on his brow, and he walked with me in utter silence the better half of the length of the terrace.

"I have nothing to do with it," he said bitterly. "I and my family have done the King and his too much service to have the giving away of favours. Kings do not love their creditors, no, nor pay them."

"But, my lord, I can think of no other friend who would have such power."

"Can't you?" he asked, stopping and laying his hand on my shoulder. "May be, Simon, you don't understand how power is come by in these days, nor what are the titles to the King's confidence."

His words and manner dashed my new pride, and I suppose my face grew glum, for he went on more gently,

"Nay, lad, since it comes, take it without question. Whatever the source of it, your own conduct may make it an honour."

But I could not be content with that.

"The letter says," I remarked, "that the King is mindful of my father's services."

"I had thought that the age of miracles was past," smiled my lord. "Perhaps it is not, Simon."

"Then if it be not for my father's sake nor for yours, my lord, I am at a loss," and I stuffed the letter into my pocket very peevishly.

"I must be on my way," said my lord, turning towards the coach. "Let me hear from you when you come, Simon; and I suppose you will come soon now. You will find me at my house in Southampton Square, and my lady will be glad of your company."

I thanked him for his civility, but my face was still clouded. He had seemed to suspect and hint at some taint in the fountain of honour that had so unexpectedly flowed forth.

"I can't tell what to make of it," I cried.

He stopped again, as he was about to set his foot on the step of his coach, and turned, facing me squarely.

"There's no other friend at all in London, Simon?" he asked. Again I grew red, as he stood watching me. "Is there not one other?"

I collected myself as well as I could and answered,

"One that would give me a commission in the Life Guards, my lord?" And I laughed in scorn.

My lord shrugged his shoulders and mounted into the coach. I closed the door behind him, and stood waiting his reply. He leant forward and spoke across me to the lackey behind, saying, "Go on, go on."

"What do you mean, my lord?" I cried. He smiled, but did not speak. The coach began to move; I had to walk to keep my place, soon I should have to run.

"My lord," I cried, "how could she--?"

My lord took out his snuff-box, and opened it.

"Nay, I cannot tell how," said he, as he carried his thumb to his nose.

"My lord," I cried, running now, "do you know who Cydaria is?"

My lord looked at me, as I ran panting. Soon I should have to give in, for the horses made merry play down the avenue. He seemed to wait for the last moment of my endurance, before he answered. Then, waving his hand at the window, he said, "All London knows." And with that he shut the window, and I fell back breathless, amazed, and miserably chagrined. For he had told me nothing of all that I desired to know, and what he had told me did no more than inflame my curiosity most unbearably. Yet, if it were true, this mysterious lady, known to all London, had remembered Simon Dale! A man of seventy would have been moved by such a thing; what wonder that a boy of twenty-two should run half mad with it?

Strange to say, it seemed to the Vicar's mind no more unlikely and infinitely more pleasant that the King's favour should be bound up with the lady we had called Cydaria than that it should be the plain fruit of my lord's friendly offices. Presently his talk infected me with something of the same spirit, and we fell to speculating on the identity of this lady, supposing in our innocence that she must be of very exalted rank and noble station if indeed all London knew her, and she had a voice in the appointment of gentlemen to bear His Majesty's Commission. It was but a step farther to discern for me a most notable career, wherein the prophecy of Betty Nasroth should find fulfilment and prove the link that bound together a chain of strange fortune and high achievement. Thus our evening wore away and with it my vexation. Now I was all eager to be gone, to set my hand to my work, to try Fate's promises, and to learn that piece of knowledge which all London had-the true name of her whom we called Cydaria.

"Still," said the Vicar, falling into a sudden pensiveness as I rose to take my leave, "there are things above fortune's favour, or a King's, or a great lady's. To those cling, Simon, for your name's sake and for my credit, who taught you."

"True, sir," said I in perfunctory acknowledgment, but with errant thoughts. "I trust, sir, that I shall always bear myself as becomes a gentleman."

"And a Christian," he added mildly.

"Ay, sir, and a Christian," I agreed readily enough.

"Go your way," he said, with a little smile. "I preach to ears that are full now of other and louder sounds, of strains more attractive and melodies more alluring. Therefore, now, you cannot listen; nay, I know that, if you could, you would. Yet it may be that some day-if it be God's will, soon-the strings that I feebly strike may sound loud and clear, so that you must hear, however sweetly that other music charms your senses. And if you hear, Simon, heed; if you hear, heed."

Thus, with his blessing, I left him. He followed me to the door, with a smile on his lips but anxiety in his eyes. I went on my way, never looking back. For my ears were indeed filled with that strange and enchanting music.

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