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Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 21210

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

There, mounted on the coach at Hertford (for at last I am fairly on my way, and may boast that I have made short work of my farewells), a gentleman apparently about thirty years of age, tall, well-proportioned, and with a thin face, clean-cut and high-featured. He was attended by a servant whom he called Robert, a stout ruddy fellow, who was very jovial with every post-boy and ostler on the road. The gentleman, being placed next to me by the chance of our billets, lost no time in opening the conversation, a step which my rustic backwardness would long have delayed. He invited my confidence by a free display of his own, informing me that he was attached to the household of Lord Arlington, and was returning to London on his lordship's summons. For since his patron had been called to the place of Secretary of State, he, Mr Christopher Darrell (such was his name), was likely to be employed by him in matters of trust, and thus fill a position which I must perceive to be of some importance. All this was poured forth with wonderful candour and geniality, and I, in response, opened to him my fortunes and prospects, keeping back nothing save the mention of Cydaria. Mr Darrell was, or affected to be, astonished to learn that I was a stranger to London-my air smacked of the Mall and of no other spot in the world, he swore most politely-but made haste to offer me his services, proposing that, since Lord Arlington did not look for him that night, and he had abandoned his former lodging, we should lodge together at an inn he named in Covent Garden, when he could introduce me to some pleasant company. I accepted his offer most eagerly. Then he fell to talking of the Court, of the households of the King and the Duke, of Madame the Duchess of Orleans, who was soon to come to England, they said (on what business he did not know); next he spoke, although now with caution, of persons no less well known but of less high reputation, referring lightly to Lady Castlemaine and Eleanor Gwyn and others, while I listened, half-scandalised, half-pleased. But I called him back by asking whether he were acquainted with one of the Duchess's ladies named Mistress Barbara Quinton.

"Surely," he said. "There is no fairer lady at Court, and very few so honest."

I hurried to let him know that Mistress Barbara and I were old friends. He laughed as he answered,

"If you'd be more you must lose no time. It is impossible that she should refuse many more suitors, and a nobleman of great estate is now sighing for her so loudly as to be audible from Whitehall to Temple Bar."

I heard the news with interest, with pride, and with a touch of jealousy; but at this time my own fortunes so engrossed me that soon I harked back to them, and, taking my courage in both hands, was about to ask my companion if he had chanced ever to hear of Cydaria, when he gave a new turn to the talk, by asking carelessly,

"You are a Churchman, sir, I suppose?"

"Why, yes," I answered, with a smile, and perhaps a bit of a stare. "What did you conceive me to be, sir?-a Ranter, or a Papist?"

"Pardon, pardon, if you find offence in my question," he answered, laughing. "There are many men who are one or the other, you know."

"The country has learnt that to its sorrow," said I sturdily.

"Ay," he said, in a dreamy way, "and maybe will learn it again." And without more he fell to describing the famous regiment to which I was to belong, adding at the end:

"And if you like a brawl, the 'prentices in the City will always find one for a gentleman of the King's Guards. Take a companion or two with you when you walk east of Temple Bar. By the way, sir, if the question may be pardoned, how came you by your commission? For we know that merit, standing alone, stands generally naked also."

I was much inclined to tell him all the story, but a shamefacedness came over me. I did not know then how many owed all their advancement to a woman's influence, and my manly pride disdained to own the obligation. I put him off by a story of a friend who wished to remain unnamed, and, after the feint of some indifferent talk, seized the chance of a short silence to ask him my great question.

"Pray, sir, have you ever heard of a lady who goes sometimes by the name of Cydaria?" said I. I fear my cheek flushed a little, do what I could to check such an exhibition of rawness.

"Cydaria? Where have I heard that name? No, I know nobody-and yet--" He paused; then, clapping his hand on his thigh, cried, "By my faith, yes; I was sure I had heard it. It is a name from a play; from-from the 'Indian Emperor.' I think your lady must have been masquerading."

"I thought as much," I nodded, concealing my disappointment.

He looked at me a moment with some curiosity, but did not press me further; and, since we had begun to draw near London, I soon had my mind too full to allow me to think even of Cydaria. There is small profit in describing what every man can remember for himself-his first sight of the greatest city in the world, with its endless houses and swarming people. It made me still and silent as we clattered along, and I forgot my companion until I chanced to look towards him, and found an amused glance fixed on my face. But, as we reached the City, he began to point out where the fire had been, and how the task of rebuilding progressed. Again wonder and anticipation grew on me.

"Yes," said he, "it's a fine treasure-house for a man who can get the key to it."

Yet, amazed as I was, I would not have it supposed that I was altogether an unlicked cub. My stay in Norwich, if it had not made me a Londoner, had rubbed off some of the plough-mud from me, and I believe that my new friend was not speaking wholly in idle compliment when he assured me that I should hold my own very well. The first lesson I learnt was not to show any wonder that I might feel, but to receive all that chanced as though it were the most ordinary thing in the world; for this, beyond all, is the hall-mark of your quality. Indeed, it was well that I was so far fit to show my face, since I was to be plunged into the midst of the stream with a suddenness which startled, although it could not displease me. For the first beginning I was indebted to Mr Darrell, for what followed to myself alone and a temper that has never been of the most patient.

We had reached our inn and refreshed ourselves, and I was standing looking out on the evening and wondering at what time it was proper for me to seek my bed when my friend entered with an eager air, and advanced towards me, crying,

"Dear sir, I hope your wardrobe is in order, for I am resolved to redeem my word forthwith, and to-night to carry you with me to an entertainment for which I have received an invitation. I am most anxious for you to accompany me, as we shall meet many whom you should know."

I was, of course, full of excuses, but he would admit of one only; and that one I could not or would not make. For I had provided myself with a neat and proper suit, of which I was very far from ashamed, and which, when assumed by me and set off with a new cloak to match it, was declared by Mr Darrell to be most apt for the occasion.

"You lack nothing but a handsome cane," said he, "and that I can myself provide. Come, let us call chairs and be gone, for it grows late already."

Our host that evening was Mr Jermyn, a gentleman in great repute at Court, and he entertained us most handsomely at the New Spring Garden, according to me a welcome of especial courtesy, that I might be at my ease and feel no stranger among the company. He placed me on his left hand, Darrell being on my other side, while opposite to me sat my lord the Earl of Carford, a fine-looking man of thirty or a year or two above. Among the guests Mr Darrell indicated several whose names were known to me, such as the witty Lord Rochester and the French Ambassador, M. de Cominges, a very stately gentleman. These, however, being at the other end of the table, I made no acquaintance with them, and contented myself with listening to the conversation of my neighbours, putting in a word where I seemed able with propriety and without displaying an ignorance of which I was very sensible. It seemed to me that Lord Carford, to whom I had not been formally presented (indeed, all talked to one another without ceremony) received what I said with more than sufficient haughtiness and distance; but on Darrell whispering humorously that he was a great lord, and held himself even greater than he was, I made little of it, thinking my best revenge would be to give him a lesson in courtesy. Thus all went well till we had finished eating and sat sipping our wine. Then my Lord Carford, being a little overheated with what he had drunk, began suddenly to inveigh against the King with remarkable warmth and freedom, so that it seemed evident that he smarted under some recent grievance. The raillery of our host, not too nice or delicate, soon spurred him to a discovery of his complaint. He asked nothing better than to be urged to a disclosure.

"Neither rank, nor friendship, nor service," he said, smiting the table, "are enough to gain the smallest favour from the King. All goes to the women; they have but to ask to have. I prayed the King to give me for a cousin of mine a place in the Life Guards that was to be vacant, and he-by Heaven, he promised! Then comes Nell, and Nell wants it for a friend-and Nell has it for a friend-and I go empty!"

I had started when he spoke of the Life Guards, and sat now in a state of great disturbance. Darrell also, as I perceived, was very uneasy, and made a hasty effort to alter the course of the conversation; but Mr Jermyn would not have it.

"Who is the happy-the new happy man, that is Mistress Nell's friend?" he asked, smiling.

"Some clod from the country," returned the Earl; "his name, they say, is Dale."

I felt my heart beating, but I trust that I looked cool enough as I leant across and said,

"Your lordship is misinformed. I have the best of reasons for saying so."

"The reasons may be good, sir," he retorted with a stare, "but they are not evident."

"I am myself just named to a commission in the King's Life Guards, and my name is Dale," said I, restraining myself to a show of composure, for I felt Darrell's hand on my arm.

"By my faith, then, you're the happy man," sneered Carford. "I congratulate you on your--"

"Stay, stay, Carford," interposed Mr Jermyn.

"On your-godmother," said Carford.

"You're misinformed, my lord," I repeated fiercely, alt

hough by now a great fear had come upon me. I knew whom they meant by "Nell."

"By God, sir, I'm not misinformed," said he.

"By God, my lord," said I-though I had not been wont to swear-"By God, my lord, you are."

Our voices had risen in anger; a silence fell on the party, all turning from their talk to listen to us. Carford's face went red when I gave him the lie so directly and the more fiercely because, to my shame and wonder, I had begun to suspect that what he said was no lie. But I followed up the attack briskly.

"Therefore, my lord," I said, "I will beg of you to confess your error, and withdraw what you have said."

He burst into a laugh.

"If I weren't ashamed to take a favour from such a hand, I wouldn't be ashamed to own it," said he.

I rose from my seat and bowed to him gravely. All understood my meaning; but he, choosing to treat me with insolence, did not rise nor return my salute, but sat where he was, smiling scornfully.

"You don't understand me, it seems, my lord," said I. "May be this will quicken your wits," and I flung the napkin which had been brought to me after meat lightly in his face. He sprang up quickly enough then, and so did all the company. Darrell caught me by the arm and held me fast. Jermyn was by Carford's side. I hardly knew what passed, being much upset by the sudden quarrel, and yet more by the idea, that Carford's words had put in my head. I saw Jermyn come forward, and Darrell, loosing my arm, went and spoke to him. Lord Carford resumed his seat; I leant against the back of my chair and waited. Darrell was not long in returning to me.

"You'd best go home," he said, in a low voice. "I'll arrange everything. You must meet to-morrow morning."

I nodded my head; I had grown cool and collected now. Bowing slightly to Carford, and low to my host and the company, I turned to the door. As I passed through it, I heard the talk break out again behind me. I got into my chair, which was waiting, and was carried back to my inn in a half-amazed state. I gave little thought to the quarrel or to the meeting that awaited me. My mind was engrossed with the revelation to which I had listened. I doubted it still; nay, I would not believe it. Yet whence came the story unless it were true? And it seemed to fit most aptly and most lamentably with what had befallen me, and to throw light on what had been a puzzle. It was hard on four years since I had parted from Cydaria; but that night I felt that, if the thing were true, I should receive Carford's point in my heart without a pang.

Being, as may be supposed, little inclined for sleep, I turned into the public room of the inn and called for a bottle of wine. The room was empty save for a lanky fellow, very plainly dressed, who sat at the table reading a book. He was drinking nothing, and when-my wine having been brought-I called in courtesy for a second glass and invited him to join me, he shook his head sourly. Yet presently he closed his book, which I now perceived to be a Bible, and fixed an earnest gaze on me. He was a strange-looking fellow; his face was very thin and long, and his hair (for he wore his own and no wig) hung straight from the crown of his head in stiff wisps. I set him down as a Ranter, and was in no way surprised when he began to inveigh against the evils of the times, and to prophesy the judgment of God on the sins of the city.

"Pestilence hath come and fire hath come," he cried. "Yet wickedness is not put away, and lewdness vaunteth herself, and the long-suffering of God is abused."

All this seeming to me very tedious, I sipped my wine and made no answer. I had enough to think of, and was content to let the sins of the city alone.

"The foul superstition of Papacy raises its head again," he went on, "and godly men are persecuted."

"Those same godly men," said I, "have had their turn before now, sir. To many it seems as if they were only receiving what they gave." For the fellow had roused me to some little temper by his wearisome cursing.

"But the Time of the Lord is at hand," he pursued, "and all men shall see the working of His wrath. Ay, it shall be seen even in palaces."

"If I were you, sir," said I dryly, "I would not talk thus before strangers. There might be danger in it."

He scanned my face closely for a few moments; then, leaning across towards me, he said earnestly:

"You are young, and you look honest. Be warned in time; fight on the Lord's side, and not among His enemies. Verily the time cometh."

I had met many of these mad fellows, for the country was full of them, some being disbanded soldiers of the Commonwealth, some ministers who had lost their benefices; but this fellow seemed more crazy than any I had seen: though, indeed, I must confess there was a full measure of truth, if not of charity, in the description of the King's Court on which he presently launched himself with great vigour of declamation and an intense, although ridiculous, exhibition of piety.

"You may be very right, sir--"

"My name is Phineas Tate."

"You may be very right, friend Phineas," said I, yawning; "but I can't alter all this. Go and preach to the King."

"The King shall be preached to in words that he must hear," he retorted with a frown, "but the time is not yet."

"The time now is to seek our beds," said I, smiling. "Do you lodge here?"

"For this night I lie here. To-morrow I preach to this city."

"Then I fear you are likely to lie in a less comfortable place to-morrow." And bidding him good-night, I turned to go. But he sprang after me, crying, "Remember, the time is short"; and I doubt whether I should have got rid of him had not Darrell at that moment entered the room. To my surprise, the two seemed to know one another, for Darrell broke into a scornful laugh, exclaiming:

"Again, Master Tate! What, haven't you left this accursed city to its fate yet?"

"It awaits its fate," answered the Ranter sternly, "even as those of your superstition wait theirs."

"My superstition must look out for itself," said Darrell, with a shrug; and, seeing that I was puzzled, he added, "Mr Tate is not pleased with me because I am of the old religion."

"Indeed?" I cried. "I didn't know you were a-of the old church." For I remembered with confusion a careless remark that I had let fall as we journeyed together.

"Yes," said he simply.

"Yes!" cried Tate. "You-and your master also, is he not?"

Darrell's face grew stern and cold.

"I would have you careful, sir, when you touch on my Lord Arlington's name," he said. "You know well that he is not of the Roman faith, but is a convinced adherent of the Church of this country."

"Is he so?" asked Tate, with an undisguised sneer.

"Come, enough!" cried Darrell in sudden anger. "I have much to say to my friend, and shall be glad to be left alone with him."

Tate made no objection to leaving us, and, gathering up his Bible, went out scowling.

"A pestilent fellow," said Darrell. "He'll find himself laid by the heels before long. Well, I have settled your affair with my Lord Carford."

But my affair with Carford was not what I wanted to hear about. I came to him as he sat down at the table, and, laying my hand on his shoulder, asked simply,

"Is it true?"

He looked up at me with great kindness, and answered gently,

"It is true. I guessed it as soon as you spoke of Cydaria. For Cydaria was the part in which she first gained the favour of the town, and that, taken with your description of her, gave me no room for doubt. Yet I hoped that it might not be as I feared, or, at least, that the thing could be hidden. It seems, though, that the saucy wench has made no secret of it. Thus you are landed in this quarrel, and with a good swordsman."

"I care nothing for the quarrel--" I began.

"Nay, but it is worse than you think. For Lord Carford is the gentleman of whom I spoke, when I told you that Mistress Quinton had a noble suitor. And he is high in her favour and higher yet in her father's. A quarrel with him, and on such a cause, will do you no good in Lord Quinton's eyes."

Indeed, it seemed as though all the furies had combined to vex me. Yet still my desire was to learn of Cydaria, for even now I could hardly believe what Darrell told me. Sitting down by him, I listened while he related to me what he knew of her; it was little more than the mentioning of her true name told me-a name familiar, alas, through all the country, sung in ballads, bandied to and fro in talk, dragged even into high disputes that touched the nation's fortunes; for in those strange days, when the world seemed a very devil's comedy, great countries, ay, and Holy Churches, fought behind the mask of an actress's face or chose a fair lady for their champion. I hope, indeed, that the end sanctified the means; they had great need of that final justification. Castlemaine and Nell Gwyn-had we not all read and heard and gossiped of them? Our own Vicar had spoken to me of Nell, and would not speak too harshly, for Nell was Protestant. Yes, Nell, so please you, was Protestant. And other grave divines forgave her half her sins because she flouted most openly and with pert wit the other lady, who was suspected of an inclination towards Rome and an intention to charm the King into the true Church's bosom. I also could have forgiven her much; for, saving my good Darrell's presence, I hated a Papist worse than any man, saving a Ranter. Yes, I would have forgiven her all, and applauded her pretty face and laughed at her pretty ways. I had looked to do as much when I came to town, being, I must confess, as little straightlaced as most young men. But I had not known that the thing was to touch me close. Could I forgive her my angry humiliation and my sore heart, bruised love and burning ridicule? I could forgive her for being all she now was. How could I forgive her for having been once my Cydaria?

"Well, you must fight," said Darrell, "although it is not a good quarrel," and he shook my hand very kindly with a sigh of friendship.

"Yes, I must fight," said I, "and after that-if there be an after-I must go to Whitehall."

"To take up your commission?" he asked.

"To lay it down, Mr Darrell," said I with a touch of haughtiness. "You don't think that I could bear it, since it comes from such a source?"

He pressed my hand, saying with a smile that seemed tender,

"You're from the country. Not one in ten would quarrel with that here."

"Yes, I'm from the country," said I. "It was in the country that I knew Cydaria."

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