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Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 24015

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

It must be allowed that by no possible union of unlucky chances could I, desiring to appear as a staid, sober gentleman, and not as a ruffler or debauched gallant, have had a worse introduction to my new life. To start with a duel would have hurt me little, but a duel on such a cause and on behalf of such a lady (for I should seem to be fighting the battle of one whose name was past defending) would make my reputation ridiculous to the gay, and offensive to all the more decent people of the town. I thought enough on this sad side of the matter that night at the inn, and despair would have made a prey of me had I not hoped to clear myself in some degree by the step on which I had determined. For I was resolved to abandon the aid in my career that the King's unexpected favour had offered, and start afresh for myself, free from the illicit advantage of a place gained undeservedly. Yet, amid my chagrin, and in spite of my virtuous intentions, I found myself wondering that Cydaria had remembered; I will not protest that I found no pleasure in the thought; a young man whose pride was not touched by it would have reached a higher summit of severity or a lower depth of insensibility than was mine. Yet here also I made vows of renunciation, concerning which there is nought to say but that, while very noble, they were in all likelihood most uncalled for. What would or could Cydaria be to me now? She flew at bigger game. She had flung me a kindly crumb of remembrance; she would think that we were well quit; nay, that I was overpaid for my bruised heart and dissipated illusion.

It was a fine fresh morning when Mr Darrell and I set out for the place of meeting, he carrying a pair of swords. Mr Jermyn had agreed to support my opponent; and I was glad to learn that the meeting was to be restricted to the principals, and not, as too often occurred, to embroil the seconds also in a senseless quarrel. We walked briskly; and crossing the Oxford Road at Holborn, struck into the fields beyond Montague House. We were first at the rendezvous, but had not to wait long before three chairs appeared, containing Lord Carford, his second, and a surgeon. The chairmen, having set down their burdens, withdrew some way off, and we, being left to ourselves, made our preparations as quickly as we could; Darrell, especially, urging speed; for it seemed that a rumour of the affair had got about the town, and he had no desire for spectators.

Although I desire to write without malice and to render fullest justice to those whom I have least cause to love, I am bound to say that my Lord Carford seemed to be most bitterly incensed against me, whereas I was in no way incensed against him. In the first instance, he had offended without premeditation, for he had not known who I was; his subsequent insolence might find excuse in the peremptory phrasing of my demand for apology, too curt, perhaps, for a young and untried man. Honour forced me to fight, but nothing forced me to hate, and I asked no better than that we should both escape with as little hurt as the laws of the game allowed. His mood was different; he had been bearded, and was in a mind to give my beard a pull-I speak in a metaphor, for beard had I none-and possessing some reputation as a swordsman, he could not well afford to let me go untouched. An old sergeant of General Cromwell's, resident at Norwich, had instructed me in the use of the foils, but I was not my lord's equal, and I set it down to my good luck and his fury that I came off no worse than the event proved. For he made at me with great impetuosity, and from beginning to end of the affair I was wholly concerned in defending myself; this much I achieved successfully for some moments, and I heard Mr Jermyn say, "But he stands his ground well"; then came a cunning feint followed by a fierce attack and a sharp pang in my left arm near the shoulder, while the sleeve of my shirt went red in a moment. The seconds darted in between us, and Darrell caught me round the waist.

"I'm glad it was no worse," I whispered to him with a smile; then I turned very sick, and the meadow started to go round and round me. For some minutes I knew nothing more, but when I revived, the surgeon was busy in binding up my arm, while the three gentlemen stood together in a group a little way apart. My legs shook under me, and doubtless I was as white as my mother's best linen, but I was well content, feeling that my honour was safe, and that I had been as it were baptised of the company of gentlemen. So Mr Jermyn seemed to think; for when my arm was dressed, and I had got my clothes on again with some pain, and a silken sling under my elbow, he came and craved the surgeon's leave to carry me off to breakfast. The request was granted, on a promise that I would abstain from inflaming food and from all strong liquors. Accordingly we set out, I dissembling a certain surprise inspired in my countryman's mind by the discovery that my late enemy proposed to be of the party. Having come to a tavern in Drury Lane, we were regaled very pleasantly; Mr Jermyn, who (although a small man, and not in my opinion well-shaped) might be seen to hold himself in good esteem, recounting to us his adventures in love and his exploits on the field of honour. Meanwhile, Lord Carford treated me with distinguished courtesy, and I was at a loss to understand his changed humour until it appeared that Darrell had acquainted him with my resolution to surrender the commission that the King had bestowed on me. As we grew more free with one another, his lordship referred plainly to the matter, declaring that my conduct showed the nicest honour, and praying me to allow his own surgeon to visit me every day until my wound should be fully cured. His marked politeness, and the friendliness of the others, put me in better humour than I had been since the discovery of the evening before, and when our meal was ended, about eleven o'clock, I was well-nigh reconciled to life again. Yet it was not long before Carford and I were again good enemies, and crossed swords with no less zest, although on a different field.

I had been advised by Darrell to return at once to my inn, and there rest quietly until evening, leaving my journey to Whitehall for the next day, lest too much exertion should induce a fever in me; and in obedience to his counsel I began to walk gently along Drury Lane on my way back to Covent Garden. My Lord Carford and Mr Jermyn had gone off to a cock-fight, where the King was to be, while Darrell had to wait upon the Secretary at his offices; therefore I was alone, and, going easily, found fully enough to occupy my attention in the business and incredible stir of the town. I thought then, and think still, that nowhere in the world is there such a place for an idle man as London; where else has he spread for him so continual a banquet of contemplation, where else are such comedies played every hour for his eyes' delight? It is well enough to look at a running river, or to gaze at such mighty mountains as I saw when I journeyed many years later into Italy; but the mountain moves not, and the stream runs always with the same motion and in its wonted channel. Give me these for my age, but to a young man a great city is queen of all.

So I was thinking as I walked along; or so I think now that I must have thought; for in writing of his youth it is hard for a man to be sure that he does not transfer to that golden page some of the paler characters which later years print on his mind. Perhaps I thought of nothing at all, save that this man here was a fine fellow, that girl there a pretty wench, that my coat became me well, and my wounded arm gave me an interesting air. Be my meditations what they might, they were suddenly interrupted by the sight of a crowd in the Lane near to the Cock and Pie tavern. Here fifty or sixty men and women, decent folk some, others porters, flower-girls, and such like, were gathered in a circle round a man who was pouring out an oration or sermon with great zeal and vehemence. Having drawn nearer, I paused out of a curiosity which turned to amusement when I discovered in the preacher my good friend Phineas Tate, with whom I had talked the evening before. It seemed that he had set about his task without delay, and if London were still unmindful of its sins, the fault was not to lie at Mr Tate's door. On he plunged, sparing neither great nor small; if the Court were sinful, so was Drury Lane; if Castlemaine (he dealt freely in names, and most sparingly in titles of courtesy) were what he roundly said she was, which of the women about him was not the same? How did they differ from their betters, unless it were that their price was not so high, and in what, save audacity, were they behind Eleanor Gwyn? He hurled this last name forth as though it marked a climax of iniquity, and a start ran through me as I heard it thus treated. Strange to say, something of the same effect seemed to be produced on his other hearers. Hitherto they had listened with good-natured tolerance, winking at one another, laughing when the preacher's finger pointed at a neighbour, shrugging comfortable shoulders when it turned against themselves. They are long-suffering under abuse, the folk of London; you may say much what you will, provided you allow them to do what they will, and they support the imputation of unrighteousness with marvellous composure, as long as no man takes it in hand to force them to righteousness. As they are now, they were then, though many changes have passed over the country and the times; so will they be, although more transformations come.

But, as I say, this last name stirred the group to a new mood. Friend Phineas perceived the effect that he had made, but set a wrong meaning on it. Taking it as a ground for encouragement, he loosed his tongue yet more outrageously, and so battered the unhappy subject of his censures that my ears tingled, and suddenly I strode quickly up to the group, intent on silencing him; but a great brawny porter, with a dirty red face, was beforehand with me. Elbowing his way irresistibly through the ranks, he set himself squarely before Phineas, and, wagging his head significantly enough, growled out:

"Say what you will of Castlemaine and the rest, Master Ranter, but keep your tongue off Nelly."

A murmur of applause ran round. They knew Nelly: here in the Lane was her kingdom.

"Let Nelly alone," said the porter, "if you value whole bones, master."

Phineas was no coward, and threats served only to fan the flame of his zeal. I had started to stop his mouth; it seemed likely that I must employ myself in saving his head. His lean frame would crack and break in the grasp of his mighty assailant, and I was loth that the fool should come to harm; so I began to push my way through towards the pair, and arrived just as Phineas, having shot a most pointed dart, was about to pay for his too great skill with a blow from the porter's mutton-fist. I caught the fellow's arm as he raised it, and he turned fiercely on me, growling, "Are you his friend, then?"

"Not I," I answered. "But you'd kill him, man."

"Let him heed what he says, then. Kill him! Ay, and spare him readily!"

The affair looked awkward enough, for the feeling was all one way, and I could do little to hinder any violence. A girl in the crowd reminded me of my helplessness, touching my wounded arm lightly, and saying, "Are you hungry for more fighting, sir?"

"He's a madman," said I. "Let him alone; who heeds what he says?"

Friend Phineas did not take my defence in good part.

"Mad, am I?" he roared, beating with his fist on his Bible. "You'll know who was mad when you lie howling in hell fire. And with you that--" And on he went again at poor Nell.

The great porter could endure no more. With a seemingly gentle motion of his hand he thrust me aside, pushing me on to the bosom of a buxom flower-girl who, laughing boiste

rously, wound a pair of sturdy red arms round me. Then he stepped forward, and seizing Phineas by the scruff of the neck shook him as a dog shakes a rat. To what more violence he would have proceeded I do not know; for suddenly from above us, out of a window of the Cock and Pie, came a voice which sent a stir through my veins.

"Good people, good people," said the voice, "what with preaching and brawling, a body can get no sleep in the Lane. Pray go and work, or if you've no work, go and drink. Here are the means." And a shower of small coins came flying down on our heads, causing an immediate wild scramble. My flower-girl loosed me that she might take her part in this fray; the porter stood motionless, still holding poor Phineas, limp and lank, in his hand; and I turned my eyes upwards to the window of the Cock and Pie.

I looked up, and I saw her. Her sunny brown hair was about her shoulders, her knuckles rubbed her sleepy eyes to brightness, and a loose white bodice, none too high nor too carefully buttoned about the neck, showed that her dressing was not done. Indeed, she made a pretty picture, as she leant out, laughing softly, and now shading her face from the sun with one hand, while she raised the other in mocking reproof of the preacher.

"Fie, sir, fie," she said. "Why fall on a poor girl who earns an honest living, gives to the needy, and is withal a good Protestant?" Then she called to the porter, "Let him go with what life you've left in him. Let him go."

"You heard what he said of you--" began the fellow sullenly.

"Ay, I hear what everybody says of me," she answered carelessly. "Let him go."

The porter sulkily released his prey, and Phineas, set free, began to gasp and shake himself. Another coin whistled down to the porter, who, picking it up, shambled off with a last oath of warning to his enemy. Then, and then only, did she look at me, who had never ceased to look at her. When she saw me, her smile grew broader, and her eyes twinkled in surprise and delight.

"A happy morning!" she said, clasping her little hands. "Ah, a happy morning! Why, 'tis Simon, my Simon, my little Simon from the country. Come up to me, Simon. No, no, your pardon; I'll come down to you, Simon. In the parlour, in the parlour. Quick! I'll be down in an instant."

The vision vanished, but my gaze dwelt on the window where it had been, and I needed Phineas Tate's harsh voice to rouse me from my stupor.

"Who is the woman?" he demanded.

"Why-why-Mistress Gwyn herself," I stammered.

"Herself-the woman, herself?" he asked eagerly. Then he suddenly drew himself up and, baring his head, said solemnly, "Thanks be to God, thanks be to God, for it may be His will that this brand should be plucked from the burning." And before I could speak or attempt to hinder him he stepped swiftly across the pathway and entered the tavern. I, seeing nothing else that I could do, followed him straightway and as fast as I could.

I was in a maze of feeling. The night before I had reasoned with myself and schooled my wayward passion to a resolve neither to see nor to speak with her. Resentment at the shame she had brought on me aided my stubbornness, and helped me to forget that I had been shamed because she had remembered me. But now I followed Phineas Tate. For be memory ever so keen and clear, yes, though it seem able to bring every feature, every shade, and every pose before a man's eyes in absolute fidelity, yet how poor and weak a thing it is beside the vivid sight of bodily eyes; that paints the faded picture all afresh in hot and glowing colours, and the man who bade defiance to the persuasions of his recollection falls beaten down by the fierce force of a present vision. I followed Phineas Tate, perhaps using some excuse with myself-indeed, I feared that he would attack her rudely and be cruelly plain with her-yet knowing in my heart that I went because I could do nothing else, and that when she called, every atom of life in me answered to her summons. So in I went, to find Phineas standing bolt upright in the parlour of the tavern, turning the leaves of his book with eager fingers, as though he sought some text that was in his mind. I passed by him and leant against the wall by the window; so we awaited her, each of us eager, but with passions most unlike.

She came, daintily dressed now, although still negligently. She put her head round the corner of the door, radiant with smiles, and with no more shame or embarrassment than if our meeting in this way were the most ordinary thing. Then she caught sight of Phineas Tate and cried, pouting, "But I wanted to be alone with my Simon, my dear Simon."

Phineas caught the clue her words gave him with perverse readiness.

"Alone with him, yes!" he cried. "But what of the time when you must be alone with God?"

"Alas," said she, coming in, and seating herself at the table, "is there more still? Indeed, I thought you had said all your say outside. I am very wicked; let that end it."

He advanced to the table and stood directly opposite to her, stretching his arm towards her, while she sat with her chin on her hands, watching him with eyes half-amused, half-apprehensive.

"You who live in open sin--" he began; before he could say more I was by his elbow.

"Hold your tongue," I said. "What is it to you?"

"Let him go on, Simon," said she.

And go on he did, telling all-as I prayed, more than all-the truth, while she heard him patiently. Yet now and then she gave herself a little shake, as though to get rid of something that threatened to stick. Then he fell on his knees and prayed fervently, she still sitting quiet and I standing awkwardly near. He finished his prayer, and, rising again, looked earnestly at her. Her eyes met his in good nature, almost in friendliness. He stretched out his hand to her again, saying,

"Child, cannot you understand? Alas, your heart is hardened! I pray Christ our Lord to open your eyes and change your heart, that at the last your soul may be saved."

Nelly examined the pink nails of her right hand with curious attention.

"I don't know that I'm more of a sinner than many others," said she. "Go to Court and preach, sir."

A sudden fury seemed to come over him, and he lost the gentleness with which he had last addressed her.

"The Word shall be heard at the Court," he cried, "in louder accents than mine. Their cup is full, the measure of their iniquity is pressed down and running over. All who live shall see."

"Like enough," said Nell, as though the matter were grown very tedious, and she yawned just a little; but, as she glanced at me, a merry light gleamed in her eyes. "And what is to befall Simon here?" she asked.

He turned on me with a start, seeming to have forgotten my presence.

"This young man?" he asked, looking full in my face. "Why, his face is honest; if he choose his friends well, he may do well."

"I am of his friends," said Nell, and I defy any man on earth to have given the lie to such a claim so made.

"And for you, may the Lord soften your heart," said Phineas to her.

"Some say it's too soft already," said Nell.

"You will see me again," said he to her, and moved towards the door. But once more he faced me before he went, and looked very intently at me. Then he passed out, leaving us alone.

At his going Nell sighed for relief, stretched out her arms, and let them fall on the table in front of her; then she sprang up and ran to me, catching hold of my hands.

"And how goes all at pretty Hatchstead?" she asked.

I drew back, releasing my hands from hers, and I spoke to her stiffly.

"Madame," said I, "this is not Hatchstead, nor do you seem the lady whom I knew at Hatchstead."

"Indeed, you seem very like the gentleman I knew, and knew well, there," she retorted.

"And you, very unlike the lady."

"Nay, not so unlike as you think. But are you also going to preach to me?"

"Madame," said I in cold courtesy, "I have to thank you for a good remembrance of me, and for your kindness in doing me a service; I assure you I prize it none the less, because I may not accept it."

"You may not accept it?" she cried. "What? You may not accept the commission?"

"No, madame," said I, bowing low.

Her face was like a pretty child's in disappointment.

"And your arm? How come you to be wounded? Have you been quarrelling already?"

"Already, madame."

"But with whom, and why?"

"With my Lord Carford. The reason I need not weary you with."

"But I desire to know it."

"Because my lord said that Mistress Gwyn had obtained me my commission."

"But it was true."

"Doubtless; yet I fought."

"Why, if it were true?"

I made her no answer. She went and seated herself again at the table, looking up at me with eyes in which I seemed to read pain and puzzle.

"I thought it would please you, Simon," she said, with a coaxing glance that at least feigned timidity.

"Never have I been so proud as on the day I received it," said I; "and never, I think, so happy, unless, may be, when you and I walked in the Manor park."

"Nay, Simon, but you will be glad to have it, even though I obtained it for you."

"I shall not have it. I go to Whitehall to-morrow to surrender it."

She sprang up in wonder, and anger also showed in her eyes.

"To surrender it? You mean in truth to surrender it? And because it came from me?"

Again I could do nothing but bow. That I did with the best air I could muster, although I had no love for my part in this scene. Alas for a man who, being with her, must spend his time in chiding!

"Well, I wish I hadn't remembered you," she said resentfully.

"Indeed, madame, I also wish that I had forgotten."

"You have, or you would never use me so."

"It is my memory that makes me rough, madame. Indeed, how should I have forgotten?"

"You hadn't?" she asked, advancing nearer to me. "No, in truth I believe you hadn't! And, Simon, listen!" Now she stood with her face but a yard from mine, and again her lips were curved with mirth and malice. "Listen, Simon," she said, "you had not forgotten; and you shall not forget."

"It is very likely," said I simply; and I took up my hat from the table.

"How fares Mistress Barbara?" asked Nell suddenly.

"I have not waited on her," I answered.

"Then indeed I am honoured, although our meeting was somewhat by chance. Ah, Simon, I want to be so angry with you. But how can I be angry? I can never be angry. Why" (and here she came even a little closer, and now she was smiling most damnably-nay, I mean most delightfully; but it is often much the same), "I was not very angry even when you kissed me, Simon."

It is not for me to say what answer to that speech she looked to receive. Mine was no more than a repetition of my bow.

"You'll keep the commission, Simon?" she whispered, standing on tiptoe, as though she would reach my ear.

"I can't," said I, bowing no more, and losing, I fear, the air of grave composure that I had striven to maintain. I saw what seemed a light of triumph in her eyes. Yet that mood passed quickly from her. She grew pensive and drew away from me. I stepped towards the door, but a hand laid on my arm arrested me.

"Simon," she asked, "have you sweet memories of Hatchstead?"

"God forgive me," said I confusedly, "sweeter than my hopes of heaven."

She looked at me gravely for an instant. Then, sighing, she said,

"Then I wish you had not come to town, but stayed there with your memories. They were of me?"

"Of Cydaria."

"Ah, of Cydaria," she echoed, with a little smile.

But a moment later the full merriment of laughter broke out again on her face, and, drawing her hand away, she let me go, crying after me,

"But you shall not forget, Simon. No, you shall not forget."

There I left her, standing in the doorway of the inn, daring me to forget. And my brain seemed all whirling and swirling as I walked down the Lane.

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