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   Chapter 6 AN INVITATION TO COURT

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 23834

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


I spent the rest of that day in my inn, agreeably to the advice of the surgeon, and the next morning, finding my wound healing well, and my body free from fever, I removed to Mr Darrell's new lodging by the Temple, where he had most civilly placed two rooms at my disposal. Here also I provided myself with a servant, a fellow named Jonah Wall, and prepared to go to Whitehall as the King's letter commanded me. Of Mr Darrell I saw nothing; he went off before I came, having left for me with Robert, his servant, a message that he was much engaged with the Secretary's business, and prayed to be excused from affording me his company. Yet I was saved from making my journey alone-a thing that would have occasioned me much trepidation-by the arrival of my Lord Quinton. The reverence of our tender years is hard to break down, and I received my visitor with an uneasiness which was not decreased by the severity of his questions concerning my doings. I made haste to tell him that I had determined to resign the commission bestowed on me. These tidings so transformed his temper that he passed from cold reproof to an excess of cordiality, being pleased to praise highly a scruple as honourable as (he added with a shrug) it was rare, and he began to laugh at himself as he recounted humorously how his wrath against me had grown higher and higher with each thing that had come to his ears. Eager now to make amends, he offered to go with me to Whitehall, proposing that we should ride in his coach to the Mall, and walk thence together. I accepted his company most gratefully, since it would save me from betraying an ignorance of which I was ashamed, and strengthen my courage for the task before me. Accordingly we set out, and as we went my lord took occasion to refer to my acquaintance with Mistress Nell, suggesting plainly enough, although not directly, that I should be wise to abandon her society at the same time that I laid down the commission she had obtained for me. I did not question his judgment, but avoided giving any promise to be guided by it. Perceiving that I was not willing to be pressed, he passed from the topic with a sigh, and began to discourse on the state of the kingdom. Had I paid more heed to what he said I might have avoided certain troubles into which I fell afterwards, but, busy staring about me, I gave him only such attention as courtesy required, and not enough for a proper understanding of his uneasiness at the dealings of our Court with the French King and the visit of the King's sister, Madame d'Orléans, of which the town was full. For my lord, although a most loyal gentleman, hated both the French and the Papists, and was much grieved at the King's apparent inclination in their favour. So he talked, I nodding and assenting to all, but wondering when he would bid me wait on my lady, and whether Mistress Barbara was glad that my Lord Carford's sword had passed through my arm only and done no greater hurt.

Thus we came to the Mall, and having left the coach, set out to walk slowly, my lord having his arm through mine. I was very glad to be seen thus in his company, for, although not so great a man here as at Hatchstead, he had no small reputation, and carried himself with a noble air. When we had gone some little way, being very comfortable with one another, and speaking now of lighter matters, I perceived at some distance a party of gentlemen, three in number; they were accompanied by a little boy very richly dressed, and were followed at a short interval by five or six more gentlemen, among whom I recognised immediately my friend Darrell. It seemed then that the Secretary's business could be transacted in leisurely fashion! As the first group passed along, I observed that the bystanders uncovered, but I had hardly needed this sign to tell me that the King was of the party. I was familiar with his features, but he seemed to me even a more swarthy man than all the descriptions of his blackness had led me to expect. He bore himself with a very easy air, yet was not wanting in dignity, and being attracted by him I fell to studying his appearance with such interest that I came near to forgetting to remove my hat. Presently he seemed to observe us; he smiled, and beckoned with his hand to my lord, who went forward alone, leaving me still watching the King and his companions.

I had little difficulty in recognising the name of one; the fine figure, haughty manner, and magnificent attire showed him to be the famous Duke of Buckingham, whose pride lay in seeming more of a King than the King himself. While my lord spoke with the King, this nobleman jested with the little boy, who answered with readiness and vivacity. As to the last member of the group (whom the Duke seemed to treat with some neglect) I was at a loss. His features were not distinguished except by a perfect composure and self-possession, but his bearing was very courtly and graceful. He wore a slight, pleasant, yet rather rigid smile, and his attitude was as though he listened to what his master said with even excessive deference and urbanity. His face was marked, and to my thinking much disfigured, by a patch or plaster worn across the nose, as though to hide some wound or scar.

After a few minutes, during which I waited very uneasily, my lord turned and signed to me to approach. I obeyed, hat in hand, and in a condition of great apprehension. To be presented to the King was an honour disquieting enough; what if my lord had told His Majesty that I declined to bear his commission through a disapproval of his reasons for granting me the favour? But when I came near I fell into the liveliest fear that my lord had done this very thing; for the King was smiling contemptuously, Buckingham laughing openly, and the gentleman with the plaster regarding me with a great and very apparent curiosity. My lord, meanwhile, wore a propitiatory but doubtful air, as though he prayed but hardly hoped a gracious reception for me. Thus we all stood a moment in complete silence, I invoking an earthquake or any convulsion of nature that should rescue me from my embarrassment. Certainly the King did not hasten to do me this kindly service. He grew grave and seemed displeased, nay, he frowned most distinctly, but then he smiled, yet more as though he must than because he would. I do not know how the thing would have ended if the Duke of Buckingham had not burst out laughing again, at which the King could not restrain himself, but began to laugh also, although still not as though he found the jest altogether to his liking.

"So, sir," said the King, composing his features as he addressed me, "you are not desirous of bearing my commission and fighting my enemies for me?"

"I would fight for your Majesty to the death," said I timidly, but with fervour.

"Yet you are on the way to ask leave to resign your commission. Why, sir?"

I could not answer; it was impossible to state my reason to him.

"The utility of a woman's help," observed the King, "was apparent very early in the world's history. Even Adam was glad of it."

"She was his wife, Sir," interposed the Duke.

"I have never read of the ceremony," said the King. "But if she were, what difference?"

"Why, it makes a great deal of difference in many ways, Sir," laughed Buckingham, and he glanced with a significance which I did not understand at the boy who was waiting near with a weary look on his pretty face.

The King laughed carelessly and called, "Charles, come hither."

Then I knew that the boy must be the King's son, afterwards known as Earl of Plymouth, and found the meaning of the Duke's glance.

"Charles, what think you of women?" the King asked.

The pretty child thought for a moment, then answered, looking up,

"They are very tiresome creatures, Sir."

"Why, so they are, Charles," said the King gravely.

"They will never let a thing alone, Sir."

"No, they won't, Charles, nor a man either."

"It's first this, Sir, then that-a string, or a garter, or a bow."

"Yes, Charles; or a title, or a purse, or a commission," said the King. "Shall we have no more to do with them?"

"I would desire no more at all, Sir," cried the boy.

"It appears, Mr Dale," said the King, turning to me, "that Charles here, and you, and I, are all of one mind on the matter of women. Had Heaven been on our side, there would have been none of them in the world."

He seemed to be examining me now with some degree of attention, although I made, I fear, a very poor figure. Lord Quinton came to my rescue, and began to enlarge on my devotion to His Majesty's person and my eagerness to serve him in any way I might, apart from the scruple which he had ventured to disclose to the King.

"Mr Dale says none of these fine things for himself," remarked the King.

"It is not always those that say most who do most, Sir," pleaded my lord.

"Therefore this young gentleman who says nothing will do everything?" The King turned to his companion who wore the plaster, and had as yet not spoken at all. "My Lord Arlington," said he, "it seems that I must release Mr Dale."

"I think so, Sir," answered Arlington, on whom I looked with much curiosity, since he was Darrell's patron.

"I cannot have servants who do not love me," pursued the King.

"Nor subjects," added Buckingham, with a malicious smile.

"Although I am not, unhappily, so free in the choice of my Ministers," said the King. Then he faced round on me and addressed me in a cold tone:

"I am reluctant, sir, to set down your conduct to any want of affection or loyalty towards me. I shall be glad if you can show me that my forbearance is right." With this he bent his head slightly, and moved on. I bowed very low, shame and confusion so choking me that I had not a word to say. Indeed, I seemed damned beyond redemption, so far as my fortunes depended on obtaining the King's favour.

Again I was left to myself, for the King, anxious, as I took it, to show that his displeasure extended to me only, had stopped again to speak with my lord. But in a moment, to my surprise, Arlington was at my side.

"Come, sir," said he very genially, "there's no need of despair. The King is a little vexed, but his resentment is not obstinate; and let me tell you that he has been very anxious to see you."

"The King anxious to see me?" I cried.

"Why, yes. He has heard much of you." His lips twitched as he glanced at me. I had the discretion to ask no further explanation, and in a moment he grew grave again, continuing, "I also am glad to meet with you, for my good friend Darrell has sounded your praises to me. Sir, there are many ways of serving the King."

"I should rejoice with all my heart to find one of them, my lord," I answered.

"I may find you one, if you are willing to take it."

"I should be your lordship's most humble and grateful servant."

"Tut, if I gave, I should ask in return," said he. And he added suddenly, "You're a good Churchman, I suppose, Mr Dale?"

"Why, yes, my lord; I and all my family."

"Good, good. In these days our Church has many enemies. It is threatened on more than one side."

I contented myself with bowing; when the Secretary spoke to me on such high matters, it was for me to listen, and not to bandy opinions with him.

"Yes, we are much threatened," said he. "Well, Mr Dale, I shall trust that we may have other meetings. You are to be found at Mr Darrell's lodging? You may look to hear from me, sir." He moved away, cutting short my thanks with a polite wave of his hand.

Suddenly to my amazement the King turned round and called to me:

"Mr Dale, there is a play to be acted at my house to-morrow evening. Pray give me the pleasure of your company."

I bowed almost to the ground, scarcely able to believe my ears.

"And we'll try," said the King, raising his voice so that not only we who

were close to him but the gentlemen behind also must hear, "to find an ugly woman and an honest man, between whom we may place you. The first should not be difficult to come on, but the second, I fear, is well-nigh impossible, unless another stranger should come to Court. Good-day to you, Mr Dale." And away he went, smiling very happily and holding the boy's hand in his.

The King's immediate party was no sooner gone than Darrell ran up to me eagerly, and before my lord could rejoin me, crying:

"What did he say to you?"

"The King? Why, he said--"

"No, no. What did my lord say?" He pointed to Arlington, who was walking off with the King.

"He asked whether I were a good Churchman, and told me that I should hear from him. But if he is so solicitous about the Church, how does he endure your religion?"

Darrell had no time to answer, for Lord Quinton's grave voice struck in.

"He is a wise man who can answer a question touching my Lord Arlington's opinion of the Church," said he.

Darrell flushed red, and turned angrily on the interrupter.

"You have no cause, my lord," he cried, "to attack the Secretary's churchmanship."

"Then you have no cause, sir," retorted Quinton, "to defend it with so much temper. Come, let me be. I have said as much to the Secretary's face, and he bore it with more patience than you can muster on his behalf."

By this time I was in some distress to see my old friend and my new at such variance, and the more as I could not understand the ground of their difference; the Secretary's suspected leaning towards the Popish religion had not reached our ears in the country. But Darrell, as though he did not wish to dispute further with a man his superior in rank and age, drew off with a bow to my lord and a kindly nod to me, and rejoined the other gentlemen in attendance on the King and his party.

"You came off well with the King, Simon," said my lord, taking my arm again. "You made him laugh, and he counts no man his enemy who will do him that service. But what did Arlington say to you?"

When I repeated the Secretary's words, he grew grave, but he patted my arm in a friendly fashion, saying,

"You've shown wisdom and honour in this first matter, lad. I must trust you in others. Yet there are many who have no faith in my Lord Arlington, as Englishman or Churchman either."

"But," cried I, "does not Lord Arlington do as the King bids him?"

My lord looked full in my face, and answered steadily,

"I think he does, Simon." But then, as though he had said enough, or even too much, he went on: "Come, you needn't grow too old or too prudent all at once. Since you have seen the King, your business at Whitehall will wait. Let us turn back to the coach and be driven to my house, for, besides my lady, Barbara is there to-day on leave from her attendance, and she will be glad to renew her acquaintance with you."

It was my experience as a young man, and, perchance, other young men may have found the like, that whatsoever apprehensions or embarrassments might be entailed by meeting a comely damsel, and however greatly her displeasure and scorn were to be dreaded, yet the meeting was not forgone, all perils being taken rather than that certain calamity. Therefore I went with my lord to his handsome house in Southampton Square, and found myself kissing my lady's hand before I was resolved on how I should treat Mistress Barbara, or on the more weighty question of how I might look to be treated by her.

I had not to wait long for the test. After a few moments of my lady's amiable and kindly conversation, Barbara entered from the room behind, and with her Lord Carford. He wore a disturbed air, which his affected composure could not wholly conceal; her cheek was flushed, and she seemed vexed; but I did not notice these things so much as the change which had been wrought in her by the last four years. She had become a very beautiful woman, ornamented with a high-bred grace and exquisite haughtiness, tall and slim, carrying herself with a delicate dignity. She gave me her hand to kiss, carelessly enough, and rather as though she acknowledged an old acquaintance than found any pleasure in its renewal. But she was gentle to me, and I detected in her manner a subtle indication that, although she knew all, yet she pitied rather than blamed; was not Simon very young and ignorant, and did not all the world know how easily even honest young men might be beguiled by cunning women? An old friend must not turn her back on account of a folly, distasteful as it might be to her to be reminded of such matters.

My lord, I think, read his daughter very well, and, being determined to afford me an opportunity to make my peace, engaged Lord Carford in conversation, and bade her lead me into the room behind to see the picture that Lely had lately painted of her. She obeyed; and, having brought me to where it hung, listened patiently to my remarks on it, which I tried to shape into compliments that should be pleasing and yet not gross. Then, taking courage, I ventured to assure her that I fell out with Lord Carford in sheer ignorance that he was a friend of her family, and would have borne anything at his hands had I known it. She smiled, answering,

"But you did him no harm," and she glanced at my arm in its sling.

She had not troubled herself to ask how it did, and I, a little nettled at her neglect, said:

"Nay, all ended well. I alone was hurt, and the great lord came off safe."

"Since the great lord was in the right," said she, "we should all rejoice at that. Are you satisfied with your examination of the picture, Mr Dale?"

I was not to be turned aside so easily.

"If you hold me to have been wrong, then I have done what I could to put myself in the right since," said I, not doubting that she knew of my surrender of the commission.

"I don't understand," said she, with a quick glance. "What have you done?"

In wonder that she had not been informed, I cried,

"I have obtained the King's leave to decline his favour."

The colour which had been on her cheeks when she first entered had gone before now, but at my words it returned a little.

"Didn't my lord tell you?" I asked.

"I haven't seen him alone this week past," she answered.

But she had seen Carford alone, and that in the last hour past. It was strange that he, who had known my intention and commended it so highly, should not have touched on it. I looked in her eyes; I think she followed my thoughts, for she glanced aside, and said in visible embarrassment,

"Shall we return?"

"You haven't spoken on the matter with my Lord Carford, then?" I asked.

She hesitated a moment, then answered as though she did not love the truth but must tell it,

"Yes; but he said nothing of this. Tell me of it."

So I told her in simple and few words what I had done.

"Lord Carford said nothing of it," she said, when I ended. Then she added, "But although you will not accept the favour, you have rendered thanks for it?"

"I couldn't find my tongue when I was with the King," I answered with a shamefaced laugh.

"I didn't mean to the King," said Barbara.

It was my turn to colour now; I had not been long enough in town to lose the trick.

"I have seen her," I murmured.

Barbara suddenly made me a curtsey, saying bitterly,

"I wish you joy, sir, of your acquaintance."

When a man is alone with a beautiful lady, he is apt not to love an intruder; yet on my soul I was glad to see Carford in the doorway. He came towards us, but before he could speak Barbara cried to him,

"My lord, Mr Dale tells me news that will interest you."

"Indeed, madame, and what?"

"Why, that he has begged the King's leave to resign his commission. Doesn't it surprise you?"

He looked at her, at me, and again at her. He was caught, for I knew that he had been fully acquainted with my purpose. He gathered himself together to answer her.

"Nay, I knew," he said, "and had ventured to applaud Mr Dale's resolution. But it did not come into my mind to speak of it."

"Strange," said she, "when we were deploring that Mr Dale should obtain his commission by such means!"

She rested her eyes on him steadily, while her lips were set in a scornful smile. A pause followed her words.

"I daresay I should have mentioned it, had we not passed to another topic," said he at last and sullenly enough. Then, attempting a change in tone, he added, "Won't you rejoin us?"

"I am very well here," she said.

He waited a moment, then bowed, and left us. He was frowning heavily, and, as I judged, would have greeted another quarrel with me very gladly, had I been minded to give him an opportunity; but thinking it fair that I should be cured from the first encounter before I faced a second, I held my peace till he was gone; then I said to Barbara,

"I wonder he didn't tell you."

Alas for my presumption! The anger that had been diverted on to Carford's head swept back to mine.

"Indeed, why should he?" she cried. "All the world can't be always thinking of you and your affairs, Mr Dale."

"Yet you were vexed because he hadn't."

"I vexed! Not I!" said Barbara haughtily.

I could not make that out; she had seemed angry with him. But because I spoke of her anger, she was angry now with me. Indeed I began to think that little Charles, the King, and I had been right in that opinion in which the King found us so much of a mind. Suddenly Barbara spoke.

"Tell me what she is like, this friend of yours," she said. "I have never seen her."

It leapt to my lips to cry, "Ay, you have seen her!" but I did not give utterance to the words. Barbara had seen her in the park at Hatchstead, seen her more than once, and more than once found sore offence in what she saw. There is wisdom in silence; I was learning that safety might lie in deceit. The anger under which I had suffered would be doubled if she knew that Cydaria was Nell and Nell Cydaria. Why should she know? Why should my own mouth betray me and add my bygone sins to the offences of to-day? My lord had not told her that Nell was Cydaria. Should I speak where my lord was silent? Neither would I tell her of Cydaria.

"You haven't seen her?" I asked.

"No; and I would learn what she is like."

It was a strange thing to command me, yet Barbara's desire joined with my own thoughts to urge me to it. I began tamely enough, with a stiff list of features and catalogue of colours. But as I talked recollection warmed my voice; and when Barbara's lips curled scornfully, as though she would say, "What is there in this to make men fools? There is nothing in all this," I grew more vehement and painted the picture with all my skill. What malice began, my ardour perfected, until, engrossed in my fancy, I came near to forgetting that I had a listener, and ended with a start as I found Barbara's eyes fixed on mine, while she stood motionless before me. My exultation vanished, and confusion drove away my passion.

"You bade me describe her," said I lamely. "I do not know whether others see as I do, but such is she to my eyes."

A silence followed. Barbara's face was not flushed now, but rather seemed paler than it was wont to be. I could not tell how it was, but I knew that I had wounded her. Is not beauty jealous, and who but a clod will lavish praise on one fair face while another is before him? I should have done better to play the hypocrite and swear that my folly, not Nell's features, was to blame. But now I was stubborn and would recall not a word of all my raptures. Yet I was glad that I had not told her who Cydaria was.

The silence was short. In an instant Barbara gave a little laugh, saying,

"Small wonder you were caught, poor Simon! Yes, the creature must be handsome enough. Shall we return to my mother?"

On that day she spoke no more with me.

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