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Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 23699

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

I should sin against the truth and thereby rob this my story of its solitary virtue were I to pretend that my troubles and perplexities, severe as they seemed, outweighed the pleasure and new excitement of my life. Ambition was in my head, youth in my veins, my eyes looked out on a gay world with a regard none too austere. Against these things even love's might can wage but an equal battle. For the moment, I must confess, my going to Court, with the prospect it opened and the chances it held, dominated my mind, and Jonah Wall, my servant, was kept busy in preparing me for the great event. I had made a discovery concerning this fellow which afforded me much amusement: coming on him suddenly, I found him deeply engaged on a Puritan Psalm-book, sighing and casting up his eyes to heaven in a ludicrous excess of glum-faced piety. I pressed him hard and merrily, when it appeared that he was as thorough a Ranter as my friend Phineas himself, and held the Court and all in it to be utterly given over to Satan, an opinion not without some warrant, had he observed any moderation in advancing it. Not wishing to harm him, I kept my knowledge to myself, but found a malicious sport in setting him to supply me with all the varieties of raiment, perfumes, and other gauds-that last was his word, not mine-which he abhorred, but which Mr Simon Dale's new-born desire for fashion made imperative, however little Mr Simon Dale's purse could properly afford the expense of them. The truth is that Mistress Barbara's behaviour spurred me on. I had no mind to be set down a rustic; I could stomach disapproval and endure severity; pitied for a misguided be-fooled clod I would not be; and the best way to avoid such a fate seemed to lie in showing myself as reckless a gallant and as fine a roisterer as any at Whitehall. So I dipped freely and deep into my purse, till Jonah groaned as woefully for my extravagance as for my frivolity. All day he was in great fear lest I should take him with me to Court to the extreme peril of his soul; but prudence at last stepped in and bade me spare myself the cost of a rich livery by leaving him behind.

Now Heaven forbid that I should imitate my servant's sour folly (for, if a man must be a fool, I would have him a cheerful fool) or find anything to blame in the pomp and seemly splendour of a Royal Court; yet the profusion that met my eyes amazed me. It was the King's whim that on this night himself, his friends, and principal gentlemen should, for no reason whatsoever except the quicker disbursing of their money, assume Persian attire, and they were one and all decked out in richest Oriental garments, in many cases lavishly embroidered with precious stones. The Duke of Buckingham seemed all ablaze, and the other courtiers and wits were little less magnificent, foremost among them being the young Duke of Monmouth, whom I now saw for the first time and thought as handsome a youth as I had set eyes on. The ladies did not enjoy the licence offered by this new fashion, but they contrived to hold their own in the French mode, and I, who had heard much of the poverty of the nation, the necessities of the fleet, and the straits in which the King found himself for money, was left gaping in sheer wonder whence came all the wealth that was displayed before my eyes. My own poor preparations lost all their charm, and I had not been above half an hour in the place before I was seeking a quiet corner in which to hide the poverty of my coat and the plainness of my cloak. But the desire for privacy thus bred in me was not to find satisfaction. Darrell, whom I had not met all day, now pounced on me and carried me off, declaring that he was charged to present me to the Duke of York. Trembling between fear and exultation, I walked with him across the floor, threading my way through the dazzling throng that covered the space in front of His Majesty's dais. But before we came to the Duke, a gentleman caught my companion by the arm and asked him how he did in a hearty, cheerful, and rather loud voice. Darrell's answer was to pull me forward and present me, saying that Sir Thomas Clifford desired my acquaintance, and adding much that erred through kindness of my parts and disposition.

"Nay, if he's your friend, it's enough for me, Darrell," answered Clifford, and putting his mouth to Darrell's ear he whispered. Darrell shook his head, and I thought that the Treasurer seemed disappointed. However, he bade me farewell with cordiality.

"What did he ask you?" said I, when we started on our way again.

"Only whether you shared my superstition," answered Darrell with a laugh.

"They're all mighty anxious about my religion," thought I. "It would do no harm if they bestowed more attention on their own."

Suddenly turning a corner, we came on a group in a recess hung on three sides with curtains and furnished with low couches in the manner of an Oriental divan. The Duke of York, who seemed to me a handsome courtly prince, was sitting, and by him Lord Arlington. Opposite to them stood a gentleman to whom the Duke, when I had made my bow, presented me, bidding me know Mr Hudleston, the Queen's Chaplain. I was familiar with his name, having often, heard of the Romish priest who befriended the King in his flight from Worcester. I was examining his features with the interest that an unknown face belonging to a well-known name has for us, when the Duke addressed me with a suave and lofty graciousness, his manner being in a marked degree more ceremonious than the King's.

"My Lord Arlington," said he, "has commended you, sir, as a young gentleman of most loyal sentiments. My brother and we who love him have great need of the services of all such."

I stammered out an assurance of devotion. Arlington rose and took me by the arm, whispering that I had no need to be embarrassed. But Mr Hudleston turned a keen and searching glance on me, as though he would read my thoughts.

"I'm sure," said Arlington, "that Mr Dale is most solicitous to serve His Majesty in all things."

I bowed, saying to the Duke,

"Indeed I am, sir. I ask nothing but an opportunity."

"In all things?" asked Hudleston abruptly. "In all things, sir?" He fixed his keen eyes on my face.

Arlington pressed my arm and smiled pleasantly; he knew that kindness binds more sheaves than severity.

"Come, Mr Dale says in all things," he observed. "Do we need more, sir?"

But the Duke was rather of the priest's temper than of the Minister's.

"Why, my lord," he answered, "I have never known Mr Hudleston ask a question without a reason for it."

"By serving the King in all things, some mean in all things in which they may be pleased to serve the King," said Hudleston gravely. "Is Mr Dale one of these? Is it the King's pleasure or his own that sets the limit to his duty and his services?"

They were all looking at me now, and it seemed as though we had passed from courtly phrases, such as fall readily but with little import from a man's lips, and had come to a graver matter. They were asking some pledge of me, or their looks belied them. Why or to what end they desired it, I could not tell; but Darrell, who stood behind the priest, nodded his head to me with an anxious frown.

"I will obey the King in all things," I began.

"Well said, well said," murmured Arlington.

"Saving," I proceeded, thinking it my duty to make this addition, and not conceiving that there could be harm in it, "the liberties of the Kingdom and the safety of the Reformed Religion."

I felt Arlington's hand drawn half-away, but in an instant it was back, and he smiled no less pleasantly than before. But the Duke, less able or less careful to conceal his mood, frowned heavily, while Hudleston cried impatiently,

"Reservations! Kings are not served with reservations, sir."

He made me angry. Had the Duke said what he did, I would have taken it with a dutiful bow and a silent tongue. But who was this priest to rate me in such a style? My temper banished my prudence, and, bending my head towards him, I answered:

"Yet the Crown itself is worn with these reservations, sir, and the King himself allows them."

For a moment nobody spoke. Then Arlington said,

"I fear, sir, Mr Dale is as yet less a courtier than an honest gentleman."

The Duke rose to his feet.

"I have found no fault with Mr Dale," said he haughtily and coldly, and, taking no more heed of me, he walked away, while Hudleston, having bestowed on me an angry glance, followed him.

"Mr Dale, Mr Dale!" whispered Arlington, and with no more than that, although still with a smile, he slipped his arm out of mine and left me, beckoning Darrell to go with him. Darrell obeyed with a shrug of despair. I was alone-and, as it seemed, ruined. Alas, why must I blurt out my old lessons as though I had been standing again at my father's knee and not in the presence of the Duke of York? Yes, my race was run before it was begun. The Court was not the place for me. In great bitterness I flung myself down on the cushions and sat there, out of heart and very dismal. A moment passed; then the curtain behind me was drawn aside, and an amused laugh sounded in my ear as I turned. A young man leapt over the couch and threw himself down beside me, laughing heartily and crying,

"Well done, well done! I'd have given a thousand crowns to see their faces!"

I sprang to my feet in amazement and confusion, bowing low, for the young man by me was the Duke of Monmouth.

"Sit, man," said he, pulling me down again. "I was behind the curtain, and heard it all. Thank God, I held my laughter in till they were gone. The liberties of the Kingdom and the safety of the Reformed Religion! Here's a story for the King!" He lay back, seeming to enjoy the jest most hugely.

"For the love of heaven, sir," I cried, "don't tell the King! I'm already ruined."

"Why, so you are, with my good uncle," said he. "You're new to Court, Mr Dale?"

"Most sadly new," I answered in a rueful tone, which set him laughing again.

"You hadn't heard the scandalous stories that accuse the Duke of loving the Reformed Religion no better than the liberties of the Kingdom?"

"Indeed, no, sir."

"And my Lord Arlington? I know him! He held your arm, to the last, and he smiled to the last?"

"Indeed, sir, my lord was most gentle to me."

"Aye, I know his way. Mr Dale, for this entertainment let me call you friend. Come then, we'll go to the King with it." And, rising, he seized me by the arm and began to drag me off.

"Indeed your Grace must pardon me--" I began.

"But indeed I will not," he persisted. Then he suddenly grew grave as he said, "I am for the liberties of the Kingdom and the safety of the Reformed Religion. Aren't we friends, then?"

"Your Grace does me infinite honour."

"And am I no good friend? Is there no value in the friendship of the King's son-the King's eldest son?" He drew himself up with a grace and a dignity which became him wonderfully. Often in these later days I see him as he was then, and think of him with tenderness. Say what you will, he made many love him even to death, who would not have lifted a finger for his father or the Duke of York.

Yet in an instant-such slaves are we of our moods-I was more than half in a rage with him. For as we went we encountered Mistress Barbara on Lord Carford's arm. The quarrel between them seemed past and they were talking merrily together. On the sight of her the Duke left me and ran forward. By an adroit movement he thrust Carford aside and began to ply the lady with most extravagant and high-flown compliments, displaying an excess of devotion which witnessed more admiration than respect. She had treated me as a boy, but she did not tell him that he was a boy, although he was younger than I; she

listened with heightened colour and sparkling eyes. I glanced at Carford and found, to my surprise, no signs of annoyance at his unceremonious deposition. He was watching the pair with a shrewd smile and seemed to mark with pleasure the girl's pride and the young Duke's evident passion. Yet I, who heard something of what passed, had much ado not to step in and bid her pay no heed to homage that was empty if not dishonouring.

Suddenly the Duke turned round and called to me.

"Mr Dale," he cried, "there needed but one thing to bind us closer, and here it is! For you are, I learn, the friend of Mistress Quinton, and I am the humblest of her slaves, who serve all her friends for her sake."

"Why, what would your Grace do for my sake?" asked Barbara.

"What wouldn't I?" he cried, as if transported. Then he added rather low, "Though I fear you're too cruel to do anything for mine."

"I am listening to the most ridiculous speeches in the world for your Grace's sake," said Barbara with a pretty curtsey and a coquettish smile.

"Is love ridiculous?" he asked. "Is passion a thing to smile at? Cruel Mistress Barbara!"

"Won't your Grace set it in verse?" said she.

"Your grace writes it in verse on my heart," said he.

Then Barbara looked across at me, it might be accidentally, yet it did not appear so, and she laughed merrily. It needed no skill to measure the meaning of her laugh, and I did not blame her for it. She had waited for years to avenge the kiss that I gave Cydaria in the Manor Park at Hatchstead; but was it not well avenged when I stood humbly, in deferential silence, at the back while his Grace the Duke sued for her favour, and half the Court looked on? I will not set myself down a churl where nature has not made me one; I said in my heart, and I tried to say to her with my eyes, "Laugh, sweet mistress, laugh!" For I love a girl who will laugh at you when the game runs in her favour.

The Duke fell to his protestations again, and Carford still listened with an acquiescence that seemed strange in a suitor for the lady's hand. But now Barbara's modesty took alarm; the signal of confusion flew in her cheeks, and she looked round, distressed to see how many watched them. Monmouth cared not a jot. I made bold to slip across to Carford, and said to him in a low tone,

"My lord, his Grace makes Mistress Barbara too much marked. Can't you contrive to interrupt him?"

He stared at me with a smile of wonder. But something in my look banished his smile and set a frown in its place.

"Must I have more lessons in manners from you, sir?" he asked. "And do you include a discourse on the interrupting of princes?"

"Princes?" said I.

"The Duke of Monmouth is--"

"The King's son, my lord," I interposed, and, carrying my hat in my hand, I walked up to Barbara and the Duke. She looked at me as I came, but not now mockingly; there was rather an appeal in her eyes.

"Your Grace will not let me lose my audience with the King?" said I.

He started, looked at me, frowned, looked at Barbara, frowned deeper still. I remained quiet, in an attitude of great deference. Puzzled to know whether I had spoken in sheer simplicity and ignorance, or with a meaning which seemed too bold to believe in, he broke into a doubtful laugh. In an instant Barbara drew away with a curtsey. He did not pursue her, but caught my arm, and looked hard and straight in my face. I am happily somewhat wooden of feature, and a man could not make me colour now, although a woman could. He took nothing by his examination.

"You interrupted me," he said.

"Alas, your Grace knows how poor a courtier I am, and how ignorant--"

"Ignorant!" he cried; "yes, you're mighty ignorant, no doubt; but I begin to think you know a pretty face when you see it, Master Simon Dale. Well, I'll not quarrel. Isn't she the most admirable creature alive?"

"I had supposed Lord Carford thought so, sir."

"Oh! And yet Lord Carford did not hurry me off to find the King! But you? What say you to the question?"

"I'm so dazzled, sir, by all the beautiful ladies of His Majesty's Court that I can hardly perceive individual charms."

He laughed again, and pinched my arm, saying,

"We all love what we have not. The Duke of York is in love with truth, the King with chastity, Buckingham with modesty of demeanour, Rochester with seemliness, Arlington with sincerity, and I, Simon-I do fairly worship discretion!"

"Indeed I fear I can boast of little, sir."

"You shall boast of none, and thereby show the more, Simon. Come, there's the King." And he darted on, in equal good humour, as it seemed, with himself and me. Moreover, he lost no time on his errand; for when I reached his side (since they who made way for him afforded me no such civility) he had not only reached the King's chair, but was half-way through his story of my answer to the Duke of York; all chance of stopping him was gone.

"Now I'm damned indeed," thought I; but I set my teeth, and listened with unmoved face.

At this moment the King was alone, save for ourselves and a little long-eared dog which lay on his lap and was incessantly caressed with his hand. He heard his son's story with a face as impassive as I strove to render mine. At the end he looked up at me, asking,

"What are these liberties which are so dear to you, sir?"

My tongue had got me into trouble enough for one day, so I set its music to a softer tune.

"Those which I see preserved and honoured by your Majesty," said I, bowing.

Monmouth laughed, and clapped me on the back; but the King proceeded gravely:

"And this Reformed Religion that you set above my orders?"

"The Faith, Sir, of which you are Defender."

"Come, Mr Dale," said he, rather surly, "if you had spoken to my brother as skilfully as you fence with me, he would not have been angry."

I do not know what came over me. I said it in all honest simplicity, meaning only to excuse myself for the disrespect I had shown to the Duke; but I phrased the sentence most vilely, for I said:

"When His Royal Highness questioned me, Sir, I had to speak the truth."

Monmouth burst into a roar, and a moment later the King followed with a more subdued but not less thorough merriment. When his mirth subsided he said,

"True, Mr Dale. I am a King, and no man is bound to speak truth to me. Nor, by heaven-and there's a compensation-I to any man!"

"Nor woman," said Monmouth, looking at the ceiling in apparent absence of mind.

"Nor even boy," added the King, with an amused glance at his son. "Well, Mr Dale, can you serve me and this conscience of yours also?"

"Indeed I cannot doubt it, Sir," said I.

"A man's king should be his conscience," said the King.

"And what should be conscience to the King, Sir?" asked Monmouth.

"Why, James, a recognition of what evil things he may bring into the world, if he doesn't mind his ways."

Monmouth saw the hit, and took it with pretty grace, bending and kissing the King's hand.

"It is difficult, Mr Dale, to serve two masters," said the King, turning again to me.

"Your Majesty is my only master," I began; but the King interrupted me, going on with some amusement:

"Yet I should like to have seen my brother."

"Let him serve me, Sir," cried Monmouth. "For I am firm in my love of these liberties, aye, and of the Reformed Religion."

"I know, James, I know," nodded the King. "It is grievous and strange, however, that you should speak as though my brother were not." He smiled very maliciously at the young Duke, who flushed red. The King suddenly laughed, and fell to fondling the little dog again.

"Then, Sir," said Monmouth, "Mr Dale may come with me to Dover?"

My heart leapt, for all the talk now was of Dover, of the gaiety that would be there, and the corresponding dulness in London, when the King and the Duke were gone to meet Madame d'Orléans. I longed to go, and the little hope I had cherished that Darrell's good offices with the Secretary of State would serve me to that end had vanished. Now I was full of joy, although I watched the King's face anxiously.

For some reason the suggestion seemed to occasion him amusement; yet, although for the most part he laughed openly without respect of matter or person, he now bent over his little dog, as though he sought to hide the smile, and when he looked up again it hung about his lips like the mere ghost of mirth.

"Why not?" said he. "To Dover, by all means. Mr Dale can serve you, and me, and his principles, as well at Dover as in London."

I bent on one knee and kissed his hand for the favour. When I sought to do the like to Monmouth he was very ready, and received my homage most regally. As I rose, the King was smiling at the pair of us in a whimsical melancholy way.

"Be off with you, boys," said he, as though we were a pair of lads from the grammar school. "Ye are both fools; and James there is but indifferently honest. But every hour's a chance, and every wench an angel to you. Do what you will, and God forgive your sins." And he lay back in his great chair with a good-humoured, lazy, weary smile, as he idly patted the little dog. In spite of all that all men knew of him, I felt my heart warm to him, and I knelt on my knee again, saying:

"God save your Majesty."

"God is omnipotent," said the King gravely. "I thank you, Mr Dale."

Thus dismissed, we walked off together, and I was awaiting the Duke's pleasure to relieve him also of my company, when he turned to me with a smile, his white teeth gleaming:

"The Queen sends a maid of honour to wait on Madame," said he.

"Indeed, sir; it is very fitting."

"And the Duchess sends one also. If you could choose from among the Duchess's-for I swear no man in his senses would choose any of Her Majesty's-whom would you choose, Mr. Dale?"

"It is not for me to say, your Grace," I answered.

"Well," said he, regarding me drolly, "I would choose Mistress Barbara Quinton." And with a last laugh he ran off in hot pursuit of a lady who passed at that moment and cast a very kindly glance at him.

Left alone, but in a good humour that the Duke's last jest could not embitter, I stood watching the scene. The play had begun now on a stage at the end of the hall, but nobody seemed to heed it. They walked to and fro, talking always, ogling, quarrelling, love-making, and intriguing. I caught sight here of great ladies, there of beauties whose faces were their fortune-or their ruin, which you will. Buckingham went by, fine as a galley in full sail. The Duke of York passed with Mr Hudleston; my salute went unacknowledged. Clifford came soon after; he bowed slightly when I bowed to him, but his heartiness was gone. A moment later Darrell was by my side; his ill-humour was over, but he lifted his hands in comical despair.

"Simon, Simon, you're hard to help," said he. "Alas, I must go to Dover without you, my friend! Couldn't you restrain your tongue?"

"My tongue has done me no great harm," said I, "and you needn't go to Dover alone."

"What?" he cried, amazed.

"Unless the Duke of Monmouth and my Lord Arlington travel apart."

"The Duke of Monmouth? What have you to do with him?"

"I am to enter his service," I answered proudly; "and, moreover, I'm to go with him to Dover to meet Madame d'Orléans."

"Why, why? How comes this? How were you brought to his notice?"

I looked at him, wondering at his eagerness. Then I took him by the arm, and I said laughingly:

"Come, I am teachable, and I have learnt my lesson."

"What lesson do you mean?"

"To restrain my tongue," said I. "Let those who are curious as to the Duke of Monmouth's reasons for his favour to me, ask the Duke."

He laughed, but I caught vexation in his laugh.

"True, you're teachable, Simon," said he.

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