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   Chapter 8 MADNESS, MAGIC, AND MOONSHINE

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 23128

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


When the curtain had fallen on the little-heeded play and the gay crowd began to disperse, I, perceiving that no more was to be seen or learnt, went home to my lodging alone. After our conversation Darrell had left me abruptly, and I saw him no more. But my own thoughts gave me occupation enough; for even to a dull mind, and one unversed in Court intrigues, it seemed plain that more hung on this expedition to Dover than the meeting of the King's sister with her brother. So far all men were of the same opinion; beyond, their variance began. I had not thought to trouble my head about it, but, not having learnt yet that a small man lives most comfortably with the great by opening his eyes and ears only when bidden and keeping them tight locked for the rest, I was inspired with eagerness to know the full meaning of the scene in which I was now to play a part, however humble. Of one thing at least I was glad-here I touched on a matter more suitable to my condition-and this was that since Barbara Quinton was to go to Dover, I was to go also. But, alas, neither here did perplexity lag far behind! It is easy to know that you are glad to be with a lady; your very blood tells you; but to say why is often difficult. I told myself that my sole cause for pleasure lay in the services I might be able to render to my old friend's daughter; she would want me to run her errands and do her bidding; an attentive cavalier, however lowly, seldom comes amiss; these pleas I muttered to myself, but swelling pride refused them, and for once reason came as pride's ally, urging that in such company as would assemble at Dover a girl might well need protection, no less than compliments. It was true; my new master's bearing to her shewed how true. And Carford was not, it seemed, a jealous lover. I was no lover-my life was vowed to another most unhappy love-but I was a gentleman, and (sweet thought!) the hour might come when the face which had looked so mockingly at me to-night should turn again in appeal to the wit and arm of Simon Dale. I grew taller as I thought of that, and, coming just then to my own door, rapped with my cane as loudly and defiantly as though I had been the Duke of Monmouth himself, and not a gentleman in his suite.

Loud as my rapping was, it brought no immediate answer. Again I knocked; then feet came shuffling along the passage. I had aroused my sleepy wretch; doubtless he would come groaning (for Jonah might not curse save in the way of religion), and rubbing his eyes, to let me in. The door opened and Jonah appeared; his eyes were not dull with sleep but seemed to blaze with some strong excitement; he had not been to his bed, for his dress was not disordered, and a light burnt bright in my parlour. To crown all, from the same parlour came the sound of a psalm most shrilly and villainously chanted through the nose in a voice familiar to my ears. I, unlike my servant, had not bound myself against an oath where the case called, and with a round one that sent Jonah's eyes in agony up to the ceiling I pushed by him and ran into the parlour. A sonorous "Amen" came pat with my entrance; Phineas Tate stood before me, lean and pale, but calm and placid.

"What in the devil's name brings you here?" I cried.

"The service of God," he answered solemnly.

"What, does it forbid sleep at nights?"

"Have you been sleeping, young man?" he asked, pertinently enough, as I must allow.

"I have been paying my respects to His Majesty," said I.

"God forgive him and you," was the retort.

"Perhaps, sir, perhaps not," I replied, for I was growing angry. "But I have asked your intercession no more than has the King. If Jonah brought you here, it was without my leave; I beg you to take your departure.-Jonah, hold the door there for Mr Tate."

The man raised his hand impressively.

"Hear my message first," he said. "I am sent unto you, that you may turn from sin. For the Lord has appointed you to be his instrument. Even now the plot is laid, even now men conspire to bring this kingdom again into the bondage of Rome. Have you no ears, have you no eyes, are you blind and deaf? Turn to me, and I will make you see and hear. For it is given to me to show you the way."

I was utterly weary of the fellow, and, in despair of getting quit of him, flung myself into a chair. But his next words caught my attention.

"The man who lives here with you-what of him? Is he not an enemy of God?"

"Mr Darrell is of the Romish faith," said I, smiling in spite of myself, for a kinder soul than Darrell I had never met.

Phineas came close to me, leaning over me with an admonishing forefinger and a mysterious air.

"What did he want with you?" he asked. "Yet cleave to him. Be where he is, go where he goes."

"If it comforts you, I am going where he goes," said I, yawning. "For we are both going to Dover when the King goes."

"It is God's finger and God's will!" cried Phineas, catching me by the shoulder.

"Enough!" I shouted, leaping up. "Keep your hands off me, man, if you can't keep your tongue. What is it to you that we go to Dover?"

"Aye, what?" came suddenly in Darrell's voice. He stood in the doorway with a fierce and angry frown on his face. A moment later he was across the room and laid his hand on Phineas. "Do you want another cropping of your ears?" he asked.

"Do your will on me," cried the fanatic. And sweeping away his lanky hair he showed his ears; to my horror they had been cropped level across their tops by the shears. "Do your will," he shrieked, "I am ready. But your hour comes also, yea, your cup shall soon be full."

Darrell spoke to him in low stern tones.

"It may be more than ears, if you will not bridle your tongue. It's not for you to question why the King comes or goes."

I saw Jonah's face at the door, pale with fright as he looked at the two men. The interest of the scene grew on me; the talk of Dover seemed to pursue me strangely.

"But this young man," pursued Phineas, utterly unmoved by Darrell's threat, "is not of you; he shall be snatched from the burning, and by his hand the Lord will work a great deliverance."

Darrell turned to me and said stiffly:

"This room is yours, sir, not mine. Do you suffer the presence of this mischievous knave?"

"I suffer what I can't help," I answered. "Mr Tate doesn't ask my pleasure in his coming and going any more than the King asks Mr Tate's in his."

"It would do you no good, sir, to have it known that he was here," Darrell reminded me with a significant nod of his head.

Darrell had been a good friend to me and had won my regard, but, from an infirmity of temper that I have touched on before, his present tone set me against him. I take reproof badly, and age has hardly tamed me to it.

"No good with whom?" I asked, smiling. "The Duke of York? My Lord Arlington? Or do you mean the Duke of Monmouth? It is he whom I have to please now."

"None of them love Ranters," answered Darrell, keeping his face stiff and inscrutable.

"But one of them may prefer a Ranter to a Papist," laughed I.

The thrust told, Darrell grew red. To myself I seemed to have hit suddenly on the key of a mystery. Was I then a pawn in the great game of the Churches, and Darrell another, and (to speak it with all due respect), these grand dukes little better? Had Phineas Tate also his place on the board where souls made the stakes? In such a game none is too low for value, none too high for use. Surely my finger was on the spring! At least I had confounded Darrell; his enemy, taking my help readily enough, glared on him in most unchristian exultation, and then, turning to me, cried in a species of fierce ecstasy,

"Think not that because you are unworthy you shall not serve God. The work sanctifies the instrument, yea, it makes clean that which is foul. Verily, at His hour, God may work through a woman of sin." And he fixed his eyes intently on me.

I read a special meaning in his words; my thoughts flew readily to the Cock and Pie in Drury Lane.

"Yea, through a woman of sin," he repeated slowly and solemnly; then he faced round, swift as the wind, on Darrell, and, minding my friend's sullen scowl not a whit, cried to him, "Repent, repent, vengeance is near!" and so at last was out of the room before either of us could hinder him, had we wished, or could question him further. I heard the house-door shut behind him, and I rose, looking at Darrell with an easy smile.

"Madness and moonshine, good friend," said I. "Don't let it disturb you. If Jonah admits the fellow again he shall answer for it."

"Indeed, Mr Dale, when I prayed you to share my lodging, I did not foresee the nature of your company."

"Fate more than choice makes a man's company," said I. "Now it's you, now Phineas, now my lord the Secretary, and now his Grace the Duke. Indeed, seeing how destiny-or, if you will, chance-rules, a man may well be thought a fool who makes a plan or chooses a companion. For my own part, I am fate's child and fate shall guide me."

He was still stiff and cold with me, but my friendly air and my evident determination to have no quarrel won him to civility if to no warmer demonstration of regard.

"Fate's child?" he asked with a little scorn, but seating himself and smoothing his brow. "You're fate's child? Isn't that an arrogant speech, Simon?"

"If it weren't true, most arrogant," I answered. "Come, I'll tell you; it's too soon for bed and too late to go abroad. Jonah, bring us some wine, and if it be good, you shall be forgiven for admitting Master Tate."

Jonah went off and presently returned with a bottle, which we drank, while I, with the candour I had promised, told my friend of Betty Nasroth and her prophecy. He heard me with an attention which belied the contempt he asserted; I have noticed that men pay heed to these things however much they laugh at them. At the end, growing excited not only with the wine but with the fumes of life which had been mounting into my young brain all the day, I leapt up, crying aloud:

"And isn't it true? Shan't I know what he hides? Shan't I drink of his cup? For isn't it true? Don't I already, to my infinite misery, love where he loves?" For the picture of Nell had come suddenly across me in renewed strength and sweetness; when I had spoken I dropped again into my chair and laid my head down on my arms.

Silence followed; Darrell had no words of consolation for my woes and left my love-lorn cry unheeded; presently then (for neglected sorrows do not thrive) I looked furtively at him between the fingers of my hand. He sat moody, thoughtful, and frowning. I raised my head and met his eyes. He leant across the table, saying in a sneering tone, "A fine witch, on my life! You should know what he hides?"

"Aye."

"And drink of his cup?"

"Aye, so she said."

He sat sunk in troubled thought, but I, being all this night torn to and fro by changing and warring moods, sprang up again and cried in boisterous scorn, "What, you believe these fables? Does God reveal hidden things to old crones? I thought you at Court were not the fools of such fancies! Aren't they fitter for rustic churls, Mr Darrell? God save us, do we live in the days of King James?"

He answered me shortly and sternly, as though I had spoken of things not to be named lightly.

"It is devil's work, all of it."

"Then the devil is busier than he seems, even after a night at Court," I said. "But be it whose work it will, I'll do it. I'll find what he hides. I'll drink of his

cup. Come, you're glum! Drink, friend Darrell! Darrell, what's in his cup, what does he hide? Darrell, what does the King hide?"

I had caught him by the shoulder and was staring in his face. I was all aglow, and my eyes, no doubt, shone bright with excitement and the exhilaration of the wine. The look of me, or the hour of the night, or the working of his own superstition, got hold of him, for he sprang up, crying madly:

"My God, do you know?" and glared into my face as though I had been the very devil of whom I spoke.

We stood thus for a full minute. But I grew cool before my companion, wonder working the change in me sooner than confusion could in him. For my random ravings had most marvellously struck on something more than my sober speculations could discern. The man before me was mad-or he had a secret. And friend Darrell was no madman.

"Do I know?" I asked. "Do I know what? What could I, Simon Dale, know? What in Heaven's name is there to know?" And I smiled cunningly, as though I sought to hide knowledge by a parade of ignorance.

"Nothing, nothing," he muttered uneasily. "The wine's got into my head."

"Yet you've drunk but two glasses; I had the rest," said I.

"That damned Ranter has upset me," he growled. "That, and the talk of your cursed witch."

"Can Ranters and witches make secrets where there are none?" said I with a laugh.

"They can make fools think there are secrets where there are none," said he rudely.

"And other fools ask if they're known," I retorted, but with a laugh; and I added, "I'm not for a quarrel, secret or no secret, so if that's your purpose in sitting the night through, to bed with you, my friend."

Whether from prudence, or whether my good humour rebuked his temper, he grew more gentle; he looked at me kindly enough and sighed, as he said:

"I was to be your guide in London, Simon; but you take your own path."

"The path you shewed me was closed in my face," said I, "and I took the first that was opened to me."

"By the Duke of Monmouth?"

"Yes-or by another, if it had chanced to be another."

"But why take any, Simon?" he urged persuasively. "Why not live in peace and leave these great folk alone?"

"With all my heart," I cried. "Is it a bargain? Whither shall we fly from the turmoil?"

"We!" he exclaimed with a start.

"Aren't you sick of the same disease? Isn't the same medicine best for you? Come, shall we both go to-morrow to Hatchstead-a pretty village, Mr Darrell-and let the great folk go alone to Dover?"

"You know I cannot. I serve my Lord Arlington."

"And I the Duke of Monmouth."

"But my Lord is the King's servant."

"And his Grace the King's son."

"Oh, if you're obstinate--" he began, frowning.

"As fate, as prophecy, as witch, as Ranter, as devil, or as yourself!" I said, laughing and throwing myself into a chair as he rose and moved towards the door.

"No good will come of it to you," he said, passing me on his way.

"What loyal servant looks to make a profit of his service?" I asked, smiling.

"I wish you could be warned."

"I'm warned, but not turned, Darrell. Come, we part friends?"

"Why, yes, we are friends," he answered, but with a touch of hesitation.

"Saving our duty to the King?"

"If need should come for that reservation, yes," said he gravely.

"And saving," said I, "the liberties of the Kingdom and the safety of the Reformed Religion-if need should come for these reservations, Mr Darrell," and I laughed to see the frown gather again on his brow. But he made no reply, being unable to trust his self-control or answer my light banter in its own kind. He left me with no more than a shake of his head and a wave of his hand; and although we parted thus in amity and with no feelings save of kindness for one another, I knew that henceforth there must be a difference in our relations; the days of confidence were gone.

The recognition of my loss weighed little with me. The diffidence born of inexperience and of strangeness to London and the Court was wearing away; the desire for another's arm to lean on and another's eyes to see with gave way before a young man's pride in his own arm's strength and the keenness of his own vision. There was sport afoot; aye, for me in those days all things were sport, even the high disputes of Churches or of Kingdoms. We look at the world through our own glasses; little as it recks of us, it is to us material and opportunity; there in the dead of night I wove a dream wherein the part of hero was played by Simon Dale, with Kings and Dukes to bow him on and off the stage and Christendom to make an audience. These dream-doings are brave things: I pity the man who performs none of them; for in them you may achieve without labour, enjoy without expense, triumph without cruelty, aye, and sin mightily and grandly with never a reckoning for it. Yet do not be a mean villain even in your dreaming, for that sticks to you when you awake.

I had supposed myself alone to be out of bed and Jonah Wall to have slunk off in fear of my anger. But now my meditations were interrupted by his entrance. He crept up to me in an uneasy fashion, but seemed to take courage when I did not break into abuse, but asked him mildly why he had not sought rest and what he wanted with me. His first answer was to implore me to protect him from Mr Darrell's wrath; through Phineas Tate, he told me timidly, he had found grace, and he could deny him nothing; yet, if I bade him, he would not admit him again.

"Let him come," said I carelessly. "Besides, we shall not be long here. For you and I are going on a journey, Jonah."

"A journey, sir?"

"Ay, I go with the Duke of Monmouth, and you go with me, to Dover when the King goes."

Now, either Dover was on everybody's brain, or was very sadly on my brain, for I swear even this fellow's eye seemed to brighten as I named the place.

"To Dover, sir?"

"No less. You shall see all the gaiety there is to be seen, Jonah."

The flush of interest had died away; he was dolefully tranquil and submissive again.

"Well, what do you want with me?" I asked, for I did not wish him to suspect that I detected any change in his manner.

"A lady came here to-day, sir, in a very fine coach with Flemish horses, and asked for you. Hearing you were from home, she called to me and bade me take a message for you. I prayed her to write it, but she laughed, and said she spoke more easily than she wrote; and she bade me say that she wished to see you."

"What sort of lady was she, Jonah?"

"She sat all the while in the coach, sir, but she seemed not tall; she was very merry, sir." Jonah sighed deeply; with him merriment stood high among the vices of our nature.

"She didn't say for what purpose she wanted me?" I asked as carelessly as I could.

"No, sir. She said you would know the purpose, and that she would look for you at noon to-morrow."

"But where, Jonah?"

"At a house called Burford House, sir, in Chelsea."

"She gave you no name?"

"I asked her name, and she gave me one."

"What was it?"

"It was a strange heathenish name, and she laughed as she gave it; indeed she laughed all the time."

"There's no sin in laughter," said I dryly. "You may leave me, I need no help in undressing."

"But the name--"

"By Heaven, man, I know the name! Be off with you!"

He shuffled off, his whole manner expressing reprobation, whether most of my oath, or of the heathenish name, or of the lady who gave it, I know not.

Well, if he were so horror-stricken at these things, what would he say at learning with whom he had talked? Perhaps he would have preached to her, as had Phineas Tate, his master in religion. For, beyond doubt, that heathenish name was Cydaria, and that fine coach with Flemish horses-I left the question of that coach unanswered.

The moment the door was shut behind my servant I sprang to my feet, crying in a low but very vehement voice, "Never!" I would not go. Had she not wounded me enough? Must I tear away the bandage from the gash? She had tortured me, and asked me now, with a laugh, to be so good as stretch myself on the rack again. I would not go. That laugh was cruel insolence. I knew that laugh. Ah, why so I did-I knew it well-how it rose and rippled and fell, losing itself in echoes scarcely audible, but rich with enticing mirth. Surely she was cunningly fashioned for the undoing of men; yes, and of herself, poor soul. What were her coaches, and the Flemish horses, and the house called Burford House in Chelsea? A wave of memory swept over me, and I saw her simple-well then, more simple!-though always merry, in the sweet-smelling fields at home, playing with my boy's heart as with a toy that she knew little of, but yet by instinct handled deftly. It pleased her mightily, that toy, and she seemed to wonder when she found that it felt. She did not feel; joy was hers, nothing deeper. Yet could she not, might she not, would she not? I knew what she was; who knew what she might be? The picture of her rose again before my eyes, inviting a desperate venture, spurring me on to an enterprise in which the effort seemed absurdity, and success would have been in the eyes of the world calamity. Yet an exaltation of spirit was on me, and I wove another dream that drove the first away; now I did not go to Dover to play my part in great affairs and jostle for higher place in a world where in God's eyes all places are equal and all low, but away back to the country I had loved, and not alone. She should be with me, love should dress penitence in glowing robes, and purity be decked more gloriously than all the pomps of sin. Could it be? If it could, it seemed a prize for which all else might be willingly forgone-an achievement rare and great, though the page of no history recorded it.

Phineas Tate had preached to her, and gone away, empty and scorned. I would preach too, in different tones and with a different gospel. Yet my words should have a sweetness his had not, my gospel a power that should draw where his repelled. For my love, shaken not yet shattered, wounded not dead, springing again to full life and force, should breathe its vital energy into her soul and impart of its endless abundance till her heart was full. Entranced by this golden vision, I rose and looked from the window at the dawning day, praying that mine might be the task, the achievement, the reward.

Bright dawned that day as I, with brighter brightness in my heart, climbed the stairs that led to my bedroom. But as I reached the door of it, I paused. There came a sound from the little closet beyond, where Jonah stretched his weary legs, and, as I hoped, had forgotten in harmless sleep the soul that he himself tormented worse than would the hell he feared. No, he did not rest. From his closet came low, fervent, earnest prayers. Listening a minute, half in scorn, half in pity, and in no unkindness, I heard him.

"Praise be to God," he said, "Who maketh the crooked places straight, and openeth a path through the wilderness, and setteth in the hand of His servant a sword wherewith to smite the ungodly even in high places."

What crooked places were made straight, what path opened, what sword set in Jonah's hand? Of the ungodly in high places there was no lack in the days of King Charles. But was Jonah Wall to smite them? I opened my door with a laugh. We were all mad that night, and my madness lasted till the morning. Yes, till the morning grew full my second dream was with me.

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