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   Chapter 10 JE VIENS, TU VIENS, IL VIENT

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 25101

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It pleased his Grace the Duke of Monmouth so to do all things that men should heed his doing of them. Even in those days, and notwithstanding certain transactions hereinbefore related, I was not altogether a fool, and I had not been long about him before I detected this propensity and, as I thought, the intention underlying it. To set it down boldly and plainly, the more the Duke of Monmouth was in the eye of the nation, the better the nation accustomed itself to regard him as the king's son; the more it fell into the habit of counting him the king's son, the less astonished and unwilling would it be if fate should place him on the king's seat. Where birth is beyond reproach, dignity may be above display; a defect in the first demands an ample exhibition of the second. It was a small matter, this journey to Dover, yet, that he might not go in the train of his father and the Duke of York, but make men talk of his own going, he chose to start beforehand and alone; lest even thus he should not win his meed of notice, he set all the inns and all the hamlets on the road a-gossiping, by accomplishing the journey from London to Canterbury, in his coach-and-six, between sunrise and sunset of a single day. To this end it was needful that the coach should be light; Lord Carford, now his Grace's inseparable companion, alone sat with him, while the rest of us rode on horseback, and the Post supplied us with relays where we were in want of them. Thus we went down gallantly and in very high style, with his Grace much delighted at being told that never had king or subject made such pace in his travelling since the memory of man began. Here was reward enough for all the jolting, the flogging of horses, and the pain of yokels pressed unwillingly into pushing the coach with their shoulders through miry places.

As I rode, I had many things to think of. My woe I held at arm's length. Of what remained, the intimacy between his Grace and my Lord Carford, who were there in the coach together, occupied my mind most constantly. For by now I had moved about in the world a little, and had learnt that many counted Carford no better than a secret Papist, that he was held in private favour, but not honoured in public, by the Duke of York, and that communications passed freely between him and Arlington by the hand of the secretary's good servant and my good friend Mr Darrell. Therefore I wondered greatly at my lord's friendship with Monmouth, and at his showing an attachment to the Duke which, as I had seen at Whitehall, appeared to keep in check even the natural jealousy and resentment of a lover. But at Court a man went wrong if he held a thing unlikely because there was dishonour in it. There men were not ashamed to be spies themselves, nor to use their wives in the same office. There to see no evil was to shut your eyes. I determined to keep mine open in the interests of my new patron, of an older friend, and perhaps of myself also, for Carford's present civility scarcely masked his dislike.

We reached Canterbury while the light of the long summer evening still served, and clattered up the street in muddy bravery. The town was out to see his Grace, and his Grace was delighted to be seen by the town. If, of their courtesy, they chose to treat him as a Prince, he could scarcely refuse their homage, and if he accepted it, it was better to accept like one to the manner born than awkwardly; yet I wondered whether my lord made a note in his aspiring brain of all that passed, and how soon the Duke of York would know that a Prince of Wales, coming to Canterbury, could have received no greater honour. Nay, and they hailed him as the champion of the Church, with hits at the Romish faith, which my lord heard with eyes downcast to the ground and a rigid smile carved on his face. It was all a forecast of what was one day to be; perhaps to the hero of it a suggestion of what some day might be. At least he was radiant over it, and carried Carford off with him into his apartment in the merriest mood. He did not invite me to join his party, and I was well content to be left to wander for an hour in the quiet close of the great cathedral. For let me say that a young man who has been lately crossed in love is in a better mood for most unworldly meditation, than he is likely to be before or after. And if he would not be taken too strictly at his word in all he says to himself then, why, who would, pray, and when?

It was not my fault, but must be imputed to our nature, that in time my stomach cried out angrily at my heart, and I returned to the inn, seeking supper. His Grace was closeted with my lord, and I turned into the public room, desiring no other company than what should lie on my plate. But my host immediately made me aware that I must share my meal and the table with a traveller who had recently arrived and ordered a repast. This gentleman, concerning whom the host seemed in some perplexity, had been informed that the Duke of Monmouth was in the house, but had shown neither excitement at the news nor surprise, nor, to the host's great scandal, the least desire for a sight of his Grace. His men-servants, of whom he had two, seemed tongue-tied, so that the host doubted if they had more than a few phrases of English, and set the whole party down for Frenchmen.

"Hasn't the gentleman given his name?" I asked.

"No. He didn't offer it, and since he flung down money enough for his entertainment I had no cause to ask it."

"None," I remarked, "unless a man may be allowed more curiosity than a beast. Stir yourself about supper," and walking in, I saluted, with all the courtesy at my command, a young gentleman of elegant appearance (so far as I could judge of him in traveller's garb) who sat at the table. His greetings equalled mine in politeness, and we fell into talk on different matters, he using the English language, which he spoke with remarkable fluency, although evidently as a foreigner. His manner was easy and assured, and I took it for no more than an accident that his pistol lay ready to his hand, beside a small case or pocket-book of leather on the table. He asked me my business, and I told him simply that I was going in the Duke's train to Dover.

"Ah, to meet Madame the Duchess of Orleans?" said he. "I heard of her coming before I left France. Her visit, sir, will give great pleasure to the King her brother."

"More, if report speaks true, than to the Prince her husband," said I with a laugh. For the talk at Court was that the Duke of Orleans hated to let his wife out of his sight, while she for her part hated to be in it. Both had their reasons, I do not doubt.

"Perhaps," he answered with a shrug. "But it's hard to know the truth in these matters. I am myself acquainted with many gentlemen at the French Court, and they have much to say, but I believe little of it."

Though I might commend his prudence, I was not encouraged to pursue the topic, and, seeking a change of conversation, I paid him a compliment on his mastery of English, hazarding a suggestion that he must have passed some time in this country.

"Yes," he replied, "I was in London for a year or more a little while ago."

"Your English puts my French to the blush," I laughed, "else hospitality would bid me use your language."

"You speak French?" he asked. "I confess it is easier to me."

"Only a little, and that learnt from merchants, not at Court." For traders of all nations had come from time to time to my uncle's house at Norwich.

"But I believe you speak very well," he insisted politely. "Pray let me judge of your skill for myself."

I was about to oblige him, when a loud dispute arose outside, French ejaculations mingling with English oaths. Then came a scuffle. With a hurried apology, the gentleman sprang to his feet and rushed out. I went on with my supper, supposing that his servants had fallen into some altercation with the landlord and that the parties could not make one another understand. My conjecture was confirmed when the traveller returned, declaring that the quarrel arose over the capacity of a measure of wine and had been soon arranged. But then, with a little cry of vexation, he caught up the pocket-book from the table and darted a quick glance of suspicion at me. I was more amazed than angry, and my smile caused him confusion, for he saw that I had detected his fear. Thinking him punished enough for his rudeness (although it might find some excuse in the indifferent honesty of many who frequented the roads in the guise of travellers) I relieved him by resuming our conversation, saying with a smile,

"In truth my French is a school-boy's French. I can tell the parts of the verb J'aime, tu aimes, il aime; it goes so far, sir, and no farther."

"Not far in speech, though often far enough in act," he laughed.

"Truly," said I with a sigh.

"Yet I swear you do yourself injustice. Is there no more?"

"A little more of the same sort, sir." And, casting about for another phrase with which to humour him, I took the first that came to my tongue; leaning my arms on the table (for I had finished eating), I said with a smile, "Well, what say you to this? This is something to know, isn't it? Je viens, tu viens, il vient."

As I live, he sprang to his feet with a cry of alarm! His hand darted to his breast where he had stowed the pocket-book; he tore it out and examined the fastening with furious haste and anxiety. I sat struck still with wonder; the man seemed mad. He looked at me now, and his glance was full of deepest suspicion. He opened his mouth to speak, but words seemed to fail him; he held out the leathern case towards me. Strange as was the question that his gesture put I could not doubt it.

"I haven't touched the book," said I. "Indeed, sir, only your visible agitation can gain you pardon for the suggestion."

"Then how-how?" he muttered.

"You pass my understanding, sir," said I in petulant amusement. "I say in jest 'I come, thou comest, he comes,' and the words act on you like abracadabra and the blackest of magic. You don't, I presume, carry a hornbook of French in your case; and if you do, I haven't robbed you of it."

He was turning the little case over and over in his hands, again examining the clasps of it. His next freak was to snatch his pistol and look to the priming. I burst out laughing, for his antics seemed absurd. My laughter cooled him, and he made a great effort to regain his composure. But I began to rally him.

"Mayn't a man know how to say in French 'He comes' without stealing the knowledge from your book, sir?" I asked. "You do us wrong if you think that so much is known to nobody in England."

He glared at me like a man who hears a jest, but cannot tell whether it conceals earnest or not.

"Open the case, sir," I continued in raillery. "Make sure all is there. Come, you owe me that much."

To my amazement he obeyed me. He opened the case and searched through certain papers which it contained; at the end he sighed as though in relief, yet his suspicious air did not leave him.

"Now perhaps, sir," said I, squaring my elbows, "you'll explain the comedy."

That he could not do. The very impossibility of any explanation showed that I had, in the most unexpected fashion, stumbled on some secret with him even as I had before with Darrell. Was his secret Darrell's or his own, the same or another? What it was I could not tell, but for certain there it was. He had no resource but to carry the matter with a high hand, and to this he betook himself with the readiness of his nation.

"You ask an explanation, sir?" he cried. "There's nothing to explain, and if there were, I give explanations when I please, and not to every fellow who chooses to ask them of me."

"I come, thou comest, he comes,-'tis a very mysterious phrase," said I. "I can't tell what it means. And if you won't tell me, sir, I must ask others."

"You'll be wiser to ask nobody," he said menacingly.

"Nay, I shall be no wiser if I ask nobody," I retorted with a smile.

"Yet you'll tell nobody of what has passed," said he, advancing towards me with the plain intention of imposing his will on me by fear, since persuasion failed. I rose to my feet and answered, mimicking his insolent words,

"I give promises, sir, when I please, and not to every fellow who chooses to ask them of me."

"You shall give me your promise before you leave this room," he cried.

His voice had been rising in passion and was now loud and

fierce. Whether the sound of it had reached the room above, or whether the Duke and Carford had grown weary of one another, I do not know, but as the French gentleman uttered this last threat Carford opened the door, stood aside to let his Grace enter, and followed himself. As they came in, we were in a most hostile attitude; for the Frenchman's pistol was in his hand, and my hand had flown to the hilt of my sword. The Duke looked at us in astonishment.

"Why, what's this, gentlemen?" he said. "Mr Dale, are you at variance with this gentleman?" But before I had time to answer him, he had stepped forward and seen the Frenchman's face. "Why, here is M. de Fontelles!" he cried in surprise. "I am very pleased to see you, sir, again in England. Carford, here is M. de Fontelles. You were acquainted with him when he was in the suite of the French Ambassador? You carry a message, sir?"

I listened keenly to all that the Duke's words told me. M. de Fontelles bowed low, but his confusion was in no way abated, and he made no answer to his Grace's question. The Duke turned to me, saying with some haughtiness,

"This gentleman is a friend of mine, Mr Dale. Pray why was your hand on your sword?"

"Because the gentleman's pistol was in his hand, sir."

"You appear always to be very ready for a quarrel, Mr Dale," said the Duke, with a glance at Carford. "Pray, what's the dispute?"

"I'll tell your Grace the whole matter," said I readily enough, for I had nothing to blame myself with.

"No, I won't have it told," cried M. de Fontelles.

"It's my pleasure to hear it," said the Duke coldly.

"Well, sir, it was thus," said I, with a candid air. "I protested to this gentleman that my French was sadly to seek; he was polite enough to assure me that I spoke it well. Upon this I owned to some small knowledge, and for an example I said to him, 'J'aime, tu aimes, il aime.' He received the remark, sir, with the utmost amiability."

"He could do no less," said the Duke with a smile.

"But he would have it that this didn't exhaust my treasure of learning. Therefore, after leaving me for a moment to set straight a difference that had arisen between his servants and our host, he returned, put away a leathern case that he had left on the table (concerning which indeed he seemed more uneasy than would be counted courteous here in England, seeing that I had been all the while alone in the room with it), and allowed me to resume my exhibition of French-speaking. To humour him and to pass away the hour during which I was deprived of the pleasure of attending your Grace--"

"Yes, yes, Mr Dale. Don't delay in order to compliment me," said the Duke, smiling still.

"I leant across the table, sir, and I made him a speech that sent him, to all seeming, half-way out of his senses; for he sprang up, seized his case, looked at the fastenings, saw to the priming of his pistol, and finally presumed to exact from me a promise that I would consult nobody as to the perplexity into which this strange behaviour of his had flung me. To that I demurred, and hence the quarrel with which I regret most humbly that your Grace should have been troubled."

"I'm obliged to you, Mr Dale. But what was this wonder-working phrase?"

"Why, sir, just the first that came into my head. I said to the gentleman-to M. de Fontelles, as I understand him to be called-I said to him softly and gently-Je viens, tu viens--"

The Duke seized me by the arm, with a sudden air of excitement. Carford stepped forward and stood beside him.

"Je viens, tu viens.... Yes! And any more?" cried the Duke.

"Yes, your Grace," I answered, again amazed. "I completed what grammarians call the Singular Number by adding 'Il vient;' whereupon-but I have told you."

"Il vient?" cried the Duke and Carford all in a breath.

"Il vient," I repeated, thinking now that all the three had run mad. Carford screened his mouth with his hand and whispered in the Duke's ear. The Duke nodded and made some answer. Both seemed infinitely stirred and interested. M. de Fontelles had stood in sullen silence by the table while I told the story of our quarrel; now his eyes were fixed intently on the Duke's face.

"But why," said I, "that simple phrase worked such strange agitation in the gentleman, your Grace's wisdom may discover. I am at a loss."

Still Carford whispered, and presently the Duke said,

"Come, gentlemen, you've fallen into a foolish quarrel where no quarrel need have come. Pray be friends again."

M. de Fontelles drew himself up stiffly.

"I asked a promise of that gentleman, and he refused it me," he said.

"And I asked an explanation of that gentleman, and he refused it me," said I, just as stiffly.

"Well, then, Mr Dale shall give his promise to me. Will that be agreeable to you, Mr Dale?"

"I'm at your Grace's commands, in all things," I answered, bowing.

"And you'll tell nobody of M. de Fontelles' agitation?"

"If your Grace pleases. To say the truth, I don't care a fig for his fierceness. But the explanation, sir?"

"Why, to make all level," answered the Duke, smiling and fixing his gaze upon the Frenchman, "M. de Fontelles will give his explanation to me."

"I cry agreed, your Grace!" said I. "Come, let him give it."

"To me, Mr Dale, not to you," smiled the Duke.

"What, am I not to hear why he was so fierce with me?"

"You don't care a fig for his fierceness, Mr Dale," he reminded me, laughing.

I saw that I was caught, and had the sense to show no annoyance, although I must confess to a very lively curiosity.

"Your Grace wishes to be alone with M. de Fontelles?" I asked readily and deferentially.

"For a little while, if you'll give us leave," he answered, but he added to Carford, "No, you needn't move, Carford."

So I made my bow and left them, not well pleased, for my brain was on the rack to discover what might be the secret which hung on that mysterious phrase, and which I had so nearly surprised from M. de Fontelles.

"The gist of it," said I to myself, as I turned to the kitchen, "lies, if I am not mistaken, in the third member. For when I had said Je viens, tu viens, the Duke interrupted me, crying, 'Any more?'"

I had made for the kitchen since there was no other room open to me, and I found it tenanted by the French servants of M. de Fontelles. Although peace had been made between them and the host, they sat in deep dejection; the reason was plain to see in two empty glasses and an empty bottle that stood on a table between them. Kindliness, aided, it may be, by another motive, made me resolve to cure their despondency.

"Gentlemen," said I in French, going up to them, "you do not drink!"

They rose, bowing, but I took a third chair between them and motioned them to be seated.

"We have not the wherewithal, sir," said one with a wistful smile.

"The thing is mended as soon as told," I cried, and, calling the host, I bade him bring three bottles. "A man is more at home with his own bottle," said I.

With the wine came new gaiety, and with gaiety a flow of speech. M. de Fontelles would have admired the fluency with which I discoursed with his servants, they telling me of travelling in their country, I describing the incidents of the road in England.

"There are rogues enough on the way in both countries, I'll warrant," I laughed. "But perhaps you carry nothing of great value and laugh at robbers?"

"Our spoil would make a robber a poor meal, sir; but our master is in a different plight."

"Ah! He carries treasure?"

"Not in money, sir," answered one. The other nudged him, as though to bid him hold his tongue.

"Come, fill your glasses," I cried, and they obeyed very readily.

"Well, men have met their death between here and London often enough before now," I pursued meditatively, twisting my glass of wine in my fingers. "But with you for his guard, M. de Fontelles should be safe enough."

"We're charged to guard him with our lives, and not leave him till he comes to the Ambassador's house."

"But these rogues hunt sometimes in threes and fours," said I. "You might well lose one of your number."

"We're cheap, sir," laughed one. "The King of France has many of us."

"But if your master were the one?"

"Even then provision is made."

"What? Could you carry his message-for if his treasure isn't money, I must set it down as tidings-to the Ambassador."

They looked at one another rather doubtfully. But I was not behindhand in filling their glasses.

"Still we should go on, even without Monsieur," said one.

"But to what end?" I cried in feigned derision.

"Why, we too have a message."

"Indeed. Can you carry the King's message?"

"None better, sir," said the shorter of the pair, with a shrewd twinkle in his eye. "For we don't understand it."

"Is it difficult then?"

"Nay, it's so simple as to see without meaning."

"What, so simple-but your bottle is empty! Come, another?"

"Indeed no, Monsieur."

"A last bottle between us! I'll not be denied." And I called for a fourth.

When we were well started on the drinking of it, I asked carelessly,

"And what's your message?"

But neither the wine nor the negligence of my question had quite lulled their caution to sleep. They shook their heads, and laughed, saying,

"We're forbidden to tell that."

"Yet, if it be so simple as to have no meaning, what harm in telling it?"

"But orders are orders, and we're soldiers," answered the shrewd short fellow.

The idea had been working in my brain, growing stronger and stronger till it reached conviction. I determined now to put it to the proof.

"Tut," said I. "You make a pretty secret of it, and I don't blame you. But I can guess your riddle. Listen. If anything befell M. de Fontelles, which God forbid--"

"Amen, amen," they murmured with a chuckle.

"You two, or if fate left but one, that one, would ride on at his best speed to London, and there seek out the Ambassador of the Most Christian King. Isn't it so?"

"So much, sir, you might guess from what we've said."

"Ay, ay, I claim no powers of divination. Yet I'll guess a little more. On being admitted to the presence of the Ambassador, he would relate the sad fate of his master, and would then deliver his message, and that message would be--" I drew my chair forward between them and laid a finger on the arm of each. "That message," said I, "would be just like this-and indeed it's very simple, and seems devoid of all rational meaning: Je viens." They started. "Tu viens." They gaped. "Il vient," I cried triumphantly, and their chairs shot back as they sprang to their feet, astonishment vivid on their faces. For me, I sat there laughing in sheer delight at the excellence of my aim and the shrewdness of my penetration.

What they would have said, I do not know. The door was flung open and M. de Fontelles appeared. He bowed coldly to me and vented on his servants the anger from which he was not yet free, calling them drunken knaves and bidding them see to their horses and lie down in the stable, for he must be on his way by daybreak. With covert glances at me which implored silence and received the answer of a reassuring nod, they slunk away. I bowed to M. de Fontelles with a merry smile; I could not conceal my amusement and did not care how it might puzzle him. I strode out of the kitchen and made my way up the stairs. I had to pass the Duke's apartment. The light still burned there, and he and Carford were sitting at the table. I put my head in.

"If your Grace has no need of me, I'll seek my bed," said I, mustering a yawn.

"No need at all," he answered. "Good-night to you, Simon." But then he added, "You'll keep your promise to me?"

"Your Grace may depend on me."

"Though in truth I may tell you that the whole affair is nothing; it's no more than a matter of gallantry, eh, Carford?"

"No more," said my Lord Carford.

"But such matters are best not talked of."

I bowed as he dismissed me, and pursued my way to my room. A matter of gallantry might, it seemed, be of moment to the messengers of the King of France. I did not know what to make of the mystery, but I knew there was a mystery.

"And it turns," said I to myself, "on those little words 'Il vient.' Who is he? Where comes he? And to what end? Perhaps I shall learn these things at Dover."

There is this to be said. A man's heart aches less when his head is full. On that night I did not sigh above half my usual measure.

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