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   Chapter 11 THE GENTLEMAN FROM CALAIS

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 26619

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Good fortune and bad had combined to make me somewhat more of a figure in the eyes of the Court than was warranted by my abilities or my station. The friend of Mistress Gwyn and the favourite of the Duke of Monmouth (for this latter title his Grace's signal kindness soon extorted from the amused and the envious) was a man whom great folk recognised, and to whom small folk paid civility. Lord Carford had become again all smiles and courtesy; Darrell, who arrived in the Secretary's train, compensated in cordiality for what he lacked in confidence; my Lord Arlington himself presented me in most flattering terms to the French King's envoy, M. Colbert de Croissy, who, in his turn, greeted me with a warmth and regarded me with a curiosity that produced equal gratification and bewilderment in my mind. Finally, the Duke of Monmouth insisted on having me with him in the Castle, though the greater part of the gentlemen attached to the Royal and noble persons were sent to lodge in the town for want of accommodation within the walls. My private distress, from which I recovered but slowly, or, to speak more properly, suppressed with difficulty, served to prevent me from becoming puffed up with the conceit which this success might well have inspired.

The first part of Betty Nasroth's prophecy now stood fulfilled, ay, as I trusted, utterly finished and accomplished; the rest tarried. I had guessed that there was a secret, what it was remained unknown to me and, as I soon suspected, to people more important. The interval before the arrival of the Duchess of Orleans was occupied in many councils and conferences; at most of them the Duke of Monmouth was present, and he told me no more than all the Court conjectured when he said that Madame d'Orléans came with a project for a new French Alliance and a fresh war with the Dutch. But there were conferences at which he was not present, nor the Duke of Buckingham, but only the King, his brother (so soon as his Royal Highness joined us from London), the French Envoy, and Clifford and Arlington. Of what passed at these my master knew nothing, though he feigned knowledge; he would be restless when I, having used my eyes, told him that the King had been with M. Colbert de Croissy for two hours, and that the Duke of York had walked on the wall above an hour in earnest conversation with the Treasurer. He felt himself ignored, and poured out his indignation unreservedly to Carford. Carford would frown and throw his eyes towards me, as though to ask if I were to hear these things, but the Duke refused his suggestion. Nay, once he said in jest:

"What I say is as safe with him as with you, my lord, or safer."

I wondered to see Carford indignant.

"Why do you say safer, sir?" he asked haughtily, while the colour on his cheeks was heightened. "Is any man's honour more to be trusted than mine?"

"Ah, man, I meant nothing against your honour; but Simon here has a discretion that heaven does not give to everyone."

Now, when I see a man so sensitive to suspicion as to find it in every careless word, I am set thinking whether he may not have some cause to fear suspicion. Honesty expects no accusation. Carford's readiness to repel a charge not brought caught my notice, and made me ponder more on certain other conferences to which also his Grace my patron was a stranger. More than once had I found Arlington and Carford together, with M. Colbert in their company, and on the last occasion of such an encounter Carford had requested me not to mention his whereabouts to the Duke, advancing the trivial pretext that he should have been engaged on his Grace's business. His Grace was not our schoolmaster. But I was deceived, most amiably deceived, and held my tongue as he prayed. Yet I watched him close, and soon, had a man told me that the Duke of York thought it well to maintain a friend of his own in his nephew's confidence, I would have hazarded that friend's name without fear of mistake.

So far the affair was little to me, but when Mistress Barbara came from London the day before Madame was to arrive, hardly an hour passed before I perceived that she also, although she knew it not, had her part to play. I cannot tell what reward they offered Carford for successful service; if a man who sells himself at a high price be in any way less a villain than he who takes a penny, I trust that the price was high; for in pursuance of the effort to obtain Monmouth's confidence and an ascendency over him, Carford made use of the lady whom he had courted, and, as I believed, still courted, for his own wife. He threw her in Monmouth's way by tricks too subtle for her to detect, but plain to an attentive observer. I knew from her father that lately he had again begged her hand, and that she had listened with more show of favour. Yet he was the Duke's very humble servant in all the plans which that headstrong young man now laid against the lady's peace and honour. Is there need to state the scheme more plainly? In those days a man might rise high and learn great secrets, if he knew when to shut his eyes and how to knock loud before he entered the room.

I should have warned her. It is true; but the mischief lay in the fact that by no means could I induce her to exchange a word with me. She was harder by far to me than she had shewn herself in London. Perhaps she had heard how I had gone to Chelsea; but whether for good reason or bad, my crime now seemed beyond pardon. Stay; perhaps my condition was below her notice; or sin and condition so worked together that she would have nothing of me, and I could do nothing but look on with outward calm and hidden sourness while the Duke plied her with flatteries that soon grew to passionate avowals, and Carford paid deferential suit when his superior was not in the way. She triumphed in her success as girls will, blind to its perils as girls are; and Monmouth made no secret of his hopes of success, as he sat between Carford's stolid face and my downcast eyes.

"She's the loveliest creature in the world," he would cry. "Come, drink a toast to her!" I drank silently, while Carford led him on to unrestrained boasts and artfully fanned his passion.

At last-it was the evening of the day before Madame was to come-I met her where she could not avoid me, by the Constable's Tower, and alone. I took my courage in my hands and faced her, warning her of her peril in what delicate words I could find. Alas, I made nothing of it. A scornful jest at me and my righteousness (of which, said she, all London had been talking a little while back) was the first shot from her battery. The mention of the Duke's name brought a blush and a mischievous smile, as she answered:

"Shouldn't I make a fine Duchess, Mr Dale?"

"Ay, if he made you one," said I with gloomy bluntness.

"You insult me, sir," she cried, and the flush on her face deepened.

"Then I do in few words what his Grace does in many," I retorted.

I went about it like a dolt, I do not doubt. For she flew out at me, demanding in what esteem I held her, and in what her birth fell short of Anne Hyde's-"who is now Duchess of York, and in whose service I have the honour to be."

"Is that your pattern?" I asked. "Will the King interpose for you as he did for the daughter of Lord Clarendon?"

She tossed her head, answering:

"Perhaps so much interference will not be needed."

"And does my Lord Carford share these plans of yours?" I asked with a sneer.

The question touched her; she flushed again, but gave way not an inch.

"Lord Carford has done me much honour, as you know," said she, "but he wouldn't stand in my way here."

"Indeed he doesn't!" I cried. "Nor in his Grace's!"

"Have you done, sir?" says she most scornfully.

"I have done, madame," said I, and on she swept.

"Yet you shall come to no harm," I added to myself as I watched her proud free steps carry her away. She also, it seemed, had her dream; I hoped that no more than hurt pride and a heart for the moment sore would come of it. Yet if the flatteries of princes pleased, she was to be better pleased soon, and the Duke of Monmouth seem scarcely higher to her than Simon Dale.

Then came Madame in the morning from Dunkirk, escorted by the Vice-Admiral, and met above a mile from the coast by the King in his barge; the Duke of York, Prince Rupert, and my Duke (on whom, I attended) accompanying His Majesty. Madame seemed scarcely as beautiful as I had heard, although of a very high air and most admirable carriage and address; and my eyes, prone, I must confess, to seek the fairest face, wandered from hers to a lady who stood near, gifted with a delicate and alluring, yet childish, beauty, who gazed on the gay scene with innocent interest and a fresh enjoyment. Madame, having embraced her kinsmen, presented the lady to His Majesty by the name of Mademoiselle Louise Renée de Perrencourt de Quérouaille (the name was much shortened by our common folk in later days), and the King kissed her hand, saying that he was rejoiced to see her-as indeed he seemed to be, if a man might judge by the time he spent in looking at her, and the carelessness with which he greeted the others in attendance on Madame.

"And these are all who come with you, sister?" he asked.

She answered him clearly, almost loudly:

"Except a gentleman who is to join me from Calais to-morrow, with messages from the King."

I heard no more, being forced to move away and leave the royal group alone. I had closely examined all who came. For in the presence of Madame I read Je viens, in our King's, Tu viens; but I saw none whose coming would make the tidings Il vient worthy of a special messenger to London. But there was a gentleman to arrive from Calais. I had enough curiosity to ask M. le Comte d'Albon, who (with his wife) accompanied Madame and stood by me on deck as we returned to land, who this gentleman might be.

"He is called M. de Perrencourt," the Count replied, "and is related remotely to the lady whom you saw with Madame."

I was disappointed, or rather checked. Was M. de Perrencourt so important that they wrote Il vient about him and sent the tidings to London?

After some time, when we were already coming near to shore, I observed Madame leave the King and go walking to and fro on the deck in company with Monmouth. He was very merry and she was very gracious; I amused myself with watching so handsome and well-matched a pair. I did not wonder that my Duke was in a mighty good temper, for, even had she been no Princess, her company was such as would please a man's pride and content his fancy. So I leant against the mast, thinking it a pity that they troubled their pretty heads with Dutch wars and the like tiresome matters, and were not content to ornament the world, leaving its rule to others. But presently I saw the Duke point towards me, and Madame's glance follow his finger; he talked to her again and both laughed. Then, just as we came by the landing-stage, she laid her hand on his arm, as though in command. He laughed again, shrugging his shoulders, then raised his hand and beckoned to me. Now I, while watching, had been most diligent in seeming not to watch, and it needed a second and unmistakable signal from his Grace before I hastened up, hat in hand. Madame was laughing, and, as I came, I heard her say, "Yes, but I will speak to him." The Duke, with another shrug, bade me come near, and in due form presented me. She gave me her hand to kiss, saying with a smile that showed her white teeth,

"Sir, I asked to be shown the most honest man in Dover, and my cousin Monmouth has brought you to me."

I perceived that Monmouth, seeking how to entertain her, had not scrupled to press me into his service. This I could not resent, and since I saw that she was not too dull to be answered in the spirit of her address, I made her a low bow and said:

"His Grace, Madame, conceived you to mean in Dover Castle. The townsmen, I believe, are very honest."

"And you, though the most honest in the Castle, are not very honest?"

"I take what I find, Madame," I answered.

"So M. Colbert tells me," she said with a swift glance at me. "Yet it's not always worth taking."

"I keep it, in case it should become so," I answered, for I guessed that Colbert had told her of my encounter with M. de Fontelles; if that were so, she might have a curiosity to see me without the added inducement of Monmouth's malicious stories.

"Not if it be a secret? No man keeps that," she cried.

"He may, if he be not in love, Madame."

"But are you that monster, Mr Dale?" said she. "Shame on the ladies of my native land! Yet I'm glad! For, if you're not in love, you'll be more ready to serve me, perhaps."

"Mr Dale, Madame, is not incapable of falling in love," said Monmouth with a bow. "Don't try his virtue too much."

"He shall fall in love then with Louise," she cried.

Monmouth made a grimace, and the Duchess suddenly fell to laughing, as she glanced over her shoulder towards the King, who was busily engaged in conversation with Mlle. de Quérouaille.

"Indeed, no!" I exclaimed with a fervour that I had not intended. No more of that part of Betty Nasroth's prophecy for me, and the King's attentions were already pa

rticular. "But if I can serve your Royal Highness, I am body and soul at your service."

"Body and soul?" said she. "Ah, you mean saving-what is it? Haven't you reservations?"

"His Grace has spared me nothing," said I, with a reproachful glance at Monmouth.

"The more told of you the better you're liked, Simon," said he kindly. "See, Madame, we're at the landing, and there's a crowd of loyal folk to greet you."

"I know the loyalty of the English well," said she in a low voice and with a curling lip. "They have their reservations like Mr Dale. Ah, you're speaking, Mr Dale?"

"To myself, Madame," I answered, bowing profoundly. She laughed, shaking her head at me, and passed on. I was glad she did not press me, for what I had said was, "Thank God," and I might likely enough have told a lie if she had put me to the question.

That night the King entertained his sister at a great banquet in the hall of the Castle, where there was much drinking of toasts, and much talk of the love that the King of France had for the King of England, and our King for the other King, and we for the French (whereas we hated them) and they for us (although they wasted no kindness on us); but at least every man got as much wine as he wanted, and many of them more than they had fair occasion for; and among these last I must count the Duke of Monmouth. For after the rest had risen from table he sat there still, calling Carford to join him, and even bidding me sit down by his side. Carford seemed in no haste to get him away, although very anxious to relieve me of my post behind his chair, but at last, by dint of upbraiding them both, I prevailed on Carford to offer his arm and the Duke to accept it, while I supported him on the other side. Thus we set out for his Grace's quarters, making a spectacle sad enough to a moralist, but too ordinary at Court for any remark to be excited by it. Carford insisted that he could take the Duke alone; I would not budge. My lord grew offensive, hinting of busybodies who came between the Duke and his friends. Pushed hard, I asked the Duke himself if I should leave him. He bade me stay, swearing that I was an honest fellow and no Papist, as were some he knew. I saw Carford start; his Grace saw nothing save the entrance of his chamber, and that not over-plainly. But we got him in, and into a seat, and the door shut. Then he called for more wine, and Carford at once brought it to him and pledged him once and again, Monmouth drinking deep.

"He's had more than he can carry already," I whispered. Carford turned straight to the Duke, crying, "Mr Dale here says that your Grace is drunk." He made nothing by the move, for the Duke answered good-humouredly,

"Truly I am drunk, but in the legs only, my good Simon. My head is clear, clear as daylight, or the--" He looked round cunningly, and caught each of us by the arm. "We're good Protestants here?" he asked with a would-be shrewd, wine-muddled glance.

"Sound and true, your Grace," said Carford. Then he whispered to me, "Indeed I think he's ill. Pray run for the King's physician, Mr Dale."

"Nay, he'd do well enough if he were alone with me. If you desire the physician's presence, my lord, he's easy to find."

I cared not a jot for Carford's anger, and was determined not to give ground. But we had no more time for quarrelling.

"I am as loyal-as loyal to my father as any man in the kingdom," said the Duke in maudlin confidence. "But you know what's afoot?"

"A new war with the Dutch, I'm told, sir," said I.

"A fig for the Dutch! Hush, we must speak low, there may be Papists about. There are some in the Castle, Carford. Hush, hush! Some say my uncle's one, some say the Secretary's one. Gentlemen, I-I say no more. Traitors have said that my father is--"

Carford interrupted him.

"Don't trouble your mind with these slanders, sir," he urged.

"I won't believe it. I'll stand by my father. But if the Duke of York-But I'll say no more." His head fell on his breast. But in a moment he sprang to his feet, crying, "But I'm a Protestant. Yes, and I'm the King's son." He caught Carford by the arm, whispering, "Not a word of it. I'm ready. We know what's afoot. We're loyal to the King; we must save him. But if we can't-if we can't, isn't there one who-who--?"

He lost his tongue for an instant. We stood looking at him, till he spoke again. "One who would be a Protestant King?"

He spoke the last words loud and fiercely; it was the final effort, and he sank back in his chair in a stupor. Carford gave a hasty glance at his face.

"I'll go for the physician," he cried. "His Grace may need blood-letting."

I stepped between him and the door as he advanced.

"His Grace needs nothing," said I, "except the discretion of his friends. We've heard foolish words that we should not have heard to-night, my lord."

"I am sure they're safe with you," he answered.

"And with you?" I retorted quickly.

He drew himself up haughtily.

"Stand aside, sir, and let me pass."

"Where are you going?"

"To fetch the physician. I'll answer none of your questions."

I could not stop him without an open brawl, and that I would not encounter, for it could lead only to my own expulsion. Yet I was sure that he would go straight to Arlington, and that every word the Duke had spoken would be carried to York, and perhaps to the King, before next morning. The King would be informed, if it were thought possible to prejudice him against his son; York, at least, would be warned of the mad scheme which was in the young Duke's head. I drew aside and with a surly bow let Carford pass. He returned my salutation with an equal economy of politeness, and left me alone with Monmouth, who had now sunk into a heavy and uneasy sleep. I roused him and got him to bed, glad to think that his unwary tongue would be silent for a few hours at least. Yet what he had said brought me nearer to the secret and the mystery. There was indeed more afoot than the war with the Dutch. There was, if I mistook not, a matter that touched the religion of the King. Monmouth, whose wits were sharp enough, had gained scent of it; the wits went out as the wine went in, and he blurted out what he suspected, robbing his knowledge of all value by betraying its possession. Our best knowledge lies in what we are not known to know.

I repaired, thoughtful and disturbed, to my own small chamber, next the Duke's; but the night was fine and I had no mind for sleep. I turned back again and made my way on to the wall, where it faces towards the sea. The wind was blowing fresh and the sound of the waves filled my ears. No doubt the same sound hid the noise of my feet, for when I came to the wall, I passed unheeded by three persons who stood in a group together. I knew all and made haste to pass by; the man was the King himself, the lady on his right was Mistress Barbara; in the third I recognised Madame's lady, Louise de Quérouaille. I proceeded some distance farther till I was at the end of the wall nearest the sea. There I took my stand, looking not at the sea but covertly at the little group. Presently two of them moved away; the third curtseyed low but did not accompany them. When they were gone, she turned and leant on the parapet of the wall with clasped hands. Drawn by some impulse, I moved towards her. She was unconscious of my approach until I came quite near to her; then she turned on me a face stained with tears and pale with agitation and alarm. I stood before her, speechless, and she found no words in which to address me. I was too proud to force my company on her, and made as though to pass with a bow; but her face arrested me.

"What ails you, Mistress Barbara?" I cried impetuously. She smoothed her face to composure as she answered me:

"Nothing, sir." Then she added carelessly, "Unless it be that sometimes the King's conversation is too free for my liking."

"When you want me, I'm here," I said, answering not her words but the frightened look that there was in her eyes.

For an instant I seemed to see in her an impulse to trust me and to lay bare what troubled her. The feeling passed; her face regained its natural hue, and she said petulantly,

"Why, yes, it seems fated that you should always be there, Simon, yet Betty Nasroth said nothing of it."

"It may be well for you that I'm here," I answered hotly; for her scorn stirred me to say what I should have left unsaid.

I do not know how she would have answered, for at the moment we heard a shout from the watchman who stood looking over the sea. He hailed a boat that came prancing over the waves; a light answered his signal. Who came to the Castle? Barbara's eyes and mine sought the ship; we did not know the stranger, but he was expected; for a minute later Darrell ran quickly by us with an eager look on his face; with him was the Count d'Albon, who had come with Madame, and Depuy, the Duke of York's servant. They went by at the top of their speed and in visible excitement. Barbara forgot her anger and haughtiness in fresh girlish interest.

"Who can it be?" she cried, coming so near to me that her sleeve touched mine, and leaning over the wall towards where the ship's black hull was to be seen far below in the moonlight by the jetty.

"Doubtless it's the gentleman whom Madame expects," said I.

Many minutes passed, but through them Barbara and I stood silent side by side. Then the party came back through the gate, which had been opened for them. Depuy walked first, carrying a small trunk; two or three servants followed with more luggage; then came Darrell in company with a short man who walked with a bold and confident air. The rest passed us, and the last pair approached. Now Darrell saw Mistress Barbara and doffed his hat to her. The new-comer did the like and more; he halted immediately opposite to us and looked curiously at her, sparing a curious glance for me. I bowed; she waited unmoved until the gentleman said to Darrell,

"Pray present me."

"This, madame," said Darrell, in whose voice there was a ring of excitement and tremulous agitation, "is M. de Perrencourt, who has the honour of serving Her Royal Highness the Duchess. This lady, sir, is Mistress Barbara Quinton, maid of honour to the Duchess of York, and now in attendance on Madame."

Barbara made a curtsey, M. de Perrencourt bowed. His eyes were fixed on her face; he studied her openly and fearlessly, yet the regard was difficult to resent, it was so calm, assured, and dignified. It seemed beyond challenge, if not beyond reproach. I stood by in silence, angry at a scrutiny so prolonged, but without title to interfere.

"I trust, madame, that we shall be better acquainted," he said at last, and with a lingering look at her face passed on. I turned to her; she was gazing after him with eager eyes. My presence seemed forgotten; I would not remind her of it; I turned away in silence, and hastened after Darrell and his companion. The curve of the wall hid them from my sight, but I quickened my pace; I gained on them, for now I heard their steps ahead; I ran round the next corner, for I was ablaze with curiosity to see more of this man, who came at so strange an hour and yet was expected, who bore himself so loftily, and yet was but a gentleman-in-waiting as I was. Round the next corner I should come in sight of him. Round I went, and I came plump into the arms of my good friend Darrell, who stood there, squarely across the path!

"Whither away, Simon?" said he coldly.

I halted, stood still, looked him in the face. He met my gaze with a calm, self-controlled smile.

"Why," said I, "I'm on my way to bed, Darrell. Let me pass, I beg you."

"A moment later will serve," said he.

"Not a moment," I replied testily, and caught him by the arm. He was stiff as a rock, but I put out my strength and in another instant should have thrown him aside. But he cried in a loud angry voice,

"By the King's orders, no man is to pass this way."

Amazed, I fell back. But over his head, some twenty yards from us, I saw two men embracing one another warmly. Nobody else was near; Darrell's eyes were fixed on me, and his hand detained me in an eager grasp. But I looked hard at the pair there ahead of me; there was a cloud over the moon now, in a second it passed. The next moment the two had turned their backs and were walking off together. Darrell, seeing my fixed gaze, turned also. His face was pale, as if with excitement, but he spoke in cool, level tones.

"It's only M. Colbert greeting M. de Perrencourt," said he.

"Ah, of course!" I cried, turning to him with a smile. "But where did M. Colbert get that Star?" For the glitter of the decoration had caught my eye, as it sparkled in the moonlight.

There was a pause before Darrell answered. Then he said,

"The King gave him his own Star to-night, in compliment to Madame."

And in truth M. Colbert wore that Star when he walked abroad next morning, and professed much gratitude for it to the King. I have wondered since whether he should not have thanked a humbler man. Had I not seen the Star on the breast of the gentleman who embraced M. de Perrencourt, should I have seen it on the breast of M. Colbert de Croissy? In truth I doubt it.

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