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   Chapter 12 THE DEFERENCE OF HIS GRACE THE DUKE

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 26552

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Certainly he had some strange ways, this M. de Perrencourt. It was not enough for him to arrive by night, nor to have his meeting with M. Colbert (whose Star Darrell made me observe most particularly next morning) guarded from intruding eyes by the King's own order. He shewed a predilection for darkness and was visible in the daytime only in Madame's apartment, or when she went to visit the King. The other French gentlemen and ladies manifested much curiosity concerning the town and the neighbourhood, and with Madame and the Duke of Monmouth at their head took part in many pleasant excursions. In a day or two the Queen also and the Duchess of York came from London, and the doings grew more gay and merry. But M. de Perrencourt was not to be tempted; no pastimes, no jaunts allured him; he did not put his foot outside the walls of the Castle, and was little seen inside it. I myself did not set eyes on him for two days after my first sight of him; but after that I beheld him fairly often, and the more I saw him the more I wondered. Of a truth his retiring behaviour was dictated by no want of assurance nor by undue modesty; he was not abashed in the presence of the great and bore himself as composedly before the King as in the presence of a lackey. It was plain, too, that he enjoyed Madame's confidence in no common degree, for when affairs of State were discussed and all withdrew saving Madame, her brothers and the Secretary (even the Duke of Monmouth not being admitted), the last we saw as we made our bows and backed out of the doorway would be M. de Perrencourt standing in an easy and unconstrained attitude behind Madame's chair and manifesting no overpowering sense of the signal honour paid to him by the permission to remain. As may be supposed, a theory sprang up to account for the curious regard this gentleman commanded; it was put about (some said that Lord Arlington himself gave his authority for the report) that M. de Perrencourt was legal guardian to his cousin Mlle. de Quérouaille, and that the King had discovered special reasons for conciliating the gentleman by every means, and took as much pains to please him as to gain favour with the lady herself. Here was a good reason for M. de Perrencourt's distinguished treatment, and no less for the composure and calm with which M. de Perrencourt accepted it. To my mind, however, the manner of M. de Perrencourt's arrival and the incident of M. Colbert's Star found scarcely a sufficient explanation in this ingenious conjecture; yet the story, thus circulated, was generally accepted and served its office of satisfying curiosity and blunting question well enough.

Again (for my curiosity would not be satisfied, nor the edge of my questioning be turned)-what had the Duke of Monmouth to gain from M. de Perrencourt? Something it seemed, or his conduct was most mysterious. He cared nothing for Mlle. de Quérouaille, and I could not suppose that the mere desire to please his father would have weighed with him so strongly as to make him to all appearance the humble servant of this French gentleman. The thing was brought home most forcibly to my mind on the third evening after M. de Perrencourt's arrival. A private conference was held and lasted some hours; outside the closed doors we all paced to and fro, hearing nothing save now and then Madame's clear voice, raised, as it seemed, in exhortation or persuasion. The Duke, who was glad enough to escape the tedium of State affairs but at the same time visibly annoyed at his exclusion, sauntered listlessly up and down, speaking to nobody. Perceiving that he did not desire my company, I withdrew to a distance, and, having seated myself in a retired corner, was soon lost in consideration of my own fortunes past and to come. The hour grew late; the gentlemen and ladies of the Court, having offered and accepted compliments and gallantries till invention and complaisance alike were exhausted, dropped off one by one, in search of supper, wine, or rest. I sat on in my corner. Nothing was to be heard save the occasional voices of the two musketeers on guard on the steps leading from the second storey of the keep to the State apartments. I knew that I must move soon, for at night the gate on the stairs was shut. It was another of the peculiar facts about M. de Perrencourt that he alone of the gentlemen-in-waiting had been lodged within the precincts of the royal quarters, occupying an apartment next to the Duke of York, who had his sister Madame for his neighbour on the other side. The prolonged conference was taking place in the King's cabinet farther along the passage.

Suddenly I heard steps on the stairs, the word of the night was asked, and Monmouth's voice made answer "Saint Denis"; for just now everything was French in compliment to Madame. The steps continued to ascend; the light in the corridor was very dim, but a moment later I perceived Monmouth and Carford. Carford's arm was through his Grace's, and he seemed to be endeavouring to restrain him. Monmouth shook him off with a laugh and an oath.

"I'm not going to listen," he cried. "Why should I listen? Do I want to hear the King praying to the Virgin?"

"Silence, for God's sake, silence, your Grace," implored Carford.

"That's what he does, isn't it? He, and the Queen's Chaplain, and the--"

"Pray, sir!"

"And our good M. de Perrencourt, then?" He burst into a bitter laugh as he mentioned the gentleman's name.

I had heard more than was meant for my ears, and what was enough (if I may use a distinction drawn by my old friend the Vicar) for my understanding. I was in doubt whether to declare my presence or not. Had Monmouth been alone, I would have shown myself directly, but I did not wish Carford to be aware that I had overheard so much. I sat still a moment longer in hesitation; then I uttered a loud yawn, groaned, stretched myself, rose to my feet, and gave a sudden and very obvious start, as I let my eyes fall on the Duke.

"Why, Simon," he cried, "what brings you here?"

"I thought your Grace was in the King's cabinet," I answered.

"But you knew that I left them some hours since."

"Yes, but having lost sight of your Grace, I supposed that you'd returned, and while waiting for you I fell asleep."

My explanation abundantly satisfied the Duke; Carford maintained a wary silence.

"We're after other game than conferences to-night," said Monmouth, laughing again. "Go down to the hall and wait there for me, Simon. My lord and I are going to pay a visit to the ladies of Madame and the Duchess of York."

I saw that he was merry with wine; Carford had been drinking too, but he grew only more glum and malicious with his liquor. Neither their state nor the hour seemed fitted for the visit the Duke spoke of, but I was helpless, and with a bow took my way down the stairs to the hall below, where I sat down on the steps that led up to one of the loop-holes. A great chair, standing by the wall, served to hide me from observation. For a few moments nothing occurred. Then I heard a loud burst of laughter from above. Feet came running down the steps into the hall, and a girl in a white dress darted across the floor. I heard her laugh, and knew that she was Barbara Quinton. An instant later came Monmouth hot on her heels, and imploring her in extravagant words not to be so cruel and heartless as to fly from him. But where was Carford? I could only suppose that my lord had the discretion to stay behind when the Duke of Monmouth desired to speak with the lady whom my lord sought for his wife.

In my humble judgment, a very fine, large, and subtle volume might be composed on the canons of eavesdropping-when a man may listen, when he may not, and for how long he may, to what end, for what motives, in what causes, and on what provocations. It may be that the Roman Divines, who, as I understand, are greatly adept in the science of casuistry, have accomplished already the task I indicate. I know not; at least I have nowhere encountered the result of their labours. But now I sat still behind the great chair and listened without doubt or hesitation. Yet how long I could have controlled myself I know not, for his Grace made light of scruples that night and set bounds at nought. At first Mistress Barbara was merry with him, fencing and parrying, in confidence that he would use no roughness nor an undue vehemence. But on he went; and presently a note of alarm sounded in her voice as she prayed him to suffer her to depart and return to the Duchess, who must have need of her.

"Nay, I won't let you go, sweet mistress. Rather, I can't let you go."

"Indeed, sir, I must go," she said. "Come, I will call my Lord Carford, to aid me in persuading your Grace."

He laughed at the suggestion that a call for Carford would hinder him.

"He won't come," he said; "and if he came, he would be my ally, not yours."

She answered now haughtily and coldly:

"Sir, Lord Carford is a suitor for my hand. It is in your Grace's knowledge that he is."

"But he thinks a hand none the worse because I've kissed it," retorted Monmouth. "You don't know how amiable a husband you're to have, Mistress Barbara."

I was on my feet now, and, peering round the chair which hid me from them, I could see her standing against the wall, with Monmouth opposite to her. He offered to seize her hand, but she drew it away sharply. With a laugh he stepped nearer to her. A slight sound caught my ear, and, turning my head, I saw Carford on the lowest step of the stairs; he was looking at the pair, and a moment later stepped backwards, till he was almost hidden from my sight, though I could still make out the shape of his figure. A cry of triumph from Monmouth echoed low but intense through the hall; he had caught the elusive hand and was kissing it passionately. Barbara stood still and stiff. The Duke, keeping her hand still in his, said mockingly:

"You pretty fool, would you refuse fortune? Hark, madame, I am a King's son."

I saw no movement in her, but the light was dim. He went on, lowering his voice a little, yet not much.

"And I may be a King; stranger things have come to pass. Wouldn't you like to be a Queen?" He laughed as he put the question; he lacked the care or the cunning to make even a show of honesty.

"Let me go," I heard her whisper in a strained, timid voice.

"Well, for to-night you shall go, sweetheart, but not without a kiss, I swear."

She was frightened now and sought to propitiate him, saying gently and with attempted lightness,

"Your Grace has my hand prisoner. You can work your will on it."

"Your hand! I mean your lips this time," he cried in audacious insolence. He came nearer to her, his arm crept round her waist. I had endured what I could, yes, and as long as I could; for I was persuaded that I could serve her better by leaving her unaided for the moment. But my limit was reached; I stepped out from behind the chair. But in an instant I was back again. Monmouth had paused; in one hand he held Barbara's hand, the other rested on her girdle, but he turned his head and looked at the stairs. Voices had come from there; he had heard them as I had, as Barbara had.

"You can't pass out," had come in a blustering tone from Carford.

"Stand aside, sir," was the answer in a calm, imperative voice.

Carford hesitated for a single instant, then he seemed to shrink away, making himself small and leaving free passage for a man who came down the steps and walked confidently and briskly across the hall towards where the Duke stood with Barbara.

Above us, at the top of the stairs, there were the sound of voices and the tread of feet. The conference was broken up and the parties to it were talking in the passage on their way to regain their own apartments. I paid no heed to them; my eyes were fixed on the intruder who came so boldly and unabashed up to the Duke. I knew him now; he was M. de Perrencourt, Madame's gentleman.

Without wavering or pausing, straight he walked. Monmouth seemed turned to stone; I could see his face set and rigid, although light failed me to catch that look in the eyes by which you may best know a man's mood. Not a sound or a motion came from Carford. Barbara herself was stiff and still, her regard bent on M. de Perrencourt. He stood now directly over against her and Monmouth; it seemed long before he spoke. Indeed, I had looked for Monmouth's voice first, for an oath of vexation at the interruption, for a curse on the intruder and a haughty order to him to be gone and not interfere with what concerned his betters. No such word, nor any words, issued from the mouth of the Duke. And still M. de Perrencourt was silent. Carford stole covertly from the steps nearer to the group until, gliding across the hall, he was almost at the Frenchman's elbow. Still M. de Perrencourt was silent.

Slowly and reluctantly, as though in deference to an order that he loathed but dared not disobey, Monmouth drew his arm away; he loosed Barbara's hand, she drew back, leaning against the wall; the Duke stood with his arms by his side, looking at the man who interrupted his sport and seemed to have power to control his will. Then, at last, in crisp, curt, ungracious

tones, M. de Perrencourt spoke.

"I thank you, Monsieur le Duc," said he. "I was sure that you would perceive your error soon. This is not the lady you supposed, this is Mistress Quinton. I desire to speak with her, pray give me leave."

The King would not have spoken in this style to his pampered son, and the Duke of York himself dared not have done it. But no touch of uneasiness or self-distrust appeared in M. de Perrencourt's smooth cutting speech. Truly he was high in Madame's confidence, and, likely enough, a great man in his own country; but, on my life, I looked to see the hot-tempered Duke strike him across the face. Even I, who had been about to interfere myself, by some odd momentary turn of feeling resented the insolence with which Monmouth was assailed. Would he not resent it much more for himself? No. For an instant I heard his quick breathing, the breathing of a man who fights anger, holding it under with great labour and struggling. Then he spoke; in his voice also there was passion hard held.

"Here, sir, and everywhere," he said, "you have only to command to be obeyed." Slowly he bent his head low, the gesture matching the humility of his words, while it emphasised their unwillingness.

The strange submission won no praise. M. de Perrencourt did not accord the speech so much courtesy as lay in an answer. His silent slight bow was all his acknowledgment; he stood there waiting for his command to be obeyed.

Monmouth turned once towards Barbara, but his eyes came back to M. de Perrencourt. Carford advanced to him and offered his arm. The Duke laid his hand on his friend's shoulder. For a moment they stood still thus, then both bowed low to M. de Perrencourt, who answered with another of his slight inclinations of the head. They turned and walked out of the hall, the Duke seeming almost to stagger and to lean on Carford, as though to steady his steps. As they went they passed within two yards of me, and I saw Monmouth's face pale with rage. With a long indrawing of my breath I drew back into the shadow of my shelter. They passed, the hall was empty save for myself and the two who stood there by the wall.

I had no thought now of justifying my part of eavesdropper. Scruples were drowned in excitement; keen interest bound me to my place with chains of iron. My brain was full of previous suspicion thrice magnified; all that was mysterious in this man came back to me; the message I had surprised at Canterbury ran echoing through my head again and again. Yet I bent myself to the task of listening, resolute to catch every word. Alas, my efforts were in vain! M. de Perrencourt was of different clay from his Grace the Duke. He was indeed speaking now, but so low and warily that no more than a gentle murmur reached my ears. Nor did his gestures aid; they were as far from Monmouth's jovial violence as his tones from the Duke's reckless exclaiming. He was urgent but courteous, most insistent yet most deferential. Monmouth claimed and challenged, M. de Perrencourt seemed to beseech and woo. Yet he asked as though none could refuse, and his prayer presumed a favourable answer. Barbara listened in quiet; I could not tell whether fear alone bound her, or whether the soft courtly voice bred fascination also. I was half-mad that I could not hear, and had much ado not to rush out, unprovoked, and defy the man before whom my master had bowed almost to the ground, beaten and dismayed.

At last she spoke a few hurried imploring words.

"No, no," she panted. "No; pray leave me. No."

M. de Perrencourt answered gently and beseechingly,

"Nay, say 'Not yet,' madame."

They were silent again, he seeming to regard her intently. Suddenly she covered her face with her hands; yet, dropping her hands almost immediately, she set her eyes on his; I saw him shake his head.

"For to-night, then, good-night, fairest lady," said he. He took her hand and kissed it lightly, bowing very low and respectfully, she looking down at him as he stooped. Then he drew away from her, bowing again and repeating again,

"For to-night, good-night."

With this he turned towards the stairs, crossing the hall with the same brisk, confident tread that had marked his entry. He left her, but it looked as though she were indulged, not he defeated. At the lowest step he paused, turned, bowed low again. This time she answered with a deep and sweeping curtsey. Then he was gone, and she was leaning by the wall again, her face buried in her hands. I heard her sob, and her broken words reached me:

"What shall I do? Oh, what shall I do?"

At once I stepped out from the hiding-place that had shown me such strange things, and, crossing to her, hat in hand, answered her sad desolate question.

"Why, trust in your friends, Mistress Barbara," said I cheerily. "What else can any lady do?"

"Simon!" she cried eagerly, and as I thought gladly; for her hand flew out to mine. "You, here?"

"And at your service always," said I.

"But have you been here? Where did you come from?"

"Why, from across the hall, behind the chair there," I answered. "I've been there a long while back. His Grace told me to wait in the hall, and in the hall I waited, though the Duke, having other things to think of, forgot both his order and his servant."

"Then you heard?" she asked in a whisper.

"All, I think, that the Duke said. Lord Carford said nothing. I was about to interrupt his Grace when the task was better performed for me. I think, madame, you owe some thanks to M. de Perrencourt."

"You heard what he said?"

"The last few words only," I answered regretfully.

She looked at me for an instant, and then said with a dreary little smile,

"I'm to be grateful to M. de Perrencourt?"

"I know no other man who could or would have rid you of the Duke so finely. Besides, he appeared to treat you with much courtesy."

"Courtesy, yes!" she cried, but seemed to check herself. She was still in great agitation, and a moment later she covered her face and I heard her sob again.

"Come, take heart," said I. "The Duke's a great man, of course; but no harm shall come to you, Mistress Barbara. Your father bade me have my services in readiness for you, and although I didn't need his order as a spur, I may pray leave to use it as an excuse for thrusting myself on you."

"Indeed I-I'm glad to see you, Simon. But what shall I do? Ah, Heaven, why did I ever come to this place?"

"That can be mended by leaving it, madame."

"But how? How can I leave it?" she asked despairingly.

"The Duchess will grant you leave."

"Without the King's consent?"

"But won't the King consent? Madame will ask for you; she's kind."

"Madame won't ask for me; nobody will ask for me."

"Then if leave be impossible, we must go without leave, if you speak the word."

"Ah, you don't know," she said sadly. Then she caught my hand again and whispered hurriedly and fearfully: "I'm afraid, Simon. I-I fear him. What can I do? How can I resist? They can do what they will with me, what can I do? If I weep, they laugh; if I try to laugh, they take it for consent. What can I do?"

There is nothing that so binds a man to a woman as to feel her hand seeking his in weakness and appeal. I had thought that one day so Barbara's might seek mine and I should exult in it, nay, might even let her perceive my triumph. The thing I had dreamed of was come, but where was my exultation? There was a choking in my throat and I swallowed twice before I contrived to answer:

"What can we do, you mean, Mistress Barbara."

"Alas, alas," she cried, between tears and laughter, "what can we-even we-do, Simon?"

I noticed that she called me Simon, as in the old days before my apostacy and great offence. I was glad of it, for if I was to be of service to her we must be friends. Suddenly she said,

"You know what it means-I can't tell you; you know?"

"Aye, I know," said I, "none better. But the Duke shan't have his way."

"The Duke? If it were only the Duke-Ah!" She stopped, a new alarm in her eyes. She searched my face eagerly. Of deliberate purpose I set it to an immutable stolidity.

"Already he's very docile," said I. "See how M. de Perrencourt turned and twisted him, and sent him off crestfallen."

She laid her hand on my arm.

"If I might tell you," she said, "a thing that few know here; none but the King and his near kindred and one or two more."

"But how came you to know of it?" I interrupted.

"I-I also came to know it," she murmured.

"There are many ways of coming to know a thing," said I. "One is by being told; another, madame, is by finding out. Certainly it was amazing how M. de Perrencourt dealt with his Grace; ay, and with my Lord Carford, who shrank out of his path as though he had been-a King." I let my tones give the last word full effect.

"Simon," she whispered in eagerness mingled with alarm, "Simon, what are you saying? Silence for your life!"

"My life, madame, is rooted too deep for a syllable to tear it up. I said only 'as though he had been a king.' Tell me why M. Colbert wears the King's Star. Was it because somebody saw a gentleman wearing the King's Star embrace and kiss M. de Perrencourt the night that he arrived?"

"It was you?"

"It was I, madame. Tell me on whose account three messengers went to London, carrying the words 'Il vient.'"

She was hanging to my arm now, full of eagerness.

"And tell me now what M. de Perrencourt said to you. A plague on him, he spoke so low that I couldn't hear!"

A blush swept over her face; her eyes, losing the fire of excitement, dropped in confusion to the ground.

"I can't tell you," she murmured.

"Yet I know," said I. "And if you'll trust me, madame--"

"Ah, Simon, you know I trust you."

"Yet you were angry with me."

"Not angry-I had no right-I mean I had no cause to be angry. I-I was grieved."

"You need be grieved no longer, madame."

"Poor Simon!" said she very gently. I felt the lightest pressure on my hand, the touch of two slim fingers, speaking of sympathy and comradeship.

"By God, I'll bring you safe out of it," I cried.

"But how, how? Simon, I fear that he has--"

"The Duke?"

"No, the-the other-M. de Perrencourt; he has set his heart on-on what he told me."

"A man may set his heart on a thing and yet not win it," said I grimly.

"Yes, a man-yes, Simon, I know; a man may--"

"Ay, and even a--"

"Hush, hush! If you were overheard-your life wouldn't be safe if you were overheard."

"What do I care?"

"But I care!" she cried, and added very hastily, "I'm selfish. I care, because I want your help."

"You shall have it. Against the Duke of Monmouth, and against the--"

"Ah, be careful!"

I would not be careful. My blood was up. My voice was loud and bold as I gave to M. de Perrencourt the name that was his, the name by which the frightened lord and the cowed Duke knew him, the name that gave him entrance to those inmost secret conferences, and yet kept him himself hidden and half a prisoner in the Castle. The secret was no secret to me now.

"Against the Duke of Monmouth," said I sturdily, "and also, if need be, against the King of France."

Barbara caught at my arm in alarm. I laughed, till I saw her finger point warily over my shoulder. With a start I turned and saw a man coming down the steps. In the dim light the bright Star gleamed on his breast. He was M. Colbert de Croissy. He stood on the lowest step, peering at us through the gloom.

"Who speaks of the King of France here?" he said suspiciously.

"I, Simon Dale, gentleman-in-waiting to the Duke of Monmouth, at your Excellency's service," I answered, advancing towards him and making my bow.

"What have you to say of my master?" he demanded.

For a moment I was at a loss; for although my heart was full of things that I should have taken much pleasure in saying concerning His Majesty, they were none of them acceptable to the ears of His Majesty's Envoy. I stood, looking at Colbert, and my eyes fell on the Star that he wore. I knew that I committed an imprudence, but for the life of me I could not withstand the temptation. I made another bow, and, smiling easily, answered M. Colbert.

"I was remarking, sir," said I, "that the compliment paid to you by the King of England in bestowing on you the Star from His Majesty's own breast, could not fail to cause much gratification to the King of France."

He looked me hard in the eyes, but his eyes fell to the ground before mine. I warrant he took nothing by his searching glance, and did well to give up the conflict. Without a word, and with a stiff little bow, he passed on his way to the hall. The moment he was gone, Barbara was by me. Her face was alight with merriment.

"Oh, Simon, Simon!" she whispered reprovingly. "But I love you for it!" And she was gone up the stairs like a flitting moonbeam.

Upon this, having my head full and to spare of many matters, and my heart beating quick with more than one emotion, I thought my bed the best and safest place for me, and repaired to it without delay.

"But I'll have some conversation with M. de Perrencourt to-morrow," said I, as I turned on my pillow and sought to sleep.

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