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   Chapter 13 THE MEED OF CURIOSITY

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 27238

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The next morning my exaltation had gone. I woke a prey to despondency and sickness of soul. Not only did difficulty loom large, and failure seem inevitable, but a disgust for all that surrounded me seized on my mind, displacing the zest of adventure and the excitement of enterprise. But let me not set my virtue too high. It is better to be plain. Old maxims of morality, and a standard of right acknowledged by all but observed by none, have little power over a young man's hot blood; to be stirred to indignation, he must see the wrong threaten one he respects, touch one he loves, or menace his own honour and pride. I had supported the scandals of this Court, of which I made a humble part, with shrugs, smiles, and acid jests; I had felt no dislike for the chief actors, and no horror at the things they did or attempted; nay, for one of them, who might seem to sum up in her own person the worst of all that was to be urged against King and Court, I had cherished a desperate love that bred even in death an obstinate and longing memory. Now a change had come over me; I seemed to see no longer through my own careless eyes, but with the shamed and terrified vision of the girl who, cast into this furnace, caught at my hand as offering her the sole chance to pass unscathed through the fire. They were using her in their schemes, she was to be sacrificed; first she had been chosen as the lure with which to draw forth Monmouth's ambitions from their lair, and reveal them to the spying eyes of York and his tool Carford; if that plan were changed now, she would be no better for the change. The King would and could refuse this M. de Perrencourt (I laughed bitterly as I muttered his name) nothing, however great; without a thought he would fling the girl to him, if the all-powerful finger were raised to ask for her. Charles would think himself well paid by his brother king's complaisance towards his own inclination. Doubtless there were great bargains of policy a-making here in the Castle, and the nature of them I made shift to guess. What was it to throw in a trifle on either side, barter Barbara Quinton against the French lady, and content two Princes at a price so low as the dishonour of two ladies? That was the game; otherwise, whence came M. de Perrencourt's court and Monmouth's deference? The King saw eye to eye with M. de Perrencourt, and the King's son did not venture to thwart him. What matter that men spoke of other loves which the French King had? The gallants of Paris might think us in England rude and ignorant, but at least we had learnt that a large heart was a prerogative of royalty which even the Parliament dared not question. With a new loathing I loathed it all, for it seemed now to lay aside its trappings of pomp and brilliancy, of jest and wit, and display itself before me in ugly nakedness, all unashamed. In sudden frenzy I sat up in my bed, crying, "Heaven will find a way!" For surely heaven could find one, where the devil found so many! Ah, righteous wert thou, Simon Dale, so soon as unrighteousness hurt thee! But Phineas Tate might have preached until the end of time.

Earlier than usual by an hour Jonah Wall came up from the town where he was lodged, but he found me up and dressed, eager to act, ready for what might chance. I had seen little of the fellow lately, calling on him for necessary services only, and ridding myself of his sombre company as quickly as I could. Yet I looked on him to-day with more consideration; his was a repulsive form of righteousness, grim and gloomy, but it was righteousness, or seemed such to me against the background of iniquity which threw it up in strong relief. I spoke to him kindly, but taking no heed of my advances he came straight up to me and said brusquely: "The woman who came to your lodging in London is here in Dover. She bids you be silent and come quickly. I can lead you."

I started and stared at him. I had set "Finis" to that chapter; was fate minded to overrule me and write more? Strange also that Jonah Wall should play Mercury!

"She here in Dover? For what?" I asked as calmly as I could.

"I don't doubt, for sin," he answered uncompromisingly.

"Yet you can lead me to her house?" said I with a smile.

"I can," said he, in sour disregard of my hinted banter.

"I won't go," I declared.

"The matter concerns you, she said, and might concern another."

It was early, the Court would not be moving for two hours yet. I could go and come, and thereby lose no opportunity. Curiosity led me on, and with it the attraction which still draws us to those we have loved, though the love be gone and more pain than pleasure wait on our visiting. In ten minutes I was following Jonah down the cliff, and plunged thence into a narrow street that ran curling and curving towards the sea. Jonah held on quickly, and without hesitation, until we reached a confined alley, and came to a halt before a mean house.

"She's here," said Jonah, pointing to the door and twisting his face as though he was swallowing something nauseous.

I could not doubt of her presence, for I heard her voice singing gaily from within. My heart beat quick, and I had above half a mind not to enter. But she had seen us, and herself flung the door open wide. She lodged on the ground floor; and, in obedience to her beckoning finger, I entered a small room. Lodging was hard to be had in Dover now, and the apartment served her (as the bed, carelessly covered with a curtain, showed) for sleeping and living. I did not notice what became of Jonah, but sat down, puzzled and awkward, in a crazy chair.

"What brings you here?" I blurted out, fixing my eyes on her, as she stood opposite to me, smiling and swaying to and fro a little, with her hands on her hips.

"Even what brings you. My business," she answered. "If you ask more, the King's invitation. Does that grieve you, Simon?"

"No, madame," said I.

"A little, still a little, Simon? Be consoled! The King invited me, but he hasn't come to see me. There lies my business. Why hasn't he come to see me? I hear certain things, but my eyes, though they are counted good if not large, can't pierce the walls of the Castle yonder, and my poor feet aren't fit to pass its threshold."

"You needn't grieve for that," said I sullenly.

"Yet some things I know. As that a French lady is there. Of what appearance is she, Simon?"

"She is very pretty, so far as I've looked at her."

"Ah, and you've a discriminating glance, haven't you? Will she stay long?"

"They say Madame will be here for ten or fourteen days yet."

"And the French lady goes when Madame goes?"

"I don't know as to that."

"Why, nor I neither." She paused an instant. "You don't love Lord Carford?" Her question came abruptly and unlooked for.

"I don't know your meaning." What concern had Carford with the French lady?

"I think you are in the way to learn it. Love makes men quick, doesn't it? Yes, since you ask (your eyes asked), why, I'll confess that I'm a little sorry that you fall in love again. But that by the way. Simon, neither do I love this French lady."

Had it not been for that morning's mood of mine, she would have won on me again, and all my resolutions gone for naught. But she, not knowing the working of my mind, took no pains to hide or to soften what repelled me in her. I had seen it before, and yet loved; to her it would seem strange that because a man saw, he should not love. I found myself sorry for her, with a new and pitiful grief, but passion did not rise in me. And concerning my pity I held my tongue; she would have only wonder and mockery for it. But I think she was vexed to see me so unmoved; it irks a woman to lose a man, however little she may have prized him when he was her own. Nor do I mean to say that we are different from their sex in that; it is, I take it, nature in woman and man alike.

"At least we're friends, Simon," she said with a laugh. "And at least we're Protestants." She laughed again. I looked up with a questioning glance. "And at least we both hate the French," she continued.

"It's true; I have no love for them. What then? What can we do?"

She looked round cautiously, and, coming a little nearer to me, whispered:

"Late last night I had a visitor, one who doesn't love me greatly. What does that matter? We row now in the same boat. I speak of the Duke of Buckingham."

"He is reconciled to my Lord Arlington by Madame's good offices," said I. For so the story ran in the Castle.

"Why, yes, he's reconciled to Arlington as the dog to the cat when their master is by. Now there's a thing that the Duke suspects; and there's another thing that he knows. He suspects that this treaty touches more than war with the Dutch; though that I hate, for war swallows the King's money like a well."

"Some passes the mouth of the well, if report speaks true," I observed.

"Peace, peace! Simon, the treaty touches more."

"A man need not be Duke nor Minister to suspect that," said I.

"Ah, you suspect? The King's religion?" she whispered.

I nodded; the secret was no surprise to me, though I had not known whether Buckingham were in it.

"And what does the Duke of Buckingham know?" I asked.

"Why, that the King sometimes listens to a woman's counsel," said she, nodding her head and smiling very wisely.

"Prodigious sagacity!" I cried. "You told him that, may be?"

"Indeed, he had learnt it before my day, Master Simon. Therefore, should the King turn Catholic, he will be a better Catholic for the society of a Catholic lady. Now this Madame-how do you name her?"

"Mlle. de Quérouaille?"

"Aye. She is a most devout Catholic. Indeed, her devotion to her religion knows no bounds. It's like mine to the King. Don't frown, Simon. Loyalty is a virtue."

"And piety also, by the same rule, and in the same unstinted measure?" I asked bitterly.

"Beyond doubt, sir. But the French King has sent word from Calais--"

"Oh, from Calais! The Duke revealed that to you?" I asked with a smile I could not smother. There was a limit then to the Duke's confidence in his ally; for the Duke had been at Paris and could be no stranger to M. de Perrencourt.

"Yes, he told me all. The King of France has sent word from Calais, where he awaits the signing of the treaty, that the loss of this Madame Quérouaille would rob his Court of beauty, and he cannot be so bereft. And Madame, the Duke says, swears she can't be robbed of her fairest Maid of Honour ('tis a good name that, on my life) and left desolate. But Madame has seen one who might make up the loss, and the King of France, having studied the lady's picture, thinks the same. In fine, Simon, our King feels that he can't be a good Catholic without the counsels of Madame Quérouaille, and the French King feels that he must by all means convert and save so fair a lady as-is the name on your tongue, nay, is it in your heart, Simon?"

"I know whom you mean," I answered, for her revelation came to no more than what I had scented out for myself. "But what says Buckingham to this?"

"Why, that the King mustn't have his way lest he should thereby be confirmed in his Popish inclinations. The Duke is Protestant, as you are-and as I am, so please you."

"Can he hinder it?"

"Aye, if he can hinder the French King from having his way. And for this purpose his Grace has need of certain things."

"Do you carry a message from him to me?"

"I did but say that I knew a gentleman who might supply his needs. They are four; a heart, a head, a hand, and perhaps a sword."

"All men have them, then."

"The first true, the second long, the third strong, and the fourth ready."

"I fear then that I haven't all of them."

"And for reward--"

"I know. His life, if he can come off with it."

Nell burst out laughing.

"He didn't say that, but it may well reckon up to much that figure," she admitted. "You'll think of it, Simon?"

"Think of it? I! Not I!"

"You won't?"

"Or I mightn't attempt it."

"Ah! You will attempt it?"

"Of a certainty."

"You're very ready. Is it all honesty?"

"Is ever anything all honesty, madame-saving your devotion to the King?"

"And the French lady's to her religion?" laughed Nell. "On my soul, I think the picture that the King of France saw was a fair one. Have you looked on it, Simon?"

"On my life I don't love her."

"On my life you will."

"You seek to stop me by that prophecy?"

"I don't care whom you love," said she. Then her face broke into smiles. "What liars women are!" she cried. "Yes, I do care; not enough to grow wrinkled, but enough to wish I hadn't grown half a lady and could--"

"You stop?"

"Could-could-could slap your face, Simon."

"It would be a light infliction after breaking a man's heart," said I, turning my cheek to her and beckoning with my hand.

"You should have a revenge on my face; not in kind, but in kindness. I can't strike a man who won't hit back." She laughed at me with all her old enticing gaiety.

I had almost sealed the bargain; she was so roguish and so pretty. Had we met first then, it is very likely she would have made the offer, and very certain that I should have taken it. But there had been other days; I sighed.

"I loved you too well once to kiss you now, mistress," said I.

"You're mighty strange at times, Simon," said she, sighing also, and lifting her brows. "Now, I'd as lief kiss a man I had loved as any other."

"Or slap his face?"

"If I'd never cared to kiss, I'd never care for the other either. You rise?"

"Why, yes. I h

ave my commission, haven't I?"

"I give you this one also, and yet you keep it?"

"Is that slight not yet forgiven?"

"All is forgiven and all is forgotten-nearly, Simon."

At this instant-and since man is human, woman persistent, and courtesy imperative, I did not quarrel with the interruption-a sound came from the room above, strange in a house where Nell lived (if she will pardon so much candour), but oddly familiar to me. I held up my hand and listened. Nell's rippling laugh broke in.

"Plague on him!" she cried. "Yes, he's here. Of a truth he's resolute to convert me, and the fool amuses me."

"Phineas Tate!" I exclaimed, amazed; for beyond doubt his was the voice. I could tell his intonation of a penitential psalm among a thousand. I had heard it in no other key.

"You didn't know? Yet that other fool, your servant, is always with him. They've been closeted together for two hours at a time."

"Psalm-singing?"

"Now and again. They're often quiet too."

"He preaches to you?"

"Only a little; when we chance to meet at the door he gives me a curse and promises a blessing; no more."

"It's very little to come to Dover for."

"You would have come farther for less of my company once, sir."

It was true, but it did not solve my wonder at the presence of Phineas Tate. What brought the fellow? Had he too sniffed out something of what was afoot and come to fight for his religion, even as Louise de Quérouaille fought for hers, though in a most different fashion?

I had reached the door of the room and was in the passage. Nell came to the threshold and stood there smiling. I had asked no more questions and made no conditions; I knew that Buckingham must not show himself in the matter, and that all was left to me, heart, head, hand, sword, and also that same reward, if I were so lucky as to come by it. I waited for a moment, half expecting that Phineas, hearing my voice, would show himself, but he did not appear. Nell waved her hand to me; I bowed and took my leave, turning my steps back towards the Castle. The Court would be awake, and whether on my own account or for my new commission's sake I must be there.

I had not mounted far before I heard a puffing and blowing behind. The sound proved to come from Jonah Wall, who was toiling after me, laden with a large basket. I had no eagerness for Jonah's society, but rejoiced to see the basket; for my private store of food and wine had run low, and if a man is to find out what he wants to know, it is well for him to have a pasty and a bottle ready for those who can help him.

"What have you there?" I called, waiting for him to overtake me.

He explained that he had been making purchases in the town and I praised his zeal. Then I asked him suddenly:

"And have you visited your friend Mr Tate?"

As I live, the fellow went suddenly pale, and the bottles clinked in his basket from the shaking of his hand. Yet I spoke mildly enough.

"I-I have seen him but once or twice, sir, since I learnt that he was in the town. I thought you did not wish me to see him."

"Nay, you can see him as much as you like, as long as I don't," I answered in a careless tone, but keeping an attentive eye on Jonah. His perturbation seemed strange. If Phineas' business were only the conversion of Mistress Gwyn, what reason had Jonah Wall to go white as Dover cliffs over it?

We came to the Castle and I dismissed him, bidding him stow his load safely in my quarters. Then I repaired to the Duke of Monmouth's apartments, wondering in what mood I should find him after last night's rebuff. Little did he think that I had been a witness of it. I entered his room; he was sitting in his chair, with him was Carford. The Duke's face was as glum and his air as ill-tempered as I could wish. Carford's manner was subdued, calm, and sympathetic. They were talking earnestly as I entered but ceased their conversation at once. I offered my services.

"I have no need of you this morning, Simon," answered the Duke. "I'm engaged with Lord Carford."

I retired. But of a truth that morning every one in the Castle was engaged with someone else. At every turn I came on couples in anxious consultation. The approach of an intruder brought immediate silence, the barest civility delayed him, his departure was received gladly and was signal for renewed consultation. Well, the King sets the mode, and the King, I heard, was closeted with Madame and the Duke of York.

But not with M. de Perrencourt. There was a hundred feet of the wall, with a guard at one end and a guard at the other, and mid-way between them a solitary figure stood looking down on Dover town and thence out to sea. In an instant I recognised him, and a great desire came over me to speak to him. He was the foremost man alive in that day, and I longed to speak with him. To have known the great is to have tasted the true flavour of your times. But how to pass the sentries? Their presence meant that M. de Perrencourt desired privacy. I stepped up to one and offered to pass. He barred the way.

"But I'm in the service of his Grace the Duke of Monmouth," I expostulated.

"If you were in the service of the devil himself you couldn't pass here without the King's order," retorted the fellow.

"Won't his head serve as well as his order?" I asked, slipping a crown into his hand. "Come, I've a message from his Grace for the French gentleman. Yes, it's private. Deuce take it, do fathers always know of their sons' doings?"

"No, nor sons all their father's sometimes," he chuckled. "Along with you quick, and run if you hear me whistle; it will mean my officer is coming."

I was alone in the sacred space with M. de Perrencourt. I assumed an easy air and sauntered along, till I was within a few yards of him. Hearing my step then, he looked round with a start and asked peremptorily,

"What's your desire, sir?"

By an avowal of himself, even by quoting the King's order, he could banish me. But if his cue were concealment and ignorance of the order, why, I might indulge my curiosity.

"Like your own, sir," I replied courteously, "a breath of fresh air and a sight of the sea."

He frowned a little, but I gave him no time to speak.

"That fellow though," I pursued, "gave me to understand that none might pass; yet the King is not here, is he?"

"Then how did you pass, sir?" asked M. de Perrencourt, ignoring my last question.

"Why, with a lie, sir," I answered. "I said I had a message for you from the Duke of Monmouth, and the fool believed me. But we gentlemen in attendance must stand by one another. You'll not betray me? Your word on it?"

A slow smile broke across his face.

"No, I'll not betray you," said he. "You speak French well, sir."

"So M. de Fontelles, whom I met at Canterbury, told me. Do you chance to know him, sir?"

M. de Perrencourt did not start now; I should have been disappointed if he had.

"Very well," he answered. "If you're his friend, you're mine." He held out his hand.

"I take it on false pretences," said I with a laugh, as I shook it. "For we came near to quarrelling, M. de Fontelles and I."

"Ah, on what point?"

"A nothing, sir."

"Nay, but tell me."

"Indeed I will not, if you'll pardon me."

"Sir, I wish to know. I ins-I beg." A stare from me had stopped the "insist" when it was half-way through his lips. On my soul, he flushed! I tell my children sometimes how I made him flush; the thing was not done often. Yet his confusion was but momentary, and suddenly, I know not how, I in my turn became abashed with the cold stare of his eyes, and when he asked me my name, I answered baldly, with never a bow and never a flourish, "Simon Dale."

"I have heard your name," said he gravely. Then he turned round and began looking at the sea again.

Now, had he been wearing his own clothes (if I may so say) this conduct would have been appropriate enough; it would have been a dismissal and I should have passed on my way. But a man should be consistent in his disguises, and from M. de Perrencourt, gentleman-in-waiting, the behaviour was mighty uncivil. Yet my revenge must be indirect.

"Is it true, sir," I asked, coming close to him, "that the King of France is yonder at Calais? So it's said."

"I believe it to be true," answered M. de Perrencourt.

"I wish he had come over," I cried. "I should love to see him, for they say he's a very proper man, although he's somewhat short."

M. de Perrencourt did not turn his head, but again I saw his cheek flush. To speak of his low stature was, I had heard Monmouth say, to commit the most dire offence in King Louis' eyes.

"Now, how tall is the King, sir?" I asked. "Is he tall as you, sir?"

M. de Perrencourt was still silent. To tell the truth, I began to be a little uneasy; there were cells under the Castle, and I had need to be at large for the coming few days.

"For," said I, "they tell such lies concerning princes."

Now he turned towards me, saying,

"There you're right, sir. The King of France, is of middle size, about my own height."

For the life of me I could not resist it. I said nothing with my tongue, but for a moment I allowed my eyes to say, "But then you're short, sir." He understood, and for the third time he flushed.

"I thought as much," said I, and with a bow I began to walk on.

But, as ill-luck would have it, I was not to come clear off from my indiscretion. In a moment I should have been out of sight. But as I started I saw a gentleman pass the guard, who stood at the salute. It was the King; escape was impossible. He walked straight up to me, bowing carelessly in response to M. de Perrencourt's deferential inclination of his person.

"How come you here, Mr Dale?" he asked abruptly. "The guard tells me that he informed you of my orders and that you insisted on passing."

M. de Perrencourt felt that his turn was come; he stood there smiling. I found nothing to say; if I repeated my fiction of a message, the French gentleman, justly enraged, would betray me.

"M. de Perrencourt seemed lonely, sir," I answered at last.

"A little loneliness hurts no man," said the King. He took out his tablets and began to write. When he was done, he gave me the message, adding, "Read it." I read, "Mr Simon Dale will remain under arrest in his own apartment for twenty-four hours, and will not leave it except by the express command of the King." I made a wry face.

"If the Duke of Monmouth wants me--" I began.

"He'll have to do without you, Mr Dale," interrupted the King. "Come, M. de Perrencourt, will you give me your arm?" And off he went on the French gentleman's arm, leaving me most utterly abashed, and cursing the curiosity that had brought me to this trouble.

"So much for the Duke of Buckingham's 'long head,'" said I to myself ruefully, as I made my way towards the Constable's Tower, in which his Grace was lodged, and where I had my small quarters.

Indeed, I might well feel a fool; for the next twenty-four hours, during which I was to be a prisoner, would in all likelihood see the issue in which I was pledged to bear a part. Now I could do nothing. Yet at least I must send speedy word to the town that I was no longer to be looked to for any help, and when I reached my room I called loudly for Jonah Wall. It was but the middle of the day, yet he was not to be seen. I walked to the door and found, not Jonah, but a guard on duty.

"What are you doing here?"

"Seeing that you stay here, sir," he answered, with a grin.

Then the King was very anxious that I should obey his orders, and had lost no time in ensuring my obedience; he was right to take his measures, for, standing where I did, his orders would not have restrained me. I was glad that he had set a guard on me in lieu of asking my parole. For much as I love sin, I hate temptation. Yet where was Jonah Wall, and how could I send my message? I flung myself on the bed in deep despondency. A moment later the door opened, and Robert, Darrell's servant, entered.

"My master begs to know if you will sup with him to-night, sir."

"Thank him kindly," said I; "but if you ask that gentleman outside, Robert, he'll tell you that I must sup at home by the King's desire. I'm under arrest, Robert."

"My master will be grieved to hear it, sir, and the more because he hoped that you would bring some wine with you, for he has none, and he has guests to sup with him."

"Ah, an interested invitation! How did Mr Darrell know that I had wine?"

"Your servant Jonah spoke of it to me, sir, and said that you would be glad to send my master some."

"Jonah is liberal! But I'm glad, and assure Mr Darrell of it. Where is my rascal?"

"I saw him leave the Castle about an hour ago; just after he spoke to me about the wine."

"Curse him! I wanted him. Well, take the wine. There are six bottles that he got to-day."

"There is French wine here, sir, and Spanish. May I take either?"

"Take the French in God's name. I don't want that. I've had enough of France. Stay, though, I believe Mr Darrell likes the Spanish better."

"Yes, sir; but his guests will like the French."

"And who are these guests?"

Robert swelled with pride.

"I thought Jonah would have told you, sir," said he. "The King is to sup with my master."

"Then," said I, "I'm well excused. For no man knows better than the King why I can't come."

The fellow took his bottles and went off grinning. I, being left, fell again to cursing myself for a fool, and in this occupation I passed the hours of the afternoon.

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