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   Chapter 15 M. DE PERRENCOURT WHISPERS

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 24591

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Slowly the room and the scene came back to me, disengaging themselves from the darkness which had settled on my eyes, regaining distinctness and their proper form. I was sitting in a chair, and there were wet bandages about my head. Those present before were there still, save M. de Perrencourt, whose place at the table was vacant; the large sheet of paper and the materials for writing had vanished. There was a fresh group at the end, next to Arlington; here now sat the Dukes of Monmouth and Buckingham, carrying on a low conversation with the Secretary. The King lay back in his chair, frowning and regarding with severe gaze a man who stood opposite to him, almost where I had been when I drank of the King's cup. There stood Darrell and the lieutenant of the Guards who had arrested me, and between them, with clothes torn and muddy, face scratched and stained with blood, with panting breath and gleaming eyes, firmly held by either arm, was Phineas Tate the Ranter. They had sent and caught him then, while I lay unconscious. But what led them to suspect him?

There was the voice of a man speaking from the other side of this party of three. I could not see him, for their bodies came between, but I recognised the tones of Robert, Darrell's servant. It was he, then, who had put them on Jonah's track, and, in following that, they must have come on Phineas.

"We found the two together," he was saying, "this man and Mr Dale's servant who had brought the wine from the town. Both were armed with pistols and daggers, and seemed ready to meet an attack. In the alley in front of the house that I have named--"

"Yes, yes, enough of the house," interrupted the King impatiently.

"In the alley there were two horses ready. We attacked the men at once, the lieutenant and I making for this one here, the two with us striving to secure Jonah Wall. This man struggled desperately, but seemed ignorant of how to handle his weapons. Yet he gave us trouble enough, and we had to use him roughly. At last we had him, but then we found that Jonah, who fought like a wild cat, had wounded both the soldiers with his knife, and, although himself wounded, had escaped by the stairs. Leaving this man with the lieutenant, I rushed down after him, but one of the horses was gone, and I heard no sound of hoofs. He had got a start of us, and is well out of Dover by now."

I was straining all my attention to listen, yet my eyes fixed themselves on Phineas, whose head was thrown back defiantly. Suddenly a voice came from behind my chair.

"That man must be pursued," said M. de Perrencourt. "Who knows that there may not be accomplices in this devilish plot? This man has planned to poison the King; the servant was his confederate. I say, may there not have been others in the wicked scheme?"

"True, true," said the King uneasily. "We must lay this Jonah Wall by the heels. What's known of him?"

Thinking the appeal was made to me, I strove to rise. M. de Perrencourt's arm reached over the back of my chair and kept me down. I heard Darrell take up the story and tell what he knew-and it was as much as I knew-of Jonah Wall, and what he knew of Phineas Tate also.

"It is a devilish plot," said the King, who was still greatly shaken and perturbed.

Then Phineas spoke loudly, boldly, and with a voice full of the rapturous fanaticism which drowned conscience and usurped in him religion's place.

"Here," he cried, "are the plots, here are the devilish plots! What do you here? Aye, what do you plot here? Is this man's life more than God's Truth? Is God's Word to be lost that the sins and debauchery of this man may continue?"

His long lean forefinger pointed at the King. A mute consternation fell for an instant on them all, and none interrupted him. They had no answer ready for his question; men do not count on such questions being asked at Court, the manners are too good there.

"Here are the plots! I count myself blessed to die in the effort to thwart them! I have failed, but others shall not fail! God's Judgment is sure. What do you here, Charles Stuart?"

M. de Perrencourt walked suddenly and briskly round to where the King sat and whispered in his ear. The King nodded, and said,

"I think this fellow is mad, but it's a dangerous madness."

Phineas did not heed him, but cried aloud,

"And you here-are you all with him? Are you all apostates from God? Are you all given over to the superstitions of Rome? Are you all here to barter God's word and--"

The King sprang to his feet.

"I won't listen," he cried. "Stop his cursed mouth. I won't listen." He looked round with fear and alarm in his eyes. I perceived his gaze turned towards his son and Buckingham. Following it, I saw their faces alight with eagerness, excitement, and curiosity. Arlington looked down at the table; Clifford leant his head on his hand. At the other end the Duke of York had sprung up like his brother, and was glaring angrily at the bold prisoner. Darrell did not wait to be bidden twice, but whipped a silk handkerchief from his pocket.

"Here and now the deed is being done!" cried Phineas. "Here and now--" He could say no more; in spite of his desperate struggles, he was gagged and stood silent, his eyes still burning with the message which his lips were not suffered to utter. The King sank back in his seat, and cast a furtive glance round the table. Then he sighed, as though in relief, and wiped his brow. Monmouth's voice came clear, careless, confident.

"What's this madness?" he asked. "Who here is bartering God's Word? And for what, pray?"

No answer was given to him; he glanced in insolent amusement at Arlington and Clifford, then in insolent defiance at the Duke of York.

"Is not the religion of the country safe with the King?" he asked, bowing to his father.

"So safe, James, that it does not need you to champion it," said the King dryly; yet his voice trembled a little. Phineas raised that lean forefinger at him again, and pointed. "Tie the fellow's arms to his side," the King commanded in hasty irritation; he sighed again when the finger could no longer point at him, and his eyes again furtively sought Monmouth's face. The young Duke leant back with a scornful smile, and the consciousness of the King's regard did not lead him to school his face to any more seemly expression. My wits had come back now, although my head ached fiercely and my body was full of acute pain; but I watched all that passed, and I knew that, come what might, they would not let Phineas speak. Yet Phineas could know nothing. Nay, but the shafts of madness, often wide, may once hit the mark. The paper that had lain between the King and M. de Perrencourt was hidden.

Again the French gentleman bent and whispered in the King's ear. He spoke long this time, and all kept silence while he spoke-Phineas because he must, the lieutenant with surprised eyes, the rest in that seeming indifference which, as I knew, masked their real deference. At last the King looked up, nodded, and smiled. His air grew calmer and more assured, and the trembling was gone from his voice as he spoke.

"Come, gentlemen," said he, "while we talk this ruffian who has escaped us makes good pace from Dover. Let the Duke of Monmouth and the Duke of Buckingham each take a dozen men and scour the country for him. I shall be greatly in the debt of either who brings him to me."

The two Dukes started. The service which the King demanded of them entailed an absence of several hours from the Castle. It might be that they, or one of them, would learn something from Jonah Wall; but it was far more likely that they would not find him, or that he would not suffer himself to be taken alive. Why were they sent, and not a couple of the officers on duty? But if the King's object were to secure their absence, the scheme was well laid. I thought now that I could guess what M. de Perrencourt had said in that whispered conference. Buckingham had the discretion to recognise when the game went against him. He rose at once with a bow, declaring that he hastened to obey the King's command, and would bring the fellow in, dead or alive. Monmouth had less self-control. He rose indeed, but reluctantly and with a sullen frown on his handsome face.

"It's poor work looking for a single man over the countryside," he grumbled.

"Your devotion to me will inspire and guide you, James," observed the King. A chance of mocking another made him himself again as no other cure could. "Come, lose no time." Then the King added: "Take this fellow away, and lock him up. Mr Darrell, see that you guard him well, and let nobody come near him."

M. de Perrencourt whispered.

"Above all, let him speak to nobody. He must tell what he knows only at the right time," added the King.

"When will that be?" asked Monmouth audibly, yet so low that the King could feign not to hear and smiled pleasantly at his son. But still the Duke lingered, although Buckingham was gone and Phineas Tate had been led out between his custodians. His eyes sought mine, and I read an appeal in them. That he desired to take me with him in pursuit of Jonah Wall, I did not think; but he desired above all things to get me out of that room, to have speech with me, to know that I was free to work out the scheme which Buckingham had disclosed to me. Nay, it was not unlikely that his search for Jonah Wall would lead him to the hostelry of the Merry Mariners at Deal. And for my plan too, which differed so little yet so much from his, for that also I must be free. I rose to my feet, delighted to find that I could stand well and that my pains grew no more severe with movement.

"I am at your Grace's orders," said I. "May I ride with you, sir?"

The King looked at me doubtfully.

"I should be glad of your company," said the Duke, "if your health allows."

"Most fully, sir," I answered, and turning to the King I begged his leave to depart. And that leave I should, as I think, have obtained, but for the fact that once again M. de Perrencourt whispered to the King. The King rose from his seat, took M. de Perrencourt's arm and walked with him to where his Grace stood. I watched them, till a little stifled laugh caught my attention. Madame's face was merry, and hers the laugh. She saw my look on her and laughed again, raising her finger to her lips in a swift stealthy motion. She glanced round apprehensively, but her action had passed unnoticed; the Duke of York seemed sunk in a dull apathy, Clifford and Arlington were busy in conversation. What did she mean? Did she confess that I held their secret and impose silence on me by a more than royal command, by the behest of bright eyes and red lips which dared me to betray their confidence? On the moment's impulse I bowed assent; Madame nodded merrily and waved a kiss with her dainty hand; no word passed, but I felt that I, being a gentleman, could tell no man alive what I suspected, aye, what I knew, concerning M. de Perrencourt. Thus lightly are pledges given when ladies ask them.

The Duke of Monmouth started back with a sudden angry motion. The King smiled at him; M. de Perrencourt laid a hand, decked with rich rings, on his lace cuff. Madame rose, laughing still, and joined the three. I cannot tell what passed-alas, that the matters of highest interest are always elusive!-but a moment later Monmouth fell back with as sour a look as I have ever seen on a man's face, bowed slightly and not over-courteously, faced round and strode through the doorway, opening the door for himself. I heard Madame's gay laugh, again the King spoke, Madame cried, "Fie," and hid her face with her hand. M. de Perrencourt advanced towards me; the King caught his arm. "Pooh, he knows already," muttered Perrencourt, half under his breath, but he gave way, and the King came to me first.

"Sir," said he, "the Duke of Monmouth has had the dutiful kindness to release his claim on your present services, and to set you free to serve me."

I bowed very low, answering,

"His Grace is bountiful of kindness to me, and has given the greatest proof of it in enabling me to serve Your Majesty."

"My pleasure is," pursued the King, "that you attach yourself to my friend M. de Perrencourt here, and accompany hi

m and hold yourself at his disposal until further commands from me reach you."

M. de Perrencourt stepped forward and addressed me.

"In two hours' time, sir," said he, "I beg you to be ready to accompany me. A ship lies yonder at the pier, waiting to carry His Excellency M. Colbert de Croissy and myself to Calais to-night on business of moment. Since the King gives you to me, I pray your company."

"Till then, Mr Dale, adieu," said the King. "Not a word of what has passed here to-night to any man-or any woman. Be in readiness. You know enough, I think, to tell you that you receive a great honour in M. de Perrencourt's request. Your discretion will show your worthiness. Kiss Madame's hand and leave us."

They both smiled at me, and I stood half-bewildered. "Go," said M. de Perrencourt with a laugh, clapping me on the shoulder. The two turned away. Madame held out her hand towards me; I bent and kissed it.

"Mr Dale," said she, "you have all the virtues."

"Alas, Madame, I fear you don't mean to commend me."

"Yes, for a rarity, at least. But you have one vice."

"It shall be mended, if your Royal Highness will tell its name."

"Nay, I shall increase it by naming it. But here it is; your eyes are too wide open, Mr Dale."

"My mother, Madame, used to accuse me of a trick of keeping them half-shut."

"Your mother had not seen you at Court, sir."

"True, Madame, nor had my eyes beheld your Royal Highness."

She laughed, pleased with a compliment which was well in the mode then, though my sons may ridicule it; but as she turned away she added,

"I shall not be with you to-night, and M. de Perrencourt hates a staring eye."

I was warned and I was grateful. But there I stopped. Since Heaven had given me my eyes, nothing on earth could prevent them opening when matter worth the looking was presented. And perhaps they might be open, and yet seem shut to M. de Perrencourt. With a final salute to the exalted company I went out; as I went they resumed their places at the table, M. de Perrencourt saying, "Come, let us finish. I must be away before dawn."

I returned to my quarters in no small turmoil; yet my head, though it still ached sorely from the effect of tasting that draught so fortunately dashed from my hand, was clear enough, and I could put together all the pieces of the puzzle save one. But that one chanced to be of some moment to me, for it was myself. The business with the King which had brought M. de Perrencourt so stealthily to Dover was finished, or was even now being accomplished; his presence and authority had reinforced Madame's persuasions, and the treaty was made. But in these high affairs I had no place. If I would find my work I must look elsewhere, to the struggle that had arisen between M. de Perrencourt and his Grace the Duke of Monmouth, in which the stakes were not wars or religions, and the quarrel of simpler nature. In that fight Louis (for I did not trouble to maintain his disguise in my thoughts) had won, as he was certain to win if he put forth his strength. My heart was sore for Mistress Barbara. I knew that she was to be the spoil of the French King's victory, and that the loss to the beauty of his Court caused by the departure of Mlle. de Quérouaille was to find compensation. But, still, where was my part? I saw only one thing: that Louis had taken a liking for me, and might well choose me as his instrument, if an instrument were needed. But for what and where it was needed I could not conceive; since all France was under his feet, and a thousand men would spring up to do his bidding at a word-aye, let the bidding be what it might, and the task as disgraceful as you will. What were the qualities in me or in my condition that dictated his choice baffled conjecture.

Suddenly came a low knock on the door. I opened it and a man slipped in quickly and covertly. To my amazement, I saw Carford. He had kept much out of sight lately; I supposed that he had discovered all he wanted from Monmouth's ready confidence, and had carried his ill-won gains to his paymaster. But supposing that he would keep up the comedy I said stiffly,

"You come to me from the Duke of Monmouth, my lord?"

He was in no mood for pretence to-night. He was in a state of great excitement, and, brushing aside all reserve, made at once for the point.

"I am come," said he, "to speak a word with you. In an hour you're to sail for France?"

"Yes," said I. "Those are the King's orders."

"But in an hour you could be so far from here that he with whom you go could not wait for your return."

"Well, my lord?"

"To be brief, what's your price to fly and not to sail?"

We were standing, facing one another. I answered him slowly, trying to catch his purpose.

"Why are you willing to pay me a price?" said I. "For it's you who pays?"

"Yes, I pay. Come, man, you know why you go and who goes with you?"

"M. de Perrencourt and M. Colbert go," said I. "Why I go, I don't know."

"Nor who else goes?" he asked, looking in my eyes. I paused for a moment and then answered,

"Yes, she goes."

"And you know for what purpose?"

"I can guess the purpose."

"Well, I want to go in your place. I have done with that fool Monmouth, and the French King would suit me well for a master."

"Then ask him to take you also."

"He will not; he'll rather take you."

"Then I'll go," said I.

He drew a step nearer to me. I watched him closely, for, on my life, I did not know in what mood he was, and his honour was ill to lean on as a waving reed.

"What will you gain by going?" he asked. "And if you fly he will take me. Somebody he must take."

"Is not M. Colbert enough?"

He looked at me suspiciously, as though he thought that I assumed ignorance.

"You know very well that Colbert wouldn't serve his purpose."

"By my faith," I cried, "I don't know what his purpose is."

"You swear it?" he asked in distrust and amazement.

"Most willingly," I answered. "It is simple truth."

He gazed at me still as though but half-convinced.

"Then what's your purpose in going?" he asked.

"I obey my orders. Yet I have a purpose, and one I had rather trust with myself than with you, my lord."

"Pray, sir, what is it?"

"To serve and guard the lady who goes also."

After a moment of seeming surprise, he broke into a sneering laugh.

"You go to guard her?" he said.

"Her and her honour," I answered steadily. "And I do not desire to resign that task into your hands, my lord."

"What will you do? How will you serve her?" he asked.

A sudden suspicion of him seized me. His manner had changed to a forced urbanity; when he was civil he was treacherous.

"That's my secret, my lord," I answered. "I have preparations to make. I pray you, give me leave." I opened the door and held it for him.

His rage mastered him; he grew red and the veins swelled on his forehead.

"By heaven, you shan't go," he cried, and clapped his hand to his sword.

"Who says that Mr Dale shall not go?"

A man stood in the doorway, plainly attired, wearing boots, and a cloak that half-hid his face. Yet I knew him, and Carford knew him. Carford shrank back, I bowed, and we both bared our heads. M. de Perrencourt advanced into the room, fixing his eyes on Carford.

"My lord," he said, "when I decline a gentleman's services I am not to be forced into accepting them, and when I say a gentleman shall go with me he goes. Have you a quarrel with me on that account?"

Carford found no words in which to answer him, but his eyes told that he would have given the world to draw his sword against M. de Perrencourt, or, indeed, against the pair of us. A gesture of the newcomer's arm motioned him to the door. But he had one sentence more to hear before he was suffered to slink away.

"Kings, my lord," said M. de Perrencourt, "may be compelled to set spies about the persons of others. They do not need them about their own."

Carford turned suddenly white, and his teeth set. I thought that he would fly at the man who rebuked him so scornfully; but such an outbreak meant death; he controlled himself. He passed out, and Louis, with a careless laugh, seated himself on my bed. I stood respectfully opposite to him.

"Make your preparations," said he. "In half an hour's time we depart."

I obeyed him, setting about the task of filling my saddle-bags with my few possessions. He watched me in silence for awhile. At last he spoke.

"I have chosen you to go with me," he said, "because although you know a thing, you don't speak of it, and although you see a thing, you can appear blind."

I remembered that Madame thought my blindness deficient, but I received the compliment in silence.

"These great qualities," he pursued, "make a man's fortune. You shall come with me to Paris."

"To Paris, sir?"

"Yes. I'll find work for you there, and those who do my work lack neither reward nor honour. Come, sir, am I not as good a King to serve as another?"

"Your Majesty is the greatest Prince in Christendom," said I. For such indeed all the world held him.

"Yet even the greatest Prince in Christendom fears some things," said he, smiling.

"Surely nothing, sir?"

"Why, yes. A woman's tongue, a woman's tears, a woman's rage, a woman's jealousy; I say, Mr Dale, a woman's jealousy."

It was well that my preparations were done, or they had never been done. I was staring at him now with my hands dropped to my side.

"I am married," he pursued. "That is little." And he shrugged his shoulders.

"Little enough at Courts, in all conscience," thought I; perhaps my face betrayed something of the thought, for King Louis smiled.

"But I am more than a husband," he pursued. "I am a lover, Mr Dale."

Not knowing what comment to make on this, I made none. I had heard the talk about his infatuation, but it was not for me to mention the lady's name. Nor did the King name her. He rose and approached me, looking full in my face.

"You are neither a husband nor a lover?" he asked.

"Neither, sir."

"You know Mistress Quinton?"

"Yes, sir."

He was close to me now, and he whispered to me as he had whispered to the King in the Council Chamber.

"With my favour and such a lady for his wife, a gentleman might climb high."

I heard the words, and I could not repress a start. At last the puzzle was pieced, and my part plain. I knew now the work I was to do, the price of the reward I was to gain. Had he said it a month before, when I was not yet trained to self-control and concealment, King as he was, I would have drawn my sword on him. For good or evil dissimulation is soon learnt. With a great effort I repressed my agitation and hid my disgust. King Louis smiled at me, deeming what he had suggested no insult.

"Your wedding shall take place at Calais," he said; and I (I wonder now to think of it) bowed and smiled.

"Be ready in a quarter of an hour," said he, and left me with a gracious smile.

I stood there where I was for the best part of the time still left to me. I saw why Carford desired the mission on which I went, why Madame bade me practise the closing of my eyes, how my fortune was to come from the hand of King Louis. An English gentleman and his wife would travel back with the King; the King would give his favour to both; and the lady was Barbara Quinton.

I turned at last, and made my final preparation. It was simple; I loaded my pistol and hid it about me, and I buckled on my sword, seeing that it moved easily in the sheath. By fortune's will, I had to redeem the pledge which I had given to my lord; his daughter's honour now knew no safety but in my arm and wits. Alas, how slender the chance was, and how great the odds!

Then a sudden fear came upon me. I had lived of late in a Court where honour seemed dead, and women, no less than men, gave everything for wealth or place. I had seen nothing of her, no word had come from her to me. She had scorned Monmouth, but might she not be won to smile on M. de Perrencourt? I drove the thought from me, but it came again and again, shaming me and yet fastening on me. She went with M. de Perrencourt; did she go willingly?

With that thought beating in my brain, I stepped forth to my adventure.

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