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   Chapter 17 WHAT BEFELL MY LAST GUINEA

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 27271

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


There is this in great station, that it imparts to a man a bearing sedate in good times and debonair in evil. A king may be unkinged, as befell him whom in my youth we called the Royal Martyr, but he need not be unmanned. He has tasted of what men count the best, and, having found even in it much bitterness, turns to greet fortune's new caprice smiling or unmoved. Thus it falls out that though princes live no better lives than common men, yet for the most part they die more noble deaths; their sunset paints all their sky, and we remember not how they bore their glorious burden, but with what grace they laid it down. Much is forgiven to him who dies becomingly, and on earth, as in heaven, there is pardon for the parting soul. Are we to reject what we are taught that God receives? I have need enough of forgiveness to espouse the softer argument.

Now King Louis, surnamed the Great, having more matters in his head than the scheme I thought to baffle, and (to say truth) more ladies in his heart than Barbara Quinton, was not minded to die for the one or the other. But had you been there (which Heaven for your sake forbid, I have passed many a pleasanter night), you would have sworn that death or life weighed not a straw in the balance with him, and that he had no thought save of the destiny God had marked for him and the realm that called him master. So lofty and serene he was, when he perceived my resolution and saw my pistol at his head. On my faith, the victory was mine, but he robbed me of my triumph, and he, submitting, seemed to put terms on me who held him at my mercy. It is all a trick, no doubt; they get it in childhood, as (I mean no harm by my comparisons) the beggar's child learns to whine or the thief's to pick. Yet it is pretty. I wish I had it.

"In truth," said he with a smile that had not a trace of wryness, "I have chosen my means ill for this one time, though they say that I choose well. Well, God rules the world."

"By deputy, sir," said I.

"And deputies don't do His will always? Come, Mr Dale, for this hour you hold the post and fill it well. Wear this for my sake"; and he handed across to me a dagger with a handle richly wrought and studded with precious stones.

I bowed low; yet I kept my finger on the trigger.

"Man, I give you my word, though not in words," said he, and I, rebuked, set my weapon back in its place. "Alas, for a sad moment!" he cried. "I must bid farewell to Mistress Barbara. Yet (this he added, turning to her) life is long, madame, and has many changes. I pray you may never need friends, but should you, there is one ready so long as Louis is King of France. Call on him by the token of his ring and count him your humble servant." With this he stripped his finger of a fine brilliant, and, sinking on his knee in the boat, took her hand very delicately, and, having set the ring on her finger, kissed her hand, sighed lightly yet gallantly, and rose with his eyes set on the ship.

"Row me to her," he commanded me, shortly but not uncivilly; and I, who held his life in my hands, sat down obediently and bent to my oars. In faith, I wish I had that air, it's worth a fortune to a man!

Soon we came to the side of the ship. Over it looked the face of Colbert, amazed that I had stolen his King, and the face of Thomas Lie, indignant that I had made free with his boat; by them were two or three of the crew agape with wonder. King Louis paid no respect to their feelings and stayed their exclamations with a gesture of his hand. He turned to me, saying in low tones and with a smile,

"You must make your own terms with my brother, sir. It has been hard fighting between us, and I am in no mood for generosity."

I did not know what to answer him, but I stammered:

"I ask nothing but that your Majesty should remember me as an honest man."

"And a brave gentleman," he added gravely, with a slight inclination of his head. Then he turned to Barbara and took her hand again, bowing low and saying, "Madame, I had meant you much good in my heart, and my state forced me to mean you some evil. I pray you remember the one and forget the other." He kissed her hand again with a fine grace. It was a fair sounding apology for a thing beyond defence. I admired while I smiled.

But Barbara did not smile. She looked up in his face, then dropped on her knees in the boat and caught his hand, kissing it twice and trying to speak to him. He stood looking down on her; then he said softly, "Yet I have forgiven your friend," and gently drew his hand away. I stood up, baring my head. He faced round on me and said abruptly, "This affair is between you and me, sir."

"I am obedient to a command I did not need," said I.

"Your pardon. Cover your head. I do not value outward signs of respect where the will is wanting. Fare you well."

At a sign from him Colbert stretched out a hand. Not a question, not a word, scarcely now a show of wonder came from any, save honest Lie, whose eyes stood out of his head and whose tongue was still only because it could not speak. The King leapt lightly on the deck of his ship.

"You'll be paid for the boat," I heard him say to Lie. "Make all sail for Calais."

None spoke to him, none questioned him. He saw no need for explanation and accorded no enlightenment. I marvelled that fear or respect for any man could so bind their tongues. The King waved them away; Lie alone hesitated, but Colbert caught him by the arm and drew him off to the helm. The course was given, and the ship forged ahead. The King stood in the stern. Now he raised his hat from his head and bowed low to Mistress Barbara. I turned to see how she took the salutation; but her face was downcast, resting on her hands. I stood and lifted my hat; then I sat down to the oars. I saw King Louis' set courtly smile, and as our ways parted asunder, his to France, where he ruled, mine to England where I prayed nothing but a hiding-place, we sent into one another's eyes a long look as of men who have measured strength, and part each in his own pride, each in respect for the powers of his enemy. In truth it was something to have played a winning hand with the Most Christian King. With regret I watched him go; though I could not serve him in his affairs of love, I would gladly have fought for him in his wars.

We were alone now on the sea; dawn was breaking and the sky cleared till the cliffs were dimly visible behind us. I pulled the boat round, and set her head for home. Barbara sat in the stern, pale and still, exhausted by the efforts and emotion of the night. The great peril and her great salvation left her numb rather than thankful; and in truth, if she looked into the future, her joy must be dashed with sore apprehension. M. de Perrencourt was gone, the Duke of Monmouth remained; till she could reach her father I was her only help, and I dared not show my face in Dover. But these thoughts were for myself, not for her, and seeking to cheer her I leant forward and said,

"Courage, Mistress Barbara." And I added, "At least we shan't be married, you and I, in Calais."

She started a little, flushed a little, and answered gravely,

"We owe Heaven thanks for a great escape, Simon."

It was true, and the knowledge of its truth had nerved us to the attempt so marvellously crowned with success. Great was the escape from such a marriage, made for such purposes as King Louis had planned. Yet some feeling shot through me, and I gave it voice in saying,

"Nay, but we might have escaped after the marriage also."

Barbara made no reply; for it was none to say, "The cliffs grow very plain."

"But that wouldn't have served our turn," I added with a laugh. "You would have come out of the business saddled with a sore encumbrance."

"Shall you go to Dover?" asked Barbara, seeming to pay no heed to all that I had been saying.

"Where God pleases," I answered rather peevishly. "Her head's to the land, and I'll row straight to land. The land is safer than the sea."

"No place is safe?"

"None," I answered. But then, repenting of my surliness, I added, "And none so perilous that you need fear, Mistress Barbara."

"I don't fear while you're with me, Simon," said she. "You won't leave me till we find my father?"

"Surely not," said I. "Is it your pleasure to seek him?"

"As speedily as we can," she murmured. "He's in London. Even the King won't dare to touch me when I'm with him."

"To London, then!" I said. "Can you make out the coast?"

"There's a little bay just ahead where the cliff breaks; and I see Dover Castle away on my left hand."

"We'll make for the bay," said I, "and then seek means to get to London."

Even as I spoke a sudden thought struck me. I laid down my oars and sought my purse. Barbara was not looking at me, but gazed in a dreamy fashion towards where the Castle rose on its cliff. I opened the purse; it held a single guinea; the rest of my store lay with my saddle-bags in the French King's ship; my head had been too full to think of them. There is none of life's small matters that so irks a man as to confess that he has no money for necessary charges, and it is most sore when a lady looks to him for hers. I, who had praised myself for forgetting how to blush, went red as a cock's comb and felt fit to cry with mortification. A guinea would feed us on the road to London if we fared plainly; but Barbara could not go on her feet.

Her eyes must have come back to my sullen downcast face, for in a moment she cried, "What's the matter, Simon?"

Perhaps she carried money. Well then, I must ask for it. I held out my guinea in my hand.

"It's all I have," said I. "King Louis has the rest."

She gave a little cry of dismay. "I hadn't thought of money," she cried.

"I must beg of you."

"Ah, but, Simon, I have none. I gave my purse to the waiting-woman to carry, so that mine also is in the French King's ship."

Here was humiliation! Our fine schemes stood blocked for the want of so vulgar a thing as money; such fate waits often on fine schemes, but surely never more perversely. Yet, I know not why, I was glad that she had none. I was a guinea the better of her; the amount was not large, but it served to keep me still her Providence, and that, I fear, is what man, in his vanity, loves to be in woman's eyes; he struts and plumes himself in the pride of it. I had a guinea, and Barbara had nothing. I had sooner it were so than that she had a hundred.

But to her came no such subtle consolation. To lack money was a new horror, untried, undreamt of; the thing had come to her all her days in such measure as she needed it, its want had never thwarted her desires or confined her purpose. To lack the price of post-horses seemed to her as strange as to go fasting for want of bread.

"What shall we do?" she cried in a dismay greater than all the perils of the night had summoned to her heart.

We had about us wealth enough; Louis' dagger was in my belt, his ring on her finger. Yet of what value were they, since there was nobody to buy them? To offer such wares in return for a carriage would seem strange and draw suspicion. I doubted whether even in Dover I should find a Jew with whom to pledge my dagger, and to Dover in broad day I dared not go.

I took up my oars and set again to rowing. The shore was but a mile or two away. The sun shone now and the light was full, the little bay seemed to smile at me as I turned my head; but all smiles are short for a man who has but a guinea in his purse.

"What shall we do?" asked Barbara again. "Is there nobody to whom you can go, Simon?"

There seemed nobody. Buckingham I dared not trust, he was in Monmouth's interest; Darrell had called himself my friend, but he was the servant of Lord Arlington, and my lord the Secretary was not a man to trust. My messenger would guide my enemies and my charge be put in danger.

"Is there nobody, Simon?" she implored.

There was one, one who would aid me with merry willingness and, had she means at the moment, with lavish hand. The thought had sprung to my mind as Barbara spoke. If I could come safely and secretly to a certain house in a certain alley in the town of Dover, I could have money for the sake of old acquaintance, and what had once been something more, between her and me. But would Barbara take largesse from that hand? I am a coward with women; ignorance is fear's mother and, on my life, I do not know how they will take this thing or that, with scorn or tears or shame or what, or again with some surprising turn of softness and (if I may make bold to say it) a pliability of mind to which few of us men lay claim and none give honour. But the last mood was not Barbara's, and, as I looked at her, I dared not tell her where lay my only hope of help in Dover. I put my wits to work how I could win the aid for her, and keep the hand a secret. Such deception would sit lightly on my conscience.

"I am thinking," I replied to her, "whether there is anyone, and how I might reach him, if there is."

"Surely there's someone who would serve you and whom you could trust?" she urged.

"Would you trust anyone whom I trust?" I asked.

"In truth, yes."

"And would you take the service if I would?"

"Am I so rich that I can choose?" she said piteously.

"I have your promise to it?"

"Yes," she answered with no hesitation, nay, with a readiness that made me ashamed of my stratagem. Yet, as Barbara said, beggars cannot be choosers even in their stratagems, and, if need were, I must hold her to her word.

Now we were at the land and the keel of

our boat grated on the shingle. We disembarked under the shadow of the cliffs at the eastern end of the bay; all was solitude, save for a little house standing some way back from the sea, half-way up the cliff, on a level platform cut in the face of the rock. It seemed a fisherman's cottage; thence might come breakfast, and for so much our guinea would hold good. There was a recess in the cliffs, and here I bade Barbara sit and rest herself, sheltered from view on either side, while I went forward to try my luck at the cottage. She seemed reluctant to be left, but obeyed me, standing and watching while I took my way, which I chose cautiously, keeping myself as much within the shadow as might be. I had sooner not have ventured this much exposure, but it is ill to face starvation for safety's sake.

The cottage lay but a hundred yards off, and soon I approached it. It was hard on six o'clock now, and I looked to find the inmates up and stirring. I wondered also whether Monmouth were gone to await Barbara and myself at the Merry Mariners in Deal; alas, we were too near the trysting-place! Or had he heard by now that the bird was flown from his lure and caged by that M. de Perrencourt who had treated him so cavalierly? I could not tell. Here was the cottage; but I stood still suddenly, amazed and cautious. For there, in the peaceful morning, in the sun's kindly light, there lay across the threshold the body of a man; his eyes, wide-opened, stared at the sky, but seemed to see nothing of what they gazed at; his brown coat was stained to a dark rusty hue on the breast, where a gash in the stuff showed the passage of a sword. His hand clasped a long knife, and his face was known to me. I had seen it daily at my uprising and lying-down. The body was that of Jonah Wall, in the flesh my servant, in spirit the slave of Phineas Tate, whose teaching had brought him to this pass.

The sight bred in me swift horror and enduring caution. The two Dukes had been despatched, sorely against their will, in chase of this man. Was it to their hands that he had yielded up his life and by their doing that he lay like carrion? It might well be that he had sought refuge in this cottage, and having found there death, not comfort, had been flung forth a corpse. I pitied him; although he had been party to a plot which had well nigh caused my own death and taken no account of my honour, yet I was sorry for him. He had been about me; I grieved for him as for the cat on my hearth. Well, now in death he warned me; it was some recompense; I lifted my hat as I stole by him and slunk round to the side of the house. There was a window there, or rather a window-frame, for glass there was none; it stood some six feet from the ground and I crouched beneath it, for I now heard voices in the cottage.

"I wish the rascal hadn't fought," said one voice. "But he flew at me like a tiger, and I had much ado to stop him. I was compelled to run him through."

"Yet he might have served me alive," said another.

"Your Grace is right. For although we hate these foul schemes, the men had the root of the matter in them."

"They were no Papists, at least," said the second voice.

"But the King will be pleased."

"Oh, a curse on the King, although he's what he is to me! Haven't you heard? When I returned to the Castle from my search on the other side of the town, seeking you or Buckingham-by the way, where is he?"

"Back in his bed, I warrant, sir."

"The lazy dog! Well then, they told me she was gone with Louis. I rode on to tell you, for, said I, the King may hunt his conspirators himself now. But who went with them?"

"Your Grace will wonder if I say Simon Dale was the man?"

"The scoundrel! It was he! He has deluded us most handsomely. He was in Louis' pay, and Louis has a use for him! I'll slit the knave's throat if I get at him."

"I pray your Grace's leave to be the first man at him."

"In truth I'm much obliged to you, my Lord Carford," said I to myself under the window.

"There's no use in going to Deal," cried Monmouth. "Oh, I wish I had the fellow here! She's gone, Carford; God's curse on it, she's gone! The prettiest wench at Court! Louis has captured her. 'Fore heaven, if only I were a King!"

"Heaven has its own times, sir," said Carford insidiously. But the Duke, suffering from disappointed desire, was not to be led to affairs of State.

"She's gone," he exclaimed again. "By God, sooner than lose her, I'd have married her."

This speech made me start. She was near him; what if she had been as near him as I, and had heard those words? A pang shot through me, and, of its own accord, my hand moved to my sword-hilt.

"She is beneath your Grace's station. The spouse of your Grace may one day be--" Carford interrupted himself with a laugh, and added, "What God wills."

"So may Anne Hyde," exclaimed the Duke. "But I forget. You yourself had marked her."

"I am your Grace's humble servant always," answered Carford smoothly.

Monmouth laughed. Carford had his pay, no doubt, and I trust it was large; for he heard quietly a laugh that called him what King Louis had graciously proposed to make of me. I am glad when men who live by dirty ways are made to eat dirt.

"And my father," said the Duke, "is happy. She is gone, Quérouaille stays; why, he's so enamoured that he has charged Nell to return to London to-day, or at the latest by to-morrow, lest the French lady's virtue should be offended."

At this both laughed, Monmouth at his father, Carford at his King.

"What's that?" cried the Duke an instant later.

Now what disturbed him was no other than a most imprudent exclamation wrung from me by what I heard; it must have reached them faintly, yet it was enough. I heard their swords rattle and their spurs jingle as they sprang to their feet. I slipped hastily behind the cottage. But by good luck at this instant came other steps. As the Duke and Carford ran to the door, the owner of the cottage (as I judged him to be) walked up, and Carford cried:

"Ah, the fisherman! Come, sir, we'll make him show us the nearest way. Have you fed the horses, fellow?"

"They have been fed, my lord, and are ready," was the answer.

I did not hear more speech, but only (to my relief) the tramp of feet as the three went off together. I stole cautiously out and watched them heading for the top of the cliff. Jonah Wall lay still where he was, and when the retreating party were out of sight I did not hesitate to search his body for money. I had supplied his purse, but now his purse was emptier than mine. Then I stepped into the cottage, seeking not money but food. Fortune was kinder here and rewarded me with a pasty, half-eaten, and a jug of ale. By the side of these lay, left by the Duke in his wonted profusion, a guinea. The Devil has whimsical ways; I protest that the temptation I suffered here was among the strongest of my life! I could repay the fellow some day; two guineas would be by far more than twice as much as one. Yet I left the pleasant golden thing there, carrying off only the pasty and the ale; as for the jug-a man must not stand on nice scruples, and Monmouth's guinea would more than pay for all.

I made my way quickly back to Barbara with the poor spoils of my expedition. I rounded the bluff of cliff that protected her hiding-place. Again I stood amazed, asking if fortune had more tricks in her bag for me. The recess was empty. But a moment later I was reassured; a voice called to me, and I saw her some thirty yards away, down on the sea-beach. I set down pasty and jug and turned to watch. Then I perceived what went on; white feet were visible in the shallow water, twinkling in and out as the tide rolled up and back.

"I had best employ myself in making breakfast ready," said I, turning my back. But she called out to me again, saying how delightful was the cool water. So I looked, and saw her gay and merry. Her hat was in her hand now, and her hair blew free in the breeze. She had given herself up to the joy of the moment. I rejoiced in a feeling which I could not share; the rebound from the strain of the night left me sad and apprehensive. I sat down and rested my head on my hands, waiting till she came back. When she came, she would not take the food I offered her, but stood a moment, looking at me with puzzled eyes, before she seated herself near.

"You're sad," she said, almost as though in accusation.

"Could I be otherwise, Mistress Barbara?" I asked. "We're in some danger, and, what's worse, we've hardly a penny."

"But we've escaped the greatest peril," she reminded me.

"True, for the moment."

"We-you won't be married to-night," she laughed, with rising colour, and turning away as though a tuft of rank grass by her had caught her attention and for some hidden reason much deserved it.

"By God's help we've come out of that snare," said I gravely.

She said nothing for a moment or two; then she turned to me again, asking,

"If your friend furnishes money, can we reach London in two days?"

"I'm sorry," I answered, "but the journey will need nearer three, unless we travel at the King's pace or the Duke of Monmouth's."

"You needn't come all the way with me. Set me safe on the road, and go where your business calls you."

"For what crime is this punishment?" I asked with a smile.

"No, I'm serious. I'm not seeking a compliment from you. I see that you're sad. You have been very kind to me, Simon. You risked life and liberty to save me."

"Well, who could do less? Besides, I had given my promise to my lord your father."

She made no reply, and I, desiring to warn her against every danger, related what had passed at the cottage, omitting only Monmouth's loudmouthed threats against myself. At last, moved by some impulse of curiosity rather than anything higher, I repeated how the Duke had said that, sooner than lose her altogether, he would have married her, and how my Lord Carford had been still his humble servant in this project as in any other. She flushed again as she heard me, and plucked her tuft of grass.

"Indeed," I ended, "I believe his Grace spoke no more than the truth; I've never seen a man more in love."

"And you know well what it is to be in love, don't you?"

"Very well," I answered calmly, although I thought that the taunt might have been spared. "Therefore it may well be that some day I shall kiss the hand of her Grace the Duchess."

"You think I desire it?" she asked.

"I think most ladies would."

"I don't desire it." She sprang up and stamped her foot on the ground, crying again, "Simon, I do not desire it. I wouldn't be his wife. You smile! You don't believe me?"

"No offer is refused until it's made," said I, and, with a bow that asked permission, I took a draught of the ale.

She looked at me in great anger, her cheek suffused with underlying red and her dark eyes sparkling.

"I wish you hadn't saved me," she said in a fury.

"That we had gone forward to Calais?" I asked maliciously.

"Sir, you're insolent." She flung the reproof at me like a stone from a catapult. But then she repeated, "I wouldn't be his wife."

"Well, then, you wouldn't," said I, setting down the jug and rising. "How shall we pass the day? For we mustn't go to Dover till nightfall."

"I must be all day here with you?" she cried in visible consternation.

"You must be all day here, but you needn't be with me. I'll go down to the beach; I shall be within hail if need arises, and you can rest here alone."

"Thank you, Simon," she answered with a most sudden and wonderful meekness.

Without more, I took my way to the seashore and lay down on the sun-warmed shingle. Being very weary and without sleep now for six-and-thirty hours, I soon closed my eyes, keeping the pistol ready by my side. I slept peacefully and without a dream; the sun was high in heaven when, with a yawn and a stretching of my limbs, I awoke. I heard, as I opened my eyes, a little rustling as of somebody moving; my hand flew to the butt of my pistol. But when I turned round I saw Barbara only. She was sitting a little way behind me, looking out over the sea. Feeling my gaze she looked round.

"I grew afraid, left all alone," she said in a timid voice.

"Alas, I snored when I should have been on guard!" I exclaimed.

"You didn't snore," she cried. "I-I mean not in the last few moments. I had only just come near you. I'm afraid I spoke unkindly to you."

"I hadn't given a thought to it," I hastened to assure her.

"You were indifferent to what I said?" she cried.

I rose to my feet and made her a bow of mock ceremony. My rest had put me in heart again, and I was in a mood to be merry.

"Nay, madame," said I, "you know that I am your devoted servant, and that all I have in the world is held at your disposal."

She looked sideways at me, then at the sea again.

"By heaven, it's true!" I cried. "All I have is yours. See!" I took out my precious guinea, and bending on my knee with uncovered head presented it to Mistress Barbara.

She turned her eyes down to it and sat regarding it for a moment.

"It's all I have, but it's yours," said I most humbly.

"Mine?"

"Most heartily."

She lifted it from my palm with finger and thumb very daintily, and, before I knew what she was doing, or could have moved to hinder her if I had the mind, she raised her arm over her head and with all her strength flung the guinea into the sparkling waves.

"Heaven help us!" I cried.

"It was mine. That's what I chose to do with it," said Barbara.

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