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   Chapter 22 THE DEVICE OF LORD CARFORD

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 22129

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It is not my desire to assail, not is it my part to defend, the reputation of the great. There is no such purpose in anything that I have written here. History is their judge, and our own weakness their advocate. Some said, and many believed, that Madame brought the young French lady in her train to Dover with the intention that the thing should happen which happened. I had rather hold, if it be possible to hold, that a Princess so gracious and so unfortunate meant innocently, and was cajoled or overborne by the persuasions of her kinsmen, and perhaps by some specious pretext of State policy. In like manner I am reluctant to think that she planned harm for Mistress Barbara, towards whom she had a true affection, and I will read in an honest sense, if I can, the letter which M. de Fontelles brought with him to Hatchstead. In it Madame touched with a light discretion on what had passed, deplored with pretty gravity the waywardness of men, and her own simplicity which made her a prey to their devices and rendered her less useful to her friends than she desired to be. Yet now she was warned, her eyes were open, she would guard her own honour, and that of any who would trust to her. Nay, he himself, M. de Perrencourt, was penitent (even as was the Duke of Monmouth!), and had sworn to trouble her and her friends no more. Would not then her sweet Mistress Barbara, with whom she vowed she had fallen so mightily in love, come back to her and go with her to France, and be with her until the Duchess of York came, and, in good truth, as much longer as Barbara would linger, and Barbara's father in his kindness suffer. So ran the letter, and it seemed an honest letter. But I do not know; and if it were honest, yet who dared trust to it? Grant Madame the best of will, where lay her power to resist M. de Perrencourt? But M. de Perrencourt was penitent. Ay, his penitence was for having let the lady go, and would last until she should be in his power again.

Let the intent of the letter he carried be what it might, M. de Fontelles, a gentleman of courage and high honour, believed his business honest. He had not been at Dover, and knew nothing of what had passed there; if he were an instrument in wicked schemes, he did not know the mind of those who employed him. He came openly to Hatchstead on an honourable mission, as he conceived, and bearing an invitation which should give great gratification to the lady to whom it was addressed. Madame did Mistress Quinton the high compliment of desiring her company, and would doubtless recompense her well for the service she asked. Fontelles saw no more and asked no more. In perfect confidence and honesty he set about his task, not imagining that he had been sent on an errand with which any man could reproach him, or with a purpose that gave any the right of questioning his actions. Nor did my cry of "Il vient" change this mood in him. When he collected his thoughts and recalled the incident in which those words had played a part before, he saw in them the challenge of someone who had perhaps penetrated a State secret, and was ill-affected towards the King and the King's policy; but, being unaware of any connection between Mistress Barbara and M. de Perrencourt, he did not associate the silly cry with the object of his present mission. So also, on hearing that a gentleman was at the inn (Carford had not given his name) and had visited the Manor, he was in no way disquieted, but ready enough to meet any number of gentlemen without fearing their company or their scrutiny.

Gaily and courteously he presented himself to Barbara. Her mother lay still in bed, and she received him alone in the room looking out on the terrace. With a low bow and words of deference he declared his errand, and delivered to her the letter he bore from Madame, making bold to add his own hopes that Mistress Quinton would not send him back unsuccessful, but let him win the praise of a trustworthy messenger. Then he twirled his moustaches, smiled gallantly, and waited with all composure while she read the letter. Indeed he deserves some pity, for women are wont to spend much time on reasoning in such a case. When a man comes on a business which they suspect to be evil, they make no ado about holding him a party to it, and that without inquiring whether he knows the thing to which he is setting his hand.

Barbara read her letter through once and a second time; then, without a word to Fontelles, aye, not so much as bidding him be seated, she called a servant and sent him to the inn to summon Carford to her. She spoke low, and the Frenchman did not hear. When they were again alone together, Barbara walked to the window, and stood there looking out. Fontelles, growing puzzled and ill at ease, waited some moments before he ventured to address her; her air was not such as to encourage him; her cheek was reddened and her eyes were indignant. Yet at last he plucked up his courage.

"I trust, madame," said he, "that I may carry the fairest of answers back with me?"

"What answer is that, sir?" she asked, half-turning to him with a scornful glance.

"Yourself, madame, if you will so honour me," he answered, bowing. "Your coming would be the answer best pleasing to Madame, and the best fulfilment of my errand."

She looked at him coolly for a moment or two, and then said,

"I have sent for a gentleman who will advise me on my answer."

M. de Fontelles raised his brows, and replied somewhat stiffly,

"You are free, madame, to consult whom you will, although I had hoped that the matter needed but little consideration."

She turned full on him in a fury.

"I thank you for your judgment of me, sir," she cried. "Or is it that you think me a fool to be blinded by this letter?"

"Before heaven--" began the puzzled gentleman.

"I know, sir, in what esteem a woman's honour is held in your country and at your King's Court."

"In as high, madame, as in your country and at your Court."

"Yes, that's true. God help me, that's true! But we are not at Court now, sir. Hasn't it crossed your mind that such an errand as yours may be dangerous?"

"I had not thought it," said he with a smile and a shrug. "But, pardon me, I do not fear the danger."

"Neither danger nor disgrace?" she sneered.

Fontelles flushed.

"A lady, madame, may say what she pleases," he remarked with a bow.

"Oh, enough of pretences," she cried. "Shall we speak openly?"

"With all my heart, madame," said he, lost between anger and bewilderment.

For a moment it seemed as though she would speak, but the shame of open speech was too great for her. In his ignorance and wonder he could do nothing to aid her.

"I won't speak of it," she said. "It's a man's part to tell you the truth, and to ask account from you. I won't soil my lips with it."

Fontelles took a step towards her, seeking how he could assuage a fury that he did not understand.

"As God lives--" he began gravely. Barbara would not give him opportunity.

"I pray you," she cried, "stand aside and allow me to pass. I will not stay longer with you. Let me pass to the door, sir. I'll send a gentleman to speak with you."

Fontelles, deeply offended, utterly at a loss, flung the door open for her and stood aside to let her pass.

"Madame," he said, "it must be that you misapprehend."

"Misapprehend? Yes, or apprehend too clearly!"

"As I am a gentleman--"

"I do not grant it, sir," she interrupted.

He was silent then; bowing again, he drew a pace farther back. She stood for a moment, looking scornfully at him. Then with a curtsey she bade him farewell and passed out, leaving him in as sad a condition as ever woman's way left man since the world began.

Now, for reasons that have been set out, Carford received his summons with small pleasure, and obeyed it so leisurely that M. de Fontelles had more time than enough in which to rack his brains for the meaning of Mistress Barbara's taunts. But he came no nearer the truth, and was reduced to staring idly out of the window till the gentleman who was to make the matter plain should arrive. Thus he saw Carford coming up to the house on foot, slowly and heavily, with a gloomy face and a nervous air. Fontelles uttered an exclamation of joy; he had known Carford, and a friend's aid would put him right with this hasty damsel who denied him even the chance of self-defence. He was aware also that, in spite of his outward devotion to the Duke of Monmouth, Carford was in reality of the French party. So he was about to run out and welcome him, when his steps were stayed by the sight of Mistress Barbara herself, who flew to meet the new-comer with every sign of eagerness. Carford saluted her, and the pair entered into conversation on the terrace, Fontelles watching them from the window. To his fresh amazement, the interview seemed hardly less fierce than his own had been. The lady appeared to press some course on her adviser, which the adviser was loth to take; she insisted, growing angry in manner; he, having fenced for awhile and protested, sullenly gave way; he bowed acquiescence while his demeanour asserted disapproval, she made nothing of his disapproval and received his acquiescence with a scorn little disguised. Carford passed on to the house; Barbara did not follow him, but, flinging herself on a marble seat, covered her face with her hands and remained there in an attitude which spoke of deep agitation and misery.

"By my faith," cried honest M. de Fontelles, "this matter is altogether past understanding!"

A moment later Carford entered the room and greeted him with great civility. M. de Fontelles lost no time in coming to the question; his grievance was strong and bitter, and he poured out his heart without reserve. Carford listened, saying little, but being very attentive and keeping his shrewd eyes on the other's face. Indignation carried Fontelles back and forwards along the length of the room in restless paces; Carford sat in a chair, quiet and wary, drinking in all that the angry gentleman said. My Lord Carford was not one who believed hastily in the honour and honesty of his fellow-men, nor was he prone to expect a simple heart rather than a long head; but soon he perceived that the Frenchman was in very truth ignorant of what lay behind his mission, and that Barbara's usage of him caused genuine and not assumed offence. The revelation set my lord a-thinking.

"And she sends for you to advise her?" cried Fontelles. "That, my friend, is good; you can advise her only in one fashion."

"I don't know that," said Carford, feeling his way.

"It is because you don't know all. I have spoken gently to her, seeking to win her by persuasion. But to you I may speak plainly. I have direct orders from the King to bring her and to suffer no man to stop me. Indeed, my dear lord, there is no choice open to you. You wouldn't resist the King's command?"

Yet Barbara demanded that he should resist even the King's command. Carford said nothing, and the impetuous

Frenchman ran on:

"Nay, it would be the highest offence to myself to hinder me. Indeed, my lord, all my regard for you could not make me suffer it. I don't know what this lady has against me, nor who has put this nonsense in her head. It cannot be you? You don't doubt my honour? You don't taunt me when I call myself a gentleman?"

He came to a pause before Carford, expecting an answer to his hot questions. He saw offence in the mere fact that Carford was still silent.

"Come, my lord," he cried, "I do not take pleasure in seeing you think so long. Isn't your answer easy?" He assumed an air of challenge.

Carford was, I have no doubt, most plagued and perplexed. He could have dealt better with a knave than with this fiery gentleman. Barbara had demanded of him that he should resist even the King's command. He might escape that perilous obligation by convincing Fontelles himself that he was a tool in hands less honourable than his own; then the Frenchman would in all likelihood abandon his enterprise. But with him would go Carford's hold on Barbara and his best prospect of winning her; for in her trouble lay his chance. If, on the other hand, he quarrelled openly with Fontelles, he must face the consequences he feared or incur Barbara's unmeasured scorn. He could not solve the puzzle and determined to seek a respite.

"I do not doubt your honour, sir," he said. Fontelles bowed gravely. "But there is more in this matter than you know. I must beg a few hours for consideration and then I will tell you all openly."

"My orders will not endure much delay."

"You can't take the lady by force."

"I count on the aid of my friends and the King's to persuade her to accompany me willingly."

I do not know whether the words brought the idea suddenly and as if with a flash into Carford's head. It may have been there dim and vague before, but now it was clear. He paused on his way to the door, and turned back with brightened eyes. He gave a careless laugh, saying,

"My dear Fontelles, you have more than me to reckon with before you take her away."

"What do you mean, my lord?"

"Why, men in love are hard to reason with, and with fools in love there is no reasoning at all. Come, I'm your friend, although there is for the moment a difficulty that keeps us apart. Do you chance to remember our meeting at Canterbury?"

"Why, very well."

"And a young fellow who talked French to you?" Carford laughed again. "He disturbed you mightily by calling out--"

"'Il vient!'" cried Fontelles, all on the alert.

"Precisely. Well, he may disturb you again."

"By Heaven, then he's here?"

"Why, yes."

"I met him last night! He cried those words to me again. The insolent rascal! I'll make him pay for it."

"In truth you've a reckoning to settle with him."

"But how does he come into this matter?"

"Insolent still, he's a suitor for Mistress Quinton's hand."

Fontelles gave a scornful shrug of his shoulders; Carford, smiling and more at ease, watched him. The idea promised well; it would be a stroke indeed could the quarrel be shifted on to my shoulders, and M. de Fontelles and I set by the ears; whatever the issue of that difference, Carford stood to win by it. And I, not he, would be the man to resist the King's commands.

"But how comes he here?" cried Fontelles.

"The fellow was born here. He is an old neighbour of Mistress Quinton."

"Dangerous then?"

It was Carford's turn to shrug his shoulders, as he said,

"Fools are always dangerous. Well, I'll leave you. I want to think. Only remember; if you please to be on your guard against me, why, be more on your guard against Simon Dale."

"He dares not stop me. Nay, why should he? What I propose is for the lady's advantage."

Carford saw the quarrel he desired fairly in the making. M. de Fontelles was honest, M. de Fontelles was hot-tempered, M. de Fontelles would be told that he was a rogue. To Carford this seemed enough.

"You would do yourself good if you convinced him of that," he answered. "For though she would not, I think, become his wife, he has the influence of long acquaintance, and might use it against you. But perhaps you're too angry with him?"

"My duty comes before my quarrel," said Fontelles. "I will seek this gentleman."

"As you will. I think you're wise. They will know at the inn where to find him."

"I will see him at once," cried Fontelles. "I have, it seems, two matters to settle with this gentleman."

Carford, concealing his exultation, bade M. de Fontelles do as seemed best to him. Fontelles, declaring again that the success of his mission was nearest his heart, but in truth eager to rebuke or chasten my mocking disrespect, rushed from the room. Carford followed more leisurely. He had at least time for consideration now; and there were the chances of this quarrel all on his side.

"Will you come with me?" asked Fontelles.

"Nay, it's no affair of mine. But if you need me later--" He nodded. If it came to a meeting, his services were ready.

"I thank you, my lord," said the Frenchman, understanding his offer.

They were now at the door, and stepped out on the terrace. Barbara, hearing their tread, looked up. She detected the eagerness in M. de Fontelles' manner. He went up to her at once.

"Madame," he said, "I am forced to leave you for a while, but I shall soon return. May I pray you to greet me more kindly when I return?"

"In frankness, sir, I should be best pleased if you did not return," she said coldly, then, turning to Carford, she looked inquiringly at him. She conceived that he had done her bidding, and thought that the gentlemen concealed their quarrel from her. "You go with M. de Fontelles, my lord?" she asked.

"With your permission, I remain here," he answered.

She was vexed, and rose to her feet as she cried,

"Then where is M. de Fontelles going?"

Fontelles took the reply for himself.

"I am going to seek a gentleman with whom I have business," said he.

"You have none with my Lord Carford?"

"What I have with him will wait."

"He desires it should wait?" she asked in a quick tone.

"Yes, madame."

"I'd have sworn it," said Barbara Quinton.

"But with Mr Simon Dale--"

"With Simon Dale? What concern have you with Simon Dale?"

"He has mocked me twice, and I believe hinders me now," returned Fontelles, his hot temper rising again.

Barbara clasped her hands, and cried triumphantly,

"Go to him, go to him. Heaven is good to me! Go to Simon Dale!"

The amazed eyes of Fontelles and the sullen enraged glance of Carford recalled her to wariness. Yet the avowal (O, that it had pleased God I should hear it!) must have its price and its penalty. A burning flush spread over her face and even to the border of the gown on her neck. But she was proud in her shame, and her eyes met theirs in a level gaze.

To Fontelles her bearing and the betrayal of herself brought fresh and strong confirmation of Carford's warning. But he was a gentleman, and would not look at her when her blushes implored the absence of his eyes.

"I go to seek Mr Dale," said he gravely, and without more words turned on his heel.

In a sudden impulse, perhaps a sudden doubt of her judgment of him, Barbara darted after him.

"For what purpose do you seek him?"

"Madame," he answered, "I cannot tell you."

She looked for a moment keenly in his face; her breath came quick and fast, the hue of her cheek flashed from red to white.

"Mr Dale," said she, drawing herself up, "will not fear to meet you."

Again Fontelles bowed, turned, and was gone, swiftly and eagerly striding down the avenue, bent on finding me.

Barbara was left alone with Carford. His heavy frown and surly eyes accused her. She had no mind to accept the part of the guilty.

"Well, my lord," she said, "have you told this M. de Fontelles what honest folk would think of him and his errand?"

"I believe him to be honest," answered Carford.

"You live the quieter for your belief!" she cried contemptuously.

"I live the less quiet for what I have seen just now," he retorted.

There was a silence. Barbara stood with heaving breast, he opposite to her, still and sullen. She looked long at him, but at last seemed not to see him; then she spoke in soft tones, not as though to him, but rather in an answer to her own heart, whose cry could go no more unheeded. Her eyes grew soft and veiled in a mist of tears that did not fall. (So I see it-she told me no more than that she was near crying.)

"I couldn't send for him," she murmured. "I wouldn't send for him. But now he will come, yes, he'll come now."

Carford, driven half-mad by an outburst which his own device had caused, moved by whatever of true love he had for her, and by his great rage and jealousy against me, fairly ran at her and caught her by the wrist.

"Why do you talk of him? Do you love him?" he said from between clenched teeth.

She looked at him, half-angry, half-wondering. Then she said,

"Yes."

"Nell Gwyn's lover?" said Carford.

Her cheek flushed again, and a sob caught her voice as it came.

"Yes," said she. "Nell Gywn's lover."

"You love him?"

"Always, always, always." Then she drew herself near to him in a sudden terror. "Not a word, not a word," she cried. "I don't know what you are, I don't trust you; forgive me, forgive me; but whatever you are, for pity's sake, ah, my dear lord, for pity's sake, don't tell him. Not a word!"

"I will not speak of it to M. de Fontelles," said Carford.

An amazed glance was followed by a laugh that seemed half a sob.

"M. de Fontelles! M. de Fontelles! No, no, but don't tell Simon."

Carford's lips bent in a forced smile uglier than a scowl.

"You love this fellow?"

"You have heard."

"And he loves you?"

The sneer was bitter and strong. In it seemed now to lie Carford's only hope. Barbara met his glance an instant, and her answer to him was,

"Go, go."

"He loves you?"

"Leave me. I beg you to leave me. Ah, God, won't you leave me?"

"He loves you?"

Her face went white. For a while she said nothing; then in a calm quiet voice, whence all life and feeling, almost all intelligence, seemed to have gone, she answered,

"I think not, my lord."

He laughed. "Leave me," she said again, and he, in grace of what manhood there was in him, turned on his heel and went. She stood alone, there on the terrace.

Ah, if God had let me be there! Then she should not have stood desolate, nor flung herself again on the marble seat. Then she should not have wept as though her heart broke, and all the world were empty. If I had been there, not the cold marble should have held her, and for every sweetest tear there should have been a sweeter kiss. Grief should have been drowned in joy, while love leapt to love in the fulness of delight. Alas for pride, breeder of misery! Not life itself is so long as to give atonement to her for that hour; though she has said that one moment, a certain moment, was enough.

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