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Title: Shrewsbury - A Romance
Author: Weyman, Stanley J.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shrewsbury - A Romance" ***

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Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=Je-hnRe2EckC

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                              SHREWSBURY



                        _BY THE SAME AUTHOR._

                        THE HOUSE OF THE WOLF
              A Tale of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.

                        A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE.
               A Tale of the Days of Henry of Navarre.

                           THE RED COCKADE.
                   A Tale of the French Revolution.



[Illustration: WITH A GESTURE BETWEEN CONTEMPT AND IMPATIENCE THE DUKE
REMOVED HIS HAT]



                              SHREWSBURY



                              A Romance



                                  BY

                          STANLEY J. WEYMAN

       AUTHOR OF "A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE," "UNDER THE RED ROBE,"
                    "THE HOUSE OF THE WOLF," ETC.



                        WITH 24 ILLUSTRATIONS

                                  BY

                         CLAUDE A. SHEPPERSON



                       LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.

                      39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON

                         NEW YORK AND BOMBAY

                                 1898



                           Copyright, 1897
                         By STANLEY J. WEYMAN
                              *   *   *
                        _All rights reserved_



                         TO MY BROTHER HENRY

           IN MEMORY OF A SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN THE YEAR 1877
                        THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED



                        LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


With a gesture between contempt and impatience the duke removed his
hat. _Frontispiece_.

She looked directly at me.

In an instant I was on the other side of the fence.

Stole down the stairs and into the garden.

My companion seized my wrist.

The constable led me out of the crowd.

"When my back is turned go through that window."

He wore a dingy morning-gown and had laid aside his wig.

"Damn your King William, and you too!" he cried.

He pressed the ring of cold steel.

In the great chair sat an elderly lady leaning on an ebony stick.

I heard a light foot following me.

With a gesture between contempt and impatience the duke removed his
hat.

I flung my arms round him from behind, and with my right hand jerked
up the pistol.

A slight gentleman ambled and paced in front of a child.

"Now we will have that letter, if you please."

I saw a man had come to a stand before the door.

The place was nothing more than a concealed cupboard.

And turning from me, he began to pace the room, his hands clasped
behind him.

She came a step nearer to me, and peered at me.

Sir John ... stared at me a moment.

She listened in silence, standing over me with something of the
severity of a judge.

He shut himself in with his trouble.

I stood there at last ... the faces at the table all turned towards
me.

She was making marks on the turf with a stick.



                              SHREWSBURY



                              CHAPTER I


That the untimely death at the age of fifty-eight of that great
prince, Charles, Duke of Shrewsbury, my most noble and generous
patron, has afflicted me with a sorrow which I may truly call _acerbus
et ingens_, is nothing to the world; which from one in my situation
could expect no other, and, on the briefest relation of the benefits I
had at his hands, might look for more. Were this all, therefore, or my
task confined to such a relation, I should supererogate indeed in
making this appearance. But I am informed that my lord Duke's death
has revived in certain quarters those rumours to his prejudice which
were so industriously put about at the time of his first retirement;
and which, refuted as they were at the moment by the express
declaration of his Sovereign, and at leisure by his own behaviour, as
well as by the support which at two great crises he gave to the
Protestant succession, formed always a proof of the malice, as now of
the persistence, of his enemies.

Still, such as they are, and though, not these circumstances only, but
a thousand others have time after time exposed them, I am instructed
that they are again afloat; and find favour in circles where to think
ill of public men is held the first test of experience. And this being
the case, and my affection for my lord such as is natural, I perceive
a clear duty. I do not indeed suppose that anyone can at this time of
day effect that which the sense of all good men failed to effect while
he lived--I mean the final killing of those rumours; nor is a plain
tale likely to persuade those, with whom idle reports, constantly
furbished up, of letters seen in France, weigh more than a consistent
life. But my lord's case is now, as I take it, removed to the Appeal
Court of Posterity; which nevertheless, a lie constantly iterated may
mislead. To provide somewhat to correct this, and wherefrom future
historians may draw, I who knew him well, and was in his confidence
and in a manner in his employment at the time of Sir John Fenwick's
case--of which these calumnies were always compact--propose to set
down my evidence here; shrinking from no fulness, at times even
venturing on prolixity, and always remembering a saying of Lord
Somers', that often the most material part of testimony is that on
which the witness values himself least. To adventure on this fulness,
which in the case of many, and perhaps the bulk of writers, might
issue in the surfeit of their readers, I feel myself emboldened by the
possession of a brief and concise manner of writing; which, acquired
in the first place in the circumstances presently to appear, was later
improved by constant practice in the composition of my lord's papers.

And here some will expect me to proceed at once to the events of the
year 1696, in which Sir John suffered, or at least 1695. But softly,
and a little if you please _ab ovo_; still the particulars which
enabled my lord's enemies to place a sinister interpretation on his
conduct in those years had somewhat, and, alas, too much, to do with
me. Therefore, before I can clear the matter up from every point of
view, I am first to say who I am, and how I came to fall in the way of
that great man and gain his approbation; with other preliminary
matters, relating to myself, whereof some do not please at this
distance, and yet must be set down, if with a wry face.

Of which, I am glad to say, that the worst--with one exception---comes
first, or at least early. And with that, to proceed; premising always
that, as in all that follows I am no one, and the tale is my lord's, I
shall deal very succinctly with my own concerns and chancings, and
where I must state them for clearness of narration, will do so
_currente calamo_ (as the ancients were wont to say) and so forthwith
to those more important matters with which my readers desire to be
made acquainted.

Suffice it, then, that I was born near Bishop's Stortford on the
borders of Hertfordshire, in that year so truly called the Annus
Mirabilis, 1666; my father, a small yeoman, my mother of no better
stock, she being the daughter of a poor parson in that neighbourhood.
In such a station she was not likely to boast much learning, yet she
could read, and having served two years in a great man's still-room,
had acquired notions of gentility that went as ill with her station as
they were little calculated to increase her contentment. Our house lay
not far from the high road between Ware and Bishop's Stortford, which
furnished us with frequent opportunities of viewing the King and
Court, who were in the habit of passing that way two or three times in
the year to Newmarket to see the horse-races. On these occasions we
crowded with our neighbours to the side of the road, and gaped on the
pageant, which lacked no show of ladies, both masked and unmasked, and
gentlemen in all kinds of fripperies, and mettlesome horses that hit
the taste of some among us better than either. On these excursions my
mother was ever the foremost and the most ready; yet it was not long
before I learned to beware of her hand for days after, and expect none
but gloomy looks and fretful answers; while my father dared no more
spell duty for as much as a week, than refuse the King's taxes.

Nevertheless, and whatever she was as a wife--and it is true she could
ding my father's ears, and, for as handsome as she was, there were
times when he would have been happier with a plainer woman--I am far
from saying that she was a bad mother. Indeed, she was a kind, if
fickle, and passionate one, wiser at large and in intention than in
practice and in small matters. Yet if for one thing only, and putting
aside natural affection--in which I trust I am not deficient--she
deserved to be named by me with undying gratitude. For having learned
to read, but never to write, beyond, that is, the trifle of her maiden
name, she valued scholarship both by that she had, and that she had
not; and in the year after I was breeched, prevailed on my father who,
for his part, good man, never advanced beyond the Neck Verse, to bind
me to the ancient Grammar School at Bishop's Stortford, then kept by a
Mr. G----.

I believe that there were some who thought this as much beyond our
pretensions, as our small farm fell below the homestead of a man of
substance; and for certain, the first lesson I learned at that school
was to behave myself lowly and reverently to all my betters, being
trounced on arrival by three squires' sons, and afterwards, in due
order and gradation, by all who had or affected gentility. To balance
this I found that I had the advantage of my master's favour, and that
for no greater a thing than the tinge of my father's opinions. For
whereas the commonalty in that country, as in all the eastern
counties, had been for the Parliament in the late troubles, and still
loved a patriot, my father was a King's man; which placed him high in
Mr. G----'s estimation, who had been displaced by the Rump and hated
all of that side, and not for the loss of his place only, but, and in
a far greater degree, for a thing which befell him later, after he had
withdrawn to Oxford. For being of St. John's College, and seeing all
that rich and loyal foundation at stake, he entered himself in a body
of horse which was raised among the younger collegians and servants;
and probably if he had been so lucky as to lose an eye or an arm in
the field of honour, he would have forgiven Oliver all, and not the
King's sufferings only, but his own. But in place of that it was his
ill-chance to be one of a troop that, marching at night by the river
near Wallingford, took fright at nothing and galloped to Abingdon
without drawing rein; for which reason, and because an example was
needed, they were disbanded. True, I never heard that the fault on
that occasion lay with our master, nor that he was a man of less
courage than his neighbours; but he took the matter peculiarly to
heart, and never forgave the Roundheads the slur they had unwittingly
cast on his honour; on the contrary, and in the event, he regularly
celebrated the thirtieth of January by flogging the six boys who stood
lowest in each form, and afterwards reading the service of the day
over their smarting tails. By some, indeed, it was alleged that the
veriest dunces, if of loyal stock, might look to escape on these
occasions; but I treat this as a calumny.

That the good man did in truth love and favour loyalty, however, and
this without sparing the rod in season, I am myself a bright and
excellent example. For though I never attained to the outward flower
of scholarship by proceeding to the learned degree of arts at either
of the Universities, I gained the root and kernel of the matter at
Bishop's Stortford, being able at the age of fourteen to write a fine
hand, and read Eutropius, and Cæsar, and teach the horn-book and
Christ-Cross to younger boys. These attainments, and the taste for
polite learning, which, as these pages will testify, I have never
ceased to cultivate, I owe rather to the predilection which he had for
me than to my own gifts; which, indeed, though doubtless I was always
a boy of parts, I do not remember to have been great at the first.
_Sub ferula_, however, and with encouragement, I so far advanced that
he presently began to consider the promoting me to the place of usher,
with a cane _in commendam_; and, doubtless, he would have done it but
for a fit that took him at the first news of the Rye House Plot, and
the danger his Sacred Majesty had run thereby--which a friend
imprudently brought to him when he was merry after dinner--and which
caused an illness that at one and the same time carried him off, and
deprived me of the best of pedagogues.

After that, and learning that his successor had a son whom he proposed
to promote to the place I desired, I returned to the school no more,
but began to live at home; at first with pleasure, but after no long
interval with growing chagrin and tedium. Our house possessed none of
the comforts that are necessary to idleness, and therefore when the
east wind drove me indoors from swinging on the gate, or sulking in
the stack-yard, I found it neither welcome nor occupation. My younger
brother had seized on the place of assistant to my father, and having
got thews and experience _ambulando_, found fresh ground every day for
making mock of my uselessness. Did I milk, the cows kicked over the
bucket, while I thought of other things; did I plough, my furrows ran
crooked; when I thrashed, the flail soon wearied my arms. In the
result, therefore, the respect with which my father had at first
regarded my learning, wore off, and he grew to hate the sight of me
whether I hung over the fire or loafed in the doorway, my sleeves too
short for my chapped arms, and my breeches barely to my knees. Though
my mother still believed in me, and occasionally, when she was in an
ill-humour with my father, made me read to her, her support scarcely
balanced the neighbours' sneers. Nor when I chanced to displease
her--which, to do her justice, was not often, for I was her
favourite--was she above joining in the general cry, and asking me,
while she cuffed me, whether I thought the cherries fell into the
mouth, and meant to spend all my life with my hands in my pockets.

To make a long story short, at the end of twelve months, whereof every
day of the last ten increased my hatred of our home surroundings, the
dull strip of common before the door, the duck-pond, the grey horizon,
and the twin ash-trees on which I had cut my name so often, I heard
through a neighbour that an usher was required in a school at Ware.
This was enough for me; while, of my family, who saw me leave with
greater relief on their own account than hope on mine, only my mother
felt or affected regret. With ten shillings in my pocket, her parting
gift, and my scanty library of three volumes packed among my clothes
on my back, I plodded the twelve miles to Ware, satisfied the learned
Mr. D---- that I had had the small-pox, would sleep three in a bed,
and knew more than he did; and the same day was duly engaged to teach
in his classical seminary, in return for my board, lodging, washing,
and nine guineas a year.

He had trailed a pike in the wars, and was an ignorant, but neither a
cruel, nor, save in the pretence of knowledge, a dishonest man; it
might be supposed, therefore, that, after the taste of idleness and
dependence I had had, I should here find myself tolerably placed, and
in the fair way of promotion. But I presently found that I had merely
exchanged a desert for a prison, wherein I had not only the
shepherding of the boys to do, both by night and day, which in a short
time grew inconceivably irksome, so that I had to choose whether I
would be tyrant or slave; but also the main weight of teaching, and
there no choice at all but to be a drudge. And this without any
alleviation from week's end to week's end, either at meals or at any
other time! for my employer's wife had high notions, and must keep a
separate house, though next door, and with communications; sitting
down with us only on Sundays, and then at dinner, when woe betide the
boy who gobbled his food or choked over the pudding-balls. Having
satisfied herself on my first coming that my father was neither of the
Quorum nor of Justice's kin, and, in fact, a mere rustic nobody, she
had no more to say to me, but when she was not scolding her husband,
addressed herself solely to one of the boys, who by virtue of an uncle
who was a Canon, had his seat beside her. Insensibly, her husband, who
at first, with an eye to my knowledge and his own deficiencies, had
been more civil to me, took the same tone; and not only that, but,
finding that I was to be trusted, he came less and less into school,
until at last he would only appear for a few minutes in the day, and
to carve when we had meat, and to see the lights extinguished at
night. This without any added value for me; so that the better I
served him--and for a year I managed his school for him--the less he
favoured me, and at last thought a nod all the converse he owed me in
the day.

Consigned to this solitary life by those above me, it was not likely
that I should find compensation in the society of lads to whom I stood
in an odious light, and of whom the oldest was no more than fourteen.
For what was our life? Such hours as we did not spend in the drudgery
of school, or in our beds, we passed in a yard on the dank side of the
house, a grassless place, muddy in winter and dusty in summer,
overshadowed by one skeleton tree; and wherein, since all violent
games and sports were forbidden by the good lady's scruples (who
belonged to the fanatical party) as savouring of Popery, we had
perforce to occupy ourselves with bickerings and complaints and
childish plays. Abutting on the garden of her house, this yard
presented on its one open side a near prospect of water-butts, and
drying clothes, so that to this day I profess that I hold it in
greater horror than any other place or thing at that school.

It is true we walked out in the country at rare intervals; but as
three sides of the town were forbidden to us by a great man, whose
property lay in that quarter, and who feared for his game, our
excursions were always along one road, which afforded neither change
nor variety. Moreover, I had a particular reason for liking these
excursions as little as possible, which was that they exposed me to
frequent meetings with gay young sparks of my own age, whose scornful
looks as they rode by, with the contemptuous names they called after
me, asking who dressed the boys' hair and the like, I found it
difficult to support--even with the aid of those reflections on the
dignity of learning and the Latin tongue which I had imbibed from my
late master.

Be it remembered (in palliation of that which I shall presently tell)
that at this time I was only eighteen, an age at which the passions
and ambitions awake, and that this was my life. At a time when youth
demands change and excitement and the fringe of ornament, my days and
weeks went by in a plain round, as barren of wholesome interests as it
was unadorned by any kindly aid or companionship. To rise, to teach,
to use the cane, to move always in a dull atmosphere of routine; for
diversion to pace the yard I have described, always with shrill
quarrellings in my ears--these with the weekly walk made up my life at
Ware, and must form my excuse. How the one came to an abrupt end, how
I came to have sore need of the other, it is now my business to tell;
but of these in the next chapter; wherein also I propose to show,
without any moralities, another thing that shall prove them to the
purpose, namely, how these early experiences, which I have thus curtly
described, led me _per viam dolorosam_ to my late lord, and mingled my
fortunes with his, under circumstances not unworthy of examination by
those who take mankind for their study.



                              CHAPTER II


To begin, Mrs. D----, my master's better-half, though she seldom
condescended to our house, and when engaged in her kitchen premises
affected to ignore the proximity of ours, enjoyed in Ware the
reputation of a shrewd and capable house-wife. Whether she owed this
solely to the possession of a sharp temper and voluble voice, I cannot
say; but only that during all the time I was there I scarcely ever
passed an hour in our miserable playground without my ears being
deafened and my brain irritated by the sound of her chiding. She had
the advantage, when I first came to the school, of an elderly servant,
who went about her work under an even flow of scolding, and, it may
be, had become so accustomed to the infliction as to be neither the
better nor worse for it. But about the time of which I am writing,
when, as I have said, I had been there twelve months, I remarked a
change in Mrs. D----'s voice, and judged from the increased acerbity
and rising shrillness of her tone that she had passed from drilling an
old servant to informing a new one. To confirm this theory, before
long, "Lazy slut!" and "Dirty baggage!" and "Take that, Insolence,"
were the best of the terms I heard; and these so frequently mingled
with blows and slaps, and at times with the sound of sobbing, that my
gall rose. I had listened indifferently enough, and if with
irritation, without much pain, to the chiding of the old servant; and
I knew no more of this one. But by the instinct which draws youth to
youth, or by reason of Mrs. D----'s increased severity, I began to
feel for her, to pity her, and at last to wonder what she was like,
and her age, and so forth.

Nothing more formidable than a low paling separated the garden of Mrs.
D----'s house from our yard; but that her eyes might not be offended
by the ignoble sight of the trade by which she lived, four great
water-butts were ranked along the fence, which, being as tall as a
man, and nicely arranged, and strengthened on the inner side by an
accumulation of rubbish and so forth, formed a pretty effective
screen. The boys indeed had their spyholes, and were in the habit of
peeping when I did not check them; but in only one place, at the
corner farthest from the house, was it possible to see by accident, as
it were, and without stooping or manifest prying, a small patch of the
garden. This gap in the corner I had hitherto shunned, for Mrs.
D---- had more than once sent me from it with a flea in my ear and hot
cheeks: now, however, it became a favourite with me, and as far as I
could, without courting the notice of the wretched urchins who whined
and squabbled round me, I began to frequent it; sometimes leaning
against the abutting fence with my back to the house, as in a fit of
abstraction, and then slowly turning--when I did not fail to rake the
aforesaid patch with my eyes; and sometimes taking that corner for the
limit of a brisk walk to and fro, which made it natural to pause and
wheel at that point.

Notwithstanding these ruses, however, and though Mrs. D----'s voice,
raised in anger, frequently bore witness to her neighbourhood, it was
some time before I caught a glimpse of the person, whose fate, more
doleful than mine, yet not dissimilar, had awakened my interest. At
length I espied her, slowly crossing the garden, with her back to me
and a yoke on her shoulders. Two pails hung from the yoke, I smelled
swill; and in a trice seeing in her no more than a wretched drab, in
clogs and a coarse sacking-apron, I felt my philanthropy brought to
the test; and without a second glance turned away in disgust. And
thought no more of her.

After that I took a distaste for the gap, and I do not remember that I
visited it for a week or more; when, at length, chance or custom
taking me there again, I saw the same woman hanging clothes on the
line. She had her back to me as on the former occasion; but this time
I lingered watching her, and whether she knew or not that I was there,
her work presently brought her towards the place in the fence beside
the water-barrels, at which I stood gazing. Still, I could not see her
face, in part because she did not turn my way, and more because she
wore a dirty limp sun-bonnet, which obscured her features. But I
continued to watch; and by-and-by she had finished her hanging, and
took up the empty basket to go in again; and thereon, suddenly in the
act of rising from stooping, she looked directly at me, not being more
than two, or at the most three, paces from me. It was but one look,
and it lasted, I suppose, two seconds or so; but it touched something
in me that had never been touched before, and to this time of writing,
and though I have been long married and have children, my body burns
at the remembrance of it. For not only was the face that for those two
seconds looked into mine a face of rare beauty, brown and low-browed,
with scarlet, laughing lips, and milk-white teeth, and eyes of
witchery, brighter than a queen's jewels, but in the look, short as it
was and passing, shone a something that I had never seen in a woman's
face before, a something, God knows what, appeal or passion or
temptation, that on the instant fired my blood. I suppose, nay, I know
now, that the face that flashed that look at me from under the dirty
sun-bonnet could change to a marvel; and in a minute, and as by a
miracle, become dull and almost ugly, or the most beautiful in the
world. But then, that and all such things were new to me who knew no
women, and had never spoken to a woman in the way of love nor thought
of one when her back was turned; so new, that when it was over and she
gone without a second glance, I went back to the house another man, my
heart thumping in my breast, and my cheeks burning, and my whole being
oppressed with desire and bashfulness and wonder and curiosity, and a
hundred other emotions that would not permit me to be at ease until I
had hidden myself from all eyes.


[Illustration: SHE LOOKED DIRECTLY AT ME]


Well, to be brief, that, in less than the time I have taken to tell
it, changed all. I was eighteen; the girl's shining eyes burned me up,
as flame burns stubble. In an hour, a week, a day, I can no more say
within what time than I can describe what befel me before I was
born--for if that was a sleeping, this was a dream, and passed swift
and confused as one--I was madly and desperately in love. Her face
brilliant, mischievous, alluring, rose before the thumbed grammar by
day, and the dim casement of the fetid, crowded bedroom by night, and
filled the slow, grey dawnings, now with joy and now with despair. For
the time, I thought only of her, lived for her, did my work in dreams
of her. I kept no count of time, I gave no heed to what passed round
me; but I went through the routine of my miserable life, happy as the
slave that, rich in the possession of some beneficent drug, defies the
pains of labour and the lash. I say my miserable life; but I say it,
so great was the change, in a figure only and in retrospect. Mrs.
D---- might scorn me now, and the boys squabble round me, yet that
life was no longer miserable nor dull, whereof every morning flattered
me with hopes of seeing my mistress, and every third day or so
fulfilled the promise.

With all this, and though from the moment her eyes met mine across the
fence, her beauty possessed me utterly, a full fortnight elapsed
before I spoke with her. In the interval I saw her three times, and
always in the wretched guise in which she had first appeared to me;
which, so far from checking my passion, now augmented it by the full
measure of the mystery with which the sordidness of her dress, in
contrast with her beauty, invested her in my mind. But, for speaking
with her, that was another matter, and one presenting so many
difficulties (whereof, as the boys' constant presence and Mrs. D----'s
temper were the greatest, so my bashfulness was not the least) that I
think we might have gone another fortnight, and perhaps a third to
that, and not come to it, had not a certain privilege on which Mr.
D----'s good lady greatly prided herself, come to our aid in the nick
of time, and by bringing us into the same room (a thing which had
never occurred before, and of itself threw me into a fever) combined
with fortune to aid my hopes.

This privilege--so Mrs. D---- invariably styled it--was the solemn
gathering of the household on one Sunday in each month to listen to a
discourse which, her husband sitting meekly by, she read to us from
the works of some Independent divine. On these occasions she delivered
herself so sonorously and with so much gusto, that I do not doubt she
found compensation in them for the tedium of the sermon on Passive
Obedience, or on the fate of the Amalekite, to which, in compliance
with the laws against Dissent, she had perforce listened earlier in
the day. The master and mistress and the servant sat on one side of
the room, I with the boys on the other; and hitherto I am unable to
say which of us had suffered more under the infliction. But the
appearance of my sweet martyr--so, when Madam's voice rang shrillest
and most angrily over the soapsuds, I had come to think of her--in a
place behind her master and mistress (being the same in which the old
servant had nodded and grunted every sermon evening since my coming),
put a new complexion on the matter. For her, she entered, as if
unconscious of my presence, and took her seat with downcast eyes and
hands folded, and that dull look on her face which, when she chose,
veiled three-fourths of its beauty. But my ears flamed, and the blood
surged to my head; and I thought that all must read my secret in my
face.

With  Mrs. D----, however, this was the one hour in the month when the
suspicions natural in one of her carping temper, slept, and she tasted
a pleasure comparatively pure. Majestically arrayed in a huge pair of
spectacles--which on this occasion, and in the character of the family
priest, her vanity permitted and even incited her to wear--and
provided with a couple of tall tallow candles, which it was her
husband's duty to snuff, she would open the dreaded quarto and prop it
firmly on the table before her. Then, after giving out her text in a
tone that need not have disgraced Hugh Peters or the most famous
preacher of her persuasion, it was her custom to lift her eyes and
look round to assure herself that all was cringing attention; and this
was the trying moment; woe to the boy whose gaze wandered--his back
would smart for it before he slept. These preliminaries at an end,
however, and the discourse begun, the danger was over for the time;
for, in the voluptuous roll of the long wordy sentences, and the
elections and damnations, and free wills that plentifully bestrewed
them, she speedily forgot all but the sound of her own voice; and,
nothing occurring to rouse her, might be trusted to read for the hour
and half with pleasure to herself and without risk to others.

So it fell out on this occasion. As soon, therefore, as the steady
droning of her voice gave me courage to look up, I had before me the
same scene with which a dozen Sunday evenings had made me familiar;
the dull circle of yellow light; within it Madam's horn-rimmed glasses
shining over the book, while her finger industriously followed the
lines; a little behind, her husband, nodding and recovering himself by
turns. Not now was this all, however: now I saw also _imprimis_, a dim
oval face, framed in the background behind the two old people; and
that, now in shadow now in light, gleamed before my fascinated eyes
with unearthly beauty. Once or twice, fearing to be observed, I
averted my gaze and looked elsewhere; guiltily and with hot temples.
But always I returned to it again. And always, the longer I let my
eyes dwell on the vision--for a vision it seemed in the halo of the
candles--and the more monotonous hung the silence, broken only by
Mrs. D----'s even drone, the more distinctly the beautiful face stood
out, and the more bewitching and alluring appeared the red lips and
smiling eyes and dark clustering hair, that moment by moment drew my
heart from me, and kindled my ripening brain and filled my veins with
fever!

"Seventhly, and under this head, of the sin of David!"

So  Mrs. D---- booming on, in her deep voice, to all seeming
endlessly; while the air of the dingy whitewashed room grew stale, and
the candles guttered and burned low, and the boys, poor little
wretches, leaned on one another's shoulders and sighed, and it was
difficult to say whether Mr. D----'s noddings or his recoveries went
nearer to breaking his neck. At last--or was it only my fancy?--I
thought I made out a small brown hand gliding within the circle of
light. Then--or was I dreaming?--one of the candles began to move; but
to move so little and so stealthily, that I could not swear to it; nor
ever could have sworn, if Mr. D----'s wig had not a moment later taken
fire with a light flame, and a stench, and a frizzling sound, that in
a second brought him, still half-asleep, but swearing, to his feet.

Mrs. D----, her mouth open, and the volume lifted, halted in the
middle of a word, and glared as if she had been shot; her surprise at
the interruption so great--and no wonder--that she could not for a
while find words. But the stream of her indignation, so checked, only
gathered volume; and in a few seconds broke forth.

"Mr. D----!" she cried, slamming the book down on the table. "You
disgusting beast! Do you know that the boys are here?"

"My wig is on fire!" he cried for answer. He had taken it off, and now
held it at arm's length, looking at it so ruefully that the boys,
though they knew the danger, could scarcely restrain their laughter.

"And serve you right for a weak-kneed member!" his wife answered in a
voice that made us quake. "If you had not guzzled at dinner, sir, and
swilled small beer you would have remained awake instead of spoiling a
good wig, and staining your soul! Ay, and causing these little
ones----"

"I never closed my eyes!" he declared, roundly.

"Rubbish!" she answered in a tone that would brook no denial. And
then, "Give the wig to Jennie, sir!" she continued, peremptorily. "And
put your handkerchief on your head. It is well that good Mr. Nesbit
does not know what language has been used during his discourse; it
would cut that excellent man to the heart. Do you hear, sir, give the
wig to Jennie!" she screamed. "A handkerchief is good enough for
profane swearers and filthy talkers! And too good! Too good, sir!"

He went reluctantly to obey, seeing nothing for it; but between his
anger and Jennie's clumsiness, the wig, in passing from one to the
other, fell under the table. This caused  Mrs. D----, who was at the
end of her patience, to spring up in a rage, and down went a candle.
Nor was this the worst; for the grease in its fall cast a trail of hot
drops on her Sunday gown, and in a flash she was on the maid and had
smacked her face till the room rang.

"Take that, and that, you clumsy baggage!" she cried in a fury, her
face crimson. "And that! And the next time you offer to take a
gentleman's wig have better manners. This will cost you a year's
wages, my fine madam! and let me hear of your stepping over the
doorstep until it is earned, and I will have you jailed and whipped.
Do you hear? And you," she continued, turning ferociously on her
husband, "swearing on the Lord's day like a drunken, raffling,
God-forsaken Tantivy! You are not much better!"

It only remains in my memory now as a coarse outburst of vixenish
temper, made prominent by after events. But what I felt at the moment
I should in vain try to describe. At one time I was on the point of
springing on the woman, and at another all but caught the sobbing girl
in my arms and challenged the world to touch her.

Fortunately, Mr. D----, now fully awakened, and the more inclined to
remember decency in proportion as his wife forgot it, recalled me to
myself by sternly bidding me see the boys to their beds.

Glad to escape, they needed no second order, but flocked to the door,
and I with them. In our retreat, it was necessary for me to pass close
to the shrinking girl, whom  Mrs. D---- was still abusing with all the
cruelty imaginable; as I did so I heard, or dreamed that I heard,
three words, breathed in the faintest possible whisper. I say, dreamed
I heard, for the girl neither looked at me nor removed the apron from
her face, nor by abating her sobs or any other sign betrayed that she
spoke or that she was conscious of my neighbourhood.

Yet the three words, "Garden, ten minutes," so gently breathed, that I
doubted while I heard, could only have come from her; and assured of
that, it will be believed that I found the ten minutes I spent seeing
the boys to bed by the light of one scanty rushlight the longest and
most tumultuous I ever passed. If she had not spoken I should have
found it a sorry time, indeed; since the moment the door was closed
behind me I discerned a hundred reasons to be dissatisfied with my
conduct, thought of a hundred things I should have said, and saw a
hundred things I should have done; and stood a coward convicted. Now,
however, all was not over; I might explain. I was about to see her, to
speak with her, to pour out my indignation and pity, perhaps to touch
her hand; and in the delicious throb of fear and hope and excitement
with which these anticipations filled my breast, I speedily forgot to
regret what was past.



                             CHAPTER III


Doubtless there have been men able to boast, and with truth, that they
carried to their first assignation with a woman an even pulse. But as
I do not presume to rank myself among these, who have been commonly
men of high station (of whom my late Lord Rochester was, I believe,
the chief in my time), neither--the unhappy occurrence which I am in
the way to relate, notwithstanding---have I, if I may say so without
disrespect, so little heart as to crave the reputation. In truth, I
experienced that evening, as I crept out of the back door of Mr.
D----'s house, and stole into the gloom of the whispering garden, a
full share of the guilty feeling that goes with secrecy; and more than
my share of the agitation of spirit natural in one who knows (and is
new to the thought) that under cover of the darkness a woman stands
trembling and waiting for him. A few paces from the house--which I
could leave without difficulty, though at the risk of detection--I
glanced back to assure myself that all was still: then shivering, as
much with excitement as at the chill greeting the night air gave me, I
hastened to the gap in the fence, through which I had before seen my
mistress.

I felt for the gap with my hand and peered through it, and called her
name softly--"Jennie! Jennie!" and listened; and after an interval
called again, more boldly. Still hearing nothing, I discovered by the
sinking at my heart--which was such that, for all my eighteen years, I
could have sat down and cried--how much I had built on her coming. And
I called again and again; and still got no answer.

Yet I did not despair.  Mrs. D---- might have kept her, or one of a
hundred things might have happened to delay her; from one cause or
another she might not have been able to slip out as quickly as she had
thought. She might come yet; and so, though the more prolonged my
absence, the greater risk of detection I ran, I composed myself to
wait with what patience I might. The town was quiet; human noise at an
end for the day; but Mr. D----'s school stood on the outskirts, with
its back to the open country, and between the sighing of the wind
among the poplars, and the murmur of a neighbouring brook, and those
far-off noises that seem inseparable from the night, I had stood a
minute or more before another sound, differing from all these, and
having its origin at a spot much nearer to me, caught my ear, and set
my heart beating. It was the noise of a woman weeping; and to this day
I do not know precisely what I did on hearing it--when I made out what
it was, I mean--or how I found courage to do it; only, that in an
instant, as it seemed to me, I was on the other side of the fence, and
had taken the girl in my arms, with her head on my shoulder, and her
wet eyes looking into mine, while I rained kisses on her face.


[Illustration: IN AN INSTANT I WAS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE]


Doubtless the darkness and her grief and my passion gave me boldness
to do this; and to do a hundred other mad things in my ecstasy. For,
as I had never spoken to her before, any more than I had ever held a
woman in my arms before, so I had not thought, I had not dreamed of
this! of her hand, perhaps, but no more. Therefore, and though since
Adam's time the stars have looked down on many a lover's raptures,
never, I verily believe, have they gazed on transports so perfect, so
unlooked for, as were mine at that moment! And all the time not a word
passed between us; but after a while she pushed me from her, with a
kind of force that would not be resisted, and holding me at arm's
length, looked at me strangely; and then thrusting me altogether from
her, she bade me, almost roughly, go back.

"What? And leave you?" I cried, astonished and heart-broken.

"No, sir, but go to the other side of the fence," she answered firmly,
drying her eyes and recovering something of her usual calmness. "And
more, if you love me as you say you do----"

I protested. "_If?_" I cried. "If! And what then--if I do?"

"You will learn to obey," she answered, coolly, yet with an archness
that transported me anew. "I am not one of your boys."

For that word, I would have caught her in my arms again, but with a
power that I presently came to know, and whereof that was the first
exercise, she waved me back. "Go!" she said, masterfully. "For this
time, go. Do you hear me?"

My boldness of a minute before, notwithstanding, I stood in awe of
her, and was easily cowed; and I crossed the fence. When I was on my
side, she came to the gap, and rewarded me by giving me her hand to
kiss. "Understand me," she said. "You are to come to this side, sir,
only when I give you leave."

"Oh," I cried. "Can you be so cruel?"

"Or not at all, if you prefer it," she continued, drily. "More, you
must go in, now, or I shall be missed and beaten. You do not want that
to happen, I suppose?"

"If that hag touches you again!" I cried, boiling with rage at the
thought, "I will--I will----"

"What?" she said softly, and her fingers closed on mine, and sent a
thrill to my heart.

"I will strangle her!" I cried.

She laughed, a little cruelly. "Fine words," she said.

"But I mean them!" I answered, passionately. And I swore it--I swore
it; what will not a boy in love promise?

"Well," she answered, whispering and leaning forward until her breath
fanned my cheek, and the intoxicating scent of her hair stole away my
senses, "perhaps some day I shall try you. Are you sure that you will
not fail me then?"

I swore it, panting, and tried to draw her towards me by her arm; but
she held back, laughing softly and as one well pleased; and then, in a
moment, snatching her hand from me, she vanished in the darkness of
the garden, leaving me in a seventh heaven of delight, my blood fired
by her kisses, my fancy dwelling on her beauty; and without one
afterthought.

Doubtless had I been less deep in love (wherein I was far over-head),
or deeper in experience, I might have noted it for a curious thing
that she should be so quickly comforted; and should be able to rise in
a few moments, and at the touch of my lips, from passionate despair to
perfect control, both of herself and of me. And starting thence, I
might have gone on to suspect that she possessed her full share of the
_finesse_, which is always a woman's shield and sometimes her sword.
But as such suspicions are foreign to youth, so are they especially
foreign to youthful love, which takes nothing lower than perfection
for its idol. And this I can say for certain, that they no more
entered my brain than did the consequences which were to flow from my
passion.

For the time, indeed, I was in an ecstasy, a rapture. Walking
a-tip-toe, and troubled by none of the things that trouble common
folk; so that to this day--though long married--I look back to that
period of innocent folly with a yearning and a regret, the sorer for
this, that when I try to analyse the happiness I enjoyed, I fail, and
make nothing of it. That all things should be changed for me, and I be
changed in my own eyes--so that I walked a head taller and esteemed
myself ridiculously--by the fact that a kitchen wench in a drugget
petticoat and clogs had let me kiss her, and left me to believe
that she loved me, seems incredible now; as incredible as that
a daily glimpse of her figure flitting among the water-butts and
powdering-tubs had power to transform that miserable back garden into
a paradise, and Mr. D----'s school, with its dumplings, and bread and
dripping, and inky fingers, into a mansion of tremulous joy!

Yet it was so. Nor did it matter anything to me, so great is the power
of love when one is young, that my mistress went in rags, and had
coarse hands, and spoke rustically. Touching this last, indeed, I must
do her the justice to say that from the first she was as quick to note
differences of speech and manner as she was apt to imitate good
exemplars; and, moreover, possessed under her rags a species of
refinement that matched the witchery of her face, and proved her to
be, as she presently showed herself, no common girl.

Of course I, in the state of happy delirium on which I had now
entered, and wherein even Mr. D---- and the boys wore an amiable air,
and only Mrs. D----, because she persecuted my love, had the semblance
of a female Satan, needed no proof of this; or I had had it when my
Dorinda--so I christened her, feeling Jennie too low a name for so
much beauty and kindness--proposed at our second rendezvous that I
should teach her to read. At the first flush of the proposal I found
reading a poor thing because she did not possess it; at the second I
adored her for the humility that condescended to learn; but at the
third I saw the convenience, as well as sense, of a proposal which was
as much above the mind of an ordinary maid in love as Dorinda appeared
superior to such a creature in all the qualities that render sense
amiable.

Yet this much granted, how to teach her, seeing that we seldom met or
conversed, and never, save under the kindly shelter of darkness? The
obstacle for a time taxed all my ingenuity, but in the end I
surmounted it by boldly asking Mr. D----'s leave to hold the afternoon
classes in the playground. This, the approach of warm weather giving
colour to the petition, was allowed; after which, as Dorinda was
engaged in the back premises at that hour, and could listen while she
drudged, the rest was easy. Calling up the lowest class, I would find
fault with their reading, and after flying out at them in a simulated
passion, would remit them again and again to the elements; so that for
a fortnight or more, and, indeed, until the noise of the lads
repeating the lesson annoyed Mrs. D----'s ears, the playground rang
with a-b, ab; e-b, eb; c-a-t, cat; d-o-g, dog, and the like, with the
alphabet and the rest of the horn-book. And all this so frequently
repeated, that with this assistance, and the help of a spelling-book
which I gave her, and which she studied before others awoke, my
mistress at the end of two months could read tolerably, and was
beginning to essay easy round-hand.

And Heaven knows how delicious were those lessons under the shabby
ragged tree that shaded one half of the yard! I spoke to the yawning
grubby-fingered boys, who slouched and straddled round me; but I knew
to whose ears I applied myself; nor had pupil ever a more diligent
master, or master an apter pupil. Once a week I had my fee of kisses,
but rarely, very rarely, was permitted to cross the fence; a reserve
on my Dorinda's part, that, while it augmented the esteem in which I
held her, maintained my passion at a white heat. When, nevertheless, I
remonstrated with her, and loverlike, complained of the rigour which
in my heart I commended, she chid me for setting a low value on her;
and when I persisted, "Go on," she said, drawing away from me with a
wonderful air of offence. "Tell me at once, and in so many words, that
you think me a low thing! That you really take me for the kitchen
drudge I appear!"

Her tone was full of meaning, with a hint of mystery, but as I had
never thought her aught else--and yet an angel--I was dumb.

"You did think me that?" she cried, fixing me with her eyes, and
speaking in a tone that demanded an answer.

I muttered that I had never heard, had never known, that--that--and so
stammered into silence, not at all understanding her.

"Then I think that hitherto we have been under a mistake," she
answered, speaking very distantly, and in a voice that sent my heart
into my boots. "You were fond--or said you were--of the cook-maid. She
does not exist. No, sir, a little farther away, if you please," my
mistress continued, haughtily, her head in the air, "and know that I
come of better stock than that. If you would have my story I will tell
it you. I can remember--it is almost the first thing I can remember--a
day when I played, as a little child, with a necklace of gold beads,
in the court-yard of a house in a great city; and wandered out, the
side gate being open, and the porter not in his seat, into the
streets; where," she continued dreamily, and gazing away from me,
"there were great crowds, and men firing guns, and people running
every way----"

I uttered an exclamation of astonishment. She noticed it only by
making a short pause, and then went on in the same thoughtful tone,
"As far as I can remember, it was a place where there were booths and
stalls crowded together, and among them, it seems to me, a man was
being hunted, who ran first one way and then another, while soldiers
shot at him. At last he came where I had dropped on the ground in
terror, after running child-like where the danger was greatest. He
glared at me an instant--he was running, stooping down below the level
of the booths, and they had lost him for the time; then he snatched me
up in his arms, and darted from his shelter, crying loudly as he held
me up, 'Save the child! Save the child!' The crowd raised the same
cry, and made a way for him to pass. And then--I do not remember
anything, until I found myself shabbily dressed in a little inn,
where, I suppose, the man, having made his escape, left me."



                              CHAPTER IV


At that I remember that I cried out in overwhelming excitement and
amazement; cried out that I knew the man and his story, and the place
whence she had been taken; that I had heard the tale from my father
years before. "It was Colonel Porter who picked you up--Colonel
Porter, and he saved his life by it!" I cried, quite beside myself at
the wonderful discovery I had made. "It was Colonel Porter, in the
great riot at Norwich."

"Ah?" she said, slowly; looking away from me, and speaking so coolly
and strangely as both to surprise and damp me.

Yet I persisted. "Yes," I said, "the story is well known; at least
that part of it. But----" and there and at that word I stopped,
dumbfounded and gaping.

"But what?" she asked sharply, and looked at me again; the colour
risen in her face.

"But--you are only eighteen," I hazarded timidly, "and the Norwich
riot was in the War time. I dare say, thirty years ago."

She turned on me in a sort of passion.

"Well, sir, and what of that?" she cried. "Do you think me thirty?"

"No, indeed," I answered. And at the most she was nineteen.

"Then don't you believe me?"

I cried out too at that; but, boy-like, I was so proud of my knowledge
and acuteness that I could not let the point lie. "All I mean," I
explained, "is that to have been alive then, and at Norwich, you must
be thirty now. And----"

"And was it I?" she answered, flying out at me in a fine fury. "Who
said anything about Norwich? Or your dirty riots? Or your Porter,
whose name I never heard before! Go away! I hate you! I hate you!" she
continued, passionately, waving me off. "You make up things and then
put them on me! I never said a word about Norwich."

"I know you did not," I protested.

"Then why did you say I did?" she wailed. "Why did you say I did? You
are a wretch! I hate you!"

And with that, dissolving in tears and sobs she at one and the same
time showed me another side of love, and reduced me to the utmost
depths of despair; whence I was not permitted to emerge, nor
reinstated in the least degree of favour until I had a hundred times
abased myself before her, and was ready to curse the day when I first
heard the name of Porter. Still peace was at last, and with infinite
difficulty restored; and so complete was our _redintegratio amoris_
that we presently ventured to recur to her tale and to the strange
coincidence that had divided us; which did not seem so very
remarkable, on second thought, seeing that she could not now remember
that she had said a word about booths or stalls, but would have it I
had inserted those particulars; the man in her case having taken
refuge--she fancied, but could not at this distance of time remember
very clearly--among the seats of a kind of bull-ring or circus erected
in the marketplace. Which of course made a good deal of difference.

Notwithstanding this discrepancy, however, and though, taught by
experience, I hastened to agree with her that the secret of her birth
was not likely to be discovered in a moment, nor by so simple a
process as the journey to Norwich, which I had been going to suggest,
it was natural that we should often revert to the subject, and to her
pretensions, and the hardship of her lot: and my curiosity and
questions giving a fillip to her memory, scarcely a day passed but she
recovered some new detail from the past; as at one time a service of
gold-plate which she perfectly remembered she had seen on her father's
sideboard; and at another time an accident that had befell her in her
childhood, through her father's coach and six horses being overturned
in a slough. Such particulars (and many others as pertinent and
romantic, on which I will not linger) gave us a certainty of her past
consequence and her future fortune were her parents once known; and
while they served to augment the respect in which my love held her,
gradually and almost imperceptibly led her to take a higher tone with
me, and even on occasions to carry herself towards me with an air of
mystery, as if there were still some things which she had not confided
to me.

This attitude on her part--which in itself pained me extremely--and
still more the fear naturally arising from it, that if she came by her
own I should immediately lose her, forced me to make the acquaintance
of yet another side of love; by throwing me, I mean, into such a fever
of suspicion and jealousy as made me for a period the most unhappy of
men. From this plight my mistress, exercising the privilege of her
sex, made no haste to relieve me. On the contrary, by affecting an
increased reserve and asserting that her movements were watched, she
prolonged my doubts; nor when this treatment had wrought the desired
end of reducing me to the lowest depths, and she at length consented
to meet me, did she entirely relent or abandon her reserve; or if she
did so, on rare occasions, it was only to set me some task as the
price of her complaisance, or expose me to some trial by which she
might prove my devotion.

In a word, while I became hopelessly enslaved, even to the flogging a
boy at her word, or procuring a dress far above my station--merely
that she might see me by stealth in it, and judge of my air!--which
were two of her caprices, she appeared to be farther removed from me
every day, and at each meeting granted me fewer privileges. Whether
this treatment had its origin in the natural instinct of a woman, or
was deliberately chosen as better calculated to increase my
subservience, it had the latter effect; and to such an extent that
when, after a long absence, she condescended to meet me, and broached
a plan that earlier would have raised my hair, I asked no better than
to do her bidding, and, instead of pointing out the folly of her
proposal, fell in with it with scarcely a murmur.

Her plan, when she communicated it to me, which she did with an air of
mystery and the same assumption of a secret withheld that had
tormented me before, amounted to nothing less than an evening sally
into the town on the occasion of the approaching visit of the Duke of
York, who was to lie one night at the Rose at Ware on his way to
Newmarket. Mr. D---- had issued the strictest orders that all should
keep the house during this visit; not so much out of a proper care for
the boys' morality (though the gay crowd that followed the Court
served for a pretext) as because, in his character of fanatic and
Exclusionist, he held His Highness's religion and person in equal
abhorrence. Such a restriction weighed little in the scale against
love; but, infatuated as I was, I found something that sensibly
shocked me in the proposal coming from Dorinda's lips; nor could I
fail to foresee many dangers to which a young girl must expose herself
on such an expedition in the town, and at night. But as to a youth in
love nothing that his mistress chooses to do seems long amiss, so this
proposal scared me for a moment only; after which it cost my mistress
no more than a little rallying on my crop-eared manners, and some
scolding, to make me see it in its true aspect of an innocent frolic,
fraught with as much pleasure to the cavalier as novelty to the
escorted.

"You will don your new suit," she said, merrily, "and I shall meet you
in the garden at half past nine."

"And if the boys may miss me?" I protested feebly.

"The boys have missed you before!" she answered, mocking my tone.
"Were you not here last night? And for a whole hour, sir?"

I confessed with hot cheeks that I had been there; humbly and tamely
awaiting her pleasure.

"And did they tell then?" she asked scornfully. "Or are they less
afraid of the birch now? But of course--if you don't care to come with
me--or are afraid, sir----?"

"I am neither," I said warmly. "Only I do not quite understand, sweet,
what you wish."

"They lie at the Rose," she said. "And amongst them, I am told, are
the prettiest men and the most lovely women in the world. And jewels,
and laces, and such dresses! Oh, I am mad to see them! And music and
gaming and dancing! And dishes and plates of gold! And a Popish
priest, which is a thing I have never seen, though I have heard of it.
And----"

"And do you expect to see all these things through the windows?" I
cried in my superior knowledge.

She did not answer at once, but with her hands on my shoulders, swayed
to and fro sideways as if she already heard the music; while her gipsy
face looked archly into mine, first on this side and then on that, and
her hair swung to and fro on her shoulders in a beautiful abandonment
which I found it impossible to resist. At last she stopped, and,
"Yes," she said demurely, "through the windows, Master Richard
Longface! Do you meet me here at half past nine--in your new suit,
sir--and you shall see them too--through the windows."


[Illustration: STOLE DOWN THE STAIRS AND INTO THE GARDEN]


After that, though I made a last effort to dissuade her, there was
nothing more to be said. Obedient to her behest, I made my
preparations, and at the appointed hour next evening rose softly from
the miserable pallet on which I had just laid down; and dressing
myself with shaking fingers and in the dark--that my bed-fellows might
know as little as possible of my movements--stole down the stairs and
into the garden.

Here I found myself first at the rendezvous. The night was dark, but
an unusual light hung over the town, and the wind that stirred the
poplars brought scraps and sounds of music to the ear. I had some time
to wait, and time too to think what I was about to do; to weigh the
chances of detection and dismissal, and even to taste the qualms that
rawness and timidity mingled with my anticipations of pleasure. But,
though I had my fears, no vision of the real future obtruded itself on
my mind as I stood there listening: nor any forewarning of the plunge
I was about to take. And before I had come to the end of my patience
Dorinda stood beside me.

Dark as it was, I fancied that I discerned something strange in her
appearance, and I would have investigated it; but she whispered that
we were late, and evading as well my questions as the caress I
offered, she bade me help her as quickly as I could over the fence. I
did so; we crossed a neighbouring garden, and in a twinkling and with
the least possible difficulty stood in the road. Here the strains of
music came more plainly to the ear, and the glare of light hung lower
and shone more brightly. This seemed enough for my mistress; she
turned that way without hesitation, and set forward, the outskirts of
the town being quickly passed. Between the late hour and the flux of
people towards the centre of interest, the streets were vacant; and we
met no one until we reached the main thoroughfare, and came upon the
edge of the great crowd that moved to and fro before the Rose Inn.
Here all the windows, in one of which a band of music was playing some
new air, were brilliantly lighted; while below and round the door was
such a throng of hurrying waiters and drawers, and such a carrying of
meals and drinks, and a shouting of orders as almost turned the brain.
A carriage and six that had just set down a grandee, come to pay his
devoirs to the Prince, was moving off as we came up, the horses
smoking, the footmen panting, and the postilions stooping in their
saddles. A little to one side a cask was being staved for the troopers
who had come with the Duke; and on all the noisy, moving scene and the
flags that streamed from the roofs and windows, and the shifting
crowd, poured the ruddy light of a great _bon-feu_ that burned on the
farther side of the way.

Nor, rare as were these things, were they the most pertinent or the
strangest that the fire revealed to me. I had come for nothing else
but to see, _clam et furtim_, as the classics say, what was to be
seen; with no thought of passing beyond the uttermost ring of
spectators. But as I hung back shamefacedly my companion seized my
wrist and drew me on; and when I turned to her to remonstrate, as
Heaven lives, I did not know her! I conceived for a moment that some
madam of the court had seized me in a frolic; nor for a perceptible
space could I imagine that the fine cloaked lady, whose eyes shone
bright as stars through the holes in her mask, and whose raven hair,
so cunningly dressed, failed to hide the brilliance of her neck, where
the cloak fell loose, was my Dorinda, my mistress, the cook-maid whom
I had kissed in the garden! Honestly, for an instant, I recoiled and
hung back, afraid of her; nor was I quite assured of the truth, so
unprepared was I for the change, until she whispered me sharply to
come on.

"Whither?" I said, still hanging back in dismay. The bystanders were
beginning to turn and stare, and in a moment would have jeered us.

"Within doors," she urged.

"They will not admit us!"

"They will admit me," she answered proudly, and made as if she would
throw my hand from her.

Still I did not believe her, and it was that, and that only, that
emboldened me; though, to be sure, I was in love and her slave.
Reluctantly, and almost sulkily, I gave way, and sneaked behind her to
the door. A man who stood on the steps seemed, at the first glance,
minded to stop her; but, looking again, smiled and let us pass; and in
a twinkling we stood in the hall among hurrying waiters, and shouting
call-boys, and bloods in silk coats, whose scabbards rang as they came
down the stairs, and a fair turmoil of pages, and footboys, and
gentlemen, and gentlemen's gentlemen.


[Illustration: MY COMPANION SEIZED MY WRIST]


In such a company, elbowed this way and that by my betters, I knew
neither how to carry myself, nor where to look; but Dorinda, with
barely a pause, and as if she knew the house, thrust open the nearest
door, and led the way into a great room that stood on the right of the
hall.

Here, down the spacious floor, and lighted by shaded candles, were
ranged several tables, at which a number of persons had seats, while
others again stood or moved about the room. The majority of those
present were men. I noticed, however, three or four women masked after
the fashion of my companion, but more gorgeously dressed, and in my
simplicity did not doubt that these were duchesses, the more as they
talked and laughed loudly; whereas the general company--save those who
sat at one table where the game was at a standstill, and all were
crying persistently for a Tallier--spoke low, the rattle of dice and
chink of coin, and an occasional oath, taking the place of
conversation. I saw piles of guineas and half-guineas on the tables,
and gold lace on the men's coats, and the women a dream of silks and
furbelows, and gleaming shoulders and flashing eyes; and between awe
of my company, and horror at finding myself in such a place, I took
all for real that glittered. Where, therefore, a man of experience
would have discerned a crowd of dubious rakes and rustic squires
tempting fortune for the benefit of the Groom-Porter, whose privilege
was ambulatory, I fancied I gazed on earls and barons; saw a garter on
every leg, and, blind to the stained walls of the common inn-room,
supplied every bully who cried the main or called the trumps with the
pedigree of a Howard.

This was a delusion not unnatural, and a prey to it, I expected each
moment to be my last in that company. But the fringe of spectators
that stood behind the players favouring us, we fell easily into line
at one of the tables, and nothing happening, and no one saying us nay,
I presently breathed more freely. I could see that my companion's
beauty, though hidden in the main by her mask, was the subject of
general remark; and that it drew on her looks and regards more or less
insolent. But as she took no heed of these, but on the contrary gazed
about her unmoved and with indifference, I hoped for the best; and
excited by the brilliance and movement of a scene so far above my
wildest dreams, that I already anticipated the pride with which I
should hereafter describe it, I began to draw a fearful joy from our
escapade. Like Æneas and Ulysses, I had seen men and cities! And stood
among heroes! And seen the sirens! To which thoughts I was proceeding
to add others equally classical, when a gentleman behind me diverted
my thoughts by touching my companion on the arm, and very politely
requesting, her to lay on the table a guinea which he handed to her.

She did so, and he thanked her with a low-spoken compliment; then
added with bent head, but bold eyes, "Fortune, my pretty lady, cannot
surely have been unkind to one so fair!"

"I do not play," Dorinda answered, with all the bluntness I could
desire.

"And yet I think I have seen you play?" he replied. And affecting to
be engaged in identifying her, he let his eyes rove over her figure.

Doubtless Dorinda's mask gave her courage; yet, even this taken into
the count, her wit and resource astonished me. "You do not know me, my
pretty gentleman," she said, coolly, and with a proud air.

"I know that you have cost me a guinea!" he answered. "See, they have
swept it off. And as I staked it for nothing else but to have an
excuse to address the handsomest woman in the room----"

"You do not know what I am--behind my mask," she retorted.

"No," he replied, hardily, "and therefore I am going--I am going----"

"So am I!" my mistress answered, with a quickness that both surprised
and delighted me. "Good night, good spendthrift! You are going; and I
am going."

"Well hit!" he replied, with a grin. "And well content if we go
together! Yet I think I know how I could keep you!"

"Yes?" she said, indifferently.

"By deserving the name," he answered. "You called me spendthrift."

On that I do not know whether she thought him too forward, or saw that
I was nearly at the end of my patience--which it may be imagined was
no little tried by this badinage--but she turned her shoulder to him
outright, and spoke a word to me in a low tone. Then: "Give me a
guinea, Dick!" she said, pretty loudly. "I think I'll play."



                              CHAPTER V


She spoke confidently and with a grand air, knowing that I had brought
a guinea with me; so that I had neither the heart to shame her, nor
the courage to displease her. Though it was the ninth part of my
income therefore, and it seemed to me sheer madness or worse to stake
such a sum on a single card, and win or lose it in a moment, I lugged
it out and gave it to her. Even then, knowing her to have no more
skill in the game than I had, I was at a stand, wondering what she
would do with it; but with the tact which never fails a woman she laid
it where the gentleman had placed his. With better luck; for in a
twinkling, and before I thought it well begun, the deal was over, the
players sat back, and swore, and the banker, giving and taking here
and there, thrust a guinea over to our guinea. I was in a sweat to
take both up before anyone cheated us; but she nudged me, and said
with her finest air, "Let it lie, Dick! Do you hear? Let it lie."

This was almost more than I could bear, to see fortune in my grasp,
and not shut my hand upon it, but she was mistress and I let it lie;
and in a moment, hey presto, as the Egyptians say, the two guineas
were four, and those who played next us, seeing her success, began to
pass remarks on her, making nothing of debating who she was, and
discussing about her shape and complexion in terms that made my cheeks
burn. Whether this open admiration turned her head, or their freedom
confused her, she let the money lie again; and when I would have
snatched it up, not regarding her, the dealer prevented me, saying
that it was too late, while she with an air, as if I had been her
servant, turned and rated me sharply for a fool. This caused a little
disturbance at which all the company laughed. However, the event
proved me no fool, but wiser than most, for in two minutes that pretty
sum, which was as much as I had ever possessed at one time in my life,
was swept off; and for two guineas the richer, which we had been a
moment before, we remained one, and that my only one, the poorer!

For myself, I could have cried at the misadventure, but my mistress
carried it off with a shrill laugh, and tossing her head in affected
contempt--whereat, I am bound to confess, the company laughed
again--turned from the table. I sneaked after her as miserable as you
please, and in that order we had got half way to the door, when the
gentleman who had addressed her before, stepped up in front of her.
"Beauty so reckless," he said, speaking with a grin, and in a tone of
greater freedom than he had used previously, "needs someone to care
for it! Unless I am mistaken, Mistress, you came on foot?" And with a
sneering smile, he dropped his eyes to the hem of her cloak.

Alas, I looked too, and the murder was out. To be sure Dorinda had
clothed herself very handsomely above, but coming to her feet had
trusted to her cloak to hide the deficiency she had no means to
supply. Still, and in spite of this, all might have been well if she
had not in her chagrin at losing, forgotten the blot, and, unused to
long skirts, raised them so high as to expose a foot, shapely indeed,
but stockingless, and shod in an old broken shoe!

Her ears and neck turned crimson at the exposure, and she dropped her
cloak as if it burned her hand. I fancied that if the stranger had
looked to ingratiate himself by his ill-mannered jest, he had gone the
wrong way about it, and I was not surprised when she answered in a
voice quivering with mortification, "Yes, on foot. But you may spare
your pains. I am in this gentleman's care, I thank you."

"Oh," he said, in a peculiar tone, "this gentleman?" And he looked me
up and down.

I knew that it behooved me to ruffle it with him, and let him know by
out-staring him that at a word I was ready to pull his nose. But I was
a boy in strange company, and utterly cast down by the loss of my
guinea; he a Court bully in sword and lace, bred to carry it in such
and worse places. Though he seemed to be no more than thirty, he had a
long and hard face under his periwig, and eyes both tired and
melancholy; and he spoke with a drawl and a curling lip, and by the
mere way he looked at me showed that he thought me no better than
dirt. To make a long story short, I had not looked at him a moment
before my eyes fell.

"Oh, this gentleman?" he said again, in a tone of cutting contempt.
"Well, I hope that he has more guineas than one--or your ladyship will
soon trudge it, skin to mud. As it is, I fear that I detain you.
Kindly carry my compliments to Farmer Grudgen. And the pigs!"

And smiling--not laughing, for a laugh seemed alien from his face--at
a jest which was too near the truth not to mortify us exceedingly, my
lord--for a lord I thought he was--turned away with an ironical bow;
leaving us to get out of the room with what dignity we might, and such
temper as remained to us. For myself I was in such a rage, both at the
loss of my guinea and at being so flouted, that I could scarcely
govern myself; yet in my awe of Dorinda I said nothing, expecting and
fearing an outbreak on her part, the consequences of which it was not
easy to foretell. I was proportionately pleased therefore, when she
made no more ado at the time, but pushing her way through the crowd in
the street, turned homeward and took the road without a word.

This was so unlike her that I was at a loss to understand it, and was
fain to conclude--from the fact that she two or three times paused to
listen and look back--that she feared pursuit. The thought, bringing
to my mind the risk of being detected and dismissed, which I ran--a
risk that came home to me now that the pleasure was over, and I had
only in prospect my squalid bed-room and the morrow's tasks--filled me
with uneasiness. But I might have spared myself, for when she spoke I
found that her thoughts were on other things.

"Dick," she said, suddenly--and halted abruptly in the road, "you must
lend me a guinea."

"A guinea?" I cried, aghast, and speaking, it may be, with a little
displeasure. "Why, have you not just----"

"What?" she said.

"Lost my only one."

She laughed with a recklessness that confounded me. "Well, you have
got to find another one," she said. "And one to that!"

"Another guinea?" I gasped.

"Yes, another guinea, and another guinea!" she answered, mimicking my
tone of consternation. "One for my shoes and stockings--oh, I wish he
were dead!" And she stamped her foot passionately. "And one----"

"Yes?" I said, with a poor attempt at irony. "And one----?"

"For me to stake next Friday, when the Duke passes this way on his
road home."

"He does not!"

"He does, he does!" she retorted. "And you will do too--what I say,
sir! or----"

"Or what?" I cried, calling up a spirit for once.

"Or----" and she raised her voice a little, and sang:


             "But alas, when I wake, and no Phyllis I find,
              How I sigh to myself all alone!"


"You never loved me!" I cried, in a rage at that and her greed.

"Have it your own way!" she answered, carelessly, and sang it again;
and after that there was no more talk, but we walked with all the
width of the road between us; I with a sore heart and she titupping
along, cool and happy, pleased, I think, that she had visited on me
some of the chagrin which the stranger had caused her, and for the
rest with God knows what thoughts in her heart. At least I little
suspected them; yet, with the little knowledge I had, I was angry and
pained; and for the time was so far freed from illusion that I would
not make the overture, but hardened myself with the thought of my
guinea and her selfishness; and coming to the gap in the first fence
helped her over with a cold hand and no embrace such as was usual
between us at such junctures.

In a word, we were like naughty children returning after playing
truant; and might have parted in that guise, and this the very best
thing that could have happened to me--who had no guinea, and knew not
where to get one; though I would not go so far as to say that, in the
frame of mind in which I then was, it would have saved me. But in the
article of parting, and when the garden fence already rose between us,
yet each remained plain to the other by the light of the moon which
had risen, Dorinda on a sudden raised her hands, and holding her cloak
from her, stood and looked at me an instant in the most ravishing
fashion--with her head thrown back and her lips parted, and her eyes
shining, and the white of her neck and her bare arms, and the swell of
her bosom showing. I could have sworn that even the scent of her hair
reached me, though that was impossible. But what I saw was enough. I
might have known that she did it only to tantalize me: I might have
known that she would show me what I risked; but on the instant,
oblivious of all else, I owned her beauty, and resentment and my loss
alike forgotten, sprang to the fence, my blood on fire, and words
bubbling on my lips: Another second, and I should have been at her
feet, have kissed her shoes muddy and broken as they were; but she
turned, and with a backward glance, that only the more inflamed me,
fled up the garden, and to the house, whither, even at my maddest, I
dared not follow her.

However, enough had passed to send me to my bed to long and lie awake;
enough, the morrow come, to take all colour from the grey tasks and
dull drudgery of school-time; insomuch that the hours seemed days, and
the days weeks, and Mr. D----'s ignorant prosing and infliction too
wearisome to be borne. What my love now lacked of reverence, it made
up in passion, and passion's offspring, impatience: on which it is to
be supposed my mistress counted, since for three whole days she kept
within, and though every evening I flew to the rendezvous, and there
cooled my heels for an hour, she never showed herself.

Once, however, I heard her on the other side of the fence, singing:


             "But alas, when I wake, and no Phyllis I find,
              How I sigh to myself all alone!"


And, sick at heart, I understood the threat and her attitude.
Nevertheless, and though the knowledge should have cured me, by
convincing me that she was utterly unworthy and had never loved me, I
only consumed the more for her, and grovelled the lower in spirit
before her and her beauty; and the devil presently putting in my way
the means where he had already provided the motive, it was no wonder
that I made but a poor resistance, and in a short time fell.

It came about in this way. In the course of the week, and before the
Friday on which the Duke was to return that way, Mr. D---- announced
an urgent call to London; and as he was too wise to broach such a
proposal without a _quid pro quo_, Mrs. D---- must needs go with him.
The stage-wagon, which travelled three days in the week, would serve
next morning, and all was hasty preparation; clothes were packed and
mails got out; a gossip, one Mrs. Harris, was engaged to take Mrs.
D----'s place, and the boys were entrusted to me, with strict
instructions to see all lights out at night, and no waste. That these
injunctions might be the more deeply impressed on me, I was summoned
to Mrs. D----'s parlour to receive them; but unluckily with the
instructions given to me were mingled housekeeping directions to Mrs.
Harris, who was also present; the result being that when I retired
from the room I carried with me the knowledge that in a certain desk,
perfectly accessible, my employer left three guineas, to be used in
case of emergency, but otherwise not to be touched.

It was an unhappy chance, explaining, as well as accounting for, so
much of what follows, that were I to enter into long details of the
catastrophe, it would be useless; since the judicious reader will have
already informed himself of a result that was never in doubt, from the
time that my employer's departure at once provided the means of
gratification, and by removing the restraints under which we had
before laboured, held out the prospect of pleasure. Nor can I plead
that I sinned in ignorance; for as I sat among the boys and
mechanically heard their tasks, I called myself, "Thief, thief," a
hundred times, and a hundred to that; and once even groaned aloud; yet
never flinched or doubted that I should take the money. Which I
did--to cut a long story short--before Mr. D---- had been three hours
out of the house; and that evening humbly presented the whole of it to
my mistress, who rewarded my complaisance with present kisses and
future pledges, to be redeemed when she should have once more tasted
the pleasures of the great world.

To tell the truth, her craving for these, and to be seen again in
those haunts where we had reaped nothing but loss and mortification,
was a continual puzzle to me, who asked for nothing better than to
enjoy her society and kindness, as far as possible from the world. But
as she _would_ go and _would_ play, and made my subservience in this
matter the condition of her favour, it was essential she should win;
since I could then restore the money I had taken; whereas if she lost,
I saw no prospect before me but the hideous one of detection and
punishment. Accordingly, when the evening came, and we had effected
the same clandestine exodus as before--but this time with less peril,
Mrs. Harris being a sleepy, easy-going woman--I could think of nothing
but this necessity; and far from experiencing the terrors which had
beset me before, when Dorinda would enter the inn, gave no thought to
the scene or the crowd through which we pushed, or any other of the
preliminaries, but had my soul so set upon the fortune that awaited
us, that I was for passing through the door in the hardiest fashion,
and would scarcely stand even when a hand gripped my shoulder.
However, a rough voice exclaiming in my ear, "Softly, youngster! Who
are you that poke in so boldly? I don't know you," brought me to my
senses.

"I was in last week," I answered, gasping with eagerness.

"Then you were one too many," the doorkeeper retorted, thrusting me
back without mercy. "This is not a tradesman's ordinary. It is for
your betters."

"But I was in," I cried, desperately. "I was in last week."

"Well, you will not go in again," he answered coolly. "For the lady,
it is different. Pass in, mistress," he continued, withdrawing his arm
that she might pass, and looking at her with an impudent leer. "I can
never refuse a pretty face. And I will bet a guinea that there is one
behind that mask."

On which, to my astonishment, and while I stood agape between rage and
shame, my mistress, with a hurried word--that might stand for a
farewell, or might have been merely a request to me to wait, for I
could not catch it--accepted the invitation; and deserting me without
the least sign of remorse, passed in and disappeared. For a moment I
could scarcely, thus abandoned, believe my senses or that she had left
me; then, the iron of her ingratitude entering into my soul, and a
gentleman tapping me imperatively on the shoulder and saying that I
blocked the way, I was fain to turn aside, and plunge into the
darkness, to hide the sobs I could no longer restrain.

For a time, leaning my forehead against a house in a side alley, I
called her all the names in the world; reflecting bitterly at whose
expense she was here, and at what a price I had bought her pleasure.
Nor, it may be thought, was I likely to find excuses for her soon. But
a lover, as he can weave his unhappiness out of the airiest trifles,
so from very gossamer can he spin comfort; nor was it long before I
considered the necessity under which we lay to play and win, and
bethought me that, instead of finding fault with her for entering
alone, I should applaud the prudence that at a pinch had borne this
steadily in mind. After which, believing what I hoped, I soon ceased
to reproach her; and jealousy giving way to suspense--since all for me
now depended on the issues of gain or loss--I hastened to return to
the door, and hung about it in the hope of seeing her appear.

This she did not do for some time, but the interval and my thoughts
were diverted by a _rencontre_ as disagreeable as it was unexpected.
In my solitary condition I had made so few acquaintances in Hertford,
that I fancied I stood in no fear of being recognised. I was vastly
taken aback therefore, when a gentleman plainly dressed, happening to
pause an instant on the threshold as he issued from the inn, let his
glance rest on me; and after a second look stepped directly to me, and
with a sour aspect, asked me what I did in that place.

Then, when it was too late, I took fright; recognising him for a
gentleman of a good estate in the neighbourhood, who had two sons at
Mr. D----'s school, and enjoyed great influence with my master, he
being by far the most important of his patrons. As he belonged to the
fanatical party, and in common with most of that sect had been a
violent Exclusionist, I as little expected to see him in that company,
as he to see me. But whereas he was his own master, and besides was
there--this I learned afterwards--to rescue a young relative, while I
had no such excuse, he had nothing to fear and I all. I found myself,
therefore, ready to sink with confusion; and even when he repeated his
challenge could find no words in which to answer.

"Very well," he said, nodding grimly at that. "Perhaps Mr. D---- may
be able to answer me. I shall take care to visit him to-morrow, sir,
and learn whether he is aware how his usher employs his nights. Good
evening."

So saying, he left me horribly startled, and a prey to apprehensions,
which were not lessened by the guilt, that already lay on my
conscience in another and more serious matter. For such is the common
course of ill-doing; to plunge a man, I mean, deeper and deeper in the
mire. I now saw not one ridge of trouble only before me, but a second
and a third; and no visible way of escape from the consequences of my
imprudence. To add to my fears, the gentleman on leaving me joined the
same courtier who had spoken to Dorinda on the occasion of our former
visit, and who had just come out; so that to my prepossessed mind
nothing seemed more probable than that the latter would tell him in
whose company he had seen me and the details of our adventure. As a
fact, it was from this person's clutches my master's patron was here
to rescue his nephew. But I did not know this; and seeking in my panic
to be reassured, I asked a servant beside me who the stranger was.

"He?" he said. "Oh, he is a gentleman from the Temple. Been playing
with him?" and he looked at me, askance.

"No," I said.

"Oh," he replied, "the better for you."

"But what is his name?" I urged.

"Who does not know Mat. Smith, Esquire, of the Temple, is a country
booby--and that is you!" the man retorted quickly; and went off
laughing. Still this, seeing that I did not know the name, relieved me
a little; and the next moment I was aware of Dorinda waiting for me at
the door. Deducing from the smile that played on her countenance the
happiest omens of success, I forgot my other troubles in the relief
which this promised; and I sprang to meet her. Guiding her as quickly
as I could through the crowd, I asked her the instant I could find
voice to speak, what luck she had had.

"What luck?" she cried; and then pettishly, "there, clumsy! you are
pulling me into that puddle. Have a care of my new shoes, will you?
What luck, did you say? Why, none!"

"What? You have not lost?" I exclaimed, standing still in the road;
and it seemed to me that my heart stood still also.

"Yes, but I have!" she answered hardily.

"All?" I groaned.

"Yes, all! If you call two guineas all," she replied carelessly. "Why,
you are not going to cry for two guineas, baby, are you?"



                              CHAPTER VI


But I was going to cry and did, breaking down like a child; and that
not so much at the thought of the desperate strait to which she had
brought me--though this was no other than the felon's dock, with the
prospect of disgrace, and to be whipped or burned in the hand, at the
best, and if I had my benefit--but at the sudden conviction, which
came upon me, perfect and overwhelming, that my mistress, for whom I
had risked so much, did not love me! In no other way, and on no other
theory, could I explain callousness so complete, thoughtlessness so
cruel! Nor did her next words tend to heal the mischief, or give me
comfort.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, flouncing from me with impatient contempt, and
walking on the other side of the way, "if you are going to be a
cry-baby, thank you for nothing! I thought you were a man!" And she
began to hum an air.

"My God! I don't think you care!" I sobbed, aghast at her
insensibility.

"Care?" she retorted indifferently, swinging her visor in her hand.
"For what?"

"For me! Or for anything!"

With a coolness that appalled me, she finished the verse she was
humming; then, "Your finger hurts, therefore you are going to die!"
she said, with a sneer. "You see the fire and therefore you must be
burned. Why, you have the courage of a hen! A flea! A mouse! You are
not worthy the name of a man."

"I am man enough to be hanged," I answered miserably.

"Hanged?" quoth she, quite cheerfully. "Do you think that man was ever
hanged for three guineas?"

"Ay, scores," I said, "and for less!"

"Then they must have been cravens like you!" she retorted, perfectly
well satisfied with her answer. "And spun their own ropes. Come,
silly, cheer up! A great many things may happen in a week! And if that
vixen is back under a week, I will eat her!"

"A week won't make three guineas," I said dolefully.

"No, but a good heart will," she rejoined. "And not three but thirty!
Only," she continued, looking askance at me, "you have not the spirit
of a man. You are just Tumbledown Dick, as they say, and as well named
as nine-pence!"

It seemed inconceivable to me that she could jest so merrily and carry
herself so gaily, after such a loss; and I stopped short in sudden
hope and new-born expectation; and peered at her, striving to read her
thoughts. "I don't believe you have lost them!" I exclaimed at last.

"Every groat, Dick!" she answered, curtly--yet still in the best of
spirits. "Never doubt that!"

On which it was not wonderful that my disappointment and her
cheerfulness agreed so ill, that we came to bitter words, and
beginning by calling one another "Thankless," and "Clutch-penny," rose
presently to "Fool," and "Jade"; and eventually parted on the latter
at the garden fence; where Dorinda, so far from lingering as on the
former night, flounced from me in a passion, and left me without a
single word of regret. How miserably after that I stole to bed, and
how wakefully I tossed in the close garret, I cannot hope to convey to
my readers; suffice it that a hundred times I cursed the folly that
had led me to ruin, a hundred times went hot and cold at thought of
the dock and the gallows; and yet amid all found in Dorinda's
heartlessness the sharpest pain. I felt sure now, and told myself
continually, that she had never loved me; therefore--at the time it
seemed to follow--I deemed my own love at an end and cast her off; and
heaping the sharpest reproaches on her head, found my one sweet
consolation--whereat I wept miserably--in composing a last dying
speech and confession that should soften at length that obdurate
bosom, and break that unfeeling heart.

But with the day, and the rising to imminent terrors and hourly fear
of detection, came first regret, then self-reproach--lest I too should
be somewhat in fault--then a revival of passion; lastly, a frantic
yearning to be reconciled to the only person to whom I could speak
freely, or who knew the danger and strait in which I stood. My heart
melting like water at the thought, I was ready to do anything or say
anything, to abase myself to any depth, in order to regain her favour
and have her advice; and the absence of Mr. and Mrs. D----, and Mrs.
Harris's easiness rendering it a matter of no difficulty to seek her,
in the course of the afternoon I took my courage in my hands and went
into the next house. There I found only Mrs. Harris.

"The little slut has stepped out," she said, looking up from the pot
over which she was stooping. "She asked leave for half an hour and has
been gone an hour. But it is the way of the wenches all the world
over. Do you beware of them, Mr. Price," she continued, eyeing me, and
laughing jollily.

I made some trifling answer; and returning to my own domain, with all
the pangs of loneliness added to those of terror, sat down in the
dingy, dreary taskroom and abandoned myself to bitter forebodings. She
did not, she never could have loved me! I knew it and felt it now. Yet
I must think of her or go mad. I must think of her or of the cart and
cord; and so, through the hours that followed, I had only eyes for the
next garden, and ears for her voice. The boys and their chattering,
and the necessity I was under of playing my part before them,
well-nigh mastered me. For, at any hour, on any day, while I sat there
among them, Mr. and Mrs. D---- might return, and the loss be
discovered; and yet, and though time was everything, all the efforts I
made to see Jennie or get speech with her failed; and of myself I
seemed to be unable to think out any plan or way of escape.

I am sure that the most ascetic, could he have weighed the tortures of
those four days during which I sat surrounded by the boys, and now
making frantic efforts to appear myself, now sunk in a staring,
pale-faced lethargy of despair, would have deemed them a punishment
more than commensurate with my guilt. The unusual air of peace and
quietness with which Mrs. D----'s absence invested the school had no
more power to soothe me than the presence of Mrs. Harris, nodding over
her plain-stitch in the next garden, availed to banish the burning
gusts of fear that at times parched my skin. At length, on the fifth
day, the immediate warning of coming judgment arrived in the shape of
a letter announcing that my employer would return (D.V.) by the night
waggon, which in the ordinary course was due to reach Ware about six
next morning.

At that I could stand the strain no longer, but flinging appearance
and deception to the winds, I rose from the class I was pretending to
teach, and in a disorder I made no effort to suppress, followed Mrs.
Harris; who, having declared the news, was already waddling back to
the next house. She started at sight of me in her train--as she well
might, for it was the busiest time of the day; then asked if anything
ailed me.

"No," I said. "I want a word with Jennie."

"Do you?" quoth she, looking hard at me. "So, it would seem, do a good
many young fellows. She is a nice handful if ever there was one."

"Why?" I stammered.

"Why?" she answered in a tone very sharp for her. "Why, because--but
what have you to do with Jennie, young man?"

"Nothing," I said.

"Then have nothing," she answered promptly, and shook her sides
at her sharpness. "That is no puzzle! And as it is no more than
half-past ten, and I hear your boys rampaging like so many wild
Irishmen--suppose you go back to them, young man!"

I obeyed; but whatever effect her warning might have had earlier--and
I shrewdly suspect that it would have affected me as much as water
affects a duck's back--it came too late; my one desire now being to
see the girl, even as my one hope lay in her advice. Nine had struck
that evening, however, and night had fallen, and I grown fairly sick
with fear, before my efforts were rewarded, and stealing into the
garden on a last desperate search--I think for the twentieth time--I
came on her standing in the dusk, beside the fence where I had so
often met her.

I sprang to her side, relief at my heart, reproaches on my lips; but
it was only to recoil at sight of her face, grown hard and old and
pinched, and for the moment almost ugly. "Why, child!" I cried,
forgetting my own trouble. "What is it?"

She laughed without mirth, looking at me strangely. "What do you
suppose?" she said huskily, and I could see that fear was on her. "Do
you think that you are the only one in danger?"

"How?" I exclaimed.

"How?" she replied in a tone of mockery. "Why, do you suppose that
stockings and shoes are the only things that cost money? Or that vizor
masks, and gloves and hoods grow on bushes? Briefly, fool, if you can
give me four guineas, I am saved. If not----"

"My God!" I cried, horror-stricken.

"If not," she continued hardily, "you have taught me to read, and that
may save my neck. I suppose I shall be sent to the plantations, to be
beaten weekly, and work in the sun, and----"

"Four guineas!" I groaned.

"Yes, seven in all!" she answered with a sneer.
"Have you got them?"

"No, nor a groat!" I answered, overwhelmed by the discovery that
instead of giving help she needed it. "Not a penny!"

"Then it must be got!" she answered fiercely. "It must be got!" and as
she repeated the words, she dropped her mocking tone, and spoke with
feverish energy. "It must be got, Dick!" and she seized my hands and
held them. "It must be, and can be, if you have a spark of spirit, if
you are not the poor mean thing I sometimes think you. Listen! Listen!
In the old man's room upstairs--the door is locked and double-locked,
I have tried it--are sixty guineas, in a bag! Sixty guineas, in a
drawer of the old bureau by the bed!"

"It is death," I cried feebly, recoiling from her as I spoke. "It is
death! I dare not! I dare not do it!"

"Then we hang! We hang, man!" she answered fiercely. "You and I! Will
it be better to hang for a lamb than a sheep? For seven guineas than
for sixty?"

"But if we take it, what shall we be the better for it?" I said
weakly. "He returns in the morning."

"By the morning, given the money, we shall be a score of miles away!"
she answered, flinging her arms round my neck, and hanging on my
breast, while her hot breath fanned my cheek. No wonder I felt my
brain reel, and my will melt. "Away from here, Dick," she repeated
softly. "Away---and together!"

Yet I made an effort to withstand her. "You forget the door," I said.
"If the door is locked, and Mrs. Harris sleeps in the next room, how
can it be done?"

"Not by the door, but by the window," she replied. "There is a ladder
in the second garden from this; and the latch of the window is weak.
The old fool indoors sleeps like a hog. By eleven she will be sound.
And oh, Dick!" my mistress cried, breaking down on a sudden and
snatching my hands to her bosom, "will you see me shamed? Play the man
for ten minutes only--for ten minutes only, and by morning we shall be
safe, and far from here! And--and together, Dick! Together!"

Was it likely, I ask, was it possible that I should long resist
pleading such as this? That holding her in my arms, in the warm summer
night, with her hair on my breast, while the moon sailed overhead and
a cricket chirped in the wall hard by--was it likely or possible, I
say, that I should steel my heart against her; that I should turn from
the cup of pleasure, who had tasted as yet so few delights, and
drudged and been stinted all my life? Whose appetite had known no
daintier relish than the dull round of dumpling and bacon, or at the
best salt meat and spinach; and who for sole companionship had been
shut in, June days and December nights alike, with a band of
mischievous boys, whom the ancients justly called _genus improbum_. At
any rate I did not; to my shame, great or small, according as I shall
be harshly or charitably judged--I did not; but with a beating heart
and choked voice, I gave my word and left her; and an hour later I
crept down the creaking stairs for the last time, guilty and
shivering, a bundle in my hand, and found her waiting for me in the
old place.

I confess that the flurry of my spirits in this crisis was such as to
disturb my judgment; and my passion for my mistress being no longer of
the higher kind, these two things may account for the fact that I felt
no wonder or repulsion when she explained to me, coolly and in detail,
where the bureau stood, and in what part of it lay the money; even
adding that I had better bring away a pair of silver candlesticks
which I should find in another place. By the time she had made these
things clear to me, the favourable moment was come; the lights of the
town had long been extinguished, and the house obscuring the moon cast
a black shadow on the garden, that greatly seconded our movements. Yet
for myself, and though all went well with us, I trembled at the
faintest sound, and started if a leaf stirred; nay, to this day I
willingly believe that the smallest trifle, a light at a window or a
distant voice, would have deterred me from the adventure. But nothing
occurred to hinder or alarm; and the darkness cloaking us only too
effectually, and my accomplice directing me where to find the ladder,
I fetched it, and with her help thrust it over the fence and climbed
over after it.

This was a small thing, the worst being to come. The part of the
garden under the wall of the house was paved; it was only with the
greatest exertion therefore and the utmost care that we could raise
the ladder on it without noise; and but for the surprising strength
which Jennie showed, I doubt if we should have succeeded, my hands
trembled so violently. In the end we raised it, however; the upper
part fell lightly beside the second floor casement, and Jennie
whispered to me to ascend.

I had gone too far now to retreat, and I obeyed, and had mounted two
steps, when I heard distinctly--the sound coming sharp and clear
through the night--the shod hoof of a horse paw the ground, apparently
in the road beyond the house. Scared by such a sound at such a time, I
slid rapidly down into Jennie's arms. "Hush!" I cried. "Did you hear
that? There is someone there!"

But angered by my sudden descent which had come near to knocking her
down, she whispered in a rage that I was either the biggest fool or
the poorest craven in the world. "Go up! Go up!" she continued
fiercely, almost striking me in her excitement. "There are sixty
guineas awaiting us up there--sixty guineas, man, and you budge,
because a horse stirs."

"But what is it doing there?" I remonstrated. "A horse, Jennie--at
this time of night!"

"God knows!" she answered. "What is it to us?"

Still I lingered a moment, unwilling to ascend; but hearing nothing,
and thinking I might have been mistaken, I was ashamed to hang back
longer, and I went up, though my legs trembled under me, and a bird
darting suddenly out of the ivy glued me to the ladder by both hands,
with the sweat standing out on my face. Alone, nothing on earth would
have persuaded me to it; but with Jennie below I dared not flinch, and
the latch of the window proving as weak as she had described it, in a
moment the lattice swung open and I climbed over the sill.

Feeling the floor with my feet, I stood an instant in the dark stuffy
room, and listened. It smelled strongly of herbs, on which account I
hate that smell to this day. I could hear Mrs. Harris snoring next
door; and the pendulum of the fine new clock on the stairs, which was
Mrs. D----'s latest pride, was swinging to and fro regularly; and I
knew that at the slightest alarm the house would be awake. But I had
gone too far to recede; and though I feared and sweated, and at the
touch of a hand must have screamed aloud, I went forward and groping
my way across the floor, found the bureau, and tried the drawer.

It was locked, but crazily; and Jennie foreseeing the obstacle had
given me a chisel. Inserting the point, I listened awhile to assure
myself that all was quiet, and then with the resolution of despair
forced the drawer open with a single wrench. Probably the noise was no
great one, but to my ears it rang through the night loud as the crack
of laden ice. I heard the sleeper in the next room cease her snoring
and turn in the bed; and cowering down on the floor I gave up all for
lost. But in a moment she began to breathe again, and encouraged by
that and the silence in the house, I drew the drawer open, and feeling
for the bag, discovered it, and clutching it firmly, turned to the
window.

I found that Jennie had mounted the ladder, and was looking into the
room, her hands on the sill, her head dark against the sky. "Have you
got it?" she whispered, thrusting in her arm and groping for me. "Then
give it me while you get the candlesticks. They are wrapped in
flannel, and are under the bed."

I gave her the bag, which chinked as it passed from hand to hand; then
I turned obediently, and groping my way to the bed which stood beside
the bureau, I felt under it. I found nothing, but did not at once give
up. The candlesticks might lie on the farther side, and accordingly I
rose and climbed over the bed and tried again, passing my hands
through the flue and dust which had gathered under Mrs. D----'s best
feather-bed.

How long I might have searched in the dark, and vainly, I cannot say;
for my efforts were brought to a premature end by a dull thud that
came to my ears apparently from the next room. Certain that it could
be caused by nothing less than Mrs. Harris getting out of bed, I
crawled out, and got to my feet in a panic, and stood in the dark
quaking and listening; so terrified that I am sure if the good woman
had entered at that moment, I should have fallen on my knees before
her, and confessed all. Nothing followed, however; the house remained
quiet; I heard no second sound. But my nerve was gone. I wanted
nothing so much now as to be out of the place; not for a thousand
guineas would I have stayed; and without giving another thought to the
candlesticks, I groped my way to the window, and passing one leg over
the sill, felt hurriedly for the ladder.

I failed to find it, and tried again; then peering down called Jennie
by name. She did not answer. A second time I called, and felt about
with my foot; still without success. Then as it dawned upon me at last
that the ladder was really gone, and I a prisoner, I thought of
prudence no longer, but I called frantically, at first in a whisper,
and then as loudly as I dared; called and called again, "Jennie!
Jennie!" And yet again, "Jennie!"

Still no answer came; but listening intently, in one of the intervals
of silence, I caught the even beat of hoofs, receding along the road,
and growing each moment less marked. They held me; scarcely breathing,
I listened to them, until they died away in the distance of the summer
night, and only the sharp insistent chirp of the cricket, singing in
the garden below, came to my ears.



                              CHAPTER VII


How long I hung at the window, at one time stunned and stricken down
by the catastrophe that had befallen me, and at another feeling
frantically for the ladder which I had over and over again made sure
was not there, I know no more than another; but only that after a
time, first suspicion and then rage darted lightning-like through the
stupor that clouded my mind, and I awoke to all the tortures that love
outraged by treachery can feel; with such pangs and terrors added as
only a faithful beast, bound and doomed and writhing under the knife
of its master, may be supposed to endure.

For a while, it is true, imagining that Jennie, terrified by someone's
approach, had lowered the ladder and withdrawn herself, and so would
presently return to free me, I hoped against hope. But as minutes
passed, and yet more minutes, laden only with the cricket's even
chirp, and the creepy rustling of the wind in the poplars, and still
failed to bring her, the sound of retreating hoofs which I had heard
recurred to my mind, with dreadful significance, and on the top of it
a hundred suspicious circumstances; among which, as her sudden passion
when I had taken fright at the foot of the ladder, was not the least,
so her avoidance of me during the last few days and her frequent
absences from the house, spoken to by Mrs. Harris, had their weight.
In fine, by the light of her desertion after receiving the plunder,
and while I sought the candlesticks--which I had now convinced myself
were not there--many things obscure before, or to which I had wilfully
shut my eyes--as her callousness, her greed, her recklessness--stood
out plainly; while these again, being coolly considered, reflected so
seriously on her, as to give her sudden departure the worst possible
appearance, even in a lover's eyes. The days had been when I would not
have believed such a thing of her at the mouth of an angel from
Heaven. But much had happened since, to which my passion had blinded
me, temporarily only; so that it needed but a flash of searing light
to make all clear, and convince me that she had not only left me, but
left me trapped--I who had given up all and risked all for her!

In the first agony of pain and rage wrought by a conviction so
horrible, I could think only of her treachery and my loss; and head to
knees on the bare floor of the room, I wept as if my heart would
break, or choked with the sobs that seemed to rend my breast. And
little wonder, seeing that I had given her a boy's first devotion, and
that of all sins ingratitude has the sharpest tooth! But to this
paroxysm, when I had nearly exhausted myself, came an end and an
antidote in the shape of urgent fear; which suddenly flooding my soul,
roused me from my apathy of grief, and set me to pacing the room in a
dreadful panic, trying now the door and now the window. But on both my
attacks were in vain, the former being locked and resisting the
chisel, while the latter hung thirty feet above the paved yard.

Thus caught and snared, as neatly as any bird in a springe, I had no
resource but in my wits; and for a time, as I had nothing of which I
could form a rope, I busied myself with the expedient of throwing out
the featherbed and leaping upon it. But when I had dragged it to the
window, and came to measure the depth, I recoiled, as the most
desperate might, from the leap; and softly returning the bed to its
place, I fell to biting my nails, or fitfully roamed from place to
place, according as despair or some new hope possessed me.

In one or other of these moods the dawn found me; and then in a
surprisingly short time I heard the dreaded sounds of life awaken
round me, and creeping to the window I closed it, and crouched down on
the floor. Presently Mrs. Harris began to stir, and a boy walked
whistling shrilly across the adjacent yard; and then--strangest of all
things, and not to be invented--in the crisis of my fate, with the
feet of those who must detect me almost on the stairs, I fell asleep;
and awoke only when a key grated in the lock of the room, and I
started up to find Mr. D---- in the doorway staring at me, and behind
him a crowd of piled-up faces.

"Why, Price?" he cried, with a look of stupefaction, as he came slowly
into the room, "what is the meaning of this?"

Then I suppose my shame and guilty silence told him, for with a sudden
scowl and an oath he strode to the bureau and dragged out the drawer.
A glance showed him that the money was gone, and shouting frantically
to those at the door to keep it--to keep it, though they were
half-a-dozen to one!--he clutched me by the breast of my coat, and
shook me until my teeth chattered.

"Give it up," he cried, spluttering with rage. "Give it up, you
beggar's brat! Or, by heaven, you shall hang for it."

But as I had nothing to give up, and could not speak, I burst into
tears; which with the odd part I had played in staying in the room to
be taken, and perhaps my youth and innocent air, aroused the
neighbours' surprise; who, crowding round, asked him solicitously what
was missing. He answered after a moment's hesitation, sixty guineas.
One had already clapped his hands over my clothes, and another had
forced my mouth open; but on this they desisted, and stood, full of
admiration.

"He cannot have swallowed that," said the most active, gaping at me.

"No, that is certain. But what beats me," said another, looking round,
"is how he got here."

"To say nothing of why he stayed here!" replied the former.

"I'll tell you what," quoth a third, shaking his head. "There is some
hocus-pocus in this. And I should not wonder, neighbours, if the
Catholics were at the bottom of it!"

The theory appeared to commend itself to more than one--for they were
all of the fanatical party; but it was swept to the winds by the
entrance of Mrs. D----, who having heard of robbery, came in like a
whirlwind, her face on fire, and made no more ado, but rushed upon me,
and tore and slapped my cheeks with all her might, crying with each
blow, "You nasty thief, will that teach you better manners? That for
your roguery! and that! Oh, you jail bird, I'll teach you!"

How long she would have continued to chastise me I cannot say, but her
husband presently stepped in to protect me, and being thoroughly
winded, she let me go pretty willingly. But when she learned, having
hitherto been under the impression that I had been seized in the act
with the money upon me, that the latter could not be found, her face
turned yellow and she sat down in a chair.

"Have you searched?" she gasped.

"Everywhere," the neighbours answered her.

"He must have thrown it through the window."

They shook their heads.

On that she jumped up, and looked at me with a cold spite in her face
that made me shiver. "Then I will tell you what it is," she said, "he
has given it to that hussy, and she has taken it! But I will have it
out of him; where the money is, and she is, and how he got in! Mr.
D----, when you have done standing there like a gaby, fetch your
stoutest cane; and do you, my friends, lay him across that bed! And if
we do not cut it out of his skin, his name is not Richard Price. I
wish I had the wench here, and I would serve her the same!"

I screamed, and fell on my knees as they laid hands on me; but Mrs.
D---- was a woman without bowels, and the men were complaisant and not
unwilling to see the cruel sport of the usher flogged, and the
schoolmaster disciplined; and it would have gone hard with me, in
spite of my prayers, if the constable had not arrived at that moment,
and requested with dignity to see his prisoner. Introduced to me, he
stared; and, moved I believe by an impulse of pity, said I was young
to hang.

"Ay, but not too good!" Mrs. D---- answered shrilly, her head
trembling with passion. "He and the hussy, that is gone, have robbed
me of eighty guineas in a green bag, as I am prepared to swear!"

"Sixty, Mrs. D----," said her husband, looking a warning at her and
then askance at his neighbours.

"Rot take the man, does it matter to a guinea or two?" she
retorted--but her sallow face flushed a little. "At any rate," she
continued, pressing her thin lips together, and nodding her head
viciously, "sixty or eighty, they have taken them."

It seemed, however, that even to that one of the neighbours had a word
to say. "As to the girl, I am not so sure, Mrs. D----," he struck in
ponderously. "If she is the wench that has been carrying on with the
gentleman at the 'Rose,' she has had other fish to fry. Though I don't
say, mind you, that she has _not_ been in this. Only----"

But Mrs. D---- could restrain herself no longer. "Only! only!
Gentlemen at the 'Rose'!" she cried. "Why, man, are you mad? What do
you think has my maid--though maid she is not, but a dirty drab, and
more is the pity I took her out of charity from the parish--she was
Kitty Higgs's base-born brat as you know--what has she to do with
gentlemen at the 'Rose'?"

"Well, that is not for me to say," the man answered quietly. "Only I
know that for a week or more a wench has been walking with the
gentleman in the roads and so forth, by night as well as by day. I
came on them twice myself hard by here; and though she was dressed
more like a fine madam than a serving girl, I watched her into your
house. And for the rest, Mrs. Harris must know more than I do."

But Mrs. Harris, when Mrs. D---- turned on her in a white rage, could
only cover her head and weep in a corner; as much, I believe, out of
sorrow for me as on her own account. However, the fact that the
good-natured woman had left Jennie pretty much to her own devices
could not be gainsaid; and Mrs. D---- had much to say on it. But when
she talked of sending after the baggage and jailing her, ay, and the
gentleman at the "Rose" too, if he could not pay the money, the
constable pursed up his lips.

"It is to be remembered that he came with His Royal Highness, our
gracious Prince," he said, swelling out his chest and puffing out his
cheeks with importance. "And though it is true he ordered his horses
and went for London last evening--as I know myself, having seen him
go, and seen him before for the matter of that at Hertford Assizes,
for he is a Counsellor--it does not follow that the wench went with
him. Or, if she did, Mrs. D----, ----"

"That she had anything to do with this money," the neighbour who had
spoken before put in.

"Precisely, Mr. Jenkins," the constable answered. "You are a man of
sense. For my part," he continued, looking round a little defiantly,
"I am no Whig, and I am not for meddling with Court gentlemen, and
least of all lawyers. And if you will take my advice, Mr. D----, you
will be satisfied to lay this young jail-bird by the heels; and if he
does not speak before the rope is round his neck, it is not likely
that you will get your money other ways. But, lord," the good man went
on, standing back from me, to view me the better, "he is young to be
such a villain! It is 'broke and entered,' too, and so he will swing
for it." And he took off his hat and wiped his bald head, while he
gazed at me between pity and admiration.

Mrs. D----, who was very far from sharing either of these feelings,
would have had me taken at once before a Justice and committed. But
the constable, partly to prove his importance, and partly, I believe,
to give me a chance of disclosing where the money lay, before it was
too late, would have the house and garden searched, and all the boys
examined; under the impression that I might have had one of these for
my accomplice. Naturally, however, nothing came of this, except the
discovery that I had been out of nights lately; which had scarcely
been made when who should appear on the scene, in an unlucky hour for
me, but the gentleman who had identified me outside the gaming room at
the "Rose." As he had come for the very purpose of laying a complaint
against me, his story destroyed the last scrap of my credit, by
exhibiting me as a secret rake; and this removing all doubt of my
guilt, if any were still entertained even by Mrs. Harris, it was
determined to convey me, dinner over, to Sir Baldwin Winston's, at
Abbot's Stanstead, to be committed; the two Justices who resided in
Ware being at the moment disabled.

All this time, and while my fate was being decided, I listened to one
and another in a dull despair, which deprived me of the power to
defend myself; and from which nothing less than Mrs. D----'s atrocious
proposal to flog me, until I gave up the money, could draw me, and
that only for a moment. Conscious of my guilt, and seized in the act
and on the scene of my crime, I beheld only the near and certain
prospect of punishment; while I had not the temptation to tell all,
and inform against my crafty accomplice, to which a knowledge of her
destination must have exposed me. Besides--and I think a great part of
my apathy was due to this--I still felt the stunning effects of the
blow which her cruel treachery had dealt me. I saw her in her true
light; and as I sat, weeping silently, and seeming to those who
watched me, little moved, I was thinking at least as much of the past
and my love, and her craft, as of the fate that lay before me.

Though this was presently brought vividly before me, and of all
persons by Mrs. Harris. Mrs. D---- of herself would have given me
neither bit nor sup in the house; but the constable insisting that the
King's prisoner must be fed, Mrs. Harris, tearful and shaking, was
allowed to bring me some broken victuals. These set before me, the
good soul, instead of retiring, pottered aimlessly about the room; and
by and by got behind me; on which, or rather a moment later, I felt
something cold and sharp at the nape of my neck and started up.
Bursting into a flood of tears she plumped down on a seat, and I saw
that she had a pair of scissors and a scrap of my hair in her hand.

"Good Lord!" I said.

Doubtless the tone in which I spoke betrayed me, for the constable's
man who was in charge of me laughed brutally. "Gad, if he does not
think she did it out of love!" he cried, speaking to a friend who was
sitting with him. "When all the old dame wants is a charm for the
rheumatics; and she thinks the chance too good to be lost."

Then I remembered that the hair of a hanged man is in that part held
to be sovereign for the rheumatics; and I sat down feeling cold and
faint.



                             CHAPTER VIII


That saying, though a small thing, and a foolish one, brought my state
home to me; and, moreover, filled me with so grisly a foreboding of
the gibbet, that henceforth I gave my treacherous mistress no more
thought than she deserved--which was little; but I became wholly taken
up with my own fate, and especially with the recollection of a man,
whom I had once seen, pitched and hanging in chains, at Much Hadham
Crossroads. The horrible spectacle he had become, ten days dead, grew
on my mind, until I grovelled and sweated in a green terror, and that
not so much at the prospect of death--though this sent me hot and cold
in the same instant--as of the harsh rope about my neck, and the
sacking bands, and the dreadful apparatus, and the grinning loathsome
thing I must become.

Near swooning at these thoughts, I sank huddled into the chair; and
was presently plucked up by the constable's assistant, who, seeing my
state, came forward, and though he was naturally a coarse fellow,
strove to hearten me, saying that there was always hope until the cart
moved, and that many a man cast for death was drinking the King's
health in the Plantations. With an oath or two and in a loud voice.

On that a last flicker of pride came to my aid, and trying to meet his
eye I muttered that it was not that; that I was not afraid, and that
at worst I should be burned in the hand.

"To be sure!" he said nodding, and looking at me curiously. "To be
sure. It is well to be a scholar!"

I was athirst, however, to get some further and better assurance from
him; and fixing my eyes on his face, I asked hoarsely, "You think that
it is certain? You think there is no doubt?"

"Certain sure, my Toby!" he answered. But I saw that, as he moved
away, he winked to his comrade, and I heard the latter ask him softly,
as he took his seat again, "Is't so? Will the lad cheat the hangman?"

"Not he!" was the reply, uttered in a whisper--but terror sharpened my
ears. "There was so long a list at the last Assizes, and half of them
_legit_, that it was given out they would override it this time, and
make examples. And ten to one he will swing, Ben."

"But is it the law?"

I did not hear the answer for the drumming in my ears and the dreadful
confusion in my brain; which were such that I was not aware of the
constable's entrance or of anything that happened after that, until I
found myself in the road climbing clumsily on the back of a pony, in
the middle of a throng of staring curious faces. My feet being secured
under the beast's belly--at which some gave a hand, while others stood
off, whispering and looking strangely at me--the constable mounted
himself, and shouting to his wife that he should take me on to
Hertford gaol, and should not be back until late, led me out of the
crowd, Mr. D---- and Mr. Jenkins bringing up the rear. The last I saw
of the school the boys were hanging out of the windows to see me go;
and Mrs. D---- was standing in the doorway, and unappeased by my
misery, was shrilly denouncing me--hands and tongue, all going--to a
group of her gossips.

Our road took us past the Rose Inn, and through a great part of the
town, but no impression of either remains with me, my only
recollection being of the sunshine that lay over the country, and of
the happiness that all creation, all living things, save my doomed
self, enjoyed. The bitterness of the thought that yesterday I had been
as these, free to move and live and breathe, caused great tears to
roll down my cheeks; but my companions, whose thoughts had already
gone forward to the Steward's Room at Sir Winston's, and the
entertainment they expected there, took little notice of me; and less
after the porter at the lodge told them that there were grand doings
at the house, and a great company, including a lord, come unexpectedly
from London.

"I don't think ye'll be welcome," the porter added, looking curiously
at me.

"Justice's business," the constable replied sturdily. "The King must
be served."

"Ay, that is what you all say when you've something to gain by it,"
the porter retorted; and went in.


[Illustration: THE CONSTABLE LED ME OUT OF THE CROWD]


All which I heard idly; not supposing that it meant to me the
difference between life and death, fortune and misery; or that in the
company come unexpectedly from London lurked my salvation. If I dwelt
on the news at all it was only as it might affect me by adding to the
shame I felt. But in this I deceived myself; for when the ordeal of
waiting in the servants' hall--where the maids pitied me and would
have fed me if I could have eaten--was over, and we were ushered into
the parlour in which Sir Winston, who had newly risen from dinner,
would see us, we found only one gentleman with him.

The two stood at the farther end of a long narrow room, in the bay of
a large window, that, open to the ground, permitted a view of cool
sward and yew hedges. That they had had companions, lately withdrawn,
was clear; and this, not only from the length of the table, which,
bestrewn with plates and glasses and half-empty flagons, stretched up
the room from us to them, but from two chairs, thrown down in the
hurry of rising, and six or seven others thrust back, haphazard,
against the panels. In the side of the room were four tall straight
windows that allowed the sunshine to fall in regular bars on the
table; and these, displaying here a little pool of spilled claret, and
there a broken tobacco pipe, the ash still smouldering, gave a touch
of grimness to the luxurious disorder.

The same incongruity was to be observed in the appearance of the elder
and stouter of the two men; who had hung his periwig on the back of a
chair, and showed a bald head and flushed face that agreed very ill
with his laced cravat and embroidered coat. Standing with his feet
apart and his arm outstretched, he was not immediately aware of our
entrance; but continued to address his companion in words that were
coherent, yet betrayed how he had been employed.

"Crop-eared knaves, my lord, half of them, and I one!" he cried, as we
came to a halt a little within the door, to await his pleasure--I with
shaking knees and sinking heart. "And ready to become the same again
if the times call for it. For why? Because it was only so we could
keep or get, my lord. And martyrs have been few in my time, though
fools plenty."

"I should be sorry to deny the last, Sir Winston," his companion
answered, smiling; for whom at the moment, blind bat as I was, I had
no eyes, seeing in him only a noble youth, handsomely dressed and
periwigged, and two, or it might be three years older than myself;
whereas I hung on the Justice's nod. "But here is your case," the
young man continued, turning to me, and speaking in a pleasant voice.

"And a hard case one of them is," the Justice answered jollily, as he
turned to us, and singled out the constable. "That is you, Dyson!" he
continued, "one of those of whom I have been telling you, my lord. A
psalm-singer in the troubles, sergeant in Lord Grey's regiment, a
roundhead, and ran away, with better men than himself, at Cropredy
Bridge. To-day he damns a Whig, and goes to bed drunk every
twenty-ninth of May."

"Having a good example, your honour!" the constable answered grinning.

"Ay, to be sure. And why don't you follow it also?" Sir Winston
continued, turning to the schoolmaster. "But crop-eared you were and
crop-eared you are; one of Shaftesbury's brisk boys, my lord! And
ought to be fined for a ranter every Monday morning, if all had their
deserts!"

"Then I am afraid that your theory does not apply to him, Sir
Winston," the young man said with a smile. "Here is one martyr
already; and if one martyr, why not many?"

"Martyr?" the Justice answered, with half-a-dozen oaths. "He? No one
less! He goes to church as you and I do, and does not smart to the
tune of a penny! It is true he pulls a solemn face and abhors
mince-pies and plum-porridge. But why? Because he keeps a school, and
the righteous, or what are left of them, who are just such hypocrites
as himself, resort unto his company with boys and guineas! Resort unto
his company, eh, D---?" the Justice repeated gleefully, addressing the
schoolmaster. "That is the phrase, isn't it? Oh, I have chopped
Scripture with old Noll in my time. And so it pays, do you see, my
lord? When it does not, he'll damn the Whigs and turn Tantivy or
Abhorrer, or something that does. And so it is with all; they are
loyal. Never were Englishmen more loyal; but to what are they loyal?
Themselves, my lord!"

"Yet there are Whigs who do not keep schools," the young lord said,
after a hearty laugh.

"Ay, my lord, and why?" Sir Winston answered, in high good humour,
"because we are all trimmers to the wind, but some trim too late, and
some too soon. And those are your Whigs. Never you turn Whig, my lord,
whatever you do, or you will die in a Dutch garret like Tony
Shiftsbury! And if anyone could have made Whiggery pay nowadays,
clever Anthony would have. Here's his health, but I doubt he is in
hell, these eight months."

And Sir Winston, going to the table, filled and drank off a bumper of
claret. Then he filled again. "The King--God bless him--is not very
well, I hear," said he, winking at the young lord. "So I will give you
another toast. His Highness's health, and confusion to all who would
exclude him! And now what is this business, Dyson? Who is the lad?
What has he been doing?"

The constable began to explain; but before he had uttered many words,
the baronet, whose last draught had more than a little fuddled him,
cut him short. "Oh, come to me to-morrow!" he said. "Or stay! You are
in the Commission for the county, my lord?"

"I am, but I have not acted," the young man answered.

"Rot it, man, but you shall act now! Burglary, is it? Broke and
entered, eh? Then that is a hanging matter, and a young hound should
be blooded. I am off! My lord will do it, Dyson. My lord will do it."

With which the Justice lurched out of the window so quickly, not to
say unsteadily, that he was gone before his companion could
remonstrate. The young lord, thus abandoned, looked at first at a
nonplus, and seemed for a while more than half-inclined to follow.
But changing his mind, and curious, I am willing to believe, to hear
the case of a prisoner so much out of the common as I must have
appeared to him, he turned to us, and adopting a certain stateliness,
which came easily to him, young as he was, he told the constable he
would hear him.

Then it was that, hanging for my life on the nods and words of
intelligence that from time to time fell from him, and whereby he
lifted the constable out of the slough of verbiage in which he
floundered, I dared again to hope; and noting with eyes sharpened by
terror the cast of his serious handsome features, and the curves of
his mouth, sensitive as a woman's yet wondrously under control, saw a
prospect of life. For a time indeed I had nothing more substantial on
which to build than such signs, so damning seemed the tale that
branded me as taken in the act and on the scene of my crimes. But when
the young peer, after eyeing me gravely and pitifully, asked if they
had found the money on me, and the constable answered, "No," and my
lord retorted, "Then where was it?" and got no answer; and again when
he enquired as to the lock on the door and the height of the window,
and who had aided me to enter, and learned that a girl was suspected
and no one else--then I felt the blood beat hotly in my head, and a
mist come before my eyes.

"Who is his accomplice? Pooh; there must be one!" he said.

"The girl, may it pleasure your lordship," the constable answered.

"The girl? Then why should she leave him to be taken? How did he
enter?"

"By a ladder, it is supposed, my lord."

"It is supposed?"

"Yes, my lord."

"But ladder or no ladder, why did she leave him?"

The constable scratched his head.

"Perhaps they were surprised, please your lordship," he ventured at
last.

"But the boy was found in the room at seven, dolt. And the sun is up
before four. What was he doing all those hours? Surprised, pooh!"

"Well, I don't know as to that, your worship," the man answered
sturdily; "but only that the prisoner was found in the room, in which
he had not ought to be, and the money was gone from the room where it
had ought to be!"

"And the bureau was broken open," Mr. D---- cried eagerly. "And what
is more, he has never denied it, my lord! Never."

At that and at sight of the change that came over my judge's face the
hope that had risen in me died suddenly; and I saw again the grim
prospect of the prison and the gibbet; and to be led from one to the
other, dumb, one of a drove, unregarded. And, it coming upon me
strongly that in a moment it would be too late, I found my voice and
cried to him, "Oh, my lord, save me!" I cried. "Help me! For the sake
of God, help me!"

Whether my words moved him or he had not yet given up my case, he
looked at me attentively, and with a shade as of recollection on his
face. Then he asked quietly what I was.

"Usher in a school, my lord," someone answered.

"Poor devil!" he exclaimed. And then, to the others, "Here, you!
Withdraw a little to the passage, if you please. I would speak with
him alone."

The constable opened his mouth to demur; but the young gentleman would
not suffer it; saying with a fine air that there was no resisting,
"Pooh, man, I am Lord Shrewsbury. I will be responsible for him." And
with that he got them out of the room.



                              CHAPTER IX


I know now that there never was a man in whom the natural propensity
to side with the weaker party was by custom and exercise more highly
developed than in my late lord, in whose presence I then stood; who,
indeed, carried that virtue to such an extent that if any fault could
be found with his public carriage--which I am very far from admitting,
but only that such a colour might be given to some parts of it by his
enemies--the flaw was attributable to this excess of generosity. Yet
he has since told me that on this occasion of our first meeting, it
was neither my youth nor my misery--in the main at any rate--that
induced him to take so extraordinary a step as that of seeing me
alone; but a strange and puzzling reminiscence, which my features
aroused in him, and whereto his first words, when we were left
together, bore witness. "Where, my lad," said he, staring at me, "have
I seen you before?"

As well as I could, for the dread of him in which I stood, I essayed
to clear my brain and think; and in me also, as I looked at him, the
attempt awoke a recollection, as if I had somewhere met him. But I
could conceive one place only where it was possible I might have seen
a man of his rank; and so stammered that perhaps at the Rose Inn, at
Ware, in the gaming-room I might have met him.

His lip curled, "No," he said coldly, "I have honoured the
Groom-Porter at Whitehall once and again by leaving my guineas with
him. But at the Rose Inn, at Ware--never! And heavens, man," he
continued in a tone of contemptuous wonder, "what brought such as you
in that place?"

In shame, and aware, now that it was too late, that I had said the
worst thing in the world to commend myself to him, I stammered that I
had gone thither--that I had gone thither with a friend.

"A woman?" he said quickly.

I allowed that it was so.

"The same that led you into this?" he continued sharply.

But to that I made no answer: whereon, with kindly sternness he bade
me remember where I stood, and that in a few minutes it would be too
late to speak.

"You can trust me, I suppose?" he continued with a fine scorn, "that I
shall not give evidence against you. By being candid, therefore, you
may make things better, but can hardly make them worse."

Whereon I have every reason to be thankful, nay, it has been matter
for a life's rejoicing that I was not proof against his kindness; but
without more ado, sobbing over some parts of my tale, and whispering
others, I told him my whole story from the first meeting with my
temptress--so I may truly call her--to the final moment when, the
money gone, and the ladder removed, I was rudely awakened, to find
myself a prisoner. I told it, I have reason to believe, with feeling,
and in words that carried conviction; the more as, though skilled in
literary composition, and in writing _secundum artem_, I have little
imagination. At any rate, when I had done, and quavered off
reluctantly into a half coherent and wholly piteous appeal for mercy,
I found my young judge gazing at me with a heat of indignation in
cheek and eye, that strangely altered him.

"Good G----!" he cried, "what a Jezebel!" And in words which I will
not here repeat, he said what he thought of her.

True as the words were (and I knew that, after what I had told him,
nothing else was true of her), they forced a groan from me.

"Poor devil," he said at that. And then again, "Poor devil, it is a
shame! It is a black shame, my lad," he continued warmly, "and I would
like to see Madam at the cart-tail; and that is where I shall see her
before all is done! I never heard of such a vixen! But for you," and
on the word he paused and looked at me, "you did it, my friend, and I
do not see your way out of it."

"Then must I hang?" I cried desperately.

He did not answer.

"My lord! My lord!" I urged, for I began to see whither he was
tending, and I could have shrieked in terror, "you can do anything."

"I?" he said.

"You! If you would speak to the judge, my lord."

He laughed, without mirth. "He would whip you instead of hanging you,"
he said contemptuously.

"To the King, then."

"You would thank me for nothing," he answered; and then with a kind of
contemptuous suavity, "My friend, in your Ware Academy--where
nevertheless you seem to have had your diversions--you do not know
these things. But you may take it from me, that I am more than
suspected of belonging to the party whose existence Sir Baldwin
denies--I mean to the Whigs; and the suspicion alone is enough to damn
any request of mine."

On that, after staring at him a moment, I did a thing that surprised
him; and had he known me better a thing that would have surprised him
more. For the courage to do it, and to show myself in colours unlike
my own, I had to thank neither despair nor fear, though both were
present; but a kind of rage that seized me, on hearing him speak in a
tone above me, and as if, having heard my story, he was satisfied with
the curiosity of it, and would dismiss the subject, and I might go to
the gallows. I know now that in so speaking he had not that intent,
but that brought up short by the certainty of my guilt, and the
impasse as to helping me, in which he stood, he chose that mode of
repressing the emotion he felt. I did not understand this however: and
with a bitterness born of the misconception, and in a voice that
sounded harsh, and anyone's rather than mine, I burst into a furious
torrent of reproaches, asking him if it was only for this he had seen
me alone, and to make a tale. "To make a tale," I cried, "and a jest?
One that with the same face with which you send me out to be strangled
and to rot, and with the same smile, you'll tell, my lord, after
supper to Sir Baldwin and your like. Oh, for shame, my lord, for
shame!" I cried, passionately, and losing all fear of him in my
indignation. "As you may some day be in trouble yourself--for great
heads fall as well as low ones in these days, and as little pitied--if
you have bowels of compassion, my lord, and a mother to love you----"

He turned on me so swiftly at that word, that my anger quailed before
his. "Silence!" he cried, fiercely. "How dare you, such as you,
mention----. But there, fellow--be silent!"

I caught the ring of pain as well as anger in his tone, and obeyed
him; though I could not discern what I had said to touch him so
sorely. He on his side glowered at me a moment; and so we stood, while
hope died within me, and I grew afraid of him again, and a shadow fell
on the room as it had already fallen on his face. I waited for nothing
now but the word that should send me from his presence, and thought
nothing so certain as that I had flung away what slender chance
remained to me. It was with a start that when he broke the silence I
was aware of a new sound in his voice.

"Listen, my lad," he said in a constrained tone--and he did not look
at me. "You are right in one thing. If I meant to do nothing for you,
I had no right to your confidence. I do not know what it was in your
face induced me to see you. I wish I had not. But since I have I must
do what I can to save you: and there is only one way. Mind you," he
continued in a sudden burst of anger, "I do not like it! And I do it
out of regard for myself, not for you, my lad! Mind you that!"

"Oh, my lord!" I cried, ready to fall down and worship him.

"Be silent," he answered, coldly, "and when my back is turned go
through that window. Do you understand? It is all I can do for you.
The alley on the left leads to the stables. Pass through them boldly;
if you are not stopped you will in a minute be on the high road. The
turn, to the left at the cross-roads, leads to Tottenham and London.
That on the right will take you to Little Parndon and Epping. That is
all I have to say; while I look for a piece of paper to sign your
commitment, you would do well to go. Only remember, my man, if you are
retaken--do not look to me."

He suited the action to the words by turning his back on me, and
beginning to search in a bureau that stood beside him. But so sudden
and so unexpected was the proposal he had made, that though he had
said distinctly "Go!" I doubt if, apart from the open window, I should
have understood his purpose. As it was I came to it slowly--so slowly
that he lost patience, and with his head still buried among the
pigeon-holes, swore at me.


[Illustration: WHEN MY BACK IS TURNED GO THROUGH THAT WINDOW]


"Are you going?" he said. "Or do you think that it is nothing I am
doing for you? Do you think it is nothing that I am going to tell a
lie for such as you? Either go or hang, my lad!"

I heard no more. A moment earlier nothing had been farther from my
thoughts than to attempt an escape, but the impulse of his will
steadied my wavering resolution, and with set teeth and a beating
heart, I stepped through the window. Outside I turned to the left
along a shady green alley fenced by hedges of yew, and espying the
stable-yard before me, walked boldly across it. By good luck the
grooms and helpers were at supper and I saw only one man standing at a
door. He stared at me, mouthing a straw, but said nothing, and in a
twinkling I had passed him, left the curtilage behind me, and had the
park fence and gate in sight.

Until I reached this, not knowing whose eyes were on me, I had the
presence of mind to walk; though cold shivers ran down my back, and my
hair crept, and every second I fancied--for I was too nervous to look
back--that I felt Dyson's hand on my collar. Arriving safely at the
gate, however, and the road stretching before me with no one in sight,
I took to my heels, and ran a quarter of a mile along it; then leaping
the fence that bounded it on the right, I started recklessly across
country, my aim being to strike the Little Parndon highway, to which
my lord had referred, at a point beyond the cross-roads, and so to
avoid passing the latter.

I am aware that this mode of escape, this walking through a window and
running off unmolested, sounds bald and commonplace; and that if I
could import into my story some touch of romance or womanish disguise,
such as--to compare great things with small--marked my Lord
Nithsdale's escape from the Tower three years ago, I should cut a
better figure. Whereas in the flight across the fields on a quiet
afternoon, with the sun casting long shadows on the meadows, and for
my most instant alarms, the sudden whirring up before me of partridge
or plover, few will find anything heroic. But let them place
themselves for a moment in my skin, and remember that as I sweated and
panted and stumbled and rose again, as I splashed in reckless haste
through sloughs and ditches, and tore my way through great
blackthorns, I had death always at my heels! Let them remember that in
the long shadows that crossed my path I saw the gallows, and again the
gallows, and once more the gallows; and fled more quickly; and that it
needed but the distant bark of a dog, or the shout of a boy scaring
birds, to persuade me that the hue and cry was coming, and to fill me
with the last extremity of fear.

I believe that the adventurer, and the knight of the road, when it
falls to their lot to be so hunted--as must often happen, though more
commonly such an one is taken _securus et ebrius_ in the arms of his
mistress--find some mitigation of their pains in the anticipation of
conflict, and in the stern joy which the resolve to sell life dearly
imparts to the man of action. But I was unarmed, and worn out with my
exertions; no soldier, and with no heart to fight. My flight therefore
across the quiet fields was pure terror, the torture of unmitigated
fear. Fear spurred me and whipped me; and yet, had I known it, I might
have spared my terror. For darkness found me, weak and exhausted, but
still free, in the neighbourhood of Epping in Essex, where I passed
the night in the Forest; and before noon next day, believing that they
would watch for me on the Tottenham Road, I had found courage to slink
in to London by way of Chingford, and in the heart of that great city,
whose magnitude exceeded all my expectations, had safely and
effectually lost myself.



                              CHAPTER X


At this point, it becomes me to pause. I set out, the reader will
remember, to furnish such a narrative of the events attending my first
meeting with my honoured patron, as taken with a brief account of
myself might enable all to pursue with insight as well as advantage
the details of my later connection with him. And this being done, and
bearing in mind that Sir John Fenwick did not suffer for his
conspiracy until 1696, and that consequently a period of thirteen
years divided the former events, which I have related, from those
which follow--and which have to do, as I intimated at the outset, with
my lord's alleged cognisance of that conspiracy--some may, and with
impatience, look to me to proceed at once to the gist of the matter.
Which I propose to do; but first to crave the reader's indulgence,
while in a very hasty and perfunctory manner I trace my humble
fortunes in the interval; whereby time will in the end be saved.

That arriving in London, as I have related, a fugitive, penniless and
homeless, in fear of the law, I contrived to keep out of the beadle's
hands, and was neither whipped for a vagrant at Bridewell, nor starved
outright in the streets, I attribute to most singular good fortune;
which not only rescued me (_statim_) from a great and instant danger
that all but engulfed me, but within a few hours found for me honest
and constant employment, and that of an uncommon kind.

It so happened that, perplexed by the clamour of the great city,
wherein all faces were new to me and ways alike, I came to a stand
about noon in the neighbourhood of Newgate Market; where, confident
that in the immense and never-ceasing tide of life that ebbs and flows
in that quarter, I was safe from recognition, I ventured to sell an
undergarment in a small shop in an alley, and buying a loaf with the
price, satisfied my hunger. But the return of strength was accompanied
by no return of hope; rather, my prime necessity supplied, I felt the
forlornness of my position more acutely. In which condition, having no
resource but to wander aimlessly from one street to another while the
daylight lasted--and after that no prospect at all except to pass the
night in the same manner--I came presently into Little Britain, and
stopped, as luck would have it, before one of the bookshops that crowd
that part. A number of persons were poring over the books, and I
joined them; but I had not stood a moment, idly scanning the backs of
the volumes, before one of my neighbours touched my elbow, and when I
turned and met his eyes, nodded to me. "A scholar?" he said, smiling
pleasantly through a pair of glasses. "Ah, how ill does the muse
requite her worshippers. From the country, my friend?"

I answered that I was; and seeing him to be a man well on in years,
clad in good broadcloth, and of a sober, substantial aspect, I saluted
him abjectly.

"To be sure," he said, again nodding cheerfully. "And a stranger to
the town I expect?"

"Yes," I said.

"And a reader? A reader? Ah, how ill does the muse---- But you _can_
read?" he ejaculated, breaking off somewhat suddenly.

I said I could, and to convince him read off the names of several of
the volumes before me. I remembered afterwards that instead of looking
at them to see if I read aright, he kept his eyes on my face.

"Good!" he said, stopping me when I had deciphered half-a-dozen. "You
do your schoolmaster credit, my lad. Such a man should not want, and
yet you look----frankly, my friend, are you in need of employment?"

He asked the question with so much benevolence, and looked at me with
so good-natured a twinkle in his eyes, that my tears nearly
overflowed, and I had much ado to answer him. "Yes," I said. "And
without friends, sir."

"Indeed, indeed," quoth he. "Well, I must do what I can. And first,
you may do me a service, which in any case shall not go unrequited.
Come this way."

Without waiting for an answer he led me into the mouth of a court hard
by, where we were less open to observation; there, pointing to a shop
at a little distance from that at which he had found me, he explained
that he wished to purchase a copy of _Selden's Baronage_ that stood at
the front of the stall, but that the tradesman knew him and would
overcharge him. "So do you go and buy it for me, my friend," he
continued, chuckling over his innocent subterfuge, with a simplicity
that took with me immensely. "It should be half-a-guinea. There is a
guinea"--and he lugged one out. "Buy the book and bring the change to
me, and it shall be something in your pocket. Alas, that the muse
should so ill---- But there, go, go, my lad," he continued, "and
remember _Selden's Baronage_, half-a-guinea. And not a penny more!"

Delighted with the luck which had found me such a patron, and anxious
to acquit myself to the best advantage I hurried to do his bidding;
first making sure that I knew where to find him. The shop he had
pointed out, which was surmounted by the sign of a gun, and appeared
to enjoy no small share of public favour, was full of persons reading
and talking; but almost the first book on which my eyes alighted was
_Selden's Baronage_, and the tradesman when I applied to him made no
difficulty about the price, saying at once that it was half-a-guinea.
I handed him my money, and without breaking off his talk with a
customer, he was counting the change, when something in my aspect
struck him, and he looked at the guinea. On which he muttered an oath
and thrust it back into my hand.

"It will not do," he said angrily. "Begone!"

I was quite taken aback: the more as several persons looked up from
their books, and his immediate companion, a meagre dry-looking man in
a snuff-coloured suit, fell to staring at me. "What do you mean?" I
stammered.

"You know very well," the tradesman answered me roughly. "And had
better be gone! And more, I tell you, if you want a hemp collar, my
man, you are in the way to get one!"

"Clipped?" quoth the dry-looking man.

"New clipped and bright at the edges!" the bookseller answered. "Now
go, my man, and be thankful I don't send for a constable."

At that I shrank away, two or three of the customers coming to the
door to see me out, and watching which way I turned. This, I
suppose--though I was then, and for a little time longer in doubt
about him--was the reason why I could see nothing of my charitable
friend, when I returned to the place where I had left him. I looked
this way and that, but he was gone; and though, not knowing what else
to do, and having still the guinea in my possession, I lingered about
the mouth of the court for an hour or more, looking for him, he did
not return.

At the end of that time the meagre dry man whom I had seen in the shop
passed with a book under his arm; and seeing me, after a moment's
hesitation stood and spoke to me. "Well, my friend?" said he, looking
hard at me. "Are you waiting for the halter?"

I told him civilly, no; but that the gentleman who had given me the
guinea to change had bidden me return to him there.

"And he is not here?" he said with a sneer.

"No," I said.

He stared at me, wondering at the simplicity of my answer; and then,
"Well, you are either the biggest fool or the biggest knave within the
bills!" he exclaimed. "Are you straight from Gotham?"

"No," I told him. "From the north." And that I wanted employment.

"You are like to get it--at the Plantations!" he answered savagely,
taking snuff. I remarked that neither his hands nor his linen were of
the cleanest, and that the former were stained with ink. "What are
you?" he continued, presently, in the same snappish, churlish tone.

I told him a schoolmaster.

"_Exempli gratiâ_," he answered quickly, and turning to the nearest
stall, he indicated the title-page of a book. "Read me that, Master
Schoolmaster."

I did so. He grunted; and then, "You write? Show me your hand."

I said I had no paper or ink there, but that if he would take me----

"Pooh, man, are you a fool?" he cried, impatiently. "Show me your
right hand, middle finger, and I will find you _scribit_ or _non
scribit_. So! And you want work?"

"Yes," I said.

"Hard work and little pay?"

I said I wanted to make my living.

"Ay, and maybe the first time you come to me, you will cut my throat,
and rob my desk," he answered gruffly. "Hm! That touches you home,
does it? However, ask for me to-morrow, at seven in the forenoon--Mr.
Timothy Brome, at the sign of the Black Boy in Fleet Street."

Now I was overjoyed, indeed. With such a prospect of employment, it
seemed to me a small thing that I must pass the night in the streets;
but even that I escaped. For when he was about to part from me, he
asked me what money I had. None, I told him, "except the clipped
guinea."

"And I suppose you expect me to give you a shilling earnest?" he
answered, irascibly. "But no, no, Timothy Brome is no fool. See here,"
he continued, slapping his pocket and looking shrewdly at me, "that
guinea is not worth a groat to you; except to hang you."

"No," I said, ruefully.

"Well, I will give you five shillings for it, as gold, mind you; as
gold, and not to pass. Are you content?"

"It is not mine," I said doubtfully.

"Take it or leave it!" he said, screwing up his eyes, and so plainly
pleased with the bargain he was driving that I had no inkling of the
kind heart that underlay that crabbed manner. "Take it or leave it, my
man."

Thus pressed, and my mind retaining no real doubt of the knavery of
the man who had entrusted the guinea to me, I handed it to my new
friend, and received in return a crown. And this being my last
disposition of money not my own, I think it a fit season to record
that from that day to this I have been enabled by God's help and man's
kindness to keep the eighth commandment; and earning honestly what I
have spent have been poor, but never a beggar.

In gratitude for which, and both those good men being now dead, I here
conjoin the names of Mr. Timothy Brome, of Fleet Street, newsmonger
and author, whose sharp tongue and morose manners cloaked a hundred
benefactions; and of Charles, Duke of Shrewsbury, my honoured patron,
who never gave but his smile doubled the gift which his humanity
dictated.

The reader will believe that punctually on the morrow I went with joy
and thankfulness to my new master, whom I found up three pairs of
stairs in a room barely furnished, but heaped in every part with piles
of manuscripts and dogs-eared books, and all so covered with dust that
type and script were alike illegible. He wore a dingy morning-gown and
had laid aside his wig; but the air of importance with which he nodded
to me and a sort of dignity that clothed him as he walked to and fro
on the ink-stained floor mightily impressed me, and drove me to wonder
what sort of trade was carried on here. He continued, for some minutes
after I entered, to declaim one fine sentence after another, rolling
the long words over his tongue with a great appearance of enjoyment: a
process which he only interrupted to point me to a stool and desk,
and cry with averted eyes--lest he should cut the thread of his
thoughts--"Write!"


[Illustration: "HE WORE A DINGY MORNING-GOWN AND HAD LAID ASIDE HIS
WIG"]


On my hesitating, "Write!" he repeated, in the tone of one commanding
a thousand troopers. And then he spoke thus--and as he spoke I
wrote:--

"This day His Gracious Majesty, whose health appears to be completely
restored, went, accompanied by the French Ambassador and a brilliant
company, to take the air in the Mall. Despatches from Holland say that
the Duke of Monmouth has arrived at the Hague and has been well
received. Letters from the West say that the city of Bristol having a
well-founded confidence in the Royal Clemency has hastened to lay its
Charter at His Majesty's feet. The 30th of the month began the
Sessions at the Old Bailey, and held the first and second of this;
where seventeen persons received sentence of death, nine to be burned
in the hand, seven to be transported, and eleven ordered to be
whipped. Yesterday, or this day, a commission was sealed appointing
the Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys----"



                              CHAPTER XI


In a word, my master was a writer of Newsletters, and in that capacity
possessed of so excellent a style and so great a connection in the
Western Counties that, as he was wont to boast, there was hardly a
squire or rector from Bristol to Dawlish that did not owe what he knew
of His Majesty's gout, or Mr. Dryden's last play, to his weekly
epistles. The Popish Plot which had cost the lives of Lord Stafford
and so many of his persuasion, no less than the Rye House Plot, which
by placing the Whigs at the mercy of the Government had at once
afforded those their revenge, and illustrated the ups and downs of
court life, had given so sharp a stimulus to the appetite for news,
that of late he had found himself unable to cope with it. In this
unsettled condition, and meditating changes which should belittle Sir
Roger and _The London Mercury_, and oust print from the field, he fell
in with me; and where another man would have selected a bachelor whose
cassock and scarf might commend him at Wills' or Childs', his
eccentric kindness snatched me from the gutter, and set me on a tall
stool, there to write all day for the delectation of country houses
and mayors' parlours.

I remember that at first it seemed to me so easy a trick (this noting
the news of the day in plain round hand) that I wondered they paid him
to do it, more than another. But besides that I then had knowledge of
one side of the business only, I mean the framing the news, but none
of the manner in which it was collected at Garraway's and the Cockpit,
the Sessions House, the Mall, and the Gallery at Whitehall. I
presently learned that even of the share that fell to my lot I knew
only as much as a dog that turns the spit knows of the roasting of
meat. For when my employer, finding me docile and industrious--as I
know I was, being thankful for such a haven, and crushed in spirit not
only by the dangers through which I had passed, but also by my
mistress's treachery--when I say, he left me one day to my devices,
merely skimming through a copy and leaving me to multiply it, with,
for sole guide, the list of places to which the letters were to go, as
Bridgewater, Whig; Bath, Tory; Bridport, Tory; Taunton, Whig; Frome,
Whig; Lyme, Whig, and so on, I came very far short of success. True,
when he returned in the evening I had my packets ready and neatly
prepared for the mail, which then ran to the West thrice a week and
left next morning; and I had good hopes that he would send them
untouched. But great was my dismay when he fell into a rage over the
first he picked up, and asked me bluntly if I was quite a fool.

I stammered some answer, and asked in confusion what was the matter.

"Everything," he said. "Here, let me see! Why, you dolt and
dunderhead, you have sent letters in identical terms to Frome and
Bridport."

"Yes," I said faintly.

"But the one is Whig and the other is Tory!" he cried.

"But the news, sir," I made bold to answer, "is the same."

"Is it?" he cried in fine contempt. "Why you are a natural! I thought
you had learned something by this time. Here, where is the Frome
letter? '"_The London Gazette_" _announces that His Majesty has been
graciously pleased to reward my Lord Rochester's services at the
Treasury Board by raising him to the dignity of Lord President of the
Council, an elevation which renders necessary his resignation of his
seat at the Board_.' Tut-tut! That is the Court tone. Here, out with
it, and write:--

"'_The Earl of Rochester's removal from the Treasury Board to the
Presidency of the Council, which is announced in_ "_The Gazette_," _is
very well understood. His lordship made what resistance he could, but
the facts Were plain, and the King could do no otherwise. Rumour has
it that the sum lost to the country in the manner already hinted
exceeds fifty thousand guineas_.'

"There, what comes next? '_Letters from the Continent have it that
strong recommendations have been made to the Court at the Hague to
dismiss the D---- of M----, and it is confidently expected that the
next packet will bring the news of his departure_.' Pooh, out with it.
Write this:--

"'_The D---- of M---- is still at the Hague, where he is being
sumptuously entertained. Much is made of His Majesty's anger, but the
D---- is well supplied with money from an unknown source, which some
take to be significant. At a ball given by their Highnesses on the
eleventh, he danced an English country dance with the Lady Mary,
wherein his grace and skill won all hearts_.'

"That is better. And now what next? '_This day an Ambassador from the
King of Siam in the East Indies waited on His Majesty with great marks
of respect_.' Umph! Well leave it, but add, 'Ah, _si sic propius_.'

"And then, '_There are rumours that His Majesty intends to call a
parliament shortly, in which plan he is hindered only by the state of
his gout_.'

"Out with that and write this:--'_In the city is much murmuring that a
parliament is not called. Though His Majesty has not played lately at
tennis, he showed himself yesterday in Hyde Park, so that some who
maintain his health to be the cause deserve no weight. In his company
were His Highness the Duke of York and the French Ambassador_.'

"There, you fool," my master continued, flinging two-thirds of the
packets back to me. "You will have to amend these, and another time
you will know better."

Which showed me that I had still something to learn; and that as there
are tricks in all trades, so Mr. Timothy Brome, the writer, did not
enjoy without reason the reputation of the most popular newsvendor in
London. But as I addressed myself to the business with zeal, I
presently began to acquire a mastery over his methods; and my
knowledge of public affairs growing with each day's work, as in such
an employment it could not fail to grow, I was able before very long
to take the composition of the letters in a great measure off his
hands; leaving him free to walk Change Alley and the coffee-houses,
where his snuff-coloured suit and snappish wit were as well known as
his secret charity was little suspected.

In private, indeed, he was of so honest a disposition, his faults of
temper notwithstanding, as to cause me at first some surprise; since I
fancied an incompatibility between this and the laxity of his public
views; which he carried so far that he was not only a political
skeptic himself, but held all others to be the same; maintaining that
the best public men were only of this or that colour because it suited
their pockets or ambitions, and that, of all, he respected most Lord
Halifax and his party, who at least trimmed openly, and never cried
loudly for either extreme.

But as his actions in other matters bettered his professions, so I
presently found that in this too he belied himself; which was made
clear when he came to the test. For the death of King Charles the
Second occurring soon after I came to serve him--so soon that I still
winced when my former life was probed, and hated a woman and trembled
at sight of a constable, and wondered if this were really _I_,
who went to and fro daily from my garret in Bride Lane to St.
Dunstan's--the death, I say, of the King occurring just at that time,
we were speedily overwhelmed by a rush of events so momentous and
following so quickly one on another that they threw the old see-saw of
Court and Country off its balance; and upset with it the minds of many
who had hitherto clung firmly to a party. For the King had been
scarcely laid very quietly--some thought, meanly--in his grave and the
Duke of York been proclaimed by the title of James the Second, when
those who had fled the country in the last reign, either after the Rye
House Plot, or later with Monmouth, returned and kindled two great
insurrections, that of the Marquess of Argyle in the north, and that
of the Duke of Monmouth in the west. Occurring almost simultaneously,
it was wonderful to see how, in spite of the cry of a Popish King, and
the Protestant religion in danger, which the rebels everywhere raised,
these outbreaks rallied all prudent folk to the King; whose popularity
never, before or afterwards, stood so high as on the day of the battle
of Sedgmoor.

And doubtless he might have retained the confidence and affection of
his people, and by these means attained to the utmost of his
legitimate wishes--I mean the relief of the papists from penal clauses
if not from civil disabilities--had he gone about it discreetly, and
with the moderation which so delicate a matter required. But in the
outset the severity with which the western rebels were punished, both
by the military after the rout and by the Lord Chief Justice at the
Assizes which followed, gave check to his popularity; and thenceforth
for three years all went one way. The Test Acts, abrogated at the
first in a case here and there (yet ominously in such, in particular,
as favoured the admission of papists to the army), were presently
nullified, with other acts of a like character, by a general
declaration of indulgence; and that, to the disgust of the clergy, to
be read in the churches. To this main assault on the passive obedience
which the Church had so often preached, and to which it still fondly
clung, were added innumerable meaner attacks perhaps more humiliating;
as the expulsion of the Protestant Fellows from Magdalene College,
the conversion of University College into a Romish Seminary, and
the dismissal of my Lords Rochester and Clarendon, the King's
brothers-in-law, from all their places because--as was everywhere
rumoured--they would not resign the creed in which they had been born.

It were long to recount all the other errors into which the King fell;
but I may lay stress on the dissolution of a most loyal Parliament,
because it would not legalise his measures; on the open and shameless
attempt to pack its successor, on the corruption of the Judges, and on
the trial of the seven bishops for sedition. It were shorter and
equally to the point to say that an administration conducted for three
years on these lines, sufficed not only to sap the patient loyalty of
the nation, but to rouse from its rest the political conscience of my
employer. Mr. Brome, after much muttering and many snappish
corrections and alterations, all tending (as I soon perceived) to
Whiggery, resigned, on the day the Fellows of Magdalene were expelled,
his time-honoured system of duplicity; and thenceforward, until the
end, issued the same letter to Tory squire and Whig borough alike.

What was more remarkable, and, had the King known, it might have
served his obstinate Majesty for a warning, we lost no patrons by the
step; but rather increased our readers; the whole nation by this time
being of one mind. When the end came therefore, and in answer to the
famous Invitation signed by the Seven, the Deliverer, as the Whig
party still love to call him, landed at Torbay, and with scarcely a
blow, and no life lost, entered London, there were few among those who
ruffled it in his train, as he rode to St. James's, who had done as
much to bring him to his throne as my master; though he, good honest
man, wore neither spurs nor sword, and stood humbly a-foot in the
mouth of an alley to see the show go by.



                             CHAPTER XII


I suppose that there never was an abrupt change in the government of a
nation more quietly, successfully, and bloodlessly carried through
than our great Revolution. But it is the way of the pendulum to swing
back; and it was not long before those who had been most deeply
concerned in the event began to reflect and compare, nor, as they had
before them the example of the Civil War and the subsequent
restoration besides, and were persons bred for the most part in an
atmosphere of Divine Right and passive obedience (whether they had
imbibed those doctrines or not), was it wonderful if a proportion of
them began to repent at leisure what they had done in haste. The late
King's harsh and implacable temper, and the severity with which he had
suppressed one rising, were not calculated to reassure men when they
began to doubt. The possibility of his return hung like a thick cloud
over the more timid; while the favours which the new King showered on
his Dutchmen, the degradation of the coin and of trade, and the many
disasters that attended the first years of the new government were
sufficient to shake the confidence and chill the hearts even of the
stoutest and most patriotic.

So bad was the aspect of things that it was rumoured that King William
would abdicate; and this aggravating the general uncertainty, many in
high places spent their days in a dreadful looking forward to
judgment; nor ever, I believe, slept without dreaming of Tower Hill,
the axe, and the sawdust. The result that was natural followed. While
many hastened to make a secret peace with St. Germain's, others,
either as a matter of conscience or because they felt that they had
offended too deeply, remained constant; but perceiving treachery in
the air, and being in daily fear of invasion, breathed nothing but
threats and slaughter against the seceders. This begot a period of
plots and counter-plots, of perjury and intrigue, of denunciations and
accusations real and feigned, such as I believe no other country has
ever known; the Jacobites considering a restoration certain, and the
time only doubtful; while the Whigs in their hearts were inclined to
agree with them and feared the worst.

During seven such years I lived and worked with Mr. Brome; who,
partly, I think, because he had come late to his political bearings,
and partly because the Tories and Jacobites had a newswriter in the
notorious Mr. Dyer--to whose letters Mr. Dryden, it was said, would
sometimes contribute--remained steadfast in his Whig opinions; and did
no little in the country parts to lessen the stir which the Nonjurors'
complaints created. I saw much of him and little of others; and being
honestly busy and honourably employed--not that my style made any
noise in the coffee-houses, which was scarcely to be expected, since
it passed for Mr. Brome's--I began to regard my life before I came to
London as an ugly dream. Yet it had left me with two proclivities
which are not common at the age which I had then reached; the one a
love of solitude and a retired life, which, a matter of necessity at
first, grew by-and-by into a habit; the other an averseness for women
that amounted almost to a fear of them. Mr. Brome, who was a confirmed
bachelor, did nothing to alter my views on either point, or to
reconcile me to the world; and as my life was passed between my attic
in Bride Lane and his apartment in Fleet Street, where he had a
tolerable library, few were better acquainted with public affairs or
had less experience of private, than I; or knew more intimately the
order of the signs and the aspect of the houses between the Fleet
Prison and St. Dunstan's Church.

Partly out of fear, and partly out of a desire to be done with my
former life, I made myself known to no one in Hertfordshire; but, some
five years after my arrival in London, having a sudden craving to see
my mother, I walked down one Sunday to Epping. There making cautious
enquiries of the Bishop Stortford carrier, I heard of her death, and
on the return journey burst once into a great fit of weeping at the
thought of some kind word or other she had spoken to me on a
remembered occasion. But with this tribute to nature I dismissed my
family, and even that good friend from my mind; going back to my
lodging with a contentment which this glimpse of my former life
wondrously augmented.

Of Mr. D---- or of the wicked woman who had deceived me I was not
likely to hear; but there was one, and he the only stranger who _ante
Londinium_ had shown me kindness, whose name my pen was frequently
called on to transcribe, and whose fame was even in those days in all
men's mouths. With a thrill of pleasure I heard that my Lord
Shrewsbury had been one of the seven who signed the famous invitation:
then that the King had named him one of the two Secretaries of State;
and again after two years, during which his doings filled more and
more of the public ear--so that he stood for the government--that he
had suddenly and mysteriously resigned all his offices and retired
into the country. Later still, in the same year, in the sad days which
followed the defeat of Beachy Head, when a French fleet sailed the
Channel, and in the King's absence, the most confident quailed, I
heard that he had ridden post to Kensington to place his sword and
purse at the Queen's feet; and, later still, 1694, when three years of
silence had obscured his memory, I heard with pleasure, and the world
with surprise, that he had accepted his old office, and stood higher
than ever in the King's favour.

The next year Queen Mary died. This, as it left only the King's life
between the Jacobites and a Restoration, increased as well their
activity as the precautions of the government; whose most difficult
task lay in sifting the wheat from the chaff and discerning between
the fictions of a crowd of false witnesses (who thronged the
Secretary's office and lived by this new trade) and the genuine
disclosures of their own spies and informers. In the precarious
position in which the government stood, ministers dared neglect
nothing, nor even stand on scruples. In moments of alarm, therefore,
it was no uncommon thing to close the gates and prosecute a house to
house search for Jacobites; the most notorious being seized and the
addresses of the less dangerous taken. One of these searches which
surprised the city in the month of December, '95, had for me results
so important that I may make it the beginning of a consecutive
narrative.

I happened to be sitting in my attic that evening over a little coal
fire, putting into shape some Whig reflections on the Coinage Bill;
our newsletter tending more and more to take the form of a pamphlet. A
frugal supper, long postponed, stood at my elbow, and the first I knew
of the search that was afoot, a man without warning opened my door,
which was on the latch, and thrust in his head.

Naturally I rose in alarm; and we stared at one another by the light
of my one candle. Only the intruder's head and shoulders were in the
room, but I could see that he wore bands and a cassock, and a great
bird's nest wig, which overhung a beak-like nose and bright eyes.

"Sir," said he after a moment's pause, during which the eyes leaving
me glittered to every part of the room, "I see you are alone, and have
a very handy curtain there."

I gasped, but to so strange an exordium had nothing to say. The
stranger nodded at that as if satisfied, and slowly edging his body
into the room, disclosed to my sight the tallest and most uncouth
figure imaginable. A long face ending in a tapering chin added much to
the grotesque ugliness of his aspect; in spite of which his features
wore a smirk of importance, and though he breathed quickly, like a man
pressed and in haste, it was impossible not to see that he was master
of himself.

And of me; for when I went to ask his meaning, he shot out his great
under-lip at me, and showed me the long barrel of a horse pistol that
he carried under his cassock. I recoiled.

"Good sir," he said, with an ugly grin, "'tis an argument I thought
would have weight with you. To be short, I have to ask your
hospitality. There is a search for Jacobites; at any moment the
messengers may be here. I live opposite to you and am a Nonjuring
clergyman liable to suspicion; you are a friend to Mr. Timothy Brome,
who is known to stand well with the government. I propose therefore to
hide behind the curtain of your bed. Your room will not be searched,
nor shall I be found if you play your part. If you fail to play
it--then I shall be taken; but you, my dear friend, will not see it."

He said the last words with another of his hideous grins, and tapped
the barrel of his pistol with so much meaning that I felt the blood
leave my cheeks. He took this for a proof of his prowess; and nodding,
as well content, he stood a moment in the middle of the floor, and
listened with the tail of his eye on me.

He had no reason to watch me, however, for I was unarmed and cowed;
nor had we stood many seconds before a noise of voices and weapons
with the trampling of feet broke out on the stairs, and at once
confirmed his story and proved the urgency of his need. Apparently he
was aware of the course things would take and that the constables and
messengers would first search the lower floors; for instead of
betaking himself forthwith to his place of hiding--as seemed
natural--he looked cunningly round the chamber, and bade me sit down
to my papers. "Do you say at once that you are Mr. Brome's writer," he
continued with an oath, "and mark me well, my man. Betray me by a word
or sign, and I strew your brains on the floor!"

After that threat, and though he went then, and hid his hateful
face--which already filled me with fear and repugnance beyond
words--behind the curtain, where between bed and wall, there was a
slender space, I had much ado to keep my seat and my self-control. In
the silence which filled the room I could hear his breathing; and I
felt sure that the searchers must hear it also when they entered.
Assured that the Sancrofts and Kens, and the honest but misguided folk
who followed them, did not carry pistols, I gave no credit to his
statement that he was a Nonjuring parson; but deemed him some
desperate highwayman or plotter, whose presence in my room, should he
be discovered and should I by good luck escape his malice, would
land me at the best in Bridewell or the Marshalsea. By-and-by the
candle-wick grew long, and terrified at the prospect of being left in
the dark with him, I went to snuff it. With a savage word he whispered
me to let it be; after which I had no choice but to sit in fear and
semi-darkness, listening to the banging of doors below, and the
alternate rising and falling of voices, as the search party entered or
issued from the successive rooms.

In my chamber with its four whitewashed walls and few sticks of
furniture there was only one place where a man could stand and be
unseen; and that was behind the curtain. There, I thought, the most
heedless messenger must search; and as I listened to the steps
ascending the last flight I was in an agony. I foresaw the moment when
the constable would carelessly and perfunctorily draw the curtain--and
then the flash, the report, the cry, the mad struggle up and down the
room, which would follow.

So strong was this impression, that though I had been waiting minutes
when the summons came and a hand struck my door, I could not at once
find voice to speak. The latch was up, and the door half open when I
cried "Enter!" and rose.

In the doorway appeared three or four faces, a couple of lanthorns,
held high, and a gleam of pike-heads. "Richard Price, servant to Mr.
Brome, the newswriter," cried one of the visitors, reading in a
sonorous voice from a paper.

"Well affected," answered a second--evidently the person in command.
"Brome is a good man. I know him. No one hidden here?"

"No," I said, with a loudness and boldness that surprised me.

"No lodger, my man?"

"None!"

"Right!" he answered. "Good-night, and God save King William!"

"Amen!" quoth I; and then, and not before, my knees began to shake.

However, it no longer mattered, for before I could believe that the
danger was over they were gone and had closed the door; and I caught a
sniggering laugh behind the curtain. Still they had gone no farther
than the stairs; I heard them knock on the opposite door and troop in
there, and I caught the tones of a woman's voice, young and fresh,
answering them. But in a minute they came out again, apparently
satisfied, and crowded down stairs; whereon the man behind the curtain
laughed again, and swaggering out, Bobadil-like, shook his fist with
furious gestures after them.

"Damn your King William, and you too!" he cried in ferocious triumph.
"One of these days God will squeeze him like the rotten orange he is;
and if God will not, I will! I, Robert Ferguson! Trot, for the set of
pudding-headed blind-eyed moles that you are! Call yourselves
constables! Bah! But as for you, my friend," he continued, turning to
me and throwing his pistol with a crash on the table, "you have more
spunk than I thought you had, and spoke up like a gentleman of mettle.
There is my hand on it!"

My throat was so dry that I could not speak, but I gave him my hand.

He gripped it and threw it from him with a boastful gesture, and
stalking to the farther side of the room and back again, "There!"
cried he. "Now you can say that you have touched hands with Ferguson,
the famous Ferguson, the Ferguson on whose head a thousand guineas
have been set! Ferguson the Kingmaker, who defied three Kings and made
three Kings and will yet make a fourth! Fire and furies, do a set of
boozing tipstaves think to take the man who outwitted Jeffreys and
slipped through Kirke's lambs?"


[Illustration: "DAMN YOUR KING WILLIAM, AND YOU TOO!" HE CRIED]


Hearing who he was, I stared at him in astonishment; but in
astonishment largely leavened with fear and hatred; for I knew the
reputation he enjoyed, and both what he had done, and of what he was
suspected. That in all his adventures and intrigues he had borne a
charmed life; and where Sidney and Russell, Argyle and Monmouth,
Rumbold and Ayloffe had suffered on the scaffold, he had escaped scot
free was one thing and certain; but that men accounted for this in
strange ways was another scarcely less assured. While his friends
maintained that he owed his immunity to a singular skill in disguise,
his enemies, and men who were only so far his enemies as they were the
enemies of all that was most base in human nature, asserted that this
had little to do with it, but went so far as to say that in all his
plots, with Russell and with Monmouth, with Argyle and with Ayloffe,
he had played booty, and played the traitor: and tempting men, and
inviting men to the gibbet, had taken good care to go one step
farther--and by betraying them to secure his own neck from peril!



                             CHAPTER XIII


Such was the man I saw before me; on whose face, as if heaven purposed
to warn his fellows against him, malignant passion and an insane
vanity were so plainly stamped that party spirit must have gone to
lengths, indeed, before it rendered men blind to his quality. His
shambling gait seemed a fitting conveyance for a gaunt, stooping
figure so awkward and uncouth that when he gave way to gesticulation
it seemed to be moved by wires; yet, once he looked askance at you,
face and figure were forgotten in the gleam of the eyes that,
treacherous and cruel, leered at you from the penthouse of his huge,
ill-fitting wig.

Nevertheless, I confess that, while I hated and loathed the man, he
cowed me. His latest escape had intoxicated him, and astride on my
table, or stalking the floor, he gave way to his vanity. Pouring out a
flood of ribald threats and imaginings, he now hinted at the fate
which had never failed to befall those who thwarted him; now he
boasted of his cunning and his hundred intrigues, and now he touched,
not obscurely, on some great design soon to be executed. His audacity,
no less than his frankness, bewildered me; for if he did not tell me
all, he told enough, were it true, to hang a man. Yet I soon found
that he had method in his madness; for while I listened with a
shamefaced air, hating him and meditating informing against him the
moment I was freed from his presence, he turned on me with a hideous
grin, and thrusting the muzzle of his pistol against my temple, swore
with endless curses to slay me if I betrayed him.

"You will go to Brome to-morrow, as usual," he said. "The Whiggish old
dotard, I could pluck out his inwards! And you will say not one word
of Mr. Ferguson! For, mark me, sirrah Dick, alone or in company I
shall be at your elbow, nor will all Cutts's guards avail to save you!
Do you mark me? Then d---- you, down on your knees! Down on your
knees, you white-livered dog, and swear by the Gospels you will tell
no living soul by tongue or pen that you have seen me."

He pressed the cold steel muzzle to my temple and I knelt and swore.
When it was done, he roared and jeered at me. "You see, I have my
oath!" he cried, "as well as Little Hooknose! And no non-jurors! Now
say 'Down with King William!'"

I said it.

"Louder! Louder!" he cried.

I could only comply.


[Illustration: HE PRESSED THE RING OF COLD STEEL]


"Now, write it! Write it!" he continued, thrusting a piece of paper
under my nose, and slapping his huge hand upon it. "I'll have it in
black and white! Or write this--ha! ha! that will be better. Are you
ready? Write, 'I hereby abjure my allegiance to Prince William.'"

"No," I said faintly, laying down the pen which I had taken up at his
bidding. "I will not write it."

"You _will_ write it!" he answered in a terrible tone. "And within a
very few seconds. Write it at once, sirrah! 'I hereby abjure my
allegiance to Prince William!'"

I wrote it with a shaking hand, after a glance at the pistol muzzle.

"And swear that I regard King James as my lawful sovereign. And I
undertake to obey the rules of the St. Germain's Club, and to forward
its interests. Good! Now sign it."

I did so.

"Date it," cried the tyrant; and when I had done so he snatched the
paper from me and flourished it in the air, "There is my passport!"
quoth he, with an exultant laugh. "When I am taken that will be taken,
and when that is taken the worse for Mr. Richard Price if he is taken.
He will taste of the hangman's lash. So! You are a clever fellow,
Richard Price, but Robert Ferguson is your master, as he has been
better men's!"

The man was so much in love with cruelty, that even when he had gained
his point he could not bear to give up the pleasure of torturing me;
and for half an hour he continued to flout and jeer at me, sometimes
picturing my fate if the paper fell into the Secretary's hands, and
sometimes threatening me with his pistol, and making sport of my
alarm. At last, reluctantly, and after many warnings of what would
happen to me if I informed, he took himself off; and I heard him go
into the opposite rooms, and slam the door.

Be sure I was not long in securing mine after him! I was in a pitiable
state of terror; shaking at thought of the man's return, and in an
ague when I considered the power over me, which the paper I had signed
gave him. I could hardly believe that, in so short a time, anything so
dreadful had happened to me! Yet it were hard to say whether, with all
my terror, I did not hate him more than I feared him; for though at
one time my heart was water when I thought of betraying him, at
another it glowed with rage and loathing, and to spite him, and to
free myself from him, I would risk anything. And as I was not wanting
in foresight, and could picture with little difficulty the slavery in
which he would hold me from that day forward--and wherein his cruel
spirit would delight--it was the latter mood that prevailed with me,
and determined my action when morning came.

Reflecting that I could expect no mercy from him, but had little to
fear from the Government, if I told my tale frankly, I determined at
all risks to go to the Secretary. I would have done so, the moment I
rose, the thought that at any moment he might burst in upon me keeping
me in a cold sweat; but I was prudent enough to abide by my habits,
and refrain from anticipating by a second the hour at which it was my
custom to descend. I waited in the utmost trepidation, therefore,
until half-past seven, when with a quaking heart, but a mind made up,
I ventured down to the street.

It was barely light, but the coffee-houses were open, and between
early customers to these, and barbers passing with their curling
tongs, and milkmen and hawkers plying morning wares, and apprentices
setting out their masters' goods, the ways were full and noisy; so
that I had no reason to fear pursuit, and in the hubbub gained courage
the farther I left my oppressor behind me. Nevertheless, I took the
precaution of going first to Mr. Brome's, opposite St. Dunstan's; and
passing in there, as was my daily custom, lingered a little in the
entry. When by this ruse I had made assurance doubly sure, I slipped
out, and went through the crowded Strand to Whitehall.

Mr. Brome had a species of understanding with the Government; and on
one occasion being ill, had made me his messenger to the Secretary's.
I knew the place therefore, but none the less gave way to timidity
when I saw the crowd of ushers, spies, tipstaves, and busybodies that
hung about the door of the office, and took curious note of everyone
who went in or out. My heart failed me at the sight, and I was already
more than half inclined to go away, my business undone, when someone
touched my sleeve, and I started and turned. A girl still in her
teens, with a keen and pinched face, and a handkerchief neatly drawn
over her head, handed a note to me.

"For me?" I asked.

"Yes," said she.

I took it on that and opened it, my hands shaking. But when I read the
contents, which were these--"Mr. Robert Ferguson's respects to the
Secretary, and he has to-day changed his lodging. He will to-morrow be
pleased to supply the bearer's character"--I thought I should have
fallen to the ground. Nor was my alarm the less for the reflection
which immediately arose in my mind that the note had of necessity been
written and despatched before I left Mr. Brome's door; and
consequently before I had taken any step towards the execution of my
design!

Still, what I held was but a piece of paper bearing a message from a
man proscribed, who dared not show his face where I stood. A word to
the doorkeepers and I might even now go in and lay my information. But
the man's omniscience cowed my spirit, terrified me, and broke me
down. Assured after this, that whatever I did or wherever I went he
would know and be warned in time, and I gain by my information nothing
but the name of a gull or a cheat, I turned from the door. Then seeing
that the girl waited, "There is no answer," I said.

"Will you please to go to the gentleman?" quoth she.

My jaw dropped. "God forbid!" I said, beginning to tremble.

"I think you had better," said she.

And this time there was that in her voice roused doubts in me and made
me waver--lest what I had done prove insufficient, and he betray me,
though I refrained from informing. Sullenly, therefore, and after a
moment's thought, I asked her where he was.

"I am not to tell you," she answered. "You can come with me if you
please."

"Go on," I said.

She cast a sharp glance at the group about the office, then turned,
and walking rapidly north by Charing Cross led me through St. Martin's
Lane and Bedford Bury to Covent Garden. Skirting this, she threaded
Hart Street and Red Lion Court, and crossing Drury Lane conducted me
into Lincoln's Inn Fields, where she turned sharply to the left and
through Ralph Court to the Turnstile. Seeing that she lingered here
and from time to time looked back, I fancied that we were near our
destination; but starting afresh, she led me along Holborn and through
Staple Inn. Presently it struck me that we were near Bride Lane, and I
cried "He is in my room?"

"Yes," she said gravely, and without explanation. "If he pleases you
will find him there." And without more she signed to me to go on, and
disappeared herself in the mouth of an alley by Green's Rents.

It did please him. When I entered with the air, doubtless, of a
whipped hound, I found him sitting on my table swinging his legs and
humming an air; and with so devilish a look of malice and triumph on
his face as sent my heart into my boots. Notwithstanding, for a while
it was his humour not to speak to me but to leer at me askance out of
the corner of his eyes, and keep me on tenterhooks, expecting what he
would say or do; and this he maintained until he had finished his
tune, when with a grin he asked after his friend the Secretary.

"Was it Trumball you saw, or the new Duke?" said he; and when I did
not answer he roared out an oath, and snatching up the pistol which
lay on the table beside him, levelled it at me. "Answer, will you? Do
you think that I am to speak twice to such uncovenanted dirt as you?
Whom did you see?"

"No one," I stammered, trembling.

"And why not?" he cried. "And why not, you spawn of Satan?"

"I received your note," I said.

"Oh, you received my note!" he whimpered, dropping his voice and
mocking my alarm. "Your lordship received my note, did you? And if you
had not got my note, you would have informed, would you? You would
have informed and sent me to the gallows, would you? Answer! Answer,
or----"

"Yes!" I cried in an agony of terror; for he was bringing the pistol
nearer and nearer to my face, while his finger toyed with the trigger,
and at any moment might press it too sharply.

"So! And you tell me that to my face, do you?" he answered, eyeing me
so truculently, that I held up my hands and backed to the door. "You
dare tell me that, do you? Come here, sirrah!"

I hesitated.

"Come here!" he cried. "Or by ---- I will shoot you! For the last
time, come here!"

I went nearer.

"Oh, but I would like to see you in the boot!" he said. "It would be
the finest sight! It would not need a turn of the screw to make you
cry out! And mind you," he continued, suddenly seizing my ear in his
great hand, and twisting it until I screamed, "in a boot of some kind
or other I shall have you--if you play me false! Do yon understand,
eh? Do you understand, you sheep in wolf's clothing?"

"Yes!" I cried. "Yes, yes!" He had forced me to my knees, and brought
his cruel sneering face close to mine.

"Very well. Then get up--if you have learned your lesson. You have had
one proof that I know more than others. Do not seek another. But,
umph--where have I seen you before. Master Trembler?"

I said humbly, my spirit quite broken, that I did not know.

"No?" he answered, staring at me with his face puckered up. "Yet
somewhere I have. And some day I shall call it to mind. In the
meantime--remember that you are my slave, my dog, my turnspit, to
fetch or carry, cry or be merry at my will. You will sleep or wake, go
or come as I bid you. And so long as you do that--Richard Price, you
shall live. But on the day you play me false, or whisper my name to
living soul--on that day, or within the week, you will hang! Do you
hear, hang, you Erastian dog! Hang, and be carrion: with Ayloffe, and
many another good man, that would stint me, and take no warning!"



                             CHAPTER XIV


Alas, the secret subjection into which I fell from that day onwards,
to a man who knew neither pity nor scruple--and wielded his power with
the greater enjoyment and the less remorse for the piquant contrast it
afforded to his position, as a proscribed and hunted traitor, in
hiding for his life--exceeded all the anticipations of it which I had
entertained. Having his favourite lodging in the rooms opposite mine,
he was ready, when the cruel humour seized him, to sally forth and
mock and torment me; while the privacy of his movements and the number
of his disguises (whence it arose that I never knew until I saw him
whether he was there or not) kept me in a state of suspense and misery
well nigh intolerable. Yet such was the spell of fear under which he
had contrived to lay me--he being a violent and dangerous man and I no
soldier--and so crafty were the means, no less than the art, by which
he gradually wound a chain about me, that in spite of my hatred I
found resistance vain; and for a long time, and until a _deus ex
machinâ_, as the ancients say, appeared on the scene, saw no resource
but to bear the yoke and do his bidding.

He had one principal mode of strengthening his hold upon me; which
stood the higher in his favour, as besides effecting that object and
rendering me serviceable, it amused him with the spectacle of my
alarms. This consisted in the employing me in his treasonable designs:
as by sending me with letters and messages to Sam's Coffeehouse, or to
the Dog in Drury Lane, or to more private places where the Jacobites
congregated; by making me a go-between to arrange meetings with those
of his kidney who dared not stir abroad in daylight, and came and went
between London and the coast of France under cover of night; or
lastly, by using me to drop treasonable papers in the streets, or
fetch the same from the secret press, in a court off St. James's,
where they were printed.

He took especial delight in imposing this last task upon me, and in
depicting, when I returned fresh from performing it, the penalties to
which I had rendered myself liable. It may occur to some that when I
passed through the streets with such papers in my hands I had an easy
way out of my troubles; and could at any moment by conveying the
letters to the Secretary's office procure the tyrant's arrest, and my
own freedom. But besides the fact that his frequent change of lodging,
his excellent information, and the legion of spies who served him,
rendered it doubtful whether with the best will in the world the
messengers would find him where I had left him, he frequently
boasted--and the boast, if unfounded, added to my distrust of all with
whom I came into contact--that the very tipsters and officers were in
his pay, and that Cutts himself dared not arrest him! Besides, I more
than suspected that often the letters he gave me were blank, and the
errands harmless: and that the one and the other were feigned only for
the purpose of trying me, or out of pure cruelty--to the end that when
I returned he might describe with gusto the process of hanging,
drawing, and quartering, and gloat over the horror with which I
listened to his relation; a practice which he carried to such an
extent as more than once to reduce me to tears of rage and anguish.

Such was my life at home, where if my tyrant was not always at my
elbow I was every hour obnoxious to his appearance; for early in our
connection he forbade me to lock my door. Abroad I was scarcely more
easy, seeing that, besides an impression I had that wherever I went I
was dogged, there was scarcely an item of news which it fell to my lot
to record that did not throw me into a panic. One day it would be Mr.
Bear arrested on a charge of high treason, and in possession of I knew
not what compromising letters: another, the suicide in the Temple of a
gentleman to whom I myself had a week earlier taken a letter, and who
had in my presence let fall expressions which led me to think him in
the same evil case with me. Another day it would be an announcement
that the Government had discovered a new Conspiracy; or that letters
going for France had been seized in Romney Marshes; or that the
Lancashire witnesses were speaking more candidly; or that Dr. Oates
had been taken up and held to bail for a misdemeanour. All these and
many other rumours punished me in turn; and filling my mind with the
keenest apprehensions, must in a short time have rendered my life
intolerable.

As it was, Mr. Brome, within a month, saw so great a change in me that
he would have me take a holiday; advising me to go afield either to my
relations, or to some village on the Lea, to which neighbourhood Mr.
Izaak Walton's book had given a reputation exceeding its deserts. He
reinforced the advice with a gift of two guineas, that I might spend
the month royally; then in a great hurry added an injunction that I
should not waste the money. But I did worse; for I had the simple
folly to tell the whole by way of protest and bitter complaint to my
other master; who first with a grin took from me the two guineas, and
then made himself merry over the increased time I could now place at
his disposal.

"And it is timely, Dick, it is timely," he said with ugly pleasantry.
"For, the good cause, the cause you love so dearly, Dick, is
prospering. Another month and you and I know what will happen. Ha! ha!
we know. In the meantime, work while it is day, Dick. Put your hand to
the plough and look not back. If all were as forward as you, our necks
would be in little peril, and we might see a rope without thinking of
a cart."

"Curse you!" I cried, almost beside myself between disappointment, and
the rage into which his fiendish teasing threw me. "Cannot you keep
your tongue off that? Is it not enough that you----"

"Have taught me to limp!" quoth he winking hideously. "Here's to
Louis, James, Mary, and the Prince--L. I. M. P., my lad! Oh, we can
talk the deealect. We have had good teachers."

I could have burst into tears. "Some day you'll be caught!" I cried.

"Well?" he said with a grin. "And what then?"

"You'll be hanged! Hanged!" I cried furiously. "And God grant I may be
there to see."

"You will that," he answered with composure. "Make your mind easy, my
man, for, trust me, if I am in the first cart, you'll be in the
second. That is my security, friend Dick. If I go, you go. Who carried
to Mr. Warmaky's chambers the letters from France, I would like to
know? And who---- But the cause!" he continued, breaking off, "the
cause! To business, and no more havers. Here's work for you. You shall
go, do you hear me, Richard, to Covent Garden to the Piazza there, in
half an hour's time. It will be full dark then. You will see there a
fine gentleman walking up and down, taking his tobacco, with a white
handkerchief hanging from his pocket. You will give him that note, and
say 'Roberts and Guiney are good men'--d'ye take it? 'Roberts and
Guiney are good men,' say that, and no more, and come back to me."

I answered at first, being in a rage, and not liking this errand
better than others I had done for him, that I would not--I would not,
though he killed me. But he had a way with him that I could not long
resist; and he presently cowed me, and sent me off.

I had so far fallen into his sneaking habits that though it was dark
night when I started, I went the farthest way round by Holborn, and
the new fashionable quarter, Soho; and passing through King's Square
itself, and before the late Duke of Monmouth's house--the sight of
which did not lessen my distaste for my errand--I entered Covent
Garden by James Street, which comes into the square between the two
Piazzas. At the corner, I had to turn into the roadway to avoid
a party of roisterers who had just issued from the Nag's Head
coffee-house and were roaring for a coach; and being in the kennel,
and observing under the Piazza and before the taverns more lights and
link-boys than I liked, I continued along the gutter, dirty as it was
(and always is in the neighbourhood of the market), until I was
half-way across the square, where I could turn and reconnoitre at my
leisure. Here for a moment, running my eye along the Piazza, which had
its usual fringe of flower girls and mumpers, swearing porters and
hackney coaches, I thought my man with the white handkerchief had not
come; but shifting my gaze to the Little Piazza, which was darker and
less frequented, I presently espied him walking to and fro under
cover, with a cane in his hand and the air of a gentleman who had
supped and was looking out for a pretty girl. He was a tall, stout
man, wearing a large black peruke and a lace cravat and ruffles; and
he carried a steel-hilted sword, and had somehow the bearing of one
who had seen service abroad.

Satisfied that he was the person I wanted, I went to him; but stepping
up to him a little hastily, I gave him a start, I suppose, for he
backed from me and laid his hand on his hilt, rapping out an oath.
However, a clearer view reassured him, and he cocked his hat, and
swore at me again but in a different tone. "Sir," said he very rudely,
"another time give a gentleman a wider berth, unless you want his cane
about your shoulders!"

For answer I merely pulled out the note I had and held it towards him,
being accustomed to such errands and anxious only to do this one, and
begone; the more as under the Great Piazza a number of persons were
loitering, and among them link-boys and chairmen and the like who
notice everything.

However he made no movement to take the letter, but only said, "For
me?"

"Yes," I answered.

"From whom?" said he, roughly.

"You will learn that inside," I said. "I was bidden only to say that
Roberts and Guiney are good men."

"Ha!" he exclaimed, "why did you not say that before?" and at that
took the letter. On which, having done my part and not liking the
neighbourhood, I was for going, and had actually made a half turn,
when a man slighter than the first and taller, came out of the shadow
behind him, and standing by his side, touched his hat to me. I
stopped.

"Good evening, my lord," he said, addressing me with ceremony, and a
sort of dignity. "I little thought to see you here on this business.
It is the best news I have had myself or have had to give to others
this many a day. It shall be well represented, and the risk you
run. And whatever be thought on this side, believe me, at St.
Germain's----"

"Hush!" cried the first man, interrupting him at that, and rather
sharply. I think he had been too much surprised to speak before. "You
are too hasty, sir," he continued. "There must be a mistake here. The
gentleman to whom you are speaking----"

"There is no mistake. This gentleman and I are well acquainted," the
other responded coolly, and in the tone of a man who knows what he is
doing. And then to me, and with a different air, "My lord, you may not
wish to say your name aloud; that I can understand, and this is no
very safe place for either of us. But if we could meet somewhere, say
at----"

"Hush, sir," the man with the handkerchief cried, and this time almost
angrily. "There _is_ a mistake here, and in a moment you will say too
much, if you have not said it already. This gentleman--if he is a
gentleman--brings a letter from R. F., and is no more of a lord, I'll
be sworn, than I am!"

"From R. F.?"

"Yes; and therefore if he is the person you think him---- But come,
sir," he continued, eyeing me angrily, "what _is_ your name? End
this."

I did not wish to tell him, yet liked less to refuse. So I lied, and
on the spur of the moment said, "Charles Taylor," that being the name
of a man who lived below me.

The taller man struck one hand into the other. "There! Charles!" he
cried, and looked at me smiling. "I have an eye for faces, and if you
are not----"

"Nay, sir, I pray, be quiet," the man with the white handkerchief
remonstrated. "Or if you are so certain----" and then he looked hard
at me and frowned as if he began to feel a doubt. "Step this way and
tell me what you think. This gentleman will doubtless excuse us, and
wait a moment, whether he be whom you think him or not."

I was as uneasy and as unwilling to stay as could be; but the man's
tone was resolute, and I saw that he was not a man to cross; so with
an ill grace I consented, and the two drawing aside together into the
deeper shadow under the Piazza, began to confer. This left me to kick
my heels impatiently, and watch out of the corner of my eye the
loiterers under the other Piazza, to learn if any observed us.
Fortunately they were taken up with a quarrel which had just broken
out between two hackney coachmen, and though a man came near me,
bringing a woman, he had no eyes for me, and, calling a sedan-chair,
went away again almost immediately.

I was so engrossed with watching on that side and taking everyone who
looked towards me for an informer, that it was with a kind of shock
that I found my two friends had grown in the course of their
conference to three; nor had I more than discovered this before the
new comer left the other two and sauntered up to me. "Oh, ah," he said
carelessly, "and who do you say that you----" and there he stopped,
staring in my face. And then, "By heavens, it is!" he cried.

By this time I was something astonished, and more amazed; and answered
with spirit--though he was a hard-bitten man, with the look of a
soldier or gamester, to whom ordinarily I should have given the
wall--that I was merely a messenger, and knew nothing of the matter on
which I was there, nor for whom they took me.

His face, which for a second or more had blazed with excitement, fell
suddenly; and when I had done speaking, he laughed.

"Don't you?" he said.

"No," said I. "Not a groat!"

"So it seems," he said again, as if that settled the matter. "Well,
then what is your name?"

"Charles Taylor," I answered.

"And you come from that old rogue Ferg--R. F., I mean?"

"Yes."

"Well then you can go back to him," he said, dismissing me with a nod.
"Or wait. Did you know that gentleman, my friend?"

"Which?" said I.

"The tall one."

"Not from Adam," I said.

"Good! Then there is no need you should know him," he answered coolly.
"So, go. And do you tell that old fox to lie close. He was never in
anything yet but he spoiled it. Tell him to lie close, and keep his
bragging tongue quiet if he can. And now be off. I will explain to the
gentlemen."

I needed no second bidding, but before the words were well out of his
mouth, had crossed the square, to the market side, where there were no
lights; thence skirting the garden of Bedford House, I made my way
into the Strand, and home by a pretty direct route. The farther I left
the men behind me, however, the higher rose my curiosity; so that by
the time I reached Bride Lane, and had climbed the stairs to my
garret, I was agape to know more, and for once in my life, was glad to
find the old plotter in my room. Nor was it without satisfaction, that
to his eager question, "You gave the note to the gentleman?" I
answered shortly that I had given it to three.

"To three?" he exclaimed, starting up in a sudden fury. "You d----d
cur, if you have betrayed me! What do you mean?"

"Only that I did what you told me," I answered sullenly; at which he
sat down again. "I gave it to the gentleman; but he had two with
him----"

"The more to hang him," he sneered, quickly recovering himself. "And
what did he say?"

"Very little. Nothing that I remember. But the two with him----"

"Ay?"

"One of them said, 'Tell the old fox'--or the rogue, for he called
you both--'to lie close!' And he added," I continued, spite giving me
courage, "that you had hitherto spoiled everything you had been in,
Mr. Ferguson."

At that I do not think that I ever saw a man in such a rage.
Fortunately he did not turn it on me; but for two or three minutes he
cursed and swore, bit things and foamed at the mouth, trampled on his
wig and raged up and down, like nothing so much as a madman; while the
imprecations he uttered against his enemies were so horrible I feared
to stay with him. At length it seemed to occur to him that the man who
could send such a message to him, Ferguson, the great Ferguson, the
Ferguson with a thousand guineas on his head, must be a very great man
indeed: which while it consoled him in some measure, excited his
curiosity in another and inordinate degree. He hastened to put to me a
number of questions, as, what were the two like? And did the one pay
the other respect? And how were they dressed? And had either a ribbon
or a star? And though in answer I could tell him no more than that the
youngest was extremely tall and slight, under thirty, and of an easy
carriage and bearing, and in appearance the leader, it was enough for
him; he presently cried out that he had it, and slapped his thigh.
"Gad! It is Jamie Churchill!" he cried. "It's Berwick, stop my vitals!
He had a villainous French accent, had he not?"

"Something of the kind," I answered. Adding with as much of a sneer as
I dared, "If it was not a Scotch one, sir."

He took the gibe and scowled at me--he spoke always like a Sawney, and
could never pass for English; but in his pleasure at the discovery he
had made he let the word pass. "See, man!" he said, "there are fine
times coming! It is like Monmouth's day over again. I'll warrant
Hunt's, down in the Marshes, is like a penny ferry with their coming
over. The fat is fairly in the fire now, and if we do not singe little
Hooknose's wig for him, I'll hang for it! He is a better man than
his father, is Jamie; ay, the very same figure of a man that his
cold-blooded, grease-your-boots, and sell-you-for-a-groat uncle, John
Churchill, was at his age! So Jamie is over! Well, well: and if we
knew precisely where he was and where he lies nights--there are two
ways about it! Ye-es! Ye-es!" And the old rogue, falling first into a
drawl and then into silence, looked at me slyly, and, unless I was
mistaken, began to ruminate on a new treason; rubbing now one calf and
now the other, and now dressing his ragged wig with his fingers, as he
continued to smile at his wicked thoughts; so that, as he sat there,
one leg over the other knee, he was the veriest baldheaded Judas to be
conceived. In the meantime I watched him and hated him, and, I
thought, read him.

Whatever the scheme in his mind, however, and whether he was, as I
expected, as ready to sell the Duke of Berwick as to plot with him, he
said no more to me on the subject; but presently went to his own room.
Thus left, I thought it high time to consider where I stood, being all
of a tremble and twitter with what I had heard and seen; and I tossed
through the night, fearfully sounding the depths in which I found
myself, and striving to gain strength to battle with the stream that
day by day was forcing me farther and farther from the land. I was no
boy or fool, unaware of the danger of being mixed up with great men
and great names; rather the ten years during which I had followed
public affairs had presented me with only too many examples of the
iron pot and clay pitcher. When, therefore, I slept at last, late in
the evening, it was to dream of the sledge and Tyburn road and the
Ordinary--who bore in my dream a marvellous likeness to Mr. Brome--and
a wall of faces that lined the way and never ceased from St. Giles's
Pound to the Edgeware Road.

Such a dream, taken with my night's thoughts, left me eager to put in
execution a plan I had more than once considered; which was to give up
all, to fly from London, and hiding myself in some quiet place under
another name, to live as I best might until Ferguson's capture, or a
change in the state of affairs freed me from danger. At a distance
from him I might even gain courage to inform against him; but this I
left for future decision, the main thing now being to pack my clothes,
secure about me the money I had saved, which amounted to thirty
guineas, and escape from the town on foot or in a stage-wagon without
any of his myrmidons being the wiser.

To adopt this course was to lose Mr. Brome's friendship and the
livelihood which his employment provided; but such was the fear I had
conceived of Ferguson's schemes and the perils they involved that I
scarcely hesitated. Before noon, an hour which I thought least open to
suspicion, I had engaged a porter and bidden him wait below, had made
all my other arrangements, and in five minutes I should have been safe
in the streets with my face set towards Kensington--when, at the last
moment, there came a tap at my door and a voice asked if I was in.

It was not an hour at which Ferguson had ever troubled me, and
trusting to this I had not been careful to hide the signs of removal
which my room presented. For a moment I hung over my trunk,
panic-stricken; then the door opened, and admitted the girl who
had intervened once before--I mean at the door of the Secretary's
office--and whom I had since noticed, but not often, going in at the
opposite rooms.

She curtseyed demurely, standing in the doorway, and said that Mr.
Smith--which was one of the names by which Ferguson went--had sent her
to me with a message.

"Yes," I said, forcing myself to speak.

"Would you please to wait on him this evening at eight," she answered.
"He wishes to speak with you."

"Yes," I said again, helplessly assenting; and there was an end of my
fine evasion. I took it for a warning, and my clothes from my mail;
and going down paid the porter a groat, and received in return a dozen
porter's oaths. And so dismissed him and my plan together.



                              CHAPTER XV


It must be confessed that after that it was with a sore shrinking and
foreboding of punishment I prepared to obey Mr. Ferguson's summons,
and at the hour he had fixed knocked at his door. Hitherto he had
always come to me; and even so and on my own ground I had suffered
enough at his hands. What I had to expect, therefore, when entirely in
his power I failed to guess, but on that account felt only the greater
apprehension; so that it was with relief I recognised, firstly, as
soon as I crossed the threshold, a peculiar neatness and cleanliness
in the rooms, as if Ferguson at home were something different from
Ferguson abroad; and secondly, that he was not alone, but entertained
a visitor.

Neither of these things, to be sure, altered his bearing towards me,
or took from the brutality with which it was his humour to address me;
but as his opening words announced that the visitor's business lay
with me, they relieved me from my worst apprehension--namely, that I
was to be called to account for the steps I had taken to escape; at
the same time that they amused me with the hope of better treatment,
since no man could deal with me worse than he had.

"This is your man!" the plotter cried, lying back in his chair and
pointing to me with the pipe he was smoking. "Never was such a brave
conspirator! Name a rope and he will sweat! For my part, I wish you
joy of him. Here, you, sirrah," he continued, addressing me, "this
gentleman wishes to speak to you, and, mind you, you will do what he
tells you, or----"

But at that the gentleman cut him short with a deprecating gesture.
"Softly, Mr. Ferguson, softly!" he said, and rose and bowed to me.
Then I saw that he was the last comer of the three I had met in Covent
Garden; and the one who had dismissed me. "You go too fast," he went
on, smiling, "and give our friend here a wrong impression of me. Mr.
Taylor, I----"

But it was Ferguson's turn to take him up, which he did with a
boisterous laugh. "Ho! Taylor! Taylor!" he cried in derision. "No more
Taylor than I am haberdasher! The man's name----"

"Is whatever he pleases," the stranger struck in, with another bow. "I
neither ask it nor seek to know it. Such things between gentlemen and
in these times are neither here nor there. It is enough and perhaps
too much that I came to ask you to do me a favour and a service, Mr.
Taylor, both of which are in your power."

He spoke with a politeness which went far to win me, and the farther
for the contrast it afforded to Ferguson's violence. With his
appearance I was not so greatly taken; finding in it, though he was
dressed well enough, clearer signs of recklessness than of discretion,
and plainer evidences of hard living than of charity or study. But
perhaps the prayer of such a man, when he stoops to pray, is the more
powerful. At any rate I was already half gained, when I answered;
asking him timidly what I could do for him.

"Pay a call with me," said he lightly. "Neither more than that, nor
less."

I asked him on whom we were to call.

"On a lady," he answered, "who lives at the other end of the town."

"But can I be of any service?" I said, feebly struggling against the
inevitable.

"You can," he answered. "Of great service."

"Devil a bit!" said Ferguson testily, and stared derision at me out of
a cloud of smoke. It occurred to me then that he was not quite sober,
and further that he was no more in the secret of the service than I
was. "Devil a bit!" said he again, and more offensively.

"You will let me judge of that," said the gentleman, and he turned to
the table. "Will you mind changing the clothes you wear for these?" he
said to me with a pleasant air. On which I saw that he had on the
table by his hand a suit of fine silk velvet clothes, and surmounted
by a grand dress peruque, with a laced steinkirk and ruffles to match.
"Pardon the impertinence," he continued, shrugging his shoulders as if
the matter were a very slight one, while I stared in amazement at this
new turn. "It is only that I think you will aid me the better in
these. And after all, what is a change of clothes?"

Naturally I looked at the things in wonder. I had never worn clothes
of the kind. "Do you want me to put them on?" I said.

"Yes," he answered, smiling. "Will you do it on the faith that it will
serve me, and trust to me to explain later?"

"If there is no danger in--in the business," I said reluctantly, "I
suppose I must." As a fact, whatever he asked me, with Ferguson beside
him, I should have to do, so great was my fear of that man.

"There is no danger," he replied. "I will answer for it. I shall
accompany you and return with you."

On that, and though I did not comprehend in the least degree what was
required of me, I consented, and took the clothes at the stranger's
bidding into the next room, where I put off mine and put these on; and
presently, seeing myself in a little square of glass that hung against
the wall, scarcely knew myself in a grand suit of blue velvet slashed
and laced with pearl-colour, a dress peruque and lace ruffles and
cravat. Being unable to tie the cravat, I went back into the room with
it in my hand; where I found not only the two I had left but the girl
who had summoned me that morning. The two men greeted the change in me
with oaths of surprise; the girl, who stood in the background, with an
open-eyed stare; but for a moment and until the stranger had tied the
cravat for me, nothing was said that I understood. Then Mr. Ferguson
getting up and walking round me with a candle, gazing at me from top
to toe, the other asked him in a voice of some amusement if he knew
now who I was.

"A daw in jay's feathers!" said he, scornfully.

"And you do not know him?"

"Not I--except for the silly fool he is!"

"Then you do not know--well, someone you ought to know!" the stranger
answered dryly. "You are getting old, Mr. Ferguson."

My master cursed his impudence.

"I am afraid that you do not keep abreast of the rising generation,"
the other continued, coolly eyeing the rage his words excited. "And
for your Shaftesburys, and Monmouths, and Ludlows, and the old gang,
they don't count for much now. You must look about you, Mr. Ferguson;
you must look about you and open your eyes, and learn new tricks, or
before you know it you will find yourself on the shelf."

It would be difficult to exaggerate the fury into which this threw my
master; he raved, stamped, and swore, and finally, having recourse to
his old trick, tore off his wig, flung it on the ground, and stamped
on it. "There!" he cried, with horrible imprecations, the more
horrible for the bald ugliness of the man, "and that is what I will do
to you--by-and-by, Mr. Smith. On the shelf, am I? And need new tricks?
Hark you, sir, I am not so much on the shelf that I cannot spoil your
game, whatever it is. And G-- d-- me but I will!"

Mr. Smith, listening, cool and dark-faced, shrugged his shoulders; but
for all his seeming indifference, kept a wary eye on the plotter.
"Tut--tut, Mr. Ferguson, you are angry with me," he said. "And say
things you do not mean. Besides, you don't know----"

"Know?" the other shrieked.

"Just so, know what my game is."

"I know this!" Ferguson retorted, dropping his voice on a sudden to a
baleful whisper, "Who is here, and where he lies, Mr. Smith. And----"

"So do Tom, Dick, and Harry," the other answered, shrugging his
shoulders contemptuously; and then to me, "Mr. Taylor," he continued
with politeness, "I think we will be going. Light the door, my dear.
That is it. I have a coach below, and--good-night, Mr. Ferguson,
good-night to you. I'll tell Sir George I have seen you. And do you
think over my advice."

At that my master broke out afresh, cursing the other's impudence, and
frantically swearing to be even with him; but I lost what he said, in
a sudden consternation that seized me, as I crossed the threshold; a
kind of shiver, which came over me at the prospect of the night, and
the dark coach ride, and the uncertainty of this new adventure. The
lights in the room, and Mr. Smith's politeness, had given me a courage
which the dark staircase dissipated; and but for the hold which my new
employer, perhaps unconsciously, laid on my arm, I think I should have
stood back and refused to go. Under his gentle compulsion, however, I
went down and took my seat in the coach that awaited us; and my
companion following me and closing the door, someone unseen raised the
steps, and in a moment we were jolting out of Bride Lane, and turned
in the direction of the Strand.

More than this I could not distinguish with all my curiosity, and look
out as I might; for Mr. Smith muttering something I did not catch,
drew the curtain over the window on my side, and, for the other,
interposed himself so continually and skilfully between it and my
eyes, that the coach turning two or three corners, in a few minutes I
was quite ignorant where we were, or whether we still held a westward
direction. A hundred notions of footpads, abductions, Mr. Thynne, and
the like passed through my mind while the coach rumbled on, and
rumbled on, and rumbled on endlessly; nor was the fact that we
appeared to avoid the business parts of the town, and chose unlighted
ways, calculated to steady my nerves. At length, and while I still
debated whether I wished this suspense at an end, or feared more what
was to follow, the coach stopped with a jerk, which almost threw me
out of my seat.

"We are there," said my companion, who had been some time silent. "I
must trouble you to descend, Mr. Taylor. And have no fears. The matter
in hand is very simple. Only be good enough to follow me closely, and
quickly."

And without releasing my arm he hurried me out of the coach, and
through a door in a wall. This admitted us only to a garden; and that
so dark, and so completely obscured by high walls and the branches of
trees, which showed faintly overhead, feathering against the sky, that
but for the guidance of his hand, I must have stood, unable to
proceed. Such an overture was far from abating my fears; nor had I
expected this sudden plunge into a solitude, which seemed the more
chilling, as we stood in London, and had a little while before passed
from the hum of the Strand. I tried to consider where we could be, and
the possibilities of retreat; but my conductor left me little room for
indecision. Still holding my arm, he led me down a walk, and to a
door, which opened as we approached. A flood of light poured out and
fell on the pale green of the surrounding trees; the next moment I
stood in a small, bare lobby or ante-room, and heard the door chained
behind me.

My eyes dazzled by a lamp, I saw no more at first than that the person
who held it, and had admitted us, was a woman. But on her setting down
the lamp, and proceeding to look me up and down deliberately, the
while Mr. Smith stood by, as if he had brought me for this and no
other, I took uneasy note of her. She appeared to be verging on forty
but was still handsome after a coarse and full-blown fashion, with
lips over-full and cheeks too red; her dark hair still kept its
colour, and the remains of a great vivacity still lurked in her gloomy
eyes. Her dress, of an untidy richness worn and tarnished, and
ill-fastened at the neck, was no mean match for her face; and led me
to think her--and therein I was right--the waiting-woman of some great
lady. Perhaps I should, if let alone, have come something nearer the
truth than this, and quite home; but Mr. Smith cut short my
observations by falling upon her in a tone of anger, "Hang it, madam,
if you are not satisfied," he cried, "I can only tell you----"

"Who said I was not satisfied?" she answered, still surveying me with
the utmost coolness. "But----"

"But what?"

"I cannot help thinking---- What is your name, sir, if you please?"
This to me.

"Taylor," I said.

"Taylor? Taylor?" She repeated the name as if uncertain. "I remember
no Taylor; and yet----"

"You remember? You remember? You know very well whom you remember!"
Mr. Smith cried, impatiently. "It is the likeness you are thinking of!
Why, it is as plain, woman, as the nose on his face. It is so plain
that if I had brought him in by the front door----"

"And kept his mouth shut!" She interposed.

"No one would have been the wiser."

"Well," she said, grudgingly, and eyeing me with her head aside, "it
is near enough."

"It is the thing!" he cried, with an oath.

"As a Chelsea orange is a China orange!" she answered, contemptuously.

At that he looked at her in a sort of dark fury, precisely, so it
seemed to me, as Ferguson had looked at him an hour before. "By
heaven, you vixen," he cried in the end, surprise and rage contending
in his tone, "I believe you love him still!"

Her back being towards me I did not see her face, but the venom in her
tone when she answered, made my blood creep. "Well," she said, slowly,
"and if I do? Much good may it do him!"

Ambiguous as were the words--but not the tone--the man shrugged his
shoulders. "Then what are we waiting for?" he asked, irritably.

"Madam's pleasure," she answered. And I could see that she loved to
baulk him. However, her pleasure was, this time, short-lived, for at
that moment a little bell tinkled in a distant room, and she took up
the lamp. "Come," she said. "And do you, sir," she continued, turning
to me and speaking sharply, "hold up your head and look as if you
could cut your own food. You are going to see an old woman. Do you
think that she will eat you?"

I let the gibe pass, and wondering of whom and what it was she
reminded me, whenever she spoke, I followed her up a short dark flight
of stairs to a second ante-room, or closet, situate, as far as I could
judge, over the other. It was hung with dull, faded tapestry and
smelled close, as if seldom used and more seldom aired. Setting down
the lamp on a little side-table whereon a crumpled domino, a couple of
masks, and an empty perfume bottle already lay, she bade us in a low
voice wait for her and be silent; and enforcing the last order by
placing her finger on her lip, she glided quietly out through a door
so skilfully masked by the tapestry as to seem one of the walls.

Left alone with Mr. Smith, who seated himself on the table, I had
leisure to take note of the closet. Remarking that the wall at one end
was partly hidden by a couple of curtains, between which a bare
bracket stood out from the wall, I concluded that the place had been a
secret oratory and had witnessed many a clandestine mass. I might have
carried my observations farther; but they were cut short at this point
by the return of the woman, who nodding, in silence, held the door
open for us to pass.



                             CHAPTER XVI


The first to enter, and prepared for many things--among which the
gloomy surroundings of an ascetic, devoted to the dark usages of
the old faith, held the first place in probability--I halted in
surprise on the threshold of a lofty and splendid room suffused with
rose-tinted light, and furnished with a luxury to which I had been
hitherto a stranger. The walls, hung with gorgeous French tapestry,
presented a succession of palaces and hunting scenes, interspersed
with birds of strange and tropical plumage; between which and the eyes
were scattered a profusion of Japanese screens, cabinets, and tables,
with some of those quaint Dutch idols, brought from the East, which,
new to me, were beginning at this time to take the public taste.
Embracing the upper half of the room, and also a _ruelle_, in which
stood a stately bed with pillars of silver, a circle of stronger
light, dispersed by lamps cunningly hidden in the ceiling, fell on a
suite of furniture of rose brocade and silver; in the great chair of
which, with her feet on a foot-stool set upon the open hearth, sat an
elderly lady, leaning on an ebony stick. A monkey mowed and gibbered
on the back of her chair; and a parrot, vieing in brilliance with the
broidered birds on the wall, hung by its claws from a ring above her
head.

Nor was the lady herself unworthy of the splendour of her
surroundings. It is true, her face and piled-up hair, painted and dyed
into an extravagant caricature of youth, aped the graces of sixteen,
and at the first glance touched the note of the grotesque rather than
the beautiful; but it needed only a second look to convince me that
with all that she on whom I looked was a great lady of the world, so
still she sat, and so proud and dark was the gaze she bent on me over
her clasped hands.

At first, it seemed to me, she gazed like one who, feeling a great
surprise, has learned to hide that and all other emotions. But
presently, "Come in, booby," she cried, in a voice petulant and
cracking with age. "Does a woman frighten you? Come nearer, I say. Ay,
I have seen your double. But the lamp has gone out."

The woman who had admitted me rustled forward. "It has sunk a little
perhaps, madam," she said in a smooth voice. "But I----"


[Illustration: IN THE GREAT CHAIR SAT AN ELDERLY LADY LEANING ON AN
EBONY STICK]


"But you are a fool," the lady cried. "I meant the lamp in the man,
silly. Do you think that anyone who has ever seen him would take that
block of wood for my son? Give him a brain, and light a fire in him,
and spark up those oyster eyes, and----turn him round, turn him round,
woman!"

"Turn," Smith muttered, in a fierce whisper.

"Ay," the lady cried, as I went to obey, "see his back, and he is like
enough!"

"And perhaps, madam, strangers----"

"Strangers? They'd be strange, indeed, man, to be taken in by him! But
walk him, walk him. Do you hear, fellow," she continued, nodding
peevishly at me, "hold up your head, and cross the room like a man if
you are one. Do you think the small-pox is in the air that you fear
it! Ha! That is better. And what is your name, I wonder, that you have
that nose and mouth, and that turn of the chin?"

"Charles Taylor," I made bold to answer, though her eyes went through
me, and killed the courage in me.

"Ay, Charles, that is like enough," she replied. "And Taylor, that was
your mother's. It is a waiting-woman's name. But who was your father,
my man?"

"Charles Taylor too," I stammered, falling deeper and deeper into the
lie.

"Odds my eyes, no!" she retorted with an ugly grin, and shook her
piled-up head at me, "and you know it! Come nearer!" and then when I
obeyed, "take that for your lie!" she cried; and, leaning forward with
an activity I did not suspect, she aimed a blow at me with her ebony
cane, and, catching me smartly across the shins, made me jump again.
"That is for lying, my man," she continued with satisfaction, as I
stooped ruefully to rub myself. "Before now I have had a man stopped
and killed in the street for less. Ay, that have I! and a prettier man
than you, and a gentleman! And now walk! walk!" she repeated, tapping
the floor imperiously, "and fancy that you have money in your purse."

I obeyed. But naturally the smart of the cane did not tend to set me
at my ease, or abate my awe of the old witch; and left to myself I
should have made a poor show. Both the man and the woman, however,
prompted and drilled me with stealthy eagerness, and whispering me
continually to do this and that, to hold up my chin, to lay back my
shoulders, to shake out my handkerchief, to point my toes, I suppose I
came off better in this strange exhibition than might have been
expected. For by-and-by, the lady, who never ceased to watch me with
sharp eyes, grunted and bade me stand. "He might pass," she said,
"among fools, and with his mouth shut! But odds my life," she
continued, irritably, "God have mercy on us that there should be need
of all this! Is there no royalty left in the world, that my son, of
all people, should turn traitor to his lawful King, and spit on his
father's faith? Sometimes I could curse him. And you, woman," she
cried with sudden fierceness, "you cajoled him once. Can you do
nothing now, you Jezebel?"

But the woman she addressed stood stiffly upright, looking before her,
and answered nothing; and the mistress, with a smothered curse, turned
to the man. "Well," she said, "have you nothing to say?"

"Only, madam, what I said before," he answered smoothly and gravely;
"my lord's secession is no longer in issue. The question is how he may
be brought back into the path of loyalty. To be frank, he is not of
the stuff of those, whom your ladyship knows, who will readily lick
both sides of the trencher. And so, without some little pressure, he
will not be brought back. But were he once committed to the good
cause, either by an indiscretion on his own part, if he could be
induced to that----"

"Which he cannot, man, he cannot," she struck in impatiently. "He made
one slip, and he will make no second."

"True, madam," the man answered. "Then there remains only the way
which does not depend on him; and which I before indicated; some ruse
which may lead both the friends and enemies of the good cause to think
him committed to it. Afterwards, this opinion being brought to his
notice, and with it, the possibility of clearing himself to the
satisfaction both of St. Germain's and St. James's, he would, I think,
come over."

"'Tis a long way round," said madam, dryly.

"It is a long way to Rome, madam," said the man, with meaning in his
voice.

She nodded and shifted uneasily in her seat. "You think that the one
means the other?" she said at last.

"I do, madam. But there is a new point, which has just arisen."

"A new point! What?"

"There is a design, and it presses," the man answered in a low voice,
and as if he chose his words with care. "It will be executed within
the month. If it succeed, and my lord be still where he is, and
unreconciled, I know no head will fall so certainly. Not Lord
Middleton's influence, no, nor yours, my lady, will save him."

"What, and my Lord Marlborough escape?"

"Yes, madam, for he has made his peace, and proved his sincerity."

"I believe it," she said, grimly. "He is the devil. And his wife is
like unto him. But there's Sidney Godolphin--what of him?"

"He has made his peace, madam."

"Russell?"

"The same, madam, and given proofs."

"But, odds my soul, sir," she cried, sharply and pettishly, "if
everybody is of one mind, where does it stick that the king does not
come over?"

"On a life, madam," Smith answered, letting each word fall slowly, as
if it were a jewel. "One life intervenes."

"Ha!" she said, sitting up and looking straight before her. "Sits the
wind in that quarter? Well, I thought so."

"And therefore time presses."

"Still, man," she said, "our family has done much for the throne; and
his Gracious Majesty has----"

"Has many virtues, my lady, but he is not forgiving," quoth the
tempter, coolly.

On that she sighed, and deeply; and I, hearing the sigh, and seeing
how uneasily she moved in her chair, comprehended that in old age the
passions, however strong they may have been in youth, become slaves to
help others to their aims; ay, and I comprehended also that, sharply
as she had just rated both the man and the woman, and great lady as
she was, and arrogant as had been her life--whereof evidence more than
enough was to be found in every glance of her eye and tone of her
voice--she was now being pushed and pushed and pushed, into that to
which she was but half inclined. But half inclined, I repeat; and yet
the battle was over, and she persuaded. I think, but I am not quite
sure, that some assenting word had actually fallen from her--or she
was in the act of speaking one--when a gentle knock at the door cut
short our conference. Mr. Smith raised his hand in warning, and the
woman, gliding to the door, opened it, and after speaking a word to
someone without, returned.

"My lord is below," said she.

It was strange to see how madam's face changed at that; and how, on
the instant, eagerness took the place of fatigue, and hope of _ennui_.
There was no question now of withstanding her; or of any other giving
orders. The parrot must be removed, because he did not like it; and we
fared no better. "Let him up," she cried, peremptorily, striking her
stick on the floor; "let him up. And do you, Monterey," she continued
to the woman, "begone, and quickly. It irks him to see you. And,
Smith, to-morrow! Do you hear me? come to-morrow, and I will talk. And
take away that oaf! Ugh, out with him! My lord must not be kept
waiting for such _canaille_. To-morrow! to-morrow!"



                             CHAPTER XVII


Truth to tell, I desired nothing so much as to be gone and be out of
this imbroglio; and the woman, whom madam had called Monterey,
twitching my sleeve and whispering me, I followed her, and slipped out
as quickly as I could through the door by which we had entered. Even
so we were not a moment too soon, if I was to retreat unseen. For as
the curtain dropped behind me I heard a man's voice in the room I had
left, and the woman with me chancing to have the lamp, which she had
lifted from the table, in her hand at the instant--so that the light
fell brightly on her face--I was witness of an extraordinary change
which passed over her features. She grew rigid with rage--rage, I took
it to be--and stood listening with distended eyes, in perfect
forgetfulness of my presence; until, seeming at last to remember me,
she glanced from me to the curtain and from the curtain to me in a
kind of frantic uncertainty; being manifestly torn in two between the
desire to hear what passed, and the desire to see me out that I might
not hear. But as, to effect the latter she must sacrifice the former,
it did not require a sage to predict which impulse, curiosity incited
by hatred or mere prudence, would prevail with a woman. And as the
sage would have predicted so it happened; after making an abortive
movement as if she would place the lamp in my hands, she stealthily
laid it on the table beside her, and making me a sign to wait and be
silent, bent eagerly to listen.

I fancy that it was the mention of her own name turned the scale; for
that was the first word that caught my ear, and who that was a woman
would not listen, being mentioned? The speaker was her mistress, and
the words "What, Monterey?" uttered in a voice a little sharp and
raised, were as clearly heard as if we had been in the room.

"Yes, madam," came the answer.

"Well," my lady replied with a chuckle, "I do not think that you are
the person who ought to----"

"Object? Perhaps not, my lady mother," came the answer. The speaker's
tone was one of grave yet kindly remonstrance; the voice quite strange
to me. "But that is precisely why I do," he continued. "I cannot think
it wise or fitting that you should keep her about you."

"You kept her long enough about you!" madam answered, in a tone
between vexation and raillery.

"I own it; and I am not proud of it," the new-comer rejoined. Whereat,
though I was careful not to look at the woman listening beside me, I
saw the veins in one of her hands which was under my eyes swell with
the rage in her, and the nail of the thumb grow white with the
pressure she was placing on the table to keep herself still. "I am
very far from proud of it," the speaker continued, "and for the matter
of that----"

"You were always a bit of a Puritan, Charles," my lady cried.

"It may be."

"I am sure I do not know where you get it from," madam continued
irritably, stirring in her chair--I heard it crack, and her voice told
the rest. "Not from me, I'll swear!"

"I never accused you, madam."

That answer seemed to please her, for on the instant she went off into
such a fit of laughter as fairly choked her. When she had a little
recovered from the paroxysm of coughing that followed this, "You can
be more amusing than you think, Charles," she said. "If your father
had had a spark of your humour----"

"I thought that it was agreed between us that we should not talk of
him," the man said gravely, and with a slight suspicion of sternness
in his voice.

"Oh, if you are on your high horse!" madam answered, "the devil take
you! But, there, I am sure that I do not want to talk of him, poor
man. He was dull enough. Let us talk of something livelier, let us
talk of Monterey instead; what is amiss with her?"

"I do not think that she is a fit person to be about you."

"Why not? She is married now," my lady retorted. "D'ye know that?"

"Yes, I heard some time ago that she was married; to Mr. Bridges'
steward at Kingston."

"Matthew Smith?"

"Yes."

"And who recommended _him_ to my husband, I should like to know?"
madam answered in a tone of malice. "Why, you, my friend."

"It is possible. I remember something of the kind."

"And who recommended him to you? Why, she did: in the days when you
did not warn people against her." And madam chuckled wickedly.

"It is possible," he answered, "but the matter is twelve years old,
and more; and I do not want to----"

"Go back to it," madam cried sharply. "I can quite understand that.
Nor to have Monterey about to remind you of it--and of your wild
oats."

"Perhaps."

"Perhaps, Mr. Square-Toes? You know it is the case!" was the vivid
answer. "For otherwise, as I like the woman, and now, at all events,
she is married--what is against her?"

"I do not trust her," was the measured answer. "And, madam, in these
days people are more strait-laced than they were; it is not fitting."

"That for people!" my lady cried with a reckless good humour that
would have been striking in one half her age. "People! Odds my life,
when did I care for people? But come, I will make a bargain with you.
Tit for tat. A Roland for your Oliver! If you will give me your Anne I
will give you my Monterey."

"My Anne?" he exclaimed, in a tone of complete bewilderment.

"Yes, your Anne! Come, my Monterey for your Anne!"

There was silence for a moment, and then "I do not at all understand
you," he said.

"Don't you? I think you do," she answered lightly. "Look you,


             'When William king is William king no more.'


Now, you understand?"

"I understand, my lady, that you are saying things which are not
fitting for me to hear," the man answered, in a tone of cold
displeasure. "The King, thank God, is well. When he ails, it will be
time to talk of his succession."

"It will be a little late then," she retorted. "In the meantime, and
to please me----"

He raised his hand in protest. "Anything else," he said.

"You have not yet heard what I propose," she cried, her voice shrill
with anger. "It is a trifle, and to please me you might well do it.
Set your hand to a note which I will see delivered in the proper
quarter; promising nothing in the Prince's life-time--there! but only
that in the event of his death you will support a Restoration."

"I cannot do it," he answered.

"Cannot do it?" she rejoined with heat. "Why not? You have done as
much before."

"It maybe: and been forgiven for it by the best master man ever had!"

"Who feels nothing, forgives easily," she sneered.

"But not twice," he said gravely. "The King----"

"Which King?"

"The only King I acknowledge," he answered, unmoved. "Who knows,
believe me, so much more than you give him credit for, that it were
well if your friends bethought them of that before it be too late. He
has winked at much and forgiven more--no one knows it better than
I--but he is not blinded; and there is a point, madam, beyond which he
can be as steadfast to punish as your King. If Sir John Fenwick,
therefore, who I know well, is in England----"

But at that she cut him short, carried away by a passion, which she
had curbed as long as it was in her impetuous nature to curb anything.
"Odds my life!" she cried, and at the sound of her voice uplifted in a
shriek of anger, the woman listening beside me raised her face to
mine, and smiled cruelly--"Odds my life, your King and my King! Kings
indeed! Why, mannikin, how many Kings do you think there are! By G--d,
Master Charles, you will learn one of these days that there is but one
King, sent by God, one King and no more, and that his yea and nay are
life and death! You fool, you! I tell you, you are trembling on the
edge, you are tottering! A day, a week, a month, at most, and you
fall--unless you clutch at the chance of safety I offer you! Sign the
note! Sign the note, man! No one but the King and Middleton shall know
of it; and when the day comes, as come it will, it shall avail you."

"Never, madam," was the cold and unmoved answer.

So much I heard and my lady's oath and volley of abuse; but in the
midst of this, and while she still raged, my companion, satisfied I
suppose with what she had learned, and assured that her lady would not
get her way, twitched my sleeve, and softly taking up the lamp, signed
to me to go before her. I obeyed nothing loth, and regaining the small
ante-room by which I had entered, found the man Smith awaiting us.

When they had whispered together, "I'll see you home, Mr. Taylor,"
said he, somewhat grimly. "And to-morrow I will call and talk
business. What we want you to do is a very simple matter."

"It is simply that my lady's son is a fool!" the woman cried,
snappishly.

"Well," he said, smiling, "I should hardly call my Lord Shrewsbury
that!"

The woman screamed and clapped her hand to his mouth. "You babbling
idiot!" she cried, in a passion. "You have let it out."

He stood gaping. "Good lord!" he said.

"You have let it out with a vengeance now!" she repeated, furiously.

He looked foolish; and at last, "He did not hear," he said.

"Hear? He heard, unless he is deaf!" she retorted. "You may lay your
account with that. For me, I'll leave you. You have done the mischief
and may mend it."



                            CHAPTER XVIII


But as the spoken word has sometimes the permanence which proverbs
attach to the _Littera scripta_, and is only confirmed by bungling
essays to erase it, so it was in this case; Mr. Smith's endeavours to
explain away the fact which he had carelessly blabbed only serving to
impress it the more deeply on my memory. It would seem that he was
partly aware of this; for not only did his attempts lack the dexterity
which I should have expected from one whose features augured much
experience of the world, but he quickly gave up the attempt as labour
in vain, and gruffly bidding me go before to the coach, followed me
and took his seat beside me. We rumbled away. The night was overcast,
the neighbourhood seemed to be rural; and, starting from an unknown
point, I had less chance than before of tracing the devious lanes and
streets through which we drove; so that when the coach presently
stopped in a part of the town more frequented, I had not the least
idea where we were, or where we had been.

"You can get home from here," said he, still ruffled, and scarce able
to speak to me civilly.

Then I saw, as I went to descend, that we were near the end of
Holborn, in the Tyburn Road, where it grows to country. "I will see
you to-morrow," he cried. "And, mind you, in the meantime, the less
you say to Ferguson the better, my man!" With which the coach drove
away towards Kensington, leaving me standing against the wall of St.
Giles's Pound.

Thus released, alone, and free to consider what had happened to me, I
found a difficulty in tracing where I had been, but none in following
the drift of the strange scene and stranger conversation at which I
had been present. Even the plans of those who had conveyed me to that
place were transparent. It needed no Solomon to discern that in the
man Smith and the woman Monterey the young lord had two foes in his
mother's household, as dangerous as foes could be; the woman moved, as
I conjectured, by that _spretæ injuria formæ_, of which the great
Roman poet speaks, and the man by I know not what old wrong or
jealousy. It was plain that these two, to obtain their ends, were
urging on the mother a most perilous policy: that, I mean, of
committing the son to the Jacobite Court, that so he might be cut off
from St. James's; moreover, that, as he could not be induced, in
_propriâ persona_, to such a treasonable step as would serve their
ends, advantage was to be taken of some likeness that I bore to him
(which Smith had observed the previous evening in Covent Garden) to
personate him in a place or company where his presence would be
conclusive both for and against him.

I could believe that the mother contemplated but vaguely the power
over him which the incident would give her; and dreamed of using it
only in the last resort; rather amusing herself in the present with
the thought that short of this, and without bringing the deception to
his notice, the effect she desired would be produced--since he would
be held at St. Germain's to be well affected, and at St. James's the
matter would not be known. So, in his own despite, and without his
knowledge, he could be reconciled to the one court, while remaining
faithful to the other!

But, as in the mass of conspiracies--and this was especially true of
the conspiracies of that age--the acute eye can detect the existence
of an inner and outer ring of conspirators, whereof the latter are
commonly the dupes of the former, so I took it that here Smith and the
woman meditated other and more serious results than those which my
lady foresaw; and, thinking less of my lord's safety in the event of a
Restoration than of punishing him or obtaining a hold upon him--and
more of private revenge than of the Good Cause--had madam for their
principal tool. Such a consideration, while it increased my reluctance
to be mixed up with a matter so two-faced, left me to think whether I
should not seek out the victim, and by an early information, gain his
favour and protection.

I stood in the darkness of the street doubtful, and weighing the
matter. Clearly, if I had to do the thing, now was the time, before I
saw Smith, or exposed myself to an urgency which in spite of his
politeness might, I fancied, be of a kind difficult to resist. If by
going straight to Lord Shrewsbury I could kill two birds with one
stone--could at once free myself from the gang of plotters under whom
I suffered, and secure for the future a valuable patron--here was a
chance in a hundred, and I should be foolish to hesitate.

Nor did I do so long. True, it stuck me a little that I knew nothing
of my Lord Shrewsbury's whereabouts in London; nor whether he lived in
town, or in the great house among the lanes and gardens which I had
visited, but of the road whereto I had no more knowledge than a blind
man. This, however, I could learn at the nearest coffee-house: and
impulse rather than calculation directing my steps, I hurried hot-foot
towards Covent Garden, which lay conveniently to my hand.

It was not until I was in the Square and close to the Piazza that I
bethought me how imprudent I was to re-visit the scene of last night's
adventure; a place where it was common knowledge that the Jacobites
held their assignations; and where I might be recognised. To reinforce
this late-found discretion, and blow up the spark of alarm already
kindled, I had not stood hesitating while a man could count ten,
before my eye fell on the very same soldierly gentleman, with the
handkerchief hanging out of his pocket, to whom I had been sent the
evening before. He was alone, walking under the dimly-lighted Piazza,
as he had walked then; but as I caught sight of him two others came up
and joined him: and in terror lest these should be the two I had met
before, I retreated hastily into the shadow of St. Paul's Church, and
so back the way I had come.


[Illustration: I HEARD A LIGHT FOOT FOLLOWING ME]


However, I was not to get off so easily. Though the hour was late, the
market closed, and the pavement in front of the taverns deserted, or
fringed only by a chair waiting for a belated gamester, I ran a
greater risk of being recognised, as I passed, than I thought; and had
not gone ten paces along King Street before I heard a light foot
following me, and a hand caught my arm. Turning in a fright I found it
was only a girl; and, at first sight, was for wresting myself from
her, glad that it was no worse: but she muttered my name, and looking
down I recognised to my astonishment the girl I had seen at Ferguson's
earlier in the evening.

At that, I remember, a dread of the man and his power seized me and
chilled my very heart. This was the third time this girl, whom I never
saw at other seasons, had arisen out of the ground to confront me and
pluck me back when on the point of betraying him. I stared at her,
thinking of this, with I know not what of affright and shrinking; and
could scarcely command either voice or limbs.

And yet as she stood looking at me with the dark length of the street
stretching to the market behind her, it must be confessed that there
was little in her appearance to cause terror. The night being cold,
and a small rain falling, she had a shawl drawn tightly over her head,
whence her face, small and pale as a child's, peered at me. I thought
to read in it a sly and elfish triumph such as became Ferguson's
minion: instead I discerned only a weariness that went ill with her
years--and a little flicker of contempt in eye and lip. The weariness
was also in her voice when she spoke. "Well met, Mr. Price," she said.
"I am in luck to light on you."

I shivered in my shoes; but without seeming to mark me, "I want this
note taken to Mr. Watkins," she continued, rapidly pressing a scrap of
paper into my hand. "He is in the tavern there, the Seven Stars. Ask
for the Apollo Room, and you will find him."

"But, one minute," I protested, as in her eagerness she pushed me that
way with her hand, "did Mr. Ferguson----Is it from him?"

"Of course, fool," she answered, sharply. "Do you think that I have
been standing here for the last half-hour in cold and wet for my own
pleasure?"

"But if he sent it?" I remonstrated, feebly, "perhaps he may not like
me to interfere--to----"

"Like me to?" she retorted, sharply, mocking my tone. "Who said he
would? Cannot you understand that it is I who do not like to? That I
am not going into that place at this time of night, and half in the
house drunken brutes? It is bad enough to be here, loitering up and
down as if I were what I am not--and free to be spoken to by every
impudent blood that passes! Go, man, and do it, and I will wait so
long. What do you fear?"

"The rope," said I, "to be plain with you." And I looked with
abhorrence at the scrap of paper she had given me. "I have taken too
many of these," I said.

"Well, you will take one more!" she answered, doggedly. "Or you are no
man. See, there is the door. Ask for the Apollo Room, give it to him,
and the thing is done!" And with that she set both hands to me and
pushed me the way she would have me move--I mean towards the tavern.
"Go!" she said. "Go!"

Hate the thing as I might, and did, I could not resist persuasions
addressed to me in such a tone; nor fail to be moved by the girl's
shrinking from the task, which had to be done, it seemed, by one of
us. After all, it was no more than I had done several times before;
and my reluctance having its origin in the resolution, to which I had
just come, to break off from the gang, yielded to the reflection that
the design lay as yet in my own breast, and might be carried out as
well to-morrow as to-day. In a word, I complied out of pity, went to
the tavern, and walked boldly in.

I had been in the house before, and knew where I should find a waiter
of whom I might enquire privately; I passed by the public room,
therefore, and was for going to the place I mean. I had scarcely
advanced three paces beyond the threshold, however, before a great
noise of voices and laughter and beating of feet met my ears and
surprised me; the hubbub was so loud and boisterous as to be unusual
even in places of that kind. I had no more than taken this in, and set
it down to an orgy beyond the ordinary, when I came on a pale-faced
group standing at gaze at the foot of the stairs, the landlord, two or
three drawers, and as many women being among them. It was easy to see
that they were in a fever about the noise above; for while the host
was openly wringing his hands and crying that those devils would ruin
him, a woman who seemed to be his wife was urging first one and then
another of the drawers to ascend and caution the party. That something
more than disorderliness or a visit from the constable was in question
I gathered from the host's pale face; and this was confirmed when on
seeing me they dispersed a little, and affected to be unconcerned.
Until I asked for the Apollo Room, whereon they all came together
again and fell on me with complaints and entreaties.

"'Fore God, sir, I think your friends are mad!" the host cried, in a
perfect fury. "Go up! Go up, and tell them that if they want to be
hanged, and to hang me as well, they are going the right way about
it."

"It is well it is night," said the head waiter grimly, "or the Market
porters would have broken our windows before now."

"And got us all in the Compter!" the women wailed. And then to me, "Go
up, sir, go up and tell them that if they would not have the mob pull
the house down----"

But the tumult above, waxing loud at that moment, drowned her words,
and certainly took from me what little good-will to ascend I had.
However, the host, having me there, a person who had enquired for the
room, would take no denial, but, delighted to have found a deputy, he
fairly set me on the stairs and pushed me up. "Go up and tell them! Go
up and tell them!" he kept repeating. "You asked for the room and
there it is."

In a word I had no choice, and with reluctance went up. The noise was
such I could not fail to find the door and the room; I knocked and
opened, a roar of voices poured out, and even before I entered the
room I knew what was afoot, and could swear to treason. Such cries as
"Down with the Whigs and damn their King!" "The 29th of May and a
glorious Restoration!" "Here's to the Hunting Party!" poured out in a
confused medley; with half-a-dozen others equally treasonable, and
equally certain, were they overheard in the street, to bring down the
mob and the messengers on the speakers.

True, as soon as the half-muddled brains of the company took in
the fact that the door was open, and a stranger standing on the
threshold--which they were not quick to discern owing to the cloud of
tobacco-smoke that filled the room--nine-tenths quavered off into
silence and gaped at me; that proportion of the company having still
the sense to recognise the risk they were running, and to apprehend
that judgment had taken them in the act. Two men in particular, older
than the rest--the one a fat, infirm fellow with a pallid face and the
air of a rich citizen, the other a peevish, red-eyed atomy in a green
fur-lined coat--were of this party. They had not, I think, been of the
happiest before, seated in the midst of that crew; but now, sinking
back in their high-backed chairs, they stared at me as if I carried
death in my face. A neighbour of theirs, however, went beyond them;
for, with a howl that the Secretary was on them and the officers were
below, he kicked over his chair and dashed for a window, pausing only
when he had thrown it up.

But with all this the recklessness of some was evident: for while I
stood, uncertain to whom to speak, one of the more drunken staggered
from his seat, and giving a shrill view-halloa that might have been
heard in Bedford House, made towards me with a cup in his hand.

"Drink!" he cried, with a hiccough as he forced it upon me. "Drink! To
the squeezing of the Rotten Orange! Drink, man, or you are no friend
of ours, but a snivelling, sneaking, white-faced son of a Dutchman
like your master! So drink, and----Eh, what is it? What is the
matter?"



                             CHAPTER XIX


It was no small thing could enlighten that brain clouded by the fumes
of drink and conceit; but the silence, perfect and clothing panic--a
silence that had set in with his first word, and a panic that had
grown with a whisper passed round the table--came home to him at last.
"What is it? What is the matter?" he cried, with a silly drunken
laugh. And he turned to look.

No one answered; but he saw the sight which I had already seen--his
fellows fallen from him, and huddled on the farther side of the table,
as sheep huddle from the sheep-dog; some pale, cross-eyed, and with
lips drawn back, seeking softly in their cloaks for weapons; others
standing irresolute, or leaning against the wall, shaking and
unnerved.

Cooled, but not sobered by the sight, he turned to me again. "Won't he
drink the toast?" he maundered, in an uncertain voice. "Why--why not,
I'd like to know. Eh? Why not?" he repeated; and staggered.

At that someone in the crowd laughed hysterically; and this breaking
the spell, a second found his voice. "Gad! It is not the man!" the
latter cried with a rattling oath. "It is all right! I swear it is!
Here you, speak, fool!" he went on to me. "What do you here?"

"This for Mr. Wilkins," I answered, holding out my note.

I meant no jest, but the words supplied the signal for such a roar of
laughter as well-nigh lifted the roof. The men were still between
drunk and sober; and in the rebound of their relief staggered and
clung to one another, and bent this way and that in a paroxysm of
convulsive mirth. Vainly one or two, less heady than their fellows,
essayed to stay a tumult that promised to rouse the watchmen; it was
not until after a considerable interval--nor until the more drunken
had laughed their fill, and I had asked myself a hundred times if
these were men to be trusted with secrets and others' necks--that the
man with the white handkerchief, who had just entered, gained silence
and a hearing. This done, however, he rated his fellows with the
utmost anger and contempt; the two elderly gentlemen whom I have
mentioned, adding their quavering, passionate remonstrances to his.
But as in this kind of association there can be little discipline, and
those are most forward who have least to lose, the hotheads only
looked silly for a moment, and the next were calling for more liquor.

"Not a bottle!" said he of the white handkerchief, "_Nom de dieu_, not
a bottle!"

"Come, Captain, we are not on service now," quoth one.

"Aren't you?" said he, looking darkly at them.

"No, not we!" cried the other recklessly, "and what is more, we will
have no 'Regiment du Roi' regulations here! Is not a gentleman to have
a second bottle if he wants one?"

"It is twelve o'clock," replied the Captain. "For the love of Heaven,
man, wait till this business is over; and then drink until you burst,
if you please! For me, I am going to bed."

"But who is this--lord! I don't know what to call him!" the fellow
retorted, turning to me with a half-drunken gesture. "This Gentleman
Dancing Master?"

"A messenger from the old Fox: Mr.--Taylor, I think he calls himself?"
and the officer turned to me.

"Yes," said I.

"Well, you may go. Tell the gentleman who sent you that Wilkins got
his note, and will bear the matter in mind."

I said I would; and was going with that, and never more glad than to
be out of that company. But the fellow who had asked who I was, and
who, being thwarted of his drink, was out of temper, called rudely to
know where I got my wig, and who rigged me out like a lord; swearing
that Ferguson's service must be a d----d deal better than the one he
was in, and the pay higher than a poor trooper's.

This gave the cue to the man who had before forced the drink on me;
who, still having the cup in his hand, thrust himself in my way, and
forcing the liquor on me so violently that he spilled some over my
coat, vowed that though all the Scotch colonels in the world barred
the way, I should drink his toast, or he would skewer me.

"To Saturday's work! A straight eye and a firm hand!" he cried. "Drink
man, drink! For a hunting we will go, and a hunting we will go! And if
we don't flush the game at Turnham Green, call me a bungler!"

I heard one of the elder men protest, with something between a curse
and a groan, that the fool would proclaim it at Charing Cross next;
but, thinking only to be gone (and the man being so drunk that it was
evident resistance would but render him more obstinate, and imperil my
skin), I took the cup and drank, and gave it back to him. By that time
two or three of the more prudent--if any in that company could be
called prudent--had risen and joined us; who when he would have given
another toast, forced him away, scolding him soundly for a leaky
chatterer, and a fool who would ruin all with the drink.

Freed from his importunities, I waited for no second permission; but
got me out and down the stairs. At the foot of which the landlord's
scared face and the waiting, watching eyes of the drawers and
servants, who still lingered there, listening, put the last touch to
the picture of madness and recklessness I had witnessed above. Here
were informers and evidences ready to hand and more than enough, if
the beggars in the street, and the orange girls, and night walkers who
prowled the market were not sufficient, to bring home to its authors
the treason they bawled and shouted overhead.

The thought that such rogues should endanger my neck, and good, honest
men's necks, made my blood run cold and hot at once; hot, when I
thought of their folly, cold, when I recalled Mr. Ashton executed in
'90 for carrying treasonable letters, or Anderton, betrayed, and done
to death for printing the like. I could understand Ferguson's methods;
they had reason in them, and if I hated them and loathed them, they
were not so very dangerous. For he had disguises and many names and
lodgings, and lurked from one to another under cover of night; and if
he sowed treason, he sowed it stealthily and in darkness, with all the
adjuncts which prudence and tradition dictated; he boasted to those
only whom he had in his power, and used the like instruments. But
the outbreak of noisy, rampant, reckless rebellion which I had
witnessed--and which it seemed to me must be known to all London
within twenty-four hours--filled me with panic. It so put me beside
myself, that when the girl who had employed me on that errand met me
in the street, I cursed her and would have passed her; being unable to
say another word, lest I should weep. But she turned with me, and
keeping pace with me asked me continually what it was; and getting no
answer, by-and-by caught my arm, and forced me to stand in the passage
beyond Bedford House and close to the Strand. Here she repeated her
question so fiercely--asking me besides if I were mad, and the
like--and showed herself such a termagant, that I had no option but to
answer her.

"Mad?" I cried, passionately. "Aye, I am mad--to have anything to do
with such as you."

"But what is it? What has happened?" she persisted, peering at me; and
so barring the way that I could not pass.

"Could you not hear?"

"I could hear that they were drinking," she answered. "I knew that,
and therefore I thought that you should go to them."

"And run the risk?"

"Well, you are a man," she answered coolly.

At that I stood so taken aback--for she spoke it with meaning and a
sort of sting--that for a minute I did not answer her. Then, "Is not a
man's life as much to him, as a woman's is to her?" I said with
indignation.

"A man's!" she replied. "Aye, but not a mouse's! I will tell you what,
Mr. Taylor, or Mr. Price, or whatever your name is----"

"Call me what you like!" I said. "Only let me go!"

"Then I will call you Mr. Craven!" she retorted bitterly. "Or Mr.
Daw in Peacock's feathers. And let you go. Go, go, you coward! Go, you
craven!"

It was not the most gracious permission, and stung me; but I took it
sullenly, and getting away from her went down the passage towards the
Strand, leaving her there; not gladly, although to go had been all I
had asked a moment before. No man, indeed, could have more firmly
resolved to wrench himself from the grasp of the gang whose tool this
little spitfire was; nor to a man bred to peaceful pursuits (as I had
been) and flung into such an imbroglio as this--wherein to dance on
nothing seemed to be the alternative whichever way I looked--was it a
matter of so much consequence to be called coward by a child, that I
must hesitate for that. Add to this, that the place and time, a dingy
passage on a dark night with rain falling and a chill wind blowing,
and none abroad but such as honest men would avoid, were not
incentives to rashness or adventure.

And yet--and yet when it came to going, _nullis vestigiis retrorsum_,
as the Latins say, I proved to be either too much or too little of a
man, these arguments notwithstanding; too little of a man to weigh
reason justly against pride, or too much of a man to hear with
philosophy a girl's taunt. When I had gone fifty yards, therefore, I
halted; and then in a moment, went back. Not slowly, however, but in a
gust of irritation; so that for a very little I could have struck the
girl for the puling face and helplessness that gave her an advantage
over me. I found her in the same place, and asked her roughly what she
wanted.

"A man," she said.

"Well," I answered sullenly, "what is it?"

"Have I found one? that is the question," she retorted keenly. And at
that again, I could have had it in my heart to strike her across her
scornful face. "My uncle is at least a man."

"He is a bad one, curse him!" I cried in a fury.

She looked at me coolly. "That is better," she said. "If your deeds
were of a piece with your words you would be no man's slave. His least
of all, Mr. Price!"

"You talk finely," I said, my passion cooling, as I began to read a
covert meaning in her tone and words, and that she would be at
something. "It comes well from you, who do his errands day and night!"

"Or find someone to do them," she answered with derision.

"Well, after this you will have to find someone else," I cried,
warming again.

"Ah, if you would keep your word!" she cried in a different tone,
clapping her hands softly, and peering at me. "If you would keep your
word."

Seeing more clearly than ever that she would be at something, and
wishing to know what it was, "Try me," I said. "What do you mean?"

"It is plain," she answered, "what I mean. Carry no more messages! Be
sneak and spy no longer! Cease to put your head in a noose to serve
rogues' ends! Have done, man, with cringing and fawning, and trembling
at big words. Break off with these villains who hold you, put a
hundred miles between you and them, and be yourself! Be a man!"

"Why, do you mean your uncle?" I cried, vastly surprised.

"Why not?" she said.

"But--if you feel that way, why do his bidding yourself?" I answered,
doubting all this might be a trap of that cunning devil's. "If I sneak
and spy, who spies on me, miss?"

"I do," she said, leaning against the wall of Bedford Garden, where
one of Heming's new lights, set up at the next corner, shone full on
her face. "And I am weary of it."

"But if you are weary of it----"

"If I am weary of it, why don't I free myself instead of preaching to
you?" she answered. "First, because I am a woman, Mr. Wiseman."

"I don't see what that has to do with it," I retorted.

"Don't you?" she answered bitterly. "Then I will tell you. My uncle
feeds me, clothes me, gives me a roof--and sometimes beats me. If I
run away as I bid you run away, where shall I find board and lodging,
or anything but the beating? A man comes and goes; a woman, if she has
not someone to answer for her, must to the Justice and then to the
Round-house and be set to beating hemp; and her shoulders smarting to
boot. Can I get service without a character?"

"No," I said, "that is true."

"Or travel without money?"

"No."

"Or alone--except to Whetstone Park?"

"No."

"Well, it is fine to be a man then," she answered, leaning her little
shawled head farther and farther back against the wall, and slowly
moving it to and fro, while she looked at me from under her eyelashes,
"for he can do all. And take a woman with him."

I started at that, and stared at her, and saw a little colour come
into her pale face. But her eyes, far from falling under my gaze, met
my eyes with a bold, mischievous look; that gradually, and as she
still moved her head to and fro, melted into a smile.

It was impossible to mistake her meaning, and I felt a thrill run
through me, such as I had not known for ten years. "Oh," I said at
last, and awkwardly, "I see now."

"You would have seen long ago if you had not been a fool," she
answered. And then, as if to excuse herself she added--but this I did
not understand--"Not that fine feathers make fine birds--I am not such
a fool myself, as to think that. But----"

"But what?" I said, my face warm.

"I am a fool all the same."

Her eyes falling with that, and her pale face growing to a deeper
colour, I had no doubt of the main thing, though I could not follow
her precise drift. And I take it, there are few men who, upon such an
invitation, however veiled, would not respond. Accordingly I took a
step towards the girl, and went, though clumsily, to put my arm round
her.

But she pushed me off with a vigour that surprised me; and she mocked
me with a face between mischief and triumph; a face that was more like
a mutinous boy's than a girl's. "Oh, no," she said. "There is a good
deal between this and that, Mr. Price."

"How?" I said shamefacedly.

"Do you go?" she asked sharply. "Is it settled? That first of all, if
you please."

As to the going--somewhere--I had made up my mind long ago; before I
met her, or went into the Seven Stars, or knew that a dozen mad topers
were roaring treason about the town, and bidding fair to hang us all.
But being of a cautious temper, and seeing conditions which I had not
contemplated added to the bargain, and having besides a shrewd idea
that I could not afterwards withdraw, I hesitated. "It is dangerous!"
I said.

"I will tell you what is dangerous," she answered, wrathfully, showing
her little white teeth as she flashed her eyes at me, "and that is to
be where we are. Do you know what they are doing there--in that
house?" And she pointed towards the Market, whence we had come.

"No," I said reluctantly, wishing she would say no more.

"Killing the King," she answered in a low voice. "It is for Saturday,
or Saturday week. He is to be stopped in his coach as he comes from
hunting--in the lane between Turnham Green and the river. You can
count their chances. They are merry plotters! And now--now," she
continued, "do you know where you stand, Mr. Price, and whether it is
dangerous?"

"I know"--I said, trembling at that bloody design, which no whit
surprised me since everything I had heard corroborated it--"I know
what I have to do."

"What?" she said.

"Go straight to the Secretary's office," I said, "and tell him. Tell
him!"

"You won't do it," she answered, "or, at least, I won't."

"Why?" I asked, atremble with excitement.

"Why?" she echoed, mocking me; and I noticed that not only were her
eyes bright, but her lips red. "Why, firstly, Mr. Price, because I
want to have done with plots and live honestly; and that is not to be
done on blood-money. And secondly, because it is dangerous--as you
call it. Do you want to be an evidence, set up for all to point at,
and six months after to be decoyed to Wapping, dropped into a dark
hold, and carried over to France?"

"God forbid!" I said, aghast at this view of things.

"Then have done with informing," she answered, with a little spurt of
heat. "Or let be, at any rate, until we are safe ourselves and snug
in the country. Then if you choose, and you do nothing to hurt my
uncle--for I will not have him touched--we may talk of it. But not for
money."

Those words "safe and snug," telling of a prospect that at that moment
seemed of all others the most desirable in the world, dwelt so
lovingly on my ear, that in place of hesitation I felt only eagerness
and haste.

"I will go!" I said.

"You will?" she said.

"Yes," I answered.

"And----"

"And what?" I said, wondering.

She hesitated a moment, and then, "That is for you to say," she
replied, lowering her eyes.

It is possible that I might not have understood her, even then, if I
had not marked her face, and seen that her lips were quivering with a
sudden shyness, which words and manner in vain belied. She blushed,
and trembled; and, lowering her eyes, drew forward the shawl that
covered her head, the street-urchin gone out of her. And I, seeing and
understanding, had other and new thoughts of her which remained with
me. "If you mean that," I said, clumsily, "I will make you my wife--if
you will let me."

"Well, we'll see about it, when we get to Romford," she answered,
looking nervously aside, and plucking at the fringe of the shawl. "We
have to escape first. And now--listen," she continued, rapidly, and in
her ordinary voice. "My uncle is removing to-morrow to another
hiding-place, and I go first with some clothes and baggage. He will
not flit himself till it is dark. Do you put your trunk outside your
door, and I will take it and send it by the Chelmsford waggon. At noon
meet me at Clerkenwell Gate, and we will walk to Romford and hide
there until we know how things are going."

"Why Romford?" I said.

"Why anywhere?" she answered, impatiently.

That was true enough; and seeing in what mood she was, and that out of
sheer contrariness she was inclined to be the more shrewish now,
because she had melted to me a moment before, I refrained from asking
farther questions; listening instead to her minute directions, which
were given with as much clearness and perspicuity as if she had dwelt
on this escape for a twelvemonth past. It was plain, indeed, that she
had not fetched and carried for the famous Ferguson for nothing; nor
watched his methods to little purpose. Nor was this all: mingled with
this display of precocious skill there constantly appeared a touch of
malice and mischief, more natural in a boy than a girl, and seldom
found even in boys, where the gutter has not served for a school. And
through this again, as through the folds of a shifting gauze, appeared
that which gradually and as I listened took more and more a hold on
me--the woman.

Yet I suppose that there never was a stranger love-making in the
world; if love-making that could be called wherein one at least of us
had in mind ten thoughts of fear and death for one of happiness or
love; and a pulse attuned rather to the dreary drip of the wet eaves
about us, and the monotonous yelp of a cur chained among the stalls,
than to the flutter of desire.

And yet, when, our plan agreed upon, and the details settled, we
turned homewards and went together through the streets, I could not
refrain from glancing at my companion from time to time, in doubt and
almost incredulity. When the dream refused to melt, when I found her
still moving at my elbow, her small shawled head on a level with my
shoulder--when, I say, I found her so, not love, but a sense of
companionship and a feeling of gratulation that I was no longer alone,
stole for the first time into my mind and comforted me. I had gone so
many years through these streets _solus et caelebs_, that I pricked my
ears and pinched myself in sheer astonishment at finding another
beside me and other feet keeping time with mine; nor knew whether to
be more confounded or relieved by the thought that of all persons'
interests her interests marched with mine.



                              CHAPTER XX


The clocks had gone midnight, when I parted from Mary at the door of
the house and groped my way upstairs to my room; where, throwing off
my clothes I lay down, not to sleep, but to resolve endlessly and
futilely the plans we had made, and the risks we ran and the thousand
issues that might come of either. Cogitation brought me no nearer to a
knowledge of the event, but only heated my brain and increased my
impatience; the latter to such a degree that with the first light I
was up and moving, and had my trunk packed. Nor did I fail to note the
strange and almost incredible turn which now led me to look for
support in my flight to the very person whose ominous entrance
twenty-four hours earlier had forced me to lay aside the thought.

Long before it could by any chance be necessary I opened my door, and
softly carrying out my box, placed it in a dark corner on the landing.
After this a great interval elapsed, during which I conjured up a
hundred mischances. At length I heard someone afoot opposite; and then
the stumbling tread of a porter carrying goods down the stairs. About
eleven I ventured to peep out, and learned with satisfaction that the
trunk had vanished; it remained therefore for me to do the same.
Bestowing a last look on the little attic which had been my home so
long, and until lately no unhappy home, I took up my hat and cloak;
and making sure for the fiftieth time that I had my small stock of
money, hidden in my clothes, I opened the door, and stealing out,
stood a minute to listen before I descended.

I heard nothing to alarm me; yet a second later I shrieked in
affright, and almost sank down under the sudden grip of a hand on my
shoulder. The hand was Ferguson's; who listening, at my chamber door,
had heard me move towards it, and flattened himself against the wall
beside it; and so, being in the dark corner farthest from the
staircase, had eluded my notice. He chuckled vastly, at his cunning,
and the fright he had given me, and rocking me to and fro, asked me
grimly what I had done with my fine clothes and my wig.

"Ay, and that is not all," he continued. "I shall want to know a
little more about that matter, my friend. And mind you, Mr. Price, the
truth! The truth, or I will wring this tender ear of yours from your
head. For the present, however, that matter may wait. I shall have it,
when I want it. Now I have other work for you. Come into my room."

"I am going to the tavern," I said desperately. And I hung back.
"Afterwards, Mr. Ferguson, I will----"

"Oh, to the tavern," he answered, mimicking me. "And for what?"

"My dinner," I faltered.

He burst into a volley of oaths, and seizing me again by the shoulder
ran me into his room. "Your dinner, indeed, you dirty, low-born
pedlar," he cried in a fury. "Who are you to dine at taverns when the
King's business wants you? Stand you there, and listen to me, or by
the God above me, you shall never take meat or drink again. Do you see
this, you craven?" and he plucked out his horrible horse pistol, and
flourished the muzzle in my face. "Mark it, and remember that I am
Ferguson, the famous Ferguson, Ferguson the plotter, and no little
person to be thwarted! And now listen to me."

I could have wept with rage and despair, knowing that with every
moment this wretch kept me, my chance of fulfilling the appointment at
Clerkenwell Gate was passing; and that if he detained me only one half
hour longer, I must be late. To the pistol, however, and his scowling,
truculent, blotched face that lacking the wig, which hung on a chair
beside him, was one degree more ugly than its wont, there was no
answer; and I said sullenly that I would listen.

"You had better," he answered. "Mark you, there is a gentleman coming
to see me; and to his coming and to what he says to me I will have a
witness. You follow me?"

"Yes," I said, looking round, but in vain, for a way of escape.

"And you are the witness. You shall go into that room, mark you, and
you shall be as mute as a mouse! I put this little cupboard open, the
back is thin and there is a crack in it; set your eye to that and you
will see him. And look you, listen to every word, and note it; and
keep still--keep still, or it will be the worse for you, Mr. Price!"

"Very well," I said obediently; hope springing up, as I thought I saw
a way of escape. "And what time must I be here?"

"You are here, and you will stay here," he answered dashing to the
ground the scarce-born plan. "Why, man, he may come any minute."

"Still--if I could go out for--for two minutes," I persisted. "I
should be easier."

"Go out! Go out!" he cried, interrupting me in a fury. "And dinners?
And taverns? And you would be easier! D'ye know, Mr. Price, I have my
doubts about you! Ay, I have!" he continued, leering at me with his
big, cunning eyes; and now thrusting his face close to mine, now
drawing it back again. "Are you for selling us, I wonder? Mind you, if
that is your thought, two can play at that game, and I have writing of
yours. Ay, I have writing of yours, Mr. Price, and for twopence I
would send it where it will hang you. So be careful. Be careful
or--give me that coat."

Wishing that I had the courage to strike him in the back, praying that
the next word he said might choke him, hating him with a dumb hatred,
the blacker for its impotence, and for the menial services he made me
do him, I gave him the long-skirted plum-coloured coat to which he
pointed, and saw him clothe his lank ungainly figure in it, and top
all with his freshly curled wig. He bade me tie his points and fasten
on his sword; and this being done to his liking--and he was not very
easy to please--he pulled down his ruffles, and walked to and fro,
preening himself and looking a hundred times more ugly and loathsome
for the finery, with which, for the first time, I saw him bedizened.

Preparations so unusual, by awakening my curiosity as to the visitor
in whose honour they were made, diverted me from my own troubles; to
which I had done no more than return when a knock came at the outer
door. Ferguson, in a flush of exultation that went far to show that he
had entertained doubts of the visitor's coming, thrust me into the
next room; a mere closet, ill-lighted by one small window, and bare,
save for a bed-frame. Here he placed me beside the crack he had
mentioned; and whispering in my ear the most fearful threats and
objurgations in case I moved, or proved false to him, he cast a last
look round to assure himself that all was right; then he went back
into his own apartment, where through my Judas-hole I saw him pause.
The girl's departure with the luggage had left the room but meagrely
furnished; whether this and the effect it might have on his visitor's
mind struck him, or he began at the last moment to doubt the prudence
of his enterprise, he stood awhile in the middle of the floor gnawing
his nails, and listening, or perhaps thinking. The drift of his
reflections, however, was soon made clear; for on the visitor's
impatiently repeating his summons, he moved stealthily to one of the
windows--which being set in the mode of garret windows, deep in the
slope of the roof, gave little light--and by piling his cloak in a
heap on the sill, he contrived to obscure some of that little. This
done, and crying softly "Coming! Coming!" he hastened to the door and
opened it, bowing and scraping with an immense show of humility.

The man, who had knocked, and who walked in with an impatient step as
if the waiting had been little to his taste, was tall and slight; for
the rest, a cloak, and a hat flapping low over his face, hid both
features and complexion. I noticed that Ferguson bowed again and
humbly, but did not address him; and that the gentleman also kept
silence until he had seen the door secured behind him. Then, and as
his host with seeming clumsiness, brushed past him and so secured a
position with his back to the light, he asked sharply, "Where is he?"

The plotter leant his hands on the back of the chair and paused an
instant before he answered. When he did he spoke with less assurance
than I had ever heard him speak before; he even stammered a little.
"Your Grace," he said, "has come to see a person--who--who wrote to
you? From this house?"

"I have. Where is he?"

"Here."

"Here? But where, man, where?" the newcomer replied, looking quickly
round.

Still Ferguson did not move. "My lord Duke, you came here, in a
word--to see Lord Middleton?" he said.

It was easy to see that the visitor's gorge rose at the other's
manner, no less than at this naming of names. But with an effort he
swallowed his chagrin. "If you know that, you know all," he answered
with composure. "So without more, take me to him. But I may as well
say, sir, since you seem to be in his confidence----"

"It was my hand wrote the letter."

"Was it so? Then you should know, sir, that a madder and more foolish
thing was never done! If my Lord Middleton," the stranger continued
coldly, his tone inclining to sarcasm rather than to feeling, "desired
to ruin his best friend and the one most able to save him in a certain
event--if he meant to requite, sir, one who has already suffered more
than was reasonable in his service, by consigning him to his
destruction, he did well. Otherwise he was mad. Mad, or worse, to send
such a letter to a place where he must know of his own knowledge that
nine letters out of ten are opened by others' hands!"

"Your Grace is right," Ferguson answered drily, and in his natural
voice; at the sound of which, either because of its native harshness
or because it touched some chord in his memory, the other started.
"But the fact is," the plotter continued hardily, and with a smack of
impertinence, "my Lord Middleton, so far as I know, is still with the
King at St. Germain's."

"At St. Germain's?" the stranger cried. "With the King?"

"Yes, and to be candid," Ferguson answered, "I was not aware, my lord,
that you had sent him a safe conduct."

"You villain!" the Duke cried, and stepped forward, his rage excited
as much by the man's manner as by the trick which had been played him.
"How dared you say, then, that he was here?" he continued. "Answer,
fellow, or it will be the worse for you."

"I said only, your Grace," Ferguson replied, retreating a step, "that
the writer of the letter was here."

For a moment the Duke, utterly dumfounded by this, stood looking at
him. "And you are he?" he said at last, with chilling scorn, "and the
author of this--plot!"

"And of many plots besides," my master answered jauntily. And then,
"My lord, do you not know me yet?" he cried.

"Not I! Stand out, sir, and let me see your face. Then perhaps, if we
have met before----"

"Oh, we have met before!" was the quick and impudent answer. "I am not
ashamed of my face. It has been known in its time. But fair play is a
jewel, my lord. It is eight years since I saw your Grace last, and I
have a fancy to learn if you are changed. Will you oblige me? If you
would see my face, show me yours!"

With a gesture between contempt and impatience the Duke removed the
hat, which at his entrance he had merely touched; and hastily lowering
the cloak from his neck, confronted his opponent.



                             CHAPTER XXI


[Illustration: WITH A GESTURE BETWEEN CONTEMPT AND IMPATIENCE THE DUKE
REMOVED HIS HAT]


It cannot at this time of day be needful for me to describe in detail
the aspect of those features which the action disclosed, since they
are as well remembered by many still living as they are faithfully
preserved for posterity--lacking some of the glow and passion which
then animated them--on the canvas by Sir Peter Lely, which hangs
in the Charterhouse. The Duke of Shrewsbury--to set concealment
aside--was then in his thirty-sixth year, in the prime and bloom of
manhood, of a fair complexion and regular features; over which the
habitude of high rank and the possession of unrivalled parts threw a
cast of reserve and stateliness, not unbecoming. As he was by nature
so sensitive that on this side alone his enemies found him vulnerable,
so his face in repose, if it had any blemish at all, had the fault of
bordering on the womanish, the lines of his mouth following those of
the choicest models of antiquity. But this blemish--if that which bore
witness to the most affectionate disposition in the world could be
called by that name--was little marked in public life, the awe which
his eyes, alike firm and penetrating, inspired in the vulgar,
rendering most people blind to it. To sum up, his face gave a just
idea of his character; for though indolent, he was of such a temper
that the greatest dared take no liberty with him; and though proud he
gave the meanest his rights and a place.

Such, in fine, was the man who now confronted Ferguson, and with a
stern light in his eye bade the schemer stand out. That the latter
from the first had intended to declare himself, was as certain as
that, now the time had come, he hesitated; awed by the mere power of
worth, as I have heard that wicked men calling up spirits from the
deep have stood affrighted before the very beings they have summoned.
Yet his hesitation was for a moment only; after which, rallying the
native audacity of a temperament which rejoiced in these intrigues and
dénouements, he stepped jauntily forward, and assuming such a parody
of dignity as likened his clumsy figure and sneaking face to nothing
so much as an ape decked out in man's clothes, he allowed the light to
fall on his features.

The Duke looked, and even where I stood behind the lath and plaster
partition I heard him catch his breath. "You are Robert Ferguson!" he
said.

"Well guessed!" the plotter answered, with a harsh discordant laugh.
"Your Grace has not forgotten '88. Believe me, if the Prince of Orange
had kept as good a memory, I should not have been in this garret, nor
need I have troubled your lordship to visit me in it."

"It would have been better for you, sir, had you still refrained," the
Duke answered with severity. "Mr. Ferguson, I tell you at once that I
do not bear his Majesty's Commission in vain, and my first proceeding
on leaving this house will be to sign a warrant for your apprehension,
and direct the officers where it can be executed."

"And I, my lord," Ferguson answered with an impudent attempt at
pleasantry, "have a very good mind to take you at your word, and let
you go to do it. For when your officers arrived they would not find
me, while your Grace would go hence to fall into as pretty a trap as
was ever laid for a man."

"Doubtless, then, of your laying!" my lord cried, with a gesture of
contempt.

"On the contrary. Until I saw you, I knew of the trap indeed, but not
for whom it was intended. Since I have seen you, however--and how
greatly you have improved since '88, when we last met"--Ferguson
added, impertinently,--"my eyes are opened, and I feel a very sincere
pity for your lordship."

"I am obliged to you for your warning," the Duke answered, drily, "and
will endeavour to take care of myself. If that be all, therefore, that
you have to say to me--and I assume that the letter in Lord
Middleton's name was no more than a ruse--I will say good-day."

"But that is not all, nor a part!" Ferguson replied. "I have a bargain
to propose, and information"--this sullenly and with lowered eyes--"to
give."

"As usual!" my lord answered, shrugging his shoulders, and speaking
with the most cutting scorn. "But permit me to say that you have made
a mistake, Mr. Ferguson, in sending for me. You should know by this
time, being versed in these affairs, that I leave such bargains to
underlings."

"Nevertheless, to this bargain you must be a party," the other
answered violently. "Nay, my lord, I can make you a party, I have only
to tell you a thing I know; and whether you will or no, for your own
safety you must do what I ask."

"For my own safety, Mr. Ferguson, I am not in the habit of doing
anything I would not do for other reasons," the Duke answered coldly.
"For the rest, if you have anything to tell me that concerns the
King's service----"

"Which King's?" the plotter cried, with a sneer.

"I acknowledge one only--then, I say, I will hear it. But I will
neither do nor promise anything in return."

"You talk finely," Ferguson cried, "yet you cannot deny that before
this I have told things that were worth knowing."

"That were worth men's lives!" my lord answered, speaking in a low
stern voice, and looking at him with a strange abhorrence. "Yes, Mr.
Ferguson, I acknowledge that. That were worth men's lives. And it
reminds me that you are growing old, and have blood on your hands; you
only and God know how much. But some I know; the proof of it lies in
my office. If you will take my advice, therefore, you will think
rather of quitting the world and making your peace with heaven--if by
any means it can be done--than of digging pits for better men than
yourself. Man," he continued, looking fixedly at him, "do you never
think of Ayloffe and Sidney? And Russell? And Monmouth? And Cornish?
Of the men you have egged on to death, and the men you have--sold! God
forgive you! God forgive you, for man never will!"

I should fail, and lamentably, were I to try to describe either the
stern feeling with which my lord uttered this solemn address--the more
solemn as it came from a young man to an old one--or the horrid
passion born of rage, fear, and remorse commingled, with which the
intriguer received it. When my lord had ceased to speak, Ferguson
broke into the most fearful imprecations; calling down vengeance not
only on others for wrongs done to him, but on his own head if he had
ever done aught but what was right; and this rant he so sprinkled with
texts of scripture and scraps of the old Covenanters' language that
for profanity and blasphemy I never heard the like. The Duke, after
watching the exhibition for a time with eyes of pity and reprobation,
ended by setting on his hat and turning to the door. This sufficed--as
nothing else would have--to bring the conspirator to his senses. With
a hideous chuckle, which brought his tirade to a fitting conclusion,
"Not so fast, my lord! Not so fast," he cried, slapping his pocket.
"The key is here. I have something to say before you go."

"In God's name say it then!" the Duke cried, his face sick with
disgust.

"I will!" Ferguson answered hoarsely, leaning on the table which stood
between them and thrusting forward his chin, his face still suffused
with rage. "And see you how I will confound you! The Duke of Berwick
is in England. The Duke of Berwick is in London. And what is worse for
you, my lord, he lies to-night at Dr. Lloyd's in Hogsden Gardens. So
take that information to yourself, my Lord Secretary, and make what
you can of it--not forgetting the King's interest! Ha! ha! I have you
tight there, I think."

His triumph, extreme and offensive as it was, seemed to be justified
by the consternation--I can call it by no other name--which darkened
the Duke's countenance as he listened, and held him a moment
speechless and motionless, glaring at the other. At last, "And you
sent to me to tell me this?" he cried.

"I did! I did! There is no other living man would have thought of it
or done it. And why? Because there is no man can play my cards but
myself."

"You devil!" my lord cried; and was silent.

Seeing that I knew little more of this of which they spoke than that
the Duke of Berwick was King James' natural son and favourite, I was
at a loss to comprehend, either the Duke's chagrin or Ferguson's very
evident triumph. The latter's next words, however, went far towards
explaining his jubilation; and if they did not perfectly clear up my
lord's position--fully to enter into which required a nobility of
sentiment and a nicety of honour on a par with his own--they enabled
me to guess where the shoe pinched.

"D'ye take me now, my lord?" the plotter cried, with a savage grimace.
"That concerns the King's service I think; and yet--I dare you to make
use of it. Ay, my Lord Secretary, I dare you to make use of it!" he
repeated, his unwholesome face deep red with excitement. "For why?
Because you know that there will be a day of reckoning presently--and
sooner, mayhap, than some think. You know that. Sooner or later it
will come--it will come, and then 'Touch not mine anointed!' Or
rather, touch but a hair of his Jamie's head, and his Majesty'll no
forgive! He'll no forgive! There will be mercy for my Lord Devonshire,
and my Lord Admiral, ay, and for that incarnate liar and devil, John
Churchill! Ay, even for him, for he has made all safe both sides and
so have the others. But do you touch the King's blood, though it be
bastard--do you send to-night to the Bishop's and take him, and go on
to what follows--and you may kneel like Monmouth, and plead like my
Lady Russell, and you'll to the axe and the sawdust, when the time
comes! Ay, you will! you will! you will!"

Though his harsh voice rose almost to a shriek with the last words,
and the room rang with them, the Duke stood mutely regarding him, and
made no answer. After an interval, Ferguson himself went on, but in a
lower tone. "That is the one course you may take, my lord," he said,
"and the result of it! If you follow my advice, however, you will not
adopt that course. Instead you will let FitzJames be. You will act as
if you had not seen me to-day, nor heard that he was in London. You'll
wipe this meeting from your memory and live as if it had not been. And
so, at the Restoration, you will have nothing to fear on that head.
But--but in the meantime," Ferguson continued with an ugly grin, "it
may be the worse for your Grace if the truth, and your knowledge of
the truth, come to the Prince's ears, whose Minister you are; and
worse again if it comes to Bentinck's, who, I am told, is some trouble
to your Grace already."

The Duke's face was a picture. "You villain!" he said again. "What do
you want?"

"For my silence?"

"For your silence? No. What is your aim? What is your object? You
betray one and the other. The son of your King to prison and death.
Me, if you can, to ruin and shame. And why? Why, man? What do you?"

"What do I gain? What shall I gain, you mean," Ferguson answered,
smiling cunningly. "Only your Grace's signature to a scrap of
paper--give me that, and I am mum, and neither Berwick nor you will be
a penny the worse."

"What, money?" cried my lord, surprised, I think.

"Oh, no, not money," said the plotter coolly. "And yet--it may be
money's worth to me over there."



                             CHAPTER XXII


"It is this way, my lord," he continued after a pause. "Lord Middleton
said some things over there in your Grace's name--that would be four
years back; but you never acted on them, though it was whispered you
paid dearly for them here. In the interval it has been the aim of a
good many to get something more definite from your Grace; the rather
as you stand almost alone, the main part of the Court, and more than
you know, having made their peace. But the efforts of those persons
failed with your Grace because they went about it in the wrong way.
Now, I, Robert Ferguson," the plotter continued, patting himself on
the chest, and bowing with grotesque conceit, "have gone about it in
the right way; and I shall not fail. The position is this. You must
either arrest the Duke of Berwick, or you must let him go. That is
clear. If you do the former, you offend beyond pardon, and your head
will fall at the Restoration, whoever goes clear. On the other hand,
if you let the Duke escape and it comes to the Prince of Orange's ears
that you knew of his presence, you will be ruined with your present
party. The only course left to you, therefore, is to let him go, but
to purchase my silence--that it may not reach the Prince's ears--by
signing a few words on a paper, which shall be sealed here, and opened
only by His Majesty in his closet. Now, my lord, what do you say to
that?"

"That you are a fool as well as a knave!" was the Duke's unexpected
reply. He had recovered his equanimity, and took a pinch of snuff as
he spoke.

The plotter's eyes sparkled. "Why?" he cried with an oath. "And is
that language for a gentleman?"

"A gentleman? Faugh!" cried my lord. "And why? Because you suppose
your word to be of value. Whereas you should know that were you to go
to Kensington and tell the King that you had informed me of this or
that or the other, and were I to deny it, you would to Newgate for
certain, and to the pillory perhaps--but I should be not a penny the
worse. Your word forsooth! Why, man, you are crazed!"

"Ay, but if I had you followed here?" the other answered savagely. "If
I can produce three witnesses to prove that you were with me to-day,
and by stealth! And by stealth, my lord? What then?"

"Why, then this!" the Duke answered with composure. "And it is my
answer. I shall go hence to the King and tell him all; and on your
information, Mr. Ferguson, the Duke of Berwick will be arrested.
Whatever my fate or his after that, I shall have done my duty and kept
my oath as a privy-councillor, and the rest I leave to God! But for
you," he continued, slowly and with solemnity, "who to gain a hold on
me have betrayed the son of your King, your fate be on your own head!"

The plotter, who, I think, had expected any answer but this, and, it
may be, had never considered his own position, should the Duke stand
firm, roared out a furious "You lie!" And then again in a frenzy, as
the consequences rose more clearly before him, "You lie!" he cried,
striking his hand on the table. "You will not do it! You will not dare
to do it!"

"Mr. Ferguson," the Duke answered haughtily, "I do not suffer persons
of your condition to tell me what I dare, or do not dare; or persons
of any condition to give me the lie. Be good enough to open the door!"

"Sign the paper!" the conspirator hissed. His face, at no time
sightly, was now distorted by fear and the rage of defeat; while the
chair on the back of which he leaned his left hand, jerked this way
and that as if the palsy had him. "Sign the paper, will you? Or your
blood be on your own head!"

The Duke's only answer was to point to the door with his cane. "Open
it!" he said, his breath coming a little quickly, but his manner
otherwise unmoved. "Do you hear me?"

But either Ferguson's rage had so much the mastery of him that he
could no longer control himself, or he was desperate, seeing into what
an abyss the other's firmness was pushing him; or from the first he
had determined on this course in the last resort. At any rate at that
word, and instead of complying, he fell back a step and with a dark
face drew a pistol from the pocket of his long coat. "Sign!" he cried,
his voice whistling in his throat, as he levelled the arm at my lord's
head. "Sign, you Roman spawn, or I'll spill your brains! Sign, or you
don't go out of this room alive! Has the Lord's foot been put on the
neck of his enemies that such as you should divide the spoil!"

There was nothing to sign, for he had not produced the paper. But in
the delirium of fear and excitement into which he had fallen, he was
unconscious of this, and of all except that he was in danger of
falling into the pit he had digged for another. His hand shook so
violently that every moment I expected the pistol to explode, with his
will or without it; his fears no less than his despair putting my lord
in danger. What he, who stood thus exposed to naked death thought in
his heart while his existence hung on a shaking finger, I can not say,
nor if he prayed; for no man talked less of religion, to be, as I
trust he was, a believer; while the pride which supported him in that
crisis was as powerful to close his lips after the event. "Put that
down!" was all he said; and met the other's eyes without blenching,
though I think that he was a trifle paler than he had been.

"Sign!" answered the madman with an oath.

"Put it down!" repeated the Duke; and doubtless his courage by
imposing a restraint on the other's headiness postponed, though it
could not avert, the catastrophe.

For, every second they stood thus fronting one another, Ferguson
grinning and gibbering to him to sign, I looked to see the pistol
explode, and my lord fall lifeless. My knees shook under me; horrified
at this murder to be committed under my eyes, scarce conscious what I
did or would do, I fumbled for the handle of the door--which luckily
was beside me; and found it precisely as the Duke, with a twirl of his
cane, as swift as it was unexpected, knocked the pistol aside and
sprang bodily on the villain, striving to bear him down. He had no
time to draw his sword.

He was the younger man by twenty years and the more active, if not the
more powerful; so that for an instant it seemed to me that the danger
was over. But I counted without Ferguson; who leaping back before the
other could grapple with him, with a nimbleness beyond his years put
the table between them, and levelling the pistol afresh with a snarl
of rage, pulled the trigger. The flint snapped harmlessly!

More than that I could not bear, and, by heaven's mercy, the movement
had brought the wretch close to the door at which I stood, and which I
had that moment opened. As he aimed the pistol a second time, and with
a fresh execration, I flung my arms round him from behind, and with my
right hand jerked up the pistol; which exploded, bringing down a rush
of plaster, and filling the room with smoke and brimstone.


[Illustration: I FLUNG MY ARMS ROUND HIM FROM BEHIND, AND WITH MY
RIGHT HAND JERKED UP THE PISTOL]


An interposition so sudden and timely must have been no less a
surprise to the Duke than to Ferguson. Nevertheless, the former,
without the loss of a moment, flung himself on his antagonist; and
seizing the pistol, while I clung to him behind, in a twinkling he had
him disarmed. Yet, even when this was done, so furious were the man's
struggles, and so inhuman the strength he displayed (even to biting
and foaming in a fury that could only be called maniacal) that it was
as much as we could both do to conquer him; though we were two to one,
and younger. Nor would he be quiet or resign himself to defeat until
we had him down on his back, with my lord's sword-point at his throat.

Then it was that while we stood over him, panting and trembling with
the exertions we had made, my lord turned his eyes on me. "My friend,"
he said, "who are you?"

I could not speak for emotion; and though he was calmer, I could see
that he was deeply stirred, both by the risk he had run, and the
narrowness of his escape. "My lord," I cried, at last, "take me away."

"From here?" he said.

"Yes," I said, "for God's sake, for God's sake, take me away," and I
burst into an uncontrollable fit of sobbing; so overcome was I by what
had happened, and what had almost happened.

He looked at me, his lip twitching a little, and his breast heaving.
"Be easy, man," he said. "Were you set to watch me?"

"Yes," I said.

"And you heard all?"

"All."

"Who are you?" he said again.

"Two months ago I was an honest man," I answered bitterly, "and then I
got into _his_ clutches. And he has ridden me. Ah, how he has ridden
me!"

"I see," he said, nodding gravely. "Well, his riding days are over.
Hark you, Mr. Ferguson," he continued, turning to the prostrate man,
who, grovelling before us--I had taken the precaution of tying his
hands with my garters--acknowledged his attention by a hollow groan,
"I am no thief-taker, and I shall not soil my hands with you. But
within an hour the messengers will be here; and if they find you, look
to yourself; for I think that in that case you will indubitably hang.
In the meantime I will take your pistol." Then to me, "Come, my man,"
he said, "if you wish to go with me."

"I do," I cried.

"Well, I owe you more than that," he answered kindly. "And I need you,
besides. Mr. Ferguson, I bid you farewell. You have proved yourself a
more foolish man than I thought you. A worse you could not. The best I
can wish you is that you may never see my face again."



                            CHAPTER XXIII


My lord, I found, had a coach, without arms or insignia, waiting for
him at the Great Turnstile in Holborn; where, if persons recognised
him as he alighted, he would be taken to have business with the
lawyers in Lincoln's Inn, or at my Lord Somers's in the Fields.
Following him to the coach on foot, I never saw a man walk in more
deep or anxious thought. He took no heed of me, after bidding me by a
gesture to attend him; but twice he stood in doubt, and once he made
as if he would return whence he had come, and once as if he would
cross the Fields--I think to Powis House. In the end he went on, and
arriving at the coach, the door of which was opened for him by a
footman in a plain livery, he bade me by a sign to follow him into it.
This I was not for doing, thinking it too great an honour; but on his
crying impatiently, "Man, how do you think I am to talk to you if you
ride outside?" I hastened to enter, in equal confusion and humility.

Nevertheless, some time elapsed, and we had travelled the length of
Holborn before he spoke. Then rousing himself on a sudden from his
preoccupation, he looked at me. "Do you know a man called Barclay?"
said he.

"No, your Grace," I answered.

"Sir George Barclay?"

"No, your Grace."

"Or Porter? Or Charnock? Or King?"

"No, your Grace."

"Umph!" said he, seeming to be disappointed; and for a time he looked
out of the window. Presently, however, he glanced at me again, and so
sharply that I dropped my eyes, out of respect. "I have seen you
before," he said, at last.

Surprised beyond measure that he remembered me, so many years having
elapsed, I confessed with emotion that he had.

"Where?" he asked plainly. "I see many people. And I have not old
Rowley's memory."

I told him. "Your Grace may not remember it," I said, greatly
moved, "but many years ago at Abbot's Stanstead, at Sir Baldwin
Winston's----"

"What?" he exclaimed, cutting me short, with a flicker of laughter
in his grave eyes. And he looked me over. "Did I flesh my maiden
justice-sword on you? Were you the lad who ran away?"

"Yes, my lord--the lad whose life you saved," I answered.

"Well, then we are quits," he had the kindness to answer; and asked me
how I had lived since those days.

I told him, naming Mr. Timothy Brome, and saying that he would give me
a character. The mention of the news-writer, however, had a different
effect from that I expected; his Grace conceiving a hasty idea that he
also was concerned with Ferguson, and muttering under this impression
that if such men were turning, it was vain to fight against the
stream. I hastened to disabuse him of the notion by explaining how I
came to fall into Ferguson's hands. On which he asked me what I had
done for the plotter, and how he had employed me.

"He would send me on errands," I answered, "and to fetch papers from
the printers, and to carry his messages."

"To coffee-houses?"

"Often, your Grace."

"Did he ever send you to Covent Garden?" he asked, looking fixedly at
me.

"Yes, your Grace, to a gentleman with a white handkerchief hanging
from his pocket."

"Ha!" said he; and with an eager light in his face he bade me tell him
all I knew of that man. This giving me the cue, I detailed what I had
seen and heard at the Seven Stars the previous evening, the toast of
the Squeezing of the Rotten Orange, the hints which had escaped the
drunken conspirator, not forgetting his references to the Hunting
Party, and the date, Saturday or Saturday week. I added also what I
had learned from the girl, but mentioned for this no authority. To all
my lord listened attentively, nodding from moment to moment, and at
last, "Then Porter is not lying this time," he said, drawing a deep
breath. "I feared--but here we are. Follow me, my friend, and keep
close to me."

Engrossed in my story, and the attention that was due to his rank, I
had paid no heed either to the way we had come, or to our gradual
passage from the smoke and babble of London to country air and
stillness. A vague notion that we were still travelling the Oxford
Road was all I retained: and this was rudely shaken when, recalled to
the present by his words, I looked out, and discovered that the coach
was bowling along an avenue of lofty trees, with park-like pastures
stretched on either hand. I had no more than time to note so much and
that the horses were slackening their pace, before we rumbled under an
archway, and drew up in a spacious courtyard shut in on four sides by
warm-looking red-brick buildings, whereof the wing under which we had
driven was surmounted by a quaintly-shaded bell-turret.

Ignorant where my lord lived, and little acquainted with the villages
which lie around London, I supposed that he had brought me to his
house. The sight of a couple of sentries, who walked with arms ported
before a wide, low flight of steps leading to the principal door,
should have enlightened me; but a flock of pigeons, that, disturbed by
our entrance, were now settling down, and beginning to strut the
gravel with the most absurd air of possession, caught my attention,
and diverted me from this mark of State. Nor did a knot of servants,
lounging silently under a portico, or two or three sedans which I
espied waiting a little apart, go far to detract from the general air
of peace and quietude which prevailed in the place. Other observations
I had no time to make; for my lord, mounting the steps, bade me follow
him.

I did so, across a spacious hall floored with shining wood laid in
strange patterns. Here were three or four servants, who stood at
attention, but did not approach; and passing them without notice, we
had reached the foot of a wide and handsome staircase before a person
dressed plainly in black and carrying a tall slender wand came
forward, and with a low bow interposed himself.

"Your Grace's pardon," he said, "the Council has broken up."

"How long?"

"About half an hour."

"Ah! And Lord Somers? Did he go back to town?"

"Yes, your Grace, immediately."

The Duke at that asked a question which I, standing back a little out
of respect, and being awed besides by the grandeur of the place and
the silence, did not catch. The answer, however, "Only Lord Portland
and Mr. Sewell," I heard; and likewise the Duke's rejoinder, "I am
going up."

"You will permit me to announce your Grace," the other answered
quickly. He seemed to be something between a gentleman and a servant.

"No," my lord said. "I am in haste, and I have that will be my
warranty. This person goes with me."

"I hope your Grace--will answer for it then," the man in black replied
respectfully, but with a little hesitation in his tone.

"I will answer for it that you are not blamed, Nash," the Duke
rejoined, with good nature. "Yes, yes. And now let us up."

On that the man with the wand stood aside--still a little doubtfully I
thought--and let us pass: and my patron preceding me, we went up a
wide staircase and along a silent corridor, and through one or two
swing doors, the Duke seeming to be conversant with the house. It was
impossible not to admire the sombre richness of the carved furniture,
which stood here and there in the corridor; or the grotesque designs
and eastern colouring of the China ware and Mogul idols that peered
from the corners, or rose boldly on brackets. Such a mode of
furnishing was new to me, but neither its novelty nor the evidences of
wealth and taste which abundantly met the eye, impressed me so deeply
as the stillness which everywhere prevailed; and which seemed so much
a part of the place, that when his Grace opened the second swing door,
and the shrill piping voice of a child, crowing and laughing in an
ecstasy of infantile pleasure, came forth and met us, I started as if
a gun had exploded.

I know now that the sound, by giving my patron assurance that he whom
he sought was not there, but in his closet, led to my admission; and
that without that assurance my lord would have left me to wait at the
door. As it was, he said nothing to me, but went on; and I following
him in my innocence through the doorway, came, at the same moment he
did, on a scene as rare as it is by me well remembered.


[Illustration: A SLIGHT GENTLEMAN AMBLED AND PACED IN FRONT OF A
CHILD]


We stood on the threshold of a wide and splendid gallery, set here and
there with huge china vases, and hung with pictures; which even then I
discerned to be of great beauty, and afterwards learned were of no
less value. Letting my eyes travel down this vista, they paused
naturally on a spot under one of the windows; where with his back to
us and ribbons in his hands, a slight gentleman, who stooped somewhat
and was dressed in black, ambled and paced in front of a child of four
or five years old. The wintry sunlight which fell in cold bars on the
floor, proved his progress to be more showy than real; nevertheless
the child shrieked in its joy, and dancing, jerked the ribbons and
waved a tiny whip. In answer, the gentleman whose long curled periwig
bobbed oddly on his shoulders--he had his back to us--pranced more and
more stoutly; though on legs a little thin and bent.

A long moment I stared at this picture, little thinking on what I
gazed; nor was it until a gentleman seated at a side table not far
from the pair, rose hurriedly from his chair and with a guttural
exclamation came towards us, that I remarked this third occupant of
the gallery. When I did so, it was to discern that he was angry, and
that my lord was taken aback and disturbed. It even seemed to me that
my patron made a hasty movement to withdraw. Before he could do so,
however, or I who, behind him barred the way, could take the hint, the
gentleman in black, warned of our presence by the other's exclamation,
turned to us, and still standing and holding the ribbons in his hands
looked at us.

He had a long sallow face, which seemed the sallower for the dark
heavy wig that fell round it; a large hooked nose and full peevish
lips; with eyes both bright and morose. I am told that he seldom
smiled, and never laughed, and that while the best tales of King
Charles's Court passed round him, he would stand abstracted, or on
occasion wither the teller by a silent nod. The Court wits who dubbed
my Lord Nottingham, Don Dismallo, could find no worse title for him.
Yet that he had a well of humour, deeply hidden and rarely drawn upon,
no one could doubt who saw him approach us, a flicker of dry amusement
in his eyes giving the lie to his pursed-up lips and the grimness of
his visage.

"Your Grace is always welcome," he said, speaking in English a little
broken and guttural. "And yet you might have come more _à propos_, I
confess."

"A thousand pardons, sir," my lord answered, bowing until his knee
well-nigh touched the ground. "I thought that you were in your closet,
sir, or I should have taken your pleasure before I intruded."

"But you have news?"

"Yes, sir."

"Ha! And this person"--he looked fixedly at me--"is concerned."

"Yes, sir."

"Then, my Lord Buck--" and with that he turned and addressed the child
who was still tugging at the ribbons, "_Il faut partir!_ Do you hear
me, you must go? Go, _petit vaurien!_ I have business."

The child looked at him boldly. "_Faut il?_" said he.

"_Oui! oui!_ Say _merci_, and go."

"_Merci, Monsieur_," the boy answered. And then to us with a solemn
nod. "J'ai eu sa Majesté for my chevaux!"

"Cheval! Cheval!" corrected the gentleman in black. "And be off."



                             CHAPTER XXIV


Apprised by what I heard, not only that I stood in the Gallery of
Kensington Court--a mansion which His Majesty had lately bought from
Lord Nottingham, and made his favourite residence--but that the
gentleman in black whom I had found so simply employed was no other
than the King himself, I ask you to imagine with what interest I
looked upon him. He whom the old King of France had dubbed in bitter
derision, the "Little Squire of ----," and whom two revolutions had
successfully created Stadtholder of Holland and Sovereign of these
Isles, was at this time forty-six years old, already prematurely bent,
and a prey to the asthma which afflicted his later life. Reserved in
manner, and sombre, not to say melancholy, in aspect, hiding strong
passions behind a pale mask of stoicism as chilling to his friends as
it was baffling to his enemies, he was such as a youth spent under the
eyes of watchful foes, and a manhood in the prosecution of weighty and
secret designs, made him. Descended on the one side from William the
Silent, on the other from the great Henry of France, he was thought to
exhibit, in more moderate degree, the virtues and failings which
marked those famous princes, and to represent, not in blood only, but
in his fortunes, the two soldiers of the sixteenth century whose
courage in disaster and skill in defeat still passed for a proverb;
who, frequently beaten in the field, not seldom garnered the fruits of
the campaign, and rose, Antæus-like, the stronger from every fall.

That, in all stations, as a private person, a Stadtholder and a King,
his late Majesty remembered the noble sources whence he sprang, was
proved, I think, not only by the exactness with which his life was
wrought to the pattern of those old mottoes of his house, _S[oe]vus
tranquillus in Undis_, and _Tandem fit Surculus arbor_, whereof the
former was borne, I have read, by the Taciturn, and the latter by
Maurice of Nassau--but of two other particulars of which I beg leave
to mention. The first was that _more majorum_ he took naturally and
from the first the lead as the champion of the Protestant religion in
Europe; the second, that though he had his birth in a republic, and
was called to be King by election (so that it was no uncommon thing
for some of his subjects to put slights upon him as little more than
their equal--ay, and though he had to bear such affronts in silence),
he had the true spirit and pride of a King born in the purple, and by
right divine. Insomuch that many attributed to this the gloom and
reserve of his manners; maintaining that these were assumed less as a
shield against the malice of his enemies, than as a cloak to abate the
familiarity of his friends.

And certainly some in speaking of him of late years belittle his birth
no less than his exploits, when they call him Dutch William, and the
like; speaking in terms unworthy of a sovereign, and as if he had
drawn his blood from that merchant race, instead of--as the fact
was--from the princely houses of Stuart, Bourbon, Nassau, and Medici;
and from such ancestors as the noble Coligny and King Charles the
Martyr. But of his birth, enough.

For the rest, having a story to tell, and not history to write, I
refrain from recalling how great he was as a statesman, how
resourceful as a strategist, how indomitable as a commander, how
valiant when occasion required in the pitched field. Nor is it
necessary, seeing that before the rise of my Lord Marlborough (who
still survives, but alas, _quantum mutatus ab illo!_) he had no rival
in any of these capacities, nor in the first will ever be excelled.

Nor, as a fact, looking on him in the flesh as I then did for the
first time, can I say that I saw anything to betoken greatness, or the
least outside evidence of the fiery spirit that twice in two great
wars stayed all the power of Louis and of France; that saved Holland;
that united all Europe in three great leagues; finally, that leaping
the bounds of the probable, won a kingdom, only to hold it cheap, and
a means to farther ends. I say I saw in him not the least trace of
this, but only a plain, thin, grave, and rather peevish gentleman, in
black and a large wig, who coughed much between his words, spoke with
a foreign accent, and often lapsed into French or some strange tongue.

He waited until the door had fallen to behind the child, and the long
gallery lay silent, and then bade my lord speak. "I breathe better
here," he said. "I hate small rooms. What is the news you have
brought?"

"No good news, sir," my patron answered. "And yet I can scarcely call
it bad. In the country it will have a good effect."

"_Bien!_ But what is it?"

"I have seen Ferguson, sir."

"Then you have seen a d----d scoundrel!" the King exclaimed, with an
energy I had not expected from him; and, indeed, such outbreaks were
rare with him. "He is arrested, then?"

"No, sir," the Duke answered. "I trust, however, that he will be
before night."

"But if he be free, how came you in his company?" the King asked,
somewhat sharply.

My lord hesitated, and seemed for a moment at a loss how to answer.
Being behind him, I could not see his face, but I fancied that he grew
red, and that the fourth person present, a stout, burly gentleman,
marked with the small-pox, who had advanced and now stood near the
King, was hard put to it not to smile. At last, "I received a letter,
sir," my lord said, speaking stiffly and with constraint, "purporting
to come from a third person----"

"Ah!" said the King, drawling the word, and nodding dry comprehension.

"On the faith of which, believing it to be from that other--if you
understand, sir----"

"I understand perfectly," said the King, and coughed.

"I was induced," my lord said doggedly, "to give the villain a
meeting. And learned, sir, partly from him, and partly from this man
here"--this more freely--"enough to corroborate the main particulars
of Mr. Prendergast's story."

"Ah?" said the King. "Good. And the particulars?"

"That Sir George Barclay, the person mentioned by Mr. Prendergast, is
giving nightly rendezvous in Covent Garden to persons mainly from
France, who are being formed by him into a band; the design, as stated
by Prendergast, to fall on your Majesty's person in the lane between
Fulham Green and the river on your returning from hunting."

"Does he agree as to the names?" the King asked, looking at me.

"He knows no names, sir," the Duke answered, "but he saw a number of
the conspirators at the Seven Stars in Covent Garden last night, and
heard them speak openly of a hunting party; with other things pointing
the same way."

"Was Barclay there?"

"He can speak to a person who I think can be identified as Barclay,"
my lord answered. "He cannot speak to Charnock----"

"That is the Oxford man?"

"Yes, sir--or Porter, or King; or the others by those names. But he
can speak to two of them under the names by which Prendergast said
that they were passing."

"_C'est tout!_ Well, it does not seem to me to be so simple!" the King
said with a touch of impatience. "What is this person's name, and who
is he?"

The Duke told him that I had been Ferguson's tool.

"That rogue is in it then?"

"He is privy to it," the Duke answered.

His Majesty shrugged his shoulders, as if the answer annoyed him. "You
English draw fine distinctions," he said. "Whatever you do, however,
let us have no repetition of the Lancashire fiasco. You will bear that
in mind, my lord, if you please. Another of Taafe's pseudo plots would
do us more harm in the country than the loss of a battle in Flanders.
Faugh! we have knaves at home, but you have a breed here--your Oates's
and your Taafes and your Fullers--for whom breaking on the wheel is
too good!"

"There are rogues, sir, in all countries," my lord answered somewhat
tartly. "I do not know that we have a monopoly of them."

"The Duke of Shrewsbury is right there, sir," the gentleman behind the
King who had not yet spoken, struck in, in a good-natured tone. "They
are things of which there is no scarcity anywhere. I remember----"

"_Taisez! Taisez!_" cried the King brusquely, cutting short his
reminiscences--whereat the gentleman, smiling imperturbably, took
snuff. "Tell me this. Is Sir John Fenwick implicated?"

"There may be evidence against him," my lord answered cautiously.

The King sneered openly. "Yes," he said. "I see Porter and Goodman and
Charnock are guilty! But when it touches one of yourselves, my lord,
then 'There is evidence against him,' or 'It is a case of suspicion,'
or--oh, you all hang together!" And pursing up his lips he looked
sourly at us. "You all hang together!" he repeated. "I stand to be
shot at--_c'est dommage_. But touch a noble, and _Gare la Noblesse!_"

"You do us an injustice, sir," my lord cried warmly. "I will answer
for it----"

"Oh, I do you an injustice, do I?" the King said, disregarding his
last words. "Of course I do! Of course you are all faithful, most
faithful. You have all taken the oath. But I tell you, my Lord
Shrewsbury, the King to whom you swore allegiance, the King crowned in
'89 was not William the Third, but Noblesse the first! _La Noblesse!_
Yes, my lord, you may look at me, and as angrily as you like; but it
was so. _Par dieu et diable_, you tie my hands! You tie my hands, you
cling to my sword, you choke my purse! I had as much power in Holland
as I have here. And more! And more!"

He would have gone farther, and with the same candour I think; but at
that the gentleman who had interrupted him before, struck in again,
addressing him rapidly in what I took to be Dutch, and doubtless
pointing out the danger of too great openness. At any rate I took that
to be the gist of his words, not only from his manner, but from the
fact that when he had done--the King looking gloomy and answering
nothing--he turned to my lord.

"The King trusts your Grace," he said bluntly. "He has never said as
much to an Englishman before. I am sure that the trust is well placed
and that his Majesty's feelings will go no farther."

The Duke bowed. "Your Majesty authorises me to take the necessary
steps then," he said, speaking somewhat drily, but otherwise ignoring
what had passed. "To secure your safety, sir, as well as to arrest the
guilty, no time should be lost. Warrants should be issued immediately,
and these persons taken up."

"Before Ferguson can warn them," the King said in his ordinary tone.
"Yes, see to it, my lord; and let the Council be recalled. The guards,
too, should be doubled, and the regiment Prendergast mentioned
displaced. Cutts must look to that, and do you, my lord," he continued
rapidly, addressing the gentleman beside him, whom I now conjectured
to be Lord Portland, "fetch him hither and lose no time. Take one of
my coaches. It is a plot, if all be true, should do us good in the
country. And that, I think, is your Grace's opinion."

"It should, sir. Doubtless, sir, we English have our faults; but we
are not fond of assassins."

"And you are confident that tins is no bubble?" the King said
thoughtfully.

"Yes, sir, I am."

By this time Lord Portland had withdrawn through a door at the farther
end of the gallery. The King, taking a turn this way and that, with
his hands clasped behind him, and his head bent low, so that his great
wig almost hid his features, seemed to be lost in thought. After
waiting a moment the Duke coughed, and this failing to attract the
King's attention, he ventured to address him. "There is another matter
I have to mention to you, sir," he said, with a touch of constraint in
his tone.

The King paused in his walk, and looked sharply at him. "Ah, of
course," he said, nodding. "Did you see Lord Middleton."

The Duke could not hide a start. "Lord Middleton, sir?" he faltered.

The King smiled coldly. "The letter," he said, "was from him, I
suppose?"

My lord rallied himself. "No, sir, it was not," he answered, with a
flash of spirit. "It purported to be from him."

"Yet you went--wherever you went--thinking to see him?" his Majesty
continued, smiling rather disagreeably.

"I did," my lord answered, his tone betraying his agitation. "But to
do nothing to the prejudice of your service, sir, and what I could to
further your interests--short of giving him up. He is my relative."

The King shrugged his shoulders.

"And for years," my lord cried warmly, "was my intimate friend."

The King shrugged his shoulders again. "We have fought that out
before," he said, with a sigh of weariness. "And more than once. For
the rest in that connection and whatever others may say, Lord
Shrewsbury has no ground to complain of me."

"I have cause, sir, to do far otherwise!" the Duke answered in a tone
suddenly changed and so full of emotion that it was not difficult to
discern that he had forgotten my presence; which was not wonderful, as
I stood behind him in the shadow of the doorway, whither out of
modesty I had retreated. "God knows I remember it!" he continued.
"Were it not for that, if I were not bound to your Majesty by more
than common ties of gratitude, I should not be to-day in a service
which--for which I am unfit! The daily duties of which, performed by
other men with indifference or appetite, fill me with pity and
distaste! the risks attending which--I speak without ceremony,
sir--make me play the coward with myself a hundred times a day!"

"Cæsar," the King said quietly, "lets none but Cæsar call him coward."

Kindly as the words were uttered, and in a tone differing much from
that which the King had hitherto used, the Duke took no heed of them.
"Others wish for my place; God knows I wish they had it!" he cried,
his agitation growing rather than decreasing. "Every hour, sir, I pray
to be quit of the faction and perjury in which I live! Every hour I
loathe more deeply the work I have to do and the people with whom I
have to do it. I never go to my office but my gorge rises; nor leave
it but I see the end. And yet I must stay in it! I must stay in it! I
tell you, sir," he continued impetuously, "on the day that you burned
those letters you but freed me from one slavery to fling me into
another!"

"Yet an honest one!" said the King in a peculiar tone.

My lord threw up his hands. "You have a right to say that, sir. But if
anyone else--or, no I--I forget myself."

"Something has disturbed you," said the King intervening with much
kindness. "Take time! And in the meanwhile, listen to me. As to the
general distaste you express for my service, I will not, and I do not,
do you the injustice to attribute it--whatever you say yourself--to
your fears of what may happen in a possible event; I mean, _l'ancien
régime restitué_. If such fears weighed so heavily with you, you would
neither have signed the Invitation to me, nor come to me eight years
ago. But I take it with perhaps some apprehensions of this kind, you
have--and this is the real gist of the matter--a natural distaste for
affairs, and a natural proneness to be on good terms with all, rogues
as well as good men. It irks you to sign a death-warrant, to send one
to Newgate, and another to--bah, I forget the names of your prisons;
to know that your friends abroad are not as well placed at St.
Germain's as they were at St. James's! You have no care to push an
advantage, no anxiety to ruin a rival; you would rather trust a man
than bind him. In a word, my lord, you have no taste for public life
in dangerous and troubled times such as these; although perforce you
have played a high part in it."

"Sir!" the Duke cried, with an anxiety and eagerness that touched me,
"you know me better than I know myself. You see my failings, my
unfitness; and surely, seeing them so clearly, you will not refuse
to----"

"Release you?" the King said smiling. "That does not follow. For
consider, my lord, you are not the only one in the world who pursues
perforce a path for which he has little taste. To be King of England
has a higher sound than to be Stadtholder of Holland. But to be a King
and no King; to see your way clearly and be thwarted by those who see
no fool of the field; to have France by the throat and be baffled for
the lack of ten thousand men or a million guilders; above all, to be
served by men who have made use of you--who have one foot on either
shore, and having betrayed their old Master to gain their ends, would
now betray you to save their necks. This, too, forms no bed of roses!
But I lie on it! I lie on it!" he concluded phlegmatically; and as he
spoke he took a pinch of snuff. "In fine, my lord," he continued, "to
be high, or what the world calls high, is to be unhappy."

The Duke sighed. "You, sir, have those qualities which fit you for
your part," he said sadly. "I have not."

"Have I?"

The King said no more, but the gesture with which he held out his
hands, as if he bade the other mark his feebleness, his short breath,
his hacking cough, his pallor, had more meaning than many words. "No,
my lord," he continued after a pause, "I cannot release you. I cannot
afford to release you, because I cannot afford to release the one man
who does not day by day betray me, and who never has betrayed me!"

"I would to heaven that you could say that!" the Duke cried, much
moved.

"I can, my friend," the King answered, with a gesture of kindness. "It
was nothing, and it is forgotten. I have long ceased to think of it.
But, _c'est vrai!_ I remember when I say I can trust no one else. I do
my good Somers an injustice. He is a dry man, however, like myself,
and poor company, and does not count for much."

My lord, contending with his feelings, did not answer, and the King
who, while speaking, had seated himself in a high-backed chair, in
which he looked frailer and more feeble than when on his legs, let a
minute elapse before he resumed in a different and brisker tone, "And
now tell me what has troubled our good Secretary to-day?"

"The Duke of Berwick, sir, is in London."

To my astonishment, and I have no doubt to the Duke's, the King merely
nodded. "Ah!" he said. "Is he in this pretty plot, then?"

"I think not," the Duke answered. "But I should suppose----

"That he is here to take advantage of it," the King said. "Well, he is
his uncle's own nephew. I suppose Ferguson sold him--as he has sold
every one all his life?"

"Yes, sir. But not, I think, with the intention that I should carry
out the bargain."

"Eh?"

"It is a long tale, sir," the Duke said rather wearily. "And having
given your Majesty the information----"

"You need not tell the tale? Well, no, for I can guess it!" the King
answered. "The old rogue, I suppose, was for ruining you with me if
you hid the news; and for damning you with King James if you informed:
which latter he did not think likely, but that instead he would have a
hold on you."

The Duke in a tone of much surprise acknowledged that he had guessed
rightly.

"Well, it was a pretty dilemma," said the King with a sort of gusto.
"And where is M. FitzJames in hiding?"

"At Dr. Lloyd's in Hogsden Gardens," my lord answered. But he could
not conceal his gloom.

"He must be arrested," said the King. "A warrant must be issued. Will
you see to it with the others?"

My lord assented; but with such a sigh that it required no wizard to
discern both the cloud that hung over him, and also that now he had
done what Ferguson had dared him to do, the consequences lay heavy on
him. The King, after considering him a moment with a singular
expression, between amusement and reproach, broke the silence.

"See here, my lord," he said with good nature. "I will tell you what
to do. Sit down now, and here, and write a line to Monsieur, bidding
him begone; and send it by a private hand, and the warrant by a
messenger an hour later."

The Duke stared at the King in astonishment. "But he will escape,
sir," he faltered.

"So much the better," the King answered indifferently. "If we take him
what are we to do with him? Besides, to tell you the truth, my lord,
he did me a great service eight years ago."

"He, sir?"

"Yes," said the King smiling. "He induced his father to fly the
country, when, if he had stayed--but you know that story. So do you
warn him, and the sooner he is beyond La Manche the better."

The Duke looked unhappy. "I dare not do it, sir," he said at last,
after a pause.

"Dare not do it? When I authorise it? Why not?"

"No, sir. Because if I were impeached by the Commons----"

The King shrugged his shoulders.

"Ah, these safeguards!" he muttered. "These town councils, and
provincial councils, and States-General! And now these Commons and
Lords! Shall I ever be quit of them? Well, there is but one way then.
I must do it. If they impeach me, I go back to Loo; and they may stew
in their own juice!"

He rose with that, and moving stiffly to the table at which Lord
Portland had been writing when we entered, he sought for and found a
pen. Then sitting in the chair which the Groom of the Stole had left
vacant, he tore a slip of paper from a folio before him and, writing
some lines on it--about six, as far as I could judge--handed the paper
to the Duke, who had remained standing at a formal distance.

"Voilà, Monsieur," he said. "Will that suit your lordship?"

The Duke took it respectfully and looked at it. "But, sir, it is in my
name!" he cried, aghast. "And bears my signature."

"_Eh, bien_, why not?" his Majesty answered lightly. "The name is the
name of Jacob, but the hand is the hand of Esau. Take it and send it
by a trusty messenger. Perhaps the man who came with you, and
who--pheugh, my lord! I had forgotten that this person was here! We
have spoken too freely."

The oath which the Duke let fall as he turned, and the face of dismay
and anger with which he gazed on me, were proof enough that he shared
the King's opinion, as he had shared his mistake. For a moment, the
two glaring at me with equal disgust and vexation, I thought I should
sink into the floor. Then the King beckoned me to come forward, and I
obeyed him.



                             CHAPTER XXV


The odd and unexpected glimpse of generosity which the King had
allowed to escape him, in his interview with the Duke, somewhat
lessened the fears I must otherwise have entertained at that moment.
To which must be added that I am one of those who, when violence and
physical danger are not in question, retain a fair mastery of their
minds. Nevertheless, I am free to confess that as I went forward, I
wished myself anywhere else in the world, and would have sacrificed
half my remaining economies to be seated, pen in hand, and obscurely
safe, in Mr. Brome's room.

But the thing took a turn which relieved me when I least expected it.
As I approached, the chagrin in the King's face gave place to a look
of surprise; and that again, but more slowly, to one of intelligence.
"Ah! _Je me trompais!_" he muttered rapidly. "What did you say his
name was?"

"Price," the Duke answered, continuing to glower at me.

"Price? _Ah, cela va sans dire!_ But--he is a cadet--a dependent? He
is in some way connected--how do you say it--related to your family!"

"To mine, sir!" the Duke exclaimed in a voice of the utmost
astonishment; and he drew himself up as if the King had pricked him.

"_N'est-ce pas ça?_" his Majesty replied, looking from one to the
other of us. "Yet he has so much a look of you that it might be
possible in some lights to take him for your grace, were he
differently dressed!"

The Duke looked purely offended. "Your Majesty is under a strange
misapprehension," he said, very stiffly. "If this person resembles
me--of which I was not aware--I know nothing of the cause; and the
likeness for what it is worth, must be accidental. As a fact, I never
saw him but once before in my life, sir, and that perfectly by
chance." And he very briefly related the circumstances under which we
came together.

The King listened to the story, but as if he scarcely believed it; and
he smiled when the Duke came to tell how he allowed me to escape.
Then, "And you have never seen him from that day to this?" he said
incredulously.

"Never!" said the Duke, positively. "But it is not my intention to
lose sight of him again."

"Ah?" the King said.

"I have not told you, sir, all that happened," the Duke continued,
reading, I think, the King's thoughts, "But briefly. Mr. Ferguson, who
has come to be little short of a madman, drew a pistol on me at the
close of our interview; and but for his friend here--who had been
placed to listen, but at that broke from his place of hiding and
knocked up the muzzle, so that it exploded harmlessly--I should have
come off ill."

"And I not much better," the King said, nodding and looking grave.
"You are unhurt."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, that puts another face on it; and if you are retaining him
beside you, what he has now heard will be of the less importance. Hark
you, my friend," he continued, addressing me, "can you keep your mouth
shut?"

I said humbly that I could and would.

"Then, _Taisez! Taisez!_" he answered emphatically. "And take this
letter to Hogsden Gardens to Bishop Lloyd's. See Bishop Lloyd and put
it in his hands. Say nothing, give no message, but go to your master's
in St. James's Square. Will you seal it, Duke, with a plain seal?
Good. And go you out, man, by the way you came in, and answer no
questions. And now for the council and the warrants, my lord. We have
lost too much time already!"

To say that I went from the presence without knowing how I did it, and
when I reached the courtyard had no more idea how I had gained it, or
by what staircase I had descended, than if I had been blind, is but
the truth; nor is it to be wondered at when the amazing thing which
had happened to me is in the least degree taken into consideration. In
truth I walked on air and saw nothing, I was so deeply overjoyed; and
though it is certain that as I went out I met one and another, passed
the sentries, and ran the gauntlet of curious eyes--for who that quits
a court escapes that ordeal?--I was no more conscious of the
observations made upon me, or the surprise I excited as I went by,
than if I had really walked in the clouds. Issuing from the gates I
took by instinct rather than design the road to London, and hugging to
my breast the letter which the King--the King!--had entrusted to me,
made the best of my way towards Tyburn.

I had been wiser had I gone by the other road through the village and
taken the first coach I found; there are commonly one or two at
Kensington waiting to carry passengers to London. But in the fluster
of my spirits, I did not measure the distance I had to go, or the time
I should consume in walking. My main anxiety for the moment was to be
alone; alone, and at leisure to probe my fortune and success, and
appreciate both the relief and the good luck I had compassed. I could
have sung as I walked; I could have skipped and danced; and a gleam of
sunshine breaking the March sky, and gilding the leafless arms of the
trees and the flat green pastures that border the road north of Hyde
Park, I was moved to raise my hat and look upwards and reverently
thank Providence for this wonderful instance of its goodness, which I
had not had the heart to do for some time.

When I descended a little to earth--a step which was hastened by a
flash of recollection that showed me Ferguson's niece waiting at
Clerkenwell Gate, a little figure, forlorn and desolate, yet with eyes
of wrath and a face puckered with determination--when I came I say a
little to myself and to think of Hogsden Gardens, and remembered that
it lay on the farther side of town by Bunhill Fields, I was already at
Tyburn turning; and it seemed to be no longer worth while to ride. The
day was on the wane, and the road thence to St. Giles's Pound was
lively with persons come out to take the air, through whom I threaded
my way at a good pace, and coming to Holborn without mishap, turned up
Cow Lane, and so got speedily to Smithfield, and across the market to
Long Lane, knowing my way so far without having need to ask.

Here, however, I took sudden fright. My mind, which as I walked had
been busy with the girl and the steps I should take to find her--if
indeed I wished to find her, about which I was puzzled, the
surrounding circumstances being so different--was invaded by the
notion that I had been long on the road. To this was added next moment
the reflection that messengers sent to arrest the Duke could by taking
a coach forestall me. The thought threw me into a hot fit, which
increased on me when I considered that I did not know the remainder of
the road, and might waste much time in tracing it. Naturally my first
impulse in this strait was to seek a guide; but Long Lane by
Smithfield is only one degree better than Whetstone Park, and I shrank
from applying to the sots and drabs who stood at the doors and
corners, or lounged out of the patched windows, and, lazily or rudely,
watched me go by.

In this difficulty, and growing the more diffident and alarmed the
more slowly I walked, I looked about eagerly for some person, of
passable aspect, of whom I could enquire. I saw none, and my uncertain
glances and loitering steps were beginning to draw on me advances
and an attention that were anything but welcome, when, reaching a
corner where an alley, now removed--I think it was then called Dog
Alley--runs out of Long Lane, I saw a man, decently habited, come out
of a house a little way down the alley. He closed the door sharply
behind him, and, as I looked, went off in the opposite direction.

Here was my opportunity. Without losing a moment I ran after him, and
he, hearing my steps, turned; and we came face to face. Then, when it
was too late to retreat, I saw with unutterable dismay that the man I
had stopped was no stranger, but the person who had dressed me up the
night before and taken me to the mysterious house in the suburbs; the
man called Smith whom I had first seen under the Piazza in Covent
Garden, and again in Ferguson's room.

To come face to face with anyone of the gang with the knowledge that I
had but now left the palace after informing against them was of itself
enough to make my knees tremble under me. But of this man, though his
civil treatment had been in pleasant contrast to Ferguson's brutality,
I had conceived an instinctive dread, based as much on his silence and
reserve and a sort of strict power with which I credited him, as on
his contemptuous treatment of my tyrant. In a word, had I come on
Ferguson himself I could scarcely have been more overcome.

On hearing my footsteps he had turned on me very sharply, with the air
of a man who had no mind to be followed, and no taste for followers.
But on seeing who it was his face grew light and he whistled his
surprise. "I was on my way to you," he said, "and here you are. That
is good luck. I suppose Ferguson sent you?"

"No," I stammered, avoiding his eyes, and wondering, with inward
quakings, what was going to happen to me. "I--I lost my road."

"Oh!" said he, and looked keenly at me. "Lost your road, did you?
Well, it was very much to the purpose, as it happened. May I ask where
you were going?"

I shifted my feet uneasily. "To Bunhill Fields," I said, naming the
first place of which I could think.

"Ah!" he answered, with apparent carelessness, and though it seemed
scarcely possible he should fail to observe the heat and disorder into
which his presence had thrown me, he made no sign. "Well, you are not
far out," he continued, "and I will come with you. When you have done
your errand we will talk over my business. This way. I know this end
of the town well. And so it was not Ferguson," he added with a sharp
look at me, "who sent you after me?"

"No," I said.

"Nor his errand that brought you here?"

"No," I said again, my mouth dry. "And I need not give you the trouble
to come with me. I shall be taking you----"

"Out of my way? Not at all," he answered briskly. "And it is no
trouble. Come along, my friend."

I dared say no more, nor show farther reluctance; and so, with feet
like lead and eyes roving furtively for a way of escape, I turned and
went with him. Nay, it was not my feet only that were weighted; the
letter, and my consciousness of it, lay so heavy on my mind that it
was like lead in the pocket.

I was indeed in a strait now! And in one so difficult I could discern
no way out of it; for though I could in part, and in part only,
command my countenance, I failed absolutely to command my thoughts,
which did nothing but revolve tumultuously about the words, "What am I
to do? What am I to do?" words that seemed written in red letters on
my brain. Only one thing was clear to me in the confusion, and that
was the urgent necessity I lay under of hiding my errand, the
disclosure of which must carry with it the disclosure of the place
whence I came and the company I had been keeping. With time to think
and coolness to distinguish I should doubtless have seen the
possibility of announcing my errand to the Duke, yet laying it on
Ferguson's shoulders; but pushed for time and unable at a pinch to
weigh all the issues, I could form no determination, much less one
leading to so daring a step. After one denial, that is.

In the meantime we moved on; and at first my companion seemed to be
unconscious of my sluggish pace and my perturbation. But presently I
felt rather than saw that from minute to minute he glanced at me
askance, and that after each of these inspections he laughed silently.
The knowledge that I lay under this observation immeasurably increased
my embarrassment. I could no longer put a fair face on the matter, but
every time he looked at me looked away guiltily, unable to support his
eyes. This presently grew so insupportable that to escape from my
embarrassment I coughed and affected to choke.

"You have a cold, I am afraid," he said, scarcely concealing the sneer
in his tone. "And yet you look warm. You must have walked fast, my
friend?"

I muttered that I had.

"To overtake me, perhaps! It was good of you," he said in the same
tone of secret badinage. "But we are here. What part of the Fields do
you want? Whitecross Street?"

"No," I muttered.

"Then it must be Baxter's Rents."

"No."

"Bunhill Row?"

"No."

"No? Well, there is not much else here," he said; and he shrugged his
shoulders, "except the Fields and the burial-ground. Your business
does not lie with the latter, I suppose?"

"No," I said faintly. And we stood.

At another time I must have shuddered at the dreary expanse on this
uttermost fringe of the town that stretched before us under a waning
light; an expanse of waste land broken only by the wall of the
burial-ground, or the chimney of a brick-kiln, and bordered, where its
limits were visible, by half-built houses, and squatter huts, and vast
piles of refuse. Ugly as the prospect was, however, and far from
reassuring to the timorous, I asked nothing better than to look at it.
and look at it, and continue to look at it. But Mr. Smith, who did not
understand this mood, turned with an impatient laugh.

"I suppose that you did not come here to look at that," said he.

Like a fool I jumped at the absurd, the flimsy pretext.

"Yes," I said. "I--I merely came to take the air."

The moment the words were spoken I trembled at my audacity. But he
took it better than I expected, for he merely paused to stare at me,
and then chuckled grimly.

"Well," he said, "then, now that you have taken the air let us go
back. Have you anything to object to that, Mr. Taylor?"

I could find nothing.

"I will come with you," he continued. "I want to see Ferguson, and we
can settle my business there."

But this only presented to me a dreadful vision of Ferguson, released
from his bonds, and mad with rage and the desire to avenge himself;
and I stopped short.

"I am not going there," I said.

"No? Then where, may I ask, are you going?" he answered, watching me
with a placid amusement, which made it as clear as the daylight, that
he saw through my evasions. "Where is it my lord's pleasure to go?"

"To Brome's, in Fleet Street," I said hoarsely. And if he had had his
back to me at that instant, and I a knife in my hand, I could have run
him through! For as I said it, and he with mocking suavity assented,
and we stepped out together to return the way we had come through Long
Lane--over which the sky hung low in a dull yellow haze, the last of
the western light--I had a swift and stinging recollection of the King
and my lord, and the letter, and the passage of time; and could have
sprung from his side, and poured out curses on him in the impotence of
my rage and impatience. For the hour of grace which the King had
granted was gone, and a second was passing, and still the letter that
should warn the Duke of Berwick lay in my pocket, and I saw no chance
of delivering it.

That Smith discerned the chagrin which this enforced companionship
caused me--though not the ground of it--was as plain as that the fact
gave him pleasure of no common kind. I had no longer such a command of
my features that I could trust myself to look at him; but I was
conscious, using some other sense, that he frequently looked at me,
and always after these inspections, smiled like a man who finds
something to his taste. And I hated him.

How long with these feelings I could have borne to go with him, or
what I should have done in the last resort had he continued the same
tactics, remains unproved; for at the same corner half-way down Long
Lane, where I had first espied him, he paused. "I want to go in here,"
he said coolly. "I need only detain you a moment, Mr. Taylor."

"I will wait for you," I muttered, tingling all over with sudden hope.
While he was inside I could run for it.

"Very well," he said. "This way."

I fancied that he suspected nothing, and that perhaps I had been wrong
throughout; and overjoyed I went with him to the door of the house
from which I had seen him emerge; my intention being to begone hotfoot
the instant his back was turned. The house was three-storied high,
narrow and commonplace, one of a row not long built, and but partially
inhabited. Apparently he was at home there, for taking a key from his
pocket, he opened the door; and stood aside for me to enter.

"I will wait," I muttered.

"Very well. Yon can wait inside," he answered.

If I had been wise I should have turned there and then, in the open
street, and taking to my heels have run for my life and stayed for
nothing. But, partly fool and partly craven, clinging to a hope which
was scarcely a belief, that when he went upstairs or into another
room, I might stealthily unlatch the door and begone, I let myself be
persuaded; and I entered. The moment I had done so, he whipped out the
key and thrusting the door to with his shoulder, locked it on the
inside.

Then the man threw off all disguise. He turned with a laugh of triumph
to where I stood trembling in the half-dark passage. "Now," he said,
"we will have that letter, if you please, Mr. Taylor. I have a fancy
to see what is in it."

"The letter!" I faltered.

"Yes, the letter!"

"I have no letter," I said.

"Tut-tut, letter or no letter, out with it! Do you think I could not
see you touching your breast every half minute, to make sure that you
had it safe--and not know what was in the wind! You are a poor
plotter, Mr. Taylor, and I doubt if you will ever be of any use to me.
But come, out with it! Unless you want me to be rough with you. Out
with whatever it is you have there, and no tricks!"

He had a way with him when he spoke in that tone, not loudly but
between his teeth, his eyes at the same time growing towards one
another, that was worse than Ferguson's pistol; and I was alone with
him in an empty house. Some, who would have done what I did, may blame
me; but in the main the world is sensible, and I shall forfeit no
prudent man's esteem when I confess that, after one attempt at evasion
which he met by wrenching my coat open, and thrusting me against the
wail so violently that my head spun again, I gave up the letter.

"I warn you! I warn you!" I cried, in a paroxysm of rage and grief.
"It is for the Duke of Berwick, and if you open it----"

"For the Duke of Berwick?" he answered, pausing and gazing at me with
his finger on the seal. "Why, you fool, why did you not tell me that
before? From whom? From that scum, Ferguson?"

"From the Duke of Shrewsbury," I cried, rendered reckless by my rage.

"What?" he cried, in a voice of extraordinary surprise.


[Illustration: "NOW WE WILL HAVE THAT LETTER, IF YOU PLEASE"]


"From the Duke of Shrewsbury," I repeated; thinking that he had not
understood me.

"My God!" he said, with a deep breath. "And have I caught the fox at
last!"

"You are more likely to be caught yourself!" I answered, furiously.

Nevertheless, his words were a puzzle to me; but his tone of slow
growing, almost incredulous triumph told something. Taking very little
heed of me, and merely signing to me to follow him, he sprang up the
stairs, and opening a door led the way into a back-room bare and
miserable, but lighted by the last yellow glow of the western sky. It
was possible to read here, and without a moment's hesitation he broke
the seal of the letter, and tearing the packet open, read the
contents.

That the perusal gave him immense satisfaction his face, which in the
level light, cast by the window, seemed to gleam with unholy joy, was
witness, no less than his movements. Flourishing the letter in
uncontrollable excitement he twice strode the floor, muttering
unformed sentences. Then he looked at the paper again and his jaw
fell. "But it is not his hand!" he cried, staring at it in very plain
dismay. And then recovering himself afresh, "No matter," he said. "It
is his name, and the veriest fool would have used another hand. Is it
yours? Did you write it, blockhead?"

"No," I said.

"No! But now I think of it--thousand devils, how came you by it? By
this--eh?" he rapped out. "This letter? What d----d hocus pocus is
here? What have you to do with the Duke of Shrewsbury, that he makes
you his messenger?"

He bent his brows on me, and I knew that I had never been in greater
danger in my life. Yet something of evil came to me in this extremity.
Comprehending that if I said I came from Kensington I might expect the
worst, I lied to him; yet used the truth where it suited me. "The Duke
came to Ferguson's," I said.

"To Ferguson's?" he answered, staring at me.

"Yes, and bade him get that to the Duke, for his lodging was known and
warrants would be out."

Smith clapped his hands together softly. "What!" he cried. "Is he in
it as deep as that? Oh, the cunning! Oh, the cunning of him! And
I to be going to all this trouble, and close on despair at that!
And--Ferguson gave you the letter?"

"They both did."

"That old fox, too! And I was beginning to think him a bygone! Yet he
beats us all! he beats us all! Or he would have beaten us if he
had not trusted this silly. But I am forgetting. The Duke must be
warned--if he has not started. When was this given to you, Mr. Trusty
Taylor?"

"Two hours ago," I said, sullenly.

I was pleased to see that that alarmed him. "You fool!" he said, "why
did you not tell me at once what you had got, and whither you were
going? If the Duke is taken it will lie at your door. And if he is
saved, it will be to my credit."

"I will come with you," I said, plucking up a spirit as I saw him
about to leave.

"No, you will not," he answered, drily. "I am much obliged to you, but
I prefer to gain the credit and tell the tale my own way. You will
stay here, Mr. Taylor, and when the Duke is away I'll come and release
you. In the meantime I would advise you to keep quiet. Hoity-toity,
what is this?" he continued, as in my despair I tried to push by him,
"Go back, you fool, or it will be the worse for you. You are _not_
going out."

And, resisting all my appeals and remonstrances, he thrust me forcibly
from the door; and whipping outside it, locked it on me. In vain I
hammered on it with my fist and called after him, and threatened him.
He clattered unheeding down the stair, and I heard the house-door
slammed and locked. I listened a moment, but all remained quiet; and
then, wild with rage, I turned to the window, thinking that by that
way I might still escape. Alas, it looked only into a walled yard, and
was strongly barred to boot.

God knows I thought myself then the most unlucky of men; a man ruined
when on the point of a great and seemingly assured success. I flung
myself down in my despair, and could have dashed my head against the
boards. But presently, in the midst of my bewailing myself, and when
the first convulsive fit of rage was abating, a new thought brought me
to my feet in a panic. What if Smith, before he returned, fell in with
Ferguson? The meeting was the more probable, inasmuch as, if Ferguson
succeeded in freeing himself, he was as likely to hasten to the Duke
of Berwick to warn him as to do anything else. At any rate I was not
inclined to sit weighing the chances nicely, but hastening frantically
to the door, I tried it with knee and shoulder. To my joy it yielded
somewhat; on which, throwing caution aside, I drew back and flung
myself against it with all my weight. The lock gave way, and the door
flying open, I came near to falling headlong down the stairs.

Still, I had succeeded. But I soon found that I was little nearer
freedom than before. The passage was now dark, and the house-door,
when I found my way to it, resisted all my efforts. This drove me to
seek another egress, which it was far from easy to find. At length,
and by dint of groping about, I hit on a door which led into a
downstairs room; it was unlocked and I entered, feeling before me with
my hands. The darkness, the silence of the empty house, and my hurry,
formed a situation to appal the boldest; but I was desperate, and
extending my arms I trod cautiously across the room to where the
window should be, and sought for and found the shutters. I tried the
bar, and to my joy felt it swing. I let it down softly and dragged the
shutters open, and sweating at every pore, saw through the leaded
panes the dark dull lane outside, with a faint light from a
neighbouring window falling on the wall opposite.


[Illustration: I SAW A MAN HAD COME TO A STAND BEFORE THE DOOR]


I was seeking for a part of the window that opened, and wondering
whether, failing that, I should have the courage to burst the casement
and run for it, when a step approaching along the lane set my heart
beating. The step came nearer and paused, and peering out, my face
nearer the glass, I saw a man had come to a stand before the door. I
looked, and then, to say that my knees quivered under me but faintly
expresses the terror I felt! For as the man moved he brought himself
within the circle of light I have mentioned, and at the same time he
raised his face, doubtless after searching in his pocket for the key;
and through the glass my eyes met those of Ferguson.



                             CHAPTER XXVI


If, a few minutes before, I had thought myself the most unlucky of men
and placed by that which had already happened beyond fear or
misfortune, I knew better when I saw that sight from the window; and
fell back into the darkness, as if even from the road and through the
panes Ferguson's eyes must discover me. Ignorant whether the room in
which I stood contained anything to shelter me, or barewalled must of
necessity discover me to the first person who entered with a light, my
natural impulse, when the moment of panic passed, was to escape from
it.

But it was not easy to do this in haste. By the time that, trembling
in every limb, I had groped my way into the passage, the key was
turning in the lock of the outer door, and I saw myself within an
arm's length of capture. This so terrified me that I sprang
desperately for the staircase, but stumbled over the lowest step, and
fell on my knees with a crash that seemed to shake the walls. For a
moment the pain was so sharp that I could only lie where I fell; nor
when, spurred by the imminence of the danger, I had got to my feet,
could I do more than crawl up the stairs and crouch down on the
landing, a little to one side, and out of eye-shot from below.

Willingly now, in return for present safety, would I have forgiven
Fortune all her past buffets; for if Ferguson came up, as I thought
him sure to come up, I was lost; since I could neither retreat without
noise, nor if I could, knew where to hide. In this extremity, my heart
beating so thickly that I could scarcely listen, and thought I must
choke, I was relieved to hear Ferguson--after spending what seemed to
me to be an age, striking flint and steel in the passage--go grumbling
into the lower room, whence a glimmer falling on the wall of the
passage told me that he had at last succeeded in procuring a light.

It was no surprise to me as I sweated and cringed in my hiding-place,
to learn that he was in the worst of tempers. I heard him swear--as I
supposed--at the open shutter; then, almost before I had thanked
Providence for present safety, he was out again in the passage. I made
no doubt that he was going to ascend now, and I gave myself up for
lost. But instead, he stood and called "Mary! Mary! Do ye hear, you
hussy? If ye are hiding above there, it will be the worse for you, ye
d----d baggage! Come down, d'ye hear me?"

Surely now, I thought, getting no answer, he would come up, and my
heart stood. But it seemed he called only to make sure, and not
because he thought that she was above; for he went back into the lower
room, and I heard him moving to and fro, and going about to light a
fire, the crackling of which gave an odd note of cheerfulness in the
house. I was beginning to weigh the possibility of slipping by the
half-open door, on the chance of finding the outer door unfastened;
and with this in view, had risen to my feet, when a key again grated
in the lock, and supposing it to be Smith, I returned to my former
position.

Had it been Smith, it would have been some comfort to me; for I
thought him more prudent if no less dangerous than the plotter, and I
fancied that I had more to fear from one than from two. But the step
that entered was lighter than a man's, while Ferguson's greeting told
the rest and made the situation clear.

"Ha, you are here at last, are you!" he cried with an angry oath. "Did
you want me to break every bone in your body, lass, that you stayed
out till now, and I to have the fire to light? You should have a
pretty good tale to tell or have kept clear of this! D'ye hear me?
Speak, you viper, and don't stand there glowering like a wood-cat!"

"I am here now," was the answer. My heart leapt, for the voice was
Mary's; the tone, sullen and weary, I could understand.

"Here now!" he retorted. "And that is to be all, is it? Perhaps, my
girl, I will presently show you two minds about that. Where is the
baggage?"

"It is not here."

"Not here?" he cried.

"No," she answered.

"And why not, you Jezebel?"

"You need not misname me," she answered coolly. "I was followed and
could not come here; and I could not carry it about with me all day.
And I could not send it, for there was no one here to take it in. It
is at the Spread Eagle in Gracechurch Street, to go by tomorrow's
waggon to Colchester. That is what I told them, but it can be fetched
away to-morrow."

"If I did not think you were a big liar, girl?" he answered
doubtfully; but I knew by his tone that he believed her.

"You may think what you like," she replied.

"And how do you think I am to do for to-night?" he answered
querulously.

"You must do as you can," she said. "You have your Hollands, and I
have brought some bread and meat."

"It is a dog's life," he said, with a snarl.

"It is the life you choose," she retorted sharply.

"_Peste!_" he answered after a pause of sheer astonishment at her
audacity. "What is it to you, you slut?"

"Why, a dog's life too! and not of my choice!" she cried passionately,
her voice breaking. "What am I better, as I live, than an orange girl
in the streets? What do I get, and walk the pavement on your errands
night and day? What do I get? And always hiding and sneaking, hiding
and sneaking! And for what?"

"For your living, yon beggarly baggage!" he roared. "Who feeds you and
clothes you, you graceless hussy? Who boards you and lodges you, and
finds you in meat and malt, you feckless toad? You shameless----"

"Ay, call names!" she answered bitterly--and it was not hard to
discern that she was beside herself with the long sick waiting and the
disappointment. "It is what you are good for! It is all that your
plots end in! Call names, and you are happy! But I am tired, and tired
of it, I tell you. I am tired of bare boards and hiding, and all for
what? For those that, when you have brought them back, you will be as
fierce to oust as you are now to restore! And shameless it is you call
me?" she continued with feverish rapidity. "Shameless? Have you not
sent me out into the streets a hundred times, and close on midnight,
and not a thought or care what would happen to me so long as your
letter went safe? Have you not sent me where to be taken was to be
jailed and whipped, and not a thought of pity or what a life it was
for a girl? Have you not done this and more?" she continued,
breathless with passion. "And more? And yet you take praise for
feeding me! And call me graceless and shameless----"

She paused and gave him room to speak, but though he put on a show of
bluster it was evident her violence alarmed him. "Odd's name, and what
is all this?" he said. "What ails the girl? What has set you up now,
you vixen?"

"You!" she cried vehemently. "You and your trade!"

"Well," he said, with a sort of sullen reasonableness, "and what is
the matter with the trade? What is wrong with the trade, I say? I'll
tell you this, my lass, you would live badly without it."

"I would live honestly," she cried. "And as my father lived!"

"You drab!" he cried. "Leave that alone."

At that, and when judging from the tone of his voice I expected him to
break out with fresh oaths and curses, there was instead an
astonishing silence, which fell for me at an unlucky moment, for
forgetting, in my desire to see as well as hear, the risk I ran, I had
crept down the stairs, and now lacked but a pace of seeing into the
room. The noise ceasing, I dared neither take that step nor retreat;
and it was only when the silence had continued so long that curiosity
overcame fear, that I ventured the advance, and looking in, saw that
the girl, her fire and fury gone, was leaning against the wall beside
the hearth, her face averted; while Ferguson himself, in an attitude
of dejection scarcely less marked, stood near her, his head bowed and
his blood-shot eyes fixed on the fire.

"Ay, he lived honestly, your father," he muttered at last. "It is
true, my lass. I grant it. But he had a fair wind, had Alan, and a
short course; and if he had lived to be sixty, God knows! We are what
we are made. I mind him well, and the burn we fished and the pickle
things we took out, and your mother that played with us in her cutty
sark, and not a shoe between us nor a bodle of money; but the green
hills round us, and all we knew of the world that it lay beyond them.
And that was all your father ever knew, my lass. And well for him! Ay,
well for him! But woe's me, and woe to the man who took my living, and
woe to the evil King!"

His voice was beginning to rise; in a moment he would have reached his
usual pitch of denunciation, of which even now some of his many
writings afford a pale reflection; but at the word _King_ there came a
sharp knocking at the door, and he paused. For me, I turned in a
panic, and, heedless what noise I made, hurried up the stairs. The
steps creaked under me, but fortunately the knocking was repeated so
quickly and persistently that it covered the sound of my flight; and
before I had more than ensconced myself in the old place, Ferguson,
doubtless in obedience to some signal, was at the door and had opened
it.

Immediately half-a-dozen men poured noisily in, breathing hard and
growling in low tones, and passed into the room below. But until the
outer door was closed and secured, nothing I could catch, though fear
sharpened my ears, was said. Then, as Ferguson went in after them, one
of the newcomers raised his voice in answer to a question, and cried
with a rattling oath, "What is up? What is up, old fox? Why, all is
up! And we'll all swing for it before the month is over, if we cannot
clear out to-night! You are a clever one, Mr. Ferguson, but you are
caught this time, with better men. God! if I had the sneak here that
peached on us, I would cut his liver out! I would----"

Two or three voices joined in to the same tune and drowned his words,
one asking where Prendergast was, another where Porter was, a third
indulging in threats so horrid and blasphemies so profane that I
turned cold where I crouched. I began to understand what had happened,
and my situation; but that nothing might be spared me Ferguson, in a
quavering voice that proved all was news to him, asked again what was
the matter.

"The Blues are moved," cried three or four at once. "They were
marching out when we left. The guards at Kensington are doubled, and
the orders for the King's hunting to-morrow are cancelled. They were
hurrying to and fro calling the Council when we came away, and
messengers were beginning to go round the taverns."

"And they have seized the horses at the King of Bohemia's Head," added
another, "so they know a lot."

"But is it--certain?" Ferguson asked, with a break in his voice.

"Ay, as certain as that we shall hang if we do not get over!" was the
brutal answer.

"And the Captain?"

"I have been at his lodgings. He has not been heard of since noon. He
ordered his horse then and they say took the road; and hell to it, if
that is so, he is half way to France by this! And safe! Safe, you
devils, and we are left here caught like rats!"

"Ay, we'll go farther than France!" one shrieked. "As for me I am off.
I shall----"

"No, by God, you don't!" cried another; and flung himself, as it
seemed to me, between him and the door. "You don't go and sell the
rest of us, and save your own neck. You----"

"Where is Porter?" a third struck in.

"And Prendergast?"

"They are not here! Nor Sir William! Nor Friend! So what is the good
of talking like that?"

"He will make a fat hang, will Sir William!" said one, with a mad
laugh that died in his throat. "It will cure his gout."

At that, one of the others cried with furious oaths for liquor; and I
judged that Ferguson gave them of his Hollands. But it was little
among so many, and was gone in a moment, and they calling for more.
"There is a keg upstairs," said he. "In the back-room. But get it for
yourselves. You have hung me. To think that I should have played the
game with such fools."

They laughed recklessly, a savage note in their voices. "Ay, you
should have stuck to your pen, old fox," one cried. "Then it was only
the printer hung. But we'll drink your health before you swing. Up,
Keyes, and fetch the stuff. It may be bad, but we'll drink to the
squeezing of the rotten orange once more; if it be the last toast I
drink!"



                            CHAPTER XXVII


The terror that had gripped me on their first entrance, and driving
all the blood in my body to my heart had there set it bounding
madly--this terror I should vainly try to describe to persons who have
never been in such a situation or within a few feet of death, as I
then found myself. That, reckless and driven to the wall, the
conspirators would sacrifice me to their vengeance if they discovered
me I felt certain; and at any moment they might come up and discover
me. Yet behind me were the confining walls of the rooms whence I knew
of no exit, and before me, where alone evasion seemed to be possible,
the open door of the room below, and the flood of light that issued
from the doorway, forbade the attempt. I lay sweating and listening
therefore, while they snarled and cursed in the black mood of men
betrayed and hopeless; and yet because of the chance that after all
they might go out as they had come, I could so far keep my terror
within bounds.

Not so, when I heard Ferguson bid the man mount and fetch the keg. Had
he come without a light I might still have controlled myself and kept
quiet; and holding my breath though I were suffocated, and silencing
my heart though I died, might have lain and let him pass in the
darkness. Nay, had I crouched low, he need not have observed me with a
light; for I was a little beside the stairhead, and to enter the room
whence I had broken out he need not face me. But when I heard him
stumbling upwards, a sudden sense of the loneliness of the house in
that far corner of town came on me; and with it, an overwhelming
perception of my helplessness and of the life and death struggle to
which the men below were committed--so that death seemed to be in the
air; which together so far overcame me that I did the last thing I
should have expected. As the man came up the stairs, the light in his
hand, I rose up and stood, gasping at him.

He paused and held up the light. "The devil!" he said, staring. And
then, "Who the ---- are you? Here, Ferguson! Here's your man!"

The only answer from below was a roar for liquor.

"What are you doing here?" he went on, puzzled as much by my silence
as my presence.

"I am--going," I stammered; a desperate hope rising in my breast at
sight of the man's perplexity. He might let me pass.

For aught I know he would have done so; and it is possible that I
might have gone unseen by the open door below and gained the street.
But as he stood staring, a second man came into the passage, and
looked up and saw me. "Hallo!" he said. "Who is that?"

"Ferguson's man," Keyes answered. "But, boil me, if I know what is the
matter with him!"

The other called Ferguson and he came out, and saw me; looked, and
with a scream of rage, sprang up the stairs. In the fury of his
wrath--he threw himself on me so suddenly and with so much violence
and intention that I was a child in his hands; and but for the other's
exertions, who not understanding the matter tore him from me, I must
have been choked out of hand. As it was I was black in the face,
dizzy, and scarcely conscious when they freed me from him: nor in much
better case for the respite. For with all they could do he would not
release my shoulder, but dragging me down, cried breathlessly and
continuously to the others to listen--to listen! That he had the
traitor! that I was the informer! the spy, the blood-seller! And with
that, and as he partly forced and partly tugged me down the men
thickened round me, until dragged into the lighted room I found myself
hemmed in by a circle of lowering faces and gloomy eyes, a circle
that, look where I might, presented no breach or chance of escape, no
face that pitied or understood. He who seemed to be in highest
authority among them--afterwards I knew him for Charnock, the
unfrocked Fellow of Magdalen, who suffered with King and Keyes--did
indeed make Ferguson let me go; thrusting him back and calling on him
to tell his tale, and have done with his blasphemy. But though I
turned that way in momentary hope of aid, I read no encouragement in a
face as stern and relentless as it was fanatical. A lamp hooked high
on one wall, and so that it threw its light downwards, obscured half
the circle, and flung a bright glare on the other half; but in light
or shade, seen or unseen, and whether drink flushed it, or passion
blanched it, every face that met my shrinking gaze seemed to be
instinct with coming doom.

In such situations fear, which spurs some minds, paralyses others.
Vainly I tried to think, to frame a defence, to deny or avoid. The
glare of the lamp dazzled and confused me. To Ferguson's passionate
iterations, "The Lord has delivered him into our hands! I tell you,
the Lord has delivered him into our hands! There is your informer! I
swear it! I can prove it!" I could find no answer except a feeble, "I
am not! I am not!" which I continued to repeat--while one plucked me
this way that he might see me better, and another that way--until
Keyes struck me on the mouth, and thrusting me back bade me be silent.

"And you, too, Mr. Ferguson," Charnock said, raising his hand to still
the tumult, "have done with your blasphemy. And talk plainly. Say what
you know, and have no fear; if what you allege be proved, we will do
justice on him."

"Ay, by----!" cried Cassel, the swearer. "A life for a life."

"But, first, what do you know?" Charnock continued brusquely. "Speak
to the point. We must be gone by midnight if we are to save
ourselves."

Then, and then only, I think, Ferguson, hitherto blinded by rage,
became sensible of the fact that he stood himself in a dubious
position; and that to tell all, and particularly to reveal the visit
which the Secretary had paid to him at his lodgings, would, even with
the addition of the attempt he had made on the Duke's life, place his
conduct in a light far from favourable. Not only were the men before
him in no mood to draw fine distinctions, or take all for granted, but
it was on the credit of his name and as his tool that I had come to be
mixed up in the matter and gained my knowledge of it. It took no great
acuteness, therefore, to foresee that their suspicions, once roused,
they would punish first and prove afterwards, and be as ready to turn
on the master as the man.

These, when I came to review the scene afterwards, coolly and in
safety, were, I had no doubt, the reflections that gave Ferguson
pause at the last moment, and occasioned a kind of fit into which
he fell at that--his eyes glaring, his jaws moving dumbly, and
his hands springing out in uncouth gestures, like those of a man
half-paralysed--a fit which at the time was set down to pure rage and
a temper of mind always bordering on the insane. I suppose that in
that moment, and under cover of that display, his crafty brain, apt in
such crises, did its work, for when he found his voice he had his tale
pat; and where truth and a lie most ingeniously and sometimes
inexplicably mixed would scarcely serve his turn or win him credence,
he imposed on them, even on Charnock, by pure scorn and an air of
superior knowledge.

"What I know?" said he. "You shall have it. It is enough to blast him
ten times. To-day it happened that the Secretary came to me to my
lodgings."

For a moment the roar of surprise which followed this statement,
silenced him. But in a moment he recovered himself.

"Ay!" he said, looking round him, defiantly. "The Secretary. What of
it? Do you think that you know everything, or that everything is told
to you? To-day, I say, the Duke of Shrewsbury came to my lodgings."

"Why?" cried Charnock, between his teeth. "Why?"

"Why?" Ferguson answered. "Well, if you will have it, to send a
message through me to the other Duke, as he has done three times
before since his Grace has been in England."

"To the Duke of Berwick?"

"What other Duke is there?" the plotter asked, scornfully.

"But G----! If the Secretary knows that his Grace is in England----"

"Well?"

"What will he not know?"

"I cannot say what he will not know, Mr. Charnock," the plotter
answered, with a cunning smile that brought his wig to his eyebrows.
"But I can say what he did not know. He knew nothing of your little
business. For the rest, when he left me I missed my man here, and
coming to enquire, learned that he had been seen to join the Secretary
at the door of the house, speak to him, and go away with him. That was
enough for me. I changed my lodging, slipped away here, and had been
here an hour when you came. As soon as you said that some one had
peached to-day I knew who it was. Then Keyes cried that he was here,
and there he was."

"But how did he come to be here?" Charnock asked sternly, and with
suspicion.

"God knows!" said Ferguson, shrugging his shoulders; "I don't."

"You did not bring him?"

"Go to, for a fool! Perhaps he came to listen, perhaps he was sent. He
knew of this place. For the rest, I have told you all I know, and it
is enough or should be. Hang the dog up! There is a beam and a hook.
You hound, you shall swing for it!" he shrieked, passionately, as he
brought his crimson, blotched face close to mine, and threatened me
with his two swollen fingers. "You thought to outwit me, did you? You,
you dog! You crossed me and thought to sell me, did you? You dolt! you
zany! you are sold yourself! Sold and shall swing! Swing! Ay, and so
shall all my enemies perish!"

"An end to that," said Charnock, pushing him away roughly. "All the
same, if this is true, he shall swing."

"Well, it is true enough," cried a man thrusting himself forward,
while with shaking knees and chattering teeth, and tongue that refused
to do its work, I strove to form words, to speak, to say or do
something--something that might arrest the instant doom that
threatened me. "It is true enough," continued he coolly. "I was on the
watch at the Kensington end this afternoon and saw the Secretary
arrive and go in to the Dutchman. And he had this bully boy with him.
I know him again and can swear to him."



                            CHAPTER XXVIII


I believe that it is one thing to confront with calmness a death that
is known to be inevitable, and quite another and a far more difficult
thing to assume the same brow where hope and a chance remain. I am not
greatly ashamed, therefore, that in a crisis which amply justified all
the horror and repugnance which mortals feel at the prospect of sudden
and violent dissolution, I fell below the heroic standard, and said
and did things, _miles impar Achilli_.

Nevertheless, it is with no good-will I dwell on the matter; in
writing, as in life, there are decencies and indecencies; things to be
told and others to be implied. Let few words then suffice, alike for
the moment when Charnock, holding back the others, wrung from me,
half-swooning as I was, the admission that I had been to Kensington,
and that the sentry was not mistaken: and for those minutes of
frenzied terror which followed, when screaming and struggling in their
grasp, now trying to fling myself down, and now shrieking prayers for
mercy, I was dragged to a spot below the hook, and held there by
relentless fingers while a rope was being fetched from the next room.
I had no vision, as I have read some have, of the things done in my
life: but the set, dark faces that hemmed me in under the light, the
grim looks of one, and the scared pallor of another, even Ferguson's
hideous visage as he hovered in the background, biting his nails
between terror and exultation--all these, even enlarged and
multiplied, I saw with a dreadful clearness, and a keenness of vision
that of itself was torture.

"Oh, God!" I cried at last. "Help! Help!" For from man I could see no
help.

"Ay, man, pray," said Charnock, inexorably. "Pray, for you must die.
We will give you one minute. Here comes the rope. Who will fasten it?"

"A fool," cried a hard gibing voice, from somewhere beyond the circle.
"No other."

I started convulsively: I had forgotten the girl's presence. So
doubtless had the conspirators, for at the sound they turned quickly
towards her; and, the ring of men opening out in the movement, she
became visible to me. She stood confronting all, daring all. Her lips
red, her face white as paper, her eyes glittering with a strange, wild
fierceness. Long afterwards she told me that the sound of my shrieks
and cries ringing in her ears had been almost more than she could
bear: that as scream rose on scream she had driven the nails into her
palms until her hands bled, and so only had been able to restrain
herself, knowing well that if she would intervene to the purpose her
time was not yet.

Now that it had come, nothing could exceed the mockery and scorn that
rang in her tone. "A fool," she cried, stridently, "has fetched it,
and a fool will fasten it! And, let who hang, they will hang. And two
of you. Ay, you at the back there, will hang them. Why, you are fools,
you are all fools, or you would take care that every man among you put
his hand to the job, and was as deep as another. Or, if you like
precedence, and it is a question of fastening--for the man who
fetched, he is as good as dead already--let the hand that wove the
noose, tie it! Let that man tie it!" And with pitiless finger she
pointed to the old plotter, who, sneaking, and cringing in the
background, had already his eye on the door and his mind on retreat.
"Let him tie it!" she repeated.

"You slut!" he roared, his eyes squinting, his face livid with fury.
"Your tongue shall be slit. To your garret, vixen."

But the others, as was not unnatural, saw the matter in a different
light. "By ----, the wench is right!" cried Cassel; and Keyes saying
the same, and another backing him, there was a general chorus of "Ay,
the girl is right! The girl is right!" At that the man who had brought
the rope, threw it down. "There's for me!" he said, gloomily, and with
an ugly gleam in his eyes. "Let the old devil take it up. It is his
job, not mine, and if I swing, he shall swing too."

"Fair!" cried all. "That is fair!" And, "That is fair, Mr. Ferguson,"
said Charnock. "Do you put the rope round his neck."

"I?" Ferguson spluttered; glaring from under his wig.

"Yes, you!" the man who had brought the rope retorted with violence.
"You! And why not, I'd like to know, my gentleman?"

"I am no hangman!" cried the plotter, with a miserable assumption of
dignity.

But the words and the evasion only inflamed the general rage. "And
are we?" Cassel roared, with a volley of oaths. "You covenanting,
psalm-singing, tub-thumping old quill-driver!" he continued. "Do you
think that we are here to do your dirty work, and squeeze throats at
your bidding? _Peste!_ For a gill of Hollands I would split your
tongue for you. That and your pen have done too much harm already!"

"Peace!" Charnock said. "Go softly, man. And do you, Mr. Ferguson,
take up the rope and do your part. Otherwise we shall have strange
thoughts of you. There have been things said before, and it were well
you gave no colour to them."

I cannot believe that even I, writhing as a few minutes before I had
writhed in their hands, and screaming and begging for life, could have
presented a more pitiable spectacle than Ferguson exhibited, thus
brought to book. All the base and craven instincts of a low and
cowardly nature, brought to the surface by the challenge thus flung in
his face, he quailed and cowered before the men; and shifting his feet
and breathing hard glanced askance, first at one and then at another,
as if to see who would support him, or who could most easily be
persuaded. But he found scant encouragement anywhere; the men, savage
and ill-disposed, to begin, and driven to the wall, to boot, had now
conceived suspicions, and in proportion as delay and his conduct
diverted their rage from me, turned it on him with growing ferocity.

"Here is the cock of the pit!" cried Keyes, who seemed to be a trooper
and a man of no education, lacking even the occasional French word or
accent that betrayed the others' sojourn with King Louis. "D---- him!
He would have us hang the man, but won't lay a finger on him himself!
He is no Ketch, isn't he? Well, I hang no man either, unless I put a
hand on _him_." And he pointed full at the plotter.

A murmur of assent, stern and full of meaning, echoed his words.

"Mr. Ferguson," said Charnock, with grave politeness, "you hear what
this gentleman says? And mind you, if you ask me, he has reason. A few
minutes ago you were forward with us to hang this person. And among
gentlemen to urge another to do what you will not do yourself, lays
you open to comment. It may even be pretended, that if your rogue
informed, you were not so ignorant of the fact as you would have us
believe you."

It was wonderful to see how the men, sore and desperate, caught at
that notion, and with what greedy ferocity they turned on the knave
who, only a few moments before, had swayed their passions to his will.
It was to no purpose that Ferguson, head and hands shaking as with a
palsy, strove frantically to hurl back the accusation. His wonted
profanity seemed to fail him on this occasion, while the violence
which had daunted men of saner temperaments proved no match for
Cassel's brutality, who, breaking in on him before he had stammered a
score of words, called him liar and sneak, and, denouncing him with
outstretched finger, was in the act to hound his comrades on him, when
something caught the ear of one of them, and with a cry of alarm this
man, who stood near the door, raised his hand for silence.

Rage died down in the others' faces, and involuntarily they clustered
together. But the panic was of short duration; hardly had the alarm
been given and taken, or the lamp which hung against the wall been
snatched down and shaded, before the sound of a key in the door
reassured the conspirators. For me, who throughout the scene, last
described, had leaned half-swooning against the wall, listening, with
what feelings the reader may easily judge, to the contest for my
life--for me, who now stood reprieved, and for the moment safe, any
change might be expected to be fraught with terror. But whether I had
passed the bitterness of death, or sheer terror had exhausted my
capacity for suffering, it is certain that I awaited the event with
lack-lustre eyes; and hearing a cry of, "It's Mat Smith!" felt neither
fear nor surprise, nor even moved, when Smith entered, followed by a
woman, and with a quick glance took in the room and its occupants.

"Good," said Cassel with an oath. "I thought that the soldiers were on
us. But if they had been, curse me, but I would have sent this old
Judas to his place before me!"

Smith looked with a grim smile from the speaker to Ferguson; and
raising his eyebrows, "Judas," said he, with ironical politeness, as
he laid his cloak and cane upon the table, "is it possible that you
refer to my friend Mr. Ferguson?"

"Strangle your friend!" Cassel answered coarsely. "Do you know that
his man there has blown on the thing and sold us?"

Smith's eye had already found me, where I leaned against the wall, my
hands tied. "I see," he said coolly. "I knew before that the game was
up; and I have been somewhere, and warned someone," he added, with a
glance at Charnock, who nodded. "But I did not know how they had the
office."

"He gave it! That is how they had it!" Cassel retorted. "And it is my
belief that like man like master! And that that poor piece there would
no more have dared to inform without his patron's leave than----"

He left the end of his sentence to be understood; but Charnock, taking
up the tale and disregarding Ferguson's mutterings, described in a few
words what had happened. When he came to the girl's intervention in my
behalf, the woman who had entered with Smith, and who, though she
seemed to be known to the conspirators--for her appearance caused no
remark--had hitherto remained fidgetting in the background, moved
forward into the room; and approaching the girl, who was sitting
moodily at a table by the fire, touched her cheek with her fingers,
and slipping her hand under her chin, turned up her face. To this the
girl made no resistance, and the two women remained looking into one
another's eyes for a long minute. Then the elder, who was the same
woman I had seen with Smith at the great lady's house in the
outskirts, let the girl's face drop again, with a little flirt of her
fingers.

"Doris and Strephon, I see?" she said with a sneer.



                             CHAPTER XXIX


What the girl answered I did not catch, for as she raised her head
again to reply, my ear caught the sound of rising danger. Ferguson was
speaking, his words, no longer coherent, a mere frothing of oaths and
calling of hideous fates on his head if he had ever betrayed, if he
had ever sold, if he had ever deceived, now ran in a steady current of
wrathful denunciation. And the men listened; he had their ears again;
he was no longer on his trial. Afterwards I learned that while my
attention was astray with the women. Smith, by stating what I had
stated to him--namely, that the Secretary had used Ferguson as the
intermediary through whom to warn Berwick--had confirmed the plotter's
story, and at a stroke had restored his position. Whereon, full of
spite, and desperately certain that however exposed he lay on other
sides I at any rate knew enough to hang him, the wretched man had set
himself anew to compass my destruction. Deterred neither by the check
he had received, nor by the gloomy looks of the conspirators, who
responded but sluggishly to his appeal, he drove home again and again,
and with wild words and wilder oaths, the one point on which he
relied, the one point that was so dear to him that he could not
understand their hesitation.

"Waste of time?" he cried. "We would be better employed looking to
ourselves and slipping away to Romney, would we? But you are fools!
You are babes! There is the evidence that can swear to you all! There
is the evidence keen to do it! There is the evidence in your hands!
And you will let him escape?"

"There is evidence without him," said King sulkily. "Where is
Prendergast?"

"Oh, he is honest."

"But where is he? And where is Porter?"

"Where is Sir John Fenwick for that matter?" replied the man who had
answered for Prendergast. "He is too high and mighty to mix with us,
and will only eat the chestnut when we have got it out of the fire.
For that matter, where are Friend and Parkyns? They are not here."

"Pshaw!" Ferguson cried, in a rage at the digression. "Why will you be
thinking of them? Cannot you see that they are tainted, they are in
it? They cannot if they will! And they are gentlemen besides, and not
dirty knaves like this fellow."

"For the matter of that," said Cassel, bluntly, "Preston was a lord.
But he sold Ashton."

The words brought a kind of cold breath of suspicion into the room, at
the chill touch of which each looked stealthily at his neighbour, as
if he said, "Is it he? Or he?" Ferguson seeing on this that he made
little progress, and that the men, though they looked at me
vengefully, were not to be kindled, grew furious and more furious, and
began to storm and rave. But Charnock in a moment cut him short.

"Mr. Ferguson is so far right," said he, "that if we let this person
go to perfect his evidence against us, we shall be very foolish.
Clearly, it is to set a premium on treason."

"Then let Mr. Ferguson deal with him," Cassel answered, curtly. "He is
his man, and it is his business. I don't lay a hand on him, and that
is flat."

"Nor I! Nor I!" cried several, with eagerness. God knows if they
thought in their hearts to curry favour with me.

"You are all mad!" Ferguson cried, beating the air.

"And you are a coward!" Cassel retorted. "I'd as soon trust him as
you. If you are taken you'll peach, Ferguson! G-- ---- you! I know you
will. You will peach! You are as white-livered a cur as ever lived!"

Then, seeing them divided, and the most bloody-minded of them--for
such Cassel had been a short time before--taking up my cause, I
thought that for certain the bitterness of death was past; and I took
courage, discerning for the first time solid land beyond the deeps and
black suffocating fears through which I had passed. For the first time
I allowed my thoughts to dwell on the future, and myself to hope and
plan. But the warm current of returning life had scarcely coursed
through my veins and set my heart beating, before Charnock's cold
voice, taking up the tale, smote on my ear, and in a moment dashed my
jubilation. There was that in his tone gripped my heart afresh.

"Peace, man," he said. "Peace! Is this a time to be bickering? Let us
be clear before we separate, what is to be done with this man. For my
part, I am not for letting him go."

"Nor I," said Smith, speaking almost for the first time.

The others, lately so hot and impassioned, looked at the speakers and
at one another with a sort of apathy.

Only Ferguson cried violently, "Nor I, by----! Nor I. We are many, and
what is one life?"

"Quite so, Mr. Ferguson," Charnock retorted. "But will you take the
life?"

The plotter drew back as he had drawn back before. "It is everybody's
business," he muttered.

"Then will you take part in it? You are the first to condemn. Will you
be one to execute?"

Ferguson moistened his lips with his tongue, and, swallowing with an
effort, looked shiftily at me and away again. The sweat stood on his
face. For me, I watched him, fascinated; watched him, and still he did
not answer.

"Just so," said Charnock, at last. "You will not. And that being so,
is there anyone else who will? If not, what is to be done?"

"Put him in a lugger," Keyes cried, "at the bridge; and by
morning----"

"He wall be taken off at the Nore," Cassel answered scornfully. "And
you too if you think to get off that way. There are more Billops in
the Pool than the Billop who gave up Ashton."

"Gag him and leave him here."

"And have him found by the messengers to-morrow morning?" Cassel
answered. "As well and better, call a chair, and pay the chairmen, and
bid them take him to the Secretary's office with our compliments."

"Well, if not here, in one of the other pens. Ferguson knows plenty."

The woman who had come in with Smith laughed. "That might answer," she
said, "if his sweetheart were not here. Do you think she would leave
him to starve?"

There was a general stir and muttering as the men turned to the girl.
"Pooh," said one, "it is Ferguson's girl."

"And your spy's sweetheart," the woman repeated.

The girl lifted her head and showed the room a face pale, weary, and
dull-eyed. "He is nothing to me," she said.

And the men would have believed her; but the woman, with a swift,
cat-like movement, seized her wrist and held it. "Nothing to you, my
girl, isn't he?" she cried. "Then you have the fever or the small-pox
on you! One, two, three----"

Her face flaming, the girl sprang up and snatched away her hand.

The woman laughed--and how I hated her! "He is nothing to you, isn't
he?" she said in a mocking tone. "Yet what will you not give me to
save him, my chick? What will you not give me to see him safe out of
this house? What----?"

"Peace, peace!" cried Charnock. "Time is everything, and we are
wasting it. Unless we would be taken, every man of us, we should be
half-way to Romney Marsh by morning."

"Will you leave him to me!" said Smith suddenly.

"Leave him?"

"Ay. Or better, let me have two minutes' talk with him here, and if he
comes to my way of thinking, I will answer for him."

"Answer for him?" cried Ferguson, with a sneer. "If you answer for him
no better than I did, you will give us small surety."

"Ay, but I am not you, Mr. Ferguson," Smith retorted, in a tone of
contempt, whereat the older man writhed impotently.

"This person--Mr. Taylor or Mr. Price--or whatever his name is--knows
me and that what I say I do."

"Well, do--what you like with him," Charnock answered peevishly, "so
that you stop his mouth."

To my great joy the other men assented in the same tone, being glad to
be rid of the burden. It may seem strange to some that those who had
prepared an hour before to take my life, should now be as ready to let
me go; but there are few men who are eager to take life in cold blood,
and kill a man as they would a sheep. Moreover, in favour of these
men--on whose memory the Assassination Plot has cast obloquy not
altogether deserved, since few of them were assassins in the strict
sense, and the worst of all, Ferguson, escaped his just fate--in their
favour I say, it is to be observed that the fact which they designed,
however horrid in the eyes of good citizens, and certainly not to be
defended by me, was not in their sight so much a murder as an act of
private warfare carried into the enemy's country. So fully I am
persuaded was this the case, that had it been a question of stabbing
the King in the back, or shooting him from a window, I believe not one
would have volunteered. Let this stand to their credit: to the credit
of men whom I saw and have described at their worst, drunken,
reckless, ill-combined, and worse governed; whose illegal design had
it been accomplished, must have postponed the Protestant succession in
these realms; but who, misguided and betrayed as they were by leaders
more evil than themselves, evinced some spark of chivalry in their
lives--for all did it in a measure for a cause--and in their
sufferings a fortitude that would have become better men and a nobler
effort.

So much of them. One released my hands, and another at Smith's request
found him a light; and my new protector bidding me follow him, and
leading the way upstairs to the bare room at the back whence I had
broken out, those we left were deep in muttered plans and whisperings
of the Marsh, and Hunt's house, and Harrison's Inn at Dimchurch,
before we were out of hearing.

Smith's first act, when we reached the room above, was to close the
door upon us. This done, he set his candle on the floor--whence its
flame threw dark wavering outlines of our figures on the ceiling--and
moved to the hearth. Here, while I stared, wondering at his silence,
he searched for some spring or handle, and finding it, caused a large
piece of the wainscot to fall out and reveal a cavity about three feet
deep and six long. He beckoned me to bring the candle and look in, and
supposing it to be a secret way out, I did so. However, outlet there
was none. The place was nothing more than a concealed cupboard.


[Illustration: THE PLACE WAS NOTHING MORE THAN A CONCEALED CUPBOARD]


"Well?" he said, when he had moved the candle to and fro that I might
see the better--his face the while wearing a smile that caught and
held my gaze. "Well? what do you think of it, Mr. Taylor?"

I did not understand him, and I said so, trembling.

"It is a tolerable hiding-place?" said he.

I nodded; to please him I would have said it was a palace.

"And not a bad prison?"

I nodded again; staring at him, fascinated. I began to understand.

"And a grave?"

I shuddered. "What do you mean?" I muttered.

"Lay a man in there, bound hand and foot, and gagged; what would you
find in a year's time, Mr. Price? Not much."

I stared at him.

"If they knew of that downstairs," he continued, stopping to snuff the
candle with his fingers, then looking askance at me, "would they use
it, I wonder? Would they use it? What do you think, Mr. Price?"

Again I made no answer.

"Shall I tell them?" said he easily.

"What--what do you want?" I whispered hoarsely.

"That is better," said he, nodding. "Well, to be candid, almost
nothing. Two pledges. First, that you will give no evidence against
anyone here. That of course."

I muttered assent. I was ready to promise anything.

"And secondly, that you will, when I call upon you, do me a little
favour, Mr. Price. It is a small matter, a trifle I asked you at my
lady's house three days back. Promise to do that for me, as and when I
demand performance, and in ten minutes from this time you shall leave
the house, safe, free, and unhurt."

"I promise," I said eagerly. "I promise honestly!"

But even while I spoke--this seemed to be the strangest of all the
things that had happened to me that night, that this man should think
it worth while to pledge me under such circumstances, or value at a
groat a promise so given. For the pledge was a pledge to do ill, and
as soon as he and the other conspirators were laid by the heels or had
fled the country, what sanction remained to bind me? I saw that as I
spoke, and promised--and promised. And would have promised fifty
times--with the reservation that I did so under force _majeure_. Who
would not have done the same, being in my place?

But I suppose I answered too quickly to please him, and so he read my
thoughts, or he had it in his mind from the first to read me a lesson,
for the words were scarcely out of my mouth before he slid his hand
into his breast with the ugliest smile I ever saw on a man's face; and
he signed to me to get into the cupboard. "Get in," he said, between
his closed teeth; and then when, terrified by the change in him and
the order, I began to back from it, "Get in!" he said, in a voice that
set me shaking; "or take the consequences. Do you hear me? I am no
Ferguson to threaten and no more."

I dared resist no longer, and I crawled in, trembling and praying him
not to shut me in--not to shut me in.

"Lie down!" he said, gloating on me with cruel eyes, and his hand
still in his breast.

I lay down, praying for mercy.

"On your back! On your back!" he continued. "And your hands by your
sides. So! That is better. Now listen to me, Mr. Price, and think on
what I say. When you want to be laid out for good as you are laid
out now, when you are ready for your coffin and shroud--and the
worms--then break your promise to me, for coffin and shroud and worms
will be ready. Think of that--think of that and of me when the
temptation comes. And hark you, you fancy," he went on, fixing his
eyes on mine, "and you count on it, that I shall be taken with the
others, or escaping shall be where you need not fear me. Don't deceive
yourself. If a week hence I am in prison, take that for a sign, and
please yourself. But if I am free, obey, obey--or God help you!"

I know not how to describe with any approach to fidelity the peculiar
effect which words apparently so simple had on me, or the terror, out
of all proportion to the means chosen--for he spoke without oath,
violence, or passion--into which they threw me, and which was very far
from passing with the sound. I had feared Ferguson, but I feared this
man more, a hundred times more! And yet I can give no reason, adduce
no explanation, save that he spoke quietly, and so seemed to mean all
and something beyond what he said. The plans for deceiving him and
breaking my word which I had entertained a moment before melted into
thinnest air while I lay and sweated in my narrow berth, not daring to
move eye or limb until he gave me leave.

And he, as if he knew how fear of him grew on me under his gaze--or in
sheer cruelty, I know not which--kept me there, and sat smiling and
smiling at me (as the devil may smile at some dead man passed beyond
redemption)--kept me there God knows how long. But so long, and to
such purpose, that when at length he bade me rise, and looking closely
into my face, nodded, and told me I might go--nay, later than that,
when he had led me downstairs and opened the door for me, and
supported me through it--for in the cold air I staggered like a
drunken man--even then, I say, so heavy was the spell of fear laid
on me, and such his power, I dared not move or stir until he had
twice--smiling the second time--bidden me go. "Go, man," said he, "you
are free. But remember!"



                             CHAPTER XXX


Few men are condemned to such an ordeal as that through which I had
passed; and though some who read this, and are as remote from death as
the wife, that may be any day, and must be one day, is from the young
bachelor--though some, I say, and in particular those who never saw
blade drawn in anger in their lives, but have done all their fighting
in the cock-pit, may think that I carried it poorly in the
circumstances, and with none of the front and bravado suitable to the
occasion, I would have them remember the old saying, _Ne sutor supra
crepidam_, and ask of a scholar only a scholar's work. I would have
them remember that in the shadow of the scaffold, even a man so
gallant by repute as the Lord Preston of that day, stooped to be an
evidence; and that in the same situation the family pride of Richard
Hampden availed as little as the reckless courage of Monmouth, or the
effrontery of Sir John Fenwick, to raise its owner above the common
level.

_Simpliciter_, it is one thing to vapour at the Cocoa-tree among wits
and beaux, and another to take the hazard when the time comes, as no
less a person than my Lord Bolingbroke discovered, and that no farther
back than '14. I would have large talkers to remember this. For myself
I am content that I came through the trial with my life; and yet, not
with so much of that either, that anything surer than instinct guided
my steps when all was over to the Duke's home in St. James's Square,
where arriving, speechless and helpless, it was wonderful I was not
put to the door without more. Fortunately, my lord, marvelling at my
failure to return before, and mindful, even in the turmoil of that
evening, of the service I had done him in the day, had given orders in
my behalf; and on my arrival I was recognised, half dead as I was, and
taken to the steward's room, and being let blood by a surgeon who was
hastily called in, was put to bed, all who saw me supposing that I was
suffering from vertigo, or some injury, though no marks of blows on
the head could be discovered.

That was a night long remembered in London. Messengers with lights,
attended by files of soldiers, were every hour passing through the
streets, searching houses and arresting the suspected. From mouth to
mouth rumours of the conspiracy flew abroad; at nine o'clock it was
stated, and generally believed, that the King was wounded; at ten that
he had been seized; later that he was dead. Early in the evening the
draw-bridge at the Tower was drawn, and the sentries were doubled; the
City gates were closed and guarded; a whole battalion stood all night
under arms at Kensington; the Council was in perpetual sitting; many
houses were lighted from eve to dawn; nor since the great panic of
Beachy Head in '90 had there been an alarm so deep or widespread.

If this was so in the city generally, at the Secretary's residence,
whither many of the prisoners were brought for examination as soon as
they were taken, the excitement was at its height. The Square outside,
then unenclosed, was occupied all night by successive groups of
sight-seers, or of persons more nearly interested in the event.
One consequence of this was that, with all this astir without, my
case attracted the less notice within; and, unheeded and almost
forgotten--which, perhaps, was the better for me--I was left in peace
to sleep off the shock and fright I had experienced, of which the
severity may be gauged by the fact that the afternoon of the next day
was well advanced before I awoke, and finding myself in bed in a
strange room, with cold broth and a little wine standing on a stool at
my elbow, sat up, and looked round me in amazement. The steep slope of
the ceiling towards the window, and the heavy flattened eaves which
projected over the latter, soon apprised me that I lay under the leads
of a great house; but this was the extent of my knowledge. However, my
stomach presently called for food, and I took it; and my head ceasing
to swim, I began to recall what had happened to me; and rising, and
going to the window, I recognised the great and fashionable Square on
which my window looked. At that and the thoughts of what I had gone
through, and the danger I had escaped, I fell to quaking again, and
for a moment the dizziness returned. But presently, the cheerful
aspect of the room much aiding me, I recovered myself, and dressing,
and finishing the food, I prepared to descend.

No need to say that I wondered much at all I saw, and particularly at
the handsome and stately proportions of the staircase, which I
descended without seeing any person until I reached the landing on the
first floor. Here, looking timidly over the balustrade, I discovered
that the buzz and hum of voices which I had heard as soon as I opened
my door, came from the hall below, which appeared to be paved with
heads. First and nearest to where I stood were clustered on the lower
steps of the staircase a number of persons whom I took to be servants,
and who, standing as if in the boxes of a theatre, were taken up with
staring at what went on on the floor below them, and particularly at a
row of eight or nine men, who seated on chairs along one side of the
hall, seemed to be in the charge of a messenger and some tipstaves,
and to be prisoners awaiting examination. Between these last and the
stairs occupying the floor of the hall, and both moving and standing
still, were a crowd of persons of condition, the greater part, to all
appearance, clients of the Duke, or officers and persons who, having
the _entrée_, had stepped in out of curiosity to see the sight.

However, I had no eyes for these, for with a beating heart I
recognised among the dejected prisoners seated along the wall, four
whom I knew. King, Keyes, Cassel, and Ferguson himself, and I had
anything but a mind to stay to be recognised in my turn. I was in the
act of withdrawing, therefore, as quietly as I could, when I saw with
a kind of shock that the prisoner at the end of the row, the one
nearest to me and farthest from the door, was a girl. It scarcely
needed a second glance to tell me that the girl was Mary. The light at
that inner extremity of the hall was waning, and her face, always pale
and now in shadow, wore an aspect of grey and weary depression that,
natural as it was under the circumstances, went to my heart, and
impressed me deeply in proportion as I had always found her hard and
self-reliant. But moved as I was, I dared not linger, since to linger
might be to be observed. With a light foot, therefore, I carried out
my first intention, and drawing back undiscovered, sneaked up the
staircase to my room.

My clue in the circumstances was clear. Plainly it was to lie close
and keep quiet and shun observation until the crisis was passed; then
by every means in my power--saving always the becoming an evidence in
court, which was too dangerous--to deserve the Duke's favour; and as
to the pledge I had given to Smith, to be guided by the future.

Such a line of conduct was immensely favoured by the illness to which
I had so fortunately succumbed. Once back in my bed, I had only to lie
there, and affect weakness; and in a day or two I might hope that
things would be so far advanced that my share in them and knowledge of
them would go for little, and I, on the ground of the personal service
I had done his Grace, might keep his favour--yet run no risk.

In fact nothing could seem more simple than such a line of conduct; on
which, the western daylight that still lingered in the room, giving my
retreat a most cheerful aspect, I felt that I had every reason to hug
myself. After the miseries and dangers of the past week I was indeed
well off. Here, in the remote top floor of my lord's great house in
the Square, I was as safe as I could be anywhere in the world, and I
knew it.

But so contrary is human nature, and so little subject to the
dictations of the soundest sense, that I had not lain in my bed five
minutes, congratulating myself on my safety, before the girl, and the
wretchedness I had read in her face, began to trouble me. It was not
to be denied that she had gone some way towards saving my life--if she
had not actually saved it; and I had a kind of feeling for her on that
account. True, things were greatly altered since we had agreed to go
to Romford together, _et nuptias facere_; I had got no patron then,
nor such prospects as I now had, these troubles once overpast. But for
all that, it troubled me to think of her as I had seen her, pale and
downcast; and by-and-by I found myself again at the door of my room
with my hand on the latch. Thence I went back, shivering and ashamed,
and calling myself and doubtless rightly a fool; and tried, by
watching the crowd in the Square--but timidly, since even at that
height I fancied I might be recognised--to divert my thoughts. With so
little success in the end, however, that presently I was stealing down
the stairs again.

I knew that it was impossible I could pass down the main staircase and
through the servants unobserved, but I took it that in such a house
there must be a backstairs; and coming to the first floor I turned
craftily down the main corridor leading into the heart of the house,
and pretty quickly found that staircase--which was as good as dark--
and crept down it still meeting no one; a thing that surprised me
until I stood in the long passage on the ground floor corresponding
with the corridor above, and found that the door, which from its
position should cut it off from the front hall, was fastened.
Tantalised by the murmur of voices in the hall, and my proximity, I
tried the lock twice; but the second effort only confirming the result
of the first, I was letting down the latch as softly as I could,
hoping that I should not be detected, when the door was sharply flung
open in my face, all the noise and heat of the hall burst on me, and
in the opening appeared a stout angry man, who glared at me as if he
would eat me.

"What are you doing here?" he cried, "when twice I have told you----"
There he stopped, seeing who it was, and "Hallo!" he continued in a
different and more civil tone, "it is you, is it? Are you better?"

Afterwards I learned that he was Mr. Martin, my lord's house-steward,
but at the time I knew him only for someone in authority; and I
muttered an excuse. "Well, come through, now you are here," he
continued sharply. "But the orders are strict that this door be kept
locked while this business is going. You can see as well, or better,
from the stairs. There, those are the men. And a rare set of
Frenchified devils they look! Charnock is in with my lord now, and I
hope he may not blow him up with gunpowder or some fiendish trick."

He had scarcely told me when, a stir in the body of the hall
announcing a new arrival, a cry was raised of "Room for my Lord
Marlborough and my Lord Godolphin!" and the press falling to either
side out of respect, I had a glimpse of two gentlemen in the act of
entering; one, a stout and very noble-looking man of florid
complexion, the other stout also and personable, but a trifle smug and
solemn. The steward had no sooner heard their names announced, than in
a great fluster he bade me keep the door a minute; and pushing himself
into the throng, he went with immense importance to receive them.

So by a strange piece of luck at the moment that the check of his
presence was withdrawn, I found myself standing within three feet of
the girl, whose seat was close to the door; moreover, the movement, by
thrusting those who had before occupied the floor back upon the line
of prisoners, had walled us in, as it were, from observation. Under
these circumstances our eyes met, and I looked for a flush of joy and
surprise, a cry of recognition at least; but though Mary started, and
for an instant stared at me wide-eyed, her gaze fell the next moment,
and muttering something inaudible, she let her chin sink back on her
breast.

I did not remember that she, supposing I had informed, and ignorant of
the scene which had bound me to the Duke of Shrewsbury, would see
nothing surprising in my presence in his house, and more deeply
wounded than I can now believe possible by her demeanour, I bent over
her.

"Don't you know me?" I whispered. "Mary!"

She shivered, but retained the same attitude, her eyes on the floor.

"Can I do anything for you?" I persisted; but this time I spoke more
coldly; her silence began to annoy me.

She looked up then with a wan smile; and, with lips so dry that they
scarcely performed their office, spoke. "You can let me escape," she
said.

"That is impossible," I answered promptly--to put an end to such
notions. And then to comfort her, "Besides, what can they do to you!"
I said confidently. "Nothing! You are not a man, and they do not burn
women for treason now, unless it is for coining. Cheer up! They----"

"They will send me to the Compter--and whip me," she muttered,
shuddering so suddenly and violently that the chair creaked under her.
And then, "If you can get me away," she continued, moistening her lips
and speaking with her eyes averted, "Well! But if not you had better
leave me. You do me no good," she added, after a slight pause, and
with a sob of impatience in her voice.

I knew that it was not unlikely that the House of Correction would be
her fate; and that such a fate, even to a decent woman--and she was a
girl!--might be less tolerable than death. And I felt something of the
horror and lurking apprehension that parched her mouth and strained
her eyes. The hall was growing dark round us, and the throng of
persons of all sorts that filled it, poisoning the air with their
breathing and the odour of their clothes, I experienced an astonishing
loathing of the confinement and the place. I saw this the beginning of
the dreary road which she had to travel; and my heart revolting with
the pity of it, and the future of it, I fell into a passion, and did a
thing I very seldom did. I swore.

And then--heaven knows how I went on to a thing so unwise and
reckless, and in every way so unlike me! Certainly it was not the mere
opportunity tempted me--though a chance more favourable, the general
attention being completely engrossed by the two noblemen, could not
have been conceived--yet it was certainly not that, I say, for I did
it on the impulse of the moment, in sheer blind terror, not looking to
see whether I were watched or not. Nor did it arise from any farther
suggestion on the girl's part. In fact, all I remember of it is that,
in a paroxysm of pity, feeling rather than seeing that the people
round us completely hid us, I touched the girl's shoulder, and that
she looked up with a wild look in her eyes--and that determined me. So
that without thinking I unlocked the door in a trembling, fumbling
sort of manner, and passed her through it, and followed her, no one
except Cassel, the prisoner who sat next her, being the wiser. Had I
been prudent, or acted under anything but the impulse of the moment, I
should have let her go through, and trusting to her woman's wits to
get her clear of the house, have remained on guard myself as if
nothing had happened; and certainly this would have been the safer
way, since I could have sworn, when I was challenged, that no one had
passed through the door. But I had not the nerve to think of this or
remain, and I went with her.

The thing once done, my first thought, and the natural, if foolish,
impulse on which I acted was to take her to my room, hers to follow
where I led. The passage beyond the door was dark, but taking no
thought of slip or stumble, in a moment I had her up the small
staircase which led to the first floor, and through the door at the
head of the flight into the long corridor, which, spacious, lofty, and
comparatively light--in every way the strangest opposite to the
crowded hall below--ran from the well of the great staircase into the
depths of the house. By involving her in this upper part of the house,
whence escape was impossible, and where prolonged search must
inevitably discover her, I was really doing a most foolish thing. But
in the event it mattered nothing, for as we reached the corridor, and
paused to cast a wary glance down its length this way and that--I, for
my part, shaking like an aspen, and I doubt not as white as a sheet--a
single footstep rang on the marble floor that edged the matting of the
passage, and the next moment the Duke himself, issuing from a doorway
no more than five paces away, came plump upon us.

The surprise was so complete that we had no time to move, and we stood
as if turned to stone. Yet even then, if I had retained perfect
presence of mind, and bethought me that he might not know the girl,
and would probably deem her one of his household--a still-room maid or
a seamstress--all might have been well. For though he did, in fact,
know the girl, having questioned her not half an hour before, it was
on me that his eye alighted; and his first words were proof that he
suspected nothing.

"Are you better?" he said, pausing with the kindness and consideration
that so well became him--nay, that became no other man so well. "I am
glad to see that you are about. We shall want you presently. What was
it?"

And then, if I had answered him at once, I have no doubt that he
would have passed on; but my teeth chattered so pitiably that I could
only gape at him; and on that, seeing in a moment that something was
wrong, he looked at my companion, and recognised her. I saw his eyes
open wide with astonishment, and his mouth grew stern. Then, "But
what--what, sir, is this?" he cried. "And what do you----"

He said no more, for as he reached that word the door beside me opened
gently, and a man slid round it, looked, saw the Duke, and stood, his
mouth agape, a stifled oath on his lips. It was Cassel, his hands
shackled.

At this fresh appearance the Duke's astonishment may be imagined, and
could scarcely be exceeded. He stared at the door as if he questioned
who still remained behind it, or who might be the next to issue from
it. But then, seeing, I suppose, something whimsical and bizarre in
the situation--which there certainly was, though at the time I was far
from discerning it--and being a man who, in all circumstances,
retained a natural dignity, he smiled; and recovering himself before
any one of us, took a tone between the grave and ironical. "Mr.
Cassel?" he said. "Unless my eyes deceive me? The gentleman I saw a
few minutes ago?"

"The same," the conspirator answered jauntily; but his anxious eyes
roving beside and behind the Duke belied his tone.

"Then, perhaps," my lord answered, taking out his snuff-box, and
tapping it with a good-humoured air, "you will see, sir, that your
presence here needs some explanation? May I ask how you came here?"

"The devil I know or care, your Grace!" Cassel answered. "Except that
I came into your house with no good-will, and if I could have found
the door should not have outstayed my welcome."

"I believe it," said my lord drily, "if I believe nothing else. But
you have lost the throw. And that being so, may I beg that you will
descend again? I am loth to use force in my own house, Mr. Cassel, and
to call the servants would prejudice your case. If you are wise,
therefore, I think that you will see the wisdom of retiring quietly."

"Have no fear, I will go," the man answered with sufficient coolness.
"I should not have come up, but that I saw that Square-toes there
smuggle out the girl, and as no one was looking it seemed natural to
follow."

"Oh!" said the Duke, flashing a glance at me that loosened my
knee-joints. "He smuggled her out, did he?"

"He could not do much less," the conspirator answered. "She saved his
life yesterday."

"Indeed!"

"Ay, when Ferguson would have hung him like a dog! And not far wrong
either! But mum! I am talking. And save him or no, I did not think the
creature had the spunk to do the thing. No, I did not."

"Ah!" said my lord, looking at him attentively.

"No, and as for the wench, your Grace----" and with the word Cassel
dropped his voice, "she is no more than a child. You have enough. It
is all over. _Sacré nom de Dieu_, let her go, my lord. Let the girl
go."

The Duke raised his eyebrows. "I see no girl," said he, slowly. "Of
whom are you talking, Mr. Cassel?"

I do not know who was more astonished at that, Cassel or I. True, the
girl was gone; for a moment before, the Duke's back being half-turned,
she had slipped into a doorway a couple of paces away, and there I
could hear her breathing even now. But that my lord had failed to
detect the movement I could no more believe than that he had failed to
see the girl two minutes before, when, as clearly as I ever saw
anything in my life, I had seen him examine her features.

Nevertheless, "I see no girl," he repeated coolly. "But I see you, Mr.
Cassel; and as the alarm maybe given at any moment, and I do not
choose to be found with you, I must beg of you to descend at once. Do
you, sir," he continued, addressing me sharply, "go with him, and when
you have taken him back to the hall bring me the key of the door."

"Well, I am d----d!" said Cassel.

For the first time the Duke betrayed signs of anger. "Go, sir"; he
said. "And do you"--this to me--"bring me the key of that door."

Cassel turned as if to go; then with difficulty lifting his hands to
his head he took off his hat. "My lord," he said, "you are well called
the King of Hearts. For a Whig you are a d----d good fellow!"



                             CHAPTER XXXI


What was preparing, or what my lord intended by conduct so
extraordinary I had no time to consider. For though I got Cassel into
the hall again undetected--which was of itself a marvel--when it came
to taking the key from the lock my hand shook so violently with fear
and excitement that the first attempt failed. Before I had succeeded
the steward bustled up through the crowd, and seeing what I was about,
bade me desist with some roughness.

"Do you want an escape that way?" said he, bursting with importance.
"Leave it to me. Here, hands off, man." And he drew me into the hall
and locked the door.

So there I was, fixed as it were in the girl's empty place, with
Cassel grinning at me on one side and the steward grumbling on the
other, and the crowd so thick about us that it was impossible for me
to budge an inch. It amazed me that the girl's absence had not yet
been noticed, but I knew that in no short time it must be, and my
misery was in proportion. Presently "Hallo," cried the steward,
peeping first on one side of me and then on the other. "Where is that
slut that was here?"

"In with your master," said Cassel coolly.

"But Charnock is with him."

"Well, I suppose he can have two at a time if he pleases, Mr.
Pudding-head! Thousand devils! Are we going to be kept in this crowd
all night?"

The steward sniffed his indignation, but the answer satisfied him for
the time; and the messengers and tipstaves being engaged at the
farther end of the hall in shepherding their prisoners on the side of
the house-door, and being crowded upon besides by gentlemen whom they
feared to offend, had no notion of what had happened or that their
tale was not complete. Someone had lowered and lighted a round
lanthorn that hung in the middle of the hall; but the light hanging
low, and being intercepted by the heads of those before us, barely
reached the corner in which I stood. Still I knew that this was but a
respite, and my relief and joy were great, when a cry of "Price!
Price!" was raised, and "Price! Who is he? His Grace wants Price!"
passing from lip to lip, the steward thrust me forward, and called to
the nearest to make a way for me; and this being done I was speedily
passed through the crowd to a door at the farther side of the hall,
where two servants who stood on guard there, having satisfied
themselves that I was the man, I was admitted.

I knew that I was not yet out of the wood. Moreover I had cause to
doubt how I now stood in the Duke's favour, or what might be his
intentions towards me. But at least I had escaped from the hall and
from the steward whom I had begun to regard with a mixture of fear and
hatred; and I prepared to face the ordeal before me with a courage
that now seems astonishing. However, for the moment my courage was not
to be proved. The room in which I found myself was large and lofty,
lined for the most part with books, and adorned with marble busts,
that gleamed ghostly in the obscured corners, or stood out bright and
white where the radiance of the candles fell on them. In the middle of
the rich dark carpet that covered the floor stood a table, furnished
with papers, pens, and books; and this, with three inquisitorial
chairs, set along the farther side of it, had a formidable air. But
the three persons for whose accommodation the chairs had been placed,
were now on their feet, standing in a group before the hearth, and so
deeply engrossed in the subject under discussion that, if they were
aware of my entrance, they took no notice of it.

The Earl of Marlborough, the more handsome and courtly of the two
noblemen whom I had seen pass through the hall, a man even then of a
great and splendid presence and address, though not what he afterwards
became, was speaking, when finding myself unheeded, I gathered my wits
to listen. "I have no right to give advice, your Grace," he was saying
in suave and courtly accents, "But I think you will be ill-advised if
you pay much attention to what these rogues allege, or make it
public."

"No man will be safe!" urged his companion, with, it seemed to me, a
note of anxiety in his voice.

"Better hang them out of hand," responded the Earl blandly. And he
took snuff and delicately dusted his upper lip.

"Yet I do not know," answered the Duke, who stood between the two with
his eyes on the fire, and his back towards me. "If we go too fast,
people may say, my lord, that we fear what they might disclose."

The Earl laughed blandly. "You had little gain by Preston," said he,
"and you kept him long enough."

"My Lord Devonshire is anxious to go into the matter thoroughly."

"Doubtless he has his reasons," Lord Marlborough answered, shrugging
his shoulders. "The question is--whether your Grace has the same."

"I know none why we should _not_ go into it," the Duke answered in
measured tones which showed pretty clearly that in spite of his
good-nature he was not to be led blindfold. "They can have nothing to
say that will reflect on me. And I am sure," he continued, slightly
inclining his head in courteous fashion, "that the same may be said of
Lord Marlborough."

"_Cela va sans dire!_" answered the Earl in a voice so unconstrained
and with a gesture so proud and easy that if he lied--as some have
been found ready to assert--he showed a mastery of that art alike
amazing and incredible. "And of Lord Godolphin also."

"By God, yes!" that peer exclaimed, in such a hurry to assent that his
words tumbled over one another.

"Just so. I say so, my lord," the Earl repeated with a faint ring of
scorn in his tone, while Lord Godolphin wiped his forehead. "But
innocence is no shield against calumny, and if these rogues can
prolong their lives by a lie, do you think that they will not tell
one? Or even ten?"

"Ay, by God, will they!" cried Godolphin. "Or twenty. I'll lay thee
long odds to that."

My lord bowed and admitted that it was possible.

"So possible," Lord Marlborough continued, lightly and pleasantly,
"that it is not long since your Grace, unless I am mistaken, suffered
after that very fashion. I have no mind to probe your secrets,
Duke--God forbid! I leave such tasks to my Lord Portland! But, unless
I am in error, when you last left office advantage was taken of
some"--he paused, and then with an easy motion of his white
hands--"some trifling indiscretion. It was exaggerated and increased
tenfold, and placed in a light so false that"--he paused again to take
a pinch of snuff from his box--"that for a time even the King was
induced to believe--that my Lord Shrewsbury was corresponding with
France. Most amusing!"

The Duke did not answer for a moment; then in a voice that shook a
little, "It is an age of false witnesses," he said.

"Precisely," Lord Marlborough answered, shrugging his shoulders with
charming _bonhomie_. "That is what I say. They do not greatly hurt you
or me. We have clear consciences and clean hands; and can defy these
ruffians. But the party must be considered."

"There is something in that," said the Duke, nodding and speaking in
his natural tone.

"And smaller men, as innocent, but more vulnerable--they too should be
considered."

"True," said Lord Godolphin, nodding. "True, by God."

The Duke assented thoughtfully. "I will bear it in mind," he said. "I
think it is a questionable policy."

"In any event I am sure that your Grace's prudence will steer the
matter to a safe issue," Lord Marlborough answered in his courtliest
fashion. "I thank Heaven that you are here in this emergency, and not
Portland or Auverquerque, who see a foe to the King in every
Englishman."

"I should be sorry to see any but an Englishman in the Secretary's
office," the Duke said, with a little heat.

"And yet that is what we have to expect," Lord Marlborough answered
placidly. "But we are detaining your Grace. Come, my lord, we must be
going. I suppose that Sir John is not taken?"

"Sir John Fenwick?"

"Yes."

"It has not been reported."

With that the two noblemen took a formal farewell, and the Duke
begging them to go out by his private door that they might avoid the
press in the hall, they were crossing the room in that direction, when
a sudden hubbub arose outside and a cry of alarm, and before they had
more than raised their eyebrows, asking one another politely what it
meant, the door beside which I stood was opened, and a gentleman came
in. He looked with a flustered face at the Duke. "Your Grace's
pardon," he said hurriedly. "One of the prisoners has escaped!"

"Escaped!" said the Duke. "How?"

"The woman has somehow slipped away. Through the crowd it is believed,
your Grace. The messenger----"

But at that moment the unfortunate official himself appeared in the
doorway, looking scared out of his life, "What is this?" said the Duke
sharply.

The man whimpered. "'Fore God it is not my fault," he cried. "She
never passed through the door! May I die if she did, your Grace."

"She may be still in the hall?"

"We have searched it through and through!" the man answered
desperately. "It remains only to search the house, your Grace--with
your permission."

"What!" the Duke cried, really or apparently startled. "Why the
house?"

"She must have slipped into the house, for she never went out!" the
man answered doggedly. "She never went out!"

The Duke shrugged his shoulders and turned to Lord Marlborough. "What
do you think?" said he.

The Earl raised his eyebrows. By this time half the concourse in the
hall had pressed to the doorway, and were staring into the room. "Call
Martin," said the Duke. "And stand back there a little, if you
please," he continued haughtily. "This is no public court, but my
house, good people."

It seemed to me--but I, behind the door, was in a boundless
fright--that the steward would never come. He did come at last, and
pushing his way through the crowd, presented himself with a bustling
confidence that failed to hide his apprehensions. Nor was the Duke's
reception of him calculated to set him at his ease.

"Stand out, man!" he said harshly, and with a nearer approach to the
tyrannical than I had hitherto seen in a man, who was perhaps the
best-natured of his species. "Stand out and answer me, and no
evasions. Did I not give you an order of the strictest character, to
lock the inner door and leave it for nothing, and no one--while this
business was forward?"

Martin gasped. "May it please your Grace," he said, "I----"

"Answer, fool, what I ask," the Duke cried, cutting him short with the
utmost asperity. "Did I not give you those orders?"

The man was astonished, and utterly terrified. "Yes," he said. "It is
true, your Grace."

"And did you obey them?"

Poor Martin, seeing that all the trouble was like to rest on his back,
answered as in all probability the Duke expected. "I did, your Grace,"
he said roundly. "I have not been an arm's length from the door, nor
has it been unlocked. I have the key here," he continued, producing it
and holding it up.

"Has anyone passed through the door while you have been on guard?"

The steward had gone too far to confess the truth now, and swore
positively and repeatedly that no one had passed through the door or
could have passed through the door; that it was impossible; that the
door had been locked all the time, and the key in his possession:
finally, that if the girl had gone through the door she must have gone
through the keyhole, and was a witch. At which some present crossed
themselves.

"I am satisfied," said the Duke, addressing the messenger. "Doubtless
she slipped through the crowd. But as you are responsible and will
have to answer for the girl, I would advise you to lose no time in
searching such of Mr. Ferguson's haunts as are known to you. It is
probable that she will take refuge in one or other of them. However, I
will report the matter as favourably as I can to the council. You can
go. Lodge the others according to the warrants, and make no second
blunder. See these people out, Martin. And for you, my lords, I am
sorry that this matter has detained you."

"_La fille--ne velait pas beaucoup?_" said the Earl curiously.

"_Pas de tout!_" my lord answered, and smiling, shrugged his
shoulders. "_Rien!_"



                            CHAPTER XXXII


With the least inclination towards merriment I must have laughed at
the face of horror with which Mr. Martin, when he went a few minutes
later, to expel the last stragglers, came on me where I stood, trying
to efface myself behind the door. He dared not speak, for the Duke was
standing at the table a few paces from him; and I would not budge.
Fortunately I remembered that a still tongue was all he need wish; and
I laid my finger on my lips and nodded to him. This a little
encouraged him, but not much; and in his fear of what I might, in
spite of my promise, let out, if I were left alone with his master, he
was still in two minds whether he should eject me or not, when the
Duke spoke.

"Is Price there?" he said with his face averted, and his hands still
busy with the papers. "The man I sent for."

"Yes, your Grace," Martin answered, making hideous faces at me.

"Then leave us. Shut the door."

If my lord had spoken the moment that was done and we were alone, I
think it would have relieved me. But he continued to search among the
papers on the table, and left me to sink under the weight of the
stately room with its ordered rows of books, its ticking dial, and the
mute busts of the great dead. The Duke's cloak lay across a chair, his
embroidered star glittering on the breast; his sword and despatch-box
were on another chair; and a thing that I took to be the signet
gleamed among the papers on the table. From the lofty mantel-piece of
veined marble that, supported by huge rampant dogs, towered high above
me (the work as I learned afterwards of the great Inigo Jones), the
portrait of a man in armour, with a warden in his mailed hand, frowned
down on me, and the stillness continuing unbroken, and all the things
I saw speaking to me gravely and weightily, of a world hitherto
unknown to me--a world wherein the foot exchanged the thick pile of
carpets for the sounding tread of Parian, and orders were obeyed
unspoken, and sable-vested servants went to and fro at a sign--a world
of old traditions, old observances, and old customs revolving round
this man still young, I felt my spirits sink--the distance was so
great from the sphere I had known hitherto. Every moment the silence
grew more oppressive, the ticking of the clock more monotonous; it was
an immense relief when the Duke suddenly spoke, and addressing me in
his ordinary tone, "You can write?" said he.

"Yes, your Grace."

"Then sit here," he replied, indicating a seat at the end of the
table, "and write what I shall tell you."

And before I could marvel at the ease of the transition, I was seated,
quietly writing; what I can no longer remember, for it was the first
only of many hundred papers, of private and public importance, which I
was privileged to write for his signature. My hand shook, and it is
unlikely that I exhibited much of the natural capacity for such work
which it has been my lot to manifest since; nevertheless, his Grace
after glancing over it, was pleased to express his satisfaction. "You
learned to do this with Brome?" said he.

"Yes, your Grace."

"Then how," he continued, seating himself--I had risen
respectfully--"Tell me what happened to you yesterday."

I had no choice but to obey, but before I told my story, seeing that
he was in a good humour and so favourably inclined to me, I spoke out
what was in my mind; and in the most moving terms possible I conjured
him to promise me that I should not be forced to be an evidence. I
would tell him all, I would be faithful and true to him, and ask
nothing better than to be his servant--but be an informer in court I
dared not.

"You dare not?" he said, with an odd look at me. "And why not, man?"

But all I could answer was, "I dare not!"

"Are you afraid of these villains?" he continued, impatiently. "I tell
you, we have them: it is they who have to fear!"

But I still clung to my point. I would tell, but I would give no
evidence; I dared not.

"I am afraid, Mr. Price," he said at that, and with an air of some
contempt, "that you are something of a coward!"

I answered, grovelling before him, that it might be--it might be;
but----

"But--who of us is not?" he answered, with a sudden gesture between
scorn and self-reproof. "Do you mean that, man?" And he fixed his eyes
on me. "Well, it is true. Who of us is not?" he repeated, slowly; and
turning from me, he began to pace the room, his hands clasped behind
him; so that before he had made a single turn it was easy to see that
he had forgotten my presence. "Who of us is not afraid--if not of
these scoundrels, still of the future, of the return, of Jacobus
_iracundus et ingens_, of another 29th of May? To be safe now and to
be safe then--who is not thinking of that and living for that, and
planning for that?"


[Illustration: AND TURNING FROM ME, HE BEGAN TO PACE THE ROOM, HIS
HANDS CLASPED BEHIND HIM]


He was silent a moment, then with something of anger in his voice, "My
Lord Marlborough, dipped to the lips in '88, who shall say that for
all that he has not made his peace? And has good reason to urge us to
let sleeping dogs lie? And Godolphin, is it only at Newmarket he has
hedged--that he says, the less we go into this the better? And
Sunderland who trusts no one and whom no one trusts? And Leeds--all
things for power? And Clarendon, once pardoned? And Russell, all
temper? Who knows what pledges they have given, or may give?
Devonshire--Devonshire only has to lose, and stands to lose with me.
With me!"

As he spoke thus he seemed to be so human, and through the robe of
state and stateliness in which he lived the beating of the poor human
heart was so plainly visible, that my heart went out to him, and with
an eagerness and boldness that now surprise me, I spoke to him.

"But, your Grace," I said, "while the King lives all goes well, and
were anything to happen to him----"

"Yes?" said he, staring at me, and no little astonished at the
interruption.

"There is the Princess Anne. She is here, she would succeed, and----"

"And my Lord Marlborough!" said he, smiling. "Well, it may be. But who
taught you politics, Mr. Price?"

"Mr. Brome," said I, abashed. "What I know, your Grace."

"Ha! I keep forgetting," he answered, gaily, "that I am talking to one
of the makers of opinion--the formers of taste. But there, you shall
be no evidence, I give you my word. So tell me all you know, and what
befell you yesterday."

I had no desire but to do so--on those terms, and one small matter
excepted--and not only to do that, but all things that could serve
him. Nevertheless, and though I had high hopes of what I might get by
his grace and favour, I was far from understanding that that was the
beginning of twenty years of faithful labour at his side; of a matter
of fifteen thousand papers written under his eye; of whole ledgers
made up, of estate accompts balanced and tallies collected; of many
winters and summers spent among his books, either in the placid shades
of Eyford or in the dignified quiet of St. James's Square. But, as I
have said, though I did not foresee all this, I hoped much, and more
as, my tale proceeding, my lord's generous emotion became evident.
When I had done, he said many kind things to me respecting the peril I
had escaped; and adding to their value by his manner of saying them,
and by the charm which no other so perfectly possessed, he left me at
last no resource but to quit the room in tears.

Treated thus with a kindness as much above my deserts as it was
admirable in one of his transcendent rank, and assured, moreover, by
my lord's own mouth that henceforth, in gratitude for the service I
had done him in Ferguson's room, he would provide for me, I should
have stood, I ought to have stood, in the seventh heaven of felicity.
But as suffering moves unerring on the track of weakness, and no man
enjoys at any moment perfect bliss, I had first to learn the fate of
the girl whose evasion I had contrived. And when a cautious search and
questions as crafty had satisfied me that she had really effected her
escape from the house--probably in a man's dress, for one of the
lacqueys complained of the loss of a suit of clothes--I had still a
care; and a care which gnawed more sharply with every hour of ease and
safety.

Needless to say, the one matter on which I had been reticent, the one
actor whose presence on the scene I had not disclosed to my lord, lay
at the bottom of my anxiety. Kind in action and generous in intention
as the Duke had shown himself, his magnanimity had not availed to oust
from my mind the terror with which Smith's threats had imbued it; nor
while confessing all else had I been able to bring myself to denounce
the conspirator or detail the terms on which he had set me free.
Though I had all the inducement to speak, which the certainty that his
arrest would release me, could present, even this, and the security of
the haven in which I lay, failed to encourage me to the point of
hazard. So strong was the hold on my fears which this man had
compassed; and so complete the slavery to which he had reduced my
will.

But though at the time of confession, I found it a relief to be silent
about him, this same silence presently left me alone to cope with him,
and with fears sufficiently poignant, which his memory awakened: the
result being that with prospects more favourable and a future better
assured than I had ever imagined would be mine, or than any man of my
condition had a right to expect, I still found this drop of poison in
my cup. It was not enough that all things--and my patron--favouring
me, I sank easily into the position of his privy clerk, that I
retained that excellent room in which I had first been placed, that I
found myself accepted by the household as a fact--so that never a man
saved from drowning by a strand had a right to praise his fortune as I
had; nor that, the wind from every quarter, seeming at the same time
to abate, the prisoners went for trial, and nothing said of me, while
Ferguson, of whose complicity no legal proof could be found, lay in
prison under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, and kept silence;
nor even that a note came from Mary, ostensibly from Dunkirk, and
without compromising me informed me of her safety. It was not enough,
I say, that each and all of these things happened beyond my hopes; for
in the midst of my prosperity, whether I stood writing at my lord's
elbow in the stillness of the stately library, or moved at ease
through the corridor, greeted with respect by my fellow-servants, and
with civility by all, I was alike haunted by the thought and terror of
Smith, and the knowledge that at any moment, the conspirator might
appear to hurl me from this paradise. The secrecy which I had
maintained about him doubled his power; even as the ease and luxury in
which I lived presented in darker and fouler colours the sordid scenes
and perils through which I had waded to this eminence.



                            CHAPTER XXXIII


I think that I had spent a week, or it might be more, in this
situation of mingled ease and torment, when on coming down one morning
after a hag-ridden night I heard a stir in the hall; and, going that
way to learn what it meant, met the servants returning in a crowd from
the front, and talking low about something. Martin, who was foremost,
cried, "Ha, you are too late!" And then drawing me aside, into a
little den he had beside the passage, "They have taken him to the
office," he said. "But, lord's sakes, Mr. Price," he continued,
lifting his eyebrows and pursing up his lips to express his
astonishment, "who would have thought it? Her ladyship will be in a
taking! I hope that there may be no more in it than appears!"

"In what?" said I.

"In this arrest," he answered, eyeing me with meaning, and then softly
closing the door on us. "I hope it may end there. That is all I say!
Between ourselves."

"You forget," I cried with irritation, "that I know nothing about it!
What arrest? And who is arrested?"

"Mr. Bridges's man of business."

"What Mr. Bridges?" I cried.

"Lord, Mr. Price, have you no wits?" he answered, staring at me. "My
lord's mother's husband. The Countess's, to be sure! You must know Mr.
Smith."

It needed no more than that; although, without the name, we might have
gone on at cross purposes for an hour. But the name--the world held
only one Smith for me, and he it seemed was arrested.

He was arrested! It was with the greatest difficulty that I could
control my joy. Fortunately the little cub, where we stood, was
ill-lighted, and Martin, a man too much taken up with his own
consequence to be over-observant of his companions. Still, for a
moment, I was perfectly overcome, the effervescence of my spirits such
that I could do nothing but lean against the wall of the room, my
heart bounding with joy and my head singing a pæan of jubilation.
Smith was taken! Smith was in the hands of justice! Smith was arrested
and I was free.

The first rapture past, however, I began to doubt; partly because the
news seemed to be too good to be true, and partly because, though
Martin had continued to babble, I had heard not a word. Wild,
therefore, to have the thing confirmed, I cut him short; and crying,
"But what Smith is it, do you say? Who is he?" I brought him back to
the point at which he had left me.

"Why, Mr. Price," he answered, "I thought everyone knew Mr. Smith. Mr.
Smith, Mr. Bridges's factotum, land-steward, what you will! He married
the Countess's fine madam--madame they call her in the household,
though she is no French thing but Hertfordshire born, as I knew by her
speech when my lord first took up with her. But not everyone knows
that."

"When my lord took up with her?" I said, groping among half-recognised
objects, and beginning--so much light may come through the least
chink--to see day.

Mr. Martin nodded confidentially. "That is how she came to be with my
lady," he said. "And Mr. Smith, too! My lord met her somewhere when he
was young and gay and took up with her, and to please her got the
place for Mr. Smith, who had been her flame before. However, my lord
soon tired of her, for though she was a beauty she had common ways and
was bold as brass; so when he parted from her she went back to her old
love, who had first made her the mode, and married him. I have heard
that my lord was in a pretty taking when he found her planted at the
Countess's. But I have nothing to say against her."

"Does my lord--see her now?" I said with an effort.

"When he does he looks pretty black at her. And I fancy that there is
no love lost on her side."

"What did you say that--they called her?" I asked.

"Madame--Madame Monterey."

I remembered where I had heard the name before and who had borne it;
and saw so much light that I was dazzled. "And my lord's mother--who
married Mr. Bridges. She is a Papist?"

"Hush!" he said. "The less said about such things the better, Mr.
Price."

But I persisted. "It was she who ran off with my Lord Buckingham in
King Charles's time," I cried, "and held his horse while he killed her
husband? And who had Mr. Killigrew stabbed in the street; and----"

In a panic he clapped his hand on my mouth. "God, man!" he cried, "do
you know where you are, or is your head turned? Do you think that this
house is a fit place to give tongue to such things? Lord, you will be
but a short time here, and to the pillory when you go, if you throw
your tongue that way! I have not blabbed as much in twenty years, and
would not for a kingdom! Who are you to talk of such as my lady?"

He was so righteously indignant at the presumption of which I had been
guilty in attacking the family that, though it was his own
indiscretion that had led me to the point, I made haste to mutter an
apology, and doing this with the better grace for the remembrance that
Smith was now powerless and his wicked plans abortive, I contrived
presently to appease him. But the ferment which the discovery I had
made wrought in my spirits moved me to escape as quickly as possible
to my room, there to consider at leisure the miserable position in
which, but for Smith's timely capture, I must have found myself.

A suspicion of the truth I had entertained before; but this certainty
that the man I was to be trepanned into personating was my benefactor,
and that in the plot his own mother was engaged, filled me with as
much horror, when I considered the necessity of complying under which
I might have lain, as thankfulness when I reflected on the escape I
had had. Nor did these two considerations, overwhelming as they may
well appear, account for all the agitation I was experiencing. Mr.
Martin, in speaking of Madame Monterey's origin, had mentioned
Hertfordshire; and the name, bringing together two sets of facts
hitherto so distant in my mind that I had never undertaken to connect
them, had in a flash presented Smith and madame in their true colours.
Why I had not before associated the Smith I now knew with that Templar
Smith whom I darkly remembered as Jennie's accomplice in my early
trouble; why I had not recognised in the woman's coarsely handsome
features the charms that thirteen years before had fired my boy's
blood and brought me to the foot of the gallows, is not more difficult
to explain than why this one mention of Hertfordshire sufficed to
raise the curtain; ay, and not only to raise it, but to set the whole
drama so plainly before me that I could be no wiser had I followed
every scene in madame's life, and, a witness of her shameful _débût_
under Smith's protection, her seduction of my lord and her period of
splendour, had attended her in her final declension when, a discarded
mistress, she saw no better alternative than a marriage with her
former protector.

How greatly this identification of the two conspirators increased, as
well as the loathing in which I held their schemes, as my relief upon
the reflection that those schemes were now futile, I will not say.
Suffice it that the knowledge that, but for Smith's arrest, I must
have chosen between playing the basest part in the world and running a
risk whereat I shuddered, filled me with thankfulness immeasurable, a
thankfulness which I did not fail to pour out on my knees, and which
was in no degree lessened by a shuddering consciousness that in that
dilemma, had Providence not averted it, I might have--ay, should
have--played the baser part!

No wonder that a hundred harrowing recollections crowded on my mind,
or that under the pressure of these the tumult of my spirits became so
powerful that I presently seized my hat, and hastily escaping from the
house, sought in rapid movement some relief from the unpleasant
retrospect. Crossing the Green Park, I chose a field path that led by
the Pimlico marshes to Fulham; and gradually the songs of the larks
and the spring sunshine--for the day was calm and serene--leading my
mind into a more cheerful groove, I began to dwell rather on the fact
of my escape than on the crime from which I had escaped, and
contemplating the secure career that now lay in view before me, I was
not long in seeing that thankfulness should be my strongest feeling.
Turning my back on Smith and his like, I began to build my house
again; saw a smiling wife and babes, and days spent between my home
and my lord's papers; and then a green old age and slippered feet
tottering through the quiet shades of a library. Before I turned I had
roofed the house with an honourable headstone, and felt the tears rise
in generous sympathy with the village assembled to do the old man
honour.

In a word, tasting the full relief of emancipation, I became so gay
and lightsome that even the smoke and din of London, when I re-entered
it, failed to subdue the unusual humour. I could have sung, I could
have laughed aloud. Let the dead past bury its dead! For Ferguson,
Smith, the Monterey--a fig! Who had come off best after all? And of
their fine plottings and contrivings what had been the upshot? They
had failed and I had triumphed; they were prisoners, I was free and
safe.

Near the garden-wall of Buckingham House there was a bear dancing, and
a press of people round it. I stayed to watch, and in my mood, found
the fun so much to my taste that I threw the man a penny and went on
laughing. A little further, by the edge of the lake, was a man with a
barrow and dice--then a novelty, though now so prevalent that at the
last sessions, I am told, the thing was presented for a nuisance. I
stood here and saw a man lose, and in the exaltation of my spirits,
pushed him aside and laid down a shilling, and won, and won again--and
again; whether the cog failed or the truckster who owned the barrow
thought me a good bait. Either way I took up my winnings with an air
and hectored away as good a bully as another; placed for the moment so
far above myself and common modesty, that I wondered whether I should
ever sink back into the timid citizen, or feel my eyes drop before a
bravo's.

Alas, in a moment, _quantum mutatus ab illo!_ At the corner of the
Cockpit, towards Sion House, I met Matthew Smith.

I had no doubt. I knew all in an instant, and turned sick. He was
free, alone, walking with his head high and an easy gait. Worse, he
saw me; saw how I cowered and shrank into myself, and became another
man at sight of him!

Slackening his pace as he came up, he halted before me, with that
quiet devil's grin on his face. "Well," he said, "how are you, Mr.
Price? I was looking for you."

"For me?" I muttered. "I thought--I heard--that you were arrested."

"A mistake!" he answered, continuing to smile. "A mistake! Some other
Smith."

"And you were not arrested?" I whispered.

"Oh, I was arrested!" he answered jauntily. "And taken to the
Secretary. And of course released. There! you have it all."

I uttered an exclamation; two words wrung from me by despair.

Thereat, and pretending to misunderstand me. "You thank God? Very kind
of you, Mr. Price," said he grinning. "Like master, like man, I see.
The Duke was kindness itself. But I must be going." And then,
arresting himself in the act of leaving me, "You have heard," he
continued, "that the poor devil Charnock stands his trial to-morrow?
Porter is an evidence, and by Monday the parson will swing. It should
be a warning to us," he continued, shaking his head with a smile that
chilled the marrow in my bones, "what company we keep. A rascal like
Porter might see you or me in the street--and swear to us. Ha! Ha! It
sounds monstrous odd, but so it might be. But by-by, Mr. Price. I must
not keep you."



                            CHAPTER XXXIV


The state in which I crawled back to the house after this encounter
maybe conceived but not described. From an exaltation of mind to which
the epithet delirious might be applied with propriety, I fell in an
instant to a depth of abjectness as monstrous as my late felicity, but
more real and reasonable. All the things, on my escape from which I
had been congratulating myself, now lay before me, and formed a vista
as gloomy as the point to which it tended was dreadful. To be a slave
to the woman and man who had ruined my youth; to live outwardly at
ease, while inwardly devoured by daily and hourly terror; to hang
between the choice of danger or baseness, comfort or treachery; to
discern in my own destruction or my patron's the inevitable ending;
beyond all, to foresee that I should choose the evil and eschew the
good, and to wish it otherwise and be powerless to change it--these
things, and particularly the last, filled me with anticipations of
misery so great that I rolled on my bed, and cursed Providence and my
fate; and next day went down so pale, and ill, and woe-begone that the
servants took note of it.

"Pheugh, Mr. Price," said Martin, "you might be Charnock himself, or
Keyes, poor devil! You could not look more like hanging! What is it?"

I muttered that I was not well.

"It is Keyes I am sorry for," continued the steward, who was taking
his morning draught, "if so be they go to the end with him. I have
heard of a master given up by his servant, but never before of a
servant hung on his master's evidence--and his master the one that
drew him into it! Hang Captain Porter, say I! A fine Captain!"

"Oh, they will let the poor devil live," said another.

"Keyes?"

"Ay."

"Not they!" said Mr. Martin with great appearance of wisdom. "He was
in the Blues, do you see, my man, and if it spread there? No, he will
swing. He will swing for the example. Don't you think so, Mr. Price?
You are in there with my lord, and should know."

But I muttered something and escaped, finding solitude and my own
reflections as tolerable as their gossip. A little later, my lord,
sending for me, kept me close at work until evening; which was so far
fortunate, as the employment, by diverting my thoughts, helped to lift
me out of the panic into which I had fallen. True, the news that the
three conspirators were found guilty and were to die the following
Monday, exactly as Smith had foretold, threw me again into the cold
fit, and heralded another night of misery. But as it is not possible
for mortals to lie long under the same peril without the sense of
danger losing its edge, in three days I began to find life bearable.
The stateliness of the household, the silence and books that
surrounded me, the regular hours and steady employment soothed my
nerves; and Smith making no sign, and nothing occurring to indicate
that he meant to keep his word or summon me to fulfil mine, I lulled
myself into the belief that all was a dream.

Yet I was very far from being happy: to be that, with such
apprehensions as never quite left me, was beyond my philosophy. And I
had rude awakenings. One day it was the execution of Charnock, King,
and Keyes at Tyburn, followed by the hawking of their last dying
speeches and confessions in the streets, that jogged me out of my
fancied security, and sent me sick and white-faced from the windows.
Another it was the sentence on Sir John Friend and Sir William
Perkins, the two elderly citizens whom I had twice seen among the
plotters, and never without wondering how they came to be of the gang.
A little later, three more suffered, and again the Square rang with
the shrill cries of the chapmen who peddled their last speeches from
door to door. Against all these Captain Porter and a man commonly
called "Scum Goodman," both _participes criminis_, and persons of the
most infamous character, bore witness; their evidence being
corroborated by that of a man of higher standing, Mr. Prendergast.
Whether they could not prove against Cassel and Ferguson, or reasons
of State intervened, these, with several of their fellows, lay in
prison untried; a course which, in other circumstances, might have
involved the Government in obloquy. But so keen at this time was the
general feeling against the plotters, and so high the King's
popularity that he might have shed more blood had he chosen. Here,
however, the executions stopped; and his Majesty showing mercy if not
indulgence, the hue and cry, despite the popular indignation,
gradually slackened until it was restricted to Sir John Fenwick, who
was believed to be still in hiding in the country, and on whose
punishment the King was reported to be firmly set.

How deeply these events and rumours, which formed the staple of
conversation during the summer of '96, troubled my existence, I leave
to the imagination; provising only that in proportion to the outward
quiet of my life was the power to agitate which they exerted.

Moreover, there were times when a terror more substantial trespassed
on my peace. One day going hastily into the hall I found the servants
all peeping, Mr. Martin holding open the door, a dozen faces staring
curiously in from the sunshine of the Square, and my lord standing,
very stiff, on the threshold of his room, while in the middle of the
floor stood a scowling man, flashily dressed.

The Duke was speaking when I appeared. "At the office, sir," I heard
him say. "You misunderstood me. I can see you there only."

"Your Grace is hard on me," the man muttered with a glance that would
be rebellious, and was hang-dog. "I have done the King good service,
and this is the way I am requited. It is enough----"

"It is more than enough. Captain Porter," my lord said, quietly taking
him up. "At the office, if you please. This house is for my friends."

"And the King's friends? They may shift for themselves?" the
wretch--who even then wore finery bought with blood--cried bitterly.

"The King is served in many ways," my lord answered with a fine air of
contempt. "Martin, the door! And remember, another time I am not
within to Captain Porter. At three in the office, sir, if you please."

The man slunk away at that; but as he passed through the doorway, I
heard him mutter that when Sir John Fenwick was taken he would see;
and that proud as some people were now, they might be glad to save
their necks when the time came. He passed out of sight then, and
hearing my lord speak, I turned, and saw Matthew Smith, whom I had not
before noticed, waiting on him with a letter. The Duke, pausing on the
threshold of the library, broke the seal, and ran his eye over the
paper.

"I will send an answer," he said, "later in the day. Or----" and he
looked up quickly. "Are you returning, sir?"

"If your Grace pleases."

"It shall be ready then by two o'clock," my lord answered stiffly.
"Good-morning."

"Good-morning, your Grace."

And my lord went in. The colloquy had been of the slightest; but I had
noted that my patron's tone, when he spoke to Smith, was guarded and
civil, if distant, and that through the few formal words they had
exchanged peered a sort of understanding. This shook me; and when
Smith turned to me, a faint sneer on his lips, and told me that I was
a bold man, my heart was water. He was at home here as everywhere;
what could I do against him?

"Do you understand, Mr. Price?" he repeated. "Or are you a bigger fool
than I take you for?"

"Why?" I stammered.

"Why? Why, to push in on Porter after that fashion," he muttered under
his breath--for Martin was making towards us. "Lucky he did not
recognize you and denounce you! For a groat he would do it--or to
spite the Duke! Take care, man," he continued seriously, "if you do
not want to join Charnock, whose head is in airy quarters to-night."

This left me the prey of a new terror; for remembering that I had once
seen Porter at Ferguson's lodging, I could not shut my eyes to the
reasonableness of the warning. I saw myself beset by dangers on that
side also, went for a time on eggs, and trembled at every sound;
indeed, for a full fortnight I never passed the threshold--excusing
myself on the ground of vertigo, if ordered to go on errands. In the
course of that fortnight I had a thousand opportunities of contrasting
the quiet in which I lived, behind the dull windows of the great
house, with the dangers into which I might at any moment be flung; and
if any man ever repented of anything, I repented of my lack of candour
respecting Smith. From time to time I saw him pass--grim, reserved, a
walking menace. When he looked up at the windows, I read mastery and a
secret knowledge in his eye; while the way in which he went and came,
free and unquestioned, was itself a monition; was it to be wondered
that I feared this man, who, while Charnock's head mouldered on a
spike on Temple Bar, and Friend and Perkins passed to the gallows,
walked the Strand, and lounged in the Mall, as safe in appearance as
my lord himself?

I knew that at any moment he might call upon me to fulfil my word.
Whether in that case, the demand being such as to allow me leisure to
forecast the consequences, I should have complied, or taking my
courage in my hands, have thrown myself on my lord's indulgence, I
cannot now say; for in the issue a sudden and unforeseen shifting of
scene prevented my calculations, and hurried me onwards, whether I
would or no.

It happened, I have said, suddenly. One afternoon there came a great
bustle in the Square; and who should it be but the Countess, my lord's
mother, come to visit him in her coach-and-six, with such a
paraphernalia of gentlewomen and negro pages, outriders, and running
footmen, as drew together all the ragamuffins from the mews, and
fairly brought back King Charles's days. As the great coach, which
held six inside, swung and lumbered to a stand at the door, I saw a
painted face, with bold black eyes, glaring from the window, cheek by
jowl with a parrot and three or four spaniels; and I waited to see
little more, a single glance sufficing to certify me that this was the
same lady to whose house Smith had taken me. Smith was in attendance
on her, and a gentleman in a plain black suit and wig--who was a
Papist priest if I ever saw one--and Monterey, and two or three other
gentlewomen; and, as I had no mind to be recognised by these, or for
that matter, by their mistress, I made haste to retire behind the
flock of servants whom Martin had marshalled in the hall to do the
honours.

My lord went out to the coach and brought the Countess in, with a
great show of reverence; and for three-quarters of an hour they were
closeted together in his room. I took advantage of this to retire
upstairs, and had been wiser had I stayed there, or better still,
slipped out at the back. But a craving came on me to see Monterey
again, and with the knowledge I now had, ascertain if she really was
my old mistress. This drew me to the hall again, where, the crowd
being great, and the servants taken up with teasing the Countess's
parrot and blackamoors, I managed to avoid observation, and at the
same time see what I wanted. The woman who had once been all the world
to me--and of whom I could not now think without a tender regret,
directed, not to her, but to the state of blissful, dawning passion,
of which she had been the cause, and whereof no man is twice
capable--was still handsome in a coarse fashion, and when seen at a
distance. I could not deny that. But if I desired revenge, I had it;
for not only was her complexion gone, so that her good looks vanished
when the viewer approached, but her lips had grown thin, and her face
hard, with the indescribable hardness which speaks of past sin long
grown bitter--and an hourly, daily recognition that the wage of sin is
death.

Presently, while Mr. Martin was pressing his civilities on her, and I,
from a corner near the door through which I had let Mary escape, was
curiously reading her countenance, the door of my lord's room opened,
and the Countess came out, supported on the one side by the Duke's
arm, on the other by her great ebony cane. The servants hurried to
form two lines; and I suppose curiosity led me to press nearer than
was prudent, or her eyes were of peculiar sharpness; or perhaps she
looked for me, and had I not been there would have called for me. At
any rate, she had not moved three steps towards her coach before her
gaze, roving along the line of servants, alighted on me; and she
stood.

"I'll have _that_ rascal!" she cried in her high, shrill voice--and
she pointed at me with her cane, and stood. "He looks as if butter
would not melt in his mouth, but if he is not a lad of wax, call me a
street slut! Hark you, my man; you come with me. Bid him, Shrewsbury!"

My lord, his face flushing, spoke low, and seemed to make demur; but
she persisted.

"Odd's life; you make me sick!" she cried irritably. "You will not
this, and you fancy that! The servants---- Go to for a fool! In my
time master was master, and if any blabbed, man or maid, it was strip
and whip! But now--do you quarrel with me, or do you not?"

The Duke shrugged his shoulders, and smiled uneasily. "Times are
somewhat changed, madam," he said.

"Ay, by our lord, they are," she cried, swearing roundly. "And why?
Because there are no men nowadays, but mealy-mouthed Josephs, like
that trembler yonder, whose heart is in his boots because I want him
carry a message." And she pointed to me with her long cane, while her
head quivered with excitement and age. "Sort him out; sort him out and
send him with me; or we quarrel, my lord."

"Well, madam, your will is law in this house," the Duke said;
"but----"

"But no lies!" she cried. "D'ye send him."

My lord bowed reluctantly. "Go," he said, looking at me.

"And bid him do as I tell him," she cried sharply. "But he had better,
or---- Still, tell him, tell him."

"Price," my lord said soberly, "the Countess is good enough to wish
you to do an errand for her. Be good enough to consider yourself at
her disposal, and go with the coach now. Be easy," he continued,
nodding pleasantly--it was impossible for me to hide my
apprehensions--"her ladyship needs you for a week only."

"Ay, sure!" she cried. "After that he may go to the devil for me!"



                             CHAPTER XXXV


Rightly has the Latin poet sung of the _dura ilia_ of the Fates, who
either resistless rout all human resolutions, or, where the mind has
been hardened to meet the attack, turn the poor wretch's flank, and
lo! while he squares his shield, and shortens his spear to meet the
occasion, _habet_--he has it under the fifth rib.

So it was with me. While I dreamed of resistance, and would harden my
heart and set fast my feet, fate cross-buttocked me; and I fell, not
knowing. The Countess's coach bore me away, unresisting; and Smith,
whom I hated as I never hated even Ferguson, gave me the word. From my
plain clothes, to the long curled peruke, the cravat, ruffles, and
fine suit in which I had once before paraded myself, was but a step; I
took it perforce, and being conducted, when I was ready, into the
Countess's chamber, to wait her pleasure, could have fancied the last
six months a dream--could have fancied the conspirators still at work,
Captain Barclay still pacing the Piazza, my lord still a stranger to
me, the library a vision; in a word, I could have fancied all those
events, which had filled half a year, to be no more than creatures of
the imagination, so unchanged was the great silent room, where my
lady, while I waited, played piquet with Monterey, amid the
gorgeousness of her rose-and-silver suite.

The monkey gibbered as of old, and the parrot vied with the broidered
parrots on the wall; and now, as then, the air was heavy with scent
and musk, while the light, cunningly arranged, fell on the part where
the Countess sat, now grumbling and now swearing, or now, while the
cards were dealing, thumping the floor impatiently with her stick. She
had so perfectly the grand air of a past generation, that when her eye
turned in my direction I trembled, and thought no more of resistance;
yet when she resumed the game, she gradually--and more and more
completely, as I watched--sank into a querulous, feeble, fierce old
woman, whose passion, where it did not terrify, moved to derision, and
whose fads and fancies, as patent as the day, placed her at the mercy
of all who cared to flatter or cozen her.

Madame was about it now; letting her win, and again gaining a slight
advantage; mingling hints at old vanities and conquests (whereat my
lady grew garrulous) with new scandals, coarse and spiteful; whining a
little when my lady, in a fury caused by a bad hand, struck her across
the face with a fan to teach her to be awkward, but cheering up at
once when the Countess's mood changed with the cards. In a word, as
she had betrayed me young, she cozened my lady old; but seeing her
features grown hard with time, and her eyes grown lifeless, and the
devil grinning more plainly from behind the mask, that once had been
so fair, it was a wonder to me that even the Countess was deceived.

Presently my lady threw down her cards in a rage, and calling her
opponent a cheating slut, proceeded to turn her anger on me.

"What is the gaby doing, standing there like a gawk?" she shrieked.
"Why is he not about his business?"

Monterey whispered her that I had not had my instructions.

"Then give them, and let him go!" she cried. "Where is the ring? Here,
you daw in peacock's feathers--like my son, indeed? About as like as
that squinting vixen Villiers is to a beauty! Take that, and ride with
Matthew Smith, and give it to the gentleman you will meet at the inn
at Ashford, and say--Monterey, tell him what to say."

"Say, 'Colonel Talbot sends this ring, and his service.' And if the
gentleman asks 'Whither?' or this, or that, to whatever he asks,
answer thus: 'I am not here. Sir John, to answer questions. Favour me
by conveying that ring and my services whither you are going. I do not
talk, but when the time comes I shall act.'"

"_C'est tout!_" said the Countess, nodding approval. "If you are not
man enough to repeat that, whip you for a noodle! Say it, man."

But when I went to say it, first I could not remember it, and broke
down; and then when, my lady storming at me for a fool and an
imbecile, I had got the sentences into my head, I but whimpered them,
bringing no heart to the task. My lady, when she saw that, flew out at
me afresh, and threw first the vapours bottle and then her cane at me,
which, breaking a piece of china, put her fairly beside herself. "Come
here!" she shrieked, swaying to and fro in her chair. "Do you hear,
you puling, psalm-singing canter? Come here, I say!" And when,
trembling and scared, I had approached, she leant forward, and seizing
hold of my ear, as Ferguson had once seized it, she twisted it with
such unexpected strength and spite that I roared with pain, and fairly
fell on my knees beside her.

"There is for you, _gros cochon!_" she cried. "So you _can_ speak up
when you like! Now go to the end of the room, my man, and play your
part again, and play it better! Or, by ----, I will have up those who
shall lash your back to the bone. Hoity toity! These are fine times,
when scum like you, my lad, put on airs!"

This was not the discipline, nor were these the threats, to give an
actor courage; but in sheer desperation, I spoke up, and, this time,
had the good fortune to please her; and, Monterey mocking me, and
pushing me this way and that, I went through my part a dozen times. At
length the Countess expressed herself satisfied, and with a grim nod,
and an "Odds my life, he is not so unlike, after all!" gave me leave
to go. But when I was half way to the door, she called me back, and
after I had timidly obeyed, she sat awhile, glowering at me in
silence. At last, "No," she said irritably, "it is too late!" and she
struck on the floor with her stick. "It is too late to turn back! The
cross devil did nothing but thwart me to-day, and what he will not do
_bon gré_, he shall do perforce. He has brought it on himself, and he
must abide his _destin!_ Yet--Monterey!"

The woman was at her side in a moment. "Yes, madam!"

"I suppose that there is no danger of a _contretemps_," she said,
stirring restlessly in her chair. "Sir John will get away? They will
not take him, and find the ring on him--and learn whose it is?"

On that, if I had been quick, and had had both wits and courage at
command, I should have thrown myself at her feet; and so I might have
opened her eyes. But I wavered, and before I had found heart to do it,
the waiting-woman, smooth and watchful, was in the breach.

"Ashford, my lady, is only three hours' riding from Dymchurch in the
Marsh," she said, "where the boat waits for him to-morrow night. Sir
John is well mounted, and it will be odd, if, after baffling pursuit
for months, he should be taken in that time."

"Yes, yes!" my lady said querulously. "Let him go! Let him go! Though
you are a fool to boot. A man is taken or not taken in less than three
hours. Even now, if that contrary devil of a son of mine had not
argued with me, and argued with me to-day--but, let him go! Let him
go!"

The woman lost no time in taking her at her word, and hurrying me out;
not by the main entrance through which I had come in, but by the
little side door, leading to the dingy closet at the head of the
private staircase. In the closet a bright, unshaded lamp burned on the
dusty table, and beside it stood Matthew Smith, wearing a cloak,
riding-boots, and a great flapped hat. He looked eagerly at the woman,
his eyes shining in the glare of the lamp; but he did not speak until
she had closed the door behind her. Then, "Is it right?" he whispered.

She nodded.

"You have got the ring?"

She gave it to him with a smile of triumph.

He looked at it, and with a grim face slipped it into his pocket.
"Good," he said, "and now, my friend, the sooner we are away, the
better."

But my gorge rose. On the table beside him, in the full glare of the
lamp, lay a cloak and holsters, a mask, sword, and riding-whip. I knew
what these objects meant, and for whom they were prepared; and at the
prospect of the plunge into the dark night, of the journey, and the
perils of the unknown road, I cried out that I would not go! I
would not go! And I tried to force my way back into the Countess's
room--with what intention heaven knows.

But Smith whipped between me and the door. "You fool!" he said,
pushing me back. "Are you mad? Or don't you know me yet?" "I know you
too well!" I cried, beside myself with rage, and with apprehensions of
the plunge on the brink of which I stood. "You have cursed me from the
first day I saw you at Ware! You have been the curse of my life! You,
and that Jezebel!"


[Illustration: SHE CAME A STEP NEARER TO ME, AND PEERED AT ME]


"Are you mad?" he said again; and threatened me with his hand.

But she came a step nearer to me, and peered at me; and after one look
took the lamp from the table and held it to my face. "At Ware?" she
said. "At Ware?" And then, putting the lamp back on the table, she
fell to laughing. "He is right!" she said. "I know him now. But you
told me that his name was Taylor."

"Taylor?" he said wrathfully. "So it is; and Price, and half a dozen
other names, for all I know. What does it matter what his name is?"

"Oh, it matters very much," she said, affecting to ogle me in an
exaggerated fashion. "He is an old flame of mine. His face always
brought something to my mind--but I thought that it was his likeness
to the Duke."

He cursed her old flames, and the Duke. And then, "What does it mean?"
he said. "Who is he?"

"He is the lad we left at Ware--in the old woman's room," she
answered, her voice sinking, and growing almost soft. "Lord! it seems
so long ago, it might have happened in another life! You remember him.
Matt? You saw him with me at The Rose one night? The first night I saw
you?"

He looked at me, long and strangely. "And what does it mean?" he said
at last, scowling between wonder and suspicion.

She shrugged her shoulders. "_Sais pas!_" she answered. "Ask him!"

"You ruined me once!" I cried. "And he saved me! And now you would
have me ruin him. You are devils, you are! Devils! But I defy you!"

He did not answer, but continued to stare at me; as if he discerned or
suspected that there was more in this than appeared on the surface. At
length the woman laughed, and he turned to her, rage in his face. "I
see nothing to laugh at," he said.

"But I do!" she answered pertly. "You three all mixed up! It would
make a cat laugh my lad."

He cursed her. "Have done with that!" he said fiercely. "And say, what
is to be done?"

"Done?" she answered briskly, and in a tone of genuine surprise. "Why,
that which was to be done. What difference does this make?"

But he looked at her, pondering darkly, as if it did make a
difference. I suppose that somewhere, deep down in his nature, there
lurked a grain of superstition, which found in this singular
coincidence, this sudden stringing together of persons long parted, an
evil omen. Or it may be that he had still some scrap of conscience
left, that, seared and deadened as it was, stirred and started at this
strange upheaval of an old crime. At any rate, "I don't know," he
growled at last. "I don't like it, and that is flat. There is some
practice in this."

"There is a fool in it," she answered naïvely. "And there are like to
be two!"

I thought to back him up, and I braced myself against the wall, to
which I had retired. "I won't go!" I said doggedly. "I will call for
help in the streets, first!"

"You will do as you are told," she answered coolly. "And you," she
continued to Smith in a voice of stinging scorn, "are you going to
give it up now, when all is safe? Will you stand to my lord as this
poor silly fellow stands to you? Have you waited for years for your
revenge--to move aside now? Why, my G--d! the Duke is worth ten of
you. He is a man, at any rate. He is----"

"Peace, girl," he cried, with I know not what of menace in his tone.

"Then, will you go?"

"Yes, I will go!" he answered between his teeth. "But by heaven, you
slut, if ill comes of it, I will wring your neck! I will, so help me
heaven! You shall deceive no other man! If there is practice of yours
in this, if this tool is here by your connivance----"

"He is not!" she answered. "Be satisfied."

Apparently he was satisfied, for he drew a deep breath, and stood
silent. She turned to me. "Get ready," she said sharply.

"No," I muttered, summoning all my resolution. "I shall not go. I--I
have not----"

Smith turned to me, and the refusal died on my lips. The struggle with
the woman had roused the man's passions; and I read in his eyes such a
glare of ferocity as chilled my blood and unstrung my knees. Nor was
that all; for when I went, trembling, to take the cloak, "One moment,"
he said grimly, "not so fast, my friend. Let us understand one another
before we start. Mr. Price or Mr. Taylor or whatever your name is,
take note, do you hear me, of three things? One, that the business we
are on is life or death. Do you grasp that?"

I muttered a shuddering assent.

"Secondly," he continued, with the same gruesome civility, "my hand
will never be more than six inches from the butt of a pistol, until I
see this home again. Do you grasp that?"

I nodded.

"Thirdly, at the least sign of treachery or disobedience on your part,
I blow out your brains first, and my own afterwards, if that be
necessary. Do you grasp that?"

I nodded.

"That is especially well," he said. "Because the last item is
important to you. On the other hand, Mr. Price, play honest John with
me, and in forty-eight hours you shall be back in your master's house,
free and safe; and I shall trouble you no more. Do you understand
that?"

I said I did; my teeth chattering, and my eyes seeking to evade his.

"Then, now, yon may get into those things," he said. "And do you ride
when I bid you, and halt when I bid you, and speak when I say speak,
and be silent when I say be silent--do those four things, I say, and
you will die in your bed. They are all I ask."

I stooped, shaking all over, to take up the boots. "Heart up, pretty!"
cried the woman, with an odd laugh that broke off short with a sort of
quaver. "It is clear that you are not born to be hanged. And for the
rest----"

"Peace, peace, wench," said Smith impatiently. "And dress him."



                            CHAPTER XXXVI


It wanted two hours of midnight on a fine night when we two rode over
London Bridge, and through a gap in the houses saw the river flowing
below, a ripple of silver framed in blackness, and so cold to the eye
that involuntarily I shivered; feeling a return of all the vague fears
and apprehensions which, originally awakened by the prospect of the
journey, had been set at rest for the time by the awe in which I held
my companion. I began to recall a dozen stories of footpads and
highwaymen, outrage and robbery, which I had read, and found but cold
comfort in the reflection that the Kent Road, from the amount of
traffic that used it, was accounted one of the safest in England. It
was not wonderful, that with nerves so disordered, I went in front of
danger; or that when--opposite the Marshalsea, where the chain crosses
the road, near the entrance to White Horse Yard--a man came suddenly
out of a passage and caught hold of my companion's rein, I cried out,
and all but turned my horse to fly.

Smith himself appeared to be taken off his guard; for, after bidding
me beware what I did, he called with the same harshness to the man to
release the rein, or take the consequences.

"Oh, I am all right," the fellow answered roughly, peering at him
through the darkness. "You are Mr. Smith?"

"Well?"

"Fairholt sent me--to stop you."

"Fairholt!"

"Ay, he is here."

"Here?" my companion cried, in a tone of rage and surprise. "What
the----! Why, he should be--you know where, by this time!"

"Ay, but his horse threw him this morning, and he is lying at the
White Horse here, with a broken leg!"

Smith cursed the absent man for a fool. "I wish he had broken his
neck!" he said savagely. And then, after an interval, "Has he sent
anybody?"

"He has had something else to think about," the man answered drily.
"And so would you, master, with his leg!"

Smith swore again, and sat gloomily silent.

"He says if you can stead it off for twenty-four hours," the man
continued, "he will arrange that----"

"No names," Smith cried sharply, interrupting him.

"Well, that--someone shall take his place and do the job."

Smith did not answer for a time, but at length in a curt, incisive
tone, "Tell him, yes," he said. "I will see to it. And you--keep a
still tongue, will you? You were going with him, I suppose?"

"Ay."

"And you will come with the other?"

"May be. And if not I shall not blab."

Smith by a nod showed that the man had taken his meaning; after which,
bidding him good-night, he pricked up his horse. "Come on," he said,
addressing me with impatience. "I thought to have had companions, and
so ridden more securely. But we must make the best of it."

Heaven knows that I too would have liked companions, and took the road
again dolefully enough. Nor was that the worst of it; Smith, in
speaking to the stranger, had mentioned Fairholt. Now, I knew the
name, and knew the man to be one of the messengers attached to the
Secretary's office, one whose business it was to execute warrants and
arrest political prisoners. But what had Smith, riding to a secret
interview with a man outlawed and in hiding, to do with messengers?
With Fairholt?

And then, as if this were not enough to disturb me with a view of
treachery, black as gulf seen by traveller through a rift in the
mist--if this glimpse, I say, were not enough, how was I going to
reconcile Smith's statement that he had expected companions with his
first cry, uttered in wrath and surprise--that Fairholt ought to be by
this time--well, at some distant point?

In fine, I was so far from being persuaded that Smith had expected
company, that I gravely suspected that he had made quite other
arrangements; arrangements of the most perfidious character. And as
the horses' hoofs rang monotonously on the hard road, and we rose and
fell in the saddle, and I peered forward into the gloom, fearing all
things and doubting all things, for certain I feared and doubted
nothing so much as I did the dark and secret man beside me; whose
scheming brain, spinning plot within plot, each darker and more
involved than the other, kept all my ingenuity at a stretch to
overtake the final end and purpose he had at heart.

Indeed, I despair of conveying to others how gravely this sombre
companionship and more sombre uncertainty aggravated the terrors of a
journey, that at the best of times must have been little to my taste.
To the common risks of the road, deserted at that hour by all save
cutpurses and rogues, was added a suspicion, as much more harassing
than these, as unseen dangers ever surpass the known. It was in vain
that I strove to divert my mind from the figure by my side; neither
the bleak heath above Greenwich--whence we looked back at the reddish
haze that canopied London, and forward to where the Thames marshes
stretched eastward under night--nor the gibbet on Dartford Brent,
where a body hung in chains, poisoning the air, nor the light that
shone dim and solitary, far to the left, across the river, and puzzled
me until he told me that it was Tilbury--neither of these things, I
say, though they occupied my thoughts by turns and for a moment, had
power to drive him from my mind, or divert my fears to dangers more
apparent. And in this mood, now glancing askance at him, and now
moving uneasily under his gaze, I might have ridden to Rochester if my
ear had not caught--I think when we were two or three miles short of
the city--the sound of a horse trotting fast on the road behind us.

At first it followed so faintly on the breeze that I doubted, thinking
it might be either the echo of our hoofs, or a pulse beating in my
ears. Then, on a hard piece of ground, it declared itself
unmistakably; and again as suddenly it died away.

At that I spoke involuntarily. "He has stopped," I said.

Smith laughed in his teeth. "He is crossing the wet bottom, fool--by
the creek," he said.

And before I could answer him the dull sound of a horse galloping
fast, but moving on the turf that ran alongside the road, proved him
to be right. "Draw up!" he whispered in something of a hurry, and
then, as I hesitated, "Do you hear?" he continued, sharply seizing my
rein. "What do you fear? Do you think that night birds prey on night
birds?"

Whatever I feared, I feared him more: and turning my horse, I sat
shivering. For notwithstanding his confident words I saw that he was
handling his holster; and I knew that he was drawing a pistol; and it
was well the suspense was short. Before I had time for many qualms,
the horseman, a dark figure, lurched on us through the gloom, pulled
his horse on to its haunches, and, with raised hand, cried to us to
deliver.

"And no nonsense!" he added sharply. "Or a brace of balls will
soon----"

Smith laughed. "Box it about!" he cried.

"Hallo!" the stranger answered, taking a lower tone; and he
peered at us, bending down over his horse's neck. "Who are you, in
fly-by-night?"

"A box-it-about!" my companion answered with tartness. "That is enough
for you. So good-night. And I wish you better luck next time."

"But----"

"St!" Smith answered, cutting him short. "I am going to my father, and
the less said about it the better."

"So? Well, give him my love, then." And backing his horse, the
stranger bade us good-night, and with a curse on his bad fortune
turned and rode off. Smith saw him go, and then wheeling we took the
road again.

Safely, however, as we had emerged from this encounter, and far as it
went towards proving that we bore a talisman against the ordinary
perils of travellers, it was not of a kind to reassure a law-abiding
man. To be hung as the accomplice of footpads and high-tobys was a
scarcely better fate than to be robbed and wounded by them, and I was
heartily glad when we found ourselves in the outskirts of Rochester,
and stopping at a house of call outside the sleeping city, roused a
drowsy hostler, and late as the hour was, gained entrance and a
welcome.

I confess, that safe in these comfortable quarters, on a sanded
hearth, before a rekindled fire, with lights, and food, and ale at my
elbow, and a bed in prospect, I found my apprehensions and misgivings
less hard to bear than on the dark road above Tilbury flats. I began
to think less of the body creaking in its irons on the gibbet above
Dartford, and more of the chances of ultimate safety. And Smith
growing civil, if not genial, I went on to count the hours that must
elapse, before, our miserable mission accomplished, I should see
London again. After all, why should I not see London again? What was
to prevent me? Where lay the hindrance? In three days, in three days
we should be back. So I told myself; and looking up quickly met
Smith's eyes brooding gloomily on me.



                            CHAPTER XXXVII


Such a night ride as I have described, would have been impossible, or
at least outrageously dangerous, a year or two later; when a horde of
disbanded soldiers, dismissed from the colours by the Peace of
Ryswick, took to the roads for a subsistence, and for a period, until
they perished miserably, made even the purlieus of Kensington unsafe.

At the time of which I write we ran risk enough, as has been
demonstrated; but the reasons which induced Smith to leave London at
that hour, and under cover of darkness, may be conceived. Apparently
they did not extend to the rest of the journey; for, after lying late
at Rochester, we rode on by Sittingbourne to Feversham, and thence
after a comfortable dinner, turned south by Badlesmere, and so towards
Ashford, where we arrived a few minutes after nightfall.

Those who are acquainted with the Old Inn at the entrance into
Ashford will remember that the yard and stables are as conspicuous for
size and commodiousness as the house, a black and white building, a
little withdrawn from the street, is strikingly marked by the lack
of those advantages. I believe that the huge concourse thither of
cattle-drovers at the season of the great fairs is the cause of this;
those persons lying close themselves but needing space for their
beasts. And at such times I can imagine that the roomy _enceinte_, and
those long lines of buildings, may be cheerful enough.

But seen, as we saw them, when we rode in, by the last cold light of a
dull evening, with nothing clear or plain save the roof ridge, and
that black against a pale sky, they and the place looked infinitely
dismal. Nor did any warmth of welcome, or cheerful greeting, such as
even poor inns afford to all and sundry, amend the first impression of
gloom and decay, which the house and its surroundings conveyed to the
mind. On the contrary, not a soul was to be seen, and we had ridden
half way across the yard, and Smith had twice called "House! House!"
before anyone was aroused.

Then the upper half of a stable-door creaked open, and a man holding
up a great horn lanthorn, peered out at us.

"Are you all asleep?" cried my companion. And when the man made no
answer, but still continued to look at us, "What is in the house," he
added, angrily, "that you stick out your death's head to frighten
company? Is it lace or old Nantz? Or French goods? Any way, box it
about and be done with it, and attend to us."

"Eight, master, right, I am coming," the man answered, suddenly
rousing himself; and opening the lower half of the door, he came
heavily out. "At your service," he said. "But we have little company."

"The times are bad?"

"Ay, they looked a bit better six months back."

"But nothing came of it?"

"No, worse luck."

"And all that is called for now--is common Hollands, I suppose?"

The fellow grinned. "Right," he said. "You have the hang of it,
master."

My companion slid to the ground, and began to remove his pistols and
saddlebag. "Still you have some guests, I suppose?" he said.

"Ay, one," the man answered, slowly, and I thought, reluctantly.

"Is he, by any chance, a man of the name of--but never mind his name,"
Smith said. "Is he a surgeon?"

The hostler or host--for he had the air of playing both parts--a big
clumsy fellow, with immobile features and small eyes, looked at us
thoughtfully and chewed a straw. "Well, may be," he said, at last. "I
never asked him." And without more he took Smith's horse by the rein
and lurched through the door into the stable; the lanthorn swinging in
his hand as he did so, and faintly disclosing a long vista of empty
stalls and darkling roof. As I followed, leading in my sorry mare, a
horse in a distant stall whinnied loudly.

"That is his hack, I suppose," said Smith; and coolly taking up the
lanthorn, which the other had that moment set down, he moved through
the stable in the direction whence the sound had come.

The man of the house uttered something between an oath and a grunt of
surprise; and letting fall the flap of the saddle which he had just
raised that he might slacken the girths, he went after him. "Softly,
master," he said, "every man to his----"

But Smith was already standing with the lanthorn held high, gazing at
a handsomely-shaped chestnut horse that pricking its ears turned a
gentle eye on us and whinnied again. "Umph, not so bad," my companion
said. "His horse, I suppose?"

The man with the straw looked the animal over reflectively. At length
with something between a grunt and a sigh, "He came on it," he said.

"He won't go on it in a hurry."

"Why not?" said the man, more quickly than he had yet spoken: and he
looked from the horse to my companion with a hint of hostility.

"Have you no eyes?" Smith answered, roughly. "The off-fore has filled;
the horse is as lame as a mumper!"

"Grammon!" cried the other, evidently stung. And then, "You know a
deal about horses in London! And never saw one or a blade of green
grass, maybe, until you came Kent way!"

"As you please," Smith said, indifferently. "But my business is not
with the horse but the master. So take us in, my good friend, and give
us supper, for I am famished. And afterwards, if you please, we will
see him."

"That is as he pleases," the fellow answered sulkily. But he raised no
second objection, and when we had littered down the horses he led the
way into the house by a back door, and so along a passage and down a
step or two, which landed us in a room with a sanded floor, a fire,
and a show of warmth and comfort, as welcome as it was unexpected.
Here he left us to remove our cloaks, and we presently heard him
giving orders, and bustling the kitchen.

The floor of the room in which he had left us was sunk a little below
the level of the road outside; and the ceiling being low and the
window of greater width than height, and the mantel-shelf having for
ornament a row of clean delft and pewter, I thought that no place had
ever looked more snug and cosy. But whatever comfort I looked to
derive from surroundings so much better than I had expected, was
dashed by Smith's first words, who, as soon as we were alone came
close to me under the pretence of unclasping my cloak, and in a low,
guarded tone, and with a look of the grimmest, warned me to play my
part.

"We go upstairs after supper, and in five minutes it will be done," he
muttered. "Go through with it boldly, and in twenty-four hours you may
be back in London. But fail or play me false, Mr. Price, and, by
heaven, I put a ball through your head first, and my own afterwards.
Do you mark me? Do you mark me, man?"

I whispered in abject nervousness--seeing that he was indeed in
earnest--that I would do my best; and he handed me a ring which was
doubtless the same that the Countess had given to her woman. It had a
great dog cut cameo-wise on the stone, which I think was an opal; and
it fitted my finger not ill. But I had no more than time to glance at
it before the host and his wife, a pale, scared-looking woman, came in
with some bacon and eggs and ale, and as one or other of them stayed
with us while we ate, and watched us closely, nothing more passed.
Smith talking indifferently to them, sometimes about the fruit
harvest, and sometimes in cant phrases about the late plot, the arrest
of Hunt at Dymchurch (who had been used to harbour people until they
had crossed), how often Gill's ship came over, Mr. Birkenhead's many
escapes, and the like. Probably the man and woman were testing Smith;
but if so, he satisfied them, for when we had finished our meal, and
he asked openly if Sir John would see us, they raised no objection,
but the man, taking a light from the woman's hand, led the way up a
low-browed staircase to a room over that in which we had supped. Here
he knocked, and a voice bidding us enter. Smith went in, and I after
him, my heart beating furiously.

The room, which resembled the one beneath it in being low in the
ceiling, looked the lower for the gaunt height of its one occupant,
who had risen, and stood in the middle of the floor to receive us.
Thin and spare by nature, the meagre and rather poor-looking dress
which he wore added to the singularity of his aspect. With a
dry-as-dust complexion, and a three-days'-old beard, he had eyes
light-coloured, quick-glancing, and sanguine, and notwithstanding the
danger and uncertainty of his position, a fugitive in this wayside
house, with a thousand guineas on his head--for I never doubted I was
looking on Sir John Fenwick--his manner was at one moment arrogant and
boastful, and at another dreamy. He had something of the air of a
visionary; nor could any one be long in his company without discerning
that here was the very man for our purpose; one to whom all his geese
were swans, and a clasp of the hand, if it marched with his hopes and
wishes, of as much value as a pledge signed and sealed.

All this taken for granted, it is to be confessed that at first sight
of us, his face fell, and his chagrin was unmistakable. "It is you.
Smith, is it," he said, with a sigh. "Well, well, and I thought it was
Birkenhead. Brown said it was not, but I thought that it must be. It
is not every one knows Birkenhead when he sees him."

"No, Sir John, that is true."

"However, I shall see him in the morning. I go on board at New Romney
at four, and doubtless he will be with Gill. When we come back----"

"Ah, Sir John, times will be changed then!" Smith said.

"They will, sir, with this Dutch crew and their low beast of a master
swept into the sea! And gentlemen in their homes again! I have been
amusing myself even now," he continued, his eyes wandering to the
table on which lay a litter of papers, an inkhorn, and two snuffy
candles, "with plans for a new wing at Fenwick Hall, in the old style,
I think, or possibly on the lines of the other house at Hexham. I am
divided between the two. The Hall is the more commodious; the old
Abbey has greater stateliness. However, I must put up my scripts now
for I must be in the saddle in an hour. Have you commands for the
other side of the water, Mr. Smith? If so I am at your service."

Smith answered with a little hesitation, "Certainly, my business has
to do with that, Sir John." And he was proceeding to explain when the
baronet, rubbing his hands in glee, cut him short.

"Ha! I thought so," he cried, beaming with satisfaction. "Faith, it is
so with everyone. They are all of a tale. My service, and my respects,
and my duty--all to go you know where; and it is 'Make it straight for
me. Sir John,' and 'You will tell the King, Sir John?' and 'Answer for
me as for yourself, Sir John!' all day long when they can come at me.
Why, man, you know something, but you would be surprised what messages
I am carrying over. And when people have not spoken they have told me
as much by a look; and those the least likely. Men who ten years ago
were as black Exclusionists as old Noll himself!"

"I can believe it, Sir John," said Smith with gravity, while I, who
knew how the late conspiracy had united the whole country in King
William's defence, so that the man who refused to sign the Common's
Association to that end went in peril of violence, listened with as
much bewilderment as I had felt three minutes before, on hearing how
this same man, a fugitive and an outlaw, bound beyond seas, had been
employing his time!

However, he was as far from guessing what was in my mind as he was
from doubting Smith's sincerity; and encouraged by the latter's assent
he continued: "It is parlous strange to me, Mr. Smith, how the drunken
Dutch boor stands a day! Strange and passing strange! But it cannot
last. It will not last out the year. These executions have opened
men's eyes finely! And by Christmas we shall be back."

"A merry Christmas it will be," said Smith. "Heaven grant it. But you
have not asked, Sir John, who it is I have with me."

At that and at a sign he made me, I let fall the collar of the cloak I
was wearing; which, in obedience to his directions, I had hitherto
kept high about my chin. Sir John, his eyes drawn to me, as much by my
action as by Smith's words, stared at me a moment before his mouth
opened wide in recognition and surprise. Then, "I--I am surely not
mistaken!" he cried, advancing a step, while the colour rose in his
sallow face. "It is--it certainly is----"

"Sir John," Smith cried in haste, and, he, too, advanced a step and
raised a hand in warning, "this is Colonel Talbot! Colonel Talbot,
mark you, sir; I am sure you understand me, and the reasons which make
it impossible for any but Colonel Talbot to visit you here. He has
done me the honour to accompany me. But, perhaps," he continued,
checking himself with an air of deference, "it were more fitting I
left you now."

"No," I said hurriedly, repeating the lesson I had learned by rote,
and in which Smith had not failed to practice me a dozen times that
day. "I am here to one end only--to ask Sir John Fenwick to do Colonel
Talbot a kindness; to take this ring and convey it with my service and
duty--whither he is going."


[Illustration: SIR JOHN ... STARED AT ME A MOMENT]


"Oh, but this is extraordinary!" Sir John cried, lifting his hands and
eyes in a kind of ecstasy. "This is a dispensation! A providence! But,
my lord," he continued with rapture, "there is one more step you may
take, one more effort you may make. Be the restorer, the Monk of this
generation! So ripe is the pear that were you to ride through the City
to-morrow, and proclaim our rightful sovereign, not a citizen but
would bless you, not a soldier but would throw down his pike! The
Blues are with us to a man, and enraged besides at Keyes's execution.
And the rest of the army--do you dream that they see Dutch colonels
promoted and Dutch soldiers overpaid, and do not resent it? I tell
you, my lord--your Grace, I should say, for doubtless the King will
confirm it."

"Sir John," I said hastily, assuming an anger I did not feel. "You
mistake me. I am Colonel Talbot and no other. And I am here not to
listen to plans or make suggestions, but to request a favour at your
hands. Be good enough to convey that ring with my service whither you
are going."

"And that is all?" he cried reproachfully. "You will say no more?"

"That is all, sir," I answered; and then catching Smith's eye, I
added, "Save this. You may add that, when the time comes, I shall know
what to do, and I shall do it."

This time, sobered by my words and manner, he took in silence the ring
I proffered; but having glanced at it, gave way to a second burst of
rapture and Jubilation, more selfish and personal than the first, but
not less hearty. "This will be the best news Lord Middleton has had
for a twelvemonth!" he cried gleefully. "And that I should succeed
where I am told that he failed! Gad! I am the proudest man in England,
your Grace--Colonel Talbot, I mean. We will pound Melfort and that
faction with this! We will pound them to powder! He has wasted half a
million and not got such an adherent! Good Lord, I shall not rest now
until I am across with the news."

"Nor I--until Colonel Talbot is on the road again," said Smith,
intervening deftly. "At the best this is no very safe place for him."

"That is true," said Sir John, with ready consideration. "And I should
be riding within the half-hour. But to Romney. You, I suppose, return
to London?"

"To London," I said, mechanically.

"Direct?" said he, with deference.

"As directly as we dare," Smith answered; and with the word moved to
the door and opened it. On which I bowed and was for going out;
perhaps with a little awkwardness. But Sir John, too deeply impressed
by the honour I had done him to let me retire so lamely, started
forward, and snatching up a candle, would hold the door and light me;
bending his long back, and calling to Brown to look to us--to look to
us! Nor was this all; for when I halted half way down the stairs, and
turned, feeling that such courtesy demanded some acknowledgement or at
least a word of thanks, he took the word out of my mouth.

"Hist! Colonel Talbot!" he cried in a loud whisper; and leaning far
over the stairs he held the light high with one hand and shaded his
eyes with the other. "You know that we have the Tower?"

"The Tower?" I muttered, not understanding him.

"To be sure. Ailesbury has it in his hand. It will declare for us
whenever he gets the word. But--you know it from him, I suppose?"

"From Lord Ailesbury?" I exclaimed in sheer surprise. "But he is a
prisoner!"

Sir John winked. "Prisoner and master!" he muttered, nodding
vigorously. "But there, I must not keep you. Good luck and _bon
voyage_, M. le duc."

Which was the last I saw of him for that time. Nor did I ever see him
again save on one occasion. That he was a violent and factious man,
and a foe to the Protestant succession I do not deny; nor that some
passages in his life do him little credit, and the most bruited the
least. But for all this, and though I was then even a stranger to him,
I am fain to confess that as I stumbled down the stairs, and left the
poor misguided gentleman alone in his mean room to pack up those plans
for the extension of the old house that would never again own a
Fenwick for its master, and so to set out on his dark journey, I felt
as much pity for him, as loathing for the trickster who employed me.
And so far was this carried and so much influence had it with me that
when we reached the room below and the landlord having left us to see
to the horses, Smith in his joy at our success clapped me on the
shoulder, I shrank from his hand as if it burned me; shrank, and burst
into childish tears of rage. Naturally Smith, unable to comprehend,
stared at me in astonishment. "Why, man," he cried, "what is the
matter? What ails you?"

"You!" I said. "You, curse you."



                           CHAPTER XXXVIII


And doubtless it was this outbreak, or rather the suspicion of me
which it sowed in Smith's mind, that occasioned the sequel of our
adventure; for when he had cursed me for a fool and had put on his
cloak, being now ready to go out, he seemed to be in two minds about
it; as if he dared neither leave me where I was, lest I should
communicate with Sir John, nor take me with him on his immediate
errand. More than once he went to the door, and eying me askance and
sourly, came back; but in the end and after standing a while
irresolute, biting his nails, he made up his mind, and curtly bade me
follow him.

"Do you think that I am to saddle for you, you whelp?" he cried. "Be
stirring! and have a care, or I shall bore that hole in you yet. Take
that bag and go before me. By G----, I wish you were at the bottom of
the nearest horse-pond!"

His words had the effect he intended, of bringing me to my senses; but
they went farther. For in proportion as they cooled my temper they
awakened my fears; and though I obeyed him abjectly, took up my bag
and followed him, it was with a sudden and horrible distrust of his
purpose. I saw that I had not only ceased to be of use to him, but was
now in his way, and might be a danger to him, and the night--which
enveloped us the moment we crossed the threshold and seemed the more
dreary and forbidding for the ruddy light and comfort we left behind
us--reminding me of the long dark miles I must ride by his side, each
mile a terror to one and an opportunity to the other, I had much ado
not to give way to instant panic there and then. However, for the time
I controlled myself; and stumbling across the gloomy yard to the spot
where a faint gleam of light indicated the door of the stables, I went
in.

The landlord was saddling our horses; and a little cheered by the
warmth of his lanthorn, I went to help him. Smith turned aside, as I
thought, into the next stall. But Brown was sharper and more
suspicious, and in a twinkling called to him lustily, to know what he
was doing. Getting no answer, "Devil take him," the landlord cried.
"He cannot keep from that horse! Here, you! What are you doing there?"

"Coming!" Smith answered; but even as he spoke I caught the smart
click of iron falling on iron, and the horse in the distant stall
moved sharply with a hurried clatter of hoofs on the stones. "Coming!"
Smith repeated. "What is the matter with you, man?"

"You had better come," the landlord answered savagely. "Or I shall
fetch you. Here you!" this to me, "lead yours out, will you. I want to
see your backs, and be quit of you!"

I took my horse by the bridle, and led it out of the stable, while
Brown went to bit the other. And so, being alone outside, and the moon
rising at the moment over the roof of the house and showing me the
open gates at the end of the yard, the impulse to escape from Smith
while I had the opportunity came on me with overpowering force. Better
acquainted than the landlord with the villain's plans I had not a
doubt that at that very moment he was laming Sir John's horse for the
purpose of detaining him; and the cold-blooded treachery of this act,
filling me with as much terror on my own account--who might be the
next victim--as hatred of the perpetrator, I climbed softly to my
saddle, and began to walk my horse towards the gates. Doubtless Smith
was too busy, cloaking his own movements, to be observant of mine. I
reached the gates unnoticed, and turning instinctively from London--in
which direction I fancied that he would be sure to pursue me--I kicked
my mare first into a quick walk, then into a cautious trot, finally
into a canter. The beast, though far from speedy, was fresh from its
corn; it took hold of the bit, shied at a chance light in a cotter's
window, and went faster and faster, its ears pricked forward. In a
minute we had left Ashford behind us, and were clattering through the
moonlight. With one hand on the pommel and the other holding the
shortened reins I urged the mare on with all the pressure of my legs;
and albeit I trembled, now at some late-seen obstacle, which proved to
be only the shadow of a tree, thrown across the road, and now at the
steepness of a descent that appeared suddenly before me, I never
faltered, but uphill and downhill drove in my heels, and with fear
behind me, rode in the night as I had never before dared to ride in
the daylight.

I had known nothing like it since the summer day twelve years before
when I had fled across the Hertfordshire meadows on my feet. The sweat
ran down me, I stooped in the saddle out of pure weakness; if the
horse pricked its ears forward I spread mine backward listening for
sounds of pursuit. But such a speed could not be long maintained, and
when we had gone, as I judged, two miles, the mare began to flag, and
the canter became a trot. Still for another mile I urged her on, until
feeling her labour under me, and foreseeing that I must ride far, I
had the thought to turn into the first lane to which I came, and there
wait in the shadow of a tree until Smith, if he followed, should pass.

I did this, sprang down, and standing by my panting horse, in a marshy
hollow, some two hundred paces from the road, listened intently, for
twenty minutes, it may be, but they seemed to be hours to me. After
the life I had been leading in London, this loneliness in the night in
a strange and wild place, and with a relentless enemy on my track,
appalled my very soul. I was hot and yet I shivered, and started at
the least sound. The scream of a curlew daunted me, the rustling of
the rushes and sedge shook me, and when a sad wail, as of a multitude
of lost souls passed overhead, I cowered almost to my knees. Yet,
inasmuch as these sounds, doleful and dreary as they were, were all I
heard, and the night air brought no trampling of distant hoofs to my
ear, I had reason to be thankful, and more than thankful; and my mare
having by this time got her wind again, I led her back to the road,
climbed into the saddle and plodded on steadily; deriving a wonderful
relief and confidence from the thought that Smith had followed me
London-wards.

Moreover, I had conceived a sort of horror of the loneliness of the
waste country-side, and to keep the highway was willing to run some
risk. I took it that the road I was travelling must bring me to
Romney, and for a good hour and a half, I jogged with a loose rein
through the gloom, the way becoming ever flatter and wetter, the wind
more chill and salt, and the night darker, the moon being constantly
overcast by clouds. In that marshy district are few hamlets or farms,
and those of the smallest, and very sparsely scattered. Once or twice
I heard the bark of a distant sheep dog, and once far to the left I
saw a tiny light and had the idea of making for it. But the reflection
that a dozen great ditches, each wide enough and deep enough to
smother my horse, might lie between me and the house, availed to keep
me in the road; the more as I now felt sure from the saltness of the
night air that Romney and the sea were at no great distance in front
of me. Presently indeed, I made out in front of me two moving lights,
that I took to be those of ships riding at anchor, and my weary mare
quickened her pace as if she smelt the stable and the hayrack.

For five minutes after that I plodded on in the happy belief that my
journey was as good as over, and I saved; and I let my mind dwell on
shelter and safety, and a bed and food and the like, all awaiting me,
as I fancied, in the patch of low gloom before me where my fancy
pictured the sleeping town. Then on a sudden, my ear caught the dull
beat of a horse's hoofs on the road behind me; and my heart standing
still with terror, I plucked at my reins, and stood to listen. Ay, and
it was no fancy; a moment satisfied me of that. Thud-thud, thud-thud,
and then squash-squash, squish-squish! a horse was coming up behind
me; and not only behind me, but hard upon me--within less than a
hundred paces of me. The soft wet road had smothered the sound up to
the last moment.

The rider was so close to me indeed, and I was so much taken by
surprise that the moon sailing at that instant into a clear sky,
showed me to him before I could set my horse going; and, as I started,
whipping and spurring desperately, I heard the man shout. That was
enough for me; plunging recklessly forward along the wet, boggy road,
I flogged my horse into a jaded canter, and leaning low in the saddle
in mortal fear of a bullet, closed my eyes to the dangers that lay
ahead, and thought only of escape from that which followed on my
heels.

Suddenly, and while I was still kicking and urging on my horse, before
the first flush of fear had left me, I heard a crash and a cry behind
me; but I did not dare at the moment to look back. I only leaned the
lower, and clung the more tightly to my horse's mane and still pressed
on. By-and-by, however, hearing nothing, it flashed on me that I was
riding alone, that I was no longer pursued; and a little later taking
courage to draw rein and look back wearily, I found that I could see
nothing, nor hear any sound save the heavy panting of my own horse. I
had escaped. I had escaped and was alone on the marsh. But as I soon
satisfied myself, I was no longer on the causeway along which I had
been travelling when the man surprised me. The wind which had then met
me was now on my right cheek; the lights for which I had been heading
were no longer visible. The track, too, when I moved cautiously
forward, seemed more wet and rough; after that it needed little to
convince me that I had strayed from the highway, probably at the point
where my pursuer had fallen.

This, since I dared not return by the way I had come, terribly
perplexed me. I dismounted, and wet and shivering stood by my horse,
which hung its head, and restlessly lifted its feet by turns as if it
already felt the engulfing power of the moss. Peering out every way I
saw nothing but gloom and mist, the dark waste and unknown depths of
the marsh. It was a situation to try the stoutest, nor did it need the
mournful sough of the wind as it swept the flats, or the strange
gurgling noises that from time to time rose from the sloughs about me
to add the last touch of fear and melancholy to the scene.

Though, for my own part, I sank in no farther than my ankles, the
horse by its restlessness evinced a strong sense of danger, and I
dared not stand still. But as clouds had again obscured the moon and
the darkness was absolute, to advance seemed as dangerous as to
remain. However, in fear that the horse, if I stood where I was, would
break loose from me, I led it forward cautiously: and then the track
growing no worse but rather better, and the beast seeming to gain
confidence as it proceeded, I presently took courage to remount again,
and dropping the reins allowed it to carry me whither it would. This
it did slowly and with infinite caution, smelling rather than feeling
the way, and often stopping to try a doubtful spot. Observing how
wonderfully the instinct of the beast aided it, and remembering that I
had once been told that horses feared nothing so much as to be smoored
(as the fenmen call it), and would not willingly run that risk, I
gained confidence myself; which the event justified, for by-and-by I
caught the dull sound of sea-waves booming on a beach, and a few
minutes afterwards discerned in the sky before me the first faint
streaks of dawn.

Heaven knows how welcome it was to me! I was wet, weary and shivering
with cold and with the aguish air of that dreary place; which is so
unwholesome that I am told the natives take drugs to stave off the
fever, as others do ale and wine. But at the sight I pricked up, and
the horse too; and we moved on briskly; and presently by the help of
the growing light, and through a grey mist which trebled the size of
all objects, I saw a huge wall or bank loom across my path. I was
close to it when I discerned it; and I had no more than time to
despair of surmounting it, before the horse was already clambering up
it. Scrambling and slipping among the stones, in a minute or so and
with a great clatter we gained the summit; and saw below and before us
the smooth milky surface of the sea lifting lazily under the fog.

So seen it had a strangely weird and pallid aspect, as of a dead sea,
viewed in dreams: and I stood a moment to breathe my horse and admire
the spectacle; nor did I fail to thank God that I was out of that
dreary and treacherous place. Then, considering my future movements
and not knowing which way I ought to take--to right or left along the
beach--to gain the more quickly help and shelter, I was reining my
mare down the sea side of the bank when a welcome sound caught my ear.
It was a man's voice giving an order. I halted and peered through the
sea-haze; and by-and-by I made out a boat, lying beached at the edge
of the tide, some hundred and fifty yards to my left. There were men
standing in it, I could not see how many; and more were in the act of
pushing it off the strand. Their voices came to me with singular
clearness; but the words were unintelligible.

The sight gave me pause: and for a moment I stood reconnoitring the
men. To advance or not was the question, and I was still debating it,
and striving to deduce something from the men's appearance, when
something, I never knew what--perhaps some noise ill-apprehended--led
me to turn aside my head. Whatever the cause of the movement, it
apprised me of something little suspected. Not fifty paces behind me I
saw the figure of a giant horseman looming out of the mist. He was
advancing along the summit of the sea-wall below which I stood; hence
I saw him before he made me out: and this gave me the start and the
advantage. I had time to take in the thing, and seize my horse by the
head, and move eight or ten paces towards the boat before he took the
cue. Then on neither side was there any concealment. With a cry, a
yell rather, the mere sound of which flung me into a panic, the man
urged his horse down the bank shouting fiercely to me to stand; I in
utter terror spurred mine across the beach towards the men I had seen.

I have said that I had some sixty yards of start, and two hundred or
so to cross, to reach the boat; but the horses were scarcely able to
trot; a yard was a furlong; and the sand swallowing up the sound of
hoofs, it was a veritable race of ghosts, of phantoms, labouring
through the mist across the flat, with the oily Stygian sea lapping
the shore beside us. He cried out in the most violent fashion, now
bidding me stay and now bidding the men stop me. And for all I know
they might be in his pay, or at best be some of the reckless
desperadoes who on that coast live by owling and worse practices. But
they were my only hope and I too cried to them; and with joy I saw
them put in again--they had before got afloat. Believing Smith to be
gaining, I cried pitifully to them to save me, and then my horse
stumbling, I flung myself from the saddle, and plunged through the
sand towards them. At that, two sprang out to meet me and caught me
under my arms; and in a moment, amid a jargon of cries in a foreign
tongue whipped me over the side into the boat. Then they pushed it off
and leaped in themselves, wet to the thighs; and as my pursuer came
lurching down the beach, a pistol drawn in his hand, a couple of
powerful strokes drove the boat through the light surf. Waving
frantically he yelled to the men to wait, and rode to his boot-soles
into the water; but with a jeering laugh and a volley of foreign words
the sailors pulled the faster and the faster, and the mist lying thick
on the water, and the boat sitting low, in half a minute we lost the
last glimpse of him and his passion, and rode outward on a grey
boundless sea.



                            CHAPTER XXXIX


I should have been less than a man had I not thanked God for my
escape. But it is in the sap of a tree to run upward in the spring,
and in the blood of a man to live in the present and future, the past
going for little; and I had not crouched two minutes on the thwart
before the steady lurch of the boat outwards and seawards fixed my
attention. From this to asking myself by what chance I had been saved,
and who were the men who sat round me--and evinced no more curiosity
about me than if they had been sent to the spot purely and simply to
rescue me--was but a step.

I took it, scanned them stealthily, and was far from reassured; the
sea-garb was then new to me, and these wearers of it were the wildest
of their class. The fog which enfolded us magnified their clumsy
shoulders and great knitted night-caps and the tarry ringlets that
hung in festoons about their scarred and tanned faces. The huge
gnarled hands that swung to and fro with the oars were no more like
human flesh than the sea-boots which the men wore, drawn high on their
thighs. They had rings in their ears, and from all came a reek of
tobacco, and salt-fish, and strange oaths; nor did it need the
addition of the hanger and pistol which each wore in his belt to
inform me that I had fallen once again among fierce and desperate men.

Dismayed by all I saw, it yet surprised me that no one questioned me.
He who sat in the stern of the boat, and seemed to be in command, had
a whistle continually at his lips, and his eyes on the curtain of haze
before us; but if the tiller and navigation of the boat took up his
thoughts, there were others. These, however, were content to pull on
in silence, eyeing me with dull brutish stares, until the fog lifting
disclosed on a sudden the hull of a tall ship looming high beside us.
A shrill piping came from it--a sound I had heard before, but taken to
be the scream of a sea-bird; and this, as we drew up, was followed
by a hail. The man by my side let his whistle fall that he might
answer--which he did, in French. A moment later our boat grated
against the heaving timbers, and I, looking up through the raw morning
air, saw a man in a boat-cloak spring on the bulwarks and wave his
hat.

"Welcome!" he cried, lustily. "And God save the King! A near thing
they tell me, sir. But come on board, come on board, and we shall see
Dunquerque the sooner. Up with you, Sir John, if you please, and let
us be gone with the fog, and no heel-taps!"

Then, without another word, I knew what had happened; I knew why the
boat which had picked me up, had been waiting on the beach at that
hour; and as I rose to my feet on the seat, and clutched the rope
ladder which the sailors threw down to me, my knees knocked together;
for I foresaw what I had to expect. But the deck was surer ground for
debate or explanation than the cockle-shell wherein I sat, and which
tossed and ducked under me, threatening every moment to upset my
stomach; and I went up giddily, grasped the bulwark, and, aided by
half-a-dozen grinning seamen, night-capped and ringletted, I sprang
down on the deck.

The man in the boat-cloak received me with a clumsy bow, and shook my
hand. "Give you joy, Sir John!" he said. "Glad to see you, sir. I
began to fear that you were taken! A little more, and I must have left
you. But all's well that ends well, and--your pardon one moment."

With that he broke off, and shouted half-a-dozen orders in French and
English and French to the sailors; and in a moment the capstan, as I
afterwards heard it called, was creaking round, and there was a hurry
of feet, first to one side and then to the other, and a great shouting
and a hauling at ropes. The ship heeled over so suddenly that if I had
not caught at the rail I must have lost my footing, and for an instant
the green seas seemed to swell up on a level with the slanting deck as
if they would swallow us bodily. Instead, the sloop, still heeling
over, began to gather way, and presently was hissing through the
water, piling the white surf before it, only to pour it foaming to
either side. The haze, like a moving curtain, began to glide by us;
and looking straight ahead I saw a yellow glare that told of the sun
rising over the French dunes.

The man who had received me, and who seemed to be the master, returned
to my side. "We are under way, sir," he said, "and I am glad of it.
But you will like to see Mr. Birkenhead? He would have met you, but
the sea-colic took him as he lay on the swell outside Dunquerque
whistling for a wind. He gets it badly one time, and one time he is as
hearty as you are. He is better this morning, but he is ill enough."

I muttered that I would see him by-and-by, when he was better. That I
would lie down a little, and----

"Oh! I have got a bunk for you in his cabin," the master answered
briskly. "I thought you would want to talk State secrets. Follow me,
if you please, and look to your sea-legs, sir."

He led the way to a hatch or trap-door, and raising it began to
descend. Not daring to refuse I followed him, down a steep ladder into
the dark bowels of the ship, the reek of tar and bilge-water, cheese
and old rum, growing stronger with every foot we descended. At the
bottom of the ladder he pushed aside a sliding panel, and signed
me to pass through the opening. I obeyed, and found myself in a
sort of dog-hole--as it seemed to me who knew nothing of ships'
cabins--lighted only by a span-wide round window, so dark, therefore,
that I stood a moment groping, and so close and foul-smelling that my
gorge rose.

Out of the gloom came a groan as of a sick sheep. "Here is Sir John,
safe and sound!" cried the master in his sea tones. "There is good
medicine for you, Mr. Birkenhead." And he peered into the darkness.

The only answer was a second groan. "Do you hear, sir?" the captain
repeated. "Sir John is here."

A voice feebly yet unmistakably d----d Sir John and the captain.

The master chuckled hoarsely. "Set a frigate behind us with a noose
flying at the yard-arm, and there is no man like him!" he said. "None,
Sir John; and I have carried him across seventy times and over, sick
and well, he should know the road from the Marsh to Southwark if any
man does. But let him be for the present, and do you lie down in the
bunk above him, and I will bring you some Nantz and a crust. When he
is better, he will be as glad to see you as if you were his brother."

I obeyed, and fortified by the strong waters he brought me, was glad
to lie down, and under cover of darkness consider my position and what
chance I had of extricating myself from it. For the time, and probably
until we reached Dunquerque, I was safe; but what would happen when
Birkenhead--the man whom the Jacobites called the Royal Post, and who
doubtless knew Sir John Fenwick by sight--what would happen, I say,
when he roused himself, and found that he had not only taken off the
wrong man but left Sir John to his fate? Would he not be certain to
visit the mischance on my head? Or if I escaped his hands, what must I
expect, a stranger, ashore in a foreign land with little money, and no
language at my command? I shuddered at the prospect; yet shuddered
more at the thought of Birkenhead's anger; so that presently all my
fore-looking resolved itself into a strenuous effort to put off the
evil day, and prolong by lying still and quiet the sleep into which he
appeared to have fallen.

He lay so close to me, divided only by the one board on which I
reclined, that all the noises of the ship--the creaking of the
timbers, the wash of the seas as they foamed along the quarter, and
the banging of blocks and ropes--noises that never ceased, failed to
cover the sound of his breathing. And this nearness to me, taken with
the fact that I could not see him, so tormented me with doubt whether
he was awake or asleep, was recovering or growing worse, that more
than once I raised my head and listened until my neck ached. In the
twilight of the cabin I could see his cloak swaying lazily on a hook;
on another hung a belt with pistols, that slid this way and that with
the swing of the vessel. And presently watching these and listening to
the regularity of his breathing, I laid my head down and did the last
thing I proposed to do or should have thought possible; for I fell
asleep.

I awoke with a man's hand on my shoulder; and sat up with a start of
alarm, a man's voice in my ear. The floor of the cabin slanted no
longer, the cloak and swordbelt hang motionless on the wall; and in
place of the sullen plash of the waves and the ceaseless creaking of
joists and knees, that had before filled the inwards of the ship, a
medley of shouts and cries, as shrill as they were unintelligible,
filled the pauses of the windlass. These things were, and I took them
in and drew the inference, that we were in harbour; but mechanically,
for it seemed, at the moment, that such wits as terror left me were in
the grasp of the man who shook me and swore at me by turns; and whose
short hair--for he was wigless--fairly bristled with rage and
perplexity.

"You! Who the devil are _you?_" he cried, frantically. "What witchcraft
is this? Here, Gill! Gill! Do you hear, you tarry pudding-head? Who is
this you have put in my cabin? And where is Fenwick? Where----"

"Where is Sir John?" cried a voice somewhat distant, as if the
speaker stooped to the hatchway. "He is there, Mr. Birkenhead. I set
him there myself. And between gentlemen, such words as those, Mr.
Birkenhead----"

"As what?" cried the man who held me.

"As tarry. But never mind; between friends----"

"Friends be hanged!" cried my assailant with violence. "Who is this
fool? That is what I asked. And you, have you no tongue?" he
continued, glaring at me. "Who are you, and where is Sir John
Fenwick?"

Before I could answer, the master, who had descended, crowded himself
into the doorway. "That is Sir John," he said, sulkily. "I thought
that you----"

"This, Sir John?" the other exclaimed.

"Ay, to be sure."

"As much Sir John as you are the warming-pan!" Birkenhead retorted;
and released me with so much violence that my head rapped against the
panels. "This, Sir John Fenwick?" And then, "Oh, man, man, you have
destroyed me," he cried. "Where is my reputation now? You have left
the real Simon Pure to be taken, and brought off this--this--you
booby, you grinning ape, who are you?"

Trembling, I told him my name.

"And Sir John?" he said. "Where is he?"

"I left him at Ashford," I muttered.

"It is a lie!" he cried in a voice that thrilled me to the marrow.
"You did not leave him at Ashford! He was with you on the beach--he
was with you and you deserted him! You left him to be taken, and saved
yourself. You wretch! You Judas!"

God knows by what intuition he spoke. For me, I swear that it was not
until that moment, not until he had put the possibility into words
that I knew--ay, knew, for that was the only word, so certain was I
after the event--that the man who had ridden down the beach and called
vainly on the sailors to wait, the man from whom we had rowed away
laughing, taking with us his last hope of life, was not Matthew Smith,
but Sir John Fenwick! _Now_, things which should have opened my eyes
then, and had not, came back to me. I recalled how tall and gaunt the
rider had looked through the haze, and a something novel in his voice,
and plaintive in his tone. True, I had heard the click-clack of
Smith's horse's shoes as clearly as I ever heard anything in my life;
but if Sir John, alarmed by the sound of my hasty departure, and
fearing treachery, had sallied out, and leaping on the first horse he
found, had ridden after me, then all was clear.

I saw that, and cowered before the men's accusing eyes: so that they
had been more than Solomons had they taken my sudden disorder for
aught but guilt--guilt brought home. For Birkenhead, his rage was
terrible. He seized me by the throat, and disregarding my pitiful
pleas that I had not known, I had not known, he dragged me from the
berth, and made as if he would choke me there and then with his naked
hands. Instead, however, he suddenly loosed me. "Faugh," he cried; "I
will not dirty my hands with you! That such as you--_you_ should be a
man's death! _You!_ But you shall not escape. Gill, up with him! Up
with him and to the yard-arm. String him up! He shall swing before he
is an hour older!"

"In Dunquerque harbour?" said the other.

"Why not?"

"Why not?" said the master. "Because, Mr. Birkenhead, I serve a King
_de jure_ and not _de facto_. That is why not. And if you want another
reason----"

"Well?"

"I am not aware that His Majesty has raised you to the Bench," the
master answered sturdily.

"Oh, you have turned sea-lawyer, have you?"

"Law is law," said the shipmaster. "England, or France, or the high
seas."

"And owling is owling!" the other retorted with passion. "And
smuggling, smuggling! You are a fine man to talk! If you will not hang
him--as they will hang Fenwick, so help me, never doubt it!--what will
you do with him?"

"Give my men a bag of sand apiece, and let him run the gauntlet," the
captain answered, with a phlegm that froze me. "Trust me, sir, they
will not leave much of a balance owing."

It was terrible to see how Birkenhead, vain, choleric and maddened by
disappointment, jumped at the cruel suggestion. For me, I shrank into
the bunk into the farthest corner, and cried for mercy; I might as
well have cried to the winds. I was hauled out, the word passed up,
and despite my desperate struggles, prayers and threats--the latter
not unmingled with the name of Shrewsbury, which did but harden
them--I was dragged to the foot of the ladder. Thence I was carried on
deck, where, half-dead with fear and powerless in the hands of three
stout seamen, I met none but grinning faces and looks of cruel
anticipation. Few need to be told with what zest the common herd flock
to a scene of cruel sport, how hard are their bosoms, how fiendish the
pleasure which all but the most humane and thoughtful take in helpless
suffering. Small was the chance that my pleas of innocence and appeals
for a hearing would gain attention. All was ready, the men bared their
arms and licked their lips, and in a moment I must have been set for
the baiting.

But in certain circumstances the extremity of fear is another name for
the extremity of daring; and the master, at this last moment going to
range the crew in two lines, and one of the sailors who had me in
charge releasing me for an instant, that he might arm himself with a
sand-bag, I saw my opportunity. With a desperate swing I wrenched
myself from the grasp of the other men. That done, a single bound
carried me to the plank which joined the deck to the shore. I flew
across it, swift as the wind; and as the whole crew seeing what had
happened broke from their stations and with yells and whoops of glee
took up the chase, I sprang on shore. Bursting recklessly through the
fringe of idlers whom the arrival of the ship had brought to the
water's edge, I sped across the open wharf, threaded a labyrinth of
bales and casks, and darted up the first lane to which I came.

Fear gave me wings, and I left the wharf a score of yards ahead of my
pursuers. But the seamen, who had taken up the chase with the gusto of
boys let loose from school, made up for the lack of speed by whooping
like demons; and the English among them halloing "Stop Thief!" and the
others some French words alike in import, the alarm went abreast of
me. Fortunately the lane was almost deserted, and I easily evaded
the halfhearted efforts to stop me, which one or two made. It seemed
that I should for the present get away. But at the last moment, at the
head of the lane fate waited for me: an old woman standing in a
doorway--and who made, as I came up, as if she was afraid of me--flung
a bucket after me. It fell in front of me, I trod on the edge and fell
with a shriek of pain.

Before I could rise or speak, the foremost of the sailors came up and
struck me on the head with a sand-bag; and the others as they arrived
rained blows on me without mercy. I managed to utter a cry, then
instinctively covered my head with my arms. They belaboured me until
they were tired and I almost senseless; when, thinking me dead, they
went off whistling, and I crawled into the nearest doorway and fainted
away.



                              CHAPTER XL


When I recovered my senses I was on my back in one of eighteen beds,
in a long white-walled room, having barred windows, and a vaulted
ceiling. A woman, garbed strangely in black, and with a queer white
cap drawn tight round her face, leaned over me, and with her finger
laid to her lips, enjoined silence. Here and there along the wall were
pictures of saints; and at the end two candles burned before a kind of
altar. I had an idea that I had been partly conscious, and had lain
tossing giddily with a burning head, and a dreadful thirst through
days and nights of fever. Now, though I could scarcely raise my head,
and my brain reeled if I stirred, I was clear-minded, and knew that
the bone of my leg was broken, and that for that reason I had a bed to
myself where most lay double. For the rest I was so weak I could only
cry in pure gratitude when the nun came to me in my turn, and fed me,
and plain, stout, and gentle-eyed, laid her fingers on her lip, or
smiling, said in her odd English "Quee-at, quee-at, monsieur!"

In face of the blessings which the Protestant Succession, as settled
in our present House of Hanover, has secured to these islands, it
would little become me to find a virtue in papistry; and my late lord,
who early saw and abjured the errors of that faith, would have been
the last to support or encourage such a thesis. Notwithstanding which,
I venture to say that the devotion of these women to their calling is
a thing not to be decried, merely because we have no counterpart of
it, nor the charity of that hospital, simply because the burning of
candles and worshipping of saints alternate with the tendance of the
wretched. On the contrary, it seems to me that were such a profession,
the idolatrous vows excepted, grafted on our Church, it might redound
alike to the credit of religion--which of late the writings of Lord
Bolingbroke have somewhat belittled--and to the good of mankind.

So much with submission; nor will the most rigid of our divines blame
me, when they learn that I lay ten weeks in the Maison de Dieu at
Dunquerque, dependent for everything on the kind offices of those good
women; and nursed during that long period with a solicitude and
patience not to be exceeded by that of wife or mother. When I had so
far recovered as to be able to leave my bed, and move a few yards on
crutches, I was assisted to a shady courtyard, nestled snugly between
the hospital and the old town wall. Here, under a gnarled mulberry
tree which had sheltered the troops of Parma, I spent my time in a
dream of peace, through which nuns, apple-faced and kind-eyed, flitted
laden with tisanes, or bearing bottles that called for the immediate
attention of M. le Medecin's long nose and silver-rimmed spectacles.
Occasionally their Director would seat himself beside me, and silently
run through his office: or instruct me in the French tongue, and the
evils of Jansenism--mainly by means of the snuff-box which rarely left
his fine white hands. More often the meagre apothecary, young, yellow,
dry, ambitious, with a hungry light in his eyes, would take an English
lesson, until the coming of his superior routed him, and sent him to
his gallipots and compounding with a flea in his ear.

Such were the scenes and companions that attended my return to health;
nor, my spirits being attuned to these, should I have come to seek or
desire others, though enhanced by my native air--a species of inertia,
more easily excused by those who have viewed French life near at hand,
than by such as have never travelled--but for an encounter as
important in its consequences as it was unexpected, which broke the
even current of my days.

It was no uncommon thing for the nuns to bring one of my own
countrymen to me, in the fond hope that I might find a friend. But as
these persons, from the nature of the case, were invariably Jacobites,
and either knowing something of my story, thought me well served, or
coming to examine me, shied at the names of Mr. Brome and Lord
Shrewsbury, such efforts had but one end. When I heard, therefore, for
the fourth or fifth time that a compatriot of mine, amiable, and of a
vivacity _tout-â-fait marveilleuse_ was coming to see me, I was as far
from supposing that I should find an acquaintance, as I was from
anticipating the interview with pleasure. Imagine my surprise,
therefore, when S[oe]ur Marie called me into the garden at the
appointed time; and, her simple face shining with delight, led me to
the old mulberry tree, where, who should be sitting but Mary Ferguson!

She had as little expected to meet me as I to meet her, but coming on
me thus suddenly, and seeing me lame, and in a sense a cripple,
reduced, moreover, by the long illness through which I had passed, she
let her feelings have way. Such tenderness as she had entertained for
me before welled up now with irresistible force, and giving the lie to
a certain hoydenish hardness, inherent in a disposition which was
never one of the most common, in a moment she was in my arms. If she
did not weep herself, she pardoned, and possibly viewed with pleasure,
those tears on my part, which weakness and surprise drew from me,
while a hundred broken words and exclamations bore witness to the
gratitude she felt on the score of her escape.

Thus brought together, in a strange country, and agitated by a hundred
memories, nothing was at first made clear, except that we belonged to
one another, and S[oe]r Marie had long fled to carry the tale with
mingled glee and horror into the house, before we grew sufficiently
calm to answer the numberless questions which it occurred to each to
ask.

At length Mary, pressed to tell me how she had fared since her escape,
made one of the odd faces I could so well remember. And "Not as I
would, but as I could," she said, dryly. "By crossing with letters."

"Crossing?" I exclaimed.

"To be sure," she answered. "I go to and from London with letters."

"But should you be taken?" I cried, with a vivid remembrance of the
terror into which the prospect of punishment had thrown her.

She shrugged her shoulders; yet suppressed, or I was mistaken, a
shudder. Then "What will you?" she said, spreading out her little
hands French fashion, and making again that odd grimace. "It is the
old story. I must live, Dick. And what can a woman do? Will Lady
Middleton take me for her children's _governante?_ Or Lady Melfort
find me a place in her household? I am Ferguson's niece, a backstairs
wench of whom no one knows anything. If I were handsome now, _bien!_
As I am not--to live I must risk my living."

"You are handsome enough for me!" I cried.

She raised her eyebrows, with a look in her eyes that, I remember,
puzzled me. "Well, may be," she said a trifle tartly. "And the other
is neither here nor there. For the rest, Dick, I live at Captain
Gill's, and his wife claws me Monday and kisses me Tuesday."

"And you have taken letters to London?" I said, wondering at her
courage.

"Three times," she answered, nodding soberly. "And to Tunbridge
once. A woman passes. A man would be taken. So Mr. Birkenhead says.
But----" and with the word she broke off abruptly, and stared at me;
and continued to stare at me, her face which was rounder and more
womanly than in the old days, falling strangely.


[Illustration: SHE LISTENED IN SILENCE, STANDING OVER ME WITH
SOMETHING OF THE SEVERITY OF A JUDGE]


It wore such a look indeed, that I glanced over my shoulder thinking
that she saw something. Finding nothing, "Mary!" I cried. "What is it?
What is the matter?"

"Are you the man who came with Sir John Fenwick to the shore?" she
cried, stepping back a pace--she had already risen, "And betrayed him?
Dick! Dick, don't say it!" she continued hurriedly, holding out her
hands as if she would ward off my words. "Don't say that you are
_that_ man! I had forgotten until this moment whom I came to see; who,
they said, was here."

Her words stung me, even as her face frightened me. But while I winced
a kind of courage, born of indignation and of a sense of injustice
long endured, came to me; and I answered her with spirit. "No," I
said, "I am not that man."

"No?" she cried.

"No!" I said defiantly. "If you mean the man that betrayed Sir John
Fenwick. But I will tell you what man I am--if you will listen to me."

"What are yon going to tell me?" she answered, the troubled look
returning. And then, "Dick, don't lie to me!" she cried quickly.

"I have no need," I said. And with that, beginning at the beginning, I
told her all the story which is written here, so far as it was not
already known to her. She listened in silence, standing over me with
something of the severity of a judge, until I came to the start from
London with Matthew Smith.

There she interrupted me. "One moment," she said in a hard voice; and
she fixed me with keen, unfriendly eyes. "You know that Sir John
Fenwick was taken two days later, and is in the Tower?"

"I know nothing," I said, holding out my hands and trembling with the
excitement of my story, and the thought of my sufferings.

"Not even that?"

"No, nothing; not even that," I said.

"Nor that within a month, in all probability, he will be tried and
executed!"

"No."

"Nor that your master is in peril? You have not heard that Sir John
has turned on him and denounced him before the Council of the King?"

"No," I said. "How should I?"

"What?" she cried incredulously. "You do not know that with which all
England is ringing--though it touches you of all men?"

"How should I?" I said feebly. "Who would tell me here? And for weeks
I have been ill."

She nodded. "Go on," she said.

I obeyed. I took up the thread again, told her how we reached Ashford,
how I saw Sir John, how I fled, and how I was pursued; finally how I
was received on board the boat, and never, until the following day,
when Birkenhead flung it in my teeth, guessed that I had forestalled
Sir John, and robbed him of his one chance of escape. "For if I had
known," I continued warmly, "why should I fly from him? What had I to
fear from him? Or what to gain, if Smith with a pistol were not at my
heels, by leaving England? Gain?" I continued bitterly, seeing that I
had convinced her. "What _did_ I gain? This! This!" And I touched my
crippled leg.

"Thank God!" she said, with emotion. "Thank God, Dick. But----"

"But what!" I retorted sharply; for in the telling of the story I had
come to see more clearly than before how cruelly I had been treated.
"But what?"

"Well, just this," she said gently. "Have you not brought it on
yourself in a measure? If you had been more--that is, I mean, if you
had not been so----"

"So what?" I cried querulously, seeing her hesitate.

"Well, so quick to think that it was Matthew Smith--and a pistol," she
answered, smiling rather heartlessly. "That is all."

"There was a mist," I said.

She laughed in her odd way. "Of course, Dick, there was a mist," she
agreed. "And you cannot make bricks without straw. And after all you
did make bricks in St. James's Square, and it is not for me to find
fault. But there is a thing to be done, and it must be done." And her
lips closed firmly, after a fashion I remembered, and still remember,
having seen it a hundred times since that day, and learned to humour
it. "One that must be done!" she continued. "Dick, you will not leave
the Duke to be ruined by Matthew Smith? You will not lie here and let
those rogues work their will on him? Sir John has denounced him."

"And may denounce me!" I said, aghast at the notion. "May denounce
me," I continued with agitation. "_Will_ denounce me. If it was not
the Duke who was at Ashford, it was I!"

"And who are you?" she retorted, with a look that withered me.
"Who will care whether you met Sir John at Ashford or not? King
William--call him Dutchman, boor, drunkard, as it's the fashion this
side, call him I say what you will--at least he flies at high game,
and does not hawk at mice!"

"Mice?"

"Ay, mice!" she answered with a snap of her teeth--and she looked all
over the little vixen she could be. "For what are we? What are we now?
Still more, what are we if we leave the Duke to his enemies, leave him
to be ruined and disgraced, leave him to pay the penalty, while you,
the cause of all this, lie here--lie safe and snug? For shame, Dick!
For shame!" she continued with such a thrill in her voice that the
pigeons feeding behind her fluttered up in alarm, and two or three
nuns looked out inquisitively.

I had my own thoughts and my own feelings about my lord, as he well
knew in after years. I challenge any to say that I lacked either
respect or affection for him. But a man's wits move more slowly than a
woman's, and the news came on me suddenly. It was no great wonder if I
could not in a moment stomach the prospect of returning to risk and
jeopardy, to the turmoil from which I had been so long freed, and the
hazards of a life and death struggle. In the political life of twenty
years ago men carried their necks to market. Knowing that I might save
the Duke and suffer in his place--the fate of many a poor dependant;
or might be confronted with Smith; or brought face to face with
Ferguson; or perish before I reached London in the net in which my
lord's own feet were caught, I foresaw not one but a hundred dangers;
and those such as no prudent man could be expected to regard with
equanimity, or any but a harebrained girl would encounter with a light
heart.

Still I desired to stand well with her; and that being so I confess
that it was with relief I remembered my lameness; and named it to her.
Passing over the harshness of her last words, "You are right," I said.
"Something should be done. But for me it is impossible at present. I
am lame, as you see."

"Lame?" she cried.

"More than lame," I answered--but there was that in her tone which
bade me avoid her eyes. "A cripple, Mary."

"No, not a cripple," she answered.

"Yes," I said.

"No, Dick," she answered in a voice low, but so grave and firm that I
winced. "Let us be frank for once. Not a cripple, but a coward."

"I never said I was a soldier," I answered.

"Nor I," she replied, wilfully misunderstanding me. "I said, a coward!
And a coward I will not marry!"

With that we looked at one another: and I saw that her face was white.
"Was it a coward saved your life--in the Square?" I muttered at last.

"No," she answered. "But it was a coward played the sneak for
Ferguson. And a coward played the rogue for Smith! It was a coward
lost Fenwick--because he dare not look behind! And a coward who will
now sacrifice his benefactor, to save his own skin. And _you_ only
know in how many other things you have played the craven. But the
rather for that, up, now, and play the man! You have a chance now! Do
this one brave thing and all will be forgiven. Oh, Dick, Dick!" she
continued--and with a sudden blaze in her face she stooped and threw
her arms round me, "if you love me, do it! Do it for us both! Do
it--or if you cannot, God knows it were better we were hung, than
married!"

I cannot hope to describe the fervour, which she threw into these last
words, or the effect which they wrought on me, weakened as I was by
long illness. In a voice broken by tears I conjured her to give me
time--to give me time; a few days in which to consider what I would
do.

"Not a day!" she answered, springing from me in fresh excitement, and
as if my touch burned her. "I will give you no time. You have had a
lifetime, and to what purpose? I will give you no time. Do you give me
your word."

"To go to England?"

"Yes."

I was ashake from head to foot; and groaned aloud. In truth if I had
known the gallows to be the certain and inevitable end of the road, on
which I was asked to enter, I could not have been more sorely beset;
between rage and fear, and shame of her and desire for her. But while
I hung in that misery, she continuing to stand over me, I looked, as
it happened, in her face; and I saw that it was no longer hot with
anger, but sad and drawn as by a sharp pain. And I gave her my word,
trembling and shaking.

"Now," said she, "are you a brave man; and perhaps the bravest."



                             CHAPTER XLI


That the arrest of Sir John Fenwick, reported in London on the 13th of
June, was regarded by all parties as an event of the first magnitude,
scarce exceeded in importance by a victory in Flanders or a defeat in
the Mediterranean, is a thing not to be denied at this time of day;
when men, still in their prime, can recall the commotion occasioned by
it. The private animosity, which was believed to exist between Sir
John and the King, and which dated, if the gossip of Will's and
Garraway's went for anything, not from the slight which he had put
upon the late Queen, but from a much earlier period, when he had
served under William in Flanders, aroused men's curiosity, and in a
sense their pity; as if they were to see here the end of a Greek
drama.

Nor, apart from the public and general interest, which Sir John's
birth and family connections, no less than his share in the plot,
considerably augmented, was there any faction which could view his
arrest with indifference. He had been so deep in the confidence of St.
Germain's that were he to make a discovery, not Tories and Jacobites
only lay at his mercy, but all that large class among the Whigs who
had stooped to palter with James. These, as they were the more
culpable had also more to fear. Trembling at the prospect of a
disclosure which must convict them of practices at variance with their
most solemn professions, they were supported by none of those
sentiments of loyalty, honourable if mistaken, which excused the
others; while as each fondly thought his perfidy unknown to his
neighbour, and dreaded nothing so much as detection by the rank and
file of the party, he found the burden of apprehension weigh the more
heavily, because he had none to share it with him.

The absence of the King, who was campaigning in Flanders, aggravated
the suspense; which prevailed so widely for the reasons above, and
others, that it is not too much to say that barely four politicians
could be found of the first or second rank who were not nearly
concerned in the question of Sir John Fenwick's silence. Of these,
however, I make bold to say that my lord was one; and though the news
that Sir John, who lay in the Tower, had sent for the Duke of
Devonshire may have excited a passing feeling of jealousy in his
mind--since he and not the other Duke was the person to whom Sir John
might more fitly unbosom himself--I am confident, and, indeed, had it
from his own lips, that at this time he had no notion of any danger
threatening himself.

His eyes were first opened by the Earl of Marlborough; who, calling
upon him one day, ostensibly on business connected with the Princess
Anne (to whom the King had been reconciled before his departure),
presently named Sir John. From this to the statement made to the Duke
of Devonshire, and the rumours of its contents which filled the
coffee-houses, was but a step. The Earl seemed concerned; my lord, in
his innocence, sceptical.

At length the latter spoke out what was in his mind. "To tell you the
truth, my lord," he said frankly, "I think it is a mare's nest. I
don't believe that any statement has been made."

The Earl looked astonished. "May I ask why not?" he said.

"Because, unless I am much mistaken," my lord answered smiling, "the
Duke would have brought it straight to me. And I have heard nothing of
it."

"You have not asked the Duke?"

"Of course not."

"But--he was with Sir John," the Earl persisted steadily. "There is no
doubt of that, is there?"

"Oh, no."

"Well, then, is not that in itself strange?"

"I think not, there have always been friendly relations," my lord
continued, "between the Duke and Sir John."

"Just so," Lord Marlborough answered, taking a pinch of snuff. "Still,
do those relations warrant the Lord Steward in visiting him now?"

The Secretary looked a little startled. "Well, I don't know," he said.
"But the Duke of Devonshire's patriotism is so well established----"

"That he may steal the horse, while we look over the wall," Lord
Marlborough answered, taking him up with a smile. "Be that as it may,"
he continued, "and I am sure that the same may be said of the Duke of
Shrewsbury,"--here the two noblemen bowed to one another--"I think
your Grace's information is somewhat faulty on this point. I happen to
know that immediately after the interview a special messenger left
Devonshire House for Loo; and that the matters he carried were reduced
into writing by his Grace's own hand. That being so, Duke, you are
better qualified to draw the inference than I am."

My lord, at that, looked grave and nodded, being convinced; and I do
not doubt that he felt the slight which the other Duke's silence
implied. But though, of all the men I have ever met, he was the most
sensitive, he was the last also, to wear his heart on his sleeve; and
not only did he refrain from complaint of his colleague's conduct, but
he hastened to dispel by a word or two the effect of his momentary
gravity. "Ah, then I can guess what happened," he said, nodding his
comprehension. "I have no doubt that Sir John made it a term that his
discovery should be delivered to the King at first hand--and to no one
else."

Lord Marlborough rose. "Duke," he said firmly, "I think it is fair
that I should be more frank with you. The reason you give is not the
reason they are giving in the coffee-houses--for the Lord Steward's
reticence."

"No!" said my lord, with a faint note of scorn in his voice.

"No," said the Earl. "On the contrary, they say at Will's--and for the
matter of that at the St. James's too, that the statement is kept
close because it touched men in power."

"In power?" said my lord, with the same note in his voice. "In the
Council, do you mean?"

"Yes; three men."

"Do they name them?"

"Certainly," said my Lord Marlborough, smiling. "And they join with
the three one who is not in power."

"Ah!"

"Myself."

Nothing could exceed the placid indifference, as natural as it was
free from exaggeration, which the Earl contrived to throw into his
last word. Yet my lord started, and shuffled uneasily in his chair.
Knowing something, and perhaps suspecting more, aware of the character
which his enemies attributed to Lord Marlborough, he would not have
been the statesman he was, if he had not fancied an ulterior design,
in an admission not a little embarrassing. He confined himself,
therefore, to a polite shrug expressive of incredulity, and to the
words "_Credat Judæus_."

"Just so," said Lord Marlborough, whose erudition was not on a par
with the marvellous strategical powers he has since displayed. "What,
then, will your Grace say--to Ned Russell?"

"The First Lord of the Admiralty? Is _he_ named?"

"In the coffee-houses."

"Ah!"

"Lord Godolphin!"

"Impossible!"

"Not so impossible as the fourth," Lord Marlborough answered, with a
light laugh, in which courtesy, amusement, and a fine perception of
the ridiculous were nicely mingled. "Can you not guess, Duke?"

But my lord, too prudent to suggest names in that connection, shook
his head. "Who could?" he said, raising his eyebrows scornfully. "They
might as well name me, as some you are mentioning."

Lord Marlborough laughed softly. "My very dear Duke," he said, "that
is just what they are doing! They do name you. You are the fourth."

I believe that my lord had so little expected the answer that for a
space he remained, staring at the speaker, in equal surprise and
dismay. Then his indignation finding vent: "It is not possible!" he
cried. "Even in the coffee-houses! And besides, if your story is true,
my lord, the Duke of Devonshire alone knows what Sir John has
discovered, and whom he has accused!"

Lord Marlborough pursed up his lips. "Things get known--strangely," he
said. "For instance, the shadow which came between your Grace and His
Majesty in '90--probably you supposed it to be known to the King only,
or if to any besides, to Portland at most? On the contrary, there was
scarce a knot of chatterers at Garraway's but whispered of your
dinners with Middleton, and meetings with Montgomery, watched for the
event, and gave the odds on St. Germain's in guessing."

The Earl spoke in his airiest manner, took snuff _in medio_, and with
a carelessness that none could so well affect, avoided looking at his
hearer. Nevertheless, the shaft went home. My lord, smitten between
the joints of his harness, suffered all that a proud and sensitive
man, apprised on a sudden that his dearest secrets were the property
of the market-place, could suffer; and rage dissipating the composure
which self-respect would fain have maintained, "My lord, this is going
too far!" he gasped. "Who gave your lordship leave to--to touch on a
matter which concerns only myself?"

"Simply this later matter," the Earl answered in a plain,
matter-of-fact tone that at once sobered the Duke, and seemed to
justify his own interference. "If there is anything at all in this
rumour--if Sir John has really said anything, I take it that the old
gossip is at the bottom of it."

The Duke stared before him with a troubled face; and did not answer.
To some it might have seemed the most natural course to carry the war
into the informant's country, and by a dry question or a pregnant word
suggest that at least as good grounds existed for the imputation cast
on _him_. But such a line of argument was beneath the dignity, which
was never long wanting, to my lord; and he made no attempt to disturb
the other's equanimity or question his triumph. After a time, however,
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I forgot myself and spoke hastily. But
he is a most impudent fellow!"

"A d----d impudent fellow," the Earl cried, with more fervour than he
had yet exhibited.

"And he is playing an impudent game," my lord continued, thoughtfully.
"But a dangerous one."

"As he will find to his cost, before he has done!" Lord Marlborough
answered. "It is cunningly thought of. If he will save his head he
must give up some one. So, as he will not give up his friends he will
ruin his enemies; if the King is a fool, and can spare us."

"The King is no fool!" said the Duke, rather coldly. It was no secret
that between William and Lord Marlborough love was not lost.

"Well, that may be a good thing for us!" the Earl answered lightly. He
had not the reputation even with his friends of setting his feelings
before his interest; nor probably in all England was there a man who
looked out on the world with a keener eye to benefit by the weaknesses
of men and make profit of their strength.

I know that it ill-becomes one in my station to carp at the great
Duke, as men now style him; though of all his greatness, genius, and
courage, there remains but a poor drivelling childishness, calling
every minute for a woman's tendance. And far am I from giving voice or
encouragement to the hints of those, who, hating him, maintain that in
future times things incredibly base will be traced to his door. But
truth is truth; that he knew more of the matter now threatening and
stood to lose more by it than my lord, I have little doubt; nor that
this being so, the real object of his visit was to ensure the solidity
of the assailed phalanx, and particularly to make it certain that the
Secretary, whose weight with the King was exceeded only by his
popularity with the party, should not stand aloof from the common
hazard.

Having attained this object, so far as it could be obtained in a
single interview, and finding that the Duke, in spite of all his
efforts to the contrary, continued moody and distraught, he presently
took his leave. But to my lord's astonishment, he was announced again
ten minutes later. He re-entered with profuse apologies.

"I went from your Grace's to the Venetian Ambassador's on the farther
side of the Square," he said. "There I heard it confidently stated
that Goodman, one of the two witnesses against Sir John, had
absconded. Have you heard it, Duke?"

"No," my lord answered with some dryness. "And I am sure that it is
not true."

"You would have heard it?"

"Necessarily."

"Nevertheless, and craving your pardon," the Earl answered slowly, "I
think that there is something in it. If he has not been induced to go,
I fancy from what I hear that he is hesitating."

"Then he must be looked to."

"Yet! were he to go, you see--it would make all the difference--to Sir
John," the Earl said. "There would be only Porter; and the Act
requires two witnesses."

My lord lifted his eyebrows; that two witnesses were required in a
case of treason was too trite a statement to call for comment. Then
seeing the other's drift, he smiled. "That were to lick the platter,
my lord, in order to keep the fingers clean," he said.

Lord Marlborough laughed airily. "Well put," he said, not a whit
abashed. "So it would. You are right, Duke, as you always are. But I
have detained you too long." With which, and another word of apology,
he took his leave a second time.

That he left an unhappy man behind him, none can doubt, who knew the
Duke's sensitive nature, and respect for his high position and
dignity. To find that the weakness, venial and casual, of which he had
been guilty years before in stooping to listen to Lord Middleton's
solicitations--a fault which he had fancied known only to the King and
by him forgiven--to find that this was the property of the public, was
burden enough; but to learn that on this was to be founded a fresh
charge, for the proper refutation of which the past must be raked up,
was torture intolerable. In a fine sense of the ridiculous, my lord
excelled any man of his time; he could feather therefore out of his
own breast the shafts of evil that would be aimed at the man, who, one
of the seven to bring over William in '88, had stooped in '89 to
listen to the Exile! He could see more clearly than any all the
inconsistency, all the folly, all the weakness of the course, to which
he had, not so much committed himself, as been tempted to commit
himself. The Minister unfaithful, the patriot importuned, were parts
in which he saw himself exposed to the town, to the sallies of Tom
Brown, and the impertinences of Ned Ward; nay, in proportion as he
appreciated the grandeur of honest rebellion, of treason, open and
declared, he felt shame for the pettiness of the part he had himself
played, a waverer when trusted, and a palterer when in power.

Such reflections weighed on him so heavily that though one of the
proudest and therefore to those below him one of the most courteous
and considerate of men, he could scarcely bring himself to face his
subordinates, when the hour came for him to attend the office. Sir
John Trumball still deferred to him, Mr. Vernon still bowed until
the curls of his wig hid his stout red cheeks, the clerks where he
came still rose, pale, smug, and submissive, in his honour. But he
fancied--quite falsely--something ironical in this respect; he
pictured nods and heard words behind his back; and suspecting the
talk, which hushed at his entrance rose high on his departure, to be
at his expense, he underwent a score of martyrdoms before he returned
to St. James's Square.

Meanwhile the absence of the King aggravated his position; firstly, by
depriving him of the only confidant his pride permitted him; secondly,
by adding to his troubles the jealousies which invariably attend
government by a Council. Popularly considered, he was first Minister
of the Crown, and deepest in the King's confidence. But the knowledge
that one of his colleagues withheld a matter from him, and was in
private communication with William in respect to it, was not rendered
less irksome by the suspicion, amounting almost to a certainty, that
his own concern in the business was that of a culprit. This it was
which first and most intimately touched his dignity; and this it was
which at the end of a fortnight of suspense drove him to a desperate
resolution. He would broach the matter to the Duke of Devonshire; and
learn the best and the worst of it.

Desiring to do this in a manner the least formal he took occasion to
dismiss his coach at the next Council meeting, and telling the Duke
that he wished to mention a matter to him, he begged a seat in his
equipage. But whether the Lord Steward foresaw what was coming and
parried the subject discreetly, or my lord's heart failed him, they
reached the Square, and nothing said, except on general topics. There,
my lord's people coming out to receive them, it seemed natural to ask
the Duke of Devonshire to enter; but my lord, instead, begged the Duke
to drive him round and round a while; and when they were again
started, "I have not been well lately," he said--which was true, more
than one having commented on it at the Council Table--"and I wished to
tell you, that I fear I shall find it necessary to go into the country
for a time."

"To Roehampton?" said his companion, after a word or two of regret.

"No, to Eyford."

For a moment his Grace of Devonshire was silent; and my lord without
looking at him had the idea that he was startled. At length as the
coach went by London House, "I would not do that--just at this time,"
he said, quietly.

"Why not?" asked my lord.

"Because--well, for one thing, the King's service may suffer."

"That is not your reason!" quoth my lord, stubbornly. "You are
thinking of the Fenwick matter."

Again the other Duke delayed his answer: but when he spoke his voice
was both kind and earnest. "Frankly, I am," he said. "If you know so
much, Duke, you know that it would have an ill-appearance."

"How?" said my lord. "Let me tell you that all Sir John knows or can
know, the King knows--and has known for some time."

This time there was no doubt that the Lord Steward was startled. "You
cannot mean it, Duke," he said, in a constrained voice, and with a
gesture of reproach. "You cannot mean that it was with his Majesty's
knowledge you had a meeting with Sir John, he being outlawed at the
time and under ban? That were to make His Majesty at best an abettor
of treason; and at worst a viler thing! For to incite to treason and
then to persecute the traitor--but it is impossible!"

"I have not the least notion what your Grace means," my lord said, in
a freezing tone. "What is this folly about a meeting with Sir John?"

The Duke of Devonshire was as proud as my patron; and nothing in the
great mansion which he was then building in the wilds of the
Derbyshire Peak was likely to cause the gaping peasants more
astonishment than he felt at this setback. "I don't understand your
Grace," he said, at last, in a tone of marked offence.

"Nor I you," my lord answered, thoroughly roused.

"I am afraid--I have said too much," said the other, stiffly.

"Or too little," my lord retorted. "You must go on now."

"Must? Must?" quoth the Duke, whose high spirit had ten years before
led him to strike a blow that came near to costing him his estate.

"Ay, must--in justice," said my lord. "In justice to me as well as to
others."

After a brief pause, "That is another thing," answered the Lord
Steward civilly. "But--is it possible, Duke, that you know so much,
and do not know that Sir John asserts that you met him at Ashford two
days only before his capture, and entrusted him with a ring and a
message--both for St. Germain's?"

"At Ashford?"

"Yes."

"This is sheer madness," my lord cried, holding his hand to his head.
"Are you mad, Devonshire, or am I?"

Whether the Duke, having heard Sir John's story and marked his manner
of telling it, had prejudged the cause, or thought that my lord
over-acted surprise, he did not immediately answer; and when he did
speak, his tone was dry, though courteous. "Well, of course--it may be
Sir John who is mad," he said.

"D----n Sir John," my lord answered, sitting up in the coach and
fairly facing his companion. "You do not mean to tell me that you
believe this story of a cock and a bull, and a--a----"

"A ring," said the Duke of Devonshire, quietly.

"Well?"

"Well, Duke, it is this way," the Lord Steward replied. "Sir John has
something to say about three others. Lord Marlborough, Ned Russell,
and Godolphin. And what he says about them I know in the main to be
true. Therefore----"

"You infer that he is telling the truth about me?" cried my lord,
fuming, yet covering his rage with a decent appearance since a hundred
eyes were on them as they drove slowly round in the glass coach.

"Not altogether. There are other things."

"What other things?"

"The talk there was about your Grace and Middleton at the time of your
resignation."

My lord groaned. "All the world knows that, it seems," he said. "And
should know that I have never denied it."

"True."

"But this! It is the most absurd, the most ridiculous, the most
fantastical story! How could I go out of town for twenty-four hours,
and the fact not be known to half London? Let Sir John name the day."

"He has," the other Duke answered. "He lays it on the tenth of June."

"Well?"

"There was a Land Bank meeting of the Council on that day. But your
Grace did not attend it."


[Illustration: HE SHUT HIMSELF IN WITH HIS TROUBLE]


"No? No, I remember I did not. It was the day my mother was taken ill.
She sent for me, and I lay at her house that night and the next."

His Grace of Devonshire coughed. "That is unfortunate," he said, and
leaned forward to bow to the Bishop of London, whose chariot had just
entered the Square.

"Why?" said my lord, ready to take offence at anything.

"Because, though I do not doubt your word, the world will require
witnesses. And Lady Shrewsbury's household is suspect. Her Jacobite
leanings are known, and her people's evidence would go for little.
That that should be the day--but there, there, your Grace must take
courage," the Duke continued kindly. "All that the party can do will
be done. Within the week Lord Portland will be here bringing his
Majesty's commands, and we shall then know what he proposes to do
about it. If I know the King, and I think I do----"

But the picture which these words suggested to my lord's mind was too
much for his equanimity. To know for certain that the King, who had
extended indulgence to him once, was in possession of this new
accusation, and perhaps believed it, that was bad enough. But to hear
that Portland also was in the secret, and grim, faithful Dutchman as
he was, might presently, in support of the low opinion of English
fidelity which he held, quote him, the first Minister of England, was
too much! In a hoarse voice he cut the Duke short, asking to be set
down before they quarrelled; and his Grace, hastening with a hurried
word of sympathy to comply, my lord stepped out, and looking neither
to right nor left, passed into the house, and to the library, where,
locking the door, he shut himself in with his trouble.



                             CHAPTER XLII


I have commonly reckoned it among my lord's greatest misfortunes that
in a crisis of his affairs which demanded all the assistance that
friendship, the closest and most intimate could afford, he had neither
wife nor child to whom he could turn, and from whom, without loss of
dignity, he might receive comfort and support. He was a solitary man;
separated from such near relations as he had, by differences as well
religious as political, and from the world at large by the grandeur of
a position which imposed burdens as onerous as the privileges it
conferred were rare.

To a melancholy habit, which some attributed to the sad circumstances
attendant on his father's death, and others to the change of faith,
which he had been induced to make on reaching manhood, he added a
natural shyness and reserve, qualities which, ordinarily veiled from
observation by manners and an address the most charming and easy in
the world, were none the less obstacles, where friendship was in
question. Not that of friendship there was much among the political
men of that day, the perils and uncertainties of the time inculcated a
distrust, which was only overcome where blood or marriage cemented the
tie--as in the case of Lords Sunderland, Godolphin, and Marlborough,
and again of the Russells and Cavendishes. But, be that as it may, my
lord stood outside these bonds, and enjoyed and rued a splendid
isolation. As if already selected by fortune for that strange
combination of great posts with personal loneliness, which was to be
more strikingly exhibited in the death-chamber of her late Majesty
Queen Anne, he lived, whether in his grand house in St. James's
Square, or at Eyford among the Gloucestershire Wolds, as much apart as
any man in London or in England.

Withal, I know, men called him the King of Hearts. But the popularity,
of which that title seemed the sign and seal, was factitious and
unreal; born, while they talked with him, of his spontaneous kindness
and boundless address; doomed to perish an hour later, of spite and
envy, or of sheer inanition. Since the Duke was sensitive, over-proud
for intimacy, flattered no man, and gave no man confidences.

Such an one bade fair, when in trouble, to eat out his heart. Prone to
fancy all men's hands against him, he doubled the shame and outdid the
most scandalous. So far, indeed, was he from deriving comfort from
things that would have restored such men as my Lord Marlborough to
perfect self-respect and composure, that I believe, and in fine had it
from himself, that the letter which the King wrote to him from Loo
(and which came to his hands through Lord Portland's, three days after
the interview with his Grace of Devonshire) pained him more sensibly
than all that had gone before.

"You may judge of my astonishment," His Majesty wrote, "at his
effrontery in accusing you. You are, I trust, too fully convinced of
the entire confidence which I place in you to think that such stories
can make any impression on me. You will observe this honest man's
sincerity, who only accuses those in my service, and not one of his
own party."

It will be understood that that in His Majesty's letter which touched
my lord home was less the magnanimity displayed in it than the
remembrance that once before the Sovereign had dealt with the subject
in the same spirit, and that now the world must know this. Of the
immediate accusation, with all its details of time and circumstance,
he thought little, believing, not only that the truth must quickly
sweep it away, but that in the meantime few would be found so
credulous as to put faith in it. But he saw with painful clearness
that the charge would rub the old sore and gall the old raw; and he
winced, seated alone in his library in the silence of the house, as if
the iron already seared the living flesh. With throes of shame he
foresaw what staunch Whigs, such as Somers and Wharton, would say of
him; what the _Postboy_ and the _Courant_ would print of him; what the
rank and file of the party--exposed to no danger in the event of a
Restoration, and consequently to few temptations to make their peace
abroad--would think of their trusted leader, when they learned the
truth.

On Marlborough and Russell, Godolphin and Sunderland, the breath of
suspicion had blown: on him never, and he had held his head high. How
could he meet them now? How could he face them? Nay, if that were all,
how, he asked himself, could he face the honest Nonjuror? Or the
honest Jacobite? Or the honest Tory? He, who had taken the oaths to
the new government and broken them, who had set up the new government
and deceived it, who had dubbed himself patriot--_cui bono?_ Presently
brooding over it, he came to think that there was but one man in
England, _turpissimus_; that it would be better in the day of
reckoning for the meanest carted pickpocket, whose sentence came
before him for revision, than for the King's Secretary in his garter
and robes!

Nor, if he had known all that was passing, and all that was being
said, among those with whom his fancy painfully busied itself, would
he have been the happier. For Sir John's statement got abroad with
marvellous quickness. Before Lord Portland arrived from Holland the
details were whispered in every tavern and coffee-house within the
Bills. The Tories and Jacobites, aiming above everything at finding a
counterblast to the Assassination Plot, the discovery of which had so
completely sapped their credit with the nation, pounced on the scandal
with ghoulish avidity, and repeated and exaggerated it on every
occasion. Every Jacobite house of call, from the notorious Dog in
Drury Lane, the haunt of mumpers and foot-pads, to the Chocolate House
in St. James's rang with it. For Sir John, all (they said among
themselves) that they had expected of him was surpassed by this. He
was extolled to the skies alike for what he had done and for what he
had not done; and as much for the wit that had confounded his enemies
as for the courage that had protected his friends. For what Jacobite,
seeing the enemy hoist with his own petard could avoid a snigger? Or
hear the word Informer without swearing that Sir John was the most
honest man who ever signed his name to a deposition.

The Whigs on the other hand, exasperated by an attack as subtle as it
was unforeseen, denied the charges with a passion and fury that of
themselves betrayed apprehension. Here, they said, was another Taafe;
suborned by the same gang and the same vile machinations that had
brought about the Lancashire failure, and hounded Trenchard to his
death. Not content with threatening Sir John with the last penalties
of treason and felony, and filling the Rose Tavern with protestations,
which admitted the weight while they denied the truth of the charges
brought against their leaders, the party called aloud for meetings,
enquiries, and prosecutions; to which the leaders soon found
themselves pledged, whether they would or no.

My lord out of sensitiveness, or that over-appreciation of what was
due to himself and others which in a degree unfitted him for public
life, had a week before this, pleading indisposition, begun to keep
the house; and to all requests proffered by his colleagues that he
would take part in their deliberations, returned a steadfast negative.
This notwithstanding, everything that was done was communicated to
him; and announcements of the meetings, which it was now proposed to
hold--one at Lord Somers' in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the other at
Admiral Russell's--would doubtless have been made to him within the
hour. As it chanced, however, he received the news from another
source. On the day of the decision, as he sat alone, dwelling gloomily
on the past, the Square was roused at the quietest time of the
forenoon by an arrival. With a huge chitter, the Countess's glass
chariot, with its outriders, running footmen, and lolling
waiting-women, rolled up to the door; and in a moment my lady was
announced.

It is probable that there was no one whom he had less wish to see. But
he could not deny himself to her; and he rose with an involuntary
groan. The Countess on her side was in no better temper, as her first
words indicated. "My life, my lord, what is this I hear," she cried
roundly, as soon as the door closed upon her. "That you are lying down
to be trodden on! And cannot do this, and will not do that, but pule
and cry at home while they spin a rope for you! Sakes, man, play the
one side, play the other side--which you please! But play it! play
it!"

My lord, chagrined as much by the intrusion as by the reproach,
answered her with more spirit than he was wont to use to her. "I
thought, Madam," he answered sharply, "that the one thing you desired
was my withdrawal from public life?"

"Ay, but not after this fashion!" she retorted, striking her ebony
cane on the floor and staring at him, her reddled face and huge curled
wig trembling. "If all I hear be true--and I hear that they are going
to hold two inquests on you--and you continue to sit here, it will be
a fine withdrawal! You will be doomed by James and blocked by William,
and that d----d rogue John Churchill will wear your clothes!
Withdrawal say you? No, if you had withdrawn six months ago when I
bade you, you would have gone and been thanked. But now, the fat is in
the fire, and, wanting courage, you'll frizzle, my lad."

"And whom have I to thank for that, Madam?" he asked, with bitterness.

"Why, yourself, booby!" she cried.

"No, Madam, your friends!" he replied--which was so true and hit the
mark so exactly that my lady looked rather foolish for a moment.
Without noticing the change, however, "Your friends. Madam," he
continued, "Lord Middleton and Sir John Fenwick, and Montgomery, and
the rest, whom you have never ceased pressing me to join! Who unable
to win me will now ruin me. But you are right, Madam. I see, for
myself now, that it is not possible to play against them with clean
hands, and therefore I leave the game to them."

"Pack of rubbish!" she cried.

"It is not rubbish. Madam, as you will find," he answered coldly. "You
say they will hold two inquests on me? There will be no need. Within
the week my resignation of all my posts will be in the King's hands."

"And you?"

"And I, Madam, shall be on my way to Eyford."

Now there is nothing more certain than that for a year past the
Countess had strained every nerve to detach the Duke from the
Government, with a view to his reconciliation with King James and St.
Germain's. But, having her full share of a mother's pride, she was as
far from wishing to see him retire after this fashion as if she had
never conceived the notion. And to this the asperity of her answer
bore witness. "To Eyford?" she cried, shrilly. "More like to Tower
Hill! Or the Three Trees and a thirteenha'penny fee--for that is your
measure! God, my lad, you make me sick! You make me sick!" she
continued, her wrinkled old face distorted by the violence of her
rage, and her cane going tap-a-tap in her half-palsied hand. "That a
son of mine should lack the spirit to turn on these pettifoggers!"

"Your friends, Madam," he said remorselessly.

"These perts and start-ups! But you are mad, man! You are mad," she
continued. "Mad as King Jamie was when he fled the country--and who
more glad than the Dutchman! And as it was with him so it will be with
you. They will strip you, Charles. They will strip you bare as you
were born! And the end will be, you'll lie with Ailesbury in the
Tower, or bed with Tony Hamilton in a garret--_là bas!_"

"Which is precisely the course to which you have been pressing me," he
replied with something of a sneer.

"Ay, with a full purse!" she screamed. "With a full purse, fool! With
Eyford and fifty thousand guineas, my lad! But go, a beggar, as you'll
go, and it is welcome you'll be--to the doorkey and the kennel, or
like enough to King Louis' Bastile! Tell me, man, that this is all
nonsense! That you'll show your face to your enemies, go abroad and be
King again!"

My lord answered gravely that his mind was quite made up.

"To go?" she gasped. "To go to Eyford?" And raising her stick in her
shaking hand, she made a gesture so menacing that, fearing she would
strike him, my lord stepped back.

Nevertheless, he answered her firmly. "Yes, to Eyford. My letter to
the King is already written."

"Then that for you, and your King!" she shrieked; and in an excess of
uncontrolled passion, she whirled her stick round and brought it down
on a stand of priceless Venice crystal which stood beside her; being
the same that Seigniors Soranzo and Venier had presented to the Duke
in requital of the noble entertainment which my lord had given to the
Venetian Ambassadors, the April preceding. The blow shivered the
vases, which fell in a score of fragments to the floor; but not
content with the ruin she had accomplished, the Countess struck
fiercely again and again. "There's for you, you poor speechless fool!"
she continued. "That a son of mine should lie down to his enemies!
There was never Brudenel did it. But your father, he too was a----"

"Madam!" he said, taking her up grimly. "I will not hear you on that!"

"Ay, but you shall hear me!" she screamed, and yet more soberly. "He,
too, was a----"

"Silence!" he said; and this time, low as his voice rang, ay, and
though it trembled, it stilled her. "Silence, Madam," he repeated, "or
you do that, which neither the wrong you wrought so many years ago to
him you miscall, nor those things common fame still tells of you, nor
differences of creed, nor differences of party, have prevailed to
effect. Say more of him," he continued, "and we do not meet again, my
lady. For I have this at least from you--that I do not easily
forgive."

She glared at him a moment, rage, alarm, and vexation, all distorting
her face. Then, "The door!" she hissed. "The door, boor! You are still
my son, and if you will not obey me, shall respect me. Take me out,
and if ever I enter your house again----"

She did not complete the sentence, but lapsed into noddings and
mowings and mutterings, her fierce black eyes flickering vengeance to
come. However, my lord paid no heed to that, but glad, doubtless, to
be rid of her visit even at the cost of his Venetian, offered her his
arm in silence and led her into the hall and to her chariot.

She could not avenge herself on him; and it might be, she would not if
she could. But there was one on whom her passion alighted, who with
all her cunning little expected the impending storm. The most astute
are sometimes found napping. And the smoothest pad-nag will plunge.
Whether the favourite waiting-woman had overstepped her authority of
late, presuming on a senility, which existed indeed, but neither
absolutely blinded my lady nor was to be depended on in face of gusts
of passion such as this; whether this was the case, I say, or
Monterey, rendered incautious by success, was unfortunate enough to
betray her triumph, by some look of spite and malice during the drive
home, it is certain that at the door the storm broke. Without the
least warning the Countess, after using her arm to descend, turned on
her, a very Bess of Bedlam.

"And you, you grinning ape!" she cried, "you come no farther! This is
no home of yours; begone, or I will have you whipped! You don't go
into my house again!"

The astonished woman, taken utterly aback, and not in the least
understanding, began to remonstrate. Her first thought was that the
Countess was ill. "Your ladyship--is not well?" she cried, with
solicitude veiling her alarm. "You cannot mean----"

"Ay, but I can! I can!" the old lady answered, mocking her. "You have
done mischief enow, and do no more here! Where is that man of yours,
who went, and never came back, and nought but excuses? And now this."

"Oh, my lady, what ails you?" the waiting-woman cried. "What does this
mean?"

"You know!" said my lady with an oath. "So begone about your business,
and don't let me see your face again or it will be the worse for you."

Disarmed of her usual address by the suddenness of the attack, the
Monterey began to whimper; and again asked how she had offended her
and what she had done to deserve this. "I, who have served you so
long, and so faithfully?" she cried. "What have I done to earn this?"

"God and you know--better than I do!" was the fierce answer. And then,
"Williams," the Countess cried to her major-domo, who, with the
lacqueys and grooms, was standing by, enjoying the fall of the
favourite--"see that that drab does not cross my threshold again; or
you go, do you hear? Ay, mistress, you would poison me if you could!"
the old lady went on, gibing, and pointing with her stick at the face,
green with venom and spite, that betrayed the baffled woman's
feelings. "Look at her! Look at her! There is Madame Voisin for you!
There is Madame Turner! She would poison you all if she could. But you
should have done it yesterday, you slut! You will not have the chance
now. Put her rags out here--here on the road; and do you, Williams,
send her packing, and see she takes naught of mine, not a pinner or a
sleeve, or she goes to Paddington fair for it! Ay, you drab," my lady
continued, with cruel exultation, "I'll see you beat hemp yet! and
your shoulders smarting!"

"May God forgive you!" cried the waiting-woman, fighting with her
rage.

"He may or He may not!" said the dreadful old lady, coolly turning to
go in. "Anyway, your score won't stand for much in the sum, my girl."

And not until the Countess had gone in and Madame Monterey saw before
her the grinning faces of the servants, as they stood to bar the way,
did she thoroughly take in what had happened to her, or the utter ruin
of all her prospects which this meant. Then, choking with passion,
rage, despair, "Let me pass," she cried, advancing and trying
frantically to push her way through them. "Let me pass, you boobies.
Do you hear? How dare----"

"Against orders, Madame Voisin!" said the majordomo with a hoarse
laugh; and he thrust her back. And when, maddened by the touch, and
defeat, she flung herself on him in a frenzy, one of the lacqueys
caught her round the waist lifting her off her legs, carried her out
screaming and scratching, and set her down in the road amid the
laughter of his companions.

"There," he said, "and next time better manners, mistress, or I'll
drop you in the horse pond. You are not young enough, nor tender
enough for these airs! Ten years ago you might have scratched all you
pleased!"

"Strike you dead!" she cried, "my husband--my husband shall kill you
all! Ay, he shall!"

"When he gets out of the Gatehouse, we will talk, mistress," the man
answered. "But he's there, and you know it!"



                            CHAPTER XLIII


My lord persisted in his design of retiring to Eyford; nor could all
the persuasions of his friends, and of some who were less his friends
than their own, induce him to attend either the meeting of the party
at Admiral Russell's, or that which was held in Lincoln's Inn Fields;
a thing which I take to be in itself a refutation of the statement,
sometimes heard in his disparagement, that he lacked strength. For it
is on record that his Grace of Marlborough, in the great war, where he
had in a manner to contend with Emperors and Princes, held all
together by his firmness and conduct; yet he failed with my lord,
though he tried hard, pleading as some thought in his own cause. To
his arguments and those of Admiral Russell and Lord Godolphin, the
hearty support of the party was not lacking, if it could have availed.
But as a fact, it went into the other scale, since in proportion as
his followers proclaimed their faith in my lord's innocence, and
denounced his accusers, he felt shame for the old folly and
inconsistency, that known by some, and suspected by more, must now be
proclaimed to the world. It was this which for a time paralysed the
vigour and intellect that at two great crises saved the Protestant
Party; and this, which finally determined him to leave London.

It was not known, when he started, that horse-patrols had been ordered
to the Kent and Essex roads in expectation of His Majesty's immediate
crossing. Nor is it likely that the fact would have swayed him had he
known it, since it was not upon His Majesty's indulgence--of which,
indeed, he was assured--or disfavour, that he was depending; my lord
being moved rather by considerations in his own mind. But at
Maidenhead, where he lay the first night, Mr. Vernon overtook
him--coming up with him as he prepared to start in the morning--and
gave him news which presently altered his mind. Not only was His
Majesty hourly expected at Kensington, where his apartments were being
hastily prepared, but he had expressed his intention of seeing Fenwick
at once, and sifting him.

"Nor is that all," Mr. Vernon continued. "I have reason to think that
your Grace is under a complete misapprehension as to the character of
the charges that are being made."

"What matter what the charges are?" my lord replied wearily, leaning
back in his coach. For he had insisted on starting.

"It does matter very much--saving your presence, Duke," Mr. Vernon
answered bluntly; a sober and downright gentleman, whose
after-succession to the Seals, though thought at the time to be an
excessive elevation, and of the most sudden, was fully justified by
his honourable career. "Pardon me, I must speak, I have been swayed
too long by your Grace's extreme dislike of the topic."

"Which continues," my lord said drily.

"I care not a jot if it does!" Mr. Vernon cried impetuously, and then
met the Duke's look of surprise and anger with, "Your Grace forgets
that it is treason is in question! High Treason, not in the clouds and
_in pr[oe]terito_, but _in pr[oe]senti_ and in Kent! High Treason in
aiding and abetting Sir John Fenwick, an outlawed traitor, and by his
mouth and hand communicating with and encouraging the King's enemies."

"You are beside the mark, sir," my lord answered, in a tone of
freezing displeasure. "That has nothing to do with it. It is a foolish
tale which will not stand a minute. No man believes it."

"May be! But by G----d! two men will prove it."

"Two men?" quoth my lord, his ear caught by that.

"Ay, two men! And two men are enough, in treason."

My lord stared hard before him. "Who is the second?" he said at last.

"A dubious fellow, yet good enough for the purpose," the
Under-Secretary answered, overjoyed that he had at last got a hearing.
"A man named Matthew Smith, long suspected of Jacobite practices, and
arrested with the others at the time of the late conspiracy, but
released, as he says----"

"Well?"

"Corruptly," quoth the Under-Secretary coolly, and laid his hand on
the check-string.

My lord sprang in his seat. "What?" he cried; and uttered an oath, a
thing to which he rarely condescended. Then, "It is true I know the
man----"

"He is in the Countess's service."

"In her husband's. And he was brought before me. But the warrant was
against one John Smith--or William Smith, I forget which--and I knew
this man to be Matthew Smith; and the messenger himself avowing a
mistake, I released the man."

"Of course," said Mr. Vernon, nodding impatiently. "Of course, but
that, your Grace, is not the gravamen. It is a more serious matter
that he alleges that he accompanied you to Ashford, that you there in
his presence saw Sir John Fenwick, that you gave Sir John a ring--and,
in a word, he confirms Sir John's statement in all points. And there
being now two witnesses, the matter becomes grave. Shall I stop the
coach?" And he made again as if he would twitch the cord.

The Duke, wearing a very sober face--yet one wherein the light of
conflict began to flicker--drummed softly on the glass with his
fingers. "How do you come by his evidence?" he said at last. "Has Sir
John approved against him?"

"No, but Sir John sent for him the morning he saw Devonshire for the
second time, and I suppose threatened him, for the fellow went to
Trumball and said that he had evidence to give touching Sir John, if
he could have His Majesty's word he should not suffer. It was given
him, more or less; and he confirmed Sir John's tale _totidem verbis_.
They have had him in the Gatehouse these ten days, it seems, on
Trumball's warrant."

The Duke drew a deep breath. "Mr. Vernon, I am much obliged to you,"
he said. "You have played the friend in my teeth. I see that I have
treated this matter too lightly. Sir John, unhappy as he is in some of
his notions, is a gentleman, and I was wrong to think that he would
accuse me out of pure malice and without grounds. There is some ill
practice here."

"Devilish ill," Mr. Vernon answered, scarce able to conceal his
delight.

"Some plot."

"Ay, plot within plot!" cried the Under-Secretary, chuckling. "Shall I
pull the string?"

The Duke hesitated, his face plainly showing the conflict that was
passing in his mind. Then, "If you please," he said.

And so there the coach came to a standstill, as I have often heard, on
an old brick bridge short of Nettlebed, near the coming into the
village from Maidenhead. One of the outriders, spurring to the
carriage window for orders, my lord cried "Turn! Maidenhead!"

"No, London," said Mr. Vernon firmly. "And one of you," he continued,
"gallop forward, and have horses ready at the first change house. And
so to the next."

The Duke, his head in a whirl with what he had heard, pushed
resistance no farther, but letting the reins fall from his hands,
consented to be led by his companion. In deference to his wishes,
however--not less than to his health, which the events of the last few
weeks had seriously shaken--it was determined to conceal his return to
town; the rather as the report of his absence might encourage his
opponents, and lead them to show their hands more clearly. Hence, in
the common histories of the day, and even in works so learned and
generally well-informed as the Bishop of Salisbury's and Mr. ----'s,
it is said and asserted that the Duke of Shrewsbury retired to his
seat in Gloucestershire before the King's return, and remained there
in seclusion until his final resignation of the Seals. It is probable
that by using Mr. Vernon's house in place of his own, and by his
extreme avoidance of publicity while he lay in town, my lord had
himself to thank for this statement; but that in making it these
writers, including the learned Bishop, are wanting in accuracy, the
details I am to present will clearly show.

Suffice it that entering London late that night, my lord drove to Mr.
Vernon's, who, going next morning to the office, presently returned
with the news that the King had ridden in from Margate after dining at
Sittingbourne, and would give an audience to Sir John on the following
day. But, as these tidings did no more than fulfil the expectation,
and scarcely accounted for the air of briskness and satisfaction which
marked the burly and honest gentleman, it is to be supposed that he
did not tell the Duke all he had learned. And, indeed, I know this to
be so.



                             CHAPTER XLIV


About ten on the morning of the 3rd of November of that year eight
gentlemen of the first rank in England were assembled in the gallery
at Kensington, awaiting a summons to the King's closet. With the
exception of Lord Godolphin, who had resigned his office three days
earlier, all belonged to the party in power, notwithstanding which, a
curious observer might have detected in their manner and intercourse
an air of reserve and constraint, unusual among men at once so highly
placed, and of the same opinions. A little thought, however, and a
knowledge of the business which brought them together, would have
explained the cause of this.

While the Duke of Devonshire, the Marquis of Dorset, and Lord Portland
formed a group apart, it was to be noticed that Lords Marlborough and
Godolphin and Admiral Russell, who seemed to fall naturally into a
second group--and though the movements of the company constantly left
them together--never suffered this arrangement to last; but either
effected a temporary change, by accosting the Lord Keeper or Mr.
Secretary Trumball, or through the medium of Sir Edward Russell's loud
voice and boisterous manners, wrought a momentary fusion of the
company.

"By the Eternal, I am the most unlucky fellow," the Admiral cried,
addressing the whole company, on one of these occasions. "If Sir John
had lied about me only, I should have given it him back in his teeth,
and so fair and square; it is a poor cook does not know his own batch.
But because he drags in the Duke, and the Duke chooses to get the
fantods, and shirks him, I stand the worse!"

"Sir Edward," said Lord Dorset, speaking gravely and in a tone of
rebuke, "No one supposes that the Duke of Shrewsbury is aught but ill.
And, allow me to say that under the circumstances you are unwise to
put it on him."

"But d----n me, he has no right to be ill!" cried the seaman, whose
turbulent spirit was not easily put down. "If he were here, I would
say the same to his face. And that is flat!"

He was proceeding with more, but at that moment the door of the Royal
closet was thrown open, and a gentleman usher appeared, inviting them
to enter. "My lords and gentlemen," he said, "His Majesty desires you
to be seated, as at the Council. He will be presently here."

The movement into the next room being made, the conversation took a
lower tone, each speaking only to his neighbour; one, discussing the
King's crossing and the speed of his new yacht, another the excellent
health and spirits in which His Majesty had returned; until a door at
the lower end of the room being opened, a murmur of voices, and stir
of feet were heard, and after a moment's delay. Sir John Fenwick
entered, a prisoner, and with a somewhat dazed air advanced to the
foot of the table.

The Lord Steward rose and gravely bowed to him; and this courtesy, in
which he was followed by all except the Admiral, was returned by the
prisoner.

"Sir John," said the Duke of Devonshire, "the King will be presently
here."

"I am obliged to your Grace," Fenwick answered, and stood waiting.

His gaunt form, clothed in black, his face always stern and now
haggard, his eyes--in which pride and fanaticism, at one moment
overcame and at another gave place to the look of a hunted
beast--these things would have made him a pathetic figure at any time
and under any circumstances. How much more when those who gazed on him
knew that he stood on the brink of death! and knew, too, that within a
few moments he must meet the prince who for years he had insulted and
defied, and in whose hands his fate now lay!

That some, less interested in the matter than others, harboured such
thoughts, the looks of grave compassion which Lords Devonshire and
Dorset cast on him seemed to prove. But their reflections--which,
doubtless, carried them back to a time when the most brilliant and
cynical of courtiers played the foremost part in the Whitehall of the
Restoration--these, no less than the mutterings and restless movements
of Russell, who, in his enemy's presence, could scarcely control
himself, were cut short by the King's entrance.

He came in unannounced, and very quietly, at a door behind the Lord
Steward; and all rising to their feet, he bade them in a foreign
accent, "Good-day," adding immediately, "Be seated, my lords. My Lord
Steward, we will proceed."

His entrance and words, abrupt, if not awkward, lacked alike the grace
which all remembered in Charles, and the gloomy majesty which the
second James had at his command. And men felt the lack. Yet, as he
took his stand, one hand lightly resting on the back of the Lord
Steward's chair, the stooping sombre figure and sallow, withered face
staring out of its great peruque, had a dignity of their own. For it
could not be forgotten that he was that which no Stuart King of
England had ever been--a soldier and a commander from boyhood, at home
in all the camps of Flanders and the Rhine, familiar with every peril
of battle and breach; at his ease anywhere, where other men blenched
and drew back. And the knowledge that this was so invested him with a
certain awe and grandeur even in the eyes of courtiers. On this day he
wore a black suit, relieved only by the ribbon of the Garter; and as
he stood he let his chin sink so low on his breast, that his eyes,
which could on occasion shine with a keen and almost baleful light,
were hidden.

The Lord Steward, in obedience to his command, was about to address
Sir John, when the King, with a brusqueness characteristic of him,
intervened. "Sir John," he said, in a harsh, dry voice, and speaking
partly in French, partly in English, "your papers are altogether
unsatisfactory. Instead of giving us an account of the plots formed by
you and your accomplices, plots of which all the details must be
exactly known to you, you tell us stories without authority, without
date, without place, about noblemen and gentlemen, with whom you do
not pretend to have had any intercourse. In short, your confession
appears to be a contrivance, intended to screen those who are really
engaged in designs against us, and to make me suspect and discard
those in whom I have good reason to place confidence. If you look for
any favour from me, therefore, you will give me this moment, and on
this spot, a full and straightforward account of what you know of your
own knowledge. And--but do you tell him the rest, my lord."

"Sir John," said the Lord Steward in a tone serious and compassionate,
"His Majesty invites your confidence, and will for good reasons show
you his favour. But you must deserve it. And it is his particular
desire that you conclude nothing from the fact that you are admitted
to see him."

"On the contrary," said the King, dryly, "I see you, sir, for the sake
of my friends. If, therefore, you can substantiate the charges you
have made, it behoves you to do it. Otherwise, to make a full and free
confession of what you do know."

"Sir," said Sir John hoarsely, speaking for the first time, "I stand
here worse placed than any man ever was. For I am tried by those whom
I accuse."

The King slightly shrugged his shoulders. "_Fallait penser là_, when
you accused them," he muttered.

Sir John cast a fierce despairing glance along the table, and seemed
to control himself with difficulty. At length, "I can substantiate
nothing against three of those persons," he said; whereon some of
those who listened breathed more freely.

"And that is all, sir, that you have to say?" said the King,
ungraciously; and as if he desired only to cut short the scene.

"All," said Sir John firmly, "against those three persons. But as to
the fourth, the Duke of Shrewsbury, who is not here----"

The King could not suppress an exclamation of contempt. "You may spare
us that fable, sir," he said. "It would not deceive a child, much less
one who holds the Duke high in his esteem."

Sir John drew himself to his full height, and looked along the table,
his gloomy eyes threatening. "And yet that fable I can prove, sir," he
said. "That I can substantiate, sir. To that I have a witness, and a
witness above suspicion! If I prove that, sir, shall I have your
Majesty's favour?"

"Perfectly," said the King, shrugging his shoulders, amid a general
thrill and movement; for though rumours had gone abroad, by no means
the whole of Sir John's case was known, even to some at the table.
"Prove it! Prove that, sir, and not a hair of your head shall fall.
You have my promise."

However, before Sir John could answer, Mr. Secretary Trumball rose in
his place and intervened. "I crave your indulgence, sir," he said,
"while, with your Majesty's permission, I call in the Duke of
Shrewsbury, who is in waiting."

"In waiting," said the King, in a voice of surprise; nor was the
surprise confined to him. "I thought that he was ill, Mr. Secretary."

"He is so ill, sir, as to be very unfit to be abroad," the Secretary
answered. "Yet he came to be in readiness, if your Majesty needed him.
Sir John Fenwick persisting, I ask your Majesty's indulgence while I
fetch him."

The King nodded, but with a pinched and dissatisfied face; and Sir
William retiring, in a moment returned with the Duke. At his entrance.
His Majesty greeted him dryly, and with a hint of displeasure in his
manner; thinking probably that this savoured too much of a _coup de
theater_, a thing he hated. But seeing the next instant, and before
the Secretary took his seat, how ill the Duke looked, his face
betrayed signs of disturbance; after which, his eyelids drooping, it
fell into the dull and Sphinx-like mould which it assumed when he did
not wish his thoughts to be read by those about him.

That the Duke's pallor and wretched appearance gave rise to suspicion
in other minds is equally certain; the more hardy of those present,
such as my Lord Marlborough and the Admiral, being aware that nothing
short of guilt, and the immediate prospect of detection, could so
change themselves. And while some felt a kind of admiration, as they
conned and measured the stupendous edifice of skilful deceit, which my
lord had so long and perfectly concealed behind a front of brass, as
to take in all the world, others were already busied with the effect
it would have on the party, and how this might be softened, and that
explained, and in a word another man substituted with as little shock
as possible for this man. Nor were these emotions at all weakened when
my lord, after saluting the King, took his seat, without speaking or
meeting the general gaze.

"Now, sir," said the King impatiently, when all was quiet again, "the
Duke is here. Proceed."

"I will," Sir John answered with greater hardiness than he had yet
used, "I have simply to repeat to his face what I have said behind his
back: that on the 10th of last June, in the evening, he met me at
Ashford, in Kent, and gave me a ring and a message, bidding me carry
both with me to St. Germain's."

My lord looked slowly round the table; then at Sir John. And it
startled some to see that he had compassion in his face.

"Sir John," he said--after, as it seemed, weighing the words he was
about to speak, "you are in such a position, it were barbarous to
insult you. But you must needs, as you have accused me before His
Majesty and these gentlemen, hear me state, also before them, that
there is not a word of truth in what you say."

Sir John stared at him and breathed hard. "_Mon dieu!_" he exclaimed
at length. And his voice sounded sincere.

"I was not at Ashford on the 10th of June," the Duke continued with
dignity, "or on any day in that month. I never saw you there, and I
gave you no ring."

"_Mon Dieu!_" Sir John muttered again; and, his gaze fallen, he seemed
to be unable to take his eyes off the other.

Now it is certain that whatever the majority of those present thought
of this--and the demeanour of the two men was so steadfast that even
Lord Marlborough's acumen was at fault--the King's main anxiety was to
be rid of the matter, and with some impatience he tried to put a stop
to it at this point. "Is it worth while to carry this farther, my
lords?" he said, fretfully. "We know our friends. We know our enemies
also. This is a story _pour rire_, and deserving only of contempt."

But Sir John at that cried out, protesting bitterly and fiercely,
and recalling the King's promise, and the Duke being no less
urgent--though as some thought a little unseasonably for his own
interests--that the matter be sifted to the bottom, the King had no
option but to let it go on. "Very well," he said ungraciously, "if he
will have his witness let him." And then, with one of those spirits of
peevishness, which stood in strange contrast with his wonted
magnanimity, he added, to the Duke of Shrewsbury, "It is your own
choice, my lord. Don't blame me."

The querulous words bore a meaning which all recognised; and some at
the table started, and resumed the calculation how they should trim
their sails in a certain event. But nothing ever became the Duke
better than the manner in which he received that insinuation. "Be it
so, sir," he said with spirit, "My choice and desire is that Sir John
have as full a share of justice as I claim for myself, and as fair a
hearing. Less than that were inconsistent with your Majesty's
prerogative, and my honour."

The King's only answer was a sulky and careless nod. On which Sir
William Trumball, after whispering to the prisoner, went out, and
after a brief delay, which seemed to many at the table long enough,
returned with Matthew Smith.



                             CHAPTER XLV


That the villain expected nothing so little as to see the man he was
preparing to ruin, I can well believe; and equally that the ordeal,
sudden and unforeseen, tried even his iron composure. I have heard
that after glancing once at the Duke he averted his eyes; and
thenceforth looked and addressed himself entirely to the end of the
table where the King stood. But, this apart, it could not be denied
that he played his part to a marvel. Known to more than one as a
ruffling blade about town, who had grown sober but not less dangerous
with age and the change of times, he had still saved some rags and
tatters of a gentleman's reputation; and he dressed himself
accordingly, insomuch that, as he stood beside Sir John, his stern set
face, and steadfast bearing, made an impression not unfavourable at
the set out.

Nor when bidden by the King to speak and say what he knew, did he fall
below the expectations which his appearance had created, though this
was probably due in some measure to my lord's self-control, who
neither by word nor sign betrayed the astonishment he felt, when a man
to whom for years past he had only spoken casually, and once in six
months as it were, proceeded to recount with the utmost fullness and
particularity every detail of the journey, which, as he said, they two
had taken together to Ashford. At what time they started, where they
lay, by what road they travelled--at all Smith was pat. Nor did he
stop there; but went on to relate with the same ease and exactness the
heads of talk that had passed between Sir John and his companion at
the inn.

Nor was it possible that a story so told, with minutiæ, with date, and
place, and circumstances, should fall on ears totally deaf. The men
who listened were statesmen, versed in deceptions and acquainted with
affairs--men who knew Gates and had heard Dangerfield; yet, as they
listened, they shut their eyes and reopened them, to assure themselves
that this was not a dream! Before his appearance, even Lord Portland,
whose distrust of English loyalty was notorious, had been inclined to
ridicule Sir John's story as a desperate card played for life; and
this, even in teeth of my lord's disorder, so incredible did it appear
that one of the King's principal Ministers should stoop to a thing so
foolish. Now, it was a sign pregnant of meaning that no one looked at
his neighbour, but all gazed either at the witness or at the table
before them. And some who knew my lord best, and had the most
affection for him, felt the air heavy, and the stillness of the room
oppressive.

Suddenly the current of the story was broken by the King's harsh
accent, "What was the date?" he asked, "on which you reached Ashford?"

"The 10th of June, sir."

"Where was the Duke on that day?" William continued; and he turned to
the Lord Steward. His tone and question, implying the most perfect
contempt for the tale to which he was listening, to an extent broke
the spell; and had the reply been satisfactory all would have been
over. But the Duke of Devonshire, turning to my lord for the answer,
got only that he lay those two nights at his mother's, in the suburbs;
and thereon a blank look fell on more than one face. The King, indeed,
sniffed and muttered, "Then twenty witnesses can confute this!" as if
the answer satisfied, and was all he had expected; but that others
were at gaze, and in doubt, was as noticeable, as that those who
looked most solemn and thoughtful, were the three who had themselves
stood in danger that day.

At a nod from the King, Smith resumed his tale; but in a moment he was
pulled up short by Lord Dorset, who requested His Majesty's leave to
put a question. Having got permission, "How do you say that the
Duke--came to take _you_ with him?" the Marquis asked sharply.

"To take me, my lord?"

"Yes."

"Must I answer that question?"

"Yes," said Lord Dorset, with grave dignity.

"Well, simply because I had been the medium of communication between
his Grace and Sir John," Smith answered, dryly. "Even as on former
occasions I had acted as agent between his Grace and Lord Middleton."

My lord started violently and half rose.

Then, as he fell back into his seat, "That, sir, is the first word of
truth this person has spoken," he said, with dignity. "It is a fact
that in the year '92 he twice brought me a note from Lord Middleton
and arranged a meeting between us."

"Precisely," Smith answered with effrontery, "as I arranged this
meeting."

On that for the first time my lord's self-control abandoned him. He
started to his feet. "You lie!" he cried, vehemently. "You lie in your
teeth, you scoundrel! Sir--pardon me, but this is--this is too much! I
cannot sit by and hear it!"

By a gesture not lacking in kindness, the King bade him resume his
seat. Then, "_Peste!_" he said, taking snuff with a droll expression
of chagrin. "Will anyone else ask a question. My Lord Dorset has not
been fortunate. As the _Advocatus Diaboli_, perhaps, he may one day
shine."

"If your Majesty pleases," Lord Marlborough said, "I will ask one. But
I will put it to Sir John, and he can answer it or not as he likes.
How did you know. Sir John, that it was the Duke of Shrewsbury who met
you at Ashford, and conferred with you there?"

"I knew the Duke," Sir John answered clearly. "I had seen him often,
and spoken with him occasionally."

"How often had you spoken to him before this meeting?"

"Possibly on a dozen occasions."

"You had not had any long conversation with him?"

"No; but I could not be mistaken. I know him," Sir John added, with a
flash of bitter meaning, "as well as I know you, Lord Marlborough!"

"He gave his title?"

"No, he did not," Sir John answered. "He gave the name of Colonel
Talbot."

Someone at the table--it was Lord Portland--drew his breath sharply
through his teeth; nor could the impression made by a statement that
at first blush seemed harmless, and even favourable to the Duke, be
ignored or mistaken. Three out of four who sat there were aware that
my lord had used that name in his wild and boyish days, when he would
be _incognito_; and, moreover, the use of even that flimsy disguise
cast a sort of decent probability over a story, which at its barest
seemed credible. For the first time the balance of credit and
probability swung against my lord; a fact subtly indicated by the
silence which followed the statement and lasted a brief while; no one
at the table speaking or volunteering a farther question. For the time
Matthew Smith was forgotten--or the gleam of insolent triumph in his
eye might have said somewhat. For the time Sir John took a lower seat.
Men's minds were busy with the Duke, and the Duke only; busy with what
the result would be to him, and to the party, were this proved; while
most, perceiving dully and by instinct that they touched upon a great
tragedy, shrank from the _dénouement_.

At last, in the silence, the Duke rose; and swaying blindly on his
feet, caught at the table to steady himself. For two nights he had not
slept.

"Duke," said the King suddenly, "you had better speak sitting."

The words were meant in kindness, but they indicated a subtle change
of attitude--they indicated that even the King now felt the need of
explanation and a defence; and my lord, seeing this, and acknowledging
the invitation to be seated only by a slight reverence, continued to
stand, though the effort made his weakness evident. Yet when he had
cleared his throat and spoke, his voice had the old ring of
authority--with a touch of pathos added, as of a dying King from whose
hand the sceptre was passing.

"Sir," he said, "the sins of Colonel Talbot were not few. But this, to
which this fellow speaks, is not of the number. Nor have you, or my
lords, to do with them. Doubtless, with my fellows, I shall have to
give an account of them one day. But as to the present, and the Duke
of Shrewsbury--with whom alone you have to deal--I will make a plain
tale. This man has said that in '93 he was a go-between, for me and
Lord Middleton. It is true; as you, sir, know, and my lords if they
know it not already, must now know, to my shame. For the fact, Lord
Middleton and I were relations, we met more than once at that time, we
supped together before he went to France. I promised on my part to
take care of his interests here, he in return offered to do me good
offices there. As to the latter I told him I had offended too deeply
to be forgiven; yet tacitly I left him to make my peace with the late
King if he could. It was a folly and a poltroonery," the Duke
continued, holding out his hands with a pathetic gesture. "It was, my
lords, to take a lower place than the meanest Nonjuror who honourably
gives up his cure. I see that, my lords; and have known it, and it has
weighed on me for years. And now I pay for it. But for this"--and with
the word my lord's voice grew full and round and he stood erect, one
hand among the lace of his steinkirk tie and his eyes turned
steadfastly on his accuser--"for this which that man, presuming on an
old fault and using his knowledge of it, would foist on me, I know
nothing of it! I know nothing of it. It is some base and damnable
practice. At this moment and here I cannot refute it; but at the
proper time and in another place I shall refute it. And now and here I
say that as to it, I am not guilty--on my honour!"

As the last word rang through the room he sat down, looking round him
with a kind of vague defiance. There was a silence, broken presently
by the Lord Steward, who rose, his voice and manner betraying no
little emotion. "His Grace is right, sir, I think," he said. "I
believe with him that this is some evil practice; but it is plain that
it has gone so far that it cannot stop here. I would suggest therefore
that if your Majesty sees fit----"

A knock at the door interrupted him, and he turned that way
impatiently, and paused. The King, too, glanced round with a gesture
of annoyance. "See what it is," he said.

Sir William Trumball rose and went; and after a brief conference,
during which the lords at the table continued to cast impatient
glances towards the door, he returned. "If it please you, sir," he
said, "a witness desires to be heard." And with that his face
expressed so much surprise that the King stared at him in wonder.

"A witness?" said the King, and pished and fidgeted in his chair.
Then, "This is not a Court of Justice," he continued, peevishly. "We
shall have all the world here presently. But--well, let him in."

Sir William obeyed, and went and returned under the eyes of the
Council; nor will the reader who has perused with attention the
earlier part of this history be greatly surprised to hear that when he
returned, I, Richard Price, was with him.

I am not going to dwell on the misery through which I had gone in
anticipation of that appearance; the fears which I had been forced to
combat, or the night watches, through which I had lain, sweating and
awake. Suffice it that I stood there at last, seeing in a kind of maze
the sober lights and dark rich colours of the room, and the faces at
the table all turned towards me; and stood there, not in the humble
guise befitting my station, but in velvet and ruffles, sword and
peruke, the very double, as the mirror before which I had dressed had
assured me, of my noble patron. This, at Mr. Vernon's suggestion and
by his contrivance.


[Illustration: ... I STOOD THERE AT LAST ... THE FACES AT THE TABLE
ALL TURNED TOWARDS ME....]


While I had lived in my lord's house, and moved to and fro soberly
garbed, in a big wig or my own hair, the likeness had been no more
than ground for a nudge and a joke among the servants. Now, dressed
once more, as Smith had dressed me, in a suit of the Duke's clothes,
and one of his perukes, and trimmed and combed by one who knew him,
the resemblance I presented was so remarkable that none of the lords
at the table could be blind to it. One or two, in sheer wonder,
exclaimed on it; while Sir John, who, poor gentleman, was more
concerned than any, fairly gasped with dismay.

It was left to the Duke of Devonshire to break the spell. "What is
this? Who is this?" he said, in the utmost astonishment. "What does it
mean?"

The King, who had noted on an occasion that very likeness, which all
now saw, and was the first to read the riddle, laughed dryly. "Two
very common things, my lord," he said, "a rogue and a fool. Speak,
man," he continued, addressing me. "You were in the Duke's household
awhile ago? _n'est-ce pas ça?_ I saw you here?"

"Yes, your Majesty," I said, hardly keeping my fears within bounds.

"And you have been playing his part, I suppose? Eh? At--how do you
call the place--Ashford?"

"Yes, your Majesty--under compulsion," I said, trembling.

"Ay! Compulsion of that good gentleman at the foot of the table, I
suppose?"

The words of assent were on my lips, when a cry, and an exceeding
bitter cry, stayed their utterance. It came from Sir John. Dumbfounded
for a time, between astonishment and suspicion, between wonder what
this travesty was and wonder why it was assumed, he had at length
discerned its full scope and meaning, and where it touched him. With a
cry of rage he threw up his hands in protest against the fraud; then
in a flash he turned on the villain by his side. "You d----d
scoundrel!" he cried. "You have destroyed me! You have murdered me!"

Before he could be held off, his fingers were in Smith's neckcloth,
and clutching his throat; and so staunch was his hold that Admiral
Russell and Sir William Trumball had to rise and drag him away by
force. "Easy, easy, Sir John," said the Admiral with rough sympathy.
"Be satisfied. He will get his deserts. Please God, if I had him on my
ship an hour his back should be worse than Oates's ever was!"

Sir John's rage and disappointment were painful to witness, and trying
even to men of the world. But what shall I say of the fury of the man
at bay, who denounced and convicted in his moment of triumph saw,
white-faced, his long-spun web swept easily aside? Doubtless he knew,
as soon as he saw me, that the game was lost, and could have slain me
with a look. And most men would without more ado have been on their
knees. But he possessed, God knows, a courage as rare and perfect as
the cause in which he displayed it was vile and abominable; and in a
twinkling he recovered himself, and was Matthew Smith once more. While
the room rang with congratulations, questions, answers and
exclamations, and I had much ado to answer one half of the noble lords
who would examine me, his voice, raised and strident, was heard above
the tumult.

"Your Majesty is easily deceived!" he cried, his very tone flouting
the presence in which he stood; yet partly out of curiosity, partly in
sheer astonishment at his audacity, they turned to listen. "Do you
think it is for nothing his Grace keeps a double in his house? Or that
it boots much whether he or his Secretary went to meet Sir John? But
enough! I have here! here," he continued, tapping his breast and
throwing back his head, "that, that shall out-face him; be he never so
clever! Does his double write his hand too? Read that, sir. Read that,
my lords, and say what you think of your Whig leader!"

And with a reckless gesture, he flung a letter on the table. But the
action and words were so lacking in respect for royal chambers that
for a moment no one took it up, the English lords who sat within reach
disdaining to touch it. Then Lord Portland made a long arm, and taking
the paper with Dutch phlegm and deliberation opened it.

"Have I your Majesty's leave?" he said; and the King nodding
peevishly, "This is not his Grace's handwriting," the Dutch lord
continued, pursing up his lips, and looking dubiously at the script
before him.

"No, but it is his signature!" Smith retorted, fiercely. And so set
was he on this last card he was playing, that his eyes started from
his head, and the veins rose thick on his hands where they clutched
the table before him. "It is his hand at foot. That I swear!"

"Truly, my man, I think it is," Lord Portland answered, coolly. "Shall
I read the letter, sir?"

"What is it?" asked the King, with irritation.

"It appears to be a letter to the Duke of Berwick, at the late Bishop
of Chester's house in Hogsden Gardens, bidding him look to himself, as
his lodging was known," Lord Portland answered, leisurely running his
eye down the lines as he spoke.

It was wonderful to see what a sudden gravity fell on the faces at the
table. This touched some home. This was a hundred times more likely as
a charge than that which had fallen through. Could it be that after
all the man had his Grace on the hip? Lord Marlborough showed his
emotion by a face more than commonly serene; Admiral Russell by a
sudden flush; Godolphin by the attention he paid to the table before
him. Nor was Smith behindhand in noting the effect produced. For an
instant he towered high, his stern face gleaming with malevolent
triumph. He thought that the tables were turned.

Then, "In whose hand is the body of the paper?" the King asked.

"Your Majesty's," Lord Portland answered, with a grim chuckle, and
after a pause long enough to accentuate the answer.

"I thought so," said the King. "It was the Friday the plot was
discovered. I remember it. I am afraid that if you impeach the Duke,
you must impeach me with him."

At that there was a great roar of laughter, which had not worn itself
out before one and another began to press their congratulations on the
Duke. He for his part sat as if stunned; answering with a forced smile
where it was necessary, more often keeping silence. He had escaped the
pit digged for him, and the net so skilfully laid. But his face
betrayed no triumph.

Matthew Smith, on the other hand, brought up short by that answer,
could not believe it. He stood awhile, like a man in a fit; then, the
sweat standing on his brow, he cried that they were all leagued
against him; that it was a plot; that it was not His Majesty's hand!
and so on, and so on; with oaths and curses, and other things very
unfit for His Majesty's ears, or the place in which he stood.

Under these circumstances, for a minute no one knew what to do, each
looking at his neighbour, until the Lord Steward, rising from his
chair, cried in a voice of thunder, "Take that man away, Mr.
Secretary, this is your business! Out with him, sir!" On which Sir
William called in the messengers, and they laid hands on him. By that
time, however, he had recovered the will and grim composure which were
the man's best characteristics; and with a last malign and despairing
look at my lord, he suffered them to lead him out.



                             CHAPTER XLVI


That was a great day for my lord, but it was also, I truly believe,
one of the saddest of a not unhappy life. He had gained the battle,
but at a cost known only to himself, though guessed by some. The story
of the old weakness had been told, as he had foreseen it must be told;
and even while his friends pressed round him and crying, _Salve
Imperator!_ rejoiced in the fall he had given his foes, he was aware
of the wound bleeding inwardly, and in his mind was already borne out
of the battle.

Yet in that room was one sadder. Sir John, remaining at the foot of
the table, frowned along it, gloomy and downcast; too proud to ask or
earn the King's favour, yet shaken by the knowledge that now--now was
the time; that in a little while the door would close on him, and with
it the chance of life--life with its sunshine and air, and freedom,
its whirligigs and revenges. Some thought that in consideration of the
trick which had been played upon him, the King might properly view him
with indulgence; and were encouraged in this by the character for
clemency which even his enemies allowed that Sovereign. But William
had other views on this occasion; and when the hubbub which Smith's
removal had caused had completely died away, he addressed Sir John,
advising him to depend rather on deserving his favour by a frank and
full discovery, than on such ingenious contrivances as that which had
just been exposed.

"I was no party to it," the unhappy gentleman answered.

"Therefore it shall tell neither for nor against you," the King
retorted. "Have you anything more to say."

"I throw myself on your Majesty's clemency."

"That will not do. Sir John," the King answered. "You must speak,
or--the alternative does not lie with me. But you know it."

"And I choose it," Sir John cried, recovering his spirit and courage.

"So be it," said His Majesty slowly and solemnly. "I will not say that
I expected anything less from you. My lords, let him be removed."

And with that the messengers came in and Sir John bowed and went with
them. It may have been fancy, but I thought that as he turned from the
table a haggard shade fell on his face, and a soul in mortal anguish
looked an instant from his eyes. But the next moment he was gone.

I never saw him again. That night the news was everywhere that
Goodman, one of the two witnesses against him, had fled the country;
and for a time it was believed that Sir John would escape. How, in
face of that difficulty those who were determined on his death,
effected it; how he was attainted, and how he suffered on Tower Hill
with all the forms and privileges of a peer--on the 28th of January of
the succeeding year--is a story too trite and familiar to call for
repetition.

On his departure the Council broke up. His Majesty retiring. Before he
went, a word was said about me, and some who had greater regard for
the _post factum_ than the _p[oe]nitentia_ were for sending me to the
Compter, and leaving the Law Officers to deal with me. But my lord,
rousing himself, interposed roundly, spoke for me and would have given
bail had they persisted. Seeing, however, how gravely he took it, and
being inclined to please him, they desisted, and I was allowed to go,
on the simple condition that the Duke kept me under his own eye. This
he very gladly consented to do.

Nor was it the only kindness he did me, or the greatest; for having
heard from me at length and in detail all the circumstances leading up
to my timely intervention, he sent for me a few days later, and
placing a paper in my hands bade me read the gist of it. I did so, and
found it to be a free pardon passed under the Great Seal, and granted
to Richard Price and Mary Price his wife for acts and things done by
them jointly or separately against the King's Most Excellent Majesty,
within or without the realm.

It was at Eyford he handed me this; in the oak parlour looking upon
the bowling-green; where I had already begun to wait upon him on one
morning in the week, to check the steward's accounts and tallies. The
year was nearly spent, but that autumn was fine, and the sunlight
which lay on the smooth turf blended with the russet splendour of the
beech trees that rise beyond. I had been thinking of Mary and the
quiet courtyard at the Hospital, which the bowling-green somewhat
resembled, being open to the park on one side only; and when perusing
the paper, my lord smiling at me, I came to her name--or rather to the
name that was hers and yet mine--I felt such a flow of love and
gratitude and remembrance overcome me as left me speechless; and this
directed, not only to him but to her--seeing that it was her advice
and her management that had brought me against my will to this haven
and safety.

The Duke saw my emotion and read my silence aright. "Well," he said.
"Are you satisfied?"

I told him that if I were not I must be the veriest ingrate living.

"And you have nothing more to ask?" he continued, still smiling.

"Nothing," I said. "Except--except that which it is not in your
lordship's power to grant."

"How?" said he, with a show of surprise and resentment. "Not
satisfied yet? What is it?"

"If she were here!" I said. "If she were here, my lord! But
Dunquerque----"

"Is a far cry, eh! And the roads are bad. And the seas----"

"Are worse," I said gloomily, looking at the paper as Tantalus looked
at the water. "And to get word to her is not of the easiest."


[Illustration: SHE WAS MAKING MARKS ON THE TURF WITH A STICK]


"No," the Duke said. "Say you so? Then what do you make of this,
faint-heart?" And he pointed through the open window.

I looked, and on the seat--which a moment before had been vacant--the
seat under the right-hand yew-hedge where my lord sometimes smoked his
pipe--I saw a girl seated with her shoulder and the nape of her neck
turned to us. She was making marks on the turf with a stick she held,
and poring over them when made, as if the world held nothing else, so
that I had not so much as a glimpse of her face. But I knew that it
was Mary.

"Come," said my lord, pleasantly. "We will go to her. It may be, she
will not have the pardon--after all. Seeing that there is a condition
to it."

"A condition?" I cried, a little troubled.

"To be sure, blockhead," he answered, in high good humour. "In whose
name is it?"

Then I saw what he meant and laughed, foolishly. But the event came
nearer to proving him true than he then expected. For when she saw the
paper she stepped back and put her hands behind her, and would not
touch or take it; while her small face cried pale mutiny. "But I'll
not tell!" she cried. "I'll not tell! I'll not have it. Blood-money
does not thrive. If that is the price----"

"My good girl," said my lord, cutting her short, yet without
impatience. "That is not the price. This is the Price. And the pardon
goes with him."


                          *   *   *   *   *


I believe that I have now told enough to discharge myself of that
which I set out to do: I mean the clearing my lord in the eyes of all
judicious persons of those imputations which a certain faction have
never ceased to heap on him; and this with the greater assiduity and
spite, since he by his single conduct at the time of the late Queen's
death was the means under Providence of preserving the Protestant
Succession and liberties in these islands.

That during the long interval of seventeen years that separated the
memorable meeting at Kensington, which I have ventured to describe,
from the still more famous scene in the Queen's death-chamber, he took
no part in public life has seemed to some a crime or the tacit avowal
of one. How far these err, and how ill-qualified they are to follow
the workings of that noble mind, will appear in the pages I have
written; which show with clearness that the retirement on which so
much stress has been laid, was due not to guilt, but to an
appreciation of honour so delicate that a spot invisible to the common
eye seemed to him a stain _non subito delanda_. After the avowal made
before his colleagues--of the communications, I mean, with Lord
Middleton--nothing would do but he must leave London at once and seek
in the shades and retirement of Eyford that peace of mind and ease of
body which had for the moment abandoned him.

He went: and for a time still retained office. Later, notwithstanding
the most urgent and flattering instances on the King's part--which yet
exist, honourable alike to the writer and the recipient--he persisted
in his resolution to retire; and on the 12th of December, 1698, being
at that time in very poor health, the consequence of a fall while
hunting, he returned the Seals to the King, In the autumn of the
following year he went abroad; but though he found in a private
life--so far as the life of a man of his princely station could be
called private--a happiness often denied to place men and favourites,
he was not to be diverted when the time came from the post of danger.
Were I writing an eulogium merely, I should here enumerate those great
posts and offices which he so worthily filled at the time of Queen
Anne's death, when as Lord Treasurer of England, Lord Chamberlain, and
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland--an aggregation of honours I believe
without precedent--he performed services and controlled events on the
importance of which his enemies no less than his friends are agreed.
But I forbear: and I leave the task to a worthier hand.

This being so, it remains only to speak of Matthew Smith and his
accomplice. Had my lord chosen to move in the matter, there can be no
doubt that Smith would have been whipped and pilloried, and in this
way would have come by a short road to his deserts. But the Duke held
himself too high, and the men who had injured him too low, for
revenge; and Smith, after lying some months in prison, gave useful
information, and was released without prosecution. He then tried to
raise a fresh charge against the Duke, but gained no credence; and
rapidly sinking lower and lower, was to be seen two years later
skulking in rags in the darkest part of the old Savoy. In London I
must have walked in hourly dread of him; at Eyford I was safe; and
after the winter of '99, in which year he came to my lord's house to
beg, looking broken and diseased, I never saw him.

I was told that he expected to receive a rich reward in the event of
the Duke's disgrace, and on this account was indifferent to the loss
of his situation in my lady's family. It seems probable, however, that
he still hoped to retain his influence in that quarter by means of his
wife, and thwarted in this by that evil woman's dismissal, was no
better disposed to her than she was to him. They separated; but before
he went the ruffian revenged himself by beating her so severely that
she long lay ill in her apartments, was robbed by her landlady, and
finally was put to the door penniless, and with no trace of the beauty
which had once chained my heart. In this plight, reduced to be the
drudge of a tradesman's wife, and sunk to the very position in which I
had found her at Mr. D----'s, she made a last desperate appeal to the
Duke for assistance.

He answered by the grant of a pension, small but sufficient, on which
she might have ended her days in a degree of comfort. But, having
acquired in her former circumstances an unfortunate craving for drink,
which she had now the power to gratify, she lived but a little while,
and that in great squalor and misery, dying, if I remember rightly, in
a public-house in Spitalfields in the year 1703.



                     PRINTED FROM AMERICAN PLATES
                   AT THE ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY PRESS





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