T. Nelson & Sons London and Edinburgh Paris: 189, rue Saint-Jacques Leipzig: 35-37 Koenigstrasse
I. The Child of Prophecy 3
II. The Way of Youth 18
III. The Music of the World 33
IV. Cydaria revealed 49
V. I am forbidden to forget 65
VI. An Invitation to Court 84
VII. What came of Honesty 103
VIII. Madness, Magic, and Moonshine 122
IX. Of Gems and Pebbles 140
X. Je Viens, Tu Viens, Il Vient 160
XI. The Gentleman from Calais 180
XII. The Deference of His Grace the Duke 201
XIII. The Meed of Curiosity 222
XIV. The King's Cup 244
XV. M. de Perrencourt whispers 263
XVI. M. de Perrencourt wonders 283
XVII. What befell my Last Guinea 303
XVIII. Some Mighty Silly Business 324
XIX. A Night on the Road 345
XX. The Vicar's Proposition 362
XXI. The Strange Conjuncture of Two Gentlemen 378
XXII. The Device of Lord Carford 396
XXIII. A Pleasant Penitence 414
XXIV. A Comedy before the King 434
XXV. The Mind of M. de Fontelles 451
XXVI. I come Home 468
THE CHILD OF PROPHECY
One who was in his day a person of great place and consideration, and has left a name which future generations shall surely repeat so long as the world may last, found no better rule for a man's life than that he should incline his mind to move in Charity, rest in Providence, and turn upon the poles of Truth. This condition, says he, is Heaven upon Earth; and although what touches truth may better befit the philosopher who uttered it than the vulgar and unlearned, for whom perhaps it is a counsel too high and therefore dangerous, what comes before should surely be graven by each of us on the walls of our hearts. For any man who lived in the days that I have seen must have found much need of trust in Providence, and by no whit the less of charity for men. In such trust and charity I have striven to write: in the like I pray you to read.
I, Simon Dale, was born on the seventh day of the seventh month in the year of Our Lord sixteen-hundred-and-forty-seven. The date was good in that the Divine Number was thrice found in it, but evil in that it fell on a time of sore trouble both for the nation and for our own house; when men had begun to go about saying that if the King would not keep his promises it was likely that he would keep his head as little; when they who had fought for freedom were suspecting that victory had brought new tyrants; when the Vicar was put out of his cure; and my father, having trusted the King first, the Parliament afterwards, and at last neither the one nor the other, had lost the greater part of his substance, and fallen from wealth to straitened means: such is the common reward of an honest patriotism wedded to an open mind. However, the date, good or bad, was none of my doing, nor indeed, folks whispered, much of my parents' either, seeing that destiny overruled the affair, and Betty Nasroth, the wise woman, announced its imminence more than a year beforehand. For she predicted the birth, on the very day whereon I came into the world, within a mile of the parish church, of a male child who—and the utterance certainly had a lofty sound about it—should love where the King loved, know what the King hid, and drink of the King's cup. Now, inasmuch as none lived within the limits named by Betty Nasroth, save on the one side sundry humble labourers, whose progeny could expect no such fate, and on the other my Lord and Lady Quinton, who were wedded but a month before my birthday, the prophecy was fully as pointed as it had any need to be, and caused to my parents no small questionings. It was the third clause or term of the prediction that gave most concern alike to my mother and to my father; to my mother, because, although of discreet mind and a sound Churchwoman, she was from her earliest years a Rechabite, and had never heard of a King who drank water; and to my father by reason of his decayed estate, which made it impossible for him to contrive how properly to fit me for my predestined company. "A man should not drink the King's wine without giving the King as good," my father reflected ruefully. Meanwhile I, troubling not at all about the matter, was content to prove Betty right in point of the date, and, leaving the rest to the future, achieved this triumph for her most punctually. Whatsoever may await a man on his way through the world, he can hardly begin life better than by keeping his faith with a lady.
She was a strange old woman, this Betty Nasroth, and would likely enough have fared badly in the time of the King's father. Now there was bigger game than witches afoot, and nothing worse befell her than the scowls of her neighbours and the frightened mockery of children. She made free reply with curses and dark mutterings, but me she loved as being the child of her vision, and all the more because, encountering her as I rode in my mother's arms, I did not cry, but held out my hands, crowing and struggling to get to her; whereat suddenly, and to my mother's great terror, she exclaimed: "Thou see'st, Satan!" and fell to weeping, a thing which, as every woman in the parish knew, a person absolutely possessed by the Evil One can by no means accomplish (unless, indeed, a bare three drops squeezed from the left eye may usurp the name of tears). But my mother shrank away from her and would not allow her to touch me; nor was it until I had grown older and ran about the village alone that the old woman, having tracked me to a lonely spot, took me in her arms, mumbled over my head some words I did not understand, and kissed me. That a mole grows on the spot she kissed is but a fable (for how do the women know where her kiss fell save by where the mole grows?—and that is to reason poorly), or at the most the purest chance. Nay, if it were more, I am content; for the mole does me no harm, and the kiss, as I hope, did Betty some good; off she went straight to the Vicar (who was living then in the cottage of my Lord Quinton's gardener and exercising his sacred functions in a secrecy to which the whole parish was privy) and prayed him to let her partake of the Lord's Supper: a request that caused great scandal to the neighbours and sore embarrassment to the Vicar himself, who, being a learned man and deeply read in demonology, grieved from his heart that the witch did not play her part better.
"It is," said he to my father, "a monstrous lapse."
"Nay, it is a sign of grace," urged my mother.
"It is," said my father (and I do not know whether he spoke perversely or in earnest), "a matter of no moment."
Now, being steadfastly determined that my boyhood shall be less tedious in the telling than it was in the living—for I always longed to be a man, and hated my green and petticoat-governed days—I will pass forthwith to the hour when I reached the age of eighteen years. My dear father was then in Heaven, and old Betty had found, as was believed, another billet. But my mother lived, and the Vicar, like the King, had come to his own again: and I was five feet eleven in my stockings, and there was urgent need that I should set about pushing my way and putting money in my purse; for our lands had not returned with the King, and there was no more incoming than would serve to keep my mother and sisters in the style of gentlewomen.
"And on that matter," observed the Vicar, stroking his nose with his forefinger, as his habit was in moments of perplexity, "Betty Nasroth's prophecy is of small service. For the doings on which she touches are likely to be occasions of expense rather than sources of gain."
"They would be money wasted," said my mother gently, "one and all of them."
The Vicar looked a little doubtful.
"I will write a sermon on that theme," said he; for this was with him a favourite way out of an argument. In truth the Vicar loved the prophecy, as a quiet student often loves a thing that echoes of the world which he has shunned.
"You must write down for me what the King says to you, Simon," he told me once.
"Suppose, sir," I suggested mischievously, "that it should not be fit for your eye?"
"Then write it, Simon," he answered, pinching my ear, "for my understanding."
It was well enough for the Vicar's whimsical fancy to busy itself with Betty Nasroth's prophecy, half-believing, half-mocking, never forgetting nor disregarding; but I, who am, after all, the most concerned, doubt whether such a dark utterance be a wholesome thing to hang round a young man's neck. The dreams of youth grow rank enough without such watering. The prediction was always in my mind, alluring and tantalising as a teasing girl who puts her pretty face near yours, safe that you dare not kiss it. What it said I mused on, what it said not I neglected. I dedicated my idle hours to it, and, not appeased, it invaded my seasons of business. Rather than seek my own path, I left myself to its will and hearkened for its whispered orders.
"It was the same," observed my mother sadly, "with a certain cook-maid of my sister's. It was foretold that she should marry her master."
"And did she not?" cried the Vicar, with ears all pricked-up.
"She changed her service every year," said my mother, "seeking the likeliest man, until at last none would hire her."
"She should have stayed in her first service," said the Vicar, shaking his head.
"But her first master had a wife," retorted my mother triumphantly.
"I had one once myself," said the Vicar.
The argument, with which his widowhood supplied the Vicar, was sound and unanswerable, and it suited well with my humour to learn from my aunt's cook-maid, and wait patiently on fate. But what avails an argument, be it ever so sound, against an empty purse? It was declared that I must seek my fortune; yet on the method of my search some difference arose.
"You must work, Simon," said my sister Lucy, who was betrothed to Justice Barnard, a young squire of good family and high repute, but mighty hard on idle vagrants, and free with the stocks for revellers.
"You must pray for guidance," said my sister Mary, who was to wed a saintly clergyman, a Prebend, too, of the Cathedral.
"There is," said I stoutly, "nothing of such matters in Betty Nasroth's prophecy."
"They are taken for granted, dear boy," said my mother gently.
The Vicar rubbed his nose.
Yet not these excellent and zealous counsellors proved right, but the Vicar and I. For had I gone to London, as they urged, instead of abiding where I was, agreeably to the Vicar's argument and my own inclination, it is a great question whether the plague would not have proved too strong for Betty Nasroth, and her prediction gone to lie with me in a death-pit. As things befell, I lived, hearing only dimly and, as it were, from afar-off of that great calamity, and of the horrors that beset the city. For the disease did not come our way, and we moralised on the sins of the townsfolk with sound bodies and contented minds. We were happy in our health and in our virtue, and not disinclined to applaud God's judgment that smote our erring brethren; for too often the chastisement of one sinner feeds another's pride. Yet the plague had a hand, and no small one, in that destiny of mine, although it came not near me; for it brought fresh tenants to those same rooms in the gardener's cottage where the Vicar had dwelt till the loyal Parliament's Act proved too hard for the conscience of our Independent minister, and the Vicar, nothing loth, moved back to his parsonage.
Now I was walking one day, as I had full licence and leave to walk, in the avenue of Quinton Manor, when I saw, first, what I had (if I am to tell the truth) come to see, to wit, the figure of young Mistress Barbara, daintily arrayed in a white summer gown. Barbara was pleased to hold herself haughtily towards me, for she was an heiress, and of a house that had not fallen in the world as mine had. Yet we were friends; for we sparred and rallied, she giving offence and I taking it, she pardoning my rudeness and I accepting forgiveness; while my lord and my lady, perhaps thinking me too low for fear and yet high enough for favour, showed me much kindness; my lord, indeed, would often jest with me on the great fate foretold me in Betty Nasroth's prophecy.
"Yet," he would say, with a twinkle in his eye, "the King has strange secrets, and there is some strange wine in his cup, and to love where he loves——"; but at this point the Vicar, who chanced to be by, twinkled also, but shifted the conversation to some theme which did not touch the King, his secrets, his wine, or where he loved.
Thus then I saw, as I say, the slim tall figure, the dark hair, and the proud eyes of Barbara Quinton; and the eyes were flashing in anger as their owner turned away from—what I had not looked to see in Barbara's company. This was another damsel, of lower stature and plumper figure, dressed full as prettily as Barbara herself, and laughing with most merry lips and under eyes that half hid themselves in an eclipse of mirth. When Barbara saw me, she did not, as her custom was, feign not to see me till I thrust my presence on her, but ran to me at once, crying very indignantly, "Simon, who is this girl? She has dared to tell me that my gown is of country make and hangs like an old smock on a beanpole."
"Mistress Barbara," I answered, "who heeds the make of the gown when the wearer is of divine make?" I was young then, and did not know that to compliment herself at the expense of her apparel is not the best way to please a woman.
"You are silly," said Barbara. "Who is she?"
"The girl," said I, crestfallen, "is, they tell me, from London, and she lodges with her mother in your gardener's cottage. But I didn't look to find her here in the avenue."
"You shall not again if I have my way," said Barbara. Then she added abruptly and sharply, "Why do you look at her?"
Now, it was true that I was looking at the stranger, and on Barbara's question I looked the harder.
"She is mighty pretty," said I. "Does she not seem so to you, Mistress Barbara?" And, simple though I was, I spoke not altogether in simplicity.
"Pretty?" echoed Barbara. "And pray what do you know of prettiness, Master Simon?"
"What I have learnt at Quinton Manor," I answered, with a bow.
"That doesn't prove her pretty," retorted the angry lady.
"There's more than one way of it," said I discreetly, and I took a step towards the visitor, who stood some ten yards from us, laughing still and plucking a flower to pieces in her fingers.
"She isn't known to you?" asked Barbara, perceiving my movement.
"I can remedy that," said I, smiling.
Never since the world began had youth been a more faithful servant to maid than I to Barbara Quinton. Yet because, if a man lie down, the best of girls will set her pretty foot on his neck, and also from my love of a thing that is new, I was thoroughly resolved to accost the gardener's guest; and my purpose was not altered by Barbara's scornful toss of her little head as she turned away.
"It is no more than civility," I protested, "to ask after her health, for, coming from London, she can but just have escaped the plague."
Barbara tossed her head again, declaring plainly her opinion of my excuse.
"But if you desire me to walk with you——" I began.
"There is nothing I thought of less," she interrupted. "I came here to be alone."
"My pleasure lies in obeying you," said I, and I stood bareheaded while Barbara, without another glance at me, walked off towards the house. Half penitent, yet wholly obstinate, I watched her go; she did not once look over her shoulder. Had she—but a truce to that. What passed is enough; with what might have, my story would stretch to the world's end. I smothered my remorse, and went up to the stranger, bidding her good-day in my most polite and courtly manner; she smiled, but at what I knew not. She seemed little more than a child, sixteen years old or seventeen at the most, yet there was no confusion in her greeting of me. Indeed, she was most marvellously at her ease, for, on my salute, she cried, lifting her hands in feigned amazement,
"A man, by my faith; a man in this place!"
Well pleased to be called a man, I bowed again.
"Or at least," she added, "what will be one, if it please Heaven."
"You may live to see it without growing wrinkled," said I, striving to conceal my annoyance.
"And one that has repartee in him! Oh, marvellous!"
"We do not all lack wit in the country, madame," said I, simpering as I supposed the Court gallants to simper, "nor, since the plague came to London, beauty."
"Indeed, it's wonderful," she cried in mock admiration. "Do they teach such sayings hereabouts, sir?"
"Even so, madame, and from such books as your eyes furnish." And for all her air of mockery, I was, as I remember, much pleased with this speech. It had come from some well-thumbed romance, I doubt not. I was always an eager reader of such silly things.
She curtseyed low, laughing up at me with roguish eyes and mouth.
"Now, surely, sir," she said, "you must be Simon Dale, of whom my host the gardener speaks?"
"It is my name, madame, at your service. But the gardener has played me a trick; for now I have nothing to give in exchange for your name."
"Nay, you have a very pretty nosegay in your hand," said she. "I might be persuaded to barter my name for it."
The nosegay that was in my hand I had gathered and brought for Barbara Quinton, and I still meant to use it as a peace-offering. But Barbara had treated me harshly, and the stranger looked longingly at the nosegay.
"The gardener is a niggard with his flowers," she said with a coaxing smile.
"To confess the truth," said I, wavering in my purpose, "the nosegay was plucked for another."
"It will smell the sweeter," she cried, with a laugh. "Nothing gives flowers such a perfume." And she held out a wonderfully small hand towards my nosegay.
"Is that a London lesson?" I asked, holding the flowers away from her grasp.
"It holds good in the country also, sir; wherever, indeed, there is a man to gather flowers and more than one lady who loves smelling them."
"Well," said I, "the nosegay is yours at the price," and I held it out to her.
"The price? What, you desire to know my name?"
"Unless, indeed, I may call you one of my own choosing," said I, with a glance that should have been irresistible.
"Would you use it in speaking of me to Mistress Barbara there? No, I'll give you a name to call me by. You may call me Cydaria."
"Cydaria! A fine name!"
"It is," said she carelessly, "as good as any other."
"But is there no other to follow it?"
"When did a poet ask two names to head his sonnet? And surely you wanted mine for a sonnet?"
"So be it, Cydaria," said I.
"So be it, Simon. And is not Cydaria as pretty as Barbaria?"
"It has a strange sound," said I, "but it's well enough."
"And now—the nosegay!"
"I must pay a reckoning for this," I sighed; but since a bargain is a bargain I gave her the nosegay.
She took it, her face all alight with smiles, and buried her nose in it. I stood looking at her, caught by her pretty ways and graceful boldness. Boy though I was, I had been right in telling her that there are many ways of beauty; here were two to start with, hers and Barbara's. She looked up and, finding my gaze on her, made a little grimace as though it were only what she had expected and gave her no more concern than pleasure. Yet at such a look Barbara would have turned cold and distant for an hour or more. Cydaria, smiling in scornful indulgence, dropped me another mocking curtsey, and made as though she would go her way. Yet she did not go, but stood with her head half-averted, a glance straying towards me from the corner of her eye, while with her tiny foot she dug the gravel of the avenue.
"It is a lovely place, this park," said she. "But, indeed, it's often hard to find the way about it."
I was not backward to take her hint.
"If you had a guide now——" I began.
"Why, yes, if I had a guide, Simon," she whispered gleefully.
"You could find the way, Cydaria, and your guide would be most——"
"Most charitably engaged. But then——" She paused, drooping the corners of her mouth in sudden despondency.
"But what then?"
"Why then, Mistress Barbara would be alone."
I hesitated. I glanced towards the house. I looked at Cydaria.
"She told me that she wished to be alone," said I.
"No? How did she say it?"
"I will tell you all about that as we go along," said I, and Cydaria laughed again.
THE WAY OF YOUTH
The debate is years old; not indeed quite so old as the world, since Adam and Eve cannot, for want of opportunity, have fallen out over it, yet descending to us from unknown antiquity. But it has never been set at rest by general consent: the quarrel over Passive Obedience is nothing to it. It seems such a small matter though; for the debate I mean turns on no greater question than this: may a man who owns allegiance to one lady justify by any train of reasoning his conduct in snatching a kiss from another, this other being (for it is important to have the terms right) not (so far as can be judged) unwilling? I maintained that he might; to be sure, my position admitted of no other argument, and, for the most part, it is a man's state which determines his arguments and not his reasons that induce his state. Barbara declared that he could not; though, to be sure, it was, as she added most promptly, no concern of hers; for she cared not whether I were in love or not, nor how deeply, nor with whom, nor, in a word, anything at all about the matter. It was an abstract opinion she gave, so far as love, or what men chose to call such, might be involved; as to seemliness, she must confess that she had her view, with which, may be, Mr Dale was not in agreement. The girl at the gardener's cottage must, she did not doubt, agree wholly with Mr Dale; how otherwise would she have suffered the kiss in an open space in the park, where anybody might pass—and where, in fact (by the most perverse chance in the world), pretty Mistress Barbara herself passed at the moment when the thing occurred? However, if the matter could ever have had the smallest interest for her—save in so far as it touched the reputation of the village and might afford an evil example to the village maidens—it could have none at all now, seeing that she set out the next day to London, to take her place as Maid of Honour to Her Royal Highness the Duchess, and would have as little leisure as inclination to think of Mr Simon Dale or of how he chose to amuse himself when he believed that none was watching. Not that she had watched: her presence was the purest and most unwelcome chance. Yet she could not but be glad to hear that the girl was soon to go back whence she came, to the great relief (she was sure) of Madame Dale and of her dear friends Lucy and Mary; to her love for whom nothing—no, nothing—should make any difference. For the girl herself she wished no harm, but she conceived that her mother must be ill at ease concerning her.
It will be allowed that Mistress Barbara had the most of the argument if not the best. Indeed, I found little to say, except that the village would be the worse by so much as the Duchess of York was the better for Mistress Barbara's departure; the civility won me nothing but the haughtiest curtsey and a taunt.
"Must you rehearse your pretty speeches on me before you venture them on your friends, sir?" she asked.
"I am at your mercy, Mistress Barbara," I pleaded. "Are we to part enemies?"
She made me no answer, but I seemed to see a softening in her face as she turned away towards the window, whence were to be seen the stretch of the lawn and the park-meadows beyond. I believe that with a little more coaxing she would have pardoned me, but at the instant, by another stroke of perversity, a small figure sauntered across the sunny fields. The fairest sights may sometimes come amiss.
"Cydaria! A fine name!" said Barbara, with curling lip. "I'll wager she has reasons for giving no other."
"Her mother gives another to the gardener," I reminded her meekly.
"Names are as easy given as—as kisses!" she retorted. "As for Cydaria, my lord says it is a name out of a play."
All this while we had stood at the window, watching Cydaria's light feet trip across the meadow, and her bonnet swing wantonly in her hand. But now Cydaria disappeared among the trunks of the beech trees.
"See, she has gone," said I in a whisper. "She is gone, Mistress Barbara."
Barbara understood what I would say, but she was resolved to show me no gentleness. The soft tones of my voice had been for her, but she would not accept their homage.
"You need not sigh for that before my face," said she. "And yet, sigh if you will. What is it to me? But she is not gone far, and, doubtless, will not run too fast when you pursue."
"When you are in London," said I, "you will think with remorse how ill you used me."
"I shall never think of you at all. Do you forget that there are gentlemen of wit and breeding at the Court?"
"The devil fly away with every one of them!" cried I suddenly, not knowing then how well the better part of them would match their escort.
Barbara turned to me; there was a gleam of triumph in the depths of her dark eyes.
"Perhaps when you hear of me at Court," she cried, "you'll be sorry to think how——"
But she broke off suddenly, and looked out of the window.
"You'll find a husband there," I suggested bitterly.
"Like enough," said she carelessly.
To be plain, I was in no happy mood. Her going grieved me to the heart, and that she should go thus incensed stung me yet more. I was jealous of every man in London town. Had not my argument, then, some reason in it after all?
"Fare-you-well, madame," said I, with a heavy frown and a sweeping bow. No player from the Lane could have been more tragic.
"Fare-you-well, sir. I will not detain you, for you have, I know, other farewells to make."
"Not for a week yet!" I cried, goaded to a show of exultation that Cydaria stayed so long.
"I don't doubt that you'll make good use of the time," she said, as with a fine dignity she waved me to the door. Girl as she was, she had caught or inherited the grand air that great ladies use.
Gloomily I passed out, to fall into the hands of my lord, who was walking on the terrace. He caught me by the arm, laughing in good-humoured mockery.
"You've had a touch of sentiment, eh, you rogue?" said he. "Well, there's little harm in that, since the girl leaves us to-morrow."
"Indeed, my lord, there was little harm," said I, long-faced and rueful. "As little as my lady herself could wish." (At this he smiled and nodded.) "Mistress Barbara will hardly so much as look at me."
He grew graver, though the smile still hung about his lips.
"They gossip about you in the village, Simon," said he. "Take a friend's counsel, and don't be so much with the lady at the cottage. Come, I don't speak without reason." He nodded at me as a man nods who means more than he will say. Indeed, not a word more would he say, so that when I left him I was even more angry than when I parted from his daughter. And, the nature of man being such as Heaven has made it, what need to say that I bent my steps to the cottage with all convenient speed? The only weapon of an ill-used lover (nay, I will not argue the merits of the case again) was ready to my hand.
Yet my impatience availed little; for there, on the seat that stood by the door, sat my good friend the Vicar, discoursing in pleasant leisure with the lady who named herself Cydaria.
"It is true," he was saying. "I fear it is true, though you're over young to have learnt it."
"There are schools, sir," she returned, with a smile that had (or so it seemed to me) a touch—no more—of bitterness in it, "where such lessons are early learnt."
"They are best let alone, those schools," said he.
"And what's the lesson?" I asked, drawing nearer.
Neither answered. The Vicar rested his hands on the ball of his cane, and suddenly began to relate old Betty Nasroth's prophecy to his companion. I cannot tell what led his thoughts to it, but it was never far from his mind when I was by. She listened with attention, smiling brightly in whimsical amusement when the fateful words, pronounced with due solemnity, left the Vicar's lips.
"It is a strange saying," he ended, "of which time alone can show the truth."
She glanced at me with merry eyes, yet with a new air of interest. It is strange the hold these superstitions have on all of us; though surely future ages will outgrow such childishness.
"I don't know what the prophecy means," said she; "yet one thing at least would seem needful for its fulfilment—that Mr Dale should become acquainted with the King."
"True!" cried the Vicar eagerly. "Everything stands on that, and on that we stick. For Simon cannot love where the King loves, nor know what the King hides, nor drink of the King's cup, if he abide all his days here in Hatchstead. Come, Simon, the plague is gone!"
"Should I then be gone too?" I asked. "But to what end? I have no friends in London who would bring me to the notice of the King."
The Vicar shook his head sadly. I had no such friends, and the King had proved before now that he could forget many a better friend to the throne than my dear father's open mind had made of him.
"We must wait, we must wait still," said the Vicar. "Time will find a friend."
Cydaria had become pensive for a moment, but she looked up now, smiling again, and said to me:
"You'll soon have a friend in London."
Thinking of Barbara, I answered gloomily, "She's no friend of mine."
"I did not mean whom you mean," said Cydaria, with twinkling eyes and not a whit put out. "But I also am going to London."
I smiled, for it did not seem as though she would be a powerful friend, or able to open any way for me. But she met my smile with another so full of confidence and challenge that my attention was wholly caught, and I did not heed the Vicar's farewell as he rose and left us.
"And would you serve me," I asked, "if you had the power?"
"Nay, put the question as you think it," said she. "Would you have the power to serve me if you had the will? Is not that the doubt in your mind?"
"And if it were?"
"Then, indeed, I do not know how to answer; but strange things happen there in London, and it may be that some day even I should have some power."
"And you would use it for me?"
"Could I do less on behalf of a gentleman who has risked his mistress's favour for my poor cheek's sake?" And she fell to laughing again, her mirth growing greater as I turned red in the face. "You mustn't blush when you come to town," she cried, "or they'll make a ballad on you, and cry you in the streets for a monster."
"The oftener comes the cause, the rarer shall the effect be," said I.
"The excuse is well put," she conceded. "We should make a wit of you in town."
"What do you in town?" I asked squarely, looking her full in the eyes.
"Perhaps, sometimes," she laughed, "what I have done once—and to your good knowledge—since I came to the country."
Thus she would baffle me with jesting answers as often as I sought to find out who and what she was. Nor had I better fortune with her mother, for whom I had small liking, and who had, as it seemed, no more for me. For she was short in her talk, and frowned to see me with her daughter. Yet she saw me, I must confess, often with Cydaria in the next days, and I was often with Cydaria when she did not see me. For Barbara was gone, leaving me both sore and lonely, all in the mood to find comfort where I could, and to see manliness in desertion; and there was a charm about the girl that grew on me insensibly and without my will until I came to love, not her (as I believed, forgetting that Love loves not to mark his boundaries too strictly) but her merry temper, her wit and cheerfulness. Moreover, these things were mingled and spiced with others, more attractive than all to unfledged youth, an air of the world and a knowledge of life which piqued my curiosity and sat (it seems so even to my later mind as I look back) with bewitching incongruity on the laughing child's face and the unripe grace of girlhood. Her moods were endless, vying with one another in an ever undetermined struggle for the prize of greatest charm. For the most part she was merry, frank mirth passing into sly raillery; now and then she would turn sad, sighing, "Heigho, that I could stay in the sweet innocent country!" Or again she would show or ape an uneasy conscience, whispering, "Ah, that I were like your Mistress Barbara!" The next moment she would be laughing and jesting and mocking, as though life were nought but a great many-coloured bubble, and she the brightest-tinted gleam on it.
Are women so constant and men so forgetful, that all sympathy must go from me and all esteem be forfeited because, being of the age of eighteen years, I vowed to live for one lady only on a Monday and was ready to die for another on the Saturday? Look back; bow your heads, and give me your hands, to kiss or to clasp!
Let not you and I inquire What has been our past desire, On what shepherds you have smiled, Or what nymphs I have beguiled; Leave it to the planets too What we shall hereafter do; For the joys we now may prove, Take advice of present love.
Nay, I will not set my name to that in its fulness; Mr Waller is a little too free for one who has been nicknamed a Puritan to follow him to the end. Yet there is a truth in it. Deny it, if you will. You are smiling, madame, while you deny.
It was a golden summer's evening when I, to whom the golden world was all a hell, came by tryst to the park of Quinton Manor, there to bid Cydaria farewell. Mother and sisters had looked askance at me, the village gossiped, even the Vicar shook a kindly head. What cared I? By Heaven, why was one man a nobleman and rich, while another had no money in his purse and but one change to his back? Was not love all in all, and why did Cydaria laugh at a truth so manifest? There she was under the beech tree, with her sweet face screwed up to a burlesque of grief, her little hand lying on her hard heart as though it beat for me, and her eyes the playground of a thousand quick expressions. I strode up to her, and caught her by the hand, saying no more than just her name, "Cydaria." It seemed that there was no more to say; yet she cried, laughing and reproachful, "Have you no vows for me? Must I go without my tribute?"
I loosed her hand and stood away from her. On my soul, I could not speak. I was tongue-tied, dumb as a dog.
"When you come courting in London," she said, "you must not come so empty of lover's baggage. There ladies ask vows, and protestations, and despair, ay, and poetry, and rhapsodies, and I know not what."
"Of all these I have nothing but despair," said I.
"Then you make a sad lover," she pouted. "And I am glad to be going where lovers are less woebegone."
"You look for lovers in London?" I cried, I that had cried to Barbara—well, I have said my say on that.
"If Heaven send them," answered Cydaria.
"And you will forget me?"
"In truth, yes, unless you come yourself to remind me. I have no head for absent lovers."
"But if I come——" I began in a sudden flush of hope.
She did not (though it was her custom) answer in raillery; she plucked a leaf from the tree, and tore it with her fingers as she answered with a curious glance.
"Why, if you come, I think you'll wish that you had not come, unless, indeed, you've forgotten me before you come."
"Forget you! Never while I live! May I come, Cydaria?"
"Most certainly, sir, so soon as your wardrobe and your purse allow. Nay, don't be huffed. Come, Simon, sweet Simon, are we not friends, and may not friends rally one another? No, and if I choose, I will put my hand through your arm. Indeed, sir, you're the first gentleman that ever thrust it away. See, it is there now! Doesn't it look well there, Simon—and feel well there, Simon?" She looked up into my face in coaxing apology for the hurt she had given me, and yet still with mockery of my tragic airs. "Yes, you must by all means come to London," she went on, patting my arm. "Is not Mistress Barbara in London? And I think—am I wrong, Simon?—that there is something for which you will want to ask her pardon."
"If I come to London, it is for you and you only that I shall come," I cried.
"No, no. You will come to love where the King loves, to know what he hides, and to drink of his cup. I, sir, cannot interfere with your great destiny"; she drew away from me, curtseyed low, and stood opposite to me, smiling.
"For you and for you only," I repeated.
"Then will the King love me?" she asked.
"God forbid," said I fervently.
"Oh, and why, pray, your 'God forbid'? You're very ready with your 'God forbids.' Am I then to take your love sooner than the King's, Master Simon?"
"Mine is an honest love," said I soberly.
"Oh, I should doat on the country, if everybody didn't talk of his honesty there! I have seen the King in London and he is a fine gentleman."
"And you have seen the Queen also, may be?"
"In truth, yes. Ah, I have shocked you, Simon? Well, I was wrong. Come, we're in the country; we'll be good. But when we've made a townsman of you, we'll—we will be what they are in town. Moreover, in ten minutes I am going home, and it would be hard if I also left you in anger. You shall have a pleasanter memory of my going than Mistress Barbara's gave you."
"How shall I find you when I come to town?"
"Why, if you will ask any gentleman you meet whether he chances to remember Cydaria, you will find me as soon as it is well you should."
I prayed her to tell me more; but she was resolved to tell no more.
"See, it is late. I go," said she. Then suddenly she came near to me. "Poor Simon," she said softly. "Yet it is good for you, Simon. Some day you will be amused at this, Simon"; she spoke as though she were fifty years older than I. My answer lay not in words or arguments. I caught her in my arms and kissed her. She struggled, yet she laughed. It shot through my mind then that Barbara would neither have struggled nor laughed. But Cydaria laughed.
Presently I let her go, and kneeling on my knee kissed her hand very humbly, as though she had been what Barbara was. If she were not—and I knew not what she was—yet should my love exalt her and make a throne whereon she might sit a Queen. My new posture brought a sudden gravity to her face, and she bent over me with a smile that seemed now tender and almost sorrowful.
"Poor Simon, poor Simon," she whispered. "Kiss my hand now; kiss it as though I were fit for worship. It will do you no harm, and—and perhaps—perhaps I shall like to remember it." She bent down and kissed my forehead as I knelt before her. "Poor Simon," she whispered, as her hair brushed mine. Then her hand was gradually and gently withdrawn. I looked up to see her face; her lips were smiling but there seemed a dew on her lashes. She laughed, and the laugh ended in a little gasp, as though a sob had fought with it. And she cried out loud, her voice ringing clear among the trees in the still evening air.
"That ever I should be so sore a fool!"
Then she turned and left me, running swiftly over the grass, with never a look behind her. I watched till she was out of sight, and then sat down on the ground; with twitching lips and wide-open dreary eyes.
Ah, for youth's happiness! Alas for its dismal woe! Thus she came into my life.
THE MUSIC OF THE WORLD
If a philosopher, learned in the human mind as Flamsteed in the courses of the stars or the great Newton in the laws of external nature, were to take one possessed by a strong passion of love or a bitter grief, or what overpowering emotion you will, and were to consider impartially and with cold precision what share of his time was in reality occupied by the thing which, as we are in the habit of saying, filled his thoughts or swayed his life or mastered his intellect, the world might well smile (and to my thinking had better smile than weep) at the issue of the investigation. When the first brief shock was gone, how few out of the solid twenty-four would be the hours claimed by the despot, however much the poets might call him insatiable. There is sleeping, and meat and drink, the putting on and off of raiment and the buying of it. If a man be of sound body, there is his sport; if he be sane, there are the interests of this life and provision for the next. And if he be young, there is nature's own joy in living, which with a patient scornful smile sets aside his protest that he is vowed to misery, and makes him, willy-nilly, laugh and sing. So that, if he do not drown himself in a week and thereby balk the inquiry, it is odds that he will compose himself in a month, and by the end of a year will carry no more marks of his misfortune than (if he be a man of good heart) an added sobriety and tenderness of spirit. Yet all this does not hinder the thing from returning, on occasion given.
In my own case—and, if my story be followed to its close, I am persuaded that I shall not be held to be one who took the disease of love more lightly than my fellows—this process of convalescence, most salutary, yet in a sense humiliating, was aided by a train of circumstances, in which my mother saw the favour of Heaven to our family and the Vicar the working of Betty Nasroth's prophecy. An uncle of my mother's had some forty years ago established a manufactory of wool at Norwich, and having kept always before his eyes the truth that men must be clothed, howsoever they may think on matters of Church and State, and that it is a cloth-weaver's business to clothe them and not to think for them, had lived a quiet life through all the disturbances and had prospered greatly in his trade. For marriage either time or inclination had failed him, and, being now an old man, he felt a favourable disposition towards me, and declared the intention of making me heir to a considerable portion of his fortune provided that I showed myself worthy of such kindness. The proof he asked was not beyond reason, though I found cause for great lamentation in it; for it was that, in lieu of seeking to get to London, I should go to Norwich and live there with him, to solace his last years and, although not engaged in his trade, learn by observation something of the serious occupations of life and of the condition of my fellow-men, of which things young gentlemen, said he, were for the most part sadly ignorant. Indeed, they were, and they thought no better of a companion for being wiser; to do anything or know anything that might redound to the benefit of man or the honour of God was not the mode in those days. Nor do I say that the fashion has changed greatly, no, nor that it will change. Therefore to Norwich I went, although reluctantly, and there I stayed fully three years, applying myself to the comforting of my uncle's old age, and consoling my leisure with the diversions which that great and important city afforded, and which, indeed, were enough for any rational mind. But reason and youth are bad bedfellows, and all the while I was like the Israelites in the wilderness; my thoughts were set upon the Promised Land and I endured my probation hardly. To this mood I set down the fact that little of my life at Norwich lives in my memory, and to that little I seldom recur in thought; the time before it and the time after engross my backward glances. The end came with my uncle's death, whereat I, the recipient of great kindness from him, sincerely grieved, and that with some remorse, since I had caused him sorrow by refusing to take up his occupation as my own, preferring my liberty and a moderate endowment to all his fortune saddled with the condition of passing my days as a cloth-weaver. Had I chosen otherwise, I should have lived a more peaceful and died a richer man. Yet I do not repent; not riches nor peace, but the stir of the blood, the work of the hand, and the service of the brain make a life that a man can look back on without shame and with delight.
I was nearing my twenty-second birthday when I returned to Hatchstead with an air and manner, I doubt not, sadly provincial, but with a lining to my pocket for whose sake many a gallant would have surrendered some of his plumes and feathers. Three thousand pounds, invested in my uncle's business and returning good and punctual profit made of Simon Dale a person of far greater importance in the eyes of his family than he had been three years ago. It was a competence on which a gentleman could live with discretion and modesty, it was a step from which his foot could rise higher on life's ladder. London was in my power, all it held of promise and possibility was not beyond the flight of my soaring mind. My sisters exchanged sharp admonitions for admiring deference, and my mother feared nothing save that the great place to which I was now surely destined might impair the homely virtues which she had instilled into me. As for the Vicar, he stroked his nose and glanced at me with an eye which spoke so plainly of Betty Nasroth that I fell to laughing heartily.
Thus, being in great danger of self-exaltation, I took the best medicine that I could—although by no means with intention—in waiting on my lord Quinton, who was then residing at the Manor. Here my swelled spirit was smartly pricked, and sank soon to its true proportions. I was no great man here, and although my lord received me very kindly, he had less to say on the richness of my fortune than on the faults of my manner and the rustic air of my attire. Yet he bade me go to London, since there a man, rubbing shoulders with all the world, learnt to appraise his own value, and lost the ignorant conceit of himself that a village greatness is apt to breed. Somewhat crestfallen, I thanked him for his kindness, and made bold to ask after Mistress Barbara.
"She is well enough," he answered, smiling. "And she is become a great lady. The wits make epigrams on her, and the fools address verses to her. But she's a good girl, Simon."
"I'm sure of it, my lord," I cried.
"He's a bold man who would be sure of it concerning anyone nowadays," he said dryly. "Yet so, thank God, it is. See, here's a copy of the verses she had lately," and he flung me the paper. I glanced over it and saw much about "dazzling ice," "unmelting snow," "Venus," "Diana," and so forth.
"It seems sad stuff, my lord," said I.
"Why, yes," he laughed; "but it is by a gentle man of repute. Take care you write none worse, Simon."
"Shall I have the honour of waiting on Mistress Barbara, my lord?" I asked.
"As to that, Simon, we will see when you come. Yes, we must see what company you keep. For example, on whom else do you think of waiting when you are set up in London?"
He looked steadily at me, a slight frown on his brow, yet a smile, and not an unkind one, on his lips. I grew hot, and knew that I grew red also.
"I am acquainted with few in London, my lord," I stammered, "and with those not well."
"Those not well, indeed," he echoed, the pucker deepening and the smile vanishing. Yet the smile came again as he rose and clapped me on the shoulder.
"You're an honest lad, Simon," he said, "even though it may have pleased God to make you a silly one. And, by Heaven, who would have all lads wise? Go to London, learn to know more folk, learn to know better those whom you know. Bear yourself as a gentleman, and remember, Simon, whatsoever else the King may be, yet he is the King."
Saying this with much emphasis, he led me gently to the door.
"Why did he say that about the King?" I pondered as I walked homeward through the park; for although what we all, even in the country, knew of the King gave warrant enough for the words, my lord had seemed to speak them to me with some special meaning, and as though they concerned me more than most men. Yet what, if I left aside Betty's foolish talk, as my lord surely did, had I to do with the King, or with what he might be besides the King?
About this time much stir had been aroused in the country by the dismissal from all his offices of that great Minister and accomplished writer, the Earl of Clarendon, and by the further measures which his enemies threatened against him. The village elders were wont to assemble on the days when the post came in and discuss eagerly the news brought from London. The affairs of Government troubled my head very little, but in sheer idleness I used often to join them, wondering to see them so perturbed at the happening of things which made mighty little difference in our retired corner. Thus I was in the midst of them, at the King and Crown Tavern, on the Green, two days after I had talked with my lord Quinton. I sat with a mug of ale before me, engrossed in my own thoughts and paying little heed to what passed, when, to my amazement, the postman, leaping from his horse, came straight across to me, holding out in his hand a large packet of important appearance. To receive a letter was a rare event in my life, and a rarer followed, setting the cap on my surprise. For the man, though he was fully ready to drink my health, demanded no money for the letter, saying that it came on the service of His Majesty and was not chargeable. He spoke low enough, and there was a babble about, but it seemed as though the name of the King made its way through all the hubbub to the Vicar's ears; for he rose instantly, and, stepping to my side, sat down by me, crying,
"What said he of the King, Simon?"
"Why, he said," I answered, "that this great letter comes to me on the King's service, and that I have nothing to pay for it," and I turned it over and over in my hands. But the inscription was plain enough. "To Master Simon Dale, Esquire, at Hatchstead, by Hatfield."
By this time half the company was round us, and my Lord Clarendon well-nigh forgotten. Small things near are greater than great things afar, and at Hatchstead my affairs were of more moment than the fall of a Chancellor or the King's choice of new Ministers. A cry arose that I should open my packet and disclose what it contained.
"Nay," said the Vicar, with an air of importance, "it may be on a private matter that the King writes."
They would have believed that of my lord at the Manor, they could not of Simon Dale. The Vicar met their laughter bravely.
"But the King and Simon are to have private matters between them one day," he cried, shaking his fist at the mockers, himself half in mockery.
Meanwhile I opened my packet and read. To this day the amazement its contents bred in me is fresh. For the purport was that the King, remembering my father's services to the King's father (and forgetting, as it seemed, those done to General Cromwell), and being informed of my own loyal disposition, courage, and good parts, had been graciously pleased to name me to a commission in His Majesty's Regiment of Life Guards, such commission being post-dated six months from the day of writing, in order that Mr Dale should have the leisure to inform himself of his duties and fit himself for his post; to which end it was the King's further pleasure that Mr Dale should present himself, bringing this same letter with him, without delay at Whitehall, and there be instructed in his drill and in all other matters necessary for him to know. Thus the letter ended, with a commendation of me to the care of the Almighty.
I sat, gasping; the gossips gaped round me; the Vicar seemed stunned. At last somebody grumbled,
"I do not love these Guards. What need of guard has the King except in the love of his subjects?"
"So his father found, did he?" cried the Vicar, an aflame in a moment.
"The Life Guards!" I murmured. "It is the first regiment of all in honour."
"Ay, my lad," said the Vicar. "It would have been well enough for you to serve in the ranks of it, but to hold His Majesty's Commission!" Words failed him, and he flew to the landlord's snuff-box, which that good man, moved by subtle sympathy, held out, pat to the occasion.
Suddenly those words of my lord's that had at the time of their utterance caught my attention so strongly flashed into my mind, seeming now to find their explanation. If there were fault to be found in the King, it did not lie with his own servants and officers to find it; I was now of his household; my lord must have known what was on the way to me from London when he addressed me so pointedly; and he could know only because he had himself been the mover in the matter. I sprang up and ran across to the Vicar, crying,
"Why, it is my lord's kindness! He has spoken for me."
"Ay, ay, it is my lord," was grunted and nodded round the circle in the satisfaction of a discovery obvious so soon as made. The Vicar alone dissented; he took another pinch and wagged his head petulantly.
"I don't think it's my lord," said he.
"But why not, sir, and who else?" I urged.
"I don't know, but I do not think it is my lord," he persisted.
Then I laughed at him, and he understood well that I mocked his dislike of a plain-sailing everyday account of anything to which it might be possible by hook or crook to attach a tag of mystery. He had harped back to the prophecy, and would not have my lord come between him and his hobby.
"You may laugh, Simon," said he gravely. "But it will be found to be as I say."
I paid no more heed to him, but caught up my hat from the bench, crying that I must run at once and offer thanks to my lord, for he was to set out for London that day, and would be gone if I did not hasten.
"At least," conceded the Vicar, "you will do no harm by telling him. He will wonder as much as we."
Laughing again, I ran off and left the company crowding to a man round the stubborn Vicar. It was well indeed that I did not linger, for, having come to the Manor at my best speed, I found my lord's coach already at the door and himself in cloak and hat about to step into it. But he waited to hear my breathless story, and, when I came to the pith of it, snatched my letter from my hand and read it eagerly. At first I thought he was playing a part and meant only to deny his kindness or delay the confession of it. His manner soon undeceived me; he was in truth amazed, as the Vicar had predicted, but more than that, he was, if I read his face aright, sorely displeased also; for a heavy frown gathered on his brow, and he walked with me in utter silence the better half of the length of the terrace.
"I have nothing to do with it," he said bitterly. "I and my family have done the King and his too much service to have the giving away of favours. Kings do not love their creditors, no, nor pay them."
"But, my lord, I can think of no other friend who would have such power."
"Can't you?" he asked, stopping and laying his hand on my shoulder. "May be, Simon, you don't understand how power is come by in these days, nor what are the titles to the King's confidence."
His words and manner dashed my new pride, and I suppose my face grew glum, for he went on more gently,
"Nay, lad, since it comes, take it without question. Whatever the source of it, your own conduct may make it an honour."
But I could not be content with that.
"The letter says," I remarked, "that the King is mindful of my father's services."
"I had thought that the age of miracles was past," smiled my lord. "Perhaps it is not, Simon."
"Then if it be not for my father's sake nor for yours, my lord, I am at a loss," and I stuffed the letter into my pocket very peevishly.
"I must be on my way," said my lord, turning towards the coach. "Let me hear from you when you come, Simon; and I suppose you will come soon now. You will find me at my house in Southampton Square, and my lady will be glad of your company."
I thanked him for his civility, but my face was still clouded. He had seemed to suspect and hint at some taint in the fountain of honour that had so unexpectedly flowed forth.
"I can't tell what to make of it," I cried.
He stopped again, as he was about to set his foot on the step of his coach, and turned, facing me squarely.
"There's no other friend at all in London, Simon?" he asked. Again I grew red, as he stood watching me. "Is there not one other?"
I collected myself as well as I could and answered,
"One that would give me a commission in the Life Guards, my lord?" And I laughed in scorn.
My lord shrugged his shoulders and mounted into the coach. I closed the door behind him, and stood waiting his reply. He leant forward and spoke across me to the lackey behind, saying, "Go on, go on."
"What do you mean, my lord?" I cried. He smiled, but did not speak. The coach began to move; I had to walk to keep my place, soon I should have to run.
"My lord," I cried, "how could she——?"
My lord took out his snuff-box, and opened it.
"Nay, I cannot tell how," said he, as he carried his thumb to his nose.
"My lord," I cried, running now, "do you know who Cydaria is?"
My lord looked at me, as I ran panting. Soon I should have to give in, for the horses made merry play down the avenue. He seemed to wait for the last moment of my endurance, before he answered. Then, waving his hand at the window, he said, "All London knows." And with that he shut the window, and I fell back breathless, amazed, and miserably chagrined. For he had told me nothing of all that I desired to know, and what he had told me did no more than inflame my curiosity most unbearably. Yet, if it were true, this mysterious lady, known to all London, had remembered Simon Dale! A man of seventy would have been moved by such a thing; what wonder that a boy of twenty-two should run half mad with it?
Strange to say, it seemed to the Vicar's mind no more unlikely and infinitely more pleasant that the King's favour should be bound up with the lady we had called Cydaria than that it should be the plain fruit of my lord's friendly offices. Presently his talk infected me with something of the same spirit, and we fell to speculating on the identity of this lady, supposing in our innocence that she must be of very exalted rank and noble station if indeed all London knew her, and she had a voice in the appointment of gentlemen to bear His Majesty's Commission. It was but a step farther to discern for me a most notable career, wherein the prophecy of Betty Nasroth should find fulfilment and prove the link that bound together a chain of strange fortune and high achievement. Thus our evening wore away and with it my vexation. Now I was all eager to be gone, to set my hand to my work, to try Fate's promises, and to learn that piece of knowledge which all London had—the true name of her whom we called Cydaria.
"Still," said the Vicar, falling into a sudden pensiveness as I rose to take my leave, "there are things above fortune's favour, or a King's, or a great lady's. To those cling, Simon, for your name's sake and for my credit, who taught you."
"True, sir," said I in perfunctory acknowledgment, but with errant thoughts. "I trust, sir, that I shall always bear myself as becomes a gentleman."
"And a Christian," he added mildly.
"Ay, sir, and a Christian," I agreed readily enough.
"Go your way," he said, with a little smile. "I preach to ears that are full now of other and louder sounds, of strains more attractive and melodies more alluring. Therefore, now, you cannot listen; nay, I know that, if you could, you would. Yet it may be that some day—if it be God's will, soon—the strings that I feebly strike may sound loud and clear, so that you must hear, however sweetly that other music charms your senses. And if you hear, Simon, heed; if you hear, heed."
Thus, with his blessing, I left him. He followed me to the door, with a smile on his lips but anxiety in his eyes. I went on my way, never looking back. For my ears were indeed filled with that strange and enchanting music.
There, mounted on the coach at Hertford (for at last I am fairly on my way, and may boast that I have made short work of my farewells), a gentleman apparently about thirty years of age, tall, well-proportioned, and with a thin face, clean-cut and high-featured. He was attended by a servant whom he called Robert, a stout ruddy fellow, who was very jovial with every post-boy and ostler on the road. The gentleman, being placed next to me by the chance of our billets, lost no time in opening the conversation, a step which my rustic backwardness would long have delayed. He invited my confidence by a free display of his own, informing me that he was attached to the household of Lord Arlington, and was returning to London on his lordship's summons. For since his patron had been called to the place of Secretary of State, he, Mr Christopher Darrell (such was his name), was likely to be employed by him in matters of trust, and thus fill a position which I must perceive to be of some importance. All this was poured forth with wonderful candour and geniality, and I, in response, opened to him my fortunes and prospects, keeping back nothing save the mention of Cydaria. Mr Darrell was, or affected to be, astonished to learn that I was a stranger to London—my air smacked of the Mall and of no other spot in the world, he swore most politely—but made haste to offer me his services, proposing that, since Lord Arlington did not look for him that night, and he had abandoned his former lodging, we should lodge together at an inn he named in Covent Garden, when he could introduce me to some pleasant company. I accepted his offer most eagerly. Then he fell to talking of the Court, of the households of the King and the Duke, of Madame the Duchess of Orleans, who was soon to come to England, they said (on what business he did not know); next he spoke, although now with caution, of persons no less well known but of less high reputation, referring lightly to Lady Castlemaine and Eleanor Gwyn and others, while I listened, half-scandalised, half-pleased. But I called him back by asking whether he were acquainted with one of the Duchess's ladies named Mistress Barbara Quinton.
"Surely," he said. "There is no fairer lady at Court, and very few so honest."
I hurried to let him know that Mistress Barbara and I were old friends. He laughed as he answered,
"If you'd be more you must lose no time. It is impossible that she should refuse many more suitors, and a nobleman of great estate is now sighing for her so loudly as to be audible from Whitehall to Temple Bar."
I heard the news with interest, with pride, and with a touch of jealousy; but at this time my own fortunes so engrossed me that soon I harked back to them, and, taking my courage in both hands, was about to ask my companion if he had chanced ever to hear of Cydaria, when he gave a new turn to the talk, by asking carelessly,
"You are a Churchman, sir, I suppose?"
"Why, yes," I answered, with a smile, and perhaps a bit of a stare. "What did you conceive me to be, sir?—a Ranter, or a Papist?"
"Pardon, pardon, if you find offence in my question," he answered, laughing. "There are many men who are one or the other, you know."
"The country has learnt that to its sorrow," said I sturdily.
"Ay," he said, in a dreamy way, "and maybe will learn it again." And without more he fell to describing the famous regiment to which I was to belong, adding at the end:
"And if you like a brawl, the 'prentices in the City will always find one for a gentleman of the King's Guards. Take a companion or two with you when you walk east of Temple Bar. By the way, sir, if the question may be pardoned, how came you by your commission? For we know that merit, standing alone, stands generally naked also."
I was much inclined to tell him all the story, but a shamefacedness came over me. I did not know then how many owed all their advancement to a woman's influence, and my manly pride disdained to own the obligation. I put him off by a story of a friend who wished to remain unnamed, and, after the feint of some indifferent talk, seized the chance of a short silence to ask him my great question.
"Pray, sir, have you ever heard of a lady who goes sometimes by the name of Cydaria?" said I. I fear my cheek flushed a little, do what I could to check such an exhibition of rawness.
"Cydaria? Where have I heard that name? No, I know nobody—and yet——" He paused; then, clapping his hand on his thigh, cried, "By my faith, yes; I was sure I had heard it. It is a name from a play; from—from the 'Indian Emperor.' I think your lady must have been masquerading."
"I thought as much," I nodded, concealing my disappointment.
He looked at me a moment with some curiosity, but did not press me further; and, since we had begun to draw near London, I soon had my mind too full to allow me to think even of Cydaria. There is small profit in describing what every man can remember for himself—his first sight of the greatest city in the world, with its endless houses and swarming people. It made me still and silent as we clattered along, and I forgot my companion until I chanced to look towards him, and found an amused glance fixed on my face. But, as we reached the City, he began to point out where the fire had been, and how the task of rebuilding progressed. Again wonder and anticipation grew on me.
"Yes," said he, "it's a fine treasure-house for a man who can get the key to it."
Yet, amazed as I was, I would not have it supposed that I was altogether an unlicked cub. My stay in Norwich, if it had not made me a Londoner, had rubbed off some of the plough-mud from me, and I believe that my new friend was not speaking wholly in idle compliment when he assured me that I should hold my own very well. The first lesson I learnt was not to show any wonder that I might feel, but to receive all that chanced as though it were the most ordinary thing in the world; for this, beyond all, is the hall-mark of your quality. Indeed, it was well that I was so far fit to show my face, since I was to be plunged into the midst of the stream with a suddenness which startled, although it could not displease me. For the first beginning I was indebted to Mr Darrell, for what followed to myself alone and a temper that has never been of the most patient.
We had reached our inn and refreshed ourselves, and I was standing looking out on the evening and wondering at what time it was proper for me to seek my bed when my friend entered with an eager air, and advanced towards me, crying,
"Dear sir, I hope your wardrobe is in order, for I am resolved to redeem my word forthwith, and to-night to carry you with me to an entertainment for which I have received an invitation. I am most anxious for you to accompany me, as we shall meet many whom you should know."
I was, of course, full of excuses, but he would admit of one only; and that one I could not or would not make. For I had provided myself with a neat and proper suit, of which I was very far from ashamed, and which, when assumed by me and set off with a new cloak to match it, was declared by Mr Darrell to be most apt for the occasion.
"You lack nothing but a handsome cane," said he, "and that I can myself provide. Come, let us call chairs and be gone, for it grows late already."
Our host that evening was Mr Jermyn, a gentleman in great repute at Court, and he entertained us most handsomely at the New Spring Garden, according to me a welcome of especial courtesy, that I might be at my ease and feel no stranger among the company. He placed me on his left hand, Darrell being on my other side, while opposite to me sat my lord the Earl of Carford, a fine-looking man of thirty or a year or two above. Among the guests Mr Darrell indicated several whose names were known to me, such as the witty Lord Rochester and the French Ambassador, M. de Cominges, a very stately gentleman. These, however, being at the other end of the table, I made no acquaintance with them, and contented myself with listening to the conversation of my neighbours, putting in a word where I seemed able with propriety and without displaying an ignorance of which I was very sensible. It seemed to me that Lord Carford, to whom I had not been formally presented (indeed, all talked to one another without ceremony) received what I said with more than sufficient haughtiness and distance; but on Darrell whispering humorously that he was a great lord, and held himself even greater than he was, I made little of it, thinking my best revenge would be to give him a lesson in courtesy. Thus all went well till we had finished eating and sat sipping our wine. Then my Lord Carford, being a little overheated with what he had drunk, began suddenly to inveigh against the King with remarkable warmth and freedom, so that it seemed evident that he smarted under some recent grievance. The raillery of our host, not too nice or delicate, soon spurred him to a discovery of his complaint. He asked nothing better than to be urged to a disclosure.
"Neither rank, nor friendship, nor service," he said, smiting the table, "are enough to gain the smallest favour from the King. All goes to the women; they have but to ask to have. I prayed the King to give me for a cousin of mine a place in the Life Guards that was to be vacant, and he—by Heaven, he promised! Then comes Nell, and Nell wants it for a friend—and Nell has it for a friend—and I go empty!"
I had started when he spoke of the Life Guards, and sat now in a state of great disturbance. Darrell also, as I perceived, was very uneasy, and made a hasty effort to alter the course of the conversation; but Mr Jermyn would not have it.
"Who is the happy—the new happy man, that is Mistress Nell's friend?" he asked, smiling.
"Some clod from the country," returned the Earl; "his name, they say, is Dale."
I felt my heart beating, but I trust that I looked cool enough as I leant across and said,
"Your lordship is misinformed. I have the best of reasons for saying so."
"The reasons may be good, sir," he retorted with a stare, "but they are not evident."
"I am myself just named to a commission in the King's Life Guards, and my name is Dale," said I, restraining myself to a show of composure, for I felt Darrell's hand on my arm.
"By my faith, then, you're the happy man," sneered Carford. "I congratulate you on your——"
"Stay, stay, Carford," interposed Mr Jermyn.
"On your—godmother," said Carford.
"You're misinformed, my lord," I repeated fiercely, although by now a great fear had come upon me. I knew whom they meant by "Nell."
"By God, sir, I'm not misinformed," said he.
"By God, my lord," said I—though I had not been wont to swear—"By God, my lord, you are."
Our voices had risen in anger; a silence fell on the party, all turning from their talk to listen to us. Carford's face went red when I gave him the lie so directly and the more fiercely because, to my shame and wonder, I had begun to suspect that what he said was no lie. But I followed up the attack briskly.
"Therefore, my lord," I said, "I will beg of you to confess your error, and withdraw what you have said."
He burst into a laugh.
"If I weren't ashamed to take a favour from such a hand, I wouldn't be ashamed to own it," said he.
I rose from my seat and bowed to him gravely. All understood my meaning; but he, choosing to treat me with insolence, did not rise nor return my salute, but sat where he was, smiling scornfully.
"You don't understand me, it seems, my lord," said I. "May be this will quicken your wits," and I flung the napkin which had been brought to me after meat lightly in his face. He sprang up quickly enough then, and so did all the company. Darrell caught me by the arm and held me fast. Jermyn was by Carford's side. I hardly knew what passed, being much upset by the sudden quarrel, and yet more by the idea, that Carford's words had put in my head. I saw Jermyn come forward, and Darrell, loosing my arm, went and spoke to him. Lord Carford resumed his seat; I leant against the back of my chair and waited. Darrell was not long in returning to me.
"You'd best go home," he said, in a low voice. "I'll arrange everything. You must meet to-morrow morning."
I nodded my head; I had grown cool and collected now. Bowing slightly to Carford, and low to my host and the company, I turned to the door. As I passed through it, I heard the talk break out again behind me. I got into my chair, which was waiting, and was carried back to my inn in a half-amazed state. I gave little thought to the quarrel or to the meeting that awaited me. My mind was engrossed with the revelation to which I had listened. I doubted it still; nay, I would not believe it. Yet whence came the story unless it were true? And it seemed to fit most aptly and most lamentably with what had befallen me, and to throw light on what had been a puzzle. It was hard on four years since I had parted from Cydaria; but that night I felt that, if the thing were true, I should receive Carford's point in my heart without a pang.
Being, as may be supposed, little inclined for sleep, I turned into the public room of the inn and called for a bottle of wine. The room was empty save for a lanky fellow, very plainly dressed, who sat at the table reading a book. He was drinking nothing, and when—my wine having been brought—I called in courtesy for a second glass and invited him to join me, he shook his head sourly. Yet presently he closed his book, which I now perceived to be a Bible, and fixed an earnest gaze on me. He was a strange-looking fellow; his face was very thin and long, and his hair (for he wore his own and no wig) hung straight from the crown of his head in stiff wisps. I set him down as a Ranter, and was in no way surprised when he began to inveigh against the evils of the times, and to prophesy the judgment of God on the sins of the city.
"Pestilence hath come and fire hath come," he cried. "Yet wickedness is not put away, and lewdness vaunteth herself, and the long-suffering of God is abused."
All this seeming to me very tedious, I sipped my wine and made no answer. I had enough to think of, and was content to let the sins of the city alone.
"The foul superstition of Papacy raises its head again," he went on, "and godly men are persecuted."
"Those same godly men," said I, "have had their turn before now, sir. To many it seems as if they were only receiving what they gave." For the fellow had roused me to some little temper by his wearisome cursing.
"But the Time of the Lord is at hand," he pursued, "and all men shall see the working of His wrath. Ay, it shall be seen even in palaces."
"If I were you, sir," said I dryly, "I would not talk thus before strangers. There might be danger in it."
He scanned my face closely for a few moments; then, leaning across towards me, he said earnestly:
"You are young, and you look honest. Be warned in time; fight on the Lord's side, and not among His enemies. Verily the time cometh."
I had met many of these mad fellows, for the country was full of them, some being disbanded soldiers of the Commonwealth, some ministers who had lost their benefices; but this fellow seemed more crazy than any I had seen: though, indeed, I must confess there was a full measure of truth, if not of charity, in the description of the King's Court on which he presently launched himself with great vigour of declamation and an intense, although ridiculous, exhibition of piety.
"You may be very right, sir——"
"My name is Phineas Tate."
"You may be very right, friend Phineas," said I, yawning; "but I can't alter all this. Go and preach to the King."
"The King shall be preached to in words that he must hear," he retorted with a frown, "but the time is not yet."
"The time now is to seek our beds," said I, smiling. "Do you lodge here?"
"For this night I lie here. To-morrow I preach to this city."
"Then I fear you are likely to lie in a less comfortable place to-morrow." And bidding him good-night, I turned to go. But he sprang after me, crying, "Remember, the time is short"; and I doubt whether I should have got rid of him had not Darrell at that moment entered the room. To my surprise, the two seemed to know one another, for Darrell broke into a scornful laugh, exclaiming:
"Again, Master Tate! What, haven't you left this accursed city to its fate yet?"
"It awaits its fate," answered the Ranter sternly, "even as those of your superstition wait theirs."
"My superstition must look out for itself," said Darrell, with a shrug; and, seeing that I was puzzled, he added, "Mr Tate is not pleased with me because I am of the old religion."
"Indeed?" I cried. "I didn't know you were a—of the old church." For I remembered with confusion a careless remark that I had let fall as we journeyed together.
"Yes," said he simply.
"Yes!" cried Tate. "You—and your master also, is he not?"
Darrell's face grew stern and cold.
"I would have you careful, sir, when you touch on my Lord Arlington's name," he said. "You know well that he is not of the Roman faith, but is a convinced adherent of the Church of this country."
"Is he so?" asked Tate, with an undisguised sneer.
"Come, enough!" cried Darrell in sudden anger. "I have much to say to my friend, and shall be glad to be left alone with him."
Tate made no objection to leaving us, and, gathering up his Bible, went out scowling.
"A pestilent fellow," said Darrell. "He'll find himself laid by the heels before long. Well, I have settled your affair with my Lord Carford."
But my affair with Carford was not what I wanted to hear about. I came to him as he sat down at the table, and, laying my hand on his shoulder, asked simply,
"Is it true?"
He looked up at me with great kindness, and answered gently,
"It is true. I guessed it as soon as you spoke of Cydaria. For Cydaria was the part in which she first gained the favour of the town, and that, taken with your description of her, gave me no room for doubt. Yet I hoped that it might not be as I feared, or, at least, that the thing could be hidden. It seems, though, that the saucy wench has made no secret of it. Thus you are landed in this quarrel, and with a good swordsman."
"I care nothing for the quarrel——" I began.
"Nay, but it is worse than you think. For Lord Carford is the gentleman of whom I spoke, when I told you that Mistress Quinton had a noble suitor. And he is high in her favour and higher yet in her father's. A quarrel with him, and on such a cause, will do you no good in Lord Quinton's eyes."
Indeed, it seemed as though all the furies had combined to vex me. Yet still my desire was to learn of Cydaria, for even now I could hardly believe what Darrell told me. Sitting down by him, I listened while he related to me what he knew of her; it was little more than the mentioning of her true name told me—a name familiar, alas, through all the country, sung in ballads, bandied to and fro in talk, dragged even into high disputes that touched the nation's fortunes; for in those strange days, when the world seemed a very devil's comedy, great countries, ay, and Holy Churches, fought behind the mask of an actress's face or chose a fair lady for their champion. I hope, indeed, that the end sanctified the means; they had great need of that final justification. Castlemaine and Nell Gwyn—had we not all read and heard and gossiped of them? Our own Vicar had spoken to me of Nell, and would not speak too harshly, for Nell was Protestant. Yes, Nell, so please you, was Protestant. And other grave divines forgave her half her sins because she flouted most openly and with pert wit the other lady, who was suspected of an inclination towards Rome and an intention to charm the King into the true Church's bosom. I also could have forgiven her much; for, saving my good Darrell's presence, I hated a Papist worse than any man, saving a Ranter. Yes, I would have forgiven her all, and applauded her pretty face and laughed at her pretty ways. I had looked to do as much when I came to town, being, I must confess, as little straightlaced as most young men. But I had not known that the thing was to touch me close. Could I forgive her my angry humiliation and my sore heart, bruised love and burning ridicule? I could forgive her for being all she now was. How could I forgive her for having been once my Cydaria?
"Well, you must fight," said Darrell, "although it is not a good quarrel," and he shook my hand very kindly with a sigh of friendship.
"Yes, I must fight," said I, "and after that—if there be an after—I must go to Whitehall."
"To take up your commission?" he asked.
"To lay it down, Mr Darrell," said I with a touch of haughtiness. "You don't think that I could bear it, since it comes from such a source?"
He pressed my hand, saying with a smile that seemed tender,
"You're from the country. Not one in ten would quarrel with that here."
"Yes, I'm from the country," said I. "It was in the country that I knew Cydaria."
I AM FORBIDDEN TO FORGET
It must be allowed that by no possible union of unlucky chances could I, desiring to appear as a staid, sober gentleman, and not as a ruffler or debauched gallant, have had a worse introduction to my new life. To start with a duel would have hurt me little, but a duel on such a cause and on behalf of such a lady (for I should seem to be fighting the battle of one whose name was past defending) would make my reputation ridiculous to the gay, and offensive to all the more decent people of the town. I thought enough on this sad side of the matter that night at the inn, and despair would have made a prey of me had I not hoped to clear myself in some degree by the step on which I had determined. For I was resolved to abandon the aid in my career that the King's unexpected favour had offered, and start afresh for myself, free from the illicit advantage of a place gained undeservedly. Yet, amid my chagrin, and in spite of my virtuous intentions, I found myself wondering that Cydaria had remembered; I will not protest that I found no pleasure in the thought; a young man whose pride was not touched by it would have reached a higher summit of severity or a lower depth of insensibility than was mine. Yet here also I made vows of renunciation, concerning which there is nought to say but that, while very noble, they were in all likelihood most uncalled for. What would or could Cydaria be to me now? She flew at bigger game. She had flung me a kindly crumb of remembrance; she would think that we were well quit; nay, that I was overpaid for my bruised heart and dissipated illusion.
It was a fine fresh morning when Mr Darrell and I set out for the place of meeting, he carrying a pair of swords. Mr Jermyn had agreed to support my opponent; and I was glad to learn that the meeting was to be restricted to the principals, and not, as too often occurred, to embroil the seconds also in a senseless quarrel. We walked briskly; and crossing the Oxford Road at Holborn, struck into the fields beyond Montague House. We were first at the rendezvous, but had not to wait long before three chairs appeared, containing Lord Carford, his second, and a surgeon. The chairmen, having set down their burdens, withdrew some way off, and we, being left to ourselves, made our preparations as quickly as we could; Darrell, especially, urging speed; for it seemed that a rumour of the affair had got about the town, and he had no desire for spectators.
Although I desire to write without malice and to render fullest justice to those whom I have least cause to love, I am bound to say that my Lord Carford seemed to be most bitterly incensed against me, whereas I was in no way incensed against him. In the first instance, he had offended without premeditation, for he had not known who I was; his subsequent insolence might find excuse in the peremptory phrasing of my demand for apology, too curt, perhaps, for a young and untried man. Honour forced me to fight, but nothing forced me to hate, and I asked no better than that we should both escape with as little hurt as the laws of the game allowed. His mood was different; he had been bearded, and was in a mind to give my beard a pull—I speak in a metaphor, for beard had I none—and possessing some reputation as a swordsman, he could not well afford to let me go untouched. An old sergeant of General Cromwell's, resident at Norwich, had instructed me in the use of the foils, but I was not my lord's equal, and I set it down to my good luck and his fury that I came off no worse than the event proved. For he made at me with great impetuosity, and from beginning to end of the affair I was wholly concerned in defending myself; this much I achieved successfully for some moments, and I heard Mr Jermyn say, "But he stands his ground well"; then came a cunning feint followed by a fierce attack and a sharp pang in my left arm near the shoulder, while the sleeve of my shirt went red in a moment. The seconds darted in between us, and Darrell caught me round the waist.
"I'm glad it was no worse," I whispered to him with a smile; then I turned very sick, and the meadow started to go round and round me. For some minutes I knew nothing more, but when I revived, the surgeon was busy in binding up my arm, while the three gentlemen stood together in a group a little way apart. My legs shook under me, and doubtless I was as white as my mother's best linen, but I was well content, feeling that my honour was safe, and that I had been as it were baptised of the company of gentlemen. So Mr Jermyn seemed to think; for when my arm was dressed, and I had got my clothes on again with some pain, and a silken sling under my elbow, he came and craved the surgeon's leave to carry me off to breakfast. The request was granted, on a promise that I would abstain from inflaming food and from all strong liquors. Accordingly we set out, I dissembling a certain surprise inspired in my countryman's mind by the discovery that my late enemy proposed to be of the party. Having come to a tavern in Drury Lane, we were regaled very pleasantly; Mr Jermyn, who (although a small man, and not in my opinion well-shaped) might be seen to hold himself in good esteem, recounting to us his adventures in love and his exploits on the field of honour. Meanwhile, Lord Carford treated me with distinguished courtesy, and I was at a loss to understand his changed humour until it appeared that Darrell had acquainted him with my resolution to surrender the commission that the King had bestowed on me. As we grew more free with one another, his lordship referred plainly to the matter, declaring that my conduct showed the nicest honour, and praying me to allow his own surgeon to visit me every day until my wound should be fully cured. His marked politeness, and the friendliness of the others, put me in better humour than I had been since the discovery of the evening before, and when our meal was ended, about eleven o'clock, I was well-nigh reconciled to life again. Yet it was not long before Carford and I were again good enemies, and crossed swords with no less zest, although on a different field.
I had been advised by Darrell to return at once to my inn, and there rest quietly until evening, leaving my journey to Whitehall for the next day, lest too much exertion should induce a fever in me; and in obedience to his counsel I began to walk gently along Drury Lane on my way back to Covent Garden. My Lord Carford and Mr Jermyn had gone off to a cock-fight, where the King was to be, while Darrell had to wait upon the Secretary at his offices; therefore I was alone, and, going easily, found fully enough to occupy my attention in the business and incredible stir of the town. I thought then, and think still, that nowhere in the world is there such a place for an idle man as London; where else has he spread for him so continual a banquet of contemplation, where else are such comedies played every hour for his eyes' delight? It is well enough to look at a running river, or to gaze at such mighty mountains as I saw when I journeyed many years later into Italy; but the mountain moves not, and the stream runs always with the same motion and in its wonted channel. Give me these for my age, but to a young man a great city is queen of all.
So I was thinking as I walked along; or so I think now that I must have thought; for in writing of his youth it is hard for a man to be sure that he does not transfer to that golden page some of the paler characters which later years print on his mind. Perhaps I thought of nothing at all, save that this man here was a fine fellow, that girl there a pretty wench, that my coat became me well, and my wounded arm gave me an interesting air. Be my meditations what they might, they were suddenly interrupted by the sight of a crowd in the Lane near to the Cock and Pie tavern. Here fifty or sixty men and women, decent folk some, others porters, flower-girls, and such like, were gathered in a circle round a man who was pouring out an oration or sermon with great zeal and vehemence. Having drawn nearer, I paused out of a curiosity which turned to amusement when I discovered in the preacher my good friend Phineas Tate, with whom I had talked the evening before. It seemed that he had set about his task without delay, and if London were still unmindful of its sins, the fault was not to lie at Mr Tate's door. On he plunged, sparing neither great nor small; if the Court were sinful, so was Drury Lane; if Castlemaine (he dealt freely in names, and most sparingly in titles of courtesy) were what he roundly said she was, which of the women about him was not the same? How did they differ from their betters, unless it were that their price was not so high, and in what, save audacity, were they behind Eleanor Gwyn? He hurled this last name forth as though it marked a climax of iniquity, and a start ran through me as I heard it thus treated. Strange to say, something of the same effect seemed to be produced on his other hearers. Hitherto they had listened with good-natured tolerance, winking at one another, laughing when the preacher's finger pointed at a neighbour, shrugging comfortable shoulders when it turned against themselves. They are long-suffering under abuse, the folk of London; you may say much what you will, provided you allow them to do what they will, and they support the imputation of unrighteousness with marvellous composure, as long as no man takes it in hand to force them to righteousness. As they are now, they were then, though many changes have passed over the country and the times; so will they be, although more transformations come.
But, as I say, this last name stirred the group to a new mood. Friend Phineas perceived the effect that he had made, but set a wrong meaning on it. Taking it as a ground for encouragement, he loosed his tongue yet more outrageously, and so battered the unhappy subject of his censures that my ears tingled, and suddenly I strode quickly up to the group, intent on silencing him; but a great brawny porter, with a dirty red face, was beforehand with me. Elbowing his way irresistibly through the ranks, he set himself squarely before Phineas, and, wagging his head significantly enough, growled out: