THE TOUCHSTONE OF FORTUNE
Being the Memoir of Baron Clyde, who lived, thrived, and fell in the Doleful Reign of the so-called Merry Monarch, Charles II
Author of When Knighthood Was In Flower, etc.
To My Wife
DAUGHTERS AND POVERTY
Goddess Fortune seems to delight in smiling on a man who risks his all, including life, perhaps, on a desperate chance of, say one to one hundred. If her Ladyship frowns and he loses, his friends call him a fool; if he wins, they say he is a lucky devil and are pleased to share his prosperity if he happens to be of a giving disposition. Lucky? No! He has simply minted his courage.
The most remarkable illustration of these truths that has ever come to my knowledge is my friend George Hamilton, the second son in this generation of the illustrious House of Hamilton, Count Anthony being its present head. The younger son was penniless save for the crumbs that fell from his elder brother's table, and Count Anthony was one who kept an eye on the crumbs.
George, who was of an independent nature, accepted Anthony's grudging help reluctantly. Therefore when Charles II was restored to the English throne in 1660, the younger Hamilton, who had been with the king in exile, was glad to assume the duties of Second Gentleman of the Bedchamber in Whitehall Palace. With the pension attached to this office, winnings at cards and other uncertain revenues from disreputable sources, George was enabled to maintain himself at court where debts were not necessarily paid, where honesty and virtue were held in contempt, and where vice of all sorts was not only the daily stock in trade but the daily stock of jest and pleasure, boasting and pride; for what is the use of being wicked if one hides one's light under a bushel?
Hamilton was a favorite with those who knew him well and was respected by those who knew him slightly, not because of his virtues, for they were few, but because he was strikingly handsome in person, moderately quick of wit, generous to an enemy, kind to every one, brave to the point of recklessness, and decent even in vice, if that be possible. He was no better than his friends save in these easy qualities, but while he was as bad in all other respects as his surroundings, the evil in him was due more to environment than to natural tendencies, and the good—well, that was his undoing, as this history will show. A man who attempts to 'bout ship morally in too great haste is liable to miss stays and be swamped, for nothing so grates on us as the sudden reformation of our friends, while we remain unregenerate.
But to write Hamilton's history I must begin at the beginning, which in this case happens to be my beginning, and shall conclude with his "hundred to one" venture, which closed his career and mine, at least in England.
* * * * *
The Clydes, of whom I am the present head, have always had great respect for the inevitable and have never permitted the idealization of a hopeless cause to lead them into trouble solely for trouble's sake. So it was that when my father of blessed memory saw that King Charles I and his favorites were determined to wreck the state, themselves, and their friends, he fell ill of the gout at an opportune moment, which made it necessary for him to hasten to Germany to take the cure at the baths.
My revered father was the twenty-second Baron Clyde, Edwin by baptism, and I, his namesake, am, or rather was, the twenty-third and last baron of our line, having lost my title by reason of entanglement with the desperate fortunes of George Hamilton.
My father had been a staunch supporter of Charles I, not only because Charles was our divinely appointed king, but also because his Majesty was a lovable person in many respects. His misfortunes were the result of bad advice, false philosophy, and a heart too kind. Kindliness in a king is a dangerous virtue, and a royal conscience is like a boil on the elbow, always in the way. Aside from his kindliness there were only two other qualities necessary to insure King Charles I the loss of his head, and he possessed them—stubbornness and weakness. A good king need have but two virtues, strength and love for his people, but if he would reign comfortably, these virtues must be supplemented by a strenuous vice,—sure death to his enemies.
So when my father saw that fidelity to King Charles's hopeless cause meant hopeless ruin, he took the gout and went to Germany. Absence from England enabled him to desert the cause he loved, but could not help, and more, it saved him the humiliation of being compelled to join the Cromwell forces,—a cause which he could have helped, but hated. Therefore he saw to it that his gout remained with him during the entire Cromwell interregnum, and he died at Aix-la-Chapelle just before the recall of Charles II to the English throne.
I inherited my father's title and a part of his estate; a great portion of the latter having been granted to the accommodating husband of one of Charles II's friends.
I returned to England with the king, and, as balm to my wounded estate, was made Second Gentleman of the Wardrobe in that modern Sodom, Whitehall Palace, Westminster, where lived Charles II, who was said to have been appointed and anointed of God, king of our glorious realm. God makes some curious mistakes, if human opinion is to be accepted.
The name Lot was unknown in Whitehall, but Mesdames Potiphar, Salome, and Delilah were met at every turn, while Davids and Johns, eager to be tempted, and Samsons, stooping to be shorn, hedged the king about with anything save divinity.
That interesting Frenchman, Comte de Grammont, is accredited with saying that during his residence in England he knew but one woman in Whitehall who was both beautiful and pure,—Frances Jennings, maid of honor to her Grace, the Duchess of York, the Duke of York being James, brother of Charles II, and heir presumptive to the English throne.
I am proud to say that this beautiful Frances Jennings was my mother's brother's child. In early youth I had lived in her father's house and was more her elder brother than her cousin.
I suppose De Grammont was wrong in his sweeping assertion, but he was right in his judgment of Frances, for though she was admittedly the most beautiful woman—perhaps I should say girl, for she was very young—at court, she—. But what befell her is a part of George Hamilton's history and shall be told all in its turn.
* * * * *
Frances Jennings and her younger sister Sarah, who afterwards became the first duchess of the present House of Marlborough, were the daughters of my uncle, Sir Richard Jennings, of Sundridge, near St. Albans. With a fidelity more creditable to his heart than to his head, Sir Richard had clung to the cause of Charles I, had lost his entire fortune, and in the end was forced to bend his neck to the yoke of Cromwell to save his life. When Charles II returned to the throne, he easily forgave Sir Richard his enforced apostasy, but failed to return his estates, forgiveness being so much easier than restitution to an indolent selfish nature.
So it was that at the time this story opens, which was several years after King Charles's return, Sir Richard and his two daughters were living almost in poverty at Sundridge, hoping for help from the king, though little expecting it. Without assistance furnished by myself and a former retainer of Sir Richard, one Roger Wentworth, who had become a prosperous tanner of Sundridge, my cousins and my uncle would have been reduced to want. But Wentworth and I kept up a meagre household, and I was on watch at court to forward my uncle's interest, if by any good fortune an opportunity should come. At last, after long waiting, it came, though as often occurs with happiness delayed, it was mingled with bitterness.
I think it was in the year 1662 or '63—it may have been a year or two earlier or later, I cannot say at this distance of time—the Duchess of York, who, with her husband, lived in Whitehall Palace with King Charles, announced her intention of choosing her maids of honor by personal inspection. She declared that, barring the fact that the maids must be of good family, beauty would win the golden apple, as it had in olden Greece. On hearing this news, I saw the opportunity for which I had waited so long. If beauty was to be the test, surely my cousin Frances would become a maid of honor, and once at court, if she could keep her head and her heart, the fortunes of her house were sure to rise, for the world has never known so good a beauty market as Whitehall was at that time.
There was no question about my cousin's beauty. Would she be able to make it bring a price worthy of its quality? To do this, she must have the cunning of the serpent, the virtue of a saint, and the courage of Roland himself. She must not be fastidious, though she must be suspicious. She must not be a prude, though she must know that all is evil about her. Lastly she must have no heart, though she must learn the rare art of being tender to the right person at the right time.
I was sure that Frances was equipped with the mental and moral qualities necessary in so dangerous a field as Whitehall Court. Among those qualities was her knowledge that she was beautiful; not that she believed it as a matter of vanity, but knew it simply as a matter of fact. That knowledge would give her self-confidence and would help her to value justly the flattery of men, which was sure to be her portion to overflowing. She would know that flattery was her due, and therefore would not be too grateful for it, gratitude being a dangerous virtue in a woman. She was as dear to me as if she were my sister, and I hesitated bringing her to terrible Whitehall. But desperate conditions need desperate remedies, so I determined to lay the matter before my uncle and let him and my cousins decide the question for themselves.
With this object in view, one bright spring morning, I took horse at the Leg Tavern in King Street, Westminster, and rode to Sundridge to spend a few days with my uncle, hoping to interest my beautiful cousin in the Duchess of York's announcement concerning the choice of her maids. I knew that Sir Richard would protest against Frances's going to Whitehall, but I hoped, with the help of my cousins, to override the old gentleman's feeble will. While I saw clearly the dangers the girl would encounter; I had faith in her strength, and felt sure the chances of making her fortune were worth the risk. In other words, I was staking a human soul which was infinitely dear to me, against wealth and station—a hundred to one chance, even with the Fates smiling. When one considers how seldom the long odds are taken and how often they win, one cannot help believing that courage is the touchstone of Fortune; the criterion by which the capricious Goddess measures her votaries and distributes her smiles.
I made my journey to Sundridge and arrived there in the afternoon near the hour of three, finding my uncle and my cousin Sarah at home, but Frances abroad.
"She walks a great deal nowadays," remarked my uncle, and Sarah assented with—"Yes, a great deal," having, I fancied, more significance in her manner than in her words.
"There has been hardly a pleasant afternoon in a month that she has not been abroad with her book," continued Sir Richard.
"Her book," murmured Sarah, who was a laconic young person, much given to observing conditions about her and equally prone to keep her conclusions to herself.
"She refuses all company," remarked my uncle, who did not seem to catch the sceptical inflection in his younger daughter's voice, "and I sometimes fear she wishes to be alone because she is brooding over our misfortunes."
"Brooding!" murmured Sarah, with slightly lifted eyebrows.
"Even when she is at home she sits all day long at the window and sighs," said Sir Richard, dolefully.
"Sighs," concurred laconic Sarah.
There are so many symptoms which, in a young woman, may seem to indicate the disease of love that one making a hasty diagnosis is likely to fall upon that malady, it being prevalent in spring, both of the year and of life. I had believed that my cousin's healthful vanity and quiet strength of character would, in a measure, keep her safe from this troublesome spring disorder, but my uncle's account of her doings led me to fear that perhaps her wholesome armor of self-conceit was not so invulnerable as I had hoped.
Later I spoke my half-formed doubt to Sarah, who answered:—
"I don't know what she is doing. I attend to my own business; that is, unless I see profit in meddling elsewhere."
"Ah, but this is your business and mine if we love your sister, as you will say when you learn the object of my visit," I answered, hoping to loosen her cautious tongue.
Sarah's eyes opened wide with a question in them, but her lips remained sealed, and I would not satisfy her curiosity, which I knew was at boiling-point, until she had made a direct request. Her manner had resolved my doubts into fears, so as she did not speak, I continued:—
"But you must be able to form an opinion as to what your sister is doing. You are with her all the time, and every young girl instinctively knows the symptoms of love, even though she may never have felt them."
"Not I!" she answered, with sharp emphasis.
"Oh, but you may suspect or surmise," I insisted.
"Suspect sometimes. Surmise never. Waste of energy," answered Sarah, who, of all the persons I knew, had energy to spare.
"It would be a crime, a horrible crime," I continued, hoping in time to extract her opinion, "if your beautiful sister were to throw herself away on any man to be met hereabout."
"Horrible!" acquiesced Sarah, earnestly.
"Then why don't you watch her, and, if need be, prevent such a mistake?" I suggested.
"Not necessary," answered Sarah.
As she failed to explain, I asked, "Why is it not necessary?"
"Because she is not a fool," returned Sarah, indicating by her manner that I might find her meaning if I could.
A moment's thought carried me to her conclusions, and I laughed because I was answered and pleased, being convinced that Sarah, at least, did not consider her sister in danger. Then I caught Sarah in my arms and kissed her, saying:—
"A kiss! That's for wisdom, cousin!" Sarah's was a drawing personality.
"A slap! That's for impudence!" answered Sarah, suiting the action to the word, though there was a smile in her eyes.
Later in the afternoon Frances came home radiant and offered me her cheek to kiss. She was delighted to see me, though I noticed short lapses from attention, which seemed to indicate preoccupation. But I had learned my lesson from Sarah and soon came back to my belief that Frances was not a fool, and that whatever malady her symptoms might indicate, she would never permit it to inure her.
After talking with my uncle and my cousins a few minutes, I said: "I have had a long ride and want a good supper Come, Frances, let us go out and buy all the good things in Sundridge."
Sir Richard said nothing, and a faint shadow of humiliation came to Frances's face, but practical Sarah settled the question by saying:—
"Go with him, Frances, and see that he buys enough. You know we have had barely a crust in the house the last fortnight, and not a farthing in all that time with which to buy one. We have a warm welcome for you, Baron Ned, but welcome after a long ride is a mere appetizer. I'll fetch a basket—yes, two!"
The name "Baron Ned" was a heritage from the days of my childhood, and doubtless it will cling to me till the day of my death. I have never objected to it on the lips of my friends, but rather, have always liked it.
Sarah's good common sense set us all laughing, and when she brought in two large baskets, Frances and I went forth to buy our supper.
When we were a short way from the house, I said: "I've come to spend several days with you, my cousin-sister. Are you not delighted?"
"Yes," she answered, cordially enough, but without the old-time gladness in her manner.
"And my purpose in coming concerns you," I continued.
She started perceptibly and blushed, but after a moment brought herself together and asked laughingly:—
"You don't want to marry me, brother Ned?"
"No, no," I answered. "We're far too dear to each other to spoil it all by marriage, and my station in life, to say nothing of my small estate, is in no way up to your value. It would not be a fair exchange. Your husband shall be at least a duke, with not less than forty thousand pounds a year. That, by the way, is a part of my mission in Sundridge. No, no, I do not bring an offer!" I said, hastily, noticing that she drew away from me in her manner, "I simply hope to pave the way to such an offer some time in the future, and want to warn you against doing anything that might forestall good fortune."
I had hardly finished speaking when her manner of drawing away became so pronounced that I feared I might lose my race by going too fast, so I quickly sought to right myself by saying with marked emphasis:—
"I am not going to pry into your affairs."
A telltale blush came to her cheek as she interrupted me with a touch of warmth: "I have no affairs."
"I am sure you have not," I answered soothingly, "though a girl as beautiful as you are is sure to attract men, and is quite as sure to have little affairs. But they are of no more importance than a laugh and a sigh."
"Yes, yes, of course. Of no importance—not the least," she answered, blushing exquisitely, and unconsciously telling me there was an affair.
"No, no," I continued earnestly. "I do not want to pry. I am simply going to suggest a project which perhaps you may turn to your advantage. Marriage has no part in it save that the greatest good fortune that can befall a woman is to marry well, which I hope will be the ultimate result of what I shall propose. If a young woman's friends do not put her in a position to marry the right sort of a man, they fail in their duty to her."
"I hate the word 'marriage,'" returned Frances, impatiently.
"Ah, but it is a woman's privilege, the one great purpose of her life," I insisted. "Why pretend otherwise? I don't believe in the drag-net process of getting a husband, but in England a girl must be seen before she is married, and her chief concern should be to be seen by the right man."
"I should detest the right man," returned Frances, now grown almost surly.
"Yes, yes, now, perhaps. But the suggestion I have to make, if acted upon, will do all these things for you and will give you the opportunity to detest the 'right man' intelligently if you feel so inclined when you meet him. I have taken it upon myself to come all the way to Sundridge with a suggestion, because of the love I bear you and because you have no mother to do these things for you. As for dear Uncle Richard—well, you know, he can't."
"No, no! father is old and of late has been failing rapidly. Sarah and I can look for no help from him. On the contrary, we must help him. I have thought of nothing else, night or day, for years. Tell me what it is you have to suggest. What you have had to say to us has always been for our good. We should have starved these last five years had it not been for you and good old Roger Wentworth. Tell me, Baron Ned, what have you come to offer me?"
I had intended telling Frances privately of the Duchess of York's announcement, but after my talk with her I concluded to wait and to make the statement in the presence of her father, so I answered:—
"I am not ready to tell you just now, but I'll do so before I return to London."
"Then return at once, Baron Ned."
"If I do, you'll never hear it," I answered.
"In that case, stay. But tell me as soon as you can, for pent-up curiosity is killing to a girl," said Frances, with a doleful little smile.
"Does nothing else trouble just now?" I asked.
She turned to me in surprise, blushed and answered: "Yes. My poor, dear father. Yes—father. Of course there's nothing else. Why do you ask?"
"Just to be asking," I replied.
At that point we came to the shop where we were to buy our supper, and I was glad to change the subject. I had learned definitely that there was a man in the case, and my task would be to put him out if I could. The man who first enters a young girl's heart is hard to dislodge, and the worst part of the terrible business is that even she herself may be unable to expel him her whole life through.
When supper was well under way that evening, I took the opportunity to set my great ball rolling, and said:—
"Uncle Richard, I have come from London for the purpose of offering a suggestion which may eventually be of advantage to all of you."
Sarah put down her knife and fork to listen; Frances held hers in suspense, and Sir Richard looked up quickly, asking:—
"What is it, nephew? We all thank you in advance."
A cold bath is better taken quickly, so I plunged in.
"The Duchess of York has announced her intention to choose four maids of honor by personal inspection. Aside from the fact that they must be of good family, they will be taken solely on account of their beauty, the most beautiful to win."
Frances dropped her knife and fork and sprang to her feet, exclaiming:—
"I'm going to see the duchess! Thank you, cousin Ned! I'll be a maid of honor!"
"Of course—beauty!" observed Sarah, resuming her supper with a dry laugh.
"Your sister can win on the terms offered, if anyone can," said I, turning sharply on Sarah.
"I am sure of it," returned Sarah. "I laughed only because she is so sure."
Frances then turned to her sister, not reproachfully but earnestly: "Sure?" she exclaimed. "Of course I am sure. I know myself. You have a far better mind than mine, but I have—well, I know what I have. I don't believe I am vain, but I know, sister, that you and I must rebuild the fortunes of our house, or worse will come to us than we have ever known. You are sure to do your part because you have intellect—brains. You know you have. Is it any less a matter of vanity for you to know yourself than it is for me to know myself? I know what I have, and I intend to use it."
Sarah assented by the monosyllable, "Right!" while Frances ran to the head of the table, knelt by her father's chair, and said:—
"It is all for dear old father's sake."
Sir Richard brought his daughter's head to his shoulder, affectionately smoothed her hair for a moment, and spoke with quavering earnestness:—
"It is not to be thought of one moment. Whitehall is a nest of infamy, and the king, I am told, is the worst man in it. I gave all I had to his martyred father, and now the son does not even so much as refuse to make restitution. He simply gives lying promises and leaves me to starve. I am surprised, nephew, that you come to us with this proposition."
"In that case, dear uncle, it shall be dropped at once," said I, expecting, however, to take it up at another time.
Frances was about to insist, but a glance from Sarah stopped her, and she remained silent. I knew it would require a great deal of sound argument to bring Sir Richard to our way of thinking, but I was sure that Sarah could soften him and that, at the right time, I could finish our helpless antagonist. Meantime the love affair of Frances, if there was one, should be looked into, if Frances did not object too seriously. In truth, I was a very busy man, solely with the affairs of other people.
Being so engaged in telling of other people's affairs, I have not had time to mention the fact that I had a love affair of my own, that is, if I may call that a love affair which involved only one person—myself. She who I hoped would one day be the party of the second part was Mary Hamilton, sister to Count Anthony and George Hamilton, mention of whom was made at the outset of this history.
I myself may have been lacking in morals, but at my worst I was a saint compared to George Hamilton and his friends, Lord Berkeley, young Wentworth, and the king's son, James Crofts, Duke of Monmouth. There was, however, this difference between George and his friends: he was gentlemanly picturesque in wickedness; they were nauseous in the filthiness of vice.
After I became a suitor for the hand of George Hamilton's sister, I had closed my eyes to his shortcomings and, for some time prior to my Sundridge visit, had sought to further my cause with her by winning her brother's help. I had known Hamilton many years before, when we were all exiles in Holland and France, and had always liked him. In fact, we had been friends from our youth, and while in latter years I had not seen much of him, having avoided him because of his vicious mode of life, I had found no difficulty in taking up our old intimacy. At the time of which I am writing I was sure that he was my friend and had given him good reason to think the same of me. There was an attraction about him that was winning and irresistible even to men. What must it have been to women?
I speak of this friendship between George Hamilton and me at this time because of the great strain its bonds were soon to have; so great that I am still wondering why they did not break. To close this mention of my own love affair, I would say that at the time of my visit to Sundridge I had reasonable cause to hope for a favorable termination. Not that I expected ever to kindle a fiery passion in Mary's breast, for she was not of the combustible sort, but I believed she liked me, favored my suit, and I hoped would accept me in the end. While she was very pretty, she was not of so great beauty as to mislead her family into expecting that she would catch an earl by fishing in a duck pond, and, barring the earl, I should be a husband more or less satisfactory to her and her family. George was my friend in the matter, and to him I believed I owed much of my prospects of success. Soon the relation of my own love affair to that of my cousin Frances will be apparent.
My second day at Sundridge was spent with my uncle and my cousins, Frances remaining at home with us. Adroit Sarah had talked with her father about the maid-of-honorship and had found an opportunity to tell me that while he was not yet persuaded, he was at least in a receptive mood, ready to listen to what I had to say. In the evening Frances and Sarah went off to bed early, leaving Sir Richard to the mercies of myself and a flagon of wormwood wine which I had brought in as an ally from the Black Dog Tavern.
At first when I broached the subject of Frances becoming a maid of honor, he turned away from me, saying:—
"I fear, nephew, I fear! I confess that I did not expect the suggestion to come from you; you know the court even better than I do. My dear boy, we might as well send the little girl to the devil at once."
"Whitehall is no heaven, I admit," I answered. "But you don't know Frances. She will be as safe at court as she is in your house. The devil is everywhere, uncle, if one chooses to seek him."
"That is true, Ned."
"And Frances will not seek him anywhere. Of that I was sure before I determined to suggest this matter. It is true she has seen nothing of life beyond the pale of your influence and protection, but you are well along in years, uncle, and must face the truth that your daughters will have to confront the world without you, sooner or later—later, I hope."
"That terrible truth is my only reason to fear death," returned Sir Richard, sighing and leaning back in his chair.
"Yes, it must be a terrible thought to you," I answered, cruelly, for the purpose of forcing my dear old antagonist into the right way of thinking. "But it is your duty to your daughters to face it squarely, and if possible, to let it help you in preparing them to meet the world. They may, if they will, find evil everywhere; they may avoid it anywhere. Frances, with her marvellous beauty, is sure to meet good fortune at court, and good fortune is a great moral preservative of women."
"Bad doctrine, Ned, bad doctrine," said my uncle, shaking his head.
"But good truth," I answered. "Vice, like disease, breeds best in poverty."
"You have just admitted that Whitehall is a nest of vice. Wealth has not prevented it there," returned my uncle, beating me in the argument for a moment.
But I soon rallied: "Wealth will not help those who want to go wrong, but it has saved many a woman who wanted to be good. However, all this argument is impertinent. Frances is strong, and she is good, and you may rest your mind of all fear that she will ever be otherwise. Hers is not only the virtue of goodness, but of stubbornness and pride."
"I believe you are right, nephew," returned my uncle, smiling for the first time that evening. "Stubbornness is a good thing in a woman, and my Frances has a store of it 'that might surprise one knowing her but slightly."
"Yes," I replied. "And now, while her beauty is reaching its climax, is the time for her to make the most of it. I know the world, uncle, and I know the court, only too well, I am ashamed to say. But above all, I know my cousin, and knowing also the evil state of your fortune, I unhesitatingly urge you to seize the opportunity presented by the Duchess of York. She is a good woman and my dear friend. Frances will be under her care and mine. Of my care I need not boast. It shall be that of a brother. But Frances will need no one's care for long. She will soon find a husband, rich and of high rank, and then—"
"Would you send my girl out angling for a husband?" asked Sir Richard.
"Yes, if you insist on putting it so," I replied. "What is every girl doing? What else is every good mother doing for her daughter? Marriage is the one way in which a gentlewoman may find settlement in life. Frances has no mother. Let us help her to win the happiness she deserves. 'Angling' is an ugly word, and in Frances's case is not the right one. Great men and rich men will soon be angling for her. Let us place her where the bait is worth taking. Let us not mince matters, but admit between ourselves that we are sending Frances to court to make a good marriage. No one less than a rich duke or a wealthy earl will satisfy me. If you wish to allow a mere jealous fear in your heart to blight her prospects, she will be the sufferer, and hereafter may thank your folly for her misfortune."
Sir Richard remained silent a moment or two and then spoke tremulously: "The saddest thing about age is its hesitancy, its doubts, its fears." Here the tears began to stream down the old man's cheek as he continued: "Through all my misfortunes Frances has been my joy, my solace. Sarah is a good daughter, but she lacks the ineffable tenderness, the calm, ready sympathy of her sister. If evil were to befall Frances, my heart would break—break." He covered his face with his hands and sobbed, murmuring as though to himself: "My God, I fear! I fear! She is my all—all! The king has taken everything else, and now you ask me to give her to him."
A great lump came to my throat, but in a moment I was able to say: "Do not fear, uncle, do not fear! Rather, rejoice! Let me be your staff, your courage, your strength! Think it over till morning, and then give your consent with the full assurance that it will mean happiness for the girl whom you and I so dearly love."
The old man rose, took my hand, held it in his feeble grasp for a moment, and went to his room without another word.
As I was going down the narrow passageway to my bedroom, Frances opened her door and asked: "What does father say? I know it almost kills him."
"Yes," I answered. "But he will consent in the morning."
Tears came to her eyes and she gave me her hand, saying: "Thank you, brother Ned. We are wounding him only for his own sake. If it were not to help him, all the wealth in the world would not tempt me to give him this pain nor to go to Whitehall, for I fear the place."
As she stood at the door, candle in hand, her low-cut gown exposing her beautiful throat with its strong full curves, its gleaming whiteness and the pulsing hollow at the base, her marvellous hair of sunlit gold hanging in two thick braids to below her waist, her sweet oval face of snowy whiteness, underlaid with the faint pink of roses, her great luminous eyes with their arched and pencilled brows, and the tears pendant from the long black lashes, I could not help knowing that there was not in all Whitehall beauty to compare with hers. And when her full red lips parted in a tearful smile, showing a gleam of ivory between their curving lines, I knew that if our king were an unmarried man, she could be our queen, but barring that high estate, I felt sure that a score of titles and great fortunes would lie at her feet before she had been a month in Whitehall. That is, I knew all this would happen if she kept her head. The king himself would be her greatest danger, for in a way, he was handsome of person when he kept his mouth closed, and even a little beauty in a king, like a candlelight in a distant window, shines with magnified radiance.
I went to bed that night having great faith in my cousin's strength and discretion, but my confidence was to receive a shock the next day.
A MAIDEN ST. GEORGE
After breakfast the following morning, while Sir Richard and I were sipping our morning draught in the dingy little library, he brought up the subject of the night before.
"As you justly observed, Baron Ned," my uncle began, restraining his emotion as best he could, "sooner or later my daughters will have to face the world alone. I am of no help to them now, and perhaps shall be no loss when I am gone, but it is like taking the heart out of me to send my beautiful girl to this unholy king; the wickedest man in the vilest court on earth. But it must be done. God help me and save her!"
"I will not go!" cried Frances, running into the room from the hallway, and kneeling by her father's chair.
"I fear you must, Frances," answered Sir Richard. "There, there, we'll say it is settled and let it rest a few days, so that we may grow used to the thought before making our plans in detail."
* * * * *
After dinner I missed Frances, and when I asked Sarah where she had gone, I received answer in one word: "Walking."
"Alone?" I asked. Sarah smiled.
In a moment I said, "I think I, too, shall go walking."
"The Bourne Path is pretty," suggested Sarah.
"Will you come with me?" I asked.
Again Sarah smiled, shaking her head for answer, and I set off, taking my way down the path which wound beside a rocky bourne, a distance of several miles in the direction of Hamilton House, one of the country places of Count Hamilton.
When I reached a point perhaps half a league from Sundridge, I saw a lady and gentleman walking leisurely ahead of me. Her hand was on his arm, and his head was bent toward her, evidently in earnest conversation. Her head drooped prettily, indicating a listening mood, and the two seemed very much like lovers in the early wooing stage. At once I recognized the beautiful figure of my cousin Frances. The gentleman I did not know, seeing only his back, though there was something familiar to me in the tall, straight form, the broad shoulders, and the graceful carriage of the head. He was a cavalier, every inch of him, from his long, dark, slightly curling hair to the golden buckles on his shoes. He carried his beaver hat in his hand, dragging the rich plume on the ground.
I hastened forward, but they were so interested in each other that they did not know of my presence till I asked:—
"Cousin, won't you introduce me?"
Frances turned with a little scream, and the gentleman spun around quickly, putting on his hat and dropping my cousin's hand, which he had been holding. At first my surprise deprived me of the power to think, but soon I recovered self-control, and said:—
"Ah, there is no need to introduce me, cousin. I already know Master Hamilton."
"Yes," stammered the gentleman, holding out his hand, "Baron Ned and I know each other well."
I did not take his hand, and when I saw anger mounting to his eyes, I explained with the best smile at my command:—
"I do not take your hand, sir, because I have that to say to my cousin which will greatly displease you. I am glad to have the opportunity of saying it in your presence, as I dislike speaking ill of a man behind his back."
"You need speak no ill of Master Hamilton either in his presence or behind his back, if you intend to do so on my account," interrupted Frances, throwing back her head defiantly.
But I was not to be halted in my duty. Here was a future duchess in danger of being lost to the world for the sake of a vicious, penniless gambler, having neither title, estates, nor character.
"I do not ask your permission, cousin," I answered, bowing and smiling, for it is well to keep one's temper in such a case. "What I shall say is the truth, word for word, and Master Hamilton himself shall be the arbiter."
"Speaking the truth may be a great impertinence," remarked Frances, trying to hide her anger under an air of carelessness.
"True," I returned. "And what I have to say will confirm your position. Shall I speak now before Master Hamilton, or shall I say what I have to say in your father's presence and send to Master Hamilton later a full account of my remarks?"
"For my part, sir, I shall be glad to hear whatever you have to say now," interrupted Hamilton, with an angry gleam in his eyes and a poor attempt at a smile playing about his mouth.
I would say here that I was confronting one of the bravest men in England and one of the best swordsmen in the world. While he was not prone to seek a quarrel, he certainly had never avoided one because of fear of his antagonist.
I took advantage of my cousin's silence and, turning to Hamilton, said: "If I speak one work of untruth, you are at liberty to give me the lie." Then turning to Frances, I continued: "What I have to say, cousin, is this, Master Hamilton is one of the most disreputable men at court."
Frances drew back, startled, and Hamilton grasped his sword hilt, drawing the blade half from its scabbard.
I bowed, smiled, and said: "Tut, tut, Hamilton! A lady should never see a naked sword blade. Later, later, of course, at your pleasure! I shall be found at my uncle's house in Sundridge during the next three or four days. After that you know my lodgings in the Wardrobe at Whitehall. I shall be delighted to receive your messenger, if it is your pleasure, after you have heard what I have to say."
His sword disappeared, and his smile broadened to a grim laugh: "You're right, baron. Pardon my haste. There's ample time, ample time."
Turning to my cousin, I took up my thread: "Master Hamilton is penniless, which is no small failing in itself. Therefore he lives by gambling, which might be excusable if he did not cheat. In gambling, you know, cousin, the mere law of chance will not put much money in a man's purse. Good luck is but another name for skill in trickery. If one would thrive by cards and dice, one must be a thief."
There was another angry movement by Hamilton, which I interrupted, smiling, bowing, and saying, "Let us talk this matter over calmly, smilingly, if possible."
"I'll smile when I can," returned Hamilton, made more angry, if that were possible, by a paradoxical inclination to laugh. "Proceed, baron, proceed! I am becoming interested in myself."
Frances gave a nervous little laugh, looked first to Hamilton, then to me and back again, as though she would ask what it all meant, and I continued:—
"As I have said, Frances, Master Hamilton and his friends live by cheating at cards and other games in a manner to make all decent men avoid play with them. They pluck strangers and feather their purses from new geese who do not know their methods. They also derive considerable revenue from passe women who have more wealth than beauty, are more brazen than modest, and more generous than chaste."
"I'll not listen to another word!" exclaimed Frances, looking up to Hamilton in evident wonder at his complacency.
"Just one moment longer, Frances," I insisted. "Master Hamilton's intimate friends have been known on more than one occasion to stoop to the crimes of theft, robbery, and even murder to obtain money, and have escaped punishment only because of royal favor. I do not say that Master Hamilton has ever participated in these crimes, but he knew of them, did not condemn them, helped the criminals to escape justice, and retained the guilty men as his associates and nearest friends. Add to this list the fact that Hamilton is a roue and a libertine, to whom virtue is but a jest, and with whom no pure woman, knowing him, would be seen alone, and I believe I have drawn a picture of a man who is in no way fit to be your companion in a lonely stroll. On the other hand, he is a brave man, a generous enemy, a staunch friend, and a ready help at all times to the needy. Now I have finished what has been a disagreeable though imperative duty. Doubtless it has been disagreeable to you, also, Master Hamilton, but—"
"On the contrary," he interrupted, in low tones, and with bowed head.
"But, of course, I am ready to stand by my words," I continued. "And now, sir, you may, if you wish, say to Mistress Jennings that I have lied. Doubtless she will believe you, in which case it shall be my pleasure to send a messenger to you, thereby saving you the trouble of sending one to me."
I put on my hat and awaited his reply. His hat was in his hand, and his face was bent toward the ground, his air of ironical politeness having left him. Frances turned to him and was about to speak, but, noticing the peculiar expression in his face and attitude, remained silent. After a long pause Hamilton spoke without lifting his eyes:—
"I suppose no other man ever received such an arraignment in cold blood as I have just heard from Baron Clyde." Then turning hesitatingly to my cousin, "But I am sorry to say it is true, Mistress Jennings, true in every word."
He looked into my eyes, again bowed his head, and spoke after a long silence: "Baron Ned, I can almost find it in my heart to thank you for having done your duty so bravely. I have known for some time that I am not fit to be this lady's companion and that I have no right to seek her friendship."
I bowed low, without speaking, and after another long pause he looked up to me again as he asked:—
"Now will you take my hand?"
"Gladly, George," I answered, giving him my hand, which he held for a moment and dropped without a word, a strange smile playing about his lips.
Naturally enough, Frances was at a loss how to act. Tears of vexation came to her eyes, and she turned from us to dry them with her handkerchief. She failed to find the handkerchief, so she turned to George, who, seeing her need, drew it from his pocket where she had left it for safe-keeping. The first favor a young girl shows to a man when she finds herself in a "coming on disposition" is to hide some of her intimate personal belongings in his pocket. The little incident of the handkerchief caused us all to laugh and went a long way toward making us easy.
Hamilton's frankness had taken part of the wind out of my sails, and his open confession had at least paved the way for absolution, which I feared might be followed by disastrous results, since to forgive always makes the heart grow fonder.
Presently Hamilton turned to Frances, saying: "You may better appreciate your cousin's fidelity to your interest when I tell you that in speaking thus frankly to you, he placed himself in danger of two misfortunes, both of which, probably, he felt sure would befall him. Please do not think that I boast, but it is true, nevertheless, that my sword point is considered one of the most dangerous in England. Doubtless Baron Ned expected to be called upon to stand by his words. Furthermore, he is a suitor for my sister's hand, as you may know, and of late has sought my friendship, in part, no doubt, for the purpose of forwarding his cause."
At this point he turned toward me and smiled. I, too, smiled, though not joyously, for I thought surely this affair would ruin all my chances with Mary.
"Therefore," continued Hamilton, "he had much to lose in arraigning me, and nothing to gain but your welfare. You must see that it was unselfishly done. If there is gratitude in your heart, give it here." He placed his hand on my shoulder and, after a long pause and an apparent effort, finished what he had to say: "Forget me. I am unworthy to speak your name or to have the great joy of hearing you speak mine."
This was taking the wind out of my sails at a great rate. In truth, it was taking the sails themselves, though I believed he was not speaking for sake of the advantage. In a moment he bowed low, sweeping the plume of his hat in the dust, saying as he left us:—
"Farewell, Mistress Jennings, and thank you, Baron Ned. You say I am a staunch friend. You have still to learn the whole truth of your praise."
Turning instantly, he hastened away from us down the Bourne Path, and though we waited for him to look back, he disappointed us, and soon was lost as he passed beyond a bend. Frances was weeping gently, and I, too, felt a lump in my throat, not because of what I had said or done, but because of the unexpected good I had found in Hamilton, whom I had always liked; good, which up to that time I had never suspected, having always seen him in the shadow of a throne.
When Hamilton had disappeared, I asked Frances if we should return to Sundridge, and she answering by a nod, we started home, each of us heavy-hearted, one of us weeping pathetically. Her heart had just received its first sharp blow, and I pitied her, for the first one hurts.
After walking a little way in silence, I remarked, "There is no reason why we should add to your father's troubles by telling him of this affair."
"Nor Sarah," sobbed Frances. "She is like a wasp—all sting." After a long pause devoted to drying her eyes, she continued, "But it has not been much of an affair."
"I am not asking what it has been, Frances," I returned, speaking tenderly, for I knew her heart was sore. "I have no right to ask."
"Yes, you have the right to ask," she replied, earnestly. "You have earned it to-day, if never before. I'll tell you all about it. You see I did not know—I did not think it possible—that he was the evil person you described. To me he seemed as high-minded as he was gallant and handsome."
"He is high-minded in many respects," I said, "and might have been a decent man in all respects had he lived under other conditions. He is far the best of what is known at court as 'the Royal Clique,' and is an angel of goodness compared with the king and his despicable son, James Crofts, Duke of Monmouth. Do you want to tell me where and how you met Hamilton?"
After a moment's silence she began her pathetic little narrative, hesitating at first, but gathering courage as she spoke:—
"I first saw him on the street in St. Albans, more than a month ago. Of course I did not look directly at him, but I saw him and knew that he was looking at me. I have been used to being stared at by men since I was a child of twelve—I am past eighteen now, you know—and learned long ago not to resent an impertinence which is alike unavoidable and, in a poor way, flattering. But there was this difference: when he stared at me I blush to say I liked it, nor should I have repulsed him had he spoken to me. He was the first man I had ever seen that had really attracted me. You are not a woman, therefore you cannot understand me fully. You see, a man goes to a woman; a woman is drawn to a man, usually, I suppose, against her will. I know little about the subject, this being my first, and, I hope, my last experience, but—"
"And I, too, hope," I interrupted.
"Yes," she continued quickly. "But do you know I can almost understand the feeble, hopeless resistance which the iron tries to exert against the magnet. But, cousin Ned, it is powerless."
Here she brought her handkerchief to her eyes, and I exclaimed regretfully, "Oh, Frances, I am surprised and sorry!"
"Yes, yes! I, too, was surprised, and was so sorry that I wept through the whole night following my first sight of him, and between shame for what I felt and longing to see him again, I suffered terribly. I prayed for strength against this, my first temptation, and then my heart shrunk in fear lest I should never again be tempted. The next day I walked out on the Bourne Path toward Hamilton House and met him. To my shame I confess that I looked at him. He stopped, bowed low before me, and asked if he might introduce himself, since there was no one else to do that office for him. He said that soon Lord St. Albans would be up from London and would introduce him to my father. But having seen me the day before at St. Albans, he was unable to wait; therefore, he was at that moment on his way to Sundridge, hoping to see me. He seemed confused and shy, but from what you say, I fear he was not."
"Oh, yes, he was," I interrupted, in fine irony. "George Hamilton is as shy and as modest as the devil himself."
"I fear it is true," she answered smiling faintly and sighing.
I could see plainly that she did not look upon satanic modesty as a serious fault in itself, and I fear it is not objectionable to her sex. It is the manner of brazenness more than the fact which is offensive. George's modest-faced boldness was both alluring and dangerous.
As she progressed she grew eager in her narrative, and after two or three false starts, continued: "Then he said that Count Hamilton, our neighbor, was his brother. I was silent for a moment, but presently was so foolish as to say that I had seen him at St. Albans and had asked a shopkeeper who he was. You see I was confused. I had not at all intended to say that I had seen him, and certainly would have concealed the fact that I had asked about him. But I said what I said because I could not help it."
"On that ground it may be excusable," I suggested.
"No, no," she protested. "It can be excused on no grounds. But I did it, and it can't be helped now. Without waiting for permission, he turned, and we walked together almost to Hamilton House. I suppose, under the circumstances, he considered it best not to ask for a permission which might have been refused, and from his standpoint doubtless he was right. Take without asking seems to be man's best method with woman. When I saw we were approaching Hamilton House, I turned about for home, hoping, yet fearing, that he would not go back with me. But he did."
"Yes, you were sure to be disappointed in that respect," I answered. And she continued hastily:—
"Yes, he walked all the way with me. Before reaching Sundridge stile, I asked him to leave me. That was another mistake, for it gave to our meeting a clandestine appearance. He said my word was law to him, and that he would obey, though to do so, that is, to leave me, was pain, you understand."
"Yes, I can understand that he did not want to leave you," I answered. But I saw that she had not finished, so I remained silent, and in a moment she continued:—
"He had been so respectful to me throughout that I thought him a modest, well-behaved gentleman, and—"
I laughed, interrupting her to explain: "All art, Frances, all art. You'll find much of that manufactured modesty at court. It is the trump card in the game of love and is but a cloak for brazenness."
"Yes, I so found it," she answered, drooping her head, "for when he was about to leave me at a secluded spot, he took my hand and would have kissed me without so much as 'By your leave,' had I not caught his intent before it was too late. I drew away, inclined to be angry, and said, 'Sir, one may overrun one's course by going too fast.'"
"That truism, under like circumstances at court, would have made you famous," I said, pleased alike with her naivete and her wisdom.
"I tried, with fair success, to appear offended," she continued, blushing deeply, "but the awful truth certainly is that I was not. I suppose it is true that women like boldness and do not find wickedness in men as distasteful as mothers say it is."
"On the contrary," I remarked, growing more and more delighted with her wisdom, innocence, and candor.
"Yes," she continued, blushing exquisitely, "even since you have told me how wicked he is, I am not sure that I like him less, though I fear him and shall avoid him as I should a pestilence."
"Ah, but will you, can you, Frances?" I asked.
"Indeed, yes, brother Ned, and if you doubt me, you don't know me," she returned.
"But do you know yourself?" I asked.
"Yes, now I do, thanks to your bravery," she answered.
"But you saw him many times after his first bold attempt," I suggested.
"Oh, it was easily forgiven," she returned, naively. "Yes, I have met him almost every day since then. The days I did not see him seemed to be blanks in my life. After his first boldness, he was always courteous. He never again became familiar, but seemed to try only to convince me of his regard in most respectful terms, and—and I listened all too willingly, but made no answer save what I could not conceal in my manner. That, I fear, was answer all too plain. But now you have opened my eyes, and I see clearly. I owe you a debt of gratitude I can never repay."
"If you go to court, this affair will have been a good lesson," I returned encouragingly. "For there you must learn to despise the proffered love of men, whether it be pretended or real, until one comes who is worthy of you in person, wealth, and station."
"Yes, I shall," she answered earnestly. "But here we are at home. As you suggest, let us not speak of this poor little affair."
"By no means," I answered, as I opened the gate.
"And Baron Ned," she said, holding me back for a moment, "have no fear that I shall lose my heart at court to the detriment of my fortune. I may not consider myself—only my father and my house. It is my duty to make him happy, and I am going to do it without regard to any other purpose in life. My having known Master Hamilton will not only keep other men out of my heart, but will help me to know them and will lead me to fear them when I go to court."
Later in the evening my cousin and I walked out in town, and I had a long talk with her, partly concerning Hamilton, a theme to which she always returned, and partly concerning conditions she would meet if she became a maid of honor. And my faith in her grew as we talked.
That night I went to sleep convinced that my beautiful cousin was strong enough and shrewd enough to evade all the pitfalls of Whitehall, and that her experience with Hamilton had been the one thing needful to make her keenly alive to her danger. I felt that she was safe, but—
Near the hour of two o'clock the next afternoon, Sir Richard and I, returning from a short walk, did not find Frances at home, so I made my way to the Bourne Path, thinking it hardly possible that in the face of yesterday's events Frances could have gone to meet Hamilton. Still one can never tell; therefore I took the benefit of the doubt and set forth to make sure.
When perhaps two miles from Sundridge, the day being warm, I climbed to a ledge of rock on the shelving bank of the bourne, twelve or fifteen feet above the path, and sat down to rest in the cool shade of a clump of bushes. Below me, perhaps five or six feet above the path and far enough back among the bushes to be hidden from passers-by, was another rocky shelf or bench, admirably fitted to accommodate two persons.
Sarah had told me, after much questioning, that Frances had left home only a few minutes before Sir Richard and I had returned. I had walked rapidly, and as I had not overtaken her, I concluded I was on the wrong scent.
Within ten minutes I discovered that I was not on the wrong scent, for, much to my surprise, sorrow, and disgust, I saw Frances and Hamilton come around a turn in the path, push aside the bushes as though they knew the place, enter the dense thicket bordering the path, and sit down on the rocky bench beneath me. My first impulse was to speak, but for many reasons I determined to listen. Silence reigned below me during the next minute or two, and then Hamilton spoke:—
"You must deem me a coward, Mistress Jennings, since I did not call your cousin to account for what he said yesterday?"
"No," she answered. "It was brave of you to refrain. It must be a great deal easier for a gentleman to resent an insult than to endure it. My cousin said as much to me yesterday evening. He said he had always known that you were brave, but that he had not expected to find in you the moral courage to bear his words with equanimity. He also said he was glad he did not have to meet you in a duel, because you were so greatly his superior with the sword. It was brave of you not to challenge him. Perhaps it was on my account you desisted."
"No, it was because I respected him far more than any man I have ever known, and because he told the truth. Do not speak of my bravery in the same breath with his. He was as cool as though he were telling an amusing story."
"He certainly was," returned Frances, laughing softly and closing with a sigh.
"But he had truth on his side, and truth is a great stimulant to courage," remarked Hamilton.
Frances sighed again, diligently studying her hands resting listlessly on her lap.
"Yes, he told the truth," continued Hamilton. "That is why I sent the letter to you early this morning, asking you to meet me for the last time—the last time, Frances. This is not a mere promise to lure you on, but the truth, for I have learned my lesson from Baron Ned, and with God's help, I, too, shall hereafter protect you from all evil, including myself. It is not the Hamilton of yesterday who is speaking to you, but a new man, born again in the fierce light your cousin threw upon me. I feared you might resent his effort to protect you, and I wanted to tell you again that he spoke nothing but the truth, and that he did his duty where another man less brave would have failed."
Frances sighed audibly, and I was sure her eyes were filled with tears.
"Hereafter I shall be as honest with you and as brave for your welfare as Baron Ned was yesterday," said Hamilton, his voice choking with emotion. "I see you now for the last time, unless—" He stopped speaking for a moment and, taking her hand, continued hesitatingly, "Does the thought pain you?"
"I suppose I should say no," answered the girl, withdrawing her hand. "But you see, I, too, have a little moral courage, and, in the face of an inevitable future, do not fear to say, yes, the greatest pain I have ever known."
He moved toward her with evident intent to embrace her, but she rose, saying calmly, almost coldly:—
"Master Hamilton, do you wish me to leave you?"
In Hamilton's place, I should have preferred trying to embrace St. George's dragon rather than the girl standing before him.
Hamilton bowed with humility and said: "Please do not fear. Sit down and hear me out. I shall not detain you long."
She sat down, seeming to feel that notwithstanding her recent admission, there was no danger of further unseemly demonstration on Hamilton's part.
"I want to say," continued Hamilton, "that while Baron Ned spoke the truth, I have never been guilty of the crimes which it is said some of my friends have committed. I am unworthy enough in every respect, but I am innocent of murder and robbery. I shall mend my ways from now on. I don't ask you to believe in me, but when I am at all worthy of your kind regard, I shall tell you, and you may believe me, for from this day forth I shall try to be as truthful as Baron Ned. No man can be more so."
Frances sighed and answered, "I hope so."
Hamilton again took her hand, which she now permitted him to retain, and continued: "If I am ever so fortunate as to gain wealth and position worthy of you, I shall kneel at your feet, if you are free to hear me. If the good fortune never comes, this will be our farewell."
"I hope the good fortune will come soon, for your sake, and—" But she did not finish.
"Yes, yes, and—and—?" asked George, pleadingly.
"Yes, and for my own sake," she answered, turning her face from him, probably to hide the tears that were in her eyes.
"I shall see that good fortune does come," said he, "but I do not ask you to wait an hour for it. If happiness comes to you in the right man—I cannot finish. Good-by!"
He rose, bent over her, kissed her hand, and was about to leave her hastily, evidently in fear of himself. But she clung to his hand and, drawing him down to her, offered him her lips. At first he seemed to draw away, but unable to resist, caught her in his arms, kissed her, and fled.
Frances thrust aside the bushes and watched him as he walked rapidly down the path. When he turned, just before reaching the bend, she kissed her hand to him, murmuring as though speaking to herself, "Good-by, good-by!" Then she sat down and covered her face with her hands.
After a short time she rose, dried her eyes, and started home, and in a few minutes I climbed the hill and took a short cut to Sundridge. I reached home before Frances, and, notwithstanding all I had seen, was fully convinced that she would be as safe in Whitehall Court as in her father's house.
* * * * *
That evening Frances and I walked out together, and I, feeling stricken in conscience, confessed that I had witnessed the interview between her and Hamilton. She was surprised, and at first was inclined to be angry, but she had so little vindictiveness in her nature and was so gentle of disposition that her ill-temper was but the shadow of anger, and soon passed away. Then, too, her good common sense, of which she had an ample fund, came to her help and told her that whatever I had done was for her own good. So the rare smile, which was one of her greatest charms, came to her face, like the diaphanous glow of a good spirit, rested for a moment on her lips, mounted to her eyes and faded slowly away, as though it would linger a moment to ask my forgiveness.
"I am glad I witnessed the interview," said I, drawing her hand through my arm to reassure her, "for notwithstanding all that happened, I now feel sure you are to be trusted."
"But am I?" she asked, showing a self-doubt which I wished to remove.
"Yes, you will have no greater trial at court than the one through which you have just passed. You have combated successfully not only your own love, but the love of the man you love."
"Ah, Baron Ned, don't!" she exclaimed, in mild reproach, shrinking from the thought I had just uttered so plainly.
"It is always well to look misfortunes squarely in the face," I answered. "It helps one to despise them. The thing we call bad luck can't endure a steady gaze."
"It will help me in one respect,—this—this—what has happened," she returned, hanging her head.
"In what way?" I asked, catching a foreboding hint of her meaning.
She hesitated, but, after an effort, brought herself to say, "I shall never again have to combat my own heart, and surely that is the hardest battle a woman ever has to fight."
"Because your heart is already full?" I asked.
She nodded "Yes," her eyes brimming with tears.
Her heart was not only full of her first love, which of itself is a burden of pain to a young girl, but also it was sore from the grief of her first loss, the humiliation of her first mistake, and the pang of her first regret for what might have been.
"It will all pass away, Frances," I returned assuringly.
"Ah, will it, Baron Ned? You know so much more about such matters than I, who know nothing save what I have learned within the last few weeks."
"I feel sure it will," I answered.
"I wish I felt sure," she returned, trying to smile, but instead liberating two great tears that had been hanging on her lashes.
After pausing in thought a moment, she said: "But I believe I should despise myself were I to learn that what I have just done had been prompted by a mere passing motive. I shall never again see him as I have seen him. Of that I have neither fear nor doubt, but this I cannot help but know: he is the first man who has ever come into my heart, and I fear that in all my life I shall never be able to put him out entirely."
"But you may see him at Whitehall," I suggested. "What then?"
"If he remains there, I shall not. But when he learns that his presence will drive me away, I know he will leave," she answered.
"I believe you estimate him justly. Did you tell him you were going to court?" I asked.
"No," she answered, "because I am not sure that I shall go."
"Then we'll not tell him," I suggested.
"Nor any one else?" she asked.
"By all means, no one else," I replied. "I am sure you will win in this beauty contest, but you might fail, in which case we should be sorry if any one knew of the attempt."
"I shall not fail," she answered confidently, though not in vanity.
"But Hamilton said he would return to the siege when he had made his fortune," I suggested.
"Of that I have no hope," she returned dolefully, "and I shall put him out of my thoughts if I can, as soon as I can."
"It must be done now," I returned emphatically.
"Ay, it is easy to say 'now,' but 'now' is a hard, hard time. It is much easier to do a difficult thing to-morrow. But do not fear, Baron Ned. It shall be done, and I shall marry a duke or an earl, loathing him."
She was almost ready to weep, so, believing that she would like to be alone, I left her.
Within half an hour she was at home, sitting in a low chair by her father's side, laughing, happy, and beautiful, with that rare, indefinable home charm a woman may have which is as far beyond the mere beauty of hair and skin and eyes as the sparkle of a bright mysterious star is beyond the beauty of the moon's pale sheen.
With all my cousin's marvellous beauty, her rarest charm lay in her gracious manner, her unobtrusive vivacity, and her quaint combination of Sarah's Machiavellian wisdom with the intense femininity of Eve. Add to these qualities the unmistakable mark which a pure heart leaves on the face, and we complete the picture of one who in a short time was acknowledged to be without a peer in Whitehall, the most famous beauty court the world has ever known.
Before I left Sundridge it had been agreed among us all that Frances should go to London, though the plans had not been arranged nor the time fixed. There was no need of haste, as the choosing of the maids would not be closed for two months or more. I left with my uncle funds necessary for the purchase of gowns, and the payment of other expenses, and, with his consent, undertook to notify the Duchess of York that Frances would seek to enter her Grace's service in the near future. Then I went back to London, and when next I saw my cousin it was in the shadow of a tragedy.
My uncle's humble friend, Roger Wentworth, the leather merchant of Sundridge, had a brother living in London, who was also a leather merchant, Sir William Wentworth. He had been Lord Mayor at one time, and had been knighted by the king because of a loan made by the city to his Majesty. Sir William was an honest, simple man, who cared little to rise above his class, but he had a wife who thrilled to the heart whenever she heard the words "Lady Wentworth," and experienced a spasm of delight whenever she saw her name in the news letters or journals.
Sir William had a son, also, who imagined himself to be ornamental, but laid no claim to usefulness of any sort. Lady Wentworth concurred heartily and proudly in her son's opinion of himself and encouraged his uselessness to a point where it became worthlessness. But Sir William took no pains to conceal his disappointment and disgust. Young William held a small post at court, and, being supplied with money by his mother, was one of the evil spirits of the set composed of Crofts, Berkeley, Little Jermyn, the court lady-killer, and others too numerous and too vicious to mention. Wentworth was goose to these pluckers and was willing to give his feathers in exchange for their toleration.
* * * * *
Shortly after I left Sundridge, Sir Richard learned that Roger intended journeying to London in the course of a month to buy leather, so he asked him to take Frances with him. To this request Roger gladly and proudly assented. He usually travelled a-horseback to London, but this being a state occasion, he brought out his old coach, a huge lumbering concern, and had it painted a brilliant green in honor of his fair passenger-to-be. Roger also promised Frances the services of his sister-in-law with the Duchess of York, a help so great, in Roger's opinion, that it could not be overestimated.
I had been at home more than a month before Frances started on her journey. I did not know when she expected to leave Sundridge, as we had agreed that she should notify me as soon as she reached London.
I had seen George on several occasions after my return from Sundridge, and although he said little about himself, I knew from others that he was at least trying to quit his old way of life and to avoid his evil friends. Soon after my return to court he went to France, and I did not see him again for several months, although he came home, most unfortunately, and spent a day or two in London at the time of Frances's arrival, of which he knew nothing until after his return to France.
All that took place at Sundridge after I left there and the occurrences on my cousin's journey to London, I learned from her and from Hamilton afterwards, though I shall write them down now in the order of their happening.
Early one morning Roger presented himself at my uncle's house with the huge green coach drawn by two horses so fat that they could hardly breathe, driven by an old servant, Noah Sullivan, who was so fat that at times he could not breathe at all.
The season was fair for travelling, and barring a heavy rain, the road to London would be good. But it had a bad reputation for highwaymen, and no cautious man with anything to lose cared to risk a journey after dark, especially near London, save with a guard. Roger was taking with him a thousand pounds in gold; therefore it was desirable that he and his fair passenger should reach the city before nightfall. To do this with the fat horses, he must start early,—a fact of which Frances had received due notice.
On the appointed morning she was ready when the coach drove up. Her box was placed in the boot, and she took a seat beside her old friend Roger, giving vent to the tears she had held back so bravely while saying good-by to her father and Sarah, who were to move up to London in case she remained at court.
Wheezy old Noah on the box cracked his whip, the fat horses in the traces pulled and grunted, the coach creaked and groaned, the wheels turned and Frances had set forth, a maiden St. George, to fight the dragon of Whitehall, compared to which the old-time monster was but a bleating lamb. Roger had hoped to be in his brother's house long before sundown, but when he reached that justly famous halfway house, the Cock and Spur, Noah insisted that the fat horses were so badly winded that a rest of several hours was necessary before they could proceed a step farther. Roger argued with his Master of Horse, but to no purpose. The fat horses rested till near the hour of five, when Noah yielded to his master's importunities and the journey was resumed. Meantime an unexpected rain had begun to fall, which increased in violence as night approached. The road grew heavier as the journey progressed, and the wheezy horses required rest so frequently that Roger began to fear for the safety of his gold and his fair passenger.
Supper time approached, but Roger was so anxious to reach London before dark that he asserted his right as master and refused to stop at an inn where Noah had drawn up the horses, insisting that they be fed. Considerable time was lost in argument with Noah, but at last they took the road once more, which by that time had become very heavy. Night fell without twilight, because of the storm, and the travellers were overtaken by darkness just as they reached the most dangerous part of the road within less than a league of London.
The road grew heavier with every turn of the wheels, the horses wheezed dismally, and Roger groaned inwardly. He kept his head out of the coach door most of the time, looking for trouble, and found it before his journey's end. Noah lighted the great lanthorn and hung it in front of the dashboard, his only cause of anxiety being the horses, until a greater arose.
IT IS HARD TO BE GOOD
There is an infernal charm about sin which should have been given to virtue, but unluckily got shifted in very early human days. And so it was that George Hamilton had troubles of his own in this respect. When he left Frances Jennings at Sundridge, he was aglow with good resolutions, all of which were to be put into immediate practice, and many of which he carried out in part by strong though spasmodic effort when he returned to court.
His attempts to be decent at first filled his friends with surprise, then disgust, then raillery. The untoward thing had never been tried at Charles II's Whitehall, and it furnished a deal of talk between routine scandals. In fact, it was looked upon as a scandal in itself.
This new phase in one of the king's own subdevils soon fell under the notice of his Majesty, who asked George one day if he would like to have an easy benefice in the church where he could meditate on his past and build for the future.
"And pray for Lady Castlemain's unbaptized children, your Majesty?" asked George, whereupon the king shrugged his shoulders and turned away. Lady Castlemain and Charles were—well, there had been talk about them, to say the least.
The court ladies laughed when George declined to drink himself drunk or refused to help his former companions fleece a stranger. Nell Gwynn told him that even his language had grown too polite for polite society, and, lacking emphasis, was flat as stale wine. In truth, it may well be said that George had set out to mend his ways under adverse conditions. But he had set out to do it, and that in itself was a great deal, for there is a likable sort of virtue in every good intent. He had reached the first of the three great R's in the act of repentance, Recognition; Regret and Recession being the second and third—all necessary to regeneration. I had faith in his good intentions, but doubted his ability.
Hamilton and I had become fast friends, and by his help my suit of his sister Mary had prospered to the extent of a partial engagement of marriage. That is to say, Mary's mother, an old worldling of the hardest type, had thought it well to secure me and to keep me dangling, to be landed in case no better fish took the hook. I was aware of the mother's selfish purposes, but did not believe that Mary shared them, though I knew her to be an obedient child. This peculiar condition of affairs somewhat nettled me, though I do not remember that I was at all unhappy because of it.
But to come back to George. One day, a fortnight before Frances's arrival in London, while he and I were watching the royal brothers, King Charles and the Duke of York, playing pall-mall, I expressed my doubts and fears of his ultimate success in reformation so long as he remained in any way associated with Crofts, Berkeley, Wentworth, and others of the vicious clique.
"Yes, I know it is an uphill journey," returned George, laughing with a touch of bitterness, "but think of my reward if I succeed!"
"Do you mean my cousin?" I asked.
"Yes, but I have little hope," he replied, though perhaps he had more hope than he expressed.
I had told him of her intention to come to London, hoping that he would leave before her arrival, as he did, though neither he nor I knew when she was coming. So I asked:—
"Don't you know that she will be carried off by some rich lord before you are half good enough for her?"
"I suppose so," he answered, with a sigh.
"You must know that she is coming for that purpose," I returned, wishing to take all hope out of him.
He winced perceptibly and answered after a long pause, nodding his head in the direction of the king: "There is the only man I fear—the king. But rather than see her the victim of any man, by God, I'll kill him, though it cost me my life the next moment!"
I was touched by the new light in which I saw him and took his arm in friendliness as I said, "I judged you wrongfully at Sundridge."
"You were right," he answered impatiently. "You awakened in me not only a sense of my duty to Frances, but a knowledge of my obligation to myself."
"But are you so sure of my cousin, even barring other men?" I asked, hoping to sow the seeds of doubt.
"Yes," he answered, with emphasis. "As sure as a man may be in such a case."
"Well, George," said I, "it warms my heart to say that I hope you will gain wealth, station, and mode of life worthy of her, and that in the end you may win her. My candid opinion is, however, that you will have to do it quickly. She will accept none of these creatures at court, of that you may be sure, but there are many worthy gentlemen in England who are rich and of great name, who have business at court and will see her and want her. There is Dick Talbot, Duke of Tyrconnel. He is a fine fellow, enormously rich, and—"
"A mere lump of meat," interrupted Hamilton, angrily. "She could not love him."
"No," I answered. "Nor do I think she will try. But it is better in the long run that a woman respect a man, not loving him, than to love, despising him. Respect is likely to last; all sorts of love may die. But in any case it is Frances's intention to marry a fortune for her father's sake, even though she has to close her eyes in doing it."
"I'll try to prevent that misfortune," he answered gloomily. "But if she learns to love a man worthy of her, I shall take myself out of her way forever. Let us stand together, Baron Ned, and help this girl to happiness for life, without respect to myself. You see I'm not all bad. In truth, I am becoming self-righteous. I have left the ranks of the publicans and sinners and have become a Pharisee. I tell you, Baron Ned, nothing so swells a man in the chest as the belief that he is not as other men are."
His righteousness, at least, was not devoid of bitterness, and it is possible that a part of his aversion to his former friends and to the king grew out of his jealousy of them for Frances's sake.
"There is no good reason why you should allow your righteousness to become offensive, as that of the ranter, who hates rather than pities iniquity because, in his opinion, God is a God of vengeance," I suggested ironically. "But rather let your virtues grow as the rose unfolds and—"
"Oh, be damned to your raillery! I'm not going to be too decent!" he retorted, finding nothing to amuse him in my remark. Nor did he become too decent, as will appear all too soon.
If, for a time, Hamilton's life did not conform to our desires, we must not condemn him too harshly, for the evil which we try to throw off clings like a bur, while the good we would keep must be tied on. Thus much I say in anticipation. In the end he gained the battle with himself, though his victory won him the king's hatred, put his life in jeopardy, and brought him misfortune such as he had never before known.
Soon after the foregoing conversation, George went to Paris and remained a few days with King Louis, whom he had known since early youth. His evil star brought him back to London the day before Frances left Sundridge, though, he knew nothing of her departure. I did not know of his return, nor did I know of his remote connection with the terrible events attending her arrival till long after they happened.
* * * * *
While Frances, Roger, and the fat horses were struggling through the mud, the darkness, and the rain, a band of congenial spirits were gathered about the huge fireplace in the taproom of the Leg Tavern in King Street, Westminster, a stone's throw from Whitehall Palace. There was my Lord Berkeley, the king's especial crony, who possessed all his royal master's vices without any of his Majesty's meagre virtues. He imitated the king in dress, manner, cut of beard, and even in the use of Charles's favorite oath, "Odds fish!" an expletive too inane even to be wicked, being a distortion of the words "God's flesh." There was young Crofts, the king's acknowledged son, Duke of Monmouth by grace of his mother's frailties. He was a living example of the doctrine of total depravity in what purported to be a man. There was John Churchill, a very decent fellow in a politic way, though in bad company. He afterward married my laconic cousin Sarah, whose shrewdness made him the first Duke of Marlborough, and last, I regret to chronicle, was George Hamilton, resting from his labors at self-reform. Soon after dark another congenial spirit, the most pusillanimous of them all, young William Wentworth, Sir William's son and Roger's nephew, entered the taproom dripping with rain. Before going to the fire, he called Crofts and Berkeley to one side. Placing his arms about their necks, he drew their faces close to his and made the following remarkable communication in a low whisper:—
"At the supper table, to-night, my worthy sire let slip the information that my good uncle of Sundridge had been expected this afternoon. He had not arrived when I left home fifteen minutes ago, but probably is stuck in the mud a mile or two outside of London on the St. Albans road."
"Let him stick! What is it to us?" asked Crofts.
"Thus much it is to me," answered Wentworth. "He has with him a thousand pounds in gold, while I, his gentleman nephew, have not a jacobus to my name. Now the question becomes one of mere humanity. Shall we allow my good uncle to stick in the mud, or shall we sally forth like good Samaritans, relieve him of a part of his load, and make travelling easier for the dear old man?"
"As men and Christians, we must hasten to his help," declared Crofts.
"But how about Hamilton and Churchill?" asked Berkeley, whose courage was not of the quality to make a good highwayman. "Crofts has invited them here for a feast with us. How shall we get rid of them? Hamilton has become a mere milksop, and Churchill always was too cautious and politic for this sort of a game. Not only will they refuse to go with us if we tell them of our purpose, but they will try to keep us from going."
"Let us take them with us," suggested Crofts. "They won't go if we tell them our purpose, but they will not peach if we take them with us upon some other excuse. We'll walk ahead of them, and—but come with me to the fire. I have a plan. All I ask you to do, Wentworth, is to shake out your cloak, hang it before the fire, and speak of the rain and the bad night outside. I'll do the rest! I'll fetch them! Come!"
Laughing boisterously, the three swaggered over to Hamilton and Churchill, who were sitting by the fireside. Wentworth took off his coat, held it before the blaze to dry, and said, with a terrible oath:—
"Bad night without! Never saw it rain so hard! Raw and cold for this time of the year!"
Crofts ordered a fresh bowl of Rack punch; then, turning to Wentworth, asked:—
"Raining? Who cares for a little rain? I like to be out in it. By the way, I have a wager to offer! Ten pounds to the man to the table; winner to take the lump!"
"Hear! Hear!" cried everybody.
"Let us all walk out on the St. Albans road without our cloaks, the last man to turn homeward wins the entire stake."
"Good!" shouted Wentworth. "I must owe my ten pounds to the pot until to-morrow."
"And I'll take the wager! Here's my money!" said Berkeley, throwing ten pounds to the table.
"Will you go?" asked Crofts, addressing Hamilton.
That evening George was in a mood for any adventure having action in it, for he was nearly out of money. He did not suspect the real purpose of the absurd wager, and after a moment's consideration of the forty pounds to be won, declared:—
"I'll win the pot if I have to go to Edinburgh!"
"And you, Churchill?" asked Crofts.
"You're a pack of fools, but I'll go," replied Churchill, knocking the ashes from his pipe.
They drank their bowl of punch and immediately set off for the St. Albans road.
"The Oxford road is nearer than the St. Albans. Why not take it?" asked George.
"You said you were going to Edinburgh," returned Wentworth, "and, besides, the St. Albans road is our wager, and that is the one we'll take, unless you want to turn back and forfeit your stake."
To the St. Albans road they started, Crofts, Berkeley, and Wentworth walking perhaps two hundred yards in advance of Churchill and Hamilton. The rain was pouring down in torrents, and the night was so dark that Hamilton and Churchill could not see the advance guard, though they heard a deal of talking, laughing, and cursing ahead of them. This order of march was what Crofts and his friends desired, for of course the wager was not on their minds. They were hoping for something greater, and would have been glad to release Churchill and Hamilton had they offered to turn back. But lacking that good fortune, the valiant three evidently hoped to meet the coach and rob it before the others came up, in which case Crofts and his friends would deny the robbery, if accused, and would divide the gold into three parts instead of five.
When nearly two miles from the city, Crofts, Berkeley, and Wentworth met Roger's coach and delivered the attack as silently as possible. Just the manner in which it was done I have never learned, since Hamilton himself did not know the particulars of it, and Frances told me it happened so quickly that it was over almost before she knew it had begun. She said the horses had stopped, which was not a matter of surprise to her, as they had been resting every few minutes, and that a man wearing a mask entered the coach, rummaged the cushions, and was backing out with the bag of gold in his hand when Roger seized him.
The robber was almost out of the coach, but Roger clung to him with one hand while he drew his pistol with the other and fired. Then the man tossed the bag of gold to one of his friends on the road, drew his sword, thrust it in Roger's breast, and the poor old man fell back on the coach floor at my cousin's feet. She heard some one call to Noah: "Drive on if you value a whole skin!" and Noah, awaiting no second command, lashed the horses with his whip until they plunged forward at a clumsy gallop.
Hamilton and Churchill, being perhaps two hundred yards down the road, knew nothing of the trouble ahead till they heard the pistol shot, when they ran forward, supposing their drunken friends were fighting among themselves. They had not taken many steps when a coach passed them, moving rapidly. As it passed, George heard a woman scream faintly, but immediately the coach dashed out of sight. The light from Noah's lanthorn had fallen on Hamilton's face, and Frances had recognized the man of whom she had been thinking and dreaming all day.
I did not know, however, till long afterwards that she had seen him, nor did he suspect that she was in the coach.
When Hamilton and Churchill came up to the robbers, Hamilton asked:—
"What was the trouble?"
"The damned old fool in the coach shot at me," answered Crofts.
"How came he to do it?" asked Churchill, suspecting the truth.
"I do not know," returned Wentworth. "He must have taken us for highwaymen, for he thrust his head out of the door and fired a pistol at Crofts, who was nearest the coach."
"Yes," said Crofts. "And he was about to fire again, point blank at my head, when I drew my sword and quieted him. Matters have come to a pretty pass when gentlemen can't walk out on the public road without becoming a target for every frightened fool that travels in a coach. I'll learn who this fellow is, and will see that he becomes acquainted with the interior of Newgate or dangles to a rope on Tyburn."
"Shall we declare the wager off?" asked Wentworth, turning to Churchill and Hamilton.
"By all means," answered Churchill.
All being willing to return, they started back to London, Wentworth, Berkeley, and Crofts falling behind. The story they had told was not convincing, but when Hamilton expressed his doubts to Churchill and intimated his belief that a robbery, if not a murder, had been committed, Churchill answered cautiously:—
"Perhaps you are right, but the less we know or think or say about this affair, the better it will be for you and me. As for myself, I shall leave London for a while to avoid being called as a witness in case the matter is investigated. If we try to bring these fellows to justice, they may turn upon us and swear that we did the deed, in which case we might hang, for they are three to two; a good preponderance of testimony. But in any case the king would see that no evil befell his son and his friends. Therefore if we are wise, we shall remain silent and take ourselves out of the way for the time being."
The next day, as I afterwards learned, George made the mistake of returning to France, not that he feared punishment for himself, but because he did not want to speak the unavailing truth and thereby bring upon himself the king's wrath, nor did he want to bear false witness to protect the criminals.
Near the hour of ten o'clock that night, Noah drew up the fat panting horses before Sir William's house. The porter, who had been watching all day, opened the gate, the coach entered the courtyard, Noah uttered a hoarse "Whoa!" and almost fell off the box to the ground. As soon as he could get on his feet again, he went to the coach door, spoke to Frances, ran to Sir William, who was waiting at the top of the house steps, candle in hand, to welcome Roger, and spoke but one word: "Dead!"
Frances hurriedly came from the coach, and Sir William went to meet her. Holding out her hands to him, she cried:—
"Oh, Sir William, they have killed your brother! Robbed him and killed him!"
Frances was incoherently explaining to Sir William when Lady Wentworth came down the steps and led her into the house. Then the doors were opened wide, and poor old Roger's body was carried reverently to the best parlor.
The following morning, when I was notified that Frances was at Sir William's house, I went to see her and learned the particulars of the tragedy, though she said nothing at that time about having recognized any of the highwaymen, and seemed strangely reluctant to talk about the affair.
On the fourth day after Roger's death he was buried in Saint-Martin's-in-the-Fields churchyard, good Sir William taking the only means in his power to express his love for his brother by an elaborate funeral. Never were there more beautiful hatchments seen in London. They bore Roger's humble coat-of-arms, half in white and half in black, to denote that the deceased had left a widow. Never were there more nor finer white mourning scarfs distributed among the mourners, and never in the memory of man had so much burnt sherry been served at a funeral.
These extraordinary arrangements attracted a great deal of attention throughout London and caused Roger's murder to be talked about far and near. The result of this publicity was that the city authorities set on foot an investigation which soon brought Wentworth, Crofts, and Berkeley under suspicion. The sheriffs, however, kept their suspicions to themselves, and I heard only faint whispers of what was going on.
After the funeral Lady Wentworth invited Frances to be her guest for a week or two, and upon my advice the invitation was accepted.
Two or three days after the funeral, while Frances and I were walking out together, she complained of young Wentworth's attentions.
"To-day he put his arm about me," she said, laughing, though indignant.
"And what did you say and do?" I asked.
"I simply remarked that I disliked the touch of half-witted persons, whereupon he declared that he had wit enough to be offended. Then I told him he should thank heaven for the small favor and pray God to help him use it."
After cautioning her to secrecy, I told her of the ugly whispers that were abroad connecting young Wentworth, Crofts, and Berkeley with the murder of old Roger.
"No, no!" she cried, greatly agitated. "I saw the two men who did it. I saw them in the light of Noah's lanthorn. Neither of them was young Wentworth."
I at once grew interested and asked her to describe the men she saw.
"No, no, no!" she cried vehemently, almost hysterically. I thought she was going to weep, so I said in haste:—
"Don't weep, Frances! You must forget."
She looked quickly up to me and answered: "I am not weeping. There is not a tear in me. I have wept until I am dry."
"But your grief is unreasonable," I returned. "Roger was your friend, I know, but his death does not call for so great sorrowing."
"No, no, it is not that, Baron Ned. You don't know. I can't tell you. Please do not speak of this terrible affair again."
I supposed it was her horror of the tragedy that had wrought upon her nerves, usually so strong, so I dropped the subject, and it was not brought up again until after many weeks, when circumstances made it necessary for me to break silence.
* * * * *
While Hamilton was away, the murder of Roger Wentworth was freely discussed in London and was brought to the king's notice by a deputation of citizens who told his Majesty very plainly that certain of his friends were under suspicion.
The king pretended that he had not heard of the crime, expressed his grief, was moved to tears by the recital, promised to do all in his power to bring the offenders to justice, and dismissed the Londoners with many brave, virtuous words. As soon as they were gone, he joined a cluster of friends, among whom were Crofts, Wentworth, and Berkeley, to whom he repeated, with many witticisms, the complaints of the city delegation. With what he thought was fine comedy, he reiterated his firm determination to bring the criminals to justice with despatch that should have nothing of the law's delay. Closing his remarks on the subject, he said with a wink and an affected air of severity:—
"Gentlemen, I insist that you make an effort to be more careful of my tanners in your frolics. Even tanners' hides have their uses. Waste them not! Again I say, waste them not!"
"Not even for a thousand pounds, Rowley?" asked Crofts.
"Ah, well, of course, a thousand pounds is—well, it is a thousand pounds," answered the king, laughing.
It may be surmised from the king's words and manner that he intended taking no steps to bring the offenders to justice, and that he knew who they were. The London people soon discovered his real intent and began in earnest on their own account.
When the net began to draw too closely about the culprits, the king interfered and gave the London courts of justice to understand that further proceedings against Wentworth, Crofts, and Berkeley would cause a royal frown. The Londoners were not willing to drop the matter, even at the risk of royal displeasure, so the king caused it to be hinted to the London officials that Crofts, Berkeley, and Wentworth were innocent, but that possibly Hamilton was the guilty man. No mention was made of Churchill, he being at the time the Duke of York's most intimate friend.