The Lion’s Skin
by Rafael Sabatini
I. THE FANATIC
II. AT THE “ADAM AND EVE”
III. THE WITNESS
IV. Mr. GREEN
VI. HORTENSIA’S RETURN
VII. FATHER AND SON
IX. THE CHAMPION
X. SPURS TO THE RELUCTANT
XI. THE ASSAULT-AT-ARMS
XII. SUNSHINE AND SHADOW
XIII. THE FORLORN HOPE
XIV. LADY OSTERMORE
XV. LOVE AND RAGE
XVI. Mr. GREEN EXECUTES HIS WARRANT
XVII. AMID THE GRAVES
XVIII. THE GHOST OF THE PAST
XIX. THE END OF LORD OSTERMORE
XX. Mr. CARYLL’S IDENTITY
XXI. THE LION’S SKIN
XXII. THE HUNTERS
XXIII. THE LION
THE LION’S SKIN
Mr. Caryll, lately from Rome, stood by the window, looking out over the rainswept, steaming quays to Notre Dame on the island yonder. Overhead rolled and crackled the artillery of an April thunderstorm, and Mr. Caryll, looking out upon Paris in her shroud of rain, under her pall of thundercloud, felt himself at harmony with Nature. Over his heart, too, the gloom of storm was lowering, just as in his heart it was still little more than April time.
Behind him, in that chamber furnished in dark oak and leather of a reign or two ago, sat Sir Richard Everard at a vast writing-table all a-litter with books and papers; and Sir Richard watched his adoptive son with fierce, melancholy eyes, watched him until he grew impatient of this pause.
“Well?” demanded the old baronet harshly. “Will you undertake it, Justin, now that the chance has come?” And he added: “You’ll never hesitate if you are the man I have sought to make you.”
Mr. Caryll turned slowly. “It is because I am the man that you – that God and you – have made me that I do hesitate.”
His voice was quiet and pleasantly modulated, and he spoke English with the faintest slur – perceptible, perhaps, only to the keenest ear – of a French accent. To ears less keen it would merely seem that he articulated with a precision so singular as to verge on pedantry.
The light falling full upon his profile revealed the rather singular countenance that was his own. It was not in any remarkable beauty that its distinction lay, for by the canons of beauty that prevail it was not beautiful. The features were irregular and inclined to harshness, the nose was too abruptly arched, the chin too long and square, the complexion too pallid. Yet a certain dignity haunted that youthful face, of such a quality as to stamp it upon the memory of the merest passer-by. The mouth was difficult to read and full of contradictions; the lips were full and red, and you would declare them the lips of a sensualist but for the line of stern, almost grim, determination in which they met; and yet, somewhere behind that grimness, there appeared to lurk a haunting whimsicality; a smile seemed ever to impend, but whether sweet or bitter none could have told until it broke. The eyes were as remarkable; wide-set and slow-moving, as becomes the eyes of an observant man, they were of an almost greenish color, and so level in their ordinary glance as to seem imbued with an uncanny penetration. His hair – he dared to wear his own, and clubbed it in a broad ribbon of watered silk – was almost of the hue of bronze, with here and there a glint of gold, and as luxuriant as any wig.
For the rest, he was scarcely above the middle height, of an almost frail but very graceful slenderness, and very graceful, too, in all his movements. In dress he was supremely elegant, with the elegance of France, that in England would be accounted foppishness. He wore a suit of dark blue cloth, with white satin linings that were revealed when he moved; it was heavily laced with gold, and a ramiform pattern broidered in gold thread ran up the sides of his silk stockings of a paler blue. Jewels gleamed in the Brussels at his throat, and there were diamond buckles on his lacquered, red-heeled shoes.
Sir Richard considered him with anxiety and some chagrin. “Justin!” he cried, a world of reproach in his voice. “What can you need to ponder?”
“Whatever it may be,” said Mr. Caryll, “it will be better that I ponder it now than after I have pledged myself.”
“But what is it? What?” demanded the baronet.
“I am marvelling, for one thing, that you should have waited thirty years.”
Sir Richard’s fingers stirred the papers before him in an idle, absent manner. Into his brooding eyes there leapt the glitter to be seen in the eyes of the fevered of body or of mind.
“Vengeance,” said he slowly, “is a dish best relished when ’tis eaten cold.” He paused an instant; then continued: “I might have crossed to England at the time, and slain him. Should that have satisfied me? What is death but peace and rest?”
“There is a hell, we are told,” Mr. Caryll reminded him.
“Ay,” was the answer, “we are told. But I dursn’t risk its being false where Ostermore is concerned. So I preferred to wait until I could brew him such a cup of bitterness as no man ever drank ere he was glad to die.” In a quieter, retrospective voice he continued: “Had we prevailed in the ’15, I might have found a way to punish him that had been worthy of the crime that calls for it. We did not prevail. Moreover, I was taken, and transported.
“What think you, Justin, gave me courage to endure the rigors of the plantations, cunning and energy to escape after five such years of it as had assuredly killed a stronger man less strong of purpose? What but the task that was awaiting me? It imported that I should live and be free to call a reckoning in full with my Lord Ostermore before I go to my own account.
“Opportunity has gone lame upon this journey. But it has arrived at last. Unless – ” He paused, his voice sank from the high note of exaltation to which it had soared; it became charged with dread, as did the fierce eyes with which he raked his companion’s face. “Unless you prove false to the duty that awaits you. And that I’ll not believe! You are your mother’s son, Justin.”
“And my father’s, too,” answered Justin in a thick voice; “and the Earl of Ostermore is that same father.”
“The more sweetly shall your mother be avenged,” cried the other, and again his eyes blazed with that unhealthy, fanatical light. “What fitter than the hand of that poor lady’s son to pull your father down in ruins?” He laughed short and fiercely. “It seldom chances in this world that justice is done so nicely.”
“You hate him very deeply,” said Mr. Caryll pensively, and the look in his eyes betrayed the trend of his thoughts; they were of pity -but of pity at the futility of such strong emotions.
“As deeply as I loved your mother, Justin.” The sharp, rugged features of that seared old face seemed of a sudden transfigured and softened. The wild eyes lost some of their glitter in a look of wistfulness, as he pondered a moment the one sweet memory in a wasted life, a life wrecked over thirty years ago – wrecked wantonly by that same Ostermore of whom they spoke, who had been his friend.
A groan broke from his lips. He took his head in his hands, and, elbows on the table, he sat very still a moment, reviewing as in a flash the events of thirty and more years ago, when he and Viscount Rotherby – as Ostermore was then – had been young men at the St. Germain’s Court of James II.
It was on an excursion into Normandy that they had met Mademoiselle de Maligny, the daughter of an impoverished gentleman of the chetive noblesse of that province. Both had loved her. She had preferred – as women will – the outward handsomeness of Viscount Rotherby to the sounder heart and brain that were Dick Everard’s. As bold and dominant as any ruffler of them all where men and perils were concerned, young Everard was timid, bashful and without assertiveness with women. He had withdrawn from the contest ere it was well lost, leaving an easy victory to his friend.
And how had that friend used it? Most foully, as you shall learn.
Leaving Rotherby in Normandy, Everard had returned to Paris. The affairs of his king gave him cause to cross at once to Ireland. For three years he abode there, working secretly in his master’s interest, to little purpose be it confessed. At the end of that time he returned to Paris. Rotherby was gone. It appeared that his father, Lord Ostermore, had prevailed upon Bentinck to use his influence with William on the errant youth’s behalf. Rotherby had been pardoned his loyalty to the fallen dynasty. A deserter in every sense, he had abandoned the fortunes of King James – which in Everard’s eyes was bad enough – and he had abandoned the sweet lady he had fetched out of Normandy six months before his going, of whom it seemed that in his lordly way he was grown tired.
>From the beginning it would appear they were ill-matched. It was her beauty had made appeal to him, even as his beauty had enamoured her. Elementals had brought about their union; and when these elementals shrank with habit, as elementals will, they found themselves without a tie of sympathy or common interest to link them each to the other. She was by nature blythe; a thing of sunshine, flowers and music, who craved a very poet for her lover; and by “a poet” I mean not your mere rhymer. He was downright stolid and stupid under his fine exterior; the worst type of Briton, without the saving grace of a Briton’s honor. And so she had wearied him, who saw in her no more than a sweet loveliness that had cloyed him presently. And when the chance was offered him by Bentinck and his father, he took it and went his ways, and this sweet flower that he had plucked from its Normandy garden to adorn him for a brief summer’s day was left to wilt, discarded.
The tale that greeted Everard on his return from Ireland was that, broken-hearted, she had died – crushed neath her load of shame. For it was said that there had been no marriage.
The rumor of her death had gone abroad, and it had been carried to England and my Lord Rotherby by a cousin of hers – the last living Maligny – who crossed the channel to demand of that stolid gentleman satisfaction for the dishonor put upon his house. All the satisfaction the poor fellow got was a foot or so of steel through the lungs, of which he died; and there, may it have seemed to Rotherby, the matter ended.
But Everard remained – Everard, who had loved her with a great and almost sacred love; Everard, who swore black ruin for my Lord Rotherby – the rumor of which may also have been carried to his lordship and stimulated his activities in having Everard hunted down after the Braemar fiasco of 1715.
But before that came to pass Everard had discovered that the rumor of her death was false – put about, no doubt, out of fear of that same cousin who had made himself champion and avenger of her honor. Everard sought her out, and found her perishing of want in an attic in the Cour des Miracles some four months later – eight months after Rotherby’s desertion.
In that sordid, wind-swept chamber of Paris’ most abandoned haunt, a son had been born to Antoinette de Maligny two days before Everard had come upon her. Both were dying; both had assuredly died within the week but that he came so timely to her aid. And that aid he rendered like the noble-hearted gentleman he was. He had contrived to save his fortune from the wreck of James’ kingship, and this was safely invested in France, in Holland and elsewhere abroad. With a portion of it he repurchased the chateau and estates of Maligny, which on the death of Antoinette’s father had been seized upon by creditors.
Thither he sent her and her child – Rotherby’s child – making that noble domain a christening-gift to the boy, for whom he had stood sponsor at the font. And he did his work of love in the background. He was the god in the machine; no more. No single opportunity of thanking him did he afford her. He effaced himself that she might not see the sorrow she occasioned him, lest it should increase her own.
For two years she dwelt at Maligny in such peace as the broken-hearted may know, the little of life that was left her irradiated by Everard’s noble friendship. He wrote to her from time to time, now from Italy, now from Holland. But he never came to visit her. A delicacy, which may or may not have been false, restrained him. And she, respecting what instinctively she knew to be his feelings, never bade him come to her. In their letters they never spoke of Rotherby; not once did his name pass between them; it was as if he had never lived or never crossed their lives. Meanwhile she weakened and faded day by day, despite all the care with which she was surrounded. That winter of cold and want in the Cour des Miracles had sown its seeds, and Death was sharpening his scythe against the harvest.
When the end was come she sent urgently for Everard. He came at once in answer to her summons; but he came too late. She died the evening before he arrived. But she had left a letter, written days before, against the chance of his not reaching her before the end. That letter, in her fine French hand, was before him now.
“I will not try to thank you, dearest friend,” she wrote. “For the thing that you have done, what payment is there in poor thanks? Oh, Everard, Everard! Had it but pleased God to have helped me to a wiser choice when it was mine to choose!” she cried to him from that letter, and poor Everard deemed that the thin ray of joy her words sent through his anguished soul was payment more than enough for the little that he had done. “God’s will be done!” she continued. “It is His will. He knows why it is best so, though we discern it not. But there is the boy; there is Justin. I bequeath him to you who already have done so much for him. Love him a little for my sake; cherish and rear him as your own, and make of him such a gentleman as are you. His father does not so much as know of his existence. That, too, is best so, for I would not have him claim my boy. Never let him learn that Justin exists, unless it be to punish him by the knowledge for his cruel desertion of me.”
Choking, the writing blurred by tears that he accounted no disgrace to his young manhood, Everard had sworn in that hour that Justin should be as a son to him. He would do her will, and he set upon it a more definite meaning than she intended. Rotherby should remain in ignorance of his son’s existence until such season as should make the knowledge a very anguish to him. He would rear Justin in bitter hatred of the foul villain who had been his father; and with the boy’s help, when the time should be ripe, he would lay my Lord Rotherby in ruins. Thus should my lord’s sin come to find him out.
This Everard had sworn, and this he had done. He had told Justin the story almost as soon as Justin was of an age to understand it. He had repeated it at very frequent intervals, and as the lad grew, Everard watched in him – fostering it by every means in his power – the growth of his execration for the author of his days, and of his reverence for the sweet, departed saint that had been his mother.
For the rest, he had lavished Justin nobly for his mother’s sake. The repurchased estates of Maligny, with their handsome rent roll, remained Justin’s own, administered by Sir Richard during the lad’s minority and vastly enriched by the care of that administration. He had sent the lad to Oxford, and afterwards – the more thoroughly to complete his education – on a two years’ tour of Europe; and on his return, a grown and cultured man, he had attached him to the court in Rome of the Pretender, whose agent he was himself in Paris.
He had done his duty by the boy as he understood his duty, always with that grim purpose of revenge for his horizon. And the result had been a stranger compound than even Everard knew, for all that he knew the lad exceedingly well. For he had scarcely reckoned sufficiently upon Justin’s mixed nationality and the circumstance that in soul and mind he was entirely his mother’s child, with nothing – or an imperceptible little – of his father. As his mother’s nature had been, so was Justin’s – joyous. But Everard’s training of him had suppressed all inborn vivacity. The mirth and diablerie that were his birthright had been overlaid with British phlegm, until in their stead, and through the blend, a certain sardonic humor had developed, an ironical attitude toward all things whether sacred or profane. This had been helped on by culture, and – in a still greater measure – by the odd training in worldliness which he had from Everard. His illusions were shattered ere he had cut his wisdom teeth, thanks to the tutelage of Sir Richard, who in giving him the ugly story of his own existence, taught him the misanthropical lesson that all men are knaves, all women fools. He developed, as a consequence, that sardonic outlook upon the world. He sought to take vos non vobis for his motto, affected to a spectator in the theatre of Life, with the obvious result that he became the greatest actor of them all.
So we find him even now, his main emotion pity for Sir Richard, who sat silent for some moments, reviewing that thirty-year dead past, until the tears scalded his old eyes. The baronet made a queer noise in his throat, something between a snarl and a sob, and he flung himself suddenly back in his chair.
Justin sat down, a becoming gravity in his countenance. “Tell me all,” he begged his adoptive father. “Tell me how matters stand precisely – how you propose to act.”
“With all my heart,” the baronet assented. “Lord Ostermore, having turned his coat once for profit, is ready now to turn it again for the same end. From the information that reaches me from England, it would appear that in the rage of speculation that has been toward in London, his lordship has suffered heavily. How heavily I am not prepared to say. But heavily enough, I dare swear, to have caused this offer to return to his king; for he looks, no doubt, to sell his services at a price that will help him mend the wreckage of his fortunes. A week ago a gentleman who goes between his majesty’s court at Rome and his friends here in Paris brought me word from his majesty that Ostermore had signified to him his willingness to rejoin the Stuart cause.
“Together with that information, this messenger brought me letters from his majesty to several of his friends, which I was to send to England by a safe hand at the first opportunity. Now, amongst these letters – delivered to me unsealed – is one to my Lord Ostermore, making him certain advantageous proposals which he is sure to accept if his circumstances be as crippled as I am given to understand. Atterbury and his friends, it seems, have already tampered with my lord’s loyalty to Dutch George to some purpose, and there is little doubt but that this letter” – and he tapped a document before him – “will do what else is to be done.
“But, since these letters were left with me, come you with his majesty’s fresh injunctions that I am to suppress them and cross to England at once myself, to prevail upon Atterbury and his associates to abandon the undertaking.”
Mr. Caryll nodded. “Because, as I have told you,” said he, “King James in Rome has received positive information that in London the plot is already suspected, little though Atterbury may dream it. But what has this to do with my Lord Ostermore?”
“This,” said Everard slowly, leaning across toward Justin, and laying a hand upon his sleeve. “I am to counsel the Bishop to stay his hand against a more favorable opportunity. There is no reason why you should not do the very opposite with Ostermore.”
Mr. Caryll knit his brows, his eyes intent upon the other’s face; but he said no word.
“It is,” urged Everard, “an opportunity such as there may never be another. We destroy Ostermore. By a turn of the hand we bring him to the gallows.” He chuckled over the word with a joy almost diabolical.
“But how – how do we destroy him?” quoth Justin, who suspected yet dared not encourage his suspicions.
“How? Do you ask how? Is’t not plain?” snapped Sir Richard, and what he avoided putting into words, his eloquent glance made clear to his companion.
Mr. Caryll rose a thought quickly, a faint flush stirring in his cheeks, and he threw off Everard’s grasp with a gesture that was almost of repugnance. “You mean that I am to enmesh him . . . .”
Sir Richard smiled grimly. “As his majesty’s accredited agent,” he explained. “I will equip you with papers. Word shall go ahead of you to Ostermore by a safe hand to bid him look for the coming of a messenger bearing his own family name. No more than that; nothing that can betray us; yet enough to whet his lordship’s appetite. You shall be the ambassador to bear him the tempting offers from the king. You will obtain his answers – accepting. Those you will deliver to me, and I shall do the trifle that may still be needed to set the rope about his neck.”
A little while there was silence. Outside, the rain, driven by gusts, smote the window as with a scourge. The thunder was grumbling in the distance now. Mr. Caryll resumed his chair. He sat very thoughtful, but with no emotion showing in his face. British stolidity was in the ascendant with him then. He felt that he had the need of it.
“It is . . . ugly,” he said at last slowly.
“It is God’s own will,” was the hot answer, and Sir Richard smote the table.
“Has God taken you into His confidence?” wondered Mr. Caryll.
“I know that God is justice.”
“Yet is it not written that `vengeance is His own’?”
“Aye, but He needs human instruments to execute it. Such instruments are we. Can you – Oh, can you hesitate ?”
Mr. Caryll clenched his hands hard. “Do it,” he answered through set teeth. “Do it! I shall approve it when ’tis done. But find other hands for the work, Sir Richard. He is my father.”
Sir Richard remained cool. “That is the argument I employ for insisting upon the task being yours,” he replied. Then, in a blaze of passion, he – who had schooled his adoptive son so ably in self-control – marshalled once more his arguments. “It is your duty to your mother to forget that he is your father. Think of him only as the man who wronged your mother; the man to whom her ruined life, her early death are due – her murderer and worse. Consider that. Your father, you say!” He mocked almost. “Your father! In what is he your father? You have never seen him; he does not know that you exist, that you ever existed. Is that to be a father? Father, you say! A word, a name – no more than that; a name that gives rise to a sentiment, and a sentiment is to stand between you and your clear duty; a sentiment is to set a protecting shield over the man who killed your mother!
“I think I shall despise you, Justin, if you fail me in this. I have lived for it,” he ran on tempestuously. “I have reared you for it, and you shall not fail me!”
Then his voice dropped again, and in quieter tones
“You hate the very name of John Caryll, Earl of Ostermore,” said he, “as must every decent man who knows the truth of what the life of that satyr holds. If I have suffered you to bear his name, it is to the end that it should remind you daily that you have no right to it, that you have no right to any name.”
When he said that he thrust his finger consciously into a raw wound. He saw Justin wince, and with pitiless cunning he continued to prod that tender place until he had aggravated the smart of it into a very agony.
“That is what you owe your father; that is the full extent of what lies between you – that you are of those at whom the world is given to sneer and point scorn’s ready finger.”
“None has ever dared,” said Mr. Caryll.
“Because none has ever known. We have kept the secret well. You display no coat of arms that no bar sinister may be displayed. But the time may come when the secret must out. You might, for instance, think of marrying a lady of quality, a lady of your own supposed station. What shall you tell her of yourself? That you have no name to offer her; that the name you bear is yours by assumption only? Ah! That brings home your own wrongs to you, Justin! Consider them; have them ever present in your mind, together with your mother’s blighted life, that you may not shrink when the hour strikes to punish the evildoer.”
He flung himself back in his chair again, and watched the younger man with brooding eye. Mr. Caryll was plainly moved. He had paled a little, and he sat now with brows contracted and set teeth.
Sir Richard pushed back his chair and rose, recapitulating. “He is your mother’s destroyer,” he said, with a sad sternness. “Is the ruin of that fair life to go unpunished? Is it, Justin?”
Mr. Caryll’s Gallic spirit burst abruptly through its British glaze. He crushed fist into palm, and swore: “No, by God! It shall not, Sir Richard!”
Sir Richard held out his hands, and there was a fierce joy in his gloomy eyes at last. “You’ll cross to England with me, Justin?”
But Mr. Caryll’s soul fell once more into travail. “Wait!” he cried. “Ah, wait!” His level glance met Sir Richard’s in earnestness and entreaty. “Answer me the truth upon your soul and conscience: Do you in your heart believe that it is what my mother would have had me do?”
There was an instant’s pause. Then Everard, the fanatic of vengeance, the man whose mind upon that one subject was become unsound with excess of brooding, answered with conviction: “As I have a soul to be saved, Justin, I do believe it. More – I know it. Here!” Trembling hands took up the old letter from the table and proffered it to Justin. “Here is her own message to you. Read it again.”
And what time the young man’s eyes rested upon that fine, pointed writing, Sir Richard recited aloud the words he knew by heart, the words that had been ringing in his ears since that day when he had seen her lowered to rest: “`Never let him learn that Justin exists unless it be to punish him by the knowledge for his cruel desertion of me.’ It is your mother’s voice speaking to you from the grave,” the fanatic pursued, and so infected Justin at last with something of his fanaticism.
The green eyes flashed uncannily, the white young face grew cruelly sardonic. “You believe it?” he asked, and the eagerness that now invested his voice showed how it really was with him.
“As I have a soul to be saved,” Sir Richard repeated.
“Then gladly will I set my hand to it.” Fire stirred through Justin now, a fire of righteous passion. “An idea – no more than an idea – daunted me. You have shown me that. I cross to England with you, Sir Richard, and let my Lord Ostermore look to himself, for my name – I who have no right to any name – my name is judgment!”
The exaltation fell from him as suddenly as it had mounted. He dropped into a chair, thoughtful again and slightly ashamed of his sudden outburst.
Sir Richard Everard watched with an eye of gloomy joy the man whom he had been at such pains to school in self-control.
Overhead there was a sudden crackle of thunder, sharp and staccato as a peal of demoniac laughter.
AT THE “ADAM AND EVE”
Mr. Caryll, alighted from his traveling chaise in the yard of the “Adam and Eve,” at Maidstone, on a sunny afternoon in May. Landed at Dover the night before, he had parted company with Sir Richard Everard that morning. His adoptive father had turned aside toward Rochester, to discharge his king’s business with plotting Bishop Atterbury, what time Justin was to push on toward town as King James’ ambassador to the Earl of Ostermore, who, advised of his coming, was expecting him.
Here at Maidstone it was Mr. Caryll’s intent to dine, resuming his journey in the cool of the evening, when he hoped to get at least as far as Farnborough ere he slept.
Landlady, chamberlain, ostler and a posse of underlings hastened to give welcome to so fine a gentleman, and a private room above-stairs was placed at his disposal. Before ascending, however, Mr. Caryll sauntered into the bar for a whetting glass to give him an appetite, and further for the purpose of bespeaking in detail his dinner with the hostess. It was one of his traits that he gave the greatest attention to detail, and held that the man who left the ordering of his edibles to his servants was no better than an animal who saw no more than nourishment in food. Nor was the matter one to be settled summarily; it asked thought and time. So he sipped his Hock, listening to the landlady’s proposals, and amending them where necessary with suggestions of his own, and what time he was so engaged, there ambled into the inn yard a sturdy cob bearing a sturdy little man in snuff-colored clothes that had seen some wear.
The newcomer threw his reins to the stable-boy – a person of all the importance necessary to receive so indifferent a guest. He got down nimbly from his horse, produced an enormous handkerchief of many colors, and removed his three-cornered hat that he might the better mop his brow and youthful, almost cherubic face. What time he did so, a pair of bright little blue eyes were very busy with. Mr. Caryll’s carriage, from which Leduc, Mr. Caryll’s valet, was in the act of removing a portmantle. His mobile mouth fell into lines of satisfaction.
Still mopping himself, he entered the inn, and, guided by the drone of voices, sauntered into the bar. At sight of Mr. Caryll leaning there, his little eyes beamed an instant, as do the eyes of one who espies a friend, or – apter figure – the eyes of the hunter when they sight the quarry.
He advanced to the bar, bowing to Mr. Caryll with an air almost apologetic, and to the landlady with an air scarcely less so, as he asked for a nipperkin of ale to wash the dust of the road from his throat. The hostess called a drawer to serve him, and departed herself upon the momentous business of Mr. Caryll’s dinner.
“A warm day, sir,” said the chubby man.
Mr. Caryll agreed with him politely, and finished his glass, the other sipping meanwhile at his ale.
“A fine brew, sir,” said he. “A prodigious fine brew! With all respect, sir, your honor should try a whet of our English ale.”
Mr. Caryll, setting down his glass, looked languidly at the man. “Why do you exclude me, sir, from the nation of this beverage?” he inquired.
The chubby man’s face expressed astonishment. “Ye’re English, sir! Ecod! I had thought ye French!”
“It is an honor, sir, that you should have thought me anything.”
The other abased himself. “‘Twas an unwarrantable presumption, Codso! which I hope your honor’ll pardon.” Then he smiled again, his little eyes twinkling humorously. “An ye would try the ale, I dare swear your honor would forgive me. I know ale, ecod! I am a brewer myself. Green is my name, sir – Tom Green – your very obedient servant, sir.” And he drank as if pledging that same service he professed.
Mr. Caryll observed him calmly and a thought indifferently. “Ye’re determined to honor me,” said he. “I am your debtor for your reflections upon whetting glasses; but ale, sir, is a beverage I don’t affect, nor shall while there are vines in France.”
“Ah!” sighed Mr. Green rapturously. “‘Tis a great country, France; is it not, sir?”
“‘Tis not the general opinion here at present. But I make no doubt that it deserves your praise.”
“And Paris, now,” persisted Mr. Green. “They tell me ’tis a great city; a marvel o’ th’ ages. There be those, ecod! that say London’s but a kennel to’t.”
“Be there so?” quoth Mr. Caryll indifferently.
“Ye don’t agree with them, belike?” asked Mr. Green, with eagerness.
“Pooh! Men will say anything,” Mr. Caryll replied, and added pointedly: “Men will talk, ye see.”
“Not always,” was the retort in a sly tone. “I’ve known men to be prodigious short when they had aught to hide.”
“Have ye so? Ye seem to have had a wide experience.” And Mr. Caryll sauntered out, humming a French air through closed lips.
Mr. Green looked after him with hardened eyes. He turned to the drawer who stood by. “He’s mighty close,” said he. “Mighty close!”
“Ye’re not perhaps quite the company he cares for,” the drawer suggested candidly.
Mr. Green looked at him. “Very like,” he snapped. “How long does he stay here?”
“Ye lost a rare chance of finding out when ye let him go without inquiring,” said the drawer.
Mr. Green’s face lost some of its chubbiness. “When d’ye look to marry the landlady?” was his next question.
The man stared. “Cod!” said he. “Marry the – Are ye daft?”
Mr. Green affected surprise. “I’m mistook, it seems. Ye misled me by your pertness. Get me another nipperkin.”
Meanwhile Mr. Caryll had taken his way above stairs to the room set apart for him. He dined to his satisfaction, and thereafter, his shapely, silk-clad legs thrown over a second chair, his waistcoat all unbuttoned, for the day was of an almost midsummer warmth – he sat mightily at his ease, a decanter of sherry at his elbow, a pipe in one hand and a book of Mr. Gay’s poems in the other. But the ease went no further than the body, as witnessed the circumstances that his pipe was cold, the decanter tolerably full, and Mr. Gay’s pleasant rhymes and quaint conceits of fancy all unheeded. The light, mercurial spirit which he had from nature and his unfortunate mother, and which he had retained in spite of the stern training he had received at his adoptive father’s hands, was heavy-fettered now.
The mild fatigue of his journey through the heat of the day had led him to look forward to a voluptuous hour of indolence following upon dinner, with pipe and book and glass. The hour was come, the elements were there, but since he could not abandon himself to their dominion the voluptuousness was wanting. The task before him haunted him with anticipatory remorse. It hung upon his spirit like a sick man’s dream. It obtruded itself upon his constant thought, and the more he pondered it the more did he sicken at what lay before him.
Wrought upon by Everard’s fanaticism that day in Paris some three weeks ago, infected for the time being by something of his adoptive father’s fever, he had set his hands to the task in a glow of passionate exaltation. But with the hour, the exaltation went, and reaction started in his soul. And yet draw back he dared not; too long and sedulously had Everard trained his spirit to look upon the avenging of his mother as a duty. Believing that it was his duty, he thirsted on the one hand to fulfill it, whilst, on the other, he recoiled in horror at the thought that the man upon whom he was to wreak that vengeance was his father – albeit a father whom he did not know, who had never seen him, who was not so much as aware of his existence.
He sought forgetfulness in Mr. Gay. He had the delicate-minded man’s inherent taste for verse, a quick ear for the melody of words, the aesthete’s love of beauty in phrase as of beauty in all else; and culture had quickened his perceptions, developed his capacity for appreciation. For the tenth time he called Leduc to light his pipe; and, that done, he set his eye to the page once more. But it was like harnessing a bullock to a cart; unmindful of the way it went and over what it travelled, his eye ambled heavily along the lines, and when he came to turn the page he realized with a start that he had no impression of what he had read upon it.
In sheer disgust he tossed the book aside, and kicking away the second chair, rose lythely. He crossed to the window, and stood there gazing out at nothing, nor conscious of the incense that came to him from garden, from orchard, and from meadow.
It needed a clatter of hoofs and a cloud of dust approaching from the north to draw his mind from its obsessing thoughts. He watched the yellow body of the coach as it came furiously onward, its four horses stretched to the gallop, postillion lusty of lungs and whip, and the great trail of dust left behind it spreading to right and left over the flowering hedge-rows to lose itself above the gold-flecked meadowland. On it came, to draw up there, at the very entrance to Maidstone, at the sign of the “Adam and Eve.”
Mr. Caryll, leaning on the sill of his window, looked down with interest to see what manner of travellers were these that went at so red-hot a pace. From the rumble a lackey swung himself to the rough cobbles of the yard. From within the inn came again landlady and chamberlain, and from the stable ostler and boy, obsequious all and of no interest to Mr. Caryll.
Then the door of the coach was opened, the steps were let down, and there emerged – his hand upon the shoulder of the servant – a very ferret of a man in black, with a parson’s bands and neckcloth, a coal-black full-bottomed wig, and under this a white face, rather drawn and haggard, and thin lips perpetually agrin to flaunt two rows of yellow teeth disproportionately large. After him, and the more remarkable by contrast, came a tall, black-faced fellow, very brave in buff-colored cloth, with a fortune in lace at wrist and throat, and a heavily powdered tie-wig.
Lackey, chamberlain and parson attended his alighting, and then he joined their ranks to attend in his turn – hat under arm – the last of these odd travellers.
The interest grew. Mr. Caryll felt that the climax was about to be presented, and he leaned farther forward that he might obtain a better view of the awaited personage. In the silence he caught a rustle of silk. A flowered petticoat appeared – as much of it as may be seen from the knee downwards – and from beneath this the daintiest foot conceivable was seen to grope an instant for the step. Another second and the rest of her emerged.
Mr. Caryll observed – and be it known that he had the very shrewdest eye for a woman, as became one of the race from which on his mother’s side he sprang – that she was middling tall, chastely slender, having, as he judged from her high waist, a fine, clean length of limb. All this he observed and approved, and prayed for a glimpse of the face which her silken hood obscured and screened from his desiring gaze. She raised it at that moment – raised it in a timid, frightened fashion, as one who looks fearfully about to see that she is not remarked – and Mr. Caryll had a glimpse of an oval face, pale with a warm pallor – like the pallor of the peach, he thought, and touched, like the peach, with a faint hint of pink in either cheek. A pair of eyes, large, brown, and gentle as a saint’s, met his, and Mr. Caryll realized that she was beautiful and that it might be good to look into those eyes at closer quarters.
Seeing him, a faint exclamation escaped her, and she turned away in sudden haste to enter the inn. The fine gentleman looked up and scowled; the parson looked up and trembled; the ostler and his boy looked up and grinned. Then all swept forward and were screened by the porch from the wondering eyes of Mr. Caryll.
He turned from the window with a sigh, and stepped back to the table for the tinder-box, that for the eleventh time he might relight his pipe. He sat down, blew a cloud of smoke to the ceiling, and considered. His nature triumphed now over his recent preoccupation; the matter of the moment, which concerned him not at all, engrossed him beyond any other matter of his life. He was intrigued to know in what relation one to the other stood the three so oddly assorted travellers he had seen arrive. He bethought him that, after all, the odd assortment arose from the presence of the parson; and he wondered what the plague should any Christian – and seemingly a gentleman at that – be doing travelling with a parson. Then there was the wild speed at which they had come.
The matter absorbed and vexed him. I fear he was inquisitive by nature. There came a moment when he went so far as to consider making his way below to pursue his investigations in situ. It would have been at great cost to his dignity, and this he was destined to be spared.
A knock fell upon his door, and the landlady came in. She was genial, buxom and apple-faced, as becomes a landlady.
“There is a gentleman below – ” she was beginning, when Mr. Caryll interrupted her.
“I would rather that you told me of the lady,” said
“La, sir!” she cried, displaying ivory teeth, her eyes cast upwards, hands upraised in gentle, mirthful protest. “La, sir! But I come from the lady, too.”
He looked at her. “A good ambassador,” said he, “should begin with the best news; not add it as an afterthought. But proceed, I beg. You give me hope, mistress.”
“They send their compliments, and would be prodigiously obliged if you was to give yourself the trouble of stepping below.”
“Of stepping below?” he inquired, head on one side, solemn eyes upon the hostess. “Would it be impertinent to inquire what they may want with me?”
“I think they want you for a witness, sir.”
“For a witness? Am I to testify to the lady’s perfection of face and shape, to the heaven that sits in her eyes, to the miracle she calls her ankle? Are these and other things besides of the same kind what I am required to witness? If so, they could not have sent for one more qualified. I am an expert, ma’am.”
“Oh, sir, nay!” she laughed. “‘Tis a marriage they need you for.”
Mr. Caryll opened his queer eyes a little wider. “Soho!” said he. “The parson is explained.” Then he fell thoughtful, his tone lost its note of flippancy. “This gentleman who sends his compliments, does he send his name?”
“He does not, sir; but I overheard it.”
“Confide in me,” Mr. Caryll invited her.
“He is a great gentleman,” she prepared him.
“No matter. I love great gentlemen.”
“They call him Lord Rotherby.”
At that sudden and utterly unexpected mention of his half-brother’s name – his unknown half-brother – Mr. Caryll came to his feet with an alacrity which a more shrewd observer would have set down to some cause other than mere respect for a viscount. The hostess was shrewd, but not shrewd enough, and if Mr. Caryll’s expression changed for an instant, it resumed its habitual half-scornful calm so swiftly that it would have needed eyes of an exceptional quickness to have read it.
“Enough!” he said. “Who could deny his lordship?”
“Shall I tell them you are coming?” she inquired, her hand already upon the door.
“A moment,” he begged, detaining her. “‘Tis a runaway marriage this, eh?”
Her full-hearted smile beamed on him again; she was a very woman, with a taste for the romantic, loving love. “What else, sir?” she laughed.
“And why, mistress,” he inquired, eying her, his fingers plucking at his nether lip, “do they desire my testimony?”
“His lordship’s own man will stand witness, for one; but they’ll need another,” she explained, her voice reflecting astonishment at his question.
“True. But why do they need me?” he pressed her. “Heard you no reason given why they should prefer me to your chamberlain, your ostler or your drawer?”
She knit her brows and shrugged impatient shoulders. Here was a deal of pother about a trifling affair. “His lordship saw you as he entered, sir, and inquired of me who you might be.”
“His lordship flatters me by this interest. My looks pleased him, let us hope. And you answered him – what?”
“That your honor is a gentleman newly crossed from France.”
“You are well-informed, mistress,” said Mr. Caryll, a thought tartly, for if his speech was tainted with a French accent it was in so slight a degree as surely to be imperceptible to the vulgar.
“Your clothes, sir,” the landlady explained, and he bethought him, then, that the greater elegance and refinement of his French apparel must indeed proclaim his origin to one who had so many occasions of seeing travelers from Gaul. That might even account for Mr. Green’s attempts to talk to him of France. His mind returned to the matter of the bridal pair below.
“You told him that, eh?” said he. “And what said his lordship then?”
“He turned to the parson. `The very man for us, Jenkins,’ says he.”
“And the parson – this Jenkins – what answer did he make?”
“`Excellently thought,’ he says, grinning.”
“Hum! And you yourself, mistress, what inference did you draw?”
“Aye, inference, ma’am. Did you not gather that this was not only a runaway match, but a clandestine one? My lord can depend upon the discretion of his servant, no doubt; for other witness he would prefer some passer-by, some stranger who will go his ways to-morrow, and not be like to be heard of again.”
“Lard, sir!” cried the landlady, her eyes wide with astonishment.
Mr. Caryll smiled enigmatically. “‘Tis so, I assure ye, ma’am. My Lord Rotherby is of a family singularly cautious in the unions it contracts. In entering matrimony he prefers, no doubt, to leave a back door open for quiet retreat should he repent him later.”
“Your honor has his lordship’s acquaintance, then?” quoth the landlady.
“It is a misfortune from which Heaven has hitherto preserved me, but which the devil, it seems, now thrusts upon me. It will, nevertheless, interest me to see him at close quarters. Come, ma’am.”
As they were going out, Mr. Caryll checked suddenly. “Why, what’s o’clock?” said he.
She stared, so abruptly came the question. “Past four, sir,” she answered.
He uttered a short laugh. “Decidedly,” said he, “his lordship must be viewed at closer quarters.” And he led the way downstairs.
In the passage he waited for her to come up with him. “You had best announce me by name,” he suggested. “It is Caryll.”
She nodded, and, going forward, threw open a door, inviting him to enter.
“Mr. Caryll,” she announced, obedient to his injunction, and as he went in she closed the door behind him.
>From the group of three that had been sitting about the polished walnut table, the tall gentleman in buff and silver rose swiftly, and advanced to the newcomer; what time Mr. Caryll made a rapid observation of this brother whom he was meeting under circumstances so odd and by a chance so peculiar.
He beheld a man of twenty-five, or perhaps a little more, tall and well made, if already inclining to heaviness, with a swarthy face, full-lipped, big-nosed, black-eyed, an obstinate chin, and a deplorable brow. At sight, by instinct, he disliked his brother. He wondered vaguely was Lord Rotherby in appearance at all like their common father; but beyond that he gave little thought to the tie that bound them. Indeed, he has placed it upon record that, saving in such moments of high stress as followed in their later connection, he never could remember that they were the sons of the same parent.
“I thought,” was Rotherby’s greeting, a note almost of irritation in his voice, “that the woman said you were from France.”
It was an odd welcome, but its oddness at the moment went unheeded. His swift scrutiny of his brother over, Mr. Caryll’s glance passed on to become riveted upon the face of the lady at the table’s head. In addition to the beauties which from above he had descried, he now perceived that her mouth was sensitive and kindly, her whole expression one of gentle wistfulness, exceeding sweet to contemplate. What did she in this galley, he wondered; and he has confessed that just as at sight he had disliked his brother, so from that hour – from the very instant of his eyes’ alighting on her there – he loved the lady whom his brother was to wed, felt a surpassing need of her, conceived that in the meeting of their eyes their very souls had met, so that it was to him as if he had known her since he had known anything. Meanwhile there was his lordship’s question to be answered. He answered it mechanically, his eyes upon the lady, and she returning the gaze of those queer, greenish eyes with a sweetness that gave place to no confusion.
“I am from France, sir.”
“But not French?” his lordship continued.
Mr. Caryll fetched his eyes from the lady’s to meet Lord Rotherby’s. “More than half French,” he replied, the French taint in his accent growing slightly more pronounced. “It was but an accident that my father was an Englishman.”
Rotherby laughed softly, a thought contemptuously. Foreigners were things which in his untraveled, unlettered ignorance he despised. The difference between a Frenchman and a South Sea Islander was a thing never quite appreciated by his lordship. Some subtle difference he had no doubt existed; but for him it was enough to know that both were foreigners; therefore, it logically followed, both were kin.
“Your words, sir, might be oddly interpreted. ‘Pon honor, they might!” said he, and laughed softly again with singular insolence.
“If they have amused your lordship I am happy,” said Mr. Caryll in such a tone that Rotherby looked to see whether he was being roasted. “You wanted me, I think. I beg that you’ll not thank me for having descended. It was an honor.”
It occurred to Rotherby that this was a veiled reproof for the ill manners of the omission. Again he looked sharply at this man who was scanning him with such interest, but he detected in the calm, high-bred face nothing to suggest that any mockery was intended. Belatedly he fell to doing the very thing that Mr. Caryll had begged him to leave undone: he fell to thanking him. As for Mr. Caryll himself, not even the queer position into which he had been thrust could repress his characteristics. What time his lordship thanked him, he looked about him at the other occupants of the room, and found that, besides the parson, sitting pale and wide-eyed at the table, there was present in the background his lordship’s man – a quiet fellow, quietly garbed in gray, with a shrewd face and shrewd, shifty eyes. Mr. Caryll saw, and registered, for future use, the reflection that eyes that are overshrewd are seldom wont to look out of honest heads.
“You are desired,” his lordship informed him, “to be witness to a marriage.”
“So much the landlady had made known to me.”
“It is not, I trust, a task that will occasion you any scruples.”
“None. On the contrary, it is the absence of the marriage might do that.” The smooth, easy tone so masked the inner meaning of the answer that his lordship scarce attended to the words.
“Then we had best get on. We are in haste.”
“‘Tis the characteristic rashness of folk about to enter wedlock,” said Mr. Caryll, as he approached the table with his lordship, his eyes as he spoke turning full upon the bride.
My lord laughed, musically enough, but overloud for a man of brains or breeding. “Marry in haste, eh?” quoth he.
“You are penetration itself,” Mr. Caryll praised him.
“‘Twill take a shrewd rogue to better me,” his lordship agreed.
“Yet an honest man might worst you. One never knows. But the lady’s patience is being taxed.”
It was as well he added that, for his lordship had turned with intent to ask him what he meant.
“Aye! Come, Jenkins. Get on with your patter. Gaskell,” he called to his man, “stand forward here.” Then he took his place beside the lady, who had risen, and stood pale, with eyes cast down and – as Mr. Caryll alone saw – the faintest quiver at the corners of her lips. This served to increase Mr. Caryll’s already considerable cogitations.
The parson faced them, fumbling at his book, Mr. Caryll’s eyes watching him with that cold, level glance of theirs. The parson looked up, met that uncanny gaze, displayed his teeth in a grin of terror, fell to trembling, and dropped the book in his confusion. Mr. Caryll, smiling sardonically, stooped to restore it him.
There followed a fresh pause. Mr. Jenkins, having lost his place, seemed at some pains to find it again – amazing, indeed, in one whose profession should have rendered him so familiar with its pages.
Mr. Caryll continued to watch him, in silence, and – as an observer might have thought, as, indeed, Gaskell did think, though he said nothing at the time – with wicked relish.
At last the page was found again by Mr. Jenkins. Having found it, he hesitated still a moment, then cleared his throat, and in the manner of one hurling himself forward upon a desperate venture, he began to read.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight o f God,” he read, and on in a nasal, whining voice, which not only was the very voice you would have expected from such a man, but in accordance, too, with sound clerical convention. The bridal pair stood before him, the groom with a slight flush on his cheeks and a bright glitter in his black eyes, which were not nice to see; the bride with bowed head and bosom heaving as in response to inward tumult.
The cleric came to the end of his exordium, paused a moment, and whether because he gathered confidence, whether because he realized the impressive character of the fresh matter upon which he entered, he proceeded now in a firmer, more sonorous voice: “I require and charge you both as ye will answer on the dreadful day of judgment “
“Ye’ve forgot something,” Mr. Caryll interrupted blandly.
His lordship swung round with an impatient gesture and an impatient snort; the lady, too, looked up suddenly, whilst Mr. Jenkins seemed to fall into an utter panic.
“Wha – what?” he stammered. “What have I forgot?”
“To read the directions, I think.”
His lordship scowled darkly upon Mr. Caryll, who heeded him not at all, but watched the lady sideways.
Mr. Jenkins turned first scarlet, then paler than he had been before, and bent his eyes to the book to read in a slightly puzzled voice the italicized words above the period he had embarked upon. “And also speaking unto the persons that shall be married, he shall say:” he read, and looked up inquiry, his faintly-colored, prominent eyes endeavoring to sustain Mr. Caryll’s steady glance, but failing miserably.
“‘Tis farther back,” Mr. Caryll informed him in answer to that mute question; and as the fellow moistened his thumb to turn back the pages, Mr. Caryll saved him the trouble. “It says, I think, that the man should be on your right hand and the woman on your left. Ye seem to have reversed matters, Mr. Jenkins. But perhaps ye’re left-handed.”
“Stab me!” was Mr. Jenkins’ most uncanonical comment. “I vow I am over-flustered. Your lordship is so impatient with me. This gentleman is right. But that I was so flustered. Will you not change places with his lordship, ma’am?”
They changed places, after the viscount had thanked Mr. Caryll shortly and cursed the parson with circumstance and fervor. It was well done on his lordship’s part, but the lady did not seem convinced by it. Her face looked whiter, and her eyes had an alarmed, half-suspicious expression.
“We must begin again,” said Mr. Jenkins. And he began again.
Mr. Caryll listened and watched, and he began to enjoy himself exceedingly. He had not reckoned upon so rich an entertainment when he had consented to come down to witness this odd ceremony. His sense of humor conquered every other consideration, and the circumstance that Lord Rotherby was his brother, if remembered at all, served but to add a spice to the situation.
Out of sheer deviltry he waited until Mr. Jenkins had labored for a second time through the opening periods. Again he allowed him to get as far as “I charge and require you both -,” before again he interrupted him.
“There is something else ye’ve forgot,” said he in that sweet, quiet voice of his.
This was too much for Rotherby. “Damn you!” he swore, turning a livid face upon Mr. Caryll, and failed to observe that at the sound of that harsh oath and at the sight of his furious face, the lady recoiled from him, the suspicion lately in her face turning first to conviction and then to absolute horror.
“I do not think you are civil,” said Mr. Caryll critically. “It was in your interests that I spoke.”
“Then I’ll thank you, in my interests, to hold your tongue!” his lordship stormed.
“In that case,” said Mr. Caryll, “I must still speak in the interests of the lady. Since you’ve desired me to be a witness, I’ll do my duty by you both and see you properly wed.”
“Now, what the devil may you mean by that?” demanded his lordship, betraying himself more and more at every word.
Mr. Jenkins, in a spasm of terror, sought to pour oil upon these waters. “My lord,” he bleated, teeth and eyeballs protruding from his pallid face. “My lord! Perhaps the gentleman is right. Perhaps – Perhaps – ” He gulped, and turned to Mr. Caryll. “What is’t ye think we have forgot now?” he asked.
“The time of day,” Mr. Caryll replied, and watched the puzzled look that came into both their faces.
“Do ye deal in riddles with us?” quoth his lordship. “What have we to do with the time of day?”
“Best ask the parson,” suggested Mr. Caryll.
Rotherby swung round again to Jenkins. Jenkins spread his hands in mute bewilderment and distress. Mr. Caryll laughed silently.
“I’ll not be married! I’ll not be married!”
It was the lady who spoke, and those odd words were the first that Mr. Caryll heard from her lips. They made an excellent impression upon him, bearing witness to her good sense and judgment – although belatedly aroused – and informing him, although the pitch was strained just now; that the rich contralto of her voice was full of music. He was a judge of voices, as of much else besides.
“Hoity-toity!” quoth his lordship, between petulance and simulated amusement. “What’s all the pother? Hortensia, dear – “
“I’ll not be married!” she repeated firmly, her wide brown eyes meeting his in absolute defiance, head thrown back, face pale but fearless.
“I don’t believe,” ventured Mr. Caryll, “that you could be if you desired it. Leastways not here and now and by this.” And he jerked a contemptuous thumb sideways at Mr. Jenkins, toward whom he had turned his shoulder. “Perhaps you have realized it for yourself.”
A shudder ran through her; color flooded into her face and out again, leaving it paler than before; yet she maintained a brave front that moved Mr. Caryll profoundly to an even greater admiration of her.
Rotherby, his great jaw set, his hands clenched and eyes blazing, stood irresolute between her and Mr. Caryll. Jenkins, in sheer terror, now sank limply to a chair, whilst Gaskell looked on – a perfect servant – as immovable outwardly and unconcerned as if he had been a piece of furniture. Then his lordship turned again to Caryll.
“You take a deal upon yourself, sir,” said he menacingly.
“A deal of what?” wondered Mr. Caryll blandly.
The question nonplussed Rotherby. He swore ferociously. “By God!” he fumed, “I’ll have you make good your insinuations. You shall disabuse this lady’s mind. You shall – damn you! – or I’ll compel you!”
Mr. Caryll smiled very engagingly. The matter was speeding excellently – a comedy the like of which he did not remember to have played a part in since his student days at Oxford, ten years and more ago.
“I had thought,” said he, “that the woman who summoned me to be a witness of this – this – ah wedding” – there was a whole volume of criticism in his utterance of the word – “was the landlady of the `Adam and Eve.’ I begin to think that she was this lady’s good angel; Fate, clothed, for once, matronly and benign.” Then he dropped the easy, bantering manner with a suddenness that was startling. Gallic fire blazed up through British training. “Let us speak plainly, my Lord Rotherby. This marriage is no marriage. It is a mockery and a villainy. And that scoundrel – worthy servant of his master – is no parson; no, not so much as a hedge-parson is he. Madame,” he proceeded, turning now to the frightened lady, “you have been grossly abused by these villains.”
“Sir!” blazed Rotherby at last, breaking in upon his denunciation, hand clapped to sword. “Do ye dare use such words to me?”
Mr. Jenkins got to his feet, in a slow, foolish fashion. He put out a hand to stay his lordship. The lady, in the background, looked on with wide eyes, very breathless, one hand to her bosom as if to control its heave.
Mr. Caryll proceeded, undismayed, to make good his accusation. He had dropped back into his slightly listless air of thinly veiled persiflage, and he appeared to address the lady, to explain the situation to her, rather than to justify the charge he had made.
“A blind man could have perceived, from the rustling of his prayer book when he fumbled at it, that the contents were strange to him. And observe the volume,” he continued, picking it up and flaunting it aloft. “Fire-new; not a thumbmark anywhere; purchased expressly for this foul venture. Is there aught else so clean and fresh about the scurvy thief?”
“You shall moderate your tones, sir – ” began his lordship in a snarl.
“He sets you each on the wrong side of him,” continued Mr. Caryll, all imperturbable, “lacking even the sense to read the directions which the book contains, and he has no thought for the circumstance that the time of day is uncanonical. Is more needed, madame?”
“So much was not needed,” said she, “though I am your debtor, sir.”
Her voice was marvelously steady, ice-cold with scorn, a royal anger increasing the glory of her eyes.
Rotherby’s hand fell away from his sword. He realized that bluster was not the most convenient weapon here. He addressed Mr. Caryll very haughtily. “You are from France, sir, and something may be excused you. But not quite all. You have used expressions that are not to be offered to a person of my quality. I fear you scarcely apprehend it.”
“As well, no doubt, as those who avoid you, sir,” answered Mr. Caryll, with cool contempt, his dislike of the man and of the business in which he had found him engaged mounting above every other consideration.
His lordship frowned inquiry. “And who may those be?”
“Most decent folk, I should conceive, if this be an example of your ways.”
“By God, sir! You are a thought too pert. We’ll mend that presently. I will first convince you of your error, and you, Hortensia.”
“It will be interesting,” said Mr. Caryll, and meant it.
Rotherby turned from him, keeping a tight rein upon his anger; and so much restraint in so tempestuous a man was little short of wonderful. “Hortensia,” he said, “this is fool’s talk. What object could I seek to serve?” She drew back another step, contempt and loathing in her face. “This man,” he continued, flinging a hand toward Jenkins, and checked upon the word. He swung round upon the fellow. “Have you fooled me, knave?” he bawled. “Is it true what this man says of you – that ye’re no parson at all?”
Jenkins quailed and shriveled. Here was a move for which he was all unprepared, and knew not how to play to it. On the bridegroom’s part it was excellently acted; yet it came too late to be convincing.
“You’ll have the license in your pocket, no doubt, my lord,” put in Mr. Caryll. “It will help to convince the lady of the honesty of your intentions. It will show her that ye were abused by this thief for the sake of the guinea ye were to pay him.”
That was checkmate, and Lord Rotherby realized it. There remained him nothing but violence, and in violence he was exceedingly at home – being a member of the Hell Fire Club and having served in the Bold Bucks under his Grace of Wharton.
“You damned, infernal marplot! You blasted meddler!” he swore, and some other things besides, froth on his lips, the veins of his brow congested. “What affair was this of yours?”
“I thought you desired me for a witness,” Mr. Caryll reminded him.
“I did, let me perish!” said Rotherby. “And I wish to the devil I had bit my tongue out first.”
“The loss to eloquence had been irreparable,” sighed Mr. Caryll, his eyes upon a beam of the ceiling.
Rotherby stared and choked. “Is there no sense in you, you gibbering parrot?” he inquired. “What are you – an actor or a fool?”
“A gentleman, I hope,” said Mr. Caryll urbanely. “What are you?”
“I’ll learn you,” said his lordship, and plucked at his sword.
“I see,” said Mr. Caryll in the same quiet voice that thinly veiled his inward laughter – “a bully!”
With more oaths, my lord heaved himself forward. Mr. Caryll was without weapons. He had left his sword above-stairs, not deeming that he would be needing it at a wedding. He never moved hand or foot as Rotherby bore down upon him, but his greenish eyes grew keen and very watchful. He began to wonder had he indulged his amusement overlong, and imperceptibly he adjusted his balance for a spring.
Rotherby stretched out to lunge, murder in his inflamed eyes. “I’ll silence you, you – “
There was a swift rustle behind him. His hand – drawn back to thrust – was suddenly caught, and ere he realized it the sword was wrenched from fingers that held it lightly, unprepared for this.
“You dog!” said the lady’s voice, strident now with anger and disdain. She had his sword.
He faced about with a horrible oath. Mr. Caryll conceived that he was becoming a thought disgusting.
Hoofs and wheels ground on the cobbles of the yard and came to a halt outside, but went unheeded in the excitement of the moment. Rotherby stood facing her, she facing him, the sword in her hand and a look in her eyes that promised she would use it upon him did he urge her.
A moment thus – of utter, breathless silence. Then, as if her passion mounted and swept all aside, she raised the sword, and using it as a whip, she lashed him with it until at the third blow it rebounded to the table and was snapped. Instinctively his lordship had put up his hands to save his face, and across one of them a red line grew and grew and oozed forth blood which spread to envelop it.
Gaskell advanced with a sharp cry of concern. But Rotherby waved him back, and the gesture shook blood from his hand like raindrops. His face was livid; his eyes were upon the woman he had gone so near betraying with a look that none might read. Jenkins swayed, sickly, against the table, whilst Mr. Caryll observed all with a critical eye and came to the conclusion that she must have loved this villain.
The hilt and stump of sword clattered in the fireplace, whither she hurled it. A moment she caught her face in her hands, and a sob shook her almost fiercely. Then she came past his lordship, across the room to Mr. Caryll, Rotherby making no shift to detain her.
“Take me away, sir! Take me away,” she begged him.
Mr. Caryll’s gloomy face lightened suddenly. “Your servant, ma’am,” said he, and made her a bow. “I think you are very well advised,” he added cheerfully and offered her his arm. She took it, and moved a step or two toward the door. It opened at that moment, and a burly, elderly man came in heavily.
The lady halted, a cry escaped her – a cry of pain almost – and she fell to weeping there and then. Mr. Caryll was very mystified.
The newcomer paused at the sight that met him, considered it with a dull blue eye, and, for all that he looked stupid, it seemed he had wit enough to take in the situation.
“So!” said he, with heavy mockery. “I might have spared myself the trouble of coming after you. For it seems that she has found you out in time, you villain!”
Rotherby turned sharply at that voice. He fell back a step, his brow seeming to grow blacker than it had been. “Father!” he exclaimed; but there was little that was filial in the accent.
Mr. Caryll staggered and recovered himself. It had been indeed a staggering shock; for here, of course, was his own father, too.
There was a quick patter of feet, the rustle of a hooped petticoat, and the lady was in the arms of my Lord Ostermore.
“Forgive me, my lord!” she was crying. “Oh, forgive me! I was a little fool, and I have been punished enough already!”
To Mr. Caryll this was a surprising development. The earl, whose arms seemed to have opened readily enough to receive her, was patting her soothingly upon the shoulder. “Pish! What’s this? What’s this?” he grumbled; yet his voice, Mr. Caryll noticed, was if anything kindly; but it must be confessed that it was a dull, gruff voice, seldom indicating any shade of emotion, unless – as sometimes happened – it was raised in anger. He was frowning now upon his son over the girl’s head, his bushy, grizzled brows contracted.
Mr. Caryll observed – and with what interest you should well imagine – that Lord Ostermore was still in a general way a handsome man. Of a good height, but slightly excessive bulk, he had a face that still retained a fair shape. Short-necked, florid and plethoric, he had the air of the man who seldom makes a long illness at the end. His eyes were very blue, and the lids were puffed and heavy, whilst the mouth, Mr. Caryll remarked in a critical, detached spirit, was stupid rather than sensuous. He made his survey swiftly, and the result left him wondering.
Meanwhile the earl was addressing his son, whose hand was being bandaged by Gaskell. There was little variety in his invective. “You villain!” he bawled at him. “You damned villain!” Then he patted the girl’s head. “You found the scoundrel out before you married him,” said he. “I am glad on’t; glad on’t!”
“‘Tis such a reversing of the usual order of things that it calls for wonder,” said Mr. Caryll.
“Eh?” quoth his lordship. “Who the devil are you? One of his friends?”
“Your lordship overwhelms me,” said Mr. Caryll gravely, making a bow. He observed the bewilderment in Ostermore’s eyes, and began to realize at that early stage of their acquaintance that to speak ironically to the Earl of Ostermore was not to speak at all.
It was Hortensia – a very tearful Hortensia now who explained. “This gentleman saved me, my lord,” she said.
“Saved you?” quoth he dully. “How did he come to save you?”
“He discovered the parson,” she explained.
The earl looked more and more bewildered. “Just so,” said Mr. Caryll. “It was my privilege to discover that the parson is no parson.”
“The parson is no parson?” echoed his lordship, scowling more and more. “Then what the devil is the parson?”
Hortensia freed herself from his protecting arms. “He is a villain,” she said, “who was hired by my Lord Rotherby to come here and pretend to be a parson.” Her eyes flamed, her cheeks were scarlet. “God help me for a fool, my lord, to have put my faith in that man! Oh!” she choked. “The shame – the burning shame of it! I would I had a brother to punish him!”
Lord Ostermore was crimson, too, with indignation. Mr. Caryll was relieved to see that he was capable of so much emotion. “Did I not warn you against him, Hortensia ?” said he. “Could you not have trusted that I knew him – I, his father, to my everlasting shame?” Then he swung upon Rotherby. “You dog!” he began, and there – being a man of little invention – words failed him, and wrath alone remained, very intense, but entirely inarticulate.
Rotherby moved forward till he reached the table, then stood leaning upon it, scowling at the company from under his black brows. “‘Tis your lordship alone is to blame for this,” he informed his father, with a vain pretence at composure.
“I am to blame!” gurgled his lordship, veins swelling at his brow. “I am to blame that you should have carried her off thus? And – by God! – had you meant to marry her honestly and fittingly, I might find it in my heart to forgive you. But to practice such villainy! To attempt to put this foul trick upon the child!”
Mr. Caryll thought for an instant of another child whose child he was, and a passion of angry mockery at the forgetfulness of age welled up from the bitter soul of him. Outwardly he remained a very mirror for placidity.
“Your lordship had threatened to disinherit me if I married her,” said Rotherby.
“‘Twas to save her from you,” Ostermore explained, entirely unnecessarily. “And you thought to – to – By God! sir, I marvel you have the courage to confront me. I marvel!”
“Take me away, my lord,” Hortensia begged him, touching his arm.
“Aye, we were best away,” said the earl, drawing her to him. Then he flung a hand out at Rotherby in a gesture of repudiation, of anathema. “But ’tis not the end on’t for you, you knave! What I threatened, I will perform. I’ll disinherit you. Not a penny of mine shall come to you. Ye shall starve for aught I care; starve, and – and – the world be well rid of a villain. I – I disown you. Ye’re no son of mine. I’ll take oath ye’re no son of mine!”
Mr. Caryll thought that, on the contrary, Rotherby was very much his father’s son, and he added to his observations upon human nature the reflection that sinners are oddly blessed with short memories. He was entirely dispassionate again by now.
As for Rotherby, he received his father’s anger with a scornful smile and a curling lip. “You’ll disinherit me?” quoth he in mockery. “And of what, pray? If report speaks true, you’ll be needing to inherit something yourself to bear you through your present straitness.” He shrugged and produced his snuff-box with an offensive simulation of nonchalance. “Ye cannot cut the entail,” he reminded his almost apoplectic sire, and took snuff delicately, sauntering windowwards.
“Cut the entail? The entail?” cried the earl, and laughed in a manner that seemed to bode no good. “Have you ever troubled to ascertain what it amounts to? You fool, it wouldn’t keep you in – in – in snuff!”
Lord Rotherby halted in his stride, half-turned and looked at his father over his shoulder. The sneering mask was wiped from his face, which became blank. “My lord – ” he began.
The earl waved a silencing hand, and turned with dignity to Hortensia.
“Come, child,” said he. Then he remembered something. “Gad!” he exclaimed. “I had forgot the parson. I’ll have him gaoled! I’ll have him hanged if the law will help me. Come forth, man!”
Ignoring the invitation, Mr. Jenkins scuttled, ratlike, across the room, mounted the window-seat, and was gone in a flash through the open window. He dropped plump upon Mr. Green, who was crouching underneath. The pair rolled over together in the mould of a flowerbed; then Mr. Green clutched Mr. Jenkins, and Mr. Jenkins squealed like a trapped rabbit. Mr. Green thrust his fist carefully into the mockparson’s mouth.
“Sh! You blubbering fool!” he snapped in his ear. “My business is not with you. Lie still!”
Within the room all stood at gaze, following the sudden flight of Mr. Jenkins. Then Lord Ostermore made as if to approach the winnow, but Hortensia restrained him.
“Let the wretch go,” she said. “The blame is not his. What is he but my lord’s tool?” And her eyes scorched Rotherby with such a glance of scorn as must have killed any but a shameless man. Then turning to the demurely observant gentleman who had done her such good service, “Mr. Caryll.” she said, “I want to thank you. I want my lord, here, to thank you.”
Mr. Caryll bowed to her. “I beg that you will not think of it,” said he. “It is I who will remain in your debt.”
“Is your name Caryll, sir?” quoth the earl. He had a trick of fastening upon the inconsequent, though that was scarcely the case now.
“That, my lord, is my name. I believe I have the honor of sharing it with your lordship.”
“Ye’ll belong to some younger branch of the family,” the earl supposed.
“Like enough – some outlying branch,” answered the imperturbable Caryll – a jest which only himself could appreciate, and that bitterly.
“And how came you into this?”
Rotherby sneered audibly – in self-mockery, no doubt, as he came to reflect that it was he, himself, had had him fetched.
“They needed another witness,” said Mr. Caryll, “and hearing there was at the inn a gentleman newly crossed from France, his lordship no doubt opined that a traveller, here to-day and gone for good tomorrow, would be just the witness that he needed for the business he proposed. That circumstance aroused my suspicions, and – “
But the earl, as usual, seemed to have fastened upon the minor point, although again it was not so. “You are newly crossed from France?” said he. “Ay, and your name is the same as mine. ‘Twas what I was advised.”
Mr. Caryll flashed a sidelong glance at Rotherby, who had turned to stare at his father, and in his heart he cursed the stupidity of my Lord Ostermore. If this proposed to be a member of a conspiracy, Heaven help that same conspiracy!
“Were you, by any chance, going to seek me in town, Mr. Caryll?”
Mr. Caryll suppressed a desire to laugh. Here was a way to deal with State secrets. “I, my lord?” he inquired, with an assumed air of surprise.
The earl looked at him, and from him to Rotherby, bethought himself, and started so overtly that Rotherby’s eyes grew narrow, the lines of his mouth tightened. “Nay, of course not; of course not,” he blustered clumsily.
But Rotherby laughed aloud. “Now what a plague is all this mystery?” he inquired.
“Mystery?” quoth my lord. “What mystery should there be?”
“‘Tis what I would fain be informed,” he answered in a voice that showed he meant to gain the information. He sauntered forward towards Caryll, his eye playing mockingly over this gentleman from France. “Now, sir,” said he, “whose messenger may you be, eh? What’s all this – “
“Rotherby!” the earl interrupted in a voice intended to be compelling. “Come away, Mr. Caryll,” he added quickly. “I’ll not have any gentleman who has shown himself a friend to my ward, here, affronted by that rascal. Come away, sir!”
“Not so fast! Not so fast, ecod!”
It was another voice that broke in upon them. Rotherby started round. Gaskell, in the shadows of the cowled fireplace jumped in sheer alarm. All stared at the window whence the voice proceeded.
They beheld a plump, chubby-faced little man, astride the sill, a pistol displayed with ostentation in his hand.
Mr. Caryll was the only one with the presence of mind to welcome him. “Ha!” said he, smiling engagingly. “My little friend, the brewer of ale.”
“Let no one leave this room,” said Mr. Green with a great dignity. Then, with rather less dignity, he whistled shrilly through his fingers, and got down lightly into the room.
“Sir,” blustered the earl, “this is an intrusion; aan impertinence. What do you want?”
“The papers this gentleman carries,” said Mr. Green, indicating Caryll with the hand that held the pistol. The earl looked alarmed, which was foolish in him, thought Mr. Caryll. Rotherby covered his mouth with his hand, after the fashion of one who masks a smile.
“Ye’re rightly served for meddling,” said he with relish.
“Out with them,” the chubby man demanded. “Ye’ll gain nothing by resistance. So don’t be obstinate, now.”
“I could be nothing so discourteous,” said Mr. Caryll. “Would it be prying on my part to inquire what may be your interest in my papers?”
His serenity lessened the earl’s anxieties, but bewildered him; and it took the edge off the malicious pleasure which Rotherby was beginning to experience.
“I am obeying the orders of my Lord Carteret, the Secretary of State,” said Mr. Green. “I was to watch for a gentleman from France with letters for my Lord Ostermore. He had a messenger a week ago to tell him to look for such a visitor. He took the messenger, if you must know, and – well, we induced him to tell us what was the message he had carried. There is so much mystery in all this that my Lord Carteret desires more knowledge on the subject. I think you are the gentleman I am looking for.”
Mr. Caryll looked him over with an amused eye, and laughed. “It distresses me,” said he, “to see so much good thought wasted.”
Mr. Green was abashed a moment. But he recovered quickly; no doubt he had met the cool type before. “Come, come!” said he. “No blustering. Out with your papers, my fine fellow.”
The door opened, and a couple of men came in; over their shoulders, ere the door closed again, Mr. Caryll had a glimpse of the landlady’s rosy face, alarm in her glance. The newcomers were dirty rogues; tipstaves, recognizable at a glance. One of them wore a ragged bob-wig – the cast-off, no doubt, of some gentleman’s gentleman, fished out of the sixpenny tub in Rosemary Lane; it was ill-fitting, and wisps of the fellow’s own unkempt hair hung out in places. The other wore no wig at all; his yellow thatch fell in streaks from under his shabby hat, which he had the ill-manners to retain until Lord Ostermore knocked it from his head with a blow of his cane. Both were fierily bottle-nosed, and neither appeared to have shaved for a week or so.
“Now,” quoth Mr. Green, “will you hand them over of your own accord, or must I have you searched?” And a wave of the hand towards the advancing myrmidons indicated the searchers.
“You go too far, sir,” blustered the earl.
“Ay, surely,” put in Mr. Caryll. “You are mad to think a gentleman is to submit to being searched by any knave that comes to him with a cock-and-bull tale about the Secretary of State.”
Mr. Green leered again, and produced a paper. “There,” said he, “is my Lord Carteret’s warrant, signed and sealed.”
Mr. Caryll glanced over it with a disdainful eye. “It is in blank,” said he.
“Just so,” agreed Mr. Green. “Carte blanche, as you say over the water. If you insist,” he offered obligingly, “I’ll fill in your name before we proceed.”
Mr. Caryll shrugged his shoulders. “It might be well,” said he, “if you are to search me at all.”
Mr. Green advanced to the table. The writing implements provided for the wedding were still there. He took up a pen, scrawled a name across the blank, dusted it with sand, and presented it again to Mr. Caryll. The latter nodded.
“I’ll not trouble you to search me,” said he. “I would as soon not have these noblemen of yours for my valets.” He thrust his hands into the pockets of his fine coat, and brought forth several papers. These he proffered to Mr. Green, who took them between satisfaction and amazement. Ostermore stared, too stricken for words at this meek surrender; and well was it for Mr. Caryll that he was so stricken, for had he spoken he had assuredly betrayed himself.
Hortensia, Mr. Caryll observed, watched his cowardly yielding with an eye of stern contempt. Rotherby looked on with a dark face that betrayed nothing.
Meanwhile Mr. Green was running through the papers, and as fast as he ran through them he permitted himself certain comments that passed for humor with his followers. There could be no doubt that in his own social stratum Mr. Green must have been accounted something of a wag.
“Ha! What’s this? A bill! A bill for snuff! My Lord Carteret’ll snuff you, sir. He’ll tobacco you, ecod! He’ll smoke you first, and snuff you afterwards.” He flung the bill aside. “Phew!” he whistled. “Verses! `To Theocritus upon sailing for ALbion.’ That’s mighty choice! D’ye write verses, sir?”
“Heyday! ‘Tis an occupation to which I have succumbed in moments of weakness. I crave your indulgence, Mr. Green.”
Mr. Green perceived that here was a weak attempt at irony, and went on with his investigations. He came to the last of the papers Mr. Caryll had handed him, glanced at it, swore coarsely, and dropped it.
“D’ye think ye can bubble me?'” he cried, red in the face.
Lord Ostermore heaved a sigh of relief; the hard look had faded from Hortensia’s eyes.
“What is’t ye mean, giving me this rubbish?”
“I offer you my excuses for the contents of my pockets,” said Mr. Caryll. “Ye see, I did not expect to be honored by your inquisition. Had I but known – “
Mr. Green struck an attitude. “Now attend to me, sir! I am a servant of His Majesty’s Government.”
“His Majesty’s Government cannot be sufficiently congratulated,” said Mr. Caryll, the irrepressible.
Mr. Green banged the table. “Are ye rallying me, ecod!”
“You have upset the ink,” Mr. Caryll pointed out to him.
“Damn the ink!” swore the spy. “And damn you for a Tom o’ Bedlam! I ask you again – what d’ye mean, giving me this rubbish?”
“You asked me to turn out my pockets.”
“I asked you for the letter ye have brought Lord Ostermore.”
“I am sorry,” said Mr. Caryll, and eyed the other sympathetically. “I am sorry to disappoint you. But, then,