THE BLUE PAVILIONS
WILLIAM OF ORANGE.
On the third day after Captain Salt departed for Paris certain events befell at The Hague which demand our attention.
The campaign of 1691 in Flanders was conducted on both sides with the utmost vigour and the least possible result. Between May and September the armies marched and counter-marched, walked up to each other and withdrew with every expression of defiance. No important action was fought, though for some time less than a league divided their hostility. William, whose patience was worn out almost sooner than the shoe-leather of his subjects, left the command in Marlborough's hands, and retired to his park at Loo, whence, in the beginning of July, he posted to The Hague to attend a meeting of the States-General.
On the 17th day of that month, and at ten o'clock in the morning—at which time the King was taking the air in his famous park on the outskirts of the town—a couple of old gentlemen were advancing upon The Hague from the westward, along the old Scheveningen road. They walked slowly, by reason of their years, but with a certain solemnity of pace which indicated that, in their own opinion at least, they were bound upon an errand of importance. At intervals they paused to mop their faces; and at every pause they regarded the landscape with contempt. One of these old gentlemen was thin and wiry, with a jaw that protruded like a bulldog's. His companion, for whose sake he corrected every now and then his long stride, was a little hunchback of ferocious demeanour, who looked out on the world from a pair of terrifying green eyes. In place of a wig he wore a bandage round his scalp.
The reader will not need to be told the names of this pair of old gentlemen. After his treatment at the hands of the Earl of Marlborough's soldiers, Captain Barker had been confined to his pavilion by nothing short of main force, which Dr. Beckerleg had with difficulty prevailed on Captain Runacles to exert. The inflammation of the patient's wound increasing with his irascibility, the Doctor ended by placing a padlock of his own on the front-door and another on the garden gate, and promising the little man his liberty on the first day he was fit to travel.
Captain Barker flung a monastic herbal at the doctor's head; whereupon the bleeding broke out afresh. Then he fainted.
Ten weeks afterwards Dr. Beckerleg removed his padlocks, setting free not only the little Captain, but also Mr. Swiggs, who throughout the time had kept diligent watch by his master's bedside.
Narcissus walked out to take a look at the garden. Ten weeks of neglect had played havoc with the beds. He contemplated it for some time, and went down to the Fish and Anchor for a mug of beer. There he was welcomed by his cronies, who had missed him sorely; or said so, at any rate.
Captain Barker went to pack his handbag. When Narcissus returned he was gone. Captain Runacles was gone also.
"Any orders?" said Narcissus to Simeon.
"Not as I know by."
Narcissus went back to the Fish and Anchor.
The two friends entered The Hague, brisking up their pace and stepping gallantly abreast. Turning to their left, they came, towards the centre of the town, upon a fair sheet of water, with avenues of pleasant trees planted along its northern brink, and behind these trees a public road faced with shops and cabarets, each shaded by a coloured awning. It was the breakfast-hour, and beneath these awnings sat a crowd of soldiers of the guard, citizens and citizens' wives, eating, chattering, smoking, clinking their glasses and contemplating from their cool shelter the water that twinkled between the trees and the throng that moved up and down the promenade. The two captains were hungry and thirsty. They advanced, and, finding a small table unoccupied, ordered breakfast.
Their appearance, and more especially the bandage around Captain Barker's head, attracted some attention. More than one group turned to stare as the little man began in execrable Dutch to explain his wants to the drawer. The fellow, too, was more than ordinarily dense, and a tempestuous scene was plainly but a matter of a minute or so, when a tall ensign of the guard rose from a neighbouring table, and, lifting his hat, addressed the Englishmen in their own language. "Pardon, gentlemen, but I cannot help overhearing your difficulty; and think, with your leave, I may remove it."
Captain Barker scowled for a moment, and seemed about to take deeper umbrage. But the tall young man seemed quite unconscious of this, and smiled down with the serenest good will.
"Do not say no. I have been in England, and I love all men of your country."
"Jack," growled Captain Runacles, "this is one of a new generation of Dutchmen. We are getting old, my boy."
The young man's manner was so sincere that Captain Barker gave way with a fair grace—the more readily because there was something in the amiable face which recalled his lost Tristram. In less than a minute he was stating his desires, which were promptly translated into fluent Dutch. The drawer ran off on his errand.
"Since you have been so kind, sir," said the little hunchback politely, "perhaps you can do us another favour."
"What is that?"
"We have come across from Harwich for the purpose of seeking an audience with his Majesty, King William. Can you tell us when and where we are likely to find him?"
"His Majesty is just now at the House in the Wood."
"Where may that be?"
"Not two miles beyond the town. On fine days, such as the present, he gives audience every morning, between nine and ten o'clock, in the open air, walking up and down an alley, which is called for that reason the Promenade of Audience; and again, if no other business prevents him, at five o'clock in the afternoon, when the day grows cool." He pulled out a stout watch and consulted it. "By six o'clock I must be back there, for at that time my duty begins. But if you will let me accompany you and pass you through the park gates, I will gladly hasten my return, and start—shall we say?—at half-past four."
He would take no denial, but rose and left them, waving his hand, smiling, and turning, after a dozen steps, to call back and assure them he would be punctual.
"He has the very same eyes," Captain Barker muttered, watching him as he disappeared between the trees.
"I remarked it, too," assented Captain Runacles, who understood the allusion at once. "I'd no notion there was such another pair of eyes in the world."
"We'd better adopt him, Jerry," the little man went on, with a wry and hopeless smile; "for it's little chance we have of finding the other one." He gulped as he uttered the last three words, and blinked at the broad sunshine behind the awning.
"The fact is, Jack, the doctor let you out too soon."
"You're not fit to travel, but ought to be between the blankets at this moment."
"Jerry, that's false, and you know it."
"Oh, do I? Then you'd best give over talking nonsense, or by the Lord I'll take you off and put you to bed this instant! And, what's more, I'll call in a Dutch doctor."
Captain Barker could not deny that the rest beneath the awning was welcome. The road from Scheveningen had been hot and dusty, and his illness had left him weaker than even his comrade imagined. They sat sipping their beer and gazing at the crowd till the town chimes rang out and announced half-past four. At the first note they saw their young friend advancing from the Buitenhof.
"Here I am, you see. But I have taken a liberty, I fear, since leaving you."
"Eh? What have you been doing?" Captain Runacles inquired.
"Why, sir, perceiving that your friend was but lately recovered from an illness, and remembering that though the distance to the House in the Wood is but two miles or less, the distance there and back is almost four, I have brought him a litter. Perhaps I did wrong?"
He pointed to the litter, which two men in blue blouses were bringing across the road.
"Not at all, sir. On the contrary, your thoughtfulness puts me to shame," answered Captain Runacles, with something like a blush.
Captain Barker also thanked him, and added, "Decidedly, it might be Tristram's very self"—a remark which the young officer did not understand in the least. But he smiled happily. The mere pleasure of doing a kindness and finding it appreciated was so strong in this youth that he almost regretted he had not sacrificed a fortnight's pay and hired a chariot and six horses.
Captain Barker climbed into the litter, and the party set out at a leisurely pace, which brought them to the park gates in a little more than half an hour. A couple of sentries kept guard here, and within the lodge a dozen others were playing at dominoes and laughing like children.
"If you will permit me," said their conductor, as Captain Barker alighted, "I will conduct you as far as the Promenade of Audience. Otherwise you will have to go with one of my comrades, and probably with one who is ignorant of English."
Taking their consent for granted, he marched them past the sentries and through the iron gates. A broad avenue of yews confronted them, with a gravelled carriage-drive that stretched away till lost amid interlacing boughs. A couple of gentlemen were advancing down this avenue in brisk conversation. They were about to pass our friends when the elder of the pair—an old gentleman in blue, with a ruddy complexion and apoplectic neck—glanced up casually, uttered an exclamation, and came to a halt.
Leaving his companion to stare, he advanced towards Captain Runacles and saluted him with punctilio.
"This is a great pleasure," he observed in very good English.
"I'm very glad of that, sir," Captain Runacles answered, "though 'pon my life I don't know why it should be."
"I have been expecting you."
"Will you be good enough to withdraw with me behind these yews, in order that our conversation may not be observed from the lodge windows?"
"Certainly, if you wish it."
The whole party followed him, much puzzled. He led them between a couple of gigantic trees, glanced around him, and asked suddenly:
"The young man, I presume, gave you my message?"
"Now, what in the world—" began Captain Runacles with a bewildered stare. But the little hunchback was quicker.
"What young man, sir?" he cried sharply. "Do you mean Tristram Salt?"
"I really don't know his name; but he was accompanied, to be sure, by a Captain Salt when I met him at Vlaardingen."
Captain Barker groaned.
"But excuse me," pursued the old gentleman in blue, still addressing Captain Runacles, "I spoke not only of a young man, but of a message. Did he deliver it?"
"If you mean Tristram Salt, I have not clapped eyes on him since the 1st of May last."
"Then I will deliver it myself. You do not appear to know me—"
"Not from Adam."
"My name is Cornelius van Adrienssen, and you, Captain Runacles, once flung a boot at my head."
"Did I, indeed! It was in a moment of extreme irritation, no doubt."
"We were engaged off the Texel—June the 5th, '71, was the date. You were on board the Galloper, I on the Zeelandshoop. Night parted us—"
"I begin to remember the incident."
"Then I need not proceed. Let me merely remark that I have kept that boot."
"What for, sir?" cried the choleric old gentleman, now fairly hopping with rage. "What for? To throw it back, sir—that's why."
"My dear Captain van Adrienssen, is not this rather childish? Twenty years is a long time to harbour resentment."
"You shall fight me, sir."
"I regret that I have not the boot with me to fling back at you—"
"You have a pair on your feet, sir," suggested the Englishman, whose temper was rising.
"—But this shall do instead!" and taking his glove Captain van Adrienssen dashed it in Captain Runacles' face.
"By the Lord, you shall pay for this!"
"I am ready, sir."
They tugged off their coats and pulled out their swords.
"Sirs, sirs!" cried the young ensign; "remember you are in his Majesty's park."
But before his sentence was out the two swords were crossed, and the old gentlemen attacking each other with the unregulated ardour of a pair of schoolboys.
"Jerry, Jerry," murmured Captain Barker, "you never had much science, but this is fool-work."
Captain Runacles heard, straightened his arm and controlled himself. He had little science, but an extremely tough wrist. As for Captain van Adrienssen, the veins of his neck were so swollen with passion that his wig curled up at the edge and stood out straight behind him in the absurdest fashion.
"The boot—the boot!" he kept exclaiming, stamping with each lunge. "Take that for the boot, sir!" He aimed a furious thrust in tierce at Captain Runacles' breast.
"And that for the glove, sir!" retorted his adversary, parrying and running his blade on and through the exposed arm by the elbow.
The arm dropped. Captain van Adrienssen scowled, looked round, and was caught in his companion's arms as he fell.
"And now, sir, let me express my regret," began Captain Jerry, advancing and stooping over him.
"I'll have you yet!" retorted this implacable old gentleman; and with that fainted away. He awoke to find his arm bandaged and the little group still standing around him.
"Peter," he said, sitting up with an effort; "get my coat."
"But, Captain, you cannot put it on," remonstrated Peter, a squarely built man with eyes of a porcelain blue.
"Then how in the world do you suppose that I'm to get past the sentries?"
"You'll be carried."
"And let every man of them know that this gentleman and I have been fighting in his Majesty's park! Tut, tut; you'll have them both arrested in a jiffy. Give me my coat!"
"You cannot get your arm into it."
"My worthy Peter, you're my excellent lieutenant and a fair seaman; but I begin to doubt if you'll ever make a captain. You've no resource. Take your knife. Now slit down the inner seam of the sleeve—so. Now lift me up and help me into it."
He stood on his legs. His face was a trifle pale, but he kept his jaw set firmly.
"Now button the sleeve at the wrist."
"But it still gapes above."
"Of course it does. Therefore we will walk arm-in-arm; only you must hold me very gently. There, that's it." He nodded stiffly, and was moving away on Peter's arm when Captain Barker interposed.
"Excuse me, Captain van Adrienssen, but just outside the park gate you'll find a litter, which I am happy to place at your service."
"Thank you, sir, but I'll not use it."
"You will," said Peter decidedly.
"Why, sir, we have to start for Amsterdam to-night."
"You'll get no farther than The Hague," said Peter; "and there you'll be put to bed."
They walked slowly off, arm-in-arm. Drawing near the sentries, Captain van Adrienssen groaned.
"Going to faint?" Peter asked.
"Not till I get outside."
He was as good as his word, and they went through the gates without exciting suspicion. The litter was there, and Peter, beckoning to the men, explained the case in a whisper. His companion offered no opposition. Indeed, no sooner was he placed in the litter than he swooned away.
King William was still strolling in his favourite avenue when the two captains approached, led by their friend the ensign, who was beginning to wish himself well out of the business. At his Majesty's side paced William Bentinck, Earl of Portland, whom we have already met, in the course of this narrative, in the little inn at Vlaardingen. The two were alone and in earnest converse, but looked up as the party approached along the avenue.
"H'm, it appears to me that I know these two shapes," said William.
"They are odd enough to be remembered."
"That is the figure which honesty cuts in the country over which I have the misfortune to rule—or rather to reign. My friend, these are two honest Englishmen, and therefore worth observation. Moreover, they are about to give me the devil of a time. Well, gentlemen," he continued, lifting his voice as they approached, "what is your business?"
"We desire your Majesty to listen to us."
"On a matter of importance?"
"To us—yes. It has brought us from England."
"Your Majesty," Captain Barker began, his voice trembling slightly, "we have come to offer you, and to beg that you will accept, our swords and our service."
"That is very pretty, sir," answered William, after a pause, during which his eye kindled with some triumph; "but unless I do you an injustice, Captain Barker and Captain Runacles, there is some condition attached to this surrender."
"None, sire, but that which your Majesty's self imposed less than three months back. We are come to redeem, if we may, the young man of whom you then robbed us."
"Forgive me, sire—deprived. See, your Majesty; we are two old men, but active; battered somewhat, but not ignorant; worn, but not worn out. We are at your service: take us, use us as you will. We will serve you faithfully, loyally, without question, until we die or your enemies break us. Only restore our son, Tristram Salt."
"Gentlemen, I will not say but that I am gratified by this—" William paused, saw the hope spring into their eyes, and added, with assumed coldness—"only it happens that you come too late."
The two honest faces fell.
"Too-late?" Captain Barker stammered, staring stupidly at the King. "Is my boy—dead?" The question came in a dull, sick tone, that softened their Sovereign's heart within him.
"Forgive me, gentlemen; I had no right to play thus with your feelings. You have come too late only because I gave the young man his discharge more than two months ago, with a passport to take him back to England."
"But he has not arrived!"
"He started, at any rate; and in company with one who appeared to have the best right to take care of him—I mean his father, Captain Roderick Salt."
Captain Barker groaned.
"May it please your Majesty," said Captain Jemmy, thrusting himself forward, "but Roderick Salt's the damn'dest villain in your service; and that's saying a good deal. I mean no offence, of course."
"Of course not," commented the Earl of Portland, who was hugely delighted.
"I believe that opinion is held by some," his Majesty observed, with a side-glance at his friend.
"Not by me," said Portland tranquilly. "There are worse than Salt— whom, after all, your Majesty has neither enriched nor ennobled."
William frowned. For a moment or two he stood, scraping the gravel gently with the side of his boot. At last he spoke:
"Gentlemen, I thank you for your offer; and some day I may take advantage of it to command you: for honest men (however wrong-headed) and good commanders"—this with a slight bow—"are always scarce. For the moment, however, I should feel that I wronged you by accepting your service."
"Your Majesty is good to us. But our word holds."
"I thank you. I had guessed that. Nevertheless, I advise you, just now, to return to England and wait. I have some knowledge of Captain Salt's movements; and when last your lad was heard of he had parted company with his father and was making for the coast. I have some quickness in reading character; and there is a certain placid obstinacy in that young man which persuades me he will reach Harwich in time. Return, therefore, and wait with what patience you may. Moreover, Captain Barker, I perceive that you are recovering from some wound."
"Which explains, sire, the tardiness of my submission. I was starting to seek an audience on the morning that you sailed from Harwich, when your soldiers—"
"Yes, sire; but perhaps they erred from abundance of zeal."
Portland looked at the speaker shrewdly. "You know more than you tell us, my friend," he said quietly.
"Possibly, my lord; but it is nothing that can affect his Majesty now."
"You are under some promise?" William asked gravely.
"We are, sire; but be assured that if it touched your welfare we had never come to lay our services at your disposal."
"I believe you, my friends. And now, about starting for England—I was about to propose that as Captain van Adrienssen's frigate—
"Captain van Adrienssen!"
"You know him? He is about to sail from Amsterdam in the frigate Merry Maid to escort a convoy of thirty-six merchantmen to the Thames. If you start at once you will overtake him."
"Unfortunately, sire, Captain van Adrienssen will not be able to start for many days."
"He is unwell."
"Unwell? Why, it is not an hour since he left me!"
"Let me explain, sire," said Captain Runacles, stepping forward again. "It happened thus. We met Captain van Adrienssen on our way from The Hague."
"And it appeared—though I had forgotten it—that twenty years ago I had the imprudence to throw a boot at his head. It was off the Texel—"
"Have you lost your senses?"
"I beg your Majesty to listen. The sight of me revived that painful recollection. We pulled out our swords and fell on each other, forgetting, alas! that now we are both servants of your Majesty. It is annoying; but before we could remember it, Captain van Adrienssen was wounded."
William's brow was black as night.
"A duel?" he said sternly.
"Your Majesty, it could hardly be dignified by that name. Say rather—"
"What shall I do with these incorrigibles?" asked the King, turning to Portland. "At this time, too, when I've not a single other commander of value within call!"
"If I may advise you, sire—But, first, will you command these gentlemen to retire?"
William dismissed them with a wave of the hand, and they withdrew to a little distance among the trees, where they waited in considerable trepidation.
It was a full half an hour before Portland came towards them, trying to hide a smile.
"Pouf!" he said, "that was a tough business, gentlemen. I have persuaded his Majesty to accept the offer he declined a while ago, and to use your services."
"In what way, my lord?"
"You will go at once to The Hague and find out the condition of Captain van Adrienssen. If, as I suspect, he be unfit to travel, you will, with this authority, take over his papers and post to Amsterdam, where you will find the Merry Maid frigate with her convoy. You are to escort this convoy to the Thames—but you will read your instructions in the papers which Van Adrienssen will give you. You, Captain Barker, are the senior, I believe. Yes? I thought so; and therefore you will take command. Unless your friend declines to act on this occasion as your lieutenant—"
"My lord, how can we thank you?"
"By serving his Majesty," answered Portland; and added significantly, "rather than the Earl of Marlborough."
The two friends walked away, treading on air. But perhaps their friend the ensign, from whom they parted affectionately at the foot of the avenue, was happier even than they. For not only did his heart rejoice at their good fortune, but his Majesty had failed to inquire whether the duel had been fought within or without the park gates.