THE BLUE PAVILIONS
A SWARM OF BEES.
The green volumes in which, for the next thirteen years, Captain Barker kept accurate chronicle of Tristram's progress, and of every fact, however trivial, that seemed to illustrate it, have since been lost to the world, as our story will show. There were thirty-seven of these volumes; and as soon as one was filled Dr. Beckerleg presented another. It is our duty to take up the tale on the 1st of May, 1691—the very day upon which misfortune stopped Captain Barker's pen and (as it turned out) closed his magnum opus for ever.
Let us record only that during these thirteen years Tristram added so much to his stature as to astonish his friends whenever they looked at him; and that he took little interest in the affairs of the world beyond the privet hedge—affairs which just then were extremely unsettled and disturbed the sleep and appetite of a vast number of people. To begin with, King Charles had died without doing his faithful subjects the honour of explaining whether he did so as a Protestant or a Papist, an uncertainty which caused them endless trouble. The religion of his brother and successor, though quite unambiguous, put them to no less vexation by being incurably wrong; and after four years of heated controversy they felt justified in flocking, more in sorrow than in anger, round the standard of William, Prince of Orange, who agreed with them on first principles and had sailed into Torbay before an exceedingly prosperous breeze. King James having escaped to Saint Germains, King William reigned in his stead, to the welfare of his people and the disgust of Captain Barker and Captain Runacles, who from habit were unable to regard a Dutchman otherwise than as an enemy to be knocked on the head. Moreover, they retained a warm respect for the seamanship of their ejected Sovereign, under whom they had frequently served, when as Duke of York he had commanded the British Fleet.
Now, shortly after daybreak upon May morning, 1691—which fell on a Friday—his Majesty King William the Third set out from Kensington for Harwich, where a squadron of five-and-twenty sail, under command of Rear-Admiral Rooke, lay waiting to escort him to The Hague, there to open the summer campaign against King Lewis of France. This expedition raised his Majesty's spirits for more than one reason. Not only would it take him for some months out of a country he detested, and back to his beloved Holland—the very flatness of which was inexpressibly dear to his recollection, though he had left it but a month or two—but the prospect of this year's campaign had awakened quite an extraordinary enthusiasm in England. For the first time since Henry the Eighth had laid siege to Boulogne, an English army commanded by an English king was about to exhibit its prowess on Continental soil. It became the rage among the young gentlemen of St. James's and Whitehall to volunteer for service in Flanders. The coffee-houses were threatened with desertion, and a prodigious number of banquets had been held by way of farewell. The regiments which marched into Harwich on the last day of April to await the King were swollen with recruits eager for glory. Addresses of duty and loyalty met his Majesty at every halting-place, and acclamations followed the royal coach throughout the route. The townsfolk of Harwich, in particular, had hung out every scrap of bunting they could find, besides erecting half a dozen triumphal arches, which by their taste and magnificence were calculated to leave the most favourable impression in the Sovereign's mind.
The first of these arches, bearing the inscription God Save King William, Defender of our Faith and Liberty, was erected on the London road, a dozen paces beyond the Fish and Anchor Inn, Captain Barker having refused the landlord—who desired to build the arch right in front of his inn-door—permission to set up any pole or support against the privet hedge. In fact, he and Captain Runacles had sworn very heartily to sit indoors, pull down their blinds and withhold their countenances from the usurper.
Nature, however, which regards neither the majesty of kings nor the indignation of their subjects, made frustrate this unamiable design.
At twenty minutes past four that afternoon a hiveful of Captain Barker's bees took it into their heads to swarm.
It was a warm afternoon, and the little man sat in his library composing a letter to Mr. John Ray, of Cambridge University, whose forthcoming Historia Plantarum he believed himself to be enriching with one or two suggestions on hibernation. Narcissus Swiggs was down at the Fish and Anchor drinking King William's health. Tristram, who was supposed to be at work clipping the privet hedge around the apiarium, was engaged in the summer-house, at the far end of it, upon business of his own.
This business—the nature of which shall be explained hereafter— completely engrossed him. Nor did he even hear the restless hum of the bees at the mouth of the hive, ten paces away, nor the noisy bustle of the drones. It was only when the swarm poured out upon the air with a whir of wings and, darkening for an instant the sunny doorway of the summer-house, sailed over the yew hedge towards the road, that Tristram leapt to his feet and ran at full speed towards the pavilion.
"The bees have swarmed!" he called out, thrusting his head in at the library window.
Captain Barker dropped his pen, bounced up, and came rushing out by the front-door.
"Down towards the road."
Years had not tamed the little hunchback's agility. Without troubling to fetch hat or wig, he raced down the garden path, and had almost reached the gate before Tristram caught him up.
"Up or down did they go?" he asked, standing in the middle of the road, uncertain in which direction to run.
"Across, most likely; but higher up than this, by the line they took," Tristram answered, pointing in the direction of the town. "Hullo!"
"What is it?"
"Why, look: there—under the arch!"
Beneath the very centre of the triumphal arch, and directly under the sacred name of King William, there hung a black object larger than a man's head and in shape resembling a bunch of grapes. It was the swarm, and a very fine one, numbering—as Captain Barker estimated— twenty thousand workers at the very least. He ran under the arch, and nearly cricked his neck staring up at them.
His excited motions had been seen by a small knot of wagoners and farm-hands, who were drinking and gossiping on the benches before the Fish and Anchor, to wile away the time of waiting for the King's arrival. At first they thought the royal cavalcade must be in sight, though not expected for an hour or more; and hurried up in twos and threes.
"What's the to-do, Captain?"
"Where's that lumbering fool Narcissus?" demanded Captain Barker, stamping his foot and pointing to the cluster over his head.
Mr. Swiggs came forward, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He had been the last to arrive, having lingered a minute to attend to the half-emptied mugs of his more impatient fellows.
"Here," he announced.
"Fetch a ladder, and bring one of the new hives—the one I rubbed with elder-buds the day before yesterday. Tristram, run to the house for my gloves and a board. Quick, I say—here, somebody kick that one-eyed dawdler! What the plague? Haven't there been kings enough in England these last fifty years that you waste a good afternoon on the look-out for the newest?"
"You'll be careful of my arch, Captain?" the landlord hazarded nervously. "His Majesty'll be coming along presently—"
"I'll be careful of my bees. D'ye want me to leave them there till he passes, and maybe to lose the half of my swarm down the nape of his royal neck? I can't help their wearing the orange: they were born o' that colour, which is more than you can say, landlord, or any man Jack here present. But I can prevent their swarming and buzzing in his Majesty's path like any crowd of turncoats. Ah, here comes Tristram with the ladder! Set it here, my boy. Take care—don't run a hole through King William—leave that to his new friends. So— now pull on the gloves and step up, while I come after with the hive!"
Tristram, having fixed the ladder firmly a little to the right of the swarm, began to ascend. Captain Barker, giving orders to Narcissus to stand by with the flat board, took the empty hive, and holding it balanced upside-down in the hollow of his palm, was preparing to follow on Tristram's heels, when an interruption occurred.
Round the corner of the road from Harwich town came a red-coated captain, riding on a grey charger, and behind him a company of foot marching eight abreast, with a sergeant beside them.
"Hullo!" cried the Captain, halting his company and riding forward. He was a thin and foppish young gentleman in a flaxen wig, and spoke with a high sense of authority, having but recently sacrificed the pleasures of his coffee-house and a fine view of St. James's Park to seek even in the cannon's mouth a bubble reputation that promised to be fashionable.
"Hullo! what's the meaning of this?"
"Bees," answered Captain Barker shortly. "Narcissus, is the board ready?"
"Do you know, sir, that his Majesty is shortly expected along here?"
"To be sure I do."
"Then, sir, you are obstructing the road. This is most irregular."
"Not at all—most regular thing in the world. A little early, perhaps, for the first swarm."
"Be so good as to take down that ladder at once, and let my company pass."
"A step higher, Tristram," said the little man, turning a deaf ear to this order. "Better use the right hand. Wait a moment, while I get the hive underneath."
"Take down that ladder!" shouted the red-coated officer.
"You must wait a moment, I'm afraid."
"Oh dear, yes! Keep back, sir, for the bees are easily frightened."
"Sergeant!" foamed the young man, "come and remove this ladder!"
He spurred his horse up to the arch as the sergeant stepped forward. The beast, being restive, rubbed against the ladder with his flank and shook it violently just as Tristram dislodged the swarm overhead. Captain Barker reached out, however, and caught them deftly in the upturned hive. Into it they tumbled plump. But the little man, exasperated by the shock, had now completely lost his temper. With sudden and infernal malice he inverted the beehive and clapped it, bees and all, on the officer's head.
With that he skipped down to the ground, and Tristram, foreseeing mischief, slid down after him quick as thought.
The officer roared like Hercules caught in the shirt of Nessus. Nor for a few seconds could he get rid of his diabolical helmet: for a couple of bees had stung the charger, which began to plunge and caper like a mad thing, scattering the crowd right and left with his hoofs. When at length he shook the hive off, the furious swarm poured out upon the air, dealing vengeance. The soldiers, whose red coats attracted them at once, fled this way and that, howling with pain, pursued now by the bees and now chased into circles by the lashing heels of the grey horse. The poor brute was stung by degrees into a frenzy. With a wild leap, in which his four legs seemed to meet under his belly, he pitched his master clean over the crupper and, as a wind through chaff, swept through the people at a gallop and off along the road towards the town.
"Phew!" whistled Captain John Barker: and stepping quickly to the prostrate officer he whipped the unhappy gentleman's sword from its sheath and handed it to Tristram.
"We'd best get out of this."
"That's not easy. There's a score of soldiers between us and the gate; and the sergeant looks like mischief."
"Bless my soul, what a face I've put on that young man!"
The officer, who had been stunned for a moment by his fall, was soon recalled to life by the pain of the stings. He sat up and looked round. Already his face had about as much feature as a turnip. His eyes were closing fast, and a lump as large as a plover's egg hung on his under-lip.
"Seize those men!" he shouted, and began a string of oaths, but stopped because the utterance caused him agony.
The sergeant, who had been bending over him, drew his side-arm and advanced—a hulking big fellow with a pimply face and an ugly look in his eye.
"Dad," said Tristram, "you made me promise once never to run a man through unless he molested me in the midst of a peaceful pursuit."
"It appears to me that bee-keeping is a peaceful pursuit."
"And that this fellow is going to molest me."
"It looks like it."
"Then I may run him through?"
"Say rather that you must."
"Thank you, dad. I felt sure of it; but this is the first time I've had to decide, and as it was a promise—You'd best get behind me, I think. Set your back to the arch. Now, sir."
"You are my prisoners," the sergeant announced.
"Pardon me. Let me direct your notice to this weapon, which is in carte—you seem to have overlooked it."
"You are making matters worse."
"That is very likely. Guard, sir, if you please!"
"You mean to resist?"
"Ah, have you grasped that fact, at last?"
The sergeant rushed upon him and crossed swords. His first lunge was put aside easily, and he was forced to break ground.
"Hullo! So you can really fence!" he panted, feinting and aiming a furious thrust at Tristram's throat.
"Upon my word," said Tristram, parrying, and running him through the thigh as he recovered, "this gentleman seems astonished at everything!"
As the sergeant dropped, Captain Barker darted from behind Tristram and pounced upon a musket which one of the soldiers had abandoned when first assailed by the bees.
"This gets serious," he muttered. "Those fellows yonder are fixing bayonets."
Indeed, some half a dozen of the red-coats had already done so, and surrender seemed but a matter of a few moments.
"Give me the musket," said Tristram placidly, "and take the sword. My arm is longer than yours. Now get behind my shoulder again. Don't expose yourself, but if one of these fellows slips under my guard, I leave him to you."
"Good boy!" murmured the little man, exchanging weapons. It is a fact that tears of pride filled his eyes.
"There are six of them. Excuse me, dad, if I ask you to look out for your head. I am going to try a moulinet."
The six soldiers came on in a very determined manner, each man presenting his bayonet at Tristram's chest. They had little doubt of his instant submission, and were considerably surprised when Tristram, lifting the musket by its barrel, began to whirl it round his head with the fury of a maniac. The foremost, as the butt whizzed by his cheek, drew back a pace.
"Run the rebels through!" cursed the officer behind them.
The leader shortened his grasp on his bayonet, and, watching his opportunity, dashed under Tristram's arm. At the same instant Captain Barker popped out, and with a quiet pass spitted him clean through the right lung.
"All together, you sons of dogs!" yelled the sergeant, who had dragged himself to a little distance, and was stanching the flow of blood from his wounded thigh.
Two of the soldiers heard the advice and came on together with a rush. The first of them caught the full swing of Tristram's musket on the side of his stiff cap and went down like an ox. The second took Captain Barker's sword through the left arm and dropped his bayonet. But before either Tristram or the Captain could disengage his weapon the other three assailants were upon them, and the fight was over.
"Surrender!" cried one, holding his point against Tristram's chest.
"Must I?" the latter inquired, turning to Captain Barker.
"H'm, there seems to be no choice."
"And you also, sir."
"Certainly. Here is my sword; it belongs to your captain yonder, whom you may recognise by his uniform. Assure him, with my compliments—"
He was interrupted by the clatter of hoofs, and two gentlemen on horseback came cantering up the road and drew rein suddenly.
"Hey! What have we here?" demanded a foreign voice.
The soldiers turned and presented arms in a flurry. The taller of the two horsemen was an extremely handsome cavalier in a nut-brown peruque and scarlet riding-suit on which several orders glistened. He bestrode a black charger of remarkable size and beauty; and seemed, by his stature and presence, to domineer over his companion, a small man with a hooked nose and an extremely emaciated face, who wore a plain habit of dark purple and rode a sorrel blood-mare of no especial points. Nevertheless it was this little man who had spoken, and at the sound of his voice a whisper ran through the crowd:
It was, in fact, his Majesty King William III., who, tired of the slow jolting of the royal coach along the abominable road of that period, had exchanged that equipage for his favourite mare and cantered ahead of his escort, refreshing his senses in the strong breeze that swept from seaward across the level country.
"Sir, will you be good enough to explain?" he demanded again, addressing the unfortunate officer, who had picked himself up from the road and stood covered with shame and swellings.
"Your Majesty, the two prisoners here were engaged in obstructing your Majesty's high-road."
"They seem to be still doing so."
"And knowing that your Majesty was shortly expected to pass, I proceeded to remove them."
"But what is this? A company of my foot-guards in confusion! One-two-three-four of them wounded—if, indeed, one is not killed outright! Do you tell me that this old man and this boy have done it all, besides bruising the faces of a dozen more?"
"They and a swarm of cursed bees, your Majesty."
"This is incredible!… Bees?"
"Yes, your Majesty," put in Captain Barker, "he is telling you the truth. You see, it happened that my bees swarmed this afternoon, and had no better taste than to alight on this arch, under which your Majesty was shortly expected to pass. We were about to hive them when this young gentleman came along at the head of his company, and there arose a discussion, at the end of which I hived him instead."
"But these wounded men—"
"Ah, your Majesty, it was unfortunate; but one can never tell where these discussions will end."
"Three of my men and a sergeant placed hors de combat—a dozen more unfit to be seen—an officer dismounted, and his whole company scattered like a flock of geese! I am seriously annoyed, sir. What is your name?"
"Sire, I am called Captain Barker, and was formerly an officer in the fleet of his late Majesty King Charles the Second."
"Barker… Barker? I seem to remember your name. Captain John Barker, are you not?"
"That is so."
"Sometime in command of the Wasp frigate?"
"Your Majesty has a perfect recollection of his most insignificant enemies."
King William bit his lip.
"My memory is good, Captain Barker, as you say. Why did you quit the service?"
"For private reasons."
"Come, sir; you were, if I remember right, a gallant commander. With such their country's service stands above private reasons. Of late your country's claim has been urgent upon all brave men; and, by the havoc I see around, you are not past warfare."
"Sire, all my life I have fought against Dutchmen."
"You found them worthy foes, I expect."
"In all respects."
"Would they be less worthy allies?"
"Not at all. But consider, sire, the habits of a lifetime. From boyhood I never met a Dutchman whom it was not my duty to knock down. To-day, if I sailed in an English ship-of-war, what should I find? Dutchmen all around me. Your Majesty, I cannot speak the Dutch language except with a cutlass. I distrust my habits. They would infallibly lead to confusion. In the heat of action, for instance—"
The little man stopped abruptly. It seemed that his speech gave uncommon pleasure to the tall gentleman on the black charger, whose face twitched with a barely perceptible smile. King William, on the other hand, was frowning heavily.
"Sir," he said, "your tongue runs dangerously near sedition."
"I am sorry your Majesty thinks so."
"You are also very foolish. I find you incurring my just anger, and hint, as plainly as I can, at an honourable way of escape. Captain Barker, are you aware that your case is serious?"
"I am, sire. Nevertheless, I decline to escape by the road you are good enough to leave open."
"They are private, as I had the honour to inform your Majesty."
"My lord," said the King, turning irritably to his companion, "what shall I do to this intractable old man? You have a voice in this, seeing that he has spoilt four of your favourite guards."
The tall man in scarlet bent and muttered a word or two in a low voice.
"Ah, to be sure: I had forgotten the youngster. Is this your son, sir?"
"By adoption only."
"A strapping fellow," said his Majesty, eyeing Tristram from head to foot.
"And as good as he's tall. Sire, his offence—if offence it be— arose from the affection he bears me, and from no worse cause. He would not willingly hurt a fly."
"What is he called?"
"He has a second name, I suppose?"
"Tristram Salt, then, in full."
The man in scarlet at these words gave a quick, penetrating glance at the speaker, and for an instant seemed about to speak; but closed his lips again, and fell to regarding Tristram with interest, as King William went on:
"He ought to be in my army."
"Your Majesty does him much honour, but—"
"May it please your Majesty, I had other intentions concerning him."
"My lord of Marlborough," said the King, turning coldly from the little man and pointing with his gloved hand towards Tristram, "allow me to present you with a recruit."
Captain Barker's face was twisted with a spasm of fury. But as he stammered for words another voice was lifted, and Captain Runacles came through the crowd. He had been fetched from his laboratory by Mr. Swiggs, and had arrived on the scene in time to hear the last sentence.
"Your Majesty! Listen to me!"
King William was turning calmly to ride back to his escort. But at sight of the intruder's commanding and venerable figure he checked his mare.
"Pray, sir, who are you? And what have you to say?"
"I'm Jeremy Runacles, and this lad's guardian."
"He is peculiarly unfortunate in the loyalty of his protectors."
"Sire, I have served my country in times past."
"I know it, Captain Runacles. But it seems that you, too, fight only against the Dutch."
"Your Majesty has, it appears, done me the honour to study my poor record."
"My word, sir! Does that surprise you?"
"No, sire, it reassures me. For you must be aware that I am no rebel."
"Though, to be sure, I cannot help my tastes."
"You may suffer for them, none the less."
"I am ready to pay for them. Since your Majesty has taken a fancy to this young man—"
"Who, by the way, has maltreated a whole company of my guards."
"—Permit me, as his guardian, to ransom him. He has large estates."
"You forget, sir," exclaimed the King haughtily, "that I am punishing him. Do you entertain the idea of bribing me?"
"I forget nothing, sire. I even remember that this is England, and not Holland."
"My lord," said William, turning to the Earl of Marlborough, "I pray you dispose of the recruit as you think fit. Have him removed, and have the highroad cleared of these rebels; for I see my escort down the road."
And touching the sorrel with his heel, his Majesty cantered back to meet the approaching cavalcade.