THE BLUE PAVILIONS

CHAPTER VI.

THE EARL OF MARLBOROUGH SEEKS RECRUITS.

Night had fallen. It was past eight o'clock, and Captain John and Captain Jemmy sat facing each other, one on each side of the empty fireplace, in Captain John's library. They were in complete darkness—for the red glow of tobacco in the pipe which Captain Jemmy puffed dejectedly could hardly be called a light. For half an hour no word had been spoken, when somebody tapped at the door.

"What is it?" asked Captain Barker.

"A gentleman to see you," answered the voice of Mr. Swiggs.

"What's his name?"

"He won't say."

"Tell him I am busy to-night."

Narcissus withdrew, and knocked again a minute later.

"He says he must see you."

"Have you turned him out?"

"I told him you were busy with Captain Jemmy. 'Who's Captain Jemmy?' he asks. 'Captain Jemmy Runacles,' I answers. 'All the better,' says he."

"Excuse me," said a voice at the door; "but my business concerns both of you gentlemen. Also it concerns Tristram Salt."

"Narcissus, bring a couple of candles."

While Mr. Swiggs was executing this order an oppressive silence filled the room. The stranger's dark shadow rested motionless by the doorway. Above the breathing of the three men could only be heard the far-off sound of Harwich bells still ringing their welcome to King William.

When the candles were brought in and Narcissus had retired again after closing the shutters, the stranger removed the broad-brimmed hat and heavy cloak which he had worn till that moment, and tossed them negligently on the table before him.

It was the scarlet-coated cavalier who had ridden beside the King that afternoon.

"The Earl of Marlborough!"

"The same, sirs; and your servant."

"Be kind enough, my lord, to state the message you bring from your master, and to leave this house as soon as it is delivered."

To Captain Barker's astonishment, the Earl showed no sign of resenting this speech.

"You are wrong," he answered quietly; "William of Orange is not my master. If I mistake not, you and I, gentlemen, acknowledge but one sovereign ruler, King James."

At these bold words, uttered in the calmest voice, the two captains caught their breath and stared at each other. Captain Runacles was the first to recover. He laughed incredulously.

"Your lordship appears to have forgotten Salisbury."

Any other man would have winced at this taunt. But the Earl of Marlborough met it with the face of a statue.

"Captain Runacles, I have neither forgotten it nor am likely to. The remembrance of that affair has followed me night and day. I cannot—even now that I am pardoned—rid myself of its horror. I cannot eat; I cannot sleep. I see my crime in its true light, and am appalled by its enormity. And yet—God help me!—I thought at the time I was saving my country. Gentlemen, you, who have faced no such responsibility as then confronted me, will be apt to judge me without mercy. I know not if I can persuade you that my remorse is honest. But consider—Here am I at William's right hand, already rich and powerful, and possessing limitless prospects of increased power and riches. Yet am I ready to sacrifice everything, to brave everything, to bring utter ruin on my fortune, if only I can rid myself of this nightmare of shame. Is this the attitude of insincerity?"

"Upon my word, my lord, I'd give something to know why the devil you tell all this to us."

"I hardly know myself," answered the Earl, sighing deeply, but still without a grain of expression on his handsome face. "A man haunted as I am can hardly account for all his utterances. I have come to do you a service, and, having done it, might have withdrawn without a word. But the sight of you recalled the honest words you spoke to the usurper this afternoon. Sirs, I envied you then; and just now an insane longing took hold of me to set myself right with two such inflexible friends of King James."

"Would it not be more to the point if you first obtained pardon from King James himself?"

"I have done so."

"Well, my lord, I cannot yet see what your affairs have to do with us. But if it will give you any pleasure that we should believe these remarkable statements—"

"I have assured you that it will."

"Then perhaps you will produce some proof of them in black and white."

The Earl drew a folded paper from his breast and spread it upon the table before them. It was an affectionate letter of pardon, dated a month back from the Court of Saint Germains, written throughout and signed by the hand of King James himself.

"Thank you, my lord. When his Majesty writes thus, it is not for his subjects to bear rancour. Will you kindly state your immediate business?"

"It concerns the young man Tristram Salt. You desire that he should be restored to you?"

"My lord," said Captain Barker, "that young man is more to me than many sons."

"You are indignant at the recollection of this afternoon?"

"What has that to do with it?"

"Much. But let me continue. Your adopted son, Captain Barker, is at this moment lying in the hold of his Majesty's frigate the Good Intent. He is in irons."

"In irons!"

"Yes, sir. He has undoubtedly imbibed your opinions with regard to the Dutch, for he began his military career by blacking the eyes of a gentleman of that nation, who, as ill-luck will have it, is his superior officer."

"The devil!"

"To-morrow morning he will receive six dozen lashes—perhaps more. I take the most cheerful view in order to spare your feelings; but most decidedly it will be six dozen, unless—"

"Unless—what?"

"Unless I remit the sentence. The young man, you understand, was placed under my care."

"My lord, you will pardon him?"

"With pleasure. Nay, I will restore him to you this very night—"

Captain Barker leapt up from his seat in a transport of gratitude, and would have caught the Earl's hand had not his friend dragged him back by the coat-tails.

"—On conditions," his lordship concluded.

"Name them."

"In a moment. We are agreed, I believe, that to blacken a Dutchman's eyes is no great sin. There are too many Dutchmen around his Majesty—as you, sirs, had the courage to inform his Majesty this afternoon."

"Did we say that?"

"I understood you to hint it, at any rate. I assure you that I am never so much disposed to regret my change of allegiance on that November night at Salisbury as when I look around and see how little my own countrymen have profited by that action."

"A while ago," interposed Captain Runacles sharply, "it was the crime itself that pursued you with remorse." "The results, sir, have helped me to see the crime in its proper light."

"My lord, I have the deepest respect for your genius; but at the same time it appears to me that you lack something."

"Indeed? It would be a kindness to point out in what respect—"

"Let me call it—a gift. But I interrupt you."

"To proceed, then. We are at one on the question of these Dutchmen; at one also on the question of William's high-handed action this afternoon. Let me propose a plan by which you can effectively mark your disgust of both, while at the same time you recover the young man on whom you set so much store. Gentlemen, you are not past serving your country on the seas."

"King William hinted as much to-day," replied Captain Barker, "and I gave him my answer."

"I appeal to you not in the name of William, but in the name of your true sovereign, King James."

"That is another matter, I'll admit. Would you mind putting the question definitely?"

"I must have your word to regard what I am about to say as a secret."

"If it does not bind us in any way."

"It does not. You are free to accept or reject my offer."

"We promise, then."

"Listen: I am in a position to offer each of you the command of one of his Majesty's ships."

"As a condition of getting back Tristram tonight?"

The Earl nodded.

"But excuse me—"

"Ah, I know what you will say. It is a sacrifice of your leisure. I admit it; but from certain expressions of yours this afternoon I gathered that your love for this lad might overcome your natural disinclination."

"You mistake. I was about to say that this offer of yours strikes us as rather barren. At least it might have been kept until King James is restored to his country. In that event he may very well prefer to give his commands to younger men; but in any event he will find us obedient to his royal wish."

"That is a very loyal attitude. But, as it happens, you would be required to enter into your commands before his Majesty's restoration." "Explain yourself, my lord."

"I am not in a position to speak with authority or exactness of the events which will shortly take place in the British fleet. I am a mere soldier, you understand. But let us suppose a case. King William sails early to-morrow, with Rear-Admiral Rooke's squadron, for the Maese. Let us suppose that no sooner is his Majesty landed at The Hague and safe in his own beloved realm than our gallant English sailors display a just distaste for their Dutch commanders by setting those commanders ashore, and running—let us say—for Calais, where their true Sovereign waits to be conveyed across to the country which his rival has quitted. Obviously, for this purpose, the fleet would need, on the spot, capable officers to step into the shoes of the deposed Dutchmen."

"You propose that Jack and I shall be two of these officers?" asked Captain Runacles slowly, with a glance at his comrade.

"I think it advisable that you should be at The Hague. You understand that I merely sketch out a possible course of events."

"Of course. Do you think it likely that the British squadron— supposing it to behave as you say—would receive support at Calais?"

"I fancy it might find a large squadron of his French Majesty's fleet waiting there to co-operate."

"And the army?"

"It is possible that events might happen, about that time, among our regiments in Flanders."

"That, in other words, they would desert to King Lewis?"

"You put it crudely, Captain Runacles. I believe that our gallant soldiers will act with a single eye to their country's welfare; and I am sure they will do nothing that can be constructed as a blot upon their country's flag."

"I also am tolerably certain of that, my lord," answered Captain Jemmy drily. "Come, Jack—your answer?"

The little hunchback had been leaning back, during the last minute or two, with his face in the shadow; but at these words he bent forward. His cheeks were white and drawn.

"Why must I give the answer, Jemmy?" "Because the lad is your son. It rests with you to save him or not."

Captain Barker stood up.

"You'll abide by my decision?"

"Certainly." Captain Runacles crossed his legs and eyed the visitor deliberately.

"Then," said the little man, dragging out the words syllable by syllable, "there, my lord, are your hat and cloak. Oblige me by quitting this house of mine at once."

"God bless you, Jack!" muttered his friend. The Earl's brow did not even flush at the rebuff. Throughout his career this extraordinary man was able to overlook the contempt of others as easily as he disregarded their sufferings. Probably, as Captain Runacles had said, he lacked a gift.

On this occasion he picked up his hat and cloak without a trace of discomposure.

"I understand you to refuse my offer?" he said.

"Yes."

"You prefer that the young man should receive six dozen lashes to-morrow morning."

Captain Barker winced and his mouth contracted painfully.

"My lord, I took that boy from his dead mother when he was a few hours old. Never in his life has a hand been laid upon him in anger. He will hardly understand what it means. But he has been taught to know honour and to cherish it. I choose as he would choose, were he here."

"Are you going, my lord?" added Captain Jemmy. "You have your answer."

"Not quite yet, I fancy. Captain Barker, you told me you took this lad from his dead mother. She was a Mistress Salt, I believe."

"Excuse me if I fail to see—"

"You will see in a moment. I am not wrong, perhaps, in supposing that lady to have been the wife of Roderick Salt, sometime my comrade in the Foot Guards. He married in Harwich, I remember; and in many respects the resemblance which this lad bears to him is remarkable."

"There is no likeness in their characters, my lord."

"I daresay not; indeed, I hope not. But suppose now I inform you that Roderick Salt is still alive—"

The Earl broke off and looked at the two captains narrowly.

"Did you know that?" he asked.

There was no answer.

"I seem to remember an expression which you, Captain Runacles, let fall this afternoon. You told his Majesty that Tristram Salt owned large estates. Is the boy's father aware of this?"

Again he paused for an answer, but none came.

"These estates are administered under trust, I presume. Who are the legal trustees?"

"I am," Captain Jemmy replied, with a sudden effort.

"You alone?"

Captain Jemmy, after struggling for a moment with the wrath in his throat, answered:

"I refuse to say."

"Well, well, the affair seems to need some explanation, but doubtless admits of a very good one. It is none of my business, and I do not ask you to satisfy me. But I cannot help thinking that Roderick Salt will be hardly more astonished to find that his son is a man of large estates than disposed to make inquiries."

"What do you mean, my lord?"

"I mean that, as father and son happen at this moment to lie aboard the same vessel, the Good Intent—"

The chair which Captain Barker had been grasping and tilting impatiently fell to the floor with a crash.

"—I foresee a scene of happy recognition and mutual explanations. We will suppose the father to learn the truth before to-morrow's punishment is inflicted. We will picture his feelings"—the Earl paused, and fired a shot more or less at a venture—"when he becomes aware that, though by law enabled to buy his son off from military service, he has by chicanery been rendered powerless. We will imagine him an enforced spectator, wincing as each stroke draws blood."

"You will do this thing! You will tell him!"

"My dear sirs, I shall hate to do it. In proof that I speak sincerely, let me say that my offer still remains open. May I now count on your accepting it?"

"No!" thundered the little man, springing forward in a fury. Captain Jemmy caught him by the arm, however, and forced him back to the arm-chair. The Earl shrugged his shoulders.

"Truly you are a Roman parent," said he, bowing ironically; "but you will excuse me if I find it time to seek the lad's natural father. Remember, if you please, gentlemen, your promise of silence."

He opened the door and passed quietly through the hall and out of the house. In the road at the foot of the garden a sergeant stepped out of the shadow and saluted him.

The Earl gave a muttered order.

"Where is my horse?" he asked.

"A little up the road, my lord. The orderly is walking him up and down to keep him warm."

The Earl nodded and walked on. A hundred yards farther he came up with them, and, climbing into the saddle, trotted off towards Harwich, the orderly at his heels.

At the Cock and Pye Stairs a boat was waiting. He dismounted and, giving his horse over to the orderly, stepped on board and was rowed swiftly out towards the harbour, where the lights of the squadron flickered and its great hulls brooded over the jet-black water. As the boat crossed under the tilted stern and high, flaming lanterns of Rear-Admiral Rooke's ship, the Foresight, the sentry on deck sang out his challenge.

It was answered. The boat dropped alongside and the Earl climbed upon deck. Turning at the top of the ladder, he gave his boatman the order to wait for half an hour, and acknowledging the sentry's salute, made his way aft, and down the companion-stairs to the cabin set apart for him.

In the passage below was a second sentry, pacing up and down; and by the Earl's door an orderly standing ready.

"Send Captain Salt to me. After that, you may retire."

The man saluted and went off on his errand, and the Earl stepped into his cabin. The furniture of this narrow apartment consisted of a hanging-lamp, a chair or two, a chest heaped with dispatch-boxes and a swing-table upon which a map of the Low Countries was spread amid regimental lists and reports, writing materials, works on fortification, official seals and piles of papers not yet reduced to order. Pushing aside the map and a treatise by the Marechal de Vauban that lay face downwards upon it, the Earl drew a blank sheet of paper towards him, dipped pen in ink, and after a moment's consideration scribbled a sentence. Then, sprinkling it quickly with sand, he folded the paper, and was about to seal it, when a light tap sounded on the cabin-door.

"Come in," said the Earl quietly, holding the sealing-wax to the flame, and without troubling to turn.

The man who stood on the threshold demands a somewhat particular description.

He was tall and of an eminently graceful figure. The uniform which he carried—that of a captain in the 1st or Royal Regiment of Foot— well set off his small waist, deep chest and square shoulders. His complexion was clear and sanguine, albeit no longer retaining the candour of youth; his wig was carefully curled, and in colour a light golden-brown. Though in fact his age was not far short of fifty, he looked hardly a day older than thirty-five.

In many respects his resemblance to Tristram was exceedingly close. The stature and proportions were Tristram's; the nose like Tristram's in shape, but slightly longer; the eyes of the same greyish blue, though in this case deep lines radiated from the outer corners. Above all, there was a fugitive, baffling likeness, that belonged to no particular feature, but to all. On the other hand, the difference in expression between the two faces was hardly less striking: for whereas Tristram's beamed a modest kindliness on his fellows, this face looked out on the world with an unshrinking audacity. Beside it the Earl of Marlborough's handsome countenance seemed to lack intelligence; but the Earl's countenance was then, and remains to-day, an impenetrable mask.

"You sent for me, my lord?" Captain Salt's voice was silvery in tone and pleasant to hear as running water.

"I did," said the Earl, pressing his seal upon the letter and sitting down to direct it. "You have the lists?"

The other drew a bundle of papers from his breastpocket, and advancing, laid them upon the table. The Earl put the letter aside, opened the bundle and ran his eye over its contents.

"You are sure of all these men?"

"Quite."

"You seem to have enough. We mustn't overdo this, you understand? It wouldn't do for the affair to—succeed."

Captain Salt smiled.

"If they carry off a vessel or two," the Earl went on, "it's no great loss, and it will give Saint Germains the agreeable notion that something is about to happen. They've been plaguing me again. This time it's an urgent letter in my royal master's own hand. He calls on me to bring over the whole army in the very first action—the born fool! Can he really believe I love him so dearly? Has he really persuaded himself that I've forgotten—?"

He checked himself; but for the first time that evening his face was suffused with a hot flush. For, in fact, he was thinking of his sister, Arabella Churchill; and John Churchill, though he had made no scruple to profit by his sister's shame, had never forgiven it.

Captain Salt filled up the pause in his dulcet voice: "We want, my lord, such a mutiny as, without succeeding, shall convince England of the strong dissatisfaction felt by our forces at the favouritism shown by his Majesty towards the Dutch."

"Salt," said his lordship, eyeing him narrowly, "you are remarkably intelligent."

"Why, my lord, should I conceal my thoughts when they tally with my honest hopes? I look around, and what do I see? Dutchmen filling every lucrative post; Dutchmen crowding the House of Lords; Dutchmen commanding our armies; Dutchmen pocketing our fattest revenues. England is weary of it. I, as an Englishman, am weary of it. My lord, if I dared to say it—"

"Would you mind looking out and observing if the sentry is at his post?"

Captain Salt stepped to the door and opened it. The sentry was at the far end of the passage, engaged in his steady tramp to and fro.

"My lord," he said, closing the door softly and returning, "let this mutiny fail! It will serve its purpose if it brings home to the understanding of Englishmen the iniquity of this plague of Dutchmen. Let that feeling ripen. You will return before the winter, and by that time you may strike boldly. Then, from your place in the House of Lords, you can move an address—"

"Go on," murmured the Earl, as he paused for a moment.

"—An address praying that all foreigners may be dismissed from his Majesty's service."

The Earl looked up swiftly and checked his fingers, which had been drumming on the table.

"Decidedly you are intelligent," he said very slowly.

"What can William do if that address is carried, as it may be? To yield will be to discard his dearest friends: to resist will mean a national rising. He will lose his crown."

"And then?"

"My lord, may it not be possible to eject William without restoring James?"

"Ah!"

"There is the Princess Anne."

The Earl looked into his companion's eyes and read his own thoughts there. James was a Papist, William a Dutchman; but the Princess Anne was an Englishwoman and a Protestant. And the Earl and his Countess held the Princess Anne under their thumbs. Let her succeed to the throne, and he would be, to all intents, King of England. Nay, he would hold the balance of Europe in his palm.

"My friend," he said, under his breath, "you are too dangerous." Aloud he gave the talk a new turn.

"This mutiny will not succeed," he observed reflectively. "The men who intend to rise must be informed against."

"It appears so."

"But not too soon. They must not succeed, as I said; but they must have time enough to show their countrymen that the discontent is serious, and to convince James that only an accident has prevented their coming over to him in a body."

"That is clear enough."

"The only question," the Earl pursued, "is—who is to give the information at the proper moment?"

"Undoubtedly that is a difficulty."

"I thought—excuse me if I come to the point—I thought that you might do so."

"My lord!"

"You object?"

"Decidedly I do. Already I have risked too much in this business."

"I can think of nobody," said the Earl coldly, "so well suited for the task. William thinks you are his spy, and would receive your information without suspicion. He does not guess that, owing to my knowledge of your past—of the affair of the dice at Antwerp, for instance, or that trivial letter from Saint Germains which I happen to possess—"

Captain Salt's sanguine cheeks were by this time white as death.

"If you insist—" he stammered in a hoarse voice that bore no resemblance to his natural tone.

"I'm afraid I must. At the same time I mean to reward you," the Earl continued pleasantly; "and a portion of the reward shall be paid in advance. My dear captain, I have the most delightful surprise for you. You were once a married man, and the lady you married was a native of this port."

"Thank you, my lord; I was aware of the fact."

"You left her."

"I did."

"And in your absence she bore you a son."

"I have since heard a rumour to that effect," said Captain Salt coldly.

"Cherish that son, for his worth to you is inestimable. He lies, at this moment, on board the Good Intent—I regret to say in irons. His Majesty enlisted him this afternoon, somewhat against his will, and he began very unluckily by kicking his superior officer from one end of the frigate to the other. It was the natural ebullition of youth, and the sergeant was a Dutchman. Therefore in this letter I have pardoned him. Take it—a boat is waiting for you—and convey it to his captain. Thereafter seek the poor lad out and imprint the parental kiss upon both cheeks. Reveal yourself to him!"

"Your lordship is excessively kind, but I stand in no immediate need of filial love."

"My dear sir, I promise you that this son means thousands in your pocket. He means to you a calm old age, surrounded by luxuries which are hardly to be gained by espionage, however zealously practised."

"In what way, may I inquire?"

"I will inform you when you have done the small service I asked just now."

Captain Salt took the letter and moved towards the door.

"By the way," the Earl said, "it may be painful to you to be reminded of your former connection with Harwich; but did you happen to know, in those days, two gentlemen, captains in King Charles's Navy, and natives, I believe, of this town—Barker and Runacles?"

"I did. They were both, at one time, suitors for the hand of my late wife."

"Indeed? I have been trying to enlist them for this business of the mutiny."

"They were a simple pair, I remember, and would serve our purpose admirably."

"I found them a trifle too simple. Well, I won't keep you just now. Remember the help I expect from you; but we will talk that over in a day or two. Meanwhile, keep a parent's eye upon your son (he's called Tristram), for through him your reward will be attained. Good night."



Back | Next | Contents