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Reincarnation is Mr. Mason's theme, and it enables him to tell three cleverly contrasted stories and to show a nice sense of period. His gentlemen live in Roman, Elizabethan, and modern times.
The Spectator, September 16, 1932
They will come back, come back again,
as long as the red Earth rolls.
He never wasted a leaf or a tree.
Do you think He would squander souls?
Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.
There was not a throb in the big toe that morning and the skin had lost its glaze. Aemilius Scaurus ate his breakfast of bread and olives and dried grapes in comfort for the first time for a week. Then he leaned luxuriously back upon his pillows and picked up his copy of the Daily Journal. A bright youth lounging through the bookshops of the Argiletum had said of Aemilius Scaurus as he was carried past in his litter: “You mustn’t call him an Old Roman. He is Old Rome.” And certainly the aged senator was in the truest tradition of his race when he unwound his scroll until he reached the column of gossip. What was happening on the Danube was no doubt very menacing and important but Medius Fidius! it was always happening, whilst the spicy bit of scandal which kept all the Wits in the Forum busy yesterday would be as dead as a doornail this time tomorrow.
There was the usual attack on the Stage, of course. Since Paris broke into society and got himself killed for his pains, there weren’t any actors and still fewer plays. Nothing but dancing and musical comedies. Aemilius had read it a hundred times before and pushed out his heavy lower lip and skipped the paragraph. There would certainly be some new escapade by Lydia Prisca, though to be sure she was getting long in the tooth nowadays and might be expected to quiet down. An old man with plaguey attack of gout missed all the salt of life.
He read about Lydia Prisca. She had divorced her new boy and taken up with a buck Negro from the Sahara. Lydia’s sense of smell had always been deficient, Mr Gossip wrote, and Aemilius chuckled. But his eyes lit upon another name; and he stared; and he blazed; and the next minute his bellowings rent the house. His secretary ran. His librarian ran. Ran, too, his house steward, an Alexandrian who wrote a better hand than any of them, and within an hour a little flight of letter-carriers burst from the great house and scattered over the Quirinal. A salad of scandal salted with wit, peppered with malice and with just a hint of indecency, the rub of an onion, as it were, round the inside of the bowl, was palatable enough with one’s breakfast, but by the ghost of Numa Pompilius, the old families ought to be left out of it. The scribbler should be whipped round the town and all the harder because, by Jupiter, he spoke the truth!
The old man got out of bed and dressed himself with the help of his personal servant. He gave orders to his butler to set out chairs and couches in the room of the Archives.
“I want the whole family here,” he cried. “If those slaves of mine miss one of them out I’ll have the skin off their backs.”
Fortunately for them their work was easy. Since the Caesars had annexed the Palatine, the great families had clustered close together on the slopes of the Quirinal. It was just as well to have the Forum between you and the Emperor. Consequently before Aemilius’ water-clock marked the hour of noon, the Scaurus family was ranging itself round the walls of the room of the Archives. All, indeed, except the young Attilius who was the cause of all this bother.
Attilius had not dared to disobey his uncle’s summons. The old man was the head of the family. Attilius was present, looking his careful best; and his best was the envy of the bright young sparks and the standard by which the girls found them wanting. The major-domo had actually announced him. His foot was on the threshold of the crowded room when old Aemilius let loose a roar.
“Let Attilius stay outside till he’s wanted. That pretty boy has plucked an owl this morning, I can tell you. He’d better keep quiet, too, or I’ll turn my toga upside down and sentence him offhand.”
Attilius drew discreetly back. The door was slammed. The pretty boy was left in the garden court to watch the fountain playing and to get what comfort he could out of its sparkle in the sunlight and its pleasant patter in the marble basin. It was not very great—that comfort. Aesthetic pleasures, for once in a way, had little consolation for Attilius Scaurus. He had never seen his uncle in so truculent a mood. He was a detestable person even on his red-letter days. On the others, and this was one of the worst of the others, he was the most noisome old cobra that ever spat poison.
“I don’t care,” Attilius assured himself. He arranged himself in an interesting pose on a marble bench between the porphyry pillars of the colonnade, the spirited young soul as against the unintelligent parents. A theme for a rhapsody, for a parable. But would he have the chance, now, either to compose or deliver it? From time to time a gusty word spoken by the one abominated voice boomed through the closed doors, and Attilius was conscious of unaccustomed vacancies in the pit of his stomach.
“I don’t care,” he repeated valiantly.
He was just seventeen years old and, to be frank, a trifle too modish in his dress, even for an exquisite of Hadrian’s day. He wore a gold net over his hair to keep it orderly, a silken tunic in defiance of the sumptuary laws, a cloak dyed delicately the colour of hyacinth, and the white gaiters and red shoes of the dandy. But at this moment all his gaiety was in his dress. The sadness of life was not, after all, a pretence of the poets, but very real.
“I remember,” he suddenly cried. He had found the explanation. “Of course! Of course! I met an Ethiopian yesterday in the Sacred Way. I had come out of a shop. I had bought a flask of the new amber scent for little Camilla. And there was the Ethiopian, black as a thousand years of sun could make him. I took no notice. What a fool I was! I might have known that a catastrophe must follow.”
What a subject for a melting piece of rhetoric. Why, only this morning, for the first time this year, he had put on his summer rings. There was a real point of pathos to be made out of that. He saw himself in the temple behind the Forum making it—and suddenly a name rang out from the closed room.
Attilius was not in the temple behind the Forum, drawing tears by the artifice of his emotions. Attilius was shivering in the garden court of the family mansion on the Quirinal Hill, shivering in the buoyant sunlight of April and not altogether on his own account.
Would the old man never stop? Clodius Laeta was Attilius’ bosom friend. Together they had feasted and hunted, raced and wooed. They had harangued each other in the mock murder trials. They had beaten up the town at night. Between them they had led young Rome, though there had always been a little of the disciple in Attilius and a great deal of the captain in Clodius. Clodius! The impossible, passionate, dazzling Clodius Laeta! For the rest of his few days he was sunk in darkness and infamy and horror. To this his captaincy had come. The dried figs of Caria were all eaten.
Are we all met?
—A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Behind the closed doors Aemilius was bawling like a weaver, his broad, bald head wet with his violence.
“Have you all read Mr Gossip this morning?” He brandished his roll of papyrus in the air. “There’s a witty dog for you! Rome’s twins. Old style, Romulus and Remus, Architects and Builders. New style, Scaurus and Laeta, Sappers and Housebreakers. Their names together! Partners! What an infamy!”
“Oh, come, come, Aemilius,” a mild man protested, who obviously had not read Mr Gossip that morning. “You were a fine young cockerel, too, in your day. Have a heart!”
Aemilius swung round and stared at the mild man. He was so dumbfounded that he could only indicate by a gesture the enormity of the interruption.
“It’s Probus,” he gasped at length. “Probus Honorius Scaurus, my nephew’s true and faithful guardian.”
Probus was an easy-going, negligible man. He certainly had a mouth and a nose, a pair of eyes and a few long wisps of sandy hair. It was accepted that he had these features, for it would have been noticeable if he had not. But his face was less a face than a convention of which the absence would have struck the beholder as odd. A chain—no, he could not claim to possess one. Probus Honorius can hardly be described, for he could never be remembered. At the moment he smiled vaguely at Aemilius. He had heard these tirades before.
“You’ve not read the news this morning,” cried Aemilius.
“I have not,” Probus returned pleasantly. “You shall tell me it.”
The old man told him some of it.
“Clodius Laeta had hardly hung up his gold amulet before he had squandered one fortune. He has got through two more, since. And he’s not a day over nineteen. That’s quite in order nowadays, to be sure. Just the right friend for Attilius. But—” His voice rose again in passion and the veins swelled in his face. He thrust the news roll under Probus’ nose. “Read for yourself, Probus.”
Probus read, and he lifted up his face and lowered it again and his fingers played foolishly with the scroll.
“But it mayn’t be true,” he stammered. “These fellows—”
“It is true,” said Aemilius. “I verified it.”
One or two of the company cried “Alas! Alas!” and Probus Honorius read again and this time aloud.
“Romulus Laeta’s out in the rain, now. Soused in debt, he’s been all this week on his knees to the moneylenders. On Wednesday his latest flame, Chloe, the girl from Thrace, slammed her door in his face. Yesterday he sold himself to Sylvanus for his gladiatorial school. Last night he left for the barracks at Capua.”
Probus Honorius let the news sheet slip from his fingers to the floor. Clodius Laeta a gladiator!
“Incredible,” he murmured.
“You’d think so!” the implacable old man returned. “By Jupiter, there was a Laeta fought at Carthage! Now there’s another sold to a trainer. To be fatted up for a feast! The whip and the stocks if he doesn’t do his exercises properly, and a prison for his home.”
Aemilius laughed savagely and choked, and a brother of his, a melancholy, long-nosed man, took up the tale.
“It’s all true. I was in the Forum before I came here. Everybody’s thrilled by the news—pleasantly thrilled. But what do you expect? Rome’s growing downwards like a cow’s tail and has been this last hundred years.”
Aemilius stood over the unhappy guardian of Attilius and rubbed the news in.
“Clodius Laeta’ll draw a full house to the Flavian Amphitheatre, won’t he, when they’ve fed him and whipped him and taught him his job at Capua? Rome’s darling skipping round the arena with the man with the net at his heels! Perhaps the mark of a branding iron on his dainty white skin, because he didn’t learn his lessons nimbly enough. Oh, he’ll draw a bigger audience than the God Nero—once. Yes, just once,”—and Aemilius nodded his head grimly as his eyes swept the room. “For every greasy, sweating rogue in Rome will be there to turn his thumb down at the end of it.” Suddenly the old man exploded. “And the court, too! Don’t forget that,” and he jerked his thumb towards the Palatine. “Yes, the Emperor and his Court, too.”
At once a startled outcry broke from even the less timorous of the family. This was the golden age for informers. Hardly a household but harboured one who was quick to steal, muffled, to the palace after dark with some impeachment of a rich man’s loyalty. Father betrayed son, son father, half in terror, half through greed. No wonder all the hands went up in the room of the Archives, and such a tumult of denials rang out that the young exquisite outside on the bench by the fountain shook like a leaf.
“They are hotting it up for me,” he reflected miserably. “A fine price I shall have to pay for Clodius Laeta’s friendship. Old Probus alone I could have dealt with.”
Not a doubt of it. He would have fetched a few of his engaging cajoleries from the armoury of his youth—and he had an arsenal full of them—and all would have been well. But Aemilius was altogether another proposition.
“Aemilius, the old horse thief, can make a salad of anyone. When he gets busy the pavement smokes. This means six months for me in the old house in the Apennines. Just at this time, too, when Rome’s Heaven.” And he looked disconsolately at his summer rings and kicked his smart red shoes about and groaned. “Six months in the Apennines. Oh, Robigus and Pales!”
But even in that hour of depression Attilius was an optimist. At that moment, indeed, not one of the family was bothering his head about the miserable boy at all. They were all at pains to publish their loyalty.
“I can’t listen to such slanders, Aemilius,” said one, angrily.
“Our sweet Emperor to be so maligned!” cried another, with a breaking voice.
“Never was there a ruler who loved his subjects better,” piously exclaimed a third.
But the old man’s voice beat them all down and thundered over their heads like surf upon a beach.
“The Court too”—he repeated it. “And you all know it, bleat as much as you like. Emperors are Emperors and the best of them feels a trifle more solid in his seat when some great family is rolled in the dust. All the thumbs’ll turn down in the Imperial Box. Make no mistake! Clodius’ll leave the arena—a carcass dragged out on the hook. I’m telling you,” he roared, as the protests began to swell again, and suddenly he was silent, a very old man and rather piteous.
“Clodius!” He dwelt on the name gently, caressingly. “Why, he used to run in and out of this house when he was a boy at school, as if it were his own. Such a lad! So winning, you couldn’t but love him. Now—the hook!”
And his face was suddenly stamped with horror, and those in the room dreamed that they could see in his set and staring eyes the dreadful picture which the Colosseum must so soon present. He turned to Probus Honorius.
“You didn’t finish your paragraph, my cousin,” he said, with a most intimidating quietude. “Let us hear it, I pray you. After Romulus Laeta what follows?”
Reluctantly Probus Honorius fumbled for the fallen news sheet on the ground. He picked it up and found the paragraph and seemed to lose it again.
“We are waiting, Probus Honorius,” said Aemilius softly. “We may learn something of how you have discharged your trust.”
Probus Honorius wriggled unhappily. He very much wished that he had stayed at home or—still better—that Aemilius’ big toe was the size of a turnip, a hot roast turnip with a pulse beating away in the middle of it, so that he could think of nothing else but the pain he was in. However, it was no use to wish for such blessings. Aemilius’ gout had gone and with it his manners, too. Probus Honorius read:
“Now what of Remus Scaurus? Twins have affinities. They plough the same furrow. Rumour says that Remus Scaurus is dipped as deep as Romulus Laeta. Will he seek the same laurels?”
“Yes, will he, Probus?” Aemilius exclaimed. “You shall tell us so that we may get our mourning ready in good time.”
Probus contrived a smile, the faded image of a smile, and tucked away Mr Gossip behind the cushion at his back.
“Calm yourself, Aemilius. At your age such anger is unwholesome. Have no fear! You will not see my ward in the arena for a very long time.”
No answer could have been more inept or more infuriating. The old man mopped his head and called on all the Gods his stuttering tongue could muster to rescue him from the company of such fools. Then he bent himself to a mock humility,
“I beg your pardon. I keep my temper as a rule. No one better, I am told,” and his eyes roamed round the room offensively, seeking for some honest man with the pluck to contradict him. “But in soft flesh worms are born, eh? Make the conditions and expect the result. No, Probus. I shall not see Attilius butchered to amuse the scum of Rome. Not for a very long time. How right you are, Probus! Probus Honorius, I agree with you. That’s not the pretty boy’s way No.” He sniffed the air with a grimace.
“Why, I can smell him through the closed door. The house stinks like a scent shop. The Sacred Way itself has climbed the Quirinal. I bow to your wisdom, Probus Honorius. Blood and perfumes don’t go together. No, I shall never admire His Daintiness in the arena. But”—and he shook a forefinger at his cousin—“shan’t I on the stage, Probus? Answer me that, admirable guardian! Shan’t I see him dancing like a girl to pay off his debts and smirking when the riffraff bawls ‘Encore!’? A Scaurus, a capering miserable mime!”
Passion broke again through Aemilius’ elaborations of irony. He stood erect, proud and dominant.
“Clodius, the amphitheatre—Attilius, the boards. Well, both have an Emperor to absolve them. But, of the two, I give my vote for Clodius Laeta. That’s my last word.
He flung himself back upon his cushions and gathered his cloak close about him. For his strength was exhausted, and his old bones felt a chill even upon that bright day of opening summer. A long silence followed. No one argued, for no one wanted another avalanche of words. Suddenly, in the silence, one round little paunchy man with a baby face giggled. The sound was startling. A wave of consternation passed from face to face. The family turned as one person nervously towards Aemilius—or rather all of the family except the little round paunchy man, who was not at all disturbed. He giggled again, engagingly.
“It’s not at all your last word, Aemilius,” he said, and Aemilius shot a quick glance at him. “You’re a crafty old fellow. You’re in a great passion—no doubt of that—but you’re using it to impress us. You’ve got a plan in your head.”
Aemilius had, but it was a costly plan and he was not yet sure that he had his audience in a mood to contribute. He devised a cunning little trick.
“Perhaps I have,” he began, and he stopped abruptly. He flung up his hand in a gesture of warning. He listened, his body bent towards the door, apprehension in every line of it. And into the minds of all the recollection of the old man’s wild talk about the Emperor flashed back. Certainly no one had left the room to carry the tale. There would not have been time, in any case, for the tale to have been carried. But here was a rich, great family assembled behind closed doors. Nero, Caligula, Domitian would have asked for no more solid proof of treachery. The horrors of those reigns were past but the scars were still fresh. Even in these serener days the terror had not entirely lifted. Attilius was forgotten. Each one strained his eyes towards the doors, bethinking him of this or that careless phrase spoken or—just as dangerous—listened to. Was it an officer of the Praetorian Guard whose footsteps Aemilius had heard on the marbles of his court? Was it an obsequious slave with an invitation which smelt of death? Aemilius stepped with all the pantomime of caution to the double doors, opened them slightly and turned back again.
“No one,” he said. “I was mistaken.” And all the anxious faces were smoothed out. Lines vanished, lips smiled. Attilius was remembered—but with a difference. The vision of Hadrian’s lictor at the door had made that difference. Attilius could be put on his legs again. The honour of the Scaurus family could be saved, if they made a sacrifice. And a sacrifice meant suddenly a small thing to them all—for they themselves, their lives, were reprieved. Old Aemilius had them in the mood he wanted.
“Our old families, as far as power and position go,” he began, “are worth just three bites of a Caunian fig. But we are not poor. We have our broad-stripe incomes and Quintus Pomponius over there wasn’t Quaestor in Syria for nothing.”
The little round man folded his hands on his little fat stomach and smiled. During his years of office he had squeezed the last farthing out of landowner and peasant and left a generation of paupers behind him. But he had the most engaging good humour and the treble voice of a child.
“I was expecting that question, Aemilius,” he said, comfortably. “Yes, I brought a handful of sesterces home. They were mine. For the honour of the family they are yours.
“The Gods of the House will bless you,” cried Aemilius. “The point is—” and he was on the point of unfolding the little of his plan that he wished to be known when a high-pitched feminine voice broke in brightly. It was accompanied with a rattle of bracelets like the clacking of castanets.
“Darlings all, I have an idea.”
It was to the credit of the Scaurus family that no one swore—not even Aemilius. Scintilla Domitilla was a fool—everybody knew that. She had the brain of a wren and the tongue of a magpie and a perfectly hopeless smattering of the pseudo-philosophies of the day. Also she was a widow, a more or less young widow, and only a member of the family by marriage. And everybody present knew that. But tradition outweighed all with the Scauri and by tradition women came with high authority to family debates. Aemilius threw himself back in his chair.
“Yes, speak your mind, Domitilla,” said the melancholy brother. “Women wear the big boots, nowadays.”
“Oh, dear one, I hope not,” said Domitilla, showing a coquettish white slipper embroidered with pearls.
“And speak in Latin, mind,” Aemilius growled. “I warn you, if you talk Greek I’ll vomit.”
Scintilla Domitilla merely smiled at these ill humours.
“Darling Aemilius, I wouldn’t think of it. Greek is for the cultured. It has exquisite subtleties which need exquisite natures to understand them. For you, dear things, the vernacular.”
The poor old Scauri! The devout life and the big stick—there was their creed. To Scintilla Domitilla they were the unburied dead, and good manners made one gentle with the unburied dead, didn’t they? She gave a pat to her high- piled curls, flourished her tinted fingernails, plucked daintily at her long earrings, and announced: “Since there seems to be money in the family, I move that we send Attilius to Athens for two years.”
“And what in the world will he do at Athens that he doesn’t do at Rome?” Aemilius asked brutally.
Scintilla Domitilla leaned back and looked ineffable things.
“Minerva speak for me!” she said despairingly. “He will lave his hands in the cool gloom of Attic memories. He will hear the wings of the great masters beating in the void. He will be ennobled, etherealized—” and this was just as much of it as Aemilius could stand.
“What Attilius wants is the old, sound Roman discipline and lots of it,” he blurted out.
“To be sure, darling Aemilius, the big stick.” Domitilla smiled languidly and waved her hands and blinked at them with her blackened eyelashes, and gave them up. I have done.
“The Gods be praised.”
Aemilius told them hardly the outline of his plan, knowing well that, if he told more, the barbers in the Street of Pomegranates and the booksellers on the Esquiline would have it before nightfall.
“I promise you that Attilius shall leave Rome without disgrace. I promise you that, with your help, every debt he has shall be paid the day he goes. For the rest I will only say that I shall dip still deeper into your purses. For Hadrian’s freedmen are greedy souls and demand much for a slight service.”
The family was content to leave the destiny of Attilius in the old man’s hands; all the more content because the hour of the midday meal had come. How should any one of them guess that the first link was forged that morning of a chain which would be extended through the centuries?
Therefore prepare thyself;
The bark is ready and the wind at help;
The associates tend and everything is bent
“What a morning for an invalid!” said Aemilius. “You may thank your stars, my boy, that you’ve never had to preside over a family council. Though, to be sure, your time’ll come. Try the turbot, Attilius. It comes from Ravenna. And give it something to swim in. The Falernian there, at your elbow. It has been just the right ten years in cask.”
He had kept Attilius to lunch with him alone, and now was at pains to put the lad at his ease. A hint of his plans and no one could foretell what desperate mad alternative Clodius Laeta’s bosom friend might resort to. So he staged his little scene with care. An excellent luncheon for the two of them in one of the smaller rooms. Two sensible men of the world, one with more experience than fire, the other with more fire than experience, solving between them an awkward social problem.
“By Mercury, how they talked! Parrots, my boy! Imagine a cage full of chattering parrots and you’ll have an idea what my room of the Archives was like.”
He laughed heartily, this genial old man. But he caught a suspicious glance shot at him by Attilius. Yes, after all, those doors were not sound-proof. Attilius in the garden court might have an accurate notion of who had done most of the talking.
“Of course I had to storm them all down in the end,” he said quickly, and he grinned. “No doubt you heard me at it. If I hadn’t we should be there still. Scintilla Domitilla was the worst. What a figure of fun, eh? Did you see her? Her eyes were so made up with soot and her face so rouged that I hardly knew whether she was a charcoal burner or the setting sun.”
He rode off from the danger point upon a mimicry of Scintilla Domitilla’s affectations.
“I got them to leave the matter in your hands and mine,” he resumed. “Of course it took a little diplomacy, for which you should thank me.”
“I do indeed,” said Attilius gratefully.
“They were thoroughly shaken, of course, by this miserable affair of Clodius Laeta. He was your close friend. Everybody knows it. And the foolish ones—I am being frank with you—are hinting that you might do something equally disastrous. Absurd, of course, but we have to take public opinion into account. So I think, don’t you, Attilius, that a disappearance from Rome would be rather in order?”
He saw a sullen look creep over the boy’s face.
“Temporary, of course. At this time of the year the country’s wonderful. You’ll come back here with the greater zest when you do come.”
In spite of himself some note of irony crept into Aemilius’ voice, perhaps of more than irony. To Attilius’ ears the words had a definitely sinister ring. He lifted his eyes and looked steadily at his uncle.
“When I do come,” he repeated.
The old man was quite unabashed.
“Yes,” he returned easily. “You have an estate in the country. It would he all the better for its owner’s presence for a time. You’d be within reach of Rimini if you went.”
All quite true, and yet every word was a lie in its intention. Attilius, however, overlooked the duplicity of that “if.”
“My estate,” he said ruefully. “I doubt if there’s a chicken on the farm or a stick of furniture in the house. It’s mortgaged to the last penny besides.”
Aemilius swallowed his anger as best he could. In his heart he was crying, “Give me a few days, Jupiter! I’ll draw the magic circle round this young rascal’s feet so that he can’t step out of it. But I must have a few days.” Aloud he said amiably: “But the family’s coming to the rescue. Yes, that was decided. On the condition, to be sure, that you trust yourself to me.”
He waited for a word of compliance but did not get it. Entrusting himself to Aemilius. There was a phrase which stuck in the boy’s throat, a vague phrase, an abominable phrase. It meant the complete surrender of his independence at the best.
“After all, I’m of age,” he objected.
“And a pretty mess you have made of your majority,” Aemilius was tempted to retort. But outwardly he was altogether sympathetic.
“So I urged,” he said. “But little Quintus Pomponius”—he flung up his hands. “No more sensibility than a block of marble. He had an old proverb to fling at us. In soft flesh worms are born. He learnt how to drive a bargain in Syria. He’ll do the proper pious thing. But he wants a guarantee that his sesterces won’t be wasted.”
Attilius nodded his head, and a faint smile curved his lips.
“Well, I can’t blame him.”
“And when all’s said, what does your independence amount to, Attilius?”
“A word,” Attilius agreed. “Just a word.”
He could not borrow another farthing from the money-lenders. His rich friends had begun to look down their noses when they caught sight of him. His creditors were on his heels like a pack of hunting dogs from Britain. Even his gold hair net was unpaid for.
“Yes, I have been a fool,” he added remorsefully.
“Well, young blood’s hot and old age is censorious. Smile, Attilius, and make the wine sweet.” He filled up the boy’s cup. “We’ll pay your debts and clear off your mortgages and these difficult days will be forgotten.”
Attilius was really moved by the old man’s kindliness. The promise that his debts could be paid lifted a load from his mind. Only now was he aware of the tension which had harried him from extravagance to extravagance during the last few months. And he acquired in this moment of submission a simple and rather touching dignity for which Aemilius was quite unprepared.
“I’ve lost a dearly loved friend today. This morning my own distress hid my loss from me. But every moment now I am becoming more and more aware of it.” He broke off to cry passionately, “If only Clodius had died! But what he is enduring now, what he must endure till the last flashing moment comes in the arena—I don’t dare to think of it! Therefore I thank you all, and above all you, my dear uncle, for holding out your hands to me. For the Gods only know whether I should ever have had the courage to take the hideous road which Clodius took.”
For a moment old Aemilius was disconcerted. He watched the boy walk away, a gay and flaunting figure. But he had a curious impression that he was watching someone doomed to a great loneliness and doomed by his hand. Not a loneliness of a day or even of a few years but one prolonged desolately into a time of mists and clouds.
Aemilius, however, was not of a melting disposition. He very soon shook the illusion off and got to work. During the next few days messengers went discreetly to and fro between the house on the Quirinal and Hadrian’s vast new treasure palace at Tibur. To that palace a handsome quantity of the sesterces which little round Quintus had wrung from the distressful Syrians went also. Meanwhile Attilius’ bills were collected, and they made the remaining locks left upon Probus Honorius’ head stand up like limp little snakes.
“By Mercury,” he said, as he went through them with Aemilius, swearing naïvely by the God of thieves and bandits. “By Mercury, Attilius measures money by the bushel.
“There never was such a scapegrace,” Aemilius agreed.
“Look! He takes a lodging at Baiae for the whole of the bathing season and spends a fortnight there.”
“Just as well,” returned Aemilius. “For he did nothing during the fortnight but float about the bay in a gilt ship with red sails, attended by a chorus of pretty ladies.”
Probus Honorius flung himself back on his cushions. “But that’s a trifle. Here’s his steward’s accounts. Listen, Aemilius. He gives a dinner party. He must have barbel at a thousand sesterces the pound. His pâté de foie gras comes from geese fed on dates and figs and he follows it with a dish of flamingo tongues. Huh!” Probus Honorius clacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Flamingo tongues! He might have invited me.”
Aemilius looked at him sourly.
“Besides being an inefficient guardian, you’re a glutton, Probus Honorius. Numa Pompilius never ate flamingo tongues.”
“Numa Pompilius had never heard of them,” Probus Honorius retorted. “I have.”
Within a fortnight the bills were paid and Hadrian’s freedmen satisfied. Aemilius made a special sacrifice to the Gods of his hearth. And that same evening Attilius, in a splendid cloak twice dyed in Tyrian purple, stepped across the threshold of his lodging to attend a farewell supper offered to him by a friend upon the Aventine. His litter was at the door; his two runners stood with their torches by the side of it; and out from the darkness with a clank of his armour strode a Centurion of the Praetorian Guard. He halted in front of Attilius and saluted. He handed to him reverently a letter. By the light of the torches Attilius saw that the letter was sealed with the Emperor’s signet, and his heart stood still. The Emperors kept the Army and its appointments under their own hands. Other commands laid upon him would have carried the seals of Departments. This letter which he held meant service in the Line. Attilius broke the seal and read. He was bidden to travel to the docks at Ostia the next morning and report, on his arrival, to the Captain of the Port. Service abroad, then—years of it, very likely, for him who had contemplated just a few idle, pleasant months in his country seat amongst the Apennines. Hot words rose to his tongue. His old uncle had cajoled him.
“One sensible man talking to another! The old goat! I should have remembered the proverb—where the honey is, there’s the sting.” He was inclined to send Uncle Aemilius, the whole unspeakable family, and the Emperor Hadrian himself to Morbovia. “If he wants to march all over the world, let him! Must I do the same?”
Something of his anger showed, no doubt, in his face, for the Centurion said quietly: “It is an order.”
Attilius came abruptly to his senses. He bent his lips to the broken seal.
“It shall be obeyed.”
The Centurion saluted. The ghost of a smile flickered for a moment upon his grave face.
“I shall bear witness that it was received with gratitude.
“I thank you,” said Attilius, and the Centurion turned upon his heel and clanked away into the darkness.
Attilius remained standing, his wits all numbed, and his fingers closed about the Imperial order. There was no possible avoidance of it. The mere hint of hesitation was a sacrilege, an outburst of rage a blasphemy. Already he had reason to be grateful to the Centurion who had checked his wild words upon his lips. He must obey. Suddenly he looked down. With a curious earnestness he took note of his position, looked backwards to the door and measured the distance between the threshold and his stance. A light broke in upon him.
“It’s my fault,” he cried bitterly. He himself had brought this catastrophe upon his head. “I stepped out from the house left foot first.” But for that imprudent action there might have been no Centurion emerging from the darkness with a royal letter in his hand. “I can blame myself for all my misfortunes. This is my last night in Rome.”
His last night for how long? He reclined on his litter and was lifted onto the shoulders of his slaves.
“Go slowly,” he cried, “very slowly!”
He must make the most of this last night, suck from it its last drop of honey. He was carried through the narrow streets thronged with people of every race, loud with their clamour, bright with their torches and lighted windows. At times his bearers had to halt, but they never halted long enough for Attilius. He loved every stone of the great city. Each corner had a memory to be cherished. Tender meetings in the dusk, riotous orgies, nights which melted into day and still left pleasure unappeased. For how long was he to lose Rome? He looked up. Overhead, above the glare, the stars sailed in a cool, dark sky. He was oppressed with a conviction that ages would pass before he saw the Seven Hills again.
He was the guest of honour that night upon the Aventine. It was his business to keep the wine sweet, and he laboured at his business till something of his gaiety returned to him.
“Yes, I join the army—somewhere abroad. It will be Spain, I think. What do you all want from Spain?”
He convinced himself that he would be sent to Spain. Spain, after all, was no distance. How long had it taken Icelus to carry the news of Nero’s death to Galba? Only seven days. Undoubtedly it would be Spain.
But Attilius—for the second time be it said—was an optimist. For at that very moment old Aemilius on the Quirinal dipped his quill in his ink pot and began a letter to Sempronius Proculeius, Legate of the Sixth Legion, Victrix, Pia, Fidelis, which was then stationed at York.
“To my friend and glorious general, Sempronius Proculeius, greeting,” he wrote. “By the beneficence of the Emperor”—he did not add “and a prodigal outlay of Quintus’ sesterces”—“my nephew, Attilius Scaurus, has been gazetted Tribune to your Legion.” There followed a minute account of Attilius’ extravagances and misdeeds, including a history of his friendship with that enterprising young gladiator, Clodius Laeta.
“Make a man of him,” he implored, “in remembrance of the friendship between the two families.” He concluded with a few strong recommendations as to how Attilius Scaurus might be bludgeoned into the higher life.
Iarchus explained that his own soul had once been in the body of another man who was a King and that in that state he had performed this or that exploit.
—Life of Apollonius
Attilius touched Rhadamanthine depths of misery. No gilt yacht with crimson sails and lovely girls crowned by violets wafted him across a placid bay. In a narrow, crowded, cargo-laden ship he shared a tiny cabin under the poop with four strange commercial travellers; and he was very, very ill. On the sixth day a ghost of him landed at Marseilles. He stood on the quay with a draft of twelve men and the Centurion, the land rolling and heaving under his feet, and his head giddy as a drunkard’s.
“And there was once an army which cried joyfully: ‘The Sea! The Sea!’” he said. “It is true that they made the remark in Greek, which would have pleased my aunt Scintilla Domitilla. But, speaking for myself, Lucius Hermex, I rejoice that that army is no more.”
The Centurion, Lucius Hermex, looked at him blankly.
“We start, Sir, at daybreak tomorrow,” he said.
“Unless we die tonight,” Attilius added.
“All orders must be obeyed,” the Centurion said gravely.
“No doubt our ghosts will walk, even if our corpses refuse,” said Attilius.
“We shall not walk,” said Lucius Hermex. “We shall ride horses.”
The frail wit of Attilius groaned and swooned. Nor did it revive for many days. He had been accustomed to sitting soft. Now he sat hard, and indeed, sore. It seemed to him that every perverse, iron-mouthed old nag had its manger at one or another of the posting stations in Gaul. They set out each day before sunrise and stopped each day after dark. The inns were dirty the food unspeakable, the beds the ridges and furrows of a ploughed field after a hard frost. Attilius, hungry and aching and sore and stiff, travelled like an automaton with one human sense, the sense of pain. His mind was shut and rejected the effort of thought. Even his vision was clouded so that he saw everyone as a phantom, the unreality of a dream. The Centurion gravely drove them forward like a shepherd who knows to what market his sheep must go and is not concerned with their feelings. More than once Attilius, falling asleep upon his horse, found himself clutching desperately at its mane to save himself from falling.
Then one night he laughed. And it was not because he laughed that he came afterwards to look back upon it as a night in his life to be marked with a white stone. It was at Lyons. He dined in the inn on the great road at the ordinary. The room was full, and suddenly there was a commotion in the passage which led from the room to the kitchen. The door was flung open and a resounding smack was heard, a good hard smack of the palm of the hand upon bare flesh. Heads were raised, smiles wrinkled the most sedate faces. Somebody was getting it from an irate landlady. An insolent maid? A too adventurous young lady of the town? Neither one nor the other. Through the door was pushed a drunken greybeard in a ragged cloak, with a wreath of olives askew on his head. He was holding his hand to his cheek, and behind him was a buxom waitress, her eyes blazing with anger, her cheeks fiery, her bosom heaving.
“You keep out of the servants’ quarters in the future,” she cried, “or I’ll rub your head in the nettles.”
The old man drew himself up with drunken dignity.
“Servants’ quarters, young woman, are my spiritual home. I am the servant of man.”
“Then keep to man,” she rejoined, “and don’t try cuddling the girls when they’ve got their work to do. You’re a nasty old goat and the crows ought to have had you years ago.”
She retired into the kitchen, and the old man made an attempt to set his wreath straight. But he only pushed it over the other eye, and its new position perplexed him exceedingly. He pushed out his lower lip and blew up at it, but even so it didn’t move.
“Strange,” he said. “Strange and incommoding. But some things are as they are.”
He looked blearily about the room and saw Attilius. He withdrew his eyes and looked at him again, expecting that the vision would have faded. But Attilius was still there, and he began to sidle towards him between the tables. He had a staff in his hand, but even so he must waver on his legs and twist like a ship with a bad helmsman. He fell on the couch at Attilius’ side.
“I shall drink with you, young Sir,” he said sonorously. “The wine is miserable, and I do not as a rule drink with army officers.
“That I can believe,” said Attilius pleasantly.
“My name is Daemonides, the old scarecrow went on.
“And I can do nothing about that,” said Attilius.
“None the less, I will drink with you,” Daemonides insisted. For we have something in common.”
“The Gods forbid,” Attilius cried fervently.
Daemonides sat up anxiously.
“Which?” he asked.
“Which of the Gods?”
“You insult me, young Sir. I am a Cynic. There is only one God. Be reasonable, if you please. I ask you to which of my propositions”—and he hiccoughed badly on the word—“do you object? That I drink with you at your expense or—?”
Here Attilius interrupted.
“No. That we have something in common.”
Daemonides was greatly relieved. He saw his mug of wine already at his elbow. He felt it running gloriously down his throat.
“Yet we have,” he bawled with confidence.
Attilius looked round. He saw every pair of eyes in the room turned towards the couple. He waved his hand.
“I’ll leave it to the company. Let them decide. Out with it, old frighten-the-birds! What have we in common?”
Daemonides laid a dirty finger against the side of a bulbous nose.
“We were both kicked out of Rome.”
For a moment the company was taken aback. For a moment Attilius was furious. He turned upon Daemonides, but the old man was so utterly serene and so incredibly dirty that at once he was more tickled than provoked. He had never seen drunkenness so lordly nor its consequences so evident. He smiled, and the smile became a laugh, and having begun to laugh he could not stop. He had great stores of laughter which had not been used through so many painful days. Now they bubbled out of him, upheaving him, and once more he knew enjoyment. He infected all that company of strangers so that they, too, laughed, moved more by Attilius’ gay humour than by the comic side of this odd companionship.
“You’ve won, Daemonides,” Attilius cried, and he rapped upon the table. “Wine for Daemonides and his young brother.” He drew back as the old man’s arms flew out. “No, we’ll not embrace. You have forgotten, Daemonides. We never did. But drink, yes. We’ll make a night of it.” He turned to the buxom girl who had clouted Daemonides on the ear and now stood waiting for the order. “That is, if he can hold any more.”
The girl looked at Daemonides with extreme disfavour.
“That sort of old wine-skin can always stretch enough to hold an extra bottle, if someone else will pay for it,” she said. The room settled down, and when Daemonides’ cup was full Attilius asked him a question.
“My bones tell me that I have travelled fast—or rather they did tell me yesterday,” he said, and stopped, realizing with a queer wonderment that today he was not tired. Nor did he ache. He was conscious, too, that he would sleep, sleep like a log, be the bed never so hard nor spiny, when once he had laid himself down in it. Meanwhile there was this question: “I left Rome long after you, Daemonides. How then did you guess that I had been banished?”
Daemonides smiled loftily.
“In the name of Hercules, tell me!” and Daemonides opened his eyes wide. In spite of his drunkenness a light suddenly flickered in them, a spark of fanaticism.
“You swear by the right God, young gentleman,” he said, nodding profoundly.
“But that doesn’t answer my question.”
“It needs no sibyl in a bottle to answer it. I saw you here, in Hadrian’s armour. I saw you in Rome. Your debts, your follies were on all men’s lips. You were of Rome, bone and blood. You would never have left Rome but on compulsion. Are you satisfied?”
Attilius was far from satisfied. That the general public should have shared the prejudices of his own family was a new and disturbing idea. He saw himself unpleasantly in another kind of mirror than his own.
“You talk bluntly, Daemonides,” he said with annoyance. Daemonides smirked. He was one of those distressing people who, even in their cups, plume themselves upon the plainness of their speaking.
“Preaching and pretty words are a barren marriage,” he declared, and then, changing his tone to one of a deep and secret anxiety, he leaned forward. “Do you notice anything odd, Attilius, in the position of my wreath?” he asked. Attilius put his head on this side and on that to examine more judicially the tip-tilted wreath of olive leaves which slipped down the Cynic’s face.
“It suits you perfectly, Daemonides,” he said, and Daemonides said sententiously: “You strike me as a young man of sound judgment, Attilius. It seemed to me at an unaccustomed and derogatory angle, but I accept your decision.”
Attilius shrugged his shoulders.
“When I left Rome, that was the way wreaths were worn in the evening.”
The old man’s smirk returned. He swelled with vanity. “Speaking of Rome, Attilius, you have not asked me why I was kicked out of it.”
“My dear Daemonides, it seemed to me a superfluous question,” Attilius answered suavely.
But Daemonides would have none of such indifference. He said solemnly: “There is a lesson in it. An example for you. I raised a banner against authority and its trappings. I lit a torch, Sir, which will resound across the world.”
“An unusual torch,” said Attilius.
“It was. I bearded Hadrian himself. He was leaving the amphitheatre, surrounded by his dazzling minions. Did I falter? I did not. I pushed my way through and flung my epigram in his face. You shall hear it, Attilius. Listen!” He took the attitude of a prophet denouncing sin and recited:
“I ’neath my hedgerow, Hadrian in
The wandering friar and the Imperial Tramp—”
He broke off to ask confidently: “Good?”
“Rotten,” said Attilius.
Daemonides contemplated his young companion with disfavour.
“Your judgment, Attilius, is faulty in every single particular. But you shall not escape the rest of it.”
“I had no real hope,” said Attilius, with resignation. He had, indeed, to hear not only the end of the doggerel but the beginning of it for a second time.
“I ’neath my hedgerow, Hadrian in
The wandering friar and the Imperial Tramp,
Each must make answer to the one High God,
Which upon earth was flame and which was clod.”
Attilius sat back upon his couch.
“And how did Hadrian answer?”
There was disappointment in the voice of Daemonides as he replied: “Flippantly, young gentleman. He fell below the moment. He said, ‘He’s dirty. Most Cynics are. I like Rome clean.’ So I left Rome that night.”
For a while neither spoke. Other such charlatans had insulted other Emperors and met with no sterner punishment. Attilius neither disbelieved Daemonides attack nor was surprised at the answer he had received. But he was intrigued by the curious gross monstrosity which sat drinking with him in this inn at Lyons. Such an odd medley of buffoonery and courage and debauchery and vanity and dirt other inns, no doubt, might show. But there was something real, too—some small, bright spark which kindled and grew dim and kindled again. And whilst he thus speculated the whole creed of the man was flung at him in a torrent of words. Attilius was by now too sleepy to make very much of it. But scraps here and there and a phrase or two sank into his mind for memory, upon her proper occasions, to call to life again.
“Service! Service! Service! And to the one God.” Daemonides thumped his words with his fists into the table and made some quite unrepeatable remarks about old Charon and his boat. “No duties! No wife! No children! No home! No money! I am mother and sister and brother to all the world.”
“Quite so,” said Attilius. “I understand.”
“I am the spy and the herald and the messenger.”
“You have a great deal on your hands,” said Attilius.
“The whole earth,” cried Daemonides, throwing out his arms.
“So I see,” said Attilius.
Then followed a word—or rather whole paragraphs of words—about the great roads over which his mission carried him. Then there was a little about an old philosopher with whose name both had some difficulty. For Attilius, too, was by this time suffering from his duties as a host. They agreed finally to call the old gentleman Pathygoras. And from Pathygoras Daemonides moved on to the Orphic Mysteries.
“There’s the truth,” said Daemonides, wagging his head with the last smile of intoxication before complete stupor sets in. “The Soul descending through the seven planets clothes itself with passions and, once on Earth, must pass from penitential life to penitential life, until, purged of its offences, it wings its way up again to Paradise. Now, I, Attilius, am going up. In my next life I shall probably be a King. You, on the other hand, will be probably a snake.”
“In that case, O King,” said Attilius, rising to his feet, “you must take care not to meet me. For I shall bite you if you do.” And the hour being late and his senses wandering, Attilius took himself off to bed.
He never saw Daemonides again. But he remained grateful to him for a ridiculous, pleasant evening, the mere idea of which a month ago would have been insupportable. He grew even more grateful. For instance, that very morning in the cool, clear, colourless light before the sun rose, there was the white, broad road stretching straight across the vast plain of France. Attilius saw it with understanding eyes for the first time. He turned to the Centurion who was riding at his elbow: “Were you ever at Philae?”
Lucius Hermex pondered.
“It is in Egypt.”
Lucius Hermex shook his head.
“I served in Dacia before I went to Britain with Hadrian. Dacia and Britain have had my twenty years of soldiering.”
Attilius was silent for a little while. He heard nothing but the clop-clop of the horses’ hooves upon the pavement, and they talked to him in a new and enthralling language.
“Do you say, Lucius Hermex, that roads are Rome’s great work in the world?”
It was a boyish question put with all a boy’s shyness. Attilius blushed as he put it. Lucius Hermex frowned.
“I can’t say, Sir, as I’ve given much thought to it,” he said at length. “If you ask me, I should say Rome doesn’t know what work is.”
Lucius Hermex was very literal. Attilius was left to play with the idea of a great Trunk road, beginning in the desert of Assouan, sweeping round the shores of the Mediterranean, halting for a moment at the Golden Mile-post in the Forum at Rome, and then rushing forward, quick and straight, over mountain and river and plain. What had old Daemonides said? “It leaps the seas. It runs to the Wall where the world freezes.” Attilius saw it in pictures, first a white riband amongst golden wastes under burning suns, then climbing and falling like a ship amidst the blossoms of Italy, at the last blocked amongst snows against a huge black wall topped by castles. It was a thing of magic and romance.
Attilius was now supple and lean and brown, hard of flesh and clear of vision. The softness and languors of the Roman days had been burnt out of his body. He was only aware of the weight of his accoutrements when he took them off. And this morning, as the day broadened and the road filled, he became the spectator of an enchanting play. Now they must make way as some great procurator dashed by in his travelling carriage to take possession of his province. Twenty waggons followed him, piled high with his silver and his fine crockery, his linen and his blankets. They would in their turn catch up rich merchants dictating their letters to their secretaries in their coaches as they rolled along; pedlars with their wares packed upon mules; a company of actors with their scenery and a portable stage in a van; a cohort of cavalry; a circus. They rode through small towns, each one with a little Forum in the middle and grave Senators mimicking Rome.
There were times, of course, when the real Rome took its revenge of him. Recollections of afternoons upon the chariot course behind the Palatine when the Green beat the Purple or the Blue the Red; nights spent alone in some squalid inn of Gaul, when the lights of Rome clustered in front of him and he wondered at what gay folly his friends were set upon, and imagined himself in their company. Was he already forgotten? Very likely. Or, still worse, did some youngster, sitting in his place, mention his name and turn his goblet down, as to one who had joined the dead? Attilius could have wept over his misfortunes. But he did not. He did indeed discover in them the most pathetic opportunities for rhetoric. He made up wonderful speeches on the Fate of the Outcast Tribune which would have drawn the easy tears from a hundred pairs of sympathetic eyes. He was, indeed, in the middle of such a poignant oration when the cavalcade halted on the seashore at Calais and he beheld, far away, white cliffs flashing like silver in the sunlight.
Here they waited for two days and then crossed with a fair wind to the busy port of Richborough. Still the great road ran on, but the posting stations had come to an end. They marched on their feet, the Centurion and the relief of twelve men. They marched through a pleasant, prosperous country of wheat reddening to the harvest, of placid cattle in wide pastures, of houses of brick and stone with corridors open to the sun and lordly pheasants mincing upon lawns. On the fifth day London took them in by its southward gate. On the sixth it pushed them out from its northward one. They felt the chill of clay in the dark forests of the Midlands and rose out of them with shouts of relief to the clean uplands of the north.
An afternoon came when Lucius Hermex, the unmoved—to Attilius’ thinking, the unmovable—turned ahead. The party was climbing a slope, its face to the hillside. Lucius Hermex strode forward, like an impatient man setting a good example. But when he was twenty yards ahead he threw dignity and discipline to the winds. He ran, he skipped, a boy home for his holidays. Attilius saw him standing on the crest of the hill, his arms extended, as though he covered all that was below with protecting wings. When Attilius reached his side his first glance was at the Centurion’s face. It was transfigured. Those iron features smiled. It seemed that a light shone out from him and in a stentorian voice he called aloud: “Ave Eboracum!”
Then Attilius looked down and had his first view of York.
A gentleman of Rome
Comes from my lord with letters.
“Tomorrow I sacrifice a white cow to Cocidius and the Three Mothers,” said the Centurion, and lo! the tears were running down his weathered cheeks. Attilius could have wept too for a very different reason. But he managed to smile.
“Surely a soldier nursed you in a helmet for a cradle,” he said. He was looking down into the vast rectangle of the camp, and it seemed to him a grim kind of place for a man to set his affections on. Its grass embankments faced with stone; the four gates, each one exactly in the middle of its embankment; the four stone paths from the gates to the centre of the camp; the big house of the Legate where the four paths met; the huge oak barns; the officers’ quarters; the barracks; the stables; the very tidiness of it all was unhomely. To Attilius’ surprise Lucius Hermex waved the camp aside.
“It’s not that which moves me. Look! Outside the camp, the baths. Then the river. Then, on the other side of the river, a little town in the making, but already a little town. Do you see a street to the left of the Temple there?” Attilius looked, but he had never seen so many temples in his life crowded into so small a space.
“The fine one with the gilded roof. The Temple of Isis, the great Mother,” and the Centurion’s voice deepened in reverence.
“I see it.”
“The little street to the left of it, the street with the gardens. The fourth house”—his brown arm shot out, his brown forefinger pointed triumphantly down to it. “Mine!”
Never was landed proprietor so proud of his possessions.
“Mine! I have a wife there—she is of Lindum—and two boys—wonderful little fellows. But by Thincsus, if I begin to tell you tales of them the night will find me still talking in the darkness,” and he laughed, jeering at himself delightedly.
Attilius led him on. He was still the spectator at the play, and these new revelations of character in people were the very heart of its enchantment.
“Then you didn’t hurry to Rome on leave!”
“Not I! I went with dispatches for the Emperor. What should I do in Rome? Live in a couple of attics on the sixth floor with my family, be jostled in the streets by rich foreigners in their litters, live unknown, unhonoured? Not I! This is my Rome. In a month I finish my service. There I shall live. There, please Maponus, I shall die.”
“With a brand-new set of Gods to protect you, apparently,” said Attilius derisively.
“With the old Gods of Britain who are the old Gods of Rome,” Lucius Hermex answered devoutly. “Who is Maponus but Apollo? Who is Cocidius but Mars?”
He stood looking across the valleys to the wolds on the far side, a man wrapped in a beatific vision. Attilius could not share his ecstasy. To him, as to any other Rome-bred gentleman, the natural beauty of landscape and colour meant less than nothing. Fantastic gardens, manufactured waterfalls, game parks and distorted trees—yes, to be sure! As many as possible and as cunningly contrived. But the sunset reddening over billows of golden moor! Could anything be more tedious?
Lucius Hermex awoke. The tiny company was assembled now behind him and Attilius. In the hollow at their feet the mist was rising from the river, and in the houses and the camp the lights began to glow.
“Let us go down,” said Lucius Hermex. He directed a last glance towards the little street by the Temple of Isis as though he hoped to see a lamp shine in a window of his house. His eyes met the eyes of Attilius with the friendliness which comes from a pleasant secret shared. Then he was once more the grave Centurion and gave the order to advance.
The Centurion carried letters on his baggage mule, and amongst them that one from Aemilius Scaurus to Sempronius Proculeius, Legate of the Sixth Legion. It was brought to the Legate whilst he was lying in the cooling-room of his bath, and he found the exordium distinctly humorous, so that he read it again chuckling.
“‘To my old friend and glorious General!’ The sheepshead! Am I a girl that he should go about me with flatteries? Glorious General! Me!”
Sempronius Proculeius was an able soldier and a shrewd administrator. But if there was one thing he was determined not to be it was a Glorious General. Glorious Generals were possible Emperors and therefore liable to polite invitations to open their arteries lest a more unpleasant death should befall them. Sempronius Proculeius enjoyed living and proposed to prolong his enjoyment. He was careful, accordingly, to win his battles with as little advertisement as was possible. He read Aemilius’ arraignment of his nephew and the stern course of discipline proposed for his atonement; and he chuckled over that, too.
“Put him under the tooth, eh? Treat him rough!” he reflected dryly. “But if the old wether is so wrong about me, why should he be right about Attilius? And after all, I command this Legion. I’ll just see about it for myself.”
So he sent the next morning for Lucius Hermex, the Centurion, when the hours of drill were over, and made discreet enquiries.
“No,” replied Lucius Hermex. “There was no delay upon the road. We travelled fast,” and he gave the date of their setting out from Ostia.
“Yes, you have travelled fast!” Sempronius agreed. “You have brought a new officer for me, Attilius Scaurus,” and he saw the Centurion’s grave face melt into a smile, the smile of comradeship. The Legate knew his Centurion. Many words would have told him less than this smile. Something in Attilius had called forth that outburst of the Centurion on the hill overlooking York, something assuredly which Lucius Hermex could not have put into words. But Lucius Hermex added some on his own account.
“He said many things to me which I did not understand. I think they were jokes.”
“But he made them only in the later stages of the journey?” Sempronius suggested shrewdly.
“No, Sir. There was one about the sea. He made it at Marseilles when he was most unhappy.”
The Legate nodded his head.
You give me good news, he said.
He was a shrewd, fair, dispassionate man. He could imagine what the first weeks of that arduous journey must have meant to a boy, soft with all the luxuries of Rome. He pressed the Centurion no further.
“It is well,” he said. “Your service expires in a month, Lucius Hermex. I need a new Prefect of the camp. The post is permanent and well-paid.”
Lucius Hermex was grateful but firm. He had planned his life with the method of a soldier. At such a date he would join the army. At such a date he would be a Centurion. At such a date he would marry, and, at the end of his service, he would retire.
“I have some money saved, my largesse, for instance, upon the Emperor’s accession. With my bonus upon retirement I shall be well enough off. I shall farm a little, hunt a little, and sleep a great deal.”
Sempronius Proculeius smiled.
“Who shall know better than I how well that sleep was earned? Fare you well, Lucius Hermex!”
When the Centurion had gone, Sempronius took out from a cupboard the letter which Aemilius Scaurus had written to him, read it for a second time, and sat over it for a while in thought. Then he wrote an order upon his tablet and handed it to his orderly.
“The two Tribunes, Aulus Calpurnius Scapula and Attilius Scaurus, will lunch with me tomorrow at midday. But I wish Attilius Scaurus to present himself ten minutes before the hour.”
Having given his order, the Legate shrugged his shoulders. He had an idea in his mind. It might be useful and again it might not. It was worth a trial.
I can’t help thinking Juvenal was
Although no doubt his real intent was good.
Sempronius Proculeius was seated in the open corridor of his house, facing the south. He was protected from the June sunlight by the overhanging roof. Attilius mounted the steps and saluted rather awkwardly, for he was not yet used to recognizing authority.
“Come and sit with me here in the shade, Attilius,” said the Legate pleasantly. “We have a few minutes, enough for two sensible people to come to an understanding.”
Sempronius’ intention had been to put the boy at his ease, but the boy shied like a horse from a sheet of paper. Just with such words Aemilius had cozened his nephew a couple of months ago in Rome. “Two sensible men”—one might be taken in once by so disarming an overture but one must be a zany if it happened a second time. He sat down gingerly by the Legate’s side upon the bench and waited, on the defence.
“There are three sorts of Tribunes,” Sempronius Proculeius continued easily. “Those who go on the Staff and keep the books. Those who become Field Officers. And the Remittance Men.”
He saw the blood mount into the face of Attilius and stain it with shame.
“You must, Sir, have placed me in your third class. The Remittance Men.”
The Legate leaned forward and patted the boy on the shoulder.
“I am glad you said that. It shortens our discussion. No, I don’t class you with the Remittance Men. You wouldn’t be taking your midday meal with me if I did. But there are still the other two classes. Which will you join? Take your time!”
But Attilius did not need time to answer that question.
“The Field Officers,” he said.
“Good!” Sempronius Proculeius laughed. “If you’re going to go soldiering, soldier! The open field instead of the counting house. Your fellow guest will agree with you. Yes, I have asked Calpurnius Scapula to meet you; and, since he becomes extremely truculent and unpleasant when he’s asked to talk about himself, I had better tell you something about him before he appears.”
“He is a Tribune too?” Attilius asked.
“He is the Tribune. He is Tribune of the Double Cohort. He was my youngest officer when the Legion came with Hadrian ten years ago. He’s my right-hand man now.” The Legate sat in a muse for a few moments. “Some spark of fire burns in Calpurnius Scapula we others want. A long time since, when we were building the Wall, his section was always finished first. Later, four years ago, I lost an Eagle in a battle at Caerleon. Calpurnius, single-handed, got it back for me. I owe him thanks for that and still more thanks. They make such a to-do if an Eagle’s captured, you’d think Rome had fallen. I’ll tell you something, Attilius.” The Legate leaned forward. “Calpurnius Scapula is in real danger. If he doesn’t watch it he’ll become a Glorious General.”
What exquisite humour was discoverable in that phrase Attilius never understood. But, since the Legate laughed till his sides shook, wisdom suggested to the Tribune that he should laugh too; as indeed he did and so successfully that the Legate stopped first.
“Welcome, Calpurnius,” he cried, and behold! Calpurnius Scapula was already there in all his panoply, from crested helmet to marching boots. Yet not a sound had heralded him. Not a joint of his armour had rattled nor had the heel of his boot scraped on the tiled floor. Attilius was startled out of his seat.
“Calpurnius learned that trick when he was building the Wall,” said the Legate. “It was useful then on a scouting expedition, when a strange sound in the heather meant death. Now it merely frightens us out of our wits. But great men must be allowed their vanities.”
Sempronius Proculeius had already praised his Tribune. He must now temper the praise with a little derision. Calpurnius Scapula was accustomed to his Commandant’s ways and took them with a smile. He was a man a year under thirty with an aquiline face and a jutting chin.
“This is my new Tribune, Calpurnius,” the Legate continued. “Young Attilius Scaurus, fresh from Rome.”
At that moment a horn within the house announced the middle of the day. Sempronius Proculeius led the way under the central arch to the inner court. Slaves took from the Tribunes their helmets and their armour. A butler threw open the doors of the dining room.
“I give to my new guest the place of honour,” said the Legate, and he pointed to the lowest of the three places on the middle couch at the head of the table. He himself reclined upon the highest place of the last couch so that he had Attilius upon his immediate left. “You, Calpurnius, next above Attilius. So!”
The slaves removed their boots, and the hors d’oeuvres were brought in—little sausages from Gaul, eggs chopped up with parsley, oysters, and beer to wash them down.
“The oysters, Attilius!” the Legate advised. “No doubt you paid a fortune for British oysters in Rome. Pithacus, more oysters for my guests, unless you want a whipping.”
Pithacus, a dark-eyed slave from Scythia, showed all his teeth in an adoring grin. The threat of a whipping was evidently a standing joke at every meal. He served more oysters and, after that dish, trout caught that morning in the Ouse.
“And while we eat, you shall give to our parched ears the news of Rome,” said the Legate.
“Yes,” Calpurnius agreed. “I was never in Rome but once, for a month. And then I was a schoolboy and my tutor never let me out of his sight. We lived on the Lake of Como.”
“It is beautiful, I believe,” said Attilius.
“But not Rome. Let us hear of Rome!” said Calpurnius Scapula. He leaned up on his elbow, his face alight with anticipation, his eyes fixed eagerly upon Attilius. Attilius smiled and held them in suspense. In spite of the Legate’s affability and Scapula’s simple acceptance of him as a comrade, he had imagined a compassion in their friendliness which hurt. He was really very young, and in the presence of these two veterans he had felt—Oh, humiliatingly!—a child. But now his turn had come. He was the veteran. He could not but put on a few quite intolerable airs and assume the boredom of one who has drained the lees of pleasure.
“What can I tell you of Rome?” he asked, waving languidly a supercilious hand. “Isn’t it all written in Juvenal?”
A tremendous silence followed upon his question. Scapula’s dark face flushed darker still; the eagerness of his eyes became a glow of resentment; and to make the silence even more tremendous, Sempronius Proculeius laughed. Attilius did not need that laugh to realize that he had dropped the biggest, heaviest, and most unforgivable brick that he had ever dropped in the whole of his wild youth.
“Juvenal!” Scapula repeated the name in amazement. “He quotes to us—Juvenal. By Cocidius!”
And the Legate laughed again, contemplating with delight the bristling Scapula.
“Juvenal!” Calpurnius repeated. “Is he still alive?”
“So far as I know.”
“Shall I tell you what he lives on? Dog’s tongue. He eats it for his early breakfast and goes on with it all day.”
“He certainly does snarl,” Sempronius Proculeius agreed. For himself he was amused. He liked a boy to flourish a few absurdities in the faces of his elders. The man-to-be would be none the worse, and his elders might be a little the better. But Attilius had chanced upon an unfortunate theme.
“There are two very big names in Rome, Attilius, which are very small names in Britain. Seneca’s one. Juvenal’s the other.”
“He served here, Sir?” the luckless Attilius stammered. “Over at Viroconium in the west. He was the Centurion of a Cohort of Dalmatian auxiliaries. It was a long time ago, but, as you see, his name’s remembered and not with much enjoyment. He was the son of a freedman and could never get over it. As if anyone cared nowadays! But he did. He thought everyone was despising him and, as Calpurnius says, ate dog’s tongue all day. So we are not prepared to accept much of what he writes about Rome.
The little homily was rounded off by the entrance of Pithacus, who ushered in a steaming dish of wild boar garnished with roasted field-fares. All three welcomed the interruption, and Sempronius Proculeius called to his butler: “Bring a jug of the old Settinian! What! An old friend sends me a new one. We must mark the day with a white stone! Drink, Attilius!”
The butler filled their crystal glasses with wine of a lovely amber colour, and Attilius was very glad to sink into complete insignificance whilst the old veteran and the young one debated across his head the enterprise of Britain.
It appeared that the Governor wanted a new road built between London and the South Coast.
“It’s needed, of course. Lucius Hermex says the road from Rutupiae was so cluttered that he was brought to a standstill a dozen times a day. But the Governor comes to us. He wants our engineers to align the road and our rank and file to make the spades fly. And I can’t let him have them. Next year, perhaps, but now, no! The Frontier’s not quiet enough.”
He talked for a little while of the Brigantes about him, the Ordovices in the west, and the Picts beyond the Wall, and then rounded his talk with a laugh.
“Attilius, if ever you’re an Emperor, take an old soldier’s advice and watch night and day, winter and summer, your Northwest Frontier. It was the danger in Latium. It is the danger in Britain. The Gods in their wisdom,” he added, with just that queer suggestion of fatality which, upon this or that point, even the most reasonable of men may half accept and half deride—“the Gods have ordained a riddle worthy of old Oedipus which all Empires must solve or fall—the riddle of the Northwest Frontier,”
He had hardly finished speaking before the horn once more announced the hour. Calpurnius Scapula rose to his feet. He was no longer the guest, but the officer on duty.
“The Double Cohort holds its sports this afternoon—”
“I know,” interrupted the Legate, with a smile, “and if you are not there to judge it’ll be mutinous for a month. Go your ways, Calpurnius.”
Calpurnius Scapula saluted and strode towards the court where his armour and his marching boots awaited him. But he turned back before he had reached the door and clapped his hand in all friendliness on Attilius’ shoulder.
“You shall tell me of Rome-not what Juvenal writes but what you have seen. My father used to come back to Como and rail at the Seven Hills by the hour. The fatigue, the endless visits, the audiences to witless poets, each one with an epic which had just got to be heard. No more Rome for him. His wooden salt- cellar and his gardens and his books, and the informal companionship of his neighbours. That was the life. And it just lasted through the hot months and then he was back again to Rome as fast as his horses could take him. You mustn’t rebel if I harry you with questions. For, one of these days I mean to taste Rome myself.”
And moving once more noiselessly, he was gone. Attilius rose in his turn and took his leave. Sempronius Proculeius had a word for him before he went.
“For you now, Attilius Scaurus, the Camp. I appoint you to the Tenth Cohort. Calpurnius will help you. A year of it. Then we will talk again. But take this to heart! To do today the dull, commonplace duty which you did twice yesterday, as though Rome lived by it, is the root of all good soldiering. Fare you well! One of these days I shall lose Calpurnius Scapula, my best Eagle. Who shall recover him for me? Attilius Scaurus? Well, why not?”
And with that laugh of his, half of it mockery, half of it encouragement, he dismissed his new subaltern. But he did not answer the letter of Aemilius.
Though good things answer many good
Crosses doe still bring forth the best events.
For Attilius followed days of drill and manoeuvres, exercises and route marches, the whole routine of barrack life. They were varied by hours of passionate revolt, sleepless nights when the yearnings for the Sacred City and all that it meant of comeliness and grace became a torture. Calpurnius Scapula stood by him, grave and friendly and discerning, and, though the longing for Rome did not diminish, Attilius gradually began to recognize it would not be with the same eyes nor in the same spirit that he would ever revisit it. It could never be again the perfect toy, fashioned solely for his enjoyment. There would be a little less colour, a slower step, a lower note. And then, imperceptibly, the weeks slid, repeating each other with a sameness so smooth that Attilius was astounded when once more an orderly summoned him to the Legate’s house and he became aware that a year had passed.
There were again but the three of them at the table. Only now Calpurnius Scapula reclined on the consular couch.
“I must lose him,” cried Sempronius Proculeius. “Alas, he goes when the year ends! The Governor must have his new road through Anderida to Regnum. I can hold him off no longer. And when the road’s built, there’s a Legion somewhere wanting a Legate. Pithacus, the snails!”
It was a magnificent meal. The snails and the oysters were followed by haddocks, the haddocks by a roasted peacock, and the peacock by a hare fattened upon chestnuts and garnished with brain-sausages. Brown cabbage and lettuce bore it company.
“The shoulder blade for Calpurnius!” said Sempronius. “Let him remember in his great days that once a humble Legate fed him nobly at York.”
It might have been a farewell party, but clearly it was not. Attilius was intrigued. Calpurnius Scapula had, on the Legate’s own word, still six months to serve at York. Why then the feast? Surely there was something more afoot. Attilius kept his eyes open and his mind alert. Pastry and dried fruit with some old Alban wine rounded off the meal, and then the reason of it all popped out.
“And now what of Attilius?” Sempronius asked.
He spoke lightly, perhaps a trifle too lightly, and it broke suddenly in upon Attilius that it was, after all, a farewell party. But the farewell was for him.
“Heu! Yes, what of Attilius?” Scapula repeated with a smile. He looked at Attilius, and there was anxiety in his eyes. More than anxiety, Attilius asked of himself? Was there not also—fear? Attilius braced himself to meet a blow. He was to be put to a test. The over-emphasized indifference of the Legate warned him of his ordeal as clearly as did the apprehension of Calpurnius.
“I send two Cohorts with Calpurnius at the end of the year to build the new road through Anderida to the Sea,” said Sempronius Proculeius. “And I send two Cohorts in seven days to the Wall.”
“The Wall!” cried Attilius.
It was a word of terror—the word of terror. A time was to come when, from Wallsend to Bowness, one vast and straggling city should stand safe beneath its shelter. But that time was not yet. It was a region of coldness and gloom, desolation and death. Attilius no doubt exaggerated, but the Wall struck fear into war- tired men. His heart quailed a little as he heard the word.
“The Wall,” he said again.
Was there a slight tremor in his voice? Was it that which caused Calpurnius to avert his eyes? But neither he nor the Legate spoke.
“If you gave me an order, Sir,” Attilius suggested.
“But I do not,” returned the Legate.
The choice was left to him. Anderida where there was always peace. The Wall where there was always war. The pleasant southlands or the snowy north. Choose the one, he would have his friend at his side. But would he remain his friend? Choose the other, he would be alone. But thus would his friend have chosen. He was eighteen years old—not a long life! Just for a second the Rome he knew recaptured him. He saw himself in the little Temple of Rhetoric behind the Forum, dealing eloquently with this fine dilemma, drawing tears by the simple pathos of his theme, the admired of all. Then he thrust the foolish dream aside. Anderida and contempt? The Wall with all the Wall’s perils? “Life is long”—what was the phrase? Old Seneca had written it, that old Seneca whose name must not be mentioned in Britain—and Daemonides had quoted it in the frowsy inn at Lyons—“Life is long if it is fulfilled.”
“I go to the Wall,” he said, and the tension broke. If Sempronius Proculeius had not been Legate of the Sixth Legion, Victrix, Pia, Fidelis, one might have said he prattled.
“The Wall! You’ll open your eyes, I can tell you, Attilius. By Hercules, yes! You’ll find every race under the sun manning the Wall—except Britons, of course. We don’t teach them to throw the long javelin and fight in open order and then send them to the Wall to desert to their friends. No, they go to the Danube or Scythia. But the rest! Germans and Parthians, Indians and Gauls, Spaniards and Blackamoors from Thebes—and all their Gods, Thincsus and Astarte, and Mithra and Isis, Dolichenus and Coventina—a vast heavenful of them. Eighteen months on the Wall, Attilius. You’ll still find Calpurnius tamping down his road to Regnum and the work unfinished.”
“I shall welcome you,” said Calpurnius.
“Indeed he will,” said the Legate. “For he must make his friends amongst Britons who are more Roman than Romans, and for such people I have no liking.”
He dismissed his guests upon their duties, and that night when all his work was ended, he bade his secretary fetch from his library the letter which, more than a year ago, Aemilius Scaurus had written to him. He answered it now.
“From Sempronius Proculeius, Legate of the Sixth Legion, Victrix, Pia, Fidelis, to his friend”—he was in a mood to write: “To his friend and his old blockhead”—but he came of a homely, provincial family of Rimini to which the Scauri had, through generations, shown good will. “To his friend, Aemilius Scaurus, my duty and greeting. I thank you for your nephew Attilius. What was wrong in him was right in him. Like most boys of spirit he must have a hero to worship. Rome gave him Clodius Laeta. I have done better than Rome. I have given him Calpurnius Scapula. He stands upon his own feet, now. Have no fear that Attilius will disgrace you! You may trust me who am not and, please Belatucader, never will be, a Glorious General, but who have learnt, in my fifty odd years of life, some small knowledge of men.
Flower of the broom,
Take away love and our earth is a tomb!
Flower of the clove,
All the Latin I construe, is “amo” I love!
“Here, Sir.” The Procurator of Britain sat in the library of his great palace at Camulodunum. A map was spread out upon the table in front of him. At his shoulder the Tribune of the Double Cohort of the Sixth Legion, Victrix, Pia, Fidelis, bent forward with his pointed stylus in his hand. Under their new titles both men are known to us. The Procurator was Sempronius Proculeius and the Tribune of the Double Cohort that Attilius Scaurus who, eight years ago, had made his difficult choice between the Road and the Wall.
The point of his pencil touched the fork in the Thames where Day’s Lock now stands.
“A road runs from Calleva in the south to the river bank. There’s a ford and on the north bank a tumbledown guardhouse. It dates from the days when there was a village on the Sinodun hills and the ford needed watching. From the ford the road runs on northwards through a small village, here”—his stylus touched the point where, centuries afterwards, the great Abbey of Dorchester was to rise—“and then through the forest to Ratae.”
“I follow that,” said the Procurator.
The wheat tribute was his special charge. If Rome’s myriad mouths went hungry, assassination stalked in that great palace on the Palatine; and for two years Britain’s quota had been short. Enquiry had set the leakage at some point between London and the rich plough lands of the upper river. Somewhere along the channel of the Thames barge after barge piled high with grain disappeared. To this problem of secret service Sempronius Proculeius, whose very Governorship was in the hazard, had summoned Attilius. Attilius was now making his report.
“I had hidden the galley under bushes and the men in the ruined guardhouse—we travelled, of course, always by night. East of the ford the river sweeps in a great elbow round a triangle of open ground. On the eastern edge of the triangle a stream joins the river.”
The pencil moved and stopped at the point where Thame flows into Thames.
“That was where the system leaked. We entered the stream after dark, rowing with muffled oars through a black tunnel of trees. I had not a doubt, for the stream should have been choked with undergrowth and fallen trunks, but it was clear—kept clear.”
Sempronius nodded his head.
“In the early morning we reached an open pool and a hidden village in a clearing. There were granaries by the waterside. The search was ended. I left a strong guard under the Centurion.” He laid some emphasis upon the non-commissioned officer. “Yes, I left the Centurion in command. I should have been helpless without the Centurion.”
“Say it again, Attilius,” said the Procurator, with half a smile. “The Centurion! Clearly the word appeals to you. The Centurion, Attilius, the Centurion!”
There had been a great tussle over the Centurion. Attilius, when receiving his orders, had insisted upon a Centurion. But no Legate would lend him one. Even the Procurator, still swayed by the traditions of the Legion, had looked upon the request as little less than a sacrilege.
“A Centurion!” he had cried, refusing to believe his ears. “What next will this young man demand? Tribunes, to be sure, Attilius! They are my maids of all work. Take your choice! As many as you wish. Tribunes are worth just twopence the big bunch. But a real live Centurion! Listen to him, Lucetius!”
The young man, however, politely and respectfully repeated his request and was, indeed, so sunk in shamelessness that he named the particular Centurion he needed, his own primus pilus from the Double Cohort. Sempronius threw up his hands.
“He asks for a donkey on the tiles, this incredible young man!”—and much more to the same effect. But Attilius had got his Centurion in the end, and, as he was now careful to point out, success was the result.
“It is well,” said the Procurator. “I will give orders about that wheat. I owe you my thanks. I pay some trifle of my debt with good news.” He rose and sat upon a couch. Old Aemihus Scaurus is, I think, dead?
“Yes. He’ll bellow no more in the big house on the Quirinal,” said Attilius with a smile.
“And the nine years in Britain have restored your fortune?”
“That is good. For the Sixth and Eighth legions are ordered home.”
At once Sempronius was surprised. He had expected at least a flash of joy in the young man’s eyes, perhaps some startled exclamation of delight. All that he saw, however, was a look of doubt. Attilius was troubled.
“You regret your return?” Sempronius asked.
“No,” Attilius answered quickly, a little too quickly. The blood mounted over his neck and face to his forehead. Sempronius Proculeius was a trifle annoyed. He had always prided himself upon knowing the secret affairs of his officers and found an impish enjoyment in startling them with his knowledge. Here he was baffled. Attilius should have been radiant; whereas he was shifting uncomfortably from one foot to another like a schoolboy who hadn’t learnt his lesson. Sempronius began to angle.
“I wonder what you will do when you are home!”
“I too,” said Attilius.
“Calpurnius Scapula commands a Legion at Lambaesis.
“He was born for authority.” Attilius raised his eyes from the ground. “You hear more news of Rome than I.”
“No doubt,” the Procurator answered.
“Have you ever had word of my friend, Clodius Laeta?”
Sempronius shook his head. “Never, Attilius,” he answered gently. “There can have been no news of Clodius Laeta these many years. You are so troubled on his account?”
“No.” Attilius did not deny that he was troubled. But Clodius Laeta was not to blame for it. So much he made clear. “I should dearly have liked to find him again. That is all.”
“You’ll find many changes, Attilius.”
Hadrian, “the Imperial Tramp,” had tramped off to the Gods. A philosopher ruled in his place. There was less magnificence, a sedater atmosphere. People were not afraid. On the other hand they were dissatisfied.
“I hear of a new sense of brotherhood spreading from man to man,” Sempronius continued. “Of a passionate longing for a real life after death. Not the vague life of the ghost flitting round the tomb on the Appian Way like some poor bat. But a life lovely amongst the stars, earned, perhaps, by a succession of lives on earth. All the deep thinkers are moving to that belief.”
“All the drunken ones, too,” Attilius added with a smile, as he recalled Daemonides.
Sempronius Proculeius laughed. A man of this world, he had strayed into speculations more serious than he cared for. He was glad to shake them off with a jest.
“I wonder what you’ll be in your next life, Attilius.” He looked at the map upon the table. “A spy,I expect.”
“That’s better than being twopence the big bunch,” Attilius answered dryly.
“What shall I be?”
“I know, but respect forbids me to say,” said Attilius.
“Speak freely. You dare not? Is that all you know of Ulysses?” cried the Procurator. “What shall I be?”
“A Centurion,” said Attilius.
The Procurator had an answer after his own heart. A trifle of wit and no great subtlety. He rose to his feet.
“You shall join your Legion at Londinium. I have sent word to York that they shall have a care of your luggage. You have served me well, Attilius. May the Gods prosper you!” He stopped, on the point of turning away. “By the way, you march from Londinium by your new road and embark at Regnum”—and the next moment he regretted that he had not let Attilius go without that knowledge. He would thus have parted from a young friend who smiled, and not from one who left an uncomfortable impression that all was not well with him. For Attilius was once more troubled. He stood with his eyes opening wider and wider, as though he saw some warning sign and yet was not sure whether it was a warning or a beacon.
“So we march by the new road,” he said very slowly. Then he drew himself erect and saluted and went away.
Sempronius Proculeius hated mysteries and especially mysteries which induced melancholy. Something had happened to Attilius Scaurus and on that new road from London to the Chichester which was to be. It had been long a-building. Woodland men standing upon some high knoll in the forest of Anderida had seen it far away above the treetops, descending from a shoulder of Leith Hill, white and straight and irresistible, like a slow-moving avalanche. Then it had disappeared for months upon months. Only the white avalanche track remained as a warning. Then suddenly it reappeared at the top of Boro’ Hill and, once more white and straight and irresistible, clove down to where the Arun and the Rother join. Somewhere near to that junction Attilius must have joined the roadmakers. Not before, for he had been two years upon the Wall, and Scapula had been clamouring for further help long before Sempronius had let the younger Tribune go. Somewhere in the Weald or on the Down between Boro’ Hill and the sea and during the fourth year of Attilius’ exile some momentous circumstance had happened. “I know what it is,” said the Governor to himself. “Something has happened. Something always happens and it’s always the same thing, whether you call it Lydia or Chloe or Diana.”
But that something had struck Attilius hard—so hard that, four years afterwards, the mere statement that he must now travel that road again was enough to strike the smile from his lips and shroud him in perplexity and loneliness.
Loneliness. Sempronius Proculeius caught at the word after which his thoughts had been groping. He watched Attilius cross the court towards the outer door, a boy still in face and figure and his lighter hours. Yet as the Procurator watched him go he had, even as old Aemilius once had, a glimpse of another being, somehow fated, somehow rather desolate, with an aura of loneliness shutting him apart.
Attilius went to his quarters and sat down to balance his account with himself. Something indeed had happened whilst he was at the making of the Stane Street. Calpurnius Scapula was away on Bignor Hill, establishing the alignment down to Chichester. He himself was on the weald behind superintending the smooth spread of the layer of concrete over the courses of rubble to support the final pavement of flat stone. It was ten o’clock in the morning. A small, dark, baldish man with a peaked beard came riding out of the forest from the east. He had a train of serfs at his mule’s heels and he wore the two tunics, the mantle and the strapped buskins of the Roman gentleman upon his travels.
“Greeting, dear Officer,” he said, slipping off his mule. “Greeting and welcome.”
He introduced himself as Prasutacus, the overlord of those parts. “But what should I be, Officer dear, but for the gracious protection of the Emperor and his Viceroy? Of less account than an undertaker, a dweller in a hovel with a life as short as a wolf’s.”
“There were landlords in Britain before the Romans came,” Attilius said coldly. He was not attracted by this little great man with his train of serfs and his obsequious humilities. Prasutacus, however, now spoke more to the point.
“My poor house is yours, of course. Meanwhile, that you may know that I speak in earnest—” He waved his hand to two of his attendants and they laid at Attilius’ feet a fat sucking pig, five chickens, and a big flagon of red wine. Attilius melted a little. After all, a sucking pig was a sucking pig, and such treasures were not offered every day to a roadmaker in a forest. He thanked Prasutacus gravely and was thereupon invited to sup with him that night at his house.
“I will send servants to guide you,” he said. Attilius shook his head.
“I thank you, but we work early and late upon the road.”
“I have a bath,” said Prasutacus.
That certainly gave a different colour to the invitation. Attilius was not, however, inclined to ride out after a long day’s work to take supper with a man he disliked, unless he was very sure that it was worth while.
What kind of a bath? he asked.
“The best,” Prasutacus answered. “I use it myself, dear Officer. A fine hypocaust, a hot room and a cooling room and a cold plunge to finish.”
“Then I’ll come,” said Attilius carelessly. “At the eleventh hour. I shall not be free till then.”
The words were ungracious, the manner of speaking them insolent. Attilius was aware of it himself, but there had sprung into his memory a disparaging sentence or two uttered by Sempronius Proculeius about Britons who were more Roman than any Roman ever was. He made a small attempt, however, to mitigate his abruptness. For, after bidding a soldier to take up his gifts and carry them to his camp, he said to Prasutacus: “You will forgive me now if I go on with the work of the Emperor and the Viceroy, who are so near to both our hearts.”
But, even so, some faint note of derision turned his excuse into another taunt. Suddenly a mask dropped and that little, dark, obsequious man gave him one look which made his blood turn cold; and accompanied it with a slow mirthless smile which had the malignancy of a demon. Attilius was frightened by it. Nothing had frightened him so much, not even the coming of the December night when he had for the first time to lead a scouting party into the heather beyond the Wall. He stood, holding himself so that he should not shiver and hoping that no sign of his fear was legible in his eyes. But the next moment the look and the smile had gone, and a Briton more Roman than the Romans was bidding him Godspeed.
Attilius was forced now by his own pride to keep his promise.
“I’d give a year’s pay to dine on that sucking pig and go to bed in my own tent,” he reflected. But he mounted his horse at five o’clock in the afternoon and rode by glade and avenue to a vast clearing marked out for pasturage and plough. In the front of it, facing the high Down, a great house with glazed windows looked out upon a garden aflame with roses. Box hedges and trees tortured into the shapes of bears and serpents enclosed it, and on a lawn peacocks screamed and simpered and scuttered. It was all as Roman as could be.
Prasutacus’ steward threw open the door, a red giant of a man with a beard draping his chest and hair that stood straight up on his head; and just behind his shoulder stood Prasutacus. That was unfortunate. For Attilius was in his worst possible mood. He could not forgive Prasutacus for frightening him. His good manners were in tatters. In the porch stood the sculptured figure of a boarhound, very well done with the skill of the native craftsman when he had an animal to reproduce. But this boarhound wore a collar and was ridiculously chained to a staple in the wall, as though he guarded the house.
“Welcome,” said the steward, and Attilius turned to the stone dog and growled “Wuff! Wuff!” at it. He was not polite. Nor did he mend, even after the most satisfying and luxurious bath he had taken since he left Rome. For the first thing that he saw when, scraped and oiled and scented, he was conducted into the big dining room, was that Prasutacus awaited him in a tunic with the broad purple stripe of senatorial rank.
“Hail, Prasutacus!” he cried. “By Hercules, you lift us all out of the mud. Up till today the Senators weren’t worth the parings of a sewer-man’s fingernails. But since you deign to wear their badge they’ll begin to get about again. I shall write to my family. They will be pleased.”
Attilius was definitely aggressive. He wished to see that fire of hatred burn once more in the face of his host and to challenge him to an account. But his host that night was the perfect host. He begged pardon if, in his ignorance, he had shown a lack of taste. He led his guest to the couch of honour by a table of citrus wood and ivory and filled him a cup of red wine.
“Samian ware. Imported!” said Prasutacus, calling his attention to the cup.
“Not a patch on your own Castor ware,” Attilius grumbled. “You had a real art there and you let a good thing die that you might flatter me with a bad one. Where are the hares with their eyes starting out of their heads and the dogs chasing round the tankard after them?”
And as he turned the cup round he stopped in the middle of a sentence. For over the head of Prasutacus, framed in a doorway, with a cloud of dark, lustrous hair making whiter still the whiteness of her broad forehead, stood the marvellous girl. Her beauty took him by the heart. The lovely oval of her face, the red mouth made for laughter and love, the big eyes dark as pools and shining like the stars—he saw them not as separate splendours but as the mark and vesture of one being different from any other that lived. Attilius rose from his couch, and over the head of Prasutacus their eyes met, in his great wonder, in hers an odd solemnity as though some tremendous event had changed the world.
“What troubles you, my Attilius?” said the host, and he turned his head. “It is my daughter, Sergia,” he explained with a little surprise that his daughter should be found remarkable when he himself was present.
“Your daughter?” Attilius repeated, and his eyes turned to his host. There must, after all, be something very remarkable in the father of such a daughter.
“You come to make the wine sweet for us, Sergia,” he said, and he lingered on the name as though he could not let it go. The girl shook her head, and her lips parted in a smile. Did he imagine it or was it true that her low and pleasant voice had the music of all the harps?
“No. I come to see that my father’s guest is fitly served.”
She advanced into the room. She wore a blue gown and white shoes sewn with pearls. She was slender and long of limb and moved without haste. And all these details Attilius was hard put to it to keep out of his speech. But he set to work. After all, he had been for two years at the Wall. He was making a road. If he could not talk for a little while like a sensible, full-grown man, by Hercules, who could? He remembered afterwards, and indeed was given occasion to remember, that he talked at inordinate length about roads and their construction and how thronged they were and how they civilized the nations and how they all met at the Golden Post in Rome’s Forum. The theme was the easiest of all for Attilius. He could rattle along whilst his thoughts were full of a blue gown and a cloudy coronal of hair. For old Daemonides by mere chance had fired a hidden train of poetry in the young exile which had never since been extinguished. Even at the end of all roads in the north the flame had burned, and Attilius had played with it as a child with a toy; so that the echo of a bugle blowing the Last Post on a high tower of the Wall upon a winter’s night sounded a response, delicate and faint, from a sentry of some far southern fortress lost among the deserts.
“Heu!” cried Prasutacus, lifting his hands in admiration. “What we poor barbarians owe to you!”
“When you see the first blades of grass allowed to shoot up between the crevices of the pavements, then you may say the dried figs of Caria are all eaten. Rome was,” replied Attilius.
It is to be remembered that he was at this date only twenty- two years old and a little bombast is the salt of youth. But at this moment, the meal being nearly at an end, Sergia had a chair placed for herself at the head of the couch on which he reclined, and he lapsed into diffidence and silence. The complete incompetence of words to express meanings weighed upon him like a calamity; except, of course, when she spoke, and then every syllable was a ruby, even if it were only to lament the lateness of the fruit trees that season.
One moment of that first meeting, however, stood out forever in his memories. He had bidden goodbye to his host. He had strapped on his boots in the outer court and was adjusting his cloak about his shoulders, when he heard a light step behind him. He looked up. The square pillars of the court, like those in the dining room, were faced with polished phegnite in the Roman fashion, so that one looking at them saw what was behind him reflected as in a faulty mirror. Attilius saw Sergia. He turned and took her hands. He wanted to thank her for existing.
“But words! What are they?” he whispered.
Sergia smiled, her eyes sending and receiving the messages which are the prerogatives of hearts, and answered: “They are just your lantern on a night of moonlight.”
She nodded towards the open door. Outside were his horse and the guide carrying the lighted lantern; and lawn and garden were lit with such a silver radiance of moonlight that they seemed hung in some magical ether between earth and sky. For a few moments they stood side by side, looking out through the door and silent. Then he had mounted his horse and ridden slowly away. Sergia watched him go. Even after he had crossed the open ground she could see the lantern twinkling amongst the trees. She had a thought that the flame of that candle was her soul. A movement behind her made her turn, and she saw that her father was watching her from the depths of the court as closely as she watched Attilius. A breath of wind stirred in the garden, gentle as a sigh. Bran, the great steward, slammed to the heavy door and bolted it.
Thus it began, and for a little while, thus it continued. The road crept nearer to the Down, Prasutacus’ hospitality did not flag, Attilius required no guide to lead him through the forest.
Then one night a whisper was answered by a whisper. The road had begun to climb the Down. At the edge of the trees Attilius sent forward to the camp his orderly with his horse. Wrapped in a dark cloak, he waited whilst the lights died out in the house and, after a while, suddenly Sergia was in his arms. She was eighteen, he twenty-two. He had found a small hollow on the side of the hill and there, with boughs and fragrant bushes, had built a little summer house; and there the dawn almost caught them unawares.
How soon a smile of God can change the
How we are made for happiness! How work
Grows play, adversity a winning fight!
class="first"The Eighth Legion and the Sixth marched southwards over London Bridge, each with its auxiliaries, its ten squadrons of cavalry, its train of catapults heavy and light; twenty-four thousand men in all. Britain was at peace. The Northwest Frontier was the only danger spot. One Legion would serve in place of two, and the Thirteenth was even now marching up from Richboro’ and Lymne to take their place. Through Merton they tramped, and the Dorking Gap, singing as they went, with their camp equipment rattling on their backs. For two days their helmets flashed on the shoulder of Leith Hill. Through Five Oaks they strode to Anderida. The thunder of their march reverberated along the glades, and the dust of the broad pavement swirled above the treetops like the spray of the Victoria Falls over the forests of Rhodesia. The woodland people, the deer, and the wolves fled into the depths of the thickets, scared into a transient fellowship; and in white villas and tiny townships the men of peace looked at one another and whispered: “The Romans are leaving us to our fate.” Rumours of disaster on the Danube, in Scythia, in Africa, multiplied. The Eighth and the Sixth legions left dismay behind the rumble of their machines; and here and there some wild hopes of rapine and disorder; and here and there, too, dreams of great power.
The Eighth marched first. It swung down the long hill to Regnum at the end of the fifth day and camped about the estuaries of the harbour. The first half of the Sixth, with the Eagles and the Double Cohort, bivouacked on the top of Bignor Hill; the rear half with the artillery halted at the permanent mansion of Hardham. This was on the long day of June when the sun crossed the Line.
Attilius was with his Cohort on Bignor Hill. The camp was marked out, the trenches were dug, the tents aligned, and the men fed by eight o’clock. Then he was free. He hung his bow upon his shoulder and strapped his quiver about his waist, as though he were hunting game for the pot. He set his face to the Weald and descended the road until he reached the second elbow about two thirds of the way down. At the angle he left the road and clambered along the rough hillside, clinging to the slope by the edges of his boots. After he had covered half a mile he pushed some bushes aside and stood in a tiny amphitheatre of grass with a sheer wall of white chalk cropping out on the further side of it. Below him was the great house with its wings and its garden and its long roofed corridor facing the sun. He stood there spellbound by such an inrush of golden memories that the last four years were swept away. Here Sergia had kept tryst with him for the first time yesterday—no, a week ago. Even a week could hardly encompass all his recollections though he crammed each hour with them.
He crossed to the chalk wall and, at the edge of it, lifted a piece of turf which overhung and protected the chalk below. There were half-obliterated marks which brought a smile to his face. He drew his short sword from its scabbard and cut a new one deep and with infinite care that it might be worthy of so rare a moment. He carved a heart and transfixed it with half an arrow, leaving room beside it for another heart and the rest of the arrow-shaft. Under his heart he cut his initials deep, A. S., and stood back, proud as a boy, to admire his handiwork. Sergia would know that the Sixth Legion was on the hill. It would remain in its camp tomorrow, whilst the Eighth embarked. She would look here for a sign—if she remembered. Yes, if she remembered. His heart failed him as he thought: “She may not. Why should she? Now, if I were Calpurnius Scapula, then indeed—” and at that moment a shrub stirred behind him, though there was no wind.
He was very quick, with Scapula’s own silence. A Scythian bowman of his Legion had taught him on many a hunting expedition on the moors. His sword was on the turf, held there by the sole of his boot, his bow was strung and the notch of the arrow on the string before he turned. When he turned, not even a frond was quivering on the top of any bush. But he himself stood without a movement, too. He could outlast a deer at its own game of patience. Bronze could not have been more still. And in the end he won. Twenty yards below him a clump of hazel shook for a second. Then ten yards below that the yellow flowers on a twig of gorse danced. Attilius’ bow was raised, the plume of his arrow touched his ear. But he never loosed it.
“The Brotherhood of Man,” he said to himself, as he lowered his bow, making a jest and an excuse of that new spirit which, according to Sempronius, now breathed in Rome. But the Brotherhood of Man had nothing to do with his forbearance. This spot was sanctuary. Blood must not stain it. He had almost felt a small hand close over his, forbidding him. Let the spy go! Indeed, the spy went. For swiftly, openly, in a straight line down the hillside, bushes rippled and tossed as though a draught of wind blew down a corridor.
Attilius sprang onto a hillock. He watched the open ground at the foot of the hill, but no one fled across it.
A deer or a man?
If a man, then a spy. If a spy, then one who knew enough of this green shrine to guess that here he would come the moment he was free. His face darkened—for that threatened Sergia—and lightened again. For he had a plan. Four years ago, yes, the arrow should have flown and struck and closed a mouth. Now there was no need. Attilius had his plan.
“Anyway, the pot goes empty,” he said with a laugh. He unstrung his bow and slid back the arrow in his quiver. But he did not go. The dusk dropped its veils and darkness came. The thickets woke to life and the throb of nightingales. Behind him the moon rose from the Channel.
“This time tomorrow!” he said. He walked up the hill to the camp. Across the water the great shoulder of the Island of Vectis clove the night.
We loved, sir—used to meet,
How sad and bad and mad it was,
But then, how it was sweet!
If yesterday was the longest of the year this next one was the longest since the world began. Never did hours so limp. There was the morning drill—an eternity! The exercises of the afternoon, tedium made torture. Betweenwhiles Attilius, stretched upon his face in the sunlight, kicked his toes into the turf and watched the black galleys laden with the Eighth Legion crawl round Selsey Bill like so many sea centipedes and make for the open water beyond the bluff of Vectis. He reached the green sanctuary on the hillside before the night fell. It was empty. He knew that it would be empty—he was so many hours before his time. Yet he was chilled. He hurried across to the chalk slab and his disappointment vanished. A second heart had been carved in the chalk side by side with his. There was an initial, too, within the heart. S.
Attilius danced a step or two on the turf. But seventh heavens have hells to match, and the journey between them is swifter than light. Attilius dropped like lead. He saw that his arrow was not prolonged to pierce her heart as well as his. What did that mean? Was it just her own natural reserve and dignity counselling her?—“Four years have passed. How do you know that the flame still burns in him? How do you know that he is not reviving the old symbol which once meant so much, in order that he may the more prettily bid you farewell?”
Yes, so she might have argued. A delicate reticence was in her blood. On the other hand she might be saying: “My heart is free. No arrow transfixes it. It’s healed. Look for yourself, poor blockhead,” and suddenly panic seized upon him. There was her initial, plain as could be, cut within the heart. S. There it was! What words could say more clearly: “My heart’s my own, not yours. Off with you, little Tribune!”
Lovers, alas! must look for twisted meanings. And clutch the torture close to them when they think they have discovered them. That Sergia’s duties had left her little time that day, or that her eyes were so dimmed when she read this message; or that her hands so trembled that she could trust neither eyes nor hands; or that her blood throbbed so furiously in her veins that she could not take thought of how to answer him, so long as he was answered—not one of these possibilities occurred to Attilius. If they had, he would have dismissed them. No, tragedy stalked at his heels. All was over.
Then he stooped. All certainly was over. Sergia sent him to the rightabout. But what was this word, rudely, swiftly cut in the chalk beneath the hearts? He spelled it out and stood up erect.
“Puniamini” he had read. “For shame!”
His thought went back to a sprig of gorse dancing in a windless air, to a swift ripple running along the tops of the bushes down the hillside. The spy had scrawled that rebuke. Attilius’ despair changed to anger. Who dared to rebuke a Tribune of the Double Cohort here in Britain, Rome’s conquest, Rome’s debtor?
“I ought to have let that arrow fly,” he said, chiding himself. “If all men are my brothers I could easily have done without one of them.”
He turned about, half hoping that a bush would shake. But he forgot his anger. For the dusk was gathering, and in the windows of that Roman house lording it in Anderida the lights began to glow. Overhead in those other windows from which, if these new philosophers were right, immortal souls leaned out, other lamps were lit. In a while the moon rose behind the hill and drowned them, blanching the deep azure of the sky. Long afterwards the house darkened.
“A few minutes,” he said, and suddenly his vigil was ended. Between those two shrubs she had always come. Between those two shrubs she came now. She halted when she saw him, the moonlight shining darkly on his armour. She herself was in the shadow, and the same pretty dignity which had checked her hand when she wrote her answer in the chalk held her there. Four years had passed. Was this the lover of those days? Or had the four years withered his passion with their dust?
Yet in the end it was she who spoke first.
“Attilius,” she said; and though she breathed his name never so gently, the sound of her voice seemed to him to fill the world with music. Her face, her slim, tall figure, the grace of her bearing, these he had been able to see again, even when he was alone. The soft touch of her hair—that he had been able to feel. But her voice with its full and liquid notes he had never been able to hear. No effort of memory had availed to restore it. So that hearing it flow, it moved him till the tears were in his eyes.
“You have a way of saying Attilius—oh, I shall hear it when I die!” he began, with a little, unsteady laugh, and his voice broke and Sergia was in his arms, her heart beating as though it would break through bone and blood to mate with his.
Attilius put his hand beneath her chin to lift up her face.
“No,” she whispered.
“Let me see you, dearest.”
“No!” And she clung the closer, feeling his shoulders to assure herself that it was he and not some malignant spirit which had assumed his shape to make a fool of her.
“In a moment,” she said, and she laughed happily. But the laugh ended in a low cry of distress. “Four years, my darling. I wouldn’t have believed that four years could hurt one so.”
To comfort her he said foolishly: “Nonsense, Sergia! We were here together yesterday, you and I,” and whilst speaking he heard the folly of his words.
Some knowledge of her, after all, he had lost and now recaptured. The pretences, the empty, pretty phrases which only avoid and cannot heal, had never any solace for Sergia. She was direct and simple.
“We were not,” she answered. She threw back her head now, and her eyes searched his face. “Yes, four endless years, Attilius.”
She unlatched the chin strap of his helmet and tumbled the fine, plume-crested thing onto the ground with disrespect. The panoply of Rome meant nothing to her, but this Roman meant the world. She turned his face to the moonlight and shook her head and smiled.
“Four years, Attilius! They are written here.” She raised her hand and with a finger traced the line between his nostril and the corner of his mouth. “And here’s a tiny wrinkle I don’t know, at the edge of the eye. Oh! And this furrow here. You have grieved for me, my dear, as I for you.” She smoothed her hand down his cheek and patted it and clung to him again.
“If you had not sent for me tonight!” Sergia whispered, her voice muffled in the embrace. But even so a note of panic could be heard.
“Child!” replied Attilius, in the mood of Man the Paternal. He saw no reason to admit that he had been hopping from one foot to another all that day in terror lest she should take no notice of his summons.
“But you did,” she continued. “It was kind.” She drew away a little and took him by the arm, opening and shutting her hand upon it as though she were still not quite sure that he was really at her side. “To know that you had not forgotten will make it easier.”
“What easier?” asked Attilius.
“Everything. All the years that will be. I am only twenty-two. I have a long way to go alone.”
She led him a little up the side of the hollow. There was a mound of turf there on which she took her seat. She could command her face, perhaps, even her voice, but her knees, no.
“Why alone, Sergia?”
“You go with your Legion tomorrow?”
There was no hesitation in his answer. Sempronius Proculeius had not used the big stick, but he had no less effectually nursed his Remittance Man into the iron discipline of the army. Attilius would return with his Legion along that endless road through Gaul.
“I want you to carry away with you a good thought of me,” she went on, keeping her eyes averted from his face so that her voice might be steadier. “I want you to remember me as one to whom you brought for a little while an undreamt-of happiness.”
Attilius was standing over her, a smile upon his lips and a great tenderness in his face.
“I am not going to remember you at all, Sergia.”
Since her eyes were not upon him, it was only the words she heard. Their very hardness deafened her to the tone which uttered them. A low cry broke from her: “Oh!”
Attilius dropped down by her side.
“I am going to live with you, love you, quarrel with you, grow old with you, in my big house on the Quirinal.”
Sergia turned to him, her face uplifted.
“If it could be!” she cried, with such longing in her cry as melted his heart.
“It will be,” said Attilius.
She adored the stubbornness in his voice, but facts were facts and dreams were dreams, and wise young people with many long, unhappy years in front of them must keep them apart.
“Child!” she in her turn said, and held his face for a moment side by side against hers. “These are our last hours together.”
“No,” he exclaimed violently.
“But you go tomorrow.”
“I shall return.”
“The Romans are leaving Britain.”
And Attilius really laughed. He threw back his head and laughed joyously. So this was what was troubling her. Because two Legions were relieved, Britain with its wealth of wool and wheat and lead was being jettisoned!
“A fable!” he cried. “Who believes it?”
“Everyone.” She added after a pause, and in a lower key, “My father.”
“He?” Attilius was astounded.
“But I gave him a sure sign by which he might know when Rome was breaking. When the grass grows up between the slabs of our pavements and breaks our roads, then Rome’s breaking, too. But not till then, Sergia. He has forgotten it.”
“He does not want to believe it,” said Sergia.
Attilius was not at the moment concerned with Sergia’s father. Sergia’s father could wait on the very outskirts of his thoughts. Sergia could not.
“But you, dearest! You believe it?” He took her hands. “I go to Rome now. Yes. I must go with my Legion. I must get free of my Legion. Then I shall come back—for you.”
Sergia looked at him, her lips parted, her eyes hiding her thoughts. She believed him. It was impossible that on so great a matter he should play with her—he who had never played with her. But she had to get used to a dream transfigured and made true. She was a little scared by it.
“We shall be together—always!” she whispered. “Oh!”—and she clasped him to her breast.
“I shall go straight to your father and claim you,” Attilius continued, and again he laughed. “My wife! Before all the world, my wife!” He looked at her a little wistfully. “We’ll have to pretend at times that we must be secret and our meetings stolen.”
Suddenly Sergia drew back.
“It will be no pretence,” she said, and despair seized upon her again.
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“Dearest! You never guessed? I thought…you ceased to come to our house…if you were asked you refused…I thought you guessed.”
Attilius put his arm about her, drew her close and whispered in her ear.
“When did I cease? After we first met here. I never guessed? What was there to guess?”
“My father hates you,” and that too was whispered.
“Oh, not because you are you. How could he?” and a smile of pride in her lover made her face for a second joyous. “But because you are a Roman. He hates all Romans. He is jealous of Rome. He hates Rome.”
The revelation took Attilius by surprise. Yet perhaps he might have suspected. That suavity in so important a personage might well conceal an overpowering jealousy. There had never been any genuine friendliness in Prasutacus. Fair words and flatteries and an obsequious ear for any folly a young Tribune might utter—these were always ready. But Attilius had never liked him, never trusted him. At one time he had whipped himself into some semblance of a belief that he had been prejudiced unjustly by the saying of his Legate. Britons more Roman than Rome were to be kept at arm’s length. Now he understood that an instinct had warned him wisely.
“I understand that now,” he agreed. “None the less, my sweetheart, I hold you till death.”
The tightening of her arms about his neck was answer enough. But she added: “Death would come before he gave me to you. Listen, Attilius. I could follow you. I’d beg my way to Rome, with you at the journey’s end. I am young and strong—”
“Madness, dearest—” he began and stopped, listening. He held up a hand in warning. For behind him and just above him the bushes rattled on the hillside. Attilius rose and turned. But quick as he was he was not quick enough. As his hand flew to his sword hilt a very giant of a man sprang. He sprang from the heart of the scrub above their heads and came hurtling down. He dropped with the force of a great boulder upon the Tribune’s shoulders and, as he dropped, he struck. He struck at Attilius’ head with a great knobbed stick and both men crashed to the ground. At the noise of their fall Sergia screamed. In an instant one man was upon his feet, the man who had jumped.
“Silence!” he cried.
Sergia stared at him.
It was her father’s steward who threatened her.
“You have killed him!”
In spite of his bulk she swept him aside and, dropping upon her knees, gently raised her lover’s head and pillowed it upon her arm. Attilius was breathing, but his eyes were closed. The blood streamed down the side of his face.
Sergia had her wits about her now. She had to think and to think fast, for his sake and for hers. If she could reach the camp on the hill. A cry? What heed would a sentry up there pay to a woman’s cry on the hillside below? His business was to guard his camp. She must reach him, speak to him. Her father? She gave not a thought to him.
Someone was speaking. Bran—but not to her. She looked up. There were other men, serfs of Prasutacus. The moonlit hollow seemed alive with them. Two men carrying a hurdle came forward, and Bran lifted her roughly from the ground. Sergia hardly felt his hand, and she uttered no cry. Indeed, Bran was helping her. She reeled back, towards the tangle of bush and shrub which enclosed this violated sanctuary. If she could reach the edge of it unnoticed. She saw Bran stoop over Attilius and fling him over on his face. He was still unconscious, for his armour only rattled once. She drew back another step. Bran held out a hand, and one of the serfs handed to him a leather thong, and he bound Attilius’ hands behind his back, with so much force that she felt the bones of her lover’s arms must crack. But that, too, she endured without a moan. Only she stepped back again. She was on the rim of the open ground now.
“Now,” said Bran.
Two men stooped, lifted Attilius, and tumbled him onto the hurdle. They were going to take him down into the house. Once they reached it, it would be no more a house but Attilius’ tomb. She must wake the camp. One more step whilst they raised the hurdle. With hardly a whisper of the boughs she was gone. Gathering her black cloak about her, she bent and ran. The side of the hill was steep. She could hardly keep her feet. She stumbled and regained her balance and ran on. She heard a shout raised behind her.
A loud crackling of branches told her the pursuit had begun. Her bosom was labouring, her breath came in gasps so that she thought her heart must stop. She had a moment’s wish that it would stop and thrust the wish aside. One of the men was close upon her heels. Between her and the angle of the road, and above her, there were others. With a distracted sob she ran on, but her pursuer was too near. She dropped behind a bush and drew her cloak over her head and face. She made herself very small, a blot upon the ground in the shadow of a bramble. She heard the rush of a man past her hiding place. Then the sound of rustling twigs ceased altogether. He had lost her. She waited, holding her breath, until she choked for want of air. The man came back slowly and halted. She dared not steal a glance lest the whiteness of her face should gleam in the darkness. He remained very still, listening, and suddenly above her head he laughed. Before she could scream he had wrapped her cloak close about her head. He lifted her up in his arms as if she were a child. She struggled, she tried to cry out.
“Let me down.”
If not the words, her meaning reached the man. He was Bran, and he answered her savagely.
“I lost a dog today. He joined the soldiers. Women and dogs—they follow marching men.”
He carried her back towards the hollow, and suddenly he found her weight increased. Sergia had fainted.
Half an hour later a small procession moving very stealthily crossed the garden to the big door of the house. Not a light shone anywhere. But someone was watching and, as the procession mounted the steps to the broad corridor, the door swung silently open. The little company with their burdens passed in and the door was closed again. Then a small lamp was lit and held high in a hand. It was Prasutacus himself who held the lamp. He led the way into the recesses of his house.
In the camp on the top of Bignor Hill, sentinel called to sentinel that all was well.
There will be one hour where for the first time one man will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things.
An hour after daybreak the first half of the Sixth Legion, Victrix, Pia, Fidelis, swung down to Gumber corner and took the long slope to Regnum. The Tribune of the Double Cohort was missing from his post, but the Legion marched to a time-table. Precisely at that hour the second half tramped out of Hardham Mansion seven miles away across the Weald. Room must be made for it; and, as Sempronius Proculeius had said, Tribunes were two pence the big bunch. So long as the muster of Centurions was complete the Legion could carry on. Enquiries were made, but although Attilius had many friends who brought their stories to him, he had none in whom he confided. Since Calpurnius Scapula had gone he had stood a little aloof, a lonely youth of a ready and kindly humour but a tireless sentinel of himself. None knew of that green hollow on the flank of the hill. At Regnum, the primus pilus who had been seconded on Attilius’ mission of secret service sought permission from the Legate to stay behind. But since Attilius was absent, the less could he be spared. Information of the young Tribune’s disappearance was left at Regnum, but the Legion embarked for Gaul and was swept out of sight across the Channel.
It was watched from the thickets along the road and from the shores of the harbour; and the news of its movements was carried to Prasutacus who cowered in his great house, now thrilled by his audacity, now upbraiding himself for a lunatic. One moment it would be: “They’ll crucify me to my door and then burn my house down”; at another he would strut about, as arrogant as a peacock: “The Romans! Puff! I’d rub their faces in the nettle-beds as soon as look at them.”
It was the latter mood which Bran, the steward, who was always at his master’s elbow during these two days, was at pains to inflame. He was an ignorant, bumptious Mr Know-all who carried his brains in his sinews.
“There’s too much talk about the Romans!” he cried. “Fine fellows they make themselves out to be. But I fought against them with the Iceni. I know.”
“You fought against them?” Prasutacus asked, pulling at his little beard and scanning the great hulk before him with his little eyes. He had heard that story often enough and, though he wished to believe it, was never sure there was any truth in it at all.
“Heu! I fought with the Iceni,” Bran repeated, striking an attitude. “And there you have it! Now they’ve all gone helter-skelter back to their own country.”
“All?” Prasutacus asked, puffing at his lip. “I want to be sure of that. What of the Wall?”
And Bran threw back his head and roared with laughter. “The Wall! God bless you, Master, there isn’t any Wall.”
“No Wall?” exclaimed Prasutacus, his mouth hanging open.
“The Wall’s the great Lie to keep us all quiet. There you have it! I fought with the Iceni. I know.”
Bran stood there beaming. He was all swagger and bounce. Prasutacus was eager to be persuaded. For he was playing with an idea which suited his humour perfectly. It would be pleasant to have one of the conquerors as his slave, especially one who had wronged him, to set him to the meanest work, to house him in a kennel on a chain and put him up for the mockery of his friends, with a little torture to make him lively. Very delightful, but he must be sure that the Romans had gone. Rumour was out of its reckoning by three hundred years, but Prasutacus was not to know. Late in the second day, a spy returned in haste. The harbour of Regnum was empty. The soldiers had gone. A story of disaster on the Danube, of a great insurrection in Gaul, of Rome itself beleaguered, was running like fire through the town.
Prasutacus was encouraged to take his risk. He ordered his dining hail to be lit with candles and lamps as for a great feast, so that its painted wall glowed and the shining stone which faced its pillars flung back the light like mirrors. He robed himself in scarlet and clasped circlets of gold about his arms and neck. Then he dined alone on rich foods and very slowly, drinking his mellowest wine from an amber goblet and savouring even more than the wine the pleasant hour which lay ahead of him. When he had done, he washed his hands in rose water and had the table removed from before his couch and said: “I want my daughter to be brought to me.”
Sergia came proudly, though a woman of the household escorted her as her gaoler. She wore a gown of white silk and held her head high, and, though her cheeks were as white as her gown and her heart shook with fear for her lover, she met her father’s eyes so that his dropped from hers.
“You will sit here, my daughter,” he said, pointing to a chair beside his couch. “You shall thank me for my gentleness. I ask nothing more from you but that you shall sit here very quietly for a little while.”
Sergia took her seat. She was not deceived by the smooth words. But there was no escape for her. Her father had planned some dreadful vengeance. She could only wait upon opportunity and pray that it might come.
“Now,” said Prasutacus, “I can receive my guest,” and he rubbed the palms of his hands softly together, wetting his lips with the tip of his tongue.
A serf ran off, and in a little while the clang of a heavy door far away resounded in the silent house. Prasutacus was in no hurry. He had many senses to satisfy and was minded not to hasten over the satisfaction. Here was one sense to be tickled very pleasantly first of all—the sense of hearing. He leaned up on his elbow, with his eyes upon the tiles of the door. He wanted to hear, not see. He heard heavy, important footsteps—Bran, the gaoler, making the most of his gaolering. Prasutacus smiled. Just in that way Bran would convoy his prisoner. It was all very delightful. But the sound for which his ears ached did not come. He wanted to listen to a step that faltered and dragged upon the tiles and weakly stumbled, the step of a young man wounded and starving. He heard instead the pacing of a sentry.
The smile disappeared from his lips. He would not yet look, but he stretched out his head, and his neck stiffened till he had the aspect of a snake poised to strike.
“Rome!” he muttered in spite of himself. There was all Rome in that impossible steadiness. A man on parade, a rock that moved, indifference itself!
One tiny comfort was vouchsafed to him. He heard a moan break from his daughter’s lips, he saw her rise and sink back again as though her knees could not sustain her. There was an agreeable spectacle waiting for him when he should lift his eyes. That was evident. But hatred had dowered Prasutacus with a subtle cruelty. He regretted that he had not ordered Attilius to be brought into the hall behind his back. Then in one of those square and shining pillars of white phegnite he might have watched, as in some blurred and faulty mirror, the approach of his victim and half imagined, half descried the ravage which imprisonment had wrought in him.
Prasutacus looked up now and drew a long breath. Attilius’ hands were still bound behind him by the leather thong, on his right temple and cheek the blood of his wound was caked black, his face had thinned, the little marks of authority and time which Sergia had named were obvious now. He was a man in pain. But even so Prasutacus was vexed. Attilius stood erect; he had not a glance to spare for his captor; his eyes were on Sergia, encouraging her, as though she alone needed consolation.
“Leave us!” Prasutacus said to his servants.
Bran remained. He carried a great iron hammer in his hand. Also the woman remained who guarded Sergia, standing at the back of the chair. When the five of them were alone, Prasutacus spoke smoothly: “I owe you thanks, my Attilius, and I am in the mood to pay them. You took my daughter. But you did not flog her, which, I understand, is the kindly Roman way. Nor did you rob her of her money. My daughter is more fortunate than even a Queen, Attilius. Attilius, accept my thanks!”
He bowed and smirked, a ridiculous figure if he had not been so viperish. As it was, his very grimaces made him horrible.
“See how I imitate your clemency, Attilius. A hundred thousand Romans paid with their lives for your treatment of Boudicca. I, for your treatment of Sergia, only ask for one.”
Attilius made no reply. Indeed, there was no reply which could be made. The robbery and degradation of Boudicca, that much- wronged Queen of the Iceni, were the blackest stains upon the Roman rule. The crimes had been committed in other days when Nero reigned and Seneca despoiled. But the memory of them remained and could not be gainsaid.
“I have another cause for gratitude, my Attilius,” Prasutacus purred. “When first you honoured my house, I had put on in error the striped tunic of a Senator. It was intended as a small flattery of our conquerors. But you took it amiss, my Attilius. You questioned my taste, I think. No! No!—” he broke off to lift a hand as if deprecating an apology, though Attilius had not so much as turned his head towards him. “You were right to correct me. I don’t blame you. Indeed, I have profited by your teaching, as you see. There is no more of Rome in my dress tonight than there is in the camps of Britain?” It was a question, rather than a statement, and it was asked anxiously. But again Attilius did not answer. He would not waste what strength he had in a dispute. Let Prasutacus think what he chose. His eyes fell upon the tiles at his feet. They made a mosaic, he noticed with a fraction of his mind—a mosaic representing, of course, some classic scene and made by a British craftsman. The eager life of the animals with their back-flung ears and staring eyes and the clumsy disposition of the man, the one man in the picture, were evidence of origin not to be denied. Meanwhile Prasutacus was talking—asking questions, it seemed—and repeating them. It was all very wearisome to Attilius. He wanted rest. He was half over the threshold between the house of life and the street of death; and he had stepped with the left foot first again. He remembered with a smile the young spark in the gay clothes who, centuries ago, had stepped thus from his lodging to find a soldier of the Praetorian Guard with an order of banishment. Himself? Yes, by Hercules the God of Labour and Endurance, himself! How could that be?
Meanwhile Prasutacus asked questions which plagued his wounded head. And that queer, ill-shaped mosaic man on the pavement at his feet seemed to be trying to talk to him too. To be telling him something which he must really open his mind to and understand. But Attilius could not be bothered. His arms, for one thing, hurt him horribly; and he was not quite sure that he could stand erect very much longer.
However, the figure on the tiles insisted. He opened his mind just a little, but it was as heavy to move as an iron door upon a rusty hinge. Something, however, slipped in. That stumpy, distorted figure was not a man at all. He was a God—more than that, he was the God—the God of Gods—Orpheus. There he was, piping on his lute in the forest—the forest of Anderida, no doubt—and round about, squatting on their haunches, were the charmed animals—all sorts of them from hares to lions. Very well! Now that he had recognized his Godhead, perhaps Orpheus would kindly leave him alone. For: “I am very tired,” he said, and realizing suddenly that he had spoken aloud, he drew himself smartly up. The words were meant for Orpheus, not for Prasutacus.
Prasutacus took them, however, to himself.
“No doubt! Answer me then, my Attilius, so that my questions may cease.”
And they began again. Had the Romans left Britain? Were the Germans at the gates of Rome? Prasutacus wanted a sign, a proof.
“No, no!” cried Attilius. “The Sixth and Eighth Legions are recalled. The Thirteenth takes their place.”
Prasutacus had started up. He was supported no longer on his elbow at his ease, but on an arm stiff from shoulder to wrist. There was terror in his eyes now. He had asked for a sign. He had it. Had Attilius said: “Other Legions will come” he might have taken it for a boast or a menace. But Attilius had named a Legion, carelessly, like a man speaking what tomorrow will be common knowledge. Slowly Prasutacus fell back, his shrewd little eyes sounding his prisoner. Attilius was too hard put to it to be practising any craft. The enterprise of Britain was to continue. The Thirteenth Legion was on its way, very likely had already disembarked at one of the eastern ports, Richboro’, or Lymne, or Dover. Prasutacus abandoned on the instant his pleasant dream of a slave and a whip and many evenings with a tortured Attilius for a butt. The whole affair, capture and punishment, must be done with, obliterated, tonight.
“You are quite sure, my Attilius?” he insisted. “The Thirteenth Legion takes your place?”
Attilius answered mechanically. It was harder than ever to keep his wits alert. Here was Prasutacus pestering him like a wasp on the one hand, and the God of the pavement at his feet pressing upon that reluctant iron door of his mind. The God had a message and was urgent to deliver it to him before he died. But he had no wish to be troubled with it. He was one dull throb of pain from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. Even Sergia, sitting over against him in her white gown, her face a mask of grief, was blurred.
“Oh, yes, the Thirteenth takes our place, Prasutacus.”
“And it stays in Anderida?”
“It marches to the Wall.”
Upon that a great, empty guffaw broke from Bran behind his shoulder, and the smile even returned to the mouth of Prasutacus. He ran his fingers through his little beard and tittered.
“By the way, Attilius, I am very curious. There is so much doubt about it. But is there a Wall?”
Was there a Wall? What a question for him who had frozen for two winters on it under the unkindliest cold stars which ever glittered in a sky of ebony! But he was not called upon to answer that question. Bran answered it.
“Of course there’s no Wall. I know, my master. I fought with the Iceni. And there you have it.”
“And very wisely took refuge in Anderida.”
The retort occurred to Attilius, but he did not utter it. Where was the use?
“And the road runs to the Wall, Attilius, doesn’t it?” Prasutacus went on sniggering and grimacing at him like an ape. “Dear, dear, how you wearied me with your roads! A golden post isn’t there, Attilius? You see how I remember.”
And suddenly Attilius laughed aloud. So buoyant a laugh that Prasutacus shrank back upon his couch and gazed about him in fear lest some rescue party had crept into the house. But peer as he might, there were none but the five people in the lighted room and there was no clamour outside it. Yet Attilius laughed. Before the eyes of Prasutacus he recaptured his youth. He was fire again, not lead.
And he owed his renascence to Prasutacus. Prasutacus with his jokes had pushed that iron door wide open and let the God and his message through. He had spoken of the roads. The Golden Post had proved a golden key. Attilius had flown back in his thoughts to the inn at Lyons where a ragged and drunken Cynic had first revealed to him the romance and magic of the roads. Daemonides had talked of other things that night—the great Orphic Mysteries and the doctrines of Transmigration. The souls descending from the High Godhead through the seven planets, clothing themselves with passions as they sank, becoming men, atoning for one life with another, until, the atonement fulfilled, they mounted again from planet to planet into the whiteness of the highest Heaven. That was the message which the God pictured on the mosaic of the floor had been striving to give, which, on the end, he had used Prasutacus to deliver. It was no wonder that Attilius laughed.
But there was still something hidden from him—behind a veil of mist which shifted and grew thin. The mist would roll away if he could have a little time—Oh, not long—almost he held the final truth—a few moments—“I laugh, Prasutacus, at your ignorance,” he cried in a clear, strong voice which drew Sergia forward in her chair, her hands upon the arms of it, her white face startled into hope. He talked. If he could keep Prasutacus frightened, uncertain, he would gain the little time he needed. So he talked. There was a quotation—useful on this occasion—often heard: “Wherever the Roman conquers, he settles.” Attilius flaunted the saying in Prasutacus’ face-a great, wise saying.
“And who said it?” asked Prasutacus; and with the question the mist was carried away like clouds on a high wind. It was Seneca who had said it, the man with the evil name in Britain and the great name in Rome. Daemonides had quoted another saying of Seneca’s: “Life is long, if it is fulfilled.” Attilius caught at that saying now. Another life and another for atonement? He passed beyond that creed now. Another life and another for fulfilment. That was the creed he had reached, and he was content. He saw his short life spread out before him—from his wild youth and banishment to these last moments in the hall of Prasutacus. There was a pattern in it, an order, therefore a purpose, and a purpose still to be fulfilled—and not fulfilled here nor in this age. The painted figure on the tiles was a promise.
Attilius broke in upon Prasutacus. He had done with him.
“Sergia,” he cried. “Look up! You and I! Don’t doubt! Don’t fear!”
And Sergia saw him, in spite of the blood caked upon his face and his pinioned arms, radiant as a young God, striding towards her out of the heart of the dawn.
She shook off her attendant. She rose to her feet. She gazed at her lover with her lips parted, her eyes shining.
“What did I promise you, my dear?” he said. “I should hear your voice when I die. I promise you now much more. Another life in other days, with me.”
Sergia stood, her eyes upon him, hope glimmering in them. She had not listened to Daemonides at Lyons. There was no Orpheus with his lute painted at her feet. But she loved, and love preached as convincing a sermon as the Cynic and the God. There could be no such futility as that he should die and she should weep.
“Believe!” he cried, and his voice rang with certainty.
Surely he knew!
Gravely she bowed her head, binding herself to that distant tryst.
“I don’t doubt, my darling. I no longer fear.” She breathed the words in a full, low voice.
Prasutacus raged. Here was his vengeance made a mockery, he himself set aside.
“I’ll end this,” he cried, shaking his fist; and Attilius turned his eyes for a second upon him, as though only now he was aware of his presence.
“You, Prasutacus,” he said very gently. “You will end—nothing.”
He looked again at Sergia, taking to his heart her courage and her loveliness.
“Carry me with you, dearest, in your memories as I am now,” he said, and to her the ring of his voice was a pledge. “Now, look at me no more.”
For he had seen a quick movement of Prasutacus’ hand. Sergia obeyed him. She covered her face with her hands. In a polished pillar he saw Bran lift high behind him his great hammer.
“My Attilius—” he heard, and heard no more. For the hammer fell. Again Attilius’ armour rattled once, and then all the room was still.
Now called by one, now by another name,
The form is only changed, the wax is still the same
So death, so called, can but the form deface
The immortal soul flies out in empty space
To seek her fortune in some other place.
From the fifteenth to the nineteenth of the month a southwest gale thrashed the trees in the park and roared about the chimneys. Anthony Scarr, then fourteen years old, slept ill through the nights and found no solace in his books by day. On the nineteenth, indeed, he was so tormented that he rose from his bed before midnight and, wrapping himself in a cloak against the cold, sat down to prepare himself by the light of his candles for his matriculation at Oxford. He was studying the sixth book of the Aeneid and did at last lose his unhappiness in the story of Eurydice and Orpheus. He lost his sense of outward things altogether, and was wandering in the meadows with the souls waiting to be born again when he was suddenly recalled to earth. He had reached the line:
“Inclusas animas, superumque ad lumen ituras,”…
and was aware again, after these five days of boisterous storm, of gulls crying above the roof of the house. He lifted his head. The gale had blown itself out. He ran to his window and opened it. There were stars shining in an ebony sky and such a stillness in the air that he could count the seconds between each thunder-roll of the breakers on the rocks.
Anthony dressed himself in a panic lest he should be too late, slipped on a leather jacket, and carrying his shoes in one hand and his candle in the other, crept down the stairs. In all this big house no one but his tutor, the Reverend Doctor Morgan Evans of Oriel College, and himself inhabited the principal quarters, and the comfortable, loud snores of the good Doctor freed him from any fear that his adventure would be interrupted. Outside the main door, the cold of a November night caught his breath away, but the flame of the candle was as steady as a spearhead. It flickered only as he moved—between the shrubs, down the steps of the terraces, across the lawns which separated them. It disappeared in the boathouse, and a little later the keel of a boat grated on the shingle and the thud of oars in the rowlocks broke the night with a muffled rhythm. They made up a refrain as one spaced sound will: “You’ll miss them… You’ll miss them… You’ll miss them.”
But in the smooth water on the western side of the river a draught of wind from the north came to the boy’s help. He set up his mast and a sail and in half an hour felt the lop of the sea under him. It was still the very black of night, but he had the habit of these waters and his eyes could now make out the line of the high land against the sky. He ran out towards the Manacles and once past Dennis Head, put his tiller down and bore up behind its screen of rocks into Gillan Creek. He beached his boat in front of the little church of St Anthony-in-Meneage, and climbing through a stubble of dead ferns, ran out to the brow of the Head. He looked eastward across the Helford River and down into Falmouth Bay, his heart in his mouth. They were there still, all four of them, their lanterns tossing on the swell—Drake’s ships. They had lain weather-bound in the bay these five days, and even now the faint wind from the north had not reached them under Mawnan’s Chair.
Anthony Scarr was in time, then. He would see the last of them in English waters. He flung himself down upon the turf. The lanterns were moving now, away from the coast—surely—surely. He watched them in suspense. That winter’s morning breathed sharp and cold long before the darkness lifted. But the boy on Dennis Head never noticed it. It seemed to him that the whole world held its breath with him, waiting upon a miracle. Slowly the light came, slowly the four ships made their offing, and up over the great wedge of the Dodman rose the sun. Suddenly it was summer. Snow ranges of white clouds towered over Rame Head. Here under Dennis Head the sea was brown; and across the bay from east to west a line was drawn, straight as that line a foolish Pope had drawn from north to south, giving half the world to Portugal and half to Spain. Well, Drake was going to see about that line, and what better promise could he have than that on the morning of his departure this side of his line was brown and that beyond, the loveliest, sparkling blue. With a fair wind the four ships drew to the southwest, first the General’s own ship, the Pelican, next the Elizabeth, third the provision ship, the Swan, and last the tiny Marigold. Anthony watched until the last sail had dipped beyond the horizon. And then, since he was alone, and since he was very young, he buried his face in his arms and burst into tears. His heart was with those ships. He had so longed to sail on one of them; he was so desolate in that big house across the river. Almost he had sailed on one of them—down with Drake to the Straits of Magellan and out into that unknown sea of gold and spices and adventure into which only one had broken and from which he had not returned.
Anthony stumbled down the hill, his eyes still blinded with his tears, and coming to the small wicket gate which led into the churchyard, passed through it. The door of the church was open and the church was empty. He went into it and, kneeling down, prayed with his whole heart that, though he was not permitted to sail with it, the tiny fleet might return, ballasted with gold and jewels and rare spices, to the glory of God and the ruin of Spain.
For this was November of the year 1577, and one of those four ships was to perambulate the world.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
Where the old trade’s plyin’ an’ the old flag flyin’
They shall find him ’ware an’ wakin’ as they
found him long ago.
He had almost sailed with Drake. Who had prevented him? The question so puzzled and distressed the boy that, after he had made his prayer upon his knees, he sat back on the bench and for the hundredth time harried his wits to solve it. The north wind blew steadily. The four ships were drawing on from circle to circle of the great sea. Anthony in the quiet of the tiny church repeated each detail of the heartbreaking, unforgettable day.
First of all he had had to persuade his tutor to a jaunt to Plymouth fifty miles away. He had turned that trick without much difficulty. Dr Evans was a learned pussycat, but he had a corner of his mind where imagination played. He loved old roads, and though he only travelled them by the fireside of Drove House behind Mawnan’s Chair, he travelled them insatiably. The publication of two new books written upon this topic was Anthony’s lure. And once he had got the Reverend Doctor inside the door of Mr Hopton, the Plymouth bookseller, the pussycat was no more than a mouse in a trap. The trap was richly and variously baited. So Dr Evans nibbled and nibbled contentedly whilst Anthony lay in wait upon the Barbican and watched the Pelican preparing for the sea, and Captain Drake going forth and coming back in his rough working suit of frieze.
Anthony had made up his mind to speak to him, and each day he was daunted. He saw a short, square man with an enormous breadth of chest.
“The very build for a sailor,” he said to himself, “He’ll never look at me,” and he glanced ruefully down at his own slender and gracious figure. “He could break me in his hands”; and indeed the General’s strong brown beard and his crop of hair upstanding like wire were daunting to any lad who had nothing to offer and everything to ask.
There was just one feature which encouraged Anthony: Drake’s high arched brows which made him look as if, with every step he took, a new world surprised and ravished him. But Anthony could not stake his dreams upon a couple of eyebrows, however promising. So he still advanced and receded. “If I speak to him now he will only take me for a dancing master,” Anthony moaned, and he got himself back to his lodging, belabouring himself for a coward.
He was bold enough then, and quite unable to understand his poltroonery.
“After all, he could only pull my ears,” he said stoutly, “and what are ears for?”
“To be tickled,” said the Reverend Dr Evans surprisingly. It is his excuse that he was half asleep after a busy day and a copious supper. “To be tickled by cool fingers and exquisite melodies. There was once a time when a maiden at Bablock Hythe—But eheu fugaces labuntur anni…” Very likely the enormity of uttering a quotation so trite woke him up, but wake he did. He saw his dear pupil staring at him with intense astonishment, and he was a little astonished himself. “To be sure,” he said soothingly, and so fell away into silence. The story of the maiden at Bablock Hythe was never told. Indeed, next day Anthony Scarr forgot it. For next day was the memorable one. There was not enough red in the whole world to colour its letters worthily.
For while Anthony chassé-ed and croisé-ed, that morning the great man stopped and fetched about as nimbly as one of his own pinnaces.
“And what has this young falcon been trying to say to me?” he cried in a big, good-humoured voice. He did not, after all, take him for a dancing master. His eyes had a friendly look; they were brown with steel behind. Anthony blurted out, taking off his hat: “Captain Drake, I want to go to sea with you.”
It seemed that nothing so comic had happened to the great man for many a day. Here was a pair of ears properly tickled. They were standing on the Barbican by the water-steps, and Drake leaned back against the parapet and let out his delight in a roar of laughter. To Anthony it was a wave of shame, drowning him—worse, a scourge which bit into his soul and left him alive.
“Nay, never flinch, lad, because I laugh,” the Captain said quickly. “I laugh not at you. I laugh because every honest boy wants to sail with me, and there aren’t the ships in England to house them all.”
Anthony looked at him steadily.
“If you would take me, Sir, I’d be content to wash your shirts.” And Drake’s laughter stopped.
“Would you, now?” he asked softly.
Most of the boys wanted to steer the ship and lead the boarding parties with pike and cutlass, whilst Drake stood by, his sword drawn, certainly, but only of use to knight them afterwards—boy heroes before discipline and knowledge had knit them into heroism, Jack the Giant-killer, every one of them, before he had learned to climb the beanstalk.
“Wash my shirts? Would you now?” he repeated, and he looked Anthony over rather carefully from head to foot.
Now Anthony was of his age, early a man and late a boy. He had used his wits and he had listened. He knew that this bluff sailor had a shrewd liking for magnificence, that he claimed not merely authority but the decorations which set it off. So he had dressed himself in his very bravest, a velvet doublet and breeches of the rich Venetian brown with a collar of lace and red roses in his shoes. He was very spruce and smart. So Drake looked him over. This slim stripling had the voice and manner of a gentleman. It would be pleasant to have him in his fine clothes, with his face fresh as a girl’s standing behind the Captain’s chair whilst the Captain dined. He might have a gold chain, too, with an emerald ornament, about his shoulders, taken from the first galleon they fell in with. Drake stroked his beard and thought about it. Then he shook his head.
“I look to God the Lord to fill my sails. Will He if the maledictions of the mothers blow on t’other side?”
“I have no mother,” said Anthony. “I never knew my mother.”
“And has grown so straight and delicate in spite of it! And knows that good will gives the meanest duties rank! Must have had a father in a thousand!”
“For a while,” Anthony answered.
“He followed your mother?”
“Spain helped him, for his soul’s sake.”
Drake nodded his head gravely.
“The Plaza of Valladolid.”
A famous place. A wide place, where a fine crowd could gather to see the tortured prisoners limp from their dungeons in their grotesque masquerade and burn like so many candles at the altar of God. Anthony’s was a common case. A rash word, perhaps no word at all but an informer seeking favour or a man of business ridding himself of a rival—and the iron hand closed and only opened to consign quite paternally another heretic to the flames. There were hundreds in England, mothers and wives and sons and daughters and lovers of men who had ventured into Spanish ports and paid the penalty. Who should know it if not Drake? But none the less there was something new to him in this commonplace narrative, something which melted him. The reticence and quietude with which it was suggested rather than told. The great leader, who would never have led but for his understanding of other men, saw suddenly a young soul sunk in depth upon depth of loneliness and longing. He must hate Spain, too, all the more because he said nothing about it. Drake had got beyond the fine stripling and his gold chain.
“But you have guardians,” he objected.
“They have plans for you.”
“Oxford. The Inns of Court to follow. I do not see them often,” and now a smile of amusement turned him into a boy again. “They are very busy. I think they might be very pleased to be able to say that their ward had sailed with Captain Drake.”
Captain Drake could read between the lines. A question or two more about those guardians and he knew that they were merchants of Bishopsgate, cocoons of the new gentry then spreading its golden wings. No doubt they were very busy, pushing through the newly opened doors which led from the City to Whitehall.
“To be sure,” said Drake. “To say that you sailed with me—”
“Would be another plume in Mrs. Sawle’s hair and a few more slashes in Mr Sawle’s doublet.”
At which Drake’s great laugh rang out again. He clapped the boy on the shoulder.
“Come with me and see my ship,” he cried, and was moved out of all expectation as he saw the light leap into the boy’s eyes and heard the breath he drew in through his parted lips. “Nay,” he said. “I’m not inviting you to Paradise.”
But there Drake was wrong. He was. His long boat, manned by sailors holding their oars aloft, waited at the steps. Into it Drake stepped and took the tiller. Anthony—there was no one prouder in the world that morning, not the Pope in the Vatican nor Philip in the Escurial—followed and sat on the cushion by his side.
“Give way,” and the oars flashed. Surely everyone from the Barbican and the Hoe to the far Tamar must be asking: “In God’s name, who’s that young upstart sitting on a cushion beside the General?” He stood on the deck of the Pelican. He saw the stores being handed in, the crew setting up the rigging and polishing the eighteen carronades, Drake’s dreadful jewellery, and Drake himself everywhere, a curse for one and a cheer for another, and his own big, deft hands all the while doing the work of four.
“I’m in a hurry, lad,” he said, with an anxious glance towards the shore.
He never knew when Sir John Hawkins might be pushing out from his office in a boat with an order that his Gracious Lady, the Queen, had changed her mind for what we should now call the umpteenth time, and had determined to play at pat-ball with Philip and, in a word, he must not go. And even more, he feared the sudden apparition of the latest darling from the Court, either in a frenzy to do some unparalleled thing for the glory of Gloriana or in a rage because she had boxed his ears. In any case a pinnace would follow him with a messenger breathing fire and threats and all manner of smarts if he did not at once put back and send the darling back to London. Oh, he was in a hurry to get away from Plymouth Sound and out of the reach of pinnaces, with his powder and his shot and his stores all safely bestowed.
He knocked off after a while, and calling Anthony to his side, patted the great sail housed with its gaff and its boom at the foot of the mainmast.
“Here’s where we win,” he said. “Protestant as I am, I could pray for the soul of Mr Fletcher of Rye, if I thought it in danger of the judgment. But the man who invented fore and aft sails is certainly a saint in Heaven. Come below and see my fine cabin.”
In spite of his bulk and his thirty-seven years he dropped down the narrow, steep companion like a featherweight. He was as eager to show off his trappings as the boy who followed upon his heels was to see them. The cabin was in the stern of the ship with a couple of windows opening above the rudder and a small sleeping cabin leading off. A long table was in the middle, the walls panelled and the furniture of polished oak. Drake’s hourglass stood on a bracket, his astrolabe was hung on a peg against the panel. Anthony hesitated upon the threshold like a pilgrim at a shrine.
“See here, boy,” said the General. He slid back the top half of the table and showed him a drawer, long and dry, wherein lay his charts and his cross-staff.
“Saves room, you see. Room! That’s the sailor man’s trouble.”
He shut up the table with a bang and plumped himself down in the chair with the arms and the damask cushion at the head of it.
“Here I sit, you see, and call my Captains to a conference.
“Whilst I guard the door outside,” said Anthony.
“I ask each man to say his say freely.”
“And you take their advice, Sir?” cried Anthony in horror.
“I certainly should—without one moment’s hesitation—if theirs was better than mine,” the Captain replied seriously. “That hasn’t happened yet. Here I sit at my dinner.”
“I standing behind your chair here,” said Anthony, taking his place.
“With a fine gold chain round your neck,” cried the Captain.
He spread out his strong, broad hands with the long, tapering fingers which seemed hardly to belong to them, palms downward on the oak table.
“Sometimes I shall bid some of the gentlemen adventurers to dine with me. We shall use my silver plate and there will be dishes of guavas and pineapples. We are in the Pacific, you see.”
Anthony Scarr gasped.
“Through the Straits of Magellan!”
“Right on t’other side. I shall look at one of the gentlemen and say to him, lifting up my glass—”
“Oh,” Anthony interrupted anxiously. “Sir, you’ll say it to me.”
The Captain swung round in his chair.
“I’ll say it to you!”
“Yes, and I’ll walk round the table with the jug of wine in my hand and say to him, ‘Sir, the General does you the honour to drink wine with you.”
Captain Drake thumped the table with delight as Anthony bent to the ear of the imagined guest.
“That’s the better way,” he cried. “Ceremony, young gentleman; it’s lavender for keeping us sweet on a long voyage. Grace and good manners wear about and go home unless we bind them close with grapples. I’ll drink to him so—it may be Mr Doughty or Captain Winter of the Elizabeth come aboard for a crack—and whilst we’ve the glasses to our lips down’ll tumble the mate with news that a towering galleon as big as a church is rolling up to Panama five miles ahead.”
“Oh,” cried Anthony with a glowing face, quite carried out of himself. “It’s going to be true!”
“True! By the grace of God it’ll be true ten times over before we get cold again. So we break up our dinner and each man soberly to his station. Where will yours be?”
The question was asked indifferently. It was spoken in the same tone as the rest of the speech. It seemed hardly an independent sentence at all. Not an emphasis underlined it—and it was all the more cunning on that account. Drake waited for the answer, hiding the suspense in his face by looking down upon the table. But indeed he had hardly to wait at all. The answer came back to him with a flash of white teeth and dancing eyes.
“I shall be in the hold, stripped to the waist and black as a monkey, handing up the powder”—and again the Captain’s great fist crashed upon the table.
“By God, you shall!”
The boy was the right metal. Drake would take him. He would have a fine slim page like a My Lord and a stout little ally when the pinch came. A decoration for his cabin and a powder monkey for the cannon play.
“Young Mr Sawle, since “he began, and the boy broke in: “That’s my guardian’s name, Sir.”
“Oh, yes, to be sure.”
He had heard the name Sawle and not troubled his head about any other. He had called Anthony “my boy” and “lad” and once or twice “young gentleman” and to each title Anthony had responded very naturally.
“Well, what is your name?”
And suddenly, all the glamour was wiped out of Anthony’s world. A second ago a golden orange, it was now a ball of clay. Without a word spoken he knew he was not to go. The great Captain sat at the table, still as the idol he was to that one and a thousand boys, his arms spread out with the palms flat, and his face, like an idol’s, shrouding all his thoughts. It seemed to the boy that Drake had discovered a torture never thought of by the Inquisition—the torture of silence. But he was not to sail through the gates of Magellan and share the magic of the new sea and the galleons rolling up to Panama. However the torture ended, that he knew. It ended abruptly.
“We dream when we should work,” said the Captain. “You to your books, Mr Scarr, I to my ship. I will put you on shore.”
The words were as curt as they could be and spoken gruffly. It might be that he was moved by pity and a trifle of regret for himself to make a sharp, clean end of an affair which had already gone too far. It might be that Anthony’s name had waked some old grievance in his mind. But it was probably the first of the two reasons. For he took just one look at the boy’s white face and turned his eyes away quickly and looked at him no more. He bawled up the companion for his boat and nodded his dismissal.
“It is alongside,” he said.
Anthony took up his hat. Though his lips quivered his voice must not.
“I thank you, Captain Drake, for showing so much kindness to a strange boy. Not another but must envy me. I shall remember this cabin all my life.”
He bowed and climbed the companion. It seemed to him that the General almost began to speak again and thought the better of it. And in a moment he was being carried back in the long boat to the Barbican, with a head held high and a face that smiled and a heart that broke. Could he have looked into the fine cabin at that moment he would have seen Drake standing in a muse with so great a pity in his brown and friendly eyes that all his dignity must have gone down before it. But he had seen nothing of that look. And as he sat in the little church of St. Anthony-in- Meneage, he could only think that someone had been beforehand with his name and set the Captain against him as a boy tainted and dishonoured. Well, the little fleet had gone without him. So, too, had his breakfast and so, too, his dinner would go unless he made haste about it. He pushed his boat from the beach and, with the tide to help him, pulled round the Head and across the river to his house.
Above all things I wish God’s glory and next Her Majesty’s safety.
—Letter of Walsingham
When Anthony, washed and dressed, went down into the hall, he stopped in surprise on the last tread of the stair. A stranger was warming himself at the great log fire, and strangers were rare in this house and in these far corners of the country. The stranger turned. He was a thin, sickly, Italianate man of about forty-five years of age, as Anthony judged. He was dark of complexion with a beard and was well, but sombrely, dressed. He had deep-set, very patient eyes, and he looked as if he could hardly counterfeit a smile even were anything so impossible to happen as that he should be lightened of his cares. As he turned, he bowed gravely and said nothing whatever. Anthony stepped down into the hail and bowed in return, and he too said nothing whatever. Pat upon these courtesies the house steward entered the hall.
“Gentlemen, you are served.”
Dr Evans bustled forward.
“Shall we go in before the meat grows cold? You are behind the time, Anthony, and a faithless truant into the bargain. Here it is twelve o’clock and not a page of Tully digested. I must fit my pupil with a dunce’s cap.”
Now, this was waggish, and the Reverend Doctor was not a wag. He was in a fluster and said the first foolish thing which rose to his lips. Anthony held his ground, with his eyes upon his visitor.
“I am Mr Walsingham,” said the visitor.
Anthony moved at once.
“You will forgive me if I lead the way. Such welcome as an empty house can offer is yours, Mr Walsingham.”
He insisted upon the name as his right, and, having been given it, asked no questions. Mr Walsingham followed him, reflecting that in the way of manners the new gentry had very little to learn from the old. He rejoiced, so far as he was capable of joy, being one of the new gentry himself and also because these good manners of Anthony Scarr fitted in with certain hopes and plans never far absent from his mind. Anthony, on his side, was also putting two and two together as he led the way into the dining room. As he took his seat at the head of the table and placed his visitor upon his right hand, he was wondering why Mr Francis Walsingham, Private Secretary to Her Majesty who, what with the stone and Her Majesty’s incommodities, must have had a busy enough time of it, found the leisure to visit a plumeless boy on the edge of the Helford River. It must have been an irksome journey for him, for he had not the aspect of a man who took any pleasure in a horse.
But of these matters he must leave his guest to speak at his own time. Mr Walsingham, too, had his reservations, and after Anthony had arranged with his house steward for the proper disposition of Mr Walsingham’s men, the conversation was left, in the main, to the Reverend Dr Evans, who made a gallant show. When they rose from the table, however, Mr Walsingham looked like coming to his point.
“Since you have played truant all the morning, Mr Scarr,” he said, “will you make a day of it and show me your garden? I get some pleasure from my garden, though, to be sure, I know little about it.”
Wrapped in a cloak, he paced the terraces with Anthony. It was a garden of thick, close-clipped hedges, paths upon a rigid plan, topiary work and subtropical plants. It was the very garden, indeed, for Mr Walsingham, and it is to be conceded that he remarked upon an oleander with pleasure. But it was as a preface to what he had to say rather than as a flowering tree.
“It was an old ambition of your father’s, Mr Scarr, to build his house and lay out an exotic garden just here whence so many of his sailors came. I knew him well. He was born at Chislehurst as I was. For a time we were neighbours in London, by St. Mary’s Axe. And you at times travelled with him, I think.”
Anthony nodded his head. His father, Julian Scarr, had belonged to the Guild of Merchant Adventurers and, trading with the Levant and Italy and Spain in a little fleet of his own ships, had made a great fortune by the time he reached middle age.
“Whilst I was a child,” said Anthony. “Afterwards I must go to school.”
“But you remember something of those voyages,” Mr Walsingham insisted.
Anthony answered: “I have a jumble of memories. We visited so many towns in so many countries that a child could hardly keep them ticketed. Certain towns I do remember.”
In Spain, perhaps.
Mr Walsingham saw a shadow dull the boy’s face and his eyes lose all their light. But Mr Walsingham, with his God and his Queen to serve, was not to be stayed by distress in any boy or any man. His voice was smooth and gentle, but he persisted.
In Spain, perhaps?
Anthony answered reluctantly: “Cadiz, Gibraltar, Seville, Barcelona—yes, no doubt if I walked through the streets I should know them again. But”—and his voice shook with a sudden passion—“I hope with all my heart that I shall never have to do so.”
He saw Mr Walsingham purse up his lips discontentedly, but he saw also that he was on the point of returning to the charge. In the hope of preventing him, he made a curious confession—blurted it out rather shamefacedly, hating himself for uttering it at all after he had begun and when it was too late to stop. But it was always near to his thoughts and at this moment, therefore, nearest to his lips. It was the story of a secret fancy, almost a secret belief, of which he had been too shy ever to utter it aloud. Well, let Mr Walsingham think him a fool if he would! What did it matter so long as he put an end to his questions?
“It’ll show you how useless my memories are, Mr Walsingham. For the very clearest I have is of a street, of which I don’t know the name, in a city of which I don’t know the country. All I remember is that it’s very wide with fine arcades and that it descends a hill. I see it always with its shops lighted under the arcades, so I suppose my father must have taken me there at night. It’s my lost street. But I see it so often that I think it has some strange message for me. I think that I shall find it again one day and read the message.”
But Mr Walsingham did not laugh. He had no wish to make of this boy a life-long enemy. Moreover, he was not above believing in a portent or two himself. He nodded his head in a grave sympathy.
“Who shall say that roads have signposts and that lives have none?” he exclaimed. “You say the shops are lighted?”
“Can you read the names upon the boards?”
“No,” said Anthony slowly. “It always seems to me that in a moment I shall see them bright enough and big enough. I have watched them till I have been quite sure that they will be plain as day if only I can wait a second longer. But”—and he smiled at his own folly—“they have always disappointed me.”
“You speak Spanish, don’t you?” Mr Walsingham asked, and Anthony felt as if a pail of cold water had been emptied on his head.
“I did. Italian, too. We had much to do with Italy. But I am in the mind to forget them.”
Mr Walsingham turned on Anthony with indignation.
“Nay, you throw away a heritage.” He swept his arm round. “This good house, this garden, your books—what are they but dead things without the voice and conference of men? And how shall you know the men of one country unless through a knowledge of languages you can set them side by side with the men of another?”
Mr Walsingham was moved to plead with a fire which Anthony had never imagined could burn in him. He cited his own youth at the University of Padua and how it had helped to place him above his merits. “How else shall you know the dispositions of men, the honest servant from the rogue and what they say to each other under their breaths?” And England, with her horde of enemies, wolves waiting for the campfire to die down. How could she be saved unless her children learnt at first hand the finesse of Italy?
He spoke passionately and like a man who might be balked in some high matter unless his persuasions had their way. Even his sallow cheeks took on some colour, and those deep-set eyes lost their patience. But in a little while he took a hold upon himself.
“I speak too roughly. I beg you to put my tediousness down to my friendship for your father and my wish that his son should be of service to our commonwealth. I said to you that your father and I were neighbours. We were more. For I had some private interest in his ventures.”
And that admission sent Anthony’s thought swinging off upon another track. There was nothing, of course, unusual in the staidest of gentlemen taking shares in the enterprises of the Merchant Adventurers. The Queen set them the example. “But if Mr Walsingham put his money into one, he may well do the same with another,” thought Anthony. How should he put his question? He might be early a man and late a boy, but to this grave statesman he was obviously altogether boy and not one who puts questions and demands answers.
Mr Walsingham, however, helped him.
“So I proposed to myself to see how his son fared, since I was once more a neighbour to his house.”
“At Plymouth?” asked Anthony Scarr.
Mr Walsingham lifted his eyebrows.
“Did I say Plymouth?” he asked.
“No, I did,” Anthony returned stubbornly. “I could not see what should take Mr Walsingham to Falmouth or to Fowey. But I did know that Captain Drake was at Plymouth.”
Mr Walsingham was silent for a moment. Then: “I have no private interest in this enterprise of Captain Drake,” he said, coldly, but the mere mention of that name, as it shook all Spain with terror, set all England afire with pride, Mr Walsingham amongst the rest. “But I say may God dispose all for the best. Our great Empress has said she must make peace with a sword in her hand. Drake is the sword.”
“And the sword strikes Spain’s weakest point,” cried Anthony. He forgot at that moment his own rebuff and humiliation. He smiled, his eyes brightened, his face flushed. He had his share in that expedition, the tiny share that he was of the same race.
“Yes,” Mr Walsingham replied. “Her Gold Fleet which so vexes the world.”
But Anthony was not content.
“More than that, Mr Walsingham. Her Northwest Frontier. Lima, Peru, Panama—Spain’s Northwest Frontier.
Mr Walsingham for once was at a loss.
“Isn’t that the danger point of all Empires?” Anthony cried. “It was so here, when Rome ruled Britain.”
Mr Walsingham relaxed in one of his rare, wan smiles.
“I did not give Dr Evans credit for scholarship so ingenious,” he said.
Dr Evans? Anthony could not remember that Dr Evans had ever uttered a word about Northwest Frontiers. But no doubt he had. Otherwise how had he, Anthony, come by the notion himself? He could find no other source for it than Dr Evans. Dr Evans must have dropped it out in an idle moment, and Anthony must have embraced it because of its appeal rather than because of its authority. So both were satisfied, and Mr Walsingham more than satisfied. For he had averted an embarrassing question about Captain Drake, and he had a little new trifle of political theory to play with.
The warmth of the day had gone. He drew his cloak about him with a shiver.
“The air nips my poor bones,” he pleaded, and Anthony led him back to the house and to Dr Evans in the library.
“Your pupil,” he said, letting himself contentedly down in a chair by the hearth, “has been telling me of an odd speculation of yours, Dr Evans,” he began, and the good Doctor looked up, not a little flattered but a great deal more perplexed.
“Nay, Mr Walsingham, I angle, I fear, in the old waters and catch none but old fish.”
Mr Walsingham shook his head.
“You shall not get away from me so easily.”
Anthony had judged correctly that the statesman took no pleasure in a horse. But the curvets and caracoles of a spirited scholar gave him the keenest enjoyment. Unhappily the Reverend Doctor had no unexpected leaps. Qua horse he was a dobbin and, pressed keenly by Mr Walsingham, he renounced all claim to any theory of frontiers, political, historical, or geographical. To him a Northwest Frontier was no worse than any other, except that it inspired Mr Walsingham to confuse him with questions. As far as the Spanish Main was concerned, he understood there were few roads in it and all of them new. Therefore it could not be very interesting.
“So—so—” said Mr Walsingham slowly.
Dr Evans flushed.
“I’m afraid that I disappoint you,” he said, with a trifle of sharpness in his voice.
“On the contrary, Sir,” Walsingham answered quickly, and he added, looking at the fire: “I had little doubt before. I have less doubt now. Quickness, courage, a gift of imagination, youth, languages, a certain charm and grace.” His voice sank to a whisper. “The instrument—when the time comes.”
He rose from his chair and went away to his room to make himself ready for his supper. But he left the Doctor in a panic. These words threatened his loved pupil. Dr Evans was a Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, and knew something of this statesman, its benefactor and friend. He knew him to be forceful, ruthless, subtle, a man of plots laid long ahead and conducted unswervingly, one against whom he would be powerless as a baby. His instruments! He used them to the bone and marrow.
“I wish to God,” he cried, “that he had never come to this house.”
The next morning Mr Walsingham took his leave. His train of servants was assembled at the door. He mounted his palfrey. Anthony, with Dr Evans at his elbow, stood bareheaded on the steps. All was set for the great man’s going. But at the last he called the boy down to his stirrup. He stooped and laid a hand upon his shoulder and said in a low voice which none other could hear: “Silence can ask and silence can answer with less embarrassment, at times, than speech. You put such a wordless question to me yesterday, and wordlessly I think I answered it to your understanding. But I cannot leave you with the thought that, if I meddled, it was because I held you lightly. When I first spoke of you to—shall we say Her Majesty’s good Sword?—I had no inkling of your plans. I was told of them afterwards. Yet had I known them I should still have done my best to check them. For mark me well, Mr Scarr, the day is near when each true man must serve the realm where he best fits, be the service high or low, famous or secret, and the end honour or shame. But that you know, I think.” He gathered up his reins in his hand, and of a sudden his voice shook with a quiet passion. “I would that day should be tomorrow. I have no fear of it. But it must be near.” And he rode away.
But there were years to pass before it came. Mr Walsingham could never understand nor value at its worth his Queen’s capacity for standing pat until all was ripe. He rode away with his serving men behind him, and Anthony saw with amazement his tutor, red with fury, shaking a most unclerical fist at the back of his departing guest. He burst out laughing.
“What troubles you, Sir,” he cried, “that you run this risk of an apoplexy?”
“What troubles me?” stuttered the Doctor.
“That you did not sail with Drake. Yes, yes, yes—that troubles me.”
Anthony stared with his mouth open. What? He had been so cunning, so secret!
“You guessed, Sir?”
The Doctor’s anger melted away in a smile.
“Guessed? I read an open book. No maiden’s cheek ever told a plainer tale than yours. Say Drake was a pirate—and you bit your handkerchief to rags. Say that he had sailed—you swooned. And our jaunt to Plymouth! Was ever impudence so open?” But his smile died away, and he repeated very quietly: “I would that you had gone! I should have been held false to my trust. I should have been true to it. For that man—” and again his arm stretched out towards the avenue. “He outdoes the Jesuits in their own bow and overreaches them with his equivocations,” he thundered like a preacher in his pulpit.
“It was he who stopped me sailing with Drake,” said Anthony slowly. “He told me as much yesterday. He told me plainly a minute ago. He has some purpose in his mind.
Dr Evans threw up his hands. Here were matters beyond him. He went back to the library with a very troubled mind.
“We must to our books,” he said with a sigh. “And may God dispose all for the best.” But the poor man seemed to have but slight hope that his prayer would be granted.
Ever the wonder waxeth more and more
So that we say all this hath been before.
Now, there were two books lying open upon the library table. Anthony, still revolving in his mind what purpose Mr Walsingham designed him for, plumped himself down in the chair in front of them. But though his eyes were upon the pages, he was not aware of them.
He said: “Mr Walsingham, at the first of his visit, withheld his name from me.”
Dr Evans stirred the logs of the fire and looked more than a little uncomfortable.
“Your books, my, boy. Tully on the Commonwealth. We have lost a day.”
“I wonder,” said Anthony. His grey eyes shone with amusement at his tutor’s uneasiness. But his conversation was still of Mr Walsingham. Tully, having waited a day, could wait another ten minutes.
“He persuaded you to withhold his name.”
Dr Evans’ reply was lamentable.
“He did. I was at a loss. Here was a man high in council and very earnest to have his way.” Then he chuckled with pleasure. “But you dealt with him. Forthcoming he might be, but he was forced to mend his manners. You stood at the foot of the stairs, a boy, straight and slim, with the dignity of a great gentleman. ‘Gentlemen, you are served!’—but you never budged. So out it had to come-not the false name he proposed to give, but his own. He had met his match. So—’I am Mr Walsingham, the big lion with the fox’s tail.”
The tutor’s scornful mimicry and additions sent Anthony off into a peal of laughter. But he kept to his questions.
“Why did he withhold his name?”
“He came to spy out the land. He had his excuse ready. He would be a colleague of mine, if you please, from Oxford, looking in—to break a journey—upon an old friend. But he came, he saw, and you conquered. Yes, in a moment. ‘I am Mr Walsingham,’ and here was his instrument to his hand. His instrument!”
The Doctor’s pride in his pupil went down before the memory of that word uttered so thoughtfully over the log fire. One moment he triumphed that Anthony had forced so quickly the great man into the open. Another he saw the boy helpless, in pain, his leg caught in a trap like an animal. And it was the last picture which prevailed with him. If he had only found the land barren and gone his way, with his name still hidden! The same pity which had held quiet the great Captain in his cabin shone in the eyes of the little tutor now.
“But our books grow cold whilst we prattle,” he cried. “What! Shall Tully wait on Walsingham? Oh, fie!”
Anthony dropped his eyes upon the books in front of him—at first with indifference, for his head was buzzing with Mr Walsingham. But he found his attention caught. He glanced at the second book which lay by the side of it and then back again to the first. He frowned; he smiled. These two books were of the parcel which he had brought from Mr Hopton at Plymouth. One was an edition, with commentaries, of the Itinerary of Antonine by Mr Robert Talbot of New College, Oxford. The second was William Harrison’s Description of England, published for the first time that year. And Mr Harrison included also in his description that famous Itinerary of the Roman roads in Britain, their posting stations and the towns through which they passed. Anthony was looking at the map at the beginning of the book and tracing with his fingers the black lines which stood for roads. From London to York, from Alcester to Dorchester upon the Thames and the hills of Sinodun. Lost to all consciousness of that library even, and even of Mr Walsingham, his finger moved to the south whilst his face was lit with the strangest gleam. Dr Evans was spellbound, for no reason that he could give. He felt that he must not move. He stood expectant of he knew not what. Over the map the boy’s finger moved and stopped. He looked up. His eyes opened to their fullest width, his parted lips, his suspended breathing proved that he, too, was expectant of he knew not what. He waited. A burning log fell from the iron cradle onto the hearth. Neither the tutor nor the pupil noticed it. It seemed to Dr Evans that from the spot which Anthony’s finger had reached now it would never move. He grew afraid. Legends of magicians who changed the souls of men tumbled into his mind. The sunlight was pouring into their room. It was morning, when men’s minds are sane. Yet Dr Evans was on the very edge of panic. He was sinking deep into a belief that somehow Anthony Scarr was gone, withdrawn into some region beyond the stars, and that a stranger sat in his place at the library table—a stranger who inexplicably was—yes, was also Anthony Scarr.
Dr Evans forced himself to break the spell. He nodded towards the point where Anthony’s finger rested. It was very near to the coast.
“They call it Stane Street now.”
Anthony looked at him but did not see him.
“Yes,” he said, but he had not heard him either.
At all events the finger moved on again, but this time differently. Before, it had moved delicately as over a flower which must not be bruised, and hovered rather than pressed. Now Anthony tapped. He frowned, he was puzzled. He came back from his dim chamber of vague dreams with a start.
“The man, Sir, is a blockhead.”
“Mr Talbot is a great scholar.”
“The Itinerary’s wrong. He makes Regnum Ringwood. I suppose because both begin with R. But Regnum is Chichester.
Dr Evans would have none of such nonsense. There was the printed book and here was an impudent boy.
“Rubbish, Anthony, rubbish. How could you know that it’s Chichester?”
Well, after all, Anthony asked of himself, how could he know? But he did know. Of course he knew. Then, with the map under his eyes he argued it out and thought he saw why he knew.
“Chichester, Sir, is a harbour, a big harbour. The very shelter and landing place for a Roman galley. While Ringwood is nothing at all, a by-end on the edge of a forest. Why should Rome build a road to Ringwood?”
Dr Evans could not answer that question, and indeed he had not the time. For Anthony continued indifferently: “However, I see that he has put Bablock Hythe correctly on the left bank of the river.”
“Bablock—” cried the Doctor with his mouth open. “There was no Bablock Hythe in Roman days. Let me see.
He ran round the table and snatched the book from the boy’s hand. There was not a sign of Bablock Hythe on the map. There was not a name which could be mistaken for Bablock Hythe. He looked at Anthony indignantly. Anthony was the very image of modesty and innocence. But the Reverend one was not to be mollified so easily. What? Should he allow his pupil to make a mock of him just because, after a busy day, he had nodded over a fire at Plymouth? No, indeed!
“It is of all sad things the saddest that you didn’t sail with Drake as cabin boy and I as quartermaster,” he cried. “A length of nice tarry rope with a tight hard knot at the end of it and you horsed on a carronade, I’d Bablockhythe you, Mr Scarr. It’d be babble and writhe for you and a very enjoyable morning for me.”
Anthony’s innocence was more noticeable than ever.
“But, Sir, I thought it was only ears that you wanted tickled,” and before Dr Evans could find a rejoinder to a remark so outrageous, he took the book with its map gently from his tutor’s hands.
“Do you see this map, Sir?” he asked, in a voice which no longer held one hint of raillery. “The roads run north and south. From Rome to the Wall. From the Wall to Rome. Each nation to its own day, I think, and it’s own way. Our roads run from east to west. From India to the Indies. The wet roads of the sea.”
He laid the book again upon the table open at its map and, with a yawn, set himself down to Cicero upon the State.
I tell you, of a truth, that the spirits which now have affinity shall be kindred together, although they all meet in new persons and names.
—The New Koran
There was not a crumple in a rose-leaf from end to end of Cowdray House. If there had been, Sir Anthony Browne, KG, first Viscount Montague, would have discovered it, plucked it from its flower with his own noble fingers, and called upon his Gentleman Usher for an explanation. His eyes everywhere, he paced from the Hall to the Great Parlour. There hung the ancestral pictures, not so very ancestral. Sir Anthony Browne, KG, holding the Royal Banner when Henry VIII kissed the King of France at Marquison by Calais—an immense affair. Sir Anthony Browne, another one, riding with King Edward VI from the Tower to Westminster—as huge. Viscount Montague, the third Anthony Browne, looked at the vast canvases, loved them—and sighed. He mounted to the Great Chamber above the Great Parlour. All was magnificent and orderly. A chair like a throne for the Queen there, chairs and stools for her Court here, the sconces all set with new candles, the gilded baskets waiting for tomorrow’s blooms, Her Majesty’s card table in the little room behind—not a speck of dust anywhere. The first Viscount Montague was satisfied and again he sighed.
He went down to his Officers’ Chamber on the west side of the Great Gate, composing his face to portray sedate happiness and ambition satisfied. There were present his Steward of Household, his Comptroller, his High Steward of Courts, his Receiver-General, his Gentleman Usher, the Clerk of the Kitchen, his Bailiff of Husbandry, and last but not least, his Brewer of Beer. There they were, stately gentlemen ministering to stateliness, all very anxious and flustered.
“Her Majesty will dine at Farnham Castle tomorrow,” said Lord Montague, taking his seat at the table, “and will ride on to Cowdray with her great retinue afterwards. She will arrive here at eight and keep her lodging that night. On Sunday there will be breakfast,” and he looked at his Steward of Household.
“For the main course I have provided, my Lord, three oxen and fourteen hundred geese,” said the Steward.
Lord Montague repressed a sigh, set down some figures on a sheet of paper and divided. them~
“That should be enough,” he said.
It was a great honour, certainly, which Her Majesty did to him in putting up at his house for a week—a great and costly honour. He went carefully through the bills of fare with the Clerk of his Kitchen and his Steward of Household and let them go.
It was the turn of the Gentleman Usher.
“You have seen to the beds of Her Highness’ train—the rooms sweetly kept with herbs and flowers?”
“My Lord, they are ready.”
“The bed quilts to be taken off at night and replaced by Irish rugs.”
“It is so ordered, my Lord.”
“And no more than two to a bed. See to it!” said his Lordship. “And, mark you well, a gentleman must be matched with a gentleman and a yeoman with a yeoman.”
“I shall see to it myself,” said the Gentleman Usher.
Lord Montague wondered, in the midst of these weighty concerns, whether Her Highness had ever heard of his Gentleman Usher who must ride bareheaded in front of him through all cities and towns and who must not announce dinner without knocking on the door of my Lord’s private lodging whether that door be open or shut and whether my Lord was in it or out of it, and must make two curtseys on the way to the announcement. Somehow or another Her Highness managed to hear a great deal about her subjects, and if their magnificence was a little too forthcoming—why, she stayed with them for a week. And what with food and clothes, liveries and pageants, they were certain to lie quiet and give her no trouble for a few years afterwards.
These, however, were vain speculations. Lord Montague turned to his Gentleman of Horse.
“Her Highness will shoot deer with the crossbow on Monday morning,” he said. “She will be in the bower in the Park and a nymph will present her with the crossbow.”
“There are thirty deer ready in the paddock by the bower,” said the Gentleman of Horse.
“She must kill four—no, three will do very well.”
“The paddock is small and the deer so huddled together that Her Majesty cannot miss.”
But Montague had lived for sixty years. It was amazing how people missed quarry which simply could not be missed.
“There is a copse by the paddock,” said he.
“Yes, my Lord.”
“See to it that my best bowman is posted in that coppice. Three deer must call to Her Highness’ bolts.”
“Three deer, my Lord, shall fall.”
“See to it!”
A burst of laughter and a great clapping of hands blew faintly through the open window. The Lord Viscount lifted his head and gazed out into the great court. That would be Henry Browne, his fourth son, dressed in armour with a club in one hand and a golden key in the other, rehearsing the fantastical speech with which he was to receive, as porter, Her Majesty at the Gates. It seemed that he had finished his piece and presented his key to the Miracle of Time, Nature’s Glory, Fortune’s Empress, the World’s Wonder. In that case he himself was needed in the Closewalks to practise another entertainment of which Henry’s young friend from Gray’s Inn, Mr Anthony Scarr, was to bear the brunt. He dismissed his gentlemen, and going through the Porch, found the company of his guests assembled. Very seriously he bowed low before Sylvia Buckhurst, a young
lady who received him with excellent dignity, though her eyes danced and her cheeks were dimpling with quite unseemly smiles. She was the daughter of Mr Rigby Buckhurst, who lived over by Woolbeding, and she had joined Lord Montague’s guests that afternoon.
“Will Your Grace be pleased to visit my Closewalks?” said my Lord. “There some strange thing may happen for entertainment.”
“Your Lordship diverts me very pleasantly,” answered the young lady, and indeed she meant what she said. “Let us walk.”
My Lord, with his hat in his hand, paced beside Her Majesty’s understudy, making such courtly conversation that the girl was half inclined to dub him an Earl on the spot, just to see how he would take it. They paced towards St. Anne’s Hill, where Montague ventured to call attention to the ruins of Bohun’s Castle, and Her Majesty was pleased to remark how times had changed, heigh ho! The sigh was queenly, perhaps, but certainly not tactful. Sylvia, however, had a lovely low voice which transmuted all the small pence of her talk into gold. She had the light heart of her eighteen years, and her little shoes which set themselves so majestically upon the gravel seemed to threaten each moment to break into a dance. Ahead of them a square of dark trees lay like a blot upon the wide emerald of the park. On they paced towards it, the Lord Montague tedious and stately and melancholic, the girl from Woolbeding at his side condescending and gracious, with a ripple of fun upon her face, and behind them the ladies and gentlemen, rather too mute for his Lordship’s taste.
“We must not be overawed,” he stopped to chide them. “We rejoice in Her Highness’ presence. She is the Sun of our lives. We are happy. We skip.”
On they went, and within the wood called the Closewalks, Anthony Scarr rehearsed his speech in the worst possible humour. He was dressed as a pilgrim, to begin with, in a ridiculous, long flapping gown of russet velvet, wearing a still more ridiculous hat adorned with scallop shells of cloth of silver. He had a pilgrim’s staff, too, and he must totter along by the help of it, bowed and bent, and so come for the first time into the presence of that great Lady who held England and the hearts of England in her slim and artful hands. Could any prospect be more distressing to a modish young exquisite with a wardrobe of fine new clothes made specially for this great occasion? No one was unaware that a lad, spruce and trim and fairly pleasing to the eye, who happened to arrest the glances of his Queen, found the dangerous gates of Power and Favour swinging open at his step, though, to be sure, they very often led no higher than Tower Hill. But there it was. He was to appear as an ancient, jelly- limbed pilgrim and he must get his tedious speech by heart. So he began thus: “Fairest of all creatures—This hat was made for a hydrocephalist.—Vouchsafe to hear a prayer of a pilgrim which shall be short, and the petition which is but reasonable.—It will tumble off for certain as I bend my rheumatic knees.—God grant the world may end with your life and your life more happy than any in the world.—If there is as little grammar in it as that the sooner it ends the better.—That is my prayer. I have travelled many countries and in all countries desire antiquities—desire antiquities—yes, exactly, desire antiquities. God help me, there’s a place to get gravelled considering that Her Gracious Majesty is fifty-three if she’s a day.—Hard by I saw an oak whose stateliness nailed mine eyes to the branches.—Were ever such fustian phrases coined by a sober man? Nailed mine eyes to the branches!—However, let’s not think but speak it out roundly as many an actor has had to do before.”
There was a rough-hewed ruffian who stood in the Pilgrim’s way and boxed him. Also a forward lady who talked him to a standstill. But if only Her Majesty would view the oak—where all the escutcheons of the noblemen and gentlemen of Sussex were nailed in addition to the Pilgrim’s eyes—then: “Haply Your Majesty shall find some content. And I more antiquities.”
Anthony had come to the end of his hyperbolical apostrophe when the sound of voices reached his ears. He hid behind the trunk of a tree, and as the voices grew louder and the procession emerged into a square open space in the middle of the little wood, he settled his hat upon his own brown hair and tottered out.
“Ha! And who is this aged and way-worn palmer?” cried his Lordship, simulating extreme surprise. “It seems that he has a petition to make. Will Your Majesty hear him or shall I have him chased hence as a Golypragmion?”
At this Her Majesty should have graciously replied that she would hear the petition. Unfortunately the overlarge hat adorned with the scallop shells of cloth of silver chose this very moment to slip forward over the Pilgrim’s right eye and hang there precariously, hiding his face from the company and the company from his view. Instead, therefore, of hearing the condescending words which were his cue, Anthony heard only a gurgle of rather mischievous laughter.
He took it very ill. Let him hear one male voice echo that giggling girl and he would talk with that male voice later on. But the others of the company exercised a more seasonable restraint, and even Her Majesty’s understudy subdued her mirth sufficiently to bid him proceed.
Some quality in her voice moved him unexpectedly like music. For a moment he stood stock-still, and neither from anger nor petulance nor any forgetfulness of his words. Indeed, anger had died within him altogether. An odd suspense possessed him, something of which his memory held no record. Yet it had possessed him once before in the library of The Drove when he had traced upon the map the line of the old road to Regnum and the tip of his finger had rested so long upon one spot. But that day was seven years old and buried long ago.
He took a hold upon himself and began. He used the senile accent to which he had schooled his tongue, though underneath it there ran a throb of passion which surprised even the speaker.
“Fairest of all creatures,” he began, his body bent with age and wanderings, his big flat bonnet flopping above his face. The cracked voice meandered on, embroidering the dreary conceit. The mimic Court listened and duly admired. But Anthony, even whilst he subdued himself to the utterance of his speech, was aware that this odd expectancy persisted in his mind. He came to: “I thought there were more ways to the wood than one,” and though the words flowed smoothly, he had a fancy that the wood, too, was waiting like him, with leaves carved out of metal, for some new strange thing to storm the world.
“Haply Your Majesty shall find some content. I, more antiquities.” It was his cue to advance. He did so with faltering step, leaning on his oak staff, when the worst disgrace befell him. His hat toppled off his head altogether and betrayed the brown curls of a boy. But before a single titter was heard, Anthony suddenly stood erect, his face a little flushed with shame, no anger in his eyes but a curious appeal. The transformation was so swift and so unexpected that the company gasped and then broke into applause.
“If that could happen when Her Majesty comes!” cried one.
“But it won’t,” said my Lord. Only such costly things as Queen’s visits repeated themselves in this world of anxieties. “However, for us nothing could have been more aptly done.” And he, too, joined in the clapping and congratulations.
But Anthony heard none of them. He stood erect and for the first time saw. In front of him, but a few paces off, stood a girl with a crown of dark hair neatly dressed and lustrous as a raven’s wing, a broad, low, white forehead and big dark eyes set wide apart, a delicately shaped fine nose and red lips parted. It was not merely the beauty of her face which held him, but the wonder and perplexity of her eyes. For a moment she looked straight at him, a tremendous question in the look, and then suddenly she shut her eyes tight. And she kept them so. When she opened them again they seemed to say: “Are you still there?… Was I dreaming?… Are you You?”
But Anthony’s part was not yet played out. He advanced. He held out a hand. Hesitatingly—oh, not royally at all—a small, slim hand was laid in his—and his fingers closed upon it as though they held the world’s one prize and would never let it go.
The procession fell in behind them. He led her to the Oak. Thereupon the Wild Man Clad in Ivy dashed out and had a good deal to say about the Oak, how high it was, so that Envy could not reach her, and so deeply rooted that Treachery could not discover its windings. And thereupon a cornet sounded and the procession returned to supper. All of it except the Pilgrim and the Queen.
They had fallen behind and, when the others had reached the open park, were still pacing slowly amongst the trees, silent but without unease in their silence. The little wood was noisy with the birds busy upon settling themselves for the night in good time before darkness came, and the sunlight still lay in great amber shafts along the walk. It was Sylvia who broke the silence first.
“You must have thought me a rustic beyond hope when I stared so.”
“And shut your eyes tight,” Anthony added with a smile. “No, I thought you were kind.”
“You would not blind me.”
“And so you blamed my conceit and not my manners,” she returned, lightly. “Now, which censure should I prefer?”
“I blamed neither,” he began, in her tone. But he stopped abruptly and stood in her path. His face was very serious, his eyes steady upon hers. She did not draw back, nor did her eyes fall from his, but her hand fluttered up to her heart and stayed there.
“I’ll not fence with you,” he said gently.
For his mere friends the artifices of talk. Between him and her were they not the waste of irrecoverable time?
“Why did you shut your eyes so close?”
“Does so much hang upon so small a thing?” she asked, trying to keep him off and defend the heart her hand so ill defended. But she could not.
“Nothing that you do, I think, can be a small thing to me.”
“I shall tell you, then, though I never thought to so soon,” she answered gravely and slowly.
“But in the end—yes?”
“In the end, yes. I was sure at once that I knew you well. I could not tell where I had known you. But when the hat fell—” and the recollection brought no more amusement into her face than had its actual fall—“when I saw you straight and young like someone fresh-risen from out of the earth, I was sure of it. I was troubled—yes, troubled—and yet—” the colour mounted over her slim, white throat into her cheeks, and the word came in a clear whisper—“glad. But it could not be that I had known you. I should have remembered if I had. I shut my eyes close. If some trick of light or vision had cheated me, I must have known the truth at once. For safety’s sake. If, when I opened my eyes again, I saw a stranger—there was still perhaps time.”
She was speaking quite simply, and Anthony Scarr accepted her words as simply. There was at this moment neither coquetry in her nor coxcombry in him. They were trying to understand the overwhelming change which an unexpected moment had wrought in them.
They walked on together for a few steps in silence. “It was your voice which was your herald to me,” he in his turn acknowledged. “I could not see you. But your voice took me like an enchantment—a melody from the stars composed for me. A message that what was needed for—let me find the word!—for my fulfilment, and for yours, too, was at hand for us to seize. A threat, almost, that if we didn’t seize it both our lives were marred.” He looked at her and smiled.
“Then I saw you.”
He took her by the elbow and slid his fingers down to her wrist and took her hand. The trees were thinning in front of them. They walked on, hand in hand.
“Suppose that you had never come to Cowdray,” Anthony cried in a sort of panic.
“You wouldn’t have minded. For you wouldn’t have known that there was anything to mind.”
Anthony stopped to contemplate that amazing truth. So great a need unfulfilled and he not troubled so much as by a headache!
“But we must have met,” he cried. “It was so ordained. Else why should we each have known and thought with the same thought in a lightning’s flash?”
Sylvia had no answer. For no argument could have been more reasonable to her. If it had been ordained that they should be so close, why then recognition was everything and, perhaps, just to make very sure, she had been vouchsafed that gift of recognition a second or so before her voice imparted it to him. It was all very simple, very clear, and to be paid for with praise and gratitude throughout the days of their one life. She said: “On the night before the Queen goes—”
“A week!” said Anthony. “Would she stayed a month!”
“Breathe that prayer in my Lord’s ear and watch his face as he piously repeats it!”
“Well, in a week?”
“There is to be a country dance presented to her in the Private Gardens. I am set down for it.”
“Good!” said Anthony. “I dance with you, then.”
“I would have it so,” she replied. “With all my heart! But”—and she fell to despondency and gloom—“it is planned that it should be performed by Sussex people.”
Anthony waved the objection aside.
“See what a fine thing it is to have a lineage as short as a thieving tailor’s yard. I have a house in Cornwall, but I am not Cornish-born. I have a house, too, I believe, by London Wall, though I have never slept a night in it, and I reckon my good grandfather, rest his bones, was some honest London man. But what of his father? Was he not born in Sussex? Let them gainsay me at their peril. I am a Sussex man. Henry Browne is my good friend. He shall bear me out. I dance with you.”
The blood mantled again in Sylvia’s face. She was no more than eighteen. It was very important to her that, when she danced before the Queen, Anthony should partner her. At each parting and each meeting, as their hands touched, there would be the little delicious shock, a quickening of the heart’s beat, perhaps a tiny whisper heard but by those two. It would be a sort of consecration. Yes, they must dance together.
“I use my Lord’s words,” she said, her checks dimpling. “See to it.”
They had come to the edge of the trees. Before them stretched the open verdure of the Park, and the great House raised its cupola and towers within their view. But so were they within view of it. Gently she pulled at her hand, but Anthony would not let it go. Laughing, with her other hand, she loosed his fingers.
“Humans may be watching us. We must walk sedately,” she warned him.
Sweetheart, said he, and she lifted her shoulders with a little shake of pleasure.
Suddenly he tripped. Suddenly he was aware that all this while he had been disfiguring himself in his pilgrim’s russet gown. He stripped it off and flung it across his arm. Sylvia drew a breath as she looked at him. She adored him thus. Anthony, the coxcomb now, cried to himself~
“Let her wait till she sees me really tricked out and dressed. In a week’s time, for instance, when we dance together before Her Grace. Sussex, yes, but yokel, no! Definitely no!”
So they passed out from the Closewalks into the glamorous sunset of the August evening, bringing their own glamour with them.
Nurse: Nay, he’s aflower; in faith a very flower.
—Romeo and Juliet
The next evening at eight o’clock the Queen, with her shining cavalcade behind her, rode amidst cheers and music to the gates of Cowdray. In spite of the long journey from Farnham she sat her horse erect as a girl in her teens. She accepted the golden key very graciously from Henry Browne and, turning about, made a much better speech than Henry Browne’s, straight from her heart to the villagers gathered in field and road.
“My people! It warms my heart to see myself so loved and desired by you. You may have a greater Prince but you shall never have one more loving. So I bid you goodnight and shall bear you in my prayers. For I am a poor weak woman and can hold out no longer than a strong man.
So with a laugh and a jest she rode along the straight level road to the porch, dismounted there and, after embracing Lady Montague who bedewed the royal bosom with her joyful tears, she walked, under the stone vault with its crown of pomegranates and the anchors in the corners, to her own lodging. This she kept the next day, being Sunday. On Monday morning, from her bower in the great Park, she shot three fat deer with her crossbow, amidst cries of amazement at her prowess. In the afternoon she saw fifteen bucks coursed by Henry Browne’s hounds, and so to the Closewalks where the famous hat with the scallop shells did not fall off from Anthony Scarr’s brown curls. She endured the conceits of the Pilgrim and the Wild Man without a yawn, being inured against such soporifics by the habit of the times. And so back again across the grass to supper. Add a few hours of holding off her Ministers from doing anything undeniable anywhere, and it seems a day long enough to satisfy the indefatigable. But she had not come to the end of it. To the music of violas and pandoras played softly in the Gallery she held a Court after supper in the Great Parlour. She was dressed statelily in cloth of gold and gave an audience to the County notables. One after another they were brought to the throne and Elizabeth, whilst she talked, let her eyes rove over the room for something more comely and delicate than these sturdy red-faced squires of the chase.
She saw Montague marshalling yet another of the same breed and called him to her side.
“Nay, my good Lord, I will choose one now for myself. Who is that long lad drowning in melancholy against the wall?”
Lord Montague followed the glance of those sharp, black eyes and was a trifle disconcerted. There were many important bigwigs shifting from one foot to the other in the hope of a few words to be repeated to their children and their children’s children.
“That, Your Majesty, is a young gentleman from the Inns of Court.” He meant that it was clearly not worth Her Majesty’s while to waste her time over him. “He is an Oxford friend of my son Henry.”
“That does not tell me his name.”
Someone standing close behind Her Grace’s chair moved quickly. The Queen looked round and saw a sombrely dressed man with a swarthy face looking keenly towards that far corner of the room, with a faint smile which would not smile upon his lips.
“You know the boy, Sir Francis,” said the Queen.
Mr Walsingham had grown into Sir Francis just one month after his visit seven years before to The Drove on Helford River.
“I did know the boy,” he replied, laying a little emphasis on “the boy.” “An odd, lonely boy with the manners of a grandee. I had a thought that, in time, I might use him in Your Majesty’s service.”
“God’s death, I have a thought that I may use him better,” said Elizabeth. She was not in a good mood with Sir Francis Walsingham that day. He was too much of a Puritan. There had been a troublesome hour when she had come back to the house, all flushed and happy because three fine deer had fallen to the three bolts of her crossbow. And there had stood this diligent Jesuitical Puritan, always wanting to do something—if it was only some mere trifle such as flying at the throat of poor troubled Philip of Spain, who, after all, might be cajoled into harmlessness if only they would leave her alone. But Sir Francis wouldn’t. She might call him a knave and a scoundrel, and all he did was to retire, sick in health, to his big house of Barn Elms, grieving at the incommodity of her temper—until she, poor fool, had to call him back again. No doubt he had plans for this pretty stripling in the corner. She never nursed a dear gazelle but Sir Francis must have him for one of his odious secret purposes. But he mollified her now.
“I have not seen him for seven years,” he said with his thin smile, “and the fine piece of plumage he is now has soared out of my reach.”
He bent down and told her some story which set her laughing loudly, like a man in an alehouse.
“And there he stands, brooding on vacancy”—despairing, no doubt, that he would ever catch her eye. “My Lord”—she turned to Montague—“I should ill repay your hospitality if I should let him pine through my neglect. Bring that long lad to me!”
But in truth, no one in that crowded room was less despondent than Anthony. For he had Sylvia Buckhurst close at his side. They made a play of being very aloof and distant and unconcerned when people were near, though each of them tingled at the voice or step or look of the other. The pretence gave a special sweetness to the stolen moments when, after the deepest manoeuvres, they found themselves alone. They played their game so well that, though they stood side by side now, he might as well have been alone in the desert of Thebes and she alone on the Steppes of Russia, for all that anyone in the company could see. Until the Queen gave her order.
Then, with a gasp, Sylvia said under her breath: “The Queen’s sending for you.”
“She might do worse,” Anthony answered, putting her little cry down to a natural and worthy understanding of his charm. But as he saw his Lordship coming towards him, his knees began to knock and he swallowed with difficulty and his heart became a bird which fluttered and soared and swooped within him in the most distressing fashion.
“Her Majesty honours you,” said his Lordship.
Anthony glanced at Sylvia.
“Help me,” his eyes implored.
“Don’t forget me!” her eyes answered him.
He set off behind his Lordship, blushing like a girl and holding himself erect to make the best of the ordeal. There is a drug nowadays which makes an hour of a minute and a parade ground of a three-foot yard. But the stiffest dose of Cannabis Indica could not have made his Lordship’s Great Parlour vaster than it seemed to Anthony, nor the time it took to traverse it longer. He felt himself to be the most awkward clown who ever disfigured a Court. But that was his vanity.
The onlookers saw something quite different. They saw a youth with grey eyes and brown hair, delicate in colour and feature, with long, straight legs and a slender body. He had dressed himself with a fastidious elegance to overwhelm Sylvia. He wore a suit of white velvet, close-fitting and plain, with crystal buttons which flashed in the light, hose of white silk, shoes of white satin. A cape of pale green satin embroidered with gold thread hung from his shoulders, and the scabbard of his rapier was of pale green velvet. A gold chain with an emerald jewel shaped like a tiny ship glistened upon his doublet, the more noticeably because a spark of light enshrined within the stone had been fashioned into a sun; a cambric ruff piped with gold thread encircled his throat; a delicate, faint perfume breathed from his clothes as he walked, and an earring with a single pearl gleamed in the lobe of his left ear.
Elizabeth watched him with relief. She had no tolerance for slovens, and this trim young exquisite without a wrinkle in his stockings paid her her due homage by his dress. That he had taken so much pains to parade before that cloudy slip of a girl with the big, startled eyes who was destroying him with her tediousness was, of course, unimaginable. It was for her that he was so dapper, and as he dropped upon his knees before her, she gave him graciously her hand to kiss.
“Walsingham tells me that Drake broke your heart because he wouldn’t take you round the world as his cabin boy,” she said.
Anthony was sorely inclined to answer: “Sir Francis does me an injustice. It was he who stopped me.” But love taught him prudence in the small matters and courage for the high. Friends in great places made a suitor more desirable to a parent. So he made no enemy of Walsingham.
“Drake broke it, in truth, Your Majesty” he answered, “but patched it up again three years afterwards.”
Anthony laughed. He had a pleasant, quiet laugh which did him no harm at this moment.
“I was to have stood behind his chair wearing a gold chain and an emerald ornament taken from the first galleon God put in our way. When he returned and the world was filled with his name, he remembered enough of my broken heart to send me this plaster for it”; and he touched the chain about his shoulders.
“A pretty ornament,” she said. The royal fingers played with it as though she must see it close. The royal knuckles touched—perhaps pressed with a trifle of a caress upon his velvet doublet. “I doubt me but Oxford has smoothed you out more seemly than three years of valeting Drake would have done. He’d have you behind his chair, would he?” And suddenly she was annoyed. There was a pretension here she had no taste for. “Like a great noble with his page. God’s life, the man forgets that I can take him down, for all his big name, as easily as I put him up.”
There was a gleam in her black eyes which fairly startled Anthony. She turned to Walsingham.
‘You must bring this boy to Whitehall, Sir Francis, and we ll make him amends for the loss of his brave visions.
Sir Francis was not altogether pleased. The particular purpose which Anthony Scarr was, on its due occasion, to forward, must find another servant if the royal favour lifted this one to Whitehall.
“You shall forget Peru and the golden galleons, I promise you,” she resumed to Anthony.
Anthony was a little troubled. He had no wish to appear to her a greedy adventurer or a hanger-on upon fame, even if it was only the fame of Drake’s cabin boy. Yet how should he correct her without betraying himself a prig? But Walsingham came unintentionally to his rescue. If he could introduce some honest drab into these glowing prospects he might still not lose his man.
“If I remember aright, the boy I talked with thought more of service than of golden galleons and of Your Highness than Peru.”
“And was that so?” she asked. “Didn’t you dream of starting out a cabin boy and returning a young Achilles, wreathed in bays?”
Anthony was in a confusion. The adventure—yes. The new lands, too. These were at his heart, as well as service. But fame, no. He spoke out his creed hesitatingly and shyly. Whence that creed came he did not know. Certainly the Reverend Doctor Morgan Evans had never taught it him. Nor could he remember arguing about it. It had been there fixed in his soul from the start, a principle and cause of his existence.
“Greece was a land of little wars and little towns. A man might look to serve his people and make a name with the same stroke. But in Your Grace’s realm, as I dare to think it was too in Rome, the enterprise is too wide. So long as a man serves, he can leave chance to throw the hero up.”
The words were fetched from him by a question here and there.
“I beg Your Grace’s pardon. I have seemed to preach.”
“Nay, boy,” she answered softly. “If all my preachers spoke with that throb of passion in their throats, I should interrupt their sermons less often than I do.”
These dear eager lads, buds of the gorgeous bloom which England was to be if only they would give her time—she loved them—when she was not furious with them! The trouble with them was they were all so plaguily passionate to be up and doing that a poor woman who knew the time was not ripe and that she must hold all off with shifts and evasions and a good round lie when nothing else would serve, was driven half out of her wits. She had but the one leash on them, their devotion to her person. There was some magic in her which blinded them to her blemishes; so that she could send them to the block and they would go crying “Long live the Queen!” and she could shut them up in her prisons and they would fight at the window bars to catch a glimpse of her as she passed by. She made love to them and railed at them, she caught them to her one day and drove them out the next. She was catching young Anthony Scarr to her this evening at Cowdray.
“You shall stand behind my chair instead of Drake’s, whilst I play cards,” she said, smiling at him as she rose; and she kept him there till morning broke over the Downs and the candles paled.
Complots inscrutable, deep telegraphs,
Long-planned chance meetings, hazards of a look,
Does she know? does she not know? saved or lost?
“Now you cross in front of me! So! But please don’t cling to my hand.”
“It’s a hand, not a glue pot. Let it go—well, one tiny clasp, perhaps, which no Peeping Tom could see, since you are you and I am I. Oh!”
Sylvia started back in a confusion. On one slim finger shone now a gold band with a sapphire deep as a pool, set about with diamonds.
“Anthony,” she said in a whisper.
She held out her arm, spreading her fingers, and watched the stones sparkle in the sunlight. Then, whilst the blood mantled her cheeks, she raised it slowly to her lips and kissed it.
“Lovely,” she said, and swept him a low curtsey.
“I’ll ride over and make my call upon your father at Woolbeding tomorrow,” said Anthony.
“You will not. Three paces forward now! The feet together and bow. Her Majesty goes hawking on the Downs tomorrow and dines at Bignor afterwards. Mr Anthony Scarr must go hawking too.”
Sylvia shrugged her shoulders.
“I, because I know the Downs, and morning mists may lead strangers astray.”
“I’ll go the next day, then,” said Anthony stubbornly.
“You will not. For the next day Her Majesty dines in the Private Garden of Cowdray, and Mr Anthony Scarr figures in a Hey for Her Majesty’s delectation. In which dance he will not delect Her Highness at all unless he gets his steps more trippingly than he is doing now.”
“Oh, we’ll never get it seemly! Three steps to the right, please—” with an imploring emphasis on the “please”—“and don’t pinch my ears. Now set to the oak! So. Three steps to the right, curtsey. Three steps to the left, curtsey! Join hands and a capriole!”
They sprang, each one clapping the feet together in the air.
“Good,” said Sylvia. “Now, three paces forward—oh!”
“I did it very well,” said Anthony stoutly.
“With the wrong foot.”
Anthony looked down at his legs.
“You stepped off with the left foot first,” said Sylvia, lightly chiding him.
But Anthony took the accusation with a much greater seriousness.
“I didn’t,” he protested urgently. “Say that I didn’t.”
I saw you.
“With the left foot first?”
Anthony frowned. He was still looking down. An odd perplexity possessed him. He felt that he was on the edge of some momentous revelation, but it just eluded him.
“With my left foot,” he repeated. “Then misfortune threatens us,” and he spoke in a voice so woebegone that Sylvia burst out laughing.
“And what wise woman told you that?” she asked.
Anthony shook his head.
“It must have been long ago. I can’t remember.”
He raised his head, and she saw that he was in earnest. The fear sounding in his voice was printed in his eyes.
“Anthony!” she cried.
What? A young man fresh from Oxford and the Inns of Court to be alarmed by some old rustic legend!
“Because a left foot once went with an accident, shall we shake with terror if we set off with it first? For shame!”
It was a very useful word for a lover. It saved a deal of argument, and a pleasant embrace went with it still more surely than misfortune with a left foot.
They were practising their steps on that open patch of grass within the Closewalks where they had first come face to face. The sunlight made the air golden about them. The morning was still. They had this sanctuary to themselves. But suddenly Sylvia drew herself back from his arms. The fear which had shone in his eyes had passed into hers.
“Someone is watching us,” she said in a whisper. She was still looking at him. “Spying upon us—secretly.”
Sylvia swung round swiftly. She gazed with her eyes quite scared into the wood which hemmed them in. But under the thick, low foliage it was as dark as a cavern even at that hour, and the boles of the trees stood so close that a dozen spies might have been ambushed there and the spied-upon no wiser.
“I’ll go see,” said Anthony.
“Not without me,” said Sylvia, and she caught his hand. Together they ran into the wood.
“Here,” said Sylvia.
They looked about them. But peer about them as they might, there was not a movement in the shadows.
“Listen!” said Anthony.
They heard nothing but the birds bustling in the branches high overhead and a faint sigh of wind.
“You imagined it.”
“I saw the flutter of a red cloak. Then it was gone.”
She was shaken, now. She could not have laughed again at his presage of misfortune. Last night they had danced in the Great Parlour, first a stately pavane when Lord Montague had led out the Queen, and then a lively galliard when she had chosen Anthony for her partner. She had singled him out these last days. He must be by her side, share her laughter and answer to her provocations. Envied and adulated, no doubt, for the moment. But courtiers were a jealous tribe all the world over, and not one but would pull him down if it could be done. Her Grace brooked no rivals in her philanderings. Her favourite must not have a heartbeat which was not for her. Let a word be whispered into the ear of a lady-in-waiting that her long lad, instead of sighing upon his knees for the hour when he would behold her, was kissing that cloudy slip of a girl in the Closewalks, there would be reason enough for terror.
“Oh, if only this week were ended and she gone!” cried Sylvia. “That’s what your left foot meant. You’ll to the Tower and I—what will it matter if I lose you?”
“Sweetheart, who was it laughed at me?” he cried. With a spy to bring to his account, Anthony had lost his fears altogether. Here was a possible, actual person to have his nose tweaked first and be run through the body in a more gentlemanly style afterwards. True, the possible, actual person seemed to have evaporated, but he had left his exhilarating effect behind him.
“It can’t be that you should lose me nor I you. There’s a thread between your heart and mine which would lead each one to the other, were all the world a maze.”
So far he had spoken lightly to assuage her fears, holding her at arm’s length and smiling as he spoke. But a change came. He clipped her close to him, and, in a clear and quiet voice which had so much of confidence and certainty that she could not but believe him, he said: “I thank God for you, dearest and dearest. Of this I am sure. Even death could not hold us apart. Where you are I shall be.”
The girl lay very still within his arms, her hands clasped behind his neck, her face against his shoulder. Her fears had been conjured away. She drew herself free and stood a little way off, her eyes shining. She bent her head once or twice, slowly, in answer to his words. Surely in some dream Anthony had seen her use just that gesture and her eyes dwell upon him with just that tremendous promise. To both of them the little wood became a dim, many-pillared temple, reserved for them, their own, where they celebrated on this still August morning a sacrament which plighted them through life and beyond it.
They walked back to the sunlit space of grass, conscious of serenity. Neither of them spoke of that hour again.
Time which antiquates antiquities and hath an art to make dust of all things, hath yet spared these minor monuments.
—Sir Thomas Browne
It was the Queen’s pride that she was “mere English.” She certainly had the love of sport and the love of the English countryside in her blood. She was hawking that morning on the South Downs, than which, whether you look at them from land or sea, no hills more lovely or more English can be found. She started, therefore, in boisterous spirits. Behind her rode a couple of falconers, behind them a cadger with a cadge of perfectly trained Soar hawks. They were riding to a hill beyond Bignor where they were sure to flush some herons. And the day was so clear that she could see far up into the pale blue sky. There rode with her some of the most expert gentlemen of the neighbourhood. But after a time her spirits flagged. The Netherlands, the King of France, Mary Queen of Scots, the importunities of her own Parliament for a nominated heir to the throne, and always, always Philip of Spain—she had a world of troubles upon her shoulders and had spent half the night with her Secretaries, winding in and out to hold everything in suspense. Her statecraft was a minute in a Government Office. It could go round and round from Department to Department, each one writing its comment and neither good nor harm done, until the decisive words were written, “Action Taken.” She alone had the authority to write them, and if she had been forced to write them, she would have found that she had writer’s cramp and could not use her pen.
It may have been that these troubles weighed upon her, or her late work, or the apple-cheeked squires with their local stories. Certain it is that as they mounted the knoll beyond Bignor Hill, she beckoned his Lordship to her side.
“I fear me, my Lord, that these gentlemen will weary of me before the day’s out unless I grant them some relief. Will you have that long lad fetched to me!”
His Lordship concealed his chagrin as best he could. There were his fine sons. Her Grace made no more account of them than if they were Gentlemen Ushers. He fell back, his mind reproaching his son Henry for bringing this pretty, scented butterfly under Her Grace’s high-arched nose. But the butterfly could not be found. The butterfly was playing truant.
He returned with his excuses, and the royal features sharpened and the royal eyes looked bleak. Someone hazarded a guess. There were two riders behind them and below them, walking their horses very slowly side by side down the hillside. Was it not possible that—?
“Who is the wench?” Her Majesty asked.
Someone thought that it might be—did not know, to be sure—but thought that it might be Sylvia Buckhurst from Woolbeding. A dark-haired girl—rather lovely—with a delicate white face and big dark eyes which changed so with her moods that it was difficult to name their colour.
“Hoit and toit!” cried Her Grace, “do I care what the slut’s eyes are like? I want to hear no more of her. Who is she?”
My Lord explained.
“Her father has the Manor of Woolbeding, and, with Your Majesty’s consent, I asked him to sup in the Private Garden at Your Majesty’s table tomorrow.”
A tiny smile—not too pleasant and friendly—curved Her Majesty’s lips. It seemed to some that her hand tightened upon her riding whip.
“Shall I send a horseman after them?” his Lordship suggested, his spirits mounting. But the Queen turned on him.
“What, my Lord! I am to pray for his company, am I? By God’s death, the knave’s as vain as twenty peacocks already.”
She rode on, annoyed at the blindness of men. It was not to be expected that a blonde lady whose hair got redder and redder with each twelvemonth could discern enchantment in a cloudy slip of a girl in her teens. She made a small promise to herself
“Her father sups in the Private Garden tomorrow. That is excellent. They shall learn better manners before the night’s out. I’ll take a course with them, since they’re so forthcoming.”
And a few minutes later a pleasant story was told into her ear of a dance practised in the Closewalks and a kiss that ended it. So they were cutting their capers in the country dance, were they? She would see to it that they cut a few more than they had practised.
Meanwhile they were approaching the ground where their lure might be expected. The falconers took each a hawk upon his wrist, holding it by the jesses. A great heron rose with a startled flap of wings. The falconers unhooded the hawks and launched them in pursuit. Whatever tomorrow’s supper might bring forth, this day’s sport had begun.
The truants had seized this opportunity. The day was too good to be wasted, their courage was high, Her Grace well ahead with the falconers. They fell back, and at the dip by Bignor Hill Sylvia led the way down a winding track grown over with grass during more years than anyone could remember. In a little copse they dismounted and tied their horses to trees. They clambered along the hillside at their ease. Sylvia had no skirts to incommode her. She wore a doublet and short breeches of brown velvet and boots of russet leather reaching above the knees. Anthony Scarr was dressed in green cloth, with a falling band about his neck instead of a ruff, and long black boots fitting close to his legs. He carried with him a package in a linen cloth which he spread out upon a green mound in a little hollow which they chanced upon. He had a cold capon, a flagon of wine, and all the necessaries of a picnic.
“We’ll have an assembly here, whilst they have theirs below.”
He looked down to the high garden terrace of Bignor, where the white cloths were laid upon the tables and serving men were busy spreading out the banquet against the Queen’s arrival. “Let them do their best, poor souls, they’ll have no such feast as this.”
Sylvia, with her mouth full of capon, was very sorry for them, too.
“I’ll wait upon Mr Buckhurst on Monday, we’ll be married on Tuesday, and set out on the grand tour on Wednesday,” said Anthony. “We are growing old and have no time to waste.”
“Will there be time for me to pack up a shift?” Sylvia asked.
“We can buy one on the road. You shall go as you are. You were never more adorable. Shall we conjugate?” He kissed her fingers, “Good!” her cheek, “Better!” her lips, “Best!”
“That is the true grammar of love,” said he, and to her admiration, he drew from his pouch a small brown stick which he put between his lips. With his tinder box he kindled a spark and lit it. Smoke came from it, and an aromatic, sharp smell which she sniffed, at first doubtfully and then with pleasure.
“Tobacco,” said she.
“Yes,” he answered, as though tobacco were to be expected.
He was wonderful, this boy who had tumbled right out of summer skies and would wait upon her father on Monday and marry her on Tuesday and set out on the grand tour on Wednesday. There was no newfangled thing that he didn’t know about and do.
“When we set out on the grand tour—and it will not be Wednesday—where shall we go?” she asked, laughing gently.
“To Rome,” he replied so promptly upon her question that, but for the change of voice, she might have spoken the name herself But there was no stress of importance in his statement. It was mere matter of fact. Rome could be the only goal of this loving pilgrimage. As for Sylvia, Rome or Cathay! Both were in Fairyland.
“The strangest thing, dearest, in this our wooing, is that I should have found you here.”
He looked up at the sky and down upon the orchard and gardens of Bignor, with its close-clipped hedges and its terraces.
“Why, since we are both of Sussex?” and she laughed. A place in a country dance was Anthony’s enrolment as a burgess.
“Because” and leaning up on his elbow he told her the story he had told long ago to Walsingham—of a broad, lighted street where he had trotted once by his father’s side beneath arcades—a street with a treasure to bestow or a message to deliver—or—he broke off—“I don’t know. But it holds something for me of enormous importance,” he said slowly. “It should have been you. It may mean—” And swiftly she reached out a hand and stopped him. What was he about to say? It may mean—life or death? She would not have it said.
“We’ll search for your lost street in Rome,” she cried.
Anthony would have none of that proposal.
“It’s not in Rome.”
“You are sure?”
“Very! For I have seen my street. I have heard it noisy with people. I could draw it for you. A circle of tall buildings at the top, and the broad road dropping down the hill. But I have never seen Rome. I should not forget it if I had.”
“Yet you were so certain that we must go there.”
He turned to her in surprise.
“Was I? Sweetheart, we’ll go wherever your fancy sways you.”
He rolled up the utensils of their picnic and helped Sylvia to her feet.
“This is our sanctuary and bower. The Downs were raised so that they might shield you from the wind, and the hillside hollowed to make your resting place. We’ll seal it ours with a true lover’s knot written on the white slate prepared for us.”
He drew his dagger from its scabbard and, taking her by the hand, led her across the hollow to a steep chalk slab. He selected a spot in the middle of the slab and began to smooth it with his dagger.
“Here,” he said.
“No,” said Sylvia.
She had moved to the edge where the slab touched the earth of the hillside.
“See, Anthony. Here the turf overhangs and makes a roof. Carve under these eaves and our lover’s knot will last the longer.”
A vanity as old as the hills. Lovers wrote their names in pictures on the walls of a tomb at Sakhara only to have them buried in sand for four thousand years and brought to light again fresh as though they were written yesterday. And their later counter-parts scribble theirs on the shining flanks of a Zeppelin which has come to rest for a few hours in an aërodrome on the Bath Road. Our pair must cut their memorial on a chalk screen of the South Downs.
Moss had sprouted here and there in tiny tufts on the face of the chalk at this point. Here and there, too, the chalk had dripped and roughened. Anthony cut out the tufts, measured an oblong panel and marked it out.
“Within the lines I’ll make a surface as smooth as a schoolboy’s slate.”
“We’ll carve a love knot deep enough to last for centuries,” said Sylvia.
They were boy and girl during this hour, as earnest over their craftsmanship as if their immortality depended on it. The great Queen with her red halberdiers and her shimmering retinue might ride away from Bignor in the sulks. The couple up on the hillside could not spare a thought for her, so cunning and neat must be their handiwork. Anthony scraped delicately with the edge of his dagger, and suddenly Sylvia cried: “Oh, stop!” and she stayed him with her hand. “Some other two have been before us.”
They stepped a few paces back to see the better. Where he had cleared the mould and through the incrustations, some old symbols were vaguely taking shape.
“Let us see,” said Anthony, stepping up again to the face of the slab.
“Oh, be careful!” cried Sylvia, clasping her hands.
“To whom do you say it?” asked Anthony. “Am I not a Pilgrim who desires antiquities?”
Very carefully he scraped and smoothed. The symbol took shape.
“An apple,” said he.
“A heart,” she corrected.
A minute later: “With a broken arrow through it,” he added.
Sylvia leaned forward and traced the cutting with the tip of her finger.
“We mustn’t spoil it,” said she.
There was a proper graduation in such important matters. If a lover’s knot was reverend, a heart with an arrow through it was inviolable. Anthony’s dagger picked even more delicately at the chalk.
“Oh! There’s a word coming to light! See, Anthony. That’s a big P.”
“And a U,” he continued.
The word slowly emerged in the Latin lettering. “Puniamini,” Anthony read. “For shame! Some old Roman cut the word.”
“A discarded lover,” said she.
“Or a jealous husband,” said he.
“We shall never know,” said Sylvia, and, turning about, she saw that the sun was low in the western sky. “We must go,” she cried in panic. She did not wish to creep back with her lover, their absence remarked upon, and excuses to be made which no one would believe. They must ride and ride quickly. They went without scratching their love knot in their white slate after all. But it seemed that fortune was on their side that afternoon. For Her Highness had affairs of State to occupy her and supped privately in her own lodging.
A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.
—A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The supper in the Private Garden was a triumph for Lord Montague. The yeoman of his pantry had set out his best gold plate, the yeoman of his buttery his most elaborate jugs and goblets; the yeoman of his cellar had broached his Lordship’s finest French wine and the Steward of his Household had provided oxen, ducks, venison, hares, capons, neats’ tongues, and sheep enough to satisfy a battalion of famished soldiers. The Clerk of his Kitchen had superintended the cooks so that roasting and baking roasted and baked; his carvers had carved with economy and skill, his sewers had apportioned to each guest in the order of his rank; the gentlemen waiters had most gentlemanly waited; music of a discreet tenuity had been wafted over the top of a hedge; and, happiest circumstance, Her Majesty was in a loud and frolic mood.
Forty-eight guests sat at the Queen’s long table, amongst them, glowing with delight, Mr Rigby Buckhurst of Woolbeding. Her Highness had smiled at him benignly and spoken uplifting words.
“Under God,” she had said, “I have placed my chiefest safeguard in the loyal hearts of my subjects and I count none more faithful than my English squires.”
No wonder the honest gentleman’s head was turned a little. Where was Mr Edgar Howe of Fernhurst? Or Sir Arthur Chudd of Cocking Causeway? Not to be seen! And why? They had not been asked. Mr Rigby Buckhurst began to reflect whether he had done wisely in limiting himself to a country life. After all, he had a daughter who might compete with any Court beauty. Her Majesty, indeed, might single her out for a kindly sentence that very evening. He had been selfish. Yes, he must think of her a little more and take her for a season to the neighbourhood of Whitehall next year—certainly it must be next year.
In such pleasing dreams Mr Buckhurst ate from the gold plate and drank from the crystal goblets. They were only interrupted by Her Majesty rising from the table. His Lordship led her to another quarter of the garden where chairs were set in the form of a crescent about a lawn shaved smooth for the dancers. They were followed by the rest of the company, and for once in a way Her Majesty sat down and bade the others do the same.
“I expect a rare treat, my Lord,” she cried in a loud voice. “A country dance is true English. Shall I see Maid Marian and Friar Tuck? Will bold Sir Robin bid me stand and deliver? Let them begin, I pray,” and she clapped her hands towards the musicians. She could not wait a minute longer for this entrancing entertainment.
Lord Montague was a trifle disturbed by the pitch of Her Grace’s expectations. There were such country dances, to be sure, with the legendary figures of England’s first crime story and a rollicking hobbyhorse into the bargain. But this was not one of them.
“It’s no great matter, Your Majesty,” he said deprecatingly. “Some weavings and windings, some cuts and capers.”
But Her Majesty would not listen.
“Nay, nay, Sir Modesty,” she cried. “I have a week’s knowledge of the good fare you favour me with.”
Already the music had begun. Already, couple by couple, the dancers were advancing in file from an alley between the high yew hedges. The Queen leaned forward, all eagerness and anticipation, her head nodding to the tune. But, alas! it was soon apparent that she was disappointed. Her head ceased to nod; she sat back in her chair, puzzled, it seemed, that so melancholy a diversion should have been foisted on her. She frowned. Then she yawned, not with her hand to her mouth as a lady should, but wide enough to show those long and dusky teeth which were something of a trouble to her suitors.
“My Lord,” she said reproachfully, “you give me bread and cheese after a banquet.”
My Lord was by this time near to wringing his hands. Apart from his humiliation as a host, he had a fear that, if Her Majesty rode away tomorrow in displeasure, she might satisfy it by visiting him again next year and so ruining him altogether.
“Shall I bid them stop?” he asked.
“Nay, let them finish!” said the Queen, with a shrug of the shoulders. “But it’s not a Hey, my good Lord, it’s a Dump.”
And all these disparagements were uttered so that each several word should reach the ears of the performers and especially of two of the performers. It is not to be wondered at that they one and all excelled themselves in the badness of their dancing. Cut they did, and caper they did. They wove and wound. But those glowering eyes and disdainful shoulders daunted them, as they had daunted the highest in the land. Anthony Scarr and Sylvia fell lower beneath their mark than any. For both of them knew, he with a rising anger, she with a fluttering heart, that all this contempt was aimed at them. It was the price they had to pay for a day’s truancy upon the Downs, he said. But was it all the price? she asked. Would Her Grace be content with that?
The unhappy performance came to an end at last. The dancers in a line made their obeisance and slunk away to their alley. Mr Rigby Buckhurst, contemplating from a distance his angry mistress, went back upon his soaring dreams of half an hour ago and determined to keep warm in his little manor of Woolbeding rather than confront the variable temperatures of Whitehall. An anxious silence fell upon the spectators. But the Queen did not move. She sat still as a rock. Then she whispered to a lady-in- waiting. A word or two was raised above the whisper.
“That black girl like a crow,” was heard.
The lady-in-waiting spoke to his Lordship. His Lordship spoke to his Marshal of the Hall, and that stately personage, with a wand to mark his office, a complete procession in himself, stalked away to the alley where the incompetents were hid. He marched straight to Sylvia Buckhurst.
“Her Highness summons you.”
Anthony, who was standing by her side, laid a hand upon her arm.
“You shan’t go,” he said violently, though his voice was low.
Sylvia unclenched his fingers.
“I must, dearest. Have no fear!”
If her heart sank, her face did not betray it. She even smiled at him as she followed the Marshal. The Queen and the concourse of his Lordship’s guests were still in their places, some seated, others grouped behind the chairs. Behind Sylvia the other dancers followed at a distance.
“I should have bidden Anthony to stay away,” she reflected as she reached the lawn.
“But he would not have obeyed,” she added as she crossed it. The odd sense of security which had filled her ever since the morning in the Closewalks sustained her now. How else could she have borne all those curious eyes and whispering voices? Before the Queen she curtsied deep in one smooth, slow movement.
“She can find no fault with that,” she thought, as, with her face blushing, she stood prettily erect again.
“There was a figure in your dance, child,” Her Grace began, in an even voice which was not unkind.
But woman knows woman. Sylvia had looked up; and one glance at the bristling lady with the eyes like black pebbles had assured her that she was in for trouble. She settled herself to meet it.
“From time to time I seemed to recognize it,” Her Highness continued. “I wish you to repeat it.”
“Your Majesty!” Sylvia gasped. “Here! Alone!”
“Here,” said Her Highness, and again her voice was smooth and kind, and again the eyes were hard like agate and formidable as a jungle cat’s. “To be sure,” and, as Sylvia dimly guessed at the ingenious torment devised for her, she added: “Come, child, must I command twice?”
The good Mr Rigby Buckhurst, who saw in all this skirmishing no more than a mark of the Queen’s good will towards himself, was making violent signs to his daughter from the edge of the crescent. The crescent, indeed, was become a circle, the guests were closing in, an expectation of no-one-knew-what was growing everywhere, spreading an excitement from courtier to courtier, holding them in fetters of suspense.
“Has the girl lost her head?” Mr Rigby Buckhurst wailed inwardly. “Must she at this moment be vapourish and fantastical? Let her dance, and who knows but what tomorrow it may be ‘Sir Rigby’—and what will Arthur Chudd say to that?”
“Quick, now! Or must I set you an example? This is the figure I know,” and, before them all, Elizabeth rose from her chair.
Stepping forward in her semi-circled farthingale of silver taffeta and her stiff collar of lace, high at the back of her head and open low in front, the Queen danced alone. And not a stately pavane, but a Hey with its nimble movements and lively steps. Never had there been such gracious condescension! The Queen gave a dancing lesson to a girl born, for a certainty, under the fairest star! Assuredly no one was more fitted for the pretty work. For Her Grace was famed for her dancing. There was something liquid in her bearing so that each step was less a step than a melting out of one attitude into another. It was a ripple, rather than a dance, and with so deft and quick a twinkling of her feet that she seemed to turn about on a circle no bigger than a shilling. Even when she curveted and caprioled she retained her majesty, and since she was sure of herself and sure of her audience, too, she outreached her own skill. When she finished, such an ovation burst forth as Nero might have envied.
“That, child, is how I was taught to dance the Hey. Now you shall show me yours.”
Sylvia would have liked the ground to open under her. Never could she compete.
“Your Majesty, there is no difference but in Your Majesty’s grace which all others must fall below,” she stammered.
But Her Majesty was hunting that evening. This poor hare was not to double out of danger so easily.
“To it, girl, to it!” cried Elizabeth, impatiently. “Are you a singer to keep the world waiting on your nod? Quick!”
And, against her will, assured that, though she danced never so well, she must fail miserably in so ill-matched a contest, Sylvia began. Her anxious eyes were fixed on the Queen, noting each gesture of disdain, each contemptuous jerk of the head. Her slim feet faltered, her knees shook, when she spun it was rather within the circle of a great cart-wheel than a shilling.
The Queen laughed.
“It’s a country dance indeed. For thus a plough turns at the end of a furrow,” she cried to the group about her chair. “Never did I see anything like it since I was a girl and a one-legged man danced at Woodstock fair.”
And amidst the laughter Sylvia danced, the tears in her eyes and such humiliation in her soul as no girl beside herself, she thought, could ever have endured.
“Quicker! Quicker! I know a bear that has just that step in the Garden at Southwark. Ah! Now we come to it! The caper! What? No higher than that! Sure, wench, you have lead in your shoes. Was anything so insufferable?” and, after a moment more, the tears were running down Sylvia’s face, blinding her. But she must dance, like the girl in the red shoes in the fairy tale. Her Grace was openly, venomously delighted.
“Miss Crow, Miss Crow,” she cried, “are there no dancing schools in Sussex? Your father must see to it. To your lessons, Miss Crow!” and suddenly this baiting was brought to an end.
For, above the laughter and derision of the courtiers and the high-pitched tones of Her Highness, one word rang out from a young and wrathful voice: “Puniamini!”
The effect of that word upon the Queen was magical. If no other woman in that gathering understood it, she did who in the days of her imprisonment had her Latin of Roger Ascham. She beat her hands upon the arms of her chair and rose to her feet, towering high. Her eyes turned to the quarter whence the cry had rung, and the blaze of them was ferocious.
“Who dares to cry ‘Shame!’ at me?” she shouted. “Let the rogue stand forth!”
The little group at which she glared drifted away like sand in a high wind. One youth was left, standing splendid in a dress of flesh-coloured velvet, with a flushed and mutinous face above his ruff.
“Your Majesty!” cried Sylvia, clasping her hands together in a despairing plea.
But the Queen swept her away with a gesture of her arm.
“Away! Away!” she ordered. Her eyes never turned from Anthony. His very beauty and spirit infuriated her against him.
“So!” she shouted. “Because I throw you a bone, you will be free of the chain and the kennel, will you? To my feet, spaniel!”
Then followed a pause. It was not the insult of her language which kept him standing where he stood. After all, she rated her Ministers as outrageously, to the world’s knowledge. Burleigh was a traitor and Walsingham a fool. Who was he that he should not be a dog if it pleased her tongue to call him so? But he was aflame with passion against her for her cruelty.
“To my feet!” she repeated, pointing to the ground. “Must I have you flung there?”
She looked about her for her halberdiers. She was the Queen, clothed with power. Anthony moved resentfully forward and stood, for a moment, in front of her, defiant, his head flung back, his eyes a challenge. But her authority beat him down. His head drooped, his strength left him, he dropped on his knees heavily. Early a man, late a boy, he had the violence of his day in his blood and its swift revulsions. He was a boy now, in disgrace before his schoolmistress. He covered his face with his hands. A sob broke from his lips. Her Grace laughed unkindly.
“So your Daintiness will correct my manners. By God’s death, Master Impudence, I have stone rooms to cool young hotheads and iron for their wear. Have a care that you don’t find the taste thereof! What? I must ask your leave, must I, how I deal with your kitchen wench?”
“Oh!” cried Anthony, and he rose to his feet. “I’ll have no more of it!”
He turned away, but before he had moved a step, a grasp, sinewy as a man’s, seized him by the shoulder and swung him round, and the royal hand boxed his ears with a round and royal vigour.
“By God, Madam,” Anthony said, whilst his head buzzed, “if Your Grace had been a King instead of a Queen, you would have answered to me for that blow.”
Her Grace stamped her foot at him.
“Out with you!” she screamed. “I have sent men to the rack for less than that. Another word, and by God, you shall find yourself all Scarr and no Anthony. Out with you!”
She stood glaring at the lad like one possessed. Slowly he backed away from her. The courtiers made a lane for him, as though he were a leper with a bell. He wandered off amongst the trees, his reason upset, his brain in a whirl, the only clear thought in all the confusion of his spirit that this disgrace had set up a barrier between Sylvia and himself which could hardly be overpassed.
He found himself in the Closewalks, at the edge of the little wood where he had cried to her that even death could not keep them forever apart. A curious sense of comfort descended upon him. It was now quite dark beneath the trees, and he felt that an echo of that sure cry still lingered here, as a token of its truth. He sat down upon a fallen trunk and let the night wrap him round. Surely she herself was near. An idea came to him and shaped itself into a plan. Surely she had prompted it. There was a way to cross that barrier—a good way, a practical way. He would not pay his call upon Mr Buckhurst on the Monday, nor marry Sylvia on Tuesday, no, nor go on the grand tour to Rome for many a long day. But at the long last, yes, these things should be.
It was dark, now, in the open glade. Anthony hurried out of the Closewalks to the Park. In front of him the great house blazed from every window. Before he had reached it, an arm was thrust through his and his friend Henry Browne spoke to him.
“I was waiting for you, Anthony,” he said.
“I ruin my friend if he walks with me,” he answered.
“In some of our guests’ eyes, very like. In her Highness’s? I think her of too high a spirit. In my own? I am ruined if I draw back by an inch. I beg you, therefore, to walk slowly.”
Anthony pressed his friend’s arm against his side.
“I must see Sylvia, Henry.”
“That may not be. Her father hustled her off in his coach before Her Grace returned to Cowdray.”
To be sure! The poor man, with his dreams of Whitehall pricked and his daughter fooled and baited, must have carried himself and his shame away upon the instant. Anthony stopped again and stared at Henry, seeing nothing. The Queen had been subtler than he had guessed. Sylvia would have blame at home, for her portion, and ridicule abroad. She would have her father glowering at her from his corner by the fire. “But for you I might be living amongst great affairs.” She must endure the pointed finger of her friends. “There’s the kitchen wench off to her dancing school.” What a limbo of humiliation! All the more reason, therefore, to be quick. Anthony hastened, dragging Henry Browne along with him, as though that alone might see him through his task.
“I must put my servants to their packing,” he said, “and order my horses.”
“You go tonight?”
“The host says no. The friend says yes.”
Henry Browne strode along at Anthony’s side.
“I had a word with her.”
For all his haste, Anthony stopped dead. They were now upon a terrace, and the light from twenty windows poured upon his face. There was so strong a torment in his eyes that Henry Browne did not need his questions put into words.
“Nay, she had been crying, but that was over. She was anxious, but for you, not herself When I told her your bones were unbroken, she even smiled. She was very quiet. She gave me a message.”
So eager was Anthony now, his life might have hung upon that message. He himself would have said—more than his life.
“You were never to forget a morning in the Closewalks. She held you to the memory of it.”
Such a relief shone in Anthony’s face that he was transfigured. The pledge made in their temple of trees was renewed. Anthony could see the very spot, the cool and friendly gloom here, the dazzle of sunlight in the glade beyond. The pledge was made there—or renewed there. Wasn’t it first made by that panel of chalk in the hollow of the Downs? No! They had discovered that upon a later day—and yet—Anthony flung back his head, thinking, wondering, on the edge of some tremendous revelations which still baffled him. To Henry Browne’s startled eyes, he seemed to melt into another man of another age, sterner, less vivid and buoyant—a man apart, in infinite loneliness.
“Anthony!” he cried.
Anthony shook his head with a start. He was coming back to the terrace over the scented garden of Cowdray and the starlit summer night, but very slowly. Some element, eerie and chill, was as a mist about him, holding him aloof. He came back with a wonder in his eyes as though he had awakened from a sleep of a thousand years. And now that wonder was gone. Henry Browne had his friend by the arm again, the light pouring from the windows upon his pale velvet and his jewels and his familiar face.
“Of course!” Anthony said with a small laugh. “We only discovered that bower on the hillside on a later day.”
He laughed again at Henry Browne’s bewilderment.
“Come! I should be sunk in misery. Yet I am not. I see tonight my life like a pattern in the weaving. All this hurly- burly in the garden falls into its place. I am going to take the needle in my hand. I have half an hour before my packing will be finished. Let me give an order to my servants and change into my boots and for that half hour bear with me. For it will be a little while before we shake hands again.”
...I’ve groaned as if a fiery net
Plucked me this way and that—fire if I turned
To her, fire if I turned to you.
Anthony, with a candle in his hand, walked quietly along the corridors to Henry Browne’s room above the porch. The lights were out now, except in the Queen’s lodging, where she was busy with a messenger from Holland, and in the rooms of the Secretaries. He found Henry waiting for him with a bottle of wine upon the table and a cigar for each of them.
“You shall talk at your ease here, Anthony.”
Henry Browne was eager to listen. Visions became facts and every day a miracle dwindled to a commonplace. But this odd friend of his, who got so much love with so little effort and yet kept so much of himself secret and aloof, would have, of a surety, an enterprise in his thoughts to dazzle the world.
“Tell me! Tell me!” and he poured out the wine and pushed a cigar across the table.
The two boys—they were little more-sat opposite to one another with the candle upon the table between them, the one in his fine Court dress, the other in a sober travelling suit, their faces kindling, their troubles forgotten. But it was not to Henry Browne that the story was to be told. For Anthony had hardly spoken two words when there came a knock upon the door.
“At this hour,” said Henry Browne in a whisper.
Both sat very still. They were startled, a little alarmed. Was it one of Her Grace’s red halberdiers who came knocking on the door in the middle of the night? The knock was repeated.
“It’s my fault,” said Henry Browne in the same low voice. “But for me you would have gone ere now. You must hide.”
But Anthony would not. He was very white. There was a chill about his heart. Her Highness might easily have thought better of her clemency. The words he had spoken—she had stung him to utter them, true! But they were treasonous. And all his fine plans might be shattered by that knock as easily as the walls of Jericho by the blast of a trumpet. But to hide! To be dragged out from a hiding place! No! Anthony rose, and going to the door, opened it. In the doorway was no halberdier, but a servant.
“Yes?” asked Henry from his chair at the table.
“I serve Sir Francis Walsingham,” the man replied, and he turned towards Anthony. “He bade me find you, Sir. He told me that I should be like to find you here.”
Anthony stood stock-still. It was not one of Her Majesty’s halberdiers come to take him into custody. But what did Sir Francis Walsingham want of him? Once before, Walsingham had hindered him for some distant purpose of his own. Not a doubt but that he threatened all his schemes again. But this time there was . Sylvia. This time Anthony would hold on his own course.
“I’ll follow you,” he said to the servant. He went back to his friend. “I must go, of course. Walsingham lays his plans. Since he requires me, I could not slip by. Wait for me, Henry.”
Henry Browne nodded his head, and Anthony followed the messenger to a big room upon the inner court. Sir Francis, late as it was, sat at a table littered with papers, a Secretary at his elbow.
“A moment, Mr Scarr, and I have done,” he said.
He signed the paper he had been reading and dismissed everyone but Anthony from the room. Then he took Anthony by the elbow and led him to a little table in the window.
“Her Majesty has an unaccommodating tongue!” he said ruefully. “I have had the rough of it often myself.”
It was all very pleasant and friendly—two men of the world sensibly putting at their value the tantrums of a woman. But Anthony remembered a saying of his old tutor about this very man: “He outdoes the Jesuits in their own bow and overreaches them with his equivocations.” He took the seat to which Walsingham led him and said never a word.
“I have fled from her hard usage,” Walsingham continued, with a smile upon his tired, dark face, “and said ‘I will give the rest of my life to my garden and my books.’ But a man cannot turn his back upon these times—no, neither I nor you—however much our mistress buffets us,” he added, and the faint glimmer of amusement vanished off eyes and lips.
“Listen,” he said, and he threw wide the window. The night was very still. The hooting of an owl in a distant tree of the Park was the only sound to be heard in the deep square well of the great court. Above their heads the stars sailed over a smooth dark sky. “Was there ever such peace, such a promise of fair days? Yet all is in the balance. The liberty of this realm and its people. Whether our Lord Jesus shall rule, or Antichrist. And there’s no hazard in it. We cannot be overthrown if we are actors. We cannot stand if we are onlookers.”
“For my part, Sir, I do not mean to look on,” said Anthony quietly.
“I was sure of it,” Walsingham returned. “I have work for you.”
He rose and took a step towards his big table with its litter of papers. He was all confidence that Anthony would act the part he had chosen for him in this pageant of life and death. Or was he assuming confidence, the more easily to secure his end? Anthony did not stir from the window.
“I have work for myself,” he said, with a note of stubbornness in his voice which brought a shadow to the Secretary’s face. But his back was turned and Anthony only heard the suave and friendly voice.
“Very like it is better than what I had in mind. Let us make a comparison.”
“He outreaches them in his equivocations,” Anthony warned himself. Aloud he said: “I will respectfully reply with a saying of yours to me, Sir Francis. Silence can ask and silence can answer with less embarrassment, at times, than speech.”
Sir Francis raised his head.
“I said that at your house in Cornwall, I think.”
The older man turned swiftly about. He was skilled in the reading of faces. Anthony, under his scrutiny, flushed and shifted in his chair, with a suspicion in his mind that, somehow, his secret had escaped him. And it had. It was not, after all, so difficult to guess. A taste for adventure, a craving for the new world and the uncharted seas, were not so rare in youths of spirit. Add a father burnt in the Plaza of Valladolid and a disgrace to be wiped out and a lady to be WOfl and a saying remembered—here were finger-posts plain enough for a duller man than Walsingham to read.
“So Drake’s cabin boy will after all be Admiral,” he said, with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “Well, after all—” And he fell into some perplexity.
“How many ships?” he asked at length.
Anthony answered frankly. His plan was out and his best course was to enlist the statesman’s help if he could.
“I can fit out two at least. Three perhaps,” and, once he had begun, he could not stop. His story tumbled from his lips like water over a lasher. Drake, with his great heart, would help him. The ships should be armed as none were armed before. The sailing masters should be the best in England. He would have no gentlemen adventurers. They were the ruin of expeditions. He would know but two watchwords, discipline and service.
“Yes, and a fine, loud name for yourself when you return,” said Sir Francis quietly.
Anthony sat back as if he had been struck in the face. Oh, yes, the great name had been in his thoughts. To be of the company of Frobisher and Hawkins, Gilbert and Drake—no doubt the ambition had been burning in him and had popped out in his words. He could pay his visit to Woolbeding with that fine name to warrant his courtship. Because of it Buckhurst would change the more sweetly into Scarr.
“No doubt, Sir,” he admitted.
Yet Sir Francis did not laugh at the lad’s vanity. He looked him in the face, appraising him and setting one plan against the other.
“I am shaken,” he confessed. “I thought to find a youth sunk in despair and ready to my hand.” A smile lit up his face. “I had forgotten you, Mr Scarr.”
He paced the room for a minute. Two good ships, perhaps three, slipping out of a western port—a private venture—the Plate Fleet with its millions of ducats vanishing into air somewhere between San Domingo and the Azores. With Philip unable to raise a penny from the bankers of Genoa, that was not a scheme to be dismissed as a boy’s dream. True, but at the best it only meant postponement and the sooner the great duello came, the better.
“It is my turn to quote your words against you,” he said. “I heard some learned talk between you and Her Grace. In the little towns a man might aim at service and the great name at once. But in Rome and this our England the enterprise was too wide. Wasn’t that how the argument ran? One could only serve and leave chance to throw the hero up.”
This was the worst moment Anthony had known in all his life. That had been his creed, born in him, part of him, a creed unquestioned then and unquestioned now, to which it seemed to him he had been trained before his birth. Service for its own sake, because it was. He tried not to listen to its call. He wanted on some fine day to ride into Sussex with the great name like a banner above his head, to claim his prize.
“What do you want of me?” he asked sullenly, and he added in a low voice: “I am not alone. Remember it!” And there was prayer in his words as of warning.
Walsingham was moved. It needed all the memories of his own devoted life to hold him to his course in the face of this lad’s misery. His body racked with pain, his work flouted, disappointment at every corner, his own private purse emptied that his cause might suffer the less from the parsimony of his Queen. He looked back on the long succession of care-filled days and broken nights—and all to avoid one enormous evil, the stake and the Inquisition and a slavish England under a pall of terror. No, he could not spare Anthony—no, nor that girl either, who, that evening, had been so mishandled. The enterprise was too wide.
“I have work which you alone can do,” he said. “It can never mean the great name. No, never! It may mean quiet honour amongst those who know—honour enough to smooth your way whither your heart is set. We can see to that. But that will be the best of it, and not yet.”
“And the worst of it?”
“Shame, pain, death—perhaps your father’s death.”
Anthony set his elbows upon the table and covered his face with his hands. He was not hesitating because of his father’s death. He was not thinking that he was a mere pawn in the statesman’s hands, that Walsingham could lay an embargo on his ships, even magnify his outburst in the Private Garden until it fetched him to the Tower. His own creed mastered him. He must live upon the troth plighted under the trees of the Closewalks. But the tears ran between his fingers and splashed in big drops upon the table. Walsingham knew that he had won. He touched Anthony gently upon the shoulder.
“Come to the big table! Let us talk.”
Henry Browne fell asleep with his face upon his arms. His candle burned down to the socket. The morning came. He was roused by the opening of his door. He saw his friend standing in the dim light, white of face and with such a look of distress in his eyes as held him dumb.
“I must go, Henry,” said Anthony.
Henry Browne got to his feet.
“You have nothing to tell me?”
“Not even that.”
They parted at the gates. At the corner where the London road turns up to the right, Anthony sent his servants on. He himself rode forward to Woolbeding. It was broad daylight when he reached it. The birds were noisy in the trees and on the lawns. The house, with its drawn blinds, was still asleep. For a few minutes Anthony stopped his horse before the hedge. Then he rode after his servants.
It was not he himself after all, who was to hold the needle which embroidered the pattern of his life. Was it Walsingham? Perhaps, he thought. Perhaps, too, it was God.
In a blue dusk the ship, astern
Uplifts her slender spars
With golden lights that seem to burn
Among the silver stars.
Like fleets along a cloudy shore
The constellations creep.
Like planets on the ocean floor
Our silent course we keep.
The track from St Anthony-in-Meneage up to Dennis Head was as broad as a road, now. Old men had trampled down the ferns and built a high beacon at the cliff’s edge. Old men, for no others had remained at home. All through this second week of July they had taken up their tobacco pipes and had sat about the beacon, exchanging ancient stories of the sea; or had stood, their eyes straining outwards beyond the Lizard, still as Mussulmans waiting for the rising of the sun.
Dr Morgan Evans was of their company, plucking at a coat of one and peering into the face of another. His own sight, blurred with the print of many books, showed him the world behind veils of mist, and he must use these old fellows as his spy-glass. They were civil enough, but they could never understand what he had to be so anxious about; and they answered him generally with a shake of the head.
Friday came, and on the afternoon of that day about five o’clock Timothy Trewen, without a ripple of the muscles of his leathery, lined face, drawled: “I do believe—” And then he stopped.
There were a dozen of these ancients around the beacon, and they all gathered on the brow of the headland.
“Well, they’ve a fine day for it,” said one, and they watched patiently and restfully. But nothing occurred to relieve their stolidity.
“You du be fancying things, Timothy Trewen. ’Tis your old age makes you ramble.”
Timothy Trewen repelled the slander with heat.
“I saw ’un, I tell you,” he declared. “Sudden, like a little picter. I know the shape of ’un. Wasn’t I the first to see the topsails of the Cacafuego off Lima from the crosstrees of the old Pelican? I could feel ’un if I was blind, even that way off,” and he nodded towards the sea. “But I saw ’un.”
“But you don’t see it now, Timothy.”
“No, but I will,” he answered stoutly.
“What did you think you saw?” the Reverend Doctor asked and repeated. But no one was going to wear his tongue away by answering such foolish questions. The old men watched and watched. In a little while one of them stirred, and then another swore under his breath, and then a third chuckled and his face showed pleasure. Something was happening out there, after all. The Reverend Doctor plucked and pulled and danced. “Are they coming?” he screamed.
Old Timothy Trewen became aware of the Reverend Doctor and nodded his head.
“They be coming! But I told you,” he answered.
The air was clear and the sun in the west. A serene and golden light lay upon the water. A light wind blew from the southwest. And the horizon was thronged with the square topsails of ships. As the ancients watched, the big hulls climbed over the rim into the circle of the sea. A certain order in their positions became manifest. They spread out until they formed a crescent, seven miles in length from tip to tip. One horn pointed obliquely up the Channel, one pointed toward the Scillies and the Sleeve, and in the hollow at the middle of the curve the biggest ships of all were over against the Lizard. Even Dr Morgan Evans could see them now. He forgot his anxieties.
“Wolves!” he cried in a rage, shaking his clenched fist seawards; and the old men all stared at him as if he were a natural.
“Sheep in wolves’ clothing, old gentleman,” said one of them soothingly. “Don’t ’ee worry! There’s a sheep dog or two waiting for ’un up to Plymouth Sound. Go along hidalgos all,” and he waved a hand of invitation to the ships. “Dons you are, doffs you’ll be,”—and the crescent moved slowly on past Falmouth and the Dodman, a city of high castles gay with banners, the Grand Fleet of Spain.
When dusk fell, the beacon on the Head was fired. As its flames rose, others answered it, inland on the high Tors, eastwards on the Dodman and Rame Head, on the Bolt and Prawle Point; on the Start and Berry Head and Lyme Regis; on Portland Bill and the great hills of Dorsetshire; on the Isle of Wight and Beachy Head; on Telegraph Hill whence a semaphore, at a later date, was to announce the victory of Waterloo; on Bignor Hill and Boro’ Hill and Leith Hill where once the Roman road had run; and before eleven o’clock that night the news had leapt to London. They knew of it at Whitehall, whither Her Grace had ridden back from Tilbury after the review of the troops. And a messenger riding in haste knocked upon the door of Sir Francis Walsingham’s house at Barn Elms, where now stands the Clubhouse of Ranelagh.
Now, while he turns down that cool narrow
Into the blackness, out of grave Madrid
All fire and shine, abrupt as when there’s slid
The stiff gold blazing pall
From some black coffin-lid.
Sir Francis was expecting him. He had, indeed, been expecting him any day these ten years. He rose from his chair at his writing desk, with a gasp of relief that now at last his life’s work was close upon its fulfilment. He said to his butler: “See that the messenger is well bestowed. No man ever brought happier news. Her Ladyship is still up?”
“In the parlour, Sir.”
With a lively step Sir Francis hurried down the corridor. He had no more fear than those old fishermen about the beacon on Dennis Head. He could have danced, but he was too grave. He could have sung, but the song would only have been a croak. Too late now for Her Majesty to practise her diplomacies or disavow her Ministers. The Armada was in the Channel making for the Narrow Seas. At the door of the parlour he recovered his sedateness, but there was a look in his face which brought his wife to her feet and her hand to her heart before he could cross the room to her.
“They are here, then!” she cried.
There were two girls by the open window. They, too, rose quickly.
“They were sighted off the Lizard this afternoon,” said Walsingham. “It’s heave and ho! now.”
He turned towards the girls. One of them was his daughter and the widow of Sir Philip Sidney; the other, Sylvia Buckhurst of Woolbeding. They had other qualities in common besides their beauty—amongst them a quiet courage with which they bore distress. Walsingham addressed himself to Sylvia.
“It is late. Yet I shall ask for your attention for a little time, even at this hour.”
“It is my father,” cried Sylvia, her great eyes fixed in alarm upon the Secretary’s face.
But a smile upon that grave countenance relieved her.
“No, Sylvia,” and there was a pleasant warmth in the pronunciation of her name. He knew all about Mr Rigby Buckhurst’s activities. Mr Buckhurst and Mr Howe, of Selhurst and Sir Arthur Chudd, of Cocking Causeway, had built themselves a pinnace of fifty tons and had armed it with half a dozen culverins and basiliscos and had scraped together a barrel or two of powder and some round shot. They were no doubt jostling and bumping with a score of small ships of the same tonnage in the bottle-neck between the Shingle Shoals and the Needles, each one in a desperate hurry to slip out into open water and sink the Spanish Fleet before someone else got at it. Mr Howe, who was an adept with the arquebus, would be laying his culverins, and Mr Buckhurst at the tiller was probably wondering whether port was left or right and starboard right or left, and Sir Arthur Chudd, his not inconsiderable weight lifted into the crosstrees, was seeing the Armada everywhere, even in the darkness. Sir Francis was not at all disturbed about Mr Buckhurst.
“No,” he said gently. “There is a matter on which I owe you great amends.”
Sylvia looked at him with the big dark eyes which read so much and told so little. But the blood ebbed from her face, leaving her white to her lips’ edge; and for a moment she could not trust her voice. Amends! There was only one matter on which he could owe her great amends, and the wound was still fresh after four years. Henry Browne had told her of the last night at Cowdray; how Anthony, with a sure plan to make all right, had been interrupted by a summons from Sir Francis Walsingham and had returned in the early morning distressed out of recognition and had ridden away without a message. Walsingham had been making her amends ever since. How long after that week was it when the first letter came to her from Lady Walsingham bidding her to Barn Elms? Sylvia had gone. She might have the news she hungered for, and though, until this moment, not a hint was given to her, she found so much good will and love as brought her back again and again until she had found in the house a second home.
“I’ll come with you as far as the ogre’s cave,” said Frances Sidney, the daughter, and she slipped her hand under Sylvia’s arm. They followed Walsingham to his library. At the door Frances Sidney kissed her friend tenderly.
“God be with you, my dear!” she whispered.
She herself had had two years with Philip. Though he, the poet and hero, had died and their child, too, after him, those years were hers. Nothing could take them away. They had been. But her friend?
“If only!” she whispered, with the tears in her eyes, and again: “Who knows?” and so pushed Sylvia into the library and shut the door upon them.
Walsingham led her to a chair at his table and cleared a space in front of her.
“I had no means out of Spain,” he began. “From France, from Italy, from the Netherlands, from Turkey, as much information as I could wish for. But none out of Spain. And nothing was more necessary. There was Her Majesty inclining towards another Majesty and thinking they two could settle their quarrels without the impertinent interference of her Ministers. She could never be persuaded, besides, to read a note longer than one sheet of paper could hold. So all must be true and exact. Else,” and he hazarded a smile, “I ran some risk of getting my ears boxed.”
Oh, it was good news, then, that he had to give her! Not otherwise would he have touched so tender a point. She had starved for four years for any news at all, lost in perplexities and forebodings and sustained only by the completeness of her trust in her lover. And now it was here, and good! No wonder the colour came back to her face and her eyes shone.
“But I had no means out of Spain,” Walsingham repeated. “The talk of the harbours, the reports of the bankers in Genoa and Florence and Frankfort, the gossip picked up by wandering men—to be sure. But I wanted an ear in the Escorial, a mind which could sift what the ear heard, and a hand that could write it down—thus.”
He unlocked a small box clamped with iron which stood upon a side table and fetched out from beneath an orderly pile of letters a few small sheets of paper covered with minute, clear writing. Sir Francis laid the papers in front of Sylvia upon the table and turned away so that she might have that moment to herself. He turned away so quickly that when a smothered cry broke from her lips, he was halfway across the room to the window.
Sylvia laid the papers against her heart, without a glance at what they said. It was the handwriting which caught her breath away.
“Anthony,” she said, in a whisper of wonderment. She looked at them again, and again deciphered no words. But she pressed her lips upon them.
No cabalistic plaster scribbled over by a professor of Mumbo- Jumbo could have eased the wound of a savage more swiftly than that writing brought a solace to Sylvia. A few hurried letters written in that fine, small hand during the crowded week at Cowdray—and then nothing until tonight.
She looked at the sheets of paper, her eyes dewy with tears, and here and there a word took shape. “Santa Katherina,” she read, and “Our Lady del Pilar de Zaragossa,” and “John Martinez de Ricalde” and “the Galleasse San Lorenzo,” and against these names in another column, the names of Provinces—“Guypuscoa” and “Castille” and “Biscay” and “Portugall.”
With a shock she understood she was reading a list of the ships of the Spanish Fleet, the Provinces which had provided them, the names of their Generals, the numbers of the soldiers, Spaniards and Italians, the mariners, the galley slaves and King’s Gentlemen, of the surgeons and the priests, the cannon and their calibre. There were items enough to make a hard head dizzy. The last page was covered with quotations—the written advice of Philip of Spain to his High Admiral, Medina Sidonia. The English were a cowardly people who would want to fight at a distance with their guns instead of closing and grappling as gentlemen should. They would shoot low, too, into the hulls instead of high to bring the masts down—a devilish practice.
Sir Francis came back from his window.
“But for that report, our fleet would still be guarding Chatham Church,” said he, “and our coasts at the mercy of these Pontificians,”
He held out his hand for the papers, but Sylvia tightened her fingers on them.
“In a little while,” she said, and then, plaintively, “I want to be told.”
Sir Francis was all for finishing then and there. Bedtime was past.
“But you have been told.”
“On one sheet of paper,” said she.
The rejoinder was apt enough to please him, and he sat down at the table close to her.
“Long ago I thought of Anthony. I made a journey into Cornwall to make sure, when he was a boy. There was no one so fitted, a gentleman with knowledge of Italy and Spain and their languages and a creed of service worthy of old Rome. In a few years, I thought, I should have the perfect instrument. But in a few years so modish a young gallant was quite out of my poor reach.”
“Until he came to Cowdray and met me,” said Sylvia, accusing herself
“Until he came to Cowdray and suffered the fleeting favours of Her Highness,” Sir Francis corrected, and hurried on: “I sent for him that night.”
“So Henry Browne told me.”
“This is where I owe you amends. Anthony Scarr had a plan in his thoughts, which, if it had succeeded, would have blotted all that disgrace and scandal out. And it might have succeeded. He had the spirit for it and the means.
He told her of the ships which Anthony had meant to arm to interrupt the Plate Fleet. “But this,” and he pointed to the papers which she still held, “was the greater service, all the more, perhaps, because it carried no great name as a reward. Knowledge out of Spain was worth a hundred galleons loaded to the decks with gold. I held him to it.”
Sylvia was silent for a few moments. Then she said, looking the Secretary in the eyes: “He sent me not a line of farewell, not a message by his friend. You held him to that, too.”
Walsingham was the father of MI5 and NID and all the Intelligence Services and Divisions and Departments which later centuries were to create. His meddlesome fingers were in all the Cabinets of Europe, turning keys, copying papers, his eyes were at every chink, his ears where every word threatening his realm was spoken. Secrecy was the reason of his success, secrecy even where no cause for it seemed sensible. At times, of course, he was jockeyed by false information, at times, too, his servants suffered torture and execution. But not so often. He kept his agents under his own hand so that none knew the other, until the moment useful for such knowledge had come. A careless word could travel far, and Spain had her agents in England, too. Anthony Scarr, a young gentleman of means in disgrace at Court, could loiter from town to town in Italy, could even enter Spain. There was much to be learnt of the preparations for the enterprise of England, as Philip termed his expedition, in Venice and Florence, in Malaga and Madrid. Anthony, speaking Italian and Spanish from his birth, could disappear as a young gentleman and come to life again in the arsenals of Lisbon and Cadiz.
“I have a friend,” Walsingham continued. “He is the Duke of Tuscany’s Ambassador to Spain. Through him Anthony was placed as a Groom of the Chamber with the Grand Admiral at Lisbon. That which you hold is a copy of the dispatch sent by the Admiral to Philip before he sailed. We sit here in our fine houses, thinking highly of our great place and the work we do. But under God, this solitary service exceeds us all. When these last anxious days are over I’ll see to it, my dear, that honour shall not be wanting.”
He got up from his chair and held out his hand for the papers which she still held. The assumption that an interview was ended often ended it and saved one from embarrassing questions. But Sylvia, to Sir Francis Walsingham’s regret, was not to be hustled. She sat still in her chair, looking up at him.
“Where is Anthony now?” she asked.
Yes, that was the question which he had wished to avoid. Gazing down into her grave and quiet eyes, he understood that there had never been a chance that he could avoid it. If he could only postpone it for a few days. Perhaps he had been a little too forward in speaking about Anthony Scarr. He reproached himself. The cold heart was the properest organ for a man who had to ruffle it with the Pontificians… What? Must he be waving a wand like a fairy in a Masque?… But whilst these reproaches chased one another through the Secretary’s mind, Sylvia’s eyes held him to her question.
“You must tell me please, where Anthony is. You owe me that.”
Francis Walsingham acknowledged the debt by a nod, a little resentful like nine debtors out of ten. Then gently he took the sheaf of papers from her hand. She was puzzled and angry. He was evading her, practising with her. He would turn her off, would he? He would talk to her about the Grand Fleet and Don This and Don That? Let him try!
But Walsingham did not try. A look of pity softened his face. He saw the flash of spirit in her eyes, and it was he must quench it. He turned over the leaves, folded them back, and laying them thus folded upon the table in front of Sylvia, pointed to a line. Wondering, she read:
“The Fleete of Guypuscoa D Michell de Quendo. The Admirall, called the Lady of Roses, of nine hundred forty-five tunne, with two hundred and thirty souldiers, eighty mariners and thirty canons.”
She looked up at Walsingham, and read again the description of that ship. A terror was whispering in her ears. She shut them against it. She would not listen. She would not understand.
“The Lady of Roses,” she repeated, using words so that the sound of them might hold her fears in check.
“The Señora de la Rosa, the flagship of the Guypuscoan Squadron, Oquendo’s ship.”
Oquendo! She had never heard of Oquendo. That he was the finest sailor and the boldest fighter in the whole of the Armada, that he carried with him upon his flagship all the best of the young chivalry of Spain, she knew nothing. Walsingham told her. Sylvia refused to know. It all meant nothing to her, she insisted. All these details, so many evasions.
“Where is Anthony now?” she clamoured, the beating of her heart distracting her so that she could hardly breathe. Walsingham’s finger touched again the name of the ship upon the paper.
“No!” she cried violently. She sprang to her feet in a blaze of anger. “You daren’t ask for a service so fatal!”
But even while she uttered her cry; she knew that he dare ask, that he had asked, that there was no sacrifice in the world he would not claim even from his wife and daughter, if it served England. He outreached the Jesuits in his bow, old Dr Morgan Evans had cried. He might have added: “He outdoes the Grand Inquisitor in his fanaticism.”
“He is there,” Walsingham declared, and there was a rumble of thunder in his voice. Let none gainsay him!
“A boy!” Sylvia wailed, clasping her hands together, and the word and the picture it called up struck the anger out of her. Under the gay coxcombry of the boy a spirit burned in him like a flame. There would have never been a need to ask him for service. He would have rushed to it. He would have thought that, in rushing to it, he honoured her. Walsingham read her thought.
“It is so. I never asked him. He had enlisted as an Italian soldier on the Señora de la Rosa before word came to me. But I should not have hindered him.”
The Lady of Roses! The fine name. Sylvia turned towards the window, as though, by straining her eyes, she could see across field and Down the big galleon rolling on in the darkness of the sea.
“God help us both!” she prayed. “He is there.”
But Anthony was not there. For, half an hour before, some devil-ridden infidel among the Italian soldiers had thrown a lighted torch into the powder magazine and blown the Lady of Roses into innumerable petals of blazing wood. Of her crew and her soldiers, most had already met their death in the explosion, some were drowned, and a remnant were struggling for their lives in the swift tide-race of the Channel.
...I know not whether strife
Or peace was with me in some earlier life.
Philip in a worse prison has me pent
These three days past—but not without God’s will.
Stay we as God decrees: God doth not ill.
At sunrise on the Sunday morning the Grand Fleet was opposite Rame Head. Ahead of it and to leeward, just outside the Mewstone, Lord Howard, the High Admiral, with eleven of the Queen’s ships, was manoeuvring to catch the wind.
To windward and astern Drake closed in with forty privateers. Medina Sidonia ran up to his masthead his great consecrated banner—Christ on the Cross with Our Lady on the one side and Magdalen upon the other—and braced his yards and stood in between the two divisions. But the devil apparently was out that day and working miracles for his children. Howard sailed his ships within five points of the wind, tacked past the Grand Fleet, and joined Drake before a shot could be fired. It was not right nor fair, nor according to the rules. It was not brave. It was not possible. But the English had the advantage of the wind now, and used it. The first shots were fired in a rising sea, and all that day the muffled thunder of the artillery rumbled across the water.
On the Monday morning the great galleon, Capitana, flagship of the Andalusian squadron, sailed into Dartmouth under a prize crew, with her bowsprit broken and her foretopmast dangling down over her side. Much treasure was on board of her, a chest of jewelled swords for the faithful amongst the English peers, and, more valuable than all the treasure, barrel upon barrel of gunpowder. Don Pedro de Valdez, Vice-Admiral of Andalusia, was in the great cabin, extremely exasperated. Medina Sidonia had deserted him deliberately. Medina Sidonia was a coward and a disgrace to the Grandees. The English, too, were an unspeakable people.
“What was the Armada for?” he cried bitterly. It was not built for long-range actions. Its ships were fortresses. Its guns only fired high to disable masts and sails, so that they could close and pour from their towering decks their thousand soldiers onto the low English craft. But the English were incorrect. They stood off and stood in, they had heavy guns, they fired low and riddled the great hulls, they made the decks slippery with blood, they blew the great water butts into smithereens. They stung and stung again like wasps, whereas they should have grappled and stung once and died like bees and gentlemen.
The English weren’t gentlemen. That was the sad truth which a year’s residence in Dartmouth before his ransom arrived, brought home to Don Pedro. They were civil, certainly, they never insulted him, but they stood about and looked at him humorously. They seemed to think him comical and odd. Mother of God, he an oddity! But there! They were possessed by ten thousand devils, and when you had said that you had said everything.
He would have been still more convinced of their devilry if Medina Sidonia had gone about and saved him from capture. The Grand Fleet lumbered on to Portland with Drake and Howard and Frobisher and Martin raking them from windward. At Portland the wind fell light but not so light but that Howard’s flagship, the Ark, being caught to leeward, could sail through the very centre of the Armada and come out unhurt. Off Portland and off St Alban’s Head the running fight went on. There was anxiety in England now. Would Medina Sidonia make for the Solent, anchor in the roads of St. Helen’s, occupy Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, or would he run for Calais and the flat-bottomed boats filled with Parma’s veterans from the Netherlands? If he took the former course, he could dictate his terms. Even Walsingham shook his head.
“Ever the strongest giveth the law to the weaker,” said he.
But Medina Sidonia wanted the comfort of Parma’s veterans. He ran for Calais and the Narrow Seas and his chance was gone. News of his progress was brought constantly to the household at Barn Elms. They heard of the fireships at Calais, the great battle of Gravelines, the danger of the shoals by Dunkirk, and the flight of the Armada into the North Sea. But they heard not a word of Anthony Scarr.
“I have sent messages to our fleet,” said Walsingham. “Drake himself has not forgotten his cabin boy. He bids you not lose hope, Sylvia. One of our volunteer ships may have picked him up. Or a boat from a Spanish galleon. In the press of these times we should be little likely to have news of him so soon.”
Sylvia said very little during these days. She made an effort to bear her part in the rejoicings now that the great Spanish threat was dispersed. It might be that Anthony would come back to her. She was one living, quiet prayer that he would, and though her cheek thinned, there were hope and courage in her eyes.
Drake and his privateers hung onto the heels of the Grand Fleet, shepherding it beyond the Firth of Forth to the Northern Islands. Then, his provisions and his powder all consumed, he gave up the chase. Left to itself the remnant of the Grand Fleet, the Invincible, rolled round Cape Wrath and the Hebrides and Ireland and set their course for Spain. But galleon after galleon went ashore as far north as the Faroe Islands and on the outer coasts of Sligo and Donegal. Others lost in the mists of those tumbled waters, drove in amongst the Scottish islands.
Towards the end of August a letter came to Sir Francis Walsingham from his friend, Giovanni Figleazzi, the Tuscan Ambassador at Madrid. The letter began with many condolences and expressions of friendship which Sir Francis was at first rather at a loss to understand.
“I hope that the peace will not be too grievous a burden,” it went on. “Alas, the hatred against Her Highness goes beyond all bounds. There are no words too black for her, and it is said she must burn. Meanwhile, of course, the rejoicings in every town are such that a stranger might think the people had gone mad and we know nothing but processions and thanksgivings.”
Walsingham smiled as he read. There would be a moderation in those ecstasies when the first of the splintered and decimated galleons limped miserably into Coruña with the true story of its defeat.
“I enclose a letter which CD left with me, asking me to forward it to you with a prayer that you should concern yourself to make sure that it reached the proper hands. I have had no opportunity before.”
The letter was addressed in Anthony’s handwriting to Sylvia Buckhurst, and Walsingham held it for a time in his hands. Then he struck a bell and sent for his daughter.
“Frances,” he said, and he gave the letter into her hand, “she must be told now. We have kept our secret too long. You will use her tenderly, having known great griefs yourself. I will send her to you here.”
But as he made to go to the door, he saw that it was open and that Sylvia stood upon the threshold.
“I am here,” she said.
She came forward into the room, having closed the door behind her.
“I must be told, but your faces have been telling me these two days past. It was kindly meant, but I am at the end of my strength and I must know.”
Her voice died away into a whisper before she had ended, and she sat down in a chair as though her knees had given under her.
Frances Sydney put the letter in her hands, but she only turned it over and over and did not open it.
“You shall tell me first,” she said. “Then I will open it.”
Walsingham made his voice as dry as he could, lest one distress should increase unendurably another. He said: “The Rata Coronada, a galleon of eight hundred and twenty tons, belonging to the Levantine Squadron, losing her way and badly crippled, fled into the Sound of Mull and coming into Tobermory Bay, sank.”
So far he had been very precise and smooth. But here he came to a stop, and Frances Sidney moved up close behind Sylvia’s chair.
“Yes,” said Sylvia in a voice quite toneless, but her eyes looked out in torment from a face of stone.
“There was swinging from her yardarm the body of a young Italian soldier. The captain declared that it was he who had thrown the torch into the magazine of the Señora de la Rosa. He had been picked up out of the water when he was trying to swim away to the English ships. He had been kept in confinement during the days of battle, brought to his trial when the pursuit had ceased, and duly put to death after sentence. His name was Antonio Manucci,” Walsingham lowered his eyes to the table in front of which he stood. “By that name,” he added, “Anthony Scarr was known to me.”
Sylvia stooped forward suddenly, as though she were falling from her chair. She would have fallen but for Frances Sidney’s arms about her shoulders. For a few moments she lay like that, her eyes closed, her face white as paper. Then she drew herself free.
“There is a message for me here,” she said, turning again the letter in her hands. She spoke quietly and in an even voice. There was even a wistful smile upon her lips. “I am very well, Frances. Have no fear.”
Frances Sidney beckoned to her father, and they left the girl alone in the library as she meant them to do. She sat so still after they had gone that the room seemed empty or only tenanted by one who was dead. But Sylvia was alive and watching with a dreadful intentness scenes of horror. A great ship labouring amongst mists which thickened and dissolved and showed a doll swinging on a high yard—her lover who had died after what pain endured none but God could tell. Suddenly her voice sounded in the still room clearly, harshly, so that the sound shocked her.
“Hanged!” she said, and an appalling excitement seized upon her so that she found herself repeating the word on an ever-louder note. “Hanged! Hanged! Hanged!…” until she knew that this was the road to madness.
She opened the letter. It was no list of ships. It was written to her. If she could have heard his voice speaking the written words. But one loses voices—until one hears them again.
“But I shall,” she said to herself, and read:
“I take ship tomorrow on a voyage which, long or short, will bring me to you in the end. I see you under the trees in the Closewalks. I feel your dear lips on mine. I hear the words… You are very near to me tonight, Sweetheart. I think that I know all which makes you the lovely You you are and suddenly I discover something new and lovelier still. In my new tongue, A Rivederci.”
The letter was neither signed nor dated nor superscribed from any place. It was written at Lisbon the night before Anthony went aboard the Señora de la Rosa. Sylvia sat with the letter open in her hand, and in a little while she heard her voice again, very loving, very urgent.
“Come! Anthony, come back! Here, now! Oh, come!”
The evening was beginning to fall, the room was full of shadows. She felt that he must obey. The door would open. She watched the knob, expecting to see it turn. He would come as she had last seen him, slim and exquisite in his flesh-coloured velvet with his pearl in his ear and his gold chain with the emerald galleon about his shoulders. He would come to her debonair and young and beautiful, early a man and late a boy.
But the shadows deepened into darkness, and only the window panes glimmered, and still the room was empty.
“No,” she thought, and submitted herself to the thought. “I cannot bring him back that way.”
And having submitted herself to the law, she was in a little while aware of a presence in the dark room. The tears came into her eyes and flowed. And after that she felt that she was never quite alone.
First Dealer: If I buy you, what will you
Pythagoreanism: Nothing. I will remind you.
“Panem et circenses. That’s, of course, dole and dog tracks,” said the fat elderly man with the notebooks.
He was seated at a table placed on a large square wooden’ floor, raised a foot above the terrace. Overhead was a thatched roof supported upon pillars, but there were no walls. It was the ballroom of a great house in the tropics. The house itself was upon his left-hand side, and he sat facing the railing of the terrace, but he was much too busy to spare any attention for the magical scene in front of him. It was night, and electric lamps, hanging from the roof lit up this big roofed dais brilliantly.
“Rome’s growing downwards like a cow’s tail,” he quoted. “That’s Ganymede at the Banquet. You never came across that piece of Latin, Adrian, I’ll bet.” He looked towards a boy who was sitting by the railing and looking out with a curious intentness, as though he were listening.
“No, Mr Trapp,” he answered politely, but without turning his head.
“No, of course you didn’t. Petronius is for grown- ups.” Mr Trapp chuckled noisily and winked at the third of that party, a worn, thin man of Trapp’s own age who sat at the end of the house where a glass screen made a sheltered corner. “Old Petronius, he was a lad!”
He wrote again in his notebook.
“I’ll begin my book with the cow’s tail quotation. The label on the luggage, what?”
Mr Charles Trapp was a retired Indian Civil Servant. His last and highest post was that of Collector at Agra, but he nursed the strongest possible conviction that, if true merit had been given right of way, he would have been Governor of the United Provinces. He retired, therefore, with a grievance and a lively suspicion that the British Empire was tumbling downhill. The obvious comparison of Rome struck him as an idea quite startling and new, which was well worth exploring. Mr Trapp explored. Certainly the British Empire was sliding, and with it the rest of the civilized world, into the dark burial ground of nations and epochs. It almost deserved to do, since real ability never got its chance. At all events, its impending doom should be firmly pointed out to it and a disgruntled official get a little of his own back at the same time. Thus it happened that, oblivious of the beauty of a night in Jamaica with the moon at the full, he was plaguing his host Sir John Shard and his host’s son Adrian with his analogies. He pulled one of his books towards him.
“Now, here’s something,” he said. “Just listen to it, you two! I was before the new pronunciation, Adrian. So you must have it in the old: “Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas.’ Do you hear that? Do you see what it means under the conditions of life as it is? Our taxation lets off the Co-ops and harasses the small tradesmen. Juvenal! Therefore true! He was a lad, was Juvenal!”
At this, the boy at last turned his head and showed to Mr Trapp a face which was delicate in feature and fine yet without weakness. At the present moment perplexity troubled it.
“But you are writing a book, Sir,” he cried.
“Yes, and a book the world is waiting for,” said Mr Trapp.
“Then you can’t take Juvenal on trust like that, can you?” the boy asked pleasantly but very seriously.
“And why not?”
“He was a snob, wasn’t he, Sir? The worst kind of a snob. He thought everybody was despising him because he wasn’t well-born, as if anybody cared then or cares now how a man’s born, so long as he delivers the goods.”
Mr Trapp sat back in his chair. Juvenal a snob! Why, he was the next thing to the Bible.
“A snob! So that’s what they teach you nowadays at school, is it?”
Adrian Shard was in still greater perplexity. He could not remember any schoolmaster who had given him that information. Yet someone had—surely. For he recollected it.
“Well, I’ll have to look into it,” said Mr Trapp, not at all good-humouredly. “John, that boy of yours ought to be in bed.”
John Shard and his son exchanged a smile. Clearly they shared a secret into which Mr Trapp was not initiated.
“It’s his last night here,” said John Shard, “and Heaven knows when he will come back again.”
He might have added “or whether he will come back at all.” For that alternative was present to all their minds. John Shard, after a lifetime of soldiering in India, had been stricken by the modern curse of asthma and, after many experiments, had found that in the climate of Jamaica he could breathe most easily. He had bought this house of High Park above St. Ann’s Bay and settled there. But even so, his heart had to work overtime, and since he was now in the sixties, he could not look forward very far. Meanwhile Adrian was at Winchester, and only by sailing on the first day of his summer holidays to Montreal and thence by one of the “Lady” boats southwards through the islands, could he snatch a few days with his father at High Park.
Charles Trapp grunted sympathetically and returned to his theme. For a time his pen scratched and the notebooks were collated. Then he looked up again.
“Was it Commodus or Caracalla who said, ‘The Emperor’s the only one who ought to have money and he only to buy the army with’?”
The question was addressed to Adrian, who replied: “I’m afraid I can’t say, Sir. I haven’t got as far as the Emperors.”
“What!” cried Mr Trapp indignantly. “How old are you?
“And at Winchester! And you don’t know whether it was Commodus or Caracalla! It passes belief. Now, when I was your age and at school—”
“You didn’t know it either, Sir,” the boy interrupted with a smile.
General Shard laughed outright, and Mr Trapp had to join him in the end.
“Well, you’re right, boy. I didn’t, and I don’t know it now. For I’m hanged if I can read my own handwriting. But the infernal fellow began with a C. However, I’ve got to get him right. The parallel’s too good. The Government stands for the Emperor. So the sentence runs: ‘The Government’s the only one that ought to have money and it only to buy the voters with.’ Pretty exact, eh? Commodus—Caracalla—and our Governments in England. Oh, there’s no doubt of it. The world’s growing downwards like—”
He did break off now from his task. He was looking straight ahead of him over the railing.
“Mother of Heaven, what a night!” he exclaimed, almost in awe. He left his books and went forward to the edge of the terrace. Immediately below him a garden of steep paths and big pale flowers dropped to a bathing pool where a fountain leaped and splashed. Below that great trees, bread and mangrove and cassava, marched down to the ocean’s edge, the dark leaves of their foliage shining in the moonlight like armour. On the spit to the right a grove of coconuts seemed to stand in the sea, their stems separated by the bright shafts of silver light, the tufts of their heads mingling one with another. A short, thatch-roofed pier was thrust out into the lagoon. A coral reef, broken at one point to make a gateway, enfolded it. A three- masted schooner, its riding light burning in its rigging, lay at the anchorage, a toy upon a sheet of glass. A tender and unearthly radiance softened every harsh edge and outline. And over all rode a moon white as an enormous lily. Even Mr Trapp was stirred by the glory of the scene.
Adrian turned to him.
“I am going to bed now,” he said pleasantly. “Goodnight.”
“I, too,” said Mr Trapp.
Whilst he went back to his table, shut up his notebooks, and turned out the lights, the boy crossed to his father.
“You’ll call me, Sir?” he asked in a low voice.
“Rather!” John Shard replied. “We’ll not miss this parade.” And again he might have added, “It may be the last.” For that possibility was in the thoughts of both. The boy laid his hand on his father’s arm with a gentle and caressing touch and went off into the house. It was then close upon midnight.
Five hours later John Shard waked him up in his bed in the wide latticed porch on the first floor.
“We’ve comfortable time,” he said in a low voice. “Don’t make a noise. We don’t want old Trapp to join us, do we? He’d think us a couple of fools, one in his second childhood and one in his first.”
Adrian slid out of bed, found his shoes and his dressing gown in the dark, and followed his father noiselessly downstairs. A door stood open, and in the room to which it led, a window overlooked the garden and the sea.
“I have put everything ready. For I didn’t want to wake you up too soon.” John Shard looked at his watch, which had illuminated hands. “We have only a few minutes to wait.”
They sat down by the window, both of them listening intently. There was not a sound to be heard. Inside the room the fireflies gleamed and vanished like so many sparks driven by a wind. Outside a magical glamour lay upon garden and forest and sea, giving them enchantment and mystery. Suddenly the silence was broken and the enchantment deepened. For somewhere very far away, a clock struck slowly the hour of midnight. At the first stroke Adrian stretched out his hand and caught his father’s arm and thus they remained until the last vibration had died upon the air, and even afterwards, like people who have been present at some moving ritual.
For the strokes had the deep organ note, authentic and unmistakable, of the great clock at Westminster. John Shard had placed the loud-speaker out of sight upon the terrace. Now, relayed from Aranjuez and the Azores and Curaçao, the sound reached them across three thousand miles, resonant and clear as though they stood upon a height of Hampstead rather than upon a hill over a bay of coral in Jamaica. A call, a claim. A call for service, a claim upon heart and brain, muscle and blood.
After a little while John Shard spoke.
“Trapp may be right, of course. There are signs enough. No leaders and little courage. They know what’s wrong and haven’t the great heart necessary to denounce it. They play a game in a room with the world as a playball. For if England goes, the world as we know it goes too. But he may be wrong. There may still come a race of young men who’ll serve, not for rewards, not for the game, not for a fine big name in the newspapers, not even for real fame, though that’s an end worthy enough, but just for service sake—service to the King’s realm. Men who will say boldly what we all know, that the cost of government must come down by millions if England is to live, and will see to it that it does.” He stood up and changed to a lighter note. “Here’s a lecture that’s keeping you out of bed and me, too.”
He closed the shutters again. In the darkness they crept up the stairs, taking pains not to stumble. At Adrian’s door, his father held him for a moment in his arms.
“Never forget tonight and the call of those twelve strokes, Adrian,” John Shard whispered, “and what they have said to you and me. You’ll have money enough to give yourself to public service when I go. I want you to hear those strokes over your head one day.”
Adrian lay awake for an hour in the darkened porch with the fireflies glancing about his mosquito curtains. He was receptive rather than thoughtful. Stray wisps of the stuff of dreams, glimpses of pictures, vague fancies which seemed compounded half of memory, drew near from a vast distance and hung about him and changed. He saw, for instance, a girl in some sort of masquerade dress, dancing on a lawn before an audience of gaily dressed people, they too in fancy dress. But one of them, a woman with a face which was familiar, was angry. Next he saw great ships, like castles, lumbering in front of a gale past an island of white cliffs and green Downs. That picture melted into another, of a couple in dress of a yet different and older fashion, who stood close together in front of a slab of chalk which one of them, the youth, carved with a short sword. The girl moved, and he saw her, and she was the same who danced upon the lawn. The curious thing about her was that in both pictures her face was veiled, yet he recognized her certainly. Then the youth with the short sword turned, and with an odd shock he saw himself. And these pictures were all accompanied by the resonant strokes of Big Ben. The strokes, indeed, were more than an accompaniment. They acted as a sort of solvent which blended all these visions into a pattern and, despite all the differences of dress and place, made them one...
At this point Adrian fell asleep. The next morning he drove across the island with his father to Kingston and went off alone to Montreal and England.
Moreover, something is or seems
That touches me with mystic gleams
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams.
Eight years later, towards the end of Whitweek, Adrian Shard travelled by the Simplon Express to Milan. He changed his train there and, whilst waiting on the platform, was hailed by a noisy voice.
“Adrian! What a small world it is! Or is it? I haven’t seen you since we were both at High Park in Jamaica just before your father died. A long time!”
Adrian turned round and, with a smile, held out his hand.
“Eight years, Sir,” he said.
It was Charles Trapp who had hailed him, a Charles Trapp aged and now very fat and rather pasty of face, but still alert with indignant energy.
“I would have recognized you anywhere,” he cried, as though Adrian Shard had done him a wrong by being so easily recognizable. “Taller, of course. That was to be expected. But you haven’t filled out below the shoulders.”
“I don’t want to, yet,” said Adrian meekly. “How’s the great work going?”
“Almost finished,” said Mr Trapp. “Another six months and—let ’em all look out, I say! Devastating, my boy. Chapter and verse.” He spoke, darkly threatening a world on the slide. “How long have you got?” he asked.
“Twenty minutes,” said Adrian.
“Then we’ll slip one,” said Mr Trapp and he conducted his prisoner to the buffet. Over a vermouth and seltzer he expanded.
“The book must come out in monthly parts. See the idea? It must soak in. Publishers? They say it’s depressing. Of course it’s depressing! I want every clerk in Highgate to know he’s mincing on the crust of a volcano. But publishers! There! You know what Byron said about them.”
“Yes,” said Adrian, “and what the curate said about his egg.
Mr Trapp blinked.
“You were always rather flippant, young Shard,” he observed. “Your judgment is very faulty, I think. But you wouldn’t take things so lightly if you had been with me during the last week.” He nodded portentously at the youth by his side. “I have paid my final visit to Pompeii.”
“That must have discouraged you, Sir,” Adrian rejoined. “For in the matter of depravity we’re one up on Pompeii.”
“Are we?” cried Mr Trapp. “What if our roofs were off and anyone could walk into our houses? Look at this!”
He produced a cutting from an English Continental newspaper two days old.
“I picked it up on the bookstall here, ten minutes ago. Just read it!”
Adrian took the cutting. On the top of it was written in pencil: “Use carefully in chapter on Social Degringolade.”
Adrian read an account of a wedding in a great London church. An overtaxed great name was married to an heiress of the stews. Money upon one side, famous poverty upon the other. The equilibrium of things was thus properly restored and those who were “It” and those who were not had Rocked to the wedding. There had been pages in satin trousers and bridesmaids in tulle. The reception had out-rivalled a gala night at Covent Garden. The enthusiasm of the crowd in the street was fervid, like the welcome to a national hero.
“What do you think of that?” Mr Trapp cried triumphantly. “Money smells good, whatever dung-heap it comes from, eh? ‘Unde habeas quaerit nemo, sed oportet habere.’ Your old snob, Juvenal! He’s the lad, I tell you!”
Adrian was not prepared to discuss the value of Juvenal as a social historian in the bar of the Milan Railway Station. He would miss his train if he did, and his train was what he must not miss.
“I have no doubt, Sir, that all big communities have extravagances in common,” he said, and he made for the platform.
But Mr Trapp was on his heels.
“I’ll see you off. I have half an hour. What have you been doing?”
Adrian patiently condensed his life’s history into a few words. He had taken his degree last summer, with a second class in the Classical School. He had rowed in his College Eight. He had been President of the Union. He had been out to Jamaica since he took his degree and had disposed of his property there.
“Nothing Ouidaesque about it all, I am sorry to say, Mr Trapp,” he added.
“And where are you off to now?” asked Trapp.
“Genoa,” Adrian replied, as his train drew up by the platform. “Though whether I’m doing any good by going there, I can’t tell you till tomorrow.”
Mr Trapp stood at the door after Adrian had climbed up into his carriage.
“You’re still going in for politics, I suppose?” he said.
“I remember John always wanted you to. Odd idea for a soldier!
“But soldierly, none the less,” Adrian returned. “He held that nowadays Parliament must be the battleground where courage or cowardice would decide whether England was to live or die. He wanted courage in the ministers to stand firm against the horde of officials and to put loyalty to the nation before loyalty to their departments. And he wanted courage in the ordinary members to believe that vote-catching doesn’t catch votes and to vote in that belief against all the thunders of the Treasury Bench. For myself—” Adrian leaned out of the window and explained his projects.
“I have a great friend, a year or two older than myself, David Bletchworth. His family have a good deal of influence in the West Riding. He’s too busy to stand for Parliament himself, but he’s trying to make an opening for me in his constituency. Meanwhile I want to get a little experience of the machinery. Dr Elve, the Head of my College, knows Spencer Cratton of the Board of Trade, and hearing that he wanted a private secretary, wrote to him about me. I was to see Cratton in London when Parliament met after the Whitsuntide recess. But I read in the papers that he would land at Genoa today on his way home from Sicily. So I thought I would come out and try to see him before any other applicants.”
“I see,” said Mr Trapp. “Good luck!” Suddenly his face lighted up. “I say! You’ll be able to help me! Yes, by Jove! Corruption, you know. I should like some instances of corruption in high politics. Think of me when you come across them, will you, Adrian? Too late for the first edition. But I’ll have an appendix about it in the second. All those freedmen who made colossal fortunes, Narcissus and Pallas and their modern parallels. See? Write to me and don’t put your feet up on the seat. It’ll cost you a pound if you do. Good-bye!”
Flags waved, horns blew, and the train moved out of the station.
Adrian had the compartment to himself He leaned back, without putting his feet up on the seat, and dismissed from his mind Mr Charles Trapp and his denunciations. Politicians might be scorned and belittled, but the world’s destiny was in their hands. They could do a great deal to make and everything to mar. Adrian was just twenty-three years old and eager to put his faith to the test. He was looking forward to this interview with Spencer Cratton, with a doubt lest he should seem too zealous—there was a touch of the high Toby about it, a suggestion of Stand and Deliver-and with anxiety lest he should be too late. Of those two sentiments the anxiety was the greater and not merely because of his ambition.
A curious little incident, indeed, had done more than his political faith to send him out upon this journey. It had happened a month ago, just before Parliament had risen. Spencer Cratton lived in Grosvenor Street, and Adrian, looking about for a lodging in the neighbourhood, had come upon a small white house in a mews at the back of the street. It had a little courtyard or garden behind it, a few good rooms—in a word, it was the very place for a young bachelor with duties in the vicinity. Adrian, accordingly, bought a lease of it, furnished it, and moved in. The little incident occurred on the first night that he slept in the house.
He had come home late. His two servants were in bed and the house was in darkness. His bedroom was at the back, with a big window overlooking the garden. Beyond his garden was another, and standing at his window he looked, thus, across the two gardens onto the back of a big house in Grosvenor Street. A terrace with a flight of steps into the garden was set out with chairs, and a big room opened onto it. The night was warm for the time of year, the French windows stood wide open, and the room, whose walls were painted in a bright indigo colour, was brightly lit. Adrian had not turned on the light in his own bedroom. For, as he had entered it, the glitter of the room on the far side of the two gardens had taken his eyes and stayed his fingers on the switch. He was thus standing in complete darkness like a very distant spectator watching a tiny stage illuminated with a particular sparkle.
He saw a group of three people seated with their heads together within the room—a man of whom he could see nothing but his back and a greying head, a woman whom he judged to be of middle age and an elegant carriage, and a second man whose face he thought vaguely to recognize. The trio was engaged, obviously, in a conversation of an engrossing kind—if, indeed, that can be called a conversation where one lays down the law and the others do no more than ask a question or signify an assent. For, although the distance was too great for Adrian to hear a word, there could be no doubt that the conversation was of this character. The man with whose face Adrian was dimly familiar—he had no doubt that if he were near enough to see his features clearly he could put a name to its owner—was doing all the talking. There was something domineering in his manner. He was talking his small audience down with a vivacity of gesture unusual in an Englishman, a man between forty and fifty with a thick wave of hair brushed back from his forehead. All three were in evening dress and seemed to be carrying on a debate which had begun hours ago at the dinner table.
They were still engaged in this way, when a door at the corner by the French windows was slowly opened. It opened into the room and against the panels there appeared a girl. She wore a coat of white ermine which was open in front and showed an evening frock, as though she had just come home from a ball; she had very dark hair, a slim figure, and so far as Adrian could make out, she was of a delicate beauty. But something in her attitude arrested him even more than her looks. For, as she saw the trio in the room, she shrank back. She did not attempt to close the door again, but she stood, her body tense, and her eyes watching the group, her white-gloved hand clasping the handle. She gave to the watcher beyond the gardens an impression that she had been startled, perhaps alarmed, by the discussion in the room. It was the lecturer who first noticed the girl at the doorway. He broke off in the middle of some discourse; and Adrian could have sworn, from the brusque separation of the three, that her appearance there caused them all more than a little consternation. The man with his back to Adrian and the woman remained seated; the other rose and, crossing to the door, took the girl’s hand and raised it to his lips. It seemed that he invited her onto the balcony. Certainly she shook her head and, going to a side table, she filled a glass from a water jug. Her arrival broke up the little conclave, for in a few minutes the visitor with the wave of hair departed, and a short while afterwards the house was in darkness.
The little scene acted by the four small figures did more than merely intrigue Adrian Shard. He got from some source the oddest sort of belief that he was himself concerned in it, or, rather, would be in the future concerned in it. The problem of the indigo room, in a word, seemed to touch him vitally, the repulsion and alarm of the girl to call upon his chivalry. He was the more sure of it when he discovered the next morning the name of the owner of that house. He was Spencer Cratton.
Adrian, as he travelled in the train to Genoa, reflected that if, in addition, he were now to secure this secretaryship, a definite pattern in the woof of his life would be coming into view. The threads would be combining in a plan which might be worth while and, in any case, would not be meaningless.
All things separate, all things again greet one another, eternally true to itself remaineth the ring of existence.
At Genoa he drove to the great hotel on the hill. The evening was closing in and the ocean-going ships in the big harbour at his feet were lighting up like palaces. On one of them Cratton should that day have arrived.
“But I can’t break in on him tonight,” Adrian reasoned, as he stood upon his balcony. “Decency suggests the morning.”
A loom of bright light away to the east in the heart of the city caught his attention. Here, near about him, the houses were huddled along narrow lanes. There, an important street cut the town, and if one judged by the outline of the rooftops which bordered it, ran steeply down a hill. Adrian put on his hat and descended in the lift. He would go out and find this street. But it took more finding than he had expected. A maze of narrow ways guarded it, and a tunnel. But he came at last upon a fine crescent of high stone houses broken by a wide gap. The wide gap was the head of a broad road which ran straight as an arrow down to the bottom of a hill.
“My street,” said Adrian, foolishly pleased that he had discovered it without once asking his way, and he hurried forward. But at the corner he stopped. There were arcades sheltering the wide pavement on each side. It was a street of cafés, theatres, and great shops, brilliantly lit up and at this hour busy with people. They jostled him as he stood, but he was hardly aware of them. He had been here before—though he had never seen Italy before this morning or the town of Genoa until tonight. It was all familiar to him, arcades and lighted windows and many people and the length and breadth and the unswerving alignment of the great thoroughfare itself He recognized it. He had walked here before, and not alone. With whom, then—?
He could not answer that question. And with a start he became aware of the crowd of men and women and girls, surging and chattering and eddying about him. He laughed at his bewilderment.
“Of course, it’s always happening,” he argued. “There’s an explanation. One lobe of the brain gets the picture from the eyes a fraction of a second before the other lobe. Everybody has experienced it.”
But so vividly, so distinctly? He had the illusion that centuries ago he had walked down this street from that high crescent. He seemed to remember that the shops had had no glazed windows—were rather stalls than shops. He began to play with the idea that the momentous thing which was to happen to him in Genoa was going to happen to him somewhere in this great street, rather than in Mr Spencer Cratton’s suite of rooms at the hotel. So he walked with watchful eyes; and saw nothing but what all the world may see in the shopping centre of any town of any country. A flower shop, the atelier of a modiste, a hosier’s. On the opposite side of the road a cinema flaunted its electric titles. Next to it was a restaurant with its white-clothed tables set out in an alleyway. Here again, on his own side, was a dealer in antiquities. Adrian Shard halted before the window and looked in. He saw five good chairs, some old brocades, a dresser upon which old glass ornamented with fine gold was ranged, a glass-topped table containing antique brooches and buckles. The window was attractively dressed—neither a jumble nor pretentious in its meagreness. A malacca cane leaned against one of the chairs and caught Adrian’s fancy. He had come out without a stick at all, and the one he had left at the hotel was a poor unseemly thing.
“Now, there’s a walking stick!” Adrian reflected.
It had a gold top which descended the shaft far enough to give it a fine solid appearance and increase the prestige of its possessor.
“Dr Abernethy might have carried that cane,” he said. “But I will.”
He opened the door and went into the shop.
A jeweller’s counter ran across one side of it. Behind the counter a small old hunchbacked man stood like an ugly gnome protecting his treasures. In front of it a girl was leaning on the glass lid, gazing at something which she held in her left hand. Adrian could not see her face, for she stood sideways to him with her right hand to her cheek. But from her slim legs and figure and the suppleness of her carriage he judged her to be just a little on one side or the other of twenty. She wore a dark walking dress with a short skirt, white gloves, and a blue hat upon her small head, and from the polish of her slim shining shoes to the sheen of her raven-blue hair she was as trim and exquisite as if the gnome had just this moment taken her out of his glass case with whatever trinket she was poring over.
“Miss,” he said, with a gesture of despair and in the oddest English Adrian had ever heard, “I do not ask the more to come down to the proper. The price is a fixation.”
“I am sorry. For in that case I can’t take it,” the girl answered. She had a low and very pleasant voice which shook a little, her disappointment was so sharp. Adrian was quite unexpectedly moved. A girl on the edge of tears because she couldn’t afford an ornament she hankered after was matter for laughter. But she didn’t look and she didn’t sound as though she merely hankered after an ornament. There would have been vulgarity in such a longing, and she and vulgarity seemed the two poles apart.
The old dealer had heard the quiver in her voice, too. He had a wide mouth, and his smile of invitation split his face.
“Miss, you shall prove her over the head—no? I pray you. Carry her on the shoulders—to the mirror there. You will find her very sympathetical.”
The girl took her hand down from her face with a jerk and looked straight at the dealer. She was startled by his chance use of a word which did actually describe the appeal the jewel made to her. Adrian could not, from where he stood, see distinctly what the jewel was; her fingers covered and caressed it. There was a glint of gold, he heard the rattle of a chain on the lid of the counter, and then, for a moment, a big blot of green fire burned in the palm of her white-gloved hand.
But he could now see her profile and surely—surely—this was the girl who had come, in her ermine coat, into the indigo room and had stood, startled and frightened, with her hand clinging to the handle of the door. The profile was lovely. The delicious curve from the delicate small ear to the point of the chin, the full red lips, the clear white of the cheek and brow, the long eyelashes with the curl at the end of them, the glimpse of a big dark eye—Adrian wondered, almost with a gasp, whether nature had ever worked with a finer artistry. It could not be that, herself the world’s choice ornament, she longed for a mere strip of gold and an ember of green fire to set her off!
“Sympathetic,” she said to the salesman, with a slow smile. “Yes, that’s the word.” And there was a brooding tenderness in her aspect as she bent over the ornament.
“Then wear her, Miss,” the old man coaxed and wheedled. “For a few minutes. There is no hurry. Parade yourself—”
The girl cut him short, but pleasantly.
“No, you don’t understand. And I don’t either. I don’t want to wear it. But I would dearly love to own it, to carry it away with me and keep it. However, it’s impossible.”
She laid it reluctantly upon the counter. She stooped a little as though she bade a living thing farewell. But for the presence of the dealer on the other side of the case, Adrian Shard was sure she would have kissed it tenderly. It was all very foolish, but, somehow, moving. She turned away then, quickly. But her feet lagged as she crossed the shop, and at the door she stopped and turned again. Adrian saw her now full face. She stood, indeed, looking straight at him but not seeing him, distressed and a little perplexed by the greatness of her distress, and perhaps, for there was a hint of laughter about her lips, a little amused at it, too.
Yes, this was the girl whom Adrian had seen across the two gardens in the house of Spencer Cratton. He was quite sure of it now, and he stood without a movement. If he moved, why she would be aware of him and move too, and be indignant because he stared, or ashamed because she herself did. Let her stand so through the ages, with all the promise of her profile fulfilled in that broad forehead, the curve of her eyebrows, the width between the great dark eyes; and Mr Spencer Cratton and all his own fine plans could go to blazes. But she spoke.
“Listen! Will you keep that chain for me until tomorrow? I shall be grateful if you will. I’ll see what I can do.”
In a moment she was back again at the counter.
“Give me a piece of paper, will you? And a pencil.” She wrote. “That is my address. I’ll come in tomorrow before ten in the morning. You’ll keep it till then?”
The little dealer promised. And then the shop was empty. The little dealer, of course, was present, and he himself, too, Adrian Shard. But all the same, the shop was empty.
“What can I have the honour to show you, Sir?”
The question was certainly uttered and as certainly unheard. It was repeated with a greater insistence.
“What can I show you?”
“That,” said Adrian, nodding towards the ornament upon the counter.
“But as the gentleman no doubt heard, it is not until ten o’clock tomorrow open to the purchasing.”
“Nevertheless, I want to see it.”
Adrian advanced. The ornament was a gold collar of a make a little too solid for the modern taste, with a lovely pendant—a big emerald carved into the shape of an old galleon.
“Is it old?” Adrian asked.
“Yes, Sir. It is of Spanish workmanship. Heavy, to be sure. No doubt some old Grandee once wore it in Madrid or Peru. Who knows?”
Adrian laughed at the idea that this girl should covet it. Now, if Cartier had possessed it he would have whipped off that cumbersome chain, substituted a slender thing of platinum and brilliants, set the galleon in diamonds, and really offered her something for her money. But then, she didn’t want to wear it. She wanted to own it. A whim? Or something deeper? A really good reason not understood by herself but felt, and certainly not intelligible to him?
“But the gentleman wants something for himself?” the dealer in antiquities insisted.
“Of course I do,” said Adrian, remembering, now, why he had entered the shop. “I want that walking stick in the window.”
He bought it, and as he paid for it he saw just beneath his eyes the slip of paper on which the girl had written her name. Something Cratton, it would be. But it was not Cratton at all. “Sonia Chalice,” he read. Was she merely a visitor in Grosvenor Street? He looked at the address—he might just as well take note of the address whilst he was about it. It was the hotel at which he himself was staying.
“Good,” said he.
He went out of the shop, crossed the road to the café, and ordered a mixed vermouth. He was greatly disturbed by the absurd rigidity of the Social Code. Here was a girl on the one side, Sonia Chalice, who desperately wanted a golden collar with an emerald pendant—not to wear, but to keep. Clearly, therefore, she ought to have it. But she couldn’t afford it. On the other hand, here was a man, Adrian Shard, who could afford it and wanted desperately to give it to her. But he mustn’t because of the insignificant detail that he hadn’t been introduced. He would be introduced of course, one day, and very soon—
“Oh!” he cried. He jumped up, paid for his drink, and hurried back across the road. He burst into the shop.
“That collar! If the young lady doesn’t buy it in the morning, I will. Is that clear?”
“The most clear, Sir, that ever,” replied the dealer.
Adrian turned, greatly relieved, towards the door. But a question occurred to him.
“Do you know anything of its history?”
The dealer went to a little bureau at the back of the counter and got out from a drawer a slip of paper.
“I have had the chain a long time. There was an English gentleman with his family in Genoa when the War exploded. He had difficulties with the monies and was anxious to get himself home. The checks, you understand, would not pay themselves. He sold this jewel to me and I wrote down what he told me about it. I put it away with the writing and forgot it. But the other day I was wandering with my fingers through my safe and I found it with the paper.”
He spread the paper out and read: “‘The collar was for centuries in the house of a Scotsman on the the Island of—’ is there such a name, Sir?—‘Mooll.’”
“Mull,” said Adrian.
“That is it. Mooll. It appears that a galleon of the Armada sank in the bay there and the collar came, somehow, from the wreck. The Scotch gentleman became poor and sold the collar to a jeweller in the Street of the Prince in Edinbourg—see, there is the year, 1902. My English gentleman bought it there a year afterwards. He kept it in a case until 1914. But then his daughter did the revolt. The emerald must be properly set and she must wear it. They brought it with them to Italy, meaning to have it set in Florence.”
“Thank you,” said Adrian, as he left the shop.
The history of the collar so far was not so very interesting to him. Although he had bought a malacca cane in a shop of antiquities, his antiquarian leanings ended there. But the future history of the collar was going to be interesting in a supreme degree. For in some way, on some day—and pretty soon, too—it was going to pass into the ownership of Sonia Chalice.
So, friend, when first I looked upon your
Our thoughts gave answer, each to each, so true,
Opposed mirrors, each reflecting each—
Although I knew not in what time or place
Me thought that I had often met with you
And each had lived in other’s mind and speech.
At eleven o’clock the next morning Adrian Shard went down in the lift to the first landing and knocked upon the door of Mr Spencer Cratton’s suite of rooms. An English courier opened it.
“Mr Spencer Cratton?” Adrian asked for him with a confidence which he did not feel.
“You are expected, Sir,” answered the courier, and shutting the door, he led the way briskly along a passage.
Adrian followed. He had obviously been mistaken for someone else. He had sent no warning of his visit, and he could not expect that Mr Spencer Cratton had read his name in the Visitors’ Book and anticipated that he would call. But he was taking his luck where he found it. The courier opened a door at the end of the passage.
“The gentleman to see you, Sir,” he said.
There was no lack of confidence in the courier. He had shut the door behind Adrian almost before the words were out of his mouth. Adrian stood, his hat in one hand, his fine malacca cane in the other, in a light and cheerful room. A couple of windows facing him overlooked the great harbour. A second door was upon his left hand. A man with grey hair and a lackadaisical manner was seated at a large table with his back to the windows. A heap of opened letters and their envelopes was lying at his elbow. But he was not attending to them. He was engaged in translating, with the help of a small Italian dictionary, passages from a Genoese newspaper of that morning. He was doing it languidly as though he were very, very bored, and smoking at the same time a large and fat cigar.
“Parecchi means several. Now, why?” he said, like one despairing of the contrariety of things and words. He made a note and spoke in a different tone as his pencil travelled over a sheet of paper. “I thought it would be prudent if we had a talk here, privately—we’re out of the way in Genoa—and then perhaps not meet so often until the affair’s over.”
He looked up at this point and saw a slim and embarrassed youth standing by the door. An Italian journalist? No. On the other hand he might be an enterprising correspondent of an English paper. If that were so, it would be a bore. Mr Spencer Cratton leaned back in his chair and folded his hands.
“Now, who the devil are you?” he asked quietly.
Adrian Shard pronounced his name. He added: “Dr Elve, the Master of my College, wrote to you, Sir.”
“Elve! Elve! Yes, I remember. You want to go in for politic:?”
“The management of public affairs is a fine aim for a young man.
There was no condescension in his voice, nor a trace of vanity. He was apparently detached from ambition himself. Great affairs had found him rather than he them, and he had put up with them.
“Yes, and you wanted to become the private secretary of a Cabinet Minister asa preliminary to contesting a seat.”
Yes, Sir, said Adrian.
A light, keener than Adrian expected, shone suddenly in the great man’s eyes, but he changed neither his attitude nor his indolent tone.
“And you are fresh from Oxford?”
“I took my degree last summer. I went to Jamaica in the autumn to complete the sale of my house there. I returned this spring.”
“A novice, then,” said Mr Spencer Cratton pleasantly.
Adrian was a trifle nettled.
“A novice,” he agreed. “But, on the other hand, I am clean, sober, willing and industrious, and a past President of the Oxford Union.”
The Cabinet Minister smiled faintly.
“These are all excellent qualifications, and—” again the lazy brown eyes gleamed sharply—“and I am not sure that an unfamiliarity with the tricks of the trade is altogether a disadvantage. Those old hands! Terrible!”
He was raising his arms to accentuate his words when Adrian added: “I am pretty good, too, at ciphers.”
Spencer Cratton lowered his arms quickly.
“Ciphers!” he exclaimed. “What do you mean by that?”
“I am interested in them. They have been a hobby of mine.” He smiled as he explained. “I think that I must have had an ancestor who did a good deal of secret work. I’m quick at them, unravelling them—inventing them.”
“Oh, are you?” said Spencer Cratton, looking at the boy with a new interest. “Well, the sort of ciphers we deal in are worked out by the permanent officials—”
His ears detected a sound outside the door. He got up from his chair, unfolding himself into a tall figure of a man with loose legs, but his indolence had gone.
“I’ll see you this afternoon at five. I have no time now.”
“Thank you, Sir,” said Adrian, and he turned towards the door.
But a couple of voices were now plainly heard, one protesting, the other insisting.
“Wait!” said Cratton quickly. “I have another sitting room here.” He gathered up his letters in a hurry. “You might take hold of these and let me see what answers you would write. You can leave them when you have finished and I’ll look them over before you come back.”
He pushed the letters into Adrian’s hand and stepped quickly to the second door.
But he was not in time. For the first door was pushed open not too gently and a third man stood upon the threshold. He was a man of middle height, with a big wave of hair like a musician’s and a strongly marked arrogant face. Adrian had no difficulty in recognizing the man who had laid down the law in the house in Grosvenor Street. And now that he saw him at close quarters, he had no doubt who he was.
“Your servant tried to keep me out,” the visitor said, with a touch of some foreign accent; and then he saw Adrian and came to a stop. “I thought that we were to be alone,” he added with displeasure.
“Quite so,” Mr Spencer Cratton replied. He was easy enough, now. What had happened had happened, and why bother about it? “Mr Shard called upon me unexpectedly. He means to stand for Parliament.”
The newcomer acknowledged the one-sided introduction with a curt bow.
“The management of men,” he said. “The best of all careers.
Mr Spencer Cratton explained that Adrian wished to become his private secretary in order that he might learn the ropes; and the newcomer’s eyebrows were lifted in surprise.
“I thought that all you great men were provided with secretaries by a grateful country,” he said.
“An illusion, my dear fellow,” said Cratton, and he showed Adrian into the second room and shut the door.
Adrian was a little troubled. He could quite understand that a man in the delicate position of a Cabinet Minister should be circumspect when he arranged interviews with an international financier as notorious as Mr George Andros. But he assumed a phenomenal innocence in Adrian if he believed him to be ignorant of his visitor’s identity. Mr Andros’ picture appeared and reappeared in the daily press. Besides, phrases had been uttered which were not too pleasant. The management of affairs—that was what a political career meant to the Cabinet Minister. The management of men—that’s what it meant to the great financier. But of service—not a word from either of them. Probably they were both of them using the catchwords which avoided discussion. He set himself to his letters. He thanked inventors, he did his best to answer questions, he avoided appointments. The time slipped by, and he had been fully an hour upon these conventional replies when the door, not from Mr Cratton’s chief sitting room but from the passage, was briskly opened and a startled voice cried: “Oh!”
A voice he knew. He looked up and saw gazing at him in perplexity the lovely lady of the emerald galleon.
“Oh!” she said again.
He rose to his feet. There were the most important things to be said to this girl, only he couldn’t say them. He was tongue-tied. He just stood, throwing his weight first upon one foot and then upon the other. The girl herself was no less embarrassed. She certainly did not rock, but her colour came and went in her cheeks as though it were a metronome set to time his rocking.
She was quicker than he, however, to break through the embarrassment.
“I thought my stepfather might be here,” she said.
Adrian looked about as if he half expected to find him in the coal scuttle.
“Not Mr Spencer Cratton?”
“Oh, I see.” It had seemed, indeed, almost incredible that this lovely miracle in front of him was the daughter of the languid Minister in the next room. But his stepdaughter! That was another matter. And indeed, the relationship, like Adrian’s inexperience, was not without its advantages. He pulled forward a chair.
“Mr Spencer Cratton is engaged for the moment with a visitor,” he said. “The interview is serious. The meeting private. I expect that it will take a little time.” He hurried on in a panic, lest the girl should take him at his word and go away. “Oh, not so very long! Won’t you sit down? Please!”
But the girl did not sit down. A line deepened between her brows.
“A visitor?” she asked.
“Do you know who he is?”
“Yes. Mr George Andros.”
The girl expected the answer. But she was not pleased with it. She stood, her eyes smouldering, her face mutinous. She glanced at the letters on the table.
“But I shall be disturbing you,” she objected.
“Not in the sense that you’ll be interrupting my work,” Adrian returned, “for it’s finished.”
“Your work?” the girl asked, taking the seat.
Adrian nodded his head.
“I am, solely upon approbation, Mr Spencer Cratton’s private secretary.”
That approbation must now, at all costs, be secured. Hours of work? The longer the better, if from time to time this girl was going to blow into the room. Salary? Of no consequence at all.
“In that case,” said the girl, “we ought, perhaps, to introduce ourselves.”
“That’s a marvellous idea,” Adrian agreed. The girl had not only beauty, she had brains. “My name is Adrian Shard.”
She was leaning forward a little, and earnestly, to hear it. But whatever expectation she had was, seemingly, disappointed. She repeated the name slowly and shook her head, as though it should have been familiar to her but was not.
“And mine—” she began.
“Is Sonia Chalice,” he said, and if he lingered upon it for a second and his voice caressed it ever so lightly, who shall blame him?
Sonia’s face lit up.
“There!” she cried. “I knew I was right. We have met already.”
“Yesterday,” Adrian answered in surprise. “In a shop where an old man sold antiquities.”
He was surprised because he had felt quite certain that, though her eyes had rested upon him, she had not been aware of him at all She must have taken, subconsciously, an impression of him upon her mind. But Sonia would not listen to such a theory.
“Yesterday won’t do,” she said distinctly. “Before yesterday. I knew it when I saw you here in this room. We were friends somewhere. Yes, somewhere long ago.”
She was serious and simple, neither lingering upon the words nor disfiguring them with coquetries. Adrian shifted his chair along the table towards her.
“Ah!” he exclaimed. “That’s the second lobe of the brain not keeping its appointments. I’ll explain it to you—”
“But I don’t want it explained,” she interrupted wistfully. “I am sure that my idea is just as likely as your explanation and much more pleasant.” She ended with a frank and joyous laugh which made him want to cry out, “Oh, please do that again!”
But once more perplexity showed in her expression.
“My stepfather spoke about you. I remember. Somebody wrote. Yes, you are going to stand for Parliament.”
“If I find a constituency which will have me.”
Sonia swept that preliminary aside with a cry of derision. But she was still puzzled. With his rather sensitive face and his lean, supple frame, he had the look of some adventurer of past times, half poet, half soldier—a youth of the line of Philip Sidney. She could not reconcile him with the chicanery of elections and the obsessions of party men.
“Won’t you find that sort of life dull?” she asked.
Adrian shook his head vigorously.
“To do today the same dull thing which you did twice yesterday, as if your country lived by it—that’s the secret of good service.”
He spoke in a mock heroic tone, like one making light of a real conviction lest it should sound smug.
“A quotation?” she asked.
Adrian searched his memories.
“I suppose so,” he said at length. “And from my father, I think. I got all the little wisdom I have from him, and that is wisdom.”
“He wanted you to go into Parliament?”
“Yes,” and he told her of the early morning when his father had waked him in the dark and they had listened in a room in Jamaica to Big Ben striking midnight at Westminster.
“A day was to come when I was to hear those strokes above my head. You see—” He found it easy to talk to Sonia. She listened to him with her great eyes fixed so earnestly upon his face, she had so quick a comprehension, so lovely and friendly a smile.
“It’s the one way of service nowadays. A Roman might build roads and carry Rome across the world. An Elizabethan might sail to the Main and break Spain’s power. But now it’s at Westminster that the things are done or not done which mean ruin or salvation, which mean service. You may fly or motor a mile an hour faster than anyone else has ever done and get great honour. But it doesn’t help very much.”
He poured out his dreams to Sonia that morning as he had never thought to do to anyone; and she was warm with pride at hearing them. He told her the very little that he knew of whence they came. Some he could trace back to his father, but most had been born in him or arrived suddenly out of the dark of time, with odd elusive associations like memories which could just not be revived, or almost obliterated pictures of strange, fantastical people who lived in long-since vanished days. Never was a young couple more earnest or more aspiring; and behind his words and her attention something else was growing very clear to both of them. A tremendous event had happened, the kaleidoscope had been shaken and a new and lovely pattern had come into view. The time had not yet come for either of them to speak of it, but it bound them in a sweet companionship which each was aware of and neither, half an hour ago, could have foreseen.
A woman’s voice outside the door called out the name.
“My mother,” said Sonia. “You must meet her.”
She pushed back her chair as the door was opened. Lydia Cratton was a beautiful woman and a shrewd one. She had experience and intuition. A glance at the tender colour in her daughter’s cheeks and her eyes like stars, another at this stranger caught in the full flight of a boy’s eloquence, and she knew that here were two young people walking arm in arm on air. But whether she was pleased or disappointed or even surprised, there was neither a frown nor a smile to show.
“This is Mr Shard, Mother,” said Sonia.
“Yes,” said Lydia Cratton.
“He is, I hope, going to be my stepfather’s private secretary until he goes into Parliament himself”
Lydia Cratton turned her head slowly towards Adrian. She was exquisite in her dress, in her soft colour, in the porcelain look of her. She smiled, too, with her lips, but her eyes were the most unfriendly he had ever seen.
“Oh, yes, we have heard of you, of course,” she said. “You have made friends with Sonia already. That’s well.”
She was trying to conceal her resentment of his presence, but her eyes betrayed her. Her eyelids widened and widened as she stared at him. He had imagined nothing so cruel as the look of them. He felt suddenly that his back was cold. Yes, the stare of her eyes made him shiver.
“My secretaryship has gone west,” he thought ruefully, as she went out of the room. She was the woman whom he had seen in the indigo room. Adrian had no experience, as Spencer Cratton had said. He had possibly, also, as little judgment as Charles Trapp allotted to him; and he was of no greater vanity than any other of his age. But he could not help guessing, with a pleasant little leap of the heart, a plausible reason for Lydia Cratton’s dislike of him.
I have been in many shapes; I have been a narrow blade of a sword; I have been a drop in the air; I have been a shining star; I have been a word in a book; I have been a boat on the sea; I have been a director in battle; I have been the string of a harp.
But, to his surprise, the secretaryship had not gone west. He called upon Spencer Cratton at five o’clock that afternoon and was received with as much cordiality as that languid statesman could display.
“Admirable work, Mr Shard. Will you take a chair? A seggiolone, I see.” The little red dictionary seemed never out of Cratton’s palm, which it did little more than cover. “An absurd name, suggestive of a sausage. I need hardly say that the first quality in a private secretary is discretion.”
“I understand that, Sir,” said Adrian meekly, taking a chair.
“For instance,” Mr Cratton continued easily—“it’s a mere trifle, of course—you recognized my visitor this morning.”
“Yes, Sir. Mr George Andros. I have seen his likeness in the papers.”
“Exactly. Andros himself was sure of it. I’m afraid that I’m not so observant. Well, he has a passion for mystery. He takes a child’s pleasure in it. It’s his long suit—or should I say, suiting? No, that’s what the tailors say. He adores being caught by the photographers being mysterious. So I humour him,” Mr Spencer Cratton’s eyes rested for a moment quietly upon Adrian’s face, “and you must, too. He’s useful, you see, especially to me and my department. He has his fingers—I know this is the correct phrase, I’ve heard it on so many platforms—on the pulses of the world’s Money Markets. He can give me valuable information. But he’s a man of mysteries. Everything, however simple and open, must be very private. I must see him in a corner, so to speak.”
Adrian was inclined to wonder whether this pen picture of the financier would have been sketched for him had he not heard those first few words which Cratton had himself spoken when he was ushered by the courier unexpectedly into the room. He was to accept them as a concession to the financier’s hobby and as quite meaningless otherwise.
“I understand, Sir,” he said.
“Good! One other thing. I can’t have a crisis every day. That’s what my last secretary used to present me with. A charming fellow—we all liked him very much. But he had a new crisis for me every morning after breakfast—and, you know, I’ve a day’s work every day to do.”
Spencer Cratton passed his hand over his face. The mere anticipation of a day’s work every day overwhelmed him, apparently, with fatigue. He recovered sufficiently to enter into details. “There’s an office in my house for you, of course. I shall expect you at ten o’clock every morning. You must have a salary; however small. No? Well, think it over!”
Mr Spencer Cratton held out his hand and Adrian rose to his feet.
“Three days from now, then, at my house at ten in the morning. Good!” He took Adrian’s hand languidly and languidly let it drop, and suddenly, under the man’s indolent manner, something volcanic began to stir-a creed.
“I’ll tell you something which you youngsters don’t nowadays seem to understand as clearly as we, the older men, do. England can’t be beat. People talk about the Will to Victory, in capital letters. That implies the Will to Defeat in other people. There’s no Will to Defeat in Englishmen. In the worst days of ’18, apart from a few disgruntled Generals and Admirals, it never occurred to Englishmen that they could be beaten. So they weren’t.”
Adrian drew a breath and laughed.
“You wanted to hear that, did you?” Cratton asked. And indeed the boy had wanted. Management of affairs—management of men—and here at last was the faith which meant service. Adrian had been longing to hear of it.
“I’ll tell you something else,” Spencer Cratton continued. “The best brains in America and Europe are quite aware that the world can’t get right again until England’s on top once more. She knows about money, you see. She doesn’t put it in a tin box and lock it up in a cellar. She lends it. For two hundred years she’s handled the world’s money, and she’s the only country in the world which knows how to do it. But I seem to be talking, don’t I? Why talk?” and he waved talk away as a superfluity. “Here endeth the first lesson, Mr Shard.” He looked again into his dictionary. “A Rivederla!”
Adrian walked away to his big wide street, and at a table outside the café which was opposite to his curiosity shop he drank a mixed vermouth. His dash out to Genoa had been the most fortunate adventure. The hostility of Mrs. Cratton had, somehow, been appeased. Here he was with his foot on the first rung of the political ladder and already acquainted with the girl who must ascend it with him or leave both their lives unfulfilled. He was sure of that.
“Great Shepherd, now I know thy saw of
Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?”
The lines rang in his head sweet as distant bells upon a summer night. Yet, after all, he was not sure that they applied. True that he had never seen Sonia close until yesterday and that she had seemed to him then unimaginable unless he had seen her. But he had talked with her since, they had sat together, something secret in each of them calling loudly to the other; and now it seemed that she must have been right when she claimed that long ago, somewhere, they had been friends. The second lobe of the brain would not serve any more. It offered too trivial an explanation. He had a feeling that she had swum out of the mists of a thousand years to rejoin him.
For the next three months Adrian Shard had little leisure. There was first the morning’s work in Grosvenor Street. He was given as his office a small room overlooking the garden and communicating with the indigo room, which Cratton used, by a door close to the window. There he sat during the morning, answering letters from constituents, arranging schedules, making out checks—not so many of these—deferring by this or that plea the payment of bills—a good deal of that. He was given the freedom of the Lobby of the House of Commons, and he was much in attendance there or in Cratton’s private room during the afternoon and evening. The Session was a very busy one for Spencer Cratton. There were important questions of industrial organizations perpetually cropping up, and behind them all loomed the great unsettled question of the Basra Oilfields. Adrian filled in his spare time by issuing Lydia Cratton’s cards of invitation and making lists of her guests—a task which almost claimed a secretary by itself. For the house was run with an imperial magnificence and an Irish disdain for its cost.
In the last days of July this circumstance obtained a peculiar corroboration. The butler, looking rather hot and flustered, knocked on his door at half-past ten, and being told to come in, said: “There’s a person at the door, Sir, who wishes to see Mr Spencer Cratton.”
Adrian shook his head.
“That’s out of the question. Will you ask him to write, stating his business?”
“I have already done that, Sir.”
“The person was most offensive,” said the butler. “He used language almost unbeknown to me.”
Adrian looked up from his table.
“And what is the person’s name?”
“Bunt,” said the butler with his nose in the air. “A plebeian, Sir.”
Adrian might justifiably have smiled. But he did not; he became more serious.
“I think that I had better see Mr Bunt myself,” he said.
“Very well, Sir.”
Mr Bunt was a red-faced man of a raucous voice, dressed in a check suit of a pronounced pattern, with a tail coat. He carried a light-coloured cane with knots in it in his left hand, and a white bowler hat in his right. Adrian was, no doubt, as ignorant of affairs as Spencer Cratton and Mr George Andros supposed him to be, but he did know a bookmaker when he saw one.
“Will you take a chair?” said Adrian politely.
“I will not,” replied Mr Bunt, not politely at all.
“What can I do for you, then?” Adrian asked.
“Nothing, Mister. I want to see your boss.”
Adrian shook his head.
“Mr Spencer Cratton is very busy this morning. He has given definite instructions that he must not be interrupted.”
Mr Bunt smiled grimly.
“My young man says that, too.”
Adrian tried another opening.
“You are, no doubt, one of Mr Cratton’s constituents?” he suggested.
“If a constituent is a man who’s owed money, I am,” said Mr Bunt aggressively.
That seemed, to Adrian, to end the conversation. He held out his hand.
“I’ll take your card in to Mr Cratton.”
“Right! There you are.” Mr Bunt slapped his card down on Adrian’s table. “B B Bunt. Soberiket, the Busy B’s. And whilst you’re about it, you may tell him—”
“’Sh, Mr Bunt,” said Adrian, wagging his finger at him. “Don’t you ask me to say one harsh thing to Mr Spencer Cratton which you would object to your young man saying to you.
Mr Bunt was a little taken aback.
“Well, that’s reasonable,” said he. He hitched up his trousers and sat down, spreading his knees wide apart. He wore bright yellowish brown button boots with cloth tops.
“I suppose your place is worth keeping for the perks. But I reckon your wages is in ’arriers.”
“Neither in ’arriers nor in beagles,” said Adrian gravely, and he passed through the door into the big room where Mr Spencer Cratton sat with a mass of reports about the world’s oil supplies in front of him.
“I can’t see anyone, Shard,” he said. “Here’s a subject on which the Cabinet will have to make an important decision, and as it falls in my department, I’ve got to master it.”
“So I said, Sir. But the man seems confident that you’ll see him when you hear his name. He’s probably a constituent,” Adrian explained tactfully. “A Mr Bunt.”
Mr Cratton looked up.
“Bunt!” he repeated, and again, “Bunt!” like a man trying unsuccessfully to identify some unimportant visitor. He reached out a long and languid hand for the card. Adrian had often admired the self-possession of his employer. It seemed that he could neither be alarmed nor surprised. If you had shown him the Victoria Falls he would only have said, “What a lot of water,” and lit another cigar. But Adrian had never been so impressed as at this moment.
“Turf Accountant!” said Mr Spencer Cratton indifferently. “The passion for respectability is perhaps the most universal feature in the English character. Why not B. B. Bunt, Bookie? So much better! The poor fellow’s worried about the Tote, I expect. They all want Parliament to suppress it. Well, I’ll give him five minutes.”
He stretched his arms above his head and yawned.
Bunt, however, remained with Spencer Cratton for the better part of an hour, and came out a different man. As the chairs were pushed back in the indigo room, Adrian hurried out into the hall. It would be better that he and not a servant should see this plainspoken slave of the Ring off the premises. But Spencer Cratton himself was beforehand with him, and Mr Bunt was wriggling with pleasure like a spaniel. If the tail of that flamboyant coat could have wagged of its own volition, it would surely have swept all the hats and coats from the hall table.
“No, reelly, Mr Spencer Cratton! You mustn’t come to the door with me. Bless my soul, what a film it would make!—the busy B’s and the Right Honourable! I wish you good morning, Sir. Good morning, young man!” This to Adrian, and Mr Bunt was out in the street, strutting along as if he had just left Buckingham Palace with the Order of the Garter in his pocket.
“An interesting person, no doubt, to the detached student of human nature,” said Spencer Cratton, “but to a distracted Cabinet Minister a mere wasted hour,” and with a wave of his hand he disappeared into his library, looking as little distracted as a man could.
Adrian returned to his office. He stood with his hands in his pockets, gazing out of the window to his own little house across the gardens.
“And I’ll bet he hasn’t gone away with a bob more than he came with,” Adrian reflected. “My chief’s a perfect marvel.”
Yes, but how long could he carry on? Adrian, during his three months of service, could not but learn some of the secrets of the household. Apart from the extravagance with which the establishment was run, Cratton gambled. Cards, the Stock Market, and now the horses.
“The horses are a new one on me,” Adrian observed, as he stood gloomily at the window of his room.
How long could Cratton carry on? He was undisturbed—that was perhaps a good sign. But he was always undisturbed—just as he was always indolent and yet got through more work than many a Minister with a name for industry. And, on the other hand, he was the only one of the family who was undisturbed. The rest were conscious of a menace. Even Sonia was troubled.
She was coming towards the house when he left it at one o’clock, and though she smiled, there was a look of distress in her eyes.
Sonia, he said, and she stopped. I never see you properly, do I? There’s always something or someone in the way.”
“Someone,” said Sonia.
There was no need for either of them to mention a name.
“We get a miserable few minutes at a party, now and then—that’s about all.”
The world was a gloomy place for the moment to these two young people.
“And it’s not enough. You see,” Adrian laughed, “you give me a little shock every time I see you, and I’d like to get over that. I thought perhaps you’d help by coming to lunch with me tomorrow.”
Sonia breathed a sigh of pleasure.
“Good!” said Adrian. “You remember I spoke of a friend of mine, David Bletchworth, who was trying to get me accepted as a candidate. Well, he and his wife are coming.”
“Oh! It’s a party, then!” Sonia cried, with disappointment in every inflection of her voice.
Adrian felt an impulse to throw the party overboard at once. But he held onto his plans.
“Such a small party! I really want the Bletchworths to know you. You’ll come?”
Sonia nodded her head.
“The Ritz. Half-past one. I’ll bring my little car round and fetch you.”
The veto was as final as fear could make it. Sonia threw a startled look towards the house a few yards away. “I’ll join you at the Ritz,” she said, and hurried away.
Adrian looked after her. Secrecies! A touch of intrigue and conspiracy. Sullying things! He understood their necessity for the moment. But they were intolerable. Tomorrow, he hoped, would begin to end them.
Sonia arrived at the Ritz Hotel next day, looking her prettiest in a wide red hat, her best shoes, and a pale grey frock. She looked rather anxiously round the restaurant at the outset, but recovered her spirits when she realized that there was no one to spy upon her. David Bletchworth, for his part, was buoyant with good news. He and his wife had taken a furnished house in Upper Brook Street for the remainder of the season. Perhaps Miss Chalice would dine with them one night. They had, in any case, to arrange a date in the early autumn on which Adrian would address the political council of the constituency.
“A matter of form,” said David Bletchworth. “But it’s got to be observed. Adrian’s candidature is really accepted.”
It was a pleasant luncheon. Sonia rather quiet, young Mrs Bletchworth observant, and David doing the talking. But when the meal was over and Sonia had gone, Joan Bletchworth said warmly to Adrian: “I’ll do all that I can.”
And Adrian answered gratefully: “Thank you! I believe that I shall want your help.”
You have been mine before—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turned so,
Some veil did fall—I knew it all of yore.
“I must go back to Grosvenor Street,” said Adrian, looking at the clock.
“I’ll walk with you,” said David Bletchworth.
They put Joan Bletchworth into her car, and when she had driven off, crossed Piccadilly. At the corner of Berkeley Street a newspaper placard caught Bletchworth’s eye.
“Halo!” he cried, and catching Adrian by the arm, he stopped him. “Look!”
He was aware, with the rest of the Londoners, that sensations steepen with the fall of day. The prodigy of the three o’clock edition is the commonplace of the late extra. From its proud monopoly of the front page, it is degraded to half a column in the middle of the paper. Still, the future of the Basra Oilfields was a question of importance which particularly concerned Adrian’s chief Should the Government assure a national oil supply by becoming the dominant partner in the concern and appointing representatives upon the directorate? Or should it leave all the responsibility to the private trader? The Parliamentary Session was very near to its end, now. Within the week the decision must be made. Adrian bought a copy of the paper and read that during the morning a rumour had spread that the Government had made up its mind to stand aloof.
“Is that true?” asked Bletchworth.
“I haven’t an idea,” replied Adrian. “Cratton keeps the whole affair in his hands, All I do is to supply him with the balance sheets and reports of other companies.”
Bletchworth read over Adrian’s shoulder.
“‘On the strength of the rumour, the Market weakened and something like a panic set in. By midday the shares had dropped six points.”
“I’m rather tempted to have a flutter,” he said. “Let them go down a bit more and then buy, eh? On the chance that the rumour’s wrong, what?”
Adrian shook his head.
“I can’t help you, David. I don’t believe that the question has come up before the Cabinet yet, and if it had done I shouldn’t know the result. And if I knew the result I shouldn’t tell it to you.”
“Of course you wouldn’t,” he agreed cheerfully.
They parted at the corner of Mount Street, but before they parted Adrian said: “Parliament rises on Friday week, ten days from now. I want you and Joan to dine with me before. Tuesday, say! It’s important to me.”
Bletchworth looked keenly at his friend. The words were simple enough, but he had caught some vibration in the voice to which he was quite unused, a plea, an urgency which was disconcerting.
“All right!” he answered. “Joan’ll ring you up if she can’t manage it. But I’m pretty sure that she can.”
He held up his stick to a passing taxi and, jumping in hurriedly, was carried eastwards. He was uncomfortable, as he explained afterwards to his wife.
“Adrian never raised his voice. He was standing like anybody else giving you a casual invitation to dinner. But he made me feel that something ordained centuries ago was coming to fulfilment and we mustn’t balk it.”
Joan, his wife, crossed to him and perched on the arm of his chair.
“It’s extraordinary that you should think that, David,” she returned. “For all through lunch I was trying to make myself say, ‘Here’s a nice boy in love with a perfectly adorable girl and we must just help them along.’ But I couldn’t make myself say it. It sounded too—trivial. I seemed to be conscious of a tremendous drive behind both of them. They sat at the table talking the ordinary nothings, but I couldn’t reconcile them with what they talked. I felt that if we only had—what shall I say?—real vision, we should see two spirits—beings—souls, if you like—who had suffered horribly and would perhaps suffer irreparably unless this time they joined.”
She spoke her little speech slowly, faltering over her words, but she got her meaning out in the end.
Adrian, meanwhile, went back to his work, and whilst he worked Basra Oilfields continued to fall. They fell through the next day, steadily, until just before the Stock Exchange closed. This was the Wednesday. Late on Wednesday afternoon there was a reaction. Somebody was buying and buying heavily. On Thursday morning the shares had risen by four points. On Thursday afternoon Mr Spencer Cratton announced in the House of Commons the policy of the Government. After a careful survey of all the sources of oil fuel and the peculiar importance of sea-borne trade to Great Britain, the Cabinet had thought right to secure a predominant interest in these rich and newly discovered sources. Mr Spencer Cratton was never more lackadaisical than when he dropped his statement, word by word, from lips which could hardly be bothered to speak them.
“I believe that fellow,” cried one exasperated Member who had sold short and was already feeling the pincers, “could only be really startled if he realized suddenly one day the magnitude of his own indolence.”
The news reached the City just after the Stock Exchange had closed, and the next day the shares were rocketing. On Saturday morning one or two of the financial papers began to rumble. On Monday the rumble had grown into a definite growl. “Basra Oilfields” had been forced down by a lying rumour and then bought in for the inevitable rise. On Tuesday awkward words were used, such as “leakage” and “ramp.” Who had tied up a packet? The evening newspapers all asked that question and most of them violently. Spencer Cratton dropped some appropriate oil upon these rising waters. Enquiries would be made. But wasn’t it possible that some speculators had been sagacious and some had not? Or was there amongst those who dealt in stock and shares one level of high intelligence? However, if a head upon a charger was wanted, he would see what could be done about it. It was quite one of Cratton’s happiest efforts.
It was made upon the Tuesday, and Tuesday was an important day for all the people of this history. Adrian Shard, for instance, had asked to have Wednesday morning free.
“Tomorrow morning?” Cratton drawled. He looked up at Adrian and down upon his blotting pad. There he drew a face with his pencil and ornamented it with a tall hat and a pair of moustaches. “Well, why not?” he asked at length. “Oh, yes, everything’s in order. Tomorrow will do very well,” and Adrian left him reflecting how marvellously the Gods worked for those who left them to it.
Adrian, for his part, left his door ajar when he returned to his room, and seeing Sonia pass through the hall, went quickly out to her.
“I am free tomorrow morning,” he said. “Will you let me drive you to Ranelagh?”
Sonia’s eyes danced.
“Will I not?” she cried.
“I’ll bring my car round at ten,” said Adrian, and at once she became wise, very wise, and shook her head.
“No,” she answered. “I’ll come round to your mews. Be ready for me.” She let her hand rest upon his for a moment, and ran up the stairs. Secrecies! Concealments! Always they had to go about with one another. Well, an end was coming to it. Adrian squared his shoulders and returned to his room.
That evening David Bletchworth and his wife dined with him. It was a hot night in the first week of August, and since his dining room faced the south, it seemed as though all the heat of the tropics had been compressed into that refectory. Over the coffee, Adrian poured out his troubles and something of his plans.
“They will never give her to me willingly. The mother has been against me from the beginning. I suppose they have ambitions for her. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s at the back of it at all. But I think it’s something odd and”—he shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably—“something a little sinister. I think they are considering Sonia not as Sonia, but as a pawn to be moved about on their own particular chessboard. She’ll have to come away out of their hands altogether, before—” He broke off and turned to Joan eagerly. “I shall know how things are between Sonia and me tomorrow morning. If they are what I hope, will you receive her? I shall go to Mrs. Cratton, of course, but she’ll say no. Sonia’s a year under age. Suppose that she comes away, will you find room for her? Of course they’ll have to give way if we’re determined about it.”
“Of course,” said David Bletchworth, “we’ll love to have her, old man,” and Joan Bletchworth agreed.
“Good!” said Adrian.
He rose up, relieved of half of his anxieties. “Let’s go and smoke in the garden. We’re in a furnace here.”
He opened the door which led to his drawing room. It was at the back of the house, with a long window which gave onto the garden. From the balcony a flight of steps led down into the garden. But they did not go down into the garden. The drawing room was in darkness when Adrian opened the door. He came to a sudden stop in the doorway. He did not even reach out a hand to switch on the light. He just stood on the threshold of the room looking out through the open window across the gardens. Then, in a hushed and constrained voice, he said: “Come in, will you?” and he made way for them.
Bletchworth and his wife followed him, and he closed the door of the dining room. The three of them stood in the darkness. On the far side of the gardens a house was lighted up.
“Look!” said Adrian. “In the blue room, there. Do you see? The man in his day clothes—that’s Cratton. The woman in a dinner gown—that’s Sonia’s mother. And the third man in the smoking jacket—that’s Andros, the financier.
“Is it?” Bletchworth asked.
“Yes. I’ve seen him with Cratton before. By Jove—” And he came to a stop. He had not only seen Andros in that room before. He had seen Andros in Cratton’s suite in the hotel at Genoa. What had Cratton said when Adrian had been ushered into the room in place of Andros? “I thought it would be prudent if we had a talk here privately and then perhaps not meet so often until the affair’s over.” What affair? Adrian drew in a long breath. The affair of the Basra Oilfields?
“I wonder,” he said slowly.
He recalled Mr Bunt and the condition of embarrassment in the house’s finances which Mr Bunt connoted. There flashed into his mind, too, a little circumstance which he had never been able to explain. His very ignorance of life had been his main recommendation in Spencer Cratton’s eyes. He had secured the post because he was ignorant. His ignorance had even overridden Mrs. Cratton’s hostility. Where was the particular virtue of his ignorance unless Cratton was already, at Genoa, contemplating this raid upon the public?
“Yes, I wonder,” he repeated, with a rather wry smile at the thought of what treasure trove this little episode would be to Charles Trapp, if he ever heard of it.
Suddenly Bletchworth touched his arm.
“Look!” he in his turn said. “Your Mr Andros is moving.”
So he was, but he was not taking his leave. He had been sitting at the end of Spencer Cratton’s table and bending over it with every appearance of intense concentration. Now he rose, holding a paper in his hand, and with a nod of satisfaction handed it to Cratton. Whilst Cratton looked it over, he picked up from the table a tiny red book.
“That’s the English-Italian dictionary my chief was continually fingering at Genoa,” said Adrian.
Mr Andros took up something else, too, from the table. It looked like a short, flat slip of yellow wood. But though the light in the indigo room was sparklingly bright and the characters visible and their movements distinct, all was on too small a scale at that distance for unfamiliar things to be identified.
Andros took the paper from Cratton and, to Adrian’s astonishment, walked to the door at the corner of the great window through which Sonia had come the first time that he had seen her. Andros opened the door, and whilst he opened it, turned his head towards the Crattons in the room behind him and made some laughing remark.
“But he’s going into the room I use,” said Adrian, as Andros passed through the doorway. “There’s nothing in it but my table, with my papers.”
Suddenly the side room sprang into view. Andros had switched on the light. He went across to Adrian’s desk and bent over it. Then he raised himself erect again, quickly, like a marionette obeying the jerk of the wire. He turned towards the window, took a swift stride to it, and making of his hands a couple of blinkers about his eyes, peered through the pane. Adrian turned his head in a panic lest the light should be streaming through from the dining room behind him. But the door was shut close. He and the Bletchworths were standing in the very heart of darkness. He was conscious of an immeasurable relief There was something being done in that house on the other side of the two gardens which he must know. For it threatened him. Adrian felt sure of it. It threatened him—ruinously.
“Watch!” he whispered to his friends, thanking all the stars of heaven that he had these good witnesses at his side.
Andros drew back from the window and lowered the blind. But even so, they could see his shadow flung upon it by the light, now dwindling, now swelling into a figure monstrous and alarming as he moved about the room. For a few minutes he so moved, bending over the table at this end of it and at that. Then he turned the lights off and returned to the Crattons. But when he returned, his hands were empty.
Very cautiously Adrian and his friends slipped back into the dining room. The table had been cleared now, and the three of them sat about it and, for a while, were silent. Adrian’s face was white and his eyes shone with fear.
“I don’t like that,” he said at length.
“Nor I,” Joan added.
“Of course, I may be frightening myself for nothing.”
“But you don’t believe it,” said Bletchworth.
“He may have been putting on my table some paper for me to attend to.”
“Andros?” Bletchworth asked; and the question destroyed in a second Adrian’s moment of confidence. Yes, what had Andros to do with his table and his papers? A new dread seized him.
“I am not expected tomorrow morning,” he exclaimed. “I asked to have it free. I remember there was something queer in Cratton’s manner when he gave me leave. Yes, there was… What did he say?—‘Tomorrow will do very well’—and he looked at me rather strangely.” Adrian rose up straight from his chair.
“He wants a head on a charger, does he?”
Adrian stood for a moment and then bent down.
“David! I must find out what it was Andros left in my room. Tomorrow morning will do, so long as I’m early. I can call in at eight—to see if there are any letters. Nobody will be down except the servants. If they’ve planned anything against me—why, they’ll put it into practice later. There’ll be an outside witness. Well, I’ll have a witness, too. Will you come with me?”
“If Andros has hidden anything in my desk, we’ll find it.”
“I’ll be here at half-past seven,” said Bletchworth.
“Good!” cried Adrian. “But wait a moment! Do you mind, Joan?”
He brought a writing pad to the table, and wrote down exactly what he and the Bletchworths had seen and the hour when they had seen it and the date of the month. Then they all three signed it.
“If the worst happens, we have this, at all events, to bear us out,” said Adrian as he locked the paper away. But he slept that night only by fits and starts. For he was sure that he stood in a peril of all his hopes.
A presence, strange at once and known
Walked with me as my guide,
The skirts of some forgotten life
Trailed noiseless at my side.
An astonished butler opened the door at eight o’clock in the morning.
“But your room’s not ready, Sir,” he protested.
“That doesn’t matter. It can be done afterwards,” said Adrian. “I shall be away all the morning. But there’s a letter or two I must write. Come on, David.”
Adrian led the way across the hall and into his room. The blind was still down. It seemed certain that its last visitor was Mr Andros. Adrian drew up the blind and noiselessly opened the window. He turned to the table. It was in all circumstances but one just as he had left it the evening before, pencils by the side of the blotting pad, pens in the tray, a stand for writing paper and envelopes, no litter of letters, everything most orderly. But on the edge of the table was the little red English- Italian dictionary which both of them had last seen in George Andros’ hand.
“Do you see that?” David Bletchworth asked.
“I do, indeed,” returned Adrian.
“Now, why on earth—” Bletchworth began, and Adrian set himself down in his chair at the table.
“Wait!” he said. “We saw Andros’ shadow on the blind, swelling and diminishing.”
Adrian was sitting at a knee-hole table with drawers at each side. His back was to the side wall of the room. The window was upon his right, the door into the indigo room opposite to him.
“Then Andros went to each side of this table. Wait!” There were three drawers on each side. Adrian opened those upon the right side one after another, and searched them thoroughly. In the top drawer there was nothing but what had been in the drawer yesterday, some indiarubber bands, a box of clips, an eraser. In the second, sheets of sermon paper, a box of black carbon paper, books of stamps. In the third and lowest drawer were extracts of newspapers, reports of speeches, underneath them a couple of Blue Books, and underneath the Blue Books—“Ah!” he cried.
He lifted out of the drawer and laid upon the table one length of a folding measure made of yellow wood.
“We saw that,” cried Bletchworth.
“Andros was carrying it, yes. He put it in this drawer, here, where I was never likely to notice it.”
Adrian turned the measure over. It was the first length of the measure, and on one side it was marked off in inches, on the other in centimetres and millimetres. For a few seconds he sat troubled and bewildered. Then, with a gasp, he leaned forward and snatched up the dictionary. He opened it, and on the page he laid the measure. Once or twice, he moved the measure up and down the page and then turned up to his friend a face as white as a sheet.
“Put these things in your pocket, David,” he said, in a quick whisper, pushing the measure and the book across to him; and whilst Bletchworth obeyed, he opened the drawers in the left-hand pillar of the table and took out five covers of stiff paper such as are used to hold documents and letters. He made sure that the three drawers upon that side were now empty. Then he laid the covers side by side upon the table top.
“We have got to be quick, David,” he said, with a glance towards the ceiling and an ear turned to catch the sound of a step in the hall. “In one of these files there’ll be a paper hidden. It’ll be covered with figures or letters in groups. We’ve got to find it before we’re interrupted.”
The covers were labelled, and on the labels the contents were classified. One cover was marked “Receipts,” a very thin one; another was “Bills,” a very bulky one. The third was marked “For Record,” the fourth “Temporary,” the fifth “Immediate.”
Bletchworth understood nothing whatever of these mysteries, but he asked no questions. That there was urgency, a look at Adrian’s face convinced him. He took one file whilst Adrian took another.
“Look at every leaf, David. Turn out every envelope!”
Silently and swiftly they set to their work, and from the fourth file, marked “Temporary,” Bletchworth plucked out a sheet of notepaper with no engraved heading and no address at all, and thrust it under Adrian’s eyes.
“Is this what you want?”
The paper was covered with figures arranged in groups of five.
Adrian, with a low cry, pounced upon it. “Hide it in your pocket! Quick!” Again he listened, but the fear had gone from him. One thing Bletchworth did now understand. There would be a catastrophe for anyone who tried to interfere with Adrian now. So passionate a light burnt in his eyes, so fierce an anger marred his face.
“We had better see that that’s all.”
They went through the rest of the papers. But they found nothing more to claim their notice. Adrian replaced the covers and closed the drawers of the table.
“We can go now,” he said.
The hall was empty. They let themselves out into Grosvenor Street and returned to Adrian’s cottage in the mews.
“We’ll have breakfast,” said Adrian; and whilst they waited for it, and whilst they ate it and after they had eaten it, Adrian, with a clean sheet of paper and a pencil, figured away at the solution of the problem. By half-past nine the work was done.
“It’s a five-figure dictionary cipher,” Adrian explained. “Three figures out of the five give the page of the dictionary on which the word is to be found. To make it look a little more difficult, the three figures are doubled and their order confused, the second figure being put first and the first last. Thus, here,” and Adrian pushed the original sheet of paper under Bletchworth’s eyes, “624 means by true reading page 231. See that!”
Bletchworth pored over the sheet, his forehead frowning, his lips pursed.
“Yes, I see. And the last two numbers?”
“They give the word on the page. Look!”
He opened the dictionary and laid the measure flat upon the page as he had done in his office. The millimetric degrees marked upon the wood corresponded roughly with the words in the dictionary. There were fewer words than fifty upon the page, but since five centimetres were marked off on the measure, there were fifty degrees on the measure.
“But it’s near enough,” said Adrian, “and look, the millimetric lines are numbered arbitrarily.”
Bending forward, Bletchworth saw that numbers had been written in a small hand alongside the degrees.
“You see, here are forty-two and three side by side, and next door to three, seventeen. Without this scale we’d never get at the meaning,” said Adrian.
“Have you got it now?”
“Enough of it to be sure that I’m on the right track. It won’t take ten minutes to get the rest.”
Adrian went back to his bureau by the window, and, as he worked, Bletchworth watched his face darken with anger. At the end, however, he got up very quietly.
“Look at this, David. Remember, it was to be found by accident in my file of temporary papers—this morning, no doubt. A visitor would call—easy enough to arrange—a constituent, perhaps, who would want a meeting fixed. Cratton’ld say, ‘Oh, we’d better have a look at my list of engagements. My secretary’s away for the morning, but I’ve no doubt we can find it.’ And this is found, and the scale and the dictionary.”
“How long would it take an expert to find the key to it?”
“Well, you saw me, and I’m not an expert. Now, read!” and Bletchworth read:
“Everything lovely. Bought BO at eight. Sold out at twenty. Packed up a parcel. Cheerio.”
Bletchworth leaned back in his chair, his face grey and a look of horror in his eyes.
“Yes,” cried Adrian. “That’s what was to be found in the drawer of my table. A head on a charger was wanted. Well, there it is—mine. The private secretary’s. The confidential private secretary’s! I had told him that I had made a hobby of ciphers. How could I fight against it? I was done—”
Adrian broke off as he looked at his friend. “Why, what’s the matter, David? The trick has failed. We-you and Joan and I—saw it all planted last night, and here are the proofs.”
Bletchworth was wiping the sweat from his forehead.
“Yes, yes,” he cried, eagerly, his lips stammering over the words, “but if we hadn’t got the proofs the thing would have been worse than you imagined.
“What do you mean?” asked Adrian.
“You remember I said to you that I was half inclined to have a flutter?”
“Well, I did. I bought Basra Oilfields at eight and I took my profit yesterday. And I’m your friend. It meant ruin—absolute ruin—if we hadn’t stood in the dark last night and watched from your drawing-room window.”
For a moment the two friends stared at each other aghast. Then Adrian smiled.
“But I think, David, we were to have stood and watched,” he said quietly. “I think, this time, life is going
to broaden out for me and for Sonia, too. I believe nothing is to hinder us,” and if Bletchworth had asked him to explain what he had meant by “this time,” he could not have answered. He packed up the dictionary and the measure, the sheet of figures and the translation of it in a large envelope, and locked it away with the statement the three had signed the night before.
“What are you going to do about it?” asked Bletchworth.
“I don’t know,” said Adrian thoughtfully.
He looked at the clock. It was a minute to ten. He looked out of the window. His saloon car stood at the door; and as he looked, Sonia in a blue coat and skirt and a white hat came quickly round the corner.
“What I do know is that I’m off to Ranelagh,” and he picked up his hat and ran down the stairs.
I see breaking in upon the image of this world forms of I know not what antiquity. I walk out of strange cities steeped in the jewel glow and gloom of evening or sail in galleys over the silvery waves of the antique ocean.
“You look lovely,” said Adrian.
“Thank you!” said Sonia. “But couldn’t we go?”
The car slid out into Carlos Place and ran by Mount Street and Hyde Park to the Kensington High Street. Sonia cast one scared glance behind her through the small window at the back of the motor car and then sat leaning forward, troubled and, to Adrian’s eyes, frightened. He asked no questions, and once they had crossed Hammersmith Bridge, her face began to lose its distress and the colour to return to her cheeks.
“Better?” Adrian asked, dropping his left hand upon hers.
“Well,” she answered, and returned his clasp.
He avoided an omnibus and circumvented a cart. The long street of villas slipped past the windows.
“I wondered whether you were going to come,” he said.
Sonia looked at him with startled eyes.
“I almost didn’t,” she answered.
For a moment her face was once more troubled. But the cloud passed. She smiled. Then she suddenly clapped her hands and laughed with all the joy of her twenty years.
“Why the amusement?” asked Adrian.
“Heaps of reasons,” answered Sonia. “It’s summer. I’ve got a new hat on—”
“—and we’re off by ourselves for the whole morning to—where was it?—Hurlingham.”
“Ranelagh,” Adrian corrected.
“I like that.” Sonia nodded her head. “It’s new to me.”
“You’ve never been there?”
“It’s Sir Francis Walsingham’s old house.”
“You don’t say!”
“It was called Barn Elms in those days.”
“And is that so?”
“There are some of the old rooms left and the cellars where Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretaries were put to the rack—”
Sonia looked anxiously round into the back of the car.
“And, darling,” she interrupted sympathetically, “you’ve left your megaphone behind.”
Adrian stopped the guide-work and, turning sharply at the corner into the long avenue, drove to the porch of the red house. He took Sonia into the hall with its flat roof crossed with narrow beams and its walls painted red.
“I’ll leave you here for a second, sonia,” he said, “whilst I park the car. This is the old part of the house—He stopped short, expecting further jibes, but Sonia had none for him. Her mood had changed since she had entered the hall. She was serious and very quiet and her face difficult to read. She could not, indeed, herself have explained her mood, beyond that it was made up of tenderness and expectation.
“I’ll wait here, Adrian,” she said, and he climbed into the car and drove away from the porch.
The big porter in the red coat offered her a chair, but Sonia was listening to nothing but an extraordinarily faint harsh voice carried from an incalculable distance. She could distinguish no words, but it seemed to her that they were cruel and ruthless, yet somehow gently meant. She had not, indeed, heard the porter speak at all. He said afterwards that she was not uncivil but that she had lost sight of him; that she stood very still whilst the murmur of bees and the rustle of leaves in a light air came in upon the sunlight through the open door; and that she turned and walked, not like a girl in a dream but like one who knew her way, into the room on the right-hand side of the hall as you stood with your back to the porch. This had been the room where Sir Francis Walsingham had kept his secret despatches from his servants overseas, and there he had once broken the heart of a young girl by telling her the story of a galleon sunk in Tobermory Bay with a youth swinging at the yardarm.
There, in a few minutes, Adrian found her. It was a bright room with the windows looking down the great avenue which led towards the river—a room of green walls hung with sporting prints, of pleasant curtains of chintz and of white doors with the woodwork carved at the sides. There were Chinese ornaments on the high mantelshelf and a round mirror above it; and little tables with match-stands and deep armchairs set about in a semicircle. Sonia was seated in one of these chairs when Adrian found her. She was looking towards the door, with her heart in her eyes and her body quite still. She gave him the impression that she was calling and that her soul was in the call and that all the happiness which life might have for her hung upon whether the call was answered or no. When she saw him come into the room she stood up, such a light in her face of expectation fulfilled as set him in her debt and charged him with humility. He crossed to her.
“Sonia,” he said, “I love you very dearly.”
She gave him both her hands, and he took her in his arms and kissed her lips.
They went out through the inner hall into the garden. It was Wednesday morning, and at this hour and on this day of the week, except for one or two parties playing golf, the grounds were empty. They walked across the lawns under the great chestnut trees and elms. It was a day of sunlight and golden warmth. There were wide green playing grounds with pavilions, banks of flowers, a lily pond bordered with a stone pavement and enclosed in a low yew hedge over which a bronze Mercury was poised. Everywhere there was water, everywhere there were statues; and white summer houses crowned little hills amongst groves of trees.
Adrian spoke a word or two about his candidature. “There’ll be an election next year and David thinks I’ll have a decent chance. I wanted to have something, however small, to bring to you.”
“I have less than that, my dear,” said Sonia.
“You have yourself,” said Adrian.
He took her by the elbow and led her across a white bridge above a stream to a winding path. They wandered side by side along the path until they reached a stone pillar set on the grass by the water’s edge. It was an old pillar with a stone ball on the top of it, and on the ball was mounted a gilt ship of the Tudor days. There Adrian stopped.
“I wanted to show you something,” he said, “and it’s no use your looking around for the megaphone, Sonia. You’ve got to go through with it.”
Sonia composed herself to listen.
“I hope that I’m always ready to be improved,” she said sedately.
“Do you see that sail on the mizzen? The mizzen’s the mast behind. It’s a fore-and-aft sail. There are two more, you see, in front of the mainmast, a jib and a foresail.”
“I see them,” said Sonia.
“With those sails you can sail into the wind. They beat the Armada.”
“I shall try and remember that,” said Sonia.
“I will now show you a Spanish galleon,” Adrian went on.
“If you want to, my darling, you shall,” Sonia replied in a small voice. “Where is it?”
He took out of his pocket a cardboard box and opened it. Sonia uttered a cry of delight. For lying in the box was the gold collar with the emerald galleon for a pendant.
“You bought it!” she cried.
“For you,” and he placed it in her hands. “Yes, as far back as that. It was yours when I bought it.”
For a moment Sonia held the gift against her heart, her eyes shining like stars, her lips parted. But in a little while her face clouded over.
“I, too, have something to say to you,” she said. They found a bench and sat down. “You ought to know these things. They might”—she glanced at him quickly and away again—“make a difference. I bring you nothing.”
“It doesn’t matter. I have enough,” said Adrian, taking her hand in his.
“I had a fortune,” she said ruefully. “I was to come into it in a year’s time. I should have loved to bring it to you. It was my father’s. But there it is—or rather was! It’s gone.”
“It can’t be helped,” said Adrian.
“It could have been,” she answered. “Only—it’s a difficult thing to tell you—my mother and my stepfather were the trustees.” She continued hurriedly. “I learnt by accident that it had gone a few months ago. I had been to a party. I went into the little library—the room you have—to get a book. I heard voices in the blue room. I opened the door. They were talking about it.”
“Your mother, Cratton, and Mr Andros,” said Adrian.
Sonia stared at him.
“It was a couple of weeks before you went to Sicily. I saw you that night, Sonia. Was it for the first time? Anyway, I saw you open that door.” He thought for a minute and resumed: “In a way, sweetheart, the loss will make things easier for us.”
Sonia was puzzled.
“Yes. If I say, ‘Give me Sonia and she’ll cry quits’!”
Sonia shook her head.
“They have other plans. It’s all rather hateful to talk about. They want me to marry. But not you.”
Adrian remembered very clearly his first meeting with the mother at Genoa.
“No, not me,” he answered grimly. And Sonia’s next words startled him out of his seat.
“I think they’ve promised me.”
“But they can’t do that!” he cried. “Even if they did, the promise can’t bind you.”
“No, it can’t,” Sonia answered. But the look of fear which had shadowed her face earlier that morning returned to it now. She caught hold of his arm. “No doubt they guessed that we meant to spend these hours together. This morning the front door was locked and the key removed. A footman stood in the hall. He had orders—yes, actually orders—that I was not to go out. He was put on the door like a watchman. I know—it was mediaeval. But what could I do? I couldn’t scream. It was my mother’s order. Oh, I couldn’t go up to her room and argue. It was horrible!”
“But you joined me in spite of them,” said Adrian.
A smile swept the shadow away.
“Thanks to the footman Eric. He said, ‘I have no orders, Miss, about the area door.’ I was down the kitchen stairs in a second and up the area steps the next.”
“But it’s absurd,” Adrian cried. “Nowadays!”
Yes, it was absurd. The days of Sir Tunbelly Clumsy were over and done with. You couldn’t lock up grown girls nowadays, even though you had stolen their fortunes. But it had happened.
“Who is the man?” Adrian asked.
“Can’t you guess?”
Adrian ran over in his mind the names of all the young men of the day with great names and great estates. Any one of them would be blessed to have his Sonia promised to him. Whom had he seen her dancing with? Who had been trotting at her heels?
“No. Tell me!”
Adrian gasped. Why, the man was old enough to be Sonia’s father. Only such a man couldn’t have been her father. He was the Minotaur come to life again.
“They must be mad, all of them,” he exclaimed.
“I think they’ve made a bargain—all three of them,” Sonia returned.
“I fancy Andros has some sort of hold over them.”
“I’m sure he has,” Adrian said grimly.
“And he presses it,” Sonia continued. “Oh, I don’t suppose he wants me for myself—”
“But of course he does,” cried Adrian.
Sonia smiled tenderly.
“You see me with very kind eyes, my dear,” she said. “No, I expect he thinks that marriage with someone like me will give him a more solid position in the world.”
“And you’re to be sacrificed for that!” Adrian exclaimed in a fury. “I’ll tell you something, Sonia. Every marriage license ought to carry a third-party risk so that one could deal properly with people like Andros—” He turned suddenly to Sonia and gently took her hands. “My dear,” he said, in a voice which had changed in a minute to a quiet tone of absolute conviction, “we have got to be together, you and I. I feel that we have been separated before and more than once
“I, too, have been feeling that all the morning,” she answered in a whisper.
“Now we have got to be together. I think perhaps that we might, together, do some service.”
It was simply spoken. The two thoughts were interwoven in his mind—Sonia and service. It seemed to him that whilst he was here with her at his side in the garden of Ranelagh, he could hear in the high house above St. Ann’s Bay in Jamaica the clear reverberating strokes of Big Ben telling the hour of midnight. Sonia looked across the garden to the old red house mellowed by the sun. She, too, had a fancy. She fancied that she heard a thin harsh voice gently telling her of shame and pain endured in a great service; and out of the story she fashioned a high hope and promise.
She turned to her lover.
“What will you do?” she asked. “We’re supposed to go to Scotland at the end of the month. I can’t. No, I can’t! Whatever you do, be quick! Dear heart, be quick!”
There was neither doubt nor trouble in Adrian’s mind any more than, now, in hers.
“We’ll go back to London. We’ll lunch together. We’ll go together to Grosvenor Street afterwards. We won’t have any trouble, I promise you. You’ll pack some clothes and I’ll take you to Joan Bletchworth’s. Then we’ll get married. Then we’ll go off”
“Where to?” she cried.
“Where you like, so long as in the end we get to Rome. I want to see Rome with you. I think I’ve been dreaming of it for centuries.”
They wandered back, her hand in his, across the lawns to the Clubhouse. Their hearts told them that there had never been happiness so radiant, a morning so golden, a place so magical. Perhaps there had been one such place—a hollow of the Downs under Bignor Hill. Perhaps, too, there had been another, the Closewalks of Cowdray Park.
For though through many straits and lands I
I launch at Paradise and I sail towards home;
The course I there began shall here be stay’d,
Sails hoisted there, struck here and anchors laid
In Thames which were at Tigris and Euphrates weigh’d.
To Sonia that morning her lover was a magician upon his holiday. He secured a table by the open window. He ordered food from fairyland and got it. And when, with a start of dismay, she discovered the Crattons lunching with a party on the opposite side of the restaurant, he transformed that inopportunity into an advantage. He wrote a polite note asking them to receive Sonia and himself that afternoon and sent it across by a waiter.
“I’ll make you a bet, Sonia,” he said. “Everything will be settled here within the hour,” and to her amazement, when the room was gradually emptying, she saw Spencer Cratton drifting across the floor towards them with his indolent affability completely unruffled.
“I hold not only the grand slam, darling,” said Adrian with a smile, “I’ve got the whole pack of cards in my pocket. Just see!” And he ordered the waiter to set another chair by the table.
“Will you sit down, Sir?” he said, and Mr Spencer Cratton accepted the invitation.
“For a moment,” he said, and he produced Adrian’s note. “It will be a little difficult to arrange a formal meeting this afternoon. I must be at the House and your mother, Sonia, has engagements. But is a formal meeting necessary?”
Adrian glanced triumphantly at Sonia. Here in the restaurant they were on public ground. Decorum and good manners would be the conditions of their talk. There would be no recrimination, no violent words. In fact the atmosphere would be exactly of that temperature which was most agreeable to Spencer Cratton.
“No,” Adrian answered. “What we wanted to say was that Sonia and I wish to marry.”
Spencer Cratton lit a cigar.
“You won’t expect me to register surprise, will you?” He turned to Sonia. “Your mother, my dear, as you are no doubt aware, had other views for you. But if you young people have really made up your minds, you have the spirit of the times in your favour. Only”—he turned back again to Adrian—“you know, of course, that Sonia will not come of age for a year and that until that time has passed, her mother’s consent to her marriage is necessary.”
Spencer Cratton spoke politely—truculence, in any case, was never amongst his weapons—but the bargaining had begun.
“No doubt,” Adrian replied, “but I entertain a hope that her consent will be given.”
Spencer Cratton shrugged his shoulders.
“Even if it were given,” he replied, “neither she nor I could abandon our other responsibilities toward Sonia.”
In other words, neither Lydia nor Spencer Cratton was going to allow any young jackanapes of a suitor to claim a right to an account of Sonia’s estate. If Adrian wanted to marry Sonia now, the price of the marriage would be a discreet inattention to the facts that Sonia had inherited a fortune and that the fortune had gone. Thus Adrian interpreted the condition and admired the words in which it was conveyed. That they could not abandon their responsibilities seemed a phrase quite worthy of Spencer Cratton.
“I quite understand,” Adrian agreed. “I have obviously no rights in the matter at all.”
The sigh was undoubtedly one of relief. Spencer Cratton leaned back in his chair. A greater ease was apparent in his attitude.
“I am remiss,” said Adrian. “Will you take a liqueur?”
“And why not?” said Cratton. “They have some brandy here, and they have the discretion not to call us fools by calling it Napoleon.”
When the brandy stood in a big goblet at his hand, Spencer Cratton resumed with a tolerant smile.
“And I suppose that, both of you being young and impatient, you are anxious that there should be no delay.”
The blood surged into Sonia’s face. Adrian answered: “A special license seems to be indicated.”
“Sonia’s mother insists upon a church.”
“A church it certainly shall be. Today is Wednesday. Shall we say Friday morning?”
“Oh!” cried Sonia.
“Clothes can be got after marriage as easily as before,” said Adrian sententiously, “with the added advantage that, in that case, the husband pays for them.”
“It may certainly be Friday,” said Spencer Cratton. “Sonia’s mother and I will put off for a day our journey to Scotland with the greatest pleasure.”
“And meanwhile—” Adrian began.
“Sonia, I believe, would like to spend a couple of days with two very good friends of mine in Upper Brook Street, the Bletchworths.”
Adrian looked towards Sonia for corroboration, and she nodded her head.
“Is that necessary,” Spencer Cratton asked easily, “since we know, don’t we, that love laughs at locks?”
“But it doesn’t want to bruise its fingers picking them more than once,” Adrian rejoined.
Spencer Cratton abandoned the argument and drank his brandy.
“We shall all meet at the church, then,” he said, “and in that case we shall issue no invitations. It will just be a private affair for the family.”
Sonia said, “Yes.”
“By the way,” Cratton resumed. “The little house you have, Mr Shard—”
“Was very useful for your secretary,” Adrian continued. “I recognized how useful last night, Mr Cratton.”
For a moment Spencer Cratton lost his equanimity. He changed colour. To Sonia it almost seemed that he was afraid.
“But for a married couple it would be too small. I shall get rid of that little house. It has no memories for me at all. On the other hand, I have one very definite memory of my service with you, Mr Cratton.”
Spencer Cratton shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Adrian was in no hurry to put him at his ease. A little discomfort, a moment or two of anxiety, were a trifling punishment for the evil turn he had tried to do to Adrian yesterday.
“Yes?” Cratton asked warily.
“I remember some words you spoke to me at Genoa. England couldn’t be beaten. I remember all that you said then. For you made it clear that you meant it.”
Spencer Cratton rose to his feet.
“Oh, yes, I remember, too,” he said.
So he owed his entire immunity, Adrian’s silence not only about the trick of last night, but about the speculation in Basra Oilfields, to his chance utterance of the creed in which he believed.
“Yes,” he said. “I suppose that was the timeliest speech I ever delivered. What is it we say in Italy? A rivederla!” and with a smile he dawdled away.
In the beginning of October Adrian and Sonia, his wife, motored from Rimini to the south. They travelled by the old Flaminian way and when they entered the Campagna, a passionate excitement seized upon Adrian.
“Ages ago, Sonia, I promised to bring you to Rome.”
“We shall see it together,” said she, pressing his arm. “At last.”
They passed Soracte rising solitary from the plain, the Matterhorn of the Campagna, a villa in a garden of cypress, a clump of pines on a cliff of travertin; and then the Italian chauffeur turned to them.
“Beyond the next hill is Castel Nuovo. From the top of the hill you shall see Rome.”
The car took the steep gradient slowly. Adrian was on his feet whilst the white road still faced him.
The sky opened out beyond the hill, the plain came into view.
“There! There!” cried the chauffeur and brought the car to a standstill. “There, Signor!”
Far away the great city slept on its low hills. Adrian’s eyes devoured it. He said no word at all, but on his face there was a great perplexity.
He stretched out his arm.
“What’s that?” he asked.
The chauffeur looked where he pointed.
“That?” he asked.
“Yes, that new thing.”
The chauffeur stared at Adrian. “That, Signor, is the dome of St. Peter’s.”
Adrian dropped back in his seat.
“Of course,” he said. “Of course.”
But the wonder was still there in his gaze and in his voice.
“You hadn’t expected it,” said Sonia.
“No, I suppose I hadn’t,” he replied slowly.
AND he hadn’t. For it was eighteen hundred years since he had last seen Rome.
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