The Highwayman (Bailey)/Chapter XXVII
There is reason to believe that the Earl of Sunderland and Colonel Boyce fell out. Sunderland, never an easy man, suspected that he had been ridiculous and was nervously eager to make some one smart for it. Colonel Boyce was in a despondent rage that any one should have heard Marlborough rate him so. They seem to have had some cat and dog business before they parted: each, I infer, blaming the other for their ignominy.
But they took it in very different fashions. Colonel Boyce suffered in the more respectable part of his soul. Sunderland merely fumed and felt venomous. For it is certain (if absurd) that Colonel Boyce had a sincere reverence for Marlborough. He much desired (one of his few simple human emotions) that Marlborough should think well of him. If he had tacked Marlborough's name to a dirty business about which Marlborough knew nothing, he had honestly believed that His Grace would be very well content to know nothing of the means, and profit by the end. That his hero should retort upon him disgust and contempt wounded him painfully. Final proof of his devotion—he never thought of questioning Marlborough's judgment. He had no doubt that he had managed the affair with miserable stupidity, and bowed a humiliated head.
Unfortunately, he was not ready to bow it before Sunderland. If there was to be scolding between him and Sunderland, he had a mind to give as much as he took. My lord had been art and part in the whole affair, and could have his share, too, in the disaster. But Sunderland had no notion of accepting Marlborough's opinion of him. Sunderland had no reverence for any of God's creatures, and with Marlborough safe out of the room, snarled something about an old fellow in his dotage. This much enlivened the quarrel, and they parted in some exhaustion, but still raging.
The night brought counsel. Sunderland might tell himself and believe that Marlborough had become only the shadow of a great name. But the great name, he knew very well, was valuable to himself and his party, and he had no notion of throwing it away for the sake of his injured dignity. In his way, Colonel Boyce was quite as necessary to my lord. The fellow knew too much to be discarded. Moreover, he would still be valuable. His talents for intrigue and even that weakness of his, his fertility in multiplying intrigue, much appealed to Sunderland. So before noon on the next day, Colonel Boyce was reading a civil letter from my lord. He sneered over it, but it was welcome enough. He did not want to be idle, and could rely on Sunderland to find him agreeable occupation. He walked out to wait on my lord, and they made it up, which was perhaps unfortunate for Mr. Waverton.
Later in the day my lord heard that a gentleman was asking to speak with him, a gentleman who professed to have information about the Pretender which he could give only to my lord's private ear. Thereupon my lord received a large and imposing young gentleman, who said: "My Lord Sunderland? My lord, I am Geoffrey Waverton of Tetherdown, a gentleman of family (as you may know) and sufficient estate. This is to advise you that I am in need of no private advantage and desire none, but only to do my duty against traitors."
"You are benevolent, sir, but I am busy."
"I believe you will be glad to postpone your business to mine, my lord," says Mr. Waverton haughtily. "Let me tell you at this moment of anxious doubt," Mr. Waverton hesitated like one who forgets a bit of his prepared eloquence,—"let me tell you the Pretender has come to these shores. He has come to England, to London. He was in Kensington yesterday."
"You amaze me, Mr. Waverton."
"My lord, I can take you to the house."
"You are very obliging. Is he there now?"
"I believe not, my lord."
"And I believe not too. Mr. Waverton, the world is full of gentlemen who know where the Pretender was the other day. You are tedious. Where is he now?"
"My lord, I shall put in your power one who is in all his cunning secrets: one who is the treasonous mainspring of the plot."
Sunderland, who was something of a purist, made a grimace: "A treasonous mainspring! You may keep it, sir."
"You are pleased to be facetious, my lord. I warn you we have here no matter for levity. I shall deliver to your hands one who is deep in the most dangerous secrets of the Jacobites, art and part of the design which at this moment of peril and dismay brings the Pretender down upon our peace."
"Mr. Waverton, you are as dull as a play. Who is he, this bogey of yours?"
"He calls himself Boyce," said Mr. Waverton, with an intense sneer. "Harry Boyce, a shabby, scrubby trickster to the eye. You would take him for a starveling usher, a decayed footman. It's a lurker in holes and corners, indeed, a cringing, grovelling fellow. But with a heart full of treason and all the cunning of a base, low hypocrisy. Still a youth, but sodden in lying craft."
Sunderland picked up a pen and played with it, and through the flutter of the feather he began to look keenly at Mr. Waverton. "Pray spare me the rhetoric," says he. "What has he done, your friend, Harry Boyce?"
"He has this long time past been hand and glove with the Jacobites of Sam's. I have evidence of it. Now mark you what follows. Yesterday betimes he slunk out to Kensington, using much cunning secrecy. And there he made his way to a certain house—I wonder if you know it, my lord? It was close watched yesterday, and a coach that came from it was beset. I wonder if you have been asking yourself how the Pretender evaded that watch. I can dispel the mystery. This fellow Harry Boyce went in with news of the guard about the house. It was in his company that the Pretender rode away."
"Why do you stop?" said Sunderland.
"Where they went then I cannot tell you. You will please to observe, my lord, that I am precisely honest with you and even to this knave Boyce just. But it is certain that in the evening when Harry Boyce came back to the low tavern where he lodges—and he came, if you please, in a handsome coach—he was wearing the very clothes of the Pretender—aye, even to the hat and wig. I believe I have said enough, my lord. It will be plain to you that the fellow is very dangerous to the peace of the realm and our good and lawful king. If you lay hands on him, which I advise you to do swiftly, you will quench a treason which has us all in peril, and well deserve the favour of King George. For my own part I seek neither favour nor reward, desiring only to do my duty as a gentleman." Mr. Waverton concluded with a large bow in the flamboyant style.
"Your name is Waverton?" Sunderland said coldly. Mr. Waverton was stupefied. That such eloquence should not raise a man's temperature! That he should not have made his name remembered! He remained dumb. "Pray when did you turn your coat?"
"Turn my coat?" Mr. Waverton gasped.
"You once professed yourself Jacobite. You went to France with a certain Colonel Boyce. You quarrelled with him because he was not Jacobite. Now you desire to get his son into trouble. You do not gain upon me, Mr. Waverton."
"I can explain, my lord—"
"Pray, spare me," says Sunderland. "You are not obscure. I see that you have a private grudge against the family of Boyce. Settle it in private, Mr. Waverton. It is more courageous."
Mr. Waverton stared at him and began several repartees which were only begun.
"I find you tiresome," Sunderland said. "I advise you, do not make me think of you again," and he struck his bell. But when Mr. Waverton was gone: "I fear he has not the spirit of a louse," my lord remarked to himself with a shrug.
Thus Mr. Waverton's virtue was left to seek its own reward.