The Master of Stair/Book 1/Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI
A LAMPOON ANSWERED

Mr. Wedderburn entered the parlor of "The Sleeping Queen," true to his appointed time.

He found alone, and busily writing, Sir Perseus, who greeted him cordially in his pleasant, blunt manner.

Mr. Caryl, he said, had been summoned by his grace of Berwick, but he expected his return shortly, and though he, Sir Perseus, actually had the papers Mr. Wedderburn was to carry to France, it would be better if the emissary would wait and see Mr. Caryl.

Mr. Wedderburn gave a short answer and flung himself into the chair by the fire; he was obviously in an ill-humor.

Sir Perseus talked of the plot and the promising prospects of success; he praised Mr. Caryl's vast labor and skill in the cause of King James, and hinted that the time was not far distant when the devotion of His Majesty's adherents would be rewarded by seeing him enjoy his own again.

Mr. Wedderburn briefly assented to these remarks and stared moodily into the fire.

Once they were interrupted by the entrance of the printer, who laid down a packet of pamphlets and silently withdrew.

Sir Perseus began sorting them.

"Delia is late," he remarked. "You may have seen her if you came through the Abbey—she often goes there."

"Yes, I saw her," answered Mr. Wedderburn gloomily. "Mr. Caryl, too, is late."

"Are you pressed for time?" asked Sir Perseus.

The other glanced at the clock.

"The boat is to call for me to-morrow noon," he said, "and I have to get to Romney—a delay would be impolitic."

"It will be unnecessary," answered Sir Perseus readily. "I have the papers—I am sure Mr. Caryl would see the desirability of your running no risk of delay."

He went to a box in the corner, unlocked it and lifted out a flat leathern case.

Mr. Wedderburn turned in his chair and watched him as he brought it to the table and showed the contents.

"This, sir—" Sir Perseus laid a bulky sealed packet down, "is the letter to His Majesty from his supporters in England, assuring him of their aid should he land an English army—it is what he asked for to show Louis."

"It contains the names of all the conspirators?" asked Mr. Wedderburn.

"We have all, from the highest to the humblest, signed it," was the answer, given with a smile of satisfaction. "It should please his Majesty and satisfy Louis. This is Mr. Caryl's letter and report to the King—this the Duke of Berwick's—these three papers are all, Mr. Wedderburn."

"Deadly enough, were they discovered," commented the other, dryly.

"We are confident that His Majesty selected a messenger who would see they were not discovered," said Sir Perseus, putting the papers back into their case.

Mr. Wedderburn gave a sudden laugh and rose. "Sir, my life upon their safe delivery to—the King."

"Sir—it is a weighty trust," answered Sir Perseus gravely.

"The lives and honors of many men—the fate of a kingdom."

Mr. Wedderburn made no answer and presently he began to pace the room in a manner that at last attracted the other's attention; he began to look at him curiously; he noticed that the King's messenger appeared absorbed, gloomy, as if he reined in high passions, that his face was unnaturally pale and shadowed under his brilliant eyes as if he had been through great pain or sleeplessness. Sir Perseus studied him covertly, with a growing uneasiness; he did not look like a man in the mood to undertake a difficult enterprise.

Mr. Wedderburn meanwhile continued walking heavily to and fro, as if utterly careless of the impression he might make. It grew late; Sir Perseus expressed a wish that Mr. Caryl might return.

"It matters not—I have a good horse without," said Mr. Wedderburn, and fell into his silence again.

A strange and utterly undefinable sense of distrust and fear came over Sir Perseus; his hand went out and instinctively covered the leathern case while he eyed his restless companion. The longer he watched this silent man and noted his lithe strength, his brooding face, his reckless pose and his strange, wild eyes, the more his unreasoning fear increased; he began to long for the return of Jerome Caryl, to resolve that he would not part with the papers until that return.

Mr. Wedderburn broke the silence by ringing the bell and calling for wine. When it came they drank together in a curious heavy stillness, as if both knew something was impending, yet could not speak of it.

Mr. Wedderburn drained his glass in a kind of fierce haste, then fell again to his pacing, the other watching intent and tense.

It struck eight.

Neither remarked on the passing of the time; the man at the table slipped the leathern ease into the breast of his coat, why, he could not have told, save that he felt unnerved.

Mr. Wedderburn came at last to a sudden stand on the hearth, the firelight full on his handsome face.

"What do you write?" he asked.

"Pamphlets—lampoons—" was the answer.

"Ah—on whom?"

"Naturally—the Williamites."

"And you circulate them?"

"Successfully—into Kensington, itself."

"You are daring—and fortunate," frowned Mr. Wedderburn.

Sir Perseus looked at him with an honest, puzzled face; he could neither understand the man nor his own sense of uneasiness.

"What are these?" asked the other, and crossed to the table; his rich dark presence coming so close, still further impressed Sir Perseus with an uuaccountable feeling of mistrust.

"Ah, those are lampoons on the Master of Stair," he answered. "We find him a fine target."

Mr. Wedderburn's eyes flashed; he poured out more wine and drank it slowly.

"The Master of Stair!" he said. "I have heard a great deal of the Master of Stair," he gave a half-smile, "Now what have you to say of him?"

He set his glass down and Sir Perseus marked his strong shapely hand as it lay round the stem.

"Come," the other insisted in an imperious mariner, leaning a little across the table, "let me hear your skill in lampoons."

"I do not write them—I merely collect the materials."

"So they are true?"

"God knows, one needs not to invent lies of the Master of Stair."

Mr. Wedderburn's azure eyes narrowed into a steady look; he leaned forward, his arms folded on the table; there was a little smile on his curved lips.

"Read this same lampoon to me," he said. "’Twill pass the time till Mr. Caryl comes—"

Sir Perseus felt as one fumbling in the dark; he could not make this Wedderburn out; awed, spite of uneasiness and fascinated through all his watchful mistrust, he decided that the best thing was to wait; he put his hand over the papers on his breast.

"Why—as you say—it will pass the time," he answered. "Yet it is foolish doggerel—serving only to sting our enemies. And the truth, you say?"

"Else it would not sting."

And Sir Perseus picked up the topmost printed sheet and unfolded it; Mr. Wedderburn fixed upon him his brilliant eyes.

Sir Perseus glanced at the clock, then commenced reading in his pleasant, even voice:

Of all these men who make the laws,
That they may easy break the laws,
I know no knaves I could compare
With the brood begot by the Viscount Stair.

"A bold beginning," remarked Mr. Wedderburn.

Sir Perseus continued:

Of all this race by Heaven cursed,
John, is the eldest and the worst,
A specious knave, whose end will be
A-dancing on the gallows-tree.

He paused, thinking he heard a footstep.

"Go on," smiled Mr. Wedderburn.

There is no deed he would not do
Or readily put his hand thereto
So he might gain this world's gear,
Scruples knows he not nor fear.
Born was he of a witch from Hell,
And Satan knew his father well,
A hideous curse is on his name,
Deep has he drunk of every shame—

Sir Perseus interrupted himself: "Hardly very witty," he remarked, "but it impresses the people it goes among."

"Go on," was the brief rejoinder.

Sir Perseus caught at the means of filling time that dragged.

His only sister miserably died
A mad and an unwilling bride,
Her husband she did try to slay,
The devil snatched her clear away
And tore her raving limb from limb,
Long had she sold her soul to him—

Mr. Wedderburn suddenly clenched his hand on the table, his eyes were very dark, his face very pale.

"Fine matter for your hawkers to shout and the gutter scum to read," he said thickly, "Go on."

His brother, seeing clear his end,
(Indeed he knew that God would send
The same unto them all)
Vowed he would Jack Ketch forestall
And so himself he hanged.

Sir Perseus paused to turn the paper, glancing up he noticed the face of the man opposite. "Sir," he asked curiously, "why do you so look at me?"

"For what reason save interest," answered Mr. Wedderburn, in no way altering his steady gaze. "Will you not continue?"

"If it interests you," Sir Perseus spoke uneasily. "Mr. Caryl is late."

"An unpardonable fault," cried the other imperiously. "But I pray you—continue this pleasant reading." He pushed his chair from the table, his right hand had slipped to his sword-hilt he was leaning back very easily, yet something about him made Sir Perseus hesitate, yet impelled to fill the pause, he recommenced:

His children were devils born
Who laughed God to scorn.
Once, in childish play,
One did the other slay.
Their father came, and smiled to see
The red blood run so merrily.
Think you it gave HIM pain
To see his son a second Cain?

Sir Perseus paused, watchful of his companion, but Mr. Wedderburn sat very quietly; as though indeed he was not listening. Sir Perseus, however, preferred passing the time in reading rather than in further conversation; with a fervent, silent wish for Jerome Caryl, he droned on:

His wife too felt little grief
Or else she quickly found relief—
For, her youngest newly dead,
A merry life she led
And did her consolation take
In loving of a Hell-cat rake
A man with all the vices rife
A lover fit for the Master's wife—

"A moment, sir."

Mr. Wedderburn leaned forward in a manner, that, although still quiet, stopped Sir Perseus instantly.

"Where do you get your information, sir?" he asked. Sir Perseus put down the pamphlet.

"Why, from common talk," he said.

"Common talk!" cried the other in a strange voice, "so these things are common talk! And this last of your gutter lies, is that common, too?"

"So common, sir, that you should know it," answered Sir Perseus, firing. "’Tis public property, God knows."

Mr. Wedderburn's intense eyes never lost their steadiness; he spoke in the same suppressed voice:

"I have never heard anything against the fair name of Lady Dalrymple," he said.

Sir Perseus, angered and bewildered, gave a short laugh.

"You've lived too long in France, sir, or you would know that Sir John Dalrymple's wife is no better than the rest of his family—and that Tom Wharton—"

Mr. Wedderburn rose so abruptly that Sir Perseus sprang also to his feet, like a man suddenly seeing danger.

"What of Mr. Wharton?" demanded Mr. Wedderburn softly.

"What are these demands?" cried Sir Perseus hotly. "Why are you championing the Whigs?"

"No matter for that," interrupted the other. "I ask you—what of Mr. Wharton?"

Sir Perseus shrugged his shoulders.

"Sir, you want it put too plainly—what of my Lady Sunderland and Mr. Sidney belike, you've heard that tale—even in France? And the part the Earl takes—a common situation among these canting Whigs."

Mr. Wedderburn came a step nearer.

"Do you couple that woman's name with that of Lady Dalrymple," he said unsteadily. "Even in your foul libels?"

Sir Perseus flushed angrily.

"What brief have you in this cause? Lady Dalrymple cannot shrink from the Countess's company. As I said, the situation is the same—Tom Wharton is as worthless a rake as Harry Sidney—and as fortunate a lover,—while Sir John is as complacent a husband as the Earl—"

Mr. Wedderburn leaned forward and struck the speaker on the breast with his clenched hand so fiercely that he staggered and almost fell, struck him with such fury and unrestrained passion that he gave a cry, thinking a madman attacked him, struck him with his hand and then with his crumpled glove full on his wincing face.

"You bring your lies to the wrong market, you Papist cur!" he said hoarsely. "I am John Dalrymple and I stand here to refute your cursed slanders!"

He flung aside his gloves and cloak and his sword sprang out in the candle-light.

"My God!" whispered Sir Perseus, reeling against the wall with a sick face.

The Master of Stair came toward him; his bared sword glittering as it shook to the quick breathing of his fury.

"You!" he said with mad eyes, dark and narrow. "You—the Frenchman's spy—the priest's tool—the mouthpiece of the scandals of the gutter—you, to drag my name through the mire to make a party cry!"

Sir Perseus drew himself together desperately.

"John Dalrymple!" he cried. "You have betrayed yourself too soon—by God you have!"

"No," said the Master of Stair, advancing on him. "Think you I need to use craft—to get those papers from you?"

"Not while I live," answered Sir Perseus firmly, and he made a step toward the door.

But the Master of Stair stood before it.

"Will you cry for help?" he demanded. "It will make no difference. The poor knaves here cannot aid you—"

Sir Perseus stepped impulsively back and drew.

"I think you threw—spy at me," he said through his teeth. "What word then for you—you thief of men's confidence?"

On this last word their swords rose and clashed.

"Did you think," breathed Sir John passionately, above the sword play, "that we had not men that would do for England what you do for France—did you not reckon that we might risk and dare something to keep what we had now—as well as you to regain what you had lost—did you think we were fools or cowards? You and your crew of broken schemers—you and your damned French king—ah!" He was rapidly forcing his adversary back against the wall. Sir Perseus's hurried defense could not cope with the fury of his attack; he was the stronger man, the better swordsman; Sir Perseus backed desperately into the window-seat.

"Fools we've been—fools," he muttered, white-lipped.

"Yes, fools," flashed the Master of Stair. "To think you could fit the Pope's yoke about England's neck again or give us back a King of follies we flung to make Europe sport—so—"

Their swords crossed close to the hilt; Sir Perseus slipped and fell to his knees in the shadows of the window.

"Sir—on your knees—" said Sir John. "Take back your lies—"

Sir Perseus, desperate, tried to catch at the descending sword, tried to rise, to cry out, but Sir John's thrust went through his feeble guard and his blade quivered at his throat.

"Which King?" cried the Master of Stair. "Which cause? And what think you now of Lady Dalrymple's champion?"

With that Sir Perseus struggled up, slipped forward and the point of the Master's sword went a hand's-breadth into his breast.

He went heavily onto his side and Sir John stepped back, elate and passionate; slipping his sword back with a lift of his shoulders.

"Do you see me, Jacobite?" he said scornfully. "Do you see this?"

He snatched up the pamphlets, three or four at a time, and thrust them into the candle flame. As they flared up in his hand he flung them on the hearth and set his heel on the ashes; he turned, looked at the prone man.

"Do you see?" he repeated. "Do you see, dog, what I make of your work?"

Sir Perseus made a faint movement.

The Master of Stair flung the last papers onto the fire, then crossed to his prostrate enemy.

"I might have kept you for Tyburn—where your friends will go," he said, looking down at him with the candle in his hand. "The friends whose names you have in that paper—"

He dropped to one knee and turned Sir Perseus over; at this the Jacobite moaned and clutched his fingers together.

Sir John smiled as he drew the leathern case from the blood-stained shirt.

"I have your plot in the hollow of my hand," said the Master of Stair, and flashed the candle into the ashy face of Sir Perseus, who stared up speechlessly.

"You!" he said, still at the white heat of his fury, "you would sell us to the French! You would utter foul lies of me and mine! My God, Jacobite, I would you might live to be hanged!"

He crossed to the table and opened the case; it contained the three papers untouched; with flashing eyes he examined them; then called over his shoulder to the shadowy window-seat.

"Do you see me, Jacobite dog?"

From the shadow came a faint voice, a little cry.

"Delia!"

Sir John stood arrested.

"Delia," whispered the dying man again.

Sir John stared in his direction; his high flush faded, he started a little.

"Of course—her brother," he murmured. For a moment he stood still, gazing at the dark outline now still upon the floor.

"I love you utterly," the words came again as distinctly in his ear as if she breathed them, "one creed—one King—one cause—"

He roused himself with a reckless laugh; caught up the papers, his hat and gloves and flinging open the window, stepped out into the street.