The Master of Stair/Book 1/Chapter 21


Jerome Caryl was informed that he was to be examined. It was the day after his arrest, he had been followed to his lodging, taken quietly and conveyed to the guard-house at Kensington. No chance was his to pass on warning to any save Berwick, and it was doubtful whether he now would be able to leave the country. The government was on the alert.

Jerome Caryl had no thought for company save of failure; he had played for a high stake and the price for losing it was heavy. Personally he looked ahead with calm eyes; the prospect for him was utterly hopeless: Tyburn as soon as they could hurry his trial through; his guilt was obvious, beyond dispute. And when those papers were opened at Kensington the thousands who had been prompted by his persuasions and their own rashness to sign them would be sent in his footsteps to glut the government revenge.

At this reflection Jerome Caryl did flinch, at the bloodshed there would be; the sneer of the French at his clumsiness, and King James's bewail that he was so badly served. He knew that his wholesale failure could not be judged lightly at St. Germains, even though he hanged for it.

He had been fooled; that unforgivable thing that carried the scorn of his enemies and the curses of his friends: he had fallen headlong to his own destruction and dragged after him those who had trusted him; a bitter reflection for his solitude.

Of his dead friend's sister, Caryl could not trust himself to think. He could not know if she had heard of his arrest, but he did know that whether warned in time or not, she would stay and share the common fate.

Some might try and fly to France, but not Delia Featherstonehaugh.

But these thoughts he thrust from him as he was conducted from his solitude along the quiet rooms of the palace. His face grew disdainful as he reflected the examination he must be put to was a mere flourish. They knew everything. Did they want him to betray secrets in their possession already? The government held in its hand the plot and all concerned in it. Jerome Caryl felt contemptuous of this slow dealing. Why did they not strike and have done? The power was theirs.

Added to this, the soldier conducting him, a Dutchman, who seemed to have no English, roused Jerome's ire curiously; the prisoner noticed how the fellow's uniform sat in creases on his fat figure, how he wheezed and moaned to himself as he mounted the stairs, and how he eyed his charge from time to time with a glance of heavy aversion. At every doorway a sentinel was posted, and with him the fat Dutchman exchanged slow speech in his own language, while Jerome waited his pleasure, swordless, helpless, in a cold wrath at these lumpish foreign intruders.

"Have you, sir, no English here?" he demanded at last. "Or is Kensington entirely filled with your countrymen?"

The Dutchman looked at him insolently and made no answer; it was doubtful if he understood.

They had reached now a small ante-chamber at the end of a long gallery; it was very ill-lit; the, soldier's blue uniform showed dimly through the gloom; a high-nosed, pale-faced young man was engaged in tying up papers at a side table. He came forward and spoke in a suppressed manner to the soldier, who, Jerome gathered from the address, was Count Solmes of the famous "Blues."

The Englishman looked on in disinterested curiosity; the whole surroundings were as unpretentious as might be the back parlor of a small merchant's shop: the officials all seemed affected with the same taciturn manner and somber clothing. Dutch appeared the only language spoken.

His gossip over, Count Solmes disappeared through an inner door, and the pale usher turned gloomy eyes on Jerome, who, thinking of the court of the Second Charles, inwardly smiled and sighed alike.

The Count, returning, was accompanied by another Dutch gentleman who, remaining on the threshold, beckoned Jerome into the inner room.

This was more cheerful of aspect, being lit by two long windows that looked on the garden, and so small that the firelight filled it from end to end.

The two Dutchmen talked together with no heed of the fourth occupant of the room, a lean man in the prim gown and wig of a Scottish clergyman, who sat by the window, evidently waiting.

Jerome Caryl knew him at once for Carstairs, chaplain to their Majesties for Scotland, and confidential adviser to the King. "A drab-hued court," he smiled to himself, and while Count Solmes talked to his friend and the Rev. William Carstairs gazed out of the window at the bare trees, the Jacobite prisoner idly noted what manner of room he was in.

Floor, walls and ceiling were paneled in highly polished wood; a bureau stood between the two windows, and before it a chair; a second chair and a stool similar to that on which Carstairs sat, completed the furniture, all of the same stiff pattern and absolutely plain.

On the wooden chimneypiece stood two heavy brass candlesticks, polished till they shone like gold; above hung a dark portrait in a gilt frame of a fashionably dressed lady, who smiled aimlessly; she was flanked by two smaller pictures of vases of fruit, stiff but rich in coloring.

Close behind Jerome, on a shelf that appeared to have been affixed on purpose, stood a curious tall vase of blue and white Delft; from each of the ten spouts breaking the side, showed the tips of a tulip bulb with the first points of green; in the opening of the vase itself lay another larger and ready to burst into flower.

The Dutchmen broke off their converse at last and left the room. Jerome turned to the silent figure by the window.

"Sir," he said evenly, "can you tell me what is intended toward me: on what I wait?"

Carstairs showed a solemn face.

"Young man," he replied, "albeit I am not here to answer thy questioning, yet out of charity will I inform thee, that thou art shortly to be examined for thy manifold offenses."

Jerome smiled. It was familiar phraseology.

"By whom, sir?"

"By those whom thou hast offended," was the answer. As he spoke Carstairs rose and his spare figure looked unnaturally tall.

"God turn thee, young man, from the heathenish worship of idols that has led thee into these errors," he said gravely. "Thou art one of the Magliants who distract this land yet, although the Lord has seen fit to remove them from their high places and set up his lowly servants."

He put out his hand in a gesture of proud humility, and Jerome saw that his thumb was a mere shriveled stump of bone.

"Maybe there is but a little time left to thee, therefore repent swiftly lest thou lose the world everlasting as thou hast the world of the flesh."

With this he turned slowly and left the room.

Jerome leaned against the wall and waited, his feeling a curious one of disinterest and indifference; a man hopelessly in the hands of his enemies, a man who has failed and is at the mercy of those whom he hates and has striven to overthrow, has no chance save to stand silent, contemptuous of himself.

After a few moments a gentleman entered, and Jerome looked up.

The new-comer wore his hat and passed at once to the chair by the bureau, where he sat down, and with no heed of Jerome began opening some letters that lay there.

He wore a black velvet riding-suit, heavily gallooned with gold; a diamond fastened the long feather in his gray beaver. There was a quantity of fine lace on his cravat and at his wrists, the gold handle of his sword was of most beautiful workmanship. He glanced over the letters, then pulling off his gloves looked up at Jerome. His eyes, of that hazel that is almost green, were large and very brilliant, his features aristocratic, clear-cut, composed, and shaded by heavy auburn curls.

Jerome Caryl knew him at once, and flushed deeply in the suddenness and unexpectedness of the encounter.

"Good-afternoon, Mr. Caryl," said William of Orange with a little nod. "Will you sit down? The stool is 'ard, but you save there a chair more comfortable."

Jerome Caryl bowed.

"I do not look for ease in Kensington, your Highness," he answered, and remained standing.

The King took a packet from the bureau drawer, and placed it beside his hand. At sight of it the color came anew into Jerome Caryl's face. He recognized the familiar leathern case.

"Milor' Stair," said William, "send this me—it is yours—you know it—n'est pas?"

"It is mine," replied Jerome coldly. "It was stolen from me by one of your Highness' ministers."

The King looked at him steadily.

"Yes, it is so," he said. "You 'ave been outwit'. Mon Dieu! sometime it is to be expect'! Sir John 'ave not a 'ead for plot—but you—you 'ave behave'—like the fools."

With the same perfect composure and unmoved face, he opened the case and took out the papers. Jerome noticed that the seals were not yet broken.

"We are prepared to pay for being fools, your Highness," he said coldly.

"It is to be hope'," remarked William dryly. "You can all do that—you foreigners—when you 'ave play' the fool you can pay for it."

His eyes flashed for a moment to Jerome Caryl's steady presence, then fell to the letter he held.

"This," he said, "is a letter for my uncle at St. Germains. I believe 'e get many such—pourquoi non?"

He took up the next paper, then put it down and laid his small, high-bred hand over it; the upper part of his face was hidden in the shadow of his hat, but Jerome fancied he detected a faint smile on the thin lips, and it fired his blood.

"Sir," he demanded, "may I ask what you want of me? Where this leads? I deny nothing."

"It would be mos' foolish," interrupted William. "It is prove'."

"Will your Highness then make an end?"

"That is not the way in this mos' advance' country," answered William, and now there was no mistaking the smile. "My cousin in France 'as the lettres de cachet—but 'ere we 'ave the trial, the witness, the lawyer—all mos' fair."

He leaned back on his chair and his smile deepened.

"It is amusin' 'ow you plot for the King you yoursel' throw out. This is a list for my cousin (or Monsieur de Louvois) signe' by all you could persuade—n'est pas?"

He sat up with a rattle of his sword-hilt against the chair.

"Who of my courtiers 'ave their names there?" he said, tapping the sealed paper. "It is mos' amusin', but, monsieur, it is not new to me. Per'aps you think I am thick head, and do not know who betray me—Mon Dieu! I think I tell you almos' all the names there."

"Your Highness employs many of the men whose names you will find there," said Jerome, "and there are many more whom your Highness has never heard of, country gentlemen, honest small folk all over England whom you can ruin at once—you can be revenged on your servants and these others, your Highness, by merely opening that paper."

"You, monsieur, speak like a enemy of me," said William calmly. "You think it is my pleasure to shed blood—you are of those who write that when I was outside Bruxelles I burn, alive my wounded soldiers, and that I poisone' my Uncle Charles—I 'ave read these things in your leaflets."

Jerome flushed.

"I have had no hand in those," he answered. "I find my cause too good an one to need lies to support it. I deny that you are King of England, your Highness,—I am not blind to your qualities."

"Yet, Mr. Caryl, you speak to me of being revenge'—which is a thing for men like Milor' Mordaunt. This is not, Mon Dieu, the firs' plot I 'ave discover' since I was child. I 'ave learn' to take insult and betrayal."

He rose and came into the room, the paper in his hand.

"The nobles, I know," he said. "An' they serve me so they stay—if I send to the Tower all who write to St. Germains—who 'ave I left? And I will spare them my forgiveness."

"And we pay for your clemency, sir," replied Jerome Caryl bitterly. "We humbler plotters."

William turned and looked at him. They were standing very near each other. The King took his hat off and flung it down on the chair beside him.

"Mr. Caryl," he said, "you are gentilhomme—cannot you see that I will not do something? I will not 'unt down these bourgeois—what are they? I will not know their name'."

He held the papers out to the Jacobite.

"I am tire' of your plot," he finished. "Put that in the fire and let me 'ear no more of it."

Jerome Caryl stared at him, utterly bewildered and confused; the sense of what this meant rushed over him, making him giddy.

"Put these in the fire," repeated the King. "I 'ave no more time."

The Jacobite took the papers; with a great rush of crimson to his face, he thought of Delia and the hundreds to whom this would mean salvation.

"Your Highness is magnanimous," he said unsteadily. "Your generosity disarms me."

"You 'ave mistake' me," answered William coldly. "Wherefore did you think I would wish to be revenge'? Sir John think to serve me with this an' I am indebt' to 'im that he preserve peace, but I do not stoop, Mr. Caryl, to revenge."

He went back to his seat at the bureau; there was a pause, a silence, then Jerome Caryl put the papers into the fire; the great flare they made lit up the pale face of William of Orange and the beautiful flushed countenance of the Jacobite.

Across the narrow bright room the eyes of the two men met, as if they measured each other; then the King dropped his glance to the letters before him.

"You 'ave nothing more to say?" he asked coldly. "Then you may depar'."

"I shall not soon forget your Highness' generosity," said Jerome Caryl unsteadily, and the sincerity of his voice made amends for the conventional wording.

"Call it my policy," answered 'William with a slight lift of his green eyes. "And so, Mr. Caryl, you will be spare' an obligation."

Jerome Caryl waited for him to demand some oath or promise, to attach some condition to this cold magnanimity; he felt more utterly at this man's mercy than when those papers lay under his hand.

Suddenly the King looked up.

"For what do you wait?" he demanded. "You are free—go back—to your plot if you will, only I give you this advice—take care 'ow you sign paper'—it is dangerous—n'est pas?"

Jerome colored painfully.

"My duty to my King," he said, "must make me appear ungrateful, but without disloyalty to my cause I can assure your Highness that I will follow no unworthy means of serving your enemies."

"Such as Monsieur Grandval use'?" answered William, with a half-smile.

"By Heaven, no," cried Jerome vehemently, "I have never been of that kind."

William slightly shrugged his shoulders.

"My cousin of France is gentilhomme," he said, "but 'e and my uncle send Monsieur Grandval to—what would you say?—murder me—voila tout."

Jerome Caryl stood silent; mention of the Grandval affair was painful to any follower of the Stuart cause; the King touched the bell on his desk, and the high-nosed young man entered. William addressed him in his fluent French.

"Show out this gentleman," he said, "and if Sir John be here send him in."

He inclined his head gravely toward Caryl, who bowed slightly, not knowing what to do, for a strange bewilderment that possessed him, and without another word on either side they parted.

The King looked after him with a contained face, then gave a glance of distaste at his pile of unopened letters and pushed his chair back so that his head rested against the wall; the room was full of pleasant warm shadows that flickered up and down the shining polished walls; the candlesticks and the fireirons winked and glittered and the views from the two windows showed like two pictures in cold grays and blues in great contrast to the warm light within.

The palace clock struck half past-five. William drew out his watch, a sapphire in the back glittered as he moved it; it was correct; he put it back in his pocket.

The door was opened noiselessly by the usher and Sir John Dalrymple entered with the ease of a man familiar and welcomed. William, still with his fingers in his watch chain, spoke without moving.

"I 'ave seen your Jacobite, Sir John."

"I was surprised, sir, to meet him leaving Kensington a free man."

The Master of Stair crossed to the hearth and stood there; his face was set and his manner troubled.

"Your Majesty has received the evidence of this plot from my father?" he said.

"And I 'ave destroye' it, Sir John," answered William. "This man jus' now, 'e burnt it."

"Burnt it!" echoed the Master. "Did your Majesty read it?"

"No," said the King. "For what use? For what end should I wish to know these people? I am tire' of your plot; but they are mos' 'armless—let them go."

Sir John stood silent. So the King had done what Delia Featherstonehaugh had asked him to do; the mercy he had refused had been granted by another; the Jacobites would go unscathed and yet he must bear the odium of having broken his word; in the mind of that girl he would get no credit for this; she would know from Jerome Caryl that he was not to be thanked, yet he would have gained nothing by his seeming perjury; the lords whose names were on that list would continue to flaunt with their heads high; his labor had gone for nothing.

These thoughts rushed upon him and his blue eyes lit dangerously.

"Sir, your Majesty is too careless," he said. "This was a far-reaching conspiracy that with infinite trouble I fathomed—plot within plot—circle within circle."

"They can do nothing, Sir John, now they are discover'," answered the King calmly. "They will take warning—if not, Mon Dieu! What good are they without France? And France—will she move till she get those papers I burn jus' now?"

"Berwick is in London," cried Sir John.

"I am not afraid of 'im," replied William.

As he thought of the vast shoal escaping the net he had been at such pains to lay for them, Sir John's rage rose higher.

"There are more in this than you imagine, sir," he said hotly.

"I know mos' of them," answered William with the same unmoved demeanor. "Every one about the Court I think excep' Milor' Somers, and Milor' Nottingham—and per'aps pretty little Shrewsbury or Devonshire—but I say that I am tire' sir, of this subject."

"They plot still," persisted the Master of Stair, "and they plot assassination."

"Is it not al-way' so?"

"Your Majesty," cried Sir John, "I say again you are too careless; for a certainty my Lord Marlborough is in this, and Marlborough is the army; Russell is in it, and Russell is the navy. I think Breadalbane has meddled, though darkly."

"All this is mos' true, Sir John," returned the King, "but it is al-so true that while I am at St. Jame' and my uncle at St. Germains they will do nothing."

"I have said that they plot assassination, and now that you have destroyed all proof, all evidence, your Majesty's life is not safe. How can you tell who is in this conspiracy; how judge of the loyalty of the men about you? Any one of them may be in Berwick's pay to murder your Majesty!"

William sat up and leaned across the table.

"Sir John," he said, "I am surprise' that a man of your—esprit bring me these child tale'—I do not think I shall be murder', but I will take the risk of it—and now we will speak of Scotlan'."

His cold voice was a dismissal of the subject.

The Master of Stair caught his breath in an effort at self-control; he had served the King at infinite labor and some risk; he had gathered all the threads of this conspiracy into his hands at the price of two men's lives, and it had been for nothing. If he could not crush the Jacobites he wanted at least the glory of sparing them; and he had neither the satisfaction of one nor the other; his wrath rose against the King, he did not comprehend his motives. His own impulse was to sweep the country clear of Jacobites by fire and sword or, if it must be mercy, to confront them with proofs of their guilt and then forgive them grandly before all the world.

His passion at this dismal end to his intrigues grew beyond bearing; he looked up with lowering brows.

"I say it to your face, sir," he said thickly, "that you play a foolish—and a dangerous game."

William of Orange rose and came round to the other side of the bureau, where he leaned and looked at the Master of Stair.

"Whatever game I play," he said, "it is not that of being your puppet, Sir John. I 'ave my own motive'—if you cannot understan' them—very will—it make' no difference."

His green eyes narrowed a little as he watched the furious face opposite; he picked up the riding-whip from the table and flicked it gently to and fro across his high boots.

"I think I am the master," he said, and his tone brought the hot blood into Sir John's face.

"You are the King," he answered in a constrained voice. "But I am not one of those who believe, sir, that the King can do no wrong."

"No," said William quietly, "you think the King can be pull' by strings—per'aps if you 'ave a Stuart or a Bourbon—but I—I 'ave rule' before I am King—I do not need your title. I am Nassau. I will not be question'—you understan'?"

Sir John put his hand to his cravat and dragged at it; he was face to face with a character that he could not understand, and a spirit every whit as masterful as his own. Rage at his own inferior position, the fret of the lost chance of glorification, the bitterness of being overruled, put him into a passion that flushed his face and made his voice shake.

"Sir—if your generosity to your friends equaled the generosity you show your enemies, I should have had at least some thanks for my service—you are as ungrateful, sire, as you—"

Abruptly the King interrupted:

"I'll take no more, Sir John," he cried; he eyes half-shut in a sinister manner and the whip tapped faster on his boot. "You 'ave forgotten you are not in your Parliament 'ouse."

The Master of Stair felt he had gone far enough; he acknowledged himself over-matched, though with no good grace; he turned under the hard gaze of the King and muttered some words of apology, but only as if William's cold glance forced him to them against his will; in his heart he hated the man who overbore him.

Suddenly the King laughed.

"You 'ave not a courteous temperament," he said. "You are too stiff, Sir John, and too fiery."

The Master of Stair bowed and bit his lip.

The King crossed to the chair by the fire and sank into it with an air of weariness.

"About Scotlan'," he said disinterestedly. "These 'ighlander' 'ave all come in?"

He was not looking at the Master, and did not see the glance Sir John gave him. He answered in a voice unnaturally controlled:

"All save the Macdonalds of Glencoe, your Majesty."

"Ah?" said the King indifferently. "Will you, sir, ring the bell for the candle?"

Sir John obeyed. His face was hard, his lips set into a curious smile. He glanced again at the man by the fire and his eyes wore an unpleasant expression.

There was silence till the entry of the usher, then William turned in his chair.

"You will find there," he said to him, in French, "letters to Heinsius and Waldeck—see that they are sent to-night."

Again a pause. A somber servant entered and lit the candles, drew the curtains; the little room grew golden from end to end. By the table stood the Master of Stair, motionless; he had drawn a paper from his pocket and held it down by his side, his handsome face now its usual pallor and the strange drag about the mouth, a distortion that gave a certain terror to his expression.

William leaned back in his chair, his profile, with the high nose, arched brows and sunken cheek, was clearly revealed in the candle-light; his hands showed startlingly white against his black dress, and a diamond on his first finger glittered with many colors.

The usher took up the papers and left, the door closed softly behind him.

Sir John Dalrymple turned slowly to the King.

"I have a paper here for your Majesty's signature," he said quietly. "Of no importance—merely a letter to the Commander of the Forces in Scotland, relative to the preserving of the peace."

"And is that all the business you 'ave for me?"

"It is, your Majesty," Sir John spoke with lowered lids.

William sat up in his chair

"Well, 'and it me," he said. "Bring the pen."

Sir John brought a pen and the paper.

"It is nothing of importance?" asked William, looking at the folded sheet.

"Of none whatever, sir."

The King affixed his great scrawling signature.

"Take it to Milor' Nottingham for the countersign, Sir John."

"Sir, Lord Nottingham is not at the palace to-night, and it is desirable that this go immediately."

William took the letter, opened it, laid it on his knee, signed it again at the top, and handed it back to Sir John.

"I thank your Majesty" said the Master of Stair with a little smile.

The King lay back in his chair.

"There is nothing more to-night, I think, Sir John."

"Sire, I take my leave."

"You will come with me to the continent in a few days, n'est pas? Good-evenin', Sir John."

The Master of Stair bowed.

"Take care of the tulip, Sir John—the other day Milor' Devonshire 'e knock the tips off."

William looked toward the bulbs with the interest of the born gardener; in the warmth they gave out a faint sickly fragrance, a sense of young green. "They are very well," remarked the King with satisfaction. "If I 'ad keep them in water they would not smell so—is it not charming? Like it come through the window at Saint Loo."

He smiled on Sir John, who bowed without a word and left the room.

As he passed down the long gallery, he met Argyll.

"Ye look miserable, my lord," he cried with a hard laugh. "Read this."

He held out the letter the King had just signed.

"Weel," said the Earl peevishly. "What may this be?" Sir John lowered his voice.

"The authority—the warrant you asked for, my lord. The King saith he is no man's puppet—but he has served my turn now—he signed and did not read this—look here—my lord Argyll." He pointed out a clause in the letter; it ran:

"As for Makian of Glencoe and that tribe, if they can well be distinguished from the other Highlanders, it will be proper for the vindication of public justice to extirpate that set of thieves."