BASIL THE PAGE
Millicent B. Rex
"TO SAIL AWAY IN FANCY"
Bought in Philadelphia by
BASIL THE PAGE
"'Basil,' he cried, 'where is my nephew?'"--p.63.
BASIL THE PAGE
A STORY OF THE DAYS
OF QUEEN ELIZABETH
G. I. WHITHAM
‘DICK CHESTER,’ ‘THE LAST OF THE WHITE COATS,’ ETC.
G. E. ROBERTSON
DODGE PUBLISHING COMPANY
214-220 EAST TWENTY-THIRD STREET
|II.||MR. GODFREY HUNTINGDON||9|
|III.||THE POISONED CUP||17|
|IV.||WAITING FOR DEATH||23|
|V.||A NEW MASTER||34|
|VII.||FLIGHT AND DISASTER||52|
|VIII.||OLD SIR PETER AGAIN||61|
|IX.||THE NEW ADMIRAL||67|
|XI.||BASIL GOES ASTRAY||82|
|XII.||BASIL AND HIS GUARDIAN||90|
|XIII.||SIR PETER'S HEIR||103|
|XIV.||BASIL GOES TO COURT||111|
|XVI.||THE SILENT KNIFE||137|
|XVII.||THE INDIAN BRAVES||142|
|XIX.||THE EARL OF LEICESTER'S BRIBES||156|
|XX.||THE TERROR OF THE HOLY OFFICE||166|
|XXII.||A NIGHT ADVENTURE||178|
|XXIII.||THE IRON HAND||187|
|XXIV.||TO COURT AGAIN||195|
|XXV.||THE VELVET GLOVE||200|
|XXVI.||BROTHER AND COMPANION||208|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|“BASIL,” HE CRIED, “WHERE IS MY NEPHEW?”||(Frontispiece)|
|“BASIL SHALL CARRY THE CUP”||5|
|“OH, SIR, GO NOT HAWKING!”||13|
|GODFREY TOOK THE CUP OF WINE||21|
|“MR. HUNTINGDON, YOU WILL NOT DIE”||27|
|BASIL EXPECTED TO BE THROWN||37|
|BASIL LET HIMSELF DROP INTO THE BRANCHES||47|
|“LET ME GO!” HE CRIED. “I AM HIS PAGE”||57|
|“IT STRIKES ME WE'LL BE FRIENDS”||79|
|HE FLUNG THEM INTO THE RIVER||85|
|“THE OLD MAN HAS LEFT YOU ALL HIS GOODS!”||93|
|“NAY,” BASIL BLURTED OUT, “I WANT NONE OF IT”||121|
|AN OFFICER SHOWED HIM WHAT LOOKED LIKE A CLOUD||127|
|DRAWING THE BOY TO HIM, KISSED HIM||139|
|THE CHIEF GAVE HIM HIS HUNTING-KNIFE||147|
|BASIL FLUNG THE SWORD FROM HIM||161|
|CLOSE AT HIS ELBOW STOOD GODFREY HUNTINGDON||185|
|“YOU MAY GO”||193|
|“GOD FORGIVE ME, MR. HUNTINGDON!”||205|
BASIL THE PAGECHAPTER I A MYSTERY
Basil the page saw the sun sink low, and hiding his sling and heap of smooth stones by the water's edge, ran up to the castle and in at the buttery door. It was high time he was carrying in his master's wine, and no excuses could be offered were he late. It would not stand him in any stead to say that the wind had dropped, his eye was steady, and his hand in better practice than it had been for days, while the herons were just rising temptingly from the reeds. He was but the foot-page in a niggardly household where none shared his duties, and his playtimes were few and far between.
Tray in hand, Basil hurried across the hall towards his master's door.
Sir Peter Huntingdon owned Wormald Court and the land for miles round—an old man, miserly, shrewd, austere, grimly watching the approach of death, grimly amused at the advances and attentions
of his greedy, needy nephews, Robert and Roy. They were his sister's sons, and lived in the old man's house striving one against the other for his favour. They were tall, handsome youths, with swaggering airs and crafty, narrow eyes.
As Basil entered he found these two side by side, head to head, whispering by the fire. They started and turned, glared at him in the dusk, and bent again to murmur very low.
Basil tapped at Sir Peter's door, and was bidden in high querulous tones to tell his business.
“Sir, ’tis the evening's wine,” he cried.
“Begone!” Sir Peter answered, but in a minute opened the door, bidding him bring another cup and then wait in the hall.
When the boy took in the cup he saw a stranger seated with his master deep in talk—talk that was dropped whilst he was present.
In the hall the two brothers sat, one on either side the hearth, with faces turned to the glowing fire. Basil, on the window-seat, watched them till the sunlight faded from the court, watched till the moon rose in the autumn sky, and then he fell asleep, certain that his master's harsh tones would wake him when he was required.
The moonlight had slipped round the court, leaving his seat in darkness when he woke, and the hall was dimly lighted by the fading fire.
The two brothers were standing before their uncle as he sat in his deep chair, Robert's hand fingering his sword-hilt, his eyes wandering from his uncle's face to his brother's. Roy's hand concealed his mouth, but his eyes were as watchful and suspicious as Robert's, now fixed on his uncle, now glancing aside.
“And our cousin Godfrey?” Robert was saying.
“He will know nothing — nothing,” said Sir Peter.
“Why?” came from both brothers at once.
“He is over-scrupulous—would mar all. He is half for the Scotch Queen now, ye foolish lads!”
“He is here in the house,” Roy said.
“So? Bob, you must lure him a-hunting.”
“Aye, must I, uncle, and leave Roy to win the reward?”
“Tush, we will divide it,” softly murmured Roy. Robert bit his lip, then maliciously—
“Well, brother, you will have all the danger. If aught goes wrong, I shall be innocent as—Cousin Godfrey.”
“Danger! Go wrong!” Roy started. “Uncle, you are our surety nothing can fail? You swore it was the Queen's wish!”
Sir Peter shook his shrivelled fist at his nephew.
“Be silent, sirrah! That is a safeguard none may blab of.”
And he rose and walked stiffly away into the shadows of the gallery beyond.
Some knowledge the brothers shared seemed to be drawing them together, for, as his uncle vanished, Roy touched Robert's arm, and head was bent to head.
Basil lay and wondered idly what it was all about, and started suddenly at the mention of his own name.
“Basil shall carry the cup to her, Bob. Plainly, I dare not. It works so sudden, that poison! Man, before I could turn she'd be dead!”
“Why, Roy, you're shaking like a quintain ague! Chut—hold still! What a chicken's heart you have!”
“Dare you do it? You, Bob? And to a woman—and a Queen! Let me go with Godfrey. Nay, I'll yield you half my share of reward, Bob, if you'll change places. And if the old man leaves me his money—”
“Aye—if,” and Bob sniffed.
“Well, at least,” said Roy, with a sudden hope in his voice, “at least, he doesn't mean Godfrey to be his heir, Bob. ’Tis we who have his confidence.”
“Nevertheless, brother, we will abide by his word. I go with Godfrey; you carry the thing through here.”
“I swear Basil shall carry the cup.”
"'Basil shall carry the cup.'"--p.4
Roy turned a white face to the light, and his voice quivered oddly.
“You'd better catch the imp, then, for she cometh by eight, and he'll be skylarking in the next parish by then.”
“I'll go bid him tarry at home,” Roy said anxiously. “Bob, I hope all will go well.”
Basil stayed for no more, but slipped out by Sir Peter's door, through the corridor, and up dark passages and crooked stairs to the little chamber where he slept. He shook himself out of his clothes and scrambled into bed.
Evidently Sir Peter had forgotten him to-night. The clocks were striking twelve. And what was it that was engrossing the minds of his young masters, and kept them pale-faced and whispering so late?
His head was scarcely on the pillow before Roy Allen came stumbling up the stairs and made his way to the side of the foot-page's truckle-bed.
“Basil, you villain!” he cried, shaking him roughly. “Basil!”
“Are you awake?”
“Aye, sir,” said Basil again, rubbing his shoulder, for the young man pinched him sorely.
“Then see to it you're up betimes. Master Robert goeth hawking with his cousin by six. And, mind
you, you're not to quit the house without leave. Do you hear?”
The door banged; the draught fanned Basil's hair, and he was left alone in the dark.
CHAPTER II MR. GODFREY HUNTINGDON
Basil fell asleep in the midst of puzzling thoughts, and woke up wonderfully clear at least on one head. He was to carry a cup, a cup that was poisoned in such a deadly way that the victim would fall before his eyes, and that within a few hours, three at most. He got up and dressed, oppressed by a strange fear. But what could he do? He must obey his masters; that he did not doubt. Round and round in his mind went last night's half-heard whispers. Whilst Master Robert took his cousin hawking, Master Roy was to manage some business at home, and he, Basil, the foot-page, was to do what the young men dare not do—carry a poisoned cup!
A loud voice shouting his name ended his musings. Master Robert summoned him to wait on his cousin, Mr. Huntingdon.
Basil knew Mr. Godfrey Huntingdon but slightly. He seldom came to his uncle's house. He had a kind of mocking air towards his cousins, and a grave but
cold manner for Sir Peter. It was plain he did not care to cringe on the chance of getting the inheritance; and Sir Peter snapped and snarled, but was half afraid of him. He generally brought his own servants, but this time he was alone, and Basil found him fuming, and his greeting was a boot with the spur-leather hanging, half-buckled, to the heel.
“Ho, sluggard!” cried the impatient gentleman, “am I to ride in my hose?”
Basil knelt down and tugged at strap and buckle, full of half-formed thoughts, that terror, or shadow of terror, haunting his mind. This man, they had said, must be lured away lest he marred their plans. If he should mar them Basil would not need to carry a poisoned cup—would not need to do what grown men did not dare!
“You're rowelling your hand, you little fool!” said Godfrey Huntingdon.
Basil sucked his finger, and the thoughts flew faster through his brain. And it was a woman, too, surely, and they were all men! They had said she would come by eight.
Suddenly he sat back, his face hot with thought and his efforts to bend stiff leather.
“Who is the Scotch Queen?” he demanded.
“Who is she? Why, the Queen of the Scots, marry!”
“She's coming here by eight.”
“Oh! Have you private intimation?”
“I'm going to—p—poison her!”
Basil's forehead was damp. Now the words were out the half-comprehended horror was taking shape.
Godfrey Huntingdon stared at the foot-page, and the foot-page stared back miserably.
“Last night,” he gasped at last, “I heard them say she would be here by eight. Who is the Scotch Queen? Why must I poison her?”
“One may very well ask,” said the astonished Godfrey; and, fingering a chain at his neck, he presently opened a gold case silently, and looked at a picture within. “That's the Scotch Queen, if you would know, youngster. I wouldn't be in your shoes, you young ruffian, if you wish that lady ill.”
Basil looked at the miniature in the case and began to shake. Once he had said aloud the word poison the horror had grown. The Scotch Queen had been but a name. Now she was an individual—a living, breathing person like himself, but very beautiful, surely. And he was to poison her! He fell on his knees by Mr. Huntingdon.
“Oh, sir,” he besought, “save me from it! Go not hawking! Stay! They said you'd mar it all—”
“Godfrey!” Robert Allen's voice reached them from the court.
Basil caught the gentleman's sleeve.
“She is to come at eight! I heard them say so last night.”
“Godfrey! What ho, cousin!”
Robert's tread echoed in the gallery outside. Basil trying to explain, Mr. Huntingdon dimly beginning to suspect the truth, heard the nearing feet.
“Gently, Bob. I breakfast before I ride. Send me food, my good fellow. ’Tis early yet.”
“You have the page there, send him,” growled Robert through the door.
“Heavens, man! My points want tying. If you want my company, send me food.”
Robert went off grumbling to himself.
“Now, quick, boy! What's this tale?”
Basil told all he could recall of last night's talk, and Mr. Huntingdon pieced together a story near enough the truth, for he had knowledge to guide him. He knew the Scotch Queen was on her way from one prison to another. It seemed to him that some one, to please the English Queen, perhaps, had set on foot a plot to end the unhappy lady's life upon the way. He knew old Sir Peter's sour, miserly way, his nephews’ love of gain and fear of displeasing their old kinsman. These three, then, persuaded by some other person—for Basil mentioned a stranger's presence in the house last night—were to be the instruments. The Queen was to be received as a guest, and given a cup of wine
"'Oh, sir, go not hawking!'"--p.11.
at Wormald Court, and, no doubt, old Sir Peter would reap some benefit.
Godfrey Huntingdon knew well the intrigues of the time. He knew what peril would await one who interfered. But he wore about his neck a picture of the unfortunate Queen: his mother had been her friend, one of her ladies, and Godfrey had seen her years ago. And she was to be murdered under his uncle's roof, and he lured away lest he marred all! Of course there were powerful persons behind old Sir Peter and his kin. And Godfrey Huntingdon had no friends at Court to help him if he ran into danger. He wandered about the room with thoughtful eyes, and Basil watched him with a sinking heart.
Robert brought his cousin his breakfast, and with an offhand nod was dismissed to get the birds out.
Mr. Huntingdon drank some wine, caught up his hat, and ran to the door.
“Sir!” Basil was at his heels. “Sir, you'll never go?”
“I must go, or they'll suspect.”
“But—but—” Basil stammered in despair.
“Be easy—be easy. Perhaps I shall return. Or, maybe—” And muttering thus, Mr. Huntingdon took his rapier under his arm and ran downstairs.
Basil saw him mount, catch his hawk on his wrist from Robert, heard him whistle the dogs and gallop off.
“Will he come back?” cried the boy. And he was horribly afraid.
CHAPTER III THE POISONED CUP
The hours passed, but Mr. Huntingdon did not come. Six. Seven. Basil, standing at the door, gazed down the empty road for the hundredth time, and heard his heart beat as the last stroke died away. Eight.
It was Roy Allen's voice, low and rather nervous.
The boy turned, and the young man beckoned him into Sir Peter's room. It was empty, but a table was laid with a white cloth and cakes and comfits. Wine in a pitcher there was, and wine in bottles, and cups for three or four.
“Wait here,” said Roy, his head on one side, his ear already catching the sound of horses’ hoofs.
“Was it Mr. Huntingdon?” thought the page.
“Wait here,” repeated Roy unsteadily, “and Sir Peter will come to you.”
He left the page and went out. A second later old Sir Peter came in with a silver cup in his hand. He gave it to Basil on a tray.
“Bring that into the hall when I call you, sirrah, and set it not down till I do; mark that.”
Basil wondered the old man did not see how he trembled and guess that he knew the truth. He gripped the edges of the tray with cold fingers. He wished he had the courage to fling it down and run away.
The little foot-page knew nothing of kings and queens, of statecraft, of the struggles for supremacy of religions, of the faith and unfaith of parties. He had heard the Commandments read in church and had muttered the responses, though he could not read them; and he knew that above the sky, invisible yet present, was the God whose command it was that he should do no murder. Things and the ways of men were very confusing. This, at least, was sure. But what could he do?
“Lord have mercy upon us,” he muttered, “and incline our hearts to keep this law.”
He wished Mr. Huntingdon had thought of that. He listened again. There were sounds of horses close without, though he could see nothing. It was not Mr. Huntingdon, for he heard a woman's voice, very clear, very sweet, speaking to Sir Peter.
He looked round, half hoping that some one would come to help him at this crisis. The casement near him was open, and the garden flowers were waving softly in the fresh breeze of early morning. A sunbeam
danced across the tray and sparkled in the wine. Such innocent-looking wine! Quite like other wine—resembling that in the pitcher—not different from that in the bottles!
Lord have mercy upon him! But his masters would half kill him were his heart inclined to mar their plans.
He started at the call, and then, recovering his senses, sprang forward to the door.
In the hall, in Sir Peter's chair, sat a lady in a riding-dress and a hat with a long white plume. Basil saw she was beautiful, but sad. He heard Sir Peter talking to her in his cracked old voice, whilst Roy at his elbow urged him on. A group of ladies and gentlemen behind her talked among themselves.
“Thanks, Sir Peter. I will gladly taste of your wine,” she said.
Indignant rage filled Basil's heart against the grown man whom he had told of this foul deed, and who wore, moreover, her picture round his neck, and yet had left her to die without a word. And suddenly his eyes shot open and he stopped.
Godfrey Huntingdon was not two yards away. He seemed unconscious of the company. He had come in softly at a side door, and seemed not to see what Basil saw, the look of hate and rage that passed
from one to another. Roy's sword crept slowly from its sheath. Sir Peter's hand flew to the folds of his furred doublet. Robert Allen, flushed and furious, shut the door behind his kinsman, and his sword leapt out.
Godfrey had come too late to warn, and, it seemed, all were ready to see he did not help. Basil saw his face darken. Perhaps he could hear the click of the swords. No doubt he realized he had come too late. Here were a group of men armed, and all his enemies. What could he do but stand aside, one against so many—so many here, so many more behind, whose tools these were?
Basil and he met, and the boy saw the man was smiling.
Godfrey took the cup of wine from the tray and drained it every drop.
"Godfrey took the cup of wine and drained it every drop."--p.20.
CHAPTER IV WAITING FOR DEATH
Basil heard the lady in the chair by the fire say quietly—
“The gentleman seems thirsty,” and then Mr. Huntingdon set down the cup and turned with well-feigned astonishment to see her there.
“Madam, I have drunk of wine intended for your Grace! Alas!” he said, and leaving Basil's side, went forward to crave forgiveness.
Robert's sword fell clattering on the floor. Roy's, with a rattle, fell back to its sheath. Old Sir Peter stood gnawing his lip, his fidgety hands trembling on the back of a chair, his eyes fixed on his nephew Huntingdon.
“Believe me, Madam,” said Godfrey, kneeling, “I may have appeared rude, yet would I die sooner than your Grace be harmed, especially under this roof.”
The Queen of Scots looked into his eyes long and musingly, then over his head at his kinsmen. How pale they were! How shifty their glances! Surely this old man was trembling overmuch at his nephew's
rudeness! Surely the other two were overmuch perturbed! Only the little page in the blue livery suit met her regard quite calmly, standing in the sunlight with his tray and the cup that had held the wine. If she realized what was happening, she betrayed neither suspicion nor fear.
“Well, Mr. Huntingdon,” she said, “I was fain to stop at Wormald, since it had been your mother's home. In captivity one thinks of dear friends dead, and anything connected with the past is sweet. When my lord, here, suggested I should tarry at Wormald and breakfast, I consented gladly. Come, come, I never thought your mother's son would rob me of a cup of wine!”
“Alas, Madam! My mother's son is indeed unworthy of her, and of your Grace's kindness. Yet, believe me, I would not willingly offend.”
A vague alarm had spread amongst her people. They were whispering behind her. The lord in charge of her was pale and anxious, darting quick glances at the young man at her feet, and surreptitiously wiping his brow, and twitching at his beard. Suddenly quitting his place, he caught Basil by the shoulder.
“Open the door, varlet,” he said, pushing Basil hurriedly. “Madam, your Grace is exceeding the time. If you would eat, be good enough to give orders speedily.”
The Queen rose.
“My appetite is passed,” she said. “Mr. Huntingdon, you have my pardon, since you ask it.” She passed Basil as she spoke, and he heard her add lower, “And my thanks, if you have earned them.”
Godfrey bowed to the ground.
In a few minutes she and her guards and servants had mounted and ridden away. She had given neither thanks nor farewell to her hosts, nor did they obtrude their persons or court remark from her.
Basil watched the train ride off, and when he looked round again there stood Mr. Godfrey Huntingdon alone. Robert, with eyes turned curiously over his shoulder, was entering Sir Peter's room beyond. Roy had positively run thither, never looking back. Sir Peter himself, in quavering tones, was cursing fate and wringing his hands within.
“Afraid to see a man die!” said Godfrey, with curling lip. “Hallo!” he added, as Basil came to his side, “aren't you scared away by death? Why, you curious and horrid young ruffian! ’Twas you who did the deed, and there you stand and coolly stare! Never mind, you could not help it, could you?”
Sir Peter's door gaped noiselessly, and a head peered through.
“Come in, uncle,” said Godfrey scornfully. “I will not curse you. Surely the bitterness of death is passed. One would not come in from a world like yon”—he pointed through the open door at the
sun shining on hill and vale and wood—“to die without counting the cost. It is over! Come, if you have aught to say.”
“Godfrey, Godfrey! alack!” cried the old man. “’Tis not over yet. ’Tis—’tis a slow poison. It would not have been well for her to die here, I reflected. Godfrey—’twill be some hours yet—”
The old man hurried away, fearing the look in his nephew's eyes—not offering aid or remedy, for he knew them useless. He did not stay to soothe or comfort in these last hours the man whom he had unwittingly killed.
“Hours!—Some hours!” Godfrey muttered, and his eyes were tired, and he sighed. “Ah well!”
He pulled up a chair and sat down, his sword across his knee, his face turned to the open door.
Basil the page came slowly up, half afraid to break the silence or the calm on the face of the man who waited for death. After one or two unheeded attempts to speak and attract attention, the boy laid his hand on the young man's arm.
“Mr. Huntingdon, you will not die.”
“‘We shall not all die,”’ said Godfrey musingly, ‘but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.’ That was what I had expected, and hoped. Some hours hence—”
“Mr. Huntingdon, indeed, indeed, you will not die!”
"'Mr. Huntingdon, you will not die.'"--p.26.
The young man moved impatiently.
“Oh, it's you, is it? I fancied an inner voice made promises and suggestions. If I were you, sir, I'd find some gayer, wholesomer amusement than gazing at me.”
Basil, flushing, still persisted. “Indeed, you are safe and well, sir. That was not poisoned wine.”
Godfrey's eyes were still on the distant meadows. He was immovable, unbelieving, but listening.
“That was just ordinary drink. I flung away the other stuff, I did.”
“You flung away—”
“Aye, sir—through the window—’twas open. I flung it out, and filled the cup from the pitcher.”
“Upon—my—soul! You flung—”
“Aye, sir, through the window.” Basil grew frightened at the blaze in the gentleman's eyes, and almost felt need of defence. “It seemed wicked; ’tis awful to do murder. I—I—threw the stuff away; it was so easy—the casement wide, and no one there. I, all alone, and all—”
“Upon—my—soul!” The gentleman shifted his position, his sword slipping from his knees to the floor with a clang. But he did not shift his regard, and poor Basil felt awkward and perplexed. “And I'm not about to die?” Godfrey asked sharply.
“No, sir,” said Basil apologetically. “It seemed a wicked thing.”
“It seemed! But I told you I would return or do something. Did you think I should leave murder to be done?”
“You did not come, sir, and—and—she was there.”
“True. I was late—too late. That Robert hung on me like a leech—came after—clamoured—cursed. Well! I've taken a deal of trouble all for nought.” Godfrey stopped, his face twisted between a smile and a frown. Then he laughed out loud, and sprang to his feet, tossing up his hat, “We, who are not about to die, salute thee, Cæsar!”
Three pale astonished faces appeared at Sir Peter's door.
“Nephew,” Sir Peter said hoarsely, “do you want aught?”
“Not a thing, uncle. Oh, you crafty old fox! Oh, you quivering young geese!” He shook a mocking finger at them. “No, dear Robert, I do not rave. Never was I so well in my life. Faith, that wine does but support me, and strengthen me for a day's journey! Farewell, gentlemen who murder women! This is the last you see of me. Never you dare to claim me for cousin again!”
Basil watched the three men's faces, how they looked one at another and back at their supposed victim.
“No, I shall not die on the road!” he laughed. “Outwitted by a foot-page—all of you! Oh, you pretty plotters!”
The three advanced in their curiosity.
“Back, back, lest revenge awakes!” Mr. Huntingdon cried.
“What mean you?” old Sir Peter quavered.
“Why, you left your potion in the hands of this lad, to whom you'd revealed your secrets, and he cast it out of window as a wicked thing!”
All eyes—bitter, angry, cruel eyes—flashed on Basil, and he trembled.
“He overheard you, you fine conspirators! You think you've much in your possession to make a man covetous, Sir Peter. Thank God for an honest page you won't, but that's all I grudge you, sir.”
He turned to the door fuming still, and there was Robert already across the courtyard at the stable door.
“Whither away?” Mr. Huntingdon called loudly.
“Revenge! There are those shall hear. You think your life's saved!” Robert shouted back. “You will see!”
“Aye, Godfrey,” said Sir Peter. “You have run your head into the noose. England will have no safe place for you now.”
Roy rubbed his hands softly, palm to palm.
“There is the colony,” he said. “Our cousin will make a strong slave.”
Godfrey took a step in his direction, and Roy fled.
“’Tis true, Godfrey,” Sir Peter whispered. “They will never rest till you are dead, or lost. Lord Leicester—” he dropped his voice still lower, and Basil could hear no more. But he could see Mr. Huntingdon's face, and it was very pale.
As they stood, Robert Allen rode out under the gate-arch and away down the road. Godfrey started.
“I should have stopped him!” he exclaimed.
“No use, no use! There are those about the Queen who saw and would tell.”
“Very good, then,” said the young man hotly, “they shall call me a traitor, and put a price on my head, and take me if they can. I'll stand my trial, the charge being that I drank a cup of wine in my uncle's hall.”
“Fool, fool!” cried old Sir Peter. “Trial! There'll be no trial. Think you they'll blazon their wish to poison the Scots’ Queen? To get you out of the way, that's all!”
Godfrey turned away. Basil, overwrought with excitement, burst into tears.
“As for you,” Roy Allen cried from the doorway where he had sought refuge, “I'll break your bones, you little toad! And then you too shall go to chains and labour. Aye, oh, aye!”
Mr. Huntingdon looked round, saw Roy threatening, saw the unhappy page-boy cowering against the
wall, and came quickly back and took hold of the child's arm.
“Come on,” he said, “you and I are in the same boat, youngster. We'll sink or swim together. You've no use for a good lad, you villains!”
CHAPTER V A NEW MASTER
Mr. Huntingdon drew Basil away to the stables, and bade the grooms saddle his horses. The page was helped up on one tall handsome steed, Mr. Huntingdon lightly mounted the other. They rode swiftly down the avenue and out on the road.
“And now whither?” said the gentleman, drawing in. One way led south, one east, over the moors. “Yonder by the moor rides Bob to tell his tales. Yonder by the river we come to London, whither his tales will have outrun us.”
Basil was indifferent between awe of his master and fear of the great horse and its movements under him, and its haughty and sudden tossings of its head.
Mr. Huntingdon finally chose the south road, and Basil's horse followed without waiting for his guidance. So they went till they came to a hill and stopped to breathe their horses at the top.
“What is your name, boy?” Godfrey asked, eyeing his young companion.
“Basil, if you please, sir.”
“Aye. Basil what?”
“Plain Basil, sir, I thank you.”
“But come! We must all have two names, at the least, as Godfrey Huntingdon. What's your other, boy?”
“Why, I don't rightly know, sir. If we must have two we must, but I never heard tell of another for myself, sir, by your leave.”
“Then, who was your father?”
“I don't know, sir.”
“I don't know, sir.”
Mr. Huntingdon frowned, perplexed.
“Where do you come from, then? Are you a pixie?”
“Heaven forbid, sir! I'm just Basil. Basil of Huntingdon's, at Wormald—so folk always say.”
“Hum! Well, then, how old are you, Basil of Huntingdon's?”
Basil blushed to repeat his usual answer—
“I don't know, sir, by your leave.”
“Not know how old you are! Have no parents, and no name! ’Pon honour, you're a rare little creature for ignorance! How old do you think you are?”
Basil sat on the big horse silent and pondering a moment, then turned wistful eyes on his companion.
“Indeed, sir, I could not say. I've never thought of it.”
“Eh, don't look so downcast! You're very lucky. Why, you can't grow old if you never know your age. Let's see your teeth.”
Basil opened his mouth on a set of fine white grinders, and his companion laughed at him.
“Ten or eleven. There or thereabouts, eh?” he said.
And Basil replied—
“An you please, sir.”
“All right, then. Having settled your age to date from to-day as your tenth birthday, we pass to your name. Basil of Huntingdon sounds very fair—me being the Huntingdon. And now, Master Basil, I'll tell you my plans.”
Basil ducked his head politely.
“You and I are companions in misfortune, eh? And I happen to owe you my life, so confidence between us is natural. Whip up! Man, how you bump in your saddle! You'll be as stiff as a board by evening.”
Basil's words of agreement were jolted out of him as they went downhill at a gallop.
“Put your hands down here,” Godfrey urged.
"Basil expected to be thrown."--p.39.
“No, oh no, the bridle's not meant to hang on by—nor the mane—nor the saddle—So! your legs stiff, and the rest of you as limp as a rag.”
Basil expected to be thrown every second, but dared not demur.
“Isn't there a turning to Howgraves somewhere here?” Mr. Huntingdon asked.
Basil said, “Yes, but a few yards further on.”
“Well, we'll go to Squire Battey's—methinks he's my friend—and take some food, and lie there till evening. And then,” he continued, after making a grab at Basil's belt as that uncertain rider disappeared from his saddle, “after that, my boy, we'll outrun Bob and his tales to Bristol. To Bristol, not London, so please you. Have you ever seen the sea?”
“Mercy, no, good sir!”
“Then you shall. Ah,” he said, his dark eyes kindling, “we may be hunted out of England; they may drive us to fly to-day; but there's a world yet for one with the heart of a man—the sea! The sea, the Englishman's other home!”
Basil turned his eyes from his horse to his master and stared.
“Why,” cried Godfrey gaily, “when you and I have got a ship, and sailed away, we shall have no regrets for this,” and he snapped his fingers at the land. “And when we come back with our good ship
laden with gold and gems—when we bid the Queen add some new land to her possessions beyond the sea—will she recall, will any want to remind her, that I interfered with Sir Peter's plots at Wormald Court? Not she—not they. A peerage for Godfrey Huntingdon! ‘I thank you, no, Madam,’ I shall say. ‘I have been king of yon gorgeous land, and lay my crown at your feet. Give me but my ship and my sword and let me go to sea.”’
“Are there lands beyond the sea?” gasped Basil.
“Lands and lands. Hast never heard even of France and Spain—Spain, that is our foe, and our mine of wealth? The best things after good friends are good foes, Basil, and the Spaniards shall help us build our fortunes, I swear!”
About midday they reached Squire Battey's, and were welcomed. Basil was sent to the servants’ table for dinner, and did not see his master again till night, when he was called up to attend him to bed. All day he had been playing with the squire's serving-boys, and suffering more and more from his morning's ride. He limped stiffly into the room assigned to his new master, and found Mr. Huntingdon sitting by the casement lost in thought.
“Well, Basil, you've got the aches—eh? And likely to have them worse, I fear. I don't much like the looks of these Batteys. I'm afraid I've trusted
them more than they deserve. No, I'll lie down dressed. Where are you sleeping?”
“Jerry, the foot-boy, sir, saith between him and Madam's page in yon room down the gallery.”
“To sleep, then, and get it over! If I come later and wake you, can you wake easily?”
“Oh aye, sir.”
“To bed, then! Show me your chamber.”
Basil pointed out a distant door up a few steps in the gallery.
“This chamber, Jerry saith, is the squire's. Yonder, his sons’,” he said.
“Good-night, then.” Mr. Huntingdon patted his head as he would a dog's, carelessly but good-naturedly. “You're a good lad, and I shan't forget I owe you my life.”
Basil limped off, curiously pleased. He felt towards Mr. Huntingdon as he never remembered to have felt towards any one before. The nearest approach to affection he had had was for his sling, a weapon made by himself, with which he was skilful—a good useful thing he regretted having left behind him at Wormald. He should be very sorry indeed if anything should part him from his new master. It was somehow a delightful and gratifying thing that he was serving one who had drunk off that wine, supposing it poisoned, and had sat down so calmly to wait for a slow, painful death. He was handsome, too, strong, and tall, and
he sat his horse like nothing Basil had seen in his life for grace and ease.
It had been a long day of stirring excitements, but he was quite contented, in spite of his pains and sores.
CHAPTER VI MIDNIGHT PERIL
Basil's master had warned him to sleep lightly, but he was tired out, and slept more heavily than usual, in spite of his strange bed and his two companions. When he woke the room was quite light, and turning over, he found the bed empty; the other boys were gone.
He sprang up, ashamed of being late on his first morning of service under Mr. Huntingdon, and dressed hurriedly. The big house was very silent. No one moved; no animals called without; no birds sang. Basil ran to the door and down the steps into the long gallery beyond. The squire's door was ajar; his son's flung wide, revealing their empty chambers. On the floor was an embroidered glove, on the couch the sheath of a knife.
Basil stared and stared at the pale sky beyond the open casements. It was no sun that made these long lights on the floors, that silvered the broad oak balustrade, and stole across the great hall down below. It was the moon; for, as he turned to his master's door,
he saw her sailing high in the sky. It was the moon; it was still night. He was up, dressed, and awake in the middle of the night; and every one else, it seemed, was up and abroad like himself.
He stole swiftly and noiselessly to his master's door, pushed it softly and went in. All was still and shadowy, for the light had left these windows. Basil drew near the bed with a beating heart, and touched it warily. Nothing stirred. Was this bed empty too? There was no sound of breathing. Yet surely, surely there was some one there! He moved higher, and again, but timidly, laid his hand on the bedclothes. Just at that moment a lantern, carried past the window, shot its rays into the room. He saw his master's face and the open eyes fixed full on him.
“Sir, every one is up and out,” he whispered, “and it is still night.”
Mr. Huntingdon sat up and listened. Not a sound came to them—not a shutting door or distant voice. But a cool air stole up the gallery and into the dim room. Doors somewhere must be wide open.
“The boys are gone,” whispered Basil, shivering, “and all the chambers are empty.”
Finger on lip to enjoin silence, his master got up and felt for his boots. Basil drew them on for him, and each kept hearkening for any sound, their eyes ever on the open door. Mr. Huntingdon buckled on
his sword and softly went to the window. Below waved the dark branches of a yew-tree. Beyond he could see a path that led down to the river through a postern in the garden-wall. The wall ran all round a square of turf, and the door was guarded by the man whose lantern had flashed by, no doubt.
Then Basil, as the lightest foot, crept down the corridor, and, peering into the great hall, saw shadows as of men moving, heard whispers as of earnest talk, and caught the faint clink of a sword against a spur. He went back to his master with his news, and Godfrey nodded gravely.
“The hunt is begun,” he said. “Old Battey and his sons will hunt with the hounds, it seems.” And then he added, “But, maybe, ’tis not I who am the quarry. What if they but ride hunting lawful game? Surely they would have told me their intent. Suppose, then, ’tis some family affair. Maybe their best cow has got the glanders—if cows have such. These country squires love and tend their beasts out of measure, I am told.”
But Basil, who knew well the ways of the district, shook his head at that.
“They would not all go, I trow, sir, and take Madam's page beside. Nor would they be armed, and—”
He stopped. A step rang on the stair.
Mr. Huntingdon swiftly shut the door, dragged
the bed across it, flung the table and the rest of the furniture on the top, and went to the window.
“Now, then, Basil, out you go! We must run for it.”
Basil was not afraid at the moment. The trees were friends of his. He knew them all, and their ways, and how to climb one in a different way from another. He let himself drop into the long, flat yew-branches, knowing they would swing down with his weight but not break with him. And he knew the bark of the trunk would shell off and stick in his hands if he did not take care. Mr. Huntingdon came after him with a spring that nearly shook the page from his hold, and they clambered down to the ground together.
“Make for the wall. Keep in the shadow, and—”
Mr. Huntingdon's sword leapt out, as two men sprang on him at once. Basil saw one fall, and then the minutes dragged, for the other was a good fighter, and he heard sounds overhead. His master's adversary shouted once or twice, and, directly, a voice hailed from their window above.
“Good, Adam! Adam has him!”
Then the rush of feet and a confused clamour. Basil, desperate, and longing to do something, pulled himself together and dashed at the man's back. Flinging his arms round him the page tried to throw him,
"Basil let himself drop into the branches."--p.46.
and crippled him sufficiently to give his master the advantage. Mr. Huntingdon brought his sword-hilt crashing down on his head, and then leapt for the postern-door, which stood invitingly open. He guessed these men had been set to guard it, and hearing them in the yew-tree, had left their place to engage him. The key was still in the lock. He pulled it out, and, pushing Basil before him, locked the door on the outside, and ran off with the key. The wall, though low on the garden side, was high on the other, with a deep ditch at the foot. It would have gone hardly with them had they been forced to leap it. The men had lost their prisoners by quitting their post, and the rest of the squire's party would have to go all round by the court to come up with them now. So that they had a little law.
As they ran on, Basil with a thumping heart and buzzing head, they saw two horses fastened to the little bridge that spanned the river and led to the road. Godfrey Huntingdon stopped and looked about him. The moon was waning, and the grey of dawn lay on the east horizon. His keen eyes soon distinguished a groom leaning on the bridge parapet. He had not heard their running in the long grass apparently, for he was gazing stupidly into the dark water and humming to himself. The horses stamped now and then, and, more awake than their keeper, sniffed the approaching strangers.
Basil nudged his master.
“That is Winny, Master Roy Allen's mare. And that—yes, that is Guy, the groom whom I saw last night.”
“Ho, ho! And the big black horse? Is that Robert's, eh?”
“No,” Basil whispered, “that horse was in the stables the night—the night the stranger came to Wormald, he who was with Sir Peter when I took in wine.”
“Ho, ho!” said Godfrey again, “come to see the fun, but not meaning to ride with the victims!”
He sheathed his rapier, glancing at the house over his shoulder. He could not see the courtyard, but he could hear voices, and the barking of dogs. The groom heard also, and lifted his head.
“Follow,” Godfrey said, and walked down to the groom. “Here, sirrah! You are to go up to the house quickly, and tell them the bird is flown. We mount your horses and ride in pursuit.”
The authoritative voice, and air of command, brought the servant erect in a moment, his hand to his forelock.
“Out of the way, dolt! Be brisk, now—tell your master the bird has flown.”
It was a relief to the gentleman that his young page needed neither prompting nor helping at this
stage. Basil was already scrambling up the side of Winny the mare.
The groom half hesitated, but a hasty word and a half-raised hand sent him running swiftly up to the Hall.
Mr. Huntingdon sprang to the saddle, drove in his spurs, and led the way over the bridge and down the high road, Basil pounding and bucketing close at his heels.
CHAPTER VII FLIGHT AND DISASTER
Basil kept but a confused remembrance of the days that followed. They held so many wonders for him; they passed so hurriedly, excitement lending the hours wings. The fear of pursuit behind him, the wonders of the sea before, he rode and rode through town and hamlet, by hill and dale, weary and sick, elated and gay. Listening to his master's dreams for their future, listening for the coming of their foes, Basil of Huntingdon's at Wormald lived more in those few days than in all his ten or eleven past years. His admiration for his master increased hourly. His courage, his resourcefulness, his gay good-humour, struck the foot-page with great wonder.
Basil dreaded to show his master how tired and how frightened he often was during their long flight. But Godfrey knew well enough, and, to his amusement, found himself being drawn to his foot-page, and for the same reasons that had raised the page's admiration for himself: for courage and good-humour
that suffered in silence when things were very bad, that laughed them off if they were merely tiresome.
Sometimes they went without food because Godfrey chose to avoid the towns, for fear of being detained. Sometimes they had to walk for miles, the horses they had hired to succeed Winny and the black having gone lame or foundered in the by-roads and bridle-paths the fugitives deemed safest.
The autumn nights were chill and raw, frosty towards the morning often, and the night was the best time for journeying. Then, often, armed men, galloping after them, would flash on the hill behind; or they fancied a party lurked in some valley or behind a clump of trees, and, to avoid them, they must ride another way—by fields and moors, through quagmire and morass, and lose their way, perhaps, and so make their journey far longer, their chance of being outrun by their enemies the greater.
It was a severe test of temper, and the young man and the boy got to know and love each other on that long wild ride.
Basil had almost ceased to believe they ever would reach Bristol and the sea, when his master one day told him they were nearing both. Mr. Huntingdon had a friend, Captain Hood, whose home was at Bristol, and who had a ship of his own. He and Nigel Hood had been at school together, and had
once made a prosperous voyage together to the Spanish Main. If his ship was in the port yet, as Godfrey hoped it might be, he knew his friend would take them on board and welcome both.
It was late on a September night that Godfrey knocked at Captain Hood's door in Bristol. They were admitted, and heard that the captain was on his way back from London, that his ship was riding at anchor and due to sail the next morning but one. Godfrey asked for Mistress Joan, and they were shown up-stairs, where presently the captain's sister came to speak to them.
Basil was sent to supper with the servant who let them in, leaving his master relating his adventures to Mistress Joan. Later, he was taken to bed with leave to sleep as long as he liked. Basil needed no urging. He fancied he could sleep for ever; but the unusual ease and comfort, the relief from fear and danger, the fact that they were safe with friends, and would sail away in a few hours to the wonderful countries and the treasure-ships, disturbed him as surely as ever distress and the need for watchfulness had done.
He lay awake and tossed till daylight, and then slept heavily.
He was not pleased when some one woke him almost directly, as he thought, and he sat up crossly to find a lady by his bed.
“Basil, your master has not come back.”
“Come back!” gasped Basil, bewildered, half asleep still.
“He went out after you came to bed, to see my brother's officer. He has not come back.”
Basil rubbed his eyes.
“He promised to come back. He may have been prevented. You must go and see if he is there. I'll show you the way. Be quick, be quick!”
It was early yet, but quite daylight. Basil struggled out of bed and dressed. Could it be untrue, then? They were not safe, after all. Had the enemy outrun them? Was his master a prisoner? Oh, surely not; with the ship out there in the harbour, and the captain coming down to-day! Not here in Bristol, the place they had been trying to get to all these weary days!
Mistress Joan Hood was waiting for the foot-page at the hall-door impatiently.
“Come, come,” she cried, “who knows what may have happened!”
She unbarred the door, and they went out into the street. The houses opposite were shuttered and still. No one was about, so chill and early was the hour. A miserable dog snuffed about the kennel and slunk away at sound of their voices. The new strong smell of the sea and sea-going things came up to Basil, and with it a feeling of great loneliness and emptiness.
“See,” said the girl, “you go to the corner there, and then turn to your left. The house hath a green door and is the sixth in the street. Knock loudly and ask for Mr. Dale, and then see if your master lies with him.”
Basil nodded and ran off. At the corner something made him turn. The girl was standing at the door still, and some men were passing her almost at a run. The pace struck Basil, but their silence and a certain furtive, watchful air struck him more. There were four of them, and, as they came opposite the girl, three of them darted quick looks at her. The fourth was walking with bowed head. She ran out into the road, and Basil heard her call aloud. The three men did not stop, but seemed to come on the faster. The fourth man lifted his head and seemed to stiffen his shoulders and step out with more courage. As they came this man looked always backward, and it was not until they went by Basil, swiftly and silently, that he recognized his master and his master's plight.
He was chained and manacled. A dirty wisp of rag was twisted round one hand. He wore only his shirt and trunk-hose. He was barefooted, and there was a wound in his neck. Still looking always backward, he passed Basil and turned the corner. Then his head drooped forward and he groaned.
Round the corner there were other men, armed,
"'Let me go!' he cried. 'I am his page!'"--p.59.
making a strong guard, who surrounded the prisoner and swept him forward at a run.
Basil, unheeded, ran behind them, down through the empty streets of the silent town, onward to the quay, where men were moving and voices calling in the dawn. Boats were waiting for this party and their prisoner. Godfrey Huntingdon was flung into one. His guards followed. An order was given. They pushed off, and, as the oars dipped, for the first time he saw Basil crouching on the quay.
“It would have been better poisoned, after all,” he said.
A rough hand pushed Basil back as he was leaping for the boat.
“Let me go!” he cried. “I am his page!”
Loud laughter answered him.
“Oh, we'll make shift to curl his hair and perfume him!” cried one. “He'll not miss you, chuck.”
The oars rose and fell. The water flashed and dripped. The space between them widened and widened as Basil watched. He called entreatingly to them to stop, or take him too. Laughter and the dip of oars came to him less clearly every time. Out and out they went. And, last of all, Basil saw them skirt amongst the other boats and make way to a big ship. They went up her side, and he flung himself down on the boards of the quay in a passion of grief and despair.
When he lifted his head presently he saw that ship's place empty amongst those at anchor, and a speck far out at sea told him how distant was his master and his chance of getting to him any more.
CHAPTER VIII OLD SIR PETER AGAIN
Basil sprang to his feet. Oh, fool that he was! Why had he not flown to the house with the green door and called aloud for Mr. Dale the minute he had recognized his master in that pale and wounded prisoner! Mr. Dale, the officer of the captain's ship, would doubtless have helped the captain's friend in his hour of need. And, instead of that, he had only run behind the crowd of men and helplessly bewailed his master's fate amidst well-merited jeers and mockery.
Better have left that cup of wine poisoned, instead of pouring it out and replacing it with harmless drink. Better, indeed, than that so proud a man as Godfrey Huntingdon should have been dragged through the streets like a felon. And where were they taking him? Basil knew.
His master had not told him much, but he had heard Roy Allen's threat at Wormald, when he mentioned the new Colony. To a timid question he
had been told that there was a place newly christened Virginia, where, amongst gorgeous forests, valleys rich with fruits and wondrous flowers, by great rivers, to which the Thames and Ouse were streams, a company of gentlemen of fortune had settled to rule, to plant that strange weed that made a fragrant smoke, to fight the Indians, and to begin a New England over the seas. And Mr. Huntingdon had explained, that as these gentlemen could not rule, fight, till the soil, and build, and as mechanics could as yet scarcely be coaxed or servants bribed to try their luck in this new savage land, it had entered into the head of one ingenious gentleman, a kinsman of the Allens, to ship over a load of English felons to work as slaves. He said no more, but Basil understood enough. Roy Allen had been suggesting that his cousin Godfrey could be put out of the way in that far-off land.
“But you,” Basil had ventured, “are not a felon, sir, nor could any prove you so.”
Godfrey had shrugged his shoulders.
“Felons,” he had said, “have been made by simply marking them with an F in the palm of the hand.”
Basil ran up the quay and back into the streets. Late as it was, stupid as he had been, he would still do his best for his master. Surely the ship could be overtaken, and the sooner the better.
As he ran he looked for a house with a green door, and found so many that he pulled up puzzled and cast down. Which of all these would be the house of Mr. Dale? Here were one on each side of the street, and he counted four further on.
As he stood hesitating an old man came running feebly round a corner, stumbled against the edge of the kennel, and caught at Basil to save himself. It was old Sir Peter Huntingdon, his hat off, his white hair blowing, his clothes awry, his face flushed.
For a moment he did not recognize the boy. Then, clutching him tighter, “Basil!” he cried sharply, “where is he? Where is my nephew Huntingdon?”
“Gone!” cried Basil, pointing backwards to the sea. “They have taken him away.”
“Gone?” old Sir Peter echoed. “Then they lied. They said I should catch him if I went in half-an-hour. Oh, the miscreants!”
“Let me go!” cried Basil, wriggling. “I must help him.”
“No use, no use, if he is gone!” the old man cried. And as he spoke, the two Allen brothers came round the corner and joined them.
“The young one, as I live!” cried Robert.
“He's gone!” Sir Peter said, wheeling upon them. “You lied, you two!”
“But, uncle,” said Roy suavely, “you know, you
acknowledged it yourself at first, that it was best for our cousin to go thus.”
“Aye, that you did, uncle,” said Robert. “Had he stayed, he would have been taken and executed, without a doubt.”
Sir Peter wrung his old hands.
“He was the only man among you,” he said querulously. “I always liked Godfrey.”
The brothers exchanged looks.
“Aye, aye, no doubt that was why you've been so eager to net him,” Sir Peter said shrewdly, the looks not escaping him. “Well—” He looked down at Basil.
The brothers followed the glance.
“As for that young cub, we are none of us safe, uncle, with him free to wag his silly tongue—he who did all the mischief.” Robert advanced, stretching his hand to grip Basil's collar.
“Nay, leave him be, nephew; I will deal with him,” the old man said, a slow smile creeping over his livid face.
Firmly holding the page, he turned and went thoughtfully up the street to an inn where he and his nephews were lodging. Here he gave the lad some breakfast, and, deaf to all entreaties from the boy to be allowed to go, and from the brothers to be allowed to vent their anger on the boy, made
him get up behind a servant, and with the Allens murmuring in his train, set off, riding slowly, for London.
In London they stayed in a house of Sir Peter's, and here Basil slipped back into his old place as Sir Peter's page.
The Allens gave up asking for vengeance on the lad, seeing it annoyed their uncle. They hated and feared him, watching him out of suspicious eyes. They did not live with their kinsman, but came daily, with smooth tongues and ready words courting the old man's favour, doing his behests, ingratiating themselves the one against the other, just as they had done at Wormald Court.
Basil learned the ways of London, saw afar off the splendour of the Court, gaped and wondered, naturally, being an ignorant country lad. But in all the novelties and excitements of his first few months, and in the duller days that succeeded, he never quite forgot the master he had lost. Incidents of those days of flight and danger would flash into his mind—the poor meal shared, the largest share for him; his master's cloak thrown round him as they went in the rain and storm at night; the kind hand; the cheery voice that praised and comforted and laughed at him; the remembrance of Mr. Huntingdon kneeling at his side on some wild moor, or in some lonely church,
thanking God for perils over, or praying that His great mercy might defend them from the dangers of that night.
These things made a past for the foot-page to look back on. They might be his salvation from evils yet to come.
CHAPTER IX THE NEW ADMIRAL
Two years passed in the London house, uneventful to Basil personally, recording only the fact that twice he had had to have new clothes.
One day the page was going home from a shopping expedition carefully guarding his miserly old patron's change, and a parcel of goods beneath his arm, when he was aware of an unusual crowd of people down the street, of the rush of the apprentices from their booths, of the women from their doorsteps; and even a young gallant, picking his way through the kennel, heard the shouting, took up his rapier and ran.
Basil, of course, must follow, alternately shouting like the rest, and inquiring the cause of the uproar.
“The new Admiral! The new Admiral!” yelled an apprentice. “Down with the Spaniards! Hurrah!”
Lustily shouting, Basil, still ignorant, pushed into the throng, and there wedged tightly, gathered up the news.
The new Admiral, home from a two years’ voyage,
had been knighted at Greenwich by the Queen. He had given her a diamond worth fifty thousand pounds. He had given her pearls weighing a thousand pounds. He had beaten the Spaniards on their own coasts. He had beaten them on the high seas. He had brought home one of their treasure-ships. One? Three at the least! Maybe four! Hence the bells were ringing. Hence with music and pageantry they were bringing him into London town. He was riding in with his gentlemen-volunteers and officers to sup with the Lord Mayor.
The drums beat, and the bells swung, and Basil shouted his loudest, for he understood the matter now. Between legs and under arms he wriggled till he got a view of the narrow lane between the enthusiastic crowds down which the new Admiral must ride to the Guildhall.
Amongst city fathers, brother captains, court sparks, gay lords, and sober citizens he rode, with a hearty word for the cheering people, a ready smile and a raised cap for the ladies who bent from the windows above. He was tall and comely, with a peaked yellow beard and curling hair. His present laughter concealed his usual sternness, but the sailor sat his horse like a soldier, and his high-bred face declared him the courtly gentleman.
Basil waved his cap, and thought him fine and noble. And somehow a smell of the salt sea came to
him up the London street, as he looked at the man come back from “the Englishman's other home.”
“What's his name?” asked the man next him of his fellow.
“Hood,” was the answer. “Thou knowest, neighbour, Nigel Hood of Bristol. Him that took the Spanish galleon, four years agone, with Godfrey Huntingdon!”
Basil started at the names. “Nigel Hood of Bristol!” “Godfrey Huntingdon!” The school friends who had made a prosperous voyage to the Spanish Main! Here was the one, rich, triumphant, knighted. Where was the other?
Basil moved away with the thinning crowd, lost in thought, and not till his master's voice, demanding the reason of his lingering, startled him did he wake to the awkward discovery that his pocket had been picked. There was no change! Ashamed and frightened he stammered out the fact, and received a sounding box on the ears. To repeated questions as to where he had been he answered wearily that he had stood in the crowd to watch the coming-in of Admiral Hood.
“Hood! Here?” Sir Peter cried. “Hath he come to town?”
Basil told him all he had seen, wondering at the old man's eagerness. Sir Peter scarcely waited to hear, but, tottering away, for he was very feeble,
wrote a letter hurriedly, and with fumbling fingers tied the silk and sealed the packet.
“Run, boy!” he cried, giving the packet to the page. “To the Guildhall with you! When the feast's over give him this. By no means let him escape you. Insist on laying it in his hands yourself. On your peril get your wallet picked!”
And without other reference to the lost change he bundled his page out of the house again.
Basil was not sorry to be given this errand.
He held his packet fast in the bosom of his doublet. He had learned to read a little since he came to London, picking it up with a little assistance from his master. He knew the packet was addressed to “Sir Nigel Hood,” and for his benefit the old man had scrawled “Haste! Haste!” underneath.
Basil flew. He was to put the letter in the Admiral's own hand, therefore he should see, near to, the hero who had brought home the treasure-ships, the man who had sailed to the Spanish Main with Godfrey Huntingdon.
There was a great gathering outside the Guildhall waiting for the great man to come out, and, as the daylight failed, torches and cressets flared, the windows above grew rosy with taper and fire light. The crowd increased, and Basil was jostled and carried here and there. Feasts were lengthy things in those days, and
Basil need not have been warned by that “Haste! Haste!” to fly as he had done. Hours passed before the revellers parted, and the patient crowd began to roar its welcome to the Admiral. Basil had to make many efforts before he came even within sight of Sir Nigel Hood. He struggled on, suffering not a few kicks and cuffs, till he reached the outer ring of the hero's following.
Apparently he meant to walk to his lodgings, for his servants were carrying links, and he remained on foot. Basil piped out his request to be allowed to deliver a letter, till his voice failed him, for no one seemed to have ears for him. Finally, the group moved forward, and the servants pushed him aside.
“I've a letter for him from Sir Peter Huntingdon,” the boy cried, and the name seemed to act as a talisman.
The Admiral himself cleared a way for the boy and held out an impatient hand for the letter, seizing a torch from a servant to read it by.
“Forward,” he said. “To Sir Peter Huntingdon's house!”
Basil fled by the shortest cut to prepare his master and wait on this noble guest. Sir Peter bade him bring candles and more wood for the fire, set chairs and bring up a bottle of wine. Basil had hardly
finished these duties when he saw the lights blinking up the street. He opened the door, showed the Admiral up-stairs, and regretfully shut the door on him.
“Well, I will see him out,” he thought, and sat down on the stairs to eat his late supper and wait.
But the guest stayed so late that Basil fell asleep, and woke with a cry as a heavy foot came down on the top of him, and an oath resounded above.
“Pest!” quoth the Admiral. “Have I killed a cat or a page-boy?”
“Neither, I thank you,” Basil stammered, springing up.
“What then? A rat?”
“’Tis Basil the page, sir.”
“’Tis Basil the page! No rat, as I live! Get a light, Basil the page. I've a mind to look at your face.”
Very hurriedly the page-boy got a lamp from somewhere, and came back looking rather frightened. The big man took the light, tipped up the boy's chin, and so they looked at each other.
“Hum! I'll shake hands with you, Basil the page. You threw the poisoned wine away, and so saved my best friend's life.”
Basil's hand was crushed in the Admiral's grasp,
but they were not tears of pain that dimmed his eyes.
“Ah, sir, but what was the use? He would rather have died, he said.”
“No doubt,” said the Admiral grimly.
He shook the lad's hand and went out.
CHAPTER X THE SEA-DOGS
Sir Peter Huntingdon's London house was roomy and old. It had been built to accommodate a host of retainers, and as old Sir Peter's servants were few, and he never entertained guests, half of it remained unoccupied.
To Basil's surprise, on the day after the visit of Admiral Hood, these unused chambers and galleries were filled with people scrubbing and cleaning. In a few more days wagons loaded with furniture began coming, being unpacked and rumbling away again. Servants hurried and bustled, fires roared and crackled in chimneys unused for many a day, the house rang with the work and stir.
Surprised he certainly was, but amazement and delight knew no bounds when, in answer to his inquiries, he was told the rest of the house was to be the town lodgings of Sir Nigel Hood. He came within the week, and Basil spent all his spare time hanging about in the galleries and landings staring at
him and his friends, and asking questions of the servants.
Sir Nigel Hood was courted, and flattered, and adored, but he had no more sincere admirer than the boy who haunted old Sir Peter's house. Basil could have sworn, as he sniffed over the bannisters towards the Admiral's rooms, that he could smell the sea. Voices heard through the half-open doors had for Basil the sound of the sea.
On the nights Sir Nigel feasted his old friends, the corridors rung with laughter free and loud. Seastories were telling there, sea-songs were singing there, for bronzed and lined, keen-eyed and hard, the sea-dogs gathered there to smoke their pipes, and crack their jokes, and say their say.
Basil strained his ears and hungered for their society, especially for that of the man who had sailed with Godfrey Huntingdon and beaten the Spaniards.
And one never-to-be-forgotten evening, the Admiral came down the stairs behind him with his agile, silent step, and caught the page-boy gazing where an open door barred the gallery's darkness with a warm red light.
“Eavesdropper!” said the Admiral. “Here I catch you on the stairs again.”
Basil bounded out of his way, crimson and confused, but he was aware that though the words were stern, Sir Nigel's face was not so.
He took the page by the ear, and led him into the room. Oh, but that was a sight for a boy! There they were, gathered round the fire in the fragrant smoke of the new herb, tobacco, and the fragrant steam of the sack.
“Push up, and make room for me, Frankie,” said the Admiral, and so made a place for himself on the big oak settle.
Basil dropped on the floor between his knees, enraptured, silent, absorbed, and the tales and the songs went round. The Admiral's neighbour leaned forward suddenly and tilted the boy's chin up.
“Abroad in the fields of Paradise, youngling?” he asked good-humouredly.
“A good lad this,” said Sir Nigel Hood. “They call him Basil Huntingdon.”
“And they call me Frankie Drake,” said the other man, nodding. “And it strikes me we'll be friends.”
So Basil was made free of the sea-dogs’ company. He beat the eggs for their sack, he filled their pipes, and watched them smoke with awe and wonder. His simple manners and gratitude for any kindness soon made him a favourite with them all.
About this time Sir Peter began to notice him more than he had ever done in Basil's life. He gave him more liberty, had him taught to write, and ordered better clothes for him, not livery suits. Basil accepted
"'It strikes me we'll be friends.'"--p.78.
these things, wondering a little but not asking many questions. Sir Peter's will was law.
He noticed that the Allen brothers did not often come to see Sir Peter now that Sir Nigel Hood lived in the same house. If they came at all, it was when the Admiral was away, and then they would cringe to the old man more obsequiously than ever, whilst he would laugh and rub his hands, pretending to be pleased with them, and dropping little savage remarks at them amongst his pleasantries.
“I'm getting very old, Basil,” he said one day. “Very old and weak. Those sparks are spending my gold, and revelling at Wormald Court, eh? Aye, aye, in mind, but only in mind. There's Huntingdon blood left yet.”
CHAPTER XI BASIL GOES ASTRAY
This was a very happy time for Basil, but it ended when Sir Nigel Hood left London for the country, and the sea-dogs’ company was broken up. Basil missed them terribly, and hated the silent galleries, and smokeless, empty rooms.
But Sir Peter seemed bent upon consoling him for his loss. At his orders the tailors made Basil's suits gayer and gayer. He went in fine linen and silk, with a dagger at his hip and lace on his ruff. He had money to spend, and was not advised how to use it, nor questioned as to how it went. In London there were amusements enough, friends easy to find, wares waiting a buyer, traps ready for the unwary and ignorant. He picked up acquaintances quickly, and in their society forgot for a time much that he had learned in Sir Nigel Hood's company, and learned much that he had been better without.
Sir Peter looked on and chuckled, but did not restrain or advise him.
Then Sir Nigel came back, and the old smell and
the old sounds came up the stairs to Basil. Some one hailed him from below, a few evenings after, and Basil, delighted, went leaping down to them as of old. They had not forgotten him, he thought. For the first evening he was so grateful for that fact, so glad to see them all, that he quite forgot to give himself any of his new airs. But, as this feeling wore off, he began to want to show to them that he was no longer just a silly page-boy, but a young gentleman of some experience. He had developed a habit of noisy chattering, he swaggered, and used words of which he did not know the meaning. He had bettered Sir Peter's gifts with a sham gold chain, and a ring for his finger. He showed off all these advantages in the eyes of the sea-dogs, and they laughed and applauded grimly. He thought that they approved, were even impressed.
But presently he became aware of the breath of disapproval growing stronger, and he resented it. More than once he was greeted with a word of undoubted reproof, and not a very gentle word, either. The “ruby” on his finger brought a loud laugh from Sir Francis Drake. Basil grew aggressive, as he saw the disapproval waxing daily stronger.
And then came a dreadful night. He had overturned a stool, a slight awkwardness that he would once have asked pardon for, and been readily excused. But he had worn out these gentlemen's patience, and some one boxed his ears. Basil started back, clamouring
and rude, and they sat round silent, with tired but unswerving eyes. The absolute stillness suddenly overcame the boy in the midst of a sentence. He broke down, aware of the circle of eyes, and his host's pipe stem pointing to the door.
He fled. Out of the house he ran, and down the street, and down other twisted ways and alleys, till he came out in the fields, under the stars.
How had he come to be so wretched? The baseness of his absolute folly and ingratitude flashed upon him ruthlessly. He, a miserable little nameless footpage, and they, the rulers of the sea. He stumbled down in the dark to the river bank, and he flung himself by the water, for it was of the same stuff as the sea, and might help him to understand. He had been clumsy before and met with nothing but good-humoured raillery. But it was all different now. They had given up liking him. Sir Francis had pushed him away with a “Pah! boy, you smell like a cosmetic shop!” They had mocked at his chain and his ring, they had frowned when he swore, and Sir Nigel had kicked him.
These things had been done by his new friends, the noblemen's pages, the ’prentices, the young gentlemen's gentlemen, the riff-raff who had condescended to the foot-page, who had money to waste. There were, then, it seemed, two sets of friends, the sparks who spent his money for him, and had never looked
"He flung them into the river."--p.87.
at him in the days when he had none, and the men who gathered round Sir Nigel's hearth, who, it appeared, had preferred him poor, and in his page's suit.
No one asked Basil to choose between the two, but he saw quite well that he could not please both. In a fit of anger at himself and the new friends who had led him to be rude to his old ones, he pulled off the chain and the ring and flung them both into the river. He knew now they were only false and worthless, but in that mood he would not have held his hand had they been priceless jewels.
He went home weary and dispirited, and crept up to his room, not daring to be seen; not lingering to hear, or gaze, or sniff in the direction of Sir Nigel's rooms.
The servants told Basil next morning that Sir Peter was very ill, and not likely to recover. The old man grew weaker and weaker as the days went by. The Allen brothers came once or twice and sat by him. Sir Peter could not speak, but his eyes were as watchful as ever. They did not speak, and their eyes were watchful too. They whispered, head to head, as they went down-stairs, differed, and drew together again in the hall. They dared not let one another alone, lest one should outwit the other. They could not be friends, they could not be foes till Sir Peter was dead, and they knew how his money was left.
On the day that old Sir Peter died, Basil saw the brothers nudging each other in the street below their uncle's window. At last they gathered courage to come in, hitched their cloaks, felt for their kerchiefs, and ventured up-stairs. The page ran to his chamber door, and looked over the balustrade. On the landing the brothers encountered Sir Nigel Hood. He bowed. They bowed, and were for passing on.
“Gentlemen, can you spare me a moment?” asked he.
“Surely, Sir Nigel Hood,” answered Robert politely, “when we have been to look on our uncle.”
“If you will listen to me first, sirs, you may be spared some unnecessary grief.”
The brothers frowned, looking at each other.
“Follow me, sirs,” said the Admiral, and led the way down the gallery to his rooms.
They followed like lambs. Basil heard no more for a while, then a door banged. High words echoed down the corridor, and Roy's voice almost screaming, and Robert's thundering curses. So they came, stumbling and storming to the stairs, and Basil caught through it all the light, soft step of the Admiral, and the tap, tap, of his rapier sheath on the floor.
The brothers almost fell down the steps in their fury. They did not stay to bid a last farewell to the kinsman whom they had so persistently waited on hitherto. After all their toils and troubles, after
all their hopes and fears, the insults they had swallowed, the ill-tempers they had excused, the evil they had done or contemplated doing for him, they were told he had not left them a penny, not even a mourning suit or a ring.
In the hall Roy choked over his anger, and began to cry like a child. Robert, thinking himself unseen in the shadows, turned and shook his fist at the yellow-haired sea-dog where he stood in a patch of sunlight at the stair-head.
“I see thee!” cried the Admiral, and he laughed softly to himself.
CHAPTER XII BASIL AND HIS GUARDIAN
That evening Basil sat, alone and miserable, by the window of Sir Peter's sitting-room. His old master was to be buried to-morrow, and what would become of the page-boy! He had no home left, no friends, no occupation. There was no place for him anywhere, now, in the whole big world, and no one to whom he could speak.
The pink sunset clouds drifting across the sky, glowed, were blurred, and grew again distinct.
He could not go to his friends in Sir Nigel's rooms and ask to be employed by one of them. He might once have gone there and asked for help. If he had behaved himself Sir Nigel might have taken him as his own page, perhaps, and on the next voyage he might have stood at his master's side when they met and grappled with the Spanish galleons. But now, of course, there was nothing of that kind for Basil the page to do.
The clouds drifted, and he did not see them for some minutes. Then, suddenly, he knelt up, his
elbows on the window-seat, his eyes brightening with a wonderful idea. How, if he slipped down before Sir Nigel's sailors, got aboard the out-going ship, waited below till they were far out to sea, and then, in the din of some wild encounter, or the breathless hush of a night attack, blood-stained and powder-blackened, rushed forth and did something to make them see he had not been altogether ruined and unworthy of their kindness?
They had praised courage that could fight to the death against great odds. They had spoken, also, of those tenderer deeds, when comrade gave his life for comrade, and stayed alone to die. They had not been ashamed of a springing tear when they drank, standing, to the companions they had lost. If he could do one deed to win their approval back again, Basil thought he would gladly die. What was death, after all, if your name lived on the lips of Nigel Hood and Frankie Drake?
The page's cheeks flushed, and his eyes sparkled. There was, then, something still for him to do.
He was startled from his dreaming by the opening of the door. He turned, and saw in the dusk the tall figure of Admiral Hood.
“Art there, Basil?”
“Aye, sir,” and the boy got up with a beating heart.
The Admiral came slowly over and threw himself
down on the window-seat with a sigh. Basil, after a few minutes of silence, dropped back to his place on the floor.
“Were you fond of old Sir Peter?” inquired Sir Nigel, leaning forward and frowning down at him.
“Why do you weep for him, then?”
“I don't,” said the boy.
“Yet you have wept. What for?”
Basil shrank back into the shadow of the wall, and did not answer.
Still the boy made no reply.
Then the Admiral growled impatiently, and Basil ventured to observe he was not weeping.
“Very well. Do you know—but, of course, you don't! If you did you wouldn't have been weeping. The old man has left you all his goods, lands, houses, horses, wealth.”
Basil started forward.
The Admiral twisted his moustache, and his eyes were unsatisfied and unfriendly and stern.
Basil leaned his chin on his fists, and stared dismally at the sky. He did not quite believe it at first, then reflected that Sir Nigel was in no jesting mood. But what did he want with gold and goods? He
"'The old man has left you all his goods.'"--p.92.
only wanted room on the Admiral's ship, to die a good death, and win the respect of his friends. He wanted the salt smell in his nostrils, and a sword in his hand. Persons of wealth were sent to school and to college to learn a pack of useless nonsense out of books. Youths of fortune perked and pirouetted round the Court. They wrote poetry and talked in foreign tongues, and they played the lute and all manner of effeminate games. He saw his hopes of a good end fading amongst old Sir Peter's tiresome wealth. He was only a foot-page. If he tried to be a gentleman again he should only fail and offend them, and they would never love him any more. His eyes pricked suddenly, and the hot tears began to gather again and fall.
“Well, young man?” said the Admiral. “You love gold chains and fripperies, and to squander money and ruffle abroad. You can have your fill now, you see. Art not glad?”
“I don't want it!” Basil sobbed. “Not a farthing, I don't.”
“Really! That's very amazing.”
Basil scrubbed his eyes savagely.
“It seems,” said Sir Nigel after a minute, “that you are of the Huntingdon blood. Do you remember your father?”
“He was the son of a younger son, a distant cousin of Sir Peter's. He lost his patrimony through mixing
in plots, and old Sir Peter brought you up—or left you to bring yourself up—as his page. He had never any intention of enriching those attractive kinsmen of yours—Masters Robert and Roy—so for want of a better man he has left all his fortune to you.” Sir Nigel paused, but the boy made no remark. “There is a better man, you know, with a better right. If Godfrey Huntingdon were here he would have been the old knave's heir.”
“Oh, don't I wish he were here!” Basil cried, and his eyes met the Admiral's fully, and for the first time.
“Do you wish that?”
“If so, you would get nought.”
Basil did not seem appalled by that thought.
The Admiral looked down at him gravely.
“If he were found, any time,” he said presently, “you would lose all.”
A light came into the boy's eyes.
“Found?” he repeated.
“It will be my business henceforth to seek him. Nor shall I fail, I think.”
Basil caught eagerly at his knee.
“Can you find him? Can you? Oh, make haste!”
“I trust so.”
“And bring him back safe?”
“I intend to.”
Basil clapped his hands with unmistakable delight.
“How?” he cried.
“Well, they took him in a ship to this new Colony of Raleigh's. I will take a ship, and bring him back, I hope.”
“Take me! Take me!” said Basil imploringly. “Oh dear, sir, I would give everything in the world to have him back.”
The Admiral's stern eyes softened.
“My child, you will have to give everything,” he said, and he laid his big hands on the page's shoulders, and drew him nearer.
“I don't care—I! ’Tis all his. What should I do with wealth, sir?”
“Waste it, I make no doubt, lad. But the old man hath left me your guardian and—”
“But, oh, sir, when can we go to seek him? To-morrow?”
“Faith, no! To-morrow? Not for many to-morrows, alas! Plague take the boy! Don't cry, lad. It would be all no use without Her Majesty's order and consent.”
“You remember how he went? As a felon. He must not sneak home, and be hunted and taken again like a traitor. He must come free—like other gentlemen.”
Basil nodded, but seemed still not aware of any great difficulty to be overcome in the matter.
“And when can you get the Queen's order, sir?”
“God only knows, boy.”
“He must have a pardon, and they are not easy things to win. Who knows if I shall get him one?”
“But, sir, if not—”
“If not, you will be lord of all that wealth, and I your guardian.”
“I would not touch a crown!”
“God only knows,” Sir Nigel repeated. “But I shall never cease my efforts. Some day I will bring him to his own.”
“Methought you could have done anything,” said Basil in a disappointed tone.
“Thanks,” said the Admiral, laughing. “I'm sorry, right sorry, you should find I can't. But you are a good soul, Basil; and the brave brass chain hath gone, I see. And the ruby too? Where are they, my friend?”
“In the Thames,” answered Basil, with hot cheeks.
“Stringent measures!” said Sir Nigel, laughing. “What made you fling all those valuables away?”
Basil looked away.
“They were but trash,” he muttered.
“But you loved trash at one time—like all of us. Whilst I was in the country you ran loose, and had
a few gold pieces, and thought yourself a lord, I'm thinking. And why have you not been to see me these many days?”
“I didn't think—that is, I thought—” stammered Basil.
“You thought me angry, eh?”
Basil bit his lip, and kept silent.
“Or, you preferred this desolate room, and to mourn for the dead master up-stairs, maybe. Natural, but a bit like the Allens, seeing you didn't love him.”
That roused Basil to self-defence.
“’Twasn't for him!”
“Not? Then, if you won't tell me it was anything else, I shall swear you wept for lack of my company or fear of my wrath.”
And Basil made no attempt to tell him it was anything else.
“Tush! What a coil about nothing. Do you think we'd never seen a cockerel strut before his comb was grown? What's that? . . . Yes, oh yes! You were several different kinds of dolt and fool, dear. I'd have taken the nonsense out of you in two seconds, only that I thought it would bitterly hurt you. Besides, I saw it dropping from you whilst you crowed. Cheer up, boy. Think you I, too, have not swaggered and boasted and been kicked in my day?”
Basil's look, as he raised his eyes a moment, was flatteringly and absolutely unbelieving. The Admiral
could never, he was certain, have been guilty of such horrid crimes. A hearty laugh from the Admiral at his solemn face ended Basil's absolution. He felt he was being taken back to his old place with his friends.
The Admiral stood up. Basil struggled for a few minutes with his shyness.
“Sir,” he ventured at last, “may I go with you?”
“Aye, and welcome.”
Sir Nigel held out his hand, thinking the lad asked to go with him to his rooms.
“But, sir, I mean—when you go away.”
“You will live with me whilst I stay in England. When I sail you shall be put to school, I think. I doubt Sir Peter has not taught you much.”
Basil felt that all his worst fears were being realized.
“When you go to seek Mr. Huntingdon,” he said piteously.
“Take me! Oh, sir, won't you please take me?”
Sir Nigel took a turn through the room, his hands behind him, deep in thought. He observed the boy's eager attitude and beseeching face. What was the child asking, after all? To be taken on a voyage that, if successful, would bring back the man who would rob him of his wealth. He remembered how this foot-page had poured away the poisoned wine,
daring discovery and anger rather than see a woman murdered. That act had saved his old friend's life. He remembered, too, that Basil was Godfrey's kinsman, and that he had had but little kindness in his life. And he was giving up, without a regret, without a thought of self, riches enough to turn the head of any man.
“For the life of me,” quoth the Admiral, stopping before him, “I can see no reason why you should not go.”
Basil danced with joy. He was to go to sea with the Admiral and to bring his master home.
“There's a deal to be done yet, lad. And, Basil, I would have you think of this: you are vastly ignorant yet of the value of what you give up, wealth and power, and the like. Here, alone with me, you would give up all gladly, you say, to have Mr. Huntingdon brought home. Some great persons may try to turn you from that purpose, and put it before you in another light. You may be impressed by their mere notice of you. Don't interrupt, I beg of you. You are ignorant of the world about you. You may find it hard to say, some day, that you prefer Godfrey to Godfrey's gold, or the protection and friendship of the great. You may find it safer, or it may seem less foolish, to deny both.—Don't look so defiant at me, sir, for I won't have it.”
The Admiral smiled as he spoke.
Basil was standing before him indignant and protesting.
“I'd never deny it! Not even before the Queen.”
“I only warn you, you will have things to face. Certainly I'll help you, but you must be sure of your own self.”
He held out his hand to the boy, again smiling, and they went down-stairs together.
CHAPTER XIII SIR PETER'S HEIR
Basil was put into mourning for his dead kinsman, and under Sir Nigel Hood's direction received and thanked people who came to congratulate him upon succeeding to the Huntingdon estates and the old miser's wealth. As chief mourner he walked at Sir Peter's funeral. As the owner of Wormald Court he was taken thither by Sir Nigel, when he went to attend to affairs and do business with the stewards.
Strange indeed it seemed to the foot-page to come to the home of the Huntingdons to all appearances as the master, unbelievable, and altogether wrong.
He found his little low room in the gable, unaltered, untouched, since he had slept there all that time ago. He was put to sleep now in a larger chamber, where many portraits of the Huntingdons looked down from the walls on their young descendant. He found his old companions—the cook and scullion—still in the kitchen, and the woman-servant sitting, as she had always seemed to sit, in the still-room. They bowed and curtseyed to him, and called him “your honour”
when they spoke. They would not jest or talk much with him. He was rich now, and went finely clad, and they would not venture to presume on old familiarity. He dined and supped with his guardian in the hall, and they waited upon him humbly. It was all passing strange. The gentry of the neighbourhood came to see him, and wished him joy and a long life. Basil had seen them afar off, in the old days, had held their stirrups, or carried them wine, and had been tossed a coin or a hard word, as it had happened. He had known them by name and by sight. He had never dreamed of being kissed and embraced as an equal, by dames and Knights of the Shire, and lords of manors.
There was no mention made of Godfrey, the other heir. Sir Nigel warned Basil to keep silence with regard to him and their hopes for the future. Godfrey Huntingdon had disappeared, that was all these people knew, or seemed to know. Some may have heard rumours, and had suspicions, but no questions were asked, and no information given. The Batteys did not come to see the young master of Wormald Court, and no doubt they knew they would not be welcomed there.
Under the stones by the stream Basil found his sling, very rotten, and the home of snail and worm. It seemed an age since, on that autumn evening, he had hidden it there, and gone up regretfully to take
in his master's wine. Now he had other weapons of the chase, hawk and hound and horse.
He sat by the water, thinking and dreaming many an evening, whilst his guardian and he stayed at Wormald Court. He thought he should like to live there some day with his cousin, Mr. Huntingdon. Of course, he should not be master then, but he should not mind serving his old master, by any means. And when he grew older he might be allowed a post as gamekeeper. Basil loved hunting, or, indeed, anything that kept him out of doors, or in the saddle.
When they got back to London, Sir Nigel was very much occupied in attendance on the Queen, who had made him one of her Council. It seemed there was a rumour abroad of a great Spanish invasion. All Europe was ringing with the news. The Spaniards were busy building ships, and providing armies for the conquest of England. The thieving sea-dogs were to be driven home to see to their defences, and then the Spaniards would be revenged on the buccaneers.
Sir Nigel was much from home, and there was a breath of danger and menace in the air.
But Basil was not without society or amusement. He found many friends came about him now he was reported rich. He was courted and considered, asked to join in sports and parties, to ride a-hunting, and to see the masques and stage-plays. Sir Nigel kept
a watchful eye on his young ward, even in the midst of his pressing business. He knew where he went, with whom, and for what purpose.
Basil knew he was watched, but he did not resent it. He felt he was only taking Godfrey's place until he came to take it, that he was very ignorant of what was fitting for a gentleman, and quite likely to do wrong. A hint from his guardian or a word of caution was enough to keep him from dangerous acquaintances or undesirable places. People whom he did not know even by sight spoke to him frequently, making him the kindest offers of friendship. Some professed to remember his father, or to owe some courtesy to the descendant of the Huntingdons. It was novel, rather mysterious, but by no means unpleasant. Basil had had few friends until lately, and none so flattering. He received gifts also from these people, and the boy could not help liking them. Sir Richard Varney, a friend of the Earl of Leicester's, sent him a hound. Presently a little horse came from the Earl himself.
“The Earl of Leicester is your cousin Godfrey's enemy,” said Sir Nigel Hood.
Basil stroked the horse's neck and sighed.
“Oh, keep the present—keep the present, boy. We will not rouse him to enmity with us yet. Only remember, he is trying to make a tool of you.”
“He would promise you his friendship, and make you forget your cousin.”
“He couldn't do that, sir,” said Basil.
In his own mind he wondered if it were possible that after all the Earl was really meaning to be good to him, and perhaps Godfrey too. But he did not suggest it to Sir Nigel Hood. He did not understand that he, an ignorant lad, was of importance to great persons in the State. He did not realize that, as a tool, he would be preferred to the man across the sea, who had been wronged, and therefore would not be likely to treat their advances in a friendly spirit. He and his gold would be at the mercy of these unscrupulous persons, but Godfrey Huntingdon would know whom to distrust.
Basil did not guess that Sir Nigel's design to bring that man back to England was already suspected and frowned upon by those who professed to have the Queen's safety and honour at heart.
A young courtier told Basil one day that if he wished it he would take him to see the Queen, and could assure him of a kind reception. Basil asked Sir Nigel if he ought to go. The Admiral shook his head.
“By no means, Basil, not yet. And never, unless I take you, boy.”
The next day Sir Nigel sent Basil down to his sister in the country.
“Do you remember my sister, Basil?” he asked as he was telling the boy of this new plan.
“Aye, sir, I think so. Not much what she was like, but that she was there in Bristol.” And then he added, “I remember, too, how Mr. Huntingdon looked always over his shoulder at her as they took him down the street. Aye, I remember it well. He never took his eyes off her till they came to the corner, and then he seemed to look at nought any more. She stood there, and he looked always at her.”
“Precisely, and therefore—” The Admiral paused a moment. “Therefore we bring back Godfrey Huntingdon.”
Basil failed to see the reasoning, but the Admiral seemed lost in thought, and he did not venture to question him.
“Though you need not say so, you'll understand, my lad,” the Admiral observed. “Nor need you repeat that remembrance of yours, I think. He and she were alone in that street, Basil, understand. Only their eyes could say good-bye. Poor souls!”
Basil was puzzled, but acquiesced without arguing.
Sir Nigel Hood did not live at Bristol now, but had bought a fine house in the country. Basil rode thither with one of Sir Nigel's friends and stayed there according to his guardian's wish. He liked Mistress Joan very much upon further acquaintance.
He was naturally sweet-tempered and easily contented, but he thought the country a little dull at first, after the delights of town and the company of men.
Basil had been in the country a month when one of Sir Nigel's servants came to him with orders to ride post, as Sir Nigel needed him in London without delay.
“I have a hope, Basil,” said the Admiral when his ward arrived. “To-morrow you must come with me to Court. Do you know the Earl of Leicester by sight?”
“Yes, sir. And he sent me the pony.”
“Marry, he did! And his creature, Varney, the hound. Beware Leicester, Basil. When he makes advances I bow and back out with many thanks. But he is away, I'm told, and that's just our chance, Basil. We must take the bull by the horns—go talk to the Queen's Majesty, I mean.”
Basil was very much excited at this, and took directions as to dress and deportment with breathless and attentive care. Sir Nigel's instructions were brief but positive, and Basil's wardrobe was laid out for selection, and a jewel or two added, and a little sword procured.
“Her Majesty wants ships to defy Spain with,” the Admiral explained. “And she shall have plenty if she will send for Godfrey Huntingdon. Basil, are you
sure you are still as ready to give up everything and have your old master back?”
“You know,” said Basil, smiling.
“Faith, I believe I do,” said the Admiral, and clapped him on the shoulder heartily.
CHAPTER XIV BASIL GOES TO COURT
Basil’s feelings upon being brought into the presence of Royalty were so confused, between fear and pleasure, that he was scarcely conscious of what passed at first.
Recovering gradually he found himself, shamefaced and very hot, standing by the door of the Queen's cabinet. Sir Nigel Hood, dressed richly in blue velvet, was standing at a table speaking, in his courtly way, to a lady seated there.
Basil eyed the lady and felt his knee-joints loosening. He thought her terrible. The little, swiftly moving eyes, now wrathful, and now laughing, the red hair it was the fashion to imitate, he had been told, and that he was glad to see the Admiral's did not in the least resemble, the face that never seemed softened by the smiles that passed frequently over it—all this was unlovely for a boy to look at, a boy, moreover, whose ideal of a Queen had been taken from Mary Stuart. Oh, but this Queen was strong and capable of doing hard things! He saw that,
also. Something suggested old Sir Peter to him—something alert and grasping and unsatisfied.
Recovering himself yet more, he gathered what Sir Nigel was speaking of—the threatened attack from the Spaniards. In a year, at the outside, the Spaniards would be ready for their retaliation on the English and their Queen.
“Troth!” exclaimed Her Majesty, “you've done your best, sir, to drive them to retaliate.”
“Thank you for saying so, Madam,” Sir Nigel answered, bowing. “Please God, I will do my best to drive them yet again.”
“Ah, but we lack ships! How many do you propose to lay at our service, Sir Nigel?”
“But still we want more, far more. Where are the rest of my sea-dogs that they offer not as freely as Sir Francis Drake and my Admiral Hood?”
“No doubt many more will offer, if your Majesty will make your desires known. Indeed, your Grace could have ships and men, too, freely without the asking if—”
Sir Nigel paused, but he did not take his grey eyes from the Queen's.
“Yes, sir? If? Wherefore if?”
“If a friend of my own were here to serve your Grace.”
“Marry, send for your friend, sir!”
“Alas! Madam, he is very far away. Were he with us he has gold enough and loyalty enough. Your Majesty would have no lack if he were here.”
Basil began to be really excited. He even so far ventured as to advance a step; then repented and fell back.
“But who is the gentleman of wealth, sir? And whither hath he gone?”
“He is in Sir Walter's Colony of Virginia, Madam.”
“So? Is there not time to have him thence?”
“Yes, there is time, Madam.”
“Send for him, I say, sir. Eh, ods bobs! Why not?”
“Your Majesty must send for him if he is to come.”
“Ah! Is he so great? What is he, this friend, so far away?”
“He is a slave, Madam.”
“A slave, sir?”
“Indeed, and alas so, Madam.”
“And how can a slave serve me, sir?”
“We are all your slaves, surely, Madam. He is the heir to great wealth.”
“Come, come, Sir Nigel. You excite my curiosity. Who is this slave of yours?”
“Mr. Godfrey Huntingdon, Madam.”
“And, prithee, who is Mr. Godfrey Huntingdon?”
“He is the nephew and heir of Sir Peter Huntingdon, but lately dead, Madam.”
“Ha! The old knave was a miser with wealth untold.”
“True, and much of it your Majesty's if you will send a pardon and an order of release to Godfrey Huntingdon.”
“Pardon, quotha? Pardon, what for, sir?”
“A trivial affair, exaggerated by private malice to your Grace. Godfrey Huntingdon never committed any crime, or broke any law. For kinsmen's spite and covetousness he was dragged away to slavery or death.”
“If he's a slave or dead, Sir Nigel, let us trouble ourselves no more with him. Old Sir Peter had no near relations, we have heard. Is not his wealth, then, fallen to the Crown?”
“No, Madam, he hath appointed another heir, and me his guardian.”
“The heir is far under age, I must tell your Grace. We cannot deal with his estates nor pay away his moneys. If Godfrey Huntingdon were in possession, all would be well, and as your Grace could wish.”
“How can you assure me of that, sir?”
“With my word of honour to your Majesty, which my friend would, of course, respect. He is as my
brother, Madam. We were lads together. I have loved no man like Godfrey Huntingdon.”
The Queen regarded him intently.
“Are you asking me a favour, Sir Nigel Hood?”
“I would if I dared, Madam.”
The Queen seemed pondering. Basil stood still in his place, but his heart was beating. Was there nothing else to be said? He had really no doubts of the Admiral's wisdom and power, but it seemed to the boy that there might have been something else to urge in Mr. Huntingdon's favour.
“If you dared, sir? Why, it seems we are to profit by this gentleman's return. It appears to us a duty for you to dare on our behalf.”
She smiled at the Admiral graciously. And he knelt down before her, and begged her, for the good of her august self and her faithful lieges, to send a pardon by him to his friend. He was handsome, and a great hero, and had given her magnificent gifts beside. And added to these was the consideration that Mr. Huntingdon's wealth, if he came home, would be laid at her feet.
Basil gulped something down in his throat, in the silence, as the Queen looked down at the Admiral's curling hair and stiff lace ruff.
“Granted!” she cried at last.
Basil almost shouted, all but clapped his hands. It
was hard to keep silence and behave as though he were made of wood.
Her Majesty gave Sir Nigel her hand to kiss. Then he got up, and laid some papers before her.
“I come prepared for your Grace,” he said.
“Yes, I will sign,” she said, quite in a friendly way, Basil thought. “But you have a Prince's word.”
“And your Majesty a Prince's heart,” said Sir Nigel, bowing, as he handed the pen.
Just at that moment Basil saw a curtain move behind the Queen's chair. A jewelled hand drew the drapery aside, and a gentleman came into the room, bowing to the Queen. She looked up sharply, and Basil saw her frown a little.
“Ha! Leicester. Methought you were abroad.”
“But just returned, Madam. I was informed your Grace was busied with army matters.”
“Naval, my lord,” said she.
The Earl looked across at the Admiral.
“Ah, naval? I see.”
Both courtiers bowed civilly.
The Queen filled her pen afresh, and stooped to sign the first paper.
“Affairs of state also?” asked the Earl softly, and leaned over the back of her chair. “Pardons? Ah, so ready always to show mercy, gracious one! For what offender is all this clemency? Virginia? Godfrey Huntingdon.”
He said the name very slowly. Then: “Does your Majesty know for what offence he suffered—Godfrey Huntingdon?”
“Nought much, I'll warrant me,” the Queen said hurriedly. “Nay, I know not, my lord.”
“But I can tell your Grace. Sir Nigel Hood, were he not tongue-tied by friendship, could tell your Majesty in a word. Godfrey Huntingdon was a disloyal subject to your Grace, and was punished justly but too leniently.”
The Queen looked at the Admiral.
“Sir,” she said tartly, “what is this?”
“Sir Nigel Hood knows reasons enough why your Majesty should refuse a pardon to Godfrey Huntingdon.”
Sir Nigel, with a slight gesture of comic despair, said—
“I could never hope to convince my Lord of Leicester that a dislike to standing by and seeing a woman poisoned was not in itself disloyal to Her Majesty.”
Leicester's eyes shot a glance of hate.
“A woman, sir? Shall I remind Her Majesty who the woman was?”
“If you please, my lord; it can make no difference to me.”
“No difference, if the Queen does not sign that paper?”
“Ah, my Lord of Leicester, I have her Grace's word.”
The Earl laughed rudely. The Queen turned on him in a tempest of anger. She thought he mocked at her word. Basil shook with fear as she rated her favourite for his unmannerly interference. He bore it all meekly, knelt at her feet, apologized, and begged her forgiveness.
“I did not make light of your Majesty's sacred word,” he pleaded.
“Nor had you better! Get up, sir! My word? Aye, given, nor do I break it, I would have you remember.”
She caught up her pen again and signed with a flourish.
The Earl rose calm and smiling, and to Basil's disgust came down the room and took him familiarly by the hand. Basil remembered the Admiral's words: “When Leicester makes advances, I back out with many thanks.” Here was no chance of backing out. He was led up to the table on the farthest side from Sir Nigel Hood.
“Your Majesty,” the Earl began.
“Well, my lord?”
“I make an appeal to your Majesty on behalf of this poor child.”
“Hum! What's amiss with him?”
“Much, Madam; but if he will trust me I will set
him right.” He smiled down at Basil, and passed an arm protectingly about his neck. “This is Sir Peter's rightful heir, the child who now holds his kinsman's lands, an orphan, and, it seems, in the hands of very doubtful friends.”
Basil longed to fly, but could not move. He looked across at the Admiral helplessly. What could the Earl of Leicester be wanting him to do? He had been warned not to trust him, but the Earl was so great, so evidently wishing to be kind.
“This boy, Madam, surely lacks a pleader. His guardian, for private ends, wishes to supplant him with a friend. The boy, I have no doubt, objects, and rightly, helpless as he is.” He looked into Basil's eyes swiftly, with a threat in his own. He wanted Basil to place himself in his hands, to claim his protection. He had sent people on purpose to flatter and persuade him. The watchful guardian had foreseen and prevented many of his schemes. Basil wriggled under his hands, and Her Majesty was growing impatient. “I declare myself,” the Earl concluded, “the friend and champion of this boy.”
“Doth he want one?” the Queen demanded.
The Admiral was laughing almost. Basil saw his grey eyes full of humour, and felt his champion give a savage pinch to his arm.
“Speak, boy,” said the Queen. “Have you a grievance?”
“No, please your Majesty!” he cried, the cry sharpened by the Earl's pinch.
“Do you not object to the loss of your kinsman's wealth, of all the fine things you might have?” Leicester asked him. “’Tis yours. Come, I will help you to keep it.”
“Nay,” Basil blurted out, very red and terrified, “I want none of it. I want Mr. Huntingdon to come home.”
The Admiral smiled at him. The Queen said—
Lord Leicester dropped his arm and pushed him away. The boy had failed him. Sir Nigel had defied him.
“I brought the boy to your Grace that he might thank you if your Majesty listened to my entreaties for restoring the kinsman whom he loves.”
“See that I have my thanks in some more solid form, Sir Nigel Hood,” she said sternly, and dismissed them all without another look at Basil.
In the ante-room the Earl, in passing them, let fall a glove. Basil was about to pick it up, but Sir Nigel was before him and took it up on his rapier.
“Did your lordship throw it down?” he inquired, barring the way.
The Earl, frowning, waved him aside.
“Did your lordship drop it?”
The Earl would not answer.
"'Nay,' basil blurted out, 'I want none of it.'"--p.120.
“If your lordship threw it down, I shall have great pleasure in taking it up.”
Sir Nigel made as if to put the embroidered glove in his belt.
The Earl, with a rather hasty movement, held out his hand.
“I dropped it, my dear sir.”
The Admiral handed it back with a short laugh.
“We'll be careful what we eat and drink till we're on board, Basil,” he observed as they went home. “My Lord prefers poisoned cups to cold steel.”
CHAPTER XV THE SLAVE
Admiral Hood hastened his preparations, and that very night he and Basil started for Plymouth.
Basil supposed the Admiral feared that some plot of the Earl's should end their lives in revenge for their withstanding the great man's will. Sir Nigel feared, as much more likely, that the Queen's pardon would be recalled, that her mind would be altered after all. Leicester might work on her hatred of the Scotch Queen, her fear of that lady's adherents. He might represent Godfrey Huntingdon to her as a still dangerous enemy, and so the Queen might repent and all their efforts be made void.
Anxious and silent was the Admiral, till, at the last moment, he came over the ship's side, to the sound of cheering and the clash of trumpet and drum. Grave he remained until they stood out to sea, a fair wind blowing, and no summons come for their return.
“So far, good,” he said, his brow clearing. “Courage, Basil! We have begun our work.”
They had two small ships in convoy, and were supposed to be going only on account of Sir Walter Raleigh to visit his new Colony, and carry with them arms and grain and implements and stores.
Basil believed he had exhausted the wonders of the world an hour after sailing. When he recovered from sea-sickness, he expected to be able to see the forest-clad shores of the New World at least coming into sight. Being assured he had time enough for many more diseases before they saw their journey's end, he turned his mind to some other excitement. He was for ever expecting to see an enemy's sail in the offing, and darting below to sharpen his little hanger.
But they had a dull voyage, in the men's opinion. Nothing wonderful came in the way of wind or weather, though Basil considered a thunderstorm that met them a deadly and an awful tempest. No enemy chased them or was chased. Sails appeared and disappeared, but the Admiral held on his way, going out of his course for no one.
Basil soon became a favourite on board; ready to learn, eager to hear, courageous, ready to laugh at his failures in seamanship, loving to go aloft, rejoicing in the perils of the sea.
“Born a mariner,” was the verdict, and Basil vowed himself to the life of a sailor.
It seemed to him he had never lived until he came on this ship. He almost forgot London. Wormald Court
and his page's place in Sir Peter's household seemed a dream.
But one day an officer showed him what looked like a cloud low down on the sky line, and told him that was land—the land to which they went.
Then the purpose of the long voyage came back to him. The new land called to him. Somewhere in it Godfrey Huntingdon was toiling as a slave in chains, perhaps, sick, broken, in despair. They were coming armed with power to release him, and Basil was as wild to get ashore and fulfil their mission as he had been the day before to stay afloat.
Excitement, fear of how they might find his kinsman, thoughts of vengeance, swift and terrible if any had oppressed or, mayhap, killed him, mingled with his amazement as they went up the river, signalling to reassure the settlers on the shore.
They were welcomed as only a handful of men in a savage land, cut off from all help or news, could welcome countrymen and friends, and news of home. Very lean and battered-looking were the gentlemen of Virginia, very fierce were the eyes that kept watch over the flag of England in this little outpost of the race.
Basil went ashore with Admiral Hood, all eyes, all ears, trying to see and comprehend everything at once; the pierced stockade, the wooden houses, the flagstaff, and the air of armed vigilance worn by every man.
"An officer showed him what looked like a cloud."--p.126.
Great was the delight over the coming of the Admiral and the stores. The chiefs of the pioneers gathered round him and his officers in eager talk, feasting them in their best manner, drinking their healths, whilst the tobacco smoke rose and curled about them.
Basil, between eating and talking, kept a roving eye for sight of Godfrey Huntingdon. If their hosts’ servants entered, he searched all faces for a likeness to his kinsman. He wondered which of these gentlemen owned him as a slave, and where he was, and why he did not come to seek their aid. Surely even the slave must know in this tiny place when the big ship came up the river in broad day. Surely amongst the servants it must be going round that the head of the expedition was Sir Nigel Hood. Still there was no sign of Godfrey Huntingdon, nor did he hear any mention of his name. The Admiral was not demanding his release. That was what they had come all this way for, yet here they sat, eating and drinking and idling, the hours passing, and nothing being done.
Some of the officers had friends amongst the colonists, others soon made acquaintance. They went down together to the ships, or to examine the defences. The Admiral and two of the elder men sat on in the house where they had had dinner, and Basil hung about the doorway, out of earshot, impatient, longing for something to be done.
At last the company broke up, and Sir Nigel came out with a gentleman so tanned by wind and sun he might have been an Indian but for his bleached hair and beard and bright blue eyes.
“This is the boy,” said the Admiral to his companion. “This is my cousin, Mr. Oliver Hood, Basil. We are to lodge and sup with him.”
“This way, cousin,” said Mr. Hood, after he had greeted Basil kindly.
He led the way across by the flagstaff and the pillory to his log-house.
“Already?” questioned Sir Nigel, pointing to the pillory.
“Aye,” replied the other, laughing ruefully. “We are not without our rogues. But the first man to stand there was no rogue.” Mr. Hood looked down at Basil. “He was Godfrey Huntingdon.”
Basil flushed red, and cried out angrily. The Admiral's blue eyes blazed.
“Just so,” said Mr. Hood, going on again. “I'll tell you about it when we are within, and you are eased a little. Yonder his master lives, a churl, if ever there lived one, Stephen Daniel, a baker's son of Plymouth, but a bold man and rich.”
Basil glared at the log-hut of his kinsman's master, and asked hotly why they did not go there at once and save him from the churl.
“He is out with a scouting party,” the Admiral
told him. “There is trouble amongst the Indians. Patience, boy! He will be back ere long.”
So the Admiral, Mr. Oliver Hood, and Basil went indoors, Basil chafing inwardly, and sitting round the window-place, listened to the settler's talk. He showed them the outlines of his garden and orchard, spoke of them as with assured hope of their being sweet places some day. To Basil all seemed to be burned grass, without trace of plant or fruit-tree, and unfenced from the road.
“So Godfrey's master is a churl,” said the Admiral, with that fire smouldering in his eyes still, and an impatient hand tugging at his beard. “Then I suppose my friend has been in misery these four years?” And his voice had a deep ring of anger and of pain.
“Well,” said his cousin slowly, “it might have been so, but—” He filled his pipe, and Basil could have pinched him for being so slow of speech. “His master is of the beasts that perish—unspeakable—a brute. But Huntingdon! Well, you will consider, Nigel, we understood very soon that he was one of us. Oh yes, shipped as a felon, and sold as a slave, but we are few, and none so prosperous and absorbed in raking in our gains but that we have time and chances, God wot! of testing the nature of a man. Here, when we are attacked, master and man fight side by side, and we have cause to see and trust the
ablest. And there, you'll understand, was our chance of finding out the usefulness of Godfrey Huntingdon.”
“He was a keen fighter.”
“He is far more, my good cousin. He is a born soldier, a horse of quite another colour. Also, and moreover, he has won the affection—I don't know any other word, though that's not quite a true one—of some of those same redskins. It fell out thus. A tribe of them attacked us in the fall three years back, and we sent out what men we could spare to take them in the rear—a risky business. Godfrey Huntingdon and his master were both of that band, and the first was taken prisoner. We did not expect to see him back. Either he would escape and go off by himself into the forest, or he would be tortured to death. The last was the most probable. But, so please you, he returned on the third day, the tribe at his heels—their king.”
“How ever in this world—?”
“Nay, how shall I tell you? He told nothing. They—the redskins—seem to have found him a mighty sachem, what not? A god, perchance! They discovered a sign, mystic, expected, prophesied, on the palm of his right hand.”
Mr. Hood stopped. Basil suddenly guessed what that sign would be. The Admiral lifted his eyebrows questioningly. His cousin nodded, and went on—
“That tribe's been friendly ever since. When we lack scouts or help against the other tribes, or hunters merely, we send Godfrey Huntingdon to arrange it with his braves. They are his children and his brothers. He might have freed himself, revenged himself horribly for his wrongs. Instead he has been of vast service to us all. I tell you, Nigel, it is an evil chance that has robbed him all these years of his glory and reward.”
“And his master treats him—”
“Like a slave! I have myself seen him strike Godfrey, generally for his own clumsiness, when he has waited on us at table. He has made him do everything that could be unpleasant and degrading. Nature—all nature. He was jealous of the gentleman who was in his power.”
The Admiral dropped his sword between his knees with a clang, and seemed to find some comfort from the feel of its hilt.
“And he put my friend in the pillory?” he asked.
“Aye, that was a case! The young gentleman seems very restless, eh?”
Basil was walking about the room, distressed, angry, longing to do something violent.
“Come here, boy,” the Admiral called. “Wait! Wait just a little.”
Basil subsided on the floor by his friend's stool, but he could scarcely keep still even then.
Mr. Hood blew a cloud of smoke and resumed—
“That came of his friendship with the Indian chiefs, and the magic of his hand. You take me? Godfrey had picked up some knowledge of physic from somewhere, and had doctored one of the braves, but they thought his recovery due to the mark in his hand. Well, the war-chief was sick and they sent for Godfrey. His master forbade him to go. But he had already promised the brave to come to him. And, of course, he went.”
“To be sure,” said the Admiral.
“And returned, told his master he had been, and his master forthwith put him in the new pillory—a disobedient, mutinous slave. In a small community it is not good to interfere over much with other men's doings. But we spoke to Daniel on Godfrey's behalf. He persisted, and there stood Huntingdon. Very good! We agreed on our course. Tony Brown and I cleared the square of those who came to gape. We closed our doors and looked not out of our windows. The place was left for two good hours as private and still as when Madame Godiva rode the streets of Coventry.”
The Admiral leaned forward and shook his cousin's hand.
But Basil was not contented with the gentlemen's courtesy.
“I would have killed him!” he cried. “Why didn't some one?”
Mr. Hood smiled.
“You haven't learnt your cousin's lesson, Master Basil. When a man's within his rights, one must neither rebel nor break his neck.”
“And his health?” asked the Admiral anxiously.
“Oh, excellent. Be easy on that score.”
“But just think what he must have felt!” Basil broke out again.
“Oh, aye, felt! But you'll understand some day, boy, that it was because he was a gentleman that he had to obey, because we were gentlemen that we could not interfere. He would not have brooked it, either. He gives himself no airs of the martyr. He is very quiet, very civil to everybody, lifts his hat in our presence, will take no liberties, nor have them taken. He is a slave, simply, and makes and keeps his place.”
“The old lesson our fathers thrashed into us, Basil—a gentleman's first duty's to obey.”
“Aye, verily,” nodded Oliver Hood. “That is so. You'll find him changed, I doubt not; not debased, though, and not degraded. A great thinker, perhaps, but no babbler, a keen fighter, swift and sure, and
very still. His name amongst the Indians is the Silent Knife. Ah, hush!”
Mr. Hood lifted a finger.
His trained ear had caught on the roadway the soft fall of moccasined feet.
CHAPTER XVI THE SILENT KNIFE
Mr. Hood went to the door and called.
In a minute a figure went past the window, tall and lithe, dressed in a leather hunting shirt and breeches, with fringed moccasins of deer-hide, a long sword at his side, and in his hand a sheath of arrows and an Indian bow.
“Good-day, sir,” said a voice at the door. “We met the war-party and slew several. I bring you the war-chief's bow, if you will accept it.”
“You killed him?”
“Thank God! I'll gladly have it. But come in! Come in!”
“Nay, sir, I thank you. I go to give up my arms. My master is awaiting me.”
There was no contempt, no trace of resentment in the way he said “my master.” The voice was very calm, very indifferent.
The Admiral pushed his cousin on one side and flung his arms round his old friend.
Mr. Hood, shrugging his shoulders good-humouredly, came back and drew Basil away. He showed the boy the Indian bow, and told him tale after tale of Mr. Huntingdon's courage and ability. Basil listened, but was wondering all the time when his turn would come, when his old master would think of him. Would he be remembered? Would he be welcomed heartily? He looked anxiously at the man sitting out on the wooden door-step with Sir Nigel Hood. The friends’ hands were locked together, and the Admiral was telling the history of their voyage and its object, and the Queen's pardon.
Basil saw his master was changed in those four years that had gone by since he saw him flung into the boat at Bristol, but he could not understand quite wherein lay the change.
In the solemn forest, that pathless wilderness, Godfrey Huntingdon had found something that had ministered to his sore spirit as no pity of man's could have done. Something of its stillness and its peace had grown into his nature, had come into his face. His Indian neighbours had held out to him the hand of fellowship. From the red man, too, had come some of that passionless, inscrutable calm. If he could still be tossed and shaken by any storm of anger or excitement there were no signs of it in his low voice, or deep, grave eyes.
Basil gazed and gazed at him, looking for traces of
"Drawing the boy to him, kissed him."--p.141.
the gay, laughing gallant he remembered, with his quick movements, hasty words, and proud bearing.
The two men got up at last.
“Did you say you had Basil with you?” Mr. Huntingdon asked.
Basil needed no bidding. He bounded forward and stopped. The change made his old master a stranger, and he was suddenly almost afraid, certainly very shy.
But Godfrey held out his right hand—on which he wore a frayed leather glove, and, drawing the boy to him, kissed him gravely.
Sir Nigel would tell him of the boy's courage and intelligence, and many other good qualities to which Basil had never dreamed he could lay claim.
Mr. Huntingdon said nothing, but then and henceforward Basil had no doubts of his cousin's love and good opinion. No language, no mere words, could have conveyed it all one half so well as the speaking silence of the Silent Knife.
CHAPTER XVII THE INDIAN BRAVES
“And now,” said Admiral Hood, “I go to speak with this knavish master of yours. Beshrew me, if I don't quarrel with him on sight!”
“He has been within his rights,” said Mr. Huntingdon.
“Baker's son, eh? No meat for a blade.” The Admiral whistled softly to himself. “Yet are we bound to differ. He'll find me overbearing, I him offensive. By your leave, Oliver, I'll borrow this riding-whip.”
He took his cousin's switch, and, humming gently, went down the path to Stephen Daniel's.
Basil was soon busy helping Mr. Hood to prepare beds and supper for his guests. He saw that the servants brought the Admiral's baggage up, and, refusing their assistance, himself laid out the clothes and sword they had brought for Godfrey Huntingdon.
“I've done with wealth and all that,” he thought. “I am but the son of a younger son. I can be his page again.”
So he went and brought Godfrey to his room, and trussed his points and buckled his sword-belt for him. Mr. Huntingdon received his attentions with a quiet smile.
“Thanks, Basil. I like the feel of this shirt.”
They went down and found supper spread, and a ring of guests who came to congratulate Mr. Huntingdon.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” said he, as they shook hands with him. The words were very simple, yet his eyes conveyed to each his gratitude, not only for the present courtesy, but for the consideration he had had from them in the past.
They waited supper for the Admiral, and he came at last and took his place among them, saying aside—
“Cousin, I owe you a riding-whip. A thousand regrets for breaking it. One shall come in the next ship, rest assured.”
To Basil, later, he whispered —
“I have settled my score with Master Daniel. He will neither sit nor go these many days.”
Basil thanked him warmly as for a personal favour. Godfrey asked no questions, but Basil saw him laughing silently across the table at his friend as though he understood their whispering.
At the end of supper Mr. Huntingdon's health was drunk with cheering. Then he rose and called a health for the gentlemen of Virginia, the most considerate,
the bravest, the kindest-hearted in the world. Basil and Sir Nigel and his officers applauded with a shout that made the glasses ring.
So with speeches and revelry the hours went.
Basil had much to see and hear on the next day. Godfrey took him to see a few of the wonders of this beautiful, dangerous New World. Of all things, Basil desired most to see his cousin's friends in the forest—the war-chiefs and the braves.
“We will bid them farewell together,” Godfrey promised him.
So the day before the ship was to sail Godfrey took Sir Nigel and the boy into the wilderness, guiding them, where Basil could see no paths, miles away from the river and the log-huts of the settlers, till late in the afternoon they came to the encampment of the friendly tribe.
Basil saw the smoke curling upward, and the ring of silent braves, the war-chief in their midst, expectant, grave, and only, it seemed, very faintly interested.
“How did they know we were coming?” the boy asked.
“We met their runners an hour ago. And yesterday I sent them word.”
“Met them?” Basil repeated incredulously.
“Aye. At first they did not know me in this dress.”
“Until you uncovered your hand?” said the Admiral quietly. “I saw.”
Godfrey inclined his head.
He went forward and spoke to the war-chief in the language of the tribe, explaining that the great white Woman Chief who ruled his nation had sent for him to return across the big salt lake.
The Indian lamented the loss of his white brother, but knew that when the chief called the braves must come.
Godfrey drew the chief's attention to the Admiral, and the warrior gazed long at the yellow-haired man with his grey eyes and stately bearing.
“Tell him,” said the Admiral, “that I thank him for loving you, as though he and his people had been good friends to me myself.”
Godfrey interpreted the speech, and a low hum of approval marked the words. The chief laid his hand on the Admiral's chest, and spoke to him gravely in his musical tongue. Sir Nigel unbuckled his sword, and laid it in his hands. The dark warrior looked down at it with grave wonder, then spoke to Godfrey.
“He says he cannot take so good a weapon, seeing that he has nothing to equal it to give you in return.”
“Ah, tell him,” cried the Admiral, “that he spared you, and so gives me back a gift beyond mine, Say
he has given me back my friend, and the debt's all mine.”
The Indian's teeth gleamed when he heard the answer, and again there was a deep hum of applause.
Then Godfrey introduced his little brother Basil and the boy boldly took the red man's hand. The chief, seeming pleased with the boy, gave him his hunting-knife. Turning to Godfrey, and pointing to Basil, he told him some important piece of news, four of his braves adding a few words when he appealed to them. Godfrey nodded silently, and then they all sat down and smoked the peace-pipe together.
As they came back through the dark forest, escorted by the lithe and painted braves, Basil inwardly resolved to come back to this fine land, where, clad in the deer-hide shirt and feather head-dress, armed with knife and bow, a man might live a good life, free from school and tutors, and silks and fripperies, and houses and feather beds. Here, with these noble brothers, he would hunt and fish and slay, known and feared under some war-name. And he made himself several as they walked.
“The war-chief told me,” said Mr. Huntingdon as the ship went out to sea, “that the Little Brother of the Silent Knife went very near the gates, once, of the happy hunting grounds.”
“What's that?” asked Basil.
"The chief gave him his hunting-knife."--p.146.
“When?” the boy exclaimed.
The Admiral lingered to hear.
“It seems,” said Godfrey, “that one of your crew brought a letter from Robert Allen to Stephen Daniel.”
“I dare say. We had many letters and packets aboard.”
“Ah, well, they would, of course, warn him, and try to prevent my return and Basil's also. A party of my Indian friends fell upon a party of another tribe, enemies, fully painted and armed, with their faces towards our town. My braves followed, saw them hide, and saw, beyond them, Basil bathing in the creek. They slew three, and the fourth, under torture, told the news.”
“Why, I never heard a sound! Never! I bathed several times, but I never once heard any fighting,” the boy exclaimed.
“Ah, but we do these things very quietly! The men had been hired by Stephen Daniel to carry you away to their village. They counted on my following. We should not have returned. It was the will, the warrior said, of the great sachem who stood at the right hand of the great white Woman Chief.”
“The Earl of Leicester!” said the Admiral.
“No doubt they have made other attempts and failed.”
“Thank God!” cried the Admiral.
“Aye, indeed!” Basil echoed, shivering. He had heard of the fire and the pine splinters. Godfrey had faced them and been spared. He did not need the way explaining to the Indian's happy hunting grounds.
“You two go home to foes,” said the Admiral. “I fear there will be trouble to be met.”
“Together,” said Godfrey quietly, resting his hand a moment on Basil's shoulder.
CHAPTER XVIII THE RETURN
Mistress Joan Hood was standing on the steps of the Admiral's house in the country, and before her, splashed and hot, by a dripping steed—they had ridden far, and it was a July day—a messenger from Plymouth was giving the lady news.
“The Spaniards are broken, yes, madam. They are flying with the greatest loss.”
“And our losses?”
“But slight, madam. Only one ship and no important lives.”
“And Sir Nigel Hood, have you any news of his return yet?”
“Aye, lady, brave news. He arrived from Virginia in the very nick of time, and cut his way through the Spanish ships and joined Sir Francis Drake. He is still chasing and fighting at the enemy's tail.”
“He is come back, then?”
“As I said, madam, just in the nick of time.
Feared he was too late. Flung his bonnet in the air when he heard the guns.”
The man turned to his horse and began rebuckling a strap.
“Oh, and he bade me say—”
“You've seen him, sir?”
“Surely. I was on his ship three days back, and he—”
“Yes! The message?”
“Oh, he bid me say that Mr. Godfrey Huntingdon was with him, and led the men who towed the fire-ships among the Spanish galleons, and that—let me see! Oh, ah—that you were to be of good cheer, as all was well.”
The man did not notice her heightened colour, nor guess why he was so generously rewarded for his news. He rode off well satisfied, and the lady went into her garden thinking of many things.
So they had come back from that new land in time for the Admiral to play his favourite game; in time for Mr. Godfrey Huntingdon to distinguish himself. So sure had her brother been of Godfrey's feelings, if he lived, so ready to take the responsibility if he were dead, that he had purveyed, in Mr. Huntingdon's name, the ships he had promised the Queen. Their late arrival had not broken his compact nor dishonoured his friend. They had come in amid the
very thick of the fight and had shared in the glory. Surely, Mr. Huntingdon should be welcomed and honoured by the Queen. But, Mistress Joan remembered, beside the Queen was that great nobleman, the Earl of Leicester, and there were still things to fear.
Admiral Hood brought letters with him from the colonists to Sir Walter Raleigh, and in those letters some friendly hand had written a few lines in favour of the slave who had served them so faithfully, in spite of his power amongst the Indians and his oppression at the hands of Stephen Daniel. And when Sir Nigel came ashore to join in triumphs and thanks-givings, he introduced Godfrey and Basil to Raleigh, and the men became friends. None the less did they fear the hatred of the Earl of Leicester; none the less did they feel it likely Godfrey would receive but a cold welcome from the Queen.
They rode into the country soon after landing, Basil and his kinsman and Sir Nigel Hood, to spend a few quiet days, and be feasted by Sir Nigel's neighbours.
Basil had seen his first fighting, and after the courage of ignorance, and the shame of a moment's panic, had come to his second courage and acquitted himself well. True he had not been allowed to get into the thick of the press. He had not been with
Godfrey when he towed the fire-ships into the enemy's lines. He had not been permitted to join boarding parties, or to rush into the slaughter. But he had had his post assigned, and had stuck to it whilst bullets flew and swords clashed near enough to be unpleasant. There were no safe posts on the Admiral's ship when he went into battle. He received the Admiral's nod of approval at the end of each encounter.
“You have learnt to stand, Basil. You will learn to move presently. Please God, you will never learn to fly.”
So the boy was fairly satisfied, though he had slain no man, saved no man's life, led no desperate parties, and died no fine death at his chief's side. He was learning his trade, and he had seen things. He had seen the method of the Silent Knife in action; had seen him unhurried, unexcited, sparing the weak, and, with equal mercy, killing the strong, in neither rage nor hate. He had seen him amongst the wounded later; had heard his few courteous words to the Spanish officer, as he took his sword. Basil had seen all this, and had himself stood still in obedience to orders, when he had longed to be stirring, and he had a new feeling of strength and self-respect.
When they came to the Admiral's house, Mistress Joan was standing on the steps waiting for them.
Sir Nigel kissed her, and then, pointing to his friend he said—
“Behold!” and taking Basil with him, went indoors.
“We will leave them alone, Basil,” said he. “As alone as they were last, in Bristol Street.”
CHAPTER XIX THE EARL OF LEICESTER'S BRIBES
A summons to Court for Mr. Huntingdon took the gentlemen up to town in August. Basil was not to go to see Her Majesty, but he took much interest in dressing his cousin for the great event. He still chose to play the part of page, though Godfrey had made him understand that he was no longer a mere servant, but a kinsman who should have a fair share of his estate.
“The old miser's gold shall go to buy us ships and men, boy,” he said. “You and I will live as simple squires, like our forefathers.”
“Nay, we will surely be sailors,” Basil cried.
“Between whiles. I may want some intervals of peace.”
Basil walked with Sir Nigel and Godfrey to the Palace, when, wandering through the streets, he renewed his acquaintance with London. He met a friend here and there, led the talk easily to the Invincible Armada, excited keen envy for having been in the actual fighting, and left his listeners faint
with jealousy, when he capped that by telling of his Virginian voyage.
So he idled away about an hour, until suddenly at a street corner he ran into two gentlemen. He drew back to beg pardon, and met the eyes of the Earl of Leicester and Robert Allen.
Before he had quite realized the fact, a call from the Earl had brought up a party of armed servants.
“Take the boy in,” he commanded, pointing to Basil.
Basil, at this, plucked up his courage.
“By your leave, my lord, I must pass,” he said.
“Must?” was the soft reply.
In spite of resistance and prayers Basil was led off. It was a quiet road, and the few bystanders did not dream of interfering with the Earl of Leicester on the boy's behalf.
Basil was taken up through a garden to a large house, and into a chamber by the door. The Earl waved away the servants and sat down by the table. Robert Allen stood whispering in his patron's ear.
“Very good,” said Leicester. “Listen, sir! You and I have met before, have we not?”
“Yes, my lord,” Basil answered.
“I am glad you recall it. Do you chance to remember, also, how I made you an offer of friendship and support?”
“Ye-es, my lord.”
“That's well! You were so foolish, were you not, as to refuse the offer and thwart the good intention I had with regard to you? I hope to make you see how very foolish a child were you then. You profess to love your unfortunate kinsman Godfrey Huntingdon, and he you again. Would you do something for him?”
“Gladly,” Basil said.
“Would he do aught for you if you were to ask him?”
“Aye, that he would, if it hurt not his honour.”
“Oh, we'll be careful of that! Well, then, you must stay here till dusk; then go home and ask your Cousin Godfrey to come with you to see one who loves him, and lives a little way off. Do you know of any gentlemen who love him?”
“Well, you must name one likely, and then bring him hither. For doing this you will become my friend, and my friends are lucky, they tell me. And as a sign—see, do you like this?” He held up a ring of diamonds that winked in the sunshine. “Or do you love better that sword?” He pointed to the wall, where hung a suit of damascened armour and a sword with jewelled hilt. “These are trifles, and yours, with many more like them, if you do what I bid you. If you love riches and braveries, you shall have them; if you love power, it will be yours. At Tilbury Her
Majesty made me her Vicegerent—a king, in fact, and you will have her friendship and my own.”
Basil looked hard at the great man, with his persuasive voice and manner, and wondered what to say.
“And, now,” said his lordship, after a few minutes, “I will hear your answer, please.”
Basil looked down thoughtfully. How could he answer properly? So a few more minutes passed.
“Come, my boy, you are not being asked to commit a crime,” said the Earl of Leicester. “Godfrey Huntingdon is bound to fall into my hands sooner or later, and you with him. To save you, because of your youth, I stoop to offer you my friendship once again.”
Basil flushed and paled again, knowing well the great man meant no friendship.
“Godfrey is my friend,” he said; “I could not bring him here.”
“Ah, but have a care!” the Earl said, smiling. “Godfrey will be brought here. You may rest assured of that. I offer you a chance of safety.”
Basil shook his head.
“I could not bring him here,” he repeated steadily.
“Then you will share his fate?”
“Aye,” cried the boy, with much relief, “that's it!”
“His fate will be a Spanish galley, and the
Spaniards will not love an English prisoner in these days,” said Robert Allen, speaking for the first time.
The Earl lifted his hand for silence.
“Ah, no,” said he slowly; “the Spaniards shall have Godfrey and Basil Huntingdon. The escaped slave shall not return to the credulous, easy-going gentlemen of Virginia. The Spaniards shall have both him and you. But it is the Holy Office that shall deal with both.”
Basil's heart seemed to stop. The room spun round. He caught at the table-edge dizzily. The Holy Office! That meant the Inquisition, the very name of which brought dread to those who heard it.
The Earl leaned back in his chair and let the charm work. Not slavery, not death, but torture—nameless, constant, unimaginable torture, and cruelty that had no end. Very still sat the Earl and waited, and very restlessly did Robert Allen pull his beard and watch.
“Robert,” said the Earl at last, “hand me yonder toy.”
Robert unhooked the rapier from the wall. The Earl laid it on the table before Basil, and smiling, hung the jewelled ring on the point.
“But if you choose to serve me, Master Basil, you will be spared the Inquisition, and be lord of much wealth beside. You will have chosen, no doubt, by this?”
Basil flung the sword from him, back at the giver,
"Basil flung the sword from him."--p.160.
and the ring slipped from the point and ran across the floor.
“Never!” he said.
“But you forget—surely you forget the terrors of the Holy Office.”
Basil looked round the room, at the Earl's relentless face, and round the room again, with a half smile.
“Good!” said the Earl, “I see you have decided otherwise, after all. You will bring your cousin here?”
“No need, my lord. He is here.”
The Earl started.
Behind him, bowing gravely, stood Mr. Huntingdon. Swiftly the Earl took in the man, the Admiral beyond him, and two armed servants on the steps without. It was no time for a brawl, nor dare he attack the people's hero, Sir Nigel Hood. He stood up.
“I must compliment you on your silent entry, Mr. Huntingdon! A thing admirable in house-servants, to be sure. One finds them slow, as a rule, to learn it. You picked it up to perfection in your sojourn in Virginia.”
“Thanks, my lord. Your lordship's boards are so smooth, your doors so noiseless, one sees the very house is trained to secrecy.”
“And Sir Nigel Hood here also?”
“At your lordship's service, yes.”
The Earl did not inquire their business, but the Admiral was anxious to acquaint him with it.
“We have been in Her Majesty's ante-chamber,” said he, “and Her Grace found herself disinclined to see us, they said. Returning thence, we met a ’prentice lad who had seen our little friend there led away by your lordship's people. Guessing your lordship's interest in the boy's welfare—knowing the boy and his custom of telling the truth, however little asked for it—we were assured your lordship, on the one hand, would suavely make him proposals which he, on the other, would stoutly refuse. Knowing this would make him tiresome to your lordship, we made so bold as to come hither and relieve your lordship of his company.”
“A thousand thanks, Sir Nigel Hood. I will not forget the attention. For the present nought remains but to wish you all good-day.”
With courtly bows and eyes all full of understanding, the gentlemen saluted the Earl of Leicester. So polite and dignified, so gentle and suave were they, it would have puzzled an onlooker to see any signs of bitter hate. Yet they were there, those danger-signals—in the twitching face of Robert Allen, in the silky tones of the Earl, in the light in the sea-dog's eyes; most markedly, perhaps, in the way Mr. Huntingdon slipped off his velvet glove, and glanced down at his hand.
Basil clung to his cousin's arm as they went out, breathing hard. He had resisted the Earl's persuasions; he was safe now, but there remained in his mind the Earl's threat—
“The Spaniards shall have Godfrey and Basil Huntingdon. But it is the Holy Office that shall deal with both.”
“Godfrey,” he said, “I wish we could go to sea.”
“Not yet,” was the stern reply.
CHAPTER XX THE TERROR OF THE HOLY OFFICE
From that hour in the Earl of Leicester's house Basil lived, day and night, from week-end to weekend, with the terror. The dungeons of the Inquisition haunted his dreams sleeping, occupied every moment of thought waking. The calm certainty with which the all-powerful Earl had spoken of their being eventually taken and given over to the Holy Office, the hopelessness of trying to escape, the secrecy and cunning of his methods, made the boy's life a misery to him. He lived each day in dread. He did not dare to leave his cousin for an hour, lest he should come back to find him gone. The streets and alleys of London were to his mind infested with gangs of Leicester's men or the myrmidons of the Inquisition. The open country was but a securer field for their arrest, far from help and friends. Once in a church, and once in a crowded gathering, he saw himself and Godfrey pointed out by one man to another with an air of secrecy and an evil look. He fancied he heard
stealthy feet behind them when they walked, and threatening eyes peering at them when they rode.
He grew pale and heavy-eyed, always glancing over his shoulder, starting at a sudden noise.
And then one day he was told to take a letter from the Admiral to a friend's house, a few yards down the street. And coming back he met an old ragged crippled man, who begged an alms. In response to the boy's ready kindness, the cripple blessed and praised him, and beckoning him up a passage between two great houses, would tell him of his piteous tale. He was not really so aged as he seemed, but he was bowed and worn out and white before his time. He had once been a lusty young sailor of Bristol, then his ship had been captured by a Spanish galleon, and he had been taken as galley-slave. But that was not the worst. From the galley he went to prison, from the prison he was taken, a heretic and an Englishman, to the Holy Office for examination.
At the words Basil grew cold. He wanted to run away, but a kind of fascination held him, and in spite of himself, he stood and listened to the cripple's tale. He heard how he had suffered tortures, by which, it seemed to Basil, the Indian's fire was speedy and humane. He showed the boy his twisted joints, the scars of hot irons, of steel, of fire. He showed the spellbound, horror-stricken Basil his twisted, emaciated frame.
At last Basil started away from him and fled, flinging down all his money, lest the old cripple should curse him.
When he got home, wild-eyed and panting, he found that Mistress Joan Hood had come up to join her brother in London. He had heard she was expected, but, immersed in his terrors, had forgotten it. She was instantly struck by the change in him—his uneasy, preoccupied, frightened air.
“What ails Basil?” she asked, when he had gone up to bed that night.
“He is afraid,” said her brother—“afraid of the Earl of Leicester's snares which are, doubtless, spread abroad for him. Godfrey, are you not asking too much of the boy?”
Mr. Huntingdon looked thoughtfully into the fire, but did not reply.
“Surely, Godfrey,” said Mistress Joan, “it would be wiser for you to go to sea.”
He smiled, but shook his head.
“Aye,” put in the Admiral. “You have many foes, dear Huntingdon.”
“Four,” said that gentleman.
“A Queen, her Vicegerent, and two knaves. If you take my advice—and Walter Raleigh thinks with me—you will take ship, and stay away until Her Majesty is pleased to receive you. I count it an insult to be bidden to Court and left in an ante-room.”
Mr. Huntingdon smiled again. Insults were by no means new to him.
“Will you go, Godfrey?” pleaded Mistress Joan.
“You will put off our wedding?”
“It can wait.”
“Pish!” said the Admiral. “’Tis folly to linger in England. Joan would be a widow in a week. We know what my Lord Leicester can accomplish. What use our bringing you home to such a fate? For all our sakes, dear fellow, you should go. ’Tis late in the year to start, but you might find safety for a time in France.”
“Your life depends on it, Godfrey.”
“My life? I thought it was Basil's comfort we discussed.”
Turning to the lady, he kissed her hand, then wrung her brother's.
“Dear friends, your kindness is very sweet to me. I was going to ask you, Joan, to wait a little ere we wed, till my honour is restored—till I am avenged. Something seems to burn still in my hand.”
So he went up-stairs, and left them. Passing Basil's door, he thought he heard him moving, and looked in. The boy, still dressed, started away from the window.
“Is that you, Godfrey?”
“’Tis late. You should be a-bed.”
“Yes,” the boy agreed.
Godfrey bade him good-night, and went into his own room opposite. He was up, reading, about an hour later, when he heard his name called loudly, “Godfrey!” and again more shrilly, “Godfrey!”
Godfrey started up, and went to Basil's room. The boy was sitting up in bed, clutching at the coverlet. As his cousin came in, he called out again, “Godfrey!”
“Eh? Here I am,” and Mr. Huntingdon sat down by him on the bed.
Basil fell back, muttering some excuse, ashamed, but glad to have him there.
“Aye. Thank God!”
“Oh, Godfrey, we were there!”
“Oh, Godfrey, I felt my bones giving, and I heard you cry out!”
Basil's trembling shook the bed. Mr. Huntingdon soothed him as he would a frightened horse, with a caressing hand and a “So—so. All's well, lad.” Basil, catching at the friendly hand, would tell his dream. There was but little in it, only it left him a feeling of great horror, and the memory of the fact that they could not die.
“I couldn't. I tried hard, and swooned. But they never let me die.”
Then Mr. Huntingdon, with well-directed questions and half-suggested answers, heard how all this terror had come into the boy's head. He knew Basil was plucky enough. He suspected that something very real had horrified him and haunted his dreams. The pride that had helped the boy by day, the fear of ridicule and contempt, deserted him in the dark to-night. Manhood had slipped from him, and it was only a frightened child who clung to Godfrey and told of the terrible old man who had come from the dungeon of the Inquisition—the Inquisition where he and Godfrey would one day be examined as English and heretics.
Mr. Huntingdon listened, and soothed and encouraged him. Was he not asking too much of the boy?
Basil had come to seek him across the sea, gladly, without a regret for the fortune he was losing. And now he did not beg to be eased of his terrors, to be taken away from the danger. He neither blamed nor upbraided his cousin for selfishness. He knew the boy would not have gone away without him. He knew he was absolutely loyal, ready to face the very fate he dreaded so. Four years since that mark had been burned in his hand at Bristol. They had told the sleepy magistrate their prisoner was a notorious highwayman, and he had been branded. The Allen brothers were accountable for that. They were the tools, and behind them was Leicester, whose
plan he had thwarted and discovered, and the Queen whose Minister he was. Four years!
Well, his Indian brothers had, at least, taught him how to wait.
He stood up.
“I'll come and sleep here,” he said. “If you feel your joints giving again you can wake me.”
A burst of gratitude met the proposal, and touched him.
“You and I will sail away, I think. We want no racks and dungeons—eh?”
“Oh, Godfrey, can we?”
“Surely. Sleep! To-morrow we'll be safe.”
Basil, with a sob of relief, lay down and soon fell asleep.
Mr. Huntingdon stood awhile, pulling at the glove on his hand.
“But certainly,” he sighed, “I have been accepting too much of the boy.”
CHAPTER XXI ‘GREAT NEWS’
Next morning Mr. Huntingdon told the Admiral his purpose of taking ship and sailing out of reach of the Earl of Leicester. Sir Nigel was delighted, Mistress Joan relieved and thankful. Basil's joy knew no bounds.
“Whither shall we go, cousin? To Virginia? Back to the Indians, and stay for ever?”
“Nay, not so far,” Mr. Huntingdon replied; “nor for so long.”
“Whither, then? To chase the Spaniards home belike?”
“We will see.”
“Content you, Basil,” cried the Admiral. “He is going. Let that suffice. Hark!” He lifted his hand. “Some one gallops fast.”
They gathered round the window. A courier, splashed to the hips, went thundering by towards the Palace, his reins hanging loose on his horse's neck.
“News!” quoth the Admiral. “Of what sort, I wonder? I'll go hear.”
He left them and went out. Basil stayed at the casement, watching the people in the street below. He saw them gather in knots presently, and whisper and nod to each other, and then part smiling.
“It seems good news of some kind is going abroad, Godfrey,” he observed.
Godfrey and Joan were talking at the other end of the room, and did not heed the boy.
A second messenger came galloping down the street, and stopped at the Earl of Essex's house opposite. Stiffly dismounting, he went in, and a group drew round his tired horse. When he came out later some one asked him the news, and he answered curtly.
“’Tis true, then!” Basil heard the questioner cry with unmistakable satisfaction.
“There must have been some victory,” said the boy.
Half-an-hour passed, and then he saw Admiral Hood coming up the street with Sir Francis Drake, and they, though earnest, seemed glad like the rest. They looked up to Basil at the casement.
“Great news for you!” cried Sir Nigel Hood. And he led the way up-stairs. “Godfrey Huntingdon,” he said at the chamber door. “Peace be to you! The Earl of Leicester's dead.”
Godfrey got up.
“I congratulate you on the fall of a foe,” said Sir Francis Drake.
“Thank God! Thank God!” exclaimed Mistress Joan.
Basil could have shouted for joy. Sir Nigel made him realize all it meant. The Queen might now be persuaded to look favourably on Mr. Huntingdon; at least, without the Earl of Leicester's promptings, she might forget to be his active foe. Danger of the Inquisition would no longer haunt their days, for the Allen brothers, bitterly as they might hate their kinsman, could not, without their patron, accomplish all the evil they had planned. They might lay traps. There might still be peril, danger of a stab in the dark. But of plain death, Basil thought, he had no great fear, so that great terror was removed. He had only to compare the Allens with Godfrey Huntingdon to know that they alone need not be feared, as he had feared them when allied to the Earl of Leicester. Without him they were powerless, unknown. It was not likely that they would have any particular favour from the Queen, and in the Earl they had lost the hand that would have given them the inheritance they had coveted, for which they had planned their kinsmen's ruin.
Sir Nigel Hood, in his friendly pleasure at their unforeseen release from menace, ran over all these facts in a kind of duet with Sir Francis Drake.
And all the time Mr. Huntingdon stood silent, his gloved hand clenched, his inscrutable eyes turned on
the speakers. It seemed to him most curious that they saw no bitterness in the news they rejoiced over. He thought they should have understood the blow the news was to him, and how the mark in his hand seemed to tingle and burn.
“You've a foe the less, Mr. Huntingdon.”
“Methought Francis Drake would have been the last to bid me rejoice on that head.”
“It may be I love to see my foes perish.”
“Aye, see! But I have not seen—I can never see—the Earl of Leicester perish.”
Sir Francis’ brows went up a shade higher than usual. Then he nodded.
“Mr. Huntingdon, your spirit's as my own!” he cried.
The Admiral, broken off in his congratulations, looked from one to the other, marked the twitching of his friend's hand and gathered his meaning.
“Godfrey Huntingdon, you have been wronged, and the wrongdoers deserve punishment; but justice is one thing, revenge is another. If you meet your foe in fair fight slay him, but do not, I beg of you, stoop to pursue vengeance, lest you filch it from the place where it belongs.”
“My dear Nigel, I am already branded a thief.”
Basil's cheek tingled at the words, and the Admiral flushed crimson with the shame of his friend.
“Nathless,” he said, “vengeance belongeth of right to the Lord.”
Mr. Huntingdon bowed with a slow smile, not replying. Sir Francis, with some haste, led the talk to something else. But Basil had become quite of his cousin's way of thinking in a moment. It seemed hard that the great man was dead and could not be punished. He forgot his late fears, was ashamed of his burst of satisfaction. He touched his cousin's arm.
“Let us find those others,” he whispered, “and slay them.”
“It would be but just,” was the answer.
CHAPTER XXII A NIGHT ADVENTURE
The Hoods went down into the country in September, leaving the two cousins in old Sir Peter's house in town. Godfrey made no further attempts to see the Queen, though Raleigh had told him he would renew his petitions for her favour. Until she received him there was a slur on his name, and until it was moved he would not marry. Mr. Huntingdon received Sir Walter's protestations with some show of unbelief. To himself he said: If the Queen was pleased to look upon him as a dangerous and malicious person, it would be her own fault if he became so.
He and Basil had ridden out into the country, and were coming back to London late in the evening. It was dark, and only Godfrey's quick eyes saved them both from disaster. A tree, blown down in a recent gale, lay right across the way, and he had only just time to pull up and warn the boy. But a rider coming full gallop on the other side never saw, nor did he hear their warning shouts. Full on to the obstacle he rode, and there was a terrible fall and
crash. The cousins dismounted, climbing over the tree to see what harm was done. The horse, cut and shaking, was getting up, but the rider lay groaning with a crushed and broken leg.
“Quick!” he cried. “Help, gentlemen! I ride for Her Majesty the Queen.”
“You've broken your leg, sir,” said Godfrey. “You cannot stir.”
“I must, perforce,” said the other. “If you give me your arm, sir—”
“Swooned!” said Mr. Huntingdon. “We must carry him to yonder farm, Basil.”
But the man raised himself bravely.
“Nay,” he said faintly, but clearly; “there is Her Majesty's letter.”
“I'll ride with it!” cried Basil. “You can carry him alone, cousin—he is but quite small.”
“I am the Lord Damer,” said the young man, with dignity.
“Well, give my young cousin the letter, my lord,” said Godfrey. “He will bear it in safety. Our name is Huntingdon, and both very much at your service.”
The young man felt in his doublet for the missive, kissed it, and gave it to Basil.
“Give me your word of honour, you will ride for your life, and deliver it with your own hand.”
Basil gave him his word.
“’Tis a great trust, sir. Ride fast.
“Whither shall I ride?”
“To the Manor of Horndale, a matter of three miles from here. There, give it unto the hands of one Robert Allen. Failing him, give it to his brother Roy.”
“Wait!” said Godfrey. “Stay you here, Basil. I will take that.”
“I gave my word,” said Basil. “And I am not afraid—if you follow.”
“Aye, I shall follow!”
Basil mounted. Why should he be afraid? Three miles was no great distance, and his cousin would soon catch him up. The road lay through wheatfields, and though the night was dark, there were stars. He rode fast, the wind singing in his ears, and rippling the uncut corn. At his side he wore the Indian's knife. He was armed, and supple, and strong. What cared he for Robert Allen or Roy? He was no child now, and whatever they might happen to do, Godfrey was coming behind.
He had to walk his horse up a steep hill, and he listened for the beat of hoofs behind. But there was no sound but the breathing of his horse, and the whirr, whirr of a corn-crake, telling of a fine day to-morrow.
He galloped down the hill, and came to a village with a church tower looming up in the darkness and the lighted windows of an inn. To his inquiry, an
ostler at the door pointed him out a lane to his right, and told him if he rode down it for five minutes, he would come to the gates of the Manor House park.
Basil rode on, found the gates, and spurred up the road through the park. The house, when he reached it, showed shuttered and dark. He got down, and knocked on the big oak door with his whip. It flew open under his touch, and he saw a hall full of shadows. And the wind blew in, and tossed the tapestry and whispered up the stairs. He listened, but could hear no other sounds in the house, but, far off, he thought he heard the galloping of a horse.
With fresh courage, Basil hitched his bridle over a tree-bough and ventured in. Now he saw streaks of light through a door. Just for a second he hesitated. Surely, those horse-hoofs came nearer? But now, they seemed many, and Godfrey would be riding alone. No doubt it was some deceiving trick of the echoes. It did not occur to him that they might belong to a party of horsemen going by.
He went over to the door, tapped, and lifted the latch. The lights made his eyes blink. But, in a moment, he saw the long room and two gentlemen at a table, booted and cloaked, eating in haste, it seemed, for one talked as he ate, pulling on his gloves meanwhile.
They started, and sprang to their feet. Basil saw they were Robert and Roy.
“A letter from the Queen,” he said boldly.
Roy passed him, still eating, and shut the door. Robert laid his hand on a pistol.
“Deliver the letter,” he said curtly.
Plainly both brothers were amazed. There was no lack of hate in their looks, but Basil put the Queen's letter in Robert's hand. The hall door beyond was standing wide open, and Godfrey must be coming up the lane.
As Robert took the letter, Roy drew Basil's arms behind him and pinioned them. He took the knife from his belt, and pushed him to the other side of the room.
“Read the letter, brother,” he cried.
Robert read it and flung it down.
“We are undone!” he cried; “undone—everything refused! All to be given up.”
“All?—all?—in spite of my lord's promises? In spite—”
“All, I tell you! Read it for yourself!”
Roy read the missive, and cast it down like his brother. They had claimed money and lands on the Earl of Leicester's promises. They had been refused, and had had the courage to appeal to the Queen herself. That very night they had meant to ride over and take possession of their estates, relying on the Queen to fulfil her late favourite's promises. The Queen had denied their claim. In a few curt sentences
by the hand of her secretary, she had reproved their presumption and impertinence, and had bidden them quit the country instantly and never venture to return, or again claim anything from her.
“The work of Raleigh, on behalf of Godfrey Huntingdon!” said Robert savagely.
“She hath taken all!” Roy wailed.
“Marry! she hath sent us this,” Robert said, pointing at Basil—“this, the very creature we owe all our ill-fortune to. Had he not flung away that cup of wine, my Lord of Leicester would never have dubbed us bunglers; he would never have had that failure to taunt us with; he would never have had the scandal to blame us for; he would have made his rewards to us secure.”
Roy, his eyes full of tears of rage and disappointment, sprang to his feet, his hand on his dagger. Robert, watching his brother, laughed harshly.
“Here is the whelp; where is the hound?” he asked. “Didst come alone, or with your master, foot-page?”
“Alone,” said Basil.
“What shall we do with him, Robert?” Roy cried excitedly. “Let us kill him. But—how?”
“Peace, fool! How you talk!” said Robert brutally. “There is a staple in yonder beam, where hangs the lamp. Take down the lamp and leave the cord in the staple.”
Basil strained his ears, and thought he heard something. Fearing it was the beating of his heart, he held his breath; and all was still.
The lamp hung by a cord from the hook in the ceiling. Roy's fingers were nervous and cold. He bungled and muttered, and down fell the lamp with a crash. There was confusion and half-darkness. Basil darted towards the door, but Robert caught him. He bade his brother take a brand from the fire and hold it up torchwise to light them.
Roy burned his hand, and cried out. Robert pushed him aside, and catching up a burning faggot, struck the white ash off. He felt Basil start forward. Roy made a rush towards the door, and fell back.
Robert lifted the brand. It blazed up in a tongue of red, hissing flame, and in the light of it, close at his elbow, stood Godfrey Huntingdon.
"Close at his elbow stood Godfrey Huntingdon."--p.184.
CHAPTER XXIII THE IRON HAND
The light shone red along the blade of Mr. Huntingdon's drawn sword. Behind him in the hall, three or four figures moved in the shadows. Robert dropped the brand on the hearth, and drew his rapier. Roy half drew, then saw the men behind, and hesitated.
“Yes, those are my friends,” said Mr. Huntingdon. “Tell them where to find candles, sir.”
Robert was measuring his kinsman's strength, and waiting for a chance to fall upon him. But Godfrey's eyes were too quick for him, too powerful for his brother. They controlled the one, and compelled the other. Roy told the men where to find candles, and they waited till they were brought and lighted.
“Now,” said Mr. Huntingdon, “laydown your arms.”
The brothers looked at each other. Roy nudged Robert, and whispered in his ear.
“Lay down your arms!”
Still the brothers whispered. Then Mr. Huntingdon tapped Roy on the shoulder with his point.
“Come, then, if you will have it!”
But at that Roy flung down his sword on the floor.
“You?” And Mr. Huntingdon touched Robert.
“Aye!” he answered, with a show of courage; and they met. But Robert Allen was no match for Mr. Huntingdon. He was disarmed in a few minutes, pierced in several places, terribly alarmed for his life.
Mr. Huntingdon called in one of the men whom he had brought with him from the farm where he had left Lord Damer. He sent him to guard the door; then he unbound Basil's arms, and, drawing up a chair, sat down to consider how he should deal with his conquered foes.
Basil leant on the chair-back wondering how it was all going to end. As his blood cooled he began to feel less anger than contempt for the brothers. He doubted if the end would be good to watch. The rope still hung from the ceiling, and he saw his cousin's eyes fixed on it, but it seemed a poor revenge, somehow, just to hang two miserable cowards. A clatter of swords and strife was fine enough, certainly. But whatever Godfrey did would, of course, be right.
The brothers were standing by the hearth. Roy was very white, his shifty eyes passing from Godfrey's face to the floor, and round the room and back. Robert was binding a kerchief round a wound in his arm, and Basil was suddenly struck by the uselessness of it, seeing how soon in all likelihood he would be dead.
But Mr. Huntingdon sat on, his glove off, his bare hand resting on the sword across his knees. As he pondered all he owed of misery and of shame to these two men, he found himself carried in memory to the wilderness, the silent forest, which had taught him its secrets and comforted his griefs. There, beast and red man lived, and fought, and plundered, and revenged themselves. He knew what end for these men would meet with approval there. But was the beast, was the red man, his accepted example and judge? He came back to the present, saw his two prisoners, silent, averting their faces. Though they were men of his own blood, he felt no pity for their fears. He felt Basil's hand on his shoulder.
“Godfrey, it's—it's—growing very late.”
Still Godfrey did not move or answer. An hour passed. The brothers crouched by the hearth, Basil stood by his cousin's chair. The old house was very silent. No one stirred.
Would it comfort him at all for the years that had gone if he took a dreadful revenge on these two?
Godfrey was back in the New World in a minute. It was the night after he had stood in the pillory. He had come on his master alone and unarmed, and it seemed just that the man should die by his hand. And what had stopped him? The memory of day breaking through the windows of a little lonely church in England, of a smell of heather and earth, and of his
asking the page-boy how he dared to thwart his masters and save the Scotch Queen. The boy, blushing, but simple, had answered, “I said, ‘Lord, have mercy upon me, and incline my heart to keep this law.’ And he did; so please you, sir.”
Basil touched him again.
“Is it not hard for them to wait so long? Let us—have done.”
Godfrey put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
“Patience!” he whispered.
For dimly and far off, at first, he seemed to see that if he slew these two men he would rob his honour and kill the peace the forest had given him. He had drunk of that cup long ago, in the hall of Wormald Court, of his own choice. No one had asked his sacrifice. He had not been forced into the part. He had given his life freely, knowingly. He had acted after his nature; these men had acted after theirs. He had known interference would bring trouble, that the consequence would follow the cause. How, then, could he punish these men because he had suffered from his own act? It was not just; besides, he knew their mere death would in no sense avenge the wrong done to him.
“Is there any reason in your minds why I should spare you?” he asked aloud.
His low voice startled the brothers. They turned, looked at him, and said nothing.
“Not one? Then I will tell you several. I cannot hurt your pride, as you did mine, because you have none. I cannot break your hearts, as you did mine, for you have not hearts of men within you. I cannot make you afraid as you tried to make me, because you are cowards. I cannot cover you with shame, for you are over your heads in it. Doubtless, I could make you suffer, but your sufferings would be nothing like unto mine. Doubtless I might kill you, but your deaths would not delight me. These are the reasons. You may go.”
The candles had burned low, and they sputtered and dropped as the man at the door opened it and cleared a way for them. Mr. Huntingdon rose and slowly drew on his glove, whilst the brothers, only half comprehending, lingered and stared. Basil watched them, wondering at their dullness.
“You must go clear away and be no more seen,” Mr. Huntingdon said.
Robert flung towards him the letter Basil had brought. He read it, and said, “That is well.”
“We are penniless,” said Roy, advancing a step, with a look of entreaty.
Basil exclaimed indignantly. Roy was begging from the man who had given him his life.
“And whither can we go?” Roy lamented. “You had better have killed us, cousin.”
Mr. Huntingdon's eyes flashed.
“Don't call me that, sirrah!”
Robert took his brother by the shoulders and pushed him out of the room.
“Do you grudge them their lives?” asked Mr. Huntingdon anxiously of Basil.
“Why, no,” said the boy, half surprised still at his own feelings. “Methinks—methinks they were not worth our while, and you felt that. Is not that what you think?”
Godfrey sheathed his sword.
“I think the Lord hath had mercy upon us, and hath inclined both our hearts for the second time, Basil,” he said.
"'You may go.'"--p.191.
CHAPTER XXIV TO COURT AGAIN
As the cousins were riding back to London, Godfrey suddenly turned in his saddle and laughed.
“Troth, Basil. What fickle creatures are men! I've been thirsting for a chance of vengeance. I've had the chance and found I did not want it. Leicester dead! The Allens gone!”
“There is still the Queen?”
“True, there is still the Queen. Think you, she'd be a good foe, Basil — worth beating, quite?”
“Oh, Godfrey, surely you're talking treason.”
“Am I? Well, she treateth me like a traitor.”
“But you could not conquer her.”
Godfrey did not answer, and they rode on and came safely and without adventure to their house. At supper Mr. Huntingdon returned to the subject.
“Had I beaten the Queen instead of yon weaklings,
I would have cast my glove, and married with a light heart.”
“Cast it now, Godfrey, and marry to-morrow, and let us go to sea.”
“Nay, I can do neither, whilst I am dishonoured.”
And he persisted in his view of the case.
One day, however, Sir Walter came to him.
“Mr. Huntingdon, I come to bid you and your boy to Court.”
“Ha! to stand in an ante-room, whilst whisperers titter and stare?”
“Nay, man, not this time. The Queen will see you, believe me. And my Lord Damer hath let her know how your boy took on Her Grace's letter. And I have let her know ’twas to the hand of his foe, and almost to a hanging he bore it.”
Mr. Huntingdon shook his head.
“I am not sure whether I shall make a good courtier.”
“Troth, and I'm not sure of it either. But you are bidden. The manner of your reception has still to be seen.”
“And am I to go?” asked Basil rather glumly. He had not enjoyed his former visit.
“Sir, you will have that privilege. Mr. Huntingdon, you set the rogue an ill example.”
“We will come, sir. I will answer for Basil's behaviour. He has acquitted himself well in the presence of another Queen.”
“He need not speak of that occasion in Her Majesty's presence, sir,” said Raleigh.
It was a bright, frosty afternoon, clear and clean, when Basil and his kinsman set out for the Palace. Not a splash of mud to soil their shoe rosettes, no dust to cloud their braveries. Basil was nervous; jerked at his cloak and fingered his buckles, pulled at his ruff, and grew hot and unhappy. Mr. Huntingdon seemed to have forgotten whither they were going, so calm and preoccupied was he. Sir Walter met them and talked with them a little, then, leaving them in the ante-chamber, was himself admitted to the Presence.
Basil stared about him and grew more and more fidgety. Mr. Huntingdon sat down and gazed out of the window. A few people gathered in the room, and the royal pages round the fire chattered and stared at Basil and his silent companion. No one was admitted to the Presence after Sir Walter, and the few courtiers soon went away again.
“I give them half-an-hour longer,” said Mr. Huntingdon.
“Let's go now,” whispered Basil.
The pages laid a wager to make these two uncomfortable.
They tried various pranks, making weird noises to attract attention.
“Little fools!” muttered Basil. “Can't we go now, cousin?”
But Mr. Huntingdon seemed oblivious to all.
Presently a little puffed and padded gentleman drew near, and observed, bowing, that the day was fine. Basil grunted. The other, with an affectation of deep concern, questioned whether the gentleman was wise in sitting so near the casement. They had a goodly fire at the far end of the room.
“Coming from yon hot clime that had burned his cheek so finely, surely he should shun a chill.”
Basil began to breathe hard, and his eyes to glare.
Seeing his venture annoyed, but met with no chastisement, the other pages followed their friend, and giggled and stared and questioned each other. Was the gentleman a blackamoor? Red Indian? Spaniard? Basil was fuming, his hand on his dagger. It seemed likely their visit to Court would end in a brawl. Very slowly Mr. Huntingdon turned round. He did not speak, he never stirred a finger, but presently the lads drew off one by one, and looking shamefaced and silly, strayed back to the fire.
Basil was weary of the Court.
“Can we go, cousin?” he asked for the third time.
But just at the moment a door near them was flung open, and the curtain lifted. Sir Walter beckoned them to come.
CHAPTER XXV THE VELVET GLOVE
Basil found himself in the same room where he had stood with Admiral Hood, and where he had first seen the Earl of Leicester. Queen Elizabeth was not sitting at her table this time, but on a low daïs at the end of the chamber. She looked grave—not angry, but wary and suspicious.
They bowed. Sir Walter drew Basil towards the Queen, as if to get the least awkward part of the business out of hand.
“This is the boy, Madam, that Lord Damer found so useful. I beg your Majesty's grace for him.”
“When will you cease to be a beggar, Sir Walter?”
“When your Majesty ceases to be beneficent,” the courtier answered.
The Queen smiled, and turned to Basil, who, at a hint from Sir Walter, was kneeling before her.
“Do you want a boon granted, boy?” she asked, not ill-naturedly.
“No, I thank your Majesty,” said Basil.
“What? Do you lack nothing?”
“No, I thank your Grace,” was the cheerful response.
“Ods bobs, boy! Has our royal power waxed so feeble, you can find nought from us for your acceptance?”
“Indeed,” said Basil humbly, whilst Sir Walter impatiently pulled at his moustaches—“indeed, Madam, I cannot think of aught I want.”
“Fortunate, my faith!” she said. “What is my kingly state to this happiness—to want for nought?”
She had, all this time, been darting curious and searching glances at Mr. Huntingdon, and every time she looked she encountered a glance as keen as her own, and she could not but turn away, and look, and look again.
In the dress of the time Mr. Huntingdon looked as well as any tall, well-trained gentleman of her Court; yet there was something about him different from them all. The white ruff made his skin show dark, like an Indian's. He stood as though he had been so standing all his life, and would so stand for ever, with the Indian's motionless, yet supple ease.
The Queen seemed to feel the glance of his eyes silencing, for it was with some effort that she spoke.
“Well, young sir, if we cannot do aught else for you, at least we can thank you for bearing our letter.”
At a word from Sir Walter, Basil got up and bowed, retiring backward a little way, thankful it was all over for him, but fearing his behaviour had been rather queer.
“And you, sir?” asked the Queen of Mr. Huntingdon. “What have we to say to you?”
“What your Majesty shall please,” he answered quietly. “I am come to thank your Grace for the pardon your Majesty sent me by Sir Nigel Hood.”
Mr. Huntingdon, in spite of Sir Walter's whisper, had not knelt. The courtier, with a slight gesture of disgust or despair, backed away, as if to leave the man to his own folly.
“It is well, sir,” said the Queen. “We are informed by Sir Walter Raleigh, here, that you have spent your time since the release we sent you worthily in our service against the Spaniard.”
Basil saw his cousin bow, but heard no remark from him. Sir Walter waited in vain for any protestations of loyalty, for any further promises of service, for any warmer thanks.
“From other lips, however, we have heard it said, sir, that you have spent this time in pursuing vengeance on certain persons for some fancied wrong.”
Mr. Huntingdon bowed.
“Is that tale true, sir?”
“Perfectly, I assure your Grace.”
“And have you conquered all these foes, sir?”
And there was mockery in her tones.
“Not all, Madam.”
“Prithee, how many were there?”
“And you have slain?”
She laughed. But the laugh did not make him lower his eyes.
“How is that, sir? I was told you were a fighter.”
“Two, Madam, I had in my hands, and realized their deaths would heal my wrong not at all. The third—”
He paused, as though choosing his words.
“What of the third, sir?”
“He died, Madam.”
“Alack!” she cried. “That was lucky for you, no doubt.”
“Very, Madam, since I have a consolation.”
“And that is?”
“I have kept my hand clean of murder. And I know, had I shed blood never so freely, it had not wiped out the wrong.”
“And this wrong, what was it?” she inquired, daring the spirit behind his eyes. “What was it you fancied you must needs wash in blood, and could not plead before our Courts, and have satisfaction for by law?”
He advanced a step, drawing off his glove.
“It was this, Madam,” and he held out his bare, brown hand.
The man who had made the savages respect him, the man who had ruled the red warriors of the wilderness, who had not faltered at their tortures, nor failed them in their friendship, he who had been “king in yon gorgeous land,” stood before her branded a felon, and was neither humbled nor ashamed.
“I cover the mark, Madam, till my honour's established—that is, till I have conquered all my foes. Then I will cast away my glove.”
“And you still have a foe, sir?”
He looked at her, and it slowly grew upon him how hard it was for the great to be just, much less generous. He thought of that Queen whom he had saved, and she sacrificed. He thought of her reported vanity, and jealousy of the more beautiful and more fascinating. He saw her, set aloft and alone, yet only a woman, and his eyes grew kinder.
“And have you still a foe, sir? Are you still athirst for blood?”
The great Queen recognized and acknowledged greatness, as the kings of the wilderness had.
Mr. Huntingdon fell on one knee.
“I am your Majesty's servant,” he said.
She stretched out her hand in silence, and he
"'God forgive me, Mr. Huntingdon!'"--p.207.
kissed it. Then, touching the mark on his palm very lightly, she said, so low he only could hear it—
“God forgive me, Mr. Huntingdon.”
“And God bless your Majesty.”
When they had gone out at her signal, she sat for some time gazing down on the floor, a strangely soft expression on her face.
He had dropped at her feet the faded velvet glove.
CHAPTER XXVI BROTHER AND COMPANION
Mr. Godfrey Huntingdon and Sir Nigel Hood were sitting in the hall of Wormald Court. Christmas had passed, and with its festivities had been united those of Godfrey's marriage. The two gentlemen were speaking of Basil.
“He must be told,” said Mr. Huntingdon. “’Tis but four days and he'll have to go to school. I confess I don't want to part with him.”
“You might also confess that you don't know how to tell him,” Sir Nigel observed. “Here he comes.”
“Basil!” Mr. Huntingdon called, and the boy turned from a game with a deerhound to hear what his kinsman wanted. “I have a thing to tell thee, Basil,” Mr. Huntingdon began, and stopping there, confessed to Sir Nigel's accusation. He did not know how to tell the boy that it was thought well for him to go to school.
“And I have a thing to ask thee, sir,” said the boy gaily. “Tuesday week Squire Graham has a hunt at
Longfield. Jack Graham has asked me to go thither for it. May I, cousin?”
Godfrey drew him nearer.
“You're a good lad, Basil, and I believe I am going to make you angry.”
“I mayn't go?”
“That's not all. You are going to school.”
“To school! Me, cousin! Away from here! To school?”
Basil stood before him, dumb, yet hardly believing.
“I ought to have told you sooner, but it seemed unkind to mar your fun. It has to be, though.”
A second longer Basil's hand stayed in his kinsman's. Then he snatched it away and turned his back. School and lessons! That meant life as other unhappy boys knew it, not the life he loved, on the sea, in adventures with these men. He had tasted of it, and he hated the thought of anything else.
“Mutiny!” murmured the Admiral, and he wondered what Godfrey would say.
“I would not have you grow up a dunce,” Mr. Huntingdon said patiently. “It will not be all misery. I fancy I laughed at school, and Nigel Hood constantly jested, and—over-ate himself. We must all go through it.”
“Frankie Drake never went through it!” was the lad's retort.
The Admiral chuckled at the “Frankie Drake.”
“I thought—I thought I should stay with you—or—or sail with you.” The boy turned round with piteous eyes. “I can write and spell, cousin. That's all I need, isn't it? I—I've been with you—you said I was a good lad—and, indeed, indeed I will be! Don't leave me behind—I can't bear it!” His voice broke and he began to cry in spite of bitten lips and clenched hands. “Let me be your page. I don't, don't want to learn gentlemen's ways—I don't want to be a gentleman!”
For answer Mr. Huntingdon got up, and laying one hand on his shoulder, pointed to the coat-of-arms on the stone mantel—to the coloured glass in the windows behind him.
“Can you help it, lad? You are a Huntingdon. You must learn all you can of a gentleman's ways. At school you will learn some.”
“Frankie Drake—” Basil began.
“Frankie Drake,” interrupted Sir Nigel, “did his best with what the good God gave him, and we would have you do the same. He has given you a chance of learning, which Drake never had. If you refuse it you will never be like Drake.”
Basil heaved a heavy sigh.
“You are not fearing we'll forget you?” Godfrey said, smiling at him.
“You—you might—but could I not remain your page?”
“No. I do not want you for my page. I want you for my brother, my companion.”
The boy's cheek flushed. Godfrey let him sit down in his big chair, and he sat on the arm of it waiting quietly.
The Admiral watched them till he saw the boy scrub away his tears and say bravely but with a catchy breath—
“I'll do aught you wish, cousin—if you please.”
Then Sir Nigel got up, and patting the boy's shoulder with a cheery, “Well done, child! You'll sack your city yet,” he went out and left the two together.
In after years Basil Huntingdon, having ruled himself, took cities, and, having learnt obedience, commanded well. He was admired, and he was liked and respected, for he never lost the simple, honest kindliness that had drawn men's love to him when he was only Basil the Page.
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