Read CHAPTER XIV - THE KING’S CUP of Simon Dale , free online book, by Anthony Hope, on

At least the Vicar would be pleased!  A whimsical joy in the anticipation of his delight shot across my gloomy meditations as the sunset rays threaded their way through the narrow window of the chamber that was my cell.  The thought of him stayed with me, amusing my idleness and entertaining my fancy.  I could imagine his wise, contented nod, far from surprise as the poles are apart, full of self-approval as an egg of meat.  For his vision had been clear, in him faith had never wavered.  Of a truth, the prophecy which old Betty Nasroth spoke (foolishness though it were) was, through Fortune’s freak, two parts fulfilled.  What remained might rest unjustified to my great content; small comfort had I won from so much as had come to pass.  I had loved where the King loved, and my youth, though it raised its head again, still reeled under the blow; I knew what the King hid ­aye, it might be more than one thing that he hid; my knowledge landed me where I lay now, in close confinement with a gaoler at my door.  For my own choice, I would crave the Vicar’s pardon, would compound with destiny, and, taking the proportion of fate’s gifts already dealt to me in lieu of all, would go in peace to humbler doings, beneath the dignity of dark prophecy, but more fit to give a man quiet days and comfort in his life.  Indeed, as my lord Quinton had said long ago, there was strange wine in the King’s cup, and I had no desire to drink of it.  Yet who would not have been moved by the strange working of events which made the old woman’s prophecy seem the true reading of a future beyond guess or reasonable forecast?  I jeered and snarled at myself, at Betty, at her prophecy, at the Vicar’s credulity.  But the notion would not be expelled; two parts stood accomplished, but the third remained.  “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou art promised!” ­I forget how it runs on, for it is long since I saw the play, though I make bold to think that it is well enough written.  Alas, no good came of listening to witches there, if my memory holds the story of the piece rightly.

There is little profit, and less entertainment, in the record of my angry desponding thoughts.  Now I lay like a log, again I ranged the cell as a beast his cage.  I cared not a stiver for Buckingham’s schemes, I paid small heed to Nell’s jealousy.  It was nought to me who should be the King’s next favourite, and although I, with all other honest men, hated a Popish King, the fear of him would not have kept me from my sleep or from my supper.  Who eats his dinner the less though a kingdom fall?  To take a young man’s appetite away, and keep his eyes open o’ nights, needs a nearer touch than that.  But I had on me a horror of what was being done in this place; they sold a lady’s honour there, throwing it in for a make-weight in their bargain.  I would have dashed the scales from their hands, but I was helpless.  There is the truth:  a man need not be ashamed for having had a trifle of honesty about him when he was young.  And if my honesty had the backing of something else that I myself knew not yet, why, for honesty’s good safety, God send it such backing always!  Without some such aid, it is too often brought to terms and sings small in the end.

The evening grew late and darkness had fallen.  I turned again to my supper and contrived to eat and to drink a glass or two of wine.  Suddenly I remembered Jonah Wall, and sent a curse after the negligent fellow, wherever he might be, determining that next morning he should take his choice between a drubbing and dismissal.  Then I stretched myself again on the pallet, resolute to see whether a man could will himself asleep.  But I had hardly closed my eyes when I opened them again and started up, leaning on my elbow.  There was somebody in conversation with my gaoler.  The conference was brief.

“Here’s the King’s order,” I heard, in a haughty, careless tone.  “Open the door, fellow, and be quick.”

The door was flung open.  I sprang to my feet with a bow.  The Duke of Buckingham stood before me, surveying my person (in truth, my state was very dishevelled) and my quarters with supercilious amusement.  There was one chair, and I set it for him; he sat down, pulling off his lace-trimmed gloves.

“You are the gentleman I wanted?” he asked.

“I have reason to suppose so, your Grace,” I answered.

“Good,” said he.  “The Duke of Monmouth and I have spoken to the King on your behalf.”

I bowed grateful acknowledgments.

“You are free,” he continued, to my joy.  “You’ll leave the Castle in two hours,” he added, to my consternation.  But he appeared to perceive neither effect of his words.  “Those are the King’s orders,” he ended composedly.

“But,” I cried, “if I leave the Castle how can I fulfil your Grace’s desire?”

“I said those were the King’s orders.  I have something to add to them.  Here, I have written it down, that you may understand and not forget.  Your lantern there gives a poor light, but your eyes are young.  Read what is written, sir.”

I took the paper that he handed me and read: 

“In two hours’ time be at Canonsgate.  The gate will be open.  Two serving men will be there with two horses.  A lady will be conducted to the gate and delivered into your charge.  You will ride with her as speedily as possible to Deal.  You will call her your sister, if need arise to speak of her.  Go to the hostelry of the Merry Mariners in Deal, and there await a gentleman, who will come in the morning and hand you fifty guineas in gold.  Deliver the lady to this gentleman, return immediately to London, and lie in safe hiding till word reaches you from me.”

I read and turned to him in amazement.

“Well,” he asked, “isn’t it plain enough?”

“The lady I can guess,” I answered, “but I pray your Grace to tell me who is the gentleman.”

“What need is there for you to know?  Do you think that more than one will seek you at the Merry Mariners Tavern and pray your acceptance of fifty guineas?”

“But I should like to know who this one is.”

“You’ll know when you see him.”

“With respect to your Grace, this is not enough to tell me.”

“You can’t be told more, sir.”

“Then I won’t go.”

He frowned and beat his gloves on his thigh impatiently.

“A gentleman, your Grace,” said I, “must be trusted, or he cannot serve.”

He looked round the little cell and asked significantly,

“Is your state such as to entitle you to make conditions?”

“Only if your Grace has need of services which I can give or refuse,” I answered, bowing.

His irritation suddenly vanished, or seemed to vanish.  He leant back in his chair and laughed.

“Yet all the time,” said he, “you’ve guessed the gentleman!  Isn’t it so?  Come, Mr Dale, we understand one another.  This service, if all goes well, is simple.  But if you’re interrupted in leaving the Castle, you must use your sword.  Well, if you use your sword and don’t prove victorious, you may be taken.  If you’re taken it will be best for us all that you shouldn’t know the name of this gentleman, and best for him and for me that I should not have mentioned it.”

The little doubt I had harboured was gone.  Buckingham and Monmouth were hand in hand.  Buckingham’s object was political, Monmouth was to find his reward in the prize that I was to rescue from the clutches of M. de Perrencourt and hand over to him at the hostelry in Deal.  If success attended the attempt, I was to disappear; if it failed, my name and I were to be the shield and bear the brunt.  The reward was fifty guineas, and perhaps a serviceable gratitude in the minds of two great men, provided I lived to enjoy the fruit of it.

“You’ll accept this task?” asked the Duke.

The task was to thwart M. de Perrencourt and gratify the Duke of Monmouth.  If I refused it, another might accept and accomplish it; if such a champion failed, M. de Perrencourt would triumph.  If I accepted, I should accept in the fixed intention of playing traitor to one of my employers.  I might serve Buckingham’s turn, I should seek to thwart Monmouth.

“Who pays me fifty guineas?” I asked.

“Faith, I,” he answered with a shrug.  “Young Monmouth is enough his father’s son to have his pockets always empty.”

On this excuse I settled my point of casuistry in an instant.

“Then I’ll carry the lady away from the Castle,” I cried.

He started, leant forward, and looked hard in my face.  “What do you mean, what do you know?” he asked plainly enough, although silently.  But I had cried out with an appearance of zeal and innocence that baffled his curiosity, and my guileless expression gave his suspicions no food.  Perhaps, too, he had no wish to enquire.  There was little love between him and Monmouth, for he had been bitterly offended by the honours and precedence assigned to the Duke; only a momentary coincidence of interest bound them together in this scheme.  If the part that concerned Buckingham were accomplished, he would not break his heart on account of the lady not being ready for Monmouth at the hostelry of the Merry Mariners.

“I think, then, that we understand one another, Mr Dale?” said he, rising.

“Well enough, your Grace,” I answered with a bow, and I rapped on the door.  The gaoler opened it.

“Mr Dale is free to go where he will within the Castle.  You can return to your quarters,” said Buckingham.

The soldier marched off.  Buckingham turned to me.

“Good fortune in your enterprise,” he said.  “And I give you joy on your liberty.”

The words were not out of his mouth when a lieutenant and two men appeared, approaching us at a rapid walk, nay, almost at a run.  They made directly for us, the Duke and I both watching them.  The officer’s sword was drawn in his hand, their daggers were fixed in the muzzles of the soldiers’ muskets.

“What’s happened now?” asked Buckingham in a whisper.

The answer was not long in coming.  The lieutenant halted before us, crying,

“In the King’s name, I arrest you, sir.”

“On my soul, you’ve a habit of being arrested, sir,” said the Duke sharply.  “What’s the cause this time?”

“I don’t know,” I answered; and I asked the officer, “On what account, sir?”

“The King’s orders,” he answered curtly.  “You must come with me at once.”  At a sign from him his men took their stand on either side of me.  Verily, my liberty had been short!  “I must warn you that we shall stand at nothing if you try to escape,” said the officer sternly.

“I’m not a fool, sir,” I answered.  “Where are you going to take me?”

“Where my orders direct.”

“Come, come,” interrupted Buckingham impatiently, “not so much mystery.  You know me?  Well, this gentleman is my friend, and I desire to know where you take him.”

“I crave your Grace’s pardon, but I must not answer.”

“Then I’ll follow you and discover,” cried the Duke angrily.

“At your Grace’s peril,” answered the officer firmly.  “If you insist, I must leave one of my men to detain you here.  Mr Dale must go alone with me.”

Wrath and wonder were eloquent on the proud Duke’s face.  In me this new misadventure bred a species of resignation.  I smiled at him, as I said,

“My business with your Grace must wait, it seems.”

“Forward, sir,” cried the officer, impatiently, and I was marched off at a round pace, Buckingham not attempting to follow, but turning back in the direction of the Duke of Monmouth’s quarters.  The confederates must seek a new instrument now; if their purpose were to thwart the King’s wishes, they might not find what they wanted again so easily.

I was conducted straight and quickly to the keep, and passed up the steps that led to the corridor in which the King was lodged.  They hurried me along, and I had time to notice nothing until I came to a door near the end of the building, on the western side.  Here I found Darrell, apparently on guard, for his sword was drawn and a pistol in his left hand.

“Here, sir, is Mr Dale,” said my conductor.

“Good,” answered Darrell briefly.  I saw that his face was very pale, and he accorded me not the least sign of recognition.  “Is he armed?” he asked.

“You see I have no weapons, Mr Darrell,” said I stiffly.

“Search him,” commanded Darrell, ignoring me utterly.

I grew hot and angry.  The soldiers obeyed the order.  I fixed my eyes on Darrell, but he would not meet my gaze; the point of his sword tapped the floor on which it rested, for his hand was shaking like a leaf.

“There’s no weapon on him,” announced the officer.

“Very well.  Leave him with me, sir, and retire with your men to the foot of the steps.  If you hear a whistle, return as quickly as possible.”

The officer bowed, turned about, and departed, followed by his men.  Darrell and I stood facing one another for a moment.

“In hell’s name, what’s the meaning of this, Darrell?” I cried.  “Has Madame brought the Bastille over with her, and are you made Governor?”

He answered not a word.  Keeping his sword still in readiness, he knocked with the muzzle of his pistol on the door by him.  After a moment it was opened, and a head looked out.  The face was Sir Thomas Clifford’s; the door was flung wide, a gesture from Darrell bade me enter.  I stepped in, he followed, and the door was instantly shut close behind us.

I shall not readily forget the view disclosed to me by the flaring oil lamps hung in sconces to the ancient smoky walls.  I was in a narrow room, low and not large, scantly furnished with faded richness, and hung to half its height with mouldering tapestries.  The floor was bare, and uneven from time and use.  In the middle of the room was a long table of polished oak wood; in the centre of it sat the King, on his left was the Duchess of Orleans, and beyond her the Duke of York; on the King’s right at the end of the table was an empty chair; Clifford moved towards it now and took his seat; next to him was Arlington, then Colbert de Croissy, the Special Envoy of the French King.  Next to our King was another empty chair, an arm-chair, like the King’s; empty it was, but M. de Perrencourt leant easily over the back of it, with his eyes fixed on me.  On the table were materials for writing, and a large sheet of paper faced the King ­or M. de Perrencourt; it seemed just between them.  There was nothing else on the table except a bottle of wine and two cups; one was full to the brim, while the liquor in the other fell short of the top of the glass by a quarter of an inch.  All present were silent; save M. de Perrencourt, all seemed disturbed; the King’s swarthy face appeared rather pale than swarthy, and his hand rapped nervously on the table.  All this I saw, while Darrell stood rigidly by me, sword in hand.

Madame was the first to speak; her delicate subtle face lit up with recognition.

“Why, I have spoken with this gentleman,” she said in a low voice.

“And I also,” said M. de Perrencourt under his breath.

I think he hardly knew that he spoke, for the words seemed the merest unconscious outcome of his thoughts.

The King raised his hand, as though to impose silence.  Madame bowed in apologetic submission, M. de Perrencourt took no heed of the gesture, although he did not speak again.  A moment later he laid his hand on Colbert’s shoulder and whispered to him.  I thought I heard just a word ­it was “Fontelles.”  Colbert looked up and nodded.  M. de Perrencourt folded his arms on the back of the chair, and his face resumed its impassivity.

Another moment elapsed before the King spoke.  His voice was calm, but there seemed still to echo in it a trace of some violent emotion newly passed; a slight smile curved his lips, but there was more malice than mirth in it.

“Mr Dale,” said he, “the gentleman who stands by you once beguiled an idle minute for me by telling me of a certain strange prophecy made concerning you which he had, he said, from your own lips, and in which my name ­or at least some King’s name ­and yours were quaintly coupled.  You know what I refer to?”

I bowed low, wondering what in Heaven’s name he would be at.  It was, no doubt, high folly to love Mistress Gwyn, but scarcely high treason.  Besides, had not I repented and forsworn her?  Ah, but the second member of the prophecy?  I glanced eagerly at M. de Perrencourt, eagerly at the paper before the King.  There were lines on the paper, but I could not read them, and M. de Perrencourt’s face was fully as baffling.

“If I remember rightly,” pursued the King, after listening to a whispered sentence from his sister, “the prediction foretold that you should drink of my cup.  Is it not so?”

“It was so, Sir, although what your Majesty quotes was the end, not the beginning of it.”

For an instant a smile glimmered on the King’s face; it was gone and he proceeded gravely.

“I am concerned only with that part of it.  I love prophecies and I love to see them fulfilled.  You see that cup there, the one that is not quite full.  That cup of wine was poured out for me, the other for my friend M. de Perrencourt.  I pray you, drink of my cup and let the prophecy stand fulfilled.”

In honest truth I began to think that the King had drunk other cups before and left them not so full.  Yet he looked sober enough, and the rest were grave and mute.  What masquerade was this, to bring me under guard and threat of death to drink a cup of wine?  I would have drunk a dozen of my free will, for the asking.

“Your Majesty desires me to drink that cup of wine?” I asked.

“If you please, sir; the cup that was poured out for me.”

“With all my heart,” I cried, and, remembering my manners, I added, “and with most dutiful thanks to Your Majesty for this signal honour.”

A stir, hardly to be seen, yet certain, ran round the table.  Madame stretched out a hand towards the cup as though with a sudden impulse to seize it; the King caught her hand and held it prisoner.  M. de Perrencourt suddenly dragged his chair back and, passing in front of it, stood close over the table.  Colbert looked up at him, but his eyes were fixed on me, and the Envoy went unnoticed.

“Then come and take it,” said the King.

I advanced after a low bow.  Darrell, to my fresh wonder, kept pace with me, and when I reached the table was still at my side.  Before I could move his sword might be through me or the ball from his pistol in my brains.  The strange scene began to intoxicate me, its stirring suggestion mounting to my head like fumes of wine.  I seized the cup and held it high in my hand.  I looked down in the King’s face, and thence to Madame’s; to her I bowed low and cried: 

“By His Majesty’s permission I will drain this cup to the honour of the fairest and most illustrious Princess, Madame the Duchess of Orleans.”

The Duchess half-rose from her seat, crying in a loud whisper, “Not to me, no, no!  I can’t have him drink it to me.”

The King still held her hand.

“Drink it to me, Mr Dale,” said he.

I bowed to him and put the cup to my lips.  I was in the act to drink, when M. de Perrencourt spoke.

“A moment, sir,” he said calmly.  “Have I the King’s permission to tell Mr Dale a secret concerning this wine?”

The Duke of York looked up with a frown, the King turned to M. de Perrencourt as if in doubt, the Frenchman met his glance and nodded.

“M. de Perrencourt is our guest,” said the King.  “He must do as he will.”

M. de Perrencourt, having thus obtained permission (when was his will denied him?), leant one hand on the table and, bending across towards me, said in slow, calm, yet impressive tones: 

“The King, sir, was wearied with business and parched with talking; of his goodness he detected in me the same condition.  So he bade my good friend and his good subject Mr Darrell furnish him with a bottle of wine, and Mr Darrell brought a bottle, saying that the King’s cellar was shut and the cellarman in bed, but praying the King to honour him by drinking his wine, which was good French wine, such as the King loved and such as he hoped to put before His Majesty at supper presently.  Then His Majesty asked whence it came, and Mr Darrell answered that he was indebted for it to his good friend Mr Simon Dale, who would be honoured by the King’s drinking it.”

“Why, it’s my own wine then!” I cried, smiling now.

“He spoke the truth, did he?” pursued M. de Perrencourt composedly.  “It is your wine, sent by you to Mr Darrell?”

“Even so, sir,” I answered.  “Mr. Darrell’s wine was out, and I sent him some bottles of wine by his servant.”

“You knew for what he needed it?”

I had forgotten for the moment what Robert said, and hesitated in my answer.  M. de Perrencourt looked intently at me.

“I think,” said I, “that Robert told me Mr Darrell expected the King to sup with him.”

“He told you that?” he asked sharply.

“Yes, I remember that,” said I, now thoroughly bewildered by the history and the catechism which seemed necessary to an act so simple as drinking a glass of my own wine.

M. de Perrencourt said nothing more, but his eyes were still set on my face with a puzzled searching expression.  His glance confused me, and I looked round the table.  Often at such moments the merest trifles catch our attention, and now for the first time I observed that a little of the wine had been spilt on the polished oak of the table; where it had fallen the bright surface seemed rusted to dull brown.  I noticed the change, and wondered for an idle second how it came that wine turned a polished table dull.  The thing was driven from my head the next moment by a brief and harsh order from the King.

“Drink, sir, drink.”

Strained with excitement, I started at the order, and slopped some of the wine from the cup on my hand.  I felt a strange burning where it fell; but again the King cried, “Drink, sir.”

I hesitated no more.  Recalling my wandering wits and determining to play my part in the comedy, whatever it might mean, I bowed, cried “God save your Majesty,” and raised the cup to my lips.  As it touched them, I saw Madame hide her eyes with her hand and M. de Perrencourt lean farther across the table, while a short quick gasp of breath came from where Darrell stood by my side.

I knew how to take off a bumper of wine.  No sippings and swallowings for me!  I laid my tongue well down in the bottom of my mouth that the liquor might have fair passage to my gullet, and threw my head back as you see a hen do (in thanks to heaven, they say, though she drinks only water).  Then I tilted the cup, and my mouth was full of the wine.  I was conscious of a taste in it, a strange acrid taste.  Why, it was poor wine, turned sour; it should go back to-morrow; that fool Jonah was a fool in all things; and I stood disgraced for offering this acrid stuff to a friend.  And he gave it to the King!  It was the cruellest chance.  Why ­

Suddenly, when I had gulped down but one good mouthful, I saw M. de Perrencourt lean right across the table.  Yet I saw him dimly, for my eyes seemed to grow glazed and the room to spin round me, the figures at the table taking strange shapes and weird dim faces, and a singing sounding in my ears, as though the sea roared there and not on Dover beach.  There was a woman’s cry, and a man’s arm shot out at me.  I felt a sharp blow on my wrist, the cup was dashed from my hand on to the stone floor, breaking into ten thousand pieces, while the wine made a puddle at my feet.  I stood there for an instant, struck motionless, glaring into the face that was opposite to mine.  It was M. de Perrencourt’s, no longer calm, but pale and twitching.  This was the last thing I saw clearly.  The King and his companions were fused in a shifting mass of trunks and faces, the walls raced round, the singing of the sea roared and fretted in my ears.  I caught my hand to my brow and staggered; I could not stand, I heard a clatter as though of a sword falling to the floor, arms were stretched out to receive me and I sank into them, hearing a murmur close by me, “Simon, Simon!”

Yet one thing more I heard, before my senses left me ­a loud, proud, imperious voice, the voice that speaks to be obeyed, whose assertion brooks no contradiction.  It rang in my ears where nothing else could reach them, and even then I knew whence it came.  The voice was the voice of M. de Perrencourt, and it seemed that he spoke to the King of England.

“Brother,” he cried, “by my faith in God, this gentleman is innocent, and his life is on our heads, if he lose it.”

I heard no more.  Stupor veiled me round in an impenetrable mist.  The figures vanished, the tumultuous singing ceased.  A great silence encompassed me, and all was gone.