Colonel Holles hummed softly to himself as he dressed with care to keep his momentous appointment at the Cockpit, and when his toilet was completed you would scarcely have known him for the down-at-heel adventurer of yesterday, so fine did he appear.

Early that morning he had emptied the contents of his purse upon the bed, and counted up his fortune. It amounted to thirty-five pounds and some shillings. And Albemarle had promised him that, together with his commission, he should that morning receive an order on the Treasury for thirty pounds to meet his disbursements on equipment and the rest. He must, he considered, do credit to his patron. He argued that it was a duty. To present himself again at Whitehall in his rags were to disgrace the Duke of Albemarle; there might be introductions, and he would not have his grace blush for the man he was protecting.

Therefore, immediately after an early breakfast—at which, for once, he had been waited upon, not by Mrs. Quinn, but by Tim the drawer—he had sallied forth and made his way to Paternoster Row. There, yielding to the love of fine raiment inseparable from the adventurous temperament and to the improvident disposition that accompanies it, and also having regard to the officially military character he was about to assume, he purchased a fine coat of red camlet laced with gold, and small-clothes, stockings, and cravat in keeping. By the time he added a pair of boots of fine Spanish leather, a black silk sash, a new, gold-broidered baldric, and a black beaver with a trailing red plume, he found that fully three quarters of his slender fortune was dissipated, and there remained in his purse not above eight pounds. But that should not trouble a man who within a couple of hours would have pocketed an order upon the Treasury. He had merely anticipated the natural course of events, and counted himself fortunate to be, despite his reduced circumstances, still able to do so.

He had returned then with his bundle to the Paul’s Head, and, as he surveyed himself now in his mirror, freshly shaven, his long thick gold-brown hair elegantly curled, and a clump of its curls caught in a ribbon on his left, the long pear-shaped ruby glowing in his ear, his throat encased in a creaming froth of lace, and the fine red coat that sat so admirably upon his shoulders, he smiled at the memory of the scarecrow he had been as lately as yesterday, and assured himself that he did not look a day over thirty.

He created something of a sensation when he appeared below in all this finery, and, since it was unthinkable that he should tread the filth of the streets with his new Spanish boots, Tim was dispatched for a hackney-coach to convey the Colonel to Whitehall.

It still wanted an hour to noon, and this the Colonel considered the earliest at which he could decently present himself. But early as it was there was another who had been abroad and at the Cockpit even earlier. This was His Grace of Buckingham, who, accompanied by his friend Sir Harry Stanhope, had sought the Duke of Albemarle a full hour before Colonel Holles had been ready to leave his lodging.

A gentleman of the Duke’s eminence was not to be kept waiting. He had been instantly admitted to that pleasant wainscoted room overlooking the Park in which His Grace of Albemarle transacted business. Wide as the poles as were the two dukes asunder, the exquisite libertine and the dour soldier, yet cordial relations prevailed between them. Whilst correct and circumspect in his own ways of life, Monk was utterly without bigotry and as utterly without prejudices on the score of morals. Under his dour taciturnity, and for all that upon occasion he could be as brave as a lion, yet normally he was of the meekness of a lamb, combined with a courteous aloofness, which, if it earned him few devoted friends, earned him still fewer enemies. As a man gives, so he receives; and Monk, being very sparing both of his love and his hate, rarely excited either passion in others. He was careful not to make enemies, but never at pains to make friends.

“I desire your leave to present to your grace my very good friend Sir Harry Stanhope, a deserving young soldier for whom I solicit your grace’s good offices.”

Albemarle had heard of Sir Harry as one of the most dissolute young profligates about the Court, and, observing him now, his grace concluded that the gentleman’s appearance did justice to his reputation. It was the first time that he had heard him described as a soldier, and the description awakened his surprise. But of this he betrayed nothing. Coldly he inclined his head in response to the diving bow with which Sir Harry honoured him.

“There is no need to solicit my good offices for any friend of your grace’s,” he answered, coldly courteous. “A chair, your grace. Sir Harry!” He waved the fop to the second and lesser of the two chairs that faced his writing-table, and when they were seated he resumed his own place, leaning forward and placing his elbows on the table. “Will your grace acquaint me how I may have the honour of being of service?”

“Sir Harry,” said Buckingham, leaning back in his armchair, and throwing one faultlessly stockinged leg over the other, “desires, for certain reasons of his own, to see the world.”

Albemarle had no illusions as to what those reasons were. It was notorious that Harry Stanhope had not only gamed away the inheritance upon which he had entered three years ago, but that he was colossally in debt, and that, unless some one came to his rescue soon, his creditors might render life exceedingly unpleasant for him. He would not be the first gay butterfly of the Court to make the acquaintance of a sponging house. But of that thought, as it flashed through the mind of the Commander-in-Chief, no indication showed on his swart, set face and expressionless dark eyes.

“But Sir Harry,” Buckingham was resuming after the slightest of pauses, “is commendably moved by the wish to render his absence from England of profit to His Majesty.”

“In short,” said Albemarle, translating brusquely, for he could not repress a certain disdain, “Sir Harry desires an appointment overseas.”

Buckingham dabbed his lips with a lace handkerchief. “That, in short,” he admitted, “is the situation. Sir Harry will, I trust, deserve well in your grace’s eyes.”

His grace looked at Sir Harry, and found that he did nothing of the kind. From his soul, unprejudiced as he was, Albemarle despised the mincing fop whom he was desired to help to cheat his creditors.

“And the character of this appointment?” he inquired tonelessly.

“A military character would be best suited to Sir Harry’s tastes and qualities. He has the advantage of some military experience. He held for a time a commission in the Guards.”

“In the Guards!” thought Albemarle. “My God! What a recommendation!” But his expression said nothing. His owlish eyes were levelled calmly upon the young rake, who smiled ingratiatingly, and thereby, did he but know it, provoked Albemarle’s disgust. Aloud, at length, he made answer: “Very well. I will bear in mind your grace’s application on Sir Harry’s behalf, and when a suitable position offers....”

“But it offers now,” Buckingham interjected languidly.

“Indeed?” The black brows went up, wrinkling the heavy forehead. “I am not aware of it.”

“There is this command in Bombay, which has fallen vacant through the death of poor Macartney. I heard of it last night at Court. You are forgetting that, I think. It is an office eminently suitable to Sir Harry here.”

Albemarle was frowning. He pondered a moment; but only because it was ever his way to move slowly. Then he gently shook his head and pursed his heavy lips.

“I have also to consider, your grace, whether Sir Harry is eminently suitable to the office, and, to be quite frank, and with all submission, I must say that I cannot think so.”

Buckingham was taken aback. He stared haughtily at Albemarle. “I don’t think I understand,” he said.

Albemarle fetched a sigh, and proceeded to explain himself.

“For this office—one of considerable responsibility—we require a soldier of tried experience and character. Sir Harry is no doubt endowed with many commendable qualities, but at his age it is impossible that he should have gained the experience without which he could not possibly discharge to advantage the onerous duties which would await him. Nor is that the only obstacle, your grace. I have not only chosen my man—and such a man as I have described—but I have already offered, and he has already accepted, the commission. So that the post can no longer be considered vacant.”

“But the commission was signed only last night by His Majesty—signed in blank, as I have reason to know.”

“True. But I am none the less pledged. I am expecting at any moment now, the gentleman upon whom the appointment is already conferred.”

Buckingham did not dissemble his annoyance. “May one inquire his name?” he asked, and the question was a demand.

Albemarle hesitated. He realized the danger to Holles in naming him at this unfortunate juncture. Buckingham might go to any lengths to have him removed, and there was that in Holles’s past, in his very name, which would supply abundant grounds. “His name would not be known to your grace. He is a comparatively obscure soldier, whose merits, however, are fully known to me, and I am persuaded that a fitter man for the office could not be found. But something else will, no doubt, offer within a few days, and then....”

Buckingham interrupted him arrogantly.

“It is not a question of something else, your grace, but of this. I have already obtained His Majesty’s sanction. It is at his suggestion that I am here. It is fortunate that the person you had designated for the command is obscure. He will have to give way, and you may console him with the next vacant post. If your grace requires more explicit instruction I shall be happy to obtain you His Majesty’s commands in writing.”

Albemarle was checkmated. He sat there grim and impassive as if he were carved of stone. But his mind was a seething cauldron of anger. It was always thus. The places of trust, the positions demanding experienced heads and able hands that England might be served to the best advantage by her most meritorious sons, were constantly being flung away upon the worthless parasites that flocked about Charles’s lecherous Court. And he was the more angered here, because his hands were tied against resistance by the very identity of the man he was appointing. Had it been a question of any other man of Holles’s soldierly merit, but of such antecedents as would permit the disclosure of his name, he would clap on his hat and step across to the palace to argue the matter with the King. And he would know how to conduct the argument so as to prevail against the place-seeking insolence of Buckingham. But, as it was, he was forced to realize that he could do none of this without perhaps dooming Holles and bringing heavy censure fruitlessly upon himself. “Oddsfish!” the King would cry. “Do you tell me to my face that you prefer the son of a regicide to the friend of my friend?” And what should he answer then?

He lowered his eyes. The commission which was the subject of this discussion lay there on the table before him, the space which the name of Randal Holles was intended to occupy still standing blank. He was defeated, and he had best, for the sake of Holles as much as for his own, accept the situation without further argument.

He took up a pen, dipped it, and drew the document to him.

“Since you have His Majesty’s authority, there can be, of course, no further question.”

Rapidly, his quill scratching and spluttering across the sheet, he filled in the name of Sir Harry Stanhope, bitterly considering that he might as profitably have filled in Nell Gwynn’s. He dusted the thick writing with pounce, and proffered it without another word. But his looks were heavy.

Buckingham rose, smiling, and Sir Harry bounced up with him, smiling also. For the first and last time in the course of that short interview Sir Harry spoke.

“Your grace’s devoted servant,” he professed himself, bowing and smirking. “I shall study to discharge my office creditably, and to allay any qualms my youth may leave in your grace’s mind.”

“And youth,” said Buckingham, smiling, to reassure Albemarle, “is a fault that time invariably corrects.”

Albemarle rose slowly to his feet, and the others bowed themselves out of his presence.

Then he sat down again heavily, took his head in his hands, and softly loosed an oath.

Holles came an hour later, radiant with expectation, a gay, youthful-looking, commanding figure in his splendid red coat, to be crushed by the news that proved him Fortune’s fool again, as ever.

But he bore it well on the face of him, however deeply the iron was thrust into his soul. It was Albemarle who for once showed excitement, Albemarle who inveighed in most unmeasured terms against the corrupt influence of the Court and the havoc it was working.

“It needed a man for this office and they have constrained me to give it to a fribble, a dolly in breeches, a painted dawcock.”

Holles remembered Tucker’s denunciations of the present government and began to realize at last how right he was and how justified he and his associates might be of their conviction that the people were ready to rise and sweep this Augean stable clean.

Albemarle was seeking to comfort him with fresh hope. No doubt something else would offer soon.

“To be snatched up again by some debt-ridden pimp who wants to escape his creditors,” said Holles, his tone betraying at last some of the bitterness fermenting in his soul.

Albemarle stood sorrowfully regarding him. “This hits you hard, Randal, I know.”

The Colonel recovered and forced a laugh.

“Pooh! Hard hits have mostly been my portion.”

“I know.” Albemarle paced to the window and back, his head sunk between his shoulders. Then he came to a halt before the Colonel. “Keep me informed of where you are lodged, and look to hear from me again as soon as may be. Be sure that I will do my best.”

The Colonel’s glance kindled again. It was a flicker of the expiring flame of hope.

“You really think that something else will offer?”

His grace paused before answering, and, in the pause, the sorrowful gravity of his face increased.

“To be frank with you, Randal, I hardly dare to think it. Chances for such as you are, as you understand, not ... frequent. But the unexpected may happen sooner than we dare to hope. If it does, be sure I’ll not forget you. Be sure of that.”

Holles thanked him steadily, and rose to depart, his radiance quenched, despondency in every line of him.

Albemarle watched from under furrowed brows. As he reached the door the Duke detained him.

“Randal! A moment.”

The Colonel turned and waited whilst slowly Albemarle approached him. His grace was deep in thought, and he hesitated before speaking.

“You ... you are not urgently in need of money, I trust?” he said at last.

The Colonel’s gesture and laugh conveyed a shamefaced admission that he was.

Albemarle’s eyes considered him a moment still. Then, slowly, he drew a purse from his pocket. It was apparently a light purse. He unfastened it.

“If a loan will help you until....”

“No, no!” cried Holles, his pride aroused against accepting what amounted almost to alms.

Even so the repudiation was no more than half-hearted. But there was no attempt from Albemarle to combat it. He did not press the offer. He drew the purse-strings tight again, and his expression was almost one of relief.

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