In a room above-stairs which his grace had commanded in an inn at the corner of Paternoster Row, they sat alone, the Duke of Buckingham and the man to whom he owed his life. There was no doubt of the extent of the debt, as both well knew. For on that night, long years ago, when his grace lay faint and wounded on that stricken field of battle, he had fallen a prey to a pair of those human jackals who scour the battle-ground to strip the living and the dead. The young Duke had sought gallantly enough, considering his condition, to defend himself from their depredations, whereupon, whilst one of them held him down, the other had bared a knife to make an end of his rash resistance. And then out of the surrounding gloom had sprung young Holles, brought to that spot by merest chance. His heavy cut-and-thrust blade had opened the skull of the villain who wielded the knife, whereupon his fellow had incontinently fled. Thereafter, half supporting, half carrying the lovely wounded boy whom he had rescued, the young Cromwellian officer had assisted him to the safety and shelter of a royalist yeoman’s cottage. All this they both remembered, and upon this they dwelt a moment now.

A table stood between them, and on that table a quart of Burgundy which the Duke had called for, that he might entertain his guest.

“In my heart,” said Holles, “I always believed that we should meet again one day; which is why I have clung to this jewel. Had I known your name, I should have sought you out. As it was, I harboured the conviction that Chance would bring me across your path.”

“Not Chance. Destiny,” said his grace, with quiet conviction.

“Why, Destiny, if you prefer to call it so. This jewel now—it is very odd! I have clung to it through all these years, as I have said; I have clung to it through some odd shifts which the sale of it might have relieved: clung to it against the day when we should meet again, that it might serve as my credential.” He did not add that to him the oddest thing of all was that to-day, at the very moment of this meeting, he was on his way to sell the jewel, compelled to it at last by direst need.

The Duke was nodding, his face thoughtful. “Destiny, you see. It was preordained. The meeting was foretold. Did I not say so?”

And again Holles asked him, as he had asked before: “Foretold by whom?”

This time the Duke answered him.

“By whom? By the stars. They are the only true prophets, and their messages are plain to him who can read them. I suppose you never sought that lore?”

Holles stared at him a moment. Then he shook his head, and smiled in a manner to imply his contempt of charlatanry.

“I am a soldier, sir,” he said.

“Why, so am I—when the occasion serves. But that does not prevent me from being a reader of the heavens, a writer of verse, a law-giver in the north, a courtier here, and several other things besides. Man in his time plays many parts. Who plays one only may as well play none. To live, my friend, you must sip at many wells of life.”

He developed that thesis, discoursing easily, wittily, and with the indefinable charm he could command, a charm which was fastening upon our adventurer now even as it had fastened upon him years ago in that hour of their brief but fateful meeting.

“When just now you chanced upon me,” he concluded, “I was playing hero and lover, author and mummer all in one, and playing them all so unsuccessfully that I never found myself in a more vexatious part. On my soul, if there lay no debt between us already, you must have rendered me your debtor now that you can rescue my mind for an hour or so from the tormenting thought of that sweet baggage who keeps me on the rack. You saw, perhaps, how the little wanton used me.” He laughed, and yet through his laughter ran a note of bitterness. “But I contrived the mummery clumsily, as she reproached me. And no doubt I deserved to be laughed off the stage, which is what happened. But she shall pay me, and with interest, one of these fine days, for all the trouble she has given me. She shall.... Oh, but a plague on the creature! It is of yourself, sir, that I would hear. What are you now, that were once a Commonwealth man?”

“Nobody’s man at present. I have seen a deal of service since those days, both at home and abroad, yet it has brought me small gear, as you can see for yourself.”

“Faith, yes.” Buckingham regarded him more critically. “I should not judge your condition to be prosperous.”

“You may judge it to be desperate and never fear to exaggerate.”

“So?” The Duke raised his eyebrows. “Is it so bad? I vow I am grieved.” His face settled into lines of courteous regret. “But it is possible I may be of service to you. There is a debt between us. I should welcome the opportunity to discharge it. What is your name, sir? You have not told me.”

“Holles—Randal Holles, lately a colonel of horse in the Stadtholder’s service.”

The Duke frowned reflectively. The name had touched a chord of memory and set it faintly vibrating in his brain. Awhile the note eluded him. Then he had it.

“Randal Holles?” he echoed slowly, questioningly. “That was the name of a regicide who.... But you cannot be he. You are too young by thirty years....”

“He was my father,” said the Colonel.

“Oh!” The Duke considered him blankly. “I do not wonder that you lack employment here in England. My friend, with the best intentions to repay you the great service that you did me, this makes it very difficult.”

The new-risen hope perished again in the Colonel’s face.

“It is as I feared....” he was beginning gloomily, when the Duke leaned forward, and set a hand upon his arm.

“I said difficult, my friend. I did not say impossible. I admit the impossibility of nothing that I desire, and I swear that I desire nothing at present more ardently than your better fortune. Meanwhile, Colonel Holles, that I may serve you, I must know more of you. You have not told me yet how Colonel Holles, sometime of the Army of the Commonwealth, and more lately in the service of the Stadtholder, happens to be endangering his neck in the London of Old Rowley—this King whose memory for injuries is as endless as a lawsuit.”

Colonel Holles told him. Saving the matter of how he had been tempted to join the ill-starred Danvers conspiracy under persuasion of Tucker and Rathbone, he used the utmost candour, frankly avowing the mistakes he had made by following impulses that were never right. He spoke of the ill-luck that had dogged him, to snatch away each prize in the moment that he put forth his hand to seize it, down to the command in Bombay which Albemarle had already practically conferred upon him.

The debonair Duke was airily sympathetic. He condoled and jested in a breath, his jests being in themselves a promise that all this should now be mended. But when Holles came to the matter of the Bombay command, his grace’s laughter sounded a melancholy note.

“And it was I who robbed you of this,” he cried. “Why, see how mysteriously Destiny has been at work! But this multiplies my debt. It adds something for which I must make amends. Rest assured that I shall do so. I shall find a way to set you on the road to fortune. But we must move cautiously, as you realize. Depend upon me to move surely, none the less.”

Holles flushed this time in sheer delight. Often though Fortune had fooled him, yet she had not utterly quenched his faith in men. Thus, miraculously, in the eleventh hour had salvation come to him, and it had come through that precious ruby which a wise intuition had made him treasure so tenaciously.

The Duke produced a purse of green silk netting, through the meshes of which glowed the mellow warmth of gold.

“Meanwhile, my friend—as an earnest of my good intent....”

“Not that, your grace.” For the second time that day Holles waved back a proffered purse, his foolish pride in arms. Throughout his career he had come by money in many questionable ways, but never by accepting it as a gift from one whose respect he desired to preserve. “I am in no such immediate want. I ... I can contrive awhile.”

But His Grace of Buckingham was of a different temper from His Grace of Albemarle. He was as prodigal and lavish as the other was parsimonious, and he was not of those who will take a refusal.

He smiled a little at the Colonel’s protestations, and passed to a tactful, ingratiating insistence with all the charm of which he could be master.

“I honour you for your refusal, but....” He continued to hold out the purse. “See. It is not a gift I offer you, but an advance, a trifling loan, which you shall repay me presently when I shall have made it easy for you to so do. Come, sir, there is that between us which is not to be repaid in gold. Your refusal would offend me.”

And Holles, be it confessed, was glad enough to have the path thus smoothed for his self-respect.

“As a loan, then, since you are so graciously insistent....”

“Why, what else do you conceive I had in mind?” His grace dropped the heavy purse into the hand that was at last held out to receive it, and rose. “You shall hear from me again, Colonel, and as soon as may be. Let me but know where you are lodged.”

Holles considered a second. He was leaving the Paul’s Head, and it had been his announced intention to remove himself to the Bird in Hand, a humble hostelry where lodgings were cheap. But he loved good food and wine as he loved good raiment, and he would never lodge in so vile a house save under the harsh compulsion of necessity. Now, with this sudden accession of fortune, master of this heavy purse and assured of more to follow soon, that obnoxious necessity was removed. He bethought him of, and decided upon, another house famous for its good cheer.

“Your grace will find me at The Harp in Wood Street,” he announced.

“There look to hear from me, and very soon.”

They left the tavern together, and the Duke went off to his coach, which had been brought thither for him, his French lackeys trotting beside it, whilst Colonel Holles, with his head in the clouds and a greater swagger than ever in his port to emphasize the shabby condition of his person, rolled along towards Paul’s Yard, fingering the jewel in his ear, which there no longer was the need to sell, although there was no longer the need to retain it, since it had fulfilled, at last, after long years, Destiny’s purpose with himself.

Thus in high good-humour he strutted into the Paul’s Head, to plunge into a deplorable scene with Mrs. Quinn. It was the jewel—this fateful jewel—that precipitated the catastrophe. The sight of it inflamed her anger, driving her incontinently to unwarranted conclusions.

“You haven’t sold it!” she shrilled as he stepped into the back parlour where she was at the moment stirring, and she pointed to the ear-ring, which glowed like an ember under a veil of his brown hair. “You’ve changed your mind. You think to come whimpering here again, that you may save the trinket at my cost.” And then the devil whispered an unfortunate thought, and so begat in her a sudden furious jealousy. Before he could answer her, before he could recover from the gaping amazement in which he stood to receive the onslaught of her wrath, she was sweeping on: “I understand!” She leered an instant evilly. “It’s a love-token, eh? The gift of some fat Flemish burgomaster’s dame, belike, whom ye no doubt cozened as ye would have cozened me. That’s why ye can’t part with it—not even to pay me the money you owe for bed and board, for the food ye’ve guzzled and the wine ye swilled, ye good-for-nothing out-at-elbow jackanapes. But ye’ve had your warning, and since ye don’t heed it ye’ll take the....”

“Hold your peace, woman,” he interrupted, thundering, and silenced her by his sudden show of passion. He advanced upon her, so that she recoiled in some alarm, yet bridling even then. Then as suddenly he checked, curbed himself, and laughed. Forth from his pocket he lugged the heavy ducal purse, slid back the gold rings that bound it and brought the broad yellow pieces into view at its gaping mouth.

“What is the total of this score of yours?” he asked contemptuously, in the remnants of his anger. “Name it, take your money, and give me peace.”

But she was no longer thinking of her score. She was stricken with amazement at the sight of the purse he held, and the gold with which it bulged. Round-eyed she stared at it, and then at him. And then, because she could not conjecture the source of this sudden wealth, she must assume the worst, with the readiness to which such minds as hers are prone. The suspicion narrowed her blue eyes; it settled into conviction, and fetched an unpleasant curl to the lips of her broad mouth.

“And how come you by this gold?” she asked him, sinisterly quiet.

“Is that your affair, ma’am?”

“I thought you was above purse-cutting,” she said, mightily disdainful. “But it seems I was as deceived in you there as in other ways.”

“Why, you impudent bawd!” he roared in his rage, and turned her livid by the epithet.

“You vagrant muck-rake, is that a word for an honest woman?”

“Honest, you thieving drab! Do you boast yourself honest? Your cheating score gives the lie to that. Give me the total of it, that I may pay the swindling sum, and shake the dust of your tavern from my heels.”

That, as you realize, was but the beginning of a scene of which I have no mind to give you all the details. Some of them are utterly unprintable. Her voice shrilled up like an oyster-woman’s, drawing the attention of the few who occupied the common room, and fetching Tim the drawer in alarm to the door of the little parlour.

And for all his anger, Colonel Holles began to be vaguely alarmed, for his conscience, as you know, was not altogether easy, and appearances might easily be construed against him.

“You thieving, brazen traitor,” she was bawling. “Do you think to come roaring it in here at me, you that have turned my reputable house into a den of treason! I’ll learn you manners, you impudent gallow’s-bird.” And she then caught sight of Tim’s scared face looking round the opening door. “Tim, fetch the constable,” she bawled. “The gentleman shall shift his lodgings to Newgate, which is better suited to his kind. Fetch the constable, I tell you. Run, lad.”

Tim departed. So did the Colonel, realizing suddenly that there would be no profit in remaining. He emptied the half of the contents of the ducal purse into his palm, and, as Jupiter wooed Danaë, but without any of Jupiter’s amorous intention, he scattered it upon and about her in a golden shower.

“There’s to stop your noisy, scolding mouth!” he cried. “Pay yourself with that, you hag. And the devil take you!”

He flung out in a towering rage, almost on the very heels of Tim; and of the half-dozen men in the common room not one dared to dispute his passage. He gained the street, and was gone, leaving behind him some odds and ends of gear as a memento of his eventful passage, and a hostess reduced to tears of angry exhaustion.

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