His Grace behaved generously, and at the same time with a prudence which reveals the alert and calculating mind of this gifted man, who might have been great had he been less of a voluptuary.

He attended with Holles before the Justices early on the morrow, announcing himself able to confirm out of his own knowledge the truth of the account which the Colonel gave of his relations with the attainted Tucker. To that his grace added the assertion that he was ready—if more were needed—to stand surety for the loyalty of this suspected man whom he now pronounced his friend. More was not needed. The sycophantic court bent the knee before this great gentleman who enjoyed the close friendship of his King, and even professed regret that certain reckless and malicious statements should have deceived it into troubling the peace of Colonel Holles, and putting His Grace of Buckingham to the present inconvenience. The Colonel’s antecedents, which, without Buckingham’s protection, might have been the gravest source of trouble, were not so much as touched upon.

There was in all this nothing in the least unreasonable. Had the offence of which Colonel Holles was suspected been anything less than treason, it is not to be supposed that the Duke would have been able to carry matters with quite so high a hand. But it was utterly unthinkable that His Grace of Buckingham, whose loyalty stood so high, whose whole life bore witness to his deep attachment to the House of Stuart, and who was notoriously one of His Majesty’s closest and most intimate companions, should offer to stand surety for a man against whom the merest suspicion of disloyalty would be justified.

Thus at the outset was Holles delivered from his worst peril. Next he was informed that, since service of any distinction in England was almost out of the question for his father’s son, Buckingham would supply him with letters to several high-placed friends of his own in France, where a capable soldier well recommended need never lack employment. If Colonel Holles made the most of the opportunity thus afforded him, his future should be assured and his days of adversity at an end. This Holles clearly perceived for himself, and the reflection served to stifle any lingering qualms of conscience over the unworthy nature of the immediate service to which he was committed and to assure him that he would, indeed, have been a fool had he permitted any mawkish sentimentality to deprive him of this the greatest opportunity of all his life.

In this resolve to send Holles out of England the moment the service required of him should be accomplished, Buckingham again reveals his astuteness. Further, he reveals it in the fact that to assist the Colonel he placed at his disposal four of the French lackeys in his pay. It was his intention to repatriate them, packing them off to France together with Holles, as soon as the thing were done.

Thus, in the event of any trouble afterwards with the law, he would have removed the only possible witnesses. The unsupported word of Miss Farquharson—even in the extreme, and in his grace’s view unlikely, event of her not accepting the situation—would be the only thing against him; and in that case he did not think that he need gravely apprehend the accusations of an actress, which he would have no great difficulty in answering.

From attendance before the Justices, Colonel Holles repaired straight to Fenchurch Street to conclude arrangements with the owner of the house in Knight Ryder Street. Of this he now acquired the tenancy in his own name for the term of one year. The merchant did not trouble to conceal the fact that he regarded Colonel Holles as crazy to desire to take up his residence in an infected city from which all who were able were making haste to remove themselves. Had the Colonel needed a reminder of it, he had it in the fact that he was constrained to go on foot, not only because hackney-coaches were now rare, but because the use of them was considered highly imprudent, since so many had been used by infected persons. Doors smeared with the red cross and guarded by watchmen were becoming commonplaces, and the comparatively few people met in the streets who still sought to maintain the normal tenor and business of their lives moved with the listlessness of despondency or else with the watchfulness of hunted creatures. The pungent smell of electuaries, and particularly of camphor, was wafted to the Colonel’s nostrils from the person of almost every man he met.

He may have thought again that—as he had already admirably expressed it—Buckingham was led by his passion like a blind man by his dog, to come thrusting himself at such a time into the City, and he may have taken satisfaction in the thought that he, himself, so soon as this business should be accomplished, was to shake the poisonous dust of London from his feet.

Matters concluded with the merchant, the Colonel went to take possession of the house, and he installed there two of the four French lackeys the Duke had lent him for myrmidons.

After that there was little to do but wait until Saturday, since, for reasons which the Duke had given him, the attempt should not be made before. That evening, however, and the next, the Colonel repaired to Lincoln’s Inn to watch from a safe distance Miss Farquharson’s departure from the theatre, and so inform himself precisely of her habits in the matter. On both occasions she came forth at the same time—a few minutes after seven, and entered her waiting sedan-chair, in which she was borne away.

On Friday evening Holles went again, at six o’clock, and he had been waiting half an hour before the chair that was to convey her home made its appearance. It was the same chair as before and borne by the same men.

Holles lounged forward to engage them in talk. Of set purpose and despite the warm weather, he had donned a well-worn leather jerkin to cover and conceal his fairly presentable coat. He had removed the feather from his hat, and all minor ornaments, replacing his embroidered baldric by one of plain leather. A pair of old boots completed the studied shabbiness of his appearance, and gave him the air of a down-at-heel ruffler, ready to make a friend of any man.

He slouched towards the chairmen, pulling at a clay pipe, a man with time on his hands. And they, sitting on the shafts of the chair—one on each side, so as to balance each other—were nothing loath to have the tedium of their waiting beguiled by the thrasonical garrulousness his appearance led them to expect.

He did not disappoint them. He talked of the pestilence and of the war, and of the favouritism practised at Court, which bestowed commands upon all manner of incompetent fops and kept a hardened and stout old soldier like himself cooling his heels in London’s plague-ridden streets. In this last respect he made them find him ridiculous, so that they rallied and covertly mocked him and hugely enjoyed themselves at his expense, to all of which it appeared to them that his monstrous ruffler’s vanity made him blind. Finally he invited them to come and drink with him, and they were nothing reluctant to permit him thus to add physical to the mental entertainment he had already afforded them. In their spirit of raillery, and to involve this foolish fellow in the utmost expense, they would have conducted him to The Grange. But the foolish fellow had more reasons than one for preferring an obscure little alehouse at the corner of Portugal Row, and it was thither that he now conducted his newly made friends and guests.

When at last they parted, the chairmen compelled to it by the necessity to be back at their post by seven o’clock, it was with voluble protestations of friendship on the part of Holles. He must come and see them soon again, he vowed. They were fellows after his own heart, he assured them. Eagerly they returned the compliment, and, as they made their way back to the theatre, they laughed not a little over the empty vanity of that silly pigeon, and their own wit and cleverness in having fooled him to the top of his ridiculous bent.

It might have given their hilarity pause could they have seen the grimly cunning smile that curled the lips of that same silly pigeon as he trudged away from the scene of their blithe encounter.

On the following evening—which was that of Saturday—you behold him there again, at about the same hour, joyously hailed by Miss Farquharson’s chairmen in a manner impudently blending greeting with derision.

“Good-evening, Sir John,” cried one, and, “Good-evening, my lord,” the other.

The Colonel, whose swaggering carriage was suggestive of a mild intoxication, planted his feet wide, and regarded the twain owlishly.

“I am not Sir John, and I am not my lord,” he reproved them, whereupon they laughed. “Though, mark you,” he added, more ponderously, “mark you, I might be both if I had my dues. There’s many a Whitehall pimp is my lord with less claim to the dignity than I have. Aye, a deal less.”

“Any fool can see that to look at you,” said Jake.

“Aye—any fool,” said Nathaniel, sardonic and ambiguous.

The Colonel evidently chose the meaning that was flattering to himself.

“You’re good fellows,” he commended them. “Very good fellows.” And abruptly he added: “What should you say, now, to a cup of sack?”

Their eyes gleamed. Had it been ale they would have assented gladly enough. But sack! That was a nobleman’s drink that did not often come their lowly way. They looked at each other.

“Eh, Jake?” questioned one.

“A skew o’ bouze’ll never hurt, Nat,” said the other.

“That it won’t,” Nat agreed. “And there’s time to spare this evening. Her ladyship’ll be packing a while.”

They took the Colonel between them, and with arms linked the three set a course for the little alehouse at the corner of Portugal Row. The Colonel was more garrulous than ever, and very confidential. He had met a friend, he insisted upon informing them—an old brother-in-arms who had come upon fortunate days, from whom he had succeeded in borrowing a good round sum. Extending his confidence, he told them that probably it would be many days before he would be perfectly sober again. To this he added renewed assurances that he found them both very good fellows, lively companions these plaguy days, when the Town was as dull as a nunnery, and he swore that he would not be separated from them without a struggle.

Into the alehouse they rolled, to be skilfully piloted by the Colonel into a quiet corner well away from the windows and the light. He called noisily, tipsily, for the landlady, banging the table with the hilt of his sword. And when she made her appearance, he silenced her protests by his order.

“Three pints of Canary stiffly laced with brandy.”

As she departed, he pulled up a three-legged stool, and sat down facing the chairmen, who were licking their chops in anticipatory delight.

“’S norrevery day we meet a brother-in-arms whose norronly fortunate, but willing ... share ’sfortune. The wine, madam! And of your best.”

“Well said, old dog of war!” Nat approved him, whereupon the twain abandoned themselves to uproarious laughter.

The wine was brought, and the facetious pair swilled it greedily, whereafter they praised it, with rolling of eyes and resounding lip-smackings; they even subdued their raillery of the provider of this nectar. When he proposed a second pint, they actually grew solemn; and when after that he called for a third, they were almost prepared to treat him with respect.

There was a vacuousness in the eyes with which he pondered them, swaying never so slightly on his three-legged stool.

“Why ... you stare at me like tha’?” he challenged them.

They looked up from the replenished but as yet untasted measures. His manner became suddenly stern. “P’raps you think I haven’t ... money ... pay for all this swill?”

An awful dread assailed them both. He seemed to read it in their glances.

“Why, you rogues, d’ye dare ... doubt ... gen’l’man? D’ye think gen’l’man calls for wine, and can’t pay? Here’s to put your lousy minds at rest.”

Violently he pulled a hand from his pocket, and violently he flung it forward under their noses, opening it as he did so. Gold leapt from it, a half-dozen pieces that rolled and rang upon greasy table and greasier floor.

In a flash, instinctively, the pair dived after them, and grovelled there on hands and knees about the table’s legs, hunting the scattered coins. When at length they came up again, each obsequiously placed two pieces before the Colonel.

“Your honour should be more careful handling gold,” said Jake.

“Ye might ha’ lost a piece or two,” added Nat.

“In some companies I might,” said the Colonel, looking very wise. “But I know hones’ fellows; I know how to choose my friends. Trust a cap’n o’ fortune for that.” He picked up the coins with clumsy, blundering fingers. “I thank you,” he said, and restored them to his pocket.

Jake winked at Nat, and Nat hid his face in his tankard lest the grin which he could not suppress should be perceived by the Colonel.

The pair were spending a very pleasant and profitable evening with this stray and thirsty rodomont.

They drank noisily. And noisily and repeatedly Jake smacked his lips thereafter, frowning a little as he savoured the draught.

“I don’t think it’s as good as the last,” he complained.

The Colonel picked up his own tankard with solicitude and took a pull at it.

“I have drunk better,” he boasted. “But ’sgood enough, and just the same as last. Just the same.”

“May be my fancy,” said Jake, at which his companion nodded.

Then the Colonel fell to talking volubly, boastfully.

The landlady, who began to mislike their looks, drew near. The Colonel beckoned her nearer still, and thrust a piece of gold into her hand.

“Let that pay the reckoning,” said he, very magnificent.

She gaped at such prodigality, dropped him a curtsy, and withdrew again at once, reflecting that appearances can be very deceptive.

The Colonel resumed his talk. Whether from the soporific dreariness of this or from the potency of the libations, Jake’s eyelids were growing so heavy that he appeared to have a difficulty in keeping them from closing, whilst Nat was hardly in better case. Presently, surrendering to the luxurious torpor that pervaded him, Jake folded his arms upon the table, and laid his sleepy head upon them.

At this, his fellow took alarm, and leaned across in an attempt to rouse him.

“Hi! Jake! We gotter carry ... ladyship home.”

“Dammer ladyship,” grunted Jake in the very act of falling asleep.

With dazed eyes Nat looked helplessly at the Colonel and shaped his lips to utterance by a visible effort.

“Too much ... drink,” he said thickly. “Not used ... wine.”

He made a feeble attempt to rise, failed, and then suddenly resigned himself. Like Jake, who was already snoring, he made on the table a pillow of his arms, and lowered his head to it.

In a moment both the chairmen were soundly asleep.

Colonel Holles softly pushed back his stool, and rose. A moment he stood considering whether he should recover the two or three gold pieces which he was perfectly aware the rogues had filched from him. In the end he concluded that this would be an unnecessary additional cruelty.

He lurched out of the corner, and the hostess hearing him move came forward. He took her by the arm with one hand, whilst with the other, to her amazement, he pressed a second gold piece into her palm. He closed one eye solemnly, and pointed to the sleeping twain.

“Very good fellows ... friends o’ mine,” he informed her. “Very drunk. Not used ... wine. Lerrem sleep in peace.”

She smirked, clutching that second precious piece. “Indeed, your honour, they may sleep and welcome. Ye’ve paid for their lodgings.”

Holles considered her critically. “Goo’ woman. Ye’re a goo’ woman.” He considered her further. “Handsome woman! Lerrem sleep in peace. Gobbless you.”

She thought a kiss was coming. But he disappointed her. He loosed her arm, reeled away a little, swung round, and lurched out of the place and off down the street. Having gone some little way, he halted unsteadily and looked back. He was not observed. Having assured himself of this, he resumed his way, and it is noteworthy that he no longer staggered. His step was now brisk and certain. He flung something from him as he went, and there was a faint tinkle of shivering glass. It was the phial that had contained the powerful narcotic which he had added to his guests’ wine whilst they were grovelling for the money he had spilled.

“Animals!” he said contemptuously, and upon that dismissed them from his mind.

The hour of seven was striking from St. Clement’s Danes as he passed the back door of the playhouse and the untended chair that waited there for Miss Farquharson. Farther down the narrow street a couple of men were lounging who at a little distance might have been mistaken for the very chairmen he had left slumbering in the alehouse. Their plain liveries at least were very similar, and they were covered with broad round hats identical with those of Miss Farquharson’s bearers, worn at an angle that left their faces scarcely visible.

Sauntering casually, Colonel Holles came up with them. The street thereabouts was practically untenanted.

“Is all well?” he asked them.

“The people have quitted the theatre some ten minutes since,” one of them answered him in indifferent English.

“To your places, then. You know your tale if there are any questions.”

They nodded, and lounged along, eventually to lean against the theatre wall in the neighbourhood of the chair, obviously its bearers. The tale they were to tell at need was that Jake had been taken ill; it was feared that he was seized with the plague. Nat, who was remaining with him, had begged these two to take their places with the chair.

Holles took cover in a doorway, whence he could watch the scene of action, and there disposed himself to wait. The vigil proved a long one. As Jake had remarked to his companion, Miss Farquharson was likely to be late in leaving. On this the final evening at the Duke’s Theatre she would have packing to do, and there would perhaps be protracted farewells among the players. Of the latter several had already emerged from that little doorway and had departed on foot. Still Miss Farquharson did not come, and already the evening shadows began to deepen in the street.

If Colonel Holles was exercised by a certain impatience on the one hand, on the other he was comforted by the reflection that there was gain to his enterprise in delay. The thing he had to do would be better accomplished in the dusk; best, indeed, in the dark. So he waited, and Buckingham’s two French lackeys, disguised as chairmen, waited also. They had the advantage of knowing Miss Farquharson by sight, having twice seen her at close quarters, once on the occasion of her visit to Wallingford House and again on the day of her mock-rescue in Paul’s Yard.

At last, at a little after half-past eight, when already objects were become indistinctly visible at a little distance, she made her appearance in the doorway. She came accompanied by Mr. Betterton, and was followed by the theatre doorkeeper. She paused to deliver to the latter certain instructions in the matter of her packages, then Mr. Betterton escorted her gallantly to her chair. The chairmen were already at their places to which they had sprung immediately upon her coming forth. One, standing behind the chair, by raising its hinged roof made of this a screen for himself. The other, by the foreshafts endeavoured to find cover beside the body of the chair itself.

Gathering her hooded cloak about her, she stepped into the sedan. Betterton bowed low over her hand in valediction. As he stood back, the chairman in front closed the apron, whilst the one behind lowered the roof. Then, taking their places between the shafts, they raised the chair and began to move away with it. From within Miss Farquharson waved a delicate hand to Mr. Betterton, who stood bowing, bareheaded.

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