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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Skin - Chapter 16. Mr. Green Executes His Warrant
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The Lion's Skin - Chapter 16. Mr. Green Executes His Warrant Post by :Kim_Birch Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :621

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The Lion's Skin - Chapter 16. Mr. Green Executes His Warrant

CHAPTER XVI. MR. GREEN EXECUTES HIS WARRANT

Five days later, Mr. Caryll--whose recovery had so far progressed that he might now be said to be his own man again--came briskly up from Charing Cross one evening at dusk, to the house at the corner of Maiden Lane where Sir Richard Everard was lodged. He observed three or four fellows lounging about the corner of Chandos street and Bedford street, but it did not occur to him that from that point they could command Sir Richard's door--nor that such could be their object--until, as he swung sharply round the corner, he hurtled violently into a man who was moving in the opposite direction without looking whither he was going. The man stepped quickly aside with a murmured word of apology, to give Mr. Caryll the wall that he might pass on. But Mr. Caryll paused.

"Ah, Mr. Green!" said he very pleasantly. "How d'ye? Have ye been searching folk of late?"

Mr. Green endeavored to dissemble his startled expression in a grin that revealed his white teeth. "Ye can't forgive me that blunder, Mr. Caryll," said he.

Mr. Caryll smiled fondly upon him. "From your manner I take it that on your side you practice a more Christian virtue. It is plain that you forgive me the sequel."

Mr. Green shrugged and spread his hands. "You were in the right, sir; you were in the right," he explained. "Those are the risks a man of my calling must run. I must suffer for my blunders."

Mr. Caryll continued to smile. But that the light was failing, the spy might have observed a certain hardening in the lines of his mouth. "Here is a very humble mood," said he. "It is like the crouch before the spring. In whom do you design to plant your claws?--yours and your friends yonder." And he pointed with his cane across the street towards the loungers he had observed.

"My friends?" quoth Mr. Green, in a voice of disgust. "Nay, your honor! No friends of mine, ecod! Indeed, no!"

"No? I am at fault, then. Yet they look as if they might be bumbailiffs. 'Tis the kind ye herd with, is't not? Give you good-even, Mr. Green." And he went on, cool and unconcerned, and turned in through the narrow doorway by the glover's shop to mount the stairs to Sir Richard's lodging.

Mr. Green stood still to watch him go. Then he swore through his teeth, and beckoned one of those whose acquaintance he had disclaimed.

"'Tis like him, ecod! to have gone in in spite of seeing me and you! He's cool! Damned cool! But he'll be cooler yet, codso!" Then, briskly questioning his satellite: "Is Sir Richard within, Jerry?"

"Ay," answered Jerry--a rough, heavily-built tatterdemalion. "He's been there these two hours."

"'Tis our chance to nab 'em both, then-our last chance, maybe. The game is up. That fine gentleman has smoked it." He was angry beyond measure. Their plans were far from ripe, and yet to delay longer now that their vigilance was detected was, perhaps, to allow Sir Richard to slip through their fingers, as well as the other. "Have ye your barkers?" he asked harshly.

Jerry tapped a heavily bulging pocket, and winked. Mr. Green thrust his three-cornered hat a-cock over one eye, and with his hands behind the tails of his coat, stood pondering. "Ay, pox on't!" he grumbled. "It must be done to-night. I dursn't delay longer. We'll give the gentlemen time to settle comfortably; then up we go to make things merry for 'em." And he beckoned the others across.

Meanwhile Mr. Caryll had gone up with considerable misgivings. The last letter he had received from Sir Richard--that day at Stretton House--had been to apprise him that his adoptive father was on the point of leaving town but that he would be returned within the week. The business that had taken him had been again concerned with Atterbury the obstinate. Upon another vain endeavor to dissuade the bishop from a scheme his king did not approve had Sir Richard journeyed to Rochester. He had had his pains for nothing. Atterbury had kept him there, entertaining him, and seeking in his turn to engulf the agent in the business that was toward--business which was ultimately to suck down Atterbury and his associates. Sir Richard, however, was very firm. And when at last he left Rochester to return to town and his adoptive son, a coolness marked the parting of those two adherents of the Stuart dynasty.

Returned to London--whence his absence had been marked with alarm by Mr. Green--Sir Richard had sent a message to Mr. Caryll, and the latter made haste to answer it in person.

His adoptive father received him with open arms, and such a joy in his face, such a light in his old eyes as should have gladdened his visitor, yet only served sadden him the more. He sighed as Sir Richard thrust him back that he might look at him.

"Ye're pale, boy," he said, "and ye look thinner." And with that he fell to reviling the deed that was the cause of this, Rotherby and the whole brood of Ostermore.

"Let be," said Mr. Caryll, as he dropped into a chair. "Rotherby is undergoing his punishment. The town looks on him as a cut-throat who has narrowly escaped the gallows. I marvel that he tarries here. An I were he, I think I'd travel for a year or two."

"What weakness made you spare him when ye had him at the point of your sword?"

"That which made me regret that I had him there; the reflection that he is my brother."

Sir Richard looked at him in some surprise. "I thought you of sterner stuff, Justin," he said presently, and sighed, passing a long white hand across his bony brow. "I thought I had reared you to a finer strength. But there! What of Ostermore himself?"

"What of him?"

"Have you not talked again with him of the matter of going over to King James?"

"To what end, since the chance is lost? His betrayal now would involve the betrayal of Atterbury and the others--for he has been in touch with them."

"Has he though? The bishop said naught of this."

"I have it from my lord himself--and I know the man. Were he taken they'd wring out of him whatever happened to be in him. He has no discretion. Indeed, he's but a clod, too stupid even to be aware of his own stupidity."

"Then what is to be done?" inquired Sir Richard, frowning.

"We'd best get home to France again."

"And leave matters thus?" He considered a moment, and shook his head, smiling bitterly. "Could that content you, Justin? Could you go as you have come--taking no more than you brought; leaving that man as you found him? Could you?"

Mr. Caryll looked at the baronet, and wondered for a moment whether he should persevere in the rule of his life and deal quite frankly with him, telling him precisely what he felt. Then he realized that he would not be understood. He could not combat the fanaticism that was Sir Richard's in this matter. If he told him the truth; how he loathed the task; how he rejoiced that circumstances had now put it beyond his reach--all he would achieve would be to wound Sir Richard in his tenderest place and to no purpose.

"It is not a matter of what I would," he answered slowly, wearily almost. "It is a matter of what I must. Here in England is no more to be done. Moreover, there's danger for you in lingering, or I'm much mistaken else."

"Danger of what?" asked Sir Richard, with indifference.

"You are being spied upon."

"Pho! I am accustomed to it. I have been spied upon all my life."

"Like enough. But this time the spies are messengers from the secretary of state. I caught a glimpse of them lurking about your doorway--three or four at least--and as I entered I all but fell over a Mr. Green--a most pertinacious gentleman with whom I have already some acquaintance. He is the very man who searched me at Maidstone; he has kept his eye upon me ever since, which has not troubled me. But that he should keep an eye on you means that your identity is suspected, and if that be so--well, the sooner we are out of England the better for your health."

Sir Richard shook his head calmly. The fine-featured, lean old face showed no sign of uneasiness. "A fig for all that!" said he. "I go not thus--empty-handed as I came. After all these years of waiting."

A knock fell upon the door, and Sir Richard's man entered. His face was white, his eyes startled.

"Sir Richard," he announced, his voice lowered portentously, "there are some men here who insist upon seeing you."

Mr. Caryll wheeled in his chair. "Surely they did not ask for him by name?" he inquired in the same low key employed by the valet.

The man nodded in silence. Mr. Caryll swore through his teeth. Sir Richard rose.

"I am occupied at present," he said in a calm voice. "I can receive nobody. Desire to know their business. If it imports, bid them come again to-morrow."

"It is over-urgent for that, Sir Richard Everard," came the soft voice of Mr. Green, who thrust himself suddenly forward past the servant. Other figures were seen moving behind him in the ante-room.

"Sir," cried Sir Richard angrily. "This is a most insolent intrusion. Bentley, show this fellow the door."

Bentley set a hand on Mr. Green's shoulder. Mr. Green nimbly twisted out of it, and produced a paper. "I have here a warrant for your apprehension, Sir Richard, from my Lord Carteret, the secretary of state."

Mr. Caryll advanced menacingly upon the tipstaff. Mr. Green stepped back, and fell into a defensive attitude, balancing a short but formidable-looking life-preserver.

"Keep your distance, sir, or 'twill be the worse for you," he threatened. "Hi!" he called. "Jerry! Beattie!"

Jerry, Beattie, and two other ruffians crowded to the doorway, but advanced little beyond the threshold. Mr. Caryll turned to Sir Richard. But Mr. Green was the first to speak.

"Sir Richard," said he, "you'll see that we are but instruments of the law. It grieves me profoundly to have you for our object. But ye'll see that 'tis no affair of ours, who have but to do the duty that we're ordered. Ye'll not give these poor fellows trouble, I trust. Ye'll surrender quietly."

Sir Richard's answer was to pull open a drawer in the writing-table, by which he was standing, and whip out a pistol.

What exactly he may have intended, he was never allowed to announce. An explosion shook the room, coming from the doorway, upon which Mr. Caryll had turned his shoulder; there was a spurt of flame, and Sir Richard collapsed forward onto the table, and slithered thence to the ground.

Jerry, taking fright at the sight of the pistol Sir Richard had produced, had forestalled what he supposed to be the baronet's intentions by firing instantly upon him, with this disastrous result.

Confusion ensued. Mr. Caryll, with no more thought for the tipstaves than he had for the smoke in his eyes or the stench of powder in his nostrils, sped to Sir Richard. In a passion of grief and anxiety, he raised his adoptive father, aided by Bentley, what time Mr. Green was abusing Jerry, and Jerry was urging in exculpation how he had acted purely in Mr. Green's interest, fearing that Sir Richard might have been on the point of shooting him.

The spy went forward to Mr. Caryll. "I am most profoundly sorry--" he began.

"Take your sorrow to hell," snarled Mr. Caryll, his face livid, his eyes blazing uncannily. "I believe ye've murdered him."

"Ecod! the fool shall smart for't if Sir Richard dies," grumbled Mr. Green.

"What's that to me? You may hang the muckworm, and what shall that profit any one? Will it restore me Sir Richard's life? Send one of your ruffians for a doctor, man. And bid him hasten."

Mr. Green obeyed with alacrity. Apart from his regrets at this happening for its own sake, it would suit his interests not at all that Sir Richard should perish thus. Meanwhile, with the help of the valet, who was blubbering like a child--for he had been with Sir Richard for over ten years, and was attached to him as a dog to its master--they opened the wounded man's sodden waistcoat and shirt, and reached the hurt, which was on the right side of the breast.

Between them they lifted him up gently. Mr. Green would have lent a hand, but a snarl from Mr. Caryll drove him back in sheer terror, and alone those two bore the baronet into the next room and laid him on his bed. Here they did the little that they could; propping him up and stemming the bleeding, what time they waited through what seemed a century for the doctor's coming, Mr. Caryll mad--stark mad for the time--with grief and rage.

The physician arrived at last--a small, bird-like man under a great gray periwig, with pointed features and little eyes that beamed brightly behind horn-rimmed spectacles.

In the ante-room he was met by Mr. Green, who in in a few words told him what had happened. Then the doctor entered the bedchamber alone, and deposing hat and cane, went forward to make his examination.

Mr. Caryll and Bentley stood aside to give place to him. He stooped, felt the pulse, examined the lips of the wound, estimating the locality and direction of the bullet, and his mouth made a clucking sound as of deprecation.

"Very deplorable, very deplorable!" he muttered. "So hale a man, too, despite his years. Very deplorable!" He looked up. "A Jacobite, ye say he is, sir?"

"Will he live?" inquired Mr. Caryll shortly, by way of recalling the man of medicine to the fact that politics was not the business on which he had been summoned.

The doctor pursed his lips, and looked at Mr. Caryll over the top of his spectacles. "He will live--"

"Thank God!" breathed Mr. Caryll.

"--perhaps an hour," the doctor concluded, and never knew how near was Mr. Caryll to striking him. He turned again to his patient, producing a probe. "Very deplorable!" Mr. Caryll heard him muttering, parrot-like.

A pause ensued, and a silence broken only by occasional cluckings from the little doctor, and Mr. Caryll stood by, a prey to an anguish more poignant than he had ever known. At last there was a groan from the wounded man. Mr. Caryll started forward.

Sir Richard's eyes were open, and he was looking about him at the doctor, the valet, and, lastly, at his adopted son. He smiled faintly at the latter. Then the doctor touched Mr. Caryll's sleeve, and drew him aside.

"I cannot reach the bullet," he said. "But 'tis no matter for that." He shook his head solemnly. "The lung has been pierced. A little time now, and--I can do nothing more."

Mr. Caryll nodded in silence, his face drawn with pain. With a gesture he dismissed the doctor, who went out with Bentley.

When the valet returned, Mr. Caryll was on his knees beside the bed, Sir Richard's hand in his, and Sir Richard was speaking in a feeble, hoarse voice--gasping and coughing at intervals.

"Don't--don't grieve, Justin," he was saying. "I am an old man. My time must have been very near. I--I am glad that it is thus. It is much better than if they had taken me. They'd ha' shown me no mercy. 'Tis swifter thus, and--and easier."

Silently Justin wrung the hand he held.

"You'll miss me a little, Justin," the old man resumed presently. "We have been good friends, lad--good friends for thirty years."

"Father!" Justin cried, a sob in his voice.

Sir Richard smiled. "I would I were your father in more than name, Justin. Hast been a good son to me--no son could have been more than you."

Bentley drew nigh with a long glass containing a cordial the doctor had advised. Sir Richard drank avidly, and sighed content when he returned the glass. "How long yet, Justin?" he inquired.

"Not long, father," was the gloomy answer.

"It is well. I am content. I am happy, Justin. Believe me, I am happy. What has my life been? Dissipated in the pursuit of a phantom." He spoke musingly, critically calm, as one who already upon the brink of dissolution takes already but an impersonal interest in the course he has run in life.

Judging so, his judgment was clearer than it had yet been; it grew sane, and was freed at last from the hackles of fanaticism; and there was something that he saw in its true proportions. He sighed heavily.

"This is a judgment upon me," he said presently. He turned his great eyes full upon Justin, and their dance was infinitely wistful. "Do you remember, Justin, that night at your lodging--that first night on which we talked here in London of the thing you were come to do--the thing to which I urged you? Do you recall how you upbraided me for having set you a task hat was unworthy and revolting?"

"I remember," answered Justin, with an inward shudder, fearful of what might follow.

"Oh, you were right, Justin; right, and I was entirely wrong--wickedly wrong. I should have left vengeance to God. He is wreaking it. Ostermore's whole life has been a punishment; his end will be a punishment. I understand it now. We do no wrong in life, Justin, for which in this same life payment is not exacted. Ostermore has been paying. I should have been content with that. After all, he is your father in the flesh, and it was not for you to raise your hand against him. 'Tis what you have felt, and I am glad you should have felt it, for it proves your worthiness. Can you forgive me?"

"Nay, nay, father! Speak not of forgiveness."

"I have sore need of it."

"Ah, but not from me; not from me! What is there I should forgive? There is a debt between us I had hoped to repay some day when you were grown truly old. I had looked to tend you in your old age, to be the comfort of it, and the support that you were to my infancy."

"It had been sweet, Justin," sighed Sir Richard, smiling upon his adopted son, and putting forth an unsteady hand to stroke the white, drawn face. "It had been sweet. It is sweet to hear that you so proposed."

A shudder convulsed him. He sank back coughing, and there was froth and blood on his lips. Reverently Justin wiped them, and signed for the cordial to Bentley, who stood, numbed, in the background.

"It is the end," said Sir Richard feebly. "God has been good to me beyond my deserts, and this is a crowning mercy. Consider, Justin, it might have been the gibbet and a crowd--instead of this snug bed, and you and Bentley here--just two good friends."

Bentley, losing all self-control at this mention of himself, sank weeping to his knees. Sir Richard put out a hand, and touched his head.

"You will serve Mr. Caryll, Bentley. You'll find him a good master if you are as good a servant to him as you have been to me."

Then suddenly he made the quick movement of one who bethinks himself of something. He waved Bentley away.

"There is a case in the drawer yonder," he said, when the servant was beyond earshot. "It contains papers that concern you--certificates of your birth and of your mothers death. I brought them with me as proofs of your identity, against the time when the hour of vengeance upon Ostermore should strike. They twill serve no purpose now. Burn them. They are best destroyed."

Mr. Caryll nodded understanding, and on Sir Richard's part there followed another fight for breath, another attack of coughing, during which Bentley instinctively approached again.

When the paroxysm was past, Sir Richard turned once more to Justin, who was holding him in his arms, upright, to ease his breathing. "Be good to Bentley," he murmured, his voice very faint and exhausted now. "You are my heir, Justin. All that I have--I set all in order ere I left Paris. It--it is growing dark. You have not snuffed the candles, Bentley. They are burning very low."

Suddenly he started forward, held as he was in Justin's arms. He half-raised his arms, holding out his hands toward the foot of the bed. His eyes dilated; the expression of his livid face grew first surprised, then joyous--beatific. "Antoinette!" he cried in a loud voice. "Antoi--"

And thus, abruptly, but in great happiness, he passed.

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