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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Skin - Chapter 2. At The "Adam And Eve"
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The Lion's Skin - Chapter 2. At The 'Adam And Eve' Post by :Kim_Birch Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :1665

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The Lion's Skin - Chapter 2. At The "Adam And Eve"

CHAPTER II. AT THE "ADAM AND EVE"

Mr. Caryll, alighted from his traveling chaise in the yard of the "Adam and Eve," at Maidstone, on a sunny afternoon in May. Landed at Dover the night before, he had parted company with Sir Richard Everard that morning. His adoptive father had turned aside toward Rochester, to discharge his king's business with plotting Bishop Atterbury, what time Justin was to push on toward town as King James' ambassador to the Earl of Ostermore, who, advised of his coming, was expecting him.

Here at Maidstone it was Mr. Caryll's intent to dine, resuming his journey in the cool of the evening, when he hoped to get at least as far as Farnborough ere he slept.

Landlady, chamberlain, ostler and a posse of underlings hastened to give welcome to so fine a gentleman, and a private room above-stairs was placed at his disposal. Before ascending, however, Mr. Caryll sauntered into the bar for a whetting glass to give him an appetite, and further for the purpose of bespeaking in detail his dinner with the hostess. It was one of his traits that he gave the greatest attention to detail, and held that the man who left the ordering of his edibles to his servants was no better than an animal who saw no more than nourishment in food. Nor was the matter one to be settled summarily; it asked thought and time. So he sipped his Hock, listening to the landlady's proposals, and amending them where necessary with suggestions of his own, and what time he was so engaged, there ambled into the inn yard a sturdy cob bearing a sturdy little man in snuff-colored clothes that had seen some wear.

The newcomer threw his reins to the stable-boy--a person of all the importance necessary to receive so indifferent a guest. He got down nimbly from his horse, produced an enormous handkerchief of many colors, and removed his three-cornered hat that he might the better mop his brow and youthful, almost cherubic face. What time he did so, a pair of bright little blue eyes were very busy with Mr. Caryll's carriage, from which Leduc, Mr. Caryll's valet, was in the act of removing a portmantle. His mobile mouth fell into lines of satisfaction.

Still mopping himself, he entered the inn, and, guided by the drone of voices, sauntered into the bar. At sight of Mr. Caryll leaning there, his little eyes beamed an instant, as do the eyes of one who espies a friend, or--apter figure--the eyes of the hunter when they sight the quarry.

He advanced to the bar, bowing to Mr. Caryll with an air almost apologetic, and to the landlady with an air scarcely less so, as he asked for a nipperkin of ale to wash the dust of the road from his throat. The hostess called a drawer to serve him, and departed herself upon the momentous business of Mr. Caryll's dinner.

"A warm day, sir," said the chubby man.

Mr. Caryll agreed with him politely, and finished his glass, the other sipping meanwhile at his ale.

"A fine brew, sir," said he. "A prodigious fine brew! With all respect, sir, your honor should try a whet of our English ale."

Mr. Caryll, setting down his glass, looked languidly at the man. "Why do you exclude me, sir, from the nation of this beverage?" he inquired.

The chubby man's face expressed astonishment. "Ye're English, sir! Ecod! I had thought ye French!"

"It is an honor, sir, that you should have thought me anything."

The other abased himself. "'Twas an unwarrantable presumption, Codso! which I hope your honor'll pardon." Then he smiled again, his little eyes twinkling humorously. "An ye would try the ale, I dare swear your honor would forgive me. I know ale, ecod! I am a brewer myself. Green is my name, sir--Tom Green--your very obedient servant, sir." And he drank as if pledging that same service he professed.

Mr. Caryll observed him calmly and a thought indifferently. "Ye're determined to honor me," said he. "I am your debtor for your reflections upon whetting glasses; but ale, sir, is a beverage I don't affect, nor shall while there are vines in France."

"Ah!" sighed Mr. Green rapturously. "'Tis a great country, France; is it not, sir?"

"'Tis not the general opinion here at present. But I make no doubt that it deserves your praise."

"And Paris, now," persisted Mr. Green. "They tell me 'tis a great city; a marvel o' th' ages. There be those, ecod! that say London's but a kennel to't."

"Be there so?" quoth Mr. Caryll indifferently.

"Ye don't agree with them, belike?" asked Mr. Green, with eagerness.

"Pooh! Men will say anything," Mr. Caryll replied, and added pointedly: "Men will talk, ye see."

"Not always," was the retort in a sly tone. "I've known men to be prodigious short when they had aught to hide."

"Have ye so? Ye seem to have had a wide experience." And Mr. Caryll sauntered out, humming a French air through closed lips.

Mr. Green looked after him with hardened eyes. He turned to the drawer who stood by. "He's mighty close," said he. "Mighty close!"

"Ye're not perhaps quite the company he cares for," the drawer suggested candidly.

Mr. Green looked at him. "Very like," he snapped. "How long does he stay here?"

"Ye lost a rare chance of finding out when ye let him go without inquiring," said the drawer.

Mr. Green's face lost some of its chubbiness. "When d'ye look to marry the landlady?" was his next question.

The man stared. "Cod!" said he. "Marry the--Are ye daft?"

Mr. Green affected surprise. "I'm mistook, it seems. Ye misled me by your pertness. Get me another nipperkin."

Meanwhile Mr. Caryll had taken his way above stairs to the room set apart for him. He dined to his satisfaction, and thereafter, his shapely, silk-clad legs thrown over a second chair, his waistcoat all unbuttoned, for the day was of an almost midsummer warmth--he sat mightily at his ease, a decanter of sherry at his elbow, a pipe in one hand and a book of Mr. Gay's poems in the other. But the ease went no further than the body, as witnessed the circumstances that his pipe was cold, the decanter tolerably full, and Mr. Gay's pleasant rhymes and quaint conceits of fancy all unheeded. The light, mercurial spirit which he had from nature and his unfortunate mother, and which he had retained in spite of the stern training he had received at his adoptive father's hands, was heavy-fettered now.

The mild fatigue of his journey through the heat of the day had led him to look forward to a voluptuous hour of indolence following upon dinner, with pipe and book and glass. The hour was come, the elements were there, but since he could not abandon himself to their dominion the voluptuousness was wanting. The task before him haunted him with anticipatory remorse. It hung upon his spirit like a sick man's dream. It obtruded itself upon his constant thought, and the more he pondered it the more did he sicken at what lay before him.

Wrought upon by Everard's fanaticism that day in Paris some three weeks ago, infected for the time being by something of his adoptive father's fever, he had set his hands to the task in a glow of passionate exaltation. But with the hour, the exaltation went, and reaction started in his soul. And yet draw back he dared not; too long and sedulously had Everard trained his spirit to look upon the avenging of his mother as a duty. Believing that it was his duty, he thirsted on the one hand to fulfill it, whilst, on the other, he recoiled in horror at the thought that the man upon whom he was to wreak that vengeance was his father--albeit a father whom he did not know, who had never seen him, who was not so much as aware of his existence.

He sought forgetfulness in Mr. Gay. He had the delicate-minded man's inherent taste for verse, a quick ear for the melody of words, the aesthete's love of beauty in phrase as of beauty in all else; and culture had quickened his perceptions, developed his capacity for appreciation. For the tenth time he called Leduc to light his pipe; and, that done, he set his eye to the page once more. But it was like harnessing a bullock to a cart; unmindful of the way it went and over what it travelled, his eye ambled heavily along the lines, and when he came to turn the page he realized with a start that he had no impression of what he had read upon it.

In sheer disgust he tossed the book aside, and kicking away the second chair, rose lythely. He crossed to the window, and stood there gazing out at nothing, nor conscious of the incense that came to him from garden, from orchard, and from meadow.

It needed a clatter of hoofs and a cloud of dust approaching from the north to draw his mind from its obsessing thoughts. He watched the yellow body of the coach as it came furiously onward, its four horses stretched to the gallop, postillion lusty of lungs and whip, and the great trail of dust left behind it spreading to right and left over the flowering hedge-rows to lose itself above the gold-flecked meadowland. On it came, to draw up there, at the very entrance to Maidstone, at the sign of the "Adam and Eve."

Mr. Caryll, leaning on the sill of his window, looked down with interest to see what manner of travellers were these that went at so red-hot a pace. From the rumble a lackey swung himself to the rough cobbles of the yard. From within the inn came again landlady and chamberlain, and from the stable ostler and boy, obsequious all and of no interest to Mr. Caryll.

Then the door of the coach was opened, the steps were let down, and there emerged--his hand upon the shoulder of the servant--a very ferret of a man in black, with a parson's bands and neckcloth, a coal-black full-bottomed wig, and under this a white face, rather drawn and haggard, and thin lips perpetually agrin to flaunt two rows of yellow teeth disproportionately large. After him, and the more remarkable by contrast, came a tall, black-faced fellow, very brave in buff-colored cloth, with a fortune in lace at wrist and throat, and a heavily powdered tie-wig.

Lackey, chamberlain and parson attended his alighting, and then he joined their ranks to attend in his turn--hat under arm--the last of these odd travellers.

The interest grew. Mr. Caryll felt that the climax was about to be presented, and he leaned farther forward that he might obtain a better view of the awaited personage. In the silence he caught a rustle of silk. A flowered petticoat appeared--as much of it as may be seen from the knee downwards--and from beneath this the daintiest foot conceivable was seen to grope an instant for the step. Another second and the rest of her emerged.

Mr. Caryll observed--and be it known that he had the very shrewdest eye for a woman, as became one of the race from which on his mother's side he sprang--that she was middling tall, chastely slender, having, as he judged from her high waist, a fine, clean length of limb. All this he observed and approved, and prayed for a glimpse of the face which her silken hood obscured and screened from his desiring gaze. She raised it at that moment--raised it in a timid, frightened fashion, as one who looks fearfully about to see that she is not remarked--and Mr. Caryll had a glimpse of an oval face, pale with a warm pallor--like the pallor of the peach, he thought, and touched, like the peach, with a faint hint of pink in either cheek. A pair of eyes, large, brown, and gentle as a saint's, met his, and Mr. Caryll realized that she was beautiful and that it might be good to look into those eyes at closer quarters.

Seeing him, a faint exclamation escaped her, and she turned away in sudden haste to enter the inn. The fine gentleman looked up and scowled; the parson looked up and trembled; the ostler and his boy looked up and grinned. Then all swept forward and were screened by the porch from the wondering eyes of Mr. Caryll.

He turned from the window with a sigh, and stepped back to the table for the tinder-box, that for the eleventh time he might relight his pipe. He sat down, blew a cloud of smoke to the ceiling, and considered. His nature triumphed now over his recent preoccupation; the matter of the moment, which concerned him not at all, engrossed him beyond any other matter of his life. He was intrigued to know in what relation one to the other stood the three so oddly assorted travellers he had seen arrive. He bethought him that, after all, the odd assortment arose from the presence of the parson; and he wondered what the plague should any Christian--and seemingly a gentleman at that--be doing travelling with a parson. Then there was the wild speed at which they had come.

The matter absorbed and vexed him. I fear he was inquisitive by nature. There came a moment when he went so far as to consider making his way below to pursue his investigations in situ. It would have been at great cost to his dignity, and this he was destined to be spared.

A knock fell upon his door, and the landlady came in. She was genial, buxom and apple-faced, as becomes a landlady.

"There is a gentleman below--" she was beginning, when Mr. Caryll interrupted her.

"I would rather that you told me of the lady," said

"La, sir!" she cried, displaying ivory teeth, her eyes cast upwards, hands upraised in gentle, mirthful protest. "La, sir! But I come from the lady, too."

He looked at her. "A good ambassador," said he, "should begin with the best news; not add it as an afterthought. But proceed, I beg. You give me hope, mistress."

"They send their compliments, and would be prodigiously obliged if you was to give yourself the trouble of stepping below."

"Of stepping below?" he inquired, head on one side, solemn eyes upon the hostess. "Would it be impertinent to inquire what they may want with me?"

"I think they want you for a witness, sir."

"For a witness? Am I to testify to the lady's perfection of face and shape, to the heaven that sits in her eyes, to the miracle she calls her ankle? Are these and other things besides of the same kind what I am required to witness? If so, they could not have sent for one more qualified. I am an expert, ma'am."

"Oh, sir, nay!" she laughed. "'Tis a marriage they need you for."

Mr. Caryll opened his queer eyes a little wider. "Soho!" said he. "The parson is explained." Then he fell thoughtful, his tone lost its note of flippancy. "This gentleman who sends his compliments, does he send his name?"

"He does not, sir; but I overheard it."

"Confide in me," Mr. Caryll invited her.

"He is a great gentleman," she prepared him.

"No matter. I love great gentlemen."

"They call him Lord Rotherby."

At that sudden and utterly unexpected mention of his half-brother's name--his unknown half-brother--Mr. Caryll came to his feet with an alacrity which a more shrewd observer would have set down to some cause other than mere respect for a viscount. The hostess was shrewd, but not shrewd enough, and if Mr. Caryll's expression changed for an instant, it resumed its habitual half-scornful calm so swiftly that it would have needed eyes of an exceptional quickness to have read it.

"Enough!" he said. "Who could deny his lordship?"

"Shall I tell them you are coming?" she inquired, her hand already upon the door.

"A moment," he begged, detaining her. "'Tis a runaway marriage this, eh?"

Her full-hearted smile beamed on him again; she was a very woman, with a taste for the romantic, loving love. "What else, sir?" she laughed.

"And why, mistress," he inquired, eying her, his fingers plucking at his nether lip, "do they desire my testimony?"

"His lordship's own man will stand witness, for one; but they'll need another," she explained, her voice reflecting astonishment at his question.

"True. But why do they need me?" he pressed her. "Heard you no reason given why they should prefer me to your chamberlain, your ostler or your drawer?"

She knit her brows and shrugged impatient shoulders. Here was a deal of pother about a trifling affair. "His lordship saw you as he entered, sir, and inquired of me who you might be."

"His lordship flatters me by this interest. My looks pleased him, let us hope. And you answered him--what?"

"That your honor is a gentleman newly crossed from France."

"You are well-informed, mistress," said Mr. Caryll, a thought tartly, for if his speech was tainted with a French accent it was in so slight a degree as surely to be imperceptible to the vulgar.

"Your clothes, sir," the landlady explained, and he bethought him, then, that the greater elegance and refinement of his French apparel must indeed proclaim his origin to one who had so many occasions of seeing travelers from Gaul. That might even account for Mr. Green's attempts to talk to him of France. His mind returned to the matter of the bridal pair below.

"You told him that, eh?" said he. "And what said his lordship then?"

"He turned to the parson. 'The very man for us, Jenkins,' says he."

"And the parson--this Jenkins--what answer did he make?"

"'Excellently thought,' he says, grinning."

"Hum! And you yourself, mistress, what inference did you draw?"

"Inference, sir?"

"Aye, inference, ma'am. Did you not gather that this was not only a runaway match, but a clandestine one? My lord can depend upon the discretion of his servant, no doubt; for other witness he would prefer some passer-by, some stranger who will go his ways to-morrow, and not be like to be heard of again."

"Lard, sir!" cried the landlady, her eyes wide with astonishment.

Mr. Caryll smiled enigmatically. "'Tis so, I assure ye, ma'am. My Lord Rotherby is of a family singularly cautious in the unions it contracts. In entering matrimony he prefers, no doubt, to leave a back door open for quiet retreat should he repent him later."

"Your honor has his lordship's acquaintance, then?" quoth the landlady.

"It is a misfortune from which Heaven has hitherto preserved me, but which the devil, it seems, now thrusts upon me. It will, nevertheless, interest me to see him at close quarters. Come, ma'am."

As they were going out, Mr. Caryll checked suddenly. "Why, what's o'clock?" said he.

She stared, so abruptly came the question. "Past four, sir," she answered.

He uttered a short laugh. "Decidedly," said he, "his lordship must be viewed at closer quarters." And he led the way downstairs.

In the passage he waited for her to come up with him. "You had best announce me by name," he suggested. "It is Caryll."

She nodded, and, going forward, threw open a door, inviting him to enter.

"Mr. Caryll," she announced, obedient to his injunction, and as he went in she closed the door behind him.

From the group of three that had been sitting about the polished walnut table, the tall gentleman in buff and silver rose swiftly, and advanced to the newcomer; what time Mr. Caryll made a rapid observation of this brother whom he was meeting under circumstances so odd and by a chance so peculiar.

He beheld a man of twenty-five, or perhaps a little more, tall and well made, if already inclining to heaviness, with a swarthy face, full-lipped, big-nosed, black-eyed, an obstinate chin, and a deplorable brow. At sight, by instinct, he disliked his brother. He wondered vaguely was Lord Rotherby in appearance at all like their common father; but beyond that he gave little thought to the tie that bound them. Indeed, he has placed it upon record that, saving in such moments of high stress as followed in their later connection, he never could remember that they were the sons of the same parent.

"I thought," was Rotherby's greeting, a note almost of irritation in his voice, "that the woman said you were from France."

It was an odd welcome, but its oddness at the moment went unheeded. His swift scrutiny of his brother over, Mr. Caryll's glance passed on to become riveted upon the face of the lady at the table's head. In addition to the beauties which from above he had descried, he now perceived that her mouth was sensitive and kindly, her whole expression one of gentle wistfulness, exceeding sweet to contemplate. What did she in this galley, he wondered; and he has confessed that just as at sight he had disliked his brother, so from that hour--from the very instant of his eyes' alighting on her there--he loved the lady whom his brother was to wed, felt a surpassing need of her, conceived that in the meeting of their eyes their very souls had met, so that it was to him as if he had known her since he had known anything. Meanwhile there was his lordship's question to be answered. He answered it mechanically, his eyes upon the lady, and she returning the gaze of those queer, greenish eyes with a sweetness that gave place to no confusion.

"I am from France, sir."

"But not French?" his lordship continued.

Mr. Caryll fetched his eyes from the lady's to meet Lord Rotherby's. "More than half French," he replied, the French taint in his accent growing slightly more pronounced. "It was but an accident that my father was an Englishman."

Rotherby laughed softly, a thought contemptuously. Foreigners were things which in his untraveled, unlettered ignorance he despised. The difference between a Frenchman and a South Sea Islander was a thing never quite appreciated by his lordship. Some subtle difference he had no doubt existed; but for him it was enough to know that both were foreigners; therefore, it logically followed, both were kin.

"Your words, sir, might be oddly interpreted. 'Pon honor, they might!" said he, and laughed softly again with singular insolence.

"If they have amused your lordship I am happy," said Mr. Caryll in such a tone that Rotherby looked to see whether he was being roasted. "You wanted me, I think. I beg that you'll not thank me for having descended. It was an honor."

It occurred to Rotherby that this was a veiled reproof for the ill manners of the omission. Again he looked sharply at this man who was scanning him with such interest, but he detected in the calm, high-bred face nothing to suggest that any mockery was intended. Belatedly he fell to doing the very thing that Mr. Caryll had begged him to leave undone: he fell to thanking him. As for Mr. Caryll himself, not even the queer position into which he had been thrust could repress his characteristics. What time his lordship thanked him, he looked about him at the other occupants of the room, and found that, besides the parson, sitting pale and wide-eyed at the table, there was present in the background his lordship's man--a quiet fellow, quietly garbed in gray, with a shrewd face and shrewd, shifty eyes. Mr. Caryll saw, and registered, for future use, the reflection that eyes that are overshrewd are seldom wont to look out of honest heads.

"You are desired," his lordship informed him, "to be witness to a marriage."

"So much the landlady had made known to me."

"It is not, I trust, a task that will occasion you any scruples."

"None. On the contrary, it is the absence of the marriage might do that." The smooth, easy tone so masked the inner meaning of the answer that his lordship scarce attended to the words.

"Then we had best get on. We are in haste."

"'Tis the characteristic rashness of folk about to enter wedlock," said Mr. Caryll, as he approached the table with his lordship, his eyes as he spoke turning full upon the bride.

My lord laughed, musically enough, but overloud for a man of brains or breeding. "Marry in haste, eh?" quoth he.

"You are penetration itself," Mr. Caryll praised him.

"'Twill take a shrewd rogue to better me," his lordship agreed.

"Yet an honest man might worst you. One never knows. But the lady's patience is being taxed."

It was as well he added that, for his lordship had turned with intent to ask him what he meant.

"Aye! Come, Jenkins. Get on with your patter. Gaskell," he called to his man, "stand forward here." Then he took his place beside the lady, who had risen, and stood pale, with eyes cast down and--as Mr. Caryll alone saw--the faintest quiver at the corners of her lips. This served to increase Mr. Caryll's already considerable cogitations.

The parson faced them, fumbling at his book, Mr. Caryll's eyes watching him with that cold, level glance of theirs. The parson looked up, met that uncanny gaze, displayed his teeth in a grin of terror, fell to trembling, and dropped the book in his confusion. Mr. Caryll, smiling sardonically, stooped to restore it him.

There followed a fresh pause. Mr. Jenkins, having lost his place, seemed at some pains to find it again--amazing, indeed, in one whose profession should have rendered him so familiar with its pages.

Mr. Caryll continued to watch him, in silence, and--as an observer might have thought, as, indeed, Gaskell did think, though he said nothing at the time--with wicked relish.

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