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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Skin - Chapter 4. Mr. Green
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The Lion's Skin - Chapter 4. Mr. Green Post by :Kim_Birch Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :1853

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The Lion's Skin - Chapter 4. Mr. Green

CHAPTER IV. Mr. GREEN

There was a quick patter of feet, the rustle of a hooped petticoat, and the lady was in the arms of my Lord Ostermore.

"Forgive me, my lord!" she was crying. "Oh, forgive me! I was a little fool, and I have been punished enough already!"

To Mr. Caryll this was a surprising development. The earl, whose arms seemed to have opened readily enough to receive her, was patting her soothingly upon the shoulder. "Pish! What's this? What's this?" he grumbled; yet his voice, Mr. Caryll noticed, was if anything kindly; but it must be confessed that it was a dull, gruff voice, seldom indicating any shade of emotion, unless--as sometimes happened--it was raised in anger. He was frowning now upon his son over the girl's head, his bushy, grizzled brows contracted.

Mr. Caryll observed--and with what interest you should well imagine--that Lord Ostermore was still in a general way a handsome man. Of a good height, but slightly excessive bulk, he had a face that still retained a fair shape. Short-necked, florid and plethoric, he had the air of the man who seldom makes a long illness at the end. His eyes were very blue, and the lids were puffed and heavy, whilst the mouth, Mr. Caryll remarked in a critical, detached spirit, was stupid rather than sensuous. He made his survey swiftly, and the result left him wondering.

Meanwhile the earl was addressing his son, whose hand was being bandaged by Gaskell. There was little variety in his invective. "You villain!" he bawled at him. "You damned villain!" Then he patted the girl's head. "You found the scoundrel out before you married him," said he. "I am glad on't; glad on't!"

"'Tis such a reversing of the usual order of things that it calls for wonder," said Mr. Caryll.

"Eh?" quoth his lordship. "Who the devil are you? One of his friends?"

"Your lordship overwhelms me," said Mr. Caryll gravely, making a bow. He observed the bewilderment in Ostermore's eyes, and began to realize at that early stage of their acquaintance that to speak ironically to the Earl of Ostermore was not to speak at all.

It was Hortensia--a very tearful Hortensia now who explained. "This gentleman saved me, my lord," she said.

"Saved you?" quoth he dully. "How did he come to save you?"

"He discovered the parson," she explained.

The earl looked more and more bewildered. "Just so," said Mr. Caryll. "It was my privilege to discover that the parson is no parson."

"The parson is no parson?" echoed his lordship, scowling more and more. "Then what the devil is the parson?"

Hortensia freed herself from his protecting arms. "He is a villain," she said, "who was hired by my Lord Rotherby to come here and pretend to be a parson." Her eyes flamed, her cheeks were scarlet. "God help me for a fool, my lord, to have put my faith in that man! Oh!" she choked. "The shame--the burning shame of it! I would I had a brother to punish him!"

Lord Ostermore was crimson, too, with indignation. Mr. Caryll was relieved to see that he was capable of so much emotion. "Did I not warn you against him, Hortensia?" said he. "Could you not have trusted that I knew him--I, his father, to my everlasting shame?" Then he swung upon Rotherby. "You dog!" he began, and there--being a man of little invention--words failed him, and wrath alone remained, very intense, but entirely inarticulate.

Rotherby moved forward till he reached the table, then stood leaning upon it, scowling at the company from under his black brows. "'Tis your lordship alone is to blame for this," he informed his father, with a vain pretence at composure.

"I am to blame!" gurgled his lordship, veins swelling at his brow. "I am to blame that you should have carried her off thus? And--by God!--had you meant to marry her honestly and fittingly, I might find it in my heart to forgive you. But to practice such villainy! To attempt to put this foul trick upon the child!"

Mr. Caryll thought for an instant of another child whose child he was, and a passion of angry mockery at the forgetfulness of age welled up from the bitter soul of him. Outwardly he remained a very mirror for placidity.

"Your lordship had threatened to disinherit me if I married her," said Rotherby.

"'Twas to save her from you," Ostermore explained, entirely unnecessarily. "And you thought to--to--By God! sir, I marvel you have the courage to confront me. I marvel!"

"Take me away, my lord," Hortensia begged him, touching his arm.

"Aye, we were best away," said the earl, drawing her to him. Then he flung a hand out at Rotherby in a gesture of repudiation, of anathema. "But 'tis not the end on't for you, you knave! What I threatened, I will perform. I'll disinherit you. Not a penny of mine shall come to you. Ye shall starve for aught I care; starve, and--and--the world be well rid of a villain. I--I disown you. Ye're no son of mine. I'll take oath ye're no son of mine!"

Mr. Caryll thought that, on the contrary, Rotherby was very much his father's son, and he added to his observations upon human nature the reflection that sinners are oddly blessed with short memories. He was entirely dispassionate again by now.

As for Rotherby, he received his father's anger with a scornful smile and a curling lip. "You'll disinherit me?" quoth he in mockery. "And of what, pray? If report speaks true, you'll be needing to inherit something yourself to bear you through your present straitness." He shrugged and produced his snuff-box with an offensive simulation of nonchalance. "Ye cannot cut the entail," he reminded his almost apoplectic sire, and took snuff delicately, sauntering windowwards.

"Cut the entail? The entail?" cried the earl, and laughed in a manner that seemed to bode no good. "Have you ever troubled to ascertain what it amounts to? You fool, it wouldn't keep you in--in--in snuff!"

Lord Rotherby halted in his stride, half-turned and looked at his father over his shoulder. The sneering mask was wiped from his face, which became blank. "My lord--" he began.

The earl waved a silencing hand, and turned with dignity to Hortensia.

"Come, child," said he. Then he remembered something. "Gad!" he exclaimed. "I had forgot the parson. I'll have him gaoled! I'll have him hanged if the law will help me. Come forth, man!"

Ignoring the invitation, Mr. Jenkins scuttled, ratlike, across the room, mounted the window-seat, and was gone in a flash through the open window. He dropped plump upon Mr. Green, who was crouching underneath. The pair rolled over together in the mould of a flowerbed; then Mr. Green clutched Mr. Jenkins, and Mr. Jenkins squealed like a trapped rabbit. Mr. Green thrust his fist carefully into the mockparson's mouth.

"Sh! You blubbering fool!" he snapped in his ear. "My business is not with you. Lie still!"

Within the room all stood at gaze, following the sudden flight of Mr. Jenkins. Then Lord Ostermore made as if to approach the winnow, but Hortensia restrained him.

"Let the wretch go," she said. "The blame is not his. What is he but my lord's tool?" And her eyes scorched Rotherby with such a glance of scorn as must have killed any but a shameless man. Then turning to the demurely observant gentleman who had done her such good service, "Mr. Caryll" she said, "I want to thank you. I want my lord, here, to thank you."

Mr. Caryll bowed to her. "I beg that you will not think of it," said he. "It is I who will remain in your debt."

"Is your name Caryll, sir?" quoth the earl. He had a trick of fastening upon the inconsequent, though that was scarcely the case now.

"That, my lord, is my name. I believe I have the honor of sharing it with your lordship."

"Ye'll belong to some younger branch of the family," the earl supposed.

"Like enough--some outlying branch," answered the imperturbable Caryll--a jest which only himself could appreciate, and that bitterly.

"And how came you into this?"

Rotherby sneered audibly--in self-mockery, no doubt, as he came to reflect that it was he, himself, had had him fetched.

"They needed another witness," said Mr. Caryll, "and hearing there was at the inn a gentleman newly crossed from France, his lordship no doubt opined that a traveller, here to-day and gone for good tomorrow, would be just the witness that he needed for the business he proposed. That circumstance aroused my suspicions, and--"

But the earl, as usual, seemed to have fastened upon the minor point, although again it was not so. "You are newly crossed from France?" said he. "Ay, and your name is the same as mine. 'Twas what I was advised."

Mr. Caryll flashed a sidelong glance at Rotherby, who had turned to stare at his father, and in his heart he cursed the stupidity of my Lord Ostermore. If this proposed to be a member of a conspiracy, Heaven help that same conspiracy!

"Were you, by any chance, going to seek me in town, Mr. Caryll?"

Mr. Caryll suppressed a desire to laugh. Here was a way to deal with State secrets. "I, my lord?" he inquired, with an assumed air of surprise.

The earl looked at him, and from him to Rotherby, bethought himself, and started so overtly that Rotherby's eyes grew narrow, the lines of his mouth tightened. "Nay, of course not; of course not," he blustered clumsily.

But Rotherby laughed aloud. "Now what a plague is all this mystery?" he inquired.

"Mystery?" quoth my lord. "What mystery should there be?"

"'Tis what I would fain be informed," he answered in a voice that showed he meant to gain the information. He sauntered forward towards Caryll, his eye playing mockingly over this gentleman from France. "Now, sir," said he, "whose messenger may you be, eh? What's all this--"

"Rotherby!" the earl interrupted in a voice intended to be compelling. "Come away, Mr. Caryll," he added quickly. "I'll not have any gentleman who has shown himself a friend to my ward, here, affronted by that rascal. Come away, sir!"

"Not so fast! Not so fast, ecod!"

It was another voice that broke in upon them. Rotherby started round. Gaskell, in the shadows of the cowled fireplace jumped in sheer alarm. All stared at the window whence the voice proceeded.

They beheld a plump, chubby-faced little man, astride the sill, a pistol displayed with ostentation in his hand.

Mr. Caryll was the only one with the presence of mind to welcome him. "Ha!" said he, smiling engagingly. "My little friend, the brewer of ale."

"Let no one leave this room," said Mr. Green with a great dignity. Then, with rather less dignity, he whistled shrilly through his fingers, and got down lightly into the room.

"Sir," blustered the earl, "this is an intrusion; an impertinence. What do you want?"

"The papers this gentleman carries," said Mr. Green, indicating Caryll with the hand that held the pistol. The earl looked alarmed, which was foolish in him, thought Mr. Caryll. Rotherby covered his mouth with his hand, after the fashion of one who masks a smile.

"Ye're rightly served for meddling," said he with relish.

"Out with them," the chubby man demanded. "Ye'll gain nothing by resistance. So don't be obstinate, now."

"I could be nothing so discourteous," said Mr. Caryll. "Would it be prying on my part to inquire what may be your interest in my papers?"

His serenity lessened the earl's anxieties, but bewildered him; and it took the edge off the malicious pleasure which Rotherby was beginning to experience.

"I am obeying the orders of my Lord Carteret, the Secretary of State," said Mr. Green. "I was to watch for a gentleman from France with letters for my Lord Ostermore. He had a messenger a week ago to tell him to look for such a visitor. He took the messenger, if you must know, and--well, we induced him to tell us what was the message he had carried. There is so much mystery in all this that my Lord Carteret desires more knowledge on the subject. I think you are the gentleman I am looking for."

Mr. Caryll looked him over with an amused eye, and laughed. "It distresses me," said he, "to see so much good thought wasted."

Mr. Green was abashed a moment. But he recovered quickly; no doubt he had met the cool type before. "Come, come!" said he. "No blustering. Out with your papers, my fine fellow."

The door opened, and a couple of men came in; over their shoulders, ere the door closed again, Mr. Caryll had a glimpse of the landlady's rosy face, alarm in her glance. The newcomers were dirty rogues; tipstaves, recognizable at a glance. One of them wore a ragged bob-wig--the cast-off, no doubt, of some gentleman's gentleman, fished out of the sixpenny tub in Rosemary Lane; it was ill-fitting, and wisps of the fellow's own unkempt hair hung out in places. The other wore no wig at all; his yellow thatch fell in streaks from under his shabby hat, which he had the ill-manners to retain until Lord Ostermore knocked it from his head with a blow of his cane. Both were fierily bottle-nosed, and neither appeared to have shaved for a week or so.

"Now," quoth Mr. Green, "will you hand them over of your own accord, or must I have you searched?" And a wave of the hand towards the advancing myrmidons indicated the searchers.

"You go too far, sir," blustered the earl.

"Ay, surely," put in Mr. Caryll. "You are mad to think a gentleman is to submit to being searched by any knave that comes to him with a cock-and-bull tale about the Secretary of State."

Mr. Green leered again, and produced a paper. "There," said he, "is my Lord Carteret's warrant, signed and sealed."

Mr. Caryll glanced over it with a disdainful eye. "It is in blank," said he.

"Just so," agreed Mr. Green. "Carte blanche, as you say over the water. If you insist," he offered obligingly, "I'll fill in your name before we proceed."

Mr. Caryll shrugged his shoulders. "It might be well," said he, "if you are to search me at all."

Mr. Green advanced to the table. The writing implements provided for the wedding were still there. He took up a pen, scrawled a name across the blank, dusted it with sand, and presented it again to Mr. Caryll. The latter nodded.

"I'll not trouble you to search me," said he. "I would as soon not have these noblemen of yours for my valets." He thrust his hands into the pockets of his fine coat, and brought forth several papers. These he proffered to Mr. Green, who took them between satisfaction and amazement. Ostermore stared, too stricken for words at this meek surrender; and well was it for Mr. Caryll that he was so stricken, for had he spoken he had assuredly betrayed himself.

Hortensia, Mr. Caryll observed, watched his cowardly yielding with an eye of stern contempt. Rotherby looked on with a dark face that betrayed nothing.

Meanwhile Mr. Green was running through the papers, and as fast as he ran through them he permitted himself certain comments that passed for humor with his followers. There could be no doubt that in his own social stratum Mr. Green must have been accounted something of a wag.

"Ha! What's this? A bill! A bill for snuff! My Lord Carteret'll snuff you, sir. He'll tobacco you, ecod! He'll smoke you first, and snuff you afterwards." He flung the bill aside. "Phew!" he whistled. "Verses! 'To Theocritus upon sailing for Albion.' That's mighty choice! D'ye write verses, sir?"

"Heyday! 'Tis an occupation to which I have succumbed in moments of weakness. I crave your indulgence, Mr. Green."

Mr. Green perceived that here was a weak attempt at irony, and went on with his investigations. He came to the last of the papers Mr. Caryll had handed him, glanced at it, swore coarsely, and dropped it.

"D'ye think ye can bubble me?'" he cried, red in the face.

Lord Ostermore heaved a sigh of relief; the hard look had faded from Hortensia's eyes.

"What is't ye mean, giving me this rubbish?"

"I offer you my excuses for the contents of my pockets," said Mr. Caryll. "Ye see, I did not expect to be honored by your inquisition. Had I but known--"

Mr. Green struck an attitude. "Now attend to me, sir! I am a servant of His Majesty's Government."

"His Majesty's Government cannot be sufficiently congratulated," said Mr. Caryll, the irrepressible.

Mr. Green banged the table. "Are ye rallying me, ecod!"

"You have upset the ink," Mr. Caryll pointed out to him.

"Damn the ink!" swore the spy. "And damn you for a Tom o' Bedlam! I ask you again--what d'ye mean, giving me this rubbish?"

"You asked me to turn out my pockets."

"I asked you for the letter ye have brought Lord Ostermore."

"I am sorry," said Mr. Caryll, and eyed the other sympathetically. "I am sorry to disappoint you. But, then, you assumed too much when you assumed that I had such a letter. I have obliged you to the fullest extent in my power. I do not think you show a becoming gratitude."

Mr. Green eyed him blankly a moment; then exploded. "Ecod, sir! You are cool."

"It is a condition we do not appear to share."

"D'ye say ye've brought his lordship no letter from France?" thundered the spy. "What else ha' ye come to England for?"

"To study manners, sir," said Mr. Caryll, bowing.

That was the last drop in the cup of Mr. Green's endurance. He waved his men towards the gentleman from France. "Find it," he bade them shortly.

Mr. Caryll drew himself up with a great dignity, and waved the bailiffs back, his white face set, an unpleasant glimmer in his eyes. "A moment!" he cried. "You have no authority to go to such extremes. I make no objection to being searched; but every objection to being soiled, and I'll not have the fingers of these scavengers about my person."

"And you are right, egad!" cried Lord Ostermore, advancing. "Harkee, you dirty spy, this is no way to deal with gentlemen. Be off, now, and take your carrion-crows with you, or I'll have my grooms in with their whips to you."

"To me?" roared Green. "I represent the Secretary of State."

"Ye'll represent a side of raw venison if you tarry here," the earl promised him. "D'ye dare look me in the eye? D'ye dare, ye rogue? D'ye know who I am? And don't wag that pistol, my fine fellow! Be off, now! Away with you!"

Mr. Green looked his name. The rosiness was all departed from his cheeks; he quivered with suppressed wrath. "If I go--giving way to constraint--what shall you say to my Lord Carteret?" he asked.

"What concern may that be of yours, sirrah?''

"It will be some concern of yours, my lord."

Mr. Caryll interposed. "The knave is right," said he. "It were to implicate your lordship. It were to give color to his silly suspicions. Let him make his search. But be so good as to summon my valet. He shall hand you my garments that you may do your will upon them. But unless you justify yourself by finding the letter you are seeking, you shall have to reckon with the consequences of discomposing a gentleman for nothing. Now, sir! Is it a bargain?" Mr. Green looked him over, and if he was shaken by the calm assurance of Mr. Caryll's tone and manner, he concealed it very effectively. "We'll make no bargains," said he. "I have my duty to do." He signed to one of the bailiffs. "Fetch the gentleman's servant," said he.

"So be it," said Mr. Caryll. "But you take too much upon yourself, sir. Your duty, I think, would have been to arrest me and carry me to Lord Carteret's, there to be searched if his lordship considered it necessary."

"I have no cause to arrest you until I find it," Mr. Green snapped impatiently.

"Your logic is faultless."

"I am following my Lord Carteret's orders to the letter. I am to effect no arrest until I have positive evidence."

"Yet you are detaining me. What does this amount to but an arrest?"

Mr. Green disdained to answer. Leduc entered, and Mr. Caryll turned to Lord Ostermore.

"There is no reason why I should detain your lordship," said he, "and these operations--The lady--" He waved an expressive hand, bent an expressive eye upon the earl.

Lord Ostermore seemed to waver. He was not--he had never been--a man to think for others. But Hortensia cut in before he could reply.

"We will wait," she said. "Since you are travelling to town, I am sure his lordship will be glad of your company, sir."

Mr. Caryll looked deep into those great brown eyes, and bowed his thanks. "If it will not discompose your lordship--"

"No, no," said Ostermore, gruff of voice and manner. "We will wait. I shall be honored, sir, if you will journey with us afterwards."

Mr. Caryll bowed again, and went to hold the door for them, Mr. Green's eyes keenly alert for an attempt at evasion. But there was none. When his lordship and his ward had departed, Mr. Caryll turned to Rotherby, who had taken a chair, his man Gaskell behind him. He looked from the viscount to Mr. Green.

"Do we require this gentleman?" he asked the spy.

A smile broke over Rotherby's swam face. "By your leave, sir, I'll remain to see fair play. You may find me useful, Mr. Green. I have no cause to wish this marplot well," he explained.

Mr. Caryll turned his back upon him, took off his coat and waistcoat. He sat down while Mr. Green spread the garments upon the table, emptied out the pockets, turned down the cuffs, ripped up the satin linings. He did it in a consummate fashion, very thoroughly. Yet, though he parted the linings from the cloth, he did so in such a manner as to leave the garments easily repairable.

Mr. Caryll watched him with interest and appreciation, and what time he watched he was wondering might it not be better straightway to place the spy in possession of the letter, and thus destroy himself and Lord Ostermore, at the same time--and have done with the task on which he was come to England. It seemed almost an easy way out of the affair. His betrayal of the earl would be less ugly if he, himself, were to share the consequences of that betrayal.

Then he checked his thoughts. What manner of mood was this? Besides, his inclination was all to become better acquainted with this odd family upon which he had stumbled in so extraordinary a manner. Down in his heart of hearts he had a feeling that the thing he was come to do would never be done--leastways, not by him. It was in vain that he might attempt to steel himself to the task. It repelled him. It went not with a nature such as his.

He thought of Everard, afire with the idea of vengence and to such an extent that he had succeeded in infecting Justin himself with a spark of it. He thought of him with pity almost; pity that a man should obsess his life by such a phantasm as this same vengeance must have been to him. Was it worth while? Was anything worth while, he wondered.

Lord Rotherby approached the table, and took up the garments upon which Mr. Green had finished. He turned them over and supplemented Mr. Green's search.

"Ye're welcome to all that ye can find," sneered Mr. Green, and turned to Mr. Caryll. "Let us have your shoes, sir."

Mr. Caryll removed his shoes, in silence, and Mr. Green proceeded to examine them in a manner that provoked Mr. Caryll's profound admiration. He separated the lining from the Spanish leather, and probed slowly and carefully in the space between. He examined the heels very closely, going over to the window for the purpose. That done, he dropped them.

"Your breeches now," said he laconically.

Meanwhile Leduc had taken up the coat, and with a needle and thread wherewith he had equipped himself he was industriously restoring the stitches that Mr. Green had taken out.

Mr. Caryll surrendered his breeches. His fine Holland shirt went next, his stockings and what other trifles he wore, until he stood as naked as Adam before the fall. Yet all in vain.

His garments were restored to him, one by one, and one by one, with Leduc's aid, he resumed them. Mr. Green was looking crestfallen.

"Are you satisfied?" inquired Mr. Caryll pleasantly, his good temper inexhaustible.

The spy looked at him with a moody eye, plucking thoughtfully at his lip with thumb and forefinger. Then he brightened suddenly. "There's your man," said he, flashing a quick eye upon Leduc, who looked up with a quiet smile.

"True," said Mr. Caryll, "and there's my portmantle above-stairs, and my saddle on my horse in the stables. It is even possible, for aught you know, that there may be a hollow tooth or two in my head. Pray let your search be thorough."

Mr. Green considered him again. "If you had it, it would be upon your person."

"Yet consider," Mr. Caryll begged him, holding out his foot that Leduc might put on his shoe again, "I might have supposed that you would suppose that, and disposed accordingly. You had better investigate to the bitter end."

Mr. Green's small eyes continued to scrutinize Leduc at intervals. The valet was a silent, serious-faced fellow. "I'll search your servant, leastways," the spy announced.

"By all means. Leduc, I beg that you will place yourself at this interesting gentleman's disposal."

What time Mr. Caryll, unaided now, completed the resumption of his garments, Leduc, silent and expressionless, submitted to being searched.

"You will observe, Leduc," said Mr. Caryll, "that we have not come to this country in vain. We are undergoing experiences that would be interesting if they were not quite so dull, amusing if they entailed less discomfort to ourselves. Assuredly, it was worth while to cross to England to study manners. And there are sights for you that you will never see in France. You would not, for instance, had you not come hither, have had an opportunity of observing a member of the noblesse seconding and assisting a tipstaff in the discharge of his duty. And doing it just as a hog wallows in foulness--for the love of it.

"The gentlemen in your country, Leduc, are too fastidious to enjoy life as it should be enjoyed; they are too prone to adhere to the amusements of their class. You have here an opportunity of perceiving how deeply they are mistaken, what relish may lie in setting one's rank on one side, in forgetting at times that by an accident--a sheer, incredible accident, I assure you, Leduc--one may have been born to a gentleman's estate."

Rotherby had drawn himself up, his dark face crimsoning.

"D'ye talk at me, sir?" he demanded. "D'ye dare discuss me with your lackey?"

"But why not, since you search me with my tipstaff! If you can perceive a difference, you are too subtle for me, sir."

Rotherby advanced a step; then checked. He inherited mental sluggishness from his father. "You are insolent!" he charged Caryll. "You insult me."

"Indeed! Ha! I am working miracles."

Rotherby governed his anger by an effort. "There was enough between us without this," said he.

"There could not be too much between us--too much space, I mean."

The viscount looked at him furiously. "I shall discuss this further with you," said he. "The present is not the time nor place. But I shall know where to look for you."

"Leduc, I am sure, will always be pleased to see you. He, too, is studying manner's."

Rotherby ignored the insult. "We shall see, then, whether you can do anything more than talk."

"I hope that your lordship, too, is master of other accomplishments. As a talker, I do not find you very gifted. But perhaps Leduc will be less exigent than I."

"Bah!" his lordship flung at him, and went out, cursing him profusely, Gaskell following at his master's heels.

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