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Tom Tufton's Travels
by Evelyn Everett-Green
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"'Tis Lord Claud himself! Hither he comes! Certes, but he is a fine figure of a man! So he has not grown too fine for his old haunts, though men did say that he was the pet and the favourite of all the court ladies!"

At that name, heard once before from the lips of Captain Jack, Tom looked round in great curiosity and eagerness. Immediately he was gratified by the sight of the entrance into the inner room of the person who was the cause of all this subdued commotion.

The newcomer was a very handsome man, of slender and graceful proportions, tall and elegant, and dressed in the extreme of fashion, yet with a taste that robbed foppery itself of any appearance of absurdity in his case. He looked quite young at the first glance; but a keen and practised eye could detect lines in that gay and handsome face which only time could trace. Probably he was past thirty by some years, yet many men of five and twenty looked older. The only thing in which he differed materially from his brother dandies was that he wore his own hair in lieu of the wig; but so abundant and beautiful was it, lying upon his shoulders in large curls of tawny golden hue, and clustering with a grace about his temples that no wig ever yet attained, that not the most ardent upholder of the peruke could wish him to change the fashion of his coiffure, which, in fact, gave to his outer man a touch of distinction which was well borne out by the elegance of his deportment and costume.

Tom stared his fill at the newcomer, who was attended by several of the habitues of the coffee house, and received their welcome with a languid grace and indifferent goodwill. He was speedily accommodated with the best seat in the room. Conversation was hushed to listen to his words; the most fragrant cup of coffee was brought to him by the beauty of the bar herself, and his orders were dispatched with a celerity which was lacking to any other customer.

Small wonder was it that Tom, gazing and marvelling, asked in a whisper of the man next him:

"Who is it?"

"Lord Claud, of course, you rustic cub," was the scornful reply, for politeness did not distinguish Tom's new friends. "Any fool about town could tell you that much."

"I know it is Lord Claud," answered Tom, somewhat nettled; "but who is Lord Claud? That is what I meant by my question."

Another laugh, not a whit less scornful, was the reply to this second query.

"He'll be a clever fellow who tells you that, young greengoose from the country!" was the answer, only that the words used were more offensive, and were followed by the usual garnishing of oaths and by blasphemous allusions to Melchisedec, from which Tom gathered that nothing was known to the world at large as to the parentage or descent of the man they called Lord Claud, and that this title had been bestowed upon him rather as a nickname than because it was his by right.

The babble of talk, hushed at the entrance of the newcomer, began to rise again when he took up one of the journals, and appeared disposed for reading rather than conversation. Tom, unable to take his eyes off the elegant figure, still continued to ask questions respecting him, but was more puzzled than enlightened by the nature of the replies.

"There had been other Clauds before him," one of the men remarked.

Another added that it was easy to be rich when the king was made to pay toll.

Slippery Seal wished, with a laugh and an oath, that he were half as slippery as the great Lord Claud; and Bully Bullen remarked that if he could but get such a reputation for duelling, he would play the bully to better purpose than he did now.

This band of four were getting noisy and quarrelsome. They had been drinking steadily ever since they came in, and their cups of coffee had been tinctured by something much stronger. They were getting up their energies for their nightly prowls about the city, and thought it no bad start to bait young Tom first. Of course he had betrayed his ignorance and rusticity in a hundred little ways. Although he began to understand a little of what passed around him in the interlarded speech of the day, he could not frame his tongue to any adequate imitation of it yet. He had learnt, alas, to swear in his old life; but there is a fashion even in oaths, and his were too rustic in form to pass muster here.

As the bully beaux got deeper in their cups, so did their baiting of young Tom increase in offensiveness and coarseness. The hot flush of anger kept rising in the young man's face, and there were moments when a fight was imminent, which was perhaps what the aggressors desired. Harry was still in the outer room, or he would have interposed, for it was not a nice thing to be the butt of a set of braggarts and bullies, and this fashion of drawing a young man into their clutches was by no means unusual.

Suddenly, as matters seemed to be getting ripe for some outbreak of fury on Tom's part, which might well lead to disastrous results, a sudden clear, resonant voice rose above the hubbub, and dominated all other tones by a peculiar property impossible to describe.

"Let that lad alone, you cowards!" spoke the voice, in tones of unmistakable authority. "Get out of this place, you swaggering bullies! Are we to have no peace even in this inner room, for your filibustering ways? Go and bluster out yonder, if bluster you must. Speak a single word of insolence to me—" and here the blue eyes seemed to flash fire—"and I will have every one of you ducked in the Thames three times ere you take a step from hence! Now, will you go quietly?"

It was strange to see the change which came over these young rakes the moment that the clear, cold tones of Lord Claud's voice fell upon their ears. They stopped, they cringed, they looked one at the other, and then back at him, as a whipped dog looks at the master who rates him. Thirsty Thring, who had drunk the most deeply, and who was in consequence most filled with Dutch courage, ventured once to look as though he were about to resist, or to dispute the mandate of Lord Claud; but no sooner had he provoked that flash of the eyes, than he too was cringing more humbly than his fellows.

To the great amazement of Tom, they took up their hats, and slunk from the room like so many whipped curs. He heard them the next minute chartering a wherry to take them to the shore once more.

Lord Claud had taken up his paper again, but meeting Tom's bashful glance of mingled gratitude and admiration, he remarked to him with a quiet smile:

"You are a stranger to London and its sons, lad; take this bit of advice from one who knows both well: Never let any man badger and insult you. Take no word from any; but return it with a blow or a sword thrust. Make your name feared—it is the surest road to success. Tavern and street brawls are taken little note of by the administrators of the law; but better a few weeks' discipline in Newgate, than to be the butt and victim of a set of vulgar street swaggerers and swashbucklers such as those worthies we have just seen depart."

Tom had risen and had slowly approached Lord Claud. Now that the hour for the play had all but come, the room was thinning of its guests. He felt more courage to speak to this strange being, who seemed so great a personage.

"I thank you, sir, for sending them away. I will seek to follow your good counsel in the future."

And then, after a moment's hesitation, he added, "Sir, are there more than one Lord Claud in this great city of London?"

"Not that I am aware of," answered the other, with a lighting of the eyes. "Some would tell you that one was enough even for so vast a city and realm as this!"

"Because," continued Tom, "I was charged with a message for one Lord Claud, and I marvel that it can be your worshipful self, for he that sent it was a strange man to speak of himself as your master."

A laugh shone in the dark blue eyes of the other.

"In sooth I call no man my master," he answered lightly; "but tell me the name of him who sent this message, and I shall know if it be for me or not."

"He called himself Captain Jack," answered Tom, "and I met with him betwixt my home in Essex and this city. He was dwelling in the heart of the great Forest of Epping."

Upon Lord Claud's face there had come a look of vivid interest and pleasure; yet he laid a finger upon his lips, as though to caution Tom, who, indeed, had spoken in a tone too low to be heard by any one else.

"Any news of or from Captain Jack is right welcome in mine ears," he said; "but this is not the time or place in which to speak of such things. Come tomorrow morning early to my lodgings in the Mall—any man will direct you to them—and there we will speak at ease. Forget not—tomorrow morning by ten o' the clock, ere my levee has begun. I shall expect you. Farewell, good youth, and keep your distance with those gentlemen you have just left. They would like to spit you as a goose is spitted, but I would see you again ere that consummation be achieved!"

He nodded to Tom, and took up his paper again; and Tom, turning round, encountered the amazed glance of Harry, who had come in to find him, and discovered him in friendly converse with the greatest man of all the company.

"How now, Tom! But you have a mettlesome spirit after all, if you can scrape acquaintance with Lord Claud. I have been in his company many a time, but never a word has he vouchsafed to me. And are you invited to his lodgings? Surely my ears must have deceived me!"

"In sooth he asked me, but it is only to hear a message I chance to bear from an old friend of his. Harry, tell me who is this Lord Claud? Men seem to worship the ground he treads upon, and yet to fear him, too, more than a little."

It was after they had reached the streets again that Tom put this question, and Harry answered it by a knowing shake of the head.

"I should have the makings of a fortune in me," he answered, "if I could tell who Lord Claud was. There be many fine ladies, and curled darlings of fashion, who would give much to know that secret."

"But if he be a lord—"

"Ah, indeed—a wise 'if'! He is no more a lord than I am! That much I can tell you. But the name fits, and he wears it with a grace. There be ladies in high places, too, who would not be averse to share it with him, and be my Lady Claud, even though no other name might be hers."

"But he is very rich; and rich men—"

"Rich!—ay, verily; and so should I be rich, if every time my purse was empty I helped myself to Her Majesty's gold, as it traversed the road from place to place!"

Tom stopped short as though he had been shot.

"A highwayman!" he gasped.

Harry bestowed upon him a sage glance and a mocking laugh.

"That is your word, not mine, my friend. Breathe it not before his lordship! But there be many who swear that he is none other than a grandson of the famous Claud Duval of olden days, and that he rolls in the wealth he has filched from royalty itself."

"And yet he lives like a prince, and all the world pays him court!"

"Oh yes—it is the way of the world; a successful villain is as much an idol as a successful general. The tide may turn. All high positions have their dangers. Remember nothing has ever been proved against him; but men think and whisper, though not in his presence. Town talk may or may not be true; and the ladies like him none the less for the tales that circulate about him. But come now, no more questions, or we shall be late for the play!"



CHAPTER V. WITH LORD CLAUD.

Cale shook his head; but Tom was resolute. He had fallen under the spell of the so-called Lord Claud's personality—like many another before him—and whatever the upshot of the matter might be, he was going to accept the invitation accorded him, and visit that personage in his lodgings.

"Have a care, lad, have a care," advised the little perruquier. "All is not gold that glitters; and many a fine lad has been led to his ruin ere now by following some headlong fancy of his own."

"I will be careful," answered Tom, with the careless confidence of inexperience. "Did I not come back last night with nothing spent save the price of the theatre and my coffee and supper? You said yourself I had done well. So give me now ten guineas, and I will be gone; for I was told to be early."

Tom had no difficulty, once he had reached the Mall, in finding Lord Claud's rooms; for everybody knew where they were situated, and looked with some respect upon Tom for inquiring. He was received at the door by a very fine lackey, and taken up a wide staircase, so richly carpeted that the footfall could not be heard upon it. Everywhere his eyes rested upon strange and costly products of foreign lands, such as he had never dreamed of heretofore. Later on he learned that Lord Claud had won this sumptuous suite of rooms from a rich young nobleman at the gaming table, and had stepped into its luxury and collected treasures with never an effort on his part. It was the fashion of the day to stake house and lands, wealth, and even honour, upon the cast of the dice or the fall of the cards; but that Tom did not yet know.

He followed the servant into a large and lofty bedchamber, the like of which he had never seen before. He could have spent an hour in examining all the rich and curious things it contained; but a voice hailed him from the bed, and there lay Lord Claud, in a nest of snowy pillows, his golden head and fair complexion giving him an almost girlish aspect, albeit the square set of the jaw and the peculiarly penetrating glance of the dark-blue eyes robbed the face of any charge of effeminacy.

He was clad in a sort of dressing jacket of silk and lace, fine enough for any lady; and the bed was draped in silk from the Indies, worked in a fashion that set Tom agape. A few volumes of poetry, half a dozen letters, scented and delicately twisted, and a silver salver bearing an empty cup stood beside him. His servant removed this latter, and at a sign from his master withdrew; and Tom was motioned to take the lounging chair which stood beside the bed, and from the recesses of which he could watch Lord Claud, as he did, with a sense of fascination.

"Early afoot, in sooth, my young spark from the country! Ah, it is a fine habit, that of early rising. I practised it once myself, so I speak with authority. But what would you in this Babylon? And, i' faith, what is there to do before the afternoon to tempt a man from his couch? I have scarce had four hours' sleep as it is. There was no getting away from my Lady Betty's reception last night. Egad, I believe that fair votary of the Graces ruins more young bloods than any sharper in the town! Have a care of your guineas, my young friend, if ever you find yourself sitting down to the card table with her!"

"That is not likely," answered Tom modestly. "I am but the son of a country squire. I have come to London to see somewhat of the life there; but I look not to consort with the fashionable ones of the earth."

"We shall see, we shall see. A golden key opens all doors—at least, nearly all. And you have not come empty-handed from home, I warrant. And that reminds me of your words of yesterday. You bring me a message from my quondam friend, Captain Jack. I would hear news of him; so tell me all the tale."

Tom told the tale simply enough, and Lord Claud listened with unaffected interest, nodding his head once or twice at hearing the terms of the message delivered for himself.

"Ah, good Captain Jack! So he is still in the free forest! Well, well, well, perhaps he has chosen the better part. There be times when I look back at the old free life of peril and adventure, and my soul sickens at the weary round I see day by day. Who knows but the time may come when I will break these gossamer bonds! Ah, I might do worse—I might do worse—ere my youth and courage are fooled and squandered away."

He seemed almost to have forgotten that he had a listener, and to be musing aloud; but, catching the wondering glance of Tom's eyes, he recollected himself with a smile, and stretching out a white yet muscular hand, he said, with an air of winning grace:

"My young friend, I have taken a liking to you. I like you because you bring to my jaded senses a whiff of the free air of field and forest, as well as a message from one to whom I owe much. I am sick to death of the inanities of the dandies and fops of the town. Shall we be friends and comrades, good Tom? I trow you might do worse than make your Mentor of me—little though I look the part of the preceptor of Telemachus!"

Tom could scarce believe his ears at this proposition; he blushed and stammered almost as though it were some fair lady wooing him to friendship. Lord Claud laughed at his embarrassment, and presently, taking up one of the notes beside him, threw it across to Tom, saying:

"Read that, my young friend; I have a reason just at this moment why I would fain have a trusty friend beside me. What! thou canst not make sense of the jargon! Well, it is jargon; in that thou art right, honest Tom. Men talk in a fashion which fools might gibe at. But 'tis the fashion, the fashion, and what would you? Be i' the fashion—or perish! That is the choice before us."

"But how can I serve you, my lord?" asked Tom eagerly.

"Hast ever taken part in a duel, good fellow?" asked Lord Claud, with a keen glance at the stalwart youth.

"I have fought many a battle in play and in earnest," answered Tom, "with my fists, with the sword, and with the quarterstaff. I have no knowledge of the ways of town fights, such as I heard talk of in the Folly yesterday; but—"

"But you have a stout arm, an honest heart, and a tongue that will not wag when it is bidden to be silent? Is that so, honest friend Tom?"

"My lord, I would not speak a word to living soul if you bid me be silent; and I would stand by you to the death!"

"'Tis a sudden liking you have taken for my unworthy self."

"Prove me, my lord, if it be not as sound as it be sudden."

Lord Claud stretched out his hand, and Tom's great fist met it.

"This liking on sight is a strange matter; yet I seldom mistake my man. Tom, I am going to trust you to act as my second in a little affair I have with another gentleman tomorrow morning, in a certain spot of which I have knowledge. Another man was to have acted for me—he has, indeed, made all the arrangements; but, as yon note informs me, he was mixed up in a brawl last evening at the gaming house, and lies abed with a broken arm. 'Tis not a matter I would have get wind, else there be a dozen men who would serve my turn. I had rather one silent, steady comrade than a score of chattering jays. So you shall be my friend, Tom, and see what duelling is like."

"You are not in danger of death, my lord, or grievous bodily hurt? Else I fear I should break the rules of the game and dash to your succour!"

"Tush, boy!" answered the other, with a gleam in his eyes, "I have yet to find my match with the rapier; I shall get off without a scratch, you will see. Whether or not I kill my man will depend upon his behaviour. I love not slaughter for its own sake, but there be those whose jaunty insolence rouses the devil within me; and then I strike and spare not."

"And for what cause do men fight duels?" asked Tom.

"The question is a wide one, and smacks of innocence on your part, Tom. Generally a woman is the cause; but there be other matters too—wounded self-esteem or vanity, revenge, envy, evil passions of all sorts. But, egad, in these days it takes little to provoke the combat! Why, it is but a few months ago that two young sparks met in mortal conflict because, forsooth, one of them had declared that Venus was the goddess of love and beauty, whilst the other affirmed that it was Aphrodite!" and Lord Claud leaned back upon his pillows and laughed aloud; laughing still more when he found that he had to explain to Tom the nature of the confusion which had prompted the duel.

Time was fast flying as the two oddly-assorted comrades talked, and soon the valet appeared at the door with the perruquier in his wake, informing his master that several gentlemen waited below, and that all was in readiness for the morning toilet.

"Heigh-ho!" sighed the young exquisite. "Why can we not rise from our couches like the beast of the field, give ourselves a shake, and be ready for the day's work? These levees are the bane of my life. But fashion, fashion, fashion! She is the goddess of the hour. Tom, sit over yonder, and watch the follies of thy kind. Keep a quiet tongue, and I'll see you are not baited.

"And now, let in the popinjays and chattering monkeys; for the sooner we begin, the sooner comes the end!"

The next two hours presented a marvellous spectacle to Tom. There were perhaps some eight to twelve young sparks about town coming and going during that time, some remaining the whole toilet through, others roving off to other similar scenes. Whilst the perruquier plied his skilful hands in the curling, powdering, and arranging of Lord Claud's abundant golden hair, which some days was powdered and some days left as nature had ordered, they sat beside him in a row upon the bed and chattered of all the latest bits of scandal, the wittiest retorts of this or that sprightly dame, the on dit of the town, the quarrels of the gaming houses, and the doings of the court.

When Lord Claud left his bed and began arraying himself in the soft and costly array provided by his valet, his friends amused themselves by joining with him in the perfuming of his person; borrowing his essences to sprinkle upon their own fine clothes, washing their hands in milk and perfume to make them white and delicate; and calling to his valet to re-tie and arrange their lace-edged cravats in imitation of the style affected by Lord Claud.

Some of them removed their wigs, and asked the perruquier to give them an extra powdering; others got at the cosmetic boxes upon the toilet table, and gave a touch of carmine to cheeks which the night's revel had left wan. Some gave infinite pains to the arrangement of a patch to resemble a dimple; and all desired to dip their handkerchiefs in the silver bowl of rare scent which was offered almost the last thing to the master of all these luxuries.

Tom sat in his corner and looked on in amaze. He had felt himself a very pretty dandy whilst being arrayed in his new clothes in Cale's shop, but he felt like a raven amongst peacocks in this company; and it would have taken nothing short of the testimony of his own eyes to convince him that these were men and not women engaged in all this pranking and personal adornment.

Many curious glances had been thrown in his direction at the first; and a few of the guests sauntered up from time to time, and entered into conversation with him. Tom observed, with some satisfaction, that there was respect, if not admiration, in their manner, and he wondered what had caused this; for yesterday he had received mockery and taunts as his portion from men of much less distinction than Lord Claud's friends.

He had not heard the words Lord Claud had spoken to his guests on their arrival—or, rather, he had not understood them, since they were spoken in the French tongue.

"A friend of mine—a fine young fellow—a son of the forest—best let alone, gentlemen, by those who value a sound skin," Lord Claud had said, with a careless laugh.

His friends drew their own conclusions, and looked at Tom with respect. Lord Claud knew exactly what they were thinking, and laughed in his sleeve.

The valet was now perfuming the gloves, and giving just the jaunty cock to his master's hat which best suited its shape.

"Now, gentlemen, I will bid you farewell for the present," said Lord Claud. "I and my friend have business of our own. We may meet again at the play ere long. Off with you each to his own favourite tavern. For my part, I have other fish to fry today."

With that he swept them a fine bow, and the room cleared as if by magic. It was one of this man's arts that he could rid himself of the buzzing crowd by one look or gesture when he had the mind. Valet and perruquier followed the retreating guests, and Lord Claud drew a breath of relief.

"There, honest Tom; we are well rid of the chattering magpies—screaming peacocks were the better word, or painted popinjays. Now to business; for I must keep a steady head and quiet hours today. Are you anything of a swordsman, my friend?"

"I was accounted a good enough fighter in my own village," answered Tom; "but everything here is so different. My methods may be useless against the skill of men trained in a different school."

"We will put that to the test, and that quickly," said Lord Claud; and forthwith he led his companion out of the house and through several unfamiliar streets, till he reached a building rather larger than its surrounding neighbours, into which he walked with the air of one well used to the place.

First they passed through a large hall, the floor of which was thickly sprinkled with sawdust; but, without pausing, Lord Claud mounted a staircase in the corner, and led Tom into a large upper room, the walls of which were adorned by rapiers with buttons at the end, where a man was sitting polishing the foils and humming a tune to himself. He rose instantly upon seeing Lord Claud, and made a deep bow.

"I have come to try a bout at sword play with a friend of mine," explained the latter, stripping off his coat, and signing to Tom to do the same. "Give us two well-matched weapons; for we have none too much time to spare measuring and comparing."

Tom's blood quickened at the feel of the rapier in his hand. He had always loved these encounters with the sword, whether in play or earnest. He had not lacked training of a certain rude sort, and his wrist was strong and supple, his eye wary and keen; moreover, he had length of reach and strength of muscle. After the first bout Lord Claud gave him an approving nod, and, looking at the man who stood by, remarked:

"There is the making of a fine swordsman in the lad, is there not, when he has learnt more finesse and quickness?"

"The gentleman does well," answered the man, with a shrewd glance at Tom's tall and well-knit frame. "He may be worsted in a sham fight, but, methinks, in sober earnest he would be an ugly customer to meet."

In the next bout Lord Claud showed his antagonist some of the dexterous feats of rapid sword play, with the result that Tom was rather hard pressed; but for all that he did not lose his head, and soon began to master the tricks of attack and defence, the quick lunge and the quick recovery which perplexed him at first; and in the next bout he showed so much skill and address that his opponent and the onlooker alike applauded.

"Very good, Tom, very good," said Lord Claud. "You will make a notable swordsman one of these days. Now I shall leave you here for an hour with worthy Captain Raikes, and he will give you a lesson in fencing which you will not fail to profit by. After that I will come back for you, and take you elsewhere.

"Captain Raikes, I have a little affair on hand tomorrow morning. I would fain try a pass with you, to see that my hand has lost nothing of its cunning."

"Not much fear of that, my lord," answered the master of the place, as he took the rapier from Tom; and the next minute the youth from the country stood in silent admiration and amaze, whilst the two blades crossed and flashed, and twined and clashed, with a precision and masterly deftness which aroused his keen delight and envy. To become a proficient like that would be something worth living for; and his quick eyes studied the movements and methods of the two adversaries, till he felt he had begun to have some little notion of the tricks by which such results were attained.

When Lord Claud came back to fetch him, at the end of the stipulated hour, it was to find young Tom without coat, vest, or peruke, and bathed in perspiration; but so keenly interested in the new science, that it was all his comrade could do to drag him away.

"Egad, Tom, but you will make a pretty swordsman one of these days! Captain Raikes says he has never had a more promising pupil. You have winded him as well as yourself. But all that exertion must have given you an appetite. We will to Pontac's and refresh ourselves; and when you have cooled down, I will take you to see a man as great in his way as Captain Raikes with the foils. Oh yes, you can come again at your leisure for another lesson. But I have no fears for you, tomorrow, even now. Whatever may betide, you are no child with the sword."

The coffee house to which Lord Claud now conducted him was a much finer and more select place than the Folly, and Tom was much interested in the fine company there, all of whom welcomed Lord Claud heartily, and seemed to desire to draw him into talk.

Although dressed in the height of the fashion, and not without their fopperies and extravagances, the company here interested itself less with private scandal than with public affairs, and there was much talk of the war abroad, and of the return of the Duke of Marlborough, which it was now thought would take place before long.

"But he has first to go to Berlin, to cajole the King of Prussia to send help to Italy, to the Duke of Savoy," cried one of the company, who seemed best informed on military matters. "It will take a good one to wring eight thousand soldiers out of His Majesty of Prussia, but if any man can do it, it will be Johnny Churchill! I remember him even when we were boys together. He had a tongue that would flatter the nose off your face, if you did but listen to him! A voice of silver, and a hand of iron—those are the gifts which have made the fortunes of my Lord of Marlborough."

"Ay, an iron hand for keeping money when once the fingers have closed upon it!" laughed one.

"And a wife who rules the Queen, and is bent upon making her husband the greatest man in the kingdom—though she will always keep the upper hand of her lord, you will see. Marlborough, whom no combination of military prowess can daunt, trembles and turns pale before the frown of his wife!"

"Yet it is not fear but love which makes him tremble," said another. "Although their children are grown to adolescence, he loves her yet as dotingly as ever youthful swain loves the Phyllis of his boyhood's amours!"

"That is nothing to sneer at," remarked Lord Claud, speaking for the first time. "Rather should we thank Heaven, in these days of profligacy and vice, that we have a Queen upon the throne who loves her husband faithfully and well, and a general, victorious in arms, who would gladly lay down his victor's laurels for the joy of living in peaceful obscurity at the side of his wife!"

Nobody laughed at Lord Claud's speech, though it would have provoked mirth if another had given utterance to the sentiment. The talk went on, however, in the same vein, and Tom listened in silence, trying to digest as much as he could of the news of the day.

Lord Claud did not remain long; and when they were in the street together, Tom asked him of the great Duke, and what had been said of him. Was he really treacherous and false, loving money above all else, and careless of the good of the realm, so long as he built up his own fortunes securely?

"The Duke's career is not without its black spots," answered Lord Claud. "It is known by all that he deserted the late King James the Second; but there were reasons solid and sound for that. The darkest passage in his life is his intrigues against His Majesty King William, for which he was disgraced for some time. But for all that his genius is marvellous, and I am very sure he is loyal to the core to good Queen Anne; albeit a man who will not openly ally himself with either Whig or Tory faction must expect to make enemies in many quarters."

"And does he indeed love money so well?"

"Second to his wife, or men do him great injustice. But though they laugh and sneer at him, I misdoubt me if he loves wealth better than his traducers; only he keeps a firmer grip upon it, having indeed no taste for vulgar dissipation. Why, even as a youth he was mighty prudent."

Here Lord Claud began to laugh, as though tickled by some memory; and on being questioned further, he told Tom the tale.

"You must know that John Churchill was a marvellous pretty fellow, with just the same languid grace of bearing that he has kept all his life; and of which you may judge the effect yourself, good Tom, ere many weeks be passed. He was a youth about the court of Charles the Second, and the Duchess of Cleveland took notice of the handsome, witty lad, and sometimes had him in her rooms to amuse her. Once they so chanced to be there together, when the steps of the King were heard approaching; and as His Majesty was like to think evil of a matter where no evil was, the Duchess was sore put to it, and looked so affrighted, that young Churchill gallantly sprang from the window, at the risk of breaking his leg if not his neck. The Duchess sent him a present of five thousand pounds the next day; and what does the lad do? Most of his sort would have squandered it at play in a week; but Johnny Churchill was of a different kidney. He goes and purchases with it an annuity; so that come what may, he may never be left quite destitute in his old age!"

And Lord Claud again burst into a hearty laugh, in which Tom now joined.

They were now approaching a narrow street hard by the Haymarket, and his companion knocked at a lowly door, which was opened by a sombre-looking man in a shabby suit of clothes.

"Is your master within?" asked Lord Claud, who seemed known to all the world; and the next minute he was striding up the stairs, two steps at a time; Tom following, and marvelling much at the darkness of the humble abode, and at Lord Claud's purpose in coming.

A door on the second floor was thrown open, and Lord Claud stepped gaily in.

"Ha, Master Addison," he cried, "I have come to offer to you my tardy congratulations for that yet more tardy recognition of merit which has been your portion at last! And so the great ones of the land have been forced to come beseeching in person? Ha! ha! that is very good. And may my friend here—young Esquire Tufton, of Gablethorpe, in the county of Essex—have the privilege of hearing some of those wonderful lines which are to take the country by storm? Come, Master Addison, you know that I am a lover of good metre and fine sentiment. The words must needs be tingling in your ears, and lying hot upon your tongue. Let us hear the roll of them, and I warrant that all London town shall soon be in a ferment to hear them, too!"

The man of letters was attired in a neat but poor suit of clothes, and his surroundings were humble and even sordid; but his face was neither peevish nor careworn, but wore an expression of dignified contentment and scholarly repose. The walls of his lodging were lined with bookcases, upon which many a volume was stacked. Poor he had been for long, but he had not been in the straits that many men of letters were reduced to in those days. On his desk were strewn pages of manuscript verse which caught the eyes of the visitors at once.

"By my halidome! if that be not the poem itself!"

"The rough copy alone, the rough copy," said Addison, who was walking up and down the narrow room, his eyes aglow, his face a little flushed. "The fair one is in the hands of the printers. My Lord Godolphin came himself to hear it read but a few short days ago, and took it off with him then and there."

"Delighted with it, and vowing that you should be the first poet of the times, if report be true!" cried Lord Claud.

"He did express his satisfaction," answered the poet quietly. "And I doubt not I shall receive some mark of favour at no distant date. But not all the favour of Queen or courtier can give me the title to poet. That lies in a sphere which not the most powerful potentate can aspire to touch. The voice of posterity alone can make or mar that title!"

"But let us hear something of this great poem," cried Lord Claud. "As I say, it must be burning upon your tongue. Prithee do us the grace to recite us portions of it."

It was a request palatable to the eager soul of the poet, all on fire with the work which had occupied his thoughts and pen for so many long weeks. He still kept up his pacing to and fro; but as he walked he gave utterance to the well-conned passages of his work, throwing into the words a fire and a spirit which kindled the spark in Lord Claud's eyes, and even made young Tom's heart glow with admiration and wonder, albeit he had never been the votary of letters.

If high-flown, the language of the day kept it in countenance. Nothing simple would have found favour at that date. And no one called the sentiments forced, even though there seemed to be slight confusion sometimes between Marlborough and the Deity. The well-known lines upon the battle of Blenheim itself were given with a wonderful fire and force:

"'Twas then great Marlbro's mighty soul was proved, That in the shock of charging hosts, unmoved Amidst confusion, horror, and despair, Examined all the dreadful scenes of war, In peaceful thought the field of death surveyed, To fainting squadrons sent the timely aid, Inspired repulsed battalions to engage, And taught the doubtful battle where to rage. So, when an angel by divine command With rising tempest shakes a guilty land— Such as of late o'er pale Britannia passed— Calm and serene he drives the furious blast, And, pleased the Almighty's orders to perform, Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm."

"Excellent! excellent!" cried Lord Claud, when the poet at last flung himself into his chair, exhausted by his own flow of eloquence. "That will take them! That will hit them! My good friend, your fortune is made.

"Capital, was it not, Tom? Why, it has raised a sparkle in your calm bucolic eyes!

"'Tis a fine poem i' sooth, Master Addison; as fine a piece of work as any man of this day ever produced. You might have seen it all yourself. You have had information, one can see, from high quarters. Now tell me, I pray, something in detail of this great battle;" and forthwith poet and gallant fell to discussing the campaign in such a fashion as filled Tom with wonder at his companion, such as he was always feeling.

Lord Claud seemed to have such a masterly knowledge of military detail, that it was hard to believe he had not at some time been a soldier himself; and his knowledge of public affairs, and of the intricacies of foreign and home politics, struck the country-bred youth as something little short of marvellous.

For hard upon two hours did the two men sit talking, with papers and diagrams before them; and when at last Lord Claud rose, Addison gripped him hard by the hand, and declared he was the best company he had seen for many a long day.

"We are too late for the play, Tom, my lad," said Lord Claud, as they reached the street. "But, for my part, I have been better entertained; and if I have wearied you, I crave pardon."

"I am no whit wearied," answered Tom promptly; "but I marvel much at your knowledge of men and things."

Lord Claud laughed slightly and lightly.

"Keep open eyes and ears as you go along in life, Tom, and you will learn many things in your turn. And now, methinks, we will take horse to Earns, and lie there tonight. It will be better for us than the long ride in the cold of the early morning."



CHAPTER VI. BARNS ELMS.

"You can ride, Tom?" Lord Claud had said, as they sauntered homewards from the poet's lodgings.

Tom replied that whatever else he was lacking in, he might certainly lay claim to horsemanship; and the pair walked on together, Lord Claud sunk in thoughtful silence, his companion always ready to give his attention to the sights of the streets, which had lost none of the attraction of novelty as yet.

"Ho! ho! ho!" laughed a voice behind them; "Master Tom the greengoose has found fine company!"

"A fine comrade, truly, will he find he has got! What becomes of all the strapping young fellows whom my Lord Claud takes pains to notice and befriend?"

"They are like the butterflies—flutter for a season and are no more seen after!"

"Or like the buzzing fly who is lured within the spider's web! 'Tis easy fluttering in, but there is no getting out!"

"Ay, ay, the gallows noose must feel mightily like the strand of the spider's web to the silly fly. And as the spider pounces upon his victim ere it be dead, and sucks away its life blood, so does the hangman cut down his victim alive and cut out his living heart! Oh, 'tis a fine sight! a fine sight! Young Tom must e'en go and see the next execution at Tyburn!"

These words were spoken with caution, and yet every one of them fell full upon Tom's ears. These ears, be it noted, were very keen ones, as is often the case with those who have tracked game and hunted the fallow deer in the free forest. Moreover, Tom had not yet grown callous to the sounds of talk and laughter in the streets. He must needs listen to all he heard, and these phrases were plainly meant to meet his ear.

He glanced at Lord Claud to see if he had heard, but there was no change in the thoughtful face. His companion appeared lost in his own reflections, and Tom, dropping a pace behind, looked back to see who had spoken.

As he had surmised, it was the four bully beaux whom he had met at the Folly the previous day. So much had happened in the interim, that Tom could have believed it a week ago. At his look they all burst into jeering laughter, but it did not appear as though they desired speech of him, or any sort of encounter, for they plunged hastily down a side street, and Tom saw that Lord Claud had just turned his head to see what hindered his companion.

"Pay no heed to drunken roisterers i' the streets, Tom," advised his mentor; "a quarrel is quicker provoked than mended, except at the sword's point, and unseemly is brawling at street corners. Yon fellows bear you some ill will for my threat yesterday. They will do you a bad turn if the chance offers. They are an evil crew, and my Lord Mayor has been warned against them ere now; but it is difficult in these days to give every man his deserts. London would be depopulated if all who merited it were transported to the plantations of Virginia."

A little later they met Harry Gay sauntering from one playhouse to another. He looked with a sort of amused surprise at Tom, who paused to send a message to Master Cale, to tell him that he would not be at home that night, and was not to be troubled after in any wise.

"Do you lodge with Lord Claud?" asked Harry, with a curious glance towards the elegant figure sauntering on, and exchanging bows with the fine ladies in the coaches.

"I know not; but I ride forth with him ere long on some errand I wot not of. Have no fears for me, good Harry, I can take care of myself well enow."

"You have good confidence, my young friend. I trust it is not the pride which goes before a fall. It savours of peril to steer one's bark over unknown waters, or to follow a road which leads no man knows whither;" and Harry nodded his head in the direction of Lord Claud, with a gesture that was as eloquent as any words could be.

"Tush!" answered Tom, with something of the careless indifference he had caught from Lord Claud and his associates; "I have come to see the world, and see it I will. If there be peril, why, so much the better. I am sick to death of sitting at ease in the safe shelter of home. A man can die but once, and he had better live first."

"Just so, just so," answered Harry with some emphasis; "that is exactly the sentiment I would most impress upon your inexperience. A man should live to drink the cup of life, ere it be snatched from his grasp."

Tom nodded and passed on, not pausing to ponder upon the meaning of the words he had heard. Indeed, he had small time to ponder, for his comrade was quickening his steps, and he had to hasten to reach his side.

"My stables lie this way. We will go and look at the hackneys, and make choice of one fit to carry those great limbs of yours, my worthy friend. As for me, a light-made barb will suffice; but it takes bone and muscle to carry all that bone," and he clapped his hand upon Tom's shoulder with a little laugh.

The stables were neither very bright nor savoury according to modern ideas, but for the times they were thought a marvel of perfection. Tom's eyes soon got used to the dimness, and he was quickly in a high state of rapture at the evidences of breeding and pace in the horses stabled there.

That they knew their master well was plain, for all heads were turned at the sound of his voice, and each animal gave a low whinny of pleasure at the approach of Lord Claud. He took carrots from a basket and dispensed them with impartiality to his stud; and, meantime, he and his head groom talked together in low tones, and presently Tom was called to the conclave.

"Nell Gwynne will carry you best, Tom. But she may give you a little trouble. It is not every rider she will brook upon her back; yet if you can master her, she will bear you to the world's end faithfully."

Tom approached the mare indicated, who looked at him, laying back her ears and showing the whites of her eyes, sidling a little over in her stall with the evident intention of trying to get a kick at the stranger. But Tom coolly walked up to her head, and began caressing her with a perfect fearlessness which presently disarmed her suspicion. She was accustomed to see men flinch and quail before her, and despised the race accordingly. But the few who bad no fear of her she recognized as her masters, and she gave them the love of her heart and the best of her powers.

"That will do, Tom," said Lord Claud's voice from behind; "you have won my lady's capricious fancy.

"Bring up the mare and Lucifer in an hour's time, saddled and bridled, and fed for the evening," he added, speaking to the servant; "you will probably have them back some time tomorrow, but of that I cannot speak with certainty."

He took Tom's arm as he left the yard, saying in his nonchalant fashion:

"Sometimes after one of these affairs of honour it is well to take oneself off for a while. Her Majesty is as much against the settlement of private quarrels by the appeal to the sword as ever King William was. However, fashion is too strong even for good Queen Anne. But it is better not to do more than wing your man. If you kill him, you run a risk of getting into trouble. But I have no intention of doing so, unless he provokes me beyond endurance."

"Is he a man of note?" asked Tom, with pardonable curiosity.

"In his way he is; you probably would not know the name; but he has friends in high places: He and I have never loved each other. He has balked me more than once, and I have had my revenge at the gaming table and in other places, which he is not likely to forgive or forget. The other day he sought to provoke me by almost open insult. It was not a woman, Tom. I have enough on my hands without embroiling myself in affairs of gallantry. There are women, doubtless, who are worth the championship of honest men; but in our world of London town they are few and far between. Let them and their quarrels alone, Tom, if you would keep out of trouble."

Lord Claud was speaking now with a sarcastic intonation rather unusual with him. He was more thoughtful and grave than Tom had ever seen him, but the youth did not dare to ask the cause. Indeed, it seemed to him that a man who had a duel to fight upon the morrow with a dangerous adversary had reason enough for gravity and thought.

"Tom," said Lord Claud suddenly, breaking a rather long silence, "I feel sometimes that I have had enough for once of the trammels of town life. I am weary of the slavery of levee, and gaming table, and playhouse. There are better things in life than foppery and idle dissipation. What do you think of it all, my honest Tom?"

"I find it vastly entertaining," answered Tom truthfully; "but I feel me something out of place amongst all the fine fops I meet everywhere."

"You would like to travel and see the world? There is another world besides that of London town."

"I would see more of London town ere I leave it," answered Tom frankly; "but I would fain see other things and places, too."

"Wilt come farther afield with me, if I go?" asked Lord Claud, with a quick sidelong glance at the tall figure of his companion. "A man of thews and sinews, who knows not fear, is the comrade in whom my heart delights; but there be so few of them amid yon crowd of painted popinjays."

The compliment tickled Tom's vanity, just as the preference shown him from the first by so great a man as Lord Claud touched his naturally quick affections.

"Let me but see this wonderful city first, my lord, and I will follow you to the world's end!" he cried impulsively.

"You shall have your wish, trusty Tom," answered Lord Claud, his face clearing and his brilliant smile shining forth. "In sooth, I have no desire to quit it just yet. I would fain be one of those to welcome back the great Duke, who will be here ere the year closes; and you should not miss seeing the pageant which will greet the victor of Blenheim. It may even be that the Duke himself will find employment for his poor servants.

"Hast ever heard of the secret service, Tom? No? Well, there be openings enow for men of courage and resource. It may be that you and I may find work for us to do. When all Europe is at war, country with country, and kingdom with kingdom, there is work and to spare for trusty messengers, stout of heart and strong of arm. Who knows but that such luck as that may come in our way?"

Tom listened agape, feeling as though his horizon were growing wider every hour. He had been scarce more than a week in town, and, behold, all life seemed changed about him. Already he had been plunged into an adventure which would probably end in the spilling of blood; and now the prospect was opening out before him of travel and adventure of a kind of which he had never dreamed. It seemed impossible that he could be the same raw rustic youth who, a few short months ago, was accounted the greatest roisterer of his own county. His doings in the past seemed just the outcome of boyish spirits. He had been nothing but a great boy in those days; now he felt that his manhood was coming upon him by leaps and bounds.

At Lord Claud's lodging a repast was awaiting them which was in itself a further revelation to Tom. He was mightily hungry, too, and fell upon the good cheer with an appetite that entertained his host. The food he found most excellent, though seasoned something too strongly for his palate. But the wines were less to his taste, and he presently made bold to ask for a tankard of homely ale, which was brought to him from the servants' quarters; Lord Claud leaning back with his glass in his hand, and smiling to see the relish with which Tom enjoyed the simple beverage.

"Ah, the time was when I could quaff a tankard of ale with any man, and it may well be that I will do the same again in the future. But now, Tom, we must come and don riding gear, for the horses will be round ere long. Oh, have no concern as to that. My man will have ready all that you will need. But those silken hose and that broidered vest are little suited to the saddle."

And, in very sooth, Tom found himself quickly fitted with a pair of stout leathern breeches, a cloth waistcoat, and a pair of riding boots adorned with silver spurs. A riding switch was put in his hand, and he stood flicking his boots at the top of the staircase till Lord Claud joined him, dressed in a quiet and most irreproachable riding suit, which became the elegance of his figure almost better than the frippery of the first toilet.

The horses stood at the door. Tom walked up to the great mare and renewed acquaintance with her before swinging himself lightly to the saddle. She made an instinctive dart with her head, as though to seek to bite his foot; but he patted her neck, touched her lightly with the spur, and sat like a Centaur as she made a quick curvet that had unseated riders before now.

The next minute the pair had started forth in the murky twilight of the autumn evening; but the moon was rising and the mists were dispersing. Before they had left the houses behind they could see the road clear before them, and were able to give their impatient steeds their heads, and travel at a steady hand gallop.

Tom had approached London from the north, so that all this country was new to him. He delighted in the feel of a horse betwixt his knees again; and the vagaries of the high-bred mare, who shied and danced at every flickering shadow, kept his pulses tingling and his heart aglow during the whole of that moonlight ride.

Lord Claud said little. He too had need of some horsemanship, for the black barb he rode was full of fire and spirit. Both riders kept a sharp lookout as they rode along, for there was never any security from footpads and highway robbers once they were clear of the houses. However, there was no indication that any such light-heeled gentry were abroad that night, and the travellers reached the little hostelry whither they were bound without any adventure.

Here they were evidently expected. The host came out with an air of great respect, and took their horses. Within, a plentiful supper was prepared for them, to which Tom was ready to do justice after his ride, though Lord Claud ate little and drank less. Upstairs a commodious chamber with two beds had been prepared. A fire of logs burnt cheerily on the hearth; and it was plain that some valet had been there earlier in the day, for night clothes and toilet accessories lay about in profusion, to say nothing of a pair of shining rapiers carefully laid upon the mantel shelf.

Lord Claud took these down and examined them with care. Then he handed one to Tom.

"Just a few passes, trusty Tom, as is my habit ere sleeping the night before a duel. I like to make test of the weapon with which I shall meet my antagonist in the morning."

Tom was delighted to show off his newly-learned skill, and was complimented by Lord Claud on his progress.

"My adversary's second may desire to cross swords with you, Tom," remarked Lord Claud as he began to undress. "'Tis a foolish habit; but you must not seem to shrink. Show him that you care nothing for his sword, and I will then interpose to stop the second fight. It may not be offered; but, again, it may."

And, as the pair prepared for bed, the elder man instructed his companion in all the details of duelling, that he might be prepared to play his part on the morrow with confidence and aplomb.

"I have a few excellent rules of my own, Tom, and I have never been worsted once, and only once wounded. I neither drink, nor dice, nor dance, nor weary myself the previous day. I go overnight to the place of meeting, and I retire to bed early and sleep sound. I take a modest breakfast, without wine or spirit, an hour before the meeting; and I come to the ground with a head as cool and a hand as steady as though no such thing as danger or death existed in the world. Some men pride themselves on sitting up and dicing and drinking away the night, to show their own courage and their contempt for their adversary. I prefer to show mine by leaving him prostrate on the field!"

It certainly seemed as though Lord Claud's methods were good, for he slept like a child all night, better than Tom did, who had been greatly excited by the events of the day and the prospect of the morrow; and when he was dressed upon the following morning, still in his sober riding suit that became him so well, Tom thought he had never seen anybody looking so thoroughly master of himself and his circumstances. The very glance of the eye seemed to bespeak victory, as did the quiet resolution of the grave mouth.

Breakfast over—an early meal taken by the light of candles, yet excellent of its kind—and the pair went forth together, Tom carrying the two rapiers, as it was his duty to do.

The sun was just about to rise, and the mists lying over the river and fields were growing silver in the light, as they came in sight of the group of elms which had seen so many foolish and bloody contests between angry men, some of whom scarce knew why they fought at all, save that it was the fashion.

From the opposite direction three other figures were approaching—two tall men and one little one.

"They bring a surgeon," quoth Lord Claud, with a smile on his face; "perchance they are wise. For myself, I never trouble to do so. I count a leech a needless encumbrance."

Tom looked curiously at the two foremost men as they drew near. One of them struck him in particular. He was very tall and very strongly made, though clumsy in figure and swarthy in face. He had the look almost of a foreigner, Tom thought, with black eyes that twinkled with an evil and sinister expression, and never showed more than as a slit between half-shut lids. He was marked with smallpox, and had taken no pains, today at any rate, to disguise the ravages of that malady. He walked a little in advance of his companions, and when he got near to Lord Claud he stopped and made a sweeping bow, his eyes the while scanning Tom's face and figure most closely.

"This is not the gentleman who waited on me," he said in a rasping voice.

"No; that gentleman is laid up in his bed, and cannot keep his appointment; but this one will do the business equally well.

"Mr. Tufton of Gablehurst; let me present him to you, Sir James."

The swarthy man looked Tom over from head to foot with an insolent stare.

"A fine young cub," he said at length, "and well grown for his years. One of the gang, I suppose?" and there was an ugly sneer upon his thick lips.

Tom looked at Lord Claud, wondering what the meaning of those words could be; but the quiet face looked as if carved in marble, save only that the eyes glowed like fire in their sockets.

He signed to Tom to produce the rapiers; and the second man came forward and examined and tested them, selecting that which his principal should use. Then the ground was stepped, the most level place selected, and the two combatants stripped off coat and waistcoat, and prepared for the fray.

Tom drew his breath hard as he watched the commencement of the fight, and his face was full of anxiety, as he felt that the man addressed as Sir James had weight and length of reach beyond anything that Lord Claud could command. But for a while both the men fought warily and without attempting to get to close quarters, and Tom began to lose his first breathless excitement, and to watch the play of shining blades with more coolness and observation.

Two rounds had been fought, and neither man was wounded. But whilst Lord Claud looked just as cool and steady as at the start, the dark adversary was flushed and inclined to pant, and the beads of sweat stood upon his forehead notwithstanding the briskness of the morning air.

Then Tom began to understand where Lord Claud's advantage lay. If he could tire out his adversary by keeping on the defensive, then at the last he might get his chance, and lunge at him when he would scarce be able to parry the thrust.

It was easy to see that his weak point was slowness of recovery. His thrusts were quick and well planted, he had an excellent guard and mastery of the weapon; but he was slow in recovering after making a lunge, and the longer the fight continued the more evident did this defect become. And it was plain that he was aware of it, for though he pressed upon his antagonist with great determination and with much dexterity of sword play, he was afraid to take advantage of his longer reach and lunge at him boldly; for he knew that if Lord Claud avoided the thrust, he would almost certainly have at him with a counter lunge before he had time to parry.

And, in fact, that was what did at the last happen, after the fight had lasted so long that Tom thought half an hour must surely have gone by. Both antagonists showed signs of weariness. It had even been suggested that enough had been done to satisfy the claims of honour; but to that suggestion neither principal would listen.

Sir James was much distressed. Sweat poured from his brow, his breath came in deep gasps, his face was growing purple. Lord Claud looked white, but otherwise had not changed in aspect, and the deadly battle light in his eyes was growing brighter and keener.

His heavy antagonist now saw that nothing could serve his purpose but an exercise of sheer weight and brute force, and he pressed on and on with such fury that Tom almost cried aloud in his fear. But Lord Claud was wary and watchful; he gave way for a while, only parrying the thrusts, and that with not so much force as before; then suddenly Sir James made a furious lunge, and calling out in a strangled voice, "Have at you now!" he all but buried his rapier in his adversary's body.

All but—yet not quite; for just at the moment when it seemed impossible to parry the furious stroke, Lord Claud made a curious upward twist of the wrist, caught his adversary's blade and turned it so that it glanced aside and passed him, whilst he sprang towards him at the same instant, and saying quite coolly, "Sir, methinks your physician would recommend blood letting in your heated condition," he thrust straight and true at his burly adversary, running the shining blade into his shoulder in such a fashion that the tip of the rapier reappeared red with blood behind him, and he fell forwards with a smothered bellow like that of a bull who is ringed, so that Lord Claud had need of all his quickness to withdraw his rapier in time.

Second and surgeon sprang to the side of the wounded man; but Lord Claud said quite quietly:

"'Tis no mortal wound. He has not got his deserts this time. Are you satisfied, gentlemen, or do you want more with us?"

The second looked up at Tom's stalwart figure, hesitated a moment, and then professed that he desired to carry matters no further.

Lord Claud handed the rapiers to Tom, coolly resumed his discarded garments, took off his hat with a courtly bow, and walked off with his customary air of easy grace.

"Come, Tom," he said, "we have managed that well. The brute will not die, but will only keep his bed a while, and doubtless rise to trouble us again in days to come. They say he has never felt a wound before, and boasts himself invulnerable. He will little relish the lesson he has had today. But he will never forget or forgive; so have a caution when he is your neighbour in any company. He will rail at his second for not pinking you; but 'twas his own words that daunted the man. He thought he saw in you a veritable son of the forest, terrible in wrath, invincible in skill—" and Lord Claud suddenly threw back his head and began to laugh unrestrainedly.

"I did not understand him," quoth Tom.

"Marry, no—and no need you should! You had better not understand too much of the things you see and hear in the world, honest Tom. And now let us to a more hearty breakfast, and back again to town. I must show myself today with a lordly grace, and prove to all the world that I need shrink from no man's gaze. As for yon black bull, be sure he will breathe no word of this thing. It would ill mate with his pride for the world to know that he had been spitted like a capon by one whom he has dared to gibe at as the white hind of the forest!"

Lord Claud's mood had completely changed. He was gay and merry, and eager after pleasure. He took Tom hither and thither to half a dozen fine houses, where the ladies gazed with a certain awestruck admiration at this "untamed son of the woods," as it pleased Lord Claud to call him, whilst they loaded with favours the brilliant young spark, who seemed, when in the mood, to have power to win all hearts.

He was a "dear tormenting devil," or a "mad fellow, but withal a true Prince Charming;" and just as he talked sound sense and politics with the poet yesterday, so now he beat even the finest of the ladies and their beaux at high-flown nonsense about goddesses and heroes, and the Arcadian bowers where they made a pretence of living and moving.

At the play, to which they went later, he moved from box to box, from tier to tier, taking snuff with the men, saying charming nothings to the ladies; the centre always of a laughing throng, whose proximity must surely have been distressful to any persons so unfashionable as to desire to listen to what the actors were saying. He even went behind and upon the stage, as spectators were still permitted to do, although there was less of this confusion than a few years before; and he was eagerly welcomed wherever he appeared.

From the play they repaired to more gay houses, where Tom speedily lost his ten guineas at basset, but was too excited to care, and paid over his stakes with a lordly indifference that did credit to his powers of observation and imitation.

It was long past midnight ere they bent their steps homewards, and then, as it was far too late to seek the shelter of Master Cale's abode, Tom betook himself once more to Lord Claud's lodgings, and was speedily sound asleep in the most soft and sumptuous bed it had ever been his lot to lie upon.



CHAPTER VII. MASTER GALE'S DAUGHTER.

It was Sunday morning, and Tom was making his way, towards the hour of noon, to the house of the perruquier, which he had quitted some four days past, with no intention of so long an absence.

The streets were unwontedly quiet, and the cries of the apprentices at the doors of the shops were pleasantly missed. The shops were most of them shuttered up, and the apprentices, clad in their best, were all away to some sport of their own selection in byways and alleys, or lingering about the parks with a knot of footmen and lackeys, watching the fine folk walk in and out. For the common sort were not admitted as yet within the precincts of the parks, and even the gentlefolks had to leave their servants behind; so that it may well be guessed there was plenty of gossiping and hustling to be had at the gates, if any had a taste for it.

Tom was a far finer figure coming home than he had been in going out. He wore a coat of azure velvet, and his vest was a perfect cataract of fine point de Venise. His shoes were of white leather with red heels, and his stockings of the finest white silk. He had felt ashamed of his plain claret cloth, which had seemed so fine at first, when taken to the houses of the fine hooped and powdered ladies; and Lord Claud had had him fitted with this suit at his own costumiers, bidding Tom regard it as a small token of friendship and gratitude.

Tom had delighted in his fine appearance as he was taken the round of the fashionable houses; but now, as he neared his former lodgings, he found himself wishing he had put on the more sober suit. He felt that Master Cale's eyes would rest upon him with a grave disapproval, and he had not yet grown indifferent to the opinion of the man who had so befriended him.

The perruquier's shop was close shut up, the sign swinging idly overhead. But the door in the rear stood ajar, and Tom softly pushed it open and entered.

He paused on the threshold, surprised by an unfamiliar sound—the sound of a fresh young voice singing a gay little snatch of song in some upper chamber. He mounted the stairs softly, the sound of the voice growing clearer, and at last he knew that the singer must be in the upper parlour, where, when the day's work was all finished, the perruquier and any lodger he might chance to have spent the evening hours if they did not go abroad.

This parlour was free to Tom, who, however, had not so far troubled it much with his presence; but now he pushed open the door with pardonable curiosity, and beheld at once the singer of the quaint little refrain.

A slim young maiden was standing at the window, looking down into the street below. She wore the simple dress of the citizen class, a rather full skirt of cloth—of a finer texture perhaps than some, and of a dark crimson colour which well became her—and the laced bodice and full sleeves of the day. Round her throat she had a fine white muslin kerchief edged with lace, and her apron was of the same. She had plainly been wearing a hood of cloth like her dress, but this was now lying on the table; and her pretty dark brown hair, rather ruffled, was bound by nothing save a snood of crimson riband. Her profile was turned to Tom, and he saw a sweet, little, merry face, with a nose a trifle tip-tilted, and a cheek the colour of a damask rose.

It seemed as though the opening of the door had been heard, for the maid exclaimed in a merry voice:

"O father dear, I do love your picture of Absalom and David! I think the king's great periwig is most beautifully depicted. But I would like a companion picture on the other side—the mule running away with Absalom, and the periwig left hanging on the tree!"

Then turning full round a laughing rosy face and a pair of roguish hazel eyes, the maid suddenly found herself face to face with this very fine young gentleman, and in a moment the smile died away, although there was no displeasure in the glance of curiosity and admiration which she bestowed upon him.

Tom made his best bow, and the maiden dropped him a pretty courtesy, saying with frank fearlessness:

"You are surely my father's lodger, of whom he spoke to me. I crave your pardon for not sooner seeing you. But I knew not that you were in the house, and thought it must needs be my father at the door."

Tom advanced and stood beside her in the window. The pair regarded each other with a frank and friendly curiosity.

"Are you Master Cale's daughter, pretty maiden?" asked Tom.

She nodded her head archly, whilst Tom hastened to ask:

"But how comes it then that I have never seen you before? I thought he lived alone, with only his housekeeper, shopman, and apprentice in the house."

"And so he does," answered the maid. "He will not have me to dwell here. As soon as my mother died, when I was but eight years old, he sent me away to my aunt in Highgate, with whom I have remained ever since. Fain would I come back and keep house for him, but he will none of it. He says that his house is no place for me, and he will never let me visit him even of a week day. But upon most Sundays he either comes forth to fetch me, or my aunt brings me hither to him. Last Sunday the rain poured down so lustily that we were e'en forced to bide at home; but whenever it is possible we spend the day together, and I love to come into the town and walk abroad with him there, and see such sights as may be seen upon the Sabbath day."

"And is your aunt with you today?" asked Tom.

"She brought me hither after we had attended service at St. Paul's, which I love to do. But now she has gone to visit some gossip of her own. Father and I will have the afternoon together and alone, and this we love best of all. He always gives holiday to apprentice and shopman, so that we can have the house to ourselves, and enjoy ourselves after our own fashion."

"I trust I shall not mar your happiness if I ask to share your noontide meal," said Tom humbly.

"Oh no, sir, we shall be proud of your company," answered the girl; "if you are not too fine a gentleman to sit at board with humble citizens.

"Ah, there is my father's step! Doubtless he comes to say that dinner is ready. He will not let me soil my fingers with cooking when I come; but I can cook right well for all that—" and there she stopped short, for Cale was already entering, and he gave quite a start as his glance fell upon the resplendent figure standing beside his daughter, though his face cleared and put on a slightly quizzical look as he recognized who the young spark was.

"Ho! ho! my young friend, so I see you back at last! It is plain that you have been with mighty fine company since you left my humble roof. I almost marvel that Curley Cale's lodging is accounted fine enough to hold your worshipful self longer!"

Tom suddenly felt a qualm of shame and disgust at his finery. It was all very well for men like Lord Claud, but he felt that it made him ridiculous to be tricked out like a peacock, in lieu of wearing the more sober and becoming raiment chosen for him with such care by Master Cale himself. His cheek glowed as he made reply:

"It is but a suit that was given me to appear at the house of some fine lady last evening. I would gladly be rid of it now, and, with your leave, will don more sober raiment. I love not to be pranked out like this; but what would you, when all the world does the like?"

Cale smiled his shrewd little smile, the maiden's eyes expressed open admiration for the costly frippery, but Tom hastened away and chose for himself one of the seemly but well-cut and fashionable suits that had been left for him since he quitted the house a few days before; and when he descended to join the party of two at the board, as he had been invited, he felt much more like himself, and looked much more suited to his surroundings, than he had done when he first appeared there.

Father and daughter received him kindly, and Rosamund's eyes were full of eagerness as she turned them upon him. He had learned by this time that her name was Rosamund, though her father generally called her Rosy.

"I pray you, fair sir," she said, with a pretty imperiousness of manner, "tell us some of the things that you have seen and heard these last days. My father says you have been keeping fine company, and I would learn what that is like; for I am but a humble citizen's daughter, and I live my life away in the country, so all I know of the gay doings in the town I must needs hear from my father, who tells me as little as ever he can!"

And she looked towards him with a charming pout upon her lips, though her eyes were full of love beneath their merry sparkle.

"I am but a country-bred youth myself, Mistress Rosamund," answered Tom, who had laid aside all his fine gentleman airs, and felt a deal more comfortable in consequence, "and this town and its gay doings are as strange to me as they can be to you. I am all agape at what I see and hear; but a man must needs keep his astonishment to himself, else he becomes the butt and the gibe of all the company."

And forthwith, by no means reluctantly, Master Tom began to give account of his doings of the past days, only keeping quite silent on the subject of the duel, for he had learned that that was a matter which Lord Claud wished to remain secret.

Rosamund listened as Desdemona might have done to Othello, and Cale himself was considerably interested, though he shook his head when he heard that already Tom had lost all the money he had about him, and was even in debt to Lord Claud for losses he had been unable to meet at the moment, and which his patron had settled for him.

"Keep away from the gaming tables, Tom; keep away from the gaming tables," he said. "Did I not warn you that you would be fleeced and rooked if you tried that sort of thing on?"

Tom laughed a little, and said he knew beforehand he should lose, as though that were an excuse. But Cale only shook his head; and Rosamund asked eagerly:

"But who is this great Lord Claud, fair sir? He seems a wonderful person, and fain would I see him with mine own eyes. He seems a kind and generous man, and wondrous clever and beautiful. Pray tell me who he is?"

Tom looked across at Cale, and made answer:

"I' sooth, Mistress Rosamund, I know not. Perchance your father may be better instructed."

Cale shook his head. His face was very grave.

"That is a question which I doubt if any man in London town can answer. Every man knows Lord Claud by name and fame, but none can tell who he is, nor whence come his wealth and power. Mark me, Tom, it behoves you to have a care how you fall beneath the spell of his beauty and his kindliness. He has made friends before this of handsome, powerful lads, not long from the country, and amongst these many have disappeared and never been heard of more, whilst others have fallen into crime, and have languished in Newgate, or paid the forfeit of their lives upon the gallows."

Rosamund shrank and grew pale; whilst Tom looked the perruquier full in the face, and said:

"Truly I can believe that many men who plunge into dissipation and vice may come in time to a bad end. But why charge that upon Lord Claud? He can only be held responsible for his own life, and he lives and thrives in favour with all."

"Like a green bay tree," answered the perruquier thoughtfully. "I have often seen the wicked in great prosperity; but their downfall comes at last."

"Do you call Lord Claud wicked?" asked Tom rather hotly.

"No," was the quiet reply; "I judge no man; but I do say that worldly prosperity is no test of true merit. The wicked may be fat and flourishing for long; but the Lord will avenge at the last."

"But, father," cried pretty Rosamund eagerly, "for what crimes were the poor young men hanged of whom you spoke just now?"

"Most of them suffered for the crime of robbery on the king's highway."

Tom again flushed rather deeply. He had heard hints and innuendoes before this, and his wits were beginning now to piece things together. He was angry, yet he scarce knew why.

"Do you mean to say, Master Cale," he asked, "that men accuse Lord Claud of being the accomplice of highwaymen and footpads?"

And then he himself remembered the words of the message with which Captain Jack had entrusted him, and a strange thrill seemed to run down his spine.

"Men say nought of him openly," answered Cale, "but they whisper among themselves. For my part, I know nothing of Lord Claud and his doings. But I know that there have been marvellous clever and daring deeds done upon the road; that the king's money chests have been rifled again and again of gold, transmitted by the Treasury for the pay of the soldiers in foreign lands, and that none of the gold has ever been recovered. Now and again an obscure person has been captured, and has suffered death for complicity in such a crime; and it has been told me that several of such have been stalwart and stanch youths, who had at one time been seen frequenting Lord Claud's lodgings, much noticed and petted by him. What truth there be in such talk I know not. Nor have I any desire to know. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing; and the voice of rumour is but little to be trusted."

"Very little, I should think," answered Tom quickly; for he had already conceived a great attachment towards Lord Claud, and it irked him to think that men should speak of him as one who was a false friend, and the accomplice in crimes for which others suffered whilst he reaped the spoil.

A man, especially in his hot-headed youth, seldom believes what he has no mind to; and Tom certainly had no disposition to believe any harm of Lord Claud.

So the talk drifted to other channels, and when presently Rosamund declared with pretty insistence that she must not be cheated of her walk abroad in the streets. Tom asked if he might make one of the party without intruding; and the bright eyes of the girl gave eloquent answer.

So they sallied forth together, and Master Cale played cicerone, and showed Tom many strange and wonderful things, telling him absorbing stories the while. He showed him the limits of the ravages of the Great Fire, which he could remember well, as he was ten years old at the time. He took them into many of the churches afterwards built by Wren, and Tom stood lost in amaze at the magnificent proportions of the great St. Paul's, the inside of which he had not seen till today. He was shown also the site of one of the Great Plague pits; and Rosamund clung trembling, yet fascinated, to her father's arm whilst he spoke of the things that had happened in those gruesome days.

He himself had been sent away into the country during the terrible visitation; but his father had remained and had survived, and from him he had learned all manner of strange tales, which Rosamund loved to hear him tell, though they always blanched her cheek, and brought a look of terror into her pretty eyes.

Tom thought this was a pleasanter way of spending the afternoon than listening to the braggings of the coffee house bullies, or watching the mummery of the play, when scarce a word could be heard from the actors, owing to the laughter and talk that buzzed all round the house. The clamour from the footmen's gallery alone almost sufficed to drown the sound from the stage; and, indeed, a short time later on, the disgraceful behaviour of the servants who attended their masters and mistresses to the play became so intolerable that the free gallery was closed to them, causing regular riots every night, till military aid had to be summoned.

But Rosamund thought it must be delightful to see a play, and wanted to hear all he could tell her about it; and so well pleased were the pair with their conversation, that Master Cale, bethinking him of an old friend hard by, with whom he liked to exchange a friendly word from time to time, bid them walk up and down the street together for a brief time, until he should pay his visit and join them again.

This suited the young people very well, and they exchanged a good many confidences together. Tom told her of his home at Gablehurst, and of his mother and sister, and the father who was gone; and she told him of her quiet life in her aunt's house, and how she would so greatly like to remain always with her father, and watch the life of this wonderful city.

But Tom could well understand how the perruquier would shrink from permitting his innocent and pretty daughter to dwell beneath his roof. His trade brought thither all manner of fine dandies and young bloods, and if it were known that there was a pretty maiden within doors, there would be no end to their attempts to get sight of or speech with her; and any girl's head might be turned by the flowery nonsense that would be spoken and written to her.

"Believe me, you are better where you are, Mistress Rosy," answered Tom. "I would not have my sister Rachel here, now that I have seen what London is like. It is a place for men to see at least once in their lives; but women are better away from it. I looked about at the painted faces, the towering heads, and the huge hoops the other night, and I said to myself, that if my mother or sister were to make of themselves such objects as that, I should be ready to sink into the ground for shame—to say nothing of the ogling, and fan tapping, and silly jargon of talk which would put a chattering monkey to shame!"

If Tom was quoting Lord Claud's moralizings, he quoted them in all good faith; for he had been honestly disgusted by the glimpses he had had of the goings on of fine ladies in their houses, and could better appreciate the simplicity and true affection of his own womankind than he had ever done before.

At this moment there smote upon his ears the unwelcome sound of mocking laughter that seemed familiar to him.

"Ho, ho, ho! So the country bumpkin has found a mistress already! So he has had to leave the fine ladies, and mate with one of his own sort after all! Ho, ho, ho! She has a neat foot and ankle, at any rate! Let us see what sort of a face there is under the crimson hood!"

Tom felt the girl's hand clutch fast hold of his arm, and his blood began to tingle in his veins. He was mightily glad that he had buckled on his sword before coming out; although, as he had put on a heavy cloak, it was possible the bullies were not aware of that.

"Which house did your father enter, Mistress Rosamund?" he asked quickly.

"I did not note," she answered, looking round with frightened eyes; "but methinks it was the one with the steps and the little recess."

Tom, making a few rapid strides, whisked her quickly within the shelter of the doorway, saying, as coolly as might be:

"Knock, and ask to join your father, if he be within. I will soon settle these impudent fellows behind."

Then he faced about quickly, just as the four bullies he had met before came swaggering up, ready for any mischief and fighting that might be afoot.

"Come, Master Greengoose, let's see what sort of taste you have in faces! You are a fine hand at making friends! Let's see how you fare with the ladies!

"Nay, mistress, do not turn so coyly away and draw your hood over those bright eyes—"

But the speaker got no further, for Tom's sword bad come flashing from its sheath, and with a quick turn of the wrist he hit the fellow full on the mouth with the hilt, so that he fell back spluttering and swearing, the blood starting from his lips.

"Is that enough," said Tom sternly, "or will you have more?"

It was Thirsty Thring who had received the buffet, and he was the least disposed of all that worthy quartette to show fight to a resolute adversary; but Bully Bullen came swaggering up, drawing his sword with a great air of assurance. He had been the hero of many a tavern brawl before, and reckoned his skill as something to be feared.

"So, young rooster! Wouldst crow so lustily on your dung heap? D'ye think you're to be cock o' the walk in all London town? Are honest citizens to be set upon, and their teeth knocked out, to please your lusty humours? Take that, you young cub, and learn manners to your betters!"

He made a fierce and sudden lunge at Tom as he spoke, expecting that he had an untrained and inexperienced adversary to deal with. But Tom had had three lessons already from Captain Raikes, as well as bouts with Lord Claud by way of amusement; and with hardly a perceptible effort he parried the thrust, and making his keen blade twine round the clumsier one of his opponent, he jerked the weapon clean out of his hand, and sent it flying half across the road.

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