Read The Lion's Skin Online

Authors: Rafael Sabatini

The Lion's Skin (3 page)

There was an instant's pause. Then Everard, the fanatic of vengeance, the man whose mind upon that one subject was become unsound with excess of brooding, answered with conviction: "As I have a
soul to be saved, Justin, I do believe it. More—I know it. Here!" Trembling hands took up the old letter from the table and proffered it to Justin. "Here is her own message to you. Read it
again."

And what time the young man's eyes rested upon that fine, pointed writing, Sir Richard recited aloud the words he knew by heart, the words that had been ringing in his ears since that day when
he had seen her lowered to rest: " 'Never let him learn that Justin exists unless it be to punish him by the knowledge for his cruel desertion of me.' It is your mother's voice speaking to you from
the grave," the fanatic pursued, and so infected Justin at last with something of his fanaticism.

The green eyes flashed uncannily, the white young face grew cruelly sardonic. "You believe it?" he asked, and the eagerness that now invested his voice showed how it really was with him.

"As I have a soul to be saved," Sir Richard repeated.

"Then gladly will I set my hand to it." Fire stirred through Justin now, a fire of righteous passion. "An idea—no more than an idea—daunted me. You have shown me that. I cross to
England with you, Sir Richard, and let my Lord Ostermore look to himself, for my name—I who have no right to any name—my name is judgment!"

The exaltation fell from him as suddenly as it had mounted. He dropped into a chair, thoughtful again and slightly ashamed of his sudden outburst.

Sir Richard Everard watched with an eye of gloomy joy the man whom he had been at such pains to school in self-control.

Overhead there was a sudden crackle of thunder, sharp and staccato as a peal of demoniac laughter.

 

CHAPTER II

AT THE "ADAM AND EVE"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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