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hour struck, at last it struck, and I was free to ring the bell of Wexford House.
I stood in the porch of that great mansion, expecting a lobby full of footmen, a hall of dazzling splendor, and, beyond these, Monsignor Canon Bellamy, with cassock and skull-cap, seated in a deep chair before the blazing fire that cunning hands had laid in the big library. It was an interior by Fortuny. Actually, the face of Wexford House was dark and blind, with only a single muffled light burning below-stairs, and presenting that aspect of desertion which great houses show in the dead season.
The door swung back, and I discerned a hall and only a single man-servant. Both were dimmed by the intruding fog. Still, it was a fine hall, and more brilliantly occupied and illuminated
"Mr. Loughborough?" The man-servant had recalled my wits from their wool-gathering; and without waiting for a reply, "This way," he added, examining me with all the odious insolence of his class. He felt and made me feel my shabbiness.
I followed him, and scorned him in return. He was a big fellow, and would have made two of me. He led me up a wide and enshrouded staircase,- that whole house seemed deathly and enshrouded, we passed into a corridor, then up more stairs, and so to a small study. Within this cozy chamber sat monsignor.
I had expected a stout, benignant priest, shrewd, able, and pink-jowled with good living, or else a lean and ardent-eyed ascetic. Monsignor was neither. He possessed a watery quality which I have since learned to associate with the more scholarly among our aristocracy. A wisp of a man, thin, bald, ancient, with a lamentable nose and vague, blue eyes, he stood up to receive me. His courtesy contrasted well with that of the disdainful man-servant.
He did his best to put me at my Breeding is breeding, and no matter how lamentable the personage, it is the last thing to decay.
He offered me a chair, and a large cigar similar to the one he himself was smoking.
The fire was a gas-stove; we sat together and looked at it. His costume was something like that of an ordinary parson, and included legs and trousers. His head, I have before remarked, was bare and bald.
"It was good of you to come," he began; "I feared you might not care to face this dreadful weather."
"Not at all, not at all," said I, puffing away at the large cigar.
"It occurred to me after I had sent my letter that possibly you did not live in London. A lucky chance," he added.
Naturally, I agreed with him.
"Mr. Janvier will be in presently," he pursued. "This is his house; but of course you know it."
Again I assented, omitting, however, to state the precise circumstances in which I had acquired my information.
"Do you know why I wrote to you?" he inquired, after these preliminaries. "You liked my book," I began.
"Certainly, I liked your book; but I want you to write another one, I want you to collaborate."
"Collaborate?" It was the first I had heard of it.
"The last ten years," he pursued, "I have devoted myself to a task which the historian has neglected. There exists no life, there has been no memoir, of the greatest adventurer who ever lived." I pricked up my ears at this.
"The greatest adventurer who ever lived," he repeated, and then added: “I am no hand at a novel, but with your magic pen-the pen of a wizard, if I may say so we might do something considerable. I have all the materials; the research work is done; it only remains for you to write the story."
"What story?" I interrupted.
"We are coming to that," said he, rising from his chair and crossing over to a side-table.
He returned with a bulky pile of manuscript, typed and all ready for the publishers, which he dumped down before me. It looked as though it had traveled overmuch, and had been rudely treated in the
"This is my 'Life of Perkin Warbeck,'" he resumed. "The publishers to whom I have submitted it decline it. They have used it badly, have they not? One has even gone so far as to spill coffee upon chapter eleven. They say-their letters, at least, are very courteous-they say that as an historical work my book stands no chance of success; that, despite its unique interest, there exists no public demand for such a biography. Their letters are virtually of one mind, and maybe the public does adopt this attitude. I have, however, spent ten years of my life and as many hundred pounds on the bare collection of my materials. Is all this labor and expenditure to run to waste?"
He eyed me, and I quailed before the sudden ferocity wherewith he put the question. The matter of his frustrate toil had moved him, and he was now as nearly plebeian and human as myself. More so, perhaps; for when your true aristocrat once begins, he runs to an extremity.
"I read your novel," he continued, rising and striding to and fro before me. "If this young man can do so much with Charles XII,' I said, 'what would he not make of Perkin Warbeck?' Reshaped into a historical romance,-for that is what the fickle public asks of us,-my book would make the lasting fame of any writer. There is a fortune in this scheme, and there is fame as well. As to the money, I ask no more than the bare return of what I have expended; the fame we will share alike. Its glory must cover both our names and hand them down."
I was moved. Eloquence, sincerity, had then more weight with me; nor had I counted on anything so savage and determined from this watery old gentleman.
"I am afraid that I know next to nothing of Perkin Warbeck," I replied, as soon as ever he gave me an opportunity. "Apart from Dr. Gairdner and what we learned at school-"
"He was the greatest adventurer who ever lived," monsignor had interrupted me, and then and there, in so far as he had fathomed it, he told me the story of Perkin's life from beginning to end.
We started at Tournai, and finished on the scaffold, and this story, no less than the manner of its telling, wearied me as nothing has ever wearied me before or since. Though monsignor might have spent ten years and as many hundred pounds on research work and the collecting of materials, it seemed to me that there were no materials to collect. He had only a bare and unconvincing outline, plentifully provided with gaps, with guesswork. The motive force and the psychology alike were incomplete; he had no clear, inevitable picture of his hero, and no more have I. To this day I fail to see him, despite all that was to follow, and the ridiculous chain of accident which
links my name and fame with this "feigned boy."
Monsignor had set himself down again and told this story. He told it as a succession of craven episodes, and it was never explained why one episode rose out of the other. So do schoolmasters inflict their lessons on the defenseless young. I had looked for more sense in a monsignor, a more genuine culture in Wexford House, St. James's Place. I was at that time young enough to be honest, so I told him exactly what I felt about it.
"This Perkin Warbeck," I said, "as you describe him, and as no doubt he is depicted by your leaky chroniclers, is nothing more than a driveling, base-born coward, as passive as a Hindu, yet without the Hindu's deep philosophy. His adventures seem to be forced on him; they arise from no inner need or impulse. When they become at all dangerous, he runs away, and leaves his followers in the lurch; when at last he is caught, he is as abject as a worm. He is supposed to be a pretender to the throne of England, and to win that throne he tries on five separate occasions, with more or less success, to raise the country against Henry VII. In reality, or, rather, as you have described him to me, he is ever the tool of greater men, the weakling, the cat's-paw, ready to their hand, the victim of their policy or their ambitions. He is entirely negative, and even his one romance was
with a woman who took and buried four husbands! How can one make a hero of an adventurer who never struck or received a blow, a heroine of a lady so impartial? His adventures leave me cold. What could I do with him? He became an impostor because he was bullied into it, and finding here an easy means of escaping honest work, he stuck to the job, and courts and princes used him. He is ever a pawn, and you cannot build a historical romance about a pawn. Give me a king or queen, a knight or bishop! I want life, blood, the joy and fire of passion, the surge of great events; I want the clash of weapons, a dazzling, fated, or romantic figure"
What else I might have said to that poor man I do not know, for at this particular juncture he leaped up from his
"But I have spent ten years over it!" he cried in desperation. "And Perkin Warbeck was the greatest adventurerah, here is Mr. Janvier."
The reader will guess the cause of this diversion: we had been interrupted by no less a personage than the lord and master of Wexford House himself.
He had come in breezily, and was still wearing his hunting-dress-pink coat, white breeches, and topped boots. Yet it was his face which most impressed me at that moment. Swarthy and brigandlike, clean-shaved, and with a jaw of steel, he looked as though here, indeed, was the arch-adventurer so coveted by monsignor.
"This is the Mr. Loughborough of whom I told you," said that venerable biographer.
"Mr. Loughborough-pleased to meet you, sir," remarked the new-comer. I judged by his accent and this cordial turn that he was an American; and, as the event proved, I was right.
He was not at all concerned with Perkin Warbeck.
"There was no fog in the country," he announced. "Had a great run. Met at Detling Forstal, found two foxes and killed one; other one got away. All over by three. Motored back, and caught the
fog outside Hayes. Ever go fox-hunting, Mr. Loughborough?"
"I'm afraid not," was my reply. His dark gaze rested for a moment on my face, then passed into a smile.
"Neither does our friend here," he said. Then, looking me over more intently still, he added: "You and monsignor are going to collaborate. It will be the opportunity of a lifetime."
"But there is nothing in the story that I could seize on," I began.
"If monsignor says there is, there is." He laughed.
Again I protested.
"Of course-of course you will. What are your terms? I see we must make terms."
I looked from one to the other.
"I have already spent a thousand pounds in travel and the collection of materials," chimed in monsignor.
"Leave Mr. Loughborough to me," interposed our host; and, taking me by the shoulder, added, "I am monsignor's man of business. Monsignor is a child when it comes to business. Rewritten as a historical novel, he feels that his 'Life of Perkin Warbeck' would be the novel of the year. He tells me that he is unable to write a novel, but that, helped by your brilliant pen-”
"Really," I interrupted, "I am afraid that monsignor is mistaken. Warbeck, as he has been explained to me, is one of those shadowy figures of whom one knows next to nothing, and apart from a few curious facts that have been rescued, I fear one cares very little about him."
"But we are not going to disappoint monsignor. Bettina and I are very fond of him."
"Well, why don't you collaborate? And there are other writers--"
"But he wants you-particularly you. Come, now, is it a question of money?" I rose, and recovered my hat and over
"It is a question of conscience," I thundered, sick and tired of the pair of them. "It is a question of my artistic honesty, of everything that I hold sacred. I take no
interest in Perkin Warbeck. He is a layfigure and a poltroon. Give me one of the great figures of history-”
see the lights of the green park, and, beyond these, like mystic flowers, the golden globes that burn in clusters outside Buck
"You won't do it?" interposed Hugh ingham Palace. Thus, from my prison, Janvier.
"Certainly not," said I. "Neither for money nor any consideration whatsoever." "I guess you will. If monsignor wants it done, it will be done."
"But, Hugh-" protested monsignor. "You have set your heart on this, have n't you?" asked Janvier.
Monsignor admitted that such was the
"This young fool here is not going to break your heart."
"My heart will not be broken."
"I say it will." Hugh Janvier touched the bell.
The man-servant who had let me in returned.
"Put this gentleman into one of the top attics," said Hugh Janvier, "and lock him in and feed him."
"Yes, sir," said the domestic.
"He had better have this bundle to browse on," added Janvier, indicating the pile of manuscript. "Yes, sir."
I was staring aghast at all three of them.
I could see the stronghold of my king without being able to call on him for aid
IT must have been at some small hour in the morning that I was aroused and gagged and pinioned. The sturdy manservant saw to this, and seemed thoroughly to enjoy it. Hugh Janvier, in evening dress and a fur coat, stood over us and issued his directions.
"We are motoring into the country," said he. "London in the winter months is more than I can stand." And into the country we went.
I was carried down-stairs, bundled into the waiting car, and off we started. The man-servant sat on the box beside the driver; within the limousine were Janvier and I. St. James's Place was fast asleep and took no notice.
Once outside London-and it was swift and easy going at this hour-my companion untied me, and I was free to speak and
"I have a particular affection for mon"By what right-" I began. But Hugh signor," he said, offering me one of his Janvier laughed at me.
"Off with him, George!" he cried, turning to the man-servant, and though I struggled prodigiously, that muscular fellow, using some cunning grip, hoisted me to his shoulders as if I were a child. He walked up-stairs with me, up flight after flight, and flung me at last into a little room on the top floor. There was electric light in it, a bed, and the usual furniture. He put a match to the fire, turned the key in the door, and went down-stairs again. A few minutes later he came back and thrust upon me the type-written copy of monsignor's "Life of Perkin Warbeck," which the publishers had refused with good reason. I was left alone with that ill-omened work.
I went to the window. The fog had cleared a little, and far below me I could
large cigars, "and there are so few things he will accept from me. Now, you be a sensible young fellow and get busy. You can go back to where you came from as soon as monsignor gives the word. I often wonder what the dear old boy can see in me. I don't know why he should like me, but he does." These concluding sentences were spoken more to himself than to a listener.
"Extremes meet," I ventured, "and you two are so utterly different."
"That's it, I reckon," he answered pensively. "Say, you 're no fool, though you behave like one."
"Your own behavior, judged by ordinary civilized standards-" I began; but he had interrupted me, and I was unable to finish.
"By the way," he had said, "I 've got
your box and paid the woman at your lodgings; you'll be our guest for several months."
For a reply I snorted, and that wretched car rushed forward in the dark.
He dried up after this, and gave no heed to my indignant questions. "You keep still," was all he said; and soon I lay back in a doze from which I woke every now and then to look out of the window. The fog had disappeared; it was a fine, clear winter's night, with a moon and drifting clouds. A wind had sprung up, and the air was fresh and good to breathe.
Our true direction I could not say, for I had lost all count of the four quarters and even of time. A recent crisis had dispossessed me of my watch, and I only knew that twice we had crossed the Thames, and might be going south or
At length-and the dawn had not yet broken-we entered the gates of a private park, ran down a dim avenue of naked trees, and then kept to a winding road that went through woodland and came out on a stretch which took us to the front of a great house.
"Here we are!" cried Janvier, springing to his feet.
"Where are we?" I answered, very limp and drowsy.
"That 's none of your business. You 've got to set about that book. George will look after you till the morning. I may see you at lunch or I may not."
He left me, and somehow I found myself within that darkened mansion, following on the heels of George, who led me to my room. It was no use quarreling with my manifest destiny, I thought. I would stay here till the morning, and then I would take stock of the situation and see what could be done.
Through that sleeping palace we went, George in front and I a little way behind, until we reached a large and spacious bedroom looking out upon the park. It was all ready for me, with a fire still burning, fresh pajamas invitingly displayed, and enough electric light to satisfy a lady at her mirror.
George stood in the doorway, and his lips curved cynically as he surveyed me.
"I lay you are n't used to this," was what that look implied, though, as ever, he said nothing in so many words; yet the fellow's face was an open book, and I could read.
There was no key to my bedroom door, nor any bolt. I was too tired to care now, too tired to think of anything but sleep. When I had undressed and was all ready for bed, George paid me a good-night visit. Calmly, deliberately, he went through my clothes, and took away the eighteenpence that I had thrown upon the dressing-table.
"Mr. Janvier's orders," he said laconically.
"Damn Mr. Janvier!" said I, and jumped into bed.
He went out silently, first putting a key into the keyhole, and extinguishing all the lights save one, which I could reach from where I lay.
I SLEPT, and slept till noon. Then I awoke and was very happy. I looked out of the window and loved the landscape; I flung the casement wide and breathed the fresh, clean air. I was young and hearty despite my predicament. A worse fate might befall a man than to be an unconsulted guest in a great house away from town.
"Suppose I ring the bell," I thought; and the action went with the idea. George found me singing. "Good morning, George!" I cried as he came in.
"Tea or coffee, sir?" he answered, and I plumped for tea.
There was a bath-room adjoining, and he turned the taps and spread the towels. "It is n't the first time I 've had a bath," I shouted, answering his ironic grin.
"Luncheon is at one-thirty, sir," was his reply. "Miss Bettina is expecting you."
I could get no more from him than that, if I except my old tin trunk, which miraculously had arrived from Blooms