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MY LORD PROTECTOR'S PATROL
Alone, Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse had taken no part in the confused turmoil which raged around the personalities of Segrave and Richard Lambert. From the moment that he had--with studied callousness--turned his back on his erstwhile protégé he had held aloof from the crowd which had congregated around the two young men.
He saw before him the complete success of his nefarious plan, which had originated in the active brain of Editha, but had been perfected in his own--of heaping dire and lasting disgrace on the man who had become troublesome and interfering of late, who was a serious danger to his more important schemes.
After the fracas of this night Richard Lambert forsooth could never show his face within two hundred miles of London, the ugly story of his having cheated at cards and been publicly branded as a liar and a thief by a party of gentlemen would of a surety penetrate even within the fastnesses of Thanet.
So far everything was for the best, nay, it might be better still, for Segrave enraged and maddened at his losses, might succeed in getting Lambert imprisoned for stealing, and cheating, even at the cost of his own condemnation to a fine for gambling.
The Endicotts had done their part well. The man especially, with his wide cuffs and his quick movements. No one there present could have the slightest doubt but that Lambert was guilty. Satisfied, therefore, that all had gone according to his own wishes, Sir Marmaduke withdrew from further conflict or argument with the unfortunate young man, whom he had so deliberately and so hopelessly ruined.
And because he thus kept aloof, his ears were not so completely filled with the din, nor his mind so wholly engrossed by the hand-to-hand struggle between the two young men, that he did not perceive that other sound, which, in spite of barred windows and drawn curtains, came up from the street below.
At first he had only listened carelessly to the measured tramp. But the cry of "Halt!" issuing from immediately beneath the windows caused his cheeks to blanch and his muscles to stiffen with a sudden sense of fear.
He cast a rapid glance all around. Segrave and Lambert--both flushed and panting--were forcibly held apart. Sir Marmaduke noted with a grim smile that the latter was obviously the center of a hostile group, whilst Segrave was surrounded by a knot of sympathizers who were striving outwardly to pacify him, whilst in reality urging him on through their unbridled vituperations directed against the other man.
The noise of arguments, of shrill voices, of admonitions and violent abuse had in no sense abated.
Over the sea of excited faces Sir Marmaduke caught the wide-open, terrified eyes of Editha de Chavasse.
She too, had heard.
He beckoned to her across the room with a slight gesture of the hand, and she obeyed the silent call as quickly as she dared, working her way round to him, without arousing the attention of the crowd.
"Do not lose your head," he whispered as soon as she was near him and seeing the wild terror expressed in every line of her face. "Slip into the next room ... and leave the door ajar.... Do this as quietly as may be ... now ... at once ... then wait there until I come."
Again she obeyed him silently and swiftly, for she knew what that cry of "Halt!" meant, uttered at the door of her house. She had heard it, even as Sir Marmaduke had done, and after it the peremptory knocks, the loud call, the word of command, followed by the sound of an awed and supplicating voice, entering a feeble protest.
She knew what all that meant, and she was afraid.
As soon as Sir Marmaduke saw that she had done just as he had ordered, he deliberately joined the noisy groups which were congregated around Segrave and Lambert.
He pushed his way forward and anon stood face to face with the young man on whom he had just wreaked such an irreparable wrong. Not a thought of compunction or remorse rose in his mind as he looked down at the handsome flushed face--quite calm and set outwardly in spite of the terrible agony raging within heart and mind.
"Lambert!" he said gruffly, "listen to me.... Your conduct hath been most unseemly.... Mistress Endicott has for my sake, already shown you much kindness and forbearance ... Had she acted as she had the right to do, she would have had you kicked out of the house by her servants.... In your own interests now I should advise you to follow me quietly out of the house...."
But this suggestion raised a hot protest on the part of all the spectators.
"He shall not go!" declared Segrave violently.
"Not without leaving behind him what he has deliberately stolen," commented Endicott, raising his oily voice above the din.
Lambert had waited patiently, whilst his employer spoke. The last remnant of that original sense of deference and of gratitude caused him to hold himself in check lest he should strike that treacherous coward in the face. Sir Marmaduke's callousness in the face of his peril and unmerited disgrace, had struck Lambert with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment and loneliness. But his cruel insults now quashed despair and roused dormant indignation to fever pitch. One look at Sir Marmaduke's sneering face had told him not only that he could expect no help from the man who--by all the laws of honor--should have stood by him in his helplessness, but that he was the fount and source, the instigator of the terrible wrong and injustice which was about to land an innocent man in the veriest abyss of humiliation and irretrievable disgrace.
"And so this was your doing, Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse," he said, looking his triumphant enemy boldly in the face, even whilst compelling silent attention from those who were heaping opprobrious epithets upon him. "You enticed me here.... You persuaded me to play, ... Then you tried to rob me of mine honor, of my good name, the only valuable assets which I possess.... Hell and all its devils alone know why you did this thing, but I swear before God that your hideous crime shall not remain unpunished...."
"Silence!" commanded Sir Marmaduke, who was the first to perceive the strange, almost supernatural, effect produced on all those present, by the young man's earnestness, his impressive calm. Segrave himself stood silent and abashed, whilst everyone listened, unconsciously awed by that unmistakable note of righteousness which somehow rang through Lambert's voice.
"Nay! but I'll not be silent," quoth Richard unperturbed. "I have been condemned ... and I have the right to speak.... You have disgraced me ... and I have the right to defend mine honor ... by protesting mine innocence.... And now I will leave this house," he added loudly and firmly, "for it is accursed and infamous ... but God is my witness that I leave it without a stain upon my soul...."
He pointed to the fateful table whereon a pile of gold lay scattered in an untidy heap, with the tiny leather wallet containing his five guineas conspicuously in its midst.
"There lies the money," he said, speaking directly to Segrave, "take it, sir, for I had never the intention to touch a penny of it.... This I swear by all that I hold most sacred.... Take it without fear or remorse--even though you thought such evil things of me ... and let him who still thinks me a thief, repeat it now to my face--an he dare!"
Even as the last of his loudly uttered words resounded through the room, there was a loud knock at the door, and a peremptory voice commanded:
"Open! in the name of His Highness, the Lord Protector of England!"
In the dead silence that followed, the buzz of a fly, the spluttering of wax candles, could be distinctly heard.
In a moment with the sound of that peremptory call outside, tumultuous passions seemed to sink to rest, every cheek paled, and masculine hands instinctively sought the handles of swords whilst lace handkerchiefs were hastily pressed to trembling lips, in order to smother the cry of terror which had risen to feminine throats.
"Open! in the name of His Highness, the Lord Protector of England."
Mistress Endicott was the color of wax, her husband was gripping her wrist with a clutch of steel, trying, through the administration of physical pain, to keep alive her presence of mind.
And for the third time came the loud summons:
"Open! in the name of His Highness the Lord, Protector of England!"
Still that deathly silence in the room, broken only now by the firm step of Endicott, who went to open the door.
Resistance had been worse than useless. The door would have yielded at the first blow. There was a wailing, smothered cry from a dozen terrified throats, and a general rush for the inner room. But this door now was bolted and barred, Sir Marmaduke--unperceived--had slipped quickly within, even whilst everyone held his breath in the first moment of paralyzed terror.
Had there been time, there would doubtless have ensued a violent attack against that locked door, but already a man in leather doublet and wearing a steel cap and collar had peremptorily pushed Endicott aside, who was making a futile effort to bar the way, after he had opened the door.
This man now advanced into the center of the room, whilst a couple of soldierly-looking, stalwart fellows remained at attention on the threshold.
"Let no one attempt to leave this room," he commanded. "Here, Bradden," he added, turning back to his men, "take Pyott with you and search that second room there ... then seize all those cards and dice and also that money."
It was not likely that these hot-headed cavaliers would submit thus quietly to an arbitrary act of confiscation and of arrest. Hardly were the last words out of the man's mouth than a dozen blades flashed out of their scabbards.
The women screamed, and like so many frightened hens, ran into the corner of the room furthest out of reach of my Lord Protector's police-patrol, the men immediately forming a bulwark in front of them.
The whole thing was not very heroic perhaps. A few idlers caught in an illicit act and under threat of arrest. The consequences--of a truth--would not be vastly severe for the frequenters of this secret club; fines mayhap, which most of those present could ill afford to pay, and at worst a night's detention in one of those horrible wooden constructions which had lately been erected on the river bank for the express purpose of causing sundry lordly offenders to pass an uncomfortable night.
These were days of forcible levelings: and my lord who had contravened old Noll's laws against swearing and gambling, fared not one whit better than the tramp who had purloined a leg of mutton from an eating-house.
Nay! in a measure my lord fared a good deal worse, for he looked upon his own detention through the regicide usurper's orders, as an indignity to himself; hence the reason why in this same house wherein a few idle scions of noble houses indulged in their favorite pastime, when orders rang out in the name of His Highness, swords jumped out of their sheaths, and resistance was offered out of all proportion to the threat.
The man who seemed to be the captain of the patrol smiled somewhat grimly when he saw himself confronted by this phalanx of gentlemanly weapons. He was a tall, burly fellow, broad of shoulder and well-looking in his uniform of red with yellow facings; his round bullet-shaped head, covered by the round steel cap, was suggestive of obstinacy, even of determination.
He eyed the flushed and excited throng with some amusement not wholly unmixed with contempt. Oh! he knew some of the faces well enough by sight--for he had originally served in the train-bands of London, and had oft seen my Lord Walterton, for instance, conspicuous at every entertainment--now pronounced illicit by His Highness, and Sir Anthony Bridport, a constant frequenter at Exeter House, and young Lord Naythmire the son of the Judge. He also had certainly seen young Segrave before this, whose father had been a member of the Long Parliament; the only face that was totally strange to him was that of the youngster in the dark suit of grogram, who stood somewhat aloof from the irate crowd, and seemed to be viewing the scene with astonishment rather than with alarm.
Lord Walterton, flushed with wine, more than with anger, constituted himself the spokesman of the party:
"Who are you?" he asked somewhat unsteadily, "and what do you want?"
"My name is Gunning," replied the man curtly, "captain commanding His Highness' police. What I want is that you gentlemen offer no resistance, but come with me quietly to answer on the morrow before Judge Parry, a charge of contravening the laws against betting and gambling."
A ribald and prolonged laugh greeted this brief announcement, and some twenty pairs of gentlemanly shoulders were shrugged in token of derision.
"Hark at the man!" quoth Sir James Overbury lightly, "methinks, gentlemen, that our wisest course would be to put up our swords and to throw the fellows downstairs, what say you?"
"Aye! aye!" came in cheerful accents from the defiant little group.
"Out with you fellow, we've no time to waste in bandying words with ye ..." said Walterton, with the tone of one accustomed to see the churl ever cringe before the lord, "and let one of thy myrmidons touch a thing in this room if he dare!"
The young cavalier was standing somewhat in advance of his friends, having stepped forward in order to emphasize the peremptoriness of his words. The women were still in the background well protected by a phalanx of resolute defenders who, encouraged by the captain's silence and Walterton's haughty attitude, were prepared to force the patrol of police to beat a hasty retreat.
Endicott and his wife had seemed to think it prudent to keep well out of sight: the former having yielded to Gunning's advance had discreetly retired amongst the petticoats.
No one, least of all Walterton, who remained the acknowledged leader of the little party of gamesters, had any idea of the numerical strength of the patrol whose interference with gentlemanly pastimes was unwarrantable and passing insolent. In the gloom on the landing beyond, a knot of men could only be vaguely discerned. Captain Gunning and his lieutenant, Bradden, had alone advanced into the room.
But now apparently Gunning gave some sign, which Bradden then interpreted to the men outside. The sign itself must have been very slight for none of the cavaliers perceived it--certainly no actual word of command had been spoken, but the next moment--within thirty seconds of Walterton's defiant speech, the room itself, the doorway and apparently the landing and staircase too, were filled with men, each one attired in scarlet and yellow, all wearing leather doublets and steel caps, and all armed with musketoons which they were even now pointing straight at the serried ranks of the surprised and wholly unprepared gamesters.
"I would fain not give an order to fire," said Captain Gunning curtly, "and if you, gentlemen, will follow me quietly, there need be no bloodshed."
It may be somewhat unromantic but it is certainly prudent, to listen at times to the dictates of common sense, and one of wisdom's most cogent axioms is undoubtedly that it is useless to stand up before a volley of musketry at a range of less than twelve feet, unless a heroic death is in contemplation.
It was certainly very humiliating to be ordered about by a close-cropped Puritan, who spoke in nasal tones, and whose father probably had mended boots or killed pigs in his day, but the persuasion of twenty-four musketoons, whose muzzles pointed collectively in one direction, was bound--in the name of common sense--to prevail ultimately.
Of a truth, none of these gentlemen--who were now content to oppose a comprehensive vocabulary of English and French oaths to the brand-new weapons of my Lord Protector's police--were cowards in any sense of the word. Less than a decade ago they had proved their mettle not only sword in hand, but in the face of the many privations, sorrows and humiliations consequent on the failure of their cause and the defeat, and martyrdom of their king. There was, therefore, nothing mean or pusillanimous in their attitude when having exhausted their vocabulary of oaths and still seeing before them the muzzles of four-and-twenty musketoons pointed straight at them, they one after another dropped their sword points and turned to read in each other's faces uniform desire to surrender to force majeure.
The Captain watched them--impassive and silent--until the moment when he too, could discern in the sullen looks cast at him by some twenty pairs of eyes, that these elegant gentlemen had conquered their impulse to hot-headed resistance.
But the four-and-twenty musketoons were still leveled, nor did the round-headed Captain give the order to lower the firearms.
"I can release most of you, gentlemen, on parole," he said, "an you'll surrender your swords to me, you may go home this night, under promise to attend the Court to-morrow morning."
Bradden in the meanwhile had gone to the inner door and finding it locked had ordered his companion to break it open. It yielded to the first blow dealt with a vigorous shoulder. The lieutenant went into the room, but finding it empty, he returned and soon was busy in collecting the various "pièces de convictions," which would go to substantiate the charges of gambling and betting against these noble gentlemen. No resistance now was offered, and after a slight moment of hesitation and a brief consultation 'twixt the more prominent cavaliers there present, Lord Walterton stepped forward and having unbuckled his sword, threw it with no small measure of arrogance and disdain at the feet of Captain Gunning.
His example was followed by all his friends, Gunning with arms folded across his chest, watching the proceeding in silence. When Endicott stood before him, however, he said curtly:
"Not you, I think. Meseems I know you too well, fine sir, to release you on parole. Bradden," he added, turning to his lieutenant, "have this man duly guarded and conveyed to Queen's Head Alley to-night."
Then as Endicott tried to protest, and Gunning gave a sharp order for his immediate removal, Segrave pushed his way forward; he wore no sword, and like Lambert, had stood aloof throughout this brief scene of turbulent yet futile resistance, sullen, silent, and burning with a desire for revenge against the man who had turned the current of his luck, and brought him back to that abyss of despair, whence he now knew there could be no release.
"Captain," he said firmly, "though I wear no sword I am at one with all these gentlemen, and I accept my release on parole. To-morrow I will answer for my offense of playing cards, which apparently, is an illicit pastime. I am one of the pigeons who have been plucked in this house."
"By that gentleman?" queried Gunning with a grim smile and nodding over his shoulder in the direction where Endicott was being led away by a couple of armed men.
"No! not by him!" replied Segrave boldly.
With a somewhat theatrical gesture he pointed to Lambert, who, more of a spectator than a participant in the scene, had been standing mutely by outside the defiant group, absorbed in his own misery, wondering what effect the present unforeseen juncture would have on his future chances of rehabilitating himself.
He was also vaguely wondering what had become of Sir Marmaduke and Mistress de Chavasse.
But now Segrave's voice was raised, and once more Lambert found himself the cynosure of a number of hostile glances.
"There stands the man who has robbed us all," said Segrave wildly, "and now he has heaped disgrace upon us, upon me and mine.... Curse him! ... curse him, I say!" he continued, whilst all the pent-up fury, forcibly kept in check all this while by the advent of the police, now once more found vent in loud vituperation and almost maniacal expressions of rage. "Liar ... cheat! ... Look at him, Captain! there stands the man who must bear the full brunt of the punishment, for he is the decoy, he is the thief! ... The pillory for him ... the pillory ... the lash ... the brand! ... Curse him! ... Curse him! ... the thief! ..."
He was surrounded and forcibly silenced. The foam had risen to his lips, impotent fury and agonized despair had momentarily clouded his brain. Lambert tried to speak, but the Captain, unwilling to prolong a conflict over which he was powerless to arbitrate, gave a sign to Bradden and anon the two young men were led away in the wake of Endicott.
The others on giving their word that they would appear before the Court on the morrow, and answer to the charge preferred against them, were presently allowed to walk out of the room in single file between a double row of soldiers whose musketoons were still unpleasantly conspicuous.
Thus they passed out one by one, across the passage and down the dark staircase. The door below they found was also guarded; as well as the passage and the archway giving on the street.
Here they were permitted to collect or disperse at will. The ladies, however, had not been allowed to participate in the order for release. Gunning knew most of them by sight,--they were worthy neither of consideration nor respect,--paid satellites of Mistress Endicott's, employed to keep up the good spirits of that lady's clientèle.
The soldiers drove them all together before them, in a compact, shrinking and screaming group. Then the word of command was given. The soldiers stood at attention, turned and finally marched out of the room with their prisoners, Gunning being the last to leave.
He locked the door behind him and in the wake of his men presently wended his way down the tortuous staircase.
Once more the measured tramp was heard reverberating through the house, the cry of "Attention!" of "Quick march!" echoed beneath the passage and the tumble-down archway, and anon the last of these ominous sounds died away down the dismal street in the direction of the river.
And in one of the attics at the top of the now silent and lonely house in Bath Street--lately the scene of so much gayety and joy, of such turmoil of passions and intensity of despair--two figures, a man and a woman, crouched together in a dark corner, listening for the last dying echo of that measured tramp.
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