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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

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

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

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

"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

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."


"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

"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

"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

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

"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

"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

"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

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Online LibraryEvelyn Everett-GreenTom Tufton's Travels → online text (page 6 of 17)