It has come to the attention of the Editor that what people want from the h2g2 Post is more serial fiction. In that spirit, we bring you this novel in serial form, with illustrations, as it originally appeared in the 1909 annual issue of Chatterbox, a very elevating young people's magazine. This is what they were reading instead of Harry Potter, so enjoy.
Martin Hyde, the Duke's Messenger (4)
By John Masefield.
I Leave Home for the Last Time
I was thoroughly ripe for mischief of any kind; my scare had driven away all desire for sleep. I looked at the window, wondering if it would be best to go down my ladder again, to get the ladder in the garden. I was about to do thus, when I remembered the planks in the box-room. How splendid it would be, I thought, if I could get a couple of those long planks across the lane as a sort of bridge. They were strong, thick planks not likely to sag in the middle if I could only get them across. Getting them across was the difficulty; for though I was strong for my age, I found the first plank very contrary. After blowing out my candles I fixed one end of the board under my heavy four-post bed, pointing the other end out through the window, slanting upwards. Straddling across it, I very gingerly edged it out, a hand's breadth at a time, till I had some ten feet wagging about in the air over the lane. It was as much as I could do unaided, to aim the thing. It seemed to have a wild, contrary kind of life in it. Once or twice I came near to dropping it into the lane, which would have been the end of everything. When I got it across, the end caught on the window ledge for about ten perilous minutes.
I was quite tired out before I got it properly across with two feet of the end in the other house. I did not at all look forward to the job of getting it back again after my trip. One plank was hardly safe, I thought; so I slid a second over it, without much trouble. It seemed firm enough then for anybody, no matter how heavy. So carefully I straddled across it, hopping forward a little at a time, as though I were playing leap-frog. When once I had started, I was much too nervous to go back. My head was strong enough. I was well used to being high up in trees. But the danger of this adventure made me dizzy. At every hop the two planks clacked together. I could feel the upper plank shaking out behind me a little to one side of the other. Then a tired waterman shambled slowly up from the river, carrying his oars. He passed underneath me, while I was in mid-air. It was lucky for me, I thought, that few people when walking look above their own heads. He passed on without seeing me. I waited up aloft till he had gone, feeling my head grow dizzier at each second. I was, I trust, truly thankful when I was able to dive down over the window-sill into the strange house. When I had rested for a moment, I felt that it was not so difficult after all. 'Going back,' I said to myself, 'will be much less ticklish.' Turning my head, I saw the eyes of the devil-face glaring at me. They smelt very strongly of kitchen tallow.
I was not in the least frightened. I crept cautiously along the floor, on tip-toe, to examine the contrivance. A hollow shaft of light wood, a sort of big wooden pipe, led down through the floor, probably to the ground-floor or basement, much as a mast goes down through a ship's decks into the hold. It was slowly revolving, being worked by some simple, not very strong mill-contrivance downstairs. A shelf had been fixed up inside the pipe. On the shelf (as I could see by looking in) was a tallow candle in a sconce. Two oval bits of red glass, let into the wood, made the eyes of this lantern-devil. The mouth was a smear of some gleaming stuff, evidently some chemical. This was all the monster which had frightened me. The clacking noise was made by the machine which moved it round. As for the owl, that was probably painted with the same chemical. People were more superstitious then than now. I have no doubt that an ignorant person like Ephraim, who had lived all his life in London, had been scared out of his wits by this machine. Like most ignorant people, he probably reckoned the thing as devilish, merely because he did not understand it. One or two neighbours, a housemaid or so, perhaps, had seen it, too. On the strength of their reports the house had gotten a bad name. The two unoccupied floors had failed to get tenants, while Mr. Jermyn, the contriver of the whole, had been left alone, as no doubt he had planned. I thought that Londoners must be a very foolish people to be so easily misled. Now that I am older, I see that Londoners often live in very narrow grooves. They are apt to be frightened at anything to which they have not been accustomed; unless, of course, it is a war, when they can scream about themselves so loudly that they forget that they are screaming.
I examined the machine critically, by its own candle, which I removed for the purpose. I meant to fix up one very like it in Ephraim's bed-room as soon as I found an opportunity. Then I looked about the room for some other toy, feeling in a fine state of excitement with the success of my adventure. The room was quite bare. But for this ghost-machine, there was nothing which could interest me, except a curious drawing, done with a burnt stick on the plaster of the wall, of a man-of-war under sail. After examining this drawing, I listened carefully at the door lest my faint footsteps should have roused someone below. I could hear no one stirring; the house was silent. 'I must be careful,' I said to myself. 'They all may have gone to bed.' Understand, I did not know then what I was doing. I was merely a wrong-headed boy, up to a prank, begun in a moment of rebellion. When I paused in the landing, outside the ghost-room, shading the candle with my hand, I was not aware that I was doing wrong. I was only thinking how fine it would be to find out about Mr. Jermyn, before crawling back, over the plank, to my bed. I wanted to steal about these deserted floors, like a conspirator; then, having, perhaps, found out about the mystery, to go back home. It did not enter my head that I might be shot as a burglar. My original intention, you must remember, had only been to stop the works of the ghost. It was later on that my intention became criminal, instead of merely boyish, or, in other words, crack-brained. As to stopping the ghost, I could not stop the revolving pipe. I could do no more than take away the light from the ghost-face. As for the owl on the lower floor, when I came to it, could not do so much, for it was a great big picture on board, done in some shining paint. I had nothing with which I could smear it over, nor could I reach the head. As for stopping the machine, that I dared not attempt to do, lest I should bring someone up to me, from the works, wherever they were. Standing by the ghost of the owl, hearing the chack-chack of the machine at intervals below me, I became aware of voices in the room downstairs. When the chack-chack stopped, I could hear men talking. I could hear what they said, for they were talking in the ordinary tone of conversation. There was an open space as it happened, all around the great pipe, where it passed through the floor. I could peep through this into the room below, getting a good sight of what was going on. It was very wicked of me, for there is nothing quite so contemptible as an eavesdropper, but I could not resist the temptation to look down. When once I had looked down I am ashamed to say that I listened to what the men were saying. But first of all, I put out my candle, lest anyone looking up should see the light through the open space.
At the head of the table, there was a very handsome man, dressed all in black, as though in mourning. His beauty was so great that afterwards it passed into a proverb. Later in the year, when I saw this gentleman nearly every day, I noticed that people (even those who did not know who he was) would look after him when he passed them. I will say only this about his handsomeness. It was a bodily kind of beauty, of colour rather than of form; there was not much character in it. Had he lived, I daresay he would have become ugly like the rest of his family, none of whom, except his great-great-grandmother, was accounted much for looks.
Next to this handsome man, on the right, sat Mr. Jermyn, looking fifteen years younger without his false beard. Then came a very black-looking man, with a face all eyebrows. Then a soldier in uniform. Then a little, wiry man, who jumped about as though excited—I could only see him when he jumped: he had an unpleasant, saturnine face, which frightened me. That, as far as I could see, was the whole company. When I first began to listen, the man in uniform was speaking to the handsome man at the head of the table. I knew at once, when he said Your Majesty, that he was talking to James, the Duke of Monmouth, of whom I had heard that afternoon.
'No, your Majesty,' he said. 'No, your Majesty,' he repeated, 'I can't answer for the army. If things had been different in February' (he meant, 'if you had been in England when Charles II died') 'there would have been another King in England. As it is, I'm against a rising.'
'Don't you think his Majesty could succeed by raising an army in the West?' said Mr. Jermyn. 'The present usurper (he meant James II) is a great coward. The West is ripe to rebel. Any strong demonstration there would paralyse him. Besides, the army wouldn't fire on their own countrymen. We'd enough of that in the Civil War. What do you think of a Western rising?'
The soldier smiled. 'Ah no,' he said. 'No, your Majesty. Whatever you do, Sire, don't do it with untrained men. A rising in the West would only put you at the head of a mob. A regiment of steady trained men in good discipline can destroy any mob in twenty minutes. No, your Majesty. No. Don't try. it, Sire.'
'Then what do you advise, Lane?' said the Duke.
'I would say wait, your Majesty. Wait till the usurper, the poisoner, commits himself with the Papists. When he's made himself thoroughly unpopular throughout the country, then sound a few regiments. It's only a matter of a year or two. If you'll wait for a year or two you'll see yourself invited over. Besides, a sudden rising in the West must fail, sir. Your Majesty would be in between two great garrisons, Bristol and Portsmouth. We can't be sure that either would be true to us.'
'Yes,' the Duke answered. 'Yes, Lane. But as I plan it, the army will be tempted north. Argyle will make a strong feint in Scotland, with the great clans, just when the Western gentry declare for us.'
'I take it,' Lane answered, 'that Argyle has sounded the clans. He knows, I suppose, what force of drilled men will rally to him. You know nothing, sir, about the West. You know that many men are for you; but you know not how many nor how good. You will need mounted men, sir, if you are to dash down upon London with any speed. You cannot raise cavalry in a week. All that you will get in the West will be squireens, or dashing young farmers, both kinds unaccustomed to being ordered; both kinds totally unfitted for war.'
'Yes,' said the saturnine little man. 'But a rising in the West would have this natural effect. Argyle will draw troops to the north, as his Majesty has explained. Very well, then. Let Devon declare for the King, the business will be done. The usurper will not dare to send the few troops left to him out of the capital, lest the town should rise on him.'
'Very true. True. A good point,' said the man with the eyebrows.
'I think that disposes of your argument, Lane,' said the Duke, with a smile.
'It's a supposition, sir, against a certainty. I've told you of a military danger. Falk, there, only tells you of a bare, military possibility.'
'But it's as certain as anything can be,' said the man with the eyebrows. 'You can see. That's just what must happen.'
'It is what may happen if you wait for a year or two, your Majesty,' Lane replied. 'But a newly crowned King is always popular. I doubt if you will find public opinion so much on your side, your Majesty. No for a year or two, till he's made himself disliked. They've settled down now to this usurper. They'll resent an interruption. The trades-men will resent an interruption.'
'I think you over-rate the difficulties, Lane,' said Mr. Jermyn.
'Yes,' said the Duke, 'I'm a great believer in putting a matter to the test. Much must necessarily be left to chance. If we wait, we may not find public opinion turning against our enemies. We may even lose the good opinion of the West by waiting. Besides, by waiting, Lane, we should lose the extraordinary: help of Argyle's diversion in the north.'
'Yes,' the others said in chorus. 'We mustn't lose that. A rising this early summer, when the roads are good. A rising as soon as Argyle is ready.'
'Well, your Majesty,' said Lane, shaking his head. 'I see you're resolved. You shall not find me backward when the time comes, for all my doubts at this meeting. To your Majesty's happy success.' They all drank the toast; but I noticed that Mr. Lane looked melancholy, as though he foresaw something of what actually happened in that terrible June.
'Very good,' said the Duke, 'I thank you, gentlemen. Now, Jermyn. We two shall have to be off to the Low Countries in another half hour. How about messengers to the West? You, Lane, are tied here to your regiment. Falk, how about you, Falk?'
'No, your Majesty,' said Falk. 'There's danger in sending me. I'm suspected. I'm known to be in your interests.'
'You, then, Candlish,' said the Duke to the man with the eyebrows.
'Not me, Sire,' said Candlish. 'I can't disguise myself. I'm stamped by nature for the paths of virtue.'
'It would be a good thing,' said Falk, 'if we could get some Western carrier.'
'The Western carriers are all watched,' Lane replied. 'They are followed, wherever they go, as on as they arrive at their inns here.'
'Haven't you found some more gipsies, Falk?' Candlish asked. 'The last gipsy we had was very good.'
'He was caught by a press-gang,' said Falk, 'Gipsies aren't to be trusted, though. They would sell us at once if they had the chance. Ramon was an exception.'
Mr. Jermyn had risen at the Duke's last speech as though to put on his coat, ready to leave the house.. The Duke was listening to the conversation, making 'idle sketches, as he listened, on the paper before him, I think I hardly realised, as I craned over the open space, that I had been listening to a conversation which would have condemned all present to death for treason. I repeated to myself, in a dazed sort of way, that the West was ready to rise. 'King James is an usurper,' I said softly. 'These men are going to rebel against him. There's going to be a civil war in England about it.' I had hardly repeated this to myself, when it came over me with a shock that I was in terrible personal danger. The men were just leaving the house. They would probably look up, on leaving, to see what sort of a night it was. They would see my wonderful bridge. It would be all over with me then. I was so I could hardly stand up. I took a few cautious steps towards the door, saying to myself that I would never again be disobedient if I might escape this once. I was at the door, just about to open it, when I heard a step upon the landing just outside, coming towards me. I gave up hope then; but I had just sense enough to step to my left, so that, when the door should open (if the stranger entered) it might, possibly, screen me from him. Then I heard the Duke's voice from down below calling to Mr. Jermyn.
'Jermyn,' he called. 'Bring down my books, will you. They're on my bed. What are you doing up there?'
'Just seeing to the ghosts, your Majesty. I won't keep you waiting.'
'I'll come, too,' he answered. 'I'd like to see your ghosts again.' Then I heard Mr. Jermyn loitering at the stair-head while the Duke left the council-room. My hair was rising on my scalp; there was cold sweat on my forehead; it was as much as I could do to keep my teeth from chattering. I heard the Duke's feet upon the stairs; there were eleven stairs, I counted them. Presently I heard him say, 'Now, Jermyn.' Then came Jermyn's answer of 'This way, your Majesty.' He flung the door wide open, so that the Duke might enter. The two men passed into the room to examine the horrible owl. The Duke chuckled as the machine moved round to him. 'How bright he keeps,' he said. 'Yes,' Jermyn answered. 'He won't need painting for a long while yet.' 'No,' the Duke answered, 'I hear, Jermyn, he's given you a most uncanny reputation.' 'Yes,' said Jermyn, 'the house has a bad name. What in the world is this?' In walking round the owl his foot had struck upon the unlucky tin candle-sconce which I had brought from the room above. 'Sounds like a tin candle-stick,' said the Duke. 'Yes,' said Mr. Jermyn, groping. 'That's what it is. Now how in the world did it get here? It's the candle-stick from the dragon's head in the room above.' 'Are you sure, Jermyn?' the Duke asked, in a voice which showed that he was agitated. 'Yes, sir. Quite sure. But no one's been up there.' 'There must be a spy,' said the Duke. The two voices spoke together for a moment in whispers. I could not hear what they said; but a moment later I heard the rasping, clinking noise of two swords being drawn. 'Come out of that,' said Mr. Jermyn's voice. I felt that I was discovered; but I dared not stir from my covert. I heard the two men walking swiftly to the door. A hand plucked it from in front of me. I shrank back into the wall, covering my eyes with my hands, so that I should not see the two long sword-blades pointing at my throat. 'Make no sound. Make no sound, now,' said the Duke, pressing his sword-point on my chest, so that I could feel it thrust hard upon me, as though it needed very little force to send it through. I made no sound.
'Who are you?' said Mr. Jermyn, backing to the opening in the floor. 'Kill him if he moves, sir. Candlish, Candlish. Bring a light. Bring a light. We've caught a moth.'
I tried to swallow, but my throat seemed choked with dust. I heard the people downstairs bustling out of the room with candles. I tried to speak; but I could not. I was too much scared. I stood pressed hard against the wall, with the Duke's sword-point still in place.
'Bring it in here, Candlish,' said Mr. Jermyn. There came a clattering noise from the window. Mr. Jermyn had released some heavy rolled up curtain-blinds, which covered the whole window. There was no chance, now, of being seen from the street, or from my uncle's house. Candlish entered carrying a candle.
The others followed at his heels.
'A boy. Eh?' he said.
'What do you do here?' the Duke asked, staring hard at me.
'He's frightened out of his wits, sir,' said Lane. 'We aren't going to hurt you, boy, if you'll only tell the truth.'
'Why,' said Mr. Jermyn. 'It's Martin Hyde, nephew to old Hyde across the way.'
'But he's overheard us,' put in Falk. 'He's overheard us.'
'Come on downstairs. Bring him with you,' said the Duke. Lane took me by one arm. Mr. Jermyn took me by the other. They marched me downstairs to the council-room.
'Here, boy,' said Candlish, not unkindly. 'Drink this wine.' He made me swallow a glass of Burgundy, which certainly did me a great deal of good. I was able to speak after drinking it.
'Now, Mr. Hyde,' said Mr. Jermyn. 'How do you come to be in this house?'
'Take your time, boy,' said Lane.
'He's not a London boy?' said the Duke to Mr. Jermyn.
'No, sir,' he answered in a whisper. 'Just come here from the country.'
'Please, your Majesty,' I began.
'So you're a young rebel,' said the Duke. 'That shows he overheard us,' said Falk.
'Let him alone, Falk,' the Duke said.
'He'll tell the truth. No use in frightening him.'
'Please, your Majesty,' I said again, 'I was locked up in my room for taking my uncle's boat this afternoon.' One of two of them smiled when I said this: it gave me confidence.
'But how did you get into this house?' Mr. Jermyn asked.
'Please, sir,' I answered, 'I saw your upper window open. So I laid a couple of planks across the lane from my window. Then I just straddled across, sir.'
'Are you used to burglary, may I ask?' said the Duke.
'No, your Majesty. But I saw the ghosts. I wanted to see how they were made.'
'Well. That's one for you, Jermyn,' said Lane. 'Your ghosts haven't frightened this one.'
'Sir,' I answered. 'They frightened me horribly. I wanted to be revenged for that. But after a bit I was sure they were only clockwork. I wanted to stop them. I did stop the devil upstairs, sir.'
'So you stopped the devil upstairs,' the Duke said. 'What did you do then?'
'I came down to this room, sir. I looked at the owl. But I couldn't see how to stop the owl, sir. I saw you all sitting round the room. I'm afraid I listened, sir.'
'That was not a gentlemanly thing to do,' said Lane. 'Was it now?'
'You understood all that was said. Eh, boy?' said Candlish.
'Yes, sir. I understood it all.'
'Well, young man,' said Falk. 'You'll be sorry you did.'
'Be quiet, Falk,' said the Duke. 'No one shall bully the boy. What's your name, boy?'
'Martin Hyde, sir.'
'A very smart lad too, sir,' said Jermyn. 'He saved my book of cipher correspondence yesterday. We should have been in trouble if that had got into the wrong hands.'
'You understand,' said the Duke, 'that what you have heard might get us all, perhaps many more besides ourselves, into very terrible danger if repeated?'
'Yes, your Majesty, I understand,' I answered. 'Lock him into the pantry, Jermyn,' said the Duke, 'while we decide what to do with him. Go with Mr. Jermyn, boy. We sha'n't hurt you. Don't be frightened. Give him some oranges, Jermyn.'