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 (21)
By John Masefield.
My Friend Aurelia and Her Uncle
It was a friendly letter, which relieved me a good deal from my anxieties; but what I could not bear was the thought that the Duke would think me a deserter. I made up my mind that I would get away from that house at the first opportunity, so as to rejoin the Duke, to whom I felt myself pledged. But in the meantime, until I could get away, I resolved to make the best of my imprisonment. I was nettled by Aurelia's tone of superiority. I would show her, as I had shown her before, that my wits were just as nimble as hers. A few minutes after the letter had been read, she held a parley with me through the keyhole.
'Mr. Martin Hyde. Are you going to shoot me?'
'No, Miss Carew, though I think you deserve it.'
'You won't try to get away if I open the door?'
'I mean to get away as soon as ever I get half a chance.'
'I've got three men with me at the door here.'
'Oh. Very well. But you just wait till I get a chance.'
'Don't be so bloodthirsty, Mr. Martin Hyde. Now, I'm coming in to talk with you. No pistols, mind. Not one.'
'I've promised I won't shoot. You might believe a fellow. But I mean to get away, remember. Just to show you.'
She opened the door after that, a brown, merry Aurelia, behind whom I could see three men, ready to stop any rush. They closed the door behind her after she had entered.
'Well,' she said, smiling. 'Will you not shake hands with me, Martin Hyde?'
'Yes,' I said, 'I will shake hands. But you played a very mean trick, I think. There.'
'You mustn't think me mean,' she answered. 'I don't like mean people. Now promise me one thing. You say you are going to run away from us. You won't run away from me when I am with you, will you?'
'No,' I said, after thinking this over, to see if it could be twisted into any sort of trap, likely to stop my escape. 'I will not. Not while I am with you.'
'That's right,' she said. 'We can go out together, then. Now you've promised, suppose we go out into the garden.'
We went into the garden together, talking of every subject under the sun but the subject nearest to our hearts at the moment. I would not speak of her capture of me; she would not speak of the Duke's march towards Taunton. There was some constraint whenever we came near those subjects. She was a very merry, charming companion; but the effect of her talk that morning was to make me angry at being trapped by her. I looked over the countryside for guiding points in case I should be able to get away. Axminster lay to the southeast, distant about six miles; so much I could reckon from the course of our morning's ride. I could not see Axminster for I was shut from it by rolling combes, pretty high, which made a narrow valley for the river. To the west the combes were very high, strung along towards Taunton in heaps. Due east, as I suspected, quite near to us, was Chard, where by this time the Duke must have been taking up his position. Taunton I judged (from a mile-stone which we had passed) to be not much more than a dozen miles from where I was. I have always had a pretty keen sense of position. I do not get lost. Even in the lonely parts of the world I have never been lost. I can figure out the way home by a sort of instinct helped by a glimpse at the sun. When I go over a hill I have a sort of picture-memory of what lies behind, to help me home again, however tortuous my path is on the other side. So the few glimpses which I could get of the surrounding country were real helps to me. I made more use of them than Aurelia suspected.
We were much together that day. Certainly she did her best to make my imprisonment happy. In the evening she was kinder; we were more at ease together; I was able to speak freely to her.
'Aurelia,' I said, 'you risked your life twice to warn me.'
'That's not quite true, Martin,' she said. 'I am a government spy, trusted with many people's lives. I had other work to do than to warn a naughty boy who wanted to see what the ghosts were.' I was startled at her knowing so much about me; she laughed.
'Well,' she said, 'I like you for it. I should have wanted to see them myself. But the ghost-makers are scattered far enough now.'
'All the same, Aurelia,' I said, 'I thank you for what you did for me. I wish I could do something in return.' She laughed.
'Well,' she said, 'you were very kind in the ship. You were a good enemy to me then. Weren't you?'
'Yes,' I said, 'I beat you properly on the ship. I carried the Duke's letters in my pistol cartridges, where you never suspected them. The letters which were in the satchel I forged myself after I got on board. If you'd not been a silly you'd have seen that they were forged.'
'So that was why,' she said. 'Those letters gave everybody more anxious work than you've any notion of. Oh, Martin, though, I helped to drug you to get those letters. It was terrible. Terrible. Will you ever forgive me?'
'Why, yes, Aurelia,' I said. 'After all, it was done for your King. Just as I mean to run away from here to serve mine. All is fair in the King's service. Let us shake hands on that.' We shook hands heartily, looking into each other's eyes.
'By the way,' I said, 'where did you get to that day in Holland, when I got the letters from you?'
'Ah,' she answered, 'you made me like a wildcat that day. I nearly killed you, twice. You remember that low parapet on the roof? I was behind that, waiting for you with a loaded pistol. You were all very near your deaths that morning. In the King's service, of course. For just a minute, I thought that you would climb up to examine that parapet. What a crazy lot you all were not to know at once that I was there! Where else could I have been?'
'Well,' I answered, 'I beat you in the ride, didn't I? You thought yourself awfully clever about that horse at the inn. Well, I beat you there. I beat you in the race. I beat you with my letters to the Dutchman. I beat you over those forgeries.'
'Yes, indeed,' she said. 'I can beat all the men in your Duke's service. Every one. Even clever Colonel Lane. Even Fletcher of Saltoun. But a boy is so unexpected, there's no beating a boy, except with a good birch rod. You beat me so often, Martin, that I think you can afford to forgive me for tricking you once in bringing you here.'
'I shall beat you in that, too, Miss Carew,' I said; 'for I mean to get away from you as soon as I can.'
'So you say,' she said. 'But we have club men walking all round this house all night, as well as sentries by day, guarding the stock. Your gang of marauders will find a rough welcome if they come for refreshments here.'
Even as she spoke, there came a sudden crash of fire-arms from the meadows outside the garden. About a dozen men came hurrying out of the house with weapons in their hands, among them a big, fierce-looking handsome man, who drew his sword as he ran.
'That is my uncle, Travers Carew,' said Aurelia. 'He owns this property. He wants to meet you.' There came another splutter of fire-arms from the meadows. 'Come,' she said. 'We'll see what it is. It is the Duke's men come pillaging.'
We ran through a gate in the wall into an apple-orchard, where the Carew men were already dodging among the trees towards the enemy. There was a good deal of shouting, but the tide of battle, as they call it, the noise of shots, the trampling of horses, had already set away to the left, where the enemy were retreating, with news, as I heard later, that the militia held the Abbey in force. The Carew men came back in a few minutes with a prisoner. He had been captured while holding the horses of two friends, who had dismounted to drive off some of the Carew cattle. He said that the attack had been made by a party of twenty of the Duke's horse, sent out to bring in food for the march. They had scattered at the first discharge of fire-arms, which had frightened them horribly, for they had not expected any opposition. The frightened men never drew rein till they galloped their exhausted horses into Chard camp, where they gave another touch of dejection to the melancholy Duke. As for the prisoner, he was sent off under guard to Honiton gaol; I don't know what became of him. He was one of more than three thousand who came to death or misery in that war. They said that he was a young farmer, in a small way, from somewhere out beyond Chideock. The war had been a kind of high-spirited frolic for him; he had entered into it thoughtlessly, in the belief that it would be a sort of pleasant ride to London, with his expenses paid. Now he was ended. When he rode out with bound hands from the Carew house that evening, between two armed riders, he rode out of life. He never saw Chideock again, except in the grey light of dawn, after a long ride upon a hurdle, going to be hanged outside his home. Or perhaps he was bundled into one of the terrible convict ships bound for Barbadoes, with other rebels, to die of small-pox on the way, or under the whip in the plantations.
After this little brush, with its pitiful accompaniment, which filled me full of a blind anger against the royal party, so much stronger, yet with so much less right than ours, I was taken in to see Sir Travers Carew. He had just sent off the prisoner to Honkon, much as he would have brushed a fly from his hand. He had that satisfaction with himself, that feeling of having supported the right, which comes to all those who do cruel things in the name of that code of unjust cruelty, the criminal law. He looked at me with rather a grim smile, which made me squirm.
'So,' he said, 'this is the young rebel, is it? Do you know that I could send you off to Honiton gaol with that poor fellow there?' This made my heart die; but something prompted me to put a good face on it.
'Sir,' I said, 'I have done what my father thought right. I don't wish to be treated better than any other prisoner. Send me to Honiton, sir.'
'No,' he said, looking at me kindly. 'I shall not send you to Honiton. You are not in arms against the King's peace, nor did you come over from Holland with the Duke. I can't send you to Honiton. Besides, I knew your father, Martin. I was at college with him. He was a good friend of mine, poor fellow. No, sir, I shall keep you here till the Duke's crazy attempt is knocked on the head. I think I can find something better for you to do than that fussy old maid, your uncle, could. But, remember, sir. You have a reputation for being a slippery young eel. I shall take particular pains to keep you from slipping out of my hands. But I do not wish to use force to your father's son. Will you give me your word not to try to escape?'
'No,' I answered, sullenly. 'I won't. I mean to get away directly I can.'
'Come,' he said kindly, 'we tricked you rather nastily. But do you suppose, Martin, that your father, if he were here, would encourage your present resolutions? The Duke is coming (nearly unprepared) to bring a lot of silly yokels into collision with fully trained soldiers ten times more numerous. If the countryside, the gentry, the educated, intelligent men, were ready for the Duke, or believed in his cause, they would join him. They do not join him. His only adherents are the idle, ignorant, ill-conditioned rogues of this county, who will neither fight nor obey, when it comes to the pinch. I do not love the present King, Martin, but he is a better man than this Duke. The Duke will never make a king. He may be very fit for court-life; but there is not an ounce of king in him. If the Duke succeeds, in a year or two he will show himself so foolish that we shall have to send for the Prince of Orange, who is a man of real, strong wisdom. We count on that same prince to deliver us from James, when the time is ripe. It is not ripe, yet. I am telling you bitter, stern truth, Martin. Now then. Let me have your promise not to continue in the service of this doomed princeling, your master. Eh? What shall it be?'
'No,' I said, 'that's desertion.'
'Not at all,' he answered. 'It is a custom of war. Come now. As a prisoner of war, give me your parole.'
'You said just now that I was not a prisoner of war,' I answered.
'Very well, then,' he said. 'I am a magistrate. I commit you add suspected person. Hart! Hart!' (Here he called in a man-servant.) 'Just see that this young sprig keeps out of mischief. Think it over, Mr. Martin. Think it over.'
In a couple of minutes I was back in my prison cells, locked in for the night, with neither lamp nor candle. A cot had been made up for me in a corner of the room. Supper was laid for me on the table, which had been brought back to its place. There was nothing for it but to grope to bed in the twilight, wondering how soon I could get away to what I still believed to be a righteous cause in which my father wished me to fight. I slept soundly after my day of adventure. I dreamed that I rode into London behind the Duke, amid all the glory of victory, with the people flinging flowers at us. But dreams go by contraries, the wise women say.
I was a full fortnight, or a little more, a prisoner in that house. They treated me very kindly. Aurelia was like an elder sister. Old Sir Travers used to jest at my being a rebel. But I was a prisoner, shut in, watched, kept close. The kindness jarred upon me. It was treating me like a child, when I was no longer a child. I had for some wild weeks been doing things which few men have the chance of doing. Perhaps, if I had confided all that I felt to Aurelia, she would have cleared away my troubles, made me see that the Duke's cause was wrong, that my father would wish his son well out of civil broils, however just, that I had better give the promise that they asked from me. But I never confided really fully in her. I moped a good deal, much worried in my mind. I began to get a lot of unworthy fancies into my head, silly fancies, which an honest talk would have scattered at once. I began to think from their silence about the Duke's doings that his affairs were prospering, that he was conquering, or had conquered, that I was being held by this loyalist family as a hostage. It was silly of me; but although in many ways I was a skilled man of affairs, I had only the brain of a child, I could not see the absurdity of what I came to believe. It worried me so much that at the end of my imprisonment I became very feverish; really ill from anxiety, as prisoners often are. I refused food for the latter part of one day, hoping to frighten my captors. They did not notice it, so I had my pains for nothing.
I went to bed very early; but I could not sleep. I fidgeted about till I was unusually wakeful. Then I got out of bed to try if there was a way of escape by the old-fashioned chimney, barred across as it was, at intervals, by strong old iron bars. I had never thought the chimney possible, having examined it before, when I first came to that house; but my fever made me think all things possible; so up I got, hoping that I should have light enough to work by.