Volume I
Chapter I. One in Search of a Kingdom
 

Why Gaston Belward left the wholesome North to journey afar, Jacques Brillon asked often in the brawling streets of New York, and oftener in the fog of London as they made ready to ride to Ridley Court. There was a railway station two miles from the Court, but Belward had had enough of railways. He had brought his own horse Saracen, and Jacques's broncho also, at foolish expense, across the sea, and at a hotel near Euston Station master and man mounted and set forth, having seen their worldly goods bestowed by staring porters, to go on by rail.

In murky London they attracted little notice; but when their hired guide left them at the outskirts, and they got away upon the highway towards the Court, cottagers stood gaping. For, outside the town there was no fog, and the fresh autumn air drew the people abroad.

"What is it makes 'em stare, Jacques?!" asked Belward, with a humorous sidelong glance.

Jacques looked seriously at the bright pommel of his master's saddle and the shining stirrups and spurs, dug a heel into the tender skin of his broncho, and replied:

"Too much silver all at once."

He tossed his curling black hair, showing up the gold rings in his ears, and flicked the red-and-gold tassels of his boots.

"You think that's it, eh?!" rejoined Belward, as he tossed a shilling to a beggar.

"Maybe, too, your great Saracen to this tot of a broncho, and the grand homme to little Jacques Brillon." Jacques was tired and testy.

The other laid his whip softly on the half-breed's shoulder.

"See, my peacock: none of that. You're a spanking good servant, but you're in a country where it's knuckle down man to master; and what they do here you've got to do, or quit--go back to your pea-soup and caribou. That's as true as God's in heaven, little Brillon. We're not on the buffalo trail now. You understand?"

Jacques nodded.

"Hadn't you better say it?"

The warning voice drew up the half-breed's face swiftly, and he replied:

"I am to do what you please."

"Exactly. You've been with me six years--ever since I turned Bear Eye's moccasins to the sun; and for that you swore you'd never leave me. Did it on a string of holy beads, didn't you, Frenchman?"

"I do it again."

He drew out a rosary, and disregarding Belward's outstretched hand, said:

"By the Mother of God, I will never leave you!" There was a kind of wondering triumph in Belward's eyes, though he had at first shrunk from Jacques's action, and a puzzling smile came.

"Wherever I go, or whatever I do?"

"Whatever you do, or wherever you go."

He put the rosary to his lips, and made the sign of the cross.

His master looked at him curiously, intently. Here was a vain, naturally indolent half-breed, whose life had made for selfishness and independence, giving his neck willingly to a man's heel, serving with blind reverence, under a voluntary vow.

"Well, it's like this, Jacques," Belward said presently; "I want you, and I'm not going to say that you'll have a better time than you did in the North, or on the Slope; but if you'd rather be with me than not, you'll find that I'll interest you. There's a bond between us, anyway. You're half French, and I'm one-fourth French, and more. You're half Indian, and I'm one-fourth Indian--no more. That's enough. So far, I haven't much advantage. But I'm one-half English--King's English, for there's been an offshoot of royalty in our family somewhere, and there's the royal difference. That's where I get my brains--and manners."

"Where did you get the other?!" asked Jacques, shyly, almost furtively.

"Money?"

"Not money--the other."

Belward spurred, and his horse sprang away viciously. A laugh came back on Jacques, who followed as hard as he could, and it gave him a feeling of awe. They were apart for a long time, then came together again, and rode for miles without a word. At last Belward, glancing at a sign-post before an inn door, exclaimed at the legend--"The Whisk o' Barley,"--and drew rein. He regarded the place curiously for a minute. The landlord came out. Belward had some beer brought.

A half-dozen rustics stood gaping, not far away. He touched his horse with a heel. Saracen sprang towards them, and they fell back alarmed. Belward now drank his beer quietly, and asked question after question of the landlord, sometimes waiting for an answer, sometimes not--a kind of cross-examination. Presently he dismounted.

As he stood questioning, chiefly about Ridley Court and its people, a coach showed on the hill, and came dashing down and past. He lifted his eyes idly, though never before had he seen such a coach as swings away from Northumberland Avenue of a morning. He was not idle, however; but he had not come to England to show surprise at anything. As the coach passed his face lifted above the arm on the neck of the horse, keen, dark, strange. A man on the box-seat, attracted at first by the uncommon horses and their trappings, caught Belward's eyes. Not he alone, but Belward started then. Some vague intelligence moved the minds of both, and their attention was fixed till the coach rounded a corner and was gone.

The landlord was at Belward's elbow.

"The gentleman on the box-seat be from Ridley Court. That's Maister Ian Belward, sir."

Gaston Belward's eyes half closed, and a sombre look came, giving his face a handsome malice. He wound his fingers in his horse's mane, and put a foot in the stirrup.

"Who is 'Maister Ian'?"

"Maister Ian be Sir William's eldest, sir. On'y one that's left, sir. On'y three to start wi': and one be killed i' battle, and one had trouble wi' his faither and Maister Ian; and he went away and never was heard on again, sir. That's the end on him."

"Oh, that's the end on him, eh, landlord? And how long ago was that?"

"Becky, lass," called the landlord within the door, "wheniver was it Maister Robert turned his back on the Court--iver so while ago? Eh, a fine lad that Maister Robert as iver I see!"

Fat laborious Becky hobbled out, holding an apple and a knife. She blinked at her husband, and then at the strangers.

"What be askin' o' the Court?!" she said. Her husband repeated the question.

She gathered her apron to her eyes with an unctuous sob:

"Doan't a' know when Maister Robert went! He comes, i' the house 'ere and says, 'Becky, gie us a taste o' the red-top-and where's Jock?' He was always thinkin' a deal o' my son Jock. 'Jock be gone,' I says, 'and I knows nowt o' his comin' back'--meanin', I was, that day. 'Good for Jock!' says he, 'and I'm goin' too, Becky, and I knows nowt o' my comin' back.' 'Where be goin', Maister Robert?' I says. 'To hell, Becky,' says he, and he laughs. 'From hell to hell. I'm sick to my teeth o' one, I'll try t'other'--a way like that speaks he."

Belward was impatient, and to hurry the story he made as if to start on. Becky, seeing, hastened. "Dear a' dear! The red-top were afore him, and I tryin' to make what become to him. He throws arm 'round me, smacks me on the cheek, and says he: 'Tell Jock to keep the mare, Becky.' Then he flings away, and never more comes back to the Court. And that day one year my Jock smacks me on the cheek, and gets on the mare; and when I ask: 'Where be goin'?' he says: 'For a hunt i' hell wi' Maister Robert, mother.' And from that day come back he never did, nor any word. There was trouble wi' the lad-wi' him and Maister Robert at the Court; but I never knowed nowt o' the truth. And it's seven-and-twenty years since Maister Robert went."

Gaston leaned over his horse's neck, and thrust a piece of silver into the woman's hands.

"Take that, Becky Lawson, and mop your eyes no more."

She gaped.

"How dost know my name is Becky Lawson? I havena been ca'd so these three-and-twenty years--not since a' married good man here, and put Jock's faither in 's grave yander."

"The devil told me," he answered, with a strange laugh, and, spurring, they were quickly out of sight. They rode for a couple of miles without speaking. Jacques knew his master, and did not break the silence. Presently they came over a hill, and down upon a little bridge. Belward drew rein, and looked up the valley. About two miles beyond the roofs and turrets of the Court showed above the trees. A whimsical smile came to his lips.

"Brillon," he said, "I'm in sight of home."

The half-breed cocked his head. It was the first time that Belward had called him "Brillon"--he had ever been "Jacques." This was to be a part of the new life. They were not now hunting elk, riding to "wipe out" a camp of Indians or navvies, dining the owner of a rancho or a deputation from a prairie constituency in search of a member, nor yet with a senator at Washington, who served tea with canvas-back duck and tooth-picks with dessert. Once before had Jacques seen this new manner--when Belward visited Parliament House at Ottawa, and was presented to some notable English people, visitors to Canada. It had come to these notable folk that Mr. Gaston Belward had relations at Ridley Court, and that of itself was enough to command courtesy. But presently, they who would be gracious for the family's sake, were gracious for the man's. He had that which compelled interest--a suggestive, personal, distinguished air. Jacques knew his master better than any one else knew him; and yet he knew little, for Belward was of those who seem to give much confidence, and yet give little--never more than he wished.

"Yes, monsieur, in sight of home," Jacques replied, with a dry cadence.

"Say 'sir,' not 'monsieur,' Brillon; and from the time we enter the Court yonder, look every day and every hour as you did when the judge asked you who killed Tom Daly."

Jacques winced, but nodded his head. Belward continued:

"What you hear me tell is what you can speak of; otherwise you are blind and dumb. You understand?" Jacques's face was sombre, but he said quickly: "Yes--sir."

He straightened himself on his horse, as if to put himself into discipline at once--as lead to the back of a racer.

Belward read the look. He drew his horse close up. Then he ran an arm over the other's shoulder.

"See here, Jacques. This is a game that's got to be played up to the hilt. A cat has nine lives, and most men have two. We have. Now listen. You never knew me mess things, did you? Well, I play for keeps in this; no monkeying. I've had the life of Ur of the Chaldees; now for Babylon. I've lodged with the barbarian; here are the roofs of ivory. I've had my day with my mother's people; voila! for my father's. You heard what Becky Lawson said. My father was sick of it at twenty-five, and got out. We'll see what my father's son will do. . . . I'm going to say my say to you, and have done with it. As like as not there isn't another man that I'd have brought with me. You're all right. But I'm not going to rub noses. I stick when I do stick, but I know what's got to be done here; and I've told you. You'll not have the fun out of it that I will, but you won't have the worry. Now, we start fresh. I'm to be obeyed; I'm Napoleon. I've got a devil, yet it needn't hurt you, and it won't. But if I make enemies here--and I'm sure to--let them look out. Give me your hand, Jacques; and don't you forget that there are two Gaston Belwards, and the one you have hunted and lived with is the one you want to remember when you get raw with the new one. For you'll hear no more slang like this from me, and you'll have to get used to lots of things."

Without waiting reply, Belward urged on his horse, and at last paused on the top of a hill, and waited for Jacques. It was now dusk, and the landscape showed soft, sleepy, and warm.

"It's all of a piece," Belward said to himself, glancing from the trim hedges, the small, perfectly-tilled fields and the smooth roads, to Ridley Court itself, where many lights were burning and gates opening and shutting. There was some affair on at the Court, and he smiled to think of his own appearance among the guests.

"It's a pity I haven't clothes with me, Brillon; they have a show going there."

He had dropped again into the new form of master and man. His voice was cadenced, gentlemanly. Jacques pointed to his own saddle-bag.

"No, no, they are not the things needed. I want the evening-dress which cost that cool hundred dollars in New York."

Still Jacques was silent. He did not know whether, in his new position, he was expected to suggest. Belward understood, and it pleased him.

"If we had lost the track of a buck moose, or were nosing a cache of furs, you'd find a way, Brillon."

"Voila," said Jacques; "then, why not wear the buckskin vest, the red- silk sash, and the boots like these?"--tapping his own leathers. "You look a grand seigneur so."

"But I am here to look an English gentleman, not a grand seigneur, nor a company's trader on a break. Never mind, the thing will wait till we stand in my ancestral halls," he added, with a dry laugh.

They neared the Court. The village church was close by the Court-wall. It drew Belward's attention. One by one lights were springing up in it. It was a Friday evening, and the choir were come to practise. They saw buxom village girls stroll in, followed by the organist, one or two young men and a handful of boys. Presently the horsemen were seen, and a staring group gathered at the church door. An idea came to Belward.

"Kings used to make pilgrimages before they took their crowns, why shouldn't I?!" he said half-jestingly. Most men placed similarly would have been so engaged with the main event that they had never thought of this other. But Belward was not excited. He was moving deliberately, prepared for every situation. He had a great game in hand, and he had no fear of his ability to play it. He suddenly stopped his horse, and threw the bridle to Jacques, saying:

"I'll be back directly, Brillon."

He entered the churchyard, and passed to the door. As he came the group under the crumbling arch fell back, and at the call of the organist went to the chancel. Belward came slowly up the aisle, and paused about the middle. Something in the scene gave him a new sensation. The church was old, dilapidated; but the timbered roof, the Norman and Early English arches incongruously side by side, with patches of ancient distemper and paintings, and, more than all, the marble figures on the tombs, with hands folded so foolishly,--yet impressively too, brought him up with a quick throb of the heart. It was his first real contact with England; for he had not seen London, save at Euston Station and in the north-west district. But here he was in touch with his heritage. He rested his hand upon a tomb beside him, and looked around slowly.

The choir began the psalm for the following Sunday. At first he did not listen; but presently the organist was heard alone, and then the choir afterwards sang:

    "Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech:
     And to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar."

Simple, dusty, ancient church, thick with effigies and tombs; with inscriptions upon pillars to virgins departed this life; and tablets telling of gentlemen gone from great parochial virtues: it wakened in Belward's brain a fresh conception of the life he was about to live--he did not doubt that he would live it. He would not think of himself as inacceptable to old Sir William Belward. He glanced to the tomb under his hand. There was enough daylight yet to see the inscription on the marble. Besides, a single candle was burning just over his head. He stooped and read:

                         SACRED TO THE MEMORY
                                   OF
                   SIR GASTON ROBERT BELWARD, BART.,
            OF RIDLEY COURT, IN THIS PARISH OF GASTONBURY,
                                 WHO,
                  AT THE AGE OF ONE AND FIFTY YEARS,
          AFTER A LIFE OF DISTINGUISHED SERVICE FOR HIS KING
                             AND COUNTRY,
          AND GRAVE AND CONSTANT CARE OF THOSE EXALTED WORKS
                 WHICH BECAME A GENTLEMAN OF ENGLAND;
            MOST NOTABLE FOR HIS LOVE OF ARTS AND LETTERS;
              SENSIBLE IN ALL GRACES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS;
             GIFTED WITH SINGULAR VIRTUES AND INTELLECTS;
                                  AND
                DELIGHTING AS MUCH IN THE JOYS OF PEACE
                    AS IN THE HEAVY DUTIES OF WAR:
             WAS SLAIN BY THE SIDE OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS,
              THE BELOVED AND ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCE RUPERT,
                       AT THE BATTLE OF NASEBY,
                    IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD MDCXLV.

                 "A Sojourner as all my Fathers were."

"'Gaston Robert Belward'!"

He read the name over and over, his fingers tracing the letters.

His first glance at the recumbent figure had been hasty. Now, however, he leaned over and examined it. It lay, hands folded, in the dress of Prince Rupert's cavaliers, a sword at side, and great spurs laid beside the heels.

"'Gaston Robert Belward'!"

As this other Gaston Robert Belward looked at the image of his dead ancestor, a wild thought came: Had he himself not fought with Prince Rupert? Was he not looking at himself in stone? Was he not here to show England how a knight of Charles's time would look upon the life of the Victorian age? Would not this still cold Gaston be as strange at Ridley Court as himself fresh from tightening a cinch on the belly of a broncho? Would he not ride from where he had been sojourning as much a stranger in his England as himself?

For a moment the idea possessed him. He was Sir Gaston Robert Belward, Baronet. He remembered now how, at Prince Rupert's side, he had sped on after Ireton's horse, cutting down Roundheads as he passed, on and on, mad with conquest, yet wondering that Rupert kept so long in pursuit while Charles was in danger with Cromwell: how, as the word came to wheel back, a shot tore away the pommel of his saddle; then another, and another, and with a sharp twinge in his neck he fell from his horse. He remembered how he raised himself on his arm and shouted "God save the King!" How he loosed his scarf and stanched the blood at his neck, then fell back into a whirring silence, from which he was roused by feeling himself in strong arms, and hearing a voice say: "Courage, Gaston." Then came the distant, very distant, thud of hoofs, and he fell asleep; and memory was done.

He stood for a moment oblivious to everything: the evening bird fluttering among the rafters, the song of the nightingale without, the sighing wind in the tower entry, the rustics in the doorway, the group in the choir. Presently he became conscious of the words sung:

                   "A thousand ages in Thy sight
                    Are like an evening gone;
                    Short as the watch that ends the night
                    Before the rising sun.

                   "Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
                    Bears all its sons away;
                    They fly, forgotten, as a dream
                    Dies at the opening day."

He was himself again in an instant. He had been in a kind of dream. It seemed a long time since he had entered the church--in reality but a few moments. He caught his moustache in his fingers, and turned on his heel with a musing smile. His spurs clinked as he went down the aisle; and, involuntarily, he tapped a boot-leg with his riding-whip. The singing ceased. His spurs made the only sound. The rustics at the door fell back before him. He had to go up three steps to reach the threshold. As he stood on the top one he paused and turned round.

So, this was home: this church more so even than the Court hard by. Here his ancestors--for how long he did not know, probably since the time of Edward III--idled time away in the dust; here Gaston Belward had been sleeping in effigy since Naseby Field. A romantic light came into his face. Again, why not? Even in the Hudson's Bay country and in the Rocky Mountains, he had been called, "Tivi, The Man of the Other." He had been counted the greatest of Medicine Men--one of the Race: the people of the Pole, who lived in a pleasant land, gifted as none others of the race of men. Not an hour before Jacques had asked him where he got "the other." No man can live in the North for any time without getting the strain of its mystery and romance in him. Gaston waved his hand to the tomb, and said half-believingly:

"Gaston Robert Belward, come again to your kingdom."

He turned to go out, and faced the rector of the parish,--a bent, benign- looking man,--who gazed at him astonished. He had heard the strange speech. His grave eyes rested on the stalwart stranger with courteous inquiry. Gaston knew who it was. Over his left brow there was a scar. He had heard of that scar before. When the venerable Archdeacon Varcoe was tutor to Ian and Robert Belward, Ian, in a fit of anger, had thrown a stick at his brother. It had struck the clergyman, leaving a scar.

Gaston now raised his hat. As he passed, the rector looked after him, puzzled; the words he had heard addressed to the effigy returning. His eyes followed the young man to the gate, and presently, with a quick lifting of the shoulders, he said:

"Robert Belward!" Then added: "Impossible! But he is a Belward."

He saw Gaston mount, then entered and went slowly up the aisle. He paused beside the tomb of that other Belward. His wrinkled hand rested on it.

"That is it," he said at last. "He is like the picture of this Sir Gaston. Strange."

He sighed, and unconsciously touched the scar on his brow. His dealings with the Belwards had not been all joy. Begun with youthful pride and affectionate interest, they had gone on into vexation, sorrow, failure, and shame. While Gaston was riding into his kingdom, Lionel Henry Varcoe was thinking how poor his life had been where he had meant it to be useful. As he stood musing and listening to the music of the choir, a girl came softly up the aisle, and touched him on the arm.

"Grandfather, dear," she said, "aren't you going to the Court? You have a standing invitation for this night in the week. You have not been there for so long."

He fondled the hand on his arm.

"My dearest, they have not asked me for a long time."

"But why not to-night? I have laid out everything nicely for you--your new gaiters, and your D. C. L. coat with the pretty buttons and cord."

"How can I leave you, my dear? And they do not ask you!"

The voice tried for playfulness, but the eyes had a disturbed look.

"Me? Oh! they never ask me to dinner-you know that. Tea and formal visits are enough for Lady Belward, and almost too much for me. There is yet time to dress. Do say you will go. I want you to be friendly with them."

The old man shook his head.

"I do not care to leave you, my dearest."

"Foolish old fatherkins! Who would carry me off?--'Nobody, no, not I, nobody cares for me.'" Suddenly a new look shot up in her face.

"Did you see that singular handsome man who came from the church--like some one out of an old painting? Not that his dress was so strange; but there was something in his face--something that you would expect to find in--in a Garibaldi. Silly, am I not? Did you see him?"

He looked at her gravely.

"My dear," he said at last, "I think I will go after all, though I shall be a little late."

"A sensible grandfather. Come quickly, dear." He paused again.

"But I fear I sent a note to say I could not dine."

"No, you did not. It has been lying on your table for two days."

"Dear me--dear me! I am getting very old."

They passed out of the church. Presently, as they hurried to the rectory near by, the girl said:

"But you haven't answered. Did you see the stranger? Do you know who he is?"

The rector turned, and pointed to the gate of Ridley Court. Gaston and Brillon were just entering. "Alice," he said, in a vague, half-troubled way, "the man is a Belward, I think."

"Why, of course!" the girl replied with a flash of excitement. "But he's so dark, and foreign-looking! What Belward is he?"

"I do not know yet, my dear."

"I shall be up when you come back. But mind, don't leave just after dinner. Stay and talk; you must tell me everything that's said and done --and about the stranger."