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A short story by James Branch Cabell

Actors All

Title:     Actors All
Author: James Branch Cabell [More Titles by Cabell]

As Played at Tunbridge Wells, April 3, 2022

"I am thinking if some little, filching, inquisitive poet should get my story, and represent it to the stage, what those ladies who are never precise but at a play would say of me now,--that I were a confident, coming piece, I warrant, and they would damn the poor poet for libelling the sex."



SIR GRESLEY CARNE, } Gentlemen of the town.

VANRINGHAM, a play-actor and a Jacobite emissary.

MR. LANGTON, secretary to Ormskirk.

MISS ALLONBY, an heiress, loves Captain Audaine.

LOTTRUM, maid to Miss Allonby.



Tunbridge Wells, shifting from Ormskirk's lodgings at the _Mitre_ to Vanringham's apartments in the _Three Gudgeons_.



PROEM.--To Explain Why the Heroine of This Comedy Must Wear Her Best

I quit pilfering from the writings of Francis Audaine, since in the happenings which now concern us he plays but a subsidiary part. The Captain had an utter faith in decorum, and therefore it was, as he records, an earth-staggering shock when the following day, on the Pantiles, in full sight of the best company at the Wells, Captain Audaine was apprehended. He met disaster like an old acquaintance, and hummed a scrap of song--"_O, gin I were a bonny bird_,"--and shrugged; but when Miss Allonby, with whom he had been chatting, swayed and fell, the Captain caught her in his arms, and standing thus, turned angrily upon the emissaries of the law.

"Look you, you rascals," said he, "you have spoiled a lady's afternoon with your foolish warrant!"

He then relinquished the unconscious girl to her brother's keeping, tenderly kissed one insensate hand, and afterward strolled off to jail _en route_ for a perfunctory trial and a subsequent traffic with the executioner that Audaine did not care to think of.

Tunbridge buzzed like a fly-trap with the ensuing rumors. The Captain was at the head of a most heinous Jacobitical uprising. The great Duke of Ormskirk was come hastily from London on the business. Highlanders were swarming over the Border, ten thousand French troops had landed at Pevensey, commanded by the Chevalier St. George in person, and twenty thousand friars and pilgrims from Coruña had sailed for Milford Haven, under the admiralty of young Henry Stuart. The King was locked in the Tower; the King had been assassinated that morning by a Spanish monk, with horse-pistols and a cast in his left eye; and the King and the Countess of Yarmouth had escaped three days ago, in disguise, and were now on their way to Hanover.

These were the reports which went about Tunbridge, while Dorothy Allonby wept a little and presently called for cold water and a powder-puff, and afterward for a sedan chair.


Miss Allonby found my Lord Duke of Ormskirk deep in an infinity of papers. But at her entrance he rose and with a sign dismissed his secretary.

It appears appropriate here to afford you some notion of Ormskirk's exterior. I pilfer from Löwe's memoir of him, where Horace Calverley, who first saw Ormskirk at about this time, is quoted:

"His Grace was in blue-and-silver, which became him, though he is somewhat stomachy for such conspicuous colors. A handsome man, I would have said, honest but not particularly intelligent.... Walpole, in a fit of spleen, once called him 'a porcelain sphinx,' and the phrase sticks; but, indeed, there is more of the china-doll about him. He possesses the same too-perfect complexion, his blue eyes have the same spick-and-span vacuity; and the fact that the right orb is a trifle larger than its fellow gives his countenance, in repose, much the same expression of placid astonishment.... Very plump, very sleepy-looking, immaculate as a cat, you would never have accorded him a second glance: covert whisperings that the stout gentleman yonder is the great Duke of Ormskirk have, I think, taxed human belief more than once during these ten years past."

They said of Ormskirk that he manifested a certain excitement on the day after Culloden, when he had seventy-two prisoners shot _en masse_, [Footnote: But for all that, when, near Rossinish (see Löwe), he captured Flora Macdonald and her ostensibly female companion, Ormskirk flatly declined to recognize Prince Charles. "They may well call you the Pretender, madam," he observed to "Bettie Burke,"--"since as concerns my party you are the most desirable Pretender we could possibly imagine." And thereupon he gave the Prince a pass out of Scotland.] but this was doubted; and in any event, such _battues_ being comparatively rare, he by ordinary appeared to regard the universe with a composed and feline indifference.


"Child, child!" Ormskirk began, and made a tiny gesture of deprecation, "I perceive you are about to appeal to my better nature, and so I warn you in advance that the idiotic business has worked me into a temper absolutely ogreish."

"The Jacobite conspiracy, you mean?" said Miss Allonby. "Oh, I suppose so. I am not particularly interested in such matters, though; I came, you understand, for a warrant, or an order, or whatever you call it, for them to let Frank out of that horrid filthy gaol."

The Duke's face was gravely humorous as he gazed at her for a moment or two in silence, "You know quite well," he said at last, "that I can give you nothing of the sort."

Miss Allonby said: "Upon my word, I never heard of such nonsense! How else is he to take me to Lady Mackworth's ball to-night?"

"It is deplorable," his Grace of Ormskirk conceded, "that Captain Audaine should be thus snatched from circles which he, no doubt, adorns. Still, I fear you must look for another escort; and frankly, child, if you will be advised by me, you will permit us to follow out our present intentions and take off his head--not a great deprivation when you consider he has so plainly demonstrated its contents to be of such inferior quality."

She had drawn close to him, with widening, pitiable eyes. "You mean, then," she demanded, "that Frank's very life is in danger?"

"This is unfair," the Duke complained. "You are about to go into hysterics forthwith and thus bully me into letting the man escape. You are a minx. You presume upon the fact that in the autumn I am to wed your kinswoman and bosom companion, and that my affection for her is widely known to go well past the frontier of common-sense; and also upon the fact that Marian will give me the devil if I don't do exactly as you ask. I consider you to abuse your power unconscionably, I consider you to be a second Delilah. However, since you insist upon it, this Captain Audaine must, of course, be spared the fate he very richly merits."

Miss Allonby had seated herself beside a table and was pensively looking up at him. "Naturally," she said, "Marian and I, between us, will badger you into saving Frank. I shall not worry, therefore, and I must trust to Providence, I suppose, to arrange matters so that the poor boy will not catch his death of cold in your leaky gaol yonder. And now I would like to be informed of what he has been most unjustly accused."

"His crime," the Duke retorted, "is the not unusual one of being a fool. Oh, I am candid! All Jacobites are fools. We gave the Stuarts a fair trial, Heaven knows, and nobody but a fool would want them back."

"I am not here to discuss politics," a dignified Miss Allonby stated, "but simply to find out in what way Frank has been slandered."

Ormskirk lifted one eyebrow. "It is not altogether a matter of politics. Rather, as I see it, it is a matter of common-sense. Under the Stuarts England was a prostitute among the nations, lackey in turn to Spain and France and Italy; under the Guelph the Three-per-cents. are to-day at par. The question as to which is preferable thus resolves itself into a choice between common-sense and bedlamite folly. But, unhappily, you cannot argue with a Jacobite: only four years ago Cumberland and Hawley and I rode from Aberdeen to the Highlands and left all the intervening country bare as the palm of your hand; I forget how many Jacobites we killed, but evidently not enough to convince the others. Very well: we intend to have no more such nonsense, and we must settle this particular affair by the simple device of hanging or beheading every man-Jack concerned in it." He spoke without vehemence--rather regretfully than otherwise.

Miss Allonby was patient, yet resolute to keep to the one really important point. "But what has Frank been accused of doing when it never even entered his head?"

"He has been conspiring," said the Duke, "and with conspicuous clumsiness. It appears, child, that it was their common idiocy which of late brought together some two hundred gentlemen in Lancashire. Being every one of them most unmitigated fools, they desired that sot at Avignon to come over once more and 'take back his own,' as the saying is. He would not stir without definite assurances. So these men drew up a petition pledging their all to the Chevalier's cause and--God help us!--signed it. I protest," the Duke sighed, "I cannot understand these people! A couple of penstrokes, you observe, and there is your life at the mercy of chance, at the disposal of a puff of wind or the first blunderer who stumbles on the paper."

"Doubtless that is entirely true," said Miss Allonby, "but what about Frank?"

Ormskirk shrugged his shoulders and began to laugh. "You are an incomparable actress, you rogue you. But let us be candid, for all that, since as it happens Lord Humphrey is not the only person in my employ. What occurred last night I now partly know, and in part guess, Degge played a bold game, and your Captain gambled even more impudently,--only the stakes, as it to-day transpires, were of somewhat less importance than either of them surmised. For years Mr. Vanringham has been a Jacobite emissary; now he tires of it; and so he devoted the entire morning, yesterday to making a copy of this absurd petition."

"I do not understand," said Miss Allonby; and in appearance, at least, she was no whit disconcerted.

"He carried only the copy. You burned only the copy. Mr. Vanringham, it develops, knew well enough what that bungling Degge had been deputed to do, and he preferred to treat directly with Lord Humphrey's principal. Mr. Vanringham is an intelligent fellow. I dare make this assertion, because I am fresh from an interview with Mr. Vanringham," his Grace of Ormskirk ended, and allowed himself a reminiscent chuckle.

She had risen. "O ungenerous! this Vanringham has been bribed!"

"I pray you," said the Duke, "give vent to no such scandal. Vanringham's life would not be worth a farthing if he had done such a thing, and he knows it. Nay, I have planned it more neatly. To-night Mr. Vanringham will be arrested--merely on suspicion, mind you,--and all his papers will be brought to me; and it is possible that among them we may find the petition. And it is possible that, somehow, when he is tried with the others, Mr. Vanringham alone may be acquitted. And it is possible that an aunt--in Wales, say,--may die about this time and leave him a legacy of some five thousand pounds. Oh, yes, all this is quite possible," said the Duke; "but should we therefore shriek _Bribery_? For my own part, I esteem Mr. Vanringham, as the one sensible man in the two hundred."

"He has turned King's evidence," she said, "and his papers will be brought to you--" Miss Allonby paused. "All his papers!" said Miss Allonby.

"And very curious they will prove, no doubt," said his Grace. "So many love-sick misses write to actors. I can assure you, child, I look forward with a deal of interest to my inspection of Mr. Vanringham's correspondence."

"Eh?--Oh, yes!" Miss Allonby assented--"all his papers! Yes, they should be diverting, I must be going home though, to make ready for Lady Mackworth's ball. And if I have nobody to dance with me, I shall know quite well whose fault it is. How soon will Frank be freed, you odious tyrant?"

"My child, but in these matters we are all slaves to red tape! I can promise you, however, that your Captain will be released from prison before this month is out, so you are not to worry."


When she had left him the Duke sat for a while in meditation.

"That is an admirable girl, I would I could oblige her in the matter and let this Audaine live. But such folly is out of the question. The man is the heart of the conspiracy.

"No, Captain Audaine, I am afraid we must have that handsome head of yours, and set your spirit free before this month is out. And your head also, Mr. Vanringham, when we are done with using your evidence. This affair must be the last; hitherto we have tried leniency, and it has failed; now we will try extermination. Not one of these men must escape.

"I shall have trouble with Marian, since the two girls are inseparable. Yes, this Audaine will cause me some trouble with Marian. I heartily wish the fellow had never been born."

Ormskirk took a miniature from his pocket and sat thus in the dusk regarding it. It was the portrait of a young girl with hazel eyes and abundant hair the color of a dead oak-leaf. And now his sleepy face was curiously moved.

"I shall have to lie to you. And you will believe me, for you are not disastrously clever. But I wish it were not necessary, my dear. I wish it were possible to make you understand that my concern is to save England rather than a twopenny captain. As it is, I shall lie to you, and you will believe. And Dorothy will get over it in time, as one gets over everything in time. But I wish it were not necessary, sweetheart.

"I wish.... I wish that I were not so happy when I think of you. I become so happy that I grow afraid. It is not right that anyone should be so happy.

"Bah! I am probably falling into my dotage."

Ormskirk struck upon the gong. "And now, Mr. Langton, let us get back to business."


Later in the afternoon Miss Allonby demanded of her maid if Gerald Allonby were within, and received a negative response. "Nothing could be better," said Miss Allonby. "You know that new suit of Master Gerald's, Lottrum--the pink-and-silver? Very well; then you will do thus, and thus, and thus--" And she poured forth a series of directions that astonished her maid not a little.

"Law you now!" said Lottrum, "whatever--?"

"If you ask me any questions," said Dorothy, "I will discharge you on the spot. And if you betray me, I shall probably kill you."

Lottrum said, "O Gemini!" and did as her mistress ordered.

Miss Allonby made a handsome boy, and such was her one comfort. Her mirror showed an epicene denizen of romance,--Rosalind or Bellario, a frail and lovely travesty of boyhood; but it is likely that the girl's heart showed stark terror. Here was imminent no jaunt into Arden, but into the gross jaws of even bodily destruction. Here was probable dishonor, a guaranteeable death. She could fence well enough, thanks to many bouts with Gerald; but when the foils were unbuttoned, there was a difference which the girl could appreciate.

"In consequence," said Dorothy, "I had better hurry before I am still more afraid."


So there came that evening, after dusk, to Mr. Francis Vanringham's apartments, at the _Three Gudgeons_, a young spark in pink-and-silver. He appeared startled at the sight of so much company, recovered his composure with a gulp, and presented himself to the assembled gentlemen as Mr. Osric Allonby, unexpectedly summoned from Cambridge, and in search of his brother, Squire Gerald. At his step-mother's villa they had imagined Gerald might be spending the evening with Mr. Vanringham. Mr. Osric Allonby apologized for the intrusion; was their humble servant; and with a profusion of _congées_ made as though to withdraw.

Mr. Vanringham lounged forward. The comedian had a vogue among the younger men, since at all games of chance they found him untiring and tolerably honest; and his apartments were, in effect, a gambling parlor.

Vanringham now took the boy's hand very genially. "You have somewhat the look of your sister," he observed, after a prolonged appraisal; "though, in nature, 'tis not expected of us trousered folk to be so beautiful. And by your leave, you'll not quit us thus unceremoniously, Master Osric. I am by way of being a friend of your brother's, and 'tis more than possible that he may during the evening honor us with his presence. Will you not linger awhile on the off-chance?" And Osric Allonby admitted he had no other engagements.

He was in due form made known to the three gentlemen--Colonel Denstroude, [Footnote: He and Vanringham had just been reconciled by Molly Yates' elopement with Tom Stoach, the Colonel's footman. Garendon has a curious anecdote concerning this lady, apropos of his notorious duel with Denstroude, in '61.] Mr. Babington-Herle, and Sir Gresley Carne--who sat over a bowl of punch. Sir Gresley was then permitted to conclude the narrative which Mr. Allonby's entrance had interrupted: the evening previous, being a little tipsy, Sir Gresley had strolled about Tunbridge in search of recreation and, with perhaps excessive playfulness, had slapped a passer-by, broken the fellow's nose, and gouged both thumbs into the rascal's eyes. The young baronet conceded the introduction of these London pastimes into the rural quiet of Tunbridge to have been an error in taste, especially as the man proved upon inquiry to be a respectable haberdasher and the sole dependence of four children; and having thus unfortunately blinded the little tradesman, Sir Gresley wished to ask of the assembled company what in their opinion was a reasonable reparation. "For I sincerely regret the entire affair," Sir Gresley concluded, "and am desirous to follow a course approvable by all men of honor."

"Heyho!" said Mr. Vanringham, "I'm afraid the rape of both eyes was a trifle extreme; for by ordinary a haberdasher is neither a potato nor an Argus, and, remembering that, even the high frivolity of brandy-and-water should have respected his limitations."

The hands of Mr. Allonby had screened his face during the recital, "Oh, the poor man!" he said, "I cannot bear--" And then, with swift alteration, he tossed back his head, and laughed. "Are we gentlemen to be denied all amusement? Sir Gresley acted quite within his privilege, and in terming him severe you have lied, Mr. Vanringham. I repeat, sir, you have lied!"

Vanringham was on his feet within the instant, but Colonel Denstroude, who sat beside him, laid a heavy hand upon Vanringham's arm. "'Oons, man," says the Colonel, "infanticide is a crime."

The actor shrugged his shoulders, "Doubtless you are in the right, Mr. Allonby," he said; "though, as you were of course going on to remark, you express yourself somewhat obscurely. Your meaning, I take it, is that I mayn't criticise the doings, of my guests? I stand corrected, and concede Sir Gresley acted with commendable moderation, and that Cambridge is, beyond question, the paramount expositor of morals and manners."

The lad stared about him: with a bewildered face. "La, will he not fight me now?" he demanded of Colonel Denstroude,--"now, after I have called him a liar?"

"My dear," the Colonel retorted, "he may possibly deprive you of your nursing-bottle, or he may even birch you, but he will most assuredly not fight you, so long as I have any say in the affair. I' cod, we are all friends here, I hope. D'ye think Mr. Vanringham has so often enacted Richard III. that to strangle infants is habitual with him? Fight you, indeed! 'Sdeath and devils!" roared the Colonel, "I will cut the throat of any man who dares to speak of fighting in this amicable company! Gi'me some more punch," said the Colonel.

And thereupon in silence Mr. Allonby resumed his seat.

Now, to relieve the somewhat awkward tension, Mr. Vanringham cried: "So being neighborly again, let us think no more of the recent difference in opinion. Pay your damned haberdasher what you like, Gresley; or, rather, let Osric here fix the remuneration. I confess to all and sundry," he added, with a smile, "that I daren't say another word in the matter. Frankly, I'm afraid of this youngster. He breathes fire like Ætna."

"He is a lad of spirit," said Mr. Babington-Herle, with an extreme sobriety. "He's a lad eshtrornary spirit. Let's have game hazard."

"Agreed, good sir," said Vanringham, "and I warn you, you will find me a daring antagonist. I had to-day an extraordinary--the usual prejudice, my dear Herle, is, I believe, somewhat inclined to that pronunciation of the word,--the most extraordinary windfall. I am rich, and I protest King Croesus himself sha'n't intimidate me to-night. Come!" he cried, and he drew from his pocket a plump purse and emptied its contents upon the table; "come, lay your wager!"

"Hell and furies," the Colonel groaned, "there's that tomfool boy again! Gi'me some more punch."

For Osric Allonby had risen to his feet and had swept the littered gold and notes toward him. He stood thus, his pink-tipped fingers caressing the money, while his eyes fixed those of Mr. Vanringham. "And the chief priests," observed Osric Allonby, "took the silver pieces and said, 'It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.' Are they, then, fit to be touched by gentlemen, Mr.--ah, but I forget your given name?"

Vanringham, too, had risen, his face changed. "My sponsors in baptism were pleased to christen me Francis."

"I entreat your pardon," the boy drawled, "but I have the oddest fancies. I had thought it was Judas." And so they stood, warily regarding each the other, very much as strange dogs are wont to do at meeting.

"Boy is drunk," Mr. Babington-Herle explained at large, "and presents to pitying eye of disinterested spectator most deplorable results incidental to combination of immaturity and brandy. As to money, now, in Suetonius--" And he launched upon a hiccough-punctuated anecdote of Vespasian, which to record here is not convenient. "And moral of it is," Mr. Babington-Herle perorated, "that all money is always fine thing to have. _Non olet!_ Classical scholar, by Jove! Now let's have game hazard."

Meanwhile those two had stood like statues. Vanringham seemed half-frightened, half persuaded that this unaccountable boy spoke at random. Talk, either way, the actor knew, was dangerous....

"I ask your forgiveness, gentlemen," said Francis Vanringham, "but I'm suddenly ill. If you'll permit me to retire--"

"Not at all," said. Mr. Babington-Herle; "late in evening, as it is. We will go,--Colonel and old Carne and I will go kill watchman. Persevorate him, by Jove,--like sieve."

"I thank you," said Mr. Vanringham, withdrawing up the stairway toward his bedroom. "I thank you. Mr. Allonby," he called, in a firmer tone, "you and I have had some words together and you were the aggressor. Oho, I think we may pass it over. I think--"

Below, the four gentlemen were unhooking their swords from the wall. Mr. Allonby now smiled with cherubic sweetness. "I, too," said he, "think that all our differences might be arranged by ten minutes' private talk." He came back, came up the stairs. "You had left your sword," he said to Mr. Vanringham, "but I fetched it, you see."

Vanringham stared, his lips working oddly. "I am no Siegfried," said he, "and ordinarily my bedfellow is not cold and--deplorable defect in such capacity!--somewhat unsympathetic steel."

"But you forget," the boy urged, "that the room is public. And see, the hilt is set with jewels. Ah, Mr. Vanringham, let us beware how we lead others into temptation--" The door closed behind them.


Said Mr. Babington-Herle, judicially, "That's eshtrornary boy--most eshtrornary boy, and precisely unlike brother."

"You must remember," the Colonel pointed out, "that since his marriage Gerald is a reformed man; he has quite given up punks and hazard, they say, for beer and cattle-raising."

"Well, but it is a sad thing to have a spirited tall rogue turn pimp to balls and rams, and Mrs. Lascelles will be inconsolable," Sir Gresley considered.--"Hey, what's that? Did you not hear a noise up-stairs?"

"I do not think," said the Colonel, "that Mallison finds her so.--Yes, i'cod! I suppose that tipsy boy has turned over a table."

"But you astound me," Sir Gresley interrupted. "The constant Mallison, of all persons!"

"Nevertheless, my dear, they assure me that he has made over to her the heart and lodgings until lately occupied by Mrs. Roydon--Oh, the devil!" cried Colonel Denstroude, "they are fighting above!"

"Good for Frank!" observed Mr. Babington-Herle. "Hip-hip! Stick young rascal! Persevorate him, by Jove!"

But the other men had run hastily up the stairway and were battering at the door of Vanringham's chamber. "Locked!" said the Colonel. "Oh, the unutterable cur! Open, open, I tell you, Vanringham! By God, I'll have your blood for this if you have hurt the boy!"

"Break in the door!" said a voice from below. The Colonel paused in his objurgations, and found that the Duke of Ormskirk, followed by four attendants, had entered the hallway of the _Three Gudgeons_. "Benyon," said the Duke, more sharply, and wheeled upon his men, "you have had my orders, I believe. Break in yonder door!"

This was done. They found Mr. Francis Vanringham upon the hearthrug a tousled heap of flesh and finery, insensible, with his mouth gaping, in a great puddle of blood. To the rear of the room was a boy in pink-and-silver, beside the writing-desk he had just got into with the co-operation of a poker. Hugged to his breast he held a brown despatch-box.

Ormskirk strode toward the boy and with an inhalation paused. The Duke stood tense for a moment. Then silently he knelt beside the prostrate actor and inspected Vanringham's injury. "You have killed him," the Duke said at last.

"I think so," said the boy. "But 'twas in fair fight."

The Duke rose. "Benyon," he rapped out, "do you and Minchin take this body to the room below. Let a surgeon be sent for. Bring word if he find any sign of life. Gentlemen, I must ask you to avoid the chamber. This is a state matter. I am responsible for yonder person."

"Then your Grace is responsible for perfectly irresponsible young villain!" said Mr. Babington-Herle. "He's murderer Frank Vanringham, of poor dear Frank, like a brother to me, by Jove! Hang him high's Haman, your Grace, and then we'll have another bottle."

"Colonel Denstroude," said the Duke, "I will ask you to assist your friend in retiring. The stairs are steep, and his conviviality, I fear, has by a pint or so exceeded his capacity. And in fine--I wish you a good-evening, gentlemen."


Ormskirk closed the door; then he turned, "I lack words," the Duke said. "Oh, believe me, speech fails before this spectacle. To find you, here, at this hour! To find you--my betrothed wife's kinswoman and life-long associate,--here, in this garb! A slain man at your feet, his blood yet reeking upon that stolen sword! His papers--pardon me!"

Ormskirk sprang forward and caught the despatch-box from her grasp as she strove to empty its contents into the fire. "Pardon me," he repeated; "you have unsexed yourself; do not add high treason to the list of your misdemeanors. Mr. Vanringham's papers, as I have previously had the honor to inform you, are the state's property."

She stood with void and inefficient hands that groped vaguely. "I could trust no one," she said. "I have fenced so often with Gerald. I was not afraid--at least, I was not very much afraid.. And 'twas so difficult to draw him into a quarrel,--he wanted to live, because at last he had the money his dirty little soul had craved. Ah, I had sacrificed so many things to get these papers, my Lord Duke,--and now you rob me of them. You!"

The Duke bent pitiless brows upon her. "I rob you of them," he said,--"ay, I am discourteous and I rob, but not for myself alone. For your confusion tells me that I hold here between my hands the salvation of England. Child, child!" he cried, in sudden tenderness, "I trusted you to-day, and could you not trust me? I promised you the life of the man you love. I promised you--" He broke off, as if in a rivalry of rage and horror. "And you betrayed me! You came hither, trousered and shameless, to save these hare-brained traitors! Well, but at worst your treachery has very happily released me from my promise to meddle in the fate of this Audaine. I shall not lift a finger now. And I warn you that within the week your precious Captain will have become the associate of seraphim."

She had heard him, with defiant eyes; her head was flung back and she laughed. "You thought I had come to destroy the Jacobite petition! Heavens, what had I to do with all such nonsense? You had promised me Frank's pardon, and the other men I had never seen. Harkee, my Lord Duke, do all you politicians jump so wildly in your guess work? Did you in truth believe that the poor fool who lies dead below would have entrusted the paper which meant life and wealth to the keeping of a flimsy despatch-box?"

"Indeed, no," his Grace of Ormskirk replied, and appeared a thought abashed; "I was certain it would be concealed somewhere about his person, and I have already given Benyon orders to search for it. Still, I confess that for the moment your agitation misled me into believing these were the important papers; and I admit, my dear creature, that unless you came hither prompted by a mad design somehow to destroy the incriminating documents and thereby to ensure your lover's life--why, otherwise, I repeat, I am quite unable to divine your motive."

She was silent for a while. Presently, "You told me this afternoon," she began, in a dull voice, "that you anticipated much amusement from your perusal of Mr. Vanringham's correspondence. All his papers were to be seized, you said; and they all were to be brought to you, you said. And so many love-sick misses write to actors, you said."

"As I recall the conversation," his Grace conceded, "that which you have stated is quite true." He spoke with admirable languor, but his countenance was vaguely troubled.

And now the girl came to him and laid her finger-tips ever so lightly upon his. "Trust me," she pleaded. "Give me again the trust I have not merited. Ay, in spite of reason, my Lord Duke, restore to me these papers unread, that I may destroy them. For otherwise, I swear to you that without gain to yourself--without gain, O God!--you wreck alike the happiness of an innocent woman and of an honest gentleman. And otherwise--O infatuate!" she wailed, and wrung impotent hands.

But Ormskirk shook his head. "I cannot leap in the dark."

She found no comfort in his face, and presently lowered her eyes. He remained motionless. The girl went to the farther end of the apartment, and then, her form straightening on a sudden, turned and came back toward him.

"I think God has some grudge against you," Dorothy said, without any emotion, "and--hardens your heart, as of old He hardened Pharaoh's heart, to your own destruction. I have done my utmost to save you. My woman's modesty I have put aside, and death and worse than death I have dared to encounter to-night,--ah, my Lord, I have walked through hell this night for your sake and another's. And in the end 'tis yourself who rob me of what I had so nearly gained. Beyond doubt God has some grudge against you. Take your fate, then."

"_Integer vitæ_--" said the Duke of Ormskirk; and with more acerbity, "Go on!" For momentarily she had paused.

"The man who lies dead below was loved by many women. God pity them! But women are not sensible like men, you know. And always the footlights made a halo about him; and when you saw him as Castalio or Romeo, all beauty and love and vigor and nobility, how was a woman to understand his splendor was a sham, taken off with his wig, removed with his pinchbeck jewelry, and as false? No, they thought it native, poor wretches. Yet one of them at least, my Lord--a young girl--found out her error before it was too late. The man was a villain through and through. God grant he sups in hell to-night!"

"Go on," said Ormskirk. But by this time he knew all that she had to tell.

"Afterward he demanded money of her. He had letters, you understand--mad, foolish letters,--and these he offered to sell back to her at his own price. And their publicity meant ruin. And, my Lord, we had so nearly saved the money--pinching day by day, a little by a little, for his price was very high, and it was necessary the sum be got in secrecy,--and that in the end they should be read by you--" Her voice broke.

"Go on," said Ormskirk.

But her composure was shattered. "I would have given my life to save her," the girl babbled. "Ah, you know that I have tried to save her. I was not very much afraid. And it seemed the only way. So I came hither, my Lord, as you see me, to get back the letters before you, too, had come."

"There is but one woman in the world," the Duke said, quietly, "for whom you would have done this thing. You and Marian were reared together. Always you have been inseparable, always you have been to each other as sisters. Is this not what you are about to tell me?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Well, you may spare yourself the pains of such unprofitable lying. That Marian Heleigh should have been guilty of a vulgar _liaison_ with, an actor is to me, who know her, unthinkable. No, madam! It was fear, not love, which drove you hither to-night, and now a baser terror urges you to screen yourself by vilifying her. The woman of whom you speak is yourself. The letters were written by you."

She raised one arm as though a physical blow impended. "No, no!" she cried.

"Madam," the Duke said, "let us have done with these dexterities. I have the vanity to believe I am not unreasonably obtuse--nor, I submit, unreasonably self-righteous. Love is a monstrous force, as irrational, I sometimes think, as the force of the thunderbolt; it appears neither to select nor to eschew, but merely to strike; and it is not my duty to asperse or to commend its victims. You have loved unworthily. From the bottom of my heart I pity you, and I would that you had trusted me--had trusted me enough--" His voice was not quite steady. "Ah, my dear," said Ormskirk, "you should have confided all to me this afternoon. It hurts me that you did not, for I am no Pharisee and--God knows!--my own past is not immaculate. I would have understood, I think. Yet as it is, take back your letters, child,--nay, in Heaven's name, take them in pledge of an old man's love for Dorothy Allonby."

The girl obeyed, turning them in her hands, the while that her eyes were riveted to Ormskirk's face. And in Aprilian fashion she began to smile through her tears. "You are superb, my Lord Duke. You comprehend that Marian wrote these letters, and that if you read them--and I knew of it,--your pride would force you to break off the match, because your notions as to what is befitting in a Duchess of Ormskirk are precise. But you want Marian, you want her even more than I had feared. Therefore, you give me all these letters, because you know that I will destroy them, and thus an inconvenient knowledge will be spared you. Oh, beyond doubt, you are superb."

"I give them to you," Ormskirk answered, "because I have seen through your cowardly and clumsy lie, and have only pity for a thing so base as you. I give them to you because to read one syllable of their contents would be to admit I had some faith in your preposterous fabrication."

But she shook her head. "Words, words, my Lord Duke! I understand you to the marrow. And, in part, I think that I admire you."

He was angry now. "Eh! for the love of God," cried the Duke of Ormskirk, "let us burn the accursed things and have no more verbiage!" He seized the papers and flung them into the fire.

Then these two watched the papers consume to ashes, and stood a while in silence, the gaze of neither lifting higher than the andirons; and presently there was a tapping at the door.

"That will be Benyon," the Duke said, with careful modulations. "Enter, man! What news is there of this Vanringham?"

"He will recover, your Grace, though he has lost much blood. Mr. Vanringham has regained consciousness and took occasion to whisper me your Grace would find the needful papers in his escritoire, in the brown despatch-box."

"That is well," the Duke retorted, "You may go, Benyon." And when the door had closed, he began, incuriously: "Then you are not a murderess at least, Miss Allonby. At least--" He made a queer noise as he gazed, at the despatch-box in his hand. "The brown box!" It fell to the floor. Ormskirk drew near to her, staring, moving stiffly like a hinged toy, "I must have the truth," he said, without a trace of any human passion. This was the Ormskirk men had known in Scotland.

"Yes," she answered, "they were the Jacobite papers. You burned them."

"I!" said the Duke.

Presently he said: "Do you not understand what this farce has cost? Thanks to you, I have no iota of proof against these men. I cannot touch these rebels. O madam, I pray Heaven that you have not by this night's trickery destroyed England!"

"I did it to save the man I love," she proudly said.

"I had promised you his life."

"But would you have kept that promise?"

"No," he answered, simply.

"Then are we quits, my Lord. You lied to me, and I to you. Oh, I know that were I a man you would kill me within the moment. But you respect my womanhood. Ah, goodness!" the girl cried, shrilly, "what very edifying respect for womanhood have you, who burned those papers because you believed my dearest Marian had stooped to a painted mountebank!"

"I burned them--yes, in the belief that I was saving you."

She laughed in his face. "You never believed that,--not for an instant."

But by this time Ormskirk had regained his composure. "The hour is somewhat late, and the discussion--if you will pardon the suggestion,--not likely to be profitable. The upshot of the whole matter is that I am now powerless to harm anybody--I submit the simile of the fangless snake,--and that Captain Audaine will have his release in the morning. Accordingly you will now permit me to wish you a pleasant night's rest. Benyon!" he called, "you will escort Mr. Osric Allonby homeward. I remain to clear up this affair."

He held open the door for her, and, bowing, stood aside that she might pass.


But afterward the great Duke of Ormskirk continued for a long while motionless and faintly smiling as he gazed into the fire. Tricked and ignominiously defeated! Ay, but that was a trifle now, scarcely worthy of consideration. The girl had hoodwinked him, had lied more skilfully than he, yet in the fact that she had lied he found a prodigal atonement. Whigs and Jacobites might have their uses in the cosmic scheme, he reflected, as house-flies have, but what really mattered was that at Halvergate yonder Marian awaited his coming. And in place of statecraft he fell to thinking of two hazel eyes and of abundant hair the color of a dead oak-leaf.

[The end]
James Branch Cabell's short story: Actors All