The Red Mass - Valentine Williams - ebook

The Red Mass ebook

Valentine Williams

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On the day of the execution, Voulland saw the tumbrils approaching. „Come,” said he to those who were at his side, „let us go to the high altar and see them celebrate The Red Mass.” „The Red Mass” is a bustling action tale of the French Revolution and of the sulky and wild young British officer who in one day in London manages to insult a French nobleman, get challenged to a duel and throw a glass of wine in the face of the Prince Regent – George the Fat. Sent abroad on a secret mission, both he and his French sweetheart come close to the guillotine. But that is not the end – far from it. Written in 1925 by English journalist, actor, lecturer and screenwriter Valentine Williams who was the son of G. Douglas Williams, Chief Editor of the Reuters News Agency.

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Liczba stron: 412

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Contents

I. THE PORTRAIT OF A SPOILED YOUNG MAN

II. MR. GRAY

III. THE MAN ON THE SOFA

IV. AFTERMATH

V. AN INTERVIEW, AND WHAT CAME OF IT

VI. THE EVENING BATCH

VII. AT ENGSTROM’S

VIII. LOISON

IX. THE OWL

X. THE FRIEND OF CITIZEN CHARPENTIER

XI. COUTHON

XII. THE TIGER AWAKES

XIII. GRAND-DUC LAUGHS

XIV. THE IMPASSE DU PARADIS

XV. ON THE STAIRCASE

XVI. THE CONVOY OF LA SALPÊTRIÈRE

XVII. A MISHAP, AND WHAT FOLLOWED

XVIII. JUNO OUT OF THE MACHINE

XIX. CYTHEREA

XX. A FACE IN THE CROWD

XXI. THE SUMMONS

XXII. THE GATHERING OF THE STORM

XXIII. IN THE REGISTRAR’S OFFICE

XXIV. IN WHICH TWO YOUNG PEOPLE MAKE AN OLD DISCOVERY

XXV. THE DRAUGHT-PLAYERS

XXVI. IN WHICH HECTOR SENDS A MESSAGE AND RECEIVES ONE

XXVII. THE FORTY-EIGHTH

XXVIII. THE LAST TUMBRIL

XXIX. THE MOUSE-TRAP

XXX. IN WHICH, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS CAREER, MR. GRAY, OF THE TREASURY, IS STARTLED

XXXI. INTO THE LIGHT

I. THE PORTRAIT OF A SPOILED YOUNG MAN

These have not known the sting of rain Nor sweet storm waters, heavy falling; And they have never felt the pain Of burning sun; And in the stillness never one Has heard a wild bird calling.

The loud east wind may call and shout Among the trees and sing and cry Against the window panes, ‘Come out!’ But they are still, And, heedless of the east wind’s will, They live their lives and die.

From In a Conservatory, by Bernice Kenyon

The drum of the King’s Guard was beating a ruffle.

Harshly the roll awoke the echoes of the Palace as the guard turned out to the huge lumbering coach that was bearing His Majesty from Saint James’s to his castle of Windsor. The pigeons flew whirring up; and the old courtyard, its windows flashing in the morning sun, reverberated to the din as the drummer, horridly mindful of the drum-major’s curling cane, chin up, arms stiff, wrists flexible as tempered steel, briskly plied his sticks.

Stirringly the roll rang out over the placid morning air. It swelled forth into Saint James’s Street. The ragged beggars caught the sound as they clamoured miserably for alms from the great gilt coaches that went lurching by. There were some, in tattered uniforms, whose dull eyes it fired with the light of brave old memories of the days when to them the drum was the very voice of war, the herald of victory and defeat, when the tall round case, with its emblazoned coat of arms and white leathers, was their familiar, constant companion, table for food and dicing, seat and pillow–pillow in sleep and death.

The drums of ‘94! The flames of war reddened the horizon of Europe, and amid clouds of drifting powder smoke, black against the blood-red sky, the eighteenth century was passing away. From one end of the Continent to the other the brazen-throated roll rang loud in men’s ears as the drummers of Santerre, of Dumouriez and Pichegru, drummed a sad procession of periwigged, beribboned spectres to the grave. The sky-line was a mass of jostling figures, above which the shot-torn standards tossed while the blood-stirring, maddening, irresistible music of the drum roused the faubourgs, drowned the unheeded voice of majesty on the scaffold, and swept the barefoot republicans to victory...

*     *

*

The drum of the King’s Guard beat a ruffle.

In his lodging in Saint James’s Street, Hector Fotheringay, Lieutenant and Captain of His Majesty’s Third Foot Guards, heard it as, clad in a frilled cambric shirt and white breeches, he sat before the mirror at his dressing-table. His stiff, tight scarlet coat with its heavy gold braid and epaulettes, his sword and sash and three-cornered hat, were lying on the bed where he had thrown them when, just now, he had come off King’s Guard.

May was approaching its close. Though the hour was early, the Colour Court had been unpleasantly warm at guard-mounting. The sun had beat down fiercely upon the enclosed yard and he had seen the sweat glisten even upon the dusky face of Hassan, the negro cymbalist, as he marched by with the band in all the glory of his tall turban, with its red and white plume springing from the glittering crescent, and his silver chain and neck-plate.

The heat made the men slack, and Ashdown, the Captain of the Old Guard, had been sadly short of temper. He had found fault with everything and kept the drill-sergeant running up and down the ranks striking at the men with his heavy cane. He had even checked Fotheringay, his Lieutenant, because, forsooth, he found that his hair was not sufficiently powdered.

The mirror was a relic of the Court of Anne and the grandsires of his reigning majesty, mysteriously acquired on retirement by Buttrell, Fotheringay’s landlord, for many years footman in the Royal service. Among the patches and powder, the eager glances and pouting lips of those artificial days, it must have reflected often the fretful, discontented expression that now disfigured the handsome features of the young Guardsman.

He held a letter open in his hand. With a scowl on his face he referred from the letter to the glass. The letter was from his cousin Betty and marked a stage in one of their periodical tiffs.

You are not ill-looking really, she wrote. Your face is well enough, your sun-browned tint (which shows, at least, that the whole of your day is not spent at the gaming-table) is Vastly Becoming to your powdered hair, your blue eyes are Attractive, your nose has Distinction. But any pretence you may have to Good Looks is destroyed quite by the Overweening Arrogance of your expression. At the age of twenty-five, my dear Hector, you wear the Disillusioned Air of the Finished Courtier, not realising that you are too Young to appear Spoiled and too Old to appear Sulky.

To his impatient scrutiny the old mirror disclosed an oval, sunburnt face, the white powdered hair emphasising the tan, bold, haughty, courageous eyes, in colour the deepest blue, an aquiline nose, a firm and well-shaped mouth, the upper lip decorated with a small and elegant black mustache, such as, in this year of grace 1794, officers of the Household Brigade, almost alone of the Army, wore. It was an arrogant, a discontented face, the face of a spoiled young man with a faint air of dissipation, which, but for a magnificent constitution and a natural love of fresh air and hard exercise, would ere this have marred features of unusual attractiveness and beauty.

With a muttered exclamation Fotheringay turned from the mirror to the table in the centre of his bedroom. On the tray with his chocolate a pile of letters stood. He opened one or two, then flung the whole packet to the floor in a rage. They were all the same, bills, reminders, dunning letters. With a pang they recalled to him the unpleasant fact that, at the Thatched House Tavern on the previous evening, he had lost nine hundred guineas to Maxeter, of the Blues.

He was in a vile mood. He had returned to find his servant absent and no one to help him change his clothes. O’Dare was becoming intolerable, the idlest fellow in the whole Brigade of Guards. And yet the rascal was, in a way, indispensable. Never had he had a servant with such a way with duns. His Irish plausibility was never at a loss: his genial persuasiveness mollified in the most extraordinary fashion these thieving tradesmen, and had hitherto miraculously averted the supreme catastrophe, an appeal to the Commanding Officer.

He stood up and threw back one of the casement windows, letting into the room the sounds and smells of the London morning, the crash of heavy wheels over the cobbled street, the crack of whips, the raucous, discordant cries, the faint scent of wood fires, the stale odour of the open kennels...

Another day begun, another day of aimless idleness, the same unchanging round–a call at the Saint James’s Coffee-House to read the papers, a stroll in the Mall, dinner at White’s... no, he had promised Montgomerie, a brother officer, to dine with him at the Cocoa Tree... then Vauxhall or Ranelagh, and, inevitably and ultimately, an adjournment to the Thatched House or White’s or to one of the foreign gambling-dens in Soho. The round scarcely varied from day to day.

A Brigade of Guards was with the Duke of York in Flanders, regiments of the line garrisoned the coast towns, there was a great camp at Warley, and, in obedience to the clarion call of Mr. Pitt, volunteers were springing to arms against the threat of invasion. Yet London held Fotheringay. London with its life of parade and pipeclay, of tiresome levées and dull social functions, unchanging, endless, unbearable.

Unbearable but for Betty. It was she, he realised, not the town that fettered him to London. He might have managed a transfer to the first battalion in Flanders; for the Duke of Argyll, the Colonel of the Regiment, had been his dead father’s friend and patron. But when he had consulted Betty on the project, his cousin, in one of her rare kind moods, had cried out she could not spare him. And so he had let the chance go by nor had of Betty any thanks for so doing.

For a whole week, he reflected, he had not seen her, the divine, the incomparable, the quick-tempered, the nimble-witted Lady Betty Marchmont. On his last visit her wilful elusiveness, her aloofness, her capricious refusal to read what was in his mind, had exasperated him. But he felt himself drawn to her again. He would call on her that very afternoon: an hour with Betty would, he decided, pleasantly bridge that gaping void between the intolerable dullness of the Saint James’s Coffee-House and ‘Monty’s’ dinner at the Cocoa Tree.

There was a brisk tap at the folding doors between his bedroom and sitting-room, and O’Dare appeared, a pair of boots in his hand.

‘Curse you for an idle rascal!’ exclaimed Fotheringay, springing up from his chocolate. ‘Od rot you, where have you been?’

‘I stepped out to Mr. Hoby’s in Piccadilly to fetch your boots, sir,’ said the man sullenly. ‘They kept me waiting by rayson of th’ account, sir ...’

‘Damn that for an idle excuse! You were at the King’s Head swilling ale, I’ll warrant. Curse me if I don’t send you up for a couple of dozen if I have any more of your idle ways! Come! Dress my hair again and be quick about it! Only this morning I received “goose” from Lord Ashdown about it. And, blast your eyes, don’t breathe down my neck!’

A silken wrapper cast about the front of his fine linen shirt, he seated himself again before the mirror while O’Dare, his face set and sulky, busied himself with his duties.

His toilet completed, Fotheringay changed into undress uniform and prepared to sally forth.

‘Tell my groom to bring my horse round to the Saint James’s Coffee-House,’ he said to O’Dare from the top of the stairs. ‘And see that he doesn’t keep me waiting, you idle ruffian! Well, Buttrell!’

The landlord, a fat man of fifty-odd, sleek as a firkin of butter, in a snuff-coloured suit and white cotton stockings, who was descending from the upper storey, bowed low.

‘Your servant, Mr. Fotheringay, sir!’

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