DUPED AND ROBBED

John returns to the Netherlands–Determines to go east and fight the
Turks–Meets a bogus French nobleman and his attendants–Goes to France
with them–They steal all his belongings and with the assistance of the
ship-master decamp–John sells his cloak and pursues the thieves–A
friend in need–Finds the robbers but can get no redress–Alone in a
strange land without cloak or purse–Secures some clothes and money and
turns back to the coast–Still determined to get to the Turkish war by
some means.

John entered upon his second campaign in the Netherlands under more
promising circumstances than at first. He was furnished with good arms
and accoutrements, an ample supply of fine clothing and a considerable
sum of money. Moreover, he was no longer a greenhorn. It is true that
he could not boast of much actual experience of warfare, but he had
learned to handle his weapons with unusual dexterity and was prepared
to give a good account of himself. He had, however, few opportunities
for display of his skill before the winter put an end to hostilities
for the time.

When the camps began to break up, John followed the stream of travel
towards the coast without any definite plan for his future movements.
He was beginning to tire of service in Holland, which had disappointed
his expectations, and was anxious to find a fresh field for adventure.
Rudolph the Second, Emperor of Germany, was waging war against the
Turks in Hungary and Transylvania. Here was an avenue to new scenes
and experiences, but the seat of war was on the other side of Europe
and the journey thence a long and expensive one. For that reason he
could find none among his late companions in arms who was going to the
Turkish war. Still he continued his journey to Rotterdam, hoping that
he might there fall in with some nobleman bound for the East, to whose
train he might attach himself. He allowed his desire to become known
as widely as possible, thinking that it might come to the ears of some
leader willing to engage his services.

The port was full of soldiers, real and pretended, waiting to take
ship in various directions. There were veterans seeking their homes
for a spell of rest after hard fighting or returning to recover from
severe wounds. There were others to whom the sole attraction presented
by the scene of war was the prospect of loot. There were traders and
camp followers innumerable, desperadoes and outlaws, gamblers who used
loaded dice and sharpers of all sorts. John was fated to fall into
the hands of some of those smooth but dishonest characters who, like
vultures, hung in the rear of every army and preyed on the soldiers
returning from a campaign rich with pay and plunder. Our hero was an
easy victim, for, whilst his common sense rendered him sufficiently
cautious where an open enemy was concerned, his frank and generous
disposition prevented his suspecting the good faith of a pretended
friend.

John had his heavy iron-bound chest taken to one of the best inns
in the town and there he settled himself comfortably to interested
contemplation of the bustle and movement about him. Although he makes
no mention of being conscious of the trait, John Smith evidently had
the habit of awaiting events when circumstances failed to supply him
with a basis for a reasonable plan of action. When we can not see
our way clearly ahead, generally the wisest thing we can do is to do
nothing, as Handy Andy might have said. We seldom force a situation
without making a mess of it. It did not often happen to John, in the
course of his eventful life, that he had long to wait for something to
turn up, and the present occasion was no exception to the rule.

He was seated in the common room of the inn one day when he was forced
to overhear a conversation in French, with which language he had become
tolerably familiar. The speakers were four men who had the appearance
of being soldiers in good circumstances. One of them, in particular,
was richly dressed and seemed to be of superior station to the others,
who were receiving his directions for the voyage to France, which was
to be the first stage in a journey to Hungary, where they proposed
taking part in the campaign against the Turks. John heard this with
delight, for it seemed to afford the very opportunity for which he had
been longing.

Presently the three subordinates went out, and no sooner were they
alone than John eagerly approached the remaining Frenchman. After
apologizing for overhearing the conversation, which, in truth, was
intended for his ears, the young soldier stated his circumstances and
ventured to express a hope that the gentleman, whom he surmised to be a
nobleman, might find a place for him in his train. The Frenchman, who
stated his name and style to be Lord de Preau, at first affected to be
annoyed at the discussion of his private affairs, but as John proceeded
with his story the supposed nobleman relaxed, and at its conclusion
with amiable condescension invited our hero to be seated and join him
in a bottle of wine.

“I may be able to further your design,” said “Lord de Preau” with
thoughtful deliberation, whilst John hung eagerly upon his every
word. “It is in my mind to help you, for a more likely young gallant
I have never met. But I have not the means, as you seem to think, of
supporting a large train.”

Here his “lordship” broke off to raise his goblet to his lips, and
John’s heart sank as he imagined that he saw an objection in prospect.
The “nobleman” noted the look of disappointment on the young man’s
mobile countenance and smiled encouragingly as he continued:

“It may be contrived I ween and thus. The Duc de Mercœur–as is
doubtless beknown to you–is now at the seat of war with a company
raised in France. I have letters to the Duc’s good lady who will, I
doubt not, furnish me with the means to continue my journey and also
commend me to the favor of her lord.”

“And the Duchesse? Where may she be?” asked John.

“The Duchesse de Mercœur sojourns with her father, Monsieur Bellecourt,
whose lands adjoin my own poor estate in Picardy,” replied the
pretended nobleman, “so that first we repair to my _chateau_ and there
lay our plans for the future. It is agreed?”

Agreed! Why John was fairly ready to fall on “Lord de Preau’s” neck
and embrace him in the ecstasy of his delight. That accommodating
individual undertook that one of his attendants should make all the
preparations for departure and notify our hero when everything should
be in readiness.

At noon the following day the three retainers of the French “nobleman”
appeared and announced the approaching departure of the vessel upon
which they were to embark. They gave their names as Courcelles, Nelie
and Montferrat, and each expressed his satisfaction at the prospect
of having the young Englishman as a companion in arms in the coming
campaign. Preceded by four colporteurs, carrying John’s baggage, they
went on board and, De Preau shortly after joining them, the master
weighed anchor and sailed out of port.

The vessel on which John shipped with such great expectations was one
of the small coasting luggers, common at the time, which bore doubtful
reputations because they were as often engaged in smuggling, or other
illegal venture, as in honest trade. Upon this particular occasion the
craft was full to the point of overcrowding with passengers bound for
various points upon the coast of France.

Night had set in when the ship cast anchor in a rough sea off the
coast of Picardy. The landing was to be made at St. Valèry, where the
inlet is too shallow to permit the entry of any vessels larger than
fishing smacks. There was but one small boat available for taking the
passengers ashore, and this the master placed first at the disposal of
“Lord de Preau.” The baggage of the entire party was lowered into it
and then they began to descend, the supposed nobleman in the lead. When
the three retainers had followed their master, the captain, who with
the aid of a seaman was going to row the boat to land, declared that
it was already laden to its utmost capacity and, promising to return
immediately for John, he pushed off into the darkness.

Hour followed hour without bringing any sight of the ship’s boat to
our hero impatiently pacing the deck, nor did the return of day afford
any sign of the captain and his craft. By this time John’s anxiety had
reached a painful pitch. With the exception of his small sword and
the clothes upon his back everything he possessed had left the ship
in the boat, which he began to fear had foundered in the storm that
was not yet exhausted. If this were true his plight was a sorry one,
indeed. With straining eyes he spent the day gazing across the mile of
water that lay between the ship and the little village of St. Valèry.
The waves gradually subsided as the day wore on, and when evening
approached the sea was running in a long heavy swell. John felt that he
could not abide another night of uncertainty and was seriously debating
in his mind the chances of safely reaching the shore by swimming, when
he perceived a boat putting out from the port.

A very angry set of passengers greeted the master as he came over
the side of his vessel and they were not altogether appeased by his
explanation that the boat had been damaged on the outward trip, and
he dared not entrust himself to it for the return until after the
water and wind went down. He reassured John by the statement that his
friends had gone forward to Amiens to avoid the poor accommodation at
St. Valèry, and would there await him. Having made his excuses, the
master proceeded to get his passengers ashore as quickly as possible
and offered John a seat in the first boat which he was only too glad to
accept, for, though his mind was somewhat easier, he felt impatient to
rejoin his new patron–and his chest.

John’s first thought on landing was to procure a horse to carry him
to Amiens, but when he thrust his hand into his pocket he discovered
that he had not a single penny–even his purse was with his baggage. He
might walk, but Amiens was nearly forty miles distant and it would take
him two days to cover the ground on foot. Moreover, he would need food
on the way and was already hungry and faint, having in his anxiety of
the previous hours neglected to eat. Clearly he must get some money,
and the readiest way to do so seemed to lie in selling his cloak, which
was a very good one. He disposed of it to the innkeeper at a fair
price, ate a hurried supper, and was in the act of arranging for the
hire of a horse, when one of his fellow passengers entered the tavern
and expressed a desire to speak with him privately.

The man who thus claimed John’s attention was a soldier of middle age
with an honest and weather-beaten countenance. He had arrived on one
of the last boat trips but had sought our hero with as little delay
as possible. He now expressed his belief that John was the victim of
a plot to deprive him of his money and belongings. De Preau he said
was slightly known to him as the son of a notary of Mortagne, and he
believed the other rascals to be natives of that town. He had not
suspected any mischief until he heard the master on his return from
shore refer to De Preau as a nobleman. He doubted not the ship captain
had connived at the swindle, but nothing could have been proved against
him in the absence of the chief culprits.

John was at first disposed to be angry with Curzianvere, as the soldier
was named, for not having spoken sooner and denounced the master on the
spot. He readily excused the other, however, when he explained that
he was an outlaw from the country on account of a political offence
and now secretly visiting his home at great risk. It was natural
that he should have hesitated to get mixed up in a scrape that would
necessitate his appearing before a magistrate at the hazard of being
recognized. By divulging this much about himself he had confided in
the honor of a stranger, but so great was the confidence with which
John’s frank demeanor inspired him that he would go still farther and,
as his road lay past Mortagne, would guide him thither. He warned John,
however, that he could not venture to enter any large town in Picardy
or Brittany, much less appear as a witness against De Preau and his
companions, should they be found.

With this understanding the two soldiers set out together, and after
several weeks’ tramping, during which Curzianvere had shared his
slender purse with John, they arrived at Mortagne. Here the outlaw,
perhaps fearing complications that might arise from his companion’s
errand, decided to continue his journey. Before parting with the young
wayfarer, however, he gave him letters to some friends residing in the
neighborhood from whom he might expect hospitable treatment.

John entered the town, and so far as the first step in his quest was
concerned, met with immediate success. Almost at once he encountered De
Preau and Courcelles sauntering along the main street. John’s bile rose
as he perceived that both were tricked out in finery abstracted from
his chest. He strode up to them and in angry tones charged them with
deception and the theft of his goods. The sudden encounter confused the
rogues, but De Preau quickly regained his composure.

“Does Monsieur honor you with his acquaintance?” he asked of Courcelles
with a significant look.

“Had I ever seen that striking face before I must have remembered it,”
replied the other, taking the cue from his leader.

John was aghast at their effrontery, and turning to a knot of townsmen
who gathered around, he cried:

“These men have robbed me of my possessions. Even now they wear my
garments upon their backs. If there be justice—-” but speech failed
him at sight of the unsympathetic faces of the bystanders.

“Mon Dieu! But the fellow is a superb actor,” drawled De Preau.

“Most like some knave who would draw us into a quarrel,” added
Courcelles.

The onlookers, too, began to make menacing remarks, and poor John
realized the hopelessness of his position. He was a foreigner without a
friend, and he suddenly remembered that to be locked up and found with
Curzianvere’s letters upon him would not mend matters. He could not
support a single word of his story with proof. He was cloakless and his
clothing worn and travel-stained. Who could be expected to believe that
he ever owned a purse filled with gold and a chest of rich raiment? He
was quivering with just rage, but he had sense enough to see that his
wisest course lay in retreat. So without another word he turned his
back on the two villains and walked rapidly out of the town.

A few miles from Mortagne John found the friends to whose kind offices
the letters of Curzianvere recommended him. He met with a cordial
reception and sincere sympathy when he had told his tale, but these
good people were obliged to admit that he had no chance of recovering
his property or causing the punishment of the thieves. Being thus fully
convinced that the matter was beyond remedy, John determined to put it
behind him and seek relief for his feelings in action. He declined the
invitation of Curzianvere’s friends to prolong his visit but, accepting
a small sum of money and a cloak from them, set out to retrace his
steps to the coast, in the hope that he might secure employment upon a
ship of war.