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A Lady of Quality by Francis H. Burnett

Part 3 out of 5

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the throng and gaiety, to which I am unaccustomed. But chiefly I
sat in retirement that I might watch--my sister."

"Your sister, madam?" he said, as if the questioning echo were
almost involuntary, and he bowed again in some apology.

"My Lady Dunstanwolde," she replied. "I take such pleasure in her
loveliness and in all that pertains to her, it is a happiness to me
to but look on."

Whatsoever the thing was in her loving mood which touched him and
found echo in his own, he was so far moved that he answered to her
with something less of ceremoniousness; remembering also, in truth,
that she was a lady he had heard of, and recalling her relationship
and name.

"It is then Mistress Anne Wildairs I am honoured by having speech
with," he said. "My Lady Dunstanwolde has spoken of you in my
presence. I am my lord's kinsman the Duke of Osmonde;" again
bowing, and Anne curtseyed low once more.

Despite his greatness, she felt a kindness and grace in him which
was not condescension, and which almost dispelled the timidity
which, being part of her nature, so unduly beset her at all times
when she addressed or was addressed by a stranger. John Oxon,
bowing his bright curls, and seeming ever to mock with his smiles,
had caused her to be overcome with shy awkwardness and blushes; but
this man, who seemed as far above him in person and rank and mind as
a god is above a graceful painted puppet, even appeared to give of
his own noble strength to her poor weakness. He bore himself
towards her with a courtly respect such as no human being had ever
shown to her before. He besought her again to be seated in her
nook, and stood before her conversing with such delicate sympathy
with her mood as seemed to raise her to the pedestal on which stood
less humble women. All those who passed before them he knew and
could speak easily of. The high deeds of those who were statesmen,
or men honoured at Court or in the field, he was familiar with; and
of those who were beauties or notable gentlewomen he had always
something courtly to say.

Her own worship of her sister she knew full well he understood,
though he spoke of her but little.

"Well may you gaze at her," he said. "So does all the world, and
honours and adores."

He proffered her at last his arm, and she, having strangely taken
courage, let him lead her through the rooms and persuade her to some
refreshment. Seeing her so wondrously emerge from her chrysalis,
and under the protection of so distinguished a companion, all looked
at her as she passed with curious amazement, and indeed Mistress
Anne was all but overpowered by the reverence shown them as they
made their way.

As they came again into the apartment wherein the host and hostess
received their guests, Anne felt her escort pause, and looked up at
him to see the meaning of his sudden hesitation. He was gazing
intently, not at Clorinda, but at the Earl of Dunstanwolde.

"Madam," he said, "pardon me that I seem to detain you, but--but I
look at my kinsman. Madam," with a sudden fear in his voice, "he is
ailing--he sways as he stands. Let us go to him. Quickly! He
falls!"

And, in sooth, at that very moment there arose a dismayed cry from
the guests about them, and there was a surging movement; and as they
pressed forward themselves through the throng, Anne saw Dunstanwolde
no more above the people, for he had indeed fallen and lay out-
stretched and deathly on the floor.

'Twas but a few seconds before she and Osmonde were close enough to
him to mark his fallen face and ghastly pallor, and a strange dew
starting out upon his brow.

But 'twas his wife who knelt beside his prostrate body, waving all
else aside with a great majestic gesture of her arm.

"Back! back!" she cried. "Air! air! and water! My lord! My dear
lord!"

But he did not answer, or even stir, though she bent close to him
and thrust her hand within his breast. And then the frightened
guests beheld a strange but beautiful and loving thing, such as
might have moved any heart to tenderness and wonder. This great
beauty, this worshipped creature, put her arms beneath and about the
helpless, awful body--for so its pallor and stillness indeed made
it--and lifted it in their powerful whiteness as if it had been the
body of a child, and so bore it to a couch near and laid it down,
kneeling beside it.

Anne and Osmonde were beside her. Osmonde pale himself, but gently
calm and strong. He had despatched for a physician the instant he
saw the fall.

"My lady," he said, bending over her, "permit me to approach. I
have some knowledge of these seizures. Your pardon!"

He knelt also and took the moveless hand, feeling the pulse; he,
too, thrust his hand within the breast and held it there, looking at
the sunken face.

"My dear lord," her ladyship was saying, as if to the prostrate
man's ear alone, knowing that her tender voice must reach him if
aught would--as indeed was truth. "Edward! My dear--dear lord!"

Osmonde held his hand steadily over the heart. The guests shrunk
back, stricken with terror.

There was that in this corner of the splendid room which turned
faces pale.

Osmonde slowly withdrew his hand, and turning to the kneeling woman-
-with a pallor like that of marble, but with a noble tenderness and
pity in his eyes -

"My lady," he said, "you are a brave woman. Your great courage must
sustain you. The heart beats no more. A noble life is finished."

* * *

The guests heard, and drew still farther back, a woman or two
faintly whimpering; a hurrying lacquey parted the crowd, and so, way
being made for him, the physician came quickly forward.

Anne put her shaking hands up to cover her gaze. Osmonde stood
still, looking down. My Lady Dunstanwolde knelt by the couch and
hid her beautiful face upon the dead man's breast.

CHAPTER XII--Which treats of the obsequies of my Lord of
Dunstanwolde, of his lady's widowhood, and of her return to town

All that remained of my Lord Dunstanwolde was borne back to his
ancestral home, and there laid to rest in the ancient tomb in which
his fathers slept. Many came from town to pay him respect, and the
Duke of Osmonde was, as was but fitting, among them. The countess
kept her own apartments, and none but her sister, Mistress Anne,
beheld her.

The night before the final ceremonies she spent sitting by her
lord's coffin, and to Anne it seemed that her mood was a stranger
one, than ever woman had before been ruled by. She did not weep or
moan, and only once kneeled down. In her sweeping black robes she
seemed more a majestic creature than she had ever been, and her
beauty more that of a statue than of a mortal woman. She sent away
all other watchers, keeping only her sister with her, and Anne
observed in her a strange protecting gentleness when she spoke of
the dead man.

"I do not know whether dead men can feel and hear," she said.
"Sometimes there has come into my mind--and made me shudder--the
thought that, though they lie so still, mayhap they know what we do-
-and how they are spoken of as nothings whom live men and women but
wait a moment to thrust away, that their own living may go on again
in its accustomed way, or perchance more merrily. If my lord knows
aught, he will be grateful that I watch by him to-night in this
solemn room. He was ever grateful, and moved by any tenderness of
mine."

'Twas as she said, the room was solemn, and this almost to
awfulness. It was a huge cold chamber at best, and draped with
black, and hung with hatchments; a silent gloom filled it which made
it like a tomb. Tall wax-candles burned in it dimly, but adding to
its solemn shadows with their faint light; and in his rich coffin
the dead man lay in his shroud, his hands like carvings of yellowed
ivory clasped upon his breast.

Mistress Anne dared not have entered the place alone, and was so
overcome at sight of the pinched nostrils and sunk eyes that she
turned cold with fear. But Clorinda seemed to feel no dread or
shrinking. She went and stood beside the great funeral-draped bed
of state on which the coffin lay, and thus standing, looked down
with a grave, protecting pity in her face. Then she stooped and
kissed the dead man long upon the brow.

"I will sit by you to-night," she said. "That which lies here will
be alone to-morrow. I will not leave you this last night. Had I
been in your place you would not leave me."

She sat down beside him and laid her strong warm hand upon his cold
waxen ones, closing it over them as if she would give them heat.
Anne knelt and prayed--that all might be forgiven, that sins might
be blotted out, that this kind poor soul might find love and peace
in the kingdom of Heaven, and might not learn there what might make
bitter the memory of his last year of rapture and love. She was so
simple that she forgot that no knowledge of the past could embitter
aught when a soul looked back from Paradise.

Throughout the watches of the night her sister sat and held the dead
man's hand; she saw her more than once smooth his grey hair almost
as a mother might have touched a sick sleeping child's; again she
kissed his forehead, speaking to him gently, as if to tell him he
need not fear, for she was close at hand; just once she knelt, and
Anne wondered if she prayed, and in what manner, knowing that prayer
was not her habit.

'Twas just before dawn she knelt so, and when she rose and stood
beside him, looking down again, she drew from the folds of her robe
a little package.

"Anne," she said, as she untied the ribband that bound it, "when
first I was his wife I found him one day at his desk looking at
these things as they lay upon his hand. He thought at first it
would offend me to find him so; but I told him that I was gentler
than he thought--though not so gentle as the poor innocent girl who
died in giving him his child. 'Twas her picture he was gazing at,
and a little ring and two locks of hair--one a brown ringlet from
her head, and one--such a tiny wisp of down--from the head of her
infant. I told him to keep them always and look at them often,
remembering how innocent she had been, and that she had died for
him. There were tears on my hand when he kissed it in thanking me.
He kept the little package in his desk, and I have brought it to
him."

The miniature was of a sweet-faced girl with large loving childish
eyes, and cheeks that blushed like the early morning. Clorinda
looked at her almost with tenderness.

"There is no marrying or giving in marriage, 'tis said," quoth she;
"but were there, 'tis you who were his wife--not I. I was but a
lighter thing, though I bore his name and he honoured me. When you
and your child greet him he will forget me--and all will be well."

She held the miniature and the soft hair to his cold lips a moment,
and Anne saw with wonder that her own mouth worked. She slipped the
ring on his least finger, and hid the picture and the ringlets
within the palms of his folded hands.

"He was a good man," she said; "he was the first good man that I had
ever known." And she held out her hand to Anne and drew her from
the room with her, and two crystal tears fell upon the bosom of her
black robe and slipped away like jewels.

When the funeral obsequies were over, the next of kin who was heir
came to take possession of the estate which had fallen to him, and
the widow retired to her father's house for seclusion from the
world. The town house had been left to her by her deceased lord,
but she did not wish to return to it until the period of her
mourning was over and she laid aside her weeds. The income the earl
had been able to bestow upon her made her a rich woman, and when she
chose to appear again in the world it would be with the power to
mingle with it fittingly.

During her stay at her father's house she did much to make it a more
suitable abode for her, ordering down from London furnishings and
workmen to set her own apartments and Anne's in order. But she
would not occupy the rooms she had lived in heretofore. For some
reason it seemed to be her whim to have begun to have an enmity for
them. The first day she entered them with Anne she stopped upon the
threshold.

"I will not stay here," she said. "I never loved the rooms--and now
I hate them. It seems to me it was another woman who lived in them-
-in another world. 'Tis so long ago that 'tis ghostly. Make ready
the old red chambers for me," to her woman; "I will live there.
They have been long closed, and are worm-eaten and mouldy perchance;
but a great fire will warm them. And I will have furnishings from
London to make them fit for habitation."

The next day it seemed for a brief space as if she would have
changed even from the red chambers.

"I did not know," she said, turning with a sudden movement from a
side window, "that one might see the old rose garden from here. I
would not have taken the room had I guessed it. It is too dreary a
wilderness, with its tangle of briars and its broken sun-dial."

"You cannot see the dial from here," said Anne, coming towards her
with a strange paleness and haste. "One cannot see WITHIN the
garden from any window, surely."

"Nay," said Clorinda; "'tis not near enough, and the hedges are too
high; but one knows 'tis there, and 'tis tiresome."

"Let us draw the curtains and not look, and forget it," said poor
Anne. And she drew the draperies with a trembling hand; and ever
after while they dwelt in the room they stayed so.

My lady wore her mourning for more than a year, and in her sombre
trailing weeds was a wonder to behold. She lived in her father's
house, and saw no company, but sat or walked and drove with her
sister Anne, and visited the poor. The perfect stateliness of her
decorum was more talked about than any levity would have been; those
who were wont to gossip expecting that having made her fine match
and been so soon rid of her lord, she would begin to show her
strange wild breeding again, and indulge in fantastical whims. That
she should wear her mourning with unflinching dignity and withdraw
from the world as strictly as if she had been a lady of royal blood
mourning her prince, was the unexpected thing, and so was talked of
everywhere.

At the end of the eighteenth month she sent one day for Anne, who,
coming at her bidding, found her standing in her chamber surrounded
by black robes and draperies piled upon the bed, and chairs, and
floor, their sombreness darkening the room like a cloud; but she
stood in their midst in a trailing garment of pure white, and in her
bosom was a bright red rose tied with a knot of scarlet ribband,
whose ends fell floating. Her woman was upon her knees before a
coffer in which she was laying the weeds as she folded them.

Mistress Anne paused within the doorway, her eyes dazzled by the
tall radiant shape and blot of scarlet colour as if by the shining
of the sun. She knew in that moment that all was changed, and that
the world of darkness they had been living in for the past months
was swept from existence. When her sister had worn her mourning
weeds she had seemed somehow almost pale; but now she stood in the
sunlight with the rich scarlet on her cheek and lip, and the stars
in her great eyes.

"Come in, sister Anne," she said. "I lay aside my weeds, and my
woman is folding them away for me. Dost know of any poor creature
newly left a widow whom some of them would be a help to? 'Tis a
pity that so much sombreness should lie in chests when there are
perhaps poor souls to whom it would be a godsend."

Before the day was over, there was not a shred of black stuff left
in sight; such as had not been sent out of the house to be
distributed, being packed away in coffers in the garrets under the
leads.

"You will wear it no more, sister?" Anne asked once. "You will wear
gay colours--as if it had never been?"

"It IS as if it had never been," Clorinda answered. "Ere now her
lord is happy with her, and he is so happy that I am forgot. I had
a fancy that--perhaps at first--well, if he had looked down on
earth--remembering--he would have seen I was faithful in my
honouring of him. But now, I am sure--"

She stopped with a half laugh. "'Twas but a fancy," she said.
"Perchance he has known naught since that night he fell at my feet--
and even so, poor gentleman, he hath a happy fate. Yes, I will wear
gay colours," flinging up her arms as if she dropped fetters, and
stretched her beauteous limbs for ease--"gay colours--and roses and
rich jewels--and all things--ALL that will make me beautiful!"

The next day there came a chest from London, packed close with
splendid raiment; when she drove out again in her chariot her
servants' sad-coloured liveries had been laid by, and she was
attired in rich hues, amidst which she glowed like some flower new
bloomed.

Her house in town was thrown open again, and set in order for her
coming. She made her journey back in state, Mistress Anne
accompanying her in her travelling-coach. As she passed over the
highroad with her equipage and her retinue, or spent the night for
rest at the best inns in the towns and villages, all seemed to know
her name and state.

"'Tis the young widow of the Earl of Dunstanwolde," people said to
each other--"she that is the great beauty, and of such a wit and
spirit that she is scarce like a mere young lady. 'Twas said she
wed him for his rank; but afterwards 'twas known she made him a
happy gentleman, though she gave him no heir. She wore weeds for
him beyond the accustomed time, and is but now issuing from her
retirement."

Mistress Anne felt as if she were attending some royal lady's
progress, people so gazed at them and nudged each other, wondered
and admired.

"You do not mind that all eyes rest on you," she said to her sister;
"you are accustomed to be gazed at."

"I have been gazed at all my life," my lady answered; "I scarce take
note of it."

On their arrival at home they met with fitting welcome and
reverence. The doors of the town house were thrown open wide, and
in the hall the servants stood in line, the housekeeper at the head
with her keys at her girdle, the little jet-black negro page
grinning beneath his turban with joy to see his lady again, he
worshipping her as a sort of fetich, after the manner of his race.
'Twas his duty to take heed to the pet dogs, and he stood holding by
their little silver chains a smart-faced pug and a pretty spaniel.
His lady stopped a moment to pat them and to speak to him a word of
praise of their condition; and being so favoured, he spoke also,
rolling his eyes in his delight at finding somewhat to impart.

"Yesterday, ladyship, when I took them out," he said, "a gentleman
marked them, knowing whose they were. He asked me when my lady came
again to town, and I answered him to-day. 'Twas the fair gentleman
in his own hair."

"'Twas Sir John Oxon, your ladyship," said the lacquey nearest to
him.

Her ladyship left caressing her spaniel and stood upright. Little
Nero was frightened, fearing she was angered; she stood so straight
and tall, but she said nothing and passed on.

At the top of the staircase she turned to Mistress Anne with a
laugh.

"Thy favourite again, Anne," she said. "He means to haunt me, now
we are alone. 'Tis thee he comes after."

CHAPTER XIII--Wherein a deadly war begins

The town and the World of Fashion greeted her on her return with
open arms. Those who looked on when she bent the knee to kiss the
hand of Royalty at the next drawing-room, whispered among themselves
that bereavement had not dimmed her charms, which were even more
radiant than they had been at her presentation on her marriage, and
that the mind of no man or woman could dwell on aught as mournful as
widowhood in connection with her, or, indeed, could think of
anything but her brilliant beauty. 'Twas as if from this time she
was launched into a new life. Being rich, of high rank, and no
longer an unmarried woman, her position had a dignity and freedom
which there was no creature but might have envied. As the wife of
Dunstanwolde she had been the fashion, and adored by all who dared
adore her; but as his widow she was surrounded and besieged. A
fortune, a toast, a wit, and a beauty, she combined all the things
either man or woman could desire to attach themselves to the train
of; and had her air been less regal, and her wit less keen of edge,
she would have been so beset by flatterers and toadies that life
would have been burdensome. But this she would not have, and was
swift enough to detect the man whose debts drove him to the
expedient of daring to privately think of the usefulness of her
fortune, or the woman who manoeuvred to gain reputation or success
by means of her position and power.

"They would be about me like vultures if I were weak fool enough to
let them," she said to Anne. "They cringe and grovel like spaniels,
and flatter till 'tis like to make one sick. 'Tis always so with
toadies; they have not the wit to see that their flattery is an
insolence, since it supposes adulation so rare that one may be moved
by it. The men with empty pockets would marry me, forsooth, and the
women be dragged into company clinging to my petticoats. But they
are learning. I do not shrink from giving them sharp lessons."

This she did without mercy, and in time cleared herself of hangers-
on, so that her banquets and assemblies were the most distinguished
of the time, and the men who paid their court to her were of such
place and fortune that their worship could but be disinterested.

Among the earliest to wait upon her was his Grace of Osmonde, who
found her one day alone, save for the presence of Mistress Anne,
whom she kept often with her. When the lacquey announced him, Anne,
who sat upon the same seat with her, felt her slightly start, and
looking up, saw in her countenance a thing she had never beheld
before, nor had indeed ever dreamed of beholding. It was a strange,
sweet crimson which flowed over her face, and seemed to give a
wondrous deepness to her lovely orbs. She rose as a queen might
have risen had a king come to her, but never had there been such
pulsing softness in her look before. 'Twas in some curious fashion
like the look of a girl; and, in sooth, she was but a girl in years,
but so different to all others of her age, and had lived so singular
a life, that no one ever thought of her but as a woman, or would
have deemed it aught but folly to credit her with any tender emotion
or blushing warmth girlhood might be allowed.

His Grace was as courtly of bearing as he had ever been. He stayed
not long, and during his visit conversed but on such subjects as a
kinsman may graciously touch upon; but Anne noted in him a new look
also, though she could scarce have told what it might be. She
thought that he looked happier, and her fancy was that some burden
had fallen from him.

Before he went away he bent low and long over Clorinda's hand,
pressing his lips to it with a tenderness which strove not to
conceal itself. And the hand was not withdrawn, her ladyship
standing in sweet yielding, the tender crimson trembling on her
cheek. Anne herself trembled, watching her new, strange loveliness
with a sense of fascination; she could scarce withdraw her eyes, it
seemed so as if the woman had been reborn.

"Your Grace will come to us again," my lady said, in a soft voice.
"We are two lonely women," with her radiant compelling smile, "and
need your kindly countenancing."

His eyes dwelt deep in hers as he answered, and there was a flush
upon his own cheek, man and warrior though he was.

"If I might come as often as I would," he said, "I should be at your
door, perhaps, with too great frequency."

"Nay, your Grace," she answered. "Come as often as WE would--and
see who wearies first. 'Twill not be ourselves."

He kissed her hand again, and this time 'twas passionately, and when
he left her presence it was with a look of radiance on his noble
face, and with the bearing of a king new crowned.

For a few moments' space she stood where he had parted from her,
looking as though listening to the sound of his step, as if she
would not lose a footfall; then she went to the window, and stood
among the flowers there, looking down into the street, and Anne saw
that she watched his equipage.

'Twas early summer, and the sunshine flooded her from head to foot;
the window and balcony were full of flowers--yellow jonquils and
daffodils, white narcissus, and all things fragrant of the spring.
The scent of them floated about her like an incense, and a straying
zephyr blew great puffs of their sweetness back into the room. Anne
felt it all about her, and remembered it until she was an aged
woman.

Clorinda's bosom rose high in an exultant, rapturous sigh.

"'Tis the Spring that comes," she murmured breathlessly. "Never
hath it come to me before."

Even as she said the words, at the very moment of her speaking,
Fate--a strange Fate indeed--brought to her yet another visitor.
The door was thrown open wide, and in he came, a lacquey crying
aloud his name. 'Twas Sir John Oxon.

* * *

Those of the World of Fashion who were wont to gossip, had bestowed
upon them a fruitful subject for discussion over their tea-tables,
in the future of the widowed Lady Dunstanwolde. All the men being
enamoured of her, 'twas not likely that she would long remain
unmarried, her period of mourning being over; and, accordingly,
forthwith there was every day chosen for her a new husband by those
who concerned themselves in her affairs, and they were many. One
week 'twas a great general she was said to smile on; again, a great
beau and female conqueror, it being argued that, having made her
first marriage for rank and wealth, and being a passionate and
fantastic beauty, she would this time allow herself to be ruled by
her caprice, and wed for love; again, a certain marquis was named,
and after him a young earl renowned for both beauty and wealth; but
though each and all of those selected were known to have laid
themselves at her feet, none of them seemed to have met with the
favour they besought for.

There were two men, however, who were more spoken of than all the
rest, and whose court awakened a more lively interest; indeed, 'twas
an interest which was lively enough at times to become almost a
matter of contention, for those who upheld the cause of the one man
would not hear of the success of the other, the claims of each being
considered of such different nature. These two men were the Duke of
Osmonde and Sir John Oxon. 'Twas the soberer and more dignified who
were sure his Grace had but to proffer his suit to gain it, and
their sole wonder lay in that he did not speak more quickly.

"But being a man of such noble mind, it may be that he would leave
her to her freedom yet a few months, because, despite her
stateliness, she is but young, and 'twould be like his
honourableness to wish that she should see many men while she is
free to choose, as she has never been before. For these days she is
not a poor beauty as she was when she took Dunstanwolde."

The less serious, or less worldly, especially the sentimental
spinsters and matrons and romantic young, who had heard and enjoyed
the rumours of Mistress Clorinda Wildairs' strange early days, were
prone to build much upon a certain story of that time.

"Sir John Oxon was her first love," they said. "He went to her
father's house a beautiful young man in his earliest bloom, and she
had never encountered such an one before, having only known country
dolts and her father's friends. 'Twas said they loved each other,
but were both passionate and proud, and quarrelled bitterly. Sir
John went to France to strive to forget her in gay living; he even
obeyed his mother and paid court to another woman, and Mistress
Clorinda, being of fierce haughtiness, revenged herself by marrying
Lord Dunstanwolde."

"But she has never deigned to forgive him," 'twas also said. "She
is too haughty and of too high a temper to forgive easily that a man
should seem to desert her for another woman's favour. Even when
'twas whispered that she favoured him, she was disdainful, and
sometimes flouted him bitterly, as was her way with all men. She
was never gentle, and had always a cutting wit. She will use him
hardly before she relents; but if he sues patiently enough with such
grace as he uses with other women, love will conquer her at last,
for 'twas her first."

She showed him no great favour, it was true; and yet it seemed she
granted him more privilege than she had done during her lord's life,
for he was persistent in his following her, and would come to her
house whether of her will or of his own. Sometimes he came there
when the Duke of Osmonde was with her--this happened more than once-
-and then her ladyship's face, which was ever warmly beautiful when
Osmonde was near, would curiously change. It would grow pale and
cold; but in her eyes would burn a strange light which one man knew
was as the light in the eyes of a tigress lying chained, but
crouching to leap. But it was not Osmonde who felt this, he saw
only that she changed colour, and having heard the story of her
girlhood, a little chill of doubt would fall upon his noble heart.
It was not doubt of her, but of himself, and fear that his great
passion made him blind; for he was the one man chivalrous enough to
remember how young she was, and to see the cruelty of the Fate which
had given her unmothered childhood into the hands of a coarse rioter
and debauchee, making her his plaything and his whim. And if in her
first hours of bloom she had been thrown with youthful manhood and
beauty, what more in the course of nature than that she should have
learned to love; and being separated from her young lover by their
mutual youthful faults of pride and passionateness of temper, what
more natural than, being free again, and he suing with all his soul,
that her heart should return to him, even though through a struggle
with pride. In her lord's lifetime he had not seen Oxon near her;
and in those days when he had so struggled with his own surging
love, and striven to bear himself nobly, he had kept away from her,
knowing that his passion was too great and strong for any man to
always hold at bay and make no sign, because at brief instants he
trembled before the thought that in her eyes he had seen that which
would have sprung to answer the same self in him if she had been a
free woman. But now when, despite her coldness, which never melted
to John Oxon, she still turned pale and seemed to fall under a
restraint on his coming, a man of sufficient high dignity to be
splendidly modest where his own merit was concerned, might well feel
that for this there must be a reason, and it might be a grave one.

So though he would not give up his suit until he was sure that 'twas
either useless or unfair, he did not press it as he would have done,
but saw his lady when he could, and watched with all the tenderness
of passion her lovely face and eyes. But one short town season
passed before he won his prize; but to poor Anne it seemed that in
its passing she lived years.

Poor woman, as she had grown thin and large-eyed in those days gone
by, she grew so again. Time in passing had taught her so much that
others did not know; and as she served her sister, and waited on her
wishes, she saw that of which no other dreamed, and saw without
daring to speak, or show by any sign, her knowledge.

The day when Lady Dunstanwolde had turned from standing among her
daffodils, and had found herself confronting the open door of her
saloon, and John Oxon passing through it, Mistress Anne had seen
that in her face and his which had given to her a shock of terror.
In John Oxon's blue eyes there had been a set fierce look, and in
Clorinda's a blaze which had been like a declaration of war; and
these same looks she had seen since that day, again and again.
Gradually it had become her sister's habit to take Anne with her
into the world as she had not done before her widowhood, and Anne
knew whence this custom came. There were times when, by use of her
presence, she could avoid those she wished to thrust aside, and Anne
noted, with a cold sinking of the spirit, that the one she would
plan to elude most frequently was Sir John Oxon; and this was not
done easily. The young man's gay lightness of demeanour had
changed. The few years that had passed since he had come to pay his
courts to the young beauty in male attire, had brought experiences
to him which had been bitter enough. He had squandered his fortune,
and failed to reinstate himself by marriage; his dissipations had
told upon him, and he had lost his spirit and good-humour; his
mocking wit had gained a bitterness; his gallantry had no longer the
gaiety of youth. And the woman he had loved for an hour with
youthful passion, and had dared to dream of casting aside in boyish
insolence, had risen like a phoenix, and soared high and triumphant
to the very sun itself. "He was ever base," Clorinda had said. "As
he was at first he is now," and in the saying there was truth. If
she had been helpless and heartbroken, and had pined for him, he
would have treated her as a victim, and disdained her humiliation
and grief; magnificent, powerful, rich, in fullest beauty, and
disdaining himself, she filled him with a mad passion of love which
was strangely mixed with hatred and cruelty. To see her surrounded
by her worshippers, courted by the Court itself, all eyes drawn
towards her as she moved, all hearts laid at her feet, was torture
to him. In such cases as his and hers, it was the woman who should
sue for love's return, and watch the averted face, longing for the
moment when it would deign to turn and she could catch the cold eye
and plead piteously with her own. This he had seen; this, men like
himself, but older, had taught him with vicious art; but here was a
woman who had scorned him at the hour which should have been the
moment of his greatest powerfulness, who had mocked at and lashed
him in the face with the high derision of a creature above law, and
who never for one instant had bent her neck to the yoke which women
must bear. She had laughed it to scorn--and him--and all things--
and gone on her way, crowned with her scarlet roses, to wealth, and
rank, and power, and adulation; while he--the man, whose right it
was to be transgressor--had fallen upon hard fortune, and was losing
step by step all she had won. In his way he loved her madly--as he
had loved her before, and as he would have loved any woman who
embodied triumph and beauty; and burning with desire for both, and
with jealous rage of all, he swore he would not be outdone,
befooled, cast aside, and trampled on.

At the playhouse when she looked from her box, she saw him leaning
against some pillar or stationed in some noticeable spot, his bold
blue eyes fixed burningly upon her; at fashionable assemblies he
made his way to her side and stood near her, gazing, or dropping
words into her ear; at church he placed himself in some pew near by,
that she and all the world might behold him; when she left her coach
and walked in the Mall he joined her or walked behind. At such
times in my lady's close-fringed eyes there shone a steady gleam;
but they were ever eyes that glowed, and there were none who had
ever come close enough to her to know her well, and so there were
none who read its meaning. Only Anne knew as no other creature
could, and looked on with secret terror and dismay. The world but
said that he was a man mad with love, and desperate at the knowledge
of the powerfulness of his rivals, could not live beyond sight of
her.

They did not hear the words that passed between them at times when
he stood near her in some crowd, and dropped, as 'twas thought,
words of burning prayer and love into her ear. 'Twas said that it
was like her to listen with unchanging face, and when she deigned
reply, to answer without turning towards him. But such words and
replies it had more than once been Anne's ill-fortune to be near
enough to catch, and hearing them she had shuddered.

One night at a grand rout, the Duke of Osmonde but just having left
the reigning beauty's side, she heard the voice she hated close by
her, speaking.

"You think you can disdain me to the end," it said. "Your ladyship
is SURE so?"

She did not turn or answer, and there followed a low laugh.

"You think a man will lie beneath your feet and be trodden upon
without speaking. You are too high and bold."

She waved her painted fan, and gazed steadily before her at the
crowd, now and then bending her head in gracious greeting and
smiling at some passer-by.

"If I could tell the story of the rose garden, and of what the sun-
dial saw, and what the moon shone on--" he said.

He heard her draw her breath sharply through her teeth, he saw her
white bosom lift as if a wild beast leapt within it, and he laughed
again.

"His Grace of Osmonde returns," he said; and then marking, as he
never failed to do, bitterly against his will, the grace and majesty
of this rival, who was one of the greatest and bravest of England's
gentlemen, and knowing that she marked it too, his rage so mounted
that it overcame him.

"Sometimes," he said, "methinks that I shall KILL you!"

"Would you gain your end thereby?" she answered, in a voice as low
and deadly.

"I would frustrate his--and yours."

"Do it, then," she hissed back, "some day when you think I fear
you."

"'Twould be too easy," he answered. "You fear it too little. There
are bitterer things."

She rose and met his Grace, who had approached her. Always to his
greatness and his noble heart she turned with that new feeling of
dependence which her whole life had never brought to her before.
His deep eyes, falling on her tenderly as she rose, were filled with
protecting concern. Involuntarily he hastened his steps.

"Will your Grace take me to my coach?" she said. "I am not well.
May I--go?" as gently as a tender, appealing girl.

And moved by this, as by her pallor, more than his man's words could
have told, he gave her his arm and drew her quickly and supportingly
away.

Mistress Anne did not sleep well that night, having much to distract
her mind and keep her awake, as was often in these days the case.
When at length she closed her eyes her slumber was fitful and broken
by dreams, and in the mid hour of the darkness she wakened with a
start as if some sound had aroused her. Perhaps there had been some
sound, though all was still when she opened her eyes; but in the
chair by her bedside sat Clorinda in her night-rail, her hands wrung
hard together on her knee, her black eyes staring under a brow knit
into straight deep lines.

"Sister!" cried Anne, starting up in bed. "Sister!"

Clorinda slowly turned her head towards her, whereupon Anne saw that
in her face there was a look as if of horror which struggled with a
grief, a woe, too monstrous to be borne.

"Lie down, Anne," she said. "Be not afraid--'tis only I," bitterly-
-"who need fear?"

Anne cowered among the pillows and hid her face in her thin hands.
She knew so well that this was true.

"I never thought the time would come," her sister said, "when I
should seek you for protection. A thing has come upon me--perhaps I
shall go mad--to-night, alone in my room, I wanted to sit near a
woman--'twas not like me, was it?"

Mistress Anne crept near the bed's edge, and stretching forth a
hand, touched hers, which were as cold as marble.

"Stay with me, sister," she prayed. "Sister, do not go! What--what
can I say?"

"Naught," was the steady answer. "There is naught to be said. You
were always a woman--I was never one--till now."

She rose up from her chair and threw up her arms, pacing to and fro.

"I am a desperate creature," she cried. "Why was I born?"

She walked the room almost like a thing mad and caged.

"Why was I thrown into the world?" striking her breast. "Why was I
made so--and not one to watch or care through those mad years? To
be given a body like this--and tossed to the wolves."

She turned to Anne, her arms outstretched, and so stood white and
strange and beauteous as a statue, with drops like great pearls
running down her lovely cheeks, and she caught her breath sobbingly,
like a child.

"I was thrown to them," she wailed piteously, "and they harried me--
and left the marks of their great teeth--and of the scars I cannot
rid myself--and since it was my fate--pronounced from my first hour-
-why was not this," clutching her breast, "left hard as 'twas at
first? Not a woman's--not a woman's, but a she-cub's. Ah! 'twas
not just--not just that it should be so!"

Anne slipped from her bed and ran to her, falling upon her knees and
clinging to her, weeping bitterly.

"Poor heart!" she cried. "Poor, dearest heart!"

Her touch and words seemed to recall Clorinda to herself. She
started as if wakened from a dream, and drew her form up rigid.

"I have gone mad," she said. "What is it I do?" She passed her
hand across her brow and laughed a little wild laugh. "Yes," she
said; "this it is to be a woman--to turn weak and run to other
women--and weep and talk. Yes, by these signs I AM a woman!" She
stood with her clenched hands pressed against her breast. "In any
fair fight," she said, "I could have struck back blow for blow--and
mine would have been the heaviest; but being changed into a woman,
my arms are taken from me. He who strikes, aims at my bared breast-
-and that he knows and triumphs in."

She set her teeth together, and ground them, and the look, which was
like that of a chained and harried tigress, lit itself in her eyes.

"But there is NONE shall beat me," she said through these fierce
shut teeth. "Nay I there is NONE! Get up, Anne," bending to raise
her. "Get up, or I shall be kneeling too--and I must stand upon my
feet."

She made a motion as if she would have turned and gone from the room
without further explanation, but Anne still clung to her. She was
afraid of her again, but her piteous love was stronger than her
fear.

"Let me go with you," she cried. "Let me but go and lie in your
closet that I may be near, if you should call."

Clorinda put her hands upon her shoulders, and stooping, kissed her,
which in all their lives she had done but once or twice.

"God bless thee, poor Anne," she said. "I think thou wouldst lie on
my threshold and watch the whole night through, if I should need it;
but I have given way to womanish vapours too much--I must go and be
alone. I was driven by my thoughts to come and sit and look at thy
good face--I did not mean to wake thee. Go back to bed."

She would be obeyed, and led Anne to her couch herself, making her
lie down, and drawing the coverlet about her; after which she stood
upright with a strange smile, laying her hands lightly about her own
white throat.

"When I was a new-born thing and had a little throat and a weak
breath," she cried, "'twould have been an easy thing to end me. I
have been told I lay beneath my mother when they found her dead.
If, when she felt her breath leaving her, she had laid her hand upon
my mouth and stopped mine, I should not," with the little laugh
again--"I should not lie awake to-night."

And then she went away.

CHAPTER XIV--Containing the history of the breaking of the horse
Devil, and relates the returning of his Grace of Osmonde from France

There were in this strange nature, depths so awful and profound that
it was not to be sounded or to be judged as others were. But one
thing could have melted or caused the unconquerable spirit to bend,
and this was the overwhelming passion of love--not a slight, tender
feeling, but a great and powerful one, such as could be awakened but
by a being of as strong and deep a nature as itself, one who was in
all things its peer.

"I have been lonely--lonely all my life," my Lady Dunstanwolde had
once said to her sister, and she had indeed spoken a truth.

Even in her childhood she had felt in some strange way she stood
apart from the world about her. Before she had been old enough to
reason she had been conscious that she was stronger and had greater
power and endurance than any human being about her. Her strength
she used in these days in wilful tyranny, and indeed it was so used
for many a day when she was older. The time had never been when an
eye lighted on her with indifference, or when she could not rule and
punish as she willed. As an infant she had browbeaten the women-
servants and the stable-boys and grooms; but because of her quick
wit and clever tongue, and also because no humour ever made her
aught but a creature well worth looking at, they had taken her
bullying in good-humour and loved her in their coarse way. She had
tyrannised over her father and his companions, and they had adored
and boasted of her; but there had not been one among them whom she
could have turned to if a softer moment had come upon her and she
had felt the need of a friend, nor indeed one whom she did not
regard privately with contempt.

A god or goddess forced upon earth and surrounded by mere human
beings would surely feel a desolateness beyond the power of common
words to express, and a human being endowed with powers and physical
gifts so rare as to be out of all keeping with those of its fellows
of ordinary build and mental stature must needs be lonely too.

She had had no companion, because she had found none like herself,
and none with whom she could have aught in common. Anne she had
pitied, being struck by some sense of the unfairness of her lot as
compared with her own. John Oxon had moved her, bringing to her her
first knowledge of buoyant, ardent youth, and blooming strength and
beauty; for Dunstanwolde she had felt gratitude and affection; but
than these there had been no others who even distantly had touched
her heart.

The night she had given her promise to Dunstanwolde, and had made
her obeisance before his kinsman as she had met his deep and leonine
eye, she had known that 'twas the only man's eye before which her
own would fall and which held the power to rule her very soul.

She did not think this as a romantic girl would have thought it; it
was revealed to her by a sudden tempestuous leap of her heart, and
by a shock like terror. Here was the man who was of her own build,
whose thews and sinews of mind and body was as powerful as her own--
here was he who, had she met him one short year before, would have
revolutionised her world.

In the days of her wifehood when she had read in his noble face
something of that which he endeavoured to command and which to no
other was apparent, the dignity of his self-restraint had but filled
her with tenderness more passionate and grateful.

"Had he been a villain and a coward," was her thought, "he would
have made my life a bitter battle; but 'tis me he loves, not himself
only, and as I honour him so does he honour me."

Now she beheld the same passion in his eyes, but no more held in
leash: his look met hers, hiding from her nothing of what his high
soul burned with; and she was free--free to answer when he spoke,
and only feeling one bitterness in her heart--if he had but come in
time--God! why had he not been sent in time?

But, late or early, he had come; and what they had to give each
other should not be mocked at and lost. The night she had ended by
going to Anne's chamber, she had paced her room saying this again
and again, all the strength of her being rising in revolt. She had
been then a caged tigress of a verity; she had wrung her hands; she
had held her palm hard against her leaping heart; she had walked
madly to and fro, battling in thought with what seemed awful fate;
she had flung herself upon her knees and wept bitter scalding tears.

"He is so noble," she had cried--"he is so noble--and I so worship
his nobleness--and I have been so base!"

And in her suffering her woman's nerves had for a moment betrayed
her. Heretofore she had known no weakness of her sex, but the woman
soul in her so being moved, she had been broken and conquered for a
space, and had gone to Anne's chamber, scarcely knowing what refuge
she so sought. It had been a feminine act, and she had realised all
it signified when Anne sank weeping by her. Women who wept and
prated together at midnight in their chambers ended by telling their
secrets. So it was that it fell out that Anne saw not again the
changed face to the sight of which she had that night awakened. It
seemed as if my lady from that time made plans which should never
for a moment leave her alone. The next day she was busied arranging
a brilliant rout, the next a rich banquet, the next a great
assembly; she drove in the Mall in her stateliest equipages; she
walked upon its promenade, surrounded by her crowd of courtiers,
smiling upon them, and answering them with shafts of graceful wit--
the charm of her gaiety had never been so remarked upon, her air
never so enchanting. At every notable gathering in the World of
Fashion she was to be seen. Being bidden to the Court, which was at
Hampton, her brilliant beauty and spirit so enlivened the royal
dulness that 'twas said the Queen herself was scarce resigned to
part with her, and that the ladies and gentlemen in waiting all
suffered from the spleen when she withdrew. She bought at this time
the fiercest but most beautiful beast of a horse she had ever
mounted. The creature was superbly handsome, but apparently so
unconquerable and so savage that her grooms were afraid to approach
it, and indeed it could not be saddled and bitted unless she herself
stood near. Even the horse-dealer, rogue though he was, had sold it
to her with some approach to a qualm of conscience, having confessed
to her that it had killed two grooms, and been sentenced to be shot
by its first owner, and was still living only because its great
beauty had led him to hesitate for a few days. It was by chance
that during these few days Lady Dunstanwolde heard of it, and going
to see it, desired and bought it at once.

"It is the very beast I want," she said, with a gleam in her eye.
"It will please me to teach it that there is one stronger than
itself."

She had much use for her loaded riding-whip; and indeed, not finding
it heavy enough, ordered one made which was heavier. When she rode
the beast in Hyde Park, her first battles with him were the town
talk; and there were those who bribed her footmen to inform them
beforehand, when my lady was to take out Devil, that they might know
in time to be in the Park to see her. Fops and hunting-men laid
wagers as to whether her ladyship would kill the horse or be killed
by him, and followed her training of the creature with an excitement
and delight quite wild.

"Well may the beast's name be Devil," said more than one looker-on;
"for he is not so much horse as demon. And when he plunges and
rears and shows his teeth, there is a look in his eye which flames
like her own, and 'tis as if a male and female demon fought
together, for surely such a woman never lived before. She will not
let him conquer her, God knows; and it would seem that he was
swearing in horse fashion that she should not conquer him."

When he was first bought and brought home, Mistress Anne turned ashy
at the sight of him, and in her heart of hearts grieved bitterly
that it had so fallen out that his Grace of Osmonde had been called
away from town by high and important matters; for she knew full
well, that if he had been in the neighbourhood, he would have said
some discreet and tender word of warning to which her ladyship would
have listened, though she would have treated with disdain the
caution of any other man or woman. When she herself ventured to
speak, Clorinda looked only stern.

"I have ridden only ill-tempered beasts all my life, and that for
the mere pleasure of subduing them," she said. "I have no liking
for a horse like a bell-wether; and if this one should break my
neck, I need battle with neither men nor horses again, and I shall
die at the high tide of life and power; and those who think of me
afterwards will only remember that they loved me--that they loved
me."

But the horse did not kill her, nor she it. Day after day she stood
by while it was taken from its stall, many a time dealing with it
herself, because no groom dare approach; and then she would ride it
forth, and in Hyde Park force it to obey her; the wondrous strength
of her will, her wrist of steel, and the fierce, pitiless punishment
she inflicted, actually daunting the devilish creature's courage.
She would ride from the encounter, through two lines of people who
had been watching her--and some of them found themselves following
after her, even to the Park gate--almost awed as they looked at her,
sitting erect and splendid on the fretted, anguished beast, whose
shining skin was covered with lather, whose mouth tossed blood-
flecked foam, and whose great eye was so strangely like her own, but
that hers glowed with the light of triumph, and his burned with the
agonised protest of the vanquished. At such times there was
somewhat of fear in the glances that followed her beauty, which
almost seemed to blaze--her colour was so rich, the curve of her red
mouth so imperial, the poise of her head, with its loosening coils
of velvet black hair, so high.

"It is good for me that I do this," she said to Anne, with a short
laugh, one day. "I was growing too soft--and I have need now for
all my power. To fight with the demon in this beast, rouses all in
me that I have held in check since I became my poor lord's wife.
That the creature should have set his will against all others, and
should resist me with such strength and devilishness, rouses in me
the passion of the days when I cursed and raved and struck at those
who angered me. 'Tis fury that possesses me, and I could curse and
shriek at him as I flog him, if 'twould be seemly. As it would not
be so, I shut my teeth hard, and shriek and curse within them, and
none can hear."

Among those who made it their custom to miss no day when she went
forth on Devil that they might stand near and behold her, there was
one man ever present, and 'twas Sir John Oxon. He would stand as
near as might be and watch the battle, a stealthy fire in his eye,
and a look as if the outcome of the fray had deadly meaning to him.
He would gnaw his lip until at times the blood started; his face
would by turns flush scarlet and turn deadly pale; he would move
suddenly and restlessly, and break forth under breath into oaths of
exclamation. One day a man close by him saw him suddenly lay his
hand upon his sword, and having so done, still keep it there, though
'twas plain he quickly remembered where he was.

As for the horse's rider, my Lady Dunstanwolde, whose way it had
been to avoid this man and to thrust him from her path by whatsoever
adroit means she could use, on these occasions made no effort to
evade him and his glances; in sooth, he knew, though none other did
so, that when she fought with her horse she did it with a fierce joy
in that he beheld her. 'Twas as though the battle was between
themselves; and knowing this in the depths of such soul as he
possessed, there were times when the man would have exulted to see
the brute rise and fall upon her, crushing her out of life, or dash
her to the earth and set his hoof upon her dazzling upturned face.
Her scorn and deadly defiance of him, her beauty and maddening
charm, which seemed but to increase with every hour that flew by,
had roused his love to fury. Despite his youth, he was a villain,
as he had ever been; even in his first freshness there had been
older men--and hardened ones--who had wondered at the selfish
mercilessness and blackness of the heart that was but that of a boy.
They had said among themselves that at his years they had never
known a creature who could be so gaily a dastard, one who could plan
with such light remorselessness, and using all the gifts given him
by Nature solely for his own ends, would take so much and give so
little. In truth, as time had gone on, men who had been his
companions, and had indeed small consciences to boast of, had begun
to draw off a little from him, and frequent his company less. He
chose to tell himself that this was because he had squandered his
fortune and was less good company, being pursued by creditors and
haunted by debts; but though there was somewhat in this, perchance
'twas not the entire truth.

"By Gad!" said one over his cups, "there are things even a rake-hell
fellow like me cannot do; but he does them, and seems not to know
that they are to his discredit."

There had been a time when without this woman's beauty he might have
lived--indeed, he had left it of his own free vicious will; but in
these days, when his fortunes had changed and she represented all
that he stood most desperately in need of, her beauty drove him mad.
In his haunting of her, as he followed her from place to place, his
passion grew day by day, and all the more gained strength and
fierceness because it was so mixed with hate. He tossed upon his
bed at night and cursed her; he remembered the wild past, and the
memory all but drove him to delirium. He knew of what stern stuff
she was made, and that even if her love had died, she would have
held to her compact like grim death, even while loathing him. And
he had cast all this aside in one mad moment of boyish cupidity and
folly; and now that she was so radiant and entrancing a thing, and
wealth, and splendour, and rank, and luxury lay in the hollow of her
hand, she fixed her beauteous devil's eyes upon him with a scorn in
their black depths which seemed to burn like fires of hell.

The great brute who dashed, and plunged, and pranced beneath her
seemed to have sworn to conquer her as he had sworn himself; but let
him plunge and kick as he would, there was no quailing in her eye,
she sat like a creature who was superhuman, and her hand was iron,
her wrist was steel. She held him so that he could not do his worst
without such pain as would drive him mad; she lashed him, and rained
on him such blows as almost made him blind. Once at the very worst,
Devil dancing near him, she looked down from his back into John
Oxon's face, and he cursed aloud, her eye so told him his own story
and hers. In those days their souls met in such combat as it seemed
must end in murder itself.

"You will not conquer him," he said to her one morning, forcing
himself near enough to speak.

"I will, unless he kills me," she answered, "and that methinks he
will find it hard to do."

"He will kill you," he said. "I would, were I in his four shoes."

"You would if you could," were her words; "but you could not with
his bit in your mouth and my hand on the snaffle. And if he killed
me, still 'twould be he, not I, was beaten; since he could only kill
what any bloody villain could with any knife. He is a brute beast,
and I am that which was given dominion over such. Look on till I
have done with him."

And thus, with other beholders, though in a different mood from
theirs, he did, until a day when even the most sceptical saw that
the brute came to the fray with less of courage, as if there had at
last come into his brain the dawning of a fear of that which rid
him, and all his madness could not displace from its throne upon his
back.

"By God!" cried more than one of the bystanders, seeing this,
despite the animal's fury, "the beast gives way! He gives way! She
has him!" And John Oxon, shutting his teeth, cut short an oath and
turned pale as death.

From that moment her victory was a thing assured. The duel of
strength became less desperate, and having once begun to learn his
lesson, the brute was made to learn it well. His bearing was a
thing superb to behold; once taught obedience, there would scarce be
a horse like him in the whole of England. And day by day this he
learned from her, and being mastered, was put through his paces, and
led to answer to the rein, so that he trotted, cantered, galloped,
and leaped as a bird flies. Then as the town had come to see him
fight for freedom, it came to see him adorn the victory of the being
who had conquered him, and over their dishes of tea in the afternoon
beaux and beauties of fashion gossiped of the interesting and
exciting event; and there were vapourish ladies who vowed they could
not have beaten a brute so, and that surely my Lady Dunstanwolde
must have looked hot and blowzy while she did it, and have had the
air of a great rough man; and there were some pretty tiffs and even
quarrels when the men swore that never had she looked so magnificent
a beauty and so inflamed the hearts of all beholding her.

On the first day after her ladyship's last battle with her horse,
the one which ended in such victory to her that she rode him home
hard through the streets without an outbreak, he white with lather,
and marked with stripes, but his large eye holding in its velvet a
look which seemed almost like a human thought--on that day after
there occurred a thing which gave the town new matter to talk of.

His Grace of Osmonde had been in France, called there by business of
the State, and during his absence the gossip concerning the horse
Devil had taken the place of that which had before touched on
himself. 'Twas not announced that he was to return to England, and
indeed there were those who, speaking with authority, said that for
two weeks at least his affairs abroad would not be brought to a
close; and yet on this morning, as my Lady Dunstanwolde rode 'neath
the trees, holding Devil well in hand, and watching him with eagle
keenness of eye, many looking on in wait for the moment when the
brute might break forth suddenly again, a horseman was seen
approaching at a pace so rapid that 'twas on the verge of a gallop,
and the first man who beheld him looked amazed and lifted his hat,
and the next, seeing him, spoke to another, who bowed with him, and
all along the line of loungers hats were removed, and people wore
the air of seeing a man unexpectedly, and hearing a name spoken in
exclamation by his side, Sir John Oxon looked round and beheld ride
by my lord Duke of Osmonde. The sun was shining brilliantly, and
all the Park was gay with bright warmth and greenness of turf and
trees. Clorinda felt the glow of the summer morning permeate her
being. She kept her watch upon her beast; but he was going well,
and in her soul she knew that he was beaten, and that her victory
had been beheld by the one man who knew that it meant to her that
which it seemed to mean also to himself. And filled with this
thought and the joy of it, she rode beneath the trees, and so was
riding with splendid spirit when she heard a horse behind her, and
looked up as it drew near, and the rich crimson swept over her in a
sweet flood, so that it seemed to her she felt it warm on her very
shoulders, 'neath her habit, for 'twas Osmonde's self who had
followed and reached her, and uncovered, keeping pace by her side.

Ah, what a face he had, and how his eyes burned as they rested on
her. It was such a look she met, that for a moment she could not
find speech, and he himself spoke as a man who, through some deep
emotion, has almost lost his breath.

"My Lady Dunstanwolde," he began; and then with a sudden passion,
"Clorinda, my beloved!" The time had come when he could not keep
silence, and with great leapings of her heart she knew. Yet not one
word said she, for she could not; but her beauty, glowing and
quivering under his eyes' great fire, answered enough.

"Were it not that I fear for your sake the beast you ride," he said,
"I would lay my hand upon his bridle, that I might crush your hand
in mine. At post-haste I have come from France, hearing this thing-
-that you endangered every day that which I love so madly. My God!
beloved, cruel, cruel woman--sure you must know!"

She answered with a breathless wild surrender. "Yes, yes!" she
gasped, "I know."

"And yet you braved this danger, knowing that you might leave me a
widowed man for life."

"But," she said, with a smile whose melting radiance seemed akin to
tears--"but see how I have beaten him--and all is passed."

"Yes, yes," he said, "as you have conquered all--as you have
conquered me--and did from the first hour. But God forbid that you
should make me suffer so again."

"Your Grace," she said, faltering, "I--I will not!"

"Forgive me for the tempest of my passion," he said. "'Twas not
thus I had thought to come to make my suit. 'Tis scarcely fitting
that it should be so; but I was almost mad when I first heard this
rumour, knowing my duty would not loose me to come to you at once--
and knowing you so well, that only if your heart had melted to the
one who besought you, you would give up."

"I--give up," she answered; "I give up."

"I worship you," he said; "I worship you." And their meeting eyes
were drowned in each other's tenderness.

They galloped side by side, and the watchers looked on, exchanging
words and glances, seeing in her beauteous, glowing face, in his
joyous one, the final answer to the question they had so often asked
each other. 'Twas his Grace of Osmonde who was the happy man, he
and no other. That was a thing plain indeed to be seen, for they
were too high above the common world to feel that they must play the
paltry part of outward trifling to deceive it; and as the sun
pierces through clouds and is stronger than they, so their love
shone like the light of day itself through poor conventions. They
did not know the people gazed and whispered, and if they had known
it, the thing would have counted for naught with them.

"See!" said my lady, patting her Devil's neck--"see, he knows that
you have come, and frets no more."

They rode homeward together, the great beauty and the great duke,
and all the town beheld; and after they had passed him where he
stood, John Oxon mounted his own horse and galloped away, white-
lipped and with mad eyes.

"Let me escort you home," the duke had said, "that I may kneel to
you there, and pour forth my heart as I have so dreamed of doing.
Tomorrow I must go back to France, because I left my errand
incomplete. I stole from duty the time to come to you, and I must
return as quickly as I came." So he took her home; and as they
entered the wide hall together, side by side, the attendant lacqueys
bowed to the ground in deep, welcoming obeisance, knowing it was
their future lord and master they received.

Together they went to her own sitting-room, called the Panelled
Parlour, a beautiful great room hung with rare pictures, warm with
floods of the bright summer sunshine, and perfumed with bowls of
summer flowers; and as the lacquey departed, bowing, and closed the
door behind him, they turned and were enfolded close in each other's
arms, and stood so, with their hearts beating as surely it seemed to
them human hearts had never beat before.

"Oh! my dear love, my heavenly love!" he cried. "It has been so
long--I have lived in prison and in fetters--and it has been so
long!"

Even as my Lord Dunstanwolde had found cause to wonder at her gentle
ways, so was this man amazed at her great sweetness, now that he
might cross the threshold of her heart. She gave of herself as an
empress might give of her store of imperial jewels, with sumptuous
lavishness, knowing that the store could not fail. In truth, it
seemed that it must be a dream that she so stood before him in all
her great, rich loveliness, leaning against his heaving breast, her
arms as tender as his own, her regal head thrown backward that they
might gaze into the depths of each other's eyes.

"From that first hour that I looked up at you," she said, "I knew
you were my lord--my lord! And a fierce pain stabbed my heart,
knowing you had come too late by but one hour; for had it not been
that Dunstanwolde had led me to you, I knew--ah! how well I knew--
that our hearts would have beaten together not as two hearts but as
one."

"As they do now," he cried.

"As they do now," she answered--"as they do now!"

"And from the moment that your rose fell at my feet and I raised it
in my hand," he said, "I knew I held some rapture which was my own.
And when you stood before me at Dunstanwolde's side and our eyes
met, I could not understand--nay, I could scarce believe that it had
been taken from me."

There, in her arms, among the flowers and in the sweetness of the
sun, he lived again the past, telling her of the days when, knowing
his danger, he had held himself aloof, declining to come to her
lord's house with the familiarity of a kinsman, because the pang of
seeing her often was too great to bear; and relating to her also the
story of the hours when he had watched her and she had not known his
nearness or guessed his pain, when she had passed in her equipage,
not seeing him, or giving him but a gracious smile. He had walked
outside her window at midnight sometimes, too, coming because he was
a despairing man, and could not sleep, and returning homeward,
having found no rest, but only increase of anguish. "Sometimes," he
said, "I dared not look into your eyes, fearing my own would betray
me; but now I can gaze into your soul itself, for the midnight is
over--and joy cometh with the morning."

As he had spoken, he had caressed softly with his hand her cheek and
her crown of hair, and such was his great gentleness that 'twas as
if he touched lovingly a child; for into her face there had come
that look which it would seem that in the arms of the man she loves
every true woman wears--a look which is somehow like a child's in
its trusting, sweet surrender and appeal, whatsoever may be her
stateliness and the splendour of her beauty.

Yet as he touched her cheek so and her eyes so dwelt on him,
suddenly her head fell heavily upon his breast, hiding her face,
even while her unwreathing arms held more closely.

"Oh! those mad days before!" she cried--"Oh! those mad, mad days
before!"

"Nay, they are long passed, sweet," he said, in his deep, noble
voice, thinking that she spoke of the wildness of her girlish years-
-"and all our days of joy are yet to come."

"Yes, yes," she cried, clinging closer, yet with shuddering, "they
were BEFORE--the joy--the joy is all to come."

CHAPTER XV--In which Sir John Oxon finds again a trophy he had lost

His Grace of Osmonde went back to France to complete his business,
and all the world knew that when he returned to England 'twould be
to make his preparations for his marriage with my Lady Dunstanwolde.
It was a marriage not long to be postponed, and her ladyship herself
was known already to be engaged with lacemen, linen-drapers, toyshop
women, and goldsmiths. Mercers awaited upon her at her house,
accompanied by their attendants, bearing burdens of brocades and
silks, and splendid stuffs of all sorts. Her chariot was to be seen
standing before their shops, and the interest in her purchases was
so great that fashionable beauties would contrive to visit the
counters at the same hours as herself, so that they might catch
glimpses of what she chose. In her own great house all was
repressed excitement; her women were enraptured at being allowed the
mere handling and laying away of the glories of her wardrobe; the
lacqueys held themselves with greater state, knowing that they were
soon to be a duke's servants; her little black Nero strutted about,
his turban set upon his pate with a majestic cock, and disdained to
enter into battle with such pages of his own colour as wore only
silver collars, he feeling assured that his own would soon be of
gold.

The World of Fashion said when her ladyship's equipage drove by,
that her beauty was like that of the god of day at morning, and that
'twas plain that no man or woman had ever beheld her as his Grace of
Osmonde would.

"She loves at last," a wit said. "Until the time that such a woman
loves, however great her splendour, she is as the sun behind a
cloud."

"And now this one hath come forth, and shines so that she warms us
in mere passing," said another. "What eyes, and what a mouth, with
that strange smile upon it. Whoever saw such before? and when she
came to town with my Lord Dunstanwolde, who, beholding her, would
have believed that she could wear such a look?"

In sooth, there was that in her face and in her voice when she spoke
which almost made Anne weep, through its strange sweetness and
radiance. 'Twas as if the flood of her joy had swept away all
hardness and disdain. Her eyes, which had seemed to mock at all
they rested on, mocked no more, but ever seemed to smile at some
dear inward thought.

One night when she went forth to a Court ball, being all attired in
brocade of white and silver, and glittering with the Dunstanwolde
diamonds, which starred her as with great sparkling dewdrops, and
yet had not the radiance of her eyes and smile, she was so purely
wonderful a vision that Anne, who had been watching her through all
the time when she had been under the hands of her tirewoman, and
beholding her now so dazzling and white a shining creature, fell
upon her knees to kiss her hand almost as one who worships.

"Oh, sister," she said, "you look like a spirit. It is as if with
the earth you had naught to do--as if your eyes saw Heaven itself
and Him who reigns there."

The lovely orbs of Clorinda shone more still like the great star of
morning.

"Sister Anne," she said, laying her hand on her white breast, "at
times I think that I must almost be a spirit, I feel such heavenly
joy. It is as if He whom you believe in, and who can forgive and
wipe out sins, has forgiven me, and has granted it to me, that I may
begin my poor life again. Ah! I will make it better; I will try to
make it as near an angel's life as a woman can; and I will do no
wrong, but only good; and I will believe, and pray every day upon my
knees--and all my prayers will be that I may so live that my dear
lord--my Gerald--could forgive me all that I have ever done--and
seeing my soul, would know me worthy of him. Oh! we are strange
things, we human creatures, Anne," with a tremulous smile; "we do
not believe until we want a thing, and feel that we shall die if
'tis not granted to us; and then we kneel and kneel and believe,
because we MUST have somewhat to ask help from."

"But all help has been given to you," poor tender Anne said, kissing
her hand again; "and I will pray, I will pray--"

"Ay, pray, Anne, pray with all thy soul," Clorinda answered; "I need
thy praying--and thou didst believe always, and have asked so little
that has been given thee."

"Thou wast given me, sister," said Anne. "Thou hast given me a home
and kindness such as I never dared to hope; thou hast been like a
great star to me--I have had none other, and I thank Heaven on my
knees each night for the brightness my star has shed on me."

"Poor Anne, dear Anne!" Clorinda said, laying her arms about her and
kissing her. "Pray for thy star, good, tender Anne, that its light
may not be quenched." Then with a sudden movement her hand was
pressed upon her bosom again. "Ah, Anne," she cried, and in the
music of her voice, agony itself was ringing--"Anne, there is but
one thing on this earth God rules over--but one thing that belongs--
BELONGS to me; and 'tis Gerald Mertoun--and he is mine and SHALL not
be taken from me, for he is a part of me, and I a part of him!"

"He will not be," said Anne--"he will not."

"He cannot," Clorinda answered--"he shall not! 'Twould not be
human."

She drew a long breath and was calm again.

"Did it reach your ears," she said, reclasping a band of jewels on
her arm, "that John Oxon had been offered a place in a foreign
Court, and that 'twas said he would soon leave England?"

"I heard some rumour of it," Anne answered, her emotion getting the
better of her usual discreet speech. "God grant it may be true!"

"Ay!" said Clorinda, "would God that he were gone!"

But that he was not, for when she entered the assembly that night he
was standing near the door as though he lay in waiting for her, and
his eyes met hers with a leaping gleam, which was a thing of such
exultation that to encounter it was like having a knife thrust deep
into her side and through and through it, for she knew full well
that he could not wear such a look unless he had some strength of
which she knew not.

This gleam was in his eyes each time she found herself drawn to
them, and it seemed as though she could look nowhere without
encountering his gaze. He followed her from room to room, placing
himself where she could not lift her eyes without beholding him;
when she walked a minuet with a royal duke, he stood and watched her
with such a look in his face as drew all eyes towards him.

"'Tis as if he threatens her," one said. "He has gone mad with
disappointed love."

But 'twas not love that was in his look, but the madness of long-
thwarted passion mixed with hate and mockery; and this she saw, and
girded her soul with all its strength, knowing that she had a
fiercer beast to deal with, and a more vicious and dangerous one,
than her horse Devil. That he kept at first at a distance from her,
and but looked on with this secret exultant glow in his bad,
beauteous eyes, told her that at last he felt he held some power in
his hands, against which all her defiance would be as naught. Till
this hour, though she had suffered, and when alone had writhed in
agony of grief and bitter shame, in his presence she had never
flinched. Her strength she knew was greater than his; but his
baseness was his weapon, and the depths of that baseness she knew
she had never reached.

At midnight, having just made obeisance before Royalty retiring, she
felt that at length he had drawn near and was standing at her side.

"To-night," he said, in the low undertone it was his way to keep for
such occasions, knowing how he could pierce her ear--"to-night you
are Juno's self--a very Queen of Heaven!"

She made no answer.

"And I have stood and watched you moving among all lesser goddesses
as the moon sails among the stars, and I have smiled in thinking of
what these lesser deities would say if they had known what I bear in
my breast to-night."

She did not even make a movement--in truth, she felt that at his
next words she might change to stone.

"I have found it," he said--"I have it here--the lost treasure--the
tress of hair like a raven's wing and six feet long. Is there
another woman in England who could give a man a lock like it?"

She felt then that she had, in sooth, changed to stone; her heart
hung without moving in her breast; her eyes felt great and hollow
and staring as she lifted them to him.

"I knew not," she said slowly, and with bated breath, for the
awfulness of the moment had even made her body weak as she had never
known it feel before--"I knew not truly that hell made things like
you."

Whereupon he made a movement forward, and the crowd about surged
nearer with hasty exclamations, for the strange weakness of her body
had overpowered her in a way mysterious to her, and she had changed
to marble, growing too heavy of weight for her sinking limbs. And
those in the surrounding groups saw a marvellous thing--the same
being that my Lady Dunstanwolde swayed as she turned, and falling,
lay stretched, as if dead, in her white and silver and flashing
jewels at the startled beholders' feet.

* * *

She wore no radiant look when she went home that night. She would
go home alone and unescorted, excepting by her lacqueys, refusing
all offers of companionship when once placed in her equipage. There
were, of course, gentlemen who would not be denied leading her to
her coach; John Oxon was among them, and at the last pressed close,
with a manner of great ceremony, speaking a final word.

"'Tis useless, your ladyship," he murmured, as he made his obeisance
gallantly, and though the words were uttered in his lowest tone and
with great softness, they reached her ear as he intended that they
should. "To-morrow morning I shall wait upon you."

Anne had forborne going to bed, and waited for her return, longing
to see her spirit's face again before she slept; for this poor
tender creature, being denied all woman's loves and joys by Fate,
who had made her as she was, so lived in her sister's beauty and
triumphs that 'twas as if in some far-off way she shared them, and
herself experienced through them the joy of being a woman
transcendently beautiful and transcendently beloved. To-night she
had spent her waiting hours in her closet and upon her knees,
praying with all humble adoration of the Being she approached. She
was wont to pray long and fervently each day, thanking Heaven for
the smallest things and the most common, and imploring continuance
of the mercy which bestowed them upon her poor unworthiness. For
her sister her prayers were offered up night and morning, and
ofttimes in hours between, and to-night she prayed not for herself
at all, but for Clorinda and for his Grace of Osmonde, that their
love might be crowned with happiness, and that no shadow might
intervene to cloud its brightness, and the tender rapture in her
sister's softened look, which was to her a thing so wonderful that
she thought of it with reverence as a holy thing.

Her prayers being at length ended, she had risen from her knees and
sat down, taking a sacred book to read, a book of sermons such as
'twas her simple habit to pore over with entire respect and child-
like faith, and being in the midst of her favourite homily, she
heard the chariot's returning wheels, and left her chair, surprised,
because she had not yet begun to expect the sound.

"'Tis my sister," she said, with a soft, sentimental smile.
"Osmonde not being among the guests, she hath no pleasure in
mingling with them."

She went below to the room her ladyship usually went to first on her
return at night from any gathering, and there she found her sitting
as though she had dropped there in the corner of a great divan, her
hands hanging clasped before her on her knee, her head hanging
forward on her fallen chest, her large eyes staring into space.

"Clorinda! Clorinda!" Anne cried, running to her and kneeling at
her side. "Clorinda! God have mercy! What is't?"

Never before had her face worn such a look--'twas colourless, and so
drawn and fallen in that 'twas indeed almost as if all her great
beauty was gone; but the thing most awful to poor Anne was that all
the new softness seemed as if it had been stamped out, and the
fierce hardness had come back and was engraven in its place, mingled
with a horrible despair.

"An hour ago," she said, "I swooned. That is why I look thus. 'Tis
yet another sign that I am a woman--a woman!"

"You are ill--you swooned?" cried Anne. "I must send for your
physician. Have you not ordered that he be sent for yourself? If
Osmonde were here, how perturbed he would be!"

"Osmonde!" said my lady. "Gerald! Is there a Gerald, Anne?"

"Sister!" cried Anne, affrighted by her strange look--"oh, sister!"

"I have seen heaven," Clorinda said; "I have stood on the threshold
and seen through the part-opened gate--and then have been dragged
back to hell."

Anne clung to her, gazing upwards at her eyes, in sheer despair.

"But back to hell I will not go," she went on saying. "Had I not
seen Heaven, they might perhaps have dragged me; but now I will not
go--I will not, that I swear! There is a thing which cannot be
endured. Bear it no woman should. Even I, who was not born a
woman, but a wolf's she-cub, I cannot. 'Twas not I, 'twas Fate,"
she said--"'twas not I, 'twas Fate--'twas the great wheel we are
bound to, which goes round and round that we may be broken on it.
'Twas not I who bound myself there; and I will not be broken so."

She said the words through her clenched teeth, and with all the mad
passion of her most lawless years; even at Anne she looked almost in
the old ungentle fashion, as though half scorning all weaker than
herself, and having small patience with them.

"There will be a way," she said--"there will be a way. I shall not
swoon again."

She left her divan and stood upright, the colour having come back to
her face; but the look Anne worshipped not having returned with it,
'twas as though Mistress Clorinda Wildairs had been born again.

"To-morrow morning I go forth on Devil," she said; "and I shall be
abroad if any visitors come."

What passed in her chamber that night no human being knew. Anne,
who left her own apartment and crept into a chamber near hers to lie
and watch, knew that she paced to and fro, but heard no other sound,
and dared not intrude upon her.

When she came forth in the morning she wore the high look she had
been wont to wear in the years gone by, when she ruled in her
father's house, and rode to the hunt with a following of gay middle-
aged and elderly rioters. Her eye was brilliant, and her colour
matched it. She held her head with the old dauntless carriage, and
there was that in her voice before which her women quaked, and her
lacqueys hurried to do her bidding.

Devil himself felt this same thing in the touch of her hand upon his
bridle when she mounted him at the door, and seemed to glance
askance at her sideways.

She took no servant with her, and did not ride to the Park, but to
the country. Once on the highroad, she rode fast and hard, only
galloping straight before her as the way led, and having no
intention. Where she was going she knew not; but why she rode on
horseback she knew full well, it being because the wild, almost
fierce motion was in keeping with the tempest in her soul. Thoughts
rushed through her brain even as she rushed through the air on
Devil's back, and each leaping after the other, seemed to tear more
madly.

"What shall I do?" she was saying to herself. "What thing is there
for me to do? I am trapped like a hunted beast, and there is no way
forth."

The blood went like a torrent through her veins, so that she seemed
to hear it roaring in her ears; her heart thundered in her side, or
'twas so she thought of it as it bounded, while she recalled the
past and looked upon the present.

"What else could have been?" she groaned. "Naught else--naught
else. 'Twas a trick--a trick of Fate to ruin me for my punishment."

When she had gone forth it had been with no hope in her breast that
her wit might devise a way to free herself from the thing which so
beset her, for she had no weak fancies that there dwelt in this base
soul any germ of honour which might lead it to relenting. As she
had sat in her dark room at night, crouched upon the floor, and
clenching her hands, as the mad thoughts went whirling through her
brain, she had stared her Fate in the face and known all its
awfulness. Before her lay the rapture of a great, sweet, honourable
passion, a high and noble life lived in such bliss as rarely fell to
lot of woman--on this one man she knew that she could lavish all the
splendour of her nature, and make his life a heaven, as hers would
be. Behind her lay the mad, uncared-for years, and one black memory
blighting all to come, though 'twould have been but a black memory
with no power to blight if the heaven of love had not so opened to
her and with its light cast all else into shadow.

"If 'twere not love," she cried--"if 'twere but ambition, I could
defy it to the last; but 'tis love--love--love, and it will kill me
to forego it."

Even as she moaned the words she heard hoof beats near her, and a
horseman leaped the hedge and was at her side. She set her teeth,
and turning, stared into John Oxon's face.

"Did you think I would not follow you?" he asked.

"No," she answered.

"I have followed you at a distance hitherto," he said; "now I shall
follow close."

She did not speak, but galloped on.

"Think you you can outride me?" he said grimly, quickening his
steed's pace. "I go with your ladyship to your own house. For fear
of scandal you have not openly rebuffed me previous to this time;
for a like reason you will not order your lacqueys to shut your door
when I enter it with you."

My Lady Dunstanwolde turned to gaze at him again. The sun shone on
his bright falling locks and his blue eyes as she had seen it shine
in days which seemed so strangely long passed by, though they were
not five years agone.

"'Tis strange," she said, with a measure of wonder, "to live and be
so black a devil."

"Bah! my lady," he said, "these are fine words--and fine words do
not hold between us. Let us leave them. I would escort you home,
and speak to you in private." There was that in his mocking that
was madness to her, and made her sick and dizzy with the boiling of
the blood which surged to her brain. The fury of passion which had
been a terror to all about her when she had been a child was upon
her once more, and though she had thought herself freed from its
dominion, she knew it again and all it meant. She felt the
thundering beat in her side, the hot flood leaping to her cheek, the
flame burning her eyes themselves as if fire was within them. Had
he been other than he was, her face itself would have been a
warning. But he pressed her hard. As he would have slunk away a
beaten cur if she had held the victory in her hands, so feeling that
the power was his, he exulted over the despairing frenzy which was
in her look.

"I pay back old scores," he said. "There are many to pay. When you
crowned yourself with roses and set your foot upon my face, your
ladyship thought not of this! When you gave yourself to
Dunstanwolde and spat at me, you did not dream that there could come
a time when I might goad as you did."

She struck Devil with her whip, who leaped forward; but Sir John
followed hard behind her. He had a swift horse too, and urged him
fiercely, so that between these two there was a race as if for life
or death. The beasts bounded forward, spurning the earth beneath
their feet. My lady's face was set, her eyes were burning flame,
her breath came short and pantingly between her teeth. Oxon's fair
face was white with passion; he panted also, but strained every
nerve to keep at her side, and kept there.

"Keep back! I warn thee!" she cried once, almost gasping.

"Keep back!" he answered, blind with rage. "I will follow thee to
hell!"

And in this wise they galloped over the white road until the hedges
disappeared and they were in the streets, and people turned to look
at them, and even stood and stared. Then she drew rein a little and
went slower, knowing with shuddering agony that the trap was closing
about her.

"What is it that you would say to me?" she asked him breathlessly.

"That which I would say within four walls that you may hear it all,"
he answered. "This time 'tis not idle threatening. I have a thing
to show you."

Through the streets they went, and as her horse's hoofs beat the
pavement, and the passers-by, looking towards her, gazed curiously
at so fine a lady on so splendid a brute, she lifted her eyes to the
houses, the booths, the faces, and the sky, with a strange fancy
that she looked about her as a man looks who, doomed to death, is
being drawn in his cart to Tyburn tree. For 'twas to death she
went, nor to naught else could she compare it, and she was so young
and strong, and full of love and life, and there should have been
such bliss and peace before her but for one madness of her all-
unknowing days. And this beside her--this man with the fair face
and looks and beauteous devil's eyes, was her hangman, and carried
his rope with him, and soon would fit it close about her neck.

When they rode through the part of the town where abode the World of
Fashion, those who saw them knew them, and marvelled that the two
should be together.

"But perhaps his love has made him sue for pardon that he has so
borne himself," some said, "and she has chosen to be gracious to
him, since she is gracious in these days to all."

When they reached her house he dismounted with her, wearing an
outward air of courtesy; but his eye mocked her, as she knew. His
horse was in a lather of sweat, and he spoke to a servant.

"Take my beast home," he said. "He is too hot to stand, and I shall
not soon be ready."

CHAPTER XVI--Dealing with that which was done in the Panelled
Parlour

He followed her to the Panelled Parlour, the one to which she had
taken Osmonde on the day of their bliss, the one in which in the
afternoon she received those who came to pay court to her over a
dish of tea. In the mornings none entered it but herself or some
invited guest. 'Twas not the room she would have chosen for him;
but when he said to her, "'Twere best your ladyship took me to some
private place," she had known there was no other so safe.

When the door was closed behind them, and they stood face to face,
they were a strange pair to behold--she with mad defiance battling
with mad despair in her face; he with the mocking which every woman
who had ever trusted him or loved him had lived to see in his face
when all was lost. Few men there lived who were as vile as he, his
power of villainy lying in that he knew not the meaning of man's
shame or honour.

"Now," she said, "tell me the worst."

"'Tis not so bad," he answered, "that a man should claim his own,
and swear that no other man shall take it from him. That I have
sworn, and that I will hold to."

"Your own!" she said--"your own you call it--villain!"

"My own, since I can keep it," quoth he. "Before you were my Lord
of Dunstanwolde's you were mine--of your own free will."

"Nay, nay," she cried. "God! through some madness I knew not the
awfulness of--because I was so young and had known naught but evil--
and you were so base and wise."

"Was your ladyship an innocent?" he answered. "It seemed not so to
me."

"An innocent of all good," she cried--"of all things good on earth--
of all that I know now, having seen manhood and honour."

"His Grace of Osmonde has not been told this," he said; "and I
should make it all plain to him."

"What do you ask, devil?" she broke forth. "What is't you ask?"

"That you shall not be the Duchess of Osmonde," he said, drawing
near to her; "that you shall be the wife of Sir John Oxon, as you
once called yourself for a brief space, though no priest had mumbled
over us--"

"Who was't divorced us?" she said, gasping; "for I was an honest
thing, though I knew no other virtue. Who was't divorced us?"

"I confess," he answered, bowing, "that 'twas I--for the time being.
I was young, and perhaps fickle--"

"And you left me," she cried, "and I found that you had come but for
a bet--and since I so bore myself that you could not boast, and
since I was not a rich woman whose fortune would be of use to you,
you followed another and left me--me!"

"As his Grace of Osmonde will when I tell him my story," he
answered. "He is not one to brook that such things can be told of
the mother of his heirs."

She would have shrieked aloud but that she clutched her throat in
time.

"Tell him!" she cried, "tell him, and see if he will hear you. Your
word against mine!"

"Think you I do not know that full well," he answered, and he
brought forth a little package folded in silk. "Why have I done
naught but threaten till this time? If I went to him without proof,
he would run me through with his sword as I were a mad dog. But is
there another woman in England from whose head her lover could
ravish a lock as long and black as this?"

He unfolded the silk, and let other silk unfold itself, a great and
thick ring of raven hair which uncoiled its serpent length, and
though he held it high, was long enough after surging from his hand
to lie upon the floor.

"Merciful God!" she cried, and shuddering, hid her face.

"'Twas a bet, I own," he said; "I heard too much of the mad beauty
and her disdain of men not to be fired by a desire to prove to her
and others, that she was but a woman after all, and so was to be
won. I took an oath that I would come back some day with a trophy--
and this I cut when you knew not that I did it."

She clutched her throat again to keep from shrieking in her--
impotent horror.

"Devil, craven, and loathsome--and he knows not what he is!" she
gasped. "He is a mad thing who knows not that all his thoughts are
of hell."

'Twas, in sooth, a strange and monstrous thing to see him so
unwavering and bold, flinching before no ignominy, shrinking not to
speak openly the thing before the mere accusation of which other
men's blood would have boiled.

"When I bore it away with me," he said, "I lived wildly for a space,
and in those days put it in a place of safety, and when I was sober
again I had forgot where. Yesterday, by a strange chance, I came
upon it. Think you it can be mistaken for any other woman's hair?"

At this she held up her hand.

"Wait," she said. "You will go to Osmonde, you will tell him this,
you will--"

"I will tell him all the story of the rose garden and of the sun-
dial, and the beauty who had wit enough to scorn a man in public
that she might more safely hold tryst with him alone. She had great
wit and cunning for a beauty of sixteen. 'Twould be well for her
lord to have keen eyes when she is twenty."

He should have seen the warning in her eyes, for there was warning
enough in their flaming depths.

"All that you can say I know," she said--"all that you can say! And
I love him. There is no other man on earth. Were he a beggar, I
would tramp the highroad by his side and go hungered with him. He
is my lord, and I his mate--his mate!"

"That you will not be," he answered, made devilish by her words.
"He is a high and noble gentleman, and wants no man's cast-off
plaything for his wife."

Her breast leaped up and down in her panting as she pressed her hand
upon it; her breath came in sharp puffs through her nostrils.

"And once," she breathed--"and once--I LOVED thee--cur!"

He was mad with exultant villainy and passion, and he broke into a
laugh.

"Loved me!" he said. "Thou! As thou lovedst me--and as thou lovest
him--so will Moll Easy love any man--for a crown."

Her whip lay upon the table, she caught and whirled it in the air.
She was blind with the surging of her blood, and saw not how she
caught or held it, or what she did--only that she struck!

And 'twas his temple that the loaded weapon met, and 'twas wielded
by a wrist whose sinews were of steel, and even as it struck he
gasped, casting up his hands, and thereupon fell, and lay stretched
at her feet!

But the awful tempest which swept over her had her so under its
dominion that she was like a branch whirled on the wings of the
storm. She scarce noted that he fell, or noting it, gave it not one
thought as she dashed from one end of the apartment to the other
with the fierce striding of a mad woman.

"Devil!" she cried, "and cur! and for thee I blasted all the years
to come! To a beast so base I gave all that an empress' self could
give--all life--all love--for ever. And he comes back--shameless--
to barter like a cheating huckster, because his trade goes ill, and
I--I could stock his counters once again."

She strode towards him, raving.

"Think you I do not know, woman's bully and poltroon, that you plot
to sell yourself, because your day has come, and no woman will bid
for such an outcast, saving one that you may threaten. Rise,
vermin--rise, lest I kill thee!"

In her blind madness she lashed him once across the face again. And
he stirred not--and something in the resistless feeling of the flesh
beneath the whip, and in the quiet of his lying, caused her to pause
and stand panting and staring at the thing which lay before her.
For it was a Thing, and as she stood staring, with wild heaving

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