Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

A Lady of Quality by Francis H. Burnett

Part 4 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

breast, this she saw. 'Twas but a thing--a thing lying inert, its
fair locks outspread, its eyes rolled upward till the blue was
almost lost; a purple indentation on the right temple from which
there oozed a tiny thread of blood.

* * *

"There will be a way," she had said, and yet in her most mad
despair, of this way she had never thought; though strange it had
been, considering her lawless past, that she had not--never of this
way--never! Notwithstanding which, in one frenzied moment in which
she had known naught but her delirium, her loaded whip had found it
for her--the way!

And yet it being so found, and she stood staring, seeing what she
had done--seeing what had befallen--'twas as if the blow had been
struck not at her own temple but at her heart--a great and heavy
shock, which left her bloodless, and choked, and gasping.

"What! what!" she panted. "Nay! nay! nay!" and her eyes grew wide
and wild.

She sank upon her knees, so shuddering that her teeth began to
chatter. She pushed him and shook him by the shoulder.

"Stir!" she cried in a loud whisper. "Move thee! Why dost thou lie
so? Stir!"

Yet he stirred not, but lay inert, only with his lips drawn back,
showing his white teeth a little, as if her horrid agony made him
begin to laugh. Shuddering, she drew slowly nearer, her eyes more
awful than his own. Her hand crept shaking to his wrist and
clutched it. There was naught astir--naught! It stole to his
breast, and baring it, pressed close. That was still and moveless
as his pulse; for life was ended, and a hundred mouldering years
would not bring more of death.

"I have KILLED thee," she breathed. "I have KILLED thee--though I
meant it not--even hell itself doth know. Thou art a dead man--and
this is the worst of all!"

His hand fell heavily from hers, and she still knelt staring, such a
look coming into her face as throughout her life had never been
there before--for 'twas the look of a creature who, being tortured,
the worst at last being reached, begins to smile at Fate.

"I have killed him!" she said, in a low, awful voice; "and he lies
here--and outside people walk, and know not. But HE knows--and I--
and as he lies methinks he smiles--knowing what he has done!"

She crouched even lower still, the closer to behold him, and indeed
it seemed his still face sneered as if defying her now to rid
herself of him! 'Twas as though he lay there mockingly content,
saying, "Now that I lie here, 'tis for YOU--for YOU to move me."

She rose and stood up rigid, and all the muscles of her limbs were
drawn as though she were a creature stretched upon a rack; for the
horror of this which had befallen her seemed to fill the place about
her, and leave her no air to breathe nor light to see.

"Now!" she cried, "if I would give way--and go mad, as I could but
do, for there is naught else left--if I would but give way, that
which is I--and has lived but a poor score of years--would be done
with for all time. All whirls before me. 'Twas I who struck the
blow--and I am a woman--and I could go raving--and cry out and call
them in, and point to him, and tell them how 'twas done--all!--all!"

She choked, and clutched her bosom, holding its heaving down so
fiercely that her nails bruised it through her habit's cloth; for
she felt that she had begun to rave already, and that the waves of
such a tempest were arising as, if not quelled at their first swell,
would sweep her from her feet and engulf her for ever.

"That--that!" she gasped--"nay--that I swear I will not do! There
was always One who hated me--and doomed and hunted me from the hour
I lay 'neath my dead mother's corpse, a new-born thing. I know not
whom it was--or why--or how--but 'twas so! I was made evil, and
cast helpless amid evil fates, and having done the things that were
ordained, and there was no escape from, I was shown noble manhood
and high honour, and taught to worship, as I worship now. An angel
might so love and be made higher. And at the gate of heaven a devil
grins at me and plucks me back, and taunts and mires me, and I fall-
-on THIS!"

She stretched forth her arms in a great gesture, wherein it seemed
that surely she defied earth and heaven.

"No hope--no mercy--naught but doom and hell," she cried, "unless
the thing that is tortured be the stronger. Now--unless Fate bray
me small--the stronger I will be!"

She looked down at the thing before her. How its stone face
sneered, and even in its sneering seemed to disregard her. She
knelt by it again, her blood surging through her body, which had
been cold, speaking as if she would force her voice to pierce its
deadened ear.

"Ay, mock!" she said, setting her teeth, "thinking that I am
conquered--yet am I not! 'Twas an honest blow struck by a creature
goaded past all thought! Ay, mock--and yet, but for one man's sake,
would I call in those outside and stand before them, crying: 'Here
is a villain whom I struck in madness--and he lies dead! I ask not
mercy, but only justice.'"

She crouched still nearer, her breath and words coming hard and
quick. 'Twas indeed as if she spoke to a living man who heard--as
if she answered what he had said.

"There would be men in England who would give it me," she raved,
whispering. "That would there, I swear! But there would be
dullards and dastards who would not. He would give it--he! Ay,
mock as thou wilt! But between his high honour and love and me thy
carrion SHALL not come!"

By her great divan the dead man had fallen, and so near to it he lay
that one arm was hidden by the draperies; and at this moment this
she saw--before having seemed to see nothing but the death in his
face. A thought came to her like a flame lit on a sudden, and
springing high the instant the match struck the fuel it leaped from.
It was a thought so daring and so strange that even she gasped once,
being appalled, and her hands, stealing to her brow, clutched at the
hair that grew there, feeling it seem to rise and stand erect.

"Is it madness to so dare?" she said hoarsely, and for an instant,
shuddering, hid her eyes, but then uncovered and showed them
burning. "Nay! not as I will dare it," she said, "for it will make
me steel. You fell well," she said to the stone-faced thing, "and
as you lie there, seem to tell me what to do, in your own despite.
You would not have so helped me had you known. Now 'tis 'twixt Fate
and I--a human thing--who is but a hunted woman."

She put her strong hand forth and thrust him--he was already
stiffening--backward from the shoulder, there being no shrinking on
her face as she felt his flesh yield beneath her touch, for she had
passed the barrier lying between that which is mere life and that
which is pitiless hell, and could feel naught that was human. A
poor wild beast at bay, pressed on all sides by dogs, by huntsmen,
by resistless weapons, by Nature's pitiless self -glaring with
bloodshot eyes, panting, with fangs bared in the savagery of its
unfriended agony--might feel thus. 'Tis but a hunted beast; but
'tis alone, and faces so the terror and anguish of death.

The thing gazing with its set sneer, and moving but stiffly, she put
forth another hand upon its side and thrust it farther backward
until it lay stretched beneath the great broad seat, its glazed and
open eyes seeming to stare upward blankly at the low roof of its
strange prison; she thrust it farther backward still, and letting
the draperies fall, steadily and with care so rearranged them that
all was safe and hid from sight.

"Until to-night," she said, "You will lie well there. And then--and
then--"

She picked up the long silken lock of hair which lay like a serpent
at her feet, and threw it into the fire, watching it burn, as all
hair burns, with slow hissing, and she watched it till 'twas gone.

Then she stood with her hands pressed upon her eyeballs and her
brow, her thoughts moving in great leaps. Although it reeled, the
brain which had worked for her ever, worked clear and strong,
setting before her what was impending, arguing her case, showing her
where dangers would arise, how she must provide against them, what
she must defend and set at defiance. The power of will with which
she had been endowed at birth, and which had but grown stronger by
its exercise, was indeed to be compared to some great engine whose
lever 'tis not nature should be placed in human hands; but on that
lever her hand rested now, and to herself she vowed she would
control it, since only thus might she be saved. The torture she had
undergone for months, the warring of the evil past with the noble
present, of that which was sweet and passionately loving woman with
that which was all but devil, had strung her to a pitch so intense
and high that on the falling of this unnatural and unforeseen blow
she was left scarce a human thing. Looking back, she saw herself a
creature doomed from birth; and here in one moment seemed to stand a
force ranged in mad battle with the fate which had doomed her.

"'Twas ordained that the blow should fall so," she said, "and those
who did it laugh--laugh at me."

'Twas but a moment, and her sharp breathing became even and regular
as though at her command; her face composed itself, and she turned
to the bell and rang it as with imperious haste.

When the lacquey entered, she was standing holding papers in her
hand as if she had but just been consulting them.

"Follow Sir John Oxon," she commanded. "Tell him I have forgot an
important thing and beg him to return at once. Lose no time. He
has but just left me and can scarce be out of sight."

The fellow saw there was no time to lose. They all feared that
imperial eye of hers and fled to obey its glances. Bowing, he
turned, and hastened to do her bidding, fearing to admit that he had
not seen the guest leave, because to do so would be to confess that
he had been absent from his post, which was indeed the truth.

She knew he would come back shortly, and thus he did, entering
somewhat breathed by his haste.

"My lady," he said, "I went quickly to the street, and indeed to the
corner of it, but Sir John was not within sight."

"Fool, you were not swift enough!" she said angrily. "Wait, you
must go to his lodgings with a note. The matter is of importance."

She went to a table--'twas close to the divan, so close that if she
had thrust forth her foot she could have touched what lay beneath
it--and wrote hastily a few lines. They were to request That which
was stiffening within three feet of her to return to her as quickly
as possible that she might make inquiries of an important nature
which she had forgotten at his departure.

"Take this to Sir John's lodgings," she said. "Let there be no
loitering by the way. Deliver into his own hands, and bring back at
once his answer."

Then she was left alone again, and being so left, paced the room
slowly, her gaze upon the floor.

"That was well done," she said. "When he returns and has not found
him, I will be angered, and send him again to wait."

She stayed her pacing, and passed her hand across her face.

"'Tis like a nightmare," she said--"as if one dreamed, and choked,
and panted, and would scream aloud, but could not. I cannot! I
must not! Would that I might shriek, and dash myself upon the
floor, and beat my head upon it until I lay--as HE does."

She stood a moment, breathing fast, her eyes widening, that part of
her which was weak woman for the moment putting her in parlous
danger, realising the which she pressed her sides with hands that
were of steel.

"Wait! wait!" she said to herself. "This is going mad. This is
loosening hold, and being beaten by that One who hates me and laughs
to see what I have come to."

Naught but that unnatural engine of will could have held her within
bounds and restrained the mounting female weakness that beset her;
but this engine being stronger than all else, it beat her womanish
and swooning terrors down.

"Through this one day I must live," she said, "and plan, and guard
each moment that doth pass. My face must tell no tale, my voice
must hint none. He will be still--God knows he will be still
enough."

Upon the divan itself there had been lying a little dog; 'twas a
King Charles' spaniel, a delicate pampered thing, which attached
itself to her, and was not easily driven away. Once during the last
hour the fierce, ill-hushed voices had disturbed it, and it had
given vent to a fretted bark, but being a luxurious little beast, it
had soon curled up among its cushions and gone to sleep again. But
as its mistress walked about muttering low words and ofttimes
breathing sharp breaths, it became disturbed again. Perhaps through
some instinct of which naught is known by human creatures, it felt
the strange presence of a thing which roused it. It stirred, at
first drowsily, and lifted its head and sniffed; then it stretched
its limbs, and having done so, stood up, turning on its mistress a
troubled eye, and this she saw and stopped to meet it. 'Twas a
strange look she bestowed upon it, a startled and fearful one; her
thought drew the blood up to her cheek, but backward again it flowed
when the little beast lifted its nose and gave a low but woeful
howl. Twice it did this, and then jumped down, and standing before
the edge of the couch, stood there sniffing.

There was no mistake, some instinct of which it knew not the meaning
had set it on, and it would not be thrust back. In all beasts this
strange thing has been remarked--that they know That which ends them
all, and so revolt against it that they cannot be at rest so long as
it is near them, but must roar, or whinny, or howl until 'tis out of
the reach of their scent. And so 'twas plain this little beast knew
and was afraid and restless. He would not let it be, but roved
about, sniffing and whining, and not daring to thrust his head
beneath the falling draperies, but growing more and yet more excited
and terrified, until at last he stopped, raised head in air, and
gave vent to a longer, louder, and more dolorous howl, and albeit to
one with so strange and noticeable a sound that her heart turned
over in her breast as she stooped and caught him in her grasp, and
shuddered as she stood upright, holding him to her side, her hand
over his mouth. But he would not be hushed, and struggled to get
down as if indeed he would go mad unless he might get to the thing
and rave at it.

"If I send thee from the room thou wilt come back, poor Frisk," she
said. "There will be no keeping thee away, and I have never ordered
thee away before. Why couldst thou not keep still? Nay, 'twas not
dog nature."

That it was not so was plain by his struggles and the yelps but
poorly stifled by her grasp.

She put her hand about his little neck, turning, in sooth, very
pale.

"Thou too, poor little beast," she said. "Thou too, who art so
small a thing and never harmed me."

When the lacquey came back he wore an air more timorous than before.

"Your ladyship," he faltered, "Sir John had not yet reached his
lodgings. His servant knew not when he might expect him."

"In an hour go again and wait," she commanded. "He must return ere
long if he has not left town."

And having said this, pointed to a little silken heap which lay
outstretched limp upon the floor. "'Tis poor Frisk, who has had
some strange spasm, and fell, striking his head. He hath been
ailing for days, and howled loudly but an hour ago. Take him away,
poor beast."

CHAPTER XVII--Wherein his Grace of Osmonde's courier arrives from
France

The stronghold of her security lay in the fact that her household so
stood in awe of her, and that this room, which was one of the
richest and most beautiful, though not the largest, in the mansion,
all her servitors had learned to regard as a sort of sacred place in
which none dared to set foot unless invited or commanded to enter.
Within its four walls she read and wrote in the morning hours, no
servant entering unless summoned by her; and the apartment seeming,
as it were, a citadel, none approached without previous parley. In
the afternoon the doors were thrown open, and she entertained there
such visitors as came with less formality than statelier assemblages
demanded. When she went out of it this morning to go to her chamber
that her habit might be changed and her toilette made, she glanced
about her with a steady countenance.

"Until the babblers flock in to chatter of the modes and
playhouses," she said, "all will be as quiet as the grave. Then I
must stand near, and plan well, and be in such beauty and spirit
that they will see naught but me."

In the afternoon 'twas the fashion for those who had naught more
serious in their hands than the killing of time to pay visits to
each other's houses, and drinking dishes of tea, to dispose of their
neighbours' characters, discuss the play-houses, the latest fashions
in furbelows or commodes, and make love either lightly or with
serious intent. One may be sure that at my Lady Dunstanwolde's many
dishes of Bohea were drunk, and many ogling glances and much
witticism exchanged. There was in these days even a greater
following about her than ever. A triumphant beauty on the verge of
becoming a great duchess is not like to be neglected by her
acquaintance, and thus her ladyship held assemblies both gay and
brilliantly varied, which were the delight of the fashionable
triflers of the day.

This afternoon they flocked in greater numbers than usual. The
episode of the breaking of Devil, the unexpected return of his Grace
of Osmonde, the preparations for the union, had given an extra
stimulant to that interest in her ladyship which was ever great
enough to need none. Thereunto was added the piquancy of the
stories of the noticeable demeanour of Sir John Oxon, of what had
seemed to be so plain a rebellion against his fate, and also of my
lady's open and cold displeasure at the manner of his bearing
himself as a disappointed man who presumed to show anger against
that to which he should gallantly have been resigned, as one who is
conquered by the chance of war. Those who had beheld the two ride
homeward together in the morning, were full of curiousness, and one
and another, mentioning the matter, exchanged glances, speaking
plainly of desire to know more of what had passed, and of hope that
chance might throw the two together again in public, where more of
interest might be gathered. It seemed indeed not unlikely that Sir
John might appear among the tea-bibbers, and perchance 'twas for
this lively reason that my lady's room was this afternoon more than
usually full of gay spirits and gossip-loving ones.

They found, however, only her ladyship's self and her sister,
Mistress Anne, who, of truth, did not often join her tea-parties,
finding them so given up to fashionable chatter and worldly
witticisms that she felt herself somewhat out of place. The world
knew Mistress Anne but as a dull, plain gentlewoman, whom her more
brilliant and fortunate sister gave gracious protection to, and none
missed her when she was absent, or observed her greatly when she
appeared upon the scene. To-day she was perchance more observed
than usual, because her pallor was so great a contrast to her
ladyship's splendour of beauty and colour. The contrast between
them was ever a great one; but this afternoon Mistress Anne's always
pale countenance seemed almost livid, there were rings of pain or
illness round her eyes, and her features looked drawn and pinched.
My Lady Dunstanwolde, clad in a great rich petticoat of crimson
flowered satin, with wondrous yellow Mechlin for her ruffles, and
with her glorious hair dressed like a tower, looked taller, more
goddess-like and full of splendid fire than ever she had been before
beheld, or so her visitors said to her and to each other; though, to
tell the truth, this was no new story, she being one of those women
having the curious power of inspiring the beholder with the feeling
each time he encountered them that he had never before seen them in
such beauty and bloom.

When she had come down the staircase from her chamber, Anne, who had
been standing at the foot, had indeed started somewhat at the sight
of her rich dress and brilliant hues.

"Why do you jump as if I were a ghost, Anne?" she asked. "Do I look
like one? My looking-glass did not tell me so."

"No," said Anne; "you--are so--so crimson and splendid--and I--"

Her ladyship came swiftly down the stairs to her.

"You are not crimson and splendid," she said. "'Tis you who are a
ghost. What is it?"

Anne let her soft, dull eyes rest upon her for a moment helplessly,
and when she replied her voice sounded weak.

"I think--I am ill, sister," she said. "I seem to tremble and feel
faint."

"Go then to bed and see the physician. You must be cared for," said
her ladyship. "In sooth, you look ill indeed."

"Nay," said Anne; "I beg you, sister, this afternoon let me be with
you; it will sustain me. You are so strong--let me--"

She put out her hand as if to touch her, but it dropped at her side
as though its strength was gone.

"But there will be many babbling people," said her sister, with a
curious look. "You do not like company, and these days my rooms are
full. 'Twill irk and tire you."

"I care not for the people--I would be with you," Anne said, in
strange imploring. "I have a sick fancy that I am afraid to sit
alone in my chamber. 'Tis but weakness. Let me this afternoon be
with you."

"Go then and change your robe," said Clorinda, "and put some red
upon your cheeks. You may come if you will. You are a strange
creature Anne."

And thus saying, she passed into her apartment. As there are blows
and pain which end in insensibility or delirium, so there are
catastrophes and perils which are so great as to produce something
near akin to these. As she had stood before her mirror in her
chamber watching her reflection, while her woman attired her in her
crimson flowered satin and builded up her stately head-dress, this
other woman had felt that the hour when she could have shrieked and
raved and betrayed herself had passed by, and left a deadness like a
calm behind, as though horror had stunned all pain and yet left her
senses clear. She forgot not the thing which lay staring upward
blankly at the under part of the couch which hid it--the look of its
fixed eyes, its outspread locks, and the purple indentation on the
temple she saw as clearly as she had seen them in that first mad
moment when she had stood staring downward at the thing itself; but
the coursing of her blood was stilled, the gallop of her pulses, and
that wild hysteric leaping of her heart into her throat, choking her
and forcing her to gasp and pant in that way which in women must
ever end in shrieks and cries and sobbing beatings of the air. But
for the feminine softness to which her nature had given way for the
first time, since the power of love had mastered her, there was no
thing of earth could have happened to her which would have brought
this rolling ball to her throat, this tremor to her body--since the
hour of her birth she had never been attacked by such a female
folly, as she would indeed have regarded it once; but now 'twas
different--for a while she had been a woman--a woman who had flung
herself upon the bosom of him who was her soul's lord, and resting
there, her old rigid strength had been relaxed.

But 'twas not this woman who had known tender yielding who returned
to take her place in the Panelled Parlour, knowing of the companion
who waited near her unseen--for it was as her companion she thought
of him, as she had thought of him when he followed her in the Mall,
forced himself into her box at the play, or stood by her shoulder at
assemblies; he had placed himself by her side again, and would stay
there until she could rid herself of him.

"After to-night he will be gone, if I act well my part," she said,
"and then may I live a freed woman."

'Twas always upon the divan she took her place when she received her
visitors, who were accustomed to finding her enthroned there. This
afternoon when she came into the room she paused for a space, and
stood beside it, the parlour being yet empty. She felt her face
grow a little cold, as if it paled, and her under-lip drew itself
tight across her teeth.

"In a graveyard," she said, "I have sat upon the stone ledge of a
tomb, and beneath there was--worse than this, could I but have seen
it. This is no more."

When the Sir Humphreys and Lord Charleses, Lady Bettys and Mistress
Lovelys were announced in flocks, fluttering and chattering, she
rose from her old place to meet them, and was brilliant graciousness
itself. She hearkened to their gossipings, and though 'twas not her
way to join in them, she was this day witty in such way as robbed
them of the dulness in which sometimes gossip ends. It was a varied
company which gathered about her; but to each she gave his or her
moment, and in that moment said that which they would afterwards
remember. With those of the Court she talked royalty, the humours
of her Majesty, the severities of her Grace of Marlborough; with
statesmen she spoke with such intellect and discretion that they
went away pondering on the good fortune which had befallen one man
when it seemed that it was of such proportions as might have
satisfied a dozen, for it seemed not fair to them that his Grace of
Osmonde, having already rank, wealth, and fame, should have added to
them a gift of such magnificence as this beauteous woman would
bring; with beaux and wits she made dazzling jests; and to the
beauties who desired their flatteries she gave praise so adroit that
they were stimulated to plume their feathers afresh and cease to
fear the rivalry of her loveliness.

And yet while she so bore herself, never once did she cease to feel
the presence of that which, lying near, seemed to her racked soul as
one who lay and listened with staring eyes which mocked; for there
was a thought which would not leave her, which was, that it could
hear, that it could see through the glazing on its blue orbs, and
that knowing itself bound by the moveless irons of death and
dumbness it impotently raged and cursed that it could not burst them
and shriek out its vengeance, rolling forth among her worshippers at
their feet and hers.

"But he CAN not," she said, within her clenched teeth, again and
again--"THAT he cannot."

Once as she said this to herself she caught Anne's eyes fixed
helplessly upon her, it seeming to be as the poor woman had said,
that her weakness caused her to desire to abide near her sister's
strength and draw support from it; for she had remained at my lady's
side closely since she had descended to the room, and now seemed to
implore some protection for which she was too timid to openly make
request.

"You are too weak to stay, Anne," her ladyship said. "'Twould be
better that you should retire."

"I am weak," the poor thing answered, in low tones--"but not too
weak to stay. I am always weak. Would that I were of your strength
and courage. Let me sit down--sister-- here." She touched the
divan's cushions with a shaking hand, gazing upward wearily--
perchance remembering that this place seemed ever a sort of throne
none other than the hostess queen herself presumed to encroach upon.

"You are too meek, poor sister," quoth Clorinda. "'Tis not a chair
of coronation or the woolsack of a judge. Sit! sit!--and let me
call for wine!"

She spoke to a lacquey and bade him bring the drink, for even as she
sank into her place Anne's cheeks grew whiter.

When 'twas brought, her ladyship poured it forth and gave it to her
sister with her own hand, obliging her to drink enough to bring her
colour back. Having seen to this, she addressed the servant who had
obeyed her order.

"Hath Jenfry returned from Sir John Oxon?" she demanded, in that
clear, ringing voice of hers, whose music ever arrested those
surrounding her, whether they were concerned in her speech or no;
but now all felt sufficient interest to prick up ears and hearken to
what was said.

"No, my lady," the lacquey answered. "He said that you had bidden
him to wait."

"But not all day, poor fool," she said, setting down Anne's empty
glass upon the salver. "Did he think I bade him stand about the
door all night? Bring me his message when he comes."

"'Tis ever thus with these dull serving folk," she said to those
nearest her. "One cannot pay for wit with wages and livery. They
can but obey the literal word. Sir John, leaving me in haste this
morning, I forgot a question I would have asked, and sent a lacquey
to recall him."

Anne sat upright.

"Sister--I pray you--another glass of wine."

My lady gave it to her at once, and she drained it eagerly.

"Was he overtaken?" said a curious matron, who wished not to see the
subject closed.

"No," quoth her ladyship, with a light laugh--"though he must have
been in haste, for the man was sent after him in but a moment's
time. 'Twas then I told the fellow to go later to his lodgings and
deliver my message into Sir John's own hand, whence it seems that he
thinks that he must await him till he comes."

Upon a table near there lay the loaded whip; for she had felt it
bolder to let it lie there as if forgotten, because her pulse had
sprung so at first sight of it when she came down, and she had so
quailed before the desire to thrust it away, to hide it from her
sight. "And that I quail before," she had said, "I must have the
will to face--or I am lost." So she had let it stay.

A languishing beauty, with melting blue eyes and a pretty fashion of
ever keeping before the world of her admirers her waxen delicacy,
lifted the heavy thing in her frail white hand.

"How can your ladyship wield it?" she said. "It is so heavy for a
woman--but your ladyship is--is not--"

"Not quite a woman," said the beautiful creature, standing at her
full great height, and smiling down at this blue and white piece of
frailty with the flashing splendour of her eyes.

"Not quite a woman," cried two wits at once. "A goddess rather--an
Olympian goddess."

The languisher could not endure comparisons which so seemed to
disparage her ethereal charms. She lifted the weapon with a great
effort, which showed the slimness of her delicate fair wrist and the
sweet tracery of blue veins upon it.

"Nay," she said lispingly, "it needs the muscle of a great man to
lift it. I could not hold it--much less beat with it a horse." And
to show how coarse a strength was needed and how far her femininity
lacked such vigour, she dropped it upon the floor--and it rolled
beneath the edge of the divan.

"Now," the thought shot through my lady's brain, as a bolt shoots
from the sky--"now--he LAUGHS!"

She had no time to stir--there were upon their knees three beaux at
once, and each would sure have thrust his arm below the seat and
rummaged, had not God saved her! Yes, 'twas of God she thought in
that terrible mad second--God!--and only a mind that is not human
could have told why.

For Anne--poor Mistress Anne--white-faced and shaking, was before
them all, and with a strange adroitness stooped,--and thrust her
hand below, and drawing the thing forth, held it up to view.

"'Tis here," she said, "and in sooth, sister, I wonder not at its
falling--its weight is so great."

Clorinda took it from her hand.

"I shall break no more beasts like Devil," she said, "and for
quieter ones it weighs too much; I shall lay it by."

She crossed the room and laid it upon a shelf.

"It was ever heavy--but for Devil. 'Tis done with," she said; and
there came back to her face--which for a second had lost hue--a
flood of crimson so glowing, and a smile so strange, that those who
looked and heard, said to themselves that 'twas the thought of
Osmonde who had so changed her, which made her blush. But a few
moments later they beheld the same glow mount again. A lacquey
entered, bearing a salver on which lay two letters. One was a large
one, sealed with a ducal coronet, and this she saw first, and took
in her hand even before the man had time to speak.

"His Grace's courier has arrived from France," he said; "the package
was ordered to be delivered at once."

"It must be that his Grace returns earlier than we had hoped," she
said, and then the other missive caught her eye.

"'Tis your ladyship's own," the lacquey explained somewhat
anxiously. "'Twas brought back, Sir John not having yet come home,
and Jenfry having waited three hours."

"'Twas long enough," quoth her ladyship. "'Twill do to-morrow."

She did not lay Osmonde's letter aside, but kept it in her hand, and
seeing that she waited for their retirement to read it, her guests
began to make their farewells. One by one or in groups of twos and
threes they left her, the men bowing low, and going away fretted by
the memory of the picture she made--a tall and regal figure in her
flowered crimson, her stateliness seeming relaxed and softened by
the mere holding of the sealed missive in her hand. But the women
were vaguely envious, not of Osmonde, but of her before whom there
lay outspread as far as life's horizon reached, a future of such
perfect love and joy; for Gerald Mertoun had been marked by feminine
eyes since his earliest youth, and had seemed to embody all that
woman's dreams or woman's ambitions or her love could desire.

When the last was gone, Clorinda turned, tore her letter open, and
held it hard to her lips. Before she read a word she kissed it
passionately a score of times, paying no heed that Anne sate gazing
at her; and having kissed it so, she fell to reading it, her cheeks
warm with the glow of a sweet and splendid passion, her bosom rising
and falling in a tempest of tender, fluttering breaths--and 'twas
these words her eyes devoured

"If I should head this page I write to you 'Goddess and Queen, and
Empress of my deepest soul,' what more should I be saying than 'My
Love' and 'My Clorinda,' since these express all the soul of man
could crave for or his body desire. The body and soul of me so long
for thee, sweetheart, and sweetest beautiful woman that the hand of
Nature ever fashioned for the joy of mortals, that I have had need
to pray Heaven's help to aid me to endure the passing of the days
that lie between me and the hour which will make me the most
strangely, rapturously, happy man, not in England, not in the world,
but in all God's universe. I must pray Heaven again, and indeed do
and will, for humbleness which shall teach me to remember that I am
not deity, but mere man--mere man--though I shall hold a goddess to
my breast and gaze into eyes which are like deep pools of Paradise,
and yet answer mine with the marvel of such love as none but such a
soul could make a woman's, and so fit to mate with man's. In the
heavy days when I was wont to gaze at you from afar with burning
heart, my unceasing anguish was that even high honour itself could
not subdue and conquer the thoughts which leaped within me even as
my pulse leaped, and even as my pulse could not be stilled unless by
death. And one that for ever haunted--ay, and taunted--me was the
image of how your tall, beauteous body would yield itself to a
strong man's arm, and your noble head with its heavy tower of hair
resting upon his shoulder--the centres of his very being would be
thrilled and shaken by the uplifting of such melting eyes as surely
man ne'er gazed within on earth before, and the ripe and scarlet bow
of a mouth so beauteous and so sweet with womanhood. This beset me
day and night, and with such torture that I feared betimes my brain
might reel and I become a lost and ruined madman. And now--it is no
more forbidden me to dwell upon it--nay, I lie waking at night,
wooing the picture to me, and at times I rise from my dreams to
kneel by my bedside and thank God that He hath given me at last what
surely is my own!-for so it seems to me, my love, that each of us is
but a part of the other, and that such forces of Nature rush to meet
together in us, that Nature herself would cry out were we rent
apart. If there were aught to rise like a ghost between us, if
there were aught that could sunder us--noble soul, let us but swear
that it shall weld us but the closer together, and that locked in
each other's arms its blows shall not even make our united strength
to sway. Sweetest lady, your lovely lip will curve in smiles, and
you will say, 'He is mad with his joy--my Gerald' (for never till my
heart stops at its last beat and leaves me still, a dead man, cold
upon my bed, can I forget the music of your speech when you spoke
those words, 'My Gerald! My Gerald.') And indeed I crave your
pardon, for a man so filled with rapture cannot be quite sane, and
sometimes I wonder if I walk through the palace gardens like one who
is drunk, so does my brain reel. But soon, my heavenly, noble love,
my exile will be over, and this is in truth what my letter is to
tell you, that in four days your lacqueys will throw open your doors
to me and I shall enter, and being led to you, shall kneel at your
feet and kiss the hem of your robe, and then rise standing to fold
her who will so soon be my very wife to my throbbing breast."

Back to her face had come all the softness which had been lost, the
hard lines were gone, the tender curves had returned, her lashes
looked as if they were moist. Anne, sitting rigidly and gazing at
her, was afraid to speak, knowing that she was not for the time on
earth, but that the sound of a voice would bring her back to it, and
that 'twas well she should be away as long as she might.

She read the letter, not once, but thrice, dwelling upon every word,
'twas plain; and when she had reached the last one, turning back the
pages and beginning again. When she looked up at last, 'twas with
an almost wild little smile, for she had indeed for that one moment
forgotten.

"Locked in each other's arms," she said--"locked in each other's
arms. My Gerald! My Gerald! 'What surely is my own--my own'!"

Anne rose and came to her, laying her hand on her arm. She spoke in
a voice low, hushed, and strained.

"Come away, sister," she said, "for a little while--come away."

CHAPTER XVIII--My Lady Dunstanwolde sits late alone and writes

That she must leave the Panelled Parlour at her usual hour, or
attract attention by doing that to which her household was
unaccustomed, she well knew, her manner of life being ever stately
and ceremonious in its regularity. When she dined at home she and
Anne partook of their repast together in the large dining-room, the
table loaded with silver dishes and massive glittering glass, their
powdered, gold-laced lacqueys in attendance, as though a score of
guests had shared the meal with them. Since her lord's death there
had been nights when her ladyship had sat late writing letters and
reading documents pertaining to her estates, the management of
which, though in a measure controlled by stewards and attorneys, was
not left to them, as the business of most great ladies is generally
left to others. All papers were examined by her, all leases and
agreements clearly understood before she signed them, and if there
were aught unsatisfactory, both stewards and lawyers were called to
her presence to explain.

"Never did I--or any other man--meet with such a head upon a woman's
shoulders," her attorney said. And the head steward of Dunstanwolde
and Helversly learned to quake at the sight of her bold handwriting
upon the outside of a letter.

"Such a lady!" he said--"such a lady! Lie to her if you can; palter
if you know how; try upon her the smallest honest shrewd trick, and
see how it fares with you. Were it not that she is generous as she
is piercing of eye, no man could serve her and make an honest
living."

She went to her chamber and was attired again sumptuously for
dinner. Before she descended she dismissed her woman for a space on
some errand, and when she was alone, drawing near to her mirror,
gazed steadfastly within it at her face. When she had read
Osmonde's letter her cheeks had glowed; but when she had come back
to earth, and as she had sat under her woman's hands at her
toilette, bit by bit the crimson had died out as she had thought of
what was behind her and of what lay before. The thing was so
stiffly rigid by this time, and its eyes still stared so. Never had
she needed to put red upon her cheeks before, Nature having stained
them with such richness of hue; but as no lady of the day was
unprovided with her crimson, there was a little pot among her
toilette ornaments which contained all that any emergency might
require. She opened this small receptacle and took from it the red
she for the first time was in want of.

"I must not wear a pale face, God knows," she said, and rubbed the
colour on her cheeks with boldness.

It would have seemed that she wore her finest crimson when she went
forth full dressed from her apartment; little Nero grinned to see
her, the lacqueys saying among themselves that his Grace's courier
had surely brought good news, and that they might expect his master
soon. At the dinner-table 'twas Anne who was pale and ate but
little, she having put no red upon her cheeks, and having no
appetite for what was spread before her. She looked strangely as
though she were withered and shrunken, and her face seemed even
wrinkled. My lady had small leaning towards food, but she sent no
food away untouched, forcing herself to eat, and letting not the
talk flag--though it was indeed true that 'twas she herself who
talked, Mistress Anne speaking rarely; but as it was always her way
to be silent, and a listener rather than one who conversed, this was
not greatly noticeable.

Her Ladyship of Dunstanwolde talked of her guests of the afternoon,
and was charming and witty in her speech of them; she repeated the
mots of the wits, and told some brilliant stories of certain modish
ladies and gentlemen of fashion; she had things to say of statesmen
and politics, and was sparkling indeed in speaking of the lovely
languisher whose little wrist was too delicate and slender to
support the loaded whip. While she talked, Mistress Anne's soft,
dull eyes were fixed upon her with a sort of wonder which had some
of the quality of bewilderment; but this was no new thing either,
for to the one woman the other was ever something to marvel at.

"It is because you are so quiet a mouse, Anne," my lady said, with
her dazzling smile, "that you seem never in the way; and yet I
should miss you if I knew you were not within the house. When the
duke takes me to Camylotte you must be with me even then. It is so
great a house that in it I can find you a bower in which you can be
happy even if you see us but little. 'Tis a heavenly place I am
told, and of great splendour and beauty. The park and flower-
gardens are the envy of all England."

"You--will be very happy, sister," said Anne, "and--and like a
queen."

"Yes," was her sister's answer--"yes." And 'twas spoken with a deep
in-drawn breath.

After the repast was ended she went back to the Panelled Parlour.

"You may sit with me till bedtime if you desire, Anne," she said;
"but 'twill be but dull for you, as I go to sit at work. I have
some documents of import to examine and much writing to do. I shall
sit up late." And upon this she turned to the lacquey holding open
the door for her passing through. "If before half-past ten there
comes a message from Sir John Oxon," she gave order, "it must be
brought to me at once; but later I must not be disturbed--it will
keep until morning."

Yet as she spoke there was before her as distinct a picture as ever
of what lay waiting and gazing in the room to which she went.

Until twelve o'clock she sat at her table, a despatch box by her
side, papers outspread before her. Within three feet of her was the
divan, but she gave no glance to it, sitting writing, reading, and
comparing documents. At twelve o'clock she rose and rang the bell.

"I shall be later than I thought," she said. "I need none of you
who are below stairs. Go you all to bed. Tell my woman that she
also may lie down. I will ring when I come to my chamber and have
need of her. There is yet no message from Sir John?"

"None, my lady," the man answered.

He went away with a relieved countenance, as she made no comment.
He knew that his fellows as well as himself would be pleased enough
to be released from duty for the night. They were a pampered lot,
and had no fancy for late hours when there were no great
entertainments being held which pleased them and gave them chances
to receive vails.

Mistress Anne sat in a large chair, huddled into a small heap, and
looking colourless and shrunken. As she heard bolts being shot and
bars put up for the closing of the house, she knew that her own
dismissal was at hand. Doors were shut below stairs, and when all
was done the silence of night reigned as it does in all households
when those who work have gone to rest. 'Twas a common thing enough,
and yet this night there was one woman who felt the stillness so
deep that it made her breathing seem a sound too loud.

"Go to bed, Anne," she said. "You have stayed up too long."

Anne arose from her chair and drew near to her.

"Sister," said she, as she had said before, "let me stay."

She was a poor weak creature, and so she looked with her pale
insignificant face and dull eyes, a wisp of loose hair lying damp on
her forehead. She seemed indeed too weak a thing to stand even for
a moment in the way of what must be done this night, and 'twas
almost irritating to be stopped by her.

"Nay," said my Lady Dunstanwolde, her beautiful brow knitting as she
looked at her. "Go to your chamber, Anne, and to sleep. I must do
my work, and finish to-night what I have begun."

"But--but--" Anne stammered, dominated again, and made afraid, as
she ever was, by this strong nature, "in this work you must finish--
is there not something I could do to--aid you--even in some small
and poor way. Is there--naught?"

"Naught," answered Clorinda, her form drawn to its great full
height, her lustrous eyes darkening. "What should there be that you
could understand?"

"Not some small thing--not some poor thing?" Anne said, her fingers
nervously twisting each other, so borne down was she by her awful
timorousness, for awful it was indeed when she saw clouds gather on
her sister's brow. "I have so loved you, sister--I have so loved
you that my mind is quickened somehow at times, and I can understand
more than would be thought--when I hope to serve you. Once you
said--once you said--"

She knew not then nor ever afterwards how it came to pass that in
that moment she found herself swept into her sister's white arms and
strained against her breast, wherein she felt the wild heart
bounding; nor could she, not being given to subtle reasoning, have
comprehended the almost fierce kiss on her cheek nor the hot drops
that wet it.

"I said that I believed that if you saw me commit murder," Clorinda
cried, "you would love me still, and be my friend and comforter."

"I would, I would!" cried Anne.

"And I believe your word, poor, faithful soul--I do believe it," my
lady said, and kissed her hard again, but the next instant set her
free and laughed. "But you will not be put to the test," she said,
"for I have done none. And in two days' time my Gerald will be
here, and I shall be safe--saved and happy for evermore--for
evermore. There, leave me! I would be alone and end my work."

And she went back to her table and sat beside it, taking her pen to
write, and Anne knew that she dare say no more, and turning, went
slowly from the room, seeing for her last sight as she passed
through the doorway, the erect and splendid figure at its task, the
light from the candelabras shining upon the rubies round the snow-
white neck and wreathed about the tower of raven hair like lines of
crimson.

CHAPTER XIX--A piteous story is told, and the old cellars walled in

It is, indeed, strangely easy in the great world for a man to lose
his importance, and from having been the target for all eyes and the
subject of all conversation, to step from his place, or find it so
taken by some rival that it would seem, judging from the general
obliviousness to him, that he had never existed. But few years
before no fashionable gathering would have been felt complete had it
not been graced by the presence of the young and fascinating
Lovelace, Sir John Oxon. Women favoured him, and men made
themselves his boon companions; his wit was repeated; the fashion of
his hair and the cut of his waistcoat copied. He was at first rich
and gay enough to be courted and made a favourite; but when his
fortune was squandered, and his marriage with the heiress came to
naught, those qualities which were vicious and base in him were more
easy to be seen. Besides, there came new male beauties and new
dandies with greater resources and more of prudence, and these,
beginning to set fashion, win ladies' hearts, and make conquests, so
drew the attention of the public mind that he was less noticeable,
being only one of many, instead of ruling singly as it had seemed
that by some strange chance he did at first. There were indeed so
many stories told of his light ways, that their novelty being worn
off and new ones still repeated, such persons as concerned
themselves with matters of reputation either through conscience or
policy, began to speak of him with less of warmth or leniency.

"'Tis not well for a matron with daughters to marry and with sons to
keep an eye to," it was said, "to have in her household too often a
young gentleman who has squandered his fortune in dice and drink and
wild living, and who 'twas known was cast off by a reputable young
lady of fortune."

So there were fine ladies who began to avoid him, and those in power
at Court and in the world who regarded him with lessening favour day
by day! In truth, he had such debts, and his creditors pressed him
so ceaselessly, that even had the world's favour continued, his life
must have changed its aspect greatly. His lodgings were no longer
the most luxurious in the fashionable part of the town, his brocades
and laces were no longer of the richest, nor his habit of the very
latest and most modish cut; he had no more an equipage attracting
every eye as he drove forth, nor a gentleman's gentleman whose
swagger and pomp outdid that of all others in his world. Soon after
the breaking of his marriage with the heiress, his mother had died,
and his relatives being few, and those of an order strictly averse
to the habits of ill-provided and extravagant kinsmen, he had but
few family ties. Other ties he had, 'twas true, but they were not
such as were accounted legal or worthy of attention either by
himself or those related to him.

So it befell that when my Lady Dunstanwolde's lacquey could not find
him at his lodgings, and as the days went past neither his landlady
nor his creditors beheld him again, his absence from the scene was
not considered unaccountable by them, nor did it attract the notice
it would have done in times gone by.

"He hath made his way out of England to escape us," said the angry
tailors and mercers--who had besieged his door in vain for months,
and who were now infuriated at the thought of their own easiness and
the impudent gay airs which had befooled them. "A good four hundred
pounds of mine hath he carried with him," said one. "And two
hundred of mine!" "And more of mine, since I am a poor man to whom
a pound means twenty guineas!" "We are all robbed, and he has
cheated the debtors' prison, wherein, if we had not been fools, he
would have been clapped six months ago."

"Think ye he will not come back, gentlemen?" quavered his landlady.
"God knows when I have seen a guinea of his money--but he was such a
handsome, fine young nobleman, and had such a way with a poor body,
and ever a smile and a chuck o' the chin for my Jenny."

"Look well after poor Jenny if he hath left her behind," said the
tailor.

He did not come back, indeed; and hearing the rumour that he had
fled his creditors, the world of fashion received the news with
small disturbance, all modish persons being at that time much
engaged in discussion of the approaching nuptials of her ladyship of
Dunstanwolde and the Duke of Osmonde. Close upon the discussions of
the preparations came the nuptials themselves, and then all the town
was agog, and had small leisure to think of other things. For those
who were bidden to the ceremonials and attendant entertainments,
there were rich habits and splendid robes to be prepared; and to
those who had not been bidden, there were bitter disappointments and
thwarted wishes to think of.

"Sir John Oxon has fled England to escape seeing and hearing it
all," was said.

"He has fled to escape something more painful than the spleen,"
others answered. "He had reached his rope's end, and finding that
my Lady Dunstanwolde was not of a mind to lengthen it with her
fortune, having taken a better man, and that his creditors would
have no more patience, he showed them a light pair of heels."

Before my Lady Dunstanwolde left her house she gave orders that it
be set in order for closing for some time, having it on her mind
that she should not soon return. It was, however, to be left in
such condition that at any moment, should she wish to come to it,
all could be made ready in two days' time. To this end various
repairs and changes she had planned were to be carried out as soon
as she went away from it. Among other things was the closing with
brickwork of the entrance to the passage leading to the unused
cellars.

"'Twill make the servants' part more wholesome and less damp and
draughty," she said; "and if I should sell the place, will be to its
advantage. 'Twas a builder with little wit who planned such
passages and black holes. In spite of all the lime spread there,
they were ever mouldy and of evil odour."

It was her command that there should be no time lost, and men were
set at work, carrying bricks and mortar. It so chanced that one of
them, going in through a back entrance with a hod over his shoulder,
and being young and lively, found his eye caught by the countenance
of a pretty, frightened-looking girl, who seemed to be loitering
about watching, as if curious or anxious. Seeing her near each time
he passed, and observing that she wished to speak, but was too
timid, he addressed her -

"Would you know aught, mistress?" he said.

She drew nearer gratefully, and then he saw her eyes were red as if
with weeping.

"Think you her ladyship would let a poor girl speak a word with
her?" she said. "Think you I dare ask so much of a servant--or
would they flout me and turn me from the door? Have you seen her?
Does she look like a hard, shrewish lady?"

"That she does not, though all stand in awe of her," he answered,
pleased to talk with so pretty a creature. "I but caught a glimpse
of her when she gave orders concerning the closing with brick of a
passage-way below. She is a tall lady, and grand and stately, but
she hath a soft pair of eyes as ever man would wish to look into, be
he duke or ditcher."

The tears began to run down the girl's cheeks.

"Ay!" she said; "all men love her, they say. Many a poor girl's
sweetheart has been false through her--and I thought she was cruel
and ill-natured. Know you the servants that wait on her? Would you
dare to ask one for me, if he thinks she would deign to see a poor
girl who would crave the favour to be allowed to speak to her of--of
a gentleman she knows?"

"They are but lacqueys, and I would dare to ask what was in my
mind," he answered; "but she is near her wedding-day, and little as
I know of brides' ways, I am of the mind that she will not like to
be troubled."

"That I stand in fear of," she said; "but, oh! I pray you, ask some
one of them--a kindly one."

The young man looked aside. "Luck is with you," he said. "Here
comes one now to air himself in the sun, having naught else to do.
Here is a young woman who would speak with her ladyship," he said to
the strapping powdered fellow.

"She had best begone," the lacquey answered, striding towards the
applicant. "Think you my lady has time to receive traipsing
wenches."

"'Twas only for a moment I asked," the girl said. "I come from--I
would speak to her of--of Sir John Oxon--whom she knows."

The man's face changed. It was Jenfry.

"Sir John Oxon," he said. "Then I will ask her. Had you said any
other name I would not have gone near her to-day."

Her ladyship was in her new closet with Mistress Anne, and there the
lacquey came to her to deliver his errand.

"A country-bred young woman, your ladyship," he said, "comes from
Sir John Oxon--"

"From Sir John Oxon!" cried Anne, starting in her chair.

My Lady Dunstanwolde made no start, but turned a steady countenance
towards the door, looking into the lacquey's face.

"Then he hath returned?" she said.

"Returned!" said Anne.

"After the morning he rode home with me," my lady answered, "'twas
said he went away. He left his lodgings without warning. It seems
he hath come back. What does the woman want?" she ended.

"To speak with your ladyship," replied the man, "of Sir John
himself, she says."

"Bring her to me," her ladyship commanded.

The girl was brought in, overawed and trembling. She was a country-
bred young creature, as the lacquey had said, being of the simple
rose-and-white freshness of seventeen years perhaps, and having
childish blue eyes and fair curling locks.

She was so frightened by the grandeur of her surroundings, and the
splendid beauty of the lady who was so soon to be a duchess, and was
already a great earl's widow, that she could only stand within the
doorway, curtseying and trembling, with tears welling in her eyes.

"Be not afraid," said my Lady Dunstanwolde. "Come hither, child,
and tell me what you want." Indeed, she did not look a hard or
shrewish lady; she spoke as gently as woman could, and a mildness so
unexpected produced in the young creature such a revulsion of
feeling that she made a few steps forward and fell upon her knees,
weeping, and with uplifted hands.

"My lady," she said, "I know not how I dared to come, but that I am
so desperate--and your ladyship being so happy, it seemed--it seemed
that you might pity me, who am so helpless and know not what to do."

Her ladyship leaned forward in her chair, her elbow on her knee, her
chin held in her hand, to gaze at her.

"You come from Sir John Oxon?" she said.

Anne, watching, clutched each arm of her chair.

"Not FROM him, asking your ladyship's pardon," said the child, "but-
-but--from the country to him," her head falling on her breast, "and
I know not where he is."

"You came TO him," asked my lady. "Are you," and her speech was
pitiful and slow--"are you one of those whom he has--ruined?"

The little suppliant looked up with widening orbs.

"How could that be, and he so virtuous and pious a gentleman?" she
faltered.

Then did my lady rise with a sudden movement.

"Was he so?" says she.

"Had he not been," the child answered, "my mother would have been
afraid to trust him. I am but a poor country widow's daughter, but
was well brought up, and honestly--and when he came to our village
my mother was afraid, because he was a gentleman; but when she saw
his piety, and how he went to church and sang the psalms and prayed
for grace, she let me listen to him."

"Did he go to church and sing and pray at first?" my lady asks.

"'Twas in church he saw me, your ladyship," she was answered. "He
said 'twas his custom to go always when he came to a new place, and
that often there he found the most heavenly faces, for 'twas piety
and innocence that made a face like to an angel's; and 'twas
innocence and virtue stirred his heart to love, and not mere beauty
which so fades."

"Go on, innocent thing," my lady said; and she turned aside to Anne,
flashing from her eyes unseen a great blaze, and speaking in a low
and hurried voice. "God's house," she said--"God's prayers--God's
songs of praise--he used them all to break a tender heart, and bring
an innocent life to ruin--and yet was he not struck dead?"

Anne hid her face and shuddered.

"He was a gentleman," the poor young thing cried, sobbing--"and I no
fit match for him, but that he loved me. 'Tis said love makes all
equal; and he said I was the sweetest, innocent young thing, and
without me he could not live. And he told my mother that he was not
rich or the fashion now, and had no modish friends or relations to
flout any poor beauty he might choose to wed."

"And he would marry you?" my lady's voice broke in. "He said that
he would marry you?"

"A thousand times, your ladyship, and so told my mother, but said I
must come to town and be married at his lodgings, or 'twould not be
counted a marriage by law, he being a town gentleman, and I from the
country."

"And you came," said Mistress Anne, down whose pale cheeks the tears
were running--"you came at his command to follow him?"

"What day came you up to town?" demands my lady, breathless and
leaning forward. "Went you to his lodgings, and stayed you there
with him,--even for an hour?"

The poor child gazed at her, paling.

"He was not there!" she cried. "I came alone because he said all
must be secret at first; and my heart beat so with joy, my lady,
that when the woman of the house whereat he lodges let me in I
scarce could speak. But she was a merry woman and good-natured, and
only laughed and cheered me when she took me to his rooms, and I
sate trembling."

"What said she to you?" my lady asks, her breast heaving with her
breath.

"That he was not yet in, but that he would sure come to such a young
and pretty thing as I, and I must wait for him, for he would not
forgive her if she let me go. And the while I waited there came a
man in bands and cassock, but he had not a holy look, and late in
the afternoon I heard him making jokes with the woman outside, and
they both laughed in such an evil way that I was affrighted, and
waiting till they had gone to another part of the house, stole
away."

"But he came not back that night--thank God!" my lady said--"he came
not back."

The girl rose from her knees, trembling, her hands clasped on her
breast.

"Why should your ladyship thank God?" she says, pure drops falling
from her eyes. "I am so humble, and had naught else but that great
happiness, and it was taken away--and you thank God."

Then drops fell from my lady's eyes also, and she came forward and
caught the child's hand, and held it close and warm and strong, and
yet with her full lip quivering.

"'Twas not that your joy was taken away that I thanked God," said
she. "I am not cruel--God Himself knows that, and when He smites me
'twill not be for cruelty. I knew not what I said, and yet--tell me
what did you then? Tell me?"

"I went to a poor house to lodge, having some little money he had
given me," the simple young thing answered. "'Twas an honest house,
though mean and comfortless. And the next day I went back to his
lodgings to question, but he had not come, and I would not go in,
though the woman tried to make me enter, saying, Sir John would
surely return soon, as he had the day before rid with my Lady
Dunstanwolde and been to her house; and 'twas plain he had meant to
come to his lodgings, for her ladyship had sent her lacquey thrice
with a message."

The hand with which Mistress Anne sate covering her eyes began to
shake. My lady's own hand would have shaken had she not been so
strong a creature.

"And he has not yet returned, then?" she asked. "You have not seen
him?"

The girl shook her fair locks, weeping with piteous little sobs.

"He has not," she cried, "and I know not what to do--and the great
town seems full of evil men and wicked women. I know not which way
to turn, for all plot wrong against me, and would drag me down to
shamefulness--and back to my poor mother I cannot go."

"Wherefore not, poor child?" my lady asked her.

"I have not been made an honest, wedded woman, and none would
believe my story, and--and he might come back."

"And if he came back?" said her ladyship.

At this question the girl slipped from her grasp and down upon her
knees again, catching at her rich petticoat and holding it, her eyes
searching the great lady's in imploring piteousness, her own
streaming.

"I love him," she wept--"I love him so--I cannot leave the place
where he might be. He was so beautiful and grand a gentleman, and,
sure, he loved me better than all else--and I cannot thrust away
from me that last night when he held me to his breast near our
cottage door, and the nightingale sang in the roses, and he spake
such words to me. I lie and sob all night on my hard pillow--I so
long to see him and to hear his voice--and hearing he had been with
you that last morning, I dared to come, praying that you might have
heard him let drop some word that would tell me where he may be, for
I cannot go away thinking he may come back longing for me--and I
lose him and never see his face again. Oh! my lady, my lady, this
place is so full of wickedness and fierce people--and dark kennels
where crimes are done. I am affrighted for him, thinking he may
have been struck some blow, and murdered, and hid away; and none
will look for him but one who loves him--who loves him. Could it be
so?--could it be? You know the town's ways so well. I pray you,
tell me--in God's name I pray you!"

"God's mercy!" Anne breathed, and from behind her hands came stifled
sobbing. My Lady Dunstanwolde bent down, her colour dying.

"Nay, nay," she said, "there has been no murder done--none! Hush,
poor thing, hush thee. There is somewhat I must tell thee."

She tried to raise her, but the child would not be raised, and clung
to her rich robe, shaking as she knelt gazing upward.

"It is a bitter thing," my lady said, and 'twas as if her own eyes
were imploring. "God help you bear it--God help us all. He told me
nothing of his journey. I knew not he was about to take it; but
wheresoever he has travelled, 'twas best that he should go."

"Nay! nay!" the girl cried out--"to leave me helpless. Nay! it
could not be so. He loved me--loved me--as the great duke loves
you!"

"He meant you evil," said my lady, shuddering, "and evil he would
have done you. He was a villain--a villain who meant to trick you.
Had God struck him dead that day, 'twould have been mercy to you. I
knew him well."

The young thing gave a bitter cry and fell swooning at her feet; and
down upon her knees my lady went beside her, loosening her gown, and
chafing her poor hands as though they two had been of sister blood.

"Call for hartshorn, Anne, and for water," she said; "she will come
out of her swooning, poor child, and if she is cared for kindly in
time her pain will pass away. God be thanked she knows no pain that
cannot pass! I will protect her--ay, that will I, as I will protect
all he hath done wrong to and deserted."

* * *

She was so strangely kind through the poor victim's swoons and
weeping that the very menials who were called to aid her went back
to their hall wondering in their talk of the noble grandness of so
great a lady, who on the very brink of her own joy could stoop to
protect and comfort a creature so far beneath her, that to most
ladies her sorrow and desertion would have been things which were
too trivial to count; for 'twas guessed, and talked over with great
freedom and much shrewdness, that this was a country victim of Sir
John Oxon's, and he having deserted his creditors, was read enough
to desert his rustic beauty, finding her heavy on his hands.

Below stairs the men closing the entrance to the passage with brick,
having caught snatches of the servants' gossip, talked of what they
heard among themselves as they did their work.

"Ay, a noble lady indeed," they said. "For 'tis not a woman's way
to be kindly with the cast-off fancy of a man, even when she does
not want him herself. He was her own worshipper for many a day, Sir
John; and before she took the old earl 'twas said that for a space
people believed she loved him. She was but fifteen and a high
mettled beauty; and he as handsome as she, and had a blue eye that
would melt any woman--but at sixteen he was a town rake, and such
tricks as this one he hath played since he was a lad. 'Tis well
indeed for this poor thing her ladyship hath seen her. She hath
promised to protect her, and sends her down to Dunstanwolde with her
mother this very week. Would all fine ladies were of her kind. To
hear such things of her puts a man in the humour to do her work
well."

CHAPTER XX--A noble marriage

When the duke came back from France, and to pay his first eager
visit to his bride that was to be, her ladyship's lacqueys led him
not to the Panelled Parlour, but to a room which he had not entered
before, it being one she had had the fancy to have remodelled and
made into a beautiful closet for herself, her great wealth rendering
it possible for her to accomplish changes without the loss of time
the owners of limited purses are subjected to in the carrying out of
plans. This room she had made as unlike the Panelled Parlour as two
rooms would be unlike one another. Its panellings were white, its
furnishings were bright and delicate, its draperies flowered with
rosebuds tied in clusters with love-knots of pink and blue; it had a
large bow-window, through which the sunlight streamed, and it was
blooming with great rose-bowls overrunning with sweetness.

From a seat in the morning sunshine among the flowers and plants in
the bow-window, there rose a tall figure in a snow-white robe--a
figure like that of a beautiful stately girl who was half an angel.
It was my lady, who came to him with blushing cheeks and radiant
shining eyes, and was swept into his arms in such a passion of love
and blessed tenderness as Heaven might have smiled to see.

"My love! my love!" he breathed. "My life! my life and soul!"

"My Gerald!" she cried. "My Gerald--let me say it on your breast a
thousand times!"

"My wife!" he said--"so soon my wife and all my own until life's
end."

"Nay, nay," she cried, her cheek pressed to his own, "through all
eternity, for Love's life knows no end."

As it had seemed to her poor lord who had died, so it seemed to this
man who lived and so worshipped her--that the wonder of her
sweetness was a thing to marvel at with passionate reverence. Being
a man of greater mind and poetic imagination than Dunstanwolde, and
being himself adored by her, as that poor gentleman had not had the
good fortune to be, he had ten thousand-fold the power and reason to
see the tender radiance of her. As she was taller than other women,
so her love seemed higher and greater, and as free from any touch of
earthly poverty of feeling as her beauty was from any flaw. In it
there could be no doubt, no pride; it could be bounded by no limit,
measured by no rule, its depths sounded by no plummet.

His very soul was touched by her great longing to give to him the
feeling, and to feel herself, that from the hour that she had become
his, her past life was a thing blotted out.

"I am a new created thing," she said; "until you called me 'Love' I
had no life! All before was darkness. 'Twas you, my Gerald, who
said, 'Let there be light, and there was light.'"

"Hush, hush, sweet love," he said. "Your words would make me too
near God's self."

"Sure Love is God," she cried, her hands upon his shoulders, her
face uplifted. "What else? Love we know; Love we worship and kneel
to; Love conquers us and gives us Heaven. Until I knew it, I
believed naught. Now I kneel each night and pray, and pray, but to
be pardoned and made worthy."

Never before, it was true, had she knelt and prayed, but from this
time no nun in her convent knelt oftener or prayed more ardently,
and her prayer was ever that the past might be forgiven her, the
future blessed, and she taught how to so live that there should be
no faintest shadow in the years to come.

"I know not What is above me," she said. "I cannot lie and say I
love It and believe, but if there is aught, sure It must be a power
which is great, else had the world not been so strange a thing, and
I--and those who live in it--and if He made us, He must know He is
to blame when He has made us weak or evil. And He must understand
why we have been so made, and when we throw ourselves into the dust
before Him, and pray for help and pardon, surely--surely He will
lend an ear! We know naught, we have been told naught; we have but
an old book which has been handed down through strange hands and
strange tongues, and may be but poor history. We have so little,
and we are threatened so; but for love's sake I will pray the poor
prayers we are given, and for love's sake there is no dust too low
for me to lie in while I plead."

This was the strange truth--though 'twas not so strange if the world
feared not to admit such things--that through her Gerald, who was
but noble and high-souled man, she was led to bow before God's
throne as the humblest and holiest saint bows, though she had not
learned belief and only had learned love.

"But life lasts so short a while," she said to Osmonde. "It seems
so short when it is spent in such joy as this; and when the day
comes--for, oh! Gerald, my soul sees it already--when the day comes
that I kneel by your bedside and see your eyes close, or you kneel
by mine, it MUST be that the one who waits behind shall know the
parting is not all."

"It could not be all, beloved," Osmonde said. "Love is sure,
eternal."

Often in these blissful hours her way was almost like a child's, she
was so tender and so clinging. At times her beauteous, great eyes
were full of an imploring which made them seem soft with tears, and
thus they were now as she looked up at him.

"I will do all I can," she said. "I will obey every law, I will
pray often and give alms, and strive to be dutiful and--holy, that
in the end He will not thrust me from you; that I may stay near--
even in the lowest place, even in the lowest--that I may see your
face and know that you see mine. We are so in His power, He can do
aught with us; but I will so obey Him and so pray that He will let
me in."

To Anne she went with curious humility, questioning her as to her
religious duties and beliefs, asking her what books she read, and
what services she attended.

"All your life you have been a religious woman," she said. "I used
to think it folly, but now--"

"But now--" said Anne.

"I know not what to think," she answered. "I would learn."

But when she listened to Anne's simple homilies, and read her
weighty sermons, they but made her restless and unsatisfied.

"Nay, 'tis not that," she said one day, with a deep sigh. "'Tis
more than that; 'tis deeper, and greater, and your sermons do not
hold it. They but set my brain to questioning and rebellion."

But a short time elapsed before the marriage was solemnised, and
such a wedding the world of fashion had not taken part in for years,
'twas said. Royalty honoured it; the greatest of the land were
proud to count themselves among the guests; the retainers,
messengers, and company of the two great houses were so numerous
that in the west end of the town the streets wore indeed quite a
festal air, with the passing to and fro of servants and gentlefolk
with favours upon their arms.

'Twas to the Tower of Camylott, the most beautiful and remote of the
bridegroom's several notable seats, that they removed their
household, when the irksomeness of the extended ceremonies and
entertainments were over--for these they were of too distinguished
rank to curtail as lesser personages might have done. But when all
things were over, the stately town houses closed, and their
equipages rolled out beyond the sight of town into the country
roads, the great duke and his great duchess sat hand in hand, gazing
into each other's eyes with as simple and ardent a joy as they had
been but young 'prentice and country maid, flying to hide from the
world their love.

"There is no other woman who is so like a queen," Osmonde said, with
tenderest smiling. "And yet your eyes wear a look so young in these
days that they are like a child's. In all their beauty, I have
never seen them so before."

"It is because I am a new created thing, as I have told you, love,"
she answered, and leaned towards him. "Do you not know I never was
a child. I bring myself to you new born. Make of me then what a
woman should be--to be beloved of husband and of God. Teach me, my
Gerald. I am your child and servant."

'Twas ever thus, that her words when they were such as these were
ended upon his breast as she was swept there by his impassioned arm.
She was so goddess-like and beautiful a being, her life one
strangely dominant and brilliant series of triumphs, and yet she
came to him with such softness and humility of passion, that
scarcely could he think himself a waking man.

"Surely," he said, "it is a thing too wondrous and too full of joy's
splendour to be true."

In the golden afternoon, when the sun was deepening and mellowing
towards its setting, they and their retinue entered Camylott. The
bells pealed from the grey belfry of the old church; the villagers
came forth in clean smocks and Sunday cloaks of scarlet, and stood
in the street and by the roadside curtseying and baring their heads
with rustic cheers; little country girls with red cheeks threw
posies before the horses' feet, and into the equipage itself when
they were of the bolder sort. Their chariot passed beneath archways
of flowers and boughs, and from the battlements of the Tower of
Camylott there floated a flag in the soft wind.

"God save your Graces," the simple people cried. "God give your
Graces joy and long life! Lord, what a beautiful pair they be. And
though her Grace was said to be a proud lady, how sweetly she smiles
at a poor body. God love ye, madam! Madam, God love ye!"

Her Grace of Osmonde leaned forward in her equipage and smiled at
the people with the face of an angel.

"I will teach them to love me, Gerald," she said. "I have not had
love enough."

"Has not all the world loved you?" he said.

"Nay," she answered, "only you, and Dunstanwolde and Anne."

Late at night they walked together on the broad terrace before the
Tower. The blue-black vault of heaven above them was studded with
myriads of God's brilliants; below them was spread out the beauty of
the land, the rolling plains, the soft low hills, the forests and
moors folded and hidden in the swathing robe of the night; from the
park and gardens floated upward the freshness of acres of thick
sward and deep fern thicket, the fragrance of roses and a thousand
flowers, the tender sighing of the wind through the huge oaks and
beeches bordering the avenues, and reigning like kings over the
seeming boundless grassy spaces.

As lovers have walked since the days of Eden they walked together,
no longer duke and duchess, but man and woman--near to Paradise as
human beings may draw until God breaks the chain binding them to
earth; and, indeed, it would seem that such hours are given to the
straining human soul that it may know that somewhere perfect joy
must be, since sometimes the gates are for a moment opened that
Heaven's light may shine through, so that human eyes may catch
glimpses of the white and golden glories within.

His arm held her, she leaned against him, their slow steps so
harmonising the one with the other that they accorded with the
harmony of music; the nightingales trilling and bubbling in the rose
trees were not affrighted by the low murmur of their voices;
perchance, this night they were so near to Nature that the barriers
were o'erpassed, and they and the singers were akin.

"Oh! to be a woman," Clorinda murmured. "To be a woman at last.
All other things I have been, and have been called 'Huntress,'
'Goddess,' 'Beauty,' 'Empress,' 'Conqueror,'--but never 'Woman.'
And had our paths not crossed, I think I never could have known what
'twas to be one, for to be a woman one must close with the man who
is one's mate. It must not be that one looks down, or only pities
or protects and guides; and only to a few a mate seems given. And
I--Gerald, how dare I walk thus at your side and feel your heart so
beat near mine, and know you love me, and so worship you--so worship
you--"

She turned and threw herself upon his breast, which was so near.

"Oh, woman! woman!" he breathed, straining her close. "Oh, woman
who is mine, though I am but man."

"We are but one," she said; "one breath, one soul, one thought, and
one desire. Were it not so, I were not woman and your wife, nor you
man and my soul's lover as you are. If it were not so, we were
still apart, though we were wedded a thousand times. Apart, what
are we but like lopped-off limbs; welded together, we are--THIS."
And for a moment they spoke not, and a nightingale on the rose vine,
clambering o'er the terrace's balustrade, threw up its little head
and sang as if to the myriads of golden stars. They stood and
listened, hand in hand, her sweet breast rose and fell, her lovely
face was lifted to the bespangled sky.

"Of all this," she said, "I am a part, as I am a part of you. To-
night, as the great earth throbs, and as the stars tremble, and as
the wind sighs, so I, being woman, throb and am tremulous and sigh
also. The earth lives for the sun, and through strange mysteries
blooms forth each season with fruits and flowers; love is my sun,
and through its sacredness I may bloom too, and be as noble as the
earth and that it bears."

CHAPTER XXI--An heir is born

In a fair tower whose windows looked out upon spreading woods, and
rich lovely plains stretching to the freshness of the sea, Mistress
Anne had her abode which her duchess sister had given to her for her
own living in as she would. There she dwelt and prayed and looked
on the new life which so beauteously unfolded itself before her day
by day, as the leaves of a great tree unfold from buds and become
noble branches, housing birds and their nests, shading the earth and
those sheltering beneath them, braving centuries of storms.

To this simile her simple mind oft reverted, for indeed it seemed to
her that naught more perfect and more noble in its high likeness to
pure Nature and the fulfilling of God's will than the passing days
of these two lives could be.

"As the first two lived--Adam and Eve in their garden of Eden--they
seem to me," she used to say to her own heart; "but the Tree of
Knowledge was not forbidden them, and it has taught them naught
ignoble."

As she had been wont to watch her sister from behind the ivy of her
chamber windows, so she often watched her now, though there was no
fear in her hiding, only tenderness, it being a pleasure to her full
of wonder and reverence to see this beautiful and stately pair go
lovingly and in high and gentle converse side by side, up and down
the terrace, through the paths, among the beds of flowers, under the
thick branched trees and over the sward's softness.

"It is as if I saw Love's self, and dwelt with it--the love God's
nature made," she said, with gentle sighs.

For if these two had been great and beauteous before, it seemed in
these days as if life and love glowed within them, and shone through
their mere bodies as a radiant light shines through alabaster lamps.
The strength of each was so the being of the other that no thought
could take form in the brain of one without the other's stirring
with it.

"Neither of us dare be ignoble," Osmonde said, "for 'twould make
poor and base the one who was not so in truth."

"'Twas not the way of my Lady Dunstanwolde to make a man feel that
he stood in church," a frivolous court wit once said, "but in sooth
her Grace of Osmonde has a look in her lustrous eyes which accords
not with scandalous stories and play-house jests."

And true it was that when they went to town they carried with them
the illumining of the pure fire which burned within their souls, and
bore it all unknowing in the midst of the trivial or designing
world, which knew not what it was that glowed about them, making
things bright which had seemed dull, and revealing darkness where
there had been brilliant glare.

They returned not to the house which had been my Lord of
Dunstanwolde's, but went to the duke's own great mansion, and there
lived splendidly and in hospitable state. Royalty honoured them,
and all the wits came there, some of those gentlemen who writ verses
and dedications being by no means averse to meeting noble lords and
ladies, and finding in their loves and graces material which might
be useful. 'Twas not only Mr. Addison and Mr. Steele, Dr. Swift and
Mr. Pope, who were made welcome in the stately rooms, but others who
were more humble, not yet having won their spurs, and how these
worshipped her Grace for the generous kindness which was not the
fashion, until she set it, among great ladies, their odes and verses
could scarce express.

"They are so poor," she said to her husband. "They are so poor, and
yet in their starved souls there is a thing which can less bear
flouting than the dull content which rules in others. I know not
whether 'tis a curse or a boon to be born so. 'Tis a bitter thing
when the bird that flutters in them has only little wings. All the
more should those who are strong protect and comfort them."

She comforted so many creatures. In strange parts of the town,
where no other lady would have dared to go to give alms, it was
rumoured that she went and did noble things privately. In dark
kennels, where thieves hid and vagrants huddled, she carried her
beauty and her stateliness, the which when they shone on the poor
rogues and victims housed there seemed like the beams of the warm
and golden sun.

Once in a filthy hovel in a black alley she came upon a poor girl
dying of a loathsome ill, and as she stood by her bed of rags she
heard in her delirium the uttering of one man's name again and
again, and when she questioned those about she found that the
sufferer had been a little country wench enticed to town by this man
for a plaything, and in a few weeks cast off to give birth to a
child in the almshouse, and then go down to the depths of vice in
the kennel.

"What is the name she says?" her Grace asked the hag nearest to her,
and least maudlin with liquor. "I would be sure I heard it aright."

"'Tis the name of a gentleman, your ladyship may be sure," the
beldam answered; "'tis always the name of a gentleman. And this is
one I know well, for I have heard more than one poor soul mumbling
it and raving at him in her last hours. One there was, and I knew
her, a pretty rosy thing in her country days, not sixteen, and
distraught with love for him, and lay in the street by his door
praying him to take her back when he threw her off, until the watch
drove her away. And she was so mad with love and grief she killed
her girl child when 'twas born i' the kennel, sobbing and crying
that it should not live to be like her and bear others. And she was
condemned to death, and swung for it on Tyburn Tree. And, Lord! how
she cried his name as she jolted on her coffin to the gallows, and
when the hangman put the rope round her shuddering little fair neck.
'Oh, John,' screams she, 'John Oxon, God forgive thee! Nay, 'tis
God should be forgiven for letting thee to live and me to die like
this.' Aye, 'twas a bitter sight! She was so little and so young,
and so affrighted. The hangman could scarce hold her. I was i' the
midst o' the crowd and cried to her to strive to stand still,
'twould be the sooner over. But that she could not. 'Oh, John,'
she screams, 'John Oxon, God forgive thee! Nay, 'tis God should be
forgiven for letting thee to live and me to die like this!'"

Till the last hour of the poor creature who lay before her when she
heard this thing, her Grace of Osmonde saw that she was tended, took
her from her filthy hovel, putting her in a decent house and going
to her day by day, until she received her last breath, holding her
hand while the poor wench lay staring up at her beauteous face and
her great deep eyes, whose lustrousness held such power to sustain,
protect, and comfort.

"Be not afraid, poor soul," she said, "be not afraid. I will stay
near thee. Soon all will end in sleep, and if thou wakest, sure
there will be Christ who died, and wipes all tears away. Hear me
say it to thee for a prayer," and she bent low and said it soft and
clear into the deadening ear, "He wipes all tears away--He wipes all
tears away."

The great strength she had used in the old days to conquer and
subdue, to win her will and to defend her way, seemed now a power
but to protect the suffering and uphold the weak, and this she did,
not alone in hovels but in the brilliant court and world of fashion,
for there she found suffering and weakness also, all the more bitter
and sorrowful since it dared not cry aloud. The grandeur of her
beauty, the elevation of her rank, the splendour of her wealth would
have made her a protector of great strength, but that which upheld
all those who turned to her was that which dwelt within the high
soul of her, the courage and power of love for all things human
which bore upon itself, as if upon an eagle's outspread wings, the
woes dragging themselves broken and halting upon earth. The
starving beggar in the kennel felt it, and, not knowing wherefore,
drew a longer, deeper breath, as if of purer, more exalted air; the
poor poet in his garret was fed by it, and having stood near or
spoken to her, went back to his lair with lightening eyes and soul
warmed to believe that the words his Muse might speak the world
might stay to hear.

From the hour she stayed the last moments of John Oxon's victim she
set herself a work to do. None knew it but herself at first, and
later Anne, for 'twas done privately. From the hag who had told her
of the poor girl's hanging upon Tyburn Tree, she learned things by
close questioning, which to the old woman's dull wit seemed but the
curiousness of a great lady, and from others who stood too deep in
awe of her to think of her as a mere human being, she gathered clues
which led her far in the tracing of the evils following one wicked,
heartless life. Where she could hear of man, woman, or child on
whom John Oxon's sins had fallen, or who had suffered wrong by him,
there she went to help, to give light, to give comfort and
encouragement. Strangely, as it seemed to them, and as if done by
the hand of Heaven, the poor tradesmen he had robbed were paid their
dues, youth he had led into evil ways was checked mysteriously and
set in better paths; women he had dragged downward were given aid
and chance of peace or happiness; children he had cast upon the
world, unfathered, and with no prospect but the education of the
gutter, and a life of crime, were cared for by a powerful unseen
hand. The pretty country girl saved by his death, protected by her
Grace, and living innocently at Dunstanwolde, memory being merciful
to youth, forgot him, gained back her young roses, and learned to
smile and hope as though he had been but a name.

"Since 'twas I who killed him," said her Grace to her inward soul,
"'tis I must live his life which I took from him, and making it
better I may be forgiven--if there is One who dares to say to the
poor thing He made, 'I will not forgive.'"

Surely it was said there had never been lives so beautiful and noble
as those the Duke of Osmonde and his lady lived as time went by.
The Tower of Camylott, where they had spent the first months of
their wedded life, they loved better than any other of their seats,
and there they spent as much time as their duties of Court and State
allowed them. It was indeed a splendid and beautiful estate, the
stately tower being built upon an eminence, and there rolling out
before it the most lovely land in England, moorland and hills, thick
woods and broad meadows, the edge of the heather dipping to show the
soft silver of the sea.

Here was this beauteous woman chatelaine and queen, wife of her
husband as never before, he thought, had wife blessed and glorified
the existence of mortal man. All her great beauty she gave to him
in tender, joyous tribute; all her great gifts of mind and wit and
grace it seemed she valued but as they were joys to him; in his
stately households in town and country she reigned a lovely empress,
adored and obeyed with reverence by every man or woman who served
her and her lord. Among the people on his various estates she came
and went a tender goddess of benevolence. When she appeared amid
them in the first months of her wedded life, the humble souls
regarded her with awe not unmixed with fear, having heard such wild
stories of her youth at her father's house, and of her proud state
and bitter wit in the great London world when she had been my Lady
Dunstanwolde; but when she came among them all else was forgotten in
their wonder at her graciousness and noble way.

"To see her come into a poor body's cottage, so tall and grand a
lady, and with such a carriage as she hath," they said, hobnobbing
together in their talk of her, "looking as if a crown of gold should
sit on her high black head, and then to hear her gentle speech and
see the look in her eyes as if she was but a simple new-married
girl, full of her joy, and her heart big with the wish that all
other women should be as happy as herself, it is, forsooth, a
beauteous sight to see."

"Ay, and no hovel too poor for her, and no man or woman too sinful,"
was said again.

"Heard ye how she found that poor wench of Haylits lying sobbing
among the fern in the Tower woods, and stayed and knelt beside her
to hear her trouble? The poor soul has gone to ruin at fourteen,
and her father, finding her out, beat her and thrust her from his
door, and her Grace coming through the wood at sunset--it being her
way to walk about for mere pleasure as though she had no coach to
ride in--the girl says she came through the golden glow as if she
had been one of God's angels--and she kneeled and took the poor
wench in her arms--as strong as a man, Betty says, but as soft as a
young mother--and she said to her things surely no mortal lady ever
said before--that she knew naught of a surety of what God's true
will might be, or if His laws were those that have been made by man
concerning marriage by priests saying common words, but that she
surely knew of a man whose name was Christ, and He had taught love
and helpfulness and pity, and for His sake, He having earned our
trust in Him, whether He was God or man, because He hung and died in
awful torture on the Cross--for His sake all of us must love and
help and pity--'I you, poor Betty,' were her very words, 'and you
me.' And then she went to the girl's father and mother, and so
talked to them that she brought them to weeping, and begging Betty
to come home; and also she went to her sweetheart, Tom Beck, and
made so tender a story to him of the poor pretty wench whose love
for him had brought her to such trouble, that she stirred him up to
falling in love again, which is not man's way at such times, and in
a week's time he and Betty went to church together, her Grace
setting them up in a cottage on the estate."

"I used all my wit and all my tenderest words to make a picture that
would fire and touch him, Gerald," her Grace said, sitting at her
husband's side, in a great window, from which they often watched the
sunset in the valley spread below; "and that with which I am so
strong sometimes--I know not what to call it, but 'tis a power
people bend to, that I know--that I used upon him to waken his dull
soul and brain. Whose fault is it that they are dull? Poor lout,
he was born so, as I was born strong and passionate, and as you were
born noble and pure and high. I led his mind back to the past, when
he had been made happy by the sight of Betty's little smiling,
blushing face, and when he had kissed her and made love in the
hayfields. And this I said--though 'twas not a thing I have learned
from any chaplain--that when 'twas said he should make an honest
woman of her, it was MY thought that she had been honest from the
first, being too honest to know that the world was not so, and that
even the man a woman loved with all her soul, might be a rogue, and
have no honesty in him. And at last--'twas when I talked to him
about the child--and that I put my whole soul's strength in--he
burst out a-crying like a schoolboy, and said indeed she was a fond
little thing and had loved him, and he had loved her, and 'twas a
shame he had so done by her, and he had not meant it at the first,
but she was so simple, and he had been a villain, but if he married
her now, he would be called a fool, and laughed at for his pains.
Then was I angry, Gerald, and felt my eyes flash, and I stood up
tall and spoke fiercely: 'Let them dare,' I said--'let any man or
woman dare, and then will they see what his Grace will say.'"

Osmonde drew her to his breast, laughing into her lovely eyes.

"Nay, 'tis not his Grace who need be called on," he said; "'tis her
Grace they love and fear, and will obey; though 'tis the sweetest,
womanish thing that you should call on me when you are power itself,
and can so rule all creatures you come near."

"Nay," she said, with softly pleading face, "let me not rule. Rule
for me, or but help me; I so long to say your name that they may
know I speak but as your wife."

"Who is myself," he answered--"my very self."

"Ay," she said, with a little nod of her head, "that I know--that I
am yourself; and 'tis because of this that one of us cannot be proud
with the other, for there is no other, there is only one. And I am
wrong to say, 'Let me not rule,' for 'tis as if I said, 'You must
not rule.' I meant surely, 'God give me strength to be as noble in
ruling as our love should make me.' But just as one tree is a beech
and one an oak, just as the grass stirs when the summer wind blows
over it, so a woman is a woman, and 'tis her nature to find her joy
in saying such words to the man who loves her, when she loves as I
do. Her heart is so full that she must joy to say her husband's
name as that of one she cannot think without--who is her life as is
her blood and her pulses beating. 'Tis a joy to say your name,
Gerald, as it will be a joy"--and she looked far out across the sun-
goldened valley and plains, with a strange, heavenly sweet smile --
"as it will be a joy to say our child's--and put his little mouth to
my full breast."

"Sweet love," he cried, drawing her by the hand that he might meet
the radiance of her look--"heart's dearest!"

She did not withhold her lovely eyes from him, but withdrew them
from the sunset's mist of gold, and the clouds piled as it were at
the gates of heaven, and they seemed to bring back some of the far-
off glory with them. Indeed, neither her smile nor she seemed at
that moment to be things of earth. She held out her fair, noble
arms, and he sprang to her, and so they stood, side beating against
side.

"Yes, love," she said--"yes, love--and I have prayed, my Gerald,
that I may give you sons who shall be men like you. But when I give
you women children, I shall pray with all my soul for them--that
they may be just and strong and noble, and life begin for them as it
began not for me."

* * *

In the morning of a spring day when the cuckoos cried in the woods,
and May blossomed thick, white and pink, in all the hedges, the
bells in the grey church-steeple at Camylott rang out a joyous,
jangling peal, telling all the village that the heir had been born
at the Tower. Children stopped in their play to listen, men at
their work in field and barn; good gossips ran out of their cottage
door, wiping their arms dry, from their tubs and scrubbing-buckets,
their honest red faces broadening into maternal grins.

"Ay, 'tis well over, that means surely," one said to the other; "and
a happy day has begun for the poor lady--though God knows she bore

Book of the day: