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Gallantry by James Branch Cabell

Part 3 out of 6

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"Oh, believe me, speech fails before this spectacle. To find you, here,
at this hour! To find you--my betrothed wife's kinswoman and life-long
associate,--here, in this garb! A slain man at your feet, his blood yet
reeking upon that stolen sword! His papers--pardon me!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go on," said Ormskirk.

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

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

"Yes," she answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I!" said the Duke.

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

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

"I had promised you his life."

"But would you have kept that promise?"

"No," he answered, simply.

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

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

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

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

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

VIII

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

VI

APRIL'S MESSAGE

_As Played at Halvergate House, April 9, 1750_

"_You cannot love, nor pleasure take, nor give,
But life begin when 'tis too late to live.
On a tired courser you pursue delight,
Let slip your morning, and set out at night.
If you have lived, take thankfully the past;
Make, as you can, the sweet remembrance last.
If you have not enjoyed what youth could give,
But life sunk through you, like a leaky sieve._"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

DUKE OF ORMSKIKK.

EARL OF BRUDENEL, father to Lady Marian Heleigh, who
has retired sometime into the country.

LORD HUMPHREY DEGGE, a gamester, and Ormskirk's
hireling.

MR. LANGTON, secretary to Ormskirk.

LADY MARIAN HELEIGH, betrothed to Ormskirk, a young,
beautiful girl of a mild and tender disposition.

SCENE

The east terrace of Halvergate House.

APRIL'S MESSAGE

_PROEM:--Apologia pro Auctore_

It occurs to me that we here assume intimacy with a man of unusual
achievement, and therefore tread upon quaggy premises. Yet I do but avail
myself of to-day's privilege.... It is an odd thing that people will
facilely assent to Don Adriano's protestation against a certain travestying
of Hector,--"Sweet chucks, beat not the bones of the dead, for when he
breathed he was a man,"--even while through the instant the tide of romance
will be setting quite otherwhither, with their condonation. For in all
the best approved romances the more sumptuous persons of antiquity are
very guilty of twaddle on at least one printed page in ten, and nobody
remonstrates; and here is John Bulmer, too, lugged from the grave for your
delectation.

I presume, however, to palliate the offence. The curious may find the gist
of what I narrate concerning Ormskirk in Heinrich Loewe's biography of the
man, and will there discover that with established facts I have not made
bold to juggle. Only when knowledge failed have I bridged the void with
speculation. Perhaps I have guessed wrongly: the feat is not unhuman, and
in provision against detection therein I can only protest that this lack of
omniscience was never due to malice; faithfully I have endeavored to deduce
from the known the probable, and in nothing to misrepresent to you this big
man of a little age, this trout among a school of minnows.

Trout, mark you; I claim for Ormskirk no leviathan-ship. Rather I would
remind you of a passage from somewhat anterior memoirs: "The Emperor of
Lilliput is taller, by almost the breadth of my nail, than any of his
court, which alone is enough to strike an awe into his beholders."

This, however, is not the place to expatiate on Ormskirk's extraordinary
career; his rise from penury and obscurity, tempered indeed by gentle
birth, to the priviest secrets of his Majesty's council,--climbing
the peerage step by step, as though that institution had been a
garden-ladder,--may be read of in the history books.

"I collect titles as an entomologist does butterflies," he is recorded to
have said: "and I find the gaudier ones the cheapest. My barony I got for
a very heinous piece of perjury, my earldom for not running away until the
latter end of a certain battle, my marquisate for hoodwinking a half-senile
Frenchman, and my dukedom for fetching in a quack doctor when he was sore
needed by a lady whom the King at that time delighted to honor."

It was, you observe, a day of candors.

I

The Duke of Ormskirk, then (one gleans from Loewe's pages), dismissed from
mind the Audaine conspiracy. It was a pity to miss the salutary effect of a
few political executions just then, but after all there was nothing to be
done about it. So the Duke turned to the one consolation offered by the
affair, and set out for Halvergate House, the home of Marian Heleigh's
father. There one finds him, six days later, deep in a consultation with
his secretary, which in consideration of the unseasonable warmth was held
upon the east terrace.

"Yes, I think we had better have the fellow hanged on the thirteenth," said
Ormskirk, as he leisurely affixed his signature. "The date seems eminently
appropriate. Now the papers concerning the French treaty, if you please,
Mr. Langton."

The impassive-faced young man who sat opposite placed a despatch-box
between them. "These were sent down from London only last night, sir.
Mr. Morfit [Footnote: Perhaps the most adroit of all the many spies in
Ormskirk's employment. It was this same Morfit who in 1756 accompanied
Damiens into France as far as Calais; and see page 16.] has been somewhat
dilatory."

"Eh, it scarcely matters. I looked them over in bed this morning and found
them quite correct, Mr. Langton, quite--Why, heyday!" the Duke demanded,
"what's this? You have brought me the despatch-box from my dresser--not,
as I distinctly told you, from the table by my bed. Nay, I have had quite
enough of mistakes concerning despatch-boxes, Mr. Langton."

Mr. Langton stammered that the error was natural. Two despatch-boxes were
in appearances so similar--

"Never make excuses, Mr. Langton. '_Qui s'excuse--_' You can complete the
proverb, I suppose. Bring me Morfit's report this afternoon, then. Yes,
that appears to be all. You may go now, Mr. Langton. No, you may leave that
box, I think, since it is here. O man, man, a mistake isn't high treason!
Go away, Mr. Langton! you annoy me."

Left alone, the Duke of Ormskirk sat for a while, tapping his fingers
irresolutely against the open despatch-box. He frowned a little, for, with
fair reason to believe Tom Langton his son, he found the boy too stolid,
too unimaginative, to go far. It seemed to Ormskirk that none of his
illegitimate children displayed any particular promise, and he sighed. Then
he took a paper from the despatch-box, and began to read.

He sat, as one had said, upon the east terrace of Halvergate House. Behind
him a tall yew-hedge shut off the sunlight from the table where he and
Tom Langton had earlier completed divers businesses; in front of him a
balustrade, ivy-covered, and set with flower-pots of stone, empty as yet,
half screened the terraced gardens that sank to the artificial lake below.

The Duke could see only a vast expanse of sky and a stray bit of Halvergate
printing the horizon with turrets, all sober gray save where the two
big copper cupolas of the south facade burned in the April sun; but by
bending forward you glimpsed close-shaven lawns dotted with clipped trees
and statues,--as though, he reflected, Glumdalclitch had left her toys
scattered haphazard about a green blanket--and the white of the broad
marble stairway descending to the sunlit lake, and, at times, the flash
of a swan's deliberate passage across the lake's surface. All white and
green and blue the vista was, and of a monastic tranquillity, save for
the plashing of a fountain behind the yew-hedge and the grumblings of an
occasional bee that lurched complainingly on some by-errand of the hive.

Presently his Grace of Ormskirk replaced the papers in the despatch-box,
and, leaning forward, sighed. "_Non_ _sum qualis eram sub bonae regno
Cynarae_," said his Grace of Ormskirk. He had a statesman-like partiality
for the fag-end of an alcaic.

Then he lifted his head at the sound of a girl's voice. Somewhere rearward
to the hedge the girl idly sang--an old song of Thomas Heywood's,--in a
serene contralto, low-pitched and effortless, but very sweet. Smilingly the
Duke beat time.

Sang the girl:

"Pack clouds away, and welcome, day!
With night we banish sorrow:
Sweet air, blow soft; mount, lark, aloft,
To give my love good-morrow.
Wings from the wind to please her mind,
Notes from the lark I'll borrow:
Bird, prune thy wing; nightingale, sing,
To give my love good-morrow."

And here the Duke chimed in with a sufficiently pleasing baritone:

"To give my love good-morrow,
Notes from them all I'll borrow."

"O heavens!" spoke the possessor of the contralto, "I would have thought
you were far too busy sending people to gaol and arranging their execution,
and so on, to have any time for music. I am going for a walk in the forest,
Jack." Considering for a moment, she added, "You may come, too, if you
like."

But the concession was made so half-heartedly that in the instant the
Duke of Ormskirk raised a dissenting hand. "I would not annoy you for an
emperor's ransom. Go in peace, my child."

Lady Marian Heleigh stood at an opening in the yew-hedge and regarded him
for a lengthy interval in silence. Slender, men called her, and women "a
bean pole." There was about her a great deal of the child and something of
the wood-nymph. She had abundant hair, the color of a dead oak-leaf, and
her skin was clear, with a brown tinge. Her eyes puzzled you by being
neither brown nor green consistently; no sooner had you convicted them of
verdancy than they shifted to the hue of polished maple, and vice versa;
but they were too large for her face, which narrowed rather abruptly
beneath a broad, low forehead, and they flavored her aspect with the shrewd
innocence of a kitten. She was by ordinary grave; but, animated, her
countenance quickened with somewhat the glow of a brown diamond; then her
generous eyes flashed and filmed like waters moving under starlight, then
you knew she was beautiful. All in all, you saw in Marian a woman designed
to be petted, a Columbine rather than a Cleopatra; her lures would never
shake the stability of a kingdom, but would inevitably gut its toy-shops;
and her departure left you meditative less of high enterprises than of
buying something for her.

Now Marian considered her betrothed, and seemed to come at last to a
conclusion that skirted platitude. "Jack, two people can be fond of each
other without wanting to be together all the time. And I really am fond of
you, Jack."

"I would be a fool if I questioned the first statement," rejoined the Duke;
"and if I questioned the second, very miserable. Nevertheless, you go in
pursuit of strange gods, and I decline to follow."

Her eyebrows interrogated him.

"You are going," the Duke continued, "in pursuit of gods beside whom I
esteem Zidonian Ashtoreth, and Chemosh, and Milcom, the abomination of
the Ammonites, to be commendable objects of worship. You will pardon my
pedantic display of learning, for my feelings are strong. You are going
to sit in the woods. You will probably sit under a youngish tree, and its
branches will sway almost to the ground and make a green, sun-steeped tent
about you, as though you sat at the heart of an emerald. You will hear the
kindly wood-gods go steathily about the forest, and you will know that they
are watching you, but you will never see them. From behind every tree-bole
they will watch you; you feel it, but you never, never quite see them.
Presently the sweet, warm odors of the place and its perpetual whispering
and the illimitably idiotic boasting of the birds,--that any living
creature should be proud of having constructed one of their nasty little
nests is a reflection to baffle understanding,--this hodge-podge of
sensations, I say, will intoxicate you. Yes, it will thoroughly intoxicate
you, Marian, and you sit there quite still, in a sort of stupor, drugged
into the inebriate's magnanimity, firmly believing that the remainder of
your life will be throughout of finer texture,--earth-spurning, free from
all pettiness, and at worst vexed only by the noblest sorrows. Bah!" cried
the Duke; "I have no patience with such nonsense! You will believe it to
the tiniest syllable, that wonderful lying message which April whispers to
every living creature that is young,--then you will return to me, a slim,
star-eyed Maenad, and will see that I am wrinkled. But do you go your ways,
none the less, for April is waiting for you yonder,--beautiful, mendacious,
splendid April. And I? Faith, April has no message for me, my dear."

He laughed, but with a touch of wistfulness; and the girl came to him,
laying her hand upon his arm, surprised into a sort of hesitant affection.

"How did you know, Jack? How did you, know that--things, invisible,
gracious things, went about the spring woods? I never thought that you knew
of them. You always seemed so sensible. I have reasoned it out, though,"
Marian went on, sagaciously wrinkled as to the brow. "They are probably the
heathen fauns and satyrs and such,--one feels somehow that they are all
men. Don't you, Jack? Well, when the elder gods were sent packing from
Olympus there was naturally no employment left for these sylvan folk. So
April took them into her service. Each year she sends them about every
forest on her errands: she sends them to make up daffodil-cups, for
instance, which I suppose is difficult, for evidently they make them out
of sunshine; or to pencil the eyelids of the narcissi--narcissi are brazen
creatures, Jack, and use a deal of kohl; or to marshal the fleecy young
clouds about the sky; or to whistle the birds up from the south. Oh, she
keeps them busy, does April! And 'tis true that if you be quite still you
can hear them tripping among the dead leaves; and they watch you--with
very bright, twinkling little eyes, I think,--but you never see them.
And always, always there is that enormous whispering,--half-friendly,
half-menacing,--as if the woods were trying to tell you something. 'Tis
not only the foliage rustling.... No, I have often thought it sounded like
some gigantic foreigner--some Titan probably,--trying in his own queer
and outlandish language to tell you something very important, something
that means a deal to you, and to you in particular. Has not anybody ever
understood him?"

He smiled. "And I, too, have dwelt in Arcadia," said his Grace of Ormskirk.
"Yes, I once heard April's message, Marian, for all my crow's-feet. But
that was a long while ago, and perhaps I have forgotten it. I cannot tell,
my dear. It is only from April in her own person that one hears this
immemorial message. And as for me? Eh, I go into the April woods, and I
find trees there of various sizes that pay no attention to me, and shrill,
dingy little birds that deafen me, and it may be a gaudy flower or two,
and, in any event, I find a vast quantity of sodden, decaying leaves to
warn me the place is no fitting haunt for a gentleman afflicted with
rheumatism. So I come away, my dear."

Marian looked him over for a moment. "You are not really old," she said,
with rather conscious politeness. "And you are wonderfully well-preserved.
Why, Jack, do you mind--not being foolish?" she demanded, on a sudden.

He debated the matter. Then, "Yes," the Duke of Ormskirk conceded, "I
suppose I do, at the bottom of my heart, regret that lost folly. A part
of me died, you understand, when it vanished, and it is not exhilarating
to think of one's self as even partially dead. Once--I hardly know"--he
sought the phrase,--"once this was a spacious and inexplicable world, with
a mystery up every lane and an adventure around each street-corner; a
world inhabited by most marvelous men and women,--some amiable, and some
detestable, but every one of them very interesting. And now I miss the
wonder of it all. You will presently discover, my dear, that youth is only
an ingenious prologue to whet one's appetite for a rather dull play. Eh, I
am no pessimist,--one may still find satisfaction in the exercise of mind
and body, in the pleasures of thought and taste and in other titillations
of one's faculties. Dinner is good and sleep, too, is excellent. But we men
and women tend, upon too close inspection, to appear rather paltry flies
that buzz and bustle aimlessly about, and breed perhaps, and eventually
die, and rot, and are swept away from this fragile window-pane of time that
opens on eternity."

"If you are, indeed, the sort of person you describe," said Marian,
reflectively, "I do not at all blame April for having no communication with
anyone possessed of such extremely unpleasant opinions. But for my own
part, I shall never cease to wonder what it is that the woods whisper
about."

Appraising her, he hazarded a cryptic question, "Vase of delights, and have
you never--cared?"

"Why, yes, I think so," she answered, readily enough. "At least, I used
to be very fond of Humphrey Degge,--that is the Marquis of Venour's place
yonder, you know, just past the spur of the forest,--but he was only a
younger son, so of course Father wouldn't hear of it. That was rather
fortunate, as Humphrey by and by went mad about Dorothy's blue eyes and
fine shape,--I think her money had a deal to do with it, too, and in any
event, she will be fat as a pig at thirty,--and so we quarrelled. And I
minded it--at first. And now--well, I scarcely know." Marian hesitated. "He
was a handsome man, but that ridiculous cavalry moustache of his was so
bristly--"

"I beg your pardon?" said the Duke.

"--that it disfigured him dreadfully," said she, with firmness. She had
colored.

His Grace of Ormskirk was moved to mirth. "Child, child, you are so
deliciously young it appears a monstrous crime to marry you to an old
fellow like me!" He took her firm, soft hand in his. "Are you quite sure
you can endure me, Marian?"

"Why, but of course I want to marry you," she said, naively surprised. "How
else could I be Duchess of Ormskirk?"

Again he chuckled. "You are a worldly little wretch," he stated; "but if
you want my title for a new toy, it is at your service. And now be off with
you,--you and your foolish woods, indeed!"

Marian went a slight distance and then turned about, troubled. "I am really
very fond of you, Jack," she said, conscientiously.

"Be off with you!" the Duke scolded. "You should be ashamed of yourself to
practice such flatteries and blandishments on a defenceless old gentleman.
You had best hurry, too, for if you don't I shall probably kiss you," he
threatened. "I, also," he added, with point.

She blew him a kiss from her finger-tips and went away singing.

Sang Marian:

"Blackbird and thrush, in every bush,
Stare, linnet, and cock-sparrow,
You pretty elves, amongst yourselves,
Sing my fair love good-morrow.
To give my love good-morrow,
Sing birds, in every furrow."

II

Left to his own resources, the Duke of Ormskirk sat down beside the table
and fell to making irrelevant marks upon a bit of paper. He hummed the air
of Marian's song. There was a vague contention in his face. Once he put
out his hand toward the open despatch-box, but immediately he sighed and
pushed, it farther from him. Presently he propped his chin upon both hands
and stayed in the attitude for a long while, staring past the balustrade at
the clear, pale sky of April.

Thus Marian's father, the Earl of Brudenel, found Ormskirk. The Earl
was lean and gray, though only three years older than his prospective
son-in-law, and had been Ormskirk's intimate since boyhood. Ormskirk had
for Lord Brudenel's society the liking that a successful person usually
preserves for posturing in the gaze of his outrivalled school-fellows:
Brudenel was an embodied and flattering commentary as to what a less able
man might make of chances far more auspicious than Ormskirk ever enjoyed.
All failure the Earl's life had been; in London they had long ago forgotten
handsome Harry Heleigh and the composure with which he nightly shoved his
dwindling patrimony across the gaming-table; about Halvergate men called
him "the muddled Earl," and said of him that his heart died, with his young
wife some eighteen years back. Now he vegetated in the home of his fathers,
contentedly, a veteran of life, retaining still a mild pride in his past
vagaries; [Footnote: It was then well said of him by Claridge, "It is
Lord Henry Heleigh's vanity to show that he is a man of pleasure as well
as of business; and thus, in settlement, the expedition he displays
toward a fellow-gambler is equitably balanced by his tardiness toward
a too-credulous shoemaker."] and kindly time had armed him with the
benumbing, impenetrable indifference of the confessed failure. He was
abstractedly courteous to servants, and he would not, you felt, have given
even to an emperor his undivided attention. For the rest, the former
wastrel had turned miser, and went noticeably shabby as a rule, but this
morning he was trimly clothed, for he was returning homeward from the
quarter-sessions at Winstead.

"Dreamer!" said the Earl. "I do not wonder that you grow fat."

The Duke smiled up at him. "Confound you, Harry!" said he, "I had just
overreached myself into believing I had made what the world calls a mess
of my career and was supremely happy. There are disturbing influences
abroad to-day." He waved his hand toward the green-and-white gardens. "Old
friend, you permit disreputable trespassers about Halvergate. 'See you not
Goldy-locks there, in her yellow gown and green sleeves? the profane pipes,
the tinkling timbrels?' Spring is at her wiles yonder,--Spring, the liar,
the queen-cheat, Spring that tricks all men into happiness."

"'Fore Gad," the Earl capped his quotation, "if the heathen man could stop
his ears with wax against the singing woman of the sea, then do you the
like with your fingers against the trollop of the forest."

"Faith, time seals them firmlier than wax. You and I may sit snug now with
never a quicker heart-beat for all her lures. Yet I seem to remember,--once
a long while ago when we old fellows were somewhat sprier,--I, too, seem to
remember this Spring-magic."

"Indeed," observed the Earl, seating himself ponderously, "if you refer to
a certain inclination at that period of the year toward the likeliest wench
in the neighborhood, so do I. 'Tis an obvious provision of nature, I take
it, to secure the perpetuation of the species. Spring comes, and she sets
us all a-mating--humanity, partridges, poultry, pigs, every blessed one of
us she sets a-mating. Propagation, Jack--propagation is necessary, d'ye
see; because," the Earl conclusively demanded, "what on earth would become
of us if we didn't propagate?"

"The argument is unanswerable," the Duke conceded. "Yet I miss it,--this
Spring magic that no longer sets the blood of us staid fellows a-fret."

"And I," said Lord Brudenel, "do not. It got me into the deuce of a scrape
more than once."

"Yours is the sensible view, no doubt....Yet I miss it. Ah, it is not only
the wenches and the red lips of old years,--it is not only that at this
season lasses' hearts grow tender. There are some verses--" The Duke
quoted, with a half-guilty air:

"Now I loiter, and dream to the branches swaying
In furtive conference,--high overhead--
Atingle with rumors that Winter is sped
And over his ruins a world goes Maying.

"Somewhere--impressively,--people are saying
Intelligent things (which their grandmothers said),
While I loiter, and dream to the branches swaying
In furtive conference, high overhead."

"Verses!" The Earl snorted. "At your age!"

"Here the hand of April, unwashed from slaying
Earth's fallen tyrant--for Winter is dead,--
Uncloses anemones, staining them red:
And her daffodils guard me in squads,--displaying
Intrepid lances lest wisdom tread
Where I loiter and dream to the branches' swaying--

"Well, Harry, and to-day I cannot do so any longer. That is what I most
miss,--the ability to lie a-sprawl in the spring grass and dream out an
uncharted world,--a dream so vivid that, beside it, reality grew tenuous,
and the actual world became one of childhood's shrug-provoking bugbears
dimly remembered."

"I do not understand poetry," the Earl apologetically observed. "It appears
to me unreasonable to advance a statement simply because it happens to
rhyme with a statement you have previously made. And that is what all
you poets do. Why, this is very remarkable," said Lord Brudenel, with a
change of tone; "yonder is young Humphrey Degge with Marian. I had thought
him in bed at Tunbridge. Did I not hear something of an affair with a
house-breaker--?"

Then the Earl gave an exclamation, for in full view of them Lord Humphrey
Degge was kissing Lord Brudenel's daughter.

"Oh, the devil!" said the Earl. "Oh, the insolent young ape!"

"Nay," said the Duke, restraining him; "not particularly insolent, Harry.
If you will observe more closely you will see that Marian does not exactly
object to his caresses--quite the contrary, I would say, I told you that
you should not permit Spring about the premises."

The Earl wheeled in an extreme of astonishment. "Come, come, sir! she is
your betrothed wife! Do you not intend to kill the fellow?"

"My faith, why?" said his Grace of Ormskirk, with a shrug. "As for
betrothals, do you not see that she is already very happily paired?"

In answer Brudenel raised his hands toward heaven, in just the contention
of despair and rage appropriate to parental affection when an excellent
match is imperilled by a chit's idiocy.

Marian and Lord Humphrey Degge were mounting from the scrap of forest that
juts from Pevis Hill, like a spur from a man's heel, between Agard Court
and Halvergate. Their progress was not conspicuous for celerity. Now they
had attained to the tiny, elm-shadowed plateau beyond the yew-hedge,
and there Marian paused. Two daffodils had fallen from the great
green-and-yellow cluster in her left hand. Humphrey Degge lifted them,
and then raised to his mouth the slender fingers that reached toward the
flowers. The man's pallor, you would have said, was not altogether due to
his recent wound.

She stood looking up at him, smiling a little timidly, her teeth glinting
through parted lips, her eyes star-fire, her cheeks blazoning gules in his
honor; she seemed not to breathe at all. A faint twinge woke in the Duke
of Ormskirk's heart. Most women smiled upon him, but they smiled beneath
furtive eyes, sometimes beneath rapacious eyes, and many smiled with
reddened lips which strove, uneasily, to provoke a rental; how long was it
he wondered, simply, since any woman had smiled as Marian smiled now, for
him?

"I think it is a dream," said Marian.

From the vantage of the yew-hedge, "I would to Heaven I could think so,
too," observed her father.

III

The younger people had passed out of sight. But from the rear of the hedge
came to the Duke and Lord Brudenel, staring blankly at each other across
the paper-littered table, a sort of duet. First tenor, then contralto, then
tenor again,--and so on, with many long intervals of silence, during which
you heard the plashing of the fountain, grown doubly audible, and, it might
be, the sharp, plaintive cry of a bird intensified by the stillness.

"I think it is a dream," said Marian....

"What eyes you have, Marian!"

"But you have not kissed the littlest finger of all. See, it is quite stiff
with indignation."

"They are green, and brown, and yellow--O Marian, there are little gold
specks in them like those in _eau de Dantzig_! They are quite wonderful
eyes, Marian. And your hair is all streaky gold-and-brown. You should not
have two colors in your hair, Marian. Marian, did any one ever tell you
that you are very beautiful?"

Silence. "Pee-weet!" said a bird. "Tweet?"

And Marian replied: "I am devoted to Dorothy, of course, but I have never
admired her fashion of making advances to every man she meets. Yes, she
does."

"Nay, 'twas only her money that lured me, to do her justice. It appeared so
very sensible to marry an heiress.... But how can any man be sensible so
long as he is haunted by the memory of your eyes? For see how bright they
are,--see, here in the water. Two stars have fallen into the fountain,
Marian."

"You are handsomer so. Your nose is too short, but here in the fountain you
are quite handsome--"

"Marian,--"

"I wonder how many other women's fingers you have kissed--like that. Ah,
don't tell me, Humphrey! Humphrey, promise me that you will always lie to
me when I ask you about those other women. Lie to me, my dear, and I will
know that you are lying and love you all the better for it.... You should
not have told me about Dorothy. How often did you kiss all of Dorothy's
finger-tips one by one, in just that foolish, dear way?"

"But who was this Dorothy you speak of, Marian? I have forgotten. Oh,
yes--we quarrelled--over some woman,--and I went away. I left you for a
mere heiress, Marian. You! And five days, ago while I lay abed, wounded,
they told me that you, were to marry Ormskirk. I thought I would go mad....
Eh, I remember now. But what do these things matter? Is it not of far
greater importance that the sunlight turns your hair to pure topaz?"

"Ah, my hair, my eyes! Is it these you care for? You would not love me,
then, if I were old and ugly?"

"Eh,--I love you."

"Animal!"

There was a longer silence now. "Tweet!" said a bird, pertly.

Then Marian said, "Let us go to my father."

"To tell him--?"

"Why, that I love you, I suppose, and that I cannot marry Jack, not even
to be a duchess. Oh, I did so much want to be a duchess! But when you came
back to me yonder in the forest, somehow I stopped wanting anything more.
Something--I hardly know--something seemed to say, as you came striding
through the dead leaves, laughing and so very pale,--something seemed to
say, 'You love him'--oh, quite audibly."

"Audibly! Why, the woods whispered it, the birds trilled it, screamed
it, the very leaves underfoot crackled assent. Only they said, 'You love
her--the girl yonder with glad, frightened eyes, Spring's daughter.' Oh, I
too, heard it, Marian! 'Follow,' the birds sang, 'follow, follow, follow,
for yonder is the heart's desire!"

The Duke of Ormskirk raised his head, his lips sketching a whistle. "Ah!
ah!" he muttered. "Eureka! I have recaptured it--the message of April."

IV

When these two had gone the Duke flung out his hands in a comprehensive
gesture of giving up the entire matter. "Well," said he, "you see how it
is!"

"I do," Lord Brudenel assented. "And if you intend to sit patient under it,
I, at least, wear a sword. Confound it, Jack, do you suppose I am going
to have promiscuous young men dropping out of the skies and embracing my
daughter?" The Earl became forceful in his language.

"Harry,--" the Duke began.

"The fellow hasn't a penny--not a stick or a stiver to his name! He's only
a rascally, impudent younger son--and even Venour has nothing except Agard
Court yonder! That--that crow's nest!" Lord Brudenel spluttered. "They
mooned about together a great deal a year ago, but I thought nothing of
it; then he went away, and she never spoke of him again. Never spoke of
him--oh, the jade!"

The Duke of Ormskirk considered the affair, a mild amusement waking in his
plump face.

"Old friend," said he, at length, "it is my opinion that we are perilously
near to being a couple of fools. We planned this marriage, you and I--dear,
dear, we planned it when Marian was scarcely out of her cradle! But we
failed to take nature into the plot, Harry. It was sensible--Oh, granted!
I obtained a suitable mistress for Ingilby and Bottreaux Towers, a
magnificent ornament for my coach and my opera-box; while you--your pardon,
old friend, if I word it somewhat grossly,--you, in effect, obtained a
wealthy and not uninfluential husband for your daughter. Nay, I think you
are fond of me, but that is beside the mark; it was not Jack Bulmer who was
to marry your daughter, but the Duke of Ormskirk. The thing was as logical
as a sale of bullocks,--value for value. But now nature intervenes,
and"--he snapped his fingers,--"eh, well, since she wants this Humphrey
Degge, of course she must have him."

Lord Brudenel mentioned several penalties which he would voluntarily incur
in case of any such preposterous marriage.

"Your style," the Duke regretfully observed, "is somewhat more original
than your subject. You have a handsome daughter to barter, and you want
your price. The thing is far from uncommon. Yet you shall have your price,
Harry. What estate do you demand of your son-in-law?"

"What the devil are you driving at?" said Lord Brudenel.

Composedly the Duke of Ormskirk spread out his hands. "You have, in effect,
placed Marian in the market," he said, "and I offer to give Lord Humphrey
Degge the money with which to purchase her."

"Tis evident," the Earl considered, "that you are demented!"

"Because I willingly part with money? But then I have a great deal of
money. I have money, and I have power, and the King occasionally pats me
upon the shoulder, and men call me 'your Grace,' instead of 'my Lord,' as
they do you. So I ought to be very happy, ought I not, Harry? Ah, yes,
I ought to be entirely happy, because I have had everything, with the
unimportant exception of the one thing I wanted."

But Lord Brudenel had drawn himself erect, stiffly. "I am to understand,
then, from this farrago, that on account of the--um--a--incident we have
just witnessed you decline to marry my daughter?"

"I would sooner cut off my right hand," said the Duke, "for I am fonder of
Marian than I am of any other living creature."

"Oh, very well!" the Earl conceded, sulkily. "Umfraville wants her. He is
only a marquis, of course, but so far as money is concerned, I believe
he is a thought better off than you. I would have preferred you as a
son-in-law, you understand, but since you withdraw--why, then, let it be
Umfraville."

Now the Duke looked up into his face for some while. "You would do that!
You would sell Marian to Umfraville--[Footnote: "Whose entrance blushing
Satan did deny Lest hell be thought no better than a sty."] to a person who
unites the continence of a partridge with the graces of a Berkshire hog--to
that lean whoremonger, to that disease-rotted goat! Because he has the
money! Why, Harry, what a car you are!"

Lord Brudenel bowed, "My Lord Duke, you are to-day my guest. I apprehend
you will presently be leaving Halvergate, however, and as soon--as that
regrettable event takes place, I shall see to it a friend wait upon you
with the length of my sword. Meanwhile I venture to reserve the privilege
of managing my family affairs at my own discretion."

"I do not fight with hucksters," the Duke flung at him, "and you are one.
Oh, you peddler! Can you not understand that I am trying to buy your
daughter's happiness?"

"I intend that my daughter shall make a suitable match," replied the Earl,
stubbornly, "and she shall. If Marian is a sensible girl--and, barring
to-day, I have always esteemed her such,--she will find happiness in
obeying her father's mandates: otherwise--" He waved the improbable
contingency aside.

"Sensible! Faith, can you not see, even now, that to be sensible is not the
highest wisdom? You and I are sensible as the world goes,--and in God's
name, what good does it do us? Here we sit, two miserable and empty-veined
old men squabbling across a deal-table, breaking up a friendship of
thirty years. And yonder Marian and this Humphrey Degge--who are
within a measurable distance of insanity, if their conversation be the
touchstone,--yet tread the pinnacles of some seventh heaven of happiness.
April has brought them love, Harry. Oh, I concede their love is folly! But
it is all folly, Harry Heleigh. Purses, titles, blue ribbons, and the envy
of our fellows are the toys which we struggle for, we sensible men; and in
the end we find them only toys, and, gaining them, we gain only weariness.
And love, too, is a toy; but, gaining love, we gain, at least, a temporary
happiness. There is the difference, Harry Heleigh."

"Oh, have done with your, balderdash!" said Lord Brudenel. He spoke
irritably, for he knew his position to be guaranteed by common-sense, and
his slow wrath was kindling at opposition.

His Grace of Ormskirk rose to his feet, all tension. In the act his hand
struck against the open despatch-box; afterward, with a swift alteration
of countenance, he overturned this box and scattered the contents about
the table. For a moment he seemed to forget Lord Brudenel; quite without
warning Ormskirk flared into rage.

"Harry Heleigh, Harry Heleigh!" he cried, as he strode across the terrace,
and caught Lord Brudenel roughly by the shoulder, "are you not content to
go to your grave without killing another woman? Oh, you dotard miser!--you
haberdasher!--haven't I offered you money, an isn't money the only thing
you are now capable of caring for? Give the girl to Degge, you huckster!"

Lord Brudenel broke from the Duke's grasp. Brudenel was asplutter with
anger. "I will see you damned first. You offer money,--I fling the money
in your fat face. Look you, you have just insulted, me, and now you
offer--money! Another insult. John Bulmer, I would not accept an affront
like this from an archangel. You are my guest, but I am only flesh and
blood. I swear to you this is the most deliberate act of my life." Lord
Brudenel struck him full upon the cheek.

"Pardon," said the Duke of Ormskirk. He stood rigid, his arms held stiff at
his sides, his hands clenched; the red mark showed plain against an ashy
countenance. "Pardon me for a moment." Once or twice he opened and shut his
eyes like an automaton. "And stop behaving so ridiculously. I cannot fight
you. I have other matters to attend to. We are wise, Harry,--you and I.
We know that love sometimes does not endure; sometimes it flares up
at a girl's glance, quite suddenly, and afterward smoulders out into
indifference or even into hatred. So, say we, let all sensible people marry
for money, for then in any event you get what you marry for,--a material
benefit, a tangible good, which does no vanish when the first squabble, or
perhaps the first gray hair, arrives. That is sensible; but women, Harry,
are not always sensible--"

"Draw, you coward!" Lord Brudenel snarled at him. The Earl had already
lugged out his ineffectual dress sword, and would have been, as he stood on
guard, a ludicrous figure had he not been rather terrible. His rage shook
him visibly, and his obstinate mouth twitched and snapped like that of a
beast cornered. All gray he was, and the sun glistened on his gray tye-wig
as he waited. His eyes were coals.

But Ormskirk had regained composure. "You know that I am not a coward," the
Duke said, equably. "I have proven it many times. Besides, you overlook two
details. One is that I have no sword with me, I am quite unarmed. The other
detail is that only gentlemen fight duels, and just now we are hucksters,
you and I, chaffering over Marian's happiness. So I return to my
bargaining. You will not sell Marian's happiness to me for money? Why,
then--remember, we are only hucksters, you and I,--I will purchase it by a
dishonorable action. I will show you a woman's letters,--some letters I was
going to burn romantically before I married--Instead, I wish you to read
them."

He pushed the papers lying upon the table toward Lord Brudenel. Afterward
Ormskirk turned away and stood looking over the ivy-covered balustrade into
the gardens below. All white and green and blue the vista was, and of a
monastic tranquillity, save for the plashing of the fountain behind the
yew-hedge. From the gardens at his feet irresolute gusts brought tepid
woodland odors. He heard the rustling of papers, heard Lord Brudenel's
sword fall jangling to the ground. The Duke turned.

"And for twenty years I have been eating my heart out with longing for
her," the Earl said. "And--and I thought you were my friend, Jack."

"She was not your wife when I first knew her. But John Bulmer was a
penniless nobody,--so they gave her to you, an earl's heir, those sensible
parents of hers. I never saw her again, though--as you see,--she wrote to
me sometimes. And her parents did the sensible thing; but I think they
killed her, Harry."

"Killed her?" Lord Brudenel echoed, stupidly. Then on a sudden it was
singular to see the glare in his eyes puffed out like a candle. "I killed
her," he whispered; "why, I killed Alison,--I!" He began to laugh. "Now
that is amusing, because she was the one thing in the world I ever loved.
I remember that she used to shudder when I kissed her. I thought it was
because she was only a brown and thin and timid child, who would be wiser
in love's tricks by and by. Now I comprehend 'twas because every kiss was
torment to her, because every time I touched her 'twas torment. So she
died very slowly, did Alison,--and always I was at hand with my kisses, my
pet names, and my paddlings,--killing her, you observe, always urging her
graveward. Yes, and yet there is nothing in these letters to show how much
she must have loathed me!" he said, in a mild sort of wonder. He appeared
senile now, the shrunken and calamitous shell of the man he had been within
the moment.

The Duke of Ormskirk put an arm about him. "Old friend, old friend!" said
he.

"Why did you not tell me?" the Earl said. "I loved you, Jack. I worshipped
her. I would never willingly have seen you two unhappy."

"Her parents would have done as you planned to do,--they would have given
their daughter to the next richest suitor. I was nobody then. So the wisdom
of the aged slew us, Harry,--slew Alison utterly, and left me with a living
body, indeed, but with little more. I do not say that body has not amused
itself. Yet I too, loved her, Harry Heleigh. And when I saw this new
Alison--for Marian is her mother, face, heart, and soul,--why, some wraith
of emotion stirred in me, some thrill, some not quite forgotten pulse. It
seemed Alison come back from the grave. Love did not reawaken, for youth's
fervor was gone out of me, yet presently I fell a-dreaming over my Madeira
on long winter evenings,--sedate and tranquil dreams of this new Alison
flitting about Ingilby, making the splendid, desolate place into a home. Am
old man's fancies, Harry,--fancies bred of my loneliness, for I am lonely
nowadays. But my dreams, I find, were not sufficiently comprehensive; for
they did not anticipate April,--and nature,--and Lord Humphrey Degge. We
must yield to that triumvirate, we sensible old men. Nay, we are wise as
the world goes, but we have learned, you and I, that to be sensible is not
the highest wisdom. Marian is her mother in soul, heart, and feature. Don't
let the old tragedy be repeated, Harry. Let her have this Degge! Let Marian
have her chance of being happy, for a year or two...."

But Lord Brudenel had paid very little attention. "I suppose so," he said,
when the Duke had ended. "Oh, I suppose so. Jack, she was always kind and
patient and gentle, you understand, but she used to shudder when I kissed
her," he repeated, dully,--"shudder, Jack." He sat staring at his sword
lying there on the ground, as though it fascinated him.

"Ah, but,--old friend," the Duke cried, with his hand upon Lord Brudenel's
shoulder, "forgive me! It was the only way."

Lord Brudenel rose to his feet. "Oh, yes! why, yes, I forgive you, if that
is any particular comfort to you. It scarcely seems of any importance,
though. The one thing which really matters is that I loved her, and I
killed her. Oh, beyond doubt, I forgive you. But now that you have made my
whole past a hideous stench to me, and have proven the love I was so proud
of--the one quite clean, quite unselfish thing in my life, I thought it,
Jack,--to have been only my lust vented on a defenceless woman,--why, just
now, I have not time to think of forgiveness. Yes, Marian may marry Degge
if she cares to. And I am sorry I took her mother away from you. I would
not have done it if I had known."

Brudenel started away drearily, but when he had gone a little distance
turned back.

"And the point of it is," he said, with a smile, "that I shall go on living
just as if nothing had happened, and shall probably live for a long, long
time. My body is so confoundedly healthy. How the deuce did you have the
courage to go on living?" he demanded, enviously. "You loved her and you
lost her. I'd have thought you would have killed yourself long ago."

The Duke shrugged. "Yes, people do that in books. In books they have such
strong emotions--"

Then Ormskirk paused for a heart-beat, looking down into the gardens.
Wonderfully virginal it all seemed to Ormskirk, that small portion of
a world upon the brink of renaissance: a tessellation of clean colors,
where the gravelled walkways were snow beneath the sun, and were in shadow
transmuted to dim violet tints; and for the rest, green ranging from the
sober foliage of yew and box and ilex to the pale glow of young grass
In the full sunlight; all green, save where the lake shone, a sapphire
green-girdled. Spring triumphed with a vaunting pageant. And in the
forest, in the air, even in the unplumbed sea-depths, woke the mating
impulse,--irresistible, borne as it might seem on the slow-rising tide
of grass that now rippled about the world. Everywhere they were mating;
everywhere glances allured and mouth met mouth, while John Bulmer went
alone without any mate or intimacy with anyone.

Everywhere people were having emotions which Ormskirk envied. He had so few
emotions nowadays. Even all this posturing and talk about Alison Heleigh in
which he had just indulged began to savor somehow of play-acting. He had
loved Alison, of course, and that which he had said was true enough--in
a way,--but, after all, he had over-colored it. There had been in his
life so many interesting matters, and so many other women too, that the
loss of Alison could not be said to have blighted his existence quite
satisfactorily. No, John Bulmer had again been playing at the big emotions
which he heard about and coveted, just as at this very moment John Bulmer
was playing at being sophisticated and _blase_... with only poor old Harry
for audience....

"A great deal of me did die," the Duke heard this John Bulmer
saying,--"all, I suppose, except my carcass, Harry. And it seemed hardly
worth the trouble to butcher that also."

"No," Lord Brudenel conceded, "I suppose not. I wonder, d'ye know, will
anything ever again seem really worth the trouble of doing it?"

The Duke of Ormskirk took his arm. "Fy, Harry, bid the daws seek their food
elsewhere, for a gentleman may not wear his heart upon his sleeve. Empires
crumble, and hearts break, and we are blessed or damned, as Fate elects;
but through it all we find comfort in the reflection that dinner is good,
and sleep, too, is excellent. As for the future--eh, well, if it mean
little to us, it means a deal to Alison's daughter. Let us go to them,
Harry."

VII

IN THE SECOND APRIL

_As Played at Bellegarde, in the April of 1750_

"_This passion is in honest minds the strongest incentive that can move the
soul of man to laudable accomplishments. Is a man just? Let him fall in
love and grow generous. It immediately makes the good which is in him shine
forth in new excellencies, and the ill vanish away without the pain of
contrition, but with a sudden amendment of heart._"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

DUKE OF ORMSKISK.

DUC DE PUYSANGE, a true Frenchman, a pert, railing fribble, but at bottom a
man of parts.

MARQUIS DE SOYECOURT, a brisk, conceited rake, and distant cousin to de
Puysange.

CAZAIO, captain of brigands.

DOM MICHEL FREGOSE, a lewd, rascally friar.

GUITON, steward to de Puysange.

PAWSEY, Ormskirk's man.

ACHON, a knave.

MICHAULT, another knave.

DUCHESSE DE PUYSANGE.

CLAIRE, sister to de Puysange, a woman of beauty and resolution, of a
literal humor.

ATTENDANTS, BRIGANDS, and DRAGOONS; and, in the Proem, LORD HUMPHREY DEGGE
and LADY MARIAN HELEIGH.

SCENE

First at Dover, thence shifting to Bellegarde-en-Poictesme and the adjacent
country.

IN THE SECOND APRIL

_PROEM:--More Properly an Apologue, and Treats of the Fallibility of Soap_

The Duke of Ormskirk left Halvergate on the following day, after
participation in two dialogues, which I abridge.

Said the Duke to Lord Humphrey Degge:

"You have been favored, sir, vastly beyond your deserts. I acquiesce, since
Fate is proverbially a lady, and to dissent were in consequence ungallant.
Shortly I shall find you more employment, at Dover, whither I am now going
to gull my old opponent and dear friend, Gaston de Puysange, in the matter
of this new compact between France and England. I shall look for you at
Dover, then, in three days' time."

"And in vain, my Lord Duke," said the other.

Now Ormskirk raised one eyebrow, after a fashion that he had.

"Because I love Marian," said Lord Humphrey, "and because I mean to be less
unworthy of Marian than I have been heretofore. So that I can no longer be
your spy. Besides, in nature I lack aptitude for the trade. Eh, my Lord
Duke, have you already forgotten how I bungled the affair of Captain
Audaine and his associates?"

"But that was a maiden effort. And as I find--at alas! the cost of
decrepitude,--the one thing life teaches us is that many truisms are true.
'Practice makes perfect' is one of them. And faith, when you come to my
age, Lord Humphrey, you will not grumble at having to soil your hands
occasionally in the cause of common-sense."

The younger man shook his head. "A week ago you would have found me
amenable enough to reason, since I was then a sensible person, and to be of
service to his Grace of Ormskirk was very sensible,--just as to marry Miss
Allonby, the young and beautiful heiress, was then the course pre-eminently
sensible. All the while I loved Marian, you understand. But I clung to
common-sense. Desperately I clung to common-sense. And yet--" He flung out
his hands.

"Yes, there is by ordinary some plaguy _yet_," the Duke interpolated.

"There is," cried Lord Humphrey Degge, "the swift and heart-grappling
recollection of the woman you gave up in the cause of common-sense,--roused
by some melody she liked, or some shade of color she was wont to wear, or
by hearing from other lips some turn of speech to which she was addicted.
My Lord Duke, that memory wakes on a sudden and clutches you by the throat,
and it chokes you. And one swears that common-sense--"

"One swears that common-sense may go to the devil," said his Grace of
Ormskirk, "whence I don't say it didn't emanate! And one swears that, after
all, there is excellent stuff in you! Your idiotic conduct, sir, makes me
far happier than you know!"

After some ten paces he turned, with a smile. "In the matter of soiling
one's hands--Personally I prefer them clean, sir, and particularly in the
case of Marian's husband. Had it been I, he must have stuck to prosaic
soap; with you in the role there is a difference. Faith, Lord Humphrey,
there is a decided difference, and if you be other than a monster of
depravity you will henceforth, I think, preserve your hands immaculate."

To Marian the Duke said a vast number of things, prompted by a complaisant
thrill over the fact that, in view of the circumstances, his magnanimity
must to the unprejudiced appear profuse and his behavior tolerably heroic.

"These are very absurd phrases," Marian considered, "since you will
never love anyone, I think--however much you may admire the color of her
eyes,--one-quarter so earnestly as you will always marvel at John Bulmer.
Or perhaps you have only to wait a little, Jack, till in her time and
season the elect woman shall come to you, just as she comes to all
men,--and then, for once in your existence, you will be sincere."

"I go, provisionally, to seek this paragon at Dover," said his Grace of
Ormskirk, and he lifted her fingers toward his smiling lips; "but I shall
bear in mind, my dear, even in Dover, that sincerity is a devilishly
expensive virtue."

I

It was on the thirteenth day of April that they signed the Second Treaty of
Dover, which not only confirmed its predecessor of Aix-la-Chapelle, but in
addition, with the brevity of lightning, demolished the last Stuarts' hope
of any further aid from France. And the French ambassador subscribed the
terms with a chuckle.

"For on this occasion, Jean," he observed, as he pushed the paper from him,
"I think that honors are fairly even. You obtain peace at home, and in
India we obtain assistance for Dupleix; good, the benefit is quite mutual;
and accordingly, my friend, I must still owe you one requiting for that
Bavarian business."

Ormskirk was silent until he had the churchwarden which he had just ignited
aglow. "That was the evening I had you robbed and beaten by footpads, was
it not? Faith, Gaston, I think you should rather be obliged to me, since it
taught you never to carry important papers in your pocket when you go about
your affairs of gallantry."

"That beating with great sticks," the Duc de Puysange considered, "was the
height of unnecessity."

And the Duke of Ormskirk shrugged. "A mere touch of verisimilitude, Gaston;
footpads invariably beat their victims. Besides, you had attempted to
murder me at Aix, you may remember."

De Puysange was horrified. "My dear friend, when I set Villaneuve upon you
it was with express orders only to run you through the shoulder. Figure to
yourself: that abominable St. Severin had bribed your _chef_ to feed you
powdered glass in a ragout! But I dissented. 'Jean and I have been the
dearest enemies these ten years past,' I said. 'At every Court in Europe
we have lied to each other. If you kill him I shall beyond doubt presently
perish of ennui.' So, that France might escape a blow so crushing as the
loss of my services, St. Severin consented to disable you."

"Believe me, I appreciate your intervention," Ormskirk stated, with his
usual sleepy smile; before this he had found amusement in the naivete of
his friend's self-approbation.

"Not so! Rather you are a monument of ingratitude," the other complained.
"You conceive, Villaneuve was in price exorbitant. I snap my fingers.
'For a comrade so dear,' I remark, 'I gladly employ the most expensive of
assassins.' Yet before the face of such magnanimity you grumble." The Duc
de Puysange spread out his shapely hands. "I murder you! My adored Jean, I
had as lief make love to my wife."

Ormskirk struck his finger-tips upon the table. "Faith, I knew there was
something I intended to ask of you, I want you to get me a wife."

"In fact," de Puysange observed, "warfare being now at an end, it is only
natural that you should resort to matrimony. I can assure you it is an
admirable substitute. But who is the lucky Miss, my little villain?"

"Why, that is for you to settle," Ormskirk said. "I had hoped you might
know of some suitable person."

"_Ma foi_, my friend, if I were arbiter and any wife would suit you, I
would cordially desire you to take mine, for when a woman so incessantly
resembles an angel in conduct, her husband inevitably desires to see her
one in reality."

"You misinterpret me, Gaston. This is not a jest. I had always intended
to marry as soon as I could spare the time, and now that this treaty is
disposed of, my opportunity has beyond doubt arrived. I am practically at
leisure until the autumn. At latest, though, I must marry by August,
in order to get the honeymoon off my hands before the convocation of
Parliament. For there will have to be a honeymoon, I suppose."

"It is customary," de Puysange said. He appeared to deliberate something
entirely alien to this reply, however, and now sat silent for a matter
of four seconds, his countenance profoundly grave. He was a hideous man,
[Footnote: For a consideration of the vexed and delicate question whether
or no Gaston de Puysange was grandson to King Charles the Second of
England, the reader is referred to the third chapter of La Vrilliere's _De
Puysange et son temps_. The Duke's resemblance in person to that monarch
was undeniable.] with black beetling eyebrows, an enormous nose, and an
under-lip excessively full; his face had all the calculated ill-proportion
of a gargoyle, an ugliness so consummate and merry that in ultimate effect
it captivated.

At last de Puysange began: "I think I follow you. It is quite proper that
you should marry. It is quite proper that a man who has done so much for
England should leave descendants to perpetuate his name, and with perhaps
some portion of his ability--no, Jean, I do not flatter,--serve the England
which is to his heart so dear. As a Frenchman I cannot but deplore that our
next generation may have to face another Ormskirk; as your friend who loves
you I say that this marriage will appropriately round a successful and
honorable and intelligent life. Eh, we are only men, you and I, and it is
advisable that all men should marry, since otherwise they might be so happy
in this colorful world that getting to heaven would not particularly tempt
them. Thus is matrimony a bulwark of religion."

"You are growing scurrilous," Ormskirk complained, "whereas I am in perfect
earnest."

"I, too, speak to the foot of the letter, Jean, as you will soon learn. I
comprehend that you cannot with agreeability marry an Englishwoman. You are
too much the personage. Possessing, as you notoriously possess, your pick
among the women of gentle degree--for none of them would her guardians nor
her good taste permit to refuse the great Duke of Ormskirk,--any choice
must therefore be a too robustious affrontment to all the others. If you
select a Howard, the Skirlaws have pepper in the nose; if a Beaufort, you
lose Umfraville's support,--and so on. Hey, I know, my dear Jean; your
affair with the Earl of Brudenel's daughter cost you seven seats in
Parliament, you may remember. How am I aware of this?--why, because I
habitually have your mail intercepted. You intercept mine, do you not?
Naturally; you would be a very gross and intolerable scion of the pig if
you did otherwise. _Eh bien_, let us get on. You might, of course, play
King Cophetua, but I doubt if it would amuse you, since Penelophons are
rare; it follows in logic that your wife must come from abroad. And whence?
Without question, from France, the land of adorable women. The thing is
plainly demonstrated; and in France, my dear, I have to an eyelash the
proper person for you."

"Then we may consider the affair as settled," Ormskirk replied, "and should
you arrange to have the marriage take place upon the first of August,--if
possible, a trifle earlier,--I would be trebly your debtor."

De Puysange retorted: "Beyond doubt I can adjust these matters. And yet,
my dear Jean, I must submit that it is not quite the act of a gentleman to
plunge into matrimony without even inquiring as to the dowry of your future
bride."

"It is true," said Ormskirk, with a grimace; "I had not thought of her
portion. You must remember my attention is at present pre-empted by that
idiotic Ferrers business. How much am I to marry, then, Gaston?"

"I had in mind," said the other, "my sister, the Demoiselle Claire de
Puysange,--"

It was a day of courtesy when the minor graces were paramount. Ormskirk
rose and accorded de Puysange a salutation fitted to an emperor. "I entreat
your pardon, sir, for any _gaucherie_ of which I may have been guilty, and
desire to extend to you my appreciation of the honor you have done me."

"It is sufficient, monsieur," de Puysange replied. And the two gravely
bowed again.

Then the Frenchman resumed, in conversational tones: "I have but one
unmarried sister,--already nineteen, beautiful as an angel (in the eyes, at
least, of fraternal affection), and undoubtedly as headstrong as any devil
at present stoking the eternal fires below. You can conceive that the
disposal of such a person is a delicate matter. In Poictesme there is
no suitable match, and upon the other hand I grievously apprehend her
presentation at our Court, where, as Arouet de Voltaire once observed to
me, the men are lured into matrimony by the memories of their past sins,
and the women by the immunity it promises for future ones. In England,
where custom will permit a woman to be both handsome and chaste, I estimate
she would be admirably ranged. Accordingly, my dear Jean, behold a fact
accomplished. And now let us embrace, my brother!"

This was done. The next day they settled the matter of dowry, jointure, the
widow's portion, and so on, and de Puysange returned to render his report
at Marly. The wedding had been fixed by the Frenchman for St. Anne's day,
and by Ormskirk, as an uncompromising churchman, for the twenty-sixth of
the following July.

II

That evening the Duke of Ormskirk sat alone in his lodgings. His Grace
was very splendid in black-and-gold, wearing his two stars of the Garter
and the Thistle, for there was that night a ball at Lady Sandwich's, and
Royalty was to embellish it. In consequence, Ormskirk meant to show his
plump face there for a quarter of an hour; and the rooms would be too
hot (he peevishly reflected), and the light would tire his eyes, and
Laventhrope would button-hole him again about that appointment for
Laventhrope's son, and the King would give vent to some especially
fat-witted jest, and Ormskirk would apishly grin and applaud. And afterward
he would come home with a headache, and ghostly fiddles would vex him all
night long with their thin incessancy.

"Accordingly," the Duke decided, "I shall not stir a step until eleven
o'clock. The King, in the ultimate, is only a tipsy, ignorant old German
debauchee, and I have half a mind to tell him so. Meantime, he can wait."

The Duke sat down to consider this curious lassitude, this indefinite
vexation, which had possessed him.

"For I appear to have taken a sudden dislike to the universe. It is
probably my liver.

"In any event, I have come now to the end of my resources. For some
twenty-five years it has amused me to make a great man of John Bulmer. Now
that is done, and, like the Moorish fellow in the play, 'my occupation's
gone.' I am at the very top of the ladder, and I find it the dreariest
place in the world. There is nothing left to scheme for, and, besides, I am
tired.

"The tiniest nerve in my body, the innermost cell of my brain, is tired
to-night.

"I wonder if getting married will divert me? I doubt it. Of course I ought
to marry, but then it must be rather terrible to have a woman loitering
around you for the rest of your life. She will probably expect me to talk
to her; she will probably come into my rooms and sit there whenever the
inclination prompts her,--in a sentence, she will probably worry me to
death. Eh well!--that die is cast!

"'Beautiful as an angel, and headstrong as a devil.' And what's her
name?--Oh, yes, Claire. That is a very silly name, and I suppose she is a
vixenish little idiot. However, the alliance is a sensible one. De Puysange
has had it in mind for some six months, I think, but certainly I did not
think he knew of my affair with Marian. Well, but he affects omniscience,
he delights in every small chicane. He is rather droll. Yesterday he knew
from the start that I was leading up to a proposal for his sister,--and yet
there we sat, two solemn fools, and played our tedious comedy to a finish.
_Eh bien!_ as he says, it is necessary to keep one's hand in.

"'Beautiful as an angel, and headstrong as a devil'--Alison was not
headstrong."

Ormskirk rose suddenly and approached an open window. It was a starless
sight, temperately cool, with no air stirring. Below was a garden of some
sort, and a flat roof which would be that of the stables, and beyond,
abrupt as a painted scene, a black wall of houses stood against a
steel-colored, vacant sky, reaching precisely to the middle of the vista.
Only a solitary poplar, to the rear of the garden, qualified this sombre
monotony of right angles. Ormskirk saw the world as an ugly mechanical
drawing, fashioned for utility, meticulously outlined with a ruler. Yet
there was a scent of growing things to nudge the senses.

"No, Alison was different. And Alison has been dead near twenty years.
And God help me! I no longer regret even Alison. I should have been more
truthful in talking with poor Harry Heleigh. But, as always, the temptation
to be picturesque was irresistible. Besides, the truth is humiliating.

"The real tragedy of life is to learn that it is not really tragic. To
learn that the world is gross, that it lacks nobility, that to considerate
persons it must be in effect quite unimportant,--here are commonplaces,
sweepings from the tub of the immaturest cynic. But to learn that you
yourself were thoughtfully constructed in harmony with the world you were
to live in, that you yourself are incapable of any great passion--eh, this
is an athletic blow to human vanity. Well! I acknowledge it. My love for
Alison Pleydell was the one sincere thing in my life. And it is dead. I do
not think of her once a month. I do not regret her except when I am tipsy
or bored or listening to music, and wish to fancy myself the picturesque
victim of a flint-hearted world. Which is a romantic lie; I move like a
man of card-board in a card-board world. Certain faculties and tastes and
mannerisms I undoubtedly possess, but if I have any personality at all,
I am not aware of it; I am a mechanism that eats and sleeps and clumsily
perambulates a ball that spins around a larger ball that revolves about
another, and so on, _ad infinitum_. Some day the mechanism will be broken.
Or it will slowly wear out, perhaps. And then it will go to the dust-heap.
And that will be the end of the great Duke of Ormskirk.

"John Bulmer did not think so. It is true that John Bulmer was a
magnanimous fool,--Upon the other hand, John Bulmer would never have stared
out of an ugly window at an uglier landscape and have talked yet uglier
nonsense to it. He would have been off post-haste after the young person
who is 'beautiful as an angel and headstrong as a devil.' And afterward he
would have been very happy or else very miserable. I begin to think that
John Bulmer was more sensible than the great Duke of Ormskirk. I would--I
would that he were still alive."

His Grace slapped one palm against his thigh with unwonted vigor. "Behold,
what I am longing for! I am longing for John Bulmer."

Presently he sounded the gong upon his desk. And presently he said: "My
adorable Pawsey, the great Duke of Ormskirk is now going to pay his
respects to George Guelph, King of Britain, France, and Ireland, defender
of the faith. Duke of Brunswick and Lunenburg, and supreme head of the
Anglican and Hibernian Church. And to-morrow Mr. John Bulmer will set forth
upon a little journey into Poictesme. You will obligingly pack a valise.
No, I shall not require you,--for John Bulmer was entirely capable of
dressing and shaving himself. So kindly go to the devil, Pawsey, and stop
staring at me."

Later in the evening Pawsey, a thought mellowed by the ale of Dover,
deplored with tears the instability of a nation whose pilots were addicted
to tippling.

"Drunk as David's sow!" said Pawsey, "and 'im in the hactual presence of
'is Sacred Majesty!"

III

Thus it came about that, five days later, arrived at Bellegarde Mr. John
Bulmer, kinsman and accredited emissary of the great Duke of Ormskirk.
He brought with him and in due course delivered a casket of jewels and a
letter from the Duke to his betrothed. The diamonds were magnificent, and
the letter was a paragon of polite ardors.

Mr. Bulmer found the chateau in charge of a distant cousin to de Puysange,
the Marquis de Soyecourt; with whom were the Duchess, a gentle and
beautiful lady, her two children, and the Demoiselle Claire. The Duke
himself was still at Marly, with most of his people, but at Bellegarde
momentarily they looked for his return. Meanwhile de Soyecourt, an
exquisite and sociable and immoral young gentleman of forty-one, was
lonely, and protested that any civilized company was, in the oafish
provinces, a charity of celestial pre-arrangement. He would not hear of Mr.
Bulmer's leaving Bellegarde; and after a little protestation the latter
proved persuadable.

"Mr. Bulmer," the Duke's letter of introduction informed the Marquis, "is
my kinsman and may be regarded as discreet. The evanishment of his tiny
patrimony, spirited away some years ago by divers over-friendly ladies,
hath taught the man humility, and procured for me the privilege of paying
for his support: but I find him more valuable than his cost. He is
tolerably honest, not too often tipsy, makes an excellent salad, and will
convey a letter or hold a door with fidelity and despatch. Employ his
services, monsieur, if you have need of them; I place him at your command."

In fine, they at Bellegarde judged Mr. Bulmer to rank somewhere between
lackeyship and gentility, and treated him in accordance. It was an age of
parasitism, and John Bulmer, if a parasite, was the Phormio of a very great
man: when his patron expressed a desire Mr. Bulmer fulfilled it without
boggling over inconvenient scruples, perhaps; and there was the worst that
could with equity be said of him. An impoverished gentleman must live
somehow, and, deuce take it! there must be rather pretty pickings among
the broken meats of an Ormskirk. To this effect de Soyecourt moralized one
evening as the two sat over their wine.

John Bulmer candidly assented. "I live as best I may," he said. "In a word
'I am his Highness' dog at Kew--' But mark you, I do not complete the
quotation, monsieur."

"Which ends, as I remember it, 'I pray you, sir, whose dog are you?' Well,
Mr. Bulmer, each of us wards his own kennel somewhere, whether it be in
a king's court or in a woman's heart, and it is necessary that he pay
the rent of it in such coin as the owner may demand. Beggars cannot be
choosers, Mr. Bulmer." The Marquis went away moodily, and John Bulmer
poured out another glass.

"Were I Gaston, you would not kennel here, my friend. The Duchess has too
many claims to be admired,--for undoubtedly people do go about unchained
who can admire a blonde,--and always your eyes follow her. I noticed it a
week ago."

And during this week Mr. Bulmer had seen a deal of Claire de Puysange, with
results that you will presently ascertain. It was natural she should desire
to learn something of the man she was so soon to marry, and of whose
personality she was so ignorant; she had not even seen a picture of him, by
example. Was he handsome?

John Bulmer believed him rather remarkably handsome, when you considered
how frequently his love-affairs had left disastrous souvenirs: yes, for a
man in middle life so often patched up by quack doctors, Ormskirk looked
wholesome enough, said Mr. Bulmer. He may have had his occult purposes,
this poor cousin, but of Ormskirk he undoubtedly spoke with engaging
candor. Here was no parasite cringingly praising his patron to the
skies. The Duke's career was touched on, with its grimy passages no whit
extenuated: before Dettingen Cousin Ormskirk had, it must be confessed,
taken a bribe from de Noailles, and in return had seen to it that the
English did not follow up their empty victory; and 'twas well known
Ormskirk got his dukedom through the Countess of Yarmouth, to whom the
King could deny nothing. What were the Duke's relations with this liberal
lady?--a shrug rendered Mr. Bulmer's avowal of ignorance tolerably
explicit. Then, too, Mr. Bulmer readily conceded, the Duke's atrocities
after Culloden were somewhat over-notorious for denial: all the prisoners
were shot out-of-hand; seventy-two of them were driven into an inn-yard
and massacred _en masse_. Yes, there were women among them, but not over
a half-dozen children, at most. Mademoiselle was not to class his noble
patron with Herod, understand,--only a few brats of no importance.

In fine, he told her all the highly colored tales that envy and malice and
ignorance had been able to concoct concerning the great Duke. Many of them
John Bulmer knew to be false; nevertheless, he had a large mythology to
choose from, he picked his instances with care, he narrated them with gusto
and discretion,--and in the end he got his reward.

For the girl rose, flame-faced, and burlesqued a courtesy in his direction.
"Monsieur Bulmer, I make you my compliments. You have very fully explained
what manner of man is this to whom my brother has sold me."

"And wherefore do you accord me this sudden adulation?" said John Bulmer.

"Because in France we have learned that lackeys are always powerful. Le Bel
is here omnipotent, Monsieur Bulmer; but he is lackey to a satyr only; and
therefore, I felicitate you, monsieur, who are lackey to a fiend."

John Bulmer looked rather grave. "Civility is an inexpensive wear,
mademoiselle, but it becomes everybody."

"Lackey!" she flung over her shoulder, as she left him.

John Bulmer began to whistle an air then popular across the Channel. Later
his melody was stilled.

"'Beautiful as an angel, and headstrong as a devil!'" said John Bulmer.
"You have an eye, Gaston!"

IV

That evening came a letter from Gaston to de Soyecourt, which the latter
read aloud at supper. Gossip of the court it was for the most part,
garrulous, and peppered with deductions of a caustic and diverting sort,
but containing no word of a return to Bellegarde, in this vocal rendering.
For in the reading one paragraph was elided.

"I arrive," the Duke had written, "within three or at most four days after
this will be received. You are to breathe not a syllable of my coming, dear
Louis, for I do not come alone. Achille Cazaio has intimidated Poictesme
long enough; I consider it is not desirable that a peer of France should be
at the mercy of a chicken-thief, particularly when Fortune whispers, as the
lady now does:

"Viens punir le coupable;
Les oracles, les dieux, tout nous est favorable.

"Understand, in fine, that Madame de Pompadour has graciously obtained for
me the loan of the dragoons of Entrechat for an entire fortnight, so that I
return not in submission, but, like Caesar and Coriolanus and other exiled
captains of antiquity, at the head of a glorious army. We will harry the
Taunenfels, we will hang the vile bandit more high than Haman of old, we
will, in a word, enjoy the supreme pleasure of the chase, enhanced by the
knowledge we pursue a note-worthy quarry. Homicide is, after all, the most
satisfying recreation life affords us, since man alone knows how thoroughly
man deserves to be slaughtered. A tiger, now, has his deficiencies,
perhaps, viewed as a roommate; yet a tiger is at least acceptable to the
eye, a vision very pleasantly suggestive, we will say, of buttered toast;
whereas, our fellow-creatures, my dear Louis,--" And in this strain de
Puysange continued, with intolerably scandalous examples as parapets for
his argument.

That night de Soyecourt re-read this paragraph. "So the Pompadour has
kindly tendered him the loan of certain dragoons? She is very fond of
Gaston, is la petite Etoiles, beyond doubt. And accordingly her dragoons
are to garrison Bellegarde for a whole fortnight. Good, good!" said the
Marquis; "I think that all goes well."

He sat for a long while, smiling, preoccupied with his imaginings, which
were far adrift in the future. Louis de Soyecourt was a subtle little man,
freakish and amiable, and, on a minute scale, handsome. He reminded people
of a dissipated elf; his excesses were notorious, yet always he preserved
the face of an ecclesiastic and the eyes of an aging seraph; and bodily
there was as yet no trace of the corpulence which marred his later years.

To-night he slept soundly. His conscience was always, they say, to the very
end of his long life, the conscience of a child, vulnerable by physical
punishment, but by nothing else.

V

Next day John Bulmer rode through the Forest of Acaire, and sang as he
went. Yet he disapproved of the country.

"For I am of the opinion," John Bulmer meditated, "that France just now is
too much like a flower-garden situate upon the slope of a volcano. The eye
is pleasantly titillated, but the ear catches eloquent rumblings. This is
not a very healthy country, I think. These shaggy-haired, dumb peasants
trouble me. I had thought France a nation of de Puysanges; I find it rather
a nation of beasts who are growing hungry. Presently they will begin
to feed, and I am not at all certain as to the urbanity of their table
manners."

However, it was no affair of his; so he put the matter out of mind, and as
he rode through the forest, carolled blithely. Trees were marshalled on
each side with an effect of colonnades; everywhere there was a sniff of the
cathedral, of a cheery cathedral all green and gold and full-bodied browns,
where the industrious motes swam, like the fishes fairies angle for, in
every long and rigid shaft of sunlight,--or rather (John Bulmer decided),
as though Time had just passed by with a broom, intent to garnish the least
nook of Acaire against Spring's occupancy of it. Then there were tiny white
butterflies, frail as dream-stuff. There were anemones; and John Bulmer
sighed at their insolent perfection. Theirs was a frank allure; in the
solemn forest they alone of growing things were wanton, for they coquetted
with the wind, and their pink was the pink of flesh.

He recollected that he was corpulent--and forty-five. "And yet, praise
Heaven," said John Bulmer, "something stirs in this sleepy skull of mine."

Sang John Bulmer:

"April wakes, and the gifts are good
Which April grants in this lonely wood
Mid the wistful sounds of a solitude,
Whose immemorial murmuring
Is the voice of Spring
And murmurs the burden of burgeoning.

"April wakes, and her heart is high,
For the Bassarids and the Fauns are nigh,
And prosperous leaves lisp busily
Over flattered brakes, whence the breezes bring
Vext twittering
To swell the burden of burgeoning.

"April wakes, and afield, astray,
She calls to whom at the end I say.
_Heart o' my Heart, I am thine alway_,--
And I follow, follow her carolling,
For I hear her sing
Above the burden of burgeoning.

"April wakes;--it were good to live
(_Yet April passes_), though April give
No other gift for our pleasuring
Than the old, old burden of burgeoning--"

He paused here. Not far ahead a woman's voice had given a sudden scream,
followed by continuous calls for aid.

"Now, if I choose, will begin the first fytte of John Bulmer's adventures,"
he meditated, leisurely. "The woman is in some sort of trouble. If I go to
her assistance I shall probably involve myself in a most unattractive mess,
and eventually be arrested by the constable,--if they have any constables
in this operatic domain, the which I doubt. I shall accordingly emulate the
example of the long-headed Levite, and sensibly pass by on the other side.
Halt! I there recognize the voice of the Duke of Ormskirk. I came into this
country to find John Bulmer; and John Bulmer would most certainly have
spurred his gallant charger upon the craven who is just now molesting
yonder female. In consequence, my gallant charger, we will at once proceed
to confound the dastardly villain."

He came presently into an open glade, which the keen sunlight lit without
obstruction. Obviously arranged, was his first appraisal of the tableau
there presented. A woman in blue half-knelt, half-lay, upon the young
grass, while a man, bending over, fettered her hands behind her back.
A swarthy and exuberantly bearded fellow, attired in green-and-russet,
stood beside them, displaying magnificent teeth in exactly the grin which
hieratic art imputes to devils. Yet farther off a Dominican Friar sat upon
a stone and displayed rather more unctuous amusement. Three horses and a
mule diversified the background. All in all, a thought larger than life, a
shade too obviously posed, a sign-painter's notion of a heroic picture, was
John Bulmer's verdict. From his holster he drew a pistol.

The lesser rascal rose from the prostrate woman. "Finished, my captain,--"
he began. Against the forest verdure he made an excellent mark. John Bulmer
shot him neatly through the head.

Startled by the detonation, the Friar and the man in green-and-russet
wheeled about to find Mr. Bulmer, with his most heroical bearing,
negligently replacing the discharged pistol. The woman lay absolutely
still, face downward, in a clump of fern.

"Gentlemen," said John Bulmer, "I lament that your sylvan diversions
should be thus interrupted by the fact that an elderly person like myself,
quite old enough to know better, has seen fit to adopt the pursuit of
knight-errantry. You need not trouble yourselves about your companion, for
I have blown out most of the substance nature intended him to think with.
One of you, I regret to observe, is rendered immune by the garb of an order
which I consider misguided, indeed, but with which I have no quarrel. With
the other I beg leave to request the honor of exchanging a few passes as
the recumbent lady's champion."

"Sacred blue!" remarked the bearded man; "you presume to oppose, then, of
all persons, me! You fool, I am Achille Cazaio!"

"I deplore the circumstance that I am not overwhelmed by the revelation,"
John Bulmer said, as he dismounted, "and I entreat you to bear in mind,
friend Achille, that in Poictesme I am a stranger. And, unhappily, the
names of many estimable persons have not an international celebrity." Thus
speaking, he drew and placed himself on guard.

With a shrug the Friar turned and reseated himself upon the stone. He
appeared a sensible man. But Cazaio flashed out a long sword and hurled
himself upon John Bulmer.

Cazaio thus obtained a butcherly thrust in the shoulder, "Friend Achille,"
said John Bulmer, "that was tolerably severe for a first hit. Does it
content you?"

The hairy man raged. "Eh, my God!" Cazaio shrieked, "do you mock me, you
misbegotten one! Before you can give me such another I shall have settled
you outright. Already hell gapes for you. Fool, I am Achille Cazaio!"

"Yes, yes, you had mentioned that," said his opponent. "And, in return,
allow me to present Mr. John Bulmer, thoroughly enjoying himself for the
first time in a quarter of a century, Angelo taught me this thrust. Can you
parry it, friend Achille?" Mr. Bulmer cut open the other's forehead.

"Well done!" Cazaio grunted. He attacked with renewed fury, but now the
blood was streaming down his face and into his eyes in such a manner that
he was momentarily compelled to carry his hand toward his countenance in
order to wipe away the heavy trickle. John Bulmer lowered his point.

"Friend Achille, it is not reasonable I should continue our engagement to
its denouement, since by that boastful parade of skill I have inadvertently
turned you into a blind man. Can you not stanch your wound sufficiently to
make possible a renewal of our exercise on somewhat more equal terms?"

"Not now," the other replied, breathing heavily,--"not now, Monsieur
Bulmaire. You have conquered, and the woman is yours. Yet lend me my life
for a little till I may meet you more equitably. I will not fail you,--I
swear it--I, Achille Cazaio."

"Why, God bless my soul!" said John Bulmer, "do you imagine that I am
forming a collection of vagrant females? Permit me, pray, to assist you to
your horse. And if you would so far honor me as to accept the temporary
loan of my handkerchief--"

Solicitously Mr. Bulmer bound up his opponent's head, and more lately aided
him to mount one of the grazing horses. Cazaio was moved to say:

"You are a gallant enemy, Monsieur Bulmaire. I shall have the pleasure of
cutting your throat on Thursday next, if that date be convenient to you."

"Believe me," said John Bulmer, "I am always at your disposal. Let this
spot, then, be our rendezvous, since I am wofully ignorant concerning your
local geography. And meantime, my friend, if I may be so bold, I would
suggest a little practice in parrying. You are of Boisrobert's school, I
note, and in attack undeniably brilliant, whereas your defence--unvarying
defect of Boisrobert's followers!--is lamentably weak."

"I perceive that monsieur is a connoisseur in these matters," said
Cazaio; "I am the more highly honored. Till Thursday, then." And with an
inclination of his bandaged head--and a furtive glance toward the insensate
woman,--he rode away singing.

Sang Achille Cazaio:

"But, oh, the world is wide, dear lass,
That I must wander through,
And many a wind and tide, dear lass,
Must flow 'twixt me and you,
Ere love that may not be denied
Shall bring me back to you,
--Dear lass!
Shall bring me back to you."

Thus singing, he disappeared; meantime John Bulmer had turned toward the
woman. The Dominican sat upon the stone, placidly grinning.

"And now," said John Bulmer, "we revert to the origin of all this
tomfoolery,--who, true to every instinct of her sex, has caused as much
trouble as lay within her power and then fainted. A little water from
the brook, if you will be so good. Master Friar,--Hey!--why, you damned
rascal!"

As John Bulmer bent above the woman, the Friar had stabbed John Bulmer
between the shoulders. The dagger broke like glass.

"Oh, the devil!" said the churchman; "what sort of a duellist is this who
fights in a shirt of Milanese armor!" He stood for a moment, silent, in
sincere horror. "I lack words," he said,--"Oh, vile coward! I lack words to
arraign this hideous revelation! There is a code of honor that obtains all
over the world, and any duellist who descends to secret armor is, as you
are perfectly aware, guilty of supersticery. He is no fit associate for
gentlemen, he is rather the appropriate companion of Korah, Dathan, and
Abiram in their fiery pit. Faugh, you sneak-thief!"

John Bulmer was a thought abashed, and for an instant showed it. Then,
"Permit me," he equably replied, "to point out that I did not come hither
with any belligerent intent. My undershirt, therefore, I was entitled to
regard as a purely natural advantage,--as much so as would have been a
greater length of arm, which, you conceive, does not obligate a gentleman
to cut off his fingers before he fights."

"I scent the casuist," said the Friar, shaking his head. "Frankly, you had
hoodwinked me: I was admiring you as a second Palmerin; and all the while
you were letting off those gasconades, adopting those heroic postures, and
exhibiting such romantic magnanimity, you were actually as safe from poor
Cazaio as though you had been in Crim Tartary rather than Acaire!"

"But the pose was magnificent," John Bulmer pleaded, "and I have a leaning
that way when one loses nothing by it. Besides, I consider secret armor to
be no more than a rational precaution in any country where the clergy are
addicted to casual assassination."

"It is human to err," the Friar replied, "and Cazaio would have given me
a thousand crowns for your head. Believe me, the man is meditating some
horrible mischief against you, for otherwise he would not have been so
damnably polite."

"The information is distressing," said John Bulmer; and added, "This Cazaio
appears to be a personage?"

"I retort," said the Friar, "that your ignorance is even more remarkable
than my news. Achille Cazaio is the bugbear of all Poictesme, he is as
powerful in these parts as ever old Manuel was."

"But I have never heard of this old Manuel either--"

"In fact, your ignorance seems limitless. For any child could tell you that
Cazaio roosts in the Taunenfels yonder, with some hundreds of brigands in
his company. Poictesme is, in effect, his pocket-book, from which he takes
whatever he has need of, and the Duc de Puysange, our nominal lord, pays
him an annual tribute to respect Bellegarde."

"This appears to be an unusual country," quoth John Bulmer; "where a
brigand rules, and the forests are infested by homicidal clergymen and
harassed females. Which reminds me that I have been guilty of an act of
ungallantry,--and faith! while you and I have been chatting, the lady, with
a rare discretion, has peacefully come back to her senses."

"She has regained nothing very valuable," said the Friar, with a shrug,
"Alone in Acaire!" But John Bulmer had assisted the woman to her feet,
and had given a little cry at sight of her face, and now he stood quite
motionless, holding both her unfettered hands.

"You!" he said. And when speech returned to him, after a lengthy interval,
he spoke with odd irrelevance. "Now I appear to understand why God created
me."

He was puzzled. For there had come to him, unheralded and simply, a sense
of something infinitely greater than his mind could conceive; and analysis
might only pluck at it, impotently, as a wearied swimmer might pluck at the
sides of a well. Ormskirk and Ormskirk's powers now somehow dwindled from
the zone of serious consideration, as did the radiant world, and even the
woman who stood before him; trifles, these: and his contentment spurned
the stars to know that, somehow, this woman and he were but a part, an
infinitesimal part, of a scheme which was ineffably vast and perfect....
That was the knowledge he sensed, unwordably, as he regarded this woman
now.

She was tall, just as tall as he. It was a blunt-witted devil who whispered
John Bulmer that, inch paralleling inch, the woman is taller than the
man and subtly renders him absurd; and that in a decade this woman would
be stout. There was no meaning now in any whispering save hers. John
Bulmer perceived, with a blurred thrill,--as if of memory, as if he were
recollecting something once familiar to him, a great while ago,--that the
girl was tall and deep-bosomed, and that her hair was dark, all crinkles,
but (he somehow knew) very soft to the touch. The full oval of her face had
throughout the rich tint of cream, so that he now understood the blowziness
of pink cheeks; but her mouth was vivid. It was a mouth not wholly
deficient in attractions, he estimated. Her nose managed to be Roman
without overdoing it. And her eyes, candid and appraising, he found to be
the color that blue is in Paradise; it was odd their lower lids should
be straight lines, so that when she laughed her eyes were converted into
right-angled triangles; and it was still more odd that when you gazed into
them your reach of vision should be extended until you saw without effort
for miles and miles.

And now for a longish while these eyes returned his scrutiny, without
any trace of embarrassment; and whatever may have been the thoughts of
Mademoiselle de Puysange, she gave them no expression. But presently the
girl glanced down toward the dead man.

"It was you who killed him?" she said. "You!"

"I had that privilege," John Bulmer admitted. "And on Thursday afternoon,
God willing, I shall kill the other."

"You are kind, Monsieur Bulmer. And I am not ungrateful. And for that which
happened yesterday I entreat your pardon."

"I can pardon you for calling me a lackey, mademoiselle, only upon
condition that you permit me to be your lackey for the remainder of your
jaunt. Poictesme appears a somewhat too romantic country for unaccompanied
women to traverse in any comfort."

"My thought to a comma," the Dominican put in,--"unaccompanied ladies
do not ordinarily drop from the forest oaks like acorns. I said as much
to Cazaio a half-hour ago. Look you, we two and Michault,--who formerly

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