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Mistress Penwick by Dutton Payne

Part 3 out of 5

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thee to bide here awhile, at least until a courier shall return from
the tree, where thou sayest thy cousin will place the billet. And if
everything is well, then there will be found for thee a guide to lead
thee through the forest to the monastery, where thou shalt first sign
thyself for the strict carrying out of our plans; then thou shalt be
wed, if there is no remissness, and carried safely to London, where
thou shalt remain until thy lady has audience, and gains that we seek
of the King. Ah! there are times when we sigh and almost weep for
those good old _pro_-Reformation days, when such ecclesiastical bodies
as ours took their grievances to--Rome. Bah! to have to bribe a
profligate king for--the signing of his name. What does he know about
bequests and inheritances--" The count started and Dempsy all alert
broke in with,--"and freeholds. Thou dost know, count, the monastery
is a freehold in the very centre of Lord Cedric's lands; but--I am
telling secrets; forget what I said." The count fell back listlessly,
a gap made in his thoughts by the sudden disappearance of a clue.

"Charles treats us as mendicants; but if he should chance to see the
coffers of our order, he would know we had received something else
beside a crust for shriving." The count looked up again so quickly,
Dempsy caught himself and wondered what he had been saying, and what
his last words were; for he had been thinking aloud, as it were.

"Aye, aye, I was saying if Charles could see the riches of our
coffers, he would know the sale of Indulgences had not been a little.
Thou seest, count, we have here at the monastery great treasure, our
coffers are filled with priceless articles of virtue that will, no
doubt, be carried to Rome and be laid in the reliquary of Santa Maria
Maggiore or St. Andrew Corsini or St. Peters. We have some priceless
bones--" Adrian shuddered and relaxed his attention--"they have brought
us great, good fortune; we have bits of clothing--thou dost well know
most of the saints were plainly attired--that some day will be worth
much, perhaps not in my day nor thine, but when age comes, when we
grow a little further from the saints. Ah! I see, thou hast not much
interest in my converse--treasure is nothing to thy love-sick heart,
eh! count?"

"Nay, not dead men's bones, indeed thou hast rare wine for such
cumbrous relics that can be turned to naught! And didst thou shrive
the saint for the use of his bones a hundred years hence?"

"Thou art growing facetious, count. Dost think of no virtue but thy
maid's? And art thou sure she will not fall back from her promise to
thee?"

Cantemir, filled with his own ideas, gave perfunctory acquiescence and
continued in his own line of thought. And what with a busy brain that
was not over-strong, and a ride of some length and dampness, with a
sore leg, he became feverish and the monk took him to bed in great
haste, where he remained for the best part of a week; the seriousness
of his disease not a little augmented by the desire for immediate
action.

CHAPTER XII

CASTLE AND MONASTERY

The next morning after Christopher's sudden disaster, the castle
seemed to have awakened from a long apathy. The servants clattered
under breath of their wounded fellow. The arrival of his Grace of
Ellswold's physicians held gossip in the castle in abeyance, as all
were anxious of their decision; but the presence of Sir Julian seemed
to fill the sails of the becalmed household with a stiff breeze, which
at a favourable moment would raise anchor and fly forth on a joyous
sea.

The physicians gave out that there was no immediate danger, but his
illness was serious and there must neither be noise nor excitement. It
was out of the question to move his Grace either to his own estates or
elsewhere for baths or sea air.

Lord Cedric and Sir Julian sat with him an hour after the doctor's
examination, Sir Julian, conversing of the freshest gossip at court,
without the usual condiment of inflammables which would be apt to
rouse his Grace not a little.

There being now no traitor--unless perchance Constance might be termed
one--in the house, and no danger of Mistress Pen wick being left
without the close surveillance of Janet, she was no longer kept
prisoner. And, while she was greatly wrought upon by the sad havoc of
the previous night, her youth and gay spirits and Janet's exhortations
upon the age, giving license to all sorts of uprisings and display of
temper and unwarranted vengeance, somewhat quieted her, and she arose
as sprightly as ever, all the more determined to free herself from
Lord Cedric. If she had stopped for self-analysis, she would have
found that she was bent on gaining her independence at no matter
what cost; regardless of consequences. That her desire was more of
adventure than ambition. And she also would have found that she cared
naught for Cantemir and a very great deal for Lord Cedric. She had
never given thought to a separation from her beloved Janet; while even
classing her as antagonistic to her desires, she never ceased to love
her; for this woman had made herself a mother in every respect, aye,
even more watchful and exacting. While acting in a servant's capacity,
doing the most menial of service, she developed in the maid those
seemingly trifling motives of mind and soul which in the end make up
the character of a life; and very few mothers ever have the tact to
so understand these very minute details that so develop a child's
passion. Janet had ever developed in her charge an inclination for all
beauty; not failing, however, to show wherein weakness crept; where
grace of countenance oft screened defect of character. Indeed this
maid was one of Janet's own creation, save in flesh and blood, and no
one knew any better than she, herself, the vanity to rout the faults
and frailties inherited. She strove the harder to overthrow such
imperfections by perfecting and cultivating the maid's receptive mood.
She was ever fencing with her in words, working out in detail exchange
of thought wherein Katherine might, if 'twere in her, make a clever
reply. At times Mistress Penwick would pick up such threads of Janet's
teaching as would bring her to a semblance of conscience of present
environment, and she would see in a vague way the right and wrong of
things. For the moment she would read all in Cantemir's handsome
face that it masqued and would turn from it only to become lost in
contemplation of what life would be if she were free from Cedric's
guardianship, never thinking of the greater bondage of espousing a
knave. Ever and anon her eyes sought the young lord of the castle,
forgetting she was his ward--and there would come to her such a
feeling of overwhelming conviction she was for the moment submerged
in ecstasy, and with the hot blush still upon her face she would flee
from him as if he were an evil tempter. He brought her near to that
great unknown, upon whose threshold she stood trembling and expectant,
eager to know what was before her. And so, not understanding her own
mind, and being of such tender years, drifted along with the tide that
was carrying her to destruction. Her mind was set upon her own way,
and sheer perversity deigned not to let her see the hands stretched
toward her.

The afternoon sun fell aslant the black oak parquetry where sat her
Grace of Ellswold, Lady Constance and Mistress Penwick, engaged with
limning and embroidery. Lord Cedric and Sir Julian entered, attired
in the most modish foppery of the time. The latter was saying, as he
soundly rapped his pouncet-box,--

"His demeanour is too provincial, too provincial--ah!"--and he bent
low with grave formality to Mistress Penwick as Cedric presented him;
then turning to the duchess continued,--"I was saying, your Grace,
that Dryden is provincial in his demeanour, when compared to his Grace
of Buckingham."

"Indeed, Julian, thou dost speak lightly of such gigantic genius;
beside, 'twould not be fair to compare sun and moon; and how could we
do without either the one or the other?"

"To which dost thou comparison his Grace?"

"The moon, of course!" said the Duchess.

"And to what planet is my lord a satellite?"

"Nay, I know not; thou dost question of one who knows little of
astronomy; but I think perhaps Mars, as the planet doth resemble earth
more closely than any other."

"Bravo, 'tis a rare simile; and I take it thou didst speak in
derogation;--no matter how true the _inuendo_, it is ever the material
we most appreciate and enjoy, and the sun being nearly ninety-three
million miles from the earth, 'tis too remote to be interesting."

"Indeed, Julian, Dryden in five minutes' converse will stir one to
seriousness by his fancy, to tears by his pathos, and to thoughts of
deity by his sublimity."

"'Tis only a great, good, noble nature like thine that could be so
stirred; believe me, your Grace, thou didst dissemble these emotions
from pure charity."

"Well, well, we must all admit that 'tis not his character that
commands our respect and esteem, but his prose and poesy. We all love
Buckingham, but in our appreciation of him we must not exclude reason
and put him before all others,"--and her Grace turned abruptly to
Mistress Penwick. "Here is an admirer of Dryden's compositions, she
clings pertinaciously and with all the ardour of strong youth to his
satire of 'Absalom and Achitophel,' although 'tis a bitter lampoon on
Monmouth and Shaftesbury; two men she heartily admires." Sir Julian
leant over the Duchess and spoke softly,--

"I was not aware Mistress Penwick had been presented?" And his keen
eyes scanned every lineament of her face and mould. Lord Cedric was
watching askance, and his face grew red with a stroke of passion as
he noted Sir Julian's look of evident admiration, and jealousy for
a moment swept the young lord's heart, and he cursed in thought
the wicked feeling that in connection with his noble friend could
predicate of naught but the foul fiends. Indeed, so open were Sir
Julian's glances that the maid herself became confused and said, with
some embarrassment,--

"My imagination is ofttime profligate, and I indulge--in fancy--in
exchange of word and thought with those great and exalted personages
whose noble compeers I have the good fortune to consort with daily."
And she laid her hand caressingly upon the Duchess' arm.

"Then 'twould serve thee greatly to place thee within the shadow of
Whitehall, aye, Mistress?"

"'Twould be a great happiness, Sir Julian."

"Dost know of any greater, my lady?" It seemed his eyes would pierce
her very soul.

"I must admit it; I have a great desire," and her face grew rose-hued
and her heart fluttered with the bold words she was about to utter--

"Ah, thou dost wish for, or have a desire to enter the--"

"The distinguished service of a Lady of Honour." As one looked upon
her great beauty, 'twas a wonder she was not born a queen.

Upon hearing the maid's words, Constance in jealous rage fell to
inordinate laughter and shook her work to the floor, and as Lord
Cedric stooped to regain it he whipped out,--

"And why, pray, art thou so amused; 'tis most like Julian to promote
this idea, and she will straightway wish to leave us. I am sure one
glimpse of her would set the whole court on fire."

"Such startling metaphor, unless indeed thou dost allude to the colour
of her hair!" She spoke with so much malice and hate Lord Cedric was
stirred to amazement, and for the first time his eyes were opened to
Constance' hate of one whom he loved beyond all else on earth. He had
thought her merely jealous of the maid, but now he saw 'twas hatred.

Sir Julian paid no heed to aught save Mistress Penwick's brave colour
as it came and went, and the fervour of her eyes as they looked into
his. He came nearer to being shaken than ever before in his twenty odd
years of slow and fast living.

"If I might be so honoured by the privilege, I would present thy
desire straightway to the Duchess here, who would no doubt place thee
at once at court." Mistress Penwick arose, unable to contain her
perturbed spirit, and said,--

"Sir Julian, how can I ever--" and she stopped, so stirred was she
with her emotion; very much as a child is wrought to wonderment by the
sight of a marvelous toy. Julian offered his arm, and they sauntered
up and down the room, Sir Julian boldly playing his part. If Katherine
had been less innocent, she might have seen that he was not sincere.
He said:

"I see no reason why thou shouldst not begin preparation at once
for thy journey. The Duke is progressing finely and her Grace could
perhaps accompany thee as well now as at another time. Wilt thou
prepare at once, Mistress Penwick?" If the king had already sent for
her, he could not have talked with more confidence; but there was
something he must know. As he insisted on an immediate journey, she
turned scarlet, and bit her lip, and frowned.

"There are a few matters I must see to; I could hardly leave within a
week;--there is no hurry!"

"On the contrary there is a great hurry, for I must leave at once,
and I would escort thee. I think I shall leave by dawn to-morrow."
Katherine's brow puckered still more as she stood upon the seesaw of
duty and ambition, perplexed to know which way to turn. It appeared
the better quality was innate and her brow cleared, as she said,--

"'Twould be impossible to go so soon. I could not ask her Grace to
leave when the Duke is so ill; for, beside a long journey, much time
might be required ere I should be presented. I must have time--a lady
should have a great number to attend her--"

"Thou hast a host in thy nurse, Janet; she is quite enough for the
journey, and at London there will be a matron for each finger of thy
hand. I can see no reason why thou shouldst not start at once, if the
Duchess so decides." They were quite alone now, and Katherine,
being well cornered and being young and given to confiding, felt so
irresistibly drawn toward this man at her side, she looked up into his
face and said,--

"Canst thou not guess, after all thou didst see last night, why I am
kept from going?"

"I cannot; methinks 'twould be a happy moment to say _adieu_ to such
scenes."

"Then thou dost not know I am to wed Count Cantemir, Lady Constance'
cousin?"

"I think thy heart an alien to love; for if thou wouldst sooner become
a Lady of Honour than wed one to whom thou hast 'trothed thyself, 'tis
sure thou hast no love; 'tis caprice or--what one wills to call it,
and thou hadst better fly from a marriage that has not love in it."

"But I know not what to do. I have given my promise to wed, and I want
to go to London."

"Then I beg to assist thee to thy heart's desire as soon as thou
hast found what its desire is; and I insist thou dost examine the
weather-vane of thy mind and discern its bent. I am by thy side,
groping in darkness for that thou wouldst have. I am bound to serve
thee."

"Sir Julian, thou dost nonplus my understanding of myself absurdly.
I agree I have more minds than one, and 'tis disconcerting to try in
haste to ascertain which is the best. Indeed, I do not wish to make a
false step and do that 'twould make me sorry ever after."

"'Twould be well to have one to guide thee in thine uncertainty. I
should aspire to such an office with alacrity, if thou wouldst but
give me one encouraging glance." For a moment they looked into each
other's eyes, then Katherine's lids dropped and she became as clay
in his hands. And before she was aware, she had told him all things.
These matters were not altogether new to Sir Julian, for Lord Cedric
had discoursed at length upon them, but the nucleus he sought was
found, and he listened perfunctorily to all else, feasting his eyes
upon her face and listening only to the music of her voice.

"Then why, may I ask, didst thou discard Cedric's suit?"

"He is tyrannical and cruel, and even though my heart should incline
toward him, 'twould not be meet for me to wed with one of another
faith."

"'Tis possible thou couldst win him to thy way of thinking."

"Nay, I should not try it; for I have cast all thought of him aside."

"Then thou dost acknowledge having had a tenderness for him? 'Tis well
thou dost so fling him aside, he is unworthy of thy consideration."

"Not so; he is most noble, but--but--I know not what,--he is haughty
and full of temper and given to harsh language--"

"Yet he is not a fit companion for thee, sayest thou?"

"Thou dost greatly misunderstand me; he is on the contrary a most
delightful person to converse with and every whit fit to be a
King;--but we are not suited to each other."

"Was it not thy father's desire for thee to soon wed and to this man?"

"Even so; but he knew not my Lord Cedric but his father; beside--"

"Well--"

"I am expecting to hear from my father in the near future--"

"Ah!"

"--and 'tis possible he will come to me or send and make some change.
I have asked him to appoint another guardian for me and my estates."

"'Twould be a wise thing to do, no doubt; but 'tis possible Cedric has
used already thine inheritance." Mistress Penwick flushed hotly.

"Nay, thou dost judge him ill; he is above such a thing." And Sir
Julian knew what the poor maid knew not herself, and he felt 'twas a
safe thing to carry through his adventure.

"Then there are two things that weigh upon thee. Thou knowest not
whether to wed or become a Lady of Honour. I will warn thee that thou
must not dwell long upon them, for 'tis possible if thou dost
not decide very early, I will be able to help thee to nothing
but--myself."

Mistress Penwick flushed warmly and smiled back at him; and her desire
for admiration drove her on and on, and she soon forgot all else save
the man by her side, and it appeared that no matter how he tried to
break the spell of her witchery, he could not leave her for a moment.

It fell out that before three days had passed, they were deep in
admiration of each other. Cedric was racked by doubt and fear, yet
never for an instant letting go his faith in Julian. Constance was
happy that Katherine was so diverted, keeping thereby Cedric from any
rash moves, and giving herself time to visit the tree that often held
so much of importance. And she managed to outwit the ubiquitous Janet
and hailed with joy the day of the great battle when Mistress Penwick
was to be removed from her pathway forever.

The disappearance of Adrian Cantemir was not spoken of--as if 'twere
a matter of too small import;--and yet he hovered ominously in their
minds; and Katherine most of all desired to forget her promise and
every word she had spoken to him, and Constance understood and would
not let her forget, planning night and day to bring them together
again....

To look back from the lower terrace at the castle was to see a
gorgeous display of blossom. The ivy-clad walls stood a rich
background to the splendour of tinted flower. Indeed, the scene
appeared not unlike an enormous nosegay lying upon a hill of moss. The
night had brought showers, and from every minute projection of twig,
leaf or petal glistened limpid drops, some swelling with honey
and falling like dew upon the young sward. The birds twittered
ceaselessly, and some young thing preening upon a light blossomy twig
scattered down, anon, perfume upon some shy young fawn, and he leapt
away frightened by so dainty a bath and plunged knee-deep in crystal
pools and sent the stately swans skimming hurriedly to a quiet and
sheltered cove.

From the Chapel came indistinctly the sound of the organ in a prelude,
it would seem, to the day. 'Twas Sir Julian's wont to rise early and
draw--it may be--inspiration from the full vibrant chords of sweet
harmony.

From an upper casement leant forth Mistress Penwick with a face as
delicately tinted as the blossoms of the peach that flaunted their
beauty at some distance. She appeared to be arranging violets--that
still sparkled with rain--in an oblong porcelain box that lay flat
upon the casement. Her white jewelled fingers flitted in and out of
the blue depths. Her small white teeth were but half eclipsed and
there fluttered forth from her parted lips a low humming that keyed
and blended with the organ. Her soft white dress enveloped her mould
loosely; her long flowing sleeves, prefaced by rare lace, displaying
her pink, round arm. She wore not the look of care; for she had thrown
all such evil weight upon one who played in yonder sacred shrine
so tranquilly, as if nothing but his own sins rested--and they but
feather-weight--upon his soul. On he played, and she arranged her
flowers, and up the avenue came horses' feet and Lady Constance
unattended came riding near the castle and called up to the vision of
beauty that leant from the window,--

"'Tis a glorious morning for riding forth. I have had a fine jaunt and
met nothing but the post-boy,"--and here she showed a billet and rode
close to the wall and hid it neath the ivy--"and a famous adventure
which I've half a mind to pursue, after--I've 'suaged my hunger. If I
ride thus every morning, I shall soon have an arm as pink and round
and perfect in mould as thine own. Hast thou broken fast?"

"I have had my simple allotment, and have been down on the lower
terraces and gathered these violets, and am now hungry again and
Janet has gone for a wing of fowl and some wine." At these words Lady
Constance looked about her cautiously and spoke in low tones,--

"Everything is ready for thy flight. I saw Adrian this morning. He is
handsomer than ever and eager to see thee, and counts the hours 'til
nightfall. If 'tis possible thou art to escape unnoticed to the
monastery, where the nuptials will be performed at once, then thou art
to depart immediately for Whitehall, where thou wilt be made much of
by the King and he will more like detain thy husband under pretext,
and mayhap offer him some honour for the sake of keeping thy beauty
in England."--With a wave of the hand Mistress Penwick bade Lady
Constance depart as Janet stood within the door.

The castle was astir early, as if there was naught but a glorious day
before them, and they would make it of much length. It seemed as if a
great peace had settled upon those ivy-clad walls, or it might be the
calm that is the solemn presage of storm, and Sir Julian himself quiet
beyond his wont seemed to portend the calamities that were to ensue;
and after his breakfast stood at a window watching the dripping trees
and whistling so softly one could not tell whether 'twere he or the
birds chirping without. Cedric and Lady Constance played at battledore
and shuttlecock. Mistress Penwick sat apart, busy with thought and
needle. His Grace of Ellswold sat up that morning, his wife and
physicians by his side, and all were happy with the great improvement.

Meanwhile, at the monastery all was commotion. The day there would be
far too short to accomplish all that was to be done. Three couriers
had arrived since dawn with important dispatches. In the midst of
the monks, who sat upon long benches that flanked either side of a
spacious gallery, sat Adrian Cantemir, reading the last message.
Opposite, at the table, were three monks apparently engaged upon their
own affairs, but subtly watching the puzzled countenance of their
guest. Finally their patience seemed to have run out and Constantine,
the monk directly _vis-a-vis_ to Cantemir, coughed, cleared his throat
and in low gutterals said,--

"Thy countenance is unfair; 'tis a perjury on thy happy heart." Adrian
looked up with a start, so lost was he in contemplation. His letter
was prophetic of evil, and he was afraid.

"'Tis ill news, and thou wert not far wrong to bring forth thine
arms. The secrets to be intrusted to my wife it seems have already
reached--"

"The King?" and with the words it appeared each Abbe was upon his feet
and leaning forward intent.

"Nay, but the arch-fiends Buckingham and Monmouth. And with the King's
consent they leave for a hunting bout and they ride hither. It says
that the former in masque saw my meeting this morning with Lady
Constance, and he followed and made love to her." The Abbes stood in
utter dismay and dejection. At last, Dempsy of the Cow and Horn began
in deep, full tones the first movement of the "Kyrie eleison, Christe
Eleison, Kyrie eleison," and one by one every voice leapt up in a
God-have-mercy, and the walls echoed and without the birds seemed to
take it up, and it was carried to a listening ear not far from the
shadow of the wall. Then the prayer ceased and La Fosse--half soldier,
half priest--spoke in ringing tones.

"And what else does thy billet say? Why are we to be attacked; are we
not upon our own ground?"

"It is mooted that should my wife gain the King's ear, she will
influence him to consent not only on this thy matter but others of
great importance that now pend. It is said that Buckingham has boasted
of rare sport in routing a full score of knaves; taking treasure--"
Cantemir's eyes swept keenly the visage of Constantine--of great
value, beside the beauteous maid that is to arrive; for he says 'tis
sure she will be worth as much to them as the King. He refers to
himself and Monmouth, who mean to take my wife prisoner this very
night."

"'Tis enough," said La Fosse, with a deprecating gesture. "We must put
on the armour of strength and gird ourselves for battle. We have all
to fight for that that is honourable: home, virtue and religion. What
more could we ask for to strengthen us?"

"'Tis well said," quoth Constantine. "Judging from thy billet, we are
not to be attacked until the maid hath arrived. Is it known, also, at
what hour she is to come?"

"If they know so much, they perhaps know even all."

"Then we must hasten the hour by two, and 'twill incur no disadvantage
save to bring the maid to a greater discretion and show of wit; for
'twill be harder for her to escape at nine than eleven."

"Methinks 'twill be a greater task to warn the maid of the setting
forth of the hour." Adrian looked up hopefully; for he was of no
mind to meet his wife upon the threshold of a battle, and two hours
earlier, 'twould be time and to spare, and he spoke out bravely,--

"I'll see to the message," and he was guilty of a low-bred wink at
Dempsy.

"Then 'twill serve to set aside this matter for the next," and La
Fosse looking at Cantemir and speaking softly and deferentially bade
him leave them for the present.

Adrian left the room by the door he had entered it, and passing
through a hall reentered the chamber that had been assigned him.

The Russian, though a coward, was wary at times and allowed it to
carry him into danger, and as an example he changed his riding garb
for his cavalier costume, discarding his spurred boots for high-heeled
slippers and deigning not to don coat or waistcoat started forth in
search of--he must think what? He was without servant, as 'twas safer
to leave him at the Cow and Horn;--especially one who has corners on
his conscience. He must search for--the kitchen. This place was below
stairs, and he stole this way and that to find a flight of steps.
Treading softly, listening intently and looking ravenously for
opportunity to plunder, for there was treasure somewhere about the
monastery, this was certain, and he might as well have part of it as
Buckingham and Monmouth to have it all. And in case of any mischance
and Mistress Penwick be lost to him, he must have something to live
upon. Constance would never forgive him for allowing the maid to
escape him, and consequently would not give him large loans as
heretofore. But if he should gain the fair prize, some day he would
give back to his church even more than he had taken. As he thus
thought, he forgot for a moment his present surroundings and was
suddenly reminded by a touch on the shoulder,

CHAPTER XIII

AS NINE TOLLED FROM THE CHAPEL BELFRY

He started quickly and looked up shuddering, and saw a tall, slender
monk with cowl so drawn not a feature could be seen. The Abbe spoke
low and hoarsely, as though a cold prevented better utterance,--

"What seekest thou?"

"The kitchen," Cantemir answered, with a great show of bravery.

"And what there to find, my young man?"

"Pen and paper. I must write to Mistress Penwick."

"Ah yes, ah yes, my son. I had forgotten. Curve thy sentences to the
point, without being so broad in assertion another might understand.
Thou hadst better put it this way--"

"Indeed I thought I had my meaning well covered. I had proposed to
say--"

"Ah, we are not alone; step this way." The monk turned to a panelling
that gave way by a touch, and to Cantemir's surprise they were alone
in a dark and vaulted passage; indeed they were unable to discern
aught. Quickly the Abbe drew his companion from the panelling through
which they had passed; and 'twas hardly done when three monks followed
with lighted candles. The foremost was Constantine, carrying an
enormous bunch of keys. Their long robes swept Cantemir's feet. He
drew a quick breath, and before it sounded his companion placed his
hand over his mouth. Now this hand smacked not of holy mould or
monastic incense, but rather of rare perfume; but Cantemir was
frightened and did not notice the worldliness of the admonishing hand.
The monks proceeded down the passage; stopping near the centre they
lifted from the floor a trapdoor. A ladder was brought and swung down
the opening and the three descended.

"Now, my son, thou hadst better write thy billet, and if thou dost not
find one to carry it, I will be along directly and do the service for
thee. I must visit the village and the tree, my son. Now I'll give
thee a bit of advice. Never again go about looking for anything where
'tis supposed there is treasure. If it had not been for my timely
interruption, my brothers there would have found thee and not
so easily forgiven thy inclination for discovery. Go, go in
peace--remember always, that discretion is the wit of safety."

Cantemir was frightened, and glad to get away, for he feared the
Abbe's smooth tones masqued treachery, and he slid through the
panelling and in very earnest sought the kitchen.

The deceitful monk hastened toward the open trap and kneeling gazed
for a moment below. There came up a foul odour that made him flinch
and draw back; he drew his handkerchief and placed it to his nose and
leant again and looked. There was a faint glimmer that showed in which
direction the lights were. He lay flat and putting his head beneath
the opening, saw the priests leaning over a chest. Quickly he prepared
to descend and was upon the second rung of the ladder, when the
panelling again opened and a half-dozen faces looked through; anger
and indignation upon all but one, and that was the Russian's, which
bore joy of a discovery. He had gone to the refectory with good intent
to write his letter; but finding a small company of monks gathered
there and they appearing much perturbed, he asked the cause. One
said there was a strange Abbe in the monastery, whose hands were as
bejewelled as any fop's, and that a number had gone in search of him.
The false monk's hand had betrayed him, as 'twas seen from a window as
he uncovered it to open the door. Now Cantemir thought it a good, safe
moment to become a hero and straightway told of his encounter; saying
he was in search of the refectory and had lost his way; making a
plausible story. He was carried forth with the party in search and
now came toward the opening in the passage with drawn sword, his face
wearing the masque of bravery.

The man upon the ladder was the same that had listened to the "Kyrie
eleison" from without, and before it concluded had made his way
inside: the Duke of Buckingham.

He jumped like a cat under cover of his pursuer's noisy entrance and
slipped away from the opening. Quickly he drew from him the robe and
cowl and flung them down upon the ladder and drawing his sword stood
waiting and almost eager for a fight. He did not forget, however,
that there is often a practiced and keen thrust from the folds of a
priest's habit. But they were confident the false Abbe was beneath,
and with less noise and more subtleness moved toward the opening. As
they did so, his Grace swung round and cautiously approached the wall
where the panelling was. "Aye, aye," he heard, as the foremost man
found the robe. Straightway they all rushed below stair, and as
the head of the last man disappeared, his Grace went through the
panelling, and within five minutes stood safe in the forest, happy
with the knowledge he had gained.

It was near the hour of five when Lady Constance rode forth alone. She
left the courtyard unnoticed and hurried to the village and through it
and on beyond toward the tree and passed it and galloped some distance
beyond, then seeing she was not followed made a quick turn and
retraced, But there came from a bend in the road a horseman that rode
warily. She again turned to see if any came, and seeing no one stopped
at the tree and brought from its cavity a letter. As she replaced the
knot, there was such a sudden sound of horses' feet behind her she
dropped the billet and her unknown squire leapt from his horse to
recover it, and stood uncovered before her with such a long, low bow
of homage he had most time to read the missive. Lady Constance was
flattered and felt surely that one with such courtly dress and bearing
could be nothing less than a Duke and his wearing of a full masque
made her doubly sure of it. She flushed and reached out her hand for
the letter and spoke in her most seductive tones,--

"My lord,"--he looked up and saw on her pretty, though characterless
face a smile that warranted a further acquaintance. He placed the
letter in her hand slowly, then caught her hand and held it firmly;
indeed their hands touched and lingered together with such intention
it conveyed much more meaning than words. Constance had all the
outward show of a great lady, but at soul she was putrescent. There
came such a heartrending sigh from her cavalier she spoke in a most
tender tone,--

"And why such sighing?"

"Is it not enough, sweet lady?"

"I am at a loss?"

"Nay, rather 'tis I that am at loss; for I had sought to gain thy
favour undivided, and I meet with thee only to give into thy hands a
trysting billet that lifts thy glorious orbs above me." He bowed low
in mock humility. Constance' heart fluttered at his ardent words.

"I would fain know who thus sues for a woman's love; 'tis possible--"
He lowered his masque. "Ah, his Grace of Monmouth!" She well-nigh
prostrated herself upon the saddle, in lieu of the fine courtesy
she would have swept had her position been more favourable. His
words--such gloriously sweet words when uttered by the lips of a
Duke--fed her vanity. Her face flushed as she thought of what his
love must be. He saw his vantage and drew nearer--it may be a hair's
breadth over the line of respect--indeed 'twould have been an
innovation had he not done so, as the time warranted nothing else but
a show at virtue.

"Your Grace finds a maid that is heart whole; but I would aid others
to their desire. I but act as post-boy 'twixt tree and castle."

"Thou art cold and cruel. I can see well thou dost hold tightly to thy
bosom thy billet; thou art afraid 'twill betray thee. Thou art the
maid herself that doth own it?" Constance had a burning curiosity to
know why Monmouth was in the neighbourhood of Crandlemar, and though
he insinuated he had come purposely to see her, yet she was not blind
and wondered what diplomacy she could use to gain from him the desired
knowledge. Could it be possible he had come on behalf of the King,
and if so, for what business? The Catholics surely had not been so
indiscreet as to allow their affairs to reach the King's ears? And if
so, why should he send to them? It was not at all likely any one knew
of the monastery so hidden away in a dense forest. Could it be that
the beauty of Mistress Penwick had become notorious at Whitehall and
that the Duke was hunting for her? These thoughts passed speedily
through her brain, while the ogling Monmouth waited for her answer to
his accusation. She spoke with a shy little twist of her head, vainly
trying to blush like little innocence.

"How can I hold out against thee, Duke? Thou dost steal my secret;
here, then, read it for thyself." With a lightening glance he finished
reading what he had begun before.

"I was right, sweet Katherine; 'tis a trysting letter, and thou art
to go to him to-night at nine? Thou shalt not; I'll have thee for
myself." Now they had made a great mistake. Constance thought to
convince the Duke she had no lover. He misunderstood and believed
her to be the Katherine he had come after. She, thinking to gain his
secret, allowed him to think so, and quickly took up her new part.

"Thou dost embarrass me, Duke!"

"In very truth," said he, "we have heard of thy great beauty at
Whitehall, and have come hither to claim thee for ourselves. Thou
shalt be my very own, sweet Katherine. The King was about to send
forth to Crandlemar to enquire of his Grace of Ellswold. We asked for
the service, that we might gain sight of thy rare beauty. We are about
to pay our respects to the Duke who lies yonder, and at the King's
order bring him important news. We have heard, however, his condition
is most critical, and we cannot see him until high noon to-morrow, as
the midday finds him stronger. And I must see thee, sweet one, again
before the night is over. I cannot wait for the morrow's noon." He
caught her hand and pressed his lips to it, resting himself against
the horse, his arm thrown carelessly across Constance' knee. She
deemed it an honour to be in such close proximity to the royal Duke,
and grew red with his amorous glances and soft-spoken words and the
familiarity of his arm upon her.

"Indeed, it doth seem to me also like a very long time to wait," and
she sighed heavily. At this Monmouth drew her down and kissed her upon
her thin, arrogant lips. She, well-nigh beside herself, exclaimed in a
thin, high voice,--

"Ah, ah, Duke, thou dost kill me--I must hasten away from thee. I must
go." She spurred her horse; but the Duke caught the rein and held it
fast.

"Nay, nay, thou shalt not yet be gone. Wouldst thou be so cruel to
leave me now at Love's first onset? I will not have it!"

"But I must hasten,--I am riding alone, and some one will be sent for
me if I do not soon return to the castle."

"Thou must give me promise first, sweet one!"

"Promise,--promise of what?" and she listened eagerly to his next
words.

"Dost thou not covet a Prince's favour?" Constance' heart fluttered
mightily, and she thought--"A fig for Cedric's love of me. He loves
not at all, compared with this man's warm passion. Cedric loves me not
at all, anyway. I will be a Prince's favourite," and she answered,--

"I never covet that which is beyond my reach." 'Tis often a true thing
that when we sit within our dark and dismal chamber without comfort,
hope or happy retrospection, there stands upon the threshold a joyous
phenomenon of which we have never so much as dreamt as being in
existence; and this had come to Constance. If the Duke loved her, what
would it matter if Cedric did love Katherine? She could not compel him
to love her.

"Ah, sweet Katherine, how can one covet that they already possess? I
would teach thee to enjoy all that such beauty as thine is heir to.
Thou wilt come to me to-night?"

"To-night!" and Lady Constance fairly gasped.

"To-night, fair one, on the stroke of nine thou wilt pass through the
postern door of the castle and fall into my arms,--here, take this,
sweet, to pledge thyself." He slipped from his finger a ring of
marvellous beauty and essayed to place it upon her hand.

"Nay, I cannot. I should be seen to go forth at so early an hour,--and
I know thee not!"

"Thou art not afraid of me? Nay, I am one of the most gentle and
tender--"

"But where wilt thou take me, your Grace?"

"I will take thee to my heart, and if thou art unhappy, thou mayest
return when thou desirest; but 'twill be my pleasure to keep thee with
me alway; we will go to London." Constance, having read the letter,
knew it would not do for her to leave the drawing-room at the same
hour with Katherine, and she hardly knew what to do.

"Indeed, I have no wish to see a duel upon my Lord Cedric's grounds,
thou must come later. My love will perhaps wait an hour,--thou mayest
come at twelve."

"And allow him to come first and steal thee; nay, I protest."
Constance felt somewhat dubious. The Duke saw it, and hastened to
reassure her.

"If thou wilt sit near the window on the stroke of nine, I will let
thy lover go; but if thou dost pass from my sight, I will run the
fellow through; and thou mayest come to me at twelve!"

To this Constance agreed, and allowed him to place the ring; and he
kissing her again with fervour, let her go, exultant.

'Twas a glorious, clear, warm night. The castle was aglow and merry.
Lady Bettie Payne and Sir Rodger Mac Veigh and Sir Jasper Kenworthy
and sundry other shire folk had come to while away a spring night. The
gentlemen were playing at cup and ball; Lady Constance and Lady Bettie
were gossiping of Court scandal, when in swept her Grace of Ellswold
with Mistress Penwick, the latter such a vision of loveliness the game
was suspended for a moment, and Constance and Bettie looked up to see
why all eyes were turned from them.

The maid wore a pale-hued brocade gown of sweeping length of skirt,
and short, round bodice and low-neck and long sleeves that tightly
encased her plump, pink arms. Her mother's pearls lay glistening about
her slender neck, and falling low was caught again by some caprice
of mode high where met sleeve and waist, and here a rare bunch of
fragrant violets shone bravely as a shoulder knot.

Lord Cedric saw her first, and was well-nigh drunk with her beauty,
and he advanced and bent low, kissing her hand that trembled in his
own. He raised his eyes to hers, she looking fairly at him with a
ready smile.

"Kate, Kate--" Such a flood of emotion came upon him he was bereft of
speech. She looked at him surprised, and wondered if he knew aught.
Could it be that Sir Julian had found out anything and had spoken to
Cedric? She was sure she had kept this last secret safe from all save
Constance, and had not been with Sir Julian for a whole day, fearing
he would find out by looking at her. Nay, he knew nothing,--beside, if
he did, he would shield her from Cedric's anger by keeping so great
a secret. And yet it almost seemed as if the young lord knew of her
desperate act; 'twas written on his face, she saw the pain upon it;
and yet, how could it be? These thoughts flashed through Katherine's
brain, and she tried to move from him, but an inscrutable presence
held her, and she felt she must not leave him, perhaps forever, with
that face so full of pain, and she spoke out a word she had never
used before and one which touched his Lordship as nothing else could,
'twas:

"Cedric." He caught his breath with sheer excess of joy, and bent
again and whispered,--

"What, Kate; what is it?" 'Twas enough, she laughed quietly and turned
to Sir Julian, who had come to her side. Lady Constance was not long
in finding an opportunity to speak alone with her.

"Oh, sweet," she said. "I haven't had a chance to talk with thee of my
adventure," and she drew the maid aside and began volubly to speak
of her encounter of the early morning. "He was most certainly of the
Court. I cannot possibly mistake his manner. Indeed, I am certain
he is a noble lord, and no doubt is here to bear Cantemir
escort--perhaps--" and she leant close to Katherine--"it might be the
King himself, who knows?" Her listener flushed and thought--

"Was it possible she was to receive such honour, and why not?" She had
heard from Constance and Cantemir himself that his house was a very
wealthy and important one in Russia and that the English royalty and
nobles made much of him. She, with her poor knowledge of the world,
thought Constance spoke truth.

"I'll tell thee why I thought he was the King. He was the form, grace
and elegance of his Royal Highness and kept his masque securely tied.
I'm sure it was he. And this evening,--ah, ah, how can I ever tell
thee, Katherine, the honour I felt! Indeed we do not know how
important Adrian is until we see those with whom he consorts. To-night
I met--who dost guess it was, Katherine?"

"Nay, I could never guess, for I know not whom Adrian's friends are;
but if thy friend of the morning was the King, 'tis certain the
setting sun brings thee one less titled."

"'Tis so, but one who may be a King. Thou wilt never tell, Katherine?"

"Nay, never."

"'Twas the King's son, his Grace the Duke of Monmouth."

"Ah, ah, a Prince! Thou art indeed favoured. And how came it about? I
am very curious." Lady Constance related part of her interview with
the Duke, embellished and with many deviations--

"He said they were to be at the monastery as witnesses and intimated
that the King had heard of thy wonderful beauty and grew so impatient
to see thee he must either come himself or send some one he could
trust. Monmouth said thy request was already granted in the King's
mind, and he only waited to see thee to give it utterance. Thou dost
know what a good Catholic he is, and hearing they were to send thee to
ask certain things of his clemency, he has sent the Duke with other
special guard to render speed and safety to thy journey to Whitehall,
where great honour will be shown Adrian's fair bride." Constance so
entered into the very soul of her lies, she half believed them as she
gave them utterance.

The young maid was well-nigh beside herself with pleasure at the
honours that were to attend her, and she gave up all idea of a
backward step. And when Constance proclaimed she was to accompany her,
her heart leapt up with joy. She gave no place to doubt now, 'twas an
unknown quantity, and her voice trembled as she said--"It makes me
perfectly content, if thou art to accompany me. Thou wilt go with
me to the monastery, Constance?" For once her ladyship answered
truthfully, but she did not know it:

"Nay, I am to join thee some time after twelve; I know not just when
or where; but we are to be together. I owe this especial favour to the
Duke. I am so glad thou art espoused, or will be in a short while, or
I should be insanely jealous. Look, Katherine!" and Constance under
cover of her handkerchief showed the ring.

"Isn't it beautiful?" said Katherine.

Mistress Penwick, like many another of her beauty and age, was
inclined to be of ill-spirit when another of her sex seemed to be in
favour; and at Constance' sudden acquaintance with the King's son,
and able to wear his ring, she was piqued, and almost wished it was
herself instead; for in such intimacy there could be nothing else but
a very near and exalted position at Court. The poor child--innocent
of all evil seeing naught in the gaining of Royal favour but the
achievement of all that was high, holy, beautiful and perfect--now
for a brief moment scorned her own poor estate and fell to envying
Constance, and was of a notion not to go at all to the monastery;--but
if she didn't, then her religion would suffer; for who could go to the
King in her place? She knew she was beautiful, and knew its influence,
and was sure the King would not refuse her. Now if Lord Cedric had not
forbidden her going to the monastery for confession, she could have
known what they wished and gone openly with Lady Constance or Sir
Julian, or perhaps just with Janet to his Majesty and gained his
favour and at once have become a Lady of Honour. But no, 'twas not
thus, and things were as they were, and she could not change them or
retrace.

She would not engage in any game, but played upon the harpsichord and
sung some of her sweetest songs; Lord Cedric ever coming to her side
to turn her music or offer some little service. He was aflame with
hope, for had she not called him "Cedric"?

How dear it sounded; if he might only hear her say it again. He came
to her side and whispered,--

"'Twas sweet of thee to call me Cedric!"--His hand for a moment rested
upon the violets at her shoulder,--"Kate, why didst thou not wear the
opal shoulder-knot instead of these violets?"

"Because--I value it more than aught else, and I would not wear it on
all occasions, for 'twas thy mother's choicest brooch."

"Indeed, I love it, also, Kate, for the same reason; but I would
rather see thee wear it, for I love thee, Kate, thee, thee, thee." His
voice was like a sob stirring her to a pity that made her sick and
weak, and she turned from him hastily and began singing softly,--

"When love with unconfined wings hovers within my gates;
And my divine Althea brings to whisper at the grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair and fetter'd to her eye;
The gods that wanton in the air, know no such liberty.

"'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul am free;
Angels alone that soar above enjoy such liberty!'"

"Thou dost sing the words of the beautiful and amiable Richard
Lovelace; I have heard my father speak of him with great affection.
The lines to Althea--his sweetheart--were written in prison. She
thought him dead and married some one else. He loved her more than
life,--dost believe in such love, Kate?"

"Aye, why not?--Ah, Sir Julian, hast finished,--who was victor?"

"I am modest, my Lady."

"But never too modest to hold thine own." As she spoke thus to Sir
Julian, the sands of the hour-glass ran out and nine tolled from the
Chapel belfry. Before the bell had ceased, Constance had drawn Cedric
and Julian into a game of cards, she placing herself opposite the
window, and Katherine had stepped into an adjoining passage, and
taking up her camelot cloak, with flying feet and beating heart
hastened to the postern-door and slipped bolts and bars and stood
without in the calm, warm night.

CHAPTER XIV

SERMONS NEW AND OLD

"The reign of Charles the Second seemed to be impregnated with a free
and easy moral atmosphere that engendered lewdness in human product.
It is said by a great historian that Thomas Hobbes had, in language
more precise and luminous than has ever been employed by any other
metaphysical writer, maintained that the will of the prince was the
standard of right and wrong, and that every subject ought to be ready
to profess Popery, Mahometanism, or Paganism, at the royal command.
Thousands who were incompetent to appreciate what was really valuable
in his speculations eagerly welcomed a theory which, while it exalted
the kingly office, relaxed the obligations of morality and degraded
religion into a mere affair of state. Hobbism soon became an almost
essential part of the character of the fine gentleman. All the
lighter kinds of literature were deeply tainted by the prevailing
licentiousness. Poetry stooped to be the pander of every low desire.
Ridicule, instead of putting guilt and error to the blush, turned her
formidable shafts against innocence and truth. The restored Church
contended indeed against the prevailing immorality, but contended
feebly, and with half a heart. It was necessary to the decorum of
her character that she should admonish her erring children, but her
admonitions were given in a somewhat perfunctory manner. Her attention
was elsewhere engaged. Little as the men of mirth and fashion were
disposed to shape their lives according to her precepts, they were yet
ready to fight for her cathedrals and places, for every line of her
rubric and every thread of her vestments. If the debauched
cavalier haunted brothels and gambling houses, he at least avoided
conventicles. If he never spoke without uttering ribaldry and
blasphemy, he made some amends by his eagerness to send Baxter and
Howe to gaol for preaching and praying. Thus the clergy, for a time,
made war on schism with so much vigour that they had little leisure to
make war on vice."

"Charles the Second wished merely to be a King who could draw without
limit on the treasury for the gratification of his private tastes, who
could hire with wealth and honours persons capable of assisting him
to kill the time, and who, even when the state was brought by
maladministration to the depths of humiliation and to the brink of
ruin, could still exclude unwelcome truth from the purlieus of his
own seraglio, and refuse to see and hear whatever might disturb his
luxurious repose. Later in life, the ill-bred familiarity of the
Scottish divines had given him a distaste for Presbyterian discipline,
while the heats and animosities between the members of the Established
Church and the Nonconformists, with which his reign commenced, made
him think indifferently of both. His religion was that of a young
prince in his warm blood, whose inquiries were applied more to
discover arguments against belief than in its favour."

"The wits about the Court, who found employment in laughing at
Scripture, delighted in turning to ridicule what the preachers said in
their sermons before him, and in this way induced him to look upon the
clergy as a body of men who had compounded a religion for their own
advantage. So strongly did this feeling take root in him that he at
length resigned himself to sleep at sermon-time--not even South or
Barrow having the art to keep him awake. In one of these half-hours
of sleep, when in Chapel, he is known to have missed, doubtless with
regret, the gentle reproof of South to Lauderdale during a general
somnolency:--'My lord, my lord, you snore so loud you will wake the
King.'"

"He was altogether in favour of extempore preaching, and was unwilling
to listen to the delivery of a written sermon." (Indeed, if we had
more people like him in this day, we would hear far more of the gospel
and far less of politics and jokes which so demoralize the pulpit and
take away all sacredness. The King was right, as all mankind will
agree, in his idea of preaching.) "Patrick excused himself from a
chaplaincy, 'finding it very difficult to get a sermon without book.'
On one occasion the King asked the famous Stillingfleet 'how it was
that he always reads his sermons before him, when he was informed that
he always preached without book elsewhere?' Stillingfleet answered
something about the awe of so noble a congregation, the presence of
so great and wise a prince, with which the King himself was very well
contented,--'But, pray,' continued Stillingfleet, 'will your Majesty
give me leave to ask you a question? Why do you read your speeches
when you can have none of the same reasons?' 'Why truly, doctor,'
replied the King, 'your question is a very pertinent one, and so will
be my answer. I have asked the two Houses so often and for so much
money, that I am ashamed to look them in the face.'"

"This 'slothful way of preaching,' for so the King called it, had
arisen during the civil wars; and Monmouth, when Chancellor of the
University of Cambridge, in compliance with the order of the King,
directed a letter to the University that the practice of reading
sermons should be wholly laid aside."

There was much ignorance in the seventeenth century; but 'twas of the
people's own choosing; 'twas not of necessity. Lewdness was preferable
to purity; it was easier had. And when the King led the pace, why not
they of lesser rank and fortunes? But was there ever a thing created
in all the world without its right and wrong sides? It seemed there
was no room in Charles' time for aught but evil. "The ribaldry of
Etherege and Wycherley was, in the presence and under the special
sanction of the head of the church, while the author of the Pilgrim's
Progress languished in a dungeon for the crime of proclaiming the
gospel to the poor."

As time waxed, even the vigilant persecutors became passive, relaxed
themselves into indifference; but before immorality was aware the
still, small voice was heard. The seed that was twelve years in
planting had taken root and Pilgrim's Progress became known and John
Bunyan stood without the prison gates to preach and pray at will, to
keep on extending that influence that lives to-day. And for once the
King did not go to sleep when, through caprice or curiosity, he went
to hear him preach.

"When Bunyan went to preach in London, if there was but one day's
notice, the meeting house was crowded to overflowing. Twelve hundred
people would be found collected before seven o'clock on a dark
winter's morning to hear a lecture from him. In Zoar St. Southwark,
his church was sometimes so crowded that he had to be lifted to the
pulpit stairs over the congregation's heads." He strove not for
popularity, as could be seen in the one little circumstance when "a
friend complimented him, after service, on 'the sweet sermon' which he
had delivered. 'You need not remind me of that,' he said. 'The devil
told me of it before I was out of the pulpit.'"

"Charles Doe, a distinguished nonconformist, visited him in his
confinement. 'When I was there,' he writes, 'there were about sixty
dissenters besides himself, taken but a little before at a religious
meeting at Kaistor, in the county of Bedford, besides two eminent
dissenting ministers, Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Dun, by which means the
prison was much crowded. Yet, in the midst of all that hurry, I heard
Mr. Bunyan both preach and pray with that mighty spirit of faith and
plerophory of Divine assistance, that he made me stand and wonder.'"

The sweet spirit of a minister is treasured and kept green in the
memory of his flock, no matter how recalcitrant they may be. This is
shown by the reading once a year in Bedford Church of John Gifford's
letter to his parish people, written over two hundred years ago. It
says: "Let no respect of persons be in your comings together. When you
are met as a church, there's neither rich nor poor, bond nor free, in
Jesus Christ. 'Tis not a good practice to be offering places or seats
when those who are rich come in; especially it is a great evil to take
notice of such in time of prayer or the word; then are bowings and
civil observances at such times not of God." It was the "holy Mr.
Gifford" that was often in conference with John Bunyan; "the latter as
the seeking pilgrim, the former the guiding evangelist." With such
men as these the sweet spirit was kept aflame and eventually changed
England and made her the great country she is. But in those licentious
days this sweet spirit shone from its impure surroundings like the
_ignis fatuus_, and 'twas a great, wicked world that Mistress Penwick
stood all alone in that early summer night.

A nightingale sung afar in some bowery of blossom, and for a moment
she listened.

"'Tis an ode to the night he sings, 'tis too clear and high and full
of cadence for a nuptial mass,--nay, nay, I shall not marry to-night,
I will go and see what dear father Constantine wishes and return to
this home that has never seemed so fair to me before;--and my lord is
handsome and so, too, is Sir Julian and I'm fond of their Graces of
Ells wold and Janet,--Janet, I love her best of all. Nay, nay, I'll
not be married. I will go and see and return. Janet will not look for
me above stair before eleven at least. I shall be home again ere I'm
missed." She thought thus as she hurried on through the courtyard and
beyond, where waited Father Dempsy.

In a second, it seemed, they were galloping away, Mistress Penwick
throwing back a long, sweeping glance at the great, stone pile behind
her. The train of her brocade skirt hung almost to the ground; her
fair, sloping shoulders, her exquisite face framed in a high roll of
amber beauty, made a picture,--a rare gem encircled by a gorgeous June
night.

On they rode without converse; Dempsy was a brave man, yet he feared
and justly, too, that Mistress Pen wick might be taken from him before
they reached the monastery, therefore he enjoined silence, and the
best speed of their horses, and kept a hand upon his sword.

He drew a sigh of relief when he beheld the dark outline of the
cloister that appeared quiet and undisturbed.

As they approached, Cantemir came from the open door and lifted
Mistress Penwick from her horse in a most tender fashion, and would
have held her close and imprinted a kiss upon her forehead had she not
drawn from him and raised her hand to his lips.

"'Tis a cold greeting, Katherine, after these long, weary days of
separation."

"Nay, not so. 'Tis thy warmth that is premature." And without deigning
further opportunity for converse, she swept over the threshold of the
monastery.

There was much business to be attended to before the ceremony could
take place, and the time was limited; for in one hour it was believed
the cloister would be attacked by the Duke of Buckingham and his
party, and the maid must be far on her way before the attack.

There was none but Mistress Penwick, herself, that thought else than
that a marriage contract was to be sealed. She on a sudden felt a
great repulsion for Adrian Cantemir, and she resolved not to wed him.

As she stood in the large hall that served as council chamber and
for all functions of importance, she cast her eye about for those
answering to the description of his Grace of Monmouth and that
other--was it the King? She felt sure she would know him; but upon the
long benches there were none but sombre cowled figures with crucifix
and--aye, swords gleamed from beneath the folds of their long gowns
and touched the floor. Her eyes flashed wide with surprise, and she
felt proud and loved the bravery of her religion. But to what it
portended she thought on for a moment seriously and concluded Royal
personages must be present, or why else such precaution?

As the business had to do with Mistress Penwick only, Cantemir was
asked to withdraw. As soon as the business was entered upon, the
maid's doubts of the surrounding company were dispelled and she knew
none of the Royal party would dare be even an unknown guest at such a
meeting.

At the conclusion of the council she held an important secret, more
important to herself than she dreamt. It made her bold, and she
straightway arose and spoke out clearly,--

"If the reverend fathers would agree upon a certain matter, I will
start at once upon my journey. I feel my mission to the King to
be more important than all else to me, and for the success of my
undertaking I deem it best I should go as maid and not wife to his
most Royal presence." This was a startling but most acceptable
assertion. It had been much spoken on by the Abbes but by common
consent they agreed if the maid wished to marry the Russian, why--they
would offer no objections; so they had left the matter.

"Dost think, Mistress Penwick, thou canst settle readily the case with
the Count?"

"'Twill be easy and quickly done. Call him hither!" said she. The
Russian came with eagerness and some impatience, for he feared a delay
might plunge him into a lively skirmish.

Katherine went to his side, and placing her fingers upon his arm,
said,--

"Thou wilt escort me to the King?"

"Most gladly, and where else in life thou shalt choose to go."

"'Tis the present that indicates the future,--wilt come at once
without ceremony?"

"Nay, nay, I protest. I must have thee as wife, first, Mistress
Penwick!"

Constantine leant toward them from the table and looked with purpose,
a frown emphasizing his shrewd glance,--

"We have not time for further controversy, and if the maid will say
the word, the ceremony will be performed now." The Abbe knew the maid
would give in to circumstances sooner than the determined Count, and
thus hastened her. All eyes were upon the two, and Katherine hearing
in the priest's voice a tone of insistence, stood for a moment
motionless and evidently debating her course.

As she opened her lips, there was a sudden sound of horses' feet.

In a moment a thundering knock upon the door's panelling demanded
admittance.

"Who seeks an opening so roughly?" thundered La Fosse.

"Cedric of Crandlemar!"

"The devil!" cried Cantemir, as he fell back in consternation and
fear. Indeed he would rather meet the King of devils than this
hot-headed Cedric. Katherine was not at a loss to read Count Adrian's
countenance, and straightway bade them open the door. La Fosse spoke
as his hand rested on the locker,--

"Art alone, my lord?"

"Aye, quite alone!" came in a voice so shaken Katherine fell to
trembling in very fear. Cedric threw wide the door and stood within,
facing them all. His face gleamed like marble, so colourless and still
it seemed. His body swayed by love and anger, knew not which way to
turn, but appeared to sway from side to side. His breath came
in quick, sharp pants. His hair, damp as if from fine rain, was
dishevelled. His dark eyes shot forth sparks of angry fire that burnt
all who fell beneath their glance.

"Who brought hither the maid? Did yonder pandering fool? Aye, 'twas
thou. I see it plain. Come, come, draw fool; draw ere I run thee
through and dishonour sword by attacking thee, unarmed; draw, I say,
fool!"

Count Adrian's face was ghastly. Lord Cedric raised his sword and made
a lunge at him. La Fosse was too quick for Cedric. He sprang between
and parried the pass with astounding dexterity. The monk intended it
for a finale stroke; but not so Cedric. He began a fight that was not
to be so easily ended, and he drove his sword in fury. The good monk
only wished to parry; but alas! he caught the spirit of battle and
fought. Constantine made as if to draw the maid from the scene, while
others sought to interfere with the combatants. 'Twas of no avail.
Katherine could not be moved from where she stood, white and still
as a statue; neither could they interpose between the Abbe and his
Lordship. Sorrow and dismay were written on every face, for 'twas sure
one or the other must fall of those two masters of the sword. Already
there fell at La Fosse's feet drops of blood. When Katherine saw them,
she sprang forward and cried,--

"Stop, stop in God's name, stop!" As she was about to fling herself
between them, Cedric fell heavily to the floor, a stream of blood
flowing from his breast. With a wild scream Katherine fell upon her
knees at his side and pressed her dainty handkerchief to the wound,
and began to fondle him and speak in his ear that she loved him. Aye,
she was sure now, there could be no doubt, and as she pressed her lips
to his cold, white face she saw his eyelids flutter. She looked up
quickly into the priest's face; he answered her look with wholesome
words.

"The wound is slight, my child; he will recover." She fell back,
blushing with shame for her bold avowals, and knew not which way to
turn to hide her confusion; for she was sure all present had marked
her warm words and actions.

Immediately Lord Cedric was carried to an inner room, and Katherine
turned about to look for Cantemir, as did a half-dozen others; he had
disappeared and where he stood were a score of masqued figures. When
they saw they had the attention of the company, one lifted high his
sword and cried,--

"Hail, merry monarchs of the Sylvan Chapel! We have come to escort
the maid to the King!" While this avowal struck the Abbes with
consternation, they had expected a different mode of attack, and
they were not displeased that it had taken another course. They had
expected the treasure would be demanded of them with all their papers.
These they would fight for. The secret for which Mistress Penwick was
to visit the King, the Abbes were now sure the Royal party knew not.
The papers she carried could give them no clue even though they gained
possession of them, and the maid would never divulge what she was to
say to his Majesty.

"Her escort is provided," said La Fosse, who stood nearly exhausted,
leaning upon the table, his sword still in his hand.

"Ah, but if we choose to offer her a more honourable one! Indeed the
knave of a Russian, who lies without, has but just put the matter in
our hands. He was to escort her, but at sight of blood he faints and
begs us take forthwith his promised wife to Whitehall." One could not
mistake the courtly grace and fine figure of his Grace of Buckingham.
Behind him was a form equally imposing, and the handsome mouth and
chin of the Duke of Monmouth could be seen as he tilted his masque for
a better view of the maid, whom he supposed was the same he had met in
the evening. But with half an eye he saw his mistake. Never was he so
moved at first sight of a face before. He drank in her loveliness in
rapturous drafts, and swayed from side to side examining with critical
eye the outline of her fair mould. She had thrown her cloak from her
and stood slightly in front of Constantine, as he, holding a candle
at her elbow, leant close to her ear, whispering and holding a small
paper for her to read. As she read, her eyes flashed, her bosom rose
and fell neath the covering of her short, full waist; and Monmouth's
eyes seemed ravished by it. It had been his misfortune, he thought, to
see long, modish, tapering stays that bruised his fancy as it did
the wearer's body, and to behold such slender waist crowned by full,
unfettered maiden roundness, pedestalled by such broad and shapely
hips was maddening. He had not dreamt of such beauty when his Grace of
Buckingham had suggested the trip into the forest.

"We will have some sport finding a beauty and a secret. If it pleases
your Grace, I will have the secret and thou the maid," said he to
Monmouth, and the latter had come all the way from Whitehall, for
he knew the Duke would waste no time looking for aught but a King's
portion. Never was there another such a beauty; she would be the gem
of his seraglio. She looked up, her dark orbs casting a sweeping
glance upon those about.

"I will return to Crandlemar for the night; call my escort!" said she.

Now it was plain this was a ruse of Constantine's own making, and had
whispered it as she had pretended to read. Buckingham laughed cruelly
and scornfully, provoking smothered mirth from behind the masques of
his followers.

"Thou hadst better set out directly, if thou wouldst gain audience
with the King ere he leaves Whitehall."

"I am in no hurry, to-morrow will do as well. I like not advice
unsought. I'll have none of it. I will go where, when and how as I
please!"

"And coercion smacks of a power residing not in these parts. I am
delegated, Mistress Penwick, to bring thee straightway to the Royal
presence."

"And why, may I ask, am I so called to his Majesty?"

"Thou art a hostage!" and Buckingham took a pinch of snuff with as
much ease and grace as if standing in a crowded drawing-room.

CHAPTER XV

THE EDICT OF BUCKINGHAM

"I--I, a hostage! and who gave me as such, pray?"

"There is not time for further inquisition; we have a long journey
before us. Come, Mistress!"

"Nay, nay, I protest; I'll not go with thee--"

"Mistress Penwick, I beg thee in my own behalf,"--and the Duke bowed
before her so courteously, he half won her good will, then--"and I
command thee in the name of the King," and with these words he put
forth his hand as it were to take that of Katherine. A sword swept
lightly over the maid's fingers, at which the two Dukes drew back with
haughty indignation, which meant that reparation must be immediate for
this insult to those who came upon his Majesty's affairs; for indeed
they feigned well that they were carrying out the King's orders. La
Fosse, having now regained his breath and some strength, essayed to
draw Mistress Penwick from the scene that was about to ensue; but a
young man flung himself between them and drove back the monk at the
point of his sword, thus beginning the fight.

Katherine was well-nigh fainting from actual fear and apprehension.
If she were a hostage, 'twas her duty to go and it might favour her
cause. Doubtless these men were gentlemen, and what matter now who
accompanied her to the King? Adrian had proven himself a knave. Poor,
dear Cedric lay ill of his wound and he could not attend her if he
would. These things flashed through her mind as she watched the flash
of steel. Then on a sudden it came to her who these masqued figures
might be. Her heart gave a great bound, and she sprang into the midst
of those fighting and raised her voice, crying forth,--

"Cease, cease, fight no more; I will go with thee." A priest near her
whispered,--

"'Tis thy honour we fight for now, hold thy peace; 'tis not best for
thee to go with them, 'twould be thy utter ruin and the undoing of our
affairs!" His warning came too late; all had heard Katherine speak;
and although two forms already lay upon the floor, there were other
motives stronger than the thirst for blood, which on a sudden seemed
quenched, and faces pale and blood-stained turned upon Buckingham as
he coolly and with much dignity lifted Katherine's cloak from the
table and placed it about her shoulders, then had the audacity to
offer his arm. She ignored it, turned to Constantine and fell upon her
knees; he blessed her, then whispered hurriedly in her ear. She arose
and passed down the bloody aisle, which was flanked on either side by
an array of shining steel. As she approached the door, it was flung
wide by a figure that startled her, so like was it to Lord Cedric's,
but the light fell aslant his countenance and as she swept by saw
'twas Sir Julian Pomphrey.

A chaise stood some little distance from the cloister, into which
Katherine was placed with great courtesy by his Grace of Buckingham.

She sunk back among the cushions with half-closed eyes; heeding not
those that rode at either window of the equipage; she was trying to
collect her thoughts and by degrees they shaped themselves and she was
thinking of that that had but transpired. First of all, she consoled
herself like the selfish girl she was: Cedric would not die; 'twas a
sweet consolation, and she smiled; her thoughts dwelling not for a
moment on her own conduct that had brought him to suffer such pain.
Then she lay back even more luxuriously as she thought that Sir Julian
would not have opened the door for her, had she been going into
danger. To tell the truth, she sighed happily in contemplation of
further exploit. She grew bolder and bolder, fearing naught but some
slight mischance that might prevent her being a Maid of Honour; for
never, never could she go back to Cedric after she had made assertion
of love in his ear, and his eyelids had trembled. Nay, nay, she could
not bear to look him in the face again. Alas! she made vow she never
would. If she was not made a lady of her Majesty's household, she
would seek the patronage of some titled woman, who could help her.
Not for a moment did she think of the perils that surrounded and grew
closer about her unprotected self with every turn of the wheels that
carried her on.

It appeared now as if all barriers to the King's presence had been
levelled and Katherine's hopes matured to confidence. She drew her
cloak about her with sedulous care, as if in so doing she wrapped and
hid from the whole world her own poor cunning. She found in her
lonely condition no embarrassment, conceiving that her position as
intermediary between her Church and the State was sufficient reason
for her abrupt leaving of home. Sir Julian would doubtless explain
matters to the Duke and Duchess, whom she believed were more than half
of her faith. They would see she had been highly honoured by being
entrusted with a great secret.

It appeared as if the chaise would never cease to lung and swagger
over rough, unused roads, and when at last it did mend its way,
Katherine had ceased thinking and fallen fast asleep, nor did she wake
during hours of travel, until the great coach came to a sudden halt.
She looked through the window. Dawn streaked the East with uncertain
intention, knowing not whether to open the day with rain or sunshine.
A little to the left was the dark outline of an inn, nestling upon the
threshold of a forest, from the window of which fell aslant the way
a line of light. The door of the equipage was opened, and a stately
cavalier stood to assist her down the step. She leapt lightly to the
ground, taking the proffered arm, as the way was dark and uneven.

Within the large, cheery room they entered, burnt a crackling fire;
for the morning was damp and chilly. Katherine stole a glance at her
companion and saw the handsome features of Monmouth. He had removed
his masque and now stood uncovered before her.

"I hope Mistress Penwick has not suffered from her long ride?"

"Nay, sir; on the contrary, I feel refreshed." Her manner told him
plainly his address was not displeasing to her. His eyes rested
amorously upon her; for 'twas naught but strong, healthful youth
could predicate such reply and vouch for its assertion by such rich
colouring of cheek, such rare sparkling of eyes and such ripeness of
lips.

She sat at the chimney-nook, her satin gown trailing at her side,
her cloak thrown over the back of the high chair. Their Graces were
engaged aside with the landlord and servants.

"We will rest here until noon, anyway," one said, "and if they have
not arrived we will set out without them." Katherine heard and thought
'twas Constance whom they were expecting; and when a table was drawn
close to the fire and covers laid for four, there being but three to
sit down, Katherine looked askance at the vacant place; the Dukes
exchanged glances and his Grace of Buckingham turned to her quickly,
introducing himself, then Monmouth, and explained that at the last
moment Lady Constance had been prevailed upon to accompany them to
London and was expected every moment.

Mistress Penwick had flushed at the presentation of two such noble
names, but at his following assertion, which corroborated with
Constance' own words, made her not a little jealous; for the handsome
young Monmouth had already shown his regard (God pity her innocence)
for Lady Constance by giving her a valuable ring, and now had
contrived to make her of their party that he might be constantly with
her.

She straightway became very sober-minded, vouchsafing no remarks and
inviting none. Her pique would have given way had she but heard the
Duke's conversation a few moments previous.

"Damme!" said young Monmouth, "I have kidnapped the wrong girl.
'Tis not my fault; thou saidst, Duke, to take any pretty girl from
Crandlemar castle, and I have captured Lady Constance, whom, I took
it, was the girl in question; and I made up my mind thou shouldst not
choose beauty for me. I shall throw her on thy shoulders to dispose
of."

The Dukes, bent on provoking the maid to her former manner, began
witty tales of wayside inns. Their demeanour was so noble, their
stories so terse and pretty, their converse of such elegant and pure
wording, she relaxed and fell into their mood and told what few
convent stories she could boast. Their Graces were charmed by
her beauty, her sweet resonant voice and the simple and innocent
narratives, and not a little pleased by the result of their diplomacy.

* * * * *

When Mistress Penwick had gone from the grand salon the evening
before, Lord Cedric was not long in discovering her absence; for his
eyes and thoughts ever sought her. He had been greatly stirred by some
unknown thing, perhaps that we call premonition ('tis God's own gift,
if we would but heed its warning), but the game being well under way
and Constance calling his attention to an immediate and imperative
move, he was dissuaded from his inclination to arise and inquire of
the maid's absence. It was not for long, however, either the game or
his kinswoman's cunning could hold his Lordship from seeking her.
Quietly he beckoned a lackey and whispered aside. A few minutes
elapsed when the servant stood by his master, while beyond in the
doorway was Janet, who for once in her life was quite pale. Swiftly
Lord Cedric strode to her, saying,--

"Hast thou looked for her everywhere, Janet?"

"Aye, my lord, in her own chamber and--"

"But perhaps she has gone to the kitchens or pantries, for hunger doth
assail her not infrequent and at unusual hours."

There was a bit of bitterness and sarcasm in his voice and he ground
his heel as he turned about to give orders. In a moment servants
were hunting in every direction throughout the castle. It was soon
ascertained she was not within the great house. Cedric grew wild with
passion and tore up and down like one gone mad. Sir Julian could not
restrain him, a thing that had not happened heretofore. Angel, his old
nurse, was called; she bade him ride forth for her.

At this a horse was made ready, and his lordship mounted and rode
away. Sir Julian protesting all the while.

As the clatter of horses' hoofs had fairly died away and Sir Julian
stood just where Cedric had left him, debating with his several ideas,
a soft touch was laid almost tenderly upon his arm; had it been the
soft, slimy trailing of a serpent, 'twould not have so startled
him. He turned suddenly and caught the slender hand, with no fine
affection,--

"I see it all quite plainly, thou art the cruel spider that hath woven
a silken mesh for that innocent child, and thou shalt tell me before
the sands of the hour-glass mark ten moments of time, where has flown
Mistress Penwick,--so speak, speak quickly, Constance!"

His voice and manner brooked no delay, and her ladyship thinking that
even now Katherine was Cantemir's wife, spoke out with a semblance of
injured dignity that melted under Sir Julian's scathing contempt
to silly simpering. The noble character of Sir Julian seemed to
silhouette that of her ladyship in all its ugly blackness.

"She is, I presume, by now, the Countess Cantemir--made so by an Abbe
at the monastery."

Pomphrey was a-road; the clatter of bit and spur brought a smile to
Constance' face, and she cried forth with all the venom in her poor,
foul being:

"Two mad fools,--both gone crazy over a convent wench, who is now my
Lady Cantemir--my cousin,--the wife of a fortune hunter!" She fled
within doors like one pursued and stopped not until she reached her
own chamber.

Midnight approached phantom-like, and as stealthily Lady Constance
crept to the postern door. Behind her fell a shadow athwart the floor,
a shadow that was not hers but of one that moved as warily. She
listened as she held the door ajar, fearing to look back. As she
thrust the door wide, a figure from without moved toward her.

"Who is there?" she whispered.

"Monmouth!" was the answer; and out she stepped, well pleased to
be free from that shadow she felt was pursuing her. Her hand was
immediately taken and eager eyes sought the ring. It was hardly
visible, so dense was the shadow of the trees.

"Come this way, Lady Penwick," came in a voice that was not that of
Monmouth's, which had sounded so much like music to her a few, short
hours before, or that had spoken the word "Monmouth" even that moment.
She, drawing back in her uncertainty, was captured by strong arms, a
hood was thrown over her head, and she was lifted and carried in hot
haste to a chaise, and helped therein without much formality. As her
escort leapt in behind her, there swept in the other door another
figure, also intent upon being accommodated by a seat in a London
equipage; and before any one was aware of a _de trop_ comrade, the
doors were shut with a bang and horses started at a gallop. Under
cover of the noise her ladyship's vizor was lifted and she, half
smothered, drew breath and stared about her in the darkness.

"Thou didst bring thy servant with thee, Lady?"

"Who doth dare inveigle me from the protection of my cousin, Lord
Cedric?"

"I, my lady; a simple gentleman of his Grace of Monmouth's suite,--and
at his order."

"Ah--" 'twas long drawn and somewhat smacked of satisfaction. "Who is
this female?"

"Is she not thine?"

"Nay, not mine. She doth play the hocus," said her ladyship.

"Who art thou, then, woman; how came yonder door to pamper thy whim?"
The surprised guardsman rapped smartly upon the window, then pulling
it up leant out and asked for a torch. As there were none a-light,
he waited some moments; as he did so, there came an answer from the
figure opposite,--

"I am Mistress Penwick's waiting-woman." The answer was satisfactory
to the guard.

"'Tis Janet, as I live," interrupted Lady Constance. She was not sorry
to have a companion of her own sex, and Janet would make herself
generally useful, if the ride was long and her ladyship should fall
ill, as she was certain to do. She knew also Janet's motive for
following her. She was interested in nothing but her mistress.

As the road seemed rough and endless, Constance became anxious of her
destination and began to inquire, as if in great anger, why she
was thus taken and for what purpose. All questions being answered
perfunctorily, she relaxed into silence. At last she asked broadly,--

"Where are we to stop for refreshment, man; I am near dead with
fatigue?"

"We stop at Hornby's Inn, my lady, there to meet his Grace."

Janet sat quiet, nor did she speak again until she stood before
Mistress Penwick at the inn, where she sailed in as if nothing in the
world had happened, but inwardly she fairly wept with joy to find her
nurseling happy and unharmed.

The rain was falling heavily as Lady Constance entered the room where
sat Katherine with the two Dukes. Dawn seemed to have gone back into
night, for 'twas so dark candles twinkled brightly and lighted up the
maiden's face as she spun a story of convent ghosts. Hate flung open
gates through her ladyship's eyes and fell a battery upon Katherine's
face. 'Twas but a thrust of a glance, but their Graces noted it as
they arose to greet her. Katherine was answering in an undertone
Janet's questions as Monmouth spoke aside to her Ladyship. Constance
was not to be delayed, even by his Grace, and she hastened to the
table and greeted Katherine as Lady Cantemir.

"Nay, not so!" said the maid; whereupon Constance gasped, covering
her defeat by a great show of wonder and surprise. She fell to
questioning, her inquiries being overthrown by Buckingham, who
adroitly turned the conversation upon another matter.

Monmouth was wild with delight over the prize he had captured, and
as they sat at meat he was pondering upon where he should hide the
beauty, for he feared his father's predilections, and 'twas sure he
would not run the risk of any such mischance and he tossed about in
his mind the advisability of taking her to London. As these thoughts
crowded upon him he grew grave and frowned. Constance, feeling her
disappointment most keenly, saw the tangle upon the Duke's brow. It
arrested the quick pulsing of her own discontent and turned her mind
into a channel of evil even more treacherous than any ideas that
had assailed her heretofore. It meant, in case of defeat, her own
downfall. She would barter, if need be, her own soul away. Of such
character were her ladyship's ambitions. She was impatient for the
final bout that was to settle all things.

Even the haughty Duke of Buckingham was moved by Mistress Penwick's
youth, beauty and innocence. And yet he thought 'twas pitiful she
should go unclaimed by Court. Her secret must be had at whatever cost,
and seeing the maid was neither dismayed nor at loss by being thrown
with the king's son and the famous Buckingham, 'twas certain nothing
less than extreme measures would draw from her her secret. Whether
these measures were foul or fair was not of much consequence to him.
If the maid was to favour any, he would withdraw, giving place to
Monmouth, providing of course 'twas in his power to do so. And that
'twould be his power he did not doubt.

Mistress Penwick saw Monmouth's frown also, and looked up at him
smiling and asked,--

"Thou must not ponder upon ghosts.--When do we journey, your Grace?"

"When thou art well rested and say the word." His face broke into
sunshine and the maid could not fail to see the admiration that fell
upon her from his Grace's eyes. She flushed rose red. He caught her
hand as they arose from table, and pressed it warmly, and with a
tenderness that was apparent to Buckingham and Constance. Should he
press his suit upon her now or wait? He thought best to wait, as Janet
quickly came to her mistress at a motion of the hand that the Duke
reluctantly released. He allowed her to pass to her chamber without
his escort. Constance passed unnoticed by him from the room, and being
well-worn by her long ride, also went above stair, where she tumbled
upon her bed in tears, most unlike Katherine who was rubbed and
swathed in blankets by the faithful Janet.

* * * * *

Sir Julian Pomphrey had sent to the castle and procured conveyance and
Ellswold's physicians for the young lord, who lay very white and weak
at the monastery. Owing to his serious wound, they had moved very
slowly, reaching home near three o'clock in the morning. The Duchess
was greatly shocked by Cedric's condition and most indignant with
Mistress Penwick and Constance.

The matter was blown about by servants, and before the dismal rainy
day was ended, all Crandlemar knew of the goings-on at the castle
and were greatly stirred that their lord had been so used by the
Catholics. 'Twas inflammable matter that meant the possible uprising
in arms of the whole village. It was said the Protestants were
aggrieved that Lord Cedric had thus long allowed the monks freehold,
and now that he was helpless they would take it upon themselves to
drive them away at the point of the sword and see if, by so doing,
greater fortune would not fall to them, for such bravery would
certainly bring them to their lord's notice and mayhap he would build
up many of his houses and do better by them than heretofore.

Over the ale mugs at the village inn 'twas whispered by the landlord
that the day before two men, wearing masques, had left the place
together, one bearing under his saddle-bag a monk's robe; and a
crucifix had fallen from his pocket as he mounted.

The men grew more and more excited and fell to pledging themselves to
clean out the ancient monastery before another day should close.

A pale young man in fashionable attire sat apart, drinking deep and
listening with satisfaction to the village swains and their elders'
talk; his eye in imagination upon the dark passage in the monastery
that hid the trapdoor and--no doubt the treasures of the cloister that
lay beneath.

'Twas Cantemir; he had escaped unharmed from the clutches of
Buckingham and Monmouth. The former had caught him hastening from the
monastery and seizing compelled him to give the information he sought
and to give up all papers on his person; which he did cheerfully.
Finding him a cowardly knave, the Duke flung him from him with
disgust. Buckingham had heard, to be sure, that the maid they sought
was a hostage; but whether this was true, or would lead to matters of
more consequence, he had yet to learn.

Buckingham, after a few hours' sleep, left Hornby's Inn, returning
to the village of Crandlemar. He wore no masque this time and boldly
entered the inn to refresh himself and prepare for a visit to the
castle. He took little heed of the slender young man who now lay, very
much drunken, upon a long bench; but ordered the best wine and sat
down before a table that was already accommodating some half-dozen
men. He appeared not to hear their excited whispers, and feigned
preoccupation until he was quite sure his manner had been noted, then
as if modesty held him, he spoke,--

"Is there not in these parts a monastery upon the estates of the
noble Lord Cedric of Crandlemar?" He hardly raised his eyes, so
indifferently did he put the question.

"There is, sir," one said.

"Then where hath flown my lord's religion?"

This struck consternation upon the group; for 'twas certain they
loved their patron's good name, even though he did forget their
importunities, and this sudden thrust struck home. One whispered
aside,--

"Perhaps 'tis one come to spy upon our lord's intentions and take him
to the Tower." At this one honest, brave man arose and leant with
rustic grace across the table toward the stranger and said,--

"His lordship lies ill yonder," pointing over his shoulder toward the
castle, "and we loyal subjects to his Majesty, claim the right to
drive from Protestant soil the shackles of Catholic freeholds,
and 'tis our intention to come upon them--what say you, fellows,
to-night?"

"Aye, aye!" rang from nearly a score of tongues.

"'Tis well," said the cavalier, "for to-morrow might have been too
late."

"What might that mean, sir?"

"It means that Catholic lands and holds are sometimes confiscated and
in some cases the boundary lines are not known, and some good King
might send some noble lord to the Tower to search for the required
limitations of his demesne."

Every man's hand sought a weapon and eye met eye in mutual concourse.

"To-night, then, to-night we'll put to rout the enemy!" they cried.

The cavalier, pleased with the reception of his hint, asked for his
horse.

He arrived at the castle to be most cordially received by the Duchess
and Sir Julian. If Buckingham was ever unbending, it was to Sir
Julian.

As they met, Buckingham bent lower than his wont to hide a guilt that
was not perceptible to any one else but Julian, and the latter was not
slow to note it. The Duchess, not knowing who had carried off either
Constance or Mistress Penwick, was very free in her conversation and
spoke at once of Lord Cedric's injury and of the naughty beauty that
had driven him to it. Buckingham's countenance was changed by the
assumed expression of either surprise or regret, as was necessary and
suited.

Upon his arrival he was not allowed to see either the Duke or Cedric,
and as his business called for a speedy return to London, he must
leave early after supper, adding that he regretted the importunity
of the hour, as it detained the king's business with his Grace of
Ellswold.

This of course changed the physicians' minds, and Buckingham was
allowed to have converse with the Duke and finished that he came to do
at the castle.

But Sir Julian had somewhat to say, and ordered his horse to accompany
the Duke on his return journey.

This was not unlooked for, and Buckingham, fearing no _imbroglio_,
intended to hasten Sir Julian's speech, as there was no time to spare.
They started forth 'neath the dripping trees.

"Where is Mistress Penwick, George?"

"With her nurse, Julian."

"And where the nurse?"

"At Hornby's."

"Where is Monmouth's place of hiding her?"

"That is more, I dare say, Julian, than he knows himself."

"How long will they remain at the inn?"

"Until I return."

"Then--?"

"Then, London way is my desire, and I doubt not 'tis Monmouth's also."

"Dost love me, Duke?"

"Aye, as always. What is thy desire?"

"Canst thou keep the maid safe for thirty-six hours?" For a moment
there was no answer; then calmly and cold came the word "No."

"By God! is it so bad that you, you George, cannot take care of her?"

"'Tis the worst of all!"

"Is she safe then now--now?"

"If the eye of the nurse doth not perjure its owner, I would say she
was safe for all time."

"Good--"

"But, Pomphrey, one would wonder at thy devotion to Cedric?"

"I loved him, first."

"That does not say thou lovest thy second love better, eh?"

"By heaven, I love her, there--thou hast it." Buckingham gave vent to
his natural inclination and laughed boldly.

"Then, follow her. We may presume she will be safe kept 'til London
gives her rest and wine and finds a locker for her nurse."

"Then my errand is finished. I will bid thee _adieu_."

CHAPTER XVI

BUCKINGHAM'S ADVENTURE

Buckingham, returning to the village, where his escort met him, then
went to a small unused cabin in the thick woods beyond. Here he
changed his attire, making ready for a quick journey and one fraught
with some adventure.

As he donned his clothes, ever and anon he paused to hear the low
murmuring of voices that came up from the village. 'Twas evident the
mob was gathering.

An hour he waited impatiently, when his servant entered, saying that
the mob had started and were hurrying along the high-road at great
speed.

The Duke mounted and rode after them, quite far enough in the rear
for them not to hear his horse's step or see as he passed where some
cottage light fell aslant the road.

By the time they came in sight of the monastery, he was exasperated
beyond measure to be so held behind and was in no mood to wait the
mob's leisure. He leapt from his horse and threw rein to his man.

No light was to be seen. It appeared the monks had either deserted
their dwelling or fortified it by fastening with boards the windows
and doors. The latter was the case. The besiegers with all sorts of
sticks, stones and bludgeons began at once to bombard the building
that stood dark and seemingly impregnable. Buckingham stood some
distance from them, as if indeed he were of different mould and could
not mingle with their steaming, smoking, foul-smelling bodies, that
reeked of gin and poor tobacco. He waited only for an entrance to be
made, that he might pass in without the labour of making an opening
for himself. Indeed, his arm, unused to such rough strength, would
become unfit to handle the sword of a gentleman.

He was leant upon one knee behind a strip of iris that bordered a
forest path, when suddenly he heard the crash of glass and heard a
triumphant yell from the mob. He sprang from his hiding and crept
toward the place. A window had been broken in and the fight had
already begun. The monks were well equipped for battle with weapon,
strength and stout hearts and a good stone wall for shelter, but their
numbers were weak.

The siege was destined to be a long and bloody one, unless the
ponderous door could be broken, for the mob could not enter fast
enough through the small casement. Should this be done, it was evident
the monks would be obliged to either take flight, surrender or be
foully murdered.

Buckingham could not enter the window without taking part in the
fight, and mayhap run a great risk to his person.

He was not long in discovering, however, that the doorway was being
bombarded successfully, and soon the massive door must succumb.

At last there was a thundering crash, and broken oak panels flew
through the air.

The men rushed in. Buckingham in a moment was in their midst and
fighting his way through them. He flung himself aside and escaped the
fighting mass by a small door that led him to a passage, where he
regained his breath and looked out for his bearings.

He found his way through many winding passages to the panel. This he
opened and quickly strode through to the trapdoor, which stood agape.
From beneath came the sound of voices. He knelt and looked down. There
was no light to guide him. Cautiously he descended the ladder, finding
his way warily toward the place where he had seen the chest and whence
now came the voices. One was saying:

"It's gone, the damn knaves have secreted it; we must have a light,
Anson, or the horde above stair will be upon us, and all the fires of
hell could hardly show us out of this dungeon." Whereupon the flint
was struck and the forms of three men were dimly outlined.

They began running about nervously in different directions to find the
chest; his Grace keeping from view by following in their shadow. Back
they went again to the spot where it had stood, and as the light
fell full in their faces Buckingham recognized the pale, chiselled
countenance of Cantemir. There were two servants with him, which,
judging from their eagerness, evidently expected perquisites.

The sound above stairs was growing more and more noisome, as if the
monks were being pressed back in the direction of the secret passage.
'Twas evident the Abbes intended this move; for unless there was

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