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The Line of Love by James Branch Cabell

Part 3 out of 4

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liberty to retire." He sipped his wine meditatively, as the men filed
out. "Monsieur de Frison," d'Arnaye resumed, when the arras had fallen,
"believe me, I grieve to interrupt your very moving and most excellently
phrased ballad in this fashion. But the hour is somewhat late for melody,
and the curiosity of old age is privileged. May one inquire, therefore,
why you outsing my larks and linnets and other musical poultry that are
now all abed? and warble them to rest with this pleasing but--if I may
venture a suggestion--rather ill-timed madrigal?"

The young man hesitated for an instant before replying. "Sir," said he,
at length, "I confess that had I known of your whereabouts, the birds had
gone without their lullaby. But you so rarely come to this wing of the
chateau, that your presence here to-night is naturally unforeseen. As it
is, since chance has betrayed my secret to you, I must make bold to
acknowledge it; and to confess that I love your niece."

"Hey, no doubt you do," Sieur Raymond assented, pleasantly. "Indeed, I
think half the young men hereabout are in much the same predicament. But,
my question, if I mistake not, related to your reason for chaunting
canzonets beneath her window."

Raoul de Frison stared at him in amazement. "I love her," he said.

"You mentioned that before," Sieur Raymond suggested. "And I agreed, as I
remember, that it was more than probable; for my niece here--though it be
I that speak it--is by no means uncomely, has a commendable voice, the
walk of a Hebe, and sufficient wit to deceive her lover into happiness.
My faith, young man, you show excellent taste! But, I submit, the purest
affection is an insufficient excuse for outbaying a whole kennel of
hounds beneath the adored one's casement."

"Sir," said Raoul, "I believe that lovers have rarely been remarkable for
sanity; and it is an immemorial custom among them to praise the object of
their desires with fitting rhymes. Conceive, sir, that in your youth, had
you been accorded the love of so fair a lady, you yourself had scarcely
done otherwise. For I doubt if your blood runs so thin as yet that you
have quite forgot young Raymond d'Arnaye and the gracious ladies whom he
loved,--I think that your heart must needs yet treasure the memories of
divers moonlit nights, even such as this, when there was a great silence
in the world, and the nested trees were astir with desire of the dawn,
and your waking dreams were vext with the singular favor of some woman's
face. It is in the name of that young Raymond I now appeal to you."

"H'm!" said the Sieur d'Arnaye. "As I understand it, you appeal on the
ground that you were coerced by the moonlight and led astray by the
bird-nests in my poplar-trees; and you desire me to punish your
accomplices rather than you."

"Sir,--" said Raoul.

Sieur Raymond snarled. "You young dog, you know that in the most prosaic
breast a minor poet survives his entombment,--and you endeavor to make
capital of the knowledge. You know that I have a most sincere affection
for your father, and have even contracted since you came to Arnaye more
or less tolerance for you,--which emboldens you, my friend, to keep me
out of a comfortable bed at this hour of the night with an idiotic
discourse of moonlight and dissatisfied shrubbery! As it happens, I am
not a lank wench in her first country dance. Remember that, Raoul de
Frison, and praise the good God who gave me at birth a very placable
disposition! There is not a seigneur in all France, save me, but would
hang you at the crack of that same dawn for which you report your
lackadaisical trees to be whining; but the quarrel will soon be Monsieur
de Puysange's, and I prefer that he settle it at his own discretion. I
content myself with advising you to pester my niece no more."

Raoul spoke boldly. "She loves me," said he, standing very erect.

Sieur Raymond glanced at Matthiette, who sat with downcast head. "H'm!"
said he. "She moderates her transports indifferently well. Though, again,
why not? You are not an ill-looking lad. Indeed, Monsieur de Frison, I am
quite ready to admit that my niece is breaking her heart for you. The
point on which I wish to dwell is that she weds Monsieur de Puysange
early to-morrow morning."

"Uncle," Matthiette cried, as she started to her feet, "such a marriage
is a crime! I love Raoul!"

"Undoubtedly," purred Sieur Raymond, "you love the lad unboundedly,
madly, distractedly! Now we come to the root of the matter." He sank back
in his chair and smiled. "Young people," said he, "be seated, and hearken
to the words of wisdom. Love is a divine insanity, in which the sufferer
fancies the world mad. And the world is made up of madmen who condemn and
punish one another."

"But," Matthiette dissented, "ours is no ordinary case!"

"Surely not," Sieur Raymond readily agreed; "for there was never an
ordinary case in all the history of the universe. Oh, but I, too, have
known this madness; I, too, have perceived how infinitely my own
skirmishes with the blind bow-god differed in every respect from all that
has been or will ever be. It is an infallible sign of this frenzy.
Surely, I have said, the world will not willingly forget the vision of
Chloris in her wedding garments, or the wonder of her last clinging kiss.
Or, say Phyllis comes to-morrow: will an uninventive sun dare to rise in
the old, hackneyed fashion on such a day of days? Perish the thought!
There will probably be six suns, and, I dare say, a meteor or two."

"I perceive, sir," Raoul said here, "that after all you have not
forgotten the young Raymond of whom I spoke."

"That was a long while ago," snapped Sieur Raymond. "I know a deal more
of the world nowadays; and a level-headed world would be somewhat
surprised at such occurrences, and suggest that for the future Phyllis
remain at home. For whether you--or I--or any one--be in love or no is to
our fellow creatures an affair of astonishingly trivial import. Not since
Noe that great admiral, repeopled the world by begetting three sons upon
Dame Noria has there been a love-business worthy of consideration; nor,
if you come to that, not since sagacious Solomon went a-wenching has a
wise man wasted his wisdom on a lover. So love one another, my children,
by all means: but do you, Matthiette, make ready to depart into Normandy
as a true and faithful wife to Monsieur de Puysange; and do you, Raoul de
Prison, remain at Arnaye, and attend to my falcons more carefully than
you have done of late,--or, by the cross of Saint Lo! I will clap the
wench in a convent and hang the lad as high as Haman!"

Whereon Sieur Raymond smiled pleasantly, and drained his wine-cup as one
considering the discussion ended.

Raoul sat silent for a moment. Then he rose. "Monsieur d'Arnaye, you know
me to be a gentleman of unblemished descent, and as such entitled to a
hearing. I forbid you before all-seeing Heaven to wed your niece to a man
she does not love! And I have the honor to request of you her hand in
marriage."

"Which offer I decline," said Sieur Raymond, grinning placidly,--"with
every imaginable civility. Niece," he continued, "here is a gentleman who
offers you a heartful of love, six months of insanity, and forty years
of boredom in a leaky, wind-swept chateau. He has dreamed dreams
concerning you: allow me to present to you the reality."

With some ceremony Sieur Raymond now grasped Matthiette's hand and led
her mirror-ward. "Permit me to present the wife of Monsieur de Puysange.
Could he have made a worthier choice? Ah, happy lord, that shall so soon
embrace such perfect loveliness! For, frankly, my niece, is not that
golden hair of a shade that will set off a coronet extraordinarily well?
Are those wondrous eyes not fashioned to surfeit themselves upon the
homage and respect accorded the wife of a great lord? Ouais, the thing is
indisputable: and, therefore, I must differ from Monsieur de Frison here,
who would condemn this perfection to bloom and bud unnoticed in a paltry
country town."

There was an interval, during which Matthiette gazed sadly into the
mirror. "And Arnaye--?" said she.

"Undoubtedly," said Sieur Raymond,--"Arnaye must perish unless Puysange
prove her friend. Therefore, my niece conquers her natural aversion to a
young and wealthy husband, and a life of comfort and flattery and gayety;
relinquishes you, Raoul; and, like a feminine Mettius Curtius, sacrifices
herself to her country's welfare. Pierre may sleep undisturbed; and the
pigs will have a new sty. My faith, it is quite affecting! And so," Sieur
Raymond summed it up, "you two young fools may bid adieu, once for all,
while I contemplate this tapestry." He strolled to the end of the room
and turned his back. "Admirable!" said he; "really now, that leopard is
astonishingly lifelike!"

Raoul came toward Matthiette. "Dear love," said he, "you have chosen
wisely, and I bow to your decision. Farewell, Matthiette,--O indomitable
heart! O brave perfect woman that I have loved! Now at the last of all, I
praise you for your charity to me, Love's mendicant,--ah, believe me,
Matthiette, that atones for aught which follows now. Come what may, I
shall always remember that once in old days you loved me, and,
remembering this, I shall always thank God with a contented heart." He
bowed over her unresponsive hand. "Matthiette," he whispered, "be happy!
For I desire that very heartily, and I beseech of our Sovereign Lady--not
caring to hide at all how my voice shakes, nor how the loveliness of you,
seen now for the last time, is making blind my eyes--that you may never
know unhappiness. You have chosen wisely, Matthiette; yet, ah, my dear,
do not forget me utterly, but keep always a little place in your heart
for your boy lover!"

Sieur Raymond concluded his inspection of the tapestry, and turned with a
premonitory cough. "Thus ends the comedy," said he, shrugging, "with much
fine, harmless talking about 'always,' while the world triumphs.
Invariably the world triumphs, my children. Eheu, we are as God made us,
we men and women that cumber His stately earth!" He drew his arm through
Raoul's. "Farewell, niece," said Sieur Raymond, smiling; "I rejoice that
you are cured of your malady. Now in respect to gerfalcons--" said he.
The arras fell behind them.

3. _Obdurate Love_

Matthiette sat brooding in her room, as the night wore on. She was
pitifully frightened, numb. There was in the room, she dimly noted, a
heavy silence that sobs had no power to shatter. Dimly, too, she seemed
aware of a multitude of wide, incurious eyes which watched her from every
corner, where panels snapped at times with sharp echoes. The night was
well-nigh done when she arose.

"After all," she said, wearily, "it is my manifest duty." Matthiette
crept to the mirror and studied it.

"Madame de Puysange," said she, without any intonation; then threw her
arms above her head, with a hard gesture of despair. "I love him!" she
cried, in a frightened voice.

Matthiette went to a great chest and fumbled among its contents. She drew
out a dagger in a leather case, and unsheathed it. The light shone evilly
scintillant upon the blade. She laughed, and hid it in the bosom of her
gown, and fastened a cloak about her with impatient fingers. Then
Matthiette crept down the winding stair that led to the gardens, and
unlocked the door at the foot of it.

A sudden rush of night swept toward her, big with the secrecy of dawn.
The sky, washed clean of stars, sprawled above,--a leaden, monotonous
blank. Many trees whispered thickly over the chaos of earth; to the left,
in an increasing dove-colored luminousness, a field of growing maize
bristled like the chin of an unshaven Titan.

Matthiette entered an expectant world. Once in the tree-chequered
gardens, it was as though she crept through the aisles of an unlit
cathedral already garnished for its sacred pageant. Matthiette heard the
querulous birds call sleepily above; the margin of night was thick with
their petulant complaints; behind her was the monstrous shadow of the
Chateau d'Arnaye, and past that was a sullen red, the red of contused
flesh, to herald dawn. Infinity waited a-tiptoe, tense for the coming
miracle, and against this vast repression, her grief dwindled into
irrelevancy: the leaves whispered comfort; each tree-bole hid chuckling
fauns. Matthiette laughed. Content had flooded the universe all through
and through now that yonder, unseen as yet, the scarlet-faced sun was
toiling up the rim of the world, and matters, it somehow seemed, could
not turn out so very ill, in the end.

Matthiette came to a hut, from whose open window a faded golden glow
spread out into obscurity like a tawdry fan. From without she peered into
the hut and saw Raoul. A lamp flickered upon the table. His shadow
twitched and wavered about the plastered walls,--a portentous mass of
head upon a hemisphere of shoulders,--as Raoul bent over a chest, sorting
the contents, singing softly to himself, while Matthiette leaned upon the
sill without, and the gardens of Arnaye took form and stirred in the
heart of a chill, steady, sapphire-like radiance.

Sang Raoul:

_"Lord, I have worshipped thee ever,--
Through all these years
I have served thee, forsaking never
Light Love that veers
As a child between laughter and tears.
Hast thou no more to afford,--
Naught save laughter and tears,--
Love, my lord?

"I have borne thy heaviest burden,
Nor served thee amiss:
Now thou hast given a guerdon;
Lo, it was this--
A sigh, a shudder, a kiss.
Hast thou no more to accord!
I would have more than this,
Love, my lord.

"I am wearied of love that is pastime
And gifts that it brings;
I entreat of thee, lord, at this last time

"Ineffable things.
Nay, have proud long-dead kings
Stricken no subtler chord,
Whereof the memory clings,
Love, my lord?

"But for a little we live;
Show me thine innermost hoard!
Hast thou no more to give,
Love, my lord?"_

4. _Raymond Psychopompos_

Matthiette went to the hut's door: her hands fell irresolutely upon the
rough surface of it and lay still for a moment. Then with the noise of a
hoarse groan the door swung inward, and the light guttered in a swirl of
keen morning air, casting convulsive shadows upon her lifted countenance,
and was extinguished. She held out her arms in a gesture that was half
maternal. "Raoul!" she murmured.

He turned. A sudden bird plunged through the twilight without, with a
glad cry that pierced like a knife through the stillness which had fallen
in the little room. Raoul de Frison faced her, with clenched hands,
silent. For that instant she saw him transfigured.

But his silence frightened her. There came a piteous catch in her voice.
"Fair friend, have you not bidden me--_be happy?_"

He sighed. "Mademoiselle," he said, dully, "I may not avail myself of
your tenderness of heart; that you have come to comfort me in my sorrow
is a deed at which, I think, God's holy Angels must rejoice: but I cannot
avail myself of it."

"Raoul, Raoul," she said, "do you think that I have come in--pity!"

"Matthiette," he returned, "your uncle spoke the truth. I have dreamed
dreams concerning you,--dreams of a foolish, golden-hearted girl, who
would yield--yield gladly--all that the world may give, to be one flesh
and soul with me. But I have wakened, dear, to the braver reality,--that
valorous woman, strong enough to conquer even her own heart that her
people may be freed from their peril."

"Blind! blind!" she cried.

Raoul smiled down upon her. "Mademoiselle," said he, "I do not doubt that
you love me."

She went wearily toward the window. "I am not very wise," Matthiette
said, looking out upon the gardens, "and it appears that God has given
me an exceedingly tangled matter to unravel. Yet if I decide it
wrongly I think the Eternal Father will understand it is because I am
not very wise."

Matthiette for a moment was silent. Then with averted face she spoke
again. "My uncle commands me, with many astute saws and pithy sayings, to
wed Monsieur de Puysange. I have not skill to combat him. Many times he
has proven it my duty, but he is quick in argument and proves what he
will; and I do not think it is my duty. It appears to me a matter wherein
man's wisdom is at variance with God's will as manifested to us through
the holy Evangelists. Assuredly, if I do not wed Monsieur de Puysange
there may be war here in our Arnaye, and God has forbidden war; but I may
not insure peace in Arnaye without prostituting my body to a man I do not
love, and that, too, God has forbidden. I speak somewhat grossly for a
maid, but you love me, I think, and will understand. And I, also, love
you, Monsieur de Frison. Yet--ah, I am pitiably weak! Love tugs at my
heart-strings, bidding me cling to you, and forget these other matters;
but I cannot do that, either. I desire very heartily the comfort and
splendor and adulation which you cannot give me. I am pitiably weak,
Raoul! I cannot come to you with an undivided heart,--but my heart, such
as it is, I have given you, and to-day I deliver my honor into your hands
and my life's happiness, to preserve or to destroy. Mother of Christ,
grant that I have chosen rightly, for I have chosen now, past retreat! I
have chosen you, Raoul, and that love which you elect to give me, and of
which I must endeavor to be worthy."

Matthiette turned from the window. Now, her bright audacity gone, her
ardors chilled, you saw how like a grave, straightforward boy she was,
how illimitably tender, how inefficient. "It may be that I have decided
wrongly in this tangled matter," she said now. "And yet I think that God,
Who loves us infinitely, cannot be greatly vexed at anything His children
do for love of one another."

He came toward her. "I bid you go," he said. "Matthiette, it is my duty
to bid you go, and it is your duty to obey."

She smiled wistfully through unshed tears. "Man's wisdom!" said
Matthiette. "I think that it is not my duty. And so I disobey you,
dear,--this once, and no more hereafter."

"And yet last night--" Raoul began.

"Last night," said she, "I thought that I was strong. I know now it was
my vanity that was strong,--vanity and pride and fear, Raoul, that for a
little mastered me. But in the dawn all things seem very trivial, saving
love alone."

They looked out into the dew-washed gardens. The daylight was fullgrown,
and already the clear-cut forms of men were passing beneath the swaying
branches. In the distance a trumpet snarled.

"Dear love," said Raoul, "do you not understand that you have brought
about my death? For Monsieur de Puysange is at the gates of Arnaye; and
either he or Sieur Raymond will have me hanged ere noon."

"I do not know," she said, in a tired voice. "I think that Monsieur de
Puysange has some cause to thank me; and my uncle loves me, and his
heart, for all his gruffness, is very tender. And--see, Raoul!" She drew
the dagger from her bosom. "I shall not survive you a long while, O man
of all the world!"

Perplexed joy flushed through his countenance. "You will do
this--for me?" he cried, with a sort of sob. "Matthiette,
Matthiette, you shame me!"

"But I love you," said Matthiette. "How could it be possible, then, for
me to live after you were dead?"

He bent to her. They kissed.

Hand in hand they went forth into the daylight. The kindly, familiar
place seemed in Matthiette's eyes oppressed and transformed by the
austerity of dawn. It was a clear Sunday morning, at the hightide of
summer, and she found the world unutterably Sabbatical; only by a
vigorous effort could memory connect it with the normal life of
yesterday. The cool edges of the woods, vibrant now with multitudinous
shrill pipings, the purple shadows shrinking eastward on the dimpling
lawns, the intricate and broken traceries of the dial (where they had met
so often), the blurred windings of their path, above which brooded the
peaked roofs and gables and slender clerestories of Arnaye, the broad
river yonder lapsing through deserted sunlit fields,--these things lay
before them scarce heeded, stript of all perspective, flat as an open
scroll. To them all this was alien. She and Raoul were quite apart from
these matters, quite alone, despite the men of Arnaye, hurrying toward
the courtyard, who stared at them curiously, but said nothing. A brisk
wind was abroad in the tree-tops, scattering stray leaves, already dead,
over the lush grass. Tenderly Raoul brushed a little golden sycamore leaf
from the lovelier gold of Matthiette's hair.

"I do not know how long I have to live," he said. "Nobody knows that. But
I wish that I might live a great while to serve you worthily."

She answered: "Neither in life nor death shall we be parted now. That
only matters, my husband."

They came into the crowded court-yard just as the drawbridge fell. A
troop of horse clattered into Arnaye, and the leader, a young man of
frank countenance, dismounted and looked about him inquiringly. Then he
came toward them.

"Monseigneur," said he, "you see that we ride early in honor of your
nuptials."

Behind them some one chuckled. "Love one another, young people," said
Sieur Raymond; "but do you, Matthiette, make ready to depart into
Normandy as a true and faithful wife to Monsieur de Puysange."

She stared into Raoul's laughing face; there was a kind of anguish in her
swift comprehension. Quickly the two men who loved her glanced at each
other, half in shame.

But the Sieur d'Arnaye was not lightly dashed. "Oh, la, la, la!" chuckled
the Sieur d'Arnaye, "she would never have given you a second thought,
monsieur le vicomte, had I not labelled you forbidden fruit. As it is, my
last conspiracy, while a little ruthless, I grant you, turns out
admirably. Jack has his Jill, and all ends merrily, like an old song. I
will begin on those pig-sties the first thing to-morrow morning."

* * * * *

OCTOBER 6, 1519

_"Therefore, like as May month flowereth and flourisheth in many
gardens, so in likewise let every man of worship flourish his heart in
this world; first unto God, and next unto the joy of them that he
promiseth his faith unto."_

_The quondam Raoul de Prison stood high in the graces of the Lady Regent
of France, Anne de Beaujeu, who was, indeed, tolerably notorious for her
partiality to well-built young men. Courtiers whispered more than there
is any need here to rehearse. In any event, when in 1485 the daughter of
Louis XI fitted out an expedition to press the Earl of Richmond's claim
to the English crown, de Puysange sailed from Havre as commander of the
French fleet. He fought at Bosworth, not discreditably; and a year
afterward, when England had for the most part accepted Henry VII,
Matthiette rejoined her husband.

They never subsequently quitted England. During the long civil wars, de
Puysange was known as a shrewd captain and a judicious counsellor to the
King, who rewarded his services as liberally as Tudorian parsimony would
permit. After the death of Henry VII, however, the vicomte took little
part in public affairs, spending most of his time at Tiverton Manor, in
Devon, where, surrounded by their numerous progeny, he and Matthiette
grew old together in peace and concord.

Indeed, the vicomte so ordered all his cool love-affairs that, having
taken a wife as a matter of expediency, he continued as a matter of
expediency to make her a fair husband, as husbands go. It also seemed to
him, they relate, a matter of expediency to ignore the interpretation
given by scandalous persons to the paternal friendship extended to Madame
de Puysange by a high prince of the Church, during the last five years of
the great Cardinal Morton's life, for the connection was useful.

The following is from a manuscript of doubtful authenticity still to be
seen at Allonby Shaw. It purports to contain the autobiography of Will
Sommers, the vicomte's jester, afterward court-fool to Henry VIII._

CHAPTER VII

_The Episode Called The Castle of Content_

1. _I Glimpse the Castle_

"And so, dearie," she ended, "you may seize the revenues of Allonby with
unwashed hands."

I said, "Why have you done this?" I was half-frightened by the sudden
whirl of Dame Fortune's wheel.

"Dear cousin in motley," grinned the beldame, "'twas for hatred of Tom
Allonby and all his accursed race that I have kept the secret thus long.
Now comes a braver revenge: and I settle my score with the black spawn of
Allonby--euh, how entirely!--by setting you at their head."

"Nay, I elect for a more flattering reason. I begin to suspect you,
cousin, of some human compunction."

"Well, Willie, well, I never hated you as much as I had reason to," she
grumbled, and began to cough very lamentably. "So at the last I must make
a marquis of you--ugh! Will you jest for them in counsel, Willie, and
lead your henchman to battle with a bawdy song--ugh, ugh!"

Her voice crackled like burning timber, and sputtered in groans that
would have been fanged curses had breath not failed her: for my aunt
Elinor possessed a nimble tongue, whetted, as rumor had it, by the
attendance of divers Sabbats, and the chaunting of such songs as honest
men may not hear and live, however highly the succubi and warlocks and
were-cats, and Satan's courtiers generally, commend them.

I squinted down at one green leg, scratched the crimson fellow to it with
my bauble, and could not deny that, even so, the witch was dealing
handsomely with me to-night.

'Twas a strange tale which my Aunt Elinor had ended, speaking swiftly
lest the worms grow impatient and Charon weigh anchor ere she had done:
and the proofs of the tale's verity, set forth in a fair clerkly
handwriting, rustled in my hand,--scratches of a long-rotted pen that
transferred me to the right side of the blanket, and transformed the
motley of a fool into the ermine of a peer.

All Devon knew I was son to Tom Allonby, who had been Marquis of Falmouth
at his uncle's death, had not Tom Allonby, upon the very eve of that
event, broken his neck in a fox-hunt; but Dan Gabriel, come post-haste
from Heaven had with difficulty convinced the village idiot that Holy
Church had smiled upon Tom's union with a tanner's daughter, and that
their son was lord of Allonby Shaw. I doubted it, even as I read the
proof. Yet it was true,--true that I had precedence even of the great
Monsieur de Puysange, who had kept me to make him mirth on a shifty diet,
first coins, then curses, these ten years past,--true that my father,
rogue in all else, had yet dealt equitably with my mother ere he
died,--true that my aunt, less honorably used by him, had shared their
secret with the priest who married them, maliciously preserving it till
this, when her words fell before me as anciently Jove's shower before the
Argive Danae, coruscant and awful, pregnant with undreamed-of chances
which stirred as yet blindly in Time's womb.

A sick anger woke in me, remembering the burden of ignoble years this hag
had suffered me to bear; yet my so young gentility bade me avoid reproach
of the dying peasant woman, who, when all was said, had been but ill-used
by our house. Death hath a strange potency: commanding as he doth,
unquestioned and unchidden, the emperor to have done with slaying, the
poet to rise from his unfinished rhyme, the tender and gracious lady to
cease from nice denying words (mixed though they be with pitiful sighs
that break their sequence like an amorous ditty heard through the strains
of a martial stave), and all men, gentle or base, to follow Death's gaunt
standard into unmapped realms, something of majesty enshrines the
paltriest knave on whom the weight of Death's chill finger hath fallen. I
doubt not that Cain's children wept about his deathbed, and that the
centurions spake in whispers as they lowered Iscariot from the
elder-tree: and in like manner the reproaches which stirred in my brain
had no power to move my lips. The frail carnal tenement, swept and
cleansed of all mortality, was garnished for Death's coming; and I could
not sorrow at his advent here: but I perforce must pity rather than
revile the prey which Age and Poverty, those ravenous forerunning hounds
of Death yet harried, at the door of the tomb.

Running over these considerations in my mind, I said, "I forgive you."

"You posturing lack-wit!" she returned, and her sunk jaws quivered
angrily. "D'ye play the condescending gentleman already! Dearie, your
master did not take the news so calmly."

"You have told him?"

I had risen, for the wried, and yet sly, malice of my aunt's face was
rather that of Bellona, who, as clerks avow, ever bore carnage and
dissension in her train, than that of a mortal, mutton-fed woman. Elinor
Sommers hated me--having God knows how just a cause--for the reason that
I was my father's son; and yet, for this same reason as I think, there
was in all our intercourse an odd, harsh, grudging sort of tenderness.

She laughed now,--flat and shrill, like the laughter of the damned heard
in Hell between the roaring of flames. "Were it not common kindness to
tell him, since this old sleek fellow's fine daughter is to wed the
cuckoo that hath your nest? Yes, Willie, yes, your master hath known
since morning."

"And Adeliza?" I asked, in a voice that tricked me.

"Heh, my Lady-High-and-Mighty hath, I think, heard nothing as yet. She
will be hearing of new suitors soon enough, though, for her father,
Monsieur Fine-Words, that silky, grinning thief, is very keen in a
money-chase,--keen as a terrier on a rat-track, may Satan twist his neck!
Pshutt, dearie! here is a smiling knave who means to have the estate of
Allonby as it stands; what live-stock may go therewith, whether
crack-brained or not, is all one to him. He will not balk at a drachm or
two of wit in his son-in-law. You have but to whistle,--but to whistle,
Willie, and she'll come!"

I said, "Eh, woman, and have you no heart?"

"I gave it to your father for a few lying speeches," she answered, "and
Tom Allonby taught me the worth of all such commerce." There was a smile
upon her lips, sister to that which Clytemnestra may have flaunted in
welcome of that old Emperor Agamemnon, come in gory opulence from the
sack of Troy Town. "I gave it--" Her voice rose here to a despairing
wail. "Ah, go, before I lay my curse upon you, son of Thomas Allonby!
But do you kiss me first, for you have just his lying mouth. So, that is
better! And now go, my lord marquis; it is not fitting that death
should intrude into your lordship's presence. Go, fool, and let me die
in peace!"

I no longer cast a cautious eye toward the whip (ah, familiar unkindly
whip!) that still hung beside the door of the hut; but, I confess, my
aunt's looks were none too delectable, and ancient custom rendered her
wrath yet terrible. If the farmers thereabouts were to be trusted, I knew
Old Legion's bailiff would shortly be at hand, to distrain upon a soul
escheat and forfeited to Dis by many years of cruel witchcrafts, close
wiles, and nameless sorceries; and I could never abide unpared nails,
even though they be red-hot. Therefore, I relinquished her to the village
gossips, who waited without, and I tucked my bauble under my arm.

"Dear aunt," said I, "farewell!"

"Good-bye, Willie!" said she; "I shall often laugh in Hell to think of
the crack-brained marquis that I made on earth. It was my will to make a
beggar of Tom's son, but at the last I play the fool and cannot do it.
But do you play the fool, too, dearie, and"--she chuckled here--"and have
your posture and your fine long words, whatever happens."

"'Tis my vocation," I answered, briefly; and so went forth into
the night.

2. _At the Ladder's Foot_

I came to Tiverton Manor through a darkness black as the lining of
Baalzebub's oldest cloak. The storm had passed, but clouds yet hung
heavy as feather-beds between mankind and the stars; as I crossed the
bridge the swollen Exe was but dimly visible, though it roared beneath
me, and shook the frail timbers hungrily. The bridge had long been
unsafe: Monsieur de Puysange had planned one stronger and less hazardous
than the former edifice, of which the arches yet remained, and this was
now in the making, as divers piles of unhewn lumber and stone attested:
meanwhile, the roadway was a makeshift of half-rotten wood that even in
this abating wind shook villainously. I stood for a moment and heard the
waters lapping and splashing and laughing, as though they would hold it
rare and desirable mirth to swallow and spew forth a powerful marquis,
and grind his body among the battered timber and tree-boles and dead
sheep swept from the hills, and at last vomit him into the sea, that a
corpse, wide-eyed and livid, might bob up and down the beach, in quest of
a quiet grave where the name of Allonby was scarcely known. The
imagination was so vivid that it frightened me as I picked my way
cat-footed through the dark.

The folk of Tiverton Manor were knotting on their nightcaps, by this; but
there was a light in the Lady Adeliza's window, faint as a sick glowworm.
I rolled in the seeded grass and chuckled, as I thought of what a day or
two might bring about, and I murmured to myself an old cradle-song of
Devon which she loved and often sang; and was, ere I knew it, carolling
aloud, for pure wantonness and joy that Monsieur de Puysange was not
likely to have me whipped, now, however blatantly I might elect to
discourse.

Sang I:

_"Through the mist of years does it gleam as yet--
That fair and free extent
Of moonlit turret and parapet,
Which castled, once, Content?

"Ei ho! Ei ho! the Castle of Content,
With drowsy music drowning merriment
Where Dreams and Visions held high carnival,
And frolicking frail Loves made light of all,--
Ei ho! the vanished Castle of Content!"_

As I ended, the casement was pushed open, and the Lady Adeliza came upon
the balcony, the light streaming from behind her in such fashion as made
her appear an angel peering out of Heaven at our mortal antics. Indeed,
there was always something more than human in her loveliness, though, to
be frank, it savored less of chilling paradisial perfection than of a
vision of some great-eyed queen of faery, such as those whose feet glide
unwetted over our fen-waters when they roam o' nights in search of unwary
travellers. Lady Adeliza was a fair beauty; that is, her eyes were of the
color of opals, and her complexion as the first rose of spring, blushing
at her haste to snare men's hearts with beauty; and her loosened hair
rippled in such a burst of splendor that I have seen a pale brilliancy,
like that of amber, reflected by her bared shoulders where the bright
waves fell heavily against the tender flesh, and ivory vied with gold in
beauty. She was somewhat proud, they said; and to others she may have
been, but to me, never. Her voice was a low, sweet song, her look that of
the chaste Roman, beneficent Saint Dorothy, as she is pictured in our
Chapel here at Tiverton. Proud, they called her! to me her condescensions
were so manifold that I cannot set them down: indeed, in all she spoke
and did there was an extreme kindliness that made a courteous word from
her of more worth than a purse from another.

She said, "Is it you, Will Sommers?"

"Madonna," I answered, "with whom else should the owls confer? It is a
venerable saying that extremes meet. And here you may behold it
exemplified, as in the conference of an epicure and an ostrich: though,
for this once, Wisdom makes bold to sit above Folly."

"Did you carol, then, to the owls of Tiverton?" she queried.

"Hand upon heart," said I, "my grim gossips care less for my melody than
for the squeaking of a mouse; and I sang rather for joy that at last I
may enter into the Castle of Content."

The Lady Adeliza replied, "But nobody enters there alone."

"Madonna," said I, "your apprehension is nimble. I am in hope that a
woman's hand may lower the drawbridge."

She said only "You--!" Then she desisted, incredulous laughter breaking
the soft flow of speech.

"Now, by Paul and Peter, those eminent apostles! the prophet Jeremy never
spake more veraciously in Edom! The fool sighs for a fair woman,--what
else should he do, being a fool? Ah, madonna, as in very remote times
that notable jester, Love, popped out of Night's wind-egg, and by his
sorcery fashioned from the primeval tangle the pleasant earth that sleeps
about us,--even thus, may he not frame the disorder of a fool's brain
into the semblance of a lover's? Believe me, the change is not so great
as you might think. Yet if you will, laugh at me, madonna, for I love a
woman far above me,--a woman who knows not of my love, or, at most,
considers it but as the homage which grateful peasants accord the
all-nurturing sun; so that, now chance hath woven me a ladder whereby to
mount to her, I scarcely dare to set my foot upon the bottom rung."

"A ladder?" she said, oddly: "and are you talking of a rope ladder?"

"I would describe it, rather," said I, "as a golden ladder."

There came a silence. About us the wind wailed among the gaunt, deserted
choir of the trees, and in the distance an owl hooted sardonically.

The Lady Adeliza said: "Be bold. Be bold, and know that a woman loves
once and forever, whether she will or no. Love is not sold in the shops,
and the grave merchants that trade in the ultimate seas, and send forth
argosies even to jewelled Ind, to fetch home rich pearls, and strange
outlandish dyes, and spiceries, and the raiment of imperious queens of
the old time, have bought and sold no love, for all their traffic. It is
above gold. I know"--here her voice faltered somewhat--"I know of a woman
whose birth is very near the throne, and whose beauty, such as it is,
hath been commended, who loved a man the politic world would have none
of, for he was not rich nor famous, nor even very wise. And the world
bade her relinquish him; but within the chambers of her heart his voice
rang more loudly than that of the world, and for his least word said she
would leave all and go with him whither he would. And--she waits only for
the speaking of that word."

"Be bold?" said I.

"Ay," she returned; "that is the moral of my tale. Make me a song of it
to-night, dear Will,--and tomorrow, perhaps, you may learn how this
woman, too, entered into the Castle of Content."

"Madonna--!" I cried.

"It is late," said she, "and I must go."

"To-morrow--?" I said. My heart was racing now.

"Ay, to-morrow,--the morrow that by this draws very near. Farewell!" She
was gone, casting one swift glance backward, even as the ancient
Parthians are fabled to have shot their arrows as they fled; and, if the
airier missile, also, left a wound, I, for one, would not willingly have
quitted her invulnerate.

3. _Night, and a Stormed Castle_

I went forth into the woods that stand thick about Tiverton Manor, where
I lay flat on my back among the fallen leaves, dreaming many dreams to
myself,--dreams that were frolic songs of happiness, to which the papers
in my jerkin rustled a reassuring chorus.

I have heard that night is own sister to death; now, as the ultimate torn
cloud passed seaward, and the new-washed harvest-moon broke forth in a
red glory, and stars clustered about her like a swarm of golden bees, I
thought this night was rather the parent of a new life. But, indeed,
there is a solemnity in night beyond all jesting: for night knits up the
tangled yarn of our day's doings into a pattern either good or ill; it
renews the vigor of the living, and with the lapsing of the tide it draws
the dying toward night's impenetrable depths, gently; and it honors the
secrecy of lovers as zealously as that of rogues. In the morning our
bodies rise to their allotted work; but our wits have had their season in
the night, or of kissing, or of junketing, or of high resolve; and the
greater part of such noble deeds as day witnesses have been planned in
the solitude of night. It is the sage counsellor, the potent physician
that heals and comforts the sorrows of all the world: and night proved
such to me, as I pondered on the proud race of Allonby, and knew that in
the general record of time my name must soon be set as a sonorous word
significant, as the cat might jump, for much good or for large evil.

And Adeliza loved me, and had bidden me be bold! I may not write of what
my thoughts were as I considered that stupendous miracle.

But even the lark that daily soars into the naked presence of the sun
must seek his woven nest among the grass at twilight; and so, with many
yawns, I rose after an hour of dreams to look for sleep. Tiverton Manor
was a formless blot on the mild radiance of the heavens, but I must needs
pause for a while, gazing up at the Lady Adeliza's window, like a hen
drinking water, and thinking of divers matters.

It was then that something rustled among the leaves, and, turning, I
stared into the countenance of Stephen Allonby, until to-day Marquis of
Falmouth, a slim, comely youth, and son to my father's younger brother.

"Fool," said he, "you walk late."

"Faith!" said I, "instinct warned me that a fool might find fit company
here,--dear cousin." He frowned at the word, for he was never prone to
admit the relationship, being in disposition somewhat precise.

"Eh?" said he; then paused for a while. "I have more kinsmen than I knew
of," he resumed, at length, "and to-day spawns them thick as herrings.
Your greeting falls strangely pat with that of a brother of yours,
alleged to be begot in lawful matrimony, who hath appeared to claim the
title and estates, and hath even imposed upon the credulity of Monsieur
de Puysange."

I said, "And who is this new kinsman?" though his speaking had brought my
heart into my mouth. "I have many brethren, if report speak truly as to
how little my poor father slept at night."

"I do not know," said he. "The vicomte had not told me more than half the
tale when I called him a double-faced old rogue. Thereafter we
parted--well, rather hastily!"

I was moved with a sort of pity, since it was plainer than a pike-staff
that Monsieur de Puysange had bundled this penniless young fellow out of
Tiverton, with scant courtesy and a scantier explanation. Still, the
wording of this sympathy was a ticklish business. I waved my hand upward.
"The match, then, is broken off, between you and the Lady Adeliza?"

"Ay!" my cousin said, grimly.

Again I was nonplussed. Since their betrothal was an affair of rank
conveniency, my Cousin Stephen should, in reason, grieve at this
miscarriage temperately, and yet if by some awkward chance he, too,
adored the delicate comeliness asleep above us, equity conceded his taste
to be unfortunate rather than remarkable. Inwardly I resolved to bestow
upon my Cousin Stephen a competence, and to pick out for him somewhere a
wife better suited to his station. Meanwhile a silence fell.

He cleared his throat; swore softly to himself; took a brief turn on the
grass; and approached me, purse in hand. "It is time you were abed," said
my cousin.

I assented to this. "And since one may sleep anywhere," I reasoned, "why
not here?" Thereupon, for I was somewhat puzzled at his bearing, I lay
down upon the gravel and snored.

"Fool," he said. I opened one eye. "I have business here"--I opened
the other--"with the Lady Adeliza." He tossed me a coin as I sprang
to my feet.

"Sir--!" I cried out.

"Ho, she expects me."

"In that case--" said I.

"The difficulty is to give a signal."

"'Tis as easy as lying," I reassured him; and thereupon I began to sing.

Sang I:

_"Such toll we took of his niggling hours
That the troops of Time were sent
To seise the treasures and fell the towers
Of the Castle of Content.

"Ei ho! Ei ho! the Castle of Content,
With flaming tower and tumbling battlement
Where Time hath conquered, and the firelight streams
Above sore-wounded Loves and dying Dreams,--
Ei ho! the vanished Castle of Content!"_

And I had scarcely ended when the casement opened.

"Stephen!" said the Lady Adeliza.

"Dear love!" said he.

"Humph!" said I.

Here a rope-ladder unrolled from the balcony and hit me upon the head.

"Regard the orchard for a moment," the Lady Adeliza said, with the
wonderfullest little laugh.

My cousin indignantly protested, "I have company,--a burr that
sticks to me."

"A fool," I explained,--"to keep him in countenance."

"It was ever the part of folly," said she, laughing yet again, "to be
swayed by a woman; and it is the part of wisdom to be discreet. In any
event, there must be no spectators."

So we two Allonbys held each a strand of the ladder and stared at the
ripening apples, black globes among the wind-vext silver of the leaves.
In a moment the Lady Adeliza stood between us. Her hand rested upon mine
as she leapt to the ground,--the tiniest velvet-soft ounce-weight that
ever set a man's blood a-tingle.

"I did not know--" said she.

"Faith, madonna!" said I, "no more did I till this. I deduce but now that
the Marquis of Falmouth is the person you discoursed of an hour since,
with whom you hope to enter the Castle of Content."

"Ah, Will! dear Will, do not think lightly of me," she said. "My
father--"

"Is as all of them have been since Father Adam's dotage," I ended; "and
therefore is keeping fools and honest horses from their rest."

My cousin said, angrily, "You have been spying!"

"Because I know that there are horses yonder?" said I. "And fools
here--and everywhere? Surely, there needs no argent-bearded Merlin come
yawning out of Brocheliaunde to inform us of that."

He said, "You will be secret?"

"In comparison," I answered, "the grave is garrulous, and a death's-head
a chattering magpie; yet I think that your maid, madonna,--"

"Beatris is sworn to silence."

"Which signifies she is already on her way to Monsieur de Puysange. She
was coerced; she discovered it too late; and a sufficiency of tears and
pious protestations will attest her innocence. It is all one." I winked
an eye very sagely.

"Your jesting is tedious," my cousin said. "Come, Adeliza!"

Blaise, my lord marquis' French servant, held three horses in the
shadow, so close that it was incredible I had not heard their trampling.
Now the lovers mounted and were off like thistledown ere Blaise put foot
to stirrup.

"Blaise," said I.

"Ohe!" said he, pausing.

"--if, upon this pleasurable occasion, I were to borrow your horse--"

"Impossible!"

"If I were to take it by force--" I exhibited my coin.

"Eh?"

"--no one could blame you."

"And yet perhaps--"

"The deduction is illogical," said I. And pushing him aside, I mounted
and set out into the night after my cousin and the Lady Adeliza.

4. _All Ends in a Puff of Smoke_

They rode leisurely enough along the winding highway that lay in the
moonlight like a white ribbon in a pedlar's box; and staying as I did
some hundred yards behind, they thought me no other than Blaise, being,
indeed, too much engrossed with each other to regard the outer world very
strictly. So we rode a matter of three miles in the whispering, moonlit
woods, they prattling and laughing as though there were no such monster
in all the universe as a thrifty-minded father, and I brooding upon many
things beside my marquisate, and keeping an ear cocked backward for
possible pursuit.

In any ordinary falling out of affairs they would ride unhindered to
Teignmouth, and thence to Allonby Shaw; they counted fully upon doing
this; but I, knowing Beatris, who was waiting-maid to the Lady Adeliza,
and consequently in the plot, to be the devil's own vixen, despite an
innocent face and a wheedling tongue, was less certain.

I shall not easily forget that riding away from the old vicomte's
preparations to make a match of it between Adeliza and me. About us the
woods sighed and whispered, dappled by the moonlight with unstable
chequerings of blue and silver. Tightly he clung to my crupper, that
swart tireless horseman, Care; but ahead rode Love, anterior to all
things and yet eternally young, in quest of the Castle of Content. The
horses' hoofs beat against the pebbles as if in chorus to the Devon
cradle-song that rang idly in my brain. 'Twas little to me--now--whether
the quest were won or lost; yet, as I watched the Lady Adeliza's white
cloak tossing and fluttering in the wind, my blood pulsed more strongly
than it is wont to do, and was stirred by the keen odors of the night and
by many memories of her gracious kindliness and by a desire to serve
somewhat toward the attainment of her happiness. Thus it was that my
teeth clenched, and a dog howled in the distance, and the world seemed
very old and very incurious of our mortal woes and joys.

Then that befell which I had looked for, and I heard the clatter of
horses' hoofs behind us, and knew that Monsieur de Puysange and his men
were at hand to rescue the Lady Adeliza from my fine-looking young
cousin, to put her into the bed of a rich fool. So I essayed a gallop.

"Spur!" I cried;--"in the name of Saint Cupid!"

With a little gasp, she bent forward over her horse's mane, urging him
onward with every nerve and muscle of her tender body. I could not keep
my gaze from her as we swept through the night. Picture Europa in her
traverse, bull-borne, through the summer sea, the depths giving up their
misshapen deities, and the blind sea-snakes writhing about her in hideous
homage, while she, a little frightened, thinks resolutely of Crete beyond
these unaccustomed horrors and of the god desirous of her contentation;
and there, to an eyelash, you have Adeliza as I saw her.

But steadily our pursuers gained on us: and as we paused to pick our way
over the frail bridge that spanned the Exe, their clamor was very near.

"Take care!" I cried,--but too late, for my horse swerved under me as I
spoke, and my lord marquis' steed caught foot in a pile of lumber and
fell heavily. He was up in a moment, unhurt, but the horse was lamed.

"You!" cried my Cousin Stephen. "Oh, but what fiend sends me this
burr again!"

I said: "My fellow-madmen, it is all one if I have a taste for
night-riding and the shedding of noble blood. Alack, though, that I have
left my brave bauble at Tiverton! Had I that here, I might do such deeds!
I might show such prowess upon the person of Monsieur de Puysange as
your Nine Worthies would quake to hear of! For I have the honor to inform
you, my doves, that we are captured."

Indeed, we were in train to be, for even the two sound horses were
well-nigh foundered: Blaise, the idle rogue, had not troubled to provide
fresh steeds, so easy had the flitting seemed; and it was conspicuous
that we would be overtaken in half an hour.

"So it seems," said Stephen Allonby. "Well! one can die but once." Thus
speaking, he drew his sword with an air which might have been envied by
Captain Leonidas at Thermopylae.

"Together, my heart!" she cried.

"Madonna," said I, dismounting as I spoke, "pray you consider! With
neither of you, is there any question of death; 'tis but that Monsieur de
Puysange desires you to make a suitable match. It is not yet too late;
his heart is kindly so long as he gets his will and profit everywhere,
and he bears no malice toward my lord marquis. Yield, then, to your
father's wishes, since there is no choice."

She stared at me, as thanks for this sensible advice. "And you--is it you
that would enter into the Castle of Content?" she cried, with a scorn
that lashed.

I said: "Madonna, bethink you, you know naught of this man your father
desires you to wed. Is it not possible that he, too, may love--or may
learn to love you, on provocation? You are very fair, madonna. Yours is a
beauty that may draw a man to Heaven or unclose the gates of Hell, at
will; indeed, even I, in my poor dreams, have seen your face as bright
and glorious as is the lighted space above the altar when Christ's blood
and body are shared among His worshippers. Men certainly will never cease
to love you. Will he--your husband that may be--prove less susceptible,
we will say, than I? Ah, but, madonna, let us unrein imagination!
Suppose, were it possible, that he--even now--yearns to enter into the
Castle of Content, and that your hand, your hand alone, may draw the bolt
for him,--that the thought of you is to him as a flame before which honor
and faith shrivel as shed feathers, and that he has loved you these many
years, unknown to you, long, long before the Marquis of Falmouth came
into your life with his fair face and smooth sayings. Suppose, were it
possible, that he now stood before you, every pulse and fibre of him
racked with an intolerable ecstasy of loving you, his heart one vast
hunger for you, Adeliza, and his voice shaking as my voice shakes, and
his hands trembling as my hands tremble,--ah, see how they tremble,
madonna, the poor foolish hands! Suppose, were it possible,--"

"Fool! O treacherous fool!" my cousin cried, in a fine rage.

She rested her finger-tips upon his arm. "Hush!" she bade him; then
turned to me an uncertain countenance that was half pity, half wonder.
"Dear Will," said she, "if you have ever known aught of love, do you not
understand how I love Stephen here?"

But she did not any longer speak as a lord's daughter speaks to the fool
that makes mirth for his betters.

"In that case," said I,--and my voice played tricks,--"in that case, may
I request that you assist me in gathering such brushwood as we may find
hereabout?"

They both stared at me now. "My lord," I said, "the Exe is high, the
bridge is of wood, and I have flint and steel in my pocket. The ford is
five miles above and quite impassable. Do you understand me, my lord?"

He clapped his hands. "Oh, excellent!" he cried.

Then, each having caught my drift, we heaped up a pile of broken boughs
and twigs and brushwood on the bridge, all three gathering it together.
And I wondered if the moon, that is co-partner in the antics of most
rogues and lovers, had often beheld a sight more reasonless than the
foregathering of a marquis, a peer's daughter, and a fool at dead of
night to make fagots.

When we had done I handed him the flint and steel. "My lord," said I,
"the honor is yours."

"Udsfoot!" he murmured, in a moment, swearing and striking futile sparks,
"but the late rain has so wet the wood that it will not kindle."

I said, "Assuredly, in such matters a fool is indispensable." I heaped
before him the papers that made an honest woman of my mother and a
marquis of me, and seizing the flint, I cast a spark among them that set
them crackling cheerily. Oh, I knew well enough that patience would coax
a flame from those twigs without my paper's aid, but to be patient does
not afford the posturing which youth loves. So it was a comfort to wreck
all magnificently: and I knew that, too, as we three drew back upon the
western bank and watched the writhing twigs splutter and snap and burn.

The bridge caught apace and in five minutes afforded passage to nothing
short of the ardent equipage of the prophet Elias. Five minutes later the
bridge did not exist: only the stone arches towered above the roaring
waters that glistened in the light of the fire, which had, by this,
reached the other side of the river, to find quick employment in the
woods of Tiverton. Our pursuers rode through a glare which was that of
Hell's kitchen on baking-day, and so reached the Exe only to curse vainly
and to shriek idle imprecations at us, who were as immune from their
anger as though the severing river had been Pyriphlegethon.

"My lord," I presently suggested, "it may be that your priest
expects you?"

"Indeed," said he, laughing, "it is possible. Let us go." Thereupon they
mounted the two sound horses. "Most useful burr," said he, "do you follow
on foot to Teignmouth; and there--"

"Sir," I replied, "my home is at Tiverton."

He wheeled about. "Do you not fear--?"

"The whip?" said I. "Ah, my lord, I have been whipped ere this. It is
not the greatest ill in life to be whipped."

He began to protest.

"But, indeed, I am resolved," said I. "Farewell!"

He tossed me his purse. "As you will," he retorted, shortly. "We thank
you for your aid; and if I am still master of Allonby--"

"No fear of that!" I said. "Farewell, good cousin marquis! I cannot weep
at your going, since it brings you happiness. And we have it on excellent
authority that the laughter of fools is as the crackling of thorns under
a pot. Accordingly, I bid you God-speed in a discreet silence."

I stood fumbling my cousin's gold as he went forward into the night; but
she did not follow.

"I am sorry--" she began. She paused and the lithe fingers fretted with
her horse's mane.

I said: "Madonna, earlier in this crowded night, you told me of love's
nature: must my halting commentary prove the glose upon your text? Look,
then, to be edified while the fool is delivered of his folly. For upon
the maternal side, love was born of the ocean, madonna, and the ocean is
but salt water, and salt water is but tears; and thus may love claim
love's authentic kin with sorrow. Ay, certainly, madonna, Fate hath
ordained for her diversion that through sorrow alone we lovers may attain
to the true Castle of Content."

There was a long silence, and the wind wailed among the falling,
tattered leaves. "Had I but known--" said Adeliza, very sadly.

I said: "Madonna, go forward and God speed you! Yonder your lover waits
for you, and the world is exceedingly fair; here is only a fool. As for
this new Marquis of Falmouth, let him trouble you no longer. 'Tis an
Eastern superstition that we lackbrains are endowed with peculiar gifts
of prophecy: and as such, I predict, very confidently, madonna, that you
will see and hear no more of him in this life."

I caught my breath. In the moonlight she seemed God's master-work. Her
eyes were big with half-comprehended sorrow, and a slender hand stole
timorously toward me. I laughed, seeing how she strove to pity my great
sorrow and could not, by reason of her great happiness. I laughed and was
content. "As surely as God reigns in Heaven," I cried aloud, "I am
content, and this moment is well purchased with a marquisate!"

Indeed, I was vastly uplift and vastly pleased with my own nobleness,
just then, and that condition is always a comfort.

More alertly she regarded me; and in her eyes I saw the anxiety and the
wonder merge now into illimitable pity. "That, too!" she said, smiling
sadly. "That, too, O son of Thomas Allonby!" And her mothering arms were
clasped about me, and her lips clung and were one with my lips for a
moment, and her tears were wet upon my cheek. She seemed to shield me,
making of her breast my sanctuary.

"My dear, my dear, I am not worthy!" said Adeliza, with a tenderness I
cannot tell you of; and presently she, too, was gone.

I mounted the lamed horse, who limped slowly up the river bank; very
slowly we came out from the glare of the crackling fire into the cool
darkness of the autumn woods; very slowly, for the horse was lamed and
wearied, and patience is a discreet virtue when one journeys toward
curses and the lash of a dog-whip: and I thought of many quips and jests
whereby to soothe the anger of Monsieur de Puysange, and I sang to myself
as I rode through the woods, a nobleman no longer, a tired Jack-pudding
whose tongue must save his hide.

Sang I:

_"The towers are fallen; no laughter rings
Through the rafters, charred and rent;
The ruin is wrought of all goodly things
In the Castle of Content.

"Ei ho! Ei ho! the Castle of Content,
Rased in the Land of Youth, where mirth was meant!
Nay, all is ashes 'there; and all in vain
Hand-shadowed eyes turn backward, to regain
Disastrous memories of that dear domain,--
Ei ho! the vanished Castle of Content!"_

* * * * *

MAY 27, 1559

_"'O welladay!' said Beichan then,
'That I so soon have married thee!
For it can be none but Susie Pie,
That sailed the sea for love of me.'"_

_How Will Sommers encountered the Marchioness of Falmouth in the
Cardinal's house at Whitehall, and how in Windsor Forest that noble lady
died with the fool's arms about her, does not concern us here. That is
matter for another tale.

You are not, though, to imagine any scandal. Barring an affair with Sir
Henry Rochford, and another with Lord Norreys, and the brief interval in
1525 when the King was enamored of her, there is no record that the
marchioness ever wavered from the choice her heart had made, or had any
especial reason to regret it.

So she lived and died, more virtuously and happily than most, and found
the marquis a fair husband, as husbands go; and bore him three sons and
a daughter.

But when the ninth Marquis of Falmouth died long after his wife, in the
November of 1557, he was survived by only one of these sons, a junior
Stephen, born in 1530, who at his father's demise succeeded to the title.
The oldest son, Thomas, born 1531, had been killed in Wyatt's Rebellion
in 1554; the second, George, born 1526, with a marked look of the King,
was, in February, 1556, stabbed in a disreputable tavern brawl.

Now we have to do with the tenth Marquis of Falmouth's suit for the hand
of Lady Ursula Heleigh, the Earl of Brudenel's co-heiress. You are to
imagine yourself at Longaville Court, in Sussex, at a time when Anne
Bullen's daughter was very recently become Queen of England._

CHAPTER VIII

_The Episode Called In Ursula's Garden_

1. Love, and Love's Mimic

Her three lovers had praised her with many canzonets and sonnets on that
May morning as they sat in the rose-garden at Longaville, and the
sun-steeped leaves made a tempered aromatic shade about them. Afterward
they had drawn grass-blades to decide who should accompany the Lady
Ursula to the summer pavilion, that she might fetch her viol and sing
them a song of love, and in the sylvan lottery chance had favored the
Earl of Pevensey.

Left to themselves, the Marquis of Falmouth and Master Richard Mervale
regarded each the other, irresolutely, like strange curs uncertain
whether to fraternize or to fly at one another's throat. Then Master
Mervale lay down in the young grass, stretched himself, twirled his thin
black mustachios, and chuckled in luxurious content.

"Decidedly," said he, "your lordship is past master in the art of
wooing; no university in the world would refuse you a degree."

The marquis frowned. He was a great bluff man, with wheat-colored hair,
and was somewhat slow-witted. After a little he found the quizzical,
boyish face that mocked him irresistible, and he laughed, and unbent from
the dignified reserve which he had for a while maintained portentously.

"Master Mervale," said the marquis, "I will be frank with you, for you
appear a lad of good intelligence, as lads run, and barring a trifle of
affectation and a certain squeamishness in speech. When I would go
exploring into a woman's heart, I must pay my way in the land's current
coinage of compliments and high-pitched protestations. Yes, yes, such
sixpenny phrases suffice the seasoned traveler, who does not
ostentatiously display his gems while traveling. Now, in courtship,
Master Mervale, one traverses ground more dubious than the Indies, and
the truth, Master Mervale, is a jewel of great price."

Master Mervale raised his eyebrows. "The truth?" he queried, gently. "Now
how, I wonder, did your lordship happen to think of that remote
abstraction." For beyond doubt, Lord Falmouth's wooing had been that
morning of a rather florid sort.

However, "It would surely be indelicate," the marquis suggested, "to
allow even truth to appear quite unclothed in the presence of a lady?" He
smiled and took a short turn on the grass. "Look you, Master Mervale,"
said he, narrowing his pale-blue eyes to slits, "I have, somehow, a
disposition to confidence come upon me. Frankly, my passion for the Lady
Ursula burns more mildly than that which Antony bore the Egyptian; it is
less a fire to consume kingdoms than a candle wherewith to light a
contented home; and quite frankly, I mean to have her. The estates lie
convenient, the families are of equal rank, her father is agreed, and she
has a sufficiency of beauty; there are, in short, no obstacles to our
union save you and my lord of Pevensey, and these, I confess, I do not
fear. I can wait, Master Mervale. Oh, I am patient, Master Mervale, but,
I own, I cannot brook denial. It is I, or no one. By Saint Gregory! I
wear steel at my side, Master Mervale, that will serve for other purposes
save that of opening oysters!" So he blustered in the spring sunlight,
and frowned darkly when Master Mervale appeared the more amused than
impressed.

"Your patience shames Job the Patriarch," said Master Mervale, "yet, it
seems to me, my lord, you do not consider one thing. I grant you that
Pevensey and I are your equals neither in estate nor reputation; still,
setting modesty aside, is it not possible the Lady Ursula may come, in
time, to love one of us?"

"Setting common sense aside," said the marquis, stiffly, "it is possible
she may be smitten with the smallpox. Let us hope, however, that she may
escape both of these misfortunes."

The younger man refrained from speech for a while. Presently, "You liken
love to a plague," he said, "yet I have heard there was once a cousin of
the Lady Ursula's--a Mistress Katherine Beaufort--"

"Swounds!" Lord Falmouth had wheeled about, scowled, and then tapped
sharply upon the palm of one hand with the nail-bitten fingers of the
other. "Ay," said he, more slowly, "there was such a person."

"She loved you?" Master Mervale suggested.

"God help me!" replied the marquis; "we loved each other! I know not how
you came by your information, nor do I ask. Yet, it is ill to open an old
wound. I loved her; let that suffice." With a set face, he turned away
for a moment and gazed toward the high parapets of Longaville,
half-hidden by pale foliage and very white against the rain-washed sky;
then groaned, and glared angrily into the lad's upturned countenance.
"You talk of love," said the marquis; "a love compounded equally of
youthful imagination, a liking for fantastic phrases and a disposition
for caterwauling i' the moonlight. Ah, lad, lad!--if you but knew! That
is not love; to love is to go mad like a star-struck moth, and afterward
to strive in vain to forget, and to eat one's heart out in the
loneliness, and to hunger--hunger--" The marquis spread his big hands
helplessly, and then, with a quick, impatient gesture, swept back the
mass of wheat-colored hair that fell about his face. "Ah, Master
Mervale," he sighed, "I was right after all,--it is the cruelest plague
in the world, and that same smallpox leaves less troubling scars."

"Yet," Master Mervale said, with courteous interest, "you did not marry?"

"Marry!" His lordship snarled toward the sun and laughed. "Look you,
Master Mervale, I know not how far y'are acquainted with the business. It
was in Cornwall yonder years since; I was but a lad, and she a
wench,--Oh, such a wench, with tender blue eyes, and a faint, sweet voice
that could deny me nothing! God does not fashion her like every
day,--_Dieu qui la fist de ses deux mains_, saith the Frenchman." The
marquis paced the grass, gnawing his lip and debating with himself.
"Marry? Her family was good, but their deserts outranked their fortunes;
their crest was not the topmost feather in Fortune's cap, you understand;
somewhat sunken i' the world, Master Mervale, somewhat sunken. And I? My
father--God rest his bones!--was a cold, hard man, and my two elder
brothers--Holy Virgin, pray for them!--loved me none too well. I was the
cadet then: Heaven helps them that help themselves, says my father, and I
ha'n't a penny for you. My way was yet to make in the world; to saddle
myself with a dowerless wench--even a wench whose least 'Good-morning'
set a man's heart hammering at his ribs--would have been folly, Master
Mervale. Utter, improvident, shiftless, bedlamite folly, lad!"

"H'm!" Master Mervale cleared his throat, twirled his mustachios, and
smiled at some unspoken thought. "We pay for our follies in this
world, my lord, but I sometimes think that we pay even more dearly for
our wisdom."

"Ah, lad, lad!" the marquis cried, in a gust of anger; "I dare say, as
your smirking hints, it was a coward's act not to snap fingers at fate
and fathers and dare all! Well! I did not dare. We parted--in what
lamentable fashion is now of little import--and I set forth to seek my
fortune. Ho, it was a brave world then, Master Mervale, for all the tears
that were scarce dried on my cheeks! A world wherein the heavens were as
blue as a certain woman's eyes,--a world wherein a likely lad might see
far countries, waggle a good sword in Babylon and Tripolis and other
ultimate kingdoms, beard the Mussulman in his mosque, and at last fetch
home--though he might never love her, you understand--a soldan's daughter
for his wife,--

_With more gay gold about her middle
Than would buy half Northumberlee."_

His voice died away. He sighed and shrugged. "Eh, well!" said the
marquis; "I fought in Flanders somewhat--in Spain--what matter where?
Then, at last, sickened in Amsterdam, three years ago, where a messenger
comes to haul me out of bed as future Marquis of Falmouth. One brother
slain in a duel, Master Mervale; one killed in Wyatt's Rebellion; my
father dying, and--Heaven rest his soul!--not over-eager to meet his
Maker. There you have it, Master Mervale,--a right pleasant jest of
Fortune's perpetration,--I a marquis, my own master, fit mate for any
woman in the kingdom, and Kate--my Kate who was past human
praising!--vanished."

"Vanished?" The lad echoed the word, with wide eyes.

"Vanished in the night, and no sign nor rumor of her since! Gone to seek
me abroad, no doubt, poor wench! Dead, dead, beyond question, Master
Mervale!" The marquis swallowed, and rubbed his lips with the back of his
hand. "Ah, well!" said he; "it is an old sorrow!"

The male animal shaken by strong emotion is to his brothers an
embarrassing rather than a pathetic sight. Master Mervale, lowering his
eyes discreetly, rooted up several tufts of grass before he spoke. Then,
"My lord, you have known of love," said he, very slowly; "does there
survive no kindliness for aspiring lovers in you who have been one of us?
My lord of Pevensey, I think, loves the Lady Ursula, at least, as much as
you ever loved this Mistress Katherine; of my own adoration I do not
speak, save to say that I have sworn never to marry any other woman. Her
father favors you, for you are a match in a thousand; but you do not love
her. It matters little to you, my lord, whom she may wed; to us it
signifies a life's happiness. Will not the memory of that Cornish
lass--the memory of moonlit nights, and of those sweet, vain aspirations
and foiled day-dreams that in boyhood waked your blood even to such
brave folly as now possesses us,--will not the memory of these things
soften you, my lord?"

But Falmouth by this time appeared half regretful of his recent outburst,
and somewhat inclined to regard his companion as a dangerously plausible
young fellow who had very unwarrantably wormed himself into Lord
Falmouth's confidence. Falmouth's heavy jaw shut like a trap.

"By Saint Gregory!" said he; "if ever such notions soften me at all, I
pray to be in hell entirely melted! What I have told you of is past,
Master Mervale; and a wise man does not meditate unthriftily upon
spilt milk."

"You are adamant?" sighed the boy.

"The nether millstone," said the marquis, smiling grimly, "is in
comparison a pillow of down."

"Yet--yet the milk was sweet, my lord?" the boy suggested, with a faint
answering smile.

"Sweet!" The marquis' voice had a deep tremor.

"And if the choice lay between Ursula and Katherine?"

"Oh, fool!--Oh, pink-cheeked, utter ignorant fool!" the marquis groaned.
"Did I not say you knew nothing of love?"

"Heigho!" Master Mervale put aside all glum-faced discussion, with a
little yawn, and sprang to his feet. "Then we can but hope that
somewhere, somehow, Mistress Katherine yet lives and in her own good time
may reappear. And while we speak of reappearances--surely the Lady Ursula
is strangely tardy in making hers?"

The marquis' jealousy when it slumbered slept with an open ear. "Let us
join them," he said, shortly, and he started through the gardens with
quick, stiff strides.

2. _Song-guerdon_

They went westward toward the summer pavilion. Presently the marquis
blundered into the green gloom of the maze, laid out in the Italian
fashion, and was extricated only by the superior knowledge of Master
Mervale, who guided Falmouth skilfully and surely through manifold
intricacies, to open daylight.

Afterward they came to a close-shaven lawn, where the summer pavilion
stood beside the brook that widened here into an artificial pond, spread
with lily-pads and fringed with rushes. The Lady Ursula sat with the Earl
of Pevensey beneath a burgeoning maple-tree. Such rays as sifted through
into their cool retreat lay like splotches of wine upon the ground, and
there the taller grass-blades turned to needles of thin silver; one
palpitating beam, more daring than the rest, slanted straight toward the
little head of the Lady Ursula, converting her hair into a halo of misty
gold, that appeared out of place in this particular position. She seemed
a Bassarid who had somehow fallen heir to an aureole; for otherwise, to
phrase it sedately, there was about her no clamant suggestion of
saintship. At least, there is no record of any saint in the calendar who
ever looked with laughing gray-green eyes upon her lover and mocked at
the fervor and trepidation of his speech. This the Lady Ursula now did;
and, manifestly, enjoyed the doing of it.

Within the moment the Earl of Pevensey took up the viol that lay beside
them, and sang to her in the clear morning. He was sunbrowned and very
comely, and his big, black eyes were tender as he sang to her sitting
there in the shade. He himself sat at her feet in the sunlight.

Sang the Earl of Pevensey:

_"Ursula, spring wakes about us--
Wakes to mock at us and flout us
That so coldly do delay:
When the very birds are mating,
Pray you, why should we be waiting--
We that might be wed to-day!

"'Life is short,' the wise men tell us;--
Even those dusty, musty fellows
That have done with life,--and pass
Where the wraith of Aristotle
Hankers, vainly, for a bottle,
Youth and some frank Grecian lass._

"Ah, I warrant you;--and Zeno
Would not reason, now, could he know
One more chance to live and love:
For, at best, the merry May-time
Is a very fleeting play-time;--
Why, then, waste an hour thereof?

"Plato, Solon, Periander,
Seneca, Anaximander,
Pyrrho, and Parmenides!
Were one hour alone remaining
Would ye spend it in attaining
Learning, or to lips like these?

"Thus, I demonstrate by reason
Now is our predestined season
For the garnering of all bliss;
Prudence is but long-faced folly;
Cry a fig for melancholy!
Seal the bargain with a kiss"_

When he had ended, the Earl of Pevensey laughed and looked up into the
Lady Ursula's face with a long, hungry gaze; and the Lady Ursula laughed
likewise and spoke kindly to him, though the distance was too great for
the eavesdroppers to overhear. Then, after a little, the Lady Ursula bent
forward, out of the shade of the maple into the sun, so that the sunlight
fell upon her golden head and glowed in the depths of her hair, as she
kissed Pevensey, tenderly and without haste, full upon the lips.

3. _Falmouth Furens_

The Marquis of Falmouth caught Master Mervale's arm in a grip that made
the boy wince. Lord Falmouth's look was murderous, as he turned in the
shadow of a white-lilac bush and spoke carefully through sharp breaths
that shook his great body.

"There are," said he, "certain matters I must immediately discuss with my
lord of Pevensey. I desire you, Master Mervale, to fetch him to the spot
where we parted last, so that we may talk over these matters quietly and
undisturbed. For else--go, lad, and fetch him!"

For a moment the boy faced the half-shut pale eyes that were like coals
smouldering behind a veil of gray ash. Then he shrugged his shoulders,
sauntered forward, and doffed his hat to the Lady Ursula. There followed
much laughter among the three, many explanations from Master Mervale,
and yet more laughter from the lady and the earl. The marquis ground his
big, white teeth as he listened, and he appeared to disapprove of so
much mirth.

"Foh, the hyenas! the apes, the vile magpies!" the marquis observed. He
heaved a sigh of relief, as the Earl of Pevensey, raising his hands
lightly toward heaven, laughed once more, and departed into the
thicket. Lord Falmouth laughed in turn, though not very pleasantly.
Afterward he loosened his sword in the scabbard and wheeled back to seek
their rendezvous in the shadowed place where they had made sonnets to
the Lady Ursula.

For some ten minutes the marquis strode proudly through the maze,
pondering, by the look of him, on the more fatal tricks of fencing. In a
quarter of an hour he was lost in a wilderness of trim yew-hedges which
confronted him stiffly at every outlet and branched off into innumerable
gravelled alleys that led nowhither.

"Swounds!" said the marquis. He retraced his steps impatiently. He cast
his hat upon the ground in seething desperation. He turned in a different
direction, and in two minutes trod upon his discarded head-gear.

"Holy Gregory!" the marquis commented. He meditated for a moment, then
caught up his sword close to his side and plunged into the nearest
hedge. After a little he came out, with a scratched face and a scant
breath, into another alley. As the crow flies, he went through the maze
of Longaville, leaving in his rear desolation and snapped yew-twigs. He
came out of the ruin behind the white-lilac bush, where he had stood and
had heard the Earl of Pevensey sing to the Lady Ursula, and had seen
what followed.

The marquis wiped his brow. He looked out over the lawn and breathed
heavily. The Lady Ursula still sat beneath the maple, and beside her was
Master Mervale, whose arm girdled her waist. Her arm was about his neck,
and she listened as he talked eagerly with many gestures. Then they both
laughed and kissed each other.

"Oh, defend me!" groaned the marquis. Once more he wiped his brow, as he
crouched behind the white-lilac bush. "Why, the woman is a second
Messalina!" he said. "Oh, the trollop! the wanton! Oh, holy Gregory! Yet
I must be quiet--quiet as a sucking lamb, that I may strike afterward as
a roaring lion. Is this your innocence, Mistress Ursula, that cannot
endure the spoken name of a spade? Oh, splendor of God!"

Thus he raged behind the white-lilac bush while they laughed and kissed
under the maple-tree. After a space they parted. The Lady Ursula, still
laughing, lifted the branches of the rearward thicket and disappeared
in the path which the Earl of Pevensey had taken. Master Mervale,
kissing his hand and laughing yet more loudly, lounged toward the
entrance of the maze.

The jackanapes (as anybody could see), was in a mood to be pleased with
himself. Smiles eddied about the boy's face, his heels skipped,
disdaining the honest grass; and presently he broke into a glad little
song, all trills and shakes, like that of a bird ecstasizing over the
perfections of his mate.

Sang Master Mervale:

_"Listen, all lovers! the spring is here
And the world is not amiss;
As long as laughter is good to hear,
And lips are good to kiss,
As long as Youth and Spring endure,
There is never an evil past a cure
And the world is never amiss.

"O lovers all, I bid ye declare
The world is a pleasant place;--
Give thanks to God for the gift so fair,
Give thanks for His singular grace!
Give thanks for Youth and Love and Spring!
Give thanks, as gentlefolk should, and sing,
'The world is a pleasant place!'"_

In mid-skip Master Mervale here desisted, his voice trailing into
inarticulate vowels. After many angry throes, a white-lilac bush had been
delivered of the Marquis of Falmouth, who now confronted Master Mervale,
furiously moved.

4. _Love Rises from un-Cytherean Waters_

"I have heard, Master Mervale," said the marquis, gently, "that love
is blind?"

The boy stared at the white face, that had before his eyes veiled rage
with a crooked smile. So you may see the cat, tense for the fatal spring,
relax and with one paw indolently flip the mouse.

"It is an ancient fable, my lord," the boy said, smiling, and made as
though to pass.

"Indeed," said the marquis, courteously, but without yielding an inch,
"it is a very reassuring fable: for," he continued, meditatively, "were
the eyes of all lovers suddenly opened, Master Mervale, I suspect it
would prove a red hour for the world. There would be both tempers and
reputations lost, Master Mervale; there would be sword-thrusts; there
would be corpses, Master Mervale."

"Doubtless, my lord," the lad assented, striving to jest and have done;
"for all flesh is frail, and as the flesh of woman is frailer than that
of man, so is it, as I remember to have read, the more easily entrapped
by the gross snares of the devil, as was over-well proved by the
serpent's beguiling deceit of Eve at the beginning."

"Yet, Master Mervale," pursued the marquis, equably, but without smiling,
"there be lovers in the world that have eyes?"

"Doubtless, my lord," said the boy.

"There also be women in the world, Master Mervale," Lord Falmouth
suggested, with a deeper gravity, "that are but the handsome sepulchres
of iniquity,--ay, and for the major part of women, those miracles which
are their bodies, compact of white and gold and sprightly color though
they be, serve as the lovely cerements of corruption."

"Doubtless, my lord. The devil, as they say, is homelier with that sex."

"There also be swords in the world, Master Mervale?" purred the marquis.
He touched his own sword as he spoke.

"My lord--!" the boy cried, with a gasp.

"Now, swords have at least three uses, Master Mervale," Falmouth
continued. "With a sword one may pick a cork from a bottle; with a sword
one may toast cheese about the Twelfth Night fire; and with a sword one
may spit a man, Master Mervale,--ay, even an ambling, pink-faced, lisping
lad that cannot boo at a goose, Master Mervale. I have no inclination,
Master Mervale, just now, for either wine or toasted cheese."

"I do not understand you, my lord," said the boy, in a thin voice.

"Indeed, I think we understand each other perfectly," said the marquis.
"For I have been very frank with you, and I have watched you from behind
this bush."

The boy raised his hand as though to speak.

"Look you, Master Mervale," the marquis argued, "you and my lord of
Pevensey and I be brave fellows; we need a wide world to bustle in. Now,
the thought has come to me that this small planet of ours is scarcely
commodious enough for all three. There be purgatory and Heaven, and yet
another place, Master Mervale; why, then, crowd one another?"

"My lord," said the boy, dully, "I do not understand you."

"Holy Gregory!" scoffed the marquis; "surely my meaning is plain enough!
it is to kill you first, and my lord of Pevensey afterward! Y'are
phoenixes, Master Mervale, Arabian birds! Y'are too good for this world.
Longaville is not fit to be trodden under your feet; and therefore it is
my intention that you leave Longaville feet first. Draw, Master
Mervale!" cried the marquis, his light hair falling about his flushed,
handsome face as he laughed joyously, and flashed his sword in the
spring sunshine.

The boy sprang back, with an inarticulate cry; then gulped some dignity
into himself and spoke. "My lord," he said, "I admit that explanation may
seem necessary."

"You will render it, if to anybody, Master Mervale, to my heir, who will
doubtless accord it such credence as it merits. For my part, having two
duels on my hands to-day, I have no time to listen to a romance out of
the Hundred Merry Tales."

Falmouth had placed himself on guard; but Master Mervale stood with
chattering teeth and irresolute, groping hands, and made no effort to
draw. "Oh, the block! the curd-faced cheat!" cried the marquis. "Will
nothing move you?" With his left hand he struck at the boy.

Thereupon Master Mervale gasped, and turning with a great sob, ran
through the gardens. The marquis laughed discordantly; then he followed,
taking big leaps as he ran and flourishing his sword.

"Oh, the coward!" he shouted; "Oh, the milk-livered rogue! Oh, you
paltry rabbit!"

So they came to the bank of the artificial pond. Master Mervale swerved
as with an oath the marquis pounced at him. Master Mervale's foot caught
in the root of a great willow, and Master Mervale splashed into ten feet
of still water, that glistened like quicksilver in the sunlight.

"Oh, Saint Gregory!" the marquis cried, and clasped his sides in noisy
mirth; "was there no other way to cool your courage? Paddle out and be
flogged, Master Hare-heels!" he called. The boy had come to the surface
and was swimming aimlessly, parallel to the bank. "Now I have heard,"
said the marquis, as he walked beside him, "that water swells a man. Pray
Heaven, it may swell his heart a thousandfold or so, and thus hearten him
for wholesome exercise after his ducking--a friendly thrust or two, a
little judicious bloodletting to ward off the effects of the damp."

The marquis started as Master Mervale grounded on a shallow and rose,
dripping, knee-deep among the lily-pads. "Oh, splendor of God!" cried
the marquis.

Master Mervale had risen from his bath almost clean-shaven; only one
sodden half of his mustachios clung to his upper lip, and as he rubbed
the water from his eyes, this remaining half also fell away from the
boy's face.

"Oh, splendor of God!" groaned the marquis. He splashed noisily into
the water. "O Kate, Kate!" he cried, his arms about Master Mervale.
"Oh, blind, blind, blind! O heart's dearest! Oh, my dear, my dear!"
he observed.

Master Mervale slipped from his embrace and waded to dry land. "My
lord,--" he began, demurely.

"My lady wife,--" said his lordship of Falmouth, with a tremulous smile.
He paused, and passed his hand over his brow. "And yet I do not
understand," he said. "Y'are dead; y'are buried. It was a frightened boy
I struck." He spread out his strong arms. "O world! O sun! O stars!" he
cried; "she is come back to me from the grave. O little world! small
shining planet! I think that I could crush you in my hands!"

"Meanwhile," Master Mervale suggested, after an interval, "it is I that
you are crushing." He sighed,--though not very deeply,--and continued,
with a hiatus: "They would have wedded me to Lucius Rossmore, and I could
not--I could not--"

"That skinflint! that palsied goat!" the marquis growled.

"He was wealthy," said Master Mervale. Then he sighed once more. "There
seemed only you,--only you in all the world. A man might come to you in
those far-off countries: a woman might not. I fled by night, my lord, by
the aid of a waiting-woman; became a man by the aid of a tailor; and set
out to find you by the aid of such impudence as I might muster. But luck
did not travel with me. I followed you through Flanders, Italy,
Spain,--always just too late; always finding the bird flown, the nest yet
warm. Presently I heard you were become Marquis of Falmouth; then I gave
up the quest."

"I would suggest," said the marquis, "that my name is Stephen;--but why,
in the devil's name, should you give up a quest so laudable?"

"Stephen Allonby, my lord," said Master Mervale, sadly, "was not Marquis
of Falmouth; as Marquis of Falmouth, you might look to mate with any
woman short of the Queen."

"To tell you a secret," the marquis whispered, "I look to mate with one
beside whom the Queen--not to speak treason--is but a lean-faced, yellow
piece of affectation. I aim higher than royalty, heart's
dearest,--aspiring to one beside whom empresses are but common hussies."

"And Ursula?" asked Master Mervale, gently.

"Holy Gregory!" cried the marquis, "I had forgot! Poor wench, poor wench!
I must withdraw my suit warily,--firmly, of course, yet very kindlily,
you understand, so as to grieve her no more than must be. Poor
wench!--well, after all," he hopefully suggested, "there is yet
Pevensey."

"O Stephen! Stephen!" Master Mervale murmured; "Why, there was never any
other but Pevensey! For Ursula knows all,--knows there was never any
more manhood in Master Mervale's disposition than might be gummed on with
a play-actor's mustachios! Why, she is my cousin, Stephen,--my cousin and
good friend, to whom I came at once on reaching England, to find you,
favored by her father, pestering her with your suit, and the poor girl
well-nigh at her wits' end because she might not have Pevensey. So," said
Master Mervale, "we put our heads together, Stephen, as you observe."

"Indeed," my lord of Falmouth said, "it would seem that you two wenches
have, between you, concocted a very pleasant comedy."

"It was not all a comedy," sighed Master Mervale,--"not all a comedy,
Stephen, until to-day when you told Master Mervale the story of Katherine
Beaufort. For I did not know--I could not know--"

"And now?" my lord of Falmouth queried.

"H'm!" cried Master Mervale, and he tossed his head. "You are very
unreasonable in anger! you are a veritable Turk! you struck me!"

The marquis rose, bowing low to his former adversary. "Master Mervale,"
said the marquis, "I hereby tender you my unreserved apologies for the
affront I put upon you. I protest I was vastly mistaken in your
disposition and hold you as valorous a gentleman as was ever made by
barbers' tricks; and you are at liberty to bestow as many kisses and
caresses upon the Lady Ursula as you may elect, reserving, however, a
reasonable sufficiency for one that shall be nameless. Are we friends,
Master Mervale?"

Master Mervale rested his head upon Lord Falmouth's shoulder, and sighed
happily. Master Mervale laughed,--a low and gentle laugh that was vibrant
with content. But Master Mervale said nothing, because there seemed to be
between these two, who were young in the world's recaptured youth, no
longer any need of idle speaking.

* * * * *

JUNE 1, 1593

_"She was the admirablest lady that ever lived: therefore, Master Doctor,
if you will do us that favor, as to let us see that peerless dame, we
should think ourselves much beholding unto you."_

_There was a double wedding some two weeks later in the chapel at
Longaville: and each marriage appears to have been happy enough.

The tenth Marquis of Falmouth had begotten sixteen children within
seventeen years, at the end of which period his wife unluckily died in
producing a final pledge of affection. This child, a daughter, survived,
and was christened Cynthia: of her you may hear later.

Meanwhile the Earl and the Countess of Pevensey had propagated more
moderately; and Pevensey had played a larger part in public life than was
allotted to Falmouth, who did not shine at Court. Pevensey, indeed, has
his sizable niche in history: his Irish expeditions, in 1575, were once
notorious, as well as the circumstances of the earl's death in that year
at Triloch Lenoch. His more famous son, then a boy of eight, succeeded to
the title, and somewhat later, as the world knows, to the hazardous
position of chief favorite to Queen Elizabeth.

"For Pevensey has the vision of a poet,"--thus Langard quotes the lonely
old Queen,--"and to balance it, such mathematics as add two and two
correctly, where you others smirk and assure me it sums up to whatever
the Queen prefers. I have need of Pevensey: in this parched little age
all England has need of Pevensey."

That is as it may have been: at all events, it is with this Lord
Pevensey, at the height of his power, that we have now to do._

CHAPTER IX

_The Episode Called Porcelain Cups_

1. _Of Greatness Intimately Viewed_

"Ah, but they are beyond praise," said Cynthia Allonby, enraptured, "and
certainly you should have presented them to the Queen."

"Her majesty already possesses a cup of that ware," replied Lord
Pevensey. "It was one of her New Year's gifts, from Robert Cecil. Hers
is, I believe, not quite so fine as either of yours; but then, they tell
me, there is not the like of this pair in England, nor indeed on the
hither side of Cataia."

He set the two pieces of Chinese pottery upon the shelves in the south
corner of the room. These cups were of that sea-green tint called
celadon, with a very wonderful glow and radiance. Such oddities were the
last vogue at Court; and Cynthia could not but speculate as to what
monstrous sum Lord Pevensey had paid for this his last gift to her.

Now he turned, smiling, a really superb creature in his blue and gold.
"I had to-day another message from the Queen--"

"George," Cynthia said, with fond concern, "it frightens me to see you
thus foolhardy, in tempting alike the Queen's anger and the Plague."

"Eh, as goes the Plague, it spares nine out of ten," he answered,
lightly. "The Queen, I grant you, is another pair of sleeves, for an
irritated Tudor spares nobody."

But Cynthia Allonby kept silence, and did not exactly smile, while she
appraised her famous young kinsman. She was flattered by, and a little
afraid of, the gay self-confidence which led anybody to take such
chances. Two weeks ago it was that the terrible painted old Queen had
named Lord Pevensey to go straightway into France, where, rumor had it,
King Henri was preparing to renounce the Reformed Religion, and making
his peace with the Pope: and for two weeks Pevensey had lingered, on one
pretence or another, at his house in London, with the Plague creeping
about the city like an invisible incalculable flame, and the Queen asking
questions at Windsor. Of all the monarchs that had ever reigned in
England, Elizabeth Tudor was the least used to having her orders
disregarded. Meanwhile Lord Pevensey came every day to the Marquis of
Falmouth's lodgings at Deptford: and every day Lord Pevensey pointed out
to the marquis' daughter that Pevensey, whose wife had died in childbirth
a year back, did not intend to go into France, for nobody could foretell
how long a stay, as a widower. Certainly it was all very flattering....

"Yes, and you would be an excellent match," said Cynthia, aloud, "if that
were all. And yet, what must I reasonably expect in marrying, sir, the
famous Earl of Pevensey?"

"A great deal of love and petting, my dear. And if there were anything
else to which you had a fancy, I would get it for you."

Her glance went to those lovely cups and lingered fondly. "Yes, dear
Master Generosity, if it could be purchased or manufactured, you would
get it for me--"

"If it exists I will get it for you," he declared.

"I think that it exists. But I am not learned enough to know what it is.
George, if I married you I would have money and fine clothes and gilded
coaches, and an army of maids and pages, and honor from all men. And you
would be kind to me, I know, when you returned from the day's work at
Windsor--or Holyrood or the Louvre. But do you not see that I would
always be to you only a rather costly luxury, like those cups, which the
Queen's minister could afford to keep for his hours of leisure?"

He answered: "You are all in all to me. You know it. Oh, very well do you
know and abuse your power, you adorable and lovely baggage, who have kept
me dancing attendance for a fortnight, without ever giving me an honest
yes or no." He gesticulated. "Well, but life is very dull in Deptford
village, and it amuses you to twist a Queen's adviser around your
finger! I see it plainly, you minx, and I acquiesce because it delights
me to give you pleasure, even at the cost of some dignity. Yet I may no
longer shirk the Queen's business,--no, not even to amuse you, my dear."

"You said you had heard from her--again?"

"I had this morning my orders, under Gloriana's own fair hand, either to
depart to-morrow into France or else to come to-morrow to Windsor. I need
not say that in the circumstances I consider France the more wholesome."

Now the girl's voice was hurt and wistful. "So, for the thousandth time,
is it proven the Queen's business means more to you than I do. Yes,
certainly it is just as I said, George."

He observed, unruffled: "My dear, I scent unreason. This is a high
matter. If the French King compounds with Rome, it means war for
Protestant England. Even you must see that."

She replied, sadly: "Yes, even I! oh, certainly, my lord, even a
half-witted child of seventeen can perceive as much as that."

"I was not speaking of half-witted persons, as I remember. Well, it
chances that I am honored by the friendship of our gallant Bearnais, and
am supposed to have some claim upon him, thanks to my good fortune last
year in saving his life from the assassin Barriere. It chances that I may
perhaps become, under providence, the instrument of preserving my fellow
countrymen from much grief and trumpet-sounding and throat-cutting.
Instead of pursuing that chance, two weeks ago--as was my duty--I have
dangled at your apron-strings, in the vain hope of softening the most
variable and hardest heart in the world. Now, clearly, I have not the
right to do that any longer."

She admired the ennobled, the slightly rapt look which, she knew, denoted
that George Bulmer was doing his duty as he saw it, even in her
disappointment. "No, you have not the right. You are wedded to your
statecraft, to your patriotism, to your self-advancement, or christen it
what you will. You are wedded, at all events, to your man's business. You
have not the time for such trifles as giving a maid that foolish and
lovely sort of wooing to which every maid looks forward in her heart of
hearts. Indeed, when you married the first time it was a kind of
infidelity; and I am certain that poor, dear mouse-like Mary must have
felt that often and over again. Why, do you not see, George, even now,
that your wife will always come second to your real love?"

"In my heart, dear sophist, you will always come first. But it is not
permitted that any loyal gentleman devote every hour of his life to
sighing and making sonnets, and to the general solacing of a maid's
loneliness in this dull little Deptford. Nor would you, I am sure, desire
me to do so."

"I hardly know what I desire," she told him ruefully. "But I know that
when you talk of your man's business I am lonely and chilled and far
away from you. And I know that I cannot understand more than half your
fine high notions about duty and patriotism and serving England and so

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