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A Set of Rogues by Frank Barrett

Part 3 out of 6

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"As you please," says the Don. "Give me ten thousand of the sum you are
to be paid at Michaelmas, and you are welcome to all the rest."

"You mean that, Senor," cries Jack, seizing the Don's hand and raising
his left.

"By the Holy Mother," answers Don Sanchez, in Spanish.

"Done!" cries Dawson, bringing his hand down with a smack on the Don's
palm. "Nay, I always believed you was the most generous man living. Ten
from t'other. Master Hopkins," says he, turning to me, "what does that
leave us?"

"More than a hundred thousand!"

"The Lord be praised for evermore!" cries Jack.

Upon this, Moll, by the advice of Don Sanchez, sends for Simon, and
telling him she is satisfied with the account I have given of his
stewardship, offers him the further control of her affairs, subject at
all times to her decision on any question concerning her convenience,
and reserving to herself the sole government of her household, the
ordering of her home, lands, etc. And Simon grasping eagerly at this
proposal, she then gives him the promise of one thousand pounds for his
past services, and doubles the wages due to him under his contract with
Sir R. Godwin.

"Give me what it may please thee to bestow that way," cries he. "All
shall be laid out to enrich this property. I have no other use for
money, no other worldly end in life but that."

And when he saw me next he was most slavish in his thanks for my good
offices, vowing I should be paid my claim by Michaelmas, if it were in
the power of man to raise so vast a sum in such short space. Surely,
thinks I, there was never a more strange, original creature than this,
yet it do seem to me that there is no man but his passion must appear a
madness to others.

I must speak now of Moll, her admirable carriage and sober conduct in
these new circumstances, which would have turned the heads of most
others. Never once to my knowledge did she lose her self-possession, on
the most trying occasion, and this was due, not alone to her own shrewd
wit and understanding, but to the subtle intelligence of Don Sanchez,
who in the character of an old and trusty friend was ever by her side,
watchful of her interest (and his own), ready at any moment to drop in
her ear a quiet word of warning or counsel. By his advice she had taken
into her service a most commendable, proper old gentlewoman, one Mrs.
Margery Butterby, who, as being the widow of a country parson, was very
orderly in all things, and particularly nice in the proprieties. This
notable good soul was of a cheery, chatty disposition, of very pleasing
manners, and a genteel appearance, and so, though holding but the part
of housekeeper, she served as an agreeable companion and a respectable
guardian, whose mere presence in the house silenced any question that
might have arisen from the fact of three men living under the same roof
with the young and beautiful mistress of Hurst Court. Moreover, she
served us as a very useful kind of mouthpiece; for all those marvellous
stories of her life in Barbary, of the pirates we had encountered in
redeeming her from the Turk, etc., with which Moll would beguile away
any tedious half-hour, for the mere amusement of creating Mrs.
Butterby's wonder and surprise,--as one will tell stories of fairies to
children,--this good woman repeated with many additions of her own
concerning ourselves, which, to reflect credit on herself, were all to
our advantage. This was the more fitting, because the news spreading
that the lost heiress had returned to Hurst Court excited curiosity far
and wide, and it was not long before families in the surrounding seats,
who had known Sir R. Godwin in bygone times, called to see his daughter.
And here Moll's wit was taxed to the utmost, for those who had known
Judith Godwin as an infant expected that she should remember some
incident stored in their recollection; but she was ever equal to the
occasion, feigning a pretty doubting innocence at first, then suddenly
asking this lady if she had not worn a cherry dress with a beautiful
stomacher at the time, or that gentleman if he had not given her a gold
piece for a token, and it generally happened these shrewd shafts hit
their mark: the lady, though she might have forgotten her gown,
remembering she had a very becoming stomacher; the gentleman believing
that he did give her a lucky penny, and so forth, from very vanity. Then
Moll's lofty carriage and her beauty would remind them of their dear
lost friend, Mrs. Godwin, in the heyday of her youth, and all agreed in
admiring her beyond anything. And though Moll, from her lack of
knowledge, made many slips, and would now and then say things
uncustomary to women of breeding, yet these were easily attributed to
her living so long in a barbarous country, and were as readily glanced
over. Indeed, nothing could surpass Moll's artificial conduct on these
occasions. She would lard her conversation with those scraps of Italian
she learnt from me, and sometimes, affecting to have forgot her own
tongue, she would stumble at a word, and turning to Don Sanchez, ask him
the English of some Moorish phrase. Then one day, there being quite a
dozen visitors in her state room, she brings down her Moorish dress and
those baubles given her by friends at Elche, to show the ladies, much to
the general astonishment and wonder; then, being prayed to dress herself
in these clothes, she with some hesitation of modesty consents, and
after a short absence from the room returns in this costume, looking
lovelier than ever I had before seen, with the rings about her shapely
bare arms and on her ankles, and thus arrayed she brings me a guitar,
and to my strumming sings a Moorish song, swaying her arms above her
head and turning gracefully in their fashion, so that all were in an
ecstasy with this strange performance. And the talk spreading, the
number of visitors grew apace,--as bees will flock to honey,--and
yielding to their urgent entreaties, she would often repeat this piece
of business, and always with a most winning grace, that charmed every
one. But she was most a favourite of gentlemen and elderly ladies; for
the younger ones she did certainly put their noses out of joint, since
none could at all compare with her in beauty nor in manner, either, for
she had neither the awkward shyness of some nor the boldness of others,
but contrived ever to steer neatly betwixt the two extremes by her
natural self-possession and fearlessness.

Of all her new friends, the most eager in courting her were Sir Harry
Upton and his lady (living in the Crays); and they, being about to go to
London for the winter, did press Moll very hard to go with them, that
she might be presented to the king; and, truth to tell, they would not
have had to ask her twice had she been governed only by her own
inclination. For she was mad to go,--that audacious spirit of adventure
still working very strong in her,--and she, like a winning gamester,
must for ever be playing for higher and higher stakes. But we, who had
heard enough of his excellent but lawless Majesty's court to fear the
fate of any impulsive, beauteous young woman that came within his sway,
were quite against this. Even Don Sanchez, who was no innocent, did
persuade her from it with good strong argument,--showing that, despite
his worldliness, he did really love her as much as 'twas in his withered
heart to love any one. As for Dawson, he declared he would sooner see
his Moll in her winding-sheet than in the king's company, adding that
'twould be time enough for her to think of going to court when she had a
husband to keep her out of mischief. And so she refused this offer (but
with secret tears, I believe). "But," says she to her father, "if I'm
not to have my own way till I'm married, I shall get me a husband as
soon as I can."

And it seemed that she would not have to look far nor wait long for one
neither. Before a month was passed, at least half a dozen young sparks
were courting her, they being attracted, not only by her wit and beauty,
but by the report of her wealth, it being known to all how Simon had
enriched the estate. And 'twas this abundance of suitors which prevented
Moll from choosing any one in particular, else had there been but one, I
believe the business would have been settled very quickly. For now she
was in the very flush of life, and the blood that flowed in her veins
was of no lukewarm kind.

But here (that I may keep all my strings in harmony) I must quit Moll
for a space to tell of her father. That first hint of the Don's bringing
him to his senses somewhat (like a dash of cold water), and the
exuberance of his joy subsiding, he quickly became more circumspect in
his behaviour, and fell into the part he had to play. And the hard,
trying, sorrowful part that was, neither he nor I had foreseen. For now
was he compelled for the first time in his life, at any length, to live
apart from his daughter, to refrain from embracing her when they met in
the morning, to speak to her in a rough, churlish sort when his heart,
maybe, was overflowing with love, and to reconcile himself to a cool,
indifferent behaviour on her side, when his very soul was yearning for
gentle, tender warmth. And these natural cravings of affection were
rather strengthened than stilled by repression, as one's hunger by
starving. To add to this, he now saw his Moll more bewitching than ever
she was before, the evidence of her wit and understanding stimulating
that admiration which he dared not express. He beheld her loved and
courted openly by all, whilst he who had deeper feeling for her than
any, and more right to caress her, must at each moment stifle his
desires and lay fetters on his inclinations, which constraint, like
chains binding down a stout, thriving oak, did eat and corrode into his
being, so that he did live most of these days in a veritable torment.
Yet, for Moll's sake, was he very stubborn in his resolution; and, when
he could no longer endure to stand indifferently by while others were
enjoying her sprightly conversation, he would go up to his chamber and
pace to and fro, like some she-lion parted from her cub.

These sufferings were not unperceived by Moll, who also had strong
feeling to repress, and therefore could comprehend her father's torture,
and she would often seize an opportunity, nay, run great risk of
discovery, to hie her secretly to his room, there to throw herself in
his arms and strain him to her heart, covering his great face with
tender kisses, and whispering words of hope and good cheer (with the
tears on her cheek). And one day when Jack seemed more than usual
downhearted, she offered him to give up everything and return to her old
ways, if he would. But this spurring his courage, he declared he would
live in hell rather than she should fall from her high estate, and
become a mere vagabond wench again, adding that 'twas but the first
effort gave him so much pain, that with practice 'twould all be as
nothing; that such sweet kisses as hers once a week did amply compensate
him for his fast, etc. Then her tears being brushed away, she would quit
him with noiseless step and all precautions, and maybe five minutes
afterwards, whilst Jack was sitting pensive at his window pondering her
sweetness and love, he would hear her laughing lightly below, as if he
were already forgotten.

CHAPTER XVII.

_How Dawson for Moll's good parts company with us, and goes away a
lonely man._

On the eve of Michaelmas day old Simon returned from London, whither he
had gone two days before, to raise the money he had promised; and
calling upon him in the afternoon I found him seated at his table, with
a most woe-begone look in his face, and his eyes streaming more
copiously than usual. And with most abject humility he told me that
doing the utmost that lay in his power, he had not been able to persuade
his goldsmith to lend more than ten thousand pounds on the title deeds.
Nor had he got that, he declared, but that the goldsmith knew him for an
honest and trustworthy man whom he would credit beyond any other in the
world; for the seal not yet being given to Judith Godwin's succession,
there was always peril of dispute and lawsuits which might make these
papers of no value at all (the king's ministers vying one with another
to please their master by bringing money rightly or wrongly into the
treasury), and this, indeed, may have been true enough.

"But," says he, "all will go well if thee wilt have but a little
patience for a while. To-morrow my rents will come in, and I will exact
to the last farthing; and there is a parcel of land I may sell, mayhap,
for instant payment, though 'twill be at a fearsome loss" (mopping his
eyes), "yet I will do it rather than put thee to greater incommodity;
and so, ere the end of the week, thee mayst safely count on having yet
another three thousand, which together makes nigh upon half the sum
promised. And this, dear good friend," adds he, slyly, "thee mayst well
take on account of thine own share,--and none dispute thy right, for
'tis thy money hath done all. And from what I see of him, smoking of
pipes in the public way and drinking with any low fellows in alehouses,
this Captain Evans is but a paltry, mean man who may be easily put off
with a pound or two to squander in his pleasures; and as for the Spanish
grandee, he do seem so content to be with our mistress that I doubt he
needs no pretext for quitting her, added to which, being of a haughty,
proud nature, he should scorn to claim his own, to the prejudice of a
merchant who hath nought but his capital to live upon. And I do implore
thee, good friend, to lay this matter before my mistress in such a way
that she may not be wroth with me."

I told him I would do all he could expect of me in reason, but bade him
understand that his chance of forgiveness for having broke his first
engagement depended greatly upon his exactitude in keeping the second,
and that he might count on little mercy from us if the other three
thousand were not forthcoming as he promised. So I took the money and
gave him a quittance for it, signing it with my false name, James
Hopkins, but, reflecting on this when I left him, I wished I had not.
For I clearly perceived that by this forgery I laid myself open to very
grievous consequences; moreover, taking of this solid money, disguise it
how I would, appeared to me nothing short of downright robbery, be it
whose it might. In short, being now plunged up to my neck in this
business, I felt like a foolish lad who hath waded beyond his depth in a
rapid current, hoping I might somehow get out of it safely, but with
very little expectation. However, the sight of all this gold told up in
scores upon the table in our closed room served to quiet these qualms
considerably. Nevertheless, I was not displeased to remember our bargain
with Don Sanchez, feeling that I should breathe more freely when he had
taken this store of gold out of my hands, etc. Thus did my mind waver
this way and that, like a weather-cock to the blowing of contrary winds.

'Twas this day that Moll (as I have said) dressed herself in her Moorish
clothes for the entertainment of her new friends, and Dawson, hearing
her voice, yet not daring to go into the state room where she was, must
needs linger on the stairs listening to her song, and craning his neck
to catch a glimpse of her through the open door below. Here he stands in
a sort of ravishment, sucking in her sweet voice, and the sounds of
delight with which her guests paid tribute to her performance, feeding
his passion which, like some fire, grew more fierce by feeding, till he
was well-nigh beside himself. Presently, out comes Moll from her state
room, all glowing with exercise, flushed with pleasure, a rich colour in
her cheek, and wild fire in her eyes, looking more witching than any
siren. Swiftly she crosses the hall, and runs up the stairs to gain her
chamber and reclothe herself, but half way up Dawson stops her, and
clasping her about, cries hoarsely in a transport:

"Thou art my own Moll--my own sweet Moll!" adding, as she would break
from him to go her way, "Nay, chick. You shall not go till you have
bussed your old dad."

Then she, hesitating a moment betwixt prudence and her warmer feelings,
suddenly yields to the impulse of her heart (her head also being turned
maybe with success and delight), and flinging her arms about his neck
gives him a hearty kiss, and then bursts away with a light laugh.

Jack watches her out of sight, and then, when the moment of escape is
past, he looks below to see if there be any danger, and there he spies
Don Sanchez, regarding him from the open door, where he stands, as if to
guard it. Without a sign the Don turns on his heel and goes back into
the room, while Dawson, with a miserable hangdog look, comes to me in my
chamber, where I am counting the gold, and confesses his folly with a
shamed face, cursing himself freely for his indiscretion, which at this
rate must ruin all ere long.

This was no great surprise to me, for I myself had seen him many a time
clip his dear daughter's hand, when he thought no one was by, and, more
than once, the name of Moll had slipped out when he should have spoken
of Mistress Judith.

These accidents threw us both into a very grave humour, and especially I
was tormented with the reflection that a forgery could be proved against
me, if things came to the worst. The danger thereof was not slight; for
though all in the house loved Moll dearly and would willingly do her no
hurt, yet the servants, should they notice how Mistress Judith stood
with Captain Evans, must needs be prating, and there a mischief would
begin, to end only the Lord knows where! Thereupon, I thought it as well
to preach Jack a sermon, and caution him to greater prudence; and this
he took in amazing good part--not bidding me tend my own business as he
might at another time, but assenting very submissively to all my hints
of disaster, and thanking me in the end for speaking my mind so freely.
Then, seeing him so sadly downcast, I (to give a sweetmeat after a
bitter draught) bade him take the matter not too much to heart,
promising that, with a little practice, he would soon acquire a habit of
self-restraint, and so all would go well. But he made no response, save
by shaking of his head sorrowfully, and would not be comforted. When all
were abed that night, we three men met in my chamber, where I had set
the bags of money on the table, together with a dish of tobacco and a
bottle of wine for our refreshment, and then the Don, having lit him a
cigarro, and we our pipes, with full glasses beside us, I proposed we
should talk of our affairs, to which Don Sanchez consented with a solemn
inclination of his head. But ere I began, I observed with a pang of
foreboding, that Jack, who usually had emptied his glass ere others had
sipped theirs, did now leave his untouched, and after the first pull or
two at his pipe, he cast it on the hearth as though it were foul to his
taste. Taking no open notice of this, I showed Don Sanchez the gold, and
related all that had passed between Simon and me.

"Happily, Senor," says I, in conclusion, "here is just the sum you
generously offered to accept for your share, and we give it you with a
free heart, Evans and I being willing to wait for what may be
forthcoming."

"Is it your wish both, that I take this?" says he, laying his hand on
the money and looking from me to Dawson.

"Aye," says he, "'tis but a tithe of what is left to us, and not an
hundredth part of what we owe to you."

"Very good," says the Don. "I will carry it to London to-morrow."

"But surely, Senor," says I, "you will not quit us so soon."

Don Sanchez rolls his cigarro in his lips, looking me straight in the
face and somewhat sternly, and asks me quietly if I have ever found him
lacking in loyalty and friendship.

"In truth, never, Senor."

"Then why should you imagine I mean to quit you now when you have more
need of a friend in this house" (with a sideward glance as towards
Moll's chamber) "than ever you before had?" Then, turning towards Jack,
he says, "What are you going to do, Captain Evans?"

Dawson pauses, as if to snatch one last moment for consideration, and
then, nodding at me, "You'll not leave my--Moll, Kit?" says he, with no
attempt to disguise names.

"Why should I leave her; are we not as brothers, you and I?"

"Aye, I'd trust you with my life," answers he, "and more than that, with
my--Moll! If you were her uncle, she couldn't love you more, Kit. And
you will stand by her, too, Senor?"

The Don bowed his head.

"Then when you leave, to-morrow, I'll go with you to London," says Jack.

"I shall return the next day," says Don Sanchez, with significance.

"And I shall not, God help me!" says Jack, bitterly.

"Give me your hand," says the Don; but I could speak never a word, and
sat staring at Jack, in a maze.

"We'll say nought of this to her," continues Jack; "there must be no
farewells, I could never endure that. But it shall seem that I have gone
with you for company, and have fallen in with old comrades who would
keep me for a carousing."

"But without friends--alone--what shall you do there in London?" says I,
heart-stricken at the thought of his desolation. The Don answers for
Jack.

"Make the best of his lot with a stout heart, like any other brave man,"
says he. "There are natural hardships which every man must bear in his
time, and this is one of them." Then lowering his voice, he adds,
"Unless you would have her die an old maid, she and her father must part
sooner or later."

"Why, that's true, and yet, Master," says Jack, "I would have you know
that I'm not so brave but I would see her now and then."

"That may be ordered readily enough," says the Don.

"Then do you tell her, Senor, I have but gone a-junketing, and she may
look to see me again when my frolic's over."

The Don closed his eyes as one in dubitation, and then says, lifting his
eyebrows: "She is a clever woman--shrewd beyond any I have ever known;
then why treat her as you would a foolish child? You must let me tell
her the truth when I come back, and I warrant it will not break her
heart, much as she loves you."

"As you will," says t'other. "'Twill be all as one to me," with a sigh.

"This falls out well in all ways," continues the Don, turning to me.
"You will tell Simon, whose suspicion we have most to fear, that we have
handed over four thousand of those pieces to Captain Evans as being most
in need, we ourselves choosing to stay here till the rest of our claim
is paid. That will account for Evans going away, and give us a pretext
for staying here."

"I'll visit him myself, if you will," says Jack, "and wring his hand to
show my gratitude. I warrant I'll make him wince, such a grip will I
give him. And I'll talk of nothing else but seas and winds, and the
manner of ship I'll have for his money."

The following morning before Moll was stirring, Don Sanchez and Dawson
set forth on their journey, and I going with them beyond the park gates
to the bend of the road, we took leave of each other with a great show
of cheerfulness on both sides. But Lord! my heart lay in my breast like
any lump of lead, and when Jack turned his back on me, the tears sprang
up in my eyes as though indeed this was my brother and I was never to
see him more. And long after he was out of sight I sat on the bank by
the roadside, sick with pain to think of his sorrow in going forth like
this, without one last loving word of parting from his dear Moll, to
find no home in London, no friend to cheer him, and he the most
companionable man in the world.

CHAPTER XVIII.

_Of our getting a painter into the Court, with whom our Moll falls
straightway in love._

Being somewhat of a coward, I essayed to put Moll off with a story of
her father having gone a-frolicking with Don Sanchez, leaving it to the
Don to break the truth to her on his return. And a sorry, bungling
business I made of it, to be sure. For, looking me straight in the eyes,
whenever I dared lift them, she did seem to perceive that I was lying,
from the very first, which so disconcerted me, though she interrupted me
by never a word, that I could scarce stammer to the end of my tale.
Then, without asking a single question, or once breaking her painful
silence, she laid her face in her hands, her shoulders shook, and the
tears ran out between her fingers, and fell upon her lap.

"I know, I know," says she, putting me away, when I attempted to speak.
"He has gone away for my sake, and will come back no more; and 'tis all
my fault, that I could not play my part better."

Then, what words of comfort I could find, I offered her; but she would
not be consoled, and shut herself up in her room all that morning.
Nevertheless, she ate more heartily than I at dinner, and fresh visitors
coming in the afternoon, she entertained them as though no grief lay at
her heart. Indeed, she recovered of this cruel blow much easier than I
looked for; and but that she would at times sit pensive, with
melancholy, wistful eyes, and rise from her seat with a troubled sigh,
one would have said, at the end of the week, that she had ceased to feel
for her father. But this was not so (albeit wounds heal quickly in the
young and healthful), for I believe that they who weep the least do ache
the most.

Then, for her further excuse (if it be needed), Don Sanchez brought back
good tidings of her father,--how he was neatly lodged near the Cherry
garden, where he could hear the birds all day and the fiddles all night,
with abundance of good entertainment, etc. To confirm which, she got a
letter from him, three days later, very loving and cheerful, telling
how, his landlord being a carpenter, he did amuse himself mightily at
his old trade in the workshop, and was all agog for learning to turn
wood in a lathe, promising that he would make her a set of egg-cups
against her birthday, please God. Added to this, the number of her
friends multiplying apace, every day brought some new occupation to her
thoughts; also, having now those three thousand pounds old Simon had
promised us, Moll set herself to spending of them as quickly as
possible, by furnishing herself with all sorts of rich gowns and
appointments, which is as pretty a diversion of melancholy from a young
woman's thoughts as any. And so I think I need dwell no longer on this
head.

About the beginning of October, Simon comes, cap in hand, and very
humble, to the Court to crave Moll's consent to his setting some men
with guns in her park at night, to lie in ambush for poachers, telling
how they had shot one man in the act last spring, and had hanged another
the year before for stealing of a sheep; adding that a stranger had been
seen loitering in the neighbourhood, who, he doubted not, was of their
thieving crew.

"What makes you think that?" asks Moll. "He has been seen lingering
about here these three days," answers Simon. "Yet to my knowledge he
hath not slept at either of the village inns. Moreover, he hath the look
of a desperate, starving rascal, ripe for such work."

"I will have no man killed for his misfortunes."

"Gentle mistress, suffer me to point out that if thee lets one man steal
with impunity, others, now innocent, are thereby encouraged to sin, and
thus thy mercy tends to greater cruelty."

"No man shall be killed on my land,--there is my answer," says Moll,
with passion. "If you take this poor, starved creature, it shall be
without doing him bodily hurt. You shall answer for it else."

"Not a bone shall be broken, mistress. 'Tis enough if we carry him
before Justice Martin, a godly, upright man, and a scourge to
evil-doers."

"Nay, you shall not do that, neither, till I have heard his case," says
Moll. "'Tis for me to decide whether he has injured me or not, and I'll
suffer none to take my place."

Promising obedience, Simon withdrew before any further restrictions
might be put upon him; but Moll's mind was much disturbed all day by
fear of mischief being done despite her commands, and at night she would
have me take her round the park to see all well. Maybe, she thought that
her own father, stealing hither to see her privily, might fall a victim
to Simon's ambushed hirelings. But we found no one, though Simon had
certainly hidden these fellows somewhere in the thickets.

Whilst we were at table next morning, we heard a great commotion in the
hall; and Mrs. Butterby coming in a mighty pucker, told how the robber
had been taken in the park, and how Simon had brought him to the house
in obedience to her lady's command. "But do, pray, have a care of
yourself, my dear lady," says she; "for this hardy villain hath struck
Mr. Simon in the face and made most desperate resistance; and Heaven
protect us from such wicked outlaws as have the villany to show
themselves in broad daylight!"

Moll, smiling, said she would rather face a lion in the day than a mouse
by night, and so bade the captive to be brought before her.

Then in comes Simon, with a stout band over one eye, followed by two
sturdy fellows holding their prisoner betwixt them. And this was a very
passionate man, as was evidenced by the looks of fury he cast from side
to side upon his captors as they dragged him this way and that to make a
show of their power, but not ill-looking. In his struggles he had lost
his hat, and his threadbare coat and shirt were torn open, laying bare
his neck and showing a very fair white skin and a good beard of light
curling hair. There was nought mean or vile in his face, but rather it
seemed to me a noble countenance, though woefully wasted, so that at a
glance one might perceive he was no born rascal, but likely enough some
ruined man of better sort driven to unlawful ways by his distress. He
was of a fair height, but gaunt beyond everything, and so feeble that
after one effort to free his arms his chin sank upon his breast as if
his forces were all spent.

Seeing this, Moll bade the fellows unbind him, telling them sharply they
might see there was no need of such rigour.

Being freed, our prisoner lifts his head and makes a slight reverence to
Moll, but with little gratitude in his look, and places himself at the
end of the table facing us, who are at the other end, Moll sitting
betwixt Don Sanchez and me. And there, setting his hands for support
upon the board, he holds his head up pretty proudly, waiting for what
might come.

"Who are you?" asks Moll, in a tone of authority.

He waits a moment, as if deliberating with himself whether to speak
fairly or not, then, being still sore with his ill-treatment, and
angered to be questioned thus by a mere girl (he, as I take it, being a
man of thirty or thereabouts), he answers:

"I do not choose to tell. Who I am, what I am, concerns you no more than
who and what you are concerns me, and less since I may justly demand by
what right these fellows, whom I take to be your servants, have thus
laid hands on me."

"How do you answer this?" asks Moll, turning to Simon.

Then Simon told very precisely, as if he were before a magistrate, how
this man, having been seen lingering about the Court several days, and
being without home or occupation, had been suspected of felonious
purposes; how, therefore, he had set a watch to lay wait for him; how
that morning they had entrapped him standing within a covert of the park
regarding the house; how he had refused to give his name or any excuse
for his being there, and how he had made most desperate attempt to
escape when they had lain hands on him.

"Is this true?" asks Moll of the prisoner.

"Yes," says he.

Moll regards him with incredulous eyes a moment, then, turning to Simon,
"What arms had he for this purpose that you speak of?" says she.

"None, mistress; but 'twould be a dread villain verily who would carry
the engines of his trade abroad in daylight to betray him." And then he
told how 'tis the habit of these poachers to reconnoitre their ground by
day, and keep their nets, guns, etc., concealed in some thicket or
hollow tree convenient for their purpose. "But," adds he, "we may
clearly prove a trespass against him, which is a punishable offence, and
this assault upon me, whereof I have evidence, shall also count for
something with Justice Martin, and so the wicked shall yet come by their
deserts." And with that he gives his fellows a wink with his one eye to
carry off their quarry.

"Stay," says Moll, "I would be further convinced--"

"If he be an honest man, let him show thee his hand," says Simon.

The man innocently enough stretches out his palm towards us, not
perceiving Simon's end.

"There!" cries Simon. "What said I? Is that a hand that ever did a day's
honest work?"

"'Tis no worse than mine," says Moll, regarding the hand which in truth
was exceeding smooth and well formed. "Come," adds she, still more
kindly, "you see I am no harsh judge. I would not deny a fellow-creature
the pleasure that is not grudged the coney that runs across my lawn.
Tell me you were there but to gratify a passing caprice, and I'll
forgive you as freely as I'll believe you."

This gentle appeal seemed to move the young man greatly, and he made as
if he would do more than was demanded of him, and make that free
confession which he had refused to force. But ere a word could leave his
parted lips a deadly shade passed over his face, his knees gave under
him, and staggering to save himself, he fell to the ground in a swoon.

Then, whilst all we men stood fixed in wonderment, Moll, with the quick,
helpful impulse of her womanhood, ran swiftly from her place to his
side, and dropping on her knees cried for water to be brought her.

"Dead of hunger," says Don Sanchez, in my ear. "Fetch a flask of
brandy."

And then, laying hold of Simon by the shoulder, he pointed significantly
to the open door. This hint Simon was not slow to take, and when I
returned from the buttery with a case of strong waters, I found no one
in the room but Don Sanchez, and Moll with the fainting man's head upon
her lap, bathing his temples gently. Life had not come back, and the
young man's face looked very handsome in death, the curls pushed back
from his brow, and his long features still and colourless like a carved
marble.

Then with a "lack-a-day" and "alas," in bustles Mrs. Butterby with a
bottle of cordial in one hand and a bunch of burning feathers in the
other.

"Fling that rubbish in the chimney," says the Don. "I know this
malady--well enough," and pouring some hollands in a cup he put it to
the dead man's parted lips.

In a few moments he breathed again, and hearing Moll's cry of joy, he
opened his eyes as one waking from a dream and turned his head to learn
what had happened. Then finding his head in Moll's lap and her small,
soft, cool hand upon his brow, a smile played over his wasted face. And
well, indeed, might he smile to see that young figure of justice turned
to the living image of tender mercy.

Perceiving him out of danger, and recovering her own wits at the same
time, Mrs. Butterby cries: "Lord! Madam, do let me call a maid to take
your place; for, dear heart! you have quite spoiled your new gown with
this mess of water, and all for such a paltry fellow as this!"

Truly, it must have seemed to her understanding an outrageous thing that
a lady of her mistress' degree should be nursing such a ragged rascal;
but to me, knowing Moll's helpful, impulsive disposition, 'twas no such
extraordinary matter, for she at such a moment could not entertain those
feelings which might have restrained a lady of more refined breeding.

The pretty speech of Mrs. Butterby, reaching the fallen man's ear,
seemed instantly to quicken his spirits, and, casting off his lethargic
humour, he quickly staggered to his feet, while we raised Moll. Then,
resting one hand upon the table for support, he craved her pardon for
giving so much trouble, but in a very faint, weak voice.

"I would have done as much for a dog," says Moll. "My friends will
render you what further services are fit; and, if it appears that you
have been unjustly used (as I do think you have), be sure you shall have
reparation."

"I ask no more," says he, "than to be treated as I may merit in your
esteem."

"Justice shall be done," says Don Sanchez, in his stern voice, and with
that he conducts Moll to the door.

But Moll was not content with this promise of justice. For the quality
of mercy begetteth love, so that one cannot moderate one's anger against
an enemy, but it doth breed greater compassion and leniency by making
one better content with oneself, and therefore more indulgent to others.
And so, when she had left the room, she sends in her maid to fetch me,
and taking me aside says with vivacity:

"I will have no punishment made upon that man."

"Nay," says I, "but if 'tis proved that his intent was to rob you--"

"What then!" says she. "Hath he not as much right to this estate as we?
And are we one whit the better than he, save in the more fortunate issue
of our designs? Understand me," adds she, with passion; "I will have
nothing added to his unhappiness."

I found the young man seated at the table, and Don Sanchez gravely
setting food before him. But he would take nothing but bread, and that
he ate as though it were the sweetest meat in all the world. I lead the
Don to the window, and there, in an undertone, told him of Moll's
decision; and, whether her tone of supreme authority amused him or not,
I cannot say, because of his impassive humour, but he answered me with a
serious inclination of his head, and then we fell speaking of other
matters in our usual tone, until the young man, having satisfied the
cravings of nature, spoke:

"When you are at liberty, gentlemen," says he, "to question my conduct,
I will answer you."

CHAPTER XIX.

_Of the business appointed to the painter, and how he set about the
same._

The young man had risen and was standing by the table when we turned
from the window; he seemed greatly refreshed, his face had lost its
livid hue of passion and death, and looked the better for a tinge of
colour. He met our regard boldly, yet with no braggart, insolent air,
but the composure of a brave man facing his trial with a consciousness
of right upon his side.

"I would ask you," says the Don, seating himself on t'other side the
table, "why you refused to do that before?"

"Sir," answers he, "I have lost everything in the world save some small
modicum of pride, which, being all I have, I do cherish, maybe, unduly.
And so, when these unmannerly hinds took me by the throat, calling on me
to tell my name and business, this spirit within me flaring up, I could
not answer with the humility of a villain seeking to slink out of danger
by submissive excuses."

"Be seated," says the Don, accepting this explanation with a bow. "How
may we call you?"

"In Venice," replies the other, with some hesitation, "I was called
Dario--a name given me by my fellow-scholars because my English name was
not to their taste."

"Enough," says the Don. "I can understand a man of better fortune, as I
perceive you have been, wishing in such a position as this to retain his
incognito. There are no parks in Venice, to my knowledge, but surely,
sir, you would not enter a palazzo there uninvited without some
reasonable pretext."

"It would be sufficient that in such a house as this I thought I might
find some employment for a painter."

"You are a painter?" says I.

"A poor one, as you see," replies Dario, with a significant glance at
his clothes.

Don Sanchez turned to me, hunching his shoulders.

"'Tis clear," says he, "that Signor Dario has been grossly abused by our
lady's over-zealous steward. You have but to tell us, sir, what
reparation we can make you."

"I'll not refuse it," answers Dario, eagerly. "You shall grant me
permission to prove the honesty of my story--and something more than
that. Somewhere here," adds he, glancing around him, "I'd leave a
tribute to the grace of that dear lady who brought me back to life."

Don Sanchez assents with a bow to this proposal, but with a rueful
glance at the rich panels of the wall, as fearing this painter might be
as poor in talent as in his clothes--the latter reflecting discredit on
the former--and would disfigure the handsome walls with some rude daub.

"Ah!" cries Dario, casting his eye upon the ceiling, which was plastered
in the Italian mode and embellished with a poor design of cherubs and
clouds, "this ceiling is ill done. I could paint a fresco that would
less disgrace the room."

"You will need materials," says the Don, laying his purse upon the
table. "When you return with them, you may rely upon having our lady's
consent to your wishes."

The painter took the purse with a bow of acknowledgment, and no more
hesitation than one gentleman would show in receiving an obligation from
another, and presently left us.

"Shall we see him again, think ye, Senor?" I asked when we were left to
ourselves.

He nodded, but with such a reflective, sombre air, that I was impelled
to ask him if he lacked confidence in the story told us by the painter.

"His story may be true enough, but whether Signor Dario be an honest man
or not is another matter. A painter's but a man. A ruined gentleman will
accommodate his principles to circumstances" (with a side glance that
seemed to say, "I am a ruined gentleman")--"and my mind would be easier
if I knew by what curious accident a painter in need should find himself
in the heart of Kent, and why fixing on this house to seek employment he
should linger to the point of starvation before he can pluck up courage
to ask a simple question. We must keep our eyes open, Mr. Hopkins, and,"
adds he, dropping his voice, "our mouths shut."

I could not sleep that night for thinking of house-breakings and bloody
struggles for dear life; for 'tis a matter of common report that this
sort of robbers, ere they make attack, do contrive to get one of their
number into the house that he may learn where good goods are stowed,
which part is easiest of attack, etc. I know not whether these quakings
were shared by the Don, but certainly our misgivings never entered
Moll's little head. Nay, rather, her romantic disposition did lead her
(when she heard our narration) to conceive that this mysterious Dario
might be some wandering genius, whose work upon our ceiling would make
the Court for ever glorious. And while in this humour she bade me go to
Simon, whose presence she would not tolerate in her house, and make him
acquainted with her high displeasure, and furthermore, to command that
he should make satisfactory apology to Dario upon his return. So to him
I went, and he wringing his hands in anguish deplored that his best
endeavours to serve his mistress served only to incense her the more
against him. But for his apology he declared that has been made the
moment he heard of the gentleman's release, at the same time that he
restored to him his hat and a pocket-book which had fallen from his
pocket.

This did somewhat reassure me, knowing full well that Simon would not
have given up this book without first acquainting himself with its
contents, and urging that had there been anything in it to incriminate
him, he had certainly laid it before his mistress for his own
justification.

A couple of days after this, as Don Sanchez and I were discoursing in
the great avenue, Dario presents himself, looking all the better for a
decent suit of clothes and a more prosperous condition, and Moll joining
us at that moment, he makes her a very handsome obeisance and standing
uncovered before her, begs to know if it is her will that he should
paint the ceiling of her dining-hall.

As he spoke, the colour rose on his cheek, and a shaft of sunlight
falling on his curling hair, which shone with the lustre of health, made
him look as comely a man as ever I did see, and a good five years
younger than when he stood before us in the extremity of distress.

"Sir," says Moll, "were you my debtor as much as I am yours, I could not
ask for better payment."

Don Sanchez put an end to this pretty exchange of courtesies--which
maybe he considered overmuch as between a lady of Moll's degree and one
who might turn out to be no more than an indifferent painter at the
best--by proposing that Dario should point out what disposition he would
have made for his convenience in working. So he went within doors, and
there Dario gave orders to our gardener, who was a handy sort of
Jack-of-all-trades, what pieces of furniture should be removed, how the
walls and floor should be protected, and how a scaffold should be set up
for him to work on. And the gardener promising to carry out all these
instructions in the course of the day, Dario took his leave of us in a
very polished style, saying he would begin his business the next morning
betimes.

Sure enough, we were awoke next day by a scraping below, and coming
down, we found our painter in a scull-cap and a smock that covered him
to his heels, upon his scaffold, preparing the ceiling in a very
workmanlike manner. And to see him then, with his face and beard thickly
crusted over with a mess of dry plaster and paint, did I think somewhat
dispel those fanciful illusions which our Moll had fostered--she,
doubtless, expecting to find him in a very graceful attitude and
beautiful to look at, creating a picture as if by inchantment. Her
mortification was increased later in the day when, we having invited him
on her insistence to dine at our table, he declined (civilly enough),
saying he had brought his repast with him, and we presently found him
seated astride one of his planks with a pocket knife in one hand and a
thumb-piece of bread and bacon in the other, which he seemed to be
eating with all the relish in the world.

"Why, he is nought but a common labourer," says Moll, disgusted to see
him regaling himself in this fashion, as we returned to our room. "A
pretty picture we are like to get for all this mess and inconvenience!"

And her idol being broken (as it were), and all her fond fancies dashed,
she would not as much as look at him again nor go anigh the room, to be
reminded of her folly.

However, on the third day Dario sent to ask if she would survey his
outlines and decide whether the design pleased her or not. For this
purpose he had pushed aside his scaffold, and here we saw a perspective
done on the ceiling in charcoal, representing a vaulted roof with an
opening to the sky in the middle, surrounded by a little balcony with
trailing plants running over it, and flowers peeping out betwixt the
balusters. And this, though very rough, was most artificial, making the
room look twice its height, and the most admirable, masterly drawing
that I did ever see.

And now Moll, who had prepared a courteous speech to cover the contempt
she expected to feel for the work, could say nought for astonishment,
but stood casting her eyes round at the work like one in a maze.

"If you would prefer an allegory of figures," says Dario, misconceiving
her silence.

"Nay," answers she, "I would have nothing altered. 'Tis wonderful how
such effect can be made with mere lines of black. I can scarce believe
the ceiling is flat." And then she drops her eyes upon Dario, regarding
him with wonder, as if doubting that such a dirty-looking man could have
worked this miracle.

"You must have seen better designs in Rome," says he.

At this I took alarm, not thinking for the moment that he might have
picked up some particulars of Judith Godwin's history from Mrs.
Butterby, or the curious servants who were ever prying in the room.

"'Tis so long ago," says Moll, readily.

"I think I have seen something like it in the Holy City," observes the
Don, critically.

"Probably. Nothing has been left undone in Rome--I am told. It has not
been my good fortune to get so far."

This was good news; for otherwise he might have put some posers to Moll,
which she had found it hard to answer without betraying her ignorance.

Having Moll's approval, Dario set to work forthwith to colour his
perspective; and this he did with the sure firm hand of one who
understands his business, and with such nice judgment, that no builder,
whose design is ordered by fixed rule and line, could accomplish his
work with greater truth and justice. He made it to appear that the lower
part of his vaulted roof was wainscoted in the style of the walls, and
to such perfection that 'twould have puzzled a conjurer to decide where
the oaken panels ended and the painted ones began.

And now Moll suffers her fancies to run wild again, and could not
sufficiently marvel over this poor painter and his work, of which she
would discourse to such lengths, that both the Don and I at times had
some ado to stifle our yawns. She would have it that he was no common
man, but some great genius, compelled by misfortune or the persecution
of rivals, to wander abroad in disguise, taking for evidence the very
facts which had lately led her to condemn him, pointing out that,
whereas those young gentlemen who courted her so persistently did
endeavour, on all occasions, to make their estate and natural parts
appear greater than they were, this Dario did not, proving that he had
no such need of fictitious advancement, and could well afford to let the
world judge of his worth by his works, etc. This point we did not
contest, only we were very well content to observe that he introduced no
one into the house, had no friends in the village (to our knowledge),
and that nought was lacking from our store of plate.

She never tired of watching him at his work--having the hardihood to
mount upon the scaffold where he stood, and there she would sit by the
hour on a little stool, chatting like any magpie, when the nature of his
occupation allowed his thoughts to wander, silent as a mouse when she
perceived that his mind was absorbed in travail--ready at any moment to
fetch this or hold t'other, and seizing every opportunity to serve him.
Indeed, I believe she would gladly have helped him shift the heavy
planks, when he would have their position altered, had he permitted her
this rough usage of her delicate hands. One day, when he was about to
begin the foliage upon his balcony, he brought in a spray of ivy for a
model; then Moll told him she knew where much better was to be found,
and would have him go with her to see it. And she, coming back from this
expedition, with her arms full of briony and herbage, richly tinted by
the first frost, I perceived that there was a new kind of beauty in her
face, a radiance of great happiness and satisfaction which I had never
seen there before.

Here was herbage enough for a week, but she must have fresh the next
morning, and thenceforth every day they would go out ere the sun was
high, hunting for new models.

To prepare for these early excursions, Mistress Moll, though commonly
disposed to lie abed late in the morning, must have been up by daybreak.
And, despite her admiration of Dario's simplicity in dress, she showed
no inclination to follow his example in this particular; but, on the
contrary, took more pains in adorning her person at this time than ever
she had done before; and as she would dress her hair no two mornings
alike, so she would change the fashion of her dress with the same
inconstancy until the sly hussy discovered which did most please Dario's
taste; then a word of approval from him, nay, a glance, would suffice to
fix her choice until she found that his admiration needed rekindling.
And so, as if her own imagination was not sufficiently forcible, she
would talk of nothing with her friends but the newest fashions at court,
with the result that her maids were for ever a-brewing some new wash for
her face (which she considered too brown), compounding charms to remove
a little mole she had in the nape of her neck, cutting up one gown to
make another, and so forth. One day she presented herself with a black
patch at the corner of her lip, and having seen nought of this fashion
before, I cried out in alarm:

"Lord, child! have you injured your face with that mess Betty was
stewing yesterday?"

"What an absurd, old-fashioned creature you are!" answers she, testily.
"Don't you know that 'tis the mode now for ladies to wear spots? Signor
Dario," adds she, her eyes lighting up, "finds it mighty becoming." When
I saw her thus disfiguring her pretty face (as I considered it then,
though I came to admire this embellishment later on) to please Signor
Dario, I began to ask myself how this business was likely to end.

CHAPTER XX.

_Of Moll's ill humour and what befel thereby._

Feeling, in the absence of Dawson, that I stood in the position of a
guardian to his daughter, and was responsible for her welfare, my mind
grew very uneasy about the consequences of her extravagant admiration
for the painter; and, knowing that Don Sanchez, despite his phlegmatic
humour, loved Moll very sincerely at heart, I took him aside one day,
and asked him if he had observed nothing particular in Moll's behaviour
of late.

"One would be blind," says he, "not to see that she is enamoured of
Dario, if that's what you mean."

I admitted that my suspicions inclined that way, and, explaining my
concern on her behalf, I asked him what he would do in my place.

"In my country," says he, "matters never would have been suffered to go
so far, and Mistress Judith would have been shut up a prisoner in her
room these past three weeks. But I doubt if our maidens are any the
safer or better for such treatment, and I am quite sure that such
treatment would be worse than useless for an English girl, and
especially such an one as this. For, guard her how you might, she would
assuredly find means to break her prison, and then no course is open to
her but to throw herself in the arms of the man she loves, trusting to
mere accident whether he abuses her devotion or not. You might as well
strive to catch the wind and hold it as stay and stem the course of
youthful passion."

"Aye, Senor," says I, "this may be all very true. But what should you do
in my place?"

"Nothing," says he.

This was a piece of advice which set me scratching my head in
dubitation.

"Beware," continues he, "how you suggest the thing you fear to one who
needs but a hint to act. I have great faith in the natural modesty of
women (and I do think no child more innocent than Mistress Judith),
which, though it blind them to their danger, does, at the same time,
safeguard them against secret and illicit courses of more fatal
consequences. Let her discourse with him, openly, since it pleases her.
In another fortnight or so Dario's work will be finished, he will go
away, our young lady will shed secret tears and be downcast for a week.
Then another swain will please her, and she'll smile again. That, as I
take it, will be the natural order of events, unless," adds he, "that
natural order is disturbed by some external influence."

Maugre this sage advice, my concern being unabated, I would step pretty
frequently into the room where these young people were, as if to see how
the work was going forward, and with such a quick step that had any
interchange of amorous sentiments existed, I must at one time or another
have discovered it. But I never detected any sign of this--no bashful
silence, no sudden confusion, or covert interchange of glances.
Sometimes they would be chatting lightly, at others both would be
standing silent, she, maybe, holding a bunch of leaves with untiring
steadfastness, for him to copy. But I observed that she was exceedingly
jealous of his society, and no matter how glibly she was talking when I
entered, or how indifferent the subject, she would quickly become
silent, showing me very plainly by her manner that she would vastly
prefer my room to my company.

Still, I was not displeased when I perceived this fresco drawing near to
its completion.

"You are getting on apace," says I, very cheerfully one day. "I reckon
you will soon have done."

"Yes," answers he, "in a week I shall have nought to do but to pack up
my tools and go." There was an accent of sorrow in his voice, despite
himself, which did not escape me nor Moll neither, for I saw her cast
her eyes upon his face, as if to read if there were sadness there. But
she said never a word.

However, in the afternoon she comes to me, and says she:

"I am resolved I will have all the rooms in the house plastered, if
Signor Dario will consent to paint them."

"All the rooms!" says I, in alarm. "Surely you have not counted the cost
of what you propose."

"I suppose I have enough to keep my house in suitable condition."

"Without doubt, though I expect such work as Signor Dario's must command
a high price."

"All I ask of you, then," says she, "is to bid my steward have five
thousand pounds ready for my uses, and within a week, lest I should need
it suddenly. Should he raise objections--"

"As assuredly he will," says I, who knew the crafty, subtle character of
old Simon full well by, this time. "A thousand objections, and not one
you can pick a hole in."

"Then show him this and tell him I accept Mr. Goodman's offer unless he
can find more profitable means of raising money."

With that she puts in my hand a letter she had that morning received
from one Henry Goodman, a tenant, who having heard that she had disposed
of a farm to his neighbour, now humbly prayed she would do him the same
good turn by selling him the land he rented, and for which he was
prepared to pay down in ready money the sum of five thousand pounds.

Armed with this letter, I sought Simon and delivered Moll's message. As
I expected, the wily old man had good excuses ready for not complying
with this request, showing me the pains he had taken to get the king's
seal, his failures to move the king's officers, and the refusal of his
goldsmith to furnish further supplies before the deed of succession was
passed.

"These objections are all very just," says I, "so I see no way of
pleasing our lady but by selling Mr. Goodman's farm, which she will have
done at once if there be no alternative." So I give him the letter,
which he can scarce read for trembling with anguish.

"What," cries he, coming to the end, "I am to sell this land which I
bought for nine hundred pounds and is now worth six thousand? I would
rather my mistress had bid me have the last teeth torn from my head."

"We must have money," says I.

"Thee shalt have it in good time. Evans hath been paid, and thy debt
shall be discharged; fear not."

"I spoke as representing our lady; for ourselves we are content to wait
her better convenience." And I told him how his mistress would lay out
her money in embellishing the Court with paintings, which put him to a
new taking to think so much good money should be wasted in such
vanities.

"But," says he, "this work must take time, and one pays for nothing ere
'tis done. By quarter day our rents will be coming in again--"

"No," says I, cutting him short, "the money must be found at once, or be
assured that your lady will take the management of her affairs out of
your hands."

This raised a fresh outcry and more lamentations, but in the end he
promised to procure the money by collecting his rents in advance, if his
mistress would refuse Mr. Goodman's offer and wait three weeks; and on
Moll's behalf I agreed to these terms.

A few days after this, we were called into the dining-hall to see the
finished ceiling, which truly deserved all the praise we could bestow
upon it, and more. For now that the sky appeared through the opening,
with a little pearly cloud creeping across it, the verdure and flowers
falling over the marble coping, and the sunlight falling on one side and
throwing t'other into shade, the illusion was complete, so that one
could scarcely have been more astonished had a leaf fallen from the
hanging flowers or a face looked over the balcony. In short; 'twas
prodigious.

Nevertheless, the painter, looking up at his work with half-closed,
critical eyes, seemed dissatisfied, and asking us if we found nothing
lacking, we (not to appear behindhand in judgment) agreed that on one
side there was a vacant place which might yet be adorned to advantage.

"Yes," says he, "I see what is wanted and will supply it. That," adds
he; gently turning to Moll, "will give me still another day."

"Why, what charm can you add that is not there?" asks she.

"Something," says he, in a low voice, "which I must see whenever I do
cast my eyes heavenwards."

And now Moll, big with her purpose, which she had hitherto withheld from
Dario, begs him to come into her state room, and there she told how she
would have this ceiling plastered over and painted, like her
dining-hall, if he would undertake to do it.

Dario casts his eye round the room and over the ceiling, and then,
shaking his head, says: "If I were in your place, I would alter nothing
here."

"But I will have it altered," says she, nettled, because he did not leap
at once at her offer, which was made rather to prolong their communion
than to obtain a picture. "I detest these old-fashioned beams of wood."

"They are in keeping with the character of the room. I think," adds he,
looking round him again with renewed admiration, "I think I have never
seen a more perfect example of English art."

"What of that," cries she, "if it pleases me to have it otherwise?"

"Nothing," returns he, calmly. "You have as just a right to stand by
your opinion as I by mine."

"And am I to understand that you will rather hold by your opinion than
give me pleasure?"

"I pray you, do not press me to discourtesy," says he.

"Nay, but I would have a plain answer to my question," says she,
haughtily.

"Then," says he, angering in his turn, "I must tell you that I would as
soon chip an antique statue to suit the taste of a French modiste as
disfigure the work of him who designed this room."

Now, whether Moll took this to be a reflection on her own figure, which
had grown marvellous slim in the waist since she had her new stays from
London, or not, I will not say; but certainly this response did
exasperate her beyond all endurance (as we could see by her blanched
cheek and flashing eye); so, dismissing him with a deep curtsey, she
turns on her heel without another word.

This foolish business, which was not very creditable to our Moll's good
sense (though I think she acted no worse than other maids in her
condition,--for I have observed that young people do usually lose their
heads at the same time that they lose their hearts), this foolish scene,
I say, I would gladly omit from my history, but that it completely
changed our destiny; for had these two parted with fair words, we should
probably have seen no more of Dario, and Don Sanchez's prognostic had
been realised. Such trifles as these do influence our career as greatly
as more serious accidents, our lives being a fabric of events that hang
together by the slenderest threads.

Unmoved from his design by Moll's displeasure, Dario replaced his
scaffold before he left that day, and the next morning he came to put
the last touch upon his work. Moll, being still in dudgeon, would not go
near him, but sat brooding in a corner of her state room, ready, as I
perceived, to fly out in passion at any one who gave her the occasion.
Perceiving this, Don Sanchez prudently went forth for a walk after
dinner; but I, seeing that some one must settle accounts with the
painter for his work, stayed at home. And when I observed that he was
collecting his materials to go, I went in to Moll.

"My dear," says I, "I believe Dario is preparing to leave us."

"My congratulations to him," says she, "for 'tis evident he is weary of
being here."

"Nay, won't you come in and see his work now 'tis finished?"

"No; I have no desire to see it. If I have lost my taste for Italian
art, 'tis through no fault of his."

"You will see him, surely, before he goes."

"No; I will not give him another opportunity to presume upon my
kindness."

"Why, to be sure," says I, like a fool, "you have been a little
over-familiar."

"Indeed," says she, firing up like a cracker. "Then I think 'twould have
been kinder of you to give me a hint of it beforehand. However, 'tis a
very good excuse for treating him otherwise now."

"Well, he must be paid for his work, at any rate."

"Assuredly. If you have not money enough, I will fetch it from my
closet."

"I have it ready, and here is a purse for the purpose. The question is,
how much to put in it. I should think such a perspective as that could
not be handsomely paid under fifty guineas."

"Then you will give him a hundred, and say that I am exceedingly obliged
to him."

I put this sum in the purse and went out into the hall where Dario was
waiting, with his basket of brushes beside him. In a poor, bungling,
stammering fashion, I delivered Moll's message, and made the best excuse
I could for delivering it in her stead.

He waited a moment or two after I had spoken, and then, says he, in a
low voice:

"Is that all?"

"Nay," says I, offering the purse, "we do beg you to take this as--"

He stopped me, pushing my hand aside.

"I have taken a purse from Don Sanchez," says he. "There was more in it
than I needed--there are still some pieces left. But as I would not
affront him by offering to return them, so I beg you will equally
respect my feelings. I undertook the task in gratitude, and it hath been
a work of love all through, well paid for by the happiness that I have
found here."

He stood musing a little while, as if he were debating with himself
whether he should seek to overcome Moll's resentment or not. Then,
raising his head quickly, he says: "'Tis best so, maybe. Farewell, sir"
(giving me his hand). "Tell her," adds he, as we stand hand in hand at
the door, "that I can never forget her kindness, and will ever pray for
her happiness."

I found the door ajar and Moll pacing the room very white, when I
returned. She checked me the moment I essayed to deliver Dario's
message.

"You can save your breath," says she, passionately, "I've heard every
word."

"More shame for you," says I, in a passion, casting my purse on the
table. "'Tis infamous to treat an honest gentleman thus, and silly
besides. Come, dear," altering my tone, "do let me run and fetch him
back."

"You forget whom you are speaking to, Mr. Hopkins," cries she.

I saw 'twas impossible to move her whilst she was in this mood, for she
had something of her father's obstinate, stubborn disposition, and did
yet hope to bring Dario back to her feet, like a spaniel, by harsh
treatment. But he came no more, though a palette he had overlooked could
have given him the excuse, and for very vexation with Moll I was glad he
did not.

He had not removed the scaffold, but when I went upon it to see what
else he had put into his painting, the fading light only allowed me to
make out a figure that seemed to be leaning over the balcony.

Moll would not go in there, though I warrant she was dying of curiosity;
and soon after supper, which she could scarce force herself to touch,
she went up to her own chamber, wishing us a very distant, formal
good-night, and keeping her passionate, angry countenance.

But the next morning, ere I was dressed, she knocked at my door, and,
opening it, I found her with swollen eyes and tears running down her
cheeks.

"Come down," says she, betwixt her sobs, and catching my hand in hers.
"Come down and see."

So we went downstairs together,--I wondering what now had happened,--and
so into the dining-hall. And there I found the scaffold pushed aside,
and the ceiling open to view. Then looking up, I perceived that the
figure bending over the balcony bore Moll's own face, with a most sweet,
compassionate expression in it as she looked down, such as I had
observed when she bent over Dario, having brought him back to life. And
this, thinks I, remembering his words, this is what he must ever see
when he looks heavenwards.

CHAPTER XXI.

_Of the strange things told us by the wise woman._

"Tell me I am wicked; tell me I'm a fool," says Moll, clinging to my
arm.

But I had no feeling now but pity and forgiveness, and so could only try
to comfort her, saying we would make amends to Dario when we saw him
next.

"I will go to him," says she. "For nought in the world would I have him
yield to such a heartless fool as I am. I know where he lodges."

"Well, when we have eaten--"

"Nay; we must go this moment. I cannot be at peace till I have asked him
to forgive. Come with me, or I must go alone."

Yielding to her desire without further ado, I fetched my hat and cloak,
and, she doing likewise, we sallied out forthwith. Taking the side path
by which Dario came and went habitually, we reached a little wicket
gate, opening from the path upon the highway; and here, seeing a man
mending the road, we asked him where we should find Anne Fitch, as she
was called, with whom the painter lodged. Pointing to a neat cottage
that stood by the wayside, within a stone's throw, he told us the "wise
woman" lived there. We crossed over and knocked at the door, and a voice
within bidding us come in, we did so.

There was a very sweet, pleasant smell in the room from the herbs that
hung in little parcels from the beams, for this Anne Fitch was greatly
skilled in the use of simples, and had no equal for curing fevers and
the like in all the country round. (But, besides this, it was said she
could look into the future and forecast events truer than any Egyptian.)
There was a chair by the table, on which was an empty bowl and some
broken bread; but the wise woman sat in the chimney corner, bending over
the hearth, though the fire had burnt out, and not an ember glowed. And
a strange little elf she looked, being very wizen and small, with one
shoulder higher than the other, and a face full of pain.

When I told her our business,--for Moll was too greatly moved to
speak,--the old woman pointed to the adjoining room.

"He is gone!" cries Moll, going to the open door, and peering within.

"Yes," answers Anne Fitch. "Alas!"

"When did he go?" asks Moll.

"An hour since," answers the other.

"Whither is he gone?"

"I am no witch."

"At least, you know which way he went."

"I have not stirred from here since I gave him his last meal."

Moll sank into the empty chair, and bowed her head in silence.

Anne Fitch, whose keen eyes had never strayed from Moll since she first
entered the room, seeming as if they would penetrate to the most secret
recesses of her heart, with that shrewd perception which is common to
many whose bodily infirmity compels an extraordinary employment of their
other faculties, rises from her settle in the chimney, and coming to the
table, beside Moll, says:

"I am no witch, I say; yet I could tell you things would make you think
I am."

"I want to know nothing further," answers she, dolefully, "save where he
is."

"Would you not know whether you shall ever see him again, or not?"

"Oh! If you can tell me that!" cries Moll, quickly.

"I may." Then, turning to me, the wise woman asks to look at my hand,
and on my demurring, she says she must know whether I am a friend or an
enemy, ere she speaks before me. So, on that, I give my hand, and she
examines it.

"You call yourself James Hopkins," says she.

"Why, every one within a mile knows that," says I.

"Aye," answers she, fixing her piercing eye on my face; "but every one
knows not that some call you Kit."

This fairly staggered me for a moment.

"How do you answer that?" she asks, observing my confusion. "Why," says
I, recovering my presence of mind, "'tis most extraordinary, to be sure,
that you should read this, for save one or two familiars, none know that
my second name is Christopher."

"A fairly honest hand," says she, looking at my hand again. "Weak in
some things, but a faithful friend. You may be trusted."

And so she drops my hand and takes up Moll's.

"'Tis strange," says she. "You call yourself Judith, yet here I see your
name writ Moll."

[Illustration: "YOU CALL YOURSELF JUDITH, YET HERE I SEE YOUR NAME WRIT
MOLL."]

Poor Moll, sick with a night of sorrow and terrified by the wise woman's
divining powers, could make no answer; but soon Fitch, taking less heed
of her tremble than of mine, regards her hand again.

"How were you called in Barbary?" asks she.

This question betraying a flaw in the wise woman's perception, gave Moll
courage, and she answered readily enough that she was called "Lala
Mollah"--which was true, "Lala" being the Moorish for lady, and "Mollah"
the name her friends in Elche had called her as being more agreeable to
their ear than the shorter English name.

"Mollah--Moll!" says Anne Fitch, as if communing with herself. "That may
well be." Then, following a line in Moll's hand, she adds, "You will
love but once, child."

"What is my sweetheart's name?" whispers Moll, the colour springing in
her face.

"You have not heard it yet," replies the other, upon which Moll pulls
her hand away impatiently. "But you have seen him," continues the wise
woman, "and his is the third hand in which I have read another name."

"Tell me now if I shall see him again," cries Moll, eagerly--offering
her hand again, and as quickly as she had before withdrawn it.

"That depends upon yourself," returns the other. "The line is a deep
one. Would you give him all you have?"

Moll bends her head low in silence, to conceal her hot face.

"'Tis nothing to be ashamed of," says the old woman, in a strangely
gentle tone. "'Tis better to love once than often; better to give your
whole heart than part. Were I young and handsome and rich, I would give
body and soul for such a man. For he is good and generous and exceeding
kind. Look you, he hath lived here but a few weeks, and I feel for him,
grieve for him, like a mother. Oh, I am no witch," adds she, wiping a
tear from her cheek, "only a crooked old woman with the gift of seeing
what is open to all who will read, and a heart that quickens still at a
kind word or a gentle thought." (Moll's hand had closed upon hers at
that first sight of her grief.) "For your names," continues she,
recovering her composure, "I learnt from one of your maids who came
hither for news of her sweetheart, that the sea captain who was with you
did sometimes let them slip. I was paid to learn this."

"Not by him," says Moll.

"No; by your steward Simon."

"_He_ paid for that!" says I, incredulous, knowing Simon's reluctance to
spend money.

"Aye, and a good price, too. It seems you call heavily upon him for
money, and do threaten to cut up your estate and sell the land he prizes
as his life."

"That is quite true," says I.

"Moreover, he greatly fears that he will be cast from his office, when
your title to it is made good. For that reason he would move heaven and
earth to stay your succession by casting doubts upon your claim. And to
this end he has by all the means at his command tried to provoke your
cousin to contest your right."

"My cousin!" cries Moll.

"Richard Godwin."

"My cousin Richard--why, where is he?"

"Gone," says the old woman, pointing to the broken bread upon the table.

CHAPTER XXII.

_How Moll and Mr. Godwin come together and declare their hearts'
passion, and how I carry these tidings to Dawson._

"What!" cries Moll, starting to her feet. "He whom I have treated thus
is--" and here she checked herself, as if recoiling (and for the first
time) from false pretence in a matter so near her heart.

"He is your cousin, Richard Godwin," says the wise woman. "Simon knew
this from the first; for there were letters showing it in the
pocket-book he found after the struggle in the park; but for his own
ends he kept that knowledge secret, until it fitted his ends to speak.
Why your cousin did not reveal himself to you may be more readily
conceived by you than 'twas by me."

"Why, 'tis clear enough," says Moll. "Pressed by his necessities, he
came hither to claim assistance of his kinsman; but finding he was dead
and none here but me, his pride did shrink from begging of a mere maid
that which he might with justice have demanded from a man. And then, for
shame at being handled like a rogue--"

Surely there is something in the blood of a gentleman that tempers his
spirit to a degree scarcely to be comprehended by men of meaner birth,
thinks I.

"When did Simon urge him to dispute my rights?" asks Moll.

"On Sunday--in the wood out there. I knew by his look he had some
treacherous business in hand, and, matching my stealth with his, I found
means to overhear him, creeping from thicket to thicket, as noiseless as
a snake, to where they stood; for, be assured, I should not otherwise
have learnt one word of this."

"How did _he_ receive these hints at my ill doing?" asks Moll.

"Patiently, till the tale was told; then, taking your steward by the
throat with sudden passion, he cries: 'Why should I not strangle you,
rascal? 'Twould be a service to humanity. What have I done to deserve
your love, or this lady your hate? Nothing. You would pit us one against
the other merely to keep your hold upon these lands, and gratify your
insensate love of possession. Go, get you gone, beast!' cries he,
flinging him off; ''tis punishment enough for you to live and know
you've failed. For, had you proved your case to my conviction, I'd not
stir a hand against this lady, be she who she may. Nay,' adds he, with
greater fury, 'I will not stay where my loyalty and better judgment may
be affected by the contagion of a vile suspicion. Away while you may; my
fingers itch to be revenged on you for sundering me from one who should
have been my closest, dearest friend.'"

Moll claps her hands together with a cry of joy and pain mingled, even
as the smile played upon her lips whilst tears filled her eyes.

"Sunday!" cries she, turning to me and dashing the tears that blinded
her from her eyes; "Sunday, and it 'twas o' Monday he refused to stay.
O, the brave heart!" Then, in impetuous haste, "He shall be found--we
must overtake him."

"That may be done if you take horse," says Anne Fitch, "for he travels
afoot."

"But which way shall we turn?"

"The way that any man would take, seeking to dispel a useless sorrow,"
answers the wise woman; "the way to London."

"God bless you!" cries Moll, clasping the withered old woman to her
heaving breast and kissing her. Then the next moment she would be gone,
bidding me get horses for our pursuit.

So, as quickly as I might, I procured a couple of nags, and we set out,
leaving a message for Don Sanchez, who was not yet astir. And we should
have gone empty, but that while the horses were a-preparing (and Moll,
despite her mighty haste at this business too), I took the precaution to
put some store of victuals in a saddle bag.

Reckoning that Mr. Godwin (as I must henceforth call him) had been set
out two hours or thereabouts, I considered that we might overtake him in
about three at an easy amble. But Moll was in no mood for ambling, and
no sooner were we started than she put her nag to a gallop and kept up
this reckless pace up hill and down dale,--I trailing behind and
expecting every minute to be cast and get my neck broke,--until her
horse was spent and would answer no more to the whip. Then I begged her
for mercy's sake to take the hill we were coming to at a walk, and break
her fast. "For," says I, "another such half-hour as the last on an empty
stomach will do my business, and you will have another dead man to bring
back to life, which will advance your journey nothing, and so more
haste, less speed." Therewith I opened my saddle bag, and sharing its
contents, we ate a rare good meal and very merry, and indeed it was a
pleasure now to look at her as great as the pain had been to see her so
unhappy a few hours before. For the exercise had brought a flood of rich
colour into her face, and a lively hope sparkled in her eyes, and the
sound of her voice was like any peal of marriage bells for gaiety. Yet
now and then her tongue would falter, and she would strain a wistful
glance along the road before us as fearing she did hope too much.
However, coming to an inn, we made enquiry, and learnt that a man such
as we described had surely passed the house barely an hour gone, and one
adding that he carried a basket on his stick, we felt this must be our
painter for certain.

Thence on again at another tear (as if we were flying from our
reckoning) until, turning a bend of the road at the foot of a hill, she
suddenly drew rein with a shrill cry. And coming up, I perceived close
by our side Mr. Godwin, seated upon the bridge that crossed a stream,
with his wallet beside him.

He sprang to his feet and caught in an instant the rein that had fallen
from Moll's hand, for the commotion in her heart at seeing him so
suddenly had stopped the current of her veins, and she was deadly pale.

"Take me, take me!" cries she, stretching forth her arms, with a faint
voice. "Take me, or I must fall," and slipping from her saddle she sank
into his open, ready arms.

"Help!" says Mr. Godwin, quickly, and in terror.

"Nay," says she; "I am better--'tis nothing. But," adds she, smiling at
him, "you may hold me yet a little longer."

The fervid look in his eyes, as he gazed down at her sweet pale face,
seemed to say: "Would I could hold you here for ever, sweetheart."

"Rest her here," says I, pointing to the little wall of the bridge, and
he, complying (not too willingly), withdrew his arm from her waist, with
a sigh.

And now the colour coming back to her cheek, Moll turns to him, and
says:

"I thought you would have come again. And since one of us must ask to be
forgiven, lo! here am I come to ask your pardon."

"Why, what is there to pardon, Madam?" says he.

"Only a girl's folly, which unforgiven must seem something worse."

"Your utmost folly," says he, "is to have been over-kind to a poor
painter. And if that be an offence, 'tis my misfortune to be no more
offended."

"Have I been over-kind?" says Moll, abashed, as having unwittingly
passed the bounds of maiden modesty.

"As nature will be over-bounteous in one season, strewing so many
flowers in our path that we do underprize them till they are lost, and
all the world seems stricken with wintry desolation."

"Yet, if I have said or done anything unbecoming to my sex--"

"Nothing womanly is unbecoming to a woman," returns he. "And, praised be
God, some still live who have not learned to conceal their nature under
a mask of fashion. If this be due less to your natural free disposition
than to an ignorance of our enlightened modish arts, then could I find
it in my heart to rejoice that you have lived a captive in Barbary."

They had been looking into each other's eyes with the delight of reading
there the love that filled their hearts, but now Moll bent her head as
if she could no longer bear that searching regard, and unable to make
response to his pretty speech, sat twining her fingers in her lap,
silent, with pain and pleasure fluttering over her downcast face. And at
this time I do think she was as near as may be on the point of
confessing she had been no Barbary slave, rather than deceive the man
who loved her, and profit by his faith in her, which had certainly
undone us all; but in her passion, a woman considered the welfare of her
father and best friends very lightly; nay, she will not value her own
body and soul at two straws, but is ready to yield up everything for one
dear smile.

A full minute Mr. Godwin sat gazing at Moll's pretty, blushing, half-hid
face (as if for his last solace), and then, rising slowly from the
little parapet, he says:

"Had I been more generous, I should have spared you this long morning
ride. So you have something to forgive, and we may cry quits!" Then,
stretching forth his hand, he adds, "Farewell."

"Stay," cries Moll, springing to her feet, as fearing to lose him
suddenly again, "I have not eased myself of the burden that lay
uppermost. Oh!" cries she, passionately, casting off all reserve, "I
know all; who you are, and why you first came hither, and I am here to
offer you the half of all I have."

"Half, sweet cousin?" answers he, taking her two hands in his.

"Aye; for if I had not come to claim it, all would have been yours by
right. And 'tis no more than fair that, owing so much to Fortune, I
should offer you the half."

"Suppose that half will not suffice me, dear?" says he.

"Why, then I'll give you all," answers she; "houses, gardens,
everything."

"Then what will you do, coz?"

"Go hence, as you were going but just now," answers she, trembling.

"Why, that's as if you took the diamond from its setting, and left me
nothing but the foil," says he. "Oh, I would order it another way: give
me the gem, and let who will take what remains. Unless these little
hands are mine to hold for ever, I will take nothing from them."

"They are thine, dear love," cries she, in a transport, flinging them
about his neck, "and my heart as well."

At this conjuncture I thought it advisable to steal softly away to the
bend of the road; for surely any one coming this way by accident, and
finding them locked together thus in tender embrace on the king's
highway, would have fallen to some gross conclusion, not understanding
their circumstances, and so might have offended their delicacy by some
rude jest. And I had not parted myself here a couple of minutes, ere I
spied a team of four stout horses coming over the brow of the hill,
drawing the stage waggon behind them which plies betwixt Sevenoaks and
London. This prompting me to a happy notion, I returned to the happy,
smiling pair, who were now seated again upon the bridge, hand in hand,
and says I:

"My dear friends,--for so I think I may now count you, sir, as well as
my Mistress Judith here,--the waggon is coming down the hill, by which I
had intended to go to London this morning upon some pressing business.
And so, Madam, if your cousin will take my horse and conduct you back to
the Court, I will profit by this occasion and bid you farewell for the
present."

This proposal was received with evident satisfaction on their part, for
there was clearly no further thought of parting; only Moll, alarmed for
the proprieties, did beg her lover to lift her on her horse instantly.
Nevertheless, when she was in her saddle, they must linger yet, he to
kiss her hands, and she to bend down and yield her cheek to his lips,
though the sound of the coming waggon was close at hand.

Scarcely less delighted than they with this surprising strange turn of
events, I left 'em there with bright, smiling faces, and journeyed on to
London, and there taking a pair of oars at the Bridge to Greenwich, all
eagerness to give these joyful tidings to my old friend, Jack Dawson. I
found him in his workroom, before a lathe, and sprinkled from head to
toe with chips, mighty proud of a bed-post he was a-turning. And it did
my heart good to see him looking stout and hearty, profitably occupied
in this business, instead of soaking in an alehouse (as I feared at one
time he would) to dull his care; but he was ever a stout, brave fellow,
who would rather fight than give in any day. A better man never lived,
nor a more honest--circumstances permitting.

His joy at seeing me was past everything; but his first thought after
our hearty greeting was of his daughter.

"My Moll," says he, "my dear girl; you han't brought her to add to my
joy? She's not slinking behind a door to fright me with delight, hey?"

"No," says I; "but I've brought you great news of her."

"And good, I'll swear, Kit, for there's not a sad line in your face.
Stay, comrade, wait till I've shook these chips off and we are seated in
my parlour, for I do love to have a pipe of tobacco and a mug of ale
beside me in times of pleasure. You can talk of indifferent things,
though, for Lord! I do love to hear the sound of your voice again."

I told him how the ceiling of our dining-hall had been painted.

"Aye," says he. "I have heard of that; for my dear girl hath writ about
that and nought else in her letters; and though I've no great fancy for
such matters, yet I doubt not it is mighty fine by her long-winded
praises of it. Come, Kit, let us in here and get to something fresher."

So we into his parlour, which was a neat, cheerful room, with a fine
view of the river, and there being duly furnished with a mighty mug of
ale and clean pipes, he bids me give him my news, and I tell him how
Moll had fallen over head and ears in love with the painter, and he with
her, and how that very morning they had come together and laid open
their hearts' desire one to the other, with the result (as I believed)
that they would be married as soon as they could get a parson to do
their business.

"This is brave news indeed," cries he, "and easeth me beyond
comprehension, for I could see clearly enough she was smitten with this
painter, by her writing of nothing else; and seeing she could not get at
his true name and condition, I felt some qualms as to how the matter
might end. But do tell me, Kit, is he an honest, wholesome sort of man?"

"As honest as the day," says I, "and a nobler, handsomer man never
breathed."

"God be praised for all things," says he, devoutly. "Tell me he's an
Englishman, Kit--as Moll did seem to think he was, spite his foreign
name--and my joy's complete."

"As true-born an Englishman as you are," says I.

"Lord love him for it!" cries he.

Then coming down to particulars, I related the events of the past few
days pretty much as I have writ them here, showing in the end how Mr.
Godwin would have gone away, unknown rather than profit by his claim as
Sir Richard Godwin's kinsman, even though Moll should be no better than
old Simon would have him believe, upon which he cries, "Lord love him
for it, say I again! Let us drink to their health. Drink deep, Kit, for
I've a fancy that no man shall put his lips to this mug after us."

So I drank heartily, and he, emptying the jug, flung it behind the
chimney, with another fervent ejaculation of gratitude. Then a shade of
sorrow falling on his face as he lay it in his hand, his elbow resting
on the table:

"I'd give best half of the years I've got to live," says he, "to see 'em
together, and grasp Mr. Godwin's hand in mine. But I'll not be tempted
to it, for I perceive clearly enough by what you tell me that my wayward
tongue and weakness have been undoing us all, and ruining my dear Moll's
chance of happiness. But tell me, Kit" (straightening himself up), "how
think you this marriage will touch our affairs?"

"Only to better them. For henceforth our prosperity is assured, which
otherwise might have lacked security."

"Aye, to be sure, for now shall we be all in one family with these
Godwins, and this cousin, profiting by the estate as much as Moll, will
never begrudge her giving us a hundred or two now and then, for
rendering him such good service."

"'Twill appease Moll's compunctions into the bargain," says I,
heedlessly.

"What compunctions?"

"The word slipped me unintended," stammers I; "I mean nothing."

"But something your word must mean. Come, out with it, Kit."

"Well," says I, "since this fondness has possessed her, I have observed
a greater compunction to telling of lies than she was wont to have."

"'Tis my fault," answers he, sadly. "She gets this leaning to honesty
from me."

"This very morning," continues I, "she was, I truly believe, of two
minds whether she should not confess to her sweetheart that she was not
his cousin."

"For all the world my case!" cries he, slapping the table. "If I could
only have five minutes in secret with the dear girl, I would give her a
hint that should make her profit by my folly." And then he tells me how,
in the heyday of courtship and the flush of confiding love, he did
confess to his wife that he had carried gallantry somewhat too far with
Sukey Taylor, and might have added a good half dozen other names beside
hers but for her sudden outcry; and how, though she might very well have
suspected other amours, she did never reproach him therewith, but was
for ever to her dying day a-flinging Sukey Taylor in his teeth, etc.

"Lord, Kit!" cries he, in conclusion; "what would I give to save her
from such torment! You know how obedient she is to my guiding, for I
have ever studied to make her respect me; and no one in the world hath
such empire over her. Could it not be contrived anyhow that we should
meet for half an hour secretly?"

"Not secretly," says I. "But there is no reason why you should not visit
her openly. Nay, it will create less surprise than if you stay away. For
what could be more natural than your coming to the Court on your return
from a voyage to see the lady you risked so much to save?"

"Now God bless you for a good, true friend!" cries he, clasping my hand.
"I'll come, but to stay no great length. Not a drop will I touch that
day, and a fool indeed I must be if I can't act my part without bungling
for a few hours at a stretch, and I a-listening every night in the
parlour of the 'Spotted Dog' to old seamen swearing and singing their
songs. And I'll find an opportunity to give--Moll a hint of my past
folly, and so rescue her from a like pitfall. I'll abide by your advice,
Kit,--which is the wisest I ever heard from your lips."

But I was not so sure of this, and, remembering the kind of obedience
Moll had used to yield to her father's commands, my mind misgave me.

CHAPTER XXIII.

_Don Sanchez proposes a very artful way to make Mr. Godwin a party to
our knavery, etc._

I returned to Hurst Court the following day in the forenoon, and there I
found Mr. Godwin, with Moll clinging to his arm, in an upper room
commanding a view of the northern slopes, discussing their future, and
Moll told me with glee how this room was to be her husband's workroom,
where he would paint pictures for the admiration of all the world,
saying that he would not (nor would she have him) renounce his calling
to lead the idle life of a country gentleman.

"If the world admire my pictures, the world shall pay to have them,"
says he, with a smile; then turning to her he adds very tenderly: "I
will owe all my happiness to you, sweetheart; yet guard my independence
in more material matters. No mercenary question shall ever cast
suspicion on my love."

Seeing I was not wanted here, I left them to settle their prospectives,
and sought Don Sanchez, whom I found reading in a room below, seated in
a comfortable chair before a good fire of apple logs. To please me, he
shut up his book and agreed to take a stroll in the park while dinner
was a-dressing. So we clap on our hats and cloaks and set forth, talking
of indifferent matters till we are come into a fair open glade (which
sort of place the prudent Don did ever prefer to holes and corners for
secret conference), and then he told me how Moll and Mr. Godwin had
already decided they would be married in three weeks.

"Three weeks?" says I. "I would it were to be done in three days." To
which desire the Don coincides with sundry grave nods, and then tells me
how Moll would have herself cried in church, for all to know, and that
nothing may be wanting to her husband's dignity.

"After all," says I, "three weeks is no such great matter. And now,
Senor, do tell me what you think of all this."

"If you had had the ordering of your own destiny, you could not have
contrived it better," answers he. "'Tis a most excellent game, and you
cannot fail to win if" (here he pauses to blow his nose) "if the cards
are played properly."

This somehow brought Dawson into my thoughts, and I told the Don of my
visit to him, and how he did purpose to come down to see Moll; whereat
the Don, stopping short, looked at me very curiously with his eyebrows
raised, but saying nothing.

"'Tis no more than natural that a father should want to see what kind of
man is to be his daughter's husband," says I, in excuse, "and if he
_will_ come, what are we to do?"

"I know what I should do in your place, Mr. Hopkins," says he, quietly.

"Pray, Senor, what is that?"

"Squeeze all the money you can out of old Simon before he comes,"
answers he. "And it wouldn't be amiss to make Mr. Godwin party to this
business by letting him have a hundred or two for his present
necessities at once."

Acting on this hint, when Moll left us after supper and we three men
were seated before the fire, I asked Mr. Godwin if he would permit me to
speak upon a matter which concerned his happiness no less than his
cousin Judith's.

"Nay, sir," replies he, "I do pray you to be open with me, for otherwise
I must consider myself unworthy of your friendship."

"Well, sir," says I, "my mind is somewhat concerned on account of what
you said this morning; namely, that no pecuniary question shall ever be
discussed betwixt you and your wife, and that you will owe nothing to
her but happiness. This, together with your purpose of painting pictures
to sell, means, I take it, that you will leave your wife absolute
mistress of her present fortune."

"That is the case exactly, Mr. Hopkins," says he. "I am not indifferent
to the world's esteem, and I would give no one reason to suspect that I
had married my dear cousin to possess her fortune."

"Nevertheless, sir, you would not have it thought that she begrudged you
an equal share of her possessions. Your position will necessitate a
certain outlay. To maintain your wife's dignity and your own, you must
dress well, mount a good horse, be liberal in hospitality, give largely
to those in need, and so forth. With all due respect to your genius in
painting, I can scarcely think that art will furnish you at once with
supplies necessary to meet all these demands."

"All this is very true, Mr. Hopkins," says he, after a little
reflection; "to tell the truth, I have lived so long in want that
poverty has become my second nature, and so these matters have not
entered into my calculations. Pray, sir, continue."

"Your wife, be she never so considerate, may not always anticipate your
needs; and hence at some future moment this question of supplies must
arise--unless they are disposed of before your marriage."

"If that could be done, Mr. Hopkins," says he, hopefully.

"It may be done, sir, very easily. With your cousin's consent and yours,
I, as her elected guardian, at this time will have a deed drawn up to be
signed by you and her, settling one-half the estate upon you, and the
other on your cousin. This will make you not her debtor, but her
benefactor; for without this deed, all that is now hers becomes yours by
legal right upon your marriage, and she could not justly give away a
shilling without your permission. And thus you assure to her the same
independence that you yourself would maintain."

"Very good," says Don Sanchez, in a sonorous voice of approval, as he

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