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egress ‘twould be a veritable slaughter hole and from the first they had kept together, preferring the direction of retreat.

Suddenly one of the men in front of Buckingham leant down and traced with his finger on the dusty stone,–

“They have moved it in this direction, and there is no mistaking it,” and he pointed from the ladder.

They followed the direction, holding the light low, and came at once upon what appeared to be a solid stone wall. Inadvertently the man bearing the lighted taper rested his arm for a moment against the stones. Instantly a blaze flared up and showed a very cleverly concocted wall. A canvas had been padded in shape of unhewn stone and painted in imitation; the oil in the paint had ignited and despoiled the illusion.

The blaze was quenched in a moment, the canvas door pried open and the three men passed beyond, carefully closing the door behind them.

Buckingham was close upon them.

They fled rapidly along, Cantemir following his servants and ever glancing behind with eyes staring with fear.

Buckingham was not to be caught by fear-staring eyes and kept well in shadow.

The passage was narrow with many windings and appeared to be interminable.

The men began to run, which was very incautious under the circumstances, for in a moment they were precipitated into a small chamber occupied by two stalwart monks. The latter had barely time to throw themselves upon the defensive ere they were attacked.

Cantemir had the advantage, as the monks were encumbered with their long robes.

Then ensued a short fight, in which Cantemir’s men won the day–he remaining well in the background.

One of the servants was wounded and lay helpless upon the floor, his head falling against some object that held him in a semi-upright posture. Cantemir turned with the torch he had taken from the floor, and looked about him, stumbling over the prostrate bodies of the monks as they lay wounded. Noting his injured servant’s position, he ran to him, and seeing the thing upon which his head rested, kicked his body from the chest, as if the fellow had been his enemy’s dog, instead of his own serving man.

With a cudgel he and his comrade opened the chest, after first finding it too heavy to carry at speed and for an indefinite distance.

Cantemir’s eyes waxed big with greed and delight, as he looked within. He spread out his long fingers, as if to grasp all the chest contained.

“These small caskets must be filled with jewels. Anson, fasten the torch somehow and put these in the bags. Here are some rare laces, looted from some dead Croesus, I warrant,–put those in too;–those infernal papers–they can be of no consequence–“

“Then I will take them, my lord,” said the servant. Cantemir eyed him with no fondness and slipped the papers within his own bag.

Buckingham, watching them from his little cove in the rocks, caught a sound that made him start. It was very distant and indistinct, yet he was quite certain some one was coming, and without further delay he cried out and drew his sword upon the man nearest him, which happened to be Anson.

The fellow used his sword fairly, but no match for his adversary.

Buckingham run him through before the Russian had regained his presence of mind.

As the unfortunate Anson fell, the Duke turned to Cantemir, who was separated from him by two prone figures and the chest. The Count held the advantage and meant to use it by springing ahead into the opening. There was no opportunity for Buckingham to either reach him or head him off. Cantemir had caught up the filled bags and was smiling insolently across at him. Buckingham was exasperated, not by the fellow’s triumph, but at his own helplessness to cut him off. But there was no time to be lost; those other sounds were growing nearer.

The Duke made a bound toward the opening. Cantemir, with an exultant laugh, sprung also toward the opening, but his laugh was turned into a yell of fear, as his leg was caught in a death-like grip by the servant he had kicked from the chest.

In an instant Buckingham was upon him and binding his arms tight behind; the poor, cowardly knave begging at every breath for his life. He was completely undone with fright, his heart melted and his knees bent.

“And would it not be thy meed to run thee through also, for serving thy wounded knave with a kick? ’twas inhuman–by God! ’tis a pity it takes a man with a soul to suffer the tortures of hell, for thou wilt never get thy deserts!” He looked down and saw the poor servant’s eyes raised to his pleadingly. The Duke drew from his pocket a flask of wine and gave it to him; then gathered the bags that lay filled by the chest and hurriedly looked at their contents. As he did so the wounded knave feebly raised his voice,–

“I will be killed if I am found here.”

“Nay, a gentleman–” and he cast a scornful glance at Cantemir,–“would not kick thee when thou art down; say nothing of our most noble fathers putting to flight what small life thou hast in thee. What is thy name?”

“Christopher,” came in weakened tones from his pallid lips.

In another moment the Duke was gone with his looted treasures.

He flew along at a most undignified gait, bearing his pack as a labourer. His shoulders, unused to such burden, grew tired. He began to wonder if the passage would never end. He was growing more exhausted than he cared to own, and beside, he apprehended he was pursued.

At last he felt almost compelled to leave one of the bags behind, and stopped to think which, one he should leave. Yet he was a-mind to carry them all if he broke his back; and beside, it was so dark he was unable to tell which was the more important.

As he stood undecided he heard distinctly the fast approach of footsteps. He gathered his strength and bags and flung along, somewhat refreshed by the change of burdens. As he made a turn, the fresh outside air blew upon him. He grew cautious and moved more slowly, listening now in both directions. He might not be overtaken, but some one might be at the opening of the passage. There was no light or sound beyond, and soon he stood in the deep darkness of the outer night ‘neath dripping trees. Warily he stepped, lest some cracking twig exposed his presence.

He ascertained his surrounding was a thicket, and was about to make his way into its labyrinthine density, step by step; for the way was difficult, when there was a tramping of horses’ hoofs upon the rain-soaked road that appeared to be in close proximity.

Under cover of the noise he swept hastily and boldly through the briery bushes that were thickly entangled, and was able to make considerable headway whence he had come, when the noise ceased and a peculiar whistle rang out; then there were a few moments of quiet, as if those who signalled were listening for an answer.

There appeared to be a chaise with several outriders, as Buckingham thought, by the tramp of horses’ feet, and a creaking of wheels pulling heavily along.

As he gazed anxiously in their direction, a torch was suddenly set a-glow and a horseman rode up with it to the mouth of the subterranean passage. He leant from his steed and examined the ground closely, noting doubtless the footprints that led away from the road and directly to the place where the Duke stood. He turned abruptly back to the group upon the highway and conversed in low tones.

Buckingham was not a little perturbed, for a horseman could with less trouble than it takes to tell it, track and overtake him in a moment’s time. He fain would have a few minutes to ease his burden, but his peril was great. There was no doubt but what these men were monks, come to assist their fellows with the chest and convey them to a place of safety.

Indeed, the secret of the chest must be royal, but whether in jewels or papers he did not know, nor was it the time and place to find out. If he only knew in which pack was the bone of contention he would certainly lighten his burden.

Again he lifted the bags and strode on lightly, for he still could be heard to the highway, if one should listen.

He had not gone far, however, when there was a shout from the subterranean opening and much confusion following upon it.

The Duke was now thoroughly aroused. Doubtless the monks within the passage had at that moment arrived at its mouth, there to make known to their comrades the robbery of the chest’s contents. They were in pursuit; he could hear the bushes crackling beneath horses’ feet. Never before had the wily Duke felt so hard pressed. He could afford to be taken himself, for he was sure of a release sooner or later; but his whole being revolted at the idea of losing the riches of his burden and above all–the secret, the secret that would make his fortunes thribble, the secret that would make him more powerful than heretofore. The King’s favour would be boundless. And George Villiers turned abruptly and–fell into a swollen ravine that was throbbing with its over-filled sides. He straightened himself to his full height and thanked God for the stream, for truly ’twas life-giving water.

He waded in and found it hardly came to his waist in the deepest part. After crossing to its farthest bank, he kept the watery path for nearly a league, thereby throwing his pursuers effectually off the trail. But where his course trended, ’twas impossible to tell, as there was no moon, and the stars were veiled by thick cloud that vomited forth rain in gusts.

The leather bags were very near rain-soaked and had become so heavy ’twas impossible for anything less than a beast of burden to carry them further, so leaving the friendly stream, he walked some little distance from it, gaining to his surprise an open road. This was not what he wished, and was turning from it when he stumbled and fell prone. Being hot with anger and fatigue, he reached for the obstacle that had so unmanned him to damn it. ‘Twas a large, round knot. It struck his memory, as he held it, with a thought of the morning before.

“_Eureka_!” he cried, as he felt the very presence of the tall tree by the public highway that led from Crandlemar, London way. He arose and reached for the aperture.

“Egad, ’tis there!”

Fortunately the royal tree was not far from the unused cabin that had afforded him accommodation some hours before. He immediately sat down upon the bags and rested.

There passed him several horsemen and a chaise; whether they were his whilom companions of the thicket or not he did not care. It was sure they were in haste to leave the village as far behind them as possible.

When the sound of the horses’ hoofs had died away, he again donned his leathery burden and made for the depths behind him.

He was not long in reaching the _rendezvous_, and was met by his anxious servant, who had but just arrived from seeking him.

The exhausted Duke gave orders for one hour’s rest, then fell upon a pile of blankets that were spread upon the damp and open floor.

An hour later saw the Duke astride his horse, that stood with flaring nostrils, caring not a whit for his extra burden of saddle-bags and flew along the wet road, regardless.

Hours after his master jumped from his back at Hornby’s.

The morning was far advanced and Mistress Penwick was fretting under the delay.

Monmouth had plead that the weather was too wet and Lady Constance was too ill to proceed until the following day.

The maid had demurred, saying Janet might remain with her ladyship; but Monmouth was not quite at liberty to take Katherine without first seeing Buckingham, whom he thought should have arrived early in the morning.

As Buckingham came into the great room of the inn, Katherine proposed they set out at once, as she would reach Whitehall, if possible, before Sunday.

It was not the Duke’s wish to proceed further without resting himself and horse; but being anxious to please Mistress Penwick, he said ‘twould be his pleasure to start at her convenience; whereupon she relaxed her ardour, finding no opposition, and asked him if he thought the weather would permit. He answered that the weather must permit, and that they could easily reach their destination without killing more than three relays.

“Nay, nay, your Grace, if one horse only were to die, I would not permit such hurry!”

Suffice it; the Duke had his rest, and being of no mind to remain longer, at five o’clock in a gale of wind and rain set forth.

They had but common post-chaises as any squire would have, as these travelled about without drawing the attention that a London coach would. They rattled and slid along at their own convenience on the muddy road, and the postilion were soon reeking with mire thrown from the horses’ feet.

For five hours the chaise jostled Constance, until she declared she would go no farther. Buckingham, who rode with his secret in the chaise that followed, said if they stopped to rest over night, they could not reach Whitehall before the King should leave.

This was a ruse planned by himself and Monmouth, as the latter had settled where he should take Katherine, and the former, not having had time to examine the contents of the bags, was loath she should see the King ere he had done so.

Katherine, seeing that Constance’ lips were blue and her face pale, and forgetting her ladyship’s evil ways, agreed they should stop at the first inn and there lie until the next morning; Janet having declared privately to her mistress that she should not waste any time with her ladyship.

Though the night was black and the road uncertain, yet they maintained a fair pace over the open downs, having left the shadowy trees behind; but there were no lights ahead and the prospects of getting shelter for the night were dubitable.

Constance became more and more impatient, pulling up the window every few minutes to inquire if any lights were to be seen, each time letting in a shower of rain that deluged her dress. This dampness was soon felt by her ladyship, whose temper could hardly keep her warm, and she called for blankets. There were none. At this knowledge she grew worse, and cried that she was in a chill and must have aid from somewhere.

For a truth, her teeth were chattering and her hands were cold, but it was nothing but mimosis brought on by the evil caldron that boiled within her wicked body. She had heard Buckingham tell Katherine that the King would be gone from Whitehall if they were delayed. Her plans were now made, and this sudden illness was a ruse to detain the maid. No, she must not see the King. She must now, first of all, become Monmouth’s mistress, then Cedric in his wild despair would turn again to her; his playfellow, his old love, Constance.

Whether the postilion were in their master’s confidence or not is not certain, but just before midnight they plunged into a narrow, miry road that traversed wastes and low coppices; the plash of the horses’ feet showed the tract to be marshy and full of pools. Her ladyship looked out across the dreary fen and exclaimed,–

“I’ll be damned, they have set us out like ducks!” At her words Katherine drew from her with disgust. It was the first she had heard her swear; but she had not yet seen her true nature.

On a sudden the chaise made a lunge and stopped in a deep rut. Some one plodded laboriously to the door and thrust in a rain-soaked visage, saying,–

“Their Graces beg your patience, as we cannot move until help comes. There is a light ahead, and we hope to get on directly.”

It was hours, however, before the lumbering equipages were pried out and started on. The light beyond had paled as dawn broke. They were once more upon the causeway, and the horses’ feet beating with loud and even step upon the wet road.

Constance had calmed, and with the other occupants slept through the long delay. Nor did she wake until they had entered a thick wood where the branches of the trees swept tumultuously against the window. Then she opened her eyes with a start and saw Katherine still sleeping, her head pillowed on Janet’s bosom. Her limbs were stiff from their cramped position. Vainly she essayed to stretch, and cried out as a rheumatic pain took her. She swore roundly and vowed she would alight at the first hut they should come upon.

It seemed hours before they came to a long, low stone building, evidently an old-time lodge. It was covered with ivy that trembled and glistened in the wind and rain.

The chaises stopped at the door, which was thrown open by an outrider who knocked up the locker with his whip handle.

The opening disclosed great, high-backed pews and an altar and pulpit. It was indeed a place of refuge to the weary travellers. It was dry and clean and afforded rest. Katherine stepped inside first, and immediately knelt and crossed herself. Monmouth did the same, knowing that the maid’s eyes were upon him.

They took seats not far from the altar and settled themselves comfortably; for the servants had gone to find food and fresh horses.

Katherine was stirred by the sacredness of the day and place, and took little part in the conversation that was becoming more and more animated, as the Dukes and Constance drank heavily of wine brought from Monmouth’s box in the chaise. And when meat, bread and cheese were brought and more wine was drank, her ladyship became maudlin and cast her eye about for diversion.

It fell upon the pulpit, and she tripped up to it, passing over the sacred altar in vulgar _insouciance_.

It pained Katherine to see the place so lightly esteemed, and she gave a little cry of “Oh!” as Constance threw open the Bible and began to preach in mockery of the Methody parson.

Buckingham’s face was as stolid as Janet’s; Monmouth’s bearing a smile that was bastard of mirth.

Hardly was her ladyship started, when a tall form, strong boned and sinewy, strode through the open door. His ruddy face disclosed what appeared to be a stern and rough temper. His forehead was high; his nose well set over a mouth moderately large. His habit was plain and modest. The rain dripped from his red hair and the bit of mustachio that he wore on his upper lip. His quick, sharp eye noted the men and women that sat apart, and then turned like a flash upon the woman in the pulpit.

As Constance saw the man full in the face, there was a bathos in her zeal, and she stopped, open-mouthed, and closed the book.

Neither Buckingham nor Monmouth could see the countenance of him that entered, so they held quiet and wondered at her ladyship’s behaviour. Katherine had bent her head upon the back of the seat.

The tall man proceeded up the aisle, his eyes upon the titled woman whose face was now covered with a genuine blush. For the first time in her life she felt ashamed. She felt a presence near her that was not altogether of this earth’s mould.

At last regaining a semblance of her usual _aplomb_, she stepped from the pulpit and made toward the door, where others were entering. She looked back when half-way down the aisle and beckoned to the others of her party to follow. As she did so, there came from the pulpit a voice so rich and sweet, so penetrating the soul, the woman trembled and listened.

It was the “Kyrie Eleison” sung in a new tune with clear, strong English words, and they rung and rung in Constance’ ears, as they continued to do for the rest of her days.

“He is a Ranter. Let us stay and hear him?” Monmouth said.

“Nay,” said Katherine; “I am without covering for my head. Let’s begone, the meeting is gathering. What a glory is in his countenance, and his voice is like music!”

“The lack of a bonnet need not hinder. Thou art a lady and privileged.”

“Nay, nay. I would know who he is?” Monmouth plucked the sleeve of a passer-by and inquired. The man answered with a question put in a whisper,–

“Hast never read ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’?” The Duke threw back a glance at the form in the pulpit, then strode forward and jumped into the chaise.

CHAPTER XXII

TELLS OF THE DOINGS OF ALL CONCERNED

The house stood surrounded by a beautiful lawn that sloped gradually to the river. Trees in full leaf and woody perennial plants in full blossom, dotted the sward. The long, low stone building was covered with vines that hung in rich purple bloom. All was quiet, refined, subdued–without pomp. Not so was the chief inmate of this charming abode. She stood gowned in filmy white, waiting for Janet to spread her repast, but the nurse moved at leisure, resolving to give the maid meat for thought, as she did for the body. She said:

“When a maid is without father or mother, and away from her rightful guardians, and has presented her such frocks as thou dost wear, ’tis the maid’s duty to find out whence such gorgeous and unmonastic apparel comes.”

“But, Janet, I do know. The Abbes have made provision for me. They bade me leave the castle without incumbrance, and the chest was sent for my necessity. I mean to pay it all back when I return–or when I send to Lord Cedric.”

“And when will that be, Lambkin?”

“When the King gives me audience.”

“And thou art expecting the Duke of Monmouth to bring the word from Whitehall?”

“He said ’twas his pleasure so to do.”

“Now God pity me this day; I would I had never seen it!”

“Why wearest thou so sorry a face, Janet?”

“For thy too fat zeal. Is it not enough to make an ingrowing visage?”

“How so?” said Katherine in feigned _insouciance_.

“A surfeit of good, like a too-full cup, boils over and falls to ill.”

“Then, Janet, surfeit sin ’til it bubbles up, runs over,–perhaps a better cup to fill.”

“Alack, alas, for youth’s philosophy!”

“At what art thou driving, nurse; thou canst neither affect Shakespeare nor the Bible!”

“Have I not always loved thee, Lambkin; search thy memory; did I ever tell thee lies or use the veil of falsehood to cover from thee that which I would not have thee know?”

“Nay; but thou hast used artifice ’til it is threadbare, and I now behold its naked warp.”

“But hast well served, thou canst not deny. It has made thee the sweet innocent bud thou art, and we will enshrine its shade, though it hath no soul to join it hereafter, and I will resort to vulgar frankness, employed by the truculent commonplace, and say we live in an age of swaggering, badgering, immoral-begotten, vice-ridden, irreligious decrepitude–” Katherine made a hissing noise with her teeth, as if she had been suddenly and severely pricked by a pin, then put up her hands and stopped her ears–this day, Mistress Penwick thou shalt know the character of thy King–Nay, thou shalt know. I will tell thee that ’twill poison thy mind of one of so great station–“

“Wouldst thou assail his morals, Janet?”

“‘Tis impossible to assail that a man hath not.”

“Then ‘twould be a field for sweet mission to teach him morals.”

“And wouldst thou delegate thyself to such an office?”

“Aye, why not?”

“Because he would steal thy knowledge ere thou hadst found his heart, and thou wouldst find thyself insolvent of virtue.”

“Thou hast overreached artifice, Janet, and gone back to Bible days and corrupted them by borrowing parabolic speech to waste upon deaf-eared seventeenth century maid.”

“Ah, Lambkin; with closed ears thou dost not becalm sight and wit, they cease not to fructify under suasion of childhood impregnations. I fear not for thee, if thou art forewarned. If thou art taken to the King, he will straightway be enamoured of thy beauteous face and will wish to have thee near him, and because he is of so great a title, he will expect to mould thee to his desires, whether ’tis thy will or not. He may perhaps overawe thee, and thou wilt feel flattered by his approaches, which will seem sincere to thy untutored perceptions. ‘Twill be thy first meeting with a King. There is one thing most sure, thou wilt not think him handsome; he has not the rich colouring that so marks Lord Cedric’s face, nor yet the clearness of countenance. The King is most swarthy, gross featured and unfitted to thy fancy. And how wouldst thou like such to approach thee and fondle thy hand–perhaps imprint thy cheek with a caress, or his long fingers to go a foraging on thy slender neck?”

“Nay, nay, Janet; I should most surely hate such an one. I am sure I should hate! hate!”

“But ’tis surely to what thou art coming.”

“But, Janet, the Duke of Monmouth is the King’s son, and his Grace of Buckingham his friend; and with these two at my side, what harm could come to me?”

“Should the King propose to keep thee with him, could they lie like slaves or dogs across thy threshold in the dead hours of night to keep unwelcome visitors from thy door?” Katherine’s eyes appeared on a sudden to open wide upon a thing she had not dreamed of before.

“Indeed, Janet, I think I see the trend of thy parables. He is then debauched and given to entering rooms not his own at any hour he chooses. I will be most careful and avoid spending the night.”

“But he may insist on thy presence, and no one dare gainsay the Royal will.”

“I am for the time of his dominion, but we can claim at any moment King Louis’ protection, and therefore I may defy him if I wish?”

“‘Twill be like jumping from the river into the sea. I understand, Lambkin, thou art bent upon paying well for thy popish idolatry. If his Majesty sets black eyes on thee, thou art undone. If thou art determined to go, we must have some way to prevent his falling in love with thee. Thou wilt be willing to do this for me and–thyself, Love?”

“Then I might not become that I so much wish–a Lady of Honour!”

“That phrase, my Lambkin, is paradoxical–‘Lady of Honour.'”

“Janet, thou dost turn all sweets to bitterness!–Then I will mottle my face and wear a hump and be spurned outright. ‘Twill ill serve me. ‘Twill not accord a safe issue.”

“Thou must not forget the King hath a tender heart for distress, and now I think on it, ’tis possible, if thou didst so disfigure thyself, thou wouldst gain his reply the quicker. We will mottle thy face with leprous spots and cover thee with old woman’s clothes, placing a hump upon thy shoulder. And no one shall be privy to our scheme but his Grace, and my lord of Buckingham, if they are to attend us.” Janet felt satisfied with the turn affairs had taken.

“I think I shall enjoy it hugely. ‘Twill be fine sport to so puzzle the King, and when he sees me as I am–” and Mistress Penwick turned proudly to a mirror–“he will be pleased!”

“We will not think of that now, Lambkin. When dost thou expect her ladyship?”

“She did not say, but I think perchance she will come before the Duke of Monmouth returns.”

“And he will not come before the morrow, didst thou say?”

“When I demurred at not going straight to his Majesty, he said ‘twould be meet for me to remain here until he should first see him; then he should return in a day. Those were his words, Miss Wadham, _verbatim_,–now thou dost know everything I do, but–the church secret; and if thou wert not insolvent for ways and means, thou wouldst have had that.” With a sudden step, the maid flung her arms about Janet, who ever felt hurt when called Miss Wadham.

Katherine sat to her evening meal with many flutterings of pleasure in her young and guileless heart. Her first thought was of Cedric. He was going to live and doubtless would follow her as soon as he was able, and she would again see his handsome features and hear him admonish her with a tenderness she was sure he would show after being so frightened by her absence. It did not come to her that she should be in sackcloth and ashes for causing him such woeful pain and misery. She only tried to remember how he looked, as many a love-sick maiden hath done heretofore. She pictured the rich colouring of his cheeks and how his dark eyes had looked into hers; and she remembered how once he had thus beheld her, his glance sweeping her face, then he had taken her hand and pressed his lips to it passionately. Her face grew rose red and she trembled with ecstasy. She, so perfect in mould and health, was capable of extravagant and overpowering emotion; a rapturous exaltation that filled her and took possession of her whole being. She tried to turn her thoughts to Sir Julian, and wondered vaguely why he had not come to London. He had intended leaving the castle before this; and why had he not found her? He might know she would like to inquire of those at home,–the Duke of Ellswold and the others that were ill. The thought seemed to grow upon her, and she wondered more and more why no one had been sent after her, and how very welcome Sir Julian would be. Could it be that Lord Cedric was too ill for him to leave?

The Dukes had fairly left Constance and Katherine at the very door of this villa belonging to one of Monmouth’s friends, and proceeded at once to Whitehall, where they needs must report of their visit to the Duke of Ellswold. The King detained them near his person, much to the annoyance of Buckingham and serious discomfort to Monmouth. The latter, so anxious for the companionship of Mistress Penwick, could not help but show his uneasiness and hurry to withdraw, which made his Majesty still more obstinate.

Two days Katherine had been thus alone at the villa, little knowing the idea of bringing her cause to the King’s notice was the most foreign to either Buckingham or Monmouth, the latter wishing to promote his own cause with her until she should become satisfied to remain at his side, without seeking further Court favour. The former gentleman had among his looted treasures certain papers that made necessary, for his own personal aggrandizement, the strict seclusion of Mistress Penwick.

Lady Constance had been so thwarted–her mode of battle proving so abortive–she resolved to fight as things came in her way, without method or forethought. There was only one settled arrangement; that was the full and complete destruction of this woman that had come between her and Cedric. She had gone, after a few hours of rest at the villa, to the mercer’s for silks and velvets and furbelows to array herself for conquest and take–now that she had fair hold on Royalty itself–some masculine heart; if not the heart, the hand without it; if not Cedric’s, be it whose it might, so it were titled and rich. She also sought Cantemir and news from Crandlemar.

As she stood at the polished counter in the mercer’s shop, she glanced without and saw–or thought as much–Lord Cedric himself, pale, yet stepping in full strength from a chair. She quitted the counter and hastened to the entrance and looked up and down the busy street with longing eyes. But there was no sign of my lord’s handsome figure. After securing her purchase, she repaired at once to Lord Taunton’s–a kinsman of Cedric’s–’twas possible he would be stopping there. But he was not.

She rode from place to place, hoping at every turn to see him; but to her chagrin she found him not, even at a certain inn in Covent Garden, where he had been wont to stay. She drove in her cream-hued coach to the Mall, but he was not to be found.

Her first act after reaching London had been to dispatch a letter posthaste to the castle, telling of her abduction by the Duke of Monmouth, who, she believed was determined to bring herself and Mistress Penwick to the King’s notice, as he avowed Court was not Court without such faces. She, being so widely known and so well connected, had been allowed her freedom, on condition that she returned promptly and keep their hiding place a secret. Then came that she felt would touch Cedric.

“I overheard some converse about your Lordship, a hint that some knave gave thee a slight wound. Now, if this be true, if thou art hurt at all–which I cannot allow myself to think–tell me, tell me, Cedric, and I will fly from Court and all the world to thee, my sweet cousin, my playfellow, my beloved friend, now.”

This letter fortunately did not reach Cedric in time to give him a relapse, as he was on his way to London when the courier arrived at the castle.

He had drawn rein at Tabard Inn, Southwark. It abutted on the Thames and was opposite the city, and it suited his fancy to stop here, rather than ride into London. His business was private and not far from his present quarters. His wound had healed enough to give him no trouble, and action kept his mind easy. He had seen Constance with as fleeting a glimpse as hers had been of him. It was quite enough, however, he wishing never to set eyes upon her again.

That evening he went to seek Buckingham at the Royal Palace. He had no austere regard for the pomp and splendour of the Court at best, and now he was almost unconscious of his surroundings. His azure-hued costume was magnificent in its profusion of embroidery and precious stones. There were none more handsome of face or figure. Courtiers and wits abounded, but none more courtly or witty than he, when he was moved. None bowed before his Majesty’s dais with more grace, appearing more a king than he who filled the Royal chair. He erred not in the most minute detail of demeanour. There was no one in the realm that held more of his Majesty’s regard.

After being detained some moments at the Royal chair, he went to seek Buckingham, whose first words smote him foolishly.

“It is said, my lord, that Love hath Cupid’s wings, and I verily believe William was right, or else how couldst thou have fluttered from a couch of painful wounds to London either by chaise or a horse? Ah!–Love is nascent; after cycles of time it may become mature enough to be introduced into Court–eh!–my lord?”

“Contemporary chronicles relate that the mind is capable of greater suffering than the body, and when both are affected, if we give precedence to the employment of the mind, the body is at once cured; hence my sound chest. Hast thou seen Sir Julian?”

“He is with Monmouth in his chamber. They have been drinking deep, or at least the Duke, who is pouring out in Pomphrey’s ear confidences almost too maudlin to be understood;” and there was a covert sneer on the haughty lips of his Grace. At the name of Monmouth and the knowledge that he was not with Katherine, Cedric’s great tension appeared to snap asunder. For a moment Buckingham gazed at his companion as if in him there were undiscovered mines. Then suddenly his mind and eye returned to the tangible, and he run his arm through that of Cedric’s and drew him away. When they were quite alone, the Duke, without the shadow of compunction, said,–

“You, my lord, are ambitious of nothing but domesticity. Is it not so?” His Lordship looked up with a start. If there was one thing he hated more than another, it was intrigue. And though he was ever environed by it, yet ’twas not his business now. He had come seeking Buckingham for the purpose of asking his assistance with the Duke of Monmouth, and at these words, so foreign from his interests, he frowned slightly and answered,–

“‘Twould be difficult to say at what I aspire, seeing the thing I coveted most is taken from me. If that were mine, it might open up a vista of aspirations I had ne’er thought on heretofore I see only one thing at the present worth possessing.”

“And to possess that–thou art one of the richest nobles in the realm–eh! Cedric?” His Lordship thought he saw the trend of his Grace’s mind, and felt better.

“I’m rich to be sure, egad! What’s the game, faro, loo, crib, langquement or quinze?” and he tapped his pouncet-box nervously.

“We have always been good, true friends, my lord. Your father and mine have shared in many and continued vicissitudes, and for this cause alone, barring our friendships of more recent years, I would give thee a secret of which I am only half owner.”

“And what is this secret, your Grace? I am interested.”

“A secret cut into is only half a secret, and–“

“Ah! ah! how stupid I have grown! By all means, we are dealing in fractions, and to get the other half I must either pay or go a-hunting for it.”

“And thou, being hot-foot after most precious game, methought ‘twould best serve to give thee a clue, as to the value of the secret, that thou couldst determine whether ’twas worth the finding;–whether ’twas worth the leaving off pursuit of that thou art after,”–and the Duke threw open his waistcoat and revealed its lining of rare satin and a pocket that contained a paper written upon in a writing that made Lord Cedric start, for he recognized it as Sir John Penwick’s. And there recurred to him the conversation he overheard at the monastery, when one said,–“and once Sir John gets to this country.” But nay; his very last words in his own waistcoat pocket? So he spoke out disdainfully,–

“And thou dost embroider thy facings with dead men’s autographs?”

“They are the better preserved, my lord,” said the Duke, with a smile.

“Then I am to understand the secret doth nearly concern Mistress Pen wick, and if I should show her favour, I would pay well for a sequel to that thou art about to unfold, eh! Duke?”

“Aye, pay well; for the demand will be more than thou dost imagine,” and he took the paper and gave it into Cedric’s hands.

At a glance Cedric saw that the outside paper only was written on by Sir John; the inner document, containing the whole story, being made in a strange hand. And Cedric said to himself,–“Aye, ’tis a ruse. Sir John is dead and I’ll wager on’t.”

“Thou mayest occupy my chamber, which for the present is here.” The Duke left the anxious Cedric to read at leisure.

Lord Cedric knew ’twas not his Grace’s way to waste time on things of no moment, and he therefore apprehended evil and his fingers trembled; his dark eyes grew large as he read; his face changing from red to white as the different emotions were awakened; his white teeth crushing his lips. Sir John Penwick had left England, taking all his worldly goods–which were of no mean value–with him. He settled his possessions in the New World. These in time became very great and he was known as one of the wealthiest men in the locality in which he lived. After six years of married life, a great grief came upon him; his wife died, leaving him a baby girl of five. This so unsettled him–having loved his wife beyond measure–he turned again to warfare, having interest and inclination for naught else. He sent his baby daughter with her nurse, Janet Wadham, to the Ursuline Convent at Quebec, where they remained until coming to England. Sir John travelled about from one country to another, engaging in all kinds of intrigue and war. One Jean La Fosse–a Jesuit priest–had been for many years the tried and true friend of Sir John, having been in his early years a suitor to Lady Penwick. This friendship had grown so stout that when they met again in the New World, Sir John put his possessions, in trust, into La Fosse’s keeping. When Sir John was taken prisoner, a sort of treaty had been entered into between the French and English, and hostages were required for prisoners of importance. La Fosse was now holding high office in the ranks of his adopted country–England. Therefore, when hostage was asked by the English for Sir John Penwick, La Fosse saw the chance he had waited for for years, and his John was every inch an Englishman, and since being prisoner of the French, determined as far as possible to place his belongings with his own country. He had thought it all out and wrote his desires to La Fosse. Of course, what belonged to Sir John belonged to England, but his possessions were on French soil and his daughter in a French convent. And now Sir John felt ‘twould be an opportunity to place his child forever in the hands of his own country. La Fosse had so shaped affairs, that Sir John was at his mercy, and at Sir John’s proposal that his child should be held as hostage for himself, he had answered that the babe was of too tender years to be accepted unless accompanied by lands, tenements and hereditaments. This was a happy thought to Sir John, and his old trust of La Fosse came back. “After all,” he thought, “the French would rather give up my child than a man, but my possessions they would never give.” So, not suspecting La Fosse’s duplicity, he gave him legal right to place his property as hostage also. The child was to remain at the convent, unless England preferred to have her under their own _regime_. La Fosse was sure Sir John would never again be free and could never, of course, claim his lands. He went so far as to make sure–as sure as was in his power–that Penwick should not be released. He, being a man of shrewdness, at once manipulated affairs without the knowledge of his sovereign or the higher powers about him. In a very short time these possessions were built upon by the Jesuits, who, through La Fosse, claimed all right and title. But La Fosse was forgetful. He never gave the babe a second thought, it being of no consequence whatever. It would, no doubt, sicken and die without a mother’s care. He was aware of its whereabouts, but even that in time was forgotten, his mind being occupied by more pertinent thoughts. This was a great victory for the Catholics, whose lands had been confiscated in England, and La Fosse felt he had dealt a master stroke for his religion. But no mortal man can equal Time as an adept in chicanery. He brings forth truths unheard of or dreamt by poor humanity.

Years went by and La Fosse was suspicioned. At the first smell of smoke, La Fosse fled. No one knew whither. He escaped, however, to the monastery upon Lord Cedric’s estates. The sudden appearance of Mistress Penwick at the monastery was believed to be a direct answer to their prayers. When, too, it was found without a doubt she was Sir John’s daughter, they felt she belonged to them to do with as they pleased, so all things were accomplished for the benefit of the only divine church. Their rights in the New World were now being meddled with and this God-send was to give them, with her own hand, all right and title to the property in question.

Sir John had vaguely heard while in prison of Jean La Fosse’s duplicity, and at once sought to save his daughter from his hands by sending her to his old friend, Lord Cedric of Crandlemar. He, angry at himself for being so duped, and heartbroken at his loss of property, knew of nothing else to do but call upon his Lordship for his child’s protection; yet he was too proud to tell him why these calamities had come upon him. Indeed, any man would take him for a fool for so trusting another. He had been ill when writing those letters. He never expected to arise from bed again and thought ’twas best to say he was dying; ‘twould perhaps touch Cedric’s heart as nothing else would! Thus ended a document that was still incomplete, and his Lordship sat wondering and thinking. This meant that the Catholics were exposing Katherine to the King’s pleasure. She was being sent to him for a title–a title that was to give them all her possessions. And Buckingham held the clue that would save those lands or–or her father–if he were alive. Aye, he should have all the money he asked; for the Catholics should not have their way. “They shall not, by God, they shall not!”

“They shall not!” quoted Buckingham behind him.

CHAPTER XVIII

AT MONMOUTH’S VILLA

Lord Cedric looked about him. He had heard no sound and was surprised and not well pleased that Buckingham had so caught him off his guard; for he now understood that the Duke was undoubtedly deriving some benefits from this fiendish plot, and the greater his perturbation the easier mark for his Grace.

“The maid proposes at all hazards to see the King. Monmouth is as determined she shall not. However, if she escapes the Duke, she will visit Whitehall and present her plea to his Majesty for his signature. He is–after seeing her–not supposed to refuse her anything. And not knowing the value of these lands will sign the paper, thereby giving the Catholics the property. Then if he sees fit–which of course he will–will retain the beauty as a Maid of Honour. If he should refuse the plea, she is to hand him a sealed paper, which will give him the knowledge that he has before him a hostage who wishes his signature to the willing of her property to her beloved Church. They do not count on his putting two and two together and seeing their scheme. They think he will be so infatuated, that ’twill be ‘aye, aye, aye,’ to her every look. She only knows half the contents of the thing she presses ‘neath the folds of her dress.”

“By God, Buckingham, this is despicable! She to be made the tool of her religion!”

“There are other complications, my lord. Providing thou art successful in running the gauntlet with Monmouth first, then the King, thou, thyself, art in danger of the Tower or Tyburn-tree.” With a bound Cedric was upon his feet and sprang toward the Duke,–

“A thousand devils, man, I care not for myself,–’tis the maid; beside–what have I done, why am I so threatened?”

“The scheme for thy destruction is already set a-foot. If thou shouldst get the maid in any wise, it appears thou art doomed. Take my advice, look to thyself and let the–“

“‘Sdeath! finish it not!” and there was that in the young lord’s eyes that curtailed the Duke’s words, and he stood frowning at Cedric and thinking what next to say.

“When thou art acquainted with the circumstances, my lord, thou wilt see thy peril. One Christopher, whom I once befriended with a bottle of wine in a certain close passage, came tottering to me, asking for my patronage, which I accorded him, as he was a sorry spectacle. As a reward for my seeming kindness, he told me that the knave Cantemir was arousing the Protestants by speaking of the monastery being a _rendezvous_ for all good Catholics, naming the lord of Crandlemar as one of them. The knave is working with both factions. He has gained some powerful help. These are to come upon the King and demand a confiscation of thy lands, thou art also to be sent to Tower or Tyburn-tree for the murder of thy servant–“

“Enough, enough, my heaven! I did kill the bastard Christopher.”

“Ah! not so. ‘The bastard Christopher’ is still on his legs and gives Cantemir’s plans away; for the knave kicked him when he was down. Thou art to have thy head, but–“

“Nay, my friend, tell me no more. Ah!–is there any limit to this devil’s industry! I have to thank thee to-night, on the morrow–“

“I’m expecting to leave Whitehall early–” Cedric started.

“Will Monmouth bear thee company?”

“Nay, his Majesty seems on a sudden to have an undue fondness for him.”

“God strengthen it.”

“‘Tis a pity there is such thing, else his Grace would not care to go.”

“And thou and I might not have been brought into this world.”

“And Adam have had eyes only for the serpent, not even coveting the apple.”

“_Adieu_, my lord!”

“_Adieu_, your Grace!”

The candles were just a-light within the villa, where the thick foliage of tree and vine brought a premature gloaming. Outside fell upon the sward the last rays of the setting sun. In the depths of the shadowy leaves the glow-worms displayed their phosphorescent beauty; the lampyrid beetles plied between gloom and obscurity, impatient for the mirror of night to flaunt therein their illumined finery. In the distance was heard the lusty song of the blowsy yokels, as they clumsily carted homeward the day’s gathering. The erudite nightingale threw wide the throttle of his throat and taught some nestling kin the sweetness of his lore.

From the villa doorway passed out Mistress Pen wick in fluttering white, with the waxy jasmine upon breast and hair. Down she came, unattended, through aisles bordered by fragrant blossoms, traversing the way from door to postern-gate with quick, light steps.

She was not aware Monmouth had left a strong guard and orders to allow no one to enter save those he made provision for.

As her hand rested upon the gate, a guard stepped from behind a bower of iris and gently opened it for her. She was somewhat taken aback by his presence. The stalwart guard strode after her; she, noticing it, turned about and said sweetly for him to hold the gate open ’til she returned, that she would only be gone a very few minutes.

“My lady is alone upon the highway, and I could not suffer her to be so, begging permission.”

“Nay, I wish to be alone. Remain at the gate.”

“It may not be, my lady; ’tis his Grace’s order to give thee proper escort outside the gate.”

“Ah, then–” she turned from him and beckoned to a monk who appeared to be walking aimlessly upon the opposite side of the way, but at her bidding moved with alacrity. When the guard saw her intention, he begged her to consider the Duke’s wish that she should communicate with no one.

“I was not aware, sir, that I am held as prisoner. I’m quite sure his Grace was only kindly intentioned for my safety;–and as for further vigilance, ’tis beyond his power to use it.” The three now stood at the gate. The monk looking intently at the guard, said,–

“Where hath flown thy religion, Eustis?”

“‘Tis a poor religion that hath not the grace to offer its adherents an honest living.”

“Ah! then thy faith is hinged upon the _largesse_ of the damned. There!–take for the nonce thy meed in honest coin.” The Abbe gave him a piece of gold and passed within the gate. The sun now dropped from sight, leaving the villa terraces in sombreness, and brought into prominence glow worm and firefly and the sheen of Mistress Penwick’s frock.

“I have watched for thee ever since thou arrived, hoping to catch thine eye.–Hast guarded the billet to the King, my child?”

“Here it is.” She took from her bosom the letter. The keen eyes of the Abbe saw the seal was intact and quickly put out his hand deprecating what her act implied.

“‘Twas not that, my child; ’twas the fear that thou hadst been robbed, as we have. We trust thee with all our hearts,” and she read not hypocrisy in the feint of benignancy.

“Thou hast been deceived into thinking that the Duke of Monmouth or Buckingham will arrange a meeting between thee and the King. The former Duke is evil-intentioned toward thee.”

“Ah, my Father; thou dost sorely grieve me! If thou didst not say it, ‘twould be hard to believe; for surely he has been most kind to me.”

“But ’tis true, nevertheless. He is now with the King and fretting for being so detained from thee. He means to offer thee the protection of his favour; which means thou art to become an inmate of his seraglio. Dost understand me, my child?”

“Ah!–I understand,” and Mistress Penwick looked up into the face that the darkness veiled.

“And I have heard that the King is sometimes poorly intentioned” The monk coughed behind his hand and moved uneasily,–“‘Tis said of him, as other like things are reported; but ’tis false. He is a good Catholic at heart, and he will offer thee no insult, else we would not allow thee to approach him. Our first thought is to get thee from Monmouth’s hold and place thee in safety elsewhere. The noble Lady Constance is helping us and hopes that by to-night to have arranged certain matters, so with our aid thou mayest be able to see his Majesty very soon. One of the Brotherhood will accompany thee to his presence or meet thee there; for we are anxious of the issue. Thou wilt–” The conversation was interrupted by the sound of wheels. The guard came running to them, crying half aloud,–

“Methinks some one of importance is about to arrive, as there is a coach and outriders and a score of mounted escort. If thou, Father, art found here, I’m doomed. I prithee hide thyself;–and my lady’s gown can be seen for a league. Hide here, behind this bunch of iris, ’til the cavalcade hath passed.”

It was in truth the young Duke of Monmouth, who was hurrying with the impatience of young, warm blood to his mistress. For all Katherine was indignant with him for having such wicked intentions toward her, yet she was moved by the fact that he was a Prince, the son of the King; and susceptible as are all womankind to masculine beauty, she hardly could withhold her admiration. She did not fear him, on the contrary she wished to play with firebrands and see how he would appear in her eyes, now that she understood him. On a sudden she wished to see him more than any one else in the world, Lord Cedric excepted; and in her adventurous heart vowed to torment and give him pangs to remember her by. Her pride was wrought upon. That any one should presume to love her without thought of espousal! and Janet’s words came back to her with great force, making her see her error in accompanying the Duke.

There were a few hasty words spoken by the monk as he left her, and passed through the postern-gate, where none save Eustis saw his tall form. Katherine took her time, as she crossed the lawn to her former seat, stopping here and there to gather a nosegay; exulting all the time at his Grace’s discomfort when he found her not within doors. Suddenly she thought of Christopher and of what might happen to the servants if the Duke undertook to vent his displeasure upon them. At the thought, she leant forward, straining her ear for any signs of violence; but she only heard Janet say,–

“My eyes have not been off her, your Grace. I’m just taking her a wrap.”

“Give it to me,” the Duke said in a voice surprisingly calm and gentle. It piqued Katherine. It was disappointing not to hear a fierce voice like Cedric’s was wont to be. She saw the Duke’s form silhouetted by a bush of white blossom and heard from his lips a quaint love ditty. It so set her very susceptible heart to fluttering she knew not whether to be glad or sorry that he was there. She was weaving a garland in a peculiar manner learned at the convent. The finished strands she placed under the bench upon which she sat, pretending the while neither to see nor hear his Grace as he walked about from bush to bush, singing softly. But he soon caught the glimmer of her dress, and he came bounding toward her.

“Pray what does Mistress Penwick out alone on so dark a night?”

“Ah!”–she started in feigned alarm, dropping her flowers and rising hurriedly–“’tis your Grace of Buckingham. I admit I was startled.” She made a sweeping courtesy.

“We who love never forget its voice, Mistress. I believed that thou wouldst never be able to find it in Buckingham’s tones; for if ’twas there, thou only could note its tenderness.” He so ignored her feint–and she knew he understood that she knew not whether to keep up her hypocrisy or recant.

“Didst see the King, your Grace, upon my affair?” He stooped to recover the flowers she had dropped. She hindered him, fearing lest he should see her schoolgirl play beneath the bench.

“Ah! ah! what hast thou hid there?” She exulted.

“Nothing, your Grace, only–the flowers are not worth the exertion.”

“Aye, they are worth the bended knee of a thousand, when dropped from such fair hands,” and he again essayed to reach them; but she stood between, and holding her hand out to him, said,–

“Nay. I pray thee come. I am going to the villa. ‘Tis growing damp.” She timidly made as if to go. He on the instant drew his sword and lunged beneath the bench and drew out upon its point the maid’s flowers. He laughed at his disappointment, for he was certain some one was beneath. She felt ashamed of her childish pastime and hastened within doors. He followed, carrying the interwoven hearts upon the point of his sword. He held them high for inspection as he entered the lighted room, and was transported with delight when he saw the design, and complimented her upon its significance.

“Thou dost seem to know that two hearts are to be entwined, at any rate! Even if a voice full of passion doth corrupt thine ears to hearing tones that are vibrantless of love.” He broke into a great laugh and looked upon Katherine’s blushing face with tender admiration. “Come, Mistress, I have played thee very uncavalierly, inasmuch as I have not answered thy question. Sit with me and sup. There–his Majesty is indisposed. He will not be able to see thee for at least a week. Then I am to bring the most beautiful woman in the world to Court.”

“I am very sorry; my business is imperative–“

“Imperative!–imperative! that such words should fall from cherry lips that will become irresistible should they turn to pouting;–so take heed and tempt me not.” He had already swallowed several glasses of wine and was fast becoming audacious.

Janet stood behind Mistress Penwick’s chair; her face appearing immutable. The Duke bade the maid drink her wine. She touched her lips to the glass and set down the cup. He swept it passionately to his own. Katherine’s boldness was fast declining. She began to wish that something would happen to take the Duke’s attention from her. Even Constance’ presence would be a relief. If she were only in the garden again–free–she would fly to some place of safety.

He lowered his voice into a passionate whisper and leant over, catching her hand as she would withdraw it. He began to draw her toward him. Her fear was evident, for Monmouth, drunk as he was, saw it, and fell to coaxing. His voice, not yet maudlin, was sweet and impassioned.

“Thou were not afraid when that Russian knave claimed thee and was about to carry thee off, and now thou hast the King’s son to guard and love thee–love–dost hear it, my Precious? And I came to claim thee this night, to tell thee all I know, to make the little Convent Maid wise.” He threw his arm about her, almost drawing her from the chair. Katherine was white and trembling, knowing not which way to turn.

“Indeed, sir, I know not thy meaning.”

“My meaning? Dost not thou know what love is? Of course thou dost not–if thou didst, it might be I should not care to be thy tutor. Come, I will teach thee this night–now, my Pretty,–now. Come, come with me.” He arose and essayed to draw her toward the door that led to an inner chamber. Katherine was well nigh to swooning, and perhaps would have, had not there fell upon her ear the sound of some one entering the house. “Ah, heaven!” she thought, “if it were only Father La Fosse or Sir Julian or even–ah!” She did hear Constance’ voice. “Aye, even Constance could think of some way for her to escape.” She knew Janet was behind her chair, but she might have lost her usual wit and have become incapable of helping at the very moment she was most needed. Monmouth drank another glass of wine, then withdrew from his chair and leant over that of the maid, drawing her close in his embrace. He was now so drunk he did not hear the door creak as Janet and Katherine did; the former, seeing the pale, triumphant face of Constance reflected in a mirror, as she stood half-way inside the door. Katherine tried to disengage herself by reaching for another glass of wine. The Duke reached it for her and would hold it to her lips; but she, looking up at him with a feint of a smile, said in coaxing tones,–

“I was getting it for thee; your Highness will drink it?”

“Could I refuse–there!–there! Come!–” He put his arms about her and was carrying her forth, when Janet plucked him by the sleeve and whispered something in his ear. He loosed for a moment her trembling form and she began to weep. These tears made him forget Janet’s words, and he turned again to Katherine.

“There, there, my wife; thou dost break my heart at each sob. Here, see here what I brought thee,” and he placed on her arm a circlet of rubies. “There, hush thy tears. I will not teach thee anything but how kind I may be–there, sit thee down. I will let thee wait until thou art accustomed to man’s caresses.” Monmouth’s heavy drinking trended to strengthen his good humour, else he might have resented roundly the interruption of his love-making by the entrance of Lady Constance. He held out his hand to her, saying,–

“Come, my lady; see my poor dear. The poor child is affrighted at my love-making. Thou wouldst not be so frightened, Constance,–eh?”

“I am not a child, your Highness, to fall to weeping if so honourable a gentleman as some should choose to kiss my hand.” The Duke reached to the table and pressed another cup of wine to his lips, that were already stiffened by excess.

“Come, Sweet; give me one kiss–” and he bent over her close.

“Nay, nay, I’ll not suffer thee.” And Katherine drew from him with flashing eyes.

“Come, silly child; one, just one.” She fled from his reach. He sought to catch her but was stopped by Constance who whispered something hurriedly. The Duke turned upon Janet and frowned, then broke into a mocking laugh, and with a sly wink at Constance, said,–

“Thou art a trickster, good nurse; thou didst play upon me foully. Good, good nurse! Come, go quickly. Thou shalt see no more love-making; I forbid thee; kiss thy nestling and go. I will watch over her. Come, my sweet, come!” His Grace took the maid in his strong arms, and though his legs threatened collapse, bore her toward the door.

Janet saw the look of devilish menace and triumph upon Lady Constance’ face and–beyond–what did she see behind the curtain of the window that looked upon the garden? Surely ’twas something more than the evening breeze that stirred those hangings. ‘Twas a familiar face that looked from behind the folds; aye, of a truth, ’twas Sir Julian Pomphrey’s. When Monmouth, half carrying Katherine, reached the door and stood some little way beyond its deep embrazure, he turned to Janet again, saying,–

“Go, good nurse. I wait for thine exit. Come, begone!”

“I beg your Grace to forgive the lie I told and give pledge of thy forgiveness by taking this.” She handed him a brimming cup.

“Then, good nurse, I forgive thee. Here is to the maid thou dost let go and to the woman I shall bring back.” He threw back his head and lifted the cup. As it touched his lips a handkerchief fell about his eyes and a strong hand covered his mouth and the Duke lay helpless upon the floor.

Janet carried the half-fainting maid from the room. As she did so, Sir Julian and Lord Cedric, who had also come through the window, carried the young Duke to another chamber; binding him fast; keeping his eyes well blindfolded and their own tongues still. Constance was left standing in the middle of the floor in dumb surprise and chagrin. In a moment Lord Cedric returned, and his voice rang steel as he faced her, nor was there shadow of pity as he saw her white face grow ghastly in fear.

“Thou, Constance, art the receptacle of all the damned ills flung from mortals, whether of the mind or body. As for soul, that unknown thing to thee–thou canst not recognize in another and therefore canst take on nothing of it save its punishment hereafter, when thou shalt have no choice of condiment. Thy heart lies festering in the rheum that exuviates from its foul surroundings. Conscience thou art bankrupt of, and in its place doth lurk the bawd that envenoms thy senses and turns thy narrow body into prodigious corruption–“

“Cedric,–my God; stay thy tongue!”

“Nay, nay; my tongue is a well-matched Jehu for thy devil’s race. I would I might scorch thee with it, to give thee foretaste of that to come; perchance ‘twould seethe thy rottenness to the quick–if thou of that art not also bereft–and turn thee from thy course. Thou dost pander for the King’s son and steal an innocent maid of unripe years to gratify his lust–ah, ‘sdeath! thou art but a pernicious wench, as false as hell. And when the nurse whispered that ‘twould save the child from shame, thy protrusile tang-of-a-serpent didst sibilate in his ready ear a denial–“

“Cedric, Cedric; cease, I pray!” And Constance fell upon her knees sobbing. But the young lord’s storm had not yet spent itself, and he sped on in fury:

“I would thy noxious blood had all run out ere mingling with its better, and I had naught of so foul a taint within. If I held the apothecary’s skill, I would open my veins and purge from them thy jaundiced blood and let in slime of snakes and putrid matter to sweeten the vessel thus set free–“

“My lord, we must hasten. The maid is ready to depart with her nurse,” said Sir Julian. As the young lord turned to him, Lady Constance–crushed and broken–said,–

“Couldst thou not see why I have so misused my better self; have thine eyes been blind all these years not to see how I have loved thee, Cedric–thee–thee–with all my heart and soul?”

“I would not hear thee prate of anything so sacred as love,–’tis sacrilege.”

“Nay, not so, Cedric! I love thee more than heaven. I love thy scorn, if to be free from it were to deprive me of thy presence. I would follow thee to the end of time, even though thy brow lowered in ever threatening storm–“

“Nay! thou shalt not follow me. Would I draw such as thou to yonder maid? From this moment thou art none of mine, and I fling thee from me as I would a snake.–Thou didst think to take Mistress Katherine from me; put her beyond my reach, first, by marriage, then by ruin. Thanks to heaven, both of thy infernal schemes miscarried and she is again in my keeping. And soon I shall fold her to me as my own; pillow her head here, Constance, here, where thou sayest thou shouldst love to lie. I shall press her to my heart as wife, wife–ah! I have at last touched the quick within thee. We may hope there is some redemption–some possibility of bringing thee back from thy foulness–“

“Come, Cedric, come; we are late!” cried Sir Julian at the door. Lord Cedric turned to go, but Constance flew to his side and grasped his hand,–

“Nay, nay; thou shalt not leave me thus. Thou shalt not leave me to go to one who cares not one jot for thee! Cedric, turn not away. Do not leave me here. Cedric, hear me, take me, take me with thee! I will be so good–“

Again Sir Julian came and called hastily,–“Indeed, my lord, there is a chaise upon the highway, and if we mistake not ’tis the King’s.” Cedric loosed himself from Constance and hurried from the room. She flew after him; but he had passed Sir Julian and flung himself upon a horse. Pomphrey saw her plight, and, whether from pity, gallantry, or intrigue, lifted her quickly–before she had time to withdraw from him–into a coach. Cedric remonstrated with him; but Julian was confident of his motive and started the coach at full speed. They flew along in the opposite direction from whence came the King.

It was his Majesty, who had heard of his son’s hiding with some beauteous maid and was resolved to play a trick and come upon him unawares.

It was feared, when he should find Monmouth in such a plight, he would pursue the offenders, if for nothing but to see with his own eyes the maid who had so wrought upon his son’s affections.

The coaches bearing Katherine and Constance sped along at a rapid swing. The one bearing Katherine, with Janet by her side, was some distance ahead; Constance alone in the rear. Cedric and Julian rode at either side of the first coach, their horses in full gallop.

They reached Southwark after two hours’ hard riding. Katherine was not aware of Lord Cedric’s presence, and he avoided meeting her or attracting her attention in any way. He was content with the thought that she was near him.

They proposed to remain at Tabard Inn at least until the next night, when they would set out under cover of the darkness for Crandlemar, where Lord Cedric had given orders to have all things ready for his immediate espousal. He knew that Katherine loved him, and felt sanguine that after passing through so many vicissitudes she would come to her senses and give up the ideas of churchly duties and religious requirements.

Lady Constance feared the worst, now that Cedric was once more with Katherine. What could she do to stave the matter off? She knew Cantemir would hardly be able to place Cedric in the Tower before another week. She was tempted to poison or kill in some way the maid. Aye, she would kill her–that would be safest. Then Cedric could not have her. They would be parted forever.

CHAPTER XIX

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE COACH

In the meantime his Majesty had entered the villa and found his son bound and in drunken sleep. Seeing he was uninjured, the King fell to laughing at his plight, his ringing tones awakening Monmouth. The King’s gentlemen unbound him and brought him to a chair. The youth was not long in collecting himself, quickly making a tale for his father’s ears.

“I have caught thee, James,”–said the King,–“but where, oh! where is the maid? Has she flung thee off and escaped with thy guard, who left the gates wide, or didst thou expect us and had them placed so for our convenience?”

“‘Tis certain, Sire, I have been foully treated. I have been drugged and some valuable papers taken I had got hold on.”

“And who held the papers before thee, a pretty wench, eh?” Monmouth glanced suspiciously at Buckingham, who stood behind the King.

“Now indeed, Sire, I should like thy opinion upon her, and–she hath a secret, as the Duke there can testify.” Buckingham started, but met the King’s glance with a stolid countenance.

“And what is this secret, George?”

“‘Tis something the Papists have enveigled the maid into bringing to thy notice, your Majesty,” and the Duke cast a contemptuous glance at Monmouth, who had made a wrong move.

“Then, by God! why was she detained? Why did any one take the papers from her?” His Majesty looked not too kind at his son, who was now fair caught. “We will send for her posthaste.” The lackeys were questioned of the direction taken by the coaches that had just left the grounds, and a courier was sent after them, bearing the Royal command to Mistress Penwick to appear before his presence within three days.

The courier did not reach the inn until the party were about to set forth, on account of being turned repeatedly from his course by designing lackeys left along the way for the purpose.

Sir Julian, Katherine and Janet were standing at the coach door when Lady Constance came hurrying down the stairs to join them, unasked; for she was of no mind to let Cedric carry off Katherine without her. She felt it would be worse than death. As she opened her mouth to ask of Cedric–for she saw he was not with the party–the King’s messenger rode into the courtyard. Mistress Penwick received the order from the courier with her own hand, and was rejoiced at it; Lady Constance flew to her chamber in an ecstasy; Sir Julian roundly disappointed at the news he must send Cedric, who had gone on toward Crandlemar. There was no help for them now. They were under the King’s order; but–what might not happen in three days?

Sir Julian was as adamant when Constance proposed a trip to London, and would under no circumstances allow her to leave the inn. Janet kept Katherine in complete seclusion, fearing lest some new thing should come upon them. She did not fail, however, to tell Sir Julian of the monk’s visit to the grounds of the villa and of his project to accompany her to the King, when an audience should be granted.

“I am glad thou didst apprise me of this, Janet, for it gives me an idea. I have seen lurking about several of the Order and have watched them carefully.”

The morning of the eventful day arrived. Mistress Penwick was already gowned in a sombre old woman’s dress. A hump was fastened to her shoulder; her face was darkened skillfully and leprous blotches painted thereon. She stepped like a Queen, for all that, and ’twas feared her falseness would become evident to the King’s eye.

Lady Constance was to remain at the inn, a prisoner, until Sir Julian saw fit to release her. With curious eyes she watched for Katherine, whom she conceived would be decked in irresistible finery. She even pictured her beauty, clad in that soft brocade of peach and green that so became her figure and enhanced the richness of her youthful bloom.

“Ah! ah!” she cried under her breath, as she saw the maiden’s masque, and fairly bit her lips in rage at the clever ruse about to be played upon the King. Back she flew from the window and pranced up and down her chamber in rage, her brain on fire. She sought in its hot depths some way–some way. “It must be done. The King must know. It would be the convent wench’s ruin–and what would his Majesty not do for one who should give him hint?” She was not kept under close guard. She could go about the corridors as she chose. Out she flew into one of these and saw near by a scullion furbishing a brass knob.

“Come, fool, hast thou a close mouth?” she said, almost in a whisper.

“Aye, too close for the comfort of my stomach.”

“Then here–but first, bring me from anywhere thou canst a gentleman’s suit that will cover me in plenty–not too scant, remember, and bring a horse from where thou likest to the door below. Haste thee, and thou shalt have this.” She jingled a well-filled purse in his face. Off he ran in hot haste, soon returning with the desired outfit; no doubt looted from some gentleman’s closet near by. Quickly she donned it; but here and there were slight alterations to be made, and her fingers were all a-tremble, slackening speed to a meagre haste. She donned a red-hued periwig and cockle hat, then strutted back and forth, proud of her fine appearance, as, indeed, she looked a roguish fop of no mean parts. She flung out into the passage and asked the lad if the horse was ready.

“Aye, Sir!” he said, impudently. She flung him a bag of gold with a show of masculine strength. Out it flew through the open window, down to the pavement, frightening the steed from his groom, who first stopped to pluck the bag before giving chase to the wily horse. Down came the scullion, followed close by the gay young fop, who waited impatiently outside the door. The guard looked on indifferently, his eyes fixed upon the groom, rather than the young man that paced restlessly up and down the courtyard.

At last Lady Constance dashed out upon the highway with a smile of cunning on her face, a devil’s flash from her eyes, a haughty curving on her lips, and her heart beating faster and faster, the nearer she drew to the King’s palace. “One masque is as fair as another, and methinks the King’s eye will open wider at my boldness than at Mistress Penwick’s plain dissembling, should he require a fair show of our feigning. He will love me for my daring and for bringing him the knowledge aforetime of the maid’s deception. And when the wench smiles in triumph, he will bring her down upon her knees by one fair blow of tongue. ‘Twould be like his Majesty to deprive her of decent covering, if I can only make her designing plain to him.” On she rode in high good humour with her adventure; for if this move was without laches or mischance, ‘twould be a triumph indeed. The maid would be ruined and her own fortunes made.

The coach arrived at the Royal Palace upon the stroke of four. Mistress Penwick was conducted to the King’s ante-chamber. She was visibly nervous; trying vainly to calm the fast beating of her heart. When at last she was called, Sir Julian walked beside her to the threshold of his Majesty’s chamber. The King, ever _insouciant_, had never thought to ask Monmouth the maid’s name, and when she was presented as “Mistress Wick,” and he beheld her form and attire, he was amazed. He felt he had been made a dupe; that Monmouth had purposely made him believe this girl was beautiful for some subtle cause, perhaps just to gain an audience for her;–then, as he saw the spots upon her face, he recoiled and a horrible thought came. Had she some loathsome disease and been sent to him that he might–He started, his blood boiling with indignation. “Treason,” he cried in his heart, and before the maid had arisen from her knees, he called for her dismissal. She was taken precipitately from the King’s presence before she had time to open her mouth.

The King was greatly wrought upon, giving Monmouth the blame. The matter must be sifted. He would write an order for his son’s arrest, and–yes, the woman must be taken also.

Sir Julian saw it all in Katherine’s disappointed and half-angry face, but without giving her time to relate her grievances, rushed her to the coach, putting her into it with very little ceremony. They were fairly flying from the Palace, turning from the sight of a young fop as he came at full gallop through the throng that crowded near the Royal House.

The youth made known his desire to see the King, saying the matter was an imperative one. Even as he spoke, his Majesty came from within and heard the breathless request.

“What now, my pretty rogue; what is thy wish?”

“May I speak with thee apart?” said the lad, as he knelt and kissed the King’s hand. “‘Tis something of import–a trick is about to be played upon thee.” The King took alarm.

“We are about to start forth, my lad. Come, thou mayest walk by our side, and if thy speech is as neat and comely as thy body, ’tis possible ere we reach the end of yonder corridor thy tongue will have won for thee the Royal favour.” The King leant upon Constance as they swaggered along down the passage.

“May I be so bold as to inquire of your Majesty if there has not come to thee a woman with swart marks upon her face and a hump on her back, preferring a petition for thy signature to some lands now held by the Catholics?” The King started and looked now with great interest upon the girlish fop, and speaking slowly as he answered,–

“Why, yes; she hath come and gone. What of her?”

“She hath played foully upon her King. I would give, Sire, half my life to have seen your Majesty compel her to wash the painted spots from her face and take from her shoulder the false hump, and she–“

“Ah! ah!” came from the thoroughly awaked King.

“–is the greatest beauty in England.” For the first time Constance gave Katherine her dues.

“Dost thou speak truth, lad?”

“I fear my King too much to speak otherwise, unless, indeed, it were to save his life.”

“Then–” said the King, with flashing eyes.–“We shall have her back; we’ll send for her at once; and, my pretty lad, thou shalt remain here to see the fun, with your King. ‘Twill be rare sport, eh?” He gave Constance so sound a smack upon the shoulder, it came near to knocking her flat. It brought the tears and made her bite her tongue. The King fairly roared with laughter.

Buckingham heard the King’s order to recall the woman. He also knew the King’s informant, and for reasons of his own sent straightway one to intercept his Majesty’s messenger.

Lady Constance, believing that Sir Julian, with Katherine, would return to Tabard Inn, mentioned it. This, of course, allowing they followed Constance’ suggestion, gave Sir Julian a good start and Buckingham’s messengers time to reach their several destinations.

The night had come with even greater heat than the day. The sultry gloaming foretold a near-by storm. Clouds were brewing fast and thick, with ominous mutterings. Already every inch of blue sky was overcast with a blackness that was heavy and lowering. Occasionally the sullen thunder was prefaced by a jaundiced light that swathed the skies from end to end. The coach bearing Katherine and Janet left the causeway and entered a thick forest. The great trees seemed even larger; their silence becoming portentous. There was not a breath of air. Katherine fanned herself with Janet’s hat, but hardly did her efforts create a breeze large enough to move the threads of hair that waved above her forehead.

They had proceeded but a short way into the forest when the postilion got down to light the lamps.

Sir Julian rode close to the window and spoke of the approaching storm. The stillness was ominous; there being no sound save the plash of a muskrat as he skurried through a dismal, dark pool near by. Katherine jumped at the noise and her small hand grasped the arm of Sir Julian, as it lay across the ledge of the window. She gave a little gasp–just enough to touch Sir Julian tenderly.

“‘Tis nothing but a lusty genet, my dear,” and his hand closed over hers for a moment. There was something about that touch that thrilled them both; he leant farther toward her as another flash came through the trees and was sure he saw a flush upon her face. The lights from the lanterns flashed up, then–stood silent and unmoved, the boy’s breath who stood over them was swallowed in the hot air. Then the coach began to move and at the same time the giant trees stirred in a peculiar way. They, like a vast army, bent low with a sound as of heavy artillery rumbling over a bridge that covered vacuous depths. Then they began a deafening noise, their branches sweeping hard against the coach windows.

Katherine lay back languidly against the cushions, still trembling from the gentle pressure of Sir Julian’s hand. For a moment only she enjoyed this sweet dissipation, then turned from it as if duty called her to think of her visit to the King. She consoled herself that she had done all she could now. When she reached Crandlemar, she should be better able to collect her thoughts and see what would be the next best thing to do. She longed to see Lord Cedric and the Duke and Duchess. She even fell to imagining how the grand, old place would look in midsummer. It seemed like she had been gone months. Would Cedric be changed, she wondered? Would he be pale and fragile looking?

So great was Sir Julian’s haste, and so great was the heat, the horses were soon exhausted and began to lag. Sir Julian thought they were near an inn, as it soon proved. He flung open the door and almost lifted Katherine from the coach, so great was his haste. Supper was awaiting them and Katherine for the moment alone, near an open window,–the room appeared close to suffocation with humid heat–waited for Sir Julian to take his seat at her side. Janet was arranging a posset. Suddenly Katherine heard a soft voice behind her; it was low and intense. Hardly could she distinguish it from the soughing of the wind in the trees. She half-turned her head to listen as Sir Julian came toward her. But she caught the words:

“Abbe —- will be in the coach upon thy return. Enjoin silence upon thy nurse and be not afraid.”

She thought Sir Julian looked at her suspiciously; but was quite sure he had not seen or heard the person behind her.

Janet, while in the coach had bathed the maid’s face and taken from her the garb of disguise, and Katherine now looked her sweet self again, flushed and thoughtful over this new adventure. She was most like her father, ever looking for new fields to conquer. Sir Julian asked her if she would be frightened at a severe storm. She answered it made her somewhat nervous to be abroad.

“Then I will ride inside with thee–“

“Nay, I could not think of allowing thee. The air is too oppressive.” Sir Julian insisted, but to no avail. As they were about to leave the inn, Katherine whispered to Janet that an Abbe would be in the coach and enjoined silence and deaf ears.

“I did not catch his name, but I’m quite sure his voice rung like Abbe La Fosse’s. They have doubtless heard I am on my way to the castle, and, knowing ‘twould be impossible to see me there, they have taken this way, being impatient to know how fell my suit with the King.” Janet for once had no answering word, but uttered a groan of seeming dissent and followed her mistress, who leant upon Sir Julian’s arm.

The dim light cast from the lanterns was well-nigh swallowed up in the intense gloom. The rain was already falling rapidly and Sir Julian opined that it was a hopeful sign, as it presaged no sudden gust that would tear things to pieces. The door of the coach slammed to and the horses started at gallop through the windy forest. Mistress Penwick, now for the first time alone, that is without the surveillance of Cantemir or Eustis, with a beloved Father of her church, flung herself upon her knees at his side, saying:

“Beloved Father, my visit to the King was fruitless; he received me most coldly.” The Abbe lifted her from her knees as she spoke, placing her beside him. Her face was close to his, for the noise of the horses’ hoofs and the rattling of spurs and bits and the ever-rumbling thunder made speech difficult. His face turned toward her was hid in the shadow of his cowl, and he drew the hood even closer as he answered,–

“We feared it, mightily,” and his voice was barely heard above the noise.

“But it grieves me more than I can tell.”

“Nay. Thou must not let it.”

“But it does, I cannot help it; and I see also thy disappointment, for thy hands tremble.”

“We have had much to unnerve us, and I am still under restraint.”

“I would thou hadst sent a better _embassage_!”

“We could not have found a fairer.” At these words Mistress Penwick shrunk from him, remembering her disguise; which, though it was a custom of the time for one to go masqued when and where they pleased, upon whatsoever mission, yet she felt guilty to positive wickedness for having so cloaked her beauty, and did not the Father’s words imply that her charms should have won success? For a moment she remained silent. A flash of lightning fell broad through the open window. She quickly glanced at Janet, who appeared to be asleep in her corner. Katherine bent her face close to the Abbe’s and whispered,–

“Father, might I not here make my confessions? I would have come to thee at the monastery if it had been possible. The confessional has not been open to me since I left the convent, and I feel I must confess. I must now; for I know not when I shall be able again to have converse with a priest. May I, Father?”

“‘Tis a noisome, stormy night and thy nurse there–“

“I will speak low, beside I care not if she does hear that that doth concern myself; for, indeed she understands me better than I understand myself. Then I may speak, Father?”

“I will hear that I deem needful for the peace of thy soul; if perchance thy soul be wrought upon unhappily; and for sins innocently done I absolve thee already.” Mistress Penwick half knelt by the cowled figure and placed her elbows upon his knees, and after saying the prayers of contrition leant her face close to his.

“I have been guilty of what I believe to be a very great sin. Father, I disguised myself to go before the King!” She trembled and bent her head. The priest’s voice was calm and unperturbed.

“And why didst thou that?”

“I heard ’twas an unsafe thing for a maid boasting of some fairness to visit the King.”

“Why so?”

“I have heard he keeps them for his own pleasure, allowing not their return.”

“And didst thou think we would have let thee go to him, had it not been safe?”

“But I thought, good Father, living as closely as thou dost, thou didst not know of the matters of the world, and I ventured to use my own judgment, meaning no harm. But I will go to him unmasqued if thou dost appoint it so. I intend to do so. Shall I not?”

“Nay, thou hast done all and more than is expected of thee.”

“How, more?”

“‘Twas brave to go at all after hearing of his Majesty’s demeanour.”

“But I was not very much afraid; indeed, I became very calm as I entered his presence.”

“If I understand, thou wert ambitious to become a Maid of Honour.”

“At one time, but having better acquaintance with the Court, I feel my ardour has cooled.”

“We have gone somewhat astray, my child. We will finish thy confessions for I soon must leave thee. Indeed, if this is the weighty part of thy sins, there is no need to confess any more.”

“One thing I am particularly anxious to inquire of thee. Since love comes and we cannot help it, ‘twould be wrong not to give it place?”

“If the love is love and not masquerading passion, and it comes from one who is not altogether unworthy of thee?”

“Indeed, he is most worthy, barring his religion, which is Protestant. I would have advice upon this matter, for I believe the love is mutual.”

“My child, if his heart is good and true, and thou lovest him, and he thee, the manner of worshipping God should not be of question, since one shows his love one way and another another. The common scullion, who, from year’s end to year’s end sees not inside the holy sanctuary, may carry in his heart the divine image of God and pay him homage every breath he draws; while he who walks in sacred robes and abides ever in the shadow of the cross, taking part in all the forms, pomps, vanities and varied monotony, may have Satan within him and breathes out flames of hell as he intones. We can in all things beside religion discern punctilio. There is no sect that has the control of the Holy Spirit; it is the exclusive property of the individual who gains the right and title of it by the keeping of the ten commandments. So, if thou art sure thou dost love the youth, and art most sure he loves thee sincerely, then–“

“Then, indeed, I am most happy; for I am sure he is noble and good and–loves me.”

“When didst thou learn that he loved thee; for if I mistake not, thou wert recently bent upon marrying one Adrian Cantemir, who, I must declare, is altogether unworthy of a maid who doth possess such virtue.”

“I have learned to since–since–I can’t tell when–I knew I loved him–yesterday–the day before. I know it now. I tremble when I think of how well I love him. I have been so uncertain, Father. I thought I loved this one, and then another, and for a time I was not sure I knew what love was. Then it came to me on a sudden that I would rather die than live all my life without the one I so desired. And yesterday I knew of a certainty that I loved and that I was loved.”

“Yesterday?”–and the priest winced, and there was pain in the tone of his voice as he uttered the word.

“Aye, yesterday–I was thinking. I thought of his kindness to me–of the deference he has shown me, of his great patience toward me; and I saw how well he loved me.”

“Was it the King’s son, my child?”

“Nay, one not nearly so gentle as the Duke. He is more noble at heart and hath a most noble name. He hath a handsome countenance, more even than the Duke’s, and Janet says he hath the finest mould in all England. Indeed, I do not know so much about such things, but I am sure his hands are near as small as mine, but with a grasp like iron. He is wonderfully strong and hath an awful stamp when in rage, and his temper is most violent and bad, and his tongue is vicious;–indeed, Father, I know not what to do with his oaths. They frighten me.”

“Perhaps if thou shouldst go to him and ask in all gentleness, he would leave off blasphemy.”

“But I have no influence with him. When anger takes him, he is terrible.”

“Then I’m afraid he does not love thee.”

“Aye, he loves me; but wants his own way, and–to be sure, I love him quite as well when he does have his way–which is not often. Janet says I provoke him to swear.” Again the priest started and his white hands trembled suspiciously.

“And how dost thou so provoke him, child?”

“He would marry me straightway and give me not time to know whether I wanted him or not, and I refused and he fell into an awful fury and swore oaths and I could not stop him,–Father, I said I hated him, and now he so believes, and I would have him think otherwise; yet I would not tell him for the world. When I meet him, it shall be–with cold looks.”

“Then how is he to know thy mind?”

“I know not.” Katherine shook her head dolefully.

“Then when he greets thee, why not smile at him and look thy feelings?”

“I know not, only ’tis my way. I shall love to hear him plead again. I hated to hear it once; but now–’twill be like music.”

“What if he is cold to thee?”

“If he is cold, I will go to him and ask him to forgive me for what I have done.”

“Then thou art culpable?”

“Aye, I fear I am, for he now suffers for my fault, or rather for his love of me.”

“But if he greets thee with all love and holds out his arms to thee?”

“Then I shall be most happy, but shall act indifferently.”

“I am afraid thou dost treat a serious matter lightly; for ’tis a fickle thing; if he meets thee with open arms, thou wilt be cruel; if he greets thee coldly, thou wilt be indifferent–for fear of thy maiden scruples. What if he takes thee unawares?”

“How, unawares?”

“He might trick thee into a thing thou couldst not recede from. If thou didst find thyself so placed, wouldst thou forgive him and love him just the same?”

“I must always love him, no matter what trick he plays;–but he will play me no trick. If he should again threaten to lock me up, as he has done heretofore, I would go to him and say,–‘Nay, I will marry thee now, Cedric!'”

“God, Kate! Kate!” And the priest threw his arms about her, almost crushing her in his great embrace. The cowl slipt from his head and his dark curls swept her face as he bent over her. Instantly she knew him and straightway fell into a rage.

“Thou, thou, Lord Cedric, dare to receive confession from one whose life thou hast no part in. Dost thou know the penalty of such wickedness? All evil will be visited upon thee for playing the part of a holy priest. Indeed, of all the sins I had deemed thee capable, I had ne’er thought of one so wicked as this!” She fell back in the corner of the coach in such fury, she could not find further utterance.

CHAPTER XX

UNPROCLAIMED BANNS

“Indeed, Mistress Penwick, I asked not for thy confessions. But now that I have heard them, ’tis my meed to be punished by thy sharp tongue for that I could not help. Come, Sweet, forgive and love me. Have I not suffered enough?”

“Lambkin, I am out of all humour with thee. Thou art half a termagant, I admit!”

“And thou, too, wert privy to this deception. I am truly without friends!” and the maid began to weep softly behind her handkerchief. Lord Cedric was beside himself with his folly.

“If I only could have withstood thee; but how could I with thy tender words and thy closeness–“

“There is nothing accomplished but mistakes!” Janet ventured, being impatient with both Cedric and Kate.

“–Kate!–Kate! dost not thou know how I have longed for thee; how my heart has ached in thine absence? Those two whole days I lay abed were like so many years, and when I thought of thy danger, I fell into a fever and I arose and leapt upon the fleetest steed and rode until my fever cooled; and then–when I had thee once more, I could not keep from thee longer; I resolved upon this plan that I might be with thee, and ride by thy side. And thou dost murder me outright. Thou dost kill me, Kate! I was a fool to undertake it, I know; but I thought of two whole days I should be separated from thee and felt I could not bear to wait. Thy words, Kate, were so sweet. Kate, come to me once more and see how loving I can be. Let me dry thy tears,–let thy head rest here upon my heart and close thine eyes and dream–dream, Kate, of what we must be to each other, and then wake and find me bending over thee. Come, Sweet, come!” He sought her elusive fingers and tried to draw her to him with a tenderness she could hardly withstand; but she would not unbend, drawing from him, sinking further into the corner.

“And did Sir Julian know of this ruse of thine?” she asked, haughtily.

“Janet, methinks the maid speaks with thee!”

“What is it, Lambkin? I was not listening.”

“I will wait until the storm ceases, perhaps thou wilt find thy hearing by then.” There was a long silence within the coach. The tears of Mistress Penwick were dried and she sat sullen, deliberately trying to hate Lord Cedric. There came a sudden burst of thunder that turned the tide of her thoughts from him to Sir Julian, who rode by her window constantly. At every flash of lightning she saw his spurs glisten, saw the foam fly from the bits of his horse’s bridle. He rode there in the storm, heedless of all but her safety and comfort, he that had wounds on his body that spake of great deeds of nobleness and valour! Why should he care for her so? Like a flood he swept into her heart, and she accepted his presence with gladness–shutting out Cedric as well as she was able. She inclined her head toward the window and watched the handsome figure of Sir Julian with a new interest. His form, so like that of Cedric, she began to compare with ancient warriors she had read about and seen pictures of,–then his tender and meaning hand pressure recurred to her, and she flushed mightily. After awhile she fell to thinking of the Duke of Monmouth, the tender thoughts of whom she had not yet resigned,–such were the vacillations of the mind of strong, warm, youthful Mistress Penwick.

The storm grew furious, and the wind blew such a gale it appeared at times as if the trees swept the earth. They bended and swung rudely, brushing hard against the windows. In the midst of its severity the coach came to a stand-still and Lord Cedric threw open the door. Janet leant quickly toward him,–

“I pray thee not to go forth in the storm, my lord; ’tis enough to give thee thy death.”

“Nay, nay, Janet, ’twill not be summer rain that will kill me, but cold looks and threatening mien.” And he stepped out into the night.