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Title: His Grace of Osmonde - Being the Portions of That Nobleman's Life Omitted in the Relation of His Lady's Story Presented to the World of Fashion under the Title of A Lady of Quality
Author: Burnett, Frances Hodgson, 1849-1924
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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       *       *       *       *       *



HIS GRACE OF OSMONDE

[Illustration: "'From this night all men shall kneel--all men on whom I
deign to cast my eyes'"--_See p_ 187]



      HIS GRACE OF OSMONDE

      BEING THE PORTIONS OF THAT NOBLEMAN'S LIFE
      OMITTED IN THE RELATION OF HIS LADY'S
      STORY PRESENTED TO THE WORLD OF
      FASHION UNDER THE TITLE OF A
      LADY OF QUALITY

      BY

      FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT


      ILLUSTRATED


      NEW YORK
      CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
      1914



  1897, BY
  CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS



     _Were Nature just to Man from his first hour, he need not ask
     for Mercy; then 'tis for us--the toys of Nature--to be both
     just and merciful, for so only can the wrongs she does be
     undone_.



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

       I. THE FIFTH DAY OF APRIL, 1676                                 1

      II. "HE IS THE KING"                                            13

     III. SIR JEOFFRY WILDAIRS                                        26

      IV. "GOD HAVE MERCY ON ITS EVIL FORTUNES"                       35

       V. MY LORD MARQUESS PLUNGES INTO THE THAMES                    55

      VI. "NO; SHE HAS NOT YET COME TO COURT"                         65

     VII. "'TIS CLO WILDAIRS, MAN--ALL THE COUNTY KNOWS THE VIXEN"    77

    VIII. IN WHICH MY LADY BETTY TANTILLION WRITES OF A SCANDAL       92

      IX. SIR JOHN OXON LAYS A WAGER AT CRIBB'S COFFEE HOUSE         107

       X. MY LORD MARQUESS RIDES TO CAMYLOTT                         119

      XI. "IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN--IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN!"                  133

     XII. IN WHICH IS SOLD A PORTRAIT                                141

    XIII. "YOUR--GRACE!"                                             158

     XIV. "FOR ALL HER YOUTH--THERE IS NO OTHER WOMAN LIKE HER"      179

      XV. "AND 'TWAS THE TOWN RAKE AND BEAUTY--SIR JOHN OXON"        190

     XVI. A RUMOUR                                                   197

    XVII. AS HUGH DE MERTOUN RODE                                    217

   XVIII. A NIGHT IN WHICH MY LORD DUKE DID NOT SLEEP                235

     XIX. "THEN YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN ONE OF THOSE--"                  248

      XX. AT CAMYLOTT                                                261

     XXI. UPON THE MOOR                                              274

    XXII. MY LADY DUNSTANWOLDE IS WIDOWED                            299

   XXIII. HER LADYSHIP RETURNS TO TOWN                               319

    XXIV. SIR JOHN OXON RETURNS ALSO                                 337

     XXV. TO-MORROW                                                  351

    XXVI. A DEAD ROSE                                                363

   XXVII. "'TWAS THE NIGHT THOU HIDST THE PACKAGE IN THE WALL"       381

  XXVIII. SIR JOHN RIDES OUT OF TOWN                                 394

    XXIX. AT THE COW AT WICKBEN                                      405

     XXX. ON TYBURN HILL                                             423

    XXXI. THEIR GRACES KEEP THEIR WEDDING DAY AT CAMYLOTT            440

   XXXII. IN THE TURRET CHAMBER--AND IN CAMYLOTT WOOD                457



ILLUSTRATIONS


  "'From this night all men shall kneel--all men on whom I
    deign to cast my eyes'"                               _Frontispiece_

                                                                  FACING
                                                                    PAGE
  "Your Grace, it is this lady who is to do me the great
     honour of becoming my Lady Dunstanwolde"                        232



HIS GRACE OF OSMONDE

_CHAPTER I_

_The Fifth Day of April, 1676_


Upon the village of Camylott there had rested since the earliest peep
of dawn a hush of affectionate and anxious expectancy, the very
plough-boys going about their labours without boisterous laughter, the
children playing quietly, and the good wives in their kitchens and
dairies bustling less than usual and modulating the sharpness of their
voices, the most motherly among them in truth finding themselves
falling into whispering as they gossiped of the great subject of the
hour.

"The swallows were but just beginning to stir and twitter in their
nests under the eaves when I heard the horses' hoofs a-clatter on the
high road," said Dame Watt to her neighbour as they stood in close
confab in her small front garden. "Lord's mercy! though I have lain
down expecting it every night for a week, the heart of me leapt up in
my throat and I jounced Gregory with a thump in his back to wake him
from his snoring. 'Gregory,' cries I, ''tis sure begun. God be kind to
her young Grace this day. There goes a messenger clattering over the
road. Hearken to his horse's feet.'"

Dame Bush, her neighbour, being the good mother of fourteen stalwart
boys and girls, heaved a lusty sigh, the sound of which was a thing
suggesting much experience and fellow-feeling even with noble ladies at
such times.

"There is not a woman's heart in Camylott village," said she, "which
doth not beat for her to-day--and for his Grace and the heir or heiress
that will come of these hours of hers. God bless all three!"

"Lord, how the tiny thing hath been loved and waited for!" said Dame
Watt. "'Tis somewhat to be born a great Duke's child! And how its
mother hath been cherished and kept like a young saint in a shrine!"

"If 'tis not a great child and a beauteous one 'twill be a wondrous
thing, its parents being both beautiful and happy, and both deep in
love," quoth motherly Bush.

"Ay, it beginneth well; it beginneth well," said Dame Watt--"a being
born to wealth and state. What with chaplains and governors of virtue
and learning, there seemeth no way for it to go astray in life or grow
to aught but holy greatness. It should be the finest duke or duchess in
all England some day, surely."

"Heaven ordains a fair life for some new-born things, 'twould seem,"
said Bush, "and a black one for others; and the good can no more be
escaped than the bad. There goes my Matthew in his ploughboy's smock
across the fields. 'Tis a good lad and a handsome. Why was he not a
great lord's son?"

Neighbour Watt laughed.

"Because thou wert an honest woman and not a beauty," quoth she.

The small black eyes set deep in Bush's broad red face twinkled
somewhat at the rough jest, but not in hearty mirth. She rubbed her
hand across her mouth with an awkward gesture.

"Ay," answered she, "but 'twas not that I meant. I thought of all this
child is born to--love and wealth and learning--and that others are
born to naught but ill."

"Lawk! let us not even speak of ill on such a day," said her neighbour.
"Look at the sky's blueness and the spring bursting forth in every
branch and clod--and the very skylarks singing hard as if for joy."

"Ay," said Joan Bush, "and look up village street to the Plough Horse,
and see thy Gregory and my Will and their mates pouring down ale to
drink a health to it--and to her Grace and to my lord Duke, and to the
fine Court doctors, and to the nurses, and to the Chaplain, and to old
Rowe who waits about to be ready to ring a peal on the church bells.
They'll find toasts enough, I warrant."

"That will they," said Dame Watt, but she chuckled good-naturedly, as
if she held no grudge against ale drinking for this one day at least.

'Twas true the men found toasts enough and were willing to drink them
as they would have been to drink even such as were less popular. These,
in sooth, were near their hearts; and there was reason they should be,
no nobleman being more just and kindly to his tenants than his Grace of
Osmonde, and no lady more deservedly beloved and looked up to with
admiring awe than his young Duchess, now being tenderly watched over at
Camylott Tower by one of Queen Catherine's own physicians and a score
of assistants, nurses, and underlings.

Even at this moment, William Bush was holding forth to the company
gathered about the door of the Plough Horse, he having risen from the
oaken bench at its threshold to have his pewter tankard filled again.

"'Tis not alone Duke he will be," quoth he, "but with titles and
estates enough to make a man feel like King Charles himself. 'Tis thus
he will be writ down in history, as his Grace his father hath been
before him: Duke of Osmonde--Marquess of Roxholm--Earl of Osmonde--Earl
of Marlowell--Baron Dorlocke of Paulyn, and Baron Mertoun of
Charleroy."

"Can a man then be six men at once?" said Gregory Watt.

"Ay, and each of him be master of a great house and rich estate. 'Tis
so with this one. 'Tis said the Court itself waits to hear the news."

Stout Tom Comfort broke forth into a laugh.

"'Tis not often the Court waits," says he, "to hear news so honest. At
Camylott Tower lies one Duchess whom King Charles did not make, thank
God, but was made one by her husband."

Will Bush set down his tankard with a smack upon the table before the
sitting-bench.

"She had but once appeared at Whitehall when his Grace met her and fell
deep in love that hour," he said.

"Was't not rumoured," said Tom Comfort, somewhat lowering his voice,
"that _He_ cast glances her way as he casts them on every young beauty
brought before him, and that his Grace could scarce hold his
tongue--King or no King?"

"Ay," said Will Bush, sharply, "his royal glance fell on her, and he
made a jest on what a man's joy would be whose fortune it was to see
her violet eyes melt in love--and his Grace went to her mother, the
Lady Elspeth, and besought her to let him proffer his vows to the young
lady; and she was his Duchess in ten months' time--and Madame Carwell
had come from France, and in a year was made Duchess of Portsmouth."

"Heard you not that she too--some three weeks past--?" quoth Comfort,
who was as fond of gossip as an old woman.

"Seventeen days gone," put in Bush; "and 'twas dead, by Heaven's mercy,
poor brat. They say she loses her looks, and that his Majesty tires of
her, and looks already toward other quarters." And so they sat over
their ale and gossiped, they being supplied with anecdote by his
Grace's gentleman's gentleman, who was fond of Court life and found the
country tiresome, and whose habit it was to spend an occasional evening
at the Plough Horse for the pleasure of having even an audience of
yokels; liking it the better since, being yokels, they would listen
open-mouthed and staring by the hour to his swagger and stories of
Whitehall and Hampton Court, and the many beauties who surrounded the
sacred person of his most gracious Majesty, King Charles the Second.
Every yokel in the country had heard rumours of these ladies, but Mr.
Mount gave those at Camylott village details which were often true and
always picturesque.

"What could be expected," he would say, "of a man who had lived in gay
exile through his first years, and then of a sudden was made a King,
and had all the beauties of England kneeling before him--and he with a
squat, black, long-toothed Portugee fastened to him for a wife? And
Mistress Barbara Palmer at him from his first landing on English soil
to be restored--she that was made my Lady Castlemaine."

And then he would relate stories of this beauteous fury, and her
tempestuous quarrels with the King, and of how 'twas known his ease and
pleasure-loving nature stood in terror of her violence and gave way
before it with bribes and promises through sheer weariness.

"'Tis not that he loves her best," said Mr. Mount, snuff-taking in
graceful Court fashion, "for he hath loved a dozen since; but she is a
shrew, and can rave and bluster at him till he would hang her with
jewels, and give her his crown itself to quieten her furies. 'Tis the
pretty orange wench and actor woman Nell Gwynne who will please him
longest, for she is a good-humoured baggage and witty, and gives him
rest."

'Twas not alone Charles who was pleased with Nell Gwynne. All England
liked her, and the lower orders best of all, because she was merry and
kind of heart and her jokes and open-handedness pleased them. They were
deep in the midst of a story of a poor gentleman in orders whom she
had rescued from the debtors' prison, when old Rowe, who had been
watching the road leading from the park gates, pricked up his ears and
left his seat, trembling with excitement.

"'Tis a horse galloping," he cried; and as they all turned to look he
flung his cap in the air. "'Tis the messenger," he burst forth, "and he
waves his hat in his hand as if he had gone mad with joy. Off go I to
the church tower as fast as legs will carry me."

And off he hobbled, and the messenger galloped onward, flourishing his
hat as he rode, and giving it no rest till he drew rein before the
Plough Horse door, and all gathered about him to hear his news.

"An heir--an heir!" he cried. "'Tis an heir, and as lusty as a young
lion. Gerald Walter John Percy Mertoun, next Duke of Osmonde! Hurrah,
hurrah, hurrah!"

And at the words all the men shouted and flung up their hats, the
landlord with his wife and children ran forth, women rushed out of
their cottages and cried for joy--and the bells in the old church's
grey tower swung and rang such a peal of gladness as sounded as if they
had gone wild in their ecstacy of welcome to the new-born thing.

In all England there was no nobleman's estate adorned by a house more
beautiful than was the Tower of Camylott. Through the centuries in
which it had stood upon the fair hill which was its site, there had
passed no reign in which a king or queen had not been guest there, and
no pair of royal eyes had looked from its window quite without envy,
upon the richly timbered, far reaching park and the broad lovely land
rolling away to the sea. There was no palace with such lands spread
before it, and there were few kings' houses as stately and beauteous in
their proportions as was this one.

The fairest room in the fair house had ever been the one known as her
Grace's White Chamber. 'Twas a spacious room with white panelled walls
and large mullioned windows looking forth over green hill and vale and
purple woodland melting into the blue horizon. The ivy grew thick about
the windows, and birds nested therein and twittered tenderly in their
little homes. The Duchess greatly loved the sound, as she did the
fragrance of flowers with which the air of the White Chamber was ever
sweet, and which was wafted up to it by each wandering breeze from the
flower-beds blooming on the terrace below.

In this room--as the bells in the church tower rang their joyous
peal--her young Grace lay in her great bed, her new-born child on her
arm and her lord seated close to her pillow, holding her little hand
to his lips, his lashes somewhat moist as he hung over his treasures.

"You scarce can believe that he is here," the Duchess whispered with a
touching softness. "Indeed, I scarce believe it myself. 'Twas not fair
of him to keep us waiting five years when we so greatly yearned for his
coming. Perhaps he waited, knowing that we expected so much from
him--such beauty and such wisdom and such strength. Let us look at him
together, love. The physician will order you away from me soon, but let
us see first how handsome he is."

She thrust the covering aside and the two heads--one golden and one
brown--pressed closer together that they might the better behold the
infant charms which were such joy to them.

"I would not let them bind his little limbs and head as is their way,"
she said. "From the first hour I spoke with his chief nurse, I gave her
my command that he should be left free to grow and to kick his pretty
legs as soon as he was strong enough. See, John, he stirs them a little
now. They say he is of wondrous size and long and finely made, and
indeed he seems so to me--and 'tis not only because I am so proud, is
it?"

"I know but little of their looks when they are so young, sweet," her
lord answered, his voice and eyes as tender as her own; for in sooth he
felt himself moved as he had been at no other hour in his life before,
though he was a man of a nature as gentle as 'twas strong. "I will own
that I had ever thought of them as strange, unbeauteous red things a
man almost held in fear, and whose ugliness a woman but loved because
she was near angel; but this one--" and he drew nearer still with a
grave countenance--"surely it looks not like the rest. 'Tis not so red
and crumple-visaged--its tiny face hath a sort of comeliness. It hath a
broad brow, and its eyes will sure be large and well set."

The Duchess slipped her fair arm about his neck--he was so near to her
'twas easy done--and her smile trembled into sweet tears which were
half laughter.

"Ah, we love him so," she cried, "how could we think him like any
other? We love him so and are so happy and so proud."

And for a moment they remained silent, their cheeks pressed together,
the scent of the spring flowers wafting up to them from the terrace,
the church bells pealing out through the radiant air.

"He was born of love," his mother whispered at last. "He will live amid
love and see only honour and nobleness."

"He will grow to be a noble gentleman," said my lord Duke. "And some
day he will love a noble lady, and they will be as we have been--as we
have been, beloved."

And their faces turned towards each other as if some law of nature drew
them, and their lips met--and their child stirred softly in its first
sleep.



_CHAPTER II_

"_He is the King_"


The bells pealed at intervals throughout the day in at least five
villages over which his Grace of Osmonde was lord--at Roxholm they
pealed, at Marlowell Dane, at Paulyn Dorlocke, at Mertounhurst, at
Camylott--and in each place, when night fell, bonfires were lighted and
oxen roasted whole, while there were dancing and fiddling and drinking
of ale on each village green.

In truth, as Dame Watt had said, he had begun well--Gerald Walter John
Percy Mertoun, Marquess of Roxholm; and well it seemed he would go on.
He throve in such a way as was a wonder to his physicians and nurses,
the first gentlemen finding themselves with no occasion for practising
their skill, since he suffered from no infant ailments whatsoever, but
fed and slept and grew lustier and fairer every hour. He grew so
finely--perhaps because his young mother had defied ancient custom and
forbidden his limbs and body to be bound--that at three months he was
as big and strong as an infant of half a year. 'Twas plain he was built
for a tall man with broad shoulders and noble head. But a few months
had passed before his baby features modelled themselves into promise
of marked beauty, and his brown eyes gazed back at human beings, not
with infant vagueness, but with a look which had in it somewhat of
question and reply. His retinue of serving-women were filled with such
ardent pride in him that his chief nurse had much to do to keep the
peace among them, each wishing to be first with him, and being jealous
of another who made him laugh and crow and stretch forth his arms that
she might take him. The Commandress-in-Chief of the nurses was no
ordinary female. She was the widow of a poor chaplain--her name
Mistress Rebecca Halsell--and she gratefully rejoiced to have had the
happiness to fall into a place of such honour and responsibility. She
was of sober age, and being motherly as well as discreet, kept such
faithful watch over him as few children begin life under.

The figure of this good woman throughout his childhood stood out from
among all others surrounding him, with singular distinctness. She
seemed not like a servant, nor was she like any other in the household.
As he ripened in years, he realised that in his earliest memories of
her there was a recollection of a certain grave respect she had seemed
to pay him, and he saw it had been not mere deference but respect, as
though he had been a man in miniature, and one to whom, despite his
tender youth, dignity and reason should be qualities of nature, and
therefore might be demanded from him in all things. As early as thought
began to form itself clearly in him, he singled out Mistress Halsell as
a person to reflect upon. When he was too young to know wherefore, he
comprehended vaguely that she was of a world to which the rest of his
attendants did not belong. 'Twas not that she was of greatly superior
education and manners, since all those who waited upon him had been
carefully chosen; 'twas that she seemed to love him more gravely than
did the others, and to mean a deeper thing when she called him "my lord
Marquess." She was a pock-marked woman (she having taken the disease
from her late husband the Chaplain, who had died of that scourge), and
in her earliest bloom could have been but plainly favoured. She had a
large-boned frame, and but for a good and serious carriage would have
seemed awkward. She had, however, the good fortune to be the possessor
of a mellow voice, and to have clear grey eyes, set well and deep in
her head, and full of earnest meaning.

"Her I shall always remember," the young Marquess often said when he
had grown to be a man and was Duke, and had wife and children of his
own. "I loved to sit upon her knee, and lean against her breast, and
gaze up into her eyes. 'Twas my child-fancy that there was deep within
them something like a star, and when I gazed at it, I felt a kind of
loving awe such as grew within me when I lay and looked up at a star in
the sky."

His mother's eyes were of so dark a violet that 'twas his fancy of them
that they looked like the velvet of a purple pansy. Her complexion was
of roses and lilies, and had in truth by nature that sweet bloom which
Sir Peter Lely was kind enough to bestow upon every beauty of King
Charles's court his brush made to live on canvas. She was indeed a
lovely creature and a happy one, her life with her husband and child so
contenting her that, young though she was, she cared as little for
Court life as my lord Duke, who, having lived longer in its midst than
she, had no taste for its intrigues and the vices which so flourished
in its hot-bed. Though the noblest Duke in England, and of a family
whose whole history was enriched with services to the royal house, his
habits and likings were not such as made noblemen favourites at the
court of Charles the Second. He was not given to loose adventure, and
had not won the heart of my Lady Castlemaine, since he had made no love
to her, which was not a thing to be lightly forgiven to any handsome
and stalwart gentleman. Besides this, he had been so moved by the
piteous case of the poor Queen, during her one hopeless battle for her
rights when this termagant beauty was first thrust upon her as lady of
her bedchamber, that on those cruel days during the struggle when the
poor Catherine had found herself sitting alone, deserted, while her
husband and her courtiers gathered in laughing, worshipping groups
about her triumphant rival, this one gentleman had sought by his
courteous respect to support her in her humiliated desolation, though
the King himself had first looked black and then had privately mocked
at him.

"He hath fallen in love with her," the Castlemaine had said afterwards
to a derisive group; "he hath fallen deep in love--with her long teeth
and her Portuguese farthingale."

"She needs love, poor soul, Heaven knows," the Duke returned, when this
speech was repeated to him. "A poor girl taken from her own country,
married to a King, and then insulted by his Court and his mistresses!
Some man should remember her youth and desolateness, and not forget
that another man has broke her heart and lets his women laugh at her
misfortunes."

'Twould have been a dangerous speech perhaps had a man of the Court of
Henry the Eighth made it, even to a friend, but Charles was too lightly
vicious and too fond of gay scenes to be savage. His brutality was such
as was carelessly wreaked on hearts instead of heads--hearts he
polluted, made toys of, flung in the mire or broke; heads he left on
the shoulders they belonged to. But he did not love his Grace of
Osmonde, and though his rank and character were such that he could not
well treat him with indignity, he did not regret that after his Grace's
marriage with the Lady Rosalys Delile he appeared but seldom at Court.

"He is a tiresome fellow, for one can find no fault with him," his
Majesty said, fretfully. "Odd's fish! fortune is on his side where my
house is concerned. His father fought at Edgehill and Marston Moor, and
they tell me died but two years after Naseby of a wound he had there.
Let him go and bury himself on his great estates, play the benefactor
to his tenantry, listen to his Chaplain's homilies, and pay stately
visits to the manors of his neighbours."

His Grace lived much in the country, not being fond of town, but he did
not bury himself and his fair spouse. Few men lived more active lives
and found such joy in existence. He entertained at his country seats
most brilliantly, since, though he went but seldom to London, he was
able to offer London such pleasures and allurements that it was glad to
come to him. There were those who were delighted to leave the Court
itself to visit Roxholm or Camylott or some other of his domains. Men
who loved hunting and out-of-door life found entertainment on the
estates of a man who was the most splendid sportsman of his day, whose
moors and forests provided the finest game and his stables the finest
horses in England. Women who were beauties found that in his stately
rooms they might gather courts about them. Men of letters knew that in
his libraries they might delve deep into the richest mines. Those who
loved art found treasures in his galleries, and wide comprehension and
finished tastes in their master.

And over the assemblies, banquets, and brilliant hunt balls there
presided the woman with the loveliest eyes, 'twas said, in England,
Scotland, Ireland, or Wales--the violet eyes King Charles had been
stirred by and which had caused him a bitter scene with my Lady
Castlemaine, whose eyes were neither violet nor depths of tender
purity. The sweetest eyes in the world, all vowed them to be; and there
was no man or woman, gentle or simple, who was not rejoiced by their
smiling.

"In my book of pictures," said the little Marquess to his mother once,
"there is an angel. She looks as you do when you come in your white
robe to kiss me before you go down to dine with the ladies and
gentlemen who are our guests. Your little shining crown is made of
glittering stones, and hers is only gold. Angels wear only golden
crowns--but you are like her, mother, only more beautiful."

The child from his first years was used to the passing and repassing
across his horizon of brilliant figures and interesting ones. From the
big mullioned window of his nursery he could see the visitors come and
go, he watched the beaux and beauties saunter in the park and
pleasaunce in their brocades, laces, and plumed hats, he saw the
scarlet coats ride forth to hunt, and at times fine chariots roll up
the avenue with great people in them come to make visits of state. His
little life was full of fair pictures and fair stories of them. When
the house was filled with brilliant company he liked nothing so much as
to sit on Mistress Halsell's knee or in his chair by her side and ask
her questions about the guests he caught glimpses of as they passed to
and fro. He was a child of strong imagination and with a great liking
for the romantic and poetic. He would have told to him again and again
any rumour of adventure connected with those he had beheld. He was
greatly pleased by the foreign ladies and gentlemen who were among the
guests--he liked to hear of the Court of King Louis the Fourteenth, and
to have pointed out to him those visitors who were personages connected
with it. He was attracted by the sound of foreign tongues, and would
inquire to which country a gentleman or lady belonged, and would thrust
his head out of the window when they sauntered on the terraces below
that he might hear them speak their language. As was natural, he heard
much interesting gossip from his attendants when they were not aware
that he was observing, they feeling secure in his extreme youth. He
could not himself exactly have explained how his conception of the
difference between the French and English Courts arose, but at seven
years old, he in some way knew that King Louis was a finer gentleman
than King Charles, that his Court was more elegant, and that the
beauties who ruled it were not merry orange wenches, or romping card
house-building maids of honour, or splendid viragoes who raved and
stamped and poured forth oaths as fishwives do. How did he know it--and
many other things also? He knew it as children always know things their
elders do not suspect them of remarking, but which, falling upon their
little ears sink deep into their tiny minds, and lying there like seeds
in rich earth, put forth shoots and press upwards until they pierce
through the darkness and flower and bear fruit in the light of day. He
knew that a certain great Duchess of Portsmouth had been sent over from
France by King Louis to gain something from King Charles, who had
fallen in love with her. The meaning of "falling in love" he was yet
vague in his understanding of, but he knew that the people hated her
because they thought she played tricks and would make trouble for
England if she led the King as she tried to do. The common people
called her "Madame Carwell," that being their pronunciation of the
French name she had borne before she had been made a Duchess. He had
once heard his nurses Alison and Grace gossiping together of a great
service of gold the King had given her, and which, when it had been on
exhibition, had made the people so angry that they had said they would
like to see it melted and poured down her throat. "If he must give it,"
they had grumbled, "he had better have bestowed it upon Madame Ellen."

Hearing this, my lord Marquess had left his playing and gone to the
women, where they stood enjoying their gossip and not thinking of him.
He stood and looked up at Alison in his grave little way.

"Who is Madame Ellen, Alison?" he inquired.

"Good Lord!" the woman exclaimed, aside to her companion.

"Why do the people like her better than the other?" he persisted.

At this moment Mistress Halsell entered the nursery, and her keen eye
saw at once that his young Lordship had put some question to his
attendants which they scarce knew how to answer.

"What does my lord Marquess ask, Grace?" she said; and my lord Marquess
turned and looked at herself.

"I heard them speak of Madame Ellen," he answered. "They said something
about some pretty things made of gold and that the people were angry
that they were for her Grace of Portsmouth instead of Madame Ellen. Why
do they like her better?"

Mistress Halsell took his hand and walked with him to their favourite
seat in the big window.

"It is because she is the better woman of the two, my lord," she said.

"Is the other one bad, then?" he inquired. "And why does his Majesty
give her things made of gold?"

"To pay her," answered Mistress Rebecca, looking thoughtfully out of
the window.

"For what?" the young Marquess asked.

"For--for that an honest woman should not take pay for."

"Then why does he love her? Is he a bad King?" his voice lowering as he
said it and his brown-eyed, ruddy little face grown solemn.

"A quiet woman in a place like mine cannot judge of Kings," she
answered; "but to be King is a grave thing."

"Grave!" cried he; "I thought it was very splendid. All England belongs
to him; he wears a gold crown and people kneel to kiss his hand. My
father and mother kneel to him when they go to the Court."

"That is why it is grave," said Mistress Rebecca. "All the people look
to him for their example. Because he is their head they follow him. He
can lead them to good or evil. He can help England to be honest or
base. He is the KING."

The little fellow looked out upon the fair scene spread before him.
Many thoughts he could not yet have found words for welled up within
him and moved him vaguely.

"He is the King," he repeated, softly; "he is the _King_!"

Mistress Rebecca looked at him with tender, searching eyes. She had,
through her own thoughts, learned how much these small
creatures--sometimes dealt with so carelessly--felt when they were too
young for phrases, and how much, also, they remembered their whole
lives through.

"He is the King," she said, "and a King must think of his people. A
Duke, too, must think of his--as his Grace, your father, thinks, never
dealing lightly with his great name or his great house, or those of
whom he is governor."

The boy climbed upon her knee and sat there, leaning against her as he
loved to do. His eyes rested on the far edge of the farthest purple
moor, behind which the sun seemed to be slipping away into some other
world he knew not of. The little clouds floating in the high blue sky
were rosy where they were not golden; a flock of rooks was flying
slowly homeward over the tree-tops, cawing lazily as they came. A great
and beautiful stillness seemed to rest on all the earth, and his little
mind was full of strange ponderings, leading him through labyrinths of
dreams he would remember and comprehend the deep meaning of only when
he was a man. Somehow all his thoughts were trooping round about a rich
and brilliant figure which was a sort of image standing to him for the
personality of his Most Sacred Majesty King Charles the Second--the
King who was not quite a King, though all England looked to him, and he
could lead it to good or evil.



_CHAPTER III_

_Sir Jeoffry Wildairs_


It was not common in those days for young gentlemen of quality to love
their books too dearly; in truth, men of all ranks and ages were given
rather to leaving learning and the effort to acquire it to those who
depended upon professions to gain their bread for them. Men of rank and
fortune had too many amusements which required no aid from books,
which, indeed, were not greatly the fashion. For country gentlemen
there was hunting, coursing, cock-fights, the exhilarating watching of
cudgelling bouts between yokels, besides visiting, and much eating and
drinking and smoking of tobacco while jovial, and sometimes not too
fastidious stories were told. When a man went up to town he had other
pleasures to fill his time, and whether he was a country gentleman
making his yearly visit or a fashionable rake and beau, his
entertainment was not usually derived from books, a man who spent much
time with them being indeed generally regarded as a milksop. But from
the time when he lay stretched upon his nursery floor and gazed at
pictures and lettering he had not learned to read, the little Marquess
had a fondness for books. He learned to read early, and once having
learned, was never so full of pleasure as when he had a volume to pore
over. At first he revelled in stories of magicians, giants, afrits, and
gnomes, but as soon as his tutors took him in hand he wakened every day
to some new interest. Languages ancient and modern he learned with
great rapidity, having a special fondness for them, and at thirteen
could speak French, high Dutch, and Italian excellently well for his
years, besides having a scholarly knowledge of Latin and Greek. His
tutor, Mr. Fox, an elderly scholar of honourable birth and many
attainments, was as proud of his talents and advancement as his female
attendants had been of his strength and beauty in his infancy. This
gentleman, whose income had been reduced by misfortune, who had lost
his wife and children tragically by one illness, and who had come to
undertake his pupil an almost brokenhearted man, found in the promise
of this young mind a solace he had never hoped to know again.

"I have taught young gentlemen before," he remarked privately to
Mistress Halsell--"one at least with royal blood in his veins, though
he was not called prince--but my lord Marquess has a fire I have seen
in no other. To set him to work upon a new branch of study is like
setting a flame to brushwood. 'Tis as though he burned his way to that
he would reach." The same fire expressed itself in all he did. He was
passionately fond of all boyish sports, and there was no bodily feat he
undertook which he did not finally perform better than others of his
age performed it. He could leap, run, fence, shoot at a mark; there was
no horse he could not ride, and at ten he stood as tall as a boy of
fourteen, and was stalwart and graceful into the bargain. Of his beauty
there could be no question, it being of an order which marked him in
any assembly. 'Twas not only that his features were of so fine a
moulding, that his thick hair curled about his brow in splendid rings,
and that he had a large deep eye, tawny brown and fearless as a young
lion's, but there was in the carriage of his head, the bearing of his
body, the very movement of his limbs a thing which stamped him. In
truth, it was as if nature, in a lavish mood and having leisure, had
built a human creature of her best and launched him furnished forth
with her fairest fortunes, that she might behold what he would do. The
first time he was taken by his parents to London, there was a day upon
which, while walking in the garden of Hampton Court, accompanied by his
governor, he found himself stopped by a splendid haughty lady, whom Mr.
Fox saluted with some fearfulness when she addressed him. She asked the
boy's name, and, putting her hand on his shoulder, so held him that
she might look at him well.

"The little Roxholm," she said. "Yes, his mother was the beauty who--"

'Twas as if she checked her speech. She made a quick, imperious
movement with her head, and added: "He is all rumour said of him;" and
she turned away with such abruptness that the child asked himself how
he had vexed her, and wondered also at her manners, he being used only
to grace and courtesy.

They were near the end of the terrace which looked upon the River
Thames, and she went with her companion and leaned upon the stone
balustrades, looking out upon the water with fierce eyes. "The woman
who could give him a son like that," she said, "could hold him against
all others, and demand what she chose. Squat Catherine herself could do
it."

Little Roxholm heard her.

"She is a very handsome lady," he said, innocently, "though she has a
strange way. Is she of the Court, and do you know her name?"

"'Tis her Grace the Duchess of Cleveland," answered Mr. Fox, gravely,
as they walked away.

He was seven years old at this time, and 'twas during this visit to
town that he heard a conversation which made a great impression upon
him, opening up as it did new vistas of childish thinking. Having
known but one phase of existence, he was not aware that he had lived
the life of a young prince in a fairy tale, and that there were other
children whose surroundings were as gloomy as his were fair and bright.

He was one day comfortably ensconced in the deep embrasure of a window,
a book upon his knee, when Mistress Halsell and one of the upper
servants came into the room upon which his study opened, and presently
his ear was attracted by a thing they were speaking of with some
feeling.

"As sweetly pretty a young lady as ever one beheld," he heard. "Never
saw I a fairer skin or eyes more hyacinth-blue--and her hair trailing
to the ground like a mantle, and as soft and fine as silk."

'Twas this which made him stop in his reading. The description seeming
so like that of a beauty in a story of chivalry in which knights fought
for such loveliness.

"And now," the voice went on, "after but a few years of marriage all
her beauty lost so that none would know her! Four poor, weak girl
infants she hath given birth to, and her husband, Sir Jeoffry, in a
fury at the coming of each, raging that it is not an heir. Before the
first came he had begun to slight her, and when 'twas born a girl he
well-nigh broke her heart. He is a great, bold, handsome man, and she,
poor little lady, hopeless in her worship of him. And the next year
there was another girl, and each year since--and Sir Jeoffry spends his
time in riot and drinking and ill-living--and she fades away in her
wing of the house, scarce ever seen."

"Poor, uncared-for thing, 'twould be happier if God took her, and her
children, too," said Mistress Halsell.

"Three have been taken," replied her companion, in a low voice.
"Neither she nor they have strength. And ah! to see her in these
days--her pretty face grown thin and haggard, the blue of her eyes
drenched out with weeping. 'Tis told he once said to her, 'When a woman
grows thin and yellow, her husband will go in search of better looks,
and none has right to blame him.' 'Twas on a day when she had dressed
herself in her best to please him, but a few weeks after her third
infant came into the world. And so weak was she, poor lady, and so hurt
in spirit, that she gave a little sob and swooned."

The young Marquess read his book no more. He drew down his handsome
childish brow and stared straight before him through the window. He was
a boy with a fiery spirit, despite his general amiability of demeanour,
and, had he lived among tormentors and tyrants and been ill-treated,
would have had an ungovernable temper. The thing he had heard filled
him with a kind of rage against this big handsome man who treated his
lady cruelly and hated her infants. 'Twas all brutal and wicked and
unfair, as if one should heartlessly beat a little dog that loved one.
The picture brought before him was hideous and made him grow hot. His
spirit had never been tamed, he had the blood of fighting men in his
veins, and he had read innumerable stories of chivalry. He wished he
were big enough to go forth in search of such men as this Sir Jeoffry,
and strike them to the earth with his sword.

On such evenings as their Graces did not entertain, he was taken by his
governour to spend an hour with his father and mother in the
withdrawing-room, where they sat, and on this evening, when he went to
them, each of them observed that he spoke less than usual and seemed in
a new mood. He had always been filled with a passionate adoration of
his mother, and was much given to following her with his eyes; but this
night his gaze was fixed upon her in such earnest scrutiny that at last
her Grace asked him laughingly what he saw in her looks more than
ordinary. He had kept very close to her, and had held her hand, and
kissed it more than once since he had been in the room. He lifted it to
his lips again now, and pressed an impassioned kiss upon its fairness.

"You were never treated cruelly," he said. "No one would ever dare to
speak so to you that you would sob and swoon. If any dared!" and his
little hand involuntarily went to his side with a fierce childish
gesture which made my lord Duke laugh delightedly.

"'Tis in his blood to draw," he said. "Bravo! Roxholm; bravo!"

His mother looked at his beautiful little face and, seeing a thing in
his eyes which women who are mothers detect in the eyes of their
offspring when others observe little, put a hand on each of his
shoulders and went upon one knee so that she could be on a level with
his face and see deeper.

"What," she said, with a tender comprehending warmth, "you have been
hearing of some poor lady who is hardly treated, and you cannot endure
to think of it, because you are a man even though you are but seven
years old;" and she bent forward and kissed him with a lovely passion
and her violet eyes bedewed. "Yes, love," she said, "you are a Man. All
Osmondes are when they are born, I think. Indeed, John"--with the
sweetest laughing look at her lord, who stood worshipping her from his
place at the opposite side of the hearth--"I am sure that when you were
seven years old, if you had had a little sword, you would have drawn it
to defend a woman against a giant, though he had been big enough to
have eaten you at one mouthful--and Gerald is like you," proudly.
"Gerald is a Man, too."

"'Tis not fair," cried little Roxholm, passionately, "'tis not fair
that a big gentleman should be so harsh to a poor lady who loves him,
that he should make her cry till the blue goes from her eyes and she is
beautiful no longer, and that he should hate her infants because they
are not boys. And when she tried to please him he made her sob and
swoon away. He should be killed for it--he should be killed."

His father and mother glanced at each other. "Surely," her Grace said,
"he must have heard of the wicked Gloucestershire baronet my Lord
Dunstanwolde told us stories of--Sir Jeoffry."

"Ay, his name was Sir Jeoffry," cried Roxholm, eagerly. "Sir Jeoffry it
was they said."

"Yes," said my lord Duke, "Sir Jeoffry Wildairs, and a rank, heartless
brute he is to be the father of helpless girl children."



_CHAPTER IV_

"_God Have Mercy on its Evil Fortunes_"


In the constantly changing panorama which passes before the mind of a
child, it is certain no picture dawns and fades without leaving some
trace behind. The exact images may not be recorded, but the effect
produced by their passing will remain and become part of the palimpsest
of life and character. The panorama which passed before the mental
vision of the boy Marquess during the years of his early youth was not
only brilliant but full of great changes, being indeed such a panorama
as could not fail to produce strong and formative impressions upon a
growing mind. The doings of Charles Stuart's dissolute and brilliant
Court he began life hearing stories of; before he had reached ten years
of age, King Charles had died and James the Second was ruler of
England; in three years more his Majesty had been deserted by all and
had fled to the protection of Louis of France, leaving his crown behind
him to be offered to and accepted by William of Orange and Mary, his
well-beloved wife; but four years later Queen Mary had died of
small-pox and left her husband overwhelmed with grief, crying that he
had been the happiest of men and was now the most miserable. Kings are
not made and deposed, crowned and buried and mourned, without pomps,
ceremonials, and the occurring of events which must move even the
common mind to observation and reflection. This young mind was of no
common mould, it having come into the world active and by nature ready
to receive impressions, and from its earliest consciousness had been
watched and cultured in such manner as must have enriched even the
poorest understanding. As children of ordinary rank are familiar with
games, and hear of simple every-day events that happen to their
neighbours, this heir to a dukedom was familiar with the game of Courts
and rulers and heard daily discussion of Kings and great statesmen--of
their rights and wrongs, their triumphs and failures. The changing
events made such discussion inevitable, and the boy, being through
their wise affection treated almost as the companion of his parents,
heard much important conversation which filled him with deep interest
and led him into grave thinking which greatly developed his powers of
mind. Among the many memories which remained with him throughout his
life, and which in his later years he realised, had left a singularly
definite image upon his mind, was this small incident of his first
hearing of the Gloucestershire baronet whose lady had wept the blue
from her eyes in her wretchedness under his brutal neglect and cruelty.
The impression doubtless owed much of its vividness to the fact that
'twas made so early as to be the first realising of the existence of a
world where misery dwelt as a common thing, where men were coarse and
cruel, where women were tyrannised over and treated roughly, and where
children were unloved and neglected. Into this world he had previously
obtained no glimpse; but, once having realised its existence, he could
not easily forget it. Often as time passed he found himself haunted by
thoughts of the poor injured lady and her children, and being a
creature of strong imagination, there would rise before him mental
pictures of what a household might be whose master was a coarse rioter
before whom his wife and children cowered in fear.

So it happened in his conversing with Mistress Halsell he broached the
subject of the Gloucestershire baronet, and the good woman, seeing that
his speech did not arise from idle curiosity, told him what she knew of
this most unhappy family.

'Twas an old family and a good one in the matter of lineage, but
through the debaucheries of the last baronets its estates had become
impoverished and its reputation of an ill savour. It had ever been
known as a family noted for the great physical strength and beauty of
its men and women. For centuries the men of the house of Wildairs had
been the biggest and the handsomest in England. They had massive
frames, black eyes, thick hair and beards, and feared neither man nor
devil, but openly defied both. They were men who lived wildly, ate and
drank hugely, pursued women, were great at all deeds of prowess, and
bursting with rough health and lawless high spirits. 'Twas a saying of
their house that "a Wildairs who could not kill an ox with a blow and
eat half of him when he was roasted, was a poor wight indeed." The
present baronet, Sir Jeoffry, was of somewhat worse reputation than any
Sir Jeoffry before him. He lived a wild life in the country, rarely
going up to town, as he was not fond of town manners and town customs,
but liked better hunting, coursing, cock-fighting, bull-baiting, and
engaging in intrigues with dairy maids and the poppy-cheeked daughters
of his cottagers. He had married a sweet creature of fifteen, whom
after their brief honeymoon he had neglected as such men neglect a
woman, leaving her to break her heart and lose her bloom and beauty in
her helpless mourning for his past passion for her. He was at drawn
swords with his next of kin, who despised him and his evil, rough
living, and he had set his mind upon leaving sons enough to make sure
his title should be borne only by his own offspring. He being of this
mind, 'twas not to be wondered at that he had no welcome for the
daughters who should have pleased him by being sons. When the first was
born he flouted its mother bitterly, the poor young lady, who was but
sixteen and a delicate creature, falling into a fit of illness through
her grief and disappointment. The coming of the second threw him into a
rage, the third into a fury; and the birth of a fourth being announced,
he stormed like a madman, would not look at it, and went upon a debauch
so protracted and disgraceful as to be the scandal of the county and
the subject of gossip for many a day.

From that hour the innocent Lady Wildairs did not raise her head. Her
family had rejected her on account of her marriage with a rake so
unfashionable and of reputation so coarse. Wildairs Hall, ill kept, and
going to ruin through the wasteful living of its spendthrift master,
was no place for such guests as were ladies and gentlemen. The only
visitors who frequented it were a dozen or so chosen spirits who shared
Sir Jeoffry's tastes--hunted, drank, gambled with him, and were as
loose livers as himself. My Lady Wildairs, grown thin, yellow, and
haggard, shrank into her own poor corner of the big house, a bare west
wing where she bore her children in lonely suffering and saw them die,
one after the other, two only having the strength to survive. She was
her lord's hopeless slave, and at the same time the mere knowledge of
her existence was an irritation to him, she being indeed regarded by
him as a Sultan might regard the least fortunate of his harem.

"Damn her," he cried once to one of his cronies, a certain Lord
Eldershaw, "in these days I hate the sight of her, with her skinny
throat and face. What's a woman for, after she looks like that? If she
were not hanging about my neck I could marry some fine strapping girl
who would give me an heir before a year was out."

If young Roxholm did not hear this special anecdote, he heard others
from various sources which were productive in him of many puzzled and
somewhat anxious thoughts. "Why was it," he pondered, "that women who
had not the happy fortune of his mother seemed at so cruel a
disadvantage--that men who were big and handsome having won them, grew
tired of them and cast them aside, with no care for their loneliness
and pain? Why had God so made them that they seemed as helpless as poor
driven sheep? 'Twas not fair it should be so--he could not feel it
honest, though he was beset by grave fears at his own contumacy since
he had been taught that God ordained all things. Had he ordained this,
that men should be tyrants, and base, and cruel, and that women should
be feeble victims who had but the power to moan and die and be
forgotten? There was my Lord Peterborough, who had fought against
Algerine pirates, and at nineteen crowned his young brow with glory in
action at Tripoli. To the boyish mind he was a figure so brilliant and
gallant and to be adored that it seemed impossible to allow that his
shining could be tarnished by a fault, yet 'twas but a year after his
marriage with the fair daughter of Fraser of Mearns that he had wearied
of his love and gaily sailed for the Algerine coast again. Whether the
young Countess had bewailed her lot or not, Roxholm had not chanced to
hear, but having had for husband a young gentleman so dazzling and full
of fascination, how could she have found herself deserted and feel no
heartache and shed no tears? My lord could sail away and fight
corsairs, but her poor ladyship must remain behind and do battle only
with her heart, gaining no laurels thereby.

The sentiment of the times was not one which rated women high or was
fraught with consideration for female weakness. Charles Stuart taught
men how women should be regarded, and the beauties of his Court had
aided him in such manner as deepened the impression he had produced. A
beauty had her few years of triumph in which she was pursued, intrigued
with, worshipped, flattered, had madrigals sung in her honour; those
years over, no one cared to hear of the remainder of her life. If there
were dregs left in her cup, she drank them alone. A woman who had no
beauty was often a mere drudging or child-bearing wife, scapegoat for
ill-humour and morning headaches; victim, slave, or unnoticed
appendage. This the whilom toast Lady Wildairs had become, and there
were many like her.

The Earl of Dunstanwolde, who was the nobleman who had spoken to the
Duke and Duchess of the Gloucestershire Baronet, was a distant kinsman,
and a somewhat frequent visitor both at their Graces' country estates
and at their town establishment, Osmonde House. His own estate was near
Gloucestershire, and he knew the stories of Wildairs Hall, as did so
many others.

This gentleman was somewhat past middle age, and was the owner of such
qualities of mind and heart as had won for him the friendship of all
thinking persons who knew him. A man of kindly refinement and dignity,
familiar with arts and letters, and generous in his actions both to his
equals and his inferiors, he was of ancient blood, and had large
estates in the country and a great house in town.

But, notwithstanding the honourableness of his position, and the ease
of his circumstances, he was not a happy gentleman, having made a
love-match in his youth, and lost his passionately worshipped consort
at the birth of her first child, who had lived but two hours. He had
been so happy in his union that, being of a constant nature, he could
not console himself for his bereavement, and had remained a widower,
content that his estates and titles should pass to a distant cousin who
was the next heir. He was a sad-faced gentleman with delicately cut
features, and eyes which looked as if they had beheld sorrow, there
being deep lines about them, and also about his mouth.

This nobleman had for Roxholm a great attraction--his voice, his
bearing, and his gentle gravity all seemed to convey a thing which
reached the boy's heart. On his own part the childless man had from the
first felt for his little kinsman a pathetic affection. Had fate been
kind, instead of cruel, the son of his own Alice might have so bloomed
and grown stalwart and fair. He liked to talk with the child even when
he was but a few years old, and as time passed, and he shot up into a
handsome, tall lad, their friendship became a singularly close one.
When my lord was at Camylott the country people became accustomed to
seeing the two ride through the lanes together, the gamekeepers in the
park were familiar with the sight of the elder gentleman and the young
Marquess walking side by side down unfrequented woodland paths engaged
in earnest conversation, his lordship's hand oftenest resting on the
young shoulder as they went.

There was a subject of which these two talked often, and with great
interest, it being one for which Roxholm had always felt a love, since
the days when he had walked through the picture gallery with his nurse,
looking up with childish delight at the ladies and gentlemen in the
family portraits, asking to be told stories of their doings, and
requiring that it be explained to him why they wore costumes which
seemed strange to him. Mistress Halsell had been able to tell him many
stories of them, as also had his father and mother and Mr. Fox, his
governour, and these stories had so pleased him that he had pondered
upon them until their heroes and heroines seemed his familiar friends,
and made of as firm flesh and real blood as the ladies and gentlemen
who were his kinswomen and kinsmen to-day. It had always been his
pleasure to remember that the stories to be told of them were such fine
ones. There were Crusaders among them who had done splendid deeds;
there were men who had fought by the side of their King in battle, and
there were those who had done high service for him with brain and
spoken word when his power stood in danger of being overthrown. To the
boy there seemed indeed to have been no battle either of Church or
State, or with enemies in open field in which Mertouns had not fought.
Long before the Conquest, Normandy had known their high-strung spirit
and fiery valour. At Senlac, Guilbert de Mertoun had stood near William
of Normandy when he gave his command to his archers that they should
shoot into the air, whereby an arrow sought English Harold for its mark
and pierced him through eye and brain, leaving him slain, and William
conqueror. This same Guilbert, William had loved for his fierce bravery
and his splendid aim in their hunting the high deer, of whom 'twas said
the monarch "loved them as if he had been their father;" and when the
Domesday Book was made, rich lands were given to him that, as the King
said--there should be somewhat worthy of his holding to be recorded
therein. It had been a Guilbert de Mertoun who rode with Rufus when he
would cross to Normandy to put down insurrection there. These two were
alike in their spirit (therefore little Roxholm had ever worshipped
both), and when they reached the seashore in a raging storm, and the
sailors, from fear, refused to put forth, and Rufus cried, "Heard ye
ever of a King who was drowned," 'twas Guilbert who sprang forward
swearing he would set sail himself if others would not, and so stirred
the cowards with his fierce passionate courage that they obeyed the
orders given them and crossed the raging sea's arm in the tempest,
Guilbert standing in their midst spurring them with shouts, while the
wind so raged that only a man of giant strength could have stood
upright, and his voice could scarce be heard above its fury. And 'twas
he who was at the front when the insurgents were overpowered. Of this
one, of whom 'twas handed down that he was of huge build, and had beard
and hair as flaming as Rufus's own, there were legends which made him
the idol of Roxholm's heart in his childhood. Again and again it had
been his custom to demand that they should be repeated to him--the
stories of the stags he had pierced to the heart in one day's hunting
in the New Forest--the story of how he was held in worship by his
villeins, and of his mercifulness to them in days when nobles had the
power of life and death, and to do any cruelty to those in servitude to
them.

In Edward the Third's time, when the Black Death swept England, there
had lived another Guilbert who, having for consort a lovely, noble
lady, they two had hand in hand devoted themselves to battling the
pestilence among their serfs and retainers, and with the aid of a
brother of great learning (the first Gerald of the house) had sought
out and discovered such remedies as saved scores of lives and modified
the sufferings of all. At the end of their labours, when the violence
of the plague was assuaged, the lovely lady Aloys had died of the
fatigues she had borne and her husband had devoted himself to a life of
merciful deeds, the history of which was a wondrous thing for an
impassioned and romance-loving boy to pore over.

Upon the romances of these lives the imagination of the infant Roxholm
had nourished itself, and the boy Roxholm being so fed had builded his
young life and its ideals upon them.

It was of these ancestors of his house and of their high deeds he found
pleasure and profit in talking to his kinsman and friend, and 'twas an
incident which took place during one of my Lord Dunstanwolde's visits
to Camylott which led them to this manner of converse.

Roxholm was but eleven years old when in taking a barred gate on a new
horse the animal leapt imperfectly and, falling upon his rider, broke a
leg and two ribs for him. The injuries were such as all knew must give
the boy sharp anguish of body, when he was placed upon a hurdle and
carried home. His father galloped to the Tower to break the news to her
Grace and prepare her for his coming. My Lord Dunstanwolde walked by
the hurdle side, and as he did so, watching the boy closely, he was
touched to see that though his beautiful young face was white as death
and he lay with closed eyes, he uttered no sound and his lips wore a
brave smile.

"Is your pain great, Roxholm?" my Lord asked with tender sympathy.

Roxholm opened his eyes and, still smiling, blushed faintly.

"I think of John Cuthbert de Mertoun," he said in a low voice. "It aids
me to hold the torment at bay."

He spoke the words with some shyness, as if feeling that one older than
himself might smile at the romantic wildness of his fancy. But this my
Lord Dunstanwolde did not, understanding him full well, and lying a
hand on his pressed it with warm affection. The story of John Cuthbert
was, that a hound suddenly going mad one day while he hunted deep in
the forest, it had attacked a poor follower and would have torn his
throat had his lord not come to his rescue, pulling the beast from him
and drawing its fury upon himself, whereby in his battle with it he was
horribly bitten; and when the animal lay dead upon the sward he drew
his hunting-knife and cut out the mangled flesh with his own hand, "and
winced not nor swouned," as the chronicle recorded with open joy in
him.

'Twas while Roxholm lay in bed recovering of his injuries that his
kinsman referred to this again, asking him what thoughts he had had of
this hero and wherein he had felt them an aid, and the boy's answers
and the talk which followed them had been the beginning of many such
conversations, his Lordship finding the young mind full of vigour and
fine imagination. Often, as they conversed in after times, the older
man was moved by the courageous fancies and strong, high ideals he
found himself confronting. 'Twas all so brave and beautiful, and there
was such tragedy in the thought that life might hold clouds to dull the
gold of it. 'Tis but human that those of maturer years who have known
sorrow should be reminded of it by the very faith and joyfulness of
youth. One of the fine features of the Tower of Camylott was its Long
Gallery, which was of such length and breadth and so finely panelled as
to be renowned through all the land. At each end the broad windows
looked out upon noble stretches of varying hill and tall and venerable
forest, and in wet weather, when the house was full the ladies and
gentlemen would promenade there, chatting or sometimes playing games to
amuse themselves.

In such weather my Lord Dunstanwolde and his young kinsman sometimes
paced whole mornings away together, and 'twas on such an occasion that
there first entered into Roxholm's life that which later filled and
ruled it and was its very self. But at this time he was scarcely
fourteen, and 'twas but the first strange chapter of a story he heard,
in no way dreaming that 'twas one of which his own deepest pain and
highest raptures would be part.

Often as the years passed, my Lord Dunstanwolde looked back upon this
December day and remembered how, as they walked to and fro, he had
marked for the hundredth time how beautiful and picturesque a figure
the boy made in his suit of rich-coloured brocade, his curling, warm
brown hair falling on his shoulders in thick, natural curls such as no
perruquier could imitate, the bloom of health and out-door life upon
his cheek, his handsome, well-opened eye sparkling or melting in kindly
warmth as he conversed. He was a tall, straight-limbed lad, and had by
this time attained such height and so bore himself that there were but
few inches between his noble kinsman and himself, though the years
between them were so many, and my Lord Dunstanwolde was of no mean
stature.

Outside a heavy rain fell, deluging the earth and drenching such grass
as the winter had left, covering with its faded tussocks the sweep of
the park lands. The sky was heavy with leaden clouds from which the
water fell in sweeping dashes. Having walked for some time, the two
stopped before the wide bay window at the east end of the Long Gallery
and watched the deluge for a space, marking how the drops splashed upon
the terrace, how the birds flew before it, and how the deer huddled
together under the stripped trees as if glad of the small shelter their
trunks and bare branches could afford.

"Such a day brings back to a man the gloomiest things he knows," said
Lord Dunstanwolde after a few moments' silent gazing upon the scene. "I
no sooner paused here to look forth at the greyness than there came
back to me a hard tale I heard before I left Gloucestershire. 'Twas
another tale of Wildairs, Gerald."

"Of Sir Jeoffry?" said Roxholm, with interest. It had happened that
some time before Lord Dunstanwolde had heard of the impression made
upon him by the story of the poor lady and her brutal lord and master.
More than once they had spoken together of Wildairs Hall, and those who
rioted, and those who suffered, in it, and Roxholm had learned that,
year by year the Gloucestershire baronet's living had grown wilder and
more dissolute, until his mad follies had cut him off from the
companionship of all reputable persons, and he spent his days in brutal
sports, drink, and rough entertainment with a dozen men as little
respected as himself. His money he had squandered and gambled away at
dice, his estate fell to greater ruin every year, and no heir had come
to him, his poor helpmeet having at length given him eight daughters,
but two of whom had lived. His rage at this had increased even beyond
its first fury as he realised that each new blunder of her ladyship was
a new jest for the county. So it was that the boy turned towards his
kinsman with interest, for in some manner the mishaps of this wretched
family always moved him.

"Of Sir Jeoffry?" he said.

"Of Sir Jeoffry," my Lord Dunstanwolde answered; "but not so much of
himself as of his poor lady. At last she is dead."

"Dead!" Roxholm exclaimed. "Dead!" and his voice fell, and he stood a
moment and watched the driving rain, full of strange thoughts.

"'Tis happier for her, surely," he said. "I--one cannot feel sorrow for
her. How did she die, my lord?"

"As woefully and as neglected as she lived," his lordship answered.
"She had given birth to another female infant, and 'twas plain the poor
thing knew her last hour had come. She was alone with the one ignorant
woman who was all she had to aid her in her hour of trial. The night
before Sir Jeoffry had held a drinking bout with a party of his boon
companions, and in the morning, when they were gathered noisily in the
courtyard to go forth hunting, the old woman appeared in their midst to
acquaint her master of the infant's birth and to bring a message from
her mistress, who begged her lord to come to her before he rode forth,
saying that she felt strangely ill, and wished greatly to see him." His
lordship paused a moment, and a shadow passed swiftly across his
countenance, brought there by a sad memory.

Young Roxholm turned towards him and waited with a speaking look for
his next words.

"Then--my lord--?" he broke forth inquiringly. Lord Dunstanwolde passed
his hand over his forehead.

"He would not go," he answered; "he would not go. He sent a ribald
message to the poor soul--cursing the child she had brought into the
world, and then he rode away. The servants say that the old woman had
left her mistress alone in her chamber and came down to eat and drink.
When she went back to her charge the fire had gone out--the room was
cold as the grave, and the poor lady lay stone dead, her head fallen
upon her wailing infant's body in such manner that, had not the child
been stronger than most new-born things and fought for its life, it
would have been smothered in its first hour."

The boy Marquess turned suddenly away and took several hurried steps up
the Long Gallery. When he returned his forehead was flushed, his eyes
sparkled with an inward fire, and his breath came quickly--but he found
no words to utter.

"Once," said Lord Dunstanwolde, slowly, "I saw a tender creature die
after her travail--but she was beloved to worship, and our hearts stood
still in our bosoms as we waited. Mine has truly never seemed to beat
since then. Her child--who might, perchance, have aided me to live
again, and who would have been my hope and joy and pride, died with
her. This poor thing, unwanted, hated, and cast aside to live or
die--as if it were the young of some wild creature of the woods--this
one, they say, has the strength of ten, and will survive. God have
mercy on its evil fortunes."

Young Roxholm stood with folded arms gazing straight before him again
into the driving rain. His brow was knit, and he was biting his boyish
red lip.

"Is there mercy?" he said in a low voice, at length. "Is there justice,
since a human thing can be so cast into the world--and left alone?"

Lord Dunstanwolde put his hand upon his shoulder.

"All of us ask," he said. "None of us knows."



_CHAPTER V_

_My Lord Marquess Plunges into the Thames_


A rich young nobleman at the University of Oxford, who, having all the
resources of wealth and rank at his disposal, chose in these times to
devote himself to scholarly pursuits, made in the minds of his
fellow-collegians a singular and eccentric figure; but that one, more
splendidly endowed by fortune than any other, should so comport
himself, and yet no man find it possible to deride or make coarse jokes
on him, was, indeed, unheard of.

Yet, when the young heir of the house of Osmonde entered the
University, this was the position he held and which none disputed.
There were gay young rakes and ardent young toadies who, hearing of his
coming among them, fell into anticipation: the first, of more splendid
frolics, the second, of richer harvests; and though each party was
disappointed in its expectation, neither found opportunity to display
its chagrin according to the customary methods.

It is, indeed, a strange thing, how a man's physical body may be his
fortress or his enemy. All the world has at times beheld those whom an
insignificant figure and an ill-modelled face handicapped with a
severity cruel to the utmost. A great man but five feet high, and
awkward of bearing, has always added to his efforts at accomplishing
great deeds the weight of an obstacle which he must first remove from
about his neck--the obstacle his own poor exterior creates. An eloquent
man whose voice is cracked and harsh by nature must be fire itself
before he can burn away the barrier between himself and his hearers; a
prophet with an ignobly featured countenance and a small, vague eye
must needs be a god of wisdom to persuade his disciples that high
nobleness can dwell in a temple so mean and poor. The physical body of
the young Marquess of Roxholm was a fortress well-nigh impregnable.
'Tis not well to take liberties with a creature who takes none himself,
and can strike a blow which would fell an ox, if need be. Besides this,
there was in this young man's look and temper a something which, while
it forbade idle familiarities, won to itself the pleasurable admiration
and affection of all beholders. His eye was full of fire and meaning,
of laughter and friendliness; his mouth curved into the finest sweet
smile in the world, as also it could curl into a look of scorn which
could scathe as finely. He had a keen wit, and could be ironic and
biting when he chose, but 'twas not his habit to use his power
malevolently. Even those who envied his great fortunes, and whose
spite would have maligned him had he been of different nature, were in
a measure restrained from their bitterness by a certain powerful
composure, which all felt who looked on him and heard him speak.

'Twas this composure and commandingness of bearing which were more
marked in him than all else. 'Twas not mere coolness, but a great power
over himself and all his weaknesses, which years of self-study had
begot in him, the truth being indeed that he himself had early realised
in a measure a thing one of the gravest instructors at the University
had once said: "Were all the strength of his great body and his fervid
mind, all the power of his wealth and rank, all the influence of his
beauty and passion turned to evil and dishonourable courses, instead of
to more noble things, good God! what a devil he might be--devil enough
to ruin half England. What weak woman could resist him; what vicious
man help following where he led!"

"'Tis not so easy for a man who will be Duke one day to keep straight
courses," Roxholm had once said to Mr. Fox, "as 'tis for a man who must
live a narrower life and work for his daily bread. And a man who is six
feet three in height has six feet and three inches of evil to do battle
with, if he has not six feet three of strength and honesty to fight for
him. 'Tis Gerald Mertoun I may live in dread of, if Gerald Mertoun is
not my help and stay."

This he said half laughing, half sober, after his first visit to the
French Court, which he made with his parents and saw many strange
though brilliant things, giving him cause for reflection. Tender as his
years were at the time, he was so big and finely built a fellow for his
age, and so beautiful to look upon, that there were ladies who even
tried their bright eyes upon him as if he had been a man instead of a
youth; and he encountered many youngsters of his years who had already
done much more than dally on the brink of life, some, indeed, having
plunged deep into waters not overclean.

Some of these last regarded him at least as one who neglected his
opportunities, but his great laugh at their callow jests and their
advice to him was so frank and indifferent a thing that they found it
singularly baffling. 'Twas indeed as if a man of ripe years and wisdom
had laughed at them with good-nature, because he knew they could not
understand the thing experience had taught him.

"Why should I be pleased because a beauty older than my mother laughs
and teases me," he said. "I am but a boy, and she knows it full well,
and would only play with me to see if I am a fool who can be made a
toy. I am too big," stretching his great arms, "to sit at ladies' feet
and have my curls stroked as if I were a lap-dog. A fellow such as I
should be exercising his body and putting somewhat in his brain. Why
should I overdrink and overfeed myself and give my strength to follies?
'Tis not my taste. On my life, I would rather get up at daybreak with a
clean tongue and a clear head and go out to leap and ride and fence and
toss the bar with well-strung muscles. Some day I shall meet a beauty
whom I would be ready for." And he laughed his big, musical, boyish
laugh again and his tawny eye sparkled.

At the University there were temptations enough to lead youth to folly,
even when it was not such youth as his, and therefore a shining mark.
The seed Charles Stuart had sown had flourished and grown rank and
strong, so that the great seat of learning was rich with dissolute
young fools and madcaps and their hangers-on. But even the most foolish
swaggerer of them could not call milksop a man who could outride,
outleap, outfence, outhunt him; who could drive the four horses of his
coach to London and back at such a pace and in such a manner as made
purple-faced old stage-coach drivers shake their heads with glee, and
who, in a wrestling-match, could break a man's back at a throw if he
chose to be unmerciful. Besides this, he was popular for a score of
reasons, being no sanctimonious preacher of his doctrines, but as
joyous a liver as any among them and as open-handed and high of spirit.

"'Tis not for me to say how other men should live," was his simple and
straightforward creed. "I live as I like best and find best pays me.
'Tis for others to seek out and follow what best pays themselves."

Many a story was told of him which his fellows liked, youth always
being elated by any deed of prowess and daring in youth. One of these
stories, which was indeed no great one, but picturesque and pretty,
took their fancy greatly, and was much related and laughed gaily over,
and indeed beloved.

He was a strong and wondrous swimmer, having learned the art in his
childhood on the seacoast, being taught by his Grace his father. When
at Oxford it was his custom to rise before the rest of the world, and
in any weather or season plunge into the river and swim and dive and
play in the water like a young river god. He had chosen a favourite
swimming-spot and would undress under cover of the trees and then dash
out to his pastime, and it so chanced that going there one hot
afternoon he fell upon an adventure.

A party of jolly personages of the middle class, who had come up from
town on pleasure and rollicking interest, were taking a jaunt upon the
river in a wherry. 'Twas a wedding-party, and both males and females,
having dined at a tavern, were well filled with ale and in the mood for
disporting themselves. The groom and his men friends, being in
frolicsome humour and knowing nothing whatever of oarsmanship, were
playing great pranks to make the women scream at their daring. The
bride, a pretty thing in cherry ribbands, clung to the boat's side in
amaze at the heroic swagger of her new lord, but her cheeks, which had
matched her ribbands, grew paler at each rock and dip of the boat, and
her fear forced little shrieks from her. Her companions shrieked too,
but laughingly and in such manner as but spurred the men to greater
follies. The sport was at its highest and noisiest when they neared the
spot all Oxford knew by this time by the name of "my Lord Marquess's
diving hole." At this point the river was broad and deep, and not far
below it the water washed over a weir near which was a post bearing a
board marked "Danger!" To those who knew the waters and had some skill
with their oars there was no peril, but to a crew of drink-filled
junketers it was an ill-omened place. The wedding-party was too wild
and young and rollicking to observe the sign-board. The men rocked the
boat, shouted and sang, the women squealed and laughed and shouted with
them; the little bride burst forth weeping, shrieking wildly the next
moment as the wherry was overset, and the whole party struggled in the
water, the hat, with its cherry-ribbands, floating on the top.

Some distance above there were people walking. Shrieks filled the air
and roused all within sight to running and shouting. Poor gasping,
choking, deadly faced heads bobbed up a moment on the river's surface
and went under struggling.

"Help! Help!" shouted the running people. "God save them all! Good
Lord! Good Lord!" And in the midst of it out sprang from among the
trees and bushes the great white body of a man, who dashed into the
stream and swam like a dolphin.

If he had been clothed the drowning creatures would have had somewhat
to drag upon--if he had not been as strong as a giant and cool enough
to control them, the poor strangling fools would have so hampered him
in their frenzy that they might have dragged him under water with them.
But there was a power in him and a freedom from all sense of peril
which dominated them all.

"Keep your senses and you are safe," he shouted, swimming and pushing
the overturned boat within reach of the men, who struggled together.

His voice rang like a clarion and held in it such encouragement that
the poor little bride, who came up gasping near him at that moment,
almost took him for a god as he shot to her rescue.

"Your hand on my shoulder; be brave, my girl--be brave," he cried out
with such good cheer as would have put heart in any woman and aided her
to gather her poor frightened wits and obey him like a child, while
even in the midst of her terror, as her little red hands clung to him,
she marked, half unconsciously the beauty and vigour of him--his strong
white neck like a column, the great corded muscles of his white arms as
he clove the water through.

He bore her to the shore and left her safe there, and plunged in again,
crying to her, over his shoulder: "I will bring back the others!" And
she stood dripping, gazing after him, sobbing and wringing her hands,
but filled with wild admiration and amaze.

He shouted orders to the sobered men to hold steady to the wherry and
dived to bring back one woman after another to firm land; a boat found
in the osiers was put forth above, and in time all were brought to
shore, though the bridegroom, who had not come near enough to the
wherry, was dragged in looking like a dead man.

The bride flung herself upon his body, shrieking and kissing him. The
people who had run up crowded about in senseless excitement and would
have kept all air away. But there was one among them who had his wits
clear and ordered them off, plainly remembering not for a moment that
his brocades and laces lay hid among the trees, and he stood among them
as Apollo stands in marble.

"Bring brandy," he commanded the nearest. "Stand back; strip his
clothes from him and empty the water from his stomach. Here," to a
matron who had come up panting, "take his wife away."

The good woman he addressed dropped a hurried curtsey and hustled off
the woman under her wing. She led them into the sun and wrung the water
from their garments, while they sobbed and choked and wept.

"Hush thee, wench!" she said to the stricken bride. "Hush thee, little
fool; my lord Marquess will put life into him and set him on his feet
before thy petticoats are dry, Lord! Lord! what a young man! When built
Heaven such another? And he a Duke's son!"

"A Marquess!" cried one of the bride's friends. "A Duke's son!" sobbed
the bride.

"Ay, a Duke's son!" the good woman cried, exulting further. "And were
he a King's, the nation might be proud of him. 'Tis his young lordship
the Marquess of Roxholm."



_CHAPTER VI_

"_No; She has not yet Come to Court_"


'Tis but a small adventure for a youth who is a strong swimmer to save
a party of cits from drowning in a river, but 'twas a story much
repeated, having a picturesqueness and colour because its chief figure
Nature had fitted out with all the appointments which might be expected
to adorn a hero.

"'Tis a pretty story, too," said a laughing great lady when 'twas
talked of in town. "My lord Marquess dashing in and out of the river,
bearing in his big white arms soused little citizen beauties and their
half-drowned sweethearts, and towering in their midst giving
orders--like a tall young god in marble come to life. The handsomest
Marquess in Great Britain, and in France likewise, they tell me."

"The handsomest man," quoth the old Dowager Lady Storms, who had a
country seat in Oxfordshire and knew more of the tale than any one
else. "The handsomest man, say I, for it chanced that I drove by the
river at that moment and saw him."

And then--freedom of speech being the fashion in those days and she an
old woman--she painted such a picture of his fine looks, his broad
shoulders, and the markings of his muscles under his polished skin, as,
being repeated and spread abroad, as gossip will spread itself, fixed
him in the minds of admirers of manly beauty and built him a reputation
in the world of fashion before he had entered it or even left his
books.

When he did leave them and quitted the University, it was with honour
to himself and family, and also with joy to his Governour and Chaplain
Mr. Fox, who had attended him. At his coming of age there were
feastings and bonfires in five villages again, and Rowe rang the bells
at Camylott Church with an exultant ardour which came near to being his
final end, and though seventy years of age, he would give up his post
to no younger man, and actually blubbered aloud when 'twas delicately
suggested that his middle-aged son should take his place to save him
fatigue.

"Nay! nay!" he cried; "I rang their Graces' wedding peal--I rang my
lord Marquess into the world, and will give him up to none until I am a
dead man."

At the Tower there was high feasting, the apartments being filled with
guests from foreign Courts as well as from the English one, and as the
young hero of the day moved among them, and among the tenantry
rejoicing with waving flags and rural games in the park, as he danced
with lovely ladies in the ball-room, and as he made his maiden speech
to the people, who went wild with joy over him, all agreed that a noble
house having such an heir need not fear for its future renown,
howsoever glorious its history might have been in the past.

After he had been presented at Court there seemed nothing this young
man might not have asked for with the prospect of getting--a place near
the King, a regiment to lead to glory, the hand of the fairest beauty
of the greatest fortune and rank. But it seemed that he wanted nothing,
for he made no request for any favour which might have brought him
place or power or love. The great events at that time disturbing the
nation he observed with an interest grave and thoughtful beyond his
years. Men who were deep in the problems of statesmanship were amazed
to discover the seriousness of his views and the amount of reflection
he had given to public questions. Beauties who paraded themselves
before him to attract his heart and eye--even sweetly tender ones who
blushed when he approached them and sighed when he made his obeisance
and retired--all were treated with a like courtesy and grace of manner,
but he gave none more reason to sigh and blush, to ogle and languish,
than another, the honest truth being that he did not fall in love,
despite his youth and the warmth of his nature, not having yet beheld
the beauty who could blot out all others for him and reign alone.

"I will not play with love," he said to his mother once as they talked
intimately to each other. "I have thought of it--that which should come
to a man and be himself, not a part of his being but the very life of
him. If it comes not, a man must go unsatisfied to his grave. If it
comes--You know," he said, and turned and kissed her hand impulsively,
"It came to my father and to you."

"Pray Heaven it may come to you, dear one," she said; "you would know
bliss then."

"Yes," he answered, "I should know rapture that would make life Heaven.
I do not know what it is I wait for--but when I see it in some woman's
eyes I shall know, and so will she."

His mother kissed his ringed hair, smiling softly.

"Till then you wait and think of other things."

"There are so many things for a man to do," he said, "if he would not
sit idle. But when that comes it will be first and greatest of all."

At this period all the world talked of the wondrous and splendid
Churchill, who, having fought brilliantly for the Stuarts and been made
by them first Lord Churchill of Eyemouth, and next Baron Churchill of
Sandridge, having, after receiving these advancements, the cold
astuteness to see the royal fortunes waver perilously, deserted James
the Second with stately readiness and transferred his services to
William of Orange. He was rewarded with an earldom and such favour as
made him the most shining figure both at the Court of England and in
the foreign countries which had learned to regard his almost
supernatural powers with somewhat approaching awe.

This man inspired Roxholm with a singular feeling; he in fact exercised
over him the fascination he exercised over so many others, but in the
case of the young Marquess, wonder and admiration were mixed with other
emotions. There were stories so brilliant to be heard of him on all
sides, stories of other actions so marvellously ruthless and of things
so wondrously mean. Upon a bargain so shameless he had built so
wondrous a career--a faithfulness of service so magnificent he had
closed with a treachery so base. All greatness and all littleness, all
heroism and all crimes, seemed to combine themselves in this one
strange being. Having shamelessly sold his youth to a King's mistress,
he devoted his splendid maturity to a tender, faithful passion for a
beauteous virago, whose displeasure was the sole thing on earth which
moved him to pain or fear. In truth 'twas not his genius, his bravery,
his victories, which held Roxholm's thought upon him most constantly;
'twas two other things, the first being the marvel of his control over
himself, the power with which he held in subjection his passions, his
emotions, almost, it seemed, his very thoughts themselves--the power
with which he had trained John Churchill to be John Churchill's
servant--in peril, in temptation from any weakness to which he did not
choose to succumb, in circumstances which, arising without warning,
might have caused another man to start, to falter, to change colour,
but which he encountered with indomitable calm.

"Tis that I wish to learn," said the young nobleman in his secret
thoughts as he watched him at Court, in the world outside it, among
soldiers, statesmen, women, in the society of those greater than
himself, of those smaller, of those he would win and of those he would
repel. "'Tis that I would learn: to be stronger than my very self, so
that naught can betray me--no passion I am tormented by, no anger I
would conceal, no lure I would resist. 'Tis a man's self who oftenest
entraps him. The traitor once subject, life lies at one's feet."

The second thing which stirred the young observer's interest was the
great man's great love. The most parsimonious and mercantile of
beings, he had married a poor beauty when fair creatures with fortunes
smiled upon him on every side; the most indomitable of spirits, the
warrior of whom armies stood in awe, he was the willing subject of a
woman whose fiery temper and tempestuous spirit the world knew as well
as it knew her beauty and her dominating charm. For some reason he
could scarcely have analyzed, it gave Roxholm a strange pleasure to
hear anecdotes of the passionate love-letters scrawled on the field--on
the eve of battle, the hour after a great encounter and triumph; to
know that better than victory to the great conquerer, who could command
the slaughter of thousands without the quiver of a muscle or a moment's
qualm, were the few lines in a woman's hand which told him he was
forgiven for some fancied wrong or missed in some tender hour.

"My Lady Sarah is a handsome creature, and ever was one," 'twas said,
"but there are those who are greater beauties, and who have less
brimstone in the air about them and less lightning in their eyes."

"But 'twas she who was his own," Roxholm said to himself in pondering
it over, "and when their eyes met each knew--and when she is fierce and
torments him 'tis as if the fire in his own blood spoke, as if his own
voice reproached him--and he remembers their dear hours together, and
forgives, and woos her back to him. If she were not his own--if he were
not hers, neither could endure it. They would strike each other dead.
'Tis sure nature makes one man for one woman, one woman for one man--as
it was in the garden where our first parents loved. Few creatures find
their mates, alas; but when they do 'tis Eden over again, in spite of
all things--and all else is mean and incomplete.

He did not know that, as he had observed and been attracted by the
hero, so the hero had been attracted by himself, though 'twas in a
lesser degree, since one man was cold and mature and the other young
and warm.

My Lord Churchill had been the most beautiful youth of his time,
distinguished for the elegance of his bearing and the perfection of his
countenance and form. When, at fifteen, the services of his father in
the royal cause had procured for him the place of page in the household
of the Duke of York, he had borne away the palm from all others of his
age. When, at sixteen, his martial instincts had led to the Prince's
obtaining for him a commission in a regiment of the guards, his first
appearance in his scarlet and gold lace had produced such commotion
among the court beauties as promised to lead to results almost
disastrous, since he attracted attention in places too high to reach
with safety. But even then his ambitions were stronger than his
temptations, and he fled the latter to go to fight the Moors. On his
return, more beautiful than ever, the lustre of success in arms added
to his ripened charms, the handsomest and wickedest woman in England
cast her eyes upon him, and he became the rival of royalty itself. All
England knew the story of the founding of his later fortunes, but if he
himself blushed for it, none but John Churchill knew--outwardly he was
the being whose name was the synonym for success, the lover of the
brilliant Castlemaine, the hero of the auxiliary force sent to Louis,
the "handsome Englishman" of the siege of Nimeguen for whom Turenne
predicted the greatest future a man could dream of.

When Roxholm first had the honour of being presented to this gentleman
'twas at a time when, after a brief period during which the hero's
fortunes had been under a cloud, the tide had turned for him and the
sun of royal favour shone forth again. Perhaps during certain perilous
dark days in the Tower, my Lord Marlborough had passed through hours
which had caused him to look back upon the past with some regret and
doubting, and when among those who crowded about him when fortune
smiled once more--friends, sycophants, place-hunters, and new
admirers--he beheld a figure whose youth and physical gifts brought
back old memories to him, 'tis possible they awakened in him curious
reflections.

"You," he said to Roxholm one day at St. James, "begin the game with
all the cards in your hand."

"The game, my lord?" said the youthful Marquess, bowing.

"The game of life," returned the Earl of Marlborough (for so William of
Orange had made him nine years before), and his eagle eye rested on the
young man with a keen, strange look. "You need not plan and strive for
rank and fortune. You were born to them--to those things which will aid
a man to gain what he desires, if he is not a flippant idler and has
brain enough to create ambitions for him. Most men must spend their
youth in building the bridge which is to carry their dreams across to
the shore which is their goal. Your bridge was built before you were
born. You left Oxford with high honours, they tell me; you are not long
of age, you come of a heroic race--what do you think to do, my lord?"

Roxholm met his scrutinizing gaze with that steadiness which ever
marked his own. He knew that he reddened a little, but he did not look
away.

"I am young to know, my Lord Marlborough," he returned, "but I think to
live--to live."

His Lordship slightly narrowed his eyes, and nodded his head.

"Ay," he said, "you will live!"

"There have been soldiers of our house," said Roxholm. "I may fight if
need be, perhaps," bowing, "following your lordship to some greater
triumph, if I have that fortune. There may be services to the country
at home I may be deemed worthy to devote my powers to when I have lived
longer. But," reddening and bowing again, "before men of achievement
and renown, I am yet a boy."

"England wants such boys," complimented his lordship, gracefully. "The
Partition Treaty and the needs of the Great Alliance call for the
breeding of them. You will marry?"

"My house is an old one," replied Roxholm, "and if I live I shall be
its chief."

My lord cast a glance about the apartment. It was a gala day and there
were many lovely creatures near, laughing, conversing, coquetting,
bearing themselves with dignity, airiness, or sweet grace. There were
beauties who were brown, and beauties who were fair; there were gay
charmers and grave ones, those who were tall and commanding, and those
who were small and nymph-like.

"There is none here to match you," he said with an imperturbable
gravity ('twas plain he was not trifling, but thinking some serious
and unusual thoughts). "A man of your build has needs out of the
common. No pretty, idle young thing will do. She should have beauty,
and that which is more. 'Tis a strange kinship--marriage. No; she has
not yet come to court."

"I will wait until she does," Roxholm answered, and his youthful face
was as grave as the hero's own, though if triflers had heard their
words, they would have taken their talk for idle persiflage and jest.



_CHAPTER VII_

"_'Tis Clo Wildairs, Man--All the County Knows the Vixen_."


A month later he went to Warwickshire at my Lord Dunstanwolde's
invitation. In that part of the county which borders upon
Gloucestershire was his Lordship's seat, which was known as Dunstan's
Wolde. 'Twas an ancient and beautiful estate, and his Lordship spent
his quiet and secluded life upon it, much beloved by his tenantry, and
respected by his neighbours. Since his young wife's death his manner of
living had become more secluded year after year; his library, his
memories, and the administration of his estates filled his days with
quiet occupation.

"Perhaps I am a selfish fellow to ask a young gentleman who is a
favourite at Court to come and bury himself with me," he said to
Roxholm the night of his arrival, "but you and I have spent many a good
quiet hour together, Gerald," laying an affectionate hand upon his
broad shoulder. "And if you were my son you would come, I know."

"Think of me as your son," said Roxholm with his fine smile. "A man is
the richer for the love of two fathers."

"Oxford has not changed you, Roxholm," said the Earl. "Nor have the
Court ladies' flatteries spoiled your kindly manners. We shall be happy
together, for awhile at least."

They were indeed happy, spending their days much as they had spent them
at Camylott--riding together, taking long sauntering walks, reading old
books and new ones, and in these days conversing on maturer subjects.
There was indeed much to talk of at this closing of a reign which had
been full of struggles with problems affecting not only England but all
the European powers. What the Peace of Ryswick had effected, what the
death of Charles of Spain would bring, whether Louis would play fairly,
how long King William's broken frame would last, what the power of the
Marlboroughs would be when the Princess Anne came to the throne--all
these things they discussed together, and in their arguments my Lord
Dunstanwolde was often roused to the wonder other ripe minds had felt
in coming in contact with the activity and daring of this younger one.

"'Tis not possible to hide a handsome young nobleman under a bushel,"
the Earl said after but a few days had passed. "The neighbours will
have you to dine, and dance, and hunt with them, whether it is your
will or not. A strapping young fellow must do his duty by the world."

Roxholm performed his duty with propriety and spirit when it was not to
be evaded gracefully. He dined with country gentlemen, and listened to
their songs and stories until most of them drank themselves under the
table, as was the spirited fashion of the time. He answered the
questionings of their wives on subjects pertaining to Court fashions
and behaviour and,--perhaps somewhat gravely,--danced attendance on the
daughters, who most of them, it is true, were used to less courtly
manners and voted him in private far too grave and majestic for such a
beauty.

"He hath a way of bowing that would give one a fright, were his eyes
not so handsome and his smile so sweet," said one lovely ardent hoyden.
"Lord! just to watch him standing near with that noble grave look on
his face, and not giving one a thought, makes one's heart go pit-a-pat.
A man hath no right to be such a beauty--and to be so, and to be a
Duke's son, too, is a burning shame. 'Tis wicked that one man should
have so much to give to one woman."

'Twas but a week before Roxholm left his kinsman's house, that they
spent a day together hunting with a noted pack over the borders of
Gloucestershire. The sport was in a neighbourhood where the gentry were
hunting-mad, and chased foxes as many days of the week as fortune and
weather favoured them.

"'Tis a rough country," said my Lord Dunstanwolde, as they rode forth,
"and some of those who hunt are wild livers and no credit to their
rank, but there is fine old blood among them, and some of the hardest
riders and boldest leapers England knows." Suddenly he seemed to
remember something and turned with an exclamation. "Upon my soul!" he
said, "till this moment I had forgot. I am too sober an old fogy to
hunt with them when I have no young blood near to spur me. Sir Jeoffry
Wildairs will be with them--if he has not yet broke his neck."

The country they hunted over proved indeed rough, and the sport
exciting. Roxholm had never seen wilder riding and more daring leaps,
and it had also happened that he had not yet gone a-hunting with so
boisterous and rollicking a body of gentlemen. Their knowledge of dogs,
foxes, and horseflesh was plainly absolute, but they had no Court
manners, being of that clan of country gentry of which London saw but
little. Nearly all the sportsmen were big men and fine ones, with
dare-devil bearing, loud voices, and a tendency to loose and profane
language. They roared friendly oaths at each other, had brandy flasks
on their persons on which they pulled freely, and, their spirits being
heightened thereby, exchanged jokes and allusions not too seemly.

Before the fox was found, Roxholm had marked this and observed also
that half a dozen more of the best mounted men were the roughest on the
field, being no young scapegraces and frolickers, but men past forty,
who wore the aspect of reprobate livers and hard drinkers, and who were
plainly boon companions and more intimate with each other than with
those not of their party.

They seemed to form a band of themselves, which those not of it had an
air of avoiding, and 'twas to be seen that their company was looked at
askance, and that in the bearing of each member of the group there was
a defiance of the general opinion. Roxholm sat on his horse somewhat
apart from this group watching it, his kinsman and a certain Lord
Twemlow, who was their host for the day, conversing near him.

My Lord Twemlow, who took no note of them, but by the involuntary
casting on them of an occasional glance, when some wild outburst
attracted his attention, wore a grave and almost affronted look.

"'Tis the Wildairs cronies," Roxholm heard him say to his Lordship of
Dunstanwolde. "I hunt but seldom, purely through disgust of their
unseemliness."

"Wildairs!" exclaimed my Lord Dunstanwolde.

"Ay," answered Twemlow, turning his horse slightly and averting his
eyes; "and there cometh my reputable kinsman, Sir Jeoffry, even as we
speak."

Roxholm turned to look with some stir of feeling in his breast, since
this was the man who had so early roused in him an emotion of anger and
rebellion. Across the field came pounding a great black horse, a fine
big-boned brute; on him rode a tall, heavy man who must once have been
of the handsomest, since even yet, in spite of years, bloated face, and
careless attire, he retained a sort of dissolute beauty. He was of huge
frame and had black eyes, a red mouth, and wore his own thick and
curling though grizzled black hair.

He rode with a dare-devil grace, and his cronies greeted him with a
shout.

"He has the look of it," thought Roxholm, remembering the old stories;
but the next instant he gave a start. Across the field beyond, another
rider followed galloping, and at this moment came over the high hedge
like a swallow, and, making the leap, gave forth a laughing shout.
Roxholm sat and stared at the creature. 'Twas indeed a youthful figure,
brilliant and curious to behold in this field of slovenly clad
sportsmen. 'Twas a boy of twelve or thereabouts riding a splendid young
devil of a hunter, with a skin like black satin and a lovely, dangerous
eye. The lad was in scarlet, and no youngster of the Court was more
finely clad or fitted, and not one had Roxholm ever set eyes upon whose
youthful body and limbs were as splendid in line and symmetry; in
truth, the beauty and fire of him were things to make a man lose his
breath. He rode as if he had been born upon his horse's back and had
never sat elsewhere from his first hour, his flowing-black hair was
almost too rich and long for a boy, he had a haughty mouth for a child,
though it was a crimson bow and pouting, his complexion matched it, and
his black eyes, which were extraordinary big and flashing, had the
devil in them.

"_Pardi!_" the young Marquess cried between his teeth. "What does such
a young one in such company?" Never had he beheld a thing which moved
him with such strange suddenness of emotion. He could not have
explained the reason of his feeling, which was an actual excitement,
and caused him to turn in his saddle to watch the boy's every movement
as he galloped forward to join the reprobate group.

As they had greeted Sir Jeoffry with a shout of welcome, so they
greeted the young newcomer, but in his reception there was more
enthusiasm and laughter, as if there were some special cause for gayety
in the mere sight of him.

When he drew up in their midst their voices broke forth into a tumult
of noisy, frolicsome greeting, to which the lad gave back impudent,
laughing answer. In a moment's time he was the centre figure of
interest among them, and seemed to dominate them all as if he had been
some young potentate instead of a mere handsome lad of twelve.

"If they were a band of barbarians and he their boy chief they could
pay him no more court nor joy in him more," Roxholm reflected. "Is it
his beauty or--what means it?"

He could not withdraw his eyes from the boy, who sat his fretting
hunter among them, sometimes scarcely able to restrain the animal's
fiery temper or keep him from lashing out his heels orbiting at the
beasts nearest to him. Now he trotted from one man to the other as the
group scattered somewhat; now he sat half turned back, his hand on his
steed's hind quarters, flinging words and laughter to the outside man.

"Thou'lt have to use scissors again on thy periwig, ecod!" one man
cried, banteringly.

"Damme, yes," the youngster rapped out, and he caught a rich lock of
his hair and drew it forward to look at it, frowning. "What's a man to
do when his hair grows like a girl's?"

The answer was greeted with a shout of laughter, and the boy burst
forth with a laugh likewise, showing two rows of ivory teeth. Somehow
there was an imperial deviltry about him, an impudent wild spirit which
had plainly made him conqueror, favourite, and plaything of the whole
disreputable crew.

Men were not fastidious talkers in those times; the cleanest mouthed of
them giving themselves plenty of license when they were in spirits.
Roxholm had heard broad talk enough at the University, where the young
gentlemen indulged in conversation no more restrained than was that of
their elders and betters; he had heard the jokes and profanity of both
camp and Court since he had left Oxford, and had learned that
squeamishness was far from being the fashion. But never had he heard
such oath-sprinkled talk or such open obscenity of joking as fell upon
his ears this morning in but a brief space. Hearing it in spite of
himself, his blood grew hot and his horse began to paw the earth, he,
in his irritation, having unknowingly fretted its mouth. And then one
of the company, an elderly sportsman with a watery eye, began a story.

"Good God!" Roxholm broke forth to the man nearest to him, one not of
the party, but evidently one who found it diverting; "good God! Can
they not restrain themselves before a child? Let them be decent for his
mere youth's sake! The lad is not thirteen."

The man started and stared at him a moment with open mouth, and then
burst into a loud guffaw of laughter.

"The lad!" he cried, roaring and slapping his thigh in his mirth. "'Tis
no lad. Didst take it for one? Lord! 'tis Jeoff Wildair's youngest
wench. 'Tis Clo--'tis Clo, man. All the county knows the vixen!"

And at that very instant the hounds sprang forth, giving tongue, and
the field sprang forward with them, and all was wild excitement: cries
of "Tally ho!" ringing, horses plunging, red coats seeming to fly
through the air; and my lord Marquess went with the field, his cheek
hot, his heart suddenly thumping in his breast with a sense of he knew
not what, as his eye, following a slender, scarlet-coated figure, saw
it lift its horse for a huge leap over a five-barred gate, take it like
a bird, and lead the whole scurrying, galloping multitude.


"Yes," said my Lord Dunstanwolde, as they rode homeward slowly in the
evening gray, "'tis the girl infant who was found struggling and
shrieking beneath the dead body of her mother, and till to-day I never
saw her. Good Heavens! the beauty of the creature--the childish
deviltry and fire!"

Each turned and looked into the eyes of the other with a question in
his thought, and each man's was the same, though one had lived beyond
sixty years and one but twenty-four. A female creature of such beauty,
of such temper, bred in such manner, among such companions, by such
parents--what fate could be before her? Roxholm averted his eyes.

"Tossed to the wolves," he said; "tossed to the pack--to harry and to
slaver over! God's mercy!"

As they rode he heard the story, Lord Twemlow having related such
incidents as he naturally knew to my Lord Dunstanwolde. 'Twas a bitter
history to Twemlow, whose kinsman the late Lady Wildairs had been, and
who was a discreetly sober and God-fearing gentleman, to whom irregular
habits and the reckless squandering of fortune were loathly things. And
this was the substance of the relation, which was so far out of the
common as to be almost monstrous: His disgust at the birth of this
ninth girl infant had so inflamed Sir Jeoffry that he had refused even
to behold it and had left it to its fate as if it had been an ill-made,
blind puppy. But two of her Ladyship's other children had survived
their infancy, and of these two their father knew nothing whatever but
that they had been called Barbara and Anne, that they showed no promise
of beauty, and lived their bare little lives in the Hall's otherwise
deserted west wing, having as their sole companion and instructress a
certain Mistress Margery Wimpole--a timorous poor relation, who had
taken the position in the wretched household to save herself from
starvation, and because she was fitted for no other; her education
being so poor and her understanding so limited, that no reputable or
careful family would have accepted her as governess or companion. Her
two poor little charges learned the few things she could teach them,
and their meek spiritedness gave her but little trouble. Their dead
mother's suffering and their father's rough contempt on the rare
occasions when he had chanced to behold them had chastened them to
humbleness from their babyhood. There was none who wanted them, none
who served or noticed them, and there was no circumstance which could
not restrain them, no person who was not their ruler if 'twas his will.

"But the ninth one was not like them," said my Lord. "The blood of the
fierce devils who were the chiefs of her house centuries ago woke in
her veins at her birth. 'Tis strange indeed, Gerald, how such things
break forth--or slumber--in a race. Should you trace Wildairs, as you
trace Mertoun through the past, her nature would be made clear enough.
They have been splendid devils, some of them--devils who fought,
shrieking with ferocious laughter in the face of certain horrible
death; devils whose spirit no torture of rack or flame could conquer;
beings who could endure in silence horrors almost supernatural; who
could bear more, revel more, suffer more, defy more than any other
human thing."

"And this child is one of them!" said Roxholm.

He said but little as they rode onward and he listened. There was
within him a certain distaste for what seemed to him the unnatural
tumult of his feelings. A girl child of twelve rollicking in boys'
clothes was not a pleasing picture, but in one sense a tragic one, and
certainly not such as should set a man's heart beating and his cheek to
flame when he heard stories of her fantastic life and character. On
this occasion he did not understand himself; if he had been a
sanctimonious youngster he would have reproved his own seeming levity,
but he was not so, and frankly felt himself restless and ill at ease.

The name given to her had been Clorinda, and from her babyhood she had
been as tempestuous as her sisters were mild. None could manage her.
Her baby training left wholly to neglected and loose-living servants,
she had spent her first years in kitchens, garrets, and stables. The
stables and the stable-boys, the kennels and their keepers, were loved
better than aught else. She learned to lisp the language of grooms' and
helpers, she cursed and swore as they did, she heard their songs and
stories, and was as familiar with profanity and obscene language as
other children are with nursery rhymes. Until she was five years old
Sir Jeoffry never set eyes upon her. Then a strange chance threw her in
his way and sealed her fate.

Straying through the house, having escaped from her woman, the child
had reached the big hall, and sate upon the floor playing with a
powder-flask she had found. 'Twas Sir Jeoffry's, and he, coming upon
her, not knowing her for his own offspring (not that such a knowledge
would have calmed his passion), he sprang upon her with curses and
soundly trounced her. Either of her sisters Anne or Barbara would have
been convulsed with terror, but this one was only roused to a fury as
much greater for her size than Sir Jeoffry was bigger than herself. She
flew at him and poured forth oaths, she shrieked at him and beat his
legs with his own crop, which she caught up from the floor where it lay
within reach, she tore at him with tooth and nail, and with such
strength and infant fearlessness as arrested him in his frenzy and
caused him to burst forth laughing as if he had gone mad.

"From that hour she was a doomed creature," my Lord ended. "What else
can a man call the poor beauteous, helpless thing. She is his companion
and playmate, and the toy and jest of his comrades. It is the scandal
of the county. At twelve she is as near a woman as other girls of
fourteen. At fifteen--!" and he stopped speaking.

"'Twould have been safer for her to have died beneath her dead mother's
body," said Roxholm, almost fiercely.

"Yes, safer!" said his Lordship. "Yet what a woman!--What a
woman!"--and here he broke off speech again.



_CHAPTER VIII_

_In which my Lady Betty Tantillion writes of a Scandal_


Scarce two years later, King William riding in the park at Hampton
Court was thrown from his horse--the animal stumbling over a
mole-hill--and his collar-bone broken. A mole-hill seems but a small
heap of earth to send a King to moulder beneath a heap of earth
himself, but the fall proved fatal to a system which had long been
weakening, and a few days later his Majesty died, commending my Lord
Marlborough to the Princess Anne as the guide and counsellor on whose
wisdom and power she might most safely rely. Three days after the
accession his Lordship was made Captain-General of the English army,
and intrusted with power over all warlike matters both at home and
abroad. 'Twas a moment of tremendous import--the Alliance shaken by
King William's death, Holland panic-stricken lest England should
withdraw her protection, King Louis boasting that "henceforth there
were no Pyrenees," Whigs and Tories uncertain whether or not to sheath
weapons in England, small sovereigns and great ones ready to spring at
each other's throats on the Continent. Boldness was demanded, and such
executive ability as only a brilliantly daring mind could supply.
Without hesitation all power was given into the hands of the man who
seemed able to command the Fates themselves. My Lord Marlborough could
soothe the fretted vanity of a petty German Prince, he could confront
with composure the stupid rancour of those who could not comprehend
him, in the most wooden of heavy Dutchmen he could awaken a slow
understanding, the most testy royal temper he knew how to appease, and,
through all, wear an air of dignity and grace, sometimes even of
sweetness.

"What matter the means if a man gains his end," he said. "He can afford
to appear worsted and poor spirited, if through all he sees that which
he aims at placing itself within his reach."

"The King of Prussia," said Dunstanwolde as they talked of the hero
once, "has given more trouble than any of the allies. He is ever ready
to contest a point, or to imagine some slight to his dignity and rank.
It has been almost impossible to manage him. How think you my Lord
Marlborough won him over? By doing that which no other man--diplomat or
soldier--would have had the wit to see the implied flattery of, or the
composure to perform without loss of dignity. At a state banquet his
testy Majesty dropped his napkin and required another. No attendant
was immediately at hand. My Lord Marlborough--the most talked of man in
Europe, and some say, at this juncture, as powerful as half a dozen
Kings--rose and handed his Majesty the piece of linen as simply as if
it were but becoming that he should serve as lackey a royalty so
important--and with such repose of natural dignity that 'twas he who
seemed majestic, and not the man he waited on. Since then all goes with
comparative smoothness. If a Queen's favoured counsellor and greatest
general so serves him, the little potentate feels his importance
properly valued."

"But if one who knows his Lordship had looked straight in his eyes,"
said Roxholm, "he could have seen the irony within them--held like a
spark of light. I have seen it."

When my Lord Marlborough went to the Hague to take command of the Dutch
and English forces, and to draw the German power within the
confederacy, he took with him more than one young officer notable for
his rank and brilliant place in the world, it having become at this
period the fashion to go to the wars in the hope that a young
Marlborough might lurk beneath any smart brocade and pair of fine
shoulders. Among others, his Lordship was attended on his triumphal way
by the already much remarked young Marquess of Roxholm, and it was
realized that this fortunate young man went not quite as others did,
but as one on whom the chief had fixed his attention, and for whom he
had a liking.

In truth, he had marked in him certain powers and qualities, which were
both agreeable to his tastes and promised usefulness. He had not
employed his own powers and charms, physical and mental, from his
fifteenth year upward, without having learned the actual weight and
measure of their potency, as a man knows the weight and size of a thing
he can put into scales and measure with a yardstick. He remembered well
hours, when the fact that he was of a beauteous shape and height, and
gazed at others with a superb appealing eye, had made that difference
which lies between failure and success; he had never forgot one of the
occasions upon which the power of keeping silence under provocation or
temptation, the ability to control each feature and compel it to calm
sweetness, had served him as well as a regiment of soldiers might have
served him. Each such experience he had retained mentally for future
reference. Roxholm possessed this power to restrain himself, and to
keep silent, reflecting, and judging meanwhile, and was taller than he,
of greater grace, and unconscious state of bearing; his beauty of
countenance had but increased as he grew to manhood.

"I was the handsomest lad at Court in the year '65," his Grace of
Marlborough said once (he had been made Duke by this time). "The year
you were born I was the handsomest man in the army, they used to
say--but I was no such beauty and giant as you, Marquess. The gods were
_en veine_ when they planned you."

"When I was younger," said Roxholm, "it angered me to hear my looks
praised so much; I was boy enough to feel I must be unmanly. But
now--'tis but as it should be, that a man should have straight limbs
and a great body, and a clean-cut countenance. It should be nature--not
a thing to be remarked; it should be mere nature--and the other an
unnatural thing. 'Tis cruel that either man or woman should be weak or
uncomely. All should be as perfect parts of the great universe as are
the mountains and the sun."

"'Tis not so yet," remarked my Lord Marlborough, with his inscrutable
smile. "'Tis not so yet."

"Not yet," said Roxholm. "But let each creature live to make it so--men
that they may be clean and joyous and strong; women that they may be
mates for them. They should be as strong as we, and have as great
courage."

His Lordship smiled again. They were at the Hague at this time and in
his quarters, where he was pleased occasionally to receive the young
officer with a gracious familiarity. For reasons of his own, he wished
to know him well and understand the strengths and weaknesses of his
character. Therefore he led him into talk, and was pleased to find that
he frequently said things worth hearing, though they were often new and
somewhat daring things to be said by one of his age at this period,
when 'twas not the custom for a man to think for himself, but either to
follow the licentious follies of his fellows or accept without question
such statements as his Chaplain made concerning a somewhat unreasoning
Deity, His inflexible laws, and man's duty towards Him. That a handsome
youth, for example, should, in a serious voice and with a thoughtful
face, announce that beauty should be but nature, and ugliness regarded
as a disease, instead of humbly submitted to as the will of God, was,
indeed, a startling heresy and might have been regarded as impious,
even though so gravely said. Therefore it was my Lord Marlborough
smiled.

"I spoke to you of marriage once before," he remarked. "You bring it
back to me. Do you care for women?" bluntly.

Roxholm met his eye with his own straight, cool gaze.

"Yes, my Lord," he answered with some grimness, and said no more.

"The one you wait for has not yet come to Court, as I said that day,"
his Grace went on, and now he was grave again, and had even fallen
into a speculative tone. "But it struck me once that I heard of
her--though she is no fit companion for you yet--and Heaven knows if
she ever will be. The path before her is too full of traps for safety."

Roxholm did not speak. Whether fond of women or not, he was not given
to talking of them, and a certain reserve would have prevented his
entering upon any discussion of the future Lady Roxholm, whomsoever she
might in the future prove to be. He stood in an easy attitude, watching
with some vague curiosity the expression of his chief's countenance.
But suddenly he found himself checking a slight start, and this was
occasioned by his Lordship's next words.

"In the future I shall take pains to hear what befalls her," the Duke
said. "In two or three years' time we shall hear somewhat. She will
marry a duke--be a King's mistress, or go to ruin in some less splendid
and more tragic way. No woman is born into the world with such beauty
as they say is hers, and such wild fire in her veins, without setting
the world--or herself--in flames. A new Helen of Troy she may be, and
yet she is but the ninth daughter of a drunken Gloucestershire
baronet."

'Twas here that Roxholm found himself checking his start, but he had
not checked it soon enough to escape the observance of the quickest
sighted man in Europe.

"What!" he said, "you have heard of her?"

"I have seen her, your Grace," Roxholm answered, "on the hunting field
in Gloucestershire."

"Is she so splendid a young creature as they say? Was she in boy's
attire, as we hear her rascal father lets her ride with him?"

"I thought her a boy, and had never seen one like her," said Roxholm,
and he was amazed to feel himself disturbed as if he spoke not of a
child, but of a beauty of ripe years.

"Is she of such height and strength and wondrous development as rumour
tells us?" his Grace continued, still observing him as if with
interest. "At twelve years old, 'tis told, she is tall enough for
eighteen, and can fence and leap hedges and break horses, and that she
plays the tyrant over men four times her age."

"I saw her but once, your Grace," replied Roxholm. "She was tall and
strong and handsome."

"Go and see her again, my lord Marquess," said the Captain-General,
turning to his papers. "But do not wait too long. Such beauties must be
caught early."

When he went back to his quarters, my lord Marquess strolled through
the quaint streets of the town slowly, and looking upon the ground as
he walked. For some reason he felt vaguely depressed, and, searching
within himself for a reason, recognised that the slight cloud resting
upon his spirits recalled to him a feeling of his early childhood--no
other than the sense of restless unhappiness he had felt years ago when
he had first overheard the story of the wretched Lady of Wildairs and
her neglected children.

"Yes," he said, "'tis almost the same feeling, though then I was a
child, and now I am a man. When I saw the girl at the hunt, and rode
home afterwards with Dunstanwolde, listening to her story, there was
gloom in the air. There is that in it to make a man's spirit heavy. I
must not think of her."

But Fate herself was against him. For one thing, my Lord Marlborough
had brought back to him, with a few words, with strange vividness the
picture of the brilliant young figure in its hunting scarlet, its
gallop across the field with head held high, its flying leap over the
hedge, and the gay insolence and music of its laugh.

"A child could not have made a man so remember her," he said,
impatiently. "She was half woman then--half lovely, youthful devil.
There is an ill savour about it all."

When he entered his rooms he found guests waiting him. A
pleasure-loving young ensign, whom he had known at Oxford, and two of
the lad's cronies. They were a trio of young scapegraces, delighted
with any prospect of adventure, and regarding their martial duties
chiefly as opportunities to shine in laced coats and cocked hats, and
swagger with a warlike air and a military ogle when they passed a
pretty woman in the street. It was the pretty woman these young English
soldiers had come to do battle with, and hoped to take captive with
flying colours and flourish of trumpets.

They were in the midst of great laughter when Roxholm entered, and
young Tantillion, the ensign, sprang up to meet him in the midst of a
gay roar. The lad had been one of his worshippers at the University,
and loved him fondly, coming to him with all sorts of confidences, to
pour forth his love difficulties, to grumble at his military duties
when they interfered with his pleasures, to borrow money from him to
pay his gaming debts.

"He has been with my Lord Marlborough," he cried; "I know he has by his
sober countenance! We are ready to cheer thee up, Roxholm, with the
jolliest story. 'Tis of the new beauty, who is but twelve years old and
has set half the world talking."

"Mistress Clorinda Wildairs of Wildairs Hall in Gloucestershire," put
in Bob Langford, one of the cronies, a black-eyed lad of twenty.
"Perhaps your Lordship has heard of her, since she is so much gossiped
of--Mistress Clorinda Wildairs, who has been brought up half boy by her
father and his cronies, and is already the strappingest beauty in
England."

"He is too great a gentleman to have heard of such an ill-mannered
young hoyden," said Tantillion, "but we will tell him. 'Twas my sister
Betty's letter--writ from Warwickshire--set us on," and he pulled forth
a scrawled girlish-looking epistle from his pocket and spread it on the
table. "Shalt hear it, Roxholm? Bet is a minx, and 'tis plain she is
green with jealousy of the other girl--but 'tis the best joke I have
heard for many a day."

And forthwith Roxholm must sit down and hear the letter read and listen
to their comments thereupon, and their shouts of boyish laughter.

Little Lady Betty Tantillion, who was an embryo coquette of thirteen,
had been to visit her relations in Warwickshire, and during her stay
among them had found the chief topic of conversation a certain mad
creature over the borders of Gloucestershire--a Mistress Clorinda
Wildairs, who was the scandal of the county, and plainly the delight of
all the tongue-waggers.

"And oh, Tom, she is a grate thing, almost as tall as a woman though
she is but twelve years of age," wrote her young Ladyship, whose
spelling, by the way, was by no means as correct as her sense of the
proprieties. "Her father, Sir Jeoffry, allows her to ride in boys'
clothes, which is indecent for a young lady even at her time of life.
Brother Tom, how would you like to see your sister Betty astride a
hunter, in breeches? Lady Maddon (she is the slender, graceful buty who
is called the 'Willow Wand' by the gentlemen who are her servants)--she
saith that this girl is a coarse thing and has so little modisty that
she is proud to show her legs, thinking men will admire them, but she
is mistaken, for gentlemen like a modist woman who is slight and
delicate. She (Mistress Clo--as they call her) has big, bold, black
eyes and holds her chin in the air and her mouth looks as red as if
'twere painted every hour. Every genteel woman speaks ill of her and is
ashamed of her bold ways. And she is not even handsome, Tom, for all
their talk, for I have seen her myself and _think nothing of her
looks_. Her breeding is said to be shameful and her langwidge a
disgrace to her secks. The gentlemen are always telling tales of her
ways, and they laugh and make such a noise when they talk about her
over their wine. At our Aunt Flixton's one day, my cousin Gill and me
stood behind a tree to hear what was being said by some men who were
telling stories of her (which was no wrong because we wished to learn a
lesson so that we might not behave like her). Some of their words we
did not understand, but some we did and 'twas of a Chaplain (they
called him a fat-chopped hipercrit) who went to counsel her to behayve
more decent, and she no doubt was impudent and tried to pleas him, for
he forgot his cloth and put his arms sudden about her and kist her. And
the men roared shameful, for the one who told it said she knocked him
down on his knees and held him there with one hand on his shoulder
while she boxed his face from side to side till his nose bled in
streams, and cried she (Oh, Tom!) 'Damn thy fat head,' each time she
struck him 'if that is thy way to convert women, this is my way to
convert men.' And he could scarce crawl away weeping, his blood and
tears streeming down his face, which shows she hath not a reverence
even for the cloth itself. Dere brother Thomas, if you should meet her
in England when you come back from the wars, and she is a woman, I do
pray you will not be like the other gentlemen and be so silly as to
praise her, for such creatures should not be encorragd."

Throughout the reading of the letter uproarious shouts of laughter had
burst forth at almost every sentence, and when he had finished the
epistle, little Tantillion fell forward, his face on his arms on the
table, his mirth almost choking him, while the others leaned back and
roared. 'Twas only Roxholm who was not overcome, the story not seeming
so comical to him as to the others, and yet there were points at which
he himself could not help but laugh.

"'Damn thy fat head,'" shrieked Tom Tantillion, "'If that is thy way to
convert women, this is mine to convert men.' Oh, Lord! I think I see
the parson!"

"With his fat, slapped face and his streaming eyes and bloody nose!"
shouted Langford.

"Serve him damn right!" said Tantillion, sobering and wiping his own
eyes. "To put their heads into such hornets' nests would make a lot of
them behave more decent." And then he picked up the letter again and
made brotherly comments upon it.

"'Tis just like a minx of a girl to think a man cannot see through her
spite," he said. "Bet is dying to be a woman and have the fellows
ogling her. She is a pretty chit and will be the languishing kind, like
the die-away Maddon who is so 'modist.' She is thin enough to be made
'modist' by it. No breeches for her, but farthingales and 'modesty
pieces' high enough to graze her chin. 'Some of their words we did not
understand'"--reading from the letter, and he looked at the company
with a large comprehensive wink. "'Her breeding is disgraceful and her
langwidge a disgrace to her secks'--Well, I'll be hanged if she isn't a
girl after a man's own heart, if she's handsome enough to dress like a
lad, and has the spirit to ride and leap like one--and can slap a
Chaplain's face for him when he plays the impudent goat. Aren't you of
my opinion, Roxholm, for all you don't laugh as loud as the rest of us?
Aren't you of my mind?"

"Yes," said Roxholm, who for a few moments had been gazing at the wall
with a somewhat fierce expression.

"Hello!" exclaimed Tantillion, not knowing the meaning of it. "What are
you thinking of?"

Roxholm recovered himself, but his smile was rather a grim one.

"I think of the Chaplain," he said, "and how I should like to have
dealt with him myself--after young Mistress Wildairs let him go."



_CHAPTER IX_

_Sir John Oxon Lays a Wager at Cribb's Coffee House_.


This is to be no story of wars and battles, of victories and historic
events, such great engines being but touched upon respectfully, as
their times and results formed part of the atmosphere of the life of a
gentleman of rank who moved in the world affected by them, and among
such personages as were most involved in the stirring incidents of
their day. That which is to be told is but the story of a man's life
and the love which was the greatest power in it--the thing which
brought to him the fiercest struggles, the keenest torture, and the
most perfect joy.

During the next two years Gerald Mertoun saw some pretty service and
much change of scene, making the "grand tour," as it were, under
circumstances more exciting and of more moment to the world at large
than is usually the case when a gentleman makes it. He so acquitted
himself on several occasions that England heard of him and prophesied
that if my Lord Marlborough's head were taken off in action there was a
younger hero who might fill his place. At the news of each battle,
whether it ended in victory or not, old Rowe rang the bells at
Camylott, rejoicing that even if the enemy was not routed with great
slaughter, my lord Marquess was still alive to fight another day. At
Blenheim he so bore himself that the Duke talked long and gravely with
him in private, laying before him all the triumphs a career of arms
would bring to him.

"Twenty years hence, Roxholm," he said, watching him with his keen
glance as he ever did, "you might take my place, had England such
questions to settle as she has to-day. In twenty years I shall be
seventy-four. You were hammered from the metal nature cast me in, and
you could take any man's place if 'twas your will. I could have taken
any man's place I had chosen to take, by God, and so can you. If a
man's brain and body are built in a certain way he can be soldier,
bishop, physician, financier, statesman, King; and he will have like
power in whatsoever he chooses to be, or Fate chooses that he shall be.
As statesman, King, or soldier, the world will think him greatest
because such things glitter in the eye and make more sound; but the
strong man will be strong if Fortune makes him a huckster, and none can
hide him. If Louis XV is as great a schemer as the fourteenth Louis has
been, you may lead armies if you choose; but you will not choose, I
think. You do not love it, Roxholm--you do not love it."

"No," answered Roxholm; "I do not love it. I can fight--any man can
fight who has not white blood--and ours has been a fighting house; but
mowing men down by thousands, cutting their throats, burning towns, and
desolating villages filled with maddened men and shrieking women and
children, does not set my blood in a flame as it does the blood of a
man who is born for victorious slaughter. I loathe so the slaughter
that I hate the victory. No; there are other things I can do better for
England, and be happier in doing them."

"I have known that," said the Captain-General, "even when I have seen
you sweep by, followed by your men, at your most splendid moment. I
have known it most when we have sate together and talked--as 'tis not
my way to talk to much older men."

They had so talked together, and upon matters much more important than
the world knew. His Grace of Marlborough's years had been given to
other things than letters. He could win a great victory with far
greater ease than he could pen the dispatch announcing it when 'twas
gained. "Of all things," he once said to his Duchess, "I do not love
writing." He possessed the faculty of using all men and things that
came into his way, and there were times when he found of value the
services of a young nobleman whose education and abilities were of the
highest, and who felt deeply honoured by his unusual confidence, and
was also silent and discreet both through taste and by nature. Older
men were oftenest privately envious and ambitious; and a man who has
desires for place and power is not to be trusted by one who has gained
the highest and is attacked by jealousy on all sides. This man was
rich, of high rank, and desired nothing his Grace wished to retain;
besides this, his nature was large and so ruled by high honour that
'twas not in him to scheme or parley with schemers. So it befel that,
despite his youth, he enjoyed the privilege of being treated as if his
years had been as ripe as his intellect. He knew and learned many
things. Less was hid from him than from any other man in the army, had
the truth been known. When 'twas a burning necessity for the great man
to cross to England to persuade her Majesty to change her ministers,
Roxholm knew the processes by which the end was reached. He had
knowledge of all the feverish fits through which political England
passed, in greater measure than he himself was conscious of. His
reflections upon the affairs of Portugal and their management, his
belief in the importance of the Emperor's reconciliation with the
Protestants of Hungary, and of many a serious matter, were taken into
consideration and pondered over when he knew it not. In hastening
across the Channel to the English Court, in journeying to Berlin to
encounter great personages, in hearing of and beholding intrigue,
triumphs, disappointments, pomps, and vanities, he studied in the best
possible school the art and science of statesmanship, and won for
himself a place in men's minds and memories.

When, after Blenheim, he returned to England with a slight wound, his
appearance at Court was regarded as an event of public interest, and
commented upon with flowery rhetoric in the journals. The ladies vowed
he had actually grown taller than before, that his deep eyes had a
power no woman could resist, and that there was indeed no gentleman in
England to compare with him either for intellect, beauty, or breeding.
Her Majesty showed him a particular favour, and it was rumoured that
she had remarked that, had one of her many dead infants lived and grown
to such a manhood, she would have been a happy woman. Duchess Sarah
melted to him as none had ever seen her melt to man before. She had
heard many stories of him from her lord, and was prepared to be
gracious, but when she beheld him, she was won by another reason, for
he brought back to her the day when she had been haughty, penniless
Sarah Jennings, and the man who seemed to her almost godlike in his
youth and beauty had knelt at her feet.

'Twas most natural that at this time there should be much speculation
as to the beauty who might be chosen as his partner in life by a young
nobleman of such fortune, a young hero held in such esteem by his
country as well as by the world of fashion. Conversation was all the
more rife upon the subject because his Lordship paid no special court
to any and seemed a heart-free man.

Many suitable young ladies were indeed picked out for him, some by
their own friends and families, some--who had not convenient relatives
to act for them--by themselves, and each was delicately or with
matter-of-fact openness presented to his notice. There were brilliant
Court beauties--lovely country virgins of rank and fortune--charming
female wits, and fair and bold marauders who would carry on a siege
with skill and daring; but the party attacked seemed not so much
obdurate as unconscious, and neither succumbed nor ran away. When the
lovely Lady Helen Loftus fell into a decline and perished a victim to
it at the very opening of her eighteenth year, there was a whisper
among certain gossiping elderly matrons, which hinted that only after
her acquaintance with the splendid young Marquess had she begun to look
frail and large-eyed, and gradually fallen into decay.

"Never shall I forget," said old Lady Storms, "seeing the pretty thing
look after him when he bowed and left her after they had danced a
minuet together. Her look set me to watching her, and she gazed on him
through every dance with her large heaven-blue eyes, and when at last
she saw him turn and come towards her again her breast went up and down
and her breath fluttered, and she turned from white to red and from red
to white with joy. 'Tis not his fault, poor young man, that women will
set their hearts on him; 'tis but nature. I should do it myself if I
were not seventy-five and a hooked-nosed pock-marked creature. Upon my
life, it is not quite a fair thing that a man with all things which all
women must want, should be sent forth among us. Usually when a man hath
good looks he hath bad manners or poor wit or mean birth, or a black
soul like the new man beauty, Sir John Oxon, whom a woman must hate
before she hath loved him three months. But this one--good Lord! And
with the best will in life, he cannot take all of us."

The new man beauty, Sir John Oxon, was indeed much talked of at this
time. Having lived a mad rake's life at the University, and there
gained a reputation which had made him the fashionable leader of the
wickedest youths of their time, he had fallen heir to his fortune and
title just as he left Cambridge and was prepared to launch himself into
town life. He had appeared in the world preceded by stories of
successful intrigues, daring indeed when connected with the name of a
mere youth; but as he was beautiful to behold, and had gayety and grace
and a daring wit, such rumours but fixed public attention upon him and
made him the topic of the hour. He was not of the build or stateliness
of Lord Roxholm, and much younger, but was as much older than his years
in sin as the other was in unusual acquirement. He was a slender and
exquisitely built youth, with perfect features, melting blue eyes, and
rich fair hair which, being so beautiful, he disdained to conceal with
any periwig, however elaborate and fashionable. When Roxholm returned
to England, this male beauty's star was in the ascendant. All the town
talked of him, his dress, his high play, the various intrigues he was
engaged in and was not reluctant that the world of fashion should hear
of. The party of young gentlemen who had been led by him at the
University took him for their model in town, so that there were a set
of beaux whose brocaded coats, lace steenkirks, sword-knots, and
carriage were as like Sir John's as their periwigs were like his fair
locks, they having been built as similar as possible by their
peruquiers. His coach and four were the finest upon the road, his chair
and chariot, in the town; he had fought a duel about a woman, and there
were those who more than suspected that the wildest band of Mohocks
who played pranks at night was formed of half a dozen pretty fellows
who were known as the "Jack Oxonites."

He was not a young man whose acquirements were to be praised or
emulated, but there were pretty women who flattered him and men of
fashion who found pleasure in his society, for a time at least, and
many a strange scandal connected itself with his name.

He sang, he told wicked stories, he gambled, and at certain
coffee-houses shone with resplendent light as a successful beau and
conqueror.

'Twas at a club that Roxholm first beheld him. He had heard him spoken
of but had not seen him, and going into the coffee-room one evening
with a friend, a Captain Warbeck, found there a noisy party of beaux,
all richly dressed, all full of wine, and all seeming to be the guests
of a handsome fellow more elegantly attired and wearing a more dashing
air than any of them. He was in blue and silver and had fair golden
love-locks which fell in rich profusion on his shoulders.

He stood up among the company leaning against the table, taking snuff
from a jewelled gold snuff-box with an insolent, laughing grace.

"A quaint jade she must be, damme," he said. "I have heard of her these
three years, and she is not yet fifteen. Never were told me such
stories of a young thing's beauty since I was man-born. Eyes like
stars, flaming and black as jet, a carriage like a Juno, a shape--good
Lord! like all the goddesses a man has heard of--and hair which is like
a mantle and sweeps upon the ground. In less than a year's time I will
go to Gloucestershire and bring back a lock of it--for a trophy." And
he looked about him mockingly, as if in triumph.

"She will clout thee blind, Jack, as she clouted the Chaplain," cried
one of the company. "No man that lives can tame her. She is the
fiercest shrew in England, as she is the greatest beauty."

"She will thrash thee, Jack, as she thrashed her own father with his
hunting crop when she was but five years old," another cried.

The beau in blue and silver flicked the grains of snuff lightly from
the lace of his steenkirk with a white jewelled hand and smiled, slowly
nodding his fair curled head.

"I know all that," he said. "Every story have I heard, and, egad! they
but fire my blood. She is high mettled, but I have dealt with
termagants before--and brought them down, by God!--and brought them
down! There is a way to tame a woman--and I know it. Begin with a light
soft hand and a melting eye--all's fair in love; and the spoils are to
the victor. When I come back from Gloucestershire with my lock of raven
hair"--he lifted a goblet of wine and tossed it off at a draught--"I
shall leave her as such beauties should be left--on her knees." And
his laugh rang forth like a chime of silver. Roxholm sprang up with a
smothered oath.

"Come!" he said to Warbeck. "Come away, in God's name."

Warbeck had been his fellow-soldier abroad and knew well the dangerous
spirit which hid itself beneath his calm. He had seen him roused to
fury once before ('twas when in Flanders after a skirmish he found some
drunken soldiers stripping a poor struggling peasant woman of her
garments, while her husband shrieked curses at them from the tree where
he was tied)--and on that occasion he had told himself 'twould be safer
to trifle with a mine of powder than with this man's anger. He rose
hurriedly and followed him outside. In the street he could scarce keep
pace with his great stride, and the curses that broke from him brought
back hot days of battle.

"I would not enter into a pot-house brawl with a braggart boy," he
cried. "The blackguard, dastard knave! Drag me away, Hal, lest I rush
back like a fool and run him through! I have lost my wits. 'Tis the
fashion for dandies to pour forth their bestial braggings, but never
hath a man made my blood so boil and me so mad to strike him."

"'Tis not like thee so to lose thy wits, Roxholm," Warbeck said, his
hand on his arm, "but thou hast lost them this once surely. 'Tis no
work for the sword of a gentleman pinking foul-mouthed boasters in a
coffee-house. Know you who he is?"

"Damnation, _No!_" thundered Roxholm, striding on more fiercely still.

"'Tis the new dandy, Sir John Oxon," said Warbeck. "And the beauty he
makes his boast on is the Gloucestershire Wildairs handsome madcap--the
one they call Mistress Clo."



_CHAPTER X_

_My Lord Marquess rides to Camylott_.


When he went home my lord sate late over his books before he went to
his chamber, yet he read but little, finding his mood disturbed by
thoughts which passed through it in his despite. His blood had grown
hot at the coffee-house, and though 'twas by no means the first time it
had heated when he heard the heartless and coarse talk of woman which
it was the habit of most men of the day to indulge in, he realised that
it had never so boiled as when he listened to the brutal and
significant swagger of Sir John Oxon. His youth and beauty and cruel,
confident air had made it seem devilish in its suggestion of what his
past almost boyish years might have held of pitiless pleasures and
pitiless indifference to the consequences, which, while they were added
triumphs to him, were ruin and despair to their victims.

"The laugh in his blue eye was damnable," Roxholm murmured. "'Twas as
if there was no help for her or any other poor creature whom he chose
to pursue. The base unfairness of it! He is equipped with the whole
armament--of lures, of lies, of knowledge, and devilish skill. There
are women, 'tis true, who are his equals; but those who are not--those
who are ignorant and whose hearts he wins, as 'twould be easy for him
to win any woman's who believed his wooing face and voice--Nay, 'twould
be as dastardly as if an impregnable fortress should open all its
batteries upon a little child who played before it. And he stands
laughing among his mocking crew--triumphing, boasting--in cold
blood--of what he plans to do months to come. Fate grant he may not
come near me often. Some day I should break his devil's neck."

He found himself striding about the room. He was burning with rage
against the unfairness of it all, as he had burned when, a mere child,
he pondered on the story of Wildairs. To-day he was a man, yet his
passion of rebellion was curiously similar in its nature to his young
fury. Now, as then, there was naught to be done to help what seemed
like Fate. In a world made up of men all more or less hunters of the
weak, ready to accept the theory that all things defenceless and lovely
are fair game for the stronger, a man whose view was fairer was an
abnormality.

"I do not belong to my time," he said, flinging himself into his chair
again and speaking grimly. "I am too early--or too late--for it, and
must be content to seem a fool."

"There is a Fate," he said a little later, having sat a space gazing at
the floor and deep in thought--"there is a Fate which seems to link me
to the fortunes of these people. My first knowledge of their
wretchedness was a thing which sank deep. There are things a human
being perhaps remembers his whole life through--and strangely enough
they are often small incidents. I do not think there will ever pass
from me my memory of the way the rain swept over the park lands and
bare trees the day I stood with my Lord Dunstanwolde at the Long
Gallery window, and he told me of the new-born child dragged shrieking
from beneath its dead mother's body."


Some days later he went to Camylott to pass a few weeks in the country
with his parents, who were about to set forth upon a journey to Italy,
where they were to visit in state a palace of a Roman noble who had
been a friend of his Grace's youth, they having met and become
companions when the Duke first visited Rome in making the grand tour.
'Twas a visit long promised to the Roman gentleman who had more than
once been a guest of their household in England; and but for affairs of
his Grace of Marlborough, which Roxholm had bound himself to keep eye
on, he also would have been of the party. As matters stood, honour
held him on English soil, for which reason he went to Camylott to spend
the last weeks with those he loved, amid the country loveliness.

When my lord Marquess journeyed to the country he took no great
cavalcade with him, but only a couple of servants to attend him, while
Mr. Fox rode at his side. The English June weather was heavenly fair,
and the country a bower of green, the sun shining with soft warmth and
the birds singing in the hedgerows and upon the leafy boughs. To ride a
fine horse over country roads, by wood and moor and sea, is a pleasant
thing when a man is young and hale and full of joy in Nature's
loveliness, and above all is riding to a home which seems more
beautiful to him than any place on earth. One who has lived
twenty-eight years, having no desire unfulfilled, and taking his part
of every pleasure that wealth, high birth, and a splendid body can give
him, may well ride gaily over a good white road and have leisure to
throw back his head to hearken to a skylark soaring in the high blue
heavens above him, to smile at a sitting bird's bright eyes peeping
timidly at him from under the thick leafage of a hazel hedge, or at the
sight of a family of rabbits scurrying over the cropped woodland grass
at the sound of his horse's feet, their short white tails marking their
leaps as they dart from one fern shelter to the other; and to slacken
his horse's pace as he rides past village greens, marking how the
little children tumble and are merry there.

So my lord Marquess rode and Mr. Fox with him, for two days at least.
In the dewy morning they set forth and travelled between green
hedgerows and through pretty tiny villages, talking pleasantly, as old
friends will talk, for to the day of his old preceptor's peaceful dying
years later at Camylott, the Marquess (who was then a Duke) loved and
treated him as a companion and friend, not as a poor underling Chaplain
who must rise from table as if dismissed by the course of sweetmeats
when it appeared. For refreshments they drew rein at noon before some
roadside inn whose eager host spread before them his very best, and
himself waited upon them in awful joy. When the sun set, one manservant
rode on before to prepare for their entertainment for the night, and
when they cantered up to the hostelry, they found the whole
establishment waiting to receive and do them honour, landlord and
landlady bowing and curtseying on the threshold, maidservants peeping
from behind doors and through upper windows, and loiterers from the
village hanging about ready to pull forelocks or bob curtseys, as their
sex demanded.

"'Tis my lord Marquess of Roxholm, the great Duke of Osmonde's heir,"
they would hear it whispered. "He has come back from the wars covered
with wounds and now rides to pay his respects to their Graces, his
parents, at Camylott Tower."

'Twas a pleasant journey; Roxholm always remembered and often spoke of
it in after years, for his thought was that in setting out upon it he
had begun to journey towards that which Fate, it seemed, had ordained
that he should reach--though through dark nights and stormy days--at
last.

'Twas on the morning of the fourth day there befel them a strange
adventure, and one which had near ended in dark tragedy for one human
being at least.

The horse his lordship rode was a beautiful fiery creature, and
sometimes from sheer pleasure in his spirit, his master would spur him
to a wild gallop in which he went like the wind's self, showing a joy
in the excitement of it which was beauteous to behold. When this fourth
morning they had been but about an hour upon the road, Roxholm gave to
the creature's glossy neck the touch which was the signal 'twas his
delight to answer.

"Watch him shoot forward like an arrow from a bow," my lord said to Mr.
Fox, and the next instant was yards away.

He flew like the wind, his hoofs scarce seeming to touch the earth as
he sped forward, my lord sitting like a Centaur, his face aglow with
pleasure, even Mr. Fox's soberer animal taking fire somewhat and
putting himself at a gallop, his rider's elderly blood quickening with
his.

One side of the road they were upon was higher than the other and
covered with a wood, and as Mr. Fox followed at some distance he beheld
a parlous sight. At a turn in the way, down the bank, there rushed a
woman, a frantic figure, hair flying, garments disordered, and with a
shriek flung herself full length upon the earth before my lord
Marquess's horse, as if with the intent that the iron hoofs should dash
out her brains as they struck ground again. Mr. Fox broke forth into a
cry of horror, but even as it left his lips he beheld a wondrous thing,
indeed, though 'twas one which brought his heart into his throat. The
excited beast's fore parts were jerked upward so high that he seemed to
rear till he stood almost straight upon his hind legs, his fore feet
beating the air; then, by some marvel of strength and skill, his body
was wheeled round and his hoofs struck earth at safe distance from the
prostrate woman's head.

My lord sprang from his back and stood a moment soothing his trembling,
the animal snorting and panting, the foam flying from his nostrils in
his terror at a thing which his friend and master had never done to him
before. The two loved each other, and in Roxholm's heart there was a
sort of rage that he should have been forced to inflict upon him so
harsh a shock.

The woman dragged herself half up from the white dust on which she had
lain. She was shuddering convulsively, her long hair was hanging about
her, her eyes wild and anguished, and her lips shivering more than
trembling.

"Oh, God! Oh, God!" she wailed, and then let herself drop again and
writhed, clutching at the white dust with her hands.

"Are you mad?" said Roxholm, sternly, "or only in some hysteric fury?
Would you have your brains dashed out?"

She flung out her arms, tearing at the earth still and grinding her
teeth.

"Yes--dashed out!" she cried; "all likeness beaten from my face that
none might know it again. For that I threw myself before you."

The Marquess gave his horse to the servant, who had ridden to him, and
made a sign both to him and Mr. Fox that they ride a little forward.

He bent over the girl (for she was more girl than woman, being scarce
eighteen) and put his hand on her shoulder.

"Get up, Mistress," he said. "Rise and strive to calm yourself."

Suddenly his voice had taken a tone which had that in its depths no
creature in pain would not understand and answer to. His keen eye had
seen a thing which wrung his heart, it seeming to tell so plainly all
the cruel story.

"Come, poor creature," he said, "let me help you to your feet."

He put his strong arm about her body, and lifted her as if she had been
a child, and finding she was so trembling that she had not strength to
support herself, he even carried her to the grass and laid her down
upon it. She had a lovely gipsy face which should have been brilliant
with beauty, but was wild and wan and dragged with horrid woe. Her
great roe's eyes stared at him through big, welling tears of agony.

"_You_ look like some young lord!" she cried. "_You_ have a beautiful
face and a sweet voice. Any woman would believe you if you swore a
thing! What are women to do! Are you a villain, too--are you a villain,
too?"

"No," answered he, looking at her straight. "No, I am not."

"All men are!" she broke forth, wildly. "They lie to us--they trick
us--they swear to us--and kneel and pray--and then"--tossing up her
arms with a cry that was a shriek--"they make _us_ kneel--and
laugh--laugh--and laugh at us!"

She threw herself upon the grass and rolled about, plucking at her
flesh as if she had indeed gone mad.

"But for you," she sobbed, "it would be over now, and your horse's
hoofs had stamped me out. And now 'tis to do again--for I will do it
yet."

"Nay, you will not, Mistress," he said, in a still voice, "for your
child's sake."

He thought, indeed, she would go mad then: she so writhed and beat
herself, that he blamed himself for his words, and knelt by her,
restraining her hands.

"'Tis for its sake I would kill myself, and have my face beaten into
the bloody dust. I would kill it--kill it--kill it--more than I would
kill myself!"

"Nay, you would not, poor soul," he said, "if you were not distraught."

"But I am distraught," she wailed; "and there is naught but death for
both of us."

'Twas a strange situation for a young man to find himself in, watching
by the roadside the hysteric frenzy of a maddened girl; but as he had
been unconscious on the day he stood, an unclad man, giving the aid
that would save a life, so he thought now of naught but the agony he
saw in this poor creature's awful eyes and heard in her strangled
cries. It mattered naught to him that any passing would have thought
themselves gazing upon a scene in a strange story.

There was a little clear stream near, and he went and brought her
water, making her drink it and bathe the dust-stains from her face and
hands, and the gentle authority with which he made her do these simple
things seemed somehow to somewhat calm her madness. She looked up at
him staring, and with long, sobbing breaths.

"Who--are you?" she asked, helplessly.

"I am the Marquess of Roxholm," he answered, "and I ride to my father's
house at Camylott; but I cannot leave you until I know you are safe."

"Safe!" she said. "I safe!" and she clasped her hands about her knees
as she sat, wringing her fingers together. "You do not ask me who I
am," she added.

"I need not know your name to do you service," he answered. "But I must
ask you where you would go--to rest."

"To Death--from which you have plucked me!" was her reply, and she
dropped her head against her held-up knees and broke forth sobbing
again. "I tell you there is naught else. If your horse had beat my face
into the dust, none would have known where I lay at last. Five days
have I walked and my very clothes I changed with a gipsy woman. None
would have known." Suddenly she looked up with shame and terror in her
eyes, the blood flaming in her face. She involuntarily clutched at his
sleeve as if in her horror she must confide even to this stranger.
"They had begun to look at me--and whisper," she said. "And one day a
girl who hated me laughed outright as I passed--though I strove to bear
myself so straightly--and I heard her mock me. 'Pride cometh first,'
she said, 'and then the fall. _She_ hath fallen far.'"

She looked so young and piteous that Roxholm felt a mist pass before
his eyes.

"Poor child!" he said; "poor child!"

"I was proud," she cried. "It was my sin. They taunted me that he was a
gentleman and meant me ill, and it angered me--poor fool--and I held my
head higher. He told me he had writ for his Chaplain to come and wed us
in secret. He called me 'my lady' and told me what his pride in me
would be when we went to the town." She put her hands up to her working
throat as if somewhat strangled her, and the awful look came back into
her widened eyes. "In but a little while he went away," she
gasped--"and when he came back, and I went to meet him in the dark and
fell weeping upon his breast, he pushed me back and looked at me, and
curled his lip laughing, and turned away! Oh, John!--John Oxon!" she
cried out, "God laughs at women--why shouldst not thou?" and her
paroxysm began again.


At high noon a wagoner whose cart was loaded with hay drove into the
rick yard of a decent farm-house some hours' journey from the turn in
the road where my lord Marquess had been so strangely checked in his
gallop. An elderly gentleman in Chaplain's garb and bands rode by the
rough conveyance, and on a bed made in the hay a woman lay and groaned
in mortal anguish.

The good woman of the house this reverend gentleman saw alone and had
discourse with, paying her certain moneys for the trouble she would be
put to by the charge he commanded to her, himself accompanying her when
she went out to the wagon to care for its wretched burden.

Throughout the night she watched by her patient's bedside, but as day
dawned she left it for a moment to call the Chaplain to come quickly,
he having remained in the house that he might be at hand if need should
be, in accordance with his patron's wishes.

"'Tis over, and she is dying," said the good woman. "I fear she hath
not her wits, poor soul. All night she hath cried one name, and lies
and moans it still."

Mr. Fox followed her into a little cleanly, raftered chamber. He knelt
by the bedside and spoke gently to the girl who lay upon the white
pillows, her deathly face more white than the clean, coarse linen.
'Twas true she did not see him, but lay staring at the wall's bareness,
her lips moving as she muttered the name she had shrieked and wailed
at intervals throughout the hours. "John--Oh, John Oxon!" he could
barely hear, "God laughs at us--why should not such as thou?"

And when the sun rose she lay stiff and dead, with a dead child in her
rigid arm; and Mr. Fox rode slowly back with a grave countenance, to
join his lord and patron at the village inn, and tell him all was
over.



_CHAPTER XI_

"_It Might Have Been--It Might Have Been!_"


The heavenly summer weeks he passed with his beloved parents at
Camylott before they set forth on their journey to the Continent
remained a sweet memory in the mind of the young Marquess so long as he
lived, and was cherished by him most tenderly. In those lovely June
days he spent his hours with his father and mother as he had spent them
as a child, and in that greater intimacy and closer communion which
comes to a son with riper years, if the situation is not reversed and
his maturity has not drifted away from such fondness. Both the Duke and
Duchess were filled with such noble pride in him and he with such noble
love of them. All they had hoped for in him he had given them, all his
manly heart longed for they bestowed upon him--tenderness,
companionship, sympathy in all he did or dreamed of doing.

After his leave of absence it was his intention to rejoin his Grace of
Marlborough on the Continent for a period, since his great friend had
so desired, but later he would return and give up his career of arms to
devote himself to the interests of his country in other ways, and of
this his mother was particularly glad, feeling all a woman's fears for
his safety and all her soft dread of the horrors of war.

"I would not have shown you my heart when you went away from England,
Gerald," she said. "'Twould not have been brave and just to do so since
'twas your desire to go. But no woman's heart can lie light in her
breast when her son is in peril every hour--and I could not bear to
think," her violet eyes growing softly dark, "that my son in winning
glory might rob other mothers of their joy."

In their rides and talks together he would relate to his father the
story of his campaign, describe to him the brilliant exploits of the
great Duke, whom he had seen in his most magnificent hours, as only
those who fought by his side had seen him; but with her Grace he did
not dwell upon such things, knowing she would not be the happier for
hearing of them. With her he would walk through the park, sauntering
down the avenue beneath the oak-trees, or over the green sward to visit
the deer, who knew the sound of her sweet voice, it seemed, and hearing
it as she approached would lift their delicate heads and come towards
her to be caressed and fed, welcoming her with the dewy lustrousness of
their big timorous dark eyes, even the shyest does and little fawns
nibbling from her fair and gentle hand, and following her softly a few
paces when she turned away. Together she and Roxholm would wander
through all the dear places he had loved in his childish years--into
the rose gardens, which were a riot of beauty and marvellous colours
and the pride and joy of the head gardener, who lived for and among
them, as indeed they were the pride of those who worked under his
command, not a man or boy of them knowing any such pleasure as to see
her Grace walk through their labyrinths of bloom with my lord Marquess,
each of them rejoicing in the loveliness on every side and gathering
the fairest blossoms as they went, until sometimes they carried away
with them rich sheaves of crimson and pink and white and yellow. They
loved the high-walled kitchen garden, too, and often visited it,
spreading delight there among its gardeners by praising its fine
growths, plucking the fruit and gathering nosegays of the old-fashioned
flowers which bordered the beds of sober vegetables--sweet peas and
Canterbury bells, wall-flowers, sweetwilliams, yellow musk, and
pansies, making, her Grace said, the prettiest nosegay in the world.
Then they would loiter through the village and make visits to old men
and women sitting in the sun, to young mothers with babies in their
arms and little mites playing about their feet.

"And you never enter a cottage door, mother," said Roxholm in his young
manhood's pride and joy in her, "but it seems that the sun begins to
shine through the little window, and if there is a caged bird hanging
there it begins to twitter and sing. I cannot find a lady like
you"--bending his knee and kissing her white fingers in gay caress.
"Indeed, if I could I should bring her home to you to Camylott--and old
Rowe might ring his bells until he lost his breath."

"Do you know," she answered, "what your father said to me the first
morning I lay in my bed with you in my arm--old Rowe was ringing the
bells as if he would go wild. I remember the joyful pealing of them as
it floated across the park to come through my open window. We were so
proud and full of happiness, and thought you so beautiful--and you are,
Gerald, yet; so you are yet," with the prettiest smile, "and your
father said of you, 'He will grow to be a noble gentleman and wed a
noble lady; and they will be as we have been--as we have been,
beloved,' and we kissed each other with blissful tears in our eyes, and
you moved in my arm, and there was a tiny, new-born smile on your
little face."

"Dear one!" he said, kissing her hand more gravely; "dear one, God
grant such sweetness may come to me--for indeed I want to love some
woman dearly," and the warm blood mounted to his cheek.

Often in their tender confidences they spoke of this fair one who was
to crown his happy life, and one day, having returned from a brief
visit in another county, as they sat together in the evening she broke
forth with a little sigh in her sweet voice.

"Ah, Gerald," she said, "I saw in Gloucestershire the loveliest strange
creature--so lovely and so strange that she gave me an ache in the
heart."

"And why, sweet one?" he asked.

"Because I think she must be the most splendid beauteous thing in all
the world--and she has been so ill used by Fate. How could the poor
child save herself from ill? Her mother died when she was born; her
father is a wicked blasphemous rioter. He has so brought her up that
she has known no woman all her life, but has been his pastime and toy.
From her babyhood she has been taught naught but evil. She is so strong
and beautiful and wild that she is the talk of all the country. But,
ah, Gerald, the look in her great eyes--her red young mouth--her
wonderfulness! My heart stood still to see her. She hurt me so."

My lord Marquess looked down upon the floor and his brow knit itself.

"'Twould hurt any tender soul to see her," he said. "I am but a
man--and I think 'twas rage I felt--that such a thing should be cast to
ravening wolves."

"You," she cried, as if half alarmed; "you have seen her?"

"'Tis the beauty of Wildairs you speak of surely," he answered; "and I
have seen her once--and heard of her often."

"Oh, Gerald," said her Grace, "'tis cruel. If she had had a mother--if
God had but been good to her--" she put her hand up to her mouth to
check herself, in innocent dread of that her words implied. "Nay, nay,"
she said, "if I would be a pious woman I must not dare to say such
things. But oh! dearest one--if life had been fair to her, she--_She_
is the one you might have loved and who would have worshipped such a
man. It might have been--it might have been."

His colour died away and left him pale--he felt it with a sudden sense
of shock.

"It was not," he said, hurriedly. "It was not--and she is but
fourteen--and our lives lie far apart. I shall be in the field, or at
the French or Spanish Courts. And were I on English soil I--I would
keep away."

His mother turned pale also. Being his mother she felt with him the
beating of his blood--and his face had a strange look which she had
never seen before. She rose and went to him.

"Yes, yes, you are right," she exclaimed. "You could not--she could
not--! And 'twould be best to keep away--to keep away. For if you loved
her, 'twould drive you mad, and make you forget what you must be."

He tried to smile, succeeding but poorly.

"She makes us say strange things--even so far distant," he said.
"Perhaps you are right. Yes, I will keep away."

And even while he said it he was aware of a strange tumult in him, and
knew that, senseless as it might appear, a new thing had sprung to life
in him as if a flame had been lighted. And even in its first small
leaping he feared it.


'Twas a week later their Graces set forth upon their journey, and
though Roxholm rode with them to Dover, and saw them aboard the packet,
he always felt in after years that 'twas in the Long Gallery his mother
had bidden him farewell.

They stood at the deep window at the end which faced the west and
watched a glowing sunset of great splendour. Never had the earth spread
before them seemed more beautiful, or Heaven's self more near. All the
west was piled with heaps of stately golden cloud--great and high
clouds, which were like the mountains of the Delectable Land, and
filled one with awe whose eyes were lifted to their glories. And all
the fair land was flooded with their gold. Her Grace looked out to the
edge where moor and sky seemed one, and her violet eyes shone to
radiance.

"It is the loveliest place in all the world," she said. "It has been
the loveliest home--and I the happiest woman. There has not been an
hour I would not live again."

She turned and lifted her eyes to his face and put one hand on his
broad breast. "And you, Gerald," she said; "you have been happy. Tell
me you have been happy, too."

"For twenty-eight years," he said, and folded his hand over hers. "For
twenty-eight years."

She bent her face against his breast and kissed the hand closed over
her own.

"Yes--yes; you have been happy," she said. "You have said it often; but
before I went away I wanted to hear you say it once again," and as she
gazed up smiling, a last ray from the sinking sun shot through the
window and made a halo about her deep gold hair.



_CHAPTER XII_

_In Which is Sold a Portrait_


There are sure more forces in this Universe than Man has so far
discovered, and so, not dreaming of them, can neither protect himself
against, nor aid them in their workings if he would. Who has not
sometimes fancied he saw their mysterious movings and--if of daring
mind--been tempted to believe that in some future, even on this earth,
the science of their laws might be sought for and explained? Who has
not seen the time when his own life, or that of some other, seemed to
flow, as a current flows, either towards or away from some end, planned
or unplanned by his own mind. At one time he may plan and struggle,
and, in spite of all his efforts, the current sweeps him away from the
object he strives to attain--as though he were a mere feather floating
upon its stream; at another, the tide bears him onward as a boat is
borne by the rapids, towards a thing he had not dreamed of, nor even
vaguely wished to reach. At such hours, resistance seems useless. We
seize an oar, it breaks in the flood; we snatch at an overhanging
bough, it snaps or slips our grasp; we utter cries for help, those on
the bank pass by not hearing, or cast to us a rope the current bears
out of reach. Then we cry "Fate!" and either wring our hands, or curse,
or sit and gaze straight before us, while we are swept on--either over
the cataract's edge and dashed to fragments, or out to the trackless
ocean, to be tossed by wind and wave till some bark sees and saves
us--or we sink.

From the time of his mother's speech with him after her return from
Gloucestershire, thoughts such as these passed often through Roxholm's
mind. "It might have been; it might have been," she had said, and the
curious leap of blood and pulse he had felt had vaguely shocked him. It
scarcely seemed becoming that so young a creature as this lovely hoyden
should so move a man. 'Twas the fashion that girl beauties should be
women early, and at Court he had seen young things, wives and mothers
when they were scarce older; but this one seemed more than half a boy
and--and--! Yet he knew that he had been in earnest when he had said,
"I would keep away."

"I _know_," he had said to himself when he had been alone later; "I
_know_ that if the creature were a woman, 'twould be best that I should
keep away--'twould be best for any man to keep away from her, who was
not free to bear any suffering his passion for her might bring him. The
man who will be chief of a great house--whose actions affect the lives
of hundreds--is not free, even to let himself be put to the
torture"--and he smiled unconsciously the smile which was a little
grim.

He had seen and studied many women, and in studying them had learned to
know much of himself. He had not been so unconscious of them as he had
seemed. Such a man must meet with adventures at any time, and at a
period still tainted by the freedom of a dissolute reign, even though
'tis near twenty years past, his life, in his own despite, must contain
incidents which would reveal much to the world, if related to it.
Roxholm had met with such adventures, little as they were to his taste,
and had found at both foreign and English Courts that all women were
not non-attacking creatures, and in discovering this had learned that a
man must be a stone to resist the luring of some lovely eyes.

"I need not think myself invulnerable," he had thought often. "I can
resist because I have loved none of them. Had it chanced otherwise--God
have mercy on my soul!"

And now the current of his life for weeks seemed strangely set towards
one being. When he returned to London after seeing his parents depart
for Italy, he met in his first walk in the city streets his erst
fellow-collegian and officer, Lieutenant Thomas Tantillion, in England
on leave, who almost hallooed with joy at sight of him, shaking him by
the hand as if his arm had been a pump-handle, and then thrusting his
own arm through it, and insisting affectionately on dragging him along
the street that he might pour forth his renewed protestations of
affection and the story of his adventures.

"Never was I more glad to see a man," he said. "I'm damned if we
scapegraces have not missed thy good-looking face. Thou art a fine
fellow, Roxholm--and good-natured--ay, and modest, too--for all thy
beauty and learning. Many a man, with half thou hast, would wear grand
Court airs to a rattle-pated rascal like Tom Tantillion. Wilford does
it--and he is but a Viscount, and for all his straight nose and fine
eyes but five feet ten. Good Lord! he looks down on us who did not pass
well at the University, like a cock on a dunghill."

The Marquess laughed out heartily, having in his mind a lively picture
of my Lord Wilford, whose magnificence of bearing he knew well.

"Art coming back, Roxholm?" asked Tom next. "When does thy leave
expire?"

"I am coming back," Roxholm answered, "but I shall not long live a
soldier's life. 'Tis but part of what I wish to do."

"His Grace of Marlborough misses thee, I warrant," said Tom. "'Tis
often said he never loved a human thing on earth but John Churchill
and his Duchess, but I swear he warmed to thee."

"He did me honour, if 'tis true," Roxholm said, "but I am not vain
enough to believe it--gracious as he has been."

At that moment his volatile companion gave his arm a clutch and stopped
their walk as if a sudden thought had seized him.

"Where wert thou going, Roxholm?" he asked. "Lord, Lord, I was so glad
to see thee, that I forgot."

"What didst forget, Tom?"

Tom slapt his thigh hilariously. "That I had an errand on hand. A good
joke, split me, Roxholm! Come with me; I go to see the picture of a
beauty, stole by the painter, who is always drunk, and with his clothes
in pawn, and lives in a garret in Rag Lane."

He was in the highest spirits over the adventure, and would drag
Roxholm with him, telling him the story as they went. The painter, who
was plainly enough a drunken rapscallion fellow, in strolling about the
country, getting his lodging and skin full of ale, now here, now there,
by daubing Turks' Heads, Foxes and Hounds, and Pigs and Whistles, as
signs for rustic ale-houses, had seen ride by one day a young lady of
such beauty that he had made a sketch of her from memory, and finding
where she lived, had hung about in the park to get a glimpse of her
again, and having succeeded, had made her portrait and brought it back
to town, in the hope that some gentleman might be taken by its charms
and buy it.

"He hath drunk himself down to his last groat, and will let it go for a
song now," said Tom. "I would get there before any other fellow does.
Jack Wyse and Hal Langton both want it, but they have gamed their
pockets empty, and wait till necessity forces him to lower his price to
their means. But an hour since I heard that he had pawned his breeches
and lay in bed writing begging letters. So now is the time to visit
him. It was in Gloucestershire he found her--"

He stopped and turned round.

"Hang me! 'Tis the very one Bet wrote of, and I read you the letter.
Dost remember it? The vixen who clouted the Chaplain for kissing her."

"Yes," said Roxholm; "I remember."

Tom rattled on in monstrous spirits. "I have had further letters from
Bet," he said, "and each is a sermon with the beauty's sins for a text.
The women are so jealous of her that the men could not forget her if
they would, they scold so everlastingly. Lord, what a stir the hoyden
is making!"

They turned into Rag Lane presently, and 'twas dingy enough, being a
dirty, narrow place, with high black houses on either side, their
windows broken and stuffed with bits of rag and paper, their doorways
ornamented with slatternly women or sodden-faced men, while up and down
ran squalid, noisy children under the flapping pieces of poor wearing
apparel hung on lines to dry.

After some questioning they found the house the man they were in search
of lived in, and 'twas a shade dingier than the rest. They mounted a
black broken-down stairway till they reached the garret, and there
knocked at the door.

For a few moments there was no answer, but that they could hear loud
and steady snores within.

"He is sleeping it off!" said Tom, grinning, and whacked loudly on the
door's cracked panels, by which, after two or three attacks, he
evidently disturbed the sleeper, who was heard first to snort and then
to begin to grumble forth drowsy profanities.

"Let us in," cried Tom. "I bring you a patron, sleepy fool."

Then 'twas plain some one tumbled from his bed and shuffled forward to
the door, whose handle he had some difficulty in turning. But when he
got the door open, and caught sight of lace and velvet, plumed hats and
shining swords, he was not so drunk but that which the sight suggested
enlivened and awaked him. He uttered an exclamation, threw the door
wide, and stood making unsteady but humbly propitiatory bows.

"Your lordships' pardon," he said. "I was asleep and knew not that such
honour awaited me. Enter, your lordships; I pray you enter."

'Twas a little mean place with no furnishings but a broken bedstead, a
rickety chair, and an uncleanly old table on which were huddled
together a dry loaf, an empty bottle, and some poor daubs of pictures.
The painter himself was an elderly man with a blotched face, a bibulous
eye, and half unclothed, he having wrapped a dirty blanket about his
body to conceal decently his lack of nether garments.

"We come to look at your portrait of the Gloucestershire beauty," said
Tom.

"All want to look at it, my Lord," said the man, with a leer, half
servile, half cunning. "There came two young gentlemen of fashion
yesterday morning, and almost lost their wits at sight of it. Either
would have bought it, but both had had ill luck at basset for a week
and so could do no more than look, and go forth with their mouths
watering."

Tom grinned.

"You painters are all rogues who would bleed every gentleman you see,"
he said.

"We are poor fellows who find it hard to sell our wares," the artist
answered. "'Tis only such as the great Mr. Kneller who do not starve,
and lie abed because their shirts and breeches are in pawn. When a man
has a picture like to take the fancy of every young nobleman in town,
he may well ask its value."

"Let us see it," cried Tom. "To a gentleman it may seem a daub."

The man looked at him slyly.

"'Twould pay me to keep it hid here and exhibit it for a fee," he said.
"The gentlemen who were here yesterday will tell others, and they will
come and ask to look at it, and then--"

"Show it to us, sir," said Roxholm, breaking in suddenly in his deeper
voice and taking a step forward.

He had stood somewhat behind, not being at first in the mood to take
part in the conversation, having no liking for the situation. That a
young lady's portrait should be stolen from her, so to speak, and put
on sale by a drunken painter without her knowledge, annoyed him--and
the man's leering hint of its future exhibition roused his blood.

"Show it to us, sir," he said, and in his voice there was that
suggestion of command which is often in the voice of a man who has had
soldiers under him.

The but half-sober limner being addressed by him for the first time,
and for the first time looking at him directly, gave way to a slight
hiccoughing start and strove to stand more steady. 'Twas no gay
youthful rake who stood before him, but plainly a great gentleman, and
most amazing tall and stately. 'Twas not a boy come to look at a
peep-show, but might be a possible patron.

"Yes, your lordship," he stammered, bowing shakily, "I--I will bring it
forth. Your lordship will find the young lady a wonder." He went
swaying across the room, and opened a cupboard in the wall. The canvas
stood propped up within, and he took it out and brought it back to
them--keeping its face turned away.

"Let me set it in as good a light as the poor place can give," he said,
and dragged forth the rickety-legged chair that he might prop it
against its back, for the moment looking less drunk and less a vagabond
in his eagerness to do his work justice; there lurking somewhere,
perhaps, in his besotted being, that love which the artist soul feels
for the labour of its dreams.

"In sooth, my lord, 'tis a thing which should have been better done,"
he said. "I could have done the young lady's loveliness more justice,
had I but had the time. First I saw her for scarce more than a moment,
and her face so haunted me that I sketched it for my own pleasure--and
then I hung about her father's park for days, until by great fortune I
came upon her one morning standing under a tree, her dogs at her feet,
and she lost in thought--and with such eyes gazing before her--! I
stood behind a tree and did my best, trembling lest she should turn.
But no man could paint her eyes, my lord," rubbing his head ruefully;
"no man could paint them. Mr. Kneller will not--when she weds a Duke
and comes to queen it at the Court."

He had managed to keep before the picture as he spoke, and now he
stepped aside and let them behold it, glancing from one to the other.

"Damn!" cried Tom Tantillion, and sprang forward from his chair at
sight of it.

My lord Marquess made no exclamation nor spoke one word. The painter
marked how tall he stood as he remained stationary, gazing. He had
folded his arms across his big chest and seemed to have unconsciously
drawn himself to his full height. Presently he spoke to the artist,
though without withdrawing his eyes from the picture.

"'Tis no daub," he said. "For a thing done hastily 'tis done well. You
have given it spirit."

'Twas fairly said. Indeed, the poor fellow knew something of his trade,
'twas evident, and perhaps for once he had been sober, and inspired by
the fire of what he saw before him.

She stood straight with her back against a tree's trunk, her hands
behind her, her eyes gazing before. She was tall and strong as young
Diana; under the shadow of her Cavalier hat, her rich-tinted face was
in splendid gloom, it seeming gloom, not only because her hair was like
night, and her long and wide eyes black, but because in her far-off
look there was gloom's self and somewhat like a hopeless rebellious
yearning. She seemed a storm embodied in the form of woman, and yet in
her black eyes' depths--as if hid behind their darkest shadows and
unknown of by her very self--there lay the possibility of a great and
strange melting--a melting which was all woman--and woman who was
queen.

"By the Lord!" cried Tom Tantillion again, and then flushed up boyishly
and broke forth into an awkward laugh. "She is too magnificent a beauty
for an empty-pocketed rascal like me to offer to buy her. I have not
what would pay for her--and she knows it. She sets her own price upon
herself, as she stands there curling her vermilion lip and daring a man
to presume to buy her cheap. 'Tis only a great Duke's son who may make
bold to bid." And he turned and bowed, half laughing, half malicious,
to Roxholm. "You, my lord Marquess; a purse as full as yours need not
bargain for the thing it would have, but clap down guineas for it."

"A great Duke's son!" "My lord Marquess!" The owner of the picture
began to prick up his ears. Yes, the truth was what he had thought it.

"The gentleman who owns this picture when the young lady comes up to
town that the world may behold her," he said, "will be a proud man."

"No gentleman would have the right to keep it if he had not her
permission," said Roxholm--and he said it without lightness.

"Most gentlemen would keep it whether she would or no," answered the
painter.

"Catch Langdon or Wyse giving it up," says Tom. "And Wyse said, that
blackguard Oxon was coming to see it because he hath made a bet on her
in open club, and hearing of the picture, said he would come to see if
she were worth his trouble--and buy her to hang in his chambers, if she
were--that he might tell her of it when he went to Gloucestershire to
lay siege to her. He brags he will persuade her he has prayed to her
image for a year."

"What is your price?" said my Lord Roxholm to the painter.

The man set one and 'twas high though 'twould not have seemed so in an
age when art was patronised and well paid for in a country where 'twas
more generously encouraged than in England in the days of good Queen
Anne. In truth, the poor fellow did not expect to get half he asked,
but hoped by beginning well to obtain from a Duke's son twice what
another gentleman would give him--and he was prepared to haggle, if
need be, for two hours.

But my lord Marquess did not haggle. There had come into his
countenance the look of a man who has made up his mind to take the
thing he wants. He drew forth his purse and paid down the sum in golden
guineas and bank-notes, the painter's eyes gloating as they were
counted on the table and his head growing giddy with his joy. He would
have enough to live drunk for a year, after his own economical methods.
A garret--and drink enough--were all he required for bliss. The picture
was to be sent forthwith to Osmonde House, and these directions given,
the two gentlemen turned to go. But at the door the Marquess paused and
spoke again.

"If any should come here before it is sent to me," he said, "remember
that 'tis already purchased and not on exhibition."

The artist bowed low a dozen times.

"On my sacred honour, your lordship," he replied, "none shall see it."

Roxholm regarded him for a moment as if a new thought had presented
itself to his mind.

"And remember also," he added, "if any should ask you to try to paint a
copy from memory--or to lie in wait for the young lady again and make
another--'tis better"--and his voice had in it both meaning and
command--"'tis far better to please a patron, than a purchaser who has
a momentary caprice. Live soberly and do honest work--and bring to me
what is worthy of inspection. You need not starve unless 'tis your
wish."

"My lord Marquess," cried the man; "your noble lordship," and he made
as if he would fall upon his knees.

Roxholm made a gesture towards the picture, still in its place upon the
crazy chair.

"I told you that was no daub," he said. "A man who can do that much can
do more if he has the spirit."

And his visitors went out and left the artist in his garret, the stormy
handsome creature gazing into space on one side, the guineas and
bank-notes on the dusty table; and after having reflected upon both for
a little space, he thrust his head out of the door and called for his
landlady, who having beheld two richly clad gentlemen come from the
attic, was inclined to feel it safe to be civil, and answering his
summons went up to him, and being called in, was paid her long unpaid
dues from the little heap on the table, the seeing of which riches
almost blinded her and sent her off willingly to the pawnbroker's to
bring back the pledged breeches and coat and linen.

"The tall gentleman with so superb an air," the poor man said, proudly,
trembling with triumphant joy, "is my lord Marquess of Roxholm, and he
is the heir of the ducal house of Osmonde, and promises me patronage."


When they passed out into the street and were on their way to St.
James's Park, Tom Tantillion was in a state of much interested
excitement.

"What shall you do with it, Roxholm?" he asked. "Have it set in a rich
gold frame and hung up on the gallery at Osmonde House--or in the
country? Good Lord! I dare not have carried her to my lodgings if I
could have bought her. She would be too high company for me and keep me
on my best manners too steady. A man dare not play the fool with such a
creature staring at him from the wall. 'Tis only a man who is a hero,
and a stately mannered one, who could stay in the same room with her
without being put out of countenance. Will she rule in the gallery in
town or in the country?"

"She will not be framed or hung, but laid away," answered Roxholm. "I
bought her that no ill-mannered rake or braggart should get her and be
insolent to her in her own despite when she could not strike him to his
knees and box his ears, as she did the Chaplain's--being only a woman
painted on canvas." And he showed his white, strong teeth a little in a
strange smile.

"What!" cried Tom. "You did not buy her for your own pleasure----?"

The Marquess stopped with a sudden movement.

"On my faith!" he exclaimed, "there is the Earl of Dunstanwolde. He
sees us and comes towards us."



_CHAPTER XIII_

"_Your--Grace_!"


"Come with me, Gerald, to Dunstan's Wolde," said my lord, as they sat
together that night in his town-house. "I would have your company if
you will give it me until you rejoin Marlborough. I am lonely in these
days."

His lordship did not look his usual self, seeming, Roxholm thought,
worn and sometimes abstracted. He was most kind and affectionate, and
there was in his manner a paternal tenderness and sympathy which the
young man was deeply touched by. If it had been possible for him to
have spoken to any living being of the singular mental disturbance he
had felt beginning in him of late, he could have confessed it to Lord
Dunstanwolde. But nature had created in him a tendency to silence and
reserve where his own feelings were concerned. As to most human beings
there is a consolation in pouring forth the innermost secret thoughts
at times, to him there was support in the knowledge that he held all
within his own breast and could reflect upon his problems in sacred
privacy. At this period, indeed, his feelings were such as he could
scarcely have described to any one. He was merely conscious of a sort
of unrest and of being far from comprehending his own emotions. They
were, indeed, scarcely definite enough to be called emotions, but only
seemed shadows hovering about him and causing him vaguely to wonder at
their existence. He was neither elated nor depressed, but found himself
confronting fancies he had not confronted before, and at times
regarding the course of events with something of the feeling of a
fatalist. There was a thing it seemed from which he could not escape,
yet in his deepest being was aware that he would have preferred to
avoid it. No man wishes to encounter unhappiness; he was conscious
remotely that this preference for avoidance arose from a vaguely
defined knowledge that in one direction there lay possibilities of
harsh suffering and pain.

"'Tis a strange thing," he said to himself, "how I seem forbid by Fate
to avoid the path of this strange wild creature. My Lord Marlborough
brings her up to me at his quarters, I leave them; and going to my own,
meet with Tantillion and his letter; I enter a coffee-house and hear
wild talk of her; I go to my own house and my mother paints a picture
of her which stirs my very depths; I walk in the streets of London and
am dragged aside to find myself gazing at her portrait; I leave it,
and meet my Lord Dunstanwolde, who prays me to go to Warwickshire,
where I shall be within a few miles of her and may encounter her any
hour. What will come next?"

That which came next was not unlike what had gone before. On their
journey to Warwickshire my Lord Dunstanwolde did not speak of the
lovely hoyden, whereat Roxholm somewhat wondered, as his lordship had
but lately left her neighbourhood and her doings seemed the county's
scandal; but 'tis true that on their journey he conversed little and
seemed full of thought.

"Do not think me dull, Gerald," he said; "'tis only that of late I have
begun to feel that I am an older man than I thought--perhaps too old to
be a fit companion for youth. An old fellow should not give way to
fancies. I--I have been giving way."

"Nay, nay, my dear lord," said Roxholm with warm feeling, "'tis to
fancy you _should_ give way--and 'tis such as you who are youths' best
companions, since you bring to those of fewer years ripeness which is
not age, maturity which is not decay. What man is there of twenty-eight
with whom I could ride to the country with such pleasure as I feel
to-day. You have lived too much alone of late. 'Tis well I came to
Warwickshire."

This same evening after they had reached their journey's end, on
descending to the saloon before dinner, his guest found my lord
standing before the portrait of his lost wife and gazing at it with a
strange tender intentness, his hands behind his back. He turned at
Roxholm's entrance, and there were shadows in his eyes.

"Such an one as she," he said, "would forgive a man--even if he seemed
false--and would understand. But none could be false to her--or
forget." And so speaking walked away, the portrait seeming to follow
him with its young flower-blue eyes.

'Twas the same evening Lord Twemlow rode over from his estate to spend
the night with them, and they were no sooner left with their wine than
he broke forth into confidence and fretting.

"I wanted to talk to thee, Edward," he said to Dunstanwolde (they had
been boys together). "I am so crossed these days that I can scarce bear
my own company. 'Tis that young jade again, and I would invent some
measures to be taken."

"Ay, 'tis she again, I swear," had passed through Roxholm's mind as he
looked at his wineglass, and that instant his lordship turned on him
almost testily to explain.

"I speak of a kinswoman who is the bane and disgrace of my life, as she
would be the bane and disgrace of any gentleman who was of her
family," he said. "A pretty fool and baby who was my cousin married a
reprobate, Jeof Wildairs, and this is his daughter and is a shameless
baggage. Egad! you must have seen her on the hunting-field when you
were with us--riding in coat and breeches and with her mane of hair
looped under her hat."

"I saw her," Roxholm answered--and it seemed to him that as he spoke he
beheld again the scarlet figure fly over the hedge on its young devil
of a horse--and felt his heart leap as the horse did.

My Lord Dunstanwolde looked grave and pushed his glass back and forth
on the mahogany. Glancing at him Roxholm thought his cheek had flushed,
as if he did not like the subject. But Twemlow went on, growing hotter.

"One day in the field," he said, "it broke from its loop--her hair--and
fell about her like a black mantle, streaming over her horse's back,
and a sight it was--and damn it, so was she; and every man in the field
shouting with pleasure or laughter. And she snatched her hat off with
an oath and sat there as straight as a dart, but in a fury and winding
her coils up, with her cheeks as scarlet as her coat and cursing like a
young vagabond stable-boy between her teeth."

Dunstanwolde moved suddenly and almost overset his glass, but Roxholm
took his up and drained it with an unmoved countenance.

But he could see her sitting in her black hair, and could see, too, the
splendid scarlet on her angry cheek, and her eyes flashing wickedly.

"Tis not decent," cried Lord Twemlow, striking the table with his hand.
"If the baggage were not what she is, it would be bad enough, but there
is not a woman in England built so. 'Tis well Charles Stuart is not on
the throne, or she would outdo any Castlemaine that ever ruled him. And
'tis well that Louis is in France and that Maintenon keeps him sober.
She might retrieve her house's fortunes and rule at Court a Duchess;
but what decent man will look at her with her Billingsgate and her
breeches? A nice lady she would make for a gentleman! Any modest
snub-nosed girl would be better. There is scarce a week passes she does
not set the country by the ears with some fury or frolic. One time 'tis
clouting a Chaplain till his nose bleeds; next 'tis frightening some
virtuous woman of fashion into hysteric swooning with her impudent
flaming tongue. The women hate her, and she pays them out as _she_ only
can. Lady Maddon had fits for an hour, after an encounter with her, in
their meeting by chance one day at a mercer's in the county town. She
has the wit of a young she-devil and the temper of a tigress, and is so
tall, and towers so that she frightens them out of their senses."

My lord Marquess looked at him across the table.

"She is young," he said, "she is beautiful. Is there no man who loves
her who can win her from her mad ways?"

"Man!" cried Twemlow, raging, "every scoundrel and bumpkin in the shire
is mad after her, but she knows none who are not as bad as she--and
they tell me she laughs her wild, scornful laugh at each of them and
looks at him--standing with her hands in her breeches pockets and her
legs astride, and mocks as if she were some goddess instead of a mere
strapping, handsome vixen. 'There is not one of ye,' she says, 'not one
among ye who is man and big enough!' Such impudence was never yet in
woman born! And the worst on't is, she is right--damn her!--she's
right."

"Yes," said my Lord Dunstanwolde with a clouded face. "'Tis a Man who
would win her--young and beautiful and strong--strong!"

"She needs a master!" cried Twemlow.

"Nay," said Roxholm--"a mate."

"Mate, good Lord!" cried Twemlow, again turning to stare at him. "A
master, say I."

"'Tis a barbaric fancy," said Roxholm thoughtfully as he turned the
stem of his glass, keeping his eyes fixed on it as though solving a
problem for himself. "A barbaric fancy that a woman needs a master. She
who is strong enough is her own conqueror--as a man should be master
of himself."

"No gentleman will take her if she does not mend her ways," Lord
Twemlow said, hotly; "and with all these country rakes about her she
will slip--as more decently bred girls have. All eyes are set upon her,
waiting for it. She has so drawn every gaze upon her, that her scandal
will set ablaze a light that will flame like a beacon-fire from a
hill-top. She will repent her bitterly enough then. None will spare
her. She will be like a hare let loose with every pack in the county
set upon her to hunt her to her death."

"Ah!"--the exclamation broke forth as if involuntarily from my Lord
Dunstanwolde, and Roxholm, turning with a start, saw that he had
suddenly grown pale.

"You are ill!" he cried. "You have lost colour!"

"No! No!" his lordship answered hurriedly, and faintly smiling. "'Tis
over! 'Twas but a stab of pain." And he refilled his glass with wine
and drank it.

"You live too studious a life, Ned," said Twemlow. "You have looked but
poorly this month or two."

"Do not let us speak of it," Lord Dunstanwolde answered, a little
hurried, as before. "What--what is it you think to do--or have you yet
no plan?"

"If she begins her fifteenth year as she has lived the one just past,"
said my lord, ruffling his periwig in his annoyance, "I shall send my
Chaplain to her father to give him warning. We are at such odds that if
I went myself we should come to blows, and I have no mind either to be
run through or to drive steel through his thick body. He would have her
marry, I would swear, and counts on her making as good a match as she
can make without going to Court, where he cannot afford to take her. I
shall lay command on Twichell to put the case clear before him--that no
gentleman will pay her honourable court while he so plays the fool as
to let her be the scandal of Gloucestershire--aye, and of
Worcestershire and Warwickshire to boot. That may stir his
liquor-sodden brain and set him thinking."

"How--will _she_ bear it?" asked his Lordship of Dunstanwolde. "Will
not her spirit take fire that she should be so reproved?"

"'Twill take fire enough, doubtless--and be damned to it!" replied my
Lord Twemlow, hotly. "She will rage and rap out oaths like a trooper,
but if Jeof Wildairs is the man he used to be, he will make her obey
him, if he chooses--or he will break her back."

"'Twould be an awful battle," said Roxholm, "between a will like hers
and such a brute as he, should her choice not be his."

"Ay, he is a great blackguard," commented Twemlow, coolly enough.
"England scarcely holds a bigger than Jeoffry Wildairs, and he has had
the building of her, body and soul."


'Twas not alone my Lord Twemlow who talked of her, but almost every
other person, so it seemed. Oftenest she was railed at and condemned,
the more especially if there were women in the party discussing her;
but 'twas to be marked that at such times as men were congregated and
talked of her faults and beauties, more was said of her charms than her
sins. They fell into relating their stories of her, even the soberest
of them, as if with a sense of humour in them, as indeed the point of
such anecdotes was generally humorous because of a certain piquant
boldness and lawless wild spirit shown in them. The story of the
Chaplain, Roxholm heard again, and many others as fantastic. The
retorts of this young female Ishmael upon her detractors and assailers,
on such rare occasions as she encountered them, were full of a wit so
biting and so keen that they were more than any dared to face when it
could be avoided. But she was so bold and ingenious, and so ready with
devices, that few could escape her. Her companionship with her father's
cronies had given her a curious knowledge of the adventures which took
place in three counties, at least, and her brain was so alert and her
memory so unusual that she was enabled to confront an enemy with such
adroitly arranged circumstantial evidence that more than one poor
beauty would far rather have faced a loaded cannon than found herself
within the immediate neighbourhood of the mocking and flashing eyes.
Her meeting in the mercer's shop with the fair "Willow Wand," Lady
Maddon, had been so full of spirited and pungent truth as to drive her
ladyship back to London after her two hours' fainting fits were over.

"Look you, my lady," she had ended, in her clear, rich girl-voice--and
to every word she uttered the mercer and his shopmen and boys had stood
listening behind their counters or hid round bales of goods, all
grinning as they listened--"I know all your secrets as I know the
secrets of other fine ladies. I know and laugh at them because they
show you to be such fools. They are but fine jokes to me. My morals do
not teach me to pray for you or blame you. Your tricks are your own
business, not another woman's, and I would have told none of them--not
one--if you had not lied about me. I am not a woman in two things: I
wear breeches and I know how to keep my mouth shut as well as if 'twere
padlocked; but you lied about me when you told the story of young
Lockett and me. 'Twas a damned lie, my lady. Had it been true none
would have known of it, and he must have been a finer man--with more
beauty and more wit. But as for the thing I tell you of Sir James--and
your meeting at----"

But here the fragile "Willow Wand" shrieked and fell into her first
fit, not having strength to support herself under the prospect of
hearing the story again with further and more special detail.

"I hear too much of her," Roxholm said to himself at last. "She is in
the air a man breathes, and seems to get into his veins and fly to his
brain." He suddenly laughed a short laugh, which even to himself had a
harsh sound. "'Tis time I should go back to Flanders," he said, "and
rejoin his Grace of Marlborough."

He had been striding over the hillsides all morning with his gun over
his shoulder, and had just before he spoke thrown himself down to rest.
He had gone out alone, his mood pleasing itself best with solitude, and
had lost his way and found himself crossing strange land. Being wearied
and somewhat out of sorts, he had flung himself down among the heather
and bracken, where he was well out of sight, and could lie and look up
at the gray of the sky, his hands clasped beneath his head.

"Yes, 'twill be as well that I go back to Flanders," he said again,
somewhat gloomily; and as he spoke he heard voices on the fall of the
hill below him, and glancing down through the gorse bushes, saw
approaching his resting-place four sportsmen who looked as fatigued as
himself.

He did not choose to move, thinking they would pass him, and as they
came nearer he recognised them one by one, having by this time been
long enough in the neighbourhood to have learned both names and faces.
They were of the Wildairs crew, and one man's face enlightened him as
to whose estate he trespassed upon, the owner of the countenance being
a certain Sir Christopher Crowell, a jolly drunken dog whose land he
had heard was somewhere in the neighbourhood. The other two men were a
Lord Eldershawe and Sir Jeoffry Wildairs himself, while the tall
stripling with them 'twas easy to give a name to, though she strode
over the heather with her gun on her shoulder and as full a game-bag as
if she had been a man--it being Mistress Clorinda, in corduroy and with
her looped hair threatening to break loose and hanging in disorder
about her glowing face. They were plainly in gay humour, though
wearied, and talked and laughed noisily as they came.

"We have tramped enough," cried Sir Jeoffry, "and bagged birds enough
for one morning. 'Tis time we rested our bones and put meat and drink
in our bellies."

He flung himself down upon the heather and the other men followed his
example. Mistress Clo, however, remaining standing, at first leaning
upon her gun.

My lord Marquess gazed down at her from his ledge and shut his teeth in
anger at the mounting of the blood to his cheek and its unseemly
burning there.

"I will stay where I am and look at her, at least," he said. "To be
looked at does no woman harm, and to look at one can harm no man--if he
be going to Flanders."

That which disturbed him most was his realising that he always thought
of her as a woman--and also that she _was_ a woman and no child. 'Twas
almost impossible to believe she was no older than was said, when one
beheld her height and youthful splendour of body and bearing. He knew
no woman of twenty as tall as she and shaped with such strength and
fineness. Her head was set so on her long throat and her eyes so looked
out from under her thick jet lashes, that in merely standing erect she
seemed to command and somewhat disdain; but when she laughed, her red
lips curling, her little strong teeth gleaming, and her eyes opening
and flashing mirth, she was the archest, most boldly joyous creature a
man had ever beheld. Her morning's work on the moors had made her look
like young Nature's self, her cheek was burnt rich-brown and crimson,
her disordered hair twined in big rough rings about her forehead, her
movements were as light, alert, and perfect as if she had been a deer
or any wild thing of the woods or fields. There was that about her that
made Roxholm feel that she must exhale in breath and hair and garments
the scent of gorse and heather and fern and summer rains.

As one man gazed at her so did the others, though they were his elders
and saw her often, while he was but twenty-eight and had beheld her but
once before.

Each man of the party took from his pouch a small but well-filled
packet of food and a flask, and fell to upon their contents
voraciously, talking as they worked their jaws and joking with Mistress
Clo. She also brought forth her own package, which held bread and meat,
and a big russet apple, upon she set with a fine appetite. 'Twas good
even to see her eat, she did it with such healthy pleasure, as a young
horse might have taken his oats or a young setter his supper after a
day in the cover.

"_Thou_'rt not tired, Clo!" cries Eldershawe, laughing, as she fell
upon her russet apple, biting into it crisply, and plainly with the
pleasure of a hungry child.

"Not I, good Lord!" she answered. "Could shoot over as many miles
again."

"When thou'rt fifty years old, wilt not be so limber and have such
muscles," said Sir Jeoffry.

"She hath not so long to wait," said the third man, grinning. "Wast not
fourteen in November, Clo? Wilt soon be a woman."

She bit deep into her fruit and stared out over the moors below.

"Am not going to be a woman," she said. "I hate them."

"They hate thee," said Eldershawe, with a chuckle, "and will hate thee
worse when thou wearest brocades and a farthingale."

"I have watched them," proceeded Mistress Clo. "They cannot keep their
mouths shut. If they have a secret they must tell it, whether 'tis
their own or another's. They clack, they tell lies, they cry and scream
out if they are hurt; but they will hurt anything which cannot hurt
them back. They run and weep to each other when they are in love and a
man slights them. They have no spirit and no decency." She said it with
such an earnest solemness that her companions shouted with laughter.

"She sits in her breeches--the unruliest baggage in Gloucestershire,"
cried Eldershawe, "and complains that fine ladies are not decent. What
would they say if they heard thee?"

"They may hear me when they will," said Mistress Clo, springing to her
feet with a light jump and sending the last of her apple whizzing into
space with a boyish throw. "'Tis I who am the modest woman--for all my
breeches and manners. I do not see indecency where there is none--for
the mere pleasure of ogling and bridling and calling attention to my
simpering. I should have seen no reason for airs and graces if I had
been among those on the bank when the fine young Marquess we heard of
saved the boat-load on the river and gave orders for the reviving of
the drowned man--in his wet skin. When 'tis spoke of--for 'tis a
favourite story--that little beast Tantillion hides her face behind her
fan and cries, 'Oh, Lud! thank Heaven I was not near. I should have
swooned away at the very sight.'"

She imitated the affected simper of a girl in such a manner that the
three sportsmen yelled with delight, and Roxholm himself gnawed his lip
to check an involuntary break into laughter.

"What didst say to her the day she bridled over it at Knepton, when the
young heir was there?" said Crowell, grinning. "I was told thou
disgraced thyself, Clo. What saidst thou?"

She was standing her full straight height among them and turned, with
her hands in her pockets and a grave face.

"My blood was hot," she answered. "I said, 'Damn thee for a lying
little fool!' _That_ thou wouldst not!"

And the men who lay on the ground roared till they rolled there, and
Roxholm gnawed his lip again, though not all from mirth, for there was
in his mind another thing. She did not laugh but stood in the same
position, but now looking out across the country spread below.

"I shall love no man who will scorn me," she continued in her mellow
voice; "but if I did I would be burned alive at the stake before I
would open my lips about it. And I would be burned alive at the stake
before I would play tricks with my word or break my promise when 'twas
given. Women think they can swear a thing and unswear it, to save or
please themselves. They give themselves to a man and then repent it and
are slippery. If I had given myself, and found I had been a fool, I
would keep faith. I would play no tricks--even though I learned to hate
him. No, I will not be a woman."

And she picked up her gun and strode away, and seeing this they rose
all three by one accord, as if she were their chieftain, and followed
her.

After they were gone my lord Marquess did not move for some time, but
lay still among the gorse and bracken at his full length, his hands
clasped behind his head. He gazed up into the grey sky with the look of
a man whose thoughts are deep and strange. But at last he rose, and
picking up his gun, shouldered it and strode forth on his way back to
Dunstan's Wolde, which was miles away.

"Yes," he said, speaking aloud to himself, "I will go back and follow
his Grace of Marlborough for a while on his campaign--but in two years'
time I will come back--to Gloucestershire--and see what time has
wrought."


But to Flanders he did not go, nor did my Lord Duke of Marlborough see
him for many a day, for Fate, which had so long steadily driven him,
had ordained it otherwise. When he reached Dunstan's Wolde, on crossing
the threshold, something in the faces of the lacqueys about the
entrance curiously attracted his attention. He thought each man he
glanced at or spoke to looked agitated and as if there were that on his
mind which so scattered his wits that he scarce knew how to choose his
speech. The younger ones stammered and, trying to avoid his eye, seemed
to step out of his view as hastily as possible. Those of maturer years
wore grave and sorrowful faces, and when, on passing through the great
hall upon which opened the library and drawing-rooms he encountered the
head butler, the man started back and actually turned pale.

"What has happened?" his lordship demanded, his wonder verging in
alarm. "Something has come about, surely. What is it, man? Tell me! My
Lord Dunstanwolde--"

The man was not one whose brain worked quickly. 'Twas plain he lost
his wits, being distressed for some reason beyond measure. He stepped
to the door of the library and threw it open.

"My--my lord awaits your--your lordship--Grace," and then in an
uncertain and low voice he announced him in the following strange
manner:

"His--lordship--his Grace--has returned, my lord," he said.

And Roxholm, suddenly turning cold and pale himself, and seized upon by
a horror of he knew not what, saw as in a dream my lord Dunstanwolde
advancing towards him, his face ashen with woe, tears on his cheeks,
his shaking hands outstretched as if in awful pity.

"My poor Gerald," he broke forth, one hand grasping his, one laid on
his shoulder. "My poor lad--God help me--that I am no more fit to break
to you this awful news."

"For God's sake!" cried Gerald, and sank into the chair my lord drew
him to, where he sat himself down beside him, the tears rolling down
his lined cheeks.

"Both--_both_ your parents!" he cried. "God give me words! Both--both!
At Pisa where they had stopped--a malignant fever. Your mother
first--and within twelve hours your father! Praise Heaven they were not
parted. Gerald, my boy!"

My lord Marquess leaned forward, his elbow sank on his knee, his
forehead fell heavily upon his palm and rested there. He felt as if a
blow had been struck upon his head, which he moved slowly, seeing
nothing before him.

"Both! Both!" he murmured. "The happiest woman in England! Have you
been happy? I would hear you say it again--before I leave you! Ay,"
shaking his head, "_that_ was why the poor fool said, 'Your Grace.'"



_CHAPTER XIV_

"_For all her youth--there is no other woman like her_"


They were brought back in state from Italy and borne to their beloved
Camylott, to sleep in peace there, side by side; and the bells in the
church-tower tolled long and mournfully, and in the five villages in
different shires there was not a heart which did not ache--nor one
which having faith did not know that somewhere their happy love lived
again and was more full of joy than it had been before. And my lord
Marquess was my lord Duke; but for many months none beheld him but Lord
Dunstanwolde, who came to Camylott with many great people to attend the
funeral obsequies; but when all the rest went away he stayed, and
through the first strange black weeks the two were nearly always
together, and often, through hours, walked in company from one end of
the Long Gallery to the other.

Over such periods of sorrow and bereavement it is well to pass gently,
since they must come to all, and have so come through all the ages
past, to every human being who has lived to maturity; and yet, at the
same time, there is none can speak truly for another than himself of
what the suffering has been or how it has been borne. None but the one
who bears it can know what hours of anguish the endurance cost and how
'twas reached.

My lord Duke looked pale in his mourning garments, and for many months
his countenance seemed sharper cut, his eyes looking deeper set and
larger, having faint shadows round them, but even Lord Dunstanwolde
knew but few of his inmost thoughts, and to others he never spoke of
his bereavement.

The taking possession of a great estate, and the first assuming of the
responsibilities attached to it, are no small events, and bring upon
the man left sole heir numberless new duties, therefore the new Duke
had many occupations to attend to--much counselling with his legal
advisers, many interviews with stewards, bailiffs, and holders of his
lands, visits to one estate after another, and converse with the
reverend gentlemen who were the spiritual directors of his people. Such
duties gave him less time for brooding than he would have had upon his
hands had he been a man more thoughtless of what his responsibilities
implied, and, consequently, more willing to permit them to devolve upon
those in his employ.

"A man should himself know all things pertaining to his belongings,"
the new Duke said to Lord Dunstanwolde, "and all those who serve him
should be aware that he knows, and that he will no more allow his
dependents to cheat or slight him than he himself will stoop to
carelessness or dishonesty in his dealings with themselves. To govern
well, a man must be ruler as well as friend."

And this he was to every man in his five villages, and those who had
worshipped him as their master's heir loved and revered him as their
master.

The great Marlborough wrote a friendly letter expressing his sympathy
for him in the calamity by which he had been overtaken, and also his
regret at the loss of his services and companionship, he having at once
resigned his commission in the army on the occurrence of his
bereavement, not only feeling desirous of remaining in England, but
finding it necessary to do so.

He spent part of the year upon his various estates in the country, but
quarrels of Whigs and Tories, changes in the Cabinet, and the bitter
feeling against the march into Germany and the struggles which promised
to result, gave him work to do in London and opportunities for the
development of those abilities his Grace of Marlborough had marked in
him. The air on all sides was heavy with storm--at Court the enemies of
Duchess Sarah (and they were many, whether they confessed themselves or
not) were prognosticating her fall from her high post of ruler of the
Queen of England, and her lord from his pinnacle of fame; there were
high Tories and Jacobites who did not fear to speak of the scaffold as
the last stage likely to be reached by the greatest military commander
the country had ever known in case his march into Germany ended in
disaster. There were indeed questions so momentous to be pondered over
that for long months my lord Duke had but little time for reflection
upon those incidents which had disturbed him by appearing to result
from the workings of persistent Fate.

But in a locked cabinet in his private closet there lay a picture which
sometimes, as it were, despite himself, he took from its hiding-place
to look upon; and when he found himself gazing at the wondrous face of
storm, with its great stag's eyes, he knew that the mere sight waked in
him the old tumult and that it did not lose its first strange,
unexplained power. And once sitting studying the picture, his thought
uttered itself aloud, his voice curiously breaking upon the stillness
of the room.

"It is," he said, "as if that first hour a deep chord of music had been
struck--a stormy minor chord--and each time I hear of her or see her
the same chord is struck loud again, and never varies by a note. I
swear there is a question in her eyes--and I--I could answer it. Yet,
for my soul's sake, I must keep away."

He knew honour itself demanded this of him, for the stories which came
to his ears were each wilder and more fantastic than the other, and
sometimes spoke strange evil of her--of her violent temper, of her
wicked tongue, of her outraging of all customs and decencies, but,
almost incredible as it seemed, none had yet proved that her high
spirit and proud heart had been subjugated and she made victim by a
conqueror. 'Twas this which was talked of at the clubs and
coffee-houses, where her name was known by those frequenting them.

"She would be like a hare let loose to be hounded to her death by every
pack in the county," my Lord Twemlow had said the night he talked of
her at Dunstan's Wolde, and every man agreed with him and waited for
the outburst of a scandal, and made bets as to when it would break
forth. There were those among the successful heart-breakers whose
vanity was piqued by the existence of so invincible and fantastical a
female creature, and though my lord Duke did not hear of it, their
worlds being far apart, the male beauty and rake, Sir John Oxon, was
among them, his fretted pride being so well known among his
fellow-beaux that 'twas their habit to make a joke of it and taunt him
with their witticisms.

"She is too big a devil," they said, "to care a fig for any man. She
would laugh in the face of the mightiest lady-killer in London, and
flout him as if he were a mercer's apprentice or a plough-boy. He does
not live who could trap her."

With most of them, the noble sport of chasing women was their most
exalted pastime. They were like hunters on the chase of birds, the man
who brought down the rarest creature of the wildest spirit and the
brightest plumage was the man who was a hero for a day at least.

The winter my lord Duke of Marlborough spent at Hanover, Berlin,
Vienna, and the Hague, engaged in negotiations and preparations for his
campaign, and at Vienna his Grace of Osmonde joined him that they might
talk face to face, even the great warrior's composure being shaken by
the disappointment of the year. But a fortnight before his leaving
England there came to Osmonde's ear rumours of a story from
Gloucestershire--'twas of a nature more fantastic than any other, and
far more unexpected. The story was imperfectly told and without detail,
and detail no man or woman seemed able to acquire, and baffled
curiosity ran wild, no story having so whetted it as this last.

"But we shall hear later," said one, "for 'tis said Jack Oxon was
there, being on a visit to his kinsman, Lord Eldershawe, who has been
the young lady's playmate from her childhood. Jack will come back
primed and will strut about for a week and boast of his fortunes
whether he can prove them or not."

But this Osmonde did not hear, having already left town for a few days
at Camylott, where my Lord Dunstanwolde accompanied him, and at the
week's end they went together to Warwickshire, and as on the occasion
of Osmonde's other visit, the first evening they were at the Wolde came
my Lord Twemlow, more excited than ever before, and he knew and told
the whole story.

"Things have gone from bad to worse," he said, "and at last I sent my
Chaplain as I had planned, and the man came back frightened out of his
wits, having reached the hall-door in a panic and there found himself
confronted by what he took to be a fine lad in hunting-dress making his
dog practise jumping tricks. And 'twas no lad, of course, but my fine
mistress in her boy's clothes, and she takes him to her father and
makes a saucy jest of the whole matter, tossing off a tankard of ale as
she sits on the table laughing at him and keeping Sir Jeoffry from
breaking his head in a rage. And in the end she sends an impudent
message to me--but says I am right, the shrewd young jade, and that she
will see that no disgrace befalls me. But for all that, the Chaplain
came home in a cold sweat, poor fool, and knows not what to say when he
speaks of her."

"And then?" said my Lord Dunstanwolde, somewhat anxiously, "is it
true--that which we heard rumoured in town----"

Lord Twemlow shook his head ruefully. "Heaven knows how it will end,"
he said, "or if it is but a new impudent prank--or what she will do
next--but the whole country is agog with the story. She bade her father
invite his rapscallion crew to her birthnight supper, and says 'tis
that they may see her in breeches for the last time, for she will wear
them no more, but begin to live a sober, godly, and virtuous life and
keep a Chaplain of her own. And on the twenty-fourth night of November,
she turning fifteen, they gather prepared for sport, and find her
attired like a young prince, in pink satin coat and lace ruffles and
diamond buckles and powder; more impudent and handsome than since she
was born. And when the drinking sets in heavily, upon her chair she
springs and stands laughing at the company of them.

"'Look your last on my fine shape,' she cries, 'for after to-night
you'll see no more of it. From this I am a fine lady,' and sings a song
and drinks a toast and breaks her glass on the floor and runs away."

At a certain period of my Lord Twemlow's first story, the night he told
it, both his Lordship of Dunstanwolde and the then Marquess of Roxholm
had made unconscious movements as they heard--this had happened when
had been described the falling of the mantle of black hair and the
little oaths with which Mistress Clorinda had sat on her hunter binding
it up--and at this point--at this other picture of the audacious beauty
and her broken glass each man almost started again--my Lord
Dunstanwolde indeed suddenly rising and taking a step across the
hearth.

"What a story," he said. "On my soul!"

"And 'tis not the end!" cried Lord Twemlow. "An hour she leaves them
talking of her, wondering what she plans to do, and then the door is
flung wide open and there she stands--splendid in crimson and silver
and jewels, with a diadem on her head, and servants holding lights
flaming above her."

My Lord Dunstanwolde turned about and looked at him as if the movement
was involuntary, and Lord Twemlow ended with a blow upon the table, his
elderly face aflame with appreciation of the dramatic thing he told.

"And makes them a great Court courtesy," he cried, his voice growing
almost shrill, "and calls on them all to fall upon their knees, by God!
'for so,' she says, 'from this night all men shall kneel--all men on
whom I deign to cast my eyes.'"

His Grace the Duke of Osmonde had listened silently, and throughout
with an impenetrable face, but at this moment he put up his hand and
slightly swept his brow with his fingers, as if he felt it damp.


"And now what does it mean?" my Lord Twemlow asked them, with an
anxious face. "And how will it end? A fortnight later she appeared at
church dressed like a lady of the Court, and attended by her sisters
and their governess, as if she had never appeared unattended in her
life, and prayed, good Lord, with such a majestic seriousness, and
listened to the sermon with such a face as made the parson forget his
text and fumble about for his notes in dire confusion. 'Twas thought
she might be going to play some trick to cause him to break down in the
midst of his discourse. But she did not, and sailed out of church as if
she had never missed a sermon since she was born."

"Perhaps," said my Lord Dunstanwolde, "perhaps her mind has changed and
'tis true she intends to live more gravely."

"Nay," answered Lord Twemlow, with a troubled countenance. "No such
good fortune. She doth not intend to keep it up--and how could she if
she would? A girl who hath lived as she hath, seeing no decent company
and with not a woman about her--though for that matter they say she
has the eye of a hawk and the wit of a dozen women, and the will to do
aught she chooses. But surely she could not keep it up!"

"Another woman could not," said Osmonde. "A woman who had not a clear,
strong brain and a wondrous determination--a woman who was weak or a
fool, or even as other women, could not. But surely--for all her
youth--there is no other woman like her."



_CHAPTER XV_

"_And 'twas the town rake and beauty--Sir John Oxon_"


That night he lay almost till 'twas morning, his eyes open upon the
darkness, since he could not sleep, finding it impossible to control
the thoughts which filled his mind. 'Twas a night whose still long
hours he never could forget in the years that followed, and 'twas not a
memory which was a happy one. He passed through many a curious phase of
thought, and more than once felt a pang of sorrow that he was now alone
as he had never thought of being, and that if suffering came, his
silent endurance of it must be a new thing. To be silent because one
does not wish to speak is a different matter from being silent because
one knows no creature dear and near enough to hear the story of one's
trouble. He realised now that the tender violet eyes which death had
closed would have wooed from his reserve many a thing it might have
been good to utter in words.

"She would always have understood," he thought. "She understood when
she cried out, 'It might have been!'"

He clasped his hands behind his head and lay so, smiling with mingled
bitterness and joy.

"It has begun!" he said. "I have heard them tell of it--of how one
woman's face came back again and again, of how one pair of eyes would
look into a man's and would not leave him, nor let him rest. It has
begun for me, too. For good or evil, it has begun."

Until this night he had told himself, and believed himself in the
telling, that he had been strangely haunted by thoughts of a strange
creature, because the circumstances by which she was encompassed were
so unusual and romantic as would have lingered in the mind of any man
whether old or young; and this he had been led to feel the more
confident of, since he was but one of a dozen men, and indeed each one
who knew of her existence appeared to regard her as the heroine of a
play, though so far it was to them but a rattling comedy. But from this
night he knew a different thing, and realised that he was face to face
with that mystery which all men do not encounter, some only meeting
with the mere fleeting image of it and never knowing what the reality
is--that mystery which may be man's damnation or his heaven, his
torture and heart-sickening, or his life and strength and bliss. What
his would bring to him, or bring him to, he knew not in the least, and
had at times a pang at thought of it, but sometimes such a surge of joy
as made him feel himself twice man instead of once.

When he went forth to ride the next day it was with a purpose clear in
his mind. Hitherto all he had seen or heard had been by chance, but if
he saw aught this morning 'twould be because he had hoped for and gone
to meet it.

"Before I cross the sea," was his thought, "I would see her once again
if chance so favors me. I would see if there seems any new thing in her
face, and if there is--if this is no wild jest and comedy, but means
that she has wakened to knowing herself a woman--I shall know when I
see her eyes and can carry my thought away with me. Then when I come
back--'twill be but a few months at the most--I will ride into
Gloucestershire the first week I am on English soil, and I will go to
her and ask that I may be her servant until she learns what manner of
man I am and can tell me to go--or stay."

If Sir Jeoffry and his crew had dreamed that such a thought worked in
the mind of one of the richest young noblemen in England--he a Duke and
handsome enough to set any woman's heart beating--as he rode through
the Gloucestershire lanes; if they had dreamed that such a thing was
within the bounds of human possibility, what a tumult would have been
roused among them; how they would have stared at each other, with
mouths open, uttering exclamatory oaths of wild amazement and ecstatic
triumph; how they would have exulted and drunk each other's healths
and their wild playmate's and her splendid fortunes. But, in truth,
that such a thing could be, would have seemed to them as likely as that
Queen Anne herself should cast a gracious eye upon a poor, fox-hunting,
country baronet who was one of her rustic subjects. The riot of
Wildairs and its company was a far cry indeed from Camylott and St.
James.

If my Lord Twemlow had guessed at the possibility of the strange thing,
and had found himself confronting a solution of his carking problem
which would flood its past with brilliance and illuminate all its
future with refulgent light, casting a glow of splendour even over his
own plain country gentleman's existence, how he would have started and
flushed with bewildered pride and rubbed his periwig awry in his
delighted excitement. If my Lord Dunstanwolde, sitting at that hour in
his silent library, a great book open before him, his forehead on his
slender veined hand, his thoughts wandering far away, if he had been
given by Fate an inkling of the truth which none knew or suspected, or
had reason for suspecting, perhaps he would have been the most startled
and struck dumb of all--the most troubled and amazed and shocked.

But of such a thing no one dreamed, as, indeed, why should they, and my
lord Duke of Osmonde rode over the border into Gloucestershire on his
fine beast, and, trotting-up the roads and down the lanes, wore a look
upon his face which showed him deep in thought.

'Twas a grey day, unbrightened by any sun. For almost a week there had
been rain, and the roads were heavy and the lanes muddy and full of
pools of miry water.

It was the intention of my lord Duke to let his horse carry him over
such roads and lands as would be in the near neighbourhood of Wildairs,
and while he recognised the similarity of his action to that of a
school-boy in love, who paces the street before his sweetheart's
dwelling, there was no smile at himself, either on his countenance or
in his mind.

"I may see her," he said quietly to himself. "I am more like to catch
sight of her on these roads than on any other, and, school-boy trick or
not, 'twill serve, and if she passes will have won me what I long
for--for it is _longing_, this. I know it now, and own it to myself."

And see her he did, but as is ever the case when a man has planned a
thing, it befell as he had not thought of its happening--and 'twas over
in a flash.

Down one of the wet lanes he had turned and was riding slowly when he
heard suddenly behind him a horse coming at such a sharp gallop that
he wheeled his own beast aside, the way being dangerously narrow, that
so tempestuous a rider might tear by in safety. And as he turned and
was half screened by the bushes, the rider swept past him splashing
through the mire and rain-pools so that the muddy water flew up beneath
the horses' hoofs--and 'twas the object of his thoughts herself!

She rode her tall young horse and was not clad as he had before beheld
her, but in rich riding-coat and hat and sweeping feather. No maid of
honour of her Majesty Queen Anne's rode attired more fittingly, none
certainly with such a seat and spirit, and none, Heaven knew, looked
like her.

These things he marked in a flash, not knowing he had marked them until
afterwards, so strong and moving was his sudden feeling that in her
nature at that moment there worked some strange new thing--some mood
new to herself and angering her. Her brows were bent, her eyes were set
and black with shadow. She bit her full lip as she rode, and her horse
went like the wind. For but a moment she was through the lane and
clattering on the road.

My lord Duke was breathing fast and bit his own lip, but the next
second broke into a laugh, turning his horse, whose bridle he had
caught up with a sudden gesture.

"Nay," he said, "a man cannot gallop after a lady without ceremony, and
command her to stand and deliver as if he were a highwayman. Yet I was
within an ace of doing it--within an ace. I have beheld her! I had best
ride back to Dunstan's Wolde."

And so he did, at a hot pace; but if he had chanced to turn on the top
of the hill he might have seen below him in a lane to the right that
two rode together, and one was she whom he had but just seen, her
companion a horseman who had leapt a gate in a field and joined her,
with flushed cheeks and wooing eyes, though she had frowned--and 'twas
the town rake and beauty, Sir John Oxon.



_CHAPTER XVI_

_A Rumour_


Through the passing of two years Osmonde's foot did not press English
soil again, and his existence during that period was more vivid and
changeful than it had ever been before. He saw Ramillies follow
Blenheim, great Marlborough attain the height of renown, and French
Louis's arrogant ambitions end in downfall and defeat. Life in both
camp and Court he knew at its highest tension, brilliant scenes he
beheld, strange ones, wicked ones, and lived a life so eventful and
full of motion and excitement that there were few men who through its
picturesque adventures would have been like to hold in mind one image
and one thought. Yet this he did, telling himself that 'twas the
thought which held him, not he the thought, it having been proven in
the past 'twas one which would not have released him from its dominion
even had he been inclined to withdraw himself from it. And this he was
not. Nature had so built him, that on the day when he had found himself
saying, "In two years' time I will come back to Gloucestershire and see
what time has wrought," he had reached a point from which there was no
retreating. Through many an hour in time past there had been turmoil in
his mind, but in a measure, at least, this ended the uncertainties, and
was no rash outburst but a resolve. It had not been made lightly, but
had been like a plant which had grown from a seed, long hidden in dark
earth and slowly fructifying till at last summer rain and warming sun
had caused it to burst forth from its prison, a thing promising full
fruit and flower. For long he had not even known the seed was in the
soil; he had felt its stirrings before he had believed in its
existence, and then one day the earth had broke and he had seen its
life and known what its strength might be. 'Twould be of wondrous
strength, he knew, and of wondrous beauty if no frost should blight nor
storm uproot it.

In its freedom from all tendency to plaything-sentiments and trivial
romances, his youth had been unlike the youth of other men. Being man
and young, he had known temptation, but had disdained it; being also
proud and perhaps haughty in his fastidiousness, and being strong, he
had thrust base and light things aside. He had held in his brain a
fancy from his boyhood, and singularly enough it had but grown stronger
and become more fully formed with his own strength and increase of
years. 'Twas a strange fancy indeed to fit the time he lived in, but
'twas his choice. The woman whose eyes held the answer to the question
his own soul asked, and whose being asked the question to which his own
replied, would bring great and deep joy to him--others did not count in
his existence--and for her he had waited and longed, sometimes so
fiercely, that he wondered if he was in the wrong and but following a
haunting, mocking dream.

"You are an epicure, Osmonde," his Grace of Marlborough said more than
once, for he had watched and studied him closely. "Not an anchorite but
an epicure."

"Yes," answered Osmonde, "perhaps 'tis that. Any man can love a score
of women--most men do--but there are few who can love but one, as I
shall, if--" and the words came slowly--"if I ever find her."

"You may not," remarked his Grace.

"I may not," said Osmonde, and he smiled his faint, grim smile.

He could not have sworn when he returned to the Continent that he had
found her absolutely at last. Her body he had found, but herself he had
not approached nearly enough to know. But this thing he realised, that
even in the mad stories he had heard, when they had been divested of
their madness, the chief figure in them had always stood out an honest,
strong, fair thing, dwarfed by no petty feminine weakness, nor follies,
nor spites. Rules she broke, decorums she defied, but in such manner
as hurt none but herself. She played no tricks and laid no plots for
vengeance, as she might well have done; she but went her daring,
lawless way, with her head up and her great eyes wide open; and 'twas
her fearless frankness and just, clear wit which moved him more than
aught else, since 'twas they which made him feel that 'twas not alone
her splendid body commanded love, but a spirit which might mate with a
strong man's and be companion to his own. His theories of womankind,
which were indeed curiously in advance of his age, were such as
demanded great things, and not alone demanded, but also gave them.

"A man and woman should not seem beings of a different race--the one
all strength, the other all weakness," was his thought. "They should
gaze into each other's eyes with honest, tender human passion, which is
surely a great thing, as nature made it. Each should know the other's
love, and strength, and honour may be trusted through death--or
life--themselves. 'Tis not a woman's love is won by pretty gallantries,
nor a man's by flattering weak surrender. Love grows from a greater
thing, and should be as compelling--even in the higher, finer thing
which thinks--as is the roar of the lion in the jungle to his mate, and
her glad cry which answers him."

And therefore, at last he had said to himself that this beauteous,
strong, wild thing surely might be she who would answer him one day,
and he held his thoughts of her in check no more, nor avoided the
speech he heard of her, and indeed, with adroitness which never
betrayed itself through his reserve of bearing, at times encouraged it;
and in a locked drawer in his apartments, wheresoever he travelled,
there lay always the picture with the stormy, yearning eyes.

From young Tantillion he could, without any apparent approach at
questioning, hear such details of Gloucestershire life in the
neighbourhood of Wildairs as made him feel that he was not far
separated from that which his mind dwelt on. Little Lady Betty, having
entered the world of fashion, was more voluminous in her correspondence
than ever, the more especially as young Langton appeared to her a very
pretty fellow, and he being Tom's confidant, was likely to hear her
letters read, or at least be given extracts from them. Her caustic
condemnation of the fantastical Mistress Clo had gradually lapsed into
a doubtful wonder, which later became open amaze not untinged with a
pretty spitefulness and resentment.

"'Tis indeed a strange thing, and one to make one suspicious of her,
Thomas," she wrote, "with all her bold ways, to suddenly put on such
decorum. We are all sure 'tis from some cunning motive, and wait to
find out what she will be at next. At first none believed she would
hold out or would know how to behave herself, but Lud! if you could see
her I am sure, Tom, both you and Mr. Langton would be disgusted by her
majestic airs. Being dressed in woman's clothing she is taller than
ever, and so holds her chin and her eyes that it makes any modist woman
mad. If she was a Duchess at Court she could not be more stately than
she now pretends she is (for of course it is pretence, as anyone
knows). She has had the vile cunningness to stop her bad langwidg, as
if she had never swore an oath in her life (such deseatfulness!). And
none can tell where she hath learned her manners, for if you will
beleave the thing, 'tis said she never makes a blunder, but can sweep a
great curtsey and sail about a saloon full of company as if she was
bred to it, and can dance a minuet and bear herself at a feast in a way
to surprise you. Lady Maddon says that women who are very vile and
undeserving are sometimes wickedly clever, and can pick up modist
women's manners wondrously, but they always break out before long and
are more indecent than ever; and you may mark my Lady Maddon's words,
she says this one will do the same, but first she is playing a part and
restraining herself that she may deseave some poor gentleman and trap
him into marrying her. It makes Lady Maddon fall into a passion to
talk of her, and she will flush quite red and talk so fast, but indeed
after I see the creature or hear some new story of her impudent
victories, I fall into a passion myself--for, Tom, _no human being can
put her in her place_."

It must be confessed that the attitude of the recipient of these
letters was by no means a respectful one, they being read and re-read
with broad grins and frequent outbursts of roaring laughter, ending in
derisive or admiring comments, even Bob Langton, who had no objection
to pretty Lady Betty's oglings and summing of him as a dangerous beau,
breaking forth into gleeful grinning himself.

"Hang me if some great nobleman won't marry her," cried Tom, "and a
fine lady she'll make, too! Egad, it almost frightens one, for all the
joke of it, to think of a woman who can do such things--to be a madder
romp than any and suddenly to will that she will change in such a way,
and hold herself firm and be beat by naught. 'Tis scarce human. Bet
says that her kinsman, my Lord Twemlow, has took her in hand and is as
proud of her and as fidgety as some match-making mother. And the county
people who would not have spoke to her a year ago, have begun to visit
Wildairs and invite her to their houses, for all the men are wild
after her, and the best way to make an entertainment a fine thing is to
let it be known that she will grace it. Even Sir Jeof and his cronies
are taken in because they shine in her glory and are made decent by
it."

"They say, too," cried Bob Langton, "that she makes them all behave
themselves, telling them that unless their manners are decent they
cannot follow her to the fine houses she is bid to--and she puts them
through a drill and cuts off their drink and their cursings and wicked
stories. And Gloucestershire and Warwickshire and Worcestershire are
all agog with it!"

"And they follow her like slaves," added Tantillion, in an ecstacy,
"and stand about with their mouths open to stare at her swimming though
her minuets with bowing worshippers, and oh! Roxholm--nay, I should say
Osmonde; but how can a man remember you are Duke instead of
Marquis?--'tis told that in the field in her woman's hat and
hunting-coat she is handsomer than ever. Even my Lord Dunstanwolde has
rode to the meet to behold her, and admires her as far as a sober
elderly gentleman can."

That my Lord Dunstanwolde admired her, Osmonde knew. His rare letters
told a grave and dignified gentleman's version of the story and spoke
of it with kindly courtesy and pleasure in it. It had proved that the
change which had come over her had been the result of no caprice or
mischievous spirit but of a reasonable intention, to which she had been
faithful with such consistency of behaviour as filled the gossips and
onlookers with amazement.

"'Tis my belief," said the kindly nobleman, "that being in truth a
noble creature, though bred so wildly, the time came when she realised
herself a woman, and both wit and heart told her that 'twas more
honourable to live a woman's life and not a madcap boy's. And her
intellect being of such vigour and fineness, she can execute what her
thought conceives."

Among the gentlemen who were her courtiers there was much talk of the
fashionable rake Sir John Oxon, who, having appeared at her birthnight
supper, had become madly enamoured of her, and had stayed in the
country at Eldershawe Park and laid siege to her with all his forces
and with much fervour of feeling besides. 'Twas a thing well known that
this successful rake had never lost his heart to a woman in his life
before, and that his victims had all been snared by a part played to
villanous perfection; but 'twas plain enough that at last he had met a
woman who had set that which he called his soul on fire. He could not
tear himself away from the country, though the gayeties of the town
were at their highest. When in her presence his burning blue eyes
followed her every movement, and when she treated him disdainfully he
turned pale.

"But she leaves him no room for boasting," related young Tantillion.
"He may worship as any man may, but she shows no mercy to any, and him
she treats with open scorn when he languishes. He grows thin and pale
and is half-crazed with his passion for her."

There is no man who has given himself up to a growing passion and has
not yet revealed it, who does not pass through many an hour of unrest.
How could it be otherwise? In his absence from the object of his
feeling every man who lives is his possible rival, every woman his
possible enemy, every event a possible obstacle in the way to that he
yearns for. And from this situation there is nothing which can save a
man. He need not be a boy or a fool to be tormented despite himself;
the wisest and gravest are victims to these fits of heat and cold if
they have modesty and know somewhat of the game of chance called Life.
What may not happen to a castle left undefended; what may not be
filched from coffers left unlocked? This is the history of a man who,
despite the lavishness of Fortune and the gifts she had poured forth
before him, was of a stately humility. That he was a Duke and of great
estate, that he had already been caressed by the hand of Fame and had
been born more stalwart and beautiful than nine men of ten, did not,
to his mind, make sure for him the love of any woman whom he had not
served and won. He was of no meek spirit, but he had too much wit and
too great knowledge of the chances of warfare not to know that in
love's campaign, as in any other, a man must be on the field if he
would wield his sword.

So my lord Duke had his days of fret and restlessness as less fortunate
men have them, and being held on the Continent by duties he had
undertaken in calmer moments, lay sometimes awake at night reproaching
himself that he had left England. Such hours do not make a man grow
cooler, and by the time the second year had ripened, the months were
long indeed. Well as he had thought he knew himself, there were times
when the growth of this passion which possessed him awaked in him
somewhat of wonder. 'Twas for one with whom he had yet never exchanged
word or glance, a creature whose wild youth seemed sometimes a century
away from him. There had been so many others who had crossed his
path--great beauties and small ones--but only to this one had his being
cried out aloud.

"It has begun," he had said to himself. "I have heard them tell of
it--of how one woman's face came back to a man again and again, of how
her eyes would look into his and would not leave him or let him rest.
It has begun for me, too."

He had grave duties to perform, affairs of serious import to arrange,
interviews to hold with great personages and small, and though none
might read it in his bearing he found himself ever beholding this face,
ever followed by the eyes which would not leave him and which, had they
done so, would have left him to the dark. Yet this was hid within his
own breast and was his own strange secret which he gave himself up to
dwell upon but when he was alone. When he awakened in the morning he
lay and thought of it and counted that a day had passed and another
begun, and found himself pondering, as all those in his case do, on the
events of the future and the incidents which would lead him to them. At
night, sometimes in long rides or walks he took alone, he lived these
incidents through and imagined he beheld her as she would look when
they first met, as she would look when he told her his purpose in
coming to her. If he pleased her, his fancy pictured him the warm flash
of her large eye, the smile of her mouth, half-proud, half-tender, a
look which even when but imagined made his pulses beat.

"I do not know her face well enough," he said, "to picture all the
beauteous changes of it, but there will sure be a thousand which a man
might spend a life of love in studying."

Among the many who passed hours in his company at this time, there was
but one who guessed, even distantly, at what lay at the root of his
being, and this was the man who, being in a measure of like nature with
his own, had been in the same way possessed when deep passion came to
him.

At this period his Grace of Marlborough already felt the tossings of
the rising storm in England, and the emotions which his Duchess's
letters aroused within him, her anger at the intrigues about her, her
tigress love for and belief in him, her determination to defend and
uphold him with all the powers of her life and strength and imperial
spirit, were, it is probable, moving and stimulating things which put
him in the mood to be keen of sight and sympathy.

"There dwells some constant thought in your mind, my lord Duke," he
said, on a night in which they sate together alone. "Is it a new one?"

"No," Osmonde answered; "'twould perhaps not be so constant if it were.
It is an old thought which has taken a new form. In times past"--his
voice involuntarily falling a tone--"I did not realise its presence."

The short silence which fell was broken by the Duke and with some
suddenness.

"Is it one of which you would rid yourself?" he asked.

"No, your Grace."

"Tis well," gravely, "You could not--if you would."

He asked no further question, but went on as if in deep thought, rather
reflecting aloud.

"There are times," he said, "when to some it is easy and natural to say
that such fevers are folly and unreasonableness--but even to those so
slightly built by nature, and of memories so poor, such times do not
come, nor can be dreamed of, when they are passing _through_ the
furnace fires. They come after--or before."

Osmonde did not speak. He raised his eyes and met those of his
illustrious companion squarely, and for a short space each looked into
the soul of the other, it so seemed, though not a word was spoke.

"You did not say the thing before," the Duke commented at last. "You
will not say it after."

"No, I shall not," answered Osmonde, and somewhat later he added, with
flushed cheek, "I thank your Grace for your comprehension of an
unspoken thing."

Distant as he was from Gloucestershire there seemed a smiling fortune
in the chances by which his thought was fed. What time had wrought he
heard as time went on--that her graces but developed with opportunity,
that her wit matched her beauty, that those who talked gossip asked
each other in these days, not what disgrace would be her downfall, but
what gentleman of those who surrounded her, paying court, would be most
likely to be smiled upon at last. From young Tantillion he heard such
things, from talkative young officers back after leave of absence, and
more than once from ladies who, travelling from England to reach
foreign gayeties, brought with them the latest talk of the country as
well as of the town.

From the old Lady Storms, whom he encountered in Vienna, he heard more
than from any other. She had crossed the Channel with her Chaplain, her
spaniel, her toady, and her parrot, in search of enlivenment for her
declining years, and hearing that her Apollo Belvidere was within
reach, sent a message saying she would coax him to come and make love
to an old woman, who adored him as no young one could, and whose time
hung heavy on her hands.

He went to her because she was a kindly, witty old woman, and had
always avowed an affection for him, and when he arrived at her lodgings
he found her ready to talk by the hour. All the gossip of the Court she
knew, all the marriages being made or broken off, all the public
stories of her Grace of Marlborough's bullyings of her Majesty and
revilings of Mrs. Masham, and many which were spiced by being private
and new. And as she chattered over her dish of chocolate and my lord
Duke listened with the respect due her years, he knew full well that
her stories would not be brought to a close without reaching
Gloucestershire at last--or Warwickshire or Worcester, or even Berks or
Wilts, where she would have heard some romance she would repeat to him;
for in truth it ever seemed that it must befall so when he met and
talked with man or woman who had come lately from England, Ireland, or
Wales.

And so it did befall, but this time 'twas neither Gloucestershire,
Worcester, Warwick, nor Berks she had visited or entertained guests
from, but plain, lively town gossip she repeated apropos of Sir John
Oxon, whose fortunes seemed in evil case. In five years' time he had
squandered all his inheritance, and now was in such straits through his
creditors that it seemed plain his days of fashionable wild living and
popularity would soon be over, and his poor mother was using all her
wits to find him a young lady with a fortune.

"And in truth she found him one, two years ago," her Ladyship added, "a
West Indian heiress, but at that time he was dangling after the wild
Gloucestershire beauty and was mad for her. What was her name? I forget
it, though I should not. But she was disdainful and treated him so
scornfully that at last they quarrelled--or 'twas thought so--for he
left the country and hath not been near her for months. Good Lord!" of
a sudden; "is not my Lord Dunstanwolde your Grace's distant kinsman?"

"My father's cousin twice removed, your Ladyship," answered Osmonde,
wondering somewhat at the irrelevance of the question.

"Then you will be related to the fantastic young lady too," she said,
"if his lordship is successful in his elderly suit."

"His lordship?" queried Osmonde; "his lordship of Dunstanwolde?"

"Yes," said the old woman, in great good humour, "for he is more in
love than all the rest. Faith, a man must be in love if he will hear
'No' twice said to him when he is sixty-five and then go back to kneel
and plead again."

My lord Duke rose from his seat to set upon the table near by his
chocolate-cup. Months later he remembered how mad the tale had seemed
to him, and that there had been in his mind no shadow of belief in it;
even that an hour after it had, in sooth, passed from his memory and
been forgotten.

"'Tis a strange rumour, your Ladyship," he said. "For myself I do not
credit it, knowing of my lord's early loss and his years of mourning
through it."

"'Tis for that reason all the neighbourhood is agog," answered my lady.
"But 'tis for that reason I give it credit. These men who have
worshipped a woman once can do it again. And this one--Lud! they say,
she is a witch and no man resists her."

A few days later came a letter from my Lord Dunstanwolde himself, who
had not writ from England for some time, and in the midst of his
epistle, which treated with a lettered man's thoughtful interest of the
news of both town and country, of Court and State, playhouse and club,
there was reference to Gloucestershire and Mistress Clorinda of
Wildairs Hall.

"In one of our past talks, Gerald," he wrote, "you said you thought
often of the changes time might work in such a creature. You are given
to speculative thought and spoke of the wrong the past had done her,
and of your wonder if the strength of her character and the clearness
of her mind might not reveal to her what the untoward circumstances of
her life had hidden, and also lead her to make changes none had
believed possible. Your fancies were bolder than mine. You are a
stronger man than I, Gerald, though a so much younger one; you have a
greater spirit and a far greater brain, and your reason led you to see
possibilities I could not picture. In truth, in those days I regarded
the young lady with some fear and distaste, being myself sober and
elderly. But 'tis you who were right. The change in her is indeed a
wondrous one, but that I most marvel at is that I mark in her a
curious gentleness, which grows. She hath taken under protection her
sister Mistress Anne, a humble creature whose existence none have
seemed previously aware of. The poor gentlewoman is timid and uncomely,
but Mistress Clorinda shows an affection for her she hath shown to none
other. But yesterday she said to me a novel thing in speaking of
her--and her deep eyes, which can flash forth such lightnings, were
soft as if dew were hid in them--'Why was all given to me,' saith she,
'and naught to her? Since Nature was not fair, then let me try to be
so. She is good, she is innocent, she is helpless. I would learn of
her. Innocence one cannot learn, and helpless I shall never be, yet
would I learn of her.' She hath a great, strange spirit, Gerald, and
strange fearlessness of thought. What other woman dare arraign Nature's
self, and command mankind to retrieve her cruelties?"

Having finished his reading, my lord Duke turned to his window and
looked out upon the night, which was lit to silver by the moon, which
flooded the broad square before him and the park beyond it till 'twas
lost in the darkness of the trees.

"No other woman--none," he said--and such a tumult shook his soul that
of a sudden he stretched forth his arms unknowing of the movement and
spoke as though to one close at hand. "Great God!" he said, low and
passionate, "you call me, you call me! Let me but look into your
eyes--but answer me with yours--and all of Life is ours!"



_CHAPTER XVII_

_As Hugh de Mertoun Rode_


When he rode back upon the road which led towards Gloucestershire,
'twas early June again, as it had been when he journeyed to Camylott
with Mr. Fox attending. The sky was blue once more, there was the scent
of sweet wild things in the air, birds twittered in the hedgerows and
skylarks sang on high; all was in full fair leafage and full fair life.
This time Mr. Fox was not with him, he riding alone save for his
servants, following at some distance, for in truth 'twas his wish to be
solitary, and he rode somewhat like a man in a dream.

"There is no land like England," he said, "there are no such meadows
elsewhere, no such hedgerows, no such birds, and no such soft fleeced
white clouds in the blue sky." In truth, it seemed so to him, as it
seems always to an Englishman returning from foreign lands. The
thatched cottages spoke of homely comfort, the sound of the village
church bells was like a prayer, the rustics, as they looked up from
work in the fields to pull their forelocks as he rode by them, seemed
to wear kindlier looks upon their sunburnt faces than he had seen in
other countries.

"But," he said to himself, and smiled in saying it, "it is because I am
a happy man, and am living like one who dreams. Men have ridden before
on such errands. Hugh de Mertoun rode so four hundred years gone, to a
grey castle in the far north of Scotland, to make his suit to a fair
maiden whose beauties he had but heard rumour of and whose face he had
never seen. He rode through a savage country, and fought his way to her
against axe and spear. But when he reached her she served him in her
father's banquet hall, and in years after used to kiss the scars left
by his wounds, and sing at her harp the song of his journey to woo her.
But he had not known her since the time of her birth, and been haunted
by her until her womanhood."

To Dunstan's Wolde in Warwickshire he rode, where he was to be a guest,
and sometimes he reproached himself that he was by natural habit of
such reserve that in all their converse together he had never felt that
he could speak his thoughts to his kinsman on the one subject they had
dwelt most upon. During the last two years he had realised how few
words he had uttered on this subject even in the days before he had
known the reason for his tendency to silence. At times when
Dunstanwolde had spoken with freedom and at length of circumstances
which attracted the comments of all, he himself had been more
frequently listener than talker, and had been wont to sit in attentive
silence, making his reflections later to himself when he was alone.
After the day on which he had lost himself upon Sir Christopher
Crowell's land and, lying among the bracken, had heard the talk of the
sportsmen below, he had known why he had been so reticent, and during
his last two years he had realised that this reticence had but
increased. Despite his warm love for my Lord Dunstanwolde there had
never come an hour when he felt that he could have revealed even by the
most distant allusion the tenor of his mind. In his replies to his
lordship's occasional epistles he had touched more lightly upon his
references to the household of Wildairs than upon other things of less
moment to him. Of Court stories he could speak openly, of country,
town, and letters, with easy freedom, but when he must acknowledge news
from Gloucestershire, he sate grave before his paper, his pen idle in
his hand, and found but few sentences to indite.

"But later," he would reflect, "I shall surely feel myself more
open--and his kind heart is so full of sympathy that he will understand
my silence and not feel it has been grudging or ungenerous to his noble
friendship."

And even now as he rode to the home of this gentleman whose affection
he had enjoyed with so much of appreciation and gratitude, he consoled
himself again with this thought, knowing that the time had not yet come
when he could unbosom himself, nor would it come until all the world
must be taken into his confidence, and he stand revealed an exultant
man whose joy broke all bonds for him since that he had dreamed of he
had won.

When he had made his last visit to Warwickshire he had thought my lord
looking worn and fatigued, and had fancied he saw some hint of new
trouble in his eyes. He had even spoke with him of his fancy, trusting
that he had no cause for anxiousness and was not in ill-health, and had
been answered with a kindly smile, my lord averring that he had no new
thing to weary him, but only one which was old, with which he had borne
more than sixty years, and which was somewhat the worse for wear in
these days--being himself.

He thought of this reply as he passed through the lovely village where
every man, woman, and child knew him and greeted him with warmly
welcoming joy, and he was pondering on it as he rode through the park
gates and under the big beech-trees which formed the avenue.

"Somewhat had saddened him," he thought. "Pray God it has passed," and
was aroused from his thinking by a sound of horses' feet, and looking
up saw my lord cantering towards him on his brown hackney, and with
brightly smiling face.

They greeted each other with joyful affection, as they always did in
meeting, and my lord's welcome had a touch of even more loving warmth
than usual. He had come out to meet his guest and kinsman on the road,
and had thought to be in time to join him earlier and ride with him
through the village.

"On my soul, Gerald," he said, gaily, "'tis useless that you should
grow handsomer and taller each time you leave us. Surely, there is a
time for a man to be content. Or is it that when you are absent one
sees gentlemen of proportions so much more modest that when you return
we must get used to your looks again. Your sunburn is as becoming as
your laurels."

His own worn look had passed. Osmonde had never seen him so well and
vigorous, being indeed amazed by his air of freshness and renewed
youth. His finely cut, high bred countenance had gained a slight
colour, his sweet grey eyes were clear and full of light, and he bore
himself more strongly and erect. For the first time within his
remembrance of him, my lord Duke observed that he wore another colour
than black, though it was of rich, dark shade, being warm, deep brown,
and singularly becoming him, his still thick grey hair framing in
silver his fine, gentle face.

"And you," Osmonde answered him, marking all these things with
affectionate pleasure, "your weariness has left you. I have never seen
you look so young and well."

"Young!" said my lord, smiling, "at sixty-eight? Well, in truth, I feel
so. Let us pray it may not pass. 'Tis hope--which makes new summer."

They dined alone, and sitting over their wine had cheerful talk. A man
is not absent from his native land for two good years, even when they
are spent in ordinary travel, without on his return having much to
recount in answer to the questionings of his friends; but two years
spent in camp and Court during a great campaign may furnish hours of
talk indeed.

Yet though their conversation did not flag, and each found pleasure in
the other's company, Osmonde was conscious of a secret restlessness.
Throughout the whole passing of the repast it chanced not once that the
name was mentioned which had so often been spoke before when they had
been together; there had been a time when in no talk of the
neighbourhood could it well have been avoided, but now, strangely
enough, no new incident was related, no reference to its bearer made.
This might, perhaps, be because the heroine of that scandal, having
begun to live the ordinary life of womankind, there were no fantastic
stories to tell, the county having had time to become accustomed to the
change in her and comment on it no more. And still there was a
singularity in the silence. Yet for my lord Duke himself it was
impossible to broach the subject, he being aware that he was not calm
enough in mind to open it with a composure which would not betray his
interest.

He had come from town under promise to attend that night a birthday
ball in the neighbourhood, a young relative coming of age and
celebrating his majority. The kinship was not close, but greatly valued
by the family of the heir, and his Grace's presence had been so
ardently desired, that he, who honoured all claims of his house and
name, had given his word.

And 'twas at last through speech of this, and only as they parted to
apparel themselves for this festivity, my Lord Dunstanwolde touched
upon the thing one man of them, at least, had not had power to banish
from his mind throughout their mutual talk.

"Young Colin is a nice, well-meaning lad," said my lord as they passed
through the hall to mount the staircase. "He is plain featured and
awkward, but modest and of good humour. He will be greatly honoured
that the hero of his house should be present on the great night. You
_are_ the hero, you know, having been with Marlborough, and bearing
still the scar of a wound got at Blenheim, though 'twas 'not as deep as
a grave or as wide as a church door.' And with orders on your broad
chest and the scent of gunpowder in your splendid periwig you will make
a fine figure. They will all prostrate themselves before you, and when
you make your state bow to the beauty, Mistress Clorinda--for you will
see her--she will surely give you a dazzling smile."

"That I will hope for," answered my lord Duke, smiling himself; but his
heart leaped like a live thing in his breast and did not cease its
leaping as he mounted the stairway, though he bore himself with outward
calm.

When within his room he strode to and fro, his arms folded across his
breast. For some time he could not have composed himself to sit down or
go to rest. This very night, then, he was to behold her face to face;
in but a few hours he would stand before her bowing, and rise from his
obeisance to look into the great eyes which had followed him so
long--ay, so much longer than he had truly understood. What should he
read there--what thought which might answer to his own? It had been his
plan to go to my Lord Twemlow and ask that he might be formally
presented to his fair kinswoman and her parent. Knowing his mind, he
was no schoolboy who would trust to chance, but would move directly and
with dignity towards the object he desired. The representatives of her
family would receive him, and 'twas for himself to do the rest. But
now he need go to no man to ask to be led to her presence. The mere
chance of Fortune would lead him there. 'Twas strange how it had ever
been so--that Fate's self had seemed to work to this end.

The chamber was a huge one and he had paced its length many times
before he stopped and stood in deep thought.

"'Tis sure because of this," he said, "that I have so little doubt.
There lies scarce a shadow yet in my mind. 'Tis as if Nature had so
ordained it before I woke to life, and I but go to obey her law."

His eye had fallen upon a long mirror standing near, but he did not see
what was reflected there, and gazed through and beyond it as if at
another thing. And yet the image before him was one which might have
removed doubt of himself from any man's heart, it being of such
gracious height and manly strength, and, with its beauteous leonine eye
and brow, its high bearing, and the richness of its apparel, so noble a
picture.

He turned away unseeing, with a smile and half a sigh of deep and
tender passion. "May I ride home," he said, "as Hugh de Mertoun
did--four hundred years ago!"


When they arrived at their entertainer's house the festivities were at
full; brilliant light shone from every window and streamed from the
wide entrance in a flood, coaches rolled up the avenue and waited for
place before the door, from within strains of music floated out to the
darkness of the night, and as the steps were mounted each arrival
caught glimpses of the gay scene within: gentlemen in velvet and
brocade and ladies attired in all the rich hues of a bed of
flowers--crimson, yellow, white and blue, purple and gold and rose.

Their young host met them on the threshold and welcomed them with
boyish pride and ardour. He could scarce contain himself for pleasure
at being so honoured in his first hospitalities by the great kinsman of
his house, who, though but arrived at early maturity, was already
spoken of as warrior, statesman, and honoured favourite at Court.

"We are but country gentry, your Grace," he said, reddening boyishly,
when he had at length led them up the great stairway to the ball-room,
"and most of us have seen little of the world. As for me, I have but
just come from Cambridge, where I fear I did myself small credit. In my
father's day we went but seldom to town, as he liked horses and dogs
better than fine company. So I know nothing of Court beauties, but
to-night--" and he reddened a little more and ended somewhat
awkwardly--"to-night you will see here a beauty who surely cannot be
outshone at Court, and men tell me cannot be matched there."

"'Tis Mistress Clorinda Wildairs he speaks of," said Sir Christopher
Crowell, who stood near, rubicund in crimson, and he said it with an
uncourtly wink; "and, ecod! he's right--though I am not 'a town man.'"

"He is enamoured of her," he added in proud confidence later when he
found himself alone for a moment by his Grace. "The youngsters are all
so--and men who are riper, too. Good Lord, look at me who have dandled
her on my knee when she was but five years old--and am her slave,"
chuckling. "She's late to-night. Mark the fellows loitering about the
doors and on the stairway. 'Tis that each hopes to be the first to
catch her eye."

'Twas but a short time afterward my lord Duke had made his way to the
grand staircase himself, it being his intention to go to a lower room,
and reaching the head of it he paused for a moment to gaze at the
brilliant scene. The house was great and old, and both halls and
stairway of fine proportions, and now, brilliant with glow of light and
the moving colour of rich costumes, presented indeed a comely sight.
And he had no sooner paused to look down than he heard near by a murmur
of low exclamation, and close at his side a man broke forth in rough
ecstacy to his companion.

"Clorinda, by Gad!" he said, "and crowned with roses! The vixen makes
them look as if they were built of rubies in every leaf."

And from below she came--up the broad stairway, upon her father's arm.

Well might their eyes follow her indeed, and well might his own look
down upon her, burning. The strange compellingness of her power, which
was a thing itself apart from beauty, and would have ruled for her had
she not possessed a single charm, had so increased that he felt himself
change colour at the mere sight of her. Oh! 'twas not the colour and
height and regal shape of her which were her splendour, but this one
Heaven-born, unconquerable thing. Her lip seemed of a deeper scarlet,
the full roundness of her throat rose from among her laces, bound with
a slender circlet of glittering stars, her eyes had grown deeper and
more melting, and yet held a great flame. Nay, she seemed a flame
herself--of life, of love, of spirit which naught could daunt or quell,
and on her high-held imperial head she wore a wreath of roses red as
blood.

"She will look up," he thought, "she will look up at me."

But she did not, though he could have sworn that which he felt should
have arrested her. Somewhat seemed to hold her oblivious of those who
were near her; she gazed straight before her as if expecting to see
something, and as she passed my lord Duke on the landing, a heavy
velvet rose broke from her crown and fell at his very foot.

He bent low to pick it up, the blood surging in his veins--and when he
raised himself, holding it in his hand, she was moving onward through
the crowd which closed behind to gaze and comment on her--and his
kinsman Dunstanwolde came forward from an antechamber, his gentle, high
bred face and sweet grey eyes glowing with greeting.

Those of reflective habit may indeed find cause for thought in
realising the power of small things over great, of rule over important
events, of ordinary social observance over the most powerful emotion a
man or woman may be torn or uplifted by. He whose greatest longing on
earth is to speak face to face to the friend whom ill fortune has
caused to think him false, seeing this same friend in a crowded street
a hundred yards distant, cannot dash the passers-by aside and race
through or leap over them to reach, before it is too late, the beloved
object he beholds about to disappear; he cannot arrest that object with
loud outcries, such conduct being likely to cause him to be taken for a
madman, and restrained by the other lookers-on; the tender woman whose
heart is breaking under the weight of misunderstanding between herself
and him she loves, is powerless to attract and detain him if he passes
her, either unconscious of her nearness or of intention coldly averting
his gaze from her pleading eyes. She may know that, once having
crossed the room where she sits in anguish, all hope is lost that they
may meet again on this side of the grave. She may know that a dozen
words would fill his heart with joy, and that all life would smile to
both henceforth, but she cannot force her way to his side in public;
she cannot desert without ceremony the stranger who is conversing
courteously; she cannot cry out, she may not even speak, it may be that
it is not possible that she should leave her place--and he who is her
heart's blood approaches slowly--is near--has passed--is gone--and all
has come to bitter, cruel end. In my lord Duke of Osmonde's mind there
was no thought of anguish or the need for it; he but realised that he
had felt an unreasonable pang when she whom he had so desired to behold
had passed him by unnoticed. 'Twas after all a mere trick of chance,
and recalled to him the morning two years before, when he had heard her
horse's feet splashing through the mire of the narrow lane, and had
drawn his own beast aside while she galloped past unaware of his
nearness, and with the strange, absorbed, and almost fierce look in her
eyes. He had involuntarily gathered his bridle to follow her and then
had checked his impulse, realising its impetuousness, and had turned to
ride homeward with a half smile on his lips but with his heart
throbbing hard. But what perchance struck him most to-night, was that
her eyes wore a look unlike, yet somehow akin, to that which he had
marked and been moved by then--as if storm were hid within their
shadows and she herself was like some fine wild thing at bay.

There would have been little becomingness in his hastening after her
and his Lordship of Dunstanwolde; his court to her must be paid with
grace and considerateness. If there were men who in their eagerness
forgot their wit and tact, he was not one of them.

He turned to re-enter the ball-room and approach her there, and on the
threshold encountered young Colin, who looked for the moment pale.

"Did you see her?" he asked. "She has but just passed through the room
with my Lord Dunstanwolde--Mistress Clorinda," he added, with a little
rueful laugh. "In Gloucestershire there is but one 'she.' When we speak
of the others we use their names and call them Mistress Margaret or my
Lady Betty--or Jane."

"I stood at the head of the stairway as she passed," answered Osmonde.

"It cannot be true," the lad broke forth; "it makes me mad even to hear
it spoke--though he is a courtly gentleman and rich and of high
standing--but he is old enough to be her grandfather. Though she is
such a woman, she is but seventeen, and my lord is near seventy."

Osmonde turned an inquiring gaze upon him, and the boy broke into his
confused half-laugh again.

"I speak of my Lord Dunstanwolde," he said. "Twice he has asked her to
be his Countess, and all say that to-night she is to give him her
answer. Jack Oxon has heard it and is mad enough. Look at him as he
stands by the archway there. His eyes are like blue steel and he can
scarce hide his rage. But better she should take Dunstanwolde than
Jack"--hotly.

The musicians were playing a minuet in the gallery, there was dancing,
slow, stately movements and deep obeisance going on in the room,
couples were passing to and fro, and here and there groups stood and
watched. My lord Duke stood and watched also; a little court had
gathered about him and he must converse with those who formed it, or
listen with gracious attention to their remarks. But his grace and
composure cost him an effort. There came back to him the story old Lady
Storms had told in Vienna and which he had not believed and had even
forgot. The memory of it returned to him with singular force and
clearness. He told himself that still it could not be true, that his
young host's repetition of it rose from the natural uneasy jealousy of
a boy--and yet the pageant of the brilliant figures moving before him
seemed to withdraw themselves as things do in a dream. He remembered
my Lord Dunstanwolde's years and his faithfulness to the love of his
youth, and there arose before him the young look he had worn when they
met in the avenue, his words, "'Tis hope which makes new summer," and
the music of the minuet sounded distant in his ears, while as it rang
there, he knew he should not forget it to his life's end. Yet no, it
could not be so. A gentleman near seventy and a girl of seventeen! And
still, to follow the thought honestly, even at seven and sixty years my
Lord had greater grace and charm than many a man not half his age. And
with that new youth and tenderness in his eyes no woman could shrink
from him, at least. And still it could not be true, for Fate herself
had driven him to this place--Nature and Fate.

[Illustration: "Your Grace, it is this lady who is to do me the great
honour of becoming my Lady Dunstanwolde"]

Sir John Oxon stood near the doorway, striving to smile, but biting his
lip; here and there his Grace vaguely observed that there seemed new
talk among the moving couples and small gathered groups. About the
entrance there was a stirring and looking out into the corridor, and in
a moment or so more the company parted and gave way, and his Lordship
of Dunstanwolde entered, with Mistress Clorinda upon his arm; he,
gracefully erect in bearing, as a conqueror returning from his victory.

An exclamation broke from the young Colin which was like a low cry.

"Tis true!" he said. "Yes, yes; 'tis in his eyes. 'Tis done--'tis
done!"

His Grace of Osmonde turned towards his kinsman, who he saw was
approaching him, and greeted him with a welcoming smile; the red rose
was still held in his hand. He stood drawn to his full height, a
stately, brilliant figure, with his orders glittering on his breast,
his fine eyes deeply shining--waiting.

The company parted before the two advancing figures--his lordship's
rich violet velvet, the splendid rose and silver making a wondrous wave
of colour, the wreath of crimson flowers on the black hair seeming like
a crown of triumph.

Before my lord Duke they paused, and never had the old Earl's gentle,
high bred face worn so tenderly affectionate a smile, or his grey eyes
so sweet a light.

"My honoured kinsman, his Grace the Duke of Osmonde," he said to her
who glowed upon his arm. "Your Grace, it is this lady who is to do me
the great honour of becoming my Lady Dunstanwolde."

And they were face to face, her great orbs looking into his own, and he
saw a thing which lay hid in their very depths--and his own flashed
despite himself, and hers fell; and he bowed low, and she swept a
splendid curtsey to the ground.

So, for the first time in their lives, he looked into her eyes.



_CHAPTER XVIII_

_A Night in which my Lord Duke Did Not Sleep_


As they rolled over the roads on their way homeward, in the darkness of
their coach, my Lord Dunstanwolde spoke of his happiness and told its
story. There was no approach to an old lover's exultant folly in his
talk; his voice was full of noble feeling, and in his manner there was
somewhat like to awe of the great joy which had befallen him. To him
who listened to the telling 'twas a strange relation indeed, since each
incident seemed to reveal to him a blindness in himself. Why had he not
read the significance of a score of things which he could now recall? A
score of things?--a hundred! Because he had been in his early prime,
and full of the visions and passions of youth, he had not for one
moment dreamed that a man who was so far his senior could be a man
still, his heart living enough to yearn and ache, his eyes clear to see
the radiance others saw, and appraise it as adoringly. 'Twas the common
fault of youth to think to lead the world and to sweep aside from its
path all less warm-blooded, strong-limbed creatures, feeling their day
was done for them, and that for them there was naught left but to wait
quietly for the end. There was an ignobleness in it--a self-absorption
which was almost dishonour. And in this way he had erred as far as any
stripling with blooming cheeks and girlish love-locks who thought that
nine and twenty struck the knell of love and life. 'Twas thoughts like
these that were passing through his mind as they were driven through
the darkness--at least they were the thoughts upon the surface of his
mind, while below them surged a torrent into whose darkness he dared
not look. He was a man, and he had lost her--lost her! She had become a
part of his being--and she had been torn from his side. "Let me but
look into your eyes," he had said, and he had looked and read her
answering soul--too late!

"I have passed through dark days, Gerald," my lord was saying. "How
should I have dared to hope that she would give herself to me? I had
been mad to hope it. And yet a man in my case must plead, whether he
despairs or not. I think 'twas her gentleness to Mistress Anne which
has sustained me. That poor gentlewoman and I have the happiness to
know her heart as others do not. Thank God, 'tis so! When to-night I
said to her sadly, 'Madam, my youth is long past,' she stopped me with
a strange and tender little cry. She put her hand upon my shoulder. Ah,
its soft touch, its white, kind caress! 'Youth is not all,' she said.
'I have known younger men who could not bring a woman truth and
honourable love. 'Tis not I who give, 'tis not I,' and the full sweet
red of her mouth quivered. I--have not yet dared to touch it, Gerald."
And his voice was sad as well as reverent. "Youth would have been more
bold."

In his dark corner of the coach his Grace checked breath to control a
start. In the past he had had visions such as all men have--and all was
lost! And to-morrow his kinsman would have gained courage to look his
new bliss in the face--the autumn of his days would be warmed by a late
glow of the sun, but that long summer which yet lay before himself
would know no flame of gold. The years he had spent in training his
whole being to outward self-control at least did service to him now,
and aided him to calm, affectionate speech.

"You will make her life a happy one, my Lord," he said, "and you will
be a joyous man indeed."

Together they conversed on this one subject until their journey was
over. When they had passed through the hall and stood at length in the
light of the apartment in which it was their custom to sit, Osmonde
beheld in my lord's face the freshness and glow he had marked on his
arrival, increased tenfold, and now he well understood. In truth, the
renewal of his life was a moving thing to see. He stood by the mantel,
his arm resting upon it, his forehead in his hand, for a little space
in silence and as if lost in thought.

"She is a goddess," he said, "and because she is so, can be humble. Had
you but seen her, Gerald, when she spoke. ''Tis not I who give,' she
saith. 'You are a great Earl, I am a poor beauty--a shrew--a hoyden. I
give naught but this!' and flung her fair arms apart with a great
lovely gesture and stood before me stately, her beauty glowing like the
sun."

He drew a deep sigh of tenderness and looked up with a faint start.
"'Tis not fair I should fatigue you with my ecstasy," he said. "You
look pale, Gerald. You are generous to listen with such patience."

"I need no patience," answered my lord Duke with noble warmth, "to aid
me to listen to the kinsman I have loved from childhood when he speaks
of his happiness with the fairest woman in the world. Having seen her
to-night, I do not wonder she is called so by her worshippers."

"The fairest and the noblest," said my Lord. "Great Heaven, how often
have I sate alone in this very room calling myself a madman in my
despair! And now 'tis past! Sure it cannot be true?"

"'Tis true, my dear Lord," said Osmonde, "for I beheld it."

"Had you been in my place," his lordship said with his grave, kindly
look, "you need not have wondered at your fortune. If you had lived in
Warwickshire instead of winning laurels in campaign you might have been
my rival if you would--and I a hopeless man--and she a Duchess. But you
two never met."

My lord Duke held out his hand and grasped his kinsman's with friendly
sympathy.

"Until to-night we never met," he said. "'Twas Fate ordained it so--and
I would not be your rival, for we have loved each other too long. I
must wait to find another lady, and she will be Countess of
Dunstanwolde."

He bore himself composedly until they had exchanged the final
courtesies and parted for the night, and having mounted the stairs had
passed through the long gallery which led him to his apartments. When
he opened the door it seemed to his fancy that the wax tapers burned
but dimly amid the shadows of the great room, and that the pictured
faces hanging on the walls looked white and gazed as if aghast.

The veins were swollen in his temples and throbbed hard, his blood
coursed hot and cold alternately, there were drops starting out upon
his brow. He had not known his passions were so tempestuous and that he
could be prey to such pangs of anguish and of rage. Hitherto he had
held himself in check, but now 'twas as if he had lost his hold on the
reins which controlled galloping steeds. The blood of men who had been
splendid savages centuries ago ran wild within him. His life for thirty
years had been noble and just and calm. Being endowed with all gifts by
Nature and his path made broad by Fortune, he had dealt in high honour
with all bestowed upon him. But now for this night he knew he was a
different man, and that his hour had come.

He stood in the centre of the chamber and tossed up his hands, laughing
a mad, low, harsh laugh.

"Not as Hugh de Mertoun came back," he said. "Good God! no, no!"

The rage of him, body and soul, made him sick and suffocated him.

"Could a man go mad in such case?" he cried. "I am not sane! I cannot
reason! I would not have believed it."

His arteries so throbbed that he tore open the lace at his throat and
flung back his head. "I cannot reason!" he said. "I know now how men
_kill_. And yet he is as sweet a soul as Heaven ever made." He paced
the great length of the chamber to and fro.

"'Tis not Nature," he said. "It cannot be borne--he to hold her to his
breast, and _I--I_ to stand aside. Her eyes--her lovely, melting,
woman's eyes!"

Men have been mad before for less of the same torment, and he whose
nature was fire, and whose imagination had the power to torture him by
picturing all he had lost and all another man had won, was only saved
because he knew his frenzy.

"To this place itself she will be brought," he thought. "In these rooms
she will move, wife and queen and mistress. He will so worship her that
she cannot but melt to him. At the mere thought of it my brain reels."

He knew that his thoughts were half delirium, his words half raving,
yet he could not control them, and thanked chance that his apartment
was near none other which was occupied, and that he could stride about
and stamp his foot upon the floor, and yet no sound be heard beyond the
massive walls and doors. Outside such walls, in the face of the world,
he must utter no word, show no sign by any quiver of a muscle; and
'twas the realisation of the silence he must keep, the poignard stabs
he must endure without movement, which at this hour drove him to
madness.

"This is but the beginning," he groaned. "Since I am his kinsman and we
have been friends, I am bound as a man upon the rack is bound while he
is torn limb from limb. I must see it all--there will be no escape. At
their marriage I must attend them. God save me--taking my fit place as
the chief of my house at the nuptials of a well beloved kinsman, I must
share in the rejoicings, and be taunted by his rapture and her eyes.
Nay, nay, she cannot gaze at him as she would have gazed at me--she
cannot! Yet how shall I endure!"

For hours he walked to and fro, the mere sense of restless movement
being an aid to his mood. Sometimes again he flung himself into a seat
and sat with hidden eyes. But he could not shut out the pictures his
fevered fancy painted for him. A man of strong imagination, and who is
possessed by a growing passion, cannot fail to depict to himself, and
live in, vivid dreams of that future of his hopes which is his chiefest
joy. So he had dreamed, sometimes almost with the wild fervour of a
boy, smiling while he did it, at his own pleasure in the mere detail
his fancy presented to him. In these day-dreams his wealth, the beauty
and dignity of his estates, the brilliant social atmosphere his rank
assured him, had gained a value he had never recognised before. He
remembered now, with torturing distinctness, the happy day when it had
first entered his mind, that those things which had been his daily
surroundings from his childhood would all be new pleasures to her, all
in strong contrast to the atmosphere of her past years. His heart
actually leapt at the thought of the smilingness of fortune which had
lavished upon him so much, that 'twould be rapture to him to lay at her
feet. He had remembered tenderly the stately beauty of his beloved
Camylott, the bosky dells at Marlowell Dane, the quaint dignity of the
Elizabethan manor at Paulyn Dorlocke, the soft hills near Mertounhurst,
where myriads of harebells grew and swayed in the summer breeze as it
swept them; and the clear lake in the park at Roxholm, where the deer
came to drink, and as a boy he had lain in his boat and rocked among
the lily-pads in the early morning, when the great white water-flowers
spread their wax cups broad and seemed to hold the gold of the sun. His
life had been so full of beauty and fair things; wheresoever his lot
had fallen at any time he had had fair days, fair nights, and earth's
loveliness to behold. And all he had loved and joyed in, he had known
she would love and joy in, too. What a chatelaine she would make, he
had thought; how the simple rustic folk would worship her! What a fit
setting for her beauty would seem the grand saloons of Osmonde House!
What a fit and queen-like wearer she would be for the marvellous jewels
which had crowned fair heads and clasped fair throats and arms for
centuries! There were diamonds all England had heard rumour of, and he
had even lost himself in a lover's fancy of an hour when he himself
would clasp a certain dazzling collar round the column of her throat,
and never yet had he given himself to the fancy but in his vision he
had laid his lips on the warm whiteness when 'twas done, and lost
himself in a passionate kiss--and she had turned and smiled a heavenly
answering bridal smile.

This he remembered now, clinching his hands until he drove the nails
into his palms.

"I have been madder than I thought," he said. "Yes, 'twas madness--but
'twas Nature, too! Good God!" his forehead dropping in his hand and he
panting. "I feel as if she had been a year my wife, and another man had
torn her from my breast. And yet she has not been mine an hour--nor
ever will be--and she is Dunstanwolde's, who, while I wake in torment,
dreams in bliss, as is his honest, heavenly right." Even to the torment
he had no claim, but in being torn by it seemed but robbing another
man. What a night of impotent rage it was, of unreasoning, hopeless
hatred of himself, of his fate, and even of the man who was his rival,
though at his worst he reviled his frenzy, which could be so base as to
rend unjustly a being without blame.

'Twas not himself who hated, but the madness in his blood which for
this space ran riot.

At dawn, when the first glimmer of light began to pale the skies, he
found himself sitting by the wide-thrown casement still in the attire
he had worn the night before. For the first time since he had been born
his splendid normal strength had failed him and he was heavy with
unnatural fatigue. He sate looking out until the pale tint had deepened
to primrose and the primrose into sunrise gold; birds wakened in the
trees' broad branches and twittered and flew forth; the sward and
flowers were drenched with summer dews, and as the sun changed the
drops to diamonds he gazed upon the lovely peace and breathed in the
fresh fragrance of the early morn with a deep sigh, knowing his frenzy
past but feeling that it had left him a changed man.

"Yes," he said, "I have been given too beauteous and smooth a life.
Till now Fate has denied me nothing, and I have gone on my way
unknowing it has been so, and fancying that if misfortune came I should
bear it better than another man. 'Twas but human vanity to believe in
powers which never had been tried. Self-command I have preached to
myself, calmness and courage; for years I have believed I possessed
them all and was Gerald Mertoun's master, and yet at the first blow I
spend hours of the night in madness and railing against Fate. But one
thing I can comfort myself with--that I wore a calm face and could
speak like a man--until I was alone. Thank God for that."

As he sate he laid his plans for the future, knowing that he must lay
out for himself such plans and be well aware of what he meant to do,
that he might at no time betray himself to his kinsman and by so doing
cast a shadow on his joy.

"Should he guess that it has been paid for by my despair," he said,
"'twould be so marred for his kind heart that I know not how he would
bear the thought. 'Twould be to him as if he had found himself the
rival of the son he loved. He has loved me, Heaven knows, and I have
loved him. Tis an affection which must last."

My Lord Dunstanwolde had slept peacefully and risen early. He was full
of the reflections natural to a man to whom happiness has come and the
whole tenor of whose future life must be changed in its domestic
aspect, whose very household must wear a brighter face, and whose
entire method of existence will wear new and more youthful form. He
walked forth upon his domain, glad of its beauty and the heavenly
brightness of the day which showed it fair. He had spent an hour out of
doors, and returning to the terrace fronting the house, where already
the peacocks had begun to walk daintily, spreading or trailing their
gorgeous iridescent plumes, he looked up at his kinsman's casement and
gave a start. My lord Duke sate there still in his gala apparel of
white and gold brocade, his breast striped by the broad blue ribbon of
the Garter, jewelled stars shining on his coat.

"Gerald," he called to him in alarm, "you are still dressed! Are you
ill, my dear boy!"

Osmonde rose to his feet with a quickness of movement which allayed his
momentary fear; he waved his hand with a greeting smile.

"'Tis nothing," he answered, "I was a little ailing, and after 'twas
past I fell asleep in my chair. The morning air has but just awaked
me."



_CHAPTER XIX_

"_Then you might have been one of those----_"


When the Earl and Countess of Dunstanwolde arrived in town and took up
their abode at Dunstanwolde House, which being already one of the
finest mansions, was made still more stately by its happy owner's
command, the world of fashion was filled with delighted furore. Those
who had heard of the Gloucestershire beauty by report were stirred to
open excitement, and such as had not already heard rumours of her were
speedily informed of all her past by those previously enlightened. The
young lady who had so high a spirit as to have at times awakened
somewhat of terror in those who were her adversaries; the young lady
who had made such a fine show in male attire, and of whom it had been
said that she could outleap, outfence, and outswear any man her size,
had made a fine match indeed, marrying an elderly nobleman and widower,
who for years had lived the life of a recluse, at last becoming
hopelessly enamoured of one who might well be his youngest child.

"What will she do with him?" said a flippant modish lady to his Grace
of Osmonde one morning. "How will she know how to bear herself like a
woman of quality?"

"Should you once behold her, madam," said his Grace, "you will know how
she would bear herself were she made Queen."

"Faith!" exclaimed the lady, "with what a grave, respectful air you say
it. I thought the young creature but a joke."

"She is no joke," Osmonde answered, with a faint, cold smile.

"'Tis plain enough 'tis true what is said--the men all lose their
hearts to her. We thought your Grace was adamant"--with simpering
roguishness.

"The last two years I have spent with the army in Flanders," said my
lord Duke, "and her Ladyship of Dunstanwolde is the wife of my
favourite kinsman."

'Twas this last fact which was the bitterest thing of all, and which
made his fate most hard to bear with patience. What he had dreaded had
proven itself true, and more. Had my Lord Dunstanwolde been a stranger
to him or a mere acquaintance he could have escaped all, or at least
the greater part, of what he now must endure. As the chief of his house
his share in the festivities attendant upon the nuptials had been
greater than that of any other man. As one who seemed through their
long affection to occupy almost the place of a son to the bridegroom,
it had been but natural that he should do him all affectionate service,
show the tenderest courtesy to his bride, and behold all it most
tortured him to see. His gifts had been the most magnificent, his words
of friendly gratulation the warmest. When they were for a few moments,
on the wedding-day, alone, his Lordship had spoken to him of the joy
which made him pale.

"Gerald," he said, "I could speak to none other of it. Your great heart
will understand. 'Tis almost too sacred for words. Shall I waken from a
dream? Surely, 'tis too heavenly sweet to last."

Would it last? his kinsman asked himself in secret, could it? Could
one, like her, and who had lived her life, feel an affection for a
consort so separated from her youth and bloom by years? She was so
young, and all the dazzling of the world was new. What beauteous,
high-spirited, country-bred creature of eighteen would not find its
dazzle blind her eyes so that she could scarce see aright? He asked
himself the questions with a pang. To expect that she should not even
swerve with the intoxication of it, was to expect that she should be
nigh superhuman, and yet if she should fail, and step down from the
high shrine in which his passion had placed her, this would be the
fiercest anguish of all.

"Were she mine," he cried, inwardly, "I could hold and guide her with
love's hand. We should be lost in love, and follies and Courts would
have no power. Love would be her shield and mine. Poor gentleman,"
remembering the tender worship in my Lord's kind face; "how can she
love him as _he_ loves _her_? But oh, she should--she _should_!"

If in the arrogance of her youth and power she could deal with him
lightly or unkindly, he knew that even his own passion could find no
pardon for her--yet if he had but once beheld her eyes answer her
lord's as a woman's eyes must answer those of him she loves, it would
have driven him mad. And so it came about that to see that she was
tender and noble he watched her, and to be sure that she was no more
than this he knew he watched her too, calling himself ignoble that
Nature so prompted him.

There was a thing she had said to him but a week after the marriage
which had sunk deep into his soul and given him comfort.

"From my lord I shall learn new virtues," she said, with a singular
smile, which somehow to his mind hid somewhat of pathos. "'New
virtues,' say I; all are new to me. At Wildairs we concerned ourselves
little with such matters." She lifted her eyes and let them rest upon
him with proud gravity. "He is the first good man," she said, "whom I
have ever known."

'Twas not as this man observed her life that the world looked on at it,
but in a different manner and with a different motive, and yet both the
world and his Grace of Osmonde beheld the same thing, which was that my
Lord Dunstanwolde's happiness was a thing which grew greater and deeper
as time passed, instead of failing him. When she went to Court and set
the town on fire with her beauty and her bearing, had her lord been a
man of youth and charm matching her own, the grace and sweetness of her
manner to him could not have made him a more envied man. The wit and
spirit with which she had ruled her father and his cronies stood her in
as good stead as ever in the great World of Fashion, as young beaux and
old ones who paid court to her might have told; but of her pungency of
speech and pride of bearing when she would punish or reprove, my lord
knew nothing, he but knew tones of her voice which were tender, looks
which were her loveliest, and most womanly, warm, and sweet.

They were so sweet at times that Osmonde turned his gaze away that he
might not see them, and when his Lordship, as was natural, would have
talked of her dearness and beauties, he used all his powers to gently
draw him from the subject without seeming to lack sympathy. But when a
man is the idolatrous slave of happy love and, being of mature years,
has few, nay, but one friend young enough to tell his joy to with the
feeling that he is within reach of the comprehension of it, 'tis
inevitable that to this man he will speak often of that which fills his
being.

His Lordship's revealings of himself and his tenderness were
involuntary things. There was no incident of his life of which one
being was not the central figure, no emotion which had not its birth in
her. He was not diffuse or fond to weakness, but full of faithful love
and noble carefulness.

"I would not weary her with my worship, Gerald," he said one day,
having come to Osmonde House to spend an hour in talk with him. "Let me
open my heart to you, which is sometimes too full."

On this morning he gave unconscious explanation of many an incident of
the past few years. He spoke of the time when he had found himself
wakening to this dream of a new life, yet had not dared to let his
thoughts dwell upon it. He had known suffering--remorse that he should
be faithless to the memory of his youth, in some hours almost horror of
himself, and yet had struggled and approached himself in vain. The
night of Lord Twemlow's first visit, when my lord Duke (then my lord
Marquis) had been at Dunstanwolde, the occasion upon which Twemlow had
so fretted at his fair kinswoman and told the story of the falling of
her hair in the hunting-field, he had been disturbed indeed, fearing
that his countenance would betray him.

"I was afraid, Gerald; afraid," he said, "thinking it unseemly that a
man of my years should be so shaken with love--while your strong youth
had gone unscathed. Did I not seem ill at ease?"

"I thought that your lordship disliked the subject," Osmonde answered,
remembering well. "Once I thought you pale."

"Yes, yes," said my lord. "I felt my colour change at the cruel picture
my Lord Twemlow painted--of her hunted helplessness if harm befell
her."

"She would not be helpless," said Osmonde. "Nothing would make her so."

Her lord looked up at him with brightened eye.

"True--true!" he said. "At times, Gerald, I think perhaps you know her
better than I. More than once your chance speech of her has shown so
clear a knowledge. 'Tis because your spirit is like to her own."

Osmonde arose and went to a cabinet, which he unlocked.

"I have hid here," he said, "somewhat which I must show you. It should
be yours--or hers--and has a story."

As his eyes fell upon that his kinsman brought forth his lordship
uttered an exclamation. 'Twas the picture of his lady, stolen before
her marriage by the drunken painter.

"It is herself," he exclaimed, "herself, though so roughly done."

My lord Duke stood a little apart out of the range of his vision and
related the history of the canvas. He had long planned that he would do
the thing, and therefore did it. All the plans he had made for his
future conduct he had carried out without flinching. There had been
hours when he had been like a man who held his hand in a brazier, but
he had shown no sign. The canvas had been his companion so long that to
send it from him would be almost as though he thrust forth herself
while she held her deep eyes fixed upon him. But he told the story of
the garret and the drunken painter, in well-chosen words.

"'Twas but like you, Gerald," my lord said with gratitude. "Few other
men would have shown such noble carefulness for a wild beauty they
scarce knew. I--will leave it with you."

"You--will leave it!" answered my lord Duke his pulse quickening. "I
did not hope for such generosity."

His lordship smiled affectionately. "Yes, 'tis generous," he returned.
"I would be so generous with no other man. Kneller paints her for me
now, full length, in her Court bravery and with all her diamonds
blazing on her. 'Twill be a splendid canvas. And lest you should think
me too ready to give this away, I will tell you that I feel the story
of the rascal painter would displease her. She hath too high a spirit
not to be fretted at the thought of being the unconscious tool of a
drunken vagabond."

"Yes, it will anger her," Osmonde said, and ended with a sudden
smiling. "Yet I could not keep hidden the beauties of my kinsman's
lady, and must tell him."

So the matter ended with friendly smiles and kindliness, and the
picture was laid back within the cabinet until such time as it should
be framed and hung.

"Surely you have learned to love it somewhat in your wanderings?" said
the older man with trusting nobleness, standing looking at it, his hand
on the other's arm. "You could not help it."

"No, I could not help it," answered Osmonde, and to himself he said,
"He will drive me mad, generous soul; he will drive me mad."

His one hope and effort was so to bear himself that the unhappy truth
should not be suspected, and so well he played his part that he made it
harder for himself to endure. It was not only that he had not betrayed
himself either in the past or present by word or deed, but that he had
been able to so control himself at worst that he had met his kinsman's
eye with a clear glance, and chosen such words of response and
sympathy, when circumstances so demanded of him, as were generous and
gracious and unconcerned.

"There has risen no faintest shadow in his mind," was his thought. "He
loves me, he trusts me, he believes I share his happiness. Heaven give
me strength."

But there was a time when it was scarce to be avoided that they should
be bidden as guests to Camylott, inasmuch as at this splendid and
renowned house my Lord of Dunstanwolde had spent some of his happiest
hours, and loved it dearly, never ceasing to speak of its stateliness
and beauty to his lady.

"It is the loveliest house in England, my lady," he would say, "and
Gerald loves it with his whole soul. I think he loves it as well, and
almost in such manner as he will some day love her who is his Duchess.
Know you that he and I walked together in the noted Long Gallery, on
the day I told him the story of your birth?"

My lady turned with sudden involuntary movement and met my lord Duke's
eyes (curiously seldom their eyes met, as curiously seldom as if each
pair avoided the other). Some strange emotion was in her countenance
and rich colour mounted her cheek.

"How was that, my lord?" she asked. "'Twas a strange story, as I have
heard it--and a sad one."

"He was but fourteen," said Dunstanwolde, "yet its cruelty set his
youthful blood on fire. Never shall I forget how his eyes flashed and
he bit his boyish lip, crying out against the hardness of it. 'Is there
justice,' he said, 'that a human thing can be cast into the world and
so left alone?'"

"Your Grace spoke so," said her ladyship to Osmonde, "while you were
yet so young?" and the velvet of her eyes seemed to grow darker.

"It was a bitter thing," said Osmonde. "There was no justice in it."

"Nay, that there was not," my lady said, very low.

"'Twas ordained that you two should be kinsman and kinswoman," said
Dunstanwolde. "He was moved by stories of your house when he was yet a
child, and he was ever anxious to hear of your ladyship's first years,
and later, when I longed for a confidant, though he knew it not, I
talked to him often, feeling that he alone of all I knew could
understand you."

Her ladyship stood erect and still, her eyes downcast, as she slowly
stripped a flower of its petals one by one. My lord Duke watched her
until the last flame-coloured fragment fell, when she looked up and
gazed into his face with a strange, tragic searching.

"Then you have known me long, your Grace?" she said.

He bowed his head, not wishing that his voice should at that moment be
heard.

"Since your ladyship was born," said her lord, happy that these two he
loved so well should feel they were not strangers. "Together we both
saw you in the hunting-field--when you were but ten years old."

Her eyes were still upon his--he felt that his own gazed into strange
depths of her. The crimson had fallen away from her beauteous cheeks
and she faintly, faintly smiled--almost, he thought, as if she mocked
at somewhat, woefully.

"Then--then you might have been one of those," she said, slow and soft,
"who came to the birthnight feast and--and saw my life begin."

And she bent down as if she scarce knew what she did, and slowly
gathered up one by one the torn petals she had broken from her flower.


"Then you will ask us to come to visit you at Camylott, Gerald?" said
my lord later after they had talked further, he speaking of the
beauties of the place and the loveliness of the country about it.

"It will be my joy and honour to be your host," Osmonde answered.
"Since my parents' death I have not entertained guests, but had
already thought of doing so this year, and could have no better reason
for hospitality than my wish to place my house at your ladyship's
service," with a bow, "and make you free of it--as of every other roof
of mine."



_CHAPTER XX_

_At Camylott_


A month later the flag floated from Camylott Tower and the village was
all alive with rustic excitement, much ale being drunk at the Plough
Horse and much eager gossip going on between the women, who had been
running in and out of each other's cottages for three days to talk over
each item of news as it reached them. Since the new Duke had taken
possession of his inheritance there had been no rejoicing or company at
the Tower, all the entertaining rooms having been kept closed, and the
great house seeming grievously quiet even when his Grace came down to
spend a few weeks in it. To himself the silence had been a sorrowful
thing, but he had no desire to break it by filling the room with
guests, and had indeed resolved in private thought not to throw open
its doors until he brought to it a mistress. The lovely presence of the
last mistress it had known had been so brightly illuminating a thing,
filling its rooms and galleries and the very park and terraces and
gardens themselves with sunshine and joyousness. In those happy days no
apartment had seemed huge and empty, no space too great to warm and
light with homely pleasure. But this fair torch extinguished,
apartments large enough for royal banquets, labyrinths of corridors and
galleries leading to chambers enough to serve a garrison, seemed all
the more desolate for their size and splendour, and in them their owner
had suffered a sort of homesickness. 'Twas a strange thing to pass
through the beautiful familiar places now that they were all thrown
open and adorned for the coming guests, reflecting that the gala air
was worn for her who should, Fate willing, have made her first visit as
mistress, and realising that Fate had not been willing and that she
came but as a guest and Countess of Dunstanwolde. Oh, it was a bitter,
relentless thing; and why should it have been--for what wise purpose or
what cruel one? And with a maddening clutch about his heart he saw
again the tragic searching in her eyes when she had said, "Then you
have known me long, your Grace," and afterwards, so soft and strangely
slow, "Then you might have been one of those who came to my birthnight
feast, and saw my life begin."

He might have been, Heaven knew. Good God, why had he not? Why had he
gone back to Flanders? Now it seemed to his mind the folly of a madman,
and yet at the time he had felt his duty to his house commanded that he
should not give way to the rising tempest of his passion, but should
at least wait a space that time might prove that he could justly trust
the honour of his name and the fortune of his peoples into this wild,
lovely being's hands. Had he been free from all responsibilities, free
enough to feel that he risked no happiness but his own, and by his act
could wrong none other than himself, he would not have waited to see
what time wrought but have staked his future life upon this die. He had
denied himself and waited, and here he stood in the Long Gallery, and
'twas thrown open and adorned for the coming of my Lady Dunstanwolde.

"I meant an honest thing," he said, gazing out over his fair domain
through a dark mist, it seemed to him. "All my life I have meant
honestly. Why should a man's life go wrong because he himself would act
right?"

The flag fluttered and floated from the battlements of the tower, the
house was beautiful in its air of decorated order and stateliness,
glowing masses of flowers lighted every corner, and tall exotic plants
stood guard about; the faces of lord and lady, dame and knight, in the
pictures seemed to look downward with a waiting gaze. Outside, terraces
and parterres were wonders of late summer brilliancy of bloom, and the
sunshine glowed over all. On the high road from town at this hour the
cavalcades of approaching guests must ride in coach or chariot or on
horseback. When the equipage of the Earl and his Countess passed
through Camylott village, old Rowe would ring a welcoming peal. But my
lord Duke stood still at the window of the Long Gallery where he had
said his tender farewell to his beloved mother before she had left her
home. He was thinking of a grave thing and feeling that the violet eyes
rested upon him again in a soft passion of pity. The thing he thought
of was that which, when his eyes met my Lady Dunstanwolde's, made the
blood pulse through his veins; 'twas that he had known he should some
day see in some woman's eyes, and had told himself would be answer to
the question his being asked; 'twas that he had prayed God he might
see, ay, and had believed and sworn to himself he should see--in this
woman's when he came back to stand face to face with her as lover, if
she would. Well, he had come and seen it, and 'twas in the eyes and
soul of her who was to be his kinsman's wife. And never since he had
been man born had he beheld the faintest glimmering of its glow in any
woman's eyes, though they had been like pools of love or stars of
Heaven, never yet! Moreover, he knew well that he never should again
behold it in any hour to come. Before its fire his soul shook and his
body trembled; 'twas a thing which drew him with a power no human being
could explain the strength of or describe; had he been weak or evil,
and she evil, too, it would have dragged him to her side through crime
and hell; he could not have withstood it.

He saw again the sudden pallor of his mother's sweet face, the sudden
foreboding in her eyes.

"If you loved her 'twould drive you mad and make you forget what you
must be."

"Yes," he cried, putting his hand suddenly to his brow, feeling it
damp, "it has driven me mad, I think--mad. I am not the same man! The
torture is too great. I could--I could--nay! nay!" with half a shudder.
"Let me not forget, mother; let me not forget."

Through this visit he must be a gracious host; a score of other guests
would aid him by sharing his attentions; her ladyship, as new wedded
bride, would be the central figure of the company. Her lord's love for
him and unconsciousness of any suspicion of the truth would put him to
the test many a time, but he would keep his word to himself, the vow he
made to avoid nearness to her when 'twas to be done with any
graciousness, and her eyes he would not meet in more than passing gaze
if he could be master of his own.

"If I look straightly at her my own gaze will speak, and she, who is so
shrewd of wit and has seen such worship in men's faces, will read and
understand, and disdain me, or--disdain me not. God knows which would
be worse."

The visit over, he would visit other of his estates, engage himself
with friends to be their guests in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, at
their châteaux in France or Spain--everywhere. When he was not thus
absorbed he would give himself to a statesman's work at the settling of
great questions--the more involved and difficult the better; party
enmity would be good for him, the unravelling of webs of intrigue, the
baffling of cabals would keep his thoughts in action, and leave him no
time for dreams. Yes, to mark out his days thus clearly would help him
to stand steady upon his feet--in time might aid in deadening the
burning of the wound which would not close. Above all, to Warwickshire
he would not go--Dunstan's Wolde must see him no more, and Dunstanwolde
House in town he would gradually visit less and less often, until his
kinsman ceased to expect the old familiarity, believing his many duties
kept him away. In his happiness he would have but little time to miss
him seriously, perhaps even to remember that his presence had been once
so much less rare a thing.

"'Son,' he once loved to call me," he thought, with a sharp pang. "He
is an old man, 'tis true, but Heaven may give him a son of his own."

Even as the thought crossed his mind--as a flame of lightning crosses a
black sky--he heard old Rowe begin to ring his peal, and soon--or it
seemed soon to him--the first party of arrivals wound through the park,
now and then its colours gleaming through an opening in the trees.
There were mounted and safely armed servitors riding in attendance to
guard the big travelling-coach with its six strong, finely bred horses.
In this the Earl and his Countess sate, the lady a little pale, from
the fatigue of her journey, perhaps; following them came another
vehicle, substantial but less splendid than their own equipage, in it,
my lady's two Abigails and the gentleman of his lordship carrying the
iron jewel-box secreted in a special hiding-place beneath the seat, for
the baffling of highwaymen, if any such were bold enough to attack a
party so well attended by sturdy strength and shining arms. When she
had stepped forth across the threshold of her town house, attended by
subservient lacqueys bowing in line on either side, the Countess had
faintly smiled, and when they had entered their coach and the door been
closed upon them, she had turned this smile with a sweet archness upon
her lord.

"I smile, my Lord," she said, "to think what a great lady your goodness
has made of me, and how in these days I ride forth, and how in the
past, when I was but Clo Wildairs our old chariot lumbered like a house
on wheels, and its leather hung in flaps, and the farm horses pulled it
lurching from side to side, and old Bartlemy had grown too portly for
his livery and cursed when it split as he rolled in his seat." And her
laugh rang out as if it were a chime of bells, and her lord, laughing
with her--but for joy in her arch gayety--adored her.

"If any had told the county then that I would one day ride forth like
this," says she, "from Dunstanwolde House to pay visit to a Duke at
Camylott, who could have believed it? I would not myself. And 'tis you
who have given me all, my dear lord," laying her soft hand in his.
"You, Edward, and I am full of gratefulness."

What wonder that he was a happy man, he who had hoped for so little and
had found so much, since she did not think--as a slighter woman
might--that her youth and beauty paid for and outweighed his richest
gifts, but was heavenly kind and dutiful and tender, giving him of her
brightest humours and prettiest playfulness and gentlest womanly
thought, and receiving his offerings, not as her mere right, but as
signals of his generousness and tender love for her.

"Look, my lady!" he cried, as they drove up the avenue, "see what a
noble house it is; there is no other, in all England, of its size and
beauty. And Gerald waits to receive us with no Duchess at his side."

Her ladyship leaned forward to look, and gazed a moment in silence.

"There should be one," she cried, "to reign over such a place, and to
be happy in it."


The village saw gayety enough to turn its head in the two weeks that
followed. The flag floated from the tower every day, coaches rolled
past the village green laden with the county gentry who came to pay
their respects, gay cavalcades rode down the avenue and through the big
gates to gallop over the country with joyous laughter and talk; at the
Plough Horse, Mr. Mount, who had grown too old for service, but had
been pensioned and was more fond of fine stories than ever, added to
his importance as a gentleman of quality by describing the banquets at
the Towers, the richness of the food, the endless courses, the
massiveness of the gold plate, the rareness of the wines, and the
magnificence of the costumes of the guests.

"There are fine women there," he would say, removing his long
churchwarden's pipe from his mouth and waving it to give emphasis. "In
my day I have seen King Charles at Hampton Court--my Lady Castlemaine,
and Mistress Frances Stewart, who married a Duke and had her eyes put
out by smallpox and her face spoiled forever, poor soul; and De
Querouaille--the one you will call Carwell, which is not her name, but
a French one--and Mazarin--and all could see Nell Gwynne who could pay
for a seat in the play-house--so I may well be a judge of women--and
have lived gayly myself about the Court. But there is _one_--this
moment at Camylott Towers--there is one," describing a great circle
with his pipe as if he writ her name, "and may the devil seize and
smite me, if there was ever a lady with such a body and face on earth
before."

"Tis the tall one with the flashing black eyes," cried out Will Bush
the first night that he said it. "Me and my dame saw her through the
glass of the coach the day they drove over the green with all their
servants come to follow them from Lunnon town with pistols and hangers.
And what think you? says I to Joan, 'Ecod,' says I, 'there's the woman
for our own Duke, and matches him for size and beauty!' And says Joan,
staring: 'Lord a mercy, so she is and does!'"

"Village folk," said Mr. Mount with decorum, "are not the ones to take
upon themselves the liberty to say who will suit a Duke or who will not
suit him. But this I will say to you, that for once you were not so far
wrong; I having said the same thing myself. And his Grace is a single
man, whom they say loves no woman--and my lady has a husband near
seventy years of age. So things go!"

To her husband and lord, this lady seemed for all her powers, the
sweetest, frank creature in the world, and indeed in all matters which
concerned their united life she was candour itself. But there was a
thing in her mind--and 'twas in her thought every day--of which, though
she was within his sight almost every waking hour and her head lay upon
the pillow by his own, when she slept, he knew nothing. In gaining
grace of manner and bearing she had not lost her old quickness of sight
and alertness of mind; if any felt that her eyes were less keen, her
perception less acute, their error was a grave one. Beneath the majesty
of her Ladyship of Dunstanwolde lay all the fire and flaming spirit,
the swiftness to deduce and act, which had set Clo Wildairs apart from
lesser women. So it was that she had not been three hours at Camylott
before she knew that, with regard to herself, my Lord Duke of Osmonde
had made some strong resolve. No other than herself could have
detected, she knew, but on her first glance at his face she beheld it
written there. There are human beings, it is sure, whose natures are so
attuned that the thoughts, the griefs, the passions of each are
reflected upon the brain of the other; and 'twas thus with these two
whom life thrust so far apart from one another and yet forced so near.
At their first meeting on the threshold and in the midst of his warm
and gracious welcome she read what none other could read, and felt a
pang which yet was gladness. 'Twas better so--her strength should aid
his own, his greatness should support her. There was no question in
her mind, no argument, only a sudden recognition of the truth that up
to this time she had scarcely allowed herself mere thought in
connection with him, that--after the first hour--when thought had risen
she had thrust it back, forbidden its being, denied its presence.

"Thought will not help," she had said once, when, as she had sate
alone, she had felt hot, passionate tears start to her eyes, and she
had flung down her book, risen from her chair, and left the room ten
minutes later, riding forth from the court followed by her groom and
making for the country roads.

From the earliest days of her marriage she had herself avoided often
meeting his gaze. Glances would not help either, but would do harm and
betray--between those who are drawn together as by some force of
Nature, glances are mad things. They may begin calmly, they may swear
that they will so continue, but looks entangle one day and catch fire,
and, once alight, the flame cannot extinguish itself, even when it
would.

At Camylott each was gracious to the other, he gracious host, she
gracious guest and kinswoman, and those who looked on praised each one
and honoured, speaking often of their charm and courtly friendliness,
which indeed made them seem almost like brother and sister.

"They are a strange pair, those two fine creatures," said the old
Dowager Storms one day to her favourite crony, an elderly matron to
whom she could safely talk gossip. "But look at them." (They were with
the whole party at racquets in the court, and my lord Duke, having made
a splendid stroke, glowing and laughing bowed in response to a round of
applause.) "Is there a husband at Court--though he were not
thirty-five--who has reason to feel as safe as the old Earl
Dunstanwolde may--when his wife is guest to such a pretty fellow as
he?" nodding her head towards his Grace. "Never in my days saw I a
thing so out of nature! 'Tis as though they were not flesh and blood,
but--but of some stuff _we_ are not made of. 'Tis but human he should
make sly love to her, and her eyes wander after him despite herself
wheresoever he goes. All know how a woman's eyes will follow a man, and
his hers, but when these look at each other 'tis steadfast honesty that
looks out of them--and 'tis scarce to be understood."



_CHAPTER XXI_

_Upon the Moor_


Throughout the festivities which followed each other, day by day, my
Lady Dunstanwolde was queen of every revel. 'Twas she who led the
adventurous party who visited the gipsy encampment in the glen by
moonlight, and so won the heart of the old gipsy queen that she took
her to her tent and instructed her in the mysteries of spells and
potions. She walked among them as though she had been bred and born one
of their tribe, and came forth from one tent carrying in her arms a
brown infant, and showed it to the company, laughing like a girl and
making pretty sounds at the child when it stared at her with great
black eyes like her own, and shook at it all her rings, which she
stripped from her fingers, holding them in the closed palm of her hand
to make a rattle of. She stirred the stew hanging to cook over the
camp-fire, and begged a plate of it for each of the company, and ate
her own with such gay appetite as recalled to Osmonde the day he had
watched her on the moor; and the gipsy women stood by showing their
white teeth in their pleasure, and the gipsy men hung about with black
shining eyes fixed on her in stealthy admiration. She stood by the fire
in the light of the flame, having fantastically wound a scarlet scarf
about her head, and 'twas as though she might have been a gipsy queen
herself.

"And indeed," she said, as they rode home, "I have often enough thought
I should like to be one of them; and when I was a child, and was in a
passion, more than once planned to stain my face and run away to the
nearest camp I could come upon. Indeed, I think I was always a rebel
and loved wild, lawless ways."

When she said it my lord Duke, who was riding near, looked straight
before him, with face which had belied his laugh, had any seen it. He
was thinking that he could well imagine what a life a man might lead
with her, wandering about the thick green woods and white roads and
purple moors, tramping, side by side, in the sweet wind and bright
sunshine, and even the soft falling rain, each owner of a splendid body
which defied the weather and laughed at fatigue. To carry their simple
meal with them and stop to eat it joyously together under a hedge, to
lie under the shade of a broad branched tree to rest when the sun was
hot and hear the skylarks singing in the blue sky, and then at
night-time to sit at the door of a tent and watch the stars and tell
each other fanciful stories of them, while the red camp-fire danced
and glowed in the dark. Of no other woman could he have had such a wild
fancy--the others were too frail and delicate to be a man's comrades
out of doors; but she, who stood so straight and strong, who moved like
a young deer, who could swing along across the moors for a day without
fatigue, who had the eye of a hawk and a spirit so gay and untiring--a
man might range the world with her and know joy every moment. 'Twas
ordained that all she did or said should seem a call to him and should
bring visions to him, and there was many an hour when he thanked Heaven
she seemed so free from fault, since if she had had one he could not
have seen it, or if he had seen, might have loved it for her sake. But
she had none, it seemed, and despite all her strange past was surely
more noble than any other woman. She was so true--he told himself--so
loyal and so high in her honour of the old man who loved her. Had she
even been innocently light in her bearing among the men who flocked
about her, she might have given her lord many a bitter hour, and seemed
regardless of his dignity; but she could rule and restrain all,
howsoever near they were to the brink of folly. As for himself, Osmonde
thought, all his days he had striven to be master of himself, and felt
he must remain so or die; but he could have worshipped her upon his
knees in gratitude that no woman's vanity tempted her to use her
powers and loveliness to shake him in his hard won calmness and lure
him to her feet. He was but man and human, and vaunted himself upon
being no more.


There had been for some months much talk in town of the rapid downfall
of the whilom favourite of Fashion, Sir John Oxon. But a few weeks
before the coming happiness of the old Earl of Dunstanwolde was made
known to the world, there had been a flurry of gossip over a rumour
that Sir John, whose fortunes were in a precarious condition, was about
to retrieve them by a rich marriage. A certain Mistress Isabel Beaton,
a young Scotch lady, had been for a year counted the greatest fortune
in the market, and besieged by every spendthrift or money-seeker the
town knew. Not only was she heiress to fine estates in Scotland, but to
wealth-yielding sugar plantations in the West Indies. She was but
twenty and had some good looks and an amiable temper, though with her
fortune, had she been ugly as Hecate, she would have had more suitors
than she could manage with ease. But she was not easily pleased, or of
a susceptible nature, and 'twas known she had refused suitor after
suitor, among them men of quality and rank, the elegant and decorous
Viscount Wilford, among others, having knelt at her feet, and--having
proffered her the boon of his lofty manner and high accomplishments
--having been obliged to rise a discarded man, to his amazement and
discomfort. The world she lived in was of the better and more
respectable order, and Jack Oxon had seen little of it, finding it not
gay and loose enough for his tastes, but suddenly, for reasons best
known to himself and to his anxious mother, he began to appear at its
decorous feasts. 'Twas said of him he "had a way" with women and could
make them believe anything until they found him out, either through
lucky chance or because he had done with them. He could act the part of
tender, honest worshipper, of engaging penitent, of impassioned and
romantic lover until a woman old and wise enough to be his mother might
be entrapped by him, aided as he was by his beauty, his large blue
eyes, his merry wit, and the sweetest voice in the world. So it seemed
that Mistress Beaton, who was young and had lived among better men,
took him for one and found her fancy touched by him. His finest
allurements he used, verses he writ, songs he made and sang, poetic
homilies on disinterested passion he preached, while the world looked
on and his boon companions laid wagers. At last those who had wagered
on him won their money, those who had laid against him lost, for 'twas
made known publicly that he had won the young lady's heart, and her
hand and fortune were to be given to him.

This had happened but a week or two before he had appeared at the ball
which celebrated young Colin's coming of age, and also by chance the
announcement of the fine match to be made of Mistress Clorinda
Wildairs. 'Twas but like him, those who knew him said, that though he
himself was on the point of making a marriage, he should burn with fury
and jealous rage, because the beauty he had dangled about had found a
husband and a fortune. Some said he had loved Mistress Clorinda with
such passion that he would have wed her penniless if she would have
taken him, others were sure he would have married no woman without
fortune, whatsoever his love for her, and that he had but laid
dishonest siege to Mistress Clo and been played with and flouted by
her. But howsoever this might have been, he watched her that night,
black with rage, and went back to town in an evil temper. Perhaps 'twas
this temper undid him, and being in such mood he showed the cloven
foot, for two weeks later all knew the match was broken off, Mistress
Beaton went back to her estates in Scotland, his creditors descended
upon him in hordes, such of his properties as could be seized were
sold, and in a month his poor, distraught mother died of a fever
brought on by her disappointment and shame.

Another story was told in solution of the sudden breaking off the
match, and 'twas an ugly one and much believed.

A wild young cousin of the lady's, one given to all the adventures of a
man about town, had gone to Tyburn, as was much the elegant fashion, to
see a hanging. The victim was a girl of sixteen, to suffer for the
murder of her infant, and as she went to the gallows she screamed aloud
in frenzy the name of the child's father. The young scapegrace looking
on, 'twas said, turned pale on hearing her and went into the crowd,
asking questions. Two hours later he appeared at his cousin's house
and, calling for her guardian, held excited speech with him.

"Mistress Isabel fell like a stone after ten minutes' talk with them,"
'twas told, "and looked like one when she got into her travelling-coach
to drive away next day. Sir John and his mother had both raged and wept
at her door to be let in, but she would see or speak to neither of
them."

From that time it seemed that all was over for Sir John. He was far
worse than poor and in debt, he was _out of fashion_, and for a man
like himself this meant not only humiliation, but impotent rage. Ladies
no longer ogled him and commanded the stopping of their chairs that
they might call him to them with coquettish reproaches that he neither
came to their assemblies nor bowed and waved hands to them as he sate
on the stage at the playhouse; beaux no longer joined him in the
coffee-house or on the Mall to ask his opinion of this new beauty or
that, and admire the cut of his coat, or the lace on his steenkirk; the
new beauty's successes would not be advanced by his opinion--a man whom
tradespeople dun from morn till night has few additions to his wardrobe
and wears few novelties in lace. Profligacy and defiance of all rules
of healthful living had marred his beauty and degraded his youth; his
gay wit and spirit had deserted him and left him suspicious and bitter.
He had been forced to put down his equipages and change his fashionable
lodgings for cheaper ones; when he lounged in the park his old
acquaintances failed to see him; when he gambled he lost. Downhill he
was going, and there was naught to stop him. For one man in England he
had, even in his most flourishing days, cherished a distaste--the man
who was five inches taller than himself, who was incomparably
handsomer, and whose rank was such, that to approach him as an equal
would have savoured of presumption. This man, who was indeed my Lord
Duke of Osmonde, had irked him from the first, and all the more when he
began to realise that for some reason, howsoever often they chanced to
be in the same place, it invariably happened that they did not come in
contact with each other, Sir John on no occasion being presented to my
lord Duke, his Grace on no occasion seeming to observe his presence
near him. At the outset this appeared mere accident, but after a few
such encounters ending in nothing, Sir John began to guess that 'twas
the result of more than mere chancing, and in time to mark that, though
he was not clumsily avoided, or in such manner as would leave any room
for complaint, my lord Duke forebore to enter into any conversation in
which he took part, or to approach any quarter where he was stationed.
Once Sir John had even tried the experiment of addressing an
acquaintance who stood near his Grace, meaning to lead up to a meeting,
but though the Duke did not move from the place where he stood, in a
few moments he had, with ease and naturalness, gathered about him a
circle which 'twould have been difficult indeed to enter. Sir John went
away livid, and hated and sneered at him from that hour, all the more
bitterly, because no hatred was a weapon against him, no sneer could do
more than glance from him, leaving no scratch. 'Twas plain enough, the
gossips said, that Sir John's passion for her ladyship of Dunstanwolde
had not been a dead thing when he paid his court to the heiress; if for
a little space he had smothered it from necessity's sake, it had begun
to glow again as soon as he had been left a free man, and when my lady
came to town and Court, surrounded by the halo of rank and wealth and
beauty, the glow had become a flame he could not hide, for 'twas
burning in his eyes and his every look spoke of it as if with
bitterness.

It scarcely seemed a flame of love; 'twas to be seen so often when he
looked fierce and resentful.

"'Tis more than half envy of her," said one wise lady, who had passed
through a long life of varied experiences. "'Tis more hate than love.
His star having set, it galls him that hers so rises. And as for her,
she scarce will deign to see him."

And this was very true, for she had a way of passing him by as if he
did not live. And none but herself knew that sometimes, when he stood
near, he spoke low to her words she disdained to answer. There were
many bitter things she held in mind which were secret from all others
upon earth, she thought, but from himself and her who had been Clo
Wildairs in days gone by, when, as it now seemed to her, she had been
another woman living in another world. There were things she understood
which the world did not, and she understood full well the meaning of
his presence when she, with the ducal party, came face to face with him
at the great ball given in the county town when the guests were
gathered at Camylott.

The night was a festal one for the county, the ball being given in
honour of a great party movement, his Grace and his visitors driving
from Camylott to add to the brilliance of the festivities. The Mayor
and his party received them with ceremony, the smaller gentry, who had
come attired in their richest, gathered in groups gazing, half
admiring, half envious of the more stately splendour of the Court
mantua-makers and jewellers. The officers from the garrison assumed a
martial air of ease as the _cortége_ advanced up the ballroom, and
every man's eyes were drawn towards one tall goddess with a shining
circlet set on raven-black braids of hair coiled high, yet twisted
tight, as if their length and thickness could only be massed close
enough by deftest skill.

"'Tis said 'tis near six feet long," whispered one matron to another;
"and a rake at Court wagered he would show a lock of it in town some
day, but he came back without it."

Sir John Oxon had come with a young officer, and stood near him as the
ducal party approached. The Countess of Dunstanwolde was on his Grace's
arm, and Sir John made a step forward. Her ladyship turned her eyes
slowly, attracted by the movement of a figure so near her; she did not
start nor smile, but let her glance rest quiet on his face and curtsied
calmly; my lord Duke bowed low with courtly gravity, and they passed
on.


When the ball was at an end, and the party set out on its return to
Camylott, the Duke did not set out with the rest, he being at the last
moment unexpectedly detained. This he explained with courtly excuses,
saying that he would not be long held, and would mount and follow in an
hour.

He stood upon the threshold to watch the last chariot leave the
courtyard, and then he made his way to a certain supper-room, where a
lingering party of officers and guests were drinking. These being of
the young and riotous sort, there was much loud talk and laughter and
toasting of ladies, sometimes far from respectfully, and Sir John Oxon,
who was flushed with wine, was the central figure, and toasted her
ladyship of Dunstanwolde with an impudent air.

"'Tis not my lady I drink to," he cried, "but Clo Wildairs--Clo astride
a hunter and with her black hair looped under her hat. Clo! Clo!" And
with a shout the company drank to the toast.

"There was a lock of that black hair clipt from her head once when she
knew it not," Sir John cried next. "'Twas lost, by God, but 'twill be
found again. Drink to its finding."

Then my lord Duke stepped forward and, passing the open door, went
through the house and out beyond the entrance of the court and waited
in a place where any who came forth must pass. He had but gone within
to see that Sir John had not yet taken his departure.

There be deeps in the nature of human beings which in some are never
stirred, possibilities of heroism, savagery, passion, or crime, and
when the hour comes which searches these far secret caverns and brings
their best and worst to light, strange things may be seen. On the
night, at Dunstanwolde, when he had fought his battle alone, my lord
Duke had realised the upheaval in his being of frenzies and lawlessness
which were strange indeed to him, and which he had afterwards pondered
deeply upon, tracing the germs of them to men whose blood had come down
to him through centuries, and who had been untamed, ruthless savages in
the days when a man carried his life in his hand and staked it
recklessly for any fury or desire.

Now as he stood and waited, his face was white except that on one cheek
was a spot almost like a scarlet stain of blood; his eyes seemed
changed to blue-black, and in each there was a light which flickered
like a point of flame and made him seem not himself, but some new
relentless being, for far deeps of him had been shaken and searched
once more.

"I wait here like a brigand," he said to himself with a harsh laugh,
"or a highwayman--but he shall not pass."

Then Sir John crossed the courtyard and came forward humming, and his
Grace of Osmonde advanced and met him.

"Sir John Oxon," he said, and stood still and made a grave bow.

John Oxon started and then stood still also, staring at him, his face
flushed and malignant. His Grace of Osmonde was it who had gazed above
his head throughout the evening, when all the country world might see!

"Your Grace deigns to address me at last," he said.

"Hitherto there has been no need that either should address the other,"
answers my lord Duke in a steady voice. "At this moment the necessity
arises. Within there"--with a gesture--"I heard you use a lady's name
impudently. Earlier in the evening I also chanced to hear you so use
it; I was in the ball-room. So I remained behind and waited to have
speech with you. Do not speak it again in like manner."

"Must I not!" said Sir John, his blue eyes glaring. "On Clo Wildairs's
name was set no embargo, God knows. Is there a reason why a man should
be squeamish of a sudden over my Lady Dunstanwolde's? 'Tis but the
difference of a title and an old husband."

"And of a man made her kinsman by marriage," said my lord Duke, "who
can use a sword."

"Let him use it, by God!" cried Sir John, and insensate with rage he
laid his hand upon his own as if he would draw it.

"He will use it and is prepared to do so, or he would not be here," the
Duke answered. "We are not two Mohocks brawling in the streets, but two
gentlemen, one of whom must give a lesson to the other. Would you have
witnesses?"

"Curse it, I care for none!" flamed Sir John. "Let the best man give
his lesson now. 'Tis not this night alone I would be even for."

The Duke measured him from head to foot, in every inch of sinew.

"I am the better man," he said; "I tell you beforehand."

Sir John flung out a jeering laugh.

"Prove it," he cried. "_Prove_ it. Now is your time."

"There is open moor a short distance away," says his Grace. "Shall we
go there?"

So they set out, walking side by side, neither speaking a word. The
night was still and splendid, and just upon its turn; the rich
dark-blue of the Heavens was still hung with the spangles of the stars,
but soon they would begin to dim, and the deepness of the blue to pale
for dawn. A scented freshness was in the air, and was just stirring
with that light faint wind which so often first foretells the coming of
the morning. When, in but a few minutes, the two men stood stript of
their upper garments to their shirts, the open purple heath about them,
the jewelled sky above, this first fresh scent of day was in their
lungs and nostrils. That which stirred John Oxon to fury and at the
same time shook his nerve, though he owned it not to himself, and would
have died rather, was the singular composure of the man who was his
opponent. Every feature, every muscle, every fibre of him seemed
embodied stillness, and 'twas not that the mere physical members of him
were still, but that the power which was himself, his will, his
thought, his motion was in utter quiet, and of a quiet which was deadly
in its significance and purpose. 'Twas that still strength which
_knows_ its power and will use it, and ever by its presence fills its
enemy with impotent rage.

With such rage it filled John Oxon as he beheld it, and sneered. He had
heard rumours of the wonders of his Grace's sword-play, that from
boyhood he had excelled and delighted in it, that in the army he had
won renown, through mere experiments of his skill, that he was as
certain of his weapon as an acrobat of his least feat--but 'twas not
this which maddened the other man but the look in his steady eye.

"You are the bigger man of the two," he jeered, impudently, "but give
me your lesson and shut my mouth on Clo Wildairs--if you can."

"I am the better man," says my lord Duke, "and I will shut it. But I
will not kill you."

Then they engaged, and such a fight began as has not been often seen,
for such a battle is more of spirit than body, and is more like to be
fought alone between two enemies whose antagonism is part of being
itself, than to be fought in the presence of others whose nearness
would but serve to disturb it.

John Oxon had fought duels before, through women who were but his
despised playthings, through braggadocio, through drunken folly,
through vanity and spite--but never as he fought this night on the
broad heath, below the paling stars. This man he hated, this man he
would have killed by any thrust he knew, if the devil had helped him.
There is no hatred, to a mind like his, such as is wakened by the sight
of another's gifts and triumphs--all the more horrible is it if they
are borne with nobleness. To have lost all--to see another possess with
dignity that thing one has squandered! And for this frenzy there was
more than one cause. Clo Wildairs! He could have cursed aloud. My Lady
Dunstanwolde! He could have raved like a madman. She! And a Duke
here--this Duke would shut his mouth and give him a lesson. He lunged
forward and struck wildly; my lord Duke parried his point as if he
played with the toy of a child, and in the clear starlight his face
looked a beautiful mask, and did not change howsoever furious his
opponent's onslaught, or howsoever wondrous his own play. For wondrous
it was, and before they had been engaged five minutes John Oxon was a
maddened creature, driven so, not only by his own fury, but by seeing a
certain thing--which was that this man could kill him if he would, but
would not. When he had lost his wits and made his senseless lunge, his
Grace had but parried when he might have driven his point home; he did
this again and again while their swords clashed and darted. The stamp
of their feet sounded dull and heavy on the moor, and John Oxon's
breath came short and hissing. As he grew more wild the other grew more
cool and steady, and made a play which Sir John could have shrieked out
at seeing. What was the man doing? 'Twas as if he would show him where
he could strike and did not deign to. He felt his devil's touch in a
dozen places, and not one scratch. There he might have laid open his
face from brow to chin! Why did he touch him here, there, at one point
and another, and deal no wound? Gods! 'twas fighting not with a human
thing but with a devil! 'Twas like fighting in a Roman arena, to be
played with as a sport until human strength could bear no more; 'twas
as men used to fight together hundreds of years ago. His breath grew
short, his panting fiercer, the sweat poured down him, his throat was
dry, and he could feel no more the fresh stirring of the air of the
dawning. He would not stop to breathe, he had reached the point in his
insensate fury when he could have flung himself upon the rapier's point
and felt it cleave his breastbone and start through his back with the
joy of hell, if he could have struck the other man deep but once. The
thought made him start afresh; he fought like a thousand devils, his
point leaping and flashing, and coming down with a crash; he stamped
and gasped and shouted.

"Curse you," he cried; "come on!"

"Do I stand back?" said my lord Duke, and gave him such play as made
him see the air red as blood, and think he tasted the salt of blood in
his dry mouth; his muscles were wrenched with his violence, and this
giant devil moved as swift as if he had but just begun. Good God! he
was beaten! Good God! by this enemy who would not kill him or be
killed. He uttered a sound which was a choking shriek and hurled
himself forward. 'Twas his last stroke and he knew it, and my lord Duke
struck his point aside and it flew in the air, and Sir John fell
backwards broken, conquered, exhausted, but an unwounded man. And he
fell full length and lay upon the heather, its purple blooms crushed
against his cheek; and the sky was of a sweet pallor just about to
glow, and the first bird of morning sprang up in it to sing.

"Damn you!" he gasped. "Damn you," and lay there, his blue eyes
glaring, his chest heaving as though 'twould burst, his nostrils
dilated with his laboured, tortured puffs of breath. Thereupon, as he
lay prostrate, for he was too undone a man to rise, he saw in his Grace
of Osmonde's eyes the two points of light which were like ruthless
flames and yet burned so still.

And his Grace, standing near him, leaned upon his sword, looking down.

"Do you understand?" he said.

"That you are the better sword--Yes!" shrieked Sir John, and added
curses it were useless to repeat.

"That I will have you refrain from speaking that lady's name?"

"Force me to it, if you can," Sir John raved at him. "You can but kill
me!"

"I will not kill you," said the Duke, leaning a little nearer and the
awful light in his eyes growing intenser--for awful it was and made his
pale face deadly. "How I can force you to it I have shown you--and
brought you here to prove. For that, I meant that we should fight
alone. Myself, I knew, I could hold from killing you, howsoever my
blood might tempt me. You, I knew, I could keep from killing me, which
I knew you would have done if you could, by foul means if not fair. I
would not have it said I was forced to fight to shield that lady's
name--so I would have no witness if it could be helped. And you will
keep the encounter secret, for I command you."

Sir John started up, leaning upon his elbow, catching his breath, and
his wicked face a white flame.

"Curse you!" he shrieked again, blaspheming at a thing he had not
dreamed of, and which came upon him like a thunderbolt. "Curse your
soul--you love her!"

The deadly light danced--he saw it--in his Grace's eyes, but his
countenance was a marble mask with no human quiver of flesh in any
muscle of it.

"I command you," he went on; "having proved I can enforce. I have the
blood of savage devils in me, come down to me through many hundred
years. All my life I have kept them at bay. Until late I did not know
how savage they were and what they could make me feel. I could do to
you, as you lie there, things a man who is of this century, and sane,
cannot do. You know I can strike where I will. If you slight that
lady's name again I will not kill"--he raised himself from his sword
and stood his full height, the earliest gold of the sun shining about
him--"I will not kill you, but--so help me God!--I will fight with you
once more, and I will leave you so maimed and so disfigured that you
can woo no woman to ruin again and jest at her shame and agony with no
man--for none can bear to look at you without a shudder--and you will
lie and writhe to be given the _coup de grace_." He lifted the hilt of
his sword and kissed it. "That I swear," he said, "by this first
dawning of God's sun."


When later my lord Duke returned to the town and got his horse and rode
across the moors the shortest road to Camylott, he felt suddenly that
his body was slightly trembling. He looked down at his hands and saw
they were unsteady, and a strange look--as of a man slowly awakening
from a dream--- came over his face. 'Twas this he felt--as if the last
two hours he had lived in a dream or had been another man than himself,
perhaps some bloody de Mertoun, who had for ages been dry, light dust.
The devils which had been awake in him had been devils so awful as he
well knew--not devils to possess and tear a man in the days of good
Queen Anne, but such as, in times long past, possessed those who slew,
and hacked, and tortured, and felt an enemy a prey to be put to _peine
forte et dure_. He drew his glove across his brow and found it damp.
This dream had taken hold upon him three hours before, when, standing
by chance near a group about John Oxon, he had heard him sneer as the
old Earl went by with his lady upon his arm. From that moment his brain
had held but one thought--this man should not go away until he had
taught him a thing. He would teach him, proving to him that there was a
power which he might well fear, and which would show no mercy, not even
the mercy mere death would show, but would hold over his vile soul a
greater awfulness. But he had danced his minuets and gavottes with my
Lady Dunstanwolde as well as with other fair ones, and the country
gentry had looked on and applauded him in their talk, telling each
other of his fortunes, and of how he had had a wound at Blenheim,
distinguished himself elsewhere, and set the world wondering because
after his home-coming he took no Duchess instead of choosing one, as
all expected. While they had so talked and he had danced he had made
his plan, and his devils had roused themselves and risen. And then he
had made his excuses to his party and watched the coaches drive away,
and had gone back to seek John Oxon. Now he rode back over the
moorland, and the day was awake and he was awake too. He rode swiftly
through the gorse and heather, scattering the dewdrops as he went,
thousands of dewdrops there were, myriads of pinkish purple
heath-bells, and some pure white ones, and yellow gorse blossoms which
smelt of honey, and birds that trilled, and such a morning fragrance in
the air as made his heart ache for vague longing. Ah, if all had been
but as it might have been, for there were the fair grey towers of
Camylott rising before him, and he was riding homeward--and, oh, God,
if he had been riding home to the arms of the most heaven-sweet woman
in the world--heaven-sweet not for her mere loveliness' sake, but
because she was to him as Eve had been to Adam--the one woman God had
made.

His heart swelled and throbbed with thinking it as he rode up the
avenue, and its throbbing almost stopped when he approached the garden
and saw a tall white figure standing alone by a fountain and looking
down. He sprang from his horse and turned it loose to reach its stable,
and went forward feeling as if a dream had begun again, but this time a
strange, sweet one.

Her long white draperies hung loose about her, so that she looked like
some statue; her hands were crossed on her chest and her chin fell upon
them, while her eyes looked straight before into the water. She was
pale as he had never seen her look before, her lip had a weary curve
and droop, and under her eyes were shadows. How young she was--what a
girl, for all her height and bearing! and though he knew her years so
well he had never thought on her youth before. Would God he might have
swept her to his breast, crushing her in his arms and plunging into her
eyes, for as she turned and raised them to him he saw tears.

"Your ladyship," he exclaimed.

"My lord has been ill," she said. "He asked for you, and when he fell
asleep I came to get the morning air, hoping your Grace might come. I
must go back to him. Come, your Grace, with me."



_CHAPTER XXII_

_My Lady Dunstanwolde is Widowed_


There was a lady came back to town with the Earl and Countess, on their
return from Dunstan's Wolde, to which place they had gone after his
lordship's illness at Camylott. This lady was one of the two elder
sisters of her ladyship of Dunstanwolde, and 'twas said was her
favourite and treated with great tenderness by her. She was but a thin,
humble little woman--Mistress Anne Wildairs--and singularly plain and
timid to be the sister and chosen companion of one so brilliant and
full of fire. She was a pale creature with dull-hued heavy hair and
soft dull eyes, which followed her ladyship adoringly whensoever it
chanced they were in a room together.

"How can two beings so unlike be of the same blood?" people said; "and
what finds my lady in her that she does not lose patience at her
plainness and poor spirit?"

What she discovered in her, none knew as she herself did; but my Lord
Dunstanwolde understood the tie between them, and so his Grace of
Osmonde did, since an occasion when he had had speech with her ladyship
upon the subject.

"I love her," she said, with one of her strange, almost passionate,
looks. "'Tis thought I can love neither man nor woman. But that I can
do, and without change; but I must love a thing not slight nor common.
Anne was the first creature to teach me what love meant. Before, I had
never seen it. She was afraid of me and often thought I mocked at her,
but I was learning from her pureness--from her pureness," she added,
saying the words the second time in a lower voice and almost as if to
herself. And then the splendid sweet of her smile shone forth. "She is
so white--good Anne," she said. "She is a saint and does not know I
pray to her to intercede for me, and that I live my life hoping that
some day I may make it as fair as hers. She does not know, and I dare
not tell her, for she would be made afraid."

To Mistress Anne she seemed in truth a goddess. Until taken under her
protection, the poor woman had lived a lonely life, starved of all
pleasures and affections. At first--'twas in the days when she had been
but Clo Wildairs--her ladyship had begun to befriend her through a mere
fanciful caprice, being half-amused, half-touched, to find her, by
sheer chance, one day, stolen into her chambers to gaze in delighted
terror at some ball finery spread upon a bed. To Mistress Clorinda the
frightened creature had seemed a strange thing in her shy fearfulness,
and she had for an hour amused herself and then suddenly been vaguely
moved, and from that time had been friends with her.

"Perhaps I had no heart then, or 'twas not awake," said her ladyship.
"I was but a fierce, selfish thing, like a young she-wolf. Is a young
she-wolf honest?" with a half-laugh. "I was that, and feared nothing. I
ate and drank and sang and hunted poor beasts for my pleasure, and was
as wild as one of them myself. When I look back!"--she flung up a white
hand in a strange gesture--"When I look back!"

"Look forward!" said my lord Duke; "'tis the nobler thing."

"Yes," she repeated after him, fixing her great eyes gravely on his
face and speaking slowly. "'Tis sure the nobler thing."

And then he heard from her how, day by day, poor Anne had revealed to
her things strange--unselfishness, humble and tender love, and sweet
patience.

"At first I but wondered," she said, "and sate and would stare at her
while she talked. And then I pitied her who was so meek, and then I was
angered at Fortune, which had been so careless of her, and being a
rebel I began to defy Fate for her and swear I would set its cruelty at
naught and make her happy. Always," with quick leap of light in her
eyes, "I have hated that they call Fate, and defied it. There is a
thing in me," her closed hand on her breast, "which will not be beat
down! It _will_ not. If 'tis evil, Heaven help me--for it will not. But
Anne"--and she smiled again, her face changing as it always did when
she spoke her sister's name--"Anne I began to love and could not help
it, and she was the first."

This gentlewoman my lord Duke did not for some time see but on rare
occasions, at a distance. In her ladyship's great gilt coach he saw her
once or twice--a small, shrinking figure seated by her sister's side,
the modest pale brown of her lutestring robe a curious contrast to my
lady's velvets and brocades; at the play-house he saw her seated in the
Countess' box, at which a score of glasses were levelled, her face
lighted with wonder and pleasure at the brighter moments of the
tragedy, her soft eyes full of tears when the curtain fell upon the
corpse-strewn stage. If Mistress Anne had known that so great a
gentleman looked at her gentle face and with an actual tenderness near
to love itself, she would indeed have been a startled woman, yet 'twas
with a feeling like to this his Grace regarded her, thinking of her in
time as a sort of guardian angel. The sweetest words he had ever heard
from the lips of her he worshipped with such sad and hopeless passion,
were words spoken of Mistress Anne; the sweetest strange smile he had
ever seen her wear was worn when she spoke of this meek sister; the
sweetest womanly deeds he knew of her performing were thoughtful
gentlenesses done for the cherishing and protection of Anne. "Anne was
the first creature to teach me what love meant," she said.

"I could have taught you, Heart," was his secret thought; "I could have
taught you, but since I might not, God's blessing on this dear soul
whose tender humbleness was your first lesson." Yet Mistress Anne he
did not encounter in person until the occurring of the sad event which
changed for him the whole face of the universe itself, and which took
place a year or more after his kinsman's marriage. The resolution his
Grace had made the day he waited at Camylott for his guests' arrival,
he had kept to the letter, and this often to the wonder of his lordship
of Dunstanwolde, who found cause for regret at the rareness of his
visits to his lady and himself under their own roof. Other visits my
lord Duke had made, as he had planned, passing from one great house to
another in Great Britain, or making stay at the estates of his friends
upon the continent of Europe. Sometimes he was in Scotland, sometimes
in Ireland or Wales, hunting, salmon-fishing, the chief guest at great
reunions, everywhere discussed and envied his freedom from any love
affair, entanglement, or connection with scandal, always a thing which
awakened curiosity.

"The world will have you married, Gerald," said Dunstanwolde. "And 'tis
no wonder! My lady and I would find you a Duchess. I think she looks
for one for you, but finds none to please her taste. She would have a
wondrous consort for you. You do wrong to roam so. You should come to
Dunstan's Wolde that she may have you beneath her eye."

But to Dunstan's Wolde he did not go--not even when, in obedience to
her lord's commands, the Countess herself besought him with gracious
hospitality.

To their town house he went but seldom, pleading as reason, affairs
which occupied his time, journeys which removed him to other parts. But
to refuse to cross the threshold was impossible; accordingly there were
times when he must make visits of ceremony, and on one such occasion he
found her ladyship alone, and she conveyed to him her husband's message
and his desire that she herself should press his invitation.

'Twas upon a winter afternoon, and when my lord Duke was announced he
entered the saloon, to behold my lady sitting by the firelight in a
carven gilded chair, her eyes upon the glowing coals, her thoughts
plainly preoccupied. On hearing his name she slightly started, and on
his entry rose and gave him her soft warm hand, which he did not kiss
because its velvet so wooed him that he feared to touch it with his
lips. 'Twas not a hand which he could touch with simple courtesy, but
must long to kiss passionately, and over and over again, and hold close
with whispered words.

"My lord has but just left me," she said. "He will be almost angry at
the chance which led him to go before your coming. The last hour of our
talk was all of your Grace;" and she sat upright against the high back
of her chair. And why was it that, while she sat so straight and still,
he felt that she held herself as one who needs support? "The last hour
of our talk was all of you," she said again, and oh, the velvet of her
eyes was asking him for some aid, some mercy; and his soul leaped in
anguish as he saw it. "He says I must beguile you to be less formal
with us. Before our marriage, he tells me, your Grace came often to
Dunstan's Wolde, and now you seem to desert us."

"No, no!" exclaimed my lord Duke, as if involuntarily, and rose from
his seat and stood looking down into the fire.

"I told him you would exclaim so!" said my lady, and her low-pitched
voice was a thing to make a man tremble. "I know your Grace loves
him--I think any heart must love him----"

My lord Duke turned and looked at her. Their eyes rested on each other
and spoke.

"I thank your Ladyship," he said, "that you so understood. I pray you
let him not think I could at any time feel less tender of his
goodness."

But what his whole being impelled him to, was to throw himself upon his
knees before her like a boy, to lay his face upon her little hands
which rested open upon her lap, and to cry to her that there were hours
when he could bear no more. And could it have been that if he had so
done she would have bent her dear head and wept--for her voice, when
she answered him, had surely tears in it.

"I will not let him think so," she said. "A heart as full of gentleness
and warmth as his must not be chilled. I will use all my power. Your
Grace has much to do about the Queen at this time of disturbance and
cabal. Her Grace of Marlborough's angers, the intrigues of Harley and
St. John, the quarrels of Mrs. Masham, make such a turmoil that you,
whom her Majesty loves, must be preoccupied." She laid a hand softly
upon her breast. "He will believe all that I say," she said. "His
kindness is so great to me."

"He loves you," said my lord Duke, his voice low and grave. "You are so
generous and noble a lady to him."

"He is so generous and noble a husband," my Lady Dunstanwolde
answered. "He thinks I need but ask a favour to find it granted. 'Twas
because he thinks so that he begged me to myself speak with you, to ask
you to come to Warwickshire next week when we go there. I--have asked
you."

"With most sweet graciousness," my lord Duke answered her. "That I
myself will tell him." And then he stepped to her side and lifted the
fair hand and kissed it very reverently, and without either speaking
another word he turned and went away.

"But I do no wrong," he groaned to himself as he walked in a private
room of his own house afterwards. "I do no wrong if I go not near
her--if I have no speech with her that is not formal courtesy--if I
only look on her when she does not know that I am near. And in seeing
her, in the mere beholding of her dear face, there is a poor comfort
which may hold a man from madness--as a prisoner shut in a dungeon to
perish of thirst, might save himself from death if he found somewhere
in the blackness a rare falling drop and could catch it as it fell."

So it befel that many a time he saw her when she was in nowise aware of
his nearness. All her incomings and outgoings he found a way to learn,
when she left town for the country, and when she returned, what fêtes
and assemblies she would attend, at what Court gathering she would
shine, at which places it would be possible that he might mingle with
the crowd and seem to be but where 'twas natural he should appear, if
his presence was observed. To behold her sweep by in her chariot, to
feel the heart leap which announced her coming, to catch a view of her
crimson cheek, a fleeting glance and bow as she passed by, was at least
to feel her in the same world with himself, to know that her pulse was
beating still, her deep eyes still alight, her voice still music, and
she a creature of love, though not for himself.

His Grace of Marlborough, returning to England after Malplaquet,
himself worn with the fierce strain of war, tossed on the changing
waves of public feeling, one hour the people's idol the next doubted
and reproached, was in such mood as made him keen of perception and of
feeling.

"Years mark changes in a man, my lord Duke," he said when first they
talked alone, "even before they line his face or pale his bloom of
health. Since we met you have seen some hours you had not seen when I
beheld you last. And yet"--with ironic bitterness--"you are not
battling with intrigues of Court and State, with the ingratitude of a
nation and the malice of ladies of the royal bedchamber. 'Tis only the
man who has won England's greatest victories for her who must contend
with such things as these."

"Mrs. Masham has no enmity against me," said Osmonde. "I have no power
she would take from me."

"And no wife she would displace about the throne," his Grace added. "The
world waits to behold your Duchess still?"

"'Tis I who wait," said Osmonde, gravely.

There was a pause, and while it lasted, Marlborough gazed at him with a
thought dawning in his eye.

"You have seen her," he said at last, in a low voice.

Osmonde remained silent. A moment before he had risen, and so stood.
The man who regarded him experienced at the moment a singular thing,
feeling that it was singular, and vaguely asking himself why. It was a
sudden new realisation of his physical perfection. His tall, great body
was so complete in grace and strength, each line and muscle of it so
fine a thing. In the workings of such a physical being there could be
no flaw. There was such beauty in his countenance, such strength and
faithful sweetness in his firm, full mouth, such pure, strong passion
in the deeps of his large, kind, human eye. The handsomest and the
tallest man in England he might be, but he was something more--a
complete noble human thing, to whom it surely seemed that nature should
be kind, since he had so honoured and done reverence to the gifts she
had bestowed upon him. 'Twas this his illustrious companion saw and was
moved by.

"You have seen her," he said, "but--since you wear that look which I
can read--something has come between. Had you two bared hearts to each
other for but one hour, as 'twas ordained you should, you would stand
before me so happy a man that none could pass you by and not turn to
behold again the glow of the flame of joy burning within your soul."

My Lord Duke of Osmonde drew a long, deep breath as he listened,
looking down upon the ground.

"Yes," he said, "'twould have been so."

But he spoke no further on the subject, nor did his Grace of
Marlborough, for suddenly there came to him a certain memory--which was
that he had heard that the beautiful wild creature who had set
Gloucestershire on fire had made a great marriage, her bridegroom being
the Earl of Dunstanwolde, who was the Duke of Osmonde's kinsman. And it
was she he himself had felt was born to mate with this man, and had
spoke of it in Flanders, finding my lord Duke had seen her at a
distance but had not encountered her in any company. And at last it
seemed that they had met, but not until she had given herself to
another.

That night as he drove homeward after an interview with the Queen at
Kensington his coach rolled through a street where was a great house
standing alone in a square garden. 'Twas a house well known for its
size and massive beauty, and he leaned forward to glance at it, for no
other reason than his remembrance that it was the home of his lordship
of Dunstanwolde, that fact, in connection with the incident of the
morning, wakening in him a vague interest.

"'Tis there she reigns Queen," he said, "with her old lord worshipping
at her feet as old lords will at the feet of young wives and beauties.
Poor gentleman--though she is kind to him, they say. But if 'twere the
other man--Good God!" As he uttered the exclamation he drew back within
the coach. 'Twas long past midnight and the lights of Dunstanwolde
House were extinguished, but in the dark on the opposite side of the
street there walked a tall figure wrapped in a long cloak.

"There is no other gentleman of such inches and so straight," his Grace
said. "Good Lord! how a man can suffer in such case, and how we are all
alike--schoolboys, scullions, or Dukes--and must writhe and yearn and
feel we are driven mad, and can find no help but only to follow and
look at her, yards away, or crush to one's lips a rag of ribband or a
flower, or pace the night away before her darkened house while she lies
asleep. He is the finest man-thing I have ever known--and yet there is
no other way for him--and he will walk there half the night, his throat
full of mad sobs, which he does not know for sobs, because he is not
woman but tortured man."

Many a night the same figure had walked there in the darkness. As his
great friend had said, there was no other way. His pain had grown no
less, but only more as the months passed by, for it was not the common
pain of a man like others. As he was taller, stronger, and had more
brain and heart than most, he had greater and keener pangs to do battle
with, and in the world he must at intervals be thrown across her path
and she across his, and as he had been haunted by talk and rumours of
her in the years before he was haunted now. 'Twas but natural all
should praise to him his kinsman's wife, sure that he would feel
pleasure when he heard her lauded.

Women, especially such as are great ladies, have not at their command,
if they hide pain in secret, even the refuges and poor comforts
possessed by men. They may not feed their hungry souls by gazing at a
distance upon the beloved object of their heavy thoughts; they cannot
pace the night through before a dwelling, looking up as they pass at
the darkened windows behind which sleeps--or wakes--the creature their
hearts cry to in their pain; tears leave traces; faces from which
smiles are absent, eyes from which light has fled, arouse query and
comment. My lord has a certain privacy and license to be dull or
gloomy, but my lady cannot well be either without explaining herself,
either by calling in a physician or wearing mourning, or allowing the
world to gain some hint of domestic trouble or misfortune.

Her ladyship of Dunstanwolde was surely a happy woman. Having known
neither gayety nor luxury in her girlhood, it seemed now that she could
give her lord no greater pleasure than to allow him to surround her
with both.

"She is more dazzling than they said," my Lord Marlborough thought,
watching her at the tragedy one night, "but she carries with her a
thought of something she would forget in the gayeties of the world."

The Duke of Osmonde sate in his own box that night and in the course of
the play went to his kinsman's for a few moments and paid his respects
to her ladyship, who received him graciously. This his Grace of
Marlborough beheld but did not mark her soft quick aside to him.

"May I ask your Grace's aid?" she said. "Look at my lord. His kindness
to me will not let him own that he is ailing. He will not remain at
home from these festivities because he knows I would remain with him. I
beg you persuade him that he is wrong and but makes me unhappy. Your
Grace will do this?"

"Your Ladyship may trust me," was his answer. 'Twas then that his Grace
of Marlborough saw him turn from her with a bow and go to sit by her
husband, who, 'twas indeed true, looked this night older than his
years, and was of an ivory pallor and worn. 'Twas at this time the Duke
marked that there stood upon the stage among the company of men of
fashion, idlers, and young fops sitting and lounging there, a man
attired in peach-coloured velvet, whose delicacy of bloom, combining
itself with the fair curls which fell upon his shoulders, made him look
pale and haggard. He was a young man and a handsome one, but had the
look of an ill liver, and as he stood in a careless, insolent attitude
he gazed steadfastly and with burning eyes at my Lady Dunstanwolde.

"There is somewhat devilish in his air," his Grace thought. "It is some
dissolute dandy in love with her and raging against her in his soul.
Heaven's grace! how she sits and gazes past his impudent face with her
great eyes as if he were not a living thing! She will not see him, and
he cannot force her to it, she so holds herself in hand."

My Lord Dunstanwolde gave heed to his kinsman's affectionate appeals
and counsellings with the look of a man tenderly moved.

"Has my dear lady asked you to talk with me?" he said. "'Tis but like
her generous observance of me. She has cautioned me most tenderly
herself, and begs me to leave the gayeties of town and go with her to
the country, where she says we will be happy together and she will be
my nurse."

"She will be happier with you at Dunstan's Wolde than she can be here,
where she is concerned about your health," returned Osmonde. "That I
can see plainly. The whirl of town festivities but torments her when
she sees you worn and pale."

"Yes," answered my lord with a very tender smile, "I am sure it is
true, and there is one lovely young lady with the world at her feet who
is heavenly sweet enough to give her youth and bloom willingly to the
care of an old husband."

"'Tis to the care of noble tenderness and love she is willing to give
herself," said Osmonde. "She is a Woman--a Woman!"

His lordship of Dunstanwolde turned and looked at him with a curious
interest.

"Gerald," he said, "'tis singular that you should speak so, though you
say so true a thing. Only a few weeks since he and I spoke of yourself,
and her own words of you were those: 'He is a Man--he is a Man. Nay, he
is as God meant Man should be.' And she added that if men were so,
there would be women great enough to be their mates and give the world
men like them. And now--you are both right, Gerald; both right.
Sometimes I think--" He broke his sentence with a sigh and began quick
again. "I will obey you," he said; "after the assembly we hold next
week we will go to Dunstan's Wolde. You will be with us that last
night, Gerald?"

Osmonde bowed, smiling. 'Twas to be a great assembly, at which Royalty
would be entertained, and of such stateliness and ceremony that his
absence would have been a thing to be marked.

"Her ladyship has chided me for giving so great an entertainment," said
the Earl. "She is very quaint in her play at wifely scolding. Truth is,
I am an uxorious husband, and before we leave town would see her a last
time all regal and blazing with her newest jewels; reigning over my
hospitalities like a Queen. 'Tis a childish thing, no doubt, but
perhaps--perhaps--" he broke his sentence again with a sigh which he
changed to a smile. "You will be there," he said, "and you will
understand the meaning of my weakness."


On the night of this great assembly at Dunstanwolde House, Mr. Hammond,
my lord Duke's confidential secretary, and the Comptroller of his
household, sate late over his accounts. He was his Grace's attached
servant, and having been in his service since he had left the
University had had time and opportunity to develop a strong affection
for him, and a deep and even intimate interest in his concerns. 'Twas
not alone an interest in the affairs of his estate, but in himself and
all that touched or moved him. This being the case he also, as well as
a greater man, had marked a subtle change in his patron, though wherein
its nature lay he could scarcely have described even to himself.

"He is not so calm a creature," he had said to himself, striving to
make analysis of what he thought he saw. "He is not so happy. At times
when he sits in silence he looks like a man doing battle with himself.
Yet what could there be for such as he to combat with?"

He had thought of this very thing when he had seen his Grace pass to
his coach which was to bear him to the entertainment at his kinsman's
house. The man, who had grown used to silent observance of him, had
seen in his face the thing he deplored, while he did not comprehend it.

At midnight he sate in his room, which adjoined his Grace's study, and
in which he was ever within call.

"'Tis a thing perhaps none but a woman could understand," he said to
himself in quiet thought.

The clock began to strike twelve. One--two--three--four--five--six--

But the rest he did not hear. The coach-wheels were to be heard rolling
into the courtyard. His Grace was returning. Mr. Hammond rose from his
work, prepared to answer a summons should he hear one. In but a few
minutes he was called and entered the adjoining room.

My lord Duke was standing in the centre of the apartment. He looked
like a man who had met with a shock. The colour had fled from his
countenance, and his eyes were full of pain.

"Hammond," he said, "a great and sudden calamity has taken place. An
hour ago my Lord Dunstanwolde was struck down--in the midst of his
company--by a fatal seizure of the heart."

"Fatal, your Grace?" Mr. Hammond ejaculated.

"He did not breathe after he fell," was my lord Duke's answer, and his
pallor became even more marble-like than before, as if an added
coldness had struck him. "He was a dead man when I laid my hand upon
his heart."



_CHAPTER XXIII_

_Her Ladyship Returns to Town_


Upon the awful occasion of his kinsman's sudden death in the midst of
the glittering throng of his guests, my lord Duke had spoken for the
first time to her ladyship of Dunstanwolde's sister, the gentle
Mistress Anne. His Grace had chanced to encounter this lady under such
circumstances as naturally led them to address each other, and he being
glad to have speech with her on whom his thoughts had dwelt so kindly,
had remained in attendance upon her, escorting her through the crowd of
celebrities and leading her to the supper-room for refreshment. Had she
been wholly a stranger to him, she was one who would have appealed to
his heart and touched it, she was so slight and modest a creature, her
eyes so soft and loving and her low voice so timid. Such women always
moved him and awakened in him that tenderness the weak should always
waken in the strong. But Mistress Anne did more; seeming to him, when
she spoke of her sister or looked at her, surely the fondest creature
Nature had ever made.

"I understand now," his Grace had said to her as they talked, "why her
ladyship says that 'twas you who first taught her what love meant."

A soft colour flooded Mistress Anne's whole face as she lifted it to
look at him who stood so tall above her smallness.

"Did she so?" she exclaimed. "Did she so?" And her soft dull eyes
seemed about to fill with tears.

"Truly she did, madam," he answered with warm feeling, "and added, too,
that until you taught her she had never before beheld it."

"I--oh, I am grateful!" said Mistress Anne. "I never dreamed that
I--But in these days, she hath a way of always saying that which makes
one happy."

"She loves and leans on you," my lord Duke said, and there was sudden
emotion in his voice.

"Leans!" cried Mistress Anne with a kind of loving fright; "Anne--on
Anne!"

"Yes, yes," he answered. "I have seen it--felt it! Your pardon for my
boldness. You will never forget!"

And at that very moment his attention had been caught by the look on
his kinsman's face--they chancing to be near his lordship; and he had
seen him sway and fall in the midst of a terrified group, which uttered
a low simultaneous cry.


After his attendance at the funeral ceremonies, which took place in
Warwickshire, his Grace of Osmonde did not return at once to town, but
went to Camylott that in the midst of the quiet loveliness he might be
alone.

"I must have time to think," he said; "to still my brain which
whirls--to teach it to understand."

Oh! the heavenly stillness and beauty of the afternoon when he rode up
the avenue on his home-coming! His home-coming! Yes, 'twas that he
called it in his thought, and for the first time since his parents'
death it seemed so. In the tenderness of his heart and for the sake of
his long and true love for his dead kinsman, he scarce dared explain to
himself why he now could use this word and could not before--and yet,
he felt that in the depths of his being the thought lay that at last he
was coming home.

"God forgive me if there is lack of kindness in it," he cried to
himself. "Kinsman, forgive me! Nay, you know now and will have pity. I
am but man and young, and have so madly loved and been so tortured. Now
I may look into her eyes and do no wrong, but only great Love's
bidding. My blood beats in my veins--my heart leaps up so and will
_not_ be still."

'Twas deep autumn and a day of gold--the sunset burned and flamed and
piled the sky with golden mountains such as had heaped upon each other
on the evening he had stood with his mother at the Long Gallery window
before their last parting; the trees' branches were orange and amber
and russet brown, the moors had gold hues on them, and on the terraces
the late flowers blooming blazed crimson and yellow as if the summer
had burned all paler and less sumptuous colour away. The gables and
turrets of the tower rose clear soft grey, or dark with ivy, against a
sky of deepest blue, the broad tree-studded acres of the park rolled
yellowing green to Camylott village, where white cottages nestled among
orchards and fields of corn and were enfolded by wooded hills and
rising moorland. Occasional farm-yard sounds were to be heard mingled
now and then with voices and laughter of children, rooks cawed in the
high tree-tops with a lazy irregularity, and there was an autumn
freshness in the ambient air. In the courtyard the fountain played with
a soft plashing, and as he rode in some little birds were chirping and
fluttering as they drank and flirted the water with their wings. The
wide doors were thrown open, showing the beauteous huge hall with its
pictures and warm colours, its armour and trophies of the chase; the
servants stood waiting to receive him, and as the groom took his horse,
Mr. Fox approached to greet him on the threshold. Every face had kindly
welcome in it, every object seemed to recall some memory which
belonged to his happiest youth--to those years when all had been so
warm and fair.

"Yes," he said later, as he stood at the window in the Long Gallery and
looked forth. "God grant I have come home."

What hours, what days and nights he spent in the weeks that followed.
In truth they were too full of intense feeling to be wholly happy. Many
a night he woke trembling from dreams of anguish. There were three
dreams which came again and again--one was of the morning when she
galloped past him in the narrow lane with the strange look in her eyes,
and he never dreamed it without a nightmare sense of mad despair and
loss from which his own wild cry to her would wake him; another was of
the night she passed him on the stair, and did not see him. Oh, God
(for 'twas in this wise the dream always came), she did not see him.
She passed him by again. And there was left only the rose lying at his
feet. And he should never see her face again! And one was of the night
he spent in his room alone at Dunstan's Wolde--the night when he had
torn the laces from his throat that he might breathe, and had known
himself a frenzied man--while her happy bridegroom to be had slept and
dreamed of her.

From such dreams he would waken with an unreasoning terror--a
nightmare in itself--a sense that even now, even when both were free
and he had seen that in her eyes his soul sought for and cried out
to--even now some Fate might come between and tear them apart, that
their hearts should never beat against each other--never! And, in
truth, cold sweat would break forth on his body and he would spring
from his bed and pace to and fro, lighting the tapers that he might
drive the darkness from him.

"Naught shall come between!" he would cry. "Naught under God's
Heaven--naught on Gods' earth! No man, nor fate, nor devil!"

For he had borne his burden too long, and even for his strength and
endurance its heaviness had been too great.

In these weeks of solitude at Camylott he thought much of him who had
passed from earth, of the years they had been friends, of the days they
had ridden through the green lanes together or walked in the Long
Gallery, he himself but a child, the other his mature and affectionate
companion. He had loved and been beloved, and now he was gone, leaving
behind him no memory which was not tender and full of affectionate
reverence.

"Never," was Osmonde's thought, "in all the years we knew each other
did I hear him utter a thought which was ungenerous or unjust. You, my
lord," he found himself saying aloud one day, "have sure left earth's
regrets behind and see with clearer eyes than ours. A man--loving as
you yourself loved, yearning as you yourself yearned--you will but pity
with a tender soul."

And he could but remember his last interview with Mistress Anne on his
bidding farewell to Dunstan's Wolde after the funeral obsequies.

"'Tis a farewell I bid the place," he had said, "though I may see it
again. I came here as a boy, and in the first years of my young
manhood, and he was always here to bid me welcome. One of my earliest
memories"--they stood in the large saloon together, and he raised his
eyes to a picture near them--"one of my first recollections here is of
this young face with its blushing cheeks, and of my lord's sorrowful
tenderness as he told me that she had died and that his little
son--who, had he lived, might have been as myself--had died with her."

Whereupon Mistress Anne, with innocent tears and lowered voice, told
him a story of how the night before her lord had been laid to rest, his
widow had sat by his side through the slow hours, and had stroked his
cold hands and spoken softly to him as if he could feel her lovingness,
and on the morning before he left her, she had folded in his clasp a
miniature of his young dead wife and a lock of her soft hair and her
child's.

"And 'twas, indeed, a tender, strange thing to see and hear," said
Anne, "for she said with such noble gentleness, that 'twas the first
sweet lady who had been his wife--not herself--and that when she and
her child should run to meet him in heaven he would forget that they
had ever parted--and all would be well. Think you it will be so, your
Grace?" her simple, filled eyes lifted to him appealingly.

"There is no marrying or giving in marriage, 'tis said," answered his
Grace, "and she whom he loved first--in his youth--surely----"

Mistress Anne's eyes dwelt upon him in quiet wondering.

"'Tis strange how your Grace and her ladyship sometimes utter the same
thoughts, as if you were but one mind," she said. "'No marrying or
giving in marriage,' 'twas that she herself said."

Dunstan's Wolde passed into the hands of the next heir, and the
countess and her sister went to their father's estate of Wildairs in
Gloucestershire, where, during the mourning, they lived in deep
seclusion. 'Twas a long mourning, to the wonder of the neighbourhood,
who, being accustomed to look upon this young lady as likely to furnish
them forth with excitement, had begun at once to make plans for her
future and decide what she would do next. Having been rid of her old
husband and left an earl's widow with a fine fortune, a town house, and
some of the most magnificent jewels in England, 'twas not likely she
would long bury herself in an old country house, hiding her beauty in
weeds and sad-coloured draperies. She would make her period of
seclusion as brief as decency would permit, and after it reappear in a
blaze of brilliancy.

But she remained at Wildairs with her sister, Mistress Anne, only being
seen on occasions at church, in her long and heavy draperies of black.

"But she is a strange mixture," said my Lord Twemlow's Chaplain, in
speaking of her, "and though she hath so changed, hath scarce changed
at all. Her black eye can flame as bright as ever under her long
widow's veil. She visits the poor with her sister, and gives charities,
but she will have no beggarly tricks, and can pick out a hypocrite at
his first whining, howsoever clever he may be. One came to her last
week with a lying tale of having loved the old Earl Dunstanwolde, and
been his pensioner for years. And to see her mark the weak points of
his story, and to hear the wit with which she questioned him until he
broke down affrighted, was a thing to marvel at.

"'Think you,' she said, 'that I will let knaves trade on my lord's
goodness, and play tricks in his name? You shall all see. In the
stocks you shall sit and repent it--a warning to other rascals.'"

But in the miserable, long-neglected village of Wildairs she did such
deeds as made her remembered to the end of many lives. No village was
in worse case than this had been for years, as might well be expected.
Falling walls, rotting thatches, dirt and wretchedness were to be seen
on all sides; cottages were broken-paned and noisome, men and women who
should have been hale were drawn with rheumatism from mouldering
dampness, or sodden with drink and idleness; children who should have
been rosy and clean and studying their horn books, at the dame school,
were little, dirty, evil, brutal things.

"And no blame of theirs, but yours," said my lady to her father.

"Thou didst not complain in days gone by, Clo," said Sir Jeoffry, "but
swore at them roundly when they ran in thy horse's way as thou went at
gallop through the village, and called the men and women lousy pigs who
should be whipt."

"Did I?" said her ladyship, looking at him with large eyes. "Ay, that I
did. In those days surely I was mad and blind."

"Wildairs village is no credit to its owner," grumbled Sir Jeoffry.
"Wherefore should it be? I am a poor man--I can do naught for it."

"I can," said my Lady Dunstanwolde.

And so she did, but at first when she entered the tumbledown cottages,
looking so tall, a black figure in her sweeping draperies and widow's
veil, the people were more than half affrighted. But soon she won them
from their terror with her own strange power, and they found that she
was no longer the wild young lady who had dashed through their hamlet
in hunting garb, her dogs following her, and the glance of her black
eyes and the sound of her mocking laugh things to flee before. Her eyes
had grown kind, and she had a way none could resist, and showed a
singular knowledge of poor folks' wants and likings. Her goodness to
them was not that of the ordinary lady who felt that flannel petticoats
and soup and scriptural readings made up the sum of all requirements.
There were other things she knew and talked to them of, as if they were
human creatures like herself.

"I can carry to them food and raiment," said Mistress Anne, wondering
at her, "but when I try to talk with them I am afraid and have no
words. But you, sister--when you sate by that poor distraught young
woman yesterday and talked to her of her husband who had met such
sudden death--you knew what to say, and in the midst of her agony she
turned in her bed and lay and stared at you and listened."

"Yes, I knew," said my lady--her eyes shining. "She is passing through
what I might pass through if----! Those two poor souls--rustics, and
ignorant, who to greater people seem like cattle--they were man and
woman who had loved and mated. They could not have told their joy or
the meaning of it. I could--I could! And now her mate is gone--and the
world is empty, and she is driven mad. I know, I know! Only another
woman who _knew_ could have uttered words she would have listened to."

"What--what did you say?" said Mistress Anne--and almost gasped, for my
lady looked so full of tragic truth and passion, and how could she
know? being only the widow of an old man whom she had but loved with
kindness, as if she had been his daughter? 'Twas not through her loss
of my Lord Dunstanwolde she knew. And yet, know she did, 'twas plain.

And her answer was the strangest, daring proof.

"I said to her--almost fiercely, though I spoke beneath my breath, 'He
hath not left thee: Thou wouldst not have left him. Thou couldst not.
Remember! Think! Thou canst not see him, but thee he sees, and
loves--_loves_, I tell thee, as he did two weeks since. Perhaps he
holds thee in his arms and cries to thee to hear him. Perhaps 'tis he
who speaks in these words of mine. When we have loved them and they us,
death is not strong enough to part us. Love holds too close. Listen?
He is here!'"

"Heaven's mercy!" cried gentle Mistress Anne, the tears running down
her cheeks. "There seems no Death, when you talk thus, sister--no
Death."

"There is none," said my lady, "when Love comes. When Love has come,
there is naught else in Nature's universe, for it is stronger than
all."

And 'twas as if she were some prophetess who spoke, her face and eyes
glowed with such fire and solemness. But Mistress Anne, gazing at her,
thrilled to her heart's core, had a strange sense of fear, wondering
whence this mood had come, how it had grown, and what it might bring
forth in the unknown future.

The custom of the time held that a widowed lady should mourn retired a
year, but 'twas near two before her ladyship of Dunstanwolde came forth
from her seclusion, and casting her weeds returned to town. And my Lord
Duke of Osmonde had come again to Camylott when the news was spread.

He had been engaged in grave business, and having been abroad upon it
had, on his return, travelled at once to the country. To Camylott he
came because it was his refuge in all unrestful hours or deeply grave
ones--the broad, heavenly scene spread out before it soothed him when
he gazed through its windows, the waving and rustle of the many huge
trees on every side never ceased to bring back to him something of the
feeling he had had in his childhood, that they were mighty and
mysterious friends who hushed him as a child is hushed to sleep; and so
he came to Camylott for a few days' repose before re-entering Court
life with its tumults and broils and scheming.

In a certain comfortable suite of rooms which had once been a part of
the nurseries there lived at peaceful ease an aged woman who loved his
Grace well and faithfully, and had so loved him from his childhood,
knowing indeed more of the intimate details of his life and career than
he himself imagined. This old gentlewoman was Mistress Rebecca Halsell,
the whilom chieftainess of the nursery department, and having failed in
health as age drew near her, she had been generously installed a quiet
pensioner in her old domain. When the Marquess of Roxholm had returned
from his first campaign he had found her living in these apartments--a
woman nearing seventy, somewhat bent with rheumatism, and white-haired,
but with the grave, clear eyes he remembered, still undimmed.

"I hope to be here still, my lord Marquess," she had said, "when you
bring your lady home to us--even perhaps when the nurseries are thrown
open again. I have been a happy woman in these rooms since the first
hour I entered them and took your lordship from Nurse Alison's arms."

She had led a happy life, being surrounded by every comfort, all the
servants being her friends, and she spending her days with books and
simple work, sitting chiefly at the large window from whence she could
see the park, and the avenue where the company came and went, and on
days when there was naught else stirring, watch the rookery with its
colony of rooks flying to and fro quarrelling or sitting in judgment on
affairs of state, settling their big nests, and marrying and giving in
marriage.

When his Grace was at the tower he paid her often a friendly visit, and
entertained her bravely with stories of camp and Court until, indeed,
she had become a wondrous stateswoman, and knew quite well the merits
of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, and had her own views of the changing
favourites and their bitter struggles to attain their ends. On this
occasion of his return, my lord Duke going to give her greeting, found
her parting with a friend, a comely country woman who left them
courtesying, and Mistress Halsell sate in her armchair with somewhat of
a glow in her grave eyes. And after their first exchange of words the
room was for a few moments very quiet.

"Your Grace," she said, "before she, who has just left us, came, I
sate here and thought of a day many a year ago when you and I sate
together, and your Grace climbed on my knee."

"I have climbed there many a time, Nurse Halsell," he said, his brown
eye opening, laughing, as it had a trick of doing.

"But this time was a grave one," Mistress Halsell answered. "We talked
of grave things, and in my humble way I strove to play Chaplain and
preach a sermon. You had heard Grace and Alison gossip of King Charles
and Madam Carwell and Nell Gwynne--and would ask questions it was hard
to answer."

"I remember well," said my lord Duke, the light of memory in his eye,
and he added, as one who reflects, "He is the King--he is the King!"

"You remember!" said Nurse Halsell, her old eyes glowing. "I have never
forgot, and your Grace's little face so lost in thought, as you looked
out at the sky."

"I have remembered it," said his Grace, "in many a hard hour such as
comes in all men's lives."

"You have known some such?" said the old woman, and of a sudden, as she
gazed at him, it seemed as if such feeling overswept her as made her
forget he was a great Duke and remember only her beauteous nurseling.
"Yes, you have known them, for I have sate here at the window and
watched, and there have been days when my heart was like to break."

He started and turned towards her. Her deep eyes were full of tears
which brimmed over and ran down her furrowed cheeks, and in them he saw
a tender and wise knowledge of his nature's self and all its pains--a
thing of which, before, he had never dreamed, for how could he have
imagined that an old woman living alone could have so followed him with
her heart that she had guessed his deepest secret; but this indeed she
had, and her next words most touchingly revealed it.

"Being widowed and childless when I came to you," she said, her emotion
rising to a passion, "'twas as if you grew to be my own--and in those
summer days three years gone, life and love were strong in you--life
and love and youth. And _her_ eyes dared not turn to you, nor yours to
her--and I am a woman and was afraid--for my man who died and left me
widowed was my lover as well as my husband, and soul and body we had
been one--so I _knew!_ But as I sate here and saw you as you passed
below with your company, I said it to myself again and again, 'He is
the King--he is the King!'" And as his Grace rose from his seat, not
angered, indeed, gazing at her tenderly, though growing pale, she
seized his hand and kissed it, her tears falling.

"If 'tis unseemly," she said, "forgive me, your Grace, forgive me; but
I had sate here so long this very morning, and thought but of this
thing--and in the midst of my thinking came this woman, and she is from
Gloucestershire, and told me of her ladyship of Dunstanwolde--whose
chariot passed her on the road, and she goes up to town, and rode
radiant and blooming in rich colours, having cast her weeds aside and
looking, so the woman said, like a beauteous creature new born, with
all of life to come."



_CHAPTER XXIV_

_Sir John Oxon Returns Also_


When his Grace of Osmonde returned to town he found but one topic of
conversation, and this was of such interest and gave such a fillip to
gossip and chatter that fierce Sarah of Marlborough's encounters with
Mrs. Masham, and her quarrels with Majesty itself, were for the time
actually neglected. Her Grace had engaged in battles royal for so long
a time and with such activity that the Court and the world were a
little wearied and glad of something new. And here was a most promising
event which might be discussed from a thousand points and bring forth
pretty stories of past and present, as well as prophecies for the
future.

The incomparable and amazing Clorinda, Countess of Dunstanwolde, having
mourned in stately retirement for near upon two years (when Fashion
demanded but one) and having paid such reverence to her old lord's
memory as had seemed almost the building of a monument to his virtues,
had cast her sables, left the country, and come up to town to reign
again at Dunstanwolde House, which had been swept and garnished.

At Court, and in all the modish houses in the town, one may be sure
that the whole story of her strange life was told and retold with a
score of imaginative touches. Her baby oaths were resworn, her childish
wickedness depicted in colours which glowed, the biographies of the
rough old country rakes who had trained her were related, in free
translation, so to speak, over many a dish of chocolate and tea, and,
these points dwelt on, what more dramatic than to turn upon the
singular fortune of her marriage, the wealth, rank, and reputation of
the man who had so worshipped her, and the unexpectedness of her grace
and decorum the while she bore his name and shared his home with him.

"Had she come up to town," 'twas remarked, "and once having caught him,
played the vixen and the shrew, turned his house into a bear-garden,
behaved unseemly and put him to shame, none would have been
surprised----"

"Many would have been all agog with joy," interrupted old Lady Storms
who heard. "She was a woeful disappointment to many a gossiping woman,
and a lesson to all the shifty fools who sell themselves to a man, and
then trick him out of the price he paid."

At the clubs and coffee-houses the men talked also, though men's
tongues do not run as fast as the tongues of womenkind, and their
gossip was of a masculine order. She was a finer creature than ever,
and at present was the richest widow in England. A man might well lose
his wits over her mere self if she had naught but the gown she stood
in, but he who got her would get all else beside. The new beaux and the
old ones began to buy modish habits and periwigs, adorn themselves with
new sword and shoulder knots, and trifle over the latest essences
offered in the toyshops.

"Split me," said one splendid fop, "but since my lady returned to town
the price of ambergris and bergamot and civet powders has mounted
perilously, and the mercers are all too busy to be civil. When I sent
my rascal this morning to buy the Secret White Water to Curl
Gentlemen's Hair, on my life he was told he must wait for it, since new
must be made, as all had been engaged."

One man at that time appeared at the Cocoa Tree and Cribb's with a new
richness of garb and a look in his face such as had not been seen there
for many a day. In truth, for some time the coffee-houses had seen but
little of him, and it had sometimes been said that he had fled the
country to escape his creditors, or might be spending his days in a
debtors' prison, since he had no acquaintances who would care to look
for him if he were missing, and he might escape to France, or be seized
and rot in gaol, and none be the wiser.

But on a night even a little before the throwing open of Dunstanwolde
House, he sauntered into the Cocoa Tree and, having become so uncommon
a sight, several turned to glance at him.

"Egad!" one cried low to another, "'tis Jack Oxon back again. Where
doth the fellow spring from?"

His good looks it had been hard for him to lose, they being such as
were built of delicately cut features, graceful limbs, and an elegant
air, but during the past year he had often enough looked haggard,
vicious, and of desperate ill-humour, besides out of fashion, if not
out at elbow. Now his look had singularly changed, his face was
fresher, his eye brighter, though a little feverish in its light, and
he wore a new sword and velvet scabbard, a rich lace steenkirk, and a
modish coat of pale violet brocade.

"Where hast come from, Jack?" someone asked him. "Hast been into a
nunnery?"

"Yes," he answered, "doing penance for _thy_ sins, having none of my
own."

"Hast got credit again, I swear," cried the other, "or thou wouldst not
look such a dandy."

Sir John sate down and called for refreshment, which a drawer brought
him.

"A man can always get credit," he said, with an ironic, cool little
smile, "when his fortunes take a turn."

"Thou look'st as if thine had turned," said his companion. "Purple and
silver, and thy ringlets brushed and perfumed like a girl's. In thy
eyes 'tis a finer mop than any other man's French periwig, all know."

Sir John looked down on his shoulders at his soft rich fall of curls
and smiled. "'Tis finer," he said. "'Tis as fine for a man as a certain
beauty's, we once talked of, was for a woman."

The man who talked with him laughed with a half-sneer.

"Thou canst not forget her hair, Jack," he said, "but the lock stayed
on her head despite thee. Art going to try again, now she is a widow?"

Sir John looked up from his drink and in his eye there leapt up a devil
in spite of himself, for he had meant--if he could--to keep cool.

"Ay," he said, "by God! I am."


So when men talked of Lady Dunstanwolde 'twas not unnatural that, this
story having been bruited about, they should talk also of Jack Oxon,
and since they talked to each other, the rumour reached feminine ears
which pricked themselves at once; and when my lord Duke of Osmonde came
to town and went into the world, he also heard discussions of Sir John
Oxon. This gentleman who had been missing in the World of Fashion had
reappeared, and 'twas believed had returned to life to try his fortunes
with my Lady Dunstanwolde. And 'twas well known indeed that he had
been the first lover she had known, for the elderly country roisterers
had been naught but her playmates and her father's boon companions, and
Sir John had appeared at the famous birthnight supper and had been the
only town man who had ever seen her in her male attire, and was among
those who toasted her when she returned to the banquet-room splendid in
crimson and gold, and ordered all to fall upon their knees before her;
and Sir John--(he was then in the heyday of his beauty and success) had
gone mad with love for her, and 'twas believed that she had returned
his passion, as any girl well might, though she was so proud-spirited a
creature that none could be quite sure. At least 'twas known that he
had laid seige to her, and for near two years had gone often to the
country, and many had seen him gaze at her in company when his passion
was writ plain in his blue eyes. Suddenly, on his reappearance, since
he for some unknown reason wore the look of a man whose fortunes might
have changed for the better, there were those among whom the tide took
a turn somewhat in Sir John's favour. 'Twas even suggested by a woman
of fashion, given somewhat to romance, that perhaps the poor man had
fallen into evil ways and lost his good looks and elegant air through
thwarted passion, and 'twas thought indeed a touching thing that at
the first gleam of hope he should emerge from his retirement almost
restored in spirit and bloom.

The occupants of coaches and chairs passing before the entrance to
Osmonde House, which was a great mansion situated in a garden, noted
but a few days after the world had heard her ladyship was in town, that
his Grace had returned also. Lacqueys stood about the entrance, and the
Osmonde liveries were to be seen going to and fro in the streets, the
Duke was observed to drive to Kensington and back, and to St. James's,
and the House of Parliament, and it was known was given audience by the
Queen upon certain secret matters of State. 'Twas indeed at this time
that the changes were taking place in her Majesty's councils, and his
anticipation of a ministerial revolution had so emboldened King Louis
that he had ventured to make private overtures to the royal lady's
confidential advisers. "What we lose in Flanders we shall gain in
England," Marlborough's French enemy, Torcy, had said. And between the
anger and murmurs of a people who had turned to rend a whilom idol, the
intrigues and cabals about the throne, the quarrels of her counsellors
and ladies of the bedchamber, and the passionate reproaches of the
strongest and most indomitable of female tyrants, 'twas small wonder a
dull, ease-loving woman, feeling the burden of her royalty all too
wearisome and heavy, should turn with almost pathetic insistence to a
man young enough to be her son, attractive enough to be a favourite,
high enough to be impeccable, and of such clear wit, strength of will
and resource, and power over herself and others as seemed to set him
apart from all the rest of those who gathered to clamour about her. In
truth, my lord Duke's value to her Majesty was founded greatly upon
that which had drawn his Grace of Marlborough to him. He wanted
nothing; all the others had some desire to gain, secret or avowed. The
woman who had so longed for unregal feminine intimacy and companionship
that with her favoured attendant she had played a comedy of private
life--doffing her queenship and becoming simple "Mrs. Morley," that
with "Mrs. Freeman," at least, she might forget she was a Queen--was
not formed by Nature to combat with State intrigues and Court
duplicities.

"I am given no quiet," the poor august lady said. "These people who
resign places and demand them, who call meetings and create a ferment,
these ladies who vituperate and clamour like deserted lovers, weary me.
Your Grace's strength brings me repose!"

And as the father had felt sympathy and pity for poor Catherine of
Braganza in Charles the Second's day, so the son felt pity and gave
what support he could to poor bullied and bewildered Queen Anne. To
him her queenship was truly the lesser thing, her helpless, somewhat
heavy-witted and easily wavering womanhood the greater; and there were
those who feared him, for such reasons as few men in his position had
been feared before.

His Grace had been but two days in town, and on the morning of the
second had driven in his chariot to Kensington, and had an audience
upon the private matter already spoken of, and which would in all
likelihood take him, despite his wishes, across the Channel and to the
French Court. He might be commanded away at the very moment that he
wished most to be on English soil, in London itself. For howsoever
ardent and long hidden a man's passion, he must, if he be delicate of
feeling, await that moment which is ripe for him to speak. And this he
pondered on as his chariot rolled through the streets to bear him to
make his first visit to her ladyship of Dunstanwolde.

"I have known and dreamed of her almost all her life," he thought.
"'Tis but three years since she first saw my face; through the first
year she was another man's wife, and these two last his mourning widow.
When I behold her to day I shall learn much."

The sun was shining gloriously, and the skies' blue was deep and clear.
He looked up at it as he drove, and at the fresh early summer greenness
of the huge trees and thick grass in the parks and gardens; and when
his equipage rolled into the court at Dunstanwolde House, he smiled to
himself for pleasure to see its summer air, with the lacqueys making
excuse to stand outside in the brightness of the day, little Nero, the
black negro page, sunning himself and his pugs and spaniels on the plot
of grass at the front, and the windows thrown open to let in the soft
fresh air, while the balconies before the drawing-room casements were
filled with masses of flowers--yellow and white perfumed things, sent
up fresh from the country and set in such abundance that the balconies
bloomed like gardens. The last time he had beheld her, she had stood by
her husband's coffin, swathed in long, heavy draperies of black,
looking indeed a wonderful tragic figure; and this was in his mind as
he walked up the broad staircase, followed by the lacquey, who a moment
later flung open the door of the saloon and announced him with solemn
majesty.

But oh! the threshold once crossed, the great white-and-gold decorated
apartment seemed flooded with sunlight and filled with the fragrance of
daffodils and jonquils and narcissus blown in through the open window,
and Mistress Anne sate sweet and modest in a fine chair too big for her
dear small body; but my lord Duke scarce could see her, for 'twas as if
the sun shone in his eyes when there rose from a divan to meet him a
tall goddess clad in white and with a gold ribband confining her black
hair and her waist, and a branch of yellow-gold flowers in her hand,
which looked as if surely she might just have gathered them on the
terrace at Camylott.

And she had surely by some magic blotted out the past and had awakened
to a present which was like new birth and had no past, for she blushed
the loveliest, radiant blush--at sight of him--as if she had been no
great lady, but a sweet, glowing girl.

What he said to her, or she to him, he knew no more than any lesser man
in his case knows, for he was in a whirl of wonder and strange delight,
and could scarce hold in his mind that there was need that he should be
sober, this being his first visit to her since she had cast the weeds
worn for his own kinsman; and there sate Mistress Anne, changing from
red to white, as if through some great secret emotion--though he did
not know 'twas at the sight of them standing together, and the sudden
knowledge and joy it brought to her, which made her very heart to quake
in its tenderness. This--_this_ was the meaning of what she had so
wondered at in her sister's mood when they spoke of the poor girl left
widowed; this was how she had known, and if so, she must have learned
it in her own despite at first, in that year when she had been a bound
woman, when they two had been forced to encounter each other, holding
their hearts in gyves of iron and making no sound or sign. And the fond
creature remembered the night before the marriage when she had passed
through a strange scene in her sister's chamber, and one thing she had
said came back to her, and now she understood its meaning.

"I love my Lord Dunstanwolde as well as any other man, and better than
some, for I do not hate him. Since I have been promised to him"--('twas
this which now came back to her)--"I own I have for a moment met
another gentleman who _might_--'twas but for a moment, and 'tis done
with."

And this--this had been he, his Grace the Duke of Osmonde--who was so
fit a mate for her, and whose brown eyes so burned with love. And she
was a free woman, and there they stood at the open window among the
flowers--both bound, both free!

Free! She started a little as she said the word in thought again, for
she knew a strange wild story none other than herself knew, and her
sister, and Sir John Oxon, and they did not suspect she shared their
secret. And for long it had seemed to her only some cruel thing she had
dreamed; and the wild lovely creature she had watched and stood guard
over with such trembling, during a brief season of bewildered anguish,
seemed to be a sort of vision also. At the end of but a few short
months Mistress Anne had felt this lawless, beauteous being had left
the splendid body she had inhabited, and another woman's life had begun
in it--another woman's. That woman it was who had wed Lord Dunstanwolde
and made him a blissful man, that woman had been since then her sister,
her protector, and her friend; 'twas she who had watched by my lord's
body, and spoke low words to him, and stroked his poor dead hand; 'twas
she who laid his wife's hair and her child's, and the little picture,
on his still breast; 'twas she who sate by the widowed girl at
Wildairs--and 'twas she, she made glorious by love, who stood and
smiled among the window's daffodils.

His Grace and her ladyship were speaking softly together of the
flowers, the sunshine, of the town and Court, and of beauteous
Camylott. Once my lord Duke's laugh rang out, rich and gay like a
boy's, and there was such youth and fire and happiness in his handsome
face as made Mistress Anne remember that, as it was with my lady, so it
was with him--that because he was so tall and great and stately, the
world forgot that he was young.

"But," said the loving woman to herself with a sudden fear, "if _he_
should come back. Nothing so cruel could happen--'tis past and dead and
forgiven. He could not--could not come."

Then his Grace went away. My lady spoke sweet and gracious words to him
with the laughing, shining eyes of Clo Wildairs at her most wondrous
hours, and the Duke holding her hand, bent and kissed it with the
tender passion of a hungered man, as he had not dared to dream of
kissing it before.

And he went down the staircase a new man, carrying his head as though a
crown had been set on it and he would bear it nobly. In his tawny eye
there was a smile which was yet solemn though it was deeply bright.

"'Tis the beginning of the world," he said inwardly--"'And the evening
and the morning were the first day.' I have looked into her eyes."

And as his chariot rolled through the entrance into the street, another
passed it and entered the court, and through the glass he saw a fair
man, richly dressed, his bright curls falling soft and thick on his
shoulders; and he was arranging the ribband of his sword-knot, and
smiling a little with downcast eyes--and it was Sir John Oxon.



_CHAPTER XXV_

_To-morrow_


A dozen gentlemen at least, rumour said, would have rejoiced to end for
her, by marriage, this lovely lady's widowhood; but there were but two
she would be like to choose between, and they were different men
indeed. One of them, both her heart and her ambition might have caused
her to make choice of, for he combined such qualities and fortunes as
might well satisfy either.

"Zounds," said an old beau, "the woman who wants more than his Grace of
Osmonde can give--more money, greater estates, and more good looks--is
like to go unsatisfied to her grave. She will take him, I swear, and
smile like Heaven in doing it."

"But there was a time," said Sir Chris Crowell, who had come to town
(to behold his beauty's conquests, as he said) and who spent much time
at the coffee-houses and taverns telling garrulous stories of the days
of Mistress Clo of Wildairs, "there was a time when I would have took
oath that Jack Oxon was the man who would have her. Lord! he was the
first young handsome thing she had ever met--and she was but fifteen
for all her impudence, and had lived in the country and seen naught
but a handful of thick-bodied, red-faced old rakes. And Jack was but
four and twenty and fresh from town, and such a beauty that there was
not a dairymaid in the country but was heartbroke by him--though he may
have done no more than cast his devilish blue eye on her. For he had a
way, I tell ye, that lad, he had a way with him that would have took
any woman in. A dozen parts he could play and be a wonder in every one
of them--and languish, and swear oaths, and repent his sins, and plead
for mercy, with the look of an angel come to earth, and bring a woman
to tears--and sometimes ruin, God knows!--by his very playing of the
mountebank. Good Lord! to see those two at the birthnight supper was a
sight indeed. My Lady Oxon she would have been, if either of them had
been a fortune. But 'twas Fate--and which jilted the other, Heaven
knows. And if 'twas _he_ who played false, and he would come back now,
he will find he hath fire to deal with--for my Lady Dunstanwolde is a
fierce creature yet, though her eye shines so soft in these days." And
he puffed at his churchwarden's pipe and grinned.

Among the men who had been her playmates it would seem that perhaps
this old fellow had loved her best of all, or was more given to being
demonstrative, or more full of a good-natured vanity which exulted in
her as being a sort of personal property to vaunt and delight in; at
all events Sir Chris had come to the town, where he had scarce ever
visited in all his life before, and had in a way constituted himself a
sort of henchman or courtier of her ladyship of Dunstanwolde.

At her house he presented himself when first he came up--short, burly,
red-faced, and in his best Gloucestershire clothes, which indeed wore a
rustic air when borne to London on the broad back of a country
gentleman in a somewhat rusty periwig.

When he beheld the outside stateliness of the big town mansion he
grinned with delight; when he entered its doors and saw its interior
splendours he stared about him with wondering eyes; and when he was
passed from point to point by one tall and gorgeously liveried lacquey
after another, he grew sober. When her ladyship came to him shortly
after, she found him standing in the middle of the magnificent saloon
(which had been rearranged and adorned for her by her late lord in
white and golden panels, with decoration of garlands and Cupids and
brocades after the manner of the French King Louis Fourteenth), and he
was gazing about him still, and now scratching his periwig absently.

"Eh, my lady," he said, making an awkward bow, as if he did not know
how to bear himself in the midst of such surroundings; "thy father was
right."

Never had he seen a lady clad in such rich stuffs and looking so grand
and like a young queen, but her red lips parted, showing her white
teeth, and her big black eyes laughed as merrily as ever he had seen
them when Clo Wildairs tramped across the moors with him, her gun over
her fustian shoulder.

"Was he so?" she cried, taking hold of his thick hand and drawing him
towards a huge gold carved sofa. "Come and tell me then when he was
right, and if 'twas thou wast wrong."

Sir Chris stared at her a minute, straight at her arch, brilliant face,
and then his rueful countenance relaxed itself into a grin.

"Ecod!" he said, still staring hard, "thou art not changed a whit."

"Ecod!" she said, mocking him, "but I am that. Shame on thee to deny
it. I am a Countess and have been presented to the Queen, and cast my
ill manners, and can make a Court obeisance." And she made him a great,
splendid courtesy, sweeping down amidst her rich brocades as if she
would touch the floor.

"Lord! Lord!" he said, and scratched his periwig again. "Thou look'st
like a Queen thyself. But 'tis thy big eyes are not changed, Clo, that
laughed so through the black fringes of them, like stars shining
through a bush, and--and thy saucy way that makes a man want to seize
hold on thee and hug thee--though--though--" He checked himself,
half-frightened, but she laughed out at him with that bell-like
clearness he remembered so well, and which he swore afterwards would
put heart into any man.

"'Tis no harm that a man should want to seize hold upon a woman," she
said; "'tis a thing men are given to, poor souls, and 'tis said Heaven
made them so; but let him not be unwary and strive to do it. Town
gentlemen know 'tis not the fashion."

Sir Chris chuckled and looked about him again.

"Clo," he said, "since thou hast laughed at me and I am not frightened
by thy grandness, as I was at first, I will tell thee. I am going to
stay in Lunnon for awhile, and look on at thee, and be a town man
myself. Canst make a town man of me, Clo?"--grinning.

"Yes," answered her ladyship, holding her head on one side to look him
over, "with a velvet coat and some gold lace, and a fine new periwig
scented with orris or jessamine, and a silver-gilt sword and a hat
cocked smartly, and a snuff-box, with a lady's picture in it. I will
give thee mine, and thou shalt boast of it in company."

He slapped his thigh and laughed till his red face grew purple.

"Nay," he said, "thy father was wrong. He said I was a fool to come,
for such as me and him was out of place in town, and fine ladies'
drawing-rooms would make us feel like stable-boys. He said I would be
heart-sick and shame-faced in twelve hours, and turn tail and come back
to Gloucestershire like a whipt dog--but I shall not, I swear, but
shall be merrier and in better heart than I have been since I was
young. It gets dull in the country, Clo," shaking his head, "when a man
gets old and heavy, and 'tis worst when he has no children left to keep
him stirring. I have took a good lodging in the town, and I will dress
myself like a Court gentleman and go to the coffee-houses and the play,
and hear the wits. And I shall watch thy coach-and-six drive by and
tell the company I was thy playmate when thou wert Clo Wildairs; and
thou art not too fine a lady, even now thou art a Court beauty and a
Countess, to be kind to an old fellow from the country."

He strutted away from the mansion, the proudest and happiest man in
London, giving his hat a jaunty cock and walking with an air, his old
heart beating high with joy to feel that this beautiful creature had
not forgot old days and did not disdain him. He went to tailors and
mercers and wig-makers and furnished himself forth with fine
belongings, and looked a town gentleman indeed when he came to exhibit
himself to my lady; and before long the Mall and the park became
familiar with his sturdy old figure and beaming country face, and the
beauties and beaux and wits began to know him, and that he had been one
of Mistress Clorinda Wildairs's companions in her Gloucestershire days,
and had now come to town, drawn simply by his worship of her, that he
might delight himself by looking on at her triumphs.

There were many who honestly liked his countrified, talkative good
nature, and inviting him to their houses made a favourite of him; and
there were others who encouraged him, to hear him tell his stories; and
several modish beauties amused themselves by coquetting with him, one
of these being my Lady Betty Tantillion, who would tease and ogle him
until he was ready to lose his wits in his elderly delight. One of her
favourite tricks was to pout at him and twit him on his adoration of my
Lady Dunstanwolde, of whom she was in truth not too fond; though she
had learned to keep a civil tongue in her head, since her ladyship was
a match for half a dozen such as she, and, when she chose to use her
cutting wit, proved an antagonist as greatly to be feared as in the
days when Lady Maddon, the fair and frail "Willow Wand," had fallen
into hysteric fits in the country mercer's shop.

"You men always lose your wits when you see her," she would say. "'Tis
said Sir John Oxon"--with a malicious little glance at that gentleman,
who stood near her ladyship across the room--"'tis said Sir John Oxon
lost more, and broke a fine match, and squandered his fortune, and sank
into the evilest reputation--all for love of her."

She turned to his Grace of Osmonde, who was near, waving her fan
languishing. "Has your Grace heard that story?" she asked. His Grace
approached smiling--he never could converse with this young lady
without smiling a little--she so bore out all the promise of her
school-girl letters and reminded him of the night when he had found her
brother, Ensign Tom, and Bob Langley grinning and shouting over her
homilies on the Gloucestershire beauty.

"Which one is it?" he said. "Your ladyship has been kind enough to tell
me so many."

"'Tis the one about Sir John Oxon and her ladyship of Dunstanwolde,"
she answered, with a pretty simper. "All Gloucestershire knew how they
were in love with each other when she was Mistress Wildairs--until she
cast him off for my Lord Dunstanwolde. 'Tis said she drove him to
ruin--but now he has come back to her, and all think she will remember
her first love and yield to him at last. And surely it would be a
pretty romance."

"Jack Oxon was not drove to ruin by her ladyship," cried Sir Chris;
"not he. But deep in love with her he was, 'tis sure, and had she been
any other woman she must have been melted by him. Ecod!" looking across
the room at the two, with a reflective air, "I wonder if she was!"

"But look at his eyes now," said my Lady Betty, giving a side glance at
his Grace. "They glow like fire, and wheresoever she moves he keeps
them glued on her."

"She doth not keep hers glued on him," said Sir Chris, "but looks away
and holds her head up as if she would not see him."

"That is her way to draw him to her," cried Lady Betty. "It drives a
man wild with love to be so treated--and she is a shrewd beauty; but
when he can get near enough he stands and speaks into her ear--low,
that none may listen. I have seen him do it more than once, and she
pretends not to hearken, but hears it all, and murmurs back, no doubt,
while she seems to gaze straight before her, and waves her fan. I heard
him speak once when he did not think me close to him, and he said,
'Have you forgot--have you forgot, Clorinda?' and she answered then,
but her words I did not hear." She waved her painted fan with a
coquettish flourish. "'Tis not a new way of making love," she said with
arch knowingness. "It hath been done before."

"He hath drawn near and is speaking to her now," said Sir Chris,
staring wonderingly, "but I swear it does not look like love-making.
He looks like a man who threatens."

"He threatens he will fall on his sword if she will not yield," laughed
Lady Betty. "They all swear the same thing."

My lord Duke moved forward. He had heard this talk often before during
the past weeks, and he had seen this man haunting her presence, and
always when he was near or spoke to her a strange look on her face, a
look as if she made some struggle with herself or him--and strangest of
all, though she was so gracious to himself, something in her eyes had
seemed to hold him back from speaking, as if she said, "Not yet--not
yet! Soon--but not yet!" and though he had not understood, it had
bewildered him, and brought back a memory of the day she had sate in
the carven gilded chair and delivered her lord's message to him, and
her eyes had pleadingly forbade him to come to Dunstan's Wolde while
her words expressed her husband's hospitable desire. His passion for
her was so great and deep, 'twas a fathomless pool whose depths were
stirred by every breath of her, and so he had even waited till her eyes
should say--"Now!"

He had moved towards her this moment, because she had looked up at him,
as if she needed he should come nearer. She rose from her seat, leaving
Sir John Oxon where he stood. His Grace moved quicker and they met in
the crowd, and as she looked up at him, he saw that she had lost a
little of her radiant bloom, and she spoke in a low voice like a girl.

"Will your Grace take me to my coach?" she said. "I am not well."

And he led her, leaning on his arm, through the crowd to Mistress Anne,
who was always glad to leave any assembly--the more brilliant they, the
readier she to desert their throngs--and he escorted them to their
coach, and before he left them asked a question gravely.

"Will your ladyship permit me," he said, "to wait on you to-morrow? I
would know that your indisposition has passed."

My lady answered him in a low voice from the coach; her colour had come
back, and she gave him her hand which he kissed. Then the equipage
rolled away and he entered his own, and being driven back to Osmonde
House said to himself gravely, over and over again, one
word--"To-morrow!"


But within two hours a messenger in the royal liveries came from
Kensington and as quickly as horses could carry him my lord Duke was
with her Majesty, whom he found agitated and pale, important news from
France having but just reached her. Immediate action was necessary,
and there was none who could so well bear her private messages to the
French Court as could the man who had no interest of his own to serve,
whom Nature and experience peculiarly fitted for the direction of
affairs requiring discretion, swiftness of perception, self-control,
and dignity of bearing. 'Twas his royal Mistress herself who said these
things to his Grace, and added to her gracious commands many
condescending words and proofs of confidence, which he received with
courtly obeisance but with a galled and burning heart.

And on the coming of the morrow he was on his way to Versailles, and my
Lady Dunstanwolde, having received news of the sudden exigency and his
departure, sate in her chamber alone gazing as into vacancy, with a
hunted look in her wide eyes.



_CHAPTER XXVI_

_A Dead Rose_


Sovereigns and their thrones, statesmen and their intrigues, favourites
and their quarrels--of what moment are they to a man whose heart is on
fire and whose whole being resolves itself into but one thought of but
one creature? My lord Duke went to France as he was commanded; he had
been before at Versailles and Fontainebleau and Saint Germain, and
there were eyes which brightened at the sight of his tall form, and
there were men who while they greeted him with courteous bows and
professions of flattering welcome exchanged side glances and asked each
other momentous questions in private. He went about his business with
discretion and diplomatic skill and found that he had no reason to
despair of its accomplishment, but all his thoughts of his errand,
though he held his mind steady and could reason clearly on them, seemed
to him like the thoughts of a man in a dream who only in his private
moments awakened to the reality of existence.

"'Twas Fate again," he said, "Fate! who has always seemed to stalk in
between! If I had gone to her on that 'to-morrow,' I should have
poured forth my soul and hers would have answered me. But there shall
be another to-morrow, and I swear it shall come soon."

There was but a few hours' journey by land, and the English Channel,
between himself and London, and there was much passing to and fro; and
though the French Court had stories enough of its own, new ones were
always welcome, English gossip being thought to have a special heavy
quaintness, droll indeed. The Court of Louis found much entertainment
in the Court of Anne, and the frivolities or romances of beauties who
ate beef and drank beer and wore, 'twas said, the coquettish commode
founded on lovely Fontange's lace handkerchief, as if it were a
nightcap.

"But they have a handsome big creature there now, who is amazing," they
said with interest at this time. "She was brought up as a boy at the
_château_ of her father, and can fight with swords like a man, but is
as beautiful as the day and seven feet tall. It would be a pleasure to
see her. She is at present a widow with an immense fortune, and all the
gentlemen fight duels over her."

Both masculine and feminine members of the Court were much pleased with
this lady and found her more interesting and exciting than any of her
sister beauties. Naturally many unfounded anecdotes of her were
current, and it was said that she fought duels herself. It was not
long before it was whispered that the handsome Englishman Monsieur le
Duc d'Osmonde, the red blonde giant with the great calm eyes, was one
of the two chief pretendants to this picturesque lady's favour. Thus,
as was inevitable, my lord Duke heard all the rumours from the English
capital in one form or another. Some of them were bitter things for him
to hear, for all of them more or less touched upon Sir John Oxon, who
seemed to follow her from playhouse to assembly and to dog her very
footsteps, while all the world looked on wondering, since her ladyship
treated him with such unrelenting coldness and disdain.

His Grace had much to do at this time and did it well, but the days
seemed long, and each piece of English gossip he heard recounted added
to the length of the twenty-four hours. Then there came a story which
created an excitement greater than any other, and was chattered over
with a vivacity which made him turn pale.

In London the wonderful Amazon Milady Dunstanwolde had provided the
town with a new example of her courage and daring spirit.

"There was a man who owned the most dangerous horse in the country--a
monster, a devil." So his Grace heard the history related for the first
time in a great lady's _salon_ to breathlessly delighted listeners.
"The animal was a horror of vice and temper, but beautiful, beautiful.
A skin of black satin, a form incomparable! He has three grooms who
take care of him, and all of them are afraid; he bites, he kicks, he
rises on his hind legs and falls on those who ride him. None but those
three men dare try to manage him. Each one is a wonderful rider and
hopes to win or subdue him. It is no use. One morning the first of the
three enters his stable and does not come out. He is called and does
not answer. Someone goes to look. He is there, but he lies in a heap,
kicked to death. A few days later the second one manages to mount the
horse, taking him by surprise. At first the animal seems frightened
into quietness. Suddenly he begins to run; he goes faster and faster,
and all at once stops, and his rider flies over his head and is taken
up with a broken neck. His owner, who is a horse dealer, orders him to
be shot, but keeps him for a few days because he is so handsome. Who,
think you, hears of him and comes to buy him? It is a lady. 'He is the
very beast I want,' she says. 'It will please me to teach him there is
someone stronger than himself.' Who is it?" asked the narrator,
striking her fair hands together in a sort of exultation.

"The Countess of Dunstanwolde!" broke in a voice, and all turned
quickly to look at the speaker. It was the Duke of Osmonde.

How did Monsieur le Duc know at once, they asked laughing, and he
answered them with a slight smile, though someone remarked later that
he had looked pale. He had known that she was a marvellous horsewoman,
he had seen her in the hunting-field when she had been a child, he had
heard of her riding dangerous animals before. Everyone knew that she
was without fear. There was no other woman in England who would dare so
much.

He spoke to them in almost ordinary tones, and heard their exclamations
of admiration or prophetic fright to the end, but when he had driven
homeward and was alone in his own apartment he felt himself cold with
dread.

"And I wait here at the command of a Queen," he said, "and cannot be
loosed from my duty. And Fate may come between again--again!"--and he
almost shuddered the next instant as he heard the sound which broke
from his lips, 'twas so like a short, harsh laugh which mocked at his
own sharp horror. "'Tis not right that a woman should so play with a
man's soul," he cried fiercely; "'tis not fair she should so lay him on
the rack!"

But next, manlike, his own anguish melted him.

"She does not know," he said. "If she _knew_ she would be more gentle.
She is very noble. Had I spoke with her on that to-morrow, she would
have obeyed the commands my love would lay upon her."

"My Lady Dunstanwolde," he heard a day later, "has vowed to conquer her
great horse or be killed by it. Each day she fights a battle with it in
the park, and all the people crowd to look on. Some say it will kill
her, and some she will kill it. She is so strong and without fear."

"To one of her adorers she laughed and said that if the animal broke
her neck, she need battle with neither men nor horses again. The name
of her horse is Devil, and he is said to look like one. _Magnifique!_"
laughed the man who spoke.

By the third day, his Grace of Osmonde's valet began to look anxious.
He had attended his master ten years and had never seen him look as he
did in these days. His impression was that his Grace did not sleep,
that he had not slept for several nights. Lexton had heard him walking
in his room when he ought to have been in bed; one thing was certain,
he did not eat his meals, and one thing Lexton had always affirmed was
that he had never known a gentleman as fine and regular in his habits
as his Grace, and had always said that 'twas because he was so regular
that he was such a man as he was--so noble in his build and so clear in
his eye, and with such a grand bearing.

At last, turns up in the street young Langton, who had run over to
Paris, as he had a habit of doing when he was out of humour with his
native land, either because his creditors pressed him, or because some
lady was unkind. And he stopped my lord Duke in the Rue Royale, filled
to the brim with the excitement of the news he brought fresh from
London.

"Has your Grace heard of my Lady Dunstanwolde's breaking of the horse
Devil?" he cried. "The story has reached Paris, I know, for I heard it
spoke of scarce an hour after my arrival. On Tuesday I stood in Hyde
Park and watched the fight between them, and I think, God knows! that
surely no woman ever mounted such a beast and ran such danger before.
'Tis the fashion to go out each morning and stand looking on and laying
wagers. The stakes run high. At first the odds were all against my
lady, but on Tuesday they veered and were against the horse. How they
can stand and laugh, and lay bets, Heaven knows!" He was a good-natured
young fellow and gave a little shudder. "I could not do it. For all her
spirit and her wrists of steel, she is but a woman and a lovely
creature, and the horse is so great a demon that if he gets her from
his back and beneath his feet--good Lord! it makes me sick to think of
it." He shook his shoulders with a shudder again. "What think you," he
cried, "I heard Jack Oxon wager? He hath been watching her day after
day more fierce and eager than the rest. He turned round one moment
when the beast was doing his worst and 'twas life and death between
them. And she could hear his words, too, mark you. 'A thousand pounds
against fifty,' he says with his sneering laugh; 'a thousand pounds
that she is off his back in five minutes and that when she is dragged
away, what his heels have left of her will bear no semblance to a
woman!"

"Good God!" broke from the Duke. "This within her hearing! Good God!"

"In my belief 'twas a planned thing to make her lose her nerve," said
the young fellow. "'Tis my belief he would gloat over the killing of
her, because she has disdained him. Why is there not some man who hath
the right to stop her--I--" his honest face reddened--"what am I to
dare to speak to such a lady in advice. I know it was an impudence, and
felt it one, your Grace, but I plucked up courage to--to--follow her
home, and says I, bowing and as red as a turkey-cock, 'My lady, for the
Lord's sake give up this awfulness. Think of them that love you. Sure
there must be some heart you would tear in two. For God's sake have
pity on it wheresoever it be, though I beg your ladyship's pardon, and
'tis impudence, I know.'"

My lord Duke caught his hand and in the passionate gratitude of the
grasp he gave it forgot his own strength and that Bob was not a giant
also.

"God bless you!" he cried. "God bless you! You are a brave fellow! I--I
am her kinsman and am grateful. God bless you, man, and call on Gerald
Mertoun for a friend's service when you need it."

And he strode away, leaving Bob Langton staring after him and holding
his crushed hand tenderly, but feeling a glow at his heart, for 'tis
not every day a careless, empty-pocketed young ensign is disabled by
the grasp of a Duke's hand, and given his friendship as the result of a
mere artless impulse of boyish good-nature.

His Grace strode homeward and called Lexton to him.

"We go to England within an hour," he said. "We may remain there but a
day. Not a moment is to be lost. 'Tis of most serious import."

When he entered Osmonde House, on reaching the end of his journey, the
first person he encountered was Mr. Fox, who had just come in from Hyde
Park, where he had spent the morning.

"I have been there each day this week, your Grace," he said, and his
lips trembled somewhat as he wiped his brow. "It hath seemed to me all
the town hath been there. I--your Grace's pardon--but I could not stay
away; it seemed almost a duty. But I would gladly have been spared it.
The worst is over." And he wiped his brow again, his thin, clerical
countenance pale. "They say the horse is beat; but who knows when such
a beast is safe, and at this moment she puts him through his paces, and
they all look on applauding."

His Grace had rung the bell. "Bring Rupert," he commanded. "Rupert."

And the beast was brought without delay--as fiery a creature as the
horse Devil himself, yet no demon but a spirited brute, knowing his
master as his master knew himself; and my lord Duke came forth and
flung himself upon him, and the creature sprang forward as if they had
been one, and he felt in every nerve that his rider rode with heart
beating with passion which was resolute to overleap every obstacle in
its way, which had reached the hour when it would see none, hear of
none, submit to none, but sweep forward to its goal as though 'twere
wind or flame.


A short hour later all the town knew that my Lady Dunstanwolde had
sealed her brilliant fate. And 'twas not Sir John Oxon who was
conqueror, but his Grace of Osmonde, who, it seemed, had swept down
upon her and taken possession of his place by her side as a King might
have descended on some citadel and claimed it for his own. Great
Heaven! what a thing it had been to behold, and how those congratulated
themselves who had indeed beheld it--my lord Duke appearing upon the
scene as if by magic, he who had been known to be in France, and who
came almost at full gallop beneath the trees, plainly scarce seeing the
startled faces turned at the sound of his horse's hoofs, the hats which
were doffed at sight of him, the fair faces which lighted, the lovely,
hurried courtesies made, his own eyes being fixed upon a certain point
on the riding-road where groups stood about and her ladyship of
Dunstanwolde sat erect and glowing upon the back of her conquered
beast, the black horse Devil!

"Zounds, 'twas like a play!" cried Sir Christopher, gloating over it
when 'twas past. "There rides my lady like an empress, Devil going as
dainty as a dancing-master, and all the grandees doffing hats to her
down the line. And of a sudden one man hears hoofs pounding and turns,
and there he comes, my lord Duke of Osmonde, and he sees but one
creature and makes straight for her--and she doth not even hear him
till he is close upon her, and then she turns--blushing, good Lord! the
loveliest crimson woman ever wore. And in each other's eyes they gaze
as if Heaven's gate had opened, and 'twas not earth that was beneath
their horses' feet, and both forgot that poor plain flesh and blood
stood looking on!"

"Lud!" minced Lady Betty, applauding with her fan. "We must have it
made into a play and Mrs. Bracegirdle shall perform it."

"My old heart thumped to see it!" said Sir Chris; "it thumped, I
swear!" and he gave his stout side a feeling blow. "All her days I have
known her, and it came back to me how, when she was but a vixen of
twelve we dubbed her Duchess, and, ecod! the water came into my eyes!"

"Because she was a vixen, or because you called her Duchess?" said my
Lady Betty, with her malicious little air.

Sir Christopher stared at her; there was a touch of moisture in his old
eyes, 'twas true!

"Nay," he said, bluntly, "because she is such a damned fine woman, and
'tis all come true!"

The words these two had exchanged before the eyes of the world only
themselves could know--they had been but few, surely, and yet in ten
minutes after their first speech all those who gazed knew that the tale
was told. And as they rode homeward together beneath the arching trees
and through the crowded streets, their faces wore such looks as drew
each passer-by to turn and gaze after them, and to themselves the whole
great world had changed; and of a surety, nowhere, nowhere, two hearts
beat to such music, or two souls swayed together in such unison.

When they rode into the court at Dunstanwolde House, the lacqueys,
seeing them, drew up in state about the entrance.

"Look you," said, in an undertone to his fellow, one of the biggest and
sauciest of them, "'tis her Grace of Osmonde who returns, and we may be
a great Duke's servants if we carry ourselves with dignity."

They bowed their lowest as the two passed between them, but neither the
one nor the other beheld them, scarce knowing that they were present.
My lady's sweet, tall body trembled, and her mouth's crimson trembled
also, almost as if she had been a child. She could not speak, but
looked up, softly smiling, as she led him to a panelled parlour, which
was her own chosen and beloved room. And when they entered it, and the
door closed, my lord Duke, having no words either, put forth his arms
and took her to his heart, folding her close so that she felt his
pulsing breast shake. And then he drew her to the gilded chair and made
her sit, and knelt down before her, and laid his face upon her lap.

"Let it stay there," he cried, low and even wildly. "Let it stay
there--Heart. If you could know--if you could know!"

And then in broken words he told her of how, when she had sate in this
same chair before and given him her dead lord's message, he had so
madly yearned to throw himself at her feet upon his knees, and hide his
anguished face where now it lay, while her sweet hand touched his
cheek.

"I love you," she whispered, very low and with a soft, helpless sob in
her voice. "I love you," for she could think of no other words to say,
and could say no more. And with tears in his lion's eyes he kissed her
hands a thousand times as if he had been a boy.

"When I was in France," he said, "and heard of the danger that you ran,
my heart rebelled against you. I cried that 'twas not just to so put a
man to torture and bind him to the rack. And then I repented and said
you did not know or you would be more gentle."

"I will be gentle now," she said, "always, your Grace, always."

"When the sun rose each day," he said, "I could not know it did not
rise upon your beauty, lying cold and still, lost--lost to me--this
time, forever."

Her fair hand covered her eyes, she shuddering a little.

"Nay, nay," she cried. "I--nay, I could not be lost to you--again. Let
us--let us pray God, your Grace, let us pray God!"

And to his heavenly rapture she put forth her arms and laid them round
his neck, her face held back that she might gaze at him with her great
brimming eyes. Indeed 'twas a wonder to a man to behold how her
stateliness had melted and she was like a yearning, clinging girl.

He gazed at her a moment, kneeling so, and all the long years rolled
away and he scarce dared to breathe lest he should waken from his
dream.

"Ah, Heaven!" he sighed, "there is so much to tell--years, years of
pain which your sweet soul will pity."

Ah, how she gazed on him, what longing question there was in her eyes!

He took from his breast a velvet case which might have held a
miniature, but did not.

"Look--look," he prayed, "at this. Tis a dead rose."

"A rose!" says she, and then starts and looks up from it to him, a
dawning of some thought--or hope--in her face. "A rose!" she uttered,
scarcely breathing it, as if half afraid to speak.

"Ah!" he cried, "I pray God you remember. When it fell from your breast
that night----"

She broke in, breathless, "The night you came----"

"Too late--too late," he answered; "and this fell at my feet, and you
passed by. No night since then I have not pressed it to my lips. No day
it has not lain upon my heart through all its darkest hours."

She took it from him--gazed down at it with stormy, filling eyes, and
pressing it to her lips, broke into tender, passionate sobbing.

"No night, no day!" she cried. "Poor rose! dear rose!"

"Beloved!" he cried, and would have folded her to his breast, kissing
her tears away which were so womanly. But she withdrew herself a
little--holding up her hand.

"Wait, your Grace; wait!" she said, as if she would say more, almost as
if she was shaken by some strange trouble and knew not how to bear its
presence. And, of a sudden, seeing this, a vague fear struck him and he
turned a little pale.

But the next moment he controlled himself; 'twas indeed as if he
himself called the receding blood back to his heart, and he took her
hand and held it in both his own, smiling.

"I have waited so long," he pleaded, caressingly. "I pray you--in
Love's name."

And it was but like her, he thought, that she should rise at this and
stand before him, her hand laid upon her breast, her great eyes opening
upon him in appeal, as if she were some tender culprit standing at
judgment bar.

"In Love's name!" she cried, in a low, panting voice. "Oh, Love should
_give_ so much. A woman's treasury should be so filled with rich jewels
of fair deeds that when Love comes she may pour them at his feet. And
what have I--oh, what have I?"

He moved towards her with a noble gesture, and she came nearer and
laid one hand upon his breast and one upon his shoulder, her uplifted
face white as a lily from some wild emotion, and imploring him--the
thought coming to him made him tremble--as some lost, helpless child
might implore.

"Is there aught," she panted, "_aught_ that could come between your
soul and mine?" And she was trembling, and her voice trembled and her
lips, and crystal drops on her lashes which, in quivering, fell.
"Think," she whispered; "your Grace, _think_."

And then a storm swept over him, a storm of love as great as that first
storm of frenzy and despair. And he cried out in terror at the thought
that Fate might plan some trick to cheat him yet, after the years--the
years of lost, lost life, spent as in gyves of iron.

"Great God! No! No!" he cried; "I am a man and you are the life of me!
I come to you not as other men, who love and speak their passion. Mine
has been a burden hidden and borne so long. It woke at sight of a
child, it fed on visions of a girl; before I knew its power it had
become my life. The portals of my prison are open and I see the sun.
Think you I will let them be closed--be _closed_ again?"

And he would not be withheld and swept her to his breast, and she,
lying there, clung to him with a little sobbing cry of joy and
gratefulness, uttering wild, sweet, low, broken words.

"I am so young," she said. "Life is so strong; the world seems _full_
of flowers. Sure some of them are mine. My heart beats so--it so beats.
Forgive! forgive!"

"Tis from to-day our life begins," he whispered, solemnly. "And God so
deal with me, Heart, as I shall deal with you."



_CHAPTER XXVII_

"_'Twas the night thou hidst the package in the wall_"


"So," said the fashionable triflers, "'twas the Duke after all, and his
Grace flies to France to draw his errand to a close, and when he flies
back again, upon the wings of love, five villages will roast oxen whole
and drink ale to the chiming of wedding-bells."

"Lud!" said my Lady Betty, this time with her pettish air, this matter
not being to her liking, for why should a Duke fall in love with widows
when there were exquisite languishing unmarried ladies near at hand.
"'Tis a wise beauty who sets bells ringing in five villages by marrying
a duke, instead of taking a spendthrift rake who is but a baronet and
has no estate at all. I could have told you whom her ladyship would wed
if she were asked."

"If she were asked! good Lord!" cried Sir Chris Crowell, as red as a
turkey-cock. "And this I can tell you, 'tis not the five villages she
marries, nor the Duke, but the man. And 'tis not the fine lady he takes
to his heart, but our Clo, and none other, and would have taken her in
her smock had she been a beggar wench. 'Tis an honest love-match, that
I swear!"

Thereupon my Lady Betty laughed.

"Those who see Sir John Oxon's face now," she said, "do not behold a
pretty thing. And my lady sees it at every turn. She can go nowhere but
she finds him at her elbow glaring."

"He would play some evil trick on her for revenge, I vow," said another
lady. "She hath Mistress Anne with her nearly always in these days, as
if she would keep him off by having a companion; but 'tis no use,
follow and badger her he will."

"Badger her!" blustered Sir Chris. "He durst not, the jackanapes! He is
not so fond of drawing point as he was a few years ago."

"'Tis badgering and naught else," said Mistress Lovely. "I have watched
him standing by and pouring words like poison in her ear, and she
disdaining to reply or look as though she heard."

My Lady Betty laughed again with a prettier venom still.

"He hath gone mad," she said. "And no wonder! My woman, who knows a
mercer's wife at whose husband's shop he bought his finery, told me a
story of him. He was so deep in debt that none would give him credit
for an hour, until the old Earl of Dunstanwolde died, when he persuaded
them that he was on the point of marrying her ladyship. These people
are so simple they will believe anything, and they watched him go to
her house and knew he had been her worshipper before her marriage. And
so they gave him credit again. Thence his fine new wardrobe came. And
now they have heard the news and have all run mad in rage at their own
foolishness, and are hounding him out of his life."

The two ladies made heartless game enough of the anecdote. Perhaps both
had little spites of their own against Sir John, who in his heyday had
never spoke with a woman without laying siege to her heart and vanity,
though he might have but five minutes to do it in. Lady Betty, at
least, 'twas known had once had coquettish and sentimental passages
with him, if no more; and whether 'twas her vanity or her heart which
had been wounded, some sting rankled, leaving her with a malice against
him which never failed to show itself when she spoke or heard his name.

A curious passage took place between them but a short time after she
had told her story of his tricking of his creditors. 'Twas at a Court
ball and was a whimsical affray indeed, though chiefly remembered
afterwards because of the events which followed it--one of them
occurring upon the spot, another a day later, this second incident
being a mystery never after unravelled. At this ball was my Lady
Dunstanwolde in white and silver, and looking, some said, like a spirit
in the radiance of her happiness.

"For 'tis pure happiness that makes her shine so," said her faithful
henchman, old Sir Christopher. "Surely she hath never been a happy
woman before, for never hath she smiled so since I knew her first, a
child. She looks like a creature born again."

Lady Betty Tantillion engaged in her encounter in an antechamber near
the great saloon. Her ladyship had a pretty way of withdrawing from the
moving throng at times to seek comparative seclusion and greater ease.
There was more freedom where there would be exchange of wits and
glances, not overheard and beheld by the whole world; so her ladyship
had a neat taste in nooks and corners, where a select little court of
her own could be held by a charming fair one. Thus it fell that after
dancing in the ball-room with one admirer and another, she made her
way, followed by two of the most attentive, to a pretty retiring-room
quite near.

'Twas for the moment, it seemed, deserted, but when she entered with
her courtiers, the exquisite Lord Charles Lovelace and his friend Sir
Harry Granville, a gentleman turned from a window where he seemed to
have been taking the air alone, and seeing them uttered under his
breath a malediction.

"To the devil with them!" he said, but the next moment advanced with a
somewhat mocking smile, which was scarce hidden by his elaborate bow
of ceremony to her ladyship.

"My Lady Betty Tantillion!" he exclaimed, "I did not look for such
fortune. 'Tis not necessary to hope your ladyship blooms in health.
'Tis an age since we met."

Since their rupture they had not spoken with each other, but my Lady
Betty had used her eyes well when she had beheld him even at a
distance, and his life she knew almost as well as if they had been
married and she a jealous consort.

But she stood a moment regarding him with an impertinent questioning
little stare, and then held up her quizzing-glass and uttered an
exclamation of sad surprise.

"Sir John Oxon!" she said. "How changed! how changed! Sure you have
been ill, Sir John, or have met with misfortunes."

To the vainest of men and the most galled--he who had been but a few
years gone the most lauded man beauty in the town, who had been sought,
flattered, adored--'twas a bitter little stab, though he knew well the
giver of the thrust. Yet he steeled himself to bow again, though his
eyes flashed.

"I have indeed been ill and in misfortune," he answered, sardonically.
"Can a man be in health and fortunate when your ladyship has ceased to
smile upon him?"

My Lady Betty courtesied with a languid air.

"Lord Charles," she said, with indifferent condescension, "Sir Harry,
you have _heard_ of this gentleman, though he was before your day. In
_his_--" (as though she recalled the past glories of some antiquated
beau) "you were still at the University."

Then as she passed to a divan to seat herself she whispered an aside to
Lord Charles, holding up her fan.

"The ruined dandy," she said, "who is mad for my Lady Dunstanwolde. Ask
him some question of his wife?"

Whereupon Lord Charles, who was willing enough to join in badgering a
man who had still good looks enough to prove a rival had he the humour,
turned with a patronising air of civility.

"My Lady Oxon is not with you?" he observed.

"There is none, your lordship," Sir John answered, and almost ground
his teeth, seeing the courteous insolence of the joke. "I am a single
man."

"Lud!" cried my Lady Betty, fanning with graceful indifference. "'Twas
said you were to marry a great fortune, and all were filled with envy.
What become, then, of the fair Mistress Isabel Beaton?"

"She returned to Scotland, your ladyship," replied Sir John, his eyes
transfixing her. "Ere now 'tis ancient history."

"Fie, Sir John," said Lady Betty, laughing wickedly, "to desert so
sweet a creature. So lovely--and so _rich_! Men are not wise as they
once were."

Sir John drew nearer to her and spoke low. "Your ladyship makes a butt
of me," he said. And 'twas so ordained by Fate, at this moment when the
worst of him seethed within his breast, and was ripest for mad evil,
Sir Christopher Crowell came bustling into the apartment, full of
exultant hilarity and good wine which he had been partaking of in the
banqueting-hall with friends.

"Good Lord!" he cried, having spoke with Lady Betty; "what ails thee,
Jack? Thy very face is a killjoy."

"'Tis repentance, perhaps," said Lady Betty. "We are reproaching him
with deserting Mistress Beaton--who had even a fortune."

Sir Christopher glanced from Sir John to her ladyship and burst forth
into a big guffaw, his convivialities having indeed robbed him of
discretion.

"He desert her!" said he. "She jilted him and took her fortune to a
Marquis! 'Twas thine own fault, too, Jack. Hadst thou been even a
decent rake she would have had thee."

"By God!" cried Sir John, starting and turning livid; and then catching
a sight of the delight in my Lady Betty's face, who had set out to
enrage him before her company, he checked himself and broke into a
contemptuous, short laugh.

"These be country manners, Sir Christopher," he said. "In
Gloucestershire bumpers are tossed off early, and a banquet added turns
a man's head and makes him garrulous."

"Ecod!" said Sir Christopher, grinning. "A nice fellow he is to twit a
man with the bottle. Myself, I've seen him drunk for three days."

Whereupon there took place a singular change in Sir John Oxon's look.
His face had been so full of rage but a moment ago that, at Sir Chris's
second sally, Lady Betty had moved slightly in some alarm. Town manners
were free, but not quite so free as those of the country, and Sir John
was known to be an ill-tempered man. If the two gentlemen had
quarrelled about her ladyship's own charms 'twould have been a
different matter, but to come to an encounter over a mere drinking-bout
would be a vulgar, ignominious thing in which she had no mind to be
mixed up.

"Lord, Sir Christopher," she exclaimed, tapping him with her fan.
"Three days! For shame!"

But though Sir John had started 'twas not in rage. Three days
carousing with this old blockhead! When had he so caroused? He could
have laughed aloud. Never since that time he had left Wildairs, bearing
with him the lock of raven hair--his triumph and his proof. No, 'twas
not in anger he started but through a sudden shock of recollection, of
fierce, eager hope, that at last, in the moment of his impotent
humiliation, he had by chance--by a very miracle of chance--come again
upon what he had so long searched for in helpless rage--that which
would give power into his hand and vengeance of the bitterest.

And he had come upon it among chatterers in a ball-room through the
vinous babbling of a garrulous fool.

"Three days!" he said, and took out his snuff-box and tapped it,
laughing jeeringly. And this strange thing my Lady Betty marked, that
his white hand shook a little as if from hidden excitement. "Three
days!" he mocked.

"No man of fashion now," said Lord Charles, and tapped his snuff-box
also, "is drunk for more than two."

But Sir Christopher felt he was gaining a victory before her ladyship's
very eyes, which always so mocked and teased him for his clumsiness in
any encounter of words, wherefore he pressed his point gleefully.

"Three days!" cries he. "'Twas nearer four."

Sir John turned on him, laughing still, seeming in very truth as if the
thing amused him.

"When, when?" he said. "Never, I swear!" and held a pinch of snuff in
his fingers daintily, his eyes gleaming blue as sapphires through the
new light in them.

"Swear away!" cried Sir Christopher; "thou wast too drunk to remember.
'Twas the night thou hidst the package in the wall."

Then he burst forth again in laughter, for Sir John had so started that
he forgot his pinch of snuff and scattered it.

"Canst see 'tis no slander, my lady," he cried, pointing at Sir John,
who stood like a man who wakes from long sleep and is bewildered by the
thoughts which rush through his brain. "I laughed till I was like to
crack my sides." Then to Sir John, "Thou hadst but just left Clo
Wildairs and I rode with thee to Essex. Lord, how I laughed to watch
thee groping to find a place safe enough to put it in. 'I'm drunk,'
says thou, 'and I would have it safe till I am sober. 'Twill be safe
here,' and stuffed it in the broken plaster 'neath the window-sill. And
safe it was, for I'll warrant thou hast not thought of it since, and
safe thou'lt find it at the Cow at Wickben still."

Sir John struck one closed hand sudden on the palm of the other.

"It comes back to thee," cried Sir Christopher, with a grimace aside at
his audience.

"Ay, it comes back," answers Sir John; "it comes back." And he broke
forth into a short, excited laugh, there being in its sound a note of
triumph almost hysteric; and hearing this they stared, for why in such
case he should be triumphant, Heaven knew.

"'Twas a love-token!" said Lady Betty, simpering, for of a sudden he
had become another man--no longer black-visaged, but gallant, and
smiling with his old charming, impudent, irresistible air. He bent and
took her hand and kissed her finger-tips with this same old enchanting
insolence.

"Had your ladyship given it to me," he said, "I had not hid it in a
wall, but in my heart." And with a soft glance and a smiling bow he
left their circle and sauntered towards the ball-room.


"'Twas the last time I spoke with him," said my Lady Betty, when he was
talked of later. "I wonder if 'twas in his head when he kissed my
hand--if indeed 'twas a matter he himself planned or had aught to do
with. Faith! though he was a villain he had a killing air when he
chose."

When her ladyship had played off all her airs and graces upon her
servitors she led them again to the ball-room that she might vary her
triumphs and fascinations. A minuet was being played, and my Lady
Dunstanwolde was among the dancers, moving stately and slow in her
white and silver, while the crowd looked on, telling each other of the
preparations being made for her marriage, and that my lord Duke of
Osmonde was said to worship her, and could scarce live through the
hours he was held from her in France.

Among the watchers, and listening to the group as he watched, stood Sir
John Oxon. He stood with a graceful air and watched her steadily, and
there was a gleam of pleasure in his glance.

"He has followed and gazed at her so for the last half-hour," said
Mistress Lovely. "Were I the Duke of Osmonde I would command him to
choose some other lady to dog with his eyes. Now the minuet is ending I
would wager he will follow her to her seat and hang about her."

And this indeed he did when the music ceased, but 'twas done with a
more easy, confident air than had been observed in him for some time
past. He did not merely loiter in her vicinity, but when the circle
thinned about her he made his way through it and calmly joined her.

"Does he pay her compliments?" said Lord Charles, who looked on at a
distance. "Faith, if he does, she does not greatly condescend to him. I
should be frozen by a beauty who, while I strove to melt her, did not
deign to turn her eyes. Ah, she has turned them now. What has he said?
It must have been fire and flame to move her. What's this--what's
this?"

He started forward, as all the company did--for her ladyship of
Dunstanwolde had risen to her full height with a strange movement and,
standing a moment swaying, had fallen at Sir John Oxon's feet, white in
a death-like swoon.



_CHAPTER XXVIII_

_Sir John Rides out of Town_


Tom Tantillion had not appeared at the ball, having otherwise
entertained himself for the evening, but at an hour when most
festivities were at an end and people were returning from them, rolling
through the streets in their coaches, the young man was sitting at a
corner table in Cribb's Coffee-House surrounded by glasses and jolly
companions and clouds of tobacco-smoke.

One of these companions had been to the ball and left it early, and had
fallen to talking of great personages he had seen there, and describing
the beauties who had shone the brightest, among them speaking of my
Lady Dunstanwolde and the swoon which had so amazed those who had seen
it.

"I was within ten feet of her," says he, "and watching her as a man
always does when he is near enough. Jack Oxon stood behind her, and was
speaking low over her shoulder, but she seeming to take little note of
him and looking straight before her. And of a sudden she stands
upright, her black eyes wide open as if some sound had startled her,
and the next minute falls like a woman dropping dead, and lies among
her white and silver like one carven out of stone. One who knows her
well--old Sir Chris Crowell--says she hath never fallen in a swoon
before since she was born. Gad! 'twas a strange sight--'twas so
sudden." He had just finished speaking, and was filling his glass
again, when a man strode into the room in such haste that all turned to
glance at him.

He was in riding-dress, and was flushed and excited, and smiling as if
to himself.

"Drawer!" he called, "bring me coffee and brandy, and, damme! be in
haste."

Young Tantillion nudged his nearest companion with his elbow.

"Jack Oxon," he said. "Where rides the fellow at this time of night?"

"Eh, Jack!" he said, aloud, "art on a journey already, after shining at
the Court ball?"

Sir John started, and seeing who spoke, answered with an ugly laugh.

"Ay," said he, "I ride to the country in hot haste. I go to Wickben in
Essex, to bring back a thing I once left there."

"'Twas a queer place to leave valuables," said Tom--"a village of
tumble-down thatched cottages. Was't a love-token or a purse of gold?"

Sir John gave his knee a sudden joyous slap, and laughed aloud.

"'Twas a little thing," he replied, "but 'twill bring back fortune--if
I find it--and help me to pay back old scores, which is a thing I like
better." And his grin was so ugly that Tom and his companions glanced
aside at each other, believing that he was full of liquor already, and
ready to pick a quarrel if they continued their talk. This they were
not particularly inclined to, however, and began a game of cards,
leaving him to himself to finish his drink. This he did, quickly
tossing down both brandy and coffee the instant they were brought to
him, and then striding swaggering from the room and mounting his horse,
which waited in the street, and riding clattering off over the stones
at a fierce pace.

"Does he ride for a wager?" said Will Lovell, dealing the cards.

"He rides for some ill purpose, I swear," said Tom Tantillion. "Jack
Oxon never went in haste towards an honest deed; but to play some
devil's trick 'tis but nature to him to go full speed."

But what he rode for they never heard, neither they nor anyone else who
told the story, though 'twas sure that if he went to Wickben he came
back to town for a few hours at least, for there were those who saw him
the next day, but only one there was who spoke with him, and that one
my Lady Dunstanwolde herself.

Her ladyship rode out in the morning hoping, 'twas said, that the
fresh air and exercise would restore her strength and spirits. She rode
without attendant, and towards the country, and in the high road Sir
John Oxon joined her.

"I did not know he had been out of town," she said, when the mystery
was discussed. "He did not say so. He returned to Dunstanwolde House
with me, and we had talk together. He had scarce left me when I
remembered that I had forgot to say a thing to him I had wished to say.
So I sent Jenfry forth quickly to call him back. He had scarce had time
to turn the street's corner, but Jenfry returned, saying he was not
within sight."

"Whereupon you sent a note to his lodgings, was't not so?" asked Sir
Christopher.

"Yes," answered her ladyship, "but he had not returned there."

"Nor ever did," said Sir Christopher, whenever the mystery was referred
to afterwards; "nor ever did, and where he went to from that hour only
the devil knows, for no man or woman that one has heard of has ever
clapt eyes on him since."

This was, indeed, the mysterious truth. After he entered the Panelled
Parlour at Dunstanwolde House it seemed that none had seen him, for the
fact was that by a strange chance even the lacquey who should have been
at his place in the entrance hall had allowed himself to be ensnared
from his duty by a pretty serving-wench, and had left his post for a
few minutes to make love to her in the servants' hall, during which
time 'twas plain Sir John must have left the house, opening the
entrance-door for himself unattended.

"Lord," said the lacquey in secret to his mates, "my gizzard was in my
throat when her ladyship began to question me. 'Did you see the gentle,
man depart, Martin?' says she. ''Twas you who attended him to the door,
of a surety.' 'Yes, your ladyship,' stammers I. ''Twas I--and I marked
he seemed in haste.' 'Did you not observe him as he walked away?' says
my lady. 'Did you not see which way he went?' 'To the left he turned,
my lady,' says I, cold sweat breaking out on me, for had I faltered in
an answer she would have known I was lying and guessed I had broke her
orders by leaving my place by the door--and Lord have mercy on a man
when she finds he has tricked her. There is a flash in her eye like
lightning, and woe betide him it falls on. But truth was that from the
moment the door of the Panelled Parlour closed behind him the
gentleman's days were ended, for all I saw of him, for I saw him no
more."

And there was none who saw him, for from that time he disappeared from
his lodgings, from the town, from England, from the surface of the
earth, as far as any ever heard or discovered, none knowing where he
went, or how, or wherefore.

Had he been a man of greater worth or importance, or one who had made
friends, his so disappearing would have aroused a curiosity and
excitement not easily allayed; but a vicious wastrel who has lost hold
even on his whilom companions in evil-doing, and has no friends more
faithful, is like, indeed, on dropping out of the world's sight, to
drop easily and lightly from its mind, his loss being a nine days'
wonder and nothing more.

So it was with this one, who had had his day of being the fashion and
had broken many a fine lady's brittle heart, and, living to be no
longer the mode, had seen the fragile trifles cemented together again,
to be almost as good as new. When he was gone he was forgot quickly
and, indeed, but talked about because her ladyship of Dunstanwolde had
last beheld him, and on the afternoon had been entertaining company in
the Panelled Parlour when the lacquey had brought back the undelivered
note with which Jenfry had waited three hours at the lost man's
lodgings in the hope that he would return to them, which he did no
more.

"'Tis a good riddance to all, my lady, wheresoever he be gone," said
Sir Christopher, sitting nursing his stout knee in the blue parlour a
week later (for her ladyship had had a sudden fancy to have the
panelled room made wholly new and decorated before the return of his
Grace from France). "Tis a good riddance to all."

Then he fell to telling stories of the man, of the creditors he had
left in the lurch, having swindled them of their very hearts' blood,
and that every day there was heard of some poor tradesman he had
ruined, till 'twas a shame to hear it told; and there were worse
things--worse things yet!

"By the Lord!" he said, "the ruin one man's life can bring about, the
heartbreak, and the shame! 'Tis enough to make even a sinner as old as
I, repent, to come upon them face to face. Eh, my lady?" looking at her
suddenly, "thou must get back the roses thou hast lost these three days
nursing Mistress Anne, or his Grace will be at odds with us every one."

For Mistress Anne had been ailing, and her sister being anxious and
watching over her had lost some of her glorious bloom, which was indeed
a new thing to see. At this moment the roses had dropped from her
cheeks and she smiled strangely.

"They will return," she said, "when his Grace does."

She asked questions of the stories Sir Christopher had told and showed
anxiousness concerning the poor people who had been so hardly treated.

"I have often thought," she said, "that so rich a woman as I should set
herself some task of good deeds to do. 'Twould be a good work to take
in hand the undoing of the wrongs a man who is lost has left behind
him. Why should not I, Clo Wildairs, take in hand the undoing of this
man's?" And she rose up suddenly and stood before him, straight and
tall, the colour coming out on her cheeks as if life flooded back
there.

"Thou!" he cried, gazing at her in loving wonder. "Why shouldst _thou_,
Clo?" None among them had ever understood her and her moods, and he
surely did not understand this one--for it seemed as if a fire leaped
up within her, and she spoke almost wildly.

"Because I would atone for all my past," she said, "and cleanse myself
with unceasing mercies, and what I cannot undo, do penance for--that I
may be worthy--worthy."

She broke off and drew her hand across her eyes, and ended with a
strange little sound, half laugh.

"Perhaps all men and women have been evil," she said, "and some
are--some seem fated! And when my lord Duke comes back, I shall be
happy--happy--in spite of all; and I scarce dare to think my joy may
not be taken from me. Is joy _always_ torn away after it has been
given to a human thing--given for just so long, as will make loss,
madness?"

"Eh, my lady!" he said, blundering, "thou art fearful, just as another
woman might be. 'Tis not like Clo Wildairs. Such thoughts will not make
thee a happy woman."

She ended with a laugh stranger than her first one, and her great black
eyes were fixed on him as he had remembered seeing her fix them when
she was a child and full of some wild fancy or weird sadness.

"'Tis not Clo Wildairs who thinks them," says she; "'tis another woman.
'Twas Clo who knew John Oxon who is gone--and was as big a sinner as
he, though she did harm to none but herself. And 'tis for those
two--for both--I would have mercy. But I am a strong thing, and was
born so, and my happiness will not die, despite--despite whatsoever
comes. And I _am_ happy, and know I shall be more; and 'tis for that I
am afraid--afraid."

"Good Lord!" cried Sir Chris, swallowing a lump which rose, he knew not
why, in his throat. "What a strange creature thou art!"


His Grace's couriers went back and forth to France, and upon his
estates the people prepared their rejoicings for the marriage-day, and
never had Camylott been so heavenly fair as on the day when the bells
rang out once more, and the villagers stood along the roadside and at
their cottage doors, courtesying and throwing up hats and calling down
God's blessings on the new-wed pair, as the coach passed by, and his
Grace, holding his lady's hand, showed her to his people, seeming to
give her and her loveliness to them as they bowed and smiled
together--she almost with joyful tears in her sweet eyes.

In her room near the nurseries, at the window which looked out among
the ivy, Nurse Halsell sat, watching the equipage as it made its way up
the long avenue, and might be seen now and then between the trees, and
her old hands trembled in her lap, for very joy. And before the day was
done his Grace, knocking on the door gently, brought his Duchess to
her.

"And 'twas you," said her Grace, standing close by her chair, and
holding the old hand between her own two, which were so white and
velvet warm, "and 'twas you who held him in your arms when he was but a
little new-born thing, and often sang him to sleep, and were so loved
by him. And he played here--" and she looked about the apartment with a
tremulous smile.

"Yes," said his Grace, with a low laugh of joyful love, "and now I
bring you to her, and 'tis my marriage-day."

Nurse Halsell gazed up at the eyes which glowed above her.

"'Tis what his Grace hath waited long for," she said, "and he would
have died an unwedded man had he not reached it at last. 'Tis sure what
God ordained." And for a minute she looked straight and steady into the
Duchess's face. "A man must come to his own," she said, and bent and
kissed the fair hand with passionate love, but her Grace lifted the old
face with her palm, and stooped and kissed it fondly--gratefully.

Then the Duke took his wife to the Long Gallery and they stood there,
he holding her close against his side, while the golden sun went down.

"Here I stood and heard that you were born," he said, and kissed her
red, tender mouth. "Here I stood in agony and fought my battle with my
soul the first sad day you came to Camylott." And he kissed her slow
and tenderly again, in memory of the grief of that past time. "And here
I stand and feel your dear heart beat against my side, and look into
your eyes--and look into your eyes--and they are the eyes of her who is
mine own--and Death himself cannot take her from me."



_CHAPTER XXIX_

_At the Cow at Wichben_


The happiness he had dreamed of was given to him; nay, he knew joy and
tenderness even more high and sweet than his fancy had painted. As
Camylott had been in his childhood so he saw it again--the most
beauteous home in England and the happiest, its mistress the fairest
woman and the most nobly loving. As his own father and mother had found
life a joyful thing and their world full of warm hearts and faithful
friends, so he and she he loved, found it together. The great house was
filled once more with guests and pleasures as in the olden time, the
stately apartments were thrown open for entertainment, gay cavalcades
came and went from town, the forests were hunted, the moors shot over
by sportsmen, and the lady who was hostess and chatelaine won renown as
well as hearts, since each party of guests she entertained went back to
the homes they came from, proclaiming to all her wit and gracious
charm.

She rode to hunt and leapt hedges as she had done when she had been Clo
Wildairs; she walked the moors with the sportsmen, her gun over her
shoulder, she sparkling and showing her white teeth like a laughing
gipsy; and when she so walked, the black rings of her hair blown loose
about her brow, her cheeks kissed fresh crimson by the wet wind, and
turned her eyes upon my lord Duke near her and their looks met, the man
who beheld saw lovers who set his own heart beating.

"But is it true," asked once the great French lady who had related the
history of the breaking of the horse, Devil, "is it true that a poor
man killed himself in despair on her last marriage, and that she lives
a secret life of penance to atone--and wears a hair shirt, and peas in
her beautiful satin shoes, and does deeds of mercy in the dark places
of the big black English city?"

"A man, mad with jealous rage of her, disappeared from sight," said an
English lady present. "And he might well have drowned himself from
disappointment that she would not wed him and pay his debts; but 'twas
more like he fled England to escape his creditors. And 'tis true she
does many noble deeds in secret; but if they be done in penance for Sir
John Oxon, she is a lady with a conscience that is tender indeed."

That her conscience was a strangely tender thing was a thought which
moved one man's heart strongly many a time. Scarce a day passed in
which her husband did not mark some evidence of this--hear some word
spoken, see some deed done, almost, it seemed, as if in atonement for
imagined faults hid in her heart. He did not remark this because he was
unused to womanly mercifulness; his own mother's life had been full of
gentle kindness to all about her, of acts of charity and goodness, but
in the good deeds of this woman, whom he so loved, he observed an
eagerness which was almost a passion. She had changed no whit in the
brilliance of her spirit; in the world she reigned a queen as she had
ever done; wheresoever she moved, life and gayety seemed to follow,
whether it was at the Court, in the town, or the country; but in both
town and country he found she did strange charities, and seemed to
search for creatures she might aid in such places as other women had
not courage to dive into.

This he discovered through encountering her one day as she re-entered
Osmonde House, returning from some such errand, clad in dark, plain
garments, her black hood drawn over her face, being thereby so
disguised that but for her height and bearing he should not have
recognised her--indeed, he thought, she had not seen and would have
passed him in silence.

He put forth his hand and stayed her, smiling.

"Your Grace!" he said, "or some vision!"

She threw the black hood back and her fair face and large black eyes
shone out from beneath its shadows. She drew his hand up and kissed it,
and held it against her cheek in a dear way which was among the
sweetest of her wifely caresses.

"It is like Heaven, Gerald," she said, "to see your face, after
beholding such miseries."

And when he took her in his arm and led her to the room in which they
loved best to sit in converse together, she told him of a poor creature
she had been to visit, and when she named the place where she had found
her, 'twas a haunt so dark and wicked that he started in alarm and
wonder at her.

"Nay, dear one," he said, "such dens are not for you to visit. You must
not go to them again."

She was sitting on a low seat before him, and she leaned forward, the
black hood falling back, framing her face and making it look white.

"None else dare go," she said; "none else dare go, Gerald. Such places
are so hideous and so noisome, and yet there are those who are born and
die there, bound hand and foot when they are born, that they may be
bound hand and foot to die!" She rose as if she did not know she moved,
and stood up before him, her hand upon her breast.

"'Tis such as I should go," she said, "I who am happy and
beloved--after all--after all! 'Tis such as I who should go, and carry
love and pity--love and pity!" And she seemed Love's self and Pity's
self, and stood transfigured.

"You are a saint," he cried; "and yet I am afraid. Ah! how could any
harm you?"

"I am so great and strong," she said, in a still voice, "none could
harm me if they would. I am not as other women. And I do not know fear.
See!" and she held out her arm. "I am a Wildairs--built of iron and
steel. If in a struggle I held aught in my hand and struck at a man--"
her arm fell at her side suddenly as if some horrid thought had swept
across her soul, like a blighting blast. She turned white and sank upon
her low seat, covering her face with her hands. Then she looked up with
awed eyes. "If one who was so strong," she said, "should strike at a
man in anger, he might strike him dead--unknowing--dead!"

"'Tis not a thing to think of," said his Grace, and shuddered a little.

"But he would think of it," she said, "all his life through and bear it
on his soul." And she shuddered, too, and in her eyes was the old look
which sometimes haunted them. Surely, he thought, Nature had never
before made a woman's eyes so to answer to her lover's and her lord's.
They were so warm and full of all a man's soul most craved for. He had
seen them flash fire like Juno's, he had seen tears well up into them
as if she had been a tender girl, he had seen them laugh like a
child's, he had seen them brood over him as a young dove's might brood
over her mate, but this look was unlike any other, and was as if she
thought on some dark thing in another world--so far away that her
mind's vision could scarce reach it, and yet could not refrain from
turning towards its shadow.

But this was but a cloud which his love-words and nearness could
dispel. This she herself told him on a time when he spoke to her of it.

"When you see it," she said, "come and tell me that you love me, and
that there is naught can come between our souls. As you said the day
you showed me the dear rose, 'Naught can come between'--and love is
more than all."

"But that you know," he answered.

Life is so full of joys for those who love and, being mated, are given
by their good fortunes the power to live as their hearts lead them.
These two were given all things, it seemed to the world which looked
on. From one of their estates to the other they went with the changing
seasons, and with them carried happiness and peace. Her Grace, of whom
the villagers had heard such tales as made them feel that they should
tremble before the proud glance of her dark eyes, found that their last
Duchess, whose eyes had been like violets, could smile no more sweetly.
This one was somehow the more majestic lady of the two, being taller
and having a higher bearing by Nature, but none among them had ever
beheld one who was more a woman and seemed so well to understand a
woman's heart and ways. Where had she learned it, they wondered among
themselves, as others had wondered the year when, as my Lady
Dunstanwolde, she had been guest at Camylott, and in the gipsy's
encampment had carried, so soft and tenderly, the little gipsy child in
her arms. Where had she learned it?

"Gerald," she said once to her husband, and pressed her hand against
her heart, "'twas always here--_here_, lying hid, when none knew
it--when I did not know it myself. When I seemed but a hard, wild
creature, having only men for friends--I was a woman then, and used
sometimes to sit and stare at the red coals of the fire, or the red sun
going down on the moors, and feel longings and pities and sadness I
knew not the meaning of. And often, suddenly, I was made angry by them
and would spring up and walk away that I might be troubled no more. But
'twas Nature crying out in me that I was a woman and could be naught
else."

Her love and tenderness for her sister, Mistress Anne, increased, it
seemed, hour by hour.

"At Camylott, at Marlowell, at Roxholm, at Paulyn, and at Mertoun," she
had said when she was married, "we must have an apartment which is
Anne's. She is my saint and I must keep a niche for her in every house
and set her in it to be worshipped."

And so it was, to whichsoever of their homes they went, Mistress Anne
went with them and found always her own nest warm to receive her.

"It makes me feel audacious, sister," she used to say at first, "to go
from one grand house to the other and be led to Mistress Anne's
apartments, in each, and they always prepared and waiting as if 'twere
I who were a Duchess."

"You are Anne! You are Anne!" said her Grace, and kissed her fondly.

Sometimes she was like a gay and laughing girl, and set all the place
alight with her witcheries; she invented entertainments for their
guests, games and revels for the villagers, and was the spirit of all.
In one of their retrospective hours, Osmonde had told her of the
thoughts he had dreamed on, as they had ridden homeward from the
encampment of the gipsies--of his fancies of the comrade she would make
for a man who lived a roving life. She had both laughed and wept over
the story, clinging to his breast as she had told her own, and of her
fear of his mere glance at her in those dark days, and that she had not
dared to sit alone but kept near her lord's side lest she should
ponder and remember what 'twas honest she should forget.

But afterwards she planned, for their fanciful pleasure, rambling long
jaunts when they rode or walked unattended, and romanced like children,
eating their simple food under broad greenwood trees or on the wide
moors with a whole world of heather, as it seemed, rolled out before
them.

On such a journey, setting out from London one bright morning, they
rode through Essex and stopped by chance at a little village inn. 'Twas
the village of Wickben, and on the signboard which hung swinging on a
post before the small thatched house of entertainment was painted a
brown cow.

None knew 'twas a Duke and his Duchess who dismounted and entered the
place. They had made sure that by their attire none could suspect them
of being more than ordinary travellers, modest enough to patronise a
humble place.

"But Lord, what a fine pair!" said the old fellow who was the landlord.
"Adam and Eve may have been such when God first made man and woman, and
had stuff in plenty to build them."

He was an aged man and talkative, and being eager for a chance to wag
his tongue and hear travellers' adventures, attended them closely. He
gave them their simple repast himself in small room, and as he moved
to and fro fell to gossiping, emboldened by their friendly gayety of
speech and by her Grace's smiling eyes.

"Your ladyship," he began at first, in somewhat awkward, involuntary
homage.

"Nay, gaffer, I am no ladyship," she answered, with Clo Wildairs's
unceremonious air. "I am but a gipsy woman in good luck for a day, and
my man is a gipsy, too, though his skin is fairer than mine. We are
going to join our camp near Camylott village. These horses are not ours
but borrowed--honestly. Is't not so, John Merton?" And she so laughed
at his Grace with her big, saucy eyes, that he wished he had been
indeed a gipsy man and could have kissed her openly.

"Art the Gipsies' queen?" asked the old man, bewitched by her.

"Not she," answered his Grace, "but a plain gipsy wench who makes
baskets and tells fortunes--for all her good looks. Thou'rt flattering
her, old fellow. All the men flatter her."

"'Tis well there are some to flatter me," said her Grace, showing her
white teeth. "Thou dost not. But 'tis always so when a poor woman weds
a man and tramps by the side of him instead of keeping him at her
feet."

And then they led their old host on to talk, and told him stories of
what gipsies did, and of their living in tents and sleeping in the
open, and of the ill-luck which sometimes befel them when the lord of
the manor they camped on was a hard man and evil tempered.

"'Tis a Duke who rules over Camylott, is't not?" the old fellow asked.

"Ay," was her Grace's answer, nodding her head. "He is well enough, but
his lady--Lord! but they tell that she was a vixen before her marriage
a few years gone!"

"I have seen her," said his Grace. "She is not ill to look at, and has
done us no harm yet."

"Ay, but she may," says her Grace, nodding wisely again. "Who knows
what such a woman may turn out. I have seen _him_!" She stopped, her
elbows on the little round wooden table, her chin on her hands, and
gave her saucy stare again. "I'll pay thee a compliment," she said. "He
is a big fellow, and not unlike thee--though he be Duke and thou naught
but a vagabond gipsy."

Their host had hearkened to them eagerly, and now he put in a question.
"Was not she the beauty that was married to an old Earl who left her
widow?" he said. "Was not she Countess Dunstanwolde?"

"Ay," answered her Grace, quietly.

"Ecod!" cried the old fellow, "that minds me of a story, and 'twas a
thing happened in this very house and room. Look there!"

He pointed with something like excitement to the window. 'Twas but
seldom he had chance to tell his story, and 'twas a thing he dearly
loved to do, life being but a dull thing at the Cow at Wickben, and few
travellers passing that way. A pair so friendly and gay and ready to
hearken to his chatter as these two he had not seen for years.

"Look there!" he said. "At that big hole in the wall."

They turned together and looked at it in some wonder that her ladyship
of Dunstanwolde should have any connection with it. 'Twas indeed a big
hole, and looked as if the plaster of the wall under the sill had been
roughly broken and hacked.

"Ay," said the host, "'tis a queer thing and came here in a strange
way, being made by a gentleman's sword, and he either wild with liquor
or with rage. Never shall I forget hearing his horse's hoofs come
tearing over the road, as if some man was riding for his life. I was
abed, and started out of my sleep at the sound of it. 'Who's chased by
the devil at this time o' night through Wickben village?' says I, and
scarce were the words out of my mouth before the horse clatters up to
the house and stops. I could hear him panting and heaving as his rider
gets off and strides up to bang on the door. 'What dost thou want?'
says I, putting my head out of the window. 'Come down and let me in,'
answers he; 'I have no time to spare. You have a thing in your house I
would find.' 'Twas a gentleman's voice, and I saw 'twas a gentleman's
dress he wore, for 'twas fine cloth, and his sword had a silvered
scabbard, and his hat rich plumes. 'Come down,' says he, and bangs the
door again, so down I went."

"Who was he?" asked her Grace slowly, for he had stopped for breath.
She sat quite still as before, her round chin held in her hands, her
eyes fixed on him, but there was no longer any laughter in their
blackness. "Did he tell his name?"

"Not then," was the answer; "nor did he know I heard when he spoke it,
breaking forth in anger. But that is to come later"--with the air of
one who would have his tale heard to the most dramatic advantage. "Into
this room he strides and to the window straight and looks below the
sill. 'Four years ago,' says he, 'there was a hole here in the wall.
Was't so or was't not?' and he looks at me sharp and fierce as if he
would take me by the throat if I said there had been none. 'Ay, there
was a hole there long enough,' I answers him, 'but 'twas mended with
new plaster at last. Your lordship can see the patch, for 'twas but
roughly done.' Then he goes close to it and stares. 'Ay,' says he,
'there has been a hole mended. Old Chris did not lie.' And on that he
turns to me. 'Get out of the room,' he says, 'I have a search to make
here. Your wall will want another patch when I am done,' he says. 'But
'twill be made good. Go thy ways.' And he draws out his hanger, and
there was sweat on his brow and he breathed fast, as if he was wild
with his anxiousness to find what he sought."

"And didst leave him?" asked her Grace, as quiet as before. "For how
long?"

The old man grinned.

"Not for long," said he, "nor did I go far. I stood outside, where I
could see through the crack o' the door."

The Duchess nodded with an unmoved face.

"He was like a man in a frenzy," the host went on. "He dug at the
plaster till I thought his sword would break; he dug as if he were paid
for it by the minute. He made a hole bigger than had been there before,
and when 'twas made he thrusts his hand in and fumbles about, cursing
under his breath. And of a sudden he gives a start and stops and pants
for breath, and then draws his hand back, and it was bloody, being
scratched by the stone and plaster, but he held somewhat in it, a
little dusty package, and he clutches it to his breast and laughs
outright. Good Lord, 'twas like a devil's laugh, 'twas so wild and
joyful. 'Ha, ha!' cries he, shaking the thing in the air and stamping
his foot, 'Jack Oxon comes to his own again, to his own!'"

"Then," says her Grace, more slowly still, "that was his name? I have
heard it before."

"I heard it again," said the old story-teller, eager to reach his
climax. "And 'tis that ends the story so finely. 'Twas by chance talk
of travellers I heard it nigh six months later. The very day after he
stood here and searched for his package he disappeared from sight and
has not been heard of since. And the last who set eyes on him was my
Lady Dunstanwolde, who is now a Duchess at Camylott, where your camp
is. 'Twas her name brought the story back to me."

Her Grace rose, catching her breath with a laugh. She turned her face
towards the window, as if, of a sudden, attracted by somewhat to be
seen outside.

"'Tis a good story," she said, but for a moment the crimson roses on
her cheeks had shuddered to whiteness. Why, no man could tell. Her host
did not see her countenance--perhaps my lord Duke did not.

"'Tis a good story!" she laughed again.

"And well told," added my lord Duke.

Her Grace turned to them both once more. Through some wondrous exercise
of her will she looked herself again.

"As we are in luck to-day," she said, "and it has passed the time, let
us count it in the reckoning."

A new, almost wild, fantastic gayety seized her. She flung herself into
her playing of the part of a gipsy woman with a spirit which was a
marvel to behold. She searched his Grace's pockets and her own for
pence, and counted up the reckoning on the table, saying that they
could but afford this or that much, that they must save this coin for a
meal, that for a bed, this to pay toll on the road. She used such
phrases of the gipsy jargon as she had picked up, and made jokes and
bantering speeches which set their host cackling with laughter. Osmonde
had seen her play a fantastic part before on their whimsical holidays,
but never one which suited her so well, and in which she seemed so full
of fire and daring wit. She was no Duchess, a man might have sworn, but
a tall, splendid, black-eyed laughing gipsy woman, who, to the man who
was her partner, would be a fortune every day, and a fortune not of
luck alone, but of gay spirit and bravery and light-hearted love.


That night the moon shone white and clear, and in the mid hours my lord
Duke waked from his sleep suddenly, and saw the brightness streaming
full through the oriel window, and in the fair flood of it his love's
white figure kneeling.

"Gerald," she cried, clinging to him when he went to her. "'Twas I
awaked you. I called, though I did not speak."

"I heard, as I should hear if I lay dead," he answered low.

Her hair was all unbound for the night--her black, wondrous hair which
he so loved--and from its billowy cloud her face looked at him wild and
white, her mouth quivering.

"Gerald," she said, "look out with me."

Together they looked forth from the wide window into the beauty of the
night, up into the great vault of Heaven, where the large silver moon
sailed in the blue, the stars shining faintly before her soft
brilliance.

"We are Pagans," she said, "poor Pagans who oftenest seem to pray to a
cruel thing we do not know but only crouch before in terror, lest it
crush us. But when we look up into such a Heaven as this, its majesty
and stillness seem a presence, and we dare to utter what our hearts cry
out, and know we shall be heard." She caught his hand and held it to
her heart, which he felt leap beneath it. "There is no power would harm
a woman's child," she cried--"a little unborn thing which has not
breathed--because it would wreak vengeance on herself! There is none,
Gerald, is there?" And she clung to him, her uplifted face filled with
such lovely, passionate, woman's fear and pleading as made him sweep
her to his breast and hold her silently--because he could not speak.

"For I have learned to be afraid," she murmured brokenly, against his
breast. "And I was kneeling here to pray--to pray with all my
soul--that if there were so cruel a thing 'twould _kill_ me
now--blight me--take me from you--that I might die in torture--but not
bring suffering on my love, and on an innocent thing."

And her heart beat like some terrified caged eaglet against his own,
and her eyes were wild with woe. But the wondrous stillness of the deep
night enfolded them, as if Nature held them in her great arms which
comfort so. And her stars gazed calmly down, even as though their
calmness were answering speech.



_CHAPTER XXX_

_On Tyburn Hill_


There was none knew her as her husband did--none in the world--though
so many were her friends and worshippers. As he loved her he knew her,
the passion of his noble heart giving him clearer and more watchful
eyes than any other. Truth was, indeed, that she herself did not know
how much he saw and pondered on and how tender his watch upon her was.

The dark shadow in her eyes he had first noted, the look which would
pass over her face sometimes at a moment when 'twas brightest, when it
glowed with tenderest love for himself or with deepest yearning over
the children who were given to them as time passed, for there were born
to fill their home four sons who were like young gods for strength and
beauty, and two daughters as fair things as Nature ever made to promise
perfect womanhood.

And how she loved and tended them, and how they joyed in their young
lives and worshipped and revered her!

"When I was a child, Gerald," she said to their father, "I was
unhappy--and 'tis a hideous thing that a child should be so. I loved
none and none loved me, and though all feared my rage and gave me my
will, I was restless and savage and a rebel, though I knew not why.
There were hours--I did not know their meaning, and hated them--when I
was seized with fits of horrid loneliness and would hide myself in the
woods, and roll in the dead leaves, and curse myself and all things
because I was wretched. I used to think that I was angered at my dogs,
or my horse, or some servant, or my father, and would pour forth oaths
at them--but 'twas not they. Our children must be happy--they must be
happy, Gerald. I will have them happy!"

What a mother they had in her!--a creature who could be wild with play
and laughter with them, who was so beauteous that even in mere babyhood
they would sit upon her knee and stare at her for sheer infant pleasure
in her rich bloom and great, sweet eyes; who could lift and toss and
rock them in her strong, soft arms as if they were but flowers and she
a summer wind; whose voice was music, and whose black hair was a great
soft mantle 'twas their childish delight to coax her to loosen that it
might flow about her, billowing, she standing laughing beneath and
tossing it over them to hide their smallness under it as beneath a
veil. She was their heroine and their young pride, and among themselves
they made joyful little boasts that there was no other such lady in
all England. To behold her mount her tall horse and gallop and leap
hedges and gates, to hear her tell stories of the moorlands and woods,
and the game hiding in nests and warrens, of the ways of dogs and hawks
and horses, and soldiers and Kings and Queens, and of how their father
had fought in battles, and of how big the world was and how full of
wonders and of joys! What other children had such pleasures in their
lives?

But a few months after their Graces' visit to the Cow at Wickben, young
John, who was heir and Marquess of Roxholm, had been born; following
each other his two brothers, and later the child Daphne and her sister
Anne; last, the little Lord Cuthbert, who was told as he grew older
that he was to be the hero of his house in memory of Cuthbert de
Mertoun, who had lived centuries ago; and in the five villages 'twas
sworn that each son her Grace bore her husband was a finer creature
than the last, and that her girl children outbloomed their brothers
all.

Among these young human flowers Mistress Anne reigned gentle queen and
saint, but softly faded day by day, having been a fragile creature all
her life, but growing more so as time passed, despite the peace she
lived in and the happiness surrounding her.

In her eyes, too, his Grace had seen a look which held its mystery.
They were such soft eyes and so kind and timid he had always loved
them. In days gone by he had often observed them as they followed her
sister, and had been touched by the faithful tenderness of their look;
but after her marriage they seemed to follow her more tenderly still,
and sometimes with a vague, piteous wonder, as if the fond creature
asked herself in secret a question she knew not how to answer. More and
more devout she had grown, and, above all things, craved to aid her
Grace in the doing of her good deeds. To such work she gave herself
with the devotion of one who would strive to work out a penance.

Her own attendant was one of those whom her sister had aided, and was a
young creature with a piteous little story indeed--a pretty, rosy,
country child of but seventeen when, after her Grace's marriage, she
came to Camylott to serve Mistress Anne.

On her first coming my lord Duke had marked her and the sadness of her
innocent, childish face and blue eyes, and had spoken of her to Anne,
asking if she had met with some misfortune.

"A pretty, curly-headed creature such as she should be a village beauty
and dimpling with smiles," he said, "but the little thing looks
sometimes as if she had wept a year. Who has done her a wrong?"

Mistress Anne gave a little start and bent lower over her embroidery
frame, but her Grace, who was in the apartment, answered for her.

"'Twas Sir John Oxon," she answered, "who has wronged so many."

"What!" Osmonde cried, "wrought he the poor thing's ruin?"

"No," the Duchess replied; "but would have done it, and she, poor
child, all innocent, believing herself an honest wife. He had so
planned it, but Fate saved her!"

"A mock marriage," says the Duke, "and she saved from it! How?"

"Because the day she went to him to be married, as he had told her, he
was not at his lodgings, and did not return."

"'Twas the very day he disappeared--the day you saw him?" Osmonde
exclaimed.

"Yes," was the answer given, as her Grace crossed the room. "And 'twas
because I had seen him that the poor thing came to me with her
story--and I cared for her."

She, too, had been sitting at her embroidery frame, and had crossed the
room for silks, which lay upon the table near to Mistress Anne. As she
laid her hand upon them she looked down and uttered a low exclamation,
springing to her sister's side.

"Anne, love!" she cried. "Nay, Anne!"

Mistress Anne's small, worn face had dropped so low over her frame that
it at last lay upon it, showing white against the silken roses so gaily
broidered there. She was in a dead swoon.


Later Osmonde heard further details of this story--of how the poor
child, having no refuge in the great city, had dared at last to go to
Dunstanwolde House in the wild hope that her ladyship, who had last
seen Sir John, might tell her if he had let drop any word concerning
his journey--if he had made one. She had at first hung long about the
servants' entrance, watching the workmen who were that day walling in
the wing of black cellars my lady had wished to close before she left
the place, and at length, in desperation, had appealed to a young
stone-mason, with a good-humoured countenance, and he had interceded
for her with a lacquey passing by.

"But had I not spoke Sir John's name," the girl said when my lord Duke
spoke kindly to her of her story and her Grace's goodness; "had I not
spoke his name, the man would not have carried my message. But he said
she would see me if I had news of Sir John Oxon. He blundered, your
Grace, thinking I came from Sir John himself, and told her Grace 'twas
so. And she bade him bring me to her."

Her Grace she worshipped, and would break here into sobs each time she
told the story, describing her fright when she had been led to the
apartment where sate the great lady, who had spoke to her in a voice
like music and with such strange, deep pity of her grief, and in a
passion of tenderness had told the truth to her, taking her, after her
swoon, in her own strong, lovely arms, as if she had been no rich
Countess but a poor woman, such as she who wept, and one whose heart,
too, might have been broke by a cruel, deadly blow.

This poor simple child (who was in time cured of her wound and married
an honest fellow who loved her) was not the only one of Sir John Oxon's
victims whom her Grace protected. There were, indeed, many of them, and
'twas as though she had made it her curious duty to search them out.
When she and her lord lived sumptuously at Osmonde House in town,
shining at Court, entertaining Royalty itself at their home, envied and
courted by all as the happiest married lovers and the favourites of
Fortune, my lord Duke knew that many a day she cast her rich robes and,
clad in the dark garments and black hood, went forth to visit strange,
squalid places. Since the hour of his first meeting her on her return
from such an errand, when they had spoken together, he had never again
forbade her to follow the path 'twas plain she had chosen.

"Were I going forth to battle," he had said, "you would not seek to
hold me back; and in your battle, for it seems one to me, though I know
not what 'tis fought for, I will not restrain you."

"Ay, 'tis a battle," she had said, and seized his hands and kissed them
as if in passionate gratitude. "And 'tis a debt--a debt I swore to
pay--if that we call God would let me. Perhaps He will not, but were He
you--who know my soul--He would."

Yet but a few hours later, when he joined her in the Mall, where she
had descended from her coach to walk with the world of fashion and
moved among the wits and beaux and leaders of the mode, drawing all
round her by the marvel of her spirit and the brilliancy of her gayety
and bearing, he hearing her rich laughter and meeting the bright look
of her lovely, flashing eyes, wondered if she was the woman whose voice
still lingered in his ears and the memory of whose words would not
leave his fervent heart.

Their love was so perfect a thing that they had never denied each other
aught. Why should they; indeed, how could they? Each so understood and
trusted the other that they scarce had need for words in the deciding
of such questions as other pairs must reason gravely over. There was no
question, only one thought between them, and in his life a thing which
grew each hour as he had long since known it would. 'Twas this woman
whom he loved--this _one_--her looks, her ways, her laughter and her
tears, her very faults, if she should have them, her past, her present,
and her future which seemed all himself.

That--Duchess of Osmonde though she might be--she was known in dark
places and moved among the foul evil there, like the sun which strove
at rare hours to cleanse and dispel it; that she had in kennels and
noisome dens strange friends, was a thing at first vaguely rumoured
because the world had ever loved its stories of her, and been ready to
believe any it heard and invent new ones when it had tired of the old.
But there came a time when through a strange occurrence the rumour was
proved, most singularly, to be a truth.

Two gilt coaches, full of chattering fine ladies and gentlemen, were
being driven on a certain day through a part of the town not ordinarily
frequented by fashion, but the occupants of the coaches had been
entertaining themselves with a great and curious sight it had been
their delicate fancy to desire to behold as an exciting novelty. This
had been no less an exhibition than the hanging of two malefactors on
Tyburn Hill--the one a handsome young highwayman, the other a poor
woman executed for larceny.

The highwayman had been a favourite and had died gaily, and that he
should have been cut off in his prime had put the crowd (among which
were several of his yet uncaught companions) in an ill-humour; the poor
woman had wept and made a poor end, which had added to the anger of the
beholders.

'Twas an evil, squalid, malodorous mob, not of the better class of
thieves and tatterdemalions, but of the worst, being made up of
cutthroats out of luck, pickpockets, and poor wretches who were the
scourings of the town and the refuse of the kennel. 'Twas just the
crowd to be roused to some insensate frenzy, being hungry, bitter, and
vicious; and when, making ready to slouch back to its dens, its
attention was attracted by the gay coaches, with their liveries and
high-fed horses, and their burden of silks and velvets, and plumes
nodding over laughing, carefree, selfish faces, it fell into a sudden
fit of animal rage.

'Twas a woman who began it. (She had been a neighbour of the one who
had just met punishment, and in her own hovel at that moment lay hid
stolen goods.) She was a wild thing, with a battered face and unkempt
hair; her rags hung about her waving, and she had a bloodshot, fierce
eye.

"Look!" she screamed out suddenly, high and shrill; "look at them in
their goold coaches riding home from Tyburn, where they've seen their
betters swing!"

The ladies in the chariots, pretty, heartless fools, started affrighted
in their seats, and strove to draw back; their male companions, who
were as pretty, effeminate fools themselves and of as little spirit,
started also, and began to look pale about the gills.

"Look at them!" shrieked the virago, "shivering like rabbits. A pretty
end they would make if they were called to dance at a rope's end. Look
ye at them, with their white faces and their swords and periwigs!"

And she stood still, waving her arms, and poured forth a torrent of
curses.

'Twas enough. The woman beside her looked and began to shake her fist,
seized by the same frenzy; her neighbour caught up her cry, her
neighbour hers; a sodden-faced thief broke into a howling laugh,
another followed him, the madness spread from side to side, and in a
moment the big foul crowd surged about the coaches, shrieking
blasphemies and obscenities, shaking fists, howling cries of "Shame!"
and threats of vengeance.

"Turn over the coaches! Drag them out! Tear their finery from them!
Stuff their mincing mouths with mud!" rose all about them.

The servants were dragged from their seats and hauled from side to
side, their liveries were in ribbands, their terrified faces, ghastly
with terror and streaming with blood, might be seen one moment in one
place, the next in another, sometimes they seemed down on the ground.
The crowd roared with rage and laughter at their cries. One lady
swooned with terror, one or two crouched on the floor of the coach; the
dandies gesticulated and called for help.

"They will kill us! they will kill us!" screamed the finest beau among
them. "The watch! the watch! The constables!"

"'Tis worse than the Mohocks," cried another, but his hand so shook he
could not have drawn his sword if he had dared.

The next instant the glass of the first coach was smashed and its door
beaten open. A burly fellow seized upon a shrieking beauty and dragged
her forth laughing, dealing her gallant a mighty clout on the face as
he caught her. Blood spouted from the poor gentleman's delicate
aquiline nose, and the mob danced and yelled.

"Drag 'em all out!" was roared by the sodden-faced thief. "The women to
the women and the men to the men, and then change about." The creatures
were like wild beasts, and their prey would have been torn to pieces,
but at that moment, from a fellow at the edge of the crowd broke a
startled oath.

Someone had made way to him and laid a strong hand on his shoulder, and
there was that in his cry which made those nearest turn.

A tall figure in black draperies stood towering above him, and in truth
above all the rest of the crowd. 'Twas a woman, and she called out to
the mad creatures about her in command.

"Fools!" she cried; "have a care. Do you want to swing at a rope's end
yourselves?" 'Twas a fierce voice, the voice of a brave creature who
feared none of them; though 'twas a rich voice and a woman's, and so
rang with authority that it actually checked the tempest for a moment
and made the leaders turn to look.

She made her way nearer and threw back her hood from her face.

"I am Clorinda Mertoun, who is Duchess of Osmonde," she cried to them.
"There are many of you know me. Call back your senses, and hearken to
what I say."

The ladies afterwards in describing the scene used to quake as they
tried to paint this moment.

"There was a cry that was like a low howl," they said, "as if beasts
were baffled and robbed of their prey. Some of them knew her and some
did not, but they all stood and stared. Good Lord! 'twas her great
black eyes that held them; but I shall be affrighted when I think of
her, till my dying day."

'Twas her big black eyes and the steady flame in them that held the
poor frenzied fools, perchance as wolves are said to be held by the eye
of man sometimes; but 'twas another thing, and on that she counted.
She looked round from one face to the other.

"You know me," she said to one; "and you, and you, and you," nodding at
each. "I can pick out a dozen of you who know me, and should find more
if I marked you all. How many here are my friends and servants?"

There was a strange hoarse chorus of sounds; they were the voices of
women who were poor bedraggled drabs, men who were thieves and
cutthroats, a few shrill voices of lads who were pickpockets and ripe
for the gallows already.

"Ay, we know thee! Ay, your Grace! Ay!" they cried, some in half-sullen
grunts, some as if half-affrighted, but all in the tones of creatures
who suddenly began to submit to a thing they wondered at.

Then the woman who had begun the turmoil suddenly fell down on her
knees and began to kiss her Grace's garments with hysteric, choking
sobs.

"She said thou wert the only creature had ever spoke her fair," she
cried. "She said thou hadst saved her from going distraught when she
lay in the gaol. Just before the cart was driven away she cried out
sobbing, 'Oh, Lord! Oh, your Grace!' and they thought her praying, but
_I_ knew she prayed to thee."

The Duchess put her hand on the woman's greasy, foul shoulder and
answered in a strange voice, nodding her head, her black brows knit,
her red mouth drawn in.

"'Tis over now!" she said. "'Tis over and she quiet, and perchance ere
this she has seen a fair thing. Poor soul! poor soul!"

By this time the attacked party had gained strength to dare to move.
The pretty creature who had been first dragged forth from the coach
uttered a shriek and fell on her knees, clutching at her rescuer's
robe.

"Oh, your Grace! your Grace!" she wept; "have mercy! have mercy!"

"Mercy!" said her Grace, looking down at the tower of powdered hair
decked with gewgaws. "Mercy! Sure we all need it. Your ladyship
came--for sport--to see a woman hang? I saw her in the gaol last night
waiting her doom, which would come with the day's dawning. 'Twas not
sport. Had you been there with us, you would not have come here to-day.
Get up, my lady, and return to your coach. Make way, there!" raising
her voice. "Let that poor fellow," pointing to the ashen-faced
coachman, "mount to his place. Be less disturbed, Sir Charles," to the
trembling fop, "my friends will let you go free."

And that they did, strangely enough, though 'twas not willingly, the
victims knew, as they huddled into their places, shuddering, and were
driven away, the crowd standing glaring after them, a man or so
muttering blasphemies, though none made any movement to follow, but
loitered about and cast glances at her Grace of Osmonde, who waited
till the equipages were well out of sight and danger.

"'Twas wasted rage," she said to those about her. "The poor light fools
were not worth ill-usage."

The next day the Duke heard the tale, which had flown abroad over the
town. His very soul was thrilled by it and that it told him, and he
went to her Grace and poured forth to her a passion of love that was
touched with awe.

"I could see you!" he cried, "when they told the story to me. I could
see you as you stood there and held the wild beasts at bay. 'Twas that
I saw in your child-eyes when you rode past me in the hunting-field;
'twas that fire which held them back, and the great sweet soul of you
which has reached them in their dens and made you worshipped of them."

"Twas that they _know_ me," she answered; "'twas that I have stood by
their sides in their blackest hours. I have seen their children born. I
have helped their old ones and their young through death. Some I have
saved from the gallows. Some I have--" she stopped and hung her head as
if black memories overpowered her.

He knew what she had left unfinished.

"You have been--to comfort those who lie in Newgate--at their last
extremity?" he ended for her.

"Ay," she answered. "The one who will show kindness to them in those
awful hours they worship as God's self. There was a poor fellow I once
befriended there"--she spoke slowly and her voice shook. "He was
condemned--for taking a man's life. The last night--before I left
him--he knelt to me and swore--he had meant not murder. He had struck
in rage--one who had tortured him with taunts till he went raving. He
struck, and the man fell--and _he_ had killed him! And now must hang."

"Good God!" cried my lord Duke. "By chance! In frenzy! Not knowing! And
he died for it?"

"Ay," she answered, her great eyes on his and wide with horror, "on
Tyburn Tree!"



_CHAPTER XXXI_

_Their Graces Keep their Wedding Day at Camylott_


"She came to Court at last, my Lord Duke," said his Grace of
Marlborough. "She came at last--as I felt sure 'twas Fate she should."

'Twas at Camylott he said this, where he had come in those days which
darkened about him when, royal favour lost, the acclamations of a
fickle public stilled, its clamour of applause almost forgot and denied
by itself, his glory as statesman, commander, warrior seemed to sink
beneath the horizon like a sunset in a winter sky. His splendid frame
shattered by the stroke of illness, his heart bereaved, his great mind
dulled and saddened, there were few friends faithful to him, but my
Lord Duke of Osmonde, who had never sought his favour or required his
protection, who had often held views differing from his own and hidden
none of them, was among the few in whose company he found solace and
pleasure.

"I see you as I was," he would say. "Nay, rather as I might have been
had Nature given me a thing she gave to you and withheld from John
Churchill. You were the finer creature and less disturbed by poor
worldly dreams."

So more than once he came to be guest at Camylott, and would be moved
to pleasure by the happiness and fulness of life in the very air of the
place, by the joyousness of the tall, handsome children, by the spirit
and sweet majesty of the tall beauty their mother, by the loveliness of
the country and the cheerful air of well-being among the villagers and
tenantry. But most of all he gave thought to the look which dwelt in
the eyes of my Lord Duke and the woman who was so surely mate and
companion as well as wife to him. When, though 'twas even at the
simplest moment, each looked at the other, 'twas a heavenly thing plain
to see.

Upon one of their wedding-days he was at Camylott with them. 'Twas but
a short time before the quiet death of Mistress Anne, and was the tenth
anniversary of their Graces' union.

At Camylott they always spent their anniversary, though upon their
other domains the rejoicings which made Camylott happy were also held.
These festivities were gay and rustic, including the pealing of church
bells, the lighting of bonfires, rural games, and feastings; but they
were most noted for a feature her Grace herself had invented before she
had yet been twelve months a wife, and 'twas a pretty fancy, too, as
well as a kind thought.

She had talked of it first to her husband one summer afternoon as they
walked together in the gold glow of sunset through Camylott Woods.
'Twas one of many happy hours shared with her which he remembered to
his life's end, and could always call up in his mind the deep amber
light filtering through the trees, the thick green growth of the ferns
and the scent of them, the moss under foot and on the huge fallen trunk
they at last sate down upon.

"To every man, woman, and child we rule over," she said, "on that day
we will give a wedding gift. As the year passes we will discover what
each longs for most, and that thing we will give. So on that heavenly
day each one shall have his heart's desire--in memory," she added, with
soft solemnity.

And he echoed her.

"In memory!" For neither at that time nor at any other did either of
them forget those hours they had lived apart and how Fate had seemed to
work them ill, and how they had been desolate and hungered.

So on each morning of the wedding-day, while the bells were ringing a
peal, the flag flying from the Tower, the park prepared for games and
feasting, a crowd of ruddy countenances, clean smocks, petticoats, and
red cloaks flocked on the terrace from which the gifts were given.

'Twas from his invalid-chair within the library window that the once
great Commander sate and saw this sight; her Grace standing by her
husband at a long table, giving each gift with her own hand and saying
a few words to each recipient with a bright freedom 'twas worth any
man's while to see.

The looker-on remembered the histories he had heard of the handsome
hoyden whose male attire had been the Gloucestershire scandal, the
Court beauty who in the midst of her triumphs had chosen to play gentle
consort to an old husband, the Duchess who shone in the great world
like the sun and who yet doffed her brocades and jewels to don serge
and canvas and labour in Rag Yard and Slaughter Alley to rescue thieves
and beggars and watch the mothers of their hapless children in their
throes. Ay, and more yet, to sit in the black condemned-cell at Newgate
and hold the hand and pour courage into the soul of a shuddering wretch
who in the cold grey of morning would dangle from a gallows tree.

"'Tis a strange nature," he thought, "and has ever been so. It has
passed through some strange hours and some dark ones. Yet to behold
her----"

There had come to her side a young couple, the woman with a child in
her arms courtesying blushingly, her youthful husband grinning and
pulling his forelock.

Her Grace took the infant and cuddled and kissed it, while its father
and mother glowed with delight.

"Tis a fine boy, Betty," she said. "'Tis bigger than the last one, Tom.
His christening finery is in the package here, and I will stand sponsor
as before."

"Mother," said young John at her elbow, "may I not stand sponsor, too?"

She laughed and pulled his long love-locks.

"Ay, my lord Marquess," she answered, "if his parents are willing to
take such a young one."

Mistress Anne sate by their guest, he holding her in great favour. As
the people came for their gifts she told him their names and stories.
Through weakness she walked about but little in these days, and the
failing soldier liked her company, so she often sate near him in her
lounging-chair and with gentle artfulness lured him into reminiscences
of his past campaigns. She was very frail to-day, and in her white
robe, and with her large eyes which seemed to have outgrown her face,
she looked like the wraith of a woman rather than a creature of flesh
and blood.

"Those two her Grace rescued," she said, as Betty and Tom Beck retired;
"the one from woe, the other from cruel wickedness. He had betrayed the
poor child and deserted her, and 'twas her Grace who touched his heart
and woke manhood in it, and made them happy man and wife."

Then came an old woman leading a girl and boy, both fair and blooming
and with blue eyes and fair curling locks.

"Are they both well and both happy, dame?" the Duchess asked. "Yes,
that they are, I see. And I know they are both good."

She took the girl's face in both hands and smiled into it as she might
have smiled at a flower, and then kissed her tenderly. She gave her a
little new gown and a pretty huswife stocked with implements to make
it. She put her hand on the boy's shoulder and looked at him as his
mother would have looked had she been tender of him.

"For you, Robin," she said, "there are books. I know 'tis books and
learning you long for, and you shall have them. His Grace's Chaplain
has promised me to teach you."

The boy clasped the books under his arm, hugging them against his
breast, and when her Grace turned to the next newcomer he seized a fold
of her robe and kissed it.

"Who are those children?" the Captain-General asked. "They do not look
like rustics."

"Those two she rescued also," answered Mistress Anne in a low voice.
"She found them in a thieves' haunt being trained as pickpockets. They
are the cast-off offspring of a gentleman who lived an evil life."

"Was she told his name?"

"Yes," Mistress Anne said, lower still; "'twas a gentleman who
was--lost. Sir John Oxon."

The mystery of this gentleman's disappearance was a thing forgotten,
but Mistress Anne's hearer recalled it, and that the man had left an
evil reputation, and that 'twas said that in the first bloom of his
youth he had been among the worshippers of the Gloucestershire beauty,
and there passed through the old Duke's mind a vague wonder as to
whether the Duchess remembered girlish sentiments the hoyden had lived
through and forgot.

It seemed the man's name being once drawn from the past was not to be
allowed to rest, for later in the day he heard of him again, and
curiously indeed.

There came in the afternoon from town a sturdy, loud-voiced country
gentleman, with a red, honest face and a good-humoured eye, and he was
so received by the family--by his Grace, who shook him warmly by the
hand, by the Duchess, who gave him both hers to kiss, and by the young
ones, who cried out in rejoicing over him--that their distinguished
guest perceived him to be an old friend who was, as it were, an old
comrade.

And so it proved, for 'twas soon revealed to him by the gentleman
himself (whose name was Sir Christopher Crowell, and whose estate lay
on the borders of Warwickshire and Gloucestershire) that he had been
one of the boon companions of her Grace's father, Sir Jeoffry Wildairs,
and he had known her from the time she was five years old, and had been
first made the comrade and plaything of a band of the worst rioters in
three counties.

"Ay!" he cried, exultantly, for he seemed always exultant when he spoke
of her Grace, who was plainly his idol. "At seven she would toss off
her ale, and sing and swear as wickedly as any man among us, and had
great black eyes that flashed fire when we crossed her, and her hair
hung below her waist, and she was the most beauteous child-devil and
the most lawless, that man or woman ever clapt eyes on. And to behold
her now! to behold her now!" And then he motioned towards the little
Anne, who was flashing-eyed, and long-limbed, and a brown beauty. "'Tis
my Lady Anne who is most like her," he said; "but Lord! she hath been
treated fair by Fortune, and loved and cherished, and is a young queen
already."

Later, when the night had fallen and was thick with stars, and the
festal lights were twinkling like other stars among the trees of the
park, and from the happy crowds at play there floated the sounds of
laughter and joyful voices, their Graces and their guests sate or
walked upon the terrace amid the night-scents of flowers and watched
the merriment going on below them and talked together.

"Ay," broke forth old Sir Christopher, "you two happy folk light joyful
fires, and make joyful hearts wheresoever you go."

'Twas at this moment two of the other country guests--they being old
Gloucestershire comrades also--stayed their sauntering before her Grace
to speak to her.

"Eldershawe and me have just been saying," broke forth one of them,
chuckling, "how this bringeth back old times, though 'tis little like
them. We three were of the birthnight party--Eldershawe, Chris, and me.
Thou dost not forget old friends, Clo, and would not, wert thou ten
times a Duchess."

"Nay, not I," answered her Grace. "Not I."

"There be not many of us left," said Sir Christopher, ruefully. "Thy
poor old Dad is under sod, and others with him. Two necks were broke in
hunting, the others died of years or drink."

"But one we know naught of, egad!" said my Lord Eldershawe, "and he was
my kinsman."

"Lord, yes," cried out the other; "Jack Oxon! Jack, who came among us
all curls and essences and brocades and lace. Thou'st not forgot Jack
Oxon, Clo, for the fellow was wild in love with thee."

"No, I have not forgotten Sir John," she answered, and turned aside a
little to break a rose from a bush near her and hold it to her face.

"Nay, that she hath not," cried Sir Christopher, "that I can swear to.
I saw the boy and girl to-day, Clo, and, Lord! how they are like to
him."

"Yes, they are like him," she answered, gravely.

"The two thou show'dst me playing 'neath the trees?" said Eldershawe.
"Ay, they are like enough."

"And but for her Grace would have been brought up a hang-dog thief and
a poor drab, with all their beauty," went on Sir Christopher. "Ecod,
thou hast done well, Clo, the task 'twas thy whim to take upon
thyself."

"What generous deed was that?" asked my lord Duke of Osmonde, drawing
near.

"The task of undoing the wrongs a villain had done, if 'twere so there
could be undoing of them," answered the old fellow. "A woman rich as
I," said she, "should set herself some good work to do. This shall be
mine--to live John Oxon's life again and make it bring forth good
instead of evil."

Her Grace sate motionless and so did Mistress Anne, who had sunk back
in her chair, and in the starlit darkness had grown more white, and was
breathing faint and quickly. In the park below the people laughed as
merry-makers will, in gay bursts, and half a dozen voices broke forth
into a snatch of song. 'Twas a good background for Sir Christopher, who
was well launched upon a subject that he loved and had not often chance
to hold forth upon, as her Grace was not fond of touching upon it.

"Ten years hath she followed his wicked footsteps and I have followed
with her," he rambled on. "I am not squeamish, Lord knoweth! and have
no reason to be; but had I known, when I began to aid in the searching,
what mire I should have to wade through, ecod! I think I should have
said, 'Let ill alone.'"

"But you did not, old friend," said the Duchess's rich, low voice; "you
did not."

Lady Betty and her swains had sauntered near and joined the circle,
attracted by the subject which waked in them a new interest in an old
mystery.

"You have been her Grace's almoner, Sir Christopher," said her
ladyship. "That accounts for the stories I have heard of your
charities. They were her Grace's good deeds, not your own."

"She knew I would sweep the kennel for her on hands and knees if she
would have me," said Sir Chris, "and at the first of it she knew not
the ill quarters of the town as I did, and bade me make search for her
and ask questions. But 'twas not long before she found her way herself
and learned that a tall, strong beauty can do more to reach hearts than
a red-faced old man can. Lord, how they love and fear her! And among
the honest folk Jack Oxon wronged--poor tradesmen he ruined by his
trickery, and simple working-folk who lost their all through him--they
would kiss the dust her shoe hath trod. His debts she hath paid, his
victims she hath rescued, the wounds he dealt she hath healed and made
sound flesh, and for ten years she hath done it!"

Her Grace rose to her feet, the rose uplifted in a listening gesture.
From the park below there floated up the lilting music of a dance, a
light, unrustic measure played by their own musicians.

"The dancing begins," she said. "Hark! the dancing begins."

Mistress Anne put out her hand and caught at her sister's dress and
held a fold of its richness in her trembling hand, though her Grace was
not aware of what she did.

"How sweet the music sounds," the poor gentlewoman said, nervously.
"How sweet it sounds."

My Lady Betty Tantillion held up her hand as the Duchess, a moment
since, had held the rose.

"I have heard that tune before," she cried.

"And I," said Lord Charles.

"And I," Sir Harry Granville echoed.

Lady Betty broke into a shiver.

"Why," she cried, "how strange--at just this moment. We danced to it at
the ball at Dunstanwolde House the very night 'twas made known Sir John
Oxon had disappeared."

The Duchess held the rose poised in her hand and slowly bent her head.

"Yes," she said, "'tis the very tune."

She stood among them--my lord Duke remembered it later--the centre
figure of a sort of circle, some sitting, some standing--his Grace of
Marlborough, Mistress Anne, Osmonde himself, the country gentlemen, my
Lady Betty and her swains, and others who drew near. She was the
centre, standing in the starlight, her rose held in her hand.

"Lord, 'twas a strange thing," said Sir Christopher, thoughtfully,
"that a man could disappear like that and leave no trace--no trace."

"Has--all enquiry--ceased?" her Grace asked, quietly.

"There was not much even at first, save from his creditors," said Lord
Charles, with a laugh.

"Ay, but 'twas strange," said old Sir Christopher. "I've thought and
thought what could have come of him. Why, Clo, _thou_ wast the one who
saw him last. What dost _thou_ think?"

In the park below there was a sudden sweet swelling of the music: the
dancers had joined in with their voices.

"Yes," said the Duchess, "'twas I who saw him last." And for a few
seconds all paused to listen to the melody in the air. But Sir
Christopher came back to his theme.

"What sort of humour was the man in?" he asked. "Did he complain of 's
lot?"

Her Grace hesitated a second, as one who thought, and then shook her
head.

"No," she answered, and no other word.

"Did he speak of taking a journey?" said Lady Betty.

And the Duchess shook her head slow again, and answered as before,
"No."

And the music swelled with fresh added voices, and floated up gayer and
more sweet.

"Was he dressed for travel?" asked Lord Charles, he being likely to
think first of the meaning of a man's dress.

"No," said her Grace.

And then my lord Duke drew near behind her, and spoke over her
shoulder.

"Did he bid you any farewell?" he said.

She had not known he was so close, and gave a great start and dropped
her rose upon the terrace. Before she answered, she stooped herself and
picked it up.

"No," she said, very low. "No; none."

"Then," his Grace said, "I will tell you what _I_ think."

"You!" said my Lady Betty. "Has your Grace thought?"

"Often," he answered. "Who has not, at some time? I--knew more of the
man than many. More than once his life touched mine."

"Yours!" they cried.

He waved his hand with the gesture of a man who would sweep away some
memory.

"Yes," he said; "once I saw the end of a poor soul he had maddened, and
'twas a cruel thing." He turned his face towards his wife.

"The morning that he left your Grace," he said, "'tis my thought _he
went not far_."

"Not far?" the party exclaimed, but the Duchess joined not in the
chorus.

"Between Dunstanwolde House and his lodgings," he went on, "lie some of
the worst haunts in London. He was well known there, and not by friends
but by enemies. Perchance some tortured creature who owed him a bitter
debt may have lain in wait and paid it."

The Duchess turned and gazed at him with large eyes.

"What--" she said, almost hoarsely, "what do you mean?"

"There were men," he answered, gravely--"husbands, fathers, and
brothers--there were women he had driven to despair and madness, who
might well have struck him down."

"You mean," said her Grace, almost in a whisper, "you mean that he--was
murdered?"

"Nay," he replied, "not murdered--struck a frenzied blow and killed,
and it might have been by one driven mad with anguish and unknowing
what he did."

Her Grace caught her breath.

"As 'twas with the poor man I told you of," she broke forth as if in
eagerness, "the one who died on Tyburn Tree?"

"Yes," was his answer.

"Perhaps--you are right," she said, and passed her hand across her
brow; "perhaps--you--are right."

"But there was found no trace," Sir Christopher cried out; "no trace."

"Ah!" said my lord Duke, slowly, "that is the mystery. A dead man's
body is not easy hid."

The Duchess broke forth laughing--almost wildly. The whole group
started at the sound.

"Nay, nay!" she cried. "What dark things do we talk of! Sir
Christopher, Sir Christopher, 'twas you who set us on. A dead man's
body is not easy hid!"

"'Tis enough to make a woman shudder," cried Lady Betty, hysterically.

"Yes," said her Grace. "See, I am shuddering--I, who am built of
Wildairs iron and steel." And she held out her hands to them--her white
hands--and indeed they were trembling like leaves.


The evil thing they had spoke of had surely sunk deep into her soul and
troubled it, though she had so laughed and lightly changed the subject
of their talk, for in the night she had an awful dream, and her lord,
wakened from deep slumber--as he had been once before--started up to
behold her standing in the middle of the chamber--a tall white figure
with its arms outflung as if in wild despair, while she cried out in
frenzy to the darkness.

"I have _killed_ thee--I have _killed_ thee," she wailed, "though I
meant it not--even hell itself doth know. Thou art a dead man--and
_this_ is the worst of all!"

"'Tis a dream," he cried aloud to her and clutched her in his warm,
strong arms. "'Tis a dream--a dream! Awake!--Awake!--Awake!"

And she awoke and fell upon her knees, sobbing as those sob who are
roused from such a horror.

"A dream!--a dream!--a dream!" she cried. "And 'tis _you_ awake me!
You--Gerald--Gerald!--And I have been ten years--ten years your wife!"



_CHAPTER XXXII_

_In the Turret Chamber--and in Camylott Wood_


When the great soldier returned to Blenheim Castle, his Grace of
Osmonde bore him company and having spent a few days in his society at
that great house returned to town, from whence he came again to
Camylott.

He reached there on a heavenly day, which seemed to him more peaceful
and more sweet than any day the summer had so far brought, though it
had been a fair one. Many days had been bright and full of flower-scent
and rustling of green leaves, and overarched by tender blueness with
white clouds softly floating therein, but this one, as he rode, he
thought held something in its beauty which seemed to make the earth
seem nearer Heaven and Heaven more fair to lifted mortal eyes. He
thought this as his horse bore him over the white road, he thought it
as he rode across the moor, 'twas in his mind as he passed through the
village and saw the white cottages standing warm and peaceful in the
sunshine, with good wives at the doors or at their windows, and
children playing on the green, who stopped and bobbed courtesies to him
or pulled their forelocks, grinning.

Joan Bush was at her gate and stepped out and dipped a courtesy with
appealing civility.

"Your Grace," she said, "if I might make so bold--poor Mistress Anne--"
And having said so much checked herself in much confusion. "I lose my
wits," she said; "your Grace's pardon. Your Grace has been, to town and
but now comes back, and will not know. But we so love the kind
gentlewoman--" and she mopped her eyes.

"You mean that Mistress Anne is worse?" he said.

"The poor lady fell into a sudden strange swoon but an hour ago," she
answered. "My Matthew, who was at the Tower of an errand said she came
in from the flower-garden and sank lifeless. And the servants who
carried her to her chamber say 'twas like death. And she hath been so
long fading. And we know full well the end must come soon."

My lord Duke rode on. A fulness tightened his throat and he looked up
at the blue sky.

"Poor Anne! Kind Anne!" he said. "Pure heart! I could think 'twas for
the passing of her soul the day was made so fair."

At the park gates the woman from the lodge stood at her door and made
her obeisance tearfully. She was an honest soul to whom her Grace's
sister seemed a saint from Heaven.

"What is the last news?" said my lord Duke, speaking more from kindness
than aught else.

"That the dear lady lies in her bed in the Turret chamber and her Grace
watches with her alone. Oh, my lord Duke, God calls another angel to
Himself this day!"

The very air was still with a strange stillness. The Tower itself rose
white and clear against the blue as though its battlements and fair
turrets might be part of the Eternal City. This strange fancy passed
through his Grace's mind as he rode towards it. The ivy hung thick
about the window of Anne's chamber in the South Tower. 'Twas a room she
loved and had spent long, peaceful days in, and had fitted as a little
shrine. Her lovingness had taught her to feed the doves from it, and
they had grown to be her friends and companions, and now a little cloud
of them flew about and lighted on the turrets and clung to the festoons
of ivy, and flew softly about as if they were drawn to the place by
some strange knowledge and waited for that which was to come to pass.
Two or three sate upon the deep window-ledge and cooed as if they told
those not so near what they could see inside the quiet room.

On the terrace below the elder children stood John and Gerald and
Daphne and Anne. They waited too, as the doves did, and their young
faces were lifted that they might watch the window, and they were very
sweet and gravely tender and unafraid and fair.

When their father drew near them 'twas the child Daphne who spoke,
putting her hand in his and meeting his eyes with a lovely look.

"Father," she said, "we think that Mother Anne lies dying in her room.
We are not afraid; mother has told us that to die is only as if a bird
was let to fly out into the blue sky. And mother is with her, and we
are waiting because we think--perhaps--we are not sure--but perhaps we
might see her soul fly out of the window like a white bird. It seems as
if the doves were waiting too."

My lord Duke kissed her and passed on.

"You may see it," he said, gently. "Who knows--and if you see it, sure
it will be white."

And he went quietly through the house and up the staircase leading to
Anne's tower-chamber, and the pretty apartment her Grace had prepared
for her so lovingly to spend quiet hours in when she would be alone.
This apartment led into the chamber, but now it was quite empty, for
the Duchess was with her sister, who lay on the bed in the room within,
where the ivy hung in festoons about the high window, which seemed to
look up into the blue sky itself and shut out all the earth below and
only look on Heaven.

To enter seemed like entering some sacred shrine where a pure saint
lay, and upon the threshold his Grace lingered, almost fearing to go
in and break upon the awful tenderness of this last hour, and the last
words he heard the loving creature murmuring, while the being she had
so worshipped knelt beside her.

"'Twas love," he heard, "'twas love. What matter if I gave my soul for
you?"

He drew back with a quick sad beat of the heart. Poor, tender
soul--poor woman who had loved and given no sign--and only in her dying
dared to speak.

And then there came a cry--and 'twas the voice of her he loved--and he
stood spellbound. 'Twas a cry of anguish--of fear--of horror and
dismay. 'Twas her voice as he had heard it ring out in the blackness of
her dream--her dear voice harsh with woe and broken into moaning--her
dear voice which he had heard murmuring love to him--crooning over her
children--laughing like music! And the torrent of words which she
poured forth made his blood cold, and yet as they fell upon his ear he
knew--yes, now he _knew_--revealed no new story to him, even though it
had been until that hour untold. No, 'twas not new, for through many an
hour when he had marked the shadow in her eyes he had vaguely guessed
some fatal burden lay upon her soul--and had striven to understand.

"And then I struck him with my whip," he heard, "knowing nothing, not
seeing, only striking like a goaded, dying thing. And he fell--he
fell--and all was done."


None heard or saw my lord Duke when, later, he passed out from the
empty room. He went forth into the fair day again, and through the Park
and into Camylott Wood. The deep amber light was there, and the
gold-green stillness, and he passed onward till he reached the great
wood's depths, and stood beneath an oak-tree's broad-spread branches,
leaning his back against the huge rough trunk, his arms folded.

This was her secret burden--this. And Nature had so moulded him that he
could look upon it with just, unflinching eyes, his soul filled with a
god-like, awful pity.

In a walled-in cellar in the deserted Dunstanwolde House lay, waiting
for the call of Judgment Day, a handful of evil dust which once had
been a man--one whose each day of life from his youth upward had
seemed, as it had passed, to leave black dregs in some poor
fellow-creature's cup. One frantic, unthinking blow struck in terror
and madness had ended him and all his evil doing, but left her standing
frenzied at the awfulness of the thing which had fallen upon her soul
in her first hour of Heaven. And all her being had risen in revolt at
this most monstrous woe of chance, and in her torture she had cried
out that in that hour she would not be struck down.

"Of ending his base life I had never thought," he had heard her wail,
"though I had thought to end my own. But when Fate struck the blow for
me, I swore that carrion should not taint my whole life through."

To atone for this she had lived her life of passionate penance.
Remembering this, she had prayed Heaven strike and blight her, in fear
that she herself should blight the noble and the innocent things she
loved. And while she had thought she bore the burden all alone, the
gentle sister, who had so worshipped her, had known her secret and
borne it with her silently. In dying she had revealed it, with
trembling and piteous love, and this my lord Duke had heard, and her
pure words as she had died.

"Anne! Anne!" the anguished voice had cried. "Must he know--my Gerald?
Must I tell him all? If so I must, I will--upon my knees!"

"Nay, tell him not," was faintly breathed in answer. "Let God tell
him--who understands."

"'Tis in myself," my lord Duke said at last, through his shut teeth,
"'tis in _myself_ to have struck the blow, and had I done it and found
him lie dead before me--in her dear name I swear, and in a new shriven
soul's presence, for sure the pure thing is near--I would have hid it
as she has done; for _naught_ should have torn her from me! And for her
sin, if sin it is counted, I will atone with her; and as she does her
penance, will do mine. And if, at the end of all things, she be called
to Judgment Bar, I will go with her and stand by her side. For her life
is my life, and her soul my soul, her sentence my sentence; and being
her love I will bear it with her, and pray Him who judges to lay the
burden heavier upon me than upon her."


And he went back to the Tower and up the stairway to the
turret-chamber, and there Mistress Anne lay still and calm and sweet as
a child asleep, and flowers and fair chaplets lay all about her white
bed and on her breast and in her small, worn hands, and garlanded her
pillow. And the setting sun had sent a shaft of golden glory through
the window to touch her hair and the blossoms lying on it.

And her sister stood beside her and looked down. And a new peace was on
her face when she laid her cheek upon her husband's breast as he
enfolded her.

"She is my saint," she said. "To-day she has taken my sins in her pure
hands to God and has asked mercy on them."

"And so having done, dear Heart," he answered her, "she lies amid her
flowers, and smiles."


But of that he had overheard he said no word. And if as time passed
there came some sacred hour when, their souls being one, there could be
no veil not rent away by Love and Nature, and the secret each had kept
was revealed to the other, 'twas surely so revealed as but to draw them
closer and fill them with higher nobleness, for no other human creature
heard of it or guessed.

So it befel that one man met his deserts by chance, and none were
punished, and only good grew out of his evil grave. And should there be
a Power who for strange, high reasons calls forth helpless souls from
peaceful Nothingness to relentless Life, and judges all Life does and
leaves undone, 'tis surely sate to trust its honesty and justice.





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