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Title: "My Merry Rockhurst" - Being Some Episodes in the Life of Viscount Rockhurst, a Friend of King Charles the Second, and at One Time Constable of His Majesty's Tower of London
Author: Castle, Egerton, Castle, Agnes
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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“MY MERRY ROCKHURST”


      *      *      *      *      *      *

By Agnes & Egerton Castle

    THE PRIDE OF JENNICO
    “IF YOUTH BUT KNEW!”
    THE SECRET ORCHARD
    ROSE OF THE WORLD
    THE STAR-DREAMER
    THE HOUSE OF ROMANCE
    THE BATH COMEDY
    INCOMPARABLE BELLAIRS
    THE HEART OF LADY ANNE

[Illustration]

By Egerton Castle

    YOUNG APRIL
    THE LIGHT OF SCARTHEY
    CONSEQUENCES
    MARSHFIELD THE OBSERVER
    LE ROMAN DU PRINCE OTHON
    THE JERNINGHAM LETTERS
    ENGLISH BOOK-PLATES
    SCHOOLS AND MASTERS OF FENCE
    ETC.

      *      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: Through the open window, out of the darkness, gathered a
heavy rumble of wheels; then again uprose the call of the bell, the cry
of the hoarse voice: “Bring out your dead!”

(_See p. 293._)]


“MY MERRY ROCKHURST”

Being
Some Episodes in the Life of Viscount
Rockhurst, a Friend of King Charles
the Second, and at One Time Constable
of His Majesty’S Tower
of London

Recounted by

AGNES & EGERTON CASTLE

Authors of
“The Pride of Jennico,” “‘If Youth But
Knew!’” “Rose of the World,” etc.



New York
The Macmillan Company
1907

All rights reserved

Copyright, 1907,
by the Macmillan Company.

Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1907.

Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



                                   TO

                         RANDOLPH HENRY STEWART

                        ELEVENTH EARL OF GALLOWAY
                  HEAD OF THE ANCIENT HOUSE OF STEWART
                         THIS STORY IS DEDICATED
                                WITH THE
                      AUTHORS’ AFFECTIONATE REGARD

                             SEPT. 1, 1907.



CONTENTS


                                              PAGE

    THE KING’S COMRADE                           1

        I. The State Crust                       3

       II. Cavalier and Capitan                 21

    FARRANT CHACE                               43

        I. Farrant Chace                        45

       II. The Lady in the Snow                 58

      III. The Ransom                           64

       IV. Under the Stars                      78

    THE ENIGMA OF THE LOCKET                    87

        I. Little Satan                         89

       II. Whitehall Stairs                    106

      III. The Linnet’s Song                   124

    THE PEACOCK WALK                           145

        I. June Roses                          147

       II. Fatherly Wisdom                     168

      III. The New French Pass                 186

    THE KING’S CUP                             197

        I. Little Satan                        199

       II. The Venetian Glass                  225

      III. The Phial of Acquetta               236

    LADY CHILLINGBURGH’S LAST CARD-PARTY       251

        I. Lincoln’s Inn Fields                253

       II. Love’s Reproach                     267

      III. The Plague-Cart                     281

    BROKEN SANCTUARY                           297

        I. The Haven of Refuge                 299

      II. The Gold Whistle                     308

      III. Nemesis                             323

    THE RED DESOLATION                         339

        I. The Watchers                        341

       II. The Testament                       351

      III. The Last Command                    368



ILLUSTRATIONS


    “Through the open window, out of the
    darkness, gathered a heavy rumble of wheels;
    then again uprose the call of the bell, the
    cry of the hoarse voice: ‘Bring out your
    dead!’” (See page 293)                      FRONTISPIECE

                                                   OPP. PAGE

    “The single contemptuous exclamation fell
    like the cut of a whip”                               68

    “She felt at last that she had power”                132

    “Lionel took place beside him and from
    narrowed lids looked smilingly at the young
    man’s happy countenance”                             184

    “The huddled figure in the great chair.
    The face of her that had so stout a heart,
    conquered in death—but less piteous, less
    awful sight than the living face of the
    French madam”                                        314

    “Harry gave a deep groan, covered his face
    with his hands, and fell upon the bench”             364



THE KING’S COMRADE



THE KING’S COMRADE



I

THE STATE CRUST


The early September night had descended upon Bruges,—“City of
Bridges,”—once the seat of the most luxurious court in Europe, now so far
away, fallen from its high if not from its wealthy estate. The life of
the little town, never very active or varied under the Spaniard’s rule,
seemed this evening to have been swept into a stillness emphasised only
by an occasional footfall upon the cobbles of its winding streets, some
husky cry from a barge gliding ghost-like down a canal, or the far-away
barking of dogs on the farm lands beyond the walls. A sea mist had crept
from the north, muffling even these sounds of silence, rolling in thicker
volumes along the many sluggard waters that intersect the old Flemish
Mart and bring prosperity to her comfortable merchants, as it were in
their sleep. It hung itself in loose wisps around the carven towers of
the Cathedral, the giddy heights of the belfry—whence, as the hours
slipped on, deep bell voices answered clear bell voices, like spirits
communing from their heights across the petty lives below.

       *       *       *       *       *

The corner house of a row of solid burgher mansions, flanking the canal
on the Quai Vert, stood slightly apart with an air of greater importance
than the rest, giving to the street on the one side through courtyard
and wrought-iron gate, and on the other sheer over the water that lazily
lipped the green, slimy foot of its walls.

The second floor of this house had been the dwelling of my lord Viscount
Rockhurst ever since—that is, some two years before—Charles had
transferred to Bruges his penurious little court of English Cavaliers,
exiles like himself since the fateful days of Worcester, of Boscobel, and
Whiteladies.

In a long, low room overlooking the canal, two men sat together, one on
each side of an open hearth, lost in deep musings. The curtains were
undrawn; one window stood open, and ever and anon admitted a wreath of
the sea-fog that swirled a moment and swiftly fainted away. The only
light in the apartment was the ruddy glow of a driftwood fire, now
cheerfully burning, although the acrid savour that still hung in the air
betrayed its recent stubbornness and explained the gaping casement. It
seemed as if the two lacked the energy either to shut out the gloom of
night or call for the enlivening of candle or lamp; as if the paralysing,
sodden weight lying upon the world without had laid hold of their souls.

The blue-tipped flames that leaped round the logs flung now one brooding
countenance in relief, now the other. Upon the right, the dark head of
the exiled King of England, still in the very ripeness of young manhood,
would be sketched against the leather-backed chair upon which it wearily
rested. But not all the geniality of the blaze could give sanguine hue or
gleam of cheerfulness to the sallow, harsh visage. In utter dejection,
the long figure—“a tall man, above two yards high,” so had run the
description on the Council of State’s Warrant for the apprehension of
Charles Stuart—extended itself as if unconsciously to the warmth, chin
sunk upon breast, eyes fixed and moody under drooping lids and singularly
bushy eyebrows.

Upon the left, the fitful tongues of flame revealed a face of equal
melancholy if of greater energy and comeliness. My lord Rockhurst sat
forward, supporting his cheek upon his hand. His was a type such as
Sir Anthony Van Dyck, some few years before, had loved to fix in his
incomparable line and colour. Like his King he was dark, but with
chestnut lights and a crispness in the waves of hair falling upon his
shoulders absent from the heavy locks of Charles. Against the glow his
profile stood out, fine-cut and pale-hued as a carving in ivory. Older
by some years, there yet was a youthful air of alertness about his whole
personality, even as he sat motionless, that was conspicuously lacking in
the apathetic figure facing him.

Ever and anon his eyes, hawk-like in their keenness and the quick
dilation of their pupils, would shift from the wistful contemplation
of fire-pictures to the royal countenance, where they would rest in
scrutiny, and, it seemed, in deepening concern. Ever and anon, upon the
withdrawal of this gaze, a slight sigh escaped him.

Suddenly Charles gathered his long limbs into a more erect posture, and
jerking his head toward his companion:—

“And there you go again, Harry, with your heigh-ho’s. I fled but an hour
ago from the long faces of my lord Gerard, of Erskine, and Armorer—”

“My lord Gerard, gentleman of the Bedchamber, Messieurs Erskine and
Armorer, Cupbearer and Comptroller of the Household—” murmured Rockhurst,
with a humorous twist of bitterness.

“Gentleman of the Straw Pallet and Wooden Stool … Comptroller of the
State Crusts! As for Mr. Cupbearer Erskine, he had to-day to pledge in
pawn the last silver pot for fear of arrest.… Marry! I took refuge with
you, who at least, God be praised, never weary me with talk of debts.
Yet even you must need treat me to sighs! Upon my soul, a man would no
more cheerful company than that of this Court of mine to put him in fit
frame for the monastery—How say you, Harry? Is’t perchance the one issue
left us? There is Royal, aye, Imperial example for it. Do you see in me
proper material for a Trappist? ‘_Brother, we must die_’—Nay, ‘_Brother,
we are dead_’ would better suit our case! No Cistercian wall could hold a
drearier prospect than this dismal town of Bruges.”

He rose as he spoke, and dragged himself with slouching steps to the
window:—

“Faugh! the smell of those dead waters—the stillness of them!… I vow I
can hear the drip from yonder leafless poplars on the bank! Aye, Charles
is dead, and Bruges is his tomb! ’Tis no lofty withdrawal from life, like
his great namesake’s, but a very sordid end, my good Harry. Death of
credit, death of hopes.… Here we are, in a town of merchants, a community
of buyers and sellers, and we have not wherewithal to pay for a supper,
nay, not even for a bottle to help us forget that we have not supped.”

The other man had risen in his turn and approached the window.

“Why, now!” he cried, and his voice in its brisk, manly tone formed a
strong contrast to the other’s melancholy drawl, “’tis surely but this
pestilent fog keeps Mr. Secretary Hyde and my lord of Bristol from
rejoining us with the promised supplies; faith, and who knows? with news
that may cheer our hearts, my liege.”

“Harry,” said the other, wheeling round and facing him with something
of humour in his rueful visage, “this _my liege_ of yours to my empty
stomach savours most damnably of mockery. For love of Heaven, if thou
wouldst help me to bear it, remember we are but comrades in bad straits
together. Here is poor Charles, and there stands poor Harry. Liege?
Majesty? Psho! Our own country will have none of us; our friends abroad
have failed us; the wise burghers of this town will no longer recognise
the value of a signature of mine—and as for thee.…”

“My last remittance, overdue this month; intercepted, I make no doubt,
by Old Noll’s—” Rockhurst made a gesture toward the casement: yonder
to the north, but a score of miles, perhaps, Cromwell’s well-found
ships were cruising, as he knew, close in shore. “Well, better luck
next venture!” he went on. “Our friends at home—the one certainty in
these uncertain times—do not forget us. Sighs! Did I sigh? ’Twas at the
thought that, though there is still firewood in the house you deigned
to honour to-night, there is ne’er a bottle left for your Majesty’s
entertainment—and.…”

In eloquent conclusion, the Cavalier pulled out a silk purse and crushed
its emptiness between his palms with a smile, which the anxious gaze he
fixed upon his visitor markedly belied.

“My last angel gone to the surly porter of Mynheer Tratsaert’s house of
business this afternoon. I had better have kept it for our supper. But
who would have thought that Mr. Secretary Hyde, Councillor, Chancellor of
the Exchequer, would allow such lack.…”

“And who would have thought who knew the fortunes of Charles that he
was ever destined to do aught but lack? The fox hath his hole and the
birds of the air have nests … but Charles shall not even have a stone
whereon to lay his head. Aye—you may well stare, Harry, to hear me quote
Scripture. The waters are at lowest ebb with us, good friend; and like
the rest of the world, in our extremity, we turn to the texts.”

A moment the elder man stood gazing through the gloom which in the
falling firelight was gathering ever more closely about them, at the face
of his royal master. Then he said in a low voice which more concealed
than betrayed emotion:—

“When the tide is at lowest, ’tis but nearest to the turn.”

“Nay,” broke from the other with ever-increasing bitterness, “if that
is where thy hopes lie, I am sorry for thee. There is no turn in such
fortunes as mine, but an ever-sapping drain. Why, there is not a kinsman
can afford to show countenance to such a falling house, not a lady in
Europe who has heart enough to risk her fate with my hopes. Nay, there’s
not even a fat tallow merchant of Flanders who thinks it worth his while
to risk a present guilder for future favour. You would do better, my
lord, to go seek your peace with the powers that be—and for this you have
recent high precedent—rather than remain to share the last ruin of our
line.”

“Sire,” exclaimed Rockhurst then, “how shall my house stand if yours
fall? How shall my body keep health if yours ail? Where is my country
but with you, or my hopes but with yours?”

Charles answered the steady tones with an attempt at lightness which
failed to cover completely a certain tender break in his own voice.

“The more fool you, then, Harry! Easy terms would be made to the Viscount
Rockhurst. He could dwell on his fat lands once more in power and
opulence instead of wasting them in fines—he could bring up his heir in
leisure; nay, he could wed him a new wife and beget him a fresh family,
all in merry England.”

“My son,” answered the other, “is in good hands—and my sister in the
farm-house where she hath refuge brings him up even in such wise as I
should myself. As for a new wife, poor Charles,”—his lips broke into a
smile as they spoke the words,—“believe your poor Harry, he is as little
likely to seek one as he is to seek a new master—But, Heaven forgive
me!” he went on with brisk change of tone, “this outer fog seems to have
befogged my inner wits. The house can at least afford us lights. Nay, I
will close the casement upon the dull, wet world. Another log or two on
the hearth!” He added action to speech, and a cheerful roar and blaze
answered the ministration. “The curtain across the casement—so! Now we
were in worse straits after Worcester. Have you forgotten how we stole a
sheep and killed it and brought you the reeking leg, and you yourself cut
it into collops and set them in the pan? Good lack—how tough they were!
Yet ’twas a merry supper. Back to your chair by the warmth, my dearest
Sire. An hour’s patience, and it will go ill with me if I serve you not a
meal—and wine to it—fit wine for the pledge it shall wash.”

“Aye, and how will you manage that, my merry Rockhurst?” asked Charles
Stuart listlessly, as he suffered himself to be led back to his chair.

“Why, by a fight or a kiss, a laugh or a lie!” cried his companion gaily.
“Since the French king has thrust us out to please England’s Protector;
since the Don neglects to maintain us in proper state, why then, the
Don’s land must be made to provide!” He took up his sword which lay
on the table to his hand and buckled it round his lean figure as he
spoke. “A joke will bring a man far along sometimes; or, if not, then a
prodigious bit of deceit. I am ready, too, to kiss, my good liege, or
kill. Is not all fair in love and war? And are we not at war still, aye,
and with the whole world too,—and as much in love as out of it? There are
women in this Flemish town, and they have hearts for a man, or how could
even this Bruges subsist?”

He stood in the full light of the racing hearth-flame, the points of the
thin mustache quivering with his smile. So handsome, although worn with
anxiety and privation; so tall and proper a man, so dashing a presence in
such tattered and faded garb.

Charles turned his dark eyes slowly on his friend.

“Art a likely figure, in verity, to go courting the prude burgher’s
daughter!” he drawled upon a yawn. “Aye, well—off with thee, then, and
I’ll have a nap to pass the weary time. _Qui dort dine_, as the French
say—though my sleek cousin of France would scarce put up with the
alternative!—But mind how you play, my lord, with your kisses and your
blade—I can ill afford to lose my last friend!”

Rockhurst answered but by a look of affectionate devotion. Then, after a
little pause:—

“I will send Chitterley with candles,” said he, “and bid him lay the
table against my return.”

Upon which, he made as low a bow toward the languid figure as if the
exile sat in state upon his throne, and withdrew from the room.

In the entrance-hall, dimly lit by a tallow candle thrust in an iron
sconce, he paused, and an air of concentration succeeded the spurt of
enforced gaiety.

Charles had indeed summed up the situation. The English Royalists,
bankrupt of credit, bankrupt at last of hope, the King himself reduced
to pledge his orders, even his favourite silver-hilt sword, the royal
dinner “dwindled to one dish”; withal the taste of wine like to some
receding memory! It would require an inspiration of audacity this evening
to provide the rashly promised guerdon. But Rockhurst had a soul to which
emergency was a sure spur. He wasted no further time upon reflection,
since reflection served but to show ever more sternly that in this
night’s foray he must suffer chance and his own boldness to guide him.
Going to the door of the servants’ quarters, he called for the French
factotum—a clever rascal, cook, valet, groom,—who, with his faithful
English attendant, represented the household of the whilom sumptuous Lord
Viscount.

“Marcelin!”

“Monseigneur?” The word rang back in brisk interrogation from the
underground kitchen.

“Get thee a lantern and attend me. We go foraging, you understand?”

“Oh, yes, monseigneur!” There was something of a joyous ring in the
prompt answer.

“Chitterley!”

“Yes, my lord!”

“His Majesty himself is with us to-night! Take up candles and lay the
supper table—”

“Yes—my lord.” The quavering response was given in tones of doubt and
wonder.

Rockhurst adjusted his cloak,—a garment more weather-stained and damaged
even than the suit it covered,—flung upon his head the battered beaver
with its derision of a Cavalier plume, and was unlocking the door when
Marcelin emerged.

“I have taken the liberty to bring a basket, monseigneur,” said the man,
casting the object (which was of bloated dimensions) on the floor whilst
he settled his lantern to better trim. “Foraging?—Good news, my faith,
for it’s a weary time since we have had but Poor-John or a sandhill
rabbit to our stringy cabbage! Monseigneur has his plan, no doubt?”

“None as yet,” said Rockhurst. “But, at whatever cost, Marcelin, we
return not here empty-handed.”

“As soon die of a knock on the head as of famine,” said the Frenchman
lightly. “Milord hardly conceives with what joy I am of his enterprise.
I would follow milord at all times, but to-night there is hardly a crime
I do not feel capable of after these days of stock-fish and clear water.”

The strokes of nine were falling slow and grave from the Cathedral tower,
somewhere high above the fog, as they turned into the street. All Bruges,
wrapped in her blanket of mist, lay to their will: a town asleep, or soon
to be, for your Fleming is a creature of early hours.

The hungry Cavalier had instinctively shaped his course through the High
Street toward the Grande Place, in or about which purlieus lay the few
taverns that remained open during night hours—dismal holes enough, which
brought sighing remembrance of jovial London meetings. But no hostelry
good or vile is a place of promise to him who, in the local parlance,
“lodge but the Devil in his purse.” And much to Marcelin’s disappointment
his lordship passed pensively on to outlying districts. There was, as
he had admitted, as yet no definite plan in his mind; but he sought
those quarters of the town where the evening fare was likely to be most
succulent. Was he not to cater for a king?

With one or two of the great houses which rose on the quay of the
Augustines, isolated from each other by the length of high-walled
gardens, he had had in earlier and slightly more prosperous days of exile
a passing acquaintance. Had a forgotten shutter, an undrawn curtain, but
given him a glimpse of some pleasantly lighted family repast, he would
have made bold to ply knocker and bell and demand a loan, trusting to the
hour of mellow conviviality and his own winning address. But not even a
ray was suffered this night to send its cheerful message into the street
from those carefully barred balconies and windows. The burgher filled
himself from his good fleshpots—the English exile or Spanish soldier
might roam, ragged and empty, in the cold.

“Has monseigneur any definite purpose in making his promenade through the
fog, which—saving monseigneur’s respect—is as searching as the devil?
If I might venture to suggest,” murmured Marcelin at last, in tones of
apologetic weariness, drawing close to Rockhurst’s elbow, “if monseigneur
would visit the Three Flags tavern, or the Cellar at the Sluys Gate, he
might perhaps deign to win a few pistoles from some Spanish coronel or
some French gentleman prisoner on parole. Then—”

“Marcelin,” interrupted Rockhurst, “the lining of our purse admits of
no such suggestion, however otherwise sagacious. Do not attempt to
interfere with the guidance of fate. The night is foggy, ’tis true;
natheless is fog more substantial to take into your empty carcass than
mere airs. These houses do not present a hospitable front, yet each one
holds gold both in purse and in flagon. The question is how to get it.
That question is fate’s business to solve for us. March.”

He swung into as quick a pace as the uncertain gloom and the rough
pavement permitted; and, as if his servant’s words had started it in his
memory, began to sing, not loudly, but in a voice of some sweetness, the
air of a swaggering popular Spanish song that was much on the lips, this
autumn, of Don John’s soldiery.

Hardly had he reached the second stave when, overhead, a window guarded
with ornamental bowed iron grille-work was cautiously opened, and a
woman’s voice took up the refrain as gently as a swallow twitters.

Rockhurst instantly halted, and doffing his hat with gallant alertness,
glanced up at the square of faint light, against which a woman’s head,
leaning forward behind the curving bars, was just visible.

“Hist—” The warning sound dropped sibilantly.

“Hist!” promptly responded Rockhurst, ready for all emergency.

Then through the bars a hand fluttered a second.

“_La llave del jardin_,” breathed the timid tones, in a Spanish which
even his own foreign ear recognised as more Flemish than Castilian. Upon
which something fell with a muffled clang at his feet: the key of the
garden door.

“My soul…!” responded Rockhurst in his most ardent whisper.

His Spanish did not go very far; but he had at least that nodding
acquaintance with it which residence in Flanders rendered necessary to a
Cavalier. Fortunately, more was not required of him; for the house wall
grew blank again with the closing window.

But fate had pointed her finger.

Stooping, he groped for the key. It was wrapped in a fine kerchief which
had a fragrance of angelic water, and he sniffed with amused anticipation
ere he thrust it in his breast. He was weighing the heavy key in his hand
as Marcelin crept up to him again.

“If monseigneur had only deigned to inform me that it was a rendezvous…!”
he thought plaintively. “Here am I very foolish, with my basket instead
of good cutlass to keep watch over his _bonne fortune_!”

The honest fellow’s head was in a complete whirl. That milord should
abandon the King for the sake of a lady was milord all over, it was
true; nevertheless an astounding proceeding, and milord’s manner of
conducting the affair confusing in the extreme. But his master’s next
words brought illumination:—

“Look you now, Marcelin, did I not tell you Fortune would solve the
riddle? Has she not brought us to the most opulent house of the whole
row? And if it were not for the fog, her servant, would that sweet lady
have mistaken me for her Spanish lover? Come, now, the garden door must
lurk in this wall to the right.”

He moved on a few steps, running his hand along the brick. Marcelin
followed, lost in admiration.

“Eh, by the little dog of St. Roch!” he cried, “does monseigneur intend—?”

“Certes, my friend, and to make the lady glad of the exchange,” answered
the Cavalier in his quiet voice. “Ha, here is the nail-studded wood: here
with your lantern.”



II

CAVALIER AND CAPITAN


Even as he spoke, bending to look for the lock, there came along the
cobbles of the lane a clink of spurs that rang to the rhythm of a martial
tread. And presently a rather husky voice was uplifted into that same
conquering lilt—the tune of the marching Spaniards—that had come to
Rockhurst’s mind a few moments before.

Lilt and step fell into sudden silence at the corner of the house. The
newcomer had halted, apparently struck by the sight of the two figures,
shadowed as they were through the vapours at the garden gate by the
lantern light. Rockhurst’s head as he bent over the lock was lit up
fantastically. The bold features, the thin, upturned mustache, quivering
now with a mischievous smile, the peaked beard, black as raven’s wing,
and the hat with its challenging tilt and its incredible plume, all
seemed to proclaim in him one of Don John’s own rakish soldiers of
fortune.

The key turned in the lock. The next instant the Capitan (the red plume
sweeping over the hat-brim proclaimed his rank) sprang forward with a
growl like an angry dog’s and plucked at Rockhurst’s cloak, even as the
latter was pushing the door open.

“Hey, there, comrade!” he whispered, “you are caught at it—breaking into
an honest burgher’s house! Out of this, sharp!”

“Breaking in, camarado? Why, not at all,” responded Rockhurst, in his
own Franco-Spanish. “Merely entering where I am expected, and my servant
there holds the light.—Come in, Marcelin.”

He stepped lightly through the doorway, leaving his cloak in the other’s
grasp. His voice, in the undertone they both deemed prudent to adopt, yet
conveyed the perfection of mockery.

“Expected? _Cuerpo de Dios!_” said the gallant, and fell back a step,
blank surprise robbing him, it seemed, of all other emotion for the
present.

“Even so, Señor Caballero, witness this key. (Up with the light,
Marcelin, that the señor may see for himself.) Witness the token.”
He brandished first the key, then the scented handkerchief, with gay
gesture. “May I trouble you for my cloak? Then I shall wish you good
night.”

Marcelin, grinning, stood between the two, his back against the
door-post, the basket on his arm, holding up the lantern. The light fell
full on the Spaniard’s visage: young and handsome enough it was, though
now livid with fury. Still speechless, he seemed rooted to the spot, his
black eyes starting, the wings of his nostrils distended upon his angry
breath.

Rockhurst waited a second or two, then with a laugh:—

“Marcelin,” he ordered, “relieve the noble Capitan of my cloak: he will
understand my impatience.”

The little valet, shifting the lantern into the basket, put out his hand
obediently for the ragged garment in question. But here the newcomer,
suddenly leaping into active ferocity, made a headlong rush into the
garden, and had not Rockhurst by a dexterous step aside avoided the
onslaught, would have seized his rival by the throat.

“Come in, Marcelin, and shut the door,” came the mocking voice from the
darkness. “Let us unravel this little question of precedence in snug
privacy. We shall want your lantern, my friend.”

The garden, tree-shaded and high-walled on all sides, seemed to shut
in and concentrate the night’s gloom. The sound of two swords, hissing
out of the scabbards even as the words were spoken, was sinister in the
darkness.

Rockhurst quickly drew once more within the faint circle of light.
The lantern held aloft (now in a somewhat nervous clutch, it must be
said) revealed the silent laughter that rippled over his features like
wild-fire, as he flung himself into an extravagantly truculent fencing
attitude. The Spaniard, stamping on the sod like a bull enraged, filled
the air with guttural execrations, while he swung Rockhurst’s cloak in
frantic circles over his left arm. His rapier gleamed one moment aloft,
then, low-aimed, shot forward like a flash.

Marcelin involuntarily shouted warning; but Rockhurst, with the coolness
of the experienced fighting man, had already slipped from the stroke of
death as airily as the practised dancer to the turn of the tune. On the
instant he had plucked his dilapidated beaver from his head, and beating
with it the menacing blade widely aside, brought down his own steel
whistling upon the wrist that palely showed behind the gilt Toledo hilt.

With a muffled scream of rage and pain the Spaniard dropped his weapon,
fell on one knee, feverishly shaking the cloak off his arm to nurse his
helpless, bleeding hand.

Rockhurst’s skill, guided by luck, had inflicted, at the first pass, one
of those disabling wounds that cause pangs singularly disproportionate
to their seriousness. He sheathed his rapier with much deliberation,
picked up his cloak and flung it around him as it were a royal mantle,
smoothed out the feather in his hat,—not improved in any way by its
buckler service,—and set it back on his head at the right jaunty cock. He
was about to pass the Capitan with a taunting _buenas noches_, when some
impulse of careless good nature bade him change his mind.

“Nay, I am sure,” he said, “that our fair one within will support my
invitation when I bid you to sup and converse. In your own Castilian
phrase: Will you not enter into this your house?—Marcelin, support the
Señor Capitan; he waxes, methinks, somewhat weakly.”

And, upon a further spur of magnanimity, he himself returned the fallen
sword to the defeated man’s side.

Faint chinks of light cut upon the darkness showed them where the house
door stood, slightly ajar, upon the garden. And as the trio approached,
the feet of the wounded man shuffling along the tiled path, the soft
voice called out, in its broken Spanish:—

“Señor Ramon, is that you?—For the love of God, what has happened?”

He who was just adjured answered only by a groan; whereupon Rockhurst,
stepping up to the chink and speaking in low but cheerful tones,
addressed the invisible lady in French this time:—

“Dear madam, if you will but admit us, you shall have explanation. The
Capitan Ramon has met with a slight misadventure, and needs but your
smile, a bandage, and a tass of brandwein to restore him.”

“Ah, heavens!” answered she, and the door was flung wide open. A woman,
evidently of the rich burgher class, young, and very fair of colouring,
stood in the passage, a small lamp in her hand. Her face blanched as the
half-fainting man was assisted across the threshold, and she caught her
free hand to her lips as if to stifle a rising scream. It was evident,
thought Rockhurst, that there were those in the house whom she feared to
disturb.

The danger of her own situation weighing apparently upon her even more
than the condition of her lover, she gathered herself quickly together;
and, imploring caution by gesture, ran light-footed up the passage,
beckoning as she went. She thus inducted the whole party into a panelled
room, which seemed built at the most distant end from the front. It
was gaily lighted by a hanging crown of candles, warmed by a stove,
furnished in brown oak, with dressers and shelves upon which gleamed
much pewter and brass of high polish. Upon a table covered with fair
red and white napery stood revealed an unmistakable supper for two,
with abundance of good things, at sight of which Rockhurst and Marcelin
exchanged a deep glance of meaning.

As she closed the door upon their entrance, the young woman drew a deep
breath of relief, exclaiming in her Flemish French:—

“Here we are safe!—In the passage,” she added, turning to Rockhurst, “the
servants, sir, might have heard us from their quarters.”

The simple air with which she spoke, the round blue eyes she fixed
upon them, the practical candour with which she excused herself for a
seeming want of hospitality before attending to her groaning lover, gave
Rockhurst swift insight into the nature they had to deal with. Here was
a matter-of-fact young vrow, not even pretty,—at least to a fastidious
English eye—for, with her little moon face and her hemp-coloured hair,
she might have emerged from a canvas by Master Gerard Dow, yet with much
that was agreeable about her manner, about the gentle irregularity of her
features, but above all about her engaging youthfulness. Here certainly
was none of your vaporous dames. She showed no undue emotion at sight
of the Spaniard’s blood-dyed hands; but, as she turned to help him, was
neatly careful to twitch her dress from too close proximity and to push
her lace cuffs higher up her plump arms.

After examining the gash with crooning sympathy, she poured water into
one of the bright pewter dishes that stood on the sideboard; then,
cutting a napkin into strips with the carving-knife, addressed the
Cavalier:—

“If you will kindly give him the brandwein—it is in the square glass
bottle beside the pasty.”

Rockhurst started from his amused contemplation and turned to the damaged
gallant. This latter, installed by Marcelin with mock solicitude in
a chair near the table, sat collapsed, with his head on his breast.
Rockhurst conceived a shrewd suspicion that the Capitan’s prolonged
weakness was more feint than reality, an opinion apparently shared by the
servant, whose face was wreathed in satiric smiles. And when the wounded
man pettishly pushed aside the brandy and demanded _del vino_, the doubt
became certainty.

“Wine, Marcelin,” ordered the Cavalier briefly, as one in his own house.

After having drained a rummer of Rhenish, the Capitan recovered
sufficiently to roll his head toward his lady as she knelt on his right,
laving the languid, bleeding hand.

“Ah, traitress!” he observed scathingly.

“Madam,” interjected Rockhurst, as the pale blue eyes were raised in
wonder from their task, “your valiant friend refers, I imagine, to your
having honoured me with a song, an invitation, a token, and a key. It is
because of his failure to understand the right of a lady to dispose of
all favours at her will that he met with the little accident to which he
now owes the honour and the joy of your sweet ministration.”

“Sir…!” cried Ramon the Capitan, lifting his olive-hued countenance
to fling an uncertain glare across the table. Then, no fresh
argument apparently occurring to him, he repeated resentfully,
“Traitress—traitress!”

“In heaven’s name,” she cried, pausing in her task, “was it not you?—How,
sir, was it you?”

She turned her childish gaze from one to the other, her blond head, as
she knelt, just emerging above the table. For all answer, Rockhurst drew
key and kerchief from his breast and pushed them toward her.

The Spaniard drew breath for a fresh compliment. But, Marcelin putting a
second glass opportunely to his hand, he plunged his mustache again into
the wine.

“Ah, what a mistake!” murmured the vrow, returning placidly to her
ministrations. “Alas, what a cut!—it must be tended by the surgeon, but I
will draw the lips together and bandage. You can give yourself time for
supper first.”

She wound the strips firmly as she spoke, though the patient spluttered
in his cup, winced, and whistled. To complete the artistic effect she
took the handkerchief that lay on the table and tied it neatly over all.
Rockhurst was shaken with his silent laughter over the singular pair of
lovers.

“Sir,” said the little hostess, rising to her feet and addressing him,
then, not without dignity: “I know not whom you may be, but your presence
here is the result of a misunderstanding. That you may not misunderstand
further, let me inform you that I receive the Capitan Ramon at this hour
only because my husband, who went off to-day to Antwerp, has forbidden
him to enter his house.”

“Madam,” said Rockhurst, as he rose in his turn and bowed, concealing
under an air of preternatural gravity his delight at the simple
statement, “had I the honour of standing in your husband’s shoes, I
should be jealous of every dog that looked at you.”

“But, sir,” she exclaimed, her gaze widening upon him, “but my husband is
old and fat.”

The hard brilliancy of the Cavalier’s eye softened: here was a remark
which betrayed the logic of a perfectly childish mind.

“The poor Capitan Ramon,” she went on, “has so little money and gets such
poor fare. I think it but right to help him.”

“Madam,” said Rockhurst, “you have described my own case. I bless the
hour when I was inspired to pass beneath the window of so tender-hearted
a lady!”

“Indeed,” she said, and her creamy skin flushed to the roots of her hair,
“if you will share the supper, too, I shall be glad of it.”

Again the Spaniard rolled his glare of sullen doubt. Rockhurst had not
lived the life of camps for so many years without becoming familiar with
every variety of your _soldado_. He was able, by this time, to read very
clearly that here was but one of those ubiquitous “officers of fortune”
who, behind a punctilious manner and a conquering exterior, screen
anything but a chivalric soul—mercenaries who, no doubt, will fight
when occasion is imperative, but who reckon upon looks as much as upon
“derring-do” for the securing of this world’s comforts. The attack in
the garden, under the spur of sudden fury, upon the invader of his own
conquered province, had exhausted the Capitan’s pugnacity: Rockhurst saw
that, in the further progress of the night’s adventure, this Ramon need
no longer be taken into account.

“I should be churl, indeed,” said he to the lady, as he sat down at
the table, “to decline your gracious courtesy. Nay, madam, pray take
your seat; my servant will even pass the dishes. Natheless, if you
will so honour me, a glass of wine from your fair hand?… I give you
thanks.—Marcelin, you can feed the Señor Capitan.”

       *       *       *       *       *

So the odd supper party began; the hostess unconsciously admiring; the
Spaniard all a-frown; Rockhurst rattling his compliments with fascinating
courtliness—his heart the while in the bare lodgings of the Quai Vert
with his unprovided King; his brain intent upon turning the tide of
events to the channels of his own purpose. He could see nothing thus far,
but to await the moment when the Spaniard, sufficiently fuddled with
wine after his blood-letting, might be conveyed back to the street by
Marcelin and handed over to the next patrol. Then, thought Rockhurst, the
gentle vrow would be left to the unhampered diplomacy of her uninvited
guest (who felt prepared to wield it as profitably, and justify it as
gallantly, as any Castilian in Bruges), and all would be plain sailing.

The astute valet seemed to have divined the scheme, and was plying
the bottle sedulously upon his charge. Fate, however, upon which the
wanderers had hitherto so blindly reckoned, again wielded the key.

Marcelin had hardly drawn the first sweep of the knife upon the goose’s
breast when the house reverberated to the sound of distant knocking. The
little dame went as white as the kerchief at her bosom; a far greater
discomfiture fell upon her than she had manifested at sight of her
gallant’s wound.

“Heaven’s mercy!” she gasped; “it is from the street!”

She ran to the inner door and listened in the passage; the knocking was
resumed, from no patient or weakling hand, in peculiar cadence.

“It is my husband,” she said then, coming back into the room, with the
calmness of despair. “It is my husband, and I am lost.”

The Spaniard rose to his feet and stood swaying, a look of dismay and
helplessness upon his countenance. Instinctively she turned to Rockhurst,
and pointing to the sorry figure, she cried:—

“My husband will never forgive me … no, Josse will never forgive me! He
bought Ramon out when they had billeted him on us, last month. He bought
him out and I was forbidden ever to speak to him again. I thought I was
safe to-night … I am lost!”

The thunder of the husband’s rapping accompanied her lament with swelling
rhythm.

“Oh!” she went on, “Josse told me this morning he was going to Antwerp.
It was a trap!”

“A trap!” exclaimed the Cavalier gaily. “But there is a way out, madam, a
way out, since there was a way in!”

“To the devil with this night’s work!” suddenly gurgled the Capitan. “To
the devil, say I, with women and fools!”

His lady’s wine had not been without effect upon his wits; but he was
sober enough to seize the situation and act on his rival’s hint. In three
staggering steps he was at the door, and they could hear him break into
a kind of groping run down the passage.

In the midst of her terror the Dutchwoman’s eye flashed with sudden scorn.

“Truly,” said Rockhurst, as if in answer, “’tis a valiant heart! Yet,
madam, with him is your chief anxiety removed. Whilst you play with bolts
and delay your lord with fond embrace, we, on our side, vanish by the
garden whence we came. Aye, and let out the señor, for ’tis still I who
have the key.—Go, dear madam; leave the rest to us.”

“Alack, alack!” she moaned, “this supper table, laid for two, will yet
betray me!”

“Say you so!” exclaimed Rockhurst, his wits leaping to the humorous
opportunity. “Nay, then shall the supper vanish, too! Your Flemish
household still sleeps heavily; our chances are good. Madam, before you
hurry to the door, you had better put some dishevelment in your attire
to show you had but just descended from your bedchamber, where you were
doubtless already disrobing.—Marcelin, you rogue, you have a reputation
for a smart table servant; deserve it!”

Even as he spoke the hurried words, he had begun himself to toss goose
and pasty into the basket and to stuff a brace of the long flagons
securely in the interstices.

There was a stir overhead; the household was awaking.

“Monseigneur,” cried Marcelin, on an inspiration, “no time for niceties!
If monseigneur will take one end of the cloth, I will take the other.
We can carry the victualling wholesale into the garden and there advise
about packing—Madam will see to the bloody basin, no doubt?”

Upon these words, with all presence of mind, the valet ransacked the
dresser of everything it bore in the shape of good cheer, cakes and ham,
brawn and an eel pie, and many flagons (not forgetting the square-faced
bottle), and made a pile of the booty upon the table.

Obedient to his suggestion, the hostess had tripped out to fling the
contents of the basin upon a flower bed. She came back in a trice, found
Marcelin already loaded with the weighty, strangely bulging bag, and with
fervent words of thanks held the door open for him. Rockhurst meanwhile
was gaily blowing out candle after candle of the hanging crown. Ponderous
footsteps descending the stairs proclaimed that the porter was at length
aroused.

“One light for you, madam,” said Rockhurst; “you are just in time!” He
thrust the last unextinguished taper into her hand; then, his arm round
her waist, bending his height to her small stature, drew her toward the
door: “Good-by,” he said, “sweet hostess. Another time choose more wisely
both your hour and your cavalier.”

She turned her soft, childish face with a little sob up toward him. And
with a sudden stirring of the heart, as toward a winsome child, he bent
and kissed her.

“I shall never forget how you have saved me, this night!” she said,
her lips upon his. At which Rockhurst kissed her again to conceal his
amusement.

The sound of a bar grating reluctantly in its socket rang the urgency of
parting. Yet, she clutched him.

“You said you were poor and hungry, like him … like him who fled,” she
panted. “I had saved this for him: I had rather you had it.”

She thrust a small velvet bag into his hand, one second more pressed
clingingly against him, and the next instant was flying light-footed
away. There came a sound of a growling voice; at which Rockhurst in all
celerity flung his cloak over his shoulders and withdrew, closing the
outer door noiselessly behind him. Marcelin’s lantern flashed one ray of
guidance: yonder the gate and the end of the adventure.

The three emerged into the street. Rockhurst paused, his silent laughter
stimulated afresh at sight of Marcelin, who stood doubled in two under
the burden of the great white bag, his basket with the two bottle necks
protruding, horn-like, on his arm, and his lantern illumining a grin of
supreme satisfaction. Then he glanced down at the purse in his hand—it
lay in the hollow with a highly comforting weight—and from thence to the
Spaniard, who had begun to crawl away, supporting himself against the
wall.

“Señor Capitan,” he cried ironically after him, “I wish you once more,
and I trust finally, a very good night!—Marcelin, I’ll take that basket:
we must make good speed.”

He halted, however, yet a breathing space to gaze at the great front of
the house where, from window to window, gleamed a light on its upward
way, suggestive of a bed-going procession.

“This is how we live at Bruges!” he murmured to himself, dropped the
purse philosophically into his pocket, thrust his right arm through the
basket and, his hand pressing on his rapier hilt, the tip of the scabbard
jauntily raising the cloak behind him, started off at a swing.

Marcelin followed at a gay if uneven hobble, occasionally staggering
under his succulent burden.

Old Chitterley opened the door to his master.

“His Majesty sleeps,” said he, finger on lips; “I looked in but just now,
to place a log on the fire: his Majesty slumbered very sound, as I heard
and saw.”

Then the speaker’s eye wandered to the basket on his lordship’s arm, the
contents of which were agreeably discernible, and to the improvised sack
on Marcelin’s back, for which the latter’s jubilant face was warrant.

“Heaven be praised, my lord!” he exclaimed fervently, as he extended his
hand to relieve his master. The tragedy of events had robbed the old
servant of all sense of humour. “His Majesty shall have supper to-night;
our house is not disgraced.”

“Aye,” said the Cavalier cheerfully, tapping his breast; “and I have here
the wherewithal for many more, an I am not mistaken. See, Chitterley,
since his Majesty sleepeth so fast, an you can spread the fare without
awakening him, so that he may open his eyes upon a pleasant sight. There
has been but little pleasantness for the royal glance of late.”

“I will step like a cat, monseigneur,” said Marcelin, quicker to seize
the idea than his English comrade.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whether Charles found it not worth while to rouse himself from the
only condition in which he could forget his dismal state, or whether
indeed the servants had carried out their task with true noiselessness,
he stirred not in his great chair by the fire until Rockhurst, stepping
up to him gently, laid on his lap the velvet bag with its snug weight
of coin. Then he opened a lazy eye while, instinctively, his long hand
closed upon the purse.

The King stared a moment vacantly at his devoted follower, and with a
stupendous yawn let his gaze wander round the room.

“Odd’s fish!” he cried, critically weighing the bag; “a purse, my lord,
as we live! And a fuller than these fingers have held for many a week!—Am
I dreaming, or am I but just awakened from some monstrous nightmare
of years? Is this St. Germain once again?—or has fate worked with us
benignly while we slept, and is this Whitehall at last?… Why, my merry
Rockhurst, this is never a goose I behold, on a Bruges table, flanked by
pasty and brawn! Hath our uncle of Spain paid our pension at length—or
has our Chancellor of the Exchequer chanced at last upon an Exchequer to
draw upon?—Harry, dost thou actually hold in thy hand a brimming goblet?
Aye, methinks the fragrance of it already reaches me!”

He broke off his bantering tone to add, as he dropped the purse
carelessly into his pocket and extended his hand for the glass:—

“Nay, but, prince of friends, how have such miracles been worked?”

“My liege,” said Rockhurst, with unmoved gravity, “even as I ventured to
prophesy: by a laugh, a lie, a fight, a kiss. The fight came first and
the kiss came last—and the lie, I’ll warrant, is even now being expounded
within the house of a certain mynheer of this town. As for the laugh,
your Majesty, nay, the laugh will be between you and me anon when I tell
you the tale.… But, Chitterley, bring me a glass of wine.”

Charles, his merriment stayed on his lips by the look of sudden emotion
he marked on his host’s face, gazed wonderingly up at him.

Rockhurst took the glass, and dropping on one knee:—

“I pledge the future!” he murmured. “I drink to the hope of England, to
your Majesty’s happy restoration, to the triumph of his cause—_Sursum
corda!_… my beloved liege!”



FARRANT CHACE



FARRANT CHACE



I

FARRANT CHACE


Storm without; and within, melancholy humours!—Without, fine, blinding,
dry snow, driven in eddies against whatever obstacle it met: against the
walls of Sir Paul Farrant’s Manor House: against the holly and clipped
yews of his garden: against the serried ranks of firs which screened his
estate from the wild blasts that ride from the Downs up the great rise of
Hindhead. Never more wildly, never more triumphantly, did the winds ride
than on this night of the winter solstice, this Christmas Eve, the fifth
since the happy date of his Most Gracious Majesty’s Restoration.

Within, a fire of logs glowing under the huge mantelled chimney; rosy
flicker on wainscot, glitter of crystal and silver on fair white napery,
and a full-paunched bottle or two, dusty and cobwebbed; crocus flames of
candles against the rose of the hearth-light and the brown of the oak.
Cheerful enough surroundings, one would have deemed—a sort of room where
a man might hug comfort with philosophic egotism and have the greater
zest in it for the thought of the outside desolation; sip his glass to
the tune of the wind; and toast his legs in luxury as he pictured to
himself the circumstance of any poor devil who, upon such a night, still
chanced to be on the road.

Yet, as it has been said, the temper that reigned within the oak parlour
of Farrant Chace was no whit more cheerful than the weather on the moor.
Indeed, my lord Viscount Rockhurst—on his way back from France, obliged
to halt by stress of weather at the house of a fellow-traveller—looked
more particularly disqualified than usual to wear the nickname bestowed
upon him by the “merry Monarch” himself in mockery of his wild
favourite’s invariable gravity. “Merry Rockhurst”—never less merry of
aspect than to-night.

His long legs extended toward the embers, he lay rather than sat in the
straight-backed chair of honour beside the hearth. His head with its
chiselled features, worn, keen, witty, was sunken on his breast; his eyes
were fixed abstractedly upon the darting flame, his hands inertly folded.
For some ten minutes he had not uttered a word or altered his attitude,
and the silent immobility of his guest was beginning to tell heavily upon
the nerves of Sir Paul Farrant, his young host.

Sir Paul bit his lip, paced the room three or four times; then halted
before the card-table, which stood askew against the wall, as if it had
been thrust aside by an impatient hand. He took up the dice-box, dangled
it, dropped it; flipped a few of the scattered cards, his eyes ever
wandering back to his companion; a hesitating phrase, ever checked upon
his lips. Now he went to the window, pulled the curtains aside and peered
forth.

“More snow—more snow! Ugh, ’tis plaguey cold!” he cried, with exaggerated
airiness, returning to the hearth and spreading his hands to the blaze.

“The drifts are rising higher and higher,” he pursued. “No hope for the
road, ’tis not fit weather for a dog.”

The figure in the great chair stirred, a lazy voice was raised:—

“Certainly not weather for a gentleman.”

The other leaped to the symptom of restored companionship.

“As you say, my lord, very vile weather indeed. Not fit for us to travel
in, for very truth.”

Lord Rockhurst’s long eyelids flickered.

“Sir,” said he, with marked deliberation, his gaze still fixed on the
fire, “I spoke in the singular.”

Sir Paul’s hand, still stretched toward the glow, suddenly trembled. He
had a young, smooth face, transparent to emotion; it grew scarlet.

“And what might your lordship mean by that?” he asked, breathing quicker.

Lord Rockhurst shifted his person to a more erect attitude, and turned
his satiric face toward the speaker. The elder by some fifteen years, he
had none of the genial gleam in his eye, none of the something almost
fatherly with which the mature man of kindly mettle regards youth.—Lord
Rockhurst’s gaze was colder than the wind that whistled in the leaves,
bleaker than the moorland waste.

“I do not desire to qualify you,” said he.

From its uneasy flush, the young face went white.

“My lord, my lord!…”

But Rockhurst raised his hand with a commanding gesture.

“When a man enters upon a game of hazard with another, ’tis the very
essence of honour that the chances should be equal between them. Now, my
most excellent young host, had you played me with loaded dice to-night—”

The other broke out foaming at the mouth, with the acrid rage of the
helplessly insulted.

“My lord Rockhurst—! I will suffer no man, nay, not even under my own
roof, to dare such an insinuation. The dice, my lord—”

He made a frantic gesture toward the card-table. But, like the play of
water upon red iron, Rockhurst’s cool voice fell upon his heat:—

“Nay—the dice are right enough—so are the cards. We were but us two,
moreover, so you had no accomplice. These are the elements of honest
play, as I was about to expound to you—since, indeed, your father’s only
son, and a lad of your experience in court and camp, appears to require
such expounding.”

He changed his tone for one more subtly keen, as the surgeon his blade
at the delicate moment: “But another element in play, between gentlemen,
is that one player should not stake against the other sums he does not
possess.”

Farrant, wincing, ran his hands desperately through his fair locks; he
fell into an arm-chair and, still clutching his love curls, drew them
across his face. From behind this screen, after a long pause, he spoke
muffled words:—

“Your lordship seems to forget the circumstances. To help your lordship
to pass this time of tedium (since no horses that ever were foaled could
take your coach on through these snows); having the responsibility of
entertaining your lordship … since you can find little pleasure but in
the cards … and having, in these cursed twenty-four hours, lost every
stiver of money, every rood of the poor land I possess … zounds! my lord,
that I should have risked a few more throws with nought but my ruin to
back them … damnation, my lord Rockhurst, since but a turn of the dice
might have set us even again!—these are hard words, it seemeth to me!
Aye, and hard thoughts.”

Thus set forth, his own case seemed to the youth so strong that he lifted
his head again and displayed his countenance as wrathful and full of
reproach now as, a minute ago, it had been shamed.

Lord Rockhurst crossed one lean leg over the other, settled his elbows at
the most comfortable angle the carven arms of the chair would afford, and
let his brilliant hazel eye wander to the red embers and become dreamy
once more.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a long while silence reigned again in the oak parlour of Farrant
Chace.

A resinous knot in the pine log exploded with miniature fierceness—a
white flame jetted out, hissing, and dropped. The fire settled itself and
the ashes slipped away, sighing. In the tense silence these small sounds
made emphasis; while without, ever and anon, the blast came rolling up
the slope from the far distance, dashed through the frantic swaying firs
with screams of triumph, to hurl itself against the sturdy walls, there
to break and part on either side and dash onward once more.

… So comes the charge of horse against the solid mass of foot with
ever-gathering speed, rider and beast together, in one frenzied impetus,
to break themselves against the serried pikes.…

       *       *       *       *       *

“Your father fell beside me at Naseby,” said Rockhurst presently, as if
speaking to himself.

The incisive note had vanished from his voice. Farrant rose from the
table and came towards him, with something of the schoolboy’s mien, who
half resents his master’s anger and half hopes to see him mollified.
Rockhurst went on musingly:—

“He and I were neck and neck through Edgehill, Newbury, Marston Moor.…
Until that hour I was young, younger than you are. And in those days I
had mighty thoughts. But in my mightiest I never saw myself reaching
to his level. If I could but keep my nag’s head close to his, and go
where he led, leap where he leaped—’twas enough for me.… When he fell,
struck down by Ireton’s pikes, I thought the world grew dark.… Then I was
young, Master Paul. And now, sitting in this chair to-night”—Rockhurst
slowly straightened himself and turned his head toward Farrant—“I find
there is still something left in me of the old self that I had deemed
to be dead this many a year. Enough to be glad to-night, sir, that your
father is dead.—Paul Farrant,” went on the elder slowly, “speak: had the
luck turned as you hoped, upon what foundation would you have built your
winnings?”

The other hesitated, stammered, made a fresh abortive effort to brazen it
out.

“Nay, my lord, the world hardly knows you so squeamish. If such rigid
rules obtained at Whitehall we should be a dull lot, and many a merry
hour lost. Did your lordship say you had charged Ireton’s men? By those
tenets we might have dreamed that your place had rather been among the
precisians.…”

A subtle change swept over Rockhurst’s countenance. The air of grave
severity, the shadow of regretful tenderness, passed from him, to be
replaced by the mocking glance, the expression at once reckless and
cynical which, before the world’s eyes, characterised the man who had won
for himself—among a company of reprobates—that second if scarcely more
appropriate nickname of his, “Rakehell Rockhurst.”

“Nay, but you’re a promising lad!” said he, gibing. “And you’ll make
your way, my son, I doubt me not. Time advances, old types die out, and
manners change. The rules of honour which still shackle old fools like
myself would chafe your gallant spirits.… Yet, hark ye, without being
a precisian, Master Paul, in my day, a man—a gentleman—would no more
have staked what he did not possess, would no more have dallied with the
thought of selling a friend, than he would have forced a lady. But, sure,
what dull fellows are we of the old days by the side of such sparks, such
knights as yourself! Meanwhile,” and here a wide and uncontrolled yawn
showed teeth as white as a wolf’s, “meanwhile, excellent young man, I
have here in my pocket your signature to so much waste paper—I have it
as a memento of a series of tedious games, a reminder of the prospect of
another evening, with your company, for all delectation.—Gadzooks, sir, a
man does not invite another to his house, in a snow-storm, if there is a
tolerable inn at hand, when he, being himself green as a March lamb, has
only a housekeeper old as sin!… The Gods preserve me from the green man
and the withered woman! Add to this a cellar reduced to thin Rhenish and
claret—a cellar no sane man could get drunk on, sir, and Christmastide!”
Eye and voice became even more insolently provocative. “I have known many
a one spitted for less provocation.”

“Would your lordship find some solace in having a try for my vitals?”
cried the youthful host eagerly. His lip trembled; tears of mortification
were not far from his eyes. The fleer at his dull entertainment cut him
more keenly than the rebuke touching the honour of his play. He already
saw himself held up to the ridicule of the Court by the Rakehell’s
unsparing tongue.—Gad, his old housekeeper! his doubtful cellar! He,
who had worked so hard to achieve a position of fashion and gallantry,
who had plumed himself upon the distinction of playing the host to so
high a courtier as Viscount Rockhurst, Lord Constable of the Tower—the
King’s own close friend!… He flung his arm toward the swords that hung
fraternally on the wall, side by side, in their royal crimson baldricks.

But Rockhurst’s laugh, low-pitched, arrested all further movement.

“Nay, good Sir Paul, I pray you! However you may relish the idea of
spilling the blood of your guest, your guest cannot so far forget the
rules of gentle behaviour as to cross swords with his host. Secondly,
sir, you appear still to have to learn that a man may not fight with one
to whom he owes money. And thirdly, now: when I had slain you, think you
that your corpse would be more amusing than your live body?… Though,
truth, it could scarce be less so.”

He laughed again, through his teeth, at his own gibe.

The boy, bated to desperation, stood clenching and unclenching his hands,
fighting back the furious tears. The other, his back to the flames, stood
looking at him some time in silence. Then, into his pitiless hawk’s eye
came a gleam of humour—a slight softening of compassion, perhaps. The
mind that once yields to humour can rarely continue to entertain the
deadly earnestness of anger. Rockhurst yawned again, drew some crumpled
sheets from his pocket and flung them on the table.

“Now, look you, Sir Paul,” said he, good-naturedly, “I care not for this
mood. Devise me but something of an entertainment for this evening—an
entertainment, mind you, that shall honestly entertain me—why then, I’ll
stake again; I’ll stake these, which represent your indebtedness to me,
against your inventiveness. Shorten but a couple of hours for me, and
I’ll shorten my memory of this night’s business. Zounds, never stare so!
Do you not understand? ’Tis your wit for your honour—and the chance of a
lifetime to prove yourself a man of resource!”

For an instant Paul Farrant’s countenance became illumined; he made a
hasty step forward. Then he hesitated, and, in renewed dismay, put his
hand to his forehead. In the middle of the snow-drift, with a condemned
cellar and an ugly housekeeper, debarred from gambling, debarred from
fighting, his brain paralysed by a crushing sense of failure and folly—to
devise amusement for this fastidious, caustic nobleman, what a task!

He moved to the window, in reality more to hide his fresh mortification
than to examine the prospect of the weather. It was to find that there
was a lull in the snowfall, that the wind had rent a gap between the
brooding clouds and revealed a patch of starry sky ridden by the sickle
of a young moon. Through the swaying trees gleamed fitfully a distant
red fire, and beyond it, further down the waste, a steadier yellow light
came and went, as the wind bowed and released some plumy fir branch:
the iron-smelting forge of the Hammer Pond! The inn at Liphook! Now, he
remembered him, the smelter was a man of infinite popularity, the jester
of the countryside; one who could sing a rousing stave to the clank of
his hammer, and crack you the drollest stories over the home-brewed,
were it only strong enough. Failing him, there was the innkeeper of the
Anchor, at Liphook. Mine host had the secret of a noted posset that his
Majesty himself, halting on the Portsmouth Road, had once generously
praised. Nay, at the inn he might possibly pick up some belated
traveller, whose conversation—he bitterly thought—would prove more
acceptable than his own. At any rate, ’twas all the hope he had to cling
to. Rockhurst never spared.

“If your lordship will give me _congé_ for a short while,” he cried,
turning back to the room, “I shall endeavour to meet your wishes.… We
may not be so destitute of entertaining company at Farrant Chace as your
lordship deems.”

He seized his cloak, flung it angrily about him, goaded by the sound
of the faint laugh, and strode out. Rockhurst subsided into the chair,
laughed a little yet, then sighed and fell a-brooding again.



II

THE LADY IN THE SNOW


The lull after the squall had left a waste world, dim yet white, beneath
a cloud-strewn sky. High among the clouds the wind was still racing; and
the aspect of the heavens was perpetually changing, as masses of vapour
rose and scuttled before the blast like giant herds: rent apart, drawing
closer, scattered again. Thus the land was a-flicker with shine and
shadows, and yet lay dead under that semblance of life.

Paul Farrant, astride the old farm mare, had no thought to spare for the
new appearance of the white wilderness; scarce even a feeling for the
biting cold. His brain was all astir with vivid, angry images. His pulses
throbbed with the excitement of the gambler playing for the highest
stakes a man can win or lose.

“’Tis now your wit against your honour,” had said the Rakehell.

His honour! It had never been to Farrant the thing dearer than his own
soul, which to lose, even to his own secret knowledge, were damnation.
To know himself dishonoured meant to him merely disgrace if he could not
save himself by his wit. Yet disgrace spelt the most unendurable fate
that could overtake one in whose nature vanity played the chief part.
And if he failed to fulfil the condition so contemptuously placed upon
his worldly redemption, he knew his Rockhurst—all was over for Farrant
the aspiring; for Farrant, who was already beginning to be envied; for
Farrant, who had once sat at the King’s supper-table and had actually
been honoured by a quip from his Majesty’s own lips!…

Drooping her great head, drawing her shaggy feet from the snow with dull,
sucking sounds, the mare plodded on her way. He did not attempt to guide
her, and she took him soberly to the highroad, then turned toward the
downward slope leading to the village. On one side a black line of hedge
ran in and out like a ribbon; on the other all barrier had disappeared
under the drifting snow. Below the turn of the road was the smelter’s
forge, redly aglow in the distance; and, something like a mile further,
the village where the noted posset might even now be brewing; where
comforted travellers, stamping the snow from their boots, might be
capping each other’s tales of road hardships and perils. On the sturdy
mare, Paul Farrant had no doubt he could reach the further goal; yet he
hesitated. The plan which had driven him out into the night suddenly
appeared to him ineffable folly. A paralysing vision arose before him:
Rockhurst’s countenance at sight of Master Smelter, with the black fists,
as the proposed evening comrade!… He could see the dilation of the
nostrils, the haughty lips, barely apart upon a smile. What a tale would
not Rockhurst’s tongue make of it for royal ears!—As for the inn, were he
to find there some chance gentlefolk, how could he hope to induce them to
come forth again on such a night, when, in truth, no coach was like to
find a passage through the snow?

       *       *       *       *       *

Through the great silence a distant cry pierced into his consciousness.
Heard at first vaguely, it fell in with his thought: the note, it seemed,
of his own distress. But in a moment it was repeated, higher, clearer, an
unmistakable call for help.

He was in the mood to be swayed by the first impulse, to take the toss
of fate. His was not the nature to turn out of its way to assist the
afflicted; but now he wheeled the mare round and drove her up the hill,
fiercely, as if his own deliverance, not that of some fellow-creature,
was at stake. And, in truth, who shall say that it was not?

On the edge of the road, at its abrupt twist down the hill, stood the
black bulk of a coach, horseless, crookedly embedded in the snow. It told
its own tale. As he drew nearer, a cloaked figure staggered toward him
and almost fell against his steed’s shoulder.

“Oh, do not pass; do not go by!” moaned a woman’s voice. “I am dying of
the cold!”

She lifted her face. The faint light of the rifted sky, given back
intensified by the white world, had a luminosity of its own in which
most things were strangely visible. Paul Farrant saw that the woman who
clutched at his reins was young and fair-favoured. He stared a moment in
mere astonishment. Then a thought, devilish, acute, exultant, leaped into
his brain.—There was his ransom!

“Madam,” he said, bending down over his horse’s neck and peering close
into her face, “I am fortunate in having heard you. Are you indeed alone?”

“Alone, yes,” she answered through chattering teeth; “the servants rode
away for help, God knows how long ago.… Perchance they are lost in the
snow, dead, somewhere. Indeed, with this cold, I shall soon be dead, too!”

“Nay, madam, you are saved,” said Farrant, dismounting hastily.

Trembling with excitement, he tore his cloak from his shoulders to cast
it about the slender figure that swayed as it stood; then he swung
himself into the saddle again, and, stooping, caught her hands in both of
his.

“Can you put your foot on my boot?” he asked. “Nay, then, by this mound.
So—now in my arms! (On, Bess!) You are not afraid? Courage, madam, ’tis
but a few yards to my house, to warmth and shelter!”

His arms still shook with excitement as he grasped the muffled figure and
the reins as best he might. And the mare slowly lifted her heavy hoofs
stable-ward again.

His frenzy lest his chance should escape, his evil joy over his prize,
burned like fire in his veins. And something of his blood heat seemed to
pass into the half-frozen woman. She stirred with more vitality in his
grasp, settled herself with more definite volition on the mare’s broad
shoulder, and heaved a sigh of returning energy. Suddenly she started;
and he clutched her, alarmed.

“My servants!” she said, and turned her head so that her breath fanned
his cheeks. Her dilated eyes were close to his in the snow-light.

“Madam?” He held her the tighter and urged forward.

“My servants, sir,” she repeated, a thrill of impatience running through
her quick utterance. “They will return to find me gone!”

“Why, then,” he made answer, driving his heels into their steed’s bulging
sides, “I will even send presently to the coach, and warn them of your
safety.… They will be welcome likewise.… But we must go on—yonder is my
gate—a very little while and you shall be by the fireside.”

As he turned off the road he cast a look backward down the slope and
noticed a brace of yellow lights bobbing through the misty white of
the valley: the traveller’s servants were returning with succour. Not
a minute too much had fate granted him! But are not the ready ever the
successful?

His boyish face was astir with silent laughter as he gathered the lady
into his arms upon the threshold of his own door-step.



III

THE RANSOM


Rockhurst was roused from deep reverie by the opening of the door. His
mind had been far indeed from Farrant Chace and his own unprofitable
present existence—as far away as the days of youth; days of inspiration
and hope; of delicate illusion even in sorrow; days of strife, when
loyalty was an exquisite passion, and the blood that ran in his veins
sang to shed itself for his King! Days when friendship was near and
dear as love, and love itself the golden fruit of an endless mystery.
He was of those who grasp at life with both hands. None had brought a
younger heart to his youth; no man faced his fulfilled manhood with less
illusion. He had wanted much, he had received much, he had taken much—and
all had failed him.

He raised his head and stared, almost as if he were dreaming, at the two
who entered upon his brooding solitude; two that might have come upon
him out of that long-past youth—the lad with the face of the friend he
had loved, and this vision of young womanhood, whose beauty shone like
a pearl from the dark setting of her hood. But as soon as Paul Farrant
spoke the spell was broken.

“A ransom, my lord—a ransom out of the snow!”

The twist of the speaker’s lip, the glint of his eye, gave triumphant
meaning to the words.

Rockhurst rose from his chair, the weary look returning to his face.
Here, after all, was but the degenerate son of the man whose blood had
been his own baptism to noble sorrow. And the sapling slight creature
with virginal eyes and soft lips who was leaning upon Paul Farrant’s
arm? Why—she was but his ransom!—Nay, these were no longer the days
of white-souled Falkland, or generous Hampden, days of chivalrous if
hopeless devotion to ideals: these were the days of the merry Monarch,
where none could feel a higher sweet than Pleasure, nor feel a deeper
pang than Envy.… How far away the days of Youth!

She was but his ransom! And the young man’s words of promise, which had
seemed so empty when they were pronounced, “we may not be so destitute
of entertaining company at Farrant Chace as your lordship deems,” came
back to his mind, and with a new, cynical meaning. Fair company in sooth!
But, how, here “out of the snow,” lured by what prospect of light
amusement, what offered guerdon, he could only surmise. Possibly some
traveller from the inn, ready with all the ease of these times to snatch
at pleasure where it offered itself.…

A lady, by every movement of eye and limb. A lady! Bah! was it not the
fashion among ladies now to be as eager of base adventure as the gallants
themselves?

He stood on one side while, with an exaggerated gallantry, Farrant
conducted the stranger to Rockhurst’s just vacated seat, helped her to
loosen her cloak, and pressed some wine upon her from the neglected
goblets on the table.

When the lady had sipped, and returned the glass into his hand, she spoke
at last.

“I thank you,” she said, smiling. “But, my servants…?”

Her voice was a little faint and plaintive yet, from the numbing of the
cold, but it had a grave ring in it that fell pleasantly on Rockhurst’s
fastidious ear.

“Another taste, madam; we will inquire about your servants anon. The
mistress must first be waited upon,” cried young Paul, all agog in
ostentatious attendance, and ever flinging a restless glance of inquiry
at his Rockhurst. “Fie! Your cloak is heavy with wet. Let me move these
dripping folds away from you. And your feet, oh, I protest!” He was
down on his knees now, his young head glinting in the glow as he bent
assiduously over his new task. “Your feet—ice!”

Even as he spoke, he drew the little doeskin shoe from her foot; and,
as she instinctively lifted it toward the blaze, knelt back so that
Rockhurst might see the firelight play upon its delicate shape.

The warmth of the wine and of the hearth had stirred her chilled blood. A
flush, like the tint of a seashell, crept into her face; into her dazed
eyes appeared a light to which the blue shadows of weariness on the lids
gave a singular brilliancy; she very simply stretched her other foot for
the kindly office.

As Farrant rose at last, with the second shoe dangling in his hand, his
exultation broke out. He drew close, and whispered:—

“Say, my lord, shall we not be right well entertained to-night?”

“We?” echoed Rockhurst, aloud.

The single contemptuous exclamation fell like the cut of a whip. He
turned, and bowing to the visitor, who had turned startled eyes toward
him:—

“Madam,” he said, “I heard you express some anxiety about your
attendants. Our young friend is about to fulfil your request … whatever
it may be.—Go,” added he, turning upon the disconcerted youth. And as
Farrant hesitated he took a swift step nearer to him, and whispered in
his turn, “Go—to the devil or where you will, so long as it is out of
this!”

His eye commanded more insolently yet than his words. The young man fell
back, flung a look of hesitation toward the crumpled notes on the table;
another glance at the lady, his fair treasure-trove. Then, with a meaning
smile, he bowed profoundly, so that all his shining curls fell over his
face, and withdrew.

Rockhurst caught the smile and the look; and the memory of a dead face,
that of his old brother in arms, the boy’s father, in its last stern
serenity rose up before him. His own eyes were hard as he looked again
upon the woman who had been found so promptly willing to come and relieve
the tedium of his snow-bound evening.

[Illustration: The single contemptuous exclamation fell like the cut of a
whip.]

Diana Harcourt, with the return of physical comfort about her, had begun
to feel a strange uneasiness gather in her mind. Country-bred, and
country-wed to an old man who had little taste for company, she had yet
had some opportunities of learning the way of courts; she, for instance,
had no doubt that the youth who had saved her from the snow was of gentle
birth, and that this grave-looking being, with whom she now found herself
alone in the strange, silent house, was a very fine gentleman indeed.
Nevertheless, something singular, something not quite open, clandestine
almost, in the situation began to force itself upon her. What was the
relationship between these two men? The eyes of the elder, who might have
been the other’s father, were cold to dislike as he had gazed upon him.
And the young man’s febrile excitement came back upon her memory with an
impression of distaste amounting to repulsion. What had lurked behind
his smile, his furtive, appraising glance? She recalled how innocently
she had allowed him to touch her feet, and, flushing hotly, she cast her
mantle over them and turned her head with a little movement, at once
dignified and shy, to gaze upon Rockhurst. But suspicion fell from her on
the instant.—Noble-looking, grave, high-bred, old enough to be her own
father, what could she have to fear?

“Sir,” she said boldly, “will you not have the kindness now to tell me
where I am, and with whom?”

Rockhurst drew up a chair and sat him down, deliberately facing her. Then
he crossed his fine white hands upon his knee, letting his eyes rest upon
hers.

“Madam,” he said at last, “do you not hear how the wind begins again to
moan outside? I warrant you, behind the thick walls of this old house
the snow is whirling in great white drifts. It must be parlous cold
without. Here, madam, the firelight is rosy; do you not think we are very
well together? ’Tis a quaint hour, stolen from dull old Time’s grudging
casket. We do not know each other—why, that has a marvellous charm of its
own! Let us not dispel it. We may never meet again; and to-morrow you
go back … to the white snow. And I to the fever of the town. And that,
perhaps, will be well, too.”

Her eyes dilated as she listened, scarce with fear, but again with the
unexplained foreboding.

“Sir,” she said, after a pause, “your words are very strange; I do not
understand them.”

“My dear,” said Rockhurst, his languid lids drooping a little now over
the first keenness of his gaze, which seemed to narrow his scrutiny to
something cruel as a blade, “I have just said it, ’tis a dull world. Will
you complain of its strangeness once in a way? Why have you covered up
your pretty foot? I vow I thought of Diana in the woodland glades when
I saw the arch of its instep.” And, saying this, he opened his brilliant
glance once more full upon her. “Diana did I say?” he cried. “Nay, no
cold goddess! Far from me the omen!… A nymph. Aurora, with the sun in her
hair, and all the roses in her cheeks!”

The blood which had rushed violently to Diana Harcourt’s temples ebbed
away as quickly, leaving her white as the drifts without.

These were, no doubt, but idle words of gallantry; and all her woman’s
instinctive pride warned her against the shame of seeming to attach any
other significance to them. Yet whether glinting between half-closed
lids or widely open upon her, the man’s eyes seemed to her to have some
terrible, some merciless thought in them—a thought strangely at variance
with the dignity of his appearance, the gravity, almost the sadness of
his countenance; horribly at variance with the grey which besprinkled the
raven of his locks.

“I am not of the town, and not accustomed to fine speeches and
compliments.…”

She framed the phrase in pitiful attempt to stem the panic that was
gaining upon her. He still sat motionless, his hands crossed, half
smiling.

“Sir,” she cried, now angrily, “are there no women in this place? Will
you not, in courtesy, allow me the company of one, till my servants
arrive?”

“My dear,” he answered her sarcastically, “will my company not really
suffice?”

Rockhurst had had Heaven or Hades knew what vast experience of women, of
the women of Second Charles’s Court, whether in exile or in Whitehall.
Scarce a challenging beauty of the posy that he had not measured swords
with; and, as the practised fencer will, he knew every trick of the
play, every line of assault and defence, every feint and every parry.
And women, being proverbially unfair fighters, pretty dears! he had a
smile as well as a wary eye for the tricky pass and the treacherous
thrust. Of all the feints, that of innocence in straits, of outraged
modesty, was the most elementary. This divine young creature with the
copper-glowing hair and the wide-dilating eyes; whose blood ran so richly
and so quickly; who had come in leaning familiarly on the arm of that
prince of petty rakes, Paul Farrant, come willingly, it seemed, across
the snows, to his bidding; who had suffered herself to be unshod with all
the unblushing ease of any Whitehall coquette—why, if it now pleased her
to play the pretty Puritan, he had no objection, save that, as he knew
himself, he was apt to be swiftly wearied. The spark of interest kindled
by her unaccustomed kind of beauty, by the something fresh and of the
woodland about her, by the utter unexpectedness of her appearance and the
mystery it pleased him she should maintain, would so soon flicker out. In
love, as in war, he had but one method—straight ahead. In war he had been
beaten back sometimes; in love, never.

“Come,” he said, sitting up at last and slowly stretching out one hand.
“Come, Diana, since Diana you will be.” (Again she started on hearing
herself unwittingly called by her real name.) “Be Diana, if you please,
to me. What if I am no Endymion? Bah, my dear goddess,” and he drew his
lean frame out of the chair and came over to her with the same deliberate
grace, “that was a little mistake of yours to be so ready to stoop to
yonder youth! Endymion is but a callow rascal, a greenhorn. When such
beings as you descend from your high celestial ways it should be for a
man! Come, do you wish me to kneel at your feet, as your shepherd did
even now? I will, an’ it please you.”

His arms were almost about her, when, with a fierce movement, she sprang
up and thrust him from her.

“In the name of God,” she cried, “into what trap have I fallen?”

“Nay, do not scream,” he said, at one step placing himself between
her and the door, and catching her wrist, without roughness, but
with that steel-like grasp she had instinctively divined under his
gentle movements. “Let us clear this strange matter between us two,
madam.—Answer you first: What purpose had you in coming here to-night?”

“I?” she flashed back at him, panting. “Purpose?—Purpose, sir?… That
young man found me in the snow, the coach had foundered, my servants
ridden away for help, I was perished from cold. Purpose? Let me go, sir.
Rather the snow! Oh, let me hence from your horrible house!”

He released her and stood looking at her in silence. Again, even in
her turmoil of terror and passion, she was struck by the extraordinary
dignity of his air. But to look thus, and to act thus!

“Oh, shame,” she said; “you who might be my father!”

A swift shadow came over his countenance, then passed, leaving it set
into marble impassivity. His eyelids drooped. Forgetting her cloak on the
chair, forgetting her shoeless feet, she thought she saw her chance, and
made a rush for the door; but he arrested her with a gesture.

“No!” he said authoritatively. Then, fixing his eyes upon her with an
altered look: “No, child,” he repeated. His voice was as much changed
as his gaze. Gone from it the dangerous, even silkiness of his first
speeches to her, as well as the quick sternness of the last words. This
new voice, something said to her, was the voice of the real self that
matched the noble countenance.

He put out his hand. After a pause she put hers on it. Later she wondered
at herself that she had done so. But there are moments when some poignant
emotion tears away the bodily mask, when souls are suddenly laid bare
to each other. For some of us that is the moment when our belief in all
that is good and beautiful dies. But Diana, in that flashing look into
the soul of this unknown man (who had yet, within so short a measure of
time, insulted her) read that to which her own soul leaped. The storm
subsided in her heart. She suffered him to conduct her back to the chair
by the fire, and watched him—wonderingly, yet no longer with fear—as he
straightened himself and, with folded arms, stood yet a little while
contemplating her.

In the hawk’s eyes there was a softened shadow. As he gazed the shadow
deepened into tenderness.—He was looking at her as the exile might look
at the receding shore of the land he will never see again; with a
yearning that has passed beyond despair, and so grown serene. At length,
sighing, he roused himself, and came forward, pushed the heavy table
closer to her, and brought within her reach some of the viands that were
spread upon it.

“You must eat,” he said. And, as she lifted her eyes again with her
childlike, questioning look, his lips parted in a smile she thought
beautiful, upon the gravity of his countenance: “You have not done with
journeying yet to-night,” he explained.

He moved to the window as he spoke; and, as he drew the curtains aside,
there came into the ruddy brown room a vision of a moonlit fairy world.

“There, too, I was wrong, you see,” he went on, speaking over his
shoulder; “the snow-storms are passed, and there is your sister moon to
show you the way—Diana.” Then, coming back again to the table, “You asked
for a woman’s company. In this house there is no company fit for you.”

Her eyelid flickered over her startled glance. She gave a quick cry.

“Eat, then,” he went on in the same gentle tone, “while I make
arrangements for your instant departure.”

The door was shut behind him. Diana involuntarily called after him; but
his footsteps died away in the empty passages. The great silence of the
house closed about her; and in the solitude her own thoughts seemed to
clamour and crowd bodily upon her. She leaned her elbows on the table and
buried her bright head in her hands.

Slighted … insulted … then served reverentially like a princess … looked
at and spoken to like a beloved child. How was it that all the anger was
dead in her heart, and that in its place reigned this feeling of pain and
incomprehensible joy commingled? How was it that her fear was banished,
that she would have trusted herself with him even in this house which his
own lips had named evil?



IV

UNDER THE STARS


Presently she again heard steps without and rapid words; then his voice,
uplifted sharp and strong. She smiled, broke a piece of bread and sipped
at the wine; she was safe, she knew, where he was. And she would eat, if
only because he bade her.

In a few minutes Rockhurst returned. He was now booted to the thigh, and
carried a cloak on his arm. Once more he sat down facing her. His eye
fell on the discarded shoes; he bent down and felt them.

“They are nearly dry,” he said, and lifted them closer to the flame.
“In a little while you must be ready. You will have to ride on the
same rustic steed that brought you, but I will see that she carries
you to safety.” He paused a second or two, then added: “The inn—a very
well-known, reputable place—is not far distant; and you will doubtless
hear of your servants there. Our young host,” he hesitated, and his voice
seemed to harden, “tells me that, even as he rode with you into the
avenue, folk were hastening to your rescue from that direction.”

Diana’s glance still questioned, but she dared not put the question into
words. What, then, had the young man with the narrow eyes and the uneasy
glance meant by her? And how, if he had had some dark purpose, had she
been thrust upon this other and left to his mercy? Ah, and what had this
other at first fancied to see in her? The blood surged to her cheeks, her
lips trembled. Rockhurst held her under his eye. As if in answer to her
thoughts he bent down.

“My dear,” he said, but how differently the words, a while ago insolently
familiar, were now spoken; “this is no house for you. It must never be
breathed of one such as you that you have been under its roof—with one
such as me. You said you did not know the ways of us of the Court—pray
God you may never know them!”

Here he was silent again, his eye resting thoughtfully upon her hands,
unadorned save for a single posy ring.

“When you marry,” he went on then, as with an effort, “keep in the sweet
country, and of a surety,” a sad smile flickered upon his lip, “your lord
will gladly keep there, too.”

She lifted her head with a quick impulse; her mouth parted to speak. But
an inexplicable, invincible reluctance to tell him she was already wed
thrust back the words.

Rockhurst turned, and taking the loose pieces of paper from the table,
gazed at them thoughtfully for a moment, and thrust them into his pocket.
Then he rose, and almost gaily:—

“Come, madam,” he said, “your palfrey waits in the cold. Put on your
shoes.” As he spoke he took down his sword and buckled it on.

She went forth with him, her finger-tips lightly in his hold, without a
word, through the passages of the lone house, through the hall. The door,
open to the night, cut a square, brilliant silver upon the inner dimness.
Cold, pure airs rushed against them.

The mare, black, steaming, stood patiently, her bridle hitched to a
post. There was not a sound of another living thing, it seemed, in all
the white-shrouded land. She rested one hand on the saddle-cloth, lifted
her foot for his service, and he swung her up with practised ease. She
felt the strength of a steel bow in his arm. He folded her in a huge
horseman’s cloak; then, without a word, took the bridle to walk by her
side.

She looked at him wistfully. Had she dared, she would have invited him
to share the saddle. But, dark and grave, he went beside her, and the
silence held them.

       *       *       *       *       *

They moved as in a dream through a dreamland of beauty, a white purity
beyond expression. Above, in the pine trees, the wind choired; far
out over the waste it sighed. Somewhere very far away, yet strangely
distinct, Christmas joy bells were ringing.

The starry sky that domed this wonderful world was still more wonderful.
Diana neither felt the cold, nor measured the space she traversed, nor
the flight of time. She was another self; she would have asked no greater
boon than to journey on through all this splendour, with the vision
of his face cut in grave beauty against the white world, to meet the
glance of his watchful eye now and again, to have the touch of his hand,
kind and steady, upon her knee, when the road was rougher and the mare
stumbled. She knew that at that unknown inn door, down in the valley,
would come the parting, and her heart contracted.

       *       *       *       *       *

The little village seemed asleep. The inn itself looked deep in slumber,
with barred windows, its every gable huddled under the thick blanket
of snow; only a wreathing smoke from the chimney-stack to tell of some
watchfulness within.

Rockhurst knocked, masterfully, sonorously. Then turning, the rein slung
over his arm, he leaned against a pillar of the porch, removed his hat,
and looked up smiling at her. There came sounds, answering sounds,
indoor. Then he spoke:—

“Thank you,” he said.

“Do you thank me?” Her voice shook a little.

“Thank you,” he repeated, “for having shown me, once more, a vision of my
youth such as I never thought to know again!”

The bars were now heard grating against the closed door. Rockhurst took a
step forward. She read farewell in his eyes; and, flinging out both her
hands, almost with a sob:—

“Ah, but shall we not meet again?” she said pleadingly. “Your name?
Mine—nay, you know it already. It is indeed Diana. Diana—”

But he interrupted her with a quick gesture.

“Hush! My name? No, it is a name of no good report, and I would not have
it dwell in your mind. And yours—it were best I should not know it.…”
Then, after a slight pause: “You come as a dream to me, you go as a
dream, perfect, sweet, beyond words. We shall never meet again, Diana.”

The inn doors were slowly drawing apart. He lifted his arms to help her
down, held her a second between them to steady her, then, putting her
gently aside, sprang into the saddle and forthwith spurred the mare to
her heavy trot.

And Diana, looking after them, saw rider and mount passing from her,
black against the snow. He never turned his head. She stood, bewilderment
in her mind, pain at her heart.

“God-a-mercy, madam, ’tis you!” cried the familiar voice of her old
servant in her ear. “In the Lord’s name, madam, where have you been?” old
Geoffrey was tremblingly questioning.

She started, looking round at him as one suddenly awakened. Was it all
indeed a dream of the snow? she asked herself, as the sheltering doors of
the Anchor, at Liphook, closed upon her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sudden spurt of old Bess the mare soon gave place to her usual jog.
Through the silent snow she carried her rider back to the door of Farrant
Chace. The rhythmic jingle of her bit, the monotonous muffled plunge of
her hoofs, the wail of the wind over the down, seemed to point the wide
stillness, even as the sparse black firs pointed the immense whiteness of
the waste.

Rockhurst stepped in again into the warmth of the parlour, snow sodden on
his boots, hoar frost pricking his hair, and found Paul Farrant.

       *       *       *       *       *

To the young man’s frenzied anxiety it seemed interminable nights that
he had been thus waiting, waiting for release or doom; nights that he
had paced the brown parlour from end to end; that he had stood shivering
in the window recess, gazing out upon the white emptiness, straining
his ears for a sound of life in the awful stillness. The uncertainty
of Rockhurst’s moods, of his intentions, the mystery that had to-night
surrounded his movements, added to the waiting misery. To what end had
Rakehell set forth, at midnight through the snow, with the lady whom he
had so cynically received? Was it a sudden whim of chivalrous courtesy?
His scorching anger upon their last brief meeting might lead him to
that preposterous conclusion—Knight Errant Rakehell, out through the
snowdrifts on a farm mare for the sake of country virtue! (What tale
might he not make of it for supper merriment at Whitehall!) Or Rakehell,
jealous of his host’s fair looks and smooth cheek, carrying off
elsewhere the prize of grace and beauty.…

At such a point Farrant’s uneasy tread would lead him back to the hearth,
to seek vain comfort by the embers, to fling fresh logs on the reddening
pile. What was he to do if Rockhurst were to pass away from his road like
this? Dare he, so long as those damning notes were in that pitiless hold,
ever present himself within earshot of Court?

       *       *       *       *       *

Then all at once, as he sat staring into his uncertain future, his guest
was back upon him—those were his steps without, that was his hand on the
latch! Farrant sprang to his feet, and flung a look of piteous inquiry at
the great lord’s face.

Rockhurst did not speak. He went to the hearth and stood for an
appreciable pause gazing at the lad; in his eyes there was none of the
former scorn—nothing but a kind of sad wonder. Then, deliberately, he
drew the damning slips of paper from his pocket, turned, and, one by one,
with a musing air, threw them into the fire.

Farrant drew a quivering breath of relief. The “debt of honour” was
cancelled.



THE ENIGMA OF THE LOCKET



THE ENIGMA OF THE LOCKET



I

LITTLE SATAN


Enguerrand de Joncelles—_Monsieur le Vidame de Joncelles_, as he
preferred to be called—was new to courts. To the court of Whitehall, _la
cour de Witalle_ he had it, he was yet altogether a stranger.

From the noble monotony of Joncelles, the great poverty-stricken chateau
which raised its pepper-box turrets above meagre apple orchards, a league
south of Caen, to the excitement of the Louvre and Versailles; from the
rigidity of the maternal rule at home (in her retirement, Madame de
Joncelles, a confidant and friend of the late Queen Mother of France, had
never compromised on matters of discipline, and had cherished theories on
the education of young men) to complete emancipation—here had been steps
high enough to upset the balance of any quick-blooded and good-looking
youth of eighteen. But the little Vidame had found his feet, as the
saying goes, with astonishing ease, as soon as the austere old lady,
departing for a better world, left him to face this one by himself.

The new mourning had scarce had time to be fitted to his comely figure
before the whole youth himself had become a different being. There are
some whom a single glass of wine intoxicates; Enguerrand de Joncelles was
intoxicated at the very first sip of life.… Such a flutter of silk and
curls; such constellations of eyes, brilliant or melting or mockingly
challenging; such lightning of wit; such whispers, such sighs! In one
day he had learned to return, with interest, an _œillade_ that, within
the precincts of Caen Cathedral, would have made him drop a modest
lid—and set him dreaming for a week. Within a very little while more
he had mastered the art of capturing a soft hand and holding it hidden
in tender pressure, the while presenting a decorous front to stately
company. He had also learned to look down in the right measure of disdain
upon the burgher; to bandy, in all delicacy, audacious pleasantry with
his equals on the Grand Staircase of the Louvre, or in the _Galérie de
l’Œil-de-Bœuf_. He could whip out his new-mode small-sword with as swift
a grace as the best noted ruffler. He was able to be more obviously
dazzled by the splendour of the _Roy-Soleil_ than many a past-master
sycophant—withal cultivating a fine insensibility of outward aspect,
keeping the delicate beauty of his features set as in a fine white mask,
his voice low-toned—only now and again permitting the wide-pupilled black
eyes to betray by a flash the constant alertness of the inner mind.

These demure airs gave a singular piquancy to the boldness of his words
and deeds, one which was not without its special effect in that court of
solemn sham and wearisome etiquette. Heaven only knows where the precious
only son of Madame de Joncelles had found such sudden knowledge of the
world, such astuteness and such recklessness combined. It was a merciful
Providence that spared his pious mother the sight of the ultimate
blossoming of her carefully pruned young tree!

Attached (together with his sister, Madame de Mantes, a noted beauty
of Versailles) to the train of Madame Henriette d’Orléans, on the
occasion of that princess’s first journey to England since the happy
restoration of her royal brother, he now was ushered to the court of
Whitehall. What the apt youth here saw and learned filled him deep
with surprise—a surprise, however, which he was careful not to betray.
Beyond doubt it was a merry place, this court of Charles—if its methods
were a trifle astonishing. Enguerrand was not one who would let pass a
single opportunity for self-instruction, and now and again, despite his
impassive attitude where the natural acuteness of his wits failed him, he
condescended to ask for information.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was in a questioning mood, this night at Whitehall, when, for the
first time, he was admitted to the King’s more private circle. By good
adventure, he found himself beside a gentleman who seemed to possess an
intimate knowledge of the royal ways as well as an amiable readiness
to impart it. This was an elderly little man of the name of Petherick,
who once, evidently, had been handsome, and was still à la mode. As
Enguerrand was to learn later, Mr. Petherick justified his established
position at Court by a notable ingenuity in discovering fresh sources
of amusement for the easily wearied Charles. Now the acute person’s eye
rested critically upon the elegance of the foreign boy; his Majesty liked
new faces and new fashions, and his Majesty especially liked the French.

“Aye,” said Petherick, as if pursuing his thought aloud, “the King is
vastly fond of your country, Vidame—and of your countrywomen, just now.
See—that divine dark creature that came with Madame Henriette; I’ve
laid a wager, to wit, that her Royal Highness will have to leave her
lady-in-waiting behind, when she returns to France.”

“Sir—you mean, I see, Madame de Mantes,” said Enguerrand, coolly. “My
sister.”

“Monsieur de Joncelles…? Ah, of course, Madame de Mantes is married. And
M. de Mantes?”

“Say was married—happily widowed within a few months,” said the little
Vidame, with elaborate coolness. And from his post slightly in the
background he gazed at the brilliant royal circle and singled out the
familiar dark curly head, the peach-like cheek, the childlike lustrous
eyes with quite a new interest.

Mr. Petherick had too good an experience of the Court not to be more than
ever gracious to a newcomer, who proved to be the brother of a beauteous
sister.

Following the direction of the Vidame’s eyes, he pointed out the
personalities of major importance—handsome Castlemaine, sullen and
aggressive to-night; and fair Stewart with her childish face and her
studied coldness of demeanour, and put Master Enguerrand _au courant_ of
some spicy snippets. Buckingham proclaimed himself by his magnificence,
his insolence, and his gaiety.

“But pray,” put in the Vidame, “who may the tall, dark gentleman be,
who sits in such silence behind his Majesty, and who, even when the
King speaks, seems to have forgot how to smile.… He has a handsome
presence—although no longer young, at all.” (Thus, the superb arrogance
of his own springtime!) “Do you mark, Monsieur Petherick, how my little
sister keeps seeking his notice with languishing eyes—aye, even with
his Majesty’s own gaze upon her … the perverse one! Pray, who is the
gentleman?”

“How!” cried Mr. Petherick, “a whole week already in Whitehall, and
not yet acquainted with the Rakehell? Why, sir, it is our King’s own
familiar, an old comrade of the wars and of exile. His Majesty can
do nought without my lord Viscount Rockhurst—my merry Rockhurst, he
has dubbed his lordship, in a raillery, you will understand, of that
countenance which keeps its gravity through the maddest freak. And mad
he can be, sir; hence that nickname of Rakehell, which no doubt has
astonished your French elegancy.—Nay, but in truth there is an eye that
wanders, as you say, prodigious languorously upon my lord Constable!” Mr.
Petherick went on, narrowing his own watchful gaze: “I congratulate you,
Vidame, upon your fair sister … yet, I trust she is as wise as she is
fair.… Aye, you say true, and your young wits are quicker than mine; the
Lord Constable—my lord Rockhurst is constable, I should inform you, of
his Majesty’s Tower and captain of the Yeomen of the Guard—and in sooth
the one gentleman about the presence who would dare, and for the mere
deviltry of it, to place himself in rivalry with the King … to nip the
quarry, as it were, from under Old Rowley’s nose!”

“Old Rowley?” questioned Enguerrand, his dark eyes flashing wide. He had
a side smile, as he spoke, for his sister and her astuteness. He could
trust Jeanne to be wise.

Petherick coughed behind a lean hand.

“Oh, a name, sir. A name, by which his Majesty’s intimates dare, now and
then, to call him—ahem! when not in the presence—a foolish habit. I know
not how the absurdity slipped from my tongue.”

“Nay, neither do I,” said the little cool Vidame.

His glance wandered back with sharper set curiosity to the royal circle.
Charles had a languid hand amid the curls of the proud, fair beauty, who
sat, erect and triumphant, beside him; the young courtier’s thoughts ran
back to his own gorgeous monarch, set up as upon an altar, never to
be approached save with bent spine, with double-distilled compliments,
spoken of with awe, in whispers, as befitted his august essence. _Le Roy
Soleil_.… Old Rowley!

       *       *       *       *       *

Jeanne de Mantes had a pretty, round face with a pointed chin, wide-set,
very innocent dark eyes, piquantly contradicted by the dainty, wicked
mouth, by every vivacious art and grace that proclaimed one deeply
learned already in the art of pleasing. Charles, in truth, looked more
often to-night at his sister’s pretty _dame d’honneur_ than at the blond,
chill beauty who sat at his right hand; and presently, as he looked,
the King’s sardonic face relaxed into a smile. He leaned forward and
addressed the lady in French:—

“I hear mounts and marvels, madam, of your skill upon the guitar. Will
you not pleasure us with some sweet air of your fingers?”

Instantly every glance fell upon the Frenchwoman; and she, with a start,
brought her eyes from their absent fixing of the Lord Constable to the
visage of the King. She fluttered. She smiled:—

“Your Majesty commands? ’Tis scarce worthy of such ears.”

Curiously enough the guitar had been brought to-night, by the wish of
Madame herself, who deemed that his Majesty might be pleased to hear it.
She stretched out a white hand, half turning the head with its wreath of
soft black curls toward the young man behind her:—

“My brother!… Vidame!”

It was a languid, sweet call, like the pipe of a waking bird, which
augured well for the louder warble. The Vidame was alert; in a twinkling
he was at his sister’s side, presenting the guitar with the arrogant
grace peculiar to him.

But Charles, full of that curious interest in small things which seems so
marked a characteristic of sovereigns—their lives being by fate ordained
in view of wide issues—signified by a gesture his desire to examine the
new-fashioned instrument, and the Vidame approached the presence.

The silent, grave personage whose seat behind the King, apart from the
table, threw him into shadow, looked at the young man at first with
indifference; then, of a sudden, piercingly.

With one arm thrown familiarly on the back of the royal chair, he had
shown himself mighty indifferent either to the challenging glances
lavished upon him, or to the pleasantries that circled round the table,
the most audacious winged with a subtle flattery for the royal attention.
For the monarch himself, who dropped him ever and anon a confidential
word, Lord Rockhurst had but a perfunctory, if quite courteous attention.
A deep mood of abstraction had held him. But, now, his interest was
vivid, unmistakable. He stared at the Vidame; and, as he stared, surprise
seemed to pass into distaste, almost into pain.

The lad paused in his advance, as if held by that intent gaze. Then he
tossed his black locks; a sudden fire of resentment leaped and died in
his eyes, and with crimson cheeks he came swaggering round the table, and
dropped on one knee before the King. Charles glanced curiously from him
to his Lord Constable; Rockhurst’s gaze was still resting inscrutably
upon the lad.

“Odd’s fish, my lord Rockhurst!” cried the King. “You look at the pretty
boy as if you saw a spectre!”

“Even so, your Majesty.”

The sonority of the voice, the strange words, fell impressively in that
light atmosphere. Again Enguerrand’s black pupils shot fury. Rockhurst,
with the same absorbed air, laid his fingers on a slender chain that hung
round his neck, and drew from his breast a gold locket.

Opening and holding it in his hand so that none could view it but
himself, he appeared to be contrasting some portrait concealed in it with
the countenance of the still kneeling boy.

“Ha!” cried the King, “take heed, ladies; for, as we live, the mystery of
my lord Rockhurst’s locket is at length to be solved. A spectre, did you
say, my lord?”

The Lord Constable closed the locket with a snap, slipped it back among
the laces on his breast, and turned easily upon the King; his frown had
vanished.

“Nay, no spectre, sire; the merest passing fantasy!”

Charles was shaken with laughter, a noiseless laugh which scarcely wrote
itself upon his melancholy features.

“Methought, from your lenten face,” said he, “that you were struck by
some memory of past misdeeds.”

“Your Majesty mistakes. No memory; but a warning!”

The King looked puzzled; then, with his usual distaste for prolonged
discussion, made a gesture as if he would put the matter on one side.

“But that locket?” And with the words Madame de Mantes flung out a small
olive finger. Since English etiquette, it seemed, permitted every one
to speak, then she would speak. The matter had become all at once of
palpitating interest to her. The portrait in the locket—it was evidently
a portrait—he had smiled at it. And such a smile! She took a vow that one
day this man should be made to smile thus on her.

“True, true,” said Charles. “Let us see into the secret at last, my merry
Rockhurst.”

The Lord Constable flung himself back into his chair.

“Nay, sire,” said he, and the deference of the words became mockery in
view of the attitude of the speaker. “Your Majesty has every jurisdiction
over me—my goods, my services, my life, are irrevocably yours to dispose
of; but my thoughts are mine own. And this locket belongs to my most
secret thoughts.”

Curiosity flickered once more for a moment in the royal eye. But through
drooping lids the Lord Constable’s gaze was steel-like, and the King
shrugged his shoulders with the foreign gesture that cleaved to him
through life.

“God’s mercy, my lieges, that ye keep your thoughts to yourselves, at
least!” he cried, with an assumed rueful air; “for, between your lost
goods and your past services, our exchequer has enough to meet.” He
stretched out his hand for the guitar as he spoke, and twanged ignorantly
at the strings.

Enguerrand rose with a grin. Charles’s ingratitude toward his ruined
loyalists was no secret in France, and the cold gibe was after his heart.

“Then we shall not see the locket?” cried the Frenchwoman, disappointment
ringing through her fluted tones.

“How the bird twitters!” cried Charles, good-naturedly. “Nay, my dear,
curiosity was ever fatal to your sex. Let us remain in paradise for an
hour or so. Sing!”

Jeanne de Mantes had a voice that matched her looks: small, insinuating,
sweet; creeping into favour, rather than storming it; docile to a
thousand modulations and graces. Now it was the very gaiety of music;
anon just a hint of pathos; and every word distinct as a dropping gem.
And this accompanied with here a dreamlike fixity of gaze, there an arch
roll of the eyes; here again a punctuating dimple, a flash in the peachy,
dark face of the whitest teeth in all the world; there a drooping of the
lip that positively demanded the consolation of a kiss.

Charles had not been so stirred to enthusiasm for a considerable time. He
called for a second ditty, and yet another. This last had an audacious
lilt, with a refrain so infectious that the royal listener began to hum
it midway and sadly out of tune. Toward the last verse, however, under
strokes waxing ever smarter, a string broke with a plaintive sob.

“Ah, _diable_!” involuntarily exclaimed the singer; and his Majesty
laughed delightedly. Then his face changed again as he noted the
compressed lips of Lady Castlemaine and the glacial anger of Miss
Stewart. He rose and broke up the circle. His arm on Rockhurst’s
shoulder, he was about to retire, when he paused and hummed a few notes
of the last song once more.

“A linnet,” he said, “a positive linnet! Odd’s fish! but we’d have her
pipe to us when we might give her our whole attention.”

He spoke low, and flung back a look, that held a certain apprehension,
toward Miss Stewart. This latter stood very erect, and bore a studied air
of indifference.

“If your lordship will look to it—” he went on, then broke off petulantly
under the glance that Rockhurst turned upon him. “Good lack, man! I
forget how much of the Puritan there is in thee at times.”

“Your Majesty,” said Rockhurst, in his most stately manner, “will find
with ease an apter messenger.”

“Aye,” said the King, cynically. His narrow, dark eye roamed a moment
about the room, then rested reflectively upon the fair mask of
Enguerrand’s face. The boy turned quickly. Charles raised a beckoning
hand.

“Vidame,” said the King, “a word in the hollow of your ear!”

The two drew apart, while Rockhurst moved away to the door to await the
King’s pleasure. Charles rejoined him, laughing.

“Faith, if I had such subjects as my cousin Louis, I should be well
served. Yes, ’tis your French finger you want for true lightness of
touch. My honest Britons are all thumbs. The pretty singer’s brother.…
Her own brother, no less! ’Tis a positive little Satan!”

“Aye,” assented Rockhurst, briefly.

The two went down the corridor in silence; then Rockhurst spoke with some
abruptness.

“Your Majesty,” said he, “has before this, I think, found it add to his
interest in … bird-catching that he should not be the only fowler in the
field.”

“How now?” said Charles, halting. The group of attendant pages halted
likewise at the end of the gallery.

“I have thought,” said Rockhurst, steadily, “I, also, that I should like
that linnet to sing to me.”

Charles frowned; but his favourite pursued unmoved:—

“As I have only my _beaux yeux_, as we used to say abroad, to stake
against your Majesty’s overwhelming attractions, I should be flattered
indeed, however, were you to have me banned as a marauder.”

Touched upon the string of his humour, Charles was ever easily appeased.
The very impudence of his grave constable’s proposal tickled him. It was
not the first time that they had found themselves opposed in rivalry,
though scarcely ever before so avowedly. On the last occasion (the King
remembered this pleasantly) Rockhurst, for all his _beaux yeux_, had
been notoriously displaced; and this, doubtless, was a little stroke of
revenge. That was Rockhurst’s way.

“Beware of boasting, my lord Constable!” he exclaimed banteringly.

They were on the threshold of the apartment. Rockhurst made a deep
_congé_.

“I never boast, as your Majesty knows. But your Majesty was wont to love
a fair wager.”

Charles’s smile widened. He nodded assent, and Rockhurst pursued after a
moment’s reflection:—

“Will your Majesty stake the payment of all the arrears due to my
yeomen’s company that the linnet’s first song will not be for me? I would
wager in return their immediate settlement, out of my own estate, unless
your Majesty would impose on me any other stake.”

“Admirable!” said the King. “Yet we would have a more immediate, a more
personal, token of victory—if we succeed against your _beaux yeux_,” he
put in with a little mockery, “and that is, in addition to the paltry
coin, a view of the contents of that locket, my merry Rockhurst.”

Rockhurst hesitated, then bowed. “So be it, sire,” said he.

And hereupon Charles retired, laughing, in cynical anticipation of a good
stroke of business. That ever-present question of arrears of pay was a
persistent annoyance to the royal conscience.



II

WHITEHALL STAIRS


“Little Satan”—bestowed from lips royal in terms of favour, the nickname
cleaved congenially to Enguerrand—entered, into the rôle of King’s
Mercury with all the _verve_ expected of him. But he was considerably
surprised at the manner in which his embassy was received. To place the
most unworthy motives invariably foremost was, he flattered himself, to
display a thorough knowledge of woman. He had yet to learn the thousand
sensibilities that distinguish even the frail of that elusive sex from
the unscrupulous gallant.

As he paused on his announcement, fully expecting to descry in the new
recipient of the royal favour at least as much gratification as he
himself experienced in being singled out as confidential messenger, he
was met by a sudden pouncing movement, expressive only of wrath, by a
dark look, actually by a flush.

Had Jeanne de Mantes ever blushed? It might be a matter of doubt. But
she could colour high with displeasure; and very becoming it was.

“What, sir?” she cried. “I cannot have understood aright. Is this the
Vidame de Joncelles, the French gentilhomme, the servant of Madame
Henriette de France—is this my compatriot, my own brother, who comes to
make me such a proposition?—It is really not to credit one’s ears!…”

Brother and sister faced each other, strangely alike now in their anger:
nostrils quivering over fierce, quick breaths, black eyes flashing into
black eyes.

It was the Vidame who could scarce credit his ears. Here was he, the
messenger of the King, come to open before one whose devouring ambition,
he believed, if anything, exceeded his own, a perspective of boundless
possibilities—and he was thus received! He sat before her in the small
parlour allotted to her in Whitehall,—an exiguous rounded corner room
overlooking the river,—his mouth opened in astonishment, deserted for the
nonce by all his pert airs of assurance.

“Nay, Jeanne,” he said at length, “keep this pretty scene for his
Majesty, if you will; or rather,” he amended, restored by the sound of
his own glib speech, “take my advice, and hold your fits of virtue as
cured and over, once for all, for they say that King Charles becomes very
easily _ennuyé_. For, with me, whom do you expect to take in?”

Whereupon, at a tangent, Madame de Mantes flew into a new rage.

“And it is this little man who is my brother!” she cried, clasping her
hands and surveying Enguerrand from head to foot, with flashing fury;
“_this_ is the child who knelt beside me at our mother’s knee!”

She thrust out a lip of utter contempt: “Take thee in? Thou—thou little
withered fruit … a stone inside, hard skin without; what art thou to me?”

“What am I to thee—Jeanne? To-day,” he cried, “the stepping-stone to thy
fortune, if thou wilt only see it! Now listen to me.”

But even as he spoke, of a sudden his anger cooled before the expression
of her face. What if she was in earnest, what of his fortunes then? It
was no time to quarrel. He caught his sister round the waist and advanced
his lips toward the smooth cheek. But a masterly slap met the endearment.

“I’ll be no stepping-stone to you, nor creature of the English King,”
Jeanne announced, half laughing, half crying. “There’s better in London,
Master Enguerrand.”

He looked at her with wicked eyes, his face whiter than usual against the
three scarlet stripes.

“You’ve had a visit this morning before me!” he cried suddenly; then,
with a diabolic flash of intuition, he recalled the long, soft looks she
had cast upon Lord Rockhurst.

“A visit?” said the Frenchwoman, swinging herself upon her heel. “Why,
yes, that might well be.” She had a private smile, as to the memory of
something singularly pleasant.

“I warrant me that it is your purpose to visit before long that
interesting pile they call the Tower of London. Have a care, _ma sœur_,”
and his trembling lips could scarce articulate the sneer,—had he not
hated that man at very first sight,—“it is there, they say, that heads
are lost in England!”

“Out of my room!” she ordered.

He laughed in what was almost a convulsion of rage. To what post, to what
favours, might he not have aspired, with such a beginning! Meanwhile
it is always the messenger of unwelcome news who bears the blame.
_Malédiction!_ His hand on the door-latch, he sent his last shaft with
deadly purport to wound:—

“O Jeanne, and I had never thought thee the woman to submit to a rival!
Call to mind, _ma toute belle_, milord’s smile as he gazed at the face
in the locket.”

Madame de Mantes heard the furious laughter echo down the passage as
the door closed. She stood in the middle of her little room nibbling
at her finger. ’Twas true! He had smiled at the locket, and with what
tenderness! Ah, that was very different from the mocking twist of the
lips with which he had wittily courted her only an hour ago. How! a king
was to be sacrificed to him, and the man dared to haggle over the full
surrender of his heart! ’Twould be monstrous!

       *       *       *       *       *

“Ah, there’s my Little Satan,” said the King. But his long, gloomy
face relaxed into no mirth: he had had a tedious morning, and of all
things Charles could least endure tedium. The lady who had been first in
favour so long that her chain had become well-nigh as heavy as that of
matrimony itself, had made him such a scene as his own good and faithful
queen would never have permitted herself to make. And another lady, whom
for some time the volatile royal fancy had pursued in vain, had shown
herself more hopelessly obdurate than usual. Between chiding Palmer and
elusive Stewart, Charles was as near ill-humour as his easy temper would
allow—and he was therefore, characteristically, ready for any diversion
to this unwonted hue of his sky. The sight of the little Vidame’s pallid,
handsome face at the end of the audience room put him in mind at once
of the whim he had indulged in overnight for the lady of the guitar; a
linnet that trilled, a little quail for roundness and compactness.

For an _entremet_, according to the new-fangled French jargon of
banqueting, Madame de Mantes was certainly not a dish to be despised;
and, to add spice to it, there was that presumptuous fellow’s wager.
Actually a wager!—Those arrears of pay had been forced upon the royal
memory altogether too often of late. So, with a gesture, Charles waved
his usual circle aside; and those that formed it saw, with astonishment
and the virulent spite of the courtier, the King withdraw with the
unknown French boy into the embrasure of the windows overlooking the
Thames.

Some bethought themselves that his Majesty had noticed the creature
already on the previous night; and whispers began to circulate.

One inventive personage declared he knew (upon positive authority) that
the little Vidame had come on an important secret mission of the French
King anent the necessity of Romanising the English Church without
delay. “Vidame, mark you, is an old French ecclesiastical title,” he
was good enough to explain. “He holds his lands in feu from some mighty
Archbishopric—formerly a Vidame was a kind of ecclesiastical marshal—does
not this furnish food for reflection, my lords? But—” “Pooh,” cried an
airy gallant (who had a French tilt to his moustache), “our good Dorset
has ever Rome in his head. Why, man, a Vidame and his Bishop, it is
well known, always hate each other cordially as ever fox and wolf; ’tis
always between them, who shall have the fattest share of church booty!
Nay, then, are you so simple? Have you looked at that smooth cheek,
those rich curls? Why, ’tis the most piquant matter—some Fair Audacity
in disguise! No more Vidame than your lordship’s self; but, believe me,
some cosy little chanoinesse, sheltering her gentle lapses under the
comfortable wing of Mother Church.”—“Hearken to Follett and his follies!”
interposed a third, a frank-faced youth, the sap of whose English
generous common-sense had not yet been withered by courtly poisons. “Nay,
neither envoy nor canoness, my lords, but as tough a youth as ever I came
across. I tried a fall with him, in the Cockpit,—having heard him brag
of a trick of Breton wrestling,—and by my soul, the lad is steel and
bow-string; he had me on my back in a twinkling and jeered at me till,
for a moment, I saw him in red! But I like the lad; he has mettle, for
all his whey face. Heard you not what his Majesty calls him: his Little
Satan!—Old Rowley hath some bit of devil’s work for him this morning. And
that’s the nut of the mystery.”

“Well, Vidame,” said the King, as soon as they were out of earshot, “let
us now arrange the hour when we are again to hear your melodious sister
warble, as though she were a bird and found our dull skies as bright as
those of France.”

Enguerrand’s lips trembled. His pale cheek grew paler still.

But he had by no means been prepared to reveal his diplomatic failure.
His plan was to temporise, in the hope of eventual success. But his
sensitive acuteness nosed a trail of bitter temper under all Charles’s
urbanity; and, flustered, he hesitated a second. The King drew his great
eyebrows together.

“Madame requires pressing, it seems. She is perhaps hoarse to-day.”

Enguerrand foresaw how, in another moment, by a gesture of that languid
white hand, the insignificant personality of Jeanne—and with it his own
equally futile existence—would be swept from Charles’s horizon. Biting
his lips, he cast about, but vainly, in his own brain, for a word which
would keep the King’s fickle humour at least a little longer on the same
bent.

Could she but be brought to take her golden chance, Jeanne would hold her
own against any adversary but relentless Time—Enguerrand knew his sister
well enough to feel certain of that. So promising an opportunity, and to
see it wrecked by a mood of monstrous folly!

His eye wandered desperately from the King’s face, whereon was writ
coming dismissal, to the dull prospect which lay beyond the window:
a leaden river under a leaden sky—merely to see the huddled, cloaked
wayfarers in the boats gliding past made one shiver.

Suddenly the boy’s eyes narrowed; he drew close to the window, peered
eagerly down; nay, he was not mistaken! Yonder, indeed, went Jeanne
… Jeanne and her woman, and at the water stairs a boat lay in wait
for them. In a flash he understood; he had been right in his surmise!
Moved by an inspiration born of the very genius for intrigue, he cried
eagerly, but under his breath, arresting the King’s attention even as he
was moving wearily away:—

“Nay, your Majesty, my sister is not hoarse, at least to my knowledge—I
found her not in her apartment, and now I perceive the reason. The lady
is not hoarse … yet seems like to become so presently! How will her sweet
notes sound, I wonder, after her water journey, this bitter day!”

“Odd’s fish!” said the King. “What prate is this, sir?”

Yet, curiosity drew him to approach the window in his turn. Through the
Whitehall water gate, down the King’s own stairs, a figure, wrapped in
a rose and grey mantle daintily held up to show little close tripping
feet, a small dame was picking her way down the miry steps. Behind her a
waiting woman in russet carried what appeared to be a lute case. Charles
turned a look, half quizzical, half interrogative, upon the Vidame.

“And is indeed that pink-and-grey bird our fair singer of last evening?”

“Even so, sire,” said Enguerrand, bowing low to conceal the agitation of
his countenance.

“Satan, my little friend,” said the King, more genially, “can you inform
me whither she may be winging her flight, from the very stairs sacred to
our own passage? Not that such ordinance can be enforced upon birds.”

“I notice, your Majesty,” said Enguerrand, now turning candid eyes full
upon the King, “the skiff is heading down river. I believe your Majesty’s
Tower lies somewhere in that direction.”

“Ha!” said the King. His deep eye lightened for a second ominously. But
as rapidly as it came, anger vanished from his countenance; and with it
the last traces of his moody, weary humour. “Odd’s fish!” he ejaculated,
“I had forgot! To the Tower, say you, Vidame? Nay, then, that minds me my
Lord Constable and myself had a merry wager touching a singing-bird. _Ma
foi_, he is early with the decoy and the lime twig!”

He paused. The Vidame looked at him in astonishment—a king to wager with
a subject! A king—and to let himself be crossed in his pleasure and to
find in the circumstance food for indulgent laughter. And the man lodged
so conveniently in his Tower! Joncelle’s vindictive young soul had been
all afire to see the Lord Constable consigned to one of his own cells.
If the Tower of London was not Charles’s Bastille, for the disposal of
inconvenient courtiers, where was the use of it? If a king made no use
of his prerogatives, where was the use of royalty?—The Vidame had yet
much to learn.

Pulling his full underlip between finger and thumb, Charles stared
alternately out of the window at the picture of grey river, vanishing
skiff, and brooding sky, and at Enguerrand’s delicate white face. Beneath
the boy’s tensely still attitude it was easy to divine quiver of nerves,
fierce eagerness.

“Why, now,” said the King at last, somewhat maliciously, “we are not too
proud to be taught by our subject. Our Lord Constable and ourself had,
as I said, a wager who should capture the linnet’s next song. My Lord
Rockhurst is an old soldier: he trusts no one. We sent a messenger: we
therefore stand to lose.”

The colour rushed to the Vidame’s face. He dropped his lids to hide the
tears of mortification that sprang to his eyes. Had the fate of some
battle, the issue of some diplomatic mission, been at stake, he might
almost have felt less keenly the reproach of his failure. To be King’s
Mercury, to set off so gaily, on so high a flight, and fall so quickly,
so hopelessly—no situation could have been more exquisitely painful to
the Vidame de Joncelles. (Poor, pious mother! could she have read, that
moment, into the soul of her son, she might well have thought that the
house she had so carefully kept swept and garnished was indeed invaded by
the seven devils.)

The King’s glance, however, was not unkind. “Nay, now,” he continued,
in ever more good-natured tones, “all is not lost yet. This infamous
Rockhurst of ours laid too tempting a stake that I should let him carry
off the prize without an effort. What say you, Little Satan? Have you a
mind to see the Tower? Your great father has been pretty busy there these
five hundred years. It should be of interest to his little son.”

He flung out his long, careless hand, as he spoke, toward the boy,
and Enguerrand, dropping on one knee, kissed it with sudden passion.
Something about that hitherto dormant part of his young anatomy,
his heart, was stirred. He had felt himself dominated by that very
carelessness and good nature against which but a little while ago he had
inwardly railed; caught a hint of a truer royalty in this careless King
than in all the pompous tyranny of his cousin of France.

Whether the inexplicable Stuart charm, which Charles, black-visaged,
saturnine, cynical as he was, possessed no less than his romantically
beautiful father and his handsome, winning brother of York, had
seized the more potently upon Enguerrand’s nature that had hitherto
been brazened in self-conceit and self-interest against all external
influence, the fact was that in that touch of his lips, the Vidame de
Joncelles devoted himself to a master.

Charles stepped back into the room, called up his gentleman-in-waiting,
and gave instant order for his barge. As he turned pleasantly then to
receive the _congées_ of the dismissed audience, a fine-looking young man
strode quickly into the room, made his way up, and bowing so low that his
profuse, fair ringlets fell in a cascade on either side of his cheek,
presented a letter for the royal hand. Enguerrand, standing close, heard
the messenger’s murmured words.

“From Miss Stewart, your Grace.”

The whole circle stepped back and grew wide while the King read. And many
a look of envy was cast upon the newcomer as Charles, thrusting the sheet
into his breast, turned a complacent countenance upon him.

“Vastly well, Sir Paul,” said Charles, with a little nod.

The young man visibly swelled with triumph. The Vidame’s busy brain
worked at high speed: Miss Stewart? That was the great fair girl who
gave the King such cold return for his notice last night.… Rumour about
Court had it, as Enguerrand knew, that she was playing a high game.…

As a man might look upon one who threatened to rob him of a mistress’s
smile, so Enguerrand glared at the messenger who had evidently succeeded
in his task. But his own hour was not yet over. In high good humour,
Charles beckoned him again to his side.

“Come,” said he, “or we shall be too late. Tide waits not for kings; and
linnets will sing only when the mood takes them.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Enguerrand, seated in the royal barge, felt his heart swell with pride.
He was alone in attendance, save for the tall officer of guards, whose
face, impassive and dark as bronze over the folds of the red horse
cloak, looked forth with the indifference of the man under orders, upon
this last whim of the master. The French boy’s blood was tingling with
excitement. The raw airs, the bleak aspect of the waterway, the shadow of
the towering masonry from which they were just emerging, dark with its
story of royal tragedy, failed to depress a spirit otherwise susceptible
to physical impressions.

His failure, after all, had become more profitable than success. He was
on sudden terms of intimacy with a monarch whom he was eager to serve;
and in conjunction with the Stuart himself, he was about to inflict at
least discomfiture upon the man for whom at first sight he had conceived
hatred.

He was still child enough, moreover, to feel a titillating sense of
gratification in watching the skill and vigour of the royal watermen, the
like of which was undreamed of on French rivers; in feeling that it was
partly for him these stalwart backs bowed in rhythmic measure, that the
oars swept the waters, green now to his closer vision; that it was, in a
way, before his own passage that the craft hastily opened out to leave a
wide channel, and that every head was uncovered.

Charles’s face had fallen into its habitual expression in repose, of
somewhat bitter melancholy; and the journey was traversed in silence,
until, just in front of the archway of London Bridge, the sweep of the
tide, which had been for some time at the full, began to tell decidedly
against them. The barge came almost to a standstill.

The King roused himself from his abstraction and flung a rueful smile
over his shoulder at Enguerrand: “Said I not well? The tide waits not for
kings.”

The watermen caught the phrase, and as if stung in their pride of office
fell to at the oars with a fury which sent the sweat rolling down each
weather-beaten cheek.

“Our wily friend,” proceeded Charles, “chose his hour with judgment. The
bird has as easy a flight as the dove to the ark. We stand to be beaten,
after all, by my Lord Constable.”

Beaten! Never, if his oarsmen died for it. The brawny arms shot out in
unison; the backs bent and straightened with the rage of defiance; they
shot the bridge in triumph, the contentious waters vainly swirling and
lapping against the sides of the barge.

As they emerged into the gentler stream beyond, there was a moment’s
pause, and every man of the crew, dashing the salt sweat from his eyes,
turned involuntarily toward the royal visage. The slight smile of
approbation on Charles’s lips seemed ample guerdon for the feat; indeed,
as in the case of most saturnine countenances, its momentary relaxation
had a rare charm. They fell upon the oars again, and presently the mighty
pile of the Tower seemed to engulf them into its dark shades.

If Whitehall, stained with the blood of a king, shed a gloom about it,
even while holding the most irresponsible court in the world, what
sinister shroud enveloped these walls to every imaginative mind. The
stones of the dungeon, tradition said, had been first cemented in lime
and blood; and enough blood had since been poured out within those gates
to stain the moats forever crimson.

The water gates swung back, and the King’s barge glided in. Charles’s
face bore an air of pleasant anticipation, unwonted good fortune. He was
certain to be amused, whichever way events turned; certain at least of
some novel sensation.



III

THE LINNET’S SONG


Jeanne de Mantes sat sidewise in the deep window-seat of the parlour in
the constable’s Tower, her dark eyes roaming about her with a curiosity
not unmixed with a kind of awe. The room, dark with ancient oak to its
blackened ceiling, with its huge depth of wall, its aspect of strength,
silence, antiquity, resembled no apartment that she had ever entered.
True, she had never penetrated into the Bastille, and true, she was here
of her own free will and free to leave at her caprice; yet a small shiver
crept over her. There seemed to her something ominous, something fated,
about the place. All said and done, it was a prison. What should bring
hither those who lived for freedom and joy?

She glanced almost timidly at the man who stood, one elbow propped on the
embrasure, gazing down at her with inscrutable yet perhaps mocking eyes.
He matched his Tower, she thought, in the something dark and melancholy
which, though he might smile and court, yet remained as undisturbed as
the sombreness of the room by the leaping firelight or the early spring
flowers on the table.

Their glances met. In the light that fell upon her from grey skies and
grey wall, the texture of her face showed flawless; richly coloured, at
once soft and firm, it glowed like some southern fruit out of the cold
setting. Her lips were parted: forgotten, in the momentary feeling of
strangeness, all the modish airs and graces of the Louvre. She looked
like a child, Rockhurst thought. He smiled at her, suddenly, kindly; sat
down on the window-seat beside her and took her little amber-tinted hand
in his.

“This is a rude place for such a one as you,” he said; “and you look
about you like some creature caught against its will. Nay, you shall but
sing me a song, and take your flight again forthwith, if you so wish it.”

All the woman in her awoke, petulant, displeased. Chivalry in love, a man
who could desire and yet spare—that was not at all to her French taste.
She drew her hands quickly from his and tossed her head.

“How so,” she cried in her pretty foreign English. “Fortwit’ after my
song? But now, at once, if you prefer! Your lordship is quick tired!”

She sprang from the seat as she spoke. But he, stretching a lazy arm,
caught her by her yielding waist.

“I said, if you wish it, Mignonne. In love I am no highwayman, but a
courteous dealer.”

She feigned to struggle, brushing his cheek with her curls; then gave
him all the candour of her eyes and the glint of a smile from her wicked
lips; upon which, suddenly, he kissed them.

“Ah! highwayman, after all!” she mocked.

He drew her close to him, laughing silently.

“Milord Constable,” said she, “if one of your soldiers down there should
chance to look up, it is all over with … your reputation.”

Again he laughed, struck by the audacious humour of the soft creature
within the circle of his arm.

“Madame,” said he, then, with unexpected gravity, “my soldiers have long
ceased to look up. My reputation is too well established to be worth
looking to.”

Piqued, she thrust him from her with a quick gesture. It is one thing
to be quickly conquered; it is another to be classed among the easy
conquests.

“You’re insolent, milord!” she said, with out-thrust lip.

“My pretty one,” he answered her, “anger becomes you vastly; but as for
myself, I have a preference for the dimpled smile.”

He let his arm drop from her carelessly. She stood looking down at him,
fascinated, taunted, uncertain.

“Believe me,” he went on in the same tone, half condescending, half
caressing, “I am much older than you; I have had experience—life becomes
much pleasanter, its few good hours vastly easier of discovery, if we
agree to take certain things for granted. And, as example is ever better
than preaching, let us put my theory in practice. I, now, take it for
granted,” as he spoke his fine teeth flashed a second in a wider smile,
“that you are all virtue, yet that you harbour for my unworthy self an
amiable passion which excuses, nay, commands, a gentle lapse. You on
your side take it for granted that I am consumed with an ardour unknown
hitherto in my existence. Come, does not that place us instantly on a
delightful footing? And this being so: why, then, come back to my side.”

She palpitated between fury and the extraordinary attraction which drew
her to him. Her breast heaved, her eye first lightened, then melted. She
took an unwilling step, then paused. Almost a sob rose in her throat. In
another moment she would have flung herself on his breast, as he sat
awaiting her with that air of amused certainty that was in itself at
once part of his fascination for her and an insult to her every instinct
of pride, when suddenly she perceived that his eye had become fixed and
distant. The insolent wretch had already dropped her from his thoughts;
she was not worth to him even that pause of expectation!

Staring through the south window, up the river toward that gloomy bridge
through the arches of which she had come to him, his attention was
absorbed, his glance had gained a hawk-like keenness; the lines of his
face were set. Whatever he beheld without, it was something that evoked
far keener interest in him than the woman who had come to his call, in
preference to that of a king. This was too much!

“Adieu, milord,” she cried in a high, strained voice. But, womanlike, she
must see what it was, without there, on that hideous river, that he was
looking at.

The royal barge, with its standard and pennants, its flash of scarlet and
the long swing of red-and-gold oars, was already masked under the shadow
of the battlements; nothing but the long stretch of water, dotted with
black craft, met the searching of her angry eyes.

What is it, she asked herself; his fair one, in some well-known boat? Ah!
the owner perhaps of that face in the locket, which even his King was not
to see? What in the name of all decent pride was Jeanne de Mantes doing
here? Yet even as she moved again to leave him, with what dignity she
might, the incomprehensible being turned to her again—turned with a smile
so winning, a glance so warm and caressing, a voice so tender, that the
young woman lost her footing on her momentary plane of dignity, and found
herself floundering again between a tearful desire for surrender and that
hot anger which only a real love is able to kindle.

“How now! Adieu, say you? From your lips, sweet, that is a word I hope
never to hear.”

“Why should I remain, milord?” she said feebly. “You care not to keep me.”

“I care so much that I will not let you go.” He came after her quickly
into the room. “Why, you foolish child, how can you escape from the Tower
so long as its constable means to hold you? Do you not know, I have but
to call a word, and the drawbridge is raised, the portcullis dropped over
the waterway—that I have the right of imprisonment here, that there are
secret places where I can hide my wilful prisoners? Nay, sweet one, are
we not well together here?—You shall sing to me!”

Stirred with an emotion which, hitherto only playing with life, she had
never known before, she murmured, blushing and trembling:—

“Sing! _Eh, mon Dieu_, you hold to it, then?”

“Why,” he answered her, “was it not singing that you caught my heart?”

Delicately flattered, she suffered herself to be led to a cushioned
seat by the deep hearth; and she was already stretching out her arms
to receive the guitar, when something in his air struck her quick
apprehension, something at once of eagerness for her compliance, yet of
indifference toward herself. He shot restless glances toward the window,
seemed to strain his ear as if for some expected signal. When his eye
swept over her, it was with an impatience other than that of the fond
lover. She took the instrument from his hand, and watched him with a new,
critical closeness as he flung himself upon the settle opposite to her.

In a tone which ill concealed irritability, he cried to her:—

“Begin—begin, little bird!”

Here was some odd mystery. She folded her hands across the polished
olive-wood.

“Heavens!” she exclaimed, and it was her turn now to mock. “What a
passion for music has your lordship!”

His eye shot anger upon her, beneath contracted brow. She felt at last
that she had power, and her smile widened.

“You and your song,” said he, “are inseparable. By your graciousness I
hold you mine for a little while, nor will I be defrauded of any of the
sweetness you can give.”

The words seemed charmingly chosen; but again the underlying, unknown
purpose was perceptible. A quick inspiration came to her: here was the
moment to bargain; and Enguerrand, the little impertinent one, should
know of her easy triumph before this grey English day had turned to the
murky English night.

“If I sing,” she said, “I must have my guerdon.”

Amusement and relief sprang together into his look:—

“Nay, then, pretty one; make your own terms. Pearls for those shell-like
ears—gems for that throat—”

She shook her head till the ringlets danced.

“Speak, then,” he went on impatiently. “What jewel, what bauble?”

She bent forward with a new, adorable softness, coaxing.

“A mere trifle, indeed, milord. I but ask for that locket of yours with
which you were pleased to excite the curiosity of Whitehall last night.”

“How now!” said Rockhurst. He started, and turned the lightning of his
glance, the thunder-cloud of his brow, upon her, a man whom it was not
good to offend, and she quailed an instant. Then her hot blood rose in
jealous passion:—

“So vastly precious? Why, then, generous milord Constable, suppose I put
a high price upon my song; are you so ungallant?”

“Little madame,” retorted he, drily, “since you set a price on your
favour, you would be as vastly disappointed with this poor trinket as Eve
with the taste of her apple. Continue to desire it,” he went on, falling
back into his tone of light cynicism. “To long for anything unattainable
is one of the spices of existence.”

The firelight leaped on her angry face. She sprang to her feet, dashing
aside the guitar, which fell on the stone floor with sonorous wail.

“If I could flatter myself I was helping to provide milord’s tedium with
such a spice,” she cried, “my immediate departure would have a double
charm!”

[Illustration: She felt at last that she had power.]

She reached a trembling hand toward her cloak. He, outstretched on the
settle, watched her, without moving. At this moment, grave sounds, a
trumpet call, followed by dull roll of kettledrum, rose from without
into the momentary silence of the room. Stone wall and vault gave back
the echo. There was a hurried tramp of feet, sharp cries of command. The
Frenchwoman’s hand was arrested in mid-air. She looked in startled query
at her host, who was slowly gathering his long limbs together preparatory
to rising. He met her glance with one that struck her excited fancy as
sinister, and she gave a cry like a child:—

“Let me out of this horrible place! You have no right to keep me here!”

He caught her wrist with a grasp gentle yet relentless.

“Your password, Jeanne, shall be a song—however short, but one stave, a
few notes! Your song I must have!”

He picked up the guitar, and again pressed it upon her. She put her
hand to her throat with a sob, flung a piteous glance around her like a
trapped thing, and struck a faltering chord. Then, in a sudden revulsion,
her courage rose again.

“Pah!” she cried, “’tis out of tune! _Eh, bien non!_ I will not sing! I
am French; you have no right to hold me here!”

“By the Lord!” said Rockhurst, a gleam of genuine admiration leaping to
his eye, “but I like your spirit! Be dumb, then, sweetheart. You shall
pay me by and by. Nay,” he added, smiling on her bewilderment, “let thy
mantle lie where it is; for, prithee, I would have thee assist me to
receive his Majesty.”

“His Majesty?” she cried, in fresh amazement.

“Aye,” he laughed. “Didst not hear the royal tucket sound without?
Charles in person, who always finds the world but a dull place, even
under the same roof with an old friend, if there be not the flutter
of a petticoat to liven it. But you have made me dally, little Madame
Mischief, and even my indulgent monarch expects some pretence of
ceremony.”

His hand was on the bolt of the latchet as he spoke; his last words were
almost lost in the echoes of the vaulted passage.

       *       *       *       *       *

Charles paused on the threshold, his sallow face seeming darker than
usual in the grim light. His lips smiled, but there was a certain
displeasure in his eye as it roamed from Jeanne’s crimsoning countenance
to the guitar on the seat. From the gloom of the passage Enguerrand’s
white face shone out, composed save for the deep reproach of his glance
when it met that of his sister. Rockhurst alone, bowing the King into his
apartment, wore a pleasant air of unconcern.

“We verily believe our visit is inopportune,” said Charles, with
sarcastic courtesy. “We have interrupted, we fear, some dulcet music, my
Lord Constable?”

Rockhurst closed the heavy door behind his guests, then advanced to the
King’s side.

“Nay, sire,” said he, with fine geniality, “the bird came to the lure, it
is true, but no art of mine or persuasion could call forth a song.… Your
Majesty, no doubt, will prove more successful.”

“Odd’s fish!” cried Charles, with one of his rare, hearty laughs. “Say
you so, indeed, invincible Constable? Say you so, indeed, my merry
Rockhurst? Beaten? And under such auspices—alone with your fair! But
how, then, are we to put our own skill now to the test, before so many
witnesses? For we would not win our wager on the royal authority, but in
all equality, my good Lord Constable, even as in that merry moment we
entered upon it.”

Wager? Here, then, was the word of the riddle! A wager between two
irresponsible men of pleasure: who should first obtain of a woman the
petty guerdon of a song! ’Twas for that she had been wooed by both—both!
And she, who had been uplifted on a wave of magnanimous feeling, who
had flattered herself to be giving up a king for the love of a subject!
Jeanne de Mantes had grown white to the lips. She caught at the table
behind her for support, yet never had her wits been clearer. To sing for
neither would serve them both well. Aye, but to sing for Charles would
best punish him who had deepest offended. She flung one look of fury at
Rockhurst, and then turned to the King, who had let himself sink upon the
settle in front of the fire:—

“May the poor object of your Majesty’s wager inquire what are the stakes
that were set upon her favour?” she asked, with a deadly sweetness,
taking up the guitar and beginning to tune it with little, fierce hands.

Charles, who saw himself on the point of success, answered thoughtlessly,
with a schoolboy look of triumph at the constable:—

“I but bargained for a sight of the contents of that mysterious locket
which was so contumaciously denied to my curiosity last night, and—” Then
he hesitated, with a faint flush of confusion.

“His Majesty,” said Rockhurst, gravely, “with his usual magnanimity,
opposed a large guerdon to my trifling stake.”

The King, both spared and taunted by this reminder, moved uneasily on his
seat. But already the twang of the guitar in harmonious cadence brought
his light humour back to amusement again. If hesitation had still lurked
in Jeanne’s mind, the first mention of the locket had swept it away.
Her voice rose, robbed perhaps of some of its delicate sweetness, but
vibrating with unwonted fire and incisiveness. She chose a bellicose
ditty, which a Frondeuse mother had sung to her baby ears. And when she
paused, panting, on the last refrain, with a furious sweep across the
strings, Charles broke into delighted applause. Enguerrand, flushing with
triumph, caught the guitar from his sister’s hand, as with a hysterical
gesture she was about to cast it on the floor.

“I have sung!” she cried loudly, with almost a viperine movement, rising
from the seat on which she had crouched to play. “Milord Rockhurst has
lost his wager. Let him now pay!”

Rockhurst bowed urbanely toward her, drew the locket from its
hiding-place, and with a second profound obeisance, handed it, open, to
the King. As he looked, the mischievous curiosity on Charles’s face
changed to an expression of profound astonishment.

“Odd’s fish!” he cried.

He shot a lightning glance at Enguerrand, then at his Lord Constable,
and then at the picture again. And once more his expressive countenance
altered.

“Yours?” he queried.

“Yes, your Majesty,” said Rockhurst.

Charles’s eye remained pensive for a further span. But suddenly it
wandered to the Frenchwoman, and the mercurial King burst into laughter.

“Odd’s my life, but look at your sweetheart, my lord! The wench is on the
very coals of jealousy—a live trout in the frying-pan were in comfort
compared to her. Nay, we’ll have no torture in our presence. Fain would
you look at your rival, madame?”

Rockhurst made no effort to interfere, and with trembling fingers Jeanne
took the trinket from the King’s hand. In her turn she gave a cry; and
Charles laughed heartily at the amazement, relief, and disappointment of
her air.

“Why, ’tis naught but a boy!”

“Naught but a boy, indeed,” echoed Charles, “yet, we’ll go warrant what
our Lord Constable holds dearest upon earth. A likely lad! Aye, and with
a strange resemblance to Little Satan there.”

“God forbid!” ejaculated Rockhurst.

And “God forbid!” echoed Enguerrand, pertly, sharp as lightning.

Charles, who had been in high good humour, flung the lad a cold look,
under which he fell back abashed and crimsoning—only to glance up again
with a spasm of anger and hatred at the Lord Constable, as soon as the
sovereign’s head was averted.

“We knew you had an heir,” said the King; then, turning with dignity to
his host, “but, my lord Rockhurst, you have let us forget it. How is it?
He should be at our Court.”

Bowing deeply, Rockhurst answered in a low voice:—

“My son is brought up in the country, sire.”

“Nay, fie!” said Charles. “Is not that even what we would reproach you
with? So fair a stripling should never grow a mere rustic. We’ll have him
about us,” insisted the King.

Again there was that moment’s silence. Jeanne looked up from the picture
at which she had been absently gazing. This son of Rockhurst interested
her not at all; not had he been twice as handsome as the fair, spirited
face, with its odd resemblance of features and its odder dissimilitude
of expression to her own brother. She felt humiliated to have played so
foolish a part of jealousy, and more than ever baffled by the strange
personality of the man she had elected to love.

Rockhurst took back the locket, gazed at it again, closed it, and
replaced it on its chain.

“Will your Majesty forgive me,” said he, at length, “nor deem me
ungrateful if, in spite of your condescension, I yet hold that my son is
best in the country?”

“We would at least hear your reason,” said Charles, with some weariness.

“In the country, your Majesty,” replied Rockhurst, then, “my lad will
continue to revere his father, to honour womanhood, to live wholesomely …
and think purely.”

Charles’s swarthy cheek became suddenly impurpled under a pulse of anger.

“And at our Court can your paragon practise none of these virtues?”

Rockhurst turned his glance deliberately upon the Vidame de Joncelles,
who stood behind the King, his handsome chin uptilted, his eyes
insolently ready to return the constable’s gaze; then he swept a look
upon Jeanne de Mantes. That look said more eloquently than words the
thought that was in the father’s brain. Then, at last, he spoke:—

“Let me remind your Majesty of a phrase you made use of last night—‘And
he, her brother, the Little Satan!’”

The corners of Charles’s lips twitched humorously at the recollection;
his transient anger evaporated. It was the misfortune of his life that he
was always most prone to see the light side of the most serious questions.

Enguerrand, with his implike quickness, caught the relaxation of the
royal profile, and his own lips quivered with mirth. Upon Rockhurst’s
face came an expression of disdain mingled with deep melancholy.

“Your Majesty smiles,” said he, “and so does the lad yonder. Ah, your
Majesty, look at him! ’Tis a fine lad, even as my own. And you are right!
there is some resemblance, a great resemblance, between them; and your
Majesty, who saw me start at it last night, deemed I had seen a spectre.
I saw this, sire—what a court makes of youth.”

Charles’s foot had been tapping restlessly. He moved once or twice
uneasily in his chair: his merry Rockhurst had not used him to such
wearisome moods. Yet he loved the man.

“Nay, nay,” he explained at length; “I’d have you remember, my lord, that
it is my cousin of France who is responsible for our Little Satan yonder.
Nay, Rockhurst,” he went on, in his easy kindness and his sense of royal
prerogative, unable to grasp the fact that any one could be in earnest in
refusing the favour of his personal interest; “I’ll have the lad with my
own sons. We’d keep our eye upon him, man.”

Rockhurst’s glance rested on the King’s countenance now with an unwonted
tenderness.

“Alas, my beloved liege! …” he said gently.

Their gaze commingled; then the amazed displeasure in Charles’s eyes gave
place to unwilling amusement, as Rockhurst went on once more in his usual
indifferent tone:—

“The poor child would at least, your Majesty will admit, find it hard
to practise at Court the fourth commandment.… How should he honour his
father? And yet ’tis my wish that his days should be long in the land.”

“Why, then,” said the King, shortly, “there is no more to be said.”

He rose and looked a second keenly at Jeanne. Then, upon one of those
generous impulses which none could carry more gracefully into effect than
himself:—

“You lost your wager to me, my lord, with all the gallantry I expected
of so good a cavalier. But, Odd’s fish! I do not carry away altogether
a clear conscience on the subject. If you have lost in the letter, it
strikes me you have won in the spirit. I will take it, if you please,
that we have both won; I will indite forthwith an order on the exchequer
for those greedy yeomen of yours who contrive to be always under arrears
of pay.… Though, upon my life, Rockhurst, you and your fellows put me in
mind of those callow birds we used to watch, in our wandering days: it
boots little how big the last mouthful—ever a squawk for more!”

Rockhurst folded his lips upon the obvious retort. He took the sheet from
the King’s hand with an air of profound obligation:—

“Your Majesty’s veterans will be deeply gratified.”

But already Charles was weary of the subject, weary of his present
company.

“Madame,” he said, bowing toward Jeanne as he hastily got up, “we shall
importune you no longer with our presence.”

The little Frenchwoman understood very well that in these words all
royal pretensions to her favour were finally abandoned, and, in her
infatuation for Rockhurst, cared as little for the fact as for the
furious look cast upon her afresh by Enguerrand.

“Come, Vidame,” said the King. Then he added, with a malicious gesture
that pointed from Jeanne to Rockhurst, “Come, you are as much out of
place in this atmosphere of virtue as ourself!”



THE PEACOCK WALK



THE PEACOCK WALK



I

JUNE ROSES


The peacock, picking his stilted way along the lower terrace walk,
conscious of his magnificence with the sunshine on his burnished breast,
rejoiced at the sound of approaching steps: here, at last, was some one
to see and to admire.

But in vain did Juno’s bird spread and parade, advance and retreat, and
display for the newcomers the glories of his outspread tail, which defied
the sun with its fifty iridescent eyes. The elder of the two young men
interrupted but for a second an emphatic speech to cast an indifferent
glance upon the strutting splendour; while the younger poked at it idly
with the stock of his whip. Offended, and with discordant protest, the
peacock flapped on to the stone lion that heraldically guarded the
terrace stairs and swept over their heads the fall of his unappreciated
train.

Lionel Ratcliffe, the emphatic speaker, turned to survey with sullen eyes
the scene which spread away beneath the balustrade of the Peacock Walk.
It was the ripest hour of an early June day. The wood-crowned slopes,
dropping down from the garden, were bathed in mellow light. Farther away,
rich pastures, gently swelling into knolls, melted into purple haze,
until they were gathered into the distant amethystine moors. Almost as
far as the eye could reach, the land and all that stood on it—timber,
meadow, homestead, hamlet—belonged to Rockhurst, fit appanage to those
massy castle walls that rose clear-cut against the blue air, in all the
majesty of ancient power. And as he gazed, Lionel Ratcliffe’s heart grew
sombre even as his glance. A keen-faced man, old-looking for his thirty
years, somewhat below the middle height, with marked features, cold blue
eyes and thin lips that betrayed the working of an intellect as sharp as
the steel that hung by his side.

His companion was of vastly different stamp. Country bumpkin was written
on the face of Edward Hare, on every seam of his oversmart suit; country
wits stared from his prominent eye, were heralded by the laugh ever ready
upon his mouth—a mouth, one dared swear, that had known no better taste
in life than the rim of an ale can, the hard cheek of some bouncing
Dorcas.

Waking from his abstraction, Ratcliffe wheeled upon his cousin, and
resumed his indictment:—

“It is even as I tell you,” quoth he. “They are both as apt as tinder:
it needs but a spark now to set the glow. ’Slife, Ned, I little thought
thine would be the hand to strike flint!”

“Mine, Cousin Lionel?” broke in the other, whining. “Nay, nay—”

But the first, flinging out an accusing forefinger, bore down the
plaintive interruption:—

“Then why didst bring her over here to-day?—Come now, ’tis plain enough.
Dost favour my suit, or young Rockhurst’s?”

“Why, you know I’ll have none but you,” bellowed Edward Hare. “Harry
Rockhurst …?” he cried. “Phew!”

He snapped his fingers and blew through them, threw himself into an
attitude of defiance and, so doing, stumbled into his new-fangled sword
which, carry it at whatever angle he tried, seemed ever in his way.
Ratcliffe steadied his kinsman, then, still holding him by the elbow,
drew him toward the stone bench, overhung by climbing roses. Having
jerked his companion down upon it, he let himself subside beside him,
crossed his legs and proceeded, contemptuously, good-humoured yet
incisive:—

“If I wed Mistress Harcourt, your sister, is’t not a bargain? Shalt not
continue to have bed and board and bottle beneath her roof? Aye, and many
more of old Harcourt’s round pieces to chirp in thy pockets at cockfight
and hammer fair? And when we go to Whitehall …” He paused impressively.

Edward Hare was touched; his soft face became moved as by not distant
tears.

“Good Lionel … dear coz! Odd’s babers! Do I not tell thee thou shalt have
her?”

Ratcliffe resumed, casting his words into space with a sidelong
watchfulness as to their effect.

“Whereas, mark, if Diana wed another, what of thee, then, my cock? ’Tis
back to the bare ancestral acres with Sir Edward Hare. ’Tis farthing
toss and small ale. For thou art poor, lad, damned poor! And a poor
baronet—fie!”

The poor baronet made a wry face. He pushed his plumed hat off his
forehead to scratch his perplexed head.

“Aye, small ale, plague on it! Farthing toss—pooh!”

“’Twill ne’er do, eh, Ned!” laughed the other.

“No, split me, ’twill ne’er serve a man like me!”

Sir Edward Hare rose, in his indignation, and promptly tripped again over
his sword. Somewhat abashed, and trying the comfort of a new angle, he
dropped his high tone once more for one of plaint:—

“But, Lord, coz, what can I do? Di is like the bay filly: she’ll neither
lead nor drive. Ain’t I always a-singing your praises? ‘There’s the
husband for you, Di,’ say I. ‘There’s the lad for me,’ say I, twenty
times a day.”

Ratcliffe cursed his cousin in secret, as, rising in his turn, he clapped
him affectionately on the shoulder.

“I marvel at you,” he bantered. “And will you walk your filly to the gate
and expect her to take it on the standstill? Is that the way to deal with
a woman? Shouldst say to her: ‘Hast noticed Cousin Lionel’s squint?…
Prithee, sister, have ne’er a thing to do with Cousin Lionel: ’tis a sad
bad man! Ah, there are tales, sister, terrible tales!’”

Edward gaped.

“Oh, and what will she do then?”

“Why, look into mine eyes the very next time; and, not finding the
squint, perhaps find something else, something in them she never marked
before.”

The young oaf nodded portentously.

“Aye,” cried he, “and then—”

“And then—Why, I see you take me. Hast sharp wits, coz!—Then will she
begin to ponder on those dark deeds of mine, and wonder about Cousin
Lionel, and think him a very different man after all from the kinsman
who played with her and teased her all her life. But, zounds, man, such
a cock of the walk as thou art need not be lectured on the art of love!
Why, when we get that figure of thine to Court, what a stir will there be
among the beauties!”

The poor youth made no attempt to disguise his flattered emotion.

“Ecod,” he smirked, looking down at his legs, “I’ll not say but I can
hold my own among the petticoats. He, he—a word in thine ear, Lionel:
Moll, you know—” he whispered into his cousin’s curls, laughing
immoderately. “And little Prudence Prue, down at the Red Lion—” Here he
whispered again and guffawed: “Odd’s babers, she did! But Di must not
hear of it.”

With immovable gravity, the elder man submitted to these boisterous
confidences; then, holding his cousin from him at arm’s length, surveyed
him with an irony which must have pierced through anything less
thick-skinned:—

“What a blade you are! There will be no holding you at Whitehall!”

He suddenly sighed, dropped his hands, shook his head, and assumed a tone
of melancholy:—

“Heigho, but we must get thee to Court first! And these adieus will undo
all. ’Slife, man, she’s ripe for love. ’Tis rebound, ’tis nature. After
the cold fit, the hot one. After old Harcourt, the old husband promptly
and happily demised, Harry Rockhurst the stripling, live and young!…
After eighty, eighteen.…”

“Nay,” interrupted Edward, sapiently. “Harry Rockhurst is twenty.”

“Aye,” mused Lionel, “and so is our pretty Di. Lord! your worthy mother
had scarce called out, ‘Oh,’ of Diana, before my Lady Rockhurst began
her, ‘Ah,’ of that young whelp! Well, by this time, these babes will have
plighted their troth, if the gods interfere not.” He turned on Hare, his
fierce temper escaping him for an unguarded moment: “Why the foul fiend
did you let her ride over here to-day?”

Ned swelled with dudgeon.

“I? How could I prevent it, pray?”

“Poor numskull, how couldst thou?” echoed the other, half aside.—“Well,
well, I fear me, I am caught in my own springe! They might have
philandered all summer and naught have come of it.… But I must needs work
upon Grandam Chillingburgh, persuade her to summon the naughty grandchild
in all haste from a bad match—and ’tis the parting will ruin all!”

He paused, biting his lip over vexed thoughts. Then his alert ear caught
the fall of distant footsteps.

“Ah!” he cried, starting, “yonder they come! Let us to the upper terrace,
Ned, and watch them from above.”

Sir Edward, who had been endeavouring to hit a bumblebee with his whip,
and was lost in the excitement of the sport, burst into a roar of
self-applause at an unexpectedly successful stroke:—

“Saw you that? I hit him. I hit him!… A great bumblebee!”

Ratcliffe clenched his hand, exasperated. Then, recalling his
self-control, shrugged his shoulders, caught his cousin by the arm, and
marched him determinedly toward the upper terrace stairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two whose doings were exciting so much interest in Lionel Ratcliffe’s
mind, came slowly along the Peacock Walk and halted beneath the
watchers: a pair so well-matched in youth and looks as well to justify
apparently the jealous kinsman’s fears.—Harry Rockhurst, stripling just
hardening into manhood, keeping some of his boy graciousness in the
virility of the newer stage, sunburnt, vigorous; with brown curls tossed
back from a broad forehead, and brilliant hazel eyes, keen and bold of
vision, as should be those of the noted follower of hounds and hawk:
by his side, as tall nearly as her cavalier, Diana Harcourt, the young
widow, radiant with the sun on her auburn hair!

As her lover spoke to her, she listened, not unwillingly, and her glance
rested on his face with pleasure. Yet there was something well-nigh
maternal in this complacence which might have bidden him pause.

“Diana,” the boy cried passionately, “you must hear me; I will speak.”

She moved a pace from him and, sitting down on the bench, drew a hanging
branch of wild rose to the wild rose of her cheek.

“The last of my country flowers,” she murmured.

“Stay,” he exclaimed. “Let me pluck you a posy!”

High over their unconscious heads, Lionel Ratcliffe, peering cautiously
over the balustrade, had a sneer for the childish eagerness. But Diana
took the flowers with a simple grace.

“Thank you, and thank you.… Nay, how sweet they are! And to think that
to-morrow evening we shall be so far away. ’Tis hard to leave the garden
for the town.”

       *       *       *       *       *

(“Mark you, now,” whispered Ratcliffe overhead, nipping Hare by the arm,
“and take a lesson in Dan Cupid’s ways. ’Twill be: ‘Think of me, and do
not forget me!’ And a prate of hopes, and a whisper of pledges. And then
the word will hop out like a hot coal, Love! and their little world will
be all ablaze—And ’twill be Love … Love … Love, and everything lost if
some one be not at hand to spray cold water at the right moment.”

“The garden can?” suggests the practical Ned, in a mouthing undertone.

“Hush! lad,” murmured the other, “hast yet to learn metaphor. Nay—hark!
Not a breath, on thy life.”)

       *       *       *       *       *

“I shall dream, I think, of the gardens of Rockhurst,” Diana was saying.

“The gardens?” echoed Harry. He was leaning against the wall, by the
bench, looking down at her, bending close. “Gardens? Is that all you
regret, Mistress Harcourt?”

“Fie,” smiled she, “I am not so ungrateful. Shall I not regret my
friends, my neighbours, good Mistress Rockhurst, and yourself?”

The boy drew back and straightened himself, galled to the quick.

“My aunt—and me! Truly, I am, madam, I am proud.” He flung himself away,
his shoulder turned ostentatiously on Diana. She laughed with indulgence;
then sighed. And, in heart-broken fashion, Harry caught up the sigh.

       *       *       *       *       *

(“First stage, sighs,” reflected the watcher. “’Tis most harmless.”)

       *       *       *       *       *

Young Rockhurst’s dudgeon was not of long duration. He edged along the
wall to the bench and bashfully took seat.

“So ends the year,” he said softly, “that brought me the happiness of
paradise—Diana.”

“Master Rockhurst.…”

“Must it end thus?” Suddenly bold, he tried to take the fair hand idly
clasping the posy.

“Take care, sir,” she cried mischievously, “there are thorns here.”

“Ah,” he breathed, “so that I might gather the roses.…”

       *       *       *       *       *

(And above their heads, Lionel Ratcliffe: “Second stage: hand-clasps and
protestations. Next will come kneeling work, and next the lips.—Wary now,
for it goes rapidly!”)

       *       *       *       *       *

“Pray you, pray you, Harry!” Diana chid, endeavouring gently to free her
hand.

But the boy had slipped the leash of his ardour and was not to be hushed.

“O my sweet life, hear me, hear me!”

“I vow,” she said, half rebuking, “I never knew you in this mood!”

“Ah, I am bold,” he panted. “Must I not be bold indeed for that I dare to
love you!” Saying which, he fell on both knees before her.

       *       *       *       *       *

(“Is’t not time to stop them?” whispered Hare into Ratcliffe’s ear. “I
could drop a little stone on sister Di’s head.”

“Soft,” interposed the other, with his contemptuous patience. “Let the
children play a little while longer; ’twill be the finer sport to slip in
’twixt cup and lip!”)

In truth, Ratcliffe was beginning to suspect that he had overrated Harry
Rockhurst’s influence. If he knew women, his fair cousin, below yonder,
had given no real response. He had caught the note of indulgence which
the wooer himself was too inexperienced to mark in her accents. True,
there might lurk some danger even in this; yet not such as to call for
indiscreet interference. He smiled sardonically as the lover’s pleading
rose passionately in the air.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Give me hope, Diana—one word. Ah, madam, give me hope!”

But Mistress Harcourt rose and disengaged herself with some decision from
the young man’s grasp.

“Stay, Master Rockhurst, how can I listen to you? In truth, dear lad,
you are over young to dream of such matters yet. Why, and what would my
Lord Rockhurst say, could he but hear? Indeed, Harry, ’tis undutiful of
you, without your noble father’s sanction—I dare swear without even his
knowledge.”

“My father!” cried the boy, as if the words had struck him. “Alack,”
he added despairingly, “this sudden departure, upon which you have
resolved, has thwarted all my plans. Yet, madam, you are wrong; my
father does know. I have writ him all my heart.”

Diana turned the pale, fresh beauty of her face full in surprise upon the
speaker.

“Aye—have you, indeed?” cried she. “And what says his lordship?”

The youth, emboldened afresh, pressed forward; but she kept him sweetly
at arm’s length, menacing him with her posy.

“He has not answered yet—could not have answered yet, madam. Natheless,
I am his only child; he loves me: there can be but one answer. Diana, if
that be all that stands between us—”

“Nay,” she teased, “and shall I tell you your father’s answer? ‘Ah,
Harry’ (will his lordship say), ‘have I kept thee secluded in the
country, that thou mightest grow strong in health and virtuous in
mind’—for these, we are told, are my Lord Rockhurst’s reasons—‘and hast
seen a young gentlewoman for the first time? Pack up, lad, pack and ride
with me to London town; and in a week will’t have forgotten her very
existence!’”

“How little you know my father … how little you know me!” exclaimed the
lover, with dignity.

“Alas, child, this is country innocence. Do I not know something of the
ways of the great world! Your education has not yet begun, all respect to
his lordship’s judgment. When he has shown you the Court, the town, the
quality—”

Harry Rockhurst interrupted her with a vexed laugh:—

“The Court, the town, the quality—why, madam, he will not even tell me of
them. ’Tis only his duty as Captain of the King’s Yeomen and Constable of
the Tower that keeps him from living here among us—the only life he deems
worthy of a true gentleman: that of the owner on his estates. London, he
says, is contamination. Therefore keepeth he me here, though it part him
and me.”

She smiled and shook her head:—

“And how shall I find favour in the eyes of this strict gentleman?” she
said, in the same fond tone of mockery. “I who am gay, and think not so
ill of the town, and have no mind for sad faces and dull clothes! I fear
me, Harry, your father is at heart a puritan!”

“My lord a puritan,” cried the boy, in fine scorn—“the King’s own
private friend in exile, the hero of Worcester’s evil day … why, Diana,
villainous Noll set a higher price on my father’s head than upon any
other in England, save his most gracious Majesty’s own—sweet Mistress
Harcourt, if that were your only fear—”

Greatly daring, he flung out his arm to encircle her. Swayed by his
artless passion, Mistress Harcourt suffered the embrace, but it was with
a kind of friendly tolerance.

A loud shout from above drove them apart.

“Cousin Di!—where can she be? Cousin Di, Master Rockhurst…!”

There was Lionel Ratcliffe, on the terrace above them, shouting into
space through the hollow of his hands; and beside him Edward Hare,
consumed with laughter.

Young Rockhurst stamped his foot; but Diana (not displeased, perhaps, at
the interruption) glanced calmly up.

“Here I am, Cousin Lionel—and here, as you can see, is Harry.”

Ratcliffe leant across the balustrade, wiping his face as though heated.

“Oh, how I have sought for you!” he called.

“So it seems,” retorted she, ironically, “with apparently never a thought
to cast a glance over the wall.”

He grinned. She was the dearer to him for her sharp wits, and for a
tongue that was even a match for his own. But what answer he would have
made was lost in a new interruption: the sound of a postboy’s horn rose
swelling through the quiet airs, and almost immediately the bell clanged
from the castle’s gate. Then came calls, shouts, and rumours. Ratcliffe
straightened himself from his leaning posture:—

“What have we here?” he cried. “Ha—Mistress Alicia!”

A stout, elderly lady appeared at the head of the terrace steps.

“Pardon me, madam, a moment,” said Harry to Diana, and ran to meet his
aunt. The lady was beckoning with great energy:—

“News, lad, news from your noble father, from my dear brother!” She
turned on the second step and raised her voice (never a soft one) in
vigorous expostulation to some hidden person: “Hither, fellow, hither,
thou laggard, and commend thee for a lazy loon!”

Stirred by these expostulations the postboy, covered with dust and sweat,
emerged upon the terrace above at a limping run. Harry bounded up the
steps to snatch a letter from his hands. He broke the seal and gave a cry
of joy:—

“These are news indeed! My father will be with us to-night, nay,
toward the fifth hour afternoon, so he writes.—Rascal, you have tarried
indeed!—In good truth, these are news!”

His joyful exclamations were lost in a deep outburst of lamentation from
Mistress Rockhurst.

“To-day!” quoth she, clapping her palms together. “Murrain take me, if
these be not the ways of men! Gilian! Basil!—get thee to the buttery,
knave!—Robin! … Robin! the flag!”

But the excellent housewife was not of those who waste their energies
upon mere speech. As hastily as her bulk would permit, she was already
hying her way back toward the castle. And the clamour of her voice was
lost behind the yew hedges. Harry bent over the parapet, calling to
Diana, who stood pensively where he had left her.

“Give me joy, madam; my father will be here instantly!”

Ratcliffe brushed past him and came down the steps toward his kinswoman.
He laid a hand upon her arm, and looking toward his host:—

“Then,” cried he, “shall we leave you to your filial transport.” He
dropped his voice, to continue maliciously, in the young widow’s ear:
“Di, what says’t thou? Shall we not ride instantly? Gad, were it but a
meeting ’twixt lover and mistress ’twere something to wait for—but this
business! ‘My worthy father.… My beloved son!’ ’Twas ever a feast of cold
veal, since the days of the prodigal—Though faith,” he laughed, “’tis the
father, here, comes from the husks to seek the calf at home!”

And while Diana gazed upon his sharp face with wonder and disfavour,
Ratcliffe hailed Rockhurst once more: “Therefore, I say, good Master
Harry, pray you bid them call up our horses.”

Young Rockhurst protested. But Diana, to Ratcliffe’s surprise and greatly
to his satisfaction, instantly backed the request:—

“Indeed, Lionel is right; our presence is out of place at this meeting.”

“Nay,” implored Harry, and ran headlong down into the Peacock Walk again
to catch her hand, “for pity’s sake … no and indeed no, madam.”

The lady disengaged herself, settled her roses, gathered her gloves and
whip from the bench and looped her riding skirts. Then she turned, and,
smiling, courtesied:—

“Indeed and indeed, yes, sir! And since farewell it must be, why, then,
farewell!”

She wafted a kiss from her roses toward him.

“Ah, no!” he implored, still endeavouring to arrest her.

“’Slife!” cried Lionel, impatiently looking up. “There rises the flag …
there flies the noble blazon! Let it be the signal for us. Come Di—go,
hurry the horses, Ned!” he shouted to Hare, who, astride on the upper
balustrade, sat gaping down at them. “Blessings upon the Rakehell,” he
muttered to himself, as Diana motioned Harry on one side with decisive
gesture.

“Nay, it is good-by,” she was saying.

The boy caught her fingers and the roses together:—

“Oh, madam, will you turn all my joy into sorrow?”

Here the gate-bell clanged again.

“My father,” cried Harry, starting toward the steps.

“Farewell,” said Diana, “and—”

“Ah, no,” cried the poor lover, distractedly, and ran back to fling
himself once more before her. “But a few minutes, dearest Diana!”

She hesitated before his distress. Lionel irritably seized her arm.

“Nay, child, you must come!” The touch, the tone were overmasterful. She
flashed a haughty look upon him.

“Must! Cousin Lionel?”

Harry, seeing his advantage, pressed it ardently.

“Delay but for five minutes! Sure, ’tis not much to ask!”

“You foolish lad!” said Diana, gently. Then, smiling into the passionate
eyes, “Yet I would not seem churl to you. And I will even wait these five
minutes in the rose garden yonder. Your arm so far, an it please you,
Lionel. But, I pray you, remember that there must be no musts from you to
me.”

She moved away with a very stately grace, Lionel, biting his lips upon a
bitter smile, walking at her side. Harry stood gazing after her as one
lost in a dream.



II

FATHERLY WISDOM


My Lord Rockhurst approached the wall of the upper terrace and looked
down upon his son. His countenance, naturally grave, and stamped now with
the pallor and fatigue of his lengthy ride, grew graver as he watched.
Beside him, his sister threw up scandalised hands. But, as she was about
to give voice to her feelings, he arrested her with a gesture, and went
slowly to the top of the stairs. There he paused and called,—

“Harry!”

The boy started, wheeled round, rushed up the steps, and dropped on one
knee before his father.

“My lord … my dear father!”

Lord Rockhurst raised him, looked a second keenly at the young face; then
laying his hand upon his shoulder, walked down with him toward the bench,
where, still without speaking, he took seat. Shaking her head at her
nephew, Mistress Rockhurst followed them at some distance.

“Oh, sir,” cried Harry, impetuously, “’tis ten months and two days since
I last beheld your countenance!”

So saying, he was about to cast himself upon his father’s breast; when,
with the faintest motion of the hand, Rockhurst restrained him.

“And yet, didst show, even now, no undue haste to greet me. ’Tis the
first time, Harry,” he proceeded in softer tones, “that thou hast failed
to welcome me before the gates.… I had looked forward to that moment.”

“And indeed, nevvy,” added Mistress Alicia, as she halted, panting,
before him, “’twas not pretty acted. ‘Where’s Harry?’ says his lordship.
And ’twas old Giles held the stirrup, which had been thy privilege,
Harry, since thou wert five years old.”

Blushes chased each other over the boy’s face. He could but stammer:—

“Oh, sir … oh, father!”

“Nay, no excuses!” bade the Lord Constable.

His son’s cheek grew a darker crimson still.

“The lady, sir,” he murmured, “the lady I wrote of—”

Mistress Rockhurst snorted with increased indignation, but Lord Rockhurst
was now smiling dreamily.

“A lady! sayst thou?… Boy Harry and his lady! Nay, then, a petticoat is
like charity and must needs cover a multitude of sins!”

“Petticoats, indeed,” ejaculated under her voice the irate dame—“The
hussy!”

Lord Rockhurst had no thought to spare for his sister’s opinions just
now. Holding Harry at arm’s length, he surveyed him with shining eyes.

“Thou art grown a goodly lad. In faith, well-nigh a man!”

He drew him into his embrace and held him close a second. Then, releasing
him, fell back with a sigh of ease upon the bench; flung off his mantle
and unbuckled his sword, both of which Harry respectfully received from
his hand.

The traveller sighed, took off his hat, and ran his fingers through his
hair with the gesture of contented weariness.

“Another drop of cordial, my lord,” cried his sister, rising, all eager
for service.

“Nay,” said he, motioning her back; “I have all the cordial I need here,
Alicia. Come close, Harry. Dost know,” proceeded the Lord Constable, as
his son knelt beside him, “dost know I have ridden two hundred miles
these days, with scarce as many minutes’ rest, to put order into thy
business? That to-morrow I must e’en be jogging back again, for his
Majesty has need of me? Thou presumptuous rogue!” He struck the lad on
the shoulder as he spoke, and seriousness underlay his tone of banter.
“Wouldst plot to make a grandsire of me already? Mark those pleading
eyes, sister.… Even so did they look up at me when he stood no higher
than my knee, and it was: ‘Father, John blacksmith has so fair a pony to
sell,’ or ‘Giles vows he will drown the red setter pup! O father, I want
it!’ Aye, child, thou hast a father, and ’tis well for thee!” His mouth
twisted with a light contempt under the upturned moustache. “A widow!” he
said.

“Aye,” put in Aunt Alicia vindictively, “and a delicate, fine lady to
boot.—Ah, nephew, did I not tell thee his lordship would set order here?
What doth Mistress Harcourt care for still-room or buttery? Could she
brew a bottle of gilly water? Nay—much less turn thee a pasty—?”

“Peace, peace, sister,” rebuked his lordship. “Harry—” he turned tender,
relentless eyes upon his son’s quivering face, “thou, who wouldst get
thee to begetting heirs already, what dost thou know of life?”

The youth rose to his feet, withdrew a pace, and looked earnestly at him.

“As much, my lord,” he answered then, “as you have allowed me to know.”

A moment the elder man seemed struck. He gazed down at his linked hands
and reflected. Then he, too, got up. It was with an air of finality:—

“Faith, aptly replied! Therefore, son—” he took the lad’s arm, “thou must
still believe my will best for thee.”

Harry caught up his father’s hand.

“Nay, my lord, God forbid I should even question the wisdom of your
dealings with me! Truly, I have never hankered after the town; and,
if I have seen you ride forth alone with a heavy heart, it has only
been because of the longing for your gracious company. But, father—”
he clasped his other hand over the gloved one he held, “she loves the
country, too, let Aunt Alicia say what she will.” He shot a flaming look
of reproach at the buxom lady. “And … and, we should be full content to
dwell here forever if we were married, sir.”

“Married!” echoed Rockhurst. He pulled his hand from his son’s clasp and
passed it caressingly over the beardless chin. “Aye, there’s a cheek for
a husband, truly!” (Mistress Alicia broke into good-humoured laughter
and struck her knees in applause.) “When thy beard is grown, we’ll talk
of such matters again.”

“Oh, my lord,” pleaded the lover. “What of my age?—since you yourself
were married when no older than I am, as our Bible leaf shows. Say
nothing, at least, till you have seen her! She is here, father, even
now, in the rosary! Alack, she has ridden hither to bid farewell, for
to-morrow she sets out for London town. And, oh, father, may I not escort
her?”

“To London!” exclaimed the father. His face grew dark with a heavy frown.
“To London! No, sir, not within fifty miles of the Babylon! How now, art
grown so bold?”

“I thought not of the town,” stammered Harry; “I thought but of the
perils of the road for her.” Then, gaining assurance, he proceeded: “Even
here there is talk of Claud Du Vall and such bold ruffians. Sir Edward,
her brother … Sir Edward, in truth, is a poor fool, my lord—And Mr.
Ratcliffe, her cousin, who rides with them, him I mightily mistrust. You
have given me your blood, father—will you blame me now because it will
not run obediently when I think of danger to my lady?”

“Nay, if thy body kept pace with thy spirit,” mocked Rockhurst, “what a
beard wouldst soon have, my callow son!” Yet, though he mocked, anger had
fled from his glance to be replaced by fatherly pride.

The tears rose to Harry’s eyes. The young can endure severity better than
irony.

“Indeed, I am a child no longer,—I am ever your dutiful son, sir,—but I
cannot give up Diana. My lord, do but see her; see her now…!”

“Now?” cried the other, surprised. Then recollecting himself: “True,
didst say she was in the garden.” His eye grew ever more indulgent. “See
her, lad,” he went on, “aye, truly. For what other purpose had I ridden
all these weary miles?”

With the youth, all was once more sunshine, where, before, there had been
but clouds.

“Ah, father, I knew your indulgence would never fail me. Nay, I will
conduct her to you, on the instant.”

He started to run, as he spoke. Rockhurst watched the figure out of
sight, then laughed low to himself and turned to his sister.

“I will conduct her to you, on the instant,” he repeated. “Aha—and
doubtless the pretty widow will come as meekly at his bidding to display
herself as ever heifer to the fair. _O rustica simplicitas!_” And
laughing, he came back to the bench and sat down.

“Indeed, my lord,” said Mistress Alicia, with as much disapproval as she
dared to show to the head of the house, “here is no matter for laughing.
’Tis an excellent thing, my lord, that you should forbid Harry from
marrying the Widow Harcourt. And truly, as you say, he’s not fit to wed
for some four or five years to come. And, of a certainty, she’s scarce
the woman to manage a household like this, brother; not such as I should
care to trust with the keys. And I think you’ll not refuse me the credit
to say, brother, that I have become them well these five years. Since,
with his Majesty’s most happy Restoration, your lordship also has come to
your own again, and placed me at the head of your house—I trust, I say, I
have become the charge.”

“Indeed, none better,” said Rockhurst, absently.

The lady glanced at him sidelong. Her comely face took an air of
indecision, almost of timidity, foreign to the massive severity of its
lines. Something she had on her mind, that yet she feared to utter. But
lack of courage could never be the failing of a Rockhurst.

“And, indeed, my lord, so long as you keep the lad mewed up here, as
if he were a girl, ’tis not to be expected that he should get rid of
such like maggots in his head. Why, the town’s the place for a gallant
young gentleman like Harry. Your only son, my lord, your heir! Think on
it. Why, Court’s the place for him, and you so rarely in his Majesty’s
favour! He’d sing another song there, I warrant you.”

Once again the father’s face grew dark.

“’Tis my bird, sister; I’ll have him sing the song I choose.”

“But surely, brother,” argued the doughty lady, scarlet in the face,
“with you to watch over him, with your example—”

“With my example!” He turned suddenly and fiercely on his sister: “No, by
the Lord, not even with such valuable aid as that, will I trust my fine
lad into that sink—that charnel-house—that pit! Ah, you think yourself so
wise, and prate of what you know not—poor innocent old country virgin. I
tell thee, woman, the taint is in the very air. Eyes, ears, nay, every
pore, are channels for the poison—”

“Brother!” ejaculated Mistress Rockhurst, huffed and startled.

But Rockhurst proceeded, his eyes fixed more as if talking to himself
than to her:—

“There, shame grows dearer than merit—vice becomes as a cloak, warm and
soft, in which a man takes comfort. At the mere thought of cold virtue,
of stern duty, of naked purity, ugh! we shiver and hug ourselves—”

His sister gave a faint, shocked cry, and flung out her hand:—

“But not you, not you, my lord! Surely these are strange words.”

“Harry shall be a man of better stuff,” the father cried. “He’s wholesome
now, body and soul, and by the Lord, I say, I’ll keep him so! How now,
Alicia, shall I not have pure-blooded, pure-hearted grandchildren, an I
have the mind?”

For some unknown reason the excellent lady took deep umbrage at this last
remark.

“Surely, surely!” she repeated, tossing her head, so that her grey curls
danced.

“So let it be, then,” bade her brother. Then, in a changed voice he
exclaimed:—

“Hush, now, here comes the country widow. Faith, the lad hath taste.”

But here he fell suddenly silent and sprang up. Mistress Rockhurst,
surveying him in some anxiety, marked the extraordinary change that came
over his countenance.

“As I am a sinful woman” (she afterward told her special gossip), “his
lordship turned whey-white. And I do assure you, madam, his eyes blazed
in his head—the like of which I have never seen before. ’Twas almost as
if he and she had known each other and had never dreamed to meet again.
And as for my fine young madam, she came along with her eyes on the
ground—nay, the most bashful thing between this and York City. But when
she looks up and sees my lord, as white as he went, she goes rosy, and,
please you, gives a kind of cry with both her hands outstretched. That
may have been artfulness. And if so, my lord met it even as I could have
wished; for he but made her a deep bow, and, says he presently, in his
very grand way, ‘It gives me pleasure, madam, to make your acquaintance.’
At which you should have seen how was taken aback the widow! ‘Make your
acquaintance’ (mark me), says he, which shows he could not have known her
before, after all.”

Harry, who had brought his lady in such pride beneath his father’s
glance, stood somewhat dashed in the silence that followed Lord
Rockhurst’s ceremonious greeting. By nature the most unsuspicious of
youths, in his simple existence he had never felt the necessity of
studying inner motives in those around him. He knew the tricks of bird
and beast, but the secrets of his fellow-creatures he guessed not at.
And so all the tokens that his aunt’s shrewd eye had noted were lost
upon him. His father had been a trifle over-ceremonious toward a fair
neighbour, let alone the mistress of his son’s heart. And she, his dear
love, had blushed and grown pale, as was but natural.

“Well, sir,” he cried at last, anxiously, “now that you have seen
Mistress Harcourt, do you not give me some reason?”

His father turned a singular glance upon him.

“Reason enough, lad,” he said, under his breath, “reason enough for any
folly!”

Diana’s clear cheek had now resumed its usual pretty tint; but as her
young lover spoke, it deepened; and at Rockhurst’s words, faded again
slightly.

“Nay, my lord,” said she, speaking for the first time—her voice was low
and troubled—“I know not what Master Harry hath been saying of me. It
is his kindness that he will think so well of me, and—nay, I must say
it, Harry—’tis his foolishness that he will not understand that he is
over-kind.”

Rockhurst took Diana’s hand from his son’s hold, where it still rested
unconsciously. Many thoughts were in his mind, as strangely conflicting
as the forces in his nature. His keen knowledge of women and their ways
told him that no woman who loved a man would have let her fingers lie so
listlessly in his grasp. “My poor lad—she has no heart for him,” cried
the father in him. But the man in him, as yet unsubdued by years or
sorrow, rejoiced. Here was one who, nameless to him, had yet shone like
a star in his troubled sky this many a month, for the sake of one hour,
snatched, sweet, pure, sacred, out of an unworthily spent life. With all
that was best in him, he had wished to keep her unknown, unattainable;
and here she was, brought back by fate into his path!

No one could have guessed at the storm seething within him after his
moment of self-betrayal. His usual polished composure governed face,
voice, and gesture.

“My son has told me much about you, madam, truly,” he was saying; “and
yet I see how little he has been able to tell me.”

’Twas the merest idle compliment. The words were as artificial as the
tone. Diana courtesied in silence. Not thus did she remember her grave,
chivalrous protector in an hour of doubt and peril. Nay, then, that
memory had best be effaced from her mind, since it was his pleasure
to deny it. Perchance (and the thought was more galling to her pride!)
though she had so fondly kept his image in the deep recesses of her soul,
hers had already faded from his thoughts.

“Indeed, my lord,” she began, rallying her spirits, “I too—” but she
paused, for her brother and Lionel Ratcliffe were approaching, the latter
with his cool air of indifference, the other all agape with curiosity.

Harry instantly took the younger man by the arm to present him to his
father.

“One moment,” rebuked Rockhurst; “the lady is speaking. Pray, madam?”

“Oh, my lord,” said she, with formal grace, “the poor sentence was,
certes, never worth such courteous attention. I was but about to say that
I, too, have heard of your lordship often.”

“Aye? From what source?” he asked, and a shadow fell on his face.

But she was smiling.

“From this source,” she answered him, waving her roses toward Harry.

“Ah,” cried Rockhurst, laughing upon a sigh, “no doubt the rogue has full
wearied you with the subject.”

“Alas,” she responded quickly, “must I not take this reproach to myself?”

Lionel Ratcliffe pulled young Rockhurst by the sleeve.

“What, all agaze and bewildered, Harry? Never fear, these are but Court
wits in a friendly bout. Clink, clink, the sparks fly. But, hark to you,
beware an unfoiled weapon.”

The boy withdrew from his touch with disfavour, and Rockhurst turned upon
the whisperer a haughty look of enquiry.

“Well met again, my lord,” cried Ratcliffe, swaggering a step forward and
saluting with a cavalier sweep of his hat.

Rockhurst returned the courtesy with a ceremonious inclination.

“Have we met before, sir?” he enquired.

No whit abashed, Ratcliffe replaced his felt with the very latest twist
of the wrist.

“Does your lordship make it a practice, then, of not taking your memory
out of town? To be sure, memory is a mighty inconvenient chattel at
times. Natheless, ’tis a fact your lordship and my humble self have met
at the same board. Did I not share with your lordship, last winter, the
privilege of being the guest of the pretty Mantes?”

“Enough—I remember you, sir,” said his lordship.

“Egad,” laughed Ratcliffe, with elaborate geniality, “I, sure, did take
special note of your lordship, that night, seeing you with the nymph, our
hostess, whom, I mind me, you had but just whisked from under the very
nose of Jove. Nay, not the first time (if report spoke truly) that Old
Rowley has been cut out by the Rake—”

The words were arrested on his lips by a look as sharp as a sword:—

“You have too long a memory, sir. Shorten it.—My son,” added the speaker,
turning his shoulder upon Ratcliffe, “you were about to introduce the
young gentleman to me.”

“My brother, Sir Edward Hare, my lord,” said Diana, forestalling her
lover.

The interlude with Ratcliffe had perturbed the group; and with gracious
instinct she sought to cover her cousin’s insolence and young Rockhurst’s
rising anger at insinuations incomprehensible to country dwellers, yet
the hostile intent of which was but too transparent. Sir Edward, however,
was far from assisting her purpose.

“Nay, brother, brother,” she whispered, as the bumpkin nodded sulkily.
“Doff thy hat.”

“I tell thee, Di,” murmured the injured youth, “’tis he owes me two bows
and a scrape. Ecod: ‘the lady’s speaking,’ quotha! And I with my best leg
already drawn out for him!”

“Your lordship must excuse our rustic manners,” said Diana, with a pretty
glance, half humorous, half pleading.

Rockhurst looked at her a second musingly.—Yes, grace, youth, sweetness,
all were hers! And fate had so worked that it was she who was to embody
his son’s young love dream! Dear lad … small blame to him! He gave an
unconscious sigh. To his countenance came back that air of kindness which
Harry had missed in it so singularly since the meeting with Diana.

“Of your leave, my son,” said he, then, “I will have a few minutes’
converse with Mistress Harcourt apart.”

Harry pressed his father’s hand in delighted response. He leant back
against the sunny wall and watched his mistress go in grace beside the
stately figure of the great Lord Rockhurst. Lionel took place beside
him, and from narrowed lids looked smilingly at the young man’s happy
countenance.

[Illustration: Lionel took place beside him and from narrowed lids looked
smilingly at the young man’s happy countenance.]

Mistress Rockhurst, who, solemnly seated at the end of her bench, had
been a silent yet mightily observant witness of the whole scene, now,
suddenly struck by the discontented expression of Edward Hare’s visage,
addressed the youth:—

“What ails ye, Sir Edward?”

“I’m sick at stomach,” growled the candid baronet. “I hate a peacock.”

“Yet peacock is light fare,” said the lady, with a twinkle in her shrewd
blue eye. “Sick at stomach, say you? There’s nothing better than a cup of
marjoram water.”

Sir Edward flung the suggestion from him:—

“Water? Ugh!”

“When I say water,” amended she, “’tis strong water, aqua vitæ.”

“Aye,” quoth he, then, “that’s another matter. I’m not saying but a tass
of it would warm the innards.”

She despised him heartily for a monstrous poor scion of a noble family;
yet the housewife was too strong in her to resist the pleasure of
ministering out of her store, even to an unworthy guest. She rose,
chuckling, jingling her keys:—

“Oh, surely, surely,” she exclaimed, “this small comfort shall not be
denied you here, Sir Edward. Come but with me.”



III

THE NEW FRENCH PASS


Rockhurst and Diana, at the extreme end of the terrace, stood alone in
the sunshine, with the June roses about them.—How much more apart now
than on that night in the snow between the black fir trees and the waste
heath! She flung a sudden, eager look at him; but before the smooth
courtesy with which he turned to her, drew back into herself, once more
checked and puzzled. It was to be as if they had only met in a dream? So
be it! Then the thought that he must now regard her as his son’s choice
broke upon her in a flash of revelation—and anger. Why had she dallied
with such folly? With an involuntary movement she loosened her grasp on
Harry’s roses and they fell round her feet.

“Why, madam,” said Rockhurst, with a forced smile and a perfunctory
solicitude, “your posy, madam, all in the dust! Nay, permit me to cull
another for you.”

The man of the world had superseded all else. To place his years in
rivalry with his son’s youth, the King’s Lord Constable against the
country lad? Preposterous!

Lionel Ratcliffe stood attentively watching his kinswoman from afar.
Beside him, Harry sat, dreaming, his young eyes fixed on God knows what
golden vision. All at once the elder man tapped his companion stealthily
on the arm.

“What is it?” cried Harry, starting from his muse and glancing round none
too pleasantly. “What is it now?” quoth he, frowning.

“Look, look yonder, Master Rockhurst. Your roses.”

Harry’s glance followed the direction of the pointing finger. He saw
Diana stand, a radiant vision in the amber light, with empty hands
outstretched toward the flower that Rockhurst was in the act of
gathering, a deep crimson rose that glowed like a ruby in the sun-rays.
And about her feet the pale, sweet blossoms chosen for her with such
love, but an hour ago! The red rose was carried to Diana’s cheek; and
then she fastened it in her bosom. His flowers had not been so honoured.
He could not think or reason; he could only look and suffer.

Again Lionel tapped him on the shoulder. He was smiling. Harry came back
to his senses at sight of that odious smile.

“Well, sir, and what of it?” he cried, measuring Ratcliffe with a defiant
look.

“What of it? More than you think.—What were you about, young man,” his
voice sunk to a whisper, “when you invited Rakehell Rockhurst to come and
view your lady?”

“Rakehell Rockhurst…!” echoed Harry in utter amazement. Then, fury
leaping to his voice and eye, he wheeled fiercely upon Ratcliffe: “Of
whom, sir, are you speaking?”

The latter proceeded, unmoved save for a trifle more of emphasis in his
silky tone:—

“Did you not know that a single breath of his lips is enough to tarnish
the virtue of the purest woman in England?”

The younger man fell back a step, and measured the speaker:—

“Of whom are you talking, I have asked you.”

There was more self-control in his demeanour, but more danger. It was
tense with menace, like a bent bow. A second Ratcliffe paused. He had
not given the lad credit for so much real manliness. The more reason for
him to precipitate the crisis for which he was working; the crisis which
might rid him of two rivals at once—for the courtly Rockhurst was indeed
a rival to be reckoned with. And there was no affectation in the passion
with which he now broke out:—

“Of whom, good lad? Of whom?——”

       *       *       *       *       *

(Edward Hare, strolling out of the dim coolness of the buttery into the
sunshine again, heard the sound of loud voices rising from the terrace
below. Grinning, he advanced on tiptoe and bent over the parapet to
listen. Cousin Ratcliffe and young Harry were at it at last! Even to
his dull wits it had been evident that the quarrel that had long been
smouldering between them was bound to break into open flame. Better than
a wench or a bottle, better even than cockpit or bear-bait, Sir Edward
loved the sight of a fight between his fellow-men. He chuckled as he
hearkened.)

       *       *       *       *       *

“Of whom, good lad, of whom—but the most noble Viscount, in town the
incomparable libertine, his Majesty’s merry friend, known by Whitehall as
Rakehell Rockhurst—in the country, thy sainted father! Aye, but, town or
country, let Rockhurst get to windward of a pretty woman, and the devil
will soon show his—”

Harry had stood a moment petrified, but before the last words were out he
had struck Lionel on the lips:—

“Liar!”

Lionel staggered back; a narrow streak of blood was running down his
chin. In a second he had whipped out the light riding sword that hung by
his hip, and without a word made a deadly rush. Harry, however, strong
country lad, trained by all the sudden accidents of sport and chase, had
his wits about him. He stepped aside from the onslaught, caught up the
cloak which lay on the balustrade, and flung it across the blade.

“Now, if you please,” said he, shaking his father’s sword free of the
scabbard, whilst Ratcliffe, almost foaming at the mouth, struggled with
the encumbering folds as if it had been his enemy himself, “let us
continue the argument.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a prettier fight than ever it had been Edward Hare’s luck to
behold at feast or fair. In an ecstasy he hung over the parapet, jumping
from one foot to the other.

“Sh! Sh!” he shouted, “at it, good dogs! Ecod, I would not have missed
this for forty crowns! Ha, well pushed, cousin!”

Young Harry staggered, waved his sword aimlessly, then dropped it,
pivoted on himself, and fell. He lay, face downward, and after a moment a
coil of blood, like a slender serpent, began to move sinuously into the
grey of the gravel.

The peacock, from his perch, peered down on the scene with stupid eyes,
cocking its tufted head inanely from side to side.

The approving smile was petrified on Edward Hare’s face. He clapped his
hand over his mouth like a frightened child.

“Dead, ecod!” he whispered to himself. Then, hanging further over the
wall, he hailed Ratcliffe in a quavering shout:—

“Hist, coz—hast never killed him?”

The victor, leaning on his weapon, gazing in sombre abstraction at the
prostrate form, started and looked up. He smiled hideously with his
swollen lip.

“Be it mortal?” mouthed Edward again.

Ratcliffe answered stonily:—

“Mortal? I trust so. The affront was mortal.”

Then he slowly wiped his blade upon the cloak, sheathed it with care, and
walked steadily away, along the path that led to the valley.

Hare watched him go, till the dark laurel bushes received and hid him.
Then he looked over again at the motionless figure, and in a panic, sent
loud calls ringing into the air: “Help here! Hoy—Hello! Master Rockhurst
hurt, ill,—dead! Help!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Rockhurst was the first to hear the cry. In a trice he was back in the
Peacock Walk, kneeling by the bench. Hare was at his heels, gabbling his
tale. Half his words went unheeded, but some found their mark in the
father’s heart:—

“And Lionel says: ‘Rakehell Rockhurst’ (he, he!). ‘A devil with the
women!’ says he. And Harry hits him across the mouth. ‘Liar!’ says Harry.
Oh, ’twas a pretty quarrel. ’Twas a cracking slap!—”

As Rockhurst lifted his boy and supported him in his arms, light came
back to the eyes so dark in the white face, and, stretching himself,
Harry returned to consciousness and smiled up at his father like a waking
child. Rockhurst tore the stained clothing apart with fierce hands, then
drew a deep sigh of relief. His experience in such matters took stock of
the wound—an ugly tear in truth, long, laying bare the ribs, but not deep.

“’Tis not vital—thank God! Go, call for help, man!” cried he sharply,
looking up at the staring Edward. And off trotted the lout. Now came
Diana, hastening, bewildered.

Lovers have quick ears: through the dimness of his returning
consciousness Harry caught the sound of her steps. He tried to raise
himself in his father’s embrace. There was a sudden shame upon him that
he had done so womanish a thing as to swoon, this day when, of all days,
he had so much reason to play the man.

“’Tis a mere scratch, my lord,” he murmured. Then, with an anxious glance
on his father’s face, he added, stammering: “Master Lionel was showing me
a new French pass, and I—I slipped—” He broke off; never before had he
seen tears in his father’s eyes.

With a flutter like that of a settling bird, Diana sank on her knees
beside them. With a soft cry, full of ruth, she took her boy lover’s
hand. As he had passed her, running on Lord Rockhurst’s errand, her
brother had bellowed his tidings:—

“A pretty quarrel! About you, sister! Ecod—there was talk about your
virtue—and Master Harry’s slap, and Coz Lionel out with his tuck—”

As with the sting of arrows the words drove her forward. Ah, she needed
no further telling to conjure up the scene: her kinsman had spoken
lightly of her and her young lover had struck back the insult. Her boy
lover! His youth, that had been his disability in her eyes, now became
eloquent to plead for him. To see him lie there, pale and blood-stained,
a mere lad.—After the way of women, on the moment her heart melted all to
him.

“Harry, Harry! …” she cried, and the words were tender as a caress.

Harry turned his languid head.

“And now I cannot ride with you to-morrow—not even did my lord so permit!
Father…!” Faintness was creeping over him again, but he made an effort.
His voice rang out: “Father, will you escort her? My Diana!”

It was at once a supreme declaration of confidence and a solemn charge.
The father bowed his head.

“Your Diana, lad, so be it—I accept the trust.”

Over the poor wounded body the eyes of Rakehell Rockhurst met those of
Diana. There was a steady sweetness of renunciation in his, that she had
seen there once before. Hers were quickly veiled again, lest they betray
the singular, sharp pain that filled her heart.

At her swiftest gait, important, yet showing no alarm, Mistress Rockhurst
advanced, followed by a couple of wenches, bearing varied paraphernalia.
She had lived through the wars—it were a parlous wound indeed she could
not cope with. In her own hands she carried a flask of renowned cordial.
None too soon, it seemed, for the colour on the pretty boyish head lying
between Rockhurst and Diana was fading fast again.



THE KING’S CUP



THE KING’S CUP



I

LITTLE SATAN


A swift thunder-storm had rushed down the Thames valley, passed over
sultry London with clamour and hail scourge, and was gone—as sudden and
wholesome as a good man’s passion. The town lay, a little dazed, it
seemed, gasping as one astonished, yet mightily refreshed.

In the gardens of the Temple every leaf dripped and shone the brighter;
the dry earth drank and sent up a fragrance to mingle with the scent
from the historic rose-bushes of the inner pleasance, the glory of which
now lay scattered, white and red, on the turf, each petal with the tears
in its heart glinting under that sky of incomparable blue that reveals
itself after the squall.

Down the steep slope from King’s Bench Walk, mimic mountain torrents
rushed in haste, seeking the river which rolled, heaving still, a
troubled yellow, in angry ebb toward the east, where the clouds still
lowered in their flight.

Even in Whitefriars—that strange, knavish demesne lying at the very gates
of the great legal college; that debatable land of crime, of statutory or
at least traditional immunities—every dark lane had been swept as with
besoms, if not clean, at least less foul. The stale airs of _Alsatia_ (as
the cant word went to express that sanctuary of tricksters and cheats and
huffing bullies, of skulking debtors, rejected clergymen, and disbarred
lawyers, of gaudy courtesans in enforced retreat) were driven forth
before the fresh and mighty breath of the gale. The gutters ran gurgling,
overflowing where they would. Here and there a choked conduit sent mock
waterfalls from overhanging eaves, darting and splashing even to the
opposite walls. All Alsatia, which had scuttled to its burrows, was
beginning to pop its head out again; but, as the denizens in the ’Friars
have, as a rule, rare change of garment, few ventured as yet into the
slop and drip.

Thus the two youthful gallants who now emerged from the Half Moon Tavern,
in Priory Lane, had the length of the street to themselves.

“_Quelle peste—!_” said the slighter and darker of the two.

Stepping gingerly aside to give wide berth to the dismal carcase of a
cat, he received the spray from an odorous gutter-spout full in the
neck—and again exclaimed in French against the pestilential offence of
the place.

His companion nipped him by the elbow, as he himself, less fastidiously,
strode over the carcase.

“Fie, Vidame,” he cried, “’tis well we’re not at Whitehall! Never forget
’tis a forbidden word, just now.”

The Vidame Enguerrand de Joncelles tossed his black curls with a somewhat
scornful look at the speaker.

“In verity, Sir Paul,” he retorted, in his precise, quaintly emphasized
yet fluent English, “I believe that, eating, drinking or sleeping, Court
rules and Court favour are never out of your head! As for the—” his long
dark eyes glinted mischievously—“as for the ugly distemper which begins
with a letter P. in both our tongues, what have people of quality to do
with it? Bah! it is to kill the _canaille_—useful, like rat-bane.”

“Yet … if you will come into Alsatia—” grumbled Sir Paul Farrant; and
just then, a gush of intolerable stench striking across them from an
open cellar door, he drew his laced kerchief from his breast and buried
nose and mouth in its folds.

The Frenchman went steadily on, scarce a flicker of disgust on his
narrow, pale face.—If high-born disdain was safe to keep the plague at
a distance, certes the Vidame de Joncelles—King Charles’s new favourite
page at Whitehall—was proof against it.

There was silence between the comrades, until the worn, muddy steps
of the Temple-Gate brought them up from the unwholesome precincts of
Whitefriars into the green and airy spaces of the King’s Bench Walk.
There, shaking out his kerchief, Sir Paul resumed his interrupted
complaint:—

“If you will come to Alsatia.…”

“If your misunderstanding townsfolk will drive the best fence master
within your shores to take sanctuary in yonder pit—for the merest
peccadillo—”

“Peccadillo, Vidame!—Why, the man drew on our host of the Three Tuns in
Westminster, and slit both his ears, for refusing to serve him with a
flagon of claret on trust…!”

“_Perdi_, a wretched innkeeper! It was an insolence that deserved
worse—The hog is not dead!—Meanwhile, instead of suiting my convenience
and practising my sword-play in Westminster, I must now come seek him in
this pestilent lane!”

“Why, Master Enguerrand,” said Farrant, standing still on the wet sod to
stare, half in amazement, half in admiration, at the Vidame, “the fellow
owed him a reckoning as long as his sword.”

“And what of it? Is not such a master as Laperrière, whose lot in life it
is to deal with us nobles, one of those whom gentles daily cross sword
with and condescend to take instruction from, is not such an one to be
privileged? A reckoning, forsooth! A master of fence, with us in France,
Sir Paul, is held a gentleman. Our King has even ennobled many. And those
others there, the rabble—are they not made and born for our service? As
for the rest, as for this Plague that is about, speak no more of it. If
you are so frightened of a little smell, what brings you day by day to
the fencing room with me?—It is your own doing.”

“Aye,” said Farrant. “But think you,” he went on in hurt tones, “I would
let you alone to such dangerous grounds as Whitefriars—you a stranger and
my friend, Vidame?”

They were strolling slowly down across the gardens toward the river
stairs. The Vidame, as if tired by his exertions in the fencer’s room,
let himself drop on a stone bench in the central alley.

“Let us rest awhile, please you, Sir Paul. As you see, the tide is still
running out. The turn, which is to take us back to Whitehall, is not due
until after five o’clock. Let us wait here.”

He doffed his plumed beaver and hung it upon the cane by his side; then
turned his pale, dissipated face, with a smile of cynical amusement,
toward his companion. Sir Paul Farrant was only one of the many friends
who had gathered so assiduously about the young Frenchman—a page in the
train of Madame Henriette, sister of the King—since his Majesty had taken
so strong and sudden a fancy to him as to retain him in his personal
service after her departure for France.

“See how the world wags,” resumed the favourite then; “you, Sir Paul,
seek the dens yonder,”—he pointed to the sinister purlieus they had just
left behind,—“because of a friend—I, because of an enemy.”

Farrant pricked his ears under his silken, fair curls. It was the first
time he had been admitted even so far into the Vidame’s confidence.
This Enguerrand, a French boy who in a few months’ time had stepped, it
seemed, without the slightest effort into the inner circle of Court
favour, upon the outer rim of which the indefatigable Sir Paul had scarce
a footing, was an enigma to his associates. He had a handsome sister;
but his success depended not on her, for had she not denied the King for
the sake of the King’s friend, Lord Rockhurst? It was an open secret in
Whitehall. Enough to have damned the chances of any other man, it would
seem! Yet here was the lad, with his white, handsome, secret face; with
his silent, insolent, easy ways; with his deep moods, his sudden rages,
as close to his Majesty, as audacious and as secure of his position as
young Monmouth himself. Farrant had witnessed his first introduction—he
knew that there was no secret tie, no mystery save in the new page’s own
personality. Sir Paul, the failure, would have given all he possessed for
the talisman. Yet the talisman was no such occult thing, but an unfailing
talent to amuse that most melancholy man, whom the world liked to call
the Merry Monarch.

“An enemy, say you, my good Enguerrand?” cried the young baronet, lifting
his foolish eyebrows a trifle higher than nature had set them. He had the
curiosity of trivial natures and was all agog.

“Aye, _perdi_,” responded the other, briefly.

The wind was ruffling his dark head, blowing the heavy curls off the
forehead; making patent at once the extreme youth and the prematurely
worn countenance.

“And you are then a-practising against a rencounter.… O, Master
Enguerrand, I pray you that I be your second!”

“Why, you shall so, then.” The words dropped from the other’s lips in
careless condescension.

Enguerrand’s eyes were lost in space. Across the river, between the
merry, white, flying clouds and the green fields of Surrey, he saw Heaven
knows what bloody vision of triumph.

“And he—the man, the enemy?” asked Sir Paul, after a while.

“Him whom I shall kill … with that little escaping thrust of our
Laperrière … yes, it shall be that … the great man? Yet none so great,
Sir Paul, but that he must himself defend his honour … and none so old
but that he be as much man as I—even as I am none so young but that I am
as much man as he.…”

At which cryptic utterance he folded his delicate lips on silence.

Farrant stared. There was one to whom the words applied; one to whom the
brother of Madame de Mantes, as all Whitehall was aware, might well
owe grudge. But, forsooth, that one was so high placed, a personage of
so much importance, that he dismissed the idea as preposterous. Farrant
indeed had many a secret grudge himself against this powerful being,
against his haughtiness and the lash of his cold mockery; but he would as
soon have dreamed of seeking satisfaction from his Majesty’s own person.

Enguerrand had fallen into a deep muse. His comrade began to find the
silence tedious, and took to counting the passage of the barges through
the opening of the Temple water-gate, chattering in comment:—

“Yonder went the fat master of the Curriers, Tyrrell, with his pretty
daughter—would I had as good a chance with her as that stout prentice
who sits behind the good man’s back…! Ah, and yonder went Master Lionel
Ratcliffe—mark how his men pull as if life and death depended on their
oars. I’ll wager you, he’s bound for Chillingburgh House.… But, no, the
skiff keeps its nose down-stream.… The tide will soon be on the turn.—Eh,
as I live, here comes a royal barge—mark the swing of the scarlet oars!
Old Rowley himself, perchance—nay, sink me, it is but the Lord Constable!
Odd! I was thinking of him but a moment awhile … I.… ’Slife, there’s
no mistaking that dark figure! I vow he casts a shade over the royal
scarlet itself. Merry Rockhurst, quotha! Has any one ever seen him
smile, except in mockery? How now? Why, the barge heads for the Temple
stairs!—What may the Constable of the Tower be seeking in the Temple?”

The babble died abruptly on his lips, so singular a change had he marked
coming over his companion’s face: a spasm of vindictiveness followed by a
slow, evil smile. A chill ran through Farrant’s frame. He was no coward,
but he would have given much to recall his rash offer of a few minutes
ago; for he had read in the Vidame’s eyes the name of his enemy.

The barge swung with masterly ease to the landing. A quick word rang out
from the head waterman, and the glistening oars were tossed in the air.
The red of the men’s jackets, the crimson of the barge’s drapery, stained
to rich depths and unexpected tints of orange by weather and usage,
made a gay picture amid the sparkle of the water, the dancing shine and
shadow, in which the figure of the Lord Constable was indeed a note of
striking gravity.

The wind-ruffled feathers of the beaver were black, even as the curls
that fell on his shoulders. A black cloak, silver-trimmed, was cast
loosely back as he stepped from the barge, revealing a body-dress of so
sombre a purple as to seem, if possible, of more severe a tone than the
cloak. The keen, pale face, with the hawk’s eyes, the silver amid the
raven-black of the cavalier moustache and beard,—which it was the great
Lord Rockhurst’s pleasure to preserve in spite of the newer, clean-shaven
fashion,—all combined to produce a singularly impressive personality.

Paul Farrant felt upon himself that sense of obtrusive inferiority, of
almost physical discomfort, which the presence of the Lord Constable
scarcely ever failed to evoke. His lips formed themselves for a soundless
whisper. He twirled his grey beaver on the end of his cane; and, upon a
second thought, tossed it to his head as giving him an air of greater
ease and self-possession.

The French boy’s countenance, on the contrary, seemed now to have become
lit by a kind of inner fire that was almost like inspiration. Sir
Paul heard him speak to himself, in French—a tongue which he knew but
imperfectly:—

“He has come! Why not now … why not this moment!… _Pardi_, why not, my
Lord Rockhurst?”

As he muttered the words the Vidame laid his hat and stick deliberately
on the bench and rose. Farrant, his discomposure increasing well-nigh
to horror, watched him step forward, tossing back his heavy locks, as
raven-black as Rockhurst’s own; and in the pallid, fine-cut young face he
noted for the first time an odd resemblance to Rockhurst himself.

In the minutes that next followed, while his English friend remained
sitting as if spellbound, Enguerrand, the stranger in the land, went
through the crisis of his life.

So swiftly did the scene pass that the men in the barge below had but the
time to push off once more and swing but a single stroke on the return
journey to the humour of the tide.

Rockhurst, walking sedately up the alley, with a sweep of his tall cane
to every other step, halted as he saw the young man approach; and into
his gaze, which had been somewhat abstractedly fixed upon the fair green
of the garden, there flashed a strange look.

Sir Paul Farrant was scarce a man of nice observation, yet he could have
sworn that my lord’s eyes had for a second held a gleam of indulgence
almost approaching to tenderness, as they had lighted upon the lad.

“Well met, my Lord Viscount!” cried Enguerrand, in a high, excited voice.
“Aye—well met!”

If Lord Rockhurst’s glance had been kindly, it was swiftly and
marvellously altered. Intolerably mocking now and cold it became, to
match the tone of the response:—

“Well met … Little Satan!”

Enguerrand had been holding his passion upon a frail leash. With a bound
it now leaped. This man, by whom, at their first meeting in Whitehall, he
had conceived himself, in his hypersensitive French punctilio of vanity,
to have been slighted, and who had treated him from the height of his
crushing superiority, who had thwarted and humiliated him, robbed him (as
he held) of his sister and his preferment at one swoop—how dare he now
address him in this tone of contemptuous familiarity? It was well met at
last, indeed! The moment he had dreamed of, sleeping or waking, these two
months was within his grasp!

“My lord,” he cried still more shrilly, “his Majesty’s familiar name for
me, on any other lips becomes a liberty, an insolence! An insolence, sir,
a liberty I will not permit!”

To his mortification he found himself trembling from head to foot. For
an appreciable moment Rockhurst ran his glance up and down the slight
figure. Then he made answer; and the indifference, the placidity, of his
manner was inconceivably galling:—

“True—I should not usurp his Majesty’s great privileges. But, pray, let
me pass, Vidame—I have business with Master Sergeant Stafford, and I am
already late, I fear, for my tryst.”

“Nay, milord, you shall not pass!—My lord, this is my tryst. It has been
your pleasure to heap injuries on me, and on more than one score you owe
me redress. We meet, at last, oh, at last! upon ground where the royal
ordinance no longer stands between us. My Lord Viscount Rockhurst—” He
was feverishly stripping his glove from his left hand as he spoke; but
the Lord Constable, with a single gesture, swept him and his argument
from the path with no more emotion than that of a man who rids himself
of an importunate fly. With the same measured step he then resumed his
course up the garden alley.

For a second the Vidame stood, staring after him, paralysed with rage.
A faint snigger—of mingled relief and amusement—from the watcher on the
bench started him to fresh action, as the prick of the spur starts the
mettled horse. In a couple of leaps he had overtaken the stately figure,
and Sir Paul Farrant wheeled round to gaze after the pair, astonishment
as much as prudence keeping him rooted to his place. Enguerrand dashed
the glove at Lord Rockhurst’s feet. The first impulse had aimed it at the
face; but something stronger than himself, which the while only increased
his fury, prevented the youth from offering this supreme insult to one
whom years and honours and personal dignity placed apart even in the
King’s presence.

“My lord, you—because I am a stranger, because I am, forsooth, young
enough to be your son (_à Dieu ne plaise!_), you imagine you can treat me
at your will and pleasure; insult me at your mood.… I stand, however, a
man before you, my Lord Constable—with a name as good as yours. I demand
my satisfaction.… My lord, I charge you, defend yourself!”

The young heart beat so fast, rose so high in his throat, that the words
pulsed from his lips in jerks, broken with quick breaths. He drew his
rapier with an almost frenzied gesture as he spoke; dashing baldrick
and scabbard on one side; falling back to swing the blade with dire
menace and then springing forward again, high-poised, tiptoe, only the
elementary rules of honour keeping him from assault until his enemy
should have likewise unsheathed.

A second or two, marked by the lad’s panting, Lord Rockhurst fixed him
through half-closed eyelids. Then, without a word, with a dexterous,
irresistible, upstroke of his cane, he knocked the weapon from the fierce
hand. The springy steel fell and bounded like a live thing on the flagged
path, to drop again, quivering, close to Rockhurst, who, with a lightning
swiftness unexpected from one of such majestic bearing, instantly clapped
his foot upon it.

Then the whole precincts of the garden, it seemed, were filled with the
thunder of his voice:—

“Malapert…!” The Lord Constable’s brows were now drawn over his keen eyes
in a withering frown. “This cane of mine should teach your youthship
better manners were it not for this same strangerhood of yours, on
which you thus presume! Aye, and you should have remembered this day,
even with stripes, but that some freak of your Maker’s hath given you,
graceless lad as you are, Vidame, a singular look of my own gracious son.
For his so sweet sake … thou varlet … I spare thee. Yet will this hour
have taught thee that his Majesty’s officers are not to be molested
with impunity—that the Page of the Wine Flagon can have no satisfaction
to demand of the King’s Lord Constable, what though his petty vanity
may be a-smarting from some imagined slights.—Slights, quotha! Young
master,—there can be no slights from me to you…! And for this insolence
of yours to me, take you home this memento.”

With another of his startlingly sudden movements, Rockhurst stooped for
the hilt of the sword that lay bent under his foot; and snapped the blade
in twain, with as much ease as one may snap a twig. Tossing the hilt back
at the Vidame’s feet, he went on—and it seemed that his anger had but
gathered in intensity with the action:—

“Hang yonder stump of steel in your bedchamber: it may serve to
remind you of a fruitful lesson learned in the Temple Gardens—how the
satisfaction fit for a pert page’s receiving is a sound whipping, and how
you, of my mercy, escaped receiving it!”

He stepped from the broken blade, passed the boy’s rigid figure so
closely and indifferently as to brush him with his cloak, and set his
deliberate way again toward the Temple Hall.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Vidame stood stricken with impotent passion, sick well-nigh to
swooning with the violence of his fury in conflict with his complete
helplessness; white as wax, his boyish face distorted, his eyes
blood-injected, swimming in tears; a white foam at the corners of his
mouth, his lips drawn back in voiceless execration. The nails of his
clenched hands drove themselves into the flesh. It was not until Paul
Farrant rose and laid his hand on his shoulder that the palsy was broken.

The Vidame shook the touch furiously from him. His bloodshot eyes rolled
from the broken weapon on the path to the other’s face, on which a
malicious pleasure in his successful friend’s mortification was but ill
concealed by a scarcely more tolerable air of sympathy. Had it not been
for the mutilation of his weapon, Paul Farrant’s life’s blood might well
have assuaged the Frenchman’s ecstasy of hatred at that moment.

Then the floodgates were loosed. Foaming, the tide of passion leaped from
Enguerrand’s mouth with an eloquence that betrayed his race. Usually
silent, the Vidame de Joncelles, encompassed with an almost northern
reserve, yet was through his mother a child of the south; and at this
hour all the exuberance of the warm land, all the acrid passion that
only its children can feel and which, felt, must find word expression,
broke from him in torrents of imprecations and curses, half French, half
English:—

“Go thy way, then, my merry Rockhurst—go, Rakehell Rockhurst! Ha,
Rakehell thou mayst be, but forget not then that I am Little Satan,
and you but the servant of my Great Father!… Go thy way, sanctimonious
hypocrite, you of the grave face and grey-sprinkled hair, hoary in
corruption! You, put me out of your path…! My hour will come, my hour
will come, my hour will come! Faugh! I spit at thee; my clean blade was
too fair for thee, thou coward, thou bully, hiding behind thy state and
thy years…! And that prate of paternity! I, like thy son?… Had I within
my veins a drop of thy coward, hateful blood, I’d drain them and die
laughing that I was rid of thee! Look at the great man…! Look! Watch
the reverend seigneur! See how yonder wretches make way for my Lord
Constable!—My Lord Coward!… Look you, Sir Paul, is it not an admirable
spectacle? The King’s friend, the mighty in council, the example to the
Court! Hi, my Lord Rockhurst—Hi, thou pattern of nobility—what of my
sister, what of Jeanne de Mantes?… And afraid to fight the brother! Look,
look, friends! Ha, he’s old enough to be my father, and my sister—’tis
his boast! I, like his son, forsooth? And my sister has but a year of
life more than mine! _O, que l’âge a ses privilèges!_ Oh, how that
paternal heart beats to high thoughts! Curse thee, burn thee, drown thee
… coward!”

Stragglers in the garden, attracted by the wild clamours, had now begun
to gather. Up the slimy steps, from the ’Friars, like obscene beasts
venturing furtively from their lairs, the frowzy, arrogant heads of
thieving bullies,—“Knights of the Posts” and “Copper Captains,”—scenting
a profitable quarrel, began to emerge. And these were shadowed by dismal
shapes of womanhood, such as in those haunts were never far from the
scenes of strife, like to the hovering carrion bird.

The Vidame, in his paroxysm, cared as little whether his words were flung
to the solitary winds or to a thousand listeners. As the Lord Constable’s
cloaked figure disappeared altogether from view under the Hall archway
of the Inner Temple, the boy’s outburst culminated in an almost eastern
flight of malediction:—

“May your shadow bring a blight wherever it falls…! May your loves, your
hopes, your desires be bitter as ashes…! May your own flesh and blood
turn against you! May you blast the life of your own son till he wishes
he had never been born! Curse you…! May your own flesh and blood curse
you! May you want and never get—seek and never find! May your pillow be
haunted and your waking a horror! May your wine-cup poison you and the
pest follow you and break out under your footsteps! May fire consume your
pride and your hair grow white in misery, in dishonour, and then may
Death be deaf to your call—!”

He fell back against a tree, breath failing on his lips; flung one arm
against the bole and rested his brow upon it. Then the tears which his
fire of rage had burned from his eyelids threatened to overwhelm him in
the weakness that follows on all such unnatural paroxysms.

Sir Paul Farrant stood a moment, dubious. He glanced from the figure
against the lime tree to the dingy rabble that were drawing ever closer
in grinning curiosity and unholy expectation.—In sooth (was the thought
gathering strength in his mind) the little new star of Court favour
seemed like to be quenched! Yonder was the lucky youth (to dare to beard
the Lord Constable.… It had been safer, almost, to have affronted the
King!) broken by a mere twist of that strong hand!

A couple of Templars, grave-looking young men, had halted a few paces
away; and now, with a low-voiced murmur to one another and an angry
glance of scorn flung at the gentry that the clamour had gathered from
below the steps into their trim gardens, they passed on their way.

Farrant was quick to read the omen. Henceforth, it seemed, Enguerrand de
Joncelles, the King’s favourite, would have to seek associates in such
doubtful and dangerous company rather than among gentlemen of standing
who had a care for their reputation and advancement.—The sprightly Vidame
… threatened with a whipping—aha!

So Sir Paul replaced his beaver with a hasty gesture and, cautiously
treading, took path across the turf toward the water-gate, where he
reckoned to find his skiff in waiting. The while his friend wept
corrosive tears against the bark of the lime tree.

The “Brothers of the Huff,” the Daughters of Joy, and other good
companions of Alsatia, who had awaited, expecting sport, glanced at each
other in disappointment. Upon the disappearance of the Templars, one
of their number made a dash for the silver hilt on the ground; closely
hustled by a second, swift to perceive the intention. This latter had to
be content, however, with the broken blade, and a scuffle would have
ensued had not a burly personage, who seemed to have authority among
them, put an end to the dispute by possessing himself of the spoils and
hustling the others back to the stairway.

A girl in tawdry finery now tripped stealthily toward the young man,
who was so completely lost in the abstraction of his misery to all his
surroundings, that he never felt the nimble touch that drew from his
pocket the laced handkerchief, nor woke to actuality until her screech of
laughter rang into his ears.

Here another woman sprang from the watchful group at the head of the
stairs and flung herself between the pilferer and the Vidame, as he stood
staring, white-faced and shaken.

“As for you,” cried she, “march!”

The outflung gesture that accompanied the words seemed to cow the
thieving strumpet.

As the girl slunk away, cursing “French Joan and her tantrums,” yet in
evident awe of her, the newcomer put forth her hand and touched the
Vidame’s wrist.

Looking at her, dazed, he recognised Laperrière’s black-browed sister:
a strange, sinister figure of uncertain age, and with sullen remains of
what must have been great beauty, who was wont to sit moodily stitching
in the little antechamber to the fencing master’s room. She had never a
word for him as he passed daily to and fro, but a long, deep look: the
same look was now plunging into his eyes. Having gained his attention,
she dropped her hand from his and, folding her arms with a gesture of
some dignity, began, in French, low-voiced and rapid:—

“Hate! Hatred! Oh, _la haine_…! I have known it, my young lord! But
nothing my brother can teach or do will help you here! What use is the
sword and the skill of it against him who will not fight?”

Enguerrand stared at her. Then into his fixed glance of despair sprang
a sudden kindling flash, in response to the strong, devouring gaze that
still held his.

“You cursed too loud, _mon joli seigneur_. Oh, too loud…! When one wants
revenge, one must be silent!”

“Revenge…!” echoed Enguerrand, with such a cry as a despairing lover
might give as he echoed his mistress’s call.

“Hush!” said she whom Alsatia called French Joan, two brown fingers on
her lips.

She bent forward, lowering her voice still more, although the mocking
rabble that pressed about them, only kept at bay by her hard and watchful
eyes, could have made nothing of her foreign speech:—

“Yet you spoke well,” she went on. “‘May the wine-cup poison you!—May
the pest follow you and break out under your footsteps…!’ A man may find
that in his cup which will give him quick passage … as quick and quicker
than the pest, believe me. He might have drunk, and the wine have lain
as pleasant on his tongue as ever; and, lo!—before he can call for his
second draught the pest, it seems, has stilled his heart—or so will every
one say in these days: swooning, mortal sweat and burning fire, death,
all within the hour.… The pest, indeed, all who had seen it would swear.
Not a sign lacking: except that it strikes so quick, so quick—no time for
remedies! And yet ’tis not the pest. It holds within a small thimble.
_He, mon joli seigneur._ A treasure for those who understand hate. My
brother brought back his best sword-passes from Italy—I brought back
better … the _acquetta_ … eh, my pretty lord? The _Tofana_ drops, for
them you hate…! You may trust me … they have been tried: else, maybe,
we should not be here … and your luck would thereby be the less. If fate
gave you the chance of mixing such a cup for the one you curse, what
would you give to fate?”

“All I possess,” whispered the Vidame, hotly. “Anything she asked!”

Again the deep, inscrutable eyes brooded upon him. Then French Joan
showed her white teeth in a smile that gave a kind of lurid beauty to her
dark face.

“Well, we shall see,” she said; “maybe I shall ask much, maybe I shall
ask little.… Give me your hand, my pretty gentleman,” she cried, raising
her voice into sonorousness again, and speaking in broken English:
“I will lead you back to my brother’s. I have a cordial for such
weakness.—Lean on me!”

Jeers and shouts responded from the greasy steps.

“Lean on French Joan, Master Frenchman! French Joan has a cordial for
weak gentlemen!”

“Marry!” cried the girl who had stolen the kerchief, “will he come out
alive again, think ye, masters?”

“Rather him than me, with French Joan!” roared the youngest ruffler,
clapping his arms around her waist.



II

THE VENETIAN GLASS


“Little Satan,” said Charles, “a plague on all women, I say!”

The King’s page started from the gloomy muse in which he had been gazing
out of the window recess of the royal room in Whitehall, at the flowing
tide below.

“Amen—your Majesty!” he answered, with an attempt at sprightliness,
the impotence of which brought a frown to the discontented face turned
upon him. “As the times go, your Majesty’s wish carries the charm of
possibility.… If all one hears be true, the plague hath taken already not
a few—”

“Little Satan,” said the King, “many sins can be pardoned to your
infernal reputation; but there is one, Odd’s fish! unforgivable.… You
are growing monstrous dull, you are tedious. You lack tact, too, by the
Lord! Fie, is it page’s business to put his master in mind of what he had
better forget?—The veriest young cit would know better than to prate in
our ears of what they would fain be deaf to.… Gadzooks, little boy, did
we pick you out, think you, French and pert and joyous, for our Page of
the Bottle, that you might ape our long-faced puritan ways and go mooning
about our person, clapping your hand to your heart, sighing like furnace
or lover?”

Here a chuckle shook the long, lazy figure sunk in the Flemish chair.

“Is it love? Marry, it can be but love! Little Satan in love!” cried the
King, avid, in the deep weariness of his existence, for the slightest
pretence of amusement. “Come, confess—Dan Cupid has shot his arrow into
that sulphureous young heart of thine! My little devil’s in love—and
being in love, has been as dull company, these three weeks, as any angel
that ever flapped wings.”

The Vidame had left the window recess and now stood before the King. His
hand had indeed gone to his heart, with what seemed an habitual gesture.
He dropped it by his side and hung his head; a dull colour crept into his
cheeks and faded again. Never burdened with any superfluity of flesh, he
yet had grown noticeably thin these three weeks, and the healthy pallor
of his face had been replaced by feverish tints as of one wasted by
haunting, unsatisfied fires.

His royal master surveyed him, half irritably, half concernedly:—

“Come, little Enguerrand—the name of the cruel, the obdurate one?”

The page again arrested with a jerk the involuntary motion of his hand to
his breast, flung back his head and suddenly laughed.

“Your Majesty, she is beautiful, if dark; and I believe that I shall kiss
her on the lips before long.”

But Charles, though the most easy-going of monarchs, could rebuke
undue liberty by a mere upraising of one heavy eyebrow. This sign of
displeasure and the silence with which he received his page’s seemingly
pert answer brought the blood leaping again into Enguerrand’s wasted
cheek. If he could hate, this passionate youth, he could also love; and
he loved Charles with an intensity only second to his hatred for the Lord
Constable. He shook his curls over his face to hide his confusion.

Charles yawned and sank a fraction lower in his great chair. For a man
who demanded but one thing of life,—that it should run even,—fate was
playing him sorry tricks these days. Sickness and discontent were growing
apace in the kingdom, money difficulties were pressing increasingly
upon him, the progress of the war was doubtful, the quarrels of the
Stewart and the Castlemaine made Whitehall a place of vast discomfort;
and, besides, there were the interlacing circles of intrigue spun about
him by consort, children, brother, ministers, divines, ruined loyalists,
aspiring mistresses.

“Odd’s fish! Little Satan,” he resumed, good-humoured even in his
exacerbation, “can you not consult your Great Father and find me an
hour’s diversion?”

“Will your Majesty be pleased to survey the present of Venetian glass
sent by his Majesty of France?—The chandelier has been suspended from
the ceiling of the small supper room, the great mirror hung upon the
wall, and the drinking vessels laid out on the buffet—according to your
Majesty’s order. I saw it done this morning.”

“Pshaw!” said the King.

When these instructions had been given, he had planned a discreet party
in the newly adorned chamber. But, two had heard of an invitation that
one only had received. And the royal temper was still smarting from the
consequent recriminations. He thought back on the distasteful scene, now,
with renewed injury:—

“Gad, I’ll banish the petticoats … though, by the Mass, the periwigs
are little better! I shall have Buckingham drawing on Hamilton for the
privilege of annexing my Venetian glass!” He chuckled bitterly at the
sense of his own too easy good nature. “I trust they’ve nailed the mirror
fast,” he cried aloud; “I am told it is mighty fine.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet there was one of his chosen companions who had never sought for
either advancement or booty, and who had a humour that fitted well with
his own in these moods of reaction, when the voluptuary yielded to
cynical melancholy.

“Why,” exclaimed Charles, suddenly lifting himself in his seat with an
animation he had not hitherto shown, “it is a week or more since I have
seen my ‘Merry Rockhurst.’ Get you to the Tower, Little Satan, as fast as
your black wings can carry you. Bid my Lord Constable to the rescue. Tell
him I am dull, _que je m’ennuie, Vidame, et qu’il vienne s’ennuyer avec
moi_, for I am persuaded he is as dull as I am. ’Tis the fate of good wit
in a weary world. How now—not gone?”

“Sire,” said the lad, in a toneless voice, “Lord Rockhurst is at
Whitehall. I saw him at his writing but just now, as I passed the Window
of his apartment.”

“All the better fortune! Haste, then,” said the King. “But hark ye,
Little Satan: Rockhurst alone! God forbid there should be a flounce near
our presence to-night! Bid the Lord Constable come and crack a bottle
with us as in the old days of Flanders.”

A rueful grin spread over his saturnine countenance. Castlemaine and
Stewart had been overmuch for him this morning in their division: united,
against a new rival—no, the thought was beyond the pale of contemplation!

Once outside, in the great corridor, filled already with evening gloom,
Enguerrand paused:—

“Bid the Lord Constable come and crack a bottle with us…!” The boy flung
back his head and breathed sharply, through dilated nostrils, as if
scenting ecstasy. His moment,—so long brooded upon, desired with such
acrid ardour,—was it at last within his grasp? His hand went up to his
breast with that gesture that had attracted the King’s notice. Aye,
there it lay over his heart, the tiny phial of French Joan! Day and
night he felt it, burning, biting into his soul; day and night he heard
it whispering, urging, at once tormenting and delighting. Since that
horrible hour in the Temple Gardens, it was all he had left to look for
in the world. His life, shamed in his own eyes, was a worthless thing.
That other life once swept away, nothing would matter that could befall
him, be it death or disgrace. He went to sleep every night holding the
phial against his heart.… His Vengeance, dark and beautiful…! as the
lover holds his lady’s guerdon. The moment, was it actually drawing at
hand when he was to kiss her on the lips?

He gave a sudden laugh—secret-sounding yet triumphant, the abandoned
laugh of the madman over his obsession—which startled a sleeping page at
the end of the passage as with a sense of terror in the air, and he set
off running on his errand, past the astonished servants.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he reached the Lord Constable’s Whitehall apartment, by the Holbein
gateway, his lordship was still sitting at his table in the dusk,
apparently absorbed in some deep revery; so deep indeed that he stared
at Enguerrand with unseeing eyes. The white-haired servant had twice to
repeat the announcement: “The King’s page, my lord, with a command from
his Majesty,” before his master roused himself to attention. Then the
Lord Constable turned his fine head questioningly toward the messenger.

Enguerrand bowed low, tasting, in a kind of inner intoxication, the full
sense of his own irony:—

“His Majesty bids you to supper, my lord, to crack—these are his
Majesty’s own words—a bottle of Rhenish, as in the old days of Flanders.
His Majesty is melancholy and—commands that you come and be melancholy
with him.”

The faintest shadow of a smile passed over the grave, listening
countenance. Any one who once came under the gaze of those brilliant,
haunting eyes of the Lord Constable’s could well conceive that such an
order was of easy obedience. He sat in melancholy, as his royal master
sat in tedium: hence the subtle pleasantry of ‘my Merry Rockhurst.’

“Thank you, Vidame,” said he, half rising, with a formal inclination of
the head. “Inform his Majesty, if you please, that I attend instantly.”

The French boy had to pause outside the gateway door, to battle with the
suffocating rage that suddenly invaded him. Rather would he have received
fresh insults from his enemy than this perfect courtesy—a courtesy which
at once seemed to remember and to pass over. In that last glance that
rested upon him, in that deep, brooding look, there had almost lurked
(or so he thought) pity. Pity! Enguerrand tore open the ruffle at his
throat and gasped for breath.

Then, as swiftly as it had come, the paroxysm passed. Weakling, to waste
his energies on fruitless curses! Was not his hour nigh, and did he not
need the cool head, the steady hand, the quick eye?… He once had offered
his honour and his sword for a chivalrous test … they both had been
broken and cast from him.… Vastly well! Now would he pass the secret
thrust for which there is no parry! He fastened his ruffle again with
fingers that now scarcely trembled. And, as he ran back to the royal
apartment, he broke shrilly into a stave of song: that same _frondeur_
lilt that had tickled the royal ears from Sister Jeanne’s lips on yonder
night when she had met fortune and jilted her—at the King’s supper party:—

    _“La Tour, prends garde, la Tour, prends garde,_
    _De te laisser abattre…!”_

rose the high notes.

“Master Page,” said a yeoman sternly, “have you taken leave of your wits?
The King is within.…”

“I know, I know,” said Enguerrand, poising himself for a moment on one
springing foot, and looking back over his shoulder like some light
Mercury in satin and ringlet. “I know, good old greybeard, and ’tis I
serve his Majesty’s supper to-night!”

Then, as he leaped forward again, he took up the song, under his breath,
this time, and in English,—

    “Tower, have a care, O Tower, beware!”

Halfway down the corridor he paused once more, and once more looked back:—

“Look out for my Lord Constable of the Tower, you, Master Beefeater … for
he sups with the King to-night!”

His laugh echoed as he disappeared in the antechamber.

“A murrain on these French crickets to whom his Majesty is fain to give
what should belong to honest English lads!” grumbled the yeoman, as he
ordered his halbert with a thud. “’Tis mercy we have such gentlemen as my
Lord Constable about the person—to keep balance. And here indeed comes my
noble lord.”

Rockhurst halted a second beside the old yeoman. The gnarled hand that
grasped the halbert had lost one finger: Rockhurst knew in what fight.
Kings may forget what leal subjects have suffered for them, and ladies
what lovers have sighed and served, but the captain forgets not the man
who has stood in his ranks. Rockhurst’s hair was turning grey and the
yeoman’s was white—but they had been young together in the days of Edge
Hill.

“A sultry evening, good Ashby,” said the Lord Constable, with his kind,
sad eyes on the rugged face that crimsoned with joy under the honour.

“Aye, my lord—aye!” muttered the yeoman in gruff tones. (For the more
your Englishman’s heart is touched, the gruffer rings his voice.)
“There’s storm brewing, or so my old wounds tell me, my lord.”

“Aye, aye,”—Rockhurst took up the sound, as he walked on,—“the storm
keeps brewing, and our old wounds keep aching.”

The veteran looked after him:—

“God save your honour!”



III

THE PHIAL OF ACQUETTA


The bunches of wax candles were lit in the parlour reserved for the
King’s intimate gatherings. Across the outside vision of lowering sky and
of black water, spangled with tossing lights, citron-yellow curtains were
drawn.

The new Venetian chandelier sparkled with delicate opalescent tints as
it hung over the supper table: there were pink roses and green leaves,
amber flowers and blue, most wondrously wrought in glass upon its
twisted branches. The cluster of goblets on the buffet, shot with gold,
had the glow of jewels. Two cups stood out from the rest: each had a
fantastic sea-horse with dragon tail for its base, supporting on its
grotesque head—gaping-jawed with red-curved tongue—a bowl as fine and as
miraculously coloured as a bubble. This delicate, magic array of colour
and sheen was reflected in a great mirror which filled the panel of the
wall behind the table.

This last of the Venice gifts was of severer art than the rest; and where
it did not hold the bubble splendour repeated in its depths, it shone
coldly, crystal and silver, from the dark wainscot.

Charles was momentarily lifted out of his heavy mood by amusement and
curiosity.

“Marry!” he said, “if these be our cousin of France’s leavings, what must
be the treasure he has kept! Look up, my lord, this mirror—’tis a curious
and pretty piece, and reflects the light a hundred times more gaily than
our silver and bronze. And the drinking gear yonder…! The Apocalypse
itself in glass!”

He strode to the side-table and laid a finger against the fair cheek of
one of the goblets—then he glanced up and caught sight of his own dark
visage in the new mirror. The gleam of satisfaction instantly vanished
from the long and melancholy countenance.

“And gad, my lord,” he cried, “if you think I shall be left as much as
this little tass, within a week! Oh—there’ll be one whose face will look
vastly better than mine in yonder mirror; and another whose tiring-room
can never be bright again without such a toy as yon!”

He turned and snapped his fingers impatiently toward the soft-footed
servants who came and went between the door and the sideboard with viands
and flasks.

“Away with them, away with them! We’ll sit together as in old times—eh,
my merry Rockhurst?—and keep but Little Satan there to fill a cup.”

“I oft waited on you, alone, in Holland and elsewhere, sire,” responded
the Lord Constable’s deep voice.

“Aye, aye,” said the King, in the same half-testy, half good-humoured
manner. “But we have a demon handy to-night. Tush, man,” proceeded he,
flinging himself into the leathern chair and shaking out the Flemish
napkin, “things are better with us, and things are worse with us; let us
drink and remember—and drink and forget! Ha, my lord, we oft had neither
pasty nor capon in those days—but I’ll say that for thee, Harry, you were
master cellarer, and you never let me lack decent wine—”

“My liege,” said Rockhurst, a note of tenderness creeping in through his
grave tones, “we had to pledge a great cause, and the wine had to be
worthy of the cup!”

“Truly,” said Charles. “I mind me of a certain yellow Rhenish: it had
a smack—where you got it I never knew, Harry, but it had a smack!—The
cause, say you? Plague on your hypocritical gravity…! Tush, man, we drank
to black eyes and blue, to trim ankles and laughing tongues. Those were
the days of that jade Lucy … ha, the pair of eyes! And what shall we
pledge to-night?”

“Why, then, the old days, your Majesty.”

“Aye—the old days, good days … and all the better, being past! None can
say I am an ambitious sovereign—eh, my solemn Constable? I ask no more of
my people than that they should never send me on my travels again.… ’Tis
modest, patriarchal—a home-keeping sovereign! No one can accuse me of not
spending my substance among my subjects!”

“Indeed and indeed, no, sire!” said Rockhurst, without the slightest
twinkle in his straight look. “As for spending, my liege, your Majesty
has indeed a royal mastery of the art.”

“Go to!” said the King. “Wet that too dry humour of thine with a
draught.—Nay, Little Satan, none of your dark-liveried claret to-night;
we’ll have the merry yellow wine in yonder long flagon. Away with this
dull glass, too.—Go, play with the Apocalypse. Those dragon beakers,
I’ll swear they’ll hold half the flagon apiece.—And you shall have a
brimmer and drink it to the last drop, my Lord Constable, for if I’m
never to have you a merry dog again, by the Lord, I’ll have you a drunk
one!—Vidame, I say you shall see my reverend Lord Constable drunk, and
have something to laugh at to your dying day—for ’tis then the solemnest
villain that ever staggered on human legs.”

Enguerrand had been a presence in the room as noiseless as a spirit.
Yet every word that passed between the two men—the sovereign and his
old comrade—had added intensity to his murderous passion. The boy loved
the King. Unhappy, abnormal creature! He could neither love nor hate in
reason, was as much racked with jealousy of his master’s regard as a
lover of his mistress’s favour. Every look of old familiar friendship
that Charles flung at Lord Rockhurst, every easy word, proclaiming a
sympathy and confidence that placed them almost on brotherly equality,
was as a lash on the raw wound of his pride—a spur to his leaping hatred.

At the King’s command he filled one of the dragon beakers from the
long-necked bottle with a singular precision, though his hand was cold
as ice, and his pulse beat to suffocation in his throat. He set the
wonderful glass—more wonderful than ever now, with the golden liquid
shining within its flanks—beside the King’s plate.

“Odd’s fish—a truly royal cup! As I live, the fair half of the bottle!…
Now, boy, the other half to my Lord Constable.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Over by the sideboard, under the cold gleam of the mirror, the King’s
page paused a second, and his hand went a last time to his breast. Out,
little phial! It lay in the hollow of his palm, no larger than a lady’s
thimble. Break, silken thread! His moment had come: the lover would kiss
his dark mistress on the lips! There was buzzing as of a thousand angry
bees in his ears.… He never noted how still the room had grown. Now his
hand hovered over the rim of the full beaker—a strange gesture, as of the
priest blessing the cup…!

“Little Satan.…” said the King.

Though neither loud nor sharp, there was something so singular in
Charles’s voice that Rockhurst started from his wonted abstraction.

As for Enguerrand, he was struck full into his heart. Involuntarily he
straightened his hand and the empty phial fell lightly on the carpet. He
remained a moment staring into nothingness; then slowly raised his eyes,
and met the King’s eyes in the Venetian mirror.

Charles’s face in the glass … his glance was terrible! Terrible, too, was
his voice as he spoke again, though it was lower than usual, and very
distinct, very quiet:—

“Bring me that cup, Little Satan.”

And as the boy mechanically lifted the dragon goblet and turned round,
holding it in both hands, for it was brimming, Charles leaned across the
table and passed the twin cup, his own, toward Rockhurst, who sat in
wonder.

“The King should have the fuller draught,” he said. “Why do you wait
there, Little Satan?—Bring me that cup, that I may pledge my noble friend
the Lord Constable.”

With this Enguerrand heard his doom. Had the King ordered him to torture
and death he could not have punished him so mortally as by this quiet
order.

A second more he stood, with fascinated eyes, staring at his beloved
master: there was not the faintest answer in Charles’s relentless gaze.
Then a dreadful smile broke on the young face. Without a word Enguerrand
de Joncelles lifted the beaker to his own lips and drank.

It was a long draught, and every gulp was an effort to the constricted
throat. Yet there was no interruption; and for a seemingly endless span
of silence and tension the boy stood and drew the death into himself—his
eyes, over the lovely, fragile rim, fixed in agony upon the King.

Charles made no sign, but waited.

When the last drop was drained, Enguerrand unclasped his fingers on
either side. The dragon glass fell and was shivered.

Here Rockhurst leaped to his feet.

“Good God, your Majesty!” he exclaimed. “What is this?”

“Sit down again,” said the King, coldly. “The Vidame de Joncelles has
voluntarily assumed to-night a new service about our person. It is a
service which hath fallen into desuetude at the Court of England. And the
young gentleman has proved a greedy taster and a clumsy one.—I am still
waiting for my wine.”

Rockhurst’s gaze went in deep uneasiness from Charles’s face, set in
lines of unwonted severity, to the livid countenance of the boy, who
leaned back against the sideboard, scarce able to support himself.

“Your pardon, sire,” he began, pushing back his own cup—“the matter can
scarce remain.…”

But his sovereign again interrupted him, this time with the royal
peremptoriness which admits of no discussion:—

“There is but one thing we will not pardon, and it is that you add to
our tedium: we commanded your presence here to-night that you might
share it, not to increase it. But, meanwhile we are waiting,—Monsieur de
Joncelles,”—and for the first time he raised his voice sharply,—“we are
waiting.”

The boy passed his hand across his forehead and dashed back the curls
that were already growing damp. That the King should have no pity on him,
and yet spare him thus—it was befitting one whom he had worshipped from
the very first for his true royalty. A kind of fierce pride awoke in him
and spurred him to meet his death in a manner worthy of such clement
cruelty. Though the lights were beginning to swim before his eyes and
he rather groped than saw, he contrived to open a second flask and fill
another of the Venetian beakers.

Then—for French Joan had been faithful, and swift was the working of her
gift—he had to make a heroic effort to bring the glass to the King. But
the very fierceness of the effort, final flare of an indomitable spirit,
carried the failing body through.

Enguerrand came to the table with measured step, although it seemed to
him he trod illimitable air; went down slowly on one knee and uplifted
his rigid hands, clasping the substance he no longer felt. The ultimate
action of his life was the yielding of the cup into the King’s hand.

As the King took and drank, the boy fell.

“Why, the lad has swooned…! some aqua vitæ!” exclaimed Rockhurst.

But Charles flung out his hand with his rare gesture of command:—

“Nay, my lord.—He is dead, or dying. Little Satans do not do their work
by halves. He is dead or soon will be.—Odd’s fish!” added the King, after
a moment’s frowning meditation, “when you lured that linnet, his sister,
to sing for you in the Tower, Harry, you little thought her song was to
have such an echo!”

Rockhurst stared for a moment horror-stricken—his glance roamed from
the broken beaker to the cups on the table and thence to Enguerrand’s
convulsed face. A glimmering of the truth began to dawn upon him; the
mystery was dissolving before a tragic and dreadful light. Even in the
midst of the King’s words he dropped on one knee to raise the prone
figure. The livid head fell limply back over his arm. The King cast one
look down and averted his eyes.

“Away with him!” he cried, in an explosion of nervous irritability.
“Away with him! Call whomsoever you want to carry him, do what you list,
get what physician you wish,—the lad’s dead, and ’tis the end of it!
You understand, I’ll not hear another word about the matter.… Gadzooks!
what a finish to a tedious day! Away with him, I command you, my Lord
Rockhurst!”

Rockhurst, who had half risen at the King’s sharp tones, now bent once
more down and gathered the inert form into his arms.

“Will your Majesty, then, open the door for me?” he said, in a low voice.

The King sprang up from his chair, dashing his napkin on one side, and
flung open the door with an angry hand.

The slam of its closing echoed down the great corridors. So would Charles
ever shut the unpleasant episode out from his life. Yet he had not quite
succeeded: as he went moodily back to the table, his foot struck against
the empty little phial. With precaution, placing the napkin between it
and his palm, he held it to the light. It was wrought of Italian glass,
with twisted lines of blue and red, not much larger than a filbert nut.

A vision swam before his eyes: Rockhurst’s face, upturned as he had but
just now seen that of his French page; and, like it, livid in the hues of
death.

“Little Satan! …” he said aloud.

It was the last time that the words were ever to cross his lips. He cast
the phial out through the open window and heard the faint splintering
crash echo from the flags below.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rockhurst had taken but a few steps down the passage, when some
inexplicable impression bade him pause and glance down at his sad burden.

The light from one of the wall sconces fell full on the boy’s face: a
subtle change, that was scarcely so much a quiver as a composing of all
the features, was passing over it, driving away the terrible pinched look
of agony and restoring something of its youthful beauty. Then Enguerrand
opened his eyes and stared up into the Lord Constable’s countenance.
Rockhurst had never before met those eyes but that he had found hatred in
them. At this supreme moment there was no hatred, only a kind of desolate
wonder. Then, even as their gaze met, the soul that seemed to seek his
was gone; the eyes wondered no more.

Rockhurst stood still, an intolerable pain at his heart. It was almost
as if he held his own son’s dead body on his breast. The ring of the
yeoman’s halbert, the tramp of his heavy foot, roused him from the
revery. He strode forward a few steps more.

“Ho, Ashby,” he called, “I have need of thee!”

“Nay, in God’s mercy,” cried the old man, drawing near, “that is never
the French lad!”

He laid the halbert against the wall, and hastened to relieve his captain
from the burden. Then, as he felt one of the small hands, cold and limp:—

“Dead, and dead in very surety! Why, ’tis not an hour since he passed me,
singing like a swallow on the wing, and hopping for all like a squirrel.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Very serious was the face of the King’s physician, and pale his cheek, as
he lifted himself suddenly from the examination of the corpse that had
been laid on my Lord Constable’s bed, in the room by the gateway.

He turned hastily and, forgetting all decorum, pushed not only the
yeoman, who was awaiting his orders, but my lord himself, from the
chamber.

“We can do nothing—the boy is dead!”

Then he leaned over and breathed rather than spoke into Rockhurst’s ear
the single word, “Plague.” Adding aloud, the while fumbling in his
pocket for his pomander box:—

“One of those monstrous, sudden cases we are told of—but which I confess
I have never seen! Merciful heavens … in Whitehall! Your lordship must
submit instantly to fumigation. Aye, and yonder yeoman, too, who carried
the body.” This between prolonged sniffs at the pierced lid of his
pomander box. “Pray, my lord, inhale of this, deep—and you, too, fellow,
after his lordship! And the burial must be early in the morn—poor lad!
And, my lord, I beseech let it be in secret. Oh, we must hold our tongues
about this, my Lord Constable! The sickness in Whitehall, and in his
Majesty’s very apartment!… Not a word to his Majesty! The lad has died of
a fit—a rush to the head. Tut, tut—the truth must be kept secret indeed!”

Rockhurst had listened with immovable countenance.

“Aye,” he said gravely, “it shall be kept secret.”

And, after inhaling the pomander box with due solemnity, he handed it to
yeoman Ashby. But as soon as the physician, taking a hurried _congé_, had
left the anteroom, he laid his hand on the old soldier’s shoulder:—

“Never fear, man, neither you nor I shall catch the sickness whereof
this poor youth died, you can take your captain’s word for warrant.
Nevertheless, I charge thee, speak no word, but, as the physician hath
it—a rush to the head!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet rumour ran abroad, as rumour will. And Sir Paul Farrant, hearing of
his whilom friend’s tragic death, had never a doubt that it was in those
haunts of Alsatia that he had first met the distemper—and himself started
off to the pure airs of Farrant Chace, where he spent a dismal month
watching for symptoms.

Over the grave, in Tothill Fields, where the passionate, revengeful heart
lay now in quietude, a stone was erected by the Lord Constable’s order,
which set forth the Vidame de Joncelle’s names and titles, and recorded
he had died in the flower of his age, honoured by the King’s regard.



LADY CHILLINGBURGH’S LAST CARD-PARTY



LADY CHILLINGBURGH’S LAST CARD-PARTY



I

LINCOLN’S INN FIELDS


Lionel Ratcliffe closed behind him the gate of the house in Lincoln’s
Inn Fields where he had his lodging. He crossed the road, then paused to
survey the desolate scene.

The day was drawing to a close, but sullen fires of sunset were still
burning low under a leaden, cloudy sky. Beneath his feet the grass was
parched, the ground everywhere leprous grey. Though it was only early
July, the foliage of the trees hung limp and sick-hued; there was not
a flicker of life among the branches—indeed, hardly a stir anywhere in
the languid atmosphere. Sky seemed to brood over earth, earth to lie
paralysed, awaiting some moment of catastrophe, and heavy vapours to be
fusing them together. The heat was a palpable presence. An anguished
expectation caught the throat as with an actual pressure. The plague held
all London in its grip.

Men can walk with fortitude under the wings of the Angel of Destruction,
when the death he brings is a clean one, honourable, seemly; but this
horrible Demon of Corruption that now spread its shadow over the world
made its victims loathsome in each other’s eyes and infected them with
coward selfishness and panic fears.

The Court had gone at last, though Charles was no poltroon. Half the
population was in flight along country roads; blind terror was upon most
of those whom circumstances retained within the doomed circle. Among the
well-to-do only three classes still lingered in the town: those whom a
sense of duty kept at their post; those again who, with a strange but not
unknown faculty of self-deception, chose to ignore the visitation rather
than to face the appalling presence; and lastly, those few strong natures
who, for purposes of their own, found it worth while to set danger at
defiance.

To these last belonged Lionel Ratcliffe. Fully aware of the peril, he
challenged it deliberately. He knew that those yellow vapours were the
very breath of the pestilence; that the smell everywhere meeting his
nostrils was that of death; that among yonder prostrate figures reclining
beneath the trees many were doubtless stricken, dying, or dead. He kept
on, nevertheless, calm if wary, at a masterful gait, across the fields.

In his hand he swung a loaded cane of such proportions as almost to rival
a watchman’s staff—one which could keep at a distance or at one stroke
lay low the sturdiest onslaught. For it was well known that many of the
pest-stricken in their delirium rushed into the street to die; that the
passer-by might at any moment be confronted by some miserable wretch who,
seized with madness, would rise and clasp him in an embrace of hideous
contagion.

As for the mumpers and rufflers, who were wont to emerge at the darkening
hours in the Fields—like night-moths, no one knew where from—one glance
of this gentleman’s eye, not to speak of the knowing gesture of the staff
hand, would have sufficed to bid even the stoutest of them pause and be
wiser than to meddle.

And so Lionel Ratcliffe passed on, without undue haste, leaving the
closed theatre on his left, making westward toward Arch Row. And
presently, as he emerged from the shadow of the trees, he sighted the
mansion that was his goal, Chillingburgh House, with its sharp roof, its
coping balustrade and urns rising in relief, black against the lurid
orange of the sky.

As he approached the gateway a sedan chair, escorted by a couple of
armed footmen, was just depositing a lady voluminously wrapped in a silk
cloak before the double flight of steps. He halted for a second to watch
her begin the ascent on the right. She went slowly, as one fatigued; he
swiftly entered the flagged courtyard, took the opposite side of the
stairs, and reached the landing just before her.

“Madame de Mantes! … your servant—! Punctual to the moment!” cried he,
bowed and clapped the feathered hat against his breast.

She halted on the last step and raised her handsome head slowly toward
him, ignoring his hand. The light was growing dim, and the rosy folds
of her hood looked grey; but even under its shadows and in spite of the
rouge on her cheek he had an uncomfortable impression of her pallor.

“_Oui_,” she said tonelessly, “_me voici_.” Then, with sudden petulance,
“Ouf! but one suffocates in this air!”

She caught at the strings of her cloak and tore them apart; the light
silken thing slipped from her shoulders, but she hurried into the house
as one unseeing. Ratcliffe picked up the garment alertly, and followed,
just in time to offer his hand again at the foot of the great staircase.
The touch of her fingers struck chill. His first misgivings deepened; but
he quickly dismissed the rising thoughts. Bah! a woman in love (what was
there about this Rockhurst, curse him! that all the fair should thus run
mad upon him?)—a woman hopelessly in love, and a Frenchwoman at that!
There would sure be scenes with the faithless lover, and she was even now
rehearsing them in her agitated imagination. Well might her hands be cold.

“Are you ill at ease?” he whispered, with a perfunctory show of
solicitude as they passed a couple of anxious-looking servants and drew
closer together on the stairs.

“_Mon Dieu!_ but not at all!” she mocked him irritably. “Neither ill in
my ease, nor my heart, nor—oh, tranquillise yourself—nor in my head!
Besides, who could be but well and happy in this merry London of yours?”

They had reached the gallery. She snapped her hand from his and dropped
him a courtesy. He wondered to have thought her pale; now she seemed
to him unwontedly flushed. Her heavy eyes shot fire. Appraising her
critically, he approved. There were jewels at her ears and throat; her
gown had the impress of French taste, and became her every beauty.

The grey-haired butler who flung open the doors of the drawing-room at
her approach looked after the swaying, shimmering figure with melancholy
approval.

“’Tis almost like old times, Master Lionel,” he whispered, as Ratcliffe
passed in, “to see a Court lady about the place again.”

“Aye, from Court she is,” said Lady Chillingburgh’s grandson, halting
on the threshold to let his gaze roam thankfully over the great
white-and-gold room, which had a sense of coolness and repose about it,
even on such a night. “But she had her reasons for not hasting off with
the rest of them this morning.”

“Eh—but they must be weighty reasons!” murmured the old servant, with a
sigh.

“No doubt the lady thinks them so,” said Lionel Ratcliffe, with his
detached laugh.—“We are full early here, ’twould seem,” he added in
louder tones, advancing toward the card-table in the window before which
the Frenchwoman had already taken seat.

But she disdained to cast toward him even the flutter of an eyelid. Her
fingers were moving restlessly among the cards and dice.

“_Zero … zero! Hein? Non-zero. Ah … mal-chance!_”

The man stood over her a second or two in silence. Then sat down in his
turn and faced her. His voice rang out with a kind of empty cheeriness:—

“What! to the dice already?—Nay,” here he leaned across the narrow space
and whispered, “Remember, it was to play another game that I brought you
here.”

She turned petulantly from him; then her eye became fixed, staring out
through the unshuttered window.

“What a strange red moon is rising!” she cried. “Would to God, Monsieur
Ratcliffe, you had never come to me this morning, tempting, tempting.… My
boxes were packed: I should be now far from this pit of pestil—”

“Hush! hush!” he warned, finger on lip. “Not here! Do not forget my
instructions.” Then, in his low, mock-gallant accents: “How now? Is the
game, then, no longer worth the hazard?”

She caught up the dice-box again, feverishly:—

“Yes—yes. But I have no luck to-night!”

She muttered and cast. “Naught again!”

“Expect you luck at the game of chance,” quoth he, catching the dice-box
from her hand, “when you are so lucky at the game of love?”

“I? I, lucky?”

“Yes,” proceeded he; “and have you not had Cupid’s best cards in your
hand, since the very hour of your landing with Madame de France? First
the King—King of Trumps himself, and eke the Queen.—Gad, she’d have loved
you, were it but to spite the Castlemaine.—Then—”

“Tush!” she interrupted angrily. “Cards?—’Tis not all to hold the
cards—one must play them. I held them all, in truth—” she put her hand to
her throat with a little choking sob. “But—”

“You threw them all down!” he laughed.

“Ah, _ciel_!—When the heart begins to take a part in this game of love,
then all goes astray.”

“Aye,” repeated the man, steadily, his hard eyes upon her, “you threw
your cards away—and all for love of this Rockhurst, the greatest knave in
the pack.”

She turned with sudden anger:—

“Knave, sir? Sho!… King of you all!” Then, with equally sudden change
of mood, “Oh, he _is_ a villain!” she moaned, and her lip trembled upon
tears.

“And so you have not seen him,” said he, altering his tone to one of
elaborate sympathy, “since he returned to town, escorting to his house my
fair cousin, Diana Harcourt? What—not once, after all you have given up
for him?—Faith, ’tis ungallant of him!”

Her elbows on the table, her chin sunk in her hands, she was now staring
fiercely into his eyes.

“Your promise, sir, that I meet him here to-night?…”

“Nay, I can only tell you, my fair Jeanne, that he journeys hither from
the Tower or Whitehall twice a day—when ’tis not thrice.”

“_Mon Dieu!_ …” she breathed between her clenched teeth.

Satisfied with the temper he had aroused in her, the man withdrew his
eyes, turned sideways on his chair, and crossed his legs.

“I fear you’ve been too cool with him,” he remarked airily. “Our ‘merry
Rockhurst,’ as his Majesty calls him, is used to a vast deal of warmth.”

“I—too cool!” She laughed hysterically. “Oh, yes, it was that, of course,
with this heart and brain of mine on fire!”

“Then I fear,” said Ratcliffe, on the edge of a yawn, “you’ve been too
hot. The Lord Constable of his Majesty’s Tower is a man of niceties.”

“Monsieur Ratcliffe,” cried Jeanne de Mantes, beating the table with her
palm and darting her head toward him like a pretty serpent, “you are the
Devil!”

“And your very good friend, madam.” He smiled with a charming bow. “Come,
come! Smooth that fair brow. Do you doubt but you can hold your own
against a mere country widow?”

She fixed him with suspicious eyes.

“Aye, and now it comes to me,” she cried resentfully. “What is your
motive in all this, Monsieur Ratcliffe? Not simply sympathy for me?”

“Come, come! Be calm.” There was authority under his blandness. “Be
calm,” he repeated, “and let me whisper in your ear.—I will even trust
you with my innermost thought. Diana Harcourt shall not be for my Lord
Rockhurst, but for your humble servant.”

“Aye,” she commented, a twist of scorn upon her lips; “the lady, I was
told, is passing rich.”

“Even so,” returned he, unmoved. “’Twould indeed be impossible to conceal
aught from your perspicacity!—Now Mistress Harcourt, by an odd trick of
fate, has become affianced to Harry Rockhurst, the virtuous, innocent
country son of this most reprobate nobleman. The which, however, would be
but a small matter (for she loves not the green lad, mark you, nor ever
will), were it not the spur to other feelings.”

“I fail to follow you, sir,” she said wearily.

“Nay, a moment’s patience, pretty huntress, then you will come full on
the scent. My Lord Rockhurst has had the singular maggot of playing a
game of parental virtue with his heir.—But you are not listening.”

She was pressing her temples with the tip of her fingers, as one who
fights a stabbing pain. At his words, she looked up again and nodded; and
he went on:—

“He has pledged himself to guard the goddess for his lad in the maze of
the town. Mistress Diana has seen naught of my Lord Constable but the
high-souled knight, the King Arthur of romance, and so he would fain
remain in her eyes even as in those of his son; and thus he, whom the
town has dubbed Rakehell Rockhurst, caught in his own springe, must go
on playing the pattern of chivalry, the virtuous gentleman, the devoted
father—play his part out, in fact, or else be dubbed now prince of
hypocrites! Aye, and the cream of the jest is that they have fallen both
so mad in love with each other, aha! that each can scarce breathe in the
other’s presence for the weight of the secret!”

He laughed, but she brooded darkly, nibbling at her little finger.

“And so,” she said after a pause, “you count upon me to lure back my
lord?”

“Aye,” retorted he, with a great show of ease. “That—or else to pluck the
mask of grave virtue from his face … in Mistress Harcourt’s presence.
Was it not agreed? Either course, I take it, will serve your purpose as
well as mine. Why—I deemed you subtler, madam! Upon my Lord Constable’s
discomfiture; upon the opening of my fair prude’s eyes, strikes my hour,
I say. And, zounds, I take it!—Strikes your moment, too, so you know how
to clutch it! Do you not see that?”

She made no answer. A meaningless laugh was on her lips; it died in a
sigh. A strange feeling as of soaring and undulation had come upon her,
and a splitting of her thoughts as though she were in two places at once.
Her mind was wandering oddly, beyond her control, to the cool meadows of
her childhood’s home, to the days when she plucked daisies with her baby
brother in the dew-wet grass. Lionel Ratcliffe was still speaking; she
caught a word here and there. One phrase at last fixed her attention.

“’Twill go hard,” he was saying, “if Lionel Ratcliffe comes not to his
own to-night!”

“And Jeanne de Mantes to hers!” she cried then, in a kind of
high-strained voice, rousing herself. And, falling back into her
abstraction: “What a wicked mist there rises from the garden,” she went
on, complaining. “Aye, would I were far from here!”

“And let pious Mistress Harcourt convert my Lord Constable?”

“A plague on you!” she shrieked in a sudden frenzy.

“Hush, hush! That word—have you forgot?”

A shadow fell on them as they leaned together. She looked up in
terror. It was only the old butler, with a whispered message from Lady
Chillingburgh to her grandson.

Lionel frowned: the interruption was unwelcome. He glanced at the clock,
it was the hour of the reception; the guests would presently arrive,
and he mistrusted the Frenchwoman’s tact, above all to-night, in this
unwonted vapourish mood. He rose with ill humour.

“Some whimsy of my grandam about the tables, no doubt,” he muttered, as
he sauntered from the room, pausing at the door to cast a last look of
warning. And, truly,—for Fate plays such tricks upon those who would
guide her,—scarce had his footsteps died away, when Lord Rockhurst
himself entered unannounced upon the solitary guest, as enters the
familiar of the house.



II

LOVE’S REPROACH


He reached the middle of the room before he caught sight of her. An
angry frown suddenly overcast features which, in repose, were at once
singularly dignified and melancholy.

“How now?” he said harshly. “How come you here?”

Whatever illusion Jeanne de Mantes might have cherished as to her power
over the man she loved, that frown, the cutting tones, all too quickly
dispelled it. She felt as one who, stretching her cheek for a kiss,
receives a blow. Ingrate! And she who, this day, was braving death to see
him once more! Quick upon the smart of pain, her fury rose. Squaring her
elbows, she looked at him insolently.

“Why, in my sedan chair, milord.”

“Who brought you, then?”

But she had not the strength for the fight. What had come to Jeanne de
Mantes? She found herself faltering:—

“Nay, say _what_ brought me, Rockhurst, and I will tell you. It was to
see you.” Her voice deepened, the tears she would not shed wept in it.
“I was packing, if you would know, for country and safety, even this
morning. And when Mr. Ratcliffe told me—”

“Ha!” he interrupted, speaking half to himself, “I might have known who
had baited this trap.”

She went on with rising plaint:—

“Oh! What have I done to thee, my friend—?”

“This is no place for you, madam,” he said, coming close to her and
speaking very low. “A house you have no right to enter.”

The colour flamed up again to her face.

“Nay, if you are here, milord,” she retorted, “why not I, then?”

He stood a few seconds, his dark eye upon her, deeply thinking; then,
as though upon a sudden, wilful mood, a complete change came over him.
The stateliness, the air of command, the something unapproachable as of
one set apart, gave place to mockery, to languor. He let himself sink
upon the chair that Ratcliffe had vacated; and, running his fingers
through the black curls that lay on his shoulders, scrutinised her again
insolently through half-closed lids.

“Lionel Ratcliffe,” quoth he then, “is a gentleman of birth and parts.
And if he hath not much of this world’s goods, he hath wits, which is
nigh as good. Mightest do worse, Jinny!”

“And is it for this,” cried she, laughing loudly, “that I gave up a
king?” But in the midst of her laughter tears welled and ran down her
cheeks.

“By the Lord Harry!” he said, wilfully hard, “but this becomes a
wearisome refrain of thine! What now, Old Rowley is forgiving. Finish
that packing of thine, and hie thee to Salisbury. You might still—”

She caught her kerchief from her bosom and set her teeth in it.

“Might I, indeed, my lord? Oh, you are gallant!” Then the tears came on
that hysteric outburst: “You will break my heart!”

He glanced anxiously toward the door.

“Tush!—Hearts?” he cried impatiently. “We are set with five senses in
this world, and ’tis but common wisdom to take note of them. But hearts?
What have you and I to do with hearts?”

“And, indeed,” she sobbed—“and, indeed, I never knew I had one, till you
had taken it from me!”

“Dry your eyes, Jinny,” said he then, not unkindly. “When will ye women
learn it?—tears are daggers with which ye slay your charms.… Enough! I
for one never could abide a salt cheek.”

She thrust back the sob rising in her throat, and strove to smile upon
him.

“Time was you thought me handsome,” she murmured with catching breath.

“I think thee handsome still,” he answered; stretched out a languid
finger and touched her chin. Then a bitter laugh shook him. “A morsel fit
for a king, as I said!”

With her snakelike movement she rose, and stood a second, glaring down
at him. Then to her ears came a rustle along the oaken boards of the
passage. Her rival! And she, _la belle_ Jeanne de Mantes, tear-stained, a
hideous thing to be mocked at! Like a hunted thing, she turned and dashed
through the open window out upon the terrace that overlooked the gloom of
the garden.

       *       *       *       *       *

No fresh air there to cool her fevered temples, to revive that heart so
strangely labouring. But stronger than all physical discomfort was the
galling interest of her jealousy. She returned close to the window by
which she had fled.… The mischief of it was that, with this hammering
of her pulses, she could scarce catch a word of what passed within
the room. But she could see! And the whole life power in her became
concentrated in her burning eyes. Pshaw! it was but a pale girl when all
was said and done! And the hair, positive red!… Aye, and overlong in
the limb—an English gawk! She would call herself slender, no doubt—thin
was the word for her. Not a jewel, not even a pearl, on the forehead!
If Jeanne de Mantes knew milord—him so travelled, so fastidious, so
_raffiné_—this dish of curds and whey would mighty soon pall upon his
palate. Yet, through all this tale of her rival’s disabilities, a
relentless voice, far away in her soul, yet clear as judge’s sentence,
repeated that Diana was beautiful and held Rockhurst’s love. In her
despair, something like madness ran hot through her veins. Very well,
at any rate, as Lionel Ratcliffe had it, her moment was at hand! A
shuddering fit came over her that seemed to shake her ideas away, as an
autumn wind the leaves.… Her moment? What moment…?

       *       *       *       *       *

In the yellow candle-light within, Lord Rockhurst had ceremoniously
greeted his son’s betrothed. Silently she courtesied. Then, as they drew
closer to each other, the man saw traces of tears on the fair cheek.

“What is this?” he exclaimed. “You have been weeping!”

“Truly, my lord,” said she, smiling, yet with a little catch in her
breath, “I should be ashamed to show you this disfigured countenance.”

“Disfigured?” he echoed. “Nay—transfigured!”

He took a quick step toward her as she spoke; but she drew back.

“I have a letter from Harry,” she said constrainedly; and Rockhurst drew
himself up, darkening.

“Aye,” said he, and then approached her again, his whole manner
delicately, indescribably altered. “Good news, I trust?”

“Oh, vastly,” she answered, with a small, flustered laugh, drawing a
folded sheet from her bosom. There was a deep pause. “I am glad to have
heard from Harry,” she declared of a sudden, bravely.

“So glad,” he said, low-voiced, “that you wept.”

“My lord!” There was fear and warning in her cry.

“Ah, Diana, do not grudge me your tears, since ’tis all I may ever have
from you!” He took a hasty turn about the room,—his eyes averted, not to
read in her countenance the effect of this cry of revelation. When he
came back to her, iron composure was once more upon him. “I, too, heard
from my son. Harry clamours to be allowed to join us. That may not be.
Less than ever now!” A church bell rang mournfully into his last words.
“Why, hark! the very bells ring out the words, plague, plague!”

“Oh, my good lord!” she exclaimed, her finger on her lip.

“Aye, and is my Lady Chillingburgh still so mad?”

“Mad? No; but all London is gone mad, is labouring under a monstrous
illusion. We, in this house, alone are sane. There never was such an
ailment as the—” she dropped and formed the evil word only with a
movement of the lips. “And if, as you see, our friends grow scarcer each
Wednesday night, there are a thousand indifferent good reasons to explain
their absence.”

Something in the sweet, assumed archness of her tone stirred him as could
no outburst of feminine terror.

“Diana, child, I cannot permit this! You must not remain exposed to such
peril. I will no longer be withheld from speaking to Lady Chillingburgh.”

“Believe me, my lord,” she prayed him earnestly, “you would but anger
her; you would but be banished this house, and nothing gained indeed.
Oh, do not speak!”

He took both her hands as she involuntarily flung them out.

“Then will I speak to you only. Diana, think of yourself, of Harry. The
whole town is in flight. The departure of the Court has given the final
signal for panic—”

She smiled as she slowly withdrew her hands.

“And you, my lord, when do you join the fugitives?”

“I?” He started. “Why, surely, madam, you know I have a post to keep!
’Tis one I would not desert if I might. My men, poor devils, look to me—”

“Ah,” she interrupted, “and have I no post to hold against the same
enemy? How many servants would my grandmother retain if I set the
example?”

“Diana!” The word escaped him in an uncontrollable impulse of tenderness.
But he checked himself again on the very leap of passion. “Ah,” he
murmured, “I shall have a brave daughter!”

She smiled, as a woman smiles at the hurt inflicted by the best-beloved.

There came from without the sound of voices, uplifted in the pleasant,
artificial accents that mark the social meeting, and Lionel Ratcliffe
ushered a couple of elderly visitors into the room with his elaborate, if
ironic, courtesy.

“You are not the first, gentlemen, you perceive. Indeed, my worthy
ancestress is somewhat behind-hand in her usual punctilio. But she has
been engaged (with my assistance) in the dismissal of a saucy footman who
has had the insolence to remark to her upon these red crosses with which
it hath become the rage to adorn the doors of certain houses these days.”

Both the men laughed uneasily.

“Tut, tut!” cried the elder and stouter, and sniffed surreptitiously at
his pomander box.

“Quite so,” assented Lionel, suavely.

Whereupon the other guest broke out, as in anger:—

“A monstrous nuisance, ’pon honour! Gad, sirs, I am here straight from
a crony’s house—my Lord Vernon’s and no other. What think you greets
me from the door-step—a nobleman’s door, mark you! The cross, sir, the
cross! and by my soul, the text, ‘_Lord have mercy on us!_’ writ beneath
in chalk!”

“Lord ’a’ mercy!” exclaimed the stout man, starting back involuntarily.
“You did not cross the threshold?”

“No, Mr. Foulkes,” returned the younger severely. Then he burst forth
again, a man mightily offended by the indelicacy of events: “Gad, sir,
I’m not fond of the country, but I’m for it to-morrow!”

Foulkes again sniffed his spice-box, this time openly.

“Why, so am I, Sir John!—Ah, Mistress Harcourt, your humble devoted!”

Ratcliffe, who had anxiously looked round the room for Madame de Mantes,
while the guests exchanged greetings, now saw her emerge from the window
recess, and threw her a keen, enquiring glance. Without meeting his eyes,
she came forward with a great rustle of ballooning silk so that all
turned toward her.

“Pray, Mr. Ratcliffe,” said she, in a gay and coquettish voice, “you have
not yet presented me to your kinswoman.”

Ratcliffe shot swift scrutiny from beneath his drawn brows at Diana’s
surprised face, at Lord Rockhurst’s dark, impassive countenance and the
Frenchwoman’s crimson cheeks and haggard eyes, imperceptibly shrugged his
shoulders, and complied:—

“Cousin Diana—Madame de Mantes, who is kind enough to add her charming
presence to our dwindling company to-night. Agreeably to our
grandmother’s wish, I have been acting herald to her hospitality.”

Jeanne sank into the centre of her amber and blue draperies; emerged
languorous, extended with queenly grace a hand to Foulkes and another to
Sir John, and from the very sweep of her courtesies flung a condescending
phrase at her rival:—

“Monsieur, your handsome cousin, has been so eloquent about you, madam,
that ’tis almost as if I knew you already.”

“He is very kind,” faltered Diana, ill at ease, she scarce knew why.
Then, mindful of her duty as hostess, “You know my Lord Rockhurst?”

The lady looked beyond them into the night of the garden.

“We _have_ met,” she said in dreamy tones, and sailed into a third
obeisance.

The two gentlemen of the Court instinctively drew together.

“What has come to that pretty piece from France? Her looks are oddly
altered, think you not? And her manner is somewhat singular to-night.
What makes she in this prim circle? She should be at Salisbury,”
whispered Foulkes.

Sir John Farringdon jerked his thumb knowingly toward the Lord
Constable; both looked, laughed, and wagged their heads. Rockhurst
stepped forward and unostentatiously drew Diana away from Madame de
Mantes. Lionel seized his moment:—

“What did you, from the room?” he whispered hurriedly in his ally’s ear.
“You had your chance, and let it slip! I had not brought you here—” He
stopped suddenly, staring at her askance. The great enamel clasp, that
held the artfully careless draperies at her breast, rose and fell with
her over-quick breathing, yet her mood was strangely cheerful; nay,
incomprehensible, for he marked that her eyes were red. She had wept, he
angrily thought, and robbed herself well-nigh of all her beauty. “You’ve
lost the trick for both of us,” he muttered bitterly.

“Don’t be too sure,” she bade him, drawing closer to him. “Look at them!”
she cried, tossing her curls in the direction of Rockhurst and Diana.
“Ha! you’d have me believe Rockhurst in love—in love with that white,
bloodless, fireless country stock! Oh, sir, I have seen Rockhurst in
love!”

A smile twisted his lips; he looked at her cruelly.

She proceeded with a mixture of exultation and bitterness:—

“I watched them; they thought themselves alone. I tell you he made
no attempt to do more than kiss her finger-tips! Ah, _mon Dieu_!” Her
laughter was like a flame running through her. “With me—Ah, you men! do I
not know you?”

“Pshaw!” said Ratcliffe, deliberately. “Something you may know of us, and
know well. But you know not what a virtuous woman can make of us.”

She wheeled on him, clenching her hands as though to strike him.

“Indeed!” she panted. “And have I not had as much virtue as any
woman—once?” Then, finding his gaze fixed upon his cousin, she halted
upon precipitate speech, watched him keenly for a second, and broke into
loud laughter.

“Hush!” he cried, starting at the wanton sound.

“Excellent Lionel,” she said, catching him with her small, burning
fingers, “if friends are to help each other, they should be frank. But
now I know your secret, I know where I am. As Heaven is good to me,” her
laugh rang out again, “’tis not for the money; why, ’tis for love! You’re
in love with the widow!”

He looked at her for an instant as if he could have stabbed her
willingly, but the next fell back into his cynic mood.

“Congratulate yourself, then,” he retorted drily, “since I have all the
more reason to have my way. But, pray you, here comes my grandam. She
cares not for such loud mirth.”

“Trust me,” she tittered. “I await but the ripe moment. The unmasking
shall yet be played to your liking, and—” She faltered; into her eyes
came the vagueness, into her voice the singular change, that once or
twice already had aroused Ratcliffe’s attention. In a kind of toneless
whisper, rapid and jerky, she added: “Unmask? Oh, yes, milord. No
doubt—after supper!”

Lionel fell back with a frown of dismay.

The folding doors were thrown apart; two footmen entered, bearing
candelabra which they deposited upon the centre card-table. There was
an abrupt cessation of talk among the guests, and all turned in formal
expectation of the venerable hostess’s entry. Into which stillness Lady
Chillingburgh, seated very upright in her chair, was wheeled by a negro
boy.



III

THE PLAGUE-CART


Through the fantastic mists that circled in her brain to-night, now
shrouding her faculties in gloom like the sinister fog that hung without,
now shot as with many-coloured fires, Madame de Mantes gazed upon this
extraordinary personality.

Paralysed to the waist though the old lady was, a fierce vitality, an
indomitable will, looked out of the sunken black eyes, spoke in the
cavernous voice, imposed itself in the gesture of the shriveled hand.
Here was one, in spite of age and infirmity, strong enough to bid
defiance to universal calamity, to look Pestilence in the face, and
choose to ignore it; who, in the midst of a terror akin to that of the
scriptural last day—when the abomination of desolation seemed to have
fallen upon the city, and he that was on the housetop might scarce come
down to take anything out of his house—could still give her weekly
card-party and find guests to obey the summons.

As her chair was brought to a stand in the middle of the room, Lady
Chillingburgh drew her eyebrows together and swept a slow, severe glance
over the circle.

“I was informed the company had assembled. How now! Are these all my
guests?”

There was a kind of apologetic stir, as if each person felt responsible
for the paucity of the gathering. Then Rockhurst and the other men
advanced and gravely paid their devoirs. Diana drew her grandmother’s
chair to a more suitable position by the big card-table, and stood behind
her, in attendance. Ratcliffe instantly proceeded to the introduction of
the new guest. He was once more suave, to glibness:—

“The Court has left this morning, dear madam; hence this unwonted
emptiness of your rooms. Nevertheless, here is a lady of the royal
circle. Madame de Mantes, of the house of Madame Henriette de France,
and honoured by their Majesties’ particular regard—she still prefers the
advantages of the town.”

The aged face became wreathed in smiles.

“I trust their Majesties were in good health, madam, when last you saw
them,” said my Lady Chillingburgh in stately condescension.

Jeanne courtesied mechanically. She felt of a sudden childishly afraid of
the figure in the chair, old, old and nearly dead, yet so alive!

The faint, hollow voice went on, as from the recesses of a tomb:—

“You play cards, of course, Madame de Mantes!” To which the other made
answer feebly, into space:—

“Yes … yes, milady. I came to play.”

A slight shade of surprise appeared in the hostess’s eyes; but after a
second, she made another gesture with the clawlike hand, and turned with
an unerring precision of politeness to her friends:—

“Sir John, I rejoice to see you; you had failed us of late. Ah, Mr.
Foulkes, you indeed are ever faithful! But where is your good lady?”

“She deemed it wiser—hem,” Foulkes coughed, a-sweat with embarrassment,
“I mean, she had accepted an invitation to the country, and left this
morning with our family.”

“Indeed!” commented the venerable hostess, regally. “My Lord Rockhurst,
you prefer basset, I know. So does Sir John. Will you be seated yonder?
Grandson, to my left. Madame, will you face me, if you please? Mr.
Foulkes, sir, to my right. Diana, child, shuffle the cards.”

They fell into their places as she willed them; and for a little while
round the greater table there was naught but the business of the moment:
the necessary words of the game, the rattle of the dice, the whisper of
sliding cards. Diana, her fresh young beauty drawn close in startling
contrast to her grandmother’s awe-inspiring face, held the cards for the
trembling fingers, flung the dice.

In the window recess, the two men, under cover of a languid contest,
conversed gravely in undertones. But ever and again the Lord Constable’s
gaze, charged with anxiety, sought Diana’s radiant head. Jeanne had flung
herself feverishly into the game, which seemed to her all at once a
matter of colossal importance.

“I marvel extremely,” quoth Lady Chillingburgh, “that my Lord Marsham
should be so late. You are acquaint with my Lord Marsham, madame? He is
much at Whitehall. We are indeed a small party to-night. Let us hope my
lord will presently appear.”

Foulkes, who had shown increasing agitation during this speech, now
dropped his cards with a muffled “Mercy be good to us!”

Ratcliffe kicked him under the table, the while addressing his bland
tones to his grandmother.

“Do not expect his lordship to-night, madam. I hear he has convened a
party of his own.”

Sir John Farringdon, straining startled ears and eyes from the other
table, caught Ratcliffe’s glance, and mouthed at him with dumb lips,
“Gone?”—jerking heavenward with his thumb.

“Gone,” asserted Ratcliffe’s nod, while his thumb pointed grimly down.

Lady Chillingburgh turned her quick glance, her high pyramid of lace
and white curls, in daunting enquiry toward Sir John. But her grandson,
diabolically fluent, was once more ready with his irony:—

“Sir John is offended at having received no invitation.”

“’Tis very strange,” said Lady Chillingburgh. “My Lord Marsham is not
wont to be discourteous.”

“’Twas such a sudden inspiration,” soothed Lionel.

His grandmother fixed him with stern disapproval. Diana sometimes thought
that, though it was the old woman’s fancy to be humoured, not a jot of
their elaborate pretence escaped her; that she fiercely resented the
mocking manner with which Lionel acted his rôle.

“And your cousin, sir? Where lurks he? Your brother Edward, I mean,
Diana?”

And as Diana had no answer but a look of dumb distress, the old lady
finished the phrase for herself:—

“I fear young Edward can find little time for the duties he owes to his
grandmother, for the claims of a genteel society, so eager is he, since
he is come to London, for less reputable amusements!” Again the fiery
eyes wandered, seeking. “And Mistress Hill? ’Tis the first time in seven
years that Mistress Hill has failed me.”

Sir John Farringdon, who had been unaccountably nettled by Ratcliffe’s
mocking remark, here lifted his voice somewhat overloudly:—

“I can give tidings of Mistress Hill, madam. I happen to know that this
evening she was driven out in state. No doubt, Mr. Ratcliffe, ’twas to
join that gathering of my Lord Marsham’s to which, as you were good
enough to inform the company, I was not asked.”

Rockhurst rose, frowning. And, laughing, not pleasantly, at his own wit,
Sir John gathered the neglected stakes and slipped them into his pocket.
Madame de Mantes echoed the laugh, shrilly, hysterically.

“_Mon Dieu!_ How amusing you all are!” she cried, and furtively wiped her
forehead, wet with unaccountably cold clamminess this sultry night.

A dark flush crept to the old hostess’s bleached cheek. Desultory talk
or grim jest failed alike to relieve the tension. The game languished;
scarce passed a card or rang a die; the ever-shadowing Horror hung,
nightmare-dark, ever closer, ever more palpable, over all.

“The game, madam! The game, gentlemen!”

But it was idle, even for the bravest spirit among her guests, to deny
the invisible Presence in their midst. And when, following upon a
confused rumour on the stairs, a great cry of anguish and terror was
raised at the very door of the room; when, staggering and wringing his
hands, a distraught youth rushed in, it was almost as if his voice was
that of the unacknowledged Fear; his livid face its very countenance.

“For the Lord’s sake, a cup of the plague water!”

“Brother!” cried Diana. She sprang toward him. But hastily, even roughly,
Rockhurst thrust her on one side, and the boy collapsed into the nearest
chair.

Whereupon Lionel, coming forward with his usual coolness, ran his
fingers, with a movement the sinister significance of which most people
had learned to interpret these days, under the fair curls of the bent
head, feeling behind the ears.

“Pshaw—’tis nothing!… Sheer poltroonery,” cried he, and laughed loudly,
and struck his cousin’s hunched shoulders with no gentle hand. “Art a
pretty fellow to come thus, bellowing like a calf, into the presence of
ladies!”

“Curse it!” moaned the lad. “I have just knocked against two women
carrying a coffin! They howled like sick cats.” Sinking his head on his
hands once more, he rocked himself backward and forward. “Oh, this wicked
London! Oh, the judgment of God!”

“Edward!” cried Lady Chillingburgh imperiously. Her voice dominated the
horrified whispers of Sir John and Foulkes, Madame de Mantes’s hysterical
cries, young Edward’s obtrusive groans.

But there was a force stronger than her in her house that night. Sir John
Farringdon unceremoniously poured himself a bumper of wine, drank it
hastily, his eye on the door toward which Foulkes was already uneasily
edging. Madame de Mantes, who had been sobbing out inarticulate words in
her own tongue, broke into babbling laughter.

Edward sprang to his feet, thrusting aside his cousin’s restraining hand.

“I will speak! Grandam shall hear the truth at last! ’Tis everywhere!
Every one is getting it! Lord Marsham, ill at noon, dead at four!
Mistress Hill, well yesterday, buried to-night!”

“I command you to silence, Edward!”

The quavering voice rose high, catching painfully at lost authority; the
palsied hand aimed a feeble blow at the table.

“Why must we stay, because of the old woman’s whimsy?” continued the boy
in fury. “Zounds! I go to-night, and sister with me. D’ye hear, grandam!
I’m only come here to get the travel money from you, and I’ll have it.
I’ll go, and sister with me!”

But the aged queen was not yet dethroned. Her spirit asserted itself
in a supreme effort. Life seemed to come back to her paralysed limbs;
she flung out one hand in a gesture of authority; this time it scarce
trembled.

“Diana, your brother is drunk. I order him to be expelled. Mr. Foulkes,
the game is not concluded; resume your seat!”

She broke off. Sir John Farringdon had made a sudden unmannerly dash from
the room. Foulkes stood at command with a sickly smile; but his friend’s
example, the open passage, were too much for him; stealthily the door
closed upon his retreat.

Only by a rigid aversion of her head did Lady Chillingburgh betray her
knowledge of this double defection.

“Grandson Lionel, your cousin Edward is drunk. Conduct him, I say, from
this apartment and let him be physicked. Madam, I am surprised you find
amusement in such an indecorous scene. Foh! It seems truly that we shall
have no cards to-night. Diana, child, take your guitar and sing for us.
Sing that old sweet song of Master Herrick’s.—My Lord Rockhurst, have you
yet heard this new instrument?”

But the Lord Constable had followed Diana as she moved across the room to
seek the guitar. They stood together a second; he saw her hand tremble
over the olive-wood case.

“Nay, child, you can never sing to-night!” he whispered.

“My lord, I must—anything to soothe her. Oh, the physicians have ever
warned us of the danger of agitation for her!”

“Diana!” Lady Chillingburgh’s voice was weak and strained; her face
seemed to have suddenly shrunk; extinct was the fire in the eyes. Yet the
will still struggled. “Sing!”

Rockhurst stood behind Diana, a strong, quiet presence, watchful,
comforting. She smiled at him over her shoulder. He bent to her, and
under cover of the first chords:—

“You, at least, are not afraid?” he asked.

“No, my lord.”

Lionel Ratcliffe had taken no pains to fulfil his grandmother’s behest;
and already she seemed to have forgotten it; but he had soothed Edward
Hare after his own fashion—by a bumper of wine and a whispered promise to
provide the travel money himself. Now in the lull he took a seat behind
Madame de Mantes and, his eyes on Rockhurst and Diana, began in a fierce
undertone:—

“Do you not see how it is with them? Why, in this evening’s folly
everything conspires to give them to each other. You wait the ripe
moment, say you? Gad! Look there, I say: there is that other woman with
the man you love—claim him now! ’Tis your last chance!”

Madame de Mantes, who, since Lady Chillingburgh’s rebuke, had been
sitting, her chin propped up on her hands, her curls concealing her face,
turned slowly toward him. He started. For all his fortitude a shudder ran
through him.—Through her mad eyes the Pestilence was looking upon him!

       *       *       *       *       *

Diana’s voice rose faint but sweet:—

    _Ask me why I send you here_
    _This sweet infanta of the year?_
    _Ask me why I send to you_
    _This Primrose thus bepearled with dew?_

Lady Chillingburgh, with closed lids, beat time vaguely on the arm of
her chair; Edward Hare pondered over his last mouthful of wine; the
Frenchwoman was muttering to herself and drawing, under the shadow of the
curls, restless patterns on the table with her forefinger. Lionel sat
beside her, his starting eyes upon her face.

    _I will whisper to your ears:_
    _The sweets of Love are mixed with tears!_

sang Diana, in a voice that had grown firmer and clearer.

And now, so faintly at first as to be almost imperceptible, something
began to mingle itself with the music. The clang of a bell struck at
intervals, followed by a long, monotonous call. The sound drew ever
nearer. Diana faltered, took up her song again bravely, failed once more,
struck a broken note; then hand and voice fell mute. Stillness held them
all within the great room, which seemed to wait doom the more inevitably
for its bright lights, for its futile air of indifference and gaiety.

Through the open window, out of the darkness, gathered a heavy rumble of
wheels; then again uprose the call of the bell, the cry of the hoarse
voice:—

“Bring out your dead!”

In the breathless pause, Lady Chillingburgh, rising upon those feet that
had been dead to motion so long, stood erect, and flung out her arm with
an angry cry; and then it seemed there was naught in the big chair but a
huddled heap of drapery. The Terror, petrified on young Hare’s lip, broke
out roaring:—

“She’s dead also! Grandam’s dead! The plague! She’s dead of the plague!”
He made one leap for the door, his screams awaking confusion in the house.

Within Lady Chillingburgh’s drawing-room the drama was quickly played.

Diana bent in anguish over her grandmother, crying:—

“She has swooned! For Heaven’s sake, madame, as you are a woman, give me
your assistance!”

But Lionel had sprung to her side:—

“Back, Diana! Away out of this room. Our grandmother is dead.”

“The—the sickness?” she faltered, with white lips.

“The plague? Not here—” he answered her. “But there!” He flung his
pointing finger toward Jeanne de Mantes, who turned her face with a crazy
laugh toward them.

Diana recoiled a pace, threw out her hands as if seeking support, and
Rockhurst, ever close to her, caught her in his arms as she swooned. A
sudden, blind, all-encompassing fury fell upon Ratcliffe.

“Stay, my Lord Constable!” he cried fiercely, and made a spring to wrest
the unconscious burden from the hated man’s embrace. “Ah, Rakehell
Rockhurst, not so fast!”

The table was between them. He was wrenching at his sword as he dashed
round it, pushing Jeanne de Mantes aside; when, with her soft, bare arms,
she clutched his throat from behind.

It was perhaps his horror of the embrace that robbed him of the power
of resistance; perhaps it was the strength lent by the delirium that
rendered her burning clasp irresistible. He struggled, yet was powerless.
His starting eyes beheld the Lord Constable pass out of the room to the
garden, bearing Diana into the night. He gathered his energy for a last
shout in the hope of raising the household to his help; but the hot arms
were writhing closer about him, the scented curls beat softly against
his cheek. The creature was laughing, pressing upward her disfigured
face, devouring him with her mad, unseeing eyes, striving to reach his
lips for the kiss of death.—And she was raving:—

“At last, O Rockhurst!… _O mon beau Démon!_”

He never knew how he loosed himself—that moment was blank, stamped with
too deep a horror to be ever recalled.

He found himself as in a nightmare rushing blindly through the blackness
of the fields, feeling as if he could never escape from that lingering
touch of contamination, as if no waters could ever lave him from the
taint!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was only when he was brought to a standstill by the edge of the river,
by the Essex stairs, that he realised where his frenzy was taking him,
and awoke, as it were, to sanity. But it was with a trembling in every
limb and a weakness that forced him to sit on the steps. The water lapped
at his very feet, shivering in a little circle of light cast by the stair
lantern. He dipped his hand in the dark ripple and began mechanically to
lave his brow—to lave, above all, his lips.

Thought took coherent shape again.—This was the end of his close-set
plans. Madame de Mantes had failed him with a completeness it seemed
that must have required Satan’s own ingenuity to devise. Lord Rockhurst
had not been unmasked, Diana was with him in his power,—and he, Lionel
Ratcliffe (God, with what appalling reason!), was at last afraid of the
plague!



BROKEN SANCTUARY



BROKEN SANCTUARY



I

THE HAVEN OF REFUGE


A red dawn was breaking over London; through the undrawn curtains of the
parlour in Lord Rockhurst’s small house in Whitehall, abutting by the
Holbein gateway, the first rays darted in to mingle with the dying gleam
of a pair of candles that guttered in their sockets.

Chitterley—my lord’s old confidential servant, who had shared with him
all fortune’s vicissitudes, through prosperity and peace, through war and
exile, since the last reign—rose from the high-backed chair upon which he
had been dozing, and stretched his stiffened limbs wearily. Muttering to
himself, as old people will, he fell with sudden alacrity to replenishing
(only just in time, for it was fast going out) the small cresset which
burned at his hand.

“All good spirits praise the Lord!… Now I pray no misfortune may have
happened this night!… Heaven be merciful to us; these be times of
terror!”

He flung a new handful of herbs upon the rekindled embers, and watched
with satisfaction the column of fragrant smoke that rose circling, now
blue, now white, to hang in clouds under the ceiling. “’Twas your only
remedy against the tainted air,” had said Dr. Garth; and Dr. Garth was
the King’s physician.

“Morning already—and no sign of his lordship! Had it been a year gone,
now, I had got me to my bed, and ne’er a qualm. But these be no times for
frolic—and e’en if they were, my lord has had little stomach for it these
weeks agone.”

He shook his head, moved to the window, groaning for the aches in his
joints, and peered into the street, in the hope of catching at last
a glimpse of his beloved master, striding down Whitehall. Dim though
Chitterley’s eyes might be, he would know a furlong away the swing of
the tall figure, the cock of the sword under the folds of the cloak, the
proud tilt of the hat. But the street was deserted.

It seemed as if the day was rising again over the stricken city but to
make visible its desolation. The unwholesome mists of the night still
stagnated under the reddening light; there was none of that air of
rejuvenescence, of waking life-cheer, which morning ought to bring. The
stillness was not of repose, but of hopeless expectancy.

One of those street fires, which were kept burning at all cross-roads,
to combat the pollution, could be seen in the distance, toward Charing
Cross, smouldering fitfully, unattended, the last thin shafts of tar
smoke rising straight, dismal, through the heavy air. Somewhere in the
palace, behind the banquet hall, a bell rang the hour—it sounded like a
knell for those that were that day to die. Presently, in this solitude,
a woman’s figure appeared, creeping round a corner, holding on to the
walls, dragging herself painfully; the only living creature, it seemed,
left besides himself in this vast city. Presently even she disappeared
from the purview.

Chitterley shuddered; and muttering his haunting “Lord have mercy upon
us!” drew back from the windows to go tease again the reeking herbs in
the cresset, and shift needlessly my lord’s chair.

“Not even a pomander could I persuade him to take with him…!”

He went over to extinguish the candles and stood awhile painfully musing.

There came a knock at the outer door. Hardly trusting his deaf ears, he
turned to listen—everything, anything, was an added terror these days of
terror. The knock was repeated, faintly, then vehemently.

“’Tis not my lord—he hath the house key. Pray heaven this be no ill
news!—Coming, coming!” he cried shrilly, as yet another summons rang.

Hardly had the door rolled back under his feeble hands when he found
himself thrust on one side: a woman in low-cut dress, with dishevelled
laces hanging in shreds at her shoulders, brushed past him and walked
tottering into the room beyond, to sink upon the great chair.

Like an old watch-dog’s, Chitterley’s first thought was of his duty.

“Madam—madam!” he protested. “His lordship is not within—” Then, as she
turned upon the querulous sound, and looked vacantly at him, he staggered
back, “God ’a’ mercy; Madam Mantes!”

An ice-cold clutch seemed to be at his heart. Madame de Mantes it
certainly was, the grand French lady of the Court, whom Lord Rockhurst
had many a time entertained in days (alack, how far off they seemed!)
when people laughed and made merry; and among the gay she had been
the gayest, among the bright and beautiful the brightest and most
fair. Chitterley could remember how, in this very room, in that very
chair—which they called the King’s chair, for his Majesty always sat
in it when he visited, as he loved to do, his neighbour, “my Merry
Rockhurst,” for an hour of pleasant converse—she had sung fit to make his
old heart young again.

Yet, in sooth, this was Madame de Mantes. Torn and haggard, through the
strands of her uncurled hair, her glazed eyes looked at him from red and
swollen lids, piteously, scarcely as if she could see. Except for a patch
of rouge, her face was livid.

He thought of the figure he had seen crawling along the walls, and dread
was upon him.

“How hot it is—” she complained, in a dry, whispering voice. “Fires,
fires everywhere!—Give me to drink!”

The man hesitated a moment, upon the blind impulse of flight. But the
long habit of fidelity was stronger even than fear of the pestilence.
He took up a flask from a table,—the _en cas_ after the foreign manner,
awaiting the master’s return,—poured out a glass of wine and tendered it
to her.

“Hot? Eh—but your hand is cold, my lady!”

She drank; seemed to gain a little strength.

“Cold?” she took up the word with an inconsequent laugh. “So would you
be, _mon ami_, had you been roaming the streets, for months … years … as
I have been, to-night! You are a kind old man. The others ran from me …
one robbed me and beat me, then he, too, ran away.…”

And then Chitterley marked how cruelly, in sooth, the woman had been
dealt with; her gown and bodice rent where seemingly the jewels had been
snatched; and there was blood on her neck, trickling from the torn lobe
of her little ear.

“_Mon beau Rockhurst!_” she went on, in that loud whisper, as of one
light-headed. “I drink to you, to you.” She lifted the cup again, but
stopped, catching at her throat: “It is fire—why did you give me fire to
drink?”

He seized the glass from her failing hand.

“God ’a’ mercy! you are raving, madam!—you must.…”

She turned her red glance to him, then beat the air with a fierce
gesture, imposing silence, and seemed to strain her ear to sounds
inaudible:—

“Oh, don’t laugh, Rockhurst, don’t laugh…! Oh, if you like not a salt
cheek, I can be merry—”

Chitterley had drawn back, step by step, to the farther end of the room.
Then, of a sudden, very loud and angrily, he spoke:—

“Madam, you are ailing. You are ill. You must go home!”

She came back to her surroundings with a start and a cry:—

“_Mon Dieu_, where am I? Ill? Yes, I am ill! I am strangling, I can’t
breathe!” She clutched at her throat with both hands, feeling for
something with frantic fingers; then, with a scream that rose and seemed
to circle about the silent room like some phantom bird: “_Miséricorde!_
they are there!… _La peste!_ I have the _peste_.…”

Chitterley’s grey hair bristled on his head.

“A physician!” he cried, and turned to fly.

But, in her delirium, she was quicker than he in his senile confusedness.
She caught him by the wrist with both her hands, now burning as though,
indeed, she had drunk fire:—

“No! You shall not leave me! I am dying.… I will not die alone!” The
fleeting of madness returned to her fever-wasted brain: “We are put in
this world with five senses—and ’tis but common sense to pleasure them.
Aye, Rockhurst … but when it comes to dying!…” Her grip relaxed; she
wrung her hands. “How can such as we die? Old man, a priest, a priest!”

He felt that he would be less than man if he did not help her. Priest and
physician, she should have both,—poor soul, poor soul!

He tried to make her understand him—speaking loud as to the deaf, in
little words as to a child. The priest, the physician—aye, she should
have them—quickly—she might trust to him. But she looked at him,
uncomprehending, with eyes ever wilder. A step farther on her awful
journey; she seemed already a world away from her fellow-humans.

Then, as if his meek, aged countenance, all puckered in distress, were a
spectacle of unspeakable horror, she flung out both arms to ward him from
her; stared round the room like a hunted thing, and, ere he could call or
arrest her, had darted through the half-open door of the inner room and
flung it, clapping, into the lock between them.

“My lord’s own room!”

Chitterley stood a second helplessly; then came a groan from within; the
sound of a heavy fall. The old man called upon Heaven and ran on his
errand of mercy.

       *       *       *       *       *

The wretched woman found herself in a darkened room, with heavy curtains
closely drawn, illumined only by a dying night-lamp. She staggered toward
a couch, fought for a moment vainly for breath. Then strength, and
with it, mercifully, consciousness, gave way; she fell face downward,
clutching the silken hangings.

       *       *       *       *       *

It seemed as if it had become suddenly broad day in that room where
Chitterley had kept his night’s vigil—that room, famed once in Whitehall
for those gatherings of wit and beauty, convened for his Majesty’s
pleasure. A shaft of sunshine, yellow through the sullen mists, struck
the chair where Charles had been wont to sit; where but a few moments
ago had agonised one whose gay winsomeness and bird-song he had so often
commended.

The vapour of Sir George Garth’s sovereign remedy rose but in feeble
wisp-like exhalations, ever fainter and wider apart—like to the breath
of some dying thing. Occasionally a sigh, or a groan and a muffled word
or two, came dully from the neighbouring room. But after a while these
ceased; and the only sound to be heard was that of a blue fly, bloated
and busy, circling about, emphasising the stillness, to settle ever and
anon with a heavy buzz on the wine which Jeanne de Mantes had spilled
from her last cup.



II

THE GOLD WHISTLE


Presently there approached, along the flags of Whitehall, the sound of
steady footfalls. They mounted the steps and halted before the door; a
key grated in the lock, and Lord Rockhurst led Mistress Diana Harcourt
across the threshold.

She entered without a word, let herself fall in her turn like one worn
out, into the King’s chair, and lifted her face toward him—a face
blanched indeed with the miseries of the night, its terrors, the long
vigil, the weary wandering, yet full of a brave, sweet strength.

None of her serenity was reflected on Rockhurst’s countenance. His
face was dark as with an inner conflict; he averted his eyes as hers
sought them. There was a moment’s heavy silence. He broke it, at length,
standing over the fireless hearth, without looking at her.

“Now that you are under my roof, Diana, I trust you will consider
yourself as if already—” he hesitated, and then brought out the words
harshly, “as if already in your father’s house.—I fear me,” he went on,
after a pause, “you are dead weary after our wanderings this night …
fruitless search for shelter—the flaming cross barring us from every
threshold … when it was not mean selfishness and childish fears that
drove us to the street again!—Your brother fled basely.…”

She interrupted, wincing under the bitterness of his accents.

“Ah, poor Ned,” she pleaded; “he is but a boy. And his wits are never of
the strongest.… In his way, he loves me. And, truly, I am glad he has
escaped.”

“You have a strong heart, child!”

Though the words were kind, voice and look were hard. She shivered and
drooped her head.

“You are cold,” he went on, with a sudden softening in his tone. “Indeed,
’tis the chill hour of the day.” He glanced hastily round the room,
and catching sight of the spilt wine and the soiled cup, frowned, then
laughed contemptuously. “So—even old Chitterley hath forgot his duty!
These, in sooth, are days of test. I will rouse him, and you shall have
fire and refreshment.”

She heard his tread on the stairs, the opening and shutting of doors
within the house. Quickly he came back to her.

“Aye, even my old Chitterley gone! …” he cried, with a bitter twist
of the lip. “Neither brotherly love, nor life-long service and
companionship.… Nay, what should still hold, these times, when no man
knows the hour when his life will be withdrawn? Oh, are you human—you,
Diana, who sit so still and have no woman’s plaint?”

His voice broke with sudden passion. She raised her eyes and strove to
smile; but the shudder of fatigue seized her.

Without another word he lifted the cresset of charcoal from its stand,
blew upon the expiring glow, cast fresh fuel upon it; then, the flame
once more enkindled, flung the whole on the hearth. She watched him, and
gave a little feminine cry of protest as he next seized the first thing
at hand, a couple of books, and tore them up ruthlessly to feed the fire.

“O, my lord!” she began, as the flame roared up the chimney. But the
faint laugh died on her lips when she met his glance.

“I must leave you,” he said, when he had thrown in a couple of logs. “I
must leave you; it will go ill indeed, if, within the hour, I return not
with coach and horses. If I have to plead King’s Service, I shall carry
you out of the infection.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The door closed on him. Left alone, Diana sighed deeply. All the
bright look of courage faded from her face. How harshly he had spoken!
how coldly he had looked upon her—when not averting his eyes as from
something troubling!…

Diana Harcourt, widow of twenty, bound by a freak of fate, through the
merest impulse of womanly pity, to Rockhurst’s young son,—so faithful a
lover, so gallant a youth,—knew her heart given to Rockhurst himself!
What shame—what treachery! Moments were when she thought to guess her
hidden love as returned; and then she felt herself strong and proud, and
took a kind of high spiritual glory in the thought of how true they both
would remain to honour and plighted troth. “Loved he not honour more,”
as the chivalrous song had it, she would have none of his love.… But, to
feel it in this sacred silence, in this noble self-denial, that was a
kind of pain more exquisite than any joy she had ever known.

Yet moments were, again, such as this, when his formal manner, the
sombreness of his gaze, smote her with distressing conjecture.
Was his solicitude but for his boy’s sake, after all? Was the
self-betrayal—sweet and terrible—that had so often seemed to hover on his
lips, but the gallantry of the high-bred courtier? Or—worse suspicion
yet!—had he read her folly, and was it but compassion that spoke in his
lingering gaze?

As she sat staring dully into the fire he had kindled for her, vividly
the troubled scenes of this night of catastrophe rose before her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her grandmother’s great card-room, lit and decked as usual; the dwindled
company, each with the heavy knowledge of the peril without and about
stamped upon his countenance, each with his hypocrite smile for my Lady
Chillingburgh, who glared upon them from out her chair, and forbade the
pestilence to exist, since she would have none of it.…

Next, the fair French lady from the Court courtesying in her waves
of amber satin, and fixing her, Diana,—aye, and the Lord Constable,
too,—with such singular eyes. She recalled to mind, truly, how those
fierce eyes had followed Rockhurst, and how Cousin Lionel had smiled as
he watched.… Tush, the poor creature knew not what she was doing—was she
not stricken ill and in fever?—She might well have mad eyes.…

It was Lionel who had brought her. Lady Chillingburgh’s own grandson
who had given the citadel to the enemy it had so long defied! In rapid
succession the horrid events reënacted themselves in Diana’s brain:—

She heard her brother screaming on the stairs, saw him break in upon
them, a foolish country lad, frenzied in his panic.

She saw the frightened faces of their guests, and Lionel’s ever-mocking
smile—“Sheer poltroonery!”—he was saying. And ever and again she sought
and found the comfort of Rockhurst’s strong protective glance.

And then came the end.… The huddled figure in the great chair. The
face of her that had had so stout a heart, conquered in death—but less
piteous, less awful sight than the living face of the French madam. “_The
plague is there_—” She heard Lionel’s cry of warning, and then all is
black about her.

And now she relived the moment when she had awakened from her swoon;
darkness and silence all about her. She thought that the nightmare of
the card-room had given way to some exquisite dream.… Rockhurst’s arm
was supporting her, her head rested on his shoulder, and the solitude
of a sombre night held them safe. Above their heads, outstretched
tree branches swayed murmurously as the breeze stirred. She heard his
heart-beats beneath her ear, and an unknown joy ran like music in her
veins: life, reality, seemed thrust as far away from her as yonder
flickering lights in the black distance. It seemed indeed a dream, and
surely one may accept happiness in a dream! Sighing, she had yielded
herself to it one moment—one moment—alas, even as she stirred, lo, it
was hers no longer! Beneath her hands was fine turf, in her nostrils
the scent of fading roses; she knew where she was—somewhere under the
beeches of Chillingburgh House gardens. She remembered, she understood.
He had snatched her, unconscious, from the danger of the infected house.
And as she moved, his clasp relaxed; he spoke to her, coldly enough, she
thought:—

“You are better? It is well.”

[Illustration: The huddled figure in the great chair. The face of her
that had so stout a heart, conquered in death—but less piteous, less
awful sight than the living face of the French madam.]

       *       *       *       *       *

… Then had begun their strange pilgrimage through the London streets, the
long, long night. She went beside him, through the tangle of unknown,
unlit ways; seeing him only ever and anon, painted as it were against the
darkness by the glare of the smoky street fires in the more open spaces.
In his white hand, the sword drawn, guarding her from the prowling
thieves of the night. Inhuman wretches, to whom the stricken city’s
extremity was fortune’s boon, slinking after them like pariah dogs…!
They had spoken little: mostly words of bare need. But once he had told
her she was brave; and once that she was strong indeed.… She had at one
moment noticed a great pity in his eyes.—Ah, he need never have pitied
her; she had been happy, being with him.

       *       *       *       *       *

She started from her heavy revery: some one was knocking at the casement.

Outside the window the lines of a man’s head and shoulders, a man
hatless, with disordered periwig, were silhouetted blackly against the
morning light. She sprang to her feet, terror stifling the scream in her
throat. She remembered the marauders that had slunk after them in the
night, more to be dreaded these desperate days than pestilence itself.
But it was her own name that met her ear, urgently cried:—

“Diana, open!—’Tis I, Lionel.”

Before the words had penetrated to sense, she had recognised the voice.
Upon the impulse of her relief, she hastened to the window and flung the
casement apart.

“Cousin Lionel…!”

But this was a Cousin Lionel she had never before known. About his livid
face the dank curls hung in wild dishevelment—he, whose person had ever
seemed as sedately ordered as his mind. He motioned her from him so
fiercely that she fell back in fresh alarm.

“Aye, Diana,” said he, answering her look, “you may well be afraid—’tis
like enough I have it! And were it not that I am here to save you from
worse than plague, for the sheer love I bear you, there should be leagues
between us—Stand where you are, Diana! Come not a step nearer!”

He drew himself with effort up to the window-sill, from some ledge
whereon he had climbed; then, seated, he looked in upon her again; and
to his pallid countenance came a ghostly semblance of the old sarcastic
smile:—

“Never enquire how I tracked you. I knew that the Rakehell, who
chivalrously took you from the charge of your own kin—to rescue you from
the plague, forsooth!—would find no shelter for you but that of his own
honourable habitation!”

“Lionel…!”

Sudden anger drove all fear from her. He went on:—

“You would have been safer at Chillingburgh House, once the stricken
Frenchwoman gone. And so my lord knew as well as I. Our grand dame never
died of the sickness, child, but of a fit of anger—and not before her
time, either! But let that pass. I saw thee on the Strand, Diana, a while
ago—marked thee hither and knew the trick played on thee. A-tramp the
whole night, till your body and your spirit be worn out. Is’t not so? And
my lord … so tender, so protecting, so fatherly. Is’t not so?”

“Lionel…!”

The man changed his tone:—

“Diana, ’tis but a few hundred paces to her Majesty’s House of the Blue
Nuns, in St. Martin’s Lane, where our kinswoman, Madam Anastasia, would
shelter you in honour and safety. Come forth now, from this place; ’tis
worse, I tell you, than the Pest-house! I will go before thee; I can yet
protect thee along the street, if I may not approach thee.…”

Never had Diana heard that ring of passion from his lips; even when he
had pleaded for her love, there had always run an undercurrent of mockery
and cynicism in the tenderest word. Truly, these days changed all men’s
nature. But Diana was not swayed: she was afire at the odiousness of the
slander cast on him she loved.

“I thank you, cousin,” she returned coldly. “But I have placed myself
under Lord Rockhurst’s protection; and since you have been pleased to
watch me, sir, you will have seen the Lord Constable leave this house but
a few moments ago. It was in search of a coach, and it is his purpose to
escort me out of the town, even this day, to my own home.”

The man on the window-sill gave a fierce laugh.

“Art as simple, Diana, as thou wouldst fain make out? Dost really believe
thy protector—’tis a fine name, in sooth—will find thee that coach?”

“Not a word more!” broke in the other. She had as strong a spirit as his
own. “Who should know Lord Rockhurst better than I? Ah, who has better
reason to know him? If all the world were to believe evil of him, yet
would I still trust him with my life.”

“And is there naught you value more than life?”

“How dare you, cousin!”

“Is your good name nothing to you?” he insisted.

“How dare you!” she repeated.

“Nay, Diana, listen to me!—Shall I tell thee what’s to happen? The
Rakehell will return to thee in a little while, dejected, aye,
heart-broken! Far and wide, not a horse, not a coach, not a driver to be
had for love or money. He has bargained, pleaded, threatened, in vain. So
thou must even trust thyself to him further—to him who is as thy father.…”

Diana started, bit her lip. The words struck her; and vehemently she
thrust them from her.

“Then, Diana,” went on Ratcliffe, ever more cuttingly, “will he discover
something strange in the character of his protective feelings.… Thou,
too, will read in thine own … filial … heart. Behold, the end is not
difficult to guess!”

“Oh, foul-mouthed!” cried the young widow, recoiling.

Indignation and terror mixed were in her voice. To have the veil thus
torn by sacrilegious hands from the innermost shrine; the sanctuary of
her tender secret thus broken!… Ratcliffe clutched the window-frame with
both hands and thrust his face into the room, his features working again
with that unwonted passion:—

“Diana—ah, Diana, for heaven’s sake, you must understand! These days, it
seems, all barriers are broken down, all laws violated with impunity. And
even now, even you, Diana, will surely pay the price, if you accept the
protection of Rakehell Rockhurst!”

Diana swept a gesture of final scorn:—

“Begone, Lionel! Away with you as you came! I pity you … thief of men and
women’s good report. Alas! cousin, do I not know what purpose you have
in this slander? Shame that these days of terror should wake you to no
worthier mind!”

The man fixed her, a breathing space or two, without speaking. Had she
been less incensed, she might have noted something in his look singularly
belying the thoughts she imputed to him—might have seen a purpose as
earnest as it was selfless.

“One word, then, and I go—Di, from the days when we were children
together, I have loved thee. Dost remember how I called thee my little
wife? You’ll have none of my warning now—so be it! In a little while
you’ll want me, you’ll call on me. I shall be near, I shall hear
thee.—Stay; here is the gold whistle you once gave me—that Easter—years
ago! You have, of course, forgotten it. I have kept it close, you see.”

He hesitated a second, poising the bauble at the end of its long ribbon,
frowning. Then he cast it into the room.

“Risk for risk—all is risk!… My lips have not touched it since the
pestilence came so nigh them. Di, hark to me, Di. When you want my help
this day, you have but to whistle, I’ll hear and help.… I go. Yet not so
far but what I can guard my own.”

She stood, her head averted; her foot beating the floor, image of
scornful defiance. He slipped down from his perch to the ledge and poised
himself yet a second, looking in on her as when he had first appeared:—

“Thou, in the Rakehell’s hands—and the world gone mad around thee…! Ah,
shall’t whistle sooner than thou thinkest!”

She wheeled to silence him; he was gone. A bitter conflict rose in her
mind as she stood staring at the blank window space. In spite of herself,
the memory of his look, of the deep earnestness of his voice, began
to shake her sense of security.… He thought he had the sickness, yet
he came to warn her!… Another man would have had little reck of aught
but himself, with that shadow of doom spread over him.… Yet he hated
Rockhurst—oh, how he hated him!—and had he not all but killed Rockhurst’s
son for aspiring to her?… With the perspicacity of his relentless love
for her, he had read her secret. Reason enough, then, that he should
strive to poison her mind against one whom she knew so noble.… Yet again,
unscrupulous, daring, cruel even in his very love for her, Ratcliffe had
taken piteous pains to guard her against himself. Now, he was lurking
in the lanes below, for her sake, instead of hying him to the nearest
physician, so urgent did he believe her danger.… Was there, could there
be danger?

Her ear caught the sound of the key in the lock; she knew it was
Rockhurst returning. On a sudden impulse she picked up the whistle and
thrust it into her bodice. Her heart beat to suffocation as she heard his
hand on the door.



III

NEMESIS


Rockhurst came in slowly and stood a moment, contemplating Diana before
he spoke. The bronze of his face was singularly blanched; his grave eye
was alight with a threatening of fire. Then he spoke, quickly:—

“I have beaten the neighbourhood. Whitehall is as a desert, the name of
the King itself an empty sound. The whole town is fled, dying or dead.”
He took her hand, clasping it with a pressure so fierce as almost to draw
a cry from her. “For love or money, it is impossible to obtain horse,
coach, or man.”

Her fluttering heart slowed down to the dull beat of misery; she sought
to draw her hand from his.

“Oh, my lord!”

Unheeding, he went on:—

“Pestilence is rushing onward like a flood—There is no rock, no hilltop,
that is not fated to be swallowed up in time. Diana, we are as those
doomed by the Deluge, who have taken refuge on the mountain only to watch
the deadly waters rise and count the hours left to them!”

He broke off; she had wrenched her hands from his grasp and had shrunk
away from him, covering her face. Not the dreadful import of his words
frightened her, but the fire of his glance, the mad exultation of the
voice that thus pronounced their doom.

“What,” he exclaimed, his tones vibrating to a tenderness more terrible
still to her ears, “have I scared thee?—Brave heart, afraid at last?”

“Yes, yes—I am afraid,” she murmured behind her clasped fingers. But,
even as she spoke, her strong nature reacted against the folly of
weakness. She dropped her hands, drew herself proudly up and turned,
looking him steadily in the eyes:—

“No, my lord, ’twas but an evil thought!”

He returned her gaze fixedly, and she saw how the blood began to rise,
slow, dark, in his cheek.

“Yet, why should I say we are doomed?” he went on, under his breath. “Why
should not this house be as the ark of refuge? Diana,”—the dreadful joy
broke out again in eye and accent,—“have you understood how it stands
with us? There is no help for it; we are shut in together. Heaven itself
has sealed the way that would divide us—”

       *       *       *       *       *

So, it had come! That moment she had dreamt of, with a fierce abandonment
to his ecstasy; that moment, the very thought of which she had prayed
against with tears, as if the mere passage of its forbidden sweetness
through her heart were a sin! It had come, in this bitterness, this
shame, this shattering of the ideal she held so high! She moved from him
without a word, let herself drop mechanically into the King’s chair, and
sat, her hands clasping the carven arms, staring straight before her.
Rockhurst fell on his knees beside her.

“Diana, Diana—I love you!—And ah, Diana, you love me—”

She flung out her hands to push him from her, and all her wounded heart
spoke in her cry:—

“Do not say it, my lord! Oh, I have so dreaded to hear you say it!”

But her very pain was triumph in his ears. As masterfully as he caught
and imprisoned her hands once again, so did his passion seize and crush
her woman’s scruples:—

“We are alone in a dying world! Who knows if we shall see another dawn!
Shall we not take the day that is given us, make use of life while life
is still ours?”

And while she looked at him, speechless, her eyes dark in the sorrowful
pallor of her face, he cried in a tone that pierced to her very marrow:—

“Diana—come to my arms and teach me, let me teach thee, how sweet life
can be … how sweet death can be!”

She had ceased to struggle against him. Her hands lay inert in his.

He put his arm about her then; and, motionless, she submitted. But the
tears slowly, slowly welled to her piteous eyes. Then he drew back from
her, rose and stood again, gazing at her; the exultation, the fires of
ecstasy, fading from his face, and something hard, ruthless, taking their
place.

“I can get a priest to wed us, in Whitehall, ere the day be an hour
older,” he said, frowning upon her.

Through the tears she would not shed, her great eyes dilated upon him.

“And what will you say—what shall we say—to your son, my lord?”

Rockhurst started as if he had been struck. A masterful man, who all his
life had dominated others, he bent his brows with a terrible resentment
on her who dared thwart him at this supreme hour of his will; dared lift
against him the one weapon that could pierce his armour.

“You took the trust, my lord, even as I yielded my troth.…”

His anger broke forth, the more ruthlessly that he was, for the first
time in his life, perhaps, abandoning himself to an unworthy part, a part
of weakness. Broken phrases escaped his lips, contradictions lost in the
irresistible logic of passion.

“My son, … my son?—I shall answer for myself to my son.—Nay, what account
have I to render to my son! A beardless boy, shall he come between us?…
Diana, your eyes have lied a thousand times, or you love me!… That
promise to Harry was no promise, wrested from you, from me, because of a
white face, pleading, because of a red wound! And, if he be true flesh
of mine, he will have none of you, your heart being another’s.—Why, my
dear,”—his voice changed,—“think you Harry will ever have his bride, will
ever see his father again?”

So long as his eye flamed, as his voice harshly chid her, she felt
strong. But against that note of tenderness she weakened. A sense of
physical failing came over her; she thought of the moment when, in the
darkness of the garden, she had awakened to find herself in his arms.…
Perhaps, in truth, death was very near to them. To slip from the
moorings of life, on the tide of his great love—ah, he had said it; it
would be sweet! She clasped her hands to her breast; but at the touch of
Lionel’s gold bauble, something in herself that Rockhurst’s words had
lulled, started into vivid life again; something that would not let her
accept the easier course. If death were, even at this moment, gloating
upon them, the better reason to look on it with loyal eyes. Were Harry
indeed fated never to meet bride or father again, then must father and
bride remain sacred in noble memory! And not because she and Rockhurst
were so fain to break it, was a promise less binding a promise. One
sentence of Lionel’s rang in her ear: “Behold, the end is not difficult
to guess”—and with it the echo of her own voice crying back to him, “Oh,
foul-mouthed!”

Quickly she made her choice; and, brave in her pain, had a smile as she
turned to speak.

“Once, my lord, you saved me, when I scarce knew myself in danger. To-day
it is given to me to pay my debt. And I save you. Give me your arm again,
kind, beloved friend, and through the hot contamination of these streets,
as once through the pure snow, bring me to honourable shelter.”

For a second, the unexpected check, the unlooked-for strength of her
resistance, kept him silent. Then gently, as if to an unreasonable child:—

“And to what shelter? Poor Diana!”

Her smile took something of the divine, maternal pity which lurks in
every good woman’s heart for the man she loves.

“But a stone’s throw from this place, my dear lord,—her Majesty’s House
of the Blue Nuns will not refuse to open its doors to me,—as, indeed, I
should have minded me sooner.”

She rose, and moved steadily toward the door, striving to seem as though
she had no fear of his arresting her. But before she had time to raise
the latch, his clasp of iron was on her wrist.

A cry rising from the street drove them apart like a sword:—

“Father—father!”

They looked at each other with starting eyes, blanched cheeks. Then the
cry rose again:—

“My lord,—my Lord Rockhurst!—father, are you within?”

The colour rushed back to Diana’s face; a flame of joy leaped to her eye.

“This is no spirit-call, but good human sound. Harry, honest Harry
here!—Ah, my lord, in time to save us!”

The revulsion of feeling, the unconscious admission of her words, a
fierce flame of insane jealousy, suddenly kindled by the glad note in her
voice, broke down the last shred of Rockhurst’s self-control. His passion
escaped him, tigerish:—

“By the Lord God of Heaven or the Devil Lord of Hell, thou shalt not go
to him!”

The young voice was uplifted again without.

“Knock once more, Robin; I hear stirring within.”

And a lusty shout succeeded:—

“Ho, Chitterley, ’tis I, Robin, with Master Harry Rockhurst!”

Rockhurst caught Diana in his arms.

“Mine, Diana, mine, and none shall come between us!”

He held her for a second against his breast, and she heard the great
hammering of his heart; then she found herself thrust within a
darkened room, heard the door close upon her, the shooting of a bolt.
A prisoner—and darkness all about her, a strange suffocating darkness,
thick with the fumes of a burnt-out lamp.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the Lord Constable unbolted the outer door, he was met by the
precipitate entrance of his son.

“Good heavens, Chitterley—” The broken words were cut short: “My lord …
yourself in person! Thank God, thank God!”

Young Rockhurst cast himself impetuously upon his father’s breast,
sobbing with excitement. The latter suffered the embrace in silence,
supported the boy, as he clung to him in sudden weakness, into the room,
led him to a chair. Then he stood a second in gloomy silence, staring
at the young bowed figure, sitting where she had sat, his face hidden
in his hands, even as hers had been. Tears! and this weakling would wed
Diana!—Diana, who had not suffered hers to fall! Yet Rockhurst loved his
son; and there was a strange rending pain at his heart.

Into the oppressive stillness, broken only by Harry’s catching breath,
there came from the inner room a stir as of curtains wrenched apart, as
of creaking easements thrust open; and next a stifled cry. Rockhurst,
expecting the instant of revelation, braced himself as a man may for the
meeting of his death-stroke. But nothing more was heard, save a long,
sweet whistle—some call in the street, doubtless. Ah—Diana would not
betray him!—Diana loved him! As if the shrill, sweet signal had roused
him, Harry Rockhurst started, dashed the tears from his cheeks, and
rising, seized his father’s hand to pour forth a torrent of words:—

“Alas, my lord, and how had you the heart to leave me in this ignorance
of your peril?—Had not Lionel writ to me—Oh, father, never look so
sternly on me! I know I have transgressed your command to remain in the
country, but how could I keep away? ’Twas not in nature—Where is Diana?
Oh, my God, Chillingburgh House is deserted, the doors open to the
winds, the old lady abandoned, dead, stark in her chair! Where is Diana?
Father—my Diana!”

His voice rose to a scream, as his father turned a terrible, set face
upon him; his father, from whom he had scarce ever known but loving and
joyful looks. Evil beyond words must be the tidings awaiting him. He
clutched his breast with both hands.

“Harry, be a man!” cried Rockhurst, starting as he marked the livid
change that spread over the young countenance. But he was too late.

“Dead?” cried the lad, and on a sudden gasped for breath. “A curse on
this wound that will not heal.”

He tore at the lapels of his riding-coat, reeled and fell, barely caught,
into his father’s arms.

“My God—I have killed my son!” Blood welled out between Rockhurst’s
fingers, as he clasped the slight, inert form.

“Harry!” he cried frantically to the deaf ears, “Harry, no, she is not
dead. She is not dead! You shall even see her!—Hither, Diana!”

He raised a loud call for her; then, with a groan, remembered him—the
shot bolt! Had ever a man been so mad, had ever a man been so base—been
so punished? He lowered the body to the ground; ’twas the old wound
indeed, that wound taken in the defence of his father’s honour. A light
word had been spoken of him to his son—his poor country lad, who had
never heard, had never known, of one in the town nicknamed the Rakehell!

Again he raised a desperate cry for help:—

“Robin, there without…!”

And all at once the silent, abandoned house was full of voices and
footsteps—here were the white face of his own old servant; the scared
chubbiness of Yorkshire Robin—and another countenance, unknown and
solemn. And behold, Chitterley was saying:—

“This way, good doctor!”

When the moment holds life and death in the balance, there is no room for
surprise.

“Chitterley, ha, Chitterley,” cried Rockhurst. “Water and bandages, in
Heaven’s name! This way, Sir Physician!—A physician by Divine mercy!”

The man of healing, who had been much occupied with his pomander, dropped
it from his nostrils to stare on the unexpected scene. And Chitterley,
whose dim eyes had only just become aware of his master, burst into a
dismal wail:—

“My lord, fly!—Here is plague, here is death!” Then, in yet more piercing
lamentation: “What! Master Harry, too! Merciful Heaven!”

“Sir,” said Rockhurst to the physician, “your attention hither!”

“Truly,” said the doctor, “this seems an urgent case.”

He was perhaps not displeased to find, instead of the plague-stricken
patient he had been summoned to attend, a clean lad a-bleeding of a
sword wound. Old Chitterley ran feebly hither and thither, as father and
surgeon bent together over the unconscious form. Robin stared, voiceless.

“It is an old wound, ill-healed,” explained Rockhurst. “My faithful
son—he fought, a month agone, one who impugned my good name—now, hearing
I was in danger of the sickness, naught could keep him from me. All the
way from Yorkshire … and he wasted with the fever of the hurt! When I
saw him I chid him.” The father looked with dry eyes of agony at the
physician’s thoughtful face.

“The bleeding has somewhat waned,” said the latter, then, without
committing himself. Then, rising stiffly from his knees: “I could attend
to the young gentleman better,” he pursued, “were he upon a couch. May I
assist your lordship—?”

He had recognised the noble Lord Constable, the King’s friend, and was
full of solicitude.

“Nay—I need no aid!” The father gathered his boy again into his arms.
“Chitterley, unbolt the door—How now!” The old man had flung himself
before his master and, with clasped hands, was motioning him desperately
back. “The wretch has gone crazy!”

“Nay, my dear master, in God’s name, she lies there!”

“She?”

For one mad instant Rockhurst deemed his ancient servant stood at bay
before his own threatened honour. Almost he laughed in scornful anger.
What recked he now of aught except this bleeding burden on his breast?
Aye, and if those purple lids, sealed in such death-like peace, were to
unclose, and Harry were to behold Diana, the father knew—and was pierced
as by a two-edged sword of ruth and tenderness at the thought—that yet
his son would never doubt him. Chitterley was still speaking. The tale of
retribution was not complete:—

“The French lady, your lordship, sick of the plague! She lies within,
dying of the sickness. ’Twas for her I sought Mr. Burbage.…”

Rockhurst staggered, as one struck from an unexpected quarter. In haste
the physician advanced, but just in time to seize the limp body from the
father’s relaxing grasp. Here were strange events, enough to bewilder
the ordinary, decorous man of science on his professional round! But,
as times went, astonishment had no part in men’s lives. Catastrophe had
ceased to shock. The Lord Constable and his servant, either or both,
might be mad: few people were quite sane these days, but here was a young
life hanging on a thread: enough for the moment, if skill of his could
strengthen its hold. As for the creature with the plague yonder,—whoever
she might be,—let her rot: ’twas only one added to the ten thousand bound
to die that day! He laid the lad all his length on the floor, drew a
phial of cordial from his breast, and set dazed Robin to bring him the
water from the table; while Rockhurst stood staring at Chitterley, his
face more stricken than that pallid one at his feet.

The old servant, on his side, still stretched out trembling arms in
barrier; it seemed as if his mind had stopped on that effort of desperate
warning. At last, tonelessly, Rockhurst spoke:—

“In my room—?”

“Aye, my lord. She was dying; I could not keep her out!”

“Sick of the plague, said you?”

“Aye, your lordship.”

The father gave a terrible cry:—

“O God, Thy vengeance is greater than my sin—Diana!”

He looked down at the physician, absorbed in ineffectual efforts to
recall the wandering spirit to its fair young body; and in a voice that
smote even that ear, so fully seasoned to sorrow’s plaint:—

“Sir—so has Heaven dealt with me this day, that if I must needs hear
now that he is dead—my only son … ’twould be the best tidings … in very
truth!”



THE RED DESOLATION



THE RED DESOLATION



I

THE WATCHERS


“I have seen many terrible sights in my life, Master Chitterley,—none so
terrible as this.”

Thus old Martin Bracy, Sergeant-Yeoman of the Tower of London, to the
Lord Constable’s body-servant.

His companion flung up trembling hands for all response. As old as the
sergeant—whose head had grown white in the King’s service: at home in the
civil wars, abroad in Charles’s regiment of Flanders—but of less solid
metal, years had stricken him harder, and he had little breath to spare
after his grievous ascent to the platform of the Beauchamp Tower. And as
the two now stood, side by side, looking down from the great height over
the stricken city, they might have served as types, one of green old age,
the other of wintry senility.

       *       *       *       *       *

The scene outspread below them was indeed such as to strike awe to the
stoutest heart. It was the fifth of September, third day of the great
fire; and nothing, it seemed, was like to arrest the spread of the red
desolation until it had embraced the whole of the town.

Under the canopy of black smoke, like some monster of nightmare, the
fire crouched, spread, uncoiled itself; now it clapped ragged wings of
flame high into the sky, now grasped new, unexpected quarters as with a
stealthily outreached claw. The wind ran lightly from the east, so that,
in cruel contrast, the sky was fair blue over their heads, while to the
westward horizon it spread ensanguined, overhung with lurid clouds.

       *       *       *       *       *

“If hell itself had broken open,” said Martin Bracy, “and were vomiting
yonder, methinks it would scarce show us a more affrighting picture.
Often these days, Master Chitterley, I have taken to minding me again
of the Crop-Heads’ sayings—and I had a surfeit of them in my days of
imprisonment, forever talking of Judgment! Aye, I would have my laugh at
them, then. But now it comes back to me:—

    “‘_First the scourge of Plague; and thereafter_ (that is now)
    _the scourge of Fire_!’”

He mused as the aged will, speaking his thought aloud:—

“There was one Jedediah Groggins—Smite-Them-Hip-and-Thigh was the name he
gave himself, but Smit’em-Grogs they used to call him (aye, and a smiter
he was!)—who had charge of the jail at York, where I was caged awhile, ye
wot, after Marston Moor—”

Chitterley nodded his palsied head; his faded eyes looked out with scarce
a flicker of comprehension on the present vision that so impressed the
soldier; but his brain was still to be stirred by memories of the past.

“Marston Moor … aye! ’Twas at Marston my Lord Rockhurst took the
pike-push in his thigh—and he and I in hiding long days after in a
burnt-out farm-house on the wolds. Scarce bite or sup had I for him. And
he fretting for the death of his gallant friend, Sir Paul Farrant, killed
at his side—Aye, aye, good Sir Paul—”

The sergeant’s gaze was still roaming out to where the great heart of the
city throbbed in agony.

“‘_There went up a smoke in his wrath and a fire flamed forth from his
face_,’” he went on. “Truly, I mind me, that was one of this Jedediah’s
favourite texts. Yes—I had my laugh at it then: little thought I should
ever see it come true, as I have done these days!… I was young then, and
made mock of such things. But, sure, the sins of this land began with
the Crop-Heads themselves, when they took up arms against his sacred
Majesty.” He raised his hand to his velvet cap. “But they were right in
this, friend Chitterley: the wrath of the Lord is an awful thing.—Hark ye
at that!”

A dull explosion had rent the air. A belching column of white smoke,
fringed with black, sprang up at the extremity of the fiery picture. The
sergeant moved to the corner of the parapet to peer forth:—

“See yonder … our lads at work! Blowing up houses ahead of the fire. Aye,
truly, Master Chitterley, I would his lordship had let me take the mining
party to-day. But one would think—in all respect—there was a very devil
in him, since this outbreak began. ’Tis ever to the hottest with him. And
the men must after him, though the flames be as greedy as hell’s.—’Tis
hard on a soldier,” added the old campaigner, with a philosophic sigh,
“to be driven to burn before his time!”

The other’s clouded perception caught but the hint of danger to a beloved
master.

“His lordship?” he cried; “and whither went he to-day, Sergeant?”

“Toward Bishopsgate. See, where I point; there, where ’tis like looking
upon a pit of fire.”

Chitterley curved his withered hands over his eyes and strove to fix them
in the direction indicated.

“God save him,” he muttered.

“Amen,” echoed Bracy earnestly, “for he carries those white hairs of his
whither he would scarce have ventured his raven locks! ’Tis beyond all
reason. Aye, and Master Harry with him.… Lord, Lord, how it doth burn!”

Bracy seated himself upon the sill of an embrasure, and drawing a
stump of pipe from his pocket, proceeded to strike flint and kindle
the _tabaco_, with all the old soldier’s habit of making the most of
a spare hour of rest. The other remained standing; forlorn, pathetic
figure enough, beaten about by the light wind that flapped the skirts of
his coat against the wasted limbs, and set sparse strands of white hair
dancing as in mockery about his skull.

Sergeant Bracy rolled another text upon his tongue as two or three fresh
explosions, closely following each other, shocked even the mighty masonry
of the Tower:—

“‘_The earth shook and trembled, because He was angry with them._’ Aye,
’twould seem to fit in singularly!—Yet, as you and I know, ’tis but our
men at work of salvage. They must even destroy to save!—There went the
last house in Shoreditch!” He made a gesture with his pipe-stem. “Ha, now
the Hall falls upon itself like a house of cards!… Pray Heaven none of
our boys be caught beneath the dropping masonry, as was honest Corporal
Tulip yester-eve! ’Tis no marvel to me, Master Chitterley,” he went on,
settling himself more comfortably on his narrow seat, “that the men
like not the work. Nay, were it with other than my Lord Constable, or
young Harry—or one such as I am, Master Chitterley—we might well expect
a show of rebellion among them. To see death, you may say, be soldier’s
life,—aye, give death, lay siege, waste, burn and slay,—all in the way of
glorious war, friend Chitterley, and service of King—wholesome heat of
blood to keep the horrors off—But this business, there is neither glory
nor plunder in it. No—no, I’ve seen sour looks and lagging feet, as much
as dare be, at least, under my lord’s eye or Master Harry’s.”

“My lord—Master Harry—” repeated Chitterley, as in a kind of dream. “Do
not mock me, sergeant, but there be days now when I scarce know them
apart … remembering.… Or rather—”

“Aye,” interrupted the soldier, good-humoured, yet impatient of the
other’s maundering, “I catch your meaning. Young Master Harry that was
a boy has grown marvellous quick a man these troublous times. ’Tis his
gallant father all over again as you and I knew him. And, on the other
hand, my Lord Constable is changed—oh, damnably changed! An old man in
one year!—Hark in your ear! ’Tis never plague horrors, nor fire horrors,
that have worked on him so sorely; ’tis the mind, Master Chitterley.
Trouble of the mind!”

He tapped his forehead with the pipe-stem, nodded his head, and
thereafter puffed awhile in sagacious meditation.

“In faith,” said Chitterley, with piteous trembling of the lip, “my dear
lord’s hair has grown as white as mine own.”

“Ah, it is trouble changes a man,” pursued the sergeant, presently. He
cast a look of kindly pity at Chitterley. “And in sooth, poor soul,”
muttered he under his breath, “who should prove it better than yourself,
who have been a doddering poor wight ever since yon fearful morning
when Master Harry was like to die of his reopened wound and my lord to
go mad—and plague in the very house?—Aye, aye,” his voice waxed loud
again, “shall I ever forget the hour when you all came back to the
Tower, and none knew if the lad was not dead already? ’Twas then the
Lord Constable’s hair began to turn white.” He gave a kind of sniff, his
teeth clenched on the pipe, and touched Chitterley on the arm to call
back his wandering attention. “I was on guard, man, the day his Majesty
returned to the city (upon the subsidence of the great sickness), and I
was present at the first meeting between him and the Lord Constable. _His
Majesty did not know him!_”

He emphasised each word of this last remarkable statement by a separate
tap of the pipe-bowl upon his open palm.

Chitterley turned troubled eyes upon him.

“His Majesty hath ever had great love for my lord,” he protested.

“He—did—not—know—him,” repeated Sergeant Bracy, scanning his words. “I
was as near his Majesty as I am to you.—‘What,’ says the King, staring,
‘this is never my merry Rockhurst?’—‘Always your Majesty’s devoted
servant,’ says my lord, bowing that white head, ‘but your merry Rockhurst
never again.’ ‘Oh, damn!’ says his Majesty.—Ho, ho, ho! I heard him with
these ears!”

There was no smile on old Chitterley’s lips. It was a question whether he
followed his more sturdy comrade’s gossip or whether, in the dimness of
his mind, he was only aware of the pity of many things.

“Aye, in truth, and as you say,” the yeoman went on after a while,
“Master Harry hath changed even as much as his father. Faith, ’twas but
a lad when we laid him on his bed here; he rose from it a man. Sooth,
Death’s a grim teacher! I’ve seen many a boy soldier turned to a man by
a single battle.—But there’s secret trouble there, too.… Pity that so
gallant a youth should ever wear so sober a brow! Again a word in your
ear, Master Chitterley: They say a lady was lost in the plague days, none
knowing where or how she died—is it true?”

Chitterley drew back and flung a cunning glance at the genial,
inquisitive countenance. Old? None so old yet, nor so foolish, that he
would betray his master’s secret!

“Aye, the plague! the plague!” he mumbled. “As you say, good
sergeant—those were terrible times.”

“Sho!” said the sergeant; knocked the ashes of his pipe with an irritable
tap and turned his keen blue eyes out once more to the red westward
glare. Even at that instant there rose from the gateway tower the blare
of a trumpet, the roll of drums. The sounds caught up and repeated from
different quarters.

“God be praised,” said he; “’tis the party home again from the work!”

Back went the pipe into Sergeant Bracy’s pocket. He drew himself from
his seat; fell, unconsciously, once more into military bearing, and made
for the stairs to seek his officer. Chitterley followed, stirred into a
fleeting return of energy.



II

THE TESTAMENT


The Lord Constable halted on the first platform and flung from his head
the hat with the singed plumes. His son looked at him in some anxiety:
he had felt his father’s hand press ever more heavily on his shoulder as
they came up the winding steps. Between the ash-powdered white locks, the
handsome face struck him as more than usually drawn and pallid.

“A cup of wine for his lordship, Chitterley.—Haste!” cried he.

Rockhurst staggered slightly and sank down upon a stone bench; then
looked up at his son and smiled.

“’Tis but a passing giddiness. All thanks, good lad!”

Even as he spoke the smile was succeeded by a heavy sigh. Scarce
twenty-two, and his boy to wear so careworn a countenance! But a year
ago, before their great trouble, he had tenderly mocked the boy for his
over-youthfulness…! Here was a man with sad, haunted eyes, and features
set with silent endurance of pain. And all the boyhood that had been the
father’s delight was lost forever.

“’Tis as if the patience of God were worn out,” he went on, as though
speaking to himself, after a while, during which he had gazed wistfully
at the distant conflagration. “Well for those who can say in their heart
that no sin of theirs has cried aloud for vengeance.”

And again the heavy sigh escaped his lips.

The anxiety grew deeper in Harry Rockhurst’s eyes; he took the cup of
wine from Chitterley’s hand (half crazed his fellow-retainers deemed him,
but alert enough still in all that concerned his master’s service):—

“Drink, my lord,” said he, “you need it. Human strength will not bear
more of the work you have done to-day … indeed, all these days!”

But Rockhurst’s eyes having fallen upon Chitterley, he beckoned him to
his side before lifting the wine to his lips. Full of secret importance,
the old servant hurried to him.

Harry drew back. In many ways he felt as if his father still treated him
like a child; in none more than these secret interviews with Chitterley.
The Lord Constable seemed to make his servant sole confidant and
instrument in the matter of some urgent and troublous private business;
one which necessitated frequent absences on both sides. The secrecy
pained the young man, but he bore the slight in silence; he had not been
brought up to question the parental actions.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Didst go where I bade thee?” whispered Rockhurst.

“Aye, my lord.”

“No news?”

“No news, no news!”

Rockhurst sat awhile, moodily gazing on the red of the wine. Rousing
himself at last, he drank wearily, handed the empty cup to the old man
and, with a wave of the hand, dismissed him. Then he sat awhile longer
yet, watching his son—There were those who said that my Lord Rockhurst’s
eyes could look at naught else, when his heir was by him. Harry was
engaged in receiving the sergeant yeoman’s report. The father did not
speak till he saw Bracy salute and withdraw. Then he lifted his voice:—

“Harry!”

The young man started, and in an instant was by his father’s side. There
was something of womanly solicitude in his air. ’Twas a vast pity (the
soldiers said among themselves) to see a young man so set upon an old
one!—“Clean against nature,” Corporal Tulip had vowed, whose own amorous
heart was now ashes beneath the ashes of the Thames Street Hall, while
his sweetheart already thought of walking o’ sunsets with Anspessade
Strongitharm.

Rockhurst rose and placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. The two looked
affectionately into each other’s eyes: sad men both, and deadly worn this
evening hour after the fierce work of the day.

“Harry, it is borne in on me that not many days will be given us of
company together thus—”

“How, my lord—would you wish me from you again?”

“Nay—this time, Harry, it will be thy father who leaves thee.”

The young man started. Look and tone left no doubt of the meaning of the
words.

“Ah, father,” he cried, with the irritability born of keen anxiety; “if
you would but listen to me! Indeed you expose yourself unduly—”

“When death threatens from without, a man may smile at it. But when death
knocks from within, Harry, thrice fool who does not hearken!”

“Sir, you alarm me.” Harry’s voice shook. “Oh, I have been blind! Your
white hairs, your altered demeanour, are sure signs of suffering—some
hidden sickness!”

“Even so, lad. Sickness incurable! A secret pain that gives no rest,
night nor day. Nay, nay, Harry, no physician can avail, no remedy ease—”

“Ah,” exclaimed the son in bitter accents, “now I understand much. You
have never given me your confidence, yet methinks I might have been as
true to help you in your need, as wise in my devotion to advise, as old
Chitterley. This sickness is the secret between you. ’Tis for physician
or remedy that Chitterley journeys forth daily in such mystery while you
toil. Can you not see, my lord, that to be shut out from your counsel has
but added deeper grief to me? And methinks that I might have proved as
true to help, as wise to counsel, as yonder old man.… But it has always
been your pleasure to treat me as a child.”

Rockhurst fixed deep eyes of melancholy on his son.

“My illness is not of the body, Harry; it is of the mind. But the canker
works, never ceasing, eats from soul to flesh.”

“You speak in riddles, sir.”

“Alas! you shall read my riddle soon enough. Hast ever heard—thou canst
never have known it—of that sickness of the spirit which is called …
remorse? In sooth, ’tis uglier than the pestilence.”

At the look of sudden fear his son cast upon him the Lord Constable
laughed,—a laugh sadder than tears.

“Sit you down with me, Harry, and listen; for I have much to tell you,
and it is, as I said, borne in upon me that it must be told now.”

The young man obeyed in silence; but for a moment or two neither spoke.

The western sky before them had become an image of flaming immensity,
almost beyond the power of realisation. Glow of sunset mingled with glow
of fire and painted the volutes of smoke massed on the horizon with every
shade of fierce magnificence and lurid threat.

“’Twould seem as if the whole town were doomed,” muttered Rockhurst at
last.

“The powers of hell let loose upon us,” said his son, gloomily.

“Say, rather, my son, the wrath of God! Look at me, lad! The last time,
perchance, that you will look upon your father’s face with love and
reverence.”

Words froze on the young man’s lips. The Lord Constable folded his arms;
his voice grew stern, ironic:—

“You believe me—do you not?—a sober, godly gentleman, as true to his duty
as Christian as he has been to his king as subject—”

“Indeed, my lord, I know you as such,” quickly interrupted Harry, in deep
offence.

“Aye, Harry, aye,” laughed Rockhurst, bitterly, “I had but one part to
act toward thee, and it seems I did it well!—I never let thee know but
the father in me, the stern yet loving father.” His voice suddenly broke
on a note of tenderness. “Nay, never doubt that, whatever else you may
come to doubt: I loved you well. You were my delight—My son, you’ve had
a sore heart against me many a time for that I treated you, in sooth, as
a child, kept you far from me, in the country; that I so sternly forbade
you the town and the life of the Court. Even now you have the plaint that
you are excluded from my counsel. Well, such as I planned, I have made
thee. Where I have failed in life, thou art strong. Thou hast kept thy
manhood pure and clean, where thy father rioted, wasted—”

“Gracious heavens! my lord! What words are these?”

“Ah, ’tis not the sound man that praises the glory of health, but
the sick. Not the sober Christian sees the full radiance of the jewel
of purity, but the libertine. I never let thee guess that here, in
this town, now dissolving in fire, I had won me the name of Rakehell
Rockhurst.”

With paling cheek and a starting eye, the son had listened. Now he winced
as if his father had struck him.

“Rakehell Rockhurst—Rakehell! And I smote Lionel Ratcliffe on the mouth
for daring to couple the name to yours—!” Then, on a fierce revulsion of
feeling, he caught the pale hand close to him and kissed it passionately.
“Wherefore tell me this? Father, as I have ever known you, so must I ever
love and honour you.”

“The Rakehell—” repeated the Lord Constable; and once more, out of the
very pain of his avowal, came harshness into his tone—“that was my name
in men’s mouths. His Majesty had another, a kinder one, for me; he called
me in jest his merry Rockhurst. You have been reared in ripe veneration
of the King’s Grace; yet, had you known life by my side (as once you
yearned), you would have learned that the one name and the other meant,
in Whitehall, at least, the same thing. Rakehell—aye, I may have had
black perdition in my heart many a time; yet believe this, Harry, that
when like Lucifer I fell, I sinned like Lucifer with pride, arrogance,
recklessness, what you will—never with baseness. Merry, my good liege
called me. To find me so mad, yet see me wear so grave a face, it gave
him a spur to laughter. Merry? Nay; he loved me, in chief, because in
his sad heart he knew mine. Both sad hearts, sickened of life. Forever
striving to find a blossom in the dust, a jest in the weary round, to
taste of a fruit that was not ashes on the tongue. And there you have the
secret of my life and his.… Then came Diana.”

“Ah, hush, my lord!” Harry rose from his seat, in violent agitation, and
stood a second, pressing his hands against his breast. “With me, you
know, wounds heal slowly,” he went on, striving to speak calmly. “Do not
touch upon that hurt, lest the bleeding begin afresh.”

The father rose, too, followed his son to the parapet, and, again laying
a hand upon his shoulder, compelled his attention. The splendour of the
sunset pageant had faded, and with it all beauty from the sky. Only the
glow, the gloom, the belching smoke remained.

“I knew her ere ever you did,” said the Lord Constable, his eye fixed
as upon an inner vision, fair and fresh and pure. “Aye, you never knew
it. She spoke not of it again, nor did I; for you had come between us!…
She entered into my life one winter’s night; and across the snow I set
her again on her sheltered way, knowing what I was—and seeing what she
was. But from the instant of our parting (’twas all in the snow, lad,
and above us a sky of stars; scarce I touched her hand; not a word
exchanged but a God be wi’ ye), from that instant she was never from my
thoughts—She, the might-have-been, the one woman for me! Aye, you stare,
your grave father! Your old father! I was a strong man, then, and life
ran potent in my veins. Dost remember how I met her again, in the Peacock
Walk at home, and you prating of your love for her, with beardless lip?”

“Oh, father, father, father!” cried the poor lad. “For God’s sake!… You
are all I have left!”

“Hush! Look on these white hairs, sign among so many that life has done
with me. Nay, I know full well I am not old in years, scarce double thine
own; but the vital spring is dying. Listen, Harry, you are a man; I have
a trust to lay upon you. Since that terrible dawn, when, crying out,
‘Diana’s dead!’ you fell, bleeding of your old wound, into swoon upon
swoon, and thereafter into mortal sickness, you know her name has never
passed your lips nor mine. It was better, in sooth, you should believe
her dead.”

The young man caught at the parapet behind him for support; and the
sweat broke on the father’s brow as he looked at him. There was a tense
silence. Then, fiercely, Harry Rockhurst said:—

“Now, my lord, you must speak!”

       *       *       *       *       *

A moment longer Rockhurst kept silence. Curious reversal of the wheel of
fate! Here stood he, who had always been as a god to his son, now as one
in the dock before his judge. He, Rockhurst, whose will the King himself
could not bend, ordered to speech; and because of his own just mind, just
through all injustice wrought, unresentful—aye, submissive. The moment of
agony of a little while ago had passed.

Already it seemed to him the things of life were receding so quickly that
he looked on them from afar. Passion had gone from his voice as he spoke;
only a mighty sadness was left.

“It was even to speak, Harry, that I kept thee by me here. Know, then,
that until the night of Lady Chillingburgh’s death,—the night which found
Diana without a shelter,—in my daily intercourse with your promised bride
the father was ever stronger in me than the man. Aye, and when her
brother fled from the plague-stricken house and there was none but me to
protect her (for her kinsman Lionel was, as thou hast good cause to know,
my poor wounded boy, no guardian for thy bride) ’twas as a father I cared
for her all through the livelong night as we wandered, vainly seeking
a refuge. I brought her at length to my house, and went forth to seek
the means of conveying her home. That was even the very morning of your
arrival. Alack, nor horse nor man could fugitive then find in the waste
of the doomed city! I came back to her.… Oh, my son, before you judge
me, remember: men knew not what they did those terrible days. Question
any who passed through them. Staid citizens became drunken reprobates,
greybeards rioted horribly with the madness of youth, priests denied
their God—”

“But Diana, Diana—”

“Aye, Diana! I deemed Fate itself had given her to me. The madness of the
horror about me had turned my brain. Madness of my love for her, of my
long self-denial! I would have wedded her, even that hour. But she, she
had yielded her troth to thee … to thy father she gave her scorn! At that
most cursed moment thy voice rose from the street, thou, my son whom I
deemed far away, in the heart of the country! I would have killed her
rather than yield her. Remember, I was mad. I thrust her from thy sight
into an inner room. Ah, God, in that room!”

“In that room?”

“The plague lay in wait for her.”

“The plague—”

“Unknown to me one lay there, a woman who had crept in, sick—to die!”

Harry gave a deep groan, covered his face with his hands, and fell upon
the bench.

“Whilst I lay raving, did she die of the plague, there, in your room? O
my Diana!”

“My son, I know not. When I sought for her she was gone, vanished. The
window was opened into the garden. The woman lay dead upon the bed.”

Harry sprang to his feet, clapped his hands together in a sudden agony
of joy, more dreadful at that moment than all his sorrow to the father’s
eyes.

“She escaped? She may be living yet! There is mercy in heaven!”

“No mercy for such as I—nor for thee, being my son. For my moment’s
madness, what retribution! Harry, this whole long year I have looked
for her, night and day. There is not a corner of the town we have not
scoured, old Chitterley and myself. Aye, that was the mystery you fretted
not to share!”

Harry looked at his father speechlessly, with fierce dry eyes.

“Alas!” Rockhurst went on stonily, “she must even be dead, stricken by
the contagion—fallen at the street corner perchance, swept into the
common pit as so many others! And yet, if she were not dead—There is not
a burning house I pass but I fear she may be in the flames. Food is as
ashes, drink as gall upon my tongue. And now, with the presage of death
upon me, I lay the hideous burden upon thee, my son, my innocent son!”

He stretched his hand. But, drawing back, the latter turned a red glance
upon him.

“And you let me believe her dead that morning—that morning! I could have
saved her!” He flung his arms in the air and shook them; a terrible
menace on his face.

“God!” he called, “God—!”

Rockhurst gave a loud cry:—

“My son, do not curse your father!”

The young man’s arms dropped by his side. He looked at the bent white
head, at the countenance worn, wan, patient; then he cast himself upon
his father’s breast, sobbing:—

“God help us all!”

[Illustration: Harry gave a deep groan, covered his face with his hands,
and fell upon the bench.]

Night was falling apace. Father and son sat together over the supper
table. The meal, such as it was, was over; each had made a pretence
at eating, lest he add to the other’s burden. In silence Harry’s eyes
ever sought his father, striving to reconcile the man he had known and
reverenced above all manhood with the man who had harmed him to the
shattering of his life. Yet he could now find nothing in his heart but
a deeper tenderness. Nay, as he gazed at the noble silvered head, the
countenance, beautiful, diaphanous, it was with no jot of reverence
abated, rather a kind of awe added to a climbing apprehension. His own
words of that terrible moment of revelation rang in his ears as a tolling
bell: “_Father! You are all I have left!_”

At last he rose and went restlessly to the open window. When he looked
up, there was the pure sky overhead with a star or two, very peaceful;
and when he looked forth between the towers, there raged the flames,
yonder hung the murk the blacker for the fire lurid below. It seemed an
image of his own life.’

“At least there can be peace,” he told himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

The door opened behind him; he heard Chitterley’s shuffling feet, and
next the quavering voice; but, lost in his contemplation, he never
turned his head.

“Harry!” came Lord Rockhurst’s voice of a sudden.

The young man leaped at his tone. Rockhurst thrust a crumpled sheet into
his hand.

“Read it, Harry! A messenger has brought it, hotfoot, and is gone as he
came.”

As he spoke, the Lord Constable strode to the door.

“Ho there!” he called to the sentinel in the passage. “Call out the
guard! Have the assembly sounded!”

His voice rang out, clarion clear. Harry, holding the paper, stared,
astounded; the old fire had come back to his father’s eye, the old life
to his step; under the very whiteness of his locks his face looked young
again.

“Read, lad, read!” ordered Rockhurst, “and be in readiness.”

His step was already clanking down the stone stairs ere his son, hurrying
to the window, could read the sheet in the waning light. Then a great cry
broke from the young man: “Diana! Diana!”

    “My lord” (so ran the hasty writing on the note), “the convent
    of St. Helen’s, Bishopgate, within where my kinswoman, Madam
    Anastasia Bedingfield, has given me shelter, though none of
    her faith, is even now attacked by the rabble; and we are in
    parlous danger. Send succour, as you still remember poor Diana!”

From below was heard the roll of drum; then the tramp of feet and the
clank of firelock. And over all the Lord Constable’s voice:—

“Steady, lads, and haste. We’ve urgent work to-night!”

Hurriedly Harry set out to join them. His knees trembled as he went. He
thought, in the confusion of his mind: My father goeth like a young man
again to the rescue, and I like an old one. What will happen between us
when we see Diana again?



III

THE LAST COMMAND


Ten frightened ladies, of various ages and comeliness, were gathered
round the Mother Abbess in the great stone refectory of St. Helen’s
House. Queen Catherine’s convent—removed since the subsidence of the
great sickness from its original home in St. Martin’s Lane—was thus far
outside the track of the fire, yet the “Blue Nuns” jostled one another
like so many frightened children, each in the endeavour to get the closer
to the large, firm comfort of her presence. Adown the long table, between
the platters of untouched food, burned the four candles in high brazen
candlesticks, scantily illumining the room.

The atmosphere was oppressively close, for all the windows were shuttered
and barred. And, save for the whimpering of some of the nuns, the
mouthing prayerful whispers of others, there was a heavy stillness
within, in contrast to the sounds that beat round the walls without: the
voice of a mob in a fury.

A husky roar it was, that grew and fell like the waves of the sea. Anon
a deep shout or a shrill cry, a shot or a clang, pierced high; anon the
thunder of blows at the main doors, echoing through the old house.

As a knock angrier than the rest shook the very foundations, the women
raised a wail. Madam Anastasia, the Abbess, looked round them, a certain
twist of humour belying the sternness of her face.

“O mother, mother!” shrilly lamented the youngest novice, “shall we all
be murdered?”

“Well, and what of that?” quoth the stout daughter of the Bedingfields.
“Do we not lay down our lives, in taking convent vows?—Fie, child, Mary
Veronica!” Her steady tones began to dominate the thin plaints. “And
you, clamouring as you were, but a week ago, to be one of the faithful
virgins! Daughters, is this our faith? And, besides, are we not under her
Majesty’s special protection, and help sent for? To the chapel with ye,
and sing complines. Tut! Have I given permission to break the rules? ’Tis
past the hour. Off with ye!”

She rose, hustling them with gestures of her great hanging sleeves, in
good-humoured yet irresistible authority. Not one attempted protest,
though the smallest novice halted on the threshold to fling a
supplicating look which begged piteously for the shelter of the motherly
skirts. But the kind steel-grey eye was relentless; and, shivering, the
neophyte pattered after her sisters.

Madam Anastasia watched them depart with a shrug of her ample shoulders.
Then as she stood, in deep reflection, by the open door, hearkening to
the increasing menace, there came the faint tinkle of the chapel bell;
and thereafter the uplifted voices of her nuns chanting, dismally enough,
but yet sufficiently in unison. She nodded to herself, with a shrewd
smile, and was about to gather her long blue skirts together, preparatory
to a survey of the defences, when there came the sound of steps along
the flags and the figure of the convent guest moved into her view. The
Abbess’s face brightened.

“Hither, child!” she beckoned, as Mistress Diana Harcourt, bowing her
veiled head, was about to pass on to the chapel.

The young woman approached, flinging back the folds from her face.
Against the black filmy frame, her hair, even in the dimness of the
corridor, took marvellous brightness as of copper and gold. Her
countenance shone with a pearl-like fairness; it was wan, as by long
vigils; sad were her eyes, as though from secret tears; but serenity
enveloped her as fragrance does the rose.

Her kinswoman surveyed her an instant with favour. Then she plunged into
her huge hanging pocket.

“This letter, flung in through a window, tied to a stone; I had nigh
forgotten it! ’Tis addressed to you. Had you been of my flock, ’twas my
duty to have read it.”

Diana glanced at the superscription, announced coldly that it was from
their kinsman, Lionel Ratcliffe, and proceeded to burst the seal. But the
colour welled to her pale cheeks, and she gave a cry of indignation as
she read:—

“A man’s patience is not eternal. You have forbidden me sight of you,
this month past. My offence—the constancy of my love! You will not, so
you tell me, out of your papist cage. Yester-eve our kinswoman threatened
me that you would change your religion and take the vows. You have
reckoned without me, without the anger of the people. ’Tis the cry that
the papists have fired London; I care not, false or true. But no papist
shall help to rob me of you! Here is my chance, and I shall seize it. I
saved you once, in spite of yourself; now, Diana, I shall save you again
from yourself. Have no fear, though every stone in the walls that keep
you from me be laid low, no harm shall come to you. I shall be there,
and with friends. So you are warned; be wise, bid our obstinate old Coz
Anastasia yield you peacefully, unbar the doors, facilitate the search
for the papers we come to seek, and I will even do still what may be done
for her safety and that of all her silly pack.

“If this findeth you open to reason, see that she hang a white cloth from
the window over the porch, and soon after unbar the gate. And leave the
rest to your faithful and ever-loving cousin,

                                                      “LIONEL RATCLIFFE.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“And he of our blood! Shame!” cried the Abbess, with hot cheeks.

“Mother,” said Diana, and her lip trembled in spite of her brave tone,
“had you not best yield, even as he says? Alack! ’tis by bringing peril
on you I repay your shelter!”

“Yield you up? A pretty thought! I would rather we all perished together
’neath the stones of the old house. Yield and facilitate, forsooth!
Nay, we will even hold the place bolt and bar. An our message have
reached the Tower, ’twill go hard with us if the gates do not stand till
succour comes. How, hand thee over to yon infamous wretch, who useth
the extremity of the city, the blind folly of the mob, the helplessness
of a poor house of gentlewomen, to the furthering of his own base
purposes! As for my threat that you would take the vows,”—she gave a dry
chuckle,—“I’ve overshot the mark, it seems. I deemed to show thee as out
of reach of his pursuit. Well, ’tis ill talking when so much is a-doing.
Hark ye at that, ’tis the fiercest onslaught yet. Get thee to the chapel.
I must to the outer hall.”

“Nay,” quoth Diana, “I go with you.”

The two kinswomen looked at each other for a second with a mutual pride;
then, without further word, they went together to the great outer hall,
reverberating now to its vaulted roof as hammer strokes fell upon the
iron-studded door.

The stolid, elderly red-headed porter came forth from a deep
embrasure,—where he had been philosophically, it seemed, listening to the
progress of the attack,—and with a hand on each arm drew them in their
turn into the shelter out of reach of stone and shots.

“Will the door hold, think you, Bindon?” asked his reverend mistress,
briskly.

“Aye,” quoth Bindon, “good iron, stout oak!—So they lay not gunpowder.”

“And so they do, what then?”

Bindon lifted his hand in slight but expressive gesture. Then his small
eye rolled from the old face to the young.

“Eh, but ye be two brave women—not a blanch, not a squeak!”

“Sho!” said the Abbess, with a tolerant smile. “And why should I fear
death? Have I not been dead these forty years?”

“And why should I fear death,” said Diana’s young voice, “since life has
naught left for me?”

“I hope you’ll not be taken at your word, ladies,” said Bindon, with the
familiarity of long service. “Nay, look you, I’m none so ready myself!
But,” he went on, “I like not this pause without: there may be gunpowder
in it. And by your leave, I’ll creep round to the lookout. Eh, ’tis time
the guards should arrive, in faith!”

As his burly figure had moved out of sight, Madam Anastasia turned with
some asperity:—

“Indeed, Mistress Harcourt, I marvel at you! Life nothing left for you,
forsooth? Tut, tut! Is not the best part of it before you? What have you
done with your good youth, answer me that—not even borne a soul to God’s
service?”

“Why, mother,” Diana exclaimed, and the tears sprang to her eyes. “Do
you know my history, and chide me? Oh, I am dead, and this is my tomb.
And truly, ’tis best so; since, when I lived in the world, I brought—God
knows unwittingly—dire sorrow on two noble hearts that loved me.”

The Abbess thrust her hands impatiently up her big sleeves.

“Tush, child! Shouldst have made thy choice boldly. And he whom you had
left of the two would be no worse off than now. This shilly-shally likes
me not. In a convent, and no nun! A lovely, free woman, and no wife!
Either wed or pray, say I. Nay, my dear, though I threatened your cousin
with it, I have known it long: your vocation is not with us! With the
blessing of God, I’ll yet give the house a feast on the day of Mistress
Harcourt’s wedding with my Lord Rockhurst’s son!”

The renewal of clamour without, the report of a musket, the shattering
of a few more panes of glass in the high windows, all but drowned the
valiant woman’s words. Yet Diana had caught the drift of them, and
clasped the stout shoulders in sudden embrace.

“Wedding! ’Tis more like we feast with death this day!”

“Why, then, ’tis the best feast of all,” cried the Abbess, petulantly.

There came three measured, emphatic blows upon the door. Then, above the
loud, continuous howl of the mob, a ringing call:—

“Stand back, there within, stand back for your lives! We now blow your
door in.—Stand back!”

“’Tis Cousin Lionel’s voice,” whispered Diana, with white lips.

“Sho!” returned the old lady, with great contempt. She caught Diana by
the shoulder and dragged her to the entrance of the passage, where she
paused, panting, being somewhat weighty for such swift movements. Bindon,
trailing a musket, clattered in their rear.

“Aye, truly,” she said to him, “I begin to think this may be the end.
Tut! Where lag those sluggard guards? Sho! Here now come my silly
children!—Well, well, Sister Magdalen, my pastoral staff! So we have
visitors we shall receive in state.”

She took the crook from the hands of the nun; then, waving back the
community, terrified now even to speechlessness:—

“Back to your stalls, daughters! Shame on you! Shall not the shepherd
come when he pleases, and shall he find the sheep dispersed?”

She rang her staff threateningly on the flags, and the fluttering bevy
fled back to the chapel. “Sheep, indeed—poor things!” chuckled the Abbess.

She was chuckling still when the thud of the explosion came.

It seemed to lift the stone house about them, to make the solid flags
heave under their feet. For one instant Diana deemed that they all had
been blown in pieces as well as the convent; and, opening her eyes after
a reeling moment, was considerably astonished to find herself whole and
sound. Before her, in stout equilibrium, was the Abbess, jubilantly
chanting a psalm; beside her, Bindon on one knee, poising his firelock.
The words he was breathing were not those of prayer.

There was a burst of wailing from the chapel within. Through the porch a
wall of white smoke rolled up in swirls.

“They’ve made the breach; the door is down,” said Bindon, superfluously.

The vapour parted. Three men were seen cautiously advancing; beyond them,
confusedly, in the ragged breach, Diana caught a glimpse of the street
and a crowd of begrimed faces, in brutal exultation, brutal lust of
destruction. Ravening as wild beasts behind bars, something yet seemed
to hold them back. The next instant, as she recognised Lionel, she knew
whose power at once excited and restrained the mob. Waving his sword, he
advanced, scarce a fold out of place in his handsome suit, plumed hat on
his head, the red curls of his great wig hanging ordered on either side
of the long, pale face.

Their eyes met; she saw the gleam in his, and her heart turned sick.
The two that strode behind him were dark-visaged, sinister enough, yet
had something of the same air, as of men decorously carrying through a
necessary act of violence.

Lionel Ratcliffe halted a pace in front of his old kinswoman and swept an
ironical bow. There was no flinching of shame in him as he met the stern
challenge of her eye.

“Out of my way, madam,” he cried. “I’m not here to deal with you. You’ve
not chosen to take my warning; take your lot. My business is with my
cousin here, whom you unlawfully detain.—Diana, I have seen to your
safety.”

He made an almost imperceptible gesture of his hand as he concluded. The
two men darted forward. Hideous confusion instantly sprang up. Diana
remembered (and afterward it was with tender laughter) seeing the Mother
Abbess strike out right lustily with her pastoral staff; to such good
purpose, indeed, that Lionel’s sword was snapped at mid-blade as he tried
to parry her blow. At the same instant there was a deafening report
in her ear: Bindon had loosed his musket. The foremost of Ratcliffe’s
attendants threw up his arms and fell forward. Then she felt herself
grasped, and knew the hated touch.

“Diana, are you mad?” Lionel was whispering fiercely. “’Tis life or
death!… If you are seen to struggle now, you, whom this rabble believes I
come to rescue from the papists, you are lost, even as the others!”

Through Lionel’s words she was aware of the wild-beast roar, execrating:—

“Kill the papists! Burn them! Fire the convent—fire for fire!”

She was aware also of the invisible bars broken down, of the rush. And
next, even to her bewildered senses, there came the feeling of a change,
a halt.

It was like a flood at full tide miraculously arrested. Shots followed
each other in rapid succession outside; and other sounds now, a roll of
drums, words of command, some cheers, began to mingle with those hideous
recurrent yells. The throng that struggled to pour in through the broken
door recoiled.

“The guards! the guards are on us!” was now the cry.

And with the curious unanimity of crowds general panic succeeded general
fury. Above the torrential sound of feet on the pavement, a voice, clear
yet panting, like the blast of a running trumpeter, rose ever nearer.

“Make way, in the King’s name!”

Then Diana heard the Abbess’s “_Deo gratias_”; heard Lionel curse as his
grasp relaxed; heard him curse again as he leaped forward, brandishing
the stump of his sword, and, in vain frenzy, striving to stop the
fugitives.

Harry Rockhurst was the first of the rescuers to dash through the gaping
door. The Lord Constable had in truth reached the gateway before him,
but had stood aside to let his son pass. Bare-headed, his black curls
flying, his face set with the sternness of fierce intent, Diana for one
delirious instant took the son for the father—the father as she had first
met him in pride of noble strength, when she had loved him, unbidden.
And as he sprang toward her, crying out in accents of unmeasurable joy,
“Diana—safe!” she cast herself into his arms.

Now, even as he held her, she knew who it was, knew that there was youth
in his pressure, an unhampered ecstasy of leaping blood. But yet she
clung to him the closer, past and present so inextricably mingled in her
thought that all she felt, all she cared to know, was that now, here, her
heart had come home at last!

The inner circle of their joy lasted but the moment of a radiant bubble.
About them the turmoil still raged. There was one, within a few yards,
white-haired, grappling with a furious blood-stained ruffian. Diana
clutched her lover’s arm.

“Harry, Harry, save the old man!”

Harry turned, saw, and fired his pistol point-blank in the rioter’s face.
In the same instant, with a horror that stifled the cry of warning in her
throat, Diana saw Lionel, with livid countenance of fury, advancing upon
the young man, his broken sword drawn back like a dagger for the thrust.
But even as she found voice, all was over: one whose love had been
swifter than hers had flung himself between the steel and its aim. Then
all was a swirl of confusion. She saw Harry draw his sword from Lionel’s
fallen body, fling it from him, and rush with a deep cry of anguish to
the tall, white-headed man who yet stood erect, smiling, but with a face
of terrible pallor.

She looked again; and, as if the blast of a mighty wind had torn the
mists from her eyes, she knew him. The old man she had called him: it was
Lord Rockhurst himself.

And now it became clear to her that he was wounded, and grievously.
Though he still stood, he was supported on one side by his son; on the
other by a grey-bearded yeoman who, seeing his leader struck, had worked
his way to him with great strides, through the mob of soldiers and
rioters struggling at the door.

“Sir,” he was saying, “this is the weight of a dead man.”

“Ah, no!” cried the son. “For God’s sake, look to the wound! O God!—the
sword, to the very hilt!”

Rockhurst came back from his far-smiling contemplation to forbid the hand
that would have plucked the broken sword from his side.

“Touch it not yet, Sergeant Bracy. When you draw it, you draw my life
with it.”

“He’s sped, Master Harry,” whispered Bracy, and his face began to work.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then Rockhurst failed in their arms and they gently laid him down on the
flags, but a few paces away from Lionel Ratcliffe’s dead body. As in a
dream, Diana came and knelt by his side. Madam Anastasia was praying
under her voice the prayer for the dying: “… Remember not, O Lord, the
offences of thy servant, and take not revenge of his sins.…”

“Oh, father,” sobbed Harry, “the best, the dearest! Oh, my honoured lord!”

The dying man, as with an effort, brought his far gaze to the two young
faces bending in sorrow over him.

“It is well,” he said, “very well. Diana, lay your hand in his. I would
fain place it there myself, but I cannot, I cannot.” His eye roamed as if
seeking. Once again he smiled at Bracy’s distraught countenance.

“Old comrade,” he breathed, “pluck out the blade.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Lord Constable had given his last command.



Mr. F. MARION CRAWFORD’S NOVELS


THE SARACINESCA SERIES

_In the binding of the Uniform Edition, each, $1.50_

=Saracinesca=

“The work has two distinct merits, either of which would serve to make it
great,—that of telling a perfect story in a perfect way, and of giving a
graphic picture of Roman society in the last days of the Pope’s temporal
power.… The story is exquisitely told.”—_Boston Traveler._

=Sant’ Ilario.= A Sequel to “Saracinesca”

“A singularly powerful and beautiful story.… It fulfils every requirement
of artistic fiction. It brings out what is most impressive in human
action, without owing any of its effectiveness to sensationalism or
artifice. It is natural, fluent in evolution, accordant with experience,
graphic in description, penetrating in analysis, and absorbing in
interest.”—_New York Tribune._

=Don Orsino.= A Sequel to “Sant’ Ilario”

“Perhaps the cleverest novel of the year.… There is not a dull paragraph
in the book, and the reader may be assured that once begun, the story of
_Don Orsino_ will fascinate him until its close.”—_The Critic._

=Taquisara=

“To Mr. Crawford’s Roman novels belongs the supreme quality of uniting
subtly drawn characters to a plot of uncommon interest.”—_Chicago
Tribune._

=Corleone=

“Mr. Crawford is the novelist born … a natural story-teller, with wit,
imagination, and insight added to a varied and profound knowledge of
social life.”—_The Inter-Ocean_, Chicago.

=Casa Braccio.=

_In two volumes, $2.00._ Illustrated by A. Castaigne

Like _Taquisara_ and _Corleone_, it is closely related in plot to the
fortunes of the Saracinesca family.

“Mr. Crawford’s books have life, pathos, and insight; he tells a dramatic
story with many exquisite touches.”—_New York Sun._


NOVELS OF ROMAN SOCIAL LIFE

_In decorated cloth covers, each, $1.50_

=A Roman Singer=

“One of the earliest and best works of this famous novelist.… None but a
genuine artist could have made so true a picture of human life, crossed
by human passions and interwoven with human weakness. It is a perfect
specimen of literary art.”—_The Newark Advertiser._

=Marzio’s Crucifix=

“We have repeatedly had occasion to say that Mr. Crawford possesses in
an extraordinary degree the art of constructing a story. It is as if it
could not have been written otherwise, so naturally does the story unfold
itself, and so logical and consistent is the sequence of incident after
incident. As a story, _Marzio’s Crucifix_ is perfectly constructed.”—_New
York Commercial Advertiser._

=Heart of Rome.= A Tale of the Lost Water

“Mr. Crawford has written a story of absorbing interest, a story with
a genuine thrill in it; he has drawn his characters with a sure and
brilliant touch, and he has said many things surpassingly well.”—_New
York Times Saturday Review._

=Cecilia.= A Story of Modern Rome

“That F. Marion Crawford is a master of mystery needs no new telling.…
His latest novel, _Cecilia_, is as weird as anything he has done since
the memorable _Mr. Isaacs_.… A strong, interesting, dramatic story, with
the picturesque Roman setting beautifully handled as only a master’s
touch could do it.”—_Philadelphia Evening Telegraph._

=Whosoever Shall Offend=

“It is a story sustained from beginning to end by an ever increasing
dramatic quality.”—_New York Evening Post._

=Pietro Ghisleri=

“The imaginative richness, the marvellous ingenuity of plot, the power
and subtlety of the portrayal of character, the charm of the romantic
environment,—the entire atmosphere indeed,—rank this novel at once among
the great creations.”—_The Boston Budget._

=To Leeward=

“The four characters with whose fortunes this novel deals, are, perhaps,
the most brilliantly executed portraits in the whole of Mr. Crawford’s
long picture gallery, while for subtle insight into the springs of human
passion and for swift dramatic action none of the novels surpasses this
one.”—_The News and Courier._

=A Lady of Rome=

Mr. Crawford has no equal as a writer of brilliant cosmopolitan fiction,
in which the characters really belong to the chosen scene and the story
interest is strong. His novels possess atmosphere in a high degree.

=Mr. Isaacs= (India)

Its scenes are laid in Simla, chiefly. This is the work which first
placed its author among the most brilliant novelists of his day.

=Greifenstein= (The Black Forest)

“… Another notable contribution to the literature of the day. It
possesses originality in its conception and is a work of unusual ability.
Its interest is sustained to the close, and it is an advance even on the
previous work of this talented author. Like all Mr. Crawford’s work, this
novel is crisp, clear, and vigorous, and will be read with a great deal
of interest.”—_New York Evening Telegram._

=Zoroaster= (Persia)

“It is a drama in the force of its situations and in the poetry and
dignity of its language; but its men and women are not men and women of a
play. By the naturalness of their conversation and behavior they seem to
live and lay hold of our human sympathy more than the same characters on
a stage could possibly do.”—_The New York Times._

=The Witch of Prague= (Bohemia)

_“A fantastic tale,” illustrated by W. J. Hennessy._

“The artistic skill with which this extraordinary story is constructed
and carried out is admirable and delightful.… Mr. Crawford has scored a
decided triumph, for the interest of the tale is sustained throughout.… A
very remarkable, powerful, and interesting story.”—_New York Tribune._

=Paul Patoff= (Constantinople)

“Mr. Crawford has a marked talent for assimilating local color, not to
make mention of a broader historical sense. Even though he may adopt, as
it is the romancer’s right to do, the extreme romantic view of history,
it is always a living and moving picture that he evolves for us, varied
and stirring.”—_New York Evening Post._

=Marietta= (Venice)

“No living writer can surpass Mr. Crawford in the construction
of a complicated plot and the skilful unravelling of the tangled
skein.”—_Chicago Record-Herald._

“He has gone back to the field of his earlier triumphs, and has, perhaps,
scored the greatest triumph of them all.”—_New York Herald._

_In the binding of the new Uniform Edition, each, $1.50_

=Via Crucis.= A Romance of the Second Crusade. Illustrated by Louis Loeb

“_Via Crucis.…_ A tale of former days, possessing an air of reality and
an absorbing interest such as few writers since Scott have been able to
accomplish when dealing with historical characters.”—_Boston Transcript._

=In the Palace of the King= (Spain)

“_In the Palace of the King_ is a masterpiece; there is a
picturesqueness, a sincerity which will catch all readers in an agreeable
storm of emotion, and even leave a hardened reviewer impressed and
delighted.”—_Literature, London._

=With the Immortals=

“The strange central idea of the story could have occurred only to a
writer whose mind was very sensitive to the current of modern thought and
progress, while its execution, the setting it forth in proper literary
clothing, could be successfully attempted only by one whose active
literary ability should be fully equalled by his power of assimilative
knowledge both literary and scientific, and no less by his courage and
capacity for hard work. The book will be found to have a fascination
entirely new for the habitual reader of novels. Indeed, Mr. Crawford has
succeeded in taking his readers quite above the ordinary plane of novel
interest.”—_Boston Advertiser._

=Children of the King= (Calabria)

“One of the most artistic and exquisitely finished pieces of work
that Crawford has produced. The picturesque setting, Calabria and its
surroundings, the beautiful Sorrento and the Gulf of Salerno, with the
bewitching accessories that climate, sea, and sky afford, give Mr.
Crawford rich opportunities to show his rare descriptive powers. As
a whole the book is strong and beautiful through its simplicity, and
ranks among the choicest of the author’s many fine productions.”—_Public
Opinion._

=A Cigarette Maker’s Romance= (Munich) and =Khaled=, a Tale of Arabia

“Two gems of subtle analysis of human passion and motive.”—_Times._

“The interest is unflagging throughout. Never has Mr. Crawford done
more brilliant realistic work than here. But his realism is only the
case and cover for those intense feelings which, placed under no matter
what humble conditions, produce the most dramatic and the most tragic
situations.… This is a secret of genius, to take the most coarse and
common material, the meanest surroundings, the most sordid material
prospects, and out of the vehement passions which sometimes dominate all
human beings to build up with these poor elements, scenes and passages
the dramatic and emotional power of which at once enforce attention and
awaken the profoundest interest.”—_New York Tribune._

=Fair Margaret.= A Portrait

“An exhilarating romance … alluring in its naturalness and
grace.”—_Boston Herald._


WITH SCENES LAID IN ENGLAND AND AMERICA

_In the binding of the Uniform Edition_

=A Tale of a Lonely Parish=

“It is a pleasure to have anything so perfect of its kind as this brief
and vivid story.… It is doubly a success, being full of human sympathy,
as well as thoroughly artistic in its nice balancing of the unusual with
the commonplace, the clever juxtaposition of innocence and guilt, comedy
and tragedy, simplicity and intrigue.”—_Critic._

=Dr. Claudius.= A True Story

The scene changes from Heidelberg to New York, and much of the story
develops during the ocean voyage.

“There is a satisfying quality in Mr. Crawford’s strong, vital, forceful
stories.”—_Boston Herald._

=An American Politician.= The scenes are laid in Boston

“It need scarcely be said that the story is skilfully and picturesquely
written, portraying sharply individual characters in well-defined
surroundings.”—_New York Commercial Advertiser._

=The Three Fates=

“Mr. Crawford has manifestly brought his best qualities as a student of
human nature and his finest resources as a master of an original and
picturesque style to bear upon this story. Taken for all in all, it
is one of the most pleasing of all his productions in fiction, and it
affords a view of certain phases of American, or perhaps we should say of
New York, life that have not hitherto been treated with anything like the
same adequacy and felicity.”—_Boston Beacon._

=Marion Darche=

“Full enough of incident to have furnished material for three or four
stories.… A most interesting and engrossing book. Every page unfolds new
possibilities, and the incidents multiply rapidly.”—_Detroit Free Press._

“We are disposed to rank _Marion Darche_ as the best of Mr. Crawford’s
American stories.”—_The Literary World._

=Katharine Lauderdale=

=The Ralstons.= A Sequel to “Katharine Lauderdale”

“Mr. Crawford at his best is a great novelist, and in _Katharine
Lauderdale_ we have him at his best.”—_Boston Daily Advertiser._

“A most admirable novel, excellent in style, flashing with humor, and
full of the ripest and wisest reflections upon men and women.”—_The
Westminster Gazette._

“It is the first time, we think, in American fiction that any
such breadth of view has shown itself in the study of our social
framework.”—_Life._



Mr. WINSTON CHURCHILL’S NOVELS

_Each, cloth, gilt tops and titles, $1.50_


=The Celebrity.= An Episode

“No such piece of inimitable comedy in a literary way has appeared for
years.… It is the purest, keenest fun.”—_Chicago Inter-Ocean._

=Richard Carvel= Illustrated

“… In breadth of canvas, massing of dramatic effect, depth of feeling,
and rare wholesomeness of spirit, it has seldom, if ever, been surpassed
by an American romance.”—_Chicago Tribune._

=The Crossing= Illustrated

“_The Crossing_ is a thoroughly interesting book, packed with exciting
adventure and sentimental incident, yet faithful to historical fact both
in detail and in spirit.”—_The Dial._

=The Crisis= Illustrated

“It is a charming love story, and never loses its interest.… The intense
political bitterness, the intense patriotism of both parties, are shown
understandingly.”—_Evening Telegraph_, Philadelphia.

=Coniston= Illustrated

“_Coniston_ has a lighter, gayer spirit, and a deeper, tenderer touch
than Mr. Churchill has ever achieved before.… It is one of the truest
and finest transcripts of modern American life thus far achieved in our
fiction.”—_Chicago Record-Herald._



Mr. JAMES LANE ALLEN’S NOVELS

_Each, cloth, 12mo, $1.50_


=The Choir Invisible=

_This can also be had in a special edition illustrated by Orson Lowell,
$2.50_

“One reads the story for the story’s sake, and then re-reads the book out
of pure delight in its beauty. The story is American to the very core.…
Mr. Allen stands to-day in the front rank of American novelists. _The
Choir Invisible_ will solidify a reputation already established and bring
into clear light his rare gifts as an artist. For this latest story is as
genuine a work of art as has come from an American hand.”—HAMILTON MABIE
in _The Outlook_.

=The Reign of Law.= A Tale of the Kentucky Hempfields

“Mr. Allen has a style as original and almost as perfectly finished
as Hawthorne’s, and he has also Hawthorne’s fondness for spiritual
suggestion that makes all his stories rich in the qualities that are
lacking in so many novels of the period.… If read in the right way,
it cannot fail to add to one’s spiritual possessions.”—_San Francisco
Chronicle._

=Summer in Arcady.= A Tale of Nature

“This story by James Lane Allen is one of the gems of the season. It is
artistic in its setting, realistic and true to nature and life in its
descriptions, dramatic, pathetic, tragic, in its incidents; indeed, a
veritable masterpiece that must become classic. It is difficult to give
an outline of the story; it is one of the stories which do not outline;
it must be read.”—_Boston Daily Advertiser._

=The Mettle of the Pasture=

“It may be that _The Mettle of the Pasture_ will live and become a part
of our literature; it certainly will live far beyond the allotted term of
present-day fiction. Our principal concern is that it is a notable novel,
that it ranks high in the range of American and English fiction, and that
it is worth the reading, the re-reading, and the continuous appreciation
of those who care for modern literature at its best.”—By E. F. E. in the
_Boston Transcript_.

_Shorter Stories. Each, $1.50_

    =The Blue Grass Region of Kentucky=
    =Flute and Violin, and Other Kentucky Tales=

_Each, illustrated, $1.00_

    =A Kentucky Cardinal=
    =Aftermath.= A Sequel to “A Kentucky Cardinal”



Mr. OWEN WISTER’S NOVELS

_Each, in decorated cloth cover, $1.50_


=The Virginian=

“The vanished West is made to live again by Owen Wister in a manner which
makes his book easily the best that deals with the cowboy and the cattle
country.… It is picturesque, racy, and above all it is original.”—_The
Philadelphia Press._

=Lady Baltimore=

“After cowboy stories innumerable, _The Virginian_ came as the last and
definite word on that romantic subject in our fiction. _Lady Baltimore_
will serve in much the same way as the most subtly drawn picture of the
old-world dignity of the vanished South.”—_The New York Evening Mail._



Mr. EDEN PHILPOTTS’S NOVELS

_Each, in decorated cloth, $1.50_


=The American Prisoner= Illustrated

“Intensely readable … perfectly admirable in its elemental humor and racy
turns of speech.”—_The Spectator_, London.

=The Secret Woman=

“There cannot be two opinions as to the interest and the power of _The
Secret Woman_. It is not only its author’s masterpiece, but it is far
in advance of anything he has yet written—and that is to give it higher
praise than almost any other comparison with contemporary fiction could
afford.”—_Times Saturday Review._

=Knock at a Venture=

Sketches of the rustic life of Devon, rich in racy, quaint, and humorous
touches.

=The Portreeve=



Mr. ROBERT HERRICK’S NOVELS

_Cloth, extra, gilt tops, each, $1.50_


=The Gospel of Freedom=

“A novel that may truly be called the greatest study of social life, in a
broad and very much up-to-date sense, that has ever been contributed to
American fiction.”—_Chicago Inter-Ocean._

=The Web of Life=

“It is strong in that it faithfully depicts many phases of American life,
and uses them to strengthen a web of fiction, which is most artistically
wrought out.”—_Buffalo Express._

=The Real World=

“The title of the book has a subtle intention. It indicates, and is
true to the verities in doing so, the strange dreamlike quality of
life to the man who has not yet fought his own battles, or come into
conscious possession of his will—only such battles bite into the
consciousness.”—_Chicago Tribune._

=The Common Lot=

“It grips the reader tremendously.… It is the drama of a human soul the
reader watches … the finest study of human motive that has appeared for
many a day.”—_The World To-day._

=The Memoirs of an American Citizen.= Illustrated with about fifty
drawings by F. B. Masters

“Mr. Herrick’s book is a book among many, and he comes nearer to
reflecting a certain kind of recognizable, contemporaneous American
spirit than anybody has yet done.”—_New York Times._

“Intensely absorbing as a story, it is also a crisp, vigorous document of
startling significance. More than any other writer to-day he is giving us
_the_ American novel.”—_New York Globe._



Mr. JACK LONDON’S NOVELS, etc.

_Each, in decorated cloth binding, $1.50_


=The Call of the Wild= Illustrated in colors

“A big story in sober English, and with thorough art in the construction;
a wonderfully perfect bit of work; a book that will be heard of long. The
dog’s adventures are as exciting as any man’s exploits could be, and Mr.
London’s workmanship is wholly satisfying.”—_The New York Sun._

=The Sea-Wolf= Illustrated in colors

“Jack London’s _The Sea-Wolf_ is marvellously truthful.… Reading it
through at a sitting, we have found it poignantly interesting; … a superb
piece of craftsmanship.”—_The New York Tribune._

=White Fang= Illustrated in colors

“A thrilling story of adventure … stirring indeed … and it touches
a chord of tenderness that is all too rare in Mr. London’s
work.”—_Record-Herald_, Chicago.

=Before Adam= Illustrated in colors

“The story moves with a wonderful sequence of interesting and wholly
credible events. The marvel of it all is not in the story itself, but
in the audacity of the man who undertook such a task as the writing of
it.… From an artistic standpoint the book is an undoubted success. And it
is no less a success from the standpoint of the reader who seeks to be
entertained.”—_The Plain Dealer_, Cleveland.

_Shorter Stories_

    =Children of the Frost=
    =Faith of Men=
    =Tales of the Fish Patrol=
    =The Game=
    =Moon Face=
    =Love of Life=



Mr. WILLIAM STEARNS DAVIS’S NOVELS

_Each, in decorated cloth cover, $1.50_


=A Friend of Cæsar=

“As a story … there can be no question of its success.… While the
beautiful love of Cornelia and Drusus lies at the sound sweet heart of
the story, to say so is to give a most meagre idea of the large sustained
interest of the whole.… There are many incidents so vivid, so brilliant,
that they fix themselves in the memory.”—NANCY HUSTON BANKS in _The
Bookman_.

=“God Wills It.”= A Tale of the First Crusade. Illustrated by Louis Betts

“Not since Sir Walter Scott cast his spell over us with _Ivanhoe_, _Count
Robert of Paris_, and _Quentin Durward_ have we been so completely
captivated by a story as by _‘God Wills It’_. It grips the attention of
the reader in the first chapter and holds it till the last.”—_Christian
Endeavor World._

=Falaise of the Blessed Voice.= A Tale of the Youth of St. Louis, King of
France

“In this tale of the youth of Louis, King of France and afterward saint
in the calendar of the Catholic Church, Mr. Davis has fulfilled the
promises contained in _A Friend of Cæsar_ and _‘God Wills It’_. The novel
is not only interesting and written with skill in the scenes which are
really dramatic, but it is convincing in its character drawing and its
analysis of motives.”—_Evening Post_, New York.

=A Victor of Salamis.= A Tale of the Days of Xerxes, Leonidas, and
Themistocles

“An altogether admirable picture of Hellenic life and Hellenic ideals.
It is just such a book as will convey to the average reader what is the
eternal value of Greek Life to the world … carried breathlessly along
by a style which never poses, and yet is always strong and dignified.…
This remarkable book takes its place with the best of historical fiction.
Those who have made their acquaintance with the characters in the days of
their youth will find delight in the remembrance. Those who would fain
learn something of the golden days of Greece could not do better than use
Mr. Davis for guide.”—_The Daily Post_, Liverpool.

“It is seldom that the London critics admit that an American may wear the
mantle of Scott, but they are declaring that this book entitles Mr. Davis
to a place among novelists not far below the author of _The Talisman_.”



MABEL OSGOOD WRIGHT’S NOVELS, etc.

(Published originally as by “Barbara,” the Commuter’s wife)

_Each, in decorated cloth binding, $1.50_


=The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife.= Illustrated from photographs

“Reading it is like having the entry into a home of the class that is
the proudest product of our land, a home where love of books and love
of nature go hand in hand with hearty simple love of ‘folks.’… It is a
charming book.”—_The Interior._

=People of the Whirlpool= Illustrated

“The whole book is delicious, with its wise and kindly humor, its just
perspective of the true values of things, its clever pen pictures of
people and customs, and its healthy optimism for the great world in
general.”—_Philadelphia Evening Telegraph._

=The Woman Errant=

“The book is worth reading. It will cause discussion. It is an
interesting, fictional presentation of an important modern question,
treated with fascinating feminine adroitness.”—Miss JEANNETTE GILDER in
_The Chicago Tribune_.

=At the Sign of the Fox=

“Her little pictures of country life are fragrant with a genuine love
of nature, and there is fun as genuine in her notes on rural character.
A travelling pieman is one of her most lovable personages; another is
Tatters, a dog, who is humanly winsome and wise, and will not soon be
forgotten by the reader of this very entertaining book.”—_New York
Tribune._

=The Garden, You and I=

“This volume is simply the best she has yet put forth, and quite too
deliciously torturing to the reviewer, whose only garden is in Spain.…
The delightful humor which persuaded the earlier books, and without which
Barbara would not be Barbara, has lost nothing of its poignancy, and
would make _The Garden, You and I_ pleasant reading even to the man who
doesn’t know a pink from a phlox or a _Daphne cneorum_ from a Cherokee
rose.”—_Congregationalist._



THE MERWIN-WEBSTER NOVELS

_Each, in decorated cloth covers, $1.50_


=Calumet “K”= Illustrated by Harry C. Edwards

“_Calumet ‘K’_ is a novel that is exciting and absorbing, but not the
least bit sensational. It is the story of a rush.… The book is an
unusually good story; one that shows the inner workings of the labor
union, and portrays men who are the bone and sinew of the earth.”—_The
Toledo Blade._

=The Short Line War=

“A capital story of adventure in the field of railroading.”—_Outlook._



Mr. MARK LEE LUTHER’S NOVELS

_Each, in cloth, decorated covers, $1.50_


=The Henchman=

“It wins admiration on almost every page by the cleverness of its
inventions.”—CHURCHILL WILLIAMS in _The Bookman_.

=The Mastery=

“A story of really notable power remarkable for its strength.”—_Times._



Mr. and Mrs. CASTLE’S NOVELS

_Each, in decorated cloth binding, $1.50_


=The Pride of Jennico=

“This lively story has a half-historic flavor which adds to its interest
… told with an intensity of style which almost takes away the breath of
the reader.”—_Boston Transcript._

=If Youth But Knew=

“They should be the most delightful of comrades, for their writing is
so apt, so responsive, so joyous, so saturated with the promptings and
the glamour of spring. It is because _If Youth But Knew_ has all these
adorable qualities that it is so fascinating.”—_Cleveland Leader._



Mr. JOHN LUTHER LONG’S NOVELS, etc.

_Each, in decorated cloth covers, $1.50_


=The Way of the Gods=

“There can be no doubt as to the artistic quality of his story. It rings
true with the golden ring of chivalry and of woman’s love, it rings true
for all lovers of romance, wherever they be, … and is told with an art
worthy of the idea.”—_New York Mail._

=Heimweh and Other Stories=

“As in _Madam Butterfly_ his subtle appreciation of love’s tender mystery
creates an exquisite thrill of ‘the heavenly longing—for the love—the
loved ones’ the one thing that through poverty and age can keep the door
open to joy.”—_New York Times._



Miss BEULAH MARIE DIX’S NOVELS, etc.

_Each, in decorated cloth covers, $1.50_


=The Making of Christopher Ferringham=

“In brilliancy, exciting interest, and verisimilitude, _The Making
of Christopher Ferringham_ is one of the best of the semi-historical
novels of the day, and not unworthy of comparison with Maurice Hewlett’s
best.”—_Boston Advertiser._

=The Life, Treason, and Death of James Blount of Breckenhow=

“A novel that may fairly challenge comparison with the very best, telling
the story of treason and a love, of many good fights, a few mistakes, and
a good death at the last.”—_The Boston Transcript._

=The Fair Maid of Greystones=

“The plot of _The Fair Maid of Greystones_ is not unworthy of Weyman
at his best. This is strong praise, but it is deserved. From the
moment Jack Hetherington, the Cavalier volunteer, assumes the identity
of his blackguard cousin, and thus escapes certain death to face the
responsibility for his kinsman’s dark deeds, until the end, which
is sanely happy, the adventure never flags. This is one of the few
historical novels in whose favor an exception may well be made by those
who long since lost interest in the school.”—_New York Mail._



Mr. CHARLES MAJOR’S NOVELS

_Each, in decorated cloth binding, $1.50_


=Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall.= Illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy

“Dorothy is a splendid creation, a superb creature of brains, beauty,
force, capacity, and passion, a riot of energy, love, and red blood. She
is the fairest, fiercest, strongest, tenderest heroine that ever woke up
a jaded novel reader and made him realize that life will be worth living
so long as the writers of fiction create her like.… The story has brains,
‘go,’ virility, gumption, and originality.”—_The Boston Herald._

=A Forest Hearth.= A Romance of Indiana in the Thirties. Illustrated

“This work is a novel full of charm and action, picturing the life and
love of the fascinating indomitably adventurous men and women, boys and
girls, who developed Indiana. It is a vigorous, breezy, outdoor book,
with the especial intimate touch that is possible only when the subject
is one which has long lain close to its author’s heart.”—_Daily News._

=Yolanda, Maid of Burgundy= Illustrated

“Charles Major has done the best work of his life in Yolanda. The volume
is a genuine romance … and after the reviewer has become surfeited with
problem novels, it is like coming out into the sunlight to read the
fresh, sweet story of her love for Max.”—_The World To-day._



Mr. JOHN OXENHAM’S NOVEL


=The Long Road= With frontispiece

_Cloth, decorated cover, $1.50_

“Not since Robert Louis Stevenson has there appeared a writer of English
who can so thoroughly serve his turn with simple Anglo-Saxon phrases …
invested with sympathetic interest, convincing sincerity, and indefinable
charm of romance.”—_North American._

“It is original both in plot and in treatment, and its skilful mingling
of idyllic beauty and tragedy plays curious tricks with one’s emotions …
and leaves an impression of happiness and spiritual uplift. It is a story
that any man or woman will be the better for reading.”—_Record-Herald_,
Chicago.



Mr. MAURICE HEWLETT’S NOVELS

_Each, in decorated cloth covers, $1.50_


=The Forest Lovers=

“The book is a joy to read and to remember, a source of clean and
pure delight to the spiritual sense, a triumph of romance reduced to
the essentials, and interpreted with a mastery of expression that is
well-nigh beyond praise.”—_The Dial._

=The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay=

“Mr. Hewlett has done one of the most notable things in recent literature
a thing to talk about with bated breath, as a bit of master-craftsmanship
touched by the splendid dignity of real creation.”—_The Interior._

=The Queen’s Quair=

“_The Queen’s Quair_ is, from every point of view, a notable contribution
to historical portraiture in its subtlety, its vividness of color,
its consistency, and its fascination.… Above all, it is intensely
interesting.”—_The Outlook._

=The Fool Errant=

“It is full of excellent description, of amusing characters, and of
picaresque adventure brilliantly related … with infinite humor and
vivacity.”—_The New York Herald._

=Little Novels of Italy=

“These singularly romantic stories are so true to their locality that
they read almost like translations.”—_New York Times._

=New Canterbury Tales=

“In the key and style of the author’s _Little Novels of Italy_, it shows
again the brilliant qualities of that remarkable book; … daring but
successful.”—_New York Tribune._





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