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A LADY OF QUALITY
Being a most curioushitherto unknown
historyas related by Mr. Isaac Bickerstaff
but not presented to the World of
Fashion through the pages of
The Tatlerand now for the
first time written down
Francis Hodgson Burnett
Were Nature just to Man from his first hourhe need not ask for
Mercy; then 'tis for us--the toys of Nature--to be both just and
mercifulfor so only can the wrongs she does be undone.
CHAPTER I--The twenty-fourth day of November 1690
On a wintry morning at the close of 1690the sun shining faint and
red through a light fogthere was a great noise of baying dogs
loud voicesand trampling of horses in the court-yard at Wildairs
Hall; Sir Jeoffry being about to go forth a-huntingand being a man
with a choleric temper and bigloud voiceand given to oaths and
noise even when in good-humourhis riding forth with his friends at
any time was attended with boisterous commotion. This morning it
was more so than usualfor he had guests with him who had come to
his house the day beforeand had supped late and drunk deeply
whereby the day found themsome with headachessome with a nausea
at their stomachsand some only in an evil humour which made them
curse at their horses when they were restlessand break into loud
surly laughs when a coarse joke was made. There were many such
jokesSir Jeoffry and his boon companions being renowned throughout
the county for the freedom of their conversation as for the scandal
of their pastimesand this day 'twas well indeedas their loudvoiced
oath-besprinkled jests rang out on the cold airthat there
were no ladies about to ride forth with them.
'Twas Sir Jeoffry who was louder than any otherhe having drunk
even deeper than the restand though 'twas his boast that he could
carry a bottle more than any manand see all his guests under the
tablehis last night's bout had left him in ill-humour and
boisterous. He strode aboutcasting oaths at the dogs and rating
the servantsand when he mounted his big black horse 'twas amid
such a clamour of voices and baying hounds that the place was like
He was a large man of florid good looksblack eyesand full habit
of bodyand had been much renowned in his youth for his great
strengthwhich was indeed almost that of a giantand for his deeds
of prowess in the saddle and at the table when the bottle went
round. There were many evil stories of his roysteringsbut it was
not his way to think of them as evilbut rather to his credit as a
man of the worldforwhen he heard that they were gossiped about
he greeted the information with a loud triumphant laugh. He had
marriedwhen she was fifteenthe blooming toast of the countyfor
whom his passion had long died outhaving indeed departed with the
honeymoonwhich had been of the briefestand afterwards he having
borne her a grudge for what he chose to consider her undutiful
conduct. This grudge was founded on the fact thatthough she had
presented him each year since their marriage with a childafter
nine years had passed none had yet been sonsandas he was
bitterly at odds with his next of kinhe considered each of his
offspring an ill turn done him.
He spent but little time in her societyfor she was a poorgentle
creature of no spiritwho found little happiness in her lotsince
her lord treated her with scant civilityand her children one after
another sickened and died in their infancy until but two were left.
He scarce remembered her existence when he did not see her faceand
he was certainly not thinking of her this morninghaving other
things in viewand yet it so fell out thatwhile a groom was
shortening a stirrup and being sworn at for his awkwardnesshe by
accident cast his eye upward to a chamber window peering out of the
thick ivy on the stone. Doing so he saw an old woman draw back the
curtain and look down upon him as if searching for him with a
He uttered an exclamation of anger.
Damnation! Mother Posset again,he said. "What does she there
The curtain fell and the woman disappearedbut in a few minutes
more an unheard-of thing happened--among the servants in the hall
the same old woman appeared making her way with a hurried
fretfulnessand she descended haltingly the stone steps and came to
his side where he sat on his black horse.
The Devil!he exclaimed--"what are you here for? 'Tis not time
for another wench upstairssurely?"
'Tis not time,answered the old nurse acidlytaking her tone from
his own. "But there is onebut an hour oldand my lady--"
Be damned to her!quoth Sir Jeoffry savagely. "A ninth one--and
'tis nine too many. 'Tis more than man can bear. She does it but
to spite me."
'Tis ill treatment for a gentleman who wants an heir,the old
woman answeredas disrespectful of his spouse as he wasbeing a
time-serving croneand knowing that it paid but poorly to coddle
women who did not as their husbands would have them in the way of
offspring. "It should have been a fine boybut it is notand my
Damn her puling tricks!said Sir Jeoffry againpulling at his
horse's bit until the beast reared.
She would not let me rest until I came to you,said the nurse
resentfully. "She would have you told that she felt strangelyand
before you went forth would have a word with you."
I cannot come, and am not in the mood for it if I could,was his
answer. "What folly does she give way to? This is the ninth time
she hath felt strangelyand I have felt as squeamish as she--but
nine is more than I have patience for."
She is light-headed, mayhap,said the nurse. "She lieth huddled
in a heapstaring and mutteringand she would leave me no peace
till I promised to say to you'For the sake of poor little Daphne
whom you will sure remember.' She pinched my hand and said it again
Sir Jeoffry dragged at his horse's mouth and swore again.
She was fifteen then, and had not given me nine yellow-faced
wenches,he said. "Tell her I had gone a-hunting and you were too
late;" and he struck his big black beast with the whipand it
bounded away with himhounds and huntsmen and fellow-roysterers
galloping afterhis guestswho had caught at the reason of his
wrathgrinning as they rode.
* * *
In a huge chamber hung with tattered tapestries and barely set forth
with cumbersome pieces of furnishingmy lady lay in a gloomy
canopied bedwith her new-born child at her sidebut not looking
at or touching itseeming rather to have withdrawn herself from the
pillow on which it lay in its swaddling-clothes.
She was but a little ladyand nowas she lay in the large bedher
face and form shrunken and drawn with sufferingshe looked scarce
bigger than a child. In the brief days of her happiness those who
toasted her had called her Titania for her fairy slightness and
delicate beautybut then her fair wavy locks had been of a length
that touched the ground when her woman unbound themand she had had
the colour of a wild rose and the eyes of a tender little fawn. Sir
Jeoffry for a month or so had paid tempestuous court to herand had
so won her heart with his dashing way of love-making and the
daringness of his reputationthat she had thought herself--being
child enough to think so--the luckiest young lady in the world that
his black eye should have fallen upon her with favour. Each year
sincewith the bearing of each childshe had lost some of her
beauty. With each one her lovely hair fell out still moreher
wild-rose colour fadedand her shape was spoiled. She grew thin
and yellowonly a scant covering of the fair hair was left herand
her eyes were big and sunken. Her marriage having displeased her
familyand Sir Jeoffry having a distaste for the ceremonies of
visiting and entertainmentsave where his own cronies were
concernedshe had no friendsand grew lonelier and lonelier as the
sad years went by. She being so without hope and her life so
drearyher children were neither strong nor beautifuland died
quicklyeach one bringing her only the anguish of birth and death.
This wintry morning her ninth lay slumbering by her side; the noise
of baying dogs and boisterous men had died away with the last sound
of the horses' hoofs; the little light which came into the room
through the ivied window was a faint yellowish red; she was cold
because the fire in the chimney was but a scantfailing one; she
was alone--and she knew that the time had come for her death. This
she knew full well.
She was alonebecausebeing so disrespected and deserted by her
lordand being of a timid and gentle natureshe could not command
her insufficient retinue of servantsand none served her as was
their duty. The old woman Sir Jeoffry had dubbed Mother Posset had
been her sole attendant at such times as these for the past five
yearsbecause she would come to her for a less fee than a better
womanand Sir Jeoffry had sworn he would not pay for wenches being
brought into the world. She was a slovenlyguzzling old cronewho
drank caudle from morning till nightand demanded good living as a
support during the performance of her trying duties; but these last
she contrived to make wondrous lightknowing that there was none to
A fine night I have had,she had grumbled when she brought back
Sir Jeoffry's answer to her lady's message. "My old bones are like
to breakand my back will not straighten itself. I will go to the
kitchen to get victuals and somewhat to warm me; your ladyship's own
woman shall sit with you."
Her ladyship's "own woman" was also the sole attendant of the two
little girlsBarbara and Annewhose nursery was in another wing of
the houseand my lady knew full well she would not come if she were
toldand that there would be no message sent to her.
She knewtoothat the fire was going outbutthough she shivered
under the bedclothesshe was too weak to call the woman back when
she saw her depart without putting fresh fuel upon it.
So she lay alonepoor ladyand there was no sound about herand
her thin little mouth began to feebly quiverand her great eyes
which stared at the hangingsto fill with slow cold tearsfor in
sooth they were not warmbut seemed to chill her poor cheeks as
they rolled slowly down themleaving a wet streak behind them which
she was too far gone in weakness to attempt to lift her hand to wipe
Nine times like this,she panted faintlyand 'tis for naught but
oaths and hard words that blame me. I was but a child myself and he
loved me. When 'twas 'My Daphne,' and 'My beauteous little Daphne,'
he loved me in his own man's way. But now--she faintly rolled her
head from side to side. "Women are poor things"--a chill salt tear
sliding past her lips so that she tasted its bitterness--"only to be
kissed for an hourand then like this--only for this and nothing
else. I would that this one had been dead."
Her breath came slower and more pantinglyand her eyes stared more
I was but a child,she whispered--"a child--as--as this will be-if
she lives fifteen years."
Despite her weaknessand it was great and woefully increasing with
each panting breathshe slowly laboured to turn herself towards the
pillow on which her offspring layandthis doneshe lay staring
at the child and gaspingher thin chest rising and falling
convulsively. Ahhow she pantedand how she staredthe glaze of
death stealing slowly over her wide-opened eyes; and yetdimming as
they werethey saw in the sleeping infant a strange and troublous
thing--though it was but a few hours old 'twas not as red and
crumple visaged as new-born infants usually areits little head was
covered with thick black silkand its small features were of
singular definiteness. She dragged herself nearer to gaze.
She looks not like the others,she said. "They had no beauty--and
are safe. She--she will be like--Jeoffry--and like ME."
The dying fire fell lower with a shuddering sound.
If she is--beautiful, and has but her father, and no mother!she
whisperedthe words dragged forth slowlyonly evil can come to
her. From her first hour--she will know naught else, poor heart,
There was a rattling in her throat as she breathedbut in her
glazing eyes a gleam like passion leapedand gaspingshe dragged
'Tis not fair,she cried. "If I--if I could lay my hand upon thy
mouth--and stop thy breathing--thou poor thing'twould be fairer-but--
I have no strength."
She gathered all her dying will and brought her hand up to the
infant's mouth. A wild look was on her poorsmall faceshe panted
and fell forward on its breastthe rattle in her throat growing
louder. The child awakenedopening great black eyesand with her
dying weakness its new-born life struggled. Her cold hand lay upon
I its mouthand her head upon its bodyfor she was too far gone to
move if she had willed to do so. But the tiny creature's strength
was marvellous. It gaspedit foughtits little limbs struggled
beneath herit writhed until the cold hand fell awayand thenits
baby mouth set freeit fell a-shrieking. Its cries were not like
those of a new-born thingbut fierce and shrilland even held the
sound of infant passion. 'Twas not a thing to let its life go
easily'twas of those born to do battle.
Its lusty screaming pierced her ear perhaps--she drew a longslow
breathand then anotherand another still--the last one trembled
and stopped shortand the last cinder fell dead from the fire.
* * *
When the nurse came bustling and fretting backthe chamber was cold
as the grave's self--there were only dead embers on the hearththe
new-born child's cries filled all the desolate airand my lady was
lying stone deadher poor head resting on her offspring's feetthe
while her open glazed eyes seemed to stare at it as if in asking
Fate some awful question.
CHAPTER II--In which Sir Jeoffry encounters his offspring
In a remote wing of the housein barrenill-kept roomsthe poor
infants of the dead lady had struggled through their brief lives
and given them upone after the other. Sir Jeoffry had not wished
to see themnor had he done sobut upon the rarest occasionsand
then nearly always by some untoward accident. The six who had died
even their mother had scarcely wept for; her weeping had been that
they should have been fated to come into the worldand when they
went out of it she knew she need not mourn their going as untimely.
The two who had not perishedshe had regarded sadly day by day
seeing they had no beauty and that their faces promised none.
Naught but great beauty would have excused their existence in their
father's eyesas beauty might have helped them to good matches
which would have rid him of them. But 'twas the sad ill fortune of
the children Anne and Barbara to have been treated by Nature in a
way but niggardly. They were pale young misseswith insignificant
faces and snub nosesresembling an aunt who died a spinsteras
they themselves seemed most likely to. Sir Jeoffry could not bear
the sight of themand they fled at the sound of his footstepsif
it so happened that by chance they heard ithuddling together in
cornersand slinking behind doors or anything big enough to hide
them. They had no playthings and no companions and no pleasures but
such as the innocent invention of childhood contrives for itself.
After their mother's death a youth desolate and strange indeed lay
before them. A spinster who was a poor relation was the only person
of respectable breeding who ever came near them. To save herself
from genteel starvationshe had offered herself for the place of
governess to themthough she was fitted for the position neither by
education nor character. Mistress Margery Wimpole was a poordull
creaturehaving no wilful harm in herbut endowed with neither
dignity nor wit. She lived in fear of Sir Jeoffryand in fear of
the servantswho knew full well that she was an humble dependant
and treated her as one. She hid away with her pupils' in the bare
school-room in the west wingand taught them to spell and write and
work samplers. She herself knew no more.
The child who had cost her mother her life had no happier prospect
than her sisters. Her father felt her more an intruder than they
had beenhe being of the mind that to house and feed and clothe
howsoever poorlythese three burdens on him was a drain scarcely to
be borne. His wife had been a toast and not a fortuneand his
estate not being greathe possessed no more than his drinking
roysteringand gambling made full demands upon.
The child was baptized Clorindaand bredso to speakfrom her
first hourin the garret and the servants' hall. Once only did her
father behold her during her infancywhich event was a mere
accidentas he had expressed no wish to see herand only came upon
her in the nurse's arms some weeks after her mother's death. 'Twas
quite by chance. The womanwho was young and buxomhad begun an
intrigue with a groomand having a mind to see himwas crossing
the stable-yardcarrying her charge with herwhen Sir Jeoffry came
by to visit a horse.
The woman came plump upon himentering a stable as he came out of
it; she gave a frightened startand almost let the child dropat
which it set up a strongshrill cryand thus Sir Jeoffry saw it
and seeing itwas thrown at once into a passion which expressed
itself after the manner of all his emotionand left the nurse
quaking with fear.
Thunder and damnation!he exclaimedas he strode away after the
encounter; "'tis the ugliest yet. A yellow-faced girl bratwith
eyes like an owl's in an ivy-bushand with a voice like a very
peacocks. Another mawkingplain slut that no man will take off my
He did not see her again for six years. But little wit was needed
to learn that 'twas best to keep her out of his sightas her
sisters were keptand this was done without difficultyas he
avoided the wing of the house where the children livedas if it
were stricken with the plague.
But the child Clorindait seemedwas of lustier stock than her
older sistersand this those about her soon found out to their
grievous disturbance. When Mother Posset had drawn her from under
her dead mother's body she had not left shrieking for an hourbut
had kept up her fierce cries until the roof rang with themand the
old woman had jogged her about and beat her back in the hopes of
stifling heruntil she was exhausted and dismayed. For the child
would not be stilledand seemed to have such strength and
persistence in her as surely infant never showed before.
Never saw I such a brat among all I have brought into the world,
old Posset quavered. "She hath the voice of a six-months boy. It
cracks my very ears. Hush theethenthou little wild cat."
This was but the beginning. From the first she grew apaceand in a
few months was a bouncing infantwith a strong backand a power to
make herself heard such as had not before appeared in the family.
When she desired a thingshe yelled and roared with such a vigour
as left no peace for any creature about her until she was humoured
and this being the caserather than have their conversation and
love-making put a stop tothe servants gave her her way. In this
they but followed the example of their bettersof whom we know that
it is not to the most virtuous they submit or to the most learned
but to those whobeing crossedcan conduct themselves in a manner
so disagreeableshrewish or violentthat life is a burden until
they have their will. This the child Clorinda had the infant wit to
discover earlyand having once discovered itshe never ceased to
take advantage of her knowledge. Having found in the days when her
one desire was papthat she had but to roar lustily enough to find
it beside her in her porringershe tried the game upon all other
occasions. When she had reached but a twelvemonthshe stood
stoutly upon her little feetand beat her sisters to gain their
playthingsand her nurse for wanting to change her smock. She was
so easily thrown into furiesand so raged and stamped in her baby
way that she was a sight to beholdand the men-servants found
amusement in badgering her. To set Mistress Clorinda in their midst
on a winter's night when they were dulland to torment her until
her little face grew scarlet with the blood which flew up into it
and she ran from one to the other beating them and screaming like a
young spitfirewas among them a favourite entertainment.
Ifackens!said the butler one nightbut she is as like Sir
Jeoffry in her temper as one pea is like another. Ay, but she grows
blood red just as he does, and curses in her little way as he does
in man's words among his hounds in their kennel.
And she will be of his build, too,said the housekeeper. "What
mishap changed her to a maid instead of a boyI know not. She
would have made a strapping heir. She has the thigh and shoulders
of a handsome man-child at this hourand she is not three years
Sir Jeoffry missed his mark when he called her an ugly brat,said
the woman who had nursed her. "She will be a handsome woman--though
large in buildit may be. She will be a brown beautybut she will
have a colour in her cheeks and lips like the red of Christmas
hollyand her owl's eyes are as black as sloesand have fringes on
them like the curtains of a window. See how her hair grows thick on
her little headand how it curls in great rings. My ladyher poor
motherwas once a beautybut she was no such beauty as this one
will befor she has her father's long limbs and fine shouldersand
the will to make every man look her way."
Yes,said the housekeeperwho was an elderly womanthere will
be doings--there will be doings when she is a ripe young maid. She
will take her way, and God grant she mayn't be TOO like her father
and follow his.
It was true that she had no resemblance to her plain sistersand
bore no likeness to them in character. The two elder childrenAnne
and Barbarawere too meek-spirited to be troublesome; but during
Clorinda's infancy Mistress Margery Wimpole watched her rapid growth
with fear and qualms. She dare not reprove the servants who were
ruining her by their treatmentand whose manners were forming her
own. Sir Jeoffry's servants were no more moral than their master
and being brought up as she was among themtheir young mistress
became strangely familiar with many sights and sounds it is not the
fortune of most young misses of breeding to see and hear. The cooks
and kitchen-wenches were flighty with the grooms and men-servants
and little Mistress Clorindahaving a passion for horses and dogs
spent many an hour in the stables with the women whofor reasons of
their ownwere pleased enough to take her there as an excuse for
seeking amusement for themselves. She played in the kennels and
among the horses' heelsand learned to use oaths as roundly as any
Giles or Tom whose work was to wield the curry comb. It was indeed
a curious thing to hear her red baby mouth pour forth curses and
unseemly words as she would at any one who crossed her. Her temper
and hot-headedness carried all before themand the grooms and
stable-boys found great sport in the language my young lady used in
her innocent furies. But balk her in a whimand she would pour
forth the eloquence of a fish-wife or a lady of easy virtue in a
pot-house quarrel. There was no human creature near her who had
mind or heart enough to see the awfulness of her conditionor to
strive to teach her to check her passions; and in the midst of these
perilous surroundings the little virago grew handsomer and of finer
carriage every houras if on the rank diet that fed her she throve
There came a day at last when she had reached six years oldwhen by
a trick of chance a turn was given to the wheel of her fate.
She had not reached three when a groom first set her on a horse's
back and led her about the stable-yardand she had so delighted in
her exalted positionand had so shouted for pleasure and clutched
her steed's rein and clucked at himthat her audience had looked on
with roars of laughter. From that time she would be put up every
dayand as time went on showed such unchildish courage and spirit
that she furnished to her servant companions a new pastime. Soon
she would not be held onbut riding astride like a boywould sit
up as straight as a man and swear at her horsebeating him with her
heels and little fists if his pace did not suit her. She knew no
fearand would have used a whip so readily that the men did not
dare to trust her with oneand knew they must not mount her on a
steed too mettlesome. By the time she passed her sixth birthday she
could ride as well as a grown manand was as familiar with her
father's horses as he himselfthough he knew nothing of the matter
it being always contrived that she should be out of sight when he
visited his hunters.
It so chanced that the horse he rode the oftenest was her favourite
and many were the tempests of rage she fell into when she went to
the stable to play with the animal and did not find him in his
stallbecause his master had ordered him out. At such times she
would storm at the men in the stable-yard and call them ill names
for their impudence in letting the beast gowhich would cause them
great merrimentas she knew nothing of who the man was who had
balked hersince she wasin truthnot so much as conscious of her
father's existencenever having seen or even heard more of him than
his namewhich she in no manner connected with herself.
Could Sir Jeoffry himself but once see and hear her when she storms
at us and him, because he dares to ride his own beast,one of the
older men said oncein the midst of their laughterI swear he
would burst forth laughing and be taken with her impudent spirit,
her temper is so like his own. She is his own flesh and blood, and
as full of hell-fire as he.
Upon this morning which proved eventful to hershe had gone to the
stablesas was her daily customand going into the stall where the
big black horse was wont to standshe found it empty. Her spirit
rose hot within her in the moment. She clenched her fistsand
began to stamp and swear in such a manner as it would be scarce
fitting to record.
Where is he now?she cried. "He is my own horseand shall not be
ridden. Who is the man who takes him? Who? Who?"
'Tis a fellow who hath no manners,said the man she stormed at
grinning and thrusting his tongue in his cheek. "He says 'tis his
beastand not yoursand he will have him when he chooses."
'Tis not his--'tis mine!shrieked Missher little face inflamed
with passion. "I will kill him! 'Tis my horse. He SHALL be mine!"
For a while the men tormented herto hear her rave and see her
passionforin truththe greater tempest she was inthe better
she was worth beholdinghaving a colour so richand eyes so great
and black and flaming. At such times there was naught of the
feminine in herand indeed always she looked more like a handsome
boy than a girlher growth being for her age extraordinary. At
length a lad who was a helper said to mock her
The man hath him at the door before the great steps now. I saw him
stand there waiting but a moment ago. The man hath gone in the
She turned and ran to find him. The front part of the house she
barely knew the outside ofas she was kept safely in the west wing
and below stairsand when taken out for the air was always led
privately by a side way--never passing through the great hallwhere
her father might chance to encounter her.
She knew best this side-entranceand made her way to itmeaning to
search until she found the front. She got into the houseand her
spirit being rousedmarched boldly through corridors and into rooms
she had never seen beforeand being so mere a child
notwithstanding her strange wilfulness and daringthe novelty of
the things she saw so far distracted her mind from the cause of her
anger that she stopped more than once to stare up at a portrait on a
wallor to take in her hand something she was curious concerning.
When she at last reached the entrance-hallcoming into it through a
door she pushed openusing all her childish strengthshe stood in
the midst of it and gazed about her with a new curiosity and
pleasure. It was a fine placewith antlersand armsand foxes'
brushes hung upon the wallsand with carved panels of black oak
and oaken floor and furnishings. All in it was disorderly and
showed rough usage; but once it had been a notable feature of the
houseand well worth better care than had been bestowed upon it.
She discovered on the walls many trophies that attracted herbut
these she could not reachand could only gaze and wonder at; but on
an old oaken settle she found some things she could lay hands on
and forthwith seized and sat down upon the floor to play with them.
One of them was a hunting-cropwhich she brandished grandlyuntil
she was more taken with a powder-flask which it so happened her
fatherSir Jeoffryhad lain down but a few minutes beforein
passing through. He was going forth coursingand had stepped into
the dining-hall to toss off a bumper of brandy.
When he had helped himself from the buffetand came back in haste
the first thing he clapped eyes on was his offspring pouring forth
the powder from his flask upon the oaken floor. He had never seen
her since that first occasion after the unfortunate incident of her
birthand beholding a child wasting his good powder at the moment
he most wanted it and had no time to spareand also not having had
it recalled to his mind for years that he was a parentexcept when
he found himself forced reluctantly to pay for some small needhe
beheld in the young offender only some impudent servant's bratwho
had strayed into his domain and applied itself at once to mischief.
He sprang upon herand seizing her by the armwhirled her to her
feet with no little violencesnatching the powder-flask from her
and dealing her a sound box on the ear.
Blood and damnation on thee, thou impudent little baggage!he
shouted. "I'll break thy neck for theelittle scurvy beast;" and
pulled the bell as he were like to break the wire.
But he had reckoned falsely on what he dealt with. Miss uttered a
shriek of rage which rang through the roof like a clarion. She
snatched the crop from the floorrushed at himand fell upon him
like a thousand little devilsbeating his big legs with all the
strength of her passionand pouring forth oaths such as would have
done credit to Doll Lightfoot herself.
Damn THEE!--damn THEE!--she roared and screamedflogging him.
I'll tear thy eyes out! I'll cut thy liver from thee! Damn thy
soul to hell!
And this choice volley was with such spirit and fury poured forth
that Sir Jeoffry let his hand drop from the bellfell into a great
burst of laughterand stood thus roaring while she beat him and
shrieked and stormed.
The servantshearing the jangled bellattracted by the tumultand
of a sudden missing Mistress Clorindaran in consternation to the
halland there beheld this truly pretty sight--Miss beating her
father's legsand tearing at him tooth and nailwhile he stood
shouting with laughter as if he would split his sides.
Who is the little cockatrice?he criedthe tears streaming down
his florid cheeks. "Who is the young she-devil? Ods bodikinswho
For a second or so the servants stared at each other aghastnot
knowing what to sayor venturing to utter a word; and then the
nursewho had come up pantingdared to gasp forth the truth.
'Tis Mistress Clorinda, Sir Jeoffry,she stammered--"my lady's
last infant--the one of whom she died in childbed."
His big laugh broke in twoas one might say. He looked down at the
young fury and stared. She was out of breath with beating himand
had ceased and fallen back apaceand was staring up at him also
breathing defiance and hatred. Her big black eyes were flamesher
head was thrown up and backher cheeks were blood scarletand her
great crop of crow-black hair stood out about her beauteouswicked
little virago faceas if it might change into Medusa's snakes.
Damn thee!she shrieked at him again. "I'll kill theedevil!"
Sir Jeoffry broke into his big laugh afresh.
Clorinda do they call thee, wench?he said. "Jeoffry thou
shouldst have been but for thy mother's folly. A fiercer little
devil for thy size I never saw--nor a handsomer one."
And he seized her from where she stoodand held her at his big
arms' lengthgazing at her uncanny beauty with looks that took her
in from head to foot.
CHAPTER III--Wherein Sir Jeoffry's boon companions drink a toast
Her beauty of faceher fine bodyher strength of limband great
growth for her agewould have pleased him if she had possessed no
other attractionbut the daring of her fury and her stable-boy
breeding so amused him and suited his roystering tastes that he took
to her as the finest plaything in the world.
He set her on the floorforgetting his coursingand would have
made friends with herbut at first she would have none of himand
scowled at him in spite of all he did. The brandy by this time had
mounted to his head and put him in the mood for frolicliquor
oftenest making him gamesome. He felt as if he were playing with a
young dog or marking the spirit of a little fighting cock. He
ordered the servants back to their kitchenwho stole awaythe
women amazedand the men concealing grins which burst forth into
guffaws of laughter when they came into their hall below.
'Tis as we said,they chuckled. "He had but to see her beauty and
find her a bigger devil than heand 'twas done. The mettle of her-
damning and flogging him! Never was there a finer sight! She
feared him no more than if he had been a spaniel--and he roaring and
laughing till he was like to burst."
Dost know who I am?Sir Jeoffry was asking the childgrinning
himself as he stood before her where she sat on the oaken settle on
which he had lifted her.
No,quoth little Mistressher black brows drawn downher
handsome owl's eyes verily seeming to look him through and through
in search of somewhat; forin soothher rage abating before his
jovial humourthe big burly laugher attracted her attentionthough
she was not disposed to show him that she leaned towards any favour
I am thy Dad,he said. "'Twas thy Dad thou gavest such a
trouncing. And thou hast an armtoo. Let's cast an eye on it."
He took her wrist and pushed up her sleevebut she dragged back.
Will not be mauled,she cried. "Get away from me!"
He shouted with laughter again. He had seen that the little arm was
as white and hard as marbleand had such muscles as a great boy
might have been a braggart about.
By Gad!he saidelated. "What a wench of six years old. Wilt
have my crop and trounce thy Dad again!"
He picked up the crop from the place where she had thrown itand
forthwith gave it in her hand. She took itbut was no more in the
humour to beat himand as she looked still frowning from him to the
whipthe latter brought back to her mind the horse she had set out
in search of.
Where is my horse?she saidand 'twas in the tone of an imperial
demand. "Where is he?"
Thy horse!he echoed. "Which is thy horse then?"
Rake is my horse,she answered--"the big black one. The man took
him again;" and she ripped out a few more oaths and unchaste
expressionsthreatening what she would do for the man in question;
the which delighted him more than ever. "Rake is my horse she
ended. None else shall ride him."
None else?cried he. "Thou canst not ride himbaggage!"
She looked at him with scornful majesty.
Where is he?she demanded. And the next instant hearing the
beast's restless feet grinding into the gravel outside as he fretted
at having been kept waiting so longshe remembered what the stableboy
had said of having seen her favourite standing before the door
and struggling and dropping from the settleshe ran to look out;
whereupon having done soshe shouted in triumph.
He is here!she said. "I see him;" and went pell-mell down the
stone steps to his side.
Sir Jeoffry followed her in haste. 'Twould not have been to his
humour now to have her brains kicked out.
Hey!he calledas he hurried. "Keep away from his heelsthou
But she had run to the big beast's head with another shoutand
caught him round his foreleglaughingand Rake bent his head down
and nosed her in a fumbling caresson whichthe bridle coming
within her reachshe seized it and held his head that she might pat
himto which familiarity the beast was plainly well accustomed.
He is my horse,quoth she grandly when her father reached her.
He will not let Giles play so.
Sir Jeoffry gazed and swelled with pleasure in her.
Would have said 'twas a lie if I had not seen it,he said to
himself. "'Tis no girl thisI swear. I thought 'twas my horse
he said to her, but 'tis plain enough he is thine."
Put me up!said his new-found offspring.
Hast rid him before?Sir Jeoffry askedwith some lingering
misgiving. "Tell thy Dad if thou hast rid him."
She gave him a look askance under her long fringed lids--a surly yet
half-slyly relenting lookbecause she wanted to get her way of him
and had the cunning wit and shrewdness of a child witch.
Ay!quoth she. "Put me up--Dad!"
He was not a man of quick mindhis brain having been too many years
bemuddled with drinkbut he had a rough instinct which showed him
all the wondrous shrewdness of her casting that last word at him to
wheedle himeven though she looked sullen in the saying it. It
made him roar again for very exultation.
Put me up, Dad!he cried. "That will I--and see what thou wilt
He lifted hershe springing as he set his hands beneath her arms
and flinging her legs over astride across the saddle when she
reached it. She was all fire and excitementand caught the reins
like an old huntsmanand with such a grasp as was amazing. She sat
up with a straightstrong backher whole face glowing and
sparkling with exultant joy. Rake seemed to answer to her excited
little laugh almost as much as to her hand. It seemed to wake his
spirit and put him in good-humour. He started off with her down the
avenue at a lightspirited trotwhile sheclinging with her
little legs and sitting firm and fearlessmade him change into
canter and gallophaving actually learned all his paces like a
lessonand knowing his mouth as did his groomwho was her familiar
and slave. Had she been of the build ordinary with children of her
ageshe could not have stayed upon his back; but she sat him like a
child jockeyand Sir Jeoffrywatching and following herclapped
his hands boisterously and hallooed for joy.
Lord, Lord!he said. "There's not a man in the shire has such
another little devil--and Rake'her horse'" grinning--"and she to
ride him so. I love theewench--hang me if I do not!"
She made him play with her and with Rake for a good hourand then
took him back to the stablesand there ordered him about finely
among the dogs and horsesperceiving that somehow this great man
she had got hold of was a creature who was in power and could be
made use of.
When they returned to the househe had her to eat her mid-day meal
with himwhen she called for aleand drank itand did good
trencher dutymaking him the while roar with laughter at her
Never have I so split my sides since I was twenty,he said. "It
makes me young again to roar so. She shall not leave my sight
since by chance I have found her. 'Tis too good a joke to lose
when times are dullas they get to be as a man's years go on."
He sent for her woman and laid strange new commands on her.
Where hath she hitherto been kept?he asked.
In the west wing, where are the nurseries, and where Mistress
Wimpole abides with Mistress Barbara and Mistress Anne,the woman
answeredwith a frightened curtsey.
Henceforth she shall live in this part of the house where I do,he
said. "Make ready the chambers that were my lady'sand prepare to
stay there with her."
From that hour the child's fate was sealed. He made himself her
playfellowand romped with and indulged her until she became fonder
of him than of any groom or stable-boy she had been companions with
before. Butindeedshe had never been given to bestowing much
affection on those around herseeming to feel herself too high a
personage to show softness. The ones she showed most favour to were
those who served her best; and even to them it was always FAVOUR she
showednot tenderness. Certain dogs and horses she was fond of
Rake coming nearest to her heartand the place her father won in
her affections was somewhat like to Rake's. She made him her
servant and tyrannised over himbut at the same time followed and
imitated him as if she had been a young spaniel he was training.
The life the child ledit would have broken a motherly woman's
heart to hear about; but there was no good woman near herher
mother's relativesand even Sir Jeoffry's ownhaving cut
themselves off early from them--Wildairs Hall and its master being
no great credit to those having the misfortune to be connected with
them. The neighbouring gentry had gradually ceased to visit the
family some time before her ladyship's deathand since then the
only guests who frequented the place were a circle of hunting
drinkingand guzzling boon companions of Sir Jeoffry's ownwho
joined him in all his carousals and debaucheries.
To these he announced his discovery of his daughter with tumultuous
delight. He told themamid storms of laughterof his first
encounter with her; of her flogging him with his own cropand
cursing him like a trooper; of her claiming Rake as her own horse
and swearing at the man who had dared to take him from the stable to
ride; and of her sitting him like an infant jockeyand seemingby
some strange powerto have mastered him as no other had been able
heretofore to do. Then he had her brought into the dining-room
where they sat over their bottles drinking deepand setting her on
the tablehe exhibited her to themboasting of her beautyshowing
them her splendid arm and leg and thighmeasuring her heightand
exciting her to test the strength of the grip of her hand and the
power of her little fist.
Saw you ever a wench like her?he criedas they all shouted with
laughter and made jokes not too politebut such as were of the sole
kind they were given to. "Has any man among you begot a boy as big
and handsome? Hang me! if she would not knock down any lad of ten
if she were in a fury."
We wild dogs are out of favour with the women,cried one of the
best pleased among thema certain Lord Eldershawewhose seat was a
few miles from Wildairs Hall--"women like nincompoops and chaplains.
Let us take this one for our toastand bring her up as girls should
be brought up to be companions for men. I give youMistress
Clorinda Wildairs--Mistress Clorindathe enslaver of six years old-
And they set her in the very midst of the big table and drank her
healthstandingbursting into a jovialribald song; and the
childexcited by the noise and laughteractually broke forth and
joined them in a highstrong treblethe song being one she was
quite familiar withhaving heard it often enough in the stable to
have learned the words pat.
* * *
Two weeks after his meeting with herSir Jeoffry was seized with
the whim to go up to London and set her forth with finery. 'Twas
but rarely he went up to townhaving neither money to wastenor
finding great attraction in the more civilised quarters of the
world. He brought her back such clothes as for richness and odd
unsuitable fashion child never wore before. There were brocades
that stood alone with splendour of fabricthere was rich lacefine
linenribbandsfarthingalesswansdown tippetsand little
slippers with high red heels. He had a wardrobe made for her such
as the finest lady of fashion could scarcely boastand the tiny
creature was decked out in itand on great occasions even strung
with her dead mother's jewels.
Among these strange thingshe had the fantastical notion to have
made for her several suits of boy's clothes: pink and blue satin
coatslittle whiteor amberor blue satin breechesruffles of
laceand waistcoats embroidered with colours and silver or gold.
There was also a small scarlet-coated hunting costume and all the
paraphernalia of the chase. It was Sir Jeoffry's finest joke to bid
her woman dress her as a boyand then he would have her brought to
the table where he and his fellows were dining togetherand she
would toss off her little bumper with the best of themand rip out
childish oathsand sing themto their delightsongs she had
learned from the stable-boys. She cared more for dogs and horses
than for fineryand when she was not in the humour to be made a
puppet ofneither tire-woman nor devil could put her into her
brocades; but she liked the excitement of the dining-roomandas
time went onwould be dressed in her flowered petticoats in a
passion of eagerness to go and show herselfand coquet in her lace
and gewgaws with men old enough to be her fatherand loose enough
to find her premature airs and graces a fine joke indeed. She ruled
them all with her temper and her shrewish will. She would have her
way in all thingsor there should be no sport with herand she
would sing no songs for thembut would flout them bitterlyand sit
in a great chair with her black brows drawn downand her whole
small person breathing rancour and disdain.
Sir Jeoffrywho had bullied his wifehad now the pleasurable
experience of being henpecked by his daughter; for soindeedhe
was. Miss ruled him with a rod of ironand wielded her weapon with
such skill that before a year had elapsed he obeyed her as the
servants below stairs had done in her infancy. She had no fear of
his great oathsfor she possessed a strangely varied stock of her
own upon which she could always drawand her voice being more
shrill than hisif not of such bignessher ear-piercing shrieks
and indomitable perseverance always proved too much for him in the
end. It must be admitted likewise that her violence of temper and
power of will were somewhat beyond his ownnotwithstanding her
tender years and his reputation. In facthe found himself obliged
to observe thisand finally made something of a merit and joke of
There is no managing of the little shrew,he would say. "Neither
man nor devil can bend or break her. If I smashed every bone in her
carcassshe would die shrieking hell at me and defiance."
If one admits the truthit must be owned that if she had not had
bestowed upon her by nature gifts of beauty and vivacity so
extraordinaryand had been cursed with a thousandth part of the
vixenishness she displayed every day of her lifehe would have
broken every bone in her carcass without a scruple or a qualm. But
her beauty seemed but to grow with every hour that passedand it
was by exceeding good fortune exactly the fashion of beauty which he
admired the most. When she attained her tenth year she was as tall
as a fine boy of twelveand of such a shape and carriage as young
Diana herself might have envied. Her limbs were longand most
divinely mouldedand of a strength that caused admiration and
amazement in all beholders. Her father taught her to follow him in
the hunting-fieldand when she appeared upon her horseclad in her
little breeches and top-boots and scarlet coatchild though she
wasshe set the field on fire. She learned full early how to
coquet and roll her fine eyes; but it is also true that she was not
much of a languisheras all her ogling was of a destructive or
proudly-attacking kind. It was her habit to leave others to
languishand herself to lead them with disdainful vivacity to doing
so. She was the talkandit must be admittedthe scandalof the
county by the day she was fifteen. The part wherein she lived was a
boisterous hunting shire where there were wide ditches and high
hedges to leapand rough hills and moors to gallop overand within
the region neither polite life nor polite education were much
thought of; but even in the worst portions of it there were
occasional virtuous matrons who shook their heads with much gravity
and wonder over the beautiful Mistress Clorinda.
CHAPTER IV--Lord Twemlow's chaplain visits his patron's kinsmanand
Mistress Clorinda shines on her birthday night
Uncivilised and almost savage as her girlish life wasand
unregulated by any outward training as was her mindthere were none
who came in contact with her who could be blind to a certain strong
clear witand unconquerableness of purposefor which she was
remarkable. She ever knew full well what she desired to gain or to
avoidand once having fixed her mind upon any objectshe showed an
adroitness and brilliancy of resourcea control of herself and
othersthe which there was no circumventing. She never made a
blunder because she could not control the expression of her
emotions; and when she gave way to a passion'twas because she
chose to do sohaving naught to loseand in the midst of all their
riotous jesting with her the boon companions of Sir Jeoffry knew
Had she a secret to keep, child though she is,said Eldershawe
there is none--man or woman--who could scare or surprise it from
her; and 'tis a strange quality to note so early in a female
She spent her days with her father and his dissolute friends
treated half like a boyhalf a fantastical queenuntil she was
fourteen. She hunted and coursedshot birdsleaped hedges and
ditchesreigned at the riotous feastingsand coquetted with these
matureand in some cases elderlymenas if she looked forward to
doing naught else all her life.
But one dayafter she had gone out hunting with her fatherriding
Rakewho had been given to herand wearing her scarlet coat
breechesand top-bootsone of the few remaining members of her
mother's family sent his chaplain to remonstrate and advise her
father to command her to forbear from appearing in such impudent
There wasindeeda stirring scene when this message was delivered
by its bearer. The chaplain was an awkwardtimid creaturewho had
heard stories enough of Wildairs Hall and its master to undertake
his mission with a quaking soul. To have refused to obey any behest
of his patron would have cost him his livingand knowing this
beyond a doubthe was forced to gird up his loins and gather
together all the little courage he could muster to beard the lion in
The first thing he beheld on entering the big hall was a beautiful
tall youth wearing his own rich black hairand dressed in scarlet
coat for hunting. He was playing with a dogmaking it leap over
his cropand both laughing and swearing at its clumsiness. He
glanced at the chaplain with a laughingbrilliant eyereturning
the poor man's humble bow with a slight nod as he plainly hearkened
to what he said as he explained his errand.
I come from my Lord Twemlow, who is your master's kinsman,the
chaplain faltered; "I am bidden to see and speak to him if it be
possibleand his lordship much desires that Sir Jeoffry will allow
it to be so. My Lord Twemlow--"
The beautiful youth left his playing with the dog and came forward
with all the air of the young master of the house.
My Lord Twemlow sends you?he said. "'Tis long since his lordship
favoured us with messages. Where is Sir JeoffryLovatt?"
In the dining-hall,answered the servant. "He went there but a
The chaplain gave such a start as made him drop his shovel hat.
Mistress!And this was she--this fine young creature who was tall
and grandly enough built and knit to seem a radiant being even when
clad in masculine attire. He picked up his hat and bowed so low
that it almost swept the floor in his obeisance. He was not used to
female beauty which deigned to cast great smiling eyes upon himfor
at my Lord Twemlow's table he sat so far below the salt that women
looked not his way.
This beauty looked at him as if she was amused at the thought of
something in her own mind. He wondered tremblingly if she guessed
what he came for and knew how her father would receive it.
Come with me,she said; "I will take you to him. He would not see
you if I did not. He does not love his lordship tenderly enough."
She led the wayholding her head jauntily and highwhile he cast
down his eyes lest his gaze should be led to wander in a way
unseemly in one of his cloth. Such a foot and such--! He felt it
more becoming and safer to lift his eyes to the ceiling and keep
them therewhich gave him somewhat the aspect of one praying.
Sir Jeoffry stood at the buffet with a flagon of ale in his hand
taking his stirrup cup. At the sight of a stranger and one attired
in the garb of a chaplainhe scowled surprisedly.
What's this?quoth he. "What dost wantClo? I have no leisure
for a sermon."
Mistress Clorinda went to the buffet and filled a tankard for
herself and carried it back to the tableon the edge of which she
half satwith one leg bentone foot resting on the floor.
Time thou wilt have to take, Dad,she saidwith an arch grin
showing two rows of gleaming pearls. "This gentleman is my Lord
Twemlow's chaplainwhom he sends to exhort yourequesting you to
have the civility to hear him."
Exhort be damned, and Twemlow be damned too!cried Sir Jeoffry
who had a great quarrel with his lordship and hated him bitterly.
What does the canting fool mean?
Sir,faltered the poor message-bearerhis lordship hath--hath
been concerned--having heard--
The handsome creature balanced against the table took the tankard
from her lips and laughed.
Having heard thy daughter rides to field in breeches, and is an
unseemly-behaving wench,she criedhis lordship sends his
chaplain to deliver a discourse thereon--not choosing to come
himself. Is not that thy errand, reverend sir?
The chaplainpoor manturned palehaving caughtas she spokea
glimpse of Sir Jeoffry's reddening visage.
Madam,he falteredbowing--"MadamI ask pardon of you most
humbly! If it were your pleasure to deign to--to--allow me--"
She set the tankard on the table with a rollicking smackand thrust
her hands in her breeches-pocketsswaying with laughter; and
indeed'twas ringing musicher rich great laughwhichwhen she
grew of riper yearswas much lauded and written verses on by her
If 'twere my pleasure to go away and allow you to speak, free from
the awkwardness of a young lady's presence,she said. "But 'tis
notas it happensand if I stay hereI shall be a protection."
In truthhe required one. Sir Jeoffry broke into a torrent of
blasphemy. He damned both kinsman and chaplainand raged at the
impudence of both in daring to approach himswearing to horsewhip
my lord if they ever metand to have the chaplain kicked out of the
houseand beyond the park gates themselves. But Mistress Clorinda
chose to make it her whim to take it in better humourand as a joke
with a fine point to it. She laughed at her father's stormingand
while the chaplain quailed before it with pallid countenance and
fairly hang-dog lookshe seemed to find it but a cause for
outbursts of merriment.
Hold thy tongue a bit, Dad,she criedwhen he had reached his
loudestand let his reverence tell us what his message is. We
have not even heard it.
Want not to hear it!shouted Sir Jeoffry. "Dost think I'll stand
his impudence? Not I!"
What was your message?demanded the young lady of the chaplain.
You cannot return without delivering it. Tell it to me. I choose
it shall be told.
The chaplain clutched and fumbled with his hatpaleand dropping
his eyes upon the floorfor very fear.
Pluck up thy courage, man,said Clorinda. "I will uphold thee.
Your pardon, Madam--'twas this,the chaplain faltered. "My lord
commanded me to warn your honoured father--that if he did not beg
you to leave off wearing--wearing--"
Breeches,said Mistress Clorindaslapping her knee.
The chaplain blushed with modestythough he was a man of sallow
No gentleman,he went ongoing more lamely at each word-"
notwithstanding your great beauty--no gentleman--"
Would marry me?the young lady ended for himwith merciful goodhumour.
For if you--if a young lady be permitted to bear herself in such a
manner as will cause her to be held lightly, she can make no match
that will not be a dishonour to her family--and--and--
And may do worse!quoth Mistress Cloand laughed until the room
Sir Jeoffry's rage was such as made him like to burst; but she
restrained him when he would have flung his tankard at the
chaplain's headand amid his storm of curses bundled the poor man
out of the roompicking up his hat which in his hurry and fright he
let falland thrusting it into his hand.
Tell his lordship,she saidlaughing still as she spoke the final
wordsthat I say he is right--and I will see to it that no
disgrace befalls him.
Forsooth, Dad,she saidreturningperhaps the old son of a---something
unmannerly--"is not so great a fool. As for meI mean to
make a fine marriage and be a great ladyand I know of none
hereabouts to suit me but the old Earl of Dunstanwoldeand 'tis
said he rates at all but modest womenandin faithhe might not
find breeches mannerly. I will not hunt in them again."
She did notthough once or twice when she was in a wild moodand
her father entertained at dinner those of his companions whom she
was the most inclined toshe swaggered in among them in her
daintiest suits of male attireand caused their wine-shot eyes to
gloat over her boyish-maiden charms and jaunty airs and graces.
On the night of her fifteenth birthday Sir Jeoffry gave a great
dinner to his boon companions and hers. She had herself commanded
that there should be no ladies at the feast; for she chose to
announce that she should appear at no more suchhaving the wit to
see that she was too tall a young lady for childish folliesand
that she had now arrived at an age when her market must be made.
I shall have women enough henceforth to be dull with,she said.
Thou art but a poor match-maker, Dad, or wouldst have thought of it
for me. But not once has it come into thy pate that I have no
mother to angle in my cause and teach me how to cast sheep's eyes at
bachelors. Long-tailed petticoats from this time for me, and hoops
and patches, and ogling over fans--until at last, if I play my cards
well, some great lord will look my way and be taken by my shape and
With thy shape, Clo, God knows every man will,laughed Sir
Jeoffrybut I fear me not with thy manners. Thou hast the manners
of a baggage, and they are second nature to thee.
They are what I was born with,answered Mistress Clorinda. "They
came from him that begot meand he has not since improved them.
But now"--making a great sweeping curtseyher impudent bright
beauty almost dazzling his eyes--"nowafter my birth-nightthey
will be bettered; but this one night I will have my last fling."
When the men trooped into the black oak wainscotted dining-hall on
the eventful nightthey found their audacious young hostess
awaiting them in greater and more daring beauty than they had ever
before beheld. She wore knee-breeches of white satina pink satin
coat embroidered with silver roseswhite silk stockingsand shoes
with great buckles of brilliantsrevealing a leg so round and
strong and delicately mouldedand a foot so arched and slenderas
surely never beforethey swore one and allwoman had had to
display. She met them standing jauntily astride upon the hearth
her back to the fireand she greeted each one as he came with some
pretty impudence. Her hair was tied back and powderedher black
eyes were like lodestarsdrawing all menand her colour was that
of a ripe pomegranate. She had a finehaughty little Roman nosea
mouth like a scarlet bowa wonderful long throatand round cleft
chin. A dazzling mien indeed she possessedand ready enough she
was to shine before them. Sir Jeoffry was now elderlyhaving been
a man of forty when united to his conjugal companion. Most of his
friends were of his own ageso that it had not been with unripe
youth Mistress Clorinda had been in the habit of consorting. But
upon this night a newcomer was among the guests. He was a young
relation of one of the older menand having come to his kinsman's
house upon a visitand having proved himselfin spite of his
youthto be a young fellow of humourhigh courage in the huntingfield
and by no means averse either to entering upon or discussing
intrigue and gallant adventurehad made himself something of a
favourite. His youthful beauty for a man almost equalled that of
Mistress Clorinda herself. He had an elegantfine shapeof great
strength and vigourhis countenance was delicately ruddy and
handsomely featuredhis curling fair hair flowed loose upon his
shouldersandthough masculine in mouldhis ankle was as slender
and his buckled shoe as arched as her own.
He wasit is truetwenty-four years of age and a manwhile she
was but fifteen and a womanbut being so tall and built with such
unusual vigour of symmetryshe was a beauteous match for himand
both being attired in fashionable masculine habitthese two pretty
young fellows standing smiling saucily at each other were a
This young man was already well known in the modish world of town
for his beauty and adventurous spirit. He was indeed already a beau
and conqueror of female hearts. It was suspected that he cherished
a private ambition to set the modes in beauties and embroidered
waistcoats himself in timeand be as renowned abroad and as much
the town talk as certain other celebrated beaux had been before him.
The art of ogling tenderly and of uttering soft nothings he had
learned during his first season in townand as he had a great
melting blue eyethe figure of an Adonisand a white and shapely
hand for a ringhe was well equipped for conquest. He had darted
many an inflaming glance at Mistress Clorinda before the first meats
were removed. Even in London he had heard a vague rumour of this
handsome young womanbred among her father's dogshorsesand boon
companionsand ripening into a beauty likely to make town faces
pale. He had almost fallen into the spleen on hearing that she had
left her boy's clothes and vowed she would wear them no moreas
above all things he had desired to see how she carried them and what
charms they revealed. On hearing from his host and kinsman that she
had said that on her birth-night she would bid them farewell for
ever by donning them for the last timehe was consumed with
eagerness to obtain an invitation. This his kinsman besought for
himandbehold! the first glance the beauty shot at him pierced
his inflammable bosom like a dart. Never before had it been his
fortune to behold female charms so dazzling and eyes of such lustre
and young majesty. The lovely baggage had a saucy way of standing
with her white jewelled hands in her pockets like a pretty fopand
throwing up her little head like a modish beauty who was of royal
blood; and these two tricks alonehe feltmight have set on fire
the heart of a man years older and colder than himself.
If she had been of the order of soft-natured charmersthey would
have fallen into each other's eyes before the wine was changed; but
this Mistress Clorinda was not. She did not fear to meet the full
battery of his enamoured glancesbut she did not choose to return
them. She played her part of the pretty young fellow who was a
high-spirited beautywith more of wit and fire than she had ever
played it before. The rollicking hunting-squireswho had been her
play-fellows so longdevoured her with their delighted glances and
roared with laughter at her sallies. Their jokes and flatteries
were not of the most seemlybut she had not been bred to seemliness
and modestyand was no more ignorant than if she had beenin
soothsome gay young springald of a lad. To her it was part of the
entertainment that upon this last night they conducted themselves as
beseemed her boyish masquerading. Though country-bredshe had
lived among companions who were men of the world and lived without
restraintsand she had so far learned from them that at fifteen
years old she was as worldly and as familiar with the devices of
intrigue as she would be at forty. So far she had not been pushed
to practising themher singular life having thrown her among few of
her own ageand those had chanced to be of a sort she disdainfully
counted as country bumpkins.
But the young gallant introduced to-night into the world she lived
in was no bumpkinand was a dandy of the town. His name was Sir
John Oxonand he had just come into his title and a pretty
property. His hands were as white and bejewelled as her ownhis
habit was of the latest fashionable cutand his fair flowing locks
scattered a delicate French perfume she did not even know the name
But though she observed all these attractions and found them
powerfulyoung Sir John remarkedwith a slight sinking qualmthat
her great eye did not fall before his amorous glancesbut met them
with high smiling readinessand her colour never blanched or
heightened a whit for all their masterly skilfulness. But he had
sworn to himself that he would approach close enough to her to fire
off some fine speech before the night was endedand he endeavoured
to bear himself with at least an outward air of patience until he
beheld his opportunity.
When the last dish was removed and bottles and bumpers stood upon
the boardshe sprang up on her chair and stood before them all
smiling down the long table with eyes like flashing jewels. Her
hands were thrust in her pockets--with her pretty young fop's air
and she drew herself to her full comely heighther beauteous lithe
limbs and slender feet set smartly together. Twenty pairs of
masculine eyes were turned upon her beautybut none so ardently as
the young one's across the table.
Look your last on my fine shape,she proclaimed in her highrich
voice. "You will see but little of the lower part of it when it is
hid in farthingales and petticoats. Look your last before I go to
don my fine lady's furbelows."
And when they filled their glasses and lifted them and shouted
admiring jests to hershe broke into one of her stable-boy songs
and sang it in the voice of a skylark.
No man among them was used to showing her the courtesies of polite
breeding. She had been too long a boy to them for that to have
entered any mindand when she finished her songsprang downand
made for the doorSir John beheld his long-looked-for chanceand
was there before her to open it with a great bowmade with his hand
upon his heart and his fair locks falling.
You rob us of the rapture of beholding great beauties, Madam,he
said in a lowimpassioned voice. "But there should be indeed but
ONE happy man whose bliss it is to gaze upon such perfections."
I am fifteen years old to-night,she answered; "and as yet I have
not set eyes upon him."
How do you know that, madam?he saidbowing lower still.
She laughed her great rich laugh.
Forsooth, I do not know,she retorted. "He may be here this very
night among this company; and as it might be soI go to don my
And she bestowed on him a parting shot in the shape of one of her
prettiest young fop waves of the handand was gone from him.
* * *
When the door closed behind her and Sir John Oxon returned to the
tablefor a while a sort of dulness fell upon the party. Not being
of quick minds or sentimentsthese country roisterers failed to
understand the heavy cloud of spleen and lack of spirit they
experiencedand as they filled their glasses and tossed off one
bumper after another to cure itthey soon began again to laugh and
fell into boisterous joking.
They talked mostlyindeedof their young playfellowof whom they
feltin some indistinct mannerthey were to be bereft; they
rallied Sir Jeoffrytold stories of her childhood and made pictures
of her budding beautiescomparing them with those of young ladies
who were celebrated toasts.
She will sail among them like a royal frigate,said one; "and they
will pale before her lustre as a tallow dip does before an
The clock struck twelve before she returned to them. Just as the
last stroke sounded the door was thrown openand there she stooda
woman on each side of herholding a large silver candelabra bright
with wax tapers high above herso that she was in a flood of light.
She was attired in rich brocade of crimson and silverand wore a
great hooped petticoatwhich showed off her grandeurher waist of
no more bigness than a man's hands could claspset in its midst
like the stem of a flower; her black hair was rolled high and
circled with jewelsher fair long throat blazed with a collar of
diamondsand the majesty of her eye and lip and brow made up a mien
so dazzling that every man sprang to his feet beholding her.
She made a sweeping obeisance and then stood up before themher
head thrown back and her lips curving in the triumphant mocking
smile of a great beauty looking upon them all as vassals.
Down upon your knees,she criedand drink to me kneeling. From
this night all men must bend so--all men on whom I deign to cast my
CHAPTER V--"Not I said she. There thou mayst trust me. I would
not be found out."
She went no more a-hunting in boy's clothesbut from this time
forward wore brocades and paduasoysfine lawn and lace. Her
tirewoman was kept so busily engaged upon making rich habits
fragrant waters and essencesand so running at her bidding to
change her gown or dress her head in some new fashionthat her life
was made to her a weighty burden to bearand also a painful one.
Her place had before been an easy one but for her mistress's
choleric temperbut it was so no more. Never had young lady been
so exacting and so tempestuous when not pleased with the adorning of
her face and shape. In the presence of polite strangerswhether
ladies or gentlemenMistress Clorinda in these days chose to
chasten her language and give less rein to her fantastical passions
but alone in her closet with her womanif a riband did but not suit
her fancyor a hoop not pleaseshe did not fear to be as
scurrilous as she chose. In this discreet retirement she rapped out
oaths and boxed her woman's ears with a vigorous handtore off her
gowns and stamped them beneath her feetor flung pots of pomade at
the poor woman's head. She took these freedoms with such a
readiness and spirit that she was served with a despatch and
humbleness scarcely to be equalledandit is certainnever
The high courage and undaunted will which had been the engines she
had used to gain her will from her infant years aided her in these
days to carry out what her keen mind and woman's wit had designed
which was to take the county by storm with her beautyand reign
toast and enslaver until such time as she won the prize of a husband
of rich estates and notable rank.
It was soon bruited abroadto the amazement of the countythat
Mistress Clorinda Wildairs had changed her strange and unseemly
habits of lifeand had become as much a young lady of fashion and
breeding as her birth and charm demanded. This was first made known
by her appearing one Sunday morning at churchaccompanied--as
though attended with a retinue of servitors--by Mistress Wimpole and
her two sisterswhose plain facesawkward shapeand still more
awkward attire were such a foil to her glowing loveliness as set it
in high relief. It was seldom that the coach from Wildairs Hall
drew up before the lych-gatebut upon rare Sunday mornings Mistress
Wimpole and her two charges contrivedif Sir Jeoffry was not in an
ill-humour and the coachman was complaisantto be driven to
service. Usuallyhoweverthey trudged afootandif the day
chanced to be sultryarrived with their snub-nosed faces of a high
and shiny colouror if the country roads were wetwith their
This morningwhen the coach drew upthe horses were well groomed
the coachman smartly dressedand a footman was in attendancewho
sprang to earth and opened the door with a flourish.
The loiterers in the churchyardand those who were approaching the
gate or passing towards the church porchstared with eyes wide
stretched in wonder and incredulity. Never had such a thing before
been beheld or heard of as what they now saw in broad daylight.
Mistress Clorindaclad in highest town fashionin brocades and
silver lace and splendid fur-belowsstepped forth from the chariot
with the air of a queen. She had the majestic composure of a young
lady who had worn nothing less modish than such raiment all her
lifeand who had prayed decorously beneath her neighbours' eyes
since she had left her nurse's care.
Her sisters and their governess looked timorousand as if they knew
not where to cast their eyes for shamefacedness; but not so Mistress
Clorindawho moved forward with a statelyswimming gaither fine
head in the air. As she stepped into the porch a young gentleman
drew back and made a profound obeisance to her. She cast her eyes
upon him and returned it with a grace and condescension which struck
the beholders dumb with admiring awe. To some of the people of a
commoner sort he was a strangerbut all connected with the gentry
knew he was Sir John Oxonwho was staying at Eldershawe Park with
his relativewhose estate it was.
How Mistress Clorinda contrived to manage it no one was aware but
herselfbut after a few appearances at church she appeared at other
places. She was seen at dinners at fine housesand began to be
seen at routs and balls. Where she was seen she shoneand with
such radiance as caused matchmaking matrons great dismayand their
daughters woeful qualms. Once having shoneshe could not be
extinguished or hidden under a bushel; forbeing of rank and highly
connected through mother as well as fatherand playing her cards
with great wit and skillshe could not be thrust aside.
At her first hunt ball she set aflame every male breast in the
shireunmasking such a battery of charms as no man could withstand
the fire of. Her dazzling eyeher wondrous shapethe rich music
of her laughand the mocking wit of her sharp saucy tongue were
weapons to have armed a dozen womenand she was but oneand in the
first rich tempting glow of blooming youth.
She turned more heads and caused more quarrels than she could have
counted had she sat up half the night. She went to her coach with
her father followed by a dozen gallantseach ready to spit the
other for a smile. Her smiles were wondrousbut there seemed
always a touch of mockery or disdain in them which made them more
remembered than if they had been softer.
One man there waswho perchance found something in her high glance
not wholly scornfulbut he was used to soft treatment from women
and hadin soothexpected milder glances than were bestowed upon
him. This was young Sir John Oxonwho had found himself among the
fair sex that night as great a beau as she had been a belle; but two
dances he had won from herand this was more than any other man
could boastand what other gallants envied him with darkest hatred.
Sir Jeoffrywho had watched her as she queened it amongst rakes and
fops and honest country squires and knightshad marked the vigour
with which they plied her with an emotion which was a new sensation
to his drink-bemuddled brain. So far as it was in his nature to
love another than himselfhe had learned to love this young lovely
virago of his own flesh and bloodperchance because she was the
only creature who had never quailed before himand had always known
how to bend him to her will.
When the chariot rode awayhe looked at her as she sat erect in the
early morning lightas unblenchingbrightand untouched in bloom
as if she had that moment risen from her pillow and washed her face
in dew. He was not so drunk as he had been at midnightbut he was
a little maudlin.
By God, thou art handsome, Clo!he said. "By GodI never saw a
Nor I,she answered backwhich I thank Heaven for.
Thou pretty, brazen baggage,her father laughed. "Old
Dunstanwolde looked thee well over to-night. He never looked away
from the moment he clapped eyes on thee."
That I knew better than thee, Dad,said the beauty; "and I saw
that he could not have done it if he had tried. If there comes no
richeryounger great gentlemanhe shall marry me."
Thou hast a sharp eye and a keen wit,said Sir Jeoffrylooking
askance at her with a new maggot in his brain. "Wouldst never play
the foolI warrant. They will press thee hard and 'twill be hard
to withstand their lovemakingbut I shall never have to mount and
ride off with pistols in my holsters to bring back a man and make
him marry theeas Chris Crowell had to do for his youngest wench.
Thou wouldst never play the foolI warrant--wouldst thouClo?"
She tossed her head and laughed like a young scornful devilshowing
her white pearl teeth between her lips' scarlet.
Not I,she said. "There thou mayst trust me. I would not be
She played her part as triumphant beauty so successfully that the
cleverest managing mother in the universe could not have bettered
her position. Gallants brawled for her; honest men fell at her
feet; romantic swains wrote verses to herpraising her eyesher
delicate bosomthe carnation of her cheekand the awful majesty of
her mien. In every revel she was queenin every contest of
beauties Venusin every spectacle of triumph empress of them all.
The Earl of Dunstanwoldewho had the oldest name and the richest
estates in his own county and the six adjoining oneswhohaving
made a love-match in his primeand lost wife and heir but a year
after his nuptialshad been the despair of every maid and mother
who knew himbecause he would not be melted to a marriageable mood.
After the hunt ball this mourning noblemanwho was by this time of
ripe yearshad appeared in the world again as he had not done for
many years. Before many months had elapsedit was known that his
admiration of the new beauty was confessedand it was believed that
he but waited further knowledge of her to advance to the point of
laying his title and estates at her feet.
But thoughtwo years beforethe entire county would have rated low
indeed the wit and foresight of the man who had even hinted the
possibility of such honour and good fortune being in prospect for
the young ladyso great was Mistress Clorinda's brilliant and noble
beautyand with such majesty she bore herself in these timesthat
there were even those who doubted whether she would think my lord a
rich enough prize for herand ifwhen he fell upon his kneesshe
would deign to become his countessfeeling that she had such
splendid wares to dispose of as might be bartered for a dukewhen
she went to town and to court.
During the length of more than one man's lifetime afterthe reign
of Mistress Clorinda Wildairs was a memory recalled over the bottle
at the dining-table among mensome of whom had but heard their
fathers vaunt her beauties. It seemed as if in her person there was
not a single flawor indeed a charmwhich had not reached the
highest point of beauty. For shape she might have vied with young
Dianamounted side by side with her upon a pedestal; her raven
locks were of a length and luxuriance to clothe her as a garment
her great eye commanded and flashed as Juno's might have done in the
goddess's divinest moments of lovely prideand though it was said
none ever saw it languisheach man who adored her was maddened by
the secret belief that Venus' self could not so melt in love as she
if she would stoop to loving--as each one prayed she might--himself.
Her hands and feether neckthe slimness of her waisther
mantling crimson and ivory whiteher little earher scarlet lip
the pearls between them and her long white throatwere perfection
each and alland catalogued with oaths of rapture.
She hath such beauties,one admirer saidthat a man must toast
them all and cannot drink to her as to a single woman. And she hath
so many that to slight none her servant must go from the table
There was but one thing connected with her which was not a weapon to
her handand this wasthat she was not a fortune. Sir Jeoffry had
drunk and rioted until he had but little left. He had cut his
timber and let his estate go to rackhavingindeedno money to
keep it up. The great Hallwhich had once been a fine old place
was almost a ruin. Its carved oak and noble rooms and galleries
were all of its past splendours that remained. All had been sold
that could be soldand all the outcome had been spent. The county
indeedwondered where Mistress Clorinda's fine clothes came from
and knew full well why she was not taken to court to kneel to the
Queen. That she was waiting for this to make her matchthe envious
were quite sureand did not hesitate to whisper pretty loudly.
The name of one man of rank and fortune after another was spoken of
as that of a suitor to her handbut in some way it was discovered
that she refused them all. It was also known that they continued to
worship herand that at any moment she could call even the best
among them back. It seemed thatwhile all the men were enamoured
of herthere was not one who could cure himself of his passion
however hopeless it might be.
Her wit was as great as her beautyand she had a spirit before
which no man could stand if she chose to be disdainful. To some she
was soand had the whim to flout them with great brilliancy.
Encounters with her were always rememberedand if heard by those
not concernedwere considered worthy both of recollection and of
being repeated to the world; she had a tongue so nimble and a wit so
full of fire.
Young Sir John Oxon's visit to his relative at Eldershawe being at
an endhe returned to townand remaining there through a few weeks
of fashionable gaietywon new reputations as a triumpher over the
female heart. He made some renowned conquests and set the mode in
some new essences and sword-knots. But even these triumphs appeared
to pall upon him shortlysince he deserted the town and returned
again to the countrywhereon this occasionhe did not stay with
his relativebut with Sir Jeoffry himselfwho had taken a
boisterous fancy to him.
It had been much marked since the altered life of Mistress Clorinda
that shewho had previously defied all rules laid down on behaviour
for young ladiesand had been thought to do so because she knew
none of themnow proved that her wild fashion had been but
wilfulnesssince it was seen that she must have observed and marked
manners with the best. There seemed no decorum she did not know how
to observe with the most natural grace. It wasindeedall grace
and majestythere being no suggestion of the prude about herbut
rather the manner of a young lady having been born with pride and
statelinessand most carefully bred. This was the result of her
wondrous witthe highness of her talentsand the strength of her
willwhich was of such power that she could carry out without fail
anything she chose to undertake. There are some women who have
beautyand some who have wit or vigour of understandingbut she
possessed all threeand with them such courage and strength of
nerve as would have well equipped a man.
Quick as her wit was and ready as were her brilliant quips and
salliesthere was no levity in her demeanourand she kept Mistress
Margery Wimpole in discreet attendance upon heras if she had been
the daughter of a Spanish Hidalgonever to be approached except in
the presence of her duenna. Poor Mistress Margeryfinding her old
fears removedwas overpowered with new ones. She had no
lawlessness or hoyden manners to contend withbut instead a
haughtiness so high and demands so great that her powers could
scarcely satisfy the one or her spirit stand up before the other.
It is as if one were lady-in-waiting to her Majesty's self,she
used to whimper when she was alone and dare do so. "Surely the
Queen has not such a will and such a temper. She will have me toil
to look worthy of her in my habitand bear myself like a duchess in
dignity. Alack! I have practised my obeisance by the hour to
perfect itso that I may escape her wrath. And I must know how to
lookand when and where to sitand with what air of being near at
handwhile I must see nothing! And I must drag my failing limbs
hither and thither with genteel ease while I ache from head to foot
being neither young nor strong."
The poor lady was so overawed byand yet so admiredher charge
that it was piteous to behold.
She is an arrant fool,quoth Mistress Clorinda to her father. "A
nice duenna she would beforsoothif she were with a woman who
needed watching. She could be hoodwinked as it pleased me a dozen
times a day. It is I who am her guardnot she mine! But a beauty
must drag some spy about with herit seemsand she I can make to
obey me like a spaniel. We can afford no betterand she is well
bornand since I bought her the purple paduasoy and the new lappets
she has looked well enough to serve."
Dunstanwolde need not fear for thee now,said Sir Jeoffry. "Thou
art a clever and foreseeing wenchClo."
Dunstanwolde nor any man!she answered. "There will be no gossip
of me. It is Anne and Barbara thou must look toDadlest their
plain faces lead them to show soft hearts. My face is my fortune!"
When Sir John Oxon paid his visit to Sir Jeoffry the days of
Mistress Margery were filled with carking care. The night before he
arrivedMistress Clorinda called her to her closet and laid upon
her her commands in her own high way. She was under her woman's
handsand while her great mantle of black hair fell over the back
of her chair and lay on the floorher tirewoman passing the brush
over itlock by lockshe was at her greatest beauty. Either she
had been angered or pleasedfor her cheek wore a bloom even deeper
and richer than usualand there was a spark like a diamond under
the fringe of her lashes.
At her first timorous glance at herMistress Margery thought she
must have been angeredthe spark so burned in her eyesand so
evident was the light but quick heave of her bosom; but the next
moment it seemed as if she must be in a pleasant humourfor a
little smile deepened the dimples in the corner of her bowedfull
lips. But quickly she looked up and resumed her stately air.
This gentleman who comes to visit to-morrow,she saidSir John
Oxon--do you know aught of him?
But little, Madame,Mistress Margery answered with fear and
Then it will be well that you should, since I have commands to lay
upon you concerning him,said the beauty.
You do me honour,said the poor gentlewoman.
Mistress Clorinda looked her straight in the face.
He is a gentleman from town, the kinsman of Lord Eldershawe,she
said. "He is a handsome manconcerning whom many women have been
fools. He chooses to allow it to be said that he is a conqueror of
female hearts and virtueeven among women of fashion and rank. If
this be said in the townwhat may not be said in the country? He
shall wear no such graces here. He chooses to pay his court to me.
He is my father's guest and a man of fashion. Let him make as many
fine speeches as he has the will to. I will listen or not as I
choose. I am used to words. But see that we are not left alone."
The tirewoman pricked up her ears. Clorinda saw her in the glass.
Attend to thy business if thou dost not want a box o' the ear,she
said in a tone which made the woman start.
You would not be left alone with the gentleman, Madam?faltered
If he comes to boast of conquests,said Mistress Clorindalooking
at her straight again and drawing down her black browsI will play
as cleverly as he. He cannot boast greatly of one whom he never
makes his court to but in the presence of a kinswoman of ripe years.
Understand that this is to be your task.
I will remember,Madamanswered Mistress Margery. "I will bear
myself as you command."
That is well,said Mistress Clorinda. "I will keep you no more.
You may go."
CHAPTER VI--Relating how Mistress Anne discovered a miniature
The good gentlewoman took her leave gladly. She had spent a life in
timid fears of such things and persons as were not formed by Nature
to excite thembut never had she experienced such humble terrors as
those with which Mistress Clorinda inspired her. Never did she
approach her without inward tremorand never did she receive
permission to depart from her presence without relief. And yet her
beauty and wit and spirit had no admirer regarding them with more of
In the bare west wing of the housecomfortless though the neglect
of its master had made itthere was one corner where she was
unafraid. Her first chargesMistress Barbara and Mistress Anne
were young ladies of gentle spirit. Their sister had said of them
that their spirit was as poor as their looks. It could not be said
of them by any one that they had any pretension to beautybut that
which Mistress Clorinda rated at as poor spirit was the one element
of comfort in their poor dependent kinswoman's life. They gave her
no ill wordsthey indulged in no fantastical whims and vapoursand
they did not even seem to expect other entertainment than to walk
the country roadsto play with their little lap-dog Cupidwind
silks for their needleworkand please themselves with their
To them their sister appeared a goddess whom it would be
presumptuous to approach in any frame of mind quite ordinary. Her
beauty must be heightened by rich adornmentswhile their plain
looks were left without the poorest aid. It seemed but fitting that
what there was to spend must be spent on her. They showed no signs
of resentmentand took with gratitude such cast-off finery as she
deigned at times to bestow upon themwhen it was no longer useful
to herself. She was too full of the occupations of pleasure to have
had time to notice themeven if her nature had inclined her to the
observance of family affections. It was their habitwhen they knew
of her going out in stateto watch her incoming and outgoing
through a peep-hole in a chamber window. Mistress Margery told them
stories of her admirers and of her triumphsof the county gentlemen
of fortune who had offered themselves to herand of the modes of
life in town of the handsome Sir John Oxonwhowithout doubtwas
of the circle of her admiring attendantsif he had not fallen
totally her victimas others had.
Of the two young womenit was Mistress Anne who had the more parts
and the attraction of the mind the least dull. In soothNature had
dealt with both in a niggardly fashionbut Mistress Barbara was the
plainer and the more foolish. Mistress Anne hadperchancethe
tenderer feelingsand was in secret given to a certain
sentimentality. She was thin and stoopingand had but a muddy
complexion; her hair was heavyit is truebut its thickness and
weight seemed naught but an ungrateful burden; and she had a dull
soft eye. In private she was fond of reading such romances as she
could procure by stealth from the library of books gathered together
in past times by some ancestor Sir Jeoffry regarded as an idiot.
Doubtless she met with strange reading in the volumes she took to
her closetand her simple virgin mind found cause for the solving
of many problems; but from the pages she contrived to cull stories
of lordly lovers and cruel or kind beautieswhose romances created
for her a strange world of pleasure in the midst of her loneliness.
Poorneglected young femalewith every guileless maiden instinct
withered at birthshe had need of some tender dreams to dwell upon
though Fate herself seemed to have decreed that they must be no more
It wasin soothalways the beauteous Clorinda about whose charms
she builded her romances. In her great power she saw that for which
knights fought in tourney and great kings committed royal sinsand
to her splendid beauty she had in secrecy felt that all might be
forgiven. She cherished such fancies of herthat one morningwhen
she believed her absent from the houseshe stole into the corridor
upon which Clorinda's apartment opened. Her first timid thought had
beenthat if a chamber door were opened she might catch a glimpse
of some of the splendours her sister's woman was surely laying out
for her wearing at a birth-night ballat the house of one of the
gentry of the neighbourhood. But it so happened that she really
found the door of entrance openwhichindeedshe had not more
than dared to hopeand finding it soshe stayed her footsteps to
gaze with beating heart within. On the great bedwhich was of
carved oak and canopied with tattered tapestrythere lay spread
such splendours as she had never beheld near to before. 'Twas blue
and silver brocade Mistress Clorinda was to shine in to-night; it
lay spread forth in all its dimensions. The beautiful bosom and
shoulders were to be bared to the eyes of scores of adorersbut
rich lace was to set their beauties forthand strings of pearls.
Why Sir Jeoffry had not sold his lady's jewels before he became
enamoured of her six-year-old child it would be hard to explain.
There was a great painted fan with jewels in the sticksand on the
floor--as if peeping forth from beneath the bravery of the expanded
petticoats--was a pair of blue and silver shoeshigh-heeled and
arched and slender. In gazing at them Mistress Anne lost her
breaththinking that in some fashion they had a regal air of being
made to trample hearts beneath them.
To the gentlehapless virginto whom such possessions were as the
wardrobe of a queenthe temptation to behold them near was too
great. She could not forbear from passing the thresholdand she
did with heaving breast. She approached the bed and gazed; she
dared to touch the scented gloves that lay by the outspread
petticoat of blue and silver; she even laid a trembling finger upon
the pointed bodicewhich was so slender that it seemed small enough
for even a child.
Ah me,she sighed gentlyhow beautiful she will be! How
beautiful! And all of them will fall at her feet, as is not to be
wondered at. And it was always so all her life, even when she was
an infant, and all gave her her will because of her beauty and her
power. She hath a great power. Barbara and I are not so. We are
dull and weak, and dare not speak our minds. It is as if we were
creatures of another world; but He who rules all things has so
willed it for us. He has given it to us for our portion--our
Her dullpoor face dropped a little as she spoke the wordsand her
eyes fell upon the beauteous tiny shoeswhich seemed to trample
even when no foot was within them. She stooped to take one in her
handbut as she was about to lift it something which seemed to have
been dropped upon the floorand to have rolled beneath the valance
of the bedtouched her hand. It was a thing to which a riband was
attached--an ivory miniature--and she picked it up wondering. She
stood up gazing at itin such bewilderment to find her eyes upon it
that she scarce knew what she did. She did not mean to pry; she
would not have had the daring so to do if she had possessed the
inclination. But the instant her eyes told her what they sawshe
started and blushed as she had never blushed before in her tame
life. The warm rose mantled her cheeksand even suffused the neck
her chaste kerchief hid. Her eye kindled with admiration and an
emotion new to her indeed.
How beautiful!she said. "He is like a young Adonisand has the
bearing of a royal prince! How can it--by what strange chance hath
it come here?"
She had not regarded it more than long enough to have uttered these
wordswhen a fear came upon herand she felt that she had fallen
What must I do with it?she trembled. "What will she saywhether
she knows of its being within the chamber or not? She will be angry
with me that I have dared to touch it. What shall I do?"
She regarded it again with eyes almost suffused. Her blush and the
sensibility of her emotion gave to her plain countenance a new
liveliness of tint and expression.
I will put it back where I found it,she saidand the one who
knows it will find it later. It cannot be she--it cannot be she!
If I laid it on her table she would rate me bitterly--and she can be
bitter when she will.
She bent and placed it within the shadow of the valance againand
as she felt it touch the hard oak of the polished floor her bosom
rose with a soft sigh.
It is an unseemly thing to do,she said; "'tis as though one were
uncivil; but I dare not--I dare not do otherwise."
She would have turned to leave the apartmentbeing much overcome by
the incidentbut just as she would have done so she heard the sound
of horses' feet through the window by which she must passand
looked out to see if it was Clorinda who was returning from her
ride. Mistress Clorinda was a matchless horsewomanand a marvel of
loveliness and spirit she looked when she rodesitting upon a horse
such as no other woman dared to mount--always an animal of the
greatest beautybut of so dangerous a spirit that her riding-whip
was loaded like a man's.
This time it was not she; and when Mistress Anne beheld the young
gentleman who had drawn rein in the court she started backward and
put her hand to her heartthe blood mantling her pale cheek again
in a flood. But having started backthe next instant she started
forward to gaze againall her timid soul in her eyes.
'Tis he!she panted; "'tis he himself! He hath come in hope to
speak with my sisterand she is abroad. Poor gentlemanhe hath
come in such high spiritand must ride back heavy of heart. How
comelyand how finely clad he is!"
He wasin soothwith his rich riding-habithis handsome facehis
plumed hatand the sun shining on the fair luxuriant locks which
fell beneath it. It was Sir John Oxonand he was habited as when
he rode in the park in town and the court was there. Not so were
attired the country gentry whom Anne had been wont to seethough
many of them were well mountedknowing horseflesh and naught else
as they did.
She pressed her cheek against the side of the oriel windowover
which the ivy grew thickly. She was so intent that she could not
withdraw her gaze. She watched him as he turned awayhaving
received his dismissaland she pressed her face closer that she
might follow him as he rode down the long avenue of oak-treeshis
servant riding behind.
Thus she bent forward gazinguntil he turned and the oaks hid him
from her sight; and even then the spell was not dissolvedand she
still regarded the place where he had passeduntil a sound behind
her made her start violently. It was a peal of laughterhigh and
richand when she so started and turned to see whom it might be
she beheld her sister Clorindawho was standing just within the
thresholdas if movement had been arrested by what had met her eye
as she came in. Poor Anne put her hand to her side again.
Oh sister!she gasped; "oh sister!" but could say no more.
She saw that she had thought falselyand that Clorinda had not been
out at allfor she was in home attire; and even in the midst of her
trepidation there sprang into Anne's mind the awful thought that
through some servant's blunder the comely young visitor had been
sent away. For herselfshe expected but to be driven forth with
wrathfuldisdainful words for her presumption. For what else could
she hope from this splendid creaturewhowhile of her own flesh
and bloodhad never seemed to regard her as being more than a poor
superfluous underling? But strangely enoughthere was no anger in
Clorinda's eyes; she but laughedas though what she had seen had
made her merry.
You here, Anne,she saidand looking with light-mindedness after
gallant gentlemen! Mistress Margery should see to this and watch
more closely, or we shall have unseemly stories told. YOU, sister,
with your modest face and bashfulness! I had not thought it of
Suddenly she crossed the room to where her sister stood drooping
and seized her by the shoulderso that she could look her well in
What,she saidwith a mocking not quite harsh--"What is this?
Does a glance at a fine gallanteven taken from behind an oriel
windowmake such change indeed? I never before saw this looknor
this colourforsooth; it hath improved thee wondrouslyAnne-wondrously."
Sister,faltered AnneI so desired to see your birth-night ballgown,
of which Mistress Margery hath much spoken--I so desired--I
thought it would not matter if, the door being open and it spread
forth upon the bed--I--I stole a look at it. And then I was
tempted--and came in.
And then was tempted more,Clorinda laughedstill regarding her
downcast countenance shrewdlyby a thing far less to be resisted-a
fine gentleman from town, with love-locks falling on his shoulders
and ladies' hearts strung at his saddle-bow by scores. Which found
you the most beautiful?
Your gown is splendid, sister,said Annewith modest shyness.
There will be no beauty who will wear another like it; or should
there be one, she will not carry it as you will.
But the man--the man, Anne,Clorinda laughed again. "What of the
Anne plucked up just enough of her poor spirit to raise her eyes to
the brilliant ones that mocked at her.
With such gentlemen, sister,she saidis it like that I have
aught to do?
Mistress Clorinda dropped her hand and left laughing.
'Tis true,she saidit is not; but for this one time, Anne, thou
lookest almost a woman.
'Tis not beauty alone that makes womanhood,said Anneher head on
her breast again. "In some book I have read that--that it is mostly
pain. I am woman enough for that."
You have read--you have read,quoted Clorinda. "You are the
bookwormI rememberand filch romances and poems from the shelves.
And you have read that it is mostly pain that makes a woman? 'Tis
not true. 'Tis a poor lie. I am a woman and I do not suffer--for I
WILL notthat I swear! And when I take an oath I keep itmark
you! It is men women suffer for; that was what your scholar meant-for
such fine gentlemen as the one you have just watched while he
rode away. More fools they! No man shall make ME womanly in such a
fashionI promise you! Let THEM wince and kneel; I will not."
Sister,Anne falteredI thought you were not within. The
gentleman who rode away--did the servants know?
That did they,quoth Clorindamocking again. "They knew that I
would not receive him to-dayand so sent him away. He might have
known as much himselfbut he is an arrant popinjayand thinks all
women wish to look at his fine shapeand hear him flatter them when
he is in the mood."
You would not--let him enter?
Clorinda threw her graceful body into a chair with more light
I would notshe answered. "You cannot understand such
ingratitudepoor Anne; you would have treated him more softly. Sit
down and talk to meand I will show thee my furbelows myself. All
women like to chatter of their laced bodices and petticoats. THAT
is what makes a woman."
Anne was tremulous with relief and pleasure. It was as if a queen
had bid her to be seated. She sat almost with the humble lack of
case a serving-woman might have shown. She had never seen Clorinda
wear such an air beforeand never had she dreamed that she would so
open herself to any fellow-creature. She knew but little of what
her sister was capable--of the brilliancy of her charm when she
chose to condescendof the deigning softness of her manner when she
chose to pleaseof her arch-pleasantries and cutting witand of
the strange power she could wield over any human beinggentle or
simplewith whom she came in contact. But if she had not known of
these things beforeshe learned to know them this morning. For
some reason best known to herselfMistress Clorinda was in a high
good humour. She kept Anne with her for more than an hourand was
dazzling through every moment of its passing. She showed her the
splendours she was to shine in at the birth-night balleven
bringing forth her jewels and displaying them. She told her stories
of the house of which the young heir to-day attained his majority
and mocked at the poor youth because he was ungainlyand at a
distance had been her slave since his nineteenth year.
I have scarce looked at him,she said. "He is a loutwith great
eyes staringand a red nose. It does not need that one should look
at men to win them. They look at usand that is enough."
To poor Mistress Annewho had seen no company and listened to no
witsthe entertainment bestowed upon her was as wonderful as a
night at the playhouse would have been. To watch the vivid changing
face; to hearken to jesting stories of men and women who seemed like
the heroes and heroines of her romances; to hear love itself--the
love she trembled and palpitated at the mere thought of--spoken of
openly as an experience which fell to all; to hear it mocked at with
dainty or biting quips; to learn that women of all ages played with
enjoyedor lost themselves for it--it was with her as if a nun had
been withdrawn from her cloister and plunged into the vortex of the
Sister,she saidlooking at the Beauty with humbleadoring eyes
you make me feel that my romances are true. You tell such things.
It is like seeing pictures of things to hear you talk. No wonder
that all listen to you, for indeed 'tis wonderful the way you have
with words. You use them so that 'tis as though they had shapes of
their own and colours, and you builded with them. I thank you for
being so gracious to me, who have seen so little, and cannot tell
the poor, quiet things I have seen.
And being led into the loving boldness by her gratitudeshe bent
forward and touched with her lips the fair hand resting on the
Mistress Clorinda fixed her fine eyes upon her in a new way.
I' faith, it doth not seem fair, Anne,she said. "I should not
like to change lives with thee. Thou hast eyes like a shot
pheasant--softand with the bright hid beneath the dull. Some man
might love themeven if thou art no beauty. Stay suddenly;
She uprose from her chair and went to the oaken wardrobeand threw
the door of it open wide while she looked within.
There is a gown and tippet or so here, and a hood and some ribands
I might do without,she said. "My woman shall bear them to your
chamberand show you how to set them to rights. She is a nimblefingered
creatureand a gown of mine would give almost stuff enough
to make you two. Then some dayswhen I am not going abroad and
Mistress Margery frets me too muchI will send for you to sit with
meand you shall listen to the gossip when a visitor drops in to
have a dish of tea."
Anne would have kissed her feet thenif she had dared to do so.
She blushed red all overand adored her with a more worshipping
gaze than before.
I should not have dared to hope so much,she stammered. "I could
not--perhaps it is not fitting--perhaps I could not bear myself as I
should. I would try to show myself a gentlewoman and seemly. I--I
AM a gentlewomanthough I have learned so little. I could not be
aught but a gentlewomancould Isisterbeing of your own blood
and my parents' child?" half afraid to presume even this much.
No,said Clorinda. "Do not be a foolAnneand carry yourself
too humbly before the world. You can be as humble as you like to
I shall--I shall be your servant and worship you, sister,cried
the poor souland she drew near and kissed again the white hand
which had bestowed with such royal bounty all this joy. It would
not have occurred to her that a cast-off robe and riband were but
It was not a minute after this grateful caress that Clorinda made a
sharp movement--a movement which was so sharp that it seemed to be
one of dismay. At firstas if involuntarilyshe had raised her
hand to her tuckerand after doing so she started--though 'twas but
for a second's spaceafter which her face was as it had been
What is it?exclaimed Anne. "Have you lost anything?"
No,quoth Mistress Clorinda quite carelesslyas she once more
turned to the contents of the oaken wardrobe; "but I thought I
missed a trinket I was wearing for a wagerand I would not lose it
before the bet is won."
Sister,ventured Anne before she left her and went away to her own
dull world in the west wingthere is a thing I can do if you will
allow me. I can mend your tapestry hangings which have holes in
them. I am quick at my needle, and should love to serve you in such
poor ways as I can; and it is not seemly that they should be so
worn. All things about you should be beautiful and well kept.
Can you make these broken things beautiful?said Clorinda. "Then
indeed you shall. You may come here to mend them when you will."
They are very fine hangings, though so old and ill cared for,said
Annelooking up at them; "and I shall be only too happy sitting
here thinking of all you are doing while I am at my work."
Thinking of all I am doing?laughed Mistress Clorinda. "That
would give you such wondrous things to dream ofAnnethat you
would have no time for your needleand my hangings would stay as
I can think and darn also,said Mistress Anneso I will come.
CHAPTER VII--'Twas the face of Sir John Oxon the moon shone upon
From that time henceforward into the young woman's dull life there
came a little change. It did not seem a little change to herbut a
great onethough to others it would have seemed slight indeed. She
was an affectionatehouse-wifely creaturewho would have made the
best of wives and mothers if it had been so ordained by Fortuneand
something of her natural instincts found outlet in the furtive
service she paid her sisterwho became the empress of her soul.
She darned and patched the tattered hangings with a wonderful
neatnessand the hours she spent at work in the chamber were to her
almost as sacred as hours spent at religious dutyor as those nuns
and novices give to embroidering altar-cloths. There was a
brightness in the room that seemed in no other in the houseand the
lingering essences in the air of it were as incense to her. In
secrecy she even busied herself with keeping things in better order
than RebeccaMistress Clorinda's womanhad ever had time to do
before. She also contrived to get into her own hands some duties
that were Rebecca's own. She could mend lace cleverly and arrange
riband-knots with tasteand even change the fashion of a gown. The
hard-worked tirewoman was but too glad to be relievedand kept her
secret wellbeing praised many times for the set or fashion of a
thing into which she had not so much as set a needle. Being a
shrewd baggageshe was wise enough always to relate to Anne the
story of her mistress's pleasurehaving the wit to read in her
delight that she would be encouraged to fresh effort.
At times it so befell thatwhen Anne went into the bed-chambershe
found the beauty therewhoif she chanced to be in the humour
would detain her in her presence for a space and bewitch her over
again. In soothit seemed that she took a pleasure in showing her
female adorer how wondrously full of all fascinations she could be.
At such times Anne's plain face would almost bloom with excitement
and her shot pheasant's eyes would glow as if beholding a goddess.
She neither saw nor heard more of the miniature on the riband. It
used to make her tremble at times to fancy that by some strange
chance it might still be under the bedand that the handsome face
smiled and the blue eyes gazed in the very apartment where she
herself sat and her sister was robed and disrobed in all her beauty.
She used all her modest skill in fitting to her own shape and
refurnishing the cast-off bits of finery bestowed upon her. It was
all set to rights long before Clorinda recalled to mind that she had
promised that Anne should sometime see her chance visitors take
their dish of tea with her.
But one dayfor some causeshe did rememberand sent for her.
Anne ran to her bedchamber and donned her remodelled gown with
shaking hands. She laughed a little hysterically as she did it
seeing her plain snub-nosed face in the glass. She tried to dress
her head in a fashion new to herand knew she did it ill and
untidilybut had no time to change it. If she had had some red she
would have put it onbut such vanities were not in her chamber or
Barbara's. So she rubbed her cheeks hardand even pinched themso
that in the end they looked as if they were badly rouged. It seemed
to her that her nose grew red tooand indeed 'twas no wonderfor
her hands and feet were like ice.
She must be ashamed of me,the humble creature said to herself.
And if she is ashamed she will be angered and send me away and be
friends no more.
She did not deceive herselfpoor thingand imagine she had the
chance of being regarded with any great lenience if she appeared
Mistress Clorinda begged that you would come quickly,said
Rebeccaknocking at the door.
So she caught her handkerchiefwhich was scentedas all her
garments werewith dried rose-leaves from the gardenwhich she had
conserved herselfand went down to the chintz parlour trembling.
It was a great room with white panelsand flowered coverings to the
furniture. There were a number of ladies and gentlemen standing
talking and laughing loudly together. The men outnumbered the
womenand most of them stood in a circle about Mistress Clorinda
who sat upright in a great flowered chairsmiling with her mocking
stately airas if she defied them to dare to speak what they felt.
Anne came in like a mouse. Nobody saw her. She did notindeed
know what to do. She dared not remain standing all aloneso she
crept to the place where her sister's chair wasand stood a little
behind its high back. Her heart beat within her breast till it was
like to choke her.
They were only country gentlemen who made the circlebut to her
they seemed dashing gallants. That some of them had red noses as
well as cheeksand that their voices were big and their gallantries
boisterouswas no drawback to their manly charmsshe having seen
no other finer gentlemen. They were specimens of the great
conquering creature Manwhom all women must aspire to please if
they have the fortunate power; and each and all of them were plainly
trying to please Clorindaand not she them.
And so Anne gazed at them with admiring awewaiting until there
should come a pause in which she might presume to call her sister's
attention to her presence; but suddenlybefore she had indeed made
up her mind how she might best announce herselfthere spoke behind
her a voice of silver.
It is only goddesses,said the voicewho waft about them as they
move the musk of the rose-gardens of Araby. When you come to reign
over us in town, Madam, there will be no perfume in the mode but
that of rose-leaves, and in all drawing-rooms we shall breathe but
And thereat her sidewas bowingin cinnamon and crimsonwith
jewelled buttons on his velvet coatthe beautiful being whose fair
locks the sun had shone on the morning she had watched him ride
away--the man whom the imperial beauty had dismissed and called a
Clorinda looked under her lashes towards him without turningbut in
so doing beheld Anne standing in waiting.
A fine speech lost,she saidthough 'twas well enough for the
country, Sir John. 'Tis thrown away, because 'tis not I who am
scented with rose-leaves, but Anne there, whom you must not ogle.
Come hither, sister, and do not hide as if you were ashamed to be
And she drew her forwardand there Anne stoodand all of them
stared at her poorplainblushing faceand the Adonis in cinnamon
and crimson bowed lowas if she had been a duchessthat being his
conqueror's way with gentle or simplemaidwifeor widowbeauty
or homespun uncomeliness.
It was so with him always; he could never resist the chance of
luring to himself a woman's heartwhether he wanted it or notand
he had a charma strange and wonderful oneit could not be denied.
Anne palpitated indeed as she made her curtsey to himand wondered
if Heaven had ever before made so fine a gentleman and so beautiful
She went but seldom to this room againand when she went she stood
always in the backgroundfar more in fear that some one would
address her than that she should meet with neglect. She was used to
neglectand to being regarded as a nonentityand aught else
discomfited her. All her pleasure was to hear what was saidthough
'twas not always of the finest wit--and to watch Clorinda play the
queen among her admirers and her slaves. She would not have dared
to speak of Sir John Oxon frequently--indeedshe let fall his name
but rarely; but she learned a curious wit in contriving to hear all
things concerning him. It was her habit cunningly to lead Mistress
Margery to talking about him and relating long histories of his
conquests and his grace. Mistress Wimpole knew many of them
havingfor a staid and prudent matrona lively interest in his
ways. It seemedtruly--if one must believe her long-winded
stories--that no duchess under seventy had escaped weeping for him
and losing restand that ladies of all ranks had committed follies
for his sake.
Mistress Annehaving led her to this fruitful subjectwould sit
and listenbending over her embroidery frame with strange emotions
causing her virgin breast to ache with their swelling. She would
lie awake at night thinking in the darkwith her heart beating.
Surelysurely there was no other man on earth who was so fitted to
Clorindaand to whom it was so suited that this empress should give
her charms. Surely no womanhowever beautiful or proudcould
dismiss his suit when he pressed it. And thenpoor womanher
imagination strove to paint the splendour of their mutual love
though of such love she knew so little. But it mustin soothbe
bliss and rapture; and perchancewas her humble thoughtshe might
see it from afarand hear of it. And when they went to courtand
Clorinda had a great mansion in townand many servants who needed a
housewife's eye upon their doings to restrain them from wastefulness
and riotmight it not chance to be that if she served well nowand
had the courage to plead with her thenshe might be permitted to
serve her thereliving quite apart in some quiet corner of the
house. And then her wild thoughts would go so far that she would
dream--reddening at her own boldness--of a child who might be born
to thema lordly infant son and heirwhose eyes might be blue and
winningand his hair in great fair locksand whom she might nurse
and tend and be a slave to--and love--and love--and loveand who
might end by knowing she was his tender servantalways to be
counted onand might look at her with that wooinglaughing glance
and even love her too.
The night Clorinda laid her commands upon Mistress Wimpole
concerning the coming of Sir John Oxonthat matronafter receiving
themhurried to her other chargesflurried and full of talkand
poured forth her wonder and admiration at length.
She is a wondrous lady!she said--"she is indeed! It is not alone
her beautybut her spirit and her wit. Mark you how she sees all
things and lets none passand can lay a plan as prudent as any lady
old enough to be twice her mother. She knows all the ways of the
world of fashionand will guard herself against gossip in such a
way that none can gainsay her high virtue. Her spirit is too great
to allow that she may even SEEM to be as the town ladies. She will
not have it! Sir John will not find his court easy to pay. She
will not allow that he shall be able to say to any one that he has
seen her alone a moment. Thusshe sayshe cannot boast. If all
ladies were as wise and cunningthere would be no tales to tell."
She talked long and garrulouslyand set forth to them how Mistress
Clorinda had looked straight at her with her black eyesuntil she
had almost shaken as she satbecause it seemed as though she dared
her to disobey her will; and how she had sat with her hair trailing
upon the floor over the chair's backand at first it had seemed
that she was flushed with angerbut next as if she had smiled.
Betimes,said Mistress WimpoleI am afraid when she smiles, but
to-night some thought had crossed her mind that pleased her. I
think it was that she liked to think that he who has conquered so
many ladies will find that he is to be outwitted and made a mock of.
She likes that others shall be beaten if she thinks them impudent.
She liked it as a child, and would flog the stable-boys with her
little whip until they knelt to beg her pardon for their freedoms.
That night Mistress Anne went to her bed-chamber with her head full
of wandering thoughtsand she had not the power to bid them
disperse themselves and leave her--indeedshe scarce wished for it.
She was thinking of Clorindaand wondering sadly that she was of so
high a pride that she could bear herself as though there were no
human weakness in her breastnot even the womanly weakness of a
heart. How could it be possible that she could treat with disdain
this gallant gentlemanif he loved heras he surely must? Herself
she had been sure that she had seen an ardent flame in his blue
eyeseven that first day when he had bowed to her with that air of
grace as he spoke of the fragrance of the rose leaves he had thought
wafted from her robe. How could a woman whom he loved resist him?
How could she cause him to suffer by forcing him to stand at arm's
length when he sighed to draw near and breathe his passion at her
In the silence of her chamber as she disrobedshe sighed with
restless painbut did not know that her sighing was for grief that
love--of which there seemed so little in some lives--could be wasted
and flung away. She could not fall into slumber when she lay down
upon her pillowbut tossed from side to side with a burdened heart.
She is so young and beautiful and proud,she thought. "It is
because I am so much older that I can see these things--that I see
that this is surely the one man who should be her husband. There
may be many othersbut they are none of them her equalsand she
would scorn and hate them when she was once bound to them for life.
This one is as beautiful as she--and full of graceand witand
spirit. She could not look down upon himhowever wrath she was at
any time. Ah me! She should not spurn himsurely she should not!"
She was so restless and ill at ease that she could not lie upon her
bedbut rose therefromas she often did in her wakeful hoursand
went to her latticegently opening it to look out upon the night
and calm herself by sitting with her face uplifted to the stars
which from her childhood she had fancied looked down upon her kindly
and as if they would give her comfort.
To-night there were no stars. There should have been a moon threequarters
fullbutin the eveningclouds had drifted across the
sky and closed over all heavilyso that no moonlight was to be
seensave when a rare sudden gust made a ragged rentfor a moment
in the blackness.
She did not sit this timebut kneltclad in her night-rail as she
was. All was sunk into the profoundest silence of the night. By
this time the entire household had been long enough abed to be
plunged in sleep. She alone was wakingand being of that simple
mind whichlike a child'smust ever bear its trouble to a
protecting strengthshe looked up at the darkness of the cloudy sky
and prayed for the better fortune of the man who had indeed not
remembered her existence after the moment he had made her his
obeisance. She was too plain and sober a creature to be remembered.
Perchance,she murmuredhe is at this moment also looking at the
clouds from his window, because he cannot sleep for thinking that in
two days he will be beneath her father's roof and will see her
loveliness, and he must needs be contriving within his mind what he
will say, if she do but look as if she might regard him with favour,
which I pray she will.
From the path belowthat moment there rose a slight soundso
slight a one that for a moment she thought she must have been
deceived in believing it had fallen upon her ear. All was still
after it for full two minutesand had she heard no more she would
have surely forgotten she had heard aughtor would have believed
herself but the victim of fancy. But after the long pause the same
sound came againthough this time it was slighter; yetdespite its
slightnessit seemed to her to be the crushing of the earth and
stone beneath a cautious foot. It was a foot so cautious that it
was surely stealthy and scarce dared to advance at all. And then
all was still again. She was for a moment overcome with fearsnot
being of a courageous temperand having heardbut of lateof a
bold gipsy vagabond whowith a companionhad broken into the lower
rooms of a house of the neighbourhoodand being surprised by its
ownerhad only been overcome and captured after a desperate fight
in which shots were exchangedand one of the hurriedly-awakened
servants killed. So she leaned forward to hearken further
wondering what she should do to best alarm the houseandas she
bent soshe heard the sound again and a smothered oathand with
her straining eyes saw that surely upon the path there stood a darkdraped
figure. She rose with great care to her feetand stood a
moment shaking and clinging to the window-ledgewhile she bethought
her of what servants she could wake firstand how she could reach
her father's room. Her poor heart beat in her sideand her breath
came quickly. The soundlessness of the night was broken by one of
the strange sudden gusts of wind which tossed the treesand tore at
the clouds as they hurried. She heard the footsteps againas if it
feared its own sound the less when the wind might cover it. A faint
pale gleam showed between two dark clouds behind which the moon had
been hidden; it grew brighterand a jagged rent was tornso that
the moon herself for a second or so shone out dazzling bright before
the clouds rushed over her again and shut her in.
It was at this very instant Mistress Anne heard the footsteps once
moreand saw full well a figure in dark cloak and hat which stepped
quickly into the shade of a great tree. But more she saw--and
clapped her hand upon her mouth to stifle the cry that would have
otherwise risen in spite of her--that notwithstanding his fair locks
were thrust out of sight beneath his hatand he looked strange and
almost uncomelyit was the face of Sir John Oxonthe moon
bursting through the jagged cloudshad shone upon.
CHAPTER VIII--Two meet in the deserted rose gardenand the old Earl
of Dunstanwolde is made a happy man
It was not until three days laterinstead of twothat Sir John
Oxon rode into the courtyard with his servant behind him. He had
been detained on his journeybut looked as if his impatience had
not caused him to sufferfor he wore his finest air of spirit and
beautyand when he was alone with Sir Jeoffrymade his compliments
to the absent ladiesand inquired of their health with his best
Mistress Clorinda did not appear until the dining hourwhen she
swept into the room like a queenfollowed by her sisterAnneand
Mistress Wimpolethis being the first occasion of Mistress Anne's
diningas it werein state with her family.
The honour had so alarmed herthat she looked paleand so ugly
that Sir Jeoffry scowled at sight of herand swore under his breath
to Clorinda that she should have been allowed to come.
I know my own affairs the best, by your leave, sir,answered
Clorindaas low and with a grand flash of her eye. "She hath been
This she had indeedand so had Mistress Wimpoleand throughout Sir
John Oxon's stay they were called upon to see that they played well
their parts. Two weeks he stayed and then rode gaily back to town
and when Clorinda made her sweeping curtsey to the ground to him
upon the threshold of the flowered room in which he bade her
farewellboth Anne and Mistress Wimpole curtseyed a step behind
Now that he has gone and you have shown me that you can attend me
as I wish,she saidturning to them as the sound of his horse's
hoofs died awayit will not trouble me should he choose some day
to come again. He has not carried with him much that he can boast
In truthit seemed to the outer world that she had held him well in
hand. If he had come as a sighing loverthe whole county knew she
had shown him but small favour. She had invited companies to the
house on several occasionsand all could see how she bore herself
towards him. She carried herself with a certain proud courtesy as
becoming the daughter of his hostbut her wit did not spare him
and sometimes when it was more than in common cutting he was seen to
wince though he held himself gallantly. There were one or two who
thought they now and then had seen his blue eyes fall upon her when
he believed none were lookingand rest there burningly for a
momentbut 'twas never for more than an instantwhen he would
rouse himself with a start and turn away.
She had been for a month or two less given to passionate outbreaks
having indeed decided that it was to her interest as a young lady
and a future great one to curb herself. Her tirewomanRebeccahad
begun to dare to breathe more freely when she was engaged about her
personand hadin truthspoken of her pleasanter fortune among
her fellows in the servants' hall.
But a night or two after the visitor took his departureshe gave
way to such an outburst as even Rebecca had scarce ever beheld
being roused to it by a small thing in one sensethough in yet
another perhaps great enoughsince it touched upon the despoiling
of one of her beauties.
She was at her toilet-table being prepared for the nightand her
long hair brushed and dressed before retiring. Mistress Wimpole had
come in to the chamber to do something at her biddingand chancing
to stand gazing at her great and heavy fall of locks as she was
waitingshe observed a thing which caused herfoolish woman that
she wasto give a start and utter an unwise exclamation.
What then!quoth Mistress Clorinda angrily. "You bring my heart
to my throat!"
Your hair!stammered Wimpolelosing all her small wit--"your
beauteous hair! A lock is gonemadam!"
Clorinda started to her feetand flung the great black mass over
her white shoulderthat she might see it in the glass.
Gone!she cried. "Where? How? What mean you? Ah-h!"
Her voice rose to a sound that was well-nigh a scream. She saw the
rifled spot--a place where a great lock had been severed jaggedly-and
it must have been five feet long.
She turned and sprang upon her womanher beautiful face distorted
with furyand her eyes like flames of fire. She seized her by each
shoulder and boxed her ears until her head spun round and bells rang
'Twas you!she shrieked. "'Twas you--she-devil-beast--slut that
you are! 'Twas when you used your scissors to the new head you made
for me. You set it on my hair that you might set a loop--and in
your sluttish way you snipped a lock by accident and hid it from
She beat her till her own black hair flew about her like the mane of
a fury; and having used her hands till they were tiredshe took her
brush from the table and beat her with that till the room echoed
with the blows on the stout shoulders.
Mistress, 'twas not so!cried the poor thingsobbing and
struggling. "'Twas not somadam!"
Madam, you will kill the woman,wept Mistress Wimpole. "I beseech
you -! 'Tis not seemlyI beseech--"
Mistress Clorinda flung her woman from her and threw the brush at
Mistress Wimpolecrying at her with the lordly rage she had been
wont to shriek with when she wore breeches.
Damnation to thy seemliness!she criedand to thee too! Get
thee gone--from me, both--get thee gone from my sight!
And both women fled weepingand sobbingand gasping from the room
She was shrewish and sullen with her woman for days afterand it
was the poor creature's labour to keep from her sightwhen she
dressed her headthe place from whence the lock had been taken. In
the servants' hall the woman vowed that it was not she who had cut
itthat she had had no accidentthough it was true she had used
the scissors about her headyet it was but in snipping a ribbon
and she had not touched a hair.
If she were another lady,she saidI should swear some gallant
had robbed her of it; but, forsooth, she does not allow them to come
near enough for such sport, and with five feet of hair wound up in
coronals, how could a man unwind a lock, even if 'twas permitted him
to stand at her very side.
Two years passedand the beauty had no greater fields to conquer
than those she found in the countrysince her fatherSir Jeoffry
had not the money to take her to townhe becoming more and more
involved and so fallen into debt that it was even whispered that at
times it went hard with him to keep even the poor household he had.
Mistress Clorinda's fortunes the gentry of the neighbourhood
discussed with growing interest and curiosity. What was like to
become of her great gifts and powers in the endif she could never
show them to the great worldand have the chance to carry her
splendid wares to the fashionable market where there were men of
quality and wealth who would be like to bid for them. She had not
chosen to accept any of those who had offered themselves so farand
it was believed that for some reason she had held off my lord of
Dunstanwolde in his suit. 'Twas evident that he admired her
greatlyand why he had not already made her his countess was a sort
of mystery which was productive of many discussions and bore much
talking over. Some said thatwith all her beauty and his
admirationhe was wary and waitedand some were pleased to say
that the reason he waited was because the young lady herself
contrived that he shouldit being her desire to make an open
conquest of Sir John Oxonand show him to the world as her slave
before she made up her mind to make even a much greater match. Some
hinted that for all her disdainfulness and haughty pride she would
marry Sir John if he asked herbut that he being as brilliant a
beau as she a beautyhe was too fond of his pleasures and his gay
town life to give them up even to a goddess who had no fortune. His
own had not been a great oneand he had squandered it
magnificentlyhis extravagances being renowned in the world of
fashionand having indeed founded for him his reputation.
It washoweverstill his way to accept frequent hospitalities from
his kinsman Eldershaweand Sir Jeoffry was always rejoiced enough
to secure him as his companion for a few days when he could lure him
from the dissipation of the town. At such times it never failed
that Mistress Wimpole and poor Anne kept their guard. Clorinda
never allowed them to relax their vigilanceand Mistress Wimpole
ceased to feel afraidand became accustomed to her dutiesbut Anne
never did so. She looked always her palest and ugliest when Sir
John was in the houseand she would glance with sad wonder and
timid adoration from him to Clorinda; but sometimes when she looked
at Sir John her plain face would grow crimsonand once or twice he
caught her at the follyand when she dropped her eyes overwhelmed
with shamehe faintly smiled to himselfseeing in her a new though
There came a day when in the hunting-field there passed from mouth
to mouth a rumourand Sir Jeoffryhearing itcame pounding over
on his big black horse to his daughter and told it to her in great
He is a sly dog, John Oxon,he saida broad grin on his rubicund
face. "This very week he comes to usand he and I are croniesyet
he has blabbed nothing of what is being buzzed about by all the
He has learned how to keep a closed mouth,said Mistress Clorinda
without asking a question.
But 'tis marriage he is so mum about, bless ye!said Sir Jeoffry.
And that is not a thing to be hid long. He is to be shortly
married, they say. My lady, his mother, has found him a great
fortune in a new beauty but just come to town. She hath great
estates in the West Indies, as well as a fine fortune in England-and
all the world is besieging her; but Jack hath come and bowed
sighing before her, and writ some verses, and borne her off from
'Tis time,said Clorindathat he should marry some woman who can
pay his debts and keep him out of the spunging house, for to that he
will come if he does not play his cards with skill.
Sir Jeoffry looked at her askance and rubbed his red chin.
I wish thou hadst liked him, Clo,he saidand ye had both had
fortunes to match. I love the fellow, and ye would have made a
Mistress Clorinda laughedsitting straight in her saddleher fine
eyes unblenchingthough the sun struck them.
We had fortunes to match,she said--"I was a beggar and he was a
spendthrift. Here comes Lord Dunstanwolde."
And as the gentleman rode nearit seemed to his dazzled eyes that
the sun so shone down upon her because she was a goddess and drew it
from the heavens.
In the west wing of the Hall 'twas talked of between Mistress
Wimpole and her chargesthat a rumour of Sir John Oxon's marriage
Yet can I not believe it,said Mistress Margery; "for if ever a
gentleman was deep in lovethough he bitterly strove to hide it
'twas Sir Johnand with Mistress Clorinda."
But she,faltered Annelooking pale and even agitated--"she was
always disdainful to him and held him at arm's length. I--I wished
she would have treated him more kindly."
'Tis not her way to treat men kindly,said Mistress Wimpole.
But whether the rumour was true or false--and there were those who
bestowed no credit upon itand said it was mere town talkand that
the same things had been bruited abroad before--it so chanced that
Sir John paid no visit to his relative or to Sir Jeoffry for several
months. 'Twas heard once that he had gone to Franceand at the
French Court was making as great a figure as he had made at the
English onebut of this even his kinsman Lord Eldershawe could
speak no more certainly than he could of the first matter.
The suit of my Lord of Dunstanwolde--if suit it was--during these
months appeared to advance somewhat. All orders of surmises were
made concerning it--that Mistress Clorinda had privately quarrelled
with Sir John and sent him packing; that he had tired of his lovemaking
as 'twas well known he had done many times beforeand
having squandered his possessions and finding himself in open
straitsmust needs patch up his fortunes in a hurry with the first
heiress whose estate suited him. But 'twas the women who said these
things; the men swore that no man could tire of or desert such
spirit and beautyand that if Sir John Oxon stayed away 'twas
because he had been commanded to do soit never having been
Mistress Clorinda's intention to do more than play with him awhile
she having been witty against him always for a fopand meaning
herself to accept no man as a husband who could not give her both
rank and wealth.
We know her,said the old boon companions of her childhoodas
they talked of her over their bottles. "She knew her price and
would bargain for it when she was not eight years oldand would
give us songs and kisses but when she was paid for them with sweet
things and knickknacks from the toy-shops. She will marry no man
who cannot make her at least a countessand she would take him but
because there was not a duke at hand. We know herand her beauty's
But they did not know her; none knew hersave herself.
In the west wingwhich grew more bare and ill-furnished as things
wore out and time went byMistress Anne waxed thinner and paler.
She was so thin in two months' timethat her softdull eyes looked
twice their natural sizeand seemed to stare piteously at people.
One dayindeedas she sat at work in her sister's roomClorinda
being there at the timethe beautyturning and beholding her face
suddenlyuttered a violent exclamation.
Why look you at me so?she said. "Your eyes stand out of your
head like a new-hatchedunfeathered bird's. They irk me with their
strange asking look. Why do you stare at me?"
I do not know,Anne faltered. "I could not tell yousister. My
eyes seem to stare so because of my thinness. I have seen them in
Why do you grow thin?quoth Clorinda harshly. "You are not ill."
I--I do not know,again Anne faltered. "Naught ails me. I do not
know. For--forgive me!"
Soft little fool,she saidwhy should you ask me to forgive you?
I might as fairly ask you to forgive ME, that I keep my shape and
show no wasting.
Anne rose from her chair and hurried to her sister's sidesinking
upon her knees there to kiss her hand.
Sister,she saidone could never dream that you could need
pardon. I love you so--that all you do, it seems to me must be
right--whatsoever it might be.
Clorinda drew her fair hands away and clasped them on the top of her
headproudlyas if she crowned herself therebyher great and
splendid eyes setting themselves upon her sister's face.
All that I do,she said slowlyand with the steadfast high
arrogance of an empress' self--"All that I do IS right--for me.
make it so by doing it. Do you think that I am conquered by the
laws that other women crouch and whine beforebecause they dare not
break themthough they long to do so? I am my own law--and the law
of some others."
It was by this time the first month of the summerand to-night
there was again a birth-night ballat which the beauty was to
dazzle all eyes; but 'twas of greater import than the one she had
graced previouslyit being to celebrate the majority of the heir to
an old name and estatewho had been orphaned earlyand was highly
connectedcountingindeedamong the members of his family the
Duke of Osmondewho was one of the richest and most envied nobles
in Great Britainhis dukedom being of the oldesthis numerous
estates the most splendid and beautifuland the long history of his
family full of heroic deeds. This nobleman was also a distant
kinsman to the Earl of Dunstanwoldeand at this ballfor the first
time for monthsSir John Oxon appeared again.
He did not arrive on the gay scene until an hour somewhat late. But
there was one who had seen him earlythough no human soul had known
of the event.
In the ramblingill-cared for grounds of Wildairs Hall there was an
old rose-gardenwhich had once been the pride and pleasure of some
lady of the housethough this had been long ago; and now it was but
a lonely wilderness where roses only grew because the dead Lady
Wildairs had loved themand Barbara and Anne had tended themand
with their own hands planted and pruned during their childhood and
young maiden days. But of late years even they had seemed to have
forgotten ithaving become discouragedperchancehaving no
gardeners to do the rougher workand the weeds and brambles so
running riot. There were high hedges and winding paths overgrown
and run wild; the stronger rose-bushes grew in tangled masses
flinging forth their rich blooms among the weeds; such as were more
delicatestruggling to live among thembecame more frail and
scant-blossoming season by season; a careless foot would have
trodden them beneath it as their branches grew long and trailed in
the grass; but for many months no foot had trodden there at alland
it was a beauteous place deserted.
In the centre was an ancient broken sun-dialwhich was in these
days in the midst of a sort of thicketwhere a bold tangle of the
finest red roses clamberedanddefying neglectflaunted their
rich colour in the sun.
And though the place had been so long forgottenand it was not the
custom for it to be visitedabout this garlanded broken sun-dial
the grass was a little troddenand on the morning of the young
heir's coming of age some one stood there in the glowing sunlight as
This was no less than Mistress Clorinda herself. She was clad in a
morning gown of whitewhich seemed to make of her more than ever a
talltranscendent creatureless a woman than a conquering goddess;
and she had piled the dial with scarlet red roseswhich she was
choosing to weave into a massive wreath or crownfor some purpose
best known to herself. Her head seemed haughtier and more
splendidly held on high even than was its common wontbut upon
these roses her lustrous eyes were downcast and were curiously
smilingas also was her ripearching lipwhose scarlet the
blossoms vied with but poorly. It was a smile like thisperhaps
which Mistress Wimpole feared and trembled beforefor 'twas not a
tender smile nor a melting one. If she was waitingshe did not
wait longnorto be surewould she have long waited if she had
been kept by any daring laggard. This was not her way.
'Twas not a laggard who came soonstepping hurriedly with light
feet upon the grassas though he feared the sound which might be
made if he had trodden upon the gravel. It was Sir John Oxon who
came towards her in his riding costume.
He came and stood before her on the other side of the dialand made
her a bow so low that a quick eye might have thought 'twas almost
mocking. His feathersweeping the groundcaught a fallen rose
which clung to it. His beautywhen he stood uprightseemed to
defy the very morning's self and all the morning world; but Mistress
Clorinda did not lift her eyesbut kept them upon her rosesand
went on weaving.
Why did you choose to come?she asked.
Why did you choose to keep the tryst in answer to my message?he
replied to her.
At this she lifted her great shining eyes and fixed them full upon
I wished,she saidto hear what you would say--but more to SEE
you than to hear.
And I,he began--"I came--"
She held up her white hand with a long-stemmed rose in it--as though
a queen should lift a sceptre.
You came,she answeredmore to see ME than to hear. You made
You choose to bear yourself like a goddess, and disdain me from
Olympian heights,he said. "I had the wit to guess it would be
She shook her royal headfaintly and most strangely smiling.
That you had not,was her clear-worded answer. "That is a later
thought sprung up since you have seen my face. 'Twas quick--for
you--but not quick enough." And the smile in her eyes was
maddening. "You thought to see a woman crushed and weepingher
beauty bent before youher locks dishevelledher streaming eyes
lifted to Heaven--and you--with prayersswearing that not Heaven
could help her so much as your deigning magnanimity. You have seen
women do this beforeyou would have seen ME do it--at your feet-crying
out that I was lost--lost for ever. THAT you expected! 'Tis
Debauched as his youth wasand free from all touch of heart or
conscience--for from his earliest boyhood he had been the pupil of
rakes and fashionable villains--well as he thought he knew all women
and their waysbetraying or betrayed--this creature taught him a
new thinga new mood in womana new power which came upon him like
Gods!he exclaimedcatching his breathand even falling back
apaceDamnation! you are NOT a woman!
She laughed againweaving her rosesbut not allowing that his eyes
should loose themselves from hers.
But now, you called me a goddess and spoke of Olympian heights,
she said; "I am not one--I am a woman who would show other women how
to bear themselves in hours like these. Because I am a woman why
should I kneeland weepand rave? What have I lost--in losing
you? I should have lost the same had I been twice your wife. What
is it women weep and beat their breasts for--because they love a
man--because they lose his love. They never have them."
She had finished the wreathand held it up in the sun to look at
it. What a strange beauty was hersas she held it so--a heavy
sumptuous thing--in her white handsher head thrown backward.
You marry soon,she asked--"if the match is not broken?"
Yes,he answeredwatching her--a flame growing in his eyes and in
his soul in his own despite.
It cannot be too soon,she said. And she turned and faced him
holding the wreath high in her two hands poised like a crown above
her head--the brilliant sun embracing herher lips curlingher
face uplifted as if she turned to defy the lightthe crimson of her
cheek. 'Twas as if from foot to brow the woman's whole person was a
flamerising and burning triumphant high above him. Thus for one
second's space she stooddazzling his very eyesight with her
strangedauntless splendour; and then she set the great rose-wreath
upon her headso crowning it.
You came to see me,she saidthe spark in her eyes growing to the
size of a star; "I bid you look at me--and see how grief has faded
me these past monthsand how I am bowed down by it. Look well-that
you may remember."
I look,he saidalmost panting.
Then,she saidher fine-cut nostril pinching itself with her
breathas she pointed down the path before her--"GO!--back to your
* * *
That night she appeared at the birth-night ball with the wreath of
roses on her head. No other ladies wore such things'twas a
fashion of her own; but she wore it in such beauty and with such
state that it became a crown again even as it had been the first
moment that she had put it on. All gazed at her as she enteredand
a murmur followed her as she moved with her father up the broad oak
staircase which was known through all the country for its width and
massive beauty. In the hall below guests were crowdedand there
were indeed few of them who did not watch her as she mounted by Sir
Jeoffry's side. In the upper hall there were guests alsosome
walking to and frosome standing talkingmany looking down at the
arrivals as they came up.
'Tis Mistress Wildairs,these murmured as they saw her.
Clorinda, by God!said one of the older men to his crony who stood
near him. "And crowned with roses! The vixen makes them look as if
they were built of rubies in every leaf."
At the top of the great staircase there stood a gentlemanwho had
indeed paused a momentspellboundas he saw her coming. He was a
man of unusual height and of a majestic mien; he wore a fair
periwigwhich added to his tallness; his laces and embroiderings
were marvels of art and richnessand his breast blazed with orders.
Strangelyshe did not seem to see him; but when she reached the
landingand her face was turned so that he beheld the full blaze of
its beauty'twas so great a wonder and revelation to him that he
gave a start. The next moment almostone of the red roses of her
crown broke loose from its fastenings and fell at his very feet.
His countenance changed so that it seemed almostfor a secondto
lose some of its colour. He stooped and picked the rose up and held
it in his hand. But Mistress Clorinda was looking at my Lord of
Dunstanwoldewho was moving through the crowd to greet her. She
gave him a brilliant smileand from her lustrous eyes surely there
passed something which lit a fire of hope in his.
After she had made her obeisance to her entertainersand her
birthday greetings to the young heirhe contrived to draw closely
to her side and speak a few words in a tone those near her could not
To-night, madam,he saidwith melting fervouryou deign to
bring me my answer as you promised.
Yes,she murmured. "Take me where we may be a few moments alone."
He led her to an antechamberwhere they were sheltered from the
gaze of the passers-bythough all was moving gaiety about them. He
fell upon his knee and bowed to kiss her fair hand. Despite the
sobriety of his yearshe was as eager and tender as a boy.
Be gracious to me, madam,he implored. "I am not young enough to
wait. Too many months have been thrown away."
You need wait no longer, my lord,she said--"not one single hour."
And while hepoor gentlemankneltkissing her hand with adoring
humblenesssheunder the splendour of her crown of rosesgazed
down at his grey-sprinkled head with her great steady shining orbs
as if gazing at some almost uncomprehended piteous wonder.
In less than an hour the whole assemblage knew of the event and
talked of it. Young men looked daggers at Dunstanwolde and at each
other; and older men wore glum or envious faces. Women told each
other 'twas as they had known it would beor 'twas a wonder that at
last it had come about. Upon the arm of her lord that was to be
Mistress Clorinda passed from room to room like a royal bride.
As she made her first turn of the ballroomall eyes upon herher
beauty blazing at its highestSir John Oxon entered and stood at
the door. He wore his gallant airand smiled as ever; and when she
drew near him he bowed lowand she stoppedand bent lower in a
curtsey sweeping the ground.
'Twas but in the next room her lord led her to a gentleman who stood
with a sort of court about him. It was the tall strangerwith the
fair periwigand the orders glittering on his breast--the one who
had started at sight of her as she had reached the landing of the
stairs. He held still in his hand a broken red roseand when his
eye fell on her crown the colour mounted to his cheek.
My honoured kinsman, his Grace the Duke of Osmonde,said her
affianced lord. "Your Grace--it is this lady who is to do me the
great honour of becoming my Lady Dunstanwolde."
And as the deeptawny brown eye of the man bending before her
flashed into her ownfor the first time in her life Mistress
Clorinda's lids felland as she swept her curtsey of stately
obeisance her heart struck like a hammer against her side.
CHAPTER IX--"I give to him the thing he craves with all his soul-myself"
In a month she was the Countess of Dunstanwoldeand reigned in her
lord's great town house with a retinue of servantsher powdered
lackeys among the tallesther liveries and equipages the richest
the world of fashion knew. She was presented at the Courtblazing
with the Dunstanwolde jewelsand even with others her bridegroom
had bought in his passionate desire to heap upon her the
magnificence which became her so well. From the hour she knelt to
kiss the hand of royalty she set the town on fire. It seemed to
have been ordained by Fate that her passage through this world
should be always the triumphant passage of a conqueror. As when a
baby she had ruled the servants' hallthe kenneland the grooms'
quarterslater her father and his boisterous friendsand from her
fifteenth birthday the whole hunting shire she lived inso she held
her sway in the great worldas did no other lady of her rank or any
higher. Those of her age seemed but girls yet by her sidewhether
married or unmarriedand howsoever trained to modish ways. She was
but scarce eighteen at her marriagebut she was no girlnor did
she look oneglowing as was the early splendour of her bloom. Her
height was far beyond the ordinary for a woman; but her shape so
faultless and her carriage so regalthat though there were men upon
whom she was tall enough to look down with easethe beholder but
felt that her tallness was an added grace and beauty with which all
women should have been endowedand whichas they were notcaused
them to appear but insignificant. What a throat her diamonds blazed
onwhat shoulders and bosom her laces framedon what a brow her
coronet sat and glittered. Her lord lived as 'twere upon his knees
in enraptured adoration. Since his first wife's death in his youth
he had dwelt almost entirely in the country at his house there
which was fine and statelybut had been kept gloomily half closed
for a decade. His town establishment hadin truthnever been
opened since his bereavement; and now--an elderly man--he returned
to the gay world he had almost forgottenwith a bride whose youth
and beauty set it aflame. What wonder that his head almost reeled
at times and that he lost his breath before the sum of his strange
late blissand the new lease of brilliant life which seemed to have
been given to him.
In the days whenwhile in the countryhe had heard such rumours of
the lawless days of Sir Jeoffry Wildairs' daughterwhen he had
heard of her dauntless boldnessher shrewish temperand her
violent passionshe had been awed at the thought of what a wife
such a woman would make for a gentleman accustomed to a quiet life
and he had indeed striven hard to restrain the desperate admiration
he was forced to admit she had inspired in him even at her first
The effort hadin soothbeen in vainand he had passed many a
sleepless night; and whenas time went onhe beheld her again and
againand saw with his own eyesas well as heard from othersof
the great change which seemed to have taken place in her manners and
characterhe began devoutly to thank Heaven for the alterationas
for a merciful boon vouchsafed to him. He had been wise enough to
know that even a stronger man than himself could never conquer or
rule her; and when she seemed to begin to rule herself and bear
herself as befitted her birth and beautyhe had dared to allow
himself to dream of what perchance might be if he had great good
In these days of her union with himhe wasindeedalmost humbly
amazed at the grace and kindness she showed him every hour they
passed in each other's company. He knew that there were men
younger and handsomer than himselfwhobeing wedded to beauties
far less triumphant than shefound that their wives had but little
time to spare them from the worldwhich knelt at their feetand
that in some fashion they themselves seemed to fall into the
background. But 'twas not so with this womanpowerful and
worshipped though she might be. She bore herself with the high
dignity of her rankbut rendered to him the gracious respect and
deference due both to his position and his merit. She stood by his
side and not before himand her smiles and wit were bestowed upon
him as generously as to others. If she had once been a vixenshe
was surely so no longerfor he never heard a sharp or harsh word
pass her lipsthough it is true her manner was always somewhat
imperialand her lacqueys and waiting women stood in greatest awe
of her. There was that in her presence and in her eye before which
all commoner or weaker creatures quailed. The men of the world who
flocked to pay their court to herand the popinjays who followed
themall knew this lookand a tone in her rich voice which could
cut like a knife when she chose that it should do so. But to my
Lord of Dunstanwolde she was all that a worshipped lady could be.
Your ladyship has made of me a happier man than I ever dared to
dream of being, even when I was but thirty,he would say to her
with reverent devotion. "I know not what I have done to deserve
this late summer which hath been given me."
When I consented to be your wife,she answered onceI swore to
myself that I would make one for you;and she crossed the hearth to
where he sat--she was attired in all her splendour for a Court ball
and starred with jewels--bent over his chair and placed a kiss upon
his grizzled hair.
Upon the night before her wedding with himher sisterMistress
Annehad stolen to her chamber at a late hour. When she had
knocked upon the doorand had been commanded to entershe had come
inand closing the door behind herhad stood leaning against it
looking before herwith her eyes wide with agitation and her poor
face almost grey.
All the tapers for which places could be found had been gathered
togetherand the room was a blaze of light. In the midst of it
before her mirrorClorinda stood attired in her bridal splendour of
white satin and flowing rich lacea diamond crescent on her head
sparks of light flaming from every point of her raiment. When she
caught sight of Anne's reflection in the glass before hershe
turned and stood staring at her in wonder.
What--nay, what is this?she cried. "What do you come for? On my
soulyou come for something--or you have gone mad."
Anne started forwardtremblingher hands clasped upon her breast
and fell at her feet with sobs.
Yes, yes,she gaspedI came--for something--to speak--to pray
you -! Sister--Clorinda, have patience with me--till my courage
comes again!and she clutched her robe.
Something which came nigh to being a shudder passed through Mistress
Clorinda's frame; but it was gone in a secondand she touched Anne-
though not ungently--with her footwithdrawing her robe.
Do not stain it with your tears,she said "'twould be a bad omen."
Anne buried her face in her hands and knelt so before her.
'Tis not too late!she said--"'tis not too late yet."
For what?Clorinda asked. "For whatI pray you tell meif you
can find your wits. You go beyond my patience with your folly."
Too late to stop,said Anne--"to draw back and repent."
What?commanded Clorinda--"what then should I repent me?"
This marriage,trembled Mistress Annetaking her poor hands from
her face to wring them. "It should not be."
Fool!quoth Clorinda. "Get up and cease your grovelling. Did you
come to tell me it was not too late to draw back and refuse to be
the Countess of Dunstanwolde?" and she laughed bitterly.
But it should not be--it must not!Anne panted. "I--I know
Clorinda bent deliberately and laid her strongjewelled hand on her
shoulder with a grasp like a vice. There was no hurry in her
movement or in her airbut by sheerslow strength she forced her
head backward so that the terrified woman was staring in her face.
Look at me,she said. "I would see you welland be squarely
looked atthat my eyes may keep you from going mad. You have
pondered over this marriage until you have a frenzy. Women who live
alone are sometimes soand your brain was always weak. What is it
that you know. Look--in my eyes--and tell me."
It seemed as if her gaze stabbed through Anne's eyes to the very
centre of her brain. Anne tried to bear itand shrunk and
withered; she would have fallen upon the floor at her feet a
helplesssobbing heapbut the white hand would not let her go.
Find your courage--if you have lost it--and speak plain words,
Clorinda commanded. Anne tried to writhe awaybut could not again
and burst into passionatehopeless weeping.
I cannot--I dare not!she gasped. "I am afraid. You are right;
my brain is weakand I--but that--that gentleman--who so loved you-"
Which?said Clorindawith a brief scornful laugh.
The one who was so handsome--with the fair locks and the gallant
The one you fell in love with and stared at through the window,
said Clorindawith her brief laugh again. "John Oxon! He has
victims enoughforsoothto have spared such an one as you are."
But he loved you!cried Anne piteouslyand it must have been
that you--you too, sister--or--or else--She choked again with
sobsand Clorinda released her grasp upon her shoulder and stood
He wants none of me--nor I of him,she saidwith strange
sternness. "We have done with one another. Get up upon your feet
if you would not have me thrust you out into the corridor."
She turned from herand walking back to her dressing-tablestood
there steadying the diadem on her hairwhich had loosed a fastening
when Anne tried to writhe away from her. Anne half sathalf knelt
upon the floorstaring at her with wetwild eyes of misery and
Leave your kneeling,commanded her sister againand come here.
Anne staggered to her feet and obeyed her behest. In the glass she
could see the resplendent reflection; but Clorinda did not deign to
turn towards her while she addressed herchanging the while the
brilliants in her hair.
Hark you, sister Anne,she said. "I read you better than you
think. You are a poor thingbut you love me and--in my fashion--I
think I love you somewhat too. You think I should not marry a
gentleman whom you fancy I do not love as I might a younger
handsomer man. You are full of loveand spinster dreams of it
which make you flighty. I love my Lord of Dunstanwolde as well as
any other manand better than somefor I do not hate him. He has
a fine estateand is a gentleman--and worships me. Since I have
been promised to himI own I have for a moment seen another
gentleman who MIGHT--but 'twas but for a momentand 'tis done with.
'Twas too late then. If we had met two years agone 'twould not have
been so. My Lord Dunstanwolde gives to me wealthand rankand
life at Court. I give to him the thing he craves with all his soul-
myself. It is an honest bargainand I shall bear my part of it
with honesty. I have no virtues--where should I have got them from
forsoothin a life like mine? I mean I have no women's virtues;
but I have one that is sometimes--not always--a man's. 'Tis that I
am not a coward and a tricksterand keep my word when 'tis given.
You fear that I shall lead my lord a bitter life of it. 'Twill not
be so. He shall live smoothlyand not suffer from me. What he has
paid for he shall honestly have. I will not cheat him as weaker
women do their husbands; for he pays--poor gentleman--he pays."
And thenstill looking at the glassshe pointed to the doorway
through which her sister had comeand in obedience to her gesture
of commandMistress Anne stole silently away.
CHAPTER X--"Yes--I have marked him"
Through the brillianthappy year succeeding to his marriage my Lord
of Dunstanwolde lived like a man who dreams a blissful dream and
knows it is one.
I feel,he said to his ladyas if 'twere too great rapture to
last, and yet what end could come, unless you ceased to be kind to
me; and, in truth, I feel that you are too noble above all other
women to change, unless I were more unworthy than I could ever be
since you are mine.
Both in the town and in the countrywhich last place heard many
things of his condition and estate through rumourhe was the man
most wondered at and envied of his time--envied because of his
strange happiness; wondered at because havingwhen long past youth
borne off this arrogant beauty from all other aspirants she showed
no arrogance to himand was as perfect a wife as could have been
some woman without gifts whom he had lifted from low estate and
endowed with rank and fortune. She seemed both to respect himself
and her position as his lady and spouse. Her manner of reigning in
his household was among his many delights the greatest. It was a
great houseand an old onebuilt long before by a Dunstanwolde
whose lavish feasts and riotous banquets had been the notable
feature of his life. It was curiously rambling in its structure.
The rooms of entertainment were large and splendidthe halls and
staircases stately; below stairs there was space for an army of
servants to be disposed of; and its network of cellars and winevaults
was so beyond all need that more than one long arched stone
passage was shut up as being without useand but letting colddamp
air into corridors leading to the servants' quarters. It was
indeedmy Lady Dunstanwolde who had ordered the closing of this
part when it had been her pleasure to be shown her domain by her
housekeeperthe which had greatly awed and impressed her household
as signifying thatexalted lady as she washer wit was practical
as well as brilliantand that her eyes being open to her
surroundingsshe meant not that her lacqueys should rob her and her
scullions filchthinking that she was so high that she was ignorant
of common things and blind.
You will be well housed and fed and paid your dues,she said to
them; "but the first man or woman who does a task ill or dishonestly
will be turned from his place that hour. I deal justice--not
Such a mistress they have never had before,said my lord when she
related this to him. "Naythey have never dreamed of such a lady-one
who can be at once so severe and so kind. But there is none
other suchmy dearest one. They will fear and worship you."
She gave him one of her sweetsplendid smiles. It was the
sweetness she at rare times gave her splendid smile which was her
I would not be too grand a lady to be a good housewife,she said.
I may not order your dinners, my dear lord, or sweep your
corridors, but they shall know I rule your household and would rule
You are a goddess!he criedkneeling to herenraptured. "And
you have given yourself to a poor mortal manwho can but worship
You give me all I have,she saidand you love me nobly, and I am
Her assemblies were the most brilliant in the townand the most to
be desired entrance to. Wits and beauties planned and intrigued
that they might be bidden to her house; beaux and fine ladies fell
into the spleen if she neglected them. Her lord's kinsman the Duke
of Osmondewho had been present when she first knelt to Royalty
had scarce removed his eyes from her so long as he could gaze. He
went to Dunstanwolde afterwards and congratulated him with stately
courtesy upon his great good fortune and happinessspeaking almost
with fire of her beauty and majestyand thanking his kinsman that
through him such perfections had been given to their name and house.
From that timeat all special assemblies given by his kinsman he
was presentthe observed of all observers. He was a man of whom
'twas said that he was the most magnificent gentleman in Europe;
that there was none to compare with him in the combination of gifts
given both by Nature and Fortune. His beauty both of feature and
carriage was of the greatesthis mind was of the highestand his
education far beyond that of the age he lived in. It was not the
fashion of the day that men of his rank should devote themselves to
the cultivation of their intellects instead of to a life of
pleasure; but this he had done from his earliest youthand nowin
his perfect though early maturityhe had no equal in polished
knowledge and charm of bearing. He was the patron of literature and
art; men of genius were not kept waiting in his ante-chamberbut
were received by him with courtesy and honour. At the Court 'twas
well known there was no man who stood so near the throne in favour
and that there was no union so exalted that he might not have made
his suit as rather that of a superior than an equal. The Queen both
loved and honoured himand condescended to avow as much with
gracious frankness. She knew no other manshe deigned to saywho
was so worthy of honour and affectionand that he had not married
must be because there was no woman who could meet him on ground that
was equal. If there were no scandals about him--and there were
none--'twas not because he was cold of heart or imagination. No man
or woman could look into his deep eye and not know that when love
came to him 'twould be a burning passionand an evil fate if it
went ill instead of happily.
Being past his callow, youthful days, 'tis time he made some woman
a duchess,Dunstanwolde said reflectively once to his wife.
'Twould be more fitting that he should; and it is his way to honour
his house in all things, and bear himself without fault as the head
of it. Methinks it strange he makes no move to do it.
No, 'tis not strange,said my ladylooking under her blackfringed
lids at the glow of the fireas though reflecting also.
There is no strangeness in it.
Why not?her lord asked.
There is no mate for him,she answered slowly. "A man like him
must mate as well as marryor he will break his heart with silent
raging at the weakness of the thing he is tied to. He is too strong
and splendid for a common woman. If he married one'twould be as
if a lion had taken to himself for mate a jackal or a sheep. Ah!"
with a long drawn breath--"he would go mad--mad with misery;" and
her handswhich lay upon her kneewrung themselves hard together
though none could see it.
He should have a goddess, were they not so rare,said
Dunstanwoldegently smiling. "He should hold a bitter grudge
against methat Ihis unworthy kinsmanhave been given the only
Yes, he should have a goddess,said my lady slowly again; "and
there are but womennaught but women."
You have marked him well,said her lordadmiring her wisdom.
Methinks that you--though you have spoken to him but little, and
have but of late become his kinswoman--have marked and read him
better than the rest of us.
Yes--I have marked him,was her answer.
He is a man to mark, and I have a keen eye.She rose up as she
spokeand stood before the firelifted by some strong feeling to
her fullest heightand towering theresplendid in the shadow--for
'twas by twilight they talked. "He is a Man she said--he is a
Man! Nayhe is as God meant man should be. And if men were so
there would be women great enough for them to mate with and to give
the world men like them." And but that she stood in the shadowher
lord would have seen the crimson torrent rush up her cheek and brow
and overspread her long round throat itself.
If none other had known of itthere was one man who knew that she
had marked himthough she had borne herself towards him always with
her stateliest grace. This man was his Grace the Duke himself.
From the hour that he had stood transfixed as he watched her come up
the broad oak stairfrom the moment that the red rose fell from her
wreath at his feetand he had stooped to lift it in his handhe
had seen her as no other man had seen herand he had known that had
he not come but just too lateshe would have been his own. Each
time he had beheld her since that night he had felt this burn more
deeply in his soul. He was too high and fine in all his thoughts to
say to himself that in her he saw for the first time the woman who
was his peer; but this was very truth--or might have beenif Fate
had set her youth elsewhereand a lady who was noble and her own
mother had trained and guarded her. When he saw her at the Court
surroundedas she ever wasby a court of her own; when he saw her
reigning in her lord's housereceiving and doing gracious honour to
his guests and hers; when she passed him in her coachdrawing every
eye by the majesty of her presenceas she drove through the town
he felt a deep pangwhich was all the greater that his honour bade
him conquer it. He had no ignoble thought of herhe would have
scorned to sully his soul with any light passion; to him she was the
woman who might have been his beloved wife and duchesswho would
have upheld with him the honour and traditions of his housewhose
strength and power and beauty would have been handed down to his
childrenwho so would have been born endowed with gifts befitting
the state to which Heaven had called them. It was of this he
thought when he saw herand of naught less like to do her honour.
And as he had marked her sohe saw in her eyesdespite her dignity
and graceshe had marked him. He did not know how closelyor that
she gave him the attention he could not restrain himself from
bestowing upon her. But when he bowed before herand she greeted
him with all courtesyhe saw in her greatsplendid eye that had
Fate willed it soshe would have understood all his thoughts
shared all his ambitionsand aided him to uphold his high ideals.
Nayhe knew she understood him even nowand was stirred by what
stirred him alsoeven though they met but rarelyand when they
encountered each otherspoke but as kinsman and kinswoman who would
show each other all gracious respect and honour. It was because of
this pang which struck his great heart at times that he was not a
frequent visitor at my Lord Dunstanwolde's mansionbut appeared
there only at such assemblies as were matters of ceremonyhis
absence from which would have been a noted thing. His kinsman was
fond of himand though himself of so much riper agehonoured him
greatly. At times he strove to lure him into visits of greater
familiarity; but though his kindness was never met coldly or
repulseda further intimacy was in some gracious way avoided.
My lady must beguile you to be less formal with us,said
Dunstanwolde. And later her ladyship spoke as her husband had
privately desired: "My lord would be made greatly happy if your
Grace would honour our house oftener she said one night, when at
the end of a great ball he was bidding her adieu.
Osmonde's deep eye met hers gently and held it. My Lord
Dunstanwolde is always gracious and warm of heart to his kinsman
he replied. Do not let him think me discourteous or ungrateful.
In truthyour ladyshipI am neither the one nor the other."
The eyes of each gazed into the other's steadfastly and gravely.
The Duke of Osmonde thought of Juno's as he looked at hers; they
were of such velvetand held such fathomless deeps.
Your Grace is not so free as lesser men,Clorinda said. "You
cannot come and go as you would."
No,he answered gravelyI cannot, as I would.
And this was all.
It having been known by all the world thatdespite her beauty and
her conquestsMistress Clorinda Wildairs had not smiled with great
favour upon Sir John Oxon in the countryit was not wondered at or
made any matter of gossip that the Countess of Dunstanwolde was but
little familiar with him and saw him but rarely at her house in
Once or twice he had appeared thereit is trueat my Lord
Dunstanwolde's instancebut my lady herself scarce seemed to see
him after her first courtesies as hostess were over.
You never smiled on him, my love,Dunstanwolde said to his wife.
You bore yourself towards him but cavalierly, as was your
ladyship's way--with all but one poor servant,tenderly; "but he
was one of the many who followed in your trainand if these gay
young fellows stay away'twill be said that I keep them at a
distance because I am afraid of their youth and gallantry. I would
not have it fancied that I was so ungrateful as to presume upon your
goodness and not leave to you your freedom."
Nor would I, my lord,she answered. "But he will not come often;
I do not love him well enough."
His marriage with the heiress who had wealth in the West Indies was
broken offor rather 'twas said had come to naught. All the town
knew itand wonderedand talkedbecause it had been believed at
first that the young lady was much enamoured of himand that he
would soon lead her to the altarthe which his creditors had
greatly rejoiced over as promising them some hope that her fortune
would pay their bills of which they had been in despair. Later
howevergossip said that the heiress had not been so tender as was
thought; thatindeedshe had been found to be in love with another
manand that even had she notshe had heard such stories of Sir
John as promised but little nuptial happiness for any woman that
took him to husband.
When my Lord Dunstanwolde brought his bride to townand she soared
at once to splendid triumph and renowninflaming every heartand
setting every tongue at workclamouring her praisesSir John Oxon
saw her from afar in all the scenes of brilliant fashion she
frequented and reigned queen of. 'Twas from afarit might be said
he saw her onlythough he was often near herbecause she bore
herself as if she did not observe himor as though he were a thing
which did not exist. The first time that she deigned to address him
was upon an occasion when she found herself standing so near him at
an assembly that in the crowd she brushed him with her robe. His
blue eyes were fixed burningly upon herand as she brushed him he
drew in a hard breathwhich she hearingturned slowly and let her
own eyes fall upon his face.
You did not marry,she said.
No, I did not marry,he answeredin a lowbitter voice. "'Twas
your ladyship who did that."
She faintlyslowly smiled.
I should not have been like to do otherwise,she said; "'tis an
honourable condition. I would advise you to enter it."
CHAPTER XI--Wherein a noble life comes to an end
When the earl and his countess went to their house in the country
there fell to Mistress Anne a great and curious piece of good
fortune. In her wildest dreams she had never dared to hope that
such a thing might be.
My Lady Dunstanwoldeon her first visit homebore her sister back
with her to the manorand there established her. She gave her a
suite of rooms and a waiting woman of her ownand even provided her
with a suitable wardrobe. This last she had chosen herself with a
taste and fitness which only such wit as her own could have devised.
They are not great rooms I give thee, Anne,she saidbut quiet
and small ones, which you can make home-like in such ways as I know
your taste lies. My lord has aided me to choose romances for your
shelves, he knowing more of books than I do. And I shall not dress
thee out like a peacock with gay colours and great farthingales.
They would frighten thee, poor woman, and be a burden with their
weight. I have chosen such things as are not too splendid, but will
suit thy pale face and shot partridge eyes.
Anne stood in the middle of her room and looked about at its
Sister,she saidwhy are you so good to me? What have I done to
serve you? Why is it Anne instead of Barbara you are so gracious
Perchance because I am a vain woman and would be worshipped as you
But you are always worshipped,Anne faltered.
Ay, by men!said Clorindamocking; "but not by women. And it may
be that my pride is so high that I must be worshipped by a woman
too. You would always love mesister Anne. If you saw me break
the law--if you saw me stab the man I hated to the heartyou would
think it must be pardoned to me."
She laughedand yet her voice was such that Anne lost her breath
and caught at it again.
Ay, I should love you, sister!she cried. "Even then I could not
but love you. I should know you could not strike so an innocent
creatureand that to be so hated he must have been worthy of hate.
You--are not like other womensister Clorinda; but you could not be
base--for you have a great heart."
Clorinda put her hand to her side and laughed againbut with less
mocking in her laughter.
What do you know of my heart, Anne?she said. "Till late I did
not know it beatmyself. My lord says 'tis a great one and noble
but I know 'tis his own that is so. Have I done honestly by him
Anneas I told you I would? Have I been fair in my bargain--as
fair as an honest manand not a pulingslippery woman."
You have been a great lady,Anne answeredher great dullsoft
eyes filling with slow tears as she gazed at her. "He says that you
have given to him a year of Heavenand that you seem to him like
some archangel--for the lower angels seem not high enough to set
'Tis as I said--'tis his heart that is noble,said Clorinda. "But
I vowed it should be so. He paid--he paid!"
The country saw her lord's happiness as the town had doneand
wondered at it no less. The manor was thrown openand guests came
down from town; great dinners and balls being givenat which all
the country saw the mistress reign at her consort's side with such a
grace as no lady ever had worn before. Sir Jeoffryappearing at
these assemblieswas so amazed that he forgot to muddle himself
with drinkin gazing at his daughter and following her in all her
Look at her!he said to his old boon companions and herswho were
as much awed as he. "Lord! who would think she was the strapping
handsome shrew that sworeand sang men's songs to usand rode to
the hunt in breeches."
He was awed at the thought of paying fatherly visits to her house
and would have kept awaybut that she was kind to him in the way he
was best able to understand.
I am country-bred, and have not the manners of your town men, my
lady,he said to heras he sat with her alone on one of the first
mornings he spent with her in her private apartment. "I am used to
rap out an oath or an ill-mannered word when it comes to me.
Dunstanwolde has weaned you of hearing such things--and I am too old
a dog to change."
Wouldst have thought I was too old to change,answered shebut I
was not. Did I not tell thee I would be a great lady. There is
naught a man or woman cannot learn who hath the wit.
Thou hadst it, Clo,said Sir Jeoffrygazing at her with a sort of
slow wonder. "Thou hadst it. If thou hadst not -!" He pausedand
shook his headand there was a rough emotion in his coarse face.
I was not the man to have made aught but a baggage of thee, Clo. I
taught thee naught decent, and thou never heard or saw aught to
teach thee. Damn me!almost with moisture in his eyesif I know
what kept thee from going to ruin before thou wert fifteen.
She sat and watched him steadily.
Nor I,quoth shein answer. "Nor I--but here thou seest meDad-
an earl's ladysitting before thee."
'Twas thy wit,said hestill movedand fairly maudlin. "'Twas
thy wit and thy devil's will!"
Ay,she answered'twas they--my wit and my devil's will!
She rode to the hunt with him as she had been wont to dobut she
wore the latest fashion in hunting habit and coat; and though
'twould not have been possible for her to sit her horse better than
of oldor to take hedges and ditches with greater daring and
spirityet in some way every man who rode with her felt that 'twas
a great lady who led the field. The horse she rode was a fierce
beauteous devil of a beast which Sir Jeoffry himself would scarce
have mounted even in his younger days; but she carried her loaded
whipand she sat upon the brute as if she scarcely felt its temper
and held it with a wrist of steel.
My Lord Dunstanwolde did not hunt this season. He had never been
greatly fond of the sportand at this time was a little ailingbut
he would not let his lady give up her pleasure because he could not
Nay,he said'tis not for the queen of the hunting-field to stay
at home to nurse an old man's aches. My pride would not let it be
so. Your father will attend you. Go--and lead them all, my dear.
In the field appeared Sir John Oxonwho for a brief visit was at
Eldershawe. He rode close to my ladythough she had naught to say
to him after her first greetings of civility. He looked not as
fresh and glowing with youth as had been his wont only a year ago.
His reckless wildness of life and his town debaucheries had at last
touched his bloomperhaps. He had a haggard look at moments when
his countenance was not lighted by excitement. 'Twas whispered that
he was deep enough in debt to be greatly straitenedand that his
marriage having come to naught his creditors were besetting him
without mercy. This and more than thisno one knew so well as my
Lady Dunstanwolde; but of a certainty she had little pity for his
evil caseif one might judge by her facewhen in the course of the
running he took a hedge behind herand pressing his horsecame up
by her side and spoke.
Clorinda,he began breathlesslythrough set teeth.
She could have left him and not answeredbut she chose to restrain
the pace of her wild beast for a moment and look at him.
'Your ladyship!'she corrected his audacity. "Or--'my Lady
There was a time--he said.
This morning,she saidI found a letter in a casket in my
closet. I do not know the mad villain who wrote it. I never knew
You did not,he criedwith an oathand then laughed scornfully.
The letter lies in ashes on the hearth,she said. "'Twas burned
unopened. Do not ride so closeSir Johnand do not play the
madman and the beast with the wife of my Lord Dunstanwolde."
'The wife!'he answered. "'My lord!' 'Tis a new game thisand
well playedby God!"
She did not so much as waver in her lookand her wide eyes smiled.
Quite new,she answered him--"quite new. And could I not have
played it well and fairlyI would not have touched the cards. Keep
your horse offSir John. Mine is restiveand likes not another
beast near him;" and she touched the creature with her whipand he
was gone like a thunderbolt.
The next daybeing in her roomAnne saw her come from her
dressing-table with a sealed letter in her hand. She went to the
bell and rang it.
Anne,she saidI am going to rate my woman and turn her from my
service. I shall not beat or swear at her as I was wont to do with
my women in time past. You will be afraid, perhaps; but you must
stay with me.
She was standing by the fire with the letter held almost at arm's
length in her finger-tipswhen the woman enteredwhoseeing her
faceturned paleand casting her eyes upon the letterpaler
stilland began to shake.
You have attended mistresses of other ways than mine,her lady
said in her slowclear voicewhich seemed to cut as knives do.
Some fool and madman has bribed you to serve him. You cannot serve
me also. Come hither and put this in the fire. If 'twere to be
done I would make you hold it in the live coals with your hand.
The woman came shudderinglooking as if she thought she might be
struck dead. She took the letter and kneeledashen paleto burn
it. When 'twas doneher mistress pointed to the door.
Go and gather your goods and chattels together, and leave within
this hour,she said. "I will be my own tirewoman till I can find
one who comes to me honest."
When she was goneAnne sat gazing at the ashes on the hearth. She
was pale also.
Sister,she saiddo you--
Yes,answered my lady. "'Tis a man who loved mea cur and a
knave. He thought for an hour he was cured of his passion. I could
have told him 'twould spring up and burn more fierce than ever when
he saw another man possess me. 'Tis so with knaves and curs; and
'tis so with him. He hath gone mad again."
Ay, mad!cried Anne--"madand baseand wicked!"
Clorinda gazed at the ashesher lips curling.
He was ever base,she said--"as he was at firstso he is now.
'Tis thy favouriteAnne lightly, and she delicately spurned the
blackened tinder with her foot--thy favouriteJohn Oxon."
Mistress Anne crouched in her seat and hid her face in her thin
Oh, my lady!she criednot feeling that she could say "sister
if he be baseand ever was sopity himpity him! The base need
pity more than all."
For she had loved him madlyall unknowing her own passionnot
presuming even to look up in his beautiful facethinking of him
only as the slave of her sisterand in dead secrecy knowing strange
things--strange things! And when she had seen the letter she had
known the handwritingand the beating of her simple heart had wellnigh
strangled her--for she had seen words writ by him before.
* * *
When Dunstanwolde and his lady went back to their house in town
Mistress Anne went with them. Clorinda willed that it should be so.
She made her there as peaceful and retired a nest of her own as she
had given to her at Dunstanwolde. By strange good fortune Barbara
had been wedded to a plain gentlemanwhobeing a widower with
childrenneeded a help-meet in his modest householdand through a
distant relationship to Mistress Wimpoleencountered her charge
and saw in her meekness of spirit the thing which might fall into
the supplying of his needs. A beauty or a fine lady would not have
suited him; he wanted but a housewife and a mother for his orphaned
childrenand thisa young woman who had lived straitlyand been
forced to many contrivances for mere decency of apparel and ordinary
comfortmight be trained to become.
So it fell that Mistress Anne could go to London without pangs of
conscience at leaving her sister in the country and alone. The
stateliness of the town mansionmy Lady Dunstanwolde's retinue of
lacqueys and serving-womenher little black pagewho waited on her
and took her pug dogs to walkher wardrobeand jewelsand
equipageswere each and all marvels to herbut seemed to her mind
so far befitting that she rememberedwonderingthe days when she
had darned the tattered tapestry in her chamberand changed the
ribbands and fashions of her gowns. Being now attired fittingly
though soberly as became hershe was not in these days--at least
as far as outward seeming went--an awkward blot upon the scene when
she appeared among her sister's company; but at heart she was as
timid and shrinking as everand never mingled with the guests in
the great rooms when she could avoid so doing. Once or twice she
went forth with Clorinda in her coach and sixand saw the
glittering worldwhile she drew back into her corner of the
equipage and gazed with all a country-bred woman's timorous
'Twas grand and like a beautiful show!she saidwhen she came
home the first time. "But do not take me oftensister; I am too
plain and shyand feel that I am naught in it."
But though she kept as much apart from the great World of Fashion as
she couldshe contrived to know of all her sister's triumphs; to
see her when she went forth in her braverythough 'twere but to
drive in the Mall; to be in her closet with her on great nights when
her tirewomen were decking her in brocades and jewelsthat she
might show her highest beauty at some assembly or ball of State.
And at all these timesas also at all othersshe knew that she but
shared her own love and dazzled admiration with my Lord
Dunstanwoldewhose tendernessbeing so fed by his lady's unfailing
graciousness of bearing and kindly looks and wordsgrew with every
hour that passed.
They held one night a splendid assembly at which a member of the
Royal House was present. That night Clorinda bade her sister
Sometimes--I do not command it always--but sometimes you must show
yourself to our guests. My lord will not be pleased else. He says
it is not fitting that his wife's sister should remain unseen as if
we hid her away through ungraciousness. Your woman will prepare for
you all things needful. I myself will see that your dress becomes
you. I have commanded it already, and given much thought to its
shape and colour. I would have you very comely, Anne.And she
kissed her lightly on her cheek--almost as gently as she sometimes
kissed her lord's grey hair. In truththough she was still a proud
lady and stately in her waysthere had come upon her some strange
subtle change Anne could not understand.
On the day on which the assembly was heldMistress Anne's woman
brought to her a beautiful robe. 'Twas flowered satin of the sheen
and softness of a dove's breastand the lace adorning it was like a
spider's web for gossamer fineness. The robe was sweetly fashioned
fitting her shape wondrously; and when she was attired in it at
night a little colour came into her cheeks to see herself so far
beyond all comeliness she had ever known before. When she found
herself in the midst of the dazzling scene in the rooms of
entertainmentshe was glad when at last she could feel herself lost
among the crowd of guests. Her only pleasure in such scenes was to
withdraw to some hidden corner and look on as at a pageant or a
play. To-night she placed herself in the shadow of a screenfrom
which retreat she could see Clorinda and Dunstanwolde as they
received their guests. Thus she found enjoyment enough; forin
truthher love and almost abject passion of adoration for her
sister had grown as his lordship's hadwith every hour. For a
season there had rested upon her a black shadow beneath which she
wept and trembledbewildered and lost; though even at its darkest
the object of her humble love had been a star whose brightness was
not dimmedbecause it could not be so whatsoever passed before it.
This cloudhoweverbeing it seemed dispelledthe star had shone
but more brilliant in its high placeand she the more passionately
worshipped it. To sit apart and see her idol's radianceto mark
her as she reigned and seemed the more royal when she bent the knee
to royalty itselfto see the shimmer of her jewels crowning her
midnight hair and crashing the warm whiteness of her noble neckto
observe the admiration in all eyes as they dwelt upon her--this was
indeedenough of happiness.
She is, as ever,she murmurednot so much a woman as a proud
lovely goddess who has deigned to descend to earth. But my lord
does not look like himself. He seems shrunk in the face and old,
and his eyes have rings about them. I like not that. He is so kind
a gentleman and so happy that his body should not fail him. I have
marked that he has looked colourless for days, and Clorinda
questioned him kindly on it, but he said he suffered naught.
'Twas but a little later than she had thought thisthat she
remarked a gentleman step aside and stand quite near without
observing her. Feeling that she had no testimony to her
fancifulnessshe found herself thinking in a vague fashion that he
toohad come there because he chose to be unobserved. 'Twould not
have been so easy for him to retire as it had been for her smallness
and insignificance to do so; andindeedshe did not fancy that he
meant to conceal himselfbut merely to stand for a quiet moment a
little apart from the crowd.
And as she looked up at himwondering why this should beshe saw
he was the noblest and most stately gentleman she had ever beheld.
She had never seen him before; he must either be a stranger or a
rare visitor. As Clorinda was beyond a woman's heighthe was
beyond a man's.
He carried himself as kingly as she did nobly; he had a countenance
of strongmanly beautyand a deep tawny eyethick-fringed and
full of fire; orders glittered upon his breastand he wore a fair
periwigwhich became him wondrouslyand seemed to make his eye
more deep and burning by its contrast.
Beside his strength and majesty of bearing the stripling beauty of
John Oxon would have seemed slight and paltrya thing for flippant
women to trifle with.
Mistress Anne looked at him with an admiration somewhat like
reverenceand as she did so a sudden thought rose to her mindand
even as it roseshe marked what his gaze rested onand how it
dwelt upon itand knew that he had stepped apart to stand and gaze
as she did--only with a man's hid fervour--at her sister's self.
'Twas as if suddenly a strange secret had been told her. She read
it in his facebecause he thought himself unobservedand for a
space had cast his mask aside. He stood and gazed as a man who
starving at soulfed himself through his eyeshaving no hope of
other sustenanceor as a man weary with long carrying of a burden
for a space laid it down for rest and to gather power to go on. She
heard him draw a deep sigh almost stifled in its birthand there
was that in his face which she felt it was unseemly that a stranger
like herself should beholdhimself unknowing of her near presence.
She gently rose from her cornerwondering if she could retire from
her retreat without attracting his observation; but as she did so
chance caused him to withdraw himself a little farther within the
shadow of the screenand doing sohe beheld her.
Then his face changed; the mask of noble calmnessfor a moment
fallenresumed itselfand he bowed before her with the reverence
of a courtly gentlemanundisturbed by the unexpectedness of his
recognition of her neighbourhood.
Madam,he saidpardon my unconsciousness that you were near me.
You would pass?And he made way for her.
She curtseyedasking his pardon with her dullsoft eyes.
Sir,she answeredI but retired here for a moment's rest from
the throng and gaiety, to which I am unaccustomed. But chiefly I
sat in retirement that I might watch--my sister.
Your sister, madam?he saidas if the questioning echo were
almost involuntaryand he bowed again in some apology.
My Lady Dunstanwolde,she replied. "I take such pleasure in her
loveliness and in all that pertains to herit is a happiness to me
to but look on."
Whatsoever the thing was in her loving mood which touched him and
found echo in his ownhe was so far moved that he answered to her
with something less of ceremoniousness; remembering alsoin truth
that she was a lady he had heard ofand recalling her relationship
It is then Mistress Anne Wildairs I am honoured by having speech
with,he said. "My Lady Dunstanwolde has spoken of you in my
presence. I am my lord's kinsman the Duke of Osmonde;" again
bowingand Anne curtseyed low once more.
Despite his greatnessshe felt a kindness and grace in him which
was not condescensionand which almost dispelled the timidity
whichbeing part of her natureso unduly beset her at all times
when she addressed or was addressed by a stranger. John Oxon
bowing his bright curlsand seeming ever to mock with his smiles
had caused her to be overcome with shy awkwardness and blushes; but
this manwho seemed as far above him in person and rank and mind as
a god is above a graceful painted puppeteven appeared to give of
his own noble strength to her poor weakness. He bore himself
towards her with a courtly respect such as no human being had ever
shown to her before. He besought her again to be seated in her
nookand stood before her conversing with such delicate sympathy
with her mood as seemed to raise her to the pedestal on which stood
less humble women. All those who passed before them he knew and
could speak easily of. The high deeds of those who were statesmen
or men honoured at Court or in the fieldhe was familiar with; and
of those who were beauties or notable gentlewomen he had always
something courtly to say.
Her own worship of her sister she knew full well he understood
though he spoke of her but little.
Well may you gaze at her,he said. "So does all the worldand
honours and adores."
He proffered her at last his armand shehaving strangely taken
couragelet him lead her through the rooms and persuade her to some
refreshment. Seeing her so wondrously emerge from her chrysalis
and under the protection of so distinguished a companionall looked
at her as she passed with curious amazementand indeed Mistress
Anne was all but overpowered by the reverence shown them as they
made their way.
As they came again into the apartment wherein the host and hostess
received their guestsAnne felt her escort pauseand looked up at
him to see the meaning of his sudden hesitation. He was gazing
intentlynot at Clorindabut at the Earl of Dunstanwolde.
Madam,he saidpardon me that I seem to detain you, but--but I
look at my kinsman. Madam,with a sudden fear in his voicehe is
ailing--he sways as he stands. Let us go to him. Quickly! He
Andin soothat that very moment there arose a dismayed cry from
the guests about themand there was a surging movement; and as they
pressed forward themselves through the throngAnne saw Dunstanwolde
no more above the peoplefor he had indeed fallen and lay outstretched
and deathly on the floor.
'Twas but a few seconds before she and Osmonde were close enough to
him to mark his fallen face and ghastly pallorand a strange dew
starting out upon his brow.
But 'twas his wife who knelt beside his prostrate bodywaving all
else aside with a great majestic gesture of her arm.
Back! back!she cried. "Air! air! and water! My lord! My dear
But he did not answeror even stirthough she bent close to him
and thrust her hand within his breast. And then the frightened
guests beheld a strange but beautiful and loving thingsuch as
might have moved any heart to tenderness and wonder. This great
beautythis worshipped creatureput her arms beneath and about the
helplessawful body--for so its pallor and stillness indeed made
it--and lifted it in their powerful whiteness as if it had been the
body of a childand so bore it to a couch near and laid it down
kneeling beside it.
Anne and Osmonde were beside her. Osmonde pale himselfbut gently
calm and strong. He had despatched for a physician the instant he
saw the fall.
My lady,he saidbending over herpermit me to approach. I
have some knowledge of these seizures. Your pardon!
He knelt also and took the moveless handfeeling the pulse; he
toothrust his hand within the breast and held it therelooking at
the sunken face.
My dear lord,her ladyship was sayingas if to the prostrate
man's ear aloneknowing that her tender voice must reach him if
aught would--as indeed was truth. "Edward! My dear--dear lord!"
Osmonde held his hand steadily over the heart. The guests shrunk
backstricken with terror.
There was that in this corner of the splendid room which turned
Osmonde slowly withdrew his handand turning to the kneeling woman-
with a pallor like that of marblebut with a noble tenderness and
pity in his eyes
My lady,he saidyou are a brave woman. Your great courage must
sustain you. The heart beats no more. A noble life is finished.
* * *
The guests heardand drew still farther backa woman or two
faintly whimpering; a hurrying lacquey parted the crowdand soway
being made for himthe physician came quickly forward.
Anne put her shaking hands up to cover her gaze. Osmonde stood
stilllooking down. My Lady Dunstanwolde knelt by the couch and
hid her beautiful face upon the dead man's breast.
CHAPTER XII--Which treats of the obsequies of my Lord of
Dunstanwoldeof his lady's widowhoodand of her return to town
All that remained of my Lord Dunstanwolde was borne back to his
ancestral homeand there laid to rest in the ancient tomb in which
his fathers slept. Many came from town to pay him respectand the
Duke of Osmonde wasas was but fittingamong them. The countess
kept her own apartmentsand none but her sisterMistress Anne
The night before the final ceremonies she spent sitting by her
lord's coffinand to Anne it seemed that her mood was a stranger
onethan ever woman had before been ruled by. She did not weep or
moanand only once kneeled down. In her sweeping black robes she
seemed more a majestic creature than she had ever beenand her
beauty more that of a statue than of a mortal woman. She sent away
all other watcherskeeping only her sister with herand Anne
observed in her a strange protecting gentleness when she spoke of
the dead man.
I do not know whether dead men can feel and hear,she said.
Sometimes there has come into my mind--and made me shudder--the
thought that, though they lie so still, mayhap they know what we do-
and how they are spoken of as nothings whom live men and women but
wait a moment to thrust away, that their own living may go on again
in its accustomed way, or perchance more merrily. If my lord knows
aught, he will be grateful that I watch by him to-night in this
solemn room. He was ever grateful, and moved by any tenderness of
'Twas as she saidthe room was solemnand this almost to
awfulness. It was a huge cold chamber at bestand draped with
blackand hung with hatchments; a silent gloom filled it which made
it like a tomb. Tall wax-candles burned in it dimlybut adding to
its solemn shadows with their faint light; and in his rich coffin
the dead man lay in his shroudhis hands like carvings of yellowed
ivory clasped upon his breast.
Mistress Anne dared not have entered the place aloneand was so
overcome at sight of the pinched nostrils and sunk eyes that she
turned cold with fear. But Clorinda seemed to feel no dread or
shrinking. She went and stood beside the great funeral-draped bed
of state on which the coffin layand thus standinglooked down
with a graveprotecting pity in her face. Then she stooped and
kissed the dead man long upon the brow.
I will sit by you to-night,she said. "That which lies here will
be alone to-morrow. I will not leave you this last night. Had I
been in your place you would not leave me."
She sat down beside him and laid her strong warm hand upon his cold
waxen onesclosing it over them as if she would give them heat.
Anne knelt and prayed--that all might be forgiventhat sins might
be blotted outthat this kind poor soul might find love and peace
in the kingdom of Heavenand might not learn there what might make
bitter the memory of his last year of rapture and love. She was so
simple that she forgot that no knowledge of the past could embitter
aught when a soul looked back from Paradise.
Throughout the watches of the night her sister sat and held the dead
man's hand; she saw her more than once smooth his grey hair almost
as a mother might have touched a sick sleeping child's; again she
kissed his foreheadspeaking to him gentlyas if to tell him he
need not fearfor she was close at hand; just once she kneltand
Anne wondered if she prayedand in what mannerknowing that prayer
was not her habit.
'Twas just before dawn she knelt soand when she rose and stood
beside himlooking down againshe drew from the folds of her robe
a little package.
Anne,she saidas she untied the ribband that bound itwhen
first I was his wife I found him one day at his desk looking at
these things as they lay upon his hand. He thought at first it
would offend me to find him so; but I told him that I was gentler
than he thought--though not so gentle as the poor innocent girl who
died in giving him his child. 'Twas her picture he was gazing at,
and a little ring and two locks of hair--one a brown ringlet from
her head, and one--such a tiny wisp of down--from the head of her
infant. I told him to keep them always and look at them often,
remembering how innocent she had been, and that she had died for
him. There were tears on my hand when he kissed it in thanking me.
He kept the little package in his desk, and I have brought it to
The miniature was of a sweet-faced girl with large loving childish
eyesand cheeks that blushed like the early morning. Clorinda
looked at her almost with tenderness.
There is no marrying or giving in marriage, 'tis said,quoth she;
but were there, 'tis you who were his wife--not I. I was but a
lighter thing, though I bore his name and he honoured me. When you
and your child greet him he will forget me--and all will be well.
She held the miniature and the soft hair to his cold lips a moment
and Anne saw with wonder that her own mouth worked. She slipped the
ring on his least fingerand hid the picture and the ringlets
within the palms of his folded hands.
He was a good man,she said; "he was the first good man that I had
ever known." And she held out her hand to Anne and drew her from
the room with herand two crystal tears fell upon the bosom of her
black robe and slipped away like jewels.
When the funeral obsequies were overthe next of kin who was heir
came to take possession of the estate which had fallen to himand
the widow retired to her father's house for seclusion from the
world. The town house had been left to her by her deceased lord
but she did not wish to return to it until the period of her
mourning was over and she laid aside her weeds. The income the earl
had been able to bestow upon her made her a rich womanand when she
chose to appear again in the world it would be with the power to
mingle with it fittingly.
During her stay at her father's house she did much to make it a more
suitable abode for herordering down from London furnishings and
workmen to set her own apartments and Anne's in order. But she
would not occupy the rooms she had lived in heretofore. For some
reason it seemed to be her whim to have begun to have an enmity for
them. The first day she entered them with Anne she stopped upon the
I will not stay here,she said. "I never loved the rooms--and now
I hate them. It seems to me it was another woman who lived in them-
in another world. 'Tis so long ago that 'tis ghostly. Make ready
the old red chambers for me to her woman; I will live there.
They have been long closedand are worm-eaten and mouldy perchance;
but a great fire will warm them. And I will have furnishings from
London to make them fit for habitation."
The next day it seemed for a brief space as if she would have
changed even from the red chambers.
I did not know,she saidturning with a sudden movement from a
side windowthat one might see the old rose garden from here. I
would not have taken the room had I guessed it. It is too dreary a
wilderness, with its tangle of briars and its broken sun-dial.
You cannot see the dial from here,said Annecoming towards her
with a strange paleness and haste. "One cannot see WITHIN the
garden from any windowsurely."
Nay,said Clorinda; "'tis not near enoughand the hedges are too
high; but one knows 'tis thereand 'tis tiresome."
Let us draw the curtains and not look, and forget it,said poor
Anne. And she drew the draperies with a trembling hand; and ever
after while they dwelt in the room they stayed so.
My lady wore her mourning for more than a yearand in her sombre
trailing weeds was a wonder to behold. She lived in her father's
houseand saw no companybut sat or walked and drove with her
sister Anneand visited the poor. The perfect stateliness of her
decorum was more talked about than any levity would have been; those
who were wont to gossip expecting that having made her fine match
and been so soon rid of her lordshe would begin to show her
strange wild breeding againand indulge in fantastical whims. That
she should wear her mourning with unflinching dignity and withdraw
from the world as strictly as if she had been a lady of royal blood
mourning her princewas the unexpected thingand so was talked of
At the end of the eighteenth month she sent one day for Annewho
coming at her biddingfound her standing in her chamber surrounded
by black robes and draperies piled upon the bedand chairsand
floortheir sombreness darkening the room like a cloud; but she
stood in their midst in a trailing garment of pure whiteand in her
bosom was a bright red rose tied with a knot of scarlet ribband
whose ends fell floating. Her woman was upon her knees before a
coffer in which she was laying the weeds as she folded them.
Mistress Anne paused within the doorwayher eyes dazzled by the
tall radiant shape and blot of scarlet colour as if by the shining
of the sun. She knew in that moment that all was changedand that
the world of darkness they had been living in for the past months
was swept from existence. When her sister had worn her mourning
weeds she had seemed somehow almost pale; but now she stood in the
sunlight with the rich scarlet on her cheek and lipand the stars
in her great eyes.
Come in, sister Anne,she said. "I lay aside my weedsand my
woman is folding them away for me. Dost know of any poor creature
newly left a widow whom some of them would be a help to? 'Tis a
pity that so much sombreness should lie in chests when there are
perhaps poor souls to whom it would be a godsend."
Before the day was overthere was not a shred of black stuff left
in sight; such as had not been sent out of the house to be
distributedbeing packed away in coffers in the garrets under the
You will wear it no more, sister?Anne asked once. "You will wear
gay colours--as if it had never been?"
It IS as if it had never been,Clorinda answered. "Ere now her
lord is happy with herand he is so happy that I am forgot. I had
a fancy that--perhaps at first--wellif he had looked down on
earth--remembering--he would have seen I was faithful in my
honouring of him. But nowI am sure--"
She stopped with a half laugh. "'Twas but a fancy she said.
Perchance he has known naught since that night he fell at my feet-and
even sopoor gentlemanhe hath a happy fate. YesI will wear
gay colours flinging up her arms as if she dropped fetters, and
stretched her beauteous limbs for ease--gay colours--and roses and
rich jewels--and all things--ALL that will make me beautiful!"
The next day there came a chest from Londonpacked close with
splendid raiment; when she drove out again in her chariot her
servants' sad-coloured liveries had been laid byand she was
attired in rich huesamidst which she glowed like some flower new
Her house in town was thrown open againand set in order for her
coming. She made her journey back in stateMistress Anne
accompanying her in her travelling-coach. As she passed over the
highroad with her equipage and her retinueor spent the night for
rest at the best inns in the towns and villagesall seemed to know
her name and state.
'Tis the young widow of the Earl of Dunstanwolde,people said to
each other--"she that is the great beautyand of such a wit and
spirit that she is scarce like a mere young lady. 'Twas said she
wed him for his rank; but afterwards 'twas known she made him a
happy gentlemanthough she gave him no heir. She wore weeds for
him beyond the accustomed timeand is but now issuing from her
Mistress Anne felt as if she were attending some royal lady's
progresspeople so gazed at them and nudged each otherwondered
You do not mind that all eyes rest on you,she said to her sister;
you are accustomed to be gazed at.
I have been gazed at all my life,my lady answered; "I scarce take
note of it."
On their arrival at home they met with fitting welcome and
reverence. The doors of the town house were thrown open wideand
in the hall the servants stood in linethe housekeeper at the head
with her keys at her girdlethe little jet-black negro page
grinning beneath his turban with joy to see his lady againhe
worshipping her as a sort of fetichafter the manner of his race.
'Twas his duty to take heed to the pet dogsand he stood holding by
their little silver chains a smart-faced pug and a pretty spaniel.
His lady stopped a moment to pat them and to speak to him a word of
praise of their condition; and being so favouredhe spoke also
rolling his eyes in his delight at finding somewhat to impart.
Yesterday, ladyship, when I took them out,he saida gentleman
marked them, knowing whose they were. He asked me when my lady came
again to town, and I answered him to-day. 'Twas the fair gentleman
in his own hair.
'Twas Sir John Oxon, your ladyship,said the lacquey nearest to
Her ladyship left caressing her spaniel and stood upright. Little
Nero was frightenedfearing she was angered; she stood so straight
and tallbut she said nothing and passed on.
At the top of the staircase she turned to Mistress Anne with a
Thy favourite again, Anne,she said. "He means to haunt menow
we are alone. 'Tis thee he comes after."
CHAPTER XIII--Wherein a deadly war begins
The town and the World of Fashion greeted her on her return with
open arms. Those who looked on when she bent the knee to kiss the
hand of Royalty at the next drawing-roomwhispered among themselves
that bereavement had not dimmed her charmswhich were even more
radiant than they had been at her presentation on her marriageand
that the mind of no man or woman could dwell on aught as mournful as
widowhood in connection with herorindeedcould think of
anything but her brilliant beauty. 'Twas as if from this time she
was launched into a new life. Being richof high rankand no
longer an unmarried womanher position had a dignity and freedom
which there was no creature but might have envied. As the wife of
Dunstanwolde she had been the fashionand adored by all who dared
adore her; but as his widow she was surrounded and besieged. A
fortunea toasta witand a beautyshe combined all the things
either man or woman could desire to attach themselves to the train
of; and had her air been less regaland her wit less keen of edge
she would have been so beset by flatterers and toadies that life
would have been burdensome. But this she would not haveand was
swift enough to detect the man whose debts drove him to the
expedient of daring to privately think of the usefulness of her
fortuneor the woman who manoeuvred to gain reputation or success
by means of her position and power.
They would be about me like vultures if I were weak fool enough to
let them,she said to Anne. "They cringe and grovel like spaniels
and flatter till 'tis like to make one sick. 'Tis always so with
toadies; they have not the wit to see that their flattery is an
insolencesince it supposes adulation so rare that one may be moved
by it. The men with empty pockets would marry meforsoothand the
women be dragged into company clinging to my petticoats. But they
are learning. I do not shrink from giving them sharp lessons."
This she did without mercyand in time cleared herself of hangerson
so that her banquets and assemblies were the most distinguished
of the timeand the men who paid their court to her were of such
place and fortune that their worship could but be disinterested.
Among the earliest to wait upon her was his Grace of Osmondewho
found her one day alonesave for the presence of Mistress Anne
whom she kept often with her. When the lacquey announced himAnne
who sat upon the same seat with herfelt her slightly startand
looking upsaw in her countenance a thing she had never beheld
beforenor had indeed ever dreamed of beholding. It was a strange
sweet crimson which flowed over her faceand seemed to give a
wondrous deepness to her lovely orbs. She rose as a queen might
have risen had a king come to herbut never had there been such
pulsing softness in her look before. 'Twas in some curious fashion
like the look of a girl; andin soothshe was but a girl in years
but so different to all others of her ageand had lived so singular
a lifethat no one ever thought of her but as a womanor would
have deemed it aught but folly to credit her with any tender emotion
or blushing warmth girlhood might be allowed.
His Grace was as courtly of bearing as he had ever been. He stayed
not longand during his visit conversed but on such subjects as a
kinsman may graciously touch upon; but Anne noted in him a new look
alsothough she could scarce have told what it might be. She
thought that he looked happierand her fancy was that some burden
had fallen from him.
Before he went away he bent low and long over Clorinda's hand
pressing his lips to it with a tenderness which strove not to
conceal itself. And the hand was not withdrawnher ladyship
standing in sweet yieldingthe tender crimson trembling on her
cheek. Anne herself trembledwatching her newstrange loveliness
with a sense of fascination; she could scarce withdraw her eyesit
seemed so as if the woman had been reborn.
Your Grace will come to us again,my lady saidin a soft voice.
We are two lonely women,with her radiant compelling smileand
need your kindly countenancing.
His eyes dwelt deep in hers as he answeredand there was a flush
upon his own cheekman and warrior though he was.
If I might come as often as I would,he saidI should be at your
door, perhaps, with too great frequency.
Nay, your Grace,she answered. "Come as often as WE would--and
see who wearies first. 'Twill not be ourselves."
He kissed her hand againand this time 'twas passionatelyand when
he left her presence it was with a look of radiance on his noble
faceand with the bearing of a king new crowned.
For a few moments' space she stood where he had parted from her
looking as though listening to the sound of his stepas if she
would not lose a footfall; then she went to the windowand stood
among the flowers therelooking down into the streetand Anne saw
that she watched his equipage.
'Twas early summerand the sunshine flooded her from head to foot;
the window and balcony were full of flowers--yellow jonquils and
daffodilswhite narcissusand all things fragrant of the spring.
The scent of them floated about her like an incenseand a straying
zephyr blew great puffs of their sweetness back into the room. Anne
felt it all about herand remembered it until she was an aged
Clorinda's bosom rose high in an exultantrapturous sigh.
'Tis the Spring that comes,she murmured breathlessly. "Never
hath it come to me before."
Even as she said the wordsat the very moment of her speaking
Fate--a strange Fate indeed--brought to her yet another visitor.
The door was thrown open wideand in he camea lacquey crying
aloud his name. 'Twas Sir John Oxon.
* * *
Those of the World of Fashion who were wont to gossiphad bestowed
upon them a fruitful subject for discussion over their tea-tables
in the future of the widowed Lady Dunstanwolde. All the men being
enamoured of her'twas not likely that she would long remain
unmarriedher period of mourning being over; andaccordingly
forthwith there was every day chosen for her a new husband by those
who concerned themselves in her affairsand they were many. One
week 'twas a great general she was said to smile on; againa great
beau and female conquerorit being argued thathaving made her
first marriage for rank and wealthand being a passionate and
fantastic beautyshe would this time allow herself to be ruled by
her capriceand wed for love; againa certain marquis was named
and after him a young earl renowned for both beauty and wealth; but
though each and all of those selected were known to have laid
themselves at her feetnone of them seemed to have met with the
favour they besought for.
There were two menhoweverwho were more spoken of than all the
restand whose court awakened a more lively interest; indeed'twas
an interest which was lively enough at times to become almost a
matter of contentionfor those who upheld the cause of the one man
would not hear of the success of the otherthe claims of each being
considered of such different nature. These two men were the Duke of
Osmonde and Sir John Oxon. 'Twas the soberer and more dignified who
were sure his Grace had but to proffer his suit to gain itand
their sole wonder lay in that he did not speak more quickly.
But being a man of such noble mind, it may be that he would leave
her to her freedom yet a few months, because, despite her
stateliness, she is but young, and 'twould be like his
honourableness to wish that she should see many men while she is
free to choose, as she has never been before. For these days she is
not a poor beauty as she was when she took Dunstanwolde.
The less seriousor less worldlyespecially the sentimental
spinsters and matrons and romantic youngwho had heard and enjoyed
the rumours of Mistress Clorinda Wildairs' strange early dayswere
prone to build much upon a certain story of that time.
Sir John Oxon was her first love,they said. "He went to her
father's house a beautiful young man in his earliest bloomand she
had never encountered such an one beforehaving only known country
dolts and her father's friends. 'Twas said they loved each other
but were both passionate and proudand quarrelled bitterly. Sir
John went to France to strive to forget her in gay living; he even
obeyed his mother and paid court to another womanand Mistress
Clorindabeing of fierce haughtinessrevenged herself by marrying
But she has never deigned to forgive him,'twas also said. "She
is too haughty and of too high a temper to forgive easily that a man
should seem to desert her for another woman's favour. Even when
'twas whispered that she favoured himshe was disdainfuland
sometimes flouted him bitterlyas was her way with all men. She
was never gentleand had always a cutting wit. She will use him
hardly before she relents; but if he sues patiently enough with such
grace as he uses with other womenlove will conquer her at last
for 'twas her first."
She showed him no great favourit was true; and yet it seemed she
granted him more privilege than she had done during her lord's life
for he was persistent in his following herand would come to her
house whether of her will or of his own. Sometimes he came there
when the Duke of Osmonde was with her--this happened more than once-
and then her ladyship's facewhich was ever warmly beautiful when
Osmonde was nearwould curiously change. It would grow pale and
cold; but in her eyes would burn a strange light which one man knew
was as the light in the eyes of a tigress lying chainedbut
crouching to leap. But it was not Osmonde who felt thishe saw
only that she changed colourand having heard the story of her
girlhooda little chill of doubt would fall upon his noble heart.
It was not doubt of herbut of himselfand fear that his great
passion made him blind; for he was the one man chivalrous enough to
remember how young she wasand to see the cruelty of the Fate which
had given her unmothered childhood into the hands of a coarse rioter
and debaucheemaking her his plaything and his whim. And if in her
first hours of bloom she had been thrown with youthful manhood and
beautywhat more in the course of nature than that she should have
learned to love; and being separated from her young lover by their
mutual youthful faults of pride and passionateness of temperwhat
more natural thanbeing free againand he suing with all his soul
that her heart should return to himeven though through a struggle
with pride. In her lord's lifetime he had not seen Oxon near her;
and in those days when he had so struggled with his own surging
loveand striven to bear himself noblyhe had kept away from her
knowing that his passion was too great and strong for any man to
always hold at bay and make no signbecause at brief instants he
trembled before the thought that in her eyes he had seen that which
would have sprung to answer the same self in him if she had been a
free woman. But now whendespite her coldnesswhich never melted
to John Oxonshe still turned pale and seemed to fall under a
restraint on his cominga man of sufficient high dignity to be
splendidly modest where his own merit was concernedmight well feel
that for this there must be a reasonand it might be a grave one.
So though he would not give up his suit until he was sure that 'twas
either useless or unfairhe did not press it as he would have done
but saw his lady when he couldand watched with all the tenderness
of passion her lovely face and eyes. But one short town season
passed before he won his prize; but to poor Anne it seemed that in
its passing she lived years.
Poor womanas she had grown thin and large-eyed in those days gone
byshe grew so again. Time in passing had taught her so much that
others did not know; and as she served her sisterand waited on her
wishesshe saw that of which no other dreamedand saw without
daring to speakor show by any signher knowledge.
The day when Lady Dunstanwolde had turned from standing among her
daffodilsand had found herself confronting the open door of her
saloonand John Oxon passing through itMistress Anne had seen
that in her face and his which had given to her a shock of terror.
In John Oxon's blue eyes there had been a set fierce lookand in
Clorinda's a blaze which had been like a declaration of war; and
these same looks she had seen since that dayagain and again.
Gradually it had become her sister's habit to take Anne with her
into the world as she had not done before her widowhoodand Anne
knew whence this custom came. There were times whenby use of her
presenceshe could avoid those she wished to thrust asideand Anne
notedwith a cold sinking of the spiritthat the one she would
plan to elude most frequently was Sir John Oxon; and this was not
done easily. The young man's gay lightness of demeanour had
changed. The few years that had passed since he had come to pay his
courts to the young beauty in male attirehad brought experiences
to him which had been bitter enough. He had squandered his fortune
and failed to reinstate himself by marriage; his dissipations had
told upon himand he had lost his spirit and good-humour; his
mocking wit had gained a bitterness; his gallantry had no longer the
gaiety of youth. And the woman he had loved for an hour with
youthful passionand had dared to dream of casting aside in boyish
insolencehad risen like a phoenixand soared high and triumphant
to the very sun itself. "He was ever base Clorinda had said. As
he was at first he is now and in the saying there was truth. If
she had been helpless and heartbroken, and had pined for him, he
would have treated her as a victim, and disdained her humiliation
and grief; magnificent, powerful, rich, in fullest beauty, and
disdaining himself, she filled him with a mad passion of love which
was strangely mixed with hatred and cruelty. To see her surrounded
by her worshippers, courted by the Court itself, all eyes drawn
towards her as she moved, all hearts laid at her feet, was torture
to him. In such cases as his and hers, it was the woman who should
sue for love's return, and watch the averted face, longing for the
moment when it would deign to turn and she could catch the cold eye
and plead piteously with her own. This he had seen; this, men like
himself, but older, had taught him with vicious art; but here was a
woman who had scorned him at the hour which should have been the
moment of his greatest powerfulness, who had mocked at and lashed
him in the face with the high derision of a creature above law, and
who never for one instant had bent her neck to the yoke which women
must bear. She had laughed it to scorn--and him--and all things-and
gone on her way, crowned with her scarlet roses, to wealth, and
rank, and power, and adulation; while he--the man, whose right it
was to be transgressor--had fallen upon hard fortune, and was losing
step by step all she had won. In his way he loved her madly--as he
had loved her before, and as he would have loved any woman who
embodied triumph and beauty; and burning with desire for both, and
with jealous rage of all, he swore he would not be outdone,
befooled, cast aside, and trampled on.
At the playhouse when she looked from her box, she saw him leaning
against some pillar or stationed in some noticeable spot, his bold
blue eyes fixed burningly upon her; at fashionable assemblies he
made his way to her side and stood near her, gazing, or dropping
words into her ear; at church he placed himself in some pew near by,
that she and all the world might behold him; when she left her coach
and walked in the Mall he joined her or walked behind. At such
times in my lady's close-fringed eyes there shone a steady gleam;
but they were ever eyes that glowed, and there were none who had
ever come close enough to her to know her well, and so there were
none who read its meaning. Only Anne knew as no other creature
could, and looked on with secret terror and dismay. The world but
said that he was a man mad with love, and desperate at the knowledge
of the powerfulness of his rivals, could not live beyond sight of
They did not hear the words that passed between them at times when
he stood near her in some crowd, and dropped, as 'twas thought,
words of burning prayer and love into her ear. 'Twas said that it
was like her to listen with unchanging face, and when she deigned
reply, to answer without turning towards him. But such words and
replies it had more than once been Anne's ill-fortune to be near
enough to catch, and hearing them she had shuddered.
One night at a grand rout, the Duke of Osmonde but just having left
the reigning beauty's side, she heard the voice she hated close by
You think you can disdain me to the end it said. Your ladyship
is SURE so?"
She did not turn or answerand there followed a low laugh.
You think a man will lie beneath your feet and be trodden upon
without speaking. You are too high and bold.
She waved her painted fanand gazed steadily before her at the
crowdnow and then bending her head in gracious greeting and
smiling at some passer-by.
If I could tell the story of the rose garden, and of what the sundial
saw, and what the moon shone on--he said.
He heard her draw her breath sharply through her teethhe saw her
white bosom lift as if a wild beast leapt within itand he laughed
His Grace of Osmonde returns,he said; and then markingas he
never failed to dobitterly against his willthe grace and majesty
of this rivalwho was one of the greatest and bravest of England's
gentlemenand knowing that she marked it toohis rage so mounted
that it overcame him.
Sometimes,he saidmethinks that I shall KILL you!
Would you gain your end thereby?she answeredin a voice as low
I would frustrate his--and yours.
Do it, then,she hissed backsome day when you think I fear
'Twould be too easy,he answered. "You fear it too little. There
are bitterer things."
She rose and met his Gracewho had approached her. Always to his
greatness and his noble heart she turned with that new feeling of
dependence which her whole life had never brought to her before.
His deep eyesfalling on her tenderly as she rosewere filled with
protecting concern. Involuntarily he hastened his steps.
Will your Grace take me to my coach?she said. "I am not well.
May I--go?" as gently as a tenderappealing girl.
And moved by thisas by her pallormore than his man's words could
have toldhe gave her his arm and drew her quickly and supportingly
Mistress Anne did not sleep well that nighthaving much to distract
her mind and keep her awakeas was often in these days the case.
When at length she closed her eyes her slumber was fitful and broken
by dreamsand in the mid hour of the darkness she wakened with a
start as if some sound had aroused her. Perhaps there had been some
soundthough all was still when she opened her eyes; but in the
chair by her bedside sat Clorinda in her night-railher hands wrung
hard together on her kneeher black eyes staring under a brow knit
into straight deep lines.
Sister!cried Annestarting up in bed. "Sister!"
Clorinda slowly turned her head towards herwhereupon Anne saw that
in her face there was a look as if of horror which struggled with a
griefa woetoo monstrous to be borne.
Lie down, Anne,she said. "Be not afraid--'tis only I bitterly-
who need fear?"
Anne cowered among the pillows and hid her face in her thin hands.
She knew so well that this was true.
I never thought the time would come,her sister saidwhen I
should seek you for protection. A thing has come upon me--perhaps I
shall go mad--to-night, alone in my room, I wanted to sit near a
woman--'twas not like me, was it?
Mistress Anne crept near the bed's edgeand stretching forth a
handtouched herswhich were as cold as marble.
Stay with me, sister,she prayed. "Sisterdo not go! What--what
can I say?"
Naught,was the steady answer. "There is naught to be said. You
were always a woman--I was never one--till now."
She rose up from her chair and threw up her armspacing to and fro.
I am a desperate creature,she cried. "Why was I born?"
She walked the room almost like a thing mad and caged.
Why was I thrown into the world?striking her breast. "Why was I
made so--and not one to watch or care through those mad years? To
be given a body like this--and tossed to the wolves."
She turned to Anneher arms outstretchedand so stood white and
strange and beauteous as a statuewith drops like great pearls
running down her lovely cheeksand she caught her breath sobbingly
like a child.
I was thrown to them,she wailed piteouslyand they harried me-and
left the marks of their great teeth--and of the scars I cannot
rid myself--and since it was my fate--pronounced from my first hour-
why was not this,clutching her breastleft hard as 'twas at
first? Not a woman's--not a woman's, but a she-cub's. Ah! 'twas
not just--not just that it should be so!
Anne slipped from her bed and ran to herfalling upon her knees and
clinging to herweeping bitterly.
Poor heart!she cried. "Poordearest heart!"
Her touch and words seemed to recall Clorinda to herself. She
started as if wakened from a dreamand drew her form up rigid.
I have gone mad,she said. "What is it I do?" She passed her
hand across her brow and laughed a little wild laugh. "Yes she
said; this it is to be a woman--to turn weak and run to other
women--and weep and talk. Yesby these signs I AM a woman!" She
stood with her clenched hands pressed against her breast. "In any
fair fight she said, I could have struck back blow for blow--and
mine would have been the heaviest; but being changed into a woman
my arms are taken from me. He who strikesaims at my bared breast-
and that he knows and triumphs in."
She set her teeth togetherand ground themand the lookwhich was
like that of a chained and harried tigresslit itself in her eyes.
But there is NONE shall beat me,she said through these fierce
shut teeth. "Nay I there is NONE! Get upAnne bending to raise
her. Get upor I shall be kneeling too--and I must stand upon my
She made a motion as if she would have turned and gone from the room
without further explanationbut Anne still clung to her. She was
afraid of her againbut her piteous love was stronger than her
Let me go with you,she cried. "Let me but go and lie in your
closet that I may be nearif you should call."
Clorinda put her hands upon her shouldersand stoopingkissed her
which in all their lives she had done but once or twice.
God bless thee, poor Anne,she said. "I think thou wouldst lie on
my threshold and watch the whole night throughif I should need it;
but I have given way to womanish vapours too much--I must go and be
alone. I was driven by my thoughts to come and sit and look at thy
good face--I did not mean to wake thee. Go back to bed."
She would be obeyedand led Anne to her couch herselfmaking her
lie downand drawing the coverlet about her; after which she stood
upright with a strange smilelaying her hands lightly about her own
When I was a new-born thing and had a little throat and a weak
breath,she cried'twould have been an easy thing to end me.
have been told I lay beneath my mother when they found her dead.
If, when she felt her breath leaving her, she had laid her hand upon
my mouth and stopped mine, I should not,with the little laugh
again--"I should not lie awake to-night."
And then she went away.
CHAPTER XIV--Containing the history of the breaking of the horse
Deviland relates the returning of his Grace of Osmonde from France
There were in this strange naturedepths so awful and profound that
it was not to be sounded or to be judged as others were. But one
thing could have melted or caused the unconquerable spirit to bend
and this was the overwhelming passion of love--not a slighttender
feelingbut a great and powerful onesuch as could be awakened but
by a being of as strong and deep a nature as itselfone who was in
all things its peer.
I have been lonely--lonely all my life,my Lady Dunstanwolde had
once said to her sisterand she had indeed spoken a truth.
Even in her childhood she had felt in some strange way she stood
apart from the world about her. Before she had been old enough to
reason she had been conscious that she was stronger and had greater
power and endurance than any human being about her. Her strength
she used in these days in wilful tyrannyand indeed it was so used
for many a day when she was older. The time had never been when an
eye lighted on her with indifferenceor when she could not rule and
punish as she willed. As an infant she had browbeaten the womenservants
and the stable-boys and grooms; but because of her quick
wit and clever tongueand also because no humour ever made her
aught but a creature well worth looking atthey had taken her
bullying in good-humour and loved her in their coarse way. She had
tyrannised over her father and his companionsand they had adored
and boasted of her; but there had not been one among them whom she
could have turned to if a softer moment had come upon her and she
had felt the need of a friendnor indeed one whom she did not
regard privately with contempt.
A god or goddess forced upon earth and surrounded by mere human
beings would surely feel a desolateness beyond the power of common
words to expressand a human being endowed with powers and physical
gifts so rare as to be out of all keeping with those of its fellows
of ordinary build and mental stature must needs be lonely too.
She had had no companionbecause she had found none like herself
and none with whom she could have aught in common. Anne she had
pitiedbeing struck by some sense of the unfairness of her lot as
compared with her own. John Oxon had moved herbringing to her her
first knowledge of buoyantardent youthand blooming strength and
beauty; for Dunstanwolde she had felt gratitude and affection; but
than these there had been no others who even distantly had touched
The night she had given her promise to Dunstanwoldeand had made
her obeisance before his kinsman as she had met his deep and leonine
eyeshe had known that 'twas the only man's eye before which her
own would fall and which held the power to rule her very soul.
She did not think this as a romantic girl would have thought it; it
was revealed to her by a sudden tempestuous leap of her heartand
by a shock like terror. Here was the man who was of her own build
whose thews and sinews of mind and body was as powerful as her own-here
was he whohad she met him one short year beforewould have
revolutionised her world.
In the days of her wifehood when she had read in his noble face
something of that which he endeavoured to command and which to no
other was apparentthe dignity of his self-restraint had but filled
her with tenderness more passionate and grateful.
Had he been a villain and a coward,was her thoughthe would
have made my life a bitter battle; but 'tis me he loves, not himself
only, and as I honour him so does he honour me.
Now she beheld the same passion in his eyesbut no more held in
leash: his look met hershiding from her nothing of what his high
soul burned with; and she was free--free to answer when he spoke
and only feeling one bitterness in her heart--if he had but come in
time--God! why had he not been sent in time?
Butlate or earlyhe had come; and what they had to give each
other should not be mocked at and lost. The night she had ended by
going to Anne's chambershe had paced her room saying this again
and againall the strength of her being rising in revolt. She had
been then a caged tigress of a verity; she had wrung her hands; she
had held her palm hard against her leaping heart; she had walked
madly to and frobattling in thought with what seemed awful fate;
she had flung herself upon her knees and wept bitter scalding tears.
He is so noble,she had cried--"he is so noble--and I so worship
his nobleness--and I have been so base!"
And in her suffering her woman's nerves had for a moment betrayed
her. Heretofore she had known no weakness of her sexbut the woman
soul in her so being movedshe had been broken and conquered for a
spaceand had gone to Anne's chamberscarcely knowing what refuge
she so sought. It had been a feminine actand she had realised all
it signified when Anne sank weeping by her. Women who wept and
prated together at midnight in their chambers ended by telling their
secrets. So it was that it fell out that Anne saw not again the
changed face to the sight of which she had that night awakened. It
seemed as if my lady from that time made plans which should never
for a moment leave her alone. The next day she was busied arranging
a brilliant routthe next a rich banquetthe next a great
assembly; she drove in the Mall in her stateliest equipages; she
walked upon its promenadesurrounded by her crowd of courtiers
smiling upon themand answering them with shafts of graceful wit-the
charm of her gaiety had never been so remarked uponher air
never so enchanting. At every notable gathering in the World of
Fashion she was to be seen. Being bidden to the Courtwhich was at
Hamptonher brilliant beauty and spirit so enlivened the royal
dulness that 'twas said the Queen herself was scarce resigned to
part with herand that the ladies and gentlemen in waiting all
suffered from the spleen when she withdrew. She bought at this time
the fiercest but most beautiful beast of a horse she had ever
mounted. The creature was superbly handsomebut apparently so
unconquerable and so savage that her grooms were afraid to approach
itand indeed it could not be saddled and bitted unless she herself
stood near. Even the horse-dealerrogue though he washad sold it
to her with some approach to a qualm of consciencehaving confessed
to her that it had killed two groomsand been sentenced to be shot
by its first ownerand was still living only because its great
beauty had led him to hesitate for a few days. It was by chance
that during these few days Lady Dunstanwolde heard of itand going
to see itdesired and bought it at once.
It is the very beast I want,she saidwith a gleam in her eye.
It will please me to teach it that there is one stronger than
She had much use for her loaded riding-whip; and indeednot finding
it heavy enoughordered one made which was heavier. When she rode
the beast in Hyde Parkher first battles with him were the town
talk; and there were those who bribed her footmen to inform them
beforehandwhen my lady was to take out Devilthat they might know
in time to be in the Park to see her. Fops and hunting-men laid
wagers as to whether her ladyship would kill the horse or be killed
by himand followed her training of the creature with an excitement
and delight quite wild.
Well may the beast's name be Devil,said more than one looker-on;
for he is not so much horse as demon. And when he plunges and
rears and shows his teeth, there is a look in his eye which flames
like her own, and 'tis as if a male and female demon fought
together, for surely such a woman never lived before. She will not
let him conquer her, God knows; and it would seem that he was
swearing in horse fashion that she should not conquer him.
When he was first bought and brought homeMistress Anne turned ashy
at the sight of himand in her heart of hearts grieved bitterly
that it had so fallen out that his Grace of Osmonde had been called
away from town by high and important matters; for she knew full
wellthat if he had been in the neighbourhoodhe would have said
some discreet and tender word of warning to which her ladyship would
have listenedthough she would have treated with disdain the
caution of any other man or woman. When she herself ventured to
speakClorinda looked only stern.
I have ridden only ill-tempered beasts all my life, and that for
the mere pleasure of subduing them,she said. "I have no liking
for a horse like a bell-wether; and if this one should break my
neckI need battle with neither men nor horses againand I shall
die at the high tide of life and power; and those who think of me
afterwards will only remember that they loved me--that they loved
But the horse did not kill hernor she it. Day after day she stood
by while it was taken from its stallmany a time dealing with it
herselfbecause no groom dare approach; and then she would ride it
forthand in Hyde Park force it to obey her; the wondrous strength
of her willher wrist of steeland the fiercepitiless punishment
she inflictedactually daunting the devilish creature's courage.
She would ride from the encounterthrough two lines of people who
had been watching her--and some of them found themselves following
after hereven to the Park gate--almost awed as they looked at her
sitting erect and splendid on the frettedanguished beastwhose
shining skin was covered with latherwhose mouth tossed bloodflecked
foamand whose great eye was so strangely like her ownbut
that hers glowed with the light of triumphand his burned with the
agonised protest of the vanquished. At such times there was
somewhat of fear in the glances that followed her beautywhich
almost seemed to blaze--her colour was so richthe curve of her red
mouth so imperialthe poise of her headwith its loosening coils
of velvet black hairso high.
It is good for me that I do this,she said to Annewith a short
laughone day. "I was growing too soft--and I have need now for
all my power. To fight with the demon in this beastrouses all in
me that I have held in check since I became my poor lord's wife.
That the creature should have set his will against all othersand
should resist me with such strength and devilishnessrouses in me
the passion of the days when I cursed and raved and struck at those
who angered me. 'Tis fury that possesses meand I could curse and
shriek at him as I flog himif 'twould be seemly. As it would not
be soI shut my teeth hardand shriek and curse within themand
none can hear."
Among those who made it their custom to miss no day when she went
forth on Devil that they might stand near and behold herthere was
one man ever presentand 'twas Sir John Oxon. He would stand as
near as might be and watch the battlea stealthy fire in his eye
and a look as if the outcome of the fray had deadly meaning to him.
He would gnaw his lip until at times the blood started; his face
would by turns flush scarlet and turn deadly pale; he would move
suddenly and restlesslyand break forth under breath into oaths of
exclamation. One day a man close by him saw him suddenly lay his
hand upon his swordand having so donestill keep it therethough
'twas plain he quickly remembered where he was.
As for the horse's ridermy Lady Dunstanwoldewhose way it had
been to avoid this man and to thrust him from her path by whatsoever
adroit means she could useon these occasions made no effort to
evade him and his glances; in soothhe knewthough none other did
sothat when she fought with her horse she did it with a fierce joy
in that he beheld her. 'Twas as though the battle was between
themselves; and knowing this in the depths of such soul as he
possessedthere were times when the man would have exulted to see
the brute rise and fall upon hercrushing her out of lifeor dash
her to the earth and set his hoof upon her dazzling upturned face.
Her scorn and deadly defiance of himher beauty and maddening
charmwhich seemed but to increase with every hour that flew by
had roused his love to fury. Despite his youthhe was a villain
as he had ever been; even in his first freshness there had been
older men--and hardened ones--who had wondered at the selfish
mercilessness and blackness of the heart that was but that of a boy.
They had said among themselves that at his years they had never
known a creature who could be so gaily a dastardone who could plan
with such light remorselessnessand using all the gifts given him
by Nature solely for his own endswould take so much and give so
little. In truthas time had gone onmen who had been his
companionsand had indeed small consciences to boast ofhad begun
to draw off a little from himand frequent his company less. He
chose to tell himself that this was because he had squandered his
fortune and was less good companybeing pursued by creditors and
haunted by debts; but though there was somewhat in thisperchance
'twas not the entire truth.
By Gad!said one over his cupsthere are things even a rake-hell
fellow like me cannot do; but he does them, and seems not to know
that they are to his discredit.
There had been a time when without this woman's beauty he might have
lived--indeedhe had left it of his own free vicious will; but in
these dayswhen his fortunes had changed and she represented all
that he stood most desperately in need ofher beauty drove him mad.
In his haunting of heras he followed her from place to placehis
passion grew day by dayand all the more gained strength and
fierceness because it was so mixed with hate. He tossed upon his
bed at night and cursed her; he remembered the wild pastand the
memory all but drove him to delirium. He knew of what stern stuff
she was madeand that even if her love had diedshe would have
held to her compact like grim deatheven while loathing him. And
he had cast all this aside in one mad moment of boyish cupidity and
folly; and now that she was so radiant and entrancing a thingand
wealthand splendourand rankand luxury lay in the hollow of her
handshe fixed her beauteous devil's eyes upon him with a scorn in
their black depths which seemed to burn like fires of hell.
The great brute who dashedand plungedand pranced beneath her
seemed to have sworn to conquer her as he had sworn himself; but let
him plunge and kick as he wouldthere was no quailing in her eye
she sat like a creature who was superhumanand her hand was iron
her wrist was steel. She held him so that he could not do his worst
without such pain as would drive him mad; she lashed himand rained
on him such blows as almost made him blind. Once at the very worst
Devil dancing near himshe looked down from his back into John
Oxon's faceand he cursed aloudher eye so told him his own story
and hers. In those days their souls met in such combat as it seemed
must end in murder itself.
You will not conquer him,he said to her one morningforcing
himself near enough to speak.
I will, unless he kills me,she answeredand that methinks he
will find it hard to do.
He will kill you,he said. "I wouldwere I in his four shoes."
You would if you could,were her words; "but you could not with
his bit in your mouth and my hand on the snaffle. And if he killed
mestill 'twould be henot Iwas beaten; since he could only kill
what any bloody villain could with any knife. He is a brute beast
and I am that which was given dominion over such. Look on till I
have done with him."
And thuswith other beholdersthough in a different mood from
theirshe diduntil a day when even the most sceptical saw that
the brute came to the fray with less of courageas if there had at
last come into his brain the dawning of a fear of that which rid
himand all his madness could not displace from its throne upon his
By God!cried more than one of the bystandersseeing this
despite the animal's furythe beast gives way! He gives way! She
has him!And John Oxonshutting his teethcut short an oath and
turned pale as death.
From that moment her victory was a thing assured. The duel of
strength became less desperateand having once begun to learn his
lessonthe brute was made to learn it well. His bearing was a
thing superb to behold; once taught obediencethere would scarce be
a horse like him in the whole of England. And day by day this he
learned from herand being masteredwas put through his pacesand
led to answer to the reinso that he trottedcanteredgalloped
and leaped as a bird flies. Then as the town had come to see him
fight for freedomit came to see him adorn the victory of the being
who had conquered himand over their dishes of tea in the afternoon
beaux and beauties of fashion gossiped of the interesting and
exciting event; and there were vapourish ladies who vowed they could
not have beaten a brute soand that surely my Lady Dunstanwolde
must have looked hot and blowzy while she did itand have had the
air of a great rough man; and there were some pretty tiffs and even
quarrels when the men swore that never had she looked so magnificent
a beauty and so inflamed the hearts of all beholding her.
On the first day after her ladyship's last battle with her horse
the one which ended in such victory to her that she rode him home
hard through the streets without an outbreakhe white with lather
and marked with stripesbut his large eye holding in its velvet a
look which seemed almost like a human thought--on that day after
there occurred a thing which gave the town new matter to talk of.
His Grace of Osmonde had been in Francecalled there by business of
the Stateand during his absence the gossip concerning the horse
Devil had taken the place of that which had before touched on
himself. 'Twas not announced that he was to return to Englandand
indeed there were those whospeaking with authoritysaid that for
two weeks at least his affairs abroad would not be brought to a
close; and yet on this morningas my Lady Dunstanwolde rode 'neath
the treesholding Devil well in handand watching him with eagle
keenness of eyemany looking on in wait for the moment when the
brute might break forth suddenly againa horseman was seen
approaching at a pace so rapid that 'twas on the verge of a gallop
and the first man who beheld him looked amazed and lifted his hat
and the nextseeing himspoke to anotherwho bowed with himand
all along the line of loungers hats were removedand people wore
the air of seeing a man unexpectedlyand hearing a name spoken in
exclamation by his sideSir John Oxon looked round and beheld ride
by my lord Duke of Osmonde. The sun was shining brilliantlyand
all the Park was gay with bright warmth and greenness of turf and
trees. Clorinda felt the glow of the summer morning permeate her
being. She kept her watch upon her beast; but he was going well
and in her soul she knew that he was beatenand that her victory
had been beheld by the one man who knew that it meant to her that
which it seemed to mean also to himself. And filled with this
thought and the joy of itshe rode beneath the treesand so was
riding with splendid spirit when she heard a horse behind herand
looked up as it drew nearand the rich crimson swept over her in a
sweet floodso that it seemed to her she felt it warm on her very
shoulders'neath her habitfor 'twas Osmonde's self who had
followed and reached herand uncoveredkeeping pace by her side.
Ahwhat a face he hadand how his eyes burned as they rested on
her. It was such a look she metthat for a moment she could not
find speechand he himself spoke as a man whothrough some deep
emotionhas almost lost his breath.
My Lady Dunstanwolde,he began; and then with a sudden passion
Clorinda, my beloved!The time had come when he could not keep
silenceand with great leapings of her heart she knew. Yet not one
word said shefor she could not; but her beautyglowing and
quivering under his eyes' great fireanswered enough.
Were it not that I fear for your sake the beast you ride,he said
I would lay my hand upon his bridle, that I might crush your hand
in mine. At post-haste I have come from France, hearing this thing-
that you endangered every day that which I love so madly. My God!
beloved, cruel, cruel woman--sure you must know!
She answered with a breathless wild surrender. "Yesyes!" she
And yet you braved this danger, knowing that you might leave me a
widowed man for life.
But,she saidwith a smile whose melting radiance seemed akin to
tears--"but see how I have beaten him--and all is passed."
Yes, yes,he saidas you have conquered all--as you have
conquered me--and did from the first hour. But God forbid that you
should make me suffer so again.
Your Grace,she saidfalteringI--I will not!
Forgive me for the tempest of my passion,he said. "'Twas not
thus I had thought to come to make my suit. 'Tis scarcely fitting
that it should be so; but I was almost mad when I first heard this
rumourknowing my duty would not loose me to come to you at once-and
knowing you so wellthat only if your heart had melted to the
one who besought youyou would give up."
I--give up,she answered; "I give up."
I worship you,he said; "I worship you." And their meeting eyes
were drowned in each other's tenderness.
They galloped side by sideand the watchers looked onexchanging
words and glancesseeing in her beauteousglowing facein his
joyous onethe final answer to the question they had so often asked
each other. 'Twas his Grace of Osmonde who was the happy manhe
and no other. That was a thing plain indeed to be seenfor they
were too high above the common world to feel that they must play the
paltry part of outward trifling to deceive it; and as the sun
pierces through clouds and is stronger than theyso their love
shone like the light of day itself through poor conventions. They
did not know the people gazed and whisperedand if they had known
itthe thing would have counted for naught with them.
See!said my ladypatting her Devil's neck--"seehe knows that
you have comeand frets no more."
They rode homeward togetherthe great beauty and the great duke
and all the town beheld; and after they had passed him where he
stoodJohn Oxon mounted his own horse and galloped awaywhitelipped
and with mad eyes.
Let me escort you home,the duke had saidthat I may kneel to
you there, and pour forth my heart as I have so dreamed of doing.
Tomorrow I must go back to France, because I left my errand
incomplete. I stole from duty the time to come to you, and I must
return as quickly as I came.So he took her home; and as they
entered the wide hall togetherside by sidethe attendant lacqueys
bowed to the ground in deepwelcoming obeisanceknowing it was
their future lord and master they received.
Together they went to her own sitting-roomcalled the Panelled
Parloura beautiful great room hung with rare pictureswarm with
floods of the bright summer sunshineand perfumed with bowls of
summer flowers; and as the lacquey departedbowingand closed the
door behind himthey turned and were enfolded close in each other's
armsand stood sowith their hearts beating as surely it seemed to
them human hearts had never beat before.
Oh! my dear love, my heavenly love!he cried. "It has been so
long--I have lived in prison and in fetters--and it has been so
Even as my Lord Dunstanwolde had found cause to wonder at her gentle
waysso was this man amazed at her great sweetnessnow that he
might cross the threshold of her heart. She gave of herself as an
empress might give of her store of imperial jewelswith sumptuous
lavishnessknowing that the store could not fail. In truthit
seemed that it must be a dream that she so stood before him in all
her greatrich lovelinessleaning against his heaving breasther
arms as tender as his ownher regal head thrown backward that they
might gaze into the depths of each other's eyes.
From that first hour that I looked up at you,she saidI knew
you were my lord--my lord! And a fierce pain stabbed my heart,
knowing you had come too late by but one hour; for had it not been
that Dunstanwolde had led me to you, I knew--ah! how well I knew-that
our hearts would have beaten together not as two hearts but as
As they do now,he cried.
As they do now,she answered--"as they do now!"
And from the moment that your rose fell at my feet and I raised it
in my hand,he saidI knew I held some rapture which was my own.
And when you stood before me at Dunstanwolde's side and our eyes
met, I could not understand--nay, I could scarce believe that it had
been taken from me.
Therein her armsamong the flowers and in the sweetness of the
sunhe lived again the pasttelling her of the days whenknowing
his dangerhe had held himself aloofdeclining to come to her
lord's house with the familiarity of a kinsmanbecause the pang of
seeing her often was too great to bear; and relating to her also the
story of the hours when he had watched her and she had not known his
nearness or guessed his painwhen she had passed in her equipage
not seeing himor giving him but a gracious smile. He had walked
outside her window at midnight sometimestoocoming because he was
a despairing manand could not sleepand returning homeward
having found no restbut only increase of anguish. "Sometimes he
said, I dared not look into your eyesfearing my own would betray
me; but now I can gaze into your soul itselffor the midnight is
over--and joy cometh with the morning."
As he had spokenhe had caressed softly with his hand her cheek and
her crown of hairand such was his great gentleness that 'twas as
if he touched lovingly a child; for into her face there had come
that look which it would seem that in the arms of the man she loves
every true woman wears--a look which is somehow like a child's in
its trustingsweet surrender and appealwhatsoever may be her
stateliness and the splendour of her beauty.
Yet as he touched her cheek so and her eyes so dwelt on him
suddenly her head fell heavily upon his breasthiding her face
even while her unwreathing arms held more closely.
Oh! those mad days before!she cried--"Oh! those madmad days
Nay, they are long passed, sweet,he saidin his deepnoble
voicethinking that she spoke of the wildness of her girlish years-"
and all our days of joy are yet to come."
Yes, yes,she criedclinging closeryet with shudderingthey
were BEFORE--the joy--the joy is all to come.
CHAPTER XV--In which Sir John Oxon finds again a trophy he had lost
His Grace of Osmonde went back to France to complete his business
and all the world knew that when he returned to England 'twould be
to make his preparations for his marriage with my Lady Dunstanwolde.
It was a marriage not long to be postponedand her ladyship herself
was known already to be engaged with lacemenlinen-draperstoyshop
womenand goldsmiths. Mercers awaited upon her at her house
accompanied by their attendantsbearing burdens of brocades and
silksand splendid stuffs of all sorts. Her chariot was to be seen
standing before their shopsand the interest in her purchases was
so great that fashionable beauties would contrive to visit the
counters at the same hours as herselfso that they might catch
glimpses of what she chose. In her own great house all was
repressed excitement; her women were enraptured at being allowed the
mere handling and laying away of the glories of her wardrobe; the
lacqueys held themselves with greater stateknowing that they were
soon to be a duke's servants; her little black Nero strutted about
his turban set upon his pate with a majestic cockand disdained to
enter into battle with such pages of his own colour as wore only
silver collarshe feeling assured that his own would soon be of
The World of Fashion said when her ladyship's equipage drove by
that her beauty was like that of the god of day at morningand that
'twas plain that no man or woman had ever beheld her as his Grace of
She loves at last,a wit said. "Until the time that such a woman
loveshowever great her splendourshe is as the sun behind a
And now this one hath come forth, and shines so that she warms us
in mere passing,said another. "What eyesand what a mouthwith
that strange smile upon it. Whoever saw such before? and when she
came to town with my Lord Dunstanwoldewhobeholding herwould
have believed that she could wear such a look?"
In sooththere was that in her face and in her voice when she spoke
which almost made Anne weepthrough its strange sweetness and
radiance. 'Twas as if the flood of her joy had swept away all
hardness and disdain. Her eyeswhich had seemed to mock at all
they rested onmocked no morebut ever seemed to smile at some
dear inward thought.
One night when she went forth to a Court ballbeing all attired in
brocade of white and silverand glittering with the Dunstanwolde
diamondswhich starred her as with great sparkling dewdropsand
yet had not the radiance of her eyes and smileshe was so purely
wonderful a vision that Annewho had been watching her through all
the time when she had been under the hands of her tirewomanand
beholding her now so dazzling and white a shining creaturefell
upon her knees to kiss her hand almost as one who worships.
Oh, sister,she saidyou look like a spirit. It is as if with
the earth you had naught to do--as if your eyes saw Heaven itself
and Him who reigns there.
The lovely orbs of Clorinda shone more still like the great star of
Sister Anne,she saidlaying her hand on her white breastat
times I think that I must almost be a spirit, I feel such heavenly
joy. It is as if He whom you believe in, and who can forgive and
wipe out sins, has forgiven me, and has granted it to me, that I may
begin my poor life again. Ah! I will make it better; I will try to
make it as near an angel's life as a woman can; and I will do no
wrong, but only good; and I will believe, and pray every day upon my
knees--and all my prayers will be that I may so live that my dear
lord--my Gerald--could forgive me all that I have ever done--and
seeing my soul, would know me worthy of him. Oh! we are strange
things, we human creatures, Anne,with a tremulous smile; "we do
not believe until we want a thingand feel that we shall die if
'tis not granted to us; and then we kneel and kneel and believe
because we MUST have somewhat to ask help from."
But all help has been given to you,poor tender Anne saidkissing
her hand again; "and I will prayI will pray--"
Ay, pray, Anne, pray with all thy soul,Clorinda answered; "I need
thy praying--and thou didst believe alwaysand have asked so little
that has been given thee."
Thou wast given me, sister,said Anne. "Thou hast given me a home
and kindness such as I never dared to hope; thou hast been like a
great star to me--I have had none otherand I thank Heaven on my
knees each night for the brightness my star has shed on me."
Poor Anne, dear Anne!Clorinda saidlaying her arms about her and
kissing her. "Pray for thy stargoodtender Annethat its light
may not be quenched." Then with a sudden movement her hand was
pressed upon her bosom again. "AhAnne she cried, and in the
music of her voice, agony itself was ringing--Annethere is but
one thing on this earth God rules over--but one thing that belongs-BELONGS
to me; and 'tis Gerald Mertoun--and he is mine and SHALL not
be taken from mefor he is a part of meand I a part of him!"
He will not be,said Anne--"he will not."
He cannot,Clorinda answered--"he shall not! 'Twould not be
She drew a long breath and was calm again.
Did it reach your ears,she saidreclasping a band of jewels on
her armthat John Oxon had been offered a place in a foreign
Court, and that 'twas said he would soon leave England?
I heard some rumour of it,Anne answeredher emotion getting the
better of her usual discreet speech. "God grant it may be true!"
Ay!said Clorindawould God that he were gone!
But that he was notfor when she entered the assembly that night he
was standing near the door as though he lay in waiting for herand
his eyes met hers with a leaping gleamwhich was a thing of such
exultation that to encounter it was like having a knife thrust deep
into her side and through and through itfor she knew full well
that he could not wear such a look unless he had some strength of
which she knew not.
This gleam was in his eyes each time she found herself drawn to
themand it seemed as though she could look nowhere without
encountering his gaze. He followed her from room to roomplacing
himself where she could not lift her eyes without beholding him;
when she walked a minuet with a royal dukehe stood and watched her
with such a look in his face as drew all eyes towards him.
'Tis as if he threatens her,one said. "He has gone mad with
But 'twas not love that was in his lookbut the madness of longthwarted
passion mixed with hate and mockery; and this she sawand
girded her soul with all its strengthknowing that she had a
fiercer beast to deal withand a more vicious and dangerous one
than her horse Devil. That he kept at first at a distance from her
and but looked on with this secret exultant glow in his bad
beauteous eyestold her that at last he felt he held some power in
his handsagainst which all her defiance would be as naught. Till
this hourthough she had sufferedand when alone had writhed in
agony of grief and bitter shamein his presence she had never
flinched. Her strength she knew was greater than his; but his
baseness was his weaponand the depths of that baseness she knew
she had never reached.
At midnighthaving just made obeisance before Royalty retiringshe
felt that at length he had drawn near and was standing at her side.
To-night,he saidin the low undertone it was his way to keep for
such occasionsknowing how he could pierce her ear--"to-night you
are Juno's self--a very Queen of Heaven!"
She made no answer.
And I have stood and watched you moving among all lesser goddesses
as the moon sails among the stars, and I have smiled in thinking of
what these lesser deities would say if they had known what I bear in
my breast to-night.
She did not even make a movement--in truthshe felt that at his
next words she might change to stone.
I have found it,he said--"I have it here--the lost treasure--the
tress of hair like a raven's wing and six feet long. Is there
another woman in England who could give a man a lock like it?"
She felt then that she hadin soothchanged to stone; her heart
hung without moving in her breast; her eyes felt great and hollow
and staring as she lifted them to him.
I knew not,she said slowlyand with bated breathfor the
awfulness of the moment had even made her body weak as she had never
known it feel before--"I knew not truly that hell made things like
Whereupon he made a movement forwardand the crowd about surged
nearer with hasty exclamationsfor the strange weakness of her body
had overpowered her in a way mysterious to herand she had changed
to marblegrowing too heavy of weight for her sinking limbs. And
those in the surrounding groups saw a marvellous thing--the same
being that my Lady Dunstanwolde swayed as she turnedand falling
lay stretchedas if deadin her white and silver and flashing
jewels at the startled beholders' feet.
* * *
She wore no radiant look when she went home that night. She would
go home alone and unescortedexcepting by her lacqueysrefusing
all offers of companionship when once placed in her equipage. There
wereof coursegentlemen who would not be denied leading her to
her coach; John Oxon was among themand at the last pressed close
with a manner of great ceremonyspeaking a final word.
'Tis useless, your ladyship,he murmuredas he made his obeisance
gallantlyand though the words were uttered in his lowest tone and
with great softnessthey reached her ear as he intended that they
should. "To-morrow morning I shall wait upon you."
Anne had forborne going to bedand waited for her returnlonging
to see her spirit's face again before she slept; for this poor
tender creaturebeing denied all woman's loves and joys by Fate
who had made her as she wasso lived in her sister's beauty and
triumphs that 'twas as if in some far-off way she shared themand
herself experienced through them the joy of being a woman
transcendently beautiful and transcendently beloved. To-night she
had spent her waiting hours in her closet and upon her knees
praying with all humble adoration of the Being she approached. She
was wont to pray long and fervently each daythanking Heaven for
the smallest things and the most commonand imploring continuance
of the mercy which bestowed them upon her poor unworthiness. For
her sister her prayers were offered up night and morningand
ofttimes in hours betweenand to-night she prayed not for herself
at allbut for Clorinda and for his Grace of Osmondethat their
love might be crowned with happinessand that no shadow might
intervene to cloud its brightnessand the tender rapture in her
sister's softened lookwhich was to her a thing so wonderful that
she thought of it with reverence as a holy thing.
Her prayers being at length endedshe had risen from her knees and
sat downtaking a sacred book to reada book of sermons such as
'twas her simple habit to pore over with entire respect and childlike
faithand being in the midst of her favourite homilyshe
heard the chariot's returning wheelsand left her chairsurprised
because she had not yet begun to expect the sound.
'Tis my sister,she saidwith a softsentimental smile.
Osmonde not being among the guests, she hath no pleasure in
mingling with them.
She went below to the room her ladyship usually went to first on her
return at night from any gatheringand there she found her sitting
as though she had dropped there in the corner of a great divanher
hands hanging clasped before her on her kneeher head hanging
forward on her fallen chesther large eyes staring into space.
Clorinda! Clorinda!Anne criedrunning to her and kneeling at
her side. "Clorinda! God have mercy! What is't?"
Never before had her face worn such a look--'twas colourlessand so
drawn and fallen in that 'twas indeed almost as if all her great
beauty was gone; but the thing most awful to poor Anne was that all
the new softness seemed as if it had been stamped outand the
fierce hardness had come back and was engraven in its placemingled
with a horrible despair.
An hour ago,she saidI swooned. That is why I look thus. 'Tis
yet another sign that I am a woman--a woman!
You are ill--you swooned?cried Anne. "I must send for your
physician. Have you not ordered that he be sent for yourself? If
Osmonde were herehow perturbed he would be!"
Osmonde!said my lady. "Gerald! Is there a GeraldAnne?"
Sister!cried Anneaffrighted by her strange look--"ohsister!"
I have seen heaven,Clorinda said; "I have stood on the threshold
and seen through the part-opened gate--and then have been dragged
back to hell."
Anne clung to hergazing upwards at her eyesin sheer despair.
But back to hell I will not go,she went on saying. "Had I not
seen Heaventhey might perhaps have dragged me; but now I will not
go--I will notthat I swear! There is a thing which cannot be
endured. Bear it no woman should. Even Iwho was not born a
womanbut a wolf's she-cubI cannot. 'Twas not I'twas Fate
she said--'twas not I'twas Fate--'twas the great wheel we are
bound towhich goes round and round that we may be broken on it.
'Twas not I who bound myself there; and I will not be broken so."
She said the words through her clenched teethand with all the mad
passion of her most lawless years; even at Anne she looked almost in
the old ungentle fashionas though half scorning all weaker than
herselfand having small patience with them.
There will be a way,she said--"there will be a way. I shall not
She left her divan and stood uprightthe colour having come back to
her face; but the look Anne worshipped not having returned with it
'twas as though Mistress Clorinda Wildairs had been born again.
To-morrow morning I go forth on Devil,she said; "and I shall be
abroad if any visitors come."
What passed in her chamber that night no human being knew. Anne
who left her own apartment and crept into a chamber near hers to lie
and watchknew that she paced to and frobut heard no other sound
and dared not intrude upon her.
When she came forth in the morning she wore the high look she had
been wont to wear in the years gone bywhen she ruled in her
father's houseand rode to the hunt with a following of gay middleaged
and elderly rioters. Her eye was brilliantand her colour
matched it. She held her head with the old dauntless carriageand
there was that in her voice before which her women quakedand her
lacqueys hurried to do her bidding.
Devil himself felt this same thing in the touch of her hand upon his
bridle when she mounted him at the doorand seemed to glance
askance at her sideways.
She took no servant with herand did not ride to the Parkbut to
the country. Once on the highroadshe rode fast and hardonly
galloping straight before her as the way ledand having no
intention. Where she was going she knew not; but why she rode on
horseback she knew full wellit being because the wildalmost
fierce motion was in keeping with the tempest in her soul. Thoughts
rushed through her brain even as she rushed through the air on
Devil's backand each leaping after the otherseemed to tear more
What shall I do?she was saying to herself. "What thing is there
for me to do? I am trapped like a hunted beastand there is no way
The blood went like a torrent through her veinsso that she seemed
to hear it roaring in her ears; her heart thundered in her sideor
'twas so she thought of it as it boundedwhile she recalled the
past and looked upon the present.
What else could have been?she groaned. "Naught else--naught
else. 'Twas a trick--a trick of Fate to ruin me for my punishment."
When she had gone forth it had been with no hope in her breast that
her wit might devise a way to free herself from the thing which so
beset herfor she had no weak fancies that there dwelt in this base
soul any germ of honour which might lead it to relenting. As she
had sat in her dark room at nightcrouched upon the floorand
clenching her handsas the mad thoughts went whirling through her
brainshe had stared her Fate in the face and known all its
awfulness. Before her lay the rapture of a greatsweethonourable
passiona high and noble life lived in such bliss as rarely fell to
lot of woman--on this one man she knew that she could lavish all the
splendour of her natureand make his life a heavenas hers would
be. Behind her lay the maduncared-for yearsand one black memory
blighting all to comethough 'twould have been but a black memory
with no power to blight if the heaven of love had not so opened to
her and with its light cast all else into shadow.
If 'twere not love,she cried--"if 'twere but ambitionI could
defy it to the last; but 'tis love--love--loveand it will kill me
to forego it."
Even as she moaned the words she heard hoof beats near herand a
horseman leaped the hedge and was at her side. She set her teeth
and turningstared into John Oxon's face.
Did you think I would not follow you?he asked.
I have followed you at a distance hitherto,he said; "now I shall
She did not speakbut galloped on.
Think you you can outride me?he said grimlyquickening his
steed's pace. "I go with your ladyship to your own house. For fear
of scandal you have not openly rebuffed me previous to this time;
for a like reason you will not order your lacqueys to shut your door
when I enter it with you."
My Lady Dunstanwolde turned to gaze at him again. The sun shone on
his bright falling locks and his blue eyes as she had seen it shine
in days which seemed so strangely long passed bythough they were
not five years agone.
'Tis strange,she saidwith a measure of wonderto live and be
so black a devil.
Bah! my lady,he saidthese are fine words--and fine words do
not hold between us. Let us leave them. I would escort you home,
and speak to you in private.There was that in his mocking that
was madness to herand made her sick and dizzy with the boiling of
the blood which surged to her brain. The fury of passion which had
been a terror to all about her when she had been a child was upon
her once moreand though she had thought herself freed from its
dominionshe knew it again and all it meant. She felt the
thundering beat in her sidethe hot flood leaping to her cheekthe
flame burning her eyes themselves as if fire was within them. Had
he been other than he washer face itself would have been a
warning. But he pressed her hard. As he would have slunk away a
beaten cur if she had held the victory in her handsso feeling that
the power was hishe exulted over the despairing frenzy which was
in her look.
I pay back old scores,he said. "There are many to pay. When you
crowned yourself with roses and set your foot upon my faceyour
ladyship thought not of this! When you gave yourself to
Dunstanwolde and spat at meyou did not dream that there could come
a time when I might goad as you did."
She struck Devil with her whipwho leaped forward; but Sir John
followed hard behind her. He had a swift horse tooand urged him
fiercelyso that between these two there was a race as if for life
or death. The beasts bounded forwardspurning the earth beneath
their feet. My lady's face was sether eyes were burning flame
her breath came short and pantingly between her teeth. Oxon's fair
face was white with passion; he panted alsobut strained every
nerve to keep at her sideand kept there.
Keep back! I warn thee!she cried oncealmost gasping.
Keep back!he answeredblind with rage. "I will follow thee to
And in this wise they galloped over the white road until the hedges
disappeared and they were in the streetsand people turned to look
at themand even stood and stared. Then she drew rein a little and
went slowerknowing with shuddering agony that the trap was closing
What is it that you would say to me?she asked him breathlessly.
That which I would say within four walls that you may hear it all,
he answered. "This time 'tis not idle threatening. I have a thing
to show you."
Through the streets they wentand as her horse's hoofs beat the
pavementand the passers-bylooking towards hergazed curiously
at so fine a lady on so splendid a bruteshe lifted her eyes to the
housesthe boothsthe facesand the skywith a strange fancy
that she looked about her as a man looks whodoomed to deathis
being drawn in his cart to Tyburn tree. For 'twas to death she
wentnor to naught else could she compare itand she was so young
and strongand full of love and lifeand there should have been
such bliss and peace before her but for one madness of her allunknowing
days. And this beside her--this man with the fair face
and looks and beauteous devil's eyeswas her hangmanand carried
his rope with himand soon would fit it close about her neck.
When they rode through the part of the town where abode the World of
Fashionthose who saw them knew themand marvelled that the two
should be together.
But perhaps his love has made him sue for pardon that he has so
borne himself,some saidand she has chosen to be gracious to
him, since she is gracious in these days to all.
When they reached her house he dismounted with herwearing an
outward air of courtesy; but his eye mocked heras she knew. His
horse was in a lather of sweatand he spoke to a servant.
Take my beast home,he said. "He is too hot to standand I shall
not soon be ready."
CHAPTER XVI--Dealing with that which was done in the Panelled
He followed her to the Panelled Parlourthe one to which she had
taken Osmonde on the day of their blissthe one in which in the
afternoon she received those who came to pay court to her over a
dish of tea. In the mornings none entered it but herself or some
invited guest. 'Twas not the room she would have chosen for him;
but when he said to her'Twere best your ladyship took me to some
private place,she had known there was no other so safe.
When the door was closed behind themand they stood face to face
they were a strange pair to behold--she with mad defiance battling
with mad despair in her face; he with the mocking which every woman
who had ever trusted him or loved him had lived to see in his face
when all was lost. Few men there lived who were as vile as hehis
power of villainy lying in that he knew not the meaning of man's
shame or honour.
Now,she saidtell me the worst.
'Tis not so bad,he answeredthat a man should claim his own,
and swear that no other man shall take it from him. That I have
sworn, and that I will hold to.
Your own!she said--"your own you call it--villain!"
My own, since I can keep it,quoth he. "Before you were my Lord
of Dunstanwolde's you were mine--of your own free will."
Nay, nay,she cried. "God! through some madness I knew not the
awfulness of--because I was so young and had known naught but evil-and
you were so base and wise."
Was your ladyship an innocent?he answered. "It seemed not so to
An innocent of all good,she cried--"of all things good on earth-of
all that I know nowhaving seen manhood and honour."
His Grace of Osmonde has not been told this,he said; "and I
should make it all plain to him."
What do you ask, devil?she broke forth. "What is't you ask?"
That you shall not be the Duchess of Osmonde,he saiddrawing
near to her; "that you shall be the wife of Sir John Oxonas you
once called yourself for a brief spacethough no priest had mumbled
Who was't divorced us?she saidgasping; "for I was an honest
thingthough I knew no other virtue. Who was't divorced us?"
I confess,he answeredbowingthat 'twas I--for the time being.
I was young, and perhaps fickle--
And you left me,she criedand I found that you had come but for
a bet--and since I so bore myself that you could not boast, and
since I was not a rich woman whose fortune would be of use to you,
you followed another and left me--me!
As his Grace of Osmonde will when I tell him my story,he
answered. "He is not one to brook that such things can be told of
the mother of his heirs."
She would have shrieked aloud but that she clutched her throat in
Tell him!she criedtell him, and see if he will hear you. Your
word against mine!
Think you I do not know that full well,he answeredand he
brought forth a little package folded in silk. "Why have I done
naught but threaten till this time? If I went to him without proof
he would run me through with his sword as I were a mad dog. But is
there another woman in England from whose head her lover could
ravish a lock as long and black as this?"
He unfolded the silkand let other silk unfold itselfa great and
thick ring of raven hair which uncoiled its serpent lengthand
though he held it highwas long enough after surging from his hand
to lie upon the floor.
Merciful God!she criedand shudderinghid her face.
'Twas a bet, I own,he said; "I heard too much of the mad beauty
and her disdain of men not to be fired by a desire to prove to her
and othersthat she was but a woman after alland so was to be
won. I took an oath that I would come back some day with a trophy-and
this I cut when you knew not that I did it."
She clutched her throat again to keep from shrieking in her-impotent
Devil, craven, and loathsome--and he knows not what he is!she
gasped. "He is a mad thing who knows not that all his thoughts are
'Twasin sootha strange and monstrous thing to see him so
unwavering and boldflinching before no ignominyshrinking not to
speak openly the thing before the mere accusation of which other
men's blood would have boiled.
When I bore it away with me,he saidI lived wildly for a space,
and in those days put it in a place of safety, and when I was sober
again I had forgot where. Yesterday, by a strange chance, I came
upon it. Think you it can be mistaken for any other woman's hair?
At this she held up her hand.
Wait,she said. "You will go to Osmondeyou will tell him this
I will tell him all the story of the rose garden and of the sundial,
and the beauty who had wit enough to scorn a man in public
that she might more safely hold tryst with him alone. She had great
wit and cunning for a beauty of sixteen. 'Twould be well for her
lord to have keen eyes when she is twenty.
He should have seen the warning in her eyesfor there was warning
enough in their flaming depths.
All that you can say I know,she said--"all that you can say! And
I love him. There is no other man on earth. Were he a beggarI
would tramp the highroad by his side and go hungered with him. He
is my lordand I his mate--his mate!"
That you will not be,he answeredmade devilish by her words.
He is a high and noble gentleman, and wants no man's cast-off
plaything for his wife.
Her breast leaped up and down in her panting as she pressed her hand
upon it; her breath came in sharp puffs through her nostrils.
And once,she breathed--"and once--I LOVED thee--cur!"
He was mad with exultant villainy and passionand he broke into a
Loved me!he said. "Thou! As thou lovedst me--and as thou lovest
him--so will Moll Easy love any man--for a crown."
Her whip lay upon the tableshe caught and whirled it in the air.
She was blind with the surging of her bloodand saw not how she
caught or held itor what she did--only that she struck!
And 'twas his temple that the loaded weapon metand 'twas wielded
by a wrist whose sinews were of steeland even as it struck he
gaspedcasting up his handsand thereupon felland lay stretched
at her feet!
But the awful tempest which swept over her had her so under its
dominion that she was like a branch whirled on the wings of the
storm. She scarce noted that he fellor noting itgave it not one
thought as she dashed from one end of the apartment to the other
with the fierce striding of a mad woman.
Devil!she criedand cur! and for thee I blasted all the years
to come! To a beast so base I gave all that an empress' self could
give--all life--all love--for ever. And he comes back--shameless-to
barter like a cheating huckster, because his trade goes ill, and
I--I could stock his counters once again.
She strode towards himraving.
Think you I do not know, woman's bully and poltroon, that you plot
to sell yourself, because your day has come, and no woman will bid
for such an outcast, saving one that you may threaten. Rise,
vermin--rise, lest I kill thee!
In her blind madness she lashed him once across the face again. And
he stirred not--and something in the resistless feeling of the flesh
beneath the whipand in the quiet of his lyingcaused her to pause
and stand panting and staring at the thing which lay before her.
For it was a Thingand as she stood staringwith wild heaving
breastthis she saw. 'Twas but a thing--a thing lying inertits
fair locks outspreadits eyes rolled upward till the blue was
almost lost; a purple indentation on the right temple from which
there oozed a tiny thread of blood.
* * *
There will be a way,she had saidand yet in her most mad
despairof this way she had never thought; though strange it had
beenconsidering her lawless pastthat she had not--never of this
way--never! Notwithstanding whichin one frenzied moment in which
she had known naught but her deliriumher loaded whip had found it
for her--the way!
And yet it being so foundand she stood staringseeing what she
had done--seeing what had befallen--'twas as if the blow had been
struck not at her own temple but at her heart--a great and heavy
shockwhich left her bloodlessand chokedand gasping.
What! what!she panted. "Nay! nay! nay!" and her eyes grew wide
She sank upon her kneesso shuddering that her teeth began to
chatter. She pushed him and shook him by the shoulder.
Stir!she cried in a loud whisper. "Move thee! Why dost thou lie
Yet he stirred notbut lay inertonly with his lips drawn back
showing his white teeth a littleas if her horrid agony made him
begin to laugh. Shudderingshe drew slowly nearerher eyes more
awful than his own. Her hand crept shaking to his wrist and
clutched it. There was naught astir--naught! It stole to his
breastand baring itpressed close. That was still and moveless
as his pulse; for life was endedand a hundred mouldering years
would not bring more of death.
I have KILLED thee,she breathed. "I have KILLED thee--though I
meant it not--even hell itself doth know. Thou art a dead man--and
this is the worst of all!"
His hand fell heavily from hersand she still knelt staringsuch a
look coming into her face as throughout her life had never been
there before--for 'twas the look of a creature whobeing tortured
the worst at last being reachedbegins to smile at Fate.
I have killed him!she saidin a lowawful voice; "and he lies
here--and outside people walkand know not. But HE knows--and I-and
as he lies methinks he smiles--knowing what he has done!"
She crouched even lower stillthe closer to behold himand indeed
it seemed his still face sneered as if defying her now to rid
herself of him! 'Twas as though he lay there mockingly content
sayingNow that I lie here, 'tis for YOU--for YOU to move me.
She rose and stood up rigidand all the muscles of her limbs were
drawn as though she were a creature stretched upon a rack; for the
horror of this which had befallen her seemed to fill the place about
herand leave her no air to breathe nor light to see.
Now!she criedif I would give way--and go mad, as I could but
do, for there is naught else left--if I would but give way, that
which is I--and has lived but a poor score of years--would be done
with for all time. All whirls before me. 'Twas I who struck the
blow--and I am a woman--and I could go raving--and cry out and call
them in, and point to him, and tell them how 'twas done--all!--all!
She chokedand clutched her bosomholding its heaving down so
fiercely that her nails bruised it through her habit's cloth; for
she felt that she had begun to rave alreadyand that the waves of
such a tempest were arising asif not quelled at their first swell
would sweep her from her feet and engulf her for ever.
That--that!she gasped--"nay--that I swear I will not do! There
was always One who hated me--and doomed and hunted me from the hour
I lay 'neath my dead mother's corpsea new-born thing. I know not
whom it was--or why--or how--but 'twas so! I was made eviland
cast helpless amid evil fatesand having done the things that were
ordainedand there was no escape fromI was shown noble manhood
and high honourand taught to worshipas I worship now. An angel
might so love and be made higher. And at the gate of heaven a devil
grins at me and plucks me backand taunts and mires meand I fall-
She stretched forth her arms in a great gesturewherein it seemed
that surely she defied earth and heaven.
No hope--no mercy--naught but doom and hell,she criedunless
the thing that is tortured be the stronger. Now--unless Fate bray
me small--the stronger I will be!
She looked down at the thing before her. How its stone face
sneeredand even in its sneering seemed to disregard her. She
knelt by it againher blood surging through her bodywhich had
been coldspeaking as if she would force her voice to pierce its
Ay, mock!she saidsetting her teeththinking that I am
conquered--yet am I not! 'Twas an honest blow struck by a creature
goaded past all thought! Ay, mock--and yet, but for one man's sake,
would I call in those outside and stand before them, crying: 'Here
is a villain whom I struck in madness--and he lies dead! I ask not
mercy, but only justice.'
She crouched still nearerher breath and words coming hard and
quick. 'Twas indeed as if she spoke to a living man who heard--as
if she answered what he had said.
There would be men in England who would give it me,she raved
whispering. "That would thereI swear! But there would be
dullards and dastards who would not. He would give it--he! Ay
mock as thou wilt! But between his high honour and love and me thy
carrion SHALL not come!"
By her great divan the dead man had fallenand so near to it he lay
that one arm was hidden by the draperies; and at this moment this
she saw--before having seemed to see nothing but the death in his
face. A thought came to her like a flame lit on a suddenand
springing high the instant the match struck the fuel it leaped from.
It was a thought so daring and so strange that even she gasped once
being appalledand her handsstealing to her browclutched at the
hair that grew therefeeling it seem to rise and stand erect.
Is it madness to so dare?she said hoarselyand for an instant
shudderinghid her eyesbut then uncovered and showed them
burning. "Nay! not as I will dare it she said, for it will make
me steel. You fell well she said to the stone-faced thing, and
as you lie thereseem to tell me what to doin your own despite.
You would not have so helped me had you known. Now 'tis 'twixt Fate
and I--a human thing--who is but a hunted woman."
She put her strong hand forth and thrust him--he was already
stiffening--backward from the shoulderthere being no shrinking on
her face as she felt his flesh yield beneath her touchfor she had
passed the barrier lying between that which is mere life and that
which is pitiless helland could feel naught that was human. A
poor wild beast at baypressed on all sides by dogsby huntsmen
by resistless weaponsby Nature's pitiless self -glaring with
bloodshot eyespantingwith fangs bared in the savagery of its
unfriended agony--might feel thus. 'Tis but a hunted beast; but
'tis aloneand faces so the terror and anguish of death.
The thing gazing with its set sneerand moving but stifflyshe put
forth another hand upon its side and thrust it farther backward
until it lay stretched beneath the great broad seatits glazed and
open eyes seeming to stare upward blankly at the low roof of its
strange prison; she thrust it farther backward stilland letting
the draperies fallsteadily and with care so rearranged them that
all was safe and hid from sight.
Until to-night,she saidYou will lie well there. And then--and
She picked up the long silken lock of hair which lay like a serpent
at her feetand threw it into the firewatching it burnas all
hair burnswith slow hissingand she watched it till 'twas gone.
Then she stood with her hands pressed upon her eyeballs and her
browher thoughts moving in great leaps. Although it reeledthe
brain which had worked for her everworked clear and strong
setting before her what was impendingarguing her caseshowing her
where dangers would arisehow she must provide against themwhat
she must defend and set at defiance. The power of will with which
she had been endowed at birthand which had but grown stronger by
its exercisewas indeed to be compared to some great engine whose
lever 'tis not nature should be placed in human hands; but on that
lever her hand rested nowand to herself she vowed she would
control itsince only thus might she be saved. The torture she had
undergone for monthsthe warring of the evil past with the noble
presentof that which was sweet and passionately loving woman with
that which was all but devilhad strung her to a pitch so intense
and high that on the falling of this unnatural and unforeseen blow
she was left scarce a human thing. Looking backshe saw herself a
creature doomed from birth; and here in one moment seemed to stand a
force ranged in mad battle with the fate which had doomed her.
'Twas ordained that the blow should fall so,she saidand those
who did it laugh--laugh at me.
'Twas but a momentand her sharp breathing became even and regular
as though at her command; her face composed itselfand she turned
to the bell and rang it as with imperious haste.
When the lacquey enteredshe was standing holding papers in her
hand as if she had but just been consulting them.
Follow Sir John Oxon,she commanded. "Tell him I have forgot an
important thing and beg him to return at once. Lose no time. He
has but just left me and can scarce be out of sight."
The fellow saw there was no time to lose. They all feared that
imperial eye of hers and fled to obey its glances. Bowinghe
turnedand hastened to do her biddingfearing to admit that he had
not seen the guest leavebecause to do so would be to confess that
he had been absent from his postwhich was indeed the truth.
She knew he would come back shortlyand thus he didentering
somewhat breathed by his haste.
My lady,he saidI went quickly to the street, and indeed to the
corner of it, but Sir John was not within sight.
Fool, you were not swift enough!she said angrily. "Waityou
must go to his lodgings with a note. The matter is of importance."
She went to a table--'twas close to the divanso close that if she
had thrust forth her foot she could have touched what lay beneath
it--and wrote hastily a few lines. They were to request That which
was stiffening within three feet of her to return to her as quickly
as possible that she might make inquiries of an important nature
which she had forgotten at his departure.
Take this to Sir John's lodgings,she said. "Let there be no
loitering by the way. Deliver into his own handsand bring back at
once his answer."
Then she was left alone againand being so leftpaced the room
slowlyher gaze upon the floor.
That was well done,she said. "When he returns and has not found
himI will be angeredand send him again to wait."
She stayed her pacingand passed her hand across her face.
'Tis like a nightmare,she said--"as if one dreamedand choked
and pantedand would scream aloudbut could not. I cannot! I
must not! Would that I might shriekand dash myself upon the
floorand beat my head upon it until I lay--as HE does."
She stood a momentbreathing fasther eyes wideningthat part of
her which was weak woman for the moment putting her in parlous
dangerrealising the which she pressed her sides with hands that
were of steel.
Wait! wait!she said to herself. "This is going mad. This is
loosening holdand being beaten by that One who hates me and laughs
to see what I have come to."
Naught but that unnatural engine of will could have held her within
bounds and restrained the mounting female weakness that beset her;
but this engine being stronger than all elseit beat her womanish
and swooning terrors down.
Through this one day I must live,she saidand plan, and guard
each moment that doth pass. My face must tell no tale, my voice
must hint none. He will be still--God knows he will be still
Upon the divan itself there had been lying a little dog; 'twas a
King Charles' spaniela delicate pampered thingwhich attached
itself to herand was not easily driven away. Once during the last
hour the fierceill-hushed voices had disturbed itand it had
given vent to a fretted barkbut being a luxurious little beastit
had soon curled up among its cushions and gone to sleep again. But
as its mistress walked about muttering low words and ofttimes
breathing sharp breathsit became disturbed again. Perhaps through
some instinct of which naught is known by human creaturesit felt
the strange presence of a thing which roused it. It stirredat
first drowsilyand lifted its head and sniffed; then it stretched
its limbsand having done sostood upturning on its mistress a
troubled eyeand this she saw and stopped to meet it. 'Twas a
strange look she bestowed upon ita startled and fearful one; her
thought drew the blood up to her cheekbut backward again it flowed
when the little beast lifted its nose and gave a low but woeful
howl. Twice it did thisand then jumped downand standing before
the edge of the couchstood there sniffing.
There was no mistakesome instinct of which it knew not the meaning
had set it onand it would not be thrust back. In all beasts this
strange thing has been remarked--that they know That which ends them
alland so revolt against it that they cannot be at rest so long as
it is near thembut must roaror whinnyor howl until 'tis out of
the reach of their scent. And so 'twas plain this little beast knew
and was afraid and restless. He would not let it bebut roved
aboutsniffing and whiningand not daring to thrust his head
beneath the falling draperiesbut growing more and yet more excited
and terrifieduntil at last he stoppedraised head in airand
gave vent to a longerlouderand more dolorous howland albeit to
one with so strange and noticeable a sound that her heart turned
over in her breast as she stooped and caught him in her graspand
shuddered as she stood uprightholding him to her sideher hand
over his mouth. But he would not be hushedand struggled to get
down as if indeed he would go mad unless he might get to the thing
and rave at it.
If I send thee from the room thou wilt come back, poor Frisk,she
said. "There will be no keeping thee awayand I have never ordered
thee away before. Why couldst thou not keep still? Nay'twas not
That it was not so was plain by his struggles and the yelps but
poorly stifled by her grasp.
She put her hand about his little neckturningin soothvery
Thou too, poor little beast,she said. "Thou toowho art so
small a thing and never harmed me."
When the lacquey came back he wore an air more timorous than before.
Your ladyship,he falteredSir John had not yet reached his
lodgings. His servant knew not when he might expect him.
In an hour go again and wait,she commanded. "He must return ere
long if he has not left town."
And having said thispointed to a little silken heap which lay
outstretched limp upon the floor. "'Tis poor Friskwho has had
some strange spasmand fellstriking his head. He hath been
ailing for daysand howled loudly but an hour ago. Take him away
CHAPTER XVII--Wherein his Grace of Osmonde's courier arrives from
The stronghold of her security lay in the fact that her household so
stood in awe of herand that this roomwhich was one of the
richest and most beautifulthough not the largestin the mansion
all her servitors had learned to regard as a sort of sacred place in
which none dared to set foot unless invited or commanded to enter.
Within its four walls she read and wrote in the morning hoursno
servant entering unless summoned by her; and the apartment seeming
as it werea citadelnone approached without previous parley. In
the afternoon the doors were thrown openand she entertained there
such visitors as came with less formality than statelier assemblages
demanded. When she went out of it this morning to go to her chamber
that her habit might be changed and her toilette madeshe glanced
about her with a steady countenance.
Until the babblers flock in to chatter of the modes and
playhouses,she saidall will be as quiet as the grave. Then I
must stand near, and plan well, and be in such beauty and spirit
that they will see naught but me.
In the afternoon 'twas the fashion for those who had naught more
serious in their hands than the killing of time to pay visits to
each other's housesand drinking dishes of teato dispose of their
neighbours' charactersdiscuss the play-housesthe latest fashions
in furbelows or commodesand make love either lightly or with
serious intent. One may be sure that at my Lady Dunstanwolde's many
dishes of Bohea were drunkand many ogling glances and much
witticism exchanged. There was in these days even a greater
following about her than ever. A triumphant beauty on the verge of
becoming a great duchess is not like to be neglected by her
acquaintanceand thus her ladyship held assemblies both gay and
brilliantly variedwhich were the delight of the fashionable
triflers of the day.
This afternoon they flocked in greater numbers than usual. The
episode of the breaking of Devilthe unexpected return of his Grace
of Osmondethe preparations for the unionhad given an extra
stimulant to that interest in her ladyship which was ever great
enough to need none. Thereunto was added the piquancy of the
stories of the noticeable demeanour of Sir John Oxonof what had
seemed to be so plain a rebellion against his fateand also of my
lady's open and cold displeasure at the manner of his bearing
himself as a disappointed man who presumed to show anger against
that to which he should gallantly have been resignedas one who is
conquered by the chance of war. Those who had beheld the two ride
homeward together in the morningwere full of curiousnessand one
and anothermentioning the matterexchanged glancesspeaking
plainly of desire to know more of what had passedand of hope that
chance might throw the two together again in publicwhere more of
interest might be gathered. It seemed indeed not unlikely that Sir
John might appear among the tea-bibbersand perchance 'twas for
this lively reason that my lady's room was this afternoon more than
usually full of gay spirits and gossip-loving ones.
They foundhoweveronly her ladyship's self and her sister
Mistress Annewhoof truthdid not often join her tea-parties
finding them so given up to fashionable chatter and worldly
witticisms that she felt herself somewhat out of place. The world
knew Mistress Anne but as a dullplain gentlewomanwhom her more
brilliant and fortunate sister gave gracious protection toand none
missed her when she was absentor observed her greatly when she
appeared upon the scene. To-day she was perchance more observed
than usualbecause her pallor was so great a contrast to her
ladyship's splendour of beauty and colour. The contrast between
them was ever a great one; but this afternoon Mistress Anne's always
pale countenance seemed almost lividthere were rings of pain or
illness round her eyesand her features looked drawn and pinched.
My Lady Dunstanwoldeclad in a great rich petticoat of crimson
flowered satinwith wondrous yellow Mechlin for her rufflesand
with her glorious hair dressed like a towerlooked tallermore
goddess-like and full of splendid fire than ever she had been before
beheldor so her visitors said to her and to each other; thoughto
tell the truththis was no new storyshe being one of those women
having the curious power of inspiring the beholder with the feeling
each time he encountered them that he had never before seen them in
such beauty and bloom.
When she had come down the staircase from her chamberAnnewho had
been standing at the foothad indeed started somewhat at the sight
of her rich dress and brilliant hues.
Why do you jump as if I were a ghost, Anne?she asked. "Do I look
like one? My looking-glass did not tell me so."
No,said Anne; "you--are so--so crimson and splendid--and I--"
Her ladyship came swiftly down the stairs to her.
You are not crimson and splendid,she said. "'Tis you who are a
ghost. What is it?"
Anne let her softdull eyes rest upon her for a moment helplessly
and when she replied her voice sounded weak.
I think--I am ill, sister,she said. "I seem to tremble and feel
Go then to bed and see the physician. You must be cared for,said
her ladyship. "In soothyou look ill indeed."
Nay,said Anne; "I beg yousisterthis afternoon let me be with
you; it will sustain me. You are so strong--let me--"
She put out her hand as if to touch herbut it dropped at her side
as though its strength was gone.
But there will be many babbling people,said her sisterwith a
curious look. "You do not like companyand these days my rooms are
full. 'Twill irk and tire you."
I care not for the people--I would be with you,Anne saidin
strange imploring. "I have a sick fancy that I am afraid to sit
alone in my chamber. 'Tis but weakness. Let me this afternoon be
Go then and change your robe,said Clorindaand put some red
upon your cheeks. You may come if you will. You are a strange
And thus sayingshe passed into her apartment. As there are blows
and pain which end in insensibility or deliriumso there are
catastrophes and perils which are so great as to produce something
near akin to these. As she had stood before her mirror in her
chamber watching her reflectionwhile her woman attired her in her
crimson flowered satin and builded up her stately head-dressthis
other woman had felt that the hour when she could have shrieked and
raved and betrayed herself had passed byand left a deadness like a
calm behindas though horror had stunned all pain and yet left her
senses clear. She forgot not the thing which lay staring upward
blankly at the under part of the couch which hid it--the look of its
fixed eyesits outspread locksand the purple indentation on the
temple she saw as clearly as she had seen them in that first mad
moment when she had stood staring downward at the thing itself; but
the coursing of her blood was stilledthe gallop of her pulsesand
that wild hysteric leaping of her heart into her throatchoking her
and forcing her to gasp and pant in that way which in women must
ever end in shrieks and cries and sobbing beatings of the air. But
for the feminine softness to which her nature had given way for the
first timesince the power of love had mastered herthere was no
thing of earth could have happened to her which would have brought
this rolling ball to her throatthis tremor to her body--since the
hour of her birth she had never been attacked by such a female
follyas she would indeed have regarded it once; but now 'twas
different--for a while she had been a woman--a woman who had flung
herself upon the bosom of him who was her soul's lordand resting
thereher old rigid strength had been relaxed.
But 'twas not this woman who had known tender yielding who returned
to take her place in the Panelled Parlourknowing of the companion
who waited near her unseen--for it was as her companion she thought
of himas she had thought of him when he followed her in the Mall
forced himself into her box at the playor stood by her shoulder at
assemblies; he had placed himself by her side againand would stay
there until she could rid herself of him.
After to-night he will be gone, if I act well my part,she said
and then may I live a freed woman.
'Twas always upon the divan she took her place when she received her
visitorswho were accustomed to finding her enthroned there. This
afternoon when she came into the room she paused for a spaceand
stood beside itthe parlour being yet empty. She felt her face
grow a little coldas if it paledand her under-lip drew itself
tight across her teeth.
In a graveyard,she saidI have sat upon the stone ledge of a
tomb, and beneath there was--worse than this, could I but have seen
it. This is no more.
When the Sir Humphreys and Lord CharlesesLady Bettys and Mistress
Lovelys were announced in flocksfluttering and chatteringshe
rose from her old place to meet themand was brilliant graciousness
itself. She hearkened to their gossipingsand though 'twas not her
way to join in themshe was this day witty in such way as robbed
them of the dulness in which sometimes gossip ends. It was a varied
company which gathered about her; but to each she gave his or her
momentand in that moment said that which they would afterwards
remember. With those of the Court she talked royaltythe humours
of her Majestythe severities of her Grace of Marlborough; with
statesmen she spoke with such intellect and discretion that they
went away pondering on the good fortune which had befallen one man
when it seemed that it was of such proportions as might have
satisfied a dozenfor it seemed not fair to them that his Grace of
Osmondehaving already rankwealthand fameshould have added to
them a gift of such magnificence as this beauteous woman would
bring; with beaux and wits she made dazzling jests; and to the
beauties who desired their flatteries she gave praise so adroit that
they were stimulated to plume their feathers afresh and cease to
fear the rivalry of her loveliness.
And yet while she so bore herselfnever once did she cease to feel
the presence of that whichlying nearseemed to her racked soul as
one who lay and listened with staring eyes which mocked; for there
was a thought which would not leave herwhich wasthat it could
hearthat it could see through the glazing on its blue orbsand
that knowing itself bound by the moveless irons of death and
dumbness it impotently raged and cursed that it could not burst them
and shriek out its vengeancerolling forth among her worshippers at
their feet and hers.
But he CAN not,she saidwithin her clenched teethagain and
again--"THAT he cannot."
Once as she said this to herself she caught Anne's eyes fixed
helplessly upon herit seeming to be as the poor woman had said
that her weakness caused her to desire to abide near her sister's
strength and draw support from it; for she had remained at my lady's
side closely since she had descended to the roomand now seemed to
implore some protection for which she was too timid to openly make
You are too weak to stay, Anne,her ladyship said. "'Twould be
better that you should retire."
I am weak,the poor thing answeredin low tones--"but not too
weak to stay. I am always weak. Would that I were of your strength
and courage. Let me sit down--sister-- here." She touched the
divan's cushions with a shaking handgazing upward wearily-perchance
remembering that this place seemed ever a sort of throne
none other than the hostess queen herself presumed to encroach upon.
You are too meek, poor sister,quoth Clorinda. "'Tis not a chair
of coronation or the woolsack of a judge. Sit! sit!--and let me
call for wine!"
She spoke to a lacquey and bade him bring the drinkfor even as she
sank into her place Anne's cheeks grew whiter.
When 'twas broughther ladyship poured it forth and gave it to her
sister with her own handobliging her to drink enough to bring her
colour back. Having seen to thisshe addressed the servant who had
obeyed her order.
Hath Jenfry returned from Sir John Oxon?she demandedin that
clearringing voice of herswhose music ever arrested those
surrounding herwhether they were concerned in her speech or no;
but now all felt sufficient interest to prick up ears and hearken to
what was said.
No, my lady,the lacquey answered. "He said that you had bidden
him to wait."
But not all day, poor fool,she saidsetting down Anne's empty
glass upon the salver. "Did he think I bade him stand about the
door all night? Bring me his message when he comes."
'Tis ever thus with these dull serving folk,she said to those
nearest her. "One cannot pay for wit with wages and livery. They
can but obey the literal word. Sir Johnleaving me in haste this
morningI forgot a question I would have askedand sent a lacquey
to recall him."
Anne sat upright.
Sister--I pray you--another glass of wine.
My lady gave it to her at onceand she drained it eagerly.
Was he overtaken?said a curious matronwho wished not to see the
No,quoth her ladyshipwith a light laugh--"though he must have
been in hastefor the man was sent after him in but a moment's
time. 'Twas then I told the fellow to go later to his lodgings and
deliver my message into Sir John's own handwhence it seems that he
thinks that he must await him till he comes."
Upon a table near there lay the loaded whip; for she had felt it
bolder to let it lie there as if forgottenbecause her pulse had
sprung so at first sight of it when she came downand she had so
quailed before the desire to thrust it awayto hide it from her
sight. "And that I quail before she had said, I must have the
will to face--or I am lost." So she had let it stay.
A languishing beautywith melting blue eyes and a pretty fashion of
ever keeping before the world of her admirers her waxen delicacy
lifted the heavy thing in her frail white hand.
How can your ladyship wield it?she said. "It is so heavy for a
woman--but your ladyship is--is not--"
Not quite a woman,said the beautiful creaturestanding at her
full great heightand smiling down at this blue and white piece of
frailty with the flashing splendour of her eyes.
Not quite a woman,cried two wits at once. "A goddess rather--an
The languisher could not endure comparisons which so seemed to
disparage her ethereal charms. She lifted the weapon with a great
effortwhich showed the slimness of her delicate fair wrist and the
sweet tracery of blue veins upon it.
Nay,she said lispinglyit needs the muscle of a great man to
lift it. I could not hold it--much less beat with it a horse.And
to show how coarse a strength was needed and how far her femininity
lacked such vigourshe dropped it upon the floor--and it rolled
beneath the edge of the divan.
Now,the thought shot through my lady's brainas a bolt shoots
from the sky--"now--he LAUGHS!"
She had no time to stir--there were upon their knees three beaux at
onceand each would sure have thrust his arm below the seat and
rummagedhad not God saved her! Yes'twas of God she thought in
that terrible mad second--God!--and only a mind that is not human
could have told why.
For Anne--poor Mistress Anne--white-faced and shakingwas before
them alland with a strange adroitness stooped--and thrust her
hand belowand drawing the thing forthheld it up to view.
'Tis here,she saidand in sooth, sister, I wonder not at its
falling--its weight is so great.
Clorinda took it from her hand.
I shall break no more beasts like Devil,she saidand for
quieter ones it weighs too much; I shall lay it by.
She crossed the room and laid it upon a shelf.
It was ever heavy--but for Devil. 'Tis done with,she said; and
there came back to her face--which for a second had lost hue--a
flood of crimson so glowingand a smile so strangethat those who
looked and heardsaid to themselves that 'twas the thought of
Osmonde who had so changed herwhich made her blush. But a few
moments later they beheld the same glow mount again. A lacquey
enteredbearing a salver on which lay two letters. One was a large
onesealed with a ducal coronetand this she saw firstand took
in her hand even before the man had time to speak.
His Grace's courier has arrived from France,he said; "the package
was ordered to be delivered at once."
It must be that his Grace returns earlier than we had hoped,she
saidand then the other missive caught her eye.
'Tis your ladyship's own,the lacquey explained somewhat
anxiously. "'Twas brought backSir John not having yet come home
and Jenfry having waited three hours."
'Twas long enough,quoth her ladyship. "'Twill do to-morrow."
She did not lay Osmonde's letter asidebut kept it in her handand
seeing that she waited for their retirement to read ither guests
began to make their farewells. One by one or in groups of twos and
threes they left herthe men bowing lowand going away fretted by
the memory of the picture she made--a tall and regal figure in her
flowered crimsonher stateliness seeming relaxed and softened by
the mere holding of the sealed missive in her hand. But the women
were vaguely enviousnot of Osmondebut of her before whom there
lay outspread as far as life's horizon reacheda future of such
perfect love and joy; for Gerald Mertoun had been marked by feminine
eyes since his earliest youthand had seemed to embody all that
woman's dreams or woman's ambitions or her love could desire.
When the last was goneClorinda turnedtore her letter openand
held it hard to her lips. Before she read a word she kissed it
passionately a score of timespaying no heed that Anne sate gazing
at her; and having kissed it soshe fell to reading ither cheeks
warm with the glow of a sweet and splendid passionher bosom rising
and falling in a tempest of tenderfluttering breaths--and 'twas
these words her eyes devoured
If I should head this page I write to you 'Goddess and Queen, and
Empress of my deepest soul,' what more should I be saying than 'My
Love' and 'My Clorinda,' since these express all the soul of man
could crave for or his body desire. The body and soul of me so long
for thee, sweetheart, and sweetest beautiful woman that the hand of
Nature ever fashioned for the joy of mortals, that I have had need
to pray Heaven's help to aid me to endure the passing of the days
that lie between me and the hour which will make me the most
strangely, rapturously, happy man, not in England, not in the world,
but in all God's universe. I must pray Heaven again, and indeed do
and will, for humbleness which shall teach me to remember that I am
not deity, but mere man--mere man--though I shall hold a goddess to
my breast and gaze into eyes which are like deep pools of Paradise,
and yet answer mine with the marvel of such love as none but such a
soul could make a woman's, and so fit to mate with man's. In the
heavy days when I was wont to gaze at you from afar with burning
heart, my unceasing anguish was that even high honour itself could
not subdue and conquer the thoughts which leaped within me even as
my pulse leaped, and even as my pulse could not be stilled unless by
death. And one that for ever haunted--ay, and taunted--me was the
image of how your tall, beauteous body would yield itself to a
strong man's arm, and your noble head with its heavy tower of hair
resting upon his shoulder--the centres of his very being would be
thrilled and shaken by the uplifting of such melting eyes as surely
man ne'er gazed within on earth before, and the ripe and scarlet bow
of a mouth so beauteous and so sweet with womanhood. This beset me
day and night, and with such torture that I feared betimes my brain
might reel and I become a lost and ruined madman. And now--it is no
more forbidden me to dwell upon it--nay, I lie waking at night,
wooing the picture to me, and at times I rise from my dreams to
kneel by my bedside and thank God that He hath given me at last what
surely is my own!-for so it seems to me, my love, that each of us is
but a part of the other, and that such forces of Nature rush to meet
together in us, that Nature herself would cry out were we rent
apart. If there were aught to rise like a ghost between us, if
there were aught that could sunder us--noble soul, let us but swear
that it shall weld us but the closer together, and that locked in
each other's arms its blows shall not even make our united strength
to sway. Sweetest lady, your lovely lip will curve in smiles, and
you will say, 'He is mad with his joy--my Gerald' (for never till my
heart stops at its last beat and leaves me still, a dead man, cold
upon my bed, can I forget the music of your speech when you spoke
those words, 'My Gerald! My Gerald.') And indeed I crave your
pardon, for a man so filled with rapture cannot be quite sane, and
sometimes I wonder if I walk through the palace gardens like one who
is drunk, so does my brain reel. But soon, my heavenly, noble love,
my exile will be over, and this is in truth what my letter is to
tell you, that in four days your lacqueys will throw open your doors
to me and I shall enter, and being led to you, shall kneel at your
feet and kiss the hem of your robe, and then rise standing to fold
her who will so soon be my very wife to my throbbing breast.
Back to her face had come all the softness which had been lostthe
hard lines were gonethe tender curves had returnedher lashes
looked as if they were moist. Annesitting rigidly and gazing at
herwas afraid to speakknowing that she was not for the time on
earthbut that the sound of a voice would bring her back to itand
that 'twas well she should be away as long as she might.
She read the letternot oncebut thricedwelling upon every word
'twas plain; and when she had reached the last oneturning back the
pages and beginning again. When she looked up at last'twas with
an almost wild little smilefor she had indeed for that one moment
Locked in each other's arms,she said--"locked in each other's
arms. My Gerald! My Gerald! 'What surely is my own--my own'!"
Anne rose and came to herlaying her hand on her arm. She spoke in
a voice lowhushedand strained.
Come away, sister,she saidfor a little while--come away.
CHAPTER XVIII--My Lady Dunstanwolde sits late alone and writes
That she must leave the Panelled Parlour at her usual houror
attract attention by doing that to which her household was
unaccustomedshe well knewher manner of life being ever stately
and ceremonious in its regularity. When she dined at home she and
Anne partook of their repast together in the large dining-roomthe
table loaded with silver dishes and massive glittering glasstheir
powderedgold-laced lacqueys in attendanceas though a score of
guests had shared the meal with them. Since her lord's death there
had been nights when her ladyship had sat late writing letters and
reading documents pertaining to her estatesthe management of
whichthough in a measure controlled by stewards and attorneyswas
not left to themas the business of most great ladies is generally
left to others. All papers were examined by herall leases and
agreements clearly understood before she signed themand if there
were aught unsatisfactoryboth stewards and lawyers were called to
her presence to explain.
Never did I--or any other man--meet with such a head upon a woman's
shoulders,her attorney said. And the head steward of Dunstanwolde
and Helversly learned to quake at the sight of her bold handwriting
upon the outside of a letter.
Such a lady!he said--"such a lady! Lie to her if you can; palter
if you know how; try upon her the smallest honest shrewd trickand
see how it fares with you. Were it not that she is generous as she
is piercing of eyeno man could serve her and make an honest
She went to her chamber and was attired again sumptuously for
dinner. Before she descended she dismissed her woman for a space on
some errandand when she was alonedrawing near to her mirror
gazed steadfastly within it at her face. When she had read
Osmonde's letter her cheeks had glowed; but when she had come back
to earthand as she had sat under her woman's hands at her
toilettebit by bit the crimson had died out as she had thought of
what was behind her and of what lay before. The thing was so
stiffly rigid by this timeand its eyes still stared so. Never had
she needed to put red upon her cheeks beforeNature having stained
them with such richness of hue; but as no lady of the day was
unprovided with her crimsonthere was a little pot among her
toilette ornaments which contained all that any emergency might
require. She opened this small receptacle and took from it the red
she for the first time was in want of.
I must not wear a pale face, God knows,she saidand rubbed the
colour on her cheeks with boldness.
It would have seemed that she wore her finest crimson when she went
forth full dressed from her apartment; little Nero grinned to see
herthe lacqueys saying among themselves that his Grace's courier
had surely brought good newsand that they might expect his master
soon. At the dinner-table 'twas Anne who was pale and ate but
littleshe having put no red upon her cheeksand having no
appetite for what was spread before her. She looked strangely as
though she were withered and shrunkenand her face seemed even
wrinkled. My lady had small leaning towards foodbut she sent no
food away untouchedforcing herself to eatand letting not the
talk flag--though it was indeed true that 'twas she herself who
talkedMistress Anne speaking rarely; but as it was always her way
to be silentand a listener rather than one who conversedthis was
not greatly noticeable.
Her Ladyship of Dunstanwolde talked of her guests of the afternoon
and was charming and witty in her speech of them; she repeated the
mots of the witsand told some brilliant stories of certain modish
ladies and gentlemen of fashion; she had things to say of statesmen
and politicsand was sparkling indeed in speaking of the lovely
languisher whose little wrist was too delicate and slender to
support the loaded whip. While she talkedMistress Anne's soft
dull eyes were fixed upon her with a sort of wonder which had some
of the quality of bewilderment; but this was no new thing either
for to the one woman the other was ever something to marvel at.
It is because you are so quiet a mouse, Anne,my lady saidwith
her dazzling smilethat you seem never in the way; and yet I
should miss you if I knew you were not within the house. When the
duke takes me to Camylotte you must be with me even then. It is so
great a house that in it I can find you a bower in which you can be
happy even if you see us but little. 'Tis a heavenly place I am
told, and of great splendour and beauty. The park and flowergardens
are the envy of all England.
You--will be very happy, sister,said Anneand--and like a
Yes,was her sister's answer--"yes." And 'twas spoken with a deep
After the repast was ended she went back to the Panelled Parlour.
You may sit with me till bedtime if you desire, Anne,she said;
but 'twill be but dull for you, as I go to sit at work. I have
some documents of import to examine and much writing to do. I shall
sit up late.And upon this she turned to the lacquey holding open
the door for her passing through. "If before half-past ten there
comes a message from Sir John Oxon she gave order, it must be
brought to me at once; but later I must not be disturbed--it will
keep until morning."
Yet as she spoke there was before her as distinct a picture as ever
of what lay waiting and gazing in the room to which she went.
Until twelve o'clock she sat at her tablea despatch box by her
sidepapers outspread before her. Within three feet of her was the
divanbut she gave no glance to itsitting writingreadingand
comparing documents. At twelve o'clock she rose and rang the bell.
I shall be later than I thought,she said. "I need none of you
who are below stairs. Go you all to bed. Tell my woman that she
also may lie down. I will ring when I come to my chamber and have
need of her. There is yet no message from Sir John?"
None, my lady,the man answered.
He went away with a relieved countenanceas she made no comment.
He knew that his fellows as well as himself would be pleased enough
to be released from duty for the night. They were a pampered lot
and had no fancy for late hours when there were no great
entertainments being held which pleased them and gave them chances
to receive vails.
Mistress Anne sat in a large chairhuddled into a small heapand
looking colourless and shrunken. As she heard bolts being shot and
bars put up for the closing of the houseshe knew that her own
dismissal was at hand. Doors were shut below stairsand when all
was done the silence of night reigned as it does in all households
when those who work have gone to rest. 'Twas a common thing enough
and yet this night there was one woman who felt the stillness so
deep that it made her breathing seem a sound too loud.
Go to bed, Anne,she said. "You have stayed up too long."
Anne arose from her chair and drew near to her.
Sister,said sheas she had said beforelet me stay.
She was a poor weak creatureand so she looked with her pale
insignificant face and dull eyesa wisp of loose hair lying damp on
her forehead. She seemed indeed too weak a thing to stand even for
a moment in the way of what must be done this nightand 'twas
almost irritating to be stopped by her.
Nay,said my Lady Dunstanwoldeher beautiful brow knitting as she
looked at her. "Go to your chamberAnneand to sleep. I must do
my workand finish to-night what I have begun."
But--but--Anne stammereddominated againand made afraidas
she ever wasby this strong naturein this work you must finish-is
there not something I could do to--aid you--even in some small
and poor way. Is there--naught?
Naught,answered Clorindaher form drawn to its great full
heighther lustrous eyes darkening. "What should there be that you
Not some small thing--not some poor thing?Anne saidher fingers
nervously twisting each otherso borne down was she by her awful
timorousnessfor awful it was indeed when she saw clouds gather on
her sister's brow. "I have so loved yousister--I have so loved
you that my mind is quickened somehow at timesand I can understand
more than would be thought--when I hope to serve you. Once you
said--once you said--"
She knew not then nor ever afterwards how it came to pass that in
that moment she found herself swept into her sister's white arms and
strained against her breastwherein she felt the wild heart
bounding; nor could shenot being given to subtle reasoninghave
comprehended the almost fierce kiss on her cheek nor the hot drops
that wet it.
I said that I believed that if you saw me commit murder,Clorinda
criedyou would love me still, and be my friend and comforter.
I would, I would!cried Anne.
And I believe your word, poor, faithful soul--I do believe it,my
lady saidand kissed her hard againbut the next instant set her
free and laughed. "But you will not be put to the test she said,
for I have done none. And in two days' time my Gerald will be
hereand I shall be safe--saved and happy for evermore--for
evermore. Thereleave me! I would be alone and end my work."
And she went back to her table and sat beside ittaking her pen to
writeand Anne knew that she dare say no moreand turningwent
slowly from the roomseeing for her last sight as she passed
through the doorwaythe erect and splendid figure at its taskthe
light from the candelabras shining upon the rubies round the snowwhite
neck and wreathed about the tower of raven hair like lines of
CHAPTER XIX--A piteous story is toldand the old cellars walled in
It isindeedstrangely easy in the great world for a man to lose
his importanceand from having been the target for all eyes and the
subject of all conversationto step from his placeor find it so
taken by some rival that it would seemjudging from the general
obliviousness to himthat he had never existed. But few years
before no fashionable gathering would have been felt complete had it
not been graced by the presence of the young and fascinating
LovelaceSir John Oxon. Women favoured himand men made
themselves his boon companions; his wit was repeated; the fashion of
his hair and the cut of his waistcoat copied. He was at first rich
and gay enough to be courted and made a favourite; but when his
fortune was squanderedand his marriage with the heiress came to
naughtthose qualities which were vicious and base in him were more
easy to be seen. Besidesthere came new male beauties and new
dandies with greater resources and more of prudenceand these
beginning to set fashionwin ladies' heartsand make conquestsso
drew the attention of the public mind that he was less noticeable
being only one of manyinstead of ruling singly as it had seemed
that by some strange chance he did at first. There were indeed so
many stories told of his light waysthat their novelty being worn
off and new ones still repeatedsuch persons as concerned
themselves with matters of reputation either through conscience or
policybegan to speak of him with less of warmth or leniency.
'Tis not well for a matron with daughters to marry and with sons to
keep an eye to,it was saidto have in her household too often a
young gentleman who has squandered his fortune in dice and drink and
wild living, and who 'twas known was cast off by a reputable young
lady of fortune.
So there were fine ladies who began to avoid himand those in power
at Court and in the world who regarded him with lessening favour day
by day! In truthhe had such debtsand his creditors pressed him
so ceaselesslythat even had the world's favour continuedhis life
must have changed its aspect greatly. His lodgings were no longer
the most luxurious in the fashionable part of the townhis brocades
and laces were no longer of the richestnor his habit of the very
latest and most modish cut; he had no more an equipage attracting
every eye as he drove forthnor a gentleman's gentleman whose
swagger and pomp outdid that of all others in his world. Soon after
the breaking of his marriage with the heiresshis mother had died
and his relatives being fewand those of an order strictly averse
to the habits of ill-provided and extravagant kinsmenhe had but
few family ties. Other ties he had'twas truebut they were not
such as were accounted legal or worthy of attention either by
himself or those related to him.
So it befell that when my Lady Dunstanwolde's lacquey could not find
him at his lodgingsand as the days went past neither his landlady
nor his creditors beheld him againhis absence from the scene was
not considered unaccountable by themnor did it attract the notice
it would have done in times gone by.
He hath made his way out of England to escape us,said the angry
tailors and mercers--who had besieged his door in vain for months
and who were now infuriated at the thought of their own easiness and
the impudent gay airs which had befooled them. "A good four hundred
pounds of mine hath he carried with him said one. And two
hundred of mine!" "And more of minesince I am a poor man to whom
a pound means twenty guineas!" "We are all robbedand he has
cheated the debtors' prisonwhereinif we had not been foolshe
would have been clapped six months ago."
Think ye he will not come back, gentlemen?quavered his landlady.
God knows when I have seen a guinea of his money--but he was such a
handsome, fine young nobleman, and had such a way with a poor body,
and ever a smile and a chuck o' the chin for my Jenny.
Look well after poor Jenny if he hath left her behind,said the
He did not come backindeed; and hearing the rumour that he had
fled his creditorsthe world of fashion received the news with
small disturbanceall modish persons being at that time much
engaged in discussion of the approaching nuptials of her ladyship of
Dunstanwolde and the Duke of Osmonde. Close upon the discussions of
the preparations came the nuptials themselvesand then all the town
was agogand had small leisure to think of other things. For those
who were bidden to the ceremonials and attendant entertainments
there were rich habits and splendid robes to be prepared; and to
those who had not been biddenthere were bitter disappointments and
thwarted wishes to think of.
Sir John Oxon has fled England to escape seeing and hearing it
He has fled to escape something more painful than the spleen,
others answered. "He had reached his rope's endand finding that
my Lady Dunstanwolde was not of a mind to lengthen it with her
fortunehaving taken a better manand that his creditors would
have no more patiencehe showed them a light pair of heels."
Before my Lady Dunstanwolde left her house she gave orders that it
be set in order for closing for some timehaving it on her mind
that she should not soon return. It washoweverto be left in
such condition that at any momentshould she wish to come to it
all could be made ready in two days' time. To this end various
repairs and changes she had planned were to be carried out as soon
as she went away from it. Among other things was the closing with
brickwork of the entrance to the passage leading to the unused
'Twill make the servants' part more wholesome and less damp and
draughty,she said; "and if I should sell the placewill be to its
advantage. 'Twas a builder with little wit who planned such
passages and black holes. In spite of all the lime spread there
they were ever mouldy and of evil odour."
It was her command that there should be no time lostand men were
set at workcarrying bricks and mortar. It so chanced that one of
themgoing in through a back entrance with a hod over his shoulder
and being young and livelyfound his eye caught by the countenance
of a prettyfrightened-looking girlwho seemed to be loitering
about watchingas if curious or anxious. Seeing her near each time
he passedand observing that she wished to speakbut was too
timidhe addressed her
Would you know aught, mistress?he said.
She drew nearer gratefullyand then he saw her eyes were red as if
Think you her ladyship would let a poor girl speak a word with
her?she said. "Think you I dare ask so much of a servant--or
would they flout me and turn me from the door? Have you seen her?
Does she look like a hardshrewish lady?"
That she does not, though all stand in awe of her,he answered
pleased to talk with so pretty a creature. "I but caught a glimpse
of her when she gave orders concerning the closing with brick of a
passage-way below. She is a tall ladyand grand and statelybut
she hath a soft pair of eyes as ever man would wish to look intobe
he duke or ditcher."
The tears began to run down the girl's cheeks.
Ay!she said; "all men love herthey say. Many a poor girl's
sweetheart has been false through her--and I thought she was cruel
and ill-natured. Know you the servants that wait on her? Would you
dare to ask one for meif he thinks she would deign to see a poor
girl who would crave the favour to be allowed to speak to her of--of
a gentleman she knows?"
They are but lacqueys, and I would dare to ask what was in my
mind,he answered; "but she is near her wedding-dayand little as
I know of brides' waysI am of the mind that she will not like to
That I stand in fear of,she said; "butoh! I pray youask some
one of them--a kindly one."
The young man looked aside. "Luck is with you he said. Here
comes one now to air himself in the sunhaving naught else to do.
Here is a young woman who would speak with her ladyship he said to
the strapping powdered fellow.
She had best begone the lacquey answered, striding towards the
applicant. Think you my lady has time to receive traipsing
'Twas only for a moment I asked,the girl said. "I come from--I
would speak to her of--of Sir John Oxon--whom she knows."
The man's face changed. It was Jenfry.
Sir John Oxon,he said. "Then I will ask her. Had you said any
other name I would not have gone near her to-day."
Her ladyship was in her new closet with Mistress Anneand there the
lacquey came to her to deliver his errand.
A country-bred young woman, your ladyship,he saidcomes from
Sir John Oxon--
From Sir John Oxon!cried Annestarting in her chair.
My Lady Dunstanwolde made no startbut turned a steady countenance
towards the doorlooking into the lacquey's face.
Then he hath returned?she said.
After the morning he rode home with me,my lady answered'twas
said he went away. He left his lodgings without warning. It seems
he hath come back. What does the woman want?she ended.
To speak with your ladyship,replied the manof Sir John
himself, she says.
Bring her to me,her ladyship commanded.
The girl was brought inoverawed and trembling. She was a countrybred
young creatureas the lacquey had saidbeing of the simple
rose-and-white freshness of seventeen years perhapsand having
childish blue eyes and fair curling locks.
She was so frightened by the grandeur of her surroundingsand the
splendid beauty of the lady who was so soon to be a duchessand was
already a great earl's widowthat she could only stand within the
doorwaycurtseying and tremblingwith tears welling in her eyes.
Be not afraid,said my Lady Dunstanwolde. "Come hitherchild
and tell me what you want." Indeedshe did not look a hard or
shrewish lady; she spoke as gently as woman couldand a mildness so
unexpected produced in the young creature such a revulsion of
feeling that she made a few steps forward and fell upon her knees
weepingand with uplifted hands.
My lady,she saidI know not how I dared to come, but that I am
so desperate--and your ladyship being so happy, it seemed--it seemed
that you might pity me, who am so helpless and know not what to do.
Her ladyship leaned forward in her chairher elbow on her kneeher
chin held in her handto gaze at her.
You come from Sir John Oxon?she said.
Annewatchingclutched each arm of her chair.
Not FROM him, asking your ladyship's pardon,said the childbut-
but--from the country to him,her head falling on her breastand
I know not where he is.
You came TO him,asked my lady. "Are you and her speech was
pitiful and slow--are you one of those whom he has--ruined?"
The little suppliant looked up with widening orbs.
How could that be, and he so virtuous and pious a gentleman?she
Then did my lady rise with a sudden movement.
Was he so?says she.
Had he not been,the child answeredmy mother would have been
afraid to trust him. I am but a poor country widow's daughter, but
was well brought up, and honestly--and when he came to our village
my mother was afraid, because he was a gentleman; but when she saw
his piety, and how he went to church and sang the psalms and prayed
for grace, she let me listen to him.
Did he go to church and sing and pray at first?my lady asks.
'Twas in church he saw me, your ladyship,she was answered. "He
said 'twas his custom to go always when he came to a new placeand
that often there he found the most heavenly facesfor 'twas piety
and innocence that made a face like to an angel's; and 'twas
innocence and virtue stirred his heart to loveand not mere beauty
which so fades."
Go on, innocent thing,my lady said; and she turned aside to Anne
flashing from her eyes unseen a great blazeand speaking in a low
and hurried voice. "God's house she said--God's prayers--God's
songs of praise--he used them all to break a tender heartand bring
an innocent life to ruin--and yet was he not struck dead?"
Anne hid her face and shuddered.
He was a gentleman,the poor young thing criedsobbing--"and I no
fit match for himbut that he loved me. 'Tis said love makes all
equal; and he said I was the sweetestinnocent young thingand
without me he could not live. And he told my mother that he was not
rich or the fashion nowand had no modish friends or relations to
flout any poor beauty he might choose to wed."
And he would marry you?my lady's voice broke in. "He said that
he would marry you?"
A thousand times, your ladyship, and so told my mother, but said I
must come to town and be married at his lodgings, or 'twould not be
counted a marriage by law, he being a town gentleman, and I from the
And you came,said Mistress Annedown whose pale cheeks the tears
were running--"you came at his command to follow him?"
What day came you up to town?demands my ladybreathless and
leaning forward. "Went you to his lodgingsand stayed you there
with him--even for an hour?"
The poor child gazed at herpaling.
He was not there!she cried. "I came alone because he said all
must be secret at first; and my heart beat so with joymy lady
that when the woman of the house whereat he lodges let me in I
scarce could speak. But she was a merry woman and good-naturedand
only laughed and cheered me when she took me to his roomsand I
What said she to you?my lady asksher breast heaving with her
That he was not yet in, but that he would sure come to such a young
and pretty thing as I, and I must wait for him, for he would not
forgive her if she let me go. And the while I waited there came a
man in bands and cassock, but he had not a holy look, and late in
the afternoon I heard him making jokes with the woman outside, and
they both laughed in such an evil way that I was affrighted, and
waiting till they had gone to another part of the house, stole
But he came not back that night--thank God!my lady said--"he came
The girl rose from her kneestremblingher hands clasped on her
Why should your ladyship thank God?she sayspure drops falling
from her eyes. "I am so humbleand had naught else but that great
happinessand it was taken away--and you thank God."
Then drops fell from my lady's eyes alsoand she came forward and
caught the child's handand held it close and warm and strongand
yet with her full lip quivering.
'Twas not that your joy was taken away that I thanked God,said
she. "I am not cruel--God Himself knows thatand when He smites me
'twill not be for cruelty. I knew not what I saidand yet--tell me
what did you then? Tell me?"
I went to a poor house to lodge, having some little money he had
given me,the simple young thing answered. "'Twas an honest house
though mean and comfortless. And the next day I went back to his
lodgings to questionbut he had not comeand I would not go in
though the woman tried to make me entersayingSir John would
surely return soonas he had the day before rid with my Lady
Dunstanwolde and been to her house; and 'twas plain he had meant to
come to his lodgingsfor her ladyship had sent her lacquey thrice
with a message."
The hand with which Mistress Anne sate covering her eyes began to
shake. My lady's own hand would have shaken had she not been so
strong a creature.
And he has not yet returned, then?she asked. "You have not seen
The girl shook her fair locksweeping with piteous little sobs.
He has not,she criedand I know not what to do--and the great
town seems full of evil men and wicked women. I know not which way
to turn, for all plot wrong against me, and would drag me down to
shamefulness--and back to my poor mother I cannot go.
Wherefore not, poor child?my lady asked her.
I have not been made an honest, wedded woman, and none would
believe my story, and--and he might come back.
And if he came back?said her ladyship.
At this question the girl slipped from her grasp and down upon her
knees againcatching at her rich petticoat and holding ither eyes
searching the great lady's in imploring piteousnessher own
I love him,she wept--"I love him so--I cannot leave the place
where he might be. He was so beautiful and grand a gentlemanand
surehe loved me better than all else--and I cannot thrust away
from me that last night when he held me to his breast near our
cottage doorand the nightingale sang in the rosesand he spake
such words to me. I lie and sob all night on my hard pillow--I so
long to see him and to hear his voice--and hearing he had been with
you that last morningI dared to comepraying that you might have
heard him let drop some word that would tell me where he may befor
I cannot go away thinking he may come back longing for me--and I
lose him and never see his face again. Oh! my ladymy ladythis
place is so full of wickedness and fierce people--and dark kennels
where crimes are done. I am affrighted for himthinking he may
have been struck some blowand murderedand hid away; and none
will look for him but one who loves him--who loves him. Could it be
so?--could it be? You know the town's ways so well. I pray you
tell me--in God's name I pray you!"
God's mercy!Anne breathedand from behind her hands came stifled
sobbing. My Lady Dunstanwolde bent downher colour dying.
Nay, nay,she saidthere has been no murder done--none! Hush,
poor thing, hush thee. There is somewhat I must tell thee.
She tried to raise herbut the child would not be raisedand clung
to her rich robeshaking as she knelt gazing upward.
It is a bitter thing,my lady saidand 'twas as if her own eyes
were imploring. "God help you bear it--God help us all. He told me
nothing of his journey. I knew not he was about to take it; but
wheresoever he has travelled'twas best that he should go."
Nay! nay!the girl cried out--"to leave me helpless. Nay! it
could not be so. He loved me--loved me--as the great duke loves
He meant you evil,said my ladyshudderingand evil he would
have done you. He was a villain--a villain who meant to trick you.
Had God struck him dead that day, 'twould have been mercy to you. I
knew him well.
The young thing gave a bitter cry and fell swooning at her feet; and
down upon her knees my lady went beside herloosening her gownand
chafing her poor hands as though they two had been of sister blood.
Call for hartshorn, Anne, and for water,she said; "she will come
out of her swooningpoor childand if she is cared for kindly in
time her pain will pass away. God be thanked she knows no pain that
cannot pass! I will protect her--aythat will Ias I will protect
all he hath done wrong to and deserted."
* * *
She was so strangely kind through the poor victim's swoons and
weeping that the very menials who were called to aid her went back
to their hall wondering in their talk of the noble grandness of so
great a ladywho on the very brink of her own joy could stoop to
protect and comfort a creature so far beneath herthat to most
ladies her sorrow and desertion would have been things which were
too trivial to count; for 'twas guessedand talked over with great
freedom and much shrewdnessthat this was a country victim of Sir
John Oxon'sand he having deserted his creditorswas read enough
to desert his rustic beautyfinding her heavy on his hands.
Below stairs the men closing the entrance to the passage with brick
having caught snatches of the servants' gossiptalked of what they
heard among themselves as they did their work.
Ay, a noble lady indeed,they said. "For 'tis not a woman's way
to be kindly with the cast-off fancy of a maneven when she does
not want him herself. He was her own worshipper for many a daySir
John; and before she took the old earl 'twas said that for a space
people believed she loved him. She was but fifteen and a high
mettled beauty; and he as handsome as sheand had a blue eye that
would melt any woman--but at sixteen he was a town rakeand such
tricks as this one he hath played since he was a lad. 'Tis well
indeed for this poor thing her ladyship hath seen her. She hath
promised to protect herand sends her down to Dunstanwolde with her
mother this very week. Would all fine ladies were of her kind. To
hear such things of her puts a man in the humour to do her work
CHAPTER XX--A noble marriage
When the duke came back from Franceand to pay his first eager
visit to his bride that was to beher ladyship's lacqueys led him
not to the Panelled Parlourbut to a room which he had not entered
beforeit being one she had had the fancy to have remodelled and
made into a beautiful closet for herselfher great wealth rendering
it possible for her to accomplish changes without the loss of time
the owners of limited purses are subjected to in the carrying out of
plans. This room she had made as unlike the Panelled Parlour as two
rooms would be unlike one another. Its panellings were whiteits
furnishings were bright and delicateits draperies flowered with
rosebuds tied in clusters with love-knots of pink and blue; it had a
large bow-windowthrough which the sunlight streamedand it was
blooming with great rose-bowls overrunning with sweetness.
From a seat in the morning sunshine among the flowers and plants in
the bow-windowthere rose a tall figure in a snow-white robe--a
figure like that of a beautiful stately girl who was half an angel.
It was my ladywho came to him with blushing cheeks and radiant
shining eyesand was swept into his arms in such a passion of love
and blessed tenderness as Heaven might have smiled to see.
My love! my love!he breathed. "My life! my life and soul!"
My Gerald!she cried. "My Gerald--let me say it on your breast a
My wife!he said--"so soon my wife and all my own until life's
Nay, nay,she criedher cheek pressed to his ownthrough all
eternity, for Love's life knows no end.
As it had seemed to her poor lord who had diedso it seemed to this
man who lived and so worshipped her--that the wonder of her
sweetness was a thing to marvel at with passionate reverence. Being
a man of greater mind and poetic imagination than Dunstanwoldeand
being himself adored by heras that poor gentleman had not had the
good fortune to behe had ten thousand-fold the power and reason to
see the tender radiance of her. As she was taller than other women
so her love seemed higher and greaterand as free from any touch of
earthly poverty of feeling as her beauty was from any flaw. In it
there could be no doubtno pride; it could be bounded by no limit
measured by no ruleits depths sounded by no plummet.
His very soul was touched by her great longing to give to him the
feelingand to feel herselfthat from the hour that she had become
hisher past life was a thing blotted out.
I am a new created thing,she said; "until you called me 'Love' I
had no life! All before was darkness. 'Twas youmy Geraldwho
said'Let there be lightand there was light.'"
Hush, hush, sweet love,he said. "Your words would make me too
near God's self."
Sure Love is God,she criedher hands upon his shouldersher
face uplifted. "What else? Love we know; Love we worship and kneel
to; Love conquers us and gives us Heaven. Until I knew itI
believed naught. Now I kneel each night and prayand praybut to
be pardoned and made worthy."
Never beforeit was truehad she knelt and prayedbut from this
time no nun in her convent knelt oftener or prayed more ardently
and her prayer was ever that the past might be forgiven herthe
future blessedand she taught how to so live that there should be
no faintest shadow in the years to come.
I know not What is above me,she said. "I cannot lie and say I
love It and believebut if there is aughtsure It must be a power
which is greatelse had the world not been so strange a thingand
I--and those who live in it--and if He made usHe must know He is
to blame when He has made us weak or evil. And He must understand
why we have been so madeand when we throw ourselves into the dust
before Himand pray for help and pardonsurely--surely He will
lend an ear! We know naughtwe have been told naught; we have but
an old book which has been handed down through strange hands and
strange tonguesand may be but poor history. We have so little
and we are threatened so; but for love's sake I will pray the poor
prayers we are givenand for love's sake there is no dust too low
for me to lie in while I plead."
This was the strange truth--though 'twas not so strange if the world
feared not to admit such things--that through her Geraldwho was
but noble and high-souled manshe was led to bow before God's
throne as the humblest and holiest saint bowsthough she had not
learned belief and only had learned love.
But life lasts so short a while,she said to Osmonde. "It seems
so short when it is spent in such joy as this; and when the day
comes--foroh! Geraldmy soul sees it already--when the day comes
that I kneel by your bedside and see your eyes closeor you kneel
by mineit MUST be that the one who waits behind shall know the
parting is not all."
It could not be all, beloved,Osmonde said. "Love is sure
Often in these blissful hours her way was almost like a child'sshe
was so tender and so clinging. At times her beauteousgreat eyes
were full of an imploring which made them seem soft with tearsand
thus they were now as she looked up at him.
I will do all I can,she said. "I will obey every lawI will
pray often and give almsand strive to be dutiful and--holythat
in the end He will not thrust me from you; that I may stay near-even
in the lowest placeeven in the lowest--that I may see your
face and know that you see mine. We are so in His powerHe can do
aught with us; but I will so obey Him and so pray that He will let
To Anne she went with curious humilityquestioning her as to her
religious duties and beliefsasking her what books she readand
what services she attended.
All your life you have been a religious woman,she said. "I used
to think it follybut now--"
But now--said Anne.
I know not what to think,she answered. "I would learn."
But when she listened to Anne's simple homiliesand read her
weighty sermonsthey but made her restless and unsatisfied.
Nay, 'tis not that,she said one daywith a deep sigh. "'Tis
more than that; 'tis deeperand greaterand your sermons do not
hold it. They but set my brain to questioning and rebellion."
But a short time elapsed before the marriage was solemnisedand
such a wedding the world of fashion had not taken part in for years
'twas said. Royalty honoured it; the greatest of the land were
proud to count themselves among the guests; the retainers
messengersand company of the two great houses were so numerous
that in the west end of the town the streets wore indeed quite a
festal airwith the passing to and fro of servants and gentlefolk
with favours upon their arms.
'Twas to the Tower of Camylottthe most beautiful and remote of the
bridegroom's several notable seatsthat they removed their
householdwhen the irksomeness of the extended ceremonies and
entertainments were over--for these they were of too distinguished
rank to curtail as lesser personages might have done. But when all
things were overthe stately town houses closedand their
equipages rolled out beyond the sight of town into the country
roadsthe great duke and his great duchess sat hand in handgazing
into each other's eyes with as simple and ardent a joy as they had
been but young 'prentice and country maidflying to hide from the
world their love.
There is no other woman who is so like a queen,Osmonde saidwith
tenderest smiling. "And yet your eyes wear a look so young in these
days that they are like a child's. In all their beautyI have
never seen them so before."
It is because I am a new created thing, as I have told you, love,
she answeredand leaned towards him. "Do you not know I never was
a child. I bring myself to you new born. Make of me then what a
woman should be--to be beloved of husband and of God. Teach memy
Gerald. I am your child and servant."
'Twas ever thusthat her words when they were such as these were
ended upon his breast as she was swept there by his impassioned arm.
She was so goddess-like and beautiful a beingher life one
strangely dominant and brilliant series of triumphsand yet she
came to him with such softness and humility of passionthat
scarcely could he think himself a waking man.
Surely,he saidit is a thing too wondrous and too full of joy's
splendour to be true.
In the golden afternoonwhen the sun was deepening and mellowing
towards its settingthey and their retinue entered Camylott. The
bells pealed from the grey belfry of the old church; the villagers
came forth in clean smocks and Sunday cloaks of scarletand stood
in the street and by the roadside curtseying and baring their heads
with rustic cheers; little country girls with red cheeks threw
posies before the horses' feetand into the equipage itself when
they were of the bolder sort. Their chariot passed beneath archways
of flowers and boughsand from the battlements of the Tower of
Camylott there floated a flag in the soft wind.
God save your Graces,the simple people cried. "God give your
Graces joy and long life! Lordwhat a beautiful pair they be. And
though her Grace was said to be a proud ladyhow sweetly she smiles
at a poor body. God love yemadam! MadamGod love ye!"
Her Grace of Osmonde leaned forward in her equipage and smiled at
the people with the face of an angel.
I will teach them to love me, Gerald,she said. "I have not had
Has not all the world loved you?he said.
Nay,she answeredonly you, and Dunstanwolde and Anne.
Late at night they walked together on the broad terrace before the
Tower. The blue-black vault of heaven above them was studded with
myriads of God's brilliants; below them was spread out the beauty of
the landthe rolling plainsthe soft low hillsthe forests and
moors folded and hidden in the swathing robe of the night; from the
park and gardens floated upward the freshness of acres of thick
sward and deep fern thicketthe fragrance of roses and a thousand
flowersthe tender sighing of the wind through the huge oaks and
beeches bordering the avenuesand reigning like kings over the
seeming boundless grassy spaces.
As lovers have walked since the days of Eden they walked together
no longer duke and duchessbut man and woman--near to Paradise as
human beings may draw until God breaks the chain binding them to
earth; andindeedit would seem that such hours are given to the
straining human soul that it may know that somewhere perfect joy
must besince sometimes the gates are for a moment opened that
Heaven's light may shine throughso that human eyes may catch
glimpses of the white and golden glories within.
His arm held hershe leaned against himtheir slow steps so
harmonising the one with the other that they accorded with the
harmony of music; the nightingales trilling and bubbling in the rose
trees were not affrighted by the low murmur of their voices;
perchancethis night they were so near to Nature that the barriers
were o'erpassedand they and the singers were akin.
Oh! to be a woman,Clorinda murmured. "To be a woman at last.
All other things I have beenand have been called 'Huntress'
'Goddess' 'Beauty' 'Empress' 'Conqueror'--but never 'Woman.'
And had our paths not crossedI think I never could have known what
'twas to be onefor to be a woman one must close with the man who
is one's mate. It must not be that one looks downor only pities
or protects and guides; and only to a few a mate seems given. And
I--Geraldhow dare I walk thus at your side and feel your heart so
beat near mineand know you love meand so worship you--so worship
She turned and threw herself upon his breastwhich was so near.
Oh, woman! woman!he breathedstraining her close. "Ohwoman
who is minethough I am but man."
We are but one,she said; "one breathone soulone thoughtand
one desire. Were it not soI were not woman and your wifenor you
man and my soul's lover as you are. If it were not sowe were
still apartthough we were wedded a thousand times. Apartwhat
are we but like lopped-off limbs; welded togetherwe are--THIS."
And for a moment they spoke notand a nightingale on the rose vine
clambering o'er the terrace's balustradethrew up its little head
and sang as if to the myriads of golden stars. They stood and
listenedhand in handher sweet breast rose and fellher lovely
face was lifted to the bespangled sky.
Of all this,she saidI am a part, as I am a part of you. To-
night, as the great earth throbs, and as the stars tremble, and as
the wind sighs, so I, being woman, throb and am tremulous and sigh
also. The earth lives for the sun, and through strange mysteries
blooms forth each season with fruits and flowers; love is my sun,
and through its sacredness I may bloom too, and be as noble as the
earth and that it bears.
CHAPTER XXI--An heir is born
In a fair tower whose windows looked out upon spreading woodsand
rich lovely plains stretching to the freshness of the seaMistress
Anne had her abode which her duchess sister had given to her for her
own living in as she would. There she dwelt and prayed and looked
on the new life which so beauteously unfolded itself before her day
by dayas the leaves of a great tree unfold from buds and become
noble brancheshousing birds and their nestsshading the earth and
those sheltering beneath thembraving centuries of storms.
To this simile her simple mind oft revertedfor indeed it seemed to
her that naught more perfect and more noble in its high likeness to
pure Nature and the fulfilling of God's will than the passing days
of these two lives could be.
As the first two lived--Adam and Eve in their garden of Eden--they
seem to me,she used to say to her own heart; "but the Tree of
Knowledge was not forbidden themand it has taught them naught
As she had been wont to watch her sister from behind the ivy of her
chamber windowsso she often watched her nowthough there was no
fear in her hidingonly tendernessit being a pleasure to her full
of wonder and reverence to see this beautiful and stately pair go
lovingly and in high and gentle converse side by sideup and down
the terracethrough the pathsamong the beds of flowersunder the
thick branched trees and over the sward's softness.
It is as if I saw Love's self, and dwelt with it--the love God's
nature made,she saidwith gentle sighs.
For if these two had been great and beauteous beforeit seemed in
these days as if life and love glowed within themand shone through
their mere bodies as a radiant light shines through alabaster lamps.
The strength of each was so the being of the other that no thought
could take form in the brain of one without the other's stirring
Neither of us dare be ignoble,Osmonde saidfor 'twould make
poor and base the one who was not so in truth.
'Twas not the way of my Lady Dunstanwolde to make a man feel that
he stood in church,a frivolous court wit once saidbut in sooth
her Grace of Osmonde has a look in her lustrous eyes which accords
not with scandalous stories and play-house jests.
And true it was that when they went to town they carried with them
the illumining of the pure fire which burned within their soulsand
bore it all unknowing in the midst of the trivial or designing
worldwhich knew not what it was that glowed about themmaking
things bright which had seemed dulland revealing darkness where
there had been brilliant glare.
They returned not to the house which had been my Lord of
Dunstanwolde'sbut went to the duke's own great mansionand there
lived splendidly and in hospitable state. Royalty honoured them
and all the wits came theresome of those gentlemen who writ verses
and dedications being by no means averse to meeting noble lords and
ladiesand finding in their loves and graces material which might
be useful. 'Twas not only Mr. Addison and Mr. SteeleDr. Swift and
Mr. Popewho were made welcome in the stately roomsbut others who
were more humblenot yet having won their spursand how these
worshipped her Grace for the generous kindness which was not the
fashionuntil she set itamong great ladiestheir odes and verses
could scarce express.
They are so poor,she said to her husband. "They are so poorand
yet in their starved souls there is a thing which can less bear
flouting than the dull content which rules in others. I know not
whether 'tis a curse or a boon to be born so. 'Tis a bitter thing
when the bird that flutters in them has only little wings. All the
more should those who are strong protect and comfort them."
She comforted so many creatures. In strange parts of the town
where no other lady would have dared to go to give almsit was
rumoured that she went and did noble things privately. In dark
kennelswhere thieves hid and vagrants huddledshe carried her
beauty and her statelinessthe which when they shone on the poor
rogues and victims housed there seemed like the beams of the warm
and golden sun.
Once in a filthy hovel in a black alley she came upon a poor girl
dying of a loathsome illand as she stood by her bed of rags she
heard in her delirium the uttering of one man's name again and
againand when she questioned those about she found that the
sufferer had been a little country wench enticed to town by this man
for a playthingand in a few weeks cast off to give birth to a
child in the almshouseand then go down to the depths of vice in
What is the name she says?her Grace asked the hag nearest to her
and least maudlin with liquor. "I would be sure I heard it aright."
'Tis the name of a gentleman, your ladyship may be sure,the
beldam answered; "'tis always the name of a gentleman. And this is
one I know wellfor I have heard more than one poor soul mumbling
it and raving at him in her last hours. One there wasand I knew
hera pretty rosy thing in her country daysnot sixteenand
distraught with love for himand lay in the street by his door
praying him to take her back when he threw her offuntil the watch
drove her away. And she was so mad with love and grief she killed
her girl child when 'twas born i' the kennelsobbing and crying
that it should not live to be like her and bear others. And she was
condemned to deathand swung for it on Tyburn Tree. AndLord! how
she cried his name as she jolted on her coffin to the gallowsand
when the hangman put the rope round her shuddering little fair neck.
'OhJohn' screams she'John OxonGod forgive thee! Nay'tis
God should be forgiven for letting thee to live and me to die like
this.' Aye'twas a bitter sight! She was so little and so young
and so affrighted. The hangman could scarce hold her. I was i' the
midst o' the crowd and cried to her to strive to stand still
'twould be the sooner over. But that she could not. 'OhJohn'
she screams'John OxonGod forgive thee! Nay'tis God should be
forgiven for letting thee to live and me to die like this!'"
Till the last hour of the poor creature who lay before her when she
heard this thingher Grace of Osmonde saw that she was tendedtook
her from her filthy hovelputting her in a decent house and going
to her day by dayuntil she received her last breathholding her
hand while the poor wench lay staring up at her beauteous face and
her great deep eyeswhose lustrousness held such power to sustain
Be not afraid, poor soul,she saidbe not afraid. I will stay
near thee. Soon all will end in sleep, and if thou wakest, sure
there will be Christ who died, and wipes all tears away. Hear me
say it to thee for a prayer,and she bent low and said it soft and
clear into the deadening earHe wipes all tears away--He wipes all
The great strength she had used in the old days to conquer and
subdueto win her will and to defend her wayseemed now a power
but to protect the suffering and uphold the weakand this she did
not alone in hovels but in the brilliant court and world of fashion
for there she found suffering and weakness alsoall the more bitter
and sorrowful since it dared not cry aloud. The grandeur of her
beautythe elevation of her rankthe splendour of her wealth would
have made her a protector of great strengthbut that which upheld
all those who turned to her was that which dwelt within the high
soul of herthe courage and power of love for all things human
which bore upon itselfas if upon an eagle's outspread wingsthe
woes dragging themselves broken and halting upon earth. The
starving beggar in the kennel felt itandnot knowing wherefore
drew a longerdeeper breathas if of purermore exalted air; the
poor poet in his garret was fed by itand having stood near or
spoken to herwent back to his lair with lightening eyes and soul
warmed to believe that the words his Muse might speak the world
might stay to hear.
From the hour she stayed the last moments of John Oxon's victim she
set herself a work to do. None knew it but herself at firstand
later Annefor 'twas done privately. From the hag who had told her
of the poor girl's hanging upon Tyburn Treeshe learned things by
close questioningwhich to the old woman's dull wit seemed but the
curiousness of a great ladyand from others who stood too deep in
awe of her to think of her as a mere human beingshe gathered clues
which led her far in the tracing of the evils following one wicked
heartless life. Where she could hear of manwomanor child on
whom John Oxon's sins had fallenor who had suffered wrong by him
there she went to helpto give lightto give comfort and
encouragement. Strangelyas it seemed to themand as if done by
the hand of Heaventhe poor tradesmen he had robbed were paid their
duesyouth he had led into evil ways was checked mysteriously and
set in better paths; women he had dragged downward were given aid
and chance of peace or happiness; children he had cast upon the
worldunfatheredand with no prospect but the education of the
gutterand a life of crimewere cared for by a powerful unseen
hand. The pretty country girl saved by his deathprotected by her
Graceand living innocently at Dunstanwoldememory being merciful
to youthforgot himgained back her young rosesand learned to
smile and hope as though he had been but a name.
Since 'twas I who killed him,said her Grace to her inward soul
'tis I must live his life which I took from him, and making it
better I may be forgiven--if there is One who dares to say to the
poor thing He made, 'I will not forgive.'
Surely it was said there had never been lives so beautiful and noble
as those the Duke of Osmonde and his lady lived as time went by.
The Tower of Camylottwhere they had spent the first months of
their wedded lifethey loved better than any other of their seats
and there they spent as much time as their duties of Court and State
allowed them. It was indeed a splendid and beautiful estatethe
stately tower being built upon an eminenceand there rolling out
before it the most lovely land in Englandmoorland and hillsthick
woods and broad meadowsthe edge of the heather dipping to show the
soft silver of the sea.
Here was this beauteous woman chatelaine and queenwife of her
husband as never beforehe thoughthad wife blessed and glorified
the existence of mortal man. All her great beauty she gave to him
in tenderjoyous tribute; all her great gifts of mind and wit and
grace it seemed she valued but as they were joys to him; in his
stately households in town and country she reigned a lovely empress
adored and obeyed with reverence by every man or woman who served
her and her lord. Among the people on his various estates she came
and went a tender goddess of benevolence. When she appeared amid
them in the first months of her wedded lifethe humble souls
regarded her with awe not unmixed with fearhaving heard such wild
stories of her youth at her father's houseand of her proud state
and bitter wit in the great London world when she had been my Lady
Dunstanwolde; but when she came among them all else was forgotten in
their wonder at her graciousness and noble way.
To see her come into a poor body's cottage, so tall and grand a
lady, and with such a carriage as she hath,they saidhobnobbing
together in their talk of herlooking as if a crown of gold should
sit on her high black head, and then to hear her gentle speech and
see the look in her eyes as if she was but a simple new-married
girl, full of her joy, and her heart big with the wish that all
other women should be as happy as herself, it is, forsooth, a
beauteous sight to see.
Ay, and no hovel too poor for her, and no man or woman too sinful,
was said again.
Heard ye how she found that poor wench of Haylits lying sobbing
among the fern in the Tower woods, and stayed and knelt beside her
to hear her trouble? The poor soul has gone to ruin at fourteen,
and her father, finding her out, beat her and thrust her from his
door, and her Grace coming through the wood at sunset--it being her
way to walk about for mere pleasure as though she had no coach to
ride in--the girl says she came through the golden glow as if she
had been one of God's angels--and she kneeled and took the poor
wench in her arms--as strong as a man, Betty says, but as soft as a
young mother--and she said to her things surely no mortal lady ever
said before--that she knew naught of a surety of what God's true
will might be, or if His laws were those that have been made by man
concerning marriage by priests saying common words, but that she
surely knew of a man whose name was Christ, and He had taught love
and helpfulness and pity, and for His sake, He having earned our
trust in Him, whether He was God or man, because He hung and died in
awful torture on the Cross--for His sake all of us must love and
help and pity--'I you, poor Betty,' were her very words, 'and you
me.' And then she went to the girl's father and mother, and so
talked to them that she brought them to weeping, and begging Betty
to come home; and also she went to her sweetheart, Tom Beck, and
made so tender a story to him of the poor pretty wench whose love
for him had brought her to such trouble, that she stirred him up to
falling in love again, which is not man's way at such times, and in
a week's time he and Betty went to church together, her Grace
setting them up in a cottage on the estate.
I used all my wit and all my tenderest words to make a picture that
would fire and touch him, Gerald,her Grace saidsitting at her
husband's sidein a great windowfrom which they often watched the
sunset in the valley spread below; "and that with which I am so
strong sometimes--I know not what to call itbut 'tis a power
people bend tothat I know--that I used upon him to waken his dull
soul and brain. Whose fault is it that they are dull? Poor lout
he was born soas I was born strong and passionateand as you were
born noble and pure and high. I led his mind back to the pastwhen
he had been made happy by the sight of Betty's little smiling
blushing faceand when he had kissed her and made love in the
hayfields. And this I said--though 'twas not a thing I have learned
from any chaplain--that when 'twas said he should make an honest
woman of herit was MY thought that she had been honest from the
firstbeing too honest to know that the world was not soand that
even the man a woman loved with all her soulmight be a rogueand
have no honesty in him. And at last--'twas when I talked to him
about the child--and that I put my whole soul's strength in--he
burst out a-crying like a schoolboyand said indeed she was a fond
little thing and had loved himand he had loved herand 'twas a
shame he had so done by herand he had not meant it at the first
but she was so simpleand he had been a villainbut if he married
her nowhe would be called a fooland laughed at for his pains.
Then was I angryGeraldand felt my eyes flashand I stood up
tall and spoke fiercely: 'Let them dare' I said--'let any man or
woman dareand then will they see what his Grace will say.'"
Osmonde drew her to his breastlaughing into her lovely eyes.
Nay, 'tis not his Grace who need be called on,he said; "'tis her
Grace they love and fearand will obey; though 'tis the sweetest
womanish thing that you should call on me when you are power itself
and can so rule all creatures you come near."
Nay,she saidwith softly pleading facelet me not rule. Rule
for me, or but help me; I so long to say your name that they may
know I speak but as your wife.
Who is myself,he answered--"my very self."
Ay,she saidwith a little nod of her headthat I know--that I
am yourself; and 'tis because of this that one of us cannot be proud
with the other, for there is no other, there is only one. And I am
wrong to say, 'Let me not rule,' for 'tis as if I said, 'You must
not rule.' I meant surely, 'God give me strength to be as noble in
ruling as our love should make me.' But just as one tree is a beech
and one an oak, just as the grass stirs when the summer wind blows
over it, so a woman is a woman, and 'tis her nature to find her joy
in saying such words to the man who loves her, when she loves as I
do. Her heart is so full that she must joy to say her husband's
name as that of one she cannot think without--who is her life as is
her blood and her pulses beating. 'Tis a joy to say your name,
Gerald, as it will be a joy--and she looked far out across the sungoldened
valley and plainswith a strangeheavenly sweet smile -"
as it will be a joy to say our child's--and put his little mouth to
my full breast."
Sweet love,he crieddrawing her by the hand that he might meet
the radiance of her look--"heart's dearest!"
She did not withhold her lovely eyes from himbut withdrew them
from the sunset's mist of goldand the clouds piled as it were at
the gates of heavenand they seemed to bring back some of the faroff
glory with them. Indeedneither her smile nor she seemed at
that moment to be things of earth. She held out her fairnoble
armsand he sprang to herand so they stoodside beating against
Yes, love,she said--"yeslove--and I have prayedmy Gerald
that I may give you sons who shall be men like you. But when I give
you women childrenI shall pray with all my soul for them--that
they may be just and strong and nobleand life begin for them as it
began not for me."
* * *
In the morning of a spring day when the cuckoos cried in the woods
and May blossomed thickwhite and pinkin all the hedgesthe
bells in the grey church-steeple at Camylott rang out a joyous
jangling pealtelling all the village that the heir had been born
at the Tower. Children stopped in their play to listenmen at
their work in field and barn; good gossips ran out of their cottage
doorwiping their arms dryfrom their tubs and scrubbing-buckets
their honest red faces broadening into maternal grins.
Ay, 'tis well over, that means surely,one said to the other; "and
a happy day has begun for the poor lady--though God knows she bore
herself queenly to the very lastas if she could have carried her
burden for another yearand blenched not a bit as other women do.
Bless mother and childsay I."
And 'tis an heir,said another. "She promised us that we should
know almost as quick as she didand commanded old Rowe to ring a
pealand then strike one bell loud between if 'twere a boyand two
if 'twere a girl child. 'Tis a boyheard youand 'twas like her
wit to invent such a way to tell us."
In four other villages the chimes rang just as loud and merrilyand
the women talkedand blessed her Grace and her young childand
casks of ale were broachedand oxen roastedand work stoppedand
dancers footed it upon the green.
Surely the new-born thing comes here to happiness,'twas said
everywherefor never yet was woman loved as is his mother.
In her stately bed her Grace the duchess laywith the face of the
Mother Maryand her man-child drinking from her breast. The duke
walked softly up and downso full of joy that he could not sit
still. When he had entered firstit was his wife's self who had
sate upright in her bedand herself laid his son within his arms.
None other shall lay him there,she saidI have given him to
you. He is a great child, but he has not taken from me my
He was indeed a great childeven at his first hourof limbs and
countenance so noble that nurses and physicians regarded him amazed.
He was the offspring of a great loveof noble bodies and great
souls. Did such powers alone create human beingsthe earth would
be peopled with a race of giants.
Amid the veiled spring sunshine and the flower-scented silence
broken only by the twittering of birds nesting in the ivyher Grace
lay soft asleepher son resting on her armwhen Anne stole to look
at her and her child. Through the night she had knelt praying in
her chamberand now she knelt again. She kissed the new-born
thing's curled rose-leaf hand and the lace frill of his mother's
night-rail. She dared not further disturb them.
Sure God forgives,she breathed--"for Christ's sake. He would not
give this little tender thing a punishment to bear."
CHAPTER XXII--Mother Anne
There was no punishment. The tender little creature grew as a
blossom grows from bud to fairest bloom. His mother flowered as he
and spent her days in noble cherishing of him and tender care. Such
motherhood and wifehood as were hers were as fair statues raised to
Once I thought that I was under ban,she said to her lord in one
of their sweetest hours; "but I have been given love and a lifeand
so I know it cannot be. Do I fill all your beingGerald?"
All, all!he criedmy sweet, sweet woman.
Leave I no longing unfulfilled, no duty undone, to you, dear love,
to the world, to human suffering I might aid? I pray Christ with
all passionate humbleness that I may not.
He grants your prayer,he answeredhis eyes moist with
And this white soul given to me from the outer bounds we know not-it
has no stain; and the little human body it wakened to life in-think
you that Christ will help me to fold them in love high and
pure enough, and teach the human body to do honour to its soul?
'Tis not monkish scorn of itself that I would teach the body; it is
so beautiful and noble a thing, and so full of the power of joy.
Surely That which made it--in His own image--would not that it
should despise itself and its own wonders, but do them reverence,
and rejoice in them nobly, knowing all their seasons and their
changes, counting not youth folly, and manhood sinful, or age aught
but gentle ripeness passing onward? I pray for a great soul, and
great wit, and greater power to help this fair human thing to grow,
and love, and live.
These had been born and had rested hid within her when she lay a
babe struggling 'neath her dead mother's corpse. Through the
darkness of untaught years they had grown but slowlybeing so
unfitly and unfairly nourished; but Life's sun but falling on her
they seemed to strive to fair fruition with her days.
'Twas not mere love she gave her offspring--for she bore others as
years passeduntil she was the mother of four sons and two girls
children of strength and beauty as noted as her own; she gave them
of her constant thoughtand an honour of their humanity such as
taught them reverence of themselves as of all other human things.
Their love for her was such a passion as their father bore her. She
was the noblest creature that they knew; her beautyher great
unswerving loveher truthwere things bearing to their child eyes
the unchangingness of God's stars in heaven.
Why is she not the Queen?a younger one asked his father once
having been to London and seen the Court. "The Queen is not so
beautiful and grand as sheand she could so well reign over the
people. She is always just and honourableand fears nothing."
From her side Mistress Anne was rarely parted. In her fair retreat
at Camylott she had lived a life all undisturbed by outward things.
When the children were born strange joy came to her.
Be his mother also,the duchess had said when she had drawn the
clothes aside to show her first-born sleeping in her arm. "You were
made to be the mother of thingsAnne."
Nay, or they had been given to me,Anne had answered.
Mine I will share with you,her Grace had saidlifting her
Madonna face. "Kiss mesister--kiss himtooand bless him. Your
life has been so innocent it must be good that you should love and
'Twas sweet to see the wit she showed in giving to poor Anne the
feeling that she shared her motherhood. She shared her tenderest
cares and duties with her. Together they bathed and clad the child
in the morningthis being their high festivalin which the nurses
shared but in the performance of small duties. Each day they played
with him and laughed as women will at such dear timeskissing his
grand round limbscrying out at their growthworshipping his
little rosy feetand smothering him with caresses. And then they
put him to sleepAnne sitting close while his mother fed him from
her breast until his small red mouth parted and slowly released her.
When he could toddle about and was beginning to say wordsthere was
a morning when she bore him to Anne's tower that they might joy in
him togetheras was their way. It was a beautiful thing to see her
walk carrying him in the strong and lovely curve of her arm as if
his sturdy babyhood were of no more weight than a roseand he
cuddling against herclinging and crowinghis wide brown eyes
shining with delight.
He has come to pay thee court, Anne,she said. "He is a great
gallantand knows how we are his loving slaves. He comes to say
his new word that I have taught him."
She set him down where he stood holding to Anne's knee and showing
his new pearl teethin a rosy grin; his mother knelt beside him
beginning her coaxing.
Who is she?she saidpointing with her finger at Anne's faceher
own full of lovely fear lest the child should not speak rightly his
lesson. "What is her name? Mammy's man say--" and she mumbled
softly with her crimson mouth at his ear.
The child looked up at Annewith baby wit and laughter in his face
and stammered sweetly
Muz--Muzzer--Anne,he saidand then being pleased with his
clevernessdanced on his little feet and said it over and over.
Clorinda caught him up and set him on Anne's lap.
Know you what he calls you?she said. "'Tis but a mumblehis
little tongue is not nimble enough for clearnessbut he says it his
pretty best. 'Tis Mother Annehe says--'tis Mother Anne."
And then they were in each other's armsthe child between themhe
kissing both and clasping bothwith little laughs of joy as if they
were but one creature.
Each child born they clasped and kissed soand were so clasped and
kissed by; each one calling the tender unwed woman "Mother Anne
and having a special lovingness for her, she being the creature each
one seemed to hover about with innocent protection and
The wonder of Anne's life grew deeper to her hour by hour, and where
she had before loved, she learned to worship, for 'twas indeed
worship that her soul was filled with. She could not look back and
believe that she had not dreamed a dream of all the fears gone by
and that they held. This--this was true--the beauty of these days,
the love of them, the generous deeds, the sweet courtesies, and
gentle words spoken. This beauteous woman dwelling in her husband's
heart, giving him all joy of life and love, ruling queenly and
gracious in his house, bearing him noble children, and tending them
with the very genius of tenderness and wisdom.
But in Mistress Anne herself life had never been strong; she was of
the fibre of her mother, who had died in youth, crushed by its cruel
weight, and to her, living had been so great and terrible a thing.
There had not been given to her the will to battle with the Fate
that fell to her, the brain to reason and disentangle problems, or
the power to set them aside. So while her Grace of Osmonde seemed
but to gain greater state and beauty in her ripening, her sister's
frail body grew more frail, and seemed to shrink and age. Yet her
face put on a strange worn sweetness, and her soft, dull eyes had a
look almost like a saint's who looks at heaven. She prayed much,
and did many charitable works both in town and country. She read
her books of devotion, and went much to church, sitting with a
reverend face through many a dull and lengthy sermon she would have
felt it sacrilegious to think of with aught but pious admiration.
In the middle of the night it was her custom to rise and offer up
prayers through the dark hours. She was an humble soul who greatly
feared and trembled before her God.
I waken in the night sometimes the fair, tall child Daphne said
once to her mother, and Mother Anne is there--she kneels and prays
beside my bed. She kneels and prays so by each one of us many a
'Tis because she is so pious a woman and so loves us,said young
Johnin his statelygenerous way. The house of Osmonde had never
had so fine and handsome a creature for its heir. He o'ertopped
every boy of his age in heightand the bearing of his lovely
youthful body was masculine grace itself.
The town and the Court knew these childrenand talked of their
beauty and growth as they had talked of their mother's.
To be the mate of such a woman, the father of such heirs, is a fate
a man might pray God for,'twas said. "Love has not grown stale
with them. Their children are the very blossoms of it. Her eyes
are deeper pools of love each year."
CHAPTER XXIII--"In One who will do justiceand demands that it
shall be done to each thing He has madeby each who bears His
'Twas in these days Sir Jeoffry came to his endit being in such
way as had been often prophesied; and when this final hour came
there was but one who could give him comfortand this was the
daughter whose youth he had led with such careless evilness to harm.
If he had wondered at her when she had been my Lady Dunstanwoldeas
her Grace of Osmonde he regarded her with heavy awe. Never had she
been able to lead him to visit her at her house in town or at any
other which was her home. "'Tis all too grand for meyour Grace
he would say; I am a country yokeland have hunted and drankand
lived too hard to look well among town gentlemen. I must be drunk
at dinnerand when I am in liquor I am no ornament to a duchess's
drawing-room. But what a woman you have grown he would say,
staring at her and shaking his head. Each time I clap eyes on you
'tis to marvel at youremembering what a baggage you wereand how
you kept from slipping by the way. There was Jack Oxonnow he
added one day--after you married DunstanwoldeI heard a pretty
tale of Jack--that he had made a wager among his friends in town--he
was a braggart devilJack--that he would have youthough you were
so scornful; and knowing him to be a liarhis fellows said that
unless he could bring back a raven lock six feet long to show them
he had lost his betfor they would believe no other proof. And
finely they scoffed at him when he came back saying that he had had
onebut had hid it away for safety when he was drunkand could not
find it again. They so flouted and jeered at him that swords were
drawnand blood as well. But though he was a beauty and a crafty
rake-hell fellowyou were too sharp for him. Had you not had so
shrewd a wit and strong a willyou would not have been the greatest
duchess in EnglandCloas well as the finest woman."
Nay,she answered--"in those days--naylet us not speak of them!
I would blot them out--out."
As time went byand the years spent in drink and debauchery began
to tell even on the bigstrong body which should have served any
other man bravely long past his threescore and tenSir Jeoffry
drank harder and lived more wildlysometimes being driven desperate
by dulnesshis coarse pleasures having lost their potency.
Liquor is not as strong as it once was,he used to grumbleand
there are fewer things to stir a man to frolic. Lord, what roaring
days and nights a man could have thirty years ago.
So in his efforts to emulate such nights and dayshe plunged deeper
and deeper into new orgies; and one nightafter a heavy day's
huntingsitting at the head of his table with his old companions
he suddenly leaned forwardstaring with starting eyes at an empty
chair in a dark corner. His face grew purpleand he gasped and
What is't, Jeoff?old Eldershawe criedtouching his shoulder with
a shaking hand. "What's the man staring atas if he had gone mad?"
Jack,cried Sir Jeoffryhis eyes still farther starting from
their sockets. "Jack! what say you? I cannot hear."
The next instant he sprang upshriekingand thrusting with his
hands as if warding something off.
Keep back!he yelled. "There is green mould on thee. Where hast
thou been to grow mouldy? Keep back! Where hast thou been?"
His friends at table started upstaring at him and losing colour;
he shrieked so loud and strangelyhe clutched his hair with his
handsand fell into his chairravingclutchingand staringor
dashing his head down upon the table to hide his faceand then
raising it as if he could not resist being drawn in his affright to
gaze again. There was no soothing him. He shoutedand struggled
with those who would have held him. 'Twas Jack Oxon who was there
he swore--Jackwho kept stealing slowly nearer to himhis face and
his fine clothes damp and greenhe beat at the air with mad hands
and at last fell upon the floorand rolledfoaming at the mouth.
They contrivedafter great strugglingsto bear him to his chamber
but it took the united strength of all who would stay near him to
keep him from making an end of himself. By the dawn of day his boon
companions stood by him with their garments torn to tatterstheir
faces drenched with sweatand their own eyes almost starting from
their sockets; the doctor who had been sent forcoming in no hurry
but scowled and shook his head when he beheld him.
He is a dead man,he saidand the wonder is that this has not
come before. He is sodden with drink and rotten with ill-living,
besides being past all the strength of youth. He dies of the life
he has lived.
'Twas little to be expected that his boon companions could desert
their homes and pleasures and tend his horrors longer than a night.
Such a sight as he presented did not inspire them to cheerful
Lord,said Sir Chris Crowellto see him clutch his flesh and
shriek and mouth, is enough to make a man live sober for his
remaining days,and he shook his big shoulders with a shudder.
Ugh!he saidGod grant I may make a better end. He writhes as
There is but one on earth who will do aught for him,said
Eldershawe. "'Tis handsome Clowho is a duchess; but she will come
and tend himI could swear. Even when she was a lawless devil of a
child she had a way of standing by her friends and fearing naught."
So after taking counsel together they sent for herand in as many
hours as it took to drive from Londonher coach stood before the
door. By this time all the household was panic-stricken and in
hopeless disorderthe women-servants scattered and shuddering in
far corners of the house; such men as could get out of the way
having found work to do afield or in the kennelsfor none had nerve
to stay where they could hear the madman's shrieks and howls.
Her Graceentering the housewent with her woman straight to her
chamberand shortly emerged therefromstripped of her rich
appareland clad in a gown of strong blue linenher hair wound
closeher white hands bare of any ornamentsave the band of gold
which was her wedding-ring. A serving-woman might have been clad
so; but the plainness of her garb but made her heightand strength
so reveal themselvesthat the mere sight of her woke somewhat that
was like to awe in the eyes of the servants who beheld her as she
She needed not to be ledbut straightway followed the awful sounds
until she reached the chamber behind whose door they were shut.
Upon the huge disordered bedSir Jeoffry writhedand tried to tear
himselfhis great sinewy and hairy body almost stark. Two of the
stable men were striving to hold him.
The duchess went to his bedside and stood therelaying her strong
white hand upon his shuddering shoulder.
Father,she saidin a voice so clearand with such a ring of
steady commandasthe men said latermight have reached a dead
man's ear. "Father'tis Clo!"
Sir Jeoffry writhed his head round and glared at herwith starting
eyes and foaming mouth.
Who says 'tis Clo?he shouted. "'Tis a lie! She was ever a
bigger devil than any otherthough she was but a handsome wench.
Jack himself could not manage her. She beat himand would beat him
now. 'Tis a lie!"
All through that day and night the power of her Grace's white arm
was the thing which saved him from dashing out his brains. The two
men could not have held himand at his greatest frenzy they
observed that now and then his blood-shot eye would glance aside at
the beauteous face above him. The sound of the word "Clo" had
struck upon his brain and wakened an echo.
She sent away the men to restcalling for others in their places;
but leave the bedside herself she would not. 'Twas a strange thing
to see her strength and braverywhich could not be beaten down.
When the doctor came again he found her thereand changed his surly
and reluctant manner in the presence of a duchessand one who in
her close linen gown wore such a mien.
You should not have left him,she said to him unbendinglyeven
though I myself can see there is little help that can be given.
Thought you his Grace and I would brook that he should die alone if
we could not have reached him?
Those words "his Grace and I" put a new face upon the matterand
all was done that lay within the man's skill; but most was he
disturbed concerning the ladywho would not be sent to restand
whose noble consort would be justly angered if she were allowed to
injure her superb health.
His Grace knew what I came to do and how I should do it,the
duchess saidunbending still. "But for affairs of State which held
himhe would have been here at my side."
She held her place throughout the second nightand that was worse
than the first--the paroxysms growing more and more awful; for Jack
was within a yardand stretched out a green and mouldy handthe
finger-bones showing through the fleshthe while he smiled awfully.
At last one pealing scream rang out after anotheruntil after
making his shuddering body into an arc resting on heels and head
the madman fell exhaustedhis flesh all quaking before the eye.
Then the duchess waved the men who helpedaway. She sat upon the
bed's edge close--close to her father's bodyputting her two firm
hands on either of his shouldersholding him soand bent down
looking into his wild faceas if she fixed upon his very soul all
the power of her wondrous will.
Father,she saidlook at my face. Thou canst if thou wilt.
Look at my face. Then wilt thou see 'tis Clo--and she will stand by
She kept her gaze upon his very pupils; and though 'twas at first as
if his eyes strove to break away from her looktheir effort was
controlled by her steadfastnessand they wandered back at lastand
her great orbs held them. He heaved a long breathhalf a big
broken soband lay stillstaring up at her.
Ay,he said'tis Clo! 'tis Clo!
The sweat began to roll from his foreheadand the tears down his
cheeks. He broke forthwailing like a child.
Clo--Clo,he saidI am in hell.
She put her hand on his breastkeeping will and eyes set on him.
Nay,she answered; "thou art on earthand in thine own bedand I
am hereand will not leave thee."
She made another sign to the men who stood and stared aghast in
wonder at herbut feeling in the very air about her the spell to
which the madness had given way.
'Twas not mere human woman who sat there,they said afterwards in
the stables among their fellows. "'Twas somewhat more. Had such a
will been in an evil thing a man's hair would have risen on his
skull at the seeing of it."
Go now,she said to themand send women to set the place in
She had seen delirium and death enough in the doings of her deeds of
mercyto know that his strength had gone and death was coming. His
bed and room were made orderlyand at last he lay in clean linen
with all made straight. Soon his eyes seemed to sink into his head
and stare from hollowsand his skin grew greybut ever he stared
only at his daughter's face.
Clo,he said at laststay by me! Clo, go not away!
I shall not go,she answered.
She drew a seat close to his bed and took his hand. It lay knotted
and gnarled and swollen-veined upon her smooth palmand with her
other hand she stroked it. His breath came weak and quickand fear
grew in his eyes.
What is it, Clo?he said. "What is't?"
'Tis weakness,replied shesoothing him. "Soon you will sleep."
Ay,he saidwith a breath like a sob. "'Tis over."
His big body seemed to collapsehe shrank so in the bed-clothes.
What day o' the year is it?he asked.
The tenth of August,was her answer.
Sixty-nine years from this day was I born,he saidand now 'tis
Nay,said she--"nay--God grant--"
Ay,he saiddone. Would there were nine and sixty more. What a
man I was at twenty. I want not to die, Clo. I want to live--to
live--live, and be young,gulpingwith strong muscle and moist
flesh. Sixty-nine years--and they are gone!
He clung to her handand stared at her with awful eyes. Through
all his life he had been but a greatstronghuman carcass; and he
was now but the same carcass worn outand at death's door. Of not
one human thing but of himself had he ever thoughtnot one creature
but himself had he ever loved--and now he lay at the endharking
back only to the wicked years gone by.
None can bring them back,he shuddered. "Not even thouClowho
art so strong. None--none! Canst prayClo?" with the gasp of a
Not as chaplains do,she answered. "I believe not in a God who
clamours but for praise."
What dost believe in, then?
In One who will do justice, and demands that it shall be done to
each thing He has made, by each who bears His image--ay, and mercy
too--but justice always, for justice is mercy's highest self.
Who knows the mysteries of the human soul--who knows the workings of
the human brain? The God who is just alone. In this man's mind
which was so near a simple beast's in all its movingssome remote
unborn consciousness was surely reached and vaguely set astir by the
clear words thus spoken.
Clo, Clo!he criedClo, Clo!in terrorclutching her the
closerwhat dost thou mean? In all my nine and sixty years--and
rolled his head in agony.
In all his nine and sixty years he had shown justice to no man
mercy to no womansince he had thought of none but Jeoffry
Wildairs; and this truth somehow dimly reached his long-dulled brain
and wakened there.
Down on thy knees, Clo!he gasped--"down on thy knees!"
It was so horriblethe look struggling in his dying facethat she
went down upon her knees that momentand so kneltfolding his
shaking hands within her own against her breast.
Thou who didst make him as he was born into Thy world,she said
deal with that to which Thou didst give life--and death. Show him
in this hour, which Thou mad'st also, that Thou art not Man who
would have vengeance, but that justice which is God.
Then--then,he gasped--"then will He damn me!"
He will weigh thee,she said; "and that which His own hand created
will He separate from that which was thine own wilful wrong--and
thissureHe will teach thee how to expiate."
Clo,he cried again -"thy mother--she was but a girland died
alone--I did no justice to her!--Daphne! Daphne!" And he shook
beneath the bed-clothesshuddering to his feethis face growing
more grey and pinched.
She loved thee once,Clorinda said. "She was a gentle souland
would not forget. She will show thee mercy."
Birth she went through,he mutteredand death--alone. Birth and
death! Daphne, my girl--And his voice trailed off to
nothingnessand he lay staring at spaceand panting.
The duchess sat by him and held his hand. She moved notthough at
last he seemed to fall asleep. Two hours later he began to stir.
He turned his head slowly upon his pillows until his gaze rested
upon heras she sat fronting him. 'Twas as though he had awakened
to look at her.
Clo!he criedand though his voice was but a whisperthere was
both wonder and wild question in it--"Clo!"
But she moved nother great eyes meeting his with steady gaze; and
even as they so looked at each other his body stretched itselfhis
lids fell--and he was a dead man.
CHAPTER XXIV--The doves sate upon the window-ledge and lowly cooed
When they had had ten years of happinessAnne died. 'Twas of no
violent illnessit seemed but that through these years of joy she
had been gradually losing life. She had grown thinner and whiter
and her soft eyes bigger and more prayerful. 'Twas in the summer
and they were at Camylottwhen one sweet day she came from the
flower-garden with her hands full of rosesand sitting down by her
sister in her morning-roomswooned awayscattering her blossoms on
her lap and at her feet.
When she came back to consciousness she looked up at the duchess
with a strangefar lookas if her soul had wandered back from some
Let me be borne to bed, sister,she said. "I would lie still. I
shall not get up again."
The look in her face was so unearthly and a thing so full of
mysterythat her Grace's heart stood stillfor in some strange way
she knew the end had come.
They bore her to her tower and laid her in her bedwhen she looked
once round the room and then at her sister.
'Tis a fair, peaceful room,she said. "And the prayers I have
prayed in it have been answered. To-day I saw my motherand she
told me so."
Anne! Anne!cried her Graceleaning over her and gazing
fearfully into her face; for though her words sounded like delirium
her look had no wildness in it. And yet--"AnneAnne! you wander
love the duchess cried.
Anne smiled a strange, sweet smile. Perchance I do she said. I
know not trulybut I am very happy. She said that all was over
and that I had not done wrong. She had a fairyoung facewith
eyes that seemed to have looked always at the stars of heaven. She
said I had done no wrong."
The duchess's face laid itself down upon the pillowa river of
clear tears running down her cheeks.
Wrong!she said--"you! dear one--woman of Christ's heartif ever
lived one. You were so weak and I so strongand yet as I look back
it seems that all of good that made me worthy to be wife and mother
I learned from your simplicity."
Through the tower window and the ivy closing round itthe blueness
of the summer sky was heavenly fair; softand light white clouds
floated across the clearness of its sapphire. On this Anne's eyes
were fixed with an uplifted tenderness until she broke her silence.
Soon I shall be away,she said. "Soon all will be left behind.
And I would tell you that my prayers were answered--and sosure
yours will be."
No man could tell what made the duchess then fall on her kneesbut
she herself knew. 'Twas that she saw in the exalted dying face that
turned to hers concealing nothing more.
Anne! Anne!she cried. "Sister Anne! Mother Anne of my children!
You have known--you have known all the years and kept it hid!"
She dropped her queenly head and shielded the whiteness of her face
in the coverlid's folds.
Ay, sister,Anne saidcoming a little back to earthand from
the first. I found a letter near the sun-dial--I guessed--I loved
you--and could do naught else but guard you. Many a day have I
watched within the rose-garden--many a day--and night--God pardon
me--and night. When I knew a letter was hid, 'twas my wont to
linger near, knowing that my presence would keep others away. And
when you approached--or he--I slipped aside and waited beyond the
rose hedge--that if I heard a step, I might make some sound of
warning. Sister, I was your sentinel, and being so, knelt while on
my guard, and prayed.
My sentinel!Clorinda cried. "And knowing allyou so guarded me
night and dayand prayed God's pity on my poor madness and girl's
frenzy!" And she gazed at her in amazeand with humblestburning
For my own poor self as well as for you, sister, did I pray God's
pity as I knelt,said Anne. "For long I knew it not--being so
ignorant--but alas! I loved him too!--I loved him too! I have
loved no man other all my days. He was unworthy any woman's love-and
I was too lowly for him to cast a glance on; but I was a woman
and God made us so."
Clorinda clutched her pallid hand.
Dear God,she criedyou loved him!
Anne moved upon her pillowdrawing weaklyslowly near until her
white lips were close upon her sister's ear.
The night,she panted--"the night you bore him--in your arms--"
Then did the other woman give a shuddering start and lift her head
staring with a frozen face.
What! what!she cried.
Down the dark stairway,the panting voice went onto the far
cellar--I kept watch again.
You kept watch--you?the duchess gasped.
Upon the stair which led to the servants' place--that I might stop
them if--if aught disturbed them, and they oped their doors--that I
might send them back, telling them--it was I.
Then stooped the duchess nearer to herher hands clutching the
coverlidher eyes widening.
Anne, Anne,she criedyou knew the awful thing that I would
hide! That too? You knew that he was THERE!
Anne lay upon her pillowher own eyes gazing out through the ivyhung
window of her tower at the blue sky and the fairfleecy
clouds. A flock of snow-white doves were flying back and forth
across itand one sate upon the window's deep ledge and cooed. All
was warm and perfumed with summer's sweetness. There seemed naught
between her and the uplifting bluenessand naught of the earth was
near but the dove's deep-throated cooing and the laughter of her
Grace's children floating upward from the garden of flowers below.
I lie upon the brink,she said--"upon the brinksisterand
methinks my soul is too near to God's pure justice to fear as human
things fearand judge as earth does. She said I did no wrong.
And knowing,her sister criedyou came to me THAT AFTERNOON!
To stand by that which lay hidden, that I might keep the rest away.
Being a poor creature and timorous and weak--
Weak! weak!the duchess criedamid a greater flood of streaming
tears--"ayI have dared to call you sowho have the heart of a
great lioness. Ohsweet Anne--weak!"
'Twas love,Anne whispered. "Your love was strongand so was
mine. That other love was not for me. I knew that my long woman's
life would pass without it--for woman's life is longalas! if love
comes not. But you were love's selfand I worshipped you and it;
and to myself I said--praying forgiveness on my knees--that one
woman should know love if I did not. And being so poor and
imperfect a thingwhat mattered if I gave my soul for you--and
lovewhich is so greatand rules the world. Look at the doves
sisterlook at themflying past the heavenly blueness--and she
said I did no wrong."
Her hand was wet with tears fallen upon itas her duchess sister
kneltand held and kissed itsobbing.
You knew, poor love, you knew!she cried.
Ay, all of it I knew,Anne said--"his torture of you and the
madness of your horror. And when he forced himself within the
Panelled Parlour that day of fateI knew he came to strike some
deadly blow; and in such anguish I waited in my chamber for the end
that when it came notI crept downpraying that somehow I might
come between--and I went in the room!"
And there--what saw you?quoth the duchessshuddering. "Somewhat
you must have seenor you could not have known."
Ay,said Anneand heard!and her chest heaved.
Heard!cried Clorinda. "Great God of mercy!"
The room was empty, and I stood alone. It was so still I was
afraid; it seemed so like the silence of the grave; and then there
came a sound--a long and shuddering breath--but one--and then--
The memory brought itself too keenly backand she fell a-shivering.
I heard a slipping sound, and a dead hand fell on the floor-lying
outstretched, its palm turned upwards, showing beneath the valance
of the couch.
She threw her frail arms round her sister's neckand as Clorinda
clasped her ownbreathing gaspinglythey swayed together.
What did you then?the duchess criedin a wild whisper.
I prayed God keep me sane--and knelt--and looked below. I thrust
it back--the dead hand, saying aloud, 'Swoon you must not, swoon you
must not, swoon you shall not--God help! God help!'--and I saw!-the
purple mark--his eyes upturned--his fair curls spread; and I
lost strength and fell upon my side, and for a minute lay there-knowing
that shudder of breath had been the very last expelling of
his being, and his hand had fallen by its own weight.
O God! O God! O God!Clorinda criedand over and over said the
wordand over again.
How was't--how was't?Anne shudderedclinging to her. "How was't
'twas done? I have so sufferedbeing weak--I have so prayed! God
will have mercy--but it has done me to deaththis knowledgeand
before I dieI pray you tell methat I may speak truly at God's
O God! O God! O God!Clorinda groaned--"O God!" and having cried
solooking upwas blanched as a thing struck with deathher eyes
like a great stag's that stands at bay.
Stay, stay!she criedwith a sudden shock of horrorfor a new
thought had come to her whichstrangelyshe had not had before.
You thought I MURDERED him?
Convulsive sobs heaved Anne's poor chesttears sweeping her hollow
cheeksher thinsoft hands clinging piteously to her sister's.
Through all these years I have known nothing,she wept--"sisterI
have known nothing but that I found him hidden therea dead man
whom you so hated and so feared."
Her hands resting upon the bed's edgeClorinda held her body
uprightsuch passion of wonderloveand pitying adoring awe in
her large eyes as was a thing like to worship.
You thought I MURDERED him, and loved me still,she said. "You
thought I murdered himand still you shielded meand gave me
chance to liveand to repentand know love's highest sweetness.
You thought I murdered himand yet your soul had mercy. Now do I
believe in Godfor only a God could make a heart so noble."
And you--did not--cried out Anneand raised upon her elbowher
breast pantingbut her eyes growing wide with light as from stars
from heaven. "Ohsister love--thanks be to Christ who died!"
The duchess roseand stood up tall and greather arms out-thrown.
I think 'twas God Himself who did it,she saidthough 'twas I
who struck the blow. He drove me mad and blind, he tortured me, and
thrust to my heart's core. He taunted me with that vile thing
Nature will not let women bear, and did it in my Gerald's name,
calling on him. And then I struck with my whip, knowing nothing,
not seeing, only striking, like a goaded dying thing. He fell--he
fell and lay there--and all was done!
But not with murderous thought--only through frenzy and a cruel
chance--a cruel, cruel chance. And of your own will blood is not
upon your hand,Anne pantedand sank back upon her pillow.
With deepest oaths I swear,Clorinda saidand she spoke through
her clenched teethif I had not loved, if Gerald had not been my
soul's life and I his, I would have stood upright and laughed in his
face at the devil's threats. Should I have feared? You know me.
Was there a thing on earth or in heaven or hell I feared until love
rent me. 'Twould but have fired my blood, and made me mad with fury
that dares all. 'Spread it abroad!' I would have cried to him.
'Tell it to all the world, craven and outcast, whose vileness all
men know, and see how I shall bear myself, and how I shall drive
through the town with head erect. As I bore myself when I set the
rose crown on my head, so shall I bear myself then. And you shall
see what comes!' This would I have said, and held to it, and
gloried. But I knew love, and there was an anguish that I could not
endure--that my Gerald should look at me with changed eyes, feeling
that somewhat of his rightful meed was gone. And I was all
distraught and conquered. Of ending his base life I never thought,
never at my wildest, though I had thought to end my own; but when
Fate struck the blow for me, then I swore that carrion should not
taint my whole life through. It should not--should not--for 'twas
Fate's self had doomed me to my ruin. And there it lay until the
night; for this I planned, that being of such great strength for a
woman, I could bear his body in my arms to the farthest of that
labyrinth of cellars I had commanded to be cut off from the rest and
closed; and so I did when all were sleeping--but you, poor Anne--but
you! And there I laid him, and there he lies to-day--an evil thing
turned to a handful of dust.
It was not murder,whispered Anne--"noit was not." She lifted
to her sister's gaze a quivering lip. "And yet once I had loved
him--years I had loved him she said, whispering still. And in a
woman there is ever somewhat that the mother creature feels"--the
hand which held her sister's shook as with an agueand her poor lip
quivered--"SisterI--saw him again!"
The duchess drew closer as she gaspedAgain!
I could not rest,the poor voice said. "He had been so basehe
was so beautifuland so unworthy love--and he was dead--none
knowinguntouched by any hand that even pitied him that he was so
base a thingfor that indeed is piteous when death comes and none
can be repentant. And he lay so hardso hard upon the stones."
Her teeth were chatteringand with a breath drawn like a wild sob
of terrorthe duchess threw her arm about her and drew her nearer.
Sweet Anne,she shuddered--"sweet Anne--come back--you wander!"
Nay, 'tis not wandering,Anne said. "'Tis truesister. There is
no night these years gone by I have not remembered it again--and
seen. In the night after that you bore him there--I prayed until
the mid-hourswhen all were sleeping fast--and then I stole down-in
my bare feetthat none could hear me--and at last I found my way
in the black dark--feeling the walls until I reached that farthest
door in the stone--and then I lighted my taper and oped it."
Anne!cried the duchess--"Annelook through the tower window at
the blueness of the sky--at the bluenessAnne!" But drops of cold
water had started out and stood upon her brow.
He lay there in his grave--it was a little black place with its
stone walls--his fair locks were tumbled,Anne went onwhispering.
The spot was black upon his brow--and methought he had stopped
mocking, and surely looked upon some great and awful thing which
asked of him a question. I knelt, and laid his curls straight, and
his hands, and tried to shut his eyes, but close they would not, but
stared at that which questioned. And having loved him so, I kissed
his poor cheek as his mother might have done, that he might not
stand outside, having carried not one tender human thought with him.
And, oh, I prayed, sister--I prayed for his poor soul with all my
own. 'If there is one noble or gentle thing he has ever done
through all his life,' I prayed, 'Jesus remember it--Christ do not
forget.' We who are human do so few things that are noble--oh,
surely one must count.
The duchess's head lay near her sister's breastand she had fallen
a-sobbing--a-sobbing and weeping like a young broken child.
Oh, brave and noble, pitiful, strong, fair soul!she cried. "As
Christ loved you have lovedand He would hear your praying. Since
you so pleadedHe would find one thing to hang His mercy on."
She lifted her fairtear-streaming faceclasping her hands as one
And I--and I,she cried--"have I not built a temple on his grave?
Have I not tried to live a fair lifeand be as Christ bade me?
Have I not lovedand pitiedand succoured those in pain? Have I
not filled a great man's days with blissand loveand wifely
worship? Have I not given him noble childrenbred in high
lovingnessand taught to love all things God madeeven the very
beasts that perishsince theytoosuffer as all do? Have I left
aught undone? OhsisterI have so prayed that I left naught.
Even though I could not believe that there was One whoruling all
could yet be pitiless as He is to someI have prayed That--which
sure it seems must bethough we comprehend it not--to teach me
faith in something greater than my poor selfand not of earth. Say
this to Christ's self when you are face to face--say this to HimI
pray you! AnneAnnelook not so strangely through the window at
the blueness of the skysweet soulbut look at me."
For Anne lay upon her pillow so smiling that 'twas a strange thing
to behold. It seemed as she were smiling at the whiteness of the
doves against the blue. A moment her sister stood up watching her
and then she stirredmeaning to go to call one of the servants
waiting outside; but though she moved not her gaze from the tower
windowMistress Anne faintly spoke.
Nay--stay,she breathed. "I go--softly--stay."
Clorinda fell upon her knees again and bent her lips close to her
ear. This was deathand yet she feared it not--this was the
passing of a souland while it went it seemed so fair and loving a
thing that she could ask it her last question--her greatest--knowing
it was so near to God that its answer must be rest.
Anne, Anne,she whisperedmust he know--my Gerald? Must I--must
I tell him all? If so I must, I will--upon my knees.
The doves came flying downward from the blueand lighted on the
window stone and cooed--Anne's answer was as low as her soft breath
and her still eyes were filled with joy at that she saw but which
another could not.
Nay,she breathed. "Tell him not. What need? Waitand let God
tell him--who understands."
Then did her soft breath stopand she lay stillher eyes yet open
and smiling at the blossomsand the doves who sate upon the windowledge
and lowly cooed and cooed.
* * *
'Twas her duchess sister who clad her for her last sleepingand
made her chamber fair--the hand of no other touched her; and while
'twas done the tower chamber was full of the golden sunshineand
the doves ceased not to flutter about the windowand coo as if they
spoke lovingly to each other of what lay within the room.
Then the children came to looktheir arms full of blossoms and
flowering sprays. They had been told only fair things of deathand
knowing but these fair thingsthought of it but as the opening of a
golden door. They entered softlyas entering the chamber of a
queenand moving tenderlywith low and gentle speechspread all
their flowers about the bed--laying them round her headon her
breastand in her handsand strewing them thick everywhere.
She lies in a bower and smiles at us,one said. "She hath grown
beautiful like youmotherand her face seems like a white star in
She loves us as she ever did,the fair child Daphne said; "she
will never cease to love usand will be our angel. Now have we an
angel of our own."
When the duke returnedwho had been absent since the day before
the duchess led him to the tower chamberand they stood together
hand in hand and gazed at her peace.
Gerald,the duchess saidin her tender voiceshe smiles, does
Yes,was Osmonde's answer--"yesloveas if at Godwho has
smiled at herself--faithfultender woman heart!"
The hand which he held in his clasp clung closer. The other crept
to his shoulder and lay there tremblingly.
How faithful and how tender, my Gerald,Clorinda saidI only
know. She is my saint--sweet Anne, whom I dared treat so lightly in
my poor wayward days. Gerald, she knows all my sins, and to-day she
has carried them in her pure hands to God and asked His mercy on
them. She had none of her own.
And so having done, dear heart, she lies amid her flowers, and
smiles,he saidand he drew her white hand to press it against his
* * *
While her body slept beneath soft turf and flowersand that which
was her self was given in God's heavenall joys for which her
earthly being had yearnedeven when unknowing how to name its
longingeach year that passed made more complete and splendid the
lives of those she so had loved. Never'twas saidhad woman done
such deeds of gentleness and shown so sweet and generous a wisdom as
the great duchess. None who were weak were in danger if she used
her strength to aid them; no man or woman was a lost thing whom she
tried to save: such tasks she set herself as no lady had ever given
herself before; but 'twas not her way to fail--her will being so
powerfulher brain so clearher heart so purely noble. Pauper and
princenoble and hind honoured her and her lord alikeand all felt
wonder at their happiness. It seemed that they had learned life's
meaning and the honouring of loveand this they taught to their
childrento the enriching of a long and noble line. In the
ripeness of years they passed from earth in as beauteous peace as
the sun setsand upon a tablet above the resting-place of their
ancestors there are inscribed lines like these:
Here sleeps by her husband the purest and noblest lady God e'er
loved, yet the high and gentle deeds of her chaste sweet life sleep
not, but live and grow, and so will do so long as earth is earth.