It seemed to grow more and more quiet in the room: the shadow of the leaves lay still upon the floor; the drowsy humming of the bees outside the windows, the sound of locusts in the trees, the distant noises of the town,—all grew more remote, then suddenly appeared to cease.
Audrey raised her eyes, and met the eyes of Evelyn. She knew that they had been upon her for a long time, in the quiet of the room. She had sat breathless, her head bowed over her work that lay idly in her lap, but at last she must look. The two gazed at each other with a sorrowful steadfastness; in the largeness of their several natures there was no room for self-consciousness; it was the soul of each that gazed. But in the mists of earthly ignorance they could not read what was written, and they erred in their guessing. Audrey went not far wide. This was the princess, and, out of the fullness of a heart that ached with loss, she could have knelt and kissed the hem of her robe, and wished her long and happy life. There was no bitterness in her heart; she never dreamed that she had wronged the princess. But Evelyn thought: "This is the girl they talk about. God knows, if he had loved worthily, I might not so much have minded!"
From the garden came a burst of laughter and high voices. Mistress Stagg started up. "'Tis our people, Mistress Evelyn, coming from the playhouse. We lodge them in the house by the bowling green, but after rehearsals they're apt to stop here. I'll send them packing. The hood is finished. Audrey will set it upon your head, ma'am, while I am gone. Here, child! Mind you don't crush it." She gave the hood into Audrey's hands, and hurried from the room.
Evelyn sat motionless, her silken draperies flowing around her, one white arm bent, the soft curve of her cheek resting upon ringed fingers. Her eyes yet dwelt upon Audrey, standing as motionless, the mist of gauze and lace in her hands. "Do not trouble yourself," she said, in her low, clear voice. "I will wait until Mistress Stagg returns."
The tone was very cold, but Audrey scarce noticed that it was so. "If I may, I should like to serve you, ma'am," she said pleadingly. "I will be very careful."
Leaving the window, she came and knelt beside Evelyn; but when she would have put the golden hood upon her head, the other drew back with a gesture of aversion, a quick recoil of her entire frame. The hood slipped to the floor. After a moment Audrey rose and stepped back a pace or two. Neither spoke, but it was the one who thought no evil whose eyes first sought the floor. Her dark cheek paled, and her lips trembled; she turned, and going back to her seat by the window took up her fallen work. Evelyn, with a sharp catch of her breath, withdrew her attention from the other occupant of the room, and fixed it upon a moted sunbeam lying like a bar between the two.
Mistress Stagg returned. The hood was fitted, and its purchaser prepared to leave. Audrey rose and made her curtsy, timidly, but with a quick, appealing motion of her hand. Was not this the lady whom he loved, that people said he was to wed? And had he not told her, long ago, that he would speak of her to Mistress Evelyn Byrd, and that she too would be her friend? Last May Day, when the guinea was put into her hand, the lady's smile was bright, her voice sweet and friendly. Now, how changed! In her craving for a word, a look, from one so near him, one that perhaps had seen him not an hour before; in her sad homage for the object of his love, she forgot her late repulse, and grew bold. When Evelyn would have passed her, she put forth a trembling hand and began to speak, to say she scarce knew what; but the words died in her throat. For a moment Evelyn stood, her head averted, an angry red staining neck and bosom and beautiful, down-bent face. Her eyes half closed, the long lashes quivering against her cheek, and she smiled faintly, in scorn of the girl and scorn of herself. Then, freeing her skirt from Audrey's clasp, she passed in silence from the room.
Audrey stood at the window, and with wide, pained eyes watched her go down the path. Mistress Stagg was with her, talking volubly, and Evelyn seemed to listen with smiling patience. One of the bedizened negroes opened the chair door; the lady entered, and was borne away. Before Mistress Stagg could reenter her house Audrey had gone quietly up the winding stair to the little whitewashed room, where she found the minister's wife astir and restored to good humor. Her sleep had helped her; she would go down at once and see what Mary was at. Darden, too, was coming as soon as the meeting at the church had adjourned. After dinner they would walk out and see the town, until which time Audrey might do as she pleased. When she was gone, Audrey softly shut herself in the little room, and lay down upon the bed, very still, with her face hidden in her arm.
With twelve of the clock came Darden, quite sober, distrait in manner and uneasy of eye, and presently interrupted Mistress Stagg's flow of conversation by a demand to speak with his wife alone. At that time of day the garden was a solitude, and thither the two repaired, taking their seats upon a bench built round a mulberry-tree.
"Well?" queried Mistress Deborah bitterly. "I suppose Mr. Commissary showed himself vastly civil? I dare say you're to preach before the Governor next Sunday? Or maybe they've chosen Bailey? He boasts that he can drink you under the table! One of these fine days you'll drink and curse and game yourself out of a parish!"
Darden drew figures on the ground with his heavy stick. "On such a fine day as this," he said, in a suppressed voice, and looked askance at the wife whom he beat upon occasion, but whose counsel he held in respect.
She turned upon him. "What do you mean? They talk and talk, and cry shame,—and a shame it is, the Lord knows! But it never comes to anything"—
"It has come to this," interrupted Darden, with an oath: "that this Governor means to sweep in the corners; that the Commissary—damned Scot!—to-day appointed a committee to inquire into the charges made against me and Bailey and John Worden; that seven of my vestrymen are dead against me; and that 'deprivation' has suddenly become a very common word!"
"Seven of the vestry?" said his wife, after a pause. "Who are they?"
Darden told her.
"If Mr. Haward"—she began slowly, her green eyes steady upon the situation. "There's not one of that seven would care to disoblige him. I warrant you he could make them face about. They say he knew the Governor in England, too; and there's his late gift to the college,—the Commissary wouldn't forget that. If Mr. Haward would"—She broke off, and with knit brows studied the problem more intently.
"If he would, he could," Darden finished for her. "With his interest this cloud would go by, as others have done before. I know that, Deborah. And that's the card I'm going to play."
"If you had gone to him, hat in hand, a month ago, he'd have done you any favor," said his helpmate sourly. "But it is different now. He's over his fancy; and besides, he's at Westover."
"He's in Williamsburgh, at Marot's ordinary," said the other. "As for his being over his fancy,—I'll try that. Fancy or no fancy, if a woman asked him for a fairing, he would give it her, or I don't know my gentleman. We'll call his interest a ribbon or some such toy, and Audrey shall ask him for it."
"Audrey is a fool!" cried Mistress Deborah. "And you had best be careful, or you'll prove yourself another! There's been talk enough already. Audrey, village innocent that she is, is the only one that doesn't know it. The town's not the country; if he sets tongues a-clacking here"—
"He won't," said Darden roughly. "He's no hare-brained one-and-twenty! And Audrey's a good girl. Go send her here, Deborah. Bid her fetch me Stagg's inkhorn and a pen and a sheet of paper. If he does anything for me, it will have to be done quickly. They're in haste to pull me out of saddle, the damned canting pack! But I'll try conclusions with them!"
His wife departed, muttering to herself, and the reverend Gideon pulled out of his capacious pocket a flask of usquebaugh. In five minutes from the time of his setting it to his lips the light in which he viewed the situation turned from gray to rose color. By the time he espied Audrey coming toward him through the garden he felt a moral certainty that when he came to die (if ever he died) it would be in his bed in the Fair View glebe house.
WITHIN THE PLAYHOUSE
Haward, sitting at the table in Marot's best room, wrote an answer to Audrey's letter, and tore it up; wrote another, and gave it to Juba, to be given to the messenger waiting below; recalled the negro before he could reach the door, destroyed the second note, and wrote a third. The first had been wise and kind, telling her that he was much engaged, lightly and skillfully waving aside her request—the only one she made—that she might see him that day. The second had been less wise. The last told her that he would come at five o'clock to the summer-house in Mistress Stagg's garden.
When he was alone in the room, he sat for some time very still, with his eyes closed and his head thrown back against the tall woodwork of his chair. His face was stern in repose: a handsome, even a fine face, with a look of power and reflection, but to-day somewhat worn and haggard of aspect. When presently he roused himself and took up the letter that lay before him, the paper shook in his hand. "Wine, Juba," he said to the slave, who now reentered the room. "And close the window; it is growing cold."
There were but three lines between the "Mr. Haward" and "Audrey;" the writing was stiff and clerkly, the words very simple,—a child's asking of a favor. He guessed rightly that it was the first letter of her own that she had ever written. Suddenly a wave of passionate tenderness took him; he bowed his head and kissed the paper; for the moment many-threaded life and his own complex nature alike straightened to a beautiful simplicity. He was the lover, merely; life was but the light and shadow through which moved the woman whom he loved. He came back to himself, and tried to think it out, but could not. Finally, with a weary impatience, he declined to think at all. He was to dine at the Governor's. Evelyn would be there.
Only momentarily, in those days of early summer, had he wavered in his determination to make this lady his wife. Pride was at the root of his being,—pride and a deep self-will; though because they were so sunken, and because poisonous roots can flower most deceivingly, he neither called himself nor was called of others a proud and willful man. He wished Evelyn for his wife; nay, more, though on May Day he had shown her that he loved her not, though in June he had offered her a love that was only admiring affection, yet in the past month at Westover he had come almost to believe that he loved her truly. That she was worthy of true love he knew very well. With all his strength of will, he had elected to forget the summer that lay behind him at Fair View, and to live in the summer that was with him at Westover. His success had been gratifying; in the flush of it, he persuaded himself that a chamber of the heart had been locked forever, and the key thrown away. And lo now! a touch, the sudden sight of a name, and the door had flown wide; nay, the very walls were rived away! It was not a glance over the shoulder; it was full presence in the room so lately sealed.
He knew that Evelyn loved him. It was understood of all their acquaintance that he was her suitor; months ago he had formally craved her father's permission to pay his addresses. There were times in those weeks at Westover when she had come nigh to yielding, to believing that he loved her; he was certain that with time he would have his way.... But the room, the closed room, in which now he sat!
He buried his face in his hands, and was suddenly back in spirit in his garden at Fair View. The cherries were ripe; the birds were singing: great butterflies went by. The sunshine beat on the dial, on the walks, and the smell of the roses was strong as wine. His senses swam with the warmth and fragrance; the garden enlarged itself, and blazed in beauty. Never was sunshine so golden as that; never were roses so large, never odors so potent-sweet. A spirit walked in the garden paths: its name was Audrey.... No, it was speaking, speaking words of passion and of woe.... Its name was Eloisa!
When he rose from his chair, he staggered slightly, and put his hand to his head. Recovering himself in a moment, he called for his hat and cane, and, leaving the ordinary, turned his face toward the Palace. A garrulous fellow Councilor, also bidden to his Excellency's dinner party, overtook him, and, falling into step, began to speak first of the pirates' trial, and then of the weather. A hot and feverish summer. 'Twas said that a good third of the servants arriving in the country since spring had died of their seasoning. The slaver lying in the York had thrown thirty blacks overboard in the ran from Barbadoes,—some strange sickness or other. Adsbud! He would not buy from the lot the master landed; had they been white, they had showed like spectres! September was the worst month of the year. He did not find Mr. Haward in looks now. Best consult Dr. Contesse, though indeed he himself had a preventive of fever which never failed. First he bled; then to so much of Peruvian bark—
Mr. Haward declared that he was very well, and turned the conversation piratewards again.
The dinner at the Palace was somewhat hurried, the gentlemen rising with the ladies, despite the enticements of Burgundy and champagne. It was the afternoon set apart for the Indian dance. The bonfire in the field behind the magazine had been kindled; the Nottoways and Meherrins were waiting, still as statues, for the gathering of their audience. Before the dance the great white father was to speak to them; the peace pipe, also, was to be smoked. The town, gay of mood and snatching at enjoyment, emptied its people into the sunny field. Only they who could not go stayed at home. Those light-hearted folk, ministers to a play-loving age, who dwelt in the house by the bowling green or in the shadow of the theatre itself, must go, at all rates. Marcia and Lucia, Syphax, Sempronius, and the African prince made off together, while the sons of Cato, who chanced to be twin brothers, followed with a slower step. Their indentures would expire next month, and they had thoughts, the one of becoming an overseer, the other of moving up country and joining a company of rangers: hence their somewhat haughty bearing toward their fellow players, who—except old Syphax, who acted for the love of it—had not even a bowing acquaintance with freedom.
Mr. and Mrs. Stagg saw their minions depart, and then themselves left the little white house in Palace Street. Mistress Deborah was with them, but not Audrey. "She can't abide the sight of an Indian," said the minister's wife indifferently. "Besides, Darden will be here from the church presently, and he may want her to write for him. She and Peggy can mind the house."
The Capitol clock was telling five when Haward entered the garden by the Nicholson Street gate. There had arisen a zephyr of the evening, to loosen the yellow locust leaves and send them down upon the path, to lay cool fingers upon his forehead that burned, and to whisper low at his ear. House and garden and silent street seemed asleep in the late sunshine, safe folded from the storm of sound that raged in the field on the border of the town. Distance muffled the Indian drums, and changed the scream of the pipes into a far-off wailing. Savage cries, bursts of applause and laughter,—all came softly, blent like the hum of the bees, mellow like the sunlight. There was no one in the summer-house. Haward walked on to the grape arbor, and found there a black girl, who pointed to an open door, pertaining not to the small white house, but to that portion of the theatre which abutted upon the garden. Haward, passing a window of Mr. Stagg's domicile, was aware of Darden sitting within, much engaged with a great book and a tankard of sack. He made no pause for the vision, and another moment found him within the playhouse.
The sunlight entered in at the door and at one high window, but yet the place was dim. The gallery and the rude boxes were all in shadow; the sunbeams from the door struck into the pit, while those from the high window let fall a shaft of misty light upon the stage itself, set for a hall in Utica, with five cane chairs, an ancient settle, and a Spanish table. On the settle, in the pale gold of the falling light, sat Audrey, her hands clasped over her knees, her head thrown back, and her eyes fixed upon the shadowy, chill, and soundless space before her. Upon Haward's speaking her name she sighed, and, loosing her hands, turned toward him. He came and leaned upon the back of the settle. "You sent for me, Audrey," he said, and laid his hand lightly upon her hair.
She shrank from his touch. "The minister made me write the letter," she said, in a low voice. "I did not wish to trouble you, sir."
Upon her wrist were dark marks. "Did Darden do that?" demanded Haward, as he took his seat beside her.
Audrey looked at the bruise indifferently; then with her other hand covered it from sight. "I have a favor to ask of Mr. Haward," she said. "I hope that after his many kindnesses he will not refuse to do me this greatest one. If he should grant my request, the gratitude which I must needs already feel toward him will be increased tenfold." The words came precisely, in an even voice.
Haward smiled. "Child, you have conned your lesson well. Leave the words of the book, and tell me in your own language what his reverence wants."
Audrey told him, but it seemed to her that he was not listening. When she had come to an end of the minister's grievances, she sat, with downcast eyes, waiting for him to speak, wishing that he would not look at her so steadily. She meant never to show him her heart,—never, never; but beneath his gaze it was hard to keep her cheek from burning, her lip from quivering.
At last he spoke: "Would it please you, Audrey, if I should save this man from his just deserts?"
Audrey raised her eyes. "He and Mistress Deborah are all my friends," she said. "The glebe house is my home."
Deep sadness spoke in voice and eye. The shaft of light, moving, had left her in the outer shadow: she sat there with a listless grace; with a dignity, too, that was not without pathos. There had been a forlorn child; there had been an unfriended girl; there was now a woman, for Life to fondle or to wreak its rage upon. The change was subtle; one more a lover or less a lover than Haward might not have noted it. "I will petition the Commissary to-night," he said, "the Governor to-morrow. Is your having in friends so slight as you say, little maid?"
Oh, he could reach to the quick! She was sure that he had not meant to accuse her of ingratitude, and pitifully sure that she must have seemed guilty of it. "No, no!" she cried. "I have had a friend"—Her voice broke, and she started to her feet, her face to the door, all her being quiveringly eager to be gone. She had asked that which she was bidden to ask, had gained that which she was bidden to gain; for the rest, it was far better that she should go. Better far for him to think her dull and thankless as a stone than see—than see—
When Haward caught her by the hand, she trembled and drew a sobbing breath. "'I have had a friend,' Audrey?" he asked. "Why not 'I have a friend'?"
"Why not?" thought Audrey. "Of course he would think, why not? Well, then"—
"I have a friend," she said aloud. "Have you not been to me the kindest friend, the most generous"—She faltered, but presently went on, a strange courage coming to her. She had turned slightly toward him, though she looked not at him, but upward to where the light streamed through the high window. It fell now upon her face. "It is a great thing to save life," she said. "To save a soul alive, how much greater! To have kept one soul in the knowledge that there is goodness, mercy, tenderness, God; to have given it bread to eat where it sat among the stones, water to drink where all the streams were dry,—oh, a king might be proud of that! And that is what you have done for me.... When you sailed away, so many years ago, and left me with the minister and his wife, they were not always kind. But I knew that you thought them so, and I always said to myself, 'If he knew, he would be sorry for me.' At last I said, 'He is sorry for me; there is the sea, and he cannot come, but he knows, and is sorry.' It was make-believe,—for you thought that I was happy, did you not?—but it helped me very much. I was only a child, you know, and I was so very lonely. I could not think of mother and Molly, for when I did I saw them as—as I had seen them last. The dark scared me, until I found that I could pretend that you were holding my hand, as you used to do when night came in the valley. After a while I had only to put out my hand, and yours was there waiting for it. I hope that you can understand—I want you to know how large is my debt.... As I grew, so did the debt. When I was a girl it was larger than when I was a child. Do you know with whom I have lived all these years? There is the minister, who comes reeling home from the crossroads ordinary, who swears over the dice, who teaches cunning that he calls wisdom, laughs at man and scarce believes in God. His hand is heavy; this is his mark." She held up her bruised wrist to the light, then let the hand drop. When she spoke of the minister, she made a gesture toward the shadows growing ever thicker and darker in the body of the house. It was as though she saw him there, and was pointing him out. "There is the minister's wife," she said, and the motion of her hand again accused the shadows. "Oh, their roof has sheltered me; I have eaten of their bread. But truth is truth. There is the schoolmaster with the branded hands. He taught me, you know. There is"—she was looking with wide eyes into the deepest of the shadows—"there is Hugon!" Her voice died away. Haward did not move or speak, and for a minute there was silence in the dusky playhouse. Audrey broke it with a laugh, soft, light, and clear, that came oddly upon the mood of the hour. Presently she was speaking again: "Do you think it strange that I should laugh? I laughed to think I have escaped them all. Do you know that they call me a dreamer? Once, deep in the woods, I met the witch who lives at the head of the creek. She told me that I was a dream child, and that all my life was a dream, and I must pray never to awake; but I do not think she knew, for all that she is a witch. They none of them know,—none, none! If I had not dreamed, as they call it,—if I had watched, and listened, and laid to heart, and become like them,—oh, then I should have died of your look when at last you came! But I 'dreamed;' and in that long dream you, though you were overseas, you showed me, little by little, that the spirit is not bond, but free,—that it can walk the waves, and climb to the sunset and the stars. And I found that the woods were fair, that the earth was fair and kind as when I was a little child. And I grew to love and long for goodness. And, day by day, I have had a life and a world where flowers bloomed, and the streams ran fresh, and there was bread indeed to eat. And it was you that showed me the road, that opened for me the gates!"
She ceased to speak, and, turning fully toward him, took his hand and put it to her lips. "May you be very happy!" she said. "I thank you, sir, that when you came at last you did not break my dream. The dream fell short!"
The smile upon her face was very sweet, very pure and noble. She would have gone without another word, but Haward caught her by the sleeve. "Stay awhile!" he cried. "I too am a dreamer, though not like you, you maid of Dian, dark saint, cold vestal, with your eyes forever on the still, white flame! Audrey, Audrey, Audrey! Do you know what a pretty name you have, child, or how dark are your eyes, or how fine this hair that a queen might envy? Westover has been dull, child."
Audrey shook her head and smiled, and thought that he was laughing at her. A vision of Evelyn, as Evelyn had looked that morning, passed before her. She did not believe that he had found Westover dull.
"I am coming to Fair View, dark Audrey," he went on. "In its garden there are roses yet blooming for thy hair; there are sweet verses calling to be read; there are cool, sequestered walks to be trodden, with thy hand in mine,—thy hand in mine, little maid. Life is but once; we shall never pass this way again. Drink the cup, wear the roses, live the verses! Of what sing all the sweetest verses, dark-eyed witch, forest Audrey?"
"Of love," said Audrey simply. She had freed her hand from his clasp, and her face was troubled. She did not understand; never had she seen him like this, with shining eyes and hot, unsteady touch.
"There is the ball at the Palace to-morrow night," he went on. "I must be there, for a fair lady and I are to dance together." He smiled. "Poor Audrey, who hath never been to a ball; who only dances with the elves, beneath the moon, around a beechen tree! The next day I will go to Fair View, and you will be at the glebe house, and we will take up the summer where we left it, that weary month ago."
"No, no," said Audrey hurriedly, and shook her head. A vague and formless trouble had laid its cold touch upon her heart; it was as though she saw a cloud coming up, but it was no larger than a man's hand, and she knew not what it should portend, nor that it would grow into a storm. He was strange to-day,—that she felt; but then all her day since the coming of Evelyn had been sad and strange.
The shaft of sunshine was gone from the stage, and all the house was in shadow. Audrey descended the two or three steps leading into the pit, and Haward followed her. Side by side they left the playhouse, and found themselves in the garden, and also in the presence of five or six ladies and gentlemen, seated upon the grass beneath a mulberry-tree, or engaged in rifling the grape arbor of its purple fruit.
The garden was a public one, and this gay little party, having tired of the Indian spectacle, had repaired hither to treat of its own affairs. Moreover, it had been there, scattered upon the grass in view of the playhouse door, for the better part of an hour. Concerned with its own wit and laughter, it had caught no sound of low voices issuing from the theatre; and for the two who talked within, all outward noise had ranked as coming from the distant, crowded fields.
A young girl, her silken apron raised to catch the clusters which a gentleman, mounted upon a chair, threw down, gave a little scream and let fall her purple hoard. "'Gad!" cried the gentleman. One and another exclaimed, and a withered beauty seated beneath the mulberry-tree laughed shrilly.
A moment, an effort, a sharp recall of wandering thoughts, and Haward had the situation in hand. An easy greeting to the gentlemen, debonair compliments for the ladies, a question or two as to the entertainment they had left, then a negligent bringing forward of Audrey. "A little brown ward and ancient playmate of mine,—shot up in the night to be as tall as a woman. Make thy curtsy, child, and go tell the minister what I have said on the subject he wots of."
Audrey curtsied and went away, having never raised her eyes to note the stare of curiosity, the suppressed smile, the glance from eye to eye, which had trod upon her introduction to the company. Haward, remaining with his friends and acquaintances, gathered grapes for the blooming girl and the withered beauty, and for a little, smiling woman who was known for as arrant a scandalmonger as could be found in Virginia.
A QUESTION OF COLORS
Evelyn, seated at her toilette table, and in the hands of Mr. Timothy Green, hairdresser in ordinary to Williamsburgh, looked with unseeing eyes at her own fair reflection in the glass before her. Chloe, the black handmaiden who stood at the door, latch in hand, had time to grow tired of waiting before her mistress spoke. "You may tell Mr. Haward that I am at home, Chloe. Bring him here."
The hairdresser drew a comb through the rippling brown tresses and commenced his most elaborate arrangement, working with pursed lips, and head bent now to this side, now to that. He had been a hard-pressed man since sunrise, and the lighting of the Palace candles that night might find him yet employed by some belated dame. Evelyn was very pale, and shadows were beneath her eyes. Moved by a sudden impulse, she took from the table a rouge pot, and hastily and with trembling fingers rubbed bloom into her cheeks; then the patch box,—one, two, three Tory partisans. "Now I am less like a ghost," she said, "Mr. Green, do I not look well and merry, and as though my sleep had been sound and dreamless?"
In his high, cracked voice, the hairdresser was sure that, pale or glowing, grave or gay, Mistress Evelyn Byrd would be the toast at the ball that night. The lady laughed, for she heard Haward's step upon the landing. He entered to the gay, tinkling sound, tent over the hand she extended, then, laying aside hat and cane, took his seat beside the table.
"'Fair tresses man's imperial race insnare, And beauty draws us with a single hair,'"
he quoted, with a smile. Then: "Will you take our hearts in blue to-night, Evelyn? You know that I love you best in blue."
She lifted her fan from the table, and waved it lightly to and fro. "I go in rose color," she said. "'Tis the gown I wore at Lady Rich's rout. I dare say you do not remember it? But my Lord of Peterborough said"—She broke off, and smiled to her fan.
Her voice was sweet and slightly drawling. The languid turn of the wrist, the easy grace of attitude, the beauty of bared neck and tinted face, of lowered lids and slow, faint smile,—oh, she was genuine fine lady, if she was not quite Evelyn! A breeze blowing through the open windows stirred their gay hangings of flowered cotton; the black girl sat in a corner and sewed; the supple fingers of the hairdresser went in and out of the heavy hair; roses in a deep blue bowl made the room smell like a garden. Haward sighed, so pleasant was it to sit quietly in this cool chamber, after the glare and wavering of the world without. "My Lord of Peterborough is magnificent at compliments," he said kindly, "but 'twould be a jeweled speech indeed that outdid your deserving, Evelyn. Come, now, wear the blue! I will find you white roses; you shall wear them for a breast knot, and in the minuet return me one again."
Evelyn waved her fan. "I dance the minuet with Mr. Lee." Her tone was still sweetly languid, her manner most indifferent. The thick and glossy tress that, drawn forward, was to ripple over white neck and bosom was too loosely curled. She regarded it in the mirror with an anxious frown, then spoke of it to the hairdresser.
Haward, smiling, watched her with heavy-lidded eyes. "Mr. Lee is a fortunate gentleman," he said. "I may gain the rose, perhaps, in the country dance?"
"That is better," remarked the lady, surveying with satisfaction the new-curled lock. "The country dance? For that Mr. Lightfoot hath my promise."
"It seems that I am a laggard," said Haward.
The knocker sounded below. "I am at home, Chloe," announced the mistress; and the slave, laying aside her work, slipped from the room.
Haward played with the trifles upon the dressing table. "Wherein have I offended, Evelyn?" he asked, at last.
The lady arched her brows, and the action made her for the moment very like her handsome father. "Why, there is no offense!" she cried. "An old acquaintance, a family friend! I step a minuet with Mr. Lee; I stand up for a country dance with Mr. Lightfoot; I wear pink instead of blue, and have lost my liking for white roses,—what is there in all this that needs such a question? Ah, you have broken my silver chain!"
"I am clumsy to-day!" he exclaimed. "A thousand pardons!" He let the broken toy slip from his fingers to the polished surface of the table, and forgot that it was there. "Since Colonel Byrd (I am sorry to learn) keeps his room with a fit of the gout, may I—an old acquaintance, a family friend—conduct you to the Palace to-night?"
The fan waved on. "Thank you, but I go in our coach, and need no escort." The lady yawned, very delicately, behind her slender fingers; then dropped the fan, and spoke with animation: "Ah, here is Mr. Lee! In a good hour, sir! I saw the bracelet that you mended for Mistress Winston. Canst do as much for my poor chain here? See! it and this silver heart have parted company."
Mr. Lee kissed her hand, and took snuff with Mr. Haward; then, after an ardent speech crammed with references to Vulcan and Venus, chains that were not slight, hearts that were of softer substance, sat down beside this kind and dazzling vision, and applied his clever fingers to the problem in hand. He was a personable young gentleman, who had studied at Oxford, and who, proudly conscious that his tragedy of Artaxerxes, then reposing in the escritoire at home, much outmerited Haward's talked-of comedy, felt no diffidence in the company of the elder fine gentleman. He rattled on of this and that, and Evelyn listened kindly, with only the curve of her cheek visible to the family friend. The silver heart was restored to its chain; the lady smiled her thanks; the enamored youth hitched his chair some inches nearer the fair whom he had obliged, and, with his hand upon his heart, entered the realm of high-flown speech. The gay curtains waved; the roses were sweet; black Chloe sewed and sewed; the hairdresser's hands wove in and out, as though he were a wizard making passes.
Haward rose to take his leave. Evelyn yielded him her hand; it was cold against his lips. She was nonchalant and smiling; he was easy, unoffended, admirably the fine gentleman. For one moment their eyes met. "I had been wiser," thought the man, "I had been wiser to have myself told her of that brown witch, that innocent sorceress! Why something held my tongue I know not. Now she hath read my idyl, but all darkened, all awry." The woman thought: "Cruel and base! You knew that my heart was yours to break, cast aside, and forget!"
Out of the house the sunlight beat and blinded. Houses of red brick, houses of white wood; the long, wide, dusty Duke of Gloucester Street; gnarled mulberry-trees broad-leafed against a September sky, deeply, passionately blue; glimpses of wood and field,—all seemed remote without distance, still without stillness, the semblance of a dream, and yet keen and near to oppression. It was a town of stores, of ordinaries and public places; from open door and window all along Duke of Gloucester Street came laughter, round oaths, now and then a scrap of drinking song. To Haward, giddy, ill at ease, sickening of a fever, the sounds were now as a cry in his ear, now as the noise of a distant sea. The minister of James City parish and the minister of Ware Creek were walking before him, arm in arm, set full sail for dinner after a stormy morning. "For lo! the wicked prospereth!" said one, and "Fair View parish bound over to the devil again!" plained the other. "He's firm in the saddle; he'll ride easy to the day he drinks himself to death, thanks to this sudden complaisance of Governor and Commissary!"
"Thanks to"—cried the other sourly, and gave the thanks where they were due.
Haward heard the words, but even in the act of quickening his pace to lay a heavy hand upon the speaker's shoulder a listlessness came upon him, and he forbore. The memory of the slurring speech went from him; his thoughts were thistledown blown hither and yon by every vagrant air. Coming to Marot's ordinary he called for wine; then went up the stair to his room, and sitting down at the table presently fell asleep, with his head upon his arms.
After a while the sounds from the public room below, where men were carousing, disturbed his slumber. He stirred, and awoke refreshed. It was afternoon, but he felt no hunger, only thirst, which he quenched with the wine at hand. His windows gave upon the Capitol and a green wood beyond; the waving trees enticed, while the room was dull and the noises of the house distasteful. He said to himself that he would walk abroad, would go out under the beckoning trees and be rid of the town. He remembered that the Council was to meet that afternoon. Well, it might sit without him! He was for the woods, where dwelt the cool winds and the shadows deep and silent.
A few yards, and he was quit of Duke of Gloucester Street; behind him, porticoed Capitol, gaol, and tiny vineclad debtor's prison. In the gaol yard the pirates sat upon a bench in the sunshine, and one smoked a long pipe, and one brooded upon his irons. Gold rings were in their ears, and their black hair fell from beneath colored handkerchiefs twisted turbanwise around their brows. The gaoler watched them, standing in his doorway, and his children, at play beneath a tree, built with sticks a mimic scaffold, and hanged thereon a broken puppet. There was a shady road leading through a wood to Queen's Creek and the Capitol Landing, and down this road went Haward. His step was light; the dullness, the throbbing pulses, the oppression of the morning, had given way to a restlessness and a strange exaltation of spirit. Fancy was quickened, imagination heightened; to himself he seemed to see the heart of all things. Across his mind flitted fragments of verse,—now a broken line just hinting beauty, now the pure passion of a lovely stanza. His thoughts went to and fro, mobile as the waves of the sea; but firm as the reefs beneath them stood his knowledge that presently he was going back to Fair View. To-morrow, when the Governor's ball was over, when he could decently get away, he would leave the town; he would go to his house in the country. Late flowers bloomed in his garden; the terrace was fair above the river; beneath the red brick wall, on the narrow little creek shining like a silver highway, lay a winged boat; and the highway ran past a glebe house; and in the glebe house dwelt a dryad whose tree had closed against her. Audrey!—a fair name. Audrey, Audrey!—the birds were singing it; out of the deep, Arcadian shadows any moment it might come, clearly cried by satyr, Pan, or shepherd. Hark! there was song—
It was but a negro on the road behind, singing to himself as he went about his master's business. The voice was the voice of the race, mellow, deep, and plaintive; perhaps the song was of love in a burning land. He passed the white man, and the arching trees hid him, but the wake of music was long in fading. The road leading through a cool and shady dell, Haward left it, and took possession of the mossy earth beneath a holly-tree. Here, lying on the ground, he could see the road through the intervening foliage; else the place had seemed the heart of an ancient wood.
It was merry lying where were glimpses of blue sky, where the leaves quivered and a squirrel chattered and a robin sang a madrigal. Youth the divine, half way down the stair of misty yesterdays, turned upon his heel and came back to him. He pillowed his head upon his arm, and was content. It was well to be so filled with fancies, so iron of will, so headstrong and gay; to be friends once more with a younger Haward, with the Haward of a mountain pass, of mocking comrades and an irate Excellency.
From the road came a rumble of oaths. Sailors, sweating and straining, were rolling a very great cask of tobacco from a neighboring warehouse down to the landing and some expectant sloop. Haward, lying at ease, smiled at their weary task, their grunting and swearing; when they were gone, smiled at the blankness of the road. All things pleased. There was food for mirth in the call of a partridge, in the inquisitive gaze of a squirrel, in the web of a spider gaoler to a gilded fly. There was food for greater mirth in the appearance on the road of a solitary figure in a wine-colored coat and bushy black peruke.
Haward sat up. "Ha, Monacan!" he cried, with a laugh, and threw a stick to attract the man's attention.
Hugon turned, stood astare, then left the road and came down into the dell.
"What fortune, trader?" smiled Haward. "Did your traps hold in the great forest? Were your people easy to fool, giving twelve deerskins for an old match-coat? There is charm in a woodsman life. Come, tell me of your journeys, dangers, and escapes."
The half-breed looked down upon him with a twitching face. "What hinders me from killing you now?" he demanded, with a backward look at the road. "None may pass for many minutes."
Haward lay back upon the moss, with his hands locked beneath his head. "What indeed?" he answered calmly. "Come, here is a velvet log, fit seat for an emperor—or a sachem; sit and tell me of your life in the woods. For peace pipe let me offer my snuffbox." In his mad humor he sat up again, drew from his pocket, and presented with the most approved flourish, his box of chased gold. "Monsieur, c'est le tabac pour le nez d'un inonarque," he said lazily.
Hugon sat down upon the log, helped himself to the mixture with a grand air, and shook the yellow dust from his ruffles. The action, meant to be airy, only achieved fierceness. From some hidden sheath he drew a knife, and began to strip from the log a piece of bark. "Tell me, you," he said. "Have you been to France? What manner of land is it?"
"A gay country," answered Haward; "a land where the men are all white, and where at present, periwigs are worn much shorter than the one monsieur affects."
"He is a great brave, a French gentleman? Always he kills the man he hates?"
"Not always," said the other. "Sometimes the man he hates kills him."
By now one end of the piece of bark in the trader's hands was shredded to tinder. He drew from his pocket his flint and steel, and struck a spark into the frayed mass. It flared up, and he held first the tips of his fingers, then the palm of his hand, then his bared forearm, in the flame that licked and scorched the flesh. His face was perfectly unmoved, his eyes unchanged in their expression of hatred. "Can he do this?" he asked.
"Perhaps not," said Haward lightly. "It is a very foolish thing to do."
The flame died out, and the trader tossed aside the charred bit of bark. "There was old Pierre at Monacan-Town who taught me to pray to le bon Dieu. He told me how grand and fine is a French gentleman, and that I was the son of many such. He called the English great pigs, with brains as dull and muddy as the river after many rains. My mother was the daughter of a chief. She had strings of pearl for her neck, and copper for her arms, and a robe of white doeskin, very soft and fine. When she was dead and my father was dead, I came from Monacan-Town to your English school over yonder. I can read and write. I am a white man and a Frenchman, not an Indian. When I go to the villages in the woods, I am given a lodge apart, and the men and women gather to hear a white man speak.... You have done me wrong with that girl, that Ma'm'selle Audrey that I wish for wife. We are enemies: that is as it should be. You shall not have her,—never, never! But you despise me; how is that? That day upon the creek, that night in your cursed house, you laughed"—
The Haward of the mountain pass, regarding the twitching face opposite him and the hand clenched upon the handle of a knife, laughed again. At the sound the trader's face ceased to twitch. Haward felt rather than saw the stealthy tightening of the frame, the gathering of forces, the closer grasp upon the knife, and flung out his arm. A hare scurried past, making for the deeper woods. From the road came the tramp of a horse and a man's voice, singing,—
"'To all you ladies now on land'"—
while an inquisitive dog turned aside from the road, and plunged into the dell.
The rider, having checked his horse and quit his song in order to call to his dog, looked through the thin veil of foliage and saw the two men beneath the holly-tree. "Ha, Jean Hugon!" he cried. "Is that you? Where is that packet of skins you were to deliver at my store? Come over here, man!"
The trader moistened his dry lips with his tongue, and slipped the knife back into its sheath. "Had we been a mile in the woods," he said, "you would have laughed no more."
Haward watched him go. The argument with the rider was a lengthy one. He upon horseback would not stand still in the road to finish it, but put his beast into motion. The trader, explaining and gesticulating, walked beside his stirrup; the voices grew fainter and fainter,—were gone. Haward laughed to himself; then, with his eyes raised to the depth on depth of blue, serene beyond the grating of thorn-pointed leaves, sent his spirit to his red brick house and silent, sunny garden, with the gate in the ivied wall, and the six steps down to the boat and the lapping water.
The shadows lengthened, and a wind of the evening entered the wood. Haward shook off the lethargy that had kept him lying there for the better part of an afternoon, rose to his feet, and left the green dell for the road, all shadow now, winding back to the toy metropolis, to Marot's ordinary, to the ball at the Palace that night.
The ball at the Palace!—he had forgotten it. Flare of lights, wail of violins, a painted, silken crowd, laughter, whispers, magpie chattering, wine, and the weariness of the dance, when his soul would long to be with the night outside, with the rising wind and the shining stars. He half determined not to go. What mattered the offense that would be taken? Did he go he would repent, wearied and ennuye, watching Evelyn, all rose-colored, moving with another through the minuet; tied himself perhaps to some pert miss, or cornered in a card-room by boisterous gamesters, or, drinking with his peers, called on to toast the lady of his dreams. Better the dull room at Marot's ordinary, or better still to order Mirza, and ride off at the planter's pace, through the starshine, to Fair View. On the river bank before the store MacLean might be lying, dreaming of a mighty wind and a fierce death. He would dismount, and sit beside that Highland gentleman, Jacobite and strong man, and their moods would chime as they had chimed before. Then on to the house and to the eastern window! Not to-night, but to-morrow night, perhaps, would the darkness be pierced by the calm pale star that marked another window. It was all a mistake, that month at Westover,—days lost and wasted, the running of golden sands ill to spare from Love's brief glass....
His mood had changed when, with the gathering dusk, he entered his room at Marot's ordinary. He would go to the Palace that night; it would be the act of a boy to fling away through the darkness, shirking a duty his position demanded. He would go and be merry, watching Evelyn in the gown that Peterborough had praised.
When Juba had lighted the candles, he sat and drank and drank again of the red wine upon the table. It put maggots in his brain, fired and flushed him to the spirit's core. An idea came, at which he laughed. He bade it go, but it would not. It stayed, and his fevered fancy played around it as a moth around a candle. At first he knew it for a notion, bizarre and absurd, which presently he would dismiss. All day strange thoughts had come and gone, appearing, disappearing, like will-o'-the-wisps for which a man upon a firm road has no care. Never fear that he will follow them! He sees the marsh, that it has no footing. So with this Jack-o'-lantern conception,—it would vanish as it came.
It did not so. Instead, when he had drunken more wine, and had sat for some time methodically measuring, over and over again, with thumb and forefinger, the distance from candle to bottle, and from bottle to glass, the idea began to lose its wildfire aspect. In no great time it appeared an inspiration as reasonable as happy. When this point had been reached, he stamped upon the floor to summon his servant from the room below. "Lay out the white and gold, Juba," he ordered, when the negro appeared, "and come make me very fine. I am for the Palace,—I and a brown lady that hath bewitched me! The white sword knot, sirrah; and cock my hat with the diamond brooch"—
It was a night that was thronged with stars, and visited by a whispering wind. Haward, walking rapidly along the almost deserted Nicholson Street, lifted his burning forehead to the cool air and the star-strewn fields of heaven. Coming to the gate by which he had entered the afternoon before, he raised the latch and passed into the garden. By now his fever was full upon him, and it was a man scarce to be held responsible for his actions that presently knocked at the door of the long room where, at the window opening upon Palace Street, Audrey sat with Mistress Stagg and watched the people going to the ball.
THE GOVERNOR'S BALL
For an hour it had been very quiet, very peaceful, in the small white house on Palace Street. Darden was not there; for the Commissary had sent for him, having certain inquiries to make and a stern warning to deliver. Mistress Deborah had been asked to spend the night with an acquaintance in the town, so she also was out and gone. Mistress Stagg and Audrey kept the lower rooms, while overhead Mr. Charles Stagg, a man that loved his art, walked up and down, and, with many wavings of a laced handkerchief and much resort to a gilt snuffbox, reasoned with Plato of death and the soul. The murmur of his voice came down to the two women, and made the only sound in the house. Audrey, sitting by the window, her chin upon her hand and her dark hair shadowing her face, looked out upon the dooryard and the Palace Street beyond. The street was lit by torches, and people were going to the ball in coaches and chariots, on foot and in painted chairs. They went gayly, light of heart, fine of person, a free and generous folk. Laughter floated over to the silent watcher, and the torchlight gave her glimpses of another land than her own.
Many had been Mistress Stagg's customers since morning, and something had she heard besides admiration of her wares and exclamation at her prices. Now, as she sat with some gay sewing beneath her nimble fingers, she glanced once and again at the shadowed face opposite her. If the look was not one of curiosity alone, but had in it an admixture of new-found respect; if to Mistress Stagg the Audrey of yesterday, unnoted, unwhispered of, was a being somewhat lowlier than the Audrey of to-day, it may be remembered for her that she was an actress of the early eighteenth century, and that fate and an old mother to support had put her in that station.
The candles beneath their glass shades burned steadily; the house grew very quiet; the noises of the street lessened and lessened, for now nearly all of the people were gone to the ball. Audrey watched the round of light cast by the nearest torch. For a long time she had watched it, thinking that he might perhaps cross the circle, and she might see him in his splendor. She was still watching when he knocked at the garden door.
Mistress Stagg, sitting in a dream of her own, started violently. "La, now, who may that be?" she exclaimed. "Go to the door, child. If 'tis a stranger, we shelter none such, to be taken up for the harboring of runaways!"
Audrey went to the door and opened it. A moment's pause, a low cry, and she moved backward to the wall, where she stood with her slender form sharply drawn against the white plaster, and with the fugitive, elusive charm of her face quickened into absolute beauty, imperious for attention. Haward, thus ushered into the room, gave the face its due. His eyes, bright and fixed, were for it alone. Mistress Stagg's curtsy went unacknowledged save by a slight, mechanical motion of his hand, and her inquiry as to what he lacked that she could supply received no answer. He was a very handsome man, of a bearing both easy and commanding, and to-night he was splendidly dressed in white satin with embroidery of gold. To one of the women he seemed the king, who could do no wrong; to the other, more learned in the book of the world, he was merely a fine gentleman, whose way might as well be given him at once, since, spite of denial, he would presently take it.
Haward sat down, resting his clasped hands upon the table, gazing steadfastly at the face, dark and beautiful, set like a flower against the wall. "Come, little maid!" he said. "We are going to the ball together, you and I. Hasten, or we shall not be in time for the minuet."
Audrey smiled and shook her head, thinking that it was his pleasure to laugh at her a little. Mistress Stagg likewise showed her appreciation of the pleasantry. When he repeated his command, speaking in an authoritative tone and with a glance at his watch, there was a moment of dead silence; then, "Go your ways, sir, and dance with Mistress Evelyn Byrd!" cried the scandalized ex-actress. "The Governor's ball is not for the likes of Audrey!"
"I will be judge of that," he answered. "Come, let us be off, child! Or stay! hast no other dress than that?" He looked toward the mistress of the house. "I warrant that Mistress Stagg can trick you out! I would have you go fine, Audrey of the hair! Audrey of the eyes! Audrey of the full brown throat! Dull gold,—have you that, now, mistress, in damask or brocade? Soft laces for her bosom, and a yellow bloom in her hair. It should be dogwood, Audrey, like the coronal you wore on May Day. Do you remember, child? The white stars in your hair, and the Maypole all aflutter, and your feet upon the green grass"—
"Oh, I was happy then!" cried Audrey and wrung her hands. Within a moment, however, she was calm again, and could look at him with a smile. "I am only Audrey," she said. "You know that the ball is not for me. Why then do you tell me that I must go? It is your kindness; I know that it is your kindness that speaks. But yet—but yet"—She gazed at him imploringly: then from his steady smile caught a sudden encouragement. "Oh!" she exclaimed with a gesture of quick relief, and with tremulous laughter in her face and voice,—"oh, you are mocking me! You only came to show how a gentleman looks who goes to a Governor's ball!"
For the moment, in her relief at having read his riddle, there slipped from her the fear of she knew not what,—the strangeness and heaviness of heart that had been her portion since she came to Williamsburgh. Leaving the white wall against which she had leaned, she came a little forward, and with gayety and grace dropped him a curtsy. "Oh, the white satin like the lilies in your garden!" she laughed. "And the red heels to your shoes, and the gold-fringed sword knot, and the velvet scabbard! Ah, let me see your sword, how bright and keen it is!"
She was Audrey of the garden, and Haward, smiling, drew his rapier and laid it in her hands. She looked at the golden hilt, and passed her brown fingers along the gleaming blade. "Stainless," she said, and gave it back to him.
Taking it, he took also the hand that had proffered it. "I was not laughing, child," he said. "Go to the ball thou shalt, and with me. What! Thou art young and fair. Shalt have no pleasure"—
"What pleasure in that?" cried Audrey. "I may not go, sir; nay, I will not go!"
She freed her hand, and stood with heaving bosom and eyes that very slowly filled with tears. Haward saw no reason for her tears. It was true that she was young and fair; true, also, that she had few pleasures. Well, he would change all that. The dance,—was it not woven by those nymphs of old, those sprites of open spaces in the deep woods, from whose immemorial company she must have strayed into this present time? Now at the Palace the candles were burning for her, for her the music was playing. Her welcome there amidst the tinsel people? Trust him for that: he was what he was, and could compass greater things than that would be. Go she should, because it pleased him to please her, and because it was certainly necessary for him to oppose pride with pride, and before the eyes of Evelyn demonstrate his indifference to that lady's choice of Mr. Lee for the minuet and Mr. Lightfoot for the country dance. This last thought had far to travel from some unused, deep-down quagmire of the heart, but it came. For the rest, the image of Audrey decked in silk and lace, turned by her apparel into a dark Court lady, a damsel in waiting to Queen Titania, caught his fancy in both hands. He wished to see her thus,—wished it so strongly that he knew it would come to pass. He was a gentleman who had acquired the habit of having his own way. There had been times when the price of his way had seemed too dear; when he had shrugged his shoulders and ceased to desire what he would not buy. To-night he was not able to count the cost. But he knew—he knew cruelly well—how to cut short this fruitless protest of a young girl who thought him all that was wise and great and good.
"So you cannot say 'yes' to my asking, little maid?" he began, quiet and smiling. "Cannot trust me that I have reasons for the asking? Well, I will not ask again, Audrey, since it is so great a thing'"—"Oh," cried Audrey, "you know that I would die for you!" The tears welled over, but she brushed them away with a trembling hand; then stood with raised face, her eyes soft and dewy, a strange smile upon her lips. She spoke at last as simply as a child: "Why you want me, that am only Audrey, to go with you to the Palace yonder, I cannot tell. But I will go, though I am only Audrey, and I have no other dress than this"—
Haward got unsteadily to his feet, and lightly touched the dark head that she bowed upon her hands. "Why, now you are Audrey again," he said approvingly. "Why, child, I would do you a pleasure!" He turned to the player's wife. "She must not go in this guise. Have you no finery stowed away?"
Now, Mistress Stagg, though much scandalized, and very certain that all this would never do, was in her way an artist, and could see as in a mirror what bare throat and shoulders, rich hair drawn loosely up, a touch of rouge, a patch or two, a silken gown, might achieve for Audrey. And after all, had not Deborah told her that the girl was Mr. Haward's ward, not Darden's, and that though Mr. Haward came and went as he pleased, and was very kind to Audrey, so that Darden was sure of getting whatever the girl asked for, yet she was a good girl, and there was no harm? For the talk that day,—people were very idle, and given to thinking the forest afire when there was only the least curl of smoke. And in short and finally it was none of her business; but with the aid of a certain chest upstairs, she knew what she could do! To the ball might go a beauty would make Mistress Evelyn Byrd look to her laurels!
"There's the birthday dress that Madam Carter sent us only last week," she began hesitatingly. "It's very beautiful, and a'most as good as new, and 'twould suit you to a miracle—But I vow you must not go, Audrey!... To be sure, the damask is just the tint for you, and there are roses would answer for your hair. But la, sir, you know 'twill never do, never in this world."
Half an hour later, Haward rose from his chair and bowed low as to some highborn and puissant dame. The fever that was now running high in his veins flushed his cheek and made his eyes exceedingly bright. When he went up to Audrey, and in graceful mockery of her sudden coming into her kingdom, took her hand and, bending, kissed it, the picture that they made cried out for some painter to preserve it. Her hand dropped from his clasp, and buried itself in rich folds of flowered damask; the quick rise and fall of her bosom stirred soft, yellowing laces, and made to flash like diamonds some ornaments of marcasite; her face was haunting in its pain and bewilderment and great beauty, and in the lie which her eyes gave to the false roses beneath those homes of sadness and longing. She had no word to say, she was "only Audrey," and she could not understand. But she wished to do his bidding, and so, when he cried out upon her melancholy, and asked her if 'twere indeed a Sunday in New England instead of a Saturday in Virginia, she smiled, and strove to put on the mind as well as the garb of a gay lady who might justly go to the Governor's ball.
Half frightened at her own success, Mistress Stagg hovered around her, giving this or that final touch to her costume; but it was Haward himself who put the roses in her hair. "A little longer, and we will walk once more in my garden at Fair View," he said. "June shall come again for us, and we will tread the quiet paths, my sweet, and all the roses shall bloom again for us. There, you are crowned! Hail, Queen!"
Audrey felt the touch of his lips upon her forehead, and shivered. All her world was going round; she could not steady it, could not see aright, knew not what was happening. The strangeness made her dizzy. She hardly heard Mistress Stagg's last protest that it would never do,—never in the world; hardly knew when she left the house. She was out beneath the stars, moving toward a lit Palace whence came the sound of violins. Haward's arm was beneath her hand; his voice was in her ear, but it was as the wind's voice, whose speech she did not understand. Suddenly they were within the Palace garden, with its winding, torchlit walks, and the terraces at the side; suddenly again, they had mounted the Palace steps, and the doors were open, and she was confronted with lights and music and shifting, dazzling figures. She stood still, clasped her hands, and gave Haward a piteous look. Her face, for all its beauty and its painted roses, was strangely the child's face that had lain upon his breast, where he knelt amid the corn, in the valley between the hills, so long ago. He gave her mute appeal no heed. The Governor's guests, passing from room to room, crossed and recrossed the wide hall, and down the stairway, to meet a row of gallants impatient at its foot, came fair women, one after the other, the flower of the colony, clothed upon like the lilies of old. Haward, entering with Audrey, saw Mr. Lee at the stairfoot, and, raising his eyes, was aware of Evelyn descending alone and somewhat slowly, all in rose color, and with a smile upon her lips.
She was esteemed the most beautiful woman in Virginia, the most graceful and accomplished. Wit and charm and fortune were hers, and the little gay world of Virginia had mated her with Mr. Marmaduke Haward of Fair View. Therefore that portion of it that chanced to be in the hall of the Governor's house withdrew for the moment its attention from its own affairs, and bestowed it upon those of the lady descending the stairs, and of the gold-and-white gentleman who, with a strange beauty at his side, stood directly in her path. It was a very wise little world, and since yesterday afternoon had been fairly bursting with its own knowledge. It knew all about that gypsy who had come to town from Fair View parish,—"La, my dear, just the servant of a minister!"—and knew to a syllable what had passed in the violent quarrel to which Mr. Lee owed his good fortune.
That triumphant gentleman now started forward, and, with a low bow, extended his hand to lead to the ballroom this rose-colored paragon and cynosure of all eyes. Evelyn smiled upon him, and gave him her scarf to hold, but would not be hurried; must first speak to her old friend Mr. Haward, and tell him that her father's foot could now bear the shoe, and that he might appear before the ball was over. This done, she withdrew her gaze, from Haward's strangely animated, vividly handsome countenance, and turned it upon the figure at his side. "Pray present me!" she said quickly. "I do not think I have the honor of knowing"—
Audrey raised her head, that had been bent, and looked again, as she had looked yesterday, with all her innocent soul and heavy heart, into the eyes of the princess. The smile died from Evelyn's lips, and a great wave of indignant red surged over face and neck and bosom. The color fled, but not the bitter anger. So he could bring his fancy there! Could clothe her that was a servant wench in a splendid gown, and flaunt her before the world—before the world that must know—oh, God! must know how she herself loved him! He could do this after that month at Westover! She drew her breath, and met the insult fairly. "I withdraw my petition," she said clearly. "Now that I bethink me, my acquaintance is already somewhat too great. Mr. Lee, shall we not join the company? I have yet to make my curtsy to his Excellency."
With head erect, and with no attention to spare from the happy Mr. Lee, she passed the sometime suitor for her hand and the apple of discord which it had pleased him to throw into the assembly. A whisper ran around the hall. Audrey heard suppressed laughter, and heard a speech which she did not understand, but which was uttered in an angry voice, much like Mistress Deborah's when she chided. A sudden terror of herself and of Haward's world possessed her. She turned where she stood in her borrowed plumage, and clung to his hand and arm. "Let me go," she begged. "It is all a mistake,—all wrong. Let me go,—let me go."
He laughed at her, shaking his head and looking into her beseeching face with shining, far-off eyes. "Thou dear fool!" he said. "The ball is made for thee, and all these folk are here to do thee honor!" Holding her by the hand, he moved with her toward a wide doorway, through which could be seen a greater throng of beautifully dressed ladies and gentlemen. Music came from this room, and she saw that there were dancers, and that beyond them, upon a sort of dais, and before a great carved chair, stood a fine gentleman who, she knew, must be his Excellency the Governor of Virginia.
THE UNINVITED GUEST
"Mistress Audrey?" said the Governor graciously, as the lady in damask rose from her curtsy. "Mistress Audrey whom? Mr. Haward, you gave me not the name of the stock that hath flowered in so beauteous a bloom."
"Why, sir, the bloom is all in all,'" answered Haward. "What root it springs from matters not. I trust that your Excellency is in good health,—that you feel no touch of our seasoning fever?"
"I asked the lady's name, sir," said the Governor pointedly. He was standing in the midst of a knot of gentlemen, members of the Council and officers of the colony. All around the long room, seated in chairs arow against the walls, or gathered in laughing groups, or moving about with a rustle and gleam of silk, were the Virginians his guests. From the gallery, where were bestowed the musicians out of three parishes, floated the pensive strains of a minuet, and in the centre of the polished floor, under the eyes of the company, several couples moved and postured through that stately dance.
"The lady is my ward," said Haward lightly. "I call her Audrey. Child, tell his Excellency your other name."
If he thought at all, he thought that she could do it. But such an estray, such a piece of flotsam, was Audrey, that she could not help him out. "They call me Darden's Audrey," she explained to the Governor. "If I ever heard my father's name, I have forgotten it."
Her voice, though low, reached all those who had ceased from their own concerns to stare at this strange guest, this dark-eyed, shrinking beauty, so radiantly attired. The whisper had preceded her from the hall: there had been fluttering and comment enough as, under the fire of all those eyes, she had passed with Haward to where stood the Governor receiving his guests. But the whisper had not reached his Excellency's ears. In London he had been slightly acquainted with Mr. Marmaduke Haward, and now knew him for a member of his Council, and a gentleman of much consequence in that Virginia which he had come to rule. Moreover, he had that very morning granted a favor to Mr. Haward, and by reason thereof was inclined to think amiably of the gentleman. Of the piece of dark loveliness whom the Virginian had brought forward to present, who could think otherwise? But his Excellency was a formal man, punctilious, and cautious of his state. The bow with which he received the strange lady's curtsy had been profound; in speaking to her he had made his tones honey-sweet, while his compliment quite capped the one just paid to Mistress Evelyn Byrd. And now it would appear that the lady had no name! Nay, from the looks that were being exchanged, and from the tittering that had risen amongst the younger of his guests, there must be more amiss than that! His Excellency frowned, drew himself up, and turned what was meant to be a searching and terrible eye upon the recreant in white satin. Audrey caught the look, for which Haward cared no whit. Oh, she knew that she had no business there,—she that only the other day had gone barefoot on Darden's errands, had been kept waiting in hall or kitchen of these people's houses! She knew that, for all her silken gown, she had no place among them; but she thought that they were not kind to stare and whisper and laugh, shaming her before one another and before him. Her heart swelled; to the dreamy misery of the day and evening was added a passionate sense of hurt and wrong and injustice. Her pride awoke, and in a moment taught her many things, though among them was no distrust of him. Brought to bay, she put out her hand and found a gate; pushed it open, and entered upon her heritage of art.
The change was so sudden that those who had stared at her sourly or scornfully, or with malicious amusement or some stirrings of pity, drew their breath and gave ground a little. Where was the shrinking, frightened, unbidden guest of a moment before, with downcast eyes and burning cheeks? Here was a proud and easy and radiant lady, with witching eyes and a wonderful smile. "I am only Audrey, your Excellency," she said, and curtsied as she spoke. "My other name lies buried in a valley amongst far-off mountains." She slightly turned, and addressed herself to a portly, velvet-clad gentleman, of a very authoritative air, who, arriving late, had just shouldered himself into the group about his Excellency. "By token," she smiled, "of a gold moidore that was paid for a loaf of bread."
The new Governor appealed to his predecessor. "What is this, Colonel Spotswood, what is this?" he demanded, somewhat testily, of the open-mouthed gentleman in velvet.
"Odso!" cried the latter. "'Tis the little maid of the sugar-tree!—Marmaduke Haward's brown elf grown into the queen of all the fairies!" Crossing to Audrey he took her by the hand. "My dear child," he said, with a benevolence that sat well upon him, "I always meant to keep an eye upon thee, to see that Mr. Haward did by thee all that he swore he would do. But at first there were cares of state, and now for five years I have lived at Germanna, half way to thy mountains, where echoes from the world seldom reach me. Permit me, my dear." With a somewhat cumbrous gallantry, the innocent gentleman, who had just come to town and knew not the gossip thereof, bent and kissed her upon the cheek.
Audrey curtsied with a bright face to her old acquaintance of the valley and the long road thence to the settled country. "I have been cared for, sir," she said. "You see that I am happy."
She turned to Haward, and he drew her hand within his arm. "Ay, child," he said. "We are keeping others of the company from their duty to his Excellency. Besides, the minuet invites. I do not think I have heard music so sweet before to-night. Your Excellency's most obedient servant! Gentlemen, allow us to pass." The crowd opened before them, and they found themselves in the centre of the room. Two couples were walking a minuet; when they were joined by this dazzling third, the ladies bridled, bit their lips, and shot Parthian glances.
It was very fortunate, thought Audrey, that the Widow Constance had once, long ago, taught her to dance, and that, when they were sent to gather nuts or myrtle berries or fagots in the woods, she and Barbara were used to taking hands beneath the trees and moving with the glancing sunbeams and the nodding saplings and the swaying grapevine trailers. She that had danced to the wind in the pine tops could move with ease to the music of this night. And since it was so that with a sore and frightened and breaking heart one could yet, in some strange way, become quite another person,—any person that one chose to be,—these cruel folk should not laugh at her again! They had not laughed since, before the Governor yonder, she had suddenly made believe that she was a carefree, great lady. Well, she would make believe to them still.
Her eyes were as brilliant as Haward's that shone with fever; a smile stayed upon her lips; she moved with dignity through the stately dance, scarce erring once, graceful and fine in all that she did. Haward, enamored, his wits afire, went mechanically through the oft-trod measure, and swore to himself that he held in his hand the pearl of price, the nonpareil of earth. In this dance and under cover of the music they could speak to each other unheard of those about them.
"'Queen of all the fairies,' did he call you?" he asked. "That was well said. When we are at Fair View again, thou must show me where thou wonnest with thy court, in what moonlit haunt, by what cool stream"—
"I would I were this night at Fair View glebe house," said Audrey. "I would I were at home in the mountains."
Her voice, sunken with pain and longing, was for him alone. To the other dancers, to the crowded room at large, she seemed a brazen girl, with beauty to make a goddess, wit to mask as a great lady, effrontery to match that of the gentleman who had brought her here. The age was free, and in that London which was dear to the hearts of the Virginians ladies of damaged reputation were not so unusual a feature of fashionable entertainments as to receive any especial notice. But Williamsburgh was not London, and the dancer yonder, who held her rose-crowned head so high, was no lady of fashion. They knew her now for that dweller at Fair View gates of whom, during the summer just past, there had been whispering enough. Evidently, it was not for naught that Mr. Marmaduke Haward had refused invitations, given no entertainments, shut himself up at Fair View, slighting old friends and evincing no desire to make new ones. Why, the girl was a servant,—nothing more nor less; she belonged to Gideon Darden, the drunken minister; she was to have married Jean Hugon, the half-breed trader. Look how the Governor, enlightened at last, glowered at her; and how red was Colonel Spotswood's face; and how Mistress Evelyn Byrd, sitting in the midst of a little court of her own, made witty talk, smiled upon her circle of adorers, and never glanced toward the centre of the room, and the dancers there!
"You are so sweet and gay to-night," said Haward to Audrey. "Take your pleasure, child, for it is a sad world, and the blight will fall. I love to see you happy."
"Happy!" she answered. "I am not happy!"
"You are above them all in beauty," he went on. "There is not one here that's fit to tie your shoe."
"Oh me!" cried Audrey. "There is the lady that you love, and that loves you. Why did she look at me so, in the hall yonder? And yesterday, when she came to Mistress Stagg's, I might not touch her or speak to her! You told me that she was kind and good and pitiful. I dreamed that she might let me serve her when she came to Fair View."
"She will never come to Fair View," he said, "nor shall I go again to Westover. I am for my own house now, you brown enchantress, and my own garden, and the boat upon the river. Do you remember how sweet were our days in June? We will live them over again, and there shall come for us, besides, a fuller summer"—
"It is winter now," said Audrey, with a sobbing breath, "and cold and dark! I do not know myself, and you are strange. I beg you to let me go away. I wish to wash off this paint, to put on my own gown. I am no lady; you do wrong to keep me here. See, all the company are frowning at me! The minister will hear what I have done and be angry, and Mistress Deborah will beat me. I care not for that, but you—Oh, you have gone far away,—as far as Fair View, as far as the mountains! I am speaking to a stranger"—
In the dance their raised hands met again. "You see me, you speak to me at last," he said ardently. "That other, that cold brother of the snows, that paladin and dream knight that you yourself made and dubbed him me,—he has gone, Audrey; nay, he never was! But I myself, I am not abhorrent to you?"
"Oh," she answered, "it is all dark! I cannot see—I cannot understand"—
The time allotted to minuets having elapsed, the musicians after a short pause began to play an ancient, lively air, and a number of ladies and gentlemen, young, gayly dressed, and light of heart as of heels, engaged in a country dance. When they were joined by Mr. Marmaduke Haward and his shameless companion, there arose a great rustling and whispering. A young girl in green taffeta was dancing alone, wreathing in and out between the silken, gleaming couples, coquetting with the men by means of fan and eyes, but taking hands and moving a step or two with each sister of the dance. When she approached Audrey, the latter smiled and extended her hand, because that was the way the lady nearest her had done. But the girl in green stared coldly, put her hand behind her, and, with the very faintest salute to Mr. Marmaduke Haward, danced on her way. For one moment the smile died on Audrey's lips; then it came resolutely back, and she held her head high.
The men, forming in two rows, drew their rapiers with a flourish, and, crossing them overhead, made an arch of steel under which the women must pass. Haward's blade touched that of an old acquaintance. "I have been leaning upon the back of a lady's chair," said the latter gruffly, under cover of the music and the clashing steel,—"a lady dressed in rose color, who's as generous (to all save one poor devil) as she is fair. I promised her I would take her message; the Lord knows I would go to the bottom of the sea to give her pleasure! She says that you are not yourself; begs that you will—go quietly away"—
An exclamation from the man next him, and a loud murmur mixed with some laughter from those in the crowded room who were watching the dancers, caused the gentleman to break off in the middle of his message. He glanced over his shoulder; then, with a shrug, turned to his vis-a-vis in white satin. "Now you see that 'twill not answer,—not in Virginia. The women—bless them!—have a way of cutting Gordian knots."
A score of ladies, one treading in the footsteps of another, should have passed beneath the flashing swords. But there had thrust itself into their company a plague spot, and the girl in green taffeta and a matron in silver brocade, between whom stood the hateful presence, indignantly stepped out of line and declined to dance. The fear of infection spreading like wildfire, the ranks refused to close, and the company was thrown into confusion. Suddenly the girl in green, by nature a leader of her kind, walked away, with a toss of her head, from the huddle of those who were uncertain what to do, and joined her friends among the spectators, who received her with acclaim. The sound and her example were warranty enough for the cohort she had quitted. A moment, and it was in virtuous retreat, and the dance was broken up.
The gentlemen, who saw themselves summarily deserted, abruptly lowered their swords. One laughed; another, flown with wine, gave utterance to some coarse pleasantry; a third called to the musicians to stop the music. Darden's Audrey stood alone, brave in her beautiful borrowed dress and the color that could not leave her cheeks. But her lips had whitened, the smile was gone, and her eyes were like those of a hunted deer. She looked mutely about her: how could she understand, who trusted so completely, who lived in a labyrinth without a clue, who had built her dream world so securely that she had left no way of egress for herself? These were cruel people! She was mad to get away, to tear off this strange dress, to fling herself down in the darkness, in the woods, hiding her face against the earth! But though she was only Audrey and so poor a thing, she had for her portion a dignity and fineness of nature that was a stay to her steps. Barbara, though not so poor and humble a maid, might have burst into tears, and run crying from the room and the house; but to do that Audrey would have been ashamed.
"It was you, Mr. Corbin, that laughed, I think?" said Haward. "To-morrow I shall send to know the reason of your mirth. Mr. Everard, you will answer to me for that pretty oath. Mr. Travis, there rests the lie that you uttered just now: stoop and take it again." He flung his glove at Mr. Travis's feet.
A great hubbub and exclamation arose. Mr. Travis lifted the glove with the point of his rapier, and in a loud voice repeated the assertion which had given umbrage to Mr. Haward of Fair View. That gentleman sprang unsteadily forward, and the blades of the two crossed in dead earnest. A moment, and the men were forced apart; but by this time the whole room was in commotion. The musicians craned their necks over the gallery rail, a woman screamed, and half a dozen gentlemen of years and authority started from the crowd of witnesses to the affair and made toward the centre of the room, with an eye to preventing further trouble. Where much wine had been drunken and twenty rapiers were out, matters might go from bad to worse.
Another was before them. A lady in rose color had risen from her chair and glided across the polished floor to the spot where trouble was brewing. "Gentlemen, for shame!" she cried. Her voice was bell-like in its clear sweetness, final in its grave rebuke and its recall to sense and decency. She was Mistress Evelyn Byrd, who held sovereignty in Virginia, and at the sound of her voice, the command of her raised hand, the clamor suddenly ceased, and the angry group, parting, fell back as from the presence of its veritable queen.
Evelyn went up to Audrey and took her by the hand. "I am not tired of dancing, as were those ladies who have left us," she said, with a smile, and in a sweet and friendly voice. "See, the gentlemen are waiting I Let us finish out this measure, you and me."
At her gesture of command the lines that had so summarily broken re-formed. Back into the old air swung the musicians; up went the swords, crossing overhead with a ringing sound, and beneath the long arch of protecting steel moved to the music the two women, the dark beauty and the fair, the princess and the herdgirl. Evelyn led, and Audrey, following, knew that now indeed she was walking in a dream.
A very few moments, and the measure was finished. A smile, a curtsy, a wave of Evelyn's hand, and the dancers, disbanding, left the floor. Mr. Corbin, Mr. Everard, and Mr. Travis, each had a word to say to Mr. Haward of Fair View, as they passed that gentleman.
Haward heard, and answered to the point; but when presently Evelyn said, "Let us go into the garden," and he found himself moving with her and with Audrey through the buzzing, staring crowd toward the door of the Governor's house, he thought that it was into Fair View garden they were about to descend. And when they came out upon the broad, torchlit walk, and he saw gay parties of ladies and gentlemen straying here and there beneath the trees, he thought it strange that he had forgotten that he had guests this night. As for the sound of the river below his terrace, he had never heard so loud a murmur. It grew and filled the night, making thin and far away the voices of his guests.
There was a coach at the gates, and Mr. Grymes, who awhile ago had told him that he had a message to deliver, was at the coach door. Evelyn had her hand upon his arm, and her voice was speaking to him from as far away as across the river. "I am leaving the ball," it said, "and I will take the girl in my coach to the place where she is staying. Promise me that you will not go back to the house yonder; promise me that you will go away with Mr. Grymes, who is also weary of the ball"—
"Oh," said Mr. Grymes lightly, "Mr. Haward agrees with me that Marot's best room, cool and quiet, a bottle of Burgundy, and a hand at piquet are more alluring than the heat and babel we have left. We are going at once, Mistress Evelyn. Haward, I propose that on our way to Marot's we knock up Dr. Contesse, and make him free of our company."
As he spoke, he handed into the coach the lady in flowered damask, who had held up her head, but said no word, and the lady in rose-colored brocade, who, through the length of the ballroom and the hall and the broad walk where people passed and repassed, had kept her hand in Audrey's, and had talked, easily and with smiles, to the two attending gentlemen. He shut to the coach door, and drew back, with a low bow, when Haward's deeply flushed, handsome face appeared for a moment at the lowered glass.
"Art away to Westover, Evelyn?" he asked. "Then 't is 'Good-by, sweetheart!' for I shall not go to Westover again. But you have a fair road to travel,—there are violets by the wayside; for it is May Day, you know, and the woods are white with dogwood and purple with the Judas-tree. The violets are for you; but the great white blossoms, and the boughs of rosy mist, and all the trees that wave in the wind are for Audrey." His eyes passed the woman whom he would have wed, and rested upon her companion in the coach. "Thou fair dryad!" he said. "Two days hence we will keep tryst beneath the beech-tree in the woods beyond the glebe house."
The man beside him put a hand upon his shoulder and plucked him back, nor would look at Evelyn's drawn and whitened face, but called to the coachman to go on. The black horses put themselves into motion, the equipage made a wide turn, and the lights of the Palace were left behind.
Evelyn lodged in a house upon the outskirts of the town, but from the Palace to Mistress Stagg's was hardly more than a stone's throw. Not until the coach was drawing near the small white house did either of the women speak. Then Audrey broke into an inarticulate murmur, and stooping would have pressed her cheek against the hand that had clasped hers only a little while before. But Evelyn snatched her hand away, and with a gesture of passionate repulsion shrank into her corner of the coach. "Oh, how dare you touch me!" she cried. "How dare you look at me, you serpent that have stung me so!" Able to endure no longer, she suddenly gave way to angry laughter. "Do you think I did it for you,—put such humiliation upon myself for you? Why, you wanton, I care not if you stand in white at every church door in Virginia! It was for him, for Mr. Marmaduke Haward of Fair View, for whose name and fame, if he cares not for them himself, his friends have yet some care!" The coach stopped, and the footman opened the door. "Descend, if you please," went on Evelyn clearly and coldly. "You have had your triumph. I say not there is no excuse for him,—you are very beautiful. Good-night."
Audrey stood between the lilac bushes and watched the coach turn from Palace into Duke of Gloucester Street; then went and knocked at the green door. It was opened by Mistress Stagg in person, who drew her into the parlor, where the good-natured woman had been sitting all alone, and in increasing alarm as to what might be the outcome of this whim of Mr. Marmaduke Haward's. Now she was full of inquiries, ready to admire and to nod approval, or to shake her head and cry, "I told you so!" according to the turn of the girl's recital.
But Audrey had little to say, little to tell. Yes, oh yes, it had been a very grand sight.... Yes, Mr. Haward was kind; he had always been kind to her.... She had come home with Mistress Evelyn Byrd in her coach.... Might she go now to her room? She would fold the dress very carefully.
Mistress Stagg let her go, for indeed there was no purpose to be served in keeping her, seeing that the girl was clearly dazed, spoke without knowing what she said, and stood astare like one of Mrs. Salmon's beautiful was ladies. She would hear all about it in the morning, when the child had slept off her excitement. They at the Palace couldn't have taken her presence much amiss, or she would never in the world have come home in the Westover coach.
There had lately come to Virginia, and to the convention of its clergy at Williamsburgh, one Mr. Eliot, a minister after the heart of a large number of sober and godly men whose reputation as a body suffered at the hands of Mr. Darden, of Fair View parish, Mr. Bailey, of Newport, Mr. Worden, of Lawn's Creek, and a few kindred spirits. Certainly Mr. Eliot was not like these; so erect, indeed, did he hold himself in the strait and narrow path that his most admiring brethren, being, as became good Virginians, somewhat easy-going in their saintliness, were inclined to think that he leaned too far the other way. It was commendable to hate sin and reprove the sinner; but when it came to raining condemnation upon horse-racing, dancing, Cato at the playhouse, and like innocent diversions, Mr. Eliot was surely somewhat out of bounds. The most part accounted for his turn of mind by the fact that ere he came to Virginia he had been a sojourner in New England.
He was mighty in the pulpit, was Mr. Eliot; no droning reader of last year's sermons, but a thunderer forth of speech that was now acrid, now fiery, but that always came from an impassioned nature, vehement for the damnation of those whom God so strangely spared. When, as had perforce happened during the past week, he must sit with his brethren in the congregation and listen to lukewarm—nay, to dead and cold adjurations and expoundings, his very soul itched to mount the pulpit stairs, thrust down the Laodicean that chanced to occupy it, and himself awaken as with the sound of a trumpet this people who slept upon the verge of a precipice, between hell that gaped below and God who sat on high, serenely regardful of his creatures' plight. Though so short a time in Virginia, he was already become a man of note, the prophet not without honor, whom it was the fashion to admire, if not to follow. It was therefore natural enough that the Commissary, himself a man of plain speech from the pulpit, should appoint him to preach in Bruton church this Sunday morning, before his Excellency the Governor, the worshipful the Council, the clergy in convention, and as much of Williamsburgh, gentle and simple, as could crowd into the church. Mr. Eliot took the compliment as an answer to prayer, and chose for his text Daniel fifth and twenty-seventh.
Lodging as he did on Palace Street, the early hours of the past night, which he would have given to prayer and meditation, had been profaned by strains of music from the Governor's house, by laughter and swearing and much going to and fro in the street beneath his window. These disturbances filling him with righteous wrath, he came down to his breakfast next morning prepared to give his hostess, who kept him company at table, line and verse which should demonstrate that Jehovah shared his anger.
"Ay, sir!" she cried. "And if that were all, sir"—and straightway she embarked upon a colored narration of the occurrence at the Governor's ball. This was followed by a wonderfully circumstantial account of Mr. Marmaduke Haward's sins of omission against old and new acquaintances who would have entertained him at their houses, and been entertained in turn at Fair View, and by as detailed a description of the toils that had been laid for him by that audacious piece who had forced herself upon the company last night.
Mr. Eliot listened aghast, and mentally amended his sermon. If he knew Virginia, even so flagrant a case as this might never come before a vestry. Should this woman go unreproved? When in due time he was in the church, and the congregation was gathering, he beckoned to him one of the sidesmen, asked a question, and when it was answered, looked fixedly at a dark girl sitting far away in a pew beneath the gallery.
It was a fine, sunny morning, with a tang of autumn in the air, and the concourse within the church was very great. The clergy showed like a wedge of black driven into the bright colors with which nave and transept overflowed. His Excellency the Governor sat in state, with the Council on either hand. One member of that body was not present. Well-nigh all Williamsburgh knew by now that Mr. Marmaduke Haward lay at Marot's ordinary, ill of a raging fever. Hooped petticoat and fragrant bodice found reason for whispering to laced coat and periwig; significant glances traveled from every quarter of the building toward the tall pew where, collected but somewhat palely smiling, sat Mistress Evelyn Byrd beside her father. All this was before the sermon. When the minister of the day mounted the pulpit, and, gaunt against the great black sounding-board, gave out his text in a solemn and ringing voice, such was the genuine power of the man that every face was turned toward him, and throughout the building there fell a sudden hush.
Audrey looked with the rest, but she could not have said that she listened,—not at first. She was there because she always went to church on Sunday. It had not occurred to her to ask that she might stay at home. She had come from her room that morning with the same still face, the same strained and startled look about the eyes, that she had carried to it the night before. Black Peggy, who found her bed unslept in, thought that she must have sat the night through beside the window. Mistress Stagg, meeting her at the stairfoot with the tidings (just gathered from the lips of a passer-by) of Mr. Haward's illness, thought that the girl took the news very quietly. She made no exclamation, said nothing good or bad; only drew her hand across her brow and eyes, as though she strove to thrust away a veil or mist that troubled her. This gesture she repeated now and again during the hour before church time. Mistress Stagg heard no more of the ball this morning than she had heard the night before. Something ailed the girl. She was not sullen, but she could not or would not talk. Perhaps, despite the fact of the Westover coach, she had not been kindly used at the Palace. The ex-actress pursed her lips, and confided to her Mirabell that times were not what they once were. Had she not, at Bath, been given a ticket to the Saturday ball by my Lord Squander himself? Ay, and she had footed it, too, in the country dance, with the best of them, with captains and French counts and gentlemen and ladies of title,—ay, and had gone down the middle with, the very pattern of Sir Harry Wildair! To be sure, no one had ever breathed a word against her character; but, for her part, she believed no great harm of Audrey, either. Look at the girl's eyes, now: they were like a child's or a saint's.
Mirabell nodded and looked wise, but said nothing.
When the church bells rang Audrey was ready, and she walked to church with Mistress Stagg much as, the night before, she had walked between the lilacs to the green door when the Westover coach had passed from her sight. Now she sat in the church much as she had sat at the window the night through. She did not know that people were staring at her; nor had she caught the venomous glance of Mistress Deborah, already in the pew, and aware of more than had come to her friend's ears.
Audrey was not listening, was scarcely thinking. Her hands were crossed in her lap, and now and then she raised one and made the motion of pushing aside from her eyes something heavy that clung and blinded. What part of her spirit that was not wholly darkened and folded within itself was back in the mountains of her childhood, with those of her own blood whom she had loved and lost. What use to try to understand to-day,—to-day with its falling skies, its bewildered pondering over the words that were said to her last night? And the morrow,—she must leave that. Perhaps when it should dawn he would come to her, and call her "little maid," and laugh at her dreadful dream. But now, while it was to-day, she could not think of him without an agony of pain and bewilderment. He was ill, too, and suffering. Oh, she must leave the thought of him alone! Back then to the long yesterdays she traveled, and played quietly, dreamily, with Robin on the green grass beside the shining stream, or sat on the doorstep, her head on Molly's lap, and watched the evening star behind the Endless Mountains.
It was very quiet in the church save for that one great voice speaking. Little by little the voice impressed itself upon her consciousness. The eyes of her mind were upon long ranges of mountains distinct against the splendor of a sunset sky. Last seen in childhood, viewed now through the illusion of the years, the mountains were vastly higher than nature had planned them; the streamers of light shot to the zenith; the black forests were still; everywhere a fixed glory, a gigantic silence, a holding of the breath for things to happen.
By degrees the voice in her ears fitted in with the landscape, became, so solemn and ringing it was, like the voice of the archangel of that sunset land. Audrey listened at last; and suddenly the mountains were gone, and the light from the sky, and her people were dead and dust away in that hidden valley, and she was sitting in the church at Williamsburgh, alone, without a friend.
What was the preacher saying? What ball of the night before was he describing with bitter power, the while he gave warning of handwriting upon the wall such as had menaced Belshazzar's feast of old? Of what shameless girl was he telling,—what creature dressed in silks that should have gone in rags, brought to that ball by her paramour—