The gaunt figure in the pulpit trembled like a leaf with the passion of the preacher's convictions and the energy of his utterance. On had gone the stream of rhetoric, the denunciations, the satire, the tremendous assertions of God's mind and purposes. The lash that was wielded was far-reaching; all the vices of the age—irreligion, blasphemy, drunkenness, extravagance, vainglory, loose living—fell under its sting. The condemnation was general, and each man looked to see his neighbor wince. The occurrence at the ball last night,—he was on that for final theme, was he? There was a slight movement throughout the congregation. Some glanced to where would have sat Mr. Marmaduke Haward, had not the gentleman been at present in his bed, raving now of a great run of luck at the Cocoa Tree; now of an Indian who, with his knee upon his breast, was throttling him to death. Others looked over their shoulders to see if that gypsy yet sat beneath the gallery. Colonel Byrd took out his snuffbox and studied the picture on the lid, while his daughter sat like a carven lady, with a slight smile upon her lips.
On went the word picture that showed how vice could flaunt it in so fallen an age. The preacher spared not plain words, squarely turned himself toward the gallery, pointed out with voice and hand the object of his censure and of God's wrath. Had the law pilloried the girl before them all, it had been but little worse for her. She sat like a statue, staring with wide eyes at the window above the altar. This, then, was what the words in the coach last night had meant—this was what the princess thought—this was what his world thought—
There arose a commotion in the ranks of the clergy of Virginia. The Reverend Gideon Darden, quitting with an oath the company of his brethren, came down the aisle, and, pushing past his wife, took his stand in the pew beside the orphan who had lived beneath his roof, whom during many years he had cursed upon occasion and sometimes struck, and whom he had latterly made his tool, "Never mind him, Audrey, my girl," he said, and put an unsteady hand upon her shoulder. "You're a good child; they cannot harm ye."
He turned his great shambling body and heavy face toward the preacher, stemmed in the full tide of his eloquence by this unseemly interruption, "Ye beggarly Scot!" he exclaimed thickly. "Ye evil-thinking saint from Salem way, that know the very lining of the Lord's mind, and yet, walking through his earth, see but a poisonous weed in his every harmless flower! Shame on you to beat down the flower that never did you harm! The girl's as innocent a thing as lives! Ay, I've had my dram,—the more shame to you that are justly rebuked out of the mouth of a drunken man! I have done, Mr. Commissary," addressing himself to that dignitary, who had advanced to the altar rail with his arm raised in a command for silence. "I've no child of my own, thank God! but the maid has grown up in my house, and I'll not sit to hear her belied. I've heard of last night; 'twas the mad whim of a sick man. The girl's as guiltless of wrong as any lady here. I, Gideon Darden, vouch for it!"
He sat heavily down beside Audrey, who never stirred from her still regard of that high window. There was a moment of portentous silence; then, "Let us pray," said the minister from the pulpit.
Audrey knelt with the rest, but she did not pray. And when it was all over, and the benediction had been given, and she found herself without the church, she looked at the green trees against the clear autumnal skies and at the graves in the churchyard as though it were a new world into which she had stepped. She could not have said that she found it fair. Her place had been so near the door that well-nigh all the congregation was behind her, streaming out of the church, eager to reach the open air, where it might discuss the sermon, the futile and scandalous interruption by the notorious Mr. Darden, and what Mr. Marmaduke Haward might have said or done had he been present.
Only Mistress Stagg kept beside her; for Mistress Deborah hung back, unwilling to be seen in her company, and Darden, from that momentary awakening of his better nature, had sunk to himself again, and thought not how else he might aid this wounded member of his household. But Mary Stagg was a kindly soul, whose heart had led her comfortably through life with very little appeal to her head. The two or three young women—Oldfields and Porters of the Virginian stage—who were under indentures to her husband and herself found her as much their friend as mistress. Their triumphs in the petty playhouse of this town of a thousand souls were hers, and what woes they had came quickly to her ears. Now she would have slipped her hand into Audrey's and have given garrulous comfort, as the two passed alone through the churchyard gate and took their way up Palace Street toward the small white house. But Audrey gave not her hand, did not answer, made no moan, neither justified herself nor blamed another. She did not speak at all, but after the first glance about her moved like a sleepwalker.
When the house was reached she went up to the bedroom. Mistress Deborah, entering stormily ten minutes later, found herself face to face with a strange Audrey, who, standing in the middle of the floor, raised her hand for silence in a gesture so commanding that the virago stayed her tirade, and stood open-mouthed.
"I wish to speak," said the new Audrey. "I was waiting for you. There's a question I wish to ask, and I'll ask it of you who were never kind to me."
"Never kind to her!" cried the minister's wife to the four walls. "And she's been taught, and pampered, and treated more like a daughter than the beggar wench she is! And this is my return,—to sit by her in church to-day, and have all Virginia think her belonging to me"—
"I belong to no one," said Audrey. "Even God does not want me. Be quiet until I have done." She made again the gesture of pushing aside from face and eyes the mist that clung and blinded. "I know now what they say," she went on. "The preacher told me awhile ago. Last night a lady spoke to me: now I know what was her meaning. Because Mr. Haward, who saved my life, who brought me from the mountains, who left me, when he sailed away, where he thought I would be happy, was kind to me when he came again after so many years; because he has often been to the glebe house, and I to Fair View; because last night he would have me go with him to the Governor's ball, they think—they say out loud for all the people to hear—that I—that I am like Joan, who was whipped last month at the Court House. But it is not of the lies they tell that I wish to speak."
Her hand went again to her forehead, then dropped at her side. A look of fear and of piteous appeal came into her face. "The witch said that I dreamed, and that it was not well for dreamers to awaken." Suddenly the quiet of her voice and bearing was broken. With a cry, she hurried across the room, and, kneeling, caught at the other's gown. "Ah! that is no dream, is it? No dream that he is my friend, only my friend who has always been sorry for me, has always helped me! He is the noblest gentleman, the truest, the best—he loves the lady at Westover—they are to be married—he never knew what people were saying—he was not himself when he spoke to me so last night"—Her eyes appealed to the face above her. "I could never have dreamed all this," she said. "Tell me that I was awake!"
The minister's wife looked down upon her with a bitter smile. "So you've had your fool's paradise? Well, once I had mine, though 'twas not your kind. 'Tis a pretty country, Audrey, but it's not long before they turn you out." She laughed somewhat drearily, then in a moment turned shrew again. "He never knew what people were saying?" she cried. "You little fool, do you suppose he cared? 'Twas you that played your cards all wrong with your Governor's ball last night!—setting up for a lady, forsooth!—bringing all the town about your ears! You might have known that he would never have taken you there in his senses. At Fair View things went very well. He was entertained,—and I meant to see that no harm came of it,—and Darden got his support in the vestry. For he was bit,—there's no doubt of that,—though what he ever saw in you more than big eyes and a brown skin, the Lord knows, not I! Only your friend!—a fine gentleman just from London, with a whole Canterbury book of stories about his life there, to spend a'most a summer on the road between his plantation and a wretched glebe house because he was only your friend, and had saved you from the Indians when you were a child, and wished to be kind to you still! I'll tell you who did wish to be kind to you, and that was Jean Hugon, the trader, who wanted to marry you."
Audrey rose to her feet, and moved slowly backward to the wall. Mistress Deborah went shrilly on: "I dare swear you believe that Mr. Haward had you in mind all the years he was gone from Virginia? Well, he didn't. He puts you with Darden and me, and he says, 'There's the strip of Oronoko down by the swamp,—I 've told my agent that you're to have from it so many pounds a year;' and he sails away to London and all the fine things there, and never thinks of you more until he comes back to Virginia and sees you last May Day at Jamestown. Next morning he comes riding to the glebe house. 'And so,' he says to Darden, 'and so my little maid that I brought for trophy out of the Appalachian Mountains is a woman grown? Faith, I'd quite forgot the child; but Saunderson tells me that you have not forgot to draw upon my Oronoko.' That's all the remembrance you were held in, Audrey."
She paused to take breath, and to look with shrewish triumph at the girl who leaned against the wall. "I like not waking up," said Audrey to herself. "It were easier to die. Perhaps I am dying."
"And then out he walks to find and talk to you, and in sets your pretty summer of all play and no work!" went on the other, in a high voice. "Oh, there was kindness enough, once you had caught his fancy! I wonder if the lady at Westover praised his kindness? They say she is a proud young lady: I wonder if she liked your being at the ball last night? When she comes to Fair View, I'll take my oath that you'll walk no more in its garden! But perhaps she won't come now,—though her maid Chloe told Mistress Bray's Martha that she certainly loves him"—
"I wish I were dead," said Audrey. "I wish I were dead, like Molly." She stood up straight against the wall, and pushed her heavy hair from her forehead. "Be quiet now," she said. "You see that I am awake; there is no need for further calling. I shall not dream again." She looked at the older woman doubtfully. "Would you mind," she suggested,—"would you be so very kind as to leave me alone, to sit here awake for a while? I have to get used to it, you know. To-morrow, when we go back to the glebe house, I will work the harder. It must be easy to work when one is awake. Dreaming takes so much time."
Mistress Deborah could hardly have told why she did as she was asked. Perhaps the very strangeness of the girl made her uncomfortable in her presence; perhaps in her sour and withered heart there was yet some little soundness of pity and comprehension; or perhaps it was only that she had said her say, and was anxious to get to her friends below, and shake from her soul the dust of any possible complicity with circumstance in moulding the destinies of Darden's Audrey. Be that as it may, when she had flung her hood upon the bed and had looked at herself in the cracked glass above the dresser, she went out of the room, and closed the door somewhat softly behind her.
BY THE RIVERSIDE
"Yea, I am glad—I and my father and mother and Ephraim—that thee is returned to Fair View," answered Truelove. "And has thee truly no shoes of plain and sober stuffs? These be much too gaudy."
"There's a pair of black callimanco," said the storekeeper reluctantly; "but these of flowered silk would so become your feet, or this red-heeled pair with the buckles, or this of fine morocco. Did you think of me every day that I spent in Williamsburgh?"
"I prayed for thee every day," said Truelove simply,—"for thee and for the sick man who had called thee to his side. Let me see thy callimanco shoes. Thee knows that I may not wear these others."
The storekeeper brought the plainest footgear that his stock afforded. "They are of a very small size,—perhaps too small. Had you not better try them ere you buy? I could get a larger pair from Mr. Carter's store."
Truelove seated herself upon a convenient stool, and lifted her gray skirt an inch above a slender ankle. "Perchance they may not be too small," she said, and in despite of her training and the whiteness of her soul two dimples made their appearance above the corners of her pretty mouth. MacLean knelt to remove the worn shoe, but found in the shoestrings an obstinate knot. The two had the store to themselves; for Ephraim waited for his sister at the landing, rocking in his boat on the bosom of the river, watching a flight of wild geese drawn like a snowy streamer across the dark blue sky. It was late autumn, and the forest was dressed in flame color.
"Thy fingers move so slowly that I fear thee is not well," said Truelove kindly. "They that have nursed men with fever do often fall ill themselves. Will thee not see a physician?"
MacLean, sanguine enough in hue, and no more gaunt of body than usual, worked languidly on. "I trust no lowland physician," he said. "In my own country, if I had need, I would send to the foot of Dun-da-gu for black Murdoch, whose fathers have been physicians to the MacLeans of Duart since the days of Galethus. The little man in this parish,—his father was a lawyer, his grandfather a merchant; he knows not what was his great-grandfather! There, the shoe is untied! If I came every day to your father's house, and if your mother gave me to drink of her elder-flower wine, and if I might sit on the sunny doorstep and watch you at your spinning, I should, I think, recover."
He slipped upon her foot the shoe of black cloth. Truelove regarded it gravely. "'Tis not too small, after all," she said. "And does thee not think it more comely than these other, with their silly pomp of colored heels and blossoms woven in the silk?" She indicated with her glance the vainglorious row upon the bench beside her; then looked down at the little foot in its sombre covering and sighed.
"I think that thy foot would be fair in the shoe of Donald Ross!" cried the storekeeper, and kissed the member which he praised.
Truelove drew back, her cheeks very pink, and the dimples quite uncertain whether to go or stay. "Thee is idle in thy behavior," she said severely. "I do think that thee is of the generation that will not learn. I pray thee to expeditiously put back my own shoe, and to give me in a parcel the callimanco pair."
MacLean set himself to obey, though with the expedition of a tortoise. Crisp autumn air and vivid sunshine pouring in at window and door filled and lit the store. The doorway framed a picture of blue sky, slow-moving water, and ragged landing; the window gave upon crimson sumac and the gold of a sycamore. Truelove, in her gray gown and close white cap, sat in the midst of the bouquet of colors afforded by the motley lining of the Fair View store, and gazed through the window at the riotous glory of this world. At last she looked at MacLean. "When, a year ago, thee was put to mind this store, and I, coming here to buy, made thy acquaintance," she said softly, "thee wore always so stern and sorrowful a look that my heart bled for thee. I knew that thee was unhappy. Is thee unhappy still?"
MacLean tied the shoestrings with elaborate care; then rose from his knees, and stood looking down from his great height upon the Quaker maiden. His face was softened, and when he spoke it was with a gentle voice. "No," he said, "I am not unhappy as at first I was. My king is an exile, and my chief is forfeited. I suppose that my father is dead. Ewin Mackinnon, my foe upon whom I swore revenge, lived untroubled by me, and died at another's hands. My country is closed against me; I shall never see it more. I am named a rebel, and chained to this soil, this dull and sluggish land, where from year's end to year's end the key keeps the house and the furze bush keeps the cow. The best years of my manhood—years in which I should have acquired honor—have gone from me here. There was a man of my name amongst those gentlemen, old officers of Dundee, who in France did not disdain to serve as private sentinels, that their maintenance might not burden a king as unfortunate as themselves. That MacLean fell in the taking of an island in the Rhine which to this day is called the Island of the Scots, so bravely did these gentlemen bear themselves. They made their lowly station honorable; marshals and princes applauded their deeds. The man of my name was unfortunate, but not degraded; his life was not amiss, and his death was glorious. But I, Angus MacLean, son and brother of chieftains, I serve as a slave; giving obedience where in nature it is not due, laboring in an alien land for that which profiteth not, looking to die peacefully in my bed! I should be no less than most unhappy."
He sat down upon the bench beside Truelove, and taking the hem of her apron began to plait it between his fingers. "But to-day," he said,—"but to-day the sky seems blue, the sunshine bright. Why is that, Truelove?"
Truelove, with her eyes cast down and a deeper wild rose in her cheeks, opined that it was because Friend Marmaduke Haward was well of his fever, and had that day returned to Fair View. "Friend Lewis Contesse did tell my father, when he was in Williamsburgh, that thee made a tenderer nurse than any woman, and that he did think that Marmaduke Haward owed his life to thee. I am glad that thee has made friends with him whom men foolishly call thy master."
"Credit to that the blue sky," said the storekeeper whimsically; "there is yet the sunshine to be accounted for. This room did not look so bright half an hour syne."
But Truelove shook her head, and would not reckon further; instead heard Ephraim calling, and gently drew her apron from the Highlander's clasp. "There will be a meeting of Friends at our house next fourth day," she said, in her most dovelike tones, as she rose and held out her hand for her new shoes. "Will thee come, Angus? Thee will be edified, for Friend Sarah Story, who hath the gift of prophecy, will be there, and we do think to hear of great things. Thee will come?"
"By St. Kattan, that will I!" exclaimed the storekeeper, with suspicious readiness. "The meeting lasts not long, does it? When the Friends are gone there will be reward? I mean I may sit on the doorstep and watch you—and watch thee—spin?"
Truelove dimpled once more, took her shoes, and would have gone her way sedately and alone, but MacLean must needs keep her company to the end of the landing and the waiting Ephraim. The latter, as he rowed away from the Fair View store, remarked upon his sister's looks: "What makes thy cheeks so pink, Truelove, and thy eyes so big and soft?"
Truelove did not know; thought that mayhap 'twas the sunshine and the blowing wind.
The sun still shone, but the wind had fallen, when, two hours later, MacLean pocketed the key of the store, betook himself again to the water's edge, and entering a small boat, first turned it sunwise for luck's sake, then rowed slowly downstream to the great-house landing. Here he found a handful of negroes—boatmen and house servants—basking in the sunlight. Juba was of the number, and at MacLean's call scrambled to his feet and came to the head of the steps. "No, sah, Marse Duke not on de place. He order Mirza an' ride off"—a pause—"an' ride off to de glebe house. Yes, sah, I done tol' him he ought to rest. Goin' to wait tel he come back?"
"No," answered MacLean, with a darkened face. "Tell him I will come to the great house to-night."
In effect, the storekeeper was now, upon Fair View plantation, master of his own time and person. Therefore, when he left the landing, he did not row back to the store, but, it being pleasant upon the water, kept on downstream, gliding beneath the drooping branches of red and russet and gold. When he came to the mouth of the little creek that ran past Haward's garden, he rested upon his oars, and with a frowning face looked up its silver reaches.
The sun was near its setting, and a still and tranquil light lay upon the river that was glassy smooth. Rowing close to the bank, the Highlander saw through the gold fretwork of the leaves above him far spaces of pale blue sky. All was quiet, windless, listlessly fair. A few birds were on the wing, and far toward the opposite shore an idle sail seemed scarce to hold its way. Presently the trees gave place to a grassy shore, rimmed by a fiery vine that strove to cool its leaves in the flood below. Behind it was a little rise of earth, a green hillock, fresh and vernal in the midst of the flame-colored autumn. In shape it was like those hills in his native land which the Highlander knew to be tenanted by the daoine shi' the men of peace. There, in glittering chambers beneath the earth, they dwelt, a potent, eerie, gossamer folk, and thence, men and women, they issued at times to deal balefully with the mortal race.
A woman was seated upon the hillock, quiet as a shadow, her head resting on her hand, her eyes upon the river. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, slight of figure, and utterly, mournfully still, sitting alone in the fading light, with the northern sky behind her, for the moment she wore to the Highlander an aspect not of earth, and he was startled. Then he saw that it was but Darden's Audrey. She watched the water where it gleamed far off, and did not see him in his boat below the scarlet vines. Nor when, after a moment's hesitation, he fastened the boat to a cedar stump, and stepped ashore, did she pay any heed. It was not until he spoke to her, standing where he could have touched her with his outstretched hand, that she moved or looked his way.
"How long since you left the glebe house?" he demanded abruptly.
"The sun was high," she answered, in a slow, even voice, with no sign of surprise at finding herself no longer alone. "I have been sitting here for a long time. I thought that Hugon might be coming this afternoon.... There is no use in hiding, but I thought if I stole down here he might not find me very soon."
Her voice died away, and she looked again at the water. The storekeeper sat down upon the bank, between the hillock and the fiery vine, and his keen eyes watched her closely. "The river," she said at last,—I like to watch it. There was a time when I loved the woods, but now I see that they are ugly. Now, when I can steal away, I come to the river always. I watch it and watch it, and think.... All that you give it is taken so surely, and hurried away, and buried out of sight forever. A little while ago I pulled a spray of farewell summer, and went down there where the bank shelves and gave it to the river. It was gone in a moment for all that the stream seems so stealthy and slow."
"The stream comes from afar," said the Highlander. "In the west, beneath the sun, it may be a torrent flashing through the mountains."
"The mountains!" cried Audrey. "Ah, they are uglier than the woods,—black and terrible! Once I loved them, too, but that was long ago." She put her chin upon her hand, and again studied the river. "Long ago," she said, beneath her breath.
There was a silence; then, "Mr. Haward is at Fair View again," announced the storekeeper.
The girl's face twitched.
"He has been nigh to death," went on her informant. "There were days when I looked for no morrow for him; one night when I held above his lips a mirror, and hardly thought to see the breath-stain."
Audrey laughed. "He can fool even Death, can he not?" The laugh was light and mocking, a tinkling, elvish sound which the Highlander frowned to hear. A book, worn and dog-eared, lay near her on the grass. He took it up and turned the leaves; then put it by, and glanced uneasily at the slender, brown-clad form seated upon the fairy mound.
"That is strange reading," he said.
Audrey looked at the book listlessly. "The schoolmaster gave it to me. It tells of things as they are, all stripped of make-believe, and shows how men love only themselves, and how ugly and mean is the world when we look at it aright. The schoolmaster says that to look at it aright you must not dream; you must stay awake,"—she drew her hand across her brow and eyes,—"you must stay awake."
"I had rather dream," said MacLean shortly. "I have no love for your schoolmaster."
"He is a wise man," she answered. "Now that I do not like the woods I listen to him when he comes to the glebe house. If I remember all he says, maybe I shall grow wise, also, and the pain will stop." Once more she dropped her chin upon her hand and fell to brooding, her eyes upon the river. When she spoke again it was to herself: "Sometimes of nights I hear it calling me. Last night, while I knelt by my window, it called so loud that I put my hands over my ears; but I could not keep out the sound,—the sound of the river that comes from the mountains, that goes to the sea. And then I saw that there was a light in Fair View house."
Her voice ceased, and the silence closed in around them. The sun was setting, and in the west were purple islands merging into a sea of gold. The river, too, was colored, and every tree was like a torch burning stilly in the quiet of the evening. For some time MacLean watched the girl, who now again seemed unconscious of his presence; but at last he got to his feet, and looked toward his boat. "I must be going," he said; then, as Audrey raised her head and the light struck upon her face, he continued more kindly than one would think so stern a seeming man could speak: "I am sorry for you, my maid. God knows that I should know how dreadful are the wounds of the spirit! Should you need a friend"—
Audrey shook her head. "No more friends," she said, and laughed as she had laughed before. "They belong in dreams. When you are awake,—that is a different thing."
The storekeeper went his way, back to the Fair View store, rowing slowly, with a grim and troubled face, while Darden's Audrey sat still upon the green hillock and watched the darkening river. Behind her, at no great distance, was the glebe house; more than once she thought she heard Hugon coming through the bushes and calling her by name. The river darkened more and more, and in the west the sea of gold changed to plains of amethyst and opal. There was a crescent moon, and Audrey, looking at it with eyes that ached for the tears that would not gather, knew that once she would have found it fair.
Hugon was coming, for she heard the twigs upon the path from the glebe house snap beneath his tread. She did not turn or move; she would see him soon enough, hear him soon enough. Presently his black eyes would look into hers; it would be bird and snake over again, and the bird was tired of fluttering. The bird was so tired that when a hand was laid on her shoulder she did not writhe herself from under its touch; instead only shuddered slightly, and stared with wide eyes at the flowing river. But the hand was white, with a gleaming ring upon its forefinger, and it stole down to clasp her own. "Audrey," said a voice that was not Hugon's.
The girl flung back her head, saw Haward's face bending over her, and with a loud cry sprang to her feet. When he would have touched her again she recoiled, putting between them a space of green grass. "I have hunted you for an hour," he began. "At last I struck this path. Audrey"—
Audrey's hands went to her ears. Step by step she moved backward, until she stood against the trunk of a blood-red oak. When she saw that Haward followed her she uttered a terrified scream. At the sound and at the sight of her face he stopped short, and his outstretched hand fell to his side. "Why, Audrey, Audrey!" he exclaimed. "I would not hurt you, child. I am not Jean Hugon!"
The narrow path down which he had come was visible for some distance as it wound through field and copse, and upon it there now appeared another figure, as yet far off, but moving rapidly through the fading light toward the river. "Jean! Jean! Jean Hugon!" cried Audrey.
The blood rushed to Haward's face. "As bad as that!" he said, beneath his breath. Going over to the girl, he took her by the hands and strove to make her look at him; but her face was like marble, and her eyes would not meet his, and in a moment she had wrenched herself free of his clasp. "Jean Hugon! Help, Jean Hugon!" she called.
The half-breed in the distance heard her voice, and began to run toward them.
"Audrey, listen to me!" cried Haward. "How can I speak to you, how explain, how entreat, when you are like this? Child, child, I am no monster! Why do you shrink from me thus, look at me thus with frightened eyes? You know that I love you!"
She broke from him with lifted hands and a wailing cry. "Let me go! Let me go! I am running through the corn, in the darkness, and I hope to meet the Indians! I am awake,—oh, God! I am wide awake!"
With another cry, and with her hands shutting out the sound of his voice, she turned and fled toward the approaching trader. Haward, after one deep oath and an impetuous, quickly checked movement to follow the flying figure, stood beneath the oak and watched that meeting: Hugon, in his wine-colored coat and Blenheim wig, fierce, inquisitive, bragging of what he might do; the girl suddenly listless, silent, set only upon an immediate return through the fields to the glebe house.
She carried her point, and the two went away without let or hindrance from the master of Fair View, who leaned against the stem of the oak and watched them go. He had been very ill, and the hour's search, together with this unwonted beating of his heart, had made him desperately weary,—too weary to do aught but go slowly and without overmuch of thought to the spot where he had left his horse, mount it, and ride as slowly homeward. To-morrow, he told himself, he would manage differently; at least, she should be made to hear him. In the mean time there was the night to be gotten through. MacLean, he remembered, was coming to the great house. What with wine and cards, thought might for a time be pushed out of doors.
Juba, setting candles upon a table in Haward's bedroom, chanced to spill melted wax upon his master's hand, outstretched on the board. "Damn you!" cried Haward, moved by sudden and uncontrollable irritation. "Look what you are doing, sirrah!"
The negro gave a start of genuine surprise. Haward could punish,—Juba had more than once felt the weight of his master's cane,—but justice had always been meted out with an equable voice and a fine impassivity of countenance. "Don't stand there staring at me!" now ordered the master as irritably as before. "Go stir the fire, draw the curtains, shut out the night! Ha, Angus, is that you?"
MacLean crossed the room to the fire upon the hearth, and stood with his eyes upon the crackling logs. "You kindle too soon your winter fire," he said. "These forests, flaming red and yellow, should warm the land."
"Winter is at hand. The air strikes cold to-night," answered Haward, and, rising, began to pace the room, while MacLean watched him with compressed lips and gloomy eyes. Finally he came to a stand before a card table, set full in the ruddy light of the fire, and taking up the cards ran them slowly through his fingers. "When the lotus was all plucked and Lethe drained, then cards were born into the world," he said sententiously. "Come, my friend, let us forget awhile."
They sat down, and Haward dealt.
"I came to the house landing before sunset," began the storekeeper slowly. "I found you gone."
"Ay," said Haward, gathering up his cards. "'Tis yours to play."
"Juba told me that you had called for Mirza, and had ridden away to the glebe house."
"True," answered the other. "And what then?"
There was a note of warning in his voice, but MacLean did not choose to heed. "I rowed on down the river, past the mouth of the creek," he continued, with deliberation. "There was a mound of grass and a mass of colored vines"—
"And a blood-red oak," finished Haward coldly. "Shall we pay closer regard to what we are doing? I play the king."
"You were there!" exclaimed the Highlander. "You—not Jean Hugon—searched for and found the poor maid's hiding-place." The red came into his tanned cheek. "Now, by St. Andrew!" he began; then checked himself.
Haward tapped with his finger the bit of painted pasteboard before him. "I play the king," he repeated, in an even voice; then struck a bell, and when Juba appeared ordered the negro to bring wine and to stir the fire. The flames, leaping up, lent strange animation to the face of the lady above the mantelshelf, and a pristine brightness to the swords crossed beneath the painting. The slave moved about the room, drawing the curtains more closely, arranging all for the night. While he was present the players gave their attention to the game, but with the sound of the closing door MacLean laid down his cards.
"I must speak," he said abruptly. "The girl's face haunts me. You do wrong. It is not the act of a gentleman."
The silence that followed was broken by Haward, who spoke in the smooth, slightly drawling tones which with him spelled irritation and sudden, hardly controlled anger. "It is my home-coming," he said. "I am tired, and wish to-night to eat only of the lotus. Will you take up your cards again?"
A less impetuous man than MacLean, noting the signs of weakness, fatigue, and impatience, would have waited, and on the morrow have been listened to with equanimity. But the Highlander, fired by his cause, thought not of delay. "To forget!" he exclaimed. "That is the coward's part! I would have you remember: remember yourself, who are by nature a gentleman and generous; remember how alone and helpless is the girl; remember to cease from this pursuit!"
"We will leave the cards, and say good-night," said Haward, with a strong effort for self-control.
"Good-night with all my heart!" cried the other hotly,—"when you have promised to lay no further snare for that maid at your gates, whose name you have blasted, whose heart you have wrung, whose nature you have darkened and distorted"—
"Have you done?" demanded Haward. "Once more, 't were wise to say good-night at once."
"Not yet!" exclaimed the storekeeper, stretching out an eager hand. "That girl hath so haunting a face. Haward, see her not again! God wot, I think you have crushed the soul within her, and her name is bandied from mouth to mouth. 'T were kind to leave her to forget and be forgotten. Go to Westover: wed the lady there of whom you raved in your fever. You are her declared suitor; 'tis said that she loves you"—
Haward drew his breath sharply and turned in his chair. Then, spent with fatigue, irritable from recent illness, sore with the memory of the meeting by the river, determined upon his course and yet deeply perplexed, he narrowed his eyes and began to give poisoned arrow for poisoned arrow.
"Was it in the service of the Pretender that you became a squire of dames?" he asked. "'Gad, for a Jacobite you are particular!"
MacLean started as if struck, and drew himself up. "Have a care, sir! A MacLean sits not to hear his king or his chief defamed. In future, pray remember it."
"For my part," said the other, "I would have Mr. MacLean remember"—
The intonation carried his meaning. MacLean, flushing deeply, rose from the table. "That is unworthy of you," he said. "But since before to-night servants have rebuked masters, I spare not to tell you that you do most wrongly. 'Tis sad for the girl she died not in that wilderness where you found her."
"Ads my life!" cried Haward. "Leave my affairs alone!"
Both men were upon their feet. "I took you for a gentleman," said the Highlander, breathing hard. "I said to myself: 'Duart is overseas where I cannot serve him. I will take this other for my chief'"—
"That is for a Highland cateran and traitor," interrupted Haward, pleased to find another dart, but scarcely aware of how deadly an insult he was dealing.
In a flash the blow was struck. Juba, in the next room, hearing the noise of the overturned table, appeared at the door. "Set the table to rights and light the candles again," said his master calmly. "No, let the cards lie. Now begone to the quarters! 'Twas I that stumbled and overset the table."
Following the slave to the door he locked it upon him; then turned again to the room, and to MacLean standing waiting in the centre of it. "Under the circumstances, we may, I think, dispense with preliminaries. You will give me satisfaction here and now?"
"Do you take it at my hands?" asked the other proudly. "Just now you reminded me that I was your servant. But find me a sword"—
Haward went to a carved chest; drew from it two rapiers, measured the blades, and laid one upon the table. MacLean took it up, and slowly passed the gleaming steel between his fingers. Presently he began to speak, in a low, controlled, monotonous voice: "Why did you not leave me as I was? Six months ago I was alone, quiet, dead. A star had set for me; as the lights fail behind Ben More, it was lost and gone. You, long hated, long looked for, came, and the star arose again. You touched my scars, and suddenly I esteemed them honorable. You called me friend, and I turned from my enmity and clasped your hand. Now my soul goes back to its realm of solitude and hate; now you are my foe again." He broke off to bend the steel within his hands almost to the meeting of hilt and point. "A hated master," he ended, with bitter mirth, "yet one that I must thank for grace extended. Forty stripes is, I believe, the proper penalty."
Haward, who had seated himself at his escritoire and was writing, turned his head. "For my reference to your imprisonment in Virginia I apologize. I demand the reparation due from one gentleman to another for the indignity of a blow. Pardon me for another moment, when I shall be at your service."
He threw sand upon a sheet of gilt-edged paper, folded and superscribed it; then took from his breast a thicker document. "The Solebay, man-of-war, lying off Jamestown, sails at sunrise. The captain—Captain Meade—is my friend. Who knows the fortunes of war? If by chance I should fall to-night, take a boat at the landing, hasten upstream, and hail the Solebay. When you are aboard give Meade—who has reason to oblige me—this letter. He will carry you down the coast to Charleston, where, if you change your name and lurk for a while, you may pass for a buccaneer and be safe enough. For this other paper"—He hesitated, then spoke on with some constraint: "It is your release from servitude in Virginia,—in effect, your pardon. I have interest both here and at home—it hath been many years since Preston—the paper was not hard to obtain. I had meant to give it to you before we parted to-night. I regret that, should you prove the better swordsman, it may be of little service to you."
He laid the papers on the table, and began to divest himself of his coat, waistcoat, and long, curled periwig. MacLean took up the pardon and held it to a candle. It caught, but before the flame could reach the writing Haward had dashed down the other's hand and beaten out the blaze. "'Slife, Angus, what would you do!" he cried, and, taken unawares, there was angry concern in his voice. "Why, man, 't is liberty!"
"I may not accept it," said MacLean, with dry lips. "That letter, also, is useless to me. I would you were all villain."
"Your scruple is fantastic!" retorted the other, and as he spoke he put both papers upon the escritoire, weighting them with the sandbox. "You shall take them hence when our score is settled,—ay, and use them as best you may! Now, sir, are you ready?"
"You are weak from illness," said MacLean hoarsely, "Let the quarrel rest until you have recovered strength."
Haward laughed. "I was not strong yesterday," he said. "But Mr. Everard is pinked in the side, and Mr. Travis, who would fight with pistols, hath a ball through his shoulder."
The storekeeper started. "I have heard of those gentlemen! You fought them both upon the day when you left your sickroom?"
"Assuredly," answered the other, with a slight lift of his brows. "Will you be so good as to move the table to one side? So. On guard, sir!"
The man who had been ill unto death and the man who for many years had worn no sword acquitted themselves well. Had the room been a field behind Montagu House, had there been present seconds, a physician, gaping chairmen, the interest would have been breathless. As it was, the lady upon the wall smiled on, with her eyes forever upon the blossoms in her hand, and the river without, when it could be heard through the clashing of steel, made but a listless and dreamy sound. Each swordsman knew that he had provoked a friend to whom his debt was great, but each, according to his godless creed, must strive as though that friend were his dearest foe. The Englishman fought coolly, the Gael with fervor. The latter had an unguarded moment. Haward's blade leaped to meet it, and on the other's shirt appeared a bright red stain.
In the moment that he was touched the Highlander let fall his sword. Haward, not understanding, lowered his point, and with a gesture bade his antagonist recover the weapon. But the storekeeper folded his arms. "Where blood has been drawn there is satisfaction," he said. "I have given it to you, and now, by the bones of Gillean-na-Tuaidhe, I will not fight you longer!"
For a minute or more Haward stood with his eyes upon the ground and his hand yet closely clasping the rapier hilt; then, drawing a long breath, he took up the velvet scabbard and slowly sheathed his blade. "I am content," he said. "Your wound, I hope, is slight?"
MacLean thrust a handkerchief into his bosom to stanch the bleeding. "A pin prick," he said indifferently.
His late antagonist held out his hand. "It is well over. Come! We are not young hotheads, but men who have lived and suffered, and should know the vanity and the pity of such strife. Let us forget this hour, call each other friends again"—
"Tell me first," demanded MacLean, his arm rigid at his side,—"tell me first why you fought Mr. Everard and Mr. Travis."
Gray eyes and dark blue met. "I fought them," said Haward, "because, on a time, they offered insult to the woman whom I intend to make my wife."
So quiet was it in the room when he had spoken that the wash of the river, the tapping of walnut branches outside the window, the dropping of coals upon the hearth, became loud and insistent sounds. Then, "Darden's Audrey?" said MacLean in a whisper.
"Not Darden's Audrey, but mine," answered Haward,—"the only woman I have ever loved or shall love."
He walked to the window and looked out into the darkness. "To-night there is no light," he said to himself, beneath his breath. "By and by we shall stand here together, listening to the river, marking the wind in the trees." As upon paper heat of fire may cause to appear characters before invisible, so, when he turned, the flame of a great passion had brought all that was highest in this gentleman's nature into his countenance, softening and ennobling it. "Whatever my thoughts before," he said simply, "I have never, since I awoke from my fever and remembered that night at the Palace, meant other than this." Coming back to MacLean he laid a hand upon his shoulder. "Who made us knows we all do need forgiveness! Am I no more to you, Angus, than Ewin Mor Mackinnon?"
An hour later, those who were to be lifetime friends went together down the echoing stair and through the empty house to the outer door. When it was opened, they saw that upon the stone step without, in the square of light thrown by the candles behind them, lay an Indian arrow. MacLean picked it up. "'Twas placed athwart the door," he said doubtingly. "Is it in the nature of a challenge?"
Haward took the dart, and examined it curiously. "The trader grows troublesome," he remarked. "He must back to the woods and to the foes of his own class." As he spoke he broke the arrow in two, and flung the pieces from him.
It was a night of many stars and a keen wind. Moved each in his degree by its beauty, Haward and MacLean stood regarding it before they should go, the one back to his solitary chamber, the other to the store which was to be his charge no longer than the morrow. "I feel the air that blows from the hills," said the Highlander. "It comes over the heather; it hath swept the lochs, and I hear it in the sound of torrents." He lifted his face to the wind. "The breath of freedom! I shall have dreams to-night."
When he was gone, Haward, left alone, looked for a while upon the heights of stars. "I too shall dream to-night," he breathed to himself. "To-morrow all will be well." His gaze falling from the splendor of the skies to the swaying trees, gaunt, bare, and murmuring of their loss to the hurrying river, sadness and vague fear took sudden possession of his soul. He spoke her name over and over; he left the house and went into the garden. It was the garden of the dying year, and the change that in the morning he had smiled to see now appalled him. He would have had it June again. Now, when on the morrow he and Audrey should pass through the garden, it must be down dank and leaf-strewn paths, past yellow and broken stalks, with here and there wan ghosts of flowers.
He came to the dial, and, bending, pressed his lips against the carven words that, so often as they had stood there together, she had traced with her finger. "Love! thou mighty alchemist!" he breathed. "Life! that may now be gold, now iron, but never again dull lead! Death"—He paused; then, "There shall be no death," he said, and left the withered garden for the lonely, echoing house.
AUDREY COMES TO WESTOVER
It was ten of the clock upon this same night when Hugon left the glebe house. Audrey, crouching in the dark beside her window, heard him bid the minister, as drunk as himself, good-night, and watched him go unsteadily down the path that led to the road. Once he paused, and made as if to return; then went on to his lair at the crossroads ordinary. Again Audrey waited,—this time by the door. Darden stumbled upstairs to bed. Mistress Deborah's voice was raised in shrill reproach, and the drunken minister answered her with oaths. The small house rang with their quarrel, but Audrey listened with indifference; not trembling and stopping her ears, as once she would have done. It was over at last, and the place sunk in silence; but still the girl waited and listened, standing close to the door. At last, as it was drawing toward midnight, she put her hand upon the latch, and, raising it very softly, slipped outside. Heavy breathing came from the room where slept her guardians; it went evenly on while she crept downstairs and unbarred the outer door. Sure and silent and light of touch, she passed like a spirit from the house that had given her shelter, nor once looked back upon it.
The boat, hidden in the reeds, was her destination; she loosed it, and taking the oars rowed down the creek. When she came to the garden wall, she bent her head and shut her eyes; but when she had left the creek for the great dim river, she looked at Fair View house as she rowed past it on her way to the mountains. No light to-night; the hour was late, and he was asleep, and that was well.
It was cold upon the river, and sere leaves, loosening their hold upon that which had given them life, drifted down upon her as she rowed beneath arching trees. When she left the dark bank for the unshadowed stream, the wind struck her brow and the glittering stars perplexed her. There were so many of them. When one shot, she knew that a soul had left the earth. Another fell, and another,—it must be a good night for dying. She ceased to row, and, leaning over, dipped her hand and arm into the black water. The movement brought the gunwale of the boat even with the flood.... Say that one leaned over a little farther ... there would fall another star. God gathered the stars in his hand, but he would surely be angry with one that came before it was called, and the star would sink past him into a night forever dreadful.... The water was cold and deep and black. Great fish throve in it, and below was a bed of ooze and mud....
The girl awoke from her dream of self-murder with a cry of terror. Not the river, good Lord, not the river! Not death, but life! With a second shuddering cry she lifted hand and arm from the water, and with frantic haste dried them upon the skirt of her dress. There had been none to hear her. Upon the midnight river, between the dim forests that ever spoke, but never listened, she was utterly alone. She took the oars again, and went on her way up the river, rowing swiftly, for the mountains were far away, and she might be pursued.
When she drew near to Jamestown she shot far out into the river, because men might be astir in the boats about the town landing. Anchored in midstream was a great ship,—a man-of-war, bristling with guns. Her boat touched its shadow, and the lookout called to her. She bent her head, put forth her strength, and left the black hull behind her. There was another ship to pass, a slaver that had come in the evening before, and would land its cargo at sunrise. The stench that arose from it was intolerable, and, as the girl passed, a corpse, heavily weighted, was thrown into the water. Audrey went swiftly by, and the river lay clean before her. The stars paled and the dawn came, but she could not see the shores for the thick white mist. A spectral boat, with a sail like a gray moth's wing, slipped past her. The shadow at the helm was whistling for the wind, and the sound came strange and shrill through the filmy, ashen morning. The mist began to lift. A few moments now, and the river would lie dazzlingly bare between the red and yellow forests. She turned her boat shorewards, and presently forced it beneath the bronze-leafed, drooping boughs of a sycamore. Here she left the boat, tying it to the tree, and hoping that it was well hidden. The great fear at her heart was that, when she was missed, Hugon would undertake to follow and to find her. He had the skill to do so. Perhaps, after many days, when she was in sight of the mountains, she might turn her head and, in that lonely land, see him coming toward her.
The sun was shining, and the woods were gay above her head and gay beneath her feet. When the wind blew, the colored leaves went before it like flights of birds. She was hungry, and as she walked she ate a piece of bread taken from the glebe-house larder. It was her plan to go rapidly through the settled country, keeping as far as possible to the great spaces of woodland which the axe had left untouched; sleeping in such dark and hidden hollows as she could find; begging food only when she must, and then from poor folk who would not stay her or be overcurious about her business. As she went on, the houses, she knew, would be farther and farther apart; the time would soon arrive when she might walk half a day and see never a clearing in the deep woods. Then the hills would rise about her, and far, far off she might see the mountains, fixed, cloudlike, serene, and still, beyond the miles of rustling forest. There would be no more great houses, built for ladies and gentlemen, but here and there, at far distances, rude cabins, dwelt in by kind and simple folk. At such a home, when the mountains had taken on a deeper blue, when the streams were narrow and the level land only a memory, she would pause, would ask if she might stay. What work was wanted she would do. Perhaps there would be children, or a young girl like Molly, or a kind woman like Mistress Stagg; and perhaps, after a long, long while, it would grow to seem to her like that other cabin.
These were her rose-colored visions. At other times a terror took her by the shoulders, holding her until her face whitened and her eyes grew wide and dark. The way was long and the leaves were falling fast, and she thought that it might be true that in this world into which she had awakened there was for her no home. The cold would come, and she might have no bread, and for all her wandering find none to take her in. In those forests of the west the wolves ran in packs, and the Indians burned and wasted. Some bitter night-time she would die.... Watching the sky from Fair View windows, perhaps he might idly mark a falling star.
All that day she walked, keeping as far as was possible to the woods, but forced now and again to traverse open fields and long stretches of sunny road. If she saw any one coming, she hid in the roadside bushes, or, if that could not be done, walked steadily onward, with her head bent and her heart beating fast. It must have been a day for minding one's own business, for none stayed or questioned her. Her dinner she begged from some children whom she found in a wood gathering nuts. Supper she had none. When night fell, she was glad to lay herself down upon a bed of leaves that she had raked together; but she slept little, for the wind moaned in the half-clad branches, and she could not cease from counting the stars that shot. In the morning, numbed and cold, she went slowly on until she came to a wayside house. Quaker folk lived there; and they asked her no question, but with kind words gave her of what they had, and let her rest and grow warm in the sunshine upon their doorstep. She thanked them with shy grace, but presently, when they were not looking, rose and went her way. Upon the second day she kept to the road. It was loss of time wandering in the woods, skirting thicket and marsh, forced ever and again to return to the beaten track. She thought, also, that she must be safe, so far was she now from Fair View. How could they guess that she was gone to the mountains?
About midday, two men on horseback looked at her in passing. One spoke to the other, and turning their horses they put after and overtook her. He who had spoken touched her with the butt of his whip. "Ecod!" he exclaimed. "It's the lass we saw run for a guinea last May Day at Jamestown! Why so far from home, light o' heels?"
A wild leap of her heart, a singing in her ears, and Audrey clutched at safety.
"I be Joan, the smith's daughter," she said stolidly. "I niver ran for a guinea. I niver saw a guinea. I be going an errand for feyther."
"Ecod, then!" said the other man. "You're on a wrong scent. 'Twas no dolt that ran that day!"
The man who had touched her laughed. "'Facks, you are right, Tom! But I'd ha' sworn 't was that brown girl. Go your ways on your errand for 'feyther'!" As he spoke, being of an amorous turn, he stooped from his saddle and kissed her. Audrey, since she was at that time not Audrey at all, but Joan, the smith's daughter, took the salute as stolidly as she had spoken. The two men rode away, and the second said to the first: "A Williamsburgh man told me that the girl who won the guinea could speak and look like a born lady. Didn't ye hear the story of how she went to the Governor's ball, all tricked out, dancing, and making people think she was some fine dame from Maryland maybe? And the next day she was scored in church before all the town. I don't know as they put a white sheet on her, but they say 't was no more than her deserts."
Audrey, left standing in the sunny road, retook her own countenance, rubbed her cheek where the man's lips had touched it, and trembled like a leaf. She was frightened, both at the encounter and because she could make herself so like Joan,—Joan who lived near the crossroads ordinary, and who had been whipped at the Court House.
Late that afternoon she came upon two or three rude dwellings clustered about a mill. A knot of men, the miller in the midst, stood and gazed at the mill-stream. They wore an angry look; and Audrey passed them hastily by. At the farthest house she paused to beg a piece of bread; but the woman who came to the door frowned and roughly bade her begone, and a child threw a stone at her. "One witch is enough to take the bread out of poor folks' mouths!" cried the woman. "Be off, or I'll set the dogs on ye!" The children ran after her as she hastened from the inhospitable neighborhood. "'T is a young witch," they cried, "going to help the old one swim to-night!" and a stone struck her, bruising her shoulder.
She began to run, and, fleet of foot as she was, soon distanced her tormentors. When she slackened pace it was sunset, and she was faint with hunger and desperately weary. From the road a bypath led to a small clearing in a wood, with a slender spiral of smoke showing between the trees. Audrey went that way, and came upon a crazy cabin whose door and window were fast closed. In the unkempt garden rose an apple-tree, with the red apples shriveling upon its boughs, and from the broken gate a line of cedars, black and ragged, ran down to a piece of water, here ghastly pale, there streaked like the sky above with angry crimson. The place was very still, and the air felt cold. When no answer came to her first knocking, Audrey beat upon the door; for she was suddenly afraid of the road behind her, and of the doleful woods and the coming night.
The window shutter creaked ever so slightly, and some one looked out; then the door opened, and a very old and wrinkled woman, with lines of cunning about her mouth, laid her hand upon the girl's arm. "Who be ye?" she whispered. "Did ye bring warning? I don't say, mind ye, that I can't make a stream go dry,—maybe I can and maybe I can't,—but I didn't put a word on the one yonder." She threw up her arms with a wailing cry. "But they won't believe what a poor old soul says! Are they in an evil temper, honey?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Audrey. "I have come a long way, and I am hungry and tired. Give me a piece of bread, and let me stay with you to-night."
The old woman moved aside, and the girl, entering a room that was mean and poor enough, sat down upon a stool beside the fire. "If ye came by the mill," demanded her hostess, with a suspicious eye, "why did ye not stop there for bite and sup?"
"The men were all talking together," answered Audrey wearily. "They looked so angry that I was afraid of them. I did stop at one house; but the woman bade me begone, and the children threw stones at me and called me a witch."
The crone stooped and stirred the fire; then from a cupboard brought forth bread and a little red wine, and set them before the girl. "They called you a witch, did they?" she mumbled as she went to and fro. "And the men were talking and planning together?"
Audrey ate the bread and drank the wine; then, because she was so tired, leaned her head against the table and fell half asleep. When she roused herself, it was to find her withered hostess standing over her with a sly and toothless smile. "I've been thinking," she whispered, "that since you're here to mind the house, I'll just step out to a neighbor's about some business I have in hand. You can stay by the fire, honey, and be warm and comfortable. Maybe I'll not come back to-night."
Going to the window, she dropped a heavy bar across the shutter. "Ye'll put the chain across the door when I'm out," she commanded. "There be evil-disposed folk may want to win in." Coming back to the girl, she laid a skinny hand upon her arm. Whether with palsy or with fright the hand shook like a leaf, but Audrey, half asleep again, noticed little beyond the fact that the fire warmed her, and that here at last was rest. "If there should come a knocking and a calling, honey," whispered the witch, "don't ye answer to it or unbar the door. Ye'll save time for me that way. But if they win in, tell them I went to the northward."
Audrey looked at her with glazed, uncomprehending eyes, while the gnome-like figure appeared to grow smaller, to melt out of the doorway. It was a minute or more before the wayfarer thus left alone in the hut could remember that she had been told to bar the door. Then her instinct of obedience sent her to the threshold. Dusk was falling, and the waters of the pool lay pale and still beyond the ebony cedars. Through the twilit landscape moved the crone who had housed her for the night; but she went not to the north, but southwards toward the river. Presently the dusk swallowed her up, and Audrey was left with the ragged garden and the broken fence and the tiny firelit hut. Reentering the room, she fastened the door, as she had been told to do, and then went back to the hearth. The fire blazed and the shadows danced; it was far better than last night, out in the cold, lying upon dead leaves, watching the falling stars. Here it was warm, warm as June in a walled garden; the fire was red like the roses ... the roses that had thorns to bring heart's blood.
Audrey fell fast asleep; and while she was asleep and the night was yet young, the miller whose mill stream had run dry, the keeper of a tippling house whose custom had dwindled, the ferryman whose child had peaked and pined and died, came with a score of men to reckon with the witch who had done the mischief. Finding door and window fast shut, they knocked, softly at first, then loudly and with threats. One watched the chimney, to see that the witch did not ride forth that way; and the father of the child wished to gather brush, pile it against the entrance, and set all afire. The miller, who was a man of strength, ended the matter by breaking in the door. They knew that the witch was there, because they had heard her moving about, and, when the door gave, a cry of affright. When, however, they had laid hands upon her, and dragged her out under the stars, into the light of the torches they carried, they found that the witch, who, as was well known, could slip her shape as a snake slips its skin, was no longer old and bowed, but straight and young.
"Let me go!" cried Audrey. "How dare you hold me! I never harmed one of you. I am a poor girl come from a long way off"—
"Ay, a long way!" exclaimed the ferryman. "More leagues, I'll warrant, than there are miles in Virginia! We'll see if ye can swim home, ye witch!"
"I'm no witch!" cried the girl again. "I never harmed you. Let me go!"
One of the torchbearers gave ground a little. "She do look mortal young. But where be the witch, then?"
Audrey strove to shake herself free. "The old woman left me alone in the house. She went to—to the northward."
"She lies!" cried the ferryman, addressing himself to the angry throng. The torches, flaming in the night wind, gave forth a streaming, uncertain, and bewildering light; to the excited imaginations of the rustic avengers, the form in the midst of them was not always that of a young girl, but now and again wavered toward the semblance of the hag who had wrought them evil. "Before the child died he talked forever of somebody young and fair that came and stood by him when he slept. We thought 't was his dead mother, but now—now I see who 't was!" Seizing the girl by the wrists, he burst with her through the crowd. "Let the water touch her, she'll turn witch again!"
The excited throng, blinded by its own imagination, took up the cry. The girl's voice was drowned; she set her lips, and strove dumbly with her captors; but they swept her through the weed-grown garden and broken gate, past the cedars that were so ragged and black, down to the cold and deep water. She thought of the night upon the river and of the falling stars, and with a sudden, piercing cry struggled fiercely to escape. The bank was steep; hands pushed her forward: she felt the ghastly embrace of the water, and saw, ere the flood closed over her upturned face, the cold and quiet stars.
So loud was the ringing in her ears that she heard no access of voices upon the bank, and knew not that a fresh commotion had arisen. She was sinking for the third time, and her mind had begun to wander in the Fair View garden, when an arm caught and held her up. She was borne to the shore; there were men on horseback; some one with a clear, authoritative voice was now berating, now good-humoredly arguing with, her late judges.
The man who had sprung to save her held her up to arms that reached down from the bank above; another moment and she felt the earth again beneath her feet, but could only think that, with half the dying past, these strangers had been cruel to bring her back. Her rescuer shook himself like a great dog. "I've saved the witch alive," he panted. "May God forgive and your Honor reward me!"
"Nay, worthy constable, you must look to Sathanas for reward!" cried the gentleman who had been haranguing the miller and his company. These gentry, hardly convinced, but not prepared to debate the matter with a justice of the peace and a great man of those parts, began to slip away. The torchbearers, probably averse to holding a light to their own countenances, had flung the torches into the water, and now, heavily shadowed by the cedars, the place was in deep darkness. Presently there were left to berate only the miller and the ferryman, and at last these also went sullenly away without having troubled to mention the witch's late transformation from age to youth.
"Where is the rescued fair one?" continued the gentleman who, for his own pleasure, had led the conservers of law and order. "Produce the sibyl, honest Dogberry! Faith, if the lady be not an ingrate, you've henceforth a friend at court!"
"My name is Saunders,—Dick Saunders, your Honor," quoth the constable. "For the witch, she lies quiet on the ground beneath the cedar yonder."
"She won't speak!" cried another. "She just lies there trembling, with her face in her hands."
"But she said, 'O Christ!' when we took her from the water," put in a third.
"She was nigh drowned," ended the constable. "And I'm a-tremble myself, the water was that cold. Wauns! I wish I were in the chimney corner at the Court House ordinary!"
The master of Westover flung his riding cloak to one of the constable's men. "Wrap it around the shivering iniquity on the ground yonder; and you, Tom Hope, that brought warning of what your neighbors would do, mount and take the witch behind you. Master Constable, you will lodge Hecate in the gaol to-night, and in the morning bring her up to the great house. We would inquire why a lady so accomplished that she can dry a mill stream to plague a miller cannot drain a pool to save herself from drowning!"
At a crossing of the ways, shortly before Court House, gaol, and ordinary were reached, the adventurous Colonel gave a good-night to the constable and his company, and, with a negro servant at his heels, rode gayly on beneath the stars to his house at Westover. Hardy, alert, in love with living, he was well amused by the night's proceedings. The incident should figure in his next letter to Orrery or to his cousin Taylor.
It figured largely in the table-talk next morning, when the sprightly gentleman sat at breakfast with his daughter and his second wife, a fair and youthful kinswoman of Martha and Teresa Blount. The gentleman, launched upon the subject of witchcraft, handled it with equal wit and learning. The ladies thought that the water must have been very cold, and trusted that the old dame was properly grateful, and would, after such a lesson, leave her evil practices. As they were rising from table, word was brought to the master that constable and witch were outside.
The Colonel kissed his wife, promised his daughter to be merciful, and, humming a song, went through the hall to the open house door and the broad, three-sided steps of stone. The constable was awaiting him.
"Here be mysteries, your Honor! As I serve the King, 't weren't Goody Price for whom I ruined my new frieze, but a slip of a girl!" He waved his hand. "Will your Honor please to look?"
Audrey sat in the sunshine upon the stone steps with her head bowed upon her arms. The morning that was so bright was not bright for her; she thought that life had used her but unkindly. A great tree, growing close to the house, sent leaves of dull gold adrift, and they lay at her feet and upon the skirt of her dress. The constable spoke to her: "Now, mistress, here's a gentleman as stands for the King and the law. Look up!"
A white hand was laid upon the Colonel's arm. "I came to make sure that you were not harsh with the poor creature," said Evelyn's pitying voice. "There is so much misery. Where is she? Ah!"
To gain at last his prisoner's attention, the constable struck her lightly across the shoulders with his cane. "Get up!" he cried impatiently. "Get up and make your curtsy! Ecod, I wish I'd left you in Hunter's Pond!"
Audrey rose, and turned her face, not to the justice of the peace and arbiter of the fate of witches, but to Evelyn, standing above her,—Evelyn, slighter, paler, than she had been at Williamsburgh, but beautiful in her colored, fragrant silks and the air that was hers of sweet and mournful distinction. Now she cried out sharply, while "That girl again!" swore the Colonel, beneath his breath.
Audrey did as she had been told, and made her curtsy. Then, while father and daughter stared at her, the gentleman very red and biting his lip, the lady marble in her loveliness, she tried to speak, to ask them to let her go, but found no words. The face of Evelyn, at whom alone she looked, wavered into distance, gazing at her coldly and mournfully from miles away. She made a faint gesture of weariness and despair; then sank down at Evelyn's feet, and lay there in a swoon.
Evelyn, hearing footsteps across the floor of the attic room above her own bedchamber, arose and set wide the door; then went back to her chair by the window that looked out upon green grass and party-colored trees and long reaches of the shining river. "Come here, if you please," she called to Audrey, as the latter slowly descended the stair from the room where, half asleep, half awake, she had lain since morning.
Audrey entered the pleasant chamber, furnished with what luxury the age afforded, and stood before the sometime princess of her dreams. "Will you not sit down?" asked Evelyn, in a low voice, and pointed to a chair.
"I had rather stand," answered Audrey. "Why did you call me? I was on my way"—
The other's clear eyes dwelt upon her. "Whither were you going?"
"Out of your house," said Audrey simply, "and out of your life."
Evelyn folded her hands in her silken lap, and looked out upon river and sky and ceaseless drift of colored leaves. "You can never go out of my life," she said. "Why the power to vex and ruin was given you I do not know, but you have used it. Why did you run away from Fair View?"
"That I might never see Mr. Haward again," answered Audrey. She held her head up, but she felt the stab. It had not occurred to her that hers was the power to vex and ruin; apparently that belonged elsewhere.
Evelyn turned from the window, and the two women, the princess and the herdgirl, regarded each other. "Oh, my God!" cried Evelyn. "I did not know that you loved him so!"
But Audrey shook her head, and spoke with calmness: "Once I loved and knew it not, and once I loved and knew it. It was all in a dream, and now I have waked up." She passed her hand across her brow and eyes, and pushed back her heavy hair. It was a gesture that was common to her. To Evelyn it brought a sudden stinging memory of the ballroom at the Palace; of how this girl had looked in her splendid dress, with the roses in her hair; of Haward's words at the coach door. She had not seen him since that night. "I am going a long way," continued Audrey. "It will be as though I died. I never meant to harm you."
The other gazed at her with wide, dry eyes, and with an unwonted color in her cheeks. "She is beautiful," thought Audrey; then wondered how long she must stay in this room and this house. Without the window the trees beckoned, the light was fair upon the river; in the south hung a cloud, silver-hued, and shaped like two mighty wings. Audrey, with her eyes upon the cloud, thought, "If the wings were mine, I would reach the mountains to-night."
"Do you remember last May Day?" asked Evelyn, in a voice scarcely above a whisper. "He and I, sitting side by side, watched your running, and I praised you to him. Then we went away, and while we gathered flowers on the road to Williamsburgh he asked me to be his wife. I said no, for he loved me not as I wished to be loved. Afterward, in Williamsburgh, he spoke again.... I said, 'When you come to Westover;' and he kissed my hand, and vowed that the next week should find him here." She turned once more to the window, and, with her chin in her hand, looked out upon the beauty of the autumn. "Day by day, and day by day," she said, in the same hushed voice, "I sat at this window and watched for him to come. The weeks went by, and he came not. I began to hear talk of you. Oh, I deny not that it was bitter!"
"Oh me! oh me!" cried Audrey. "I was so happy, and I thought no harm."
"He came at last," continued Evelyn. "For a month he stayed here, paying me court. I was too proud to speak of what I had heard. After a while I thought it must have been an idle rumor." Her voice changed, and with a sudden gesture of passion and despair she lifted her arms above her head, then clasped and wrung her hands. "Oh, for a month he forgot you! In all the years to come I shall have that comfort: for one little month, in the company of the woman whom, because she was of his own rank, because she had wealth, because others found her fair and honored her with heart as well as lip, he wished to make his wife,—for that short month he forgot you! The days were sweet to me, sweet, sweet! Oh, I dreamed my dreams!... And then we were called to Williamsburgh to greet the new Governor, and he went with us, and again I heard your name coupled with his.... There was between us no betrothal. I had delayed to say yes to his asking, for I wished to make sure,—to make sure that he loved me. No man can say he broke troth with me. For that my pride gives thanks!"
"What must I do?" said Audrey to herself. "Pain is hard to bear."
"That night at the ball," continued Evelyn, "when, coming down the stair, I saw you standing beside him ... and after that, the music, and the lights, and you dancing with him, in your dark beauty, with the flowers in your hair ... and after that, you and I in my coach and his face at the window!... Oh, I can tell you what he said! He said: 'Good-by, sweetheart.... 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.'"
"For me!" cried Audrey,—"for me an hour in Bruton church next morning!"
A silence followed her words. Evelyn, sitting in the great chair, rested her cheek upon her hand and gazed steadfastly at her guest of a day. The sunshine had stolen from the room, but dwelt upon and caressed the world without the window. Faint, tinkling notes of a harpsichord floated up from the parlor below, followed by young Madam Byrd's voice singing to the perturbed Colonel:—
"'O Love! they wrong thee much, That say thy sweet is bitter, When thy rich fruit is such As nothing can be sweeter. Fair house of joy and bliss'"—
The song came to an end, but after a pause the harpsichord sounded again, and the singer's voice rang out:—
"'Under the greenwood tree, Who loves to lie with me'"—
Audrey gave an involuntary cry; then, with her lip between her teeth, strove for courage, failed, and with another strangled cry sank upon her knees before a chair and buried her face in its cushions.
When a little time had passed, Evelyn arose and went to her. "Fate has played with us both," she said, in a voice that strove for calmness. "If there was great bitterness in my heart toward you then, I hope it is not so now; if, on that night, I spoke harshly, unkindly, ungenerously, I—I am sorry. I thought what others thought. I—I cared not to touch you.... But now I am told that 't was not you that did unworthily. Mr. Haward has written to me; days ago I had this letter." It was in her hand, and she held it out to the kneeling girl. "Yes, yes, you must read; it concerns you." Her voice, low and broken, was yet imperious. Audrey raised her head, took and read the letter. There were but a few unsteady lines, written from Marot's ordinary at Williamsburgh. The writer was too weak as yet for many words; few words were best, perhaps. His was all the blame for the occurrence at the Palace, for all besides. That which, upon his recovery, he must strive to teach his acquaintance at large he prayed Evelyn to believe at once and forever. She whom, against her will and in the madness of his fever, he had taken to the Governor's house was most innocent,—guiltless of all save a childlike affection for the writer, a misplaced confidence, born of old days, and now shattered by his own hand. Before that night she had never guessed his passion, never known the use that had been made of her name. This upon the honor of a gentleman. For the rest, as soon as his strength was regained, he purposed traveling to Westover. There, if Mistress Evelyn Byrd would receive him for an hour, he might in some measure explain, excuse. For much, he knew, there was no excuse,—only pardon to be asked.
The letter ended abruptly, as though the writer's strength were exhausted. Audrey read it through, then with indifference gave it back to Evelyn. "It is true,—what he says?" whispered the latter, crumpling the paper in her hand.
Audrey gazed up at her with wide, tearless eyes. "Yes, it is true. There was no need for you to use those words to me in the coach, that night,—though even then I did not understand. There is no reason why you should fear to touch me."
Her head sank upon her arm. In the parlor below the singing came to an end, but the harpsichord, lightly fingered, gave forth a haunting melody. It was suited to the afternoon: to the golden light, the drifting leaves, the murmurs of wind and wave, without the window: to the shadows, the stillness, and the sorrow within the room. Evelyn, turning slowly toward the kneeling figure, of a sudden saw it through a mist of tears. Her clasped hands parted; she bent and touched the bowed head. Audrey looked up, and her dark eyes made appeal. Evelyn stooped lower yet; her tears fell upon Audrey's brow; a moment, and the two, cast by life in the selfsame tragedy, were in each other's arms.
"You know that I came from the mountains," whispered Audrey. "I am going back. You must tell no one; in a little while I shall be forgotten."
"To the mountains!" cried Evelyn. "No one lives there. You would die of cold and hunger. No, no! We are alike unhappy: you shall stay with me here at Westover."
She rose from her knees, and Audrey rose with her. They no longer clasped each other,—that impulse was past,—but their eyes met in sorrowful amity. Audrey shook her head. "That may not be," she said simply. "I must go away that we may not both be unhappy." She lifted her face to the cloud in the south, "I almost died last night. When you drown, there is at first fear and struggling, but at last it is like dreaming, and there is a lightness.... When that came I thought, 'It is the air of the mountains,—I am drawing near them.' ... Will you let me go now? I will slip from the house through the fields into the woods, and none will know"—
But Evelyn caught her by the wrist. "You are beside yourself! I would rouse the plantation; in an hour you would be found. Stay with me!"
A knock at the door, and the Colonel's secretary, a pale and grave young man, bowing on the threshold. He was just come from the attic room, where he had failed to find the young woman who had been lodged there that morning. The Colonel, supposing that by now she was recovered from her swoon and her fright of the night before, and having certain questions to put to her, desired her to descend to the parlor. Hearing voices in Mistress Evelyn's room—
"Very well, Mr. Drew," said the lady. "You need not wait. I will myself seek my father with—with our guest."
In the parlor Madam Byrd was yet at the harpsichord, but ceased to touch the keys when her step-daughter, followed by Darden's Audrey, entered the room. The master of Westover, seated beside his young wife, looked quickly up, arched his brows and turned somewhat red, as his daughter, with her gliding step, crossed the room to greet him. Audrey, obeying a motion of her companion's hand, waited beside a window, in the shadow of its heavy curtains. "Evelyn," quoth the Colonel, rising from his chair and taking his daughter's hand, "this is scarce befitting"—
Evelyn stayed his further speech by an appealing gesture. "Let me speak with you, sir. No, no, madam, do not go! There is naught the world might not hear."
Audrey waited in the shadow by the window, and her mind was busy, for she had her plans to lay. Sometimes Evelyn's low voice, sometimes the Colonel's deeper tones, pierced her understanding; when this was so she moved restlessly, wishing that it were night and she away. Presently she began to observe the room, which was richly furnished. There were garlands upon the ceiling; a table near her was set with many curious ornaments; upon a tall cabinet stood a bowl of yellow flowers; the lady at the harpsichord wore a dress to match the flowers, while Evelyn's dress was white; beyond them was a pier glass finer than the one at Fair View.
This glass reflected the doorway, and thus she was the first to see the man from whom she had fled. "Mr. Marmaduke Haward, massa!" announced the servant who had ushered him through the hall.
Haward, hat in hand, entered the room. The three beside the harpsichord arose; the one at the window slipped deeper into the shadow of the curtains, and so escaped the visitor's observation. The latter bowed to the master of Westover, who ceremoniously returned the salute, and to the two ladies, who curtsied to him, but opened not their lips.
"This, sir," said Colonel Byrd, holding himself very erect, "is an unexpected honor."
"Rather, sir, an unwished-for intrusion," answered the other. "I beg you to believe that I will trouble you for no longer time than matters require."
The Colonel bit his lip. "There was a time when Mr. Haward was most welcome to my house. If 't is no longer thus"—
Haward made a gesture of assent. "I know that the time is past. I am sorry that 't is so. I had thought, sir, to find you alone. Am I to speak before these ladies?"
The Colonel hesitated, but Evelyn, leaving Madam Byrd beside the harpsichord, came to her father's side. That gentleman glanced at her keenly. There was no agitation to mar the pensive loveliness of her face; her eyes were steadfast, the lips faintly smiling. "If what you have to say concerns my daughter," said the Colonel, "she will listen to you here and now."
For a few moments dead silence; then Haward spoke, slowly, weighing his words: "I am on my way, Colonel Byrd, to the country beyond the falls. I have entered upon a search, and I know not when it will be ended or when I shall return. Westover lay in my path, and there was that which needed to be said to you, sir, and to your daughter. When it has been said I will take my leave." He paused; then, with a quickened breath, again took up his task: "Some months ago, sir, I sought and obtained your permission to make my suit to your daughter for her hand. The lady, worthy of a better mate, hath done well in saying no to my importunity. I accept her decision, withdraw my suit, wish her all happiness." He bowed again formally; then stood with lowered eyes, his hand griping the edge of the table.
"I am aware that my daughter has declined to entertain your proposals," said the Colonel coldly, "and I approve her determination. Is this all, sir?"
"It should, perhaps, be all," answered Haward. "And yet"—He turned to Evelyn, snow-white, calm, with that faint smile upon her face. "May I speak to you?" he said, in a scarcely audible voice.
She looked at him, with parting lips.
"Here and now," the Colonel answered for her. "Be brief, sir."
The master of Fair View found it hard to speak, "Evelyn"—he began, and paused, biting his lip. It was very quiet in the familiar parlor, quiet and dim, and drawing toward eventide. The lady at the harpsichord chanced to let fall her hand upon the keys. They gave forth a deep and melancholy sound that vibrated through the room. The chord was like an odor in its subtle power to bring crowding memories. To Haward, and perhaps to Evelyn, scenes long shifted, long faded, took on fresh colors, glowed anew, replaced the canvas of the present. For years the two had been friends; later months had seen him her avowed suitor. In this very room he had bent over her at the harpsichord when the song was finished; had sat beside her in the deep window seat while the stars brightened, before the candles were brought in.
Now, for a moment, he stood with his hand over his eyes; then, letting it fall, he spoke with firmness. "Evelyn," he said, "if I have wronged you, forgive me. Our friendship that has been I lay at your feet: forget it and forget me. You are noble, generous, high of mind: I pray you to let no remembrance of me trouble your life. May it be happy,—may all good attend you.... Evelyn, good-by!"
He kneeled and lifted to his lips the hem of her dress. As he rose, and bowing low would have taken formal leave of the two beside her, she put out her hand, staying him by the gesture and the look upon her colorless face. "You spoke of a search," she said. "What search?"
Haward raised his eyes to hers that were quiet, almost smiling, though darkly shadowed by past pain. "I will tell you, Evelyn. Why should not I tell you this, also?... Four days ago, upon my return to Fair View, I sought and found the woman that I love,—the woman that, by all that is best within me, I love worthily! She shrank from me; she listened not; she shut eye and ear, and fled. And I,—confident fool!—I thought, 'To-morrow I will make her heed,' and so let her go. When the morrow came she was gone indeed." He halted, made an involuntary gesture of distress, then went on, rapidly and with agitation: "There was a boat missing; she was seen to pass Jamestown, rowing steadily up the river. But for this I should have thought—I should have feared—God knows what I should not have feared! As it is I have searchers out, both on this side and on the southern shore. An Indian and myself have come up river in his canoe. We have not found her yet. If it be so that she has passed unseen through the settled country, I will seek her toward the mountains."
"And when you have found her, what then, sir?" cried the Colonel, tapping his snuffbox.
"Then, sir," answered Haward with hauteur, "she will become my wife."
He turned again to Evelyn, but when he spoke it was less to her than to himself. "It grows late," he said. "Night is coming on, and at the fall of the leaf the nights are cold. One sleeping in the forest would suffer ... if she sleeps. I have not slept since she was missed. I must begone"—
"It grows late indeed," replied Evelyn, with lifted face and a voice low, clear, and sweet as a silver bell,—"so late that there is a rose flush in the sky beyond the river. Look! you may see it through yonder window."
She touched his hand and made him look to the far window. "Who is it that stands in the shadow, hiding her face in her hands?" he asked at last, beneath his breath.
"'Tis Audrey," answered Evelyn, in the same clear, sweet, and passionless tones. She took her hand from his and addressed herself to her father. "Dear sir," she said, "to my mind no quarrel exists between us and this gentleman. There is no reason"—she drew herself up—"no reason why we should not extend to Mr. Marmaduke Haward the hospitality of Westover." She smiled and leaned against her father's arm. "And now let us three,—you and Maria, whom I protest you keep too long at the harpsichord, and I, who love this hour of the evening,—let us go walk in the garden and see what flowers the frost has spared."
"Child," demanded Haward, "why did you frighten me so?" He took her hands from her face, and drew her from the shadow of the curtain into the evening glow. Her hands lay passive in his; her eyes held the despair of a runner spent and fallen, with the goal just in sight. "Would have had me go again to the mountains for you, little maid?" Haward's voice trembled with the delight of his ended quest.
"Call me not by that name," Audrey said. "One that is dead used it."
"I will call you love," he answered,—"my love, my dear love, my true love!"
"Nor that either," she said, and caught her breath. "I know not why you should speak to me so."
"What must I call you then?" he asked, with the smile still upon his lips.
"A stranger and a dreamer," she answered. "Go your ways, and I will go mine."
There was silence in the room, broken by Haward. "For us two one path," he said; "why, Audrey, Audrey, Audrey!" Suddenly he caught her in his arms. "My love!" he whispered—"my love Audrey! my wife Audrey!" His kisses rained upon her face. She lay quiet until the storm had passed; then freed herself, looked at him, and shook her head.
"You killed him," she said, "that one whom I—worshiped. It was not well done of you.... There was a dream I had last summer. I told it to—to the one you killed. Now part of the dream has come true.... You never were! Oh, death had been easy pain, for it had left memory, hope! But you never were! you never were!"
"I am!" cried Haward ardently. "I am your lover! I am he who says to you, Forget the past, forget and forgive, and come with me out of your dreaming. Come, Audrey, come, come, from the dim woods into the sunshine,—into the sunshine of the garden! The night you went away I was there, Audrey, under the stars. The paths were deep in leaves, the flowers dead and blackening; but the trees will be green again, and the flowers bloom! When we are wed we will walk there, bringing the spring with us"—
"When we are wed!" she answered. "That will never be."
"It will be this week," he said, smiling. "Dear dryad, who have no friends to make a pother, no dowry to lug with you, no gay wedding raiment to provide; who have only to curtsy farewell to the trees and put your hand in mine"—
She drew away her hands that he had caught in his, and pressed them above her heart; then looked restlessly from window to door. "Will you let me pass, sir?" she asked at last. "I am tired. I have to think what I am to do, where I am to go."
"Where you are to go!" he exclaimed. "Why, back to the glebe house, and I will follow, and the minister shall marry us. Child, child! where else should you go? What else should you do?"
"God knows!" cried the girl, with sudden and extraordinary passion. "But not that! Oh, he is gone,—that other who would have understood!"
Haward let fall his outstretched hand, drew back a pace or two, and stood with knitted brows. The room was very quiet; only Audrey breathed hurriedly, and through the open window came the sudden, lonely cry of some river bird. The note was repeated ere Haward spoke again.
"I will try to understand," he said slowly. "Audrey, is it Evelyn that comes between us?"
Audrey passed her hand over her eyes and brow and pushed back her heavy hair. "Oh, I have wronged her!" she cried. "I have taken her portion. If once she was cruel to me, yet to-day she kissed me, her tears fell upon my face. That which I have robbed her of I want not.... Oh, my heart, my heart!"
"'T is I, not you, who have wronged this lady," said Haward, after a pause. "I have, I hope, her forgiveness. Is this the fault that keeps you from me?"
Audrey answered not, but leaned against the window and looked at the cloud in the south that was now an amethyst island. Haward went closer to her. "Is it," he said, "is it because in my mind I sinned against you, Audrey, because I brought upon you insult and calumny? Child, child! I am of the world. That I did all this is true, but now I would not purchase endless bliss with your least harm, and your name is more to me than my own. Forgive me, Audrey, forgive the past." He bowed his head as he stood before her.
Audrey gazed at him with wide, dry eyes whose lids burned. A hot color had risen to her cheek; at her heart was a heavier aching, a fuller knowledge of loss. "There is no past," she said. "It was a dream and a lie. There is only to-day ... and you are a stranger."
The purple cloud across the river began to darken; there came again the lonely cry of the bird; in the house quarter the slaves were singing as they went about their work. Suddenly Audrey laughed. It was sad laughter, as mocking and elfin and mirthless a sound as was ever heard in autumn twilight. "A stranger!" she repeated. "I know you by your name, and that is all. You are Mr. Marmaduke Haward of Fair View, while I—I am Darden's Audrey!"
She curtsied to him, so changed, so defiant, so darkly beautiful, that he caught his breath to behold her. "You are all the world to me!" he cried. "Audrey, Audrey! Look at me, listen to me!"
He would have approached her, would have seized her hand, but she waved him back. "Oh, the world! We must think of that! What would they say, the Governor and the Council, and the people who go to balls, and all the great folk you write to in England,—what would they say if you married me? Mr. Marmaduke Haward of Fair View, the richest man in Virginia! Mr. Marmaduke Haward, the man of taste, the scholar, the fine gentleman, proud of his name, jealous of his honor! And Darden's Audrey, who hath gone barefoot on errands to most houses in Fair View parish! Darden's Audrey, whom the preacher pointed out to the people in Bruton church! They would call you mad; they would give you cap and bells; they would say, 'Does he think that he can make her one of us?—her that we turned and looked long upon in Bruton church, when the preacher called her by a right name'"—
"Child, for God's sake!" cried Haward.
"There is the lady, too,—the lady who left us here together! We must not forget to think of her,—of her whose picture you showed me at Fair View, who was to be your wife, who took me by the hand that night at the Palace. There is reproach in her eyes. Ah, do you not think the look might grow, might come to haunt us? And yourself! Oh, sooner or later regret and weariness would come to dwell at Fair View! The lady who walks in the garden here is a fine lady and a fit mate for a fine gentleman, and I am a beggar maid and no man's mate, unless it be Hugon's. Hugon, who has sworn to have me in the house he has built! Hugon, who would surely kill you"—
Haward caught her by the wrists, bruising them in his grasp. "Audrey, Audrey! Let these fancies be! If we love each other"—
"If!" she echoed, and pulled her hands away. Her voice was strange, her eyes were bright and strained, her face was burning. "But if not, what then? And how should I love you who are a stranger to me? Oh, a generous stranger who, where he thinks he has done a wrong, would repair the damage." Her voice broke; she flung back her head and pressed her hands against her throat. "You have done me no wrong," she said. "If you had, I would forgive you, would say good-by to you, would go my way.... as I am going now. Let me pass, sir!"
Haward barred her way. "A stranger!" he said, beneath his breath. "Is there then no tie between shadow and substance, dream and reality?"
"None!" answered Audrey, with defiance. "Why did you come to the mountains, eleven years ago? What business was it of yours whether I lived or died? Oh, God was not kind to send you there!"
"You loved me once!" he cried. "Audrey, Audrey, have I slain your love?"
"It was never yours!" she answered passionately, "It was that other's,—that other whom I imagined, who never lived outside my dream! Oh, let me pass, let me begone! You are cruel to keep me. I—I am so tired."
White to the lips, Haward moved backward a step or two, but yet stood between her and the door. Moments passed before he spoke; then, "Will you become my wife?" he asked, in a studiously quiet voice. "Marry me, Audrey, loving me not. Love may come in time, but give me now the right to be your protector, the power to clear your name."
She looked at him with a strange smile, a fine gesture of scorn. "Marry you, loving you not! That will I never do. Protector! That is a word I have grown to dislike. My name! It is a slight thing. What matter if folk look askance when it is only Darden's Audrey? And there are those whom an ill fame does not frighten. The schoolmaster will still give me books to read, and tell me what they mean. He will not care, nor the drunken minister, nor Hugon.... I am going back to them, to Mistress Deborah and the glebe house. She will beat me, and the minister will curse, but they will take me in.... I will work very hard, and never look to Fair View. I see now that I could never reach the mountains." She began to move toward the door. He kept with her, step for step, his eyes upon her face. "You will come no more to the glebe house," she said. "If you do, though the mountains be far the river is near."
He put his hand upon the latch of the door. "You will rest here to-night?" he asked gently, as of a child. "I will speak to Colonel Byrd; to-morrow he will send some one with you down the river. It will be managed for you, and as you wish. You will rest to-night? You go from me now to your room, Audrey?"
"Yes," she answered, and thought she spoke the truth.
"I love you,—love you greatly," he continued. "I will conquer,—conquer and atone! But now, poor tired one, I let you go. Sleep, Audrey, sleep and dream again." He held open the door for her, and stood aside with bent head.
She passed him; then turned, and after a moment of silence spoke to him with a strange and sorrowful stateliness. "You think, sir," she said, "that I have something to forgive?"