"Thou hast powerful breath, Janet, and 'twas an immense bitterwort bush thou were beating about. I am sorry I forgot my prayers. I will say them twenty times to-day, to make up."
"And it's the heathen that repeateth a prayer oft; thou hadst better say 'God, have mercy upon my untowardness!' once, from thy heart, than to say thy rosary from now until doom with thy mind upon a bumptious Russian."
"What is the day, Janet?"
"'Tis as bleak and stormy as one could wish."
"What is the hour?"
"Eleven? and I was to meet Count Adrian at this very hour. He is to teach me battledore and shuttlecock."
"'Tis a fussy game, played more with the heart than hand; canst give it up; let me rub thee to sleep again?"
"Nay, for I would not disappoint him or—myself."
An hour later she stood opposite the count in the great library, swinging the battledore with grace. There was much soft laughter and gay repartee; and Adrian followed the movements of Katherine's lithe form, clad in the soft, clinging grey of the convent. She became remiss; for Adrian's glances were confusing, and intentional laches were made by him, that he might come near her, almost touching her hair in bending to recover the ball. She was flushed and eager, triumphant of a fine return, when the door flew open and in came a number of gallants, among whom was Lord Cedric. His face flushed a warm red and he shot a glance of jealousy at Adrian as he bent low over Katherine's hand. After a few commonplace remarks, they passed on up the stairway to the broad landing, on which was an arched door that led to the passage opening into the organ loft of the chapel. In a few moments there came the sound of the organ. Katherine swung low her battledore and breathed forth:
"Let us listen; 'tis sweet, who plays, dost know?"
"'Tis St. Mar, a fine fellow; a soldier, duelist and gallant."
"'Thou dost flank duelist by two words that should scorn being so separated!'"
"'Twas a happy wording; for if thou shouldst meet him, thou wilt fall but two-thirds in love, whereas, if otherwise worded 'twould be altogether."
"Thou art giving my heart an evil reputation; for after all 'tis not so easy won."
"'Tis true, as I know, more than any one else, for my heart misgave me from the moment I first set eyes on thy beauteous countenance; and since I have been in wild despair, not knowing if thou hast a heart for any save thy nurse and my Lord Cedric; for 'tis to them thy heart seems bent." There was neither shadow nor movement of fair expression on Mistress Penwick's face, as she answered calmly,—
"Thou sayest well. I love my nurse—she has been mother too, and I honour Lord Cedric as a good man should be honoured, and one whom my father chose to be his daughter's guardian and holder in trust of her estates."
"Estates"—'twas a grand word and went straight to Cantemir's heart; for 'twas something to espouse so beautiful a maiden that had demesne as well.
Katherine was listening to the chords of the organ, and she bent forward eagerly. Her thoughts flew back to the convent where she had enjoyed a pure religious life undisturbed by the trammels of the great outer world.
"Let us go," said she, "I would see who 'tis that plays!"
She led the way up the broad stairs and through the passage into the organ loft, and at first sight of her Cedric was well-nigh beside himself with delight; for he took it, she had come to be with him. There was a young fop at the organ in rich and modish attire, but otherwise of unattractive and common appearance.
Katherine cast upon him her entire attention, and there came that in her face that drew the glance of every eye. 'Twas as if she was entranced with the player, as well as the sounds he brought forth from the organ. Cedric be-thought him 'twas an unfortunate oversight to have learnt not to thrum upon some sort of thing wherewith to draw the attention if not admiration of such a maid as this. And he straightway made avowal to send at once for tutor and instrument; a violin, when played as he might learn to, would perhaps be as successful in its lodestone requirements as any other thrumming machine. "'Twas an instrument could be handled to such an effect. A man could so well show white, jewelled fingers; display a rare steenkirk to pillow it upon; and withal, a man could stand free and sway his body gracefully this way and that; yes, 'tis the thing to do; she may yet look at me as she now looks at St. Mar!" so thought Cedric. The piece was soft and gentle, with a pathetic motif running through it. Katherine became so rapt she drew closer and closer, until at last she stood beside St. Mar. He became confused and halted, and finally left off altogether and turned to read the admiration in the azure blue of her eyes.
"Thou art from France, and dost thou know many of the great musicians?"
"Aye, a great many—"
"Hast thou met the great Alessandro Scarlatti? I understand he created a furore as he passed through Paris from London."
"'Tis true, and I was most fortunate to hear him play portions of 'L'Onesta nell Amore.' Queen Christina herself accompanied him to Paris, and wherever he played she was not far away."
"We used much of his sacred music at the convent; 'tis such warm, tender and sympathetic harmony. He must be a very great man!"
"He hath a son, Domenico, not two years old, who already shows a great ear for his father's music; and they say he will even be a greater musician than his father. It is possible Alessandro will visit London."
"'Twould be wondrous fine! I will go and hear him play, surely "—Cedric interrupted their musical converse,—
"'Tis cold for thee, I fear, in this damp place; I beg thee to allow me to lead thee to the library." And without further words he led her away, through the library and on beyond to the saloon, where he begged her to favour him with songs he was quite sure she could sing, naming those he most wished to hear.
Then in came Lady Bettie Payne with three or four others, and they babbled and chattered, and as Lord Cedric stood near he heard them speak of Lady Constance' indisposition.
"Ah, poor Constance, I was not aware she was ill!" said he, and he went forth to inquire of her condition and find if aught could be done for her enlivenment to health and spirits. When he returned and saw Katherine so surrounded, and his guests engaged at cards and battledore and music, and some in converse as to whether they should ride forth to the chase, he was somehow stirred to think of Constance lying alone in her chamber; and there recurred to him the tale of the night before; 'twas she that loved him. He felt sorry for her if such a thing were true; but 'twas not possible, and to convince himself he would go to her and give her the brotherly kiss as heretofore, and take notice if there was aught in her manner to denote verification of the miserable gipsy's story. He would put an end to such feeling, if 'twere there. He sent word if he might see her for himself, and be assured her illness was not feigned, in order she might shirk the duty—like a wicked sister—of presenting her fair face for the enlightenment of the gloom that seemed about to penetrate, from without, the castle walls.
Constance lay propped amongst pillows, in a gorgeous peignoir of lace, arranged for the moment to display advantageously her plump arms and a slender white neck encircled with pearls. Her brow was high and narrow; her dark hair was carefully arranged in wavy folds upon the pillow; her eyes, under drooping lids, glittered coldly and imperiously. The nose was straight, and too thin for beauty. Her lips, touched with rouge, were also thin and full of arrogance. There she lay, impatient for the love of this one man, who was e'en now at the door.
When Constance was a baby, she had watched Cedric upon his nurse's knee taking his pap, and a little later amused him with her dolls. She had played with him at bat and ball; had ridden astride behind him upon a frisking pony; had learned and used the same oaths when none were by to note her language but grooms and stable-boys—always when Angel, the head nurse, was not about. She would outswear the young lad and then tease him because he could not find words to equal hers. They had played at "Lord and Lady," and rode about the terraces in a miniature sedan chair, and cooks and scullions winked and nodded, wisely and predictively. And when they came to man's and woman's estate, Cedric's regard for her was as a brother's; but hers for him, alas! was deep love. It seemed to her as if the world was just beginning; a bright, glorious world full of untold wealth of love, when she thought perhaps she might yet win him for her own; and indeed she thought, as already possessing him. On his part there was being born in his heart a great joy: that of a new and first love. Heretofore he and Constance had known all things in common, and now suddenly he was satiate of her. But Katherine, he had thought, was so young and bright and beautiful; a child that had lived within the cloister and had grown to maidenhood in sweet innocence. 'Twas like finding in some tropic clime, embowered and shaded by thick, waxy leaves, a glorious, ripe pomegranate, which he would grasp and drink from its rich, red pulp, a portion that would cool and 'suage a burning thirst; while Constance, by the side of Katherine, was like a russet apple, into whose heart the worm of worldly knowledge had eaten its surfeit and taken all sweetness away, and the poor thing hung low, all dried and spiritless upon a broken bough to the convenience of any passing hand. "Nay, nay; give me only the rich, ripe pomegranate; my Katherine, Kate! Kate!" and blinded thus by the fever of desire to possess only his sweet Kate, he swung wide the door of Constance's room and passed to the bedside and leant over and kissed her.
She flushed red as she met his eyes—now cold and unimpassioned—looking into the very depths of her own. He saw the sudden scarlet that mantled her face, and knew—knew she loved him. And his heart went out to her, for he was attached to the russet thing, an attachment heretofore unnamed, but now—now suddenly christened with that parsimonious appellation—pity; the object of which is never satisfied. But he had naught else to give, for Katherine had suddenly impoverished him.
"'Tis generous of thee, Cedric, to break from thy gay company; what are they engaged in?"
"Various,—some at cards, others at music—"
"And what was thy pastime that thou couldst sever thyself so agreeably?"
"I was listening to Bettie, and she on a sudden remarked of thy indisposition. I straightway came to note thy ailing. I have talked not with thee in private since thy arrival, and there is much news. Hast seen her, Constance, to talk with her?"
"Whom meanest thou? There are many 'hers' in the house!"
"The beauty that flew to me over seas, of course; whom else could I mean?"
"Oh! oh! to be sure; the maid from Quebec. Aye, I talked with her some. Thou sayest she is Sir John Penwick's daughter?"
"Aye, and she's a glorious beauty, eh, Constance?"
"But how camest thou by her?"
Cedric reached to that nearest his heart and drew forth Sir John's letter and gave it opened into Constance's hand. She read it with blazing eyes and great eagerness; for 'twas a bundle of weapons she was examining and would take therefrom her choice. She flashed forth queries as to the probability of this or that with a semblance of interest that disarmed Cedric and made him wonder if this woman loved to such an extent, she could fling aside her own interests and submerge all jealousy, all self-love into the purest of all sacrifices, abnegation?
"What! no estates? That looks ill, for at one time Sir John was affluent, for Aunt Hettie has told me of him many a time."
"But he lost it all, as I've heard ofttime from father; he has spoken not infrequent of Sir John's high living; he had great demesne, a great heart and great temper; and 'tis the last named that has fallen clear and uncumbered to his daughter; and the heart will be found by careful probing, no doubt; and the demesne she will have when she condescends to take me as spouse."
"Thou, thou espouse her?" and Constance feigned surprise, as if 'twere a new thing to her, when in reality she had suffered agony from its repetition.
"Aye, and why not, pray? Am I not of ripe years and know my mind?"
"And why so?—because thou shouldst wed one of high degree and fortune and worldly wisdom."
"Nay, thou art wrong. 'Tis enough that she is of noble blood from father and mother; and I have fortune for us both; and worldly wisdom—bah! Constance, dost thou expect her to know all the intrigues of court, when she is but lightly past fifteen?"
"Fifteen?—Now by heaven, Cedric, thou wouldst not lie to me?"
"Nay, Con, I would not—I have no object in this case, 'tis a truth."
"Fifteen, and indeed she is well-formed for such youth!"
"And what a beautiful and innocent face she has, too?"
"Beauteous, admitted; but innocent of what?"
"Innocent of all we know; she knows naught of this great world. Janet keeps all evil from her. We cannot conceive of such innocence in any one. The child has eaten the simplest things all her life; milk and gruel and beef-whey; 'tis no great wonder she is so pink and strong; Janet says in hand-to-hand battle in their convent chamber, the child hath thrown her oft in fair wit of strength;—such rough sport was not indulged in openly and Janet taught her thrusts and flings to broaden her chest and strengthen hip and back; she is stout and strong, and yet she makes one think of a beautiful flower until she falls in anger; then she shows a stout temper as well, and is wilful to all save Janet, who governs her by some strange method I ne'er saw before; for 'tis odd to see servant lead mistress. But, 'twas an awful thing happened me; I knew not, or had forgotten rather, the arrival of the babe Sir John speaks of. As thou knowest, I came home unexpectedly, and I found the letter here. It had arrived some time before, and I read it hastily, told Wasson my duty and passed the letter to a convenient pocket, and thence until the night of the masque forgot all about the arrival of the infant. I was masqued, mad and raving at Christopher for not mending my bag-pipe, and I rushed swearing after him and Mistress Penwick heard my oaths, my broad Scotch ones thou knowest I love to use when in anger. She hates me for it, and I can do naught to win the confidence due me as her rightful guardian. So I have settled upon an immediate espousal—"
"Immediate? Thou marry a child,—'tis unseemly—"
"Nay, 'tis not unseemly; 'tis the most proper thing to do. Janet says so, too, and will urge her to accept me as soon as I wish to wed—which shall be at the earliest moment."
"Janet, indeed! What right has a servant to forward the doings of master and mistress? Thou hadst best wait and have her Grace of Ellswold present her at Court and give the child at least one season in London to improve her convent ways."
"Nay, Constance, if she were to grow one whit more beautiful, 'twould kill me dead."
"I am afraid thou art easily slain; indeed, I never knew beauty was so murderous before. Thou art surely beside thyself; she here alone in this great castle without a mother's love to guide! No one to whom she can tell her troubles! How must the poor child feel to be forced into a marriage she most like—hates;"—and her ladyship's voice took on such a tone of pity one would think she was about to break into tears,—"'tis a barbarous act for thee to talk of marriage so soon to a helpless being."
"There is nothing helpless about Kate, she can take her own part. She hath wit and temper for a half dozen."
"But thou wilt acknowledge if she will have her way she must leave the castle; for thou art bent upon thy way—thou wilt not listen to reason; so, see to it, and wed her straightway if—if thou canst." He was about to answer her with an oath, when suddenly Katherine stood in the half-open door smiling over the top of a great bunch of roses. On Constance' face was a look of triumph, as she noted Cedric's confusion; but Katherine's words put Cedric at ease.
"I was told thou wert ill and that Lord Cedric was uneasy and had come to thee; and I reproached myself for not coming earlier to see if thou wert in need of aught." She placed the vase of roses on a table close. Constance thanked her and took the tapering fingers and hugged them between her own. Katherine looked down upon her thin, arrogant lips; and as there always comes to the innocent—when dealing with those of other mould—a warning, a feeling of repulsion, took possession of her and she withdrew her hand, and, in a moment, her presence.
"'Tis a vision of loveliness more refreshing than the nosegay she brought, thinkest thou not so, Constance?"
"Thou dost see with lover's eyes. How soon wilt thou espouse her; thy house is somewhat taken up by company, who are to remain for the summer, and how wilt thou get through the irksomeness of grand ceremonies without great preparation, for much will be expected of thy wealth and rank?"
"Damme, I'll have no pranks and ceremonies and entertainments; I have not time. I must wed her at once. Canst thou not see, under the circumstances, scandal-mongers will make eyes and prate of wrong for me thus to have a young maid here alone?" Now indeed this thought had not occurred to Constance in just this way; but now it struck her with a mighty force, and she shot at him a piercing glance through the half-closed imperious eyes.
"I had thought of it, but determined mine should not be the first breath to breathe forth scandal, even in private converse with thee; 'twas an awful thing for her to come here knowing of thy youth."
"But she did not know, as that letter and thou thyself can testify."
"But the world—the Court where thou wilt go to hold sway—they know not the circumstances."
"Now, by God, Constance, one would think thou wert an alien to King Charles' Court. If Charles knew I had here this maid and had not yet taken her to wife—why—why, he would take her away himself and laugh me to scorn for my slothfulness. But all London knows by now, as I have sent a message to my solicitors."
"But if she be set upon not marrying thee. What wilt thou do?" Lord Cedric hung his head, as if in profound meditation; then, without raising it, but remaining in a hopeless attitude, said:
"I will guard her from all evil. I will stand between her and harm and wait. And thou must help me, Constance. Wilt thou persuade her?"
"Have I not always taken thy part, even—when thou wert in the wrong?"
When Cedric left Lady Constance, he sought Janet and poured into her willing ears his woes. He feared lest some gallant should win his Kate's love, and Janet must tell him of some way to win it for himself.
Janet now loved Lord Cedric as if he were already Katherine's lord; and she, knowing 'twould be one of the best matches in all England, vowed 'twas best for them to marry at once; beside, Kate, being wilful and having a tendency for men of foreign birth, with nothing in their favour but a small share of good looks and some musical ability, might see fit to plant her affections with such, and 'twas plain mischance would kill Cedric outright, for he was passionate to self-destruction; so when he said: "'Twould be instant death to me, Janet. What wouldst thou advise me to do—thou dost so fully understand her?" she answered him:
"'Tis somewhat the way with maidens to sigh for that not easily attained, and it might serve thee to put forth an indifferent air and incline thy attentions toward another and act a mighty cold lord and coddle not her desires."
"That would take so long a time; I cannot wait. I will speak to her once more, then I will be cold and indifferent as thou sayest. When shall I have an opportunity to speak with her?"
"How soon dost expect the chests with my lady's raiment, my lord?"
"On the morrow they should be here."
"'Tis then she will think of thy goodness, and I will put in a word for thee, and perchance thou wilt come to see if all things came, and 'twill give thee opportunity to speak of other things. She is wanting many things for the Chapel; she wishes to reopen it; and 'tis in matters of religion thy hot tempers will clash, for Mistress Penwick is a Roman Catholic, and thou art of the English Church."
"Thou art a wise Janet! I will turn the people, and they shall become Catholics."
"Nay, if thou dost undertake it, thy people will rise in arms against thee."
"So be it, let her have her way. I'll bother her not in her simple ideas of religion."
"Not so simple, my lord. Thou hast not seen the teachings of nine years take root and spread and grow as I have. Dost think she would allow thy Chaplain to bind thee to her? Nay, she will be wed by none but a priest. But she is kindly intentioned and feels sorry for thy poor Chaplain, who hath so hard a time to keep his flock together. I look any day for her to carry in a cross and hang it behind his pulpit, then—then he will faint away from fright of her."
"Nay, Janet, he will fall down and worship it, and—her."
Mistress Penwick sat in her chamber, trying to calm herself to reason; for the chest had come from London-town laden with splendid raiment; all had been unpacked and examined, and 'twas enough to cure all grievances, the very sight of such adornings; but her ladyship was disappointed that there were no stays. Janet for the time was distraught and said:
"I would that had been sent that would mend thy untowardness and bring thy temper to a comelier mould. 'Tis past time for thee to clothe thyself in that in which thy noble lord hath seen fit to purchase for thee; I heard some moments since the arrival of the hunters and it's time—" There was a sounding rap and 'twas his Lordship's lackey begging the admittance of his master. Janet bade Lord Cedric enter. He came forth in riding-coat and field boots and rattling spurs. Mistress Penwick vouchsafed a nod of recognition and turned her eyes away. The hot blood mounted Cedric's face and at a look at Janet understood all was not well; he essayed to speak with coolness:
"Art not happy with the contents of thy chest, Kate?"
"'Tis more than one could expect, but—sadly it lacked that I wished for most—a thing that marks one as lady and not child in grown-up people's clothes."
"And what might that be, Kate?" for indeed he had forgotten about her order that stays be sent.
"Simple, modest, commonplace stays, my lord," and she said it slowly and with a mighty air.
"Nay, nay—stays they did forget?" and he stamped his foot in seeming wrath and broke forth:—"I'll thrash that damned lackey blue for so forgetting!" and he turned as if to quit the room, but Mistress Penwick ran to stay his hurry.
"Nay, thou wilt not hurt him, 'twas not his fault, 'twas not by his hand the order was writ." And Cedric feigned further show of temper, and Katherine's tapering fingers ventured upon either lapel of his lordship's velvet coat, and he turned red and white and could hardly contain himself with delight. Janet, fearing a confusion of her master's words, put forth her arms and drew away Katherine's hands and said, softly:
"His Lordship will not thrash the lad, if thou wilt don thy most beautiful frock and forget the stays."
"That will I, if 'tis his desire; and—" she looked up into his Lordship's face with a look that was almost tender—"thou wilt say no word to the boy?" His voice was soft and pleading as he answered:
"Anything thou wouldst ask of me thus, thou couldst have it without the asking."
"Then, my lord, when there is aught I would have, I may take it without thy spoken yea?"
"Nay, not so; that would be highway robbery; for thou wouldst take from me the dearest thing that has yet happened to me; 'tis thy sweet pleading for that 'tis already thine."
"'Tis a generous thing for thee to say, but if I might have perfect freedom to do all things as I desire—"
"And what are the 'all things' that thou wouldst desire?"
"I should like to have many changes made in the Chapel, and bring one who is well able to play on the great organ. And 'twould be a wondrous good thing to bring from the village of Crandlemar youths for the training of a choir, such as I have heard are of much repute among the poor lads for strength and sweetness of voice; and after all things are made ready, have the Chapel opened again with pomp of priest and solemn ceremony."
"If such are thy desires, I will put forward the work at once." Now indeed Katherine forgot the sad lack of stays and for the moment forgot all else save that the handsome Cedric stood before her flushed and eager to gratify her every whim. He, one of the richest noblemen in Great Britain, whom she could have for a look; the stretching out of the hand. And she quite well knew that he was ready at the first opportunity to renew the subject of marriage, and for this very thing she turned from him thinking that some time she would consider his proposal. So again he went from her presence with a throbbing in his breast that was half-hope, half-despair and knew not what to do.
'Twas the last ball at Crandlemar Castle, for the hunting season was over. A goodly company gathered from neighbouring shires, and Mistress Pen wick was the mark of all eyes in a sweeping robe of fawn that shimmered somewhat of its brocadings of blue and pink and broiderings of silver. She had decorously plaited a flounce of old and rare lace and brought it close about her shoulders and twined her mother's string of pearls about her white throat, the longer strands reaching below her waistband and caught low again upon the shoulder with a knot of fresh spring violets. Cedric stood apart with his kinsman, his Grace of Ellswold, who enjoyed the freedom of speech of all Charles' Court; indeed it appeared that not only looseness of tongue but morals also held sway in the most remote as well as the best known portions of the kingdom. And at his Grace's first sight of Katherine he uttered an oath and some other expression that savoured of common hackney; for Cedric had been telling him of the soothsayer's words.
"The soothsayer spoke false and I'll wager thee the East Forest thou hast coveted against thy Welsh demesne. I tell thee, Cedric, a jewel hast thou found. Never have I seen her equal. And that is John Penwick's daughter!" and he took a great pinch of snuff and looked at Cedric. "She will make thee a fine wife,—but who is the man that dangles after her now? Indeed, I would say thou hadst better watch out for him. I do not like the look in his eyes; he is—"
"Egad, uncle! I would as soon think of being jealous of—of thee. He is Constance' cousin from Russia, and as she is staying here for some time, at her request I asked him also. Bah! I could never imagine him as a rival!"
"Well, so be it; but how about the wager of the East Forest?"
"Thou art on the winning side. So thou couldst not wager without an opponent, and 'twill be futile to find one, lest thou dost charge upon some landless bumpkin."
"And how soon wilt thou espouse her?"
"At the first moment of her consent—"
"Consent 'tis thou art waiting for? Thou hadst better keep her close; for if his Majesty gains inkling of such fresh, young beauty and finds her out of bans, 'twill go hard with thee to sword thy way to a lady in waiting or—perhaps——"
"'Sdeath, by God! I had not thought of that! 'Twould be too bold and out of place, she being under my guardianship, to press her to espousal without fair consent;—but I know best; 'twould be for her own safety, is it not so, uncle?"
"If she knows naught of the frailties of all mankind and the Court in particular, I should say as thou art her rightful guardian and the suitor chosen of her father, and 'twas thy wish for her immediate espousal, 'twould best serve thee to use all manner of means to gain her consent, and if this prove abortive, I would abduct the maid and have thy Chaplain ready to marry thee to her; and after he pronounces thee man and wife, what can she do but love thee straightway for thy strong handling; 'tis the way of women. I would marry such a beauty in haste, ere another takes the vantage."
Lord Cedric chose Mistress Penwick for the brantle and led her forth. They moved with such majestic grace, they attracted all eyes. It seemed Cedric could not contain himself for love of Kate, and he vowed to gain her ear this very night and know for a certainty if she would ever marry with him.
It pleased Mistress Penwick to dance with Cedric, for she was more at ease with him than any other, and she was hardly pleased when he bade her rest and took her to another room, where they were quite alone. But she would not sit down, and stood fanning and smiling up into his face, saying half pettishly:
"Thou art soon tired; the brantle has just begun."
"Kate, hast thou patience?"
"Aye, but 'tis of dwarfish mould."
"Kate, dost love any human being?"
"Aye, 'tis a poor thing that loves not."
"Dost love me, Kate?"
"As a father or brother and as one should love her father's best friend."
"Then—give me a—kiss as thou wouldst give thy brother." The hot blood suffused her face. At sight of it, Cedric's heart leapt with a mighty gladness.
"Not having had a brother, I know not how to give that thou askest;—and 'tis unseemly of thee to ask for that that makes one blush for very shame to be questioned of."
"Blushes are not always for shame—'tis for love, sometimes. Kate, 'tis time I knew thy heart, for thou knowest I am about to die for love of thee. Dost not understand that thy father wished thee to marry at an early age and to marry the son of his bosom friend to whom he gave his daughter's keeping?"
"Nay, he said naught of my marriage with thee, as he knew not thou wert in existence."
"Aye, of a truth he hath done so; it is here next my heart," and he drew forth Sir John's letter. "Wilt read but the lines I show thee; for there are secrets belonging to thy father and me alone?" He marked the lines with his jewelled finger, his love locks falling against her cheek as she read: "My last wish and the one of greatest import to my child is that thou find for her a spouse of rank and fortune. 'Tis my desire she marry early to such an one.—Ah! Cedric, if thou had hadst a son, their union would have been our delight—"
"Ah! ah!" and Katherine's eyes grew wide. "Thou hast said naught of this—as it appears here before me now; and it might have been too late."
"Too late! What meanest thou?"
"The noble—nay, now I cannot tell thee, for 'tis a secret but half mine."
"My God! who dares have secrets with thee save thy nurse and guardian; whose damned heart hath played the lover to thee?" His hand fell upon his sword and he drew it half way. "What guest hath so dishonoured name as to make profit of that I have already made known as my espoused? Tell me, Kate!" Seeing her frightened eyes, that were justly so, he pushed back the jewelled hilt and threw his arm about her and drew her close, so close she was well-nigh crushed by his warm and passionate embrace and choked by pulverulent civet as her face was pressed against the folds of his steenkirk. She felt the tumultuous beating of his heart, and 'twas a great, new feeling came to her and she trembled and swayed, and loved and hated both, in one brief moment and drew from him and looked with angry eyes. "Kate, Kate, what saidst the false lover; tell me every word. Did he ask thee for espousal?" Now Mistress Penwick faltered and flushed, for she dare not tell him who her suitor was and thought if she told him well what was said, he would not press her for name, and 'twas meet she should tell him truthfully. She feared his hot temper not a little, for she had heard that one time he locked Lady Constance in the tower for two whole days for telling him a falsehood.
"Aye, he asked me to espouse him."
"And what didst thou say?"
"I said him nay, 'twas too soon to wed, 'twould be wiser to speak a year hence."
"And what answer did he make thee?"
"He said the king's sister, Princess Mary, when but ten married William, Prince of Orange, and—"
"And what?" said Cedric, leaning forward his hand upon his sword, a curse between his white teeth and a line of light from between his half-closed lids like the flashing of a two-edged sword. "What—'sdeath?" And Kate trembled forth—
"And fifteen was none too soon to wed."
"And did he say naught else appertaining thereto?"
"Nay, I know naught else he could say!" and the innocence of her inquiring face proved his evil imagining a perjury. He caught his breath in a flutter of sheer heart's-ease.
"Now who is this swain who hath taken advantage of my invitation and come up from among the rustics yonder to make love to thee? I will run him through the first time I meet his insolence. Who is he, Kate; what's his name?" She vouchsafing no answer, aroused his suspicion.
"'Sdeath! what ails thy tongue? Haste thee, what is his name?" and he glared at her, furiously, 'til she was well nigh cold with fright.
"Sooth, thou art strong with temper for the very meagre cause a maiden will not bewray a poor man's name."
"Poor, indeed, when such as thou bestoweth upon him the priceless gift of thy heart as a locker for his secrets; by God! give his name, quick, ere I slay a dozen for one paltry fool that would rob me!" She read aright the steely light 'neath his half-closed lids and was distraught, for she dared not give him the name of one of his guests; for the noble Russian Adrian Cantemir had pressed his suit and was upheld by Lady Constance, who told him of Katherine's vast demesne, knowing well he could not marry one without estates, as his were in great depletion. And the noble Cantemir had well nigh won her heart by his voice and music, and now that he was in danger of Lord Cedric's anger, he became an object of commiseration, and not for her life would she give his name to this raging man with murder in his heart.
"Nay, nay, my lord; give me grace. I have told thee truly all else, and now I beg—"
"Dost thou say thou wilt not give his name? Then, by God, I will cut my way to his black heart!" He drew his sword and strode forth to slash the curtain that barred his way, and Katherine caught his upstretched arm and fell upon her knees, bursting into tears. At sight of tears and touch of fingers he dropped his sword and raised her quickly, saying:
"Nay, nay, not tears. Dry them, Sweet, they wring my heart to greater pain than all thy secrets, and for this one thou boldest I will take thy shoulder-knot instead." She looked up surprised at the sudden surcease of storm, and seeing his handsome face becalmed, she wondered at the magic that had caused it, and her heart smote her for withholding aught from one that loved her so. She hastily drew from her shoulder the knot of violets that were still humid with freshness; and as she drew the fastenings the lace fell from her shoulder, disclosing her too-low cut bodice, and Cedric's quick eye saw why the screen of lace was used, and with trembling fingers caught up the lace and drew from his steenkirk a rare jewel and pinned it safe as deftly as her maid. He touched her hand with his warm red lips, saying in a voice resonant as music: "God bless thee, Kate, for thy sweet modesty!" He thought if the modish beauties in yonder rooms could boast of such perfect charm, 'twould not be hid by a fall of lace and a shoulder knot of violets. And he pressed the nosegay to his heart and left them there, folded within her father's letter. A calmness settled upon him, such as had not come to him heretofore, and trembling with happiness he led Katherine forth in the brantle; she feeling quite like an heroine for being able to hold her secret from this passionate man.
For all the convent had environed Mistress Pen wick with sacred influences, and she had absorbed its most potent authority, religion, yet even that was not efficacious to the annihilating that 'twas born within; and one can but excuse the caprice and wantonness of a coquette, when 'tis an inheritance. She adhered pertinaciously to the requirements of a lady of title, and loved opulence and luxury and admiration. She foresaw—young as she was and reared as she had been with all simpleness—an opportunity, being a noblewoman and the ward of a wealthy titled gentleman, to become a favourite at Court. This idea, however, was not altogether original; for Lady Constance had given her a graphic description of her presentation, and the requirements due to all ladies of note. And while Katherine fully intended to carry out her father's wishes for an early and noble marriage; yet she felt there was no haste; she was sure it would be his desire for her to enjoy one of those seasons at Court she had heard so much converse of. 'Tis not much wonder, having been so short a time in the great world and having won the hearts of two noblemen, she should wish for fresh fields to conquer. But now was not the time for a trip to London, for spring was upon them and there was much to look after in Crandlemar. His Lordship had sadly neglected his duties in keeping up the village and looking after the poor. The church must be built up. It had not occurred to her that there were other religions beside the Catholic; and when Lord Cedric's chaplain made known to her the difficulties of arranging Catholic orders in a Protestant Church, she could not understand. Janet explained to her what she would be compelled to surmount to bring her religion to be the accepted one in Crandlemar. Again her mind was turned to Count Adrian, and she thought 'twould be well to wed with one of her own faith, and he was as warm a Catholic as herself. Cedric was a Protestant and a very poor one, indeed it seemed he had no religion. And yet he had told her that he petitioned not to God for aught; but 'twas his diurnal duty to thank Him for His benevolence and chastening; ever deeming chastisement the surety of his alien thought or action, and he speedily mended his ways or made an effort to; but what great sin he had committed that her love should not be given him was more than he could tell, and he should keep on trying to find out what his faults were, that he might receive that he wished for most. He wrangled not of religion, but ever kept the divine spark in his own heart alive, if not fanned to flame. Indeed so indifferent was his Lordship to the great questions of the times, he thought not of the ancient monastery in the depths of the vast forest upon his estate, where still resided recluses. 'Twas seldom he thought of these simple monks. They lived in seeming quiet, enjoying the freehold of their castle. But there was a storm brewing, and in its midst his Lordship was to be severely reminded of their presence.
THE ANCIENT MONASTERY
Lord Cedric's guests all departed after the Saxon dance, save their Graces of Ellswold, Lady Constance, Lady Bettie Payne and Count Cantemir. And with their exit spring seemed to burst forth in sward, bourgeon and bud, and the clinging tendrils upon the castle walls grew heavy and pink with their greedy absorption of carbon dioxide from the warm atmosphere. It seemed the unfolding of nature brought ten times more pain and uneasiness and mad love to Lord Cedric's heart. He had not yet learned who had been talking to Katherine of love. Janet had mentioned Adrian Cantemir; he had laughed at her. Constance had pointed to Lord Droylsden, a man of distinction and strong personality, whose estates joined his own. This appeared more plausible than the suit of Cantemir, and his Lordship watched Katherine when she was with these two and soon found, so he thought, it was for the latter she cared; indeed 'twas hard for him to follow the trend of her vacillating mind.
'Twas a glorious, warm spring morning. Mistress Penwick had ridden forth, attended by a groom, to the village. She spent the entire morning in visiting the poor and sick and did not fail to note the dilapidated state of the cottages. She rode home flushed and eager with plans. She made known to Lord Cedric her desires to build up these poor cottages. Without question he doubled the amount of money she asked for, and paid her a large sum for immediate use among the poor. Katherine's heart was touched by his goodness to her, and spoke with more warmth than 'twas her wont and opined 'twould be a glorious afternoon for their ride in the forest! He had kept his eyes steadily from her; for 'twas his mood to play the disinterested and unconcerned; but at this innovation on her part he raised his eyes and spoke indifferently:
"Aye, if this weather continues, we will have roses in a fortnight."
"Speaking of roses reminds me; as I started forth this morning I saw a gardener upon the upper terrace trimming about some bushes of wonderful grace and beauty, and as I stepped among them I saw an ancient sundial; 'tis the first I've yet seen, and I made bold to ask him to plant some rare rose near it, that its leaves and blossoms might enfold its cold marble whiteness and warm it to greater beauty."
"And didst not thou suggest some choice?"
"Nay; just so 'twas healthy and prolific of bloom."
"Then as thou hast named a rose, I will name its kind!"
He smiled significantly, and the hot blood flushed his cheek. She came a step nearer and bent toward the table before him, her riding dress wrapping her perfect mould.
"One thing more I would ask thee; 'tis that I might have a bolder steed, the one thou gavest me is not near spiritful enough for one who wishes to ride well and gayly. I would have one that shakes his head and rattles his bit and stamps about uneasily." This was more than his Lordship could stand, and he broke forth in a mirthful laugh,—
"Thou shalt have the most buoyant palfrey can be found; he shall have a wicked black eye, and—an honest heart for his mistress." Cedric arose and bent gracefully to the fingers of Katherine as she held them out to him, then turned quickly to the fire and crushed a half-famished ember beneath his heel as he heard her cross the threshold. A moment after he strode out upon the upper terrace to the gardener, who stood with bared head as his Lordship gave command to plant by the dial a bridal rose.
The afternoon was glorious with the scent of a million shooting sprouts, and delicate with the perfume of violets. But the sunshine of the day was not to stay, for the party from the castle were scarce three miles within the confines of the forest when the sun became overcast. But they rode on, however, taking delight in the fine air, and caring naught of cloud and threatening weather.
They soon came to intricate windings of the forest path, where two might not ride side by side, and as the Duke of Ellswold rode in behind his wife, he suddenly reeled and would have fallen had it not been for his groom. They all turned quickly save Mistress Penwick and Adrian, who had made the sharp turn and were galloping forward. Cedric bade a lackey ride with all speed to the castle for a coach; and as the anxious group waited, they wondered somewhat that Katherine and Cantemir did not return. And Cedric's heart, while well-nigh taken up by his uncle's state, had still room for jealousy, and he grew hot with anger that for once he kept hid under the semblance of anxiety.
His Grace was tenderly lifted and taken to the conveyance that waited upon the broader road some distance away. The little caravan moved slowly, and before it reached the castle the wind began to blow furiously, bringing heavy showers.
The physician from Crandlemar had been summoned, and after a hurried examination gave them encouragement, saying that the duke had probably been riding too fast and his condition was not dangerous.
A courier had been despatched for his Grace's physicians and all things done for his comfort; and Cedric for the time relieved from the anxiety of actual and impending danger concerning his kinsman, now felt the full force of his disappointment in Mistress Penwick's absence with Cantemir. He determined to ride forth in quest; and with a groom laden with all sorts of cloaks for her protection from the storm, that now raged furiously, started, feeling naught but the pain at his heart.
The Catholics and Protestants being at variance throughout the kingdom, and there were passing constantly under cover of forests and unfrequented highways groups of riotous men of both parties; for the life of him Cedric could not tell with which party he would rather his Katherine would come in contact—she unattended save by a modish fop.
After reaching the depths of the forest, 'twas no easy matter to find the exact paths they had traversed in the afternoon. The groom carried a lantern, but 'twas Lord Cedric's order not to light it. There were shooting lodges and forester's cabins, other abodes there were none save the old monastery, and to which of these places to go was left altogether to the toss of a penny. Beside, they were not sure of finding a shooting lodge, should they start for it; the night was so black and the paths so numerous and winding. Very often Cedric would stop and listen for the tramp of horses' feet; but there was naught save the occasional cracking of twigs as some wild thing jumped from the roadside frightened, or the stir of the high wind in the giant trees. On they rode, and Cedric's heart was first sorry for his kinsman's ills, then—he would rant because Katherine had taken no notice of his importunities, and he swore under his breath in good, round Scotch oaths for his allowing her to go thus long without espousal; and again he looked at the matter dispassionately. She was a very young maid, without the protection of womankind of her own rank or an aged guardian. Then began to find fault, and on a sudden saw she loved admiration, and this sin became unpardonable and he became so wrought upon, he swore he would lock her in the tower until she consented to their espousal. Then he thought of Janet's words as he left her but a short time before: "I would vouch for her innocence with my life! Be not harsh with her, my lord!" and he ground his teeth in rage for his espionage of her. Then he thought of the king and what if she came under his eye,—"Ah, 'sdeath! 'twould make me mad!" and he laid spur to his horse and galloped on with hot curses in his throat.
How long or how far they had ridden 'twas impossible to tell, until suddenly they saw a light and at once Lord Cedric knew they were at the monastery. He halted instantly and dismounted. Throwing the reins to the groom, he crept cautiously forward alone. To his astonishment he beheld a great number of horses about the enclosure, and he became still more cautious. "'Tis a Catholic rendezvous, by God!" said he.
He followed close to the wall, and was about to reach the window when the door was thrown wide open and a group of three stood upon the threshold. Two of them, Cedric saw, as the light from within fell upon their faces, were noted leaders of the Catholic party, the other was a monk, and 'twas he that was speaking. His voice was low and intense:
"If his Majesty has but one glimpse, he will pitch the Castlemaine overboard. This one is a religionist of no common order and will do much for the cause; and when she has done this thing, I shall do all I can to withdraw her from further communication with Charles. She shall not become one of his household, she is too good for that."
"'Twas rare luck that brought her to thine abode this afternoon, for our case was well-nigh hopeless, and soon it would have been too late, for once Sir John gets to this country—sh! Didst hear something stir hereabout?"
"Nay, 'twas naught but the wind; but when thou dost speak of Penwick, thou hadst better whisper."
"'Twas a pity we came not earlier according to agreement, and we should have feasted our eyes upon the beauty."
"If thou hadst been one-half hour sooner, thou wouldst have seen her with the gay youth that will give her little peace 'til she doth say the word. I tell thee both, the Virgin Mary doth plead our cause, and no doubt 'twas through her agency the rain came upon the maid and drove her here. We offered special prayer to Holy Mary this morning. And the youth with her is also of the only religion. Mistress Penwick was greatly frightened of my Lord Cedric; for she would go forth in the heart of the storm, fearing a longer stay would bring uneasiness to the castle; so I gave her protection, a guide and a promise to receive her in a few days for the confessional and some religious direction; and I feel sure she will visit me within the week."
"'Tis an easy way to reach the king's heart; he doth so love a pretty face and fine parts; and we may be able to use the youth as well—eh?" They said a good-night and passed on to their steeds, mounting and riding away.
The monk returned to those within, and Cedric hurried away, anxious only to see Katherine once more,—to behold her once again with his own eyes and never, never again would he allow her to leave him. He would not be turned aside again from his purpose, she must come to his terms at once. Then he fretted and fumed, fearing she had fallen under the stormy blast and had taken cold, and perhaps would have a fever. Then he grew hot and angry with her for riding so fast and beyond ear-shot of the company. And jealousy and all evil passions took possession of him.
Meanwhile Mistress Penwick had arrived at the castle, and was grieved when she heard of his Grace's condition, and sorry she had ridden ahead and was so late getting home.
Janet had hurried her to her chamber and disrobed her of wet garments, and bathed her in hot and cold baths, and was rubbing her with perfumed olive oil when Lord Cedric arrived.
He went to his uncle's bedside, and finding him resting, quietly hastened to his own apartments and sent to inquire of Mistress Penwick.
'Twas Janet's pleasure to answer her lord's inquiry in person, and after swathing her lady in fine flannels, she hastened to Lord Cedric's presence.
She found him standing in satin breeches, silk hose and buckled high-heeled shoes, and shirt of sheer white lawn and rare lace. He raised his drooping eyelids lazily, and looked at Janet as he lifted from the dressing-table before him rings—rare jewelled—and adjusted them on his white fingers. At his side was a valet, placing fresh sachets filled with civet within false pockets of the satin lining of his lord's waistcoat. The cold, proud gleam from Cedric's dark orbs daunted not Janet. She courtesied with grave respect. There was that in her eyes, as she raised them, that called for the dismissal of the lackeys. As they passed beyond to the ante-chamber, she approached and spoke low in tones vibrant with suppressed emotion.
"My lord, as I am with thee in the chiefest thought of thine heart, I make bold to inform thee of a virulent action that is about to be made against thee; one flagrant of state intrigue and court duplicity."
"Damme, what now?" and his Lordship leaned heavily upon the table; the conversation at the monastery recurring to his mind with force as Janet proceeded.
"Not being able to contain my anxiety for Mistress Penwick, I wrapt myself and went forth in the storm to watch and listen for aught of her return. I passed some little distance within the confines of the forest, and was soon put upon my guard by the approaching tramp of horses' feet, and then, low-keyed voices, and in very truth I thought my lady was come; instead, three horsemen came within a few feet of my hiding and one said,—'We are even now hard by the Castle courtyard; 'tis possible the lackeys are waiting for the beauty who is perchance now started from the monastery. Didst ever see such beauty?' They halted and dismounted some distance from the open road. Then one said,—''Twill send his Majesty to madness when he sees before him such perfect mould, suing for his most gracious clemency toward our cause.' ''Tis a wonder my lord of Crandlemar does not take such beauty to wife,' said another. 'He may bid her farewell when once her fame reaches the Court; and 'twill be there in less than two days from this hour. Who will remain with the despatches while we find that rascal Christopher?' ''Twill best serve for one to go, and two guard the horses and bags. Thou hadst best go, Twinkham, thou art as subtle as the wind. Prod the villain Christopher to haste and enjoin upon him secrecy in the name of His Most Catholic Majesty, the Pope,—and do not thou be hindered by some scullion wench.' These things I heard, well-seasoned with imprecation against the king. I hastened from the rendezvous to my chamber and thought upon it, and—and there is naught can be done, unless thou wed Mistress Penwick straightway."
His Lordship fell into furious rage, and vowed he would sever Christopher's head from his rotting body with a cleaver, and honour him not with a thought of Tyburn Hill. He would burn yonder monastery and all within to ashes for the wind to carry away; and he would lock Katherine in the tower with his own hands; and he started toward the door, half-dressed as he was, and flung it wide open.
Her Grace of Ellswold stood upon the threshold with a warning finger raised.
"Thou hast a clamourous tongue, Cedric; the doctor hath enjoined silence, as holding for the moment the greatest good for his Grace."
"Now God forgive me! I was so wrought upon by foul communication I am well nigh distraught.—How is his Grace?"
"He is resting quietly; but I thought but now, as I heard thy voice—indistinctly, 'tis true,—his pulse did flutter extraly."
"Dear aunt, forgive; thou shalt not be thus annoyed again." He turned and strode up and down the room with bent head.
Janet watched him narrowly, wondering the while that any female, of whatsoever age, could withstand such fine mould, masculine grace and handsome features; such strong heart and hot blood. What maid beside her Lambkin would not be overjoyed to see him so mad with love of her? Who could resist kneeling before him and pleading, and watch his anger take flight; and feel his strong arms raise her and fold the maiden bosom to his heart, where 'twould throb and flutter as he held it close pressed—ah! 'twas not his anger that would kill, nay! nay! 'twas his tender passion.
"Janet, these are troublous times come upon us. They have come within these walls. We have traitors about us. That knave Christopher shall die by the hand of the lowest scullion in the kitchen; for 'twould dishonour a better to mix with blood of swine. And thou wilt take thy mistress to the tower and there be bolted in, and 'twill be given out that her ladyship is ill and must needs have quiet—"
"If my lord values her health, 'twould be best to put her in a less windy chamber; the room is large and ill-heated for damp, spring days."
"Canst keep her safe where she is?"
"Aye, leave it to me, my lord."
"And thou shalt allow of no communication with those outside, save her Grace, and Angel thou canst rely upon—stay—thou mayest allow Constance to keep my lady company."
"Nay, my lord, I would refute the idea of safety in my Lady Constance."
"'Sdeath, what meanest thou; art thou also turned from serving me?"
"My lord, dost remember the night thou didst have dancers from London? Lady Constance sat late with Mistress Penwick, and at last complained of thirst and they two stole below stair and I followed, and as if by accident Lady Constance brought Mistress Katherine to the curtained archway, and she saw thee swaying in thy cups, and after a while my lady led mistress to her room while she hastened away to a room apart and donned the garb of one of the dancing maids and came to thee as a gipsy, and she told thee false things concerning Mistress Penwick—"
"Is what thou sayest true, or is't thou art going mad?"
"'Tis true, my lord, as Mistress Penwick will tell thee if thou carest to ask."
"And Constance would do such an act?—" he spoke half aloud and incredulously,—"Nay, I cannot and do not believe it! Thou must have dreamt it, Janet,—and yet,—I did have like visions!—Thou art right; no one shall see thy mistress, no one, mind, but Angel and her Grace. 'Tis possible the king may send for me within a few days; and if so, I must go and leave thee to fight the battle alone. Art able, Janet?"
"Trust me, my lord."
"I can trust thee, good Janet. Look after her health; keep the windows open for fine air, but let her not go from her chamber. How thinkest thou she will take such imprisonment?"
"She will be angry, but so proud she will not petition for freedom; she may even brag 'tis to her liking to be so rid of thee."
"'Sdeath, Janet, thy tongue can cut! Dost believe she cares a jot for my anger?"
"Nay, not a jot, for 'tis the outcome of love, and 'tis my noble lady Innocence that is well aware that thy anger will fall to spray when she hath a notion to turn the tide."
"Nay, not again shall she win from me aught but cold looks 'til she hath a mind to espouse me;—and yet my mind was made up to marry, whether she consented or not; for the time has come when the one who waits will wait still, and the one who rushes on, will take the prize, whether by foul or fair means;—but nothing can be done to-night. In the meantime I will steel my heart to harsh deeds, and, by God! I will bear out my course. Janet, go now to thy mistress, and should I be despatched for before I see thee again, there will be no one here to defend her as thou canst do. Thou must not allow the servants to attend upon her; thou must do it all thyself—a sweet duty! so, 'tis left thee to defend with thy quick wit."
'Twas near noon the next day that Mistress Penwick arose and would prepare her for a ride to the village, when Janet told her of the imprisonment imposed upon her for safety. She at once became angry and accused her nurse of being a traitor and tool for Lord Cedric.
"Nay, Lambkin, in truth, there are dark deeds abroad. Those monastery celibates, who are well equipped to bandy with their equals, are mere braying bumpkins when they have to do with embroidered waistcoats and amorous hearts. They have surreptitiously corrupted one of Lord Cedric's lackeys and the fellow is condemned to die."
"Condemned to die! and who hath done the condemning, pray?"
"His master, to be sure!"
"Ah! if he should put forth the accomplishment of such a deed, 'twould be the act of a barbarian. What are the charges against him?"
"Just what it is I know not; but my lord deems the charge most grave and—he may be even now dead."
"Janet, thou dost so frighten me. Does the matter concern my lord's person,—is his life in danger?"
"Not his life but his love; 'tis for thy sake he does it."
"For my sake!—then it shall not be done; I will see to it. Let me go to Lord Cedric straightway."
"His orders would not permit it."
"For shame, Janet; to save a man's life? Let me go; I am not afraid of his anger."
"'Tis impossible; he would send me away if I disobeyed him."
"Then thou must bring him here, Janet."
"'Twill do no good to see him; he will not come. He is thoroughly out of all patience with thy perverseness,—thou wilt never find another such a noble lord and one 'twill love thee with such love;—and for a face and figure—well, thou art surely blind to masculine beauty;—and should his Grace go hence, my lord will be his Grace of Ellswold, and second to none in the realm; he will become as much to the king as the Duke of Buckingham, and will far outshine Monmouth and Shaftesbury."
"Nay, Janet, he will ne'er become great when he doth so confuse justice with viciousness;—but, nurse, I would have thee haste. Tell my lord that I beg his presence, if for a moment only; he surely would not refuse so trifling a request."
"But it is not trifling, as he well knows thou art upon the keen edge of want before thou wilt so much as smile upon him." At the moment there struck upon Mistress Penwick's ears the tramp of horses' feet, and straightway she ran to the window and leant out and saw Cedric about to ride forth.
"My lord, my lord!" she cried, and dropped a rose to attract him. His horse sprung aside and trod upon it; but Cedric looked up and saw the anxious face embrazured by ivy-clad sill; and with involuntary courtesy he speedily uncovered and waited thus her pleasure.
"May I have a word with thee, my lord?"
"Indeed, Mistress, it doth rack me with pleasure to accord thee so slight a service," and he dismounted quickly and strode into the great hall and bounded up the oaken stairway. It seemed to Mistress Penwick, as she heard his rattling spurs, that 'twas a sound of strength, and she felt a happy, exultant tremour, knowing her cause already won. But for once there was not wisdom in her conceit. She made a sweeping courtesy as he entered. He bent low before her, waiting her first words.
"My lord, wilt thou permit me to inquire somewhat of thy mercy?"
"Thou dost make me insolvent of such a quality when thy keen penetration doth not discover, without inquiry, its existence." She was not daunted by his severe answer, but flushed slightly at his imperturbance.
"Then, if thou dost acknowledge thyself so pampered, I beg thou wilt conjoin to justice its semblance and forgive thy poor servant the penalty of death."
"Ah! ah! and 'tis Christopher's cause thou art pleading. Happy Christopher!" he sighed deeply. "If the King would thus condemn me, Mistress Penwick wouldst thou thus care for me?"
"The query is of that so premature 'twould be impossible to frame a reply,—hence I beg to continue converse upon an affair thoroughly elaborated and arranged."
"'Twould grieve me to say at once 'nay'; for that would end at once for me these supreme moments in thy presence; however, I will repeat the adverb of negation with a rising inflection that thou mayst continue with amplification."
"Dost thou mean to discontinue converse with me?"
"Nay, I beg not."
"Then thou meanest thou wilt not forgive thy poor servant, and wilt impose such extreme penalty; and further importunities would be useless?"
"I forgive the dead all things."
"My lord, he is not already dead?" and she fell from him aghast.
"Nay, but soon will be."
Mistress Penwick saw no softening in Cedric's manner, and she became alarmed and threw some tenderness in her voice and spoke softly, that she might lead or manage her lord by gentleness and tact.
"My lord, do not look so cold and hard." She drew nearer and her voice became more pleading. "'Tis a little thing for thee to grant me this one desire. I beg with all my heart for thy servant's life."
"Nay, I have given order for his despatch before sunset."
"Nay, nay, my lord, I beg." She came close to him and laid one hand caressingly upon the silver fastenings of his coat and he turned white and trembled and caught her hand within his own and bent down and pressed his lips to her fingers. She saw her advantage and followed it close.
"Wilt grant me this one thing, my lord, and I will hold myself—ready to—hear thy suit renewed—if thou so will it?" His voice vibrant and low with passion he could hardly restrain, broke forth,—
"Kate, Kate, I could not call so base a life worthy of thy consideration, and I could not grant thee that 'twould sully thy sweet tongue to barter for."
"Thou art most unrelenting, my lord!" The maid was angry for having offered her lord the privilege of renewing his suit; which he didn't seem inclined to do; and finding her pleadings were of no avail, and being angry and annoyed, she broke into tears, knowing of a certainty she would now have her way, even though her dignity was lowered. Cedric could not stand and see her thus; he turned from her quickly and was about to leave her, when she called to him almost impatiently,—
"My lord, wilt grant his life until the morrow?" He hesitated, then turned and bowing low, murmured,
"Until the morrow, Kate," and left the chamber.
SIR JULIAN POMPHREY
"Now time is something to have gained! Janet, thou must go to yonder monastery and bring a priest to shrive Christopher."
"And how didst thou know Christopher was shriveable?"
"'Tis unseemly of thee to make jest of divine ordinances."
"Nay, I would not jest but know where 'twas thou learnt of his religion?"
"All of the Catholic faith know one another by intuition; 'tis God-given."
"Then thou didst also know him to be a rascal?"
"Neither do I know it now. Wilt thou not find some way to bring a priest hither? Pray, Janet, do; for if I let it go past, 'twill bring me miserable thoughts and wicked dreams. Janet, thou didst once love me and hadst a fond way of anticipating my desires; but thou hast on a sudden forgotten thine whilom usages. Beshrew thee for falling away from thine old friends and taking up with new ones. Lord Cedric's nurse watches him from morn until eve and deigns not to cajole him or win his desires from their natural bent."
"'Tis wisely said; for his desires are inclined in the right direction. 'Twas but last night when he was well-nigh distraught with thy absence with the Russian Jew that doth ogle thee, that Angel brought his riding-cloak and threw it over his shoulders as he tore up and down his chamber; and she said, lowly,—'Go, my lord, 'twill ease thy mind to ride,' and he flew to horse. She is ever helping him to thee."
"And now I would have thee to help me to my lord's good graces and my desires; but thou art evil bent."
"Nay, my precious Lambkin, if I could I would help thee this night to the nuptial altar; but as to helping thee to thy desires, 'twould be helping thy peace of mind and him to utter ruin; and such calamity would render thy young life incomplete; for without this noble lord thy perfectness will be unfinished."
"Cease carving epitaphs, Janet, and help me assist this poor unfortunate. How long will my lord be gone?"
"He has only gone to the village to meet the workmen who were to renovate the nurseries and ride home with Lady Constance, who rode away early this morning when thou were dreaming of Russia."
"Then I will write him my petition, and thou shalt give it to Angel to give my lord, immediately upon his return." She sat down with parchment and quill and wrote rapidly; and as Janet noticed not, she wrote two letters instead of one. The first she folded evenly and put beneath a book, the other she gave to Janet, who took it and left the chamber to seek Angel. Mistress Penwick, thus left alone, wondered how she should convey her other letter to Count Adrian. She approached the window, and lo! upon the upper terrace paced her Grace of Ellswold and Cantemir. 'Twas not the first hour that day the latter had so paraded the sward, ever and anon casting glances toward Mistress Penwick's windows. Again he glanced up and saw her wave a white paper and immediately leave the window. He guessed at once 'twas something more than indisposition that held her to her room. Again she looked; they had turned from the window. She flung forth the paper and it floated down as Janet came into the room.
'Twas late that evening Katherine sat in peignoir and unbound hair, ready for retiring, when there came a soft rap and a pleading voice asking for admission. Now Janet was not one whit afraid of double dealing when she was present, and being proud of Mistress Penwick and not wishing it to appear that she was a prisoner, she opened the door and in came Lady Constance smiling and shy, a hollow-hearted creature of the world. Now it so happened that Lady Constance had kept herself from Katherine for some little time, wishing not to be disturbed by the maid's beauty; as it usually stirred her to frenzy and she wanted perfect quiet for calm reasoning. It took some time to plan her campaign that was already full started, and she now came forth from her chamber refreshed, the course of her slothful blood hastened; her eyes gleamed with impatience for action; her whole being changed, rejuvenated, filled with a new life. She came also with a full knowledge of all that had taken place in the interim of her absence from Katherine. She came well prepared for a bout, and blushed not at the subterfuges and mean, paltry artifices, aye, a full battery of chicaneries that awaited her use, as she crossed the maid's chamber threshold. "'All is fair in love and war,'" she quoted—"'Tis an egregious platitude adopted alike by king and fool!"
"I could not sleep without first seeing thee and knowing thy condition. It must be more than hard for thee to keep thy chamber?" said Constance.
"Nay, thou art wrong; the convent doth inure one to quiet and solitude."
"Dost think thy ailments will allow thee to go abroad on the morrow?"
"I know not, I am at Janet's mercy and I cannot leave my seclusion without her permission. I feel quite well, but Janet says I am ill."
"Oh! that I had a nurse to so fondle me; indeed, she has kept all looks of illness from thee; thy face is as clear as if thou hadst been fed on wild honey all thy days;—and such hair! Dost leave it thus for the night?"
"The tangles would never submit, should I so leave it."
"'Tis my delight to fuss with hair and thine is so beauteous—" she arose and went to Katherine and smoothed the amber threads—"See, when I turn it thus, 'tis like rare bronze, and when I place it to the light, 'tis a glorious amber. May I plait it for thee,—I should love so much to do it?"
"If 'twill give thee pleasure thou mayest assuredly plait it," replied Katherine. Janet now watched for a whispered word or some sign of intercourse; but her vigilance was of no avail, for Lady Constance deftly placed a tiny paper in Mistress Penwick's hair and plaited tightly over it.
"'Tis such a pleasure to fuss with hair—and such fine threads, too; indeed, I have half a mind to become a peruquier,—there, 'tis finished!"
"How is his Grace, Lady Constance?"
"He bids fair to pass a comfortable night,—'tis too bad his physicians cannot arrive before the day after the morrow. They have also sent for Sir Julian Pomphrey—a favourite of the duke and an intimate and college fellow of Lord Cedric. Sir Julian is a most wonderful man. When but nine years of age, he entered Eton school, and having pursued his studies there with great success for one of such light years, he was sent to travel upon the continent, where he studied in Geneva for some time; thence he went to Florence, remaining there many months,—afterward visiting Rome and Geneva and other continental cities of note. He returned to England a scholar, a soldier, a gallant, a conqueror of female hearts,—in brief, he holds all the requirements of a charming cavalier of King Charles' Court. He has modish habits that so completely masque his strong will and determination that before one is aware they are caught and wound in the meshes of his duplicity. He is a literate, poet and musician."
"Thou dost indeed stir me to great interest, Lady Constance; he must be a wonderful man. It seems we seldom have so many great qualities in one human being. He must be quite along in years?"
"Nay, not at all! His very youthfulness is what makes him such a wonder. If I remember rightly, he is but two years senior of Cedric, and I will venture there is not ten pounds' difference in their weight. They are very much the same mould, and their voices blend as one, but Cedric has the handsomer face. Sir Julian, however, has a countenance of no common order; 'tis like a rock of strength already well lined and marked by the passions that have swayed him to battle and death or—perchance a lover's intrigue. He is in great repute for his smile that is transcendent in its beauty, but one can never tell what note it rings, whether true or false; its condiment may be of malice, hate, reserve, flippancy, deception. And one looks on and fears to take part in his mirth, for the reason one knows not what lies beneath in Sir Julian's heart."
"Indeed, and he is to arrive soon?—Sir Julian Pomphrey—I like the name!"
"It is one of the best names in England. I shall be very glad to see him, and hope he will come soon. When he gets word his Grace is so ill, he will probably come as fast as the ship and post-horses can travel. He is at present a special emissary to France. He did write Cedric some time since that he was about to return to England, that his work there was nearly finished."
"He will doubtless be playing fine French airs, and have much gossip of the composers and will perchance bring music with him that will stir us to greater study of execution."
"It may be, and it mayhap so move thee; but I am foreign from the rudiments of counterpoint and technique and such lollipops of harmony."
"Then it must be wearisome to hear me prate of the divine art, and much more to hear my poor drummings on the harpsichord, I am sorry—"
"Nay, be not so. I am more content when thou art at practice than at all other time, save when I am with thee thus, alone." And there was a covert meaning in her flattery. "Now, my dear Katherine, if thou art thus beset on the morrow, I will engage to come at thy retiring hour and dress thy hair; 'twill give me such pleasure."
As Lady Constance retired from the chamber, Mistress Penwick stretched her lithe body and yawned and expressed a desire for the bed. Soon she was left alone, and she stole from her couch and knelt at the hearthstone and read the missive eagerly and flushed not a little at Count Cantemir's warm words of love that were a prelude to the weightier matters appertaining. She crept back noiselessly and lay pondering of many things. It seemed to her as if all earth breathed of love; that she was the nucleus around which all flowers and perfume and everything beautiful revolved. And now she was about to open a mystic shrine, into which she would step and see and know and feel with youth's ecstasy a strange development of essential existence. And after wondering and speculating upon the affairs of love, she entered into prayerful thought of Lord Cedric's servant, and soon fell into sound slumber.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BUTLERY
"'Behold thou art fair, my love; behold thou art fair; thou hast dove's eyes within thy locks; thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from Mount Gilead.
"'Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which come up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
"'Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely; thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks.
"'Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armory, whereon there hang a thousand buckles—'"
"Nay, nay, Janet, thou must not idolize me thus, 'tis—"
"Beshrew thy conceit. 'Tis Solomon I repeat. Thou were not thought of when 'twas writ."
Katherine raised upon her elbow and looked surprised at Janet, who knelt by the bed.
"Thy tongue is sharp, Janet, for a day yet in its swaddling hours."
"Aye, 'twill be whetted two-edged e'er the day waxes old. 'To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for evil communication to be thrown from young maid's window, a time to look for answer to a pleading letter sent to a justly angered lord; a time when his Lordship deigns not to give answer; a time when a young lord to a tender parchment pregnant with importunities says: 'Damme, she would set one thief to shrive another;' a time when his Lordship slams with a bang the outside cover to a book blase of many turned leaves."
"Dear, dear sweet Janet; where is Lord Cedric? And has he said nothing of Christopher?" The nurse averred that his Lordship had ridden forth early, without giving his destination, and had left no word concerning the servant.
"Perhaps my lord's better nature hath prevailed, and he will keep the poor fellow in durance yet for a time," said Katherine, hopefully.
"Nay, his decision is irrevocable. He is not dealing in hearts now, Lambkin."
There was no doubt in Mistress Penwick's mind but that his Lordship would kill, or cause to be killed, the condemned lackey, and Janet knowing, 'twas his Lordship's temper and not his heart that vowed the death, dissembled and impressed upon her mistress that the deed was as good as done.
Katherine's wit was sharpened by the exigency, and she managed to use the window again as a post, only fearing—from Janet's anomaly of Solomon's words—that some one waited below to capture the flying missive. This issue was accomplished as the nurse was listening to the Duke of Ellswold's message; when, late in the morning, the duke after swallowing a stimulant declared he must have the more substantial refreshment of Mistress Penwick's beauteous countenance.
The duke was too ill to remain up long; and though Katherine was less than an hour from her chamber, the day was much shortened by the diversion. As night approached she became more and more anxious about Christopher. Indeed, it seemed to her as if the moments were hours after candle-light. And she moved restlessly about her chamber and listened and sighed for the return of his Lordship. Surely the silence was more pronounced than usual; it became ominous to her, and she spoke out quickly in a voice that was peevish:
"The castle is very quiet to-night. His Grace is not suffering again, I hope? Wilt see, Janet? I'm in a perfect fever of impatience!"
"Nay, he is very comfortable. Her Grace is with him. Lady Constance, Lady Bettie and the Russian are at cards."
"Will my lord arrive soon, dost think, Janet?"
"I know not. Why art thou so solicitous on a sudden of his outgoings and incomings?"
"I would make another effort to save Christopher, if I could but converse with my lord."
"And what wouldst thou give him in exchange for the fool's life?"
"Everything, Janet,—all that I have to give should be his."
"Then that includes thy heart, Lambkin?"
"Nay, dear nurse, my heart is already given."
"Of all the powers that be! And what knave hath attempted to steal that that thou wert born without?"
"'Tis unjust of thee to speak thus. I have a mind not to tell thee!"
"Thou wilt tell me straightway, for thou wilt turn all colours when I say Adrian Cantemir," and quickly Mistress Penwick turned her back, "I am aggrieved at thy folly. What hath he said to thee? Tell me every word, Lambkin."
"He hath said more than I could tell thee, Janet, in a whole hour."
"It is impossible! And what were all of these hour sayings,—love pratings?"
"If I told thee, thou wouldst then know as much as both of us, and there are but two in a marriage contract; so I will have to begin barring secrets from thee."
"And did he tell thee what marriage meant to two people knowing not their own minds?"
"He said 'twas a most perfect life. All was sunshine and flowers and great happiness. First of all, he will take me to Russia, as 'tis his pleasure to hasten home with me. Then we will visit the French and English courts, and we will see all the beauties of this life. I shall become known among the musicians and meet—"
"And said he naught of home-life, and the extent of his riches?"
"Nay, we are to live at Court always, free and happy, consorting ever with kings and queens—"
"Did his High-mightiness ever consider that court dignitaries consort not with a rogue who hath entrapt an angel for spouse?"
"I will not listen to thy rough tongue, Janet," and she straightway closed her ears with her tapering fingers and walked up and down as a spoilt child would do.
The prandium hour was past, and the evening far spent when Mistress Penwick desired to retire.
"'Tis most likely his Lordship will not return to-night, Janet?"
"He has gone on a journey of some import, as Angel hath just said; so I could not say when to look for his return."
Janet had been asleep some time when she was aroused by some subtle thing that brought her upright and from thence to the floor and from the floor to the closet that connected her apartment with that of her mistress. The door was locked; this was an innovation that startled Janet to a keen alertness. She rattled the knob and knocked upon the panelling. Stooping, she saw the key was turned in the door. She hurried from the place to her own room and into the hall, and from the hall to a small corridor, and from thence to the grand corridor, where opened the door of her mistress' ante-chamber. In she flew, and tried the inner door. 'Twas fast locked, and the key gone. It seemed she sped on wings as she descended the oaken stairway in her trailing gown. She reached Lord Cedric's bed-chamber with trepidation and not a little daunted; for should his Lordship be within 'twas possible his anger would know no bounds; and while she loved his good hot temper, she feared it when so justly aroused. Within the ante-chamber was a steward and two or three lackeys, all asleep; she passed them silently, and without hesitation opened the door. Lord Cedric sat before the table in riding boots and spurs, divested of coat and waistcoat; writing, and looked up surprised and amazed at one who dared to so enter his presence; but he read that in Janet's countenance that brooked not at delay.
"My lord, Mistress Penwick hath deserted her chamber, and I know not where to find her, nor can think of where she may be gone." Lord Cedric stood before her still and white as marble, his face glistened with the cold sweat of fear.
"By God, Janet, thy tale doth take from me all strength!" Even as he spoke he sunk down upon his chair. Janet brought from a stool hard by a posset-pot and pressed it to his lips. He drank gurglingly, as if his throat was paralyzed.
"Janet," he breathed forth, "call the lackeys." He had somewhat recovered, and stood upright while his valet buckled on his sword. He took from the table a polished dagger and placed it in his belt; he called for candles and bade the lackeys lead on. Janet was well-nigh distraught at this awful cloud of anger that was about to break forth in the thunder of his tongue and stroke of sword. The steward of the household was aroused, and keys were brought to unfasten Mistress Penwick's door, that they might ascertain if she had fled afar. Her hoods and hats were all in place upon the shelves of the dressing-closet, but there was gone a white camelot cloak. The footman near the outer entrance said none had passed since Lord Cedric's arrival.
"But, my God! I have just arrived; who passed before?"
"Not one soul since nightfall, save the village doctor, your Lordship."
Lord Cedric had enjoined perfect silence, fearing lest some noise might disturb his Grace of Ellswold.