The lackeys bearing lighted tapers—behind them the young lord of the castle, with the attendant Janet—moved solemnly like a procession.
They passed thus from room to corridor, from hall to gallery, and through passages; examining secret exits and closets. They traversed the long banquet-hall and were upon the threshold of a carved and lofty doorway, when Janet espied upon the parquetry a cobweb bit of lace protruding from beneath the tapestry of a chair. Lord Cedric's keen eyes marked her movement as she essayed to reach it without his notice. He turned quickly and fierce upon her, knocking his sword with a loud noise upon the chair's carving.
"Give me thy treasure, Janet!" She gave it to him with something like a sob; for 'twas her mistress' handkerchief, and she feared mightily her lord's anger.
"Your Lordship! If it so turned out that she be holding some rendezvous with thy Russian guest—"
"Ah, 'sdeath!" he interrupted.
"I beg thou wilt forgive much, she being of such slender age and knowing not the great wrong of clandestine—"
"Ah! ah! she holdeth court here in the chief butlery."
The door before them had been thrown open by the lackeys. They stood upon either side for his Lordship to pass through. Beyond, framed in the dark embrasure of the archway, stood Mistress Penwick in gleaming white. Her hands behind her rested upon a table from which long leaves depended to the floor, upon either side, her camelot cloak was thrown carelessly upon the further end, its long fulness draping to the floor, and in the centre of the polished top of the table rested a tall, silver candlestick with lighted taper. Upon the hearthstone there shot up a cheerful blaze, for the night was damp and chilly, and the flickering light sent Mistress Penwick's hair first amber, then bronze. Her face was still and white, and her eyes flashed wide and boldly. Her heart beat high and her breath came fast and hard.
For a moment only his Lordship's glance fell upon her, then it swept the room from end to end, and from ceiling to parquetry. Then occurred a strange thing to them all; for 'twas ever Cedric's way to swear and curse, using holy names and blasphemous phrases; and it startled Katherine more than all, as he spoke low and calmly, holding out his jewelled hand to her:
"Come, Mistress Penwick, I will escort thee to thy chamber; 'tis a childish trick of thine to seek bread and butter at such unseemly hours."
"But, my lord, I am not yet begun."
"Ah!—with one pair of shapely hands unused to spreading butter, it doth take long in preparation." The snowy whiteness of his Lordship's waist reflected upon his face, where now came and went its wonted colour, as doubt and certainty fought for supremacy. He stepped nearer and glanced behind her upon the table.
"Thou hast not even brought forth bread. I will aid thee," and he went to 'the cupboards that lined the room, and opened and looked within each large door, until he was satisfied of his search, and those about stood watching and trembling, fearing lest some one should be found in hiding.
"I find naught here of bread or butter, Mistress Penwick; we will have to seek elsewhere!"
"And thou wilt not have far to seek, my lord; my whey sits freshly made upon the cellaret in yonder closet adjoining; if thou wilt be so kind as to bring it hither, Janet will provide me with bread," and Katherine looked triumphant.
"I would first learn whom I follow. Who hath so cavalierly concocted it for thee at this late hour? Where is the person, my lady?"
"One who is in the habit of following thy orders; but at mine he hath made it; 'twas Tompkins." Her voice rung with so much of truth, his Lordship was satisfied and looked at her with a lighter heart; then, as she pointed toward the door—a mute command for him to bring the whey—he frowned and drew back and spoke,—
"Hiary will bring it thee, for 'tis said a hand put forth by an angry heart doth curdle that it toucheth and—I am of no mind to be either kind or courteous." At these words, the colour that had come into Katherine's face a moment before, left it.
As Hiary turned to do his lord's bidding, a door opened and Tompkins entered with a lighted candle and large basket. Seeing the unexpected, coughed to hide his confusion; indeed he knew not which way to turn, when his Lordship walked to his side and raised the cover of the basket and looked within.
"It appears that 'twas a feast thou wert preparing;—everything suitable for a full meal. Here is fowl and cheese and mutton tarsal and bread and ale,—Egad! we shall not want now, shall we, Mistress Penwick? Set the table, Tompkins!"
"Ah!" came in an asperate tone from the now trembling and frightened maid. His Lordship heard it and saw her turn white and tremble. Slowly he walked to the hearthstone, eyeing her askance, then he swept his brow where the cold perspiration lay in beads;—then turned to her again with a world of love for her in his eyes and a great crushing self-pity; and the menials looked away from the abject misery they beheld in their lord's face; Tompkins fumbled nervously with his burden, daring not to look up; Janet leant forward, intent, pained, sorrowing, scanning the two countenances she loved best on earth. His Lordship stretched forth his arms and with a great sob that broke upon that one word "Kate," he took a step forward and essayed again to speak, but the words would not come. Then with a great effort he seemed to fling all tenderness from him and spoke most harshly,—
"Where hast thou hid thy lover, Mistress Penwick, tell me where he is!" She drew herself up quickly to her full height and smiled, for this was one thing and she had thought another, and the reality was better than her fancy. And she said, as she drew a long, relieved breath,—
"He is safe, my lord!"
"Nay, nay, by God! he is not nor ever will be again. He hath so dealt with me and my honour, even though I stand within mine own threshold 'twould be heinous to allow him to leave it with life in his accursed body. I tell thee now, there is nothing of hell or heaven that can take thee from me. Dost hear—dost hear, maid?" He again wiped his brow and looked about him. "It does somewhat appear as if my brain were turning!—Janet—bring thy maid here to me! Janet made a step forward, but was checked by Katherine's warning look.
"Mistress Penwick, remove thyself from the table; Tompkins, set it, set it, set it quickly I say!" Tompkins put the basket upon the table and turned to a linen closet and brought therefrom a cloth and made as if to spread it upon a small table near him. His Lordship saw his move, and broke forth in angry tones,—"The table of honour, there, there Tompkins!" As he shook his fingers toward it, his hand fell back upon the hilt of his sword.
"Nay, I forbid him to do it," said Katherine.
"By all the foul fiends! raise the leaves or I smite thee down," said Lord Cedric to the frightened Tompkins. And he drew and leaned forward his body well nigh to the floor. His eyes were wild and bloodshot. As Tompkins raised the leaves Mistress Penwick threw herself between his Lordship and the table. With one bound Cedric swayed aside and like one frenzied, gazed beneath the table, and there looked out to him the white face of Christopher.
His Lordship broke forth into such a wild laugh, even the affrighted and condemned servant crept from his hiding and looked on amazed. Finally, when his laughing had well-nigh ceased, his Lordship drew from his belt the dagger and threw it across the room at Hiary, saying,—"There; stick him as thou wouldst a wild boar—no probing, mind; but death!"
"Nay, nay, my lord! my lord!" broke from Mistress Pen wick, and Janet ran to her crying,—"My lord, not so harsh a deed before my lady's eyes!"
"Ah! ah! and she hath carved my heart to pieces! Commit thy office, Hiary!" The lithe lackey sprang upon Christopher and drove the knife, it appeared, to the hilt, and with a gurgling cry the lad fell.
Mistress Penwick looked on wild-eyed with terror. His Lordship came near and leant close to her ear and said,—
"Thou hast turned thy charms to ill account, thou stirrest me to evil deeds. Didst thy love help thee to this rendezvous, and was he satisfied to leave thee when he heard my sword flap upon the chair without to fight thy battles alone, or did he sate his desire on thy innocent face and fled aforetime to prepare for a greater sating? Now by God, none shall wrest thee from me again. Arouse the chaplain! Come, Mistress, thou shalt have a husband who loves thee within the hour, and the morrow's sun will look in on a sweet young wife with a light heart."
He laid hold on her without violence, she drew from him even more frightened than heretofore.
"Come, we will wed straightway and before dawn thou wilt have forgotten my haste and stout urging," and he started forth drawing her with him by force. She struggled wildly and cried,—
"Nay, nay; I'll not marry with one who would strike down and kill the unfortunate; nay, nay!" and she screamed again and again.
From the doorway came a voice of thunder, its power seemed to crush out all other presence. 'Twas but one word, but it rung and vibrated and stirred each breast with its vehemence.
His Lordship let go the maid and turned and sprang to the open arms of him who called. The awful tension of his nerves relaxed and he uttered in rapid succession,—
"Julian, Julian, Julian!" and fell to sobbing, his form trembling with his emotion.
"Hath gore of canaille sapped thy noble blood and impregnated in thy veins vile clots to turn thee purple with choler?" and he pushed Cedric from him. "What doeth this couchant dog here?" He turned and stirred the prostrate form of Christopher. "'Tis ill to so fall upon the seething caldron of thy passion, the noxious fumes of which penetrate yonder to our kinsman's couch of suffering—and at the same time thou dost pound to pomace the heart of yonder Junoesque figure."
"Julian, thy tongue hath an awful strength, it doth goad me to something like reason. I was indeed rough, but I was looking after mine own. The maiden there is plighted to me for espousal and I was taking her to the chaplain."
"It may be thou dost take her rightfully; but if 'twere me I would bring her to it by soft and gentle words, not by handling. It doth take away the sweetness."
"Indeed, Julian, I have used all things worth using to gain her. I have played all parts and have asked and sued and prayed, aye, begged. I have honoured and loved and pampered her every whim; I have coerced and threatened,—all to no avail; indeed, I have gone mad for very effort to please."
"Hast thou tried cold indifference and haughtiness? It oft haps that a maid is won by a lofty and arrogant mien." Sir Julian Pomphrey glanced askance at Mistress Penwick, who lay with her face buried upon Janet's ample bosom. "Methinks 'twould be a good beginning, if thou wouldst renew thy suit by sending the maid to her chamber and let her espouse Morpheus and 'suage her grief upon a bosom thou needst not be jealous of." Janet arose and led forth Katherine. Lord Cedric stepped after them and held out his hands and sobbed,—
"Kate, Kate, forgive, forgive!" She deigned not a backward look.
As they passed from sight, he fell upon his knees and shook with his great emotion and groaned aloud in his misery.
Sir Julian Pomphrey dressed as a gentleman of France in riding apparel; his overhanging top-boots displaying a leg of strength and fine proportions; the curls of his periwig sweeping his broad shoulders; his hands, half-hid by rare lace, gleaming white and be-jewelled; a mustachio so flattened with pomade it lay like a black line over his parted lips, through which shone strong white teeth, was veritably a man of noble character and distinction. He was the counterpart of Lord Cedric in all save visage and temperament.
Gracefully he strode across the room with the confidence of one who had already mastered the situation; planned for his Lordship a complete victory, and there was naught left to do but carry out the methodical arrangements thus quickly formulated. He placed his hand lightly upon Cedric's shoulder. His touch was like magic, for his Lordship started.
"Cedric, I have rid hard and would seek my bed. Come with me and calm thyself. Yonder maid thou shalt have, so sure as thou dost do my bidding; and she will sigh and draw quick breath and preen herself to gain from thee one amorous glance; and will do penance for her untowardness and offer hecatombs as high as zenith will allow."
"Dost think so, Julian? It gives me hope to hear thee thus speak."
"Indeed, I may say—'tis done—even though 'twere precipitately avowed;—but oft, 'tis the premature babe that doth become the most precocious child, and 'tis well to foster that 'tis fecund."
"But, Julian, she hath another lover,—and now that I think on't, didst thou meet a knave upon horse, perhaps, attended by a swaggering groom as thou cam'st through the village or thereabouts?"
"Thou hast said it. A half-league beyond Crandlemar there past me at furious speed a devil-upon-horse. I hallowed once and again to no avail, so I prodded the fellow with my sword to assist his respiratory organs, as he flew by. 'Twas a kindly act, for he immediately found his breath and—swore."
"And didst notice his livery?"
"Nay, for the trees were too ostentatious and flaunted their new, green finery impudently and hid Neptune's satellite or—'twas cloudy, I could not see. Come, come, I must and thou, too, have sleep if the God thereof doth not wantonly spend too much time with thy mistress;—but thou shalt soon offset him and I may have, for one night at least, his undivided attention."
"Ah, heaven, that thy words may prove true. 'Tis hard to bide the time. Come, let us begone from this foul nest that reeks of blood."
To Katherine's untutored vision of social and religious matters, all appeared like a placid sea; but beneath, political dissension complicated by religious wrangling produced a vigorous under-current into which she was to be drawn.
The exegencies of poverty and exile through which King Charles had passed made him resolve not to "go again upon his travels," and for this cause he tolerated the Episcopal religion, of which system the cavaliers were votaries; and they supported the royal prerogative. Being an alien to honour, truth and virtue, he was not stirred to a wholesome interest of importunities, save when a voluptuously beautiful female solicited his attention. Now 'twas Lady Constance' plan to forward Count Cantemir's suit with Mistress Penwick and hasten a marriage that could only be clandestine, owing to Lord Cedric's vigilance. If this scheme should prove abortive, it was her intention to bring the maid to the king's notice. Here were two lines of battle, each surrounded by skirmishing detachments. She was subtle in the extreme, and arranged warily these side issues, which had more of death and utter destruction in them than an open onset.
Rigidly she had kept from Cantemir the knowledge of Mistress Penwick's insolvency, likewise the death of her father; knowing the condition of the count's fortunes, she feared he would retreat; his love for the maid might be of such a nature 'twas possible he would not take part in the ugly skirmish against her. So Constance had set about systematically to bring Mistress Penwick and Adrian to an understanding of each other.
He believed Katherine to be a wealthy heiress of Sir John Penwick, who was being held as hostage at some point in America. At her marriage her estates would be placed in her own hands. All these things Lady Constance could vouch for, as she had read the letter herself that Sir John had written Lord Cedric. Mistress Penwick was at a marriageable age, and her father being ill and hopelessly bound by ties of war never expected to see her again and had made provision for her future happiness. Knowing these things, and being in love beside with so beautiful and youthful creature, Cantemir was well-nigh mad to win her, without any urging from Constance.
On the other hand, Mistress Penwick never forgot his slender grace and pale, patrician features, as she beheld him first upon the stairway the evening of her arrival. He had ingratiated himself into all her thoughts of music and court life and religious duties. Being like her a Catholic, he sat by the hour and spoke of their ill usage by the nobles of England, and insinuated that the cavaliers (Lord Cedric being one, of course) were combined to rout out the Catholics and confiscate all their properties, both public and private.
At one time Lady Constance said to Katherine that her father, Sir John, was an Episcopalian and she had made answer,—"'Twould be absurd to suppose him anything else than a Catholic." Upon this, Constance spoke to Adrian, and he, casually as it were, asked Mistress Penwick if she were not afraid her demesne would be seized by the Protestants. Thus she had come gradually to know of the chasm between the two great religious orders, and had even written her father of the dangers in which she believed she was placed. These letters of course were kept by Janet. The seals remained unbroken and the missives were carefully laid aside until Mistress Penwick should know the truth. And neither she nor Janet receiving news from him, stirred her to confide her fears to Cantemir, who questioned her of the letter which her father wrote, bidding her to depart for England. She became startled and uneasy, when she remembered that Janet had refused to show her the letter and having promised herself to Cantemir in marriage, she spoke of the matter to him. But her love of and confidence in Janet was deeper than she thought, and at his first words against her, she fell from him. He said 'twas possible Janet, being so great a Protestant, she would undoubtedly take his Lordship's part against her, should any serious trouble arise. He even went so far as to suggest that perhaps there was a-foot a ruse to get from her those possessions her father had written of. Katherine rebelled at these insinuations and thought that "dear, good, sweet Janet would never take a pin from her Lambkin to save Church or State. And Lord Cedric, too, even though he would condemn his servant, he would never take her property, he loved her too well for that; beside, he was a gentleman of honour, even though his evil temper did goad him to fearful deeds." She tried to make herself believe that she truly loved Cantemir, and 'twas her religious duty to marry him; but when he spoke either against Cedric or Janet, she was quite sure she hated him.
In pursuance of Lady Constance' diplomacy, she had assisted Cantemir in arranging the rendezvous for himself first, and finally for Christopher, who was to escape with provision for a long journey, as 'twas not certain what Lord Cedric would do if he found him at the monastery. And Katherine had this night pledged to wed the count in three days' time. Even as they were arranging their plans Cantemir's valet had rushed to him saying that his Lordship's page had come to his apartments, and finding him gone his master had vowed death to any who would intrigue at such hours with his promised wife. Cantemir, a polished, hollow-hearted, selfish sycophant and coward, made more so perhaps by Constance' influence over him, at Katherine's command, as it were, had taken flight.
Constance listened eagerly the next morning, as she sat 'neath her maid's hands, to every detail of the evening's adventure; but her disappointment at such mischance was greatly allayed by the unexpected presence of Sir Julian Pomphrey. He was second only to Lord Cedric in her affections. Her greatest desire was to gain his Lordship's love; if she could not have that, then she would try for the king's favour whereby she would be able to live at court and be ever near Sir Julian, whose mistress she had been and might be again.
She had begun well to bombard for the accomplishment of her first desire.
As soon as possible she rode forth, passing beyond Crandlemar village, where a short way from its confines she came upon a certain innocent looking tree that had some six feet above its broad trunk a loosened knot, which could be removed at will. She plucked it forth and looked within. It was empty and barren of even a bird's nest. Constance had no compassion for its loneliness when she laid therein a small, white piece of paper and filled the orifice with the rough knot. She rode away content and doubting not that Count Cantemir would soon have her letter.
He had halted some five leagues beyond Crandlemar at an inn remote from the highway, the landlord of which was a monk, dissembling his name to Jacques Dempsy of the Cow and Horn, and his religion to anything that was the king's pleasure.
The two sat in the deserted drinking-room; their heads bent together and speaking in subdued tones. Cantemir's hand rested upon his leg, that had been freshly washed and bound by the landlord.
Sir Julian's sword-prick had goaded Cantemir to an anger that was 'suaged neither by good old wine nor the council of the monk. He fretted for an opportunity to thrust his assailant in the back—anywhere. "Surely," said he, "the day is not far when I shall kill that devil Pomphrey," His groom had seen Sir Julian full in the face at a small opening in the trees.
"Sh!" said Dempsy, "there is other work for thee now. 'Tis best for thee to bide here awhile, at least until a courier shall return from the tree, where thou sayest thy cousin will place the billet. And if everything is well, then there will be found for thee a guide to lead thee through the forest to the monastery, where thou shalt first sign thyself for the strict carrying out of our plans; then thou shalt be wed, if there is no remissness, and carried safely to London, where thou shalt remain until thy lady has audience, and gains that we seek of the King. Ah! there are times when we sigh and almost weep for those good old pro-Reformation days, when such ecclesiastical bodies as ours took their grievances to—Rome. Bah! to have to bribe a profligate king for—the signing of his name. What does he know about bequests and inheritances—" The count started and Dempsy all alert broke in with,—"and freeholds. Thou dost know, count, the monastery is a freehold in the very centre of Lord Cedric's lands; but—I am telling secrets; forget what I said." The count fell back listlessly, a gap made in his thoughts by the sudden disappearance of a clue.
"Charles treats us as mendicants; but if he should chance to see the coffers of our order, he would know we had received something else beside a crust for shriving." The count looked up again so quickly, Dempsy caught himself and wondered what he had been saying, and what his last words were; for he had been thinking aloud, as it were.
"Aye, aye, I was saying if Charles could see the riches of our coffers, he would know the sale of Indulgences had not been a little. Thou seest, count, we have here at the monastery great treasure, our coffers are filled with priceless articles of virtue that will, no doubt, be carried to Rome and be laid in the reliquary of Santa Maria Maggiore or St. Andrew Corsini or St. Peters. We have some priceless bones—" Adrian shuddered and relaxed his attention—"they have brought us great, good fortune; we have bits of clothing—thou dost well know most of the saints were plainly attired—that some day will be worth much, perhaps not in my day nor thine, but when age comes, when we grow a little further from the saints. Ah! I see, thou hast not much interest in my converse—treasure is nothing to thy love-sick heart, eh! count?"
"Nay, not dead men's bones, indeed thou hast rare wine for such cumbrous relics that can be turned to naught! And didst thou shrive the saint for the use of his bones a hundred years hence?"
"Thou art growing facetious, count. Dost think of no virtue but thy maid's? And art thou sure she will not fall back from her promise to thee?"
Cantemir, filled with his own ideas, gave perfunctory acquiescence and continued in his own line of thought. And what with a busy brain that was not over-strong, and a ride of some length and dampness, with a sore leg, he became feverish and the monk took him to bed in great haste, where he remained for the best part of a week; the seriousness of his disease not a little augmented by the desire for immediate action.
CASTLE AND MONASTERY
The next morning after Christopher's sudden disaster, the castle seemed to have awakened from a long apathy. The servants clattered under breath of their wounded fellow. The arrival of his Grace of Ellswold's physicians held gossip in the castle in abeyance, as all were anxious of their decision; but the presence of Sir Julian seemed to fill the sails of the becalmed household with a stiff breeze, which at a favourable moment would raise anchor and fly forth on a joyous sea.
The physicians gave out that there was no immediate danger, but his illness was serious and there must neither be noise nor excitement. It was out of the question to move his Grace either to his own estates or elsewhere for baths or sea air.
Lord Cedric and Sir Julian sat with him an hour after the doctor's examination, Sir Julian, conversing of the freshest gossip at court, without the usual condiment of inflammables which would be apt to rouse his Grace not a little.
There being now no traitor—unless perchance Constance might be termed one—in the house, and no danger of Mistress Pen wick being left without the close surveillance of Janet, she was no longer kept prisoner. And, while she was greatly wrought upon by the sad havoc of the previous night, her youth and gay spirits and Janet's exhortations upon the age, giving license to all sorts of uprisings and display of temper and unwarranted vengeance, somewhat quieted her, and she arose as sprightly as ever, all the more determined to free herself from Lord Cedric. If she had stopped for self-analysis, she would have found that she was bent on gaining her independence at no matter what cost; regardless of consequences. That her desire was more of adventure than ambition. And she also would have found that she cared naught for Cantemir and a very great deal for Lord Cedric. She had never given thought to a separation from her beloved Janet; while even classing her as antagonistic to her desires, she never ceased to love her; for this woman had made herself a mother in every respect, aye, even more watchful and exacting. While acting in a servant's capacity, doing the most menial of service, she developed in the maid those seemingly trifling motives of mind and soul which in the end make up the character of a life; and very few mothers ever have the tact to so understand these very minute details that so develop a child's passion. Janet had ever developed in her charge an inclination for all beauty; not failing, however, to show wherein weakness crept; where grace of countenance oft screened defect of character. Indeed this maid was one of Janet's own creation, save in flesh and blood, and no one knew any better than she, herself, the vanity to rout the faults and frailties inherited. She strove the harder to overthrow such imperfections by perfecting and cultivating the maid's receptive mood. She was ever fencing with her in words, working out in detail exchange of thought wherein Katherine might, if 'twere in her, make a clever reply. At times Mistress Penwick would pick up such threads of Janet's teaching as would bring her to a semblance of conscience of present environment, and she would see in a vague way the right and wrong of things. For the moment she would read all in Cantemir's handsome face that it masqued and would turn from it only to become lost in contemplation of what life would be if she were free from Cedric's guardianship, never thinking of the greater bondage of espousing a knave. Ever and anon her eyes sought the young lord of the castle, forgetting she was his ward—and there would come to her such a feeling of overwhelming conviction she was for the moment submerged in ecstasy, and with the hot blush still upon her face she would flee from him as if he were an evil tempter. He brought her near to that great unknown, upon whose threshold she stood trembling and expectant, eager to know what was before her. And so, not understanding her own mind, and being of such tender years, drifted along with the tide that was carrying her to destruction. Her mind was set upon her own way, and sheer perversity deigned not to let her see the hands stretched toward her.
The afternoon sun fell aslant the black oak parquetry where sat her Grace of Ellswold, Lady Constance and Mistress Penwick, engaged with limning and embroidery. Lord Cedric and Sir Julian entered, attired in the most modish foppery of the time. The latter was saying, as he soundly rapped his pouncet-box,—
"His demeanour is too provincial, too provincial—ah!"—and he bent low with grave formality to Mistress Penwick as Cedric presented him; then turning to the duchess continued,—"I was saying, your Grace, that Dryden is provincial in his demeanour, when compared to his Grace of Buckingham."
"Indeed, Julian, thou dost speak lightly of such gigantic genius; beside, 'twould not be fair to compare sun and moon; and how could we do without either the one or the other?"
"To which dost thou comparison his Grace?"
"The moon, of course!" said the Duchess.
"And to what planet is my lord a satellite?"
"Nay, I know not; thou dost question of one who knows little of astronomy; but I think perhaps Mars, as the planet doth resemble earth more closely than any other."
"Bravo, 'tis a rare simile; and I take it thou didst speak in derogation;—no matter how true the inuendo, it is ever the material we most appreciate and enjoy, and the sun being nearly ninety-three million miles from the earth, 'tis too remote to be interesting."
"Indeed, Julian, Dryden in five minutes' converse will stir one to seriousness by his fancy, to tears by his pathos, and to thoughts of deity by his sublimity."
"'Tis only a great, good, noble nature like thine that could be so stirred; believe me, your Grace, thou didst dissemble these emotions from pure charity."
"Well, well, we must all admit that 'tis not his character that commands our respect and esteem, but his prose and poesy. We all love Buckingham, but in our appreciation of him we must not exclude reason and put him before all others,"—and her Grace turned abruptly to Mistress Penwick. "Here is an admirer of Dryden's compositions, she clings pertinaciously and with all the ardour of strong youth to his satire of 'Absalom and Achitophel,' although 'tis a bitter lampoon on Monmouth and Shaftesbury; two men she heartily admires." Sir Julian leant over the Duchess and spoke softly,—
"I was not aware Mistress Penwick had been presented?" And his keen eyes scanned every lineament of her face and mould. Lord Cedric was watching askance, and his face grew red with a stroke of passion as he noted Sir Julian's look of evident admiration, and jealousy for a moment swept the young lord's heart, and he cursed in thought the wicked feeling that in connection with his noble friend could predicate of naught but the foul fiends. Indeed, so open were Sir Julian's glances that the maid herself became confused and said, with some embarrassment,—
"My imagination is ofttime profligate, and I indulge—in fancy—in exchange of word and thought with those great and exalted personages whose noble compeers I have the good fortune to consort with daily." And she laid her hand caressingly upon the Duchess' arm.
"Then 'twould serve thee greatly to place thee within the shadow of Whitehall, aye, Mistress?"
"'Twould be a great happiness, Sir Julian."
"Dost know of any greater, my lady?" It seemed his eyes would pierce her very soul.
"I must admit it; I have a great desire," and her face grew rose-hued and her heart fluttered with the bold words she was about to utter—
"Ah, thou dost wish for, or have a desire to enter the—"
"The distinguished service of a Lady of Honour." As one looked upon her great beauty, 'twas a wonder she was not born a queen.
Upon hearing the maid's words, Constance in jealous rage fell to inordinate laughter and shook her work to the floor, and as Lord Cedric stooped to regain it he whipped out,—
"And why, pray, art thou so amused; 'tis most like Julian to promote this idea, and she will straightway wish to leave us. I am sure one glimpse of her would set the whole court on fire."
"Such startling metaphor, unless indeed thou dost allude to the colour of her hair!" She spoke with so much malice and hate Lord Cedric was stirred to amazement, and for the first time his eyes were opened to Constance' hate of one whom he loved beyond all else on earth. He had thought her merely jealous of the maid, but now he saw 'twas hatred.
Sir Julian paid no heed to aught save Mistress Penwick's brave colour as it came and went, and the fervour of her eyes as they looked into his. He came nearer to being shaken than ever before in his twenty odd years of slow and fast living.
"If I might be so honoured by the privilege, I would present thy desire straightway to the Duchess here, who would no doubt place thee at once at court." Mistress Penwick arose, unable to contain her perturbed spirit, and said,—
"Sir Julian, how can I ever—" and she stopped, so stirred was she with her emotion; very much as a child is wrought to wonderment by the sight of a marvelous toy. Julian offered his arm, and they sauntered up and down the room, Sir Julian boldly playing his part. If Katherine had been less innocent, she might have seen that he was not sincere. He said:
"I see no reason why thou shouldst not begin preparation at once for thy journey. The Duke is progressing finely and her Grace could perhaps accompany thee as well now as at another time. Wilt thou prepare at once, Mistress Penwick?" If the king had already sent for her, he could not have talked with more confidence; but there was something he must know. As he insisted on an immediate journey, she turned scarlet, and bit her lip, and frowned.
"There are a few matters I must see to; I could hardly leave within a week;—there is no hurry!"
"On the contrary there is a great hurry, for I must leave at once, and I would escort thee. I think I shall leave by dawn to-morrow." Katherine's brow puckered still more as she stood upon the seesaw of duty and ambition, perplexed to know which way to turn. It appeared the better quality was innate and her brow cleared, as she said,—
"'Twould be impossible to go so soon. I could not ask her Grace to leave when the Duke is so ill; for, beside a long journey, much time might be required ere I should be presented. I must have time—a lady should have a great number to attend her—"
"Thou hast a host in thy nurse, Janet; she is quite enough for the journey, and at London there will be a matron for each finger of thy hand. I can see no reason why thou shouldst not start at once, if the Duchess so decides." They were quite alone now, and Katherine, being well cornered and being young and given to confiding, felt so irresistibly drawn toward this man at her side, she looked up into his face and said,—
"Canst thou not guess, after all thou didst see last night, why I am kept from going?"
"I cannot; methinks 'twould be a happy moment to say adieu to such scenes."
"Then thou dost not know I am to wed Count Cantemir, Lady Constance' cousin?"
"I think thy heart an alien to love; for if thou wouldst sooner become a Lady of Honour than wed one to whom thou hast 'trothed thyself, 'tis sure thou hast no love; 'tis caprice or—what one wills to call it, and thou hadst better fly from a marriage that has not love in it."
"But I know not what to do. I have given my promise to wed, and I want to go to London."
"Then I beg to assist thee to thy heart's desire as soon as thou hast found what its desire is; and I insist thou dost examine the weather-vane of thy mind and discern its bent. I am by thy side, groping in darkness for that thou wouldst have. I am bound to serve thee."
"Sir Julian, thou dost nonplus my understanding of myself absurdly. I agree I have more minds than one, and 'tis disconcerting to try in haste to ascertain which is the best. Indeed, I do not wish to make a false step and do that 'twould make me sorry ever after."
"'Twould be well to have one to guide thee in thine uncertainty. I should aspire to such an office with alacrity, if thou wouldst but give me one encouraging glance." For a moment they looked into each other's eyes, then Katherine's lids dropped and she became as clay in his hands. And before she was aware, she had told him all things. These matters were not altogether new to Sir Julian, for Lord Cedric had discoursed at length upon them, but the nucleus he sought was found, and he listened perfunctorily to all else, feasting his eyes upon her face and listening only to the music of her voice.
"Then why, may I ask, didst thou discard Cedric's suit?"
"He is tyrannical and cruel, and even though my heart should incline toward him, 'twould not be meet for me to wed with one of another faith."
"'Tis possible thou couldst win him to thy way of thinking."
"Nay, I should not try it; for I have cast all thought of him aside."
"Then thou dost acknowledge having had a tenderness for him? 'Tis well thou dost so fling him aside, he is unworthy of thy consideration."
"Not so; he is most noble, but—but—I know not what,—he is haughty and full of temper and given to harsh language—"
"Yet he is not a fit companion for thee, sayest thou?"
"Thou dost greatly misunderstand me; he is on the contrary a most delightful person to converse with and every whit fit to be a King;—but we are not suited to each other."
"Was it not thy father's desire for thee to soon wed and to this man?"
"Even so; but he knew not my Lord Cedric but his father; beside—"
"I am expecting to hear from my father in the near future—"
"—and 'tis possible he will come to me or send and make some change. I have asked him to appoint another guardian for me and my estates."
"'Twould be a wise thing to do, no doubt; but 'tis possible Cedric has used already thine inheritance." Mistress Penwick flushed hotly.
"Nay, thou dost judge him ill; he is above such a thing." And Sir Julian knew what the poor maid knew not herself, and he felt 'twas a safe thing to carry through his adventure.
"Then there are two things that weigh upon thee. Thou knowest not whether to wed or become a Lady of Honour. I will warn thee that thou must not dwell long upon them, for 'tis possible if thou dost not decide very early, I will be able to help thee to nothing but—myself."
Mistress Penwick flushed warmly and smiled back at him; and her desire for admiration drove her on and on, and she soon forgot all else save the man by her side, and it appeared that no matter how he tried to break the spell of her witchery, he could not leave her for a moment.
It fell out that before three days had passed, they were deep in admiration of each other. Cedric was racked by doubt and fear, yet never for an instant letting go his faith in Julian. Constance was happy that Katherine was so diverted, keeping thereby Cedric from any rash moves, and giving herself time to visit the tree that often held so much of importance. And she managed to outwit the ubiquitous Janet and hailed with joy the day of the great battle when Mistress Penwick was to be removed from her pathway forever.
The disappearance of Adrian Cantemir was not spoken of—as if 'twere a matter of too small import;—and yet he hovered ominously in their minds; and Katherine most of all desired to forget her promise and every word she had spoken to him, and Constance understood and would not let her forget, planning night and day to bring them together again....
To look back from the lower terrace at the castle was to see a gorgeous display of blossom. The ivy-clad walls stood a rich background to the splendour of tinted flower. Indeed, the scene appeared not unlike an enormous nosegay lying upon a hill of moss. The night had brought showers, and from every minute projection of twig, leaf or petal glistened limpid drops, some swelling with honey and falling like dew upon the young sward. The birds twittered ceaselessly, and some young thing preening upon a light blossomy twig scattered down, anon, perfume upon some shy young fawn, and he leapt away frightened by so dainty a bath and plunged knee-deep in crystal pools and sent the stately swans skimming hurriedly to a quiet and sheltered cove.
From the Chapel came indistinctly the sound of the organ in a prelude, it would seem, to the day. 'Twas Sir Julian's wont to rise early and draw—it may be—inspiration from the full vibrant chords of sweet harmony.
From an upper casement leant forth Mistress Penwick with a face as delicately tinted as the blossoms of the peach that flaunted their beauty at some distance. She appeared to be arranging violets—that still sparkled with rain—in an oblong porcelain box that lay flat upon the casement. Her white jewelled fingers flitted in and out of the blue depths. Her small white teeth were but half eclipsed and there fluttered forth from her parted lips a low humming that keyed and blended with the organ. Her soft white dress enveloped her mould loosely; her long flowing sleeves, prefaced by rare lace, displaying her pink, round arm. She wore not the look of care; for she had thrown all such evil weight upon one who played in yonder sacred shrine so tranquilly, as if nothing but his own sins rested—and they but feather-weight—upon his soul. On he played, and she arranged her flowers, and up the avenue came horses' feet and Lady Constance unattended came riding near the castle and called up to the vision of beauty that leant from the window,—
"'Tis a glorious morning for riding forth. I have had a fine jaunt and met nothing but the post-boy,"—and here she showed a billet and rode close to the wall and hid it neath the ivy—"and a famous adventure which I've half a mind to pursue, after—I've 'suaged my hunger. If I ride thus every morning, I shall soon have an arm as pink and round and perfect in mould as thine own. Hast thou broken fast?"
"I have had my simple allotment, and have been down on the lower terraces and gathered these violets, and am now hungry again and Janet has gone for a wing of fowl and some wine." At these words Lady Constance looked about her cautiously and spoke in low tones,—
"Everything is ready for thy flight. I saw Adrian this morning. He is handsomer than ever and eager to see thee, and counts the hours 'til nightfall. If 'tis possible thou art to escape unnoticed to the monastery, where the nuptials will be performed at once, then thou art to depart immediately for Whitehall, where thou wilt be made much of by the King and he will more like detain thy husband under pretext, and mayhap offer him some honour for the sake of keeping thy beauty in England."—With a wave of the hand Mistress Penwick bade Lady Constance depart as Janet stood within the door.
The castle was astir early, as if there was naught but a glorious day before them, and they would make it of much length. It seemed as if a great peace had settled upon those ivy-clad walls, or it might be the calm that is the solemn presage of storm, and Sir Julian himself quiet beyond his wont seemed to portend the calamities that were to ensue; and after his breakfast stood at a window watching the dripping trees and whistling so softly one could not tell whether 'twere he or the birds chirping without. Cedric and Lady Constance played at battledore and shuttlecock. Mistress Penwick sat apart, busy with thought and needle. His Grace of Ellswold sat up that morning, his wife and physicians by his side, and all were happy with the great improvement.
Meanwhile, at the monastery all was commotion. The day there would be far too short to accomplish all that was to be done. Three couriers had arrived since dawn with important dispatches. In the midst of the monks, who sat upon long benches that flanked either side of a spacious gallery, sat Adrian Cantemir, reading the last message. Opposite, at the table, were three monks apparently engaged upon their own affairs, but subtly watching the puzzled countenance of their guest. Finally their patience seemed to have run out and Constantine, the monk directly vis-a-vis to Cantemir, coughed, cleared his throat and in low gutterals said,—
"Thy countenance is unfair; 'tis a perjury on thy happy heart." Adrian looked up with a start, so lost was he in contemplation. His letter was prophetic of evil, and he was afraid.
"'Tis ill news, and thou wert not far wrong to bring forth thine arms. The secrets to be intrusted to my wife it seems have already reached—"
"The King?" and with the words it appeared each Abbe was upon his feet and leaning forward intent.
"Nay, but the arch-fiends Buckingham and Monmouth. And with the King's consent they leave for a hunting bout and they ride hither. It says that the former in masque saw my meeting this morning with Lady Constance, and he followed and made love to her." The Abbes stood in utter dismay and dejection. At last, Dempsy of the Cow and Horn began in deep, full tones the first movement of the "Kyrie eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie eleison," and one by one every voice leapt up in a God-have-mercy, and the walls echoed and without the birds seemed to take it up, and it was carried to a listening ear not far from the shadow of the wall. Then the prayer ceased and La Fosse—half soldier, half priest—spoke in ringing tones.
"And what else does thy billet say? Why are we to be attacked; are we not upon our own ground?"
"It is mooted that should my wife gain the King's ear, she will influence him to consent not only on this thy matter but others of great importance that now pend. It is said that Buckingham has boasted of rare sport in routing a full score of knaves; taking treasure—" Cantemir's eyes swept keenly the visage of Constantine—of great value, beside the beauteous maid that is to arrive; for he says 'tis sure she will be worth as much to them as the King. He refers to himself and Monmouth, who mean to take my wife prisoner this very night."
"'Tis enough," said La Fosse, with a deprecating gesture. "We must put on the armour of strength and gird ourselves for battle. We have all to fight for that that is honourable: home, virtue and religion. What more could we ask for to strengthen us?"
"'Tis well said," quoth Constantine. "Judging from thy billet, we are not to be attacked until the maid hath arrived. Is it known, also, at what hour she is to come?"
"If they know so much, they perhaps know even all."
"Then we must hasten the hour by two, and 'twill incur no disadvantage save to bring the maid to a greater discretion and show of wit; for 'twill be harder for her to escape at nine than eleven."
"Methinks 'twill be a greater task to warn the maid of the setting forth of the hour." Adrian looked up hopefully; for he was of no mind to meet his wife upon the threshold of a battle, and two hours earlier, 'twould be time and to spare, and he spoke out bravely,—
"I'll see to the message," and he was guilty of a low-bred wink at Dempsy.
"Then 'twill serve to set aside this matter for the next," and La Fosse looking at Cantemir and speaking softly and deferentially bade him leave them for the present.
Adrian left the room by the door he had entered it, and passing through a hall reentered the chamber that had been assigned him.
The Russian, though a coward, was wary at times and allowed it to carry him into danger, and as an example he changed his riding garb for his cavalier costume, discarding his spurred boots for high-heeled slippers and deigning not to don coat or waistcoat started forth in search of—he must think what? He was without servant, as 'twas safer to leave him at the Cow and Horn;—especially one who has corners on his conscience. He must search for—the kitchen. This place was below stairs, and he stole this way and that to find a flight of steps. Treading softly, listening intently and looking ravenously for opportunity to plunder, for there was treasure somewhere about the monastery, this was certain, and he might as well have part of it as Buckingham and Monmouth to have it all. And in case of any mischance and Mistress Penwick be lost to him, he must have something to live upon. Constance would never forgive him for allowing the maid to escape him, and consequently would not give him large loans as heretofore. But if he should gain the fair prize, some day he would give back to his church even more than he had taken. As he thus thought, he forgot for a moment his present surroundings and was suddenly reminded by a touch on the shoulder,
AS NINE TOLLED FROM THE CHAPEL BELFRY
He started quickly and looked up shuddering, and saw a tall, slender monk with cowl so drawn not a feature could be seen. The Abbe spoke low and hoarsely, as though a cold prevented better utterance,—
"What seekest thou?"
"The kitchen," Cantemir answered, with a great show of bravery.
"And what there to find, my young man?"
"Pen and paper. I must write to Mistress Penwick."
"Ah yes, ah yes, my son. I had forgotten. Curve thy sentences to the point, without being so broad in assertion another might understand. Thou hadst better put it this way—"
"Indeed I thought I had my meaning well covered. I had proposed to say—"
"Ah, we are not alone; step this way." The monk turned to a panelling that gave way by a touch, and to Cantemir's surprise they were alone in a dark and vaulted passage; indeed they were unable to discern aught. Quickly the Abbe drew his companion from the panelling through which they had passed; and 'twas hardly done when three monks followed with lighted candles. The foremost was Constantine, carrying an enormous bunch of keys. Their long robes swept Cantemir's feet. He drew a quick breath, and before it sounded his companion placed his hand over his mouth. Now this hand smacked not of holy mould or monastic incense, but rather of rare perfume; but Cantemir was frightened and did not notice the worldliness of the admonishing hand. The monks proceeded down the passage; stopping near the centre they lifted from the floor a trapdoor. A ladder was brought and swung down the opening and the three descended.
"Now, my son, thou hadst better write thy billet, and if thou dost not find one to carry it, I will be along directly and do the service for thee. I must visit the village and the tree, my son. Now I'll give thee a bit of advice. Never again go about looking for anything where 'tis supposed there is treasure. If it had not been for my timely interruption, my brothers there would have found thee and not so easily forgiven thy inclination for discovery. Go, go in peace—remember always, that discretion is the wit of safety."
Cantemir was frightened, and glad to get away, for he feared the Abbe's smooth tones masqued treachery, and he slid through the panelling and in very earnest sought the kitchen.
The deceitful monk hastened toward the open trap and kneeling gazed for a moment below. There came up a foul odour that made him flinch and draw back; he drew his handkerchief and placed it to his nose and leant again and looked. There was a faint glimmer that showed in which direction the lights were. He lay flat and putting his head beneath the opening, saw the priests leaning over a chest. Quickly he prepared to descend and was upon the second rung of the ladder, when the panelling again opened and a half-dozen faces looked through; anger and indignation upon all but one, and that was the Russian's, which bore joy of a discovery. He had gone to the refectory with good intent to write his letter; but finding a small company of monks gathered there and they appearing much perturbed, he asked the cause. One said there was a strange Abbe in the monastery, whose hands were as bejewelled as any fop's, and that a number had gone in search of him. The false monk's hand had betrayed him, as 'twas seen from a window as he uncovered it to open the door. Now Cantemir thought it a good, safe moment to become a hero and straightway told of his encounter; saying he was in search of the refectory and had lost his way; making a plausible story. He was carried forth with the party in search and now came toward the opening in the passage with drawn sword, his face wearing the masque of bravery.
The man upon the ladder was the same that had listened to the "Kyrie eleison" from without, and before it concluded had made his way inside: the Duke of Buckingham.
He jumped like a cat under cover of his pursuer's noisy entrance and slipped away from the opening. Quickly he drew from him the robe and cowl and flung them down upon the ladder and drawing his sword stood waiting and almost eager for a fight. He did not forget, however, that there is often a practiced and keen thrust from the folds of a priest's habit. But they were confident the false Abbe was beneath, and with less noise and more subtleness moved toward the opening. As they did so, his Grace swung round and cautiously approached the wall where the panelling was. "Aye, aye," he heard, as the foremost man found the robe. Straightway they all rushed below stair, and as the head of the last man disappeared, his Grace went through the panelling, and within five minutes stood safe in the forest, happy with the knowledge he had gained.
It was near the hour of five when Lady Constance rode forth alone. She left the courtyard unnoticed and hurried to the village and through it and on beyond toward the tree and passed it and galloped some distance beyond, then seeing she was not followed made a quick turn and retraced, But there came from a bend in the road a horseman that rode warily. She again turned to see if any came, and seeing no one stopped at the tree and brought from its cavity a letter. As she replaced the knot, there was such a sudden sound of horses' feet behind her she dropped the billet and her unknown squire leapt from his horse to recover it, and stood uncovered before her with such a long, low bow of homage he had most time to read the missive. Lady Constance was flattered and felt surely that one with such courtly dress and bearing could be nothing less than a Duke and his wearing of a full masque made her doubly sure of it. She flushed and reached out her hand for the letter and spoke in her most seductive tones,—
"My lord,"—he looked up and saw on her pretty, though characterless face a smile that warranted a further acquaintance. He placed the letter in her hand slowly, then caught her hand and held it firmly; indeed their hands touched and lingered together with such intention it conveyed much more meaning than words. Constance had all the outward show of a great lady, but at soul she was putrescent. There came such a heartrending sigh from her cavalier she spoke in a most tender tone,—
"And why such sighing?"
"Is it not enough, sweet lady?"
"I am at a loss?"
"Nay, rather 'tis I that am at loss; for I had sought to gain thy favour undivided, and I meet with thee only to give into thy hands a trysting billet that lifts thy glorious orbs above me." He bowed low in mock humility. Constance' heart fluttered at his ardent words.
"I would fain know who thus sues for a woman's love; 'tis possible—" He lowered his masque. "Ah, his Grace of Monmouth!" She well-nigh prostrated herself upon the saddle, in lieu of the fine courtesy she would have swept had her position been more favourable. His words—such gloriously sweet words when uttered by the lips of a Duke—fed her vanity. Her face flushed as she thought of what his love must be. He saw his vantage and drew nearer—it may be a hair's breadth over the line of respect—indeed 'twould have been an innovation had he not done so, as the time warranted nothing else but a show at virtue.
"Your Grace finds a maid that is heart whole; but I would aid others to their desire. I but act as post-boy 'twixt tree and castle."
"Thou art cold and cruel. I can see well thou dost hold tightly to thy bosom thy billet; thou art afraid 'twill betray thee. Thou art the maid herself that doth own it?" Constance had a burning curiosity to know why Monmouth was in the neighbourhood of Crandlemar, and though he insinuated he had come purposely to see her, yet she was not blind and wondered what diplomacy she could use to gain from him the desired knowledge. Could it be possible he had come on behalf of the King, and if so, for what business? The Catholics surely had not been so indiscreet as to allow their affairs to reach the King's ears? And if so, why should he send to them? It was not at all likely any one knew of the monastery so hidden away in a dense forest. Could it be that the beauty of Mistress Penwick had become notorious at Whitehall and that the Duke was hunting for her? These thoughts passed speedily through her brain, while the ogling Monmouth waited for her answer to his accusation. She spoke with a shy little twist of her head, vainly trying to blush like little innocence.
"How can I hold out against thee, Duke? Thou dost steal my secret; here, then, read it for thyself." With a lightening glance he finished reading what he had begun before.
"I was right, sweet Katherine; 'tis a trysting letter, and thou art to go to him to-night at nine? Thou shalt not; I'll have thee for myself." Now they had made a great mistake. Constance thought to convince the Duke she had no lover. He misunderstood and believed her to be the Katherine he had come after. She, thinking to gain his secret, allowed him to think so, and quickly took up her new part.
"Thou dost embarrass me, Duke!"
"In very truth," said he, "we have heard of thy great beauty at Whitehall, and have come hither to claim thee for ourselves. Thou shalt be my very own, sweet Katherine. The King was about to send forth to Crandlemar to enquire of his Grace of Ellswold. We asked for the service, that we might gain sight of thy rare beauty. We are about to pay our respects to the Duke who lies yonder, and at the King's order bring him important news. We have heard, however, his condition is most critical, and we cannot see him until high noon to-morrow, as the midday finds him stronger. And I must see thee, sweet one, again before the night is over. I cannot wait for the morrow's noon." He caught her hand and pressed his lips to it, resting himself against the horse, his arm thrown carelessly across Constance' knee. She deemed it an honour to be in such close proximity to the royal Duke, and grew red with his amorous glances and soft-spoken words and the familiarity of his arm upon her.
"Indeed, it doth seem to me also like a very long time to wait," and she sighed heavily. At this Monmouth drew her down and kissed her upon her thin, arrogant lips. She, well-nigh beside herself, exclaimed in a thin, high voice,—
"Ah, ah, Duke, thou dost kill me—I must hasten away from thee. I must go." She spurred her horse; but the Duke caught the rein and held it fast.
"Nay, nay, thou shalt not yet be gone. Wouldst thou be so cruel to leave me now at Love's first onset? I will not have it!"
"But I must hasten,—I am riding alone, and some one will be sent for me if I do not soon return to the castle."
"Thou must give me promise first, sweet one!"
"Promise,—promise of what?" and she listened eagerly to his next words.
"Dost thou not covet a Prince's favour?" Constance' heart fluttered mightily, and she thought—"A fig for Cedric's love of me. He loves not at all, compared with this man's warm passion. Cedric loves me not at all, anyway. I will be a Prince's favourite," and she answered,—
"I never covet that which is beyond my reach." 'Tis often a true thing that when we sit within our dark and dismal chamber without comfort, hope or happy retrospection, there stands upon the threshold a joyous phenomenon of which we have never so much as dreamt as being in existence; and this had come to Constance. If the Duke loved her, what would it matter if Cedric did love Katherine? She could not compel him to love her.
"Ah, sweet Katherine, how can one covet that they already possess? I would teach thee to enjoy all that such beauty as thine is heir to. Thou wilt come to me to-night?"
"To-night!" and Lady Constance fairly gasped.
"To-night, fair one, on the stroke of nine thou wilt pass through the postern door of the castle and fall into my arms,—here, take this, sweet, to pledge thyself." He slipped from his finger a ring of marvellous beauty and essayed to place it upon her hand.
"Nay, I cannot. I should be seen to go forth at so early an hour,—and I know thee not!"
"Thou art not afraid of me? Nay, I am one of the most gentle and tender—"
"But where wilt thou take me, your Grace?"
"I will take thee to my heart, and if thou art unhappy, thou mayest return when thou desirest; but 'twill be my pleasure to keep thee with me alway; we will go to London." Constance, having read the letter, knew it would not do for her to leave the drawing-room at the same hour with Katherine, and she hardly knew what to do.
"Indeed, I have no wish to see a duel upon my Lord Cedric's grounds, thou must come later. My love will perhaps wait an hour,—thou mayest come at twelve."
"And allow him to come first and steal thee; nay, I protest." Constance felt somewhat dubious. The Duke saw it, and hastened to reassure her.
"If thou wilt sit near the window on the stroke of nine, I will let thy lover go; but if thou dost pass from my sight, I will run the fellow through; and thou mayest come to me at twelve!"
To this Constance agreed, and allowed him to place the ring; and he kissing her again with fervour, let her go, exultant.
'Twas a glorious, clear, warm night. The castle was aglow and merry. Lady Bettie Payne and Sir Rodger Mac Veigh and Sir Jasper Kenworthy and sundry other shire folk had come to while away a spring night. The gentlemen were playing at cup and ball; Lady Constance and Lady Bettie were gossiping of Court scandal, when in swept her Grace of Ellswold with Mistress Penwick, the latter such a vision of loveliness the game was suspended for a moment, and Constance and Bettie looked up to see why all eyes were turned from them.
The maid wore a pale-hued brocade gown of sweeping length of skirt, and short, round bodice and low-neck and long sleeves that tightly encased her plump, pink arms. Her mother's pearls lay glistening about her slender neck, and falling low was caught again by some caprice of mode high where met sleeve and waist, and here a rare bunch of fragrant violets shone bravely as a shoulder knot.
Lord Cedric saw her first, and was well-nigh drunk with her beauty, and he advanced and bent low, kissing her hand that trembled in his own. He raised his eyes to hers, she looking fairly at him with a ready smile.
"Kate, Kate—" Such a flood of emotion came upon him he was bereft of speech. She looked at him surprised, and wondered if he knew aught. Could it be that Sir Julian had found out anything and had spoken to Cedric? She was sure she had kept this last secret safe from all save Constance, and had not been with Sir Julian for a whole day, fearing he would find out by looking at her. Nay, he knew nothing,—beside, if he did, he would shield her from Cedric's anger by keeping so great a secret. And yet it almost seemed as if the young lord knew of her desperate act; 'twas written on his face, she saw the pain upon it; and yet, how could it be? These thoughts flashed through Katherine's brain, and she tried to move from him, but an inscrutable presence held her, and she felt she must not leave him, perhaps forever, with that face so full of pain, and she spoke out a word she had never used before and one which touched his Lordship as nothing else could, 'twas:
"Cedric." He caught his breath with sheer excess of joy, and bent again and whispered,—
"What, Kate; what is it?" 'Twas enough, she laughed quietly and turned to Sir Julian, who had come to her side. Lady Constance was not long in finding an opportunity to speak alone with her.
"Oh, sweet," she said. "I haven't had a chance to talk with thee of my adventure," and she drew the maid aside and began volubly to speak of her encounter of the early morning. "He was most certainly of the Court. I cannot possibly mistake his manner. Indeed, I am certain he is a noble lord, and no doubt is here to bear Cantemir escort—perhaps—" and she leant close to Katherine—"it might be the King himself, who knows?" Her listener flushed and thought—
"Was it possible she was to receive such honour, and why not?" She had heard from Constance and Cantemir himself that his house was a very wealthy and important one in Russia and that the English royalty and nobles made much of him. She, with her poor knowledge of the world, thought Constance spoke truth.
"I'll tell thee why I thought he was the King. He was the form, grace and elegance of his Royal Highness and kept his masque securely tied. I'm sure it was he. And this evening,—ah, ah, how can I ever tell thee, Katherine, the honour I felt! Indeed we do not know how important Adrian is until we see those with whom he consorts. To-night I met—who dost guess it was, Katherine?"
"Nay, I could never guess, for I know not whom Adrian's friends are; but if thy friend of the morning was the King, 'tis certain the setting sun brings thee one less titled."
"'Tis so, but one who may be a King. Thou wilt never tell, Katherine?"
"'Twas the King's son, his Grace the Duke of Monmouth."
"Ah, ah, a Prince! Thou art indeed favoured. And how came it about? I am very curious." Lady Constance related part of her interview with the Duke, embellished and with many deviations—
"He said they were to be at the monastery as witnesses and intimated that the King had heard of thy wonderful beauty and grew so impatient to see thee he must either come himself or send some one he could trust. Monmouth said thy request was already granted in the King's mind, and he only waited to see thee to give it utterance. Thou dost know what a good Catholic he is, and hearing they were to send thee to ask certain things of his clemency, he has sent the Duke with other special guard to render speed and safety to thy journey to Whitehall, where great honour will be shown Adrian's fair bride." Constance so entered into the very soul of her lies, she half believed them as she gave them utterance.
The young maid was well-nigh beside herself with pleasure at the honours that were to attend her, and she gave up all idea of a backward step. And when Constance proclaimed she was to accompany her, her heart leapt up with joy. She gave no place to doubt now, 'twas an unknown quantity, and her voice trembled as she said—"It makes me perfectly content, if thou art to accompany me. Thou wilt go with me to the monastery, Constance?" For once her ladyship answered truthfully, but she did not know it:
"Nay, I am to join thee some time after twelve; I know not just when or where; but we are to be together. I owe this especial favour to the Duke. I am so glad thou art espoused, or will be in a short while, or I should be insanely jealous. Look, Katherine!" and Constance under cover of her handkerchief showed the ring.
"Isn't it beautiful?" said Katherine.
Mistress Penwick, like many another of her beauty and age, was inclined to be of ill-spirit when another of her sex seemed to be in favour; and at Constance' sudden acquaintance with the King's son, and able to wear his ring, she was piqued, and almost wished it was herself instead; for in such intimacy there could be nothing else but a very near and exalted position at Court. The poor child—innocent of all evil seeing naught in the gaining of Royal favour but the achievement of all that was high, holy, beautiful and perfect—now for a brief moment scorned her own poor estate and fell to envying Constance, and was of a notion not to go at all to the monastery;—but if she didn't, then her religion would suffer; for who could go to the King in her place? She knew she was beautiful, and knew its influence, and was sure the King would not refuse her. Now if Lord Cedric had not forbidden her going to the monastery for confession, she could have known what they wished and gone openly with Lady Constance or Sir Julian, or perhaps just with Janet to his Majesty and gained his favour and at once have become a Lady of Honour. But no, 'twas not thus, and things were as they were, and she could not change them or retrace.
She would not engage in any game, but played upon the harpsichord and sung some of her sweetest songs; Lord Cedric ever coming to her side to turn her music or offer some little service. He was aflame with hope, for had she not called him "Cedric"?
How dear it sounded; if he might only hear her say it again. He came to her side and whispered,—
"'Twas sweet of thee to call me Cedric!"—His hand for a moment rested upon the violets at her shoulder,—"Kate, why didst thou not wear the opal shoulder-knot instead of these violets?"
"Because—I value it more than aught else, and I would not wear it on all occasions, for 'twas thy mother's choicest brooch."
"Indeed, I love it, also, Kate, for the same reason; but I would rather see thee wear it, for I love thee, Kate, thee, thee, thee." His voice was like a sob stirring her to a pity that made her sick and weak, and she turned from him hastily and began singing softly,—
"When love with unconfined wings hovers within my gates; And my divine Althea brings to whisper at the grates; When I lie tangled in her hair and fetter'd to her eye; The gods that wanton in the air, know no such liberty.
"'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage; If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul am free; Angels alone that soar above enjoy such liberty!'"
"Thou dost sing the words of the beautiful and amiable Richard Lovelace; I have heard my father speak of him with great affection. The lines to Althea—his sweetheart—were written in prison. She thought him dead and married some one else. He loved her more than life,—dost believe in such love, Kate?"
"Aye, why not?—Ah, Sir Julian, hast finished,—who was victor?"
"I am modest, my Lady."
"But never too modest to hold thine own." As she spoke thus to Sir Julian, the sands of the hour-glass ran out and nine tolled from the Chapel belfry. Before the bell had ceased, Constance had drawn Cedric and Julian into a game of cards, she placing herself opposite the window, and Katherine had stepped into an adjoining passage, and taking up her camelot cloak, with flying feet and beating heart hastened to the postern-door and slipped bolts and bars and stood without in the calm, warm night.
SERMONS NEW AND OLD
"The reign of Charles the Second seemed to be impregnated with a free and easy moral atmosphere that engendered lewdness in human product. It is said by a great historian that Thomas Hobbes had, in language more precise and luminous than has ever been employed by any other metaphysical writer, maintained that the will of the prince was the standard of right and wrong, and that every subject ought to be ready to profess Popery, Mahometanism, or Paganism, at the royal command. Thousands who were incompetent to appreciate what was really valuable in his speculations eagerly welcomed a theory which, while it exalted the kingly office, relaxed the obligations of morality and degraded religion into a mere affair of state. Hobbism soon became an almost essential part of the character of the fine gentleman. All the lighter kinds of literature were deeply tainted by the prevailing licentiousness. Poetry stooped to be the pander of every low desire. Ridicule, instead of putting guilt and error to the blush, turned her formidable shafts against innocence and truth. The restored Church contended indeed against the prevailing immorality, but contended feebly, and with half a heart. It was necessary to the decorum of her character that she should admonish her erring children, but her admonitions were given in a somewhat perfunctory manner. Her attention was elsewhere engaged. Little as the men of mirth and fashion were disposed to shape their lives according to her precepts, they were yet ready to fight for her cathedrals and places, for every line of her rubric and every thread of her vestments. If the debauched cavalier haunted brothels and gambling houses, he at least avoided conventicles. If he never spoke without uttering ribaldry and blasphemy, he made some amends by his eagerness to send Baxter and Howe to gaol for preaching and praying. Thus the clergy, for a time, made war on schism with so much vigour that they had little leisure to make war on vice."
"Charles the Second wished merely to be a King who could draw without limit on the treasury for the gratification of his private tastes, who could hire with wealth and honours persons capable of assisting him to kill the time, and who, even when the state was brought by maladministration to the depths of humiliation and to the brink of ruin, could still exclude unwelcome truth from the purlieus of his own seraglio, and refuse to see and hear whatever might disturb his luxurious repose. Later in life, the ill-bred familiarity of the Scottish divines had given him a distaste for Presbyterian discipline, while the heats and animosities between the members of the Established Church and the Nonconformists, with which his reign commenced, made him think indifferently of both. His religion was that of a young prince in his warm blood, whose inquiries were applied more to discover arguments against belief than in its favour."
"The wits about the Court, who found employment in laughing at Scripture, delighted in turning to ridicule what the preachers said in their sermons before him, and in this way induced him to look upon the clergy as a body of men who had compounded a religion for their own advantage. So strongly did this feeling take root in him that he at length resigned himself to sleep at sermon-time—not even South or Barrow having the art to keep him awake. In one of these half-hours of sleep, when in Chapel, he is known to have missed, doubtless with regret, the gentle reproof of South to Lauderdale during a general somnolency:—'My lord, my lord, you snore so loud you will wake the King.'"
"He was altogether in favour of extempore preaching, and was unwilling to listen to the delivery of a written sermon." (Indeed, if we had more people like him in this day, we would hear far more of the gospel and far less of politics and jokes which so demoralize the pulpit and take away all sacredness. The King was right, as all mankind will agree, in his idea of preaching.) "Patrick excused himself from a chaplaincy, 'finding it very difficult to get a sermon without book.' On one occasion the King asked the famous Stillingfleet 'how it was that he always reads his sermons before him, when he was informed that he always preached without book elsewhere?' Stillingfleet answered something about the awe of so noble a congregation, the presence of so great and wise a prince, with which the King himself was very well contented,—'But, pray,' continued Stillingfleet, 'will your Majesty give me leave to ask you a question? Why do you read your speeches when you can have none of the same reasons?' 'Why truly, doctor,' replied the King, 'your question is a very pertinent one, and so will be my answer. I have asked the two Houses so often and for so much money, that I am ashamed to look them in the face.'"
"This 'slothful way of preaching,' for so the King called it, had arisen during the civil wars; and Monmouth, when Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, in compliance with the order of the King, directed a letter to the University that the practice of reading sermons should be wholly laid aside."
There was much ignorance in the seventeenth century; but 'twas of the people's own choosing; 'twas not of necessity. Lewdness was preferable to purity; it was easier had. And when the King led the pace, why not they of lesser rank and fortunes? But was there ever a thing created in all the world without its right and wrong sides? It seemed there was no room in Charles' time for aught but evil. "The ribaldry of Etherege and Wycherley was, in the presence and under the special sanction of the head of the church, while the author of the Pilgrim's Progress languished in a dungeon for the crime of proclaiming the gospel to the poor."
As time waxed, even the vigilant persecutors became passive, relaxed themselves into indifference; but before immorality was aware the still, small voice was heard. The seed that was twelve years in planting had taken root and Pilgrim's Progress became known and John Bunyan stood without the prison gates to preach and pray at will, to keep on extending that influence that lives to-day. And for once the King did not go to sleep when, through caprice or curiosity, he went to hear him preach.
"When Bunyan went to preach in London, if there was but one day's notice, the meeting house was crowded to overflowing. Twelve hundred people would be found collected before seven o'clock on a dark winter's morning to hear a lecture from him. In Zoar St. Southwark, his church was sometimes so crowded that he had to be lifted to the pulpit stairs over the congregation's heads." He strove not for popularity, as could be seen in the one little circumstance when "a friend complimented him, after service, on 'the sweet sermon' which he had delivered. 'You need not remind me of that,' he said. 'The devil told me of it before I was out of the pulpit.'"
"Charles Doe, a distinguished nonconformist, visited him in his confinement. 'When I was there,' he writes, 'there were about sixty dissenters besides himself, taken but a little before at a religious meeting at Kaistor, in the county of Bedford, besides two eminent dissenting ministers, Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Dun, by which means the prison was much crowded. Yet, in the midst of all that hurry, I heard Mr. Bunyan both preach and pray with that mighty spirit of faith and plerophory of Divine assistance, that he made me stand and wonder.'"
The sweet spirit of a minister is treasured and kept green in the memory of his flock, no matter how recalcitrant they may be. This is shown by the reading once a year in Bedford Church of John Gifford's letter to his parish people, written over two hundred years ago. It says: "Let no respect of persons be in your comings together. When you are met as a church, there's neither rich nor poor, bond nor free, in Jesus Christ. 'Tis not a good practice to be offering places or seats when those who are rich come in; especially it is a great evil to take notice of such in time of prayer or the word; then are bowings and civil observances at such times not of God." It was the "holy Mr. Gifford" that was often in conference with John Bunyan; "the latter as the seeking pilgrim, the former the guiding evangelist." With such men as these the sweet spirit was kept aflame and eventually changed England and made her the great country she is. But in those licentious days this sweet spirit shone from its impure surroundings like the ignis fatuus, and 'twas a great, wicked world that Mistress Penwick stood all alone in that early summer night.
A nightingale sung afar in some bowery of blossom, and for a moment she listened.
"'Tis an ode to the night he sings, 'tis too clear and high and full of cadence for a nuptial mass,—nay, nay, I shall not marry to-night, I will go and see what dear father Constantine wishes and return to this home that has never seemed so fair to me before;—and my lord is handsome and so, too, is Sir Julian and I'm fond of their Graces of Ells wold and Janet,—Janet, I love her best of all. Nay, nay, I'll not be married. I will go and see and return. Janet will not look for me above stair before eleven at least. I shall be home again ere I'm missed." She thought thus as she hurried on through the courtyard and beyond, where waited Father Dempsy.
In a second, it seemed, they were galloping away, Mistress Penwick throwing back a long, sweeping glance at the great, stone pile behind her. The train of her brocade skirt hung almost to the ground; her fair, sloping shoulders, her exquisite face framed in a high roll of amber beauty, made a picture,—a rare gem encircled by a gorgeous June night.
On they rode without converse; Dempsy was a brave man, yet he feared and justly, too, that Mistress Pen wick might be taken from him before they reached the monastery, therefore he enjoined silence, and the best speed of their horses, and kept a hand upon his sword.
He drew a sigh of relief when he beheld the dark outline of the cloister that appeared quiet and undisturbed.
As they approached, Cantemir came from the open door and lifted Mistress Penwick from her horse in a most tender fashion, and would have held her close and imprinted a kiss upon her forehead had she not drawn from him and raised her hand to his lips.
"'Tis a cold greeting, Katherine, after these long, weary days of separation."
"Nay, not so. 'Tis thy warmth that is premature." And without deigning further opportunity for converse, she swept over the threshold of the monastery.
There was much business to be attended to before the ceremony could take place, and the time was limited; for in one hour it was believed the cloister would be attacked by the Duke of Buckingham and his party, and the maid must be far on her way before the attack.
There was none but Mistress Penwick, herself, that thought else than that a marriage contract was to be sealed. She on a sudden felt a great repulsion for Adrian Cantemir, and she resolved not to wed him.
As she stood in the large hall that served as council chamber and for all functions of importance, she cast her eye about for those answering to the description of his Grace of Monmouth and that other—was it the King? She felt sure she would know him; but upon the long benches there were none but sombre cowled figures with crucifix and—aye, swords gleamed from beneath the folds of their long gowns and touched the floor. Her eyes flashed wide with surprise, and she felt proud and loved the bravery of her religion. But to what it portended she thought on for a moment seriously and concluded Royal personages must be present, or why else such precaution?
As the business had to do with Mistress Penwick only, Cantemir was asked to withdraw. As soon as the business was entered upon, the maid's doubts of the surrounding company were dispelled and she knew none of the Royal party would dare be even an unknown guest at such a meeting.
At the conclusion of the council she held an important secret, more important to herself than she dreamt. It made her bold, and she straightway arose and spoke out clearly,—
"If the reverend fathers would agree upon a certain matter, I will start at once upon my journey. I feel my mission to the King to be more important than all else to me, and for the success of my undertaking I deem it best I should go as maid and not wife to his most Royal presence." This was a startling but most acceptable assertion. It had been much spoken on by the Abbes but by common consent they agreed if the maid wished to marry the Russian, why—they would offer no objections; so they had left the matter.
"Dost think, Mistress Penwick, thou canst settle readily the case with the Count?"
"'Twill be easy and quickly done. Call him hither!" said she. The Russian came with eagerness and some impatience, for he feared a delay might plunge him into a lively skirmish.
Katherine went to his side, and placing her fingers upon his arm, said,—
"Thou wilt escort me to the King?"
"Most gladly, and where else in life thou shalt choose to go."
"'Tis the present that indicates the future,—wilt come at once without ceremony?"
"Nay, nay, I protest. I must have thee as wife, first, Mistress Penwick!"
Constantine leant toward them from the table and looked with purpose, a frown emphasizing his shrewd glance,—
"We have not time for further controversy, and if the maid will say the word, the ceremony will be performed now." The Abbe knew the maid would give in to circumstances sooner than the determined Count, and thus hastened her. All eyes were upon the two, and Katherine hearing in the priest's voice a tone of insistence, stood for a moment motionless and evidently debating her course.
As she opened her lips, there was a sudden sound of horses' feet.
In a moment a thundering knock upon the door's panelling demanded admittance.
"Who seeks an opening so roughly?" thundered La Fosse.
"Cedric of Crandlemar!"
"The devil!" cried Cantemir, as he fell back in consternation and fear. Indeed he would rather meet the King of devils than this hot-headed Cedric. Katherine was not at a loss to read Count Adrian's countenance, and straightway bade them open the door. La Fosse spoke as his hand rested on the locker,—
"Art alone, my lord?"
"Aye, quite alone!" came in a voice so shaken Katherine fell to trembling in very fear. Cedric threw wide the door and stood within, facing them all. His face gleamed like marble, so colourless and still it seemed. His body swayed by love and anger, knew not which way to turn, but appeared to sway from side to side. His breath came in quick, sharp pants. His hair, damp as if from fine rain, was dishevelled. His dark eyes shot forth sparks of angry fire that burnt all who fell beneath their glance.
"Who brought hither the maid? Did yonder pandering fool? Aye, 'twas thou. I see it plain. Come, come, draw fool; draw ere I run thee through and dishonour sword by attacking thee, unarmed; draw, I say, fool!"
Count Adrian's face was ghastly. Lord Cedric raised his sword and made a lunge at him. La Fosse was too quick for Cedric. He sprang between and parried the pass with astounding dexterity. The monk intended it for a finale stroke; but not so Cedric. He began a fight that was not to be so easily ended, and he drove his sword in fury. The good monk only wished to parry; but alas! he caught the spirit of battle and fought. Constantine made as if to draw the maid from the scene, while others sought to interfere with the combatants. 'Twas of no avail. Katherine could not be moved from where she stood, white and still as a statue; neither could they interpose between the Abbe and his Lordship. Sorrow and dismay were written on every face, for 'twas sure one or the other must fall of those two masters of the sword. Already there fell at La Fosse's feet drops of blood. When Katherine saw them, she sprang forward and cried,—