"Stop, stop in God's name, stop!" As she was about to fling herself between them, Cedric fell heavily to the floor, a stream of blood flowing from his breast. With a wild scream Katherine fell upon her knees at his side and pressed her dainty handkerchief to the wound, and began to fondle him and speak in his ear that she loved him. Aye, she was sure now, there could be no doubt, and as she pressed her lips to his cold, white face she saw his eyelids flutter. She looked up quickly into the priest's face; he answered her look with wholesome words.
"The wound is slight, my child; he will recover." She fell back, blushing with shame for her bold avowals, and knew not which way to turn to hide her confusion; for she was sure all present had marked her warm words and actions.
Immediately Lord Cedric was carried to an inner room, and Katherine turned about to look for Cantemir, as did a half-dozen others; he had disappeared and where he stood were a score of masqued figures. When they saw they had the attention of the company, one lifted high his sword and cried,—
"Hail, merry monarchs of the Sylvan Chapel! We have come to escort the maid to the King!" While this avowal struck the Abbes with consternation, they had expected a different mode of attack, and they were not displeased that it had taken another course. They had expected the treasure would be demanded of them with all their papers. These they would fight for. The secret for which Mistress Penwick was to visit the King, the Abbes were now sure the Royal party knew not. The papers she carried could give them no clue even though they gained possession of them, and the maid would never divulge what she was to say to his Majesty.
"Her escort is provided," said La Fosse, who stood nearly exhausted, leaning upon the table, his sword still in his hand.
"Ah, but if we choose to offer her a more honourable one! Indeed the knave of a Russian, who lies without, has but just put the matter in our hands. He was to escort her, but at sight of blood he faints and begs us take forthwith his promised wife to Whitehall." One could not mistake the courtly grace and fine figure of his Grace of Buckingham. Behind him was a form equally imposing, and the handsome mouth and chin of the Duke of Monmouth could be seen as he tilted his masque for a better view of the maid, whom he supposed was the same he had met in the evening. But with half an eye he saw his mistake. Never was he so moved at first sight of a face before. He drank in her loveliness in rapturous drafts, and swayed from side to side examining with critical eye the outline of her fair mould. She had thrown her cloak from her and stood slightly in front of Constantine, as he, holding a candle at her elbow, leant close to her ear, whispering and holding a small paper for her to read. As she read, her eyes flashed, her bosom rose and fell neath the covering of her short, full waist; and Monmouth's eyes seemed ravished by it. It had been his misfortune, he thought, to see long, modish, tapering stays that bruised his fancy as it did the wearer's body, and to behold such slender waist crowned by full, unfettered maiden roundness, pedestalled by such broad and shapely hips was maddening. He had not dreamt of such beauty when his Grace of Buckingham had suggested the trip into the forest.
"We will have some sport finding a beauty and a secret. If it pleases your Grace, I will have the secret and thou the maid," said he to Monmouth, and the latter had come all the way from Whitehall, for he knew the Duke would waste no time looking for aught but a King's portion. Never was there another such a beauty; she would be the gem of his seraglio. She looked up, her dark orbs casting a sweeping glance upon those about.
"I will return to Crandlemar for the night; call my escort!" said she.
Now it was plain this was a ruse of Constantine's own making, and had whispered it as she had pretended to read. Buckingham laughed cruelly and scornfully, provoking smothered mirth from behind the masques of his followers.
"Thou hadst better set out directly, if thou wouldst gain audience with the King ere he leaves Whitehall."
"I am in no hurry, to-morrow will do as well. I like not advice unsought. I'll have none of it. I will go where, when and how as I please!"
"And coercion smacks of a power residing not in these parts. I am delegated, Mistress Penwick, to bring thee straightway to the Royal presence."
"And why, may I ask, am I so called to his Majesty?"
"Thou art a hostage!" and Buckingham took a pinch of snuff with as much ease and grace as if standing in a crowded drawing-room.
THE EDICT OF BUCKINGHAM
"I—I, a hostage! and who gave me as such, pray?"
"There is not time for further inquisition; we have a long journey before us. Come, Mistress!"
"Nay, nay, I protest; I'll not go with thee—"
"Mistress Penwick, I beg thee in my own behalf,"—and the Duke bowed before her so courteously, he half won her good will, then—"and I command thee in the name of the King," and with these words he put forth his hand as it were to take that of Katherine. A sword swept lightly over the maid's fingers, at which the two Dukes drew back with haughty indignation, which meant that reparation must be immediate for this insult to those who came upon his Majesty's affairs; for indeed they feigned well that they were carrying out the King's orders. La Fosse, having now regained his breath and some strength, essayed to draw Mistress Penwick from the scene that was about to ensue; but a young man flung himself between them and drove back the monk at the point of his sword, thus beginning the fight.
Katherine was well-nigh fainting from actual fear and apprehension. If she were a hostage, 'twas her duty to go and it might favour her cause. Doubtless these men were gentlemen, and what matter now who accompanied her to the King? Adrian had proven himself a knave. Poor, dear Cedric lay ill of his wound and he could not attend her if he would. These things flashed through her mind as she watched the flash of steel. Then on a sudden it came to her who these masqued figures might be. Her heart gave a great bound, and she sprang into the midst of those fighting and raised her voice, crying forth,—
"Cease, cease, fight no more; I will go with thee." A priest near her whispered,—
"'Tis thy honour we fight for now, hold thy peace; 'tis not best for thee to go with them, 'twould be thy utter ruin and the undoing of our affairs!" His warning came too late; all had heard Katherine speak; and although two forms already lay upon the floor, there were other motives stronger than the thirst for blood, which on a sudden seemed quenched, and faces pale and blood-stained turned upon Buckingham as he coolly and with much dignity lifted Katherine's cloak from the table and placed it about her shoulders, then had the audacity to offer his arm. She ignored it, turned to Constantine and fell upon her knees; he blessed her, then whispered hurriedly in her ear. She arose and passed down the bloody aisle, which was flanked on either side by an array of shining steel. As she approached the door, it was flung wide by a figure that startled her, so like was it to Lord Cedric's, but the light fell aslant his countenance and as she swept by saw 'twas Sir Julian Pomphrey.
A chaise stood some little distance from the cloister, into which Katherine was placed with great courtesy by his Grace of Buckingham.
She sunk back among the cushions with half-closed eyes; heeding not those that rode at either window of the equipage; she was trying to collect her thoughts and by degrees they shaped themselves and she was thinking of that that had but transpired. First of all, she consoled herself like the selfish girl she was: Cedric would not die; 'twas a sweet consolation, and she smiled; her thoughts dwelling not for a moment on her own conduct that had brought him to suffer such pain. Then she lay back even more luxuriously as she thought that Sir Julian would not have opened the door for her, had she been going into danger. To tell the truth, she sighed happily in contemplation of further exploit. She grew bolder and bolder, fearing naught but some slight mischance that might prevent her being a Maid of Honour; for never, never could she go back to Cedric after she had made assertion of love in his ear, and his eyelids had trembled. Nay, nay, she could not bear to look him in the face again. Alas! she made vow she never would. If she was not made a lady of her Majesty's household, she would seek the patronage of some titled woman, who could help her. Not for a moment did she think of the perils that surrounded and grew closer about her unprotected self with every turn of the wheels that carried her on.
It appeared now as if all barriers to the King's presence had been levelled and Katherine's hopes matured to confidence. She drew her cloak about her with sedulous care, as if in so doing she wrapped and hid from the whole world her own poor cunning. She found in her lonely condition no embarrassment, conceiving that her position as intermediary between her Church and the State was sufficient reason for her abrupt leaving of home. Sir Julian would doubtless explain matters to the Duke and Duchess, whom she believed were more than half of her faith. They would see she had been highly honoured by being entrusted with a great secret.
It appeared as if the chaise would never cease to lung and swagger over rough, unused roads, and when at last it did mend its way, Katherine had ceased thinking and fallen fast asleep, nor did she wake during hours of travel, until the great coach came to a sudden halt. She looked through the window. Dawn streaked the East with uncertain intention, knowing not whether to open the day with rain or sunshine. A little to the left was the dark outline of an inn, nestling upon the threshold of a forest, from the window of which fell aslant the way a line of light. The door of the equipage was opened, and a stately cavalier stood to assist her down the step. She leapt lightly to the ground, taking the proffered arm, as the way was dark and uneven.
Within the large, cheery room they entered, burnt a crackling fire; for the morning was damp and chilly. Katherine stole a glance at her companion and saw the handsome features of Monmouth. He had removed his masque and now stood uncovered before her.
"I hope Mistress Penwick has not suffered from her long ride?"
"Nay, sir; on the contrary, I feel refreshed." Her manner told him plainly his address was not displeasing to her. His eyes rested amorously upon her; for 'twas naught but strong, healthful youth could predicate such reply and vouch for its assertion by such rich colouring of cheek, such rare sparkling of eyes and such ripeness of lips.
She sat at the chimney-nook, her satin gown trailing at her side, her cloak thrown over the back of the high chair. Their Graces were engaged aside with the landlord and servants.
"We will rest here until noon, anyway," one said, "and if they have not arrived we will set out without them." Katherine heard and thought 'twas Constance whom they were expecting; and when a table was drawn close to the fire and covers laid for four, there being but three to sit down, Katherine looked askance at the vacant place; the Dukes exchanged glances and his Grace of Buckingham turned to her quickly, introducing himself, then Monmouth, and explained that at the last moment Lady Constance had been prevailed upon to accompany them to London and was expected every moment.
Mistress Penwick had flushed at the presentation of two such noble names, but at his following assertion, which corroborated with Constance' own words, made her not a little jealous; for the handsome young Monmouth had already shown his regard (God pity her innocence) for Lady Constance by giving her a valuable ring, and now had contrived to make her of their party that he might be constantly with her.
She straightway became very sober-minded, vouchsafing no remarks and inviting none. Her pique would have given way had she but heard the Duke's conversation a few moments previous.
"Damme!" said young Monmouth, "I have kidnapped the wrong girl. 'Tis not my fault; thou saidst, Duke, to take any pretty girl from Crandlemar castle, and I have captured Lady Constance, whom, I took it, was the girl in question; and I made up my mind thou shouldst not choose beauty for me. I shall throw her on thy shoulders to dispose of."
The Dukes, bent on provoking the maid to her former manner, began witty tales of wayside inns. Their demeanour was so noble, their stories so terse and pretty, their converse of such elegant and pure wording, she relaxed and fell into their mood and told what few convent stories she could boast. Their Graces were charmed by her beauty, her sweet resonant voice and the simple and innocent narratives, and not a little pleased by the result of their diplomacy.
* * * * *
When Mistress Penwick had gone from the grand salon the evening before, Lord Cedric was not long in discovering her absence; for his eyes and thoughts ever sought her. He had been greatly stirred by some unknown thing, perhaps that we call premonition ('tis God's own gift, if we would but heed its warning), but the game being well under way and Constance calling his attention to an immediate and imperative move, he was dissuaded from his inclination to arise and inquire of the maid's absence. It was not for long, however, either the game or his kinswoman's cunning could hold his Lordship from seeking her. Quietly he beckoned a lackey and whispered aside. A few minutes elapsed when the servant stood by his master, while beyond in the doorway was Janet, who for once in her life was quite pale. Swiftly Lord Cedric strode to her, saying,—
"Hast thou looked for her everywhere, Janet?"
"Aye, my lord, in her own chamber and—"
"But perhaps she has gone to the kitchens or pantries, for hunger doth assail her not infrequent and at unusual hours."
There was a bit of bitterness and sarcasm in his voice and he ground his heel as he turned about to give orders. In a moment servants were hunting in every direction throughout the castle. It was soon ascertained she was not within the great house. Cedric grew wild with passion and tore up and down like one gone mad. Sir Julian could not restrain him, a thing that had not happened heretofore. Angel, his old nurse, was called; she bade him ride forth for her.
At this a horse was made ready, and his lordship mounted and rode away. Sir Julian protesting all the while.
As the clatter of horses' hoofs had fairly died away and Sir Julian stood just where Cedric had left him, debating with his several ideas, a soft touch was laid almost tenderly upon his arm; had it been the soft, slimy trailing of a serpent, 'twould not have so startled him. He turned suddenly and caught the slender hand, with no fine affection,—
"I see it all quite plainly, thou art the cruel spider that hath woven a silken mesh for that innocent child, and thou shalt tell me before the sands of the hour-glass mark ten moments of time, where has flown Mistress Penwick,—so speak, speak quickly, Constance!"
His voice and manner brooked no delay, and her ladyship thinking that even now Katherine was Cantemir's wife, spoke out with a semblance of injured dignity that melted under Sir Julian's scathing contempt to silly simpering. The noble character of Sir Julian seemed to silhouette that of her ladyship in all its ugly blackness.
"She is, I presume, by now, the Countess Cantemir—made so by an Abbe at the monastery."
Pomphrey was a-road; the clatter of bit and spur brought a smile to Constance' face, and she cried forth with all the venom in her poor, foul being:
"Two mad fools,—both gone crazy over a convent wench, who is now my Lady Cantemir—my cousin,—the wife of a fortune hunter!" She fled within doors like one pursued and stopped not until she reached her own chamber.
Midnight approached phantom-like, and as stealthily Lady Constance crept to the postern door. Behind her fell a shadow athwart the floor, a shadow that was not hers but of one that moved as warily. She listened as she held the door ajar, fearing to look back. As she thrust the door wide, a figure from without moved toward her.
"Who is there?" she whispered.
"Monmouth!" was the answer; and out she stepped, well pleased to be free from that shadow she felt was pursuing her. Her hand was immediately taken and eager eyes sought the ring. It was hardly visible, so dense was the shadow of the trees.
"Come this way, Lady Penwick," came in a voice that was not that of Monmouth's, which had sounded so much like music to her a few, short hours before, or that had spoken the word "Monmouth" even that moment. She, drawing back in her uncertainty, was captured by strong arms, a hood was thrown over her head, and she was lifted and carried in hot haste to a chaise, and helped therein without much formality. As her escort leapt in behind her, there swept in the other door another figure, also intent upon being accommodated by a seat in a London equipage; and before any one was aware of a de trop comrade, the doors were shut with a bang and horses started at a gallop. Under cover of the noise her ladyship's vizor was lifted and she, half smothered, drew breath and stared about her in the darkness.
"Thou didst bring thy servant with thee, Lady?"
"Who doth dare inveigle me from the protection of my cousin, Lord Cedric?"
"I, my lady; a simple gentleman of his Grace of Monmouth's suite,—and at his order."
"Ah—" 'twas long drawn and somewhat smacked of satisfaction. "Who is this female?"
"Is she not thine?"
"Nay, not mine. She doth play the hocus," said her ladyship.
"Who art thou, then, woman; how came yonder door to pamper thy whim?" The surprised guardsman rapped smartly upon the window, then pulling it up leant out and asked for a torch. As there were none a-light, he waited some moments; as he did so, there came an answer from the figure opposite,—
"I am Mistress Penwick's waiting-woman." The answer was satisfactory to the guard.
"'Tis Janet, as I live," interrupted Lady Constance. She was not sorry to have a companion of her own sex, and Janet would make herself generally useful, if the ride was long and her ladyship should fall ill, as she was certain to do. She knew also Janet's motive for following her. She was interested in nothing but her mistress.
As the road seemed rough and endless, Constance became anxious of her destination and began to inquire, as if in great anger, why she was thus taken and for what purpose. All questions being answered perfunctorily, she relaxed into silence. At last she asked broadly,—
"Where are we to stop for refreshment, man; I am near dead with fatigue?"
"We stop at Hornby's Inn, my lady, there to meet his Grace."
Janet sat quiet, nor did she speak again until she stood before Mistress Penwick at the inn, where she sailed in as if nothing in the world had happened, but inwardly she fairly wept with joy to find her nurseling happy and unharmed.
The rain was falling heavily as Lady Constance entered the room where sat Katherine with the two Dukes. Dawn seemed to have gone back into night, for 'twas so dark candles twinkled brightly and lighted up the maiden's face as she spun a story of convent ghosts. Hate flung open gates through her ladyship's eyes and fell a battery upon Katherine's face. 'Twas but a thrust of a glance, but their Graces noted it as they arose to greet her. Katherine was answering in an undertone Janet's questions as Monmouth spoke aside to her Ladyship. Constance was not to be delayed, even by his Grace, and she hastened to the table and greeted Katherine as Lady Cantemir.
"Nay, not so!" said the maid; whereupon Constance gasped, covering her defeat by a great show of wonder and surprise. She fell to questioning, her inquiries being overthrown by Buckingham, who adroitly turned the conversation upon another matter.
Monmouth was wild with delight over the prize he had captured, and as they sat at meat he was pondering upon where he should hide the beauty, for he feared his father's predilections, and 'twas sure he would not run the risk of any such mischance and he tossed about in his mind the advisability of taking her to London. As these thoughts crowded upon him he grew grave and frowned. Constance, feeling her disappointment most keenly, saw the tangle upon the Duke's brow. It arrested the quick pulsing of her own discontent and turned her mind into a channel of evil even more treacherous than any ideas that had assailed her heretofore. It meant, in case of defeat, her own downfall. She would barter, if need be, her own soul away. Of such character were her ladyship's ambitions. She was impatient for the final bout that was to settle all things.
Even the haughty Duke of Buckingham was moved by Mistress Penwick's youth, beauty and innocence. And yet he thought 'twas pitiful she should go unclaimed by Court. Her secret must be had at whatever cost, and seeing the maid was neither dismayed nor at loss by being thrown with the king's son and the famous Buckingham, 'twas certain nothing less than extreme measures would draw from her her secret. Whether these measures were foul or fair was not of much consequence to him. If the maid was to favour any, he would withdraw, giving place to Monmouth, providing of course 'twas in his power to do so. And that 'twould be his power he did not doubt.
Mistress Penwick saw Monmouth's frown also, and looked up at him smiling and asked,—
"Thou must not ponder upon ghosts.—When do we journey, your Grace?"
"When thou art well rested and say the word." His face broke into sunshine and the maid could not fail to see the admiration that fell upon her from his Grace's eyes. She flushed rose red. He caught her hand as they arose from table, and pressed it warmly, and with a tenderness that was apparent to Buckingham and Constance. Should he press his suit upon her now or wait? He thought best to wait, as Janet quickly came to her mistress at a motion of the hand that the Duke reluctantly released. He allowed her to pass to her chamber without his escort. Constance passed unnoticed by him from the room, and being well-worn by her long ride, also went above stair, where she tumbled upon her bed in tears, most unlike Katherine who was rubbed and swathed in blankets by the faithful Janet.
* * * * *
Sir Julian Pomphrey had sent to the castle and procured conveyance and Ellswold's physicians for the young lord, who lay very white and weak at the monastery. Owing to his serious wound, they had moved very slowly, reaching home near three o'clock in the morning. The Duchess was greatly shocked by Cedric's condition and most indignant with Mistress Penwick and Constance.
The matter was blown about by servants, and before the dismal rainy day was ended, all Crandlemar knew of the goings-on at the castle and were greatly stirred that their lord had been so used by the Catholics. 'Twas inflammable matter that meant the possible uprising in arms of the whole village. It was said the Protestants were aggrieved that Lord Cedric had thus long allowed the monks freehold, and now that he was helpless they would take it upon themselves to drive them away at the point of the sword and see if, by so doing, greater fortune would not fall to them, for such bravery would certainly bring them to their lord's notice and mayhap he would build up many of his houses and do better by them than heretofore.
Over the ale mugs at the village inn 'twas whispered by the landlord that the day before two men, wearing masques, had left the place together, one bearing under his saddle-bag a monk's robe; and a crucifix had fallen from his pocket as he mounted.
The men grew more and more excited and fell to pledging themselves to clean out the ancient monastery before another day should close.
A pale young man in fashionable attire sat apart, drinking deep and listening with satisfaction to the village swains and their elders' talk; his eye in imagination upon the dark passage in the monastery that hid the trapdoor and—no doubt the treasures of the cloister that lay beneath.
'Twas Cantemir; he had escaped unharmed from the clutches of Buckingham and Monmouth. The former had caught him hastening from the monastery and seizing compelled him to give the information he sought and to give up all papers on his person; which he did cheerfully. Finding him a cowardly knave, the Duke flung him from him with disgust. Buckingham had heard, to be sure, that the maid they sought was a hostage; but whether this was true, or would lead to matters of more consequence, he had yet to learn.
Buckingham, after a few hours' sleep, left Hornby's Inn, returning to the village of Crandlemar. He wore no masque this time and boldly entered the inn to refresh himself and prepare for a visit to the castle. He took little heed of the slender young man who now lay, very much drunken, upon a long bench; but ordered the best wine and sat down before a table that was already accommodating some half-dozen men. He appeared not to hear their excited whispers, and feigned preoccupation until he was quite sure his manner had been noted, then as if modesty held him, he spoke,—
"Is there not in these parts a monastery upon the estates of the noble Lord Cedric of Crandlemar?" He hardly raised his eyes, so indifferently did he put the question.
"There is, sir," one said.
"Then where hath flown my lord's religion?"
This struck consternation upon the group; for 'twas certain they loved their patron's good name, even though he did forget their importunities, and this sudden thrust struck home. One whispered aside,—
"Perhaps 'tis one come to spy upon our lord's intentions and take him to the Tower." At this one honest, brave man arose and leant with rustic grace across the table toward the stranger and said,—
"His lordship lies ill yonder," pointing over his shoulder toward the castle, "and we loyal subjects to his Majesty, claim the right to drive from Protestant soil the shackles of Catholic freeholds, and 'tis our intention to come upon them—what say you, fellows, to-night?"
"Aye, aye!" rang from nearly a score of tongues.
"'Tis well," said the cavalier, "for to-morrow might have been too late."
"What might that mean, sir?"
"It means that Catholic lands and holds are sometimes confiscated and in some cases the boundary lines are not known, and some good King might send some noble lord to the Tower to search for the required limitations of his demesne."
Every man's hand sought a weapon and eye met eye in mutual concourse.
"To-night, then, to-night we'll put to rout the enemy!" they cried.
The cavalier, pleased with the reception of his hint, asked for his horse.
He arrived at the castle to be most cordially received by the Duchess and Sir Julian. If Buckingham was ever unbending, it was to Sir Julian.
As they met, Buckingham bent lower than his wont to hide a guilt that was not perceptible to any one else but Julian, and the latter was not slow to note it. The Duchess, not knowing who had carried off either Constance or Mistress Penwick, was very free in her conversation and spoke at once of Lord Cedric's injury and of the naughty beauty that had driven him to it. Buckingham's countenance was changed by the assumed expression of either surprise or regret, as was necessary and suited.
Upon his arrival he was not allowed to see either the Duke or Cedric, and as his business called for a speedy return to London, he must leave early after supper, adding that he regretted the importunity of the hour, as it detained the king's business with his Grace of Ellswold.
This of course changed the physicians' minds, and Buckingham was allowed to have converse with the Duke and finished that he came to do at the castle.
But Sir Julian had somewhat to say, and ordered his horse to accompany the Duke on his return journey.
This was not unlooked for, and Buckingham, fearing no imbroglio, intended to hasten Sir Julian's speech, as there was no time to spare. They started forth 'neath the dripping trees.
"Where is Mistress Penwick, George?"
"With her nurse, Julian."
"And where the nurse?"
"Where is Monmouth's place of hiding her?"
"That is more, I dare say, Julian, than he knows himself."
"How long will they remain at the inn?"
"Until I return."
"Then, London way is my desire, and I doubt not 'tis Monmouth's also."
"Dost love me, Duke?"
"Aye, as always. What is thy desire?"
"Canst thou keep the maid safe for thirty-six hours?" For a moment there was no answer; then calmly and cold came the word "No."
"By God! is it so bad that you, you George, cannot take care of her?"
"'Tis the worst of all!"
"Is she safe then now—now?"
"If the eye of the nurse doth not perjure its owner, I would say she was safe for all time."
"But, Pomphrey, one would wonder at thy devotion to Cedric?"
"I loved him, first."
"That does not say thou lovest thy second love better, eh?"
"By heaven, I love her, there—thou hast it." Buckingham gave vent to his natural inclination and laughed boldly.
"Then, follow her. We may presume she will be safe kept 'til London gives her rest and wine and finds a locker for her nurse."
"Then my errand is finished. I will bid thee adieu."
Buckingham, returning to the village, where his escort met him, then went to a small unused cabin in the thick woods beyond. Here he changed his attire, making ready for a quick journey and one fraught with some adventure.
As he donned his clothes, ever and anon he paused to hear the low murmuring of voices that came up from the village. 'Twas evident the mob was gathering.
An hour he waited impatiently, when his servant entered, saying that the mob had started and were hurrying along the high-road at great speed.
The Duke mounted and rode after them, quite far enough in the rear for them not to hear his horse's step or see as he passed where some cottage light fell aslant the road.
By the time they came in sight of the monastery, he was exasperated beyond measure to be so held behind and was in no mood to wait the mob's leisure. He leapt from his horse and threw rein to his man.
No light was to be seen. It appeared the monks had either deserted their dwelling or fortified it by fastening with boards the windows and doors. The latter was the case. The besiegers with all sorts of sticks, stones and bludgeons began at once to bombard the building that stood dark and seemingly impregnable. Buckingham stood some distance from them, as if indeed he were of different mould and could not mingle with their steaming, smoking, foul-smelling bodies, that reeked of gin and poor tobacco. He waited only for an entrance to be made, that he might pass in without the labour of making an opening for himself. Indeed, his arm, unused to such rough strength, would become unfit to handle the sword of a gentleman.
He was leant upon one knee behind a strip of iris that bordered a forest path, when suddenly he heard the crash of glass and heard a triumphant yell from the mob. He sprang from his hiding and crept toward the place. A window had been broken in and the fight had already begun. The monks were well equipped for battle with weapon, strength and stout hearts and a good stone wall for shelter, but their numbers were weak.
The siege was destined to be a long and bloody one, unless the ponderous door could be broken, for the mob could not enter fast enough through the small casement. Should this be done, it was evident the monks would be obliged to either take flight, surrender or be foully murdered.
Buckingham could not enter the window without taking part in the fight, and mayhap run a great risk to his person.
He was not long in discovering, however, that the doorway was being bombarded successfully, and soon the massive door must succumb.
At last there was a thundering crash, and broken oak panels flew through the air.
The men rushed in. Buckingham in a moment was in their midst and fighting his way through them. He flung himself aside and escaped the fighting mass by a small door that led him to a passage, where he regained his breath and looked out for his bearings.
He found his way through many winding passages to the panel. This he opened and quickly strode through to the trapdoor, which stood agape. From beneath came the sound of voices. He knelt and looked down. There was no light to guide him. Cautiously he descended the ladder, finding his way warily toward the place where he had seen the chest and whence now came the voices. One was saying:
"It's gone, the damn knaves have secreted it; we must have a light, Anson, or the horde above stair will be upon us, and all the fires of hell could hardly show us out of this dungeon." Whereupon the flint was struck and the forms of three men were dimly outlined.
They began running about nervously in different directions to find the chest; his Grace keeping from view by following in their shadow. Back they went again to the spot where it had stood, and as the light fell full in their faces Buckingham recognized the pale, chiselled countenance of Cantemir. There were two servants with him, which, judging from their eagerness, evidently expected perquisites.
The sound above stairs was growing more and more noisome, as if the monks were being pressed back in the direction of the secret passage. 'Twas evident the Abbes intended this move; for unless there was egress 'twould be a veritable slaughter hole and from the first they had kept together, preferring the direction of retreat.
Suddenly one of the men in front of Buckingham leant down and traced with his finger on the dusty stone,—
"They have moved it in this direction, and there is no mistaking it," and he pointed from the ladder.
They followed the direction, holding the light low, and came at once upon what appeared to be a solid stone wall. Inadvertently the man bearing the lighted taper rested his arm for a moment against the stones. Instantly a blaze flared up and showed a very cleverly concocted wall. A canvas had been padded in shape of unhewn stone and painted in imitation; the oil in the paint had ignited and despoiled the illusion.
The blaze was quenched in a moment, the canvas door pried open and the three men passed beyond, carefully closing the door behind them.
Buckingham was close upon them.
They fled rapidly along, Cantemir following his servants and ever glancing behind with eyes staring with fear.
Buckingham was not to be caught by fear-staring eyes and kept well in shadow.
The passage was narrow with many windings and appeared to be interminable.
The men began to run, which was very incautious under the circumstances, for in a moment they were precipitated into a small chamber occupied by two stalwart monks. The latter had barely time to throw themselves upon the defensive ere they were attacked.
Cantemir had the advantage, as the monks were encumbered with their long robes.
Then ensued a short fight, in which Cantemir's men won the day—he remaining well in the background.
One of the servants was wounded and lay helpless upon the floor, his head falling against some object that held him in a semi-upright posture. Cantemir turned with the torch he had taken from the floor, and looked about him, stumbling over the prostrate bodies of the monks as they lay wounded. Noting his injured servant's position, he ran to him, and seeing the thing upon which his head rested, kicked his body from the chest, as if the fellow had been his enemy's dog, instead of his own serving man.
With a cudgel he and his comrade opened the chest, after first finding it too heavy to carry at speed and for an indefinite distance.
Cantemir's eyes waxed big with greed and delight, as he looked within. He spread out his long fingers, as if to grasp all the chest contained.
"These small caskets must be filled with jewels. Anson, fasten the torch somehow and put these in the bags. Here are some rare laces, looted from some dead Croesus, I warrant,—put those in too;—those infernal papers—they can be of no consequence—"
"Then I will take them, my lord," said the servant. Cantemir eyed him with no fondness and slipped the papers within his own bag.
Buckingham, watching them from his little cove in the rocks, caught a sound that made him start. It was very distant and indistinct, yet he was quite certain some one was coming, and without further delay he cried out and drew his sword upon the man nearest him, which happened to be Anson.
The fellow used his sword fairly, but no match for his adversary.
Buckingham run him through before the Russian had regained his presence of mind.
As the unfortunate Anson fell, the Duke turned to Cantemir, who was separated from him by two prone figures and the chest. The Count held the advantage and meant to use it by springing ahead into the opening. There was no opportunity for Buckingham to either reach him or head him off. Cantemir had caught up the filled bags and was smiling insolently across at him. Buckingham was exasperated, not by the fellow's triumph, but at his own helplessness to cut him off. But there was no time to be lost; those other sounds were growing nearer.
The Duke made a bound toward the opening. Cantemir, with an exultant laugh, sprung also toward the opening, but his laugh was turned into a yell of fear, as his leg was caught in a death-like grip by the servant he had kicked from the chest.
In an instant Buckingham was upon him and binding his arms tight behind; the poor, cowardly knave begging at every breath for his life. He was completely undone with fright, his heart melted and his knees bent.
"And would it not be thy meed to run thee through also, for serving thy wounded knave with a kick? 'twas inhuman—by God! 'tis a pity it takes a man with a soul to suffer the tortures of hell, for thou wilt never get thy deserts!" He looked down and saw the poor servant's eyes raised to his pleadingly. The Duke drew from his pocket a flask of wine and gave it to him; then gathered the bags that lay filled by the chest and hurriedly looked at their contents. As he did so the wounded knave feebly raised his voice,—
"I will be killed if I am found here."
"Nay, a gentleman—" and he cast a scornful glance at Cantemir,—"would not kick thee when thou art down; say nothing of our most noble fathers putting to flight what small life thou hast in thee. What is thy name?"
"Christopher," came in weakened tones from his pallid lips.
In another moment the Duke was gone with his looted treasures.
He flew along at a most undignified gait, bearing his pack as a labourer. His shoulders, unused to such burden, grew tired. He began to wonder if the passage would never end. He was growing more exhausted than he cared to own, and beside, he apprehended he was pursued.
At last he felt almost compelled to leave one of the bags behind, and stopped to think which, one he should leave. Yet he was a-mind to carry them all if he broke his back; and beside, it was so dark he was unable to tell which was the more important.
As he stood undecided he heard distinctly the fast approach of footsteps. He gathered his strength and bags and flung along, somewhat refreshed by the change of burdens. As he made a turn, the fresh outside air blew upon him. He grew cautious and moved more slowly, listening now in both directions. He might not be overtaken, but some one might be at the opening of the passage. There was no light or sound beyond, and soon he stood in the deep darkness of the outer night 'neath dripping trees. Warily he stepped, lest some cracking twig exposed his presence.
He ascertained his surrounding was a thicket, and was about to make his way into its labyrinthine density, step by step; for the way was difficult, when there was a tramping of horses' hoofs upon the rain-soaked road that appeared to be in close proximity.
Under cover of the noise he swept hastily and boldly through the briery bushes that were thickly entangled, and was able to make considerable headway whence he had come, when the noise ceased and a peculiar whistle rang out; then there were a few moments of quiet, as if those who signalled were listening for an answer.
There appeared to be a chaise with several outriders, as Buckingham thought, by the tramp of horses' feet, and a creaking of wheels pulling heavily along.
As he gazed anxiously in their direction, a torch was suddenly set a-glow and a horseman rode up with it to the mouth of the subterranean passage. He leant from his steed and examined the ground closely, noting doubtless the footprints that led away from the road and directly to the place where the Duke stood. He turned abruptly back to the group upon the highway and conversed in low tones.
Buckingham was not a little perturbed, for a horseman could with less trouble than it takes to tell it, track and overtake him in a moment's time. He fain would have a few minutes to ease his burden, but his peril was great. There was no doubt but what these men were monks, come to assist their fellows with the chest and convey them to a place of safety.
Indeed, the secret of the chest must be royal, but whether in jewels or papers he did not know, nor was it the time and place to find out. If he only knew in which pack was the bone of contention he would certainly lighten his burden.
Again he lifted the bags and strode on lightly, for he still could be heard to the highway, if one should listen.
He had not gone far, however, when there was a shout from the subterranean opening and much confusion following upon it.
The Duke was now thoroughly aroused. Doubtless the monks within the passage had at that moment arrived at its mouth, there to make known to their comrades the robbery of the chest's contents. They were in pursuit; he could hear the bushes crackling beneath horses' feet. Never before had the wily Duke felt so hard pressed. He could afford to be taken himself, for he was sure of a release sooner or later; but his whole being revolted at the idea of losing the riches of his burden and above all—the secret, the secret that would make his fortunes thribble, the secret that would make him more powerful than heretofore. The King's favour would be boundless. And George Villiers turned abruptly and—fell into a swollen ravine that was throbbing with its over-filled sides. He straightened himself to his full height and thanked God for the stream, for truly 'twas life-giving water.
He waded in and found it hardly came to his waist in the deepest part. After crossing to its farthest bank, he kept the watery path for nearly a league, thereby throwing his pursuers effectually off the trail. But where his course trended, 'twas impossible to tell, as there was no moon, and the stars were veiled by thick cloud that vomited forth rain in gusts.
The leather bags were very near rain-soaked and had become so heavy 'twas impossible for anything less than a beast of burden to carry them further, so leaving the friendly stream, he walked some little distance from it, gaining to his surprise an open road. This was not what he wished, and was turning from it when he stumbled and fell prone. Being hot with anger and fatigue, he reached for the obstacle that had so unmanned him to damn it. 'Twas a large, round knot. It struck his memory, as he held it, with a thought of the morning before.
"Eureka!" he cried, as he felt the very presence of the tall tree by the public highway that led from Crandlemar, London way. He arose and reached for the aperture.
"Egad, 'tis there!"
Fortunately the royal tree was not far from the unused cabin that had afforded him accommodation some hours before. He immediately sat down upon the bags and rested.
There passed him several horsemen and a chaise; whether they were his whilom companions of the thicket or not he did not care. It was sure they were in haste to leave the village as far behind them as possible.
When the sound of the horses' hoofs had died away, he again donned his leathery burden and made for the depths behind him.
He was not long in reaching the rendezvous, and was met by his anxious servant, who had but just arrived from seeking him.
The exhausted Duke gave orders for one hour's rest, then fell upon a pile of blankets that were spread upon the damp and open floor.
An hour later saw the Duke astride his horse, that stood with flaring nostrils, caring not a whit for his extra burden of saddle-bags and flew along the wet road, regardless.
Hours after his master jumped from his back at Hornby's.
The morning was far advanced and Mistress Penwick was fretting under the delay.
Monmouth had plead that the weather was too wet and Lady Constance was too ill to proceed until the following day.
The maid had demurred, saying Janet might remain with her ladyship; but Monmouth was not quite at liberty to take Katherine without first seeing Buckingham, whom he thought should have arrived early in the morning.
As Buckingham came into the great room of the inn, Katherine proposed they set out at once, as she would reach Whitehall, if possible, before Sunday.
It was not the Duke's wish to proceed further without resting himself and horse; but being anxious to please Mistress Penwick, he said 'twould be his pleasure to start at her convenience; whereupon she relaxed her ardour, finding no opposition, and asked him if he thought the weather would permit. He answered that the weather must permit, and that they could easily reach their destination without killing more than three relays.
"Nay, nay, your Grace, if one horse only were to die, I would not permit such hurry!"
Suffice it; the Duke had his rest, and being of no mind to remain longer, at five o'clock in a gale of wind and rain set forth.
They had but common post-chaises as any squire would have, as these travelled about without drawing the attention that a London coach would. They rattled and slid along at their own convenience on the muddy road, and the postilion were soon reeking with mire thrown from the horses' feet.
For five hours the chaise jostled Constance, until she declared she would go no farther. Buckingham, who rode with his secret in the chaise that followed, said if they stopped to rest over night, they could not reach Whitehall before the King should leave.
This was a ruse planned by himself and Monmouth, as the latter had settled where he should take Katherine, and the former, not having had time to examine the contents of the bags, was loath she should see the King ere he had done so.
Katherine, seeing that Constance' lips were blue and her face pale, and forgetting her ladyship's evil ways, agreed they should stop at the first inn and there lie until the next morning; Janet having declared privately to her mistress that she should not waste any time with her ladyship.
Though the night was black and the road uncertain, yet they maintained a fair pace over the open downs, having left the shadowy trees behind; but there were no lights ahead and the prospects of getting shelter for the night were dubitable.
Constance became more and more impatient, pulling up the window every few minutes to inquire if any lights were to be seen, each time letting in a shower of rain that deluged her dress. This dampness was soon felt by her ladyship, whose temper could hardly keep her warm, and she called for blankets. There were none. At this knowledge she grew worse, and cried that she was in a chill and must have aid from somewhere.
For a truth, her teeth were chattering and her hands were cold, but it was nothing but mimosis brought on by the evil caldron that boiled within her wicked body. She had heard Buckingham tell Katherine that the King would be gone from Whitehall if they were delayed. Her plans were now made, and this sudden illness was a ruse to detain the maid. No, she must not see the King. She must now, first of all, become Monmouth's mistress, then Cedric in his wild despair would turn again to her; his playfellow, his old love, Constance.
Whether the postilion were in their master's confidence or not is not certain, but just before midnight they plunged into a narrow, miry road that traversed wastes and low coppices; the plash of the horses' feet showed the tract to be marshy and full of pools. Her ladyship looked out across the dreary fen and exclaimed,—
"I'll be damned, they have set us out like ducks!" At her words Katherine drew from her with disgust. It was the first she had heard her swear; but she had not yet seen her true nature.
On a sudden the chaise made a lunge and stopped in a deep rut. Some one plodded laboriously to the door and thrust in a rain-soaked visage, saying,—
"Their Graces beg your patience, as we cannot move until help comes. There is a light ahead, and we hope to get on directly."
It was hours, however, before the lumbering equipages were pried out and started on. The light beyond had paled as dawn broke. They were once more upon the causeway, and the horses' feet beating with loud and even step upon the wet road.
Constance had calmed, and with the other occupants slept through the long delay. Nor did she wake until they had entered a thick wood where the branches of the trees swept tumultuously against the window. Then she opened her eyes with a start and saw Katherine still sleeping, her head pillowed on Janet's bosom. Her limbs were stiff from their cramped position. Vainly she essayed to stretch, and cried out as a rheumatic pain took her. She swore roundly and vowed she would alight at the first hut they should come upon.
It seemed hours before they came to a long, low stone building, evidently an old-time lodge. It was covered with ivy that trembled and glistened in the wind and rain.
The chaises stopped at the door, which was thrown open by an outrider who knocked up the locker with his whip handle.
The opening disclosed great, high-backed pews and an altar and pulpit. It was indeed a place of refuge to the weary travellers. It was dry and clean and afforded rest. Katherine stepped inside first, and immediately knelt and crossed herself. Monmouth did the same, knowing that the maid's eyes were upon him.
They took seats not far from the altar and settled themselves comfortably; for the servants had gone to find food and fresh horses.
Katherine was stirred by the sacredness of the day and place, and took little part in the conversation that was becoming more and more animated, as the Dukes and Constance drank heavily of wine brought from Monmouth's box in the chaise. And when meat, bread and cheese were brought and more wine was drank, her ladyship became maudlin and cast her eye about for diversion.
It fell upon the pulpit, and she tripped up to it, passing over the sacred altar in vulgar insouciance.
It pained Katherine to see the place so lightly esteemed, and she gave a little cry of "Oh!" as Constance threw open the Bible and began to preach in mockery of the Methody parson.
Buckingham's face was as stolid as Janet's; Monmouth's bearing a smile that was bastard of mirth.
Hardly was her ladyship started, when a tall form, strong boned and sinewy, strode through the open door. His ruddy face disclosed what appeared to be a stern and rough temper. His forehead was high; his nose well set over a mouth moderately large. His habit was plain and modest. The rain dripped from his red hair and the bit of mustachio that he wore on his upper lip. His quick, sharp eye noted the men and women that sat apart, and then turned like a flash upon the woman in the pulpit.
As Constance saw the man full in the face, there was a bathos in her zeal, and she stopped, open-mouthed, and closed the book.
Neither Buckingham nor Monmouth could see the countenance of him that entered, so they held quiet and wondered at her ladyship's behaviour. Katherine had bent her head upon the back of the seat.
The tall man proceeded up the aisle, his eyes upon the titled woman whose face was now covered with a genuine blush. For the first time in her life she felt ashamed. She felt a presence near her that was not altogether of this earth's mould.
At last regaining a semblance of her usual aplomb, she stepped from the pulpit and made toward the door, where others were entering. She looked back when half-way down the aisle and beckoned to the others of her party to follow. As she did so, there came from the pulpit a voice so rich and sweet, so penetrating the soul, the woman trembled and listened.
It was the "Kyrie Eleison" sung in a new tune with clear, strong English words, and they rung and rung in Constance' ears, as they continued to do for the rest of her days.
"He is a Ranter. Let us stay and hear him?" Monmouth said.
"Nay," said Katherine; "I am without covering for my head. Let's begone, the meeting is gathering. What a glory is in his countenance, and his voice is like music!"
"The lack of a bonnet need not hinder. Thou art a lady and privileged."
"Nay, nay. I would know who he is?" Monmouth plucked the sleeve of a passer-by and inquired. The man answered with a question put in a whisper,—
"Hast never read 'Pilgrim's Progress'?" The Duke threw back a glance at the form in the pulpit, then strode forward and jumped into the chaise.
TELLS OF THE DOINGS OF ALL CONCERNED
The house stood surrounded by a beautiful lawn that sloped gradually to the river. Trees in full leaf and woody perennial plants in full blossom, dotted the sward. The long, low stone building was covered with vines that hung in rich purple bloom. All was quiet, refined, subdued—without pomp. Not so was the chief inmate of this charming abode. She stood gowned in filmy white, waiting for Janet to spread her repast, but the nurse moved at leisure, resolving to give the maid meat for thought, as she did for the body. She said:
"When a maid is without father or mother, and away from her rightful guardians, and has presented her such frocks as thou dost wear, 'tis the maid's duty to find out whence such gorgeous and unmonastic apparel comes."
"But, Janet, I do know. The Abbes have made provision for me. They bade me leave the castle without incumbrance, and the chest was sent for my necessity. I mean to pay it all back when I return—or when I send to Lord Cedric."
"And when will that be, Lambkin?"
"When the King gives me audience."
"And thou art expecting the Duke of Monmouth to bring the word from Whitehall?"
"He said 'twas his pleasure so to do."
"Now God pity me this day; I would I had never seen it!"
"Why wearest thou so sorry a face, Janet?"
"For thy too fat zeal. Is it not enough to make an ingrowing visage?"
"How so?" said Katherine in feigned insouciance.
"A surfeit of good, like a too-full cup, boils over and falls to ill."
"Then, Janet, surfeit sin 'til it bubbles up, runs over,—perhaps a better cup to fill."
"Alack, alas, for youth's philosophy!"
"At what art thou driving, nurse; thou canst neither affect Shakespeare nor the Bible!"
"Have I not always loved thee, Lambkin; search thy memory; did I ever tell thee lies or use the veil of falsehood to cover from thee that which I would not have thee know?"
"Nay; but thou hast used artifice 'til it is threadbare, and I now behold its naked warp."
"But hast well served, thou canst not deny. It has made thee the sweet innocent bud thou art, and we will enshrine its shade, though it hath no soul to join it hereafter, and I will resort to vulgar frankness, employed by the truculent commonplace, and say we live in an age of swaggering, badgering, immoral-begotten, vice-ridden, irreligious decrepitude—" Katherine made a hissing noise with her teeth, as if she had been suddenly and severely pricked by a pin, then put up her hands and stopped her ears—this day, Mistress Penwick thou shalt know the character of thy King—Nay, thou shalt know. I will tell thee that 'twill poison thy mind of one of so great station—"
"Wouldst thou assail his morals, Janet?"
"'Tis impossible to assail that a man hath not."
"Then 'twould be a field for sweet mission to teach him morals."
"And wouldst thou delegate thyself to such an office?"
"Aye, why not?"
"Because he would steal thy knowledge ere thou hadst found his heart, and thou wouldst find thyself insolvent of virtue."
"Thou hast overreached artifice, Janet, and gone back to Bible days and corrupted them by borrowing parabolic speech to waste upon deaf-eared seventeenth century maid."
"Ah, Lambkin; with closed ears thou dost not becalm sight and wit, they cease not to fructify under suasion of childhood impregnations. I fear not for thee, if thou art forewarned. If thou art taken to the King, he will straightway be enamoured of thy beauteous face and will wish to have thee near him, and because he is of so great a title, he will expect to mould thee to his desires, whether 'tis thy will or not. He may perhaps overawe thee, and thou wilt feel flattered by his approaches, which will seem sincere to thy untutored perceptions. 'Twill be thy first meeting with a King. There is one thing most sure, thou wilt not think him handsome; he has not the rich colouring that so marks Lord Cedric's face, nor yet the clearness of countenance. The King is most swarthy, gross featured and unfitted to thy fancy. And how wouldst thou like such to approach thee and fondle thy hand—perhaps imprint thy cheek with a caress, or his long fingers to go a foraging on thy slender neck?"
"Nay, nay, Janet; I should most surely hate such an one. I am sure I should hate! hate!"
"But 'tis surely to what thou art coming."
"But, Janet, the Duke of Monmouth is the King's son, and his Grace of Buckingham his friend; and with these two at my side, what harm could come to me?"
"Should the King propose to keep thee with him, could they lie like slaves or dogs across thy threshold in the dead hours of night to keep unwelcome visitors from thy door?" Katherine's eyes appeared on a sudden to open wide upon a thing she had not dreamed of before.
"Indeed, Janet, I think I see the trend of thy parables. He is then debauched and given to entering rooms not his own at any hour he chooses. I will be most careful and avoid spending the night."
"But he may insist on thy presence, and no one dare gainsay the Royal will."
"I am for the time of his dominion, but we can claim at any moment King Louis' protection, and therefore I may defy him if I wish?"
"'Twill be like jumping from the river into the sea. I understand, Lambkin, thou art bent upon paying well for thy popish idolatry. If his Majesty sets black eyes on thee, thou art undone. If thou art determined to go, we must have some way to prevent his falling in love with thee. Thou wilt be willing to do this for me and—thyself, Love?"
"Then I might not become that I so much wish—a Lady of Honour!"
"That phrase, my Lambkin, is paradoxical—'Lady of Honour.'"
"Janet, thou dost turn all sweets to bitterness!—Then I will mottle my face and wear a hump and be spurned outright. 'Twill ill serve me. 'Twill not accord a safe issue."
"Thou must not forget the King hath a tender heart for distress, and now I think on it, 'tis possible, if thou didst so disfigure thyself, thou wouldst gain his reply the quicker. We will mottle thy face with leprous spots and cover thee with old woman's clothes, placing a hump upon thy shoulder. And no one shall be privy to our scheme but his Grace, and my lord of Buckingham, if they are to attend us." Janet felt satisfied with the turn affairs had taken.
"I think I shall enjoy it hugely. 'Twill be fine sport to so puzzle the King, and when he sees me as I am—" and Mistress Penwick turned proudly to a mirror—"he will be pleased!"
"We will not think of that now, Lambkin. When dost thou expect her ladyship?"
"She did not say, but I think perchance she will come before the Duke of Monmouth returns."
"And he will not come before the morrow, didst thou say?"
"When I demurred at not going straight to his Majesty, he said 'twould be meet for me to remain here until he should first see him; then he should return in a day. Those were his words, Miss Wadham, verbatim,—now thou dost know everything I do, but—the church secret; and if thou wert not insolvent for ways and means, thou wouldst have had that." With a sudden step, the maid flung her arms about Janet, who ever felt hurt when called Miss Wadham.
Katherine sat to her evening meal with many flutterings of pleasure in her young and guileless heart. Her first thought was of Cedric. He was going to live and doubtless would follow her as soon as he was able, and she would again see his handsome features and hear him admonish her with a tenderness she was sure he would show after being so frightened by her absence. It did not come to her that she should be in sackcloth and ashes for causing him such woeful pain and misery. She only tried to remember how he looked, as many a love-sick maiden hath done heretofore. She pictured the rich colouring of his cheeks and how his dark eyes had looked into hers; and she remembered how once he had thus beheld her, his glance sweeping her face, then he had taken her hand and pressed his lips to it passionately. Her face grew rose red and she trembled with ecstasy. She, so perfect in mould and health, was capable of extravagant and overpowering emotion; a rapturous exaltation that filled her and took possession of her whole being. She tried to turn her thoughts to Sir Julian, and wondered vaguely why he had not come to London. He had intended leaving the castle before this; and why had he not found her? He might know she would like to inquire of those at home,—the Duke of Ellswold and the others that were ill. The thought seemed to grow upon her, and she wondered more and more why no one had been sent after her, and how very welcome Sir Julian would be. Could it be that Lord Cedric was too ill for him to leave?
The Dukes had fairly left Constance and Katherine at the very door of this villa belonging to one of Monmouth's friends, and proceeded at once to Whitehall, where they needs must report of their visit to the Duke of Ellswold. The King detained them near his person, much to the annoyance of Buckingham and serious discomfort to Monmouth. The latter, so anxious for the companionship of Mistress Penwick, could not help but show his uneasiness and hurry to withdraw, which made his Majesty still more obstinate.
Two days Katherine had been thus alone at the villa, little knowing the idea of bringing her cause to the King's notice was the most foreign to either Buckingham or Monmouth, the latter wishing to promote his own cause with her until she should become satisfied to remain at his side, without seeking further Court favour. The former gentleman had among his looted treasures certain papers that made necessary, for his own personal aggrandizement, the strict seclusion of Mistress Penwick.
Lady Constance had been so thwarted—her mode of battle proving so abortive—she resolved to fight as things came in her way, without method or forethought. There was only one settled arrangement; that was the full and complete destruction of this woman that had come between her and Cedric. She had gone, after a few hours of rest at the villa, to the mercer's for silks and velvets and furbelows to array herself for conquest and take—now that she had fair hold on Royalty itself—some masculine heart; if not the heart, the hand without it; if not Cedric's, be it whose it might, so it were titled and rich. She also sought Cantemir and news from Crandlemar.
As she stood at the polished counter in the mercer's shop, she glanced without and saw—or thought as much—Lord Cedric himself, pale, yet stepping in full strength from a chair. She quitted the counter and hastened to the entrance and looked up and down the busy street with longing eyes. But there was no sign of my lord's handsome figure. After securing her purchase, she repaired at once to Lord Taunton's—a kinsman of Cedric's—'twas possible he would be stopping there. But he was not.
She rode from place to place, hoping at every turn to see him; but to her chagrin she found him not, even at a certain inn in Covent Garden, where he had been wont to stay. She drove in her cream-hued coach to the Mall, but he was not to be found.
Her first act after reaching London had been to dispatch a letter posthaste to the castle, telling of her abduction by the Duke of Monmouth, who, she believed was determined to bring herself and Mistress Penwick to the King's notice, as he avowed Court was not Court without such faces. She, being so widely known and so well connected, had been allowed her freedom, on condition that she returned promptly and keep their hiding place a secret. Then came that she felt would touch Cedric.
"I overheard some converse about your Lordship, a hint that some knave gave thee a slight wound. Now, if this be true, if thou art hurt at all—which I cannot allow myself to think—tell me, tell me, Cedric, and I will fly from Court and all the world to thee, my sweet cousin, my playfellow, my beloved friend, now."
This letter fortunately did not reach Cedric in time to give him a relapse, as he was on his way to London when the courier arrived at the castle.
He had drawn rein at Tabard Inn, Southwark. It abutted on the Thames and was opposite the city, and it suited his fancy to stop here, rather than ride into London. His business was private and not far from his present quarters. His wound had healed enough to give him no trouble, and action kept his mind easy. He had seen Constance with as fleeting a glimpse as hers had been of him. It was quite enough, however, he wishing never to set eyes upon her again.
That evening he went to seek Buckingham at the Royal Palace. He had no austere regard for the pomp and splendour of the Court at best, and now he was almost unconscious of his surroundings. His azure-hued costume was magnificent in its profusion of embroidery and precious stones. There were none more handsome of face or figure. Courtiers and wits abounded, but none more courtly or witty than he, when he was moved. None bowed before his Majesty's dais with more grace, appearing more a king than he who filled the Royal chair. He erred not in the most minute detail of demeanour. There was no one in the realm that held more of his Majesty's regard.
After being detained some moments at the Royal chair, he went to seek Buckingham, whose first words smote him foolishly.
"It is said, my lord, that Love hath Cupid's wings, and I verily believe William was right, or else how couldst thou have fluttered from a couch of painful wounds to London either by chaise or a horse? Ah!—Love is nascent; after cycles of time it may become mature enough to be introduced into Court—eh!—my lord?"
"Contemporary chronicles relate that the mind is capable of greater suffering than the body, and when both are affected, if we give precedence to the employment of the mind, the body is at once cured; hence my sound chest. Hast thou seen Sir Julian?"
"He is with Monmouth in his chamber. They have been drinking deep, or at least the Duke, who is pouring out in Pomphrey's ear confidences almost too maudlin to be understood;" and there was a covert sneer on the haughty lips of his Grace. At the name of Monmouth and the knowledge that he was not with Katherine, Cedric's great tension appeared to snap asunder. For a moment Buckingham gazed at his companion as if in him there were undiscovered mines. Then suddenly his mind and eye returned to the tangible, and he run his arm through that of Cedric's and drew him away. When they were quite alone, the Duke, without the shadow of compunction, said,—
"You, my lord, are ambitious of nothing but domesticity. Is it not so?" His Lordship looked up with a start. If there was one thing he hated more than another, it was intrigue. And though he was ever environed by it, yet 'twas not his business now. He had come seeking Buckingham for the purpose of asking his assistance with the Duke of Monmouth, and at these words, so foreign from his interests, he frowned slightly and answered,—
"'Twould be difficult to say at what I aspire, seeing the thing I coveted most is taken from me. If that were mine, it might open up a vista of aspirations I had ne'er thought on heretofore I see only one thing at the present worth possessing."
"And to possess that—thou art one of the richest nobles in the realm—eh! Cedric?" His Lordship thought he saw the trend of his Grace's mind, and felt better.
"I'm rich to be sure, egad! What's the game, faro, loo, crib, langquement or quinze?" and he tapped his pouncet-box nervously.
"We have always been good, true friends, my lord. Your father and mine have shared in many and continued vicissitudes, and for this cause alone, barring our friendships of more recent years, I would give thee a secret of which I am only half owner."
"And what is this secret, your Grace? I am interested."
"A secret cut into is only half a secret, and—"
"Ah! ah! how stupid I have grown! By all means, we are dealing in fractions, and to get the other half I must either pay or go a-hunting for it."
"And thou, being hot-foot after most precious game, methought 'twould best serve to give thee a clue, as to the value of the secret, that thou couldst determine whether 'twas worth the finding;—whether 'twas worth the leaving off pursuit of that thou art after,"—and the Duke threw open his waistcoat and revealed its lining of rare satin and a pocket that contained a paper written upon in a writing that made Lord Cedric start, for he recognized it as Sir John Penwick's. And there recurred to him the conversation he overheard at the monastery, when one said,—"and once Sir John gets to this country." But nay; his very last words in his own waistcoat pocket? So he spoke out disdainfully,—
"And thou dost embroider thy facings with dead men's autographs?"
"They are the better preserved, my lord," said the Duke, with a smile.
"Then I am to understand the secret doth nearly concern Mistress Pen wick, and if I should show her favour, I would pay well for a sequel to that thou art about to unfold, eh! Duke?"
"Aye, pay well; for the demand will be more than thou dost imagine," and he took the paper and gave it into Cedric's hands.
At a glance Cedric saw that the outside paper only was written on by Sir John; the inner document, containing the whole story, being made in a strange hand. And Cedric said to himself,—"Aye, 'tis a ruse. Sir John is dead and I'll wager on't."
"Thou mayest occupy my chamber, which for the present is here." The Duke left the anxious Cedric to read at leisure.
Lord Cedric knew 'twas not his Grace's way to waste time on things of no moment, and he therefore apprehended evil and his fingers trembled; his dark eyes grew large as he read; his face changing from red to white as the different emotions were awakened; his white teeth crushing his lips. Sir John Penwick had left England, taking all his worldly goods—which were of no mean value—with him. He settled his possessions in the New World. These in time became very great and he was known as one of the wealthiest men in the locality in which he lived. After six years of married life, a great grief came upon him; his wife died, leaving him a baby girl of five. This so unsettled him—having loved his wife beyond measure—he turned again to warfare, having interest and inclination for naught else. He sent his baby daughter with her nurse, Janet Wadham, to the Ursuline Convent at Quebec, where they remained until coming to England. Sir John travelled about from one country to another, engaging in all kinds of intrigue and war. One Jean La Fosse—a Jesuit priest—had been for many years the tried and true friend of Sir John, having been in his early years a suitor to Lady Penwick. This friendship had grown so stout that when they met again in the New World, Sir John put his possessions, in trust, into La Fosse's keeping. When Sir John was taken prisoner, a sort of treaty had been entered into between the French and English, and hostages were required for prisoners of importance. La Fosse was now holding high office in the ranks of his adopted country—England. Therefore, when hostage was asked by the English for Sir John Penwick, La Fosse saw the chance he had waited for for years, and his John was every inch an Englishman, and since being prisoner of the French, determined as far as possible to place his belongings with his own country. He had thought it all out and wrote his desires to La Fosse. Of course, what belonged to Sir John belonged to England, but his possessions were on French soil and his daughter in a French convent. And now Sir John felt 'twould be an opportunity to place his child forever in the hands of his own country. La Fosse had so shaped affairs, that Sir John was at his mercy, and at Sir John's proposal that his child should be held as hostage for himself, he had answered that the babe was of too tender years to be accepted unless accompanied by lands, tenements and hereditaments. This was a happy thought to Sir John, and his old trust of La Fosse came back. "After all," he thought, "the French would rather give up my child than a man, but my possessions they would never give." So, not suspecting La Fosse's duplicity, he gave him legal right to place his property as hostage also. The child was to remain at the convent, unless England preferred to have her under their own regime. La Fosse was sure Sir John would never again be free and could never, of course, claim his lands. He went so far as to make sure—as sure as was in his power—that Penwick should not be released. He, being a man of shrewdness, at once manipulated affairs without the knowledge of his sovereign or the higher powers about him. In a very short time these possessions were built upon by the Jesuits, who, through La Fosse, claimed all right and title. But La Fosse was forgetful. He never gave the babe a second thought, it being of no consequence whatever. It would, no doubt, sicken and die without a mother's care. He was aware of its whereabouts, but even that in time was forgotten, his mind being occupied by more pertinent thoughts. This was a great victory for the Catholics, whose lands had been confiscated in England, and La Fosse felt he had dealt a master stroke for his religion. But no mortal man can equal Time as an adept in chicanery. He brings forth truths unheard of or dreamt by poor humanity.
Years went by and La Fosse was suspicioned. At the first smell of smoke, La Fosse fled. No one knew whither. He escaped, however, to the monastery upon Lord Cedric's estates. The sudden appearance of Mistress Penwick at the monastery was believed to be a direct answer to their prayers. When, too, it was found without a doubt she was Sir John's daughter, they felt she belonged to them to do with as they pleased, so all things were accomplished for the benefit of the only divine church. Their rights in the New World were now being meddled with and this God-send was to give them, with her own hand, all right and title to the property in question.
Sir John had vaguely heard while in prison of Jean La Fosse's duplicity, and at once sought to save his daughter from his hands by sending her to his old friend, Lord Cedric of Crandlemar. He, angry at himself for being so duped, and heartbroken at his loss of property, knew of nothing else to do but call upon his Lordship for his child's protection; yet he was too proud to tell him why these calamities had come upon him. Indeed, any man would take him for a fool for so trusting another. He had been ill when writing those letters. He never expected to arise from bed again and thought 'twas best to say he was dying; 'twould perhaps touch Cedric's heart as nothing else would! Thus ended a document that was still incomplete, and his Lordship sat wondering and thinking. This meant that the Catholics were exposing Katherine to the King's pleasure. She was being sent to him for a title—a title that was to give them all her possessions. And Buckingham held the clue that would save those lands or—or her father—if he were alive. Aye, he should have all the money he asked; for the Catholics should not have their way. "They shall not, by God, they shall not!"
"They shall not!" quoted Buckingham behind him.
AT MONMOUTH'S VILLA
Lord Cedric looked about him. He had heard no sound and was surprised and not well pleased that Buckingham had so caught him off his guard; for he now understood that the Duke was undoubtedly deriving some benefits from this fiendish plot, and the greater his perturbation the easier mark for his Grace.
"The maid proposes at all hazards to see the King. Monmouth is as determined she shall not. However, if she escapes the Duke, she will visit Whitehall and present her plea to his Majesty for his signature. He is—after seeing her—not supposed to refuse her anything. And not knowing the value of these lands will sign the paper, thereby giving the Catholics the property. Then if he sees fit—which of course he will—will retain the beauty as a Maid of Honour. If he should refuse the plea, she is to hand him a sealed paper, which will give him the knowledge that he has before him a hostage who wishes his signature to the willing of her property to her beloved Church. They do not count on his putting two and two together and seeing their scheme. They think he will be so infatuated, that 'twill be 'aye, aye, aye,' to her every look. She only knows half the contents of the thing she presses 'neath the folds of her dress."
"By God, Buckingham, this is despicable! She to be made the tool of her religion!"
"There are other complications, my lord. Providing thou art successful in running the gauntlet with Monmouth first, then the King, thou, thyself, art in danger of the Tower or Tyburn-tree." With a bound Cedric was upon his feet and sprang toward the Duke,—
"A thousand devils, man, I care not for myself,—'tis the maid; beside—what have I done, why am I so threatened?"
"The scheme for thy destruction is already set a-foot. If thou shouldst get the maid in any wise, it appears thou art doomed. Take my advice, look to thyself and let the—"
"'Sdeath! finish it not!" and there was that in the young lord's eyes that curtailed the Duke's words, and he stood frowning at Cedric and thinking what next to say.
"When thou art acquainted with the circumstances, my lord, thou wilt see thy peril. One Christopher, whom I once befriended with a bottle of wine in a certain close passage, came tottering to me, asking for my patronage, which I accorded him, as he was a sorry spectacle. As a reward for my seeming kindness, he told me that the knave Cantemir was arousing the Protestants by speaking of the monastery being a rendezvous for all good Catholics, naming the lord of Crandlemar as one of them. The knave is working with both factions. He has gained some powerful help. These are to come upon the King and demand a confiscation of thy lands, thou art also to be sent to Tower or Tyburn-tree for the murder of thy servant—"
"Enough, enough, my heaven! I did kill the bastard Christopher."
"Ah! not so. 'The bastard Christopher' is still on his legs and gives Cantemir's plans away; for the knave kicked him when he was down. Thou art to have thy head, but—"
"Nay, my friend, tell me no more. Ah!—is there any limit to this devil's industry! I have to thank thee to-night, on the morrow—"
"I'm expecting to leave Whitehall early—" Cedric started.
"Will Monmouth bear thee company?"
"Nay, his Majesty seems on a sudden to have an undue fondness for him."
"God strengthen it."
"'Tis a pity there is such thing, else his Grace would not care to go."
"And thou and I might not have been brought into this world."
"And Adam have had eyes only for the serpent, not even coveting the apple."
"Adieu, my lord!"
"Adieu, your Grace!"
The candles were just a-light within the villa, where the thick foliage of tree and vine brought a premature gloaming. Outside fell upon the sward the last rays of the setting sun. In the depths of the shadowy leaves the glow-worms displayed their phosphorescent beauty; the lampyrid beetles plied between gloom and obscurity, impatient for the mirror of night to flaunt therein their illumined finery. In the distance was heard the lusty song of the blowsy yokels, as they clumsily carted homeward the day's gathering. The erudite nightingale threw wide the throttle of his throat and taught some nestling kin the sweetness of his lore.
From the villa doorway passed out Mistress Pen wick in fluttering white, with the waxy jasmine upon breast and hair. Down she came, unattended, through aisles bordered by fragrant blossoms, traversing the way from door to postern-gate with quick, light steps.
She was not aware Monmouth had left a strong guard and orders to allow no one to enter save those he made provision for.
As her hand rested upon the gate, a guard stepped from behind a bower of iris and gently opened it for her. She was somewhat taken aback by his presence. The stalwart guard strode after her; she, noticing it, turned about and said sweetly for him to hold the gate open 'til she returned, that she would only be gone a very few minutes.
"My lady is alone upon the highway, and I could not suffer her to be so, begging permission."
"Nay, I wish to be alone. Remain at the gate."
"It may not be, my lady; 'tis his Grace's order to give thee proper escort outside the gate."
"Ah, then—" she turned from him and beckoned to a monk who appeared to be walking aimlessly upon the opposite side of the way, but at her bidding moved with alacrity. When the guard saw her intention, he begged her to consider the Duke's wish that she should communicate with no one.
"I was not aware, sir, that I am held as prisoner. I'm quite sure his Grace was only kindly intentioned for my safety;—and as for further vigilance, 'tis beyond his power to use it." The three now stood at the gate. The monk looking intently at the guard, said,—
"Where hath flown thy religion, Eustis?"
"'Tis a poor religion that hath not the grace to offer its adherents an honest living."
"Ah! then thy faith is hinged upon the largesse of the damned. There!—take for the nonce thy meed in honest coin." The Abbe gave him a piece of gold and passed within the gate. The sun now dropped from sight, leaving the villa terraces in sombreness, and brought into prominence glow worm and firefly and the sheen of Mistress Penwick's frock.
"I have watched for thee ever since thou arrived, hoping to catch thine eye.—Hast guarded the billet to the King, my child?"
"Here it is." She took from her bosom the letter. The keen eyes of the Abbe saw the seal was intact and quickly put out his hand deprecating what her act implied.
"'Twas not that, my child; 'twas the fear that thou hadst been robbed, as we have. We trust thee with all our hearts," and she read not hypocrisy in the feint of benignancy.
"Thou hast been deceived into thinking that the Duke of Monmouth or Buckingham will arrange a meeting between thee and the King. The former Duke is evil-intentioned toward thee."
"Ah, my Father; thou dost sorely grieve me! If thou didst not say it, 'twould be hard to believe; for surely he has been most kind to me."
"But 'tis true, nevertheless. He is now with the King and fretting for being so detained from thee. He means to offer thee the protection of his favour; which means thou art to become an inmate of his seraglio. Dost understand me, my child?"
"Ah!—I understand," and Mistress Penwick looked up into the face that the darkness veiled.
"And I have heard that the King is sometimes poorly intentioned" The monk coughed behind his hand and moved uneasily,—"'Tis said of him, as other like things are reported; but 'tis false. He is a good Catholic at heart, and he will offer thee no insult, else we would not allow thee to approach him. Our first thought is to get thee from Monmouth's hold and place thee in safety elsewhere. The noble Lady Constance is helping us and hopes that by to-night to have arranged certain matters, so with our aid thou mayest be able to see his Majesty very soon. One of the Brotherhood will accompany thee to his presence or meet thee there; for we are anxious of the issue. Thou wilt—" The conversation was interrupted by the sound of wheels. The guard came running to them, crying half aloud,—
"Methinks some one of importance is about to arrive, as there is a coach and outriders and a score of mounted escort. If thou, Father, art found here, I'm doomed. I prithee hide thyself;—and my lady's gown can be seen for a league. Hide here, behind this bunch of iris, 'til the cavalcade hath passed."
It was in truth the young Duke of Monmouth, who was hurrying with the impatience of young, warm blood to his mistress. For all Katherine was indignant with him for having such wicked intentions toward her, yet she was moved by the fact that he was a Prince, the son of the King; and susceptible as are all womankind to masculine beauty, she hardly could withhold her admiration. She did not fear him, on the contrary she wished to play with firebrands and see how he would appear in her eyes, now that she understood him. On a sudden she wished to see him more than any one else in the world, Lord Cedric excepted; and in her adventurous heart vowed to torment and give him pangs to remember her by. Her pride was wrought upon. That any one should presume to love her without thought of espousal! and Janet's words came back to her with great force, making her see her error in accompanying the Duke.
There were a few hasty words spoken by the monk as he left her, and passed through the postern-gate, where none save Eustis saw his tall form. Katherine took her time, as she crossed the lawn to her former seat, stopping here and there to gather a nosegay; exulting all the time at his Grace's discomfort when he found her not within doors. Suddenly she thought of Christopher and of what might happen to the servants if the Duke undertook to vent his displeasure upon them. At the thought, she leant forward, straining her ear for any signs of violence; but she only heard Janet say,—
"My eyes have not been off her, your Grace. I'm just taking her a wrap."
"Give it to me," the Duke said in a voice surprisingly calm and gentle. It piqued Katherine. It was disappointing not to hear a fierce voice like Cedric's was wont to be. She saw the Duke's form silhouetted by a bush of white blossom and heard from his lips a quaint love ditty. It so set her very susceptible heart to fluttering she knew not whether to be glad or sorry that he was there. She was weaving a garland in a peculiar manner learned at the convent. The finished strands she placed under the bench upon which she sat, pretending the while neither to see nor hear his Grace as he walked about from bush to bush, singing softly. But he soon caught the glimmer of her dress, and he came bounding toward her.
"Pray what does Mistress Penwick out alone on so dark a night?"
"Ah!"—she started in feigned alarm, dropping her flowers and rising hurriedly—"'tis your Grace of Buckingham. I admit I was startled." She made a sweeping courtesy.
"We who love never forget its voice, Mistress. I believed that thou wouldst never be able to find it in Buckingham's tones; for if 'twas there, thou only could note its tenderness." He so ignored her feint—and she knew he understood that she knew not whether to keep up her hypocrisy or recant.
"Didst see the King, your Grace, upon my affair?" He stooped to recover the flowers she had dropped. She hindered him, fearing lest he should see her schoolgirl play beneath the bench.
"Ah! ah! what hast thou hid there?" She exulted.
"Nothing, your Grace, only—the flowers are not worth the exertion."
"Aye, they are worth the bended knee of a thousand, when dropped from such fair hands," and he again essayed to reach them; but she stood between, and holding her hand out to him, said,—
"Nay. I pray thee come. I am going to the villa. 'Tis growing damp." She timidly made as if to go. He on the instant drew his sword and lunged beneath the bench and drew out upon its point the maid's flowers. He laughed at his disappointment, for he was certain some one was beneath. She felt ashamed of her childish pastime and hastened within doors. He followed, carrying the interwoven hearts upon the point of his sword. He held them high for inspection as he entered the lighted room, and was transported with delight when he saw the design, and complimented her upon its significance.
"Thou dost seem to know that two hearts are to be entwined, at any rate! Even if a voice full of passion doth corrupt thine ears to hearing tones that are vibrantless of love." He broke into a great laugh and looked upon Katherine's blushing face with tender admiration. "Come, Mistress, I have played thee very uncavalierly, inasmuch as I have not answered thy question. Sit with me and sup. There—his Majesty is indisposed. He will not be able to see thee for at least a week. Then I am to bring the most beautiful woman in the world to Court."
"I am very sorry; my business is imperative—"
"Imperative!—imperative! that such words should fall from cherry lips that will become irresistible should they turn to pouting;—so take heed and tempt me not." He had already swallowed several glasses of wine and was fast becoming audacious.
Janet stood behind Mistress Penwick's chair; her face appearing immutable. The Duke bade the maid drink her wine. She touched her lips to the glass and set down the cup. He swept it passionately to his own. Katherine's boldness was fast declining. She began to wish that something would happen to take the Duke's attention from her. Even Constance' presence would be a relief. If she were only in the garden again—free—she would fly to some place of safety.
He lowered his voice into a passionate whisper and leant over, catching her hand as she would withdraw it. He began to draw her toward him. Her fear was evident, for Monmouth, drunk as he was, saw it, and fell to coaxing. His voice, not yet maudlin, was sweet and impassioned.
"Thou were not afraid when that Russian knave claimed thee and was about to carry thee off, and now thou hast the King's son to guard and love thee—love—dost hear it, my Precious? And I came to claim thee this night, to tell thee all I know, to make the little Convent Maid wise." He threw his arm about her, almost drawing her from the chair. Katherine was white and trembling, knowing not which way to turn.
"Indeed, sir, I know not thy meaning."
"My meaning? Dost not thou know what love is? Of course thou dost not—if thou didst, it might be I should not care to be thy tutor. Come, I will teach thee this night—now, my Pretty,—now. Come, come with me." He arose and essayed to draw her toward the door that led to an inner chamber. Katherine was well nigh to swooning, and perhaps would have, had not there fell upon her ear the sound of some one entering the house. "Ah, heaven!" she thought, "if it were only Father La Fosse or Sir Julian or even—ah!" She did hear Constance' voice. "Aye, even Constance could think of some way for her to escape." She knew Janet was behind her chair, but she might have lost her usual wit and have become incapable of helping at the very moment she was most needed. Monmouth drank another glass of wine, then withdrew from his chair and leant over that of the maid, drawing her close in his embrace. He was now so drunk he did not hear the door creak as Janet and Katherine did; the former, seeing the pale, triumphant face of Constance reflected in a mirror, as she stood half-way inside the door. Katherine tried to disengage herself by reaching for another glass of wine. The Duke reached it for her and would hold it to her lips; but she, looking up at him with a feint of a smile, said in coaxing tones,—
"I was getting it for thee; your Highness will drink it?"
"Could I refuse—there!—there! Come!—" He put his arms about her and was carrying her forth, when Janet plucked him by the sleeve and whispered something in his ear. He loosed for a moment her trembling form and she began to weep. These tears made him forget Janet's words, and he turned again to Katherine.
"There, there, my wife; thou dost break my heart at each sob. Here, see here what I brought thee," and he placed on her arm a circlet of rubies. "There, hush thy tears. I will not teach thee anything but how kind I may be—there, sit thee down. I will let thee wait until thou art accustomed to man's caresses." Monmouth's heavy drinking trended to strengthen his good humour, else he might have resented roundly the interruption of his love-making by the entrance of Lady Constance. He held out his hand to her, saying,—