"Come, my lady; see my poor dear. The poor child is affrighted at my love-making. Thou wouldst not be so frightened, Constance,—eh?"
"I am not a child, your Highness, to fall to weeping if so honourable a gentleman as some should choose to kiss my hand." The Duke reached to the table and pressed another cup of wine to his lips, that were already stiffened by excess.
"Come, Sweet; give me one kiss—" and he bent over her close.
"Nay, nay, I'll not suffer thee." And Katherine drew from him with flashing eyes.
"Come, silly child; one, just one." She fled from his reach. He sought to catch her but was stopped by Constance who whispered something hurriedly. The Duke turned upon Janet and frowned, then broke into a mocking laugh, and with a sly wink at Constance, said,—
"Thou art a trickster, good nurse; thou didst play upon me foully. Good, good nurse! Come, go quickly. Thou shalt see no more love-making; I forbid thee; kiss thy nestling and go. I will watch over her. Come, my sweet, come!" His Grace took the maid in his strong arms, and though his legs threatened collapse, bore her toward the door.
Janet saw the look of devilish menace and triumph upon Lady Constance' face and—beyond—what did she see behind the curtain of the window that looked upon the garden? Surely 'twas something more than the evening breeze that stirred those hangings. 'Twas a familiar face that looked from behind the folds; aye, of a truth, 'twas Sir Julian Pomphrey's. When Monmouth, half carrying Katherine, reached the door and stood some little way beyond its deep embrazure, he turned to Janet again, saying,—
"Go, good nurse. I wait for thine exit. Come, begone!"
"I beg your Grace to forgive the lie I told and give pledge of thy forgiveness by taking this." She handed him a brimming cup.
"Then, good nurse, I forgive thee. Here is to the maid thou dost let go and to the woman I shall bring back." He threw back his head and lifted the cup. As it touched his lips a handkerchief fell about his eyes and a strong hand covered his mouth and the Duke lay helpless upon the floor.
Janet carried the half-fainting maid from the room. As she did so, Sir Julian and Lord Cedric, who had also come through the window, carried the young Duke to another chamber; binding him fast; keeping his eyes well blindfolded and their own tongues still. Constance was left standing in the middle of the floor in dumb surprise and chagrin. In a moment Lord Cedric returned, and his voice rang steel as he faced her, nor was there shadow of pity as he saw her white face grow ghastly in fear.
"Thou, Constance, art the receptacle of all the damned ills flung from mortals, whether of the mind or body. As for soul, that unknown thing to thee—thou canst not recognize in another and therefore canst take on nothing of it save its punishment hereafter, when thou shalt have no choice of condiment. Thy heart lies festering in the rheum that exuviates from its foul surroundings. Conscience thou art bankrupt of, and in its place doth lurk the bawd that envenoms thy senses and turns thy narrow body into prodigious corruption—"
"Cedric,—my God; stay thy tongue!"
"Nay, nay; my tongue is a well-matched Jehu for thy devil's race. I would I might scorch thee with it, to give thee foretaste of that to come; perchance 'twould seethe thy rottenness to the quick—if thou of that art not also bereft—and turn thee from thy course. Thou dost pander for the King's son and steal an innocent maid of unripe years to gratify his lust—ah, 'sdeath! thou art but a pernicious wench, as false as hell. And when the nurse whispered that 'twould save the child from shame, thy protrusile tang-of-a-serpent didst sibilate in his ready ear a denial—"
"Cedric, Cedric; cease, I pray!" And Constance fell upon her knees sobbing. But the young lord's storm had not yet spent itself, and he sped on in fury:
"I would thy noxious blood had all run out ere mingling with its better, and I had naught of so foul a taint within. If I held the apothecary's skill, I would open my veins and purge from them thy jaundiced blood and let in slime of snakes and putrid matter to sweeten the vessel thus set free—"
"My lord, we must hasten. The maid is ready to depart with her nurse," said Sir Julian. As the young lord turned to him, Lady Constance—crushed and broken—said,—
"Couldst thou not see why I have so misused my better self; have thine eyes been blind all these years not to see how I have loved thee, Cedric—thee—thee—with all my heart and soul?"
"I would not hear thee prate of anything so sacred as love,—'tis sacrilege."
"Nay, not so, Cedric! I love thee more than heaven. I love thy scorn, if to be free from it were to deprive me of thy presence. I would follow thee to the end of time, even though thy brow lowered in ever threatening storm—"
"Nay! thou shalt not follow me. Would I draw such as thou to yonder maid? From this moment thou art none of mine, and I fling thee from me as I would a snake.—Thou didst think to take Mistress Katherine from me; put her beyond my reach, first, by marriage, then by ruin. Thanks to heaven, both of thy infernal schemes miscarried and she is again in my keeping. And soon I shall fold her to me as my own; pillow her head here, Constance, here, where thou sayest thou shouldst love to lie. I shall press her to my heart as wife, wife—ah! I have at last touched the quick within thee. We may hope there is some redemption—some possibility of bringing thee back from thy foulness—"
"Come, Cedric, come; we are late!" cried Sir Julian at the door. Lord Cedric turned to go, but Constance flew to his side and grasped his hand,—
"Nay, nay; thou shalt not leave me thus. Thou shalt not leave me to go to one who cares not one jot for thee! Cedric, turn not away. Do not leave me here. Cedric, hear me, take me, take me with thee! I will be so good—"
Again Sir Julian came and called hastily,—"Indeed, my lord, there is a chaise upon the highway, and if we mistake not 'tis the King's." Cedric loosed himself from Constance and hurried from the room. She flew after him; but he had passed Sir Julian and flung himself upon a horse. Pomphrey saw her plight, and, whether from pity, gallantry, or intrigue, lifted her quickly—before she had time to withdraw from him—into a coach. Cedric remonstrated with him; but Julian was confident of his motive and started the coach at full speed. They flew along in the opposite direction from whence came the King.
It was his Majesty, who had heard of his son's hiding with some beauteous maid and was resolved to play a trick and come upon him unawares.
It was feared, when he should find Monmouth in such a plight, he would pursue the offenders, if for nothing but to see with his own eyes the maid who had so wrought upon his son's affections.
The coaches bearing Katherine and Constance sped along at a rapid swing. The one bearing Katherine, with Janet by her side, was some distance ahead; Constance alone in the rear. Cedric and Julian rode at either side of the first coach, their horses in full gallop.
They reached Southwark after two hours' hard riding. Katherine was not aware of Lord Cedric's presence, and he avoided meeting her or attracting her attention in any way. He was content with the thought that she was near him.
They proposed to remain at Tabard Inn at least until the next night, when they would set out under cover of the darkness for Crandlemar, where Lord Cedric had given orders to have all things ready for his immediate espousal. He knew that Katherine loved him, and felt sanguine that after passing through so many vicissitudes she would come to her senses and give up the ideas of churchly duties and religious requirements.
Lady Constance feared the worst, now that Cedric was once more with Katherine. What could she do to stave the matter off? She knew Cantemir would hardly be able to place Cedric in the Tower before another week. She was tempted to poison or kill in some way the maid. Aye, she would kill her—that would be safest. Then Cedric could not have her. They would be parted forever.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE COACH
In the meantime his Majesty had entered the villa and found his son bound and in drunken sleep. Seeing he was uninjured, the King fell to laughing at his plight, his ringing tones awakening Monmouth. The King's gentlemen unbound him and brought him to a chair. The youth was not long in collecting himself, quickly making a tale for his father's ears.
"I have caught thee, James,"—said the King,—"but where, oh! where is the maid? Has she flung thee off and escaped with thy guard, who left the gates wide, or didst thou expect us and had them placed so for our convenience?"
"'Tis certain, Sire, I have been foully treated. I have been drugged and some valuable papers taken I had got hold on."
"And who held the papers before thee, a pretty wench, eh?" Monmouth glanced suspiciously at Buckingham, who stood behind the King.
"Now indeed, Sire, I should like thy opinion upon her, and—she hath a secret, as the Duke there can testify." Buckingham started, but met the King's glance with a stolid countenance.
"And what is this secret, George?"
"'Tis something the Papists have enveigled the maid into bringing to thy notice, your Majesty," and the Duke cast a contemptuous glance at Monmouth, who had made a wrong move.
"Then, by God! why was she detained? Why did any one take the papers from her?" His Majesty looked not too kind at his son, who was now fair caught. "We will send for her posthaste." The lackeys were questioned of the direction taken by the coaches that had just left the grounds, and a courier was sent after them, bearing the Royal command to Mistress Penwick to appear before his presence within three days.
The courier did not reach the inn until the party were about to set forth, on account of being turned repeatedly from his course by designing lackeys left along the way for the purpose.
Sir Julian, Katherine and Janet were standing at the coach door when Lady Constance came hurrying down the stairs to join them, unasked; for she was of no mind to let Cedric carry off Katherine without her. She felt it would be worse than death. As she opened her mouth to ask of Cedric—for she saw he was not with the party—the King's messenger rode into the courtyard. Mistress Penwick received the order from the courier with her own hand, and was rejoiced at it; Lady Constance flew to her chamber in an ecstasy; Sir Julian roundly disappointed at the news he must send Cedric, who had gone on toward Crandlemar. There was no help for them now. They were under the King's order; but—what might not happen in three days?
Sir Julian was as adamant when Constance proposed a trip to London, and would under no circumstances allow her to leave the inn. Janet kept Katherine in complete seclusion, fearing lest some new thing should come upon them. She did not fail, however, to tell Sir Julian of the monk's visit to the grounds of the villa and of his project to accompany her to the King, when an audience should be granted.
"I am glad thou didst apprise me of this, Janet, for it gives me an idea. I have seen lurking about several of the Order and have watched them carefully."
The morning of the eventful day arrived. Mistress Penwick was already gowned in a sombre old woman's dress. A hump was fastened to her shoulder; her face was darkened skillfully and leprous blotches painted thereon. She stepped like a Queen, for all that, and 'twas feared her falseness would become evident to the King's eye.
Lady Constance was to remain at the inn, a prisoner, until Sir Julian saw fit to release her. With curious eyes she watched for Katherine, whom she conceived would be decked in irresistible finery. She even pictured her beauty, clad in that soft brocade of peach and green that so became her figure and enhanced the richness of her youthful bloom.
"Ah! ah!" she cried under her breath, as she saw the maiden's masque, and fairly bit her lips in rage at the clever ruse about to be played upon the King. Back she flew from the window and pranced up and down her chamber in rage, her brain on fire. She sought in its hot depths some way—some way. "It must be done. The King must know. It would be the convent wench's ruin—and what would his Majesty not do for one who should give him hint?" She was not kept under close guard. She could go about the corridors as she chose. Out she flew into one of these and saw near by a scullion furbishing a brass knob.
"Come, fool, hast thou a close mouth?" she said, almost in a whisper.
"Aye, too close for the comfort of my stomach."
"Then here—but first, bring me from anywhere thou canst a gentleman's suit that will cover me in plenty—not too scant, remember, and bring a horse from where thou likest to the door below. Haste thee, and thou shalt have this." She jingled a well-filled purse in his face. Off he ran in hot haste, soon returning with the desired outfit; no doubt looted from some gentleman's closet near by. Quickly she donned it; but here and there were slight alterations to be made, and her fingers were all a-tremble, slackening speed to a meagre haste. She donned a red-hued periwig and cockle hat, then strutted back and forth, proud of her fine appearance, as, indeed, she looked a roguish fop of no mean parts. She flung out into the passage and asked the lad if the horse was ready.
"Aye, Sir!" he said, impudently. She flung him a bag of gold with a show of masculine strength. Out it flew through the open window, down to the pavement, frightening the steed from his groom, who first stopped to pluck the bag before giving chase to the wily horse. Down came the scullion, followed close by the gay young fop, who waited impatiently outside the door. The guard looked on indifferently, his eyes fixed upon the groom, rather than the young man that paced restlessly up and down the courtyard.
At last Lady Constance dashed out upon the highway with a smile of cunning on her face, a devil's flash from her eyes, a haughty curving on her lips, and her heart beating faster and faster, the nearer she drew to the King's palace. "One masque is as fair as another, and methinks the King's eye will open wider at my boldness than at Mistress Penwick's plain dissembling, should he require a fair show of our feigning. He will love me for my daring and for bringing him the knowledge aforetime of the maid's deception. And when the wench smiles in triumph, he will bring her down upon her knees by one fair blow of tongue. 'Twould be like his Majesty to deprive her of decent covering, if I can only make her designing plain to him." On she rode in high good humour with her adventure; for if this move was without laches or mischance, 'twould be a triumph indeed. The maid would be ruined and her own fortunes made.
The coach arrived at the Royal Palace upon the stroke of four. Mistress Penwick was conducted to the King's ante-chamber. She was visibly nervous; trying vainly to calm the fast beating of her heart. When at last she was called, Sir Julian walked beside her to the threshold of his Majesty's chamber. The King, ever insouciant, had never thought to ask Monmouth the maid's name, and when she was presented as "Mistress Wick," and he beheld her form and attire, he was amazed. He felt he had been made a dupe; that Monmouth had purposely made him believe this girl was beautiful for some subtle cause, perhaps just to gain an audience for her;—then, as he saw the spots upon her face, he recoiled and a horrible thought came. Had she some loathsome disease and been sent to him that he might—He started, his blood boiling with indignation. "Treason," he cried in his heart, and before the maid had arisen from her knees, he called for her dismissal. She was taken precipitately from the King's presence before she had time to open her mouth.
The King was greatly wrought upon, giving Monmouth the blame. The matter must be sifted. He would write an order for his son's arrest, and—yes, the woman must be taken also.
Sir Julian saw it all in Katherine's disappointed and half-angry face, but without giving her time to relate her grievances, rushed her to the coach, putting her into it with very little ceremony. They were fairly flying from the Palace, turning from the sight of a young fop as he came at full gallop through the throng that crowded near the Royal House.
The youth made known his desire to see the King, saying the matter was an imperative one. Even as he spoke, his Majesty came from within and heard the breathless request.
"What now, my pretty rogue; what is thy wish?"
"May I speak with thee apart?" said the lad, as he knelt and kissed the King's hand. "'Tis something of import—a trick is about to be played upon thee." The King took alarm.
"We are about to start forth, my lad. Come, thou mayest walk by our side, and if thy speech is as neat and comely as thy body, 'tis possible ere we reach the end of yonder corridor thy tongue will have won for thee the Royal favour." The King leant upon Constance as they swaggered along down the passage.
"May I be so bold as to inquire of your Majesty if there has not come to thee a woman with swart marks upon her face and a hump on her back, preferring a petition for thy signature to some lands now held by the Catholics?" The King started and looked now with great interest upon the girlish fop, and speaking slowly as he answered,—
"Why, yes; she hath come and gone. What of her?"
"She hath played foully upon her King. I would give, Sire, half my life to have seen your Majesty compel her to wash the painted spots from her face and take from her shoulder the false hump, and she—"
"Ah! ah!" came from the thoroughly awaked King.
"—is the greatest beauty in England." For the first time Constance gave Katherine her dues.
"Dost thou speak truth, lad?"
"I fear my King too much to speak otherwise, unless, indeed, it were to save his life."
"Then—" said the King, with flashing eyes.—"We shall have her back; we'll send for her at once; and, my pretty lad, thou shalt remain here to see the fun, with your King. 'Twill be rare sport, eh?" He gave Constance so sound a smack upon the shoulder, it came near to knocking her flat. It brought the tears and made her bite her tongue. The King fairly roared with laughter.
Buckingham heard the King's order to recall the woman. He also knew the King's informant, and for reasons of his own sent straightway one to intercept his Majesty's messenger.
Lady Constance, believing that Sir Julian, with Katherine, would return to Tabard Inn, mentioned it. This, of course, allowing they followed Constance' suggestion, gave Sir Julian a good start and Buckingham's messengers time to reach their several destinations.
The night had come with even greater heat than the day. The sultry gloaming foretold a near-by storm. Clouds were brewing fast and thick, with ominous mutterings. Already every inch of blue sky was overcast with a blackness that was heavy and lowering. Occasionally the sullen thunder was prefaced by a jaundiced light that swathed the skies from end to end. The coach bearing Katherine and Janet left the causeway and entered a thick forest. The great trees seemed even larger; their silence becoming portentous. There was not a breath of air. Katherine fanned herself with Janet's hat, but hardly did her efforts create a breeze large enough to move the threads of hair that waved above her forehead.
They had proceeded but a short way into the forest when the postilion got down to light the lamps.
Sir Julian rode close to the window and spoke of the approaching storm. The stillness was ominous; there being no sound save the plash of a muskrat as he skurried through a dismal, dark pool near by. Katherine jumped at the noise and her small hand grasped the arm of Sir Julian, as it lay across the ledge of the window. She gave a little gasp—just enough to touch Sir Julian tenderly.
"'Tis nothing but a lusty genet, my dear," and his hand closed over hers for a moment. There was something about that touch that thrilled them both; he leant farther toward her as another flash came through the trees and was sure he saw a flush upon her face. The lights from the lanterns flashed up, then—stood silent and unmoved, the boy's breath who stood over them was swallowed in the hot air. Then the coach began to move and at the same time the giant trees stirred in a peculiar way. They, like a vast army, bent low with a sound as of heavy artillery rumbling over a bridge that covered vacuous depths. Then they began a deafening noise, their branches sweeping hard against the coach windows.
Katherine lay back languidly against the cushions, still trembling from the gentle pressure of Sir Julian's hand. For a moment only she enjoyed this sweet dissipation, then turned from it as if duty called her to think of her visit to the King. She consoled herself that she had done all she could now. When she reached Crandlemar, she should be better able to collect her thoughts and see what would be the next best thing to do. She longed to see Lord Cedric and the Duke and Duchess. She even fell to imagining how the grand, old place would look in midsummer. It seemed like she had been gone months. Would Cedric be changed, she wondered? Would he be pale and fragile looking?
So great was Sir Julian's haste, and so great was the heat, the horses were soon exhausted and began to lag. Sir Julian thought they were near an inn, as it soon proved. He flung open the door and almost lifted Katherine from the coach, so great was his haste. Supper was awaiting them and Katherine for the moment alone, near an open window,—the room appeared close to suffocation with humid heat—waited for Sir Julian to take his seat at her side. Janet was arranging a posset. Suddenly Katherine heard a soft voice behind her; it was low and intense. Hardly could she distinguish it from the soughing of the wind in the trees. She half-turned her head to listen as Sir Julian came toward her. But she caught the words:
"Abbe —— will be in the coach upon thy return. Enjoin silence upon thy nurse and be not afraid."
She thought Sir Julian looked at her suspiciously; but was quite sure he had not seen or heard the person behind her.
Janet, while in the coach had bathed the maid's face and taken from her the garb of disguise, and Katherine now looked her sweet self again, flushed and thoughtful over this new adventure. She was most like her father, ever looking for new fields to conquer. Sir Julian asked her if she would be frightened at a severe storm. She answered it made her somewhat nervous to be abroad.
"Then I will ride inside with thee—"
"Nay, I could not think of allowing thee. The air is too oppressive." Sir Julian insisted, but to no avail. As they were about to leave the inn, Katherine whispered to Janet that an Abbe would be in the coach and enjoined silence and deaf ears.
"I did not catch his name, but I'm quite sure his voice rung like Abbe La Fosse's. They have doubtless heard I am on my way to the castle, and, knowing 'twould be impossible to see me there, they have taken this way, being impatient to know how fell my suit with the King." Janet for once had no answering word, but uttered a groan of seeming dissent and followed her mistress, who leant upon Sir Julian's arm.
The dim light cast from the lanterns was well-nigh swallowed up in the intense gloom. The rain was already falling rapidly and Sir Julian opined that it was a hopeful sign, as it presaged no sudden gust that would tear things to pieces. The door of the coach slammed to and the horses started at gallop through the windy forest. Mistress Penwick, now for the first time alone, that is without the surveillance of Cantemir or Eustis, with a beloved Father of her church, flung herself upon her knees at his side, saying:
"Beloved Father, my visit to the King was fruitless; he received me most coldly." The Abbe lifted her from her knees as she spoke, placing her beside him. Her face was close to his, for the noise of the horses' hoofs and the rattling of spurs and bits and the ever-rumbling thunder made speech difficult. His face turned toward her was hid in the shadow of his cowl, and he drew the hood even closer as he answered,—
"We feared it, mightily," and his voice was barely heard above the noise.
"But it grieves me more than I can tell."
"Nay. Thou must not let it."
"But it does, I cannot help it; and I see also thy disappointment, for thy hands tremble."
"We have had much to unnerve us, and I am still under restraint."
"I would thou hadst sent a better embassage!"
"We could not have found a fairer." At these words Mistress Penwick shrunk from him, remembering her disguise; which, though it was a custom of the time for one to go masqued when and where they pleased, upon whatsoever mission, yet she felt guilty to positive wickedness for having so cloaked her beauty, and did not the Father's words imply that her charms should have won success? For a moment she remained silent. A flash of lightning fell broad through the open window. She quickly glanced at Janet, who appeared to be asleep in her corner. Katherine bent her face close to the Abbe's and whispered,—
"Father, might I not here make my confessions? I would have come to thee at the monastery if it had been possible. The confessional has not been open to me since I left the convent, and I feel I must confess. I must now; for I know not when I shall be able again to have converse with a priest. May I, Father?"
"'Tis a noisome, stormy night and thy nurse there—"
"I will speak low, beside I care not if she does hear that that doth concern myself; for, indeed she understands me better than I understand myself. Then I may speak, Father?"
"I will hear that I deem needful for the peace of thy soul; if perchance thy soul be wrought upon unhappily; and for sins innocently done I absolve thee already." Mistress Penwick half knelt by the cowled figure and placed her elbows upon his knees, and after saying the prayers of contrition leant her face close to his.
"I have been guilty of what I believe to be a very great sin. Father, I disguised myself to go before the King!" She trembled and bent her head. The priest's voice was calm and unperturbed.
"And why didst thou that?"
"I heard 'twas an unsafe thing for a maid boasting of some fairness to visit the King."
"I have heard he keeps them for his own pleasure, allowing not their return."
"And didst thou think we would have let thee go to him, had it not been safe?"
"But I thought, good Father, living as closely as thou dost, thou didst not know of the matters of the world, and I ventured to use my own judgment, meaning no harm. But I will go to him unmasqued if thou dost appoint it so. I intend to do so. Shall I not?"
"Nay, thou hast done all and more than is expected of thee."
"'Twas brave to go at all after hearing of his Majesty's demeanour."
"But I was not very much afraid; indeed, I became very calm as I entered his presence."
"If I understand, thou wert ambitious to become a Maid of Honour."
"At one time, but having better acquaintance with the Court, I feel my ardour has cooled."
"We have gone somewhat astray, my child. We will finish thy confessions for I soon must leave thee. Indeed, if this is the weighty part of thy sins, there is no need to confess any more."
"One thing I am particularly anxious to inquire of thee. Since love comes and we cannot help it, 'twould be wrong not to give it place?"
"If the love is love and not masquerading passion, and it comes from one who is not altogether unworthy of thee?"
"Indeed, he is most worthy, barring his religion, which is Protestant. I would have advice upon this matter, for I believe the love is mutual."
"My child, if his heart is good and true, and thou lovest him, and he thee, the manner of worshipping God should not be of question, since one shows his love one way and another another. The common scullion, who, from year's end to year's end sees not inside the holy sanctuary, may carry in his heart the divine image of God and pay him homage every breath he draws; while he who walks in sacred robes and abides ever in the shadow of the cross, taking part in all the forms, pomps, vanities and varied monotony, may have Satan within him and breathes out flames of hell as he intones. We can in all things beside religion discern punctilio. There is no sect that has the control of the Holy Spirit; it is the exclusive property of the individual who gains the right and title of it by the keeping of the ten commandments. So, if thou art sure thou dost love the youth, and art most sure he loves thee sincerely, then—"
"Then, indeed, I am most happy; for I am sure he is noble and good and—loves me."
"When didst thou learn that he loved thee; for if I mistake not, thou wert recently bent upon marrying one Adrian Cantemir, who, I must declare, is altogether unworthy of a maid who doth possess such virtue."
"I have learned to since—since—I can't tell when—I knew I loved him—yesterday—the day before. I know it now. I tremble when I think of how well I love him. I have been so uncertain, Father. I thought I loved this one, and then another, and for a time I was not sure I knew what love was. Then it came to me on a sudden that I would rather die than live all my life without the one I so desired. And yesterday I knew of a certainty that I loved and that I was loved."
"Yesterday?"—and the priest winced, and there was pain in the tone of his voice as he uttered the word.
"Aye, yesterday—I was thinking. I thought of his kindness to me—of the deference he has shown me, of his great patience toward me; and I saw how well he loved me."
"Was it the King's son, my child?"
"Nay, one not nearly so gentle as the Duke. He is more noble at heart and hath a most noble name. He hath a handsome countenance, more even than the Duke's, and Janet says he hath the finest mould in all England. Indeed, I do not know so much about such things, but I am sure his hands are near as small as mine, but with a grasp like iron. He is wonderfully strong and hath an awful stamp when in rage, and his temper is most violent and bad, and his tongue is vicious;—indeed, Father, I know not what to do with his oaths. They frighten me."
"Perhaps if thou shouldst go to him and ask in all gentleness, he would leave off blasphemy."
"But I have no influence with him. When anger takes him, he is terrible."
"Then I'm afraid he does not love thee."
"Aye, he loves me; but wants his own way, and—to be sure, I love him quite as well when he does have his way—which is not often. Janet says I provoke him to swear." Again the priest started and his white hands trembled suspiciously.
"And how dost thou so provoke him, child?"
"He would marry me straightway and give me not time to know whether I wanted him or not, and I refused and he fell into an awful fury and swore oaths and I could not stop him,—Father, I said I hated him, and now he so believes, and I would have him think otherwise; yet I would not tell him for the world. When I meet him, it shall be—with cold looks."
"Then how is he to know thy mind?"
"I know not." Katherine shook her head dolefully.
"Then when he greets thee, why not smile at him and look thy feelings?"
"I know not, only 'tis my way. I shall love to hear him plead again. I hated to hear it once; but now—'twill be like music."
"What if he is cold to thee?"
"If he is cold, I will go to him and ask him to forgive me for what I have done."
"Then thou art culpable?"
"Aye, I fear I am, for he now suffers for my fault, or rather for his love of me."
"But if he greets thee with all love and holds out his arms to thee?"
"Then I shall be most happy, but shall act indifferently."
"I am afraid thou dost treat a serious matter lightly; for 'tis a fickle thing; if he meets thee with open arms, thou wilt be cruel; if he greets thee coldly, thou wilt be indifferent—for fear of thy maiden scruples. What if he takes thee unawares?"
"He might trick thee into a thing thou couldst not recede from. If thou didst find thyself so placed, wouldst thou forgive him and love him just the same?"
"I must always love him, no matter what trick he plays;—but he will play me no trick. If he should again threaten to lock me up, as he has done heretofore, I would go to him and say,—'Nay, I will marry thee now, Cedric!'"
"God, Kate! Kate!" And the priest threw his arms about her, almost crushing her in his great embrace. The cowl slipt from his head and his dark curls swept her face as he bent over her. Instantly she knew him and straightway fell into a rage.
"Thou, thou, Lord Cedric, dare to receive confession from one whose life thou hast no part in. Dost thou know the penalty of such wickedness? All evil will be visited upon thee for playing the part of a holy priest. Indeed, of all the sins I had deemed thee capable, I had ne'er thought of one so wicked as this!" She fell back in the corner of the coach in such fury, she could not find further utterance.
"Indeed, Mistress Penwick, I asked not for thy confessions. But now that I have heard them, 'tis my meed to be punished by thy sharp tongue for that I could not help. Come, Sweet, forgive and love me. Have I not suffered enough?"
"Lambkin, I am out of all humour with thee. Thou art half a termagant, I admit!"
"And thou, too, wert privy to this deception. I am truly without friends!" and the maid began to weep softly behind her handkerchief. Lord Cedric was beside himself with his folly.
"If I only could have withstood thee; but how could I with thy tender words and thy closeness—"
"There is nothing accomplished but mistakes!" Janet ventured, being impatient with both Cedric and Kate.
"—Kate!—Kate! dost not thou know how I have longed for thee; how my heart has ached in thine absence? Those two whole days I lay abed were like so many years, and when I thought of thy danger, I fell into a fever and I arose and leapt upon the fleetest steed and rode until my fever cooled; and then—when I had thee once more, I could not keep from thee longer; I resolved upon this plan that I might be with thee, and ride by thy side. And thou dost murder me outright. Thou dost kill me, Kate! I was a fool to undertake it, I know; but I thought of two whole days I should be separated from thee and felt I could not bear to wait. Thy words, Kate, were so sweet. Kate, come to me once more and see how loving I can be. Let me dry thy tears,—let thy head rest here upon my heart and close thine eyes and dream—dream, Kate, of what we must be to each other, and then wake and find me bending over thee. Come, Sweet, come!" He sought her elusive fingers and tried to draw her to him with a tenderness she could hardly withstand; but she would not unbend, drawing from him, sinking further into the corner.
"And did Sir Julian know of this ruse of thine?" she asked, haughtily.
"Janet, methinks the maid speaks with thee!"
"What is it, Lambkin? I was not listening."
"I will wait until the storm ceases, perhaps thou wilt find thy hearing by then." There was a long silence within the coach. The tears of Mistress Penwick were dried and she sat sullen, deliberately trying to hate Lord Cedric. There came a sudden burst of thunder that turned the tide of her thoughts from him to Sir Julian, who rode by her window constantly. At every flash of lightning she saw his spurs glisten, saw the foam fly from the bits of his horse's bridle. He rode there in the storm, heedless of all but her safety and comfort, he that had wounds on his body that spake of great deeds of nobleness and valour! Why should he care for her so? Like a flood he swept into her heart, and she accepted his presence with gladness—shutting out Cedric as well as she was able. She inclined her head toward the window and watched the handsome figure of Sir Julian with a new interest. His form, so like that of Cedric, she began to compare with ancient warriors she had read about and seen pictures of,—then his tender and meaning hand pressure recurred to her, and she flushed mightily. After awhile she fell to thinking of the Duke of Monmouth, the tender thoughts of whom she had not yet resigned,—such were the vacillations of the mind of strong, warm, youthful Mistress Penwick.
The storm grew furious, and the wind blew such a gale it appeared at times as if the trees swept the earth. They bended and swung rudely, brushing hard against the windows. In the midst of its severity the coach came to a stand-still and Lord Cedric threw open the door. Janet leant quickly toward him,—
"I pray thee not to go forth in the storm, my lord; 'tis enough to give thee thy death."
"Nay, nay, Janet, 'twill not be summer rain that will kill me, but cold looks and threatening mien." And he stepped out into the night.
"What, Lambkin, if Lord Cedric should catch cold and die? 'Twould kill thee, too; for remorse would give thee no rest."
"I never so disliked him as I do now. I never want to see him again. How shall I look him in the face after confessing such things? I shall die of shame. That is all he wanted to hear me say, and—he heard it—and that is all the benefit he will get." Again she fell to weeping, finding she could wring no sympathy from Janet, who sat coldly listening to her nursling's plaints.
They reached Crandlemar late the second evening, tired and weary. The Duchess of Ellswold greeted them with a happy countenance, so pleased that she could make known to them that her lord was better and the physicians had given permission to remove him to his own county seat. Her greeting to Katherine in particular was evidently a forced one; she feeling sorely distressed at her capricious nature.
Never did the great old seat look so beautiful as it did in its midsummer glory. Mistress Penwick had arisen early and walked out upon the rich greensward. She wandered from place to place, enjoying the gorgeous fullness of leaf and bloom. She felt a strange disquiet, a longing for love and knowing not the meaning of her unrest vainly tried to find comfort in the beauty of the outer world, that only inclined her heart the more to its desire. She passed from flower to flower, endeavouring to 'suage the uprisings of Cupid. Suddenly she heard the organ peal forth, and straightway she entered the library to hear those great, soothing chords the better. She, being shaken by love, fell upon her knees and tried to pray for comfort, for she felt at the moment she had not one to comfort her. Janet had been taciturn, showing not her affection as had been her wont heretofore. The tears came, and she wept aloud. Then the organ ceased and a moment later Sir Julian stood upon the landing of the stairway, looking down upon her. Without noise he descended and stood by her side. His voice, when he spoke, appeared shaken as if a storm of love wrought upon it.
"Katherine! It pains me to see thee thus. Can I not give thee some bit of comfort?"
"I am comforted already, Sir Julian; thy music did that."
"Then why dost still remain with bowed head and thy sobs unassuaged?"
"I do not know. I must either laugh or cry and—'tis easier to do the latter."
"Come! Mistress Penwick, what can I do for thee? Ask, I pray, anything, for thy happiness—Katherine—" and for the first time in his life he looked guiltily about him. But no one was near to hear him, and he continued lowly—"thou dost know, surely, that man cannot look on thee without loving?" and he raised her from her knees.
"I am unloved," she answered, the social lie tinging her cheek to a brighter hue.
"Not so, for I love thee."
"Thou, thou, Sir Julian, who art used to spurning woman's heart?"
"Not spurn, nay! I have not found one yet I could do that to, and on the other hand I have found but one I could love, and—that is thine."
"Ah, Sir Julian. I wonder if thou dost love me. 'Tis a great thing to be loved by one who has fought in great battles."
"And thou dost not know that the battle of hearts is much deadlier than that of arms?"
"I do not know; but thou seemest like a warrior of olden time. And for thee to love me!"
"Is it enough? Wilt thou give thyself to me?" There was a silence so long and unbroken Katherine was made to realize that her reply was not to be lightly uttered, so she answered with all the strength of a plaything of caprice,—
"If thou wilt have it so, Sir Julian, I will be thine."
She had hardly finished, when he laid his lips, to her astonishment, coldly and with formal grace upon her forehead.
"I will not ask thee if thou lovest me, but will say instead dost think thou mayest?"
"But I think I love thee now—"
"Nay, sweet Mistress, thou dost not—" A look of fear came into her eyes. Had Lord Cedric told her confessions? Nay, nay! he would not, she knew.
"How dost come by so much knowledge?" she said, coquettishly.
"I have ascertained by subtleness, but—let it pass. Let us talk of thee now. When wilt thou marry me? If thou art kind, thou wilt say at once."
"Nay, I shall not say that—but—whenever thou dost wish it."
"Of a surety? When I name the hour, wilt thou not gainsay?"
"Nay, my lord. I will not gainsay."
"Then—at eleven, Katherine." She caught her breath quickly and cried forth,—
"This day, Sir Julian! Indeed, thou art in haste, I—I—"
"Thou hast given thy word. At eleven, Katherine."
"By sands or dial?"
"Ah, sweet Katherine, both shall have a bridal favour. We will confer with each. When the golden sand runs out at the eleventh hour, the dial will be alone and in shadow; for if it please thee, we must be wed secretly and in haste. I noticed but awhile ago how beautiful the dial was. So the sands shall give us the hour, the dial the altar, and the nightingale the nuptial mass."
"But the priest, Sir Julian—"
"He shall give us the blessing—"
"Nay, nay; where wilt thou find a priest?" This was not an unexpected question, and Sir Julian was ready for it.
"Lord Cedric's Chaplain can wed us as securely as one of thy church, and as there is no one else, he will serve, will he not, Katherine?"
"Until we find a better."
"Then, not to arouse suspicion, to-night at eleven thou wilt come to the sun-dial and I will meet thee at the foot of the stair that leads from thy chamber to the terrace, and then—'twill be soon over and thou, thou, Katherine, will be—wife. Wilt not regret it,—art sure?" he repeated as she shook her head negatively.
"But why do all men appear in such haste to wed? I would have time to at least think upon it."
"Dost forget that at any moment may come a courier from the King to recall thee; and if so, thou wouldst be obliged to go and be separated from us, perhaps forever? Thou dost not know what may befall thee at any moment. Thou dost belong to France, and art hostage to England—thou wilt be ready at eleven?"
"Aye, at eleven."
"We will be cautious and not speak above a whisper. The Chaplain will speak low, too; but he is a good soul and would make us fast wed whether we heard him or not." Again he kissed her forehead; she turned rose-red and ran from him hastily. She thought not once of Cedric. Had she done so, 'tis possible she never would have gone to the dial that summer night. She flew to her chamber aflame with this new thing she thought was love. And felt relief that soon Sir Julian, the strong and brave, would take away all her discomfort. He would fight her battles for her, go with her to the King and stand by her side and his Majesty would not dare to offer her insult. It would be a sweet task to convert Sir Julian to her faith. He would became a great Catholic leader. Her breast fairly swelled with pride in anticipation.
Night had come richly laden with the perfume of many flowers, that the darkness seemed to make more pungent, and more distinct to the ear the night sounds. There was no moon, and the thick foliage produced a deep, dark density, mysterious and sweet. The grand terraces about the castle were still, save for the buzz of summer insects and the low, sleepy twittering of birds. There was not a star to be seen and only the glow-worm lent an occasional lilliputian effulgence to the great, dark world. All within the castle appeared to have retired earlier than usual; perhaps for the purpose of an earlier awakening, as their Graces of Ellswold were to set out early on the morrow morning, aiming to make some great distance on their journey before the heat of midday. At a quarter after the hour of ten Janet had kissed her mistress, leaning over her pillow with even more affection than usual.
"Good-night, my Lambkin, my child, my precious maid—good-night and God bless thee!" then snuffed the candles and left her.
Katherine gave no thought to regret, indeed she went so far as to smile at Janet's consternation, when she should find out that for once her "Lambkin" had fooled her. Quickly she leapt from her bed and dressed herself for the first time alone. Though her fingers were deft and skillful at the tapestry frame, and neat and clever at limning, they were slow and bungling when drawing together the laces of her girdle, indeed 'twas very insecurely done, and when she was dressed she had forgotten her stays, and but for the lateness of the hour would have disrobed and donned them. It seemed like an endless task to try and dress again by the poor light of the single candle, screened by her best sunshade in the far corner of the room. She had donned a pale, shimmering brocade. About her neck she twined her mother's pearls, and took up the opal shoulder knot of Cedric's mother's and was about to fasten it when some subtle thought stole the desire from her, and she laid it back in the casket with a sigh. Instead, she placed a bunch of jasmine as her shoulder-brooch, and extinguishing the light went forth to meet her husband by the sun-dial.
She passed out by the door that led on to a small balcony and a-down the flight of outside stairs that were covered with vines in purple bloom. Although the darkness was almost impenetrable, she could distinguish a form waiting at the foot of the stair. For an instant she paused and whispered timourously,—
"Who art thou?"
"Julian," came as softly back, and a white hand was stretched out to her. Down she flew, intrepid.
"Would I send another to meet thee; didst thou think to turn back, my Katherine?"
"Nay, I should not have turned back; but 'twas assuring to hear thy name. I am not afraid, yet—yet I tremble."
"And 'tis sweet of thee so to do; 'tis maidenly that thou shouldst; 'tis the way of woman. Thou art not afraid, yet thou dost tremble; thou dost try to be brave, yet thou must be assured, and I am here by thy side to assure thee ever," he whispered in her ear.
Down they swept across the upper terrace. Slowly they crossed the greensward, with fairy-like light of firefly to illumine the way; speaking as lovers will, with bated breath. The wind blew gently now and again, casting a shower of petals upon them as they passed. When the leaves shone white, the cavalier would say:
"We are so blessed, nature herself doth sprinkle the bridal path with flowers;"—or, when there fell a darksome shower, Katherine would press close to her lover's side and say,—
"Indeed, Julian, these are petals from those blood-red roses that have hung in such profusion all summer. It may have some significance. I believe I must return; 'tis not too late to recede."
Then the cavalier drew her closer than before, and so tenderly did plead with her, she forgot her fears. So step by step they neared the thicket where stood the ancient sun-dial that was well-nigh hid with bridal roses.
The Chaplain stood ready; his fragile, pale countenance, hid by the darkness. There was no faltering now. Katherine did not think to turn back; that her heart was not with Sir Julian, that she would ever regret this greatest moment in her life, but stood resolute.
The Chaplain began the ceremony at once, and so softly one could scarcely hear a yard away. Katherine was agitated with the thought that she was really being wedded, and hardly heeded when the Chaplain raised or lowered his voice; appearing almost like one in a dream, so blinded was she with the glamour of her new estate.
At last the Chaplain said the final words, pronouncing the twain as one, and gave his blessing in a somewhat stronger voice that carried in it a note of triumph, and was about to step down from the pedestal of the dial when there flew out from the darkness a young man with drawn sword, who dashed immediately upon the young husband. Barely had the cavalier time to draw aside his wife, and drawing his sword as he did so, when his de trop guest made a fierce attack upon him. The young husband cried out as he met the thrust,—
"Nay, nay, nay, by God nay!" It appeared his antagonist was becalmed of speech, for he answered not but struggled to do so. Failing to find his voice, however, he gave a lunge, which was met by a parry that made him mad, and for a moment ground his teeth as fiercely as he wielded his sword. The young cavalier threw himself on guard in carte, which sent his opponent to giving such thrusts that quickly betrayed his lack of skill and also his deadly intentions. These were met by quick parries. Then the mad antagonist made a sweeping bend and thrust at the cavalier's heart. This was met with a disengage. The mad youth, well spent with anger and want of breath, broke out pantingly,—
"Thou wouldst play the honourable as thou playest the part of Sir Ju—" His last word was cut short by a quick thrust of steel that felled him to the sward. Mistress Katherine stood as if frozen, her hands held tightly in those of the Chaplain, who whispered that it might cost her husband his life should she interfere. He also assured her, saying that the adversary was no swordsman, as she herself soon saw. Some one came running from the castle at the same time Katherine knelt beside the fallen man. But her husband whispered quickly,—
"Nay, nay; arise, Sweet; he is unworthy thy solicitude. Come with me. I gave him but a puny thrust. The Chaplain will look after him." He put his arm about her and raised her up and drew her away, saying, much out of breath,—"I must not be seen, dost know?" She took fright, fearing her lord's danger. Quickly they traversed the terrace and reached the stair leading to Katherine's chamber. As she laid her hand upon the railing, she said timourously,—"I would hear how serious is the wound before I go inside!"
"But, Katherine," he whispered, "'twas no more than the prick of a pin; beside, dost not thou have anxiety for thy lover's freedom; hast forgotten our lord's temper when he finds I have so disgraced his house by fighting 'neath the very windows? And if the fellow can talk and tells of the marriage, why, I'm undone, and they will begin a search." All the while he led her further up the stair, she unwitting, until they stood fairly inside the threshold and his foot struck against some obstacle.
"Sh-sh!" she enjoined, "Janet is within yonder room and will hear thee; she may already be awake and prying about to know what is astir upon the terrace!"
"Indeed, I think thou hadst better hide me!"
"Nay, I cannot; I know of no place. Dost thou not know of a safe hiding?"
"I am safest here in thy chamber, I am sure. I know of no other place. And if Janet come—which I hardly think possible—thou must fly to her lighted taper and blow it out, and tell some sweet fib,—say the light pains thine eyes."
"A ruse holds not good with Janet. I cannot play upon her wit."
"Then, Sweet, I will lock the door and—"
"Nay, nay, she will hear thee, and will come to see if I have been awakened."
"Then I had best keep quiet and wait to see what will happen."
"There is naught else for thee to do, for surely thou canst not go below, thou wouldst be seen, and—"
"—and, what, Sweet?"
"—and be taken prisoner."
"And wouldst thou be pained, Sweet?" He drew her close, his dark curls swept her face as he bent his head. Nor did he wait for an answer, but plied her with another question that the moment and the closeness gave license to. "Wilt give, Sweet, the nuptial kiss—'tis my due?" She raised her head from his shoulder ever so slightly to answer him, but the words came not, for his lips were upon hers. She was thrilled with his tenderness; 'twas more than she ever could have thought. And as he held her close, she, not unwilling, declared separation would be instant death. She wondered how she ever could have withstood love so long. And he kissed her again and again, saying heaven could not offer greater favour. "Dost feel happy now, Sweet?"
She answered not, but stood, her head leant against the rare and scented lace of his steenkirk, held captive, trembling with an ecstasy too sweet to be accounted for.
"Thou dost tremble, Kate; has thy fear not left thee yet?"
"Nay," came soft and breathless from her full red lips. "I am still afraid."
"But what dost thou fear now, so close wrapped?"
"I know not; 'tis a strange fear. If thou shouldst be taken from me, I should die; 'tis this I fear most of all, and even for a separation—nay, nay, I could not live."
"Oh, Sweet, 'tis excess of gladness that thou art wife—wife, the word alone fills me with rapturous exaltation. Wouldst be glad if we had never met thus, should separation come?"
"Nay, a thousand times, nay, these moments are worth more than all my life heretofore."
"Hast forgotten, I must leave the castle before very long, and an adieu must be said to thee?"
"I have not forgotten, but 'twill only be for a day. 'Twould be hazardous for thee to go until everything is quiet about."
"And until I have quieted thy fears; until I have told thee of a strong man's love—my love for thy glorious, youthful beauty. Thy hair, Kate, is more precious than all the amber and bronze the world holds; 'tis rich, soft and heavy, with glorious waves. Thy face so filled with love's blushes warms my breast where it doth lie. The glory of thy eyes that are ever submerging me in their azure depths. Thy slender, white neck and graceful sloping shoulders. Indeed, Sweet, thou art wonderfully made. There could not be a more perfect being. And thou art mine, Sweet; 'tis a wonder that rough man could be so blest. Thou dost often feign coldness, Kate, and now I wonder where thou didst find such condition. 'Twas most unnatural, and how thou couldst so well assume it—but I have found thy true heart. Sweet Kate, thou hast at last fallen victim to Cupid's darts, and fortune hath played me fair and put me in the way to receive such priceless gift, whose dividends are to be all my own." His warm words came so fast and he was so passionate and tender that Katherine took fright and thought 'twas not like Sir Julian to be so, and yet to have him otherwise? nay, she loved him thus, and she remembered the moment he had pressed her hand as they rode through the forest; aye, he could be as loving and tender as—as—She did not finish the thought, for her lord's jewelled fingers had caught her hand and his arm held her close, pressing her tenderly; his lips resting upon hers until she grew faint with his ardour.
At last night paled into dawn. The cocks began to crow lustily. About the edges of the great windows in the chamber the light began to peep as if loath to cast one disturbing glance athwart the room. There was a fluttering sigh from the folds of the maiden's handkerchief as her lover bent over her, saying,—
"Adieu, Sweet, adieu once more. Let me kiss thy eyelids close until they pent these tears that parting hath wrung from thee, and yet, were they not, I would be without weapon, void of panoply, equipped not—"
"But thy urgent tongue and tenderness doth armour thee for conquest!"
"Aye, 'tis love's armour; but thy tears make me strong to enter strife with men. I know 'tis love drives thee, and when that love is for me, I can win all battles."
"Thou must haste before dawn, or thou wilt be taken; for we do not know whether the young man still lives; and Lord Cedric will kill thee if he can."
"There is no doubt but what he lives. His Grace's physicians have no doubt healed the burden of his pain long ago. But do not thou think of him, think only of this sweet night and—dream of our meeting again. And if his lordship keeps thee prisoner, tell Janet thou art fast wed and she will help thee to our rendezvous to-morrow. Pray, Sweet, that the day may be short, for now I see only cycles of time until the set of morrow's sun."
Dawn broke into a new day. Sunshine bathed old Earth in golden splendour. The day grew warm, as higher and higher leapt Phoebus, until he rested high and hot upon Zenith's bosom, causing all mankind to pant by his excess.
Slowly Katherine raised her lazy eyelids until the shining blue beneath lay in quivering uncertainty. She smiled up at Janet, saying, sleepily,—
"I've a notion not to arise to-day. 'Twill be long and wearisome, and hot. What is the use? There is nothing in the world to get up for!"
"Indeed there is a very great deal to get up for. 'Tis a glorious day. The gardens are aglow with beauty and the air is fine, though warm."
"I know, Janet, and 'tis thy desire that I arise, but the castle seems most empty. Their Graces have departed and—"
"Nay, not so. There has been a great change in the Duke, and the physicians will not allow his leaving his couch."
"Ah, I'm sorry! What time did this change take place?" said Katherine with a feeling of subtleness that for once she had tricked Janet and knew of great things that had happened in the deep night, when her faithful nurse thought her in dreamland.
"Her Grace says there was a great change in him yesterday, that she noticed it as he ate his dinner."
"And was there no change in the night?" said Katherine sagely.
"Speak out, Lambkin, that 'tis on thy mind—if thou dost mean, was he disturbed when the castle was aroused?—why, no, he was not."
"But how didst thou know there was an arousal?"
"I did play the simpering bride's maid, and stood for witness to thine espousal."
"Ah! ah! ah! Janet, I can keep no secret from thee!" Quickly she sprang to the floor. Her foot struck her lover's sword. She stooped and raised it, and there flashed forth from the jewel encrusted handle the noble armourial bearings, charged upon a gold escutcheon, of Lord Cedric's house. Wonderingly, she examined it and swept her brow with the back of her slender hand. Slowly she spoke, and in a voice vibrant with portent, her eyes now wide open.
"This—this doth trend to set my brain a-whirl, and doth connive to part sense from understanding and mind from body. To be sure, 'twas dark,—and allowing that I was well-nigh intoxicated with love—my brain could truly swear 'twas Sir Julian; and yet this he flung aside doth confute reason, and I must either ponder upon the this and that in endeavouring to conjoin mental and physical forces to sweet amity or give over that reaching wife's estate hath made of me a sordid fool, as hath it oft made woman heretofore. My senses up until I met one of two at the foot of the stair, I could make affidavit on. The mould of either could well trick the other, providing their heads were as muddled as mine, and in this matter I am also clear. 'Twas meet to speak lowly and the voice was not betrayed. But—there was some restraint at first; for his words came slow and with much flaunting of French—indeed 'twas overdone.—And the duel—ah! ah!—'twas Cedric's 'Nay, nay, nay!—' with an oath that had no note of Sir Julian in it. And hard he strove not to fight, nor did he until the other cried out to him—I see it all plainly; 'twas Cedric, 'twas Cedric! If I could mistake all else, I could not mistake his passion; 'twas: 'Kate' this, and 'Kate' that. Sir Julian never called me else than Katherine. And his words were over plain, and in truth they became not so slow and studied, and there was a leaving off of French. 'Twas he! Ah! and he was so sweet and gentle and near drowned me by his tenderness—'twas such sweet love—" Quickly she hid her blushing face in the pillow, for she forgot she was speaking aloud.
"Hast thou then married mind to body? If thou hast them well mated and art sure thou art through espousing, I will straightway wed thee to thy clothes, that thou mayest first pay thy respects to their Graces, then go out into the sunshine and walk thee up and down for the half of an hour, where, 'tis most like thou wilt find thy lord, who is too impatient to remain indoors."
"Nay, I shall not see him!"
"Tut, Lambkin! thou wouldst not play the shrew to so noble a lord, that soon, no doubt, will be a great Duke?"
"He hath tricked and deceived me. I will punish him for it. Nay; I have no mind to see him. I could not bear it, Janet. 'Twas this he meant, for I wondered when he said he had fought two duels and had been victor in both. Nay; he shall not see me nor I him." And with these thoughts came others, and thus she fostered malice, promoting but a puny aversion that she cherished the more for its frailty.
"Art thou set upon affecting the manners of an orange girl?"
"Janet, I would not make feint at that I am not."
"Neither would I, if 'twere me, make feint at that thou art. If thou hast the name of Lady, I would fit my demeanour to the word. And it should be an easy thing, for thou art born to the manner."
"But bad nursing doth corrupt good blood!"
"And a froward child doth denote a spared rod!"
"And moral suasion is oft an ethical farce!"
"A votary of non-discipline is impregnable to ethics."
"Oh, Janet, dear Janet, I am weary. How is the young man that was wounded?"
"The same as ever; save his ardour is somewhat cooled."
"Thou dost speak as if thou hadst known him."
"Indeed, any cock of the hackle is essentially commonplace."
"But he carried the sword of a gentleman?"
"Thou dost mean he carried a gentleman's sword."
"Dost thou know who he is, Janet?"
"I have not inquired."
"In other words, thou didst see him. And 'twas—I am sure—Adrian Cantemir."
"'Twas none other."
"I will go down now and see their Graces."
"Art sure thou wilt not see thy lord?"
"Then—here this is for thee." She handed her a dainty billet, scented with bergamot. Katherine took it in trembling haste, her face rose-hued. It read: "To My Lady of Crandlemar. Greeting to my sweet wife, Kate. I await my reprimand and sword. When I am so honoured, I shall enlist to serve thee with my presence, which, until then, is held by thee in abeyance. Thou canst not rob me of my thoughts, which hold naught else but thee; nor yet that dainty girdle that did encompass thy fair and slender mould. I have it on my heart, close pressed; but it doth keep that it lieth on in turmoil by such proximity. I know thou dost love me, even though I tricked thee. Janet was to tell thee this morning who thy true lord is, for, Sweet, I would have no other image but mine in thy heart, for soon—soon—aye, in a very short time—I may be a prisoner in the Tower. Do not think, Sweet, this is a ruse—but should I be taken where I might not see thy face, 'twould be sweet to know thou didst hold my image, dear. Forgive me, Sweet, and—au revoir!—Perhaps thy heart will relent before—before the nightingale sings.—Relent, sweetheart, wife." Kate pressed the billet to her lips without thinking, then turned her back quickly to hide the action; but 'twas too late. Janet had been watching every movement and was satisfied.
"I wish I had not opened it; such letters are disturbing. Janet, go below and find if I may see her Grace without meeting any one." When alone, she devoured again and again the billet, and as Janet returned, thrust it quickly within the bosom of her gown.
"His lordship has returned from the terrace and is in the picture gallery. Her Grace wishes to see thee and waits breakfast."
For an hour Katherine was with the Duchess, who talked very plainly of the possible death of her husband and the duties of a great estate and noble name that would fall to Cedric and his wife to keep up. Nor did she let the young wife go without telling her into what an awful condition she might not only lead herself but Cedric, when she allowed her caprice to manage her better self. It did her ladyship much good, and she sauntered out upon the lawn and shyly sought the sun-dial and brought from it a nosegay of bridal-roses and fled, shamefaced, with them to her own chamber, there to seat herself by the open window to wait and watch for her young lord.
CEDRIC IN THE TOILS
In the French colony where lay the valuable lands of Sir John Penwick, there was a lively insurrection of the English. The Papist party, who had built and lived upon the property for the past ten years, was strong, having among the Protestants lively adherents who were Catholics at heart and wore the Protestant cloak that they might the better spy upon them. The English, being so much the weaker, had been lead by a few men who were bought by the Catholics. La Fosse had had to do with these few men only, when he had made a show of settling Sir John's affairs. These men had heretofore held the secret of the hostage; but recent events had stirred them to strife and they had fallen at variance over the spoil. The secret had been let out. The English rose in arms when the French suggested that such a small colonial matter should be settled among themselves; 'twas a shame to bother the Crown.
Upon the sudden outburst, Sir John made his escape from prison. The French said he had been stolen by the English and immediate reparation must be made; his person or a ransom must be had. Or, if they would give up all claim to the property and child,—the latter being produced at once—the French were willing to call the matter settled. Indeed, this was all they wished, and if Sir John could be conveniently made away with forever, and it proven that the English had accomplished it, they would certainly be entitled to his hereditaments.
Buckingham held the key to the situation. He saw a way to pay a ransom for Sir John; also a way to gain enough gold from the enterprise to make himself independent for life. He found Sir John in London, but not until after Cantemir had gained the former's confidence. Buckingham took alarm at Cantemir's knowledge and insisted upon Sir John removing to a place of greater seclusion; it being feared that he would be murdered.
Sir John was fond of the Duke, and beside taking his advice, he laid bare his heart and told him of his great distress over Katherine. Cantemir had said that she was being held dishonourably by the old lord's son, who was profligate and only sought her favour without marriage.
Buckingham assured him to the contrary, and made him acquainted with the true circumstances; not failing to tell him of Mistress Penwick's unsettled disposition; her ambitions, and intractable nature; that she was refractory and vexatious; petulant and forever thwarting Lord Cedric's advances.
The Duke concluded this friendly visit by insinuating strongly—that Sir John might infer—that the friendship which amounted to nothing less than love, between himself and Lord Cedric, would alone—barring the question of a beautiful daughter—suffice to bring the latter to a full appreciation of Sir John's case. And if a ransom was decided upon, as being the surest means for his immediate safety, my Lord Cedric would pay and not feel its loss.
"And," went on the Duke, "when chance or design brings thee together, if thou wouldst not be made to feel utterly unhappy, mention not the matter to him. He is eccentric like the old lord, and would fall into the spleen, which condition, when entered into by his lordship, becomes of the temperature of that nondescript bourne the other side of Paradise."
Buckingham knew that two emissaries were upon the seas from the New World. They were coming to interest the King in behalf of Sir John. So far the Duke had kept everything from his Majesty and must also keep these "bumpkins" from tormenting him with importunities of so rustic a nature as "western lands."
But the Duke had made provision,—should his designs be curtailed by laches—delegating himself to the post of intercessor, whereby he could fool both the King and the emissary. Serious injury would be done to no one, unless Cedric might feel poor for a short time. But what were the odds; the Duke of Ellswold would soon die and Cedric's wealth would be unlimited. He would, with a handsome young wife, forget his finances ever were in depletion.
Buckingham had already disposed of some of Sir John's jewels and rare laces, brought over by La Fosse and stored in the chest at the monastery. There was, however, in the great Duke a vein of compunction, and for its easement he had refrained from selling some rare and costly miniatures belonging to Sir John's wife, evidently handed down through a long line of consanguinity. These he resolved in some way to return; perhaps he should find it convenient to present them to Mistress Penwick.
And so the thick, fierce clouds rolled up and gathered themselves together, hanging low, over the head of handsome, careless, rich, young Lord Cedric.
The village of Crandlemar was indignant that he had allowed to exist for so long a time the privilege of the monastery. And these exceptions, with a hint of some foul murder committed at the castle, reached the nobles roundabout and stirred up a general demur. Beside, it was whispered in the shire-moot that the woman about to be espoused by him was a rank Papist and had already placed popish pictures about the Chapel that was contiguous to the castle. This was all that possibly could be said against her, as she was known to be most gracious to the poor Protestants in and about Crandlemar; giving equally to both factions with a lavish hand. But these matters were all brought up to militate against his lordship.
Lord Cedric was already feeling the first thrusts of his enemy, Misfortune; for 'twas very evident that his Grace of Ellswold was near his death. Warming-pans were of no avail. He grew very cold; his extremities were as ice; while the attendants of his bed-chamber were as red as cooked lobsters from the natural heat of the midsummer's day and the steaming flannels that were brought in at short intervals.
Her Grace walked back and forth outside his door continually, Lord Cedric joining her at times.
The Castle seemed inured to quiet by his Grace's long illness; but now there fell a subtle silence that presaged the coming of an unwholesome visitant. In a room apart lay Adrian Cantemir, weak and sick, but cursing every breath he drew; excited at times to actual madness, and saying,—Why had he come a minute too late? Why had he not followed his own inclinations and broken away from the gambling table at the inn an hour earlier? such thoughts making him absolutely furious.
He had arrived some time after dark at Crandlemar village, and, putting up at the hostelry, he resolved to pay his visit to the castle early on the morrow. He was now beginning to feel that he was destined to gain his point, or why had he so far thwarted Lord Cedric, and why had he escaped the anger of the monks by a well worded and quickly manufactured tale, and even gained their help by it, when they found him bound in the passage, left so by Buckingham. So he had felt somewhat at ease, but love and ambition were strong and stirred him to leave wine and cards and ride out into the open; and, unwitting it may be, to the castle gates. He travelled without groom; so fastening his horse, he entered the avenue a-foot, soon reaching the dark pile of stone which appeared in absolute darkness. Aimlessly he left the avenue and sauntered across the terraces. He had heard a peculiar low murmuring of voices and drew near only to hear Katherine made the wife of another man; hardly understanding until the Chaplain gave the blessing. He knew what Katherine did not; that she was the wife of Lord Cedric and not Sir Julian. He flung himself with all his fury upon the bridegroom to no avail, as has been seen.
These inflammable thoughts, as Cantemir rehearsed them over and over, set his brain afire and before night he was in a fever. The kind and gentle Lady Bettie Payne, who had arrived late in the afternoon, had gathered nosegays and made bright his chamber, for she truly had compassion upon him. He called her Katherine, as she gave him cooling draughts with her own hand.
Lord Cedric was somewhat surprised the next evening to that of his wedding to see the Duke of Buckingham standing in the great hall of the castle. And when the Duke's business was thrust upon him, there came also dark forebodings; a separation of indefinite length from his young wife, should he be taken to the Tower. Great was his surprise at the Duke's first words, for they were that Katherine's father was alive and well and in London. He gave quickly the whole story of Sir John's escape, also the attempt to recapture him. Then came what his Lordship expected;—a request for a fortune. Of course, while Cedric thought the amounts asked would not be wholly a loss, yet he knew the amounts allowed of a great margin of perquisites, and to whom these perquisites would go, he could guess. However, without question or complaint, he agreed to give what the Duke asked for; indeed the matters were settled there and then.
"If Sir John's life is in danger, I know of no better place of safety than here. He had better come with all haste—'twould be my wife's desire!"
"Wife, so soon?" And the great Duke raised his eyebrows—a small action, but with him it had a world of meaning in it. "I congratulate thee, my lord, but—if her ladyship knew the danger that would beset her father upon such a journey, I feel sure she would wait patiently a time that must of necessity be of some length. I beg my lord not to think of bringing Sir John hither. As I hinted before, if this matter is brought out and he is proven guiltless of those little matters hinted of, then he could meet her without this heaviness that so weights him. I am sure if such a thought as meeting his daughter were mentioned, he would heartily beg for its postponement and—especially now that she is my Lady of Crandlemar." It stood Buckingham much in hand to keep Sir John and Lord Cedric from meeting, for he had, not only told truth, but had heartlessly impugned the former's character to line his own pocket with the latter's wealth. The truth of the matter was that he was tight caught in a network of financial and political intrigue, and this was the only means to disentangle himself.
After this first business was settled, a second affair was introduced and the Duke spoke of his lordship's matters at Court. He said:
"The King is hard pressed by the nobles—or a portion of them. They insisted that thou wert aiding the Catholics in such a manner that the lives of Protestants in this vicinity were in danger. They even whisper that a plot is being formulated to murder Monmouth. The King felt it incumbent to send for thee, and as the courier was about to start forth, he received word that the messenger he had sent in pursuit of my Lady of Candlemar had been foully dealt with by no other hand than thine. This stirred the King into a frenzy and straightway he charged thee with treason and—one comes now to take thee to the Tower or wherever it pleases his Majesty to put thee. Indeed, he may have so far forgiven thee by the time thou dost see London, he will offer thee half his bed or—any unusual favour. So take heart. The King loves thee." The illness of Ellswold precluded the Duke from paying any visits within the castle, and he hastened back to London.
Lord Cedric felt if he could only tell Katherine that her father was well and in London, it might bring a reconciliation, and his eyes wandered to the hour-glass, and as he noted the golden sands, he thought there was yet time for a lover's quarrel and then a sweet making-up, which should have no limit of time; but, alas! such blissful moments would doubtless be cut short by the arrival of the King's messenger. All of a sudden a wicked thought came, as he remembered how but a few moments before she had turned coldly from him as he met her in the gallery, and he resolved 'twould be a good time to make her feel a little of how he had suffered. Separation from her was all he feared now, and she could not help that. She was fast tied to him, and he was satisfied; and now why not torment some of those Satanic whims out of her. "Aye, 'tis the thing to do!" Even as he thought of her, she had gone with Janet and Lady Bettie to Cantemir's chamber, for the latter in a lucid moment begged Lady Bettie to bring her to him. He gave her the letter he bore from her father, requesting her to come to him at once. She was quite beside herself with joy; yet, such is human nature, she on a sudden was in no hurry to leave Lord Cedric. Then she thought he might go with her—but she never would ask him. So after much thinking and feverish deliberation, she sent the letter to him by Janet. Cedric compared the handwriting with the letter he still carried of Sir John's. There was no doubt that the chirography was the same. He was again thwarted by the Russian. He was to gain his wife's ear by this very news. But there were other ways, and he said,—
"I have but a few moments to spend with her ladyship; go to her and tell her so; say that a courier is now upon the highway and—will soon arrive to conduct me to Tyburn-tree by order of the King—"
"Good heavens, surely your Lordship is not serious!"
"I have been forewarned, Janet. Go, tell her the news. Do not mince the sorry tale. Let her have the weight of it—if weight it be for her pent affection. Indeed, make it strong, blandish it with no 'ifs' or 'mayhaps' or 'possible chances of a change of mind with the King.' Thou must make up quickly a whole catalogue of the horrors enacted at Tyburn. Go, go, hasten thyself, good nurse. I will wait for her here."
Hardly had Janet disappeared when the door again was thrown open and the footman announced a gentleman upon the King's errand. 'Twas indeed his Majesty's guardsman with his order, and Cedric listened with flushed face and beating heart, not to what he said, but for the sound of a silken rustle upon the great hall parquetry; and as he heard it, he raised his voice and said sternly to the courier,—
"And this means Tyburn-tree—a farewell forever to my friends—" There was at these last words a suspicious trembling in his tones that was not wholly natural,—"an adieu to all this world that begun for me only—yesterday at the singing of the nightingale—" the sentence was left unfinished, for Katherine now fell at his feet and embraced his knees and said with blanched lips,—
"What is this horrible tale, my lord? Say 'tis not so!" Great unbroken sobs made her voice tremble, and there was such extreme misery in her face and attitude the guardsman was about to utter a protest, for the order had said nothing of Tyburn, and at such unwarranted display of grief at a summons—why he would put a stop to it; but his lordship put up his hand. "Say 'tis not so," she repeated.
"Nay, I cannot say it, for I know not what lies before me." Katherine was unable to control her grief, and as it broke out, the guardsman discreetly walked to the farther end of the room. Cedric had raised her from the floor and half-supported her as she poured out her grief in words of pleading and entreaty; but Cedric was as adamant, he would not bend to offer any hope. This unbending quality she could not understand, and took it as an omen of ill. In very truth she felt she was to lose for all time her heart's idol. And when Cedric spoke to the guard and told him he was ready to go, she cried "Nay, nay, nay!" in such awful agony he came near relenting. She turned white and would have fallen, had not Cedric supported her. Janet had already entered the room and now came running to her mistress, whom she took in her arms. Cedric turned to the guardsman, saying,—
"My wife is ill. If thou wilt return to London, I will follow within a day or so!"
"In the name of the King I beg my Lord of Crandlemar—"
Janet broke in at this and said with a ringing voice,—
"Thy order is for the Lord of Crandlemar?"
"It is, madam."
"Then I will tell thee, sir, Lord Cedric of Crandlemar is not here. This is the Duke of Ellswold." She turned to his lordship as she spoke and saw his face grow white. He loved his uncle tenderly. There was a moment of palpable silence; the guardsman bowed to the floor, and the long plumes of his hat swept it in homage, as he raised his hand to his breast. Katherine had swooned and did not hear Janet's assertion, nor did she hear the King's other order for the Duke of Ellswold. The King was aroused and would allow of no mischance. Cedric must go before his Majesty at once.
After a few moments in the death chamber, Cedric started for London. Before they had reached the confines of the city, however, the news of the old Duke's demise had reached the King, who was in high humour, and the result was, a courier had been sent to tell Cedric to return to his castle until after the funeral. So Cedric, accompanied by the King's guard, rode on to the Seat of the Dukes of Ellswold, where in the old Abbey there was much pomp in the putting away of the late Duke.
It was a great disappointment to Cedric not to see Katherine, and he was grieved to learn she had not, after so many days, entirely recovered from her swoon. He was consoled, however, by his aunt's assertion that her illness was not serious. He turned from Ellswold and hastened back London way, impatient to know why he was sent for, and to have matters settled satisfactorily for all time, that he might with an unburdened heart go to Crandlemar and claim his Duchess; who, he now knew, would be the sweet and loving wife she should. He was truly sad at the loss of his uncle, and for this cause alone he rode into London with downcast appearance. He feared not the evils of the Tower or Tyburn-tree or the menace of either Catholic or Protestant party; neither the importunities of Buckingham; had he not now a great fortune?—ah! but death had brought it him,—and the bitter was mixed with the sweet. There were other matters to menace his peace of mind that had not come until that very moment. What if the Crown should confiscate his property; what was he to do with his wife? There was his aunt, Sir Julian and Lady Bettie Payne, they would care for her. Then his thoughts wandered to Constance, and for a while he half believed he had forgiven her. Then he wondered if she had aught to do with his present condition.
The King in the meantime was not to be duped by Lady Constance. She prided herself upon being discreet, but she was not enough so for the King's sharp eyes.
"Odd's fish," said he, "the boy is a woman!" And though he had a saturnine and harsh countenance, his disposition was both merry and lenient. He teased her unmercifully, threatening to promote so fine a lad to a gentleman of his bed-chamber. He bade a woman bring some clothing suitable for a female and gave the lady into the hands of female attendants.
The easy manner of the time gave the courtiers license to taunt her. This made her very uncomfortable. The queen's ladies' eyes were upon her. The King's mistresses, not recognizing her as a rival, poked fun at her from behind their fans. But Lady Constance would bear a great deal for the sake of gaining her point. She had posted herself upon the King's affairs with the Duke of Ellswold, and was in a state of great expectation when she heard that the latter was to be brought to the Tower immediately after his uncle's funeral. His entire demesne was out of his hands, he was sadly impoverished; this she bought from Buckingham's menials. It greatly delighted her, for she had more wealth than she knew what to do with, and Cedric, seeing her so pampered by his Majesty, would surely begin to see what a great lady she was, and perhaps would offer her some attention. She did not know that Katherine was already the Duchess of Ellswold. She heard from Monmouth that Mistress Penwick was to be brought to the palace at the same time Cedric was brought to London, and that 'twas not altogether sure whether his Grace of Ellswold would be taken to the Tower or be made a Royal guest, as the King was first cursing, then praising the new Duke. So Constance began to picture Cedric standing before her, his face flushed as she remembered it to be, his eyelids that he knew so well how to lower, then raise ever so slightly, sending forth from beneath an amorous glance that made her tremble with a sweet thrill of pleasure. Thus she lived from hour to hour, waiting for his Grace, little guessing the awful disappointment that awaited her. She fairly counted the moments.
To her great joy she saw him again. He was brought to the palace, instead of to the Tower. When the King saw the Duke, he forgot, or appeared to forget, that the Duke was a prisoner, and openly embraced him and had him placed near his own apartments. His Majesty was in high good humour, hearing from the Duke's own lips that he had nothing to do with the hiding away of his messenger, and explaining sundry other matters to his satisfaction. "The Duchess," for so the Duke spoke of Katherine for the first time before his Majesty, was unable to arise from her couch, and therefore could not as yet be brought to the palace. The King said he was pleased that so noble a Duke had gained his point, even though he had outwitted his King.
"Odd's fish, and to be separated so soon! it must not be!"
Lady Constance was joyous when she saw Cedric arrive without Katherine, but at once it made her very curious to know why the "wench was left behind; for was it not the King's order?" She sent a maid to inquire among the servants of the Duke. When the maid returned and told her that Katherine was the Duke's wife, she fainted away. But after a few hours of awful depression and heart-sickness she again nerved herself to battle harder, if possible, than heretofore.
The Duke's trial was begun, and nothing it seemed could be absolutely proven against him. It appeared the King shut his eyes and ears to anything that would incline against his Grace. Not so Constance, who worked secretly. She was determined, if possible, to see him go to the Tower, as the only immediate means of separating him from his wife, who was expected any week at the Royal abode. She informed some of the nobles that were against him that their principal witness, Adrian Cantemir, lay ill from a sword thrust at Crandlemar Castle. To be sure, they had almost forgotten the young man, who had been such a leader in the beginning. This held the case in suspension and the Duke still a prisoner; but the King gave him no time for thought; they rode, walked, drank, theatred and supped together. If 'twere not for the Duke's love for his wife, and his mourning for his uncle, which cast so deep a shadow over his natural gaiety, 'twas possible he might have been drawn by his Majesty into intrigues of a feminine character.
Constance was ever throwing herself in his path, but he deigned not a glance her way. She appeared content to watch him, whether he paid her any attention or not. She was careful to learn of his fortunes, as the King to appease the Protestant nobles had confiscated the Ellswold estates and everything else that Buckingham had not taken. But this sort of thing was a matter of form with his Majesty. His mind was fully made up. He was not to be frighted or cajoled. He even went so far as to assure the Duke that as soon as his character was proven, giving the nobles no chance to gainsay, he should at once take possession of his estate. The Duke, however, had only his jewels to borrow on, and that was insufferable to his pride. He had a large retinue to support, servants that were aged; these he must look after. Thus matters stood for weeks and months.
Cantemir was at last able to be moved, and was brought to London, where he again tried to communicate with Sir John Penwick, but Buckingham intercepted all letters. There also came word from the new Lord of Crandlemar, that he was about to take up his abode in England. This made Ellswold uneasy and impatient; for he had not money sufficient to place his Duchess in his town house, had he been at liberty to do so, for the great place had not been kept in repair and it must be renovated according to her own ideas. If his trial could only be at once and he could go for her and take her to Ellswold! The King saw his unusual depression and gained from him a confession of his troubles, and without letting the Duke know, sent for the Duchess, who he said should remain at the palace until the Duke should be free to go. When his Majesty told the Duke—for he could not keep the secret—the latter was grateful and felt it was the only alternative, and was much comforted that soon he should see and be with his Duchess, who, he had learned had regained her colour and was in good spirit.
"The King, not caring for the pomp and state his predecessors had assumed, was fond of exiling the formality practiced by a sovereign and taking on the easy manners of a companion. He had lived, when in exile, upon a footing of equality with his banished nobles, and had partaken freely and promiscuously in the pleasures and frolics by which they had endeavoured to sweeten adversity. He was led in this way to let distinction and ceremony fall to the ground as useless and foppish, and could not even on premeditation, it is said, act for a moment the part of a King either at parliament or council, either in words or gesture. When he attended the House of Lords, he would descend from the throne and stand by the fire, drawing a crowd about him that broke up all regularity and order of the place." In this free and unrestrained way he had put his arm through the Duke's and said confidently,—
"The House of Ellswold shall be honoured in an unusual way; that at least should be a great comfort to thee; but I promise, no matter how the Council act in these matters of thine, thou shalt soon enjoy the comfort of thy new estate at Ellswold."
THE COCOANUTS OF THE KING'S CELLAR
Matters at Crandlemar were comparatively quiet. There was nothing unusual, unless indeed it was the assiduousness of the young Duchess, who from morning until night ceased not to offer hecatombs for the safety and freedom of her lord. She prayed, fasted and sacrificed for her every desire. She gave alms, offering condolence and sympathy. In her petitions she threw aside all contumely, calling the poorest, sister. She allowed not her thoughts to go astray, striving continually for a pure and meek heart, begging forgiveness for her untowardness toward her husband. Perhaps one of the most remarkable of her acts was the one performed at twilight—discovered by Janet, the wise.
The nurse went to seek her one evening, and found the young woman in a dense cloud of blue that emanated from a costly thurible, which she was swinging before the crucifix in the Chapel. Ascending with the sweet incense was a psalm of contrition uttered from a truly penitent heart. A tall candle burned, lighting up the white-robed figure, and the filmy incense that enveloped it to a saintly vision. Though Janet watched her mistress thus environed with sacredness, yet the deep impression was somewhat charged with a sense of humour; "for," she opined to herself, "people are so much more ridiculous in mending a breach than they are in making it!" But Janet was not a Catholic, and beside, she made few mistakes and could condone an offence only when made by one she loved. Knowing Katherine as she did, she admired the outward show more than the spirit, and thought of the two the former was more stable. Katherine often prayed aloud, and Janet hearing her, caught the burden of her prayer, and there was actual pain in her voice when she cried out that Cedric might be forgiven for the murder of Christopher. Now Janet knew that the lad had only been slightly injured by Hiary and had fully recovered, and she determined to send for him, and at the Vesper service introduce him into the Chapel and thereby cause to cease her mistress' plaints. And so it came about in the late autumn, when Crandlemar was about to receive its new master from Wales, and the plate and all belongings of the Duke had been sent to Ellswold, and Katherine herself was to set forth for London within a few days, she entered the Chapel for her customary devotions. As she prayed, she was aroused by the opening of the outer door. She looked up and saw Christopher before her. Janet was surprised at her calmness and was amazed when Katherine said to him that she had been expecting to see him all day, as she had heard the evening before that he was alive and had been seen near the castle grounds. Now it was impossible to make Katherine think it was a direct answer to prayer, though Janet did her best. But as it proved, a great weight had fallen from the Duchess' heart, for she became perfectly joyous and positively neglected her devotions in the Chapel. She was delighted to set forth, for the moment had actually arrived, and within a few days she would see Cedric, and, she hoped, her father also; but the latter's abode was unknown to her, save only that 'twas in London.
The night of her arrival at the Royal Palace had closed down dark and stormy. The King and Queen, with the ladies and gentlemen of the Court, had repaired to the Duke of York's theatre to see played the "Black Prince," written by the Earl of Orrery. The King had insisted upon the Duke of Ellswold accompanying them, but the latter declared the play would be a torture, when he should be thinking that perhaps his wife might arrive in his absence. Other thoughts also assailed him, of which he hinted not to the King; but he was confident Constance meant mischief, and he was unwilling to give her any chance to put the weight of her anger on the Duchess.
The great cream-hued chariot bearing Katherine rolled past the Mall and up to the palace. The sleet was falling rapidly and the wind blowing such a gale the sound of the coach was not heard by the Duke, as he paced his chamber. She was trembling and eager, and heard not the admonitions of Janet and Angel to mind the ice-clad step that was let down. She was expectant and eager to see her spouse; but she stood within her apartment and Janet was loosening her capes when the Duke came bounding to her side. He took her in his arms and gazed and gazed, and they minded not the presence of the two nurses, who on a sudden became busy unpacking her Grace's chests. He kissed her until her face was rose-red, and she was drunken with love.
When Lady Constance heard that Katherine had arrived, she became very impatient to catch one glimpse of her. She had heard many things about the young wife, and she had her suspicions and upon them she formed a plan to throw a taunt upon her Grace, bringing both Monmouth and Cantemir into the case. She resolved to make Katherine as unhappy as possible. She scrupled at nothing. Now the fair Constance prided herself upon being a prisoner of the King; but she was not so certain of his favour that she dare make one single open move against Katherine. She must taunt her in secret; but how to do this was puzzling, for she kept her apartment, partly from fatigue after her long ride, and it may be from a disinclination to go abroad. So she bided her time and ungraciously as she saw the popularity of the noble woman grow and grow; she was fast becoming a great favourite. Indeed, she was constantly visited by the King and Queen, and the greatest ladies of the Court. The Queen had grown very fond of her, spending hours in her company and oftentimes taking her for a walk or ride. Before the Duchess had been within the Palace a month, she was imitated in every way. Great ladies became so familiar, they would take up her articles of the toilet and copy the manufacturer's name. They in a short time were using the same concoction of rouge and perfumes. Their maids must learn what Janet did for her mistress in the way of baths, for "never was there such healthful and dainty complexion." And when the Duke began buying cocoanuts by the wagon load at an enormous expense, and 'twas known that her Grace drank the milk of it by the quart, the King's cellar became too small to hold the quantities that were brought to the ladies of the Court. And 'twas said many of the young fops also used the milk for their complexion. Constance had not yet ordered any of this fruit, but she ascertained where the Duke's were kept and how it might be possible to obtain a few of them for an object that was at least original. Before, however, she resorted to the arts of chemistry, there was an opportunity to give the Duchess a thrust. Two great chests were being unbound in the corridor just outside of her Grace's door. Constance knew they contained an elaborate and costly layette; so she hurried to her own apartment and wrote in a disguised hand a billet that threw out the worst of insinuations, and as a finale she added a pasquinade copied hastily from some low and bitter lampoon. She returned through the corridor, and, unnoticed, thrust the paper into a crevice of one of the chests. But Katherine never saw the billet, she was not disturbed in the least, and her ladyship soon saw some one else had gotten hold of it, for there was not a shadow on her Grace's face. This goaded Constance to a perfect fury, and she resolved upon extreme measures.