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The Nest of the Sparrowhawk
by Baroness Orczy
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Not twenty yards from where they were, a low wall divided the park itself from the wood beyond, which extended down to Acol village. At an angle of the wall there was an iron gate, also the tumble-down pavilion, ivy-grown and desolate, with stone steps leading up to it, through the cracks of which weeds and moss sprouted up apace.

A man had just emerged from out the thicket and was standing now to the farther side of the gate looking straight at Lambert and at Sue, who stood in the full light of the moon. A broad-brimmed hat, such as cavaliers affected, cast a dark shadow over his face.

It was a mere outline only vaguely defined against the background of trees, but in that outline Lambert had already recognized the mysterious stranger who lodged in his brother's cottage down in Acol.

The fixed intensity of the young man's gaze caused Sue to turn and to look in the same direction. She saw the stranger, who encountering two pairs of eyes fixed on him, raised his hat with a graceful flourish of the arm: then, with a short ironical laugh, went his way, and was once more lost in the gloom.

The girl instinctively made a movement as if to follow him, whilst a quickly smothered cry—half of joy and half of fear—escaped her lips. She checked the movement as well as the cry, but not before Richard Lambert had perceived both.

With the perception came the awful, overwhelming certitude.

"That adventurer!" he exclaimed involuntarily. "Oh my God!"

But she looked him full in the face, and threw back her head with a gesture of pride and of wrath.

"Master Lambert," she said haughtily, "methinks 'twere needless to remind you that—since I inadvertently revealed my most cherished secret to you—it were unworthy a man of honor to betray it to any one."

"My lady ... Sue," he said, feeling half-dazed, bruised and crushed by the terrible moral blow, which he had just received, "I ... I do not quite understand. Will you deign to explain?"

"There is naught to explain," she retorted coldly. "Prince Amede d'Orleans loves me and I have plighted my troth to him."

"Nay! I entreat your ladyship," he said, feeling—knowing the while, how useless it was to make an appeal against the infatuation of a hot-headed and impulsive girl, yet speaking with the courage which ofttimes is born of despair, "I beg of you, on my knees to listen. This foreign adventurer ..."

"Silence!" she retorted proudly, and drawing back from him, for of a truth he had sunk on his knees before her, "an you desire to be my friend, you must not breathe one word of slander against the man I love. ..."

Then, as he said nothing, realizing, indeed, how futile would be any effort or word from him, she said, with growing enthusiasm, whilst her glowing eyes fixed themselves upon the gloom which had enveloped the mysterious apparition of her lover:

"Prince Amede d'Orleans is the grandest, most selfless patriot this world hath ever known. For the sake of France, of tyrannized, oppressed France, which he adores, he has sacrificed everything! his position, his home, his wealth and vast estates: he is own kinsman to King Louis, yet he is exiled from his country whilst a price is set upon his head, because he cannot be mute whilst he sees tyranny and oppression grind down the people of France. He could return to Paris to-day a rich and free man, a prince among his kindred,—if he would but sacrifice that for which he fights so bravely: the liberty of France!"

"Sue! my adored lady," he entreated, "in the name of Heaven listen to me.... You do believe, do you not, that I am your friend? ... I would give my life for you.... I swear to you that you have been deceived and tricked by this adventurer, who, preying upon your romantic imagination ..."

"Silence, master, an you value my friendship!" she commanded. "I will not listen to another word. Nay! you should be thankful that I deal not more harshly with you—that I make allowances for your miserable jealousy.... Oh! why did you make me say that," she added with one of those swift changes of mood, which were so characteristic of her, and with sudden contrition, for an involuntary moan had escaped his lips. "In the name of Heaven, go—go now I entreat ... leave me to myself ... lest anger betray me into saying cruel things ... I am safe—quite safe ... I entreat you to let me return to the house alone."

Her voice sounded more and more broken as she spoke: sobs were evidently rising in her throat. He pulled himself together, feeling that it were unmanly to worry her now, when emotion was so obviously overmastering her.

"Forgive me, sweet lady," he said quite gently, as he rose from his knees. "I said more than I had any right to say. I entreat you to forgive the poor, presuming peasant who hath dared to raise his eyes to the fairy princess of his dreams. I pray you to try and forget all that hath happened to-night beneath the shadows of these elms—and only to remember one thing: that my life—my lonely, humble, unimportant life—is yours ... to serve or help you, to worship or comfort you if need be ... and that there could be no greater happiness for me than to give it for your sweet sake."

He bowed very low, until his hand could reach the hem of her kirtle, which he then raised to his lips. She was infinitely sorry for him; all her anger against him had vanished.

He was very reluctant to go, for this portion of the park was some distance from the house. But she had commanded and he quite understood that she wished to be alone: love such as that which he felt for his sweet lady is ever watchful, yet ever discreet. Was it not natural that she did not care to look on him after he had angered her so?

She seemed impatient too, and although her feelings towards him had softened, she repeated somewhat nervously: "I pray you go! Good master, I would be alone."

Lambert hesitated a while longer, he looked all round him as if suspicious of any marauders that might be lurking about. The hour was not very late, and had she not commanded him to go?

Nor would he seem to pry on her movements. Having once made up his mind to obey, he did so without reserve. Having kissed the hem of her kirtle he turned towards the house.

He meant to keep on the tiny footpath, which she would be bound to traverse after him, when she returned. He felt sure that something would warn him if she really needed his help.

The park and woodland were still: only the mournful hooting of an owl, the sad sighing of the wind in the old elms broke the peaceful silence of this summer's night.



CHAPTER VII

THE STRANGER WITHIN THE GATES

Sue waited—expectant and still—until the last sound of the young man's footsteps had died away in the direction of the house.

Then with quick impulsive movements she ran to the gate; her hands sought impatiently in the dark for the primitive catch which held it to. A large and rusty bolt! she pulled at it—clumsily, for her hands were trembling. At last the gate flew open; she was out in the woods, peering into the moonlit thicket, listening for that most welcome sound, the footsteps of the man she loved.

"My prince!" she exclaimed, for already he was beside her—apparently he had lain in wait for her, and now held her in his arms.

"My beautiful and gracious lady," he murmured in that curiously muffled voice of his, which seemed to endow his strange personality with additional mystery.

"You heard? ... you saw just now? ..." she asked timidly, fearful of encountering his jealous wrath, that vehement temper of his which she had learned to dread.

Strangely enough he replied quite gently: "Yes ... I saw ... the young man loves you, my beautiful Suzanne! ... and he will hate me now ..."

He had always called her Suzanne—and her name thus spoken by him, and with that quaint foreign intonation of his had always sounded infinitely sweet.

"But I love you with all my heart," she said earnestly, tenderly, her whole soul—young, ardent, full of romance, going out to him with all the strength of its purity and passion. "What matter if all the world were against you?"

As a rule when they met thus on the confines of the wood, they would stand together by the gate, forming plans, talking of the future and of their love. Then after a while they would stroll into the park, he escorting her, as far as he might approach the house without being seen.

She had no thought that Richard Lambert would be on the watch. Nay! so wholly absorbed was she in her love for this man, once she was in his presence, that already—womanlike—she had forgotten the young student's impassioned avowal, his jealousy, his very existence.

And she loved these evening strolls in the great, peaceful park, at evening, when the birds were silent in their nests, and the great shadows of ivy-covered elms enveloped her and her romance. From afar a tiny light gleamed here and there in some of the windows of Acol Court.

She had hated the grim, bare house at first, so isolated in the midst of the forests of Thanet, so like the eyrie of a bird of prey.

But now she loved the whole place; the bit of ill-kept tangled garden, with its untidy lawn and weed-covered beds, in which a few standard rose-trees strove to find a permanent home; she loved the dark and mysterious park, the rusty gate, that wood with its rich carpet which varied as each season came around.

To-night her lover was more gentle than had been his wont of late. They walked cautiously through the park, for the moon was brilliant and outlined every object with startling vividness. The trees here were sparser. Close by was the sunk fence and the tiny rustic bridge—only a plank or two—which spanned it.

Some thirty yards ahead of them they could see the dark figure of Richard Lambert walking towards the house.

"One more stroll beneath the trees, ma mie," he said lightly, "you'll not wish to encounter your ardent suitor again."

She loved him in this brighter mood, when he had thrown from him that mantle of jealousy and mistrust which of late had sat on him so ill.

He seemed to have set himself the task of pleasing her to-night—of making her forget, mayhap, the wooing of the several suitors who had hung round her to-day. He talked to her—always in that mysterious, muffled voice, with the quaint rolling of the r's and the foreign intonation of the vowels—he talked to her of King Louis and his tyranny over the people of France: of his own political aims to which he had already sacrificed fortune, position, home. Of his own brilliant past at the most luxurious court the world had ever known. He fired her enthusiasm, delighted her imagination, enchained her soul to his: she was literally swept off the prosy face of this earth and whirled into a realm of romance, enchanting, intoxicating, mystic—almost divine.

She forgot fleeting time, and did not even hear the church bell over at Acol village striking the hour of ten.

He had to bring her back to earth, and to guide her reluctant footsteps again towards the house. But she was too happy to part from him so easily. She forced him to escort her over the little bridge, under the pretense of terror at the lateness of the hour. She vowed that he could not be perceived from the house, since all the lights were out, and everyone indeed must be abed. Her guardian's windows, moreover, gave on the other side of the house; and he of a surety would not be moon or star gazing at this hour of the night.

Her mood was somewhat reckless. The talk with which he had filled her ears had gone to her brain like wine. She felt intoxicated with the atmosphere of mystery, of selfless patriotism, of great and fallen fortunes, with which he knew so well how to surround himself. Mayhap, that in her innermost heart now there was a scarce conscious desire to precipitate a crisis, to challenge discovery, to step boldly before her guardian, avowing her love, demanding the right to satisfy it.

She refused to bid him adieu save at the garden door. Three steps led up straight into the dining-room from the flagged pathway which skirted the house. She ran up these steps, silently and swiftly as a little mouse, and then turned her proud and happy face to him.

"Good-night, sweet prince," she whispered, extending her delicate hand to him.

She stood in the full light of the moon dominating him from the top of the steps, an exquisite vision of youth and beauty and romance.

He took off his broad-brimmed hat, but his face was still in shadow, for the heavy perruque fell in thick dark curls covering both his cheeks. He bent very low and kissed the tips of her fingers.

"When shall we meet again, my prince?" she asked.

"This day week, an it please you, my queen," he murmured.

And then he turned to go. She meant to stand there and watch him cross the tangled lawn, and the little bridge, and to see him lose himself amidst the great shadows of the park.

But he had scarce gone a couple of steps when a voice, issuing from the doorway close behind her, caused her to turn in quick alarm.

"Sue! in the name of Heaven! what doth your ladyship here and at this hour?"

The crisis which the young girl had almost challenged, had indeed arrived. Mistress de Chavasse—carrying a lighted and guttering candle, was standing close behind her. At the sound of her voice and Sue's little cry of astonishment rather than fear, Prince Amede d'Orleans too, had paused, with a muttered curse on his lips, his foot angrily tapping the flagstones.

But it were unworthy a gallant gentleman of the most chivalrous Court in the world to beat a retreat when his mistress was in danger of an unpleasant quarter of an hour.

Sue was more than a little inclined to be defiant.

"Mistress de Chavasse," she said quietly, "will you be good enough to explain by what right you have spied on me to-night? Hath my guardian perchance set you to dog my footsteps?"

"There was no thought in my mind of spying on your ladyship," rejoined Mistress de Chavasse coldly. "I was troubled in my sleep and came downstairs because I heard a noise, and feared those midnight marauders of which we have heard so much of late. I myself had locked this door, and was surprised to find it unlatched. I opened it and saw you standing there."

"Then we'll all to bed, fair mistress," rejoined Sue gayly. She was too happy, too sure of herself and of her lover to view this sudden discovery of her secret with either annoyance or alarm. She would be free in three months, and he would be faithful to her. Love proverbially laughs at bars and bolts, and even if her stern guardian, apprised of her evening wanderings, prevented her from seeing her prince for the next three months, pshaw! a hundred days at most, and nothing could keep her from his side.

"Good-night, fair prince," she repeated tenderly, extending her hand towards her lover once more, while throwing a look of proud defiance to Mistress de Chavasse. He could not help but return to the foot of the steps; any pusillanimity on his part at this juncture, any reluctance to meet Editha face to face or to bear the brunt of her reproaches and of her sneers, might jeopardize the romance of his personality in the eyes of Sue. Therefore he boldly took her hand and kissed it with mute fervor.

She gave a happy little laugh and added pertly:

"Good-night, mistress ... I'll leave you to make your own adieux to Monseigneur le Prince d'Orleans. I'll warrant that you and he—despite the lateness of the hour—will have much to say to one another."

And without waiting to watch the issue of her suggestion, her eyes dancing with mischief, she turned and ran singing and laughing into the house.



CHAPTER VIII

PRINCE AMEDE D'ORLEANS

At first it seemed as if the stranger meant to beat a precipitate and none too dignified retreat now that the adoring eyes of Lady Sue were no longer upon him. But Mistress de Chavasse had no intention of allowing him to extricate himself quite so easily from an unpleasant position.

"One moment, master," she said loudly and peremptorily. "Prince or whatever you may wish to call yourself ... ere you show me a clean pair of heels, I pray you to explain your presence here on Sir Marmaduke's doorstep at ten o'clock at night, and in company with his ward."

For a moment—a second or two only—the stranger appeared to hesitate. He paused with one foot still on the lowest of the stone steps, the other on the flagged path, his head bent, his hand upraised in the act of re-adjusting his broad-brimmed hat.

Then a sudden thought seemed to strike him, he threw back his head, gave a short laugh as if he were pleased with this new thought, then turned, meeting Mistress de Chavasse's stern gaze squarely and fully. He threw his hat down upon the steps and crossed his arms over his chest.

"One moment, mistress?" he said with an ironical bow. "I do not need one moment. I have already explained."

"Explained? how?" she retorted, "nay! I'll not be trifled with, master, and methinks you will find that Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse will expect some explanation—which will prove unpleasant to yourself—for your unwarrantable impudence in daring to approach his ward."

He put up his hand in gentle deprecation.

"Impudence? Oh, mistress?" he said reproachfully.

"Let me assure you, master," she continued with relentless severity, "that you were wise an you returned straightway to your lodgings now ... packed your worldly goods and betook yourself and them to anywhere you please."

"Ah!" he sighed gently, "that is impossible."

"You would dare? ..." she retorted.

"I would dare remain there, where my humble presence is most desired—beside the gracious lady who honors me with her love."

"You are insolent, master ... and Sir Marmaduke ..."

"Oh!" he rejoined lightly, "Sir Marmaduke doth not object."

"There, I fear me, you are in error, master! and in his name I now forbid you ever to attempt to speak to Lady Susannah Aldmarshe again."

This command, accompanied by a look of withering scorn, seemed to afford the stranger vast entertainment. He made the wrathful lady a low, ironical bow, and clapped his hands together laughing and exclaiming:

"Brava! brava! of a truth but this is excellent! Pray, mistress, will you deign to tell me if in this your bidding you have asked Sir Marmaduke for his opinion?"

"I need not to ask him. I ask you to go."

"Go? Whither?" he asked blandly.

"Out of my sight and off these grounds at once, ere I rouse the servants and have you whipped off like a dog!" she said, angered beyond measure at his audacity, his irony, his manner, suggestive of insolent triumph. His muffled voice with its curious foreign accent irritated her, as did the shadow of his perruque over his brow, and the black silk shade which he wore over one eye.

Even now in response to her violent outburst he broke into renewed laughter.

"Better and better! Ah, mistress," he said with a shake of the head, "of a truth you are more blind than I thought."

"You are more insolent, master, than I had thought possible."

"Yet meseems, fair lady, that in the lonely and mysterious stranger you might have remembered your humble and devoted servant," he said, drawing his figure up towards her.

"You! an old friend!" she said contemptuously. "I have ne'er set eyes on you in my life before."

"To think that the moon should be so treacherous," he rejoined imperturbably. "Will you not look a little closer, fair mistress, the shadows are somewhat dark, mayhap."

She felt his one eye fixed upon her with cold intentness, a strange feeling of superstitious dread suddenly crept over her from head to foot. Like a bird fascinated by a snake she came a little nearer, down the steps, towards him, her eyes, too, riveted on his face, that curious face of his, surrounded by the heavy perruque hiding ears and cheeks, the mouth overshadowed by the dark mustache, one eye concealed beneath the black silk shade.

He seemed amused at her terror and as she came nearer to him, he too, advanced a little until their eyes met—his, mocking, amused, restless; hers, intent and searching.

Thus they gazed at one another for a few seconds, whilst silence reigned around and the moon peered down cold and chaste from above, illumining the old house, the neglected garden, the vast park with its innumerable dark secrets and the mysteries which it hid.

She was the first to step back, to recoil before the ironical intensity of that fixed gaze. She felt as if she were in a dream, as if a nightmare assailed her, which in her wakeful hours would be dissipated by reason, by common sense, by sound and sober fact.

She even passed her hand across her eyes as if to sweep away from before her vision, a certain image which fancy had conjured up.

His laugh—strident and mocking—roused her from this dreamlike state.

"I ... I ... do not understand," she murmured.

"Yet it is so simple," he replied, "did you not ask me awhile ago if nothing could be done?"

"Who ... who are you?" she whispered, and then repeated once again: "Who are you?"

"I am His Royal Highness, Prince Amede d'Orleans," said Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse lightly, "the kinsman of His Majesty, King Louis of France, the mysterious foreigner who works for the religious and political freedom of his country, and on whose head le roi soleil hath set a price ... and who, moreover, hath enflamed the romantic imagination of a beautiful young girl, thus winning her ardent love in the present and in the near future together with her vast fortune and estates."

He made a movement as if to remove his perruque but she stopped him with a gesture. She had understood. And in the brilliant moonlight a complete revelation of his personality might prove dangerous. Lady Sue herself might still—for aught they knew—be standing in the dark room behind—unseen yet on the watch.

He seemed vastly amused at her terror, and boldly took the hand with which she had arrested his act of total revelation.

"Nay! do you recognize your humble servant at last, fair Editha?" he queried. "On my honor, madam, Lady Sue is deeply enamored of me. What think you of my chances now?"

"You? You?" she repeated at intervals, mechanically, dazed still, lost in a whirl of conflicting emotions wherein fear, amazement, and a certain vein of superstitious horror fought a hard battle in her dizzy brain.

"The risks," she murmured more coherently.

"Bah!"

"If she discover you, before ... before ..."

"Before she is legally my wife? Pshaw! ... Then of a truth my scheme will come to naught ... But will you not own, Editha, that 'tis worth the risk?"

"Afterwards?" she asked, "afterwards?"

"Afterwards, mistress," he rejoined enigmatically, "afterwards sits on the knees of the gods."

And with a flourish of his broad-brimmed hat he turned on his heel and anon was lost in the shadows of the tall yew hedge.

How long she stood there watching that spot whereon he had been standing, she could not say. Presently she shivered; the night had turned cold. She heard the cry of some small bird attacked by a midnight prowler; was it the sparrow-hawk after its prey?

From the other side of the house came the sound of slow and firm footsteps, then the opening and shutting of a door.

Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse had played his part for to-night: silently as he had gone, so he returned to his room, whilst in another corner of the sparrow-hawk's nest a young girl slept, dreaming dreams of patriots and heroes, of causes nobly won, of poverty and obscurity gloriously endured.

Mistress de Chavasse with a sigh half of regret, half of indifference, finally turned her back on the moonlit garden and went within.



CHAPTER IX

SECRET SERVICE

Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy was excessively perturbed. Matters at the Court were taking a curious turn. That something of unusual moment had happened within the last few days he was thoroughly convinced, and still having it in his mind that he was especially qualified for the lucrative appointments in my Lord Protector's secret service—he thought this an excellent opportunity for perfecting himself in the art of investigation, shrewdly conducted, which he understood to be most essential for the due fulfillment of such appointments.

Thus we see him some few days later on a late afternoon, with back bent nearly double, eyes fixed steadily on the ground and his face a perfect mirror of thoughtful concentration within, slowly walking along the tiny footpath which wound in and out the groups of majestic elms in the park.

Musing and meditating, at times uttering strange and enigmatical exclamations, he reached the confines of the private grounds, the spot where the surrounding wall gave place to a low iron gate, where the disused pavilion stood out gray and forlorn-looking in the midst of the soft green of the trees, and where through the woods beyond the gate, could just be perceived the tiny light which issued from the blacksmith's cottage, the most outlying one in the village of Acol.

Master Hymn-of-Praise leaned thoughtfully against the ivy-covered wall. His eyes, roaming, searching, restless, pried all around him.

"Footprints!" he mused, "footprints which of a surety must mean that human foot hath lately trod this moss. Footprints moreover, which lead up the steps to the door of that pavilion, wherein to my certain knowledge, no one hath had access of late."

Something, of course, was going on at Acol Court, that strange and inexplicable something which he had tried to convey by covert suggestion to Mistress Charity's female—therefore inferior—brain.

Sir Marmaduke's temper was more sour and ill even than of yore, and there was still an unpleasant sensation in the lumbar regions of Master Busy's spine, whenever he sat down, which recalled a somewhat vigorous outburst of his master's ill-humor.

Mistress de Chavasse went about the house like a country wench frightened by a ghost, and Mistress Charity averred that she seldom went to bed now before midnight. Certain it is that Master Busy himself had met the lady wandering about the house candle in hand at an hour when all respectable folk should be abed, and when she almost fell up against Hymn-of-Praise in the dark she gave a frightened scream as if she had suddenly come face to face with the devil.

Then there was her young ladyship.

She was neither ill-tempered nor yet under the ban of fear, but Master Busy vowed unto himself that she was suffering from ill-concealed melancholy, from some hidden secret or wild romance. She seldom laughed, she had spoken with discourtesy and impatience to Squire Pyncheon, who rode over the other day on purpose to bring her a bunch of sweet marjoram which grew in great profusion in his mother's garden: she markedly avoided the company of her guardian, and wandered about the park alone, at all hours of the day—a proceeding which in a young lady of her rank was quite unseemly.

All these facts neatly docketed in Master Busy's orderly brain, disturbed him not a little. He had not yet made up his mind as to the nature of the mystery which was surrounding the Court and its inmates, but vaguely he thought of abductions and elopements, which the presence of the richest heiress in the South of England in the house of the poorest squire in the whole country, more than foreshadowed.

This lonely, somewhat eerie corner of the park appeared to be the center around which all the mysterious happenings revolved, and Master Hymn-of-Praise had found his way hither on this fine July afternoon, because he had distinct hopes of finding out something definite, certain facts which he then could place before Squire Boatfield who was major-general of the district, and who would then, doubtless, commend him for his ability and shrewdness in forestalling what might prove to be a terrible crime.

The days were getting shorter now; it was little more than eight o'clock and already the shades of evening were drawing closely in: the last rays of the setting sun had long disappeared in a glowing haze of gold, and the fantastic branches of the old elms, intertwined with the parasitic ivy looked grim and threatening, silhouetted against the lurid after glow. Master Busy liked neither the solitude, nor yet the silence of the woods; he had just caught sight of a bat circling over the dilapidated roof of the pavilion, and he hated bats. Though he belonged to a community which denied the angels and ignored the saints, he had a firm belief in the existence of a tangible devil, and somehow he could not dissociate his ideas of hell and of evil spirits from those which related to the mysterious flutterings of bats.

Moreover he thought that his duties in connection with the science of secret investigation, had been sufficiently fulfilled for the day, and he prepared to wend his way back to the house, when the sound of voices, once more aroused his somnolent attention.

"Someone," he murmured within himself, "the heiress and the abductor mayhap."

This might prove the opportunity of his life, the chance which would place him within the immediate notice of the major-general, perhaps of His Highness the Protector himself. He felt that to vacate his post of observation at this moment would be unworthy the moral discipline which an incipient servant of the Commonwealth should impose upon himself.

Striving to smother a sense of terror, or to disguise it even to himself under the mask of officiousness, he looked about for a hiding-place—a post of observation as he called it.

A tree with invitingly forked branches seemed to be peculiarly adapted to his needs. Hymn-of-Praise was neither very young nor very agile, but dreams of coming notoriety lent nimbleness to his limbs.

By the time that the voices drew nearer, the sober butler of Acol Court was installed astride an elm bough, hidden by the dense foliage and by the leaf-laden strands of ivy, enfolded by the fast gathering shadows of evening, supremely uncomfortable physically, none too secure on his perch, yet proud and satisfied in the consciousness of fulfilled duty.

The next moment he caught sight of Mistress Charity—Mistress Charity so please you, who had plighted her troth to him, walking arm in arm with Master Courage Toogood, as impudent, insolent and debauched a young jackanapes as ever defaced the forests of Thanet.

"Mistress, fair mistress," he was sighing, and murmuring in her ear, "the most beautiful and gracious thing on God's earth, when I hold you pressed thus against my beating heart ..."

Apparently his feelings were too deep to be expressed in the words of his own vocabulary, for he paused a while, sighed audibly, and then asked anxiously:

"You do hear my heart beating, mistress, do you not?"

She blushed, for she was naught but a female baggage, and though Master Busy's impassioned protestations of less than half an hour ago, must be still ringing in her ears, she declared emphatically that she could hear the throbbing of that young vermin's heart.

Master Busy up aloft was quite sure that what she heard was a few sheep and cattle of Sir Marmaduke's who were out to grass in a field close by, and had been scared into a canter.

What went on for the next moment or two the saintly man on the elm tree branch could not rightly perceive, but the next words from Mistress Charity's lips sent a thrill of indignation through his heart.

"Oh! Master Courage," she said with a little cry, "you must not squeeze me so! I vow you have taken the breath out of my body! The Lord love you, child! think you I can stay here all this while and listen to your nonsense?"

"Just one minute longer, fair mistress," entreated the young reprobate, "the moon is not yet up, the birds have gone to their nests for sleep, will ye not tarry a while here with me? That old fool Busy will never know!"

It is a fact that at this juncture the saintly man well-nigh fell off his perch, and when Master Courage, amidst many coy shrieks from the fickle female, managed to drag her down beside him, upon the carpet of moss immediately beneath the very tree whereon Hymn-of-Praise was holding watch, the unfortunate man had need of all his strength of mind and of purpose not to jump down with both feet upon the lying face of that young limb of Satan.

But he felt that the discovery of his somewhat undignified position by these two evil-doers would not at this moment be quite opportune, so he endeavored to maintain his equilibrium at the cost of supreme discomfort, and the loud cracking of the branch on which he was perched.

Mistress Charity gave a cry of terror.

"What was that?"

"Nothing, nothing, mistress, I swear," rejoined Courage reassuringly, "there are always noises in old elm trees, the ivy hangs heavy and ..."

"I have heard it said of late that the pavilion is haunted," she murmured under her breath.

"No! not haunted, mistress! I vow 'tis but the crackling of loose branches, and there is that which I would whisper in your ear ..."

But before Master Courage had the time to indulge in this, the desire of his heart, something fell upon the top of his lean head which certainly never grew on the elm tree overhead. Having struck his lanky hair the object fell straight into his lap.

It was a button. An ordinary, brown, innocent enough looking button. But still a button. Master Courage took it in his hand and examined it carefully, turning it over once or twice. The little thing certainly wore a familiar air. Master Courage of a truth had seen such an one before.

"That thing never grew up there, master," said Mistress Charity in an agitated whisper.

"No!" he rejoined emphatically, "nor yet doth a button form part of the habiliments of a ghost."

But not a sound came from above: and though Courage and Charity peered upwards with ever-increasing anxiety, the fast gathering darkness effectually hid the mystery which lurked within that elm.

"I vow that there's something up there, mistress," said the youth with sudden determination.

"Could it be bats, master?" she queried with a shudder.

"Nay! but bats do not wear buttons," he replied sententiously. "Yet of a surety, I mean to make an investigation of the affair as that old fool Hymn-of-Praise would say."

Whereupon, heedless of Mistress Charity's ever-growing agitation, he ran towards the boundary wall of the park, and vaulted the low gate with an agile jump even as she uttered a pathetic appeal to him not to leave her alone in the dark.

Fear had rooted the girl to the spot. She dared not move away, fearful lest her running might entice that mysterious owner of the brown button to hurry in her track. Yet she would have loved to follow Master Courage, and to put at least a gate and wall between herself and those terrible elms.

She was just contemplating a comprehensive and vigorous attack of hysterics when she heard Master Courage's voice from the other side of the gate.

"Hist! Hist, mistress! Quick!"

She gathered up what shreds of valor she possessed and ran blindly in the direction whence came the welcome voice.

"I pray you take this," said the youth, who was holding a wooden bucket out over the gate, "whilst I climb back to you."

"But what is it, master?" she asked, as—obeying him mechanically—she took the bucket from him. It was heavy, for it was filled almost to the brim with a liquid which seemed very evil-smelling.

The next moment Master Courage was standing beside her. He took the bucket from her and then walked as rapidly as he could with it back towards the elm tree.

"It will help me to dislodge the bats, mistress," he said enigmatically, speaking over his shoulder as he walked.

She followed him—excited but timorous—until together they once more reached the spot, where Master Courage's amorous declarations had been so rudely interrupted. He put the bucket down beside him, and rubbed his hands together whilst uttering certain sounds which betrayed his glee.

Then only did she notice that he was carrying under one arm a long curious-looking instrument—round and made of tin, with a handle at one end.

She looked curiously into the bucket and at the instrument.

"'Tis the tar-water used for syringing the cattle," she whispered, "ye must not touch it, master. Where did you find it?"

"Just by the wall," he rejoined. "I knew it was kept there. They wash the sheep with it to destroy the vermin in them. This is the squirt for it," he added calmly, placing the end of the instrument in the liquid, "and I will mayhap destroy the vermin which is lodged in that elm tree."

A cry of terror issuing from above froze the very blood in Mistress Charity's veins.

"Stop! stop! you young limb of Satan!" came from Master Busy's nearly choking throat.

"It's evildoers or evil spirits, master," cried Mistress Charity in an agony of fear.

"Whatever it be, mistress, this should destroy it!" said Master Courage philosophically, as turning the syringe upwards he squirted the whole of its contents straight into the fork of the ivy-covered branches.

There was a cry of rage, followed by a cry of terror, then Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy with a terrific clatter of breaking boughs, fell in a heap upon the soft carpet of moss.

Master Courage be it said to the eternal shame of venturesome youth, took incontinently to his heels, leaving Mistress Charity to bear the brunt of the irate saintly man's wrath.

Master Busy, we must admit had but little saintliness left in him now. Let us assume that—as he explained afterwards—he was not immediately aware of Mistress Charity's presence, and that his own sense of propriety and of decorum had been drowned in a cataract of tar water. Certain it is that a volley of oaths, which would have surprised Sir Marmaduke himself, escaped his lips.

Had he not every excuse? He was dripping from head to foot, spluttering, blinded, choked and bruised.

He shook himself like a wet spaniel. Then hearing the sound of a smothered exclamation which did not seem altogether unlike a giggle, he turned round savagely and perceived the dim outline of Mistress Charity's dainty figure.

"The Lord love thee, Master Hymn-of-Praise," she began, somewhat nervously, "but you have made yourself look a sight."

"And by G—d I'll make that young jackanapes look a sight ere I take my hand off him," he retorted savagely.

"But what were you ... hem! what wert thou doing up in the elm tree, friend Hymn-of-Praise?" she asked demurely.

"Thee me no thou!" he said with enigmatic pompousness, followed by a distinctly vicious snarl, "Master Busy will be my name in future for a saucy wench like thee."

He turned towards the house. Mistress Charity following meekly—somewhat subdued, for Master Busy was her affianced husband, and she had no mind to mar her future, through any of young Courage's dare-devil escapades.

"Thou wouldst wish to know what I was doing up in that forked tree?" he asked her with calm dignity after a while, when the hedges of the flower garden came in sight. "I was making a home for thee, according to the commands of the Lord."

"Not in the elm trees of a surety, Master Busy?"

"I was making a home for thee," he repeated without heeding her flippant observation, "by rendering myself illustrious. I told thee, wench, did I not? that something was happening within the precincts of Acol Court, and that it is my duty to lie in wait and to watch. The heiress is about to be abducted, and it is my task to frustrate the evil designs of the mysterious criminal."

She looked at him in speechless amazement. He certainly looked strangely weird in the semi-darkness with his lanky hair plastered against his cheeks, his collar half torn from round his neck, the dripping, oily substance flowing in rivulets from his garments down upon the ground.

The girl had no longer any desire to laugh, and when Master Busy strode majestically across the rustic bridge, then over the garden paths to the kitchen quarter of the house, she followed him without a word, awed by his extraordinary utterances, vaguely feeling that in his dripping garments he somehow reminded her of Jonah and the whale.



CHAPTER X

AVOWED ENMITY

The pavilion had been built some fifty years ago, by one of the Spantons of Acol who had a taste for fanciful architecture.

It had been proudly held by several deceased representatives of the family to be the reproduction of a Greek temple. It certainly had columns supporting the portico, and steps leading thence to the ground. It was also circular in shape and was innocent of windows, deriving its sole light from the door, when it was open.

The late Sir Jeremy, I believe, had been very fond of the place. Being of a somewhat morose and taciturn disposition, he liked the seclusion of this lonely corner of the park. He had a chair or two put into the pavilion and 'twas said that he indulged there in the smoking of that fragrant weed which of late had been more generously imported into this country.

After Sir Jeremy's death, the pavilion fell into disuse. Sir Marmaduke openly expressed his dislike of the forlorn hole, as he was wont to call it. He caused the door to be locked, and since then no one had entered the little building. The key, it was presumed, had been lost; the lock certainly looked rusty. The roof, too, soon fell into disrepair, and no doubt within, the place soon became the prey of damp and mildew, the nest of homing birds, or the lair of timid beasts. Very soon the proud copy of an archaic temple took on that miserable and forlorn look peculiar to uninhabited spots.

From an air of abandonment to that of eeriness was but a step, and now the building towered in splendid isolation, in this remote corner of the park, at the confines of the wood, with a reputation for being the abode of ghosts, of bats and witches, and other evil things.

When Master Busy sought for tracks of imaginary criminals bent on abducting the heiress he naturally drifted to this lonely spot; when Master Courage was bent on whispering sweet nothings into the ear of the other man's betrothed, he enticed her to that corner of the park where he was least like to meet the heavy-booted saint.

Thus it was that these three met on the one spot where as a rule at a late hour of the evening Prince Amede d'Orleans was wont to commence his wanderings, sure of being undisturbed, and with the final disappearance of Master Busy and Mistress Charity the place was once more deserted.

The bats once more found delight in this loneliness and from all around came that subdued murmur, that creaking of twigs, that silence so full of subtle sounds, which betrays the presence of animal life on the prowl.

Anon there came the harsh noise of a key grating in a rusty lock. The door of the pavilion was cautiously opened from within and the mysterious French prince, bewigged, booted and hatted, emerged into the open. The night had drawn a singularly dark mantle over the woods. Banks of cloud obscured the sky; the tall elm trees with their ivy-covered branches, and their impenetrable shadows beneath, formed a dense wall which the sight of human creatures was not keen enough to pierce. Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, in spite of this darkness, which he hailed gleefully, peered cautiously and intently round as he descended the steps.

He had not met Lady Sue in the capacity of her romantic lover since that evening a week ago, when his secret had been discovered by Mistress de Chavasse. The last vision he had had of the young girl was one redolent of joy and love and trust, sufficient to reassure him that all was well with her, in regard to his schemes; but on that same evening a week ago he had gazed upon another little scene, which had not filled him with either joy or security.

He had seen Lady Sue standing beside a young man whose personality—to say the least—was well-nigh as romantic as that of the exiled scion of the house of Orleans. He had seen rather than heard a young and passionate nature pouring into girlish ears the avowal of an unselfish and ardent love which had the infinite merit of being real and true.

However well he himself might play his part of selfless hero and of vehement lover, there always lurked the danger that the falseness of his protestations would suddenly ring a warning note to the subtle sense of the confiding girl. Were it not for the intense romanticism of her disposition, which beautified and exalted everything with which it came in contact, she would of a surety have detected the lie ere this. He had acted his dual role with consummate skill, the contrast between the surly Puritanical guardian, with his round cropped head and shaven face, and the elegantly dressed cavalier, with a heavy mustache, an enormous perruque and a shade over one eye, was so complete that even Mistress de Chavasse—alert, suspicious, wholly unromantic, had been momentarily deceived, and would have remained so but for his voluntary revelation of himself.

But the watchful and disappointed young lover was the real danger: a danger complicated by the fact that the Prince Amede d'Orleans actually dwelt in the cottage owned by Lambert's brother, the blacksmith. The mysterious prince had perforce to dwell somewhere; else, whenever spied by a laborer or wench from the village, he would have excited still further comment, and his movements mayhap would have been more persistently dogged.

For this reason Sir Marmaduke had originally chosen Adam Lambert's cottage to be his headquarters; it stood on the very outskirts of the village and as he had only the wood to traverse between it and the pavilion where he effected his change of personality, he ran thus but few risks of meeting prying eyes. Moreover, Adam Lambert, the blacksmith, and the old woman who kept house for him, both belonged to the new religious sect which Judge Bennett had so pertinently dubbed the Quakers, and they kept themselves very much aloof from gossip and the rest of the village.

True, Richard Lambert oft visited his brother and the old woman, but did so always in the daytime when Prince Amede d'Orleans carefully kept out of the way. Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse had all the true instincts of the beast or bird of prey. He prowled about in the dark, and laid his snares for the seizure of his victim under cover of the night.

This evening certain new schemes had found birth in his active mind; he was impatient that the victim tarried, when his brain was alive with thoughts of how to effect a more speedy capture. He leaned against the wall, close by the gate as was his wont when awaiting Sue, smiling grimly to himself at thought of the many little subterfuges she would employ to steal out of the house, without encountering—as she thought—her watchful guardian.

A voice close behind him—speaking none too kindly—broke in on his meditations, causing him to start—almost to crouch like a frightened cat.

The next moment he had recognized the gruff and nasal tones of Adam Lambert. Apparently the blacksmith had just come from the wood through the gate, and had almost stumbled in the dark against the rigid figure of his mysterious lodger.

"Friend, what dost thou here?" he asked peremptorily. But already Sir Marmaduke had recovered from that sudden sense of fear which had caused him to start in alarm.

"I would ask the same question of you, my friend," he retorted airily, speaking in the muffled voice and with the markedly foreign accent which he had assumed for the role of the Prince, "might I inquire what you are doing here?"

"I have to see a sick mare down Minster way," replied Lambert curtly, "this is a short cut thither, and Sir Marmaduke hath granted me leave. But he liketh not strangers loitering in his park."

"Then, friend," rejoined the other lightly, "when Sir Marmaduke doth object to my strolling in his garden, he will doubtless apprise me of the fact, without interference from you."

Adam Lambert, after his uncivil greeting of his lodger, had already turned his back on him, loath to have further speech with a man whom he hated and despised.

Like the majority of country folk these days, the blacksmith had a wholesale contempt for every foreigner, and more particularly for those who hailed from France: that country—in the estimation of all Puritans, Dissenters and Republicans—being the happy abode of every kind of immorality and debauchery.

Prince Amede d'Orleans—as he styled himself—with his fantastic clothes, his airs and graces and long, curly hair was an object of special aversion to the Quaker, even though the money which the despised foreigner paid for his lodgings was passing welcome these hard times.

Adam resolutely avoided speech with the Prince, whenever possible, but the latter's provocative and sarcastic speech roused his dormant hatred; like a dog who has been worried, he now turned abruptly round and faced Sir Marmaduke, stepping close up to him, his eyes glaring with vindictive rage, a savage snarl rising in his throat.

"Take notice, friend," he said hoarsely, "that I'll not bear thine impudence. Thou mayest go and bully the old woman at the cottage when I am absent—Oh! I've heard thee!" he added with unbridled savagery, "ordering her about as if she were thy serving wench ... but let me tell thee that she is no servant of thine, nor I ... so have done, my fine prince ... dost understand?"

"Prithee, friend, do not excite yourself," said Sir Marmaduke blandly, drawing back against the wall as far as he could to avoid close proximity with his antagonist. "I have never wished to imply that Mistress Lambert was aught but my most obliging, most amiable landlady—nor have I, to my certain knowledge, overstepped the privileges of a lodger. I trust that your worthy aunt hath no cause for complaint. Mistress Lambert is your aunt?" he added superciliously, "is she not?"

"That is nothing to thee," muttered the other, "if she be my aunt or no, as far as I can see."

"Surely not. I asked in a spirit of polite inquiry."

But apparently this subject was one which had more than any other the power to rouse the blacksmith's savage temper. He fought with it for a moment or two, for anger is the Lord's, and strict Quaker discipline forbade such unseemly wrangling. But Adam was a man of violent temperament which his strict religious training had not altogether succeeded in holding in check: the sneers of the foreign prince, his calm, supercilious attitude, broke the curb which religion had set upon his passion.

"Aye! thou art mighty polite to me, my fine gentleman," he said vehemently. "Thou knowest what I think of thy lazy foreign ways ... why dost thou not do a bit of honest work, instead of hanging round her ladyship's skirts? ... If I were to say a word to Sir Marmaduke, 'twould be mightily unpleasant for thee, an I mistake not. Oh! I know what thou'rt after, with thy fine ways, and thy romantic, lying talk of liberty and patriotism! ... the heiress, eh, friend? That is thy design.... I am not blind, I tell thee.... I have seen thee and her ..."

Sir Marmaduke laughed lightly, shrugging his shoulders in token of indifference.

"Quite so, quite so, good master," he said suavely, "do ye not waste your breath in speaking thus loudly. I understand that your sentiments towards me do not partake of that Christian charity of which ye and yours do prate at times so loudly. But I'll not detain you. Doubtless worthy Mistress Lambert will be awaiting you, or is it the sick mare down Minster way that hath first claim on your amiability? I'll not detain you."

He turned as if to go, but Adam's hard grip was on his shoulder in an instant.

"Nay! thou'lt not detain me—'tis I am detaining thee!" said the blacksmith hoarsely, "for I desired to tell thee that thy ugly French face is abhorrent to me ... I do not hold with princes.... For a prince is none better than another man nay, he is worse an he loafs and steals after heiresses and their gold ... and will not do a bit of honest work.... Work makes the man.... Work and prayer ... not your titles and fine estates. This is a republic now ... understand? ... no king, no House of Lords—please the Lord neither clergymen nor noblemen soon.... I work with my hands ... and am not ashamed. The Lord Saviour was a carpenter and not a prince.... My brother is a student and a gentleman—as good as any prince—understand? Ten thousand times as good as thee."

He relaxed his grip which had been hard as steel on Sir Marmaduke's shoulder. It was evident that he had been nursing hatred and loathing against his lodger for some time, and that to-night the floodgates of his pent-up wrath had been burst asunder through the mysterious prince's taunts, and insinuations anent the cloud and secrecy which hung round the Lamberts' parentage.

Though his shoulder was painful and bruised under the pressure of the blacksmith's rough fingers, Sir Marmaduke did not wince. He looked his avowed enemy boldly in the face, with no small measure of contempt for the violence displayed.

His own enmity towards those who thwarted him was much more subtle, silent and cautious. He would never storm and rage, show his enmity openly and caution his antagonist through an outburst of rage. Adam Lambert still glaring into his lodger's eye, encountered nothing therein but irony and indulgent contempt.

Religion forbade him to swear. Yet was he sorely tempted, and we may presume that he cursed inwardly, for his enemy refused to be drawn into wordy warfare, and he himself had exhausted his vocabulary of sneering abuse, even as he had exhausted his breath.

Perhaps in his innermost heart he was ashamed of his outburst. After all, he had taken this man's money, and had broken bread with him. His hand dropped to his side, and his head fell forward on his breast even as with a pleasant laugh the prince carelessly turned away, and with an affected gesture brushed his silken doublet, there where the blacksmith's hard grip had marred the smoothness of the delicate fabric.

Had Adam Lambert possessed that subtle sixth sense, which hears and sees that which goes on in the mind of others, he had perceived a thought in his lodger's brain cells which might have caused him to still further regret his avowal of open enmity.

For as the blacksmith finally turned away and walked off through the park, skirting the boundary wall, Sir Marmaduke looked over his shoulder at the ungainly figure which was soon lost in the gloom, and muttered a round oath between his teeth.

"An exceedingly unpleasant person," he vowed within himself, "you will have to be removed, good master, an you get too troublesome."



CHAPTER XI

SURRENDER

But this interview with the inimical Quaker had more than strengthened Sir Marmaduke's design to carry his bold scheme more rapidly to its successful issue.

The game which he had played with grave risks for over three months now had begun to be dangerous. The mysterious patriot from France could not afford to see prying enemies at his heels.

Anon when the graceful outline of Lady Sue's figure emerged from out the surrounding gloom, Sir Marmaduke went forward to meet her, and clasped her to him in a passionate embrace.

"My gracious lady ... my beautiful Sue ..." he murmured whilst he covered her hands, her brow, her hair with ardent kisses, "you have come so late—and I have been so weary of waiting ... waiting for you."

He led her through the gardens to where one gigantic elm, grander than its fellows, had thrown out huge gnarled roots which protruded from out the ground. One of these, moss-covered, green and soft, formed a perfect resting place. He drew her down, begging her to sit. She obeyed, scared somewhat as was her wont when she found him so unfettered and violent.

He stretched himself at full length at her feet, extravagant now in his acts and gestures like a man who no longer can hold turbulent passion in check. He kissed the edge of her kirtle, then her cloak and the tips of her little shoes:

"It was cruel to keep me waiting ... gracious lady—it was cruel," he murmured in the intervals between these ardent caresses.

"I am so sorry, Amede," she repeated, grieving to see him so sorrowful, not a little frightened at his vehemence,—trying to withdraw her hands from his grasp. "I was detained ..."

"Detained," he rejoined harshly, "detained by someone else ... someone who had a greater claim on your time than the poor exile ..."

"Nay! 'tis unkind thus to grieve me," she said with tender reproach as she felt the hot tears gather in her eyes. "You know—as I do—that I am not my own mistress yet."

"Yes! yes! forgive me—my gracious, sweet, sweet lady.... I am mad when you are not nigh me.... You do not know—how could you? ... what torments I endure, when I think of you so beautiful, so exquisite, so adorable, surrounded by other men who admire you ... desire you, mayhap.... Oh! my God! ..."

"But you need have no fear," she protested gently, "you know that I gave my whole heart willingly to you ... my prince ..."

"Nay, but you cannot know," he persisted violently, "sweet, gentle creature that you are, you cannot guess the agonies which a strong man endures when he is gnawed by ruthless insane jealousy ..."

She gave a cry of pain.

"Amede!" for she felt hurt, deeply wounded by his mistrust of her, when she had so wholly, so fully trusted him.

"I know ... I know," he said with quick transition of tone, fearful that he had offended her, striving to master his impatience, to find words which best pleased her young, romantic temperament, "Nay! but you must think me mad.... Mayhap you despise me," he added with a gentle note of sadness. "Oh, God! ... mayhap you will turn from me now...."

"No! no!"

"Yet do I worship you ... my saint ... my divinity ... my Suzanne.... You are more beautiful, more adorable than any woman in the world ... and I am so unworthy."

"You unworthy!" she retorted, laughing gayly through her tears. "You, my prince, my king! ..."

"Say that once more, my Suzanne," he murmured with infinite gentleness, "oh! the exquisite sweetness of your voice, which is like dream-music in mine ears.... Oh! to hold you in my arms thus, for ever ... until death, sweeter than life ... came to me in one long passionate kiss."

She allowed him to put his arms round her now, glad that the darkness hid the blush on her cheeks; thus she loved him, thus she had first learned to love him, ardent, oh, yes! but so gentle, so meek, yet so great and exalted in his selfless patriotism.

"'Tis not of death you should speak, sweet prince," she said, ineffably happy now that she felt him more subdued, more trusting and fond, "rather should you speak of life ... with me, your own Suzanne ... of happiness in the future, when you and I, hand in hand, will work together for that great cause you hold so dear ... the freedom and liberties of France."

"Ah, yes!" he sighed in utter dejection, "when that happy time comes ... but ..."

"You do not trust me?" she asked reproachfully.

"With all my heart, my Suzanne," he replied, "but you are so beautiful, so rich ... and other men ..."

"There are no other men for me," she retorted simply. "I love you."

"Will you prove it to me?"

"How can I?"

"Be mine ... mine absolutely," he urged eagerly with passion just sufficiently subdued to make her pulses throb. "Be my wife ... my princess ... let me feel that no one could come between us...."

"But my guardian would never consent," she protested.

"Surely your love for me can dispense with Sir Marmaduke's consent...."

"A secret marriage?" she asked, terrified at this strange vista which his fiery imagination was conjuring up before her.

"You refuse? ..." he asked hoarsely.

"No! no! ... but ..."

"Then you do not love me, Suzanne."

The coolness in his tone struck a sudden chill to her heart. She felt the clasp of his arms round her relax, she felt rather than saw that he withdrew markedly from her.

"Ah! forgive me! forgive me!" she murmured, stretching her little hands out to him in a pathetic and childlike appeal. "I have never deceived anyone in my life before.... How could I live a lie? ... married to you, yet seemingly a girl.... Whilst in three months...."

She paused in her eagerness, for he had jumped to his feet and was now standing before her, a rigid, statuesque figure, with head bent and arms hanging inert by his side.

"You do not love me, Suzanne," he said with an infinity of sadness, which went straight to her own loving heart, "else you would not dream of thus condemning me to three months of exquisite torture.... I have had my answer.... Farewell, my gracious lady ... not mine, alas! but another man's ... and may Heaven grant that he love you well ... not as I do, for that were impossible...."

His voice had died away in a whisper, which obviously was half-choked with tears. She, too, had risen while he spoke, all her hesitation gone, her heart full of reproaches against herself, and of love for him.

"What do you mean?" she asked trembling.

"That I must go," he replied simply, "since you do not love me...."

Oh! how thankful she was that this merciful darkness enwrapped her so tenderly. She was so young, so innocent and pure, that she felt half ashamed of the expression of her own great love which went out to him in a veritable wave of passion, when she began to fear that she was about to lose him.

"No, no," she cried vehemently, "you shall not go ... you shall not."

Her hands sought his in the gloom, and found them, clung to them with ever-growing ardor; she came quite close to him trying to peer into his face and to let him read in hers all the pathetic story of her own deep love for him.

"I love you," she murmured through her tears. And again she repeated: "I love you. See," she added with sudden determination, "I will do e'en as you wish.... I will follow you to the uttermost ends of the earth.... I ... I will marry you ... secretly ... an you wish."

Welcome darkness that hid her blushes! ... she was so young—so ignorant of life and of the world—yet she felt that by her words, her promise, her renunciation of her will, she was surrendering something to this man, which she could never, never regain.

Did the first thought of fear, or misgiving cross her mind at this moment? It were impossible to say. The darkness which to her was so welcome was—had she but guessed it—infinitely cruel too, for it hid the look of triumph, of rapacity, of satisfied ambition which at her selfless surrender had involuntarily crept into Marmaduke's eyes.



CHAPTER XII

A WOMAN'S HEART

It is difficult, perhaps, to analyze rightly the feelings and sensations of a young girl, when she is literally being swept off her feet in a whirlpool of passion and romance.

Some few years later when Lady Sue wrote those charming memoirs which are such an interesting record of her early life, she tried to note with faithful accuracy what was the exact state of her mind when three months after her first meeting with Prince Amede d'Orleans, she plighted her troth to him and promised to marry him in secret and in defiance of her guardian's more than probable opposition.

Her sentiments with regard to her mysterious lover were somewhat complex, and undoubtedly she was too young, too inexperienced then to differentiate between enthusiastic interest in a romantic personality, and real, lasting, passionate love for a man, as apart from any halo of romance which might be attached to him.

When she was a few years older she averred that she could never have really loved her prince, because she always feared him. Hers, therefore, was not the perfect love that casteth out fear. She was afraid of him in his ardent moods, almost as much as when he allowed his unbridled temper free rein. Whenever she walked through the dark bosquets of the park, on her way to a meeting with her lover, she was invariably conscious of a certain trepidation of all her nerves, a wonderment as to what he would say when she saw him, how he would act; whether chide, or rave, or merely reproach.

It was the gentle and pathetic terror of a child before a stern yet much-loved parent. Yet she never mistrusted him ... perhaps because she had never really seen him—only in outline, half wrapped in shadows, or merely silhouetted against a weirdly lighted background. His appearance had no tangible reality for her. She was in love with an ideal, not with a man ... he was merely the mouthpiece of an individuality which was of her own creation.

Added to all this there was the sense of isolation. She had lost her mother when she was a baby; her father fell at Naseby. She herself had been an only child, left helplessly stranded when the civil war dispersed her relations and friends, some into exile, others in splendid revolt within the fastnesses of their own homes, impoverished by pillage and sequestration, rebellious, surrounded by spies, watching that opportunity for retaliation which was so slow in coming.

Tossed hither and thither by Fate in spite of—or perhaps because of—her great wealth, she had found a refuge, though not a home, at Acol Court; she had been of course too young at the time to understand rightly the great conflict between the King's party and the Puritans, but had naturally embraced the cause—for which her father's life had been sacrificed—blindly, like a child of instinct, not like a woman of thought.

Her guardian and Mistress de Chavasse stood for that faction of Roundheads at which her father and all her relatives had sneered even while they were being conquered and oppressed by them. She disliked them both from the first; and chafed at the parsimonious habits of the house, which stood in such glaring contrast to the easy lavishness of her own luxurious home.

Fortunately for her, her guardian avoided rather than sought her company. She met him at meals and scarcely more often than that, and though she often heard his voice about the house, usually raised in anger or impatience, he was invariably silent and taciturn when she was present.

The presence of Richard Lambert, his humble devotion, his whole-hearted sympathy and the occasional moments of conversation which she had with him were the only bright moments in her dull life at the Court: and there is small doubt but that the friendship and trust which characterized her feelings towards him would soon have ripened into more passionate love, but for the advent into her life of the mysterious hero, who by his personality, his strange, secretive ways, his talk of patriotism and liberty, at once took complete possession of her girlish imagination.

She was perhaps just too young when she met Lambert; she had not yet reached that dangerous threshold when girlhood looks from out obscure ignorance into the glaring knowledge of womanhood. She was a child when Lambert showed his love for her by a thousand little simple acts of devotion and by the mute adoration expressed in his eyes. Lambert drew her towards the threshold by his passionate love, and held her back within the refuge of innocent girlhood by the sincerity and exaltation of his worship.

With the first word of vehement, unreasoning passion, the mysterious prince dragged the girl over that threshold into womanhood. He gave her no time to think, no time to analyze her feelings; he rushed her into a torrent of ardor and of excitement in which she never could pause in order to draw breath.

To-night she had promised to marry him secretly—to surrender herself body and soul to this man whom she hardly knew, whom she had never really seen; she felt neither joy nor remorse, only a strange sense of agitation, an unnatural and morbid impatience to see the end of the next few days of suspense.

For the first time since she had come to Acol, and encountered the kindly sympathy of Richard Lambert, she felt bitterly angered against him when, having parted from the prince at the door of the pavilion, she turned, to walk back towards the house and came face to face with the young man.

A narrow path led through the trees, from the ha-ha to the gate, and Richard Lambert was apparently walking along aimlessly, in the direction of the pavilion.

"I came hoping to meet your ladyship and to escort you home. The night seems very dark," he explained simply in answer to a sudden, haughty stiffening of her young figure, which he could not help but notice.

"I was taking a stroll in the park," she rejoined coldly, "the evening is sweet and balmy but ... I have no need of escort, Master Lambert ... I thank you.... It is late and I would wish to go indoors alone."

"It is indeed late, gracious lady," he said gently, "and the park is lonely at night ... will you not allow me to walk beside you as far as the house?"

But somehow his insistence, his very gentleness struck a jarring note, for which she herself could not have accounted. Was it the contrast between two men, which unaccountably sent a thrill of disappointment, almost of apprehension, through her heart?

She was angry with Lambert, bitterly angry because he was kind and gentle and long-suffering, whilst the other was violent, even brutal at times.

"I must repeat, master, that I have no need of your escort," she said haughtily, "I have no fear of marauders, nor yet of prowling beasts. And for the future I should be grateful to you," she added, conscious of her own cruelty, determined nevertheless to be remorselessly cruel, "if you were to cease that system which you have adopted of late—that of spying on my movements."

"Spying?"

The word had struck him in the face like a blow. And she, womanlike, with that strange, impulsive temperament of hers, was not at all sorry that she had hurt him. Yet surely he had done her no wrong, save by being so different from the other man, and by seeming to belittle that other in her sight, against her will and his own.

"I am grieved, believe me," she said coldly, "if I seem unkind ... but you must see for yourself, good master, that we cannot go on as we are doing now.... Whenever I go out, you follow me ... when I return I find you waiting for me.... I have endeavored to think kindly of your actions, but if you value my friendship, as you say you do, you will let me go my way in peace."

"Nay! I humbly beg your ladyship's gracious forgiveness," he said; "if I have transgressed, it is because I am blind to all save your ladyship's future happiness, and at times the thought of that adventurer is more than I can bear."

"You do yourself no good, Master Lambert, by talking thus to me of the man I love and honor beyond all things in this world. You are blind and see not things as they are: blind to the merits of one who is as infinitely above you as the stars. But nathless I waste my breath again.... I have no power to convince you of the grievous error which you commit. But if you cared for me, as you say you do ..."

"If I cared!" he murmured, with a pathetic emphasis on that little word "if."

"As a friend I mean," she rejoined still cold, still cruel, still womanlike in that strange, inexplicable desire to wound the man who loved her. "If you care for me as a friend, you will not throw yourself any more in the way of my happiness. Now you may escort me home, an you wish. This is the last time that I shall speak to you as a friend, in response to your petty attacks on the man whom I love. Henceforth you must chose 'twixt his friendship and my enmity!"

And without vouchsafing him another word or look, she gathered her cloak more closely about her, and walked rapidly away along the narrow path.

He followed with head bent, meditating, wondering! Wondering!



CHAPTER XIII

AN IDEA

The triumph was complete. But of a truth the game was waxing dangerous.

Lady Sue Aldmarshe had promised to marry her prince. She would keep her word, of that Sir Marmaduke was firmly convinced. But there would of necessity be two or three days delay and every hour added to the terrors, the certainty of discovery.

There was a watch-dog at Sue's heels, stern, alert, unyielding. Richard Lambert was probing the secret of the mysterious prince, with the unerring eye of the disappointed lover.

The meeting to-night had been terribly dangerous. Sir Marmaduke knew that Lambert was lurking somewhere in the park.

At present even the remotest inkling of the truth must still be far from the young man's mind. The whole scheme was so strange, so daring, so foreign to the simple ideas of the Quaker-bred lad, that its very boldness had defied suspicion. But the slightest mischance now, a meeting at the door of the pavilion, an altercation—face to face, eye to eye—and Richard Lambert would be on the alert. His hatred would not be so blind, nor yet so clumsy, as that of his brother, the blacksmith. There is no spy so keen in all the world as a jealous lover.

This had been the prince's first meeting with Sue, since that memorable day when the secret of their clandestine love became known to Lambert. Sir Marmaduke knew well that it had been fraught with danger; that every future meeting would wax more and more perilous still, and that the secret marriage itself, however carefully and secretively planned, would hardly escape the prying eyes of the young man.

The unmasking of Prince Amede d'Orleans before Sue had become legally his wife was a possibility which Sir Marmaduke dared not even think of, lest the very thought should drive him mad. Once she was his wife! ... well, let her look to herself.... The marriage tie would be a binding one, he would see to that, and her fortune should be his, even though he had won her by a lie.

He had staked his very existence on the success of his scheme. Lady Sue's fortune was the one aim of his life, for it he had worked and striven, and lied: he would not even contemplate a future without it, now that his plans had brought him so near the goal.

He had one faithful ally, though not a powerful one, in Editha, who, lured by some vague promises of his, desperate too, as regarded her own future, had chosen to throw in her lot whole-heartedly with his.

He was closeted with her on the following day, in the tiny withdrawing-room which leads out of the hall at Acol Court. When he had stolen into the house in the small hours of the morning he had seen Richard Lambert leaning out of one of the windows which gave upon the park.

It seemed as if the young man must have seen him when he skirted the house, for though there was no moonlight, the summer's night was singularly clear. That Lambert had been on the watch—spying, as Sir Marmaduke said with a bitter oath of rage—was beyond a doubt.

Editha too was uneasy; she thought that Lambert had purposely avoided her the whole morning.

"I lingered in the garden for as long as I could," she said to her brother-in-law, watching with keen anxiety his restless movements to and fro in the narrow room, "I thought Lambert would keep within doors if he saw me about. He did not actually see you, Marmaduke, did he?" she queried with ever-growing disquietude.

"No. Not face to face," he replied curtly. "I contrived to avoid him in the park, and kept well within the shadows, when I saw him spying through the window.

"Curse him!" he added with savage fury, "curse him, for a meddlesome, spying cur!"

"The whole thing is becoming vastly dangerous," she sighed.

"Yet it must last for another few weeks at least...."

"I know ... and Lambert is a desperate enemy: he dogs Sue's footsteps, he will come upon you one day when you are alone, or with her ... he will provoke a quarrel...."

"I know—I know ..." he retorted impatiently, "'tis no use recapitulating the many evil contingencies that might occur.... I know that Lambert is dangerous ... damn him! ... Would to God I could be rid of him ... somehow."

"You can dismiss him," she suggested, "pay him his wages and send him about his business."

"What were the use? He would remain in the village—in his brother's cottage mayhap ... with more time on his hands for his spying work.... He would dog the wench's steps more jealously than eve.... No! no!" he added, whilst he cast a quick, furtive look at her—a look which somehow caused her to shiver with apprehension more deadly than heretofore.

"That's not what I want," he said significantly.

"What's to be done?" she murmured, "what's to be done?"

"I must think," he rejoined harshly. "But we must get that love-sick youth out of the way ... him and his airs of Providence in disguise.... Something must be done to part him from the wench effectually and completely ... something that would force him to quit this neighborhood ... forever, if possible."

She did not reply immediately, but fixed her large, dark eyes upon him, silently for a while, then she murmured:

"If I only knew!"

"Knew what?"

"If I could trust you, Marmaduke!"

He laughed, a harsh, cruel laugh which grated upon her ear.

"We know too much of one another, my dear Editha, not to trust each other."

"My whole future depends on you. I am penniless. If you marry Sue...."

"I can provide for you," he interrupted roughly. "What can I do now? My penury is worse than yours. So, my dear, if you have a plan to propound for the furtherance of my schemes, I pray you do not let your fear of the future prevent you from lending me a helping hand."

"A thought crossed my mind," she said eagerly, "the thought of something which would effectually force Richard Lambert to quit this neighborhood for ever."

"What were that?"

"Disgrace."

"Disgrace?" he exclaimed. "Aye! you are right. Something mean ... paltry ... despicable ... something that would make her gracious ladyship turn away from him in disgust ... and would force him to go away from here ... for ever."

He looked at her closely, scrutinizing her face, trying to read her thoughts.

"A thought crossed your mind," he demanded peremptorily. "What is it?"

"The house in London," she murmured.

"You are not afraid?"

"Oh!" she said with a careless shrug of the shoulders.

"The Protector's spies are keen," he urged, eager to test her courage, her desire to help him.

"They'll scarce remember me after two years."

"Hm! Their memory is keen ... and the new laws doubly severe."

"We'll be cautious."

"How can you let your usual clients know? They are dispersed."

"Oh, no! My Lord Walterton is as keen as ever and Sir James Overbury would brave the devil for a night at hazard. A message to them and we'll have a crowd every night."

"'Tis well thought on, Editha," he said approvingly. "But we must not delay. Will you go to London to-morrow?"

"An you approve."

"Aye! you can take the Dover coach and be in town by nightfall. Then write your letters to my Lord Walterton and Sir James Overbury. Get a serving wench from Alverstone's in the Strand, and ask the gentlemen to bring their own men, for the sake of greater safety. They'll not refuse."

"Refuse?" she said with a light laugh, "oh, no!"

"To-day being Tuesday, you should have your first evening entertainment on Friday. Everything could be ready by then."

"Oh, yes!"

"Very well then, on Friday, I, too, will arrive in London, my dear Editha, escorted by my secretary, Master Richard Lambert, and together we will call and pay our respects at your charming house in Bath Street."

"I will do my share. You must do yours, Marmaduke. Endicott will help you: he is keen and clever. And if Lambert but takes a card in his hand ..."

"Nay! he will take the cards, mine oath on that! Do you but arrange it all with Endicott."

"And, Marmaduke, I entreat you," she urged now with sudden earnestness, "I entreat you to beware of my Lord Protector's spies. Think of the consequences for me!"

"Aye!" he said roughly, laughing that wicked, cruel laugh of his, which damped her eagerness, and struck chill terror into her heart, "aye! the whipping-post for you, fair Editha, for keeping a gaming-house. What? Of a truth I need not urge you to be cautious."

Probably at this moment she would have given worlds—had she possessed them—if she could but have dissociated herself from her brother-in-law's future altogether. Though she was an empty-headed, brainless kind of woman, she was not by nature a wicked one. Necessity had driven her into linking her fortunes with those of Sir Marmaduke. And he had been kind to her, when she was in deep distress: but for him she would probably have starved, for her beauty had gone and her career as an actress had been, for some inexplicable reason, quite suddenly cut short, whilst a police raid on the gaming-house over which she presided had very nearly landed her in a convict's cell.

She had escaped severe punishment then, chiefly because Cromwell's laws against gambling were not so rigorous at the time as they had since become, also because she was able to plead ignorance of them, and because of the status of first offense.

Therefore she knew quite well what she risked through the scheme which she had so boldly propounded to Sir Marmaduke. Dire disgrace and infamy, if my Lord Protector's spies once more came upon the gamesters in her house—unawares.

Utter social ruin and worse! Yet she risked it all, in order to help him. She did not love him, nor had she any hopes that he would of his own free will do more than give her a bare pittance for her needs once he had secured Lady Sue's fortune; but she was shrewd enough to reckon that the more completely she was mixed up in his nefarious projects, the more absolutely forced would he be to accede to her demands later on. The word blackmail had not been invented in those days, but the deed itself existed and what Editha had in her mind when she risked ostracism for Sir Marmaduke's sake was something very akin to it.

But he, in the meanwhile, had thrown off his dejection. He was full of eagerness, of anticipated triumph now.

The rough idea which was to help him in his schemes had originated in Editha's brain, but already he had elaborated it; had seen in the plan a means not only of attaining his own ends with regard to Sue, but also of wreaking a pleasing vengeance on the man who was trying to frustrate him.

"I pray you, be of good cheer, fair Editha," he said quite gaily. "Your plan is good and sound, and meseems as if the wench's fortune were already within my grasp."

"Within our grasp, you mean, Marmaduke," she said significantly.

"Our grasp of course, gracious lady," he said with a marked sneer, which she affected to ignore. "What is mine is yours. Am I not tied to the strings of your kirtle by lasting bonds of infinite gratitude?"

"I will start to-morrow then. By chaise to Dover and thence by coach," she said coldly, taking no heed of his irony. "'Twere best you did not assume your romantic role again until after your own voyage to London. You can give me some money I presume. I can do nothing with an empty purse."

"You shall have the whole contents of mine, gracious Editha," he said blandly, "some ten pounds in all, until the happy day when I can place half a million at your feet."



PART II



CHAPTER XIV

THE HOUSE IN LONDON

It stood about midway down an unusually narrow by-street off the Strand.

A tumble-down archway, leaning to one side like a lame hen, gave access to a dark passage, dank with moisture, whereon the door of the house gave some eighteen feet up on the left.

The unpaved street, undrained and unutterably filthy, was ankle-deep in mud, even at the close of this hot August day. Down one side a long blank wall, stone-built and green with mildew, presented an unbroken frontage: on the other the row of houses with doors perpetually barred, and windows whereon dust and grit had formed effectual curtains against prying eyes, added to the sense of loneliness, of insecurity, of unknown dangers lurking behind that crippled archway, or beneath the shadows of the projecting eaves, whence the perpetual drip-drip of soot water came as a note of melancholy desolation.

From all the houses the plaster was peeling off in many places, a prey to the inclemencies of London winters; all presented gray facades, with an air of eeriness about their few windows, flush with the outside wall—at one time painted white, no doubt, but now of uniform dinginess with the rest of the plaster work.

There was a grim hint about the whole street of secret meetings, and of unavowable deeds done under cover of isolation and of darkness, whilst the great crooked mouth of the archway disclosing the blackness and gloom of the passage beyond, suggested the lair of human wild beasts who only went about in the night.

As a rule but few passers-by availed themselves of this short and narrow cut down to the river-side. Nathless, the unarmed citizen was scared by these dank and dreary shadows, whilst the city watchman, mindful of his own safety, was wont to pass the mean street by.

Only my Lord Protector's new police-patrol fresh to its onerous task, solemnly marched down it once in twenty-four hours, keeping shoulder to shoulder, looking neither to right nor left, thankful when either issue was once more within sight.

But in this same evening in August, 1657, it seemed as if quite a number of people had business in Bath Street off the Strand. At any rate this was specially noticeable after St. Mary's had struck the hour of nine, when several cloaked and hooded figures slipped, one after another, some singly, others in groups of two or three, into the shadow of the narrow lane.

They all walked in silence, and did not greet one another as they passed; some cast from time to time furtive looks behind them; but every one of these evening prowlers seemed to have the same objective, for as soon as they reached the crippled archway, they disappeared within the gloom of its yawning mouth.

Anon when the police-patrol had gone by and was lost in the gloom there where Bath Street debouches on the river bank, two of these heavily cloaked figures walked rapidly down from the Strand, and like the others slipped quickly under the archway, and made straight for the narrow door on the left of the passage.

This door was provided with a heavy bronze knocker, but strangely enough the newcomers did not avail themselves of its use, but rapped on the wooden panels with their knuckles, giving three successive raps at regular intervals.

They were admitted almost immediately, the door seemingly opening of itself, and they quickly stepped across the threshold.

Within the house was just as dark and gloomy as it was without, and as the two visitors entered, a voice came from out the shadows, and said, in a curious monotone and with strange irrelevance:

"The hour is late!"

"And 'twill be later still," replied one of the newcomers.

"Yet the cuckoo hath not called," retorted the voice.

"Nor is the ferret on the prowl," was the enigmatic reply. Whereupon the voice speaking in more natural tones added sententiously:

"Two flights of steps, and 'ware the seventeenth step on the first flight. Door on the left, two raps, then three."

"Thank you, friend," rejoined one of the newcomers, "'tis pleasant to feel that so faithful a watch guards the entrance of this palace of pleasure."

Thereupon the two visitors, who of a truth must have been guided either by instinct or by intimate knowledge of the place, for not a gleam of light illumined the entrance hall, groped their way to a flight of stone stairs which led in a steep curve to the upper floors of the house.

A rickety banister which gave ominously under the slightest pressure helped to guide the visitors in this utter darkness: but obviously the warning uttered by that mysterious challenging voice below was not superfluous, for having carefully counted sixteen steps in an upward direction, the newcomers came to a halt, and feeling their way forward now with uttermost caution, their feet met a yawning hole, which had soon caused a serious accident to a stranger who had ventured thus far in ignorance of pitfalls.

A grim laugh, echoed by a lighter one, showed that the visitors had encountered only what they had expected, and after this brief episode they continued their journey upwards with a firmer sense of security; a smoky oil lamp on the first floor landing guided their footsteps by casting a flickering light on the narrow stairway, whereon slime and filth crept unchecked through the broken crevices between the stones.

But now as they advanced, the silence seemed more broken: a distinct hum as of many voices was soon perceptible, and anon a shrill laugh, followed by another more deep in tone, and echoed by others which presently died away in the distance.

By the time the two men had reached the second floor landing these many noises had become more accentuated, also more distinct; still muffled and subdued as if proceeding from behind heavy doors, but nevertheless obvious as the voices of men and women in lively converse.

The newcomers gave the distinctive raps prescribed by their first mentor, on the thick panels of a solid oak door on their left.

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