Mary Pickford Edition
Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall
AUTHOR OF WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER, YOLANDA, ETC.
ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTOPLAY
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1908
Printed in U.S.A.
To My Wife
A TOUCH OF BLACK MAGIC 1
CHAPTER I. I RIDE SOWN TO HADDON 3 II. THE IRON, THE SEED, THE CLOUD, AND THE RAIN 19 III. THE PITCHER GOES TO THE WELL 35 IV. THE GOLDEN HEART 62 V. MINE ENEMY'S ROOF-TREE 91 VI. A DANGEROUS TRIP TO DERBY-TOWN 108 VII. TRIBULATION IN HADDON 130 VIII. MALCOLM NO. 2 163 IX. A TRYST AT BOWLING GREEN GATE 181 X. THOMAS THE MAN-SERVANT 211 XI. THE COST MARK OF JOY 239 XII. THE LEICESTER POSSIBILITY 260 XIII. PROUD DAYS FOR THE OLD HALL 281 XIV. MARY STUART 302 XV. LIGHT 333 XVI. LEICESTER WAITS AT THE STILE 360
A TOUCH OF BLACK MAGIC
I draw the wizard's circle upon the sands, and blue flames spring from its circumference. I describe an inner circle, and green flames come responsive to my words of magic. I touch the common centre of both with my wand, and red flames, like adders' tongues, leap from the earth. Over these flames I place my caldron filled with the blood of a new-killed doe, and as it boils I speak my incantations and make my mystic signs and passes, watching the blood-red mist as it rises to meet the spirits of Air. I chant my conjurations as I learned them from the Great Key of Solomon, and while I speak, the ruddy fumes take human forms. Out of the dark, fathomless Past—the Past of near four hundred years ago—comes a goodly company of simple, pompous folk all having a touch of childish savagery which shows itself in the fierceness of their love and of their hate.
The fairest castle-chateau in all England's great domain, the walls and halls of which were builded in the depths of time, takes on again its olden form quick with quivering life, and from the gates of Eagle Tower issues my quaint and radiant company. Some are clad in gold lace, silks, and taffetas; some wear leather, buckram and clanking steel. While the caldron boils, their cloud-forms grow ever more distinct and definite, till at length I can trace their every feature. I see the color of their eyes. I discern the shades of their hair. Some heads are streaked with gray; others are glossy with the sheen of youth. As a climax to my conjurations I speak the word of all words magical, "Dorothy," and lo! as though God had said, "Let there be light," a fair, radiant girl steps from the portals of Haddon Hall and illumines all my ancient company so that I may see even the workings of their hearts.
They, and the events of their lives, their joys and sorrows, their virtues and sins, their hatreds, jealousies, and loves—the seven numbers in the total sum of life—pass before me as in a panorama, moving when I bid them move, pausing when I bid them pause, speaking when I bid them speak, and alas! fading back into the dim gray limbo of the past long, long ere I would have them go.
But hark! my radiant shades are about to speak. The play is about to begin.
Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall
I RIDE DOWN TO HADDON
Since I play no mean part in the events of this chronicle, a few words concerning my own history previous to the opening of the story I am about to tell you will surely not be amiss, and they may help you to a better understanding of my narrative.
To begin with an unimportant fact—unimportant, that is, to you—my name is Malcolm Francois de Lorraine Vernon. My father was cousin-german to Sir George Vernon, at and near whose home, Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, occurred the events which will furnish my theme.
Of the ancient lineage of the house of Vernon I need not speak. You already know that the family is one of the oldest in England, and while it is not of the highest nobility, it is quite gentle and noble enough to please those who bear its honored name. My mother boasted nobler blood than that of the Vernons. She was of the princely French house of Guise—a niece and ward to the Great Duke, for whose sake I was named.
My father, being a younger brother, sought adventure in the land of France, where his handsome person and engaging manner won the smiles of Dame Fortune and my mother at one and the same cast. In due time I was born, and upon the day following that great event my father died. On the day of his burial my poor mother, unable to find in me either compensation or consolation for the loss of her child's father, also died, of a broken heart, it was said. But God was right, as usual, in taking my parents; for I should have brought them no happiness, unless perchance they could have moulded my life to a better form than it has had—a doubtful chance, since our great virtues and our chief faults are born and die with us. My faults, alas! have been many and great. In my youth I knew but one virtue: to love my friend; and that was strong within me. How fortunate for us it would be if we could begin our life in wisdom and end it in simplicity, instead of the reverse which now obtains!
I remained with my granduncle, the Great Duke, and was brought up amid the fighting, vice, and piety of his sumptuous court. I was trained to arms, and at an early age became Esquire in Waiting to his Grace of Guise. Most of my days between my fifteenth and twenty-fifth years were spent in the wars. At the age of twenty-five I returned to the chateau, there to reside as my uncle's representative, and to endure the ennui of peace. At the chateau I found a fair, tall girl, fifteen years of age: Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, soon afterward Queen of France and rightful heiress to the English throne. The ennui of peace, did I say? Soon I had no fear of its depressing effect, for Mary Stuart was one of those women near whose fascinations peace does not thrive. When I found her at the chateau, my martial ardor lost its warmth. Another sort of flame took up its home in my heart, and no power could have turned me to the wars again.
Ah! what a gay, delightful life, tinctured with bitterness, we led in the grand old chateau, and looking back at it how heartless, godless, and empty it seems. Do not from these words conclude that I am a fanatic, nor that I shall pour into your ears a ranter's tale; for cant is more to be despised even than godlessness; but during the period of my life of which I shall write I learned—but what I learned I shall in due time tell you.
While at the court of Guise I, like many another man, conceived for Mary Stuart a passion which lay heavy upon my heart for many years. Sweethearts I had by the scores, but she held my longings from all of them until I felt the touch of a pure woman's love, and then—but again I am going beyond my story.
I did not doubt, nor do I hesitate to say, that my passion was returned by Mary with a fervor which she felt for no other lover; but she was a queen, and I, compared with her, was nobody. For this difference of rank I have since had good cause to be thankful. Great beauty is diffusive in its tendency. Like the sun, it cannot shine for one alone. Still, it burns and dazzles the one as if it shone for him and for no other; and he who basks in its rays need have no fear of the ennui of peace.
The time came when I tasted the unutterable bitterness of Mary's marriage to a simpering fool, Francis II., whom she loathed, notwithstanding absurd stories of their sweet courtship and love.
After her marriage to Francis, Mary became hard and callous of heart, and all the world knows her sad history. The stories of Darnley, Rizzio, and Bothwell will be rich morsels, I suppose, for the morbid minds of men and women so long as books are read and scandal is loved.
Ah, well, that was long ago; so long ago that now as I write it seems but a shadow upon the horizon of time.
And so it happened that Francis died, and when the queen went back to Scotland to ascend her native throne, I went with her, and mothlike hovered near the blaze that burned but did not warm me.
Then in the course of time came the Darnley tragedy. I saw Rizzio killed. Gods! what a scene for hell was that! Then followed the Bothwell disgrace, the queen's imprisonment at Lochleven, and my own flight from Scotland to save my head.
You will hear of Mary again in this history, and still clinging to her you will find that same strange fatality which during all her life brought evils upon her that were infectious to her friends and wrought their ruin.
One evening, in the autumn of the year 1567, I was sitting moodily before my fire in the town of Dundee, brooding over Mary's disgraceful liaison with Bothwell. I had solemnly resolved that I would see her never again, and that I would turn my back upon the evil life I had led for so many years, and would seek to acquire that quiescence of nature which is necessary to an endurable old age. A tumultuous soul in the breast of an old man breeds torture, but age, with the heart at rest, I have found is the best season of life.
In the midst of my gloomy thoughts and good resolves my friend, Sir Thomas Douglas, entered my room without warning and in great agitation.
"Are you alone?" he asked hurriedly, in a low voice.
"Save for your welcome presence, Sir Thomas," I answered, offering my hand.
"The queen has been seized," he whispered, "and warrants for high treason have been issued against many of her friends—you among the number. Officers are now coming to serve the writ. I rode hither in all haste to warn you. Lose not a moment, but flee for your life. The Earl of Murray will be made regent to-morrow."
"My servant? My horse?" I responded.
"Do not wait. Go at once. I shall try to send a horse for you to Craig's ferry. If I fail, cross the firth without one. Here is a purse. The queen sends it to you. Go! Go!"
I acted upon the advice, of Sir Thomas and hurried into the street, snatching up my hat, cloak, and sword as I went. Night had fallen, and darkness and rain, which at first I was inclined to curse, proved to be my friends. I sought the back streets and alleys and walked rapidly toward the west gates of the city. Upon arriving at the gates I found them closed. I aroused the warden, and with the artful argument of gold had almost persuaded him to let me pass. My evident eagerness was my undoing, for in the hope of obtaining more gold the warden delayed opening the gates till two men approached on horseback, and, dismounting, demanded my surrender.
I laughed and said: "Two against one! Gentlemen, I am caught." I then drew my sword as if to offer it to them. My action threw the men off their guard, and when I said, "Here it is," I gave it to the one standing near me, but I gave it to him point first and in the heart.
It was a terrible thing to do, and bordered so closely on a broken parole that I was troubled in conscience. I had not, however, given my parole, nor had I surrendered; and if I had done so—if a man may take another's life in self-defence, may he not lie to save himself?
The other man shot at me with his fusil, but missed. He then drew his sword; but he was no match for me, and soon I left him sprawling on the ground, dead or alive, I knew not which.
At the time of which I write I was thirty-five years of age, and since my fifteenth birthday my occupations had been arms and the ladies—two arts requiring constant use if one would remain expert in their practice.
I escaped, and ran along the wall to a deep breach which had been left unrepaired. Over the sharp rocks I clambered, and at the risk of breaking my neck I jumped off the wall into the moat, which was almost dry. Dawn was breaking when I found a place to ascend from the moat, and I hastened to the fields and forests, where all day and all night long I wandered without food or drink. Two hours before sunrise next morning I reached Craig's Ferry. The horse sent by Douglas awaited me, but the ferry-master had been prohibited from carrying passengers across the firth, and I could not take the horse in a small boat. In truth, I was in great alarm lest I should be unable to cross, but I walked up the Tay a short distance, and found a fisherman, who agreed to take me over in his frail craft. Hardly had we started when another boat put out from shore in pursuit of us. We made all sail, but our pursuers overtook us when we were within half a furlong of the south bank, and as there were four men in the other boat, all armed with fusils, I peaceably stepped into their craft and handed my sword to their captain.
I seated myself on one of the thwarts well forward in the boat. By my side was a heavy iron boat-hook. I had noticed that all the occupants of the boat, except the fisherman who sailed her, wore armor; and when I saw the boat-hook, a diabolical thought entered my mind and I immediately acted upon its suggestion. Noiselessly I grasped the hook, and with its point pried loose a board in the bottom of the boat, first having removed my boots, cloak, and doublet. When the board was loosened I pressed my heel against it with all the force I could muster, and through an opening six inches broad and four feet long came a flood of water that swamped the boat before one could utter twenty words. I heard a cry from one of the men: "The dog has scuttled the boat. Shoot him!" At the same instant the blaze and noise of two fusils broke the still blackness of the night, but I was overboard and the powder and lead were wasted. The next moment the boat sank in ten fathoms of water, and with it went the men in armor. I hope the fisherman saved himself. I have often wondered if even the law of self-preservation justified my act. It is an awful thing to inflict death, but it is worse to endure it, and I feel sure that I am foolish to allow my conscience to trouble me for the sake of those who would have led me back to the scaffold.
I fear you will think that six dead men in less than as many pages make a record of bloodshed giving promise of terrible things to come, but I am glad I can reassure you on that point. Although there may be some good fighting ahead of us, I believe the last man has been killed of whom I shall chronicle—the last, that is, in fight or battle.
In truth, the history which you are about to read is not my own. It is the story of a beautiful, wilful girl, who was madly in love with the one man in all the world whom she should have avoided—as girls are wont to be. This perverse tendency, philosophers tell us, is owing to the fact that the unattainable is strangely alluring to womankind. I, being a man, shall not, of course, dwell upon the foibles of my own sex. It were a foolish candor.
As I said, there will be some good fighting ahead of us, for love and battle usually go together. One must have warm, rich blood to do either well; and, save religion, there is no source more fruitful of quarrels and death than that passion which is the source of life.
You, of course, know without the telling, that I reached land safely after I scuttled the boat, else I should not be writing this forty years afterwards.
The sun had risen when I waded ashore. I was swordless, coatless, hatless, and bootless; but I carried a well-filled purse in my belt. Up to that time I had given no thought to my ultimate destination; but being for the moment safe, I pondered the question and determined to make my way to Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, where I was sure a warm welcome would await me from my cousin, Sir George Vernon. How I found a peasant's cottage, purchased a poor horse and a few coarse garments, and how in the disguise of a peasant I rode southward to the English border, avoiding the cities and the main highways, might interest you; but I am eager to come to my story, and I will not tell you of my perilous journey.
One frosty morning, after many hairbreadth escapes, I found myself well within the English border, and turned my horse's head toward the city of Carlisle. There I purchased a fine charger. I bought clothing fit for a gentleman, a new sword, a hand-fusil, a breastplate, and a steel-lined cap, and feeling once again like a man rather than like a half-drowned rat, I turned southward for Derbyshire and Haddon Hall.
When I left Scotland I had no fear of meeting danger in England; but at Carlisle I learned that Elizabeth held no favor toward Scottish refugees. I also learned that the direct road from Carlisle to Haddon, by way of Buxton, was infested with English spies who were on the watch for friends of the deposed Scottish queen. Several Scotchmen had been arrested, and it was the general opinion that upon one pretext or another they would be hanged. I therefore chose a circuitous road leading to the town of Derby, which lay south of Haddon at a distance of six or seven leagues. It would be safer for me to arrive at Haddon travelling from the south than from the north. Thus, after many days, I rode into Derby-town and stabled my horse at the Royal Arms.
I called for supper, and while I was waiting for my joint of beef a stranger entered the room and gave his orders in a free, offhand manner that stamped him a person of quality.
The night outside was cold. While the stranger and I sat before the fire we caught its infectious warmth, and when he showed a disposition to talk, I gladly fell in with his humor. Soon we were filling our glasses from the same bowl of punch, and we seemed to be on good terms with each other. But when God breathed into the human body a part of himself, by some mischance He permitted the devil to slip into the tongue and loosen it. My tongue, which ordinarily was fairly well behaved, upon this occasion quickly brought me into trouble.
I told you that the stranger and I seemed to be upon good terms. And so we were until I, forgetting for the moment Elizabeth's hatred of Mary's friends, and hoping to learn the stranger's name and quality, said:—
"My name is Vernon—Sir Malcolm Vernon, knight by the hand of Queen Mary of Scotland and of France." This remark, of course, required that my companion should in return make known his name and degree; but in place of so doing he at once drew away from me and sat in silence. I was older than he, and it had seemed to me quite proper and right that I should make the first advance. But instantly after I had spoken I regretted my words. I remembered not only my danger, being a Scottish refugee, but I also bethought me that I had betrayed myself. Aside from those causes of uneasiness, the stranger's conduct was an insult which I was in duty bound not to overlook. Neither was I inclined to do so, for I loved to fight. In truth, I loved all things evil.
"I regret, sir," said I, after a moment or two of embarrassing silence, "having imparted information that seems to annoy you. The Vernons, whom you may not know, are your equals in blood, it matters not who you are."
"I know of the Vernons," he replied coldly, "and I well know that they are of good blood and lineage. As for wealth, I am told Sir George could easily buy the estates of any six men in Derbyshire."
"You know Sir George?" I asked despite myself.
"I do not know him, I am glad to say," returned the stranger.
"By God, sir, you shall answer-"
"At your pleasure, Sir Malcolm."
"My pleasure is now," I retorted eagerly.
I threw off my doublet and pushed the table and chairs against the wall to make room for the fight; but the stranger, who had not drawn his sword, said:—
"I have eaten nothing since morning, and I am as hungry as a wolf. I would prefer to fight after supper; but if you insist—"
"I do insist," I replied. "Perhaps you will not care for supper when I have—"
"That may be true," he interrupted; "but before we begin I think it right to tell you, without at all meaning to boast of my skill, that I can kill you if I wish to do so. Therefore you must see that the result of our fight will be disagreeable to you in any case. You will die, or you will owe me your life."
His cool impertinence angered me beyond endurance. He to speak of killing me, one of the best swordsmen in France, where the art of sword-play is really an art! The English are but bunglers with a gentleman's blade, and should restrict themselves to pike and quarterstaff.
"Results be damned!" I answered. "I can kill you if I wish." Then it occurred to me that I really did not wish to kill the handsome young fellow toward whom I felt an irresistible attraction.
I continued: "But I prefer that you should owe me your life. I do not wish to kill you. Guard!"
My opponent did not lift his sword, but smilingly said:—
"Then why do you insist upon fighting? I certainly do not wish to kill you. In truth, I would be inclined to like you if you were not a Vernon."
"Damn your insolence! Guard! or I will run you through where you stand," I answered angrily.
"But why do we fight?" insisted the stubborn fellow, with a coolness that showed he was not one whit in fear of me.
"You should know," I replied, dropping my sword-point to the floor, and forgetting for the moment the cause of our quarrel. "I—I do not."
"Then let us not fight," he answered, "until we have discovered the matter of our disagreement."
At this remark neither of us could resist smiling. I had not fought since months before, save for a moment at the gates of Dundee, and I was loath to miss the opportunity, so I remained in thought during the space of half a minute and remembered our cause of war.
"Oh! I recall the reason for our fighting," I replied, "and a good one it was. You offered affront to the name of Sir George Vernon, and insultingly refused me the courtesy of your name after I had done you the honor to tell you mine."
"I did not tell you my name," replied the stranger, "because I believed you would not care to hear it; and I said I was glad not to know Sir George Vernon because—because he is my father's enemy. I am Sir John Manners. My father is Lord Rutland."
Then it was my turn to recede. "You certainly are right. I do not care to hear your name."
I put my sword in its scabbard and drew the table back to its former place. Sir John stood in hesitation for a moment or two, and then said:—
"Sir Malcolm, may we not declare a truce for to-night? There is nothing personal in the enmity between us."
"Nothing," I answered, staring at the fire, half regretful that we bore each other enmity at all.
"You hate me, or believe you do," said Manners, "because your father's cousin hates my father; and I try to make myself believe that I hate you because my father hates your father's cousin. Are we not both mistaken?"
I was quick to anger and to fight, but no man's heart was more sensitive than mine to the fair touch of a kind word.
"I am not mistaken, Sir John, when I say that I do not hate you," I answered.
"Nor do I hate you, Sir Malcolm. Will you give me your hand?"
"Gladly," I responded, and I offered my hand to the enemy of my house.
"Landlord," I cried, "bring us two bottles of your best sack. The best in the house, mind you."
After our amicable understanding, Sir John and myself were very comfortable together, and when the sack and roast beef, for which the Royal Arms was justly famous, were brought in, we sat down to an enjoyable meal.
After supper Sir John lighted a small roll or stick made from the leaves of tobacco. The stick was called a cigarro, and I, proud not to be behind him in new-fashioned, gentlemanly accomplishments, called to the landlord for a pipe. Manners interrupted me when I gave the order and offered me a cigarro which I gladly accepted.
Despite my effort to reassure myself, I could not quite throw off a feeling of uneasiness whenever I thought of the manner in which I had betrayed to Sir John the fact that I was a friend to Mary Stuart. I knew that treachery was not native to English blood, and my knowledge of mankind had told me that the vice could not live in Sir John Manners's heart. But he had told me of his residence at the court of Elizabeth, and I feared trouble might come to me from the possession of so dangerous a piece of knowledge by an enemy of my house.
I did not speak my thoughts upon the matter, and we sat the evening through discussing many subjects. We warmed toward each other and became quite confidential. I feel ashamed when I admit that one of my many sins was an excessive indulgence in wine. While I was not a drunkard, I was given to my cups sometimes in a degree both dangerous and disgraceful; and during the evening of which I have just spoken I talked to Sir John with a freedom that afterward made me blush, although my indiscretion brought me no greater trouble.
My outburst of confidence was prompted by Sir John's voluntary assurance that I need fear nothing from having told him that I was a friend of Queen Mary. The Scottish queen's name had been mentioned, and Sir John had said—
"I take it, Sir Malcolm, that you are newly arrived in England, and I feel sure you will accept the advice I am about to offer in the kindly spirit in which it is meant. I deem it unsafe for you to speak of Queen Mary's friendship in the open manner you have used toward me. Her friends are not welcome visitors to England, and I fear evil will befall those who come to us as refugees. You need have no fear that I will betray you. Your secret is safe with me. I will give you hostage. I also am Queen Mary's friend. I would not, of course, favor her against the interest of our own queen. To Elizabeth I am and always shall be loyal; but the unfortunate Scottish queen has my sympathy in her troubles, and I should be glad to help her. I hear she is most beautiful and gentle in person."
Thus you see the influence of Mary's beauty reached from Edinburgh to London. A few months only were to pass till this conversation was to be recalled by each of us, and the baneful influence of Mary's beauty upon all whom it touched was to be shown more fatally than had appeared even in my own case. In truth, my reason for speaking so fully concerning the, Scottish queen and myself will be apparent to you in good time.
When we were about to part for the night, I asked Sir John, "What road do you travel to-morrow?"
"I am going to Rutland Castle by way of Rowsley," he answered.
"I, too, travel by Rowsley to Haddon Hall. Shall we not extend our truce over the morrow and ride together as far as Rowsley?" I asked.
"I shall be glad to make the truce perpetual," he replied laughingly.
"So shall I," was my response.
Thus we sealed our compact and knitted out of the warp and woof of enmity a friendship which became a great joy and a sweet grief to each of us.
That night I lay for hours thinking of the past and wondering about the future. I had tasted the sweets—all flavored with bitterness—of court life. Women, wine, gambling, and fighting had given me the best of all the evils they had to offer. Was I now to drop that valorous life, which men so ardently seek, and was I to take up a browsing, kinelike existence at Haddon Hall, there to drone away my remaining days in fat'ning, peace, and quietude? I could not answer my own question, but this I knew: that Sir George Vernon was held in high esteem by Elizabeth, and I felt that his house was, perhaps, the only spot in England where my head could safely lie. I also had other plans concerning Sir George and his household which I regret to say I imparted to Sir John in the sack-prompted outpouring of my confidence. The plans of which I shall now speak had been growing in favor with me for several months previous to my enforced departure from Scotland, and that event had almost determined me to adopt them. Almost, I say, for when I approached Haddon Hall I wavered in my resolution.
At the time when I had last visited Sir George at Haddon, his daughter Dorothy—Sir George called her Doll—was a slipshod girl of twelve. She was exceedingly plain, and gave promise of always so remaining. Sir George, who had no son, was anxious that his vast estates should remain in the Vernon name. He had upon the occasion of my last visit intimated to me that when Doll should become old enough to marry, and I, perchance, had had my fill of knocking about the world, a marriage might be brought about between us which would enable him to leave his estates to his daughter and still to retain the much-loved Vernon name for his descendants.
Owing to Doll's rusty red hair, slim shanks, and freckled face, the proposition had not struck me with favor, yet to please Sir George I had feigned acquiescence, and had said that when the time should come, we would talk it over. Before my flight from Scotland I had often thought of Sir George's proposition made six or seven years before. My love for Mary Stuart had dimmed the light of other beauties in my eyes, and I had never married. For many months before my flight, however, I had not been permitted to bask in the light of Mary's smiles to the extent of my wishes. Younger men, among them Darnley, who was but eighteen years of age, were preferred to me, and I had begun to consider the advisability of an orderly retreat from the Scottish court before my lustre should be entirely dimmed. It is said that a man is young so long as he is strong, and I was strong as in the days of my youth. My cheeks were fresh, my eyes were bright, and my hair was red as when I was twenty, and without a thread of gray. Stills my temperament was more exacting and serious, and the thought of becoming settled for life, or rather for old age and death, was growing in favor with me. With that thought came always a suggestion of slim, freckled Dorothy and Sir George's offer. She held out to me wealth and position, a peaceful home for my old age, and a grave with a pompous, pious epitaph at Bakewell church, in death.
When I was compelled to leave Scotland, circumstances forced me to a decision, and my resolution was quickly taken. I would go to Derbyshire and would marry Dorothy. I did not expect ever again to feel great love for a woman. The fuse, I thought, had burned out when I loved Mary Stuart. One woman, I believed, was like another to me, and Dorothy would answer as well as any for my wife. I could and would be kind to her, and that alone in time would make me fond. It is true, my affection would be of a fashion more comfortable than exciting; but who, having passed his galloping youth, will contemn the joys that come from making others happy? I believe there is no person, past the age of forty, at all given to pondering the whys of life, who will gainsay that the joy we give to others is our chief source of happiness. Why, then, should not a wise man, through purely selfish motives, begin early to cultivate the gentle art of giving joy?
But the fates were to work out the destinies of Dorothy and myself without our assistance. Self-willed, arrogant creatures are those same fates, but they save us a deal of trouble by assuming our responsibilities.
THE IRON, THE SEED, THE CLOUD, AND THE RAIN
The morning following my meeting with Manners, he and I made an early start. An hour before noon we rode into the town of Rowsley and halted at The Peacock for dinner.
When we entered the courtyard of the inn we saw three ladies warmly wrapped in rich furs leave a ponderous coach and walk to the inn door, which they entered. One of them was an elderly lady whom I recognized as my cousin, Lady Dorothy Crawford, sister to Sir George Vernon. The second was a tall, beautiful girl, with an exquisite ivory-like complexion and a wonderful crown of fluffy red hair which encircled her head like a halo of sunlit glory. I could compare its wondrous lustre to no color save that of molten gold deeply alloyed with copper. But that comparison tells you nothing. I can find no simile with which to describe the beauties of its shades and tints. It was red, but it also was golden, as if the enamoured sun had gilded every hair with its radiance. In all my life I had never seen anything so beautiful as this tall girl's hair. Still, it was the Vernon red. My cousin, Sir George, and many Vernons had hair of the same color. Yet the girl's hair differed from all other I had ever seen. It had a light and a lustre of its own which was as distinct from the ordinary Vernon red, although that is very good and we are proud of it, as the sheen of gold is from the glitter of brass. I knew by the girl's hair that she was my cousin, Dorothy Vernon, whom I reluctantly had come to wed.
I asked myself, "Can this be the plain, freckled girl I knew seven years ago?" Compared with her beauty even Mary Stuart's was pale as the vapid moon at dawn. The girl seemed to be the incarnated spirit of universal life and light, and I had condescendingly come to marry this goddess. I felt a dash of contemptuous pity for my complacent self.
In my cogitations concerning marriage with Dorothy Vernon, I had not at all taken into consideration her personal inclination. A girl, after all, is but the chattel of her father, and must, perforce, if needs be, marry the man who is chosen for her. But leaving parental authority out of the question, a girl with brick-red hair and a multitude of freckles need not be considered when an agreeable, handsome man offers himself as a husband. She usually is willing to the point of eagerness. That is the manner in which I had thought about Dorothy Vernon, if I considered her at all. But when a man is about to offer himself to a goddess, he is apt to pause. In such a case there are always two sides to the question, and nine chances to one the goddess will coolly take possession of both. When I saw Dorothy in the courtyard of The Peacock, I instantly knew that she was a girl to be taken into account in all matters wherein she was personally concerned. Her every feature, every poise and gesture, unconsciously bore the stamp of "I will" or "I will not."
Walking by Dorothy's side, holding her hand, was a fair young woman whose hair was black, and whose skin was of the white, clear complexion such as we see in the faces of nuns. She walked with a hesitating, cautious step, and clung to Dorothy, who was gentle and attentive to her. But of this fair, pale girl I have so much to say in the pages to come that I shall not further describe her here.
When the ladies had entered the inn, my companion and I dismounted, and Manners exclaimed:—
"Did you see the glorious girl who but now entered the inn door? Gods! I never before saw such beauty."
"Yes," I replied, "I know her."
"How fortunate I am," said Sir John. "Perhaps I may induce you to present me to her. At least you will tell me her name, that I may seek her acquaintance by the usual means. I am not susceptible, but by my faith, I—I—she looked at me from the door-steps, and when I caught her eyes it seemed—that is, I saw—or I felt a stream of burning life enter my soul, and—but you will think I am a fool. I know I am a fool. But I feel as if I were—as if I had been bewitched in one little second of time, and by a single glance from a pair of brown eyes. You certainly will think I am a fool, but you cannot understand—"
"Why can't I understand?" I asked indignantly. "The thing you have seen and felt has been in this world long enough for every man to understand. Eve used it upon Adam. I can't understand? Damme, sir, do you think I am a clod? I have felt it fifty times."
"Not—" began Sir John, hesitatingly.
"Nonsense!" I replied. "You, too, will have the same experience fifty times again before you are my age."
"But the lady," said Sir John, "tell me of her. Will you—can you present me to her? If not, will you tell me who she is?"
I remained for a moment in thought, wondering if it were right for me to tell him that the girl whom he so much admired was the daughter of his father's enemy. I could see no way of keeping Dorothy's name from him, so I determined to tell him.
"She is my cousin, Mistress Dorothy Vernon," I said. "The eldest is Lady Dorothy Crawford. The beautiful, pale girl I do not know."
"I am sorry," returned Sir John; "she is the lady whom you have come to marry, is she not?"
"Y-e-s," said I, hesitatingly.
"You certainly are to be congratulated," returned Manners.
"I doubt if I shall marry her," I replied.
"Why?" asked Manners.
"For many reasons, chief among which is her beauty."
"That is an unusual reason for declining a woman," responded Sir John, with a low laugh.
"I think it is quite usual," I replied, having in mind the difficulty with which great beauties are won. But I continued, "A woman of moderate beauty makes a safer wife, and in the long run is more comforting than one who is too attractive."
"You are a philosopher, Sir Malcolm," said Manners, laughingly.
"And a liar," I muttered to myself. I felt sure, however, that I should never marry Dorothy Vernon, and I do not mind telling you, even at this early stage in my history, that I was right in my premonition. I did not marry her.
"I suppose I shall now be compelled to give you up to your relatives," said Manners.
"Yes," I returned, "we must say good-by for the present; but if we do not meet again, it shall not be for the lack of my wishing. Your father and Sir George would feel deeply injured, should they learn of our friendship, therefore—"
"You are quite right," he interrupted. "It is better that no one should know of it. Nevertheless, between you and me let there be no feud."
"The secrecy of our friendship will give it zest," said I. "That is true, but 'good wine needs no bush.' You will not mention my name to the ladies?"
"No, if you wish that I shall not."
"I do so wish."
When the stable boys had taken our horses, I gave my hand to Sir John, after which we entered the inn and treated each other as strangers.
Soon after I had washed the stains of travel from my hands and face, I sent the maid to my cousins, asking that I might be permitted to pay my devotions, and Dorothy came to the tap-room in response to my message.
When she entered she ran to me with outstretched hands and a gleam of welcome in her eyes. We had been rare friends when she was a child.
"Ah, Cousin Malcolm, what a fine surprise you have given us!" she exclaimed, clasping both my hands and offering me her cheek to kiss. "Father's delight will be beyond measure when he sees you."
"As mine now is," I responded, gazing at her from head to foot and drinking in her beauty with my eyes. "Doll! Doll! What a splendid girl you have become. Who would have thought that—that—" I hesitated, realizing that I was rapidly getting myself into trouble.
"Say it. Say it, cousin! I know what is in your mind. Rusty red hair, angular shoulders, sharp elbows, freckles thickly set as stars upon a clear night, and so large and brown that they fairly twinkled. Great staring green eyes. Awkward!—" And she threw up her hands in mimic horror at the remembrance. "No one could have supposed that such a girl would have become—that is, you know," she continued confusedly, "could have changed. I haven't a freckle now," and she lifted her face that I might prove the truth of her words by examination, and perhaps that I might also observe her beauty.
Neither did I waste the opportunity. I dwelt longingly upon the wondrous red golden hair which fringed her low broad forehead, and upon the heavy black eyebrows, the pencilled points of whose curves almost touched across the nose. I saw the rose-tinted ivory of her skin and the long jet lashes curving in a great sweep from her full white lids, and I thought full sure that Venus herself was before me. My gaze halted for a moment at the long eyes which changed chameleon-like with the shifting light, and varied with her moods from deep fathomless green to violet, and from violet to soft voluptuous brown, but in all their tints beaming forth a lustre that would have stirred the soul of an anchorite. Then I noted the beauty of her clean-cut saucy nose and the red arch of her lips, slightly parted for the purpose of showing her teeth. But I could not stop long to dwell upon any one especial feature, for there were still to be seen her divine round chin, her large white throat, and the infinite grace in poise and curve of her strong young form. I dared not pause nor waste my time if I were to see it all, for such a girl as Dorothy waits no man's leisure—that is, unless she wishes to wait. In such case there is no moving her, and patience becomes to her a delightful virtue.
After my prolonged scrutiny Dorothy lowered her face and said laughingly:—
"Now come, cousin, tell me the truth. Who would have thought it possible?"
"Not I, Doll, not I, if you will pardon me the frankness."
"Oh, that is easily done." Then with a merry ripple of laughter, "It is much easier, I fancy, for a woman to speak of the time when she was plain than to refer to the time when—when she was beautiful. What an absurd speech that is for me to make," she said confusedly.
"I certainly did not expect to find so great a change," said I. "Why, Doll, you are wondrous, glorious, beautiful. I can't find words—"
"Then don't try, Cousin Malcolm," she said with a smile that fringed her mouth in dimples. "Don't try. You will make me vain."
"You are that already, Doll," I answered, to tease her.
"I fear I am, cousin—vain as a man. But don't call me Doll. I am tall enough to be called Dorothy."
She straightened herself up to her full height, and stepping close to my side, said: "I am as tall as you. I will now try to make you vain. You look just as young and as handsome as when I last saw you and so ardently admired your waving black mustachio and your curling chin beard."
"Did you admire them, Doll—Dorothy?" I asked, hoping, though with little faith, that the admiration might still continue.
"Oh, prodigiously," she answered with unassuring candor. "Prodigiously. Now who is vain, Cousin Malcolm Francois de Lorraine Vernon?"
"I," I responded, shrugging my shoulders and confessing by compulsion.
"But you must remember," she continued provokingly, "that a girl of twelve is very immature in her judgment and will fall in love with any man who allows her to look upon him twice."
"Then I am to believe that the fire begins very early to burn in the feminine heart," I responded.
"With birth, my cousin, with birth," she replied; "but in my heart it burned itself out upon your curling beard at the mature age of twelve."
"And you have never been in love since that time, Doll—Dorothy?" I asked with more earnestness in my heart than in my voice.
"No, no; by the Virgin, no! Not even in the shadow of a thought. And by the help of the Virgin I hope I never shall be; for when it comes to me, mark my word, cousin, there will be trouble in Derbyshire."
"By my soul, I believe you speak the truth," I answered, little dreaming how quickly our joint prophecy would come true.
I then asked Dorothy to tell me about her father.
"Father is well in health," she said. "In mind he has been much troubled and disturbed. Last month he lost the lawsuit against detestable old Lord Rutland. He was much angered by the loss, and has been moody and morose in brooding over it ever since. He tries, poor father, to find relief from his troubles, and—and I fear takes too much liquor. Rutland and his friends swore to one lie upon another, and father believes that the judge who tried the case was bribed. Father intends to appeal to Parliament, but even in Parliament he fears he cannot obtain justice. Lord Rutland's son—a disreputable fellow, who for many years has lived at court—is a favorite with the queen, and his acquaintance with her Majesty and with the lords will be to father's prejudice."
"I have always believed that your father stood in the queen's good graces?" I said interrogatively.
"So he does, but I have been told that this son of Lord Rutland, whom I have never seen, has the beauty of—of the devil, and exercises a great influence over her Majesty and her friends. The young man is not known in this neighborhood, for he has never deigned to leave the court; but Lady Cavendish tells me he has all the fascinations of Satan. I would that Satan had him."
"The feud still lives between Vernon and Rutland?" I asked.
"Yes, and it will continue to live so long as an ounce of blood can hold a pound of hatred," said the girl, with flashing eyes and hard lips. "I love to hate the accursed race. They have wronged our house for three generations, and my father has suffered greater injury at their hands than any of our name. Let us not talk of the hateful subject."
We changed the topic. I had expected Dorothy to invite me to go with her to meet Lady Crawford, but the girl seemed disinclined to leave the tap-room. The Peacock was her father's property, and the host and hostess were her friends after the manner of persons in their degree. Therefore Dorothy felt at liberty to visit the tap-room quite as freely as if it had been the kitchen of Haddon Hall.
During our conversation I had frequently noticed Dorothy glancing slyly in the direction of the fireplace; but my back was turned that way, and I did not know, nor did it at first occur to me to wonder what attracted her attention. Soon she began to lose the thread of our conversation, and made inappropriate, tardy replies to my remarks. The glances toward the fireplace increased in number and duration, and her efforts to pay attention to what I was saying became painful failures.
After a little time she said: "Is it not cool here? Let us go over to the fireplace where it is warmer."
I turned to go with her, and at once saw that it was not the fire in the fireplace which had attracted Dorothy, but quite a different sort of flame. In short, much to my consternation, I discovered that it was nothing less than my handsome new-found friend, Sir John Manners, toward whom Dorothy had been glancing.
We walked over to the fireplace, and one of the fires, Sir John, moved away. But the girl turned her face that she might see him in his new position. The movement, I confess, looked bold to the point of brazenness; but if the movement was bold, what shall I say of her glances and the expression of her face? She seemed unable to take her eager eyes from the stranger, or to think of anything but him, and after a few moments she did not try. Soon she stopped talking entirely and did not even hear what I was saying. I, too, became silent, and after a long pause the girl asked:—
"Cousin, who is the gentleman with whom you were travelling?"
I was piqued by Dorothy's conduct, and answered rather curtly: "He is a stranger. I picked him up at Derby, and we rode here together."
A pause followed, awkward in its duration.
"Did you—not—learn—his—name?" asked Dorothy, hesitatingly.
"Yes," I replied.
Then came another pause, broken by the girl, who spoke in a quick, imperious tone touched with irritation:—
"Well, what is it?"
"It is better that I do not tell you," I answered. "It was quite by accident that we met. Neither of us knew the other. Please do not ask me to tell you his name."
"Oh, but you make me all the more eager to learn. Mystery, you know, is intolerable to a woman, except in the unravelling. Come, tell me! Tell me! Not, of course, that I really care a farthing to know—but the mystery! A mystery drives me wild. Tell me, please do, Cousin Malcolm."
She certainly was posing for the stranger's benefit, and was doing all in her power, while coaxing me, to display her charms, graces, and pretty little ways. Her attitude and conduct spoke as plainly as the spring bird's song speaks to its mate. Yet Dorothy's manner did not seem bold. Even to me it appeared modest, beautiful, and necessary. She seemed to act under compulsion. She would laugh, for the purpose, no doubt, of showing her dimples and her teeth, and would lean her head to one side pigeon-wise to display her eyes to the best advantage, and then would she shyly glance toward Sir John to see if he was watching her. It was shameless, but it could not be helped by Dorothy nor any one else. After a few moments of mute pleading by the girl, broken now and then by, "Please, please," I said:—
"If you give to me your promise that you will never speak of this matter to any person, I will tell you the gentleman's name. I would not for a great deal have your father know that I have held conversation with him even for a moment, though at the time I did not know who he was."
"Oh, this is delightful! He must be some famous, dashing highwayman. I promise, of course I promise—faithfully." She was glancing constantly toward Manners, and her face was bright with smiles and eager with anticipation.
"He is worse than a highwayman, I regret to say. The gentleman toward whom you are so ardently glancing is—Sir John Manners."
A shock of pain passed over Dorothy's face, followed by a hard, repellent expression that was almost ugly.
"Let us go to Aunt Dorothy," she said, as she turned and walked across the room toward the door.
When we had closed the door of the tap-room behind us Dorothy said angrily:—
"Tell me, cousin, how you, a Vernon, came to be in his company?"
"I told you that I met him quite by accident at the Royal Arms in Derby-town. We became friends before either knew the other's name. After chance had disclosed our identities, he asked for a truce to our feud until the morrow; and he was so gentle and open in his conduct that I could not and would not refuse his proffered olive branch. In truth, whatever faults may be attributable to Lord Rutland,—and I am sure he deserves all the evil you have spoken of him,—his son, Sir John, is a noble gentleman, else I have been reading the book of human nature all my life in vain. Perhaps he is in no way to blame for his father's conduct He may have had no part in it"
"Perhaps he has not," said Dorothy, musingly.
It was not a pleasant task for me to praise Sir John, but my sense of justice impelled me to do so. I tried to make myself feel injured and chagrined because of Dorothy's manner toward him; for you must remember I had arranged with myself to marry this girl, but I could not work my feelings into a state of indignation against the heir to Rutland. The truth is, my hope of winning Dorothy had evaporated upon the first sight of her, like the volatile essence it really was. I cannot tell you why, but I at once seemed to realize that all the thought and labor which I had devoted to the arduous task of arranging with myself this marriage was labor lost. So I frankly told her my kindly feelings for Sir John, and gave her my high estimate of his character.
I continued: "You see, Dorothy, I could not so easily explain to your father my association with Sir John, and I hope you will not speak of it to any one, lest the news should reach Sir George's ears."
"I will not speak of it," she returned, sighing faintly. "After all, it is not his fault that his father is such a villain. He doesn't look like his father, does he?"
"I cannot say. I never saw Lord Rutland," I replied.
"He is the most villanous-looking—" but she broke off the sentence and stood for a moment in revery. We were in the darkened passage, and Dorothy had taken my hand. That little act in another woman of course would have led to a demonstration on my part, but in this girl it seemed so entirely natural and candid that it was a complete bar to undue familiarity. In truth, I had no such tendency, for the childish act spoke of an innocence and faith that were very sweet to me who all my life had lived among men and women who laughed at those simple virtues. The simple conditions of life are all that are worth striving for. They come to us fresh from Nature and from Nature's God. The complex are but concoctions of man after recipes in the devil's alchemy. So much gold, so much ambition, so much lust. Mix well. Product: so much vexation.
"He must resemble his mother," said Dorothy, after a long pause. "Poor fellow! His mother is dead. He is like me in that respect. I wonder if his father's villanies trouble him?"
"I think they must trouble him. He seems to be sad," said I, intending to be ironical.
My reply was taken seriously.
"I am sorry for him," she said, "it is not right to hate even our enemies. The Book tells us that."
"Yet you hate Lord Rutland," said I, amused and provoked.
Unexpected and dangerous symptoms were rapidly developing in the perverse girl, and trouble was brewing "in Derbyshire."
The adjective perverse, by the way, usually is superfluous when used to modify the noun girl.
"Yet you hate Lord Rutland," I repeated.
"Why, y-e-s," she responded. "I cannot help that, but you know it would be very wrong to—to hate all his family. To hate him is bad enough."
I soon began to fear that I had praised Sir John overmuch.
"I think Sir John is all there is of Lord Rutland's family," I said, alarmed yet amused at Dorothy's search for an excuse not to hate my new-found friend.
"Well," she continued after a pause, throwing her head to one side, "I am sorry there are no more of that family not to hate."
"Dorothy! Dorothy!" I exclaimed. "What has come over you? You surprise me."
"Yes," she answered, with a little sigh, "I certainly have surprised myself by—by my willingness to forgive those who have injured my house. I did not know there was so much—so much good in me."
"Mistress Pharisee," thought I, "you are a hypocrite."
Again intending to be ironical, I said, "Shall I fetch him from the tap-room and present him to you?"
Once more my irony was lost upon the girl. Evidently that sort of humor was not my strong point.
"No, no," she responded indignantly, "I would not speak to him for—" Again she broke her sentence abruptly, and after a little pause, short in itself but amply long for a girl like Dorothy to change her mind two score times, she continued: "It would not be for the best. What think you, Cousin Malcolm?"
"Surely the girl has gone mad," thought I. Her voice was soft and conciliating as if to say, "I trust entirely to your mature, superior judgment."
My judgment coincided emphatically with her words, and I said: "I spoke only in jest. It certainly would not be right. It would be all wrong if you were to meet him."
"That is true," the girl responded with firmness, "but—but no real harm could come of it," she continued, laughing nervously. "He could not strike me nor bite me. Of course it would be unpleasant for me to meet him, and as there is no need—I am curious to know what one of his race is like. It's the only reason that would induce me to consent. Of course you know there could be no other reason for me to wish—that is, you know—to be willing to meet him. Of course you know."
"Certainly," I replied, still clinging to my unsuccessful irony. "I will tell you all I know about him, so that you may understand what he is like. As for his personal appearance, you saw him, did you not?"
I thought surely that piece of irony would not fail, but it did, and I have seldom since attempted to use that form of humor.
"Yes—oh, yes, I saw him for a moment."
"But I will not present him to you, Dorothy, however much you may wish to meet him," I said positively.
"It is almost an insult, Cousin Malcolm, for you to say that I wish to meet him," she answered in well-feigned indignation.
The French blood in my veins moved me to shrug my shoulders. I could do nothing else. With all my knowledge of womankind this girl had sent me to sea.
But what shall we say of Dorothy's conduct? I fancy I can hear you mutter, "This Dorothy Vernon must have been a bold, immodest, brazen girl." Nothing of the sort. Dare you of the cold blood—if perchance there be any with that curse in their veins who read these lines—dare you, I say, lift your voice against the blessed heat in others which is but a greater, stronger, warmer spark of God's own soul than you possess or than you can comprehend? "Evil often comes of it," I hear you say. That I freely admit; and evil comes from eating too much bread, and from hearing too much preaching. But the universe, from the humblest blade of grass to the infinite essence of God, exists because of that warmth which the mawkish world contemns. Is the iron immodest when it creeps to the lodestone and clings to its side? Is the hen bird brazen when she flutters to her mate responsive to his compelling woo-song? Is the seed immodest when it sinks into the ground and swells with budding life? Is the cloud bold when it softens into rain and falls to earth because it has no other choice? or is it brazen when it nestles for a time on the bosom of heaven's arched dome and sinking into the fathomless depths of a blue black infinity ceases to be itself? Is the human soul immodest when, drawn by a force it cannot resist, it seeks a stronger soul which absorbs its ego as the blue sky absorbs the floating cloud, as the warm earth swells the seed, as the magnet draws the iron? All these are of one quality. The iron, the seed, the cloud, and the soul of man are what they are, do what they do, love as they love, live as they live, and die as they die because they must—because they have no other choice. We think we are free because at times we act as we please, forgetting that God gives us the "please," and that every act of our being is but the result of a dictated motive. Dorothy was not immodest. This was her case. She was the iron, the seed, the cloud, and the rain. You, too, are the iron, the seed, the cloud, and the rain. It is only human vanity which prompts you to believe that you are yourself and that you are free. Do you find any freedom in this world save that which you fondly believe to exist within yourself? Self! There is but one self, God. I have been told that the people of the East call Him Brahma. The word, it is said, means "Breath," "Inspiration," "All." I have felt that the beautiful pagan thought has truth in it; but my conscience and my priest tell me rather to cling to truths I have than to fly to others that I know not of. As a result, I shall probably die orthodox and mistaken.
THE PITCHER GOES TO THE WELL.
Dorothy and I went to the inn parlors, where I received a cordial welcome from my cousin, Lady Crawford. After our greeting, Dorothy came toward me leading the fair, pale girl whom I had seen in the courtyard.
"Madge, this is my cousin, Malcolm Vernon," said Dorothy. "He was a dear friend of my childhood and is much beloved by my father. Lady Magdalene Stanley, cousin," and she placed the girl's soft white hand in mine. There was a peculiar hesitancy in the girl's manner which puzzled me. She did not look at me when Dorothy placed her hand in mine, but kept her eyes cast down, the long, black lashes resting upon the fair curves of her cheek like a shadow on the snow. She murmured a salutation, and when I made a remark that called for a response, she lifted her eyes but seemed not to look at me. Unconsciously I turned my face toward Dorothy, who closed her eyes and formed with her lips the word "blind."
I retained the girl's hand, and she did not withdraw it. When I caught Dorothy's unspoken word I led Lady Madge to a chair and asked if I might sit beside her.
"Certainly," she answered smilingly; "you know I am blind, but I can hear and speak, and I enjoy having persons I like sit near me that I may touch them now and then while we talk. If I could only see!" she exclaimed. Still, there was no tone of complaint in her voice and very little even of regret. The girl's eyes were of a deep blue and were entirely without scar or other evidence of blindness, except that they did not seem to see. I afterward learned that her affliction had come upon her as the result of illness when she was a child. She was niece to the Earl of Derby, and Dorothy's mother had been her aunt. She owned a small estate and had lived at Haddon Hall five or six years because of the love that existed between her and Dorothy. A strong man instinctively longs to cherish that which needs his strength, and perhaps it was the girl's helplessness that first appealed to me. Perhaps it was her rare, peculiar beauty, speaking eloquently of virtue such as I had never known, that touched me. I cannot say what the impelling cause was, but this I know: my heart went out in pity to her, and all that was good within me—good, which I had never before suspected—stirred in my soul, and my past life seemed black and barren beyond endurance. Even Dorothy's marvellous beauty lacked the subtle quality which this simple blind girl possessed. The first step in regeneration is to see one's faults; the second is to regret them; the third is to quit them. The first and second steps constitute repentance; the second and third regeneration. One hour within the radius of Madge Stanley's influence brought me to repentance. But repentance is an everyday virtue. Should I ever achieve regeneration? That is one of the questions this history will answer. To me, Madge Stanley's passive force was the strongest influence for good that had ever impinged on my life. With respect to her, morally, I was the iron, the seed, the cloud, and the rain, for she, acting unconsciously, moved me with neither knowledge nor volition on my part.
Soon after my arrival at the ladies' parlor dinner was served, and after dinner a Persian merchant was ushered in, closely followed by his servants bearing bales of rare Eastern fabrics. A visit and a dinner at the inn were little events that made a break in the monotony of life at the Hall, and the ladies preferred to visit the merchant, who was stopping at The Peacock for a time, rather than to have him take his wares to Haddon.
While Lady Crawford and Dorothy were revelling in Persian silks, satins, and gold cloths, I sat by Lady Madge and was more than content that we were left to ourselves. My mind, however, was as far from thoughts of gallantry as if she had been a black-veiled nun. I believe I have not told you that I was of the Holy Catholic Faith. My religion, I may say, has always been more nominal and political than spiritual, although there ran through it a strong vein of inherited tendencies and superstitions which were highly colored by contempt for heresy and heretics. I was Catholic by habit. But if I analyzed my supposed religious belief, I found that I had none save a hatred for heresy. Heretics, as a rule, were low-born persons, vulgarly moral, and as I had always thought, despisedly hypocritical. Madge Stanley, however, was a Protestant, and that fact shook the structure of my old mistakes to its foundation, and left me religionless.
After the Persian merchant had packed his bales and departed, Dorothy and Lady Crawford joined Madge and me near the fireplace. Soon Dorothy went over to the window and stood there gazing into the courtyard. After a few minutes Lady Crawford said, "Dorothy, had we not better order Dawson to bring out the horses and coach?" Will Dawson was Sir George's forester. Lady Crawford repeated her question, but Dorothy was too intently watching the scene in the courtyard to hear. I went over to her, and looking out at the window discovered the object of Dorothy's rapt attention. There is no need for me to tell you who it was. Irony, as you know, and as I had learned, was harmless against this thick-skinned nymph. Of course I had no authority to scold her, so I laughed. The object of Dorothy's attention was about to mount his horse. He was drawing on his gauntleted gloves and held between his teeth a cigarro. He certainly presented a handsome figure for the eyes of an ardent girl to rest upon while he stood beneath the window, clothed in a fashionable Paris-made suit of brown, doublet, trunks, and hose. His high-topped boots were polished till they shone, and his broad-rimmed hat, of soft beaver, was surmounted by a flowing plume. Even I, who had no especial taste nor love for masculine beauty, felt my sense of the beautiful strongly moved by the attractive picture my new-found friend presented. His dress, manner, and bearing, polished by the friction of life at a luxurious court, must have appeared god-like to Dorothy. She had never travelled farther from home than Buxton and Derby-town, and had met only the half-rustic men belonging to the surrounding gentry and nobility of Derbyshire, Nottingham, and Stafford. She had met but few even of them, and their lives had been spent chiefly in drinking, hunting, and gambling—accomplishments that do not fine down the texture of a man's nature or fit him for a lady's bower. Sir John Manners was a revelation to Dorothy; and she, poor girl, was bewildered and bewitched by him.
When John had mounted and was moving away, he looked up to the window where Dorothy stood, and a light came to her eyes and a smile to her face which no man who knows the sum of two and two can ever mistake if he but once sees it.
When I saw the light in Dorothy's eyes, I knew that all the hatred that was ever born from all the feuds that had ever lived since the quarrelling race of man began its feuds in Eden could not make Dorothy Vernon hate the son of her father's enemy.
"I was—was—watching him draw smoke through the—the little stick which he holds in his mouth, and—and blow it out again," said Dorothy, in explanation of her attitude. She blushed painfully and continued, "I hope you do not think—"
"I do not think," I answered. "I would not think of thinking."
"Of course not," she responded, with a forced smile, as she watched Sir John pass out of sight under the arch of the innyard gate. I did not think. I knew. And the sequel, so full of trouble, soon proved that I was right. After John had passed through the gate, Dorothy was willing to go home; and when Will Dawson brought the great coach to the inn door, I mounted my horse and rode beside the ladies to Haddon Hall, two miles north from Rowsley.
I shall not stop to tell you of the warm welcome given me by Sir George Vernon, nor of his delight when I briefly told him my misfortunes in Scotland—misfortunes that had brought me to Haddon Hall. Nor shall I describe the great boar's head supper given in my honor, at which there were twenty men who could have put me under the table. I thought I knew something of the art of drinking, but at that supper I soon found I was a mere tippler compared with these country guzzlers. At that feast I learned also that Dorothy, when she had hinted concerning Sir George's excessive drinking, had told the truth. He, being the host, drank with all his guests. Near midnight he grew distressingly drunk, talkative, and violent, and when toward morning he was carried from the room by his servants, the company broke up. Those who could do so reeled home; those who could not walk at all were put to bed by the retainers at Haddon Hall. I had chosen my bedroom high up in Eagle Tower. At table I had tried to remain sober. That, however, was an impossible task, for at the upper end of the hail there was a wrist-ring placed in the wainscoting at a height of ten or twelve inches above the head of an ordinary man, and if he refused to drink as much as the other guests thought he should, his wrist was fastened above his head in the ring, and the liquor which he should have poured down his throat was poured down his sleeve. Therefore to avoid this species of rustic sport I drank much more than was good for me. When the feast closed I thought I was sober enough to go to my room unassisted; so I took a candle, and with a great show of self-confidence climbed the spiral stone stairway to the door of my room. The threshold of my door was two or three feet above the steps of the stairway, and after I had contemplated the distance for a few minutes, I concluded that it would not be safe for me to attempt to climb into my sleeping apartments without help. Accordingly I sat down upon the step on which I had been standing, placed my candle beside me, called loudly for a servant, received no response, and fell asleep only to be awakened by one of Sir George's retainers coming downstairs next morning.
After that supper, in rapid succession, followed hunting and drinking, feasting and dancing in my honor. At the dances the pipers furnished the music, or, I should rather say, the noise. Their miserable wailings reminded me of Scotland. After all, thought I, is the insidious, polished vice of France worse than the hoggish, uncouth practices of Scotland and of English country life? I could not endure the latter, so I asked Sir George, on the pretext of ill health, to allow me to refuse invitations to other houses, and I insisted that he should give no more entertainments at Haddon Hall on my account. Sir George eagerly acquiesced in all my wishes. In truth, I was treated like an honored guest and a member of the family, and I congratulated myself that my life had fallen in such pleasant lines. Dorothy and Madge became my constant companions, for Sir George's time was occupied chiefly with his estates and with his duties as magistrate. A feeling of rest and contentment came over me, and my past life drifted back of me like an ever receding cloud.
Thus passed the months of October and November.
In the meantime events in Scotland and in England proved my wisdom in seeking a home at Haddon Hall, and showed me how great was my good fortune in finding it.
Queen Mary was a prisoner at Lochleven Castle, and her brother Murray had beheaded many of her friends. Elizabeth, hating Mary as only a plain, envious woman can hate one who is transcendently beautiful, had, upon different pretexts, seized many of Mary's friends who had fled to England for sanctuary, and some of them had suffered imprisonment or death.
Elizabeth, in many instances, had good cause for her attitude toward Mary's friends, since plots were hatching thick and fast to liberate Mary from Lochleven; and many such plots, undoubtedly, had for their chief end the deposition of Elizabeth, and the enthronement of Mary as Queen of England.
As a strict matter of law, Mary was rightful heir to the English throne, and Elizabeth was an usurper. Parliament, at Henry's request, had declared that Elizabeth, his issue by Anne Boleyn, was illegitimate, and that being true, Mary was next in line of descent. The Catholics of England took that stand, and Mary's beauty and powers of fascination had won for her friends even in the personal household of the Virgin Queen. Small cause for wonder was it that Elizabeth, knowing all these facts, looked with suspicion and fear upon Mary's refugee friends.
The English queen well knew that Sir George Vernon was her friend, therefore his house and his friendship were my sanctuary, without which my days certainly would have been numbered in the land of Elizabeth, and their number would have been small. I was dependent on Sir George not only for a roof to shelter me, but for my very life. I speak of these things that you may know some of the many imperative reasons why I desired to please and conciliate my cousin. In addition to those reasons, I soon grew to love Sir George, not only because of his kindness to me, but because he was a lovable man. He was generous, just, and frank, and although at times he was violent almost to the point of temporary madness, his heart was usually gentle, and was as easily touched by kindness as it was quickly moved to cruelty by injury, fancied or actual. I have never known a more cruel, tender man than he. You will see him in each of his natures before you have finished this history. But you must judge him only after you have considered his times, which were forty years ago, his surroundings, and his blood.
During those two months remarkable changes occurred within the walls of Haddon, chief of which were in myself, and, alas! in Dorothy.
My pilgrimage to Haddon, as you already know, had been made for the purpose of marrying my fair cousin; for I did not, at the time I left Scotland, suppose I should need Sir George's protection against Elizabeth. When I met Dorothy at Rowsley, my desire to marry her became personal, in addition to the mercenary motives with which I had originally started. But I quickly recognized the fact that the girl was beyond my reach. I knew I could not win her love, even though I had a thousand years to try for it; and I would not accept her hand in marriage solely at her father's command. I also soon learned that Dorothy was the child of her father, gentle, loving, and tender beyond the naming, but also wilful, violent, and fierce to the extent that no command could influence her.
First I shall speak of the change within myself. I will soon be done with so much "I" and "me," and you shall have Dorothy to your heart's content, or trouble, I know not which.
Soon after my arrival at Haddon Hall the sun ushered in one of those wonderful days known only to the English autumn, when the hush of Nature's drowsiness, just before her long winter's sleep, imparts its soft restfulness to man, as if it were a lotus feast. Dorothy was ostentatiously busy with her household matters, and was consulting with butler, cook, and steward. Sir George had ridden out to superintend his men at work, and I, wandering aimlessly about the hail, came upon Madge Stanley sitting in the chaplain's room with folded hands.
"Lady Madge, will you go with me for a walk this beautiful morning?" I asked.
"Gladly would I go, Sir Malcolm," she responded, a smile brightening her face and quickly fading away, "but I—I cannot walk in unfamiliar places. I should fail. You would have to lead me by the hand, and that, I fear, would mar the pleasure of your walk."
"Indeed, it would not, Lady Madge. I should enjoy my walk all the more."
"If you really wish me to go, I shall be delighted," she responded, as the brightness came again to her face. "I sometimes grow weary, and, I confess, a little sad sitting alone when Dorothy cannot be with me. Aunt Dorothy, now that she has her magnifying glasses,—spectacles, I think they are called,—devotes all her time to reading, and dislikes to be interrupted."
"I wish it very much," I said, surprised by the real eagerness of my desire, and unconsciously endeavoring to keep out of the tones of my voice a part of that eagerness.
"I shall take you at your word," she said. "I will go to my room to get my hat and cloak."
She rose and began to grope her way toward the door, holding out her white, expressive hands in front of her. It was pitiful and beautiful to see her, and my emotions welled up in my throat till I could hardly speak.
"Permit me to give you my hand," I said huskily. How I longed to carry her! Every man with the right sort of a heart in his breast has a touch of the mother instinct in him; but, alas I only a touch. Ah, wondrous and glorious womanhood! If you had naught but the mother instinct to lift you above your masters by the hand of man-made laws, those masters were still unworthy to tie the strings of your shoes.
"Thank you," said the girl, as she clasped my hand, and moved with confidence by my side. "This is so much better than the dreadful fear of falling. Even through these rooms where I have lived for many years I feel safe only in a few places,—on the stairs, and in my rooms, which are also Dorothy's. When Dorothy changes the position of a piece of furniture in the Hall, she leads me to it several times that I may learn just where it is. A long time ago she changed the position of a chair and did not tell me. I fell against it and was hurt. Dorothy wept bitterly over the mishap, and she has never since failed to tell me of such changes. I cannot make you know how kind and tender Dorothy is to me. I feel that I should die without her, and I know she would grieve terribly were we to part."
I could not answer. What a very woman you will think I was! I, who could laugh while I ran my sword through a man's heart, could hardly restrain my tears for pity of this beautiful blind girl.
"Thank you; that will do," she said, when we came to the foot of the great staircase. "I can now go to my rooms alone."
When she reached the top she hesitated and groped for a moment; then she turned and called laughingly to me while I stood at the bottom of the steps, "I know the way perfectly well, but to go alone in any place is not like being led."
"There are many ways in which one may be led, Lady Madge," I answered aloud. Then I said to myself, "That girl will lead you to Heaven, Malcolm, if you will permit her to do so."
But thirty-five years of evil life are hard to neutralize. There is but one subtle elixir that can do it—love; and I had not thought of that magic remedy with respect to Madge.
I hurriedly fetched my hat and returned to the foot of the staircase. Within a minute or two Madge came down stairs holding up the skirt of her gown with one hand, while she grasped the banister with the other. As I watched her descending I was enraptured with her beauty. Even the marvellous vital beauty of Dorothy could not compare with this girl's fair, pale loveliness. It seemed to be almost a profanation for me to admire the sweet oval of her face. Upon her alabaster skin, the black eyebrows, the long lashes, the faint blue veins and the curving red lips stood in exquisite relief. While she was descending the stairs, I caught a gleam of her round, snowy forearm and wrist; and when my eyes sought the perfect curves of her form disclosed by the clinging silk gown she wore, I felt that I had sinned in looking upon her, and I was almost glad she could not see the shame which was in my face.
"Cousin Malcolm, are you waiting?" she asked from midway in the staircase.
"Yes, I am at the foot of the steps," I answered.
"I called you 'Cousin Malcolm,'" she said, holding out her hand when she came near me. "Pardon me; it was a slip of the tongue. I hear 'Cousin Malcolm' so frequently from Dorothy that the name is familiar to me."
"I shall be proud if you will call me 'Cousin Malcolm' always. I like the name better than any that you can use."
"If you wish it," she said, in sweet, simple candor, "I will call you 'Cousin Malcolm,' and you may call me 'Cousin Madge' or 'Madge,' just as you please."
"'Cousin Madge' it shall be; that is a compact," I answered, as I opened the door and we walked out into the fresh air of the bright October morning.
"That will stand for our first compact; we are progressing famously," she said, with a low laugh of delight.
Ah, to think that the blind can laugh. God is good.
We walked out past the stables and the cottage, and crossed the river on the great stone bridge. Then we took our way down the babbling Wye, keeping close to its banks, while the dancing waters and even the gleaming pebbles seemed to dimple and smile as they softly sang their song of welcome to the fair kindred spirit who had come to visit them. If we wandered from the banks for but a moment, the waters seemed to struggle and turn in their course until they were again by her side, and then would they gently flow and murmur their contentment as they travelled forward to the sea, full of the memory of her sweet presence. And during all that time I led her by the hand. I tell you, friends, 'tis sweet to write of it.
When we returned we crossed the Wye by the stone footbridge and entered the garden below the terrace at the corner postern. We remained for an hour resting upon the terrace balustrade, and before we went indoors Madge again spoke of Dorothy.
"I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed this walk, nor how thankful I am to you for taking me," she said.
I did not interrupt her by replying, for I loved to hear her talk.
"Dorothy sometimes takes me with her for a short walk, but I seldom have that pleasure. Walking is too slow for Dorothy. She is so strong and full of life. She delights to ride her mare Dolcy. Have you seen Dolcy?"
"No," I responded.
"You must see her at once. She is the most beautiful animal in the world. Though small of limb, she is swift as the wind, and as easy as a cradle in her gaits. She is mettlesome and fiery, but full of affection. She often kisses Dorothy. Mare and rider are finely mated. Dorothy is the most perfect woman, and Dolcy is the most perfect mare. 'The two D's,' we call them. But Dorothy says we must be careful not to put a—a dash between them," she said with a laugh and a blush.
Then I led Madge into the hall, and she was blithe and happy as if the blessed light of day were in her eyes. It was in her soul, and that, after all, is where it brings the greatest good.
After that morning, Madge and I frequently walked out when the days were pleasant. The autumn was mild, well into winter time, and by the end of November the transparent cheeks of the blind girl held an exquisite tinge of color, and her form had a new grace from the strength she had acquired in exercise. We had grown to be dear friends, and the touch of her hand was a pleasure for which I waited eagerly from day to day. Again I say thoughts of love for her had never entered my mind. Perhaps their absence was because of my feeling that they could not possibly exist in her heart for me.
One evening in November, after the servants had all gone to bed, Sir George and I went to the kitchen to drink a hot punch before retiring for the night. I drank a moderate bowl and sat in a large chair before the fire, smoking a pipe of tobacco, while Sir George drank brandy toddy at the massive oak table in the middle of the room.
Sir George was rapidly growing drunk. He said: "Dawson tells me that the queen's officers arrested another of Mary Stuart's damned French friends at Derby-town yesterday,—Count somebody; I can't pronounce their miserable names."
"Can you not remember his name?" I asked. "He may be a friend of mine." My remark was intended to remind Sir George that his language was offensive to me.
"That is true, Malcolm," responded Sir George. "I beg your pardon. I meant to speak ill only of Mary's meddlesome friends, who are doing more injury than good to their queen's cause by their plotting."
I replied: "No one can regret these plots more than I do. They certainly will work great injury to the cause they are intended to help. But I fear many innocent men are made to suffer for the few guilty ones. Without your protection, for which I cannot sufficiently thank you, my life here would probably be of short duration. After my misfortunes in Scotland, I know not what I should have done had it not been for your generous welcome. I lost all in Scotland, and it would now be impossible for me to go to France. An attempt on my part to escape would result in my arrest. Fortune certainly has turned her capricious back upon me, with the one exception that she has left me your friendship."
"Malcolm, my boy," said Sir George, drawing his chair toward me, "that which you consider your loss is my great gain. I am growing old, and if you, who have seen so much of the gay world, will be content to live with us and share our dulness and our cares, I shall be the happiest man in England."
"I thank you more than I can tell," I said, careful not to commit myself to any course.
"Barring my quarrel with the cursed race of Manners," continued Sir George, "I have little to trouble me; and if you will remain with us, I thank God I may leave the feud in good hands. Would that I were young again only for a day that I might call that scoundrel Rutland and his imp of a son to account in the only manner whereby an honest man may have justice of a thief. There are but two of them, Malcolm,—father and son,—and if they were dead, the damned race would be extinct."
I believe that Sir George Vernon when sober could not have spoken in that fashion even of his enemies.
I found difficulty in replying to my cousin's remarks, so I said evasively:—
"I certainly am the most fortunate of men to find so warm a welcome from you, and so good a home as that which I have at Haddon Hall. When I met Dorothy at the inn, I knew at once by her kindness that my friends of old were still true to me. I was almost stunned by Dorothy's beauty."
My mention of Dorothy was unintentional and unfortunate. I had shied from the subject upon several previous occasions, but Sir George was continually trying to lead up to it. This time my lack of forethought saved him the trouble.
"Do you really think that Doll is very beautiful—so very beautiful? Do you really think so, Malcolm?" said the old gentleman, rubbing his hands in pride and pleasure.
"Surprisingly beautiful," I answered, seeking hurriedly through my mind for an excuse to turn the conversation. I had within two months learned one vital fact: beautiful as Dorothy was, I did not want her for my wife, and I could not have had her even were I dying for love. The more I learned of Dorothy and myself during the autumn through which I had just passed—and I had learned more of myself than I had been able to discover in the thirty-five previous years of my life—the more clearly I saw the utter unfitness of marriage between us.
"In all your travels," asked Sir George, leaning his elbows upon his knees and looking at his feet between his hands, "in all your travels and court life have you ever seen a woman who was so beautiful as my girl Doll?"
His pride in Dorothy at times had a tinge of egotism and selfishness. It seemed to be almost the pride of possession and ownership. "My girl!" The expression and the tone in which the words were spoken sounded as if he had said: "My fine horse," "My beautiful Hall," or "My grand estates." Dorothy was his property. Still, he loved the girl passionately. She was dearer to him than all his horses, cattle, halls, and estates put together, and he loved even them to excess. He loved all that he possessed; whatever was his was the best of the sort. Such a love is apt to grow up in the breasts of men who have descended from a long line of proprietary ancestors, and with all its materialism it has in it possibilities of great good. The sturdy, unflinching patriotism of the English people springs from this source. The thought, "That which I possess is the best," has beauty and use in it, though it leads men to treat other men, and, alas! women, as mere chattels. All this was passing through my mind, and I forgot to answer Sir George's question.
"Have you ever seen a woman more beautiful than Doll?" he again asked.
"I certainly have never seen one whose beauty may even be compared with Dorothy's," I answered.
"And she is young, too," continued Sir George; "she is not yet nineteen."
"That is very young," I answered, not knowing what else to say.
"And she will be rich some day. Very rich. I am called 'King of the Peak,' you know, and there are not three estates in Derbyshire which, if combined, would equal mine."
"That is true, cousin," I answered, "and I rejoice in your good fortune."
"Dorothy will have it all one of these days—all, all," continued my cousin, still looking at his feet.
After a long pause, during which Sir George took several libations from his bowl of toddy, he cleared his throat and said, "So Dorothy is the most beautiful girl and the richest heiress you know?"
"Indeed she is," I responded, knowing full well what he was leading up to. Realizing that in spite of me he would now speak his mind, I made no attempt to turn the current of the conversation.
After another long pause, and after several more draughts from the bowl, my old friend and would-be benefactor said: "You may remember a little conversation between us when you were last at Haddon six or seven years ago, about—about Dorothy? You remember?"
I, of course, dared not pretend that I had forgotten.
"Yes, I remember," I responded.
"What do you think of the proposition by this time?" asked Sir George. "Dorothy and all she will inherit shall be yours—"
"Stop, stop, Sir George!" I exclaimed. "You do not know what you say. No one but a prince or a great peer of the realm is worthy of aspiring to Dorothy's hand. When she is ready to marry you should take her to London court, where she can make her choice from among the nobles of our land. There is not a marriageable duke or earl in England who would not eagerly seek the girl for a wife. My dear cousin, your generosity overwhelms me, but it must not be thought of. I am utterly unworthy of her in person, age, and position. No! no!"
"But listen to me, Malcolm," responded Sir George. "Your modesty, which, in truth, I did not know you possessed, is pleasing to me; but I have reasons of my own for wishing that you should marry Dorothy. I want my estates to remain in the Vernon name, and one day you or your children will make my house and my name noble. You and Dorothy shall go to court, and between you—damme! if you can't win a dukedom, I am no prophet. You would not object to change your faith, would you?"
"Oh, no," I responded, "of course I should not object to that."
"Of course not. I knew you were no fool," said Sir George. "Age! why, you are only thirty-five years old—little more than a matured boy. I prefer you to any man in England for Dorothy's husband."
"You overwhelm me with your kindness," I returned, feeling that I was being stranded on a very dangerous shore, amidst wealth and beauty.
"Tut, tut, there's no kindness in it," returned my cousin. "I do not offer you Dorothy's hand from an unselfish motive. I have told you one motive, but there is another, and a little condition besides, Malcolm." The brandy Sir George had been drinking had sent the devil to his brain.
"What is the condition?" I asked, overjoyed to hear that there was one.
The old man leaned toward me and a fierce blackness overclouded his face. "I am told, Malcolm, that you have few equals in swordsmanship, and that the duello is not new to you. Is it true?"
"I believe I may say it is true," I answered. "I have fought successfully with some of the most noted duellists of—"
"Enough, enough! Now, this is the condition, Malcolm,—a welcome one to you, I am sure; a welcome one to any brave man." His eyes gleamed with fire and hatred. "Quarrel with Rutland and his son and kill both of them."
I felt like recoiling from the old fiend. I had often quarrelled and fought, but, thank God, never in cold blood and with deliberate intent to do murder.
"Then Dorothy and all I possess shall be yours," said Sir George. "The old one will be an easy victim. The young one, they say, prides himself on his prowess. I do not know with what cause, I have never seen him fight. In fact, I have never seen the fellow at all. He has lived at London court since he was a child, and has seldom, if ever, visited this part of the country. He was a page both to Edward VI. and to Queen Mary. Why Elizabeth keeps the damned traitor at court to plot against her is more than I can understand. Do the conditions suit you, Malcolm?" asked Sir George, piercing me with his eyes.
I did not respond, and he continued: "All I ask is your promise to kill Rutland and his son at the first opportunity. I care not how. The marriage may come off at once. It can't take place too soon to please me."
I could not answer for a time. The power to speak and to think had left me. To accept Sir George's offer was out of the question. To refuse it would be to give offence beyond reparation to my only friend, and you know what that would have meant to me. My refuge was Dorothy. I knew, however willing I might be or might appear to be, Dorothy would save me the trouble and danger of refusing her hand. So I said:—
"We have not consulted Dorothy. Perhaps her inclinations—"
"Doll's inclinations be damned. I have always been kind and indulgent to her, and she is a dutiful, obedient daughter. My wish and command in this affair will furnish inclinations enough for Doll."
"But, Sir George," I remonstrated, "I would not accept the hand of Dorothy nor of any woman unless she desired it. I could not. I could not."
"If Doll consents, I am to understand that you accept?" asked Sir George.
I saw no way out of the dilemma, and to gain time I said, "Few men in their right mind would refuse so flattering an offer unless there were a most potent reason, and I—I—"
"Good! good! I shall go to bed happy to-night for the first time in years. The Rutlands will soon be out of my path."
There is a self-acting retribution in our evil passions which never fails to operate. One who hates must suffer, and Sir George for years had paid the penalty night and day, unconscious that his pain was of his own making.
Before we parted I said, "This is a delicate matter, with reference to Dorothy, and I insist that you give me time to win, if possible, her kindly regard before you express to her your wish."
"Nonsense, nonsense, Malcolm! I'll tell the girl about it in the morning, and save you the trouble. The women will want to make some new gowns and—"
"But," I interrupted emphatically, "I will not have it so. It is every man's sweet privilege to woo the woman of his choice in his own way. It is not a trouble to me; it is a pleasure, and it is every woman's right to be wooed by the man who seeks her. I again insist that I only shall speak to Dorothy on this subject. At least, I demand that I be allowed to speak first."
"That's all damned nonsense," responded Sir George; "but if you will have it so, well and good. Take your own course. I suppose it's the fashion at court. The good old country way suits me. A girl's father tells her whom she is to marry, and, by gad, she does it without a word and is glad to get a man. English girls obey their parents. They know what to expect if they don't—the lash, by God and the dungeon under the keep. Your roundabout method is all right for tenants and peasants; but among people who possess estates and who control vast interests, girls are—girls are—Well, they are born and brought up to obey and to help forward the interests of their houses." The old man was growing very drunk, and after a long pause he continued: "Have your own way, Malcolm, but don't waste time. Now that the matter is settled, I want to get it off my hands quickly."