H. RIDER HAGGARD
Author of "King Solomons Mines" "She" "Jess" etc.
WITH 15 ILLUSTRATIONS BY J. R. SKELTON
London: HUTCHINSON & CO. Paternoster Row 1907.
CHAPTER I HOW PETER MET THE SPANIARD
CHAPTER II JOHN CASTELL
CHAPTER III PETER GATHERS VIOLETS
CHAPTER IV LOVERS DEAR
CHAPTER V CASTELL'S SECRET
CHAPTER VI FAREWELL
CHAPTER VII NEWS FROM SPAIN
CHAPTER VIII D'AGUILAR SPEAKS
CHAPTER IX THE SNARE
CHAPTER X THE CHASE
CHAPTER XI THE MEETING ON THE SEA
CHAPTER XII FATHER HENRIQUES
CHAPTER XIII THE ADVENTURE OF THE INN
CHAPTER XIV INEZ AND HER GARDEN
CHAPTER XV PETER PLAYS A PART
CHAPTER XVI BETTY SHOWS HER TEETH
CHAPTER XVII THE PLOT
CHAPTER XVIII THE HOLY HERMANDAD
CHAPTER XIX BETTY PAYS HER DEBTS
CHAPTER XX ISABELLA OF SPAIN
CHAPTER XXI BETTY STATES HER CASE
CHAPTER XXII THE DOOM OF JOHN CASTELL
CHAPTER XXIII FATHER HENRIQUES AND THE BAKER'S OVEN
CHAPTER XXIV THE FALCON STOOPS
CHAPTER XXV HOW THE MARGARET WON OUT TO SEA
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS;
"A DOVE, COMRADES!—A DOVE!"
CASTELL DECLARES HIMSELF A JEW
"YOU MEAN THAT YOU WISH TO MURDER ME"
MARGARET APPEARED DESCENDING THE BROAD OAK STAIRS
IN ANOTHER MOMENT THAT STEEL WOULD HAVE PIERCED HIS HEART
THE GALE CAUGHT HIM AND BLEW HIM TO AND FRO
"LADY," HE SAID, "THIS IS NO DEED OF MINE"
A CRUEL-LOOKING KNIFE AND A NAKED ARM PROJECTED THROUGH THE PANELLING
"MY NAME IS INEZ. YOU WANDER STILL, SENOR"
"THERE ARE OTHERS WHERE THEY CAME FROM"
"TO-DAY I DARE TO HOPE THAT IT MAY BE OTHERWISE"
"WAY! MAKE WAY FOR THE MARCHIONESS OF MORELLA!"
"I CUT HIM DOWN, AND BY MISFORTUNE KILLED HIM"
"WE ARE PLAYERS IN A STRANGE GAME, MY LADY MARGARET"
"YOU WILL HAVE TO FIGHT ME FIRST, PETER"
HOW PETER MET THE SPANIARD
It was a spring afternoon in the sixth year of the reign of King Henry VII. of England. There had been a great show in London, for that day his Grace opened the newly convened Parliament, and announced to his faithful people—who received the news with much cheering, since war is ever popular at first—his intention of invading France, and of leading the English armies in person. In Parliament itself, it is true, the general enthusiasm was somewhat dashed when allusion was made to the finding of the needful funds; but the crowds without, formed for the most part of persons who would not be called upon to pay the money, did not suffer that side of the question to trouble them. So when their gracious liege appeared, surrounded by his glittering escort of nobles and men-at-arms, they threw their caps into the air, and shouted themselves hoarse.
The king himself, although he was still young in years, already a weary- looking man with a fine, pinched face, smiled a little sarcastically at their clamour; but, remembering how glad he should be to hear it who still sat upon a somewhat doubtful throne, said a few soft words, and sending for two or three of the leaders of the people, gave them his royal hand, and suffered certain children to touch his robe that they might be cured of the Evil. Then, having paused a while to receive petitions from poor folk, which he handed to one of his officers to be read, amidst renewed shouting he passed on to the great feast that was made ready in his palace of Westminster.
Among those who rode near to him was the ambassador, de Ayala, accredited to the English Court by the Spanish sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, and his following of splendidly attired lords and secretaries. That Spain was much in favour there was evident from his place in the procession. How could it be otherwise, indeed, seeing that already, four years or more before, at the age of twelve months, Prince Arthur, the eldest son of the king, had been formally affianced to the Infanta Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, aged one year and nine months? For in those days it was thought well that the affections of princes and princesses should be directed early into such paths as their royal parents and governors considered likely to prove most profitable to themselves.
At the ambassador's left hand, mounted on a fine black horse, and dressed richly, but simply, in black velvet, with a cap of the same material in which was fastened a single pearl, rode a tall cavalier. He was about five-and-thirty years of age, and very handsome, having piercing black eyes and a stern, clean-cut face.
In every man, it is said, there can be found a resemblance, often far off and fanciful enough, to some beast or bird or other creature, and certainly in this case it was not hard to discover. The man resembled an eagle, which, whether by chance or design, was the crest he bore upon his servants' livery, and the trappings of his horse. The unflinching eyes, the hooked nose, the air of pride and mastery, the thin, long hand, the quick grace of movement, all suggested that king of birds, suggested also, as his motto said, that what he sought he would find, and what he found he would keep. Just now he was watching the interview between the English king and the leaders of the crowd whom his Grace had been pleased to summon, with an air of mingled amusement and contempt.
"You find the scene strange, Marquis," said the ambassador, glancing at him shrewdly.
"Senor, here in England, if it pleases your Excellency," he answered gravely, "Senor d'Aguilar. The marquis you mentioned lives in Spain—an accredited envoy to the Moors of Granada; the Senor d'Aguilar, a humble servant of Holy Church," and he crossed himself, "travels abroad—upon the Church's business, and that of their Majesties'."
"And his own too, sometimes, I believe," answered the ambassador drily. "But to be frank, what I do not understand about you, Senor d'Aguilar, as I know that you have abandoned political ambitions, is why you do not enter my profession, and put on the black robe once and for all. What did I say—black? With your opportunities and connections it might be red by now, with a hat to match."
The Senor d'Aguilar smiled a little as he replied.
"You said, I think, that sometimes I travel on my own business. Well, there is your answer. You are right, I have abandoned worldly ambitions—most of them. They are troublesome, and for some people, if they be born too high and yet not altogether rightly, very dangerous. The acorn of ambition often grows into an oak from which men hang."
"Or into a log upon which men's heads can be cut off. Senor, I congratulate you. You have the wisdom that grasps the substance and lets the shadows flit. It is really very rare."
"You asked why I do not change the cut of my garments," went on d'Aguilar, without noticing the interruption. "Excellency, to be frank, because of my own business. I have failings like other men. For instance, wealth is that substance of which you spoke, rule is the shadow; he who has the wealth has the real rule. Again, bright eyes may draw me, or a hate may seek its slaking, and these things do not suit robes, black or red."
"Yet many such things have been done by those who wore them," replied the ambassador with meaning.
"Aye, Excellency, to the discredit of Holy Church, as you, a priest, know better than most men. Let the earth be evil as it must; but let the Church be like heaven above it, pure, unstained, the vault of prayer, the house of mercy and of righteous judgment, wherein walks no sinner such as I," and again he crossed himself.
There was a ring of earnestness in the speaker's voice that caused de Ayala, who knew something of his private reputation, to look at him curiously.
"A true fanatic, and therefore to us a useful man," he thought to himself, "though one who knows how to make the best of two worlds as well as most of them;" but aloud he said, "No wonder that our Church rejoices in such a son, and that her enemies tremble when he lifts her sword. But, Senor, you have not told me what you think of all this ceremony and people."
"The people I know well, Excellency, for I dwelt among them in past years and speak their language; and that is why I have left Granada to look after itself for a while, and am here to-day, to watch and make report——" He checked himself, then added, "As for the ceremony, were I a king I would have it otherwise. Why, in that house just now those vulgar Commons—for so they call them, do they not?—almost threatened their royal master when he humbly craved a tithe of the country's wealth to fight the country's war. Yes, and I saw him turn pale and tremble at the rough voices, as though their echoes shook his throne. I tell you, Excellency, that the time will come in this land when those Commons will be king. Look now at that fellow whom his Grace holds by the hand, calling him 'sir' and 'master,' and yet whom he knows to be, as I do, a heretic, a Jew in disguise, whose sins, if he had his rights, should be purged by fire. Why, to my knowledge last night, that Israelite said things against the Church——"
"Whereof the Church, or its servant, doubtless made notes to be used when the time comes," broke in de Ayala. "But the audience is done, and his Highness beckons us forward to the feast, where there will be no heretics to vex us, and, as it is Lent, not much to eat. Come, Senor! for we stop the way."
Three hours had gone by, and the sun sank redly, for even at that spring season it was cold upon the marshy lands of Westminster, and there was frost in the air. On the open space opposite to the banqueting-hall, in front of which were gathered squires and grooms with horses, stood and walked many citizens of London, who, their day's work done, came to see the king pass by in state. Among these were a man and a lady, the latter attended by a handsome young woman, who were all three sufficiently striking in appearance to attract some notice in the throng.
The man, a person of about thirty years of age, dressed in a merchant's robe of cloth, and wearing a knife in his girdle, seemed over six feet in height, while his companion, in her flowing, fur-trimmed cloak, was, for a woman, also of unusual stature. He was not, strictly speaking, a handsome man, being somewhat too high of forehead and prominent of feature; moreover, one of his clean-shaven cheeks, the right, was marred by the long, red scar of a sword-cut which stretched from the temple to the strong chin. His face, however, was open and manly, if rather stern, and the grey eyes were steady and frank. It was not the face of a merchant, but rather that of one of good degree, accustomed to camps and war. For the rest, his figure was well-built and active, and his voice when he spoke, which was seldom, clear and distinct to loudness, but cultivated and pleasant—again, not the voice of a merchant.
Of the lady's figure little could be seen because of the long cloak that hid it, but the face, which appeared within its hood when she turned and the dying sunlight filled her eyes, was lovely indeed, for from her birth to her death-day Margaret Castell—fair Margaret, as she was called—had this gift to a degree that is rarely granted to woman. Rounded and flower-like was that face, most delicately tinted also, with rich and curving lips and a broad, snow-white brow. But the wonder of it, what distinguished her above everything else from other beautiful women of her time, was to be found in her eyes, for these were not blue or grey, as might have been expected from her general colouring, but large, black, and lustrous; soft, too, as the eyes of a deer, and overhung by curling lashes of an ebon black. The effect of these eyes of hers shining above those tinted cheeks and beneath the brow of ivory whiteness was so strange as to be almost startling. They caught the beholder and held him, as might the sudden sight of a rose in snow, or the morning star hanging luminous among the mists of dawn. Also, although they were so gentle and modest, if that beholder chanced to be a man on the good side of fifty it was often long before he could forget them, especially if he were privileged to see how well they matched the hair of chestnut, shading into black, that waved above them and fell, tress upon tress, upon the shapely shoulders and down to the slender waist.
Peter Brome, for he was so named, looked a little anxiously about him at the crowd, then, turning, addressed Margaret in his strong, clear voice.
"There are rough folk around," he said; "do you think you should stop here? Your father might be angered, Cousin."
Here it may be explained that in reality their kinship was of the slightest, a mere dash of blood that came to her through her mother. Still they called each other thus, since it is a convenient title that may mean much or nothing.
"Oh! why not?" she answered in her rich, slow tones, that had in them some foreign quality, something soft and sweet as the caress of a southern wind at night. "With you, Cousin," and she glanced approvingly at his stalwart, soldier-like form, "I have nothing to fear from men, however rough, and I do greatly want to see the king close by, and so does Betty. Don't you, Betty?" and she turned to her companion.
Betty Dene, whom she addressed, was also a cousin of Margaret, though only a distant connection of Peter Brome. She was of very good blood, but her father, a wild and dissolute man, had broken her mother's heart, and, like that mother, died early, leaving Betty dependent upon Margaret's mother, in whose house she had been brought up. This Betty was in her way remarkable, both in body and mind. Fair, splendidly formed, strong, with wide, bold, blue eyes and ripe red lips, such was the fashion of her. In speech she was careless and vigorous. Fond of the society of men, and fonder still of their admiration, for she was romantic and vain, Betty at the age of five-and-twenty was yet an honest girl, and well able to take care of herself, as more than one of her admirers had discovered. Although her position was humble, at heart she was very proud of her lineage, ambitious also, her great desire being to raise herself by marriage back to the station from which her father's folly had cast her down—no easy business for one who passed as a waiting-woman and was without fortune.
For the rest, she loved and admired her cousin Margaret more than any one on earth, while Peter she liked and respected, none the less perhaps because, try as she would—and, being nettled, she did try hard enough—her beauty and other charms left him quite unmoved.
In answer to Margaret's question she laughed and answered:
"Of course. We are all too busy up in Holborn to get the chance of so many shows that I should wish to miss one. Still, Master Peter is very wise, and I am always counselled to obey him. Also, it will soon be dark."
"Well, well," said Margaret with a sigh and a little shrug of her shoulders, "as you are both against me, perhaps we had best be going. Next time I come out walking, cousin Peter, it shall be with some one who is more kind."
Then she turned and began to make her way as quickly as she could through the thickening crowd. Finding this difficult, before Peter could stop her, for she was very swift in her movements, Margaret bore to the right, entering the space immediately in front of the banqueting-hall where the grooms with horses and soldiers were assembled awaiting their lords, for here there was more room to walk. For a few moments Peter and Betty were unable to escape from the mob which closed in behind her, and thus it came about that Margaret found herself alone among these people, in the midst, indeed, of the guard of the Spanish ambassador de Ayala, men who were notorious for their lawlessness, for they reckoned upon their master's privilege to protect them. Also, for the most part, they were just then more or less in liquor.
One of these fellows, a great, red-haired Scotchman, whom the priest- diplomatist had brought with him from that country, where he had also been ambassador, suddenly perceiving before him a woman who appeared to be young and pretty, determined to examine her more closely, and to this end made use of a rude stratagem. Pretending to stumble, he grasped at Margaret's cloak as though to save himself, and with a wrench tore it open, revealing her beautiful face and graceful figure.
"A dove, comrades!—a dove!" he shouted in a voice thick with drink, "who has flown here to give me a kiss." And, casting his long arms about her, he strove to draw her to him.
"Peter! Help me, Peter!" cried Margaret as she struggled fiercely in his grip.
"No, no, if you want a saint, my bonny lass," said the drunken Scotchman, "Andrew is as good as Peter," at which witticism those of the others who understood him laughed, for the man's name was Andrew.
Next instant they laughed again, and to the ruffian Andrew it seemed as though suddenly he had fallen into the power of a whirlwind. At least Margaret was wrenched away from him, while he spun round and round to fall violently upon his face.
"That's Peter!" exclaimed one of the soldiers in Spanish.
"Yes," answered another, "and a patron saint worth having"; while a third pulled the recumbent Andrew to his feet.
The man looked like a devil. His cap had gone, and his fiery red hair was smeared with mud. Moreover, his nose had been broken on a cobble stone, and blood from it poured all over him, while his little red eyes glared like a ferret's, and his face turned a dirty white with pain and rage. Howling out something in Scotch, of a sudden he drew his sword and rushed straight at his adversary, purposing to kill him.
Now, Peter had no sword, but only his short knife, which he found no time to draw. In his hand, however, he carried a stout holly staff shod with iron, and, while Margaret clasped her hands and Betty screamed, on this he caught the descending blow, and, furious as it was, parried and turned it. Then, before the man could strike again, that staff was up, and Peter had leapt upon him. It fell with fearful force, breaking the Scotchman's shoulder and sending him reeling back.
"Shrewdly struck, Peter! Well done, Peter!" shouted the spectators.
But Peter neither saw nor heard them, for he was mad with rage at the insult that had been offered to Margaret. Up flew the iron-tipped staff again, and down it came, this time full on Andrew's head, which it shattered like an egg-shell, so that the brute fell backwards, dead.
For a moment there was silence, for the joke had taken a tragic turn. Then one of the Spaniards said, glancing at the prostrate form:
"Name of God! our mate is done for. That merchant hits hard."
Instantly there arose a murmur among the dead man's comrades, and one of them cried:
"Cut him down!"
Understanding that he was to be set on, Peter sprang forward and snatched the Scotchman's sword from the ground where it had fallen, at the same time dropping his staff and drawing his dagger with the left hand. Now he was well armed, and looked so fierce and soldier-like as he faced his foes, that, although four or five blades were out, they held back. Then Peter spoke for the first time, for he knew that against so many he had no chance.
"Englishmen," he cried in ringing tones, but without shifting his head or glance, "will you see me murdered by these Spanish dogs?"
There was a moment's pause, then a voice behind cried:
"By God! not I," and a brawny Kentish man-at-arms ranged up beside him, his cloak thrown over his left arm, and his sword in his right hand.
"Nor I," said another. "Peter Brome and I have fought together before."
"Nor I," shouted a third, "for we were born in the same Essex hundred."
And so it went on, until there were as many stout Englishmen at his side as there were Spaniards and Scotchmen before him.
"That will do," said Peter, "we want no more than man to man. Look to the women, comrades behind there. Now, you murderers, if you would see English sword-play, come on, or, if you are afraid, let us go in peace."
"Yes, come on, you foreign cowards," shouted the mob, who did not love these turbulent and privileged guards.
By now the Spanish blood was up, and the old race-hatred awake. In broken English the sergeant of the guard shouted out some filthy insult about Margaret, and called upon his followers to "cut the throats of the London swine." Swords shone red in the red sunset light, men shifted their feet and bent forward, and in another instant a great and bloody fray would have begun.
But it did not begin, for at that moment a tall senor, who had been standing in the shadow and watching all that passed, walked between the opposing lines, as he went striking up the swords with his arm.
"Have done," said d'Aguilar quietly, for it was he, speaking in Spanish. "You fools! do you want to see every Spaniard in London torn to pieces? As for that drunken brute," and he touched the corpse of Andrew with his foot, "he brought his death upon himself. Moreover, he was not a Spaniard, there is no blood quarrel. Come, obey me! or must I tell you who I am?"
"We know you, Marquis," said the leader in a cowed voice. "Sheath your swords, comrades; after all, it is no affair of ours."
The men obeyed somewhat unwillingly; but at this moment arrived the ambassador de Ayala, very angry, for he had heard of the death of his servant, demanding, in a loud voice, that the man who had killed him should be given up.
"We will not give him up to a Spanish priest," shouted the mob. "Come and take him if you want him," and once more the tumult grew, while Peter and his companions made ready to fight.
Fighting there would have been also, notwithstanding all that d'Aguilar could do to prevent it; but of a sudden the noise began to die away, and a hush fell upon the place. Then between the uplifted weapons walked a short, richly clad man, who turned suddenly and faced the mob. It was King Henry himself.
"Who dare to draw swords in my streets, before my very palace doors?" he asked in a cold voice.
A dozen hands pointed at Peter.
"Speak," said the king to him.
"Margaret, come here," cried Peter; and the girl was thrust forward to him.
"Sire," he said, "that man," and he pointed to the corpse of Andrew, "tried to do wrong to this maiden, John Castell's child. I, her cousin, threw him down. He drew his sword and came at me, and I killed him with my staff. See, it lies there. Then the Spaniards—his comrades—would have cut me down, and I called for English help. Sire, that is all."
The king looked him up and down.
"A merchant by your dress," he said; "but a soldier by your mien. How are you named?"
"Peter Brome, Sire."
"Ah! There was a certain Sir Peter Brome who fell at Bosworth Field—not fighting for me," and he smiled. "Did you know him perchance?"
"He was my father, Sire, and I saw him slain—aye, and slew the slayer."
"Well can I believe it," answered Henry, considering him. "But how comes it that Peter Brome's son, who wears that battle scar across his face, is clad in merchant's woollen?"
"Sire," said Peter coolly, "my father sold his lands, lent his all to the Crown, and I have never rendered the account. Therefore I must live as I can."
The king laughed outright as he replied:
"I like you, Peter Brome, though doubtless you hate me."
"Not so, Sire. While Richard lived I fought for Richard. Richard is gone; and, if need be, I would fight for Henry, who am an Englishman, and serve England's king."
"Well said, and I may have need of you yet, nor do I bear you any grudge. But, I forgot, is it thus that you would fight for me, by causing riot in my streets, and bringing me into trouble with my good friends the Spaniards?"
"Sire, you know the story."
"I know your story, but who bears witness to it? Do you, maiden, Castell the merchant's daughter?"
"Aye, Sire. The man whom my cousin killed maltreated me, whose only wrong was that I waited to see your Grace pass by. Look on my torn cloak."
"Little wonder that he killed him for the sake of those eyes of yours, maiden. But this witness may be tainted." And again he smiled, adding, "Is there no other?"
Betty advanced to speak, but d'Aguilar, stepping forward, lifted his bonnet from his head, bowed and said in English:
"Your Grace, there is; I saw it all. This gallant gentleman had no blame. It was the servants of my countryman de Ayala who were to blame, at any rate at first, and afterwards came the trouble."
Now the ambassador de Ayala broke in, claiming satisfaction for the killing of his man, for he was still very angry, and saying that if it were not given, he would report the matter to their Majesties of Spain, and let them know how their servants were treated in London.
At these words Henry grew grave, who, above all things, wished to give no offence to Ferdinand and Isabella.
"You have done an ill day's work, Peter Brome," he said, "and one of which my attorney must consider. Meanwhile, you will be best in safe keeping," and he turned as though to order his arrest.
"Sire," exclaimed Peter, "I live at Master Castell's house in Holborn, nor shall I run away."
"Who will answer for that," asked the king, "or that you will not make more riots on your road thither?"
"I will answer, your Grace," said d'Aguilar quietly, "if this lady will permit that I escort her and her cousin home. Also," he added in a low voice, "it seems to me that to hale him to a prison would be more like to breed a riot than to let him go."
Henry glanced round him at the great crowd who were gathered watching this scene, and saw something in their faces which caused him to agree with d'Aguilar.
"So be it, Marquis," he said. "I have your word, and that of Peter Brome, that he will be forthcoming if called upon. Let that dead man be laid in the Abbey till to-morrow, when this matter shall be inquired of. Excellency, give me your arm; I have greater questions of which I wish to speak with you ere we sleep."
When the king was gone, Peter turned to those men who had stood by him and thanked them very heartily. Then he said to Margaret:
"Come, Cousin, that is over for this time, and you have had your wish and seen his Grace. Now, the sooner you are safe at home, the better I shall be pleased."
"Certainly," she replied. "I have seen more than I desire to see again. But before we go let us thank this Spanish senor——" and she paused.
"D'Aguilar, Lady, or at least that name will serve," said the Spaniard in his cultured voice, bowing low before her, his eyes fixed all the while upon her beautiful face.
"Senor d'Aguilar, I thank you, and so does my cousin, Peter Brome, whose life perhaps you saved—don't you, Peter? Oh! and so will my father."
"Yes," answered Peter somewhat sulkily, "I thank him very much; though as for my life, I trusted to my own arm and to those of my friends there. Good night, Sir."
"I fear, Senor," answered d'Aguilar with a smile, "that we cannot part just yet. You forget, I have become bond for you, and must therefore accompany you to where you live, that I may certify the place. Also, perhaps, it is safest, for these countrymen of mine are revengeful, and, were I not with you, might waylay you."
Now, seeing from his face that Peter was still bent upon declining this escort, Margaret interposed quickly.
"Yes, that is wisest, also my father would wish it. Senor, I will show you the way," and, accompanied by d'Aguilar, who gallantly offered her his arm, she stepped forward briskly, leaving Peter to follow with her cousin Betty.
Thus they walked in the twilight across the fields and through the narrow streets beyond that lay between Westminster and Holborn. In front tripped Margaret beside her stately cavalier, with whom she was soon talking fast enough in Spanish, a tongue which, for reasons that shall be explained, she knew well, while behind, the Scotchman's sword still in his hand, and the handsome Betty on his arm, came Peter Brome in the worst of humours.
John Castell lived in a large, rambling, many-gabled, house, just off the main thoroughfare of Holborn, that had at the back of it a garden surrounded by a high wall. Of this ancient place the front part served as a shop, a store for merchandise, and an office, for Castell was a very wealthy trader—how wealthy none quite knew—who exported woollen and other goods to Spain under the royal licence, bringing thence in his own ships fine, raw Spanish wool to be manufactured in England, and with it velvet, silks, and wine from Granada; also beautiful inlaid armour of Toledo steel. Sometimes, too, he dealt in silver and copper from the mountain mines, for Castell was a banker as well as a merchant, or rather what answered to that description in those days.
It was said that beneath his shop were dungeon-like store-vaults, built of thick cemented stone, with iron doors through which no thief could break, and filled with precious things. However this might be, certainly in that great house, which in the time of the Plantagenets had been the fortified palace of a noble, existed chambers whereof he alone knew the secret, since no one else, not even his daughter or Peter, ever crossed their threshold. Also, there slept in it a number of men-servants, very stout fellows, who wore knives or swords beneath their cloaks, and watched at night to see that all was well. For the rest, the living-rooms of this house where Castell, Margaret his daughter, and Peter dwelt, were large and comfortable, being new panelled with oak after the Tudor fashion, and having deep windows that looked out upon the garden.
When Peter and Betty reached the door, not that which led into the shop, but another, it was to find that Margaret and d'Aguilar, who were walking very quickly, must have already passed it, since it was shut, and they had vanished. At his knock—a hard one—a serving-man opened, and Peter strode through the vestibule, or ante-chamber, into the hall, where for the most part they ate and sat, for thence he heard the sound of voices. It was a fine room, lit by hanging lamps of olive oil, and having a large, open hearth where a fire burned pleasantly, while the oaken table in front of it was set for supper. Margaret, who had thrown off her cloak, stood warming herself at the fire, and the Senor d'Aguilar, comfortably seated in a big chair, which he seemed to have known for years, leaned back, his bonnet in his hand, and watched her idly.
Facing them stood John Castell, a stout, dark-bearded man of between fifty and sixty years of age, with a clever, clean-cut face and piercing black eyes. Now, in the privacy of his home, he was very richly attired in a robe trimmed with the costliest fur, and fastened with a gold chain that had a jewel on its clasp. When Castell served in his shop or sat in his counting-house no merchant in London was more plainly dressed; but at night, loving magnificence at heart, it was his custom thus to indulge in it, even when there were none to see him. From the way in which he stood, and the look upon his face, Peter knew at once that he was much disturbed. Hearing his step, Castell wheeled round and addressed him at once in the clear, decided voice which was his characteristic.
"What is this I am told, Peter? A man killed by you before the palace gates? A broil! A public riot in which things went near to great bloodshed between the English, with you at the head of them, and the bodyguard of his Excellency, de Ayala. You arrested by the king, and bailed out by this senor. Is all this true?"
"Quite," answered Peter calmly.
"Then I am ruined; we are all ruined. Oh! it was an evil hour when I took one of your bloodthirsty trade into my house. What have you to say?"
"Only that I want my supper," said Peter. "Those who began the story can finish it, for I think their tongues are nimbler than my own," and he glanced wrathfully at Margaret, who laughed outright, while even the solemn d'Aguilar smiled.
"Father," broke in Margaret, "do not be angry with cousin Peter, whose only fault is that he hits too hard. It is I who am to blame, for I wished to stop to see the king against his will and Betty's, and then—then that brute," and her eyes filled with tears of shame and anger, "caught hold of me, and Peter threw him down, and afterwards, when he attacked him with a sword, Peter killed him with his staff, and—all the rest happened."
"It was beautifully done," said d'Aguilar in his soft voice and foreign accent. "I saw it all, and made sure that you were dead. The parry I understood, but the way you got your smashing blow in before he could thrust again—ah! that——"
"Well, well," said Castell, "let us eat first and talk afterwards. Senor d'Aguilar, you will honour my poor board, will you not, though it is hard to come from a king's feast to a merchant's fare?"
"It is I who am honoured," answered d'Aguilar; "and as for the feast, his Grace is sparing in this Lenten season. At least, I could get little to eat, and, therefore, like the senor Peter, I am starved."
Castell rang a silver bell which stood near by, whereon servants brought in the meal, which was excellent and plentiful. While they were setting it on the table, the merchant went to a cupboard in the wainscoting, and took thence two flasks, which he uncorked himself with care, saying that he would give the senor some wine of his own country. This done, he said a Latin grace and crossed himself, an example which d'Aguilar followed, remarking that he was glad to find that he was in the house of a good Christian.
"What else did you think that I should be?" asked Castell, glancing at him shrewdly.
"I did not think at all, Senor," he answered; "but alas! every one is not a Christian. In Spain, for instance, we have many Moors and—Jews."
"I know," said Castell, "for I trade with them both."
"Then you have never visited Spain?"
"No; I am an English merchant. But try that wine, Senor; it came from Granada, and they say that it is good."
D'Aguilar tasted it, then drank off his glass.
"It is good, indeed," he said; "I have not its equal in my own cellars there."
"Do you, then, live in Granada, Senor d'Aguilar?" asked Castell.
"Sometimes, when I am not travelling. I have a house there which my mother left me. She loved the town, and bought an old palace from the Moors. Would you not like to see Granada, Senora?" he asked, turning to Margaret as though to change the subject. "There is a wonderful building there called the Alhambra; it overlooks my house."
"My daughter is never likely to see it," broke in Castell; "I do not purpose that she should visit Spain."
"Ah! you do not purpose; but who knows? God and His saints alone," and again he crossed himself, then fell to describing the beauties of Granada.
He was a fine and ready talker, and his voice was very pleasant, so Margaret listened attentively enough, watching his face, and forgetting to eat, while her father and Peter watched them both. At length the meal came to an end, and when the serving-men had cleared away the dishes, and they were alone, Castell said:
"Now, kinsman Peter, tell me your story."
So Peter told him, in few words, yet omitting nothing.
"I find no blame in you," said the merchant when he had done, "nor do I see how you could have acted otherwise than you did. It is Margaret whom I blame, for I only gave her leave to walk with you and Betty by the river, and bade her beware of crowds."
"Yes, father, the fault is mine, and for it I pray your pardon," said Margaret, so meekly that her father could not find the heart to scold her as he had meant to do.
"You should ask Peter's pardon," he muttered, "seeing that he is like to be laid by the heels in a dungeon over this business, yes, and put upon his trial for causing the man's death. Remember, he was in the service of de Ayala, with whom our liege wishes to stand well, and de Ayala, it seems, is very angry."
Now Margaret grew frightened, for the thought that harm might come to Peter cut her heart. The colour left her cheek, and once again her eyes swam with tears.
"Oh! say not so," she exclaimed. "Peter, will you not fly at once?"
"By no means," he answered decidedly. "Did I not say it to the king, and is not this foreign lord bond for me?"
"What can be done?" she went on; then, as a thought struck her, turned to d'Aguilar, and, clasping her slender hands, looked pleadingly into his face and asked: "Senor, you who are so powerful, and the friend of great people, will you not help us?"
"Am I not here to do so, Senora? Although I think that a man who can call half London to his back, as I saw your cousin do, needs little help from me. But listen, my country has two ambassadors at this Court—de Ayala, whom he has offended, and Doctor de Puebla, the friend of the king; and, strangely enough, de Puebla does not love de Ayala. Yet he does love money, which perhaps will be forthcoming. Now, if a charge is to be laid over this brawl, it will probably be done, not by the churchman, de Ayala, but through de Puebla, who knows your laws and Court, and—do you understand me, Senor Castell?"
"Yes," answered the merchant; "but how am I to get at de Puebla? If I were to offer him money, he would only ask more."
"I see that you know his Excellency," remarked d'Aguilar drily. "You are right, no money should be offered; a present must be made after the pardon is delivered—not before. Oh! de Puebla knows that John Castell's word is as good in London as it is among the Jews and infidels of Granada and the merchants of Seville, at both of which places I have heard it spoken."
At this speech Castell's eyes flickered, but he only answered:
"May be; but how shall I approach him, Senor?"
"If you will permit me, that is my task. Now, to what amount will you go to save our friend here from inconvenience? Fifty gold angels?"
"It is too much," said Castell; "a knave like that is not worth ten. Indeed, he was the assailant, and nothing should be paid at all."
"Ah! Senor, the merchant is coming out in you; also the dangerous man who thinks that right should rule the world, not kings—I mean might. The knave is worth nothing, but de Puebla's word in Henry's ear is worth much."
"Fifty angels be it then," said Castell, "and I thank you, Senor, for your good offices. Will you take the money now?"
"By no means; not till I bring the debt discharged. Senor, I will come again and let you know how matters stand. Farewell, fair maiden; may the saints intercede for that dead rogue who brought me into your company, and that of your father and your cousin of the quick eye and the stalwart arm! Till we meet again," and, still murmuring compliments, he bowed himself out of the room in charge of a manservant.
"Thomas," said Castell to this servant when he returned, "you are a discreet fellow; put on your cap and cloak, follow that Spaniard, see where he lodges, and find out all you can about him. Go now, swiftly."
The man bowed and went, and presently Castell, listening, heard a side door shut behind him. Then he turned and said to the other two:
"I do not like this business. I smell trouble in it, and I do not like the Spaniard either."
"He seems a very gallant gentleman, and high-born," said Margaret.
"Aye, very gallant—too gallant, and high-born—too high-born, unless I am mistaken. So gallant and so high-born——" And he checked himself, then added, "Daughter, in your wilfulness you have stirred a great rock. Go to your bed and pray God that it may not fall upon your house and crush it and us."
So Margaret crept away frightened, a little indignant also, for after all, what wrong had she done? And why should her father mistrust this splendid-looking Spanish cavalier?
When she was gone, Peter, who all this while had said little, looked up and asked straight out:
"What are you afraid of, Sir?"
"Many things, Peter. First, that use will be made of this matter to extort much money from me, who am known to be rich, which is a sin best absolved by angels. Secondly, that if I make trouble about paying, other questions will be set afoot."
"Have you ever heard of the new Christians, Peter, whom the Spaniards call Maranos?"
"Then you know that a Marano is a converted Jew. Now, as it chances—I tell you who do not break secrets—my father was a Marano. His name does not matter—it is best forgotten; but he fled from Spain to England for reasons of his own, and took that of the country whence he came—Castile, or Castell. Also, as it is not lawful for Jews to live in England, he became converted to the Christian faith—seek not to know his motives, they are buried with him. Moreover, he converted me, his only child, who was but ten years old, and cared little whether I swore by 'Father Abraham' or by the 'Blessed Mary.' The paper of my baptism lies in my strong box still. Well, he was clever, and built up this business, and died unharmed five-and-twenty years ago, leaving me already rich. That same year I married an Englishwoman, your mother's second cousin, and loved her and lived happily with her, and gave her all her heart could wish. But after Margaret's birth, three-and-twenty years gone by, she never had her health, and eight years ago she died. You remember her, since she brought you here when you were a stout lad, and made me promise afterwards that I would always be your friend, for except your father, Sir Peter, none other of your well-born and ancient family were left. So when Sir Peter—against my counsel, staking his all upon that usurping rogue Richard, who had promised to advance him, and meanwhile took his money—was killed at Bosworth, leaving you landless, penniless, and out of favour, I offered you a home, and you, being a wise man, put off your mail and put on woollen and became a merchant's partner, though your share of profit was but small. Now, again you have changed staff for steel," and he glanced at the Scotchman's sword that still lay upon a side table, "and Margaret has loosed that rock of which I spoke to her."
"What is the rock, Sir?"
"That Spaniard whom she brought home and found so fine."
"What of the Spaniard?"
"Wait a while and I will tell you." And, taking a lamp, he left the room, returning presently with a letter which was written in cipher, and translated upon another sheet in John Castell's own hand.
"This," he said, "is from my partner and connection, Juan Bernaldez, a Marano, who lives at Seville, where Ferdinand and Isabella have their court. Among other matters he writes this: 'I warn all brethren in England to be careful. I have it that a certain one whose name I will not mention even in cipher, a very powerful and high-born man, and, although he appears to be a pleasure-seeker only, and is certainly of a dissolute life, among the greatest bigots in all Spain, has been sent, or is shortly to be sent, from Granada, where he is stationed to watch the Moors, as an envoy to the Court of England to conclude a secret treaty with its king. Under this treaty the names of rich Maranos that are already well known here are to be recorded, so that when the time comes, and the active persecution of Jews and Maranos begins, they may be given up and brought to Spain for trial before the Inquisition. Also he is to arrange that no Jew or Marano may be allowed to take refuge in England. This is for your information, that you may warn any whom it concerns.'"
"You think that d'Aguilar is this man?" asked Peter, while Castell folded up the letter and hid it in the pocket of his robe.
"I do; indeed I have heard already that a fox was on the prowl, and that men should look to their hen-houses. Moreover, did you note how he crossed himself like a priest, and what he said about being among good Christians? Also, it is Lent and a fast-day, and by ill-fortune, although none of us ate of it, there was meat upon the table, for as you know," he added hurriedly, "I am not strict in such matters, who give little weight to forms and ceremonies. Well, he observed it, and touched fish only, although he drank enough of the sweet wine. Doubtless a report of that meat will go to Spain by the next courier."
"And if it does, what matter? We are in England, and Englishmen will not suffer their Spanish laws and ways. Perhaps the senor d'Aguilar learned as much as that to-night outside the banqueting-hall. There is something to be feared from this brawl at home; but while we are safe in London, no more from Spain."
"I am no coward, but I think there is much more to be feared, Peter. The arm of the Pope is long, and the arm of the crafty Ferdinand is longer, and both of them grope for the throats and moneybags of heretics."
"Well, Sir, we are not heretics."
"No, perhaps not heretics; but we are rich, and the father of one of us was a Jew, and there is something else in this house which even a true son of Holy Church might desire," and he looked at the door through which Margaret had passed to her chamber.
Peter understood, for his long arms moved uneasily, and his grey eyes flashed.
"I will go to bed," he said; "I wish to think."
"Nay, lad," answered Castell, "fill your glass and stay awhile. I have words to say to you, and there is no time like the present. Who knows what may happen to-morrow?"
PETER GATHERS VIOLETS
Peter obeyed, sat down in a big oak chair by the dying fire, and waited in his silent fashion.
"Listen," said Castell. "Fifteen months ago you told me something, did you not?"
"What was it, then?"
"That I loved my cousin Margaret, and asked your leave to tell her so."
"And what did I answer?"
"That you forbade me because you had not proved me enough, and she had not proved herself enough; because, moreover, she would be very wealthy, and with her beauty might look high in marriage, although but a merchant's daughter."
"Well, and then?"
"And then—nothing," and Peter sipped his wine deliberately and put it down upon the table.
"You are a very silent man, even where your courting is concerned," said Castell, searching him with his sharp eyes.
"I am silent because there is no more to say. You bade me be silent, and I have remained so."
"What! Even when you saw those gay lords making their addresses to Margaret, and when she grew angry because you gave no sign, and was minded to yield to one or the other of them?"
"Yes, even then—it was hard, but even then. Do I not eat your bread? and shall I take advantage of you when you have forbid me?"
Castell looked at him again, and this time there were respect and affection in his glance.
"Silent and stern, but honest," he said as though to himself, then added, "A hard trial, but I saw it, and helped you in the best way by sending those suitors—who were worthless fellows—about their business. Now, say, are you still of the same mind towards Margaret?"
"I seldom change my mind, Sir, and on such a business, never."
"Good! Then I give you my leave to find out what her mind may be."
In the joy which he could not control, Peter's face flushed. Then, as though he were ashamed of showing emotion, even at such a moment, he took up his glass and drank a little of the wine before he answered.
"I thank you; it is more than I dared to hope. But it is right that I should say, Sir, that I am no match for my cousin Margaret. The lands which should have been mine are gone, and I have nothing save what you pay me for my poor help in this trade; whereas she has, or will have, much."
Castell's eyes twinkled; the answer amused him.
"At least you have an upright heart," he said, "for what other man in such a case would argue against himself? Also, you are of good blood, and not ill to look on, or so some maids might think; whilst as for wealth, what said the wise king of my people?—that ofttimes riches make themselves wings and fly away. Moreover, man, I have learned to love and honour you, and sooner would I leave my only child in your hands than in those of any lord in England."
"I know not what to say," broke in Peter.
"Then say nothing. It is your custom, and a good one—only listen. Just now you spoke of your Essex lands in the fair Vale of Dedham as gone. Well, they have come back, for last month I bought them all, and more, at a price larger than I wished to give because others sought them, and but this day I have paid in gold and taken delivery of the title. It is made out in your name, Peter Brome, and whether you marry my daughter, or whether you marry her not, yours they shall be when I am gone, since I promised my dead wife to befriend you, and as a child she lived there in your Hall."
Now moved out of his calm, the young man sprang from his seat, and, after the pious fashion of the time, addressed his patron saint, on whose feast-day he was born.
"Saint Peter, I thank thee—"
"I asked you to be silent," interrupted Castell, breaking him short. "Moreover, after God, it is one John who should be thanked, not St. Peter, who has no more to do with these lands than Father Abraham or the patient Job. Well, thanks or no thanks, those estates are yours, though I had not meant to tell you of them yet. But now I have something to propose to you. Say, first, does Margaret think aught of that wooden face and those shut lips of yours?"
"How can I know? I have never asked her; you forbade me."
"Pshaw! Living in one house as you do, at your age I would have known all there was to know on such a matter, and yet kept my word. But there, the blood is different, and you are somewhat over-honest for a lover. Was she frightened for you, now, when that knave made at you with the sword?"
Peter considered the question, then answered:
"I know not. I did not look to see; I looked at the Scotchman with his sword, for if I had not, I should have been dead, not he. But she was certainly frightened when the fellow caught hold of her, for then she called for me loud enough."
"And what is that? What woman in London would not call for such a one as Peter Brome in her trouble? Well, you must ask her, and that soon, if you can find the words. Take a lesson from that Spanish don, and scrape and bow and flatter and tell stories of the war and turn verses to her eyes and hair. Oh, Peter! are you a fool, that I at my age should have to teach you how to court a woman?"
"Mayhap, Sir. At least I can do none of these things, and poesy wearies me to read, much more to write. But I can ask a question and take an answer."
Castell shook his head impatiently.
"Ask the question, man, if you will, but never take the answer if it is against you. Wait rather, and ask it again—"
"And," went on Peter without noticing, his grey eyes lighting with a sudden fire, "if need be, I can break that fine Spaniard's bones as though he were a twig."
"Ah!" said Castell, "perhaps you will be called upon to make your words good before all is done. For my part, I think his bones will take some breaking. Well, ask in your own way—only ask and let me hear the answer before to-morrow night. Now it grows late, and I have still something to say. I am in danger here. My wealth is noised abroad, and many covet it, some in high places, I think. Peter, it is in my mind to have done with all this trading, and to withdraw me to spend my old age where none will take any notice of me, down at that Hall of yours in Dedham, if you will give me lodging. Indeed for a year and more, ever since you spoke to me on the subject of Margaret, I have been calling in my moneys from Spain and England, and placing them out at safe interest in small sums, or buying jewels with them, or lending them to other merchants whom I trust, and who will not rob me or mine. Peter, you have worked well for me, but you are no chapman; it is not in your blood. Therefore, since there is enough for all of us and more, I shall pass this business and its goodwill over to others, to be managed in their name, but on shares, and if it please God we will keep next Yule at Dedham."
As he spoke the door at the far end of the hall opened, and through it came that serving-man who had been bidden to follow the Spaniard.
"Well," said Castell, "what tidings?"
The man bowed and said:
"I followed the Don as you bade me to his lodging, which I reached without his seeing me, though from time to time he stopped to look about him. He rests near the palace of Westminster, in the same big house where dwells the ambassador de Ayala, and those who stood round lifted their bonnets to him.
"Watching I saw some of these go to a tavern, a low place that is open all night, and, following them there, called for a drink and listened to their talk, who know the Spanish tongue well, having worked for five years in your worship's house at Seville. They spoke of the fray to-night, and said that if they could catch that long-legged fellow, meaning Master Brome yonder, they would put a knife into him, since he had shamed them by killing the Scotch knave, who was their officer and the best swordsman in their company, with a staff, and then setting his British bulldogs on them. I fell into talk with them, saying that I was an English sailor from Spain, which they were too drunk to question, and asked who might be the tall don who had interfered in the fray before the king came. They told me he is a rich senor named d'Aguilar, but ill to serve in Lent because he is so strict a churchman, although not strict in other matters. I answered that to me he looked like a great noble, whereon one of them said that I was right, that there was no blood in Spain higher than his, but unfortunately, there was a bend in its stream, also an inkpot had been upset into it."
"What does that mean?" asked Peter.
"It is a Spanish saying," answered Castell, "which signifies that a man is born illegitimate, and has Moorish blood in his veins."
"Then I asked what he was doing here, and the man answered that I had best put that question to the Holy Father and to the Queen of Spain. Lastly, after I had given the soldier another cup, I asked where the don lived, and whether he had any other name. He replied that he lived at Granada for the most part, and that if I called on him there I should see some pretty ladies and other nice things. As for his name, it was the Marquis of Nichel. I said that meant Marquis of Nothing, whereon the soldier answered that I seemed very curious, and that was just what he meant to tell me—nothing. Also he called to his comrades that he believed I was a spy, so I thought it time to be going, as they were drunk enough to do me a mischief."
"Good," said Castell. "You are watchman tonight, Thomas, are you not? See that all doors are barred so that we may sleep without fear of Spanish thieves. Rest you well, Peter. Nay, I do not come yet; I have letters to send to Spain by the ship which sails to-morrow night."
When Peter had gone, John Castell extinguished all the lamps save one. This he took in his hand and passed from the hall into an apartment that in old days, when this was a noble's house, had been the private chapel. There was an altar in it, and over the altar a crucifix. For a few moments Castell knelt before the altar, for even now, at dead of night, how knew he what eyes might watch him? Then he rose and, lamp in hand, glided behind it, lifted some tapestry, and pressed a spring in the panelling beneath. It opened, revealing a small secret chamber built in the thickness of the wall and without windows; a mere cupboard that once perhaps had been a place where a priest might robe or keep the sacred vessels.
In this chamber was a plain oak table on which stood candles and an ark of wood, also some rolls of parchment. Before this table he knelt down, and put up earnest prayers to the God of Abraham, for, although his father had caused him to be baptized into the Christian Church as a child, John Castell remained a Jew. For this good reason, then, he was so much afraid, knowing that, although his daughter and Peter knew nothing of his secret, there were others who did, and that were it revealed ruin and perhaps death would be his portion and that of his house, since in those days there was no greater crime than to adore God otherwise than Holy Church allowed. Yet for many years he had taken the risk, and worshipped on as his fathers did before him.
His prayer finished, he left the place, closing the spring-door behind him, and passed to his office, where he sat till the morning light, first writing a letter to his correspondent at Seville, and then painfully translating it into cipher by aid of a secret key. His task done, and the cipher letter sealed and directed, he burned the draft, extinguished his lamp, and, going to the window, watched the rising of the sun. In the garden beneath blackbirds sang, and the pale primroses were abloom.
"I wonder," he said aloud, "whether when those flowers come again I shall live to see them. Almost I feel as though the rope were tightening about my throat at last; it came upon me while that accursed Spaniard crossed himself at my table. Well, so be it; I will hide the truth while I can, but if they catch me I'll not deny it. The money is safe, most of it; my wealth they shall never get, and now I will make my daughter safe also, as with Peter she must be. I would I had not put it off so long; but I hankered after a great marriage for her, which, being a Christian, she well might make. I'll mend that fault; before to-morrow's morn she shall be plighted to him, and before May-day his wife. God of my fathers, give us one month more of peace and safety, and then, because I have denied Thee openly, take my life in payment if Thou wilt."
Before John Castell went to bed Peter was already awake—indeed, he had slept but little that night. How could he sleep whose fortunes had changed thus wondrously between sun set and rise? Yesterday he was but a merchant's assistant—a poor trade for one who had been trained to arms, and borne them bravely. To-day he was a gentleman again, owner of the broad lands where he was bred, and that had been his forefathers' for many a generation. Yesterday he was a lover without hope, for in himself he had never believed that the rich John Castell would suffer him, a landless man, to pay court to his daughter, one of the loveliest and wealthiest maids in London. He had asked his leave in past days, and been refused, as he had expected that he would be refused, and thenceforward, being on his honour as it were, he had said no tender word to Margaret, nor pressed her hand, nor even looked into her eyes and sighed. Yet at times it had seemed to him that she would not have been ill-pleased if he had done one of these things, or all; that she wondered, indeed, that he did not, and thought none the better of him for his abstinence. Moreover, now he learned that her father wondered also, and this was a strange reward of virtue.
For Peter loved Margaret with heart and soul and body. Since he, a lad, had played with her, a child, he loved her, and no other woman. She was his thought by day and his dream by night, his hope, his eternal star. Heaven he pictured as a place where for ever he would be with Margaret, earth without her could be nothing but a hell. That was why he had stayed on in Castell's shop, bending his proud neck to this tradesman's yoke, doing the bidding and taking the rough words of chapmen and of lordly customers, filling in bills of exchange, and cheapening bargains, all without a sign or murmur, though oftentimes he felt as though his gorge would burst with loathing of the life. Indeed, that was why he had come there at all, who otherwise would have been far away, hewing a road to fame and fortune, or digging out a grave with his broadsword. For here at least he could be near to Margaret, could touch her hand at morn and evening, could watch the light shine in her beauteous eyes, and sometimes, as she bent over him, feel her breath upon his hair. And now his purgatory was at an end, and of a sudden the gates of joy were open.
But what if Margaret should prove the angel with the flaming sword who forbade him entrance to his paradise? He trembled at the thought. Well, if so, so it must be; he was not the man to force her fancy, or call her father to his aid. He would do his best to win her, and if he failed, why then he would bless her, and let her go.
Peter could lie abed no longer, but rose and dressed himself, although the dawn was not fully come. By his open window he said his prayers, thanking God for mercies past, and praying that He would bless him in his great emprise. Presently the sun rose, and there came a great longing on him to be alone in the countryside, he who was country-born and hated towns, with only the sky and the birds and the trees for company.
But here in London was no country, wherever he went he would meet men; moreover, he remembered that it might be best that just now he should not wander through the streets unguarded, lest he should find Spaniards watching to take him unawares. Well, there was the garden; he would go thither, and walk a while. So he descended the broad oak stairs, and, unbolting a door, entered this garden, which, though not too well kept, was large for London, covering an acre of ground perhaps, surrounded by a high wall, and having walks, and at the end of it a group of ancient elms, beneath which was a seat hidden from the house. In summer this was Margaret's favourite bower, for she too loved Nature and the land, and all the things it bore. Indeed, this garden was her joy, and the flowers that grew there were for the most part of her own planting—primroses, snowdrops, violets, and, in the shadow of the trees, long hartstongue ferns.
For a while Peter walked up and down the central path, and, as it chanced, Margaret, who also had risen early and not slept too well, looking through her window curtains, saw him wandering there, and wondered what he did at this hour; also, why he was dressed in the clothes he wore on Sundays and holidays. Perhaps, she thought, his weekday garments had been torn or muddied in last night's fray. Then she fell to thinking how bravely he had borne him in that fray. She saw it all again; the great red-headed rascal tossed up and whirled to the earth by his strong arms; saw Peter face that gleaming steel with nothing but a staff; saw the straight blows fall, and the fellow go reeling to the earth, slain with a single stroke.
Ah! her cousin, Peter Brome, was a man indeed, though a strange one, and remembering certain things that did not please her, she shrugged her ivory shoulders, turned red, and pouted. Why, that Spaniard had said more civil words to her in an hour than had Peter in two years, and he was handsome and noble-looking also; but then the Spaniard was—a Spaniard, and other men were—other men, whereas Peter was—Peter, a creature apart, one who cared as little for women as he did for trade.
Why, then, if he cared for neither women nor trade, did he stop here? she wondered. To gather wealth? She did not think it; he seemed to have no leanings that way either. It was a mystery. Still, she could wish to get to the bottom of Peter's heart, just to see what was hid there, since no man has a right to be a riddle to his loving cousin. Yes, and one day she would do it, cost what it might.
Meanwhile, she remembered that she had never thanked Peter for the brave part which he had played, and, indeed, had left him to walk home with Betty, a journey that, as she gathered from her sprightly cousin's talk while she undressed her, neither of them had much enjoyed. For Betty, be it said here, was angry with Peter, who, it seemed, once had told her that she was a handsome, silly fool, who thought too much of men and too little of her business. Well, since after the day's work had begun she would find no opportunity, she would go down and thank Peter now, and see if she could make him talk for once.
So Margaret threw her fur-trimmed cloak about her, drawing its hood over her head, for the April air was cold, and followed Peter into the garden. When she reached it, however, there was no Peter to be seen, whereon she reproached herself for having come to that damp place so early and meditated return. Then, thinking that it would look foolish if any had chanced to see her, she walked down the path pretending to seek for violets, and found none. Thus she came to the group of great elms at the end, and, glancing between their ancient boles, saw Peter standing there. Now, too, she understood why she could find no violets, for Peter had gathered them all, and was engaged, awkwardly enough, in trying to tie them and some leaves into a little posy by the help of a stem of grass. With his left hand he held the violets, with his right one end of the grass, and since he lacked fingers to clasp the other, this he attempted with his teeth. Now he drew it tight, and now the brittle grass stem broke, the violets were scattered, and Peter used words that he should not have uttered even when alone.
"I knew you would break it, but I never thought you could lose your temper over so small a thing, Peter," said Margaret; and he in the shadow looked up to see her standing there in the sunlight, fresh and lovely as the spring itself.
Solemnly, in severe reproof, she shook her head, from which the hood had fallen back, but there was a smile upon her lips, and laughter in her eyes. Oh! she was beautiful, and at the sight of her Peter's heart stood still. Then, remembering what he had just said, and certain other things that Master Castell had said, he blushed so deeply that her own cheeks went red in sympathy. It was foolish, but she could not help it, for about Peter this morning there was something strange, something that bred blushes.
"For whom are you gathering violets so early," she asked, "when you ought to be praying for that Scotchman's soul?"
"I care nothing for his soul," answered Peter testily. "If the brute had one, he can look after it himself; and I was gathering the violets—for you."
She stared. Peter was not in the habit of making her presents of flowers. No wonder he had looked strange.
"Then I will help you to tie them. Do you know why I am up so early? It is for your sake. I behaved badly to you last night, for I was cross because you wanted to thwart me about seeing the king. I never thanked you for all you did, you brave Peter, though I thanked you enough in my heart. Do you know that when you stood there with that sword, in the middle of those Englishmen, you looked quite noble? Come out into the sunlight, and I will thank you properly."
In his agitation Peter let the remainder of the flowers fall. Then an idea struck him, and he answered:
"Look! I can't; if you are really grateful for nothing at all, come in here and help me to pick up these violets—a pest on their short stalks!"
She hesitated a little, then by degrees drew nearer, and, bending down, began to find the flowers one by one. Peter had scattered them wide, so that at first the pair were some way apart, but when only a few remained, they drew close. Now there was but one violet left, and, both stretching for it, their hands met. Margaret held the violet, and Peter held Margaret's fingers. Thus linked they straightened themselves, and as they rose their faces were very near together and oh! most sweet were Margaret's wonderful eyes; while in the eyes of Peter there shone a flame. For a second they looked at each other, and then of a sudden he kissed her on the lips.
"Peter!" gasped Margaret—"Peter!"
But Peter made no answer, only he who had been red of face went white, so that the mark of the sword-cut across his cheek showed like a scarlet line upon a cloth.
"Peter!" repeated Margaret, pulling at her hand which he still held, "do you know what you have done?"
"It seems that you do, so what need is there for me to tell you?" he muttered.
"Then it was not an accident; you really meant it, and you are not ashamed."
"If it was, I hope that I may meet with more such accidents."
"Peter, leave go of me. I am going to tell my father, at once."
His face brightened.
"Tell him by all means," he said; "he won't mind. He told me——"
"Peter, how dare you add falsehood to—to—you know what. Do you mean to say that my father told you to kiss me, and at six o'clock in the morning, too?"
"He said nothing about kissing, but I suppose he meant it. He said that I might ask you to marry me."
"That," replied Margaret, "is a very different thing. If you had asked me to marry you, and, after thinking it over for a long while, I had answered Yes, which of course I should not have done, then, perhaps, before we were married you might have—Well, Peter, you have begun at the wrong end, which is very shameless and wicked of you, and I shall never speak to you again."
"I daresay," said Peter resignedly; "all the more reason why I should speak to you while I have the chance. No, you shan't go till you have heard me. Listen. I have been in love with you since you were twelve years old—"
"That must be another falsehood, Peter, or you have gone mad. If you had been in love with me for eleven years, you would have said so."
"I wanted to, always, but your father refused me leave. I asked him fifteen months ago, but he put me on my word to say nothing."
"To say nothing—yes, but he could not make you promise to show nothing."
"I thought that the one thing meant the other; I see now that I have been a fool, and, I suppose, have overstayed my market," and he looked so depressed that Margaret relented a little.
"Well," she said, "at any rate it was honest, and of course I am glad that you were honest."
"You said just now that I told falsehoods—twice; if I am honest, how can I tell falsehoods?"
"I don't know. Why do you ask me riddles? Let me go and try to forget all this."
"Not till you have answered me outright. Will you marry me, Margaret? If you won't, there will be no need for you to go, for I shall go and trouble you no more. You know what I am, and all about me, and I have nothing more to say except that, although you may find many finer husbands, you won't find one who would love and care for you better. I know that you are very beautiful and very rich, while I am neither one nor the other, and often I have wished to Heaven that you were not so beautiful, for sometimes that brings trouble on women who are honest and only have one heart to give, or so rich either. But thus things are, and I cannot change them, and, however poor my chance of hitting the dove, I determined to shoot my bolt and make way for the next archer. Is there any chance at all, Margaret? Tell me, and put me out of pain, for I am not good at so much talking."
Now Margaret began to grow disturbed; her wayward assurance departed from her.
"It is not fitting," she murmured, "and I do not wish—I will speak to my father; he shall give you your answer."
"No need to trouble him, Margaret. He has given it already. His great desire is that we should marry, for he seeks to leave this trade and to live with us in the Vale of Dedham, in Essex, where he has bought back my father's land."
"You are full of strange tidings this morning, Peter."
"Yes, Margaret, our wheel of life that went so slow turns fast enough to-day, for God above has laid His whip upon the horses of our Fate, and they begin to gallop, whither I know not. Must they run side by side, or separate? It is for you to say."
"Peter," she said, "will you not give me a little time?"
"Aye, Margaret, ten whole minutes by the clock, and then if it is nay, all your life, for I pack my chest and go. It will be said that I feared to be taken for that soldier's death."
"You are unkind to press me so."
"Nay, it is kindest to both of us. Do you then love some other man?"
"I must confess I do," she murmured, looking at him out of the corners of her eyes.
Now Peter, strong as he was, turned faint, and in his agitation let go her hand which she lifted, the violets still between her fingers, considering it as though it were a new thing to her.
"I have no right to ask you who he is," he muttered, striving to control himself.
"Nay, but, Peter, I will tell you. It is my father—what other man should I love?"
"Margaret!" he said in wrath, "you are fooling me."
"How so? What other man should I love—unless, indeed, it were yourself?"
"I can bear no more of this play," he said. "Mistress Margaret, I bid you farewell. God go with you!" And he brushed past her.
"Peter," she said when he had gone a few yards, "would you have these violets as a farewell gift?"
He turned and hesitated.
"Come, then, and take them."
So back he came, and with little trembling fingers she began to fasten the flowers to his doublet, bending ever nearer as she fastened, until her breath played upon his face, and her hair brushed his bonnet. Then, it matters not how, once more the violets fell to earth, and she sighed, and her hands fell also, and he put his strong arms round her and drew her to him and kissed her again and yet again on the hair and eyes and lips; nor did Margaret forbid him.
At length she thrust him from her and, taking him by the hand, led him to the seat beneath the elms, and bade him sit at one end of it, while she sat at the other.
"Peter," she whispered, "I wish to speak with you when I can get my breath. Peter, you think poorly of me, do you not? No—be silent; it is my turn to talk. You think that I am heartless, and have been playing with you. Well, I only did it to make sure that you really do love me, since, after that—accident of a while ago (when we were picking up the violets, I mean), you would have been in honour bound to say it, would you not? Well, now I am quite sure, so I will tell you something. I love you many times as well as you love me, and have done so for quite as long. Otherwise, should I not have married some other suitor, of whom there have been plenty? Aye, and I will tell you this to my sin and shame, that once I grew so angry with you because you would not speak or give some little sign, that I went near to it. But at the last I could not, and sent him about his business also. Peter, when I saw you last night facing that swordsman with but a staff, and thought that you must die, oh! then I knew all the truth, and my heart was nigh to bursting, as, had you died, it would have burst. But now it is all done with, and we know each other's secret, and nothing shall ever part us more till death comes to one or both."
Thus Margaret spoke, while he drank in her words as desert sands, parched by years of drought, drink in the rain—and watched her face, out of which all mischief and mockery had departed, leaving it that of a most beauteous and most earnest woman, to whom a sense of the weight of life, with its mingled joys and sorrows, had come home suddenly. When she had finished, this silent man, to whom even his great happiness brought few words, said only:
"God has been very good to us. Let us thank God."
So they did, then, even there, seated side by side upon the bench, because the grass was too wet for them to kneel on, praying in their simple, childlike faith that the Power which had brought them together, and taught them to love each other, would bless them in that love and protect them from all harms, enemies, and evils through many a long year of life.
Their prayer finished, they sat together on the seat, now talking, and now silent in their joy, while all too fast the time wore on. At length—it was after one of these spells of blissful silence—a change came over them, such a change as falls upon some peaceful scene when, unexpected and complete, a black stormcloud sweeps across the sun, and, in place of its warm light, pours down gloom full of the promise of tempest and of rain. Apprehension got a hold of them. They were both afraid of what they could not guess.
"Come," she said, "it is time to go in. My father will miss us."
So without more words or endearments they rose and walked side by side out of the shelter of the elms into the open garden. Their heads were bent, for they were lost in thought, and thus it came about that Margaret saw her feet pass suddenly into the shadow of a man, and, looking up, perceived standing in front of her, grave, alert, amused, none other than the Senor d'Aguilar. She uttered a little stifled scream, while Peter, with the impulse that causes a brave and startled hound to rush at that which frightens it, gave a leap forward towards the Spaniard.
"Mother of God! do you take me for a thief?" he asked in a laughing voice, as he stepped to one side to avoid him.
"Your pardon," said Peter, shaking himself together; "but you surprised us appearing so suddenly where we never thought to see you."
"Any more than I thought to see you here, for this seems a strange place to linger on so cold a morning," and he looked at them again with his curious, mocking eyes that appeared to read the secret of their souls, while they grew red as roses beneath his scrutiny. "Permit me to explain," he went on. "I came here thus early on your service, to warn you, Master Peter, not to go abroad to-day, since a writ is out for your arrest, and as yet I have had no time to quash it by friendly settlement. Well, as it chanced, I met that handsome lady who was with you yesterday, returning from her marketing—a friendly soul—she says she is your cousin. She brought me to the house, and having learned that your father, whom I wished to see, was at his prayers, good man, in the old chapel, led me to its door and left me to seek him. I entered, but could not find him, so, having waited a while, strayed into this garden through the open door, purposing to walk here till some one should appear, and, you see, I have been fortunate beyond my expectations or deserts."
"So!" said Peter shortly, for the man's manner and elaborated explanations filled him with disgust. "Let us seek Master Castell that he may hear the story."
"And we thank you much for coming to warn us," murmured Margaret. "I will go find my father," and she slipped past him towards the door.
D'Aguilar watched her enter it, then turned to Peter and said:
"You English are a hardy folk who take the spring air so early. Well, in such company I would do the same. Truly she is a beauteous maiden. I have some experience of the sex, but never do I remember one so fair."
"My cousin is well enough," answered Peter coldly, for this Spaniard's very evident admiration of Margaret did not please him.
"Yes," answered d'Aguilar, taking no notice of his tone, "she is well enough to fill the place, not of a merchant's daughter, but of a great lady—a countess reigning over towns and lands, or a queen even; the royal robes and ornaments would become that carriage and that brow."
"My cousin seeks no such state who is happy in her quiet lot," answered Peter again; then added quickly, "See, here comes Master Castell seeking you."
D'Aguilar advanced and greeted the merchant courteously, noticing as he did so that, notwithstanding his efforts to appear unconcerned, Castell seemed ill at ease.
"I am an early visitor," he said, "but I knew that you business folk rise with the lark, and I wished to catch our friend here before he went out," and he repeated to him the reason of his coming.
"I thank you, Senor," answered Castell. "You are very good to me and mine. I am sorry that you have been kept waiting. They tell me that you looked for me in the chapel, but I was not there, who had already left it for my office."
"So I found. It is a quaint place, that old chapel of yours, and while I waited I went to the altar and told my beads there, which I had no time to do before I left my lodgings."
Castell started almost imperceptibly, and glanced at d'Aguilar with his quick eyes, then turned the subject and asked if he would not breakfast with them. He declined, however, saying that he must be about their business and his own, then promptly proposed that he should come to supper on the following night that was—Sunday—and make report how things had gone, a suggestion that Castell could not but accept.
So he bowed and smiled himself out of the house, and walked thoughtfully into Holborn, for it had pleased him to pay this visit on foot, and unattended. At the corner whom should he meet again but the tall, fair-haired Betty, returning from some errand which she had found it convenient to fulfil just then.
"What," he said, "you once more! The saints are very kind to me this morning. Come, Senora, walk a little way with me, for I would ask you a few questions."
Betty hesitated, then gave way. It was seldom that she found the chance of walking through Holborn with such a noble-looking cavalier.
"Never look at your working-dress," he said.
"With such a shape, what matters the robe that covers it?"—a compliment at which Betty blushed, for she was proud of her fine figure.
"Would you like a mantilla of real Spanish lace for your head and shoulders? Well, you shall have one that I brought from Spain with me, for I know no other lady in the land whom it would become better. But, Mistress Betty, you told me wrong about your master. I went to the chapel and he was not there."
"He was there, Senor," she answered, eager to set herself right with this most agreeable and discriminating foreigner, "for I saw him go in a moment before, and he did not come out again."
"Then, Senora, where could he have hidden himself? Has the place a crypt?"
"None that I have heard of; but," she added, "there is a kind of little room behind the altar."
"Indeed. How do you know that? I saw no room."
"Because one day I heard a voice behind the tapestry, Senor, and, lifting it, saw a sliding door left open, and Master Castell kneeling before a table and saying his prayers aloud."
"How strange! And what was there on the table?"
"Only a queer-shaped box of wood like a little house, and two candlesticks, and some rolls of parchment. But I forgot, Senor; I promised Master Castell to say nothing about that place, for he turned and saw me, and came at me like a watchdog out of its kennel. You won't say that I told you, will you, Senor?"
"Not I; your good master's private cupboard does not interest me. Now I want to know something more. Why is that beautiful cousin of yours not married? Has she no suitors?"
"Suitors, Senor? Yes, plenty of them, but she sends them all about their business, and seems to have no mind that way."
"Perhaps she is in love with her cousin, that long-legged, strong-armed, wooden-headed Master Brome."
"Oh! no, Senor, I don't think so; no lady could be in love with him—he is too stern and silent."
"I agree with you, Senora. Then perhaps he is in love with her."
Betty shook her head, and replied:
"Peter Brome doesn't think anything of women, Senor. At least he never speaks to or of them."
"Which shows that probably he thinks about them all the more. Well, well, it is no affair of ours, is it? Only I am glad to hear that there is nothing between them, since your mistress ought to marry high, and be a great lady, not a mere merchant's wife."
"Yes, Senor. Though Peter Brome is not a merchant, at least by birth, he is high-born, and should be Sir Peter Brome if his father had not fought on the wrong side and sold his land. He is a soldier, and a very brave one, they say, as all might see last night."
"No doubt, and perhaps would make a great captain, if he had the chance, with his stern face and silent tongue. But, Senora Betty, say, how comes it that, being so handsome," and he bowed, "you are not married either? I am sure it can be from no lack of suitors."
Again Betty, foolish girl, flushed with pleasure at the compliment.
"You are right, Senor," she answered. "I have plenty of them; but I am like my cousin—they do not please me. Although my father lost his fortune, I come of good blood, and I suppose that is why I do not care for these low-born men, and would rather remain as I am than marry one of them."
"You are quite right," said d'Aguilar in his sympathetic voice. "Do not stain your blood. Marry in your own class, or not at all, which, indeed, should not be difficult for one so beautiful and charming." And he looked into her large eyes with tender admiration.
This quality, indeed, soon began to demonstrate itself so actively, for they were now in the fields where few people wandered, that Betty, who although vain was proud and upright, thought it wise to recollect that she must be turning homewards. So, in spite of his protests, she left him and departed, walking upon air.
How splendid and handsome this foreign gentleman was, she thought to herself, really a great cavalier, and surely he admired her truly. Why should he not? Such things had often been. Many a rich lady whom she knew was not half so handsome or so well born as herself, and would make him a worse wife—that is, and the thought chilled her somewhat—if he were not already married.
From all of which it will be seen that d'Aguilar had quickly succeeded in the plan which only presented itself to him a few hours before. Betty was already half in love with him. Not that he had any desire to possess this beautiful but foolish woman's heart, who saw in her only a useful tool, a stepping-stone by means of which he might draw near to Margaret.
For with Margaret, it may be said at once, he was quite in love. At the sight of her sweet yet imperial beauty, as he saw her first, dishevelled, angry, frightened, in the crowd outside the king's banqueting-hall, his southern blood had taken sudden fire. Finished voluptuary though he was, the sensation he experienced then was quite new to him. He longed for this woman as he had never longed for any other, and, what is more, he desired to make her his wife. Why not? Although there was a flaw in it, his rank was high, and therefore she was beneath him; but for this her loveliness would atone, and she had wit and learning enough to fill any place that he could give her. Also, great as was his wealth, his wanton, spendthrift way of life had brought him many debts, and she was the only child of one of the richest merchants in England, whose dower, doubtless, would be a fortune that many a royal princess might envy. Why not again? He would turn Inez and those others adrift—at any rate, for a while—and make her mistress of his palace there in Granada. Instantly, as is often the fashion of those who have Eastern blood in their veins, d'Aguilar had made up his mind, yes, before he left her father's table on the previous night. He would marry Margaret and no other woman.
Yet at once he had seen many difficulties in his path. To begin with, he mistrusted him of Peter, that strong, quiet man who could kill a great armed knave with his stick, and at a word call half London to his side. Peter, he was sure, being human, must be in love with Margaret, and he was a rival to be feared. Well, if Margaret had no thoughts of Peter, this mattered nothing, and if she had—and what were they doing together in the garden that morning?—Peter must be got rid of, that was all. It was easy enough if he chose to adopt certain means; there were many of those Spanish fellows who would not mind sticking a knife into his back in the dark.
But sinful as he was, at such steps his conscience halted. Whatever d'Aguilar had done, he had never caused a man to be actually murdered, he who was a bigot, who atoned for his misdoings by periods of remorse and prayer, in which he placed his purse and talents at the service of the Church, as he was doing at this moment. No, murder must not be thought of; for how could any absolution wash him clean of that stain? But there were other ways. For instance, had not this Peter, in self-defence it is true, killed one of the servants of an ambassador of Spain? Perhaps, however, it would not be necessary to make use of them. It had seemed to him that the lady was not ill pleased with him, and, after all, he had much to offer. He would court her fairly, and if he were rejected by her, or by her father, then it would be time enough to act. Meanwhile, he would keep the sword hanging over the head of Peter, pretending that it was he alone who had prevented it from falling, and learn all that he could as to Castell and his history.
Here, indeed, Fortune, in the shape of the foolish Betty, had favoured him. Without a doubt, as he had heard in Spain, and been sure from the moment that he first saw him, Castell was still secretly a Jew. Mistress Betty's story of the room behind the altar, with the ark and the candles and the rolls of the Law, proved as much. At least here was evidence enough to send him to the fires of the Inquisition in Spain, and, perhaps, to drive him out of England. Now, if John Castell, the Spanish Jew, should not wish, for any reason, to give him his daughter in marriage, would not a hint and an extract from the Commissions of their Majesties of Spain and the Holy Father suffice to make him change his mind?
Thus pondering, d'Aguilar regained his lodgings, where his first task was to enter in a book all that Betty had told him, and all that he had observed in the house of John Castell.
In John Castell's house it was the habit, as in most others in those days, for his dependents, clerks, and shopmen to eat their morning and mid-day meals with him in the hall, seated at two lower tables, all of them save Betty, his daughter's cousin and companion, who sat with them at the upper board. This morning Betty's place was empty, and presently Castell, lifting his eyes, for he was lost in thought, noted it, and asked where she might be—a question that neither Margaret nor Peter could answer.
One of the servants at the lower table, however—it was that man who had been sent to follow d'Aguilar on the previous night—said that as he came down Holborn a while before he had seen her walking with the Spanish don, a saying at which his master looked grave.
Just as they were finishing their meal, a very silent one, for none of them seemed to have anything to say, and after the servants had left the hall, Betty arrived, flushed as though with running.
"Where have you been that you are so late?" asked Castell.
"To seek the linen for the new sheets, but it was not ready," she answered glibly. "The mercer kept you waiting long," remarked Castell quietly. "Did you meet any one?"
"Only the folk in the street."
"I will ask you no more questions, lest I should cause you to lie and bring you into sin," said Castell sternly. "Girl, how far did you walk with the Senor d'Aguilar, and what was your business with him?"
Now Betty knew that she had been seen, and that it was useless to deny the truth.
"Only a little way," she answered, "and that because he prayed me to show him his path."
"Listen, Betty," went on Castell, taking no notice of her words. "You are old enough to guard yourself, therefore as to your walking abroad with gallants who can mean you no good I say nothing. But know this—no one who has knowledge of the matters of my house," and he looked at her keenly, "shall mix with any Spaniard. If you are found alone with this senor any more, that hour I have done with you, and you never pass my door again. Nay, no words. Take your food and eat it elsewhere."
So she departed half weeping, but very angry, for Betty was strong and obstinate by nature. When she had gone, Margaret, who was fond of her cousin, tried to say some words on her behalf; but her father stopped her.
"Pshaw!" he said, "I know the girl; she is vain as a peacock, and, remembering her gentle birth and good looks, seeks to marry above her station; while for some purpose of his own—an ill one, I'll warrant— that Spaniard plays upon her weakness, which, if it be not curbed, may bring trouble on us all. Now, enough of Betty Dene; I must to my work."
"Sir," said Peter, speaking for the first time, "we would have a private word with you."
"A private word," he said, looking up anxiously. "Well, speak on. No, this place is not private; I think its walls have ears. Follow me," and he led the way into the old chapel, whereof, when they had all passed it, he bolted the door. "Now," he said, "what is it?"
"Sir," answered Peter, standing before him, "having your leave at last, I asked your daughter in marriage this morning."
"At least you lose no time, friend Peter; unless you had called her from her bed and made your offer through the door you could not have done it quicker. Well, well, you ever were a man of deeds, not words, and what says my Margaret?"
"An hour ago she said she was content," answered Peter.
"A cautious man also," went on Castell with a twinkle in his eye, "who remembers that women have been known to change their minds within an hour. After such long thought, what say you now, Margaret?"
"That I am angry with Peter," she answered, stamping her small foot, "for if he does not trust me for an hour, how can he trust me for his life and mine?"
"Nay, Margaret, you do not understand me," said Peter. "I wished not to bind you, that is all, in case——"
"Now you are saying it again," she broke in vexed, and yet amused. "Do so a third time, and I will you at your word."
"It seems best that I should remain silent. Speak you," said Peter humbly.
"Aye, for truly you are a master of silence, as I should know, if any do," replied Margaret, bethinking her of the weary months and years of waiting. "Well, I will answer for you.—Father, Peter was right; I am content to marry him, though to do so will be to enter the Order of the Silent Brothers. Yes, I am content; not for himself, indeed, who has so many faults, but for myself, who chance to love him," and she smiled sweetly enough.
"Do not jest on such matters, Margaret."
"Why not, father? Peter is solemn enough for both of us—look at him. Let us laugh while we may, for who knows when tears may come?"
"A good saying," answered Castell with a sigh. "So you two have plighted your troth, and, my children, I am glad of it, for who knows when those tears of which Margaret spoke may come, and then you can wipe away each other's? Take now her hand, Peter, and swear by the Rood, that symbol which you worship"—here Peter glanced at him, but he went on—"swear, both of you that come what may, together or separate, through good report or evil report, through poverty or wealth, through peace or persecutions, through temptation or through blood, through every good or ill that can befall you in this world of bittersweet, you will remain faithful to your troth until you be wed, and after you are wed, faithful to each other till death do part you."
These words he spoke to them in a voice that was earnest almost to passion, searching their faces the while with his quick eyes as though he would read their very hearts. His mood crept from him to them; once again they felt something of that fear which had fallen on them in the garden when they passed into the shadow of the Spaniard. Very solemnly then, and with little of true lovers' joy, did they take each other's hands and swear by the Cross and Him Who hung on it, that through these things, and all others they could not foretell, they would, if need were, be faithful to the death.
"And beyond it also," added Peter; while Margaret bowed her stately head in sweet assent.
"Children," said Castell, "you will be rich—few richer in this land—though mayhap it would be wise that you should not show all your wealth at once, or ape the place of a great house, lest envy should fall upon your heads and crush you. Be content to wait, and rank will find you in its season, or if not you, your children. Peter, I tell you now, lest I should forget it, that the list of all my moneys and other possessions in chattels or lands or ships or merchandise is buried beneath the floor of my office, just under where my chair stands. Lift the boards and dig away a foot of rubbish, and you will find a stone trap, and below an iron box with the deeds, inventories, and some very precious jewels. Also, if by any mischance that box should be lost, duplicates of nearly all these papers are in the hands of my good friend and partner in our inland British trade, Simon Levett, whom you know. Remember my words, both of you."
"Father," broke in Margaret in an anxious voice, "why do you speak of the future thus?—I mean, as though you had no share in it? Do you fear aught?"
"Yes, daughter, much, or rather I expect, I do not fear, who am prepared and desire to meet all things as they come. You have sworn that oath, have you not? And you will keep it, will you not?"
"Aye!" they answered with one breath.
"Then prepare you to feel the weight of the first of those trials whereof it speaks, for I will no longer hold back the truth from you. Children, I, whom for all these years you have thought of your own faith, am a Jew as my forefathers were before me, back to the days of Abraham."
The effect of this declaration upon its hearers was remarkable. Peter's jaw dropped, and for the second time that day his face went white; while Margaret sank down into a chair that stood near by, and stared at him helplessly. In those times it was a very terrible thing to be a Jew. Castell looked from one to the other, and, feeling the insult of their silence, grew angry.
"What!" he exclaimed in a bitter voice, "are you like all the others? Do you scorn me also because I am of a race more ancient and honourable than those of any of your mushroom lords and kings? You know my life: say, what have I done wrong? Have I caught Christian children and crucified them to death? Have I defrauded my neighbour or oppressed the poor? Have I mocked your symbol of the Host? Have I conspired against the rulers of this land? Have I been a false friend or a cruel father? You shake your heads; then why do you stare at me as though I were a thing accursed and unclean? Have I not a right to the faith of my fathers? May I not worship God in my own fashion?" And he looked at Peter, a challenge in his eyes. "Sir," answered Peter, "without a doubt you may, or so it seems to me. But then, why for all these years have you appeared to worship Him in ours?"