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HIS GRACE OF OSMONDE
HIS GRACE OF OSMONDE
BEING THE PORTIONS OF THAT NOBLEMAN'S LIFE OMITTED IN THE RELATION OF HIS LADY'S STORY PRESENTED TO THE WORLD OF FASHION UNDER THE TITLE OF A LADY OF QUALITY
FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1914
1897, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Were Nature just to Man from his first hour, he need not ask for Mercy; then 'tis for us—the toys of Nature—to be both just and merciful, for so only can the wrongs she does be undone.
I. THE FIFTH DAY OF APRIL, 1676 1
II. "HE IS THE KING" 13
III. SIR JEOFFRY WILDAIRS 26
IV. "GOD HAVE MERCY ON ITS EVIL FORTUNES" 35
V. MY LORD MARQUESS PLUNGES INTO THE THAMES 55
VI. "NO; SHE HAS NOT YET COME TO COURT" 65
VII. "'TIS CLO WILDAIRS, MAN—ALL THE COUNTY KNOWS THE VIXEN" 77
VIII. IN WHICH MY LADY BETTY TANTILLION WRITES OF A SCANDAL 92
IX. SIR JOHN OXON LAYS A WAGER AT CRIBB'S COFFEE HOUSE 107
X. MY LORD MARQUESS RIDES TO CAMYLOTT 119
XI. "IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN—IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN!" 133
XII. IN WHICH IS SOLD A PORTRAIT 141
XIII. "YOUR—GRACE!" 158
XIV. "FOR ALL HER YOUTH—THERE IS NO OTHER WOMAN LIKE HER" 179
XV. "AND 'TWAS THE TOWN RAKE AND BEAUTY—SIR JOHN OXON" 190
XVI. A RUMOUR 197
XVII. AS HUGH DE MERTOUN RODE 217
XVIII. A NIGHT IN WHICH MY LORD DUKE DID NOT SLEEP 235
XIX. "THEN YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN ONE OF THOSE—" 248
XX. AT CAMYLOTT 261
XXI. UPON THE MOOR 274
XXII. MY LADY DUNSTANWOLDE IS WIDOWED 299
XXIII. HER LADYSHIP RETURNS TO TOWN 319
XXIV. SIR JOHN OXON RETURNS ALSO 337
XXV. TO-MORROW 351
XXVI. A DEAD ROSE 363
XXVII. "'TWAS THE NIGHT THOU HIDST THE PACKAGE IN THE WALL" 381
XXVIII. SIR JOHN RIDES OUT OF TOWN 394
XXIX. AT THE COW AT WICKBEN 405
XXX. ON TYBURN HILL 423
XXXI. THEIR GRACES KEEP THEIR WEDDING DAY AT CAMYLOTT 440
XXXII. IN THE TURRET CHAMBER—AND IN CAMYLOTT WOOD 457
"'From this night all men shall kneel—all men on whom I deign to cast my eyes'" Frontispiece
FACING PAGE "Your Grace, it is this lady who is to do me the great honour of becoming my Lady Dunstanwolde" 232
HIS GRACE OF OSMONDE
The Fifth Day of April, 1676
Upon the village of Camylott there had rested since the earliest peep of dawn a hush of affectionate and anxious expectancy, the very plough-boys going about their labours without boisterous laughter, the children playing quietly, and the good wives in their kitchens and dairies bustling less than usual and modulating the sharpness of their voices, the most motherly among them in truth finding themselves falling into whispering as they gossiped of the great subject of the hour.
"The swallows were but just beginning to stir and twitter in their nests under the eaves when I heard the horses' hoofs a-clatter on the high road," said Dame Watt to her neighbour as they stood in close confab in her small front garden. "Lord's mercy! though I have lain down expecting it every night for a week, the heart of me leapt up in my throat and I jounced Gregory with a thump in his back to wake him from his snoring. 'Gregory,' cries I, ''tis sure begun. God be kind to her young Grace this day. There goes a messenger clattering over the road. Hearken to his horse's feet.'"
Dame Bush, her neighbour, being the good mother of fourteen stalwart boys and girls, heaved a lusty sigh, the sound of which was a thing suggesting much experience and fellow-feeling even with noble ladies at such times.
"There is not a woman's heart in Camylott village," said she, "which doth not beat for her to-day—and for his Grace and the heir or heiress that will come of these hours of hers. God bless all three!"
"Lord, how the tiny thing hath been loved and waited for!" said Dame Watt. "'Tis somewhat to be born a great Duke's child! And how its mother hath been cherished and kept like a young saint in a shrine!"
"If 'tis not a great child and a beauteous one 'twill be a wondrous thing, its parents being both beautiful and happy, and both deep in love," quoth motherly Bush.
"Ay, it beginneth well; it beginneth well," said Dame Watt—"a being born to wealth and state. What with chaplains and governors of virtue and learning, there seemeth no way for it to go astray in life or grow to aught but holy greatness. It should be the finest duke or duchess in all England some day, surely."
"Heaven ordains a fair life for some new-born things, 'twould seem," said Bush, "and a black one for others; and the good can no more be escaped than the bad. There goes my Matthew in his ploughboy's smock across the fields. 'Tis a good lad and a handsome. Why was he not a great lord's son?"
Neighbour Watt laughed.
"Because thou wert an honest woman and not a beauty," quoth she.
The small black eyes set deep in Bush's broad red face twinkled somewhat at the rough jest, but not in hearty mirth. She rubbed her hand across her mouth with an awkward gesture.
"Ay," answered she, "but 'twas not that I meant. I thought of all this child is born to—love and wealth and learning—and that others are born to naught but ill."
"Lawk! let us not even speak of ill on such a day," said her neighbour. "Look at the sky's blueness and the spring bursting forth in every branch and clod—and the very skylarks singing hard as if for joy."
"Ay," said Joan Bush, "and look up village street to the Plough Horse, and see thy Gregory and my Will and their mates pouring down ale to drink a health to it—and to her Grace and to my lord Duke, and to the fine Court doctors, and to the nurses, and to the Chaplain, and to old Rowe who waits about to be ready to ring a peal on the church bells. They'll find toasts enough, I warrant."
"That will they," said Dame Watt, but she chuckled good-naturedly, as if she held no grudge against ale drinking for this one day at least.
'Twas true the men found toasts enough and were willing to drink them as they would have been to drink even such as were less popular. These, in sooth, were near their hearts; and there was reason they should be, no nobleman being more just and kindly to his tenants than his Grace of Osmonde, and no lady more deservedly beloved and looked up to with admiring awe than his young Duchess, now being tenderly watched over at Camylott Tower by one of Queen Catherine's own physicians and a score of assistants, nurses, and underlings.
Even at this moment, William Bush was holding forth to the company gathered about the door of the Plough Horse, he having risen from the oaken bench at its threshold to have his pewter tankard filled again.
"'Tis not alone Duke he will be," quoth he, "but with titles and estates enough to make a man feel like King Charles himself. 'Tis thus he will be writ down in history, as his Grace his father hath been before him: Duke of Osmonde—Marquess of Roxholm—Earl of Osmonde—Earl of Marlowell—Baron Dorlocke of Paulyn, and Baron Mertoun of Charleroy."
"Can a man then be six men at once?" said Gregory Watt.
"Ay, and each of him be master of a great house and rich estate. 'Tis so with this one. 'Tis said the Court itself waits to hear the news."
Stout Tom Comfort broke forth into a laugh.
"'Tis not often the Court waits," says he, "to hear news so honest. At Camylott Tower lies one Duchess whom King Charles did not make, thank God, but was made one by her husband."
Will Bush set down his tankard with a smack upon the table before the sitting-bench.
"She had but once appeared at Whitehall when his Grace met her and fell deep in love that hour," he said.
"Was't not rumoured," said Tom Comfort, somewhat lowering his voice, "that He cast glances her way as he casts them on every young beauty brought before him, and that his Grace could scarce hold his tongue—King or no King?"
"Ay," said Will Bush, sharply, "his royal glance fell on her, and he made a jest on what a man's joy would be whose fortune it was to see her violet eyes melt in love—and his Grace went to her mother, the Lady Elspeth, and besought her to let him proffer his vows to the young lady; and she was his Duchess in ten months' time—and Madame Carwell had come from France, and in a year was made Duchess of Portsmouth."
"Heard you not that she too—some three weeks past—?" quoth Comfort, who was as fond of gossip as an old woman.
"Seventeen days gone," put in Bush; "and 'twas dead, by Heaven's mercy, poor brat. They say she loses her looks, and that his Majesty tires of her, and looks already toward other quarters." And so they sat over their ale and gossiped, they being supplied with anecdote by his Grace's gentleman's gentleman, who was fond of Court life and found the country tiresome, and whose habit it was to spend an occasional evening at the Plough Horse for the pleasure of having even an audience of yokels; liking it the better since, being yokels, they would listen open-mouthed and staring by the hour to his swagger and stories of Whitehall and Hampton Court, and the many beauties who surrounded the sacred person of his most gracious Majesty, King Charles the Second. Every yokel in the country had heard rumours of these ladies, but Mr. Mount gave those at Camylott village details which were often true and always picturesque.
"What could be expected," he would say, "of a man who had lived in gay exile through his first years, and then of a sudden was made a King, and had all the beauties of England kneeling before him—and he with a squat, black, long-toothed Portugee fastened to him for a wife? And Mistress Barbara Palmer at him from his first landing on English soil to be restored—she that was made my Lady Castlemaine."
And then he would relate stories of this beauteous fury, and her tempestuous quarrels with the King, and of how 'twas known his ease and pleasure-loving nature stood in terror of her violence and gave way before it with bribes and promises through sheer weariness.
"'Tis not that he loves her best," said Mr. Mount, snuff-taking in graceful Court fashion, "for he hath loved a dozen since; but she is a shrew, and can rave and bluster at him till he would hang her with jewels, and give her his crown itself to quieten her furies. 'Tis the pretty orange wench and actor woman Nell Gwynne who will please him longest, for she is a good-humoured baggage and witty, and gives him rest."
'Twas not alone Charles who was pleased with Nell Gwynne. All England liked her, and the lower orders best of all, because she was merry and kind of heart and her jokes and open-handedness pleased them. They were deep in the midst of a story of a poor gentleman in orders whom she had rescued from the debtors' prison, when old Rowe, who had been watching the road leading from the park gates, pricked up his ears and left his seat, trembling with excitement.
"'Tis a horse galloping," he cried; and as they all turned to look he flung his cap in the air. "'Tis the messenger," he burst forth, "and he waves his hat in his hand as if he had gone mad with joy. Off go I to the church tower as fast as legs will carry me."
And off he hobbled, and the messenger galloped onward, flourishing his hat as he rode, and giving it no rest till he drew rein before the Plough Horse door, and all gathered about him to hear his news.
"An heir—an heir!" he cried. "'Tis an heir, and as lusty as a young lion. Gerald Walter John Percy Mertoun, next Duke of Osmonde! Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!"
And at the words all the men shouted and flung up their hats, the landlord with his wife and children ran forth, women rushed out of their cottages and cried for joy—and the bells in the old church's grey tower swung and rang such a peal of gladness as sounded as if they had gone wild in their ecstacy of welcome to the new-born thing.
In all England there was no nobleman's estate adorned by a house more beautiful than was the Tower of Camylott. Through the centuries in which it had stood upon the fair hill which was its site, there had passed no reign in which a king or queen had not been guest there, and no pair of royal eyes had looked from its window quite without envy, upon the richly timbered, far reaching park and the broad lovely land rolling away to the sea. There was no palace with such lands spread before it, and there were few kings' houses as stately and beauteous in their proportions as was this one.
The fairest room in the fair house had ever been the one known as her Grace's White Chamber. 'Twas a spacious room with white panelled walls and large mullioned windows looking forth over green hill and vale and purple woodland melting into the blue horizon. The ivy grew thick about the windows, and birds nested therein and twittered tenderly in their little homes. The Duchess greatly loved the sound, as she did the fragrance of flowers with which the air of the White Chamber was ever sweet, and which was wafted up to it by each wandering breeze from the flower-beds blooming on the terrace below.
In this room—as the bells in the church tower rang their joyous peal—her young Grace lay in her great bed, her new-born child on her arm and her lord seated close to her pillow, holding her little hand to his lips, his lashes somewhat moist as he hung over his treasures.
"You scarce can believe that he is here," the Duchess whispered with a touching softness. "Indeed, I scarce believe it myself. 'Twas not fair of him to keep us waiting five years when we so greatly yearned for his coming. Perhaps he waited, knowing that we expected so much from him—such beauty and such wisdom and such strength. Let us look at him together, love. The physician will order you away from me soon, but let us see first how handsome he is."
She thrust the covering aside and the two heads—one golden and one brown—pressed closer together that they might the better behold the infant charms which were such joy to them.
"I would not let them bind his little limbs and head as is their way," she said. "From the first hour I spoke with his chief nurse, I gave her my command that he should be left free to grow and to kick his pretty legs as soon as he was strong enough. See, John, he stirs them a little now. They say he is of wondrous size and long and finely made, and indeed he seems so to me—and 'tis not only because I am so proud, is it?"
"I know but little of their looks when they are so young, sweet," her lord answered, his voice and eyes as tender as her own; for in sooth he felt himself moved as he had been at no other hour in his life before, though he was a man of a nature as gentle as 'twas strong. "I will own that I had ever thought of them as strange, unbeauteous red things a man almost held in fear, and whose ugliness a woman but loved because she was near angel; but this one—" and he drew nearer still with a grave countenance—"surely it looks not like the rest. 'Tis not so red and crumple-visaged—its tiny face hath a sort of comeliness. It hath a broad brow, and its eyes will sure be large and well set."
The Duchess slipped her fair arm about his neck—he was so near to her 'twas easy done—and her smile trembled into sweet tears which were half laughter.
"Ah, we love him so," she cried, "how could we think him like any other? We love him so and are so happy and so proud."
And for a moment they remained silent, their cheeks pressed together, the scent of the spring flowers wafting up to them from the terrace, the church bells pealing out through the radiant air.
"He was born of love," his mother whispered at last. "He will live amid love and see only honour and nobleness."
"He will grow to be a noble gentleman," said my lord Duke. "And some day he will love a noble lady, and they will be as we have been—as we have been, beloved."
And their faces turned towards each other as if some law of nature drew them, and their lips met—and their child stirred softly in its first sleep.
"He is the King"
The bells pealed at intervals throughout the day in at least five villages over which his Grace of Osmonde was lord—at Roxholm they pealed, at Marlowell Dane, at Paulyn Dorlocke, at Mertounhurst, at Camylott—and in each place, when night fell, bonfires were lighted and oxen roasted whole, while there were dancing and fiddling and drinking of ale on each village green.
In truth, as Dame Watt had said, he had begun well—Gerald Walter John Percy Mertoun, Marquess of Roxholm; and well it seemed he would go on. He throve in such a way as was a wonder to his physicians and nurses, the first gentlemen finding themselves with no occasion for practising their skill, since he suffered from no infant ailments whatsoever, but fed and slept and grew lustier and fairer every hour. He grew so finely—perhaps because his young mother had defied ancient custom and forbidden his limbs and body to be bound—that at three months he was as big and strong as an infant of half a year. 'Twas plain he was built for a tall man with broad shoulders and noble head. But a few months had passed before his baby features modelled themselves into promise of marked beauty, and his brown eyes gazed back at human beings, not with infant vagueness, but with a look which had in it somewhat of question and reply. His retinue of serving-women were filled with such ardent pride in him that his chief nurse had much to do to keep the peace among them, each wishing to be first with him, and being jealous of another who made him laugh and crow and stretch forth his arms that she might take him. The Commandress-in-Chief of the nurses was no ordinary female. She was the widow of a poor chaplain—her name Mistress Rebecca Halsell—and she gratefully rejoiced to have had the happiness to fall into a place of such honour and responsibility. She was of sober age, and being motherly as well as discreet, kept such faithful watch over him as few children begin life under.
The figure of this good woman throughout his childhood stood out from among all others surrounding him, with singular distinctness. She seemed not like a servant, nor was she like any other in the household. As he ripened in years, he realised that in his earliest memories of her there was a recollection of a certain grave respect she had seemed to pay him, and he saw it had been not mere deference but respect, as though he had been a man in miniature, and one to whom, despite his tender youth, dignity and reason should be qualities of nature, and therefore might be demanded from him in all things. As early as thought began to form itself clearly in him, he singled out Mistress Halsell as a person to reflect upon. When he was too young to know wherefore, he comprehended vaguely that she was of a world to which the rest of his attendants did not belong. 'Twas not that she was of greatly superior education and manners, since all those who waited upon him had been carefully chosen; 'twas that she seemed to love him more gravely than did the others, and to mean a deeper thing when she called him "my lord Marquess." She was a pock-marked woman (she having taken the disease from her late husband the Chaplain, who had died of that scourge), and in her earliest bloom could have been but plainly favoured. She had a large-boned frame, and but for a good and serious carriage would have seemed awkward. She had, however, the good fortune to be the possessor of a mellow voice, and to have clear grey eyes, set well and deep in her head, and full of earnest meaning.
"Her I shall always remember," the young Marquess often said when he had grown to be a man and was Duke, and had wife and children of his own. "I loved to sit upon her knee, and lean against her breast, and gaze up into her eyes. 'Twas my child-fancy that there was deep within them something like a star, and when I gazed at it, I felt a kind of loving awe such as grew within me when I lay and looked up at a star in the sky."
His mother's eyes were of so dark a violet that 'twas his fancy of them that they looked like the velvet of a purple pansy. Her complexion was of roses and lilies, and had in truth by nature that sweet bloom which Sir Peter Lely was kind enough to bestow upon every beauty of King Charles's court his brush made to live on canvas. She was indeed a lovely creature and a happy one, her life with her husband and child so contenting her that, young though she was, she cared as little for Court life as my lord Duke, who, having lived longer in its midst than she, had no taste for its intrigues and the vices which so flourished in its hot-bed. Though the noblest Duke in England, and of a family whose whole history was enriched with services to the royal house, his habits and likings were not such as made noblemen favourites at the court of Charles the Second. He was not given to loose adventure, and had not won the heart of my Lady Castlemaine, since he had made no love to her, which was not a thing to be lightly forgiven to any handsome and stalwart gentleman. Besides this, he had been so moved by the piteous case of the poor Queen, during her one hopeless battle for her rights when this termagant beauty was first thrust upon her as lady of her bedchamber, that on those cruel days during the struggle when the poor Catherine had found herself sitting alone, deserted, while her husband and her courtiers gathered in laughing, worshipping groups about her triumphant rival, this one gentleman had sought by his courteous respect to support her in her humiliated desolation, though the King himself had first looked black and then had privately mocked at him.
"He hath fallen in love with her," the Castlemaine had said afterwards to a derisive group; "he hath fallen deep in love—with her long teeth and her Portuguese farthingale."
"She needs love, poor soul, Heaven knows," the Duke returned, when this speech was repeated to him. "A poor girl taken from her own country, married to a King, and then insulted by his Court and his mistresses! Some man should remember her youth and desolateness, and not forget that another man has broke her heart and lets his women laugh at her misfortunes."
'Twould have been a dangerous speech perhaps had a man of the Court of Henry the Eighth made it, even to a friend, but Charles was too lightly vicious and too fond of gay scenes to be savage. His brutality was such as was carelessly wreaked on hearts instead of heads—hearts he polluted, made toys of, flung in the mire or broke; heads he left on the shoulders they belonged to. But he did not love his Grace of Osmonde, and though his rank and character were such that he could not well treat him with indignity, he did not regret that after his Grace's marriage with the Lady Rosalys Delile he appeared but seldom at Court.
"He is a tiresome fellow, for one can find no fault with him," his Majesty said, fretfully. "Odd's fish! fortune is on his side where my house is concerned. His father fought at Edgehill and Marston Moor, and they tell me died but two years after Naseby of a wound he had there. Let him go and bury himself on his great estates, play the benefactor to his tenantry, listen to his Chaplain's homilies, and pay stately visits to the manors of his neighbours."
His Grace lived much in the country, not being fond of town, but he did not bury himself and his fair spouse. Few men lived more active lives and found such joy in existence. He entertained at his country seats most brilliantly, since, though he went but seldom to London, he was able to offer London such pleasures and allurements that it was glad to come to him. There were those who were delighted to leave the Court itself to visit Roxholm or Camylott or some other of his domains. Men who loved hunting and out-of-door life found entertainment on the estates of a man who was the most splendid sportsman of his day, whose moors and forests provided the finest game and his stables the finest horses in England. Women who were beauties found that in his stately rooms they might gather courts about them. Men of letters knew that in his libraries they might delve deep into the richest mines. Those who loved art found treasures in his galleries, and wide comprehension and finished tastes in their master.
And over the assemblies, banquets, and brilliant hunt balls there presided the woman with the loveliest eyes, 'twas said, in England, Scotland, Ireland, or Wales—the violet eyes King Charles had been stirred by and which had caused him a bitter scene with my Lady Castlemaine, whose eyes were neither violet nor depths of tender purity. The sweetest eyes in the world, all vowed them to be; and there was no man or woman, gentle or simple, who was not rejoiced by their smiling.
"In my book of pictures," said the little Marquess to his mother once, "there is an angel. She looks as you do when you come in your white robe to kiss me before you go down to dine with the ladies and gentlemen who are our guests. Your little shining crown is made of glittering stones, and hers is only gold. Angels wear only golden crowns—but you are like her, mother, only more beautiful."
The child from his first years was used to the passing and repassing across his horizon of brilliant figures and interesting ones. From the big mullioned window of his nursery he could see the visitors come and go, he watched the beaux and beauties saunter in the park and pleasaunce in their brocades, laces, and plumed hats, he saw the scarlet coats ride forth to hunt, and at times fine chariots roll up the avenue with great people in them come to make visits of state. His little life was full of fair pictures and fair stories of them. When the house was filled with brilliant company he liked nothing so much as to sit on Mistress Halsell's knee or in his chair by her side and ask her questions about the guests he caught glimpses of as they passed to and fro. He was a child of strong imagination and with a great liking for the romantic and poetic. He would have told to him again and again any rumour of adventure connected with those he had beheld. He was greatly pleased by the foreign ladies and gentlemen who were among the guests—he liked to hear of the Court of King Louis the Fourteenth, and to have pointed out to him those visitors who were personages connected with it. He was attracted by the sound of foreign tongues, and would inquire to which country a gentleman or lady belonged, and would thrust his head out of the window when they sauntered on the terraces below that he might hear them speak their language. As was natural, he heard much interesting gossip from his attendants when they were not aware that he was observing, they feeling secure in his extreme youth. He could not himself exactly have explained how his conception of the difference between the French and English Courts arose, but at seven years old, he in some way knew that King Louis was a finer gentleman than King Charles, that his Court was more elegant, and that the beauties who ruled it were not merry orange wenches, or romping card house-building maids of honour, or splendid viragoes who raved and stamped and poured forth oaths as fishwives do. How did he know it—and many other things also? He knew it as children always know things their elders do not suspect them of remarking, but which, falling upon their little ears sink deep into their tiny minds, and lying there like seeds in rich earth, put forth shoots and press upwards until they pierce through the darkness and flower and bear fruit in the light of day. He knew that a certain great Duchess of Portsmouth had been sent over from France by King Louis to gain something from King Charles, who had fallen in love with her. The meaning of "falling in love" he was yet vague in his understanding of, but he knew that the people hated her because they thought she played tricks and would make trouble for England if she led the King as she tried to do. The common people called her "Madame Carwell," that being their pronunciation of the French name she had borne before she had been made a Duchess. He had once heard his nurses Alison and Grace gossiping together of a great service of gold the King had given her, and which, when it had been on exhibition, had made the people so angry that they had said they would like to see it melted and poured down her throat. "If he must give it," they had grumbled, "he had better have bestowed it upon Madame Ellen."
Hearing this, my lord Marquess had left his playing and gone to the women, where they stood enjoying their gossip and not thinking of him. He stood and looked up at Alison in his grave little way.
"Who is Madame Ellen, Alison?" he inquired.
"Good Lord!" the woman exclaimed, aside to her companion.
"Why do the people like her better than the other?" he persisted.
At this moment Mistress Halsell entered the nursery, and her keen eye saw at once that his young Lordship had put some question to his attendants which they scarce knew how to answer.
"What does my lord Marquess ask, Grace?" she said; and my lord Marquess turned and looked at herself.
"I heard them speak of Madame Ellen," he answered. "They said something about some pretty things made of gold and that the people were angry that they were for her Grace of Portsmouth instead of Madame Ellen. Why do they like her better?"
Mistress Halsell took his hand and walked with him to their favourite seat in the big window.
"It is because she is the better woman of the two, my lord," she said.
"Is the other one bad, then?" he inquired. "And why does his Majesty give her things made of gold?"
"To pay her," answered Mistress Rebecca, looking thoughtfully out of the window.
"For what?" the young Marquess asked.
"For—for that an honest woman should not take pay for."
"Then why does he love her? Is he a bad King?" his voice lowering as he said it and his brown-eyed, ruddy little face grown solemn.
"A quiet woman in a place like mine cannot judge of Kings," she answered; "but to be King is a grave thing."
"Grave!" cried he; "I thought it was very splendid. All England belongs to him; he wears a gold crown and people kneel to kiss his hand. My father and mother kneel to him when they go to the Court."
"That is why it is grave," said Mistress Rebecca. "All the people look to him for their example. Because he is their head they follow him. He can lead them to good or evil. He can help England to be honest or base. He is the KING."
The little fellow looked out upon the fair scene spread before him. Many thoughts he could not yet have found words for welled up within him and moved him vaguely.
"He is the King," he repeated, softly; "he is the King!"
Mistress Rebecca looked at him with tender, searching eyes. She had, through her own thoughts, learned how much these small creatures—sometimes dealt with so carelessly—felt when they were too young for phrases, and how much, also, they remembered their whole lives through.
"He is the King," she said, "and a King must think of his people. A Duke, too, must think of his—as his Grace, your father, thinks, never dealing lightly with his great name or his great house, or those of whom he is governor."
The boy climbed upon her knee and sat there, leaning against her as he loved to do. His eyes rested on the far edge of the farthest purple moor, behind which the sun seemed to be slipping away into some other world he knew not of. The little clouds floating in the high blue sky were rosy where they were not golden; a flock of rooks was flying slowly homeward over the tree-tops, cawing lazily as they came. A great and beautiful stillness seemed to rest on all the earth, and his little mind was full of strange ponderings, leading him through labyrinths of dreams he would remember and comprehend the deep meaning of only when he was a man. Somehow all his thoughts were trooping round about a rich and brilliant figure which was a sort of image standing to him for the personality of his Most Sacred Majesty King Charles the Second—the King who was not quite a King, though all England looked to him, and he could lead it to good or evil.
Sir Jeoffry Wildairs
It was not common in those days for young gentlemen of quality to love their books too dearly; in truth, men of all ranks and ages were given rather to leaving learning and the effort to acquire it to those who depended upon professions to gain their bread for them. Men of rank and fortune had too many amusements which required no aid from books, which, indeed, were not greatly the fashion. For country gentlemen there was hunting, coursing, cock-fights, the exhilarating watching of cudgelling bouts between yokels, besides visiting, and much eating and drinking and smoking of tobacco while jovial, and sometimes not too fastidious stories were told. When a man went up to town he had other pleasures to fill his time, and whether he was a country gentleman making his yearly visit or a fashionable rake and beau, his entertainment was not usually derived from books, a man who spent much time with them being indeed generally regarded as a milksop. But from the time when he lay stretched upon his nursery floor and gazed at pictures and lettering he had not learned to read, the little Marquess had a fondness for books. He learned to read early, and once having learned, was never so full of pleasure as when he had a volume to pore over. At first he revelled in stories of magicians, giants, afrits, and gnomes, but as soon as his tutors took him in hand he wakened every day to some new interest. Languages ancient and modern he learned with great rapidity, having a special fondness for them, and at thirteen could speak French, high Dutch, and Italian excellently well for his years, besides having a scholarly knowledge of Latin and Greek. His tutor, Mr. Fox, an elderly scholar of honourable birth and many attainments, was as proud of his talents and advancement as his female attendants had been of his strength and beauty in his infancy. This gentleman, whose income had been reduced by misfortune, who had lost his wife and children tragically by one illness, and who had come to undertake his pupil an almost brokenhearted man, found in the promise of this young mind a solace he had never hoped to know again.
"I have taught young gentlemen before," he remarked privately to Mistress Halsell—"one at least with royal blood in his veins, though he was not called prince—but my lord Marquess has a fire I have seen in no other. To set him to work upon a new branch of study is like setting a flame to brushwood. 'Tis as though he burned his way to that he would reach." The same fire expressed itself in all he did. He was passionately fond of all boyish sports, and there was no bodily feat he undertook which he did not finally perform better than others of his age performed it. He could leap, run, fence, shoot at a mark; there was no horse he could not ride, and at ten he stood as tall as a boy of fourteen, and was stalwart and graceful into the bargain. Of his beauty there could be no question, it being of an order which marked him in any assembly. 'Twas not only that his features were of so fine a moulding, that his thick hair curled about his brow in splendid rings, and that he had a large deep eye, tawny brown and fearless as a young lion's, but there was in the carriage of his head, the bearing of his body, the very movement of his limbs a thing which stamped him. In truth, it was as if nature, in a lavish mood and having leisure, had built a human creature of her best and launched him furnished forth with her fairest fortunes, that she might behold what he would do. The first time he was taken by his parents to London, there was a day upon which, while walking in the garden of Hampton Court, accompanied by his governor, he found himself stopped by a splendid haughty lady, whom Mr. Fox saluted with some fearfulness when she addressed him. She asked the boy's name, and, putting her hand on his shoulder, so held him that she might look at him well.
"The little Roxholm," she said. "Yes, his mother was the beauty who—"
'Twas as if she checked her speech. She made a quick, imperious movement with her head, and added: "He is all rumour said of him;" and she turned away with such abruptness that the child asked himself how he had vexed her, and wondered also at her manners, he being used only to grace and courtesy.
They were near the end of the terrace which looked upon the River Thames, and she went with her companion and leaned upon the stone balustrades, looking out upon the water with fierce eyes. "The woman who could give him a son like that," she said, "could hold him against all others, and demand what she chose. Squat Catherine herself could do it."
Little Roxholm heard her.
"She is a very handsome lady," he said, innocently, "though she has a strange way. Is she of the Court, and do you know her name?"
"'Tis her Grace the Duchess of Cleveland," answered Mr. Fox, gravely, as they walked away.
He was seven years old at this time, and 'twas during this visit to town that he heard a conversation which made a great impression upon him, opening up as it did new vistas of childish thinking. Having known but one phase of existence, he was not aware that he had lived the life of a young prince in a fairy tale, and that there were other children whose surroundings were as gloomy as his were fair and bright.
He was one day comfortably ensconced in the deep embrasure of a window, a book upon his knee, when Mistress Halsell and one of the upper servants came into the room upon which his study opened, and presently his ear was attracted by a thing they were speaking of with some feeling.
"As sweetly pretty a young lady as ever one beheld," he heard. "Never saw I a fairer skin or eyes more hyacinth-blue—and her hair trailing to the ground like a mantle, and as soft and fine as silk."
'Twas this which made him stop in his reading. The description seeming so like that of a beauty in a story of chivalry in which knights fought for such loveliness.
"And now," the voice went on, "after but a few years of marriage all her beauty lost so that none would know her! Four poor, weak girl infants she hath given birth to, and her husband, Sir Jeoffry, in a fury at the coming of each, raging that it is not an heir. Before the first came he had begun to slight her, and when 'twas born a girl he well-nigh broke her heart. He is a great, bold, handsome man, and she, poor little lady, hopeless in her worship of him. And the next year there was another girl, and each year since—and Sir Jeoffry spends his time in riot and drinking and ill-living—and she fades away in her wing of the house, scarce ever seen."
"Poor, uncared-for thing, 'twould be happier if God took her, and her children, too," said Mistress Halsell.
"Three have been taken," replied her companion, in a low voice. "Neither she nor they have strength. And ah! to see her in these days—her pretty face grown thin and haggard, the blue of her eyes drenched out with weeping. 'Tis told he once said to her, 'When a woman grows thin and yellow, her husband will go in search of better looks, and none has right to blame him.' 'Twas on a day when she had dressed herself in her best to please him, but a few weeks after her third infant came into the world. And so weak was she, poor lady, and so hurt in spirit, that she gave a little sob and swooned."
The young Marquess read his book no more. He drew down his handsome childish brow and stared straight before him through the window. He was a boy with a fiery spirit, despite his general amiability of demeanour, and, had he lived among tormentors and tyrants and been ill-treated, would have had an ungovernable temper. The thing he had heard filled him with a kind of rage against this big handsome man who treated his lady cruelly and hated her infants. 'Twas all brutal and wicked and unfair, as if one should heartlessly beat a little dog that loved one. The picture brought before him was hideous and made him grow hot. His spirit had never been tamed, he had the blood of fighting men in his veins, and he had read innumerable stories of chivalry. He wished he were big enough to go forth in search of such men as this Sir Jeoffry, and strike them to the earth with his sword.
On such evenings as their Graces did not entertain, he was taken by his governour to spend an hour with his father and mother in the withdrawing-room, where they sat, and on this evening, when he went to them, each of them observed that he spoke less than usual and seemed in a new mood. He had always been filled with a passionate adoration of his mother, and was much given to following her with his eyes; but this night his gaze was fixed upon her in such earnest scrutiny that at last her Grace asked him laughingly what he saw in her looks more than ordinary. He had kept very close to her, and had held her hand, and kissed it more than once since he had been in the room. He lifted it to his lips again now, and pressed an impassioned kiss upon its fairness.
"You were never treated cruelly," he said. "No one would ever dare to speak so to you that you would sob and swoon. If any dared!" and his little hand involuntarily went to his side with a fierce childish gesture which made my lord Duke laugh delightedly.
"'Tis in his blood to draw," he said. "Bravo! Roxholm; bravo!"
His mother looked at his beautiful little face and, seeing a thing in his eyes which women who are mothers detect in the eyes of their offspring when others observe little, put a hand on each of his shoulders and went upon one knee so that she could be on a level with his face and see deeper.
"What," she said, with a tender comprehending warmth, "you have been hearing of some poor lady who is hardly treated, and you cannot endure to think of it, because you are a man even though you are but seven years old;" and she bent forward and kissed him with a lovely passion and her violet eyes bedewed. "Yes, love," she said, "you are a Man. All Osmondes are when they are born, I think. Indeed, John"—with the sweetest laughing look at her lord, who stood worshipping her from his place at the opposite side of the hearth—"I am sure that when you were seven years old, if you had had a little sword, you would have drawn it to defend a woman against a giant, though he had been big enough to have eaten you at one mouthful—and Gerald is like you," proudly. "Gerald is a Man, too."
"'Tis not fair," cried little Roxholm, passionately, "'tis not fair that a big gentleman should be so harsh to a poor lady who loves him, that he should make her cry till the blue goes from her eyes and she is beautiful no longer, and that he should hate her infants because they are not boys. And when she tried to please him he made her sob and swoon away. He should be killed for it—he should be killed."
His father and mother glanced at each other. "Surely," her Grace said, "he must have heard of the wicked Gloucestershire baronet my Lord Dunstanwolde told us stories of—Sir Jeoffry."
"Ay, his name was Sir Jeoffry," cried Roxholm, eagerly. "Sir Jeoffry it was they said."
"Yes," said my lord Duke, "Sir Jeoffry Wildairs, and a rank, heartless brute he is to be the father of helpless girl children."
"God Have Mercy on its Evil Fortunes"
In the constantly changing panorama which passes before the mind of a child, it is certain no picture dawns and fades without leaving some trace behind. The exact images may not be recorded, but the effect produced by their passing will remain and become part of the palimpsest of life and character. The panorama which passed before the mental vision of the boy Marquess during the years of his early youth was not only brilliant but full of great changes, being indeed such a panorama as could not fail to produce strong and formative impressions upon a growing mind. The doings of Charles Stuart's dissolute and brilliant Court he began life hearing stories of; before he had reached ten years of age, King Charles had died and James the Second was ruler of England; in three years more his Majesty had been deserted by all and had fled to the protection of Louis of France, leaving his crown behind him to be offered to and accepted by William of Orange and Mary, his well-beloved wife; but four years later Queen Mary had died of small-pox and left her husband overwhelmed with grief, crying that he had been the happiest of men and was now the most miserable. Kings are not made and deposed, crowned and buried and mourned, without pomps, ceremonials, and the occurring of events which must move even the common mind to observation and reflection. This young mind was of no common mould, it having come into the world active and by nature ready to receive impressions, and from its earliest consciousness had been watched and cultured in such manner as must have enriched even the poorest understanding. As children of ordinary rank are familiar with games, and hear of simple every-day events that happen to their neighbours, this heir to a dukedom was familiar with the game of Courts and rulers and heard daily discussion of Kings and great statesmen—of their rights and wrongs, their triumphs and failures. The changing events made such discussion inevitable, and the boy, being through their wise affection treated almost as the companion of his parents, heard much important conversation which filled him with deep interest and led him into grave thinking which greatly developed his powers of mind. Among the many memories which remained with him throughout his life, and which in his later years he realised, had left a singularly definite image upon his mind, was this small incident of his first hearing of the Gloucestershire baronet whose lady had wept the blue from her eyes in her wretchedness under his brutal neglect and cruelty. The impression doubtless owed much of its vividness to the fact that 'twas made so early as to be the first realising of the existence of a world where misery dwelt as a common thing, where men were coarse and cruel, where women were tyrannised over and treated roughly, and where children were unloved and neglected. Into this world he had previously obtained no glimpse; but, once having realised its existence, he could not easily forget it. Often as time passed he found himself haunted by thoughts of the poor injured lady and her children, and being a creature of strong imagination, there would rise before him mental pictures of what a household might be whose master was a coarse rioter before whom his wife and children cowered in fear.
So it happened in his conversing with Mistress Halsell he broached the subject of the Gloucestershire baronet, and the good woman, seeing that his speech did not arise from idle curiosity, told him what she knew of this most unhappy family.
'Twas an old family and a good one in the matter of lineage, but through the debaucheries of the last baronets its estates had become impoverished and its reputation of an ill savour. It had ever been known as a family noted for the great physical strength and beauty of its men and women. For centuries the men of the house of Wildairs had been the biggest and the handsomest in England. They had massive frames, black eyes, thick hair and beards, and feared neither man nor devil, but openly defied both. They were men who lived wildly, ate and drank hugely, pursued women, were great at all deeds of prowess, and bursting with rough health and lawless high spirits. 'Twas a saying of their house that "a Wildairs who could not kill an ox with a blow and eat half of him when he was roasted, was a poor wight indeed." The present baronet, Sir Jeoffry, was of somewhat worse reputation than any Sir Jeoffry before him. He lived a wild life in the country, rarely going up to town, as he was not fond of town manners and town customs, but liked better hunting, coursing, cock-fighting, bull-baiting, and engaging in intrigues with dairy maids and the poppy-cheeked daughters of his cottagers. He had married a sweet creature of fifteen, whom after their brief honeymoon he had neglected as such men neglect a woman, leaving her to break her heart and lose her bloom and beauty in her helpless mourning for his past passion for her. He was at drawn swords with his next of kin, who despised him and his evil, rough living, and he had set his mind upon leaving sons enough to make sure his title should be borne only by his own offspring. He being of this mind, 'twas not to be wondered at that he had no welcome for the daughters who should have pleased him by being sons. When the first was born he flouted its mother bitterly, the poor young lady, who was but sixteen and a delicate creature, falling into a fit of illness through her grief and disappointment. The coming of the second threw him into a rage, the third into a fury; and the birth of a fourth being announced, he stormed like a madman, would not look at it, and went upon a debauch so protracted and disgraceful as to be the scandal of the county and the subject of gossip for many a day.
From that hour the innocent Lady Wildairs did not raise her head. Her family had rejected her on account of her marriage with a rake so unfashionable and of reputation so coarse. Wildairs Hall, ill kept, and going to ruin through the wasteful living of its spendthrift master, was no place for such guests as were ladies and gentlemen. The only visitors who frequented it were a dozen or so chosen spirits who shared Sir Jeoffry's tastes—hunted, drank, gambled with him, and were as loose livers as himself. My Lady Wildairs, grown thin, yellow, and haggard, shrank into her own poor corner of the big house, a bare west wing where she bore her children in lonely suffering and saw them die, one after the other, two only having the strength to survive. She was her lord's hopeless slave, and at the same time the mere knowledge of her existence was an irritation to him, she being indeed regarded by him as a Sultan might regard the least fortunate of his harem.
"Damn her," he cried once to one of his cronies, a certain Lord Eldershaw, "in these days I hate the sight of her, with her skinny throat and face. What's a woman for, after she looks like that? If she were not hanging about my neck I could marry some fine strapping girl who would give me an heir before a year was out."
If young Roxholm did not hear this special anecdote, he heard others from various sources which were productive in him of many puzzled and somewhat anxious thoughts. "Why was it," he pondered, "that women who had not the happy fortune of his mother seemed at so cruel a disadvantage—that men who were big and handsome having won them, grew tired of them and cast them aside, with no care for their loneliness and pain? Why had God so made them that they seemed as helpless as poor driven sheep? 'Twas not fair it should be so—he could not feel it honest, though he was beset by grave fears at his own contumacy since he had been taught that God ordained all things. Had he ordained this, that men should be tyrants, and base, and cruel, and that women should be feeble victims who had but the power to moan and die and be forgotten? There was my Lord Peterborough, who had fought against Algerine pirates, and at nineteen crowned his young brow with glory in action at Tripoli. To the boyish mind he was a figure so brilliant and gallant and to be adored that it seemed impossible to allow that his shining could be tarnished by a fault, yet 'twas but a year after his marriage with the fair daughter of Fraser of Mearns that he had wearied of his love and gaily sailed for the Algerine coast again. Whether the young Countess had bewailed her lot or not, Roxholm had not chanced to hear, but having had for husband a young gentleman so dazzling and full of fascination, how could she have found herself deserted and feel no heartache and shed no tears? My lord could sail away and fight corsairs, but her poor ladyship must remain behind and do battle only with her heart, gaining no laurels thereby.
The sentiment of the times was not one which rated women high or was fraught with consideration for female weakness. Charles Stuart taught men how women should be regarded, and the beauties of his Court had aided him in such manner as deepened the impression he had produced. A beauty had her few years of triumph in which she was pursued, intrigued with, worshipped, flattered, had madrigals sung in her honour; those years over, no one cared to hear of the remainder of her life. If there were dregs left in her cup, she drank them alone. A woman who had no beauty was often a mere drudging or child-bearing wife, scapegoat for ill-humour and morning headaches; victim, slave, or unnoticed appendage. This the whilom toast Lady Wildairs had become, and there were many like her.
The Earl of Dunstanwolde, who was the nobleman who had spoken to the Duke and Duchess of the Gloucestershire Baronet, was a distant kinsman, and a somewhat frequent visitor both at their Graces' country estates and at their town establishment, Osmonde House. His own estate was near Gloucestershire, and he knew the stories of Wildairs Hall, as did so many others.
This gentleman was somewhat past middle age, and was the owner of such qualities of mind and heart as had won for him the friendship of all thinking persons who knew him. A man of kindly refinement and dignity, familiar with arts and letters, and generous in his actions both to his equals and his inferiors, he was of ancient blood, and had large estates in the country and a great house in town.
But, notwithstanding the honourableness of his position, and the ease of his circumstances, he was not a happy gentleman, having made a love-match in his youth, and lost his passionately worshipped consort at the birth of her first child, who had lived but two hours. He had been so happy in his union that, being of a constant nature, he could not console himself for his bereavement, and had remained a widower, content that his estates and titles should pass to a distant cousin who was the next heir. He was a sad-faced gentleman with delicately cut features, and eyes which looked as if they had beheld sorrow, there being deep lines about them, and also about his mouth.
This nobleman had for Roxholm a great attraction—his voice, his bearing, and his gentle gravity all seemed to convey a thing which reached the boy's heart. On his own part the childless man had from the first felt for his little kinsman a pathetic affection. Had fate been kind, instead of cruel, the son of his own Alice might have so bloomed and grown stalwart and fair. He liked to talk with the child even when he was but a few years old, and as time passed, and he shot up into a handsome, tall lad, their friendship became a singularly close one. When my lord was at Camylott the country people became accustomed to seeing the two ride through the lanes together, the gamekeepers in the park were familiar with the sight of the elder gentleman and the young Marquess walking side by side down unfrequented woodland paths engaged in earnest conversation, his lordship's hand oftenest resting on the young shoulder as they went.
There was a subject of which these two talked often, and with great interest, it being one for which Roxholm had always felt a love, since the days when he had walked through the picture gallery with his nurse, looking up with childish delight at the ladies and gentlemen in the family portraits, asking to be told stories of their doings, and requiring that it be explained to him why they wore costumes which seemed strange to him. Mistress Halsell had been able to tell him many stories of them, as also had his father and mother and Mr. Fox, his governour, and these stories had so pleased him that he had pondered upon them until their heroes and heroines seemed his familiar friends, and made of as firm flesh and real blood as the ladies and gentlemen who were his kinswomen and kinsmen to-day. It had always been his pleasure to remember that the stories to be told of them were such fine ones. There were Crusaders among them who had done splendid deeds; there were men who had fought by the side of their King in battle, and there were those who had done high service for him with brain and spoken word when his power stood in danger of being overthrown. To the boy there seemed indeed to have been no battle either of Church or State, or with enemies in open field in which Mertouns had not fought. Long before the Conquest, Normandy had known their high-strung spirit and fiery valour. At Senlac, Guilbert de Mertoun had stood near William of Normandy when he gave his command to his archers that they should shoot into the air, whereby an arrow sought English Harold for its mark and pierced him through eye and brain, leaving him slain, and William conqueror. This same Guilbert, William had loved for his fierce bravery and his splendid aim in their hunting the high deer, of whom 'twas said the monarch "loved them as if he had been their father;" and when the Domesday Book was made, rich lands were given to him that, as the King said—there should be somewhat worthy of his holding to be recorded therein. It had been a Guilbert de Mertoun who rode with Rufus when he would cross to Normandy to put down insurrection there. These two were alike in their spirit (therefore little Roxholm had ever worshipped both), and when they reached the seashore in a raging storm, and the sailors, from fear, refused to put forth, and Rufus cried, "Heard ye ever of a King who was drowned," 'twas Guilbert who sprang forward swearing he would set sail himself if others would not, and so stirred the cowards with his fierce passionate courage that they obeyed the orders given them and crossed the raging sea's arm in the tempest, Guilbert standing in their midst spurring them with shouts, while the wind so raged that only a man of giant strength could have stood upright, and his voice could scarce be heard above its fury. And 'twas he who was at the front when the insurgents were overpowered. Of this one, of whom 'twas handed down that he was of huge build, and had beard and hair as flaming as Rufus's own, there were legends which made him the idol of Roxholm's heart in his childhood. Again and again it had been his custom to demand that they should be repeated to him—the stories of the stags he had pierced to the heart in one day's hunting in the New Forest—the story of how he was held in worship by his villeins, and of his mercifulness to them in days when nobles had the power of life and death, and to do any cruelty to those in servitude to them.
In Edward the Third's time, when the Black Death swept England, there had lived another Guilbert who, having for consort a lovely, noble lady, they two had hand in hand devoted themselves to battling the pestilence among their serfs and retainers, and with the aid of a brother of great learning (the first Gerald of the house) had sought out and discovered such remedies as saved scores of lives and modified the sufferings of all. At the end of their labours, when the violence of the plague was assuaged, the lovely lady Aloys had died of the fatigues she had borne and her husband had devoted himself to a life of merciful deeds, the history of which was a wondrous thing for an impassioned and romance-loving boy to pore over.
Upon the romances of these lives the imagination of the infant Roxholm had nourished itself, and the boy Roxholm being so fed had builded his young life and its ideals upon them.
It was of these ancestors of his house and of their high deeds he found pleasure and profit in talking to his kinsman and friend, and 'twas an incident which took place during one of my Lord Dunstanwolde's visits to Camylott which led them to this manner of converse.
Roxholm was but eleven years old when in taking a barred gate on a new horse the animal leapt imperfectly and, falling upon his rider, broke a leg and two ribs for him. The injuries were such as all knew must give the boy sharp anguish of body, when he was placed upon a hurdle and carried home. His father galloped to the Tower to break the news to her Grace and prepare her for his coming. My Lord Dunstanwolde walked by the hurdle side, and as he did so, watching the boy closely, he was touched to see that though his beautiful young face was white as death and he lay with closed eyes, he uttered no sound and his lips wore a brave smile.
"Is your pain great, Roxholm?" my Lord asked with tender sympathy.
Roxholm opened his eyes and, still smiling, blushed faintly.
"I think of John Cuthbert de Mertoun," he said in a low voice. "It aids me to hold the torment at bay."
He spoke the words with some shyness, as if feeling that one older than himself might smile at the romantic wildness of his fancy. But this my Lord Dunstanwolde did not, understanding him full well, and lying a hand on his pressed it with warm affection. The story of John Cuthbert was, that a hound suddenly going mad one day while he hunted deep in the forest, it had attacked a poor follower and would have torn his throat had his lord not come to his rescue, pulling the beast from him and drawing its fury upon himself, whereby in his battle with it he was horribly bitten; and when the animal lay dead upon the sward he drew his hunting-knife and cut out the mangled flesh with his own hand, "and winced not nor swouned," as the chronicle recorded with open joy in him.
'Twas while Roxholm lay in bed recovering of his injuries that his kinsman referred to this again, asking him what thoughts he had had of this hero and wherein he had felt them an aid, and the boy's answers and the talk which followed them had been the beginning of many such conversations, his Lordship finding the young mind full of vigour and fine imagination. Often, as they conversed in after times, the older man was moved by the courageous fancies and strong, high ideals he found himself confronting. 'Twas all so brave and beautiful, and there was such tragedy in the thought that life might hold clouds to dull the gold of it. 'Tis but human that those of maturer years who have known sorrow should be reminded of it by the very faith and joyfulness of youth. One of the fine features of the Tower of Camylott was its Long Gallery, which was of such length and breadth and so finely panelled as to be renowned through all the land. At each end the broad windows looked out upon noble stretches of varying hill and tall and venerable forest, and in wet weather, when the house was full the ladies and gentlemen would promenade there, chatting or sometimes playing games to amuse themselves.
In such weather my Lord Dunstanwolde and his young kinsman sometimes paced whole mornings away together, and 'twas on such an occasion that there first entered into Roxholm's life that which later filled and ruled it and was its very self. But at this time he was scarcely fourteen, and 'twas but the first strange chapter of a story he heard, in no way dreaming that 'twas one of which his own deepest pain and highest raptures would be part.
Often as the years passed, my Lord Dunstanwolde looked back upon this December day and remembered how, as they walked to and fro, he had marked for the hundredth time how beautiful and picturesque a figure the boy made in his suit of rich-coloured brocade, his curling, warm brown hair falling on his shoulders in thick, natural curls such as no perruquier could imitate, the bloom of health and out-door life upon his cheek, his handsome, well-opened eye sparkling or melting in kindly warmth as he conversed. He was a tall, straight-limbed lad, and had by this time attained such height and so bore himself that there were but few inches between his noble kinsman and himself, though the years between them were so many, and my Lord Dunstanwolde was of no mean stature.
Outside a heavy rain fell, deluging the earth and drenching such grass as the winter had left, covering with its faded tussocks the sweep of the park lands. The sky was heavy with leaden clouds from which the water fell in sweeping dashes. Having walked for some time, the two stopped before the wide bay window at the east end of the Long Gallery and watched the deluge for a space, marking how the drops splashed upon the terrace, how the birds flew before it, and how the deer huddled together under the stripped trees as if glad of the small shelter their trunks and bare branches could afford.
"Such a day brings back to a man the gloomiest things he knows," said Lord Dunstanwolde after a few moments' silent gazing upon the scene. "I no sooner paused here to look forth at the greyness than there came back to me a hard tale I heard before I left Gloucestershire. 'Twas another tale of Wildairs, Gerald."
"Of Sir Jeoffry?" said Roxholm, with interest. It had happened that some time before Lord Dunstanwolde had heard of the impression made upon him by the story of the poor lady and her brutal lord and master. More than once they had spoken together of Wildairs Hall, and those who rioted, and those who suffered, in it, and Roxholm had learned that, year by year the Gloucestershire baronet's living had grown wilder and more dissolute, until his mad follies had cut him off from the companionship of all reputable persons, and he spent his days in brutal sports, drink, and rough entertainment with a dozen men as little respected as himself. His money he had squandered and gambled away at dice, his estate fell to greater ruin every year, and no heir had come to him, his poor helpmeet having at length given him eight daughters, but two of whom had lived. His rage at this had increased even beyond its first fury as he realised that each new blunder of her ladyship was a new jest for the county. So it was that the boy turned towards his kinsman with interest, for in some manner the mishaps of this wretched family always moved him.
"Of Sir Jeoffry?" he said.
"Of Sir Jeoffry," my Lord Dunstanwolde answered; "but not so much of himself as of his poor lady. At last she is dead."
"Dead!" Roxholm exclaimed. "Dead!" and his voice fell, and he stood a moment and watched the driving rain, full of strange thoughts.
"'Tis happier for her, surely," he said. "I—one cannot feel sorrow for her. How did she die, my lord?"
"As woefully and as neglected as she lived," his lordship answered. "She had given birth to another female infant, and 'twas plain the poor thing knew her last hour had come. She was alone with the one ignorant woman who was all she had to aid her in her hour of trial. The night before Sir Jeoffry had held a drinking bout with a party of his boon companions, and in the morning, when they were gathered noisily in the courtyard to go forth hunting, the old woman appeared in their midst to acquaint her master of the infant's birth and to bring a message from her mistress, who begged her lord to come to her before he rode forth, saying that she felt strangely ill, and wished greatly to see him." His lordship paused a moment, and a shadow passed swiftly across his countenance, brought there by a sad memory.
Young Roxholm turned towards him and waited with a speaking look for his next words.
"Then—my lord—?" he broke forth inquiringly. Lord Dunstanwolde passed his hand over his forehead.
"He would not go," he answered; "he would not go. He sent a ribald message to the poor soul—cursing the child she had brought into the world, and then he rode away. The servants say that the old woman had left her mistress alone in her chamber and came down to eat and drink. When she went back to her charge the fire had gone out—the room was cold as the grave, and the poor lady lay stone dead, her head fallen upon her wailing infant's body in such manner that, had not the child been stronger than most new-born things and fought for its life, it would have been smothered in its first hour."
The boy Marquess turned suddenly away and took several hurried steps up the Long Gallery. When he returned his forehead was flushed, his eyes sparkled with an inward fire, and his breath came quickly—but he found no words to utter.
"Once," said Lord Dunstanwolde, slowly, "I saw a tender creature die after her travail—but she was beloved to worship, and our hearts stood still in our bosoms as we waited. Mine has truly never seemed to beat since then. Her child—who might, perchance, have aided me to live again, and who would have been my hope and joy and pride, died with her. This poor thing, unwanted, hated, and cast aside to live or die—as if it were the young of some wild creature of the woods—this one, they say, has the strength of ten, and will survive. God have mercy on its evil fortunes."
Young Roxholm stood with folded arms gazing straight before him again into the driving rain. His brow was knit, and he was biting his boyish red lip.
"Is there mercy?" he said in a low voice, at length. "Is there justice, since a human thing can be so cast into the world—and left alone?"
Lord Dunstanwolde put his hand upon his shoulder.
"All of us ask," he said. "None of us knows."
My Lord Marquess Plunges into the Thames
A rich young nobleman at the University of Oxford, who, having all the resources of wealth and rank at his disposal, chose in these times to devote himself to scholarly pursuits, made in the minds of his fellow-collegians a singular and eccentric figure; but that one, more splendidly endowed by fortune than any other, should so comport himself, and yet no man find it possible to deride or make coarse jokes on him, was, indeed, unheard of.
Yet, when the young heir of the house of Osmonde entered the University, this was the position he held and which none disputed. There were gay young rakes and ardent young toadies who, hearing of his coming among them, fell into anticipation: the first, of more splendid frolics, the second, of richer harvests; and though each party was disappointed in its expectation, neither found opportunity to display its chagrin according to the customary methods.
It is, indeed, a strange thing, how a man's physical body may be his fortress or his enemy. All the world has at times beheld those whom an insignificant figure and an ill-modelled face handicapped with a severity cruel to the utmost. A great man but five feet high, and awkward of bearing, has always added to his efforts at accomplishing great deeds the weight of an obstacle which he must first remove from about his neck—the obstacle his own poor exterior creates. An eloquent man whose voice is cracked and harsh by nature must be fire itself before he can burn away the barrier between himself and his hearers; a prophet with an ignobly featured countenance and a small, vague eye must needs be a god of wisdom to persuade his disciples that high nobleness can dwell in a temple so mean and poor. The physical body of the young Marquess of Roxholm was a fortress well-nigh impregnable. 'Tis not well to take liberties with a creature who takes none himself, and can strike a blow which would fell an ox, if need be. Besides this, there was in this young man's look and temper a something which, while it forbade idle familiarities, won to itself the pleasurable admiration and affection of all beholders. His eye was full of fire and meaning, of laughter and friendliness; his mouth curved into the finest sweet smile in the world, as also it could curl into a look of scorn which could scathe as finely. He had a keen wit, and could be ironic and biting when he chose, but 'twas not his habit to use his power malevolently. Even those who envied his great fortunes, and whose spite would have maligned him had he been of different nature, were in a measure restrained from their bitterness by a certain powerful composure, which all felt who looked on him and heard him speak.
'Twas this composure and commandingness of bearing which were more marked in him than all else. 'Twas not mere coolness, but a great power over himself and all his weaknesses, which years of self-study had begot in him, the truth being indeed that he himself had early realised in a measure a thing one of the gravest instructors at the University had once said: "Were all the strength of his great body and his fervid mind, all the power of his wealth and rank, all the influence of his beauty and passion turned to evil and dishonourable courses, instead of to more noble things, good God! what a devil he might be—devil enough to ruin half England. What weak woman could resist him; what vicious man help following where he led!"
"'Tis not so easy for a man who will be Duke one day to keep straight courses," Roxholm had once said to Mr. Fox, "as 'tis for a man who must live a narrower life and work for his daily bread. And a man who is six feet three in height has six feet and three inches of evil to do battle with, if he has not six feet three of strength and honesty to fight for him. 'Tis Gerald Mertoun I may live in dread of, if Gerald Mertoun is not my help and stay."
This he said half laughing, half sober, after his first visit to the French Court, which he made with his parents and saw many strange though brilliant things, giving him cause for reflection. Tender as his years were at the time, he was so big and finely built a fellow for his age, and so beautiful to look upon, that there were ladies who even tried their bright eyes upon him as if he had been a man instead of a youth; and he encountered many youngsters of his years who had already done much more than dally on the brink of life, some, indeed, having plunged deep into waters not overclean.
Some of these last regarded him at least as one who neglected his opportunities, but his great laugh at their callow jests and their advice to him was so frank and indifferent a thing that they found it singularly baffling. 'Twas indeed as if a man of ripe years and wisdom had laughed at them with good-nature, because he knew they could not understand the thing experience had taught him.
"Why should I be pleased because a beauty older than my mother laughs and teases me," he said. "I am but a boy, and she knows it full well, and would only play with me to see if I am a fool who can be made a toy. I am too big," stretching his great arms, "to sit at ladies' feet and have my curls stroked as if I were a lap-dog. A fellow such as I should be exercising his body and putting somewhat in his brain. Why should I overdrink and overfeed myself and give my strength to follies? 'Tis not my taste. On my life, I would rather get up at daybreak with a clean tongue and a clear head and go out to leap and ride and fence and toss the bar with well-strung muscles. Some day I shall meet a beauty whom I would be ready for." And he laughed his big, musical, boyish laugh again and his tawny eye sparkled.
At the University there were temptations enough to lead youth to folly, even when it was not such youth as his, and therefore a shining mark. The seed Charles Stuart had sown had flourished and grown rank and strong, so that the great seat of learning was rich with dissolute young fools and madcaps and their hangers-on. But even the most foolish swaggerer of them could not call milksop a man who could outride, outleap, outfence, outhunt him; who could drive the four horses of his coach to London and back at such a pace and in such a manner as made purple-faced old stage-coach drivers shake their heads with glee, and who, in a wrestling-match, could break a man's back at a throw if he chose to be unmerciful. Besides this, he was popular for a score of reasons, being no sanctimonious preacher of his doctrines, but as joyous a liver as any among them and as open-handed and high of spirit.
"'Tis not for me to say how other men should live," was his simple and straightforward creed. "I live as I like best and find best pays me. 'Tis for others to seek out and follow what best pays themselves."
Many a story was told of him which his fellows liked, youth always being elated by any deed of prowess and daring in youth. One of these stories, which was indeed no great one, but picturesque and pretty, took their fancy greatly, and was much related and laughed gaily over, and indeed beloved.
He was a strong and wondrous swimmer, having learned the art in his childhood on the seacoast, being taught by his Grace his father. When at Oxford it was his custom to rise before the rest of the world, and in any weather or season plunge into the river and swim and dive and play in the water like a young river god. He had chosen a favourite swimming-spot and would undress under cover of the trees and then dash out to his pastime, and it so chanced that going there one hot afternoon he fell upon an adventure.
A party of jolly personages of the middle class, who had come up from town on pleasure and rollicking interest, were taking a jaunt upon the river in a wherry. 'Twas a wedding-party, and both males and females, having dined at a tavern, were well filled with ale and in the mood for disporting themselves. The groom and his men friends, being in frolicsome humour and knowing nothing whatever of oarsmanship, were playing great pranks to make the women scream at their daring. The bride, a pretty thing in cherry ribbands, clung to the boat's side in amaze at the heroic swagger of her new lord, but her cheeks, which had matched her ribbands, grew paler at each rock and dip of the boat, and her fear forced little shrieks from her. Her companions shrieked too, but laughingly and in such manner as but spurred the men to greater follies. The sport was at its highest and noisiest when they neared the spot all Oxford knew by this time by the name of "my Lord Marquess's diving hole." At this point the river was broad and deep, and not far below it the water washed over a weir near which was a post bearing a board marked "Danger!" To those who knew the waters and had some skill with their oars there was no peril, but to a crew of drink-filled junketers it was an ill-omened place. The wedding-party was too wild and young and rollicking to observe the sign-board. The men rocked the boat, shouted and sang, the women squealed and laughed and shouted with them; the little bride burst forth weeping, shrieking wildly the next moment as the wherry was overset, and the whole party struggled in the water, the hat, with its cherry-ribbands, floating on the top.
Some distance above there were people walking. Shrieks filled the air and roused all within sight to running and shouting. Poor gasping, choking, deadly faced heads bobbed up a moment on the river's surface and went under struggling.
"Help! Help!" shouted the running people. "God save them all! Good Lord! Good Lord!" And in the midst of it out sprang from among the trees and bushes the great white body of a man, who dashed into the stream and swam like a dolphin.
If he had been clothed the drowning creatures would have had somewhat to drag upon—if he had not been as strong as a giant and cool enough to control them, the poor strangling fools would have so hampered him in their frenzy that they might have dragged him under water with them. But there was a power in him and a freedom from all sense of peril which dominated them all.
"Keep your senses and you are safe," he shouted, swimming and pushing the overturned boat within reach of the men, who struggled together.
His voice rang like a clarion and held in it such encouragement that the poor little bride, who came up gasping near him at that moment, almost took him for a god as he shot to her rescue.
"Your hand on my shoulder; be brave, my girl—be brave," he cried out with such good cheer as would have put heart in any woman and aided her to gather her poor frightened wits and obey him like a child, while even in the midst of her terror, as her little red hands clung to him, she marked, half unconsciously the beauty and vigour of him—his strong white neck like a column, the great corded muscles of his white arms as he clove the water through.
He bore her to the shore and left her safe there, and plunged in again, crying to her, over his shoulder: "I will bring back the others!" And she stood dripping, gazing after him, sobbing and wringing her hands, but filled with wild admiration and amaze.
He shouted orders to the sobered men to hold steady to the wherry and dived to bring back one woman after another to firm land; a boat found in the osiers was put forth above, and in time all were brought to shore, though the bridegroom, who had not come near enough to the wherry, was dragged in looking like a dead man.
The bride flung herself upon his body, shrieking and kissing him. The people who had run up crowded about in senseless excitement and would have kept all air away. But there was one among them who had his wits clear and ordered them off, plainly remembering not for a moment that his brocades and laces lay hid among the trees, and he stood among them as Apollo stands in marble.
"Bring brandy," he commanded the nearest. "Stand back; strip his clothes from him and empty the water from his stomach. Here," to a matron who had come up panting, "take his wife away."
The good woman he addressed dropped a hurried curtsey and hustled off the woman under her wing. She led them into the sun and wrung the water from their garments, while they sobbed and choked and wept.
"Hush thee, wench!" she said to the stricken bride. "Hush thee, little fool; my lord Marquess will put life into him and set him on his feet before thy petticoats are dry, Lord! Lord! what a young man! When built Heaven such another? And he a Duke's son!"
"A Marquess!" cried one of the bride's friends. "A Duke's son!" sobbed the bride.
"Ay, a Duke's son!" the good woman cried, exulting further. "And were he a King's, the nation might be proud of him. 'Tis his young lordship the Marquess of Roxholm."
"No; She has not yet Come to Court"
'Tis but a small adventure for a youth who is a strong swimmer to save a party of cits from drowning in a river, but 'twas a story much repeated, having a picturesqueness and colour because its chief figure Nature had fitted out with all the appointments which might be expected to adorn a hero.
"'Tis a pretty story, too," said a laughing great lady when 'twas talked of in town. "My lord Marquess dashing in and out of the river, bearing in his big white arms soused little citizen beauties and their half-drowned sweethearts, and towering in their midst giving orders—like a tall young god in marble come to life. The handsomest Marquess in Great Britain, and in France likewise, they tell me."
"The handsomest man," quoth the old Dowager Lady Storms, who had a country seat in Oxfordshire and knew more of the tale than any one else. "The handsomest man, say I, for it chanced that I drove by the river at that moment and saw him."
And then—freedom of speech being the fashion in those days and she an old woman—she painted such a picture of his fine looks, his broad shoulders, and the markings of his muscles under his polished skin, as, being repeated and spread abroad, as gossip will spread itself, fixed him in the minds of admirers of manly beauty and built him a reputation in the world of fashion before he had entered it or even left his books.
When he did leave them and quitted the University, it was with honour to himself and family, and also with joy to his Governour and Chaplain Mr. Fox, who had attended him. At his coming of age there were feastings and bonfires in five villages again, and Rowe rang the bells at Camylott Church with an exultant ardour which came near to being his final end, and though seventy years of age, he would give up his post to no younger man, and actually blubbered aloud when 'twas delicately suggested that his middle-aged son should take his place to save him fatigue.
"Nay! nay!" he cried; "I rang their Graces' wedding peal—I rang my lord Marquess into the world, and will give him up to none until I am a dead man."
At the Tower there was high feasting, the apartments being filled with guests from foreign Courts as well as from the English one, and as the young hero of the day moved among them, and among the tenantry rejoicing with waving flags and rural games in the park, as he danced with lovely ladies in the ball-room, and as he made his maiden speech to the people, who went wild with joy over him, all agreed that a noble house having such an heir need not fear for its future renown, howsoever glorious its history might have been in the past.
After he had been presented at Court there seemed nothing this young man might not have asked for with the prospect of getting—a place near the King, a regiment to lead to glory, the hand of the fairest beauty of the greatest fortune and rank. But it seemed that he wanted nothing, for he made no request for any favour which might have brought him place or power or love. The great events at that time disturbing the nation he observed with an interest grave and thoughtful beyond his years. Men who were deep in the problems of statesmanship were amazed to discover the seriousness of his views and the amount of reflection he had given to public questions. Beauties who paraded themselves before him to attract his heart and eye—even sweetly tender ones who blushed when he approached them and sighed when he made his obeisance and retired—all were treated with a like courtesy and grace of manner, but he gave none more reason to sigh and blush, to ogle and languish, than another, the honest truth being that he did not fall in love, despite his youth and the warmth of his nature, not having yet beheld the beauty who could blot out all others for him and reign alone.
"I will not play with love," he said to his mother once as they talked intimately to each other. "I have thought of it—that which should come to a man and be himself, not a part of his being but the very life of him. If it comes not, a man must go unsatisfied to his grave. If it comes—You know," he said, and turned and kissed her hand impulsively, "It came to my father and to you."
"Pray Heaven it may come to you, dear one," she said; "you would know bliss then."
"Yes," he answered, "I should know rapture that would make life Heaven. I do not know what it is I wait for—but when I see it in some woman's eyes I shall know, and so will she."
His mother kissed his ringed hair, smiling softly.
"Till then you wait and think of other things."
"There are so many things for a man to do," he said, "if he would not sit idle. But when that comes it will be first and greatest of all."
At this period all the world talked of the wondrous and splendid Churchill, who, having fought brilliantly for the Stuarts and been made by them first Lord Churchill of Eyemouth, and next Baron Churchill of Sandridge, having, after receiving these advancements, the cold astuteness to see the royal fortunes waver perilously, deserted James the Second with stately readiness and transferred his services to William of Orange. He was rewarded with an earldom and such favour as made him the most shining figure both at the Court of England and in the foreign countries which had learned to regard his almost supernatural powers with somewhat approaching awe.
This man inspired Roxholm with a singular feeling; he in fact exercised over him the fascination he exercised over so many others, but in the case of the young Marquess, wonder and admiration were mixed with other emotions. There were stories so brilliant to be heard of him on all sides, stories of other actions so marvellously ruthless and of things so wondrously mean. Upon a bargain so shameless he had built so wondrous a career—a faithfulness of service so magnificent he had closed with a treachery so base. All greatness and all littleness, all heroism and all crimes, seemed to combine themselves in this one strange being. Having shamelessly sold his youth to a King's mistress, he devoted his splendid maturity to a tender, faithful passion for a beauteous virago, whose displeasure was the sole thing on earth which moved him to pain or fear. In truth 'twas not his genius, his bravery, his victories, which held Roxholm's thought upon him most constantly; 'twas two other things, the first being the marvel of his control over himself, the power with which he held in subjection his passions, his emotions, almost, it seemed, his very thoughts themselves—the power with which he had trained John Churchill to be John Churchill's servant—in peril, in temptation from any weakness to which he did not choose to succumb, in circumstances which, arising without warning, might have caused another man to start, to falter, to change colour, but which he encountered with indomitable calm.
"Tis that I wish to learn," said the young nobleman in his secret thoughts as he watched him at Court, in the world outside it, among soldiers, statesmen, women, in the society of those greater than himself, of those smaller, of those he would win and of those he would repel. "'Tis that I would learn: to be stronger than my very self, so that naught can betray me—no passion I am tormented by, no anger I would conceal, no lure I would resist. 'Tis a man's self who oftenest entraps him. The traitor once subject, life lies at one's feet."