CHAPTER I THE URSULINE LOSES A PUPIL
CHAPTER II THE LORD OF CRANDLEMAR
CHAPTER III THE BALL
CHAPTER IV HIS LORDSHIP'S PROPOSAL
CHAPTER V BACCHUS AND BACCHANTES
CHAPTER VI JANET'S PHILOSOPHY
CHAPTER VII THE BRANTLE
CHAPTER VIII THE ANCIENT MONASTERY
CHAPTER IX SIR JULIAN POMPHREY
CHAPTER X WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BUTLERY
CHAPTER XI JACQUES DEMPSY
CHAPTER XII CASTLE AND MONASTERY
CHAPTER XIII AS NINE TOLLED FROM THE CHAPEL BELFRY
CHAPTER XIV SERMONS NEW AND OLD
CHAPTER XV THE EDICT OF BUCKINGHAM
CHAPTER XVI BUCKINGHAM'S ADVENTURE
CHAPTER XVII TELLS OF THE DOINGS OF ALL CONCERNED
CHAPTER XVIII AT MONMOUTH'S VILLA
CHAPTER XIX WHAT HAPPENED IN THE COACH
CHAPTER XX UNPROCLAIMED BANNS
CHAPTER XXI THE ESPOUSAL
CHAPTER XXII CEDRIC IN THE TOILS
CHAPTER XXIII THE COCOANUTS OF THE KING'S CELLAR
CHAPTER XXIV WHAT HAPPENED IN THE TOWER
CHAPTER XXV THE GARDEN OF YOUTH
THE URSULINE LOSES A PUPIL
"If the ship sails at dawn, then I must hasten to tell my mistress of the departure, and—of her father's letter."
"I am loath to let yonder tide take her away so soon, Janet."
"But my master's words are a positive command to leave Quebec at once," and Janet's eyes fell to the imperative line at the close of her letter which read: "In God's name, good nurse, take my baby to England in all haste."
"Aye, our noble patron's desire must be carried out!" and the Mother Superior without further lament went from the small cell.
When the last echo of her footsteps had died away, Janet Wadham cautiously opened the inner door and passed to the cell adjoining, and to the low couch upon which lay her mistress in sound slumber.
Fondly she noted the beauty of her charge; the heavy waving hair gleaming in the fading light a bronze-like amber, the white forehead, the arched brow, the glow of health upon lip and cheek, the slender neck, the slope of shoulders, and the outline of a perfect form.
Then the maid stirred and opened her eyes. Her whole body thrilled with the awakening.
"Ah, 'twas like the bursting of a bud! How dost feel now, Mistress?"
"I am not ill at all. I am a martyr to thy imagination. Dost remember the time, Janet, I drowsed in the chapel and thou didst make me drink bitterwort for a fortnight?" and the girl's voice rung out in soft laughter.
"Aye, I have not forgotten, nor why thou wert drowsy either, Mistress Penwick."
"Nay, thou didst not know."
"I did so. Thou hadst a book of tales and read nights with the candle shaded by thy mother's landskip fan, and I gave thee aloes for thy folly."
"Thou dost always find me out, Janet; I shall be glad when I become a woman as big as thou."
"Thou art a woman to-day, and thou wilt never be as big as I; so, having age and not a hulking servant's body, be content. I have a letter from my master, and in it is much that concerns thee—"
"Isn't there always much that concerns me?"
"But not such important concernings. He has gone on a long journey and proposes one for thee, my lambkin." Katherine raised herself in bed. "Nay, thou must not stir or I hush my tale! Thy father has provided thee with a guardian and 'tis to him I take thee. We go to England by the first boat,—nay, lay back, calm thyself or I take my wagging tongue away; if thou dost so much as stir again, I leave thee. Thou art to go to a great house over there and see grand folks with fine airs and modish dress. Wilt be glad to see outside of convent walls? 'Tis nine years since I brought thee here a babe of six, and have nursed thee well to this hour, and thy strength and health and beauty show the care given thee." She suddenly arose and went to the window to hide if possible her agitation; but when she looked forth on the snow-covered city and on beyond at the long range of forest that lay low and black against the arctic sky, she turned from the gloomy scene and went again to the couch, quickly suppressing all thoughts save those that were purely selfish: she would be glad to bid adieu to this great, still northern world and leave behind forever old Quebec, even though she must divide her treasure.
"I have been a mother to thee, child, and now I must divide my rule with a cantankerous Scot—"
"Nay, a Scot and lives in England?"
"He lives in England and thy father speaks of bending somewhat thy quick temper to the mould of self-control as a safer parry to Scotch thrust; so I conclude the gentleman must be a Scot."
"Janet, 'tis these awful men that wear skirts like women. I remember many years ago when I was in Sister Agnes' room, of seeing some of those dreadful pictures of skirts and bandy-legs. They are unseemly things for men to wear; it is as though one were uncivilised. I hate him already for it!"
"Lambkin, thou must remember thy teachings. Sister Agnes would admonish thee for saying hate. Besides thou dost not know the man, he may be a second father to thee and cajole and pamper thy whims. He may even eschew plaid frocks and don modish garments—that would hide bandy-legs still less! Thy father said I must enjoin upon thee respect, for his lordship's age; regard, for his wishes, and thou art to obey his commands, as 'twas not possible for him to direct thee otherwise than good. If at any time he should find thee in fault, be the matter seemingly beneath notice, acknowledge thy wrongness, for he hath a temper and might goad thee to greater blunder. His blood flows hot and fast, and thou must cool and swage it with thy gentle dignity. Inasmuch as thy moneys and estates are in my Lord Cedric's control, thou art to receive such income from him without question. Thy father further directs perfect submission to Lord Cedric in matters of marriage, as he will bring suitors of high degree for thy choice and thou wilt find among them a lover to thy liking." The rosy red flew into the maiden's face and she trembled with a sweet new emotion she did not understand.
"This is the first time thou hast ever spoken to me of lovers, Janet. Indeed very strange things seem to be happening to-day. I feel like a bird about to fly forth from its cradle-nest, I have forgotten how the world appears. 'Tis broad and vast; it makes me dizzy to think between these cramped walls that never seemed so narrow heretofore!" She lay for a moment in deep thought, then,—"Where didst say father journeyed?"
"He said not, but intimated 'twas a place of safety where he was happy to go from political intrigue and war, and where he shall meet friends."
"Why did he not inscribe some words to me?"
"He speaks of an epistle of welcome—and farewell to be given thee by Lord Cedric upon thy arrival in England. 'Twill give thee greater pleasure then."
"But Janet; a Scot! A blustering, red-faced Scot with petticoats! Hast ever seen one outside of pictures?"
"Aye, Lambkin, and 'twas the unseemly kilt that was the better part; for I have met a blustering red-faced Scot as thou sayest; and he was boisterous and surly, giving vent to a choleric temper by coarse oaths; and 'twas his plaid denoted a gentleman of high rank withal. The long hair that swept his shoulders was as florid as his face, as was also his flowing whiskers and mustachio, the latter being bitten short and forming a bristling fringe over a slavering mouth,—what is it, Mistress, thou art pale, has pain taken thee?"
"Nay, 'tis nausea, an awful loathing; I wish to remain here. Send at once my desires to my father. I will not go to England, Janet!"
"'Tis better thou shouldst think of something else beside my Lord Cedric, for instance, his great demesne, Crandlemar Castle, the most beautiful of his several seats; the splendid horses and equipages; and, thyself, Lambkin, think of thyself bedecked in gorgeous hued brocades; be-furbelowed in rare lace and costly furs. And thou wilt have a maid to build thy hair, tie shoulder knots and make smart ribbons and frills, and furbish bijoux and gems. And thou wilt wear perfume, and carry a nosegay and fan. And thou wilt sweep the most graceful courtesy and queen it everywhere with thy sweet graciousness. Thy father says thou shouldst become an idol to the old man's heart, as my lord is without wife or daughter."
"If his demesne be in England, 'tis but right he should become as far as possible a genuine Anglo-Saxon, and if I can turn him, I will. How soon does the boat sail?"
"Within forty-eight hours we shall be upon the sea and thou wilt have begun to whimper and bemoan its awful swell. 'Twill have more evacuating power than teeth-curtailed mustachios upon thy heretofore staunch stomach."
"Nay, I will not believe my Lord Cedric such a man; and yet thou hast drawn a picture that will be ever before me until I see him. Sister Agnes would say,—'there is a sinfulness in doubt and anxiety, inasmuch as such thoughts lash the soul to uneasiness and draw it from celestial contemplations. Think not on it!' neither will I, but rather, I will fancy the morrow's sun glinting upon myriad white-capped waves; the bosom of the ocean swelling with emotion and—didst say 'twould make me ill, Janet?"
"I am afraid of it, 'twill be glorious if thou art not; for 'tis a wonderful thing to see the rise and fall of sun and moon, and witness storms that seldom fail to lend their fearfulness to the voyagers of so long a journey."
"Wilt thou be afraid, Janet?"
"Nay, not I; 'twill be the elixir of ambrosia to breathe salt air again, and the stronger and more mist-laden the better to knock out foul exhalations sucked in these nine years from musty walls. 'Twill be sweet to have the wind rap from us the various fungi that comes from sunless chambers. Ah, a stiff breeze will rejuvenate thy fifteen years one month to a lusty, crowing infant and my forty all-seasons to a simpering wench."
"How splendid, Janet!" Katherine threw out her arms and drew a long, deep breath. "'Twill be glorious to breathe pure, free air!"
"Aye, my Lambkin, and thy chest will broaden and be larger by two good inches ere we see chalk cliffs and English waters. Thou wilt open like a rose to the sunshine of the outer world. But, we are anticipating—let us speak of the present. To-night we go to vespers for the last time, and thou must bid thy friends adieu before I tuck thee in thy cot as we arise and are off before day-dawn. Let thy farewells be briefly spoken as if thou wert to be gone but a day. 'Twas thy father's wish thou shouldst not grieve at parting with thy companions, or the Sisters or Mother. 'Tis best to leave them the remembrance of a face happy, rather than one steeped in sorrow. Say to them what thy heart dictates, but with a quick tongue and bright countenance; 'twill tend to suppress tears and numb the pain at thy heart. When thou art thus engaged I will prepare us for journeying. Wilt thou wear thy Sunday gown?"
"'Tis none too good! couldst put on a ribbon to relieve its greyness?"
"Ah, Lambkin, thou hast begun already with thy fine lady's notions! thou wilt be crying for high-heeled boots and built-up hair and stays, stays, Mistress, stays wilt be thy first cry—oh, Lambkin, thou art heavy-hearted and I am turning myself into a fool to physic thy risibles;—I wish we were upon the sea at this moment; if it were possible I should have taken thee while thou wert in sleep; but nay, I could not; for thou art a maiden grown and art plump and heavy with all. If I had taken thee so, thou wouldst have wept anyway, perhaps; for 'tis thy nature to have thy own way. 'Twould be a cross to thy father could he see thee now. I doubt not 'twould turn the Scot's bull-scaring face to ashen hues, 'tis possible—" Katherine's soft rippling laugh interrupted her, and at its sound Janet leant and kissed the maid's pink-palmed hands as they lay upon the coverlet, and taking them within her own fondled them, saying,—"And thou wilt surprise my lord and his friends by thy rare playing of the clavichord, and 'tis possible so great and wealthy a man will own a piano-forte of which we have heard so much; and mayhap thou will be presented at Court, and in great London town thou mayest see many musicians from France, for 'tis not improbable they are brought over the channel at the instance of his Majesty. Is it not grand to think of all these things, Lambkin?"
"Aye, 'tis glorious! But Janet, let me up and dress me—ah, it seems an age until the morrow!"
'Twas with greater care than usual Janet made ready her Mistress. And after sundry admonitions about cold corridors and draughts, opened the door and watched her in silence as she passed through, and down the hall to vespers. And when evening prayer was over and Katherine had gone to say adieu, Janet began to pack the chests for their early flight; her heart exultant, save for the sorrow of not seeing her master again as she believed and having some little fear of the new one she was about to encounter.
THE LORD OF CRANDLEMAR
The adieux had been said, the night had come and gone, and with the dawn the tide drew away carrying with it a large vessel upon the deck of which stood Janet and Katherine wrapped in long traveling capes.
"'Tis the most wondrous sight I ever beheld! Thinkest thou the Bethlehem Star could have been more beautiful than yonder Lucifer. Indeed it seems, Janet, we see in all nature the reflection of the Christ; the birth of dawn; the presence of the star; these black waters. 'Tis awesome! Listen, Janet, thou must acknowledge thou hearest something more than plaint of ocean. 'Tis something more than sound. It fills me with an exultation I cannot analyze. Dost feel it, Janet?"
"I cannot tell what I feel, Mistress." And Janet covered her mouth to smother her laughter; first of all because she felt seasick, and secondly the child's words stirred in her no such youthful enthusiasm. She was not yet rejuvenated.
"And with all this glory of nature filling me I can less understand Sister Phelia's words at parting. Her eyes seemed to burn to my very soul as she said: 'Dost not feel as thou art leaving these sacred walls that thou art passing from a retreat where the Blessed Virgin ever guides thee?' 'I have felt her presence ever, said I. 'But 'tis better to renounce the world and have strength to live in seclusion,' she answered. I made bold and replied that I thought it required much greater strength to go on the battlefield of the world and be good than live within the impenetrable walls of a cloister where bin cannot come. 'But, child, thou wilt see beautiful things made by the hand of man that will fill thy heart leaving not room for the Divine Presence.' 'Nay,' said I, 'I shall see God's work in every beauteous thing and I shall trust Him for the gift of penetration to see through filthy rags and distorted body the beauty of the soul.' 'Twas her wish that I should write her once a year of my spiritual condition and to think of her as being happy in her isolation. And with this strange light about us, the farewell recurs to me and I wonder that human beings could shut themselves from so beauteous a thing as Nature in their fear of contamination by sin!"
"My Lambkin, 'they talk strongest who never felt temptation;' thou art going into a world thou hast not seen, much less, felt its power. Sister Phelia is right. We acknowledge the Divine Presence is everywhere; she intimated thou wert leaving a place where sin was not, to go where it abounded. There is one place, however, we may always be sure of finding the divine atom whether we be in seclusion or abroad; 'tis in our own heart and called before the ages, 'Holy Ghost.' Many of us fail to recognize it; others cry 'insolvency'; but the better part draw on it with confidence. It honours our call and gives us on demand, conscience, with which we can withstand all sin if we so desire."
The second day upon the water Janet fell a victim to mal-de-mer, and 'twas Katherine who turned nurse; and after four or five days Janet grew better and was half ashamed, veiling her confusion with self-accusation: "'Tis good enough for me, 'twas wrong to be eating pork, 'tis positively forbidden us. I lay it to that! I gave myself over to eating to make up for a fast of nine long years. Thou hadst not a qualm because thou hast been fed on wine and porridge and beef gruel and whey. The clearness of thy body speaks for a pure stomach. Let the awfulness of my condition warn thee. Thou must never grumble when I take from thee weightier food than thou hast been used to. But, Lambkin, we have had a glorious voyage inasmuch as we have had both calm and storm; had I been privileged to do the ordering, we could not have had better weather."
Janet and her mistress walked the deck when 'twas possible, from rise to set of sun, and Katherine expanded until her convent dress became straightened, and she retired to her bed while Janet let out seams, augmenting it to her mistress' further comfort and development.
It was almost with regret that they espied land; for Janet was anxious, and Katherine was apprehensive of the Scot, and as the white cliffs appeared to rise higher they each wished the sea journey had just begun.
At last they stood upon English soil, and so bewildered was Katherine she could only cling to Janet's dress like a frightened child; there was such a clamour, 'twas like pandemonium. The poor frightened thing was inclined to believe that the people were mad and raving, and was hardly called to concentration of thought when Lord Cedric's Chaplain stood before them dumbfounded by her beauty.
He was a pale, little man, who managed with difficulty to collect his senses and lead them to an equipage of imposing richness that stood not far away. And immediately after chests and sundry articles of travel were placed upon the coach, the rolling wheels carried them through the town and on beyond, over plains and hills and lonely moors, through forests of oak and beech, coloured in the grey of winter. Nor did the ponderous vehicle stop save for a hurried refreshment or a short night's rest at some wayside inn.
Lord Cedric's orders were not being strictly carried out. The Chaplain was to bring back to the castle Janet Wadham and baby. Here was the first-named, but where was the child? The little man was fearful he had made some mistake, and grew exceedingly nervous when they at last spied the battlements of Crandlemar Castle, and the child for whom he had gone must be accounted for.
Night was falling as the equipage bearing Mistress Katherine and her attendants passed between the massive stone pillars of the gate into the long avenues bordered by leafless trees; and when yet some distance from the castle, the occupants could catch glimpses of many lighted windows. Katherine lay back on the cushions tired, timid, half-fearful, wondering. Not so Janet; she craned body and neck fearful lest some small detail of the visible grandeur might escape her. In a moment more they had stopped at the great entrance, and immediately the ponderous doors were thrown wide by two ugly little dwarfs in magnificent livery. Out trooped other menials of perhaps less age and greater dignity, quickly gathering from the equipage the chests and bags and other articles of less cumbrousness. Mistress Katherine, with Janet by her side, was so blinded by the glare of lights and furbished gildings, she saw naught, but followed on up winding stairs, stepping twice upon each broad step; through corridors and alcoves and winding halls, and in her ears was the sound of men's and women's soft laughter, and she breathed the perfume of flowers, and inhaled as they passed some half-open door, the odour of paudre de rose and jasmine.
A woman older, less comely than Janet, and having the smirk of a perfunctory greeting upon her flabby face, stood within the room assigned to Mistress Katherine. As her eyes fell upon the maid, she stepped back surprised, and with a confusion she essayed to hide in her coarse voiced acknowledgment of their presence.
"The child, madam, where's the child? 'is Ludship sent me to take charge of the hinfant and 'er nurse."
Janet's voice rang like steel as she said,—"Thou canst fondle me to thy heart's content, but the 'hinfant his' a maiden grown and well able to look after her own swathings; 'twould better serve thee and us to get thee below and prepare thine 'hinfant' grown some meat and wine with etceteras, and plenty of them, for she hath a lusty and ever-present appetite. But stay, where wilt thou cradle thy babe's nurse, in this room beyond the closet?" With a superhuman effort, as it were,—the woman, confident of the importance of her position, and the forbearance such an one should have in dealing with the less consequential,—suppressed her choler and raised her eyebrows, and spoke with the coldness of her betters.
"Thou wilt sleep there for a time, at least until 'is Ludship's guests 'ave gone; the nurseries 'ave been turned into guests' rooms,—'is Ludship 'as Royalty beneath 'is roof and bade me take the—the child to the furth'rest room and keep hits squawking 'ushed!" With a deprecating gesture, she shuffled from the room.
'Twas a great square apartment, with low ceiling, a small hearthstone and an immense bedstead with tester and outer coverings of flowered chintz. The light from the two small candles upon the high mantel-shelf were dimmed by the greater light from the hearth.
With a long, heavy sigh, which ended in a quiet half-hearted laugh, Katherine flung herself back in a huge chair and said,—
"Art not afraid to lash tongues with a trusted servant of my Lord Cedric? She may give thee an ill name."
"Nay, rather, if I had boxed' er hears' 'twould have been better. Indeed, if thou hadst been absent I should have brawled it with her. 'Ludship'—'tis the cant of a pot house wench,—'is Ludship' to me, who has been consorting with Sister Agnes and Phelia and Drusah and the Mother Superior of the Ursuline. Wilt let me dress thee now?"
"Nay, Janet, I will cleanse my face and hands, have my supper—for I'm nearly famished, and jump into yonder bed that hath a lid—"
"Why, Lambkin, that is a tester, 'tis the first thou hast seen! But, Lambkin, I would have thee don thy pretty white dress and go down to more cheerful surroundings."
"Nay, Janet, I could not raise courage. Have my supper brought up!"
"My blessed Lambkin, I will take thee down and see that they give thee proper food for thy coach-jostled stomach. Thou shalt have a room and table to thyself. I'll see to it. I thought upon it coming up to this sky-begotten chamber. The toddy would freeze stiff and the pheasants grow to clamminess on so long and frigid a journey. I will dress thee and then will find my way down and make things ready for thy comfort and privacy."
'Twas a soft, white, clinging gown, high-necked and long-sleeved, with the perfume of incense in its folds, Janet vested her mistress in. The thick rolls of hair framing her face glinted with bronze and amber sheen. Her warm youthful blood coloured her countenance with the tints of the peach blossom. Thus she stood gloriously beautiful; ready for conquest.
Janet went below, nor was she gone long ere she came again to her mistress' side.
"Didst see any signs of petticoats. Janet?"
"Nay, mistress," and her voice was sober and intense. "I tried to find a servants' stairway, but it seemed all were grand and confusing. And every moment lackeys rushed by me bearing trays of smoking viands, and not even so much as looking my way. At last I found one I thought would take the time to answer a question and I asked him the way below. He answered me civilly and conducted me saying the while, that 'twas a grand party his Lord Cedric was having; members of the Royal family being present; he even mentioned the Dukes of Buckingham and Monmouth. The boy was so filled with good sense I am sure, Mistress, he spoke truly and that we are within a very great man's house. I found old flabby, and she took me to a cosy little room with a table ready spread. So come, my Lambkin, when his Lordship finds not a baby but a rare gem for his costly setting, his heart will bound with pleasure and he will regret he did not prepare for a great lady instead of an infant."
Timorously the maid followed Janet through intricate windings to the broad stairway.
"Janet, take me through the servants' passage for this once!"
"Nay, thou art a lady, and as such must keep to the grand aisles." So on they went traversing lofty corridors. In one of these they suddenly came upon a young gallant of youthful beauty; a mould of elegance and strength; his countenance was flushed and shaded by curling black hair that fell loose upon his shoulders. In his shapely, white, bejewelled fingers he held a blood-red rose, and as his eyes fell upon the most beautiful face he had ever beheld, he caught his breath and held the rose to his face to hide his devouring glances as she swept by him under the soft light cast by the sconces above her head. In a moment he was upon the stairway, breathless and panting, and leaning over, dropped the rose at her feet. Her face grew as rosy as the thing itself, but passing on made none other sign.
"'Tis a conquest thou hast made the first hour, and thou acknowledged thy victory with naught but a modest maiden blush. But, Lambkin, his body was not a match for thine; 'twas inclined to be too slender. I shall pick for thee a beau like Sir Williams's Romeo."
They had now come to where the table awaited Katherine, and Janet bustled about handing things for her mistress' convenience; then hurried out to send in the warm food from the oven.
"Janet, didst say the bird was a pheasant?—'Tis grand tasting!"
"Aye, Mistress, and there was a score of other things that I would not let thee eat; 'twould make pimples on thy snowy neck and shoulders."
"Dost think perchance the young man upon the stairway was the Duke of Monmouth? He was very handsome, Janet, I think he was very, very handsome."
"Thou dost have the names of the great upon thy tongue as commonly as thou sayest Janet; 'tis more than probable he is a country squire and—"
"Dear Janet, go get thy supper and get back to me, for I would rather remain here alone than in yonder chamber. 'Tis grand to live in so great a house, 'tis better than—than the convent. How soon shall I have fine frocks and jewels and—a beau like yonder one on the stairway?"
"Thou art becoming exercised prematurely; his Lordship may not condescend to visit his puling babe before his guests depart. In such case, thou wilt have time to cool thy haste. I will go now. Do not eat too much, Lambkin." Janet looked back admiringly as she left the room; her eyes upon her mistress' daintily ruddy face, smiling at her from between two tall candles.
Every appointment of room and table was essentially English, and Mistress Katherine cast her eye about wondering if 'twas so, or, were they Scotch? She inclined to the former, and a sigh of relief and happiness escaped her.
Suddenly there was a sound of hurrying footsteps with an accompanying one of broad Scotch oaths in no low key. A lackey carrying a bag-pipe rushed into the room and out again without noticing its occupant. At his very heels was a big Scotchman of large and ridiculous proportions; red hair, red face, red whiskers, red mustachios, and bandy-legs, petticoats and all; and a tongue ripping out hot oaths. In a moment Katherine was upon her feet, her eyes flashed forth indignation. The keen eyes of the Scot saw her at a glance. He looked, stared, then bent almost to the floor before her and waited thus for her to speak. She, not accustomed to the masculine courtesies of polite breeding, thought his attitude was too prolonged for either a bow of homage or humiliation; and she straightway in a voice that was tremulous with emotion, said:
"Has the bitterness of thy tongue taken root in thy stomach?" Quickly he raised himself at her first word and gazed with enamoured looks at the amber folds of hair, her glowing face; and with panting breath his eyes rested upon the round fulness of her form as it palpitated with rightful perturbance.
"Betake thyself before I inform Lord Cedric of thy presence!" And she rapped smartly her knife-handle upon the table. "Betake thyself, begone!" He did not stir nor find breath until she stood forth from the table and he saw her beauteous being from head to dainty toe of convent sandal. Then he found voice, and in broad Scotch begged her clemency, advancing toward her the while and almost kneeling in his humility.
"If I did not know the queen—"
"'Tis presuming for thee to speak of knowing her; thou dishonourest the noble plaid thou wearest. Begone from me, sir, instantly. Begone, I say!"
"Nay, I shall not begone. Tell me who thou art, I know thee not!"
"Tell thee? Nay, 'twould displease my lord if he knew I held converse with thee thus. He would no doubt send thee from the castle."
"But who is thy lord, pray?"
"Lord Cedric of Crandlemar!"
"Ah, ah,—but it does not displease him. Lord Cedric says thou shalt talk to him the balance of his days." The maid shrunk further from him in sheer loathing. At the moment Janet entered, and the rough Scot turned upon her, and in a voice of command, said,—
"Who is this maid, woman?" Janet scanned him for a moment and a bit of truth flashed upon her.
"'Tis the honoured daughter of Sir John Penwick," and she bowed to the floor.
"Ah! ah!!" He retreated in dismay and for a moment was silent, encumbered with emotions of surprise, admiration, wonderment and doubt. "Then thou art my ward and thou hatest me already—"
"Thou, thou Lord Cedric, the master of this great house?" And Katherine in the confidence of Janet's presence, laughed in scorn and swept from the room disdaining his commands to remain longer. For a moment he stood stunned as it were; then started toward the door and looked after their retreating forms, exclaiming the while,—
"Ah!—ah!! Thou a convent baggage ordering the lord of the castle from thy presence. Never have I been so talked to before. Damn me, I love thy gorgeous self, thy beauteous body; thou my ward to have and to hold. I may if I choose say to thee, thou shalt, or thou shalt not. Hey, hey, there, Christopher!" He knocked loudly upon the panelling of the door. A lackey entered trepidated. "Go and bring in haste from Wasson the letter written by Sir John Penwick. Haste thee, mind!" He turned to the table as if the shadow of her being still rested there and spoke the continuation of his thought. "'Tis a bit of paper, Mistress Katherine, that has become of more worth than a king's ransom. The last will and testament of Sir John Penwick bequeathing to my father a priceless property,—Thou wert slow, Christopher, but I forgive thee." He tore the letter from the lackey's hands and sat upon the chair drawing the candle to his convenience and read aloud:
"'Cedric: When we parted twenty odd years ago 'twas in anger. I hope thou hast forgotten it as I have.' My poor father had forgotten and yearned to tell him so. 'I'm upon my death-bed and my consolation is the remembrance of our mutual faith plighted to each other a short time before our quarrel. 'Twas the bit of Scotch blood in thee that brought us to contentious wrangle. I 'minded thee at the time thou wouldst grieve for thy hot words, and 'tis a balm I send thee for thy grieved heart; 'tis my baby Kate'—Baby, baby of course I thought her so and sent her to a nurse's nookery at the top of the towers to silence the wench's squawkings, and gave Stephen the care of the freshest young heifer, that the youngster might not lack for proper food, 'now under her nurse's care in the Ursuline Convent at Quebec. The child has been environed with all that is pure and good, and will come to thee with the sweet incense of the cloister clinging about her. I have heard but once of thee, and 'twas that thy young wife died leaving thee without heirs. If such be so, thou wilt find a solace in my baby. Guard her as thine own. I have only enough gold to send her with her nurse to thy protection.' She will be obliged to come to me for all things, and I will spoil my own pleasure by giving her before she asks. 'In my epistle to Janet Wadham I spoke of moneys and estates being in thy hands. 'Tis a lie that will bring to thy mind more vividly than aught else my personality—suppressio veri; but if thou findest a like propensity in my babe, thou wilt deal gently but firmly with her for its correction. I give into thy keeping more than house, lands or titles. I would direct clemency toward my beloved servant; she has proven most faithful. My wife truly loved her and at her child's birth was constantly tended by the vigilant Janet; and 'twas her desire she should remain always with the babe. Enclosed thou will find a letter to be given to my daughter upon her arrival to thy care; 'tis a letter of both welcome and farewell. Some day thou must tell her I am gone on my last journey, tell her when she is surrounded by pleasant distractions that she may not grieve. She knows naught of trouble, neither would I have her know. 'Tis possible she may have some religious ideas that are not identical with thine. She may be laden with all sorts of shrines, picture-books, candles, crosses and beads; these religion's playthings thou of sterner mould wilt hardly consider. My last wish and the one of greatest import to my child is that thou find for her a spouse of rank and fortune; 'tis my desire that she marry early to such an one. Ah, Cedric, if thou had hadst a son, their union would have been our delight; for when thou seest my Kate thou wilt see the most beautiful thing in life.'
"Aye, she is the most beautiful thing in life. She is mine, my very own, her father gives her to me for marriage—marriage, and 'tis a speedy one he asks, and she shall have it. I love her, love her, my whole being throbs with mad desire. She is the sweetest maid on earth, and I drink from the cup upon which her rich, red lips have rested; ah, 'tis sweet!" He poured a bumper and drank, then flung from the room with great strides.
Meanwhile Mistress Katherine sat before the fire in the tower nookery while Janet unpacked the luggage.
"'Twould not be fitting for Lord Cedric to have such a man within his house as guest!"
"Neither has he, Lambkin; 'tis his Lordship himself." Her voice rang truth and Katherine turned dismayed,—
"Nay, Janet, the man was a drunken fool! Surely, surely thou dost not mean thy sayings. He is not a fit person to be in so great a castle. Thou art shamming!"
"I mean every word; 'tis my Lord en masque, for to-night there is to be a great and magnificent spectacle."
"And what does that mean, Janet?"
"It means there is to be a masque ball, and my Lord Cedric is in his costume, and he does not look like that at all. We may be sure he appears quite the opposite when apparelled in his usual dress."
"But his tongue, he cannot change that!"
"Thou wilt have to wait and see for thyself, and fortune favours, for now thou wilt not have long to wait. I saw his wicked young eyes—too young for so old a man, as it appeared—directing enamoured darts upon thee."
"But art thou not afraid of so oath-beladen tongue? He is dreadfully profane!"
"He has already seen his peril and will drop his oaths like jetsam and wilt come to thee with flotsamy oglings and tender nothings and bow and smirk; and thou wilt find thyself an old man's sweetheart."
"Janet, can we not find some point of observation where we may look upon the maskers unseen?"
"Thou art speaking my own mind. I will look about and find some seclusion that thou mayest look and sate thine eyes upon Royalty; and thou wilt gaze and gaze and make mental annotations, and to-morrow thou wilt begin to preen thy feathers preparatory to flying forth; but first thou must lie down and sleep three full hours, 'tis then the ball will be at its height, and thou wilt feel refreshed and ready to amuse me with thy observations. 'Twill be the grandest sight for thee. I have seen many but none so gorgeous as this is to be."
Janet went upon a tour of exploration and finding what she desired in the way of a quiet corner returned for Katherine. They passed down flights of steps, through halls, and came to a large corridor that opened upon a gallery which encircled the ballroom, save where it was cleft by a great stairway. As they stood looking over the railing, 'twas like looking down upon an immense concave opal, peopled by the gorgeously apparelled. Myriad tints seeming to assimulate and focus wherever the eyes rested. Gilt bewreathed pillars, mouldings, shimmering satin, lights, jewels, flowers, ceiling, gallery and parquetry appeared like a homogeneous mass of opal. Mistress Katherine could not speak, her perturbed spirit was silent, she held to Janet and the curtain that hung at the arch, and breathed in the perfume.
"Canst see thy lord yonder?"
"Nay, I see all collectively, but nothing individually; my eyes fail to separate this from that."
"Perhaps if thou couldst whip them to his ugly frame, 'twould prove an antidote."
"'Twill come in time,—I can now discern that 'tis the folk that art moving and not the flowers and lights. I see a red figure seeming to hurry among the dancers, looking this way and that, peering and peeping; he has lost something."
"'Tis more probable he is looking for what he has found; 'tis thy stairway-beau with the rose; he has retrieved it and is hot upon the chase again. He is looking for thee.—'Tis vain my lord-devil, thou hadst better use the time to swathe thy feet in asbestos-flax."
The music of the passacaglia floated up and Katherine drank in its minor sweetness. Presently the dance changed into the chaconne with its prominent bass theme, again turning to the poetic and stately sarabande.
"Now I do see the Scot; he is by far the most homely figure anywhere, and yet, he is graceful, and it must be a very great beauty with him. How could the master of so great a house look so?" The music changed into a sprightly gavotte, Katherine's ears fairly tingled with the confusion of sound. She lay her head upon Janet's bosom as if drunk with the surfeit of music.
"'Tis more than I could have dreamed. Didst ever see anything so beautiful before? It seems years ago since we were within convent walls!"
"'Twill bring thy seeming nearer if thy lord proposes a speedy return to the cloister."
"Nay, I would not go."
"Ah, then, enjoy the present and think of moments and not cycles. Here thou shalt sit on this low divan, behind this tripod of roses; there, thou canst hear what they whisper when the music ceases." They sat ensconced in flowers and drapings of satin brocade, looking down upon splendidly and wonderfully dressed princes and dukes, lords and counts, with their ladies dancing the gavotte. There was the perfection of beauty and stateliness and romance. The few unmasked faces were smiling and bright with powder and rouge; dainty hands flourished fans; and there was the low click of high heels upon the parquetry. Jewels flashed and brocades gleamed; a shimmering accompaniment completing the symmetry of the brilliant dance. It was not long before Janet called her companion's attention to the lord of the castle. He was dancing now with a very beautiful woman, even more so than the one before.
"He steps lightly, being so bandied. Now I think on it, 'twere possible his legs were cushioned thus to hide a senile thinness! 'Tis human nature when badgered by excess of limit to flounder into limitless excess. Look upon the Burgomaster at thy feet with a surfeit of good round legs, he is unfortunate for being in excess, he cannot whittle down. 'Tis a queer being with whom he dances,—here comes a queen, see, she stops beneath thee,—sh—'Constance,' my lord devil calls her, 'Constance'; what thinkest thou, is she not beautiful?"
"See the bones in her neck, Janet, they protrude like pulpy blisters, and she looks flat of chest for a waist so abbreviated."
"I see thine eyes are ever upon nature, and 'tis best if thy gaze can penetrate the heart as well."
"Surely we have intuition, and I like not Constance."
"How about my lord with the rose?"
"I like him."
"Oh, impressionable youth! 'thou art the gilded sand from which the kiss of a wave washes every impress.' Tune thy myriad atoms to imitate the rock, and gird thyself with strength to meet the battery of onrushing breakers that grind against thee! Be careful, my Lambkin, fall not in love with the first handsome face thou seest." The music ceased; there was naught of sound, but a babble of voice and soft, gay laughter. The guests passed up the grand stairway, and between the pillars that guarded the entrance to the vaulted gallery beyond. Immediately beneath, where Katherine and her nurse sat, were Constance and her Mephistophelian consort. The former was saying:
"And thou dost say she is extremely beautiful? In what particular is this queen of thine so entrancing, is it in face or form?"
"Her face is divine, and her form ravishes one with delight."
"She is indeed fortunate to be such a goddess. If she is a lady-in-waiting to the Royal suite she will depart to-morrow!" and there was relief in the supposition. Constance continued: "I saw my kinsman's list of invitation, and among them all there was not one fitting thy description of this paragon, Adrian!"
"She had the bearing of a princess; she must be a person of note!"
"Adrian,"—and she grasped his arm tightly,—"dost think, thou knowing the ways of men, Cedric could have some bright being here to keep him from the dumps, and when guests are present, hides her in some remoteness?" There was more in Constance' meaning than what she said.
"Nay, nay, any man would be proud to—yet, if Cedric loved he would be very jealous!"
"Thinkest thou so?"
"I am positive. To-morrow, Constance, I will watch the departure of the guests, and, if I find not the maid, I will let thee know, and we will pounce upon my Lord Cedric and have him bring her to our notice."
"Nay, Adrian, I'll tell thee a better way. If she departs not with the company to-morrow, I will search the castle and find her; for I know every cranny. I will bring about a meeting, so thou mayest beau her privately and win her love before Cedric knows aught; 'twill be a grand joke to play upon him, and 'twill pay him back for trying to hide from us the gem of his castle." They looked into each other's eyes but an instant, and they each understood the other.
"'Tis a compact, Constance. 'Twill be sweet to meet her in secret. God grant she may be a member of my lord's household!" Like a prayer Constance uttered after him, as they traversed the room to the great stairway,—"God grant it may not be so!"
"Unlike Hamlet's prayer, their words and thoughts both fly up, and to such a prayer they will undoubtedly receive an answer; but whether 'twill be satisfactory to the one or the other, remains to be seen, as the destination of their supplications was a long way this side of heaven—" said Janet, as she wrapped her mistress in her grey convent cape and led her without the gallery.
"Is it possible I was the object of discussion, Janet?"
"'Tis probable. The first trophy thou hast gained without appearing upon the field."
"And what is that?"
"A woman's hate; thy rival hast given thee the first token of success." They had reached the tower chamber and Janet began to prepare her mistress for bed.
"I cannot understand thee, I cannot grasp thy meaning."
"Neither would I have thee understand; for if I took from thee thy innocent mind, I would deprive thee of thy best weapon. Thou hadst better chatter of thy poor, grey frock thou wilt don on the morrow."
Katherine stood before a small mirror divested of her outer garments. The soft white thing that bound her graceful, sloping shoulders, had fallen loose displaying her glorious white neck and bosom. Janet caught the mirrored reflection and understood and answered,—
"Nay, thou hast no pulpy blisters, neither shalt have while I feed thee on pap and rub thee with oil; nor yet a flat chest for thy shoulders are sunk from prominence by its fulness."
"Shall I wear a low bodice thus, Janet?"
"And high-heeled boots and stays,—I must have stays before I appear at my lord's table."
"Thou shalt not have that 'twould squeeze thy beauteous mould." The faithful Janet unbound her nursling as if she had been a tiny babe and swathed her in a soft, warm thing, and bade her get to bed. Katherine jumped to the middle and lay panting, with happy eyes that had naught of sleep in them, until on a sudden Janet's voice rung like a menace on her ears.
"Thou hast forgotten thy rosary; thou hast neither said an Ave Maria or a Pater Noster since our arrival. Thou wouldst neglect thy religion, and 'tis thy own, sweet precious self that will pay the penalty."
"Nay, nay, Janet, I will say them ten times to make up for my forgetfulness." She sprung from her bed.
"To bed, to bed; thou shalt not kneel upon the floor in this ice-bound chamber. Here, take thy beads and say them once and close thy azure eyes." Janet watched until the wax-like lids drooped, then softly made fast the doors. She flung herself into a great chintz-covered chair and fell asleep before the bright fire.
HIS LORDSHIP'S PROPOSAL
She did not waken until aroused by the grinding of wheels upon the gravel beneath the window. A servant brought coals and wood and built a roaring fire that warmed her chilled bones. She ordered her mistress' breakfast for eleven o'clock, and locking the door upon the retreating lackey, settled herself in the chair again and fell asleep. She was next awakened by a smart rap upon the door. The servant stood upon the threshold gazing at the vision of beauty that had raised upon her elbow in the bed, and was looking with inquiring eyes.
"His Lordship begs Mistress Penwick to step to the library after her breakfast."
"Step, to be sure, thou hadst better bring a chariot to cart her there, and 'twould be out of the question for her to go before getting anything into her stomach to strengthen her for the journey."
"Shall I tell him so, mum?" said the servant, with a look of roguery in his eyes.
"'Twould become thee better to tell him without asking if thou shouldst. Avaunt, get thee gone on thy mission." Then turning to Katherine,—"'Twould have to come sooner or later and 'tis best sooner I'm thinking," and Janet stepped to draw the curtains to let in but a sickly grey light. "Ah, there is a great snowstorm! and there seems to be a large party about to set forth a hunting." And indeed there arose to their ears a great noise of baying hounds and the tramping of horses in the courtyard, and voices were raised high and merry. There was a rattle of spurs and champing of bits; and as the two women looked from the window the party set forth.
"Thou wilt go with me, Janet?"
"As far as the library door. I will listen and peep through the keyhole when no one is passing."
A lackey came to conduct Mistress Katherine below. He looked surprised at Janet as she followed them, neither was his curiosity appeased when Mistress Penwick passed through the library door, and the severe-faced Janet sat down upon a ponderous chair in the corridor just outside.
'Twas a great room with enormous fireplaces, and in front of one of them stood Lord Cedric. There was a smile on his face as he noted his ward's surprise. She looked upon him with interest and finally spoke,—
"Lord Cedric sent for me; he is not here," and she retreated as if to leave the room.
"Nay, do not leave until thou hast become acquainted with Cedric of Crandlemar." He held out his hand to her longingly, pleadingly, and stood thus before her; his figure of an Adonis silhouetted by the flames that reached above his head in the great chimney behind him. His face and form was a match for her own. A hunting-coat wrapped his broad shoulders; his beauteous limbs were encased in high-field boots, showing well his fine masculine mould.
"How many lords of Crandlemar are there?" she asked, almost contemptuously.
"One, only," and he still held out his hand with a gesture of entreaty. "I was the ill-humoured, boisterous man in Scotch attire last night. I beg thee to forgive and forget it. Come—come—thou art my ward."
"But my Lord Cedric is an old man, as old as my father, and is Scotch."
"Thou art speaking of my father; he has been dead five years. Thy father did not know of his death when he sent thee to England. And my mother"—his voice trembled—"died when I was born. I was reared without a woman's love. Angel was too old to teach me tenderness. She has tried to guide me; but Kate—thy father calls thee so—I have had no one to love me like thee. I have lived a wild, boisterous life in Scotland most of the time, and after father died I went to France. I have lived wickedly, Kate; I have given myself over to oaths, and—and—and—drink;—'twas so last night when I saw for the first time the woman I loved; who was as fair in face, form and soul, as all I had ever pictured or dreamed. Wilt thou forget my course tongue and try—try—to—to—to love me, Kate. Thou wilt say 'tis soon to speak so to thee; but why keep back that 'tis best for me to say and thou to know?" She could not mistake the ring of truth in his voice that was now so pleading.
"Come, come,"—and as if a happy thought occurred, reached into his pocket and drew forth a letter;—"here is thy proof that I am Lord Cedric; thy father's letter," he held it toward her. She came and reached her hand for it, timidly. His Lordship was one of the most passionate of youths, nor could he restrain his ardour. He caught her hand and drew her to him, meeting her graceful body with his own; his hot breath was upon her hair, and he panted forth;—"Kate, Kate, I love thee," his arm was reaching about her, when she called Janet stoutly. The door was flung open and the nurse's face looked upon the youth like an ominous thing of strength,—then surprise broke over it and she spoke forth,—
"Who art thou, perfidious youth?"
"I am Cedric of Crandlemar, and I was saluting my ward." Janet took her mistress from him as he half supported her, and sat down, drawing her into her lap. Katherine fell to weeping.
"What has happened to thee, Lambkin?"
"I don't know," sobbed Katherine, "assure me if 'tis Lord Cedric."
"We will accept him, anyway, for 'tis a better subject than my Lord Scot of last night." Thereupon Cedric fell upon one knee at Janet's feet, and bent his handsome head to Katherine's hand and kissed it.
"Nay, nay, thy lips burn me, and I hate thee for it!" She wiped her hand upon her dress, and turned her head from Janet's bosom and cast a scornful glance through her tears.
"I love her, Janet, and she hates me. Her father gave her to me to love and guard and—marry, 'tis in the letter so; and she shall—"
"Thou talkest too strong to so young a maid; thou must remember that she is but fifteen, and never used to beaux. Thou art the first man beside her father to so much as touch her hand."
"She fifteen, 'tis not possible!" and his enamoured glance swept her form,—"'tis not possible." Mistress Katherine's colour blenched and heightened, for the ardent masculine eyes made her like and hate in turn; his countenance glowed with warm youthfulness which both attracted and repulsed her; and she hid her face again upon Janet's shoulder.
"'Tis rather young to become wife, but I cannot live away from her, I must have her."
"Nay, thou must wait until she is past sixteen, and knows her own mind."
"I cannot wait, Janet, I am too inflammable, she consumes me with her beauty."
"Then I had better take her where thou canst not see her."
"Nay, nay, she shall not leave me for a day nor hour. She is mine absolutely, and I'll have her. I have found what is more precious than all else to me." As Katherine's eyes were hid, Janet placed her fingers upon her lips, enjoining silence upon the passionate man before her. 'Twas a simple thing, but Cedric knew from that moment he had gained a powerful ally. He rose to his feet, and, in softened tones, continued,—"'Tis the first time I have ever loved, and 'tis natural I should be impetuous;" then in a tone that was full of magnanimity,—"I will give thee time to rest from thy long journey before we buy the wedding garments, I will give thee a whole week." Then 'twas that Katherine spoke,—
"A whole week, indeed, I shall not marry thee at all, never, I hate thee. Thou wilt give me my heritage and I will go from thy house; my father gave it and me into thy father's care not thine, I will write to him at once and tell him of this terrible mistake."
"Thy father is—" he caught himself in time.
"Thy father is—what?" And she looked at him closely.
"Is too far away over seas, and—might be hard to find."
"Then I will go to him."
"Thou wilt remain where thou art."
"Thou talkest like foolish children. 'Twould better become thee to prattle of frocks and fixings for my Lady Penwick. Your Lordship will see to it at once?" It was a happy suggestion. Cedric leant over Katherine.
"Come, tell me what thou wilt have from London town? thou shalt have all thy heart asks for."
"Thou art generous with my belongings." 'Twas an unfriendly cut.
"Come, Mistress, what will thou have, make out a list and I will send it by a courier."
"I prefer to go myself."
"I have guests and cannot go with thee at the present,—and thou canst not go without me; but thou shalt have the more for this very cause. Come, tell me thy heart's desire. Be good to me Kate, I love thee so; I must tell thee, it cuts me to the quick to have thee so set against me. Thou wilt espouse me some day, sweet one?" Katherine stood up and shot a withering glance full upon him.
"Nay, nay, nay,—thou wilt let me go from thee!"
"I beg thy pardon, Mistress Penwick, I will urge thee no more now; but tell me thy wishes. Thou will have first of all, a beautiful hat with feathers reaching to thy shoulder-tips, and dainty brocade gowns with boots of the same hue, and jewelled fans, and ribbons and laces and all kinds of furbelows, and I will give thee to-day some jewels, rings, and—"
"And a necklace like Constance has?" put in Katherine, unthinkingly.
"Constance—where didst thou see her?" His voice and manner showed annoyance. "Where didst see her, Kate?" There was a blush on her face as she answered,
"At the ball."
"Thou wert not there," he said, incredulously.
"Janet and I looked on from the gallery, and Constance stood beneath us. 'Twas a beautiful thing that encircled her throat."
"Aye, they were pearls; but thou shalt have a circlet that wilt not so hide thy pink hued neck. To-day, Kate, I will give thee some gems and thou shalt go with me to the great chests and see the laces they contain;—and thy colours, Kate, what are thy favourite colours?"
"I love white and violet." A happy smile covered Cedric's face.
"'Tis my mother's choice and by that I hit upon thy fancy as thou shalt soon see." Cedric racked his brain for more pleasant things to say. "And thou shalt have a horse and learn to ride."
"Oh, Janet, to have a horse all my own! 'tis too good to be true; 'tis a thing I have dreamt of." And the delighted girl flung herself at Janet's feet and embraced her knees from sheer ecstasy. It seemed peace had come to stay; and for a moment Cedric looked upon her with eyes full of admiration and, yes, heart full of love; then,—
"Art sure thou hast thought of all thou wouldst have, is the list complete, Janet; canst thou not suggest something more? I will send it to one of the court mantua-makers and if thou sendest the proper measurements our lady will soon be a modish butterfly." At the word modish a sudden thought came to Katherine and she leant over and whispered in Janet's ear; then Janet said:
"She must have a pair of stays with each frock."
"Nay, nay, she shall not have stays to pinch so fair a mould; she shall not have stays, nay, nay, sweet Kate." 'Twas then Mistress Penwick flew into a passion. She clinched her fists and her face grew scarlet; she shook her head and threw glances like sword-thrusts at Cedric, and said not a word but stamped her foot. As she did so, she saw that in Cedric's eyes that made her calm her passion on a sudden. 'Twas steel against steel. It was Janet's voice that drew Katherine's attention; for it had in it something it never had heretofore; it was full of reproach.
"Lambkin, thou art too young for either stays or such a show of passion. I beg thee to quench thy evil spirit, it does not become thee." Katherine bent her head and turned from them toward the door. Cedric called,
"Do not leave until we have all things settled! Kate, dost hear me speaking?" She pretended deaf ears. "Kate," he said, with emphasis, "dost hear me? Mistress Pen wick, hear me, heed, heed!" he thundered, and stamped his foot, the spurs rattling upon the hearthstone. She turned about reluctantly and rested her hand upon the great oaken table, looking at Janet as if it had been she that had spoken. Cedric drew himself up proudly, and spoke in a firm, full voice,
"I am thy father, brother, guardian, anything that love could be to thee, and all that I have is thine, and when thou art with me thou mayest do as thy heart dictates, but when thou shalt cross yonder threshold thou shalt conduct thyself as becomes a daughter and mistress of the castle. I have beneath my roof guests—my kinswoman, Lady Constance, whom I have bidden to remain indefinitely, she being so near of kin has been mistress here; but, from the moment thou didst enter the portal of Cedric's house, 'twas thou became mistress, thou—thou mistress of my home, and heart as well; thou wilt accept the former mission, and I will fight with all of cupid's weapons until thou dost accept the latter. 'Tis a pragmatic duty to follow my words and understand them and demean thyself accordingly. To-night thou wilt come to the drawing-room at the prandium hour, and 'twill be my pleasure to seat thee at table, and 'twould be best if I acknowledged our espousal."
"Nay, nay, I will not come then."
"Thou shalt come if thou art in the castle," Janet's scowling face under cover of the high-backed chair stopped his lordship's impetuosity, "hast a frock, Kate? thou shalt go to the chest and find for thee some bright thing and I will send from Crandlemar a woman to help thee with thy attire. Angel will come to take thee to see the jewels, and thou shalt have those thou carest to take. I would see thy choice, Kate. I can almost guess it now. So come, Kate, the storm without should insure good cheer within; and with thy bright face the castle will be aglow. Come, say au revoir, Kate." She held out her hand and faltered forth au revoir. There was the language of the convent in that one word and it rung sweet upon her ear. He took her hand between his own and bent and kissed it tenderly, "au revoir, au revoir" he said, then turned quickly from her.
Outside stood old flabby-face, as Janet pleased to call her, when alone with Katherine, but designated by the servants as Sophia.
"His Ludship ordered Mistress Penwick's room changed."
"Thou dost mean, rather, he advised a change of room; 'twould be difficult to convey the tower chamber elsewhere."
It was a beautiful room into which Sophia led them and beyond were others belonging to the same suite, all in white and gold, with mirrors and painted walls garlanded with cupids and floral wreaths, and silken curtains at bed and windows; and cushions and beautiful venuses and rare potpourri. And when they were quite alone Janet strutted up and down the rooms enjoying the fulness of her cup.
"'Tis more than thou dreamed again, eh, Lady Pen wick? Thou hast fallen heir to a queen's portion without the ennui of satiety."
"Truly 'tis a wondrous castle; but Janet can Lord Cedric espouse me because he is my guardian?"
"Nay, child, but he loves thee, and he means to win thee if 'tis possible. He is young and self-willed and passionful, and he will have his own way. Dost like him, Lambkin?"
"Somewhat, but I hate him most."
"Thou wilt impeach thy sweet tongue by that viscid 'hate'; thou hadst better indulge in less of devil's warfare and leave room for digestion of gentle peace. Thou hast bloomed into a beauteous maid, but thy temper hath blown also. My lord hast seen many beauties that he could have for the asking, and they are doubtless meek and gentle creatures with soft and ready answer; but if thy cantankerous untowardness continues he will set thee down as a shrewish wench and will heartily dislike thee."
"Nay, I would not have any one dislike me."
"Then cease thy uprisings." There came a low knock, and an old grey-haired woman stepped into the room with that in her face Janet stood up to honour. She advanced to Katherine and in a trembling voice said,
"Thou art my lord's ward,—ah, I remember thy father well; thou art a Penwick over and over again, I could see it with half an eye. I knew thy father when he was a mere lad, so high; he had as bonny a face as one cared to see. They tell me thou didst expect to see here my poor master; is't so? Aye,—well thou hast found his son, the blessedst man that walks the earth. He has a wicked, bad tongue at times, but he means nothing. I nursed him and his father, and am longing for a wife for his lordship." Then: "I am Angel Bodkin, and have come to conduct thee to the vaults." She led them forth, talking all the while.
BACCHUS AND BACCHANTES
Lady Constance had exhausted every means of procuring the desired information concerning the strange beauty in her kinsman's castle; and she became fretted and annoyed and was about to give up all hope, when she came suddenly upon the object of her search in the corridor; and the beauteous maid, grey-gowned and sandal-shoon, flitted by without deigning so much as a look. And my Lady Constance swept by with hate of this formidable creature in her evil heart. She felt it was almost understood that Lord Cedric would espouse her; she, Lady Constance Clarmot. To be sure, she was somewhat of riper years than he, but that counted for naught since they had always loved each other. She was of a great family and proud and had of her own, titles and estates and—yes, beauty. She fell to thinking of the many ways in which Cedric had shown his love for her. He had consulted her on all occasions upon the most trivial matters until the present instance. "Could it be possible she is some soft-natured wench that hath fallen beneath his eye and charmed him, and he has brought her here? Nay, nay, he would not bring such an one beneath his roof while I remained, and yet I have but just come and he hath kept her hid; 'tis possible he will send her away at once." She soliloquized thus until the candles were brought, and the curtains drawn to shut out the storm, and she sat beneath her maid's hands heeding naught save her bitter thoughts. "What had become of Adrian? Why had he not been in to see her; surely by this time he had learned something being out the whole afternoon hunting, perhaps side by side with Cedric." Thus she fretted, and scolded her maid until it was time to go to the drawing-room. It was a picturesque scene; the ancient castle with its crenellated tower, from which now pointed a tall flag-pole, the British Royal Ensign bound closely about it, its colours being distinctly visible through its casing of ice; for an immense quadruple-faced light was placed high up in the fork of a tree opposite the great window of the vaulted saloon, casting its beam to the very pinnacle of the ensign-staff; lighting the castle from end to end upon its northern side, where the great avenues converged. A shaft reluctantly and gloomily effused the near density of the forest; another ray gladdening the expectant eyes of the guest from Londonway; while yet another broad gleam sped the departing traveler over the threshold of the forest into the gloom-environed pathway beyond. Upon every shelving projection of the unhewn stone structure was ice. The entire walls scintillated with a fairy brilliancy, and the trees as they swayed back and forth propelled by the unceasing wind caused such a coruscation of sparkles it fairly blinded the spectator. Beneath the spreading branches were a host of men, horses and dogs. The gay costumes of the huntsmen showing resplendent in the ice-bespangled light. The horns were lowered, and there was a confusion of tongues between groomsmen and lackeys; and there were shouts of welcome from the wide-open doorway of the servants' hall; for 'twas here the game was brought and laid upon the stone floor or hung upon pegs on the wall for the inspection of the guests. Lord Cedric leapt from his horse, throwing the reins to a waiting groom; strode into the hall with rattling spurs and flung through the rooms and up the stairway to his Lady Katherine's bower, and rapped smartly upon the panelling of the door. The vision that met his amorous eyes sent him hot and cold; and 'twas with difficulty he restrained himself from encircling her full, glowing body.
"The hours I have been from thee have seemed weeks, and I was of no use in the field; my gun would entangle in the low-hanging boughs; and on the wold my steed's feet were caught in the dry gorse, until I could not get near enough to shoot anything. On the other hand, Cupid has arrowed me to the death, and I come,—a shade for thee to put life into; and the sight of thee is a life-giving thing." Katherine's face flamed with his warm words, and the consciousness of the beauty of her new adornment; for she stood before him in an amber shimmering stuff that clung to her lithe limbs, hiding not her slender ankle and her arched satin shoe, as her dress caught about a stool that held it. The short round waist betrayed the fulness of her form, and Cedric turned his eyes away from sheer giddiness, drunk with love. He spoke to Janet with quick breath:—"Bring her down to see the game."—Then, suddenly,—"Where are thy jewels, Kate?" He espied a casket, and hastening to it took from it rings, fitting them upon Mistress Penwick's tapering fingers, until her hand was heavy. Of other jewels she'd have none. "But thou must have a shoulder knot," said Cedric, and he took from the casket a glittering shoulder brooch of opals and clasped it in the satin of her frock, and drew from a tripod of white and gold a flaming jacqueminot and gave it into her hand and led her forth, followed closely by Janet. Down the great stairway he led her proudly, through corridor and passage, until they reached the servants' hall, where the clamour of voices and baying hounds was like pandemonium; and at the sound Mistress Penwick drew back with fear. For a moment Cedric was sorely tried to keep from bending to those rose-bowed lips. She saw him hesitate, and stammered forth:
"Lead on, my lord!"
He swung open the door and instantly all eyes were set upon his fair ward. First his Lordship's face was exultant, then seeing Mistress Penwick's glances that pierced every masculine heart, and her dazzling beauty drunk in by all; his face grew dark, and jealousy possessed him, and fear crept in, and he vowed to wed her at the earliest moment.
"'Tis Sir John Penwick's daughter, Mistress Katherine Penwick, my father's ward," and he led her to their midst.
"She is a wondrous beauty," many murmured as they saw her.
"Dazzling, by God!" whispered some of the masculines that stood apart, and there were others that spoke not a word, but stood spell-bound at her majestic mien. A gorgeously apparelled figure swept to his Lordship's side, and a little hand crept into his and black flashing eyes looked up, and a soft voice whispered,—
"Thou didst never speak of—this, the most charming of thy possessions, heretofore, Cedric. I knew not thou didst inherit so beauteous a being from thy father. But Sir John,—England has not heard of his death—"
"Sh! sh! she does not know," Cedric answered.
"Not know—ah!" and Lady Constance drew from him and looked at Katherine with malice and thought evil; "'tis not Sir John's daughter, 'tis some trick Cedric plays upon his guests and me; it goes to show that his relations to her are ill, and his intentions are to raise her to our level. Nay, nay, Cedric, I will lift thee beyond such a thing. When he has time alone, I will gain his ear and taunt him with a debauched youth; free from heart or conscience; a rake to betray; and I will win him from beauteous, youthful Bacchante. 'Tis his pleasure to swear and swagger; but at twenty-three he should not begin to carouse with female beauty. 'Tis time, and I will tell him so, for him to bring a lady as wife to the castle. I will speak to him at once. He has gone too far."
Lord Cedric drew Katherine to inspect the trophies of the chase, and explained their kind and the mode of capture. She with others followed him; the gentler folk raising frocks from pools and streams of blood, thereby displaying high-heeled shoe and slender ankle and ruffles of rare lace; and they gathered close about Mistress Penwick, drinking in her simple convent ways of glance and gesture and fresh, young spirit.
Then his Lordship led them to the grand saloon. It was the glory of the castle, this great room of forty feet in width and sixty in length. The ceiling supported upon either side by slender Corinthian pillars, was panelled and exquisitely frescoed with nude female figures that were reflected in the highly polished floor of marquetry woods. The walls were covered with old tapestries and rare pictures. There were two immense windows; the one at the south end of the room was quite twenty feet square of Egyptian style. The one to the north reached from floor to ceiling and from side to side. It was draped by a single ruby-coloured velvet curtain that was so artistically caught by rope-like cords of silk that, by a draw, could be lifted upward and to either side in luxurious folds, exposing the entire window. At present the great saloon was lighted by seven immense lustres of fifty candles each, and with twenty sconces each bearing fifteen candles. The effulgent gleam cast from these myriad flames upon polished woods, busts, statues, unique bric-a-brac, gildings, glass and ruby velvet produced the perfection of old-time splendour. And now, as the gallant beaux led in fair maidens, it gave the picture life. The great north window disclosed the ice-bound trees in all their primitive ruggedness. The snow and sleet were vigorously driven by the wind that howled continuously. The light from the forked-tree cast through the window rays that resembled moonlight, as they mingled with the radiance within, while outside it twinkled with the sprightliness of old-fashioned humour.
Cedric of Crandlemar was noted among beaux old and young of his intimate acquaintance for the spicy diversions with which he entertained his friends, when they were so fortunate as to be present at his stag parties. Arriving home after a long absence, he opened his castle upon St. Valentine's eve with a ball, wherein his guests appeared in full court costume, in honour of the Royal guests. The weeks following had been filled with stately entertainment; and now his Royal and formal guests had departed, and the throng that passed into the great saloon were youths and maidens of neighbouring counties; some college friends and kinsmen. They entered with gay abandon. The beaux were whetted to great curiosity, for 'twas whispered among them that after a short evening with the ladies, there were to appear a bevy of London-town dancing girls, who would give them a highly flavoured entertainment; and, as if Bacchus had prematurely begun to disport himself in brain and leg of each beau, he set about to ogle and sigh and wish and—pull a stray curl upon some maiden's forehead or touch her glowing cheek with cold fingers, and some began to illustrate the modus operandi of taking certain game, while another danced a clog or contra-dance or Sir Roger de Coverley. The maidens caught the spirit and answered back glance for glance, and being equipped for conquest let go the full battery of their woman's witchery. It made a charming spectacle of young and noble blood indulging in the abandon of the hour. There were dames that set the pace for modest maidenhood, that ogled with the younger beaux,—(as they do to this day). Lady Bettie Payne swept her fingers over the keys of an Italian spinet, that was ornamented with precious stones, and sat upon a table of coral-veined wood; she sung soft and tenderly of the amours of Corydon, and neither her voice nor the low tinkling of the spinet reached to the further end of the room where Adrian Cantemir played upon the grand harpsichord a dashing piece that was intended to charm at least, the beauteous Katherine, who stood near. Lord Cedric leant over and begged the Russian count to change the tune to a gavotte. He did so, and Cedric brought forth Katherine and placed her fair to watch his step till she might catch the changes. Thus he trained her carefully and with precision, and when Cantemir saw the trap that held him where he was and gave Lord Cedric the upper-hand, he fell into the spleen and played out of time, and Cedric flung around and caught his spur in Dame Seymour's petticoats, and he swore beneath his breath, and Katherine smiled at his discomfiture and her own untutored grace, and she made bold and took a step or two on her own dependence. Then there chimed eight from the old French clock of black boule that sat upon a cabinet of tortoise-shell, and it stirred the swains to think of donning 'broidered waist-coats and high-heeled shoon preparatory to the prandial hour, when fresh game and old wine would strengthen stomach and head; and they bowed low over tapering fingers and cast a parting dart at female hearts, and climbed the great oaken stairway to don their fine beaux' dress.
'Twas eleven o' the clock when the gay company again entered the saloon; gentlemen in fresh curled periwigs and marvels of laces and 'broiderings. They were gay with post-prandium cheer and flushed with wine.
Lord Cedric clapped his hands and immediately from some curtained passage or gallery there was music; each instrument seeming to lead in contrapuntal skill. His Lordship led forth Katherine and others followed in the movement of the passacaille. Mistress Penwick was beneath a great lustre that shone down and set her shoulder knot ablaze with brilliancy, when Lady Constance passed and noted it. She bit her lip from sheer pain, for 'twas Cedric's mother's prized brooch, and through her heart fell a thunderbolt of fear; for now she knew he would not allow a baggage to wear a thing so valued by the mother whose memory he so loved. She began to fear this beauteous thing could not be ousted so easily from her kinsman's castle; and her heart rebelled at thought of losing him for spouse. She raged within, reproaching herself for not hastening in woman's way his avowal; then she trembled and grew sick at heart, as she saw his glances that were so full of love; glances for which she would give the world to win. She, on a sudden, was famishing for this love she had heretofore held aloof from and yet would rather die than loose, aye, die a thousand deaths. In her heart she vowed vengeance on that 'twould come between them, and the thought strengthened her for battle, and when again she saw Cedric's eyes gazing with ardent desire upon Katherine, it was with comparative calmness. There appeared also a strange thing to her, that this beauty did not appear to notice Cedric—that is, with the notice due so handsome, rich and titled beau. There was not another in the room with so elegant and fine shape; of so great vigour and strength; none that could be so shaken and yet tender with passion; none that could so command with a look; none that had such pure, noble blood. And strange to say, for the first time she saw his weaker side; she saw he was both jealous and selfish; she could find a thousand matters pertaining to his lands and estates that she could find fault with. He was exacting and heartless with his tenants; not providing for their welfare as he should, being so great a lord. He hardly allowed them religious privileges. The church was attached to the castle by a passage leading from the landing of the stairway in the library, and he had complained that the singing and preaching annoyed him, and had frequently closed the chapel for this cause, and yet a woman that held sway over such a man's heart could mould him to anything. Why, why had she not married him ere this? She would set about it at once and bring all these matters concerning his estates to his notice; 'twould look so noble; 'twas time the castle had a mistress, and who would better grace it than the fair Lady Constance of Cleed Hall? And in Adrian Cantemir she had an ally, for he was madly and desperately in love with Lord Cedric's ward. "I should like her for cousin; she would make Adrian a fine wife, indeed I think I should become quite proud of her," said Constance, as if the matter was already quite settled.
After dancing the stately gavotte, it appeared that the whole company became heavy and wished for retirement; it might have been a ruse on the part of beaux, and the fair ones fell into the trap; be it as it may, the ladies retired. Janet had been waiting at the top of the stairs for her mistress; but her smile of welcome turned to one of disgust as she saw her appear with Lady Constance' arm about her.
"Thou art commencing early, Lady Judas; I have not preened my eyes for nothing, and this I well know, thou art hot in pursuit of my Lord Cedric, and thou shalt not have him. 'Tis Mistress Penwick that will queen it here and make a noble consort for his Lordship," said Janet.
"May I come in a minute? Thou hast learnt I am Cedric's cousin, and I feel as though I must know thee at once for his sake."
"Aye, thou art most welcome, Lady Constance," replied Katharine. And they sat over the fire laughing and chatting. Katherine was all excitement and full of clatter, for 'twas her first "company," and she was a young lady and could now boast of tender looks and words from beaux. And her volubleness led her to tell of her convent life, of her sudden surprise and pleasure of coming to England; and on and on; and blushing, she thought with Constance that Adrian Cantemir was indeed very charming, and having become better acquainted with him, she felt sure she admired him quite as much, or more than, any one else; and she was so fond of music he fairly entranced her when he played.
"To-morrow he is to teach me battledore and shuttlecock in the library."
"'Tis great sport and a game that requires some skill," said Constance. And thus they talked for one good hour, and in the adjoining room Janet fumed and fretted; for 'twas far past her child's bedtime.
"Such late hours are not conducive to youthful roundness and a clear colour," she grumbled. Constance yawned and declared she must retire; but she was thirsty and must have a drink, and yet she supposed she must do without, for all the maids and lackeys were abed.
"But the more I think of it, the more I want it. I will get it myself."
"And I will accompany thee, for I would like not to go alone in so great a house, when there is no one astir," said Katherine.
They started forth adown the stairs; and following silent, noiseless like a wraith was Janet, expectant, eager; for she felt she was to see the opening of a great battle. Constance led the way, carrying a taper. As they traversed some passage, their ears caught the sound of music. They listened a moment, then Constance proposed they snuff the candle and draw near the sound; "for very like the beaux were having an orgy," she said. And Katherine, full of adventure and deeming it a fine, young lady's trick—she had heard talk of such things among the older girls at the convent—opined "'twas the thing to do." And they followed the passage until an arched and curtained doorway but screened them from that 'twas within the grand saloon, and Constance made bold to draw aside a finger-breadth of the sweeping curtain and peep within.
"Ah! ah! 'tis a beauteous sight!" and she turned from what she saw and drew the curtain to a generous opening; and the two with heads together looked through.
Every candle had been snuffed and through the great north window came the rays from the light in the forked tree that fell like moonlight athwart the saloon. In the centre of the broad gleam was a sylph-like form, keeping time to the music in a sort of phantom style of movement; twisting, shimmering folds that appeared to effuse a scintillation of opal shades. 'Twas the chaconne; slow, graceful and full of romance, the full major lifting and seeming to float, at last dying imperceptibly into the minor passacaille. About were seated, carelessly and after the manner of men who had pulled at the bottle for hours in the hunting field and were now somewhat overcome by warmth and ennui, beaux old and young, 'suaging their appetite of mouth and eye by wine and women.
"'Tis the King sets the pace!" said one, close to the curtain.
"Egad!" said another. "He not only sets it, but carries it along. He has fine wenches at his beck and call." 'Twas evident 'twas but the beginning of revelry; a sort of bacchanalian prelude to what might come later. No sooner was this dance finished than another began. Some lithe creature came forth to dance, in bright scarlet, the passacaglia. The glasses were refilled and the noise became more boisterous; and the scandal more flagrant. The candles were set aglow again and tables were brought for those wishing to gamble. And one richly dressed and full of wine sprung upon a table and held aloft a glass and called forth:
"Here, here is to his Lordship of Crandlemar and to a long life of free and easy celibacy." Now 'twas said Lord Cedric could drink more without becoming undignified than any other man of his company, but it seemed he gave himself to the spirit of the moment and had drunk deep. When the young blood upon the table offered the toast, Cedric sprung as if shot to the table, where he staggered and would have fallen, had it not been for the youth who bore him up. Holtcolm, in his drunken anxiety for his neighbour's steadiness, stood near him and with tender, maudlin solicitude began to flick the grains of bergamot scented snuff from the lace of Lord Cedric's steenkirk. At the same time from the glass he held there spilled on his Lordship's brocaded coat of blue and silver a good half-pint of wine. Cedric upon being balanced had forgotten what he wanted to say, and turned to his supporter.
"What was it Holt-colm—I was goin' to shay?" Neither could remember, so his Lordship continued with what seemed to weigh upon his mind:
"'Tis thish: 'tis my deshire thish should be made a memorable—a night worthy of remembrance. I'm about to espoushe my fair ward—and this is positively my lasht appearance en bout—I know and am fully aware abondance de bien ne nuit until a better comes. To-night will be my finale de-bauch—sho; tell the red beauty to come here." He sat down upon the table and gazed with heavy, drooping lids upon the dancing girl that came toward him. "Thou art a saucy baggage; but—hic—thou art false of colour and—hic—flesh. Thy lips and cheeks are stained with rouge—hic—and thy flesh—is—hic—pushed to prominence by high stays—by God, it turns my stomach to—nausea." And he turned over and lay flat upon the table. "Bring on another—shay—we must have the moonlight beauty again." Katherine was well frightened and made several efforts to persuade her companion to go away. It was part of Constance' programme to cause Katherine's disgust at sight of Cedric's wantonness. She felt it had been accomplished, and as there were other matters to be about, she turned with her and together they groped back up the stairs in the darkness, and found Janet feigning sleep in a chair before the fire, Constance yawned and declared herself to be tired out, and bade Katherine adieu. Janet closed the door after her and in haste began putting her mistress to bed. And after giving her a bath and rubbing, she snuffed the candles and went to her own room to slip out again and go below stairs and find the curtained doorway, there to watch and wait for that which was to come. She had seen as much as Constance and Katherine, and she determined to see even more. She would know how Lord Cedric appeared in his cups. There was nothing anomalous in what was before her; 'twas as she had often seen in the grand house in which she had served as maid; the same licentiousness, wild riot and debaucheries that have been since the world stood. She saw 'twas Cedric that drank as deep as any, and could rip out oaths as trippingly as his swollen tongue would allow; but he was neither vulgar nor lewd. Janet looked with pride at his clear flushed face, so handsomely featured; his jewelled hands and fine round legs that tapered to slender ankles. 'Twould be a fine pair when he espoused her mistress, and she would help him to it as soon as he liked. Her heart went out to him the more when she saw he cared not for the favours offered him by the dancing wenches as they touched his flowing black curls with caressing hands. He turned upon his stomach on the table and hid his face in his hands and remained thus until the candles were again snuffed and a maid came out into the improvised moonlight in gipsy dress and a fortune-teller's cup and wand. She wore a masque and veil tight wrapped about her head. She danced with less skill than any that had come before. She lisped forth 'twas her trade to tell fortunes, and thereupon a fop reached forth and pulled her to him, and she began a startling story that had somewhat of truth in it; and to each one her assertions or predictions had so much of truth in them it provoked interest among them all. Lord Cedric called from the table:
"The wench tells ear-splitting truths; send her here, she shall give my pasht, present—and future." If they had not been so blinded by wine, they might have noticed her haste to go to his bidding. She looked closely at his hand and the sediment of his wine-cup.
"Thou art madly and blindly in love!" said she, lispingly.
"Good! good!" was sent forth from those about; and Cedric struck his fist upon the table,—
"'Madly'—yes; but by God not 'blindly'! haste on, wench."
"She loves admiration—"
"She would not be half a woman if she—"
"She is in love with one of Russian birth," went on the gipsy. Cedric frowned and held quiet. "There is one who hast loved thee from early childhood—a—a kinswoman—she would make thee a noble spouse and love thee well with a warm nature to match thine own."
"Thou tellest false, for I know not such an one. I have loved many kinswomen since childhood, and they have loved me, but not to espousal!"
"'Tis here—her name—'tis—C-o-n-s—"
"Constance, by God! but there thy lisping tongue prattles ill, for she loves me as a brother, and I love her as if she were my sister." Now the gipsy drew back as if the man before her had stricken her, then hastened to cover her emotion with a sudden look into the cup and an exclamation of—
"What seest thou?" said Cedric.
"A thing that means more to thee than aught else; 'tis an awful thing if thou shouldst choose wrong!"
"Haste, wench, what is it?" Cedric was growing impatient.
"Thy kinswoman will bring thee a fine heir—"
"By God, the other will bring me a dozen then!"
"Nay, 'tis not so, she—" She stepped close to his ear and whispered.
"Thousand devils, thou infernal, lying pot-house brawler—" and Cedric glared fiercely upon her and bent forward, his hand falling upon his sword-hilt; then he grew red at his hot action, and looked about to see if 'twas noticed. "Get thee gone, thou saucy, lisping minx." The poor thing was well-nigh distraught with fear of this man whose anger came like a thunderbolt, and she fell heavy upon the lackey who conducted her forth. She slipped through the corridors like a fast fleeting shadow, and Janet followed her close and saw her enter a certain chamber apart where she was met by one of the dancers; and 'twas Lady Constance that threw from her the gipsy attire and put a bag of gold in the celebrated Babbet's waiting fingers; and with a warning pressure of finger-on-lip, she came forth and fled to her own grand apartments, and Janet watched until the latch clicked upon this great mistress of beauty, title, wealth and virtue.
"This world of ours hangs midway 'twixt zenith and nadir: the superior and inferior: the positive and negative; and 'tis a pertinent thought that susceptible human nature takes on the characteristic of the one or the other. One is away up in zenithdom or away down in nadirdom, one is not content to go along the halfway place and see the good that lies ever before them. But, again, there are natures that are not susceptible to extremes; as a simile: a maid whose soul is ever vibrant with the ineffable joys of the world to come, walks by the seashore and mayhap beholds the full moon rise from the water and cast to her very feet a pathway of gold, and she will quickly join herself to those who see like visions, and pathway will lie against pathway and produce a sea of gold; on the other hand, if she be a foolish virgin and looks not before her, but tosses high head in pride or walks with downcast eyes and smiles and blushes and smirks and flings aside thoughts of deity, until she becomes submerged; on a sudden Gabriel will blow and the world will cease revolving, and then—where wilt thou be, oh, maid that hath fluttered from sweet to sweet and forgotten thy prayers?" There came a great happy sigh from the testered bed—