A NIGHT OF PORTENTS

ALICE was combing Lady Betty’s hair late that night.

The two girls were in Betty’s bedroom, a solitary taper burning on the
table. In this rosy twilight both faces showed indistinctly. Betty’s
finery lay upon a chair near by; she wore only a flowing white robe
over her night-rail, and one rosy foot, out of the slipper, rested on
the rug. Her luxuriant hair falling about her almost hid her face, and
her eyes were fixed pensively upon the fire. Meanwhile, Alice stood
behind her combing and brushing her hair with hands that actually
trembled, while her face was very white. If Lady Clancarty had looked
at her, she would have divined some trouble, but as it was she was only
aroused from her revery by the girl’s unwonted awkwardness.

“Dear me, Alice!” she exclaimed, “that is the third time you have
pulled my hair. I shall be as bald soon as Lady Dacres without her
perukes. What ails you, girl?”

“I’m nervous,” Alice said, her voice breaking suspiciously, “I can’t
help it.”

Lady Betty tossed back her hair, snatched up a taper and looked at her
sharply.

“Nervous?” she exclaimed, “why, you are naturally as tame as any
barnyard fowl. Nervous! Why, your eyes are sticking out of your head.
What is it, girl? Hast met your friend the parson again?”

“No, no,” faltered Alice, with a little sob. “I—I overheard some talk
between two gentlemen to-night in the hall—and it scared me.”

Betty laughed merrily.

“Fie, Alice, fie!” she cried, “an eavesdropper! What horrible thing was
it they said? Mercy on us, girl, you look as if they plotted bloody
murder!”

“So they did, madam,” Alice said soberly.

Lady Betty stared.

“The child’s demented,” she remarked, shaking her head.

“That I’m not,” Alice replied bluntly, wiping a tear from her pale
cheek, “but I hate to think of one of them dead—for some folly, too.”

“Oh, ho!” said her mistress, setting down the taper, “now I
understand—there is to be a duel;” then suddenly her mood changed.

“Who were they?” she demanded sharply.

Alice began to show reluctance and her eyes avoided Betty’s.

“Two guests of the inn, madam,” she said, averting her face.

But Lady Clancarty caught her arm and turned her to the light.

“Out with it, Alice,” she said imperiously, “I will know.”

“It was Lord Savile,” the girl said slowly, “and—and another—a
stranger.”

“Our stranger of Althorpe, Alice?” Lady Betty said, a sudden
indefinable change in her whole aspect.

Alice nodded sullenly.

Her mistress stood quite still for a moment, pressing her hands
together. She had shaken her hair about her face again, so that it
was concealed. There was something in her attitude so unusual, in the
silence, too, of the room, where only the fire crackled, and in the
girl’s own nervousness, that quite overcame Alice. She began to cry.

“They fight to-morrow,” she sobbed, “in the meadow beyond the grove of
limes—at sunrise.”

“Who are their seconds?” Lady Betty asked, in a strangely quiet tone.

“Mr. Benham, so I heard them say, and a young fellow with a face like a
boy. He was to act for the stranger because he had no friends.”

“Young Mackie!” said Lady Clancarty. “You heard this and did not tell
me, Alice? I find it hard to forgive you.”

“But why should I?” cried Alice trembling, “what could your ladyship
do?”

Betty gave a strange little laugh. “You shall see what I will do
to-morrow,” she said quietly, “for you shall go with me.”

“Go where, my lady?” Alice asked in surprise.

“To the meadow behind the limes,” replied her mistress calmly; “there
I shall go to-morrow, at sunrise, and stop this folly. It began in my
rooms, Alice, over a ballad, and I have no mind that it shall end in
bloodshed.”

“Indeed, madam, I think you are in the right,” said Alice simply, “but
what can we do? They will never listen to a woman!”

Lady Clancarty shut her lips firmly, and held her little bare foot out
to the fire, warming it.

“I fear you cannot stop them,” Alice went on; “Lord Savile was very
fierce, but the other gentleman—oh, madam, I feared him more! he was
so cool; and those eyes of his—they are like steel.”

“So they are,” said Betty absently, “and hath he not a handsome face?”
and she looked pensively into the fire. “To-morrow we shall go, Alice,
to-morrow at sunrise, and I shall stop this duel—I will stop it, if I
have to go to the king!”

But the little handmaid did not reply; she was watching her mistress
with an anxious face. She did not know the meaning of this new Lady
Betty, and some hint of impending trouble weighed upon her. She was
country bred, too, and timid, and the thought of the gray dawn with the
shadowy trees looming through the mist and only the flash of steel to
illumine the scene, made her tremble. But Betty, usually so observant
and sympathetic and light hearted, did not heed her; she was suddenly
self-absorbed, pensive, quietly determined. She went to the window and
peeped out into the night.

“How many hours until sunrise, Alice?” she asked.

“Six, my lady,” the girl replied with a sigh, “and I wish it might be
sixteen!”

Betty laughed, a strange little embarrassed laugh, coming back and
sinking on her knees before the hearth, the firelight playing on her
lovely face, and the shadowy masses of her hair, and the gleaming white
of her draperies.

“I cannot sleep,” she said softly; “I cannot sleep—I am not fit for a
soldier’s wife!”

Alice shuddered. “Indeed, my lady, I’d as lief marry a butcher!” she
cried, with such genuine horror and disgust that she moved her mistress
to merriment.

“There, my girl, I told you so,” cried Lady Betty, “you were meant for
that same parson.”

MEANWHILE, under the same roof, but in far different quarters, the
young Irishman called Richard Trevor was talking to his servant, the
same who had led his horse up and down in the inn-yard under Lady
Betty’s window. The room—an attic one—was scarcely ten feet square,
and almost devoid of furniture; there was a pallet, a table, and two
chairs; and a mat of braided straw at the foot of the master’s bed
served for the man’s. A single candle burned low in its socket on the
table, and here Richard Trevor sat with some writing materials before
him, but he was not writing; he leaned back in his chair and listened,
with his amused smile, to the glib talk of his attendant.

“Faix, sir, they be afther charging more here for a bite of mate or
a dhrap of liquor thin in anny ither place in th’ kingdom,” said the
man dolefully; “I’ve bin afther minding yer lordship’s insthructions
about the money, an’ by the Powers, me stomach is loike to clave to me
backbone.”

“We can starve respectably, however, Denis,” said his master smiling,
and turning the contents of his purse out on the table; “a small sum
for our needs, but it must serve,” he added, counting the money with a
reckless air; “besides, one of us may die before we come to the end of
it.”

“We’ll be afther doin’ it here, yer honor,” said Denis gloomily, “from
an impty stomach. Betwane th’ landlord an’ the ranting, tearing Whig
gintry in th’ stable-yard, sir, I’m clane daft.”

“So they’re all for the king in possession, are they?” said Trevor,
in an amused tone; “I hope you’ve heeded my instructions to keep your
tongue quiet in your head and mind your own business.”

“Faix, me lord, I’ve bin afther minding mine, but they’re afther
minding it too, th’ ill-favored thribe!”

“That is because you are an Irishman, Denis; they know that at once.”

“Indade, yer lordship’s mistaken intirely; they’ve no idee at all that
I’m a Munster man,” said his servant, with an air of satisfaction,
“divil a bit of it! Sometimes I’m a Frenchy an’ sometimes I’m a
Dutchy—but an Irishman niver! Lady Clancarty’s woman—a sly divil
with a pair of eyes that be winking etarnally—she’s bin swate to me.
By the Virgin, sir, she’s bin afther thryin’ to sound me about yer
lordship. She looks at me and purrs, for all th’ wurruld, loike a big
white tabby, an’ says she, ‘You’re an Irishman, sir!’ ‘Divil a bit, me
darlint,’ says I, ‘I’m a Dutchman, born at th’ Hague and me mither was
forty-first cousin, wanst removed, to th’ king’s grandmither,’ says I.
‘Ye don’t tell me!’ says she, and her little pale eyes blinked loike a
candle in th’ wind. ‘An’ what’ll be yer name, sir?’ she asks, as swate
as honey. ‘Mynheer Tulipius,’ says I, for I couldn’t think of anither
name for th’ life of me. ‘La, sir,’ says she with a simper, ‘you look
loike a tulip, to be shure.’ ‘So I do, me darlint,’ I replied, and I
thried to make up me mind to kiss her, but, bedad, sir, I couldn’t
do it; there’s something about her that sinds the cowld creeps up me
spine.”

“You’re a great coward, Denis,” said his master smiling, “afraid of a
woman! It’s a new fault in you, and one that I did not expect. As for
this creature, what were her questions about me?”

“‘Yer master’s an Irishman, Mynheer Tulipius,’ says she, ‘that we
all know fer a fact.’ ‘Is he, indade?’ says I, with the greatest
amazement; ‘’tis the first time I iver heard it,’ says I; ‘he was born
in London and his fayther was one of Gineral Cromwell’s Ironsides.’
‘Ye don’t say so,’ says she, ‘how iver did he get on so well at Saint
Germain thin?’ and she blinked a hundred times in a second. ‘Saint
Germain!’ says I, opening my eyes wide; ‘indade, they were so cowld
to him there that he was afther laving before he got there,’ says I,
‘it’s quite well known,’ I wint on, as slick as silk, ‘that whin the
man Jimmy Stuart, rayalized that my masther was in France he put on
a shirt of mail an’ niver took it off at all, even av he was aslape
in his ruffled silk night-rail, for fear he’d be kilt on th’ field of
honor.’ ‘Is that so?’ says she; ‘an’ thin p’r’aps ye’ve met me Lord
Clancarty out there?’ ‘Clancarty?’ says I, squinting hard with wan eye,
‘there was a gintleman of that same name hung jist as I was afther
laving Holland—mebbe he’s yer friend?’ By Saint Patrick, me lord, you
ought to have sane her stare! She sthopped winking thin, an’ looked
loike a cat that’s sane a bird; on me sowl, sir, I looked to see av
there wasn’t a furry tail swinging behind, to wurk th’ charm on me.
‘Clancarty hung?’ says she, clapping her hand to her heart, ‘what for?’
‘Faix, I don’t know, me darlint,’ says I, ‘unless it was for being too
much of a Whig.’ ‘Pshaw!’ cries she, stamping her foot, ‘ye’re a paddy
fool!’ ‘Niver a bit,’ says I, ‘I’m a Dutch wizard, me darlint; just
let me be afther telling yer fortune.’ But away she wint in a towering
rage, an’ left me with me heart broken intirely at the siparation.”

“I fear you did not deceive her,” said Clancarty, with a laugh, and
he unsheathed his sword, running his finger along the blade. “My old
friend needs polishing, Denis,” he added, with his careless air of good
humor, “I’ve a duel on my hands for the morning.”

The Irishman’s face sobered in an instant, and he cast a look of
concern at his master.

“I’m sorra for it, me lord,” he said, with an honest ring in his voice,
“ye’ve no friends here.”

“Except you, Denis,” said his master kindly, “and if I fall, all
my effects are yours—and—” he paused an instant and then laughed
recklessly, “and you can tell the widow.”

“She’s a foine lady, me lord,” said Denis artfully, “’tis a pity to
throw away yer life now.”

“She’s a woman to die for, Denis,” exclaimed his lord, a sudden glow
passing over his face; “but I shall not die—faith, I’ve fought too
many duels to die in one.”

“There’s always loike to be wan too many, yer honor,” said Denis
gravely, “and wan thrust of th’ sword and th’ house of Macarthy loses
its head.”

The young man laughed recklessly.

“And a beggarly exile dies,” he said bitterly. “I fear you are not a
man of courage, Denis; I think I’ve heard of you in the retreat from
Boyne,” he added, with a laughing glance at the dark-faced, sturdy
Irishman.

“Ah, sir, that was the fault of me shoes, an’ I blush for it,” Denis
replied.

“Your shoes,” repeated his master, “and wherefore your shoes?”

“’Twas afther this fashion, me lord,” said Denis gravely; “there was
a scamp of a shoemaker in Dublin that was accused, an’ rightly as I
b’lave, of being allied with the Powers of Darkness, and he was afther
making me shoes. About that time money was scarce, sir, as ye know,
in spite of King James’s brass pieces, and it was glad I was to get
the shoes at all, without bein’ over an’ above particular about the
maker. So whin Danny O’Toole says to me that he’ll make me a blooming
pair of boots an’ thrust me fer the money, niver a thought had I av
the divilish plot he was afther laying aginst me honor. ‘Make ’em
aisy,’ says I, ‘for me feet are sore with the chasing of the English
an’ the Dutch.’ ‘Don’t ye worry,’ says he with a wink, ‘I’ll make ’em
so aisy they’ll walk off without ye,’—and faith, so he did! They were
the beautifullest shoes, me lord, and they fitted me loike the skin
on a potaty, and as fer walking in ’em, they niver touched the ground
unless they stuck fast in a bog, and that wasn’t often. I niver had
such a pair of shoes, nor such comfort, and all wint along as smooth as
lying—until that cursed day of the battle of Boyne.”

“A day when a good many Irishmen had no shoes, Denis,” remarked his
master, “or lost them in running—to our eternal shame!”

“That wasn’t what happened to me, my lord,” said Denis regretfully;
“’twas a black day fer Ireland; yer lordship niver spake a thruer
word! But, as fer me, my shoes had bin running away from me so—the
very divil seemed to be in ’em—that I cut some stout thongs of hide
and bound those boots to me legs before I wint into the battle, fer,
thought I, av I don’t I’ll be afther losing them, the jewels! I was
right in the thick of it, an’ a hot day it was, as yer honor knows,
and but for that divil of a Dutchman that they call king, we moight
have won, but he drove his men through the river loike a demon! Well,
sir, I was right in the thick of the carnage; I’d jist cut a clane
swathe through the Dutch Blues, and I was daling death and desthruction
on ivery side, following in th’ thrack of Sarsfield, whin, all of a
suddent, me shoes turned me around and comminced to run. I was beside
meself with the shame of it, me lord. I cut at those thongs with my
sword an’ I swore an’ called on the saints and the divils, but niver
a bit could I get those boots off, and away they ran, loike the wind,
splash through the mud and the mire, and they niver sthopped until we
reached Dublin; but, my lord,” Denis lowered his voice and winked one
eye, “even my shoes didn’t get there—before King James!”

“Alas, no,” said his master sternly, “it was a king we lacked,” and he
rose and walked twice across the room, his face darkly clouded.

His man watched him keenly, with an expression of deep concern and
simple affection,—the humble devotion of a faithful dog.

“You will clean my sword and call me an hour before sunrise, Denis,” he
said; “I will snatch some hours’ rest, even if it happens to be my turn
to-morrow,” and he laughed as he began to cast off his garments with
his servant’s help.

Denis shook his head sadly. “Ah, me Lord Clancarty,” he said with a
break in his voice, “’twould be a sad day fer me, and you are so ready
to die with a smile on your lips. Ye were iver so, but ye’ll break a
heart some day, me lord, jist as recklessly—an’ ye’ll forgive me fer
saying it.”

“There is not much that I would not forgive you, old Denis,” said the
young nobleman kindly, “we’re old friends and tried. But what have I to
live for at best, unless it be the headsman’s block? I am a proscribed
and penniless outlaw, Denis; if, by any chance, I am recognized, I go
to the Tower. I have no friends here; not even my wife knows who I
am—and why should she? It seems but folly to think of her, when I have
only an exile’s life to offer her—I am a fool, a wretched fool!”

“Indade, me lord, ye greatly misjudge a woman av you think she’ll be
afther counting yer money—or the costs ayther,” said Denis quietly; “a
woman niver thinks of it, bless her heart, she jist falls in love, and
thin to the divil with prudence or wisdom ayther. And, by the Virgin,
me Lady Clancarty is none of yer cowards. I’ve sane the spark in her
eye, me lord, and if it plazes her, she’ll fight yer battles, sir, to
the ind of time.”

Lord Clancarty smiled. “Exactly, Denis,” said he, “but if I do not
please her?”

Denis was on his knees, drawing off his master’s shoes.

“She’d be a blind woman, thin, sir,” he said, “and faix, I’ll wager me
lady knows a foine man whin she sees wan. But, pshaw, sir, by to-morrow
night ye may be stark and stiff and ready for the churchyard,” and
Denis shook his head dolefully.

The earl laughed, throwing himself upon his hard bed.

“Put out the taper, Denis,” he said, “we’ll hope for the best. If
I can’t live for my lady, at least I can die for her—with a light
heart,” and he turned his face to the wall with a laugh.

Denis wiped his eyes on his sleeve and wagged his head again and again,
his mind on the morrow.

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