Forgive me

“DENIS,” said Lord Clancarty laughing, “in five minutes they will be
here and in ten I may be dead.”

“Divil a bit, my lord,” said Denis hopefully, “unless you are kilt
intirely.”

But there was a strange look in the faithful Irishman’s eyes, a look of
mute suffering. Lord Clancarty slipped a ring off his finger and gave
it to him.

“Denis,” he said, in an even voice, quiet and cheerful, “if I fall,
take that to Lady Clancarty and tell her that she is free.”

“Yes, my lord,” replied Denis, in a dull tone, not looking up.

“Even if I do not fall, you will take it to her with that message,”
continued the earl, looking across the meadow at the approaching
figures of his opponent and their seconds and, perhaps, his thoughts
dwelt on that morning when Lady Betty put the swords aside. “We will
leave here to-morrow, Denis, or—” he shrugged his shoulders, “there is
little money left.”

“Faix, we’ll have to see th’ Jews again, me lord,” said the man
dolefully; “they’re afther bein’ me most familiar friends, the jewels!”

Clancarty laughed.

A moment later he was bowing with ceremonious courtesy to Lord Savile
and Mr. Benham. Young Mackie came up, too, bringing a fourth person.

“I brought a surgeon, gentlemen,” he said half apologetically; “Dr.
Radcliffe, my Lord Savile and—Mr. Trevor.”

Dr. Radcliffe, a large man wearing a rich but old-fashioned dress and a
huge periwig, bowed gravely. He had a large practice and was famous for
a freedom of speech that had once gone so far as to offend King William.

“I have to thank you, gentlemen, for furnishing me with patients,” he
remarked dryly; “let me beg you not to be too thorough.”

“’Tis to be to the finish, doctor,” said Clancarty coolly, that
dangerous smile on his lips.

“A devilish poor plan,” said the doctor, with a shrug; “it will take
more than my skill to resuscitate a corpse.”

“We shall not expect a miracle—even from the great Dr. Radcliffe,”
replied Clancarty.

Mr. Benham and young Mackie were measuring the ground. Denis, in the
meantime, turned his face away and looked toward the setting sun; it
may be that he was wishing for the shoes he wore at Boyne, but it is
not recorded. The clouds overhead were red and the level meadows bathed
in the slanting rays of light; long shadows fell across the scene; a
bird sang in the grove of limes.

The two men stepped into the open, stripped of coats and waistcoats,
their white shirts showing vividly against the green background. Lord
Savile was flushed, but Clancarty’s face was singularly serene. The
signal was given; their weapons flashed, and there was the sudden ring
of steel on steel.

Ah, ’twas a wonderful duel; afterwards, men spoke of it as a kind of
triumph in the art of duelling, and Dr. Radcliffe described it to the
Princess Anne and the Duke of Marlborough. Clancarty was an Irishman
and therefore a born fighter, though the Englishmen of that day thought
all Irishmen cowards because the poor, barefoot peasants ran before
the trained battalions of the English and Dutch. Moreover, the young
earl had served a long apprenticeship on the Continent; and in France
duelling was the breath of men’s nostrils. Clancarty fought that day
recklessly and beautifully; he was lithe and graceful as a panther,
with a wrist like steel and an eye that never faltered, and he had
met no mean antagonist; my Lord Savile was counted one of the best
swordsmen in the Guards, and hating his opponent he fought with fury.

Steel ground on steel and the sparks flew, thrust and parry, point and
blade, stroke on stroke. The others watched in breathless admiration;
they even forgot their individual interest in the struggle and stood
gaping like schoolboys. Both men were tired, yet both played on, evenly
matched, relentless and reckless. There was a sudden thrust over
Savile’s guard and then, in an instant, Lord Clancarty’s sword snapped
at the hilt, just as Savile’s crossed it and passed into his breast. It
was over in a moment, and he lay full length on the turf and the blood
was flowing from a cut in his antagonist’s neck.

“Oh, my lord, my own dear lord!” wailed Denis, falling on his knees,
and even Lord Savile’s face was white as chalk.

* * * * *

In the dimly lighted hall of the inn that night, Denis, with a lined,
drawn face, white as a dead man’s, laid something in Lady Betty’s hand.

“Me lord’s greetings to me lady,” he said in a strained voice; “I was
to give ye that an’ say, ‘Ye are quite free’!”

Lady Betty stared at him wildly. She read a message of calamity in his
face.

“What is it? What has happened?” she cried.

But the Irishman only gave her one look of deep reproach and plunged
down the stairs into the hubbub of the court.

Clancarty’s ring and “you are free”!

She swayed so that Alice Lynn, who came running toward her, caught her
in her arms and almost carried her to her room.

LADY SUNDERLAND was, as usual, playing cards with her crony. The game
was gleek, and Lady Dacres was determined to be avenged for the loss
of the Chinese dragon—grinning hideously from the mantel—and she was
betting and cheating desperately. Dr. Radcliffe made a third, and Lord
Spencer looked on—politely bored.

The tapers burned brightly and Lady Sunderland simpered and nodded her
head at Dr. Radcliffe, though she would not have tolerated his society
if he had not been physician to the Princess Anne and she hoped to
extract some royal gossip from him.

The host of the Lion’s Head came in himself, with a servant bearing a
large loving-cup of silver. The good man was flushed and obsequious and
plainly out of sorts, keeping a weather eye on Lord Spencer.

“Will your ladyship be pleased to try this hypocras?” he said, bowing
low; “’tis of my own brewing and I’ll warrant it the finest in the
county—I had the rule from the keeper of Man’s,” and he rubbed his fat
hands together unctuously.

Lady Dacres tasted first and rolled her eyes up.

“Ambrosia!” she said, “oh, la—I mean nectar, don’t I, Lord Spencer?”
and she tittered like a girl of sixteen.

Dr. Radcliffe drank some deliberately.

“Better than the brandy you sent us this afternoon,” he remarked, with
a twinkle in his eye.

The man grew crimson. “’Tis for a better purpose,” he stammered.

The great physician raised his eyebrows.

“Chut! that’s a strange notion,” he said bluntly; “it is not a good
purpose, then, to save life?”

The innkeeper worked his hands nervously.

“I’ve heard strange things since, your worship,” he faltered, his eye
on the young nobleman.

“You harbor strange guests,” remarked Spencer sternly, his cold glance
transfixing the little man.

“I can’t always know their antecedents, my lord,” said the host, redder
than ever, and in an agony of uneasiness.

“What’s the matter?” asked Lady Sunderland, “you look as if you’d seen
a ghost. What in the wide world are you hatching now, Spencer?”

“Oh, nothing of importance,” he replied coolly; “the Lion’s Head is
turning Jacobite, that’s all.”

“Mercy on us!” ejaculated Lady Sunderland, with pious horror, “I
thought ’twas a noted Whig house—and the king still in Newmarket, too.”

“Indeed, madam—your ladyship, I do protest,” put in the landlord.

“Tut, tut!” said Dr. Radcliffe, waving him aside, “we’ll excuse you. A
dead Jacobite’s no great matter.”

“A dead Jacobite?” screamed Lady Dacres shrilly; “you make me faint!
Here man, another glass of what-d’-ye-call-it?—hypocrite?” and she
drank it with a sigh, fanning herself.

Spencer frowned, rising and walking to the window, and apparently
looking out into the black night beyond. The landlord, taking advantage
of his opportunity, slid out of the door with alacrity.

“There has been a duel, madam,” explained Radcliffe, shuffling the
cards, “in the long meadow—and the provost-marshal may look into it
later.”

“Dear, dear,” simpered Lady Sunderland, looking over her cards, “was
any one killed? I’ll raise the wager to nine shillings—oh, la—the
doctor has a mourneval!” she added, aside to Lady Dacres.

“A young Irishman, Trevor, was desperately wounded,” replied Radcliffe;
“a splendid swordsman, but his blade broke.”

“What!” exclaimed Lady Sunderland, “that charming young man?” she shook
her head mournfully; “his legs were beautifully symmetrical.”

“Did he lose one?” tittered Lady Dacres, clutching at her cards with
greedy fingers; “you said nine shillings more?”

Lady Sunderland nodded; she held three kings and hoped to win. “The
doctor has Tiddy and Towser both,” she whispered behind her fan.

At the moment, Betty came into the room. Her face was pale but she
showed no signs of the tempest.

“He had an ugly wound, madam,” Dr. Radcliffe said, playing a card
leisurely; “his chances of life amount to that,” the physician made a
significant gesture.

“Dear me, Betty, come here and listen to this awful tale,” said Lady
Sunderland; “your friend, Mr. Trevor, killed—oh, by the way, who did
it, doctor?”

Lord Spencer had turned from the window.

“Savile,” he answered coldly, “and he did well. It seems he suspected
him—thought him a disguised Jacobite and has called him out twice to
kill him—this time he has probably done it. And now it is rumored that
the fellow is one of those excepted in the late act of Parliament. The
country is flooded with these rascals, constantly menacing its safety
and the king’s life.”

“How romantic,” sighed Lady Sunderland, throwing her cards; “there,”
she crowed, “three kings—Meg, I’ve got you!”

Lady Dacres replied by tossing her cards on the table with a scream of
triumph.

“Oh, confound it!” cried Lady Sunderland furiously; “the hussy has a
gleek of aces! You’re an old cheat, Meg!”

Lady Dacres laughed immoderately, gathering in the coin with eager
fingers. The other old gambler eyed her with fury, her headdress
quivering. Dr. Radcliffe, who knew it was the fashion to fleece the
men at table, looked on indifferently, keeping up his talk with Spencer.

“I cannot see why Savile had to kill him for a Jacobite,” he remarked,
deliberately taking snuff from an elaborate box with the arms of the
Princess of Denmark on it; “the provost-marshal can see to them. We all
know that the Habeas Corpus Act is suspended on account of the plots
against the king’s life. Savile’s motive must have been more human than
that, my lord.”

Spencer shrugged his shoulders.

“He was doing a high duty, sir,” he replied pompously, “he was ridding
his country of a traitor. Savile’s a fine fellow.”

“He’s a murderer!” said Betty sharply.

She stood with her hand on the back of her mother’s chair and her tall
figure seemed to tower. The doctor gave her a shrewd glance.

“You love heroics, Elizabeth,” her brother replied with a drawl, but
his face turned white—a danger signal.

Betty did not look at him; she fixed her eyes on the doctor.

“Will he die?” she asked, and her voice was perfectly controlled.

Radcliffe was thoughtful and did not answer for a moment.

“There is one chance in a thousand,” he said, “there would have been
more, but this political stir and hubbub has compelled them to spirit
him away, and a journey—” he shrugged his shoulders; “I should say six
feet of earth, madam, would end it.”

She drew her breath sharply; to her all the candles in the room seemed
to be revolving in a death-dance.

“He ought to die,” said Spencer piously, “a Jacobite and a renegade. By
Saint Thomas, we’re well rid of him!”

“La, how romantic it is!” Lady Sunderland said, shuffling her cards and
glaring at her simpering rival.

Betty walked past them and out into the anteroom, where she met Lord
Savile leaning on Mr. Benham’s arm. His neck was bound up and swathed
in lace, and one arm was in a sling. He bowed low with a white face and
languishing eyes.

“Here’s a brave fellow half killed for love of you, my lady,” said Mr.
Benham, with gallantry.

Betty halted; tall and straight as an arrow, her eyes sparkling. No one
anticipated the lightning.

Savile smiled. “Dear Lady Clancarty,” he said, in a weak voice, “I am
your humblest servant.”

“You are a murderer, sir,” she replied, in a terrible tone; “let me
never see your face again.”

And she swept on and left them standing there in blank amazement.

In her own room she fell on Alice’s neck in a passion of tears.

“O Alice, Alice!” she cried, “I have driven him to his death.”

And Alice—who had heard all that evening, in the agony of her
ladyship’s first grief and terror—Alice clasped her close, forgetting
the great distance between them and remembering only her devotion to
this beautiful and wilful creature.

“I did not know you cared so much,” she said, “I never thought that he
might be Lord Clancarty.”

“Ah, I felt it from the first, Alice,” Lady Betty said; “there was
something in his bearing toward me—his tone—I knew he was my husband,
I felt it!”

“And yet—and yet—my lady, you sent him away!” the girl murmured, in a
tone of wonder.

Betty’s head dropped. “Yes, he has gone!” she said, “gone—my own true
love—and desperately wounded, too!”

“Yes, gone,” said Alice, venturing on a tearful remonstrance; “I can’t
understand you, my lady, I can’t indeed! One moment, you are all
tenderness for the poor gentleman, the next, you are driving him into
exile with your coldness.”

“Exile? Oh, no, no!” cried Lady Betty passionately, “he shall not go
without me. I love him, my girl, I love him—can’t you understand?
’Twas that which made me feel so—feel that he only claimed me, did
not woo me. You are as dull as any man, Alice,” she walked to and fro,
beating her hands together, “my love, my poor love!” she sighed and
then suddenly her mood changed, she raised her head resolutely.

“My hood and cloak, Alice,” she said quickly, “and my vizard.”

“Madam, ’tis very late,” remonstrated the girl.

Betty stamped her foot. “I am your mistress,” she said, “obey me—you
forget your place.”

“Nay, my lady,” said Alice sadly, “I do not forget—but I love you!”

Her generous-hearted mistress repented in a moment.

“Forgive me,” she said gently, “I know it, Alice, but I cannot be
advised—I must find him.” She stopped, her face white under the hood
that the girl was adjusting: “O Alice, he may be dying!”

THOUGH the stars were out, the night was black as pitch and the
courtyard of the inn was only lighted by the broad bands of red that
flared across it from the gaping doors of hall and kitchen, serving to
make the surrounding darkness more palpable. So it was that Lady Betty
and Alice—cloaked and hooded—nearly stumbled against young Mackie,
and would not have known him but for his exclamation of impatience. He
took them for kitchen wenches, and when Lady Betty cried out his name,
he stopped short with a gasp of sheer amazement.

“Oh, Sir Edward, ’twas you—of all men—I wanted to see!” she cried.

Poor Mackie, if he could have taken her at her word! But, alas, her
tone belied her words and his heart sank drearily.

“You here, my lady!” he exclaimed, “what has happened? I am at your
service; I pray you—”

But she cut him short.

“Where is he?” she whispered.

She mentioned no name, but the young man understood.

“His servant removed him two hours ago, Lady Clancarty,” he replied
quietly, “whither, I know not. The man, a wild Irish clown, would not
trust me, though, ’pon my honor, I meant to serve—Mr. Trevor,” his
voice faltered so at the name that she was again assured that he had
divined their secret and a weight slipped from her heart.

“Was he dying?” she asked very low, but the tremor in her voice
thrilled her listener.

“I do not know,” he stammered, “I pray not, my lady, for he is a brave
man.”

She laid her hand on his arm.

“Thank you,” she said simply, “he is my husband.”

Young Mackie bent his head and kissed her fingers reverently.

“He also trusted me, madam,” he said, and she did not see the pain in
the boy’s eyes; “I shall endeavor to deserve it.”

But Betty was not thinking of him.

“I must find him,” she said shivering, “I must find him!” and a sob
choked her voice.

Young Mackie was silent. From the kitchen came the hubbub of voices,
the clatter of dishes; while, looking over Betty’s shoulder, he saw
Spencer and Savile cross the main hall, arm in arm, their heads
together. Sir Edward knew well enough that Savile had tried to kill
Clancarty and he set his teeth, for he saw her cloaked figure sway and
quiver in the passion of emotion that shook her. He was a generous
fellow and he forgot himself.

“I will try to find him, my lady,” he said in a low tone, glancing
cautiously at the hall door, “he can’t be very far away, he could not
travel; that man has hidden him somewhere because of the stir made by
the duel—I think his identity was very near discovery.”

“I know it,” she said, “but how to find him—oh, Sir Edward, I must do
it! He—he may be in need of a surgeon—of care—of everything!” she
broke off wildly, and then, “Come, Alice, we must go on.”

But he detained her. “Whither, madam?” he asked gravely, “not in a vain
search—at night—for—for him?”

She drew herself up proudly. “Do you think I will let my husband die
thus?—and stir no finger to help him?” she asked bitterly.

“Then you will let me go with you,” he said quietly, taking his place
beside her.

She hesitated and quickly assented. “If you will,” she replied, “since
it is late and we are only two women—but we must make haste,” and she
ran down the old stone steps into the garden, taking the very path she
had walked with Clancarty. Mackie and Alice followed her silently,
though both were convinced of the fruitlessness of such an errand at
such an hour.

But the night had worn on many hours more and the moon had risen before
Betty acknowledged that her quest was vain. Meanwhile, young Mackie had
patiently searched in every tavern and inn in Newmarket; he had invaded
all the alleys and byways, all the nooks and corners, and inquired
of grooms and porters and stable-men—but to no purpose. Denis had
covered his retreat with more skill than Sir Edward had looked for. If
the truth be told, the Irishman was no new hand at the business and he
understood it well, having followed Lord Clancarty in his adventurous
life, from Dublin, and later in a wild career on the Continent when
the gay young nobleman had kept pace with his fellow exiles of high
birth and slim purses, but unlimited daring. It was not the first duel
nor the first cause for flight, and Denis had spirited the wounded
man away and left no sign. Even Betty, determined and vigilant as
she was, was forced to acknowledge herself defeated, and she walked
drearily back to the Lion’s Head with an aching heart. He believed her
indifferent to him—would he ever send her a message or a token again?
Never; she was sure of it, and she bowed her head in dejection—Lady
Betty, who was never crestfallen. She and Alice crept in, at last, by
the garden way and fled to her apartments in no little trepidation, but
they fancied themselves safe when they found that Lady Sunderland had
gone to bed, to get her beauty sleep, and the woman, Melissa, slept in
her room that night, in the absence of the countess’ own attendant.

Lady Betty did not sleep nor did she open her heart to the faithful
girl who was nearly as grieved as she was to see her trouble. She
knelt for hours by the window looking out over the moonlit garden
where the shadows were black between the hedgerows. It was a night of
agony; to know that he might be dying—dying with hard thoughts of
her indifference—almost within reach of her and yet so far. She was
his wife, she thought with sharp pain, and yet he could not send her
word—and she did not deserve it. He was dying, because Savile had
been determined to kill him: he had divined the secret, he was resolved
to remove her husband. Betty saw it all; she had wrung some admissions
from Mackie, the rest she knew by intuition.

She had a high spirit—all her life she had had her way at last, in
spite of her heartless, frivolous mother and her selfish, brilliant
father, and this was a trial hard to bear. Clancarty was the first man
who had not done her homage, who met her on her own ground and demanded
that she should love him. Perhaps it was that which won her; howbeit,
her eyes were dim with tears as she looked out of the window and
looked, indeed, until the sun rose on another day.

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