The foine lady

IT was a small and desolate room, with bare rafters overhead, and the
wind rattling fiercely at the old casements, while Denis was trying
to keep a sickly fire of green wood alive upon the hearth. The floor
was of stone, cold and bare, save for a few rushes strewn beside the
truckle bed, and there was no light but that from the sputtering logs
and one poor taper; there were only two chairs and one small table in
the room beside the bed, but all was scrupulously clean, though barren
and chilly beyond description.

And on the bed lay Lord Clancarty, his cheeks flushed with fever,
his hair dishevelled, his eyes shining, and his hands ever and anon
clutching at the coverlet fiercely whenever any chance movement gave
him pain.

If the aspect of the place was poor, it was also desolately lonely;
no sound reached their ears but the rustling of the wind in the tree
tops without and the creaking of the old building itself. It was an
old farmhouse, the dwelling of the widow of a Jacobite—for England
was honey-combed with conspiracies and counter-conspiracies—and this
woman, a rigid believer in the old order of things, had the courage
to take the wounded nobleman under her roof; she could give him
shelter, but as for comforts she had none to give. Here, too, with
her connivance, Denis smuggled a young surgeon, one of the faithful,
to tend the wound that the famous Radcliffe had dressed with his own
hands on the field. The young practitioner shared the doubts of his
senior, and shook his head gravely; the wounded man might live, but he
was quite as likely to die. So, with these gloomy predictions, and the
still more gloomy aid of the solemn visaged widow, Denis was left with
almost an empty purse to guard and nurse the feverish patient.

Stricken with profound anxieties, the faithful Irishman fed the fire,
kneeling before it, his back toward his master, to hide a face that
betrayed his feelings too plainly. On the table lay Lord Clancarty’s
cloak and plumed hat and the hilt of the sword that had served him so
ill and there, too, was his pistol primed and ready for use. He lay
watching Denis, fever flushed but in his senses, though more than once
that night his mind had wandered.

The stillness of the place was broken by the stamping of a horse’s feet
at no great distance.

“What is that?” the wounded man asked sharply.

“Our horses, sir,” replied Denis, still kneeling at the hearth;
“they’re in the shed outside, me lord, an’ indade ’tis fitter fer thim
than fer yer lordship here.”

Clancarty smiled sadly. “It matters little, Denis, and is like to
matter less. How far are we from Newmarket?”

“Not far, sir, this house stands off th’ road ter Bishop-Stortford,
a half mile loike from the road, in a patch of timber; a very pretty
hiding-place—I’ve hed me eye on it fer a couple of wakes.”

“You thought I would come to this, then? Ah, Denis, I fear you know me
too well, old rogue!”

“Indade, sir, I’ve known ye from a boy in Munster, an’ I nivir knew
ye to take care of yerself. Faix, it’s a broken head ye’ll be afther
havin’ more often thin a whole wan.”

Clancarty laughed softly, his feverish eyes on the fire.

“Denis,” he said dreamily, “do you remember the wild rides over the
green fields of Ireland?”

Denis bent low over the hearth fanning the blaze, fighting the damp and
the green wood.

“I’m afther remimbering, yer lordship,” he replied hoarsely.

“It’s a long way back, to those days,” said Lord Clancarty; “the skies
were blue then. I’m a poor devil now, Denis, and like to die—” his
voice died away, more from faintness than emotion, and after awhile he
asked for water.

Denis rose and gave it to him, lifting his head as gently as a woman,
and as he took the glass from the wounded man’s lips he turned his own
head away—but not soon enough, a hot tear fell on the earl’s forehead.

“Saint Patrick, Denis, I must be far gone when you weep!” Clancarty
said, touched in spite of himself, “I did not know you could, you old
heart of oak!”

Denis brushed the moisture from his eyes.

“I remimber an ould man in County Kerry, me lord, who nivir shid a tear
until his wife was coming out of a fit, and thin he took on loike anny
wild gossoon. He’d bin gitting ready fer a wake an’ hed ter give it all
up, and whin his neighbors accused him of it, he said he nivir wept
unless a person was gitting well, an’ thin he wept fer joy—’tis so
with me, me lord.”

Lord Clancarty smiled, turning his face to the wall. He was deeply
touched at the simple fellow’s devotion. There was silence for awhile;
the fire crackled and leaped up the chimney, lighting up the room just
in time, for the single taper sputtered and went out.

It was at this time that Lady Clancarty and Sir Edward were searching
the streets of Newmarket.

Lord Clancarty turned his head wearily and looking down at his own hand
remembered.

“Denis,” he said in a low tone, “did you give the ring and the message
to my lady?”

Denis had his back to him again, his square sturdy outline between him
and the blaze.

“Yes, me lord,” he answered stolidly.

“And she?” the fever burned on Clancarty’s cheeks, his eyes shone; “how
did she take it?”

“Very quiet loike, me lord,” replied Denis bluntly, “she wanted to
know what hed happened, but I dared not tell her ladyship.”

“She inquired, though? she was anxious?” asked the earl eagerly.

Denis was stubborn. “Me lord, she asked what hed happened—nothing
more. She’s a great lady, sir, and as proud as anny quane.”

The wounded lover sighed and turned again to the wall: here was no
consolation, and in his bitterness he called her heartless. The
desolate place, his almost exhausted resources, his painful wound,
all combined to shake even his proud resolution; he was lonely and he
was desperate. In his fevered brain rose many visions of Betty, the
beautiful, the careless, charming Betty that he had known. What heart
there was beneath that beautiful exterior he did not know; but this he
knew—he was an outcast from home and friends, a desperate and forsaken
man and dangerously wounded. He was no novice in affairs of this kind
and knew well the nature of his hurt and what lack of care would do
for it. His life passed in quick review before him; its ambitions,
its wild adventures, its dark spots of reckless dissipations, and now
this end—this wretched, thwarted, forsaken end—creeping away like a
wounded beast to die alone. It might well bring bitterness to so proud
and daring a spirit as his. He cursed his fate, but it is to be feared
that he did not pray. His religion had been a matter of convenience,
like the religion of many gay young soldiers of his time. It failed him
now and she failed him too,—the woman who had taken such possession of
his heart and swept him out of the common way into a higher passion.
He loved her—and she despised him. He groaned sharply as if in bodily
pain; the faithful Irishman was at his side in a moment, but he waved
him away. His soul was wrestling with despair and with hunger for
the sight of her. He, a strong man and a proud one, in that hour of
physical agony and loneliness, longed to see her, to hear her voice
before he died—if die he must, yet he would have died rather than send
for her—such was his pride.

The night wore on; the horses stamping restlessly in the shed, the wind
increasing in violence until the old house creaked, quivering like a
broken reed. Denis sat staring at the fire, his honest face distorted
with grief and now and then a slow tear creeping down his furrowed
cheek. The wound was a desperate one, and counting all the things
against the patient,—exposure, lack of nursing and food and comforts,
the man did not believe he would live, and he loved him like a son; he
had carried him on his shoulder as a baby; he had taught the little
lad to sit his horse and use his sword, and he had followed him in
Ireland, in France, in Flanders, through weal and woe—to this! Poor
Denis, he too had his night of tears and lamentations.

Toward midnight Clancarty’s mind wandered a little and he babbled like
a child of the green turf of Ireland and the streams where he had
paddled barefoot, and of the wild birds overhead. He talked of battles
and sieges and at last of her, of Betty, and Denis cursed her in his
heart as their evil angel, the lodestar that had drawn the young earl
to his fate. Now and then through the night the wounded man called for
water, but toward morning he fell asleep, and Denis dropped on his
knees, praying to all the saints to send healing on the wings of that
fitful slumber.

But with the night the delirium and the weakness of spirit passed
together. At daybreak the earl opened his eyes and looked quietly into
Denis’s worn face. He smiled, the old reckless smile, if somewhat
weaker and paler than usual. He groped feebly under his pillow and
handed the man his purse.

“A small store, Denis,” he said, “but ’tis yours now, to do with as
you can. If I die—ah, you must even bury me here, I suppose, though I
long for Irish soil to cover me! For the rest—go home, Denis, take no
risks for my sake. Faith, a dead man will not need you.”

Denis said nothing, he could not; he stood staring at the floor.

Lord Clancarty laughed a little bitterly.

“Go tend the horses, man,” he said; “you saw Neerwinden—why do you
stand there like a woman? Death comes but once.”

“Ah, my lord,” said Denis, and the tears ran down his cheeks, “ye shall
not die.”

Clancarty turned his face to the wall lest he, too, should show
weakness.

“My dark Rosaleen,
My fond Rosaleen!
Would give me life and soul anew,
A second life, a soul anew!
My dark Rosaleen!”

he murmured faintly,

“My own Rosaleen!”

So Denis went to tend the horses, drawing his sleeve across his eyes
and hating Lady Clancarty from the bottom of his simple devoted heart.

“The foine lady,” he muttered; “faix—I’d loike ter make her shid a
tear or two—fer all her bright eyes an’ her red cheeks—th’ heartless
colleen!”

IT was nearly a week later and Lady Betty’s chair was passing down
the main street of Newmarket when she espied Denis at the corner of
a lane that ran between a mercer’s shop and Drake’s. She stopped her
chair, and springing from it ran after him, ran quite regardless of
the people in the street who stood gaping at the charming young woman
running after a groom. She overtook him at the end of the lane; they
were behind the mercer’s shop, and Denis started at the sight of her
and stood irresolute, eying her grimly. She snatched the vizard from
her face.

“Where is your master?” she demanded breathlessly, “where is Lord
Clancarty?”

The Irishman shut his lips stubbornly; he did not trust the daughter of
Lord Sunderland.

“Will you not tell me?” cried Betty, in distress, “I know that he is
wounded—I must see him! I will not be denied! I command you—nay,” she
added, reading his inflexible face, “I beg and pray you,—give me news
of him!”

Denis eyed her closely, relenting just a little, and that little was
enough.

“He’s very ill,” he said sullenly.

“Is he in danger?” cried Lady Clancarty, tears gathering in her eyes,
“tell me, man, tell me,” and she wrung her hands. “Can’t gold tempt
you? Take me to him!”

Denis made a strange motion; it seemed as if he would snatch her purse
and then forbore to do it, but his eyes devoured it.

“Faix, I don’t know av I can thrust ye,” he said, looking at her
keenly; “ye’ve done him harm enough already.”

“But I trust you!” cried Lady Betty, “I am your master’s wife,—take me
to him. See, I will go with you alone—can’t you trust me now?”

The man looked down yet a little while, in evident hesitation, and she
watched him, trembling, not with fear, like another woman, but with
hope.

“Faix, I’ll take ye,” he said bluntly, “if ye’ll go alone. Look ye, me
lady, if ye bethray him, I’d as lief kill ye as not. I love me lord!”

The color rose in Betty’s face, softly, sweetly, her eyes shone.

“And so do I!” she said; “lead on, I will follow—and alone.”

“Come, thin,” he said at last, “’tis a long way an’ the place isn’t fit
fer a foine lady, but he’s there—tho’, by the Virgin, I don’t know
what he’ll say ter me fer bringing ye!”

As he spoke he cast a glance back at the chair and its bearers waiting
at the mouth of the lane, the men staring after their mistress, and
with them a knot of idlers who had gathered to watch the countess. Lady
Clancarty turned her back upon them.

“Lead on!” she commanded, impatient and imperious.

Denis led the way down the narrow lane, out of sight of the group
at the mercer’s shop, and into another byway, and so on through the
outskirts of Newmarket. He did not take the public road but struck
across the fields, passing close to the spot where Lord Clancarty had
fought the duel. Lady Betty shuddered as they approached it. They were
out of sight of the last straggling houses now, crossing the meadows;
the sun shone as it had upon that day when she had walked first with
Clancarty, but there was more of a touch of autumn upon the scene.
Here, beyond the light green turf, was a field of stubble, and there,
in the green hedgerow, were yellow leaves; and the stream, too, that
flowed across the meadows, had brown depths and shadows where the
pebbles lay thickest, and the purple distance took on gray.

They had left the open and were skirting a little woodland where the
dry leaves rustled overhead, and once she heard the “kourre, kourre!”
of the pigeons.

Whither was he going? Lady Betty wondered. The place grew more and more
solitary; they followed a path, but one so little used that briars fell
across it and one of them tore her frock: but she went on fearlessly,
for never did a braver heart throb in a woman’s bosom. Her spirit was
intrepid. She looked about her through the sparsely growing trees and
saw long distances without a sign of life or habitation, and still
Denis plodded on and she followed, pity and love and remorse growing
in her heart at every step. Her lover and her husband in poverty
and obscurity, a proscribed rebel, and she rich. Nothing could have
appealed so to her full heart. The thought stung her and the tears
gathered on her dark lashes.

As Denis had predicted, the walk was a long one, but she did not heed
it, she kept steadily on behind him; and at last, through an opening in
the trees, she saw two horses grazing in a little strip of greensward,
and beyond, the lonely farmhouse. As her guide turned towards it Betty
caught her breath and stood still—for a single moment—the place was
so poor, so dark, so uninviting, and the vicinity of Newmarket swarmed
with banditti; even when the king’s coach took the road it had to be
strongly guarded. This old, weather-stained brown house, with half its
window shutters broken, the green moss on its slanting gables, and the
strong, iron-bound door, with the broken stone before it, was sad and
forbidding enough without the silence and the woodland shadows that
enfolded it. Betty stood and stared at it apprehensively, and then she
thought of Clancarty. Her hesitation was so soon over that the man, her
guide, was scarcely aware of it. He went on steadily, hearing her light
step rustling on the fallen leaves behind him, and at last he stopped
at the door and waited.

“Is he here?” she whispered.

Denis nodded, opening the door and guiding her into the kitchen where
the widow, Clancarty’s hostess and nurse, stood before the hearth
stirring a stew in a great pot that was suspended on a hook over
blazing logs. At the sound of their entrance she turned sharply and
stared at Lady Clancarty in grim amazement, not uttering a word. Her
stern, sad face and suspicious eye sent the hot blood up under her
ladyship’s vizard, but even this, though it embarrassed her, could not
hold her back. She stood an instant, though, in the centre of the bare
kitchen, in her gay furbelows, holding up her skirts with one hand
while the other involuntarily adjusted her mask. Meanwhile, the widow
continued to eye her sternly, even while she stirred the broth.

Denis was quick enough to perceive the difficulty.

“’Tis Lady Clancarty,” he said bluntly to the woman, indicating Lady
Betty’s lovely figure with a backward sweep of the hand.

Clancarty’s hostess courtesied profoundly, but the fair intruder felt
that those stern eyes said plainly, “A likely story, the brazen hussy!”

“I have come to see my husband,” Betty faltered, her voice trembling a
little.

“Very well, ma’am,” retorted the widow grimly, and turning her back
deliberately, she began to flourish the huge spoon again.

The poor young wife, meanwhile, fled after Denis across the kitchen,
her heart beating wildly. He was waiting in the entry and led her down
the hall to the opposite side of the house, before he finally halted at
a closed door and waited. At a sign from her he let her enter alone.
The place was poorly lighted by small windows, and as she entered and
heard the door close behind her, her heart stood still. And then—

Poor Betty, her tears blinded her; she forgot the suspicious widow.
The room was so poor, so bare, so wretched; the low, dark rafters, the
stone floor, the miserable furniture. And stretched on the bed lay her
husband, white as death; his head turned so that he could not see her,
but she saw him, saw the pallor, the wasted cheek, the helpless figure.
She did not move and he had not heard her enter, he seemed to be
sleeping. She took off her mask and stood waiting. What would he say?
For the first time her courage failed her, her knees trembled under
her. Would he hate her, and despise her for coming? She stirred and he
heard the rustle and looked up. In a moment it seemed as if the sun had
risen and shone full upon his face: it was glorified, but still she did
not go nearer to him.

“Ah,” he said, “I see it is but a dream! It has mocked me before. My
fever must be upon me again, but, oh, sweet vision, stay with me this
time, else I perish here of despair.”

“Can you forgive me?” she sobbed, running to him and falling on her
knees beside the bed, “oh, I have suffered too, the wound that hurt you
pierced me also to the heart! Forgive me!”

He put his arm around her, drawing her close, with all his feeble
strength, and looking at her with hungry eyes.

“My darling!” he said tenderly, “’tis you—you in the flesh?—and you
came to see me?—the beggar, the exile, the traitor—”

“Don’t, don’t!” cried Betty, in a passion of grief, “I never meant
it—it was my tongue, my reckless, wicked tongue—oh, my lord, forgive
me!”

He smiled; he was so weak that tears gathered in his eyes.

“What have I to forgive, ‘my own Rosaleen’?” he asked tenderly; “I am
not worthy of you—I am, indeed, an exile and a vagrant, my queen, and
no mate for you.”

“You are my husband,” Betty said, blushing divinely.

“Betty,” he whispered soft and low, “you have never kissed me!”

“I have never kissed any man, my Lord Clancarty,” she replied softly,
her face radiant, “I will never kiss any man—but the one I love best!”

He looked at her silently, his eyes glowing, holding her closer.

“Betty,” he murmured, “do you love me?—your husband?”

Betty did not reply in words. She put her arms around his neck and
kissed him tenderly, laying her soft cheek against his with a sob.

“My darling,” he said, after a pause, “it is too much to ask you to
leave all and follow me—too much. I am only a beggar, Betty, and an
outcast!”

She looked up into his eyes and he thought her face had never been so
beautiful.

“My husband,” she said.

His tears wet her cheek as he kissed her again and again.

“My best beloved,” he said, “‘my own Rosaleen’! ‘Until death us do
part,’ do you remember? The bond was made in heaven, Betty!”

She smiled through her tears.

“I love you,” she murmured, “and shall forever and forever.”

“Will you leave all, Betty?” he asked longingly, “all, and follow me
into exile and poverty?”

“Unto the ends of the earth, my lord and master,” she answered smiling,
the old Betty suddenly peeping out at him from her dark eyes; “if I
have you I have all!” she whispered.

Warm hearted, impulsive, careless Lady Betty was not one to give her
heart unless she gave it royally.

After a moment she raised her face, rosy and tear-stained, but smiling.

“Did you know me at first?” she asked, “in the woods at Althorpe? Did
you divine who I was?”

He laughed softly, taking her face between his hands and holding it
fondly, framed thus, so she could not hide it from him.

“Did I know the sun when it shone?” he asked. “Ah, my little witch, I
knew you! I had been watching you for two days and more, whenever I
could catch a glimpse of you. Did you know me, madam?”

She smiled adorably and tried to hide her blushes in his hands.

“I felt it,” she whispered, “I think I knew you by intuition—from
that first moment—but afterwards—”

“But afterwards?” he asked relentlessly.

She laughed, her eyes shining. “You tried to deceive me,” she said, “in
the garden—you remember?—for a little while, I thought you couldn’t
be _you_, and—” her voice trailed off, her face was as scarlet as any
poppy.

“And?” he persisted gleefully, holding her still.

“I thought—I thought that I had given my heart to a stranger—and I
was married—and—” she broke off, she could not speak for his kisses.

“Would you have divorced the beggar for me?” he whispered maliciously.

“O Donough!” she cried, throwing her arms around his neck in the very
ecstasy of her joy at her escape from such a dilemma, “O Donough, it
would have broken my heart if you hadn’t been—_you_!”

Again a silence and then,—

“Why did you put your foot on the shamrock?” he whispered.

She hid her face on his neck. “I wanted it,” she confessed, in a
smothered tone, “I wanted it to keep! Where is it?”

He drew it from his breast, a withered sprig folded in a piece of
paper, and she seized upon it and kissed it.

“Nay,” he said, “that you shall not—not even my shamrock shall share
your kisses with me! That is one stolen from me, madam, give me the
shamrock.”

“Never!” she defied him, clasping it to her own bosom, “never—’tis
mine to wear for your sake.”

His eyes shone. “My Irish beauty,” he said, “_roisin bheag dubh_!—if I
may not have the shamrock I must have the kiss back.”

“Why did you treat me so that last night?” he went on, “you perverse
witch, you tormentor, you deserve to suffer for flouting your lord and
master.”

“That was it,” she said, “you came in with the air of a conquering
hero; I thought you would not woo me, that you claimed me too much like
a master; that, perhaps, you didn’t love me, but only felt that you
were my husband.”

He laughed quietly. “You coquette!” he said fondly, “you knew I loved
you—you saw it in my eyes, for I know they devoured you—you felt it!”

Betty hung her head guiltily. “I could not help it,” she said, with a
little sob, “I loved you,—and suddenly I thought you knew it, and
were careless of it!”

He kissed her hands softly. “You knew I loved you!” he exclaimed
reproachfully.

She looked up through her tears. “I love to hear you say it,” she
murmured rapturously.

After awhile she looked around the miserable room.

“My love,” she cried, “can’t I take you away from this awful place? It
breaks my heart to have you here! With that female dragon, too.”

“Nay, grieve not, Betty,” he answered smiling, “it shines with you in
it. How I shall picture you here—in your white and pink gown, with the
little hood on your head—the house is a palace, dear! It is too good
for a poor man now.”

“And you are poor!” she exclaimed, her tears breaking out afresh, “you
are poor and I—I have everything!”

“Nay,” he replied, “I am rich in having you!”

But her tears fell. She could not leave him so, she cried, clinging to
him; the thought of that poor place would break her heart! And it took
all his persuasion and caresses to win a smile from her again.

“And I must go,” she said at last, showing an April face, smiles and
tears together, “I must go, or else they will miss me, and if Spencer
found you here, I know not what he would do; he hates a Jacobite! But,
oh, my darling, ’twill not be long ere I shall send some token to you,
or have some message from you.”

“Not long,” he said, his eyes sparkling, “not long, dear Betty! As soon
as I can walk—a plague upon this wound—as soon as I can move I will
come to you! I can’t die now!”

“Oh, the risk of it!” she cried, but her face shone, and then suddenly,
“Donough,” she said, “why had you to fight my Lord Savile? and after
all I did to prevent it!”

“He insulted me, my love,” Clancarty replied, “and—and, well, dear
heart, after that night I thought you might care for him and not for
me, and it drove me mad.”

Betty smiled enchantingly.

“You were jealous,” she said, “jealous of me!”

“I was mad with it, Betty,” he declared passionately; “and here I lie,
curse this wound, like a log, and other men are near you, bask in your
smiles, kiss your hand! It drives me to destruction!”

And she looking down at him in his weakness, thin and fever
flushed,—she fell upon her knees again beside him, holding her soft
cheek against his, and saying only two words—softly, sweetly, with
adorable tenderness—“My husband!”

* * * * *

Afterwards, in the loneliness of the woodland, Betty pressed a full
purse into Denis’s unreluctant hand.

“Not a word to your lord—on your life!” she charged him; “but
get all he needs and come to me for more—and we must move him to
some comfortable refuge at once. Mind you, everything he needs and
instantly.”

Denis’s face widened into a seraphic smile as he pressed the purse
fondly.

“By the Virgin, my lady,” he said, “I shall have to be afther telling
him a legend—faix, he’ll think I’ve found an angel of a Jew, yer
ladyship!”

IT happened that when Lady Clancarty came back from her visit to the
house in the forest, weary and tear-stained but happier and more
peaceful, she found herself in trouble. She had been gone a long time
and unhappily her absence had been noticed and commented upon. Faithful
and devoted as Alice was, she was not quickwitted enough to invent
excuses, and was, indeed, thoroughly frightened and distressed by her
mistress’ absence which she could not help connecting in some way
with Lord Clancarty. There had been, in consequence, a great hubbub
at the Lion’s Head, and men were running hither and yon; while the
servants, who had carried her chair, to save themselves from blame
had not failed to give a highly colored account of her meeting with
a strange man in the lane and her disappearance in his company. When
Lady Betty came quietly back through the garden, hoping to escape to
her room unobserved, she met Lord Spencer with his face as white as a
sheet and his lids drooped low over his eyes. He stood in the door of
the inn that opened upon the court, and his sister came upon him so
unexpectedly that she had no time for flight. She knew the signs too
well, however, not to be prepared, and her old spirit returned to her
stronger than ever, and she held her head high. But Spencer did not
intend to open the quarrel there in a public place, his mood was more
dangerous. He was quite aware that the servants, and even the landlord,
were peeping at them from the kitchen way, and he bowed courteously to
his sister and offered her his hand.

“Permit me, madam, to escort you to our mother,” he said so suavely
that the culprit shivered.

“I can go quite well alone, Charles,” she replied passing him with a
careless manner that was scarcely a faithful indication of her mood; “I
am too weary to drink tea or play gleek,” she added yawning; “faith,
’tis tiresome to walk in the fields.”

“Extremely so,” replied my lord, as smooth as silk, “especially when
you bring wood briars back upon your farthingale.”

Lady Betty blushed red as a poppy as she glanced down at the tell-tale
twig caught in the ruffles of her skirts.

“Pull it off, my dear,” she said sweetly.

“Nay, I fear the thorns,” he replied, with distant politeness.

She plucked it away herself with a little grimace.

“You are wise, Charles,” she said, “’tis well to keep your fingers out
of other people’s troubles.”

He bit his lip, giving her a furious glance as she tripped up the
stairs ahead of him. But, though he followed more deliberately, he
entered Lady Sunderland’s room but a moment after her, and in time to
hear her reply to his mother’s sharp inquiry.

“I walked a little way in the meadows, madam,” said Betty, with
delightful mendacity; “you know you recommended it for my complexion.”

“A fine diversion,” remarked Lord Spencer, with a sneer, “but who,
pray, was your companion?”

Lady Betty gave him a sidelong look that spoke volumes.

“Faith,” she retorted, with a shrug, “the world would be a dull place
with no men in it.”

Lady Sunderland tittered behind her fan; if anything appealed to her,
it was her daughter’s absolute audacity. But Spencer was furious.

“You choose a fine subject for a jest,” he said; “I would have you
know, madam, that my sister cannot run about Newmarket with a groom!”

Then Betty turned upon him like a fury.

“Do not dare to say that to me again,” she cried, her bosom heaving
with passion; “you forget to whom you speak! Do you think—do you dare
to think—that I am not as capable as you of defending my own honor and
dignity? More, sir, I would have you know that I am accountable to none
but my father and—my husband!” and she swept past him and out of the
room like a whirlwind.

The older countess sank back in her chair and giggled like a girl.

“La!” she exclaimed, “her spirit!—I’d give ten guineas to see her do
that over again,—and you deserved it, Charles, my love.”

Her son gave her an exasperated look.

“That fellow is Clancarty—I am sure of it,” he said fiercely, “and the
minx is in communication with him—but, by Saint Thomas, I’ll break it
up—if I have to break his head!”

“Fudge, my love,” replied the countess tittering, “’twill take more
than your wit to keep two lovers apart; but never fear, she’ll not give
up her wealth and comfort to run away with him—she has too much sense.”

Lord Spencer’s eyelids drooped lower. “I’ll see that she never has the
opportunity, madam,” he said, in a cool voice that had the effect of
making Lady Sunderland shiver much as Betty had.

Meanwhile, Lady Clancarty poured out her hopes and fears and
half-formed plans to Alice Lynn. The first thing to be done was to get
the wounded man into a place of comfort, where he would also be secure,
and in this Alice could help more than her mistress had dreamed.
The girl had an uncle living in Cambridge, a mercer, and a man with
Jacobite leanings, and she at once suggested his house as a possible
shelter for Lord Clancarty. After some discussion, her mistress eagerly
accepted this opportunity, especially as she must leave Newmarket soon
for London to join her father, and Cambridge would be near. There were
many secret missives passing to and fro between the house in the woods
and the Lion’s Head, but Betty found herself too closely watched by
Spencer to dare another visit, and by the end of a week Lord Clancarty
was strong enough to be moved to Cambridge, to her infinite relief.
The journey was safely and secretly accomplished, and she had the
happiness of knowing that he would have both care and nursing, besides
greater security.

By this time the races were over, and the stream of people had poured
back to the capital, where Parliament had been opened by the king, and
Newmarket was empty and quiet. Lady Sunderland went to Windsor, leaving
her daughter to go on to London to the earl’s house, where Sunderland
and Spencer had preceded her.

Lady Clancarty went up to London, therefore, with her two women, Alice
and Melissa Thurle, and tried to wait with patience for an opportunity
to see her husband again. She was cheered and solaced, however, by
frequent secret messages that assured her, not only of his safety, but
that he was mending rapidly. He had even been able to write her one
letter himself, which she kept hidden in her bosom by day and under her
pillow by night, though it was only a meagre little letter, written
while his hand was still unsteady.

“Dear heart,” he wrote, “was it a dream—that lovely vision in the
dark cabin? Were those soft kisses immaterial too? Or did I really hold
you in my arms and feel your cheek against my own? Dear heart, dear
wife, I love you, yet am I parted from you—but not for long—not for
long! Else would this earth be a purgatory and I should wish the wound
had been fatal! Forgive me, I do not doubt you,—I should rather die.”

But the time came, at last, when it was even dangerous to receive or
send these missives, for Lord Spencer was watchful and suspicious
still, and for Clancarty’s sake Betty forced herself to be
patient,—the sharpest trial of all.

The weeks passed and the cold Saint Agnes weather was upon them.
Parliament was in the depths of its wrangles over the military
establishment, but the House of Commons, though never more unruly
than in these last years of William the Third, was in a somewhat
milder mood—alarmed by the threatened difficulty of the Spanish
Succession—and it permitted the ministers to put the most favorable
interpretation upon the law and retain ten thousand fighting men.
Further, it expressed its attachment to the sovereign’s person
by suspending the benefit of the Habeas Corpus Act twelve months
longer from Bernardi and the other conspirators involved in the late
Assassination Plot. Lord Sunderland was almost constantly at the
king’s elbow, absorbed in political affairs, and Spencer stood out as a
shining light among the younger Whigs.

Meanwhile, Lady Clancarty fretted her heart out because she could
neither see Clancarty nor get a message from him. Her suite of rooms
at Leicester House—which was now the town house of the Earl of
Sunderland—were never so dreary. She paced them day and night in her
anxiety, and struggle as she would to hide it, there were signs of it
upon her face. Yet she played her part well as the mistress of her
father’s house, and she had never been more lovely or more courted. Her
receptions were always crowded, and at every ball she was the centre of
a lively group of admirers and friends. But with it all her heart ached.

It was one evening, the night of my Lord Bridgewater’s ball at his
house in the Barbican, that Lady Clancarty stood looking at her own
reflection, all dressed for the rout. Her gown, a wondrous affair of
silver lace and white brocade, became her well, and her luxuriant hair
was deftly dressed with one large diamond flashing like a star amidst
the curls. She turned away from the glass smiling—she could not help
a certain pleasure in the picture—but the next she sighed and looked
about for Alice.

“Where is the girl?” she said to herself; “alas! what a silly fool I am
to deck myself out like this—for what? I know not, since he cannot see
me and I cannot tell how it fares with him.”

Her mood changed swiftly; a moment before she had thought of herself
and of the ball—now she stood dejected, her head bowed, tears in her
eyes.

“Ah, if I only knew how he was,” she murmured softly, “if I could only
see him well!”

As she spoke the door opened gently and Alice looked in, glancing
around the room.

“What ails you, Alice?” asked her mistress, “you wear the face of a
conspirator; where have you been?”

Alice laid her finger on her lips and withdrew—to Betty’s infinite
astonishment—and the next instant the door opened wider and a tall
man, cloaked and booted for riding, crossed the threshold.

Betty uttered a strange little cry; her beautiful India fan fell on the
floor and broke in a thousand pieces. Lord Clancarty sprang toward her
and caught her in his arms in time to keep her from falling.

“My darling!” he said, “I came too unexpectedly—I have done wrong.”

“O Donough!” she cried, smiling through her tears, “I am so glad—so
glad!” and she held him off to look at him; “pale,” she said, “and
thin—but mine—mine own!”

“Ah, Betty darling!” he whispered, covering her face with kisses, “I
have been dying for this—to come to you again!”

“And you came here!” she said, a little catch in her voice, “here,
in this house,—oh, the danger of it! Spencer hates your very name,
darling; how dared you come?”

He caressed her soft hair, smiling.

“How dared I, Betty?” he replied, “ah, my child, you do not know me.
Are you glad to see me even here?”

“Am I glad?” she murmured, tears in her eyes. “Ah, Donough, the days
have seemed like weeks—the weeks eternities!”

“I am not worthy of you,” he said, laying his cheek against her soft
one, “I am not worthy of you; but above all else I love you—ay,
better than my own soul!”

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