THE KING

LADY BETTY’S weakness passed. She was too strong, too loving, and too
determined by nature, to give way to the tears and sighs of a whining
woman. So stern was her face and so resolute that even Alice, with all
the old claims of faithful service and affection, dared not offer her
any consolation save to kiss her hand humbly and sadly.

“Ah, Alice,” she said, “I cannot talk to you. When I was happy I
chattered like a magpie; but now that I feel so much I am tongue-tied;
yet I understand, my girl, I understand.”

“I wish I could help you,” Alice said, in tears, “I wish I could do
something for you both!”

Betty shook her head sadly. “There is no one but the king. Ah, Alice,
in my careless days I have mocked his Dutch accent and his Dutch
ways—but now—I go to him as my one hope under heaven! How foolish I
have been, how heartless!”

She would not stay in Leicester House; she only lingered long enough
to select her plainest gown and a cloak and hood, and to take such
jewels and money as belonged to her individually, before she and Alice
set out, attended by the tireless Sir Edward. Not this time to the
Tower, however, but to a mediator who might approach the king with
more likelihood of success than any one; the widow of the martyred
Lord Russell. From Sir Edward Mackie, Lady Russell learned that
morning the whole story, and her heart was touched by the despair
of the young countess, suffering as she had suffered. Though of all
women Lady Russell was the last one to sympathize with a Jacobite, yet
her compassion moved her to forgive her enemies, and from her Lady
Clancarty might look for more help than from any one, for she was an
honored and revered friend of King William’s.

So to Lady Russell’s house in Bloomsbury the young Countess of
Clancarty directed her steps, and it was on the way thither that they
met the coach of my Lord of Devonshire. The great emblazoned coach
drawn by four stout Flanders mares, with outriders in crimson and gold
lace, came clattering and rumbling along the street, the men cursing
and shouting at the other vehicles that threatened to stop his grace’s
way. Betty and her escort stood back to escape the mud from the kennel
as it passed.

The news of Spencer’s despicable act and of Clancarty’s arrest had been
spread over the town by the young men at Secretary Vernon’s dinner.
When his grace saw Lady Clancarty afoot at that early hour, therefore,
he ordered his coach to stop and descended with great dignity.

She did not wait for him to speak, running up to him with an eager face.

“My lord, my lord,” she cried, “I claim your promise at Newmarket. You
will help me save my Lord Clancarty.”

Devonshire gracefully kissed her hand.

“Dear Lady Clancarty,” he replied, “I would hesitate only at John the
Baptist’s head upon a charger! I shall keep my promise. Indeed, ’tis
partly kept already, for I have just arranged with my Lords of Ormond
and Bedford to go with me to Kensington for your sake. But,” the great
man paused, glancing at the beautiful face, “my dear child, you would
be the best suppliant,” he added.

“I will go,” Betty answered, “though, indeed, my lord, I do not know
how the king will receive me—he is so cold! And my father—” her voice
broke at the word; “Lord Sunderland will not help me. Sir Edward has
suggested Lady Russell as an intercessor.”

An expression of surprise passed over Devonshire’s face, but it
brightened.

“I know of no one better,” he said gravely; “nay, dear Lady Clancarty,
take heart of grace; your cold king is a merciful one.”

Betty drew a sharp breath.

“My Lord Clancarty is out of his clemency,” she said faintly; “the
Habeas Corpus Act—” she could say no more.

Devonshire looked grave and his eyes met Mackie’s significantly, but he
took her hand.

“My child,” he said kindly, “you will go in my carriage to Lady
Russell’s and then I will go to Kensington; we will not surrender until
we are beaten. You are not wont to be faint hearted.”

“I am changed,” she replied; “the old Betty is quite dead, I think, my
lord; now I am only the shadow of Clancarty; as he suffers so also do
I. If I could but see him!”

“I have sent to the Tower,” said the duke reassuringly, “and I think I
may get a letter for you. Would a word be any comfort?”

“Ah, my lord!” she exclaimed, and kissed his hand impulsively.

Once in the coach they travelled rapidly; the duke talking of other
things, seeing well enough that her strength was overtaxed. He was
still talking when the carriage turned from Little Queen Street and
stopped in Bloomsbury Square. He led her by the hand into the presence
of Rachel, Lady Russell, his kinswoman by marriage, and Lady Betty
never forgot the benevolence of the great man’s face, the kindly
pressure of his hand, the fatherly interest of his glance, as he walked
beside her in the splendid dress he had assumed to go to court. Nor did
she forget the sad, sweet dignity of the widow who rose to meet them
and came forward with such reserve of manner until she saw Lady Betty’s
face, then she held out both hands, tears glistening in her eyes; she
scarcely courtesied to the duke.

“My child!” she exclaimed, “my poor child, I too have suffered so. Ah,
my lord, when will the Traitor’s Gate close, save on a woman’s bleeding
heart?” and she kissed the young countess on brow and cheek.

“My husband,” faltered Betty, “you know, dear madam, that he is a
Jacobite?”

“I know it,” Lady Russell answered sadly; “but he is also a brave man
and, as I know, the idol of one woman’s heart. Alas, my lord,” she
added gravely to Devonshire, “do you love us well enough to make amends
for the broken hearts—the faithful broken hearts?”

His Grace of Devonshire only bowed his head while the elder sufferer
clasped the younger in her arms and caressed her, speaking kind and
soothing words, like a mother to the daughter of her heart. A moment
later, when she glanced an inquiry at him over Betty’s head, he shook
his gravely, framing “no” with his lips, for he had no hope, or next to
none. So he told young Mackie as they left the house together.

“Poor young creature,” said his grace gravely, “she shall command my
utmost endeavors; Spencer is a cold-hearted rogue—and her father!” the
duke shrugged his shoulders; “as for Clancarty, he’s more likely to be
made an example than an exception.”

“He’s a brave man, your grace,” said Mackie generously, “and there are
many of his persuasion.”

“A poor philosophy, my boy,” replied the duke; “this fellow is
notorious, besides. Do you know his history?”

“No,” said Mackie sadly, “I see only her agony.”

“It was Ormond who introduced him to her at Newmarket, and I suspect
that his grace knew who ‘Mr. Trevor’ really was, though he doesn’t
admit it. But I believe she divined it at once. Clancarty has a
history,” his grace went on; “he was bred a Protestant, but when
he went back to Ireland, in the late king’s time, he fell in with
Papist kinsfolk and it served his turn at court to be a Papist, so my
young lord turned his coat; a wild rogue, sir, let me tell you, yet
this young girl loves him! He sat in the Celtic Parliament at King’s
Inns,—a very pretty recommendation to King William,—he commanded
a regiment in King James’s army and was taken by Marlborough, but
succeeded in getting off. The estates of Clancarty—they are held to
be worth ten thousand a year—are confiscated, and you know who has
the greater share?” added the duke significantly, “my Lord Woodstock.
William will not despoil his Dutch favorites for a Jacobite.”

Young Mackie’s face was grave.

“She asks only for his life,” he said, “and she pleads so eloquently
that I think no man but one of stone can refuse her.”

Devonshire smiled broadly.

“Not you, at least, my dear sir,” he replied, “if my eyes mistake not.”

The young man turned crimson.

“Your grace,” he said, “I do confess it; but I have seen her so like an
angel in her devotion, so forgetful of all but him, that, loving her, I
would risk my life to give him back to her.”

The duke took a pinch of snuff and stood tapping the jewelled lid of
the box thoughtfully.

“A very pretty sentiment, Sir Edward,” he said genially, “and I honor
you for it. By my faith, I would not risk my own heart against her
tears, or her smiles, either,” he added smiling, “though you need not
mention it. But I have small hope, sir, small hope; the king has been,
as we know, over merciful and fostered rebellion at his very door. What
is it the great bard says?

“‘What doth cherish weeds but gentle air?
And what make robbers bold but too much lenity?’

And at this time, after the recent troubles, his majesty is not like
to be advised to mercy,” and his grace shook his head; “there is but
little hope!”

IT happened that Lady Russell advised delay in the appeal to the king;
she wished to wait for the results of the interview between his majesty
and the three dukes. Surely no fair woman ever won greater mediators as
quickly as did poor Lady Betty.

Lady Russell hoped little, however, from their efforts, though she said
not a word of this to the distracted young wife but, instead, pointed
out the advantages of waiting until they could appeal to William quite
alone—as two women in distress—and with no connection with any
political embroglio. Indeed, the older woman knew the king well enough
to be sure that his heart might be touched by a woman’s grief, though
in affairs of state he could be adamant. In spite of Betty’s impatience
and misery, they waited, and Devonshire, Ormond, and Bedford, two great
English peers and the greatest Irish one, went up to Kensington to save
one young woman’s heart from breaking, caring little enough for the
Jacobite earl himself.

It was during this season of delay, when despair and hope were mingled,
that one of Devonshire’s gentlemen brought a packet from the Tower and
gave it to Lady Clancarty with much elaborate courtesy. And she? She
fled with it to her room—Lady Russell had insisted upon keeping her
under her own roof—and she kissed and wept over it, before she opened
it, although she knew that the Governor of the Tower had read it all
before her, hard necessity!

It contained a ring, a letter, and the dried sprig of shamrock, and her
eyes were half blinded with tears as she tried to read.

“My own dear wife,” it ran, “a gentleman from my Lord of Devonshire
has just been with me and has told me of your noble devotion to me in
this dark hour, of your efforts in my behalf. Dear heart, dear heart,
how can I write all I feel, or tell my gratitude to the great duke for
befriending you? To tell the truth, I have little hope that my pardon
can be obtained, but I do hope and pray to see you once more! Ah, the
separation, Betty, I did not know how hard it would be to bear—doubly
hard now that I know you suffer, too. Bear up, brave heart, under the
despair also; indeed, I know you will, for my sake, and afterwards—you
will go to see my mother, who is, I know, broken hearted—and you
will comfort her for me. Ah, I did not mean to write to you sadly,
sweetheart, but the loss of you drives me to distraction. I see you
constantly as you looked unconscious in my arms, and it wrings my
heart. Dear love, I send you my ring and our bit of shamrock, and I
will not believe that I shall not see you again—’twould be too cruel.

“Dear heart, sweet wife,—farewell!”

Poor Lady Betty, she wept over it and caressed it like a living thing,
for he had touched it; and she hid the shamrock and the ring in her
bosom.

In this distracted state she waited forty-eight hours longer, until she
knew that the three dukes had obtained no definite promise from the
king and that the Earl of Sunderland, who was supposed to command his
majesty’s ear, was proclaiming everywhere his approval of Spencer’s
deed. The cloud grew darker rather than brighter, and in her agony she
would have gone alone to Kensington, for Lady Russell’s caution seemed
to her only distracting delay.

However, the older woman only lingered to take her steps more surely.
She drew up, with Devonshire’s help, a formal petition to the king, not
trusting to any verbal or interrupted statement of the case, and at
last, just when the young countess was reduced almost to madness, she
signified her readiness to accompany her to court.

The king was at Kensington and the two set out, a little before noon,
in Lady Russell’s carriage, for the palace. Betty had worn her heart
out with grief and impatience; she had not slept and she had scarcely
tasted food, except under compulsion, and was a shadow of herself—but
still a beautiful one. Lady Russell knew intuitively all that the
younger woman had suffered, and when they were in the carriage, she
laid her hand gently over Betty’s.

“My dear,” she said, “I know how cruel this delay has seemed, but,
believe me, ’twas for the best. Our appeal must be quite distinct from
that of the three dukes, and it must be only from our hearts—as two
desolate women.”

Betty forced herself to speak with composure.

“You know the king, madam,” she said, “and I do not—or, at
least, only slightly and, alas, he has ever seemed cold to me and
unapproachable.”

“You truly do not know him,” Lady Russell rejoined gently; “I do not
think, dear Lady Clancarty, that a great man is ever heartless, and
this man is great.”

Betty, who looked at the Dutch king with thoroughly English eyes,
raised her brows expressively but said nothing.

“Yes,” continued, the older woman, looking thoughtfully out of
the carriage window, “after awhile the English people will do him
justice. What other man could have held the coalition of European
powers together against France? or could have raised England from
the degradation into which his uncles had plunged her to her present
dignity?”

Lady Betty sighed wearily; her heart was in the Tower.

“I know that I have heard him called the arbiter of Europe,” she
replied, “but he is so very Dutch, dear Lady Russell, and so stern and
cold in his way.”

“Not cold,” said Lady Russell, “but merciful. His uncle James was
cold—look at the pleading of Monmouth, ’twould have moved a heart of
stone—and Charles was often cruel.”

“Alas! King William may turn as deaf an ear to me,” cried the young
countess, with a quivering voice; “was ever fate more cruel? If he is
beheaded I shall die!”

Lady Russell said nothing, but gave her so eloquent a look that Betty
broke down.

“Forgive me!” she cried, “oh, forgive me! How selfish grief makes us; I
forgot—”

“I lived,” said the widow quietly.

Betty fell to weeping silently.

“’Twould be worse to live!” she moaned.

“It is worse,” retorted Lady Russell; “grief eats into the heart like a
canker; but I lived for his son!”

Betty’s head went lower down; sobs shook her from head to foot. The
older woman put her arm around her.

“I know,” she said, “I know, but we are going to a great man—a great
king. Dear child, let us hope. You do not know King William. Melancholy
and personal misfortunes seem to be wrapped in the birthright of the
Stuarts, but, ah, my dear, this man is descended also from the house
of that great prince who set Holland free. Mercy belongs, of right, to
mighty princes.”

“I love a great man,” said Betty, drying her tears.

“So do all women,” replied Lady Russell; “it is born in us; we do not
love littleness or weakness. This is a very solemn matter and we may
not judge the king, or judge for him.”

Lady Clancarty did not reply, she could not; she was struggling to
conquer her emotions, to prepare herself for the coming interview, and
Lady Russell took her hand and held it in silent sympathy.

The agony of that hour of suspense was almost too much to bear; her
husband’s life hanging in the balance, at the will of this stern,
silent man; this man who seemed to her—as he did to many of the
English, an unsympathetic, phlegmatic Dutchman—an alien in the land.

“Yonder is the palace,” remarked Lady Russell, in a strangely quiet
voice, though her hand clasped tightly over Betty’s.

They both looked out on the palace and the green before it, the barrack
buildings and the gates, at which a dozen or more emblazoned coaches
waited, and they could see the sun flash on the arms of the guards
within and without the gates.

The girl drew her breath sharply; she shook from head to foot.

“Ah, madam,” she cried wildly, “if he says—‘no’!”

Lady Russell bowed her head, her lips moved; her thoughts went back to
the dreadful days of the Rye House Plot; she thought of herself beside
her husband at his trial, of his last hours; she seemed to see him in
the coach, driven almost past his home on his way to die in Lincoln’s
Inn Fields. She shuddered, too, but in a moment her serene sadness
returned.

“We must put our trust in the King of kings,” she said gently, clasping
her hands and looking upward.

Betty wept silently; at that moment every hope seemed to die in her
heart.

Meanwhile, the coach rolled heavily and surely as fate itself along the
High Street of Kensington, and at last through the palace gates.

KENSINGTON PALACE was an offence in those days to English eyes. The
burning of Whitehall had furnished William with the opportunity to
escape, not only from the air of London, which aggravated his asthma,
but also from the crowd of sycophants who choked the galleries of the
city palace. Long muddy roads and exorbitant charges for conveyance
made it no easy matter for the spendthrift courtier and the needy
adventurer to torment the king at Kensington. He was as well pleased at
the escape as they were disgruntled; but even here they could pursue
him with annoyances.

The malcontents in Parliament had stripped him of his beloved Dutch
guards, and in their stead the Life Guards saluted at his threshold.

It was through a file of these gay gentlemen that Betty passed with
Lady Russell, and they stared not a little at the lovely face of the
young countess, though they received both with every token of respect
and courtesy. Lady Russell was, indeed, a well-known and honored guest
at the palace, and they were conducted by an officer of the household
to the anteroom of the king’s presence chamber, there to await his
pleasure.

The long room was already filled with visitors of almost every degree,
come upon various errands, and Lady Clancarty found it no light thing
to face the ill-disguised curiosity and admiration that assailed her on
all sides.

Here was a peer, in the splendid dress of the court, glittering with
jewels and gold lace, curled and perfumed and ruffled; here a plainly
dressed shrewd fellow, with a bundle of papers, a clerk from the
foreign office, for the king was his own minister of foreign affairs;
there was a richly dressed magnate of the city, with an eye on the
interests of the East India Company; there an eager applicant for
office; and farther off, a despairing petitioner who glanced in open
sympathy at Lady Clancarty.

A king’s anteroom! How many secret histories are written here; what
comedy, what tragedy!

The low murmur of talk rose and fell; great ladies, powdered and
patched, swept their furbelows through the crowd and swayed their fans,
chattering lightly of a hundred things; great lords bowed and smiled
and took snuff and cursed the king, in their hearts, for keeping them
waiting. A pair of lovers, two young things, were cooing in a window
recess, as indifferent to the public as a pair of turtledoves, and
Betty looked at them with dull eyes. The wait seemed to be for hours,
and the heated atmosphere and the flutter of talk almost suffocated
her. She looked up and saw the door open and her father coming out of
the king’s closet, pleased, smiling, courteous to all, greeting them
right and left, bowing here, extending a hand there. Betty felt that he
saw her, but he averted his face and she stepped back into the window
recess near at hand and opened the sash; she could not breathe. While
she stood there his Grace of Devonshire came up and had a few words
with Lady Russell.

“Is there any hope?” her ladyship asked sadly, with a meaning glance
aside at the young figure in its plain black garb.

His grace shook his head.

“I see none,” he replied, very low; “there has been such a demand for
examples; the people are so tired of these conspiracies, and they are
like to class Clancarty with the worst. You know the king, that reserve
of his betrays nothing, but I think I never saw him less inclined to
mercy.”

Lady Russell’s face became intensely grave.

“I shall do all I can,” she said, “my utmost. Poor young thing, her
heart is breaking!”

The duke cast a look of deep concern toward Lady Clancarty and shook
his head again. The next moment he smiled, as she turned to them,
smiled and kissed her hand as an open sign of his sympathy and support.
She said nothing; she only looked searchingly into his eyes and her
lips quivered. Would it be much longer?

The talk rose and fell; some woman laughed, the shallow cackling laugh
that comes from the empty heart and the empty head; the crackling of
thorns under a pot.

An usher bowed before Lady Russell and she held out her hand to Betty.
The duke smiled again reassuringly; and the two women walked slowly
through the throng, passed in at a low doorway, and in a moment there
was stillness.

They had entered a low-ceiled room, lighted by one large window; it
was plainly but richly furnished and near a table strewn with papers
stood a small, thin man. He was dressed in black velvet, with a ruffled
cravat of Mechlin and a star on his breast; he wore a great curled
periwig. Insignificant in size but with a wonderful majesty of bearing;
the king of three kingdoms and the stadt-holder of Hollander—William
of Orange.

As they entered he turned and stood looking at them. His complexion
was a clear, pale olive; his eagle nose and brilliant eyes immediately
commanding attention, with something, too, in the cold majesty of his
mien and the habitual sadness of his expression. His face, narrow at
the chin, expanded widely at the brows, and his glance was singularly
luminous. His eyes a clear hazel, with a depth to them like the clear
brown of some mountain pool undisturbed by any ripple upon the surface,
deep and transparent; his thin figure was inclined to stoop, and he had
a racking cough, left behind by smallpox.

He greeted Lady Russell and the young countess with perfect courtesy,
but his reserve remained as icy as ever, and like a cloak about him;
warm-hearted Betty shivered, stricken silent.

“Sire, we come to you as humble suppliants,” Lady Russell said, “to
pray you to graciously receive our petition. I need not tell your
majesty that this is Lord Sunderland’s daughter, the unhappy wife of
the Earl of Clancarty.”

“My Lords of Devonshire and Ormond have already told me,” the king
said, coughing a little as he cast a thoughtful look at the young
countess; “I am sorry,” he added, “that it is so.”

“Ah, sire, have mercy on us both,” murmured Lady Betty, finding her
tongue at last; “to you belongs the glory of mercy. Spare him, your
majesty, he came here only to see me—to see his wife.”

The king did not reply, but took the petition from Lady Russell and
laid it on the table.

“Let me plead for her, sire,” said the widow gently, “I need not remind
your majesty that I have suffered as she is suffering. I knelt to plead
for life to King Charles, as she kneels now to King William, and I
knelt in vain. They carried my husband—almost past his own home—to
his death and I—ah, my king, I lived! That is the terror of it, and
the cruelty; you cannot divine it,—’tis martyrdom!” the widow’s voice
was shaken by the agony of recollection and for the moment she could
say no more. “I pray you humbly, if I have ever served your majesty
or deserved well at your hands, to consider our petition. We ask but
life—all else we leave in your hands. Let us remind you, sire, that of
all the qualities that most adorn your gracious character that of mercy
has ever shone conspicuous, has won the hearts of your people—”

William held up his hand with a bitter smile.

“Say no more, madam,” he interrupted ironically; “’tis not often that I
am reminded of my conquest of the hearts of the English people!”

Lady Betty threw herself on her knees before him.

“Sire,” she cried, “I pray for mercy—for life! Ah, think, your
majesty, the day must come when you, too, will look for mercy—and
I am sure your pity for us now will comfort you then. I only ask my
husband’s life—his life!”

Her voice broke pitifully; how little she could say! Agony ties the
tongue; she looked up through her tears and wrung her hands together
with a gesture of despair, an appeal more eloquent than words.

“O gracious sovereign,” she murmured faintly, “life—life! That is my
cry to you—only spare him to me.”

A cough racked the king, and for the moment he was silent. Lady Russell
trembled for the effect of the appeal. He raised the countess kindly.

“My child,” he said, “these matters are not always as much at the
king’s disposal as they seem; you forget my parliament;” a dry smile
flickered across his face; “I can make you no unconditional promise
until I have considered your petition, and those of others in this
matter. Your husband has been a conspicuous offender, but if I can save
him—” he broke off, closing his lips tightly, his face singularly
stern and sad.

Betty thought he had yielded and began to pour out her thanks weeping,
but the king held up his hand coldly.

“I can make no unconditional promise,” he repeated dryly, “reserve your
thanks until there is a certainty—but,” he added, after a moment’s
hesitation, “think not hardly hereafter of your Dutch king.”

Betty turned crimson and William gave Lady Russell a significant
glance.

“Your husband is an old offender, Lady Clancarty,” he added, with his
rasping little cough; “he not only fought in Ireland but he sat in that
parliament at King’s Inns, and there are others who might base a claim
for indemnity upon any clemency that he received. But rest assured,”
he continued, “that the king has as much feeling as any other man—and
heavier sorrows.”

He gently and kindly dismissed them, but Betty having gone half way
across the room ran back, as impulsive as any child, and kneeling on
one knee kissed his hand, and then ran out weeping, as unmindful of
etiquette as a country lass.

On the stairs she looked up through her tears at Lady Russell.

“I understand you now,” she said, deeply moved; “I felt his
greatness—he is a king! But, oh, will he be merciful? Will he spare my
poor husband?”

Lady Russell could not answer; she turned her face aside. She felt
that the king had given them so little hope, that his answer had been
enigmatical. She took Betty’s hand again, but neither of them could
speak; and in silence they went home to the house in Bloomsbury.

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