the first rays of the sunrise flushed

As the first rays of the sunrise flushed the sky with glory, Barbara
awoke on the morning following her home-coming. She sprang from her bed
and crept softly to the casement, intending but to greet the morning,
and then slip back to sleep. But the birds, the flowers, the sunshine
all called to her to join them, and casting away all thoughts of further
rest, she hastened to the adjoining room, and rousing her reluctant
cousin, begged her to rise and join her in an early ramble.

But Cicely declined firmly to leave her cosy bed, so Barbara was forced
to dress alone.

Presently, however, she reappeared at her cousin’s bedside, and kissed
her into wakefulness.

“Cis, you must rise,” she cried; “’tis disgraceful. All the world is
stirring. Even Ralph and Captain Protheroe are abroad, I have just seen
them go down the garden together.”

“Plague take you all for a set of fools,” cried Cicely sleepily; “what
should they want out at this hour o’ the morning?”

“Why, Cis, ’tis heavenly.”

With a deep sigh Cicely relented.

“Well, Bab, I will come. But not one step do I take without some
breakfast, so bid Phoebe prepare it.”

And with that Barbara must perforce be content. Yet she herself would
wait for no breakfast, but snatching up her hat, ran into the garden to
drink in the joys of the bright September morning.

Full speed she ran down the garden, and there came to a sudden halt,
remembering with a pang of remorse that she had not yet greeted Butcher
since her return. So, with intent to free him to join in her ramble, she
turned into the copse, a short cut to the stables. But there she again
came to a pause, puzzled at the sounds which reached her ears.

“Now, what in Heaven’s name——”

Then she ran through the copse at fullest speed, for of a sudden she
divined what was passing beyond, and with a loud cry darted into the
open meadow, and ran towards the two men who were thus engaged in the
settlement of their quarrel.

At sudden sight of her, Captain Protheroe leapt quickly back out of his
opponent’s reach and lowered his swordpoint, at the same moment Barbara
seized Sir Ralph’s arm.

She seized his arm, but her eyes were fixed on Captain Protheroe in
wide-eyed indignation and reproach.

“Oh! This is too much,” she gasped; “you might have killed him.”

The possibility of Ralph killing the captain had not entered her head,
but the insult and the compliment went unheeded by each. They thought
only of the anxiety implied in her words.

“This must end now, forever,” she continued firmly; “Captain Protheroe,
’tis for you to apologise.”

“Madame!”

“Certainly, sir, you are in the wrong.”

He stared at her in wonder.

“Do you know the cause of our quarrel, Mistress Barbara?” he asked
doubtfully.

“Assuredly,” she answered in surprise, for she deemed it but the
consummation of the quarrel she had interrupted on Sedgemoor.
“Assuredly. I am of one mind with Ralph in this matter; he is in the
right, and you have been mistaken.”

Slowly the light of hope died in the captain’s eyes, and left there only
a great yearning. He drooped his head for one long minute in silence,
then drew himself up and slowly sheathed his sword.

“Yes,” he said quietly; “I have been mistaken.” Then he turned to
Barbara, and his voice was full of tenderness.

“Mistress Barbara,” he said, “a man should not be blamed, if having once
looked on heaven he become blind to things of earth. Forgive me the
mistake. In this, in all things, I remain ever your devoted servant.
Your happiness is mine, I—I am content.”

He turned and walking slowly out of the meadow, disappeared amongst the
trees.

“What does he mean?” asked Barbara wonderingly, staring after his
retreating figure.

But she had no time for further conjecture.

Directly Captain Protheroe disappeared, Ralph snatched her in his arms,
and covered her face with kisses.

“Oh! my darling, my darling,” he cried; “is it indeed so? In truth I
dared to hope it, overbold that I am. But now—to be convinced! Ah!
Barbara, mine! mine!”

So he cried in the intervals of his kisses. But he stopped abruptly in
the midst of his ecstasy, becoming suddenly conscious that the lady was
struggling in his embrace, struggling violently, passionately, to be
free.

He freed her, gazing at her in surprise, as she stood confronting him,
her face crimson with anger.

“Ralph!” she gasped furiously, “are you mad? What mean you? How dare
you—touch me?”

He stepped back a pace in astonishment.

“Why, Barbara! Barbara!” he cried.

“How dare you touch me?”

“Nay, sweetheart,” he pleaded, “I have not really angered you?”

“Angered me!” cried Barbara in desperation; “angered—! Good Heavens! am
I gone crazy? What right can you think, can you dream you have, to
treat me so?”

“But, Barbara!” cried the amazed man; “did you not say, e’en now, you
were one with me in this matter.”

“Assuredly. But if I dislike his slander of Monmouth’s officers, must
it follow that you may treat me thus? For shame, Ralph.”

“If you dislike—Barbara! Is’t possible you deem we fought for the
affair at Sedgemoor?”

“For what else, pray?” she asked indignantly.

But he turned aside with a groan and leaning his elbow against a tree,
buried his head in his arm.

Barbara eyed him doubtfully.

“Ralph! Ralph! What is’t?” she asked sharply. “Why did you fight?”

“Because—and on my faith, Barbara, I believed it to be the truth—I told
that fellow, Protheroe, that his presence, his attentions pestered you,
and I insisted he should leave you.”

Barbara drew herself up royally.

“You did, Ralph?” she asked coldly. “And pray what reason had you for
so insulting a guest in my house, a man to whom we owe everything? Your
reason, Ralph?” she urged with an imperious stamp of her foot.

“Ah! Barbara,” he moaned; “look in your glass and there seek my reason.
Your face is reason enough to send a man to hell.”

Barbara’s indignation gave way at this unexpected retort. She was
subdued, silent.

Then Ralph raised his head and turned to face her.

“Barbara! I must know the truth. Do you not love me?”

She looked at him with eyes full of pity.

“No, Ralph, I cannot. Indeed, I wish I could. But love comes at no
man’s bidding, comes unsought, and”—she added with a break in her
voice—”so oft, alas! comes when it is not wanted.”

His face was white and strained, his eyes hard as he looked at her.

“If this be so, Barbara,” he cried harshly, “you have deceived me,
cruelly. Why did you save me in the forest? Why did you nurse me back
to life at Wells? Better to have left me to die then, deeming you worthy
my love, than let me live to learn such love in vain. No, by Heaven!”
he cried passionately, “I care not what becomes of me; I will not live
if I must lose you.”

Barbara laid her hands softly upon his arm, and in her eyes as she
raised them to his face, a strange light gleamed.

“Ralph,” she whispered, “am I so unworthy of your love?”

“What mean you?” he cried, staring down at her.

“Nay, perchance I am wrong,” she answered, “only it seemeth to me sad
that love must turn to bitterness an it be not crowned by possession.
And methinks a man’s love for a woman, an the woman be worthy, should be
so high a thing, that whether he win her or no, yet is his life
dedicated to her forever, and for her sake should be lived in all honour
and purity. For think not, tho’ a woman may not love a man, her heart
is hardened at his suit. Rather does she strive her life thro’ to be
more pure, more true, more noble, even for his love’s sake, to grow more
worthy of that highest gift which he has offered to her. Thus in their
separate paths thro’ the world, two lives shine brighter in honour of
each other, and love that seemeth but to lead to bitterness and despair,
proves rather a mighty power strengthening and glorifying her to whom
’twas offered, and him who bore it. Nay, Ralph, I cannot rightly say my
meaning, but sure true love should make a man strong, not weak; strong
to love even without reward.”

She paused, and as he looked into her eyes, the enthusiasm of her soul
passed into his, and his heart went out to her in worship, wholly
unselfish, wholly pure. For he perceived how fair a part it is for a
man, rather than seek ever wages for service in just exchange, to give
life in service unrewarded if his soul be wakened to the sacrifice.

Low stooping he kissed her hands.

“You are right, Barbara,” he said softly; “who was I to speak to you of
love? Yet now, God helping me, my life, my love, shall prove as worthy
of you as you are worthy of the best a man may give.”

But still her eyes looked on him pityingly.

“And, Ralph,” she pleaded, “surely love is not all to a man. There are
other prizes worth the winning: fame, power, knowledge, may not these
fill your heart?”

He smiled at her, shaking his head.

“Nay, Barbara, when I ask for bread, wilt throw me a stone? Leave me my
love, dear, it sufficeth me. All I ask of life now is grace to prove me
worthy to live in your memory.”

So he spake, nor dreamed that in a few short years, his love would have
faded to a tender memory, and life, fame, honour, again be all in all.

So they turned and went back through the copse into the sunlit garden,
and Ralph, his heart still heavy beneath his sorrow, passed on into the
shadow of the house.

But Barbara lingered in the full blaze of the sunshine, on the
glittering, dew-encrusted lawn. And since love is ever selfish, the
memory of Ralph’s trouble faded quickly in the glory and the triumph of
her own sweet dream of love. For in reading Ralph’s heart she had
learned at last to read her own. She knew now that God’s great gift was
hers, that her heart had learned the world’s secret, and she loved with
a love that crowned her life with glory. So her heart leapt out to the
sunshine, and it seemed to her, as she stood thus, in the beauty of the
garden, that all nature knew her joy; the wind whispered it to the
trees, the birds sang it to the sunbeams, and the great deep-hearted
roses, pouring forth their souls in a passionate sigh of fragrance,
bowed their heads at her passing as to their queen, to whom was given
all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, to whom was
revealed all the beauty and the treasures and the wonders of the earth.

For so is ever the first coming of love to a woman; loving, purified,
one with all the world, she walks innocent as Eve in the garden of Eden,
dreaming that God hath blessed her above all women, and that from
thenceforth the purpose of her being is fulfilled. So Barbara dreamed
away the time, in the glory of the sunshine, and the sweetness of her
joy-crowned youth.

Soon Cicely stepped from the deep shadow of the wide doorway, and came
slowly down the garden, stopping ever and anon to gather one of the
delicate roses, late-blossoming on the trees. And as she approached she
eyed Barbara questioningly and smiled at her own thoughts.

Presently she reached her cousin’s side, and then, as she stopped to
free her skirt from an entangling branch, she began in careless,
cheerful tone:

“Oh, Barbara! Captain Protheroe prayed me to bid you adieu; he has
gone.”

“Gone!”

The sun had vanished from her sky; the glory of the world had faded.

“Gone!” she cried again. “Left us? Whither should he go?”

“To Watchet, to take ship to Holland, so he said; there to seek service
with the Prince of Orange,” answered Cicely casually, still gathering
her flowers, still smiling to herself.

“But, wherefore?” cried Barbara, in desperation. “Wherefore should he
leave me thus, leave me without a word?”

“Nay, the riddle is more than I can read. Yet from what he said,
methought you yourself had bid him go.”

“I! Cis, what madness! What were his words?”

“Why, marry, that Sir Ralph had told him his presence wearies you, and
that you have declared that you are of one mind with Ralph in the
matter.”

“Cicely!” she cried, a world of desperation in her tone; “sure, ’tis
impossible.”

Yet even as she spoke she knew it to be true, for if Ralph had so
misunderstood her words that morning, why might not others also?

“Oh! Cis, what shall I do?” she questioned hopelessly. “’Tis all a
mistake. I meant not—no, indeed, I meant not that he should leave us.
What can I do?”

“Nay, child,” answered Cicely calmly, “I see not what can be done now.
The man has gone. ’Tis pity you have sent him so discourteously away,
but he has gone.”

As she spoke she glanced once more quickly, questioningly at her cousin,
then gathering together her flowers, she turned back towards the house.

But as she went she smiled mischievously and hummed a light ditty she
herself had learned from Sir Rupert, and thus ran the words:

“When maiden fair, to rouse despair,
Doth ponder long ’twixt yea and no,
The man who sighs, an he be wise,
Will lightly turn his back and go.
For tho’ he fear, while he be near,
Of love for him the maid hath none;
Yet when, alack! he turns his back,
He’ll find her heart is quickly won.”

Cicely passed into the house, leaving Barbara standing alone by the
sun-dial heedless alike of song or smile; for her, song and laughter
seemed to have died forever. As she watched the shadow creep along the
dial, it seemed to her like the shadow creeping over her soul, darkening
each succeeding moment of her life as her sun passed further on his way.
And as the shadow crept, so must her life creep on henceforth; slowly,
in silence and in shadow to the end.

And all her heart surged up in the despairing cry:

“I love him, I love him; he has gone!”

Gone! Aye! but not past recall.

She started, the crimson flushing to her brows at the thought.

Could she—could she not follow him and beg him to return, seeing he had
gone in misunderstanding, deeming her ungrateful, unkind? Nay, did she
not owe it to her love to do so, seeing he had left her apprehending
that she loved another?

But could she, indeed, do this? Could she, Barbara Winslow, follow any
man and beg him to return to her, as it would seem, kneeling before him
to entreat his favour; she who hitherto had walked ever as proudest
among women? The thought angered her.

And yet, she loved him, and perchance, nay, surely, he loved her. Must
two lives be darkened because she feared to lower her pride? Men might
look askance upon her deed, but—she loved him. Was her love so poor a
thing that it could be dishonoured by so small a thought? If love was
worthy of aught, surely it was worthy of courage.

She loved him, was he not her king, a man to whom a queen might be proud
to stoop!

Thus was she tortured, now daring, now shrinking, till her pride faded
in the glory of her love, and she raised her head proudly to the free
heavens, resolved upon her course.

She hastened to the stables, and with her own hands saddled her horse.
There Cicely joined her, wondering.

“What would you, Barbara?” she asked.

“I will follow him,” she answered calmly, “to beg him not to leave me.”

“Barbara! You cannot!” cried Cicely quickly; “think what will be said!
Think of the shame!”

But Barbara looked at her with a strange smile.

“I love him, Cis,” she said softly; “what has love to do with shame?”

And so saying, she mounted her pony, and rode off.

Her heart sang in wild triumph, for pride lay dead within her and love
was all in all.

“He loves me,” she sang, “he loves me. I go to tell him of my love.”

“And if he loves me not!”

Her heart trembled at the thought; yet since her love was strong, she
did not pause.

“For,” she thought, “I think, indeed, that he loves me. But an he do
not, what then? I can but return alone. For what harm to him to know
he has my love? ’Twill be no burden to him, rather an added triumph to
his life. Surely he shall know I love him. Men do not shame to speak
their love to women, is women’s love then so poor a thing that they must
shame to speak of it to men?”

So mused Barbara, deeming herself more or less than woman.

Then on a sudden, turning the corner of a quiet lane, she saw him.
Slowly he rode, his reins hanging loosely on his horse’s neck, his head
bowed upon his breast in thought.

And at the sight she drew rein and paused, her eyes wide with doubt and
consternation.

For, so strange is woman’s heart, at sight of him, there, close before
her, all her resolution fled, and she could but stand at gaze, trembling
at the thought of his near presence, shrinking in a horror of doubt,
fear, shyness from what had, but a moment since seemed so simple, so
natural an action. No. ’Twas beyond question impossible, she could not
speak the words.

So, at a sudden pride-awakening thought, she resolved, and had even
then, turned her pony’s head and softly ridden away, but for the
intervention of an unexpected occurrence.

For while she paused in hesitation, a rabbit darted out of the hedge
beside her, and the pony, restive at the check to their progress, on a
sudden swerved aside, and ere she could fully recover her seat and
regain tight control of the reins, had bolted along the road, in a
senseless panic, past the astonished object of her thoughts.

Then, since perforce it must be, slowly, reluctantly, with cheeks a
flaming crimson, she turned to meet him.

As for Captain Protheroe, suddenly interrupted in his reverie by the
sight of the lady of his dreams flying past him in a whirl of
hoof-thundering, hair-flying disorder, his astonishment knew no bounds.
He reined up his horse and stood regarding her in amazement, half
doubting the reality of the vision.

“Mistress Barbara!” he exclaimed, “you here! What do you here?”

But she trembled and flushed yet more at sight of his surprise.

“I—I do but ride abroad, sir,” she faltered; “may I not ride these roads
as well as another?”

“Assuredly,” he answered gravely. But there was an eager gleam in his
eyes, for he thought on the words of Lady Cicely, spoken ere he rode
away:

“I know nought of this affair,” she said. “But I am a woman, Captain
Protheroe, and ’tis we women who see the truth. And trust me, Barbara
loves you, whether she yet know it herself or no.”

And he had ridden away, deeming the words but gentle folly, spoken to
ease his pain. But now, as he looked upon her flushed cheek, and
downcast eyes, he thought on them again, and his heart beat quickly.

Then he looked at the pony, sweating with the fury of the ride, and he
smiled, thinking:

“Assuredly, ’twas even me she came to seek.”

He dismounted and standing beside her, after a pause asked quietly:

“Madame, why did you ride after me?”

“I—I——”

“Have you nought to say to me?”

Then she gathered her courage, and turned on him to escape his
questionings.

“Why did you leave us so discourteously?” she asked.

“Alas! madame,” he murmured, “I lacked courage to bid you farewell.”

“But, now——”

“Now, Mistress Barbara! Think you it were easier now to bid farewell,
now, while I look upon your face? Ah, no! in truth, I cannot leave you
now. For, ah! Mistress Barbara——” he broke out passionately, laying his
hands on hers—”I love you—I love you, and to leave you is to go from the
joys of heaven out into the darkness of death. Ah! Barbara, if you
know mercy, bid me not leave you now.”

[Illustration: “’AH! BARBARA, IF YOU KNOW MERCY, BID ME NOT LEAVE YOU
NOW’”]

He paused, then as she sat dumbstricken by the force of his passion, he
continued with a sudden bitterness:

“And yet how should I stay, seeing my love is nought to you. Better to
leave you now. For in truth, a man must not ask too much of Heaven.
But to leave you—to see your face no more! Ah! madame, madame, what is
this you have done to me, seeing I cannot leave you now, and yet I dare
not stay?”

There was silence. Then Barbara, turning away her face, said slowly:

“Captain Protheroe! I supposed you and Ralph fought concerning the
affair on Sedgemoor. I—I knew of no other cause of quarrel betwixt
you.”

Captain Protheroe raised his head with a quick hope. “Ah?” he questioned
breathlessly.

“Yes. And”—she continued hurriedly—”in this quarrel Ralph was in the
wrong. I—I do not wish you to leave me.”

A moment he paused. Then he answered in a low restrained voice:

“While I can serve you I will remain. But, an you need me no more, I
pray you then, in pity, turn away your face and let me go.”

But Barbara turned her head and looked at him, and she whispered softly,
so softly that he but caught the words ere they died away:

“Nay, sir, but what an I need thee all my days?” And having so spoken
again she turned away her head.

The birds’ chorus rose loud and triumphant in the human silence that
followed, while he took her hands in his and pressed them to his lips.

Then he tried to see her face, but ’twas still turned from him, he could
but see one crimson cheek and the curling lashes resting upon it. He
sighed softly, but smiled withal.

“Mistress Barbara,” he pleaded, “have I not told you your eyes are like
unto the clear depths of the heavens? Alas! why are the heavens so oft
veiled from the gaze of man?”

She answered not, but turned her head slightly, and he saw a smile was
playing round her lips.

“Is it lest by too long contemplation of their beauty, a man should lose
himself in longing?” he asked again.

Then Barbara turned her head and faced him, but still her lashes
drooped, and she whispered very softly:

“Nay, but rather lest by too long contemplation a man should learn their
secret.”

“Ah, Barbara,” he pleaded; “be merciful. Show me the secret of the
heavens.”

So she raised her eyes to his, and far in their depths he read her
secret.

And she, stooping, gave her face to his kisses, and her life to him for
all its span.