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thrilled with astonishment. Sir is no time for delays and circumvenWilliam opened his blue eyes wide, tions ; a soldier must snatch at his his mouth gaping in the depths of own life as he can, and you know it, his snowy beard. Antonio shook his no man better, Sir William. Let me head again, smiling more intensely ; hear from Mistress Margaret's own it seemed, indeed, as if be checked a sweet lips that she does not hate me; laugh with difficulty. Alice Tilney then give me my wife to-morrow, and frowned, the picture of consternation. the next morning shall see me on my As to the two persons most concerned, way. My mother shall fetch my wife they looked at each other across the home to Swanlea, either in person or glowing space that separated them. by a trusty escort. You are satisfied, Margaret was trembling; the wonder Sir William ?” of it all held her breathless, but the He came nearer, bent on one knee fear in her eyes had given place to a close to the old Knight's chair, held wild, incredulous joy. Could it be up his hand imploringly to Margaret, that this knight, this hero, was who instantly laid hers in it, for with actually asking for her hand, -Meg bim, it seemed, to ask was to com
, Roden, so young, so foolish, so igno- mand. Yet his manner was gentlerant? How had it come about ? ness itself, the manner of a man never There was some mystery in it. How- brutal, but always victorious. ever, so it was, and now Lord Mar- Good Lord ! Madder than the lowe's eyes, eager and adoring, were maddest!” Antonio muttered in the repeating the wonderful request to background, but the smile died from bers that met them so
80 sweetly. his red lips and he turned a little Whether that strange whisper, com- pale. For the madman seemed likely ing no one knew whence, had been a
to have his crazy way. fresh command or a bold guess at his Old Sir William made an impatient intention, it had hit the mark ; he movement. “Hear you, my Lord ? now, at least, meant to ask and to You are too sudden," he said. “Do have. After a moment's delay he you think my granddaughter can be epeated more loudly, though with a married off like a beggar in a ditch ? ght tremulousness, the word “My. There shall be no such haste, I tell
you. Why, five minutes ago, you Then he made a step nearer Sir could not believe that I wished to William, and bowed twice to him and part with her at all. Your courtship to Margaret, who still stood with one has gained in pace amazingly. And hand on the old man's shoulder. It
you forget, Sir; you have not yet was plain that he expected his answer handed
my Lady Marlowe's on the spot.
letters." “ You do us great honour, my Harry started up, smiling, and with Lord,” the Knight began, stammering a quick touch of the lips releasing a little in his surprise. "'Tis sudden, the young band he held.
“ You have though-and yet, Harry Marlowe, the best of me, Sir, and I ask your the son of my old brother-in-arms, is pardon," he said. “Letters, yes; but the man I should have chosen out of what are pen and ink but inventions all England-80 my Lady guessed, I of the devil for confusing men's suppose. But, pardon me, 'tis sudden, minds ? As to these letters, which my Lord.”
are indeed addressed to you and to “Sir, I am on my way to join the this fair lady, they are needless Queen," Lord Marlowe said. “ There now. I am my own ambassador.”
He looked with a queer smile at the walls and tower soared into silence packet in his hand, stepped across the and black night, while the shadowy floor and dropped it straight into the interior was lit up with many wax reddest heart of the fire.
candles, more than one altar glowing "I see it. I thought as much,” like a shrine. The midnight mass of Antonio muttered. “Ay, my Lord,- Christmas Eve was just over. Nearly 'too good for the Popinjay'!” all the congregation had tramped out
As the letters flamed, carrying before Mistress Margaret left her pew their secret in smoke up the chimney, and followed them through the great Harry Marlowe turned on the hearth, porch and down the stone-paved way bold, graceful, laughing, to face the into the street, attended closely by frowning brow and angry puzzled her nurse and Alice Tilney, and foleyes of the old man in the chair. lowed by two armed servants in the
But a great noise which had been yellow Roden livery. There was growing for some minutes before, good deal of noise in the street, for now stormed the shallow staircase the Christmas mummers and revellers and poured into the room. A crowd were still abroad and the ale-shops of Christmas mummers masked and in were open ; but no one was likely to antic dresses, St. George, the Dragon, molest the girl for whom most of and the rest, with loud shouts and Ruddiford would have laid down its songs and clatter of halberds and tin life. Along the winding street that swords, prancing round in their time- led to one of the castle gates, where honoured, privileged revels, effectually the low thatched roofs beetled over interrupted my Lord Marlowe's love- the way, Christmas greetings waited making
for her at every corner, and she
might well have returned, safely and CHAPTER III.
without interruption, to her grand
father. MISTRESS MARGARET RODEN was But there was a spirit of unrest walking home from church, which
abroad, and Mistress Meg had her may sound like a tame statement, full share, both within and without, but is far from being so.
of his company.
The first adventure It was in the narrow street of arrived not far from the shadow of Ruddiford, heaped with snow, and the church-porch, from which several the time was between one and two young men, muffled in cloaks over in the morning. The sky was dark, their short coats of leather and iron, no moon or stars visible, and a few followed her and her party down the large flakes of fresh snow had lately street. The foremost of them put out begun to fall, slowly, dreamily, as if a hand suddenly from the darkness they knew there was yet a long and clutched Alice Tilney by the winter during which they might be shoulder. She started, but did not multiplied a million times and work
scream, and indeed laughed a little, their will. But the street was lit up though nervously, as she lingered fitfully with the blaze of torches, the behind with this strange companion. steadier flame of lanthorits, and all The old nurse looked round with an the population of small townspeople angry exclamation ; the two menwere abroad, with a mixture of fierce- servants, grinning, seemed to wait looking men from the surrounding for orders, and the nurse, hurrying country. Most of them had been in forward, spoke to her mistress. the church, whose mighty sandstone " "Meg, my child," she said, "that
godless dog Jasper Tilney, with his to listen to a word more from Lord Fellowship, has stopped Alice from Marlowe, sending him away at once following you. Shall the men bring to rest and refresh himself after his her on?"
journey. And when Meg had stolen Meg answered impatiently, and round and looked in his face to see without turning her head: "Nay, what he would say to her, he had Nurse, leave her alone. No, what am turned his head away and waved her I saying! Let them wait upon her. back with an impatient word. You and I need no guard."
you gone, child.
No more to-night; The old woman turned to the ser- you shall have my commands in the vants with a queer grimace. “Stop morning.” you behind, Giles and John. Walk As Meg left the room, she was after Mistress Tilney, when her wor- aware of words and smiles exchanged shipful brother has done with her."
between Alice Tilney and Antonio. Then she hobbled forward in a When they saw her look, they moved great hurry, for her mistress's young asunder, and she was too proud to limbs seemed likely to outstrip her. speak to Alice on the subject. But
In truth, Margaret moved along in she presently said to her old nurse, & state of such excitement that she “ What does it all mean?" hardly knew what she said or did. Well, baby,” the old woman Even in church it had been impossible answered caressingly, “this lord is a to keep her thoughts where she knew fine man, but they say he's crazy. they ought to be, where, as a good That's the talk, my dear; and sure Christian girl, well taught by Sir there's something about him mighty Thomas the Vicar, they generally strange. He is not like the rest of dwelt without difficulty. The child us, and if you are wise, you will not was horrified, when she remembered listen to all he says, my girl.” to be so, at the knowledge that a “ Not like the rest of you? No, personage had stepped in between her that is true! And therefore crazy ?." God and her. A man's face came said Meg, and moved on smiling. between her and the Holy Cradle Surely her grandfather ought to be she had helped to decorate. This above these foolish servants' fancies. was so great a fact that it could not They had never seen anything like be altered by any will of hers, but him, therefore he must be mad. A it made her conscience uneasy. It clever argument, truly! Was he mad must be confessed, however, that she because he wished to marry her tohad a greater anxiety still. How morrow? Well,—and Meg laid her would all this end? In the nature cold hands against her hot cheeks, of things it might have seemed cer- and determined for a moment to think tain that her grandfather would have of him no more. But she went on accepted for her, joyful and honoured, thinking of him, to the exclusion of Lord Marlowe's offer of his hand.
every other thought, and now, as she But Margaret, though only half paced the familiar old
street on understanding the circumstances, saw Christmas morning, the feeling that for herself that the way was not he must be somewhere very near kept smooth. Sir William was not quite her watching every turn, every corner, ready to open his arms to this new every shadow of gable or wall. She grandson. He had been glad of the had not seen him in the church, but interruption by the mummers, and felt sure he had been there, like all when they were gone, he had refused other good men in Christendom.
And thus it did not astonish her "Forgive me, my angel! I had to to look up suddenly and see him speak," he said. walking by her side.
"Oh, my Lord, what are
you The church bells were clanging and doing ?” Margaret murmurod. clashing, but the rest of the noise “It is of you I would ask," said they were leaving behind, and the Harry, “what are you doing? Why place was lonely, for most of the did you say that to me? God knows castle people had already gone on, I'm happy to find myself at your feet, across the bridge that generally stood -I ask nothing better-but think lowered over the deep narrow ditch, what you have done! A man worn and under the low archway where the out, double your age, a soldier, the gato was set open.
The water was Queen's man, so bound to her service frozen, the snow lay heaped against that I should have neither time nor the ramparts and along a dark lane strength nor heart for any other; and that ran at the back of some houses yet you call me to love you, sweet,on the near side of the ditch, skirting why?” it as far as the principal gateway, Margaret trembled from head to which commanded the west side of foot. “I do not understand you,” the town and the long bridge.
she said, under her breath. “It, — “Now, good Mistress Nurse,” said it was no doing of mine. What have Lord Marlowe, "go home to your bed I said? You came,-you brought and leave my fair lady to me.”
the letters," “Not I, my Lord,” replied Dame She stopped short, for the world Kate promptly with chuckle. seemed whirling round her. Harry “Your Lordship had best go your felt that she was trembling, and held own way and leave us to go ours." her more firmly.
What, may I not wish you a “You are not afraid of me," he Merry Christmas ?” said Harry. said, “and if you are cold, sweetheart,
The old woman could not see well I will not keep you long. What did in the dark, -it was dark here, ex
you say, you ask?
While my stepcept for the glimmer of the snow- mother's message was on my tongue, and truly she did not know what you changed the very word I was happened, or how her mistress was speaking. You bid me put myself in snatched from her side and borne the place of my brother. Can you away suddenly out of sight. Mar- deny it?”
" garet herself, in the magnetism of The girl was too bewildered to Harry's presence, hardly realised that speak. he had lifted her easily, tall girl as “Have you so soon forgotten ?” he she was, from the snowy ground, and went on gently. “You said, --in a had carried her some yards down the whisper, 'tis true, but I heard it dark lane by the ditch, till, stopping well enough—'Yourself, my Lord.'
' out of sight of the street and the castle Could a man fail to answer such a gate, he set her down on the low wall challenge from such lips, Mistress or course of large stones that divided Margaret? I looked at you, and you the lane from the water. To make a smiled. I read in your eyes that I dry place for her feet, he brushed the was right, that I had gained your snow away from this parapet, and favour and the prize might be mine. then, holding her hand and dress, What wonder that I fell under such stood looking up into the face now à temptation? The rest, -—I do not lifted above his own in the dimness. believe they even heard you. None
of them knew what happened. It Meg thrilled as he spoke. "This was what it may remain, -& secret Harry of mine !” she said, so low that between you and me."
ears a yard away would not have “Ah! Why did you tell me?” the caught it. girl murmured. “It was not, then, "Ah! Then stoop your face to me, -it was not what you meant and Meg!” he said, and caught her to Lady Marlowe"
his breast. "My Lady offered you the best As she lay there, she presently match in her power, for your grand- found breath to whisper, “But I father's sake and for reasons of her never said it!” own. She offered you her own young “What!” he cried, starting. “You son, my brother Richard. As for never said, 'Yourself, my Lord'?” me, I was out of the question. Who “Surely not! How should I have should dream that an old fellow like been so bold, so unwomanly?” Harry Marlowe should wish to marry,
“Then who said it, if not you? -the Queen's man, hers only till Did
hear it?" now, and with troubles behind him “ Yes, -I believe so-but I cannot and before ? So I came gaily to plead tell where it came from." young Dick's cause. When I saw you “The Devil !” said Harry Marlowe, at the window, my heart misgave me thoughtfully. as to this mission of mine. When you "No,-my guardian angel !” she spoke, taking captive the very words softly replied to him. on my lips, I was conquered, and A pair of lovers in a lane!-though became a traitor. But poor Dick has the lovers were ill-matched, at least not seen you, and I shall soon make in age, and though the lane was my peace with my Lady. She has not grassy and sweet, with oak-trees twitted me with my solitary ways, shading it and wild roses waving many a time. If I have at last seen over it, but dark, ditch-like the lady of my heart, who shall say way filled with snow, evil-smelling, me nay?”
bounded by black towering walls "But why did you tell me?” Meg and the half-rainous backs of poor said more loudly, and her hand rested and grimy houses. It was all the heavily on his shoulder.
samo to Lord Marlowe and his love. Looking up in the darkness at Meg might have known him always, the pale face just above him, he loved him always, such were the peace answered, his deep voice a little un. and trust with which she rested in certain : “I believed that you partly his arms, warm in the bitter cold of knew already,--and then, sweetheart, that Christmas morning, yet it was I half repented me of what I had not twelve hours since they first met. done. Even now, if you command, If the saw be true, Happy's the wooit is not too late. Now that you ing that's not long a-doing, Harry and know all, take your choice between his Meg should have been in bliss for us. Dick is a handsome lad; his evermore. But to outside eyes that mother has cockered him, but he is lacked understanding, this adventure a bold fellow for all that,
was proving my Lord without question mate for you, Mistress Margaret, than mad. Was this the way that noble
. this Harry of yours, with the fresh- ladies were sought and won? Good ness of your own age, and a whole and evil were ready for once to join life to give to you instead of half in opposition to this wild autocrat of a one.”