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of the issue of one battle! I would castle. The still air was laden with as soon believe it of my old friend snow; wild November had given way Marlowe himself. She is a woman of to the hard grip of a most wintry spirit, and if it be true that Edward December, and all that northern midof March visited her, I warrant you land country was snowed up and she received him that he will frozen. The deep clay-stained stream scarce do it again. Farrago of tales ! of the Ruddy, winding between wil. Haste, Tony! Black Andrew shall ride low copees through the flat meadows south this very night with the letter." on which Ruddiford Castle looked
It was a difficult letter to write, down, was covered with ice, though for the Knight's directions were long not yet hard enough to bear man and wandering, like his talk; but and horse, so that the usual ford Antonio was
a fine scribe, with a some way below the bridge was clever way of putting things, and difficulty, and all the country traffic also spelt English better than many had to pass over Sir William's bridge an Englishman. There was something under the castle wall. The road that to touch the most worldly heart in led to the ford was deep in snow; the frank and simple confidence, the that which ended at the bridge was perfect trust in her loyalty, with already well furrowed and trampled. which Sir William Roden committed The guard at the bridge tower, which his young grandchild's future into defended its further entrance, while Lady Marlowe's friendly keeping. the castle gates commanded its narrow And this letter, which was the direct twisting length, its projecting piers consequence of the Vicar's warning and niches for foot passengers, bad intervention, and which, far more enough to do in receiving Sir William's effectually than the locked-up will, tolls from horse and cart and waggon, decided the future of Margaret as the country people pressed in to Roden and of Ruddiford, was carried the Christmas market. south in the small hours of the next It was not only the white and grey morning by an armed messenger in wilderness, the heavy shadow of the Sir William's livery of yellow laced woods that swept away beyond the with gold.
meadows, the frozen river and moving
peasant figures on the bridge, that CHAPTER II.
kept Margaret Roden's eyes employed
as she stood in her grandfather's “Sır you down and sing to me, window. At this moment, under the my sweetheart, my golden Meg. Why heavy snow-clouds, a flood of glowing do you stand there, staring at the yellow light poured out and glorified snow?"
all that desolate world. The bridge, The old man's voice, impatient but the tower, the polished, shining river, soft, as it always became when he a band of horsemen with flashing spoke to his grandchild, broke sud- lances and fluttering pennons who denly on the silence of the room. rode up from the south,-all this
It was Christmas Eve, and the became suddenly like a hard, brilliant afternoon was closing in; there was illumination in some choice book of a clamour of church bells from the prayers. Margaret forgot to answer town, a distant noise of shouting and her grandfather, so busy was she in trumpeting in the streets, where gazing down at the bridge, and Sir mummers and morris-dancers were William's own thoughts were dispacing forth on their way up to the tracted by something which told him, —the knowledge coming rather as a the rugged old keep shone like the shock-that in the last few months ramparts of the clouds, and Sir his pet child had grown into a woman, William Roden's yellow banner, heavy and a beautiful one too. It was å with the embroidery of her hands, most lovely picture, of which he had rose slowly from the flag-staff on the only a side view from within; the leads and flapped high above her hoad exquisite lines of Margaret's figure, in the breath of the evening. the perfect shape of her head and The stranger looked for a moment neck, the warm colouring of the or two, his face, thin and dark with cheek, the masses of soft red-brown heavy eyes weary of the way, lifted hair, which, far away from courts towards Margaret, who in all her and fashions, she wore unconvention young womanly beauty bent upon ally as she and her old nurse pleased. him the intent, wondering gaze of a The setting sun in its glory bathed child. Then he bared his brown this young figure, standing in the head and bowed down to his horse's broad new window of Sir William's neck; then he looked up again, riding room, the window which he had made
very slowly, and so, still with eyes for his son John's sake, to let in the aloft and a new flame of life in them, south and the sun.
passed out of Margaret's sight into “My golden Meg,” he repeated, the shadow of the walls. half to himself, as his eyes followed “Meg! What do you see down the broad track of sunshine on the there, child ?” rush-strewn floor. Then he went on The question was quick and immuttering : “Christmas here, and no perious. It startled Mistress Meg, answer from my Lady! If she could who for the last few minutes had see the girl now, she would not fear quite forgotten her grandfather's the charge of her."
presence. She turned, and clanged A trumpet-call rang through the the lattice to. At the same moment air. Meg stepped closer to the win- the snow-cloud
down and dow, threw back the lattice suddenly smothered the struggling sun in his and leaned out, so that she might see five minutes' victory.
The room the whole length of the bridge. became dark, except for the flickering
Sir William's guard at the tower flames under the chimney. bad not delayed that troop of riders Meg could not answer her grandlong, and they were now crossing the father, for in good faith she did not bridge at a foot's pace. Their leader, know who or what she had seen. a tall man almost unarmed, riding a Some one she had never seen before, richly trapped horse and wearing a and must see again,-yes, if all the velvet cap with young Prince Edward's armies of York and Lancaster were badge of a silver swan, was stooping between! which they were not, for wearily on his saddle when he rode her keen senses were very conscious in from the heavy country ways. of sounds below, of an honoured guest But from the middle of the bridge he arriving. He-he, whose look and looked up at the castle; and there he bearing, even at that distance, had saw the great window set suddenly taught her something she had never open, and the vision of a girl looking known—a few minutes, and he would down upon him,"like a saint from be standing in the room, talking with the windows of heaven," as he said her grandfather, looking at her once afterwards. For the full golden glory more. Was he old ? Was he young ? of the light rested upon her, and all Was he the King himself, Henry of
Lancaster, into whose dark and gentle “Mad Marlowe.” He smiled as he eyes she had looked up once as a spoke. “Oh, no danger then !” murchild? Was he one of King Arthur's mured Alice Tilney, her wild brother's knights come back from fairy-land,- partisan in secret, though in Sir Sir Launcelot, perhaps, of whom her William's presence she dared not nurse had told her the story?
name Jasper. Antonio only smiled She came silently forward, took her again. lute and touched its strings ; but she Way-worn, and wet with snow, could not sing, for her heart was Lord Marlowe was ushered into the beating so that it choked her. “It room by the old steward and the was, Grandfather,” she said, coming other servants. He was a tall slender nearer to him, “it was
a troop of man of thirty-five or thereabouts, with horse that crossed the bridge."
a slight stoop of the shoulders ; his "
" Whose men ? Not Jasper Til- face was long, brown and delicate, ney's? Was he there himself ?” with dark hazel eyes that were
He? Yes,—oh no, no, not Jasper strangely attractive and sweet, yet Tilney—a knight, a prince, a noble shining with a sort of wildness, or lord-how should I know ?” the girl rather a wistful melancholy. His said, then laughed and broke off hair, ruffled into untidy curls by the suddenly
wind, gave him a look more picThe door of the room was opened, turesque than courtly. and two servants carried in tall copper passed quickly over Sir William candlesticks, with wax candles lighted, Roden, the noble old man who was which they set down upon the table. moving to meet him with words of Then Antonio came swiftly in, with a cordial welcome, to glow with a brown side-glance at Margaret, and stood flame as he fixed them on Margaret. before his master. “Sir, the Lord She looked up half shyly under her Marlowe asks to be received by your long lashes ; he could hardly see the worship. He brings letters from my colour of the eyes they hid, but his Lady his mother."
vision of the window stood before "Ha! His Lordship is very wel- him in breathing flesh and blood, and come.”
Harry Marlowe, used to courts, tired With some difficulty Sir William of a world he knew too well, seemed lifted his stiffened limbs from his to see a lost ideal once more in this chair, and advanced a few steps to- child, as innocent as she was lovely. wards the stairs, leaning heavily on Not that he dreamed, at first, of offerhis stick, which hardly seemed supporting this country beauty, his stepenough for him. Margaret and An- mother's young protégee, anything but tonio moved forward at the same the admiration, touched with a fugitive instant to help him. Their eyes met, thrill of passion, which such a face and the Italian, as if commanded, fell must rouse in any man not stockish back suddenly and stood like a servant and a tasteless fool. But he said in the background. A pretty, fair between his teeth, to the bewildergirl slipped into the room and passed ment of those who caught the words, close to his shoulder, going round to “By heaven! too good for the wait upon Margaret. As she went, Popinjay !” she lingered long enough to breathe Courtier, even more than soldier,
“ Who is this?” and the as Harry Marlowe was, his manner young man answered in the same had the bold unconventionality of a whisper, inaudible to the others, man who cares little what his com
in his ear,
pany may think of him. Bowing low passed out one by one, leaving the end to Sir William, he addressed his first of the room in twilight; the fire words to the girl on whose arm the crackled and flamed, but neither it old Knight was leaning. “My fair nor the two high candles were enough lady, your humble servant greets you to light the large vaulted space. well,” he said. “I heard of you from Only that central group of three, far; I saw you, all crowned with gold, between the table and the fire, were leaning from the window to welcome very clearly to be seen. me,—and yet I think you had no news Sir William talked with great satisof my coming ?”
faction, and Lord Marlowe listened, “None, my Lord," said Margaret, with eyes no longer bent upon Marand she trembled; for now the strange garet ; for he was a gentleman, and hero had bent on his knee before her, would neither embarrass a lady nor and her hand lay small and warm on neglect a venerable host. In the ears his long cold fingers, and was touched of all present Sir William talked of once, twice, by eager lips that seemed his will, and of the contents of the to leave a print of fire. Mistress letter he had sent to Lady Marlowe. Margaret felt herself flushing all over It seemed an immense relief to him face and neck. The fearless young to speak of all this to the person girl was now afraid to look up, to authorised to hear, whom it really meet his eyes again, but she forced concerned, for this same Harry Marherself to one short, shy glance, and lowe was one of his executors. immediately the question thundered As he talked of his anxious wish in her brain, “ If this be only cour- to leave Margaret in safe and friendly tesy, what then is love ?” She heard keeping, Lord Marlowe kept his eyes his voice speaking to her grandfather, bent upon the ground. He hardly but did not understand what he said, looked up when he said : “But you for the very realising of his presence will live long, Sir. You surely do seemed enough for her whole being; not wish to part with Mistress Mara power, sweet yet terrible, held body garet before it is necessary? You and soul.
do not wish to commit her now to Now, after some ceremonious my mother's care? From your letter, phrases, Sir William and Lord Mar- my Lady thought that was the case, lowe sat down opposite each other, but I cannot believe it." while Margaret stood by her grand- “ 'Fore God, I hardly know what father's chair with her hand on his I wish," said the Knight with a laugh. shoulder ; for some mysterious reason "I want her safe from knaves, and the close neighbourhood of that faith- 'tis only fools that surround me. ful old love seemed the one safe place. Your co-executors, my Lord, are as
These three were not alone. Alice honest men as you will find south of Tilney, staring and laughing uneasily, the Trent; one of them is a saint, and Dame Kate, the old nurse in a indeed, and the other two have wits great hood, stood behind Margaret in enough to furnish four, but for all the shadow; and on the other side, that they are senseless fools, swallowthe dark and pale face of Antonio, ing every grain of gossip. And were with his inscrutable smile, far hand. I to die all of a sudden, as the apothesomer than the Englishman, though cary warns me I likely shall, why, I lacking bis distinction and attractive- could hardly trust these fellows to Dess, hovered like a ghost behind watch over Margaret till your mother Lord Marlowe's chair. The servants was pleased to send for her. They
are most likely to let a certain knave to his feet and made a step towards step in and carry her off, just because Sir William. "You see me, sir,” he he is a good Lancastrian, his only went on, eagerly, "your old friend's merit,-ay, Mistress Alice, I know son.
Think of me so, I beseech you, you are behind there, but a man may and not as the step-son of my Lady be on the right side and yet on the Marlowe. Let me stand alone ; and wrong-a Lancastrian and a brigand, now, let us be alone, Sir William.” eh ?"
A watchful look came into the old There was a short silence, for the Knight's eyes. The movement and Knight's words might well be hard to the words, both eccentric, the dreamy understand.
manner, as of a man walking in his "Do I follow you, Sir?” Lord sleep-all this suggested a chilly fear Marlowe asked.
that the parson might have been He lifted his eyes slowly, and there right after all, that Lord Marlowe's was an angry line across his brow. mind was not quite evenly balanced. Almost as if against his will, he found Sir William looked beyond his strange himself looking at Margaret, not at guest and met the eyes of Antonio, her grandfather, and for a moment who stooped forward into the light, the girl met steadily those wonderful his lips moving, and shook his head eyes, full of light from a world she warningly. did not know. Then apparently Harry “We are alone, my Lord, to all forgot what he was going to say, for- intents and purposes," Sir William got a momentary vexation at the hint said, with dignity. My grandthat some country fools did not believe daughter is here, the person most in the loyalty of his family, and would concerned, you cannot, I think, have step in, if they could, between Mar- that to say which she may not hear garet and the guardians her grand- -her old nurse, her trusted friend father had chosen. He spoke no Mistress Tilney, and my secretary, more, but fell into a dream. Sir who is to me as a son. Say what you William stared at him curiously. please, my Lord.” “ You, then, my Lord, are the person
“Good! then I must repeat my with authority, whom I begged her task without question,"
Harry Ladyship to send here to me?” answered very gravely, looking on the
“I am her envoy, no doubt," Lord floor. “My step-mother, after deMarlowe answered.
" As to
my bating how she could best carry out message, my mission, we are not
your wishes, instructed
me to ask alone, and I—"
Mistress Margaret Roden's hand in “You are tired and wet, I ask your marriage for mypardon for forgetting it,” said Sir “ Yourself, my Lord !" William graciously, raising himself in Where did the words come from? his chair. “Tony, show his Lordship They were spoken in a loud, strained to the guest-chamber,-tell them to whisper, which whistled on the air bring wine and meat; you are over
and almost echoed round the room. wrought, my Lord, you have ridden Every one started, and looked at far. In the meanwhile, did I not someone else, every one, except hear something of letters from my Lord Marlowe. He stopped short for Lady Marlowe?"
a moment, then ended his sentence Ah, letters, — pardon me !" with the word, "Myself !” Harry's fingers wandered to his pouch, The sensation in the room but did not open it. He rose suddenly extraordinary; the very silence