Page images
PDF
EPUB

storm in that haughty breast, when the fitting time came. The time had not yet come for Mr. Mildmay.

Nay, my lord,' he said, ' who can doubt that Lady Deverill loves you with all the ardour of a youthful heart ?

You will say perhaps that you are many years her senior, but you have gifts of mind and person that fully counterbalance any disparity of that kind.'

Carefully as he had spoken, he had said too much. His patron turned upon him fiercely.

Nay, Master Mildmay, I did not ask you for an analysis of my claims upon my wife's affection. I was but angry with her for her pensive looks to-night, which ill became so gay an assembly.'

* Lady Deverill may perchance have pensive memories of her girlhood,' pleaded the secretary, unabashed by his kinsman's reproof. * There are sad memories which will intrude even amid the mirth and music of a revel.'

• Argue the point no farther, Algernon,' said my lord. I did wrong to speak unkindly of my wife in your presence. Poor child, she has done little to deserve my chiding. She is meek and obedient in all things.'

Meek and obedient! Yes, but did she love him? That was the unanswerable question for ever lurking in the depths of Lord Deverill's mind, like some monster of the briny deep floating dimly beneath dark still waters, shapeless, obscure, and horrible.

Dotard !' muttered Algernon Mildmay, as he left the house that night ; how long is this infatuation to last ?

CHAPTER III.

MY LADY'S CONFESSOR. It was not very long after this when Lord Deverill had occasion to leave England on a mission to Paris ; a mission involving some private business of the king's, the payment of moneys borrowed during his majesty's exile, some gossips about the court said ; but the messenger himself preserved an inscrutable silence even to his wife, who had, in truth, small curiosity about state matters, but seemed dejected at the thought of her lord's departure.

'I shall be lonely and dull without you, George,' she said in her soft voice, clinging to him tenderly as he was about to leave the house.

He looked down at her, wondering, always wondering whether this tenderness of hers were real. Nature had cursed him with a suspicious mind, not easily to be lulled to rest. The sweet look in those blue eyes went straight to his heart-and yet, and yet-it would be an easy matter for a woman to pretend as much as that, for the sake of a coronet, and a vast fortune, and the chance of being left by and by a wealthy widow, still in the bloom of youth.

[ocr errors]

He looked down at her, loving her with all his might, and yet not able to banish that doubt of her which was a part of his very nature.

Nay, child,' he answered gently, you will have all you care for - your books, your colour-box, and harpsichord.'

'I shall not have you,' she said, laying the fair young head with its rippling shower of pale golden curls upon his breast.

He sighed—a deep long sigh, kissed her on the brow, and put her gently from him. As he did so the door opened, and Algernon Mildmay appeared on the threshold.

• The boatmen are ready, my lord,' he said; and the vessel sails for France in little more than an hour. Of course they will wait for your lordship, but the tide will serve them best then.

I am ready,' Lord Deverill answered.
But his wife drew him aside into the embrasure of the window.

* Will your secretary be here in your absence, George ?' she asked in a low voice.

Why, of course, Alice; he will be free of the house. He has business to do that will keep him a good deal in my room downstairs.'

'I am sorry for that.'
• Why, child? He will not intrude upon you.'

I know that. And I know it is an idle fancy—a wicked one, perhaps—that makes me dislike his presence, yes, even the idea that he is in the same house with me. Forgive me, George. And he is your kinsman too, and I am bound to like him; yet I cannot tell you what a strange fear I have of him; as if I saw it written on his face, that he is destined to work some evil against me. I have felt it from the very first hour I saw him, though I have never dared speak of it till now: but now you are going away, and I am to be left all alone, my heart sinks at the thought that he will be near me.'

• Nay, Alice, this is the most childish piece of folly; I am vexed that my wife should harbour such a silly prejudice. The young man is of my own blood, an honest gentleman, and very faithful to me, if that be any merit in your sight.'

If

you love him, and can trust him, I am content,' Lady Deverill answered with a faint sigh. · Yes, I doubt not my prejudice is foolish. But women and children have such fancies often, and they are sometimes right.'

Farewell, Alice; I have no leisure to talk of this nonsense.'

And so they parted; the young wife sad at heart, the husband disturbed and irritated by his parting interview.

Had he any reason to doubt Mildmay's fidelity, he asked himself, as the rowers carried him swiftly down the stream. Nay, he had known the young man from his childhood, and had ever found

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

him faithful and affectionate. Self-interest might have something to do with his fidelity, it is true ; but what action or what sentiment in life is not governed more or less by self-interest ? Lord Deverill did not believe in affection without a motive, or in gratitude for past favours unmingled with the hope of benefits to come.

Mildmay knows that it is in my power to advance his prospects,' he said to himself. It is not likely that he would be unfaithful to me, or discourteous to my wife. And, in any case, he is a useful watch-dog; and will see that no court fops hang about Alice in my absence.

Lord Deverill was away something less than a month. The mission he had been charged with was a delicate one, involving negotiations of some length; and it was business only, and not the charm of the French capital, which kept George Deverill so long away from his wife. He wrote to her twice during his absence; but she wrote to him several times—long letters full of girlish prattle about the trifles which made her life, and breathing boundless love for her husband.

The hour came at last, a sultry sunless twilight late in July, when the rowers went up the stream with the returning traveller. He had sent no notice of his coming home, preferring to drop unawares upon his household, and to surprise his wife, pleasantly perhaps, pleasantly without doubt, if there were truth in those loving letters of hers. A strange eagerness to return to her had come upon him within the last day or two, an almost feverish haste and impatience; and as he drew nearer to the end of his journey that inward fever grew stronger, till it became a kind of agony.

It was an oppressive evening, a white mist brooding over the river, and almost blotting out the tall pointed roofs and slender steeples of the city; not a breath of air stirring, and a sickly yellow light upon the water, instead of the rosy glow of sunset. Such an atmosphere was enough to give a man a fever, Lord Deverill said to himself, anxious to account for that fierce heat and burning in his blood. The light wherry shot in to the shore at last, and one, of the men moored it to the lion's mouth, beside the stone landingstair. There was another boat fastened there, with a man sitting in it fast asleep, at whom my lord stared wonderingly, not caring, however, to rouse and question him. He could learn all he wanted to know within.

There was a light in my lady's favourite chamber—a single lamp, which had a pale yellow radiance in the twilight--and the sound of music floated through the open window. George Deverill went quickly up the first flight of the narrow staircase with a light step, but half way up he stopped suddenly, and his face grew dark as midnight.

Mingled with the sound of the harpsichord there came to him

[ocr errors]

two voices; one his wife's dear soprano, the other a tenor voice that was strange to him.

So my wife has company,' he said to himself angrily, and demonstrates her sorrow for her husband's absence by singing loveditties with some strange cavalier ! There was no hint of this in her letters.'

He listened for a few moments, creeping stealthily upwards till he was close to the little door in the tapestried wall; an ill-made door, with cracks wide enough to enable a spy to see all that was taking place within the chamber.

The music had ceased. There was no little crowd of gay company in the room, such as George Deverill had expected to see. There was no one but his wife, who sat facing him, with her white arms folded listlessly upon the closed harpsichord, and a young man in a priest's dress—a young man with a fair perfect face and flowing chestnut hair—who stood by her side, leaning with one elbow on the instrument, and looking down at her in thoughtful silence.

It was a simple group enough, and would have made a graceful unmeaning subject for a painter of interiors; but the sight, simple as it was, set George Deverill's heart beating with a murderous fury. They might have heard the throbbing, he thought, these two, had they not been so absorbed in the guilty delight of each other's company.

Guilty? Yes, Lord Deverill had no doubt of his wife's guilt. Perhaps he had always expected some such horror as this. In any case he met the calamity half way. This secret meeting—for secret he had no doubt it was; the priest's costume—a disguise, of course. Was there not evidence enough of his dishonour? To him it seemed indisputable as the midday sun, palpable as the earth upon which he trod.

He stood still as death at the door, looking in upon the lighted chamber through the open space beneath the clumsy upper hinge.

· And you must really return to Holland, Edward ?' Alice asked anxiously.

'Ay, dearest, there is no help for it,' the young man answered with a sigh ; "I have a home and a position yonder ; here I am nothing, less than nothing; a standing shame and reproach in the eyes of one you know of. 'Tis hard to part from the one fond creature who loves me; but it would be harder to remain, and hang about you, and be nothing to you, disowned and nameless.'

Alice Deverill sighed, and for some moments remained silent, playing idly with the trinkets hanging on her jewelled châtelainea gift from him, the outraged husband, who stood at the door watching her, with fatal thoughts busy in his brain.

• When must you start, Edward ?' she asked presently.

• To-morrow night. There is a vessel sails for Rotterdam after midnight; I have made my plans to travel by that.'

6

• Shall I see you no more, then ?

Nay, dearest. If it be safe, I will come to you to-morrow at the usual hour.'

• For the last time. And we shall never more sing the old duets that my father was so fond of in the happy days at Treherne Court. It was a foolish fancy of mine to wish to sing one of our old favourites with you to-night, was it not, Edward ?'

Rather an imprudent fancy, I own,' the young man answered, smiling. 'Your servants would be set wondering, if they heard you singing duets with your father confessor.'

Her father confessor! Yes, the priest's frock was a disguise ; there was no trace of the tonsure on that fair

young

head. This man was some early lover of Alice Treherne’s, some one to whom she had given her heart, but who had been too poor to claim her for his wife.

• She wanted a wealthy dupe,' George Deverill said to himself ; 6 and she found one. Once furnished with a rich husband, 'twas easy to retain the favoured lover. O God, to think that smooth fair face I have idolised is but the mask of a foul false heart!'

* The servants' quarters are too remote for them to overhear us,' said Alice. · And you will come to-morrow, at the usual hour, Edward ?' · Yes, dearest. I suppose there is no chance of your

husband's return before then ?'

“I think not. There has been no letter to announce his coming. And even if he met you, your sacred character would prevent anything like curiosity.

• I suppose so. Good-night, my bright one.'

He took her in his arms and kissed her, with the calm air of a man to whom that embrace was a matter of course, and Alice accepted his kiss with the same air. Between lovers of such old standing it was naturally so. Lord Deverill gripped his swordhilt. Should he spring out upon him and slay him as he stood there ? No; he must needs have a darker vengeance than that. And what was he, this nameless adventurer ? Dirt, to be spurned with his foot by and by. It was she-she, the traitress—with whom he had to settle his account first.

• To-morrow will be time enough,' he said to himself.

Alice opened a little casket of curious Venetian work, and took out a heap of gold, which she pressed upon her lover.

• Nay, Edward, I know that you must want money,' she said, as he tried to refuse it ; and you need have no scruple in accepting this paltry gold. You cannot imagine how rich I am. My husband loads me with favours. And now, good-night; for I see you are in a hurry to be gone.'

He kissed her again, and they both came towards the tapestried

« PreviousContinue »