Read CHAPTER IV - THE GOLDEN HEART of Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, free online book, by Charles Major, on

The day after Dorothy’s first meeting with Manners at Overhaddon she was restless and nervous, and about the hour of three in the afternoon she mounted Dolcy and rode toward Bakewell. That direction, I was sure, she took for the purpose of misleading us at the Hall, and I felt confident she would, when once out of sight, head her mare straight for Overhaddon. Within an hour Dorothy was home again, and very ill-tempered.

The next day she rode out in the morning. I asked her if I should ride with her, and the emphatic “No” with which she answered me left no room for doubt in my mind concerning her desire for my company or her destination. Again she returned within an hour and hurried to her apartments. Shortly afterward Madge asked me what Dorothy was weeping about; and although in my own mind I was confident of the cause of Dorothy’s tears, I, of course, did not give Madge a hint of my suspicion. Yet I then knew, quite as well as I now know, that John, notwithstanding the important business which he said would bring him to Overhaddon every day, had forced himself to remain at home, and Dorothy, in consequence, suffered from anger and wounded pride. She had twice ridden to Overhaddon to meet him. She had done for his sake that which she knew she should have left undone, and he had refused the offering. A smarting conscience, an aching heart, and a breast full of anger were Dorothy’s rewards for her evil doing. The day after her second futile trip to Overhaddon, I, to test her, spoke of John. She turned upon me with the black look of a fury, and hurled her words at me.

“Never again speak his despised name in my hearing. Curse him and his whole race.”

“Now what has he been doing?” I asked.

“I tell you, I will not speak of him, nor will I listen to you,” and she dashed away from me like a fiery whirlwind.

Four or five days later the girl rode out again upon Dolcy. She was away from home for four long hours, and when she returned she was so gentle, sweet, and happy that she was willing to kiss every one in the household from Welch, the butcher, to Sir George. She was radiant. She clung to Madge and to me, and sang and romped through the house like Dorothy of old.

Madge said, “I am so glad you are feeling better, Dorothy.” Then, speaking to me: “She has been ill for several days. She could not sleep.”

Dorothy looked quickly over to me, gave a little shrug to her shoulders, bent forward her face, which was red with blushing, and kissed Madge lingeringly upon the lips.

The events of Dorothy’s trip I soon learned from her.

The little scene between Dorothy, Madge, and myself, after Dorothy’s joyful return, occurred a week before the momentous conversation between Sir George and me concerning my union with his house. Ten days after Sir George had offered me his daughter and his lands, he brought up the subject again. He and I were walking on the ridge of Bowling Green Hill.

“I am glad you are making such fair progress with Doll,” said Sir George. “Have you yet spoken to her upon the subject?”

I was surprised to hear that I had made any progress. In fact, I did not know that I had taken a single step. I was curious to learn in what the progress consisted, so I said:

“I have not spoken to Dorothy yet concerning the marriage, and I fear that I have made no progress at all. She certainly is friendly enough to me, but ”

“I should say that the gift from you she exhibited would indicate considerable progress,” said Sir George, casting an expressive glance toward me.

“What gift?” I stupidly inquired.

“The golden heart, you rascal. She said you told her it had belonged to your mother.”

“Holy Mother of Truth!” thought I, “pray give your especial care to my cousin Dorothy. She needs it.”

Sir George thrust at my side with his thumb and continued:

“Don’t deny it, Malcolm. Damme, you are as shy as a boy in this matter. But perhaps you know better than I how to go at her. I was thinking only the other day that your course was probably the right one. Doll, I suspect, has a dash of her old father’s temper, and she may prove a little troublesome unless we let her think she is having her own way. Oh, there is nothing like knowing how to handle them, Malcolm. Just let them think they are having their own way and and save trouble. Doll may have more of her father in her than I suspect, and perhaps it is well for us to move slowly. You will be able to judge, but you must not move too slowly. If in the end she should prove stubborn, we will break her will or break her neck. I would rather have a daughter in Bakewell churchyard than a wilful, stubborn, disobedient huzzy in Haddon Hall.”

Sir George had been drinking, and my slip concerning the gift passed unnoticed by him.

“I am sure you well know how to proceed in this matter, but don’t be too cautious, Malcolm; the best woman living loves to be stormed.”

“Trust me,” I answered, “I shall speak ” and my words unconsciously sank away to thought, as thought often, and inconveniently at times, grows into words.

“Dorothy, Dorothy,” said the thoughts again and again, “where came you by the golden heart?” and “where learned you so villanously to lie?”

“From love,” was the response, whispered by the sighing winds. “From love, that makes men and women like unto gods and teaches them the tricks of devils.” “From love,” murmured the dry rustling leaves and the rugged trees. “From love,” sighed the fleecy clouds as they floated in the sweet restful azure of the vaulted sky. “From love,” cried the mighty sun as he poured his light and heat upon the eager world to give it life. I would not give a fig for a woman, however, who would not lie herself black in the face for the sake of her lover, and I am glad that it is a virtue few women lack. One who would scorn to lie under all other circumstances would but you understand. I suppose that Dorothy had never before uttered a real lie. She hated all that was evil and loved all that was good till love came a-teaching.

I quickly invented an excuse to leave Sir George, and returned to the Hall to seek Dorothy. I found her and asked her to accompany me for a few minutes that I might speak with her privately. We went out upon the terrace and I at once began:

“You should tell me when I present you gifts that I may not cause trouble by my ignorance nor show surprise when I suddenly learn what I have done. You see when a man gives a lady a gift and he does not know it, he is apt to ”

“Holy Virgin!” exclaimed Dorothy, pale with fear and consternation. “Did you ”

“No, I did not betray you, but I came perilously near it.”

“I I wanted to tell you about it. I tried several times to do so I did so long to tell somebody, but I could not bring myself to speak. I was full of shame, yet I was proud and happy, for all that happened was good and pure and sacred. You are not a woman; you cannot know ”

“But I do know. I know that you saw Manners the other day, and that he gave you a golden heart.”

“How did you know? Did any one ”

“Tell me? No. I knew it when you returned after five hours’ absence, looking radiant as the sun.”

“Oh!” the girl exclaimed, with a startled movement.

“I also knew,” I continued, “that at other times when you rode out upon Dolcy you had not seen him.”

“How did you know?” she asked, with quick-coming breath.

“By your ill-humor,” I answered.

“I knew it was so. I felt that everybody knew all that I had been doing. I could almost see father and Madge and you even the servants reading the wickedness written upon my heart. I knew that I could hide it from nobody.” Tears were very near the girl’s eyes.

“We cannot help thinking that our guilty consciences, through which we see so plainly our own evil, are transparent to all the world. In that fact lies an evil-doer’s greatest danger,” said I, preacher fashion; “but you need have no fear. What you have done I believe is suspected by no one save me.”

A deep sigh of relief rose from the girl’s heaving breast.

“Well,” she began, “I will tell you all about it, and I am only too glad to do so. It is heavy, Malcolm, heavy on my conscience. But I would not be rid of it for all the kingdoms of the earth.”

“A moment since you told me that your conduct was good and pure and sacred, and now you tell me that it is heavy on your conscience. Does one grieve, Dorothy, for the sake of that which is good and pure and sacred?”

“I cannot answer your question,” she replied. “I am no priest. But this I know: I have done no evil, and my conscience nevertheless is sore. Solve me the riddle, Malcolm, if you can.”

“I cannot solve your riddle, Dorothy,” I replied; “but I feel sure it will be far safer for each of us if you will tell me all that happens hereafter.”

“I am sure you are right,” she responded; “but some secrets are so delicious that we love to suck their sweets alone. I believe, however, your advice is good, and I will tell you all that has happened, though I cannot look you in the face while doing it.” She hesitated a moment, and her face was red with tell-tale blushes. She continued, “I have acted most unmaidenly.”

“Unmaidenly perhaps, but not unwomanly,” said I.

“I thank you,” she said, interrupting my sentence. It probably was well that she did so, for I was about to add, “To act womanly often means to get yourself into mischief and your friends into as much trouble as possible.” Had I finished my remark, she would not have thanked me.

“Well,” said the girl, beginning her laggard narrative, “after we saw saw him at Overhaddon, you know, I went to the village on each of three days ”

“Yes, I know that also,” I said.

“How did you but never mind. I did not see him, and when I returned home I felt angry and hurt and and but never mind that either. One day I found him, and I at once rode to the well where he was standing by his horse. He drew water for Dolcy, but the perverse mare would not drink.”

“A characteristic of her sex,” I muttered.

“What did you say?” asked the girl.


She continued: “He seemed constrained and distant in his manner, but I knew, that is, I thought I mean I felt oh, you know he looked as if he were glad to see me and I I, oh, God! I was so glad and happy to see him that I could hardly restrain myself to act at all maidenly. He must have heard my heart beat. I thought he was in trouble. He seemed to have something he wished to say to me.”

“He doubtless had a great deal he wished to say to you,” said I, again tempted to futile irony.

“I was sure he had something to say,” the girl returned seriously. “He was in trouble. I knew that he was, and I longed to help him.”

“What trouble?” I inquired.

“Oh, I don’t know. I forgot to ask, but he looked troubled.”

“Doubtless he was troubled,” I responded. “He had sufficient cause for trouble,” I finished the sentence to myself with the words, “in you.”

“What was the cause of his trouble?” she hastily asked, turning her face toward me.

“I do not know certainly,” I answered in a tone of irony which should have pierced an oak board, while the girl listened and looked at me eagerly; “but I might guess.”

“What was it? What was it? Let me hear you guess,” she asked.

“You,” I responded laconically.

“I!” she exclaimed in surprise.

“Yes, you,” I responded with emphasis. “You would bring trouble to any man, but to Sir John Manners well, if he intends to keep up these meetings with you it would be better for his peace and happiness that he should get him a house in hell, for he would live there more happily than on this earth.”

“That is a foolish, senseless remark, Malcolm,” the girl replied, tossing her head with a show of anger in her eyes. “This is no time to jest.” I suppose I could not have convinced her that I was not jesting.

“At first we did not speak to each other even to say good day, but stood by the well in silence for a very long time. The village people were staring at us, and I felt that every window had a hundred faces in it, and every face a hundred eyes.”

“You imagined that,” said I, “because of your guilty conscience.”

“Perhaps so. But it seemed to me that we stood by the well in silence a very long time. You see, Cousin Malcolm, I was not the one who should speak first. I had done more than my part in going to meet him.”

“Decidedly so,” said I, interrupting the interesting narrative.

“When I could bear the gaze of the villagers no longer, I drew up my reins and started to leave The Open by the north road. After Dolcy had climbed halfway up North Hill, which as you know overlooks the village, I turned my head and saw Sir John still standing by the well, resting his hand upon his horse’s mane. He was watching me. I grew angry, and determined that he should follow me, even if I had to call him. So I drew Dolcy to a stand. Was not that bold in me? But wait, there is worse to come, Malcolm. He did not move, but stood like a statue looking toward me. I knew that he wanted to come, so after a little time I I beckoned to him and and then he came like a thunderbolt. Oh! it was delicious. I put Dolcy to a gallop, for when he started toward me I was frightened. Besides I did not want him to overtake me till we were out of the village. But when once he had started, he did not wait. He was as swift now as he had been slow, and my heart throbbed and triumphed because of his eagerness, though in truth I was afraid of him. Dolcy, you know, is very fleet, and when I touched her with the whip she soon put half a mile between me and the village. Then I brought her to a walk and and he quickly overtook me.

“When he came up to me he said: ’I feared to follow you, though I ardently wished to do so. I dreaded to tell you my name lest you should hate me. Sir Malcolm at The Peacock said he would not disclose to you my identity. I am John Manners. Our fathers are enemies.’

“Then I said to him, ’That is the reason I wish to talk to you. I wished you to come to meet me because I wanted to tell you that I regret and deplore the feud between our fathers.’ ’Ah, you wished me to come?’ he asked. ’Of course I did,’ I answered, ’else why should I be here?’ ’No one regrets the feud between our houses so deeply as I,’ replied Sir John. ’I can think of nothing else by day, nor can I dream of anything else by night. It is the greatest cause for grief and sorrow that has ever come into my life.’ You see, Cousin Malcolm,” the girl continued, “I was right. His father’s conduct does trouble him. Isn’t he noble and broad-minded to see the evil of his father’s ways?”

I did not tell the girl that Sir John’s regret for the feud between the houses of Manners and Vernon grew out of the fact that it separated him from her; nor did I tell her that he did not grieve over his “father’s ways.”

I asked, “Did Sir John tell you that he grieved because of his father’s ill-doing?”

“N-o, not in set terms, but that, of course, would have been very hard for him to say. I told you what he said, and there could be no other meaning to his words.”

“Of course not,” I responded.

“No, and I fairly longed to reach out my hand and clutch him, because because I was so sorry for him.”

“Was sorrow your only feeling?” I asked.

The girl looked at me for a moment, and her eyes filled with tears. Then she sobbed gently and said, “Oh, Cousin Malcolm, you are so old and so wise.” ("Thank you,” thought I, “a second Daniel come to judgment at thirty-five; or Solomon and Methuselah in one.”) She continued: “Tell me, tell me, what is this terrible thing that has come upon me. I seem to be living in a dream. I am burning with a fever, and a heavy weight is here upon my breast. I cannot sleep at night. I can do nothing but long and yearn for for I know not what till at times it seems that some frightful, unseen monster is slowly drawing the heart out of my bosom. I think of of him at all times, and I try to recall his face, and the tones of his voice until, Cousin Malcolm, I tell you I am almost mad. I call upon the Holy Virgin hour by hour to pity me; but she is pure, and cannot know what I feel. I hate and loathe myself. To what am I coming? Where will it all end? Yet I can do nothing to save myself. I am powerless against this terrible feeling. I cannot even resolve to resist it. It came upon me mildly that day at The Peacock Inn, when I first saw him, and it grows deeper and stronger day by day, and, alas! night by night. I seem to have lost myself. In some strange way I feel as if I had sunk into him that he had absorbed me.”

“The iron, the seed, the cloud, and the rain,” thought I.

“I believed,” continued the girl, “that if he would exert his will I might have relief; but there again I find trouble, for I cannot bring myself to ask him to will it. The feeling within me is like a sore heart: painful as it is, I must keep it. Without it I fear I could not live.”

After this outburst there was a long pause during which she walked by my side, seemingly unconscious that I was near her. I had known for some time that Dorothy was interested in Manners; but I was not prepared to see such a volcano of passion. I need not descant upon the evils and dangers of the situation. The thought that first came to me was that Sir George would surely kill his daughter before he would allow her to marry a son of Rutland. I was revolving in my mind how I should set about to mend the matter when Dorothy again spoke.

“Tell me, Cousin Malcolm, can a man throw a spell over a woman and bewitch her?”

“I do not know. I have never heard of a man witch,” I responded.

“No?” asked the girl.

“But,” I continued, “I do know that a woman may bewitch a man. John Manners, I doubt not, could also testify knowingly on the subject by this time.”

“Oh, do you think he is bewitched?” cried Dorothy, grasping my arm and looking eagerly into my face. “If I could bewitch him, I would do it. I would deal with the devil gladly to learn the art. I would not care for my soul. I do not fear the future. The present is a thousand-fold dearer to me than either the past or the future. I care not what comes hereafter. I want him now. Ah, Malcolm, pity my shame.”

She covered her face with her hands, and after a moment continued: “I am not myself. I belong not to myself. But if I knew that he also suffers, I do believe my pain would be less.”

“I think you may set your heart at rest upon that point,” I answered. “He, doubtless, also suffers.”

“I hope so,” she responded, unconscious of the selfish wish she had expressed. “If he does not, I know not what will be my fate.”

I saw that I had made a mistake in assuring her that John also suffered, and I determined to correct it later on, if possible.

Dorothy was silent, and I said, “You have not told me about the golden heart.”

“I will tell you,” she answered. “We rode for two hours or more, and talked of the weather and the scenery, until there was nothing more to be said concerning either. Then Sir John told me of the court in London, where he has always lived, and of the queen whose hair, he says, is red, but not at all like mine. I wondered if he would speak of the beauty of my hair, but he did not. He only looked at it. Then he told me about the Scottish queen whom he once met when he was on an embassy to Edinburgh. He described her marvellous beauty, and I believe he sympathizes with her cause that is, with her cause in Scotland. He says she has no good cause in England. He is true to our queen. Well well he talked so interestingly that I could have listened a whole month yes, all my life.”

“I suppose you could,” I said.

“Yes,” she continued, “but I could not remain longer from home, and when I left him he asked me to accept a keepsake which had belonged to his mother, as a token that there should be no feud between him and me.” And she drew from her bosom a golden heart studded with diamonds and pierced by a white silver arrow.

“I, of course, accepted it, then we said ‘good-by,’ and I put Dolcy to a gallop that she might speedily take me out of temptation.”

“Have you ridden to Overhaddon for the purpose of seeing Manners many times since he gave you the heart?” I queried.

“What would you call ’many times’?” she asked, drooping her head.

“Every day?” I said interrogatively. She nodded. “Yes. But I have seen him only once since the day when he gave me the heart.”

Nothing I could say would do justice to the subject, so I remained silent.

“But you have not yet told me how your father came to know of the golden heart,” I said.

“It was this way: One morning while I was looking at the heart, father came upon me suddenly before I could conceal it. He asked me to tell him how I came by the jewel, and in my fright and confusion I could think of nothing else to say, so I told him you had given it to me. He promised not to speak to you about the heart, but he did not keep his word. He seemed pleased.”

“Doubtless he was pleased,” said I, hoping to lead up to the subject so near to Sir George’s heart, but now farther than ever from mine.

The girl unsuspectingly helped me.

“Father asked if you had spoken upon a subject of great interest to him and to yourself, and I told him you had not. ‘When he does speak,’ said father most kindly, ’I want you to grant his request’ and I will grant it, Cousin Malcolm.” She looked in my face and continued: “I will grant your request, whatever it may be. You are the dearest friend I have in the world, and mine is the most loving and lovable father that girl ever had. It almost breaks my heart when I think of his suffering should he learn of what I have done that which I just told to you.” She walked beside me meditatively for a moment and said, “To-morrow I will return Sir John’s gift and I will never see him again.”

I felt sure that by to-morrow she would have repented of her repentance; but I soon discovered that I had given her much more time than she needed to perform that trifling feminine gymnastic, for with the next breath she said:

“I have no means of returning the heart. I must see him once more and I will give give it it back to to him, and will tell him that I can see him never again.” She scarcely had sufficient resolution to finish telling her intention. Whence, then, would come the will to put it in action? Forty thieves could not have stolen the heart from her, though she thought she was honest when she said she would take it to him.

“Dorothy,” said I, seriously but kindly, “have you and Sir John spoken of ”

She evidently knew that I meant to say “of love,” for she interrupted me.

“N-o, but surely he knows. And I I think at least I hope with all my heart that ”

“I will take the heart to Sir John,” said I, interrupting her angrily, “and you need not see him again. He has acted like a fool and a knave. He is a villain, Dorothy, and I will tell him as much in the most emphatic terms I have at my command.”

“Dare you speak against him or to him upon the subject!” she exclaimed, her eyes blazing with anger; “you you asked for my confidence and I gave it. You said I might trust you and I did so, and now you show me that I am a fool indeed. Traitor!”

“My dear cousin,” said I, seeing that she spoke the truth in charging me with bad faith, “your secret is safe with me. I swear it by my knighthood. You may trust me. I spoke in anger. But Sir John has acted badly. That you cannot gainsay. You, too, have done great evil. That also you cannot gainsay.”

“No,” said the girl, dejectedly, “I cannot deny it; but the greatest evil is yet to come.”

“You must do something,” I continued. “You must take some decisive step that will break this connection, and you must take the step at once if you would save yourself from the frightful evil that is in store for you. Forgive me for what I said, sweet cousin. My angry words sprang from my love for you and my fear for your future.”

No girl’s heart was more tender to the influence of kindness than Dorothy’s. No heart was more obdurate to unkindness or peremptory command.

My words softened her at once, and she tried to smother the anger I had aroused. But she did not entirely succeed, and a spark remained which in a moment or two created a disastrous conflagration. You shall hear.

She walked by my side in silence for a little time, and then spoke in a low, slightly sullen tone which told of her effort to smother her resentment.

“I do trust you, Cousin Malcolm. What is it that you wish to ask of me? Your request is granted before it is made.”

“Do not be too sure of that, Dorothy,” I replied. “It is a request your father ardently desires me to make, and I do not know how to speak to you concerning the subject in the way I wish.”

I could not ask her to marry me, and tell her with the same breath that I did not want her for my wife. I felt I must wait for a further opportunity to say that I spoke only because her father had required me to do so, and that circumstances forced me to put the burden of refusal upon her. I well knew that she would refuse me, and then I intended to explain.

“Why, what is it all about?” asked the girl in surprise, suspecting, I believe, what was to follow.

“It is this: your father is anxious that his vast estates shall not pass out of the family name, and he wishes you to be my wife, so that your children may bear the loved name of Vernon.”

I could not have chosen a more inauspicious time to speak. She looked at me for an instant in surprise, turning to scorn. Then she spoke in tones of withering contempt.

“Tell my father that I shall never bear a child by the name of Vernon. I would rather go barren to my grave. Ah! that is why Sir John Manners is a villain? That is why a decisive step should be taken? That is why you come to my father’s house a-fortune-hunting? After you have squandered your patrimony and have spent a dissolute youth in profligacy, after the women of the class you have known will have no more of you but choose younger men, you who are old enough to be my father come here and seek your fortune, as your father sought his, by marriage. I do not believe that my father wishes me to to marry you. You have wheedled him into giving his consent when he was in his cups. But even if he wished it with all his heart, I would not marry you.” Then she turned and walked rapidly toward the Hall.

Her fierce words angered me; for in the light of my real intentions her scorn was uncalled for, and her language was insulting beyond endurance. For a moment or two the hot blood rushed to my brain and rendered me incapable of intelligent thought. But as Dorothy walked from me I realized that something must be done at once to put myself right with her. When my fit of temper had cooled, and when I considered that the girl did not know my real intentions, I could not help acknowledging that in view of all that had just passed between us concerning Sir John Manners, and, in fact, in view of all that she had seen and could see, her anger was justifiable.

I called to her: “Dorothy, wait a moment. You have not heard all I have to say.”

She hastened her pace. A few rapid strides brought me to her side. I was provoked, not at her words, for they were almost justifiable, but because she would not stop to hear me. I grasped her rudely by the arm and said:

“Listen till I have finished.”

“I will not,” she answered viciously. “Do not touch me.”

I still held her by the arm and said: “I do not wish to marry you. I spoke only because your father desired me to do so, and because my refusal to speak would have offended him beyond any power of mine to make amends. I could not tell you that I did not wish you for my wife until you had given me an opportunity. I was forced to throw the burden of refusal upon you.”

“That is but a ruse a transparent, flimsy ruse,” responded the stubborn, angry girl, endeavoring to draw her arm from my grasp.

“It is not a ruse,” I answered. “If you will listen to me and will help me by acting as I suggest, we may between us bring your father to our way of thinking, and I may still be able to retain his friendship.”

“What is your great plan?” asked Dorothy, in a voice such as one might expect to hear from a piece of ice.

“I have formed no plan as yet,” I replied, “although I have thought of several. Until we can determine upon one, I suggest that you permit me to say to your father that I have asked you to be my wife, and that the subject has come upon you so suddenly that you wish a short time, a fortnight or a month in which to consider your answer.”

“That is but a ruse, I say, to gain time,” she answered contemptuously. “I do not wish one moment in which to consider. You already have my answer. I should think you had had enough. Do you desire more of the same sort? A little of such treatment should go a long way with a man possessed of one spark of honor or self-respect.”

Her language would have angered a sheep.

“If you will not listen to me,” I answered, thoroughly aroused and careless of consequences, “go to your father. Tell him I asked you to be my wife, and that you scorned my suit. Then take the consequences. He has always been gentle and tender to you because there has been no conflict. Cross his desires, and you will learn a fact of which you have never dreamed. You have seen the manner in which he treats others who oppose him. You will learn that with you, too, he can be one of the cruelest and most violent of men.”

“You slander my father. I will go to him as you advise and will tell him that I would not marry you if you wore the English crown. I, myself, will tell him of my meeting with Sir John Manners rather than allow you the pleasure of doing so. He will be angry, but he will pity me.”

“For God’s sake, Dorothy, do not tell your father of your meetings at Overhaddon. He would kill you. Have you lived in the same house with him all these years and do you not better know his character than to think that you may go to him with the tale you have just told me, and that he will forgive you? Feel as you will toward me, but believe me when I swear to you by my knighthood that I will betray to no person what you have this day divulged to me.”

Dorothy made no reply, but turned from me and rapidly walked toward the Hall. I followed at a short distance, and all my anger was displaced by fear for her. When we reached the Hall she quickly sought her father and approached him in her old free manner, full of confidence in her influence over him.

“Father, this man” waving her hand toward me “has come to Haddon Hall a-fortune-hunting. He has asked me to be his wife, and says you wish me to accept him.”

“Yes, Doll, I certainly wish it with all my heart,” returned Sir George, affectionately, taking his daughter’s hand.

“Then you need wish it no longer, for I will not marry him.”

“What?” demanded her father, springing to his feet.

“I will not. I will not. I will not.”

“You will if I command you to do so, you damned insolent wench,” answered Sir George, hoarsely. Dorothy’s eyes opened in wonder.

“Do not deceive yourself, father, for one moment,” she retorted contemptuously. “He has come here in sheep’s clothing and has adroitly laid his plans to convince you that I should marry him, but ”

“He has done nothing of the sort,” answered Sir George, growing more angry every moment, but endeavoring to be calm. “Nothing of the sort. Many years ago I spoke to him on this subject, which is very dear to my heart. The project has been dear to me ever since you were a child. When I again broached it to Malcolm a fortnight or more since I feared from his manner that he was averse to the scheme. I had tried several times to speak to him about it, but he warded me off, and when I did speak, I feared that he was not inclined to it.”

“Yes,” interrupted the headstrong girl, apparently bent upon destroying both of us. “He pretended that he did not wish to marry me. He said he wished me to give a sham consent for the purpose of gaining time till we might hit upon some plan by which we could change your mind. He said he had no desire nor intention to marry me. It was but a poor, lame ruse on his part.”

During Dorothy’s recital Sir George turned his face from her to me. When she had finished speaking, he looked at me for a moment and said:

“Does my daughter speak the truth? Did you say ”

“Yes,” I promptly replied, “I have no intention of marrying your daughter.” Then hoping to place myself before Sir George in a better light, I continued: “I could not accept the hand of a lady against her will. I told you as much when we conversed on the subject.”

“What?” exclaimed Sir George, furious with anger. “You too? You whom I have befriended?”

“I told you, Sir George, I would not marry Dorothy without her free consent. No gentleman of honor would accept the enforced compliance of a woman.”

“But Doll says that you told her you had no intention of marrying her even should she consent,” replied Sir George.

“I don’t know that I spoke those exact words,” I replied, “but you may consider them said.”

“You damned, ungrateful, treacherous hound!” stormed Sir George. “You listened to me when I offered you my daughter’s hand, and you pretended to consent without at the time having any intention of doing so.”

“That, I suppose, is true, Sir George,” said I, making a masterful effort against anger. “That is true, for I knew that Dorothy would not consent; and had I been inclined to the marriage, I repeat, I would marry no woman against her will. No gentleman would do it.”

My remark threw Sir George into a paroxysm of rage.

“I did it, you cur, you dog, you you traitorous, ungrateful I did it.”

“Then, Sir George,” said I, interrupting him, for I was no longer able to restrain my anger, “you were a cowardly poltroon.”

“This to me in my house!” he cried, grasping a chair with which to strike me. Dorothy came between us.

“Yes,” said I, “and as much more as you wish to hear.” I stood my ground, and Sir George put down the chair.

“Leave my house at once,” he said in a whisper of rage.

“If you are on my premises in one hour from now I will have you flogged from my door by the butcher.”

“What have I done?” cried Dorothy. “What have I done?”

“Your regrets come late, Mistress Vernon,” said I.

“She shall have more to regret,” said Sir George, sullenly. “Go to your room, you brazen, disobedient huzzy, and if you leave it without my permission, by God, I will have you whipped till you bleed. I will teach you to say ‘I won’t’ when I say ‘you shall.’ God curse my soul, if I don’t make you repent this day!”

As I left the room Dorothy was in tears, and Sir George was walking the floor in a towering rage. The girl had learned that I was right in what I had told her concerning her father’s violent temper.

I went at once to my room in Eagle Tower and collected my few belongings in a bundle. Pitifully small it was, I tell you.

Where I should go I knew not, and where I should remain I knew even less, for my purse held only a few shillings the remnant of the money Queen Mary had sent to me by the hand of Sir Thomas Douglas. England was as unsafe for me as Scotland; but how I might travel to France without money, and how I might without a pass evade Elizabeth’s officers who guarded every English port, even were I supplied with gold, were problems for which I had no solution.

There were but two persons in Haddon Hall to whom I cared to say farewell. They were Lady Madge and Will Dawson. The latter was a Scot, and was attached to the cause of Queen Mary. He and I had become friends, and on several occasions we had talked confidentially over Mary’s sad plight.

When my bundle was packed, I sought Madge and found her in the gallery near the foot of the great staircase. She knew my step and rose to greet me with a bright smile.

“I have come to say good-by to you, Cousin Madge,” said I. The smile vanished from her face.

“You are not going to leave Haddon Hall?” she asked.

“Yes, and forever,” I responded. “Sir George has ordered me to go.”

“No, no,” she exclaimed. “I cannot believe it. I supposed that you and my uncle were friends. What has happened? Tell me if you can if you wish. Let me touch your hand,” and as she held out her hands, I gladly grasped them.

I have never seen anything more beautiful than Madge Stanley’s hands. They were not small, but their shape, from the fair, round forearm and wrist to the ends of the fingers was worthy of a sculptor’s dream. Beyond their physical beauty there was an expression in them which would have belonged to her eyes had she possessed the sense of sight. The flood of her vital energy had for so many years been directed toward her hands as a substitute for her lost eyesight that their sensitiveness showed itself not only in an infinite variety of delicate gestures and movements, changing with her changing moods, but they had an expression of their own, such as we look for in the eyes. I had gazed upon her hands so often, and had studied so carefully their varying expression, discernible both to my sight and to my touch, that I could read her mind through them as we read the emotions of others through the countenance. The “feel” of her hands, if I may use the word, I can in no way describe. Its effect on me was magical. The happiest moments I have ever known were those when I held the fair blind girl by the hand and strolled upon the great terrace or followed the babbling winding course of dear old Wye, and drank in the elixir of all that is good and pure from the cup of her sweet, unconscious influence.

Madge, too, had found happiness in our strolling. She had also found health and strength, and, marvellous to say, there had come to her a slight improvement in vision. She had always been able to distinguish sunlight from darkness, but with renewed strength had come the power dimly to discern dark objects in a strong light, and even that small change for the better had brought unspeakable gladness to her heart. She said she owed it all to me. A faint pink had spread itself in her cheeks and a plumpness had been imparted to her form which gave to her ethereal beauty a touch of the material. Nor was this to be regretted, for no man can adequately make love to a woman who has too much of the angel in her. You must not think, however, that I had been making love to Madge. On the contrary, I again say, the thought had never entered my mind. Neither at that time had I even suspected that she would listen to me upon the great theme. I had in my self-analysis assigned many reasons other than love for my tenderness toward her; but when I was about to depart, and she impulsively gave me her hands, I, believing that I was grasping them for the last time, felt the conviction come upon me that she was dearer to me than all else in life.

“Do you want to tell me why my uncle has driven you from Haddon?” she asked.

“He wished me to ask Dorothy to be my wife,” I returned.

“And you?” she queried.

“I did so.”

Instantly the girl withdrew her hands from mine and stepped back from me. Then I had another revelation. I knew what she meant and felt. Her hands told me all, even had there been no expression in her movement and in her face.

“Dorothy refused,” I continued, “and her father desired to force her into compliance. I would not be a party to the transaction, and Sir George ordered me to leave his house.”

After a moment of painful silence Madge said: “I do not wonder that you should wish to marry Dorothy. She she must be very beautiful.”

“I do not wish to marry Dorothy,” said I. I heard a slight noise back of me, but gave it no heed. “And I should not have married her had she consented. I knew that Dorothy would refuse me, therefore I promised Sir George that I would ask her to be my wife. Sir George had always been my friend, and should I refuse to comply with his wishes, I well knew he would be my enemy. He is bitterly angry against me now; but when he becomes calm, he will see wherein he has wronged me. I asked Dorothy to help me, but she would not listen to my plan.”

“ and now she begs your forgiveness,” cried Dorothy, as she ran weeping to me, and took my hand most humbly.

“Dorothy! Dorothy!” I exclaimed.

“What frightful evil have I brought upon you?” said she. “Where can you go? What will you do?”

“I know not,” I answered. “I shall probably go to the Tower of London when Queen Elizabeth’s officers learn of my quarrel with Sir George. But I will try to escape to France.”

“Have you money?” asked Madge, tightly holding one of my hands.

“A small sum,” I answered.

“How much have you? Tell me. Tell me how much have you,” insisted Madge, clinging to my hand and speaking with a force that would brook no refusal.

“A very little sum, I am sorry to say; only a few shillings,” I responded.

She quickly withdrew her hand from mine and began to remove the baubles from her ears and the brooch from her throat. Then she nervously stripped the rings from her fingers and held out the little handful of jewels toward me, groping for my hands.

“Take these, Malcolm. Take these, and wait here till I return.” She turned toward the staircase, but in her confusion she missed it, and before I could reach her, she struck against the great newel post.

“God pity me,” she said, as I took her hand. “I wish I were dead. Please lead me to the staircase, Cousin Malcolm. Thank you.”

She was weeping gently when she started up the steps, and I knew that she was going to fetch me her little treasure of gold.

Madge held up the skirt of her gown with one hand while she grasped the banister with the other. She was halfway up when Dorothy, whose generous impulses needed only to be prompted, ran nimbly and was about to pass her on the staircase when Madge grasped her gown.

“Please don’t, Dorothy. Please do not. I beg you, do not forestall me. Let me do this. Let me. You have all else to make you happy. Don’t take this from me only because you can see and can walk faster than I.”

Dorothy did not stop, but hurried past her. Madge sank upon the steps and covered her face with her hands. Then she came gropingly back to me just as Dorothy returned.

“Take these, Cousin Malcolm,” cried Dorothy. “Here are a few stones of great value. They belonged to my mother.”

Madge was sitting dejectedly upon the lowest step of the staircase. Dorothy held her jewel-box toward me, and in the midst of the diamonds and gold I saw the heart John Manners had given her. I did not take the box.

“Do you offer me this, too even this?” I said, lifting the heart from the box by its chain. “Yes, yes,” cried Dorothy, “even that, gladly, gladly.” I replaced it in the box.

Then spoke Madge, while she tried to check the falling tears: “Dorothy, you are a cruel, selfish girl.”

“Oh, Madge,” cried Dorothy, stepping to her side and taking her hand. “How can you speak so unkindly to me?”

“You have everything good,” interrupted Madge. “You have beauty, wealth, eyesight, and yet you would not leave to me the joy of helping him. I could not see, and you hurried past me that you might be first to give him the help of which I was the first to think.”

Dorothy was surprised at the outburst from Madge, and kneeled by her side.

“We may both help Cousin Malcolm,” she said.

“No, no,” responded Madge, angrily. “Your jewels are more than enough. He would have no need of my poor offering.”

I took Madge’s hand and said, “I shall accept help from no one but you, Madge; from no one but you.”

“I will go to our rooms for your box,” said Dorothy, who had begun to see the trouble. “I will fetch it for you.”

“No, I will fetch it,” answered Madge. She arose, and I led her to the foot of the staircase. When she returned she held in her hands a purse and a little box of jewels. These she offered to me, but I took only the purse, saying: “I accept the purse. It contains more money than I shall need. From its weight I should say there are twenty gold pounds sterling.”

“Twenty-five,” answered Madge. “I have saved them, believing that the time might come when they would be of great use to me. I did not know the joy I was saving for myself.”

Tears came to my eyes, and Dorothy wept silently.

“Will you not take the jewels also?” asked Madge.

“No,” I responded; “the purse will more than pay my expenses to France, where I have wealthy relatives. There I may have my mother’s estate for the asking, and I can repay you the gold. I can never repay your kindness.”

“I hope you will never offer to repay the gold,” said Madge.

“I will not,” I gladly answered.

“As to the kindness,” she said, “you have paid me in advance for that many, many times over.”

I then said farewell, promising to send letters telling of my fortune. As I was leaving I bent forward and kissed Madge upon the forehead, while she gently pressed my hand, but did not speak a word.

“Cousin Malcolm,” said Dorothy, who held my other hand, “you are a strong, gentle, noble man, and I want you to say that you forgive me.”

“I do forgive you, Dorothy, from my heart. I could not blame you if I wished to do so, for you did not know what you were doing.”

“Not to know is sometimes the greatest of sins,” answered Dorothy. I bent forward to kiss her cheek in token of my full forgiveness, but she gave me her lips and said: “I shall never again be guilty of not knowing that you are good and true and noble, Cousin Malcolm, and I shall never again doubt your wisdom or your good faith when you speak to me.” She did doubt me afterward, but I fear her doubt was with good cause. I shall tell you of it in the proper place.

Then I forced myself to leave my fair friends and went to the gateway under Eagle Tower, where I found Will Dawson waiting for me with my horse.

“Sir George ordered me to bring your horse,” said Will. “He seemed much excited. Has anything disagreeable happened? Are you leaving us? I see you wear your steel cap and breastplate and are carrying your bundle.”

“Yes, Will, your master has quarrelled with me and I must leave his house.”

“But where do you go, Sir Malcolm? You remember that of which we talked? In England no place but Haddon Hall will be safe for you, and the ports are so closely guarded that you will certainly be arrested if you try to sail for France.”

“I know all that only too well, Will. But I must go, and I will try to escape to France. If you wish to communicate with me, I may be found by addressing a letter in care of the Duc de Guise.”

“If I can ever be of help to you,” said Will, “personally, or in that other matter, Queen Mary, you understand, you have only to call on me.”

“I thank you, Will,” I returned, “I shall probably accept your kind offer sooner than you anticipate. Do you know Jennie Faxton, the ferrier’s daughter?”

“I do,” he responded.

“I believe she may be trusted,” I said.

“Indeed, I believe she is true as any steel in her father’s shop,” Will responded.

“Good-by, Will, you may hear from me soon.”

I mounted and rode back of the terrace, taking my way along the Wye toward Rowsley. When I turned and looked back, I saw Dorothy standing upon the terrace. By her side, dressed in white, stood Madge. Her hand was covering her eyes. A step or two below them on the terrace staircase stood Will Dawson. They were three stanch friends, although one of them had brought my troubles upon me. After all, I was leaving Haddon Hall well garrisoned. My heart also was well garrisoned with a faithful troop of pain. But I shall write no more of that time. It was too full of bitterness.