est shelf, exposed to the gaze of all beholders, stood the bones
of a mallard, the crust of a quartern loaf, and the empty dish
that had contained a pasty.
With this sorry array for text and five gaping maids for
audience, Mistress Difficult was holding forth with volume and
power. " You thriftless, shameless slug-a-beds ! No words,
I pray you, no words ! Never were good viands eaten with-
out mouths to eat them ay, and well I know what greedy
mouths were these ! Breaking of locks, too ! 'Tis a sin that
merits the bridewell, I'll give ye to know !"
"So please you, good mistress " ventured the quaking
"No words!" shrilled Mistress Difficult. "Do I not see
with mine own eyes that the food is wasted and eaten the
loaf and the mallard, yea, even the mutton pasty that I had
set aside for mine own son, Jarvis."
" And pray, good Sister Difficult," a small, sharp voice in-
quired, "wherefore in this house should cates and dainties be
set aside for your son rather than for another?"
98 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
All, even Mistress Difficult, turned to the doorway, and
there upon the threshold beheld Mistress Henrietta Heyroun.
By the glint in her eye and the set of her little mouth she had
not forgotten the insult offered her anent the spectacles.
So unexpected was the attack that for the moment Mistress
Difficult was at a loss for a fitting reply. " Surely," she stam-
mered, " there is no reason why my boy should go fasting in
a house of plenty."
Mistress Henrietta, taking a leaf from her enemy's book,
gave a womanly sniff.
" He rode yesteraf ternoon to Barbroke. He will return this
morn nigh famished, and why should not his mother set aside
the food he likes, he being of a delicate stomach?" urged
Mistress Difficult, on the defensive, and then, seeing her
weakness, shifted her ground. "And now they have unlocked
the cupboard and devoured the food." She turned upon the
serving maids. "Yea, they have devastated all the wast-
ers that they be ! "
At this point Mistress Difficult's eloquence was stemmed
by a sudden and unseemly altercation among her hearers.
The cook maid, in despair of making herself audible, had
started forward with something in her hand, whereupon the
little scullery wench, a friend to Althea, indeed her only
friend in all that household, had flung herself upon the
woman. "No! No!" she shrilled desperately. "Thou
Promptly the little wench was cuffed, and when she had
fallen back blubbering, the triumphant cook maid thrust into
her mistress's face her hand and what it held.
"What is it, hussy?" snapped Mistress Difficult.
"A clasp, an't like you. I found it lying by the hearth
In a silence broken only by the snuffling of the scullery wench,
Mistress Difficult took the clasp, and turned it over and over.
INTERLUDE OF THE PAESON'S PASTY 99
while her face brightened slowly. In bare justice she took a
moment for her scrutiny, but for Althea one glance sufficed.
She knew what was coming, even before her aunt turned to
her with the question : " You know this clasp, Althea Love-
well? How comes it here?"
"It is the clasp of my cloak," said Althea, simply. "I
must have dropped it here last night."
She spoke slowly, but while she spoke, her brain perforce
was working in frenzied haste. Until that moment she had
reasoned lamely that, when her aunts discovered that food
had been taken from the cupboard, they would instantly
pitch upon the fugitive Jock as the culprit. Now, however,
the loss of the food had been discovered before Jock's flight
was known, and moreover, the finding of her cloak-clasp, the
proof that she herself had been in the kitchen, made that ex-
planation of the removal of the food most undesirable. Very
clearly Althea saw how her aunts, how the whole unfriendly
household, would enjoy the scandalous fact that she, the ever-
distrusted daughter of a Cavalier, had erred at last, that she
had been hobnobbing in the kitchen at one o'clock in the
morning, with the scapegrace Hetherington whose very name
In such a dilemma Althea took the only possible course,
and resolutely bracing herself, prepared to shoulder the triple
guilt of the loaf, the mallard, and the parson's pasty.
"You sent me to bed without my supper," she finished her
explanation with a scarcely perceptible pause. " I was hun-
gry so I came belowstairs and unlocked the cupboard and ate
what I could find."
Mistress Difficult stood silent, dumbfounded by the confes-
sion of such enormity, but Mistress Henrietta, who had crossed
to the cupboard and scanned the silent witnesses of devasta-
tion, gave a horrified outcry : " Be merciful to us ! The child
has eat enough for ten ! She'll surely die before our eyes."
100 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
"Tis the greediest trollop!" cried Mistress Difficult.
"I I gave some of the meat to the cat," faltered Althea.
"You did no such thing," interrupted Mistress Difficult.
"You spoiled and wasted all that you could find, for sheer
spite, and my son's pasty in particular."
" And pray tell me, Sister Difficult," asked Mistress Henri-
etta, "why had not Althea Lovewell as good a right to the
pasty as your precious son ? Eat what you will, Althea, child.
I've as good a share in the ordering of this household as has
my sister Difficult. But I should counsel you go fasting this
day and henceforth moderate your appetite."
"She shall go fasting this day, be sure," Mistress Difficult
uttered a grim aside.
Althea chose to hear no further. She had gained a mo-
ment's respite, through the fickle kindness of her Aunt Henri-
etta, and she gladly seized on the chance to retire in good
order. "Under your favor, aunt," she courtesied to Mis-
tress Henrietta, " I'll go now to my task and feed the poul-
try," she said, and so saying, turned to the door.
In so doing, she passed close by Blanche, and she met
squarely the wise, amused look of Blanche's eyes. " I think,"
said Blanche, under cover of the renewed wrangle between
the two aunts, " I can name him with whom you shared yes-
"Thought is free," rejoined Althea, briefly, and with head
erect passed out of the kitchen.
As she had announced, she set at once about feeding the
poultry, one of the many tasks with which, from morning till
night, she was busied in paying for the shelter that was
grudgingly accorded her beneath that roof. She was wont
to finish this task in a short time, but to-day she was
long about it, for she took space in which to reflect upon her
position. Plainly, she reasoned, Blanche knew that she had
been with Jock Hetherington the last night. Therefore
INTERLUDE OF THE PARSON'S PASTY 101
Blanche must know of his escape. Therefore, as logically as a
demonstration in Euclid, Blanche in her turn must have had
speech with him the preceding night. Althea realized, in
vulgar parlance, that she and Blanche were in the same boat.
Neither, in safety, could bear tales of the other, but an enor-
mous advantage would accrue to the one that first told her
But to that possibility Althea shook her head. All those
weeks, since the June days when the hot-blood Captain Heth-
erington held Graystones, she had refrained from bearing
tales of Blanche. She had told no word of the feet that had
passed her chamber door in the night-time, no word of the
alteration that with her woman's eyes she had marked in
Blanche, in those brief days when Blanche, swayed by the
first full-blooded passion that she had known, lowered her
guard of prudence. Althea had told no word, partly because
she had a kind of sex-loyalty, partly because she came of a
race that was averse to talebearing.
With a tingle of race-pride Althea thought now of her
father, blundering, thriftless, loyal Sam Lovewell. Poor
daddy ! He would not have liked her to screen herself by
bearing tales, even of Blanche Mallory. No, she must hold
her tongue, Althea decided, and then from the thought of
her father her mind jumped to that not dissimilar blun-
dering, piteous soldier-lad, whom she, at her own risk, had
furthered. "In any case," said Althea, as she threw the last
of the corn to the busy hens, "whatever come, I'm glad that
I aided Hetherington."
With the thought of the soldier-folk she loved, she had so
heartened herself that she decided to go look at the poor sub-
stitute she had at hand in Wogan's troopers. She made a
circuit through the paddock, partly to avoid the spying win-
dows of Graystones, partly to linger yet a little longer in the
sweet air and the clear light of the morning, and so came at
102 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
length to the great stables. There she found six of the troop-
ers saddling up, with a merry jingle of stirrup irons and a little
clatter of hoofs and heavy boots upon the cobbles of the stable-
Althea stood and surveyed the horses with a critical eye.
"Where do you ride this morning, Farrat?" she asked pres-
The trooper that she had addressed, a Heronswood man by
birth, grinned and touched his forelock. "To Bury, little
mistress," he answered. "We're to convey that trim rascal
"Are you so, indeed?" Althea queried innocently. "I
hope I may see you do it."
Then she walked lightly away, while Trooper Farrat, who
was an unsuspicious fellow, made some comment to his mates
on the revengeful disposition of women.
When Althea reached the great hall, she found that the
storm, touching the parson's pasty, was well-nigh overblown.
The household were about rising from table, and the men had
matter in hand more important than a women's quarrel.
" Lambert," said Inchcome, who was deliberately finishing a
dish of eggs and collops, regardless of the visible impatience
of the said Lambert and of Martin Heyroun, " an you will
be stirring, do you go fetch Captain Hetherington. And,
good Mistress Difficult, be in no such haste to have your
table voided, for Hetherington has still to break his fast."
At that Lambert Wogan exclaimed impatiently, and
Martin Heyroun saw fit to make a vigorous interposition.
" Enough of this folly, Esdras !" he snarled. "That pestilent
thief shall go fasting to Bury St. Edmund's."
"He will not go to Bury at all," Inchcome replied calmly.
"The fellow may be a knave, but he is not a fool. He has
dreamed whipping-posts all night, and this morning he will
yield up your little deal box as peacefully as a child.
INTEELUDE OF THE PAKSON'S PASTY 103
Go fetch him, Lambert, and see if I do not speak the
Wogan gave a grumble of dissent, but though he grumbled,
went as he was bidden. Althea watched till he had disap-
peared down the gallery above, and then, with a guilty terror
lest every one read her secret in her face, turned away to the
fire and began to tidy the hearth. Still, as she worked, she
darted a glance at her kinsfolk at her Aunt Difficult, fret-
ting and scolding over some household matter, at her Uncle
Martin, muttering even yet of Inchcome's folly, at her cousin
Philip, the chestnut-haired, eating his breakfast with inscru-
table face and lowered eyelids. She wondered what change
would be wrought in those differing faces when Wogan came
with his news, and, keyed high with apprehension, she fancied
each moment that she heard Wogan's step and trembled at
But when the reality came, Althea wondered that she
could have startled at her own imaginings. There was no
mistaking the actuality of Wogan's approach. He came
with an uproar that would have done credit to a squadron
of dragoons, clattering down the passage in his heavy boots,
clanging open the door at the end of the gallery, and leaning
upon the balustrade, shouted in a voice that started the
echoes in the vaulted roof of the hall, " He's gone clean
For one moment Althea crouched upon the hearth, with
her arms tight crossed upon her breast, while she felt that
all eyes were seeking her. Then as the clamor rose about
her, she turned fearfully and in the first glance realized that
she was safe. It was to Wogan that all looked, on his head
that the confusion poured. With a swift change of mood,
Althea found herself a mischievous and amused spectator.
To the full she enjoyed the incoherent wrath of her Uncle
Martin, the bewilderment of the ever-sufficient Inchcome,
104 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
the shrill dismay of her Aunt Difficult. From them she
glanced at Blanche and Philip. She saw that Blanche was
pale, though quite unmoved, and she saw that Philip, lifting
his eyes for the moment, wore on his face a look of absolute
Then she gave ear to Wogan, who was explaining at the
top of his lungs : " He's gone, I tell you ! How do I know ?
The key of his door was in my pocket. I didn't let him
forth. He's gone, and he's left a writing on the wall. He
thanks us for the bed, but the board was not to his liking.
Tore George, when I lay hands on him, he'll sing another
"Enough, enough!" Inchcome cut him short, for he had
mastered his surprise and first of them all had himself in
hand again. "Come, Martin," he went on, "let us look
about with our own eyes." So saying, he went briskly up
the stairs, and behind him stumped Martin Heyroun, wrath-
ful and puffing, and behind him still went the chestnut-haired
For a moment Mistress Difficult continued speechless, then
she raised her voice. "'Tis a plot!" she cried. "'Tis a
snare for the innocent and the defenceless ! You have all
connived at his escape. You think thus to rob my son of his
lawful heritage." At this point the resolute gentlewoman
gathered up her gown, and scurrying nimbly up the stair-
case, disappeared down the gallery in the wake of the men.
Mistress Henrietta said something about her poor head
and the soothing properties of oil of lilies, and so saying, went
from the hall and drove before her the staring servants that
had crowded thither. Althea and Blanche, left thus alone,
eyed each other with entire comprehension, across the width
of the great hall. Althea gave a laugh of sheer nervousness,
Blanche drew a tremulous, long sigh, and then, unnoticed
where he had remained in the dark gallery, Wogan stepped
INTERLUDE OF THE PARSON'S PASTY 105
forward and came striding down the stair into the hall.
He paid no more heed to Althea than if she had been a
joint-stool, but tramping down the hall, stopped at Blanche's
"What do you know of this?" he asked point-blank.
"Of what?" she fenced weakly.
"Of the escape of your one-time friend, Captain Hether-
"A pretty question to ask me !" she answered, and raised
her eyes to his with piteous coquetry.
"You had best throw fair with me," said Wogan, simply.
"There's much I can forgive, knowing him for a rogue and
you for an innocent maid."
Althea, unnoticed on the hearthstone, bit her lip.
" But you'd best be honest with me," Wogan finished.
"I have been wholly honest," Blanche answered, with a
shrug of her fine shoulders. "I spoke once with Hethering-
ton, with your approbation and free consent and for what
purpose you know."
Unexpectedly to the one girl as to the other, Wogan turned
on his heel and fronted Althea. "Mistress Mallory tells me,"
he blurted out, "that you, Mistress Lovewell, had speech
aforetime with Captain Hetherington "
"Lambert!" cried Blanche, and caught at his arm.
, " And," pursued Wogan, " it was to serve you that she won
me to connive at her having speech with the Captain, night
before last. Now is this story true?"
With interest and something akin to amusement, Althea
looked, not at Wogan, but at Blanche. In that moment
she understood many things over which she had puzzled in
the last weeks at Grays tones, and she felt a sort of admira-
tion for Blanche. Surely, it had been clever of Blanche to
assign to another the part that she herself had played with
Captain Hetherington. Perhaps, reasoned Althea, Blanche
106 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
deserved to have the truth of those June happenings told,
and now were a good time to tell it.
At that moment Blanche, holding Althea's eyes, spoke
gravely and quietly. "Althea knows," said she, "all that
I might tell, were I to tell the truth."
On the verge of revelation, Althea paused. She knew
what Blanche was hinting at, and she did not care to have
her escapade of the preceding night made the common prop-
erty of her kinsfolk. After all, what mattered these tales
that Blanche told of her? Captain Hetherington was gone,
and his bedevilled substitute was gone, presumably never
to return, and she herself was in any case suspect and outcast
among her kindred. A little more suspicion were easier to
bear than to have the really innocent, but guilty seeming,
facts of yesternight disclosed.
Althea gave a brief laugh. "Thanks be to Heaven," said
she, "I am not betrothed to you, Captain Wogan, nor am I
sib to you, so I know not by what patent you now question
"Then the story is true?" Wogan repeated.
"If it is not true," said Althea, turning again to her task,
" Blanche has not spoke the truth, and 'twere a great pity,
good Captain, that you should be bewitched of a liar and a
With her back turned, Althea could not see their faces, but
she heard a sharp exclamation from Wogan, a murmur from
Blanche, and then the little scene was played out, for Inch-
come, well in the lead of his straggling company, came briskly
across the gallery and descended to the hall.
"Bestir yourself, Lambert," Inchcome bade sharply.
" Send a messenger post-haste to Phil, at the village, and bid
him turn out the rest of your troop. Scour the country
round. Make it known that whoever brings Hetherington
in alive shall have ten marks. Be off with you, and mean-
INTEELUDE OF THE PARSON'S PASTY 107
time we'll have out the grooms and the serving men and
search round about the house."
With such instructions Inchcome despatched the Captain
and went about his self-appointed task. Within a quarter
of an hour all the men had quitted Graystones, and the women,
as best they could, took up the broken order of the day.
Among the rest Althea went about her tasks, and if she seemed
more distraught than her wont, her Aunt Difficult ascribed
the fact to an uneasy consciousness of sin discovered, and her
Aunt Henrietta to overindulgence in mutton pasty. Thus
the day wore on, a day of fair sunlight and ripe odors, and
under the sweet autumn weather the house of Graystones
crouched waiting, alert, sensitive to every rumor that might
About two of the clock that afternoon Blanche and Althea
went to their daily task of spinning. Their wheels stood in
a long gallery at the eastern end of the second story of the
house. One of the four casements looked to the south and
the sun, but the sunlight was tempered by the rustling leaves
of a great lime tree that stood by the window and cast a soft
cloud of shadow on the bare floor of the gallery. By this
window stood Blanche Mallory's wheel, and not ten paces
distant stood Althea's. Up and down went the two girls,
to all outward seeming intent upon their task, but in sober
truth intent each upon fathoming the other's thought. But
though in mind they labored over the same area, they inter-
changed no word for a full hour. A tense and palpable hos-
tility enshrouded them, and each waited, as for an advantage,
for the other to speak first.
The dogged patience of Althea Lovewell, granddaughter of
a Lancashire Holcroft, at last won the day. Of a sudden
Blanche turned to her companion, with a pretty gesture of
appeal that she seldom wasted on a fellow-woman. " Althea,"
she pleaded, "why are you cruel to me?"
108 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
Althea raised her brows.
"You are young," sighed Blanche.
"Tis no vice," quoth Althea.
" I am four and twenty," Blanche answered. She paused,
and clasping her hands upon the rim of her great wheel, rested
her chin upon them. " I wonder, child, if I can give you to
"I doubt," said Althea. "I am not a man."
Blanche returned to her first assertion. " You are cruel to
me. What words were those you spoke of me to Lambert
" The truth," said Althea, and her eyes did not waver from
the other's face. "You are a liar. You lied about Hether-
ington's identity. You lied when you spoke with Hether-
ington, claiming for your father my dead father's services.
You lied when you told to Wogan, to all in this house, what
it seems you have told of me. And you are a wanton. Do
not think, because I choose to be silent, that I am a child or
a fool. I saw what I have seen."
For a moment they faced each other across their silent
wheels, and Blanche's face grew haggard. She had made
the mistake, the common and fatal mistake, of underesti-
mating her own sex. For the first time she realized all that
Althea knew, and that Althea knew she knew, and the vast
potency for harm that lay in that slip of a girl with the mop
of hair and the direct eyes.
On sudden impulse Blanche stepped round her wheel and
went straight to Althea. She spoke more simply, perhaps
more honestly, than she had spoken in long months. " I am
fain to tell you," she said, twisting her hands together. "I
am not so evil as you believe. It is only oh, I am not
like you, Althea. I am hungry for all that women love
for brave gowns, and jewels, and the kindness and comfort
of friends, and an honorable place in the world, the world
INTERLUDE OF THE PARSON'S PASTY 109
outside Graystones, where men and women move and deeds
are done. What sin is there in me to desire this that so many
women have and take unthankful? And why should I not
have what others have ? I come of gentle blood, I am not a
fool, I am not uncomely."
"No," said Althea, honestly. "You are very fair to look
The older girl smiled, for all that her face the moment
before had been haggard and earnest. "You truly think
so?" she asked, and emboldened by that praise, laid her
hand on Althea's arm. " Then can you blame me ? Do you
realize how life has gone with me? My father died bank-
rupt, and I, a maid of fourteen, came here to Graystones to
live on my aunt's charity. I might as well have come to a
tomb. I have withered here, I have starved here. I sewed
my aunt's endless seams, and I cooked her pottage, and
brewed her drink, and listened to her sermons, the while the
years passed and passed and my beauty was passing with
them, and out there, so far, was the great world where I
might not venture. And you despise me, you child, because
I have sought the one way out because I used my only
portion, my beauty, to entice a husband. Do other maids
do less with their lands and their great dowries? You are
not just to me, Althea. I should be so good a wife, so obe-
dient, so loving, so grateful to the man who would take me
" I wonder !" said Althea, and her eyes said more than her
" Yes," Blanche answered the unspoken comment. " There
have been divers men no doubt there had been more, if
more had come to Graystones. There was Philip Heyroun,
but his sour-visaged mother looked well to the marring of
that, and there was Lieutenant Phil, but that cold brother
of his was too keen for me, and there was Lambert always,
110 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
and he is the best of them all. I I do love him, Althea."
The last sentence rang false, for all that she uttered it with
"There was also Captain Hetherington," said Althea,
This time Blanche faced her squarely and drew a long
breath ere she spoke, then, "He is the one I loved," she said
simply. " He was unlike the rest. I know not if he had
any fortune. I care not. I would have gone away with him,
had he asked me. I " The girl's eyes filled, brimmed
over with tears that were not all artifice. "Well, he has
gone," she said with a tremulous smile, " and I am returned
to my old disgraceful trade, you call it, Althea ? Lam-
bert cares for me. He has money and land of his own, there
at Barbroke, and a name that is held in honor in the country-
side. He will take me away from this hateful place. Oh,
Althea ! " she sobbed in good earnest. " You will not rob
me of this only chance? I can move Lambert as I list.
He cares for me. In a little time I can bring him to make
me his wife if only you will not tell him what you
Althea stood quiet. With knitted brows she looked at
Blanche, who sobbed softly with her beauteous head bent
upon her hands, and from Blanche she looked to the rustling
leaves of the lime tree beyond the casement. She noted the
little rifts of sunlight that filtered through the thick green of