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And the pedler took in the situation very quickly; for the dog was
already watching him with eyes of fiery suspicion, and an occasional
deep growl was either a note of warning to his mistress, or of defiance
to the intruder. With an evil glance at the beautiful, disdainful woman
standing over him, the pedler rose and left the house; Katherine and the
dog so closely following that the man, stooping under his heavy burden,
heard her light footsteps and the mastiff's heavy breathing close at his
heels, until he passed the large gates and found himself on the dark
fen, with just half an hour to get clear of a precinct he had made so
dangerous to himself.

For, when he remembered Katherine's face, he muttered, "There isn't a
mossel o' doubt but what she'll hev the brutes turned loose. Dash it!
women do beat all. But I do hev one bit o' comfort - high-to-instep as
she is, she's heving a bad time of it now by herself. I do think that,
for sure." And the reflection gave him some gratification, as he
cautiously felt his steps forward with his strong staff.

[Illustration: Chapter heading]




XIV.

"_Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments: love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds._"


In some respects, the pedler's anticipations were correct. Katherine had
"a bad time by herself" that night; for evil has this woful
prerogative, - it can wound the good and the innocent, it can make
wretched without provocation and without desert. But, whatever her
suffering, it was altogether her own. She made no complaint, and she
offered no explanation of her singular conduct. Her household, however,
had learned to trust her; and the men and women servants sitting around
the kitchen-fire that night, talked over the circumstance, and found its
very mystery a greater charm than any possible certainty, however
terrible, could have given them.

"She be a stout-hearted one," said the ostler admiringly. "Tony and I
a-watched her and the dog a-driving him through the gates. With his
bundle on his back, he was a-shuffling along, a-nigh on his all-fours;
and the madam at his heels, with her head up in the air, and her eyes
a-shining like candles."

"It would be about the captain he spoke."

The remark was ventured by Lettice in a low voice, and the company
looked at each other and nodded confidentially. For the captain was a
person of great and mysterious importance in the house. All that was
done was in obedience to some order received from him. Katherine quoted
him continually, granted every favour in his name, made him the
authority for every change necessary. His visits were times of holiday,
when discipline was relaxed, and the methodical economy of life at the
manor house changed into festival. And Hyde had precisely that dashing
manner, that mixture of frankness and authority, which dependents
admire. The one place in the whole world where nobody would have
believed wrong of Hyde was in Hyde's own home.

And yet Katherine, in the secrecy of her chamber, felt her heart quake.
She had refused to think of the circumstance until after she had made a
pretence of eating her supper, and had seen little Joris asleep, and
dismissed Lettice, with all her accustomed deliberation and order. But,
oh, how gratefully she turned the key of her room! How glad she felt to
be alone with the fear and the sorrow that had come to her! For she
wanted to face it honestly; and as she stood with eyes cast down, and
hands clasped behind her back, the calm, resolute spirit of her fathers
gathered in her heart, and gave an air of sorrowful purpose to her face
and attitude. At that hour she was singularly like Joris Van Heemskirk;
and any one familiar with the councillor would have known Katherine to
be his daughter.

Most women are restless when they are in anxiety. Katherine felt motion
to be a mental disturbance. She sat down, and remained still as a carven
image, thinking over what had been told her. There had been a time when
her husband's constant talk of Lady Suffolk had pained her, and when she
had been a little jealous of the apparent familiarity which existed in
their relations with each other; but Hyde had laughed at her fears, and
she had taken a pride in putting _his word_ above all her suspicions.
She had seen him receive letters which she knew to be from Lady Suffolk.
She had seen him read and destroy them without remark. She was aware
that many a love-billet from fine ladies followed him to Hyde. But it
was in accord with the integrity of her own nature to believe in her
husband's faithfulness. She had made one inquiry on the subject, and his
assurance at that time she accepted as a final settlement of all doubts.
And if she had needed further evidence, she had found it in his
affectionate and constant regard for her, and in his love for his child
and his home.

It was also a part of Katherine's just and upright disposition to make
allowances for the life by which her husband was surrounded. She
understood that he must often be placed in circumstances of great
temptation and suspicion. Hyde had told her that there were necessarily
events in his daily experience of which it was better for her to be
ignorant. "They belong to it, as my uniform does," he said; "they are a
part of its appearance; but they never touch my feelings, and they never
do you a moment's wrong, Katherine." This explanation it had been the
duty both of love and of wisdom to accept; and she had done so with a
faith which asked for no conviction beyond it.

And now she was told that for years he had been the lover of another
woman; that her own existence was doubted or denied; that if it were
admitted, it was with a supposition which affected both her own good
name and the rights of her child. In those days, America was at the ends
of the earth. A war with it was imminent. The Colonies might be
conquered. She knew nothing of international rights, nor what changes
such a condition might render possible. Hyde was the probable
representative of an ancient noble English family, and its influence was
great: if he really wished to annul their marriage, perhaps it was in
his power to do so. She knew well how greedy rank was of rank and
riches, and she could understand that there might be powerful family
reasons for an alliance which would add Lady Suffolk's wealth to the
Hyde earldom.

[Illustration: She knelt speechless and motionless]

She was no craven, and she faced the position in all its cruel bearings.
She asked herself if, even for the sake of her little Joris, she would
remain a wife on sufferance, or by the tie of rights which she would
have to legally enforce; and then she lifted the candle, and passed
softly into his room to look at him. Though physically like the large,
fair, handsome Van Heemskirks, little Joris had certain tricks of
expression, certain movements and attitudes, which were the very
reflection of his father's, - the same smile, the same droop of the hair
on the forehead, the same careless toss of the arm upward in sleep. It
was the father in the son that answered her at that hour. She slipped
down upon her knees by the sleeping boy, and out of the terror and
sorrow of her soul spoke to the Fatherhood in heaven. Nay, but she knelt
speechless and motionless, and waited until He spoke to her; spoke to
her by the sweet, trustful little lips whose lightest touch was dear to
her. For the boy suddenly awoke; he flung his arms around her neck, he
laid his face close to hers, and said, -

"Oh, mother, beautiful mother, I thought my father was here!"

"You have been dreaming, darling Joris."

"Yes; I am sorry I have been dreaming. I thought my father was here - my
good father, that loves us so much."

Then, with a happy face, Katherine rose and gave the child cool water,
and turned his hot pillow, and with kisses sent him smiling into
dreamland again. In those few tender moments all her fears slipped away
from her heart. "I will not believe what a bad man says against my
husband - against my dear one who is not here to defend himself. Lies,
lies! I will make the denial for him."

And she kept within the comfort of this spirit, even though Hyde's usual
letter was three days behind its usual time. Certainly they were hard
days. She kept busy; but she could not swallow a mouthful of food, and
the sickness and despair that crouched at the threshold of her life made
her lightest duties so heavy that it required a constant effort and a
constant watchfulness to fulfil them. And yet she kept saying to
herself, "All is right. I shall hear in a day or two. There is some
change in the service. There is no change in Richard - none."

On the fourth day her trust had its reward. She found then that the
delay had been caused by the necessary charge and care of ceremonies
which Lady Capel's death forced upon her husband. She had almost a
sentiment of gratitude to her, although she was yet ignorant of her
bequest of eight thousand pounds. For Hyde had resolved to wait until
the reading of the will made it certain, and then to resign his
commission, and carry the double good news to Katherine himself.
Henceforward, they were to be together. He would buy more land, and
improve his estate, and live happily, away from the turmoil of the town,
and the disagreeable duties of active service in a detestable quarrel.
So this purpose, though unexpressed, gave a joyous ring to his letter;
it was lover-like in its fondness and hopefulness, and Katherine thought
of Lady Suffolk and her emissary with a contemptuous indifference.

"My dear one she intended that I should make miserable with reproaches,
and from his own home drive him to her home for some consolations;" and
Katherine smiled as she reflected how hopeless such a plan of separation
would be.

Never, perhaps, are we so happy as when we have just escaped some feared
calamity. That letter lifted the last fear from Katherine's heart, and
it gave her also the expectation of an early visit. "I am very impatient
to see you, my Kate," he wrote; "and as early as possible after the
funeral, you may expect me." The words rang like music in her heart. She
read them aloud to little Joris, and then the whole household warmed to
the intelligence. For there was always much pleasant preparation for
Hyde's visits, - clean rooms to make still cleaner, silver to polish,
dainties to cook; every weed to take from the garden, every unnecessary
straw from the yards. For the master's eye, everything must be
beautiful. To the master's comfort, every hand was delighted to
minister.

So these last days of May were wonderfully happy ones to Katherine. The
house was in its summer draperies - all its windows open to the garden,
which had now not only the freshness of spring, but the richer promise
of summer. Katherine was always dressed with extraordinary care and
taste. Little Joris was always lingering about the gates which commanded
the longest stretch of observation. A joyful "looking forward" was upon
every face.

Alas, these are the unguarded hours which sorrow surprises! But no
thought of trouble, and no fear of it, had Katherine, as she stood
before her mirror one afternoon. She was watching Lettice arrange the
double folds of her gray taffeta gown, so as to display a trifle the
high scarlet heels of her morocco slippers, with their scarlet rosettes
and small diamond buckles.

"Too cold a colour is gray for me, Lettice: give me those scarlet
ribbons for a breast knot;" and as Lettice stood with her head a little
on one side, watching her mistress arrange the bright bows at her
stomacher, there came a knock at the chamber door.

"Here be a strange gentleman, madam, to see you; from London, he do
say."

A startled look came into Katherine's face; she dropped the ribbon from
her hand, and turned to the servant, who stood twisting a corner of her
apron at the front-door.

"Well, then, Jane, like what is the stranger?"

"He be in soldier's dress, madam" -

"What?"

She asked no further question, but went downstairs; and, as the tapping
of her heels was heard upon them, Jane lifted her apron to her eyes and
whimpered, "I think there be trouble; I do that, Letty."

"About the master?"

[Illustration: Jane lifted her apron to her eyes]

"It be like it. And the man rides a gray horse too. Drat the man, to
come with news on a gray horse! It be that unlucky, as no one in their
seven senses would do it."

"For sure it be! When I was a young wench at school" - and then, as she
folded up the loose ribbons, Letty told a gruesome story of a farmer
robbed and murdered; but as she came to the part the gray horse played
in the tale, Katherine slowly walked into the room, with a letter in her
hand. She was white, even to her lips; and with a mournful shake of her
head, she motioned to the girls to leave her alone. She put the paper
out of her hand, and stood regarding it. Fully ten minutes elapsed ere
she gathered strength sufficient to break its well-known seal, and take
in the full meaning of words so full of agony to her.

"It is midnight, beloved Katherine, and in six hours I may be dead. Lord
Paget spoke of my cousin to me in such terms as leaves but one way out
of the affront. I pray you, if you can, to pardon me. The world will
condemn me, my own actions will condemn me; and yet I vow that you, and
you only, have ever had my love. You I shall adore with my last breath.
Kate, my Kate, forgive me. If this comes to you by strange hands, I
shall be dead or dying. My will and papers of importance are in the
drawer marked "B" in my escritoire. Kiss my son for me, and take my last
hope and thought."

These words she read, then wrung her hands, and moaned like a creature
that had been wounded to death. Oh, the shame! Oh, the wrong and sorrow!
How could she bear it? What should she do? Captain Lennox, who had
brought the letter, was waiting for her decision. If she would go to her
husband, then he could rest and return to London at his leisure. If not,
Hyde wanted his will, to add a codicil regarding the eight thousand
pounds left him by Lady Capel. For he had been wounded in his side; and
a dangerous inflammation having set in, he had been warned of a possible
fatal result.

Katherine was not a rapid thinker. She had little, either, of that
instinct which serves some women instead of all other prudences. Her
actions generally arose from motives clear to her own mind, and of whose
wisdom or kindness she had a conviction. But in this hour so many
things appealed to her that she felt helpless and uncertain. The one
thought that dominated all others was that her husband had fought and
fallen for Lady Suffolk. He had risked her happiness and welfare, he had
forgotten her and his child, for this woman. It was the sequel to the
impertinence of the pedler's visit. She believed at that moment that the
man had told her the truth. All these years she had been a slighted and
deceived woman.

This idea once admitted, jealousy of the crudest and most unreasonable
kind assailed her. Incidents, words, looks, long forgotten rushed back
upon her memory, and fed the flame. Very likely, if she left her child
and went to London, she might find Lady Suffolk in attendance on her
husband, or at least be compelled for his life's sake to submit to her
visits. She pondered this supposition until it brought forth one still
more shameful. Perhaps the whole story was a scheme to get her up to
London. Perhaps she might disappear there. What, then, would be done to
her child? If Richard Hyde was so infatuated with Lady Suffolk, what
might he not do to win her and her large fortune? Even the news of Lady
Capel's death was now food for her suspicions. Was she dead, or was the
assertion only a part of the conspiracy? If she had been dead, Sir
Thomas Swaffham would have heard of the death; yet she had seen him that
morning, and he had made no mention of the circumstance.

"To London I will not go," she decided. "There is some wicked plan for
me. The will and the papers are wanted, that they may be altered to
suit it. I will stay here with my child. Even sorrow great as mine is
best borne in one's own home."

She went to the escritoire to get the papers. When she opened the
senseless chamber of wood, she found herself in the presence of many a
torturing, tender memory. In one compartment there were a number of
trout-flies. She remembered the day her husband had made them - a long,
rainy, happy day during his last visit. Every time she passed him, he
drew her face down to kiss it. And she could hear little Joris talking
about the work, and his father's gay laughter at the child's remarks. In
an open slide, there was a rude picture of a horse. It was the boy's
first attempt to draw Mephisto, and it had been carefully put away. The
place was full of such appeals. Katherine rarely wept; but, standing
before these mementos, her eyes filled, and with a sob she clasped her
hands across them, as if the sight of such tokens from a happy past was
intolerable.

Drawer B was a large compartment full of papers and of Hyde's personal
treasures. Among them was a ring that his father had given him, his
mother's last letter, a lock of his son's hair, her own first
letter - the shy, anxious note that she wrote to Mrs. Gordon. She looked
sadly at these things, and thought how valueless all had become to him
at that hour. Then she began to arrange the papers according to their
size, and a small sealed parcel slipped from among them. She lifted it,
and saw a rhyme in her husband's writing on the outside, -

"Oh, my love, my love! This thy gift I hold
More than fame or treasure, more than life or gold."

It had evidently been sealed within a few months, for it was in a kind
of bluish-tinted paper which Hyde bought in Lynn one day during the past
winter. She turned it over and over in her hand, and the temptation to
see the love-token inside became greater every moment. This was a thing
her husband had never designed any human eye but his own to see.
Whatever revelation there was in it, much or little, would be true.
Tortured by doubt and despair, she felt that impulse to rely on chance
for a decision which all have experienced in matters of grave moment,
apparently beyond natural elucidation.

"If in this parcel there is some love-pledge from Lady Suffolk, then I
go not; nothing shall make me go. If in it there is no word of her, no
message to her or from her; if her name is not there, nor the letters of
her name, - then I will go to my own. A new love, one not a year old, I
can put aside. I will forgive every one but my Lady Suffolk."

So Katherine decided as she broke the seal with firmness and rapidity.
The first paper within the cover made her tremble. It was a half sheet
which she had taken one day from Bram's hand, and it had Bram's name
across it. On it she had written the first few lines which she had had
the right to sign "Katherine Hyde." It was, indeed, her first "wife"
letter; and within it was the precious love-token, her own
love-token, - _the bow of orange ribbon_.

She gave a sharp cry as it fell upon the desk; and then she lifted and
kissed it, and held it to her breast, as she rocked herself to and fro
in a passionate transport of triumphant love. Again and again she fed
her eyes upon it. She recalled the night she wore it first, and the
touch of her mother's fingers as she fastened it at her throat. She
recalled her father's happy smile of proud admiration for her; the
afternoon, next, when she had stood with Joanna at the foot of the
garden and seen her lover wearing it on his breast. She remembered what
she had heard about the challenge, and the desperate fight, and the
intention of Semple's servant to remove the token from her senseless
lover's breast, and her father's noble interference. The bit of fateful
ribbon had had a strange history, yet she had forgotten it. It was her
husband who had carefully sealed it away among the things most precious
to his heart and house. It still kept much of its original splendid
colour, but it was stained down all its length with blood. Nothing that
Hyde could have done, no words that he could have said, would have been
so potent to move her.

"I will give it to him again. With my own hands I will give it to him
once more. O Richard, my lover, my husband! Now I will hasten to see
thee."

[Illustration: "O Richard, my lover, my husband!"]

With relays at every post-house, she reached London the next night, and,
weary and terrified, drove at once to the small hostelry where Hyde lay.
There was a soldier sitting outside his chamber-door, but the wounded
man was quite alone when Katherine entered. She took in at a glance the
bare, comfortless room, scarcely lit by the sputtering rush-candle, and
the rude bed, and the burning cheeks of the fevered man upon it.

"Katherine!" he cried; and his voice was as weak and as tearful as that
of a troubled child.

"Here come I, my dear one."

"I do not deserve it. I have been so wicked, and you my pure good wife."

"See, then, I have had no temptations, but thou hast lived in the midst
of great ones. Then, how natural and how easy was it for thee to do
wrong!"

"Oh, how you love me, Katherine!"

"God knows."

"And for this wrong you will not forsake me?"

She took from her bosom the St. Nicholas ribbon. "I give it to thee
again. At the first time I loved thee; now, my husband, ten thousand
times more I love thee. As I went through the papers, I found it. So
much it said to me of thy true love! So sweetly for thee it pleaded! All
that it asks for thee, I give. All that thou hast done wrong to me, it
forgives."

And between their clasped hands it lay, - the bit of orange ribbon that
had handselled all their happiness.

"It is the promise of everything I can give thee, my loved one,"
whispered Katherine.

"It is the luck of Richard Hyde. Dearest wife, thou hast given me my
life back again."

[Illustration: Chapter heading]




XV.

"_Wise men ne'er sit and wail their woes,
But presently prevent the ways to wail._"


It was a hot August afternoon; and the garden at Hyde Manor was full of
scent in all its shady places, - hot lavender, seductive carnation, the
secretive intoxication of the large white lilies, and mingling with them
the warm smell of ripe fruits from the raspberry hedges, and the
apricots and plums turning gold and purple upon the southern walls.

Hyde sat at an open window, breathing the balmy air, and basking in the
light and heat, which really came to him with "healing on their wings."
He was pale and wasted from his long sickness; but there was speculation
and purpose in his face, and he had evidently cast away the mental
apathy of the invalid. As he sat thus, a servant entered and said a few
words which made him turn with a glad, expectant manner to the open
door; and, as he did so, a man of near sixty years of age passed through
it - a handsome, lordly-looking man, who had that striking personal
resemblance to Hyde which affectionate brothers often have to one
another.

"Faith, William, you are welcome home! I am most glad to see you."

"Sit still, Dick. You sad rascal, you've been playing with cold steel
again, I hear! Can't you let it alone, at your age?"

"Why, then, it was my business, as you know, sir. My dear William, how
delighted I am to see you!"

"'Tis twelve years since we met, Dick. You have been in America; I have
been everywhere. I confess, too, I am amazed to hear of your marriage.
And Hyde Manor is a miracle. I expected to find it mouldy and mossy - a
haunt for frogs and fever. On the contrary, it is a place of perfect
beauty."

"And it was all my Katherine's doing."

"I hear that she is Dutch; and, beyond a doubt, her people have a genius
that develops in low lands."

"She is my angel. I am unworthy of her goodness and beauty."

"Why, then, Dick, I never saw you before in such a proper mood; and I
may as well tell you, while you are in it, that I have also found a
treasure past belief of the same kind. In fact, Dick, I am married, and
have two sons."

There was a moment's profound silence, and an inexplicable shadow passed
rapidly over Hyde's face; but it was fleeting as a thought, and, ere
the pause became strained and painful, he turned to his brother and
said, "I am glad, William. With all my heart, I am glad."

"Indeed, Dick, when Emily Capel died, I was sincere in my purpose never
to marry; and I looked upon you always as the future earl, until one
night in Rome, in a moment, the thing was altered."


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