H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 6
so a third time, and I will you at your word."
"It seems best that I should remain silent. Speak you," said Peter
"Aye, for truly you are a master of silence, as I should know, if any
do," replied Margaret, bethinking her of the weary months and years of
waiting. "Well, I will answer for you.--Father, Peter was right; I am
content to marry him, though to do so will be to enter the Order of the
Silent Brothers. Yes, I am content; not for himself, indeed, who has so
many faults, but for myself, who chance to love him," and she smiled
"Do not jest on such matters, Margaret."
"Why not, father? Peter is solemn enough for both of us--look at him.
Let us laugh while we may, for who knows when tears may come?"
"A good saying," answered Castell with a sigh. "So you two have plighted
your troth, and, my children, I am glad of it, for who knows when those
tears of which Margaret spoke may come, and then you can wipe away each
other's? Take now her hand, Peter, and swear by the Rood, that symbol
which you worship"--here Peter glanced at him, but he went on--"swear,
both of you that come what may, together or separate, through good
report or evil report, through poverty or wealth, through peace or
persecutions, through temptation or through blood, through every good or
ill that can befall you in this world of bittersweet, you will remain
faithful to your troth until you be wed, and after you are wed, faithful
to each other till death do part you."
These words he spoke to them in a voice that was earnest almost to
passion, searching their faces the while with his quick eyes as though
he would read their very hearts. His mood crept from him to them; once
again they felt something of that fear which had fallen on them in the
garden when they passed into the shadow of the Spaniard. Very solemnly
then, and with little of true lovers' joy, did they take each other's
hands and swear by the Cross and Him Who hung on it, that through these
things, and all others they could not foretell, they would, if need
were, be faithful to the death.
"And beyond it also," added Peter; while Margaret bowed her stately head
in sweet assent.
"Children," said Castell, "you will be rich--few richer in this
land--though mayhap it would be wise that you should not show all your
wealth at once, or ape the place of a great house, lest envy should fall
upon your heads and crush you. Be content to wait, and rank will find
you in its season, or if not you, your children. Peter, I tell you now,
lest I should forget it, that the list of all my moneys and other
possessions in chattels or lands or ships or merchandise is buried
beneath the floor of my office, just under where my chair stands. Lift
the boards and dig away a foot of rubbish, and you will find a stone
trap, and below an iron box with the deeds, inventories, and some very
precious jewels. Also, if by any mischance that box should be lost,
duplicates of nearly all these papers are in the hands of my good friend
and partner in our inland British trade, Simon Levett, whom you know.
Remember my words, both of you."
"Father," broke in Margaret in an anxious voice, "why do you speak of
the future thus?--I mean, as though you had no share in it? Do you
"Yes, daughter, much, or rather I expect, I do not fear, who am
prepared and desire to meet all things as they come. You have sworn that
oath, have you not? And you will keep it, will you not?"
"Aye!" they answered with one breath.
"Then prepare you to feel the weight of the first of those trials
whereof it speaks, for I will no longer hold back the truth from you.
Children, I, whom for all these years you have thought of your own
faith, am a Jew as my forefathers were before me, back to the days
The effect of this declaration upon its hearers was remarkable. Peter's
jaw dropped, and for the second time that day his face went white; while
Margaret sank down into a chair that stood near by, and stared at him
helplessly. In those times it was a very terrible thing to be a Jew.
Castell looked from one to the other, and, feeling the insult of their
silence, grew angry.
"What!" he exclaimed in a bitter voice, "are you like all the others? Do
you scorn me also because I am of a race more ancient and honourable
than those of any of your mushroom lords and kings? You know my life:
say, what have I done wrong? Have I caught Christian children and
crucified them to death? Have I defrauded my neighbour or oppressed the
poor? Have I mocked your symbol of the Host? Have I conspired against
the rulers of this land? Have I been a false friend or a cruel father?
You shake your heads; then why do you stare at me as though I were a
thing accursed and unclean? Have I not a right to the faith of my
fathers? May I not worship God in my own fashion?" And he looked at
Peter, a challenge in his eyes. "Sir," answered Peter, "without a
doubt you may, or so it seems to me. But then, why for all these years
have you appeared to worship Him in ours?"
At this blunt question, so characteristic of the speaker, Castell seemed
to shrink like a pin-pricked bladder, or some bold fighter who has
suddenly received a sword-thrust in his vitals. All courage went out of
the man, his fiery eyes grew tame, he appeared to become visibly
smaller, and to put on something of the air of those mendicants of his
own race, who whine out their woes and beg alms of the passer-by. When
next he spoke, it was as a suppliant for merciful judgment at the hands
of his own child and her lover.
"Judge me not harshly," he said. "Think what it is to be a Jew--an
outcast, a thing that the lowest may spurn and spit at, one beyond the
law, one who can be hunted from land to land like a mad wolf, and
tortured to death, when caught, for the sport of gentle Christians, who
first have stripped him of his gains and very garments. And then think
what it means to escape all these woes and terrors, and, by the doffing
of a bonnet, and the mumbling of certain prayers with the lips in
public, to find sanctuary, peace, and protection within the walls of
Mother Church, and thus fostered, to grow rich and great."
He paused as though for a reply, but as they did not speak, went on:
"Moreover, as a child, I was baptized into your Church; but my heart,
like that of my father, remained with the Jews, and where the heart goes
the feet follow."
"That makes it worse," said Peter, as though speaking to himself. "My
father taught me thus," Castell went on, as though pleading his case
before a court of law.
"We must answer for our own sins," said Peter again.
Then at length Castell took fire.
"You young folk, who as yet know little of the terrors of the world,
reproach me with cold looks and older words," he said; "but I wonder,
should you ever come to such a pass as mine, whether you will find the
heart to meet it half as bravely? Why do you think that I have told you
this secret, that I might have kept from you as I kept it from your
mother, Margaret? I say because it is a part of my penance for the sin
which I have sinned. Aye, I know well that my God is a jealous God, and
that this sin will fall back on my head, and that I shall pay its price
to the last groat, though when and how the blow will strike me I know
not. Go you, Peter, or you, Margaret, and denounce me if you will. Your
priests will speak well of you for the deed, and open to you a shorter
road to Heaven, and I shall not blame you, nor lessen your wealth by a
single golden noble."
"Do not speak so madly, Sir," said Peter; "these matters are between you
and God. What have we to do with them, and who made us judges over you?
We only pray that your fears may come to nothing, and that you may reach
your grave in peace and honour."
"I thank you for your generous words, which are such as befit your
nature," said Castell gently; "but what says Margaret?"
"I, father?" she answered, wildly. "Oh! I have nothing to say. He is
right. It is between you and God; but it is hard that I must lose my
love so soon." Peter looked up, and Castell answered:
"Lose him! Why, what did he swear but now?"
"I care not what he swore; but how can I ask him, who is of noble,
Christian birth, to marry the daughter of a Jew who all his life has
passed himself off as a worshipper of that Jesus Whom he denies?"
Now Peter held up his hand.
"Have done with such talk," he said. "Were your father Judas himself,
what is that to you and me? You are mine and I am yours till death part
us, nor shall the faith of another man stand between us for an hour.
Sir, we thank you for your confidence, and of this be sure, that
although it makes us sorrowful, we do not love or honour you the less
because now we know the truth."
Margaret rose from her chair, looked a while at her father, then with a
sob threw herself suddenly upon his breast.
"Forgive me if I spoke bitterly," she said, "who, not knowing that I was
half a Jewess, have been taught to hate their race. What is it to me of
what faith you are, who think of you only as my dearest father?"
"Why weep then?" asked Castell, stroking her hair tenderly.
"Because you are in danger, or so you say, and if anything happened to
you--oh! what shall I do then?"
"Accept it as the will of God, and bear the blow bravely, as I hope to
do, should it fall," he answered, and, kissing her, left the chapel.
"It seems that joy and trouble go hand in hand," said Margaret, looking
up presently. "Yes, Sweet, they were ever twins; but provided we have
our share of the first, do not let us quarrel with the second. A pest on
the priests and all their bigotry, say I! Christ sought to convert the
Jews, not to kill them; and for my part I can honour the man who clings
to his own faith, aye, and forgive him because they forced him to feign
to belong to ours. Pray then that neither of us may live to commit a
greater sin, and that we may soon be wed and dwell in peace away from
London, where we can shelter him."
"I do--I do," she answered, drawing close to Peter, and soon they forgot
their fears and doubts in each other's arms.
On the following morning, that of Sunday, Peter, Margaret, and Betty
went together to Mass at St. Paul's church; but Castell said that he was
ill, and did not come. Indeed, now that his conscience was stirred as to
the double life he had led so long, he purposed, if he could avoid it,
to worship in a Christian church no more. Therefore he said that he was
sick; and they, knowing that this sickness was of the heart, answered
nothing. But privately they wondered what he would do who could not
always remain sick, since not to go to church and partake of its
Sacraments was to be published as a heretic.
But if he did not accompany them himself, Castell, without their
knowledge, sent two of his stoutest servants, bidding these keep near to
them and see that they came home safe.
Now, when they left the church, Peter saw two Spaniards, whose faces he
thought he knew, who seemed to be watching them, but, as he lost sight
of them presently in the throng, said nothing. Their shortest way home
ran across some fields and gardens where there were few houses. This
lane, then, they followed, talking earnestly to each other, and noting
nothing till Betty behind called out to them to beware. Then Peter
looked up and saw the two Spaniards scrambling through a gap in the
fence not six paces ahead of them, saw also that they laid their hands
upon their sword-hilts.
"Let us pass them boldly," he muttered to Margaret; "I'll not turn my
back on a brace of Spaniards," but he also laid his hand upon the hilt
of the sword he wore beneath his cloak, and bade her get behind him.
Thus, then, they came face to face. Now, the Spaniards, who were
evil-looking fellows, bowed courteously enough, and asked if he were not
Master Peter Brome. They spoke in Spanish; but, like Margaret Peter knew
this tongue, if not too well, having been taught it as a child, and
practised it much since he came into the service of John Castell, who
used it largely in his trade.
"Yes," he answered. "What is your business with me?"
"We have a message for you, Seņor, from a certain comrade of ours, one
Andrew, a Scotchman, whom you met a few nights ago," replied the
spokesman of the pair. "He is dead, but still he sends his message, and
it is that we should ask you to join him at once. Now, all of us
brothers have sworn to deliver that message, and to see that you keep
the tryst. If some of us should chance to fail, then others will meet
you with the message until you keep that tryst."
"You mean that you wish to murder me," said Peter, setting his mouth and
drawing the sword from beneath his cloak. "Well, come on, cowards, and
we will see whom Andrew gets for company in hell to-day. Run back,
Margaret and Betty--run." And he tore off his cloak and threw it over
his left arm.
So for a moment they stood, for he looked fierce and ill to deal with.
Then, just as they began to feint in front of him, there came a rush of
feet, and on either side of Peter appeared the two stout serving-men,
also sword in hand.
"I am glad of your company," he said, catching sight of them out of the
corners of his eyes. "Now, Seņors Cut-throats, do you still wish to
deliver that message?"
The answer of the Spaniards, who saw themselves thus unexpectedly
out-matched, was to turn and run, whereon one of the serving-men,
picking up a big stone that lay in the path, hurled it after them with
all his force. It struck the hindmost Spaniard full in the back, and so
heavy was the blow that he fell on to his face in the mud, whence he
rose and limped away, cursing them with strange, Spanish oaths, and
"Now," said Peter, "I think that we may go home in safety, for no more
messengers will come from Andrew to-day."
"No," gasped Margaret, "not to-day, but to-morrow or the next day they
will come, and oh! how will it end?"
"That God knows alone," answered Peter gravely as he sheathed his sword.
When the story of this attempt was told to Castell he seemed much
"It is clear that they have a blood-feud against you on account of that
Scotchman whom you killed in self-defence," he said anxiously. "Also
these Spaniards are very revengeful, nor have they forgiven you for
calling the English to your aid against them. Peter, I fear that if you
go abroad they will murder you."
"Well, I cannot stay indoors always, like a rat in a drain," said Peter
crossly, "so what is to be done? Appeal to the law?"
"No; for you have just broken the law by killing a man. I think you had
best go away for a while till this storm blows over."
"Go away! Peter go away?" broke in Margaret, dismayed.
"Yes," answered her father. "Listen, daughter. You cannot be married at
once. It is not seemly; moreover, notice must be given and arrangement
made. A month hence will be soon enough, and that is not long for you to
wait who only became affianced yesterday. Also, until you are wed, no
word must be said to any one of this betrothal of yours, lest those
Spaniards should lay their feud at your door also, and work you some
mischief. Let none know of it, I charge you, and in company be distant
to each other, as though there were nothing between you."
"As you will, Sir," replied Peter; "but for my part I do not like all
these hidings of the truth, which ever lead to future trouble. I say,
let me bide here and take my chance, and let us be wed as soon as
"That your wife may be made a widow before the week is out, or the house
burnt about our ears by these rascals and their following? No, no,
Peter; walk softly that you may walk safely. We will hear the report of
the Spaniard d'Aguilar, and afterwards take counsel."
D'Aguilar came to supper that night as he had promised, and this time
not on foot and unattended, but with pomp and circumstance as befitted a
great lord. First appeared two running footmen to clear the way; then
followed D'Aguilar, mounted on a fine white horse, and splendidly
apparelled in a velvet cloak and a hat with nodding ostrich plumes,
while after him rode four men-at-arms in his livery.
"We asked one guest, or rather he asked himself, and we have got seven,
to say nothing of their horses," grumbled Castell, watching their
approach from an upper window. "Well, we must make the best of it.
Peter, go, see that man and beast are fed, and fully, that they may not
grumble at our hospitality. The guard can eat in the little hall with
our own folk. Margaret, put on your richest robe and your jewels, those
which you wore when I took you to that city feast last summer. We will
show these fine, foreign birds that we London merchants have brave
Peter hesitated, misdoubting him of the wisdom of this display, who, if
he could have his will, would have sent the Spaniard's following to the
tavern, and received him in sober garments to a simple meal.
But Castell, who seemed somewhat disturbed that night, who loved,
moreover, to show his wealth at times after the fashion of a Jew, began
to fume and ask if he must go himself. So the end of it was that Peter
went, shaking his head, while, urged to it by her father, Margaret
departed also to array herself.
A few minutes later Castell, in his costliest feast-day robe, greeted
d'Aguilar in the ante-hall, and, the two of them being alone, asked him
how matters went as regarded de Ayala and the man who had been killed.
"Well and ill," answered d'Aguilar. "Doctor de Puebla, with whom I hoped
to deal, has left London in a huff, for he says that there is not room
for two Spanish ambassadors at Court, so I had to fall back upon de
Ayala after all. Indeed, twice have I seen that exalted priest upon the
subject of the well-deserved death of his villainous servant, and, after
much difficulty, for having lost several men in such brawls, he thought
his honour touched, he took the fifty gold angels--to be transmitted to
the fellow's family, of course, or so he said--and gave a receipt. Here
it is," and he handed a paper to Castell, who read it carefully.
It was to the effect that Peter Brome, having paid a sum of fifty angels
to the relatives of Andrew Pherson, a servant of the Spanish ambassador,
which Andrew the said Peter had killed in a brawl, the said ambassador
undertook not to prosecute or otherwise molest the said Peter on account
of the manslaughter which he had committed.
"But no money has been paid," said Castell.
"Indeed yes, I paid it. De Ayala gives no receipts against promises."
"I thank you for your courtesy, Seņor. You shall have the gold before
you leave this house. Few would have trusted a stranger thus far."
D'Aguilar waved his hand.
"Make no mention of such a trifle. I would ask you to accept it as a
token of my regard for your family, only that would be to affront so
wealthy a man. But listen, I have more to say. You are, or rather your
kinsman Peter, is still in the wood. De Ayala has pardoned him; but
there remains the King of England, whose law he has broken. Well, this
day I have seen the King, who, by the way, talked of you as a worthy
man, saying that he had always thought only a Jew could be so wealthy,
and that he knew you were not, since you had been reported to him as a
good son of the Church," and he paused, looking at Castell.
"I fear his Grace magnifies my wealth, which is but small," answered
Castell coolly, leaving the rest of his speech unnoticed. "But what said
"I showed him de Ayala's receipt, and he answered that if his Excellency
was satisfied, he was satisfied, and for his part would not order any
process to issue; but he bade me tell you and Peter Brome that if he
caused more tumult in his streets, whatever the provocation, and
especially if that tumult were between English and Spaniards, he would
hang him at once with trial or without it. All of which he said very
angrily, for the last thing which his Highness desires just now is any
noise between Spain and England."
"That is bad," answered Castell, "for this very morning there was near
to being such a tumult," and he told the story of how the two Spaniards
had waylaid Peter, and one of them been knocked down by the serving-man
with a stone. At this news d'Aguilar shook his head.
"Then that is just where the trouble lies," he exclaimed. "I know it
from my people, who keep me well informed, that all those servants of de
Ayala, and there are more than twenty of them, have sworn an oath by the
Virgin of Seville that before they leave this land they will have your
kinsman's blood in payment for that of Andrew Pherson, who, although a
Scotchman, was their officer, and a brave man whom they loved much. Now,
if they attack him, as they will, there must be a brawl, for Peter
fights well, and if there is a brawl, though Peter and the English get
the best of it, as very likely they may, Peter will certainly be hanged,
for so the King has promised."
"Before they leave the land? When do they leave it?"
"De Ayala sails within a month, and his folk with him, for his
co-ambassador, the Doctor de Puebla, will bear with him no more, and has
written from the country house where he is sulking that one of them
"Then I think it is best, Seņor, that Peter should travel for a month."
"Friend Castell, you are wise; I think so too, and, I counsel you,
arrange it at once. Hush! here comes the lady, your daughter."
As he spoke, Margaret appeared descending the broad oak stairs which led
into the ante-room. Holding a lamp in her hand, she was in full light,
whereas the two men stood in the shadow. She wore a low-cut dress of
crimson velvet, embroidered about the bodice with dead gold, which
enhanced the dazzling whiteness of her shapely neck and bosom. Round her
throat hung a string of great pearls, and on her head was a net of
gold, studded with smaller pearls, from beneath which her glorious,
chestnut-black hair flowed down in rippling waves almost to her knees.
Having her father's bidding so to do, she had adorned herself thus that
she might look her fairest, not in the eyes of their guest, but in those
of her new-affianced husband. So fair was she seen thus that d'Aguilar,
the artist, the adorer of loveliness, caught his breath and shivered at
the sight of her.
"By the eleven thousand virgins!" he said, "your daughter is more
beautiful than all of them put together. She should be crowned a queen,
and bewitch the world."
"Nay, nay, Seņor," answered Castell hurriedly; "let her remain humble
and honest, and bewitch her husband."
"So I should say if I were the husband," he muttered, then stepped
forward, bowing, to meet her.
Now the light of the silver lamp she held on high flowed over the two of
them, d'Aguilar and Margaret, and certainly they seemed a well-matched
pair. Both were tall and cast by Nature in a rich and splendid mould;
both had that high air of breeding which comes with ancient blood--for
what bloods are more ancient than those of the Jew and the
Eastern?--both were slow and stately of movement, low-voiced, and
dignified of speech. Castell noted it and was afraid, he knew not
Peter, entering the room by another door, clad only in his grey clothes,
for he would not put on gay garments for the Spaniard, noted it also,
and with the quick instinct of love knew this magnificent foreigner for
a rival and an enemy. But he was not afraid, only jealous and angry.
Indeed, nothing would have pleased him better then than that the
Spaniard should have struck him in the face, so that within five minutes
it might be shown which of them was the better man. It must come to
this, he felt, and very glad would he have been if it could come at the
beginning and not at the end, so that one or the other of them might be
saved much trouble. Then he remembered that he had promised to say or
show nothing of how things stood between him and Margaret, and, coming
forward, he greeted d'Aguilar quietly but coldly, telling him that his
horses had been stabled, and his retinue accommodated.
The Spaniard thanked him very heartily, and they passed in to supper. It
was a strange meal for all four of them, yet outwardly pleasant enough.
Forgetting his cares, Castell drank gaily, and began to talk of the many
changes which he had seen in his life, and of the rise and fall of
kings. D'Aguilar talked also, of the Spanish wars and policy, for in the
first he had seen much service, and of the other he knew every turn. It
was easy to see that he was one of those who mixed with courts, and had
the ear of ministers and majesty. Margaret also, being keen-witted and
anxious to learn of the great world that lay beyond Holborn and London
town, asked questions, seeking to know, amongst other things, what were
the true characters of Ferdinand, King of Aragon, and Isabella his wife,
the famous queen.
"I will tell you in few words, Seņora. Ferdinand is the most ambitious
man in Europe, false also if it serves his purpose. He lives for self
and gain--that money and power. These are his gods, for he has no true
religion. He is not clever but, being very cunning, he will succeed and
leave a famous name behind him."
"An ugly picture," said Margaret. "And what of his queen?"
"She," answered d'Aguilar, "is a great woman, who knows how to use the
temper of her time and so attain her ends. To the world she shows a
tender heart, but beneath it lies hid an iron resolution."
"What are those ends?" asked Margaret again.
"To bring all Spain under her rule; utterly to crush the Moors and take
their territories; to make the Church of Christ triumphant upon earth;
to stamp out heresy; to convert or destroy the Jews," he added slowly,
and as he spoke the words, Peter, watching, saw his eyes open and
glitter like a snake's--"to bring their bodies to the purifying flames,
and their vast wealth into her treasury, and thus earn the praise of the
faithful upon earth, and for herself a throne in heaven."
For a while there was silence after this speech, then Margaret said
"If heavenly thrones are built of human blood and tears, what stone and
mortar do they use in hell, I wonder?" Then, without pausing for an
answer, she rose, saying that she was weary, curtseyed to d'Aguilar, her
father and Peter, each in turn, and left the hall.
When she had gone the talk flagged, and presently d'Aguilar asked for
his men and horses and departed also, saying as he went:
"Friend Castell, you will repeat my news to your good kinsman here. I
pray for all your sakes that he may bow his head to what cannot be
helped, and thus keep it safe upon his shoulders."
"What meant the man?" asked Peter, when the sound of the horses' hoofs
had died away.
Castell told him of what had passed between him and d'Aguilar before
supper, and showed him de Ayala's receipt, adding in a vexed voice:
"I have forgotten to repay him the gold; it shall be sent to-morrow."
"Have no fear; he will come for it," answered Peter coldly. "Now, if I
have my way, I will take the risk of these Spaniards' swords and King
Henry's rope, and bide here."
"That you must not do," said Castell earnestly, "for my sake and
Margaret's, if not for yours. Would you make her a widow before she is a
wife? Listen: it is my wish that you travel down to Essex to take
delivery of your father's land in the Vale of Dedham and see to the
repairing of the mansion house, which, I am told, needs it much. Then,
when these Spaniards are gone, you can return and at once be married,
say one short month hence."
"Will not you and Margaret come with me to Dedham?"
Castell shook his head.
"It is not possible. I must wind up my affairs, and Margaret cannot go
with you alone. Moreover, there is no place for her to lodge. I will
keep her here till you return."
"Yes, Sir; but will you keep her safe? The cozening words of Spaniards
are sometimes more deadly than their swords."
"I think that Margaret has a medicine against all such arts," answered
her father with a little smile, and left him.
On the morrow when Castell told Margaret that her lover must leave her
for a while that night--for this Peter would not do himself--she prayed
him even with tears that he would not send him so far from her, or that
they might all go together. But he reasoned with her kindly, showing her
that the latter was impossible, and that if Peter did not go at once it
was probable that Peter would soon be dead, whereas, if he went, there
would be but one short month of waiting till the Spaniards had sailed,
after which they might be married and live in peace and safety.
So she came to see that this was best and wisest, and gave way; but oh!
heavy were those hours, and sore was their parting. Essex was no far
journey, and to enter into lands which only two days before Peter
believed he had lost for ever, no sad errand, while the promise that at
the end of a single month he should return to claim his bride hung
before them like a star. Yet they were sad-hearted, both of them, and
that star seemed very far away.
Margaret was afraid lest Peter might be waylaid upon the road, but he
laughed at her, saying that her father was sending six stout men with
him as an escort, and thus companioned he feared no Spaniards. Peter,
for his part, was afraid lest d'Aguilar might make love to her while he
was away. But now she laughed at him, saying that all her heart was his,
and that she had none to give to d'Aguilar or any other man. Moreover,
that England was a free land in which women, who were no king's wards,
could not be led whither they did not wish to go. So it seemed that they
had naught to fear, save the daily chance of life and death. And yet
they were afraid.
"Dear love," said Margaret to him after she had thought a while, "our
road looks straight and easy, and yet there may be pitfalls in it that
we cannot guess. Therefore you must swear one thing to me: That whatever
you shall hear or whatever may happen, you will never doubt me as I
shall never doubt you. If, for instance, you should be told that I have
discarded you, and given myself to some other husband; if even you
should believe that you see it signed by my hand, or if you think that
you hear it told to you by my voice--still, I say, believe it not."
"How could such a thing be?" asked Peter anxiously.
"I do not suppose that it could be; I only paint the worst that might
happen as a lesson for us both. Heretofore my life has been calm as a
summer's day; but who knows when winter storms may rise, and often I
have thought that I was born to know wind and rain and lightning as well
as peace and sunshine. Remember that my father is a Jew, and that to the
Jews and their children terrible things chance at times. Why, all this
wealth might vanish in an hour, and you might find me in a prison, or
clad in rags begging my bread. Now do you swear?" and she held towards
him the gold crucifix that hung upon her bosom.
"Aye," he said, "I swear it by this holy token and by your lips," and he
kissed first the cross and then her mouth, adding, "Shall I ask the same
oath of you?"
"If you will; but it is not needful. Peter, I think that I know you too
well; I think that your heart will never stir even if I be dead and you
married to another. And yet men are men, and women have wiles, so I will
swear this: That should you slip, perchance, and I live to learn it, I
will try not to judge you harshly." And again she laughed, she who was
so certain of her empire over this man's heart and body.
"Thank you," said Peter; "but for my part I will try to stand straight
upon my feet, so should any tales be brought to you of me, sift them
well, I pray you."
Then, forgetting their doubts and dreads, they talked of their marriage,
which they fixed for that day month, and of how they would dwell happily
in Dedham Vale. Also Margaret, who well knew the house, named the Old
Hall, where they should live, for she had stayed there as a child, gave
him many commands as to the new arrangement of its chambers and its
furnishing, which, as there was money and to spare, could be as costly
as they willed, saying that she would send him down all things by wain
so soon as he was ready for them.
Thus, then, the hours wore away, until at length night came and they
took their last meal together, the three of them, for it was arranged
that Peter should start at moonrise, when none were about to see him go.
It was not a very happy meal, and, though they made a brave show of
eating, but little food passed their lips. Now the horses were ready,
and Margaret buckled on Peter's sword and threw his cloak about his
shoulders, and he, having shaken Castell by the hand and bade him guard
their jewel safely, without more words kissed her in farewell, and went.
Taking the silver lamp in her hand, she followed him to the ante-room.
At the door he turned and saw her standing there gazing after him with
wide eyes and a strained, white face. At the sight of her silent pain
almost his heart failed him, almost he refused to go. Then he
remembered, and went.
For a while Margaret still stood thus, until the sound of the horses'
hoofs had died away indeed. Then she turned and said:
"Father, I know not how it is, but it seems to me that when Peter and I
meet again it will be far off, yes, far off upon the stormy sea--but
what sea I know not." And without waiting for an answer she climbed the
stairs to her chamber, and there wept herself to sleep.
Castell watched her depart, then muttered to himself:
"Pray God she is not foresighted like so many of our race; and yet why
is my own heart so heavy? Well, according to my judgment, I have done my
best for him and her, and for myself I care nothing."
NEWS FROM SPAIN
Peter Brome was a very quiet man, whose voice was not often heard about
the place, and yet it was strange how dull and different the big, old
house in Holborn seemed without him. Even the handsome Betty, with whom
he was never on the best of terms, since there was much about her of
which he disapproved, missed him, and said so to her cousin, who only
answered with a sigh. For in the bottom of her heart Betty both feared
and respected Peter. The fear was of his observant eyes and caustic
words, which she knew were always words of truth, and the respect for
the general uprightness of his character, especially where her own sex
In fact, as has been hinted, some little time before, when Peter had
first come to live with the Castells, Betty, thinking him a proper man
of gentle birth, such a one indeed as she would wish to marry, had made
advances to him, which, as he did not seem to notice them, became by
degrees more and more marked. What happened at last they two knew alone,
but it was something that caused Betty to become very angry, and to
speak of Peter to her friends as a cold-blooded lout who thought only of
work and gain. The episode was passing, and soon forgotten by the lady
in the press of other affairs; but the respect remained. Moreover, on
one or two occasions, when the love of admiration had led her into
griefs, Peter had proved a good friend, and what was better, a friend
who did not talk. Therefore she wished him back again, especially now,
when something that was more than mere vanity and desire for excitement
had taken hold of her, and Betty found herself being swept off her feet
into very deep and doubtful waters.
The shopmen and the servants missed him also, for to him all disputes
were brought for settlement, nor, provided it had not come about through
lack of honesty, were any pains too great for him to take to help them
in a trouble. Most of all Castell missed him, since until Peter had gone
he did not know how much he had learned to rely upon him, both in his
business and as a friend. As for Margaret, her life without him was one
long, empty night.
Thus it chanced that in such a house any change was welcome, and, though
she liked him little enough, Margaret was not even displeased when one
morning Betty told her that the lord d'Aguilar was coming to call on her
that day, and purposed to bring her a present.
"I do not seek his presents," said Margaret indifferently; then added,
"But how do you know that, Betty?"
The young woman coloured, and tossed her head as she answered:
"I know it, Cousin, because, as I was going to visit my old aunt
yesterday, who lives on the wharf at Westminster, I met him riding, and
he called out to me, saying that he had a gift for you and one for
"Be careful you do not meet him too often, Betty, when you chance to be
visiting your aunt. These Spaniards are not always over-honest, as you
may learn to your sorrow."
"I thank you for your good counsel," said Betty, shortly, "but I, who am
older than you, know enough of men to be able to guard myself, and can
keep them at a distance."
"I am glad of it, Betty, only sometimes I have thought that the distance
was scarcely wide enough," answered Margaret, and left the subject, for
she was thinking of other things.
That afternoon, when Margaret was walking in the garden, Betty, whose
face seemed somewhat flushed, ran up to her and said that the lord
d'Aguilar was waiting in the hall.
"Very good," answered Margaret, "I will come. Go, tell my father, that
he may join us. But why are you so disturbed and hurried?" she added
"Oh!" answered Betty, "he has brought me a present, so fine a present--a
mantle of the most wonderful lace that ever I saw, and a comb of mottled
shell mounted in gold to keep it off the hair. He made me wait while he
showed me how to put it on, and that was why I ran."
Margaret did not quite see the connection; but she answered slowly:
"Perhaps it would have been wiser if you had run first. I do not
understand why this fine lord brings you presents."
"But he has brought one for you also, Cousin, although he would not say
what it was."
"That I understand still less. Go, tell my father that the Seņor
d'Aguilar awaits him."
Then she went into the hall, and found d'Aguilar looking at an
illuminated Book of Hours in which she had been reading, that was
written in Spanish in one column and in Latin in that opposite. He
greeted her in his usual graceful way, that, where Margaret was
concerned, was easy and well-bred without being bold, and said at once:
"So you read Spanish, Seņora?"
"A little. Not very well, I fear."
"And Latin also?"
"A little again. I have been taught that tongue. By studying them thus I
try to improve myself in both."
"I perceive that you are learned as you are beautiful," and he bowed
"I thank you, Seņor; but I lay claim to neither grace."
"What need is there to claim that which is evident?" replied d'Aguilar;
then added, "But I forgot, I have brought you a present, if you will be
pleased to accept it. Or, rather, I bring you what is your own, or at
the least your father's. I bargained with his Excellency Don de Ayala,
pointing out that fifty gold angels were too much to pay for that dead
rogue of his; but he would give me nothing back in money, since with
gold he never parts. Yet I won some change from him, and it stands
without your door. It is a Spanish jennet of the true Moorish blood,
which, hundreds of years ago, that people brought with them from the
East. He needs it no longer, as he returns to Spain, and it is trained
to bear a lady." Margaret did not know what to answer, but,
fortunately, at that moment her father appeared, and to him d'Aguilar
repeated his tale, adding that he had heard his daughter say that the
horse she rode had fallen with her, so that she could use it no more.
Now, Castell did not wish to accept this gift, for such he felt it to
be; but d'Aguilar assured him that if he did not he must sell it and
return him the price in money, as it did not belong to him. So, there
being no help for it, he thanked him in his daughter's name and his own,
and they went into the stable-yard, whither it had been taken, to look
at this horse.
The moment that Castell saw it he knew that it was a creature of great
value, pure white in colour, with a long, low body, small head, gentle
eyes, round hoofs, and flowing mane and tail, such a horse, indeed, as a
queen might have ridden. Now again he was confused, being sure that this
beast had never been given back as a luck-penny, since it would have
fetched more than the fifty angels on the market; moreover, it was
harnessed with a woman's saddle and bridle of the most beautifully
worked red Cordova leather, to which were attached a silver bit and
stirrup. But d'Aguilar smiled, and vowed that things were as he had told
them, so there was nothing more to be said. Margaret, too, was so
pleased with the mare, which she longed to ride, that she forgot her
scruples, and tried to believe that this was so. Noting her delight,
which she could not conceal as she patted the beautiful beast,
"Now I will ask one thing in return for the bargain that I have
made--that I may see you mount this horse for the first time. You told
me that you and your father were wont to go out together in the
morning. Have I your leave, Sir," and he turned to Castell, "to ride
with you before breakfast, say, at seven of the clock, for I would show
the lady, your daughter, how she should manage a horse of this blood,
which is something of a trick?"
"If you will," answered Castell--"that is, if the weather is fine," for
the offer was made so courteously that it could scarcely be refused.
D'Aguilar bowed, and they re-entered the house, talking of other
matters. When they were in the hall again, he asked whether their
kinsman Peter had reached his destination safely, adding:
"I pray you, do not tell me where it is, for I wish to be able to put my
hand upon my heart and swear to all concerned, and especially to certain
fellows who are still seeking for him, that I know nothing of his
Castell answered that he had, since but a few minutes before a letter
had come from him announcing his safe arrival, tidings at which Margaret
looked up, then, remembering her promise, said that she was glad to hear
of it, as the roads were none too safe, and spoke indifferently of
something else. D'Aguilar added that he also was glad, then, rising,
took his leave "till seven on the morrow."
When he had gone, Castell gave Margaret a letter, addressed to her in
Peter's stiff, upright hand, which she read eagerly. It began and ended
with sweet words, but, like his speech, was brief and to the point,
saying only that he had accomplished his journey without adventure, and
was very glad to find himself again in the old house where he was born,
and amongst familiar fields and faces. On the morrow he was to see the
tradesmen as to alterations and repairs which were much needed, even the
moat being choked with mud and weeds. His last sentence was: "I much
mistrust me of that fine Spaniard, and I am jealous to think that he
should be near to you while I am far away. Beware of him, I say--beware
of him. May the Mother of God and all the saints have you in their
keeping! Your most true affianced lover."
This letter Margaret answered before she slept, for the messenger was to
return at dawn, telling Peter, amongst other things, of the gift which
d'Aguilar had brought her, and how she and her father were forced to
accept it, but bidding him not be jealous, since, although the gift was
welcome, she liked the giver little, who did but count the hours till
her true lover should come back again and take her to himself.
Next morning she was up early, clothed in her riding-dress, for the day
was very fine, and by seven o'clock d'Aguilar appeared, mounted on a
great horse. Then the Spanish jennet was brought out, and deftly he
lifted her to the saddle, showing her how she must pull but lightly on
the reins, and urge or check her steed with her voice alone, using no
whip or spur.
A perfect beast it proved to be, indeed, gentle as a lamb, and easy, yet
very spirited and swift.
D'Aguilar was a pleasant cavalier also, talking of many things grave and
gay, until at length even Castell forgot his thoughts, and grew cheerful
as they cantered forward through the fresh spring morning by heath and
hill and woodland, listening to the singing of the birds, and watching
the husbandmen at their labour. This ride was but the first of several
that they took, since d'Aguilar knew their hours of exercise, even when
they changed them, and whether they asked him or not, joined or met them
in such a natural fashion that they could not refuse his company.
Indeed, they were much puzzled to know how he came to be so well
acquainted with their movements, and even with the direction in which
they proposed to ride, but supposed that he must have it from the
grooms, although these were commanded to say nothing, and always denied
having spoken with him. That Betty should speak of such matters, or even
find opportunity of doing so, never chanced to cross their minds, who
did not guess that if they rode with d'Aguilar in the morning, Betty
often walked with him in the evening when she was supposed to be at
church, or sewing, or visiting her aunt upon the wharf at Westminster.
But of these walks the foolish girl said nothing, for her own reasons.
Now, as they rode together, although he remained very courteous and
respectful, the manner of d'Aguilar towards Margaret grew ever more
close and intimate. Thus he began to tell her stories, true or false, of
his past life, which seemed to have been strange and eventful enough; to
hint, too, of a certain hidden greatness that pertained to him which he
did not dare to show, and of high ambitions which he had. He spoke also
of his loneliness, and his desire to lose it in the companionship of a
kindred heart, if he could find one to share his wealth, his station,
and his hopes; while all the time his dark eyes, fixed on Margaret,
seemed to say, "The heart I seek is such a one as yours." At length,
at some murmured word or touch, she took affright, and, since she could
not avoid him abroad, determined to stay at home, and, much as she loved
the sport, to ride no more till Peter should return. So she gave out
that she had hurt her knee, which made the saddle painful to her, and
the beautiful Spanish mare was left idle in the stable, or mounted only
by the groom.
Thus for some days she was rid of d'Aguilar, and employed herself in
reading and working, or in writing long letters to Peter, who was busy
enough at Dedham, and sent her thence many commissions to fulfil.
One afternoon Castell was seated in his office deciphering letters which
had just reached him. The night before his best ship, of over two
hundred tons burden, which was named the _Margaret_, after his daughter,
had come safely into the mouth of the Thames from Spain. That evening
she was to reach her berth at Gravesend with the tide, when Castell
proposed to go aboard of her to see to the unloading of her cargo. This
was the last of his ships which remained unsold, and it was his plan to
re-load and victual her at once with goods that were waiting, and send
her back to the port of Seville, where his Spanish partners, in whose
name she was already registered, had agreed to take her over at a fixed
price. This done, it was only left for him to hand over his business to
the merchants who had purchased it in London, after which he would be
free to depart, a very wealthy man, and spend the evening of his days at
peace in Essex, with his daughter and her husband, as now he so greatly
longed to do. So soon as they were within the river banks the captain of
this ship, Smith by name, had landed the cargo-master with letters and
a manifest of cargo, bidding him hire a horse and bring them to Master
Castell's house in Holborn. This the man had done safely, and it was
these letters that Castell read.
One of them was from his partner Bernaldez in Seville; not in answer to
that which he had written on the night of the opening of this
history--for this there had been no time--yet dealing with matters
whereof it treated. In it was this passage:
"You will remember what I wrote to you of a certain envoy who has been
sent to the Court of London, who is called d'Aguilar, for as our cipher
is so secret, and it is important that you should be warned, I take the
risk of writing his name. Since that letter I have learned more
concerning this grandee, for such he is. Although he calls himself plain
Don d'Aguilar, in truth he is the Marquis of Morella, and on one side,
it is said, of royal blood, if not on both, since he is reported to be
the son born out of wedlock of Prince Carlos of Viana, the half-brother
of the king. The tale runs that Carlos, the learned and gentle, fell in
love with a Moorish lady of Aguilar of high birth and great wealth, for
she had rich estates at Granada and elsewhere, and, as he might not
marry her because of the difference of their rank and faiths, lived with
her without marriage, of which union one son was born. Before Prince
Carlos died, or was poisoned, and while he was still a prisoner at
Morella, he gave to, or procured for this boy the title of marquis,
choosing from some fancy the name of Morella, that place where he had
suffered so much. Also he settled some private lands upon him. After the
prince died, the Moorish lady, his lover, who had secretly become a
Christian, took her son to live at her palace in Granada, where she died
also some ten years ago, leaving all her great wealth to him, for she
never married. At this time it is said that his life was in danger, for
the reason that, although he was half a Moor, too much of the
blood-royal ran in his veins. But the Marquis was clever, and persuaded
the king and queen that he had no ambition beyond his pleasures. Also
the Church interceded for him, since to it he proved himself a faithful
son, persecuting all heretics, especially the Jews, and even Moors,
although they are of his own blood. So in the end he was confirmed in
his possessions and left alone, although he refused to become a priest.
"Since then he has been made an agent of the Crown at Granada, and
employed upon various embassies to London, Rome, and elsewhere, on
matters connected with the faith and the establishment of the Holy
Inquisition. That is why he is again in England at this moment, being
charged to obtain the names and particulars concerning all Maranos
settled there, especially if they trade with Spain. I have seen the
names of those of whom he must inquire most closely, and that is why I
write to you so fully, since yours is first upon the list. I think,
therefore, that you do wisely to wind up your business with this
country, and especially to sell your ships to us outright and quickly,
since otherwise they might be seized--like yourself, if you came here.
My counsel to you is--hide your wealth, which will be great when we have
paid you all we owe, and go to some place where you will be forgotten
for a while, since that bloodhound d'Aguilar, for so he calls himself,
after his mother's birthplace, has not tracked you to London for
nothing. As yet, thanks be to God, no suspicion has fallen on any of us;
perhaps because we have many in our pay."
When Castell had finished transcribing all this passage he read it
through carefully. Then he went into the hall, where a fire burned, for
the day was cold, and threw the translation on to it, watching until it
was consumed, after which he returned to his office, and hid away the
letter in a secret cupboard behind the panelling of the wall. This done,
he sat himself in his chair to think.
"My good friend Juan Bernaldez is right," he said to himself;
"d'Aguilar, or the Marquis Morella, does not nose me and the others out
for nothing. Well, I shall not trust myself in Spain, and the money,
most of it, except what is still to come from Spain, is put out where it
will never be found by him, at good interest too. All seems safe
enough--and yet I would to God that Peter and Margaret were fast
married, and that we three sat together, out of sight and mind, in the
Old Hall at Dedham. I have carried on this game too long. I should have
closed my books a year ago; but the trade was so good that I could not.
I was wise also, who in this one lucky year have nearly doubled my
fortune. And yet it would have been safer, before they guessed that I
was so rich. Greed--mere greed--for I do not need this money which may
destroy us all! Greed! The ancient pitfall of my race."
As he thought thus there came a knock upon his door. Snatching up a pen
he dipped it in the ink-horn and, calling "Enter," began to add a column
of figures on a paper before him.
The door opened; but he seemed to take no heed, so diligently did he
count his figures. Yet, although his eyes were fixed upon the paper, in
some way that he could not understand he was well aware that d'Aguilar
and no other stood in the room behind him, the truth being, no doubt,
that unconsciously he had recognised his footstep. For a moment the
knowledge turned him cold--he who had just been reading of the mission
of this man--and feared what was to come. Yet he acted well.
"Why do you disturb me, Daughter?" he said testily, and without looking
round. "Have not things gone ill enough with half the cargo destroyed by
sea-water, and the rest, that you must trouble me while I sum up my
losses?" And, casting the pen down, he turned his stool round
Yes! there sure enough stood d'Aguilar, very handsomely arrayed, and
smiling and bowing as was his custom.
"Losses?" said d'Aguilar. "Do I hear the wealthy John Castell, who holds
half the trade with Spain in the hollow of his hand, talk of losses?"
"Yes, Seņor, you do. Things have gone ill with this ship of mine that
has barely lived through the spring gales. But be seated."
"Indeed, is that so?" said d'Aguilar as he sat down. "What a lying jade
is rumour! For I was told that they had gone very well. Doubtless,
however, what is loss to you would be priceless gain to one like me."
Castell made no answer, but waited, feeling that his visitor had not
come to speak with him of his trading ventures.
"Seņor Castell," said d'Aguilar, with a note of nervousness in his
voice, "I am here to ask you for something."
"If it be a loan, Seņor, I fear that the time is not opportune." And he
nodded towards the sheet of figures.
"It is not a loan; it is a gift."
"Anything in my poor house is yours," answered Castell courteously, and
in Oriental form.
"I rejoice to hear it, Seņor, for I seek something from your house."
Castell looked a question at him with his quick black eyes.
"I seek your daughter, the Seņora Margaret, in marriage."
Castell stared at him, then a single word broke from his lips.
"Why impossible?" asked d'Aguilar slowly, yet as one who expected some
such answer. "In age we are not unsuited, nor perhaps in fortune, while
of rank I have enough, more than you guess perhaps. I vaunt not myself,
yet women have thought me not uncomely. I should be a good friend to the
house whence I took a wife, where perchance a day may come when friends
will be needed; and lastly, I desire her not for what she may bring with
her, though wealth is always welcome, but--I pray you to believe
it--because I love her."
"I have heard that the Seņor d'Aguilar loves many women, yonder in
"As I have heard that the _Margaret_ had a prosperous voyage, Seņor
Castell. Rumour, as I said but now, is a lying jade. Yet I will not copy
her. I have been no saint. Now I would become one, for Margaret's sake.
I will be true to your daughter, Seņor. What say you now?"
Castell only shook his head.
"Listen," went on d'Aguilar. "I am more than I seem to be; she who weds
me will not lack for rank and titles."
"Yes, you are the Marquis de Morella, the reputed son of Prince Carlos
of Viana by a Moorish mother, and therefore nephew to his Majesty
D'Aguilar looked at him, then bowed and said:
"Your information is good--as good as mine, almost. Doubtless you do not
like that bar in the blood. Well, if it were not there, I should be
where Ferdinand is, should I not? So I do not like it either, though it
is good blood and ancient--that of those high-bred Moors. Now, may not
the nephew of a king and the son of a princess of Granada be fit to mate
with the daughter of--a Jew, yes, a Marano, and of a Christian English
lady, of good family, but no more?"
Castell lifted his hand as though to speak; but d'Aguilar went on:
"Deny it not, friend; it is not worth while here in private. Was there
not a certain Isaac of Toledo who, hard on fifty years ago, left Spain,
for his own reasons, with a little son, and in London became known as
Joseph Castell, having, with his son, been baptized into the Holy
Church? Ah! you see you are not the only one who studies genealogies."
"Well, Seņor, if so, what of it?"
"What of it? Nothing at all, friend Castell. It is an old story, is it
not, and, as that Isaac is long dead and his son has been a good
Christian for nearly fifty years and had a Christian wife and child, who
will trouble himself about such a matter? If he were openly a Hebrew
now, or worse still, if pretending to be a Christian, he in secret
practised the rites of the accursed Jews, why then----"
"Then, of course, he would be expelled this land, where no Jew may
live, his wealth would be forfeit to its king, whose ward his daughter
would become, to be given in marriage where he willed, while he himself,
being Spanish born, might perhaps be handed over to the power of Spain,
there to make answer to these charges. But we wander to strange matters.
Is that alliance still impossible, Seņor?"
Castell looked him straight in the eyes and answered:
There was something so bold and direct in his utterance of the word that
for a moment d'Aguilar seemed to be taken aback. He had not expected
this sharp denial.
"It would be courteous to give a reason," he said presently.
"The reason is simple, Marquis. My daughter is already betrothed, and
will ere long be wedded."
D'Aguilar did not seem surprised at this intelligence.
"To that brawler, your kinsman, Peter Brome, I suppose?" he said
interrogatively. "I guessed as much, and by the saints I am sorry for
her, for he must be a dull lover to one so fair and bright; while as a
husband--" And he shrugged his shoulders. "Friend Castell, for her sake
you will break off this match."
"And if I will not, Marquis?"
"Then I must break it off for you in the interest of all of us,
including, of course, myself, who love her, and wish to lift her to a
great place, and of yourself, whom I desire should pass your old age in
peace and wealth, and not be hunted to your death like a mad dog."
"How will you break it, Marquis? by--"
"Oh no, Seņor!" answered d'Aguilar, "not by other men's swords--if that
is what you mean. The worthy Peter is safe from them so far as I am
concerned, though if he should come face to face with mine, then let the
best man win. Have no fear, friend, I do not practise murder, who value
my own soul too much to soak it in blood, nor would I marry a woman
except of her own free will. Still, Peter may die, and the fair Margaret
may still place her hand in mine and say, 'I choose you as my husband.'"
"All these things, and many others, may happen, Marquis; but I do not
think it likely that they will happen, and for my part, whilst thanking
you for it, I decline your honourable offer, believing that my daughter
will be more happy in her present humble state with the man she has
chosen. Have I your leave to return to my accounts?" And he rose.
"Yes, Seņor," answered d'Aguilar, rising also; "but add an item to those
losses of which you spoke, that of the friendship of Carlos, Marquis de
Morella, and on the other side enter again that of his hate. Man!" he
added, and his dark, handsome face turned very evil as he spoke, "are
you mad? Think of the little tabernacle behind the altar in your chapel,
and what it contains."
Castell stared at him, then said:
"Come, let us see. Nay, fear no trick; like you I remember my soul, and
do not stain my hands with blood. Follow me, so you will be safe."
Curiosity, or some other reason, prompted d'Aguilar to obey, and
presently they stood behind the altar.
"Now," said Castell, as he drew the tapestry and opened the secret door,
"look!" D'Aguilar peered into the place; but where should have been
the table, the ark, the candlesticks, and the roll of the law of which
Betty had told him, were only old dusty boxes filled with parchments and
some broken furniture.
"What do you see?" asked Castell.
"I see, friend, that you are even a cleverer Jew than I thought. But
this is a matter that you must explain to others in due season. Believe
me, I am no inquisitor." Then without more words he turned and left him.
When Castell, having shut the secret door and drawn the tapestry,
hurried from the chapel, it was to find that the marquis had departed.
He went back to his office much disturbed, and sat himself down there to
think. Truly Fate, that had so long been his friend, was turning its
face against him. Things could not have gone worse. D'Aguilar had
discovered the secret of his faith through his spies, and, having by
some accursed mischance fallen in love with his daughter's beauty, was
become his bitter enemy because he must refuse her to him. Why must he
refuse her? The man was of great position and noble blood; she would
become the wife of one of the first grandees of Spain, one who stood
nearest to the throne. Perhaps--such a thing was possible--she might
live herself to be queen, or the mother of kings. Moreover, that
marriage meant safety for himself; it meant a quiet age, a peaceable
death in his own bed--for, were he fifty times a Marano, who would touch
the father-in-law of the Marquis de Morella? Why? Just because he had
promised her in marriage to Peter Brome, and through all his life as a
merchant he had never yet broken with a bargain because it went against
himself. That was the answer. Yet almost he could find it in his heart
to wish that he had never made that bargain; that he had kept Peter, who
had waited so long, waiting for another month. Well, it was too late
now. He had passed his word, and he would keep it, whatever the
cost might be.
Rising, he called one of the servants, and bade her summon Margaret.
Presently she returned, saying that her mistress had gone out walking
with Betty, adding also that his horse was at the door for him to ride
to the river, where he was to pass the night on board his ship.
Taking paper, he bethought him that he would write to Margaret, warning
her against the Spaniard. Then, remembering that she had nothing to fear
from him, at any rate at present, and that it was not wise to set down
such matters, he told her only to take good care of herself, and that he
would be back in the morning.
That evening, when Margaret was in her own little sitting-chamber which
adjoined the great hall, the door opened, and she looked up from the
work upon which she was engaged, to see d'Aguilar standing before her.
"Seņor!" she said, amazed, "how came you here?"
"Seņora," he answered, closing the door and bowing, "my feet brought me.
Had I any other means of coming I think that I should not often be
absent from our side."
"Spare me your fine words, I pray you, Seņor," answered Margaret,
frowning. "It is not fitting that should receive you thus alone at
night, my father being absent from the house." And she made as though
she would pass him and reach the door.
D'Aguilar, who stood in front of it, did not move, so perforce she
stopped half way.
"I found that he was absent," he said courteously, "and that is why I
venture to address you upon a matter of some importance. Give me a few
minutes of your time, therefore, I beseech you."
Now, at once the thought entered Margaret's mind that he had some news
of Peter to communicate to her--bad news perhaps.
"Be seated, and speak on, Seņor," she said, sinking into a chair, while
he too sat down, but still in front of the door.
"Seņora," he said, "my business in this country is finished, and in a
few days I sail hence for Spain." And he hesitated a moment.
"I trust that your voyage will be pleasant," said Margaret, not knowing
what else to answer.
"I trust so also, Seņora, since I have come to ask you if you will share
it. Listen, before you refuse. To-day I saw your father, and begged your
hand of him. He would give me no answer, neither yea nor nay, saying
that you were your own mistress, and that I must seek it from
"My father said that?" gasped Margaret, astonished, then bethought her
that he might have had reasons for speaking so, and went on rapidly,
"Well, it is short and simple. I thank you, Seņor; but stay
"Even that I would be willing to do for your sake Seņora, though, in
truth, I find it a cold and barbarous country."
"If so, Seņor d'Aguilar, I think that I should go to Spain. I pray you
let me pass."
"Not till you have heard me out, Seņora, when I trust that your words
will be more gentle. See now I am a great man in my own country.
Although it suits me to pass here incognito as plain Seņor d'Aguilar I
am the Marquis of Morella, the nephew of Ferdinand the King, with some
wealth and station, official and private. If you disbelieve me, I can
prove it to you."
"I do not disbelieve," answered Margaret indifferently, "it may well be
so; but what is that to me?"
"Then is it not something, Lady, that I, who have blood-royal in my
veins, should seek the daughter of a merchant to be my wife?"
"Nothing at all--to me, who am satisfied with my humble lot."
"Is it nothing to you that I should love as I do, with all my heart and
soul? Marry me, and I tell you that I will lift you high, yes, perhaps
even to the throne."
She thought a moment, then asked:
"The bribe is great, but how would you do that? Many a maid has been
deceived with false jewels, Seņor."
"How has it been done before? Not every one loves Ferdinand. I have many
friends who remember that my father was poisoned by his father and
Ferdinand's, he being the elder son. Also, my mother was a princess of
the Moors, and if I, who dwell among them as the envoy of their
Majesties, threw in my sword with theirs--or there are other ways. But I
am speaking things that have never passed my lips before, which, were
they known, would cost me my head--let it serve to show how much I
"I thank you, Seņor, for your trust; but this crown seems to me set upon
a peak that it is dangerous to climb, and I had sooner sit in safety on
"You reject the pomp," went on d'Aguilar in his passionate, pleading
voice, "then will not the love move you? Oh! you shall be worshipped as
never woman was. I swear to you that in your eyes there is a light which
has set my heart on fire, so that it burns night and day, and will not
be quenched. Your voice is my sweetest music, your hair is a cord that
binds me to you faster than the prisoner's chain, and, when you pass,
for me Venus walks the earth. More, your mind is pure and noble as your
beauty, and by the aid of it I shall be lifted up through the high
places of the earth to some white throne in heaven. I love you, my lady,
my fair Margaret; because of you, all other women are become coarse and
hateful in my sight. See how much I love you, that I, one of the first
grandees of Spain, do this for your sweet sake," and suddenly he cast
himself upon his knees before her, and lifting the hem of her dress
pressed it to his lips.
Margaret looked down at him, and the anger that was rising in her breast
melted, while with it went her fear. This man was much in earnest; she
could not doubt it. The hand that held her robe trembled like shaken
water, his face was ashen, and in his dark eyes swam tears. What cause
had she to be afraid of one who was so much her slave?
"Seņor," she said very gently, "rise, I pray you. Do not waste all this
love upon one who chances to have caught your fancy, but who is quite
unworthy of it, and far beneath you; one, moreover, by whom it may not
be returned. Seņor, I am already affianced. Therefore, put me out of
your mind and find some other love."
He rose and stood in front of her.
"Affianced," he said, "I knew it. Nay, I will say no ill of the man; to
revile one more fortunate is poor argument. But what is it to me if you
are affianced? What to me if you were wed? I should seek you all the
same, who have no choice. Beneath me? You are as far above me as a star,
and it would seem as hard to reach. Seek some other love? I tell you,
lady, that I have sought many, for not all are so hard to win, and I
hate them every one. You I desire alone, and shall desire till I be
dead, aye, and you I will win or die. No, I will not die till you are my
own. Have no fear, I will not kill your lover, save perhaps in fair
fight; I will not force you to give yourself to me, should I find the
chance, but with your own lips I will yet listen to you asking me to be
your husband. I swear it by Him Who died for us. I swear that, laying
aside all other ends, to that sole purpose I will devote my days. Yes,
and should you chance to pass from earth before me, then I will follow
you to the very gates of death and clasp you there."
Now again Margaret's fear returned to her. This man's passion was
terrible, yet there was a grandeur in it; Peter had never spoken to her
in so high a fashion.
"Seņor," she said almost pleadingly, "corpses are poor brides; have done
with such sick fancies, which surely must be born of your
"It is your blood also, who are half a Jew, and, therefore, at least you
should understand them."
"Mayhap I do understand, mayhap I think them great in their own fashion,
yes, noble even, and admire, if it can be noble to seek to win away
another man's betrothed. But, Seņor, I am that man's betrothed, and all
of me, my body and my soul, is his, nor would I go back upon my word,
and so break his heart, to win the empire of the earth. Seņor, once more
I implore you to leave this poor maid to the humble life that she has
chosen, and to forget her."
"Lady," answered d'Aguilar, "your words are wise and gentle, and I thank
you for them. But I cannot forget you, and that oath I swore just now I
swear again, thus." And before she could prevent him, or even guess what
he was about to do, he lifted the gold crucifix that hung by a chain
about her neck, kissed it, and let it fall gently back upon her breast,
saying, "See, I might have kissed your lips before you could have stayed
me, but that I will never do until you give me leave, so in place of
them I kiss the cross, which till then we both must carry. Lady, my lady
Margaret, within a day or two I sail for Spain, but your image shall
sail with me, and I believe that ere long our paths must cross again.
How can it be otherwise since the threads of your life and mine were
intertwined on that night outside the Palace of Westminster
--intertwined never to be separated till one of us has ceased
to be, and then only for a little while. Lady, for the present,
Then swiftly and silently as he had come, d'Aguilar went.
It was Betty who let him out at the side door, as she had let him in.
More, glancing round to see that she was not observed--for it chanced
now that Peter was away with some of the best men, and the master was
out with others, no one was on watch this night--leaving the door ajar
that she might re-enter, she followed him a little way, till they came
to an old arch, which in some bygone time had led to a house now pulled
down. Into this dark place Betty slipped, touching d'Aguilar on the arm
as she did so. For a moment he hesitated, then, muttering some Spanish
oath between his teeth, followed her.
"Well, most fair Betty," he said, "what word have you for me now?"
"The question is, Seņor Carlos," answered Betty with scarcely suppressed
indignation, "what word you have for me, who dared so much for you
to-night? That you have plenty for my cousin, I know, since standing in
the cold garden I could hear you talk, talk, talk, through the shutters,
as though for your very life."
"I pray that those shutters had no hole in them," reflected d'Aguilar to
himself. "No, there was a curtain also; she can have seen nothing." But
aloud he answered: "Mistress Betty, you should not stand about in this
bitter wind; you might fall ill, and then what should I suffer?"
"I don't know, nothing perhaps; that would be left to me. What I want to
understand is, why you plan to come to see me, and then spend an hour
"To avert suspicion, most dear Betty. Also I had to talk to her of this
Peter, in whom she seems so greatly interested. You are very shrewd,
Betty--tell me, is that to be a match?"
"I think so; I have been told nothing, but I have noticed many things,
and almost every day she is writing to him, though why she should care
for that owl of a man I cannot guess."
"Doubtless because she appreciates solid worth, Betty, as I do in you.
Who can account for the impulses of the heart, which come, say some of
the learned, from heaven, and others, from hell? At least it is no
affair of ours, so let us wish them happiness, and, after they are
married, a large and healthy family. Meanwhile, dear Betty, are you
making ready for your voyage to Spain?"
"I don't know," answered Betty gloomily. "I am not sure that I trust you
and your fine words. If you want to marry me, as you swear, and be sure
I look for nothing less, why cannot it be before we start, and how am I
to know that you will do so when we get there?"
"You ask many questions, Betty, all of which I have answered before. I
have told you that I cannot marry you here because of that permission
which is necessary on account of the difference in our ranks. Here,
where your place is known, it is not to be had; there, where you will
pass as a great English lady--as of course you are by birth--I can
obtain it in an hour. But if you have any doubts, although it cuts me
to the heart to say it, it would be best that we should part at once. I
will take no wife who does not trust me fully and alone. Say then, cruel
Betty, do you wish to leave me?"
"You know I don't; you know it would kill me," she answered in a voice
that was thick with passion, "you know I worship the ground you tread on,
and hate every woman you go near, yes, even my cousin who has been so
good to me, and whom I love. I will take the risk and come with you,
believing you to be an honest gentleman, who would not deceive a girl
who trusts him; and if you do, may God deal with you as I shall, for I
am no toy to be broken and thrown away, as you would find out. Yes, I
will take the risk because you have made me love you so that I cannot
live without you."
"Betty, your words fill me with rapture, showing me that I have not
misread your noble mind; but speak a little lower--there are echoes in
this hole. Now for the plans, for time is short, and you may be missed.
When I am about to sail I will invite Mistress Margaret and yourself to
come aboard my ship."
"Why not invite me without my cousin Margaret?" asked Betty.
"Because it would excite suspicion which we must avoid--do not interrupt
me. I will invite you both or get you there upon some other pretext, and
then I will arrange that she shall be brought ashore again and you taken
on. Leave it all to me, only swear that you will obey any instructions I
may send you for if you do not, I tell you that we have enemies in high
places who may part us for ever. Betty, I will be frank, there is a
great lady who is jealous, and watches you very closely. Do you swear?"
"Yes, yes, I swear. But about the great lady?"
"Not a word about her--on your life--and mine. You shall hear from me
shortly. And now, sweetheart--good-night."
"Good-night," said Betty, but still she did not stir.
Then, understanding that she expected something more, d'Aguilar nerved
himself to the task, and touched her hair with his lips.
Next moment he regretted it, for even that tempered salute fanned her
passion into flame.
Throwing her arms about his neck Betty drew his face to hers and kissed
him many times, till at length he broke, half choking, from her embrace,
and escaped into the street.
"Mother of Heaven!" he muttered to himself, "the woman is a volcano in
eruption. I shall feel her kisses for a week," and he rubbed his face
ruefully with his hand. "I wish I had made some other plan; but it is
too late to change it now--she would betray everything. Well, I will be
rid of her somehow, if I have to drown her. A hard fate to love the
mistress and be loved of the maid!"
On the following morning, when Castell returned, Margaret told him of
the visit of d'Aguilar, and of all that had passed between them, told
him also that he was acquainted with their secret, since he had spoken
of her as half a Jew.
"I know it, I know it," answered her father, who was much disturbed and
very angry, "for yesterday he threatened me also. But let that go, I can
take my chance; now I would learn who brought this man into my house
when I was absent, and without my leave."
"I fear that it was Betty," said Margaret, "who swears that she thought
she did no wrong."
"Send for her," said Castell. Presently Betty came, and, being
questioned, told a long story.
She said she was standing by the side door, taking the air, when Seņor
d'Aguilar appeared, and, having greeted her, without more words walked
into the house, saying that he had an appointment with the master.
"With me?" broke in Castell. "I was absent."
"I did not know that you were absent, for I was out when you rode away
in the afternoon, and no one had spoken of it to me, so, thinking that
he was your friend, I let him in, and let him out again afterwards. That
is all I have to say."
"Then I have to say that you are a hussy and a liar, and that, in one
way or the other, this Spaniard has bribed you," answered Castell
fiercely. "Now, girl, although you are my wife's cousin, and therefore
my daughter's kin, I am minded to turn you out on to the street
At this Betty first grew angry, then began to weep; while Margaret
pleaded with her father, saying that it would mean the girl's ruin, and
that he must not take such a sin upon him. So the end of it was, that,
being a kind-hearted man, remembering also that Betty Dene was of his
wife's blood, and that she had favoured her as her daughter did, he
relented, taking measures to see that she went abroad no more save in
the company of Margaret, and that the doors were opened only by
So this matter ended.
That day Margaret wrote to Peter, telling him of all that had happened,
and how the Spaniard had asked her in marriage, though the words that he
used she did not tell. At the end of her letter, also, she bade him have
no fear of the Seņor d'Aguilar or of any other man, as he knew where her
When Peter received this writing he was much vexed to learn that both
Master Castell and Margaret had incurred the enmity of d'Aguilar, for so
he guessed it must be, also that Margaret should have been troubled with
his love-making; but for the rest he thought little of the matter, who
trusted her as he trusted heaven. Still it made him anxious to return to
London as soon as might he, even though he must take the risk of the
Spaniards' daggers. Within three days, however, he received other
letters both from Castell and from Margaret, which set his fears
These told him that d'Aguilar had sailed for Spain indeed, Castell said
that he had seen him standing on the poop of the Ambassador de Ayala's
vessel as it dropped down the Thames towards the sea. Moreover, Margaret
had a note of farewell from his hand, which ran:
"Adieu, sweet lady, till that predestined hour when
we meet again. I go, as I must, but, as I told you, your
image goes with me.
"Your worshipper till death,
"He may take her image so long as I keep herself and if he comes back
with his worship, I promise him that death and he shall not be far
apart," was Peter's grim comment as he laid the paper down. Then he went
on with his letters, which told that now, when the Spaniards had gone,
and there was nothing more to fear, he was awaited in London. Indeed,
Castell fixed a day when he should arrive--May 31st--that was within a
week, adding that on its morrow--namely, June 1st, for Margaret would
not be wed in May, the Virgin Mary's month, since she held it to be
unlucky--their marriage might take place as quietly as they would.
Margaret wrote the same news, and in such sweet words that he kissed her
letter, then hastened to answer it, shortly, after his custom, for Peter
was no great scribe, saying, that if the saints willed it he would be
with them by nightfall on the last day of May, and that in all England
there was no happier man than he.
* * * * *
Now all that week Margaret was very busy preparing her marriage robe,
and other garments also, for it was settled that on the next day they
should ride together down to Dedham, in Essex, whither her father would
follow them shortly. The Old Hall was not ready, indeed, nor would it be
for some time; but Peter had furnished certain rooms in it which might
serve them for the summer season, and by winter time the house would be
finished and open.
Castell was busy also, for now, having worked very hard at the task, his
ship the _Margaret_ was almost refitted and laden, so that he hoped to
get her to sea on this same May 31st, and thus be clear of the last of
his business, except the handing over of his warehouses and stock to
those who had bought them. These great affairs kept him much at
Gravesend, where the ship lay, but, as he had no dread of further
trouble now that d'Aguilar and the other Spaniards, among them that band
of de Ayala's servants who had vowed to take Peter's life, were gone,
this did not disturb him.
Oh! happy, happy was Margaret during those sweet spring days, when her
heart was bright and clear as the skies from which all winter storms had
passed. So happy was she indeed, and so full of a hundred joyful cares,
that she found no time to take note of her cousin Betty, who worked with
her at her wedding broideries, and helped to make preparations for the
journey which should follow after. Had she done so, she might have seen
that Betty was anxious and distressed, like one who waited for some
tidings that did not come, and from hour to hour fought against anguish
and despair But she took no note, whose heart was too full of her own
matters, and who did but count the hours till she should see her lover
back and pass to his arms, a wife.
Thus the time went on until the appointed day of Peter's return, the
morrow of her marriage, for which all things were now prepared, down to
Peter's wedding garments, that were finer than any she had yet seen him
wear, and the decking of the neighbouring church with flowers. In the
early morning her father rode away to Gravesend with the most of his
men-servants for the ship _Margaret_ was to sail at the following dawn
and there was yet much to be done before she could lift anchor. Still,
he had promised to be back by nightfall in time to meet Peter who,
leaving Dedham that morning, could not reach them before then.
At length it was past four of the afternoon, and everything being
finished, Margaret went to her room to dress herself anew, that she
might look fine in Peter's eyes when he should come. Betty she did not
take with her, for there were things to which her cousin must attend;
moreover, her heart was so full that she wished to be alone a while.
Betty's heart was full also, but not with joy. She had been deceived.
The fine Spanish Don, who had made her love him so desperately, had
sailed away and left her without a word. She could not doubt it, he had
been seen standing on the ship--and not one word. It was cruel, cruel,
and now she must help another woman to be made a happy wife, she who was
beggared of hope and love. Moodily, full of bitterness, she went about
her tasks, biting her lips and wiping her fine eyes with the sleeve of
her robe, when suddenly the door opened, and a servant, not one of
their own, but a strange man who had been brought in to help at the
morrow's feast, called out that a sailor wished to speak with her.
"Then let him enter here; I have no time to go out to listen to his
talk," snapped Betty.
Presently the sailor was shown in, the man who brought him leaving the
room at once. He was a dark fellow, with sly black eyes, who, had he not
spoken English so well, might have been taken for a Spaniard.
"Who are you, and what is your business?" asked Betty sharply.
"I am the carpenter of the ship _Margaret_," he answered, "and I am here
to say that our master Castell has met with an accident there, and
desires that Mistress Margaret, his daughter, should come to him
"What accident?" asked Betty.
"In seeing to the stowage of cargo he slipped and fell down the hold,
hurting his back and breaking his right arm, and that is why he cannot
write. He is in great pain; but the physician whom we summoned bade me
tell Mistress Margaret that at present he has no fear for his life. Are
you Mistress Margaret?"
"No," answered Betty; "but I will go to her at once; do you bide here."
"Then are you her cousin, Mistress Betty Dene, for if so I have
something for you?"
"I am. What is it?"
"This," said the man, drawing out a letter which he handed to her.
"Who gave you this?" asked Betty suspiciously. "I do not know his
name, but he was a noble-looking Spanish Don, and a liberal one too. He
had heard of the accident on the _Margaret_, and, knowing my errand,
asked me if I would deliver this letter to you, for the fee of a gold
ducat, and promise to say nothing of it to any one else."
"Some rude gallant, doubtless," said Betty, tossing her head; "they are
ever writing to me. Bide here; I go to Mistress Margaret."
Once she was outside the door Betty broke the seal of the letter eagerly
enough, for she had been taught with Margaret, and could read well.
"You thought me faithless and gone, but
it is not so. I was silent only because I knew you
could not come alone who are watched; but now
the God of Love gives us our chance. Doubtless
your cousin will bring you with her to visit her father,
who lies on his ship sadly hurt. While she is with
him I have made a plan to rescue you, and then we
can be wed and sail at once--yes, to-night or to-morrow,
for with much trouble, knowing that you
wished it, I have even succeeded in bringing that
about, and a priest will be waiting to marry us. Be
silent, and show no doubt or fear, whatever happens,
lest we should be parted for always. Be sure then
that your cousin comes that you may accompany her.
Remember that your true love waits you.
When Betty had mastered the contents of this amorous effusion she went
pale with joy, and turned so hint that she was like to fall. Then a
doubt struck her that it might be some trick. No, she knew the
writing--it was d'Aguilar's, and he was true to her, and would marry her
as he had promised, and take her to be a great lady in Spain. If she
hesitated how she might lose him for ever--him whom she would follow to
the end of the world. In an instant her mind was made up, for Betty had
plenty of courage. She would go, even though she must desert the cousin
whom she loved.
Thrusting the letter into her bosom she ran to Margaret's room, and,
bursting into it, told her of the man and his sad message. But of that
letter she said nothing. Margaret turned white at the news, then,
recovering herself, said:
"I will come and speak with him at once." And together they went down
To Margaret the sailor repeated his story, nor could all her questions
shake it. He told her how the mischance had happened, for he had seen
it, so he said, and where her father's hurts were, adding, that although
the physician held that as yet he was in no danger of his life, Master
Castell thought otherwise, and did nothing but cry that his daughter
should be brought to him at once.
Still Margaret doubted and hesitated, for she feared she knew not what.
"Peter should be here within two hours at most," she said to Betty.
"Would it not be best to wait for him?"
"Oh! Margaret, and what if your father should die in the meanwhile?
Perhaps he knows better low deep his hurts are than does this leech. If
so, you would have a sore heart for all your life. Sure you had better
go, or at the least I will."
Still Margaret wavered, till the sailor said:
"Lady, if it is your will to come, I can guide you to where a boat waits
to take you across the river If not, I must be gone, for the ship sails
with the moonrise, and they only wait your coming to carry the master,
your father, to the warehouse on shore thinking it best that you should
be present. If you do not come, this will be done as gently as possible,
and there you must seek him to-morrow, alive or dead. And the man took
up his cap as though to leave.
"I will come with you," said Margaret. "Betty you are right; order the
two horses to be saddled mine and the groom's, with a pillion on which
you can ride, for I will not send you or go alone, understand that this
sailor has his own horse."
The man nodded, and accompanied Betty to the stable. Then Margaret took
pen and wrote hastily to Peter, telling him of their evil chance, and
bidding him follow her at once to the ship, or, if it had sailed to the
warehouse. "I am loth to go," she added "alone with a girl and a strange
man, yet I must since my heart is torn with fear for my beloved father
Sweetheart, follow me quickly."
This done, she gave the letter to that servant who had shown in the
sailor, bidding him hand it, without fail, to Master Peter Brome when he
came, which the man promised to do.
Then she fetched plain dark cloaks for herself and Betty, with hoods to
them, that their faces might not be seen, and presently they
"Stay!" said Margaret to the sailor as they were about to start. "How
comes it that my father did not send one of his own men instead of you,
and why did none write to me?"
The man looked surprised; he was a very good actor.
"His people were tending him," he said, "and he bade me to go because I
knew the way, and had a good, hired horse ashore which I have used when
riding with messages to London about new timbers and other matters. As
for writing, the physician began a letter, but he was so slow and long
that Master Castell ordered me to be off without it. It seems," the man
added, addressing Betty with some irritation, "that Mistress Margaret
misdoubts me. If so, let her find some other guide, or bide at home. It
is naught to me, who have only done as I was bidden."
Thus did this cunning fellow persuade Margaret that her fears were
nothing, though, remembering the letter from d'Aguilar, Betty was
somewhat troubled. The thing had a strange look, but, poor, vain fool,
she thought to herself that, even if there were some trick, it was
certainly arranged only that she might seem to be taken, who could not
come alone. In truth she was blind and mad, and cared not what she did,
though, let this be said for her, she never dreamed that any harm was
meant towards her cousin Margaret, or that a lie had been told as to
Master Castell and his hurts.
Soon they were out of London, and riding swiftly by the road that
followed the north bank of the river, for their guide did not take them
over the bridge, as he said the ship was lying in mid-stream and that
the boat would be waiting on the Tilbury shore. But there was more than
twenty miles to travel, and, push on as they would, night had fallen ere
ever they came there. At length, when they were weary of the dark and
the rough road, the sailor pulled up at a spot upon the river's
brink--where there was a little wharf, but no houses that they could
see--saying that this was the place. Dismounting, he gave his horse to
the groom to hold, and, going to the wharf, asked in a loud voice if the
boat from the _Margaret_ was there, to which a voice answered, "Aye."
Then he talked for a minute to those in the boat, though what he said
they could not hear, and ran back again, bidding them dismount, and
adding that they had done well to come, as Master Castell was much
worse, and did nothing but cry for his daughter.
The groom he told to lead the horses a little way along the bank till he
found an inn that stood there, where he must await their return or
further orders, and to Betty he suggested that she should go with him,
as there was but little place left in the boat. This she was willing
enough to do, thinking it all part of the plan for her carrying off; but
Margaret would have none of it, saying that unless her cousin came with
her she would not stir another step. So grumbling a little the sailor
gave way, and hurried them both to some wooden steps and down these into
a boat, of which they could but dimly see the outline.
So soon as ever they were seated side by side in the stern it was pushed
off, and rowed away rapidly into the darkness, while one of the sailors
lit a lantern which he fastened to the bow, and far out on the river, as
though in answer to the signal, another star of light appeared, towards
which they headed. Now Margaret, speaking through the gloom, asked the
rowers of her father's state; but the sailor, their guide, prayed her
not to trouble them, as the tide ran very swiftly and they must give all
their mind to their business lest they should overset. So she was
silent, and, racked with doubts and fears, watched that star of light
growing ever nearer, till at length it hung above them.
"Is that the ship _Margaret_?" cried their guide, and again a voice
"Then tell Master Castell that his daughter has come at last," he
shouted again, and in another minute a rope had been thrown to them, and
they were fast alongside a ladder on to which Betty, who was nearest to
it, was pushed the first, except for their guide, who had run up the
wooden steps very swiftly.
Betty, who was active and strong, followed him, Margaret coming next. As
she reached the deck Betty thought she heard a voice say in Spanish, of
which she understood something, "Fool! Why have you brought both?" but
the answer she could not catch. Then she turned and gave her hand to
Margaret, and together they walked forward to the foot of the mast.
"Lead me to my father," said Margaret.
Whereon the guide answered:
"Yes, this way, Mistress, but come alone, for the sight of two of you at
once may disturb him."
"Nay," she answered, "my cousin comes with me." And she took Betty's
hand and clung to it.
Shrugging his shoulders the sailor led them forwards, and as they went
she noted that men were hauling on a sail, while other men, who sang a
strange, wild song, worked on what seemed to be a windlass. Now they
reached a cabin, and entered it, the door being shut behind them. In the
cabin a man sat at a table with a lamp hanging over his head. He rose
and turned towards them, bowing, and Margaret saw that it
Betty stood silent; she had expected to meet him, though not here and
thus. Her foolish heart bounded so at the sight of him that she seemed
to choke, and could only wonder dimly what mistake had been made, and
how he would explain to Margaret and get her away, leaving herself and
him together to be married. Indeed, she searched the cabin with her eyes
to see where the priest was waiting, then noting a door beyond, thought
that doubtless he must be hidden there. As for Margaret, she uttered a
little stifled cry, then, being a brave woman, one of that high nature
which grows strong in the face of trouble, straightened herself to her
full height and said in a low, fierce voice:
"What do you here? Where is my father?"
"Seņora," he answered humbly, "I am on board my ship, the _San Antonio_,
and as for your father, he is either on his ship, the _Margaret_, or
more likely, by now, at his house in Holborn."
At these words Margaret reeled back till the wall of the cabin stayed
her, and there she rested.
"Spare me your reproaches," went on d'Aguilar hurriedly. "I will tell
you all the truth. First, be not anxious as to your father; no accident
has happened to him; he is sound and well. Forgive me if you have
suffered pain and doubt; but there was no other way. That tale was only
one of love's snares and tricks----" He paused, overcome, fascinated by
Margaret's face, which of a sudden had grown awful--that of a goddess of
vengeance, of a Medusa, which seemed to chill his blood to ice.
"A snare! A trick!" she muttered hoarsely, while her eyes flamed on him
like burning stars. "Thus then I pay you for your tricks." And in an
instant he became aware that she had snatched a dagger from her bosom
and was springing on him.
He could not move; those fearful eyes held him fast. In another moment
that steel would have pierced his heart. But Betty had seen also, and,
thrusting her strong arms about Margaret, held her back, crying:
"Listen, you do not understand. It is I he wants--not you; I whom he
loves, and who love him, and am about to marry him. You he will send
"Loose me," said Margaret, in such a voice that Betty's arms fell from
her, and she stood there, the dagger still in her hand. "Now," she said
to d'Aguilar, the truth, and be swift with it. What means this woman?"
"She knows best," answered d'Aguilar uneasily. "It has pleased her to
wrap herself in this web of conceits."
"Which it has pleased you to spin, perchance. Speak, girl!"
"He made love to me," gasped Betty; "and I love him. He promised to
marry me. He sent me a letter but to-day--here it is," and she drew
"Read," said Margaret; and Betty read.
"So _you_ have betrayed me," said Margaret, "you, my cousin, whom I have
sheltered and cherished." "No," cried Betty. "I never thought to betray
you; sooner would I have died. I believed that your father was hurt, and
that while you were visiting him that man would take me."
"What have you to say?" asked Margaret of d'Aguilar in the same dreadful
voice. "You offered your accursed love to me--and to her, and you have
snared us both. Man, what have you to say?"
"Only this", he answered, trying to look brave "that woman is a fool,
whose vanity I played on that I might make use of her to keep near
"Do you hear, Betty? do you hear?" cried Margaret with a terrible little
laugh; but Betty only groaned as though she were dying.
"I love you, and you only," went on d'Aguilar "As for your cousin, I
will send her ashore. I have committed this sin because I could not help
myself. The thought that you were to be married to another man to-morrow
drove me mad, and I dared all to take you from his arms, even though you
should never come to mine. Did I not swear to you", he said with an
attempt at his old gallantry, "that your image should accompany me to
Spain, whither we are sailing now?" And as he spoke the words the ship
lurched a little in the wind.
Margaret made no answer, only toyed with the dagger blade, and watched
him with eyes that glittered more coldly than its steel.
"Kill me, if you will, and have done," he went on in a voice that was
desperate with love and shame "So shall I be rid of all this torment."
Then Margaret seemed to awake, for she spoke to him in a new voice--a
measured, frozen voice. "No," she answered, "I will not stain my hands
even with your blood, for why should I rob God of His own vengeance? If
you attempt to touch me, or even to separate me from this poor woman
whom you have fooled, then I will kill--not you, but myself, and I swear
to you that my ghost shall accompany you to Spain, and from Spain down
to the hell that awaits you. Listen, Carlos d'Aguilar, Marquis of
Morella, this I know about you, that you believe in God and hear His
anger. Well, I call down upon you the vengeance of Almighty God. I see
it hang above your head. I say that it shall fall upon you, waking and
sleeping, loving and hating, in life and in death to all eternity. Do
your worst, for you shall do it all in vain. Whether I die or whether I
live, every pang that you cause me to suffer, every misery that you have
brought, or shall bring, upon the head of my betrothed, my father, and
this woman, shall be repaid to you a millionfold in this world and the
next. Now do you still wish that I should accompany you to Spain, or
will you let me go?"
"I cannot," he answered hoarsely; "it is too late."
"So be it, I will accompany you to Spain, I and Betty Dene, and the
vengeance of Almighty God that hovers over you. Of this at least be
sure--I hate you, I despise you, but I fear you not at all. Go." Then
d'Aguilar stumbled from that cabin, and the two women heard the door
bolted behind him.
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