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But one more task I charge thee with to-day, For unto Proserpine then take thy way, And give this golden casket to her hands.--MORRIS.
Late on that Sunday afternoon, a muffled and masked figure came through the house into the court behind, and after the first shock Aurelia was relieved to see that it was too tall, and moved too gracefully, to belong to Loveday.
"Why, child, what a colour you have!" said Lady Belamour, taking off her mask. "You need no aids to nature at your happy age. That is right, children," as they curtsied and kissed her hand. "Go into the house, I wish to speak with your cousin."
Lady Belamour's unfailing self-command gave her such dignity that she seemed truly a grand and majestic dame dispensing justice, and the gentle, shrinking Aurelia like a culprit on trial before her.
"You have been here a month, Aurelia Delavie. Have you come to your senses, and are you ready to sign this paper?"
"No, madam, I cannot."
"Silly fly; you are as bent as ever on remaining in the web in which a madman and a foolish boy have involved you?"
"I cannot help it, madam."
"Oh! I thought," and her voice became harshly clear, though so low, "that you might have other schemes, and be spreading your toils at higher game."
"Certainly not, madam."
"Your colour shows that you understand, in spite of all your pretences."
"I have never used any pretences, my lady," said Aurelia, looking up in her face with clear innocent eyes.
"You have had no visitors? None!"
"None, madam, except once when the Lady Arabella Mar forced her way in, out of curiosity, I believe, and her brother followed to take her away."
"Her brother? You saw him?" Each word came out edged like a knife from between her nearly closed lips.
"That has not hindered a traffic in letters."
"Not on my side, madam. I tore to fragments unread the only one that I received. He had no right to send it!"
"Certainly not. You judge discreetly, Miss Delavie. In fact you are too transcendent a paragon to be retained here." Then, biting her lip, as if the bitter phrase had escaped unawares, she smiled blandly and said, "My good girl, you have merited to be returned to your friends. You may pack your mails and those of the children!"
Aurelia shuddered with gladness, but Lady Belamour checked her thanks by continuing, "One service you must first do for me. My perfumer is at a loss to understand your translation of the recipe for Queen Mary's wash. I wish you to read and explain it to her."
"She lives near Greenwich Park," continued Lady Belamour, "and as I would not have the secret get abroad, I shall send a wherry to take you to the place early to-morrow morning. Can you be ready by eight o'clock?"
Aurelia readily promised, her heart bounding at the notion of a voyage down the river after her long imprisonment and at the promise of liberty! She thought her husband must still be true to her, since my lady would have been the first to inform her of his defection, and as long as she had her ring and her certificate, she could feel little doubt that her father would be able to establish her claims. And oh! to be with him and Betty once more!
She was ready in good time, and had spent her leisure in packing. When Loveday appeared, she was greeted with a petition that the two little girls might accompany her; but this was refused at once, and the waiting-maid added in her caressing, consoling tone that Mrs. Dove was coming with their little brother and sister to take them a drive into the country. They skipped about with glee, following Aurelia to the door of the court, and promising her posies of honeysuckles and roses, and she left her dear love with them for Amoret and Nurse Dove.
At the door was a sedan chair, in which Aurelia was carried to some broad stone stairs, beside which lay a smartly-painted, trim-looking boat with four stout oarsmen. She was handed into the stern, Loveday sitting opposite to her. The woman was unusually silent, and could hardly be roused to reply to Aurelia's eager questions as she passed the gardens of Lincoln's Inn, saw St. Paul's rise above her, shot beneath the arch of London Bridge, and beheld the massive walls of the Tower with its low-browed arches opening above their steps. Whenever a scarlet uniform came in view, how the girl's eyes strained after it, thinking of one impossible, improbable chance of a recognition! Once or twice she thought of a far more terrible chance, and wondered whether Lady Belamour knew how little confidence could be placed in Loveday; but she was sure that their expedition was my lady's own device, and the fresh air and motion, with all the new scenes, were so delightful to her that she could not dwell on any alarms.
On, on, Redriffe, as the watermen named Rotherhithe, was on one bank, the marshes of the Isle of Dogs were gay with white cotton-grass and red rattle on the other. Then came the wharves and building yards of Deptford, and beyond them rose the trees of Greenwich Park, while the river below exhibited a forest of masts. The boat stopped at a landing-place to a little garden, with a sanded path, between herbs and flowers. "This is Mistress Darke's," said Loveday, and as a little dwarfish lad came to the gate, she said, "We would speak with your mistress."
"On your own part?'
"From the great lady in Hanover Square."
The lad came down to assist in their landing, and took them up the path to a little cupboard of a room, scented with a compound of every imaginable perfume. Bottles of every sort of essence, pomade, and cosmetic were ranged on shelves, or within glass doors, interspersed with masks, boxes for patches, bunches of false hair, powder puffs, curling-irons, and rare feathers. An alembic [a device used in distillation--D.L.] was in the fireplace, and pen and ink, in a strangely-shaped standish, were on the table. Altogether there was something uncanny about the look and air of the room which made Aurelia tremble, especially as she perceived that Loveday was both frightened and distressed.
The mistress of the establishment speedily appeared. She had been a splendid Jewish beauty, and still in middle age, had great owl-like eyes, and a complexion that did her credit to her arts; but there was something indescribably repulsive in her fawning, deferential curtsey, as she said, in a flattering tone, with a slightly foreign accent, "The pretty lady is come, as our noble dame promised, to explain to the poor Cora Darke the great queen's secret! Ah! how good it is to have learning. What would not my clients give for such a skin as hers! And I have many more, and greater than you would think, come to poor Cora's cottage. There was a countess here but yesterday to ask how to blanch the complexion of miladi her daughter, who is about to wed a young baronet, beautiful as Love. Bah! I might as well try to whiten a clove gillyflower! Yet what has not nature done for this lovely miss?"
"Shall I read you the paper?" said Aurelia, longing to end this part of the affair.
"Be seated, fair and gracious lady."
Aurelia tried to wave aside a chair, but Mrs. Darke, on the plea of looking over the words as she read, got her down upon a low couch, putting her own stout person and hooked face in unpleasant proximity, while she asked questions, and Aurelia mentioned her own conjectures on the obsolete French of the recipe, while she perceived, to her alarm, that the woman understood the technical terms much better than she did, and that her ignorance could have been only an excuse.
At last it was finished, and she rose, saying it was time to return to the boat.
"Nay, madam, that cannot be yet," said Loveday; "the watermen are gone to rest and dine, and we must wait for the tide to shoot the bridge."
"Then pray let us go out and walk in Greenwich Park," exclaimed Aurelia, longing to escape from this den.
"The sweet young lady will take something in the meantime?" said Mrs. Darke.
"I thank you, I have breakfasted," said Aurelia.
"My Lady intended us to eat here," said Loveday in an undertone to her young lady, as their hostess bustled out. "She will make it good to Mrs. Darke."
"I had rather go to the inn--I have money--or sit in the park," she added as Loveday looked as if going to the inn were an improper proposal. "Could we not buy a loaf and eat in the park? I should like it so much better."
"One cup of coffee," said Mrs. Darke, entering; "the excellent Mocha that I get from the Turkey captains."
She set down on a small table a wonderful cup of Eastern porcelain, and some little sugared cakes, and Aurelia, not to be utterly ungracious, tasted one, and began on the coffee, which was so hot that it had to be taken slowly. As she sipped a soothing drowsiness came over her, which at first was accounted for by the warm room after her row on the river; but it gained upon her, and instead of setting out for her walk she fell sound asleep in the corner of the couch.
"It has worked. It is well," said Mrs. Darke, lifting the girl's feet on the couch, and producing a large pair of scissors.
Loveday could not repress a little shriek.
"Hush!" as the woman untied the black silk hood, drew it gently off, and then undid the ribbon that confined the victim's abundant tresses. "Bah! it will be grown by the time she arrives, and if not so long as present, what will they know of it? It will be the more agreeable surprise! Here, put yonder cloth under her head while I hold it up."
"I cannot," sobbed Loveday. "This is too much. I never would have entered my Lady's service if I had known I was to be set to such as this."
"Come, come, Grace Loveday, I know too much of you for you to come the Presician over me."
"Such a sweet innocent! So tender-hearted and civil too."
"Bless you, woman, you don't know what's good for her! She will be a very queen over the black slaves on the Indies. Captain Karen will tell you how the wenches thank him for having brought 'em out. They could never do any good here, you know, poor lasses; but out there, where white women are scarce, they are ready to worship the very ground they tread upon."
"I tell you she ain't one of that sort. She is a young lady of birth, a cousin of my Lady's own, as innocent as a babe, and there are two gentlemen, if not three, a dying for her."
"I lay you anything not one of 'em is worth old Mr. Van Draagen, who turns his thousands every month. 'Send me out a lady lass,' says he, 'one that will do me credit with the governor's lady.' Why she will have an estate as big as from here to Dover, and slaves to wait on her, so as she need never stoop to pick up her glove. He has been married twice before, and his last used to send orders for the best brocades in London. He stuck at no expense. The Queen has not finer gowns!"
"But to think of the poor child's waking up out at sea."
"Oh! Mrs. Karen will let her know she may think herself well off. I never let 'em go unless there's a married woman aboard to take charge of them, and that's why I kept your lady waiting till the Red Cloud was ready to sail. You may tell her Ladyship she could not have a better berth, and she'll want for nothing. I know what is due to the real quality, and I've put aboard all the toilette, and linen, and dresses as was bespoke for the last Mrs. Van Draagen, and there's a civil spoken wench aboard, what will wait on her for a consideration."
"Nay, but mistress," said Loveday, whispering: "I know those that would give more than you will ever get from my Lady if they found her safe here."
"Of course there are, or she would not be here now," said Mrs. Darke, with a horrid grin; "but that won't do, my lass. A lady that's afraid of exposure will pay you, if she pawns her last diamond, but a gentleman--why, he gets sick of his fancy, and snaps his fingers at them that helped him!" Then, looking keenly at Loveday, "You've not been playing me false, eh?"
"O no, no," hastily exclaimed Loveday, cowering at the malignant look.
"If so be you have, Grace Loveday, two can play at that game," said Mrs. Darke composedly. "There, I have left her enough to turn back. What hair it is! Feel the weight of it! There's not another head of the mouse-colour to match your Lady's in the kingdom," she added, smoothing out the severed tresses with the satisfaction of a connoisseur. "No wonder madame could not let this be wasted on the plantations, when you and I and M. le Griseur know her own hair is getting thinner than she would wish a certain Colonel to guess. There! the pretty dear, what a baby she looks! I will tie her on a cowl, lest she should take cold on the river. See these rings. Did you Lady give no charge about them?"
"I had forgot!" said the waiting-woman, confused; "she charged me to bring them back, old family jewels, she said, that must not be carried off to foreign parts; but I cannot, cannot do it. To rob that pretty creature in her sleep."
"Never fear. She'll soon have a store much finer than these! You fool, I tell you she will not wake these six or eight hours. Afraid? There, I'll do it! Ho! A ruby? A love-token, I wager; and what's this? A carved Cupid. I could turn a pretty penny by that, when your lady finds it convenient, and her luck at play goes against her. Eh! is this a wedding-ring? Best take that off; Mr. Van Draagen might not understand it, you see. Here they are. Have you a patch- box handy for them in your pocket? Why what ails the woman? You may thank your stars there's some one here with her wits about her! None of your whimpering, I say, her comes Captain Karen."
Two seafaring men here came up the garden path, the foremost small and dapper, with a ready address and astute countenance. "All right, Mother Darkness, is our consignment ready? Aye, aye! And the freight?"
"This lady has it," said Mrs. Darke, pointing to Loveday; "I have been telling her she need have no fears for her young kinswoman in your hands, Captain."
He swore a round oath to that effect, and looking at the sleeping maiden, again swore that she was the choicest piece of goods ever confided to him, and that he knew better than let such an article arrive damaged. Mr. Van Draagen ought to come down handsomely for such an extra fine sample; but in the meantime he accepted the rouleau of guineas that Loveday handed to him, the proceeds, as she told Mrs. Darke, of my Lady's winnings last night at loo.
All was ready. Poor Aurelia was swathed from head to foot in a large mantle, like the chrysalis whose name she bore, the two sailors took her up between them, carried her to their boat, and laid her along in the stern. Then they pushed off and rowed down the river. Loveday looked up and looked down, then sank on the steps, convulsed with grief, sobbing bitterly. "She said He could deliver her from the mouth of lions! And He has not," she murmured under her breath, in utter misery and hopelessness.
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