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IN THE MEANWHILE
The news of the police raid on a secret gambling club in London, together with the fracas which it entailed, had of necessity reached even as far as sea-girt Thanet. Squire Boatfield had been the first to hear of it; he spread the news as fast as he could, for he was overfond of gossip, and Dame Harrison over at St. Lawrence had lent him able assistance.
Sir Marmaduke had, of course, the fullest details concerning the affair, for he himself owned to having been present in the very house where the disturbance had occurred. He was not averse to his neighbors knowing that he was a frequenter of those exclusive and smart gambling clubs, which were avowedly the resort of the most elegant cavaliers of the day, and his account of some of the events of that memorable night had been as entertaining as it was highly-colored.
He avowed, however, that, disgusted at Richard Lambert's shameful conduct, he had quitted the place early, some little while before my Lord Protector's police had made a descent upon the gamblers. As for Mistress de Chavasse, her name was never mentioned in connection with the affair. She had been in London at the time certainly, staying with a friend, who was helping her in the choice of a new gown for the coming autumn.
She returned to Acol Court with her brother-in-law, apparently as horrified as he was at the disgrace which she vowed Richard Lambert had heaped upon them all.
The story of the young man being caught in the very act of cheating at cards lost nothing in the telling. He had been convicted before Judge Parry of obtaining money by lying and other illicit means, had been condemned to fine and imprisonment and as he refused to pay the former--most obstinately declaring that he was penniless--he was made to stand for two hours in the pillory, and was finally dragged through the streets in a rickety cart in full sight of a jeering crowd, sitting with his back to the nag in company of the public hangman, and attired in shameful and humiliating clothes.
What happened to him after undergoing this wonderfully lenient sentence--for many there were who thought he should have been publicly whipped and branded as a cheat--nobody knew or cared.
They kept him in prison for over ten weeks, it seems, but Sir Marmaduke did not know what had become of him since then.
The other gentlemen got off fairly lightly with fines and brief periods of imprisonment. Young Segrave, so 'twas said, had been shipped to New England by his father, but Master and Mistress Endicott had gone beyond the seas at the expense of the State, and not for their own pleasure or advancement. It appears that my Lord Protector's vigilance patrol had kept a very sharp eye on these two people, who had more than once had to answer for illicit acts before the Courts. They tried in a most shameful manner it appears, to implicate Sir Marmaduke and Mistress de Chavasse in their disgrace, but as the former very pertinently remarked, "How could he, a simple Kentish squire have aught to do with a smart London club? and people of such evil repute as the Endicotts could of a truth never be believed."
All these rumors and accounts had, of course, also reached Sue's ears. At first she took up an attitude of aggressive incredulity when her former friend was accused: nothing but the plain facts as set forth in the Public Advertiser of August the 5th would convince her that Richard Lambert could be so base and mean as Sir Marmaduke had averred.
Even then, in her innermost heart, a vague and indefinable instinct called out to her in Lambert's name, not to believe all that was said of him. She could not think of him as lying, and cheating at a game of cards, when common sense itself told her that he was not sufficiently conversant with its rules to turn them to his own advantage. Her hot-headed partisanship of him gave way of necessity as the weeks sped by, to a more passive disapproval of his condemnation, and this in its turn to a kindly charity for what she thought must have been his ignorance rather than his sin.
What worried her most was that he was not nigh her, now that her sentimental romance was reaching its super-acute crisis. During her guardian's temporary absence from Acol she had made earnest and resolute efforts to see her mysterious lover. She thought that he must know that Sir Marmaduke and Mistress de Chavasse were away and that she herself was free momentarily from watchful eyes.
Yet though with pathetic persistence she haunted the park and the woodlands around the Court, she never even once caught sight of the broad-brimmed hat and drooping plume of her romantic prince. It seemed as if the earth had swallowed him up.
Upset and vaguely terrified, she had on one occasion thrown prudence to the winds and sought out the old Quakeress and Adam Lambert with whom he lodged. But the old Quakeress was very deaf, and explanations with her were laborious and unsatisfactory, whilst Adam seemed to entertain a sullen and irresponsible dislike for the foreigner.
All she gathered from these two was that there was nothing unusual in this sudden disappearance of their lodger. He came and went most erratically, went no one knew whither, returned at most unexpected moments, never slept more than an hour or two in his bed which he quitted at amazingly early hours, strolling out of the cottage when all decent folk were just beginning their night's rest, and wandering off unseen, unheard, only to return as he had gone.
He paid his money for his room regularly, however, and this was vastly acceptable these hard times.
But to Sue it was passing strange that her prince should be out of her reach, just when Sir Marmaduke's and Mistress de Chavasse's absence had made their meetings more easy and pleasant.
Yet with it all, she was equally conscious of an unaccountable feeling of relief, and every evening, when at about eight o'clock she returned homewards after having vainly awaited the prince, there was nothing of the sadness and disappointment in her heart which a maiden should feel when she has failed to see her lover.
She was just as much in love with him as ever!--oh! of that she felt quite sure! she still thrilled at thought of his heroic martyrdom for the cause which he had at heart, she still was conscious of a wonderful feeling of elation when she was with him, and of pride when she saw this remarkable hero, this selfless patriot at her feet, and heard his impassioned declarations of love, even when these were alloyed with frantic outbursts of jealousy. She still yearned for him when she did not see him, even though she dreaded his ill-humor when he was nigh.
She had promised to be his wife, soon and in secret, for he had vowed that she did not love him if she condemned him to three long months of infinite torture from jealousy and suspense.
This promise she had given him freely and whole-heartedly more than a fortnight ago. Since that memorable evening when she had thus plighted her troth to him, when she had without a shadow of fear or a tremor of compunction entrusted her entire future, her heart and soul to his keeping, since then she had not seen him.
Sir Marmaduke had gone to London, also Mistress de Chavasse, and she had not even caught sight of the weird silhouette of her French prince. Lambert, too, had gone, put out of her way temporarily--or mayhap, forever--through the irresistible force of a terrible disgrace. There was no one to spy on her movements, no one to dog her footsteps, yet she had not seen him.
When her guardian returned, he seemed so engrossed with Lambert's misdeeds that he gave little thought to his ward. He and Mistress de Chavasse were closeted together for hours in the small withdrawing-room, whilst she was left to roam about the house and grounds unchallenged.
Then at last one evening--it was late August then--when despair had begun to grip her heart, and she herself had become the prey of vague fears, of terrors for his welfare, his life mayhap, on which he had oft told her that the vengeful King of France had set a price--one evening he came to greet her walking through the woods, treading the soft carpet of moss with a light elastic step.
Oh! that had been a rapturous evening! one which she oft strove to recall, now that sadness had once more overwhelmed her. He had been all tenderness, all love, all passion! He vowed that he adored her as an idolater would worship his divinity. Jealous? oh, yes! madly, insanely jealous! for she was fair above all women and sweet and pure and tempting to all men like some ripe and juicy fruit ready to fall into a yearning hand.
But his jealousy took on a note of melancholy and of humility. He worshiped her so and wished to feel her all his own. She listened entranced, forgetting her terrors, her disappointments, the vague ennui which had assailed her of late. She yielded herself to the delights of his caresses, to the joy of this hour of solitude and rapture. The night was close and stormy; from afar, muffled peals of thunder echoed through the gigantic elms, whilst vivid flashes of lightning weirdly lit up at times the mysterious figure of this romantic lover, with his face forever in shadow, one eye forever hidden behind a black band, his voice forever muffled.
But it was a tempestuous wooing, a renewal of that happy evening in the spring--oh! so long ago it seemed now!--when first he had poured in her ear the wild torrents of his love. The girl--so young, so inexperienced, so romantic--was literally swept off her feet; she listened to his wild words, yielded her lips to his kiss, and whilst she half feared the impetuosity of his mood, she delighted in the very terrors it evoked.
A secret marriage? Why, of course! since he suffered so terribly through not feeling her all his own. Soon!--at once!--at Dover before the clergyman at All Souls, with whom he--her prince--had already spoken.
Yes! it would have to be at Dover, for the neighboring villages might prove too dangerous. Sir Marmaduke might hear of it, mayhap. It would rest with her to free herself for one day.
Then came that delicious period of scheming, of stage-managing everything for the all-important day. He would arrange about a chaise, and she should walk up to the Canterbury Road to meet it. He would await her in the church at Dover, for 'twas best that they should not be seen together until after the happy knot was tied, when he declared that he would be ready to defy the universe.
It had been a long interview, despite the tempest that raged above and around them. The great branches of the elms groaned and cracked under fury of the wind, the thunder pealed overhead and then died away with slow majesty out towards the sea. From afar could be heard the angry billows dashing themselves against the cliffs.
They had to seek shelter under the colonnaded porch of the summerhouse, and Sue had much ado to keep the heavy drops of rain from reaching her shoes and the bottom of her kirtle.
But she was attune with the storm, she loved to hear the weird sh-sh-sh of the leaves, the monotonous drip of the rain on the roof of the summer house, and in the intervals of intense blackness to catch sight of her lover's face, pale of hue, with one large eye glancing cyclops-like into hers, as a vivid flash of lightning momentarily tore the darkness asunder and revealed him still crouching at her feet.
Intense lassitude followed the wild mental turmoil of that night. She had arranged to meet him again two days hence in order to repeat to him what she had heard the while of Sir Marmaduke's movements, and when she was like to be free to go to Dover. During those intervening two days she tried hard to probe her own thoughts; her mind, her feelings: but what she found buried in the innermost recesses of her heart frightened her so, that she gave up thinking.
She lay awake most of the night, telling herself how much she loved her prince; she spent half a day in the perusal of a strange book called The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet by one William Shakespeare who had lived not so long ago: and found herself pondering as to whether her own sentiments with regard to her prince were akin to those so exquisitely expressed by those two young people who had died because they loved one another so dearly.
Then she heard that towards the end of the week Sir Marmaduke and Mistress de Chavasse would be journeying together to Canterbury in order to confer with Master Skyffington the lawyer, anent her own fortune, which was to be handed to her in its entirety in less than three months, when she would be of age.
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