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- St. George and St. Michael Vol. II - 4/34 -
mistress Doughty walked on with straight neck, as if there were nobody but herself in heaven or on the earth, although mortals were merry by her side, and nightingales singing themselves to death over her head. Behind them came Amanda Serafina, with her eyes on her feet, and the corners of her pretty mouth drawn down in contempt of nobody in particular. Now and then Scudamore, when satisfied with his own pretty wit, would throw a glance behind him, and she, somehow or other, would, without change of muscle, let him know that she had heard him. This group sauntered into the orchard.
After them came Dorothy with Dr Bayly, talking of their common friend Mr. Matthew Herbert, and following them into the orchard, wandered about among the trees, under the curdled moonlight of the apple-blossoms, amid the challenges and responses of five or six nightingales, that sang as if their bodies had dwindled under the sublimating influences of music, until, with more than cherubic denudation, their sum of being was reduced to a soul and a throat.
Moonlight, apple-blossoms, nightingales, with the souls of men and women for mirrors and reflectors! The picture is for the musician not the painter, either him of words or him of colours. It was like a lovely show in the land of dreams, even to the living souls that moved in and made part of it. The earth is older now, colder at the heart, a little nearer to the fate of cold-hearted things, which is to be slaves and serve without love; but she has still the same moonlight, the same apple-blossoms, the same nightingales, and we have the same hearts, and so can understand it. But, alas! how differently should we come in amongst the accessories of such a picture! For we men at least are all but given over to ugliness, and, artistically considered, even vulgarity, in the matter of dress, wherein they, of all generations of English men and women, were too easily supreme both as to form and colour. Hence, while they are an admiration to us, we shall be but a laughter to those that come behind us, and that whether their fashions be better than ours or no, for nothing is so ridiculous as ugliness out of date. The glimmer of gold and silver, the glitter of polished steel, the flashing of jewels, and the flowing of plumes, went well. But, so canopied with loveliness, so besung with winged passion, so clothed that even with the heavenly delicacies enrounding them they blended harmoniously, their moonlit orchard was an island beat by the waves of war, its air would quiver and throb by fits, shaken with the roar of cannon, and might soon gleam around them with the whirring sweep of the troopers' broad blades; while all throughout the land, the hateful demon of party spirit tore wide into gashes the wounds first made by conscience in the best, and by prejudice in the good.
The elder ladies had floated away together between the mossy stems, under the canopies of blossoms; Rowland had fallen behind and joined the waiting Amanda, and the two were now flitting about like moths in the moonshine; Dorothy and Dr. Bayly had halted in an open spot, like a moonlight impluvium, the divine talking eagerly to the maiden, and the maiden looking up at the moon, and heeding the nightingales more than the divine.
'CAN they be English nightingales?' said Dorothy thoughtfully.
The doctor was bewildered for a moment. He had been talking about himself, not the nightingales, but he recovered himself like a gentleman.
'Assuredly, mistress Dorothy,' he replied; 'this is the land of their birth. Hither they come again when the winter is over.'
'Yes; they take no part in our troubles. They will not sing to comfort our hearts in the cold; but give them warmth enough, and they sing as careless of battle-fields and dead men as if they were but moonlight and apple-blossoms.'
'Is it not better so?' returned the divine after a moment's thought. 'How would it be if everything in nature but re-echoed our moan?'
Dorothy looked at the little man, and was in her turn a moment silent.
'Then,' she said, 'we must see in these birds and blossoms, and that great blossom in the sky, so many prophets of a peaceful time and a better country, sent to remind us that we pass away and go to them.'
'Nay, my dear mistress Dorothy!' returned the all but obsequious doctor; 'such thoughts do not well befit your age, or rather, I would say, your youth. Life is before you, and life is good. These evil times will go by, the king shall have his own again, the fanatics will be scourged as they deserve, and the church will rise like the phoenix from the ashes of her purification.'
'But how many will lie out in the fields all the year long, yet never see blossoms or hear nightingales more!' said Dorothy.
'Such will have died martyrs,' rejoined the doctor.
'On both sides?' suggested Dorothy.
Again for a moment the good man stood checked. He had not even thought of the dead on the other side.
'That cannot be,' he said. And Dorothy looked up again at the moon.
But she listened no more to the songs of the nightingales, and they left the orchard together in silence.
'Come, Rowland, we must not be found here alone,' said Amanda, who saw them go. 'But tell me one thing first: is mistress Dorothy Vaughan indeed your cousin?'
'She is indeed. Her mother and mine were cousins german--sisters' children.'
'I thought it could not be a near cousinship. You are not alike at all. Hear me, Rowland, but let it die in your ear--I love not mistress Dorothy.'
'And the reason, lovely hater? "Is not the maiden fair to see?" as the old song says. I do not mean that she is fair as some are fair, but she will pass; she offends not.'
'She is fair enough--not beautiful, not even pleasing; but, to be just, the demure look she puts on may bear the fault of that. Rowland, I would not speak evil of any one, but your cousin is a hypocrite. She is false at heart, and she hates me. Trust me, she but bides her time to let me know it--and you too, my Rowland.'
'I am sure you mistake her, Amanda,' said Scudamore. 'Her looks are but modest, and her words but shy, for she came hither from a lonely house. I believe she is honest and good.'
'Seest thou not then how that she makes friends with none but her betters? Already hath she wound herself around my lady's heart, forsooth! and now she pays her court to the puffing chaplain! Hast thou never observed, my Rowland, how oft she crosses the bridge to the yellow tower? What seeks she there? Old Kaltoff, the Dutchman, it can hardly be. I know she thinks to curry with my lord by pretending to love locks and screws and pistols and such like. "But why should she haunt the place when my lord is not there?" you will ask. Her pretence will hold the better for it, no doubt, and Caspar will report concerning her. And if she pleases my lord well, who knows but he may give her a pair of watches to hang at her ears, or a box that Paracelsus himself could not open without the secret as well as the key? I have heard of both such. They say my lord hath twenty cartloads of quite as wonderful things in that vault he calls his workshop. Hast thou never marked the huge cabinet of black inlaid with silver, that stands by the wall--fitter indeed for my lady's chamber than such a foul place?'
'I have seen it,' answered Scudamore.
'I warrant me it hath store of gewgaws fit for a duchess.'
'Like enough,' assented Rowland.
'If mistress Dorothy were to find the way through my lord's favour into that cabinet--truly it were nothing to thee or me, Rowland.'
'Assuredly not. It would be my lord's own business.'
'Once upon a time I was sent to carry my young lady Raven thither--to see my lord earn his bread, as said my lady: and what should my lord but give her no less than a ball of silver which, thrown into a vessel of water at any moment would plainly tell by how much it rose above the top, the very hour and minute of the day or night, as well and truly as the castle-clock itself. Tell me not, Rowland, that the damsel hath no design in it. Her looks betoken a better wisdom. Doth she not, I ask your honesty, far more resemble a nose-pinched puritan than a loyal maiden?'
Thus amongst the apple-blossoms talked Amanda Serafina.
'Prithee, be not too severe with my cousin, Amanda,' pleaded Scudamore. 'She is much too sober to please my fancy, but wherefore should I for that hate her? And if she hath something the look of a long-faced fanatic, thou must think, she hath but now, as it were, lost her mother.'
'But now! And I never knew mine! Ah, Rowland, how lonely is the world!'
'Lovely Amanda!' said Rowland.
So they passed from the orchard and parted, fearful of being missed.
How should such a pair do, but after its kind? Life was dull without love-making, so they made it. And the more they made, the more they wanted to make, until casual encounters would no longer serve their turn.
THE ENCHANTED CHAIR.
In the castle things went on much the same, nor did the gathering tumult without wake more than an echo within. Yet a cloud slowly deepened upon the brow of the marquis, and a look of disquiet, to be
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