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- St. George and St. Michael Vol. III - 4/34 -
maids, would take part, a finer outburst of homely splendour, in which was more colour than gilding, more richness than shine, was not to be seen in all the island.
On such an occasion Rowland had more than once attempted nearer approach to Dorothy, but had gained nothing. She neither repelled nor encouraged him, but smiled at his better jokes, looked grave at his silly ones, and altogether treated him like a boy, young--or old--enough to be troublesome if encouraged. He grew desperate, and so one night summoned up courage as they stood together waiting for the next dance.
'Why will you never talk to me, cousin Dorothy?' he said.
'Is it so, Mr. Scudamore? I was not aware. If thou spoke and I answered not, I am sorry.'
'No, I mean not that,' returned Scudamore. 'But when I venture to speak, you always make me feel as if I ought not to have spoken. When I call you COUSIN DOROTHY, you reply with MR. SCUDAMORE.'
'The relation is hardly near enough to justify a less measure of observance.'
'Our mothers loved each other.'
'They found each other worthy.'
'And you do not find me such?' sighed Scudamore, with a smile meant to be both humble and bewitching.
'N-n-o. Thou hast not made me desire to hold with thee much converse.'
'Tell me why, cousin, that I may reform that which offends thee.'
'If a man see not his faults with his own eyes, how shall he see them with the eyes of another?'
'Wilt thou never love me, Dorothy?--not even a little?'
'Wherefore should I love thee, Rowland?'
'We are commanded to love even our enemies.'
'Art thou then mine enemy, cousin?'
'No, forsooth! I am the most loving friend thou hast.'
'Then am I sorely to be pitied.'
'For having my love?'
'Nay; for having none better than thine. But thank God, it is not so.'
'Must I then be thine enemy indeed before thou wilt love me?'
'No, cousin: cease to be thine own enemy and I will call thee my friend.'
'Marry! wherein then am I mine own enemy? I lead a sober life enough--as thou seest, ever under the eye of my lord.'
'But what wouldst thou an' thou wert from under the eye of thy lord? I know thee better than thou thinkest, cousin. I have read thy title-page, if not thy whole book.'
'Tell me then how runneth my title-page, cousin.'
'The art of being wilfully blind, or The way to see no farther than one would.'
'Fair preacher,--' began Rowland, but Dorothy interrupted him.
'Nay then, an' thou betake thee to thy jibes, I have done,' she said.
'Be not angry with me; it is but my nature, which for thy sake I will control. If thou canst not love me, wilt thou not then pity me a little?'
'That I may pity thee, answer me what good thing is there in thee wherefore I should love thee.'
'Wouldst thou have a man trumpet his own praises?'
'I fear not that of thee who hast but the trumpet--I will tell thee this much: I have never seen in thee that thou didst love save for the pastime thereof. I doubt if thou lovest thy master for more than thy place.'
'Be honest with thyself, Rowland. If thou would have me for thy cousin, it must be on the ground of truth.'
Rowland possessed at least goodnature: few young men would have borne to be so severely handled. But then, while one's good opinion of himself remains untroubled, confesses no touch, gives out no hollow sound, shrinks not self-hurt with the doubt of its own reality, hostile criticism will not go very deep, will not reach to the quick. The thing that hurts is that which sets trembling the ground of self-worship, lays bare the shrunk cracks and wormholes under the golden plates of the idol, shows the ants running about in it, and renders the foolish smile of the thing hateful. But he who will then turn away from his imagined self, and refer his life to the hidden ideal self, the angel that ever beholds the face of the Father, shall therein be made whole and sound, alive and free.
The dance called them, and their talk ceased. When it was over, Dorothy left the hall and sought her chamber. But in the fountain court her cousin overtook her, and had the temerity to resume the conversation. The moth would still at any risk circle the candle. It was a still night, and therefore not very cold, although icicles hung from the mouth of the horse, and here and there from the eaves. They stood by the marble basin, and the dim lights and scarce dimmer shadows from many an upper window passed athwart them as they stood. The chapel was faintly lighted, but the lantern-window on the top of the hall shone like a yellow diamond in the air.
'Thou dost me scant justice, cousin,' said Rowland, 'maintaining that I love but myself or for mine own ends. I know that love thee better than so.'
'For thine own sake, I would, might I but believe it, be glad of the assurance. But--'
Amanda's behaviour to her having at last roused counter observation and speculation on Dorothy's part, she had become suddenly aware that there was an understanding between her and Rowland. It was gradually, however, that the question rose in her mind: could these two have been the nightly intruders on the forbidden ground of the workshop, and afterwards the victims of the watershoot? But the suspicion grew to all but a conviction. Latterly she had observed that their behaviour to each other was changed, also that Amanda's aversion to herself seemed to have gathered force. And one thing she had found remarkable--that Rowland revealed no concern for Amanda's misfortunes, or anxiety about her fate. With all these things potentially present in her mind, she came all at once to the resolution of attempting a bold stroke.
'--But,' Dorothy went on, 'when I think how thou didst bear thee with mistress Amanda--'
'My precious Dorothy!' exclaimed Scudamore, filled with a sudden gush of hope, 'thou wilt never be so unjust to thyself as to be jealous of her! She is to me as nothing--as if she had never been; nor care I forsooth if the devil hath indeed flown away with her bodily, as they will have it in the hall and the guard-room.'
'Thou didst seem to hold friendly enough converse with her while she was yet one of us.'
'Ye-e-s. But she had no heart like thee, Dorothy, as I soon discovered. She had indeed a pretty wit of her own, but that was all. And then she was spiteful. She hated thee, Dorothy.'
He spoke of her as one dead.
'How knewest thou that? Wast thou then so far in her confidence, and art now able to talk of her thus? Where is thine own heart, Mr. Scudamore?'
'In thy bosom, lovely Dorothy.'
'Thou mistakest. But mayhap thou dost imagine I picked it up that night thou didst lay it at mistress Amanda's feet in my lord's workshop in the keep?'
Dorothy's hatred of humbug--which was not the less in existence then that they had not the ugly word to express the uglier thing--enabled her to fix her eyes on him as she spoke, and keep them fixed when she had ended. He turned pale--visibly pale through the shadowy night, nor attempted to conceal his confusion. It is strange how self-conviction will wait upon foreign judgment, as if often only the general conscience were powerful enough to wake the individual one.
'Or perhaps,' she continued, 'it was torn from thee by the waters that swept thee from the bridge, as thou didst venture with her yet again upon the forbidden ground.'
He hung his head, and stood before her like a chidden child.
'Think'st thou,' she went on, 'that my lord would easily pardon such things?'
'Thou knewest it, and didst not betray me! Oh Dorothy!' murmured Scudamore. 'Thou art a very angel of light, Dorothy.'
He seized her hand, and but for the possible eyes upon them, he would have flung himself at her feet.
Dorothy, however, would not yet lay aside the part she had assumed as moral physician--surgeon rather.
'But notwithstanding all this, cousin Rowland, when trouble came upon the young lady, what comfort was there for her in thee? Never hadst thou loved her, although I doubt not thou didst vow and swear
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