He seemed vastly amused at her terror, and boldly took the hand with which she had arrested his act of total revelation.
“Nay! do you recognize your humble servant at last, fair Editha?” he queried. “On my honor, madam, Lady Sue is deeply enamored of me. What think you of my chances now?”
“You? You?” she repeated at intervals, mechanically, dazed still, lost in a whirl of conflicting emotions wherein fear, amazement, and a certain vein of superstitious horror fought a hard battle in her dizzy brain.
“The risks,” she murmured more coherently.
“If she discover you, before ... before ...”
“Before she is legally my wife? Pshaw! ... Then of a truth my scheme will come to naught ... But will you not own, Editha, that ’tis worth the risk?”
“Afterwards?” she asked, “afterwards?”
“Afterwards, mistress,” he rejoined enigmatically, “afterwards sits on the knees of the gods.”
And with a flourish of his broad-brimmed hat he turned on his heel and anon was lost in the shadows of the tall yew hedge.
How long she stood there watching that spot whereon he had been standing, she could not say. Presently she shivered; the night had turned cold. She heard the cry of some small bird attacked by a midnight prowler; was it the sparrow-hawk after its prey?
From the other side of the house came the sound of slow and firm footsteps, then the opening and shutting of a door.
Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse had played his part for to-night: silently as he had gone, so he returned to his room, whilst in another corner of the sparrow-hawk’s nest a young girl slept, dreaming dreams of patriots and heroes, of causes nobly won, of poverty and obscurity gloriously endured.
Mistress de Chavasse with a sigh half of regret, half of indifference, finally turned her back on the moonlit garden and went within.
Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy was excessively perturbed. Matters at the Court were taking a curious turn. That something of unusual moment had happened within the last few days he was thoroughly convinced, and still having it in his mind that he was especially qualified for the lucrative appointments in my Lord Protector’s secret service—he thought this an excellent opportunity for perfecting himself in the art of investigation, shrewdly conducted, which he understood to be most essential for the due fulfillment of such appointments.
Thus we see him some few days later on a late afternoon, with back bent nearly double, eyes fixed steadily on the ground and his face a perfect mirror of thoughtful concentration within, slowly walking along the tiny footpath which wound in and out the groups of majestic elms in the park.
Musing and meditating, at times uttering strange and enigmatical exclamations, he reached the confines of the private grounds, the spot where the surrounding wall gave place to a low iron gate, where the disused pavilion stood out gray and forlorn-looking in the midst of the soft green of the trees, and where through the woods beyond the gate, could just be perceived the tiny light which issued from the blacksmith’s cottage, the most outlying one in the village of Acol.