The Duke had decreed a hunt. Custom prescribed that his wife should attend it. She had excused herself on the plea of her ill-health; and he was riding forth in no amiable mood, when an old gipsy woman, well known in the neighbourhood, accosted him with the usual prayer for alms. He was curtly dismissing her, when she mentioned her desire to pay her respects to the young Duchess. It then occurred to him that the sight of this ragged crone, and the chronicle of her woes, might be an excellent medicine for his “froward,” ungrateful wife, and teach her to know when she was well off; and after speaking in confidence with the old woman, he bade him who recounts the adventure escort her into the lady’s presence. The interview took place. The Duchess accompanied her visitor to the castle gate, ordered her palfrey to be saddled, mounted it with the gipsy behind her, and bounded away, never to return. The attendant had watched and obeyed her as in a dream. She left in his hand, in gratitude for what she knew he felt for her, a little plait of hair.
These are the real facts of the story. But we have also its ideal possibilities, as reflected by the imagination of the narrator. He had seen the gipsy metamorphosed as she received the Duke’s command, from a ragged, decrepit crone into a stately woman, whose clothing bore the appearance of wealth; and as he mounted guard on the balcony which commanded the Duchess’s room, he saw the wonder grow. A sound as of music first attracted his attention; and as he looked in at the window he saw the Duchess sitting at the feet of a real gipsy-queen: her head upturned—her whole being expanding—as the gipsy’s hands waved over her, and the gipsy’s eyes, preternaturally dilated, poured their floods of life into her own. Then the music broke up into words, and he knew what hope and promise that fainting spirit was drinking in: for he heard what the gipsy said. She was telling the young Duchess that she was one of themselves—that she bore their mystic mark in the two veins which met and parted on her brow—that after fiery trial she should return to her tribe, and be shielded by their devotion for evermore. She was telling her how good a thing is love—how strong and beautiful the double existence of those whom love has welded together—how full of restful memories the old age of those who have lived in and for it—how sure and gentle their awakening into the better world.... Here the words again lost themselves in music, and he understood no more. When the two appeared at the castle gate, the gipsy had shrunk back into her original character; but the Duchess remained transformed. She had become, in her turn, a queen.