“Good God! Zenith!”
“Yes, Zenith!” shrieked the woman; “Zenith, the beautiful, once! Zenith, the hag, the crone, the madwoman, now! Look at me well, Sir Jasper Kingsland—for the ruin is your own handiwork!”
He stood like a man paralyzed—speechless, stunned—his face the livid hue of death.
The wretched woman stood before him with streaming hair, blazing eyes, and uplifted arm, a very incarnate fury.
“Look at me well!” she fiercely shrieked, tossing her locks of old off her fiery face. “Am I like the Zenith of twenty years ago—young and beautiful, and bright enough even for the fastidious Englishman to love? Look at me now—ugly and old, wrinkled and wretched, deserted and despised—and tell me if I have not greater reason to hate you than ever woman had to hate man?”
She tossed her arms aloft with a madwoman’s shriek—crying out her words in a long, wild scream.
“I hate you—I hate you! Villain! dastard! perjured wretch! I hate you, and I curse you, here in the church you call holy! I curse you with a ruined woman’s curse, and hot and scathing may it burn on your head and on the heads of your children’s children!”
The last horrible words aroused the listeners from their petrified trance. The Reverend Cyrus Green lifted up his voice in a tone of command:
“This woman is mad! She is a furious lunatic! Dawson! Humphreys! come here and secure her!”
“The child! the child!” she cried, with a screech of demoniac delight; “the spawn of the viper is within my grasp!”
One plunge forward and the infant heir was in her arms, held high aloft. One second later, and its blood and brains would have bespattered the stone floor, but Mr. Carlyon sprung forward and wrenched it from her grasp.
The two men summoned by the clergyman closed upon her and held her fast; her frantic shrieks rang to the roof. Then suddenly, all ceased, and, foaming and livid, she fell between them in a fit.
A dead pause of blank consternation; the faces around a sight to see; horror and wonder in every countenance—most of all in the countenance of Sir Jasper Kingsland.
The clergyman was the first to speak.
“The woman is stark mad,” he said. “We must see about this. Such violent lunatics must not be allowed to go at large. Here, Humphreys, do you and Dawson lift her up and carry her to my house. It is the nearest, and she can be properly attended to there.”
“You know her, Sir Jasper, do you not?” asked Lady Helen, with quick womanly intuition.
“Know her?” Sir Jasper replied, “know Zenith? Great Heaven! I thought she was dead.”
The Reverend Cyrus Green and Lady Helen exchanged glances. Mr. Carlyon looked in sharp surprise at the speaker.