“Tell him!” she cried, “tell him, and see if he will hear you. Your word against mine!”
“Think you I do not know that full well,” he answered, and he brought forth a little package folded in silk. “Why have I done naught but threaten till this time? If I went to him without proof, he would run me through with his sword as I were a mad dog. But is there another woman in England from whose head her lover could ravish a lock as long and black as this?”
He unfolded the silk, and let other silk unfold itself, a great and thick ring of raven hair which uncoiled its serpent length, and though he held it high, was long enough after surging from his hand to lie upon the floor.
“Merciful God!” she cried, and shuddering, hid her face.
“’Twas a bet, I own,” he said; “I heard too much of the mad beauty and her disdain of men not to be fired by a desire to prove to her and others, that she was but a woman after all, and so was to be won. I took an oath that I would come back some day with a trophy—and this I cut when you knew not that I did it.”
She clutched her throat again to keep from shrieking in her—impotent horror.
“Devil, craven, and loathsome—and he knows not what he is!” she gasped. “He is a mad thing who knows not that all his thoughts are of hell.”
’Twas, in sooth, a strange and monstrous thing to see him so unwavering and bold, flinching before no ignominy, shrinking not to speak openly the thing before the mere accusation of which other men’s blood would have boiled.
“When I bore it away with me,” he said, “I lived wildly for a space, and in those days put it in a place of safety, and when I was sober again I had forgot where. Yesterday, by a strange chance, I came upon it. Think you it can be mistaken for any other woman’s hair?”
At this she held up her hand.
“Wait,” she said. “You will go to Osmonde, you will tell him this, you will—”
“I will tell him all the story of the rose garden and of the sun-dial, and the beauty who had wit enough to scorn a man in public that she might more safely hold tryst with him alone. She had great wit and cunning for a beauty of sixteen. ’Twould be well for her lord to have keen eyes when she is twenty.”
He should have seen the warning in her eyes, for there was warning enough in their flaming depths.
“All that you can say I know,” she said—“all that you can say! And I love him. There is no other man on earth. Were he a beggar, I would tramp the highroad by his side and go hungered with him. He is my lord, and I his mate—his mate!”
“That you will not be,” he answered, made devilish by her words. “He is a high and noble gentleman, and wants no man’s cast-off plaything for his wife.”
Her breast leaped up and down in her panting as she pressed her hand upon it; her breath came in sharp puffs through her nostrils.