“Neither of us dare be ignoble,” Osmonde said, “for ’twould make poor and base the one who was not so in truth.”
“’Twas not the way of my Lady Dunstanwolde to make a man feel that he stood in church,” a frivolous court wit once said, “but in sooth her Grace of Osmonde has a look in her lustrous eyes which accords not with scandalous stories and playhouse jests.”
And true it was that when they went to town they carried with them the illumining of the pure fire which burned within their souls, and bore it all unknowing in the midst of the trivial or designing world, which knew not what it was that glowed about them, making things bright which had seemed dull, and revealing darkness where there had been brilliant glare.
They returned not to the house which had been my Lord of Dunstanwolde’s, but went to the duke’s own great mansion, and there lived splendidly and in hospitable state. Royalty honoured them, and all the wits came there, some of those gentlemen who writ verses and dedications being by no means averse to meeting noble lords and ladies, and finding in their loves and graces material which might be useful. ’Twas not only Mr. Addison and Mr. Steele, Dr. Swift and Mr. Pope, who were made welcome in the stately rooms, but others who were more humble, not yet having won their spurs, and how these worshipped her Grace for the generous kindness which was not the fashion, until she set it, among great ladies, their odes and verses could scarce express.
“They are so poor,” she said to her husband. “They are so poor, and yet in their starved souls there is a thing which can less bear flouting than the dull content which rules in others. I know not whether ’tis a curse or a boon to be born so. ’Tis a bitter thing when the bird that flutters in them has only little wings. All the more should those who are strong protect and comfort them.”
She comforted so many creatures. In strange parts of the town, where no other lady would have dared to go to give alms, it was rumoured that she went and did noble things privately. In dark kennels, where thieves hid and vagrants huddled, she carried her beauty and her stateliness, the which when they shone on the poor rogues and victims housed there seemed like the beams of the warm and golden sun.
Once in a filthy hovel in a black alley she came upon a poor girl dying of a loathsome ill, and as she stood by her bed of rags she heard in her delirium the uttering of one man’s name again and again, and when she questioned those about she found that the sufferer had been a little country wench enticed to town by this man for a plaything, and in a few weeks cast off to give birth to a child in the almshouse, and then go down to the depths of vice in the kennel.
“What is the name she says?” her Grace asked the hag nearest to her, and least maudlin with liquor. “I would be sure I heard it aright.”