“Carlotta told me. The Grand Duchess never seemed to care for Carlotta; Carlotta’s old nurse resented this and one day, after a worse storm than usual, told Carlotta that the Duchess was not her mother. There was a terrible scene in the palace. The old nurse was all but banished, but Carlotta saved her. She was sworn to secrecy by the Grand Duke. The Duchess died later as a result of the affair—of apoplexy. Then the nurse disappeared, no one knew how or where, but not before she had told Carlotta all about the twins that were born to the Grand Duke’s English wife. Carlotta had the secret and ruled her father with it. She was allowed her own way, and it was not always a good way. Her last escapade was the one you already know. Poor girl, she was as good as a court would let her be; and here in Sihasset she repented. But she believed in her lover, which I never did. I knew his reputation, but she would not listen to a word against him. Now you have the whole story.”
“And you,” Mark managed to say, “you are the real Grand Duchess now. What a misfortune!”
“No,” she replied, “I could never make such a claim; for my mother’s marriage was never admitted by the court as a royal marriage. It was considered morganatic. Her children were legitimate, but could never succeed to the throne.”
“But, even so,” insisted Mark, “you are the Grand Duchess.”
Ruth put her hand gently over his mouth. “I am to be more than a grand duchess, dear. I am to be your wife—to-morrow.”
The sun was below the horizon now. For a while longer they watched its banners of flaming red and yellow flung across the sky. Then, hand in hand, they retraced their steps to Killimaga, where Mark left her with a whispered, “Sweet dreams, dear,” and went his way toward the rectory.
As he sauntered aimlessly along, his thoughts were all of her. Never once had she lectured him on religious matters, yet she was splendidly sincere, and her faith of the greatest. And she had been praying for him all the time! Yet what need of speech? Her very self, her every action, her nice sense of right, were greater than any sermon he had ever heard from mortal lips. She was a woman whom any man might well love—and honor.
Reluctantly Mark at last sought the rectory, where the Bishop and Monsignore awaited him. And almost desperately he sought to evade Ann, whose dinner had been kept waiting. Seeing the attempt was vain, he threw up his hands.
“Both hands up, Ann. I claim the protection of the Bishop.”
And Ann, not displeased, went on her way.
All Sihasset was in the little church next morning. Mrs. O’Leary, grand even in her widow’s weeds, had a front seat before St. Joseph’s altar, where she could see everything, and crowded into the pew with her were all the little O’Leary’s. The old lady had had some misgivings about attending a wedding so soon after her husband’s death; but the misgivings were finally banished for—as she confided to the eldest of her grandchildren—“Sure, ‘tis Miss Ruth who is gettin’ married, and himself would want me there.”