OF HOW THE VICOMTE MADE HIS GREAT RENUNCIATION

On the following morning Gervase was up betimes. It seemed to him that a
new world had opened out before him with boundless possibilities of joy
and hope. For weeks he had been dragging himself about like one bent
under the infirmities of age; to-day the blood of youth ran quick in his
veins. With a pride that was pardonable, he felt that he had done his
task manfully and performed his share in a work as memorable as any in
his time. He had won honour for himself, and he had found the one woman
who realized his boyhood´s ideal. She was waiting for him now–waiting
with that glad and joyous look in her steadfast eyes that had thrilled
him at times when his grief had weighed upon him. She must know that the
work he had undertaken was done for her sake, and that he would be with
her presently to claim his reward.

* * * * *

Simon Sproule came to see him when he was seated at breakfast, a good
deal shrunk and wasted, but bearing himself with his brave and confident
air for all the troubles he had passed through. The young soldier was
one of the linendraper´s heroes, and Simon had come this morning to
offer abundant incense at the altar of his worship.

“We are both proud of you, Mr. Orme, Elizabeth and myself. I heard the
whole story from Andrew Douglas last night, and it was done like an
ancient Roman, sir, but in no foreign or pagan spirit. It was a great
feat and should be remembered for many a day.”

“It will be forgotten in good time,” said Gervase cheerfully, “and was
no very wonderful business after all. But I am glad for your sake the
fighting is over, for yours and your wife´s and—-”

“Do not mention them. Oh! I cannot bear it, sir. There were eight of
them when you came back with the old captain, eight white-haired
youngsters that gathered about the table and made music for me–and now
there are but four of them. It was the judgment of God for their
father´s cowardice.”

“I think you did your best, Simon,” Gervase said gently.

“I did all that I could, and that was nothing; but it was the pretending
that was my sin. I, who was made for nothing but to measure lace and
lawns, should not have given myself over as a man of war, and boasted of
deeds that I knew that I could not perform. It has broken their mother´s
heart, and I think it has broken mine. I cannot think they are gone;
indeed I cannot. Why, I stood listening to their footsteps on the stairs
even as I came into your room, and I heard them calling ‘Daddy,´ every
one of them. But ´tis a sin to mourn.”

“Nay, nay, man, weep to your heart´s content, and tell them I said a
man´s tears are as manly as his courage. We must all face it some day.”

“I cannot help it,” said Simon, drying his eyes, “but you do not know
what it is for a father to part with the red-cheeked boys he loved: we
have come through a great tribulation.”

“Thank God there is an end of it now. In a day or two there will not be
an Irish Regiment north of the Boyne, and I hope we´ll get back to the
works of peace again. I myself will turn husbandman and beat my sword
into a pruning hook.”

“And marry the sweet lass by the Bishop´s-Gate, and nurse your brave
boys on your knee. You see we have had eyes, Mr. Orme.”

“I do not know how that may be, but—-”

“And,” Simon went on, “if you will do me the honour to let me furnish
you with the wedding coat, I´ll warrant it of the finest–a free gift at
my hands, for all your kindness to me and the boys.”

“We must first find the lady,” laughed Gervase.

“I think she is already found, and I know she is very sweet to look at.”

In the forenoon Gervase found himself in the wainscoted parlour that was
for ever associated in his mind with Dorothy Carew. He had dressed
himself with some care, and looked a handsome fellow as he stood by the
window looking out on the grass plot that he remembered so well. It
seemed to him years since he had stood there; a whole life was crowded
between that time and this–a life in which he had seen many strange
sights and come through some memorable fortunes. Dorothy, he did not
doubt, was still the same, but Macpherson, so rugged and so kindly, was
gone, and the tragedy of his death came vividly before him as he stood
in the room where he had first met the man by whose hands he had fallen.
He was determined that Dorothy should never know the secret which could
only bring her grief; this was the one secret in which she should not
share. It was hardly likely that Jasper Carew would ever cross his path
again–if he did it would then be time enough to think in what manner he
should deal with him. In the meantime here was Arcady with the pipe and
the lute, with the springtime crowned with the sweetest love, and care
and sorrow laid aside for a season. His heart seemed to rise into his
throat and a mist to cloud his eyes, as he heard a light footstep behind
him. The gallant speeches that he had been rehearsing vanished from his
memory, and he stood with his mind all blank as Dorothy came softly into
the room, with her hand extended, and her eyes cast down. Her manner was
awkward and constrained, though he did not notice it. He would have held
her hand in his but she withdrew it gently and seated herself by the
window.

“Dorothy, Miss Carew,” he began, with an overmastering desire to take
her in his arms, “my words have come true, the words I spoke that last
afternoon when—-”

“Yes,” she said, “I remember.”

“I said when we next met the joybells would be ringing. Listen, you can
hear them now; the old time is all gone.”

“Yes, it is all gone–and–and, Mr. Orme, I cannot say all that is in my
heart. The city is ringing with your great exploit, but I knew it all.
All the night I watched you as you floated down the dark tide. Oh! it
was a gallant deed; no man ever did a braver. You did not tell me what
was in your mind, but I felt and knew it. I knew you would not fail.”

“I want no other reward but to hear you say that. But you must not
praise me overmuch, for I have done nothing but my plain and simple
duty. When I look back on it, it has seemed an easy thing to do. There
was no risk like what I ran with Sarsfield´s troopers, when you–nay, I
had not thought to have awakened that memory.”

“I have not forgotten that either,” she said, “I was a girl then, but I
am a woman, and I think a very old woman, now,” she added with a sad
smile. “I owe you a great deal since we first met. I shall never be able
to repay you, but when we part, and perhaps I shall not see you again, I
shall remember your kindness as long as I live.”

“We have not parted yet,” said Gervase, trying to take her hand.
“Dorothy, I have come here to speak what I have not dared to say before.
Nay, nay, you must listen to me, for all our life depends on it. From
the first moment that we met, I have had one thought, one hope. I have
watched you in silence, for it was not a time to talk of love. Every day
on duty, every night on guard, you have been with me consoling and
sustaining me. I have no words to tell you all that I would tell you. I
have reproached myself for my selfishness. While others were overcome
with their misery, I went about with a light and joyous heart; it was
enough for me to be near you, to feel your presence, to serve you with
my life. Dorothy, I love you.”

“Oh! I cannot hear you,” she cried, rising to her feet and hiding her
face in her hands; “it is wrong for me to listen to you.”

“Nay, nay, my best beloved, you shall listen to me,” he went on, with
all a lover´s gentle but fierce insistence. “You have spoken words that
you cannot recall. All the night in the river and in the woods they rang
like music in my ears, and kept my heart from failing in me. I knew you
loved me.”

“I will not hear you,” she cried; “they were weak words and wicked. I
had no right to speak them.”

“But they were true,” he said, with no clue to her meaning, “and I will
hold you to your words. I dare not let you go; there is nothing stands
between us and nothing will.”

“Everything stands between us.” Then with a great effort she calmed
herself and went on gently, “My words were wrung from me, I should not
have spoken them, but I stand by them–they were the truth. I do love
you. Nay, you must hear me out; you must not come nearer, now nor ever
again. When they were spoken I had no right to speak them; I was the
betrothed wife of Victor De Laprade.”

He stared at her incredulously.

“I was alone; there was no one to whom I could go for advice. I was only
a girl; I did not know my own heart. Then the Vicomte de Laprade was
struck down unfairly by my brother to whom he had given back his fortune
and–and I thought he was going to die. What reparation I could make, it
was my duty and my will to make. I had not thought of love–or you. Oh!
why did you speak to me?”

“Nay, but, Dorothy, this means the sacrifice of your life. De Laprade is
generous. He will not ask—-”

She turned to him with a look of pride in her tearful eyes. “He will
never know, for I shall stand loyally by the word that I have given him.
I shall school my feelings; I shall subdue myself; I shall rise above my
wayward thoughts. And you will help me. You will say, ‘Farewell, my
sister´, and think of me always as a sister you have loved and is dead.”

“But consider—-”

“I consider all. When he lay there dying, faithful, loyal, as he is, I
thought I loved him and I brought him back to life. My love, worthless
as it is, is precious to him, and there is one Carew who keeps her word
at any cost. Speak no more to me of love. You demean yourself and me. I
belong to another.”

“Oh! this is madness.” Gervase cried, knowing in his heart that he could
not change nor turn her. “There is no code of honour in the world to
make you give your life to one you do not love. Such marriage is no true
marriage. You are mine by every right, and I will not let you go.”

“There was a time when I should have liked to hear you talk like that,
but it will never be again. I shall give him all duty and honour, and in
time, perhaps–you will help me to bear my burden, Gervase Orme, nor
make it heavier for me? I see my duty clearly, and all the world will
not drive me from it.”

Gervase took her two hands, feverish and trembling in his own. He saw
there was no need for further argument; he could not change her.

“I have no gift of speech to show you what you do. Your will has been my
law and I shall try to obey you utterly. God knows I loved you, Miss
Carew, and still love you. But you will hear no more of me nor my
importunate love; there is room abroad for a poor soldier like myself.
And De Laprade is a gallant gentleman and worthy of his splendid
fortune. I can say no more than that I envy him with all my heart.”

He drew her to him unresistingly, and kissed her on the forehead. There
was nothing lover-like in the act; it was simply in token of sorrowful
surrender, and she recognized it as such. She did not dare to raise her
eyes to his but kept them bent upon the ground; he could see the lashes
were trembling with unshed tears.

“I knew,” she said, “you would speak as you have spoken. It was my duty
to see you; it is very hard. You will go now?”

“I will go, Miss Carew, and I ask you to remember that through life, in
good and evil fortune, you have no more loving and loyal friend than
Gervase Orme, your faithful servant. Time will not change nor alter me.
It was too great fortune for me to deserve it.”

Before she could speak he was gone, and she heard in a dream the door
close behind him. One of his gloves had fallen to the ground and was
still lying at her feet. She caught it up and pressed it passionately
against her bosom. She was now able to read her own heart in all its
depth and fulness; standing there with her eyes fixed on the door
through which he had departed, she saw the greatness of the sacrifice
she had made. She felt that moment that she stood utterly alone, closed
out from all love and sympathy. She had believed that she had become
resigned, and that she had succeeded in mastering her feelings, but they
had burst out afresh and with a fervour and passion that terrified
herself. “Oh! God,” she cried, “how I love him!”

Throwing herself in the chair from which she had risen, and burying her
face in her hands, she gave way to her sorrow, feeling all the while
that she dare not reason with herself, for however much she suffered she
determined that she would not break her faith. She would bring herself
to love De Laprade; love him as she honoured and admired him, the loyal
and courteous gentleman, who treated her rather as a goddess than as a
woman.

She did not hear the footsteps coming from the open window; she was
thinking at the moment of how she could meet her betrothed with an air
of gaiety. Then a hand was laid lightly on her shoulder and she looked
up. De Laprade was standing over her, with a pleasant smile playing
about his lips. His face was pale and his voice trembled a little when
he spoke, but only for a moment; otherwise his manner was free and
pleasant, with something of his old gaiety in it.

“I am a dull fellow, Cousin Dorothy,” he said, “but a dull fellow
sometimes awakens, and I have aroused myself. I have been sleeping for
weeks, I think, with dreams too, but poof! they are gone. You have been
weeping–that is wrong. The eyes of beauty should ever be undimmed.”

She did not answer him, and he sat down on the chair beside her, taking
Orme´s glove from her lap where it lay, and examining the embroidery
critically. “Monsieur Orme is a pretty fellow, and I have much regard
for him. I am going to make you very happy, my cousin.”

“I am not—-”

“Nay, I know what you would say. But I have a long story to tell, so
long that I know not how to begin, nor how to make an end. It will be
easier by what you call a parable.”

Dorothy looked at her lover curiously. For some time his old manner of
jesting with something of gay cynicism about it had disappeared, but all
at once it had returned with something else she did not recognize. He
could not have learned her secret, for she had guarded that too
carefully, but her woman´s instinct warned her that perhaps after all he
had guessed the truth.

“There was once,” he went on, “a prodigal who spent his youth in his own
way; he drank, he diced, he knew not love nor reverence; no law, but
that poor thing that men call honour. But it was well he knew even that.
So far, he did not think, for he had no mind nor heart. He only lived
for pleasure. Then he found that he had spent his fortune, burst like a
bubble, gone like a dream, and his friends–they were many–left him to
beg with his outstretched hands, and turned their faces as he passed
them on the way. But he had grown old, and loved pleasure and the
delights of riotous living. Then there came to him a great good
fortune–to him unworthy, beggared, disgraced. He seized it eagerly and
he thought–what will men think?–that he would again be happy. It was
not to be. He carried with him the stain of his early riot, the shame of
his sinful life, the thoughts that will not die, the habits, even, he
could not alter. His fortune hung heavily about his neck and pressed him
down to the ground. He knew that it was of priceless value, but it was
not for him. Then being a wise prodigal, he said: ‘I am selfish. This
cannot make me happy. I will place it in the hands of another who will
know how to use it rightly, and so rid me of my load.´ And he gave the
treasure to another, and then went away and the world saw him not any
more. There, my cousin, is my story. Monsieur La Fontaine must look to
his laurels.”

“You are jesting with me, Victor; I do not understand your parable.”

“It must be that I shall speak more plainly. My story must have its
moral.”

He still held Orme´s glove upon his knee and was unconsciously plucking
to pieces the lace with which it was embroidered. But neither of them
noticed it. Dorothy was waiting breathlessly for what was to come, and
determined on her part to refuse the generous offer De Laprade was about
to make.

“It shames me to think I was an unwilling listener but now, and I heard,
not all, but enough. The window was open and I heard before I could
withdraw. But I had known it all before and was only waiting.”

“You shall not wait,” Dorothy cried impetuously. “I am true and loyal.”

“I never doubted you, but I am not. I am inconstant as the wind, and
change my mind a hundred times a day. Fortune, not love, is my goddess,
the fickle and the strange. I am out of humour already and long for
change. Your city chokes me, a bird of prey mewed up among the sparrows.
You must cut the silken thread and give me my freedom, _ma belle_.”

“I shall never,” Dorothy said, disregarding the words and thinking only
of the spirit that prompted them, “I shall never forgive the weakness I
have shown. Indeed you have my regard and my esteem, and some time I
hope you will have my love. I shall keep my faith, truly and loyally. I
shall not change.”

“Then I must help myself when you will not. You are cruel, my cousin,
and force me to speak. I, Victor De Laprade, a poor gentleman, having
found that in all honour I cannot marry Dorothy Carew, here declare that
I am a pitiful fellow and leave her to go my own way, hoping that she
will trouble me no further with her importunity. Now, that being done,
let us be friends, which we should never have been had you married me.”

“This is like you, Victor,” she said sadly; “I am a pitiful creature
when I measure myself with you.”

“You are a woman, my dear; I have served them long and bought my
knowledge dearly. But you are better than most of them,” he added with a
smile, “for some that I have known would have held me despite all that I
have said. I was not made for your Shakespeare´s Benedict, I think it
was.”




“Oh!” she said, “but I cannot treat your words as serious; you are but
playing with my weakness. I will not let you–how can I, a woman, say
what I should say?”

“You should say: Monsieur le Vicomte, I am happy that you have
discovered yourself in time. You are free–go–farewell?”

“But I cannot say that.”

“Then I shall do it for you. My cousin,” he went on, more seriously, “my
mind is made up. To-morrow I start again on my pilgrimage, and you are
as free as air. Do not think that your words have pained me, for I have
long known that I was unworthy and I myself almost desire to be free. We
cannot live twice.”

“You are too generous.”

“By no means. I am only a prodigal; even this treasure I could not keep,
but I must let it slip through my fingers with the rest. Now I shall
leave you to think upon what I have said. Do not judge me hardly.”

“I shall think of you always as the best gentleman in the world. Oh!
Victor,” she cried, as though interrogating herself, “why cannot I love
you?”

“Because, my dear, I would not let you. There is but one thing more to
do and then I leave your cold North for ever to seek my fortune
elsewhere.

‘Et je m´en vais chercher du repos aux enfers.´

I shall send you a peace-offering that I know you will receive as much
for my sake as its own. And now I kiss your hand.”

* * * * *

He had borne himself throughout with a cheerful gaiety, never once
complaining or reproaching her, but placing himself in the wrong as
though he were to blame for her inconstancy. She knew that he was only
playing a part and that he was suffering while he jested; that he was
making his sacrifice in such a way as to avoid giving her pain. She
reproached herself bitterly that she had been unable to control her
heart and guide her wayward feelings. It was true she had been loyal in
outward act but her heart had been a traitor to her vow. She was not
worthy of so much heroic sacrifice; she was but a Carew after all, with
the taint and sin of her race; she, who had cried out for loyalty and
truth. She had boasted of her strength and constancy, and this man who
had laughed at virtue had shown a sovereign strength that put her quite
to shame. What had been done would never be undone; her weakness, her
want of faith, her treachery of affection, had been made plain to the
two men whose regard she esteemed the most in the world. Yet all the
time she had tried to follow the path of duty; she had striven to do
what was right and trample her inclinations under foot.

And so she sat and thought while De Laprade went out to complete the
great work of his renunciation. He smiled bitterly to himself as he
passed down the street, wondering what sudden change had taken place
within himself that he had surrendered so easily what he had so
earnestly desired to obtain. He knew that he loved Dorothy Carew as he
had never loved before, and that he had never loved her half so well as
that moment when he bade her farewell. He was unable to recognize
himself or the new spirit that had prompted this stupendous sacrifice.
“If,” he thought, “I was inviting him under the walls to a repast of
steel, I should be acting like a sensible fellow anxious to cure my
wounded honour. But that is not my humour. I think I have lost all my
manhood. Oh! my cousin, you have taken from me more than you will ever
dream of. It was hard to bear, but now that it is done it will not have
to be done again. A year ago I had not given up so easily, but the
battle is to the strong. Orme will make her happy.”

Gervase was surprised to see De Laprade entering his room, and though he
bore him no ill will, he would have preferred that he should not meet
him. He had not yet faced his bitter disappointment and resigned himself
to the sudden fall of his house of cards. He had come home to realize
what his rejection meant for him, for he had been so certain, so blindly
certain, of Dorothy´s love, that she had seemed a part, and a great
part, of his life. The cup of happiness had been dashed from his hand
when it was already at his lips; he was still smarting and sore, and it
would be idle for him to attempt to offer congratulations to his
successful rival. He was not magnanimous enough for that. But he wished
him well and wished that he would leave him in peace. He took De
Laprade´s hand without ill-will but with no great show of cordiality.

“I could not leave your city, Monsieur Orme,” said De Laprade, “without
bidding you farewell. We have been friends, I think, and done one
another some service in our time.”

“Your departure is sudden; I had not heard—-”

“Only an hour ago I found that I must leave. We strolling players live
at large, and shift our booth a hundred times a year.”

“When do you return?”

“I disappear for ever,” answered Victor with a laugh. “Your country
suits me not; your speech is barbarous, your manners are strange, and
your climate dries the marrow in my bones. I want sunshine and life and
pleasure. Your blood runs slowly here.”

“It has been running fast enough for nine weeks,” said Gervase, with a
grim humour, though feeling in no mood for jesting.

“Ay, you fight very prettily, and you not among the worst, but
phlegmatically. I have heard the story of your journey, but I did not
come to talk of that.”

“I am glad of that at least. I have heard nothing else all day, and
´twas no great feat when all was said.”

“Perhaps. Your people are proud and cold and lack sympathy. But I want
sympathy.”

“Vicomte de Laprade,” said Gervase, “I am in no mood for playing upon
words. I tell you that I am but now bearing a great trial, the nature of
which no man can know but myself, you, perhaps, least of all. I
sincerely value your friendship; I have seen your goodness of heart, but
it is best that you should shorten this interview. With all my heart I
wish you all good fortune, though I shall not see it. I leave by the
first ship for Holland.”

“We shall see, my friend, we shall see, but I think not.”

“How?”

“I said but now you were phlegmatic. I was wrong–you are too impetuous.
There are many things which you must put in order before you set out,
and perhaps you will never take ship at all.”

“I do not understand you, sir.”

“Mr. Orme, I know you think I am laughing at you, but it is only a trick
that I have, and I am in no mood for jesting any more than yourself. I
know you think me a coxcomb, a trifler who hath no depth or height of
feeling. But I am come here to speak serious words. I had hoped to marry
Miss Carew,” he continued softly, looking Gervase full in the face with
his eyes fixed and bright, “but that is past. I found that she loved a
better man and a worthier than myself, and that I–perhaps that I did
not love her as she deserved to be loved. With a deep sense of honour,
duty merely–mistaken duty–she would have remained steadfast and
allowed me to mar her happiness. I tell you–why should I not speak
it?–I loved her too well to marry her, and she is free to give herself
to the man she loves. I owe this speech to her, for she hath suffered,
and I would not add to her sorrow.”

The two men had risen to their feet, and before Gervase knew De Laprade
was holding him by the hand, with the tears running down his face.

“God knows,” said Gervase, steadying his voice, for he felt himself
visibly affected by the other´s excessive emotion, “you are a far better
and stronger man than I am. I could not have given her up.”

“I am a weak fool,” said De Laprade, with a forced laugh. “But I know
that you will make her happy. You must not tell her of my weakness
else–There, the comedy is played out and the curtain having fallen,
leaves me a sensible man again. As I have said, I depart to-morrow, to
return never again, but I shall hope to hear that all goes well with
you. And meantime remember Victor de Laprade, who will not forget you.”

“Why,” cried Gervase, “should my happiness be gained in your loss?”

“That is past,” the other said simply. “You will see Miss Carew when I
leave you. She will reproach herself, and you will comfort her, for she
is only a woman after all, and will find happiness and consolation. You
will sometimes think of me when I am gone and perhaps–perhaps she may
name one of her boys after her poor kinsman who by that time will have
found rest.”

When the evening came down it found Gervase Orme alone with a great
happiness and a great regret.

The curtain rings down and the players pass from view while the humble
showman to whom this mimic stage has been a great reality, wakens from
his dream, rubs his eyes and goes about his business. He has lived for a
while in the stormy days of which he has written–days in which men made
heroic sacrifices and performed most memorable deeds, the memory of
which still stirs the languid pulses of the blood. Not the muse of
history has been his companion; not his is the lofty task to write the
story of his people with their valour, their endurance and their
intolerant pride; it was only his to tell an idle tale for weary men by
winter fires. The men and women of whom he has written did their work
for good and evil, and in due time went the way of all flesh.

Simon Sproule again blossomed out in the sunshine of prosperity, and the
archives of the city show that he was elected an Alderman, and did his
duty faithfully, which cannot be said of all men. And though history is
silent on the subject, there can be little doubt that his wife
stimulated his civic ambition, inspired his speeches, and kept him in
excellent order. There are still Sproules in the North Country who look
to Simon as the head of the race, and when touched by family pride they
tell the story of his gallant deeds in the memorable siege. But they
will find the true history here.

Jasper Carew fell with many a better man on that day when the fate of
the kingdom was decided on the banks of the Boyne. He was seen heading
the gallant charge of Berwick´s horse on Hanmer´s men coming out of the
river, and as the smoke and dust closed on the broken ranks, he went
down and was never seen again.

Of Gervase Orme there is little more to tell. He married the woman he
loved, and had sons and grandsons, and served his king like a good and
loyal subject. There are certain manuscripts extant which speak of these
things, and an escritoire filled with precious letters which came too
late to hand to use in this narrative. Especially interesting are
certain letters relating to the search after and discovery of a great
treasure. But of all the memorials I think the most precious is that
portrait in the gallery, of which I have spoken–the portrait of Dorothy
Orme taken some two years after her marriage. Above the picture there
hangs a rapier, whether by design or by accident I know not, which they
tell you vaguely belonged to a kinsman of the lady, who had served in
Ireland with Rosen, and fell a year or two afterwards, a gallant
gentleman, on the slopes of Steinkirk. He had a history, but they do not
remember it; not even his name.