The Master of Stair/Book 1/Chapter 22


Delia Featherstonehaugh sat in her miserable little lodgings in Southwark and looked across the gaunt room at Jerome Caryl. He had told her how the cold clemency of the King had thwarted all the schemes of the Master of Stair, how all evidence against them was destroyed.

Delia listened with no look of joy or relief; she gave a bitter laugh.

"So it has all been for nothing—nothing," she said. "Why could not he have been merciful rather than the Prince—why could not he have done the fine things?"

"It is not in his nature," answered Jerome Caryl.

"No," shuddered Delia; the thought of how he must have gone straight from the shameful bargain he had made with her to break it, of how he must have laughed at her simplicity; had he had his way he would have had her and all of them at Tyburn; the thought was as blasphemy, but it was true.

"What will you do?" she asked with the listlessness of misery.

Jerome Caryl smiled faintly; he was as a man whose heart has left his work, there seemed no longer any zest for him in what till now had been his life-work.

"I must go and put Berwick's mind at rest," he said, "and the others—they will be with him, I suppose. As for the plot—"

Delia interrupted him "For me the plot is dead—I care nothing what man reigns. What are Kings and countries when your own heart is touched? Has not all we have done turned to nothing! Did not Perseus die for nothing? My God, I have done with plots."

Jerome Caryl made no answer; he thought of his own tangled cause, of the King he fought for, of the shouting, lying, pushing, intriguing mob that followed him, of the weapons they stooped to, and he thought of William of Orange in his little room at Kensington, ruling half Europe and disdaining even to notice their designs against him and it seemed to him he had been striving to oppose a rock with a straw.

Delia came suddenly across to him.

"I cannot talk to-night," she said hoarsely, "will you come again to-morrow, Jerome?"

He looked at her in a pitying, troubled manner.

"You are wondering what is to become of me?" she asked, meeting his glance. "Well, to-morrow will be soon enough; come again to-morrow."

She sat down and turned her face away as if she dismissed him; Jerome Caryl rose heavily.

"Do you want money?" asked Delia in a weary voice. "There is plenty—you know Perseus had the last sent over by the King. I have it here."

"It is all too little for your own needs," he answered. "Keep it, Delia."

Her head had sunk back against the plaster wall.

"To-morrow, then," she said, and seemed as if she wished to say no more; but when he had his hand on the latch he was startled by her: she rose, her apathy changed into sudden passion.

"Oh, Jerome! Jerome!" she cried, hurrying to him. "Thank God for such as you. Thank God for truth and honor and faithfulness. Give me your hand and look at me and say—God bless you, Delia!" She swayed toward him with a little sob and caught his arm; he was greatly moved.

"While I live, sweet soul," he answered, "I would not have you fear anything. God bless you truly, dear, God bless you, Delia—"

She bent her head and kissed his hand, then lifted her eyes to his with a strange took. "Farewell, Jerome," she said in a broken voice, and fell back against the wall; the contrast of tier pitiful pale youth and the sordid surroundings touched Jerome Caryl deeply.

"You must leave this place," he said.

She stopped him with that word again. "To-morrow."

And so, leaning against the wall, she stood till he had gone, then turned about, murmuring to herself.

"An honorable gentleman—why could not I have loved an honorable gentleman?"

She paced to and fro with unheeding steps.

"False and false—liar and dishonored—yet—" Her tears rose beyond control; she fell to her knees and wept with hidden face, bitterly and silently.

The fire dropped to a heap of gray ashes; the light had faded when at length Delia rose, and moving to the window, set it wider open.

The sun was sinking behind the housetops; heavy snow-laden clouds lay to the right and left of it and the whole west was golden. A cold wind touched her tear-stained face and ruffled her tumbled hair; the sun's reflection burnt like flame in the window-pane and cast a dazzle along the thin frosting of snow on the ledges opposite.

It was silent as night; she was too high to view the street; but a sign hanging from one of the houses opposite, she caught sight of, the image of a peacock in full splendor and the sun glittered on that in vivid blue and green.

Then gradually the sky faded into a soft violet and the great clouds closed over the sun.

Delia left the window and taking her cloak from the wall, put it on with steady hands; then she dragged a small box from the corner into the light and opened it.

From the many little articles it contained, she selected a plain ring that had belonged to Perseus, a leathern purse of money and a gilt button that had once belonged to her father's uniform.

These things she placed carefully within her pocket, then taking pen and paper from the box, she sat down and wrote across it:

Even had there been no other motive to take me away, I could never have stayed to be a burden on your charity. I set out to do the one thing that maketh life worth the holding. Do not regret or pity me and God keep ye always for the comfort ye have been to me.

She folded this and addressed it to Jerome Caryl, her eyes lifted to the fast-darkening sky; her lips were resolutely set. With a steady step she turned from the room and down the narrow stairs.

Calling the woman of the house, she gave her money and the letter for Caryl.

"He will come to-morrow," she said. "Do not fail to remember to give him that."

The woman began to whimper.

"Woe is me for the Good cause!" she cried dismally. "Will there be a tomorrow for any of us?"

"Ye are all safe," answered Delia steadily, "I do not fly for fear—farewell."

She turned abruptly into the quiet street and turned toward the country.