As all hearts are captivated by the most charming Mistress Barry, so it is my hope that all souls will be captivated by her picture,” cried Sir Godfrey, bowing low between his palette which he held in one hand and his sheaf of brushes which he held in the other. His pronunciation of the word charming—he said “sharmink”—had a suggestion of his native Lübeck about it; but his courtliness was beyond suspicion. None of his distinguished sitters could complain of his having failed to represent them on his canvases with dignity and refinement, whatever their candid friends might think of the accuracy of the portraitures.

“I only ask to be painted as I am, Sir Godfrey,” said Mrs. Barry, when she had risen after her courtesy in acknowledgment of Sir Godfrey's gallant compliment.

“As you are, madam? Ah, your ladyship is the most exacting of my sitters. As you are? Ah, my dear lady, you must modify your conditions; my art has its limitations.”

“Your art, but not your arts, sir. I protest that I am overwhelmed by the latter, as I am lost in admiration of the former,” said the actress, adopting a pose which she knew the painter would appreciate. “Alas, Sir Godfrey,” she added, “you do not well to talk to an actress of the limitations of art. What a paltry aim has our art compared with yours! I have had cravings after immortality—that is why I am here to-day.”

“'T is surely, then, the future of the painter that you have had at heart, my dear madam; you come with immortality shining in your face.”

“Nay, sir; Sir Godfrey Kneller will live forevermore in his long line of legitimate monarchs—ay, and others, perhaps not quite—”

“For God's sake, Mistress Barry! These are dangerous days; pray remember that I am the queen's limner.”

Sir Godfrey Kneller spoke in a whisper, touching her arm with the handles of his brushes as he glanced apprehensively around the painting-room of his house in Great Queen Street.

Mrs. Barry looked at him with a reckless gaiety in her eyes.

“What, have I said anything treasonable, anything to compromise the Court painter?” she cried.

“Walls have ears, my dear,” whispered the painter.

“And what matters that, so long as they have not tongues?” laughed the lady. “Ah, my dear Sir Godfrey, you do your art an injustice to fancy that any one could utter a word of treason in this room surrounded by so many living faces.” She pointed to the easels on which were hung several portraits approaching completion. “They are all living, my friend. I vow that when I entered here just now I felt inclined to sink in a courtesy before Her Grace of Marlborough.” She indicated the portrait of the duchess which Sir Godfrey had all but finished—one of the finest of all his works.

Sir Godfrey smiled.

“Ah, who, indeed, could talk treason in the presence of Her Grace?” he said.

“None, save His Grace, I suppose,” said the actress. “And now I am ready to sit to you—unless you have any further courtly compliments to pass on me. Only, by my faith, I do not choose to place myself nigh to Her Grace. Those eyes of hers make me feel uneasy. Prithee, Sir Godfrey, permit me to turn my back upon the duchess; the act will, I protest, give me a feeling of pride which will speedily betray itself on my face. People will say, 'Only an actress, yet she turned her back upon a duchess'—ay, and such a duchess! They say their Graces have lost nothing by their adherence to the Queen.”

Mrs. Barry had now posed herself, flinging back her hair from her forehead, so that her broad, massive brow was fully shown, and the painter had begun to work upon her picture.

“Ah, people say that? And what reason have they for saying it, I wonder?” remarked Sir Godfrey.

“The best of reasons, my good friend. They say that their Graces have lost nothing by standing by the Queen, because if they ran a chance of losing anything they would quickly stand by the King—His Majesty over the water.”

Sir Godfrey laughed. “I vow, Mistress Barry, that your gossips have failed to interpret as I would the expression upon the face of Her Grace of Marlborough,” said he. “Great heaven, madam, cannot one perceive a pensiveness upon that face of hers?—nay, prithee, do not turn your head to look for the expression. I want not to lose your expression while you are endeavoring to catch that of Her Grace.”

“The Sad Sarah! And you mean to reproduce the sadness, Sir Godfrey?”

“Not sadness—only pensiveness.”

“The one is the same as t' other. Then you will cause posterity to affirm that Sarah was sad to find that she had not become so rich in adhering to the Queen as she might have if she had sent her pensive glances across to France?”

“Then posterity will do her wrong. Her Grace is truly attached to the Queen—so truly attached that she becomes melancholic at the thought of not being completely trusted by Her Majesty.”

Sir Godfrey's voice had sunk to a whisper as he made this revelation; and when he had spoken he glanced once more round the room as if to assure himself that he had no listeners beside Mrs. Barry.

“And the Queen does not trust her?” cried the actress. “Ah, well, I suppose 't is impossible even for a Queen to be for so many years in her company without understanding her. Ah, the poor Duke! Prithee continue your story, Sir Godfrey. I perceive that you would fain lead one up to the scandalous part.”

“Scandalous part, madam? Nay, if you discern not a deep pathos in the sad look of Her Grace, the Duchess, after the key which I have given you to her expression, no rehearsal of scandal would awake your interest in the subject of yonder portrait.”

“Nay, sir, if you refuse to tell me further, you will have to bear with the mockery of posterity for depicting me with a melancholic visage, as well as your Duchess. Pray tell me the scandal, or I vow I shall have a fit of the vapours all the time you are painting my portrait.”

“My dear lady, there is no scandal to rehearse, I pledge you my word,” said the painter. “'T is only said that Her Majesty—”

“Is blest by heaven with excellent eyesight? Well, yes; I dare swear that your Duchess is strongly of that opinion—that is what adds to her melancholy. But I vow 't is most scandalous that there's no scandal. We must try and repair this, you and I, Sir Godfrey.”

“What, does the woman fancy that all lives should be regulated on the lines set down by the poets who write for your playhouses?”

“And why not? If our poets will not be true to nature, is it not our duty to try to make nature true to the poets?”

“Faith, madam, that were to put an outrage upon nature, if I grasp your meaning aright.”

“Nay, sir, 'tis no great outrage. If our writers treat of the humours of an intrigue in high places, and if we find, on climbing to these high places, that no scandal is to be found there but only humdrum existence, is it not our duty to foster a scandal for the justification of our writers?”

Mille tonnerres! Have I been cherishing a fiery flying serpent all this time? Have I been playing with a firebrand? Why, 't is in the aspect of Medusa I should be painting you, Mistress Barry; you should have ringletted snakes entwined among your hair. I' faith, madam, that is a pretty theory to propound in an honest man's house. We must become scandalous in order to save a playhouse poet from being accounted untrue to life?”

“And why not? Ah, Sir Godfrey, I greatly fear that you have no true feeling for art.”

The actress spoke sadly and shook her head with such exquisite simulation of melancholy as caused the painter to lay down his palette and roar with laughter.

“You have a true feeling for art, beyond doubt, my Barry,” he cried. “You have no room to reproach yourself, I dare swear. You have all the men in town at your feet, and all their wives ready to scratch out your eyes—and all for the advancement of art, you say. You are ready to jeopardise your own reputation in order to save that of your poets! Ah, what a kind heart hath the Barry!”

“Faith, Sir Godfrey, if I did not make a wife or two jealous, how could I know what a jealous woman looks like, and if I did not know what a jealous woman looks like, how could I act the part of a jealous woman in the playhouse?”

“Ah, how indeed? The play-goers worship you if their wives long for those ringlets that ensnare their husbands in their meshes. What is a wedding-ring against a wanton ringlet?”

“'T is my duty as an actress that compels me to seek for examples of the strongest emotions, Sir Godfrey—you perceive that that is so?”

“Ah, beyond doubt—beyond doubt, madam.”

“That rejoices me. And now touching this Duchess of Marlborough—”

“You will have to seek your examples of strong emotion outside my house, my friend. Do you fancy that Her Grace—”

“Is a woman? Nay, she is a very woman, so far as my poor observation, supplemented by a small trifle of experience, is permitted to judge. Think you that her sadness of visage is due to mortification that her spouse is still faithful to her?”

“Surely such a reflection should call for an expression of satisfaction, my fair observer.”

“Nay, Sir Godfrey; that were to take a view of the matter in no wise deep. Would you not have Her Grace to think as other women less formidable think, in this wise: 'what fate is mine to be wed to a man whom no woman thinks worth the tempting'?”

“Zounds, my Barry, that were the strangest way recorded to account for a wife's sadness. How know you that His Grace has not been tempted?”

“I make no such charge against him, Sir Godfrey; I think not such evil of him as that he hath not been tempted. I make but a humble attempt to think as Her Grace may think when she has her moods.”

“That were a presumption for such as you, madam. What! you an actress, and she a duchess, and yet you would venture—”

The laugh which illuminated the face of Sir Godfrey had scarcely passed away before his servant entered the painting room in haste, announcing that the coach of the Duchess of Marlborough was at the door, and that Her Grace was in the act of dismounting.

“That means that my sitting is at an end,” said Mrs. Barry.

“And I must e'en hustle you out of the room, my dear,” said the painter. “Her Grace is not the most patient of dames when it comes to waiting on a painter.”

“Or on a painter's sitter, particularly when that sitter is only an actress. Ah, Sir Godfrey, you might permit me to remain in secret that I may know how a Duchess conducts herself upon occasions.”

“Tut—tut! Would you play a comedy in my house, you baggage?” cried the painter, pushing her playfully to the door. “Fly—fly—before it is too late.”

“Ah, Sir Godfrey, you are indeed unkind. Prithee how may I hope to enact the part of a duchess in the playhouse if I am not permitted to witness one in the life?”

“Off—off—I say! You will have to trust to your own instinct, which I take to be a faithful enough guide in your case, my dear Barry. And so farewell to you.” Still protesting, and very prettily pouting, the actress suffered herself to be gently forced from the room into the square, inner hall, which was lighted by a dome of coloured glass. Sir Godfrey, kissing the tip of one of his fingers, bowed her an adieu, but without speaking, as he held up the tapestry portière.


Mrs. Barry replied with a modified courtesy, and turned as if to make her way to the outer hall; but the moment Sir Godfrey let fall the tapestry, she returned on tiptoe, and moving it an inch to one side, peered through into the studio. She saw the painter hurrying from the large apartment into the small retiring-room at the farther end, and the moment that he disappeared she was back like a flash into the studio and in hiding behind a full-length canvas that leant against an easel in a dark corner.

Five seconds were sufficient to carry out the plan which she had conceived on the impulse of the moment. Had it occupied seven she would have been discovered, for Sir Godfrey had merely entered his wardrobe to throw off one coat and put on another. He returned to the studio, and immediately rang his bell. When the servant entered, he said:

“When Her Grace is ready, lead her hither.”

The servant bowed and left the studio, while Sir Godfrey arranged the chair on the dais for his new sitter, and placed the half-finished portrait of the Duchess on his easel. He had scarcely done so before the rings of the portière were rattling, and the Duchess of Marlborough entered, attired for the sitting. How she looked on that day, the painter has by his art enabled all succeeding generations to learn. Sir Godfrey Kneller's portrait of the Duchess is, perhaps, his most characteristic work. If the distinction which it possesses in every feature was scarcely shared by the original in the same degree, there was still sufficient character in the face of the great lady to make it profoundly interesting, especially to so close an observer as Sir Godfrey Kneller.

“Ah, my dear Kneller,” cried Her Grace, as the painter advanced to greet her with bowed head, “I am even before my appointed hour to-day. That glance of sad reproach which you cast at your timepiece when I last came hither—though only half an hour late, I swear—had its effect upon me.”

“Her Grace of Marlborough is one of those rare ones for whom it might reasonably be expected that the sun would stand still,” said the painter.

“As it did once at the command of the Hebrew general? Ah, my Kneller, what a pity it is that a certain great General of the moderns cannot make his commands respected in the same direction.”

“His Grace has no need to supplement his own generalship by—by—”

“By the aid of heaven, you would say? By the Lord, Sir Godfrey, 't is rather the aid of the opposite power our generalissimo would invoke, if taken at a disadvantage.”

“It would be impossible to conceive an incident so remarkable as His Grace taken at a disadvantage.”

“I would fain believe you to be right, friend Kneller. Yes, I have not once caught him tripping. But that, you may say, is not so much because His Grace does not trip, as because his generalship is too subtle for such an one as I.”

“Nay, nay, madam; so ungenteel a thought could never be entertained by one who has the privilege of knowing the Duke and of seeing the Duchess.”

“Vastly prettily spoken, Sir Godfrey; and with the air of a courtier, too; but, unlike t' other things of the Court, there is truth in your words. Look you, Kneller, there's the slut who calls herself Mistress Barry—she carries half the town away captive at her chariot-wheels—” she pointed to the portrait of Mrs. Barry. “But think you that her fascinations would have power to prevail against my lord the Duke? Nay, adamant is as snow compared to his demeanour when the wretch is moving all hearts within the playhouse. Have not I found him sitting with closed eyes while the woman was flaunting it about the stage, and men's swords were ready to fly from their scabbards at the throats of them that had got a soft look from her?”

“Is 't possible?”

“Ay, sir; 't is more than possible. The insolent hussy has oft cast up her eyes at our box in the playhouse, ogling His Grace, if you please. The fool little knew that she was ogling a slumbering man. Nay, Sir Godfrey, if I were as sure of my ground in other directions as I am of His Grace, I were a happy woman.”

She took her place on the dais, and the expression of pensiveness which appears on the face of the portrait became intensified. This fact, however, did not prevent a dainty little fist from quivering in her direction from the side of the full-length picture in the corner. The Duchess had her back turned to that particular corner.

“Your Grace deserves to be the happiest of women,” said the painter.

“If only to give so admirable a limner an opportunity of depicting a smiling face,” said the Duchess.

“Nay, madam, a smile doth not make a picture,” replied Sir Godfrey. “On the contrary, it oft destroys one. Your painter of smirking goddesses finds his vocation at the Fair of St. Bartolemy. I would fain hope that I am not such.” There was a silence, during which Sir Godfrey painted the hair upon his canvas with his usual dexterity. Then Her Grace sighed.

“Know you the best means of bringing back an errant confidence, Sir Godfrey?” she asked after another long pause.

“An errant confidence, madam?”

“The confidence of one whom I love, and who I think would fain love me still, were it not for the tongue of slander.”

“Nay, your Grace, I am but a painter; no Rubens am I in the skill that pertains to an envoy. Still, it occurs to me that the rendering of some signal service to the one whose mood your Grace describes should bring you to her heart again.”

The Duchess sprang from her chair and began pacing the narrow limits of the dais, her hands clenched, and the expression on her face becoming one of passion solely.

“Some signal service—some signal service!” she cried. “Man, have I not grown aged in her service? Who among those around her hath shown her and hers such service as ours has been—my husband's and mine? And yet when she hears the rumour of a plot she taunts me that I was not the first to warn her. Heavens! Does it rest with me to see the word 'conspirator' branded on the flesh of one who may hap to wear a cuirass? Is there any skill that will enable mine eyes to perceive in a man's bearing an adherent to the family at St. Germains? By the Lord, Sir Godfrey Kneller, I may be tried too much. Think you that if we were to turn our eyes in the direction of St. Germains there would not be a goodly number of persons in this realm who would turn their eyes and their coats with us?”

“For God's sake, madam—”

“Nay, 't is but an abstract proposition, friend Kneller. I have wit enough to perceive that the atmosphere of France suiteth best the health of some folk. For mine own part, I like best our English air; but if—ah, continue your painting, Sir Godfrey, and see that you make mine eyes the eyes of one who looks not overseas for succour.”

Her Grace threw herself once more into the chair, and the painter resumed his work in silence. He could not but reproduce the pensive expression that once more was worn by the face of the Duchess.

At the end of half an hour she rose, complaining that she was tired. She smiled, giving her hand to Sir Godfrey, as she said.

“I know, my good friend, that it is safe to rage in your presence; you are discretion itself.”

“Your Grace hath never put my discretion to the test,” said the Court painter, with a low bow.

“The Duke will mayhap visit you to inspect the portrait, Sir Godfrey,” said the Duchess when at the door. “Pray let him know that I await him at St. James's.”

“I shall not fail, madam,” said the painter. “And I will not ask your Grace to sit to me until Friday. I have to be in Richmond on Thursday.”

He held back the portière for her exit, and then followed her through the domed hall to the apartment where her maid awaited her.

On his return to the studio he found himself face to face with Mrs. Barry. For an instant he stood speechless. Then, with a glance behind him, he whispered:

“How did you come hither, in the name of heaven?”

“In a name which you are bound to respect—the name of art,” she replied.

“I sought but a lesson, and I have not sought in vain. A duchess! Good Lord! These be your duchesses! The manners of a kitchen wench allied to the language of a waterman. A duchess!”

“Madam—Mistress Barry—”

“Oh, the poor Duke! How oft have not I heard that His Grace looks forward to the hottest campaign with joy? Oh, I can well believe it. And the look of pensiveness on Her Grace's face—observe it, most faithful of limners.”

She stood pointing to the portrait of the Duchess in a stage attitude of scorn. Sir Godfrey, as he looked at her, felt that he should like to paint her in that attitude for the benefit of posterity. Then she burst into a scornful laugh, at which he became more serious than ever. In another moment, however, she had introduced a note of merriment into her laughter, and in spite of the fact that he had been extremely angry on finding that she had been in hiding he could not help joining in her laughter.

“The pensive Duchess!” she cried. “Nay, rather, the pensive Duke, my friend. Paint him as 'Il Penseroso'—the Duke who had eyes only for the graces of Her Grace—who had ears only for her dulcet phrases—who snored in the face of the actress who was ogling him from the stage. Grant me patience, heaven! If I fail to bring him to my feet in the sight of that woman, may I never tread the stage more! I have a scheme, Sir Godfrey, which only needs your help to—”

“My help! Gott in Himmel! You shall not have my help! What! do you fancy that you may turn my painting-room into a playhouse stage, and act your farces—”

“His Grace the Duke of Marlborough.”

The servant had thrown open the door as he made the announcement.

“Ah! Heaven is on my side! I need not your help,” cried the actress, in an aside, as she turned to a mirror to still further dishevel her hair.

The Duke of Marlborough, entering the studio, found himself confronted by a lovely woman visibly fluttered, and apparently anxious to prevent the lace upon her shoulders from revealing even so much of her bosom as the painter had thought necessary for artistic purposes.

“Ha! Kneller!” cried the Duke, “I find that I am an intruder. How is this, sir? Your fellow said that you were alone.”

“It is only my friend, Mistress Barry, your Grace, whose portrait has become my pastime,” said Sir Godfrey.

“And Mistress Barry is of no account,” said the actress, sinking in a courtesy. “Ah, your Grace, Sir Godfrey forces me to excuse both his own imprudence and my impudence. When I learned that the Duke of Marlborough was to come hither I implored him to permit me to remain in order that the dream of my poor life might be realised.”

“The dream of your life, madam?” said the Duke.

“I dare say 't is the dream of many lives,” said the lady in a low voice, somewhat broken by an emotion she could not repress, even though she took one hand away from her lace to still the beating of her heart. “And now that I find myself face to face with the one who has saved our country's honour in an hundred fights, I protest that I am overcome with the result of my boldness. Oh, your Grace, forgive the weakness of a poor weak woman.”

“Madam,” said the Duke, “this moment repays me for whatever trifling hardship I have undergone in my campaigns. To find that all the charms of Mistress Barry on the stage are but feeble compared with those gifts of nature with which she had been endowed, were sure an astonishment to one who had seen her only when she was the centre of a thousand eyes.”

“Oh, your Grace is determined to overwhelm your friends with your compliments as you do your enemies with your culverins. But I vow I am too forward. I am presuming to include my poor self among your Grace's friends.”

“Then think of a sweeter name, my dear lady, and I shall agree to it without demur.”

The Duke was beyond doubt not insensible to the charms of the beautiful actress. She had apparently quite forgotten that the drapery about her shoulders had fallen away more freely even than was permissible in the exigencies of the classical art affected by the eighteenth century painters.

“Ah, Your Grace leaves me without a voice even of protest,” murmured the actress, glancing modestly at the floor.

“Nay, Mistress Barry has need only to protest against the limitations of speech,” said the Duke, facing her and offering her his hand, which, after a moment's hesitation, she took with the homage that she would have given to the hand of a monarch. Then she dropped it with a half stifled sigh, and turned to the door without a word.

“Wherefore fly?” said the Duke, raising the side of the portière while she made a courtesy.

“'T were better so, though I know your Grace cannot understand how flight should ever be linked with discretion.”

“At least, let me conduct you to your chair, madam. Nay, I insist.”

They had scarcely got beneath the glass dome before she had laid her hand upon his arm.

“I was determined to see you face to face,” she said in a rapid whisper. “I have something of the greatest gravity that is for your ear alone. You would step between the Queen and disaster?”

“I have done so before now,” said the Duke. “Heaven may be equally kind to me again. Come with me in my coach now; it is already dusk.”

“No—no—that would be fatal to both of us,” she whispered. “We are surrounded by enemies—spies—purveyors of treason—the very life of the Queen is in danger.”

“You speak sincerely,” said the Duke. “Come to my house after the play.”

“Impossible! Your Grace little knows in what quarter the danger lies. I lit upon it by accident myself. Let me see. Ah, I have it: Sir Godfrey's painting room at a quarter after four on Thursday—this is Tuesday—yes, in secret—and in the mean time, not a word to living man or woman—not even Her Grace.”

“Why not take your seat in my coach; it has curtains.”

“Impossible! Ah, trust me to know wherein lieth safety and prudence. Hasten back. Good Sir Godfrey must not suspect.”

“Heavens! You do not say that he is—”

“He is true; but he talks. We need those who are dumb. Not a word in human ear.”

He looked into her face—eagerly—searchingly. She never winced. He pressed her hand and returned to the studio.

She was halfway down the street in her chair before she burst into a merry laugh.

“Her Grace shall have enough of plots to last her for awhile at any rate. Our painter goes to Richmond on Thursday; he said so. Oh, Lud—Lud! how quick the notion came to me when His Grace appeared. Ah, Mistress Barry, thou hast not read in vain all that the poets have writ for the playhouse. I can see that they are both wild to show their devotion to Her Majesty. They would fain discover plots growing along the hedgerows of St. James's Park. They will be as easily trapped as tame pigeons.”

“What,” cried Mistress Barry on Thursday afternoon, to the servant who opened the door for her at Sir Godfrey Kneller's house, “what! gone to Richmond? Nay, 't is not possible. I sit to him at four.”

“My master said it would be five ere he returned from her ladyship's, madam.”

“Oh, Lud, surely he made a mistake; or you have misheard him, sirrah. He will be back at four, and I'll e'n wait for him in the painting-room. If he have not returned by the half hour I will tarry no longer.”

She walked past the servant—he made no demur—and entered the studio. Sauntering about for a few moments, she then went to the door and locked it. She hastened to a shelf on which lay some broken chalks. In a few moments, standing before the tall mirror, she had completely altered her face; she had “made up” her features and complexion as those of an old woman.

Then from apparently capacious pockets in the cloak which she wore she brought forth a grey wig of many curls, which she put over her own chestnut hair; and a servant's apron which completely hid her gown. A few adroit touches transformed her into a venerable person of much respectability—one whose appearance suggested that of an aged retainer in a family where her services were properly valued. She surveyed herself in the glass, saying, “Her Grace will, I can swear, recognise the good woman whose sense of duty compelled her to address so mighty a lady touching the vile conspiracy to which Her Grace is to be made privy.”

While she was standing back from the glass, laughing as she kissed the tips of her fingers to the figure who responded in like fashion, a gentle knock sounded on the small side door that led into the arched passage to the garden—the door by which the painter's models were admitted to the studio without passing through the house. The actress, giving a final smooth to her apron, hastened to open the door, but only to the extent of an inch or two.

“What's your business, madam?” she inquired, in the quavering accents of age, through the opening.

“I have come hither for Mrs. Freeman's frock,” was the reply in a low voice.

“It will be ready for you in half an hour, my good woman,” said the actress. “Meantime, enter and wait.”

She admitted a muffled and closely-veiled figure, and, when she had closed the door, made an old-fashioned curtesy.

“You are Mrs. Smollett?” said the figure, in a low voice, after glancing round the studio.

“Elizabeth Smollett, your Grace, is my name,” quavered Mrs. Barry. “Ah, madam, you have had the courage to come hither.”

“Courage?” said the Duchess. “It needed none. If what your letter told me be true, it is time that some true friend of the Queen's came hither. Is it possible that your master, Sir Godfrey, knoweth naught of the plot?”

“He knoweth naught, madam. The head and front of the wicked business came to him as his valet de chambre with the best recommendations. It was only by accident that I discovered the fellow's motives. He was for three years at St. Germains.”

“At St. Germains! The wretch! Mrs. Smollett, your devotion to Her Majesty in this matter shall not go unrewarded. I can promise you that. They hope to seize the Queen! Merciful heaven! Are they fools enough to fancy that that act would further their ends? Ah, shall I now be avenged upon mine enemies who whisper to Her Majesty! And you, Smollett—you will bless the day you wrote to me.”

“Not so loud, your Grace,” whispered the actress. “There may be those at hand that we know not of. This is where your grace must be in hiding.” She led the Duchess up the studio to the curtain that hung across the retiring room. “Your Grace will be entirely hid in the recess of the door, and unless I am far mistaken you shall hear more than you ever expected. Now, madam, for God's sake remain fast hid behind the curtain. I shall return to my household duties lest I should be suspected.”

“You will bless this day,” whispered Her Grace from behind the portière.

Mrs. Barry put her finger to her lips as she noiselessly unlocked the door leading to the domed hall and then passed through.

She hastily removed all traces of her disguise, placing the wig and apron behind a marble pedestal that bore a reproduction of the flying Mercury. She paused at the door for some time before returning to the studio, and when at last she opened it she did so very cautiously, putting her head just beyond the portière at first. Then she closed the door behind her and advanced. She did not fail to notice the little movement of the curtain at the farther end of the studio. Then she gave a fine sigh and threw herself into a chair.

“Heigh ho!” she said, in a tone that she meant to be audible in every part of the room. “Heigh ho! 't is weary waiting for one's love. But my love—my hero—is worthy to be waited for by empresses. Yet, if I had not his picture to look upon now I vow I should feel melancholic. Ah, Sir Godfrey. He has dealt as harshly with the face of my Duke as he hath dealt gently with that ancient harridan, the Duchess.” (She saw the distant portière quiver.) “Great heavens!” she continued, rising and standing in front of the portrait of the Duchess. “Great heavens! is it a matter of wonder that His Grace should be sick unto death of that face of hers? All the flattery of the painter cannot hide the malevolence of her countenance. The Queen perceived it long ago, and yet they say that she hopes to regain the favour of her royal mistress!

“Poor creature! But indeed she is to be pitied. She hath lost the favour of her Queen and the heart of her spouse. Ah, my hero—my beloved—your heart is mine—all mine. How oft have I not heard your sweet words telling me that—how oft? But why are you not here to tell it to me now? Why—ah, at last—at last!”

A knock had sounded at the side door in the midst of her passionate inquiries, and she almost flew to the door, “Ah, at last—at last you have come!” she said in a fervent whisper as the Duke entered.

“I have come,” he replied, still holding her hand. He had no choice left in the matter. She did not withdraw her hand after she had given it to him. It would scarcely have done for him to cast it from him. “You are sure that Sir Godfrey has not yet returned?”

“I am sure of it,” said she. “Would I be here with you alone if he had returned?”

“No, no; of course not,” said the Duke. “But would I not come far if only to press this little hand?”

His experience of women had taught him that a little flattery is never out of place with them. He supposed it was out of sheer nervousness that Mrs. Barry had failed to withdraw her hand.

She did not withdraw it even now, however. It was only when they had walked side by side half way across the room that she withdrew her hand. She saw that a large picture on an easel was between them and the distant portiere.

“You have come—you have trusted me,” she murmured, with her eyes cast down.

He looked at her. He began to fear that she was faltering. She needed encouragement to make her revelation to him.

“I have trusted you, dear one; ah, you know not to what extent I would trust you. I would go to the ends of the earth to hear what you have to tell me.”

“That is what I wish,” she cried. “Could we not meet at some distant spot where all that my heart contains might be yours? Ah, let us fly thither without delay! Delay may make havoc of our future.”

“Pray, calm yourself,” said the Duke. He perceived that his companion was of an hysterical type. She would need to be treated with great tact before she could be brought to communicate anything that she knew.

“Ah, 't is easy for a soldier to be calm,” she cried. “'T is not so easy for a poor woman who is by nature trustful and yet by experience distrustful.”

“You may trust me, my sweet creature,” he said.

“May I? May I?” she whispered, looking into his face. “Ah, no, no; leave me—leave me alone to die here! Mine was the fault—mine alone.”

She had put her hands before her face and gone excitedly halfway down the apartment.

“You shall not die!” he cried, following her. “Just heaven, child, am I nobody? Is my protection worth nothing, that you should be afraid?”

“Your protection?” She had removed her hands from her face. “What! you will let me be under your protection?”

“I swear to you.”

“Ah, then I will trust you—forever—for ever,” cried the actress, flinging herself into the arms of the astonished Duke and laying her head on his shoulder.

He was much more astonished when a voice rang through the studio:

“Wretch! Infamous wretches both!”

“Oh, Lud!” cried Mrs. Barry, forsaking her resting place and standing a yard or two apart. “Oh, Lud, who is the plain little woman that has been eavesdropping? I vow, Duke, she was not invited to our meeting.”

“Infamous creature! I am the Duchess of Marlborough!”

“Nay, that were impossible. I happen to know that the Duchess has a limitless faith in the Duke, especially in regard to so plain a creature as Mistress Barry, and you have the face and bearing of a jealous woman. Her Grace of Marlborough would not be jealous, my good creature.”

“Madam,” said the Duke, turning to his wife, “madam, you have played an unworthy part—spying—”

“Silence, libertine!” thundered the Duchess, looking like a fury.


“Faith, 't is the Duchess, after all,” said the actress. “Ah, Sir Godfrey has returned in good time.” Sir Godfrey was standing at the door. “Dear Sir Godfrey, Her Grace is anxious for you to paint her in her true character—that of the jealous wife; and so I leave her in your good hands. Adieu, your Grace. Oh, fie, to be jealous of so poor a creature as an actress!”

She stood for a moment by the side of the painter, turning half round as she raised the tapestry hanging. Her laughter when she had passed into the hall, rang through the studio.

Sir Godfrey began to speak.

“I fear greatly that in my absence—”

“Sir, in your absence your house has been turned into a lover's rendezvous!” cried the Duchess. “Your aged domestic, Mrs. Smollett, wrote to me a confidential letter—”

“Madam, I have no aged domestic, and I know no one of the name of Smollett,” said Sir Godfrey.

“What! Oh, the man is in the plot also! It were beneath my dignity to converse further with him. Shame, sir—shame on both of you!”

She flung herself through the portière and disappeared in a billow of tapestry.

The Duke and Sir Godfrey stood side by side in silence in the studio. At last the former spoke.

“Faith, Kneller, I think I begin to see how we have all been tricked. That play-actress hath made fools of us all for her own sport.”

“I begin to fear that that is so,” said Sir Godfrey.

“Ay, sir; she hath fooled us,” said the Duke. “Methinks it will be some space of time before the wrath of Her Grace will be appeased.”

And so it was.


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