Over the Border. A Romance - Robert Barr - ebook
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Over the Border. A Romance” written by Robert Barr who was a Scottish-Canadian short story writer and novelist. This book was published in 1903. Robert Barr (16 September 1849 – 21 October 1912) wrote more than 20 novels. Among the more estimable are „The victors” (New York, 1901), about metropolitan politics, and „The mutable many” (New York and London, 1896), which focused on an industrial strike. Both had a distinctively realistic basis, and both were written more objectively and less floridly than was Barr’s habit. A number of novels also had a Canadian setting. In the midst of alarms (Philadelphia, 1893) was a comic treatment of the 1866 Fenian invasion; as a teenager Barr had joined volunteers in St. Thomas in anticipation of such a disturbance. „The measure of the rule” (London, 1907) was a satiric romance about his experiences at the Toronto Normal School.

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Contents

Book I

The Girl

CHAPTER I—ASSERTION

CHAPTER II—RECOGNITION

CHAPTER III—MAJESTY

CHAPTER IV—PROPOSAL

CHAPTER V—EXACTION

CHAPTER VI—ORDEAL

CHAPTER VII—APPEAL

CHAPTER VIII—EXECUTION

Book II

The Man

CHAPTER I—COINCIDENCE

CHAPTER II—SUSPICION

CHAPTER III—DETENTION

CHAPTER IV—PREPARATION

CHAPTER V—EXAMINATION

CHAPTER VI—INVALIDATION

CHAPTER VII—DETERMINATION

Book III

The Journey

CHAPTER I—DISAGREEMENT

CHAPTER II—RECONCILIATION

CHAPTER III—COMPANIONSHIP

CHAPTER IV—FRIENDSHIP

CHAPTER V—AFFECTION

CHAPTER VI—REJECTION

CHAPTER VII—CHECKMATED

CHAPTER VIII—DESTINY

Book IV

The Return

CHAPTER I—TENSION

CHAPTER II—ACQUITTANCE

CHAPTER III—ENLIGHTENMENT

CHAPTER IV—ENTANGLED

CHAPTER V—SANCTUARY

CHAPTER VI—EXPEDIENCE

CHAPTER VII—VICTORY

CHAPTER VIII—ACCOMPLISHMENT

CHAPTER IX—MATRIMONY

Book I

The Girl

CHAPTER I–ASSERTION

The end of October had been more than usually fine, and now the beginning of November was following the good example set by its predecessor. In the Home Park, the only part of the extensive grounds surrounding Hampton Court Palace that was well wooded, the leaves had not entirely left the branches, and the turf beneath was green and firm, as yet unsodden by autumnal rain.

Along one of the forest aisles there walked a distinguished party, proceeding slowly, for the pace was set by a disease-stricken man whose progress was of painful deliberation. He was tall and thin; his body was prematurely bent, though accustomed to be straight enough, if one might judge by the masterful brow, now pallid with illness, or by the glance of the piercing eye untamed even by deadly malady. That he was not long for this earth, if Nature had her way, a scrutinizer of that handsome, powerful face might have guessed; yet he was singled out for destruction even before his short allotted time, for at that moment his enemies, hedged in secrecy behind locked doors, were anxiously planning his ruin. They were wise in their privacy, for, had a whisper of their intentions gone abroad, the Earl of Strafford would have struck first and struck hard, as, indeed, he intended to do in any case.

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, was accompanied by an imposing train. On either side of him, accommodating their slow steps to his, were some of the highest in the land, who waited on his words and accorded him a deference more obsequious than that with which they might have distinguished the King himself; for all knew that this shattered frame was more to be dreaded than the most stalwart personage who that day trod English soil.

Behind this noble circle followed a numerous band of attendants, alert for beck or call, each having place according to his degree. A huntsman was surrounded by dogs kept in thrall by fear of the whip. Falconers with hooded hawks attested a favorite sport of the Earl, who loved to have the birds near him even though he made no trial of their flight. And here he walked the grounds of the King as if he owned them; as though he were permanent master instead of transient guest. Here he rested for the moment, hoping to recover some remnant of health by the placid Thames, after his troublous journey from Ireland, which turbulent country lay numb under his strong hand, soon to be vocal enough when the hounds were upon him. No echo of London’s clamour came to this green paradise. He knew the mob was crying out against him, as in truth the whole country cried; but he heeded not the howl, despising his opponents. Better for him had he been more wary or more conciliatory.

Among those now in his company was young De Courcy, one of the numerous band of Frenchmen smilingly received at Court because the consort of Charles had a predilection for her countrymen,–a preference unshared by any save her husband. The French contingent thought little of the scowls of the English so long as those in authority smiled on them and the smile brought profit. They were regarded as titled mercenaries; spies probably, anxious to feather their own nests at the expense of the Treasury; possibly the propagating agents of a Church of which England had a deep distrust; certainly possessing an overweening influence at Court, dividing still further the unfortunate King from his suspicious people. It might have been imagined that so thoroughly English, so strenuous a man as Strafford, the last to be deluded by suave manners or flattery, although he had an insatiable appetite for cringing deference, yet uninfluenced by it (as witness his crushing of Lord Montmorris in Ireland), would have shown scant friendship for frivolous French nobles; but it was a fact that he bore from young De Courcy a familiarity of address that he would have suffered from none other in the kingdom. Courtiers find a ready reason for every action, and they attributed Strafford’s forbearance to the influence De Courcy possessed with the Queen, for his lordship was well aware that his sovereign lady showed small liking for the King’s most powerful minister. Strafford was too keen a politician not to make every endeavour to placate an enemy who at all hours had access to the private ear of his master, on whose breath depended his own elevation. Therefore it may well be that he thought it worth while to conciliate one of the haughty lady’s favourites.

The conversation under the trees was lightly frivolous, despite the seriousness of the time. Strafford was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, and if he was troubled that the King insisted on his presence in London, refusing to him permission to return to Ireland, where he was safe,–the wielder of the upper hand,–his manner or expression gave no hint of his anxiety. A cynical smile curved his bloodless lips as he listened to the chatter of De Courcy, not noticing the silence of the others, who disdained a conversational contest with the voluble Frenchman.

“I give your lordship my assurance,” insisted the young man, “that his Majesty was much perturbed by the incident. All Scots are superstitious, and the King has Scottish blood in his veins.”

“As to superstition, I have never learned,” said Strafford, speaking slowly, “that the French are entirely free from some touch of it.”

“That’s as may be,” continued De Courcy airily, “but her Majesty, who is French, advised the King to think nothing more of the encounter, so she regards but lightly any predictions of doom from an old gipsy hag.”

“There were no predictions of doom, and no gipsy hag. The case was of the simplest, now exaggerated by Court gossip,” amended the Earl.

“My lord, I have it almost direct from the King himself.”

“Your “almost’ will account for anything. It was merely a piece of youthful impertinence which should have been punished by one of the park rangers, had any been present. The King had honoured me with his company in the park. We were alone together, discussing problems of State, when there suddenly sprang out before us a smiling, froward girl, who cried, “Merry gentlemen, I will predict your fortunes if in return you tell me where I may find the Earl of Strafford.’ His Majesty looked at me, and the hussy, quick to take a hint, evidently saw that I was the person sought. In any case the King’s remark must have confirmed her suspicion. “Your predictions are like to prove of small value,’ said his Majesty, “if you ask such a question. Here you have two men before you. Choose the greater.’ Wherupon the wench seized my hand before I was aware, and the King laughed.”

“It was an uncourtierlike proceeding,” said De Courcy. “That young woman will not advance in a world which depends on the smile of the mighty for promotion.”

“The choice shows her a true prophet,” muttered one of the nobles; but Strafford, paying no heed, went on with his account.

“The words which followed were more diplomatic than the action. “You are the King’s best friend,’ she said, examining the palm she had taken. Then his Majesty cried, “What do you read in my hand?’ “You are the King’s worst enemy,’ said the pert hussy. This nonplussed Charles for the moment, who replied at last, “I think you are more successful with my comrade. Read all you find in his palm, I beg of you.’ Then the gipsy, if such she was, went glibly on. “Your fate and that of the King are interwoven. If you overcome your enemies, the King will overcome his. If you fall, the King falls. Your doom will be the King’s doom; your safety the King’s safety. At the age you shall die, at that age will the King die, and from the same cause.’ His Majesty laughed, somewhat uneasily I thought, but said jauntily, “I have the advantage of you, Strafford, for you may die at any moment, but I am given seven years to live, being that space younger than you.’ I was annoyed at the familiarity of the creature, and bade her take herself off, which she did after making vain appeal for some private conversation with me.”

“Was she fair to look upon? In that case I do not wonder at your indignation. To learn that a handsome and young woman was searching for you in the lonely forest, to meet her at last, but in company of a King so rigid in his morals as Charles, was indeed a disappointment. You had been more favoured with any other monarch of Europe beside you. Had you no chance of getting one private word with her; of setting time and place for a more secluded conference?”

A slight frown ruffled the broad, smooth brow of the statesman, but it vanished on the instant, and he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly.

“I but gave you a brief account of a very simple incident that you were inclined to make much of. You have now the truth, and so may dress the retailing of it in the guise that best pleases you. I make no doubt ‘twill be fanciful enough when next I hear it.”

“Were it any other monarch than Charles, I should say he was annoyed to find his minister so favoured; but in his mind the prediction will take more space than thought of the prophet, be she never so young or so fair. But all good wishes go toward you, my lord. It is my prayer that when next you meet the woodland sylph you are alone in the forest.”

As if to show how little profit follows the prayer of a French exquisite, there stepped out from behind a thick tree in front of them the person of whom they spoke. She was tall and slender, with dancing eyes of midnight blackness, which well matched the dark, glossy ringlets flowing in profusion over her shapely shoulders. Her costume betokened the country rather than the Court, yet its lack of fashionable cut or texture was not noticed in a company of men, and the almost universal gaze of admiration that rested on her showed that in the eyes of the majority she was well and tastefully garbed.

“My lord of Strafford,” she said in a sweet clear voice, “I crave a word with you in private.”

De Courcy laughed provokingly; the others remained silent, but turned their regard from the interloper to the Earl, whose frown of annoyance did not disappear as it had done before. Strafford spoke no word, but his underlings were quick to interpret and act upon his black look. Two attendants silently took places beside the girl, ready to seize her did his lordship give a sign. The huntsmen let loose the dogs that had been snarling at the newcomer. They made a dash at her, while she sprang nimbly to the tree that had concealed her, having first whisked from the scabbard of an astonished attendant the light sword with which he was supposed to guard himself or his master.

“Call off your hounds, you villain!” she cried in a voice that had the true ring of command in it; indeed, to many there the order had a touch of the Earl’s own tones in anger. “I ask not for my own escape from scath, but for theirs. I’d rather transfix a man than hurt a dog. You scoundrel, you shall feel the sting of this point if you do not instantly obey.”

The thin shining blade darted here and there like an adder’s tongue, and as painfully. Yelp after yelp showed its potency, and the dogs, quick to learn that they were overmatched, abated their fury and contented themselves with noisy outcry at a safe distance from the semicircle of danger, jumping sideways and backward, barking valorously, but keeping well clear of the rapier. At a glance from the Earl the huntsman whipped them back into their former places.

“Yes, lash them, you whelp, but it’s over your own shoulders the cord should go, had I the ordering, thou meanest of the pack.”

“Madam,” said the Earl of Strafford sternly, “I would have you know that none give orders here but me.”

“In that you are mistaken, my lord. You have just heard me give them, and furthermore have seen them obeyed. But aside from the ordering of either you or me, I understand this to be the King’s park.”

Again De Courcy laughed.

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