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Revenge








Miss Holland, the beautiful and much-admired mistress of the Duke of
Norfolk, was alone in her magnificently adorned boudoir. It was the hour
when ordinarily the duke was wont to be with her; for this reason
she was charmingly attired, and had wrapped herself in that light and
voluptuous negligee which the duke so much liked, because it set off to
so much advantage the splendid form of his friend.

But to-day the expected one did not make his appearance: in his stead
his valet had just come and brought the fair miss a note from his
master. This note she was holding in her hand, while with passionate
violence she now walked up and down her boudoir. A glowing crimson
blazed upon her cheeks, and her large, haughty eyes darted wild flashes
of wrath.

She was disdained--she, Lady Holland, was forced to endure the disgrace
of being dismissed by her lover.

There, there, in that letter which she held in her hand, and which
burned her fingers like red-hot iron--there it stood in black and white,
that he would see her no more; that he renounced her love; that he
released her.

Her whole frame shook as she thought of this. It was not the anguish of
a loving heart which made her tremble; it was the wounded pride of the
woman.

He had abandoned her. Her beauty, her youth no longer had the power to
enchain him--the man with white hairs and withered features.

He had written her that he was satiated and weary, not of her, but only
of love in general; that his heart had become old and withered like his
face: and that there was still in his breast no more room for love, but
only for ambition.

Was not that a revolting, an unheard-of outrage--to abandon the finest
woman in England for the sake of empty, cold, stern ambition?

She opened the letter once more. Once more she read that place. Then
grinding her teeth with tears of anger in her eyes: "He shall pay me for
this! I will take vengeance for this insult!" She thrust the letter into
her bosom, and touched the silver bell.

"Have my carriage brought round!" was her order to the servant who
entered; and he withdrew in silence.

"I will avenge myself!" muttered she, as with trembling hands she
wrapped herself in her large Turkish shawl. "I will avenge myself; and,
by the Eternal! it shall be a bloody and swift vengeance! I will show
him that I, too, am ambitious, and that my pride is not to be humbled.
He says he will forget me. Oh, I will compel him to think of me, even
though it be only to curse me!"

With hasty step she sped through the glittering apartments, which the
liberality of her lover had furnished so magnificently, and descended to
the carriage standing ready for her.

"To the Duchess of Norfolk's!" said she to the footman standing at the
door of the carriage, as she entered it.

The servant looked at her in astonishment and inquiringly.

"To the Duke of Norfolk; is it not, my lady?"

"No, indeed, to the duchess!" cried she with a frown, as she leaned back
on the cushion.

After a short time, the carriage drew up before the palace of the
duchess, and with haughty tread and commanding air she passed through
the porch.

"Announce me to the duchess immediately," was her order to the lackey
who was hurrying to meet her.

"Your name, my lady?"

"Miss Arabella Holland."

The servant stepped back, and stared at her in surprise.

"Miss Arabella Holland! and you order me to announce you to the
duchess?"

A contemptuous smile played a moment about the thin lips of the
beautiful miss. "I see you know me," said she, "and you wonder a little
to see me here. Wonder as much as you please, good friend; only conduct
me immediately to the duchess."

"I doubt whether her ladyship receives calls to-day," stammered the
servant, hesitatingly.

"Then go and ask; and, that I may learn her answer as soon as possible,
I will accompany you."

With a commanding air, she motioned to the servant to go before her; and
he could not summon up courage to gainsay this proud beauty.

In silence they traversed the suite of stately apartments, and at length
stood before a door hung with tapestry.

"I must beg you to wait here a moment, my lady, so that I can announce
you to the duchess, who is there in her boudoir."

"No, indeed; I will assume that office myself," said Miss Holland, as
with strong hand she pushed back the servant and opened the door.

The duchess was sitting at her writing-table, her back turned to the
door through which Arabella had entered. She did not turn round; perhaps
she had not heard the door open. She continued quietly writing.

Miss Arabella Holland with stately step crossed the room, and now stood
close to the chair of the duchess.

"Duchess, I would like to speak with you," said she, coolly and calmly.

The duchess uttered a cry and looked up. "Miss Holland!" cried she
amazed, and hastily rising. "Miss Holland! you here with me, in my
house! What do you want here? How dare you cross my threshold?"

"I see you still hate me, my lady," said Arabella, smiling. "You have
not yet forgiven me that the duke, your husband, found more delight
in my young, handsome face, than in yours, now growing old--that my
sprightly, wanton disposition pleased him better than your cold, stately
air."

The duchess turned pale with rage, and her eyes darted lightning.
"Silence, you shameless creature! silence, or I will call my servants to
rid me of you!"

"You will not call them; for I have come to be reconciled with you, and
to offer you peace."

"Peace with you!" sneered the duchess--"peace with that shameless woman
who stole from me my husband, the father of my children?--who loaded me
with the disgrace of standing before the whole world as a repudiated and
despised wife, and of suffering myself to be compared with you, that the
world might decide which of us two was worthier of his love? Peace
with you, Miss Holland?--with the impudent strumpet who squanders my
husband's means in lavish luxury, and, with scoffing boldness, robs my
children of their lawful property?"

"It is true, the duke is very generous," said Miss Holland, composedly.
"He loaded me with diamonds and gold."

"And meanwhile I was doomed almost to suffer want," said the duchess,
grinding her teeth.

"Want of love, it may be, my lady, but not want of money; for you are
very magnificently fitted up; and every one knows that the Duchess of
Norfolk is rich enough to be able to spare the trifles that her husband
laid at my feet. By Heaven! my lady, I would not have deemed it worth
the trouble to stoop for them, if I had not seen among these trifles his
heart. The heart of a man is well worth a woman's stooping for! You have
neglected that, my lady, and therefore you lost your husband's heart. I
picked it up. That is all. Why will you make a crime of that?"

"That is enough!" cried the duchess. "It does not become me to dispute
with you; I desire only to know what gave you the courage to come to
me?"

"My lady, do you hate me only? Or do you also hate the duke your
husband?"

"She asks me whether I hate him!" cried the duchess, with a wild,
scornful laugh. "Yes, Miss Holland, yes! I hate him as ardently as I
despise you. I hate him so much that I would give my whole estate--ay,
years of my life--if I could punish him for the disgrace he has put upon
me."

"Then, my lady, we shall soon understand each other; for I too hate
him," said Miss Holland, quietly seating herself on the velvet divan,
and smiling as she observed the speechless astonishment of the duchess.

"Yes, my lady, I hate him; and without doubt still more ardently, still
more intensely than you yourself; for I am young and fiery; you are old,
and have always managed to preserve a cool heart."

The duchess was convulsed with rage; but silently, and with an effort,
she gulped down the drop of wormwood which her wicked rival mingled in
the cup of joy which she presented to her.

"You do hate him, Miss Holland?" asked she, joyfully.

"I hate him, and I have come to league myself with you against him. He
is a traitor, a perfidious wretch, a perjurer. I will take vengeance for
my disgrace!"

"Ah, has he then deserted you also?"

"He has deserted me also."

"Well, then, God be praised!" cried the duchess, and her face beamed
with joy. "God is great and just; and He has punished you with the same
weapons with which you sinned! For your sake, he deserted me; and for
the sake of another woman, he forsakes you."

"Not so, my lady!" said Miss Holland, proudly. "A woman like me is not
forsaken on account of a woman; and he who loves me will love no other
after me. There, read his letter!"

She handed the duchess her husband's letter.

"And what do you want to do now?" asked the duchess, after she had read
it.

"I will have revenge, my lady! He says he no longer has a heart to
love; well, now, we will so manage, that he may no longer have a head to
think. Will you be my ally, my lady?"

"I will."

"And I also will be," said the Duchess of Richmond, who just then opened
the door and came out of the adjoining room.

Not a word of this entire conversation had escaped her, and she very
well understood that the question was not about some petty vengeance,
but her father's head. She knew that Miss Holland was not a woman that,
when irritated, pricked with a pin; but one that grasped the dagger to
strike her enemy a mortal blow.

"Yes, I too will be your ally," cried the Duchess of Richmond; "we have
all three been outraged by the same man. Let, then, our revenge be a
common one. The father has insulted you; the son, me. Well, then, I
will help you to strike the father, if you in return will assist me to
destroy the son."

"I will assist you," said Arabella, smiling; "for I also hate the
haughty Earl of Surrey, who prides himself on his virtue, as if it were
a golden fleece which God himself had stuck on his breast. I hate him;
for he never meets me but with proud disregard; and he alone is to blame
for his father's faithlessness."

"I was present when with tears he besought the duke, our father, to free
himself from your fetters, and give up this shameful and disgraceful
connection with you," said the young duchess.

Arabella answered nothing. But she pressed her hands firmly together,
and a slight pallor overspread her cheeks.

"And why are you angry with your brother?" asked the old duchess,
thoughtfully.

"Why am I angry with him, do you ask, my mother? I am not angry with
him; but I execrate him, and I have sworn to myself never to rest till
I have avenged myself. My happiness, my heart, and my future, lay in
his hands; and he has remorselessly trodden under his haughty feet
these--his sister's precious treasures. It lay with him to make me the
wife of the man I love; and he has not done it, though I lay at his feet
weeping and wringing my hands."

"But it was a great sacrifice that you demanded," said her mother. "He
had to give his hand to a woman he did not love, so that you might be
Thomas Seymour's wife."

"Mother, you defend him; and yet he it is that blames you daily; and but
yesterday it seemed to him perfectly right and natural that the duke had
forsaken you, our mother."

"Did he do that?" inquired the duchess, vehemently. "Well, now, as he
has forgotten that I am his mother, so will I forget that he is my son.
I am your ally! Revenge for our injured hearts! Vengeance on father and
son!"

She held out both hands, and the two young women laid their hands in
hers.

"Vengeance on father and son!" repeated they both; and their eyes
flashed, and crimson now mantled their cheeks.

"I am tired of living like a hermit in my palace, and of being banished
from court by the fear that I may encounter my husband there."

"You shall encounter him there no more," said her daughter, laconically.

"They shall not laugh and jeer at me," cried Arabella. "And when they
learn that he has forsaken me, they shall also know how I have avenged
myself for it."

"Thomas Seymour can never become my husband so long as Henry Howard
lives; for he has mortally offended him, as Henry has rejected the hand
of his sister. Perhaps I may become his wife, if Henry Howard is no
more," said the young duchess. "So let us consider. How shall we begin,
so as to strike them surely and certainly?"

"When three women are agreed, they may well be certain of their
success," said Arabella, shrugging her shoulders. "We live--God be
praised for it--under a noble and high-minded king, who beholds the
blood of his subjects with as much pleasure as he does the crimson of
his royal mantle, and who has never yet shrunk back when a death-warrant
was to be signed."

"But this time he will shrink back," said the old duchess. "He will not
dare to rob the noblest and most powerful family of his kingdom of its
head."

"That very risk will stimulate him," said the Duchess of Richmond,
laughing; "and the more difficult it is to bring down these heads, so
much the more impatiently will he hanker after it. The king hates them
both, and he will thank us, if we change his hatred into retributive
justice."

"Then let us accuse both of high treason!" cried Arabella. "The duke is
a traitor; for I will and can swear that he has often enough called the
king a bloodthirsty tiger, a relentless tyrant, a man without truth and
without faith, although he coquettishly pretends to be the fountain and
rock of all faith."

"If he has said that, and you have heard him, you are in duty bound
to communicate it to the king, if you do not want to be a traitoress
yourself," exclaimed the young duchess, solemnly.

"And have you not noticed that the duke has for some time borne the
same coat-of-arms as the king?" asked the Duchess of Norfolk. "It is not
enough for his haughty and ambitious spirit to be the first servant of
this land; he strives to be lord and king of it."

"Tell that to the king, and by to-morrow the head of the traitor falls.
For the king is as jealous of his kingdom as ever a woman was of
her lover. Tell him that the duke bears his coat-of-arms, and his
destruction is certain."

"I will tell him so, daughter."

"We are sure of the father, but what have we for the son?"

"A sure and infallible means, that will as certainly dispatch him into
eternity as the hunter's tiny bullet slays the proudest stag. Henry
loves the queen; and I will furnish the king proof of that," said the
young duchess.

"Then let us go to the king!" cried Arabella, impetuously.

"No, indeed! That would make a sensation, and might easily frustrate our
whole plan," said the Duchess of Richmond. "Let us first talk with Earl
Douglas, and hear his advice. Come; every minute is precious! We owe it
to our womanly honor to avenge ourselves. We cannot and will not leave
unpunished those who have despised our love, wounded our honor, and
trodden under foot the holiest ties of nature!"





Next: The Acknowledgment

Previous: The Queen's Rosette



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