"There is no mate for him," she answered slowly. "A man like him must mate as well as marry, or he will break his heart with silent raging at the weakness of the thing he is tied to. He is too strong and splendid for a common woman. If he married one, 'twould be as if a lion had taken to himself for mate a jackal or a sheep. Ah!" with a long drawn breath--"he would go mad--mad with misery;" and her hands, which lay upon her knee, wrung themselves hard together, though none could see it.
"He should have a goddess, were they not so rare," said Dunstanwolde, gently smiling. "He should hold a bitter grudge against me, that I, his unworthy kinsman, have been given the only one."
"Yes, he should have a goddess," said my lady slowly again; "and there are but women, naught but women."
"You have marked him well," said her lord, admiring her wisdom. "Methinks that you--though you have spoken to him but little, and have but of late become his kinswoman--have marked and read him better than the rest of us."
"Yes--I have marked him," was her answer.
"He is a man to mark, and I have a keen eye." She rose up as she spoke, and stood before the fire, lifted by some strong feeling to her fullest height, and towering there, splendid in the shadow--for 'twas by twilight they talked. "He is a Man," she said--"he is a Man! Nay, he is as God meant man should be. And if men were so, there would be women great enough for them to mate with and to give the world men like them." And but that she stood in the shadow, her lord would have seen the crimson torrent rush up her cheek and brow, and overspread her long round throat itself.
If none other had known of it, there was one man who knew that she had marked him, though she had borne herself towards him always with her stateliest grace. This man was his Grace the Duke himself. From the hour that he had stood transfixed as he watched her come up the broad oak stair, from the moment that the red rose fell from her wreath at his feet, and he had stooped to lift it in his hand, he had seen her as no other man had seen her, and he had known that had he not come but just too late, she would have been his own. Each time he had beheld her since that night he had felt this burn more deeply in his soul. He was too high and fine in all his thoughts to say to himself that in her he saw for the first time the woman who was his peer; but this was very truth--or might have been, if Fate had set her youth elsewhere, and a lady who was noble and her own mother had trained and guarded her. When he saw her at the Court surrounded, as she ever was, by a court of her own; when he saw her reigning in her lord's house, receiving and doing gracious honour to his guests and hers; when she passed him in her coach, drawing every eye by the majesty of her presence, as she drove through the town, he felt a deep pang, which was all the greater that his honour bade him conquer it. He had no ignoble thought of her, he would have scorned to sully his soul with any light passion; to him she was the woman who might have been his beloved wife and duchess, who would have upheld with him the honour and traditions of his house, whose strength and power and beauty would have been handed down to his children, who so would have been born endowed with gifts befitting the state to which Heaven had called them. It was of this he thought when he saw her, and of naught less like to do her honour. And as he had marked her so, he saw in her eyes, despite her dignity and grace, she had marked him. He did not know how closely, or that she gave him the attention he could not restrain himself from bestowing upon her. But when he bowed before her, and she greeted him with all courtesy, he saw in her great, splendid eye that had Fate willed it so, she would have understood all his thoughts, shared all his ambitions, and aided him to uphold his high ideals. Nay, he knew she understood him even now, and was stirred by what stirred him also, even though they met but rarely, and when they encountered each other, spoke but as kinsman and kinswoman who would show each other all gracious respect and honour. It was because of this pang which struck his great heart at times that he was not a frequent visitor at my Lord Dunstanwolde's mansion, but appeared there only at such assemblies as were matters of ceremony, his absence from which would have been a noted thing. His kinsman was fond of him, and though himself of so much riper age, honoured him greatly. At times he strove to lure him into visits of greater familiarity; but though his kindness was never met coldly or repulsed, a further intimacy was in some gracious way avoided.
"My lady must beguile you to be less formal with us," said Dunstanwolde. And later her ladyship spoke as her husband had privately desired: "My lord would be made greatly happy if your Grace would honour our house oftener," she said one night, when at the end of a great ball he was bidding her adieu.