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Title: The Gilt Mask
Author: Marjorie Bowen
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1500681h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Jun 2015
Most recent update: Jun 2015

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The Gilt Mask

by

Marjorie Bowen

Cover Image

ILLUSTRATED BY J. R. SKELTON

First published in The Windsor Magazine, May 1915
This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2015



I.

Illustration

HE Lady Dorothy stood in the window-space, a little apart from the crowd—in heart and spirit very much apart and exceedingly lonely, though she was the most admired and courted of all the women in the fashionable gathering. She was also certainly the most beautiful, the most notable, perhaps, by reason of the manner in which her charms were set off by the exceeding richness of her rose-coloured velvet and gilt habit and the great plumed hat, on which the sweeping white feathers were fastened by a circle of rose diamonds.

And as she was a great lady as well as a beauty, an heiress, and one free to dispose of herself and her money, she had more flatterers than enough pressing about her, and every other woman in the room envying her, as how could they help envying one who had birth and loveliness, wealth and position, and the world at her feet?

But the Lady Dorothy Drummond was the most unhappy creature of any there, man or woman.

The scene was the studio, or workshop, of a young sculptor just rising sufficiently into fame to attract the fashionable world to a display of their wit and beauty beneath his roof—often to a display of their arrogance and ignorance; but George Linton could smile at that, for these patrons were to him but rungs of the ladder on which he meant to climb to fame.

His work was largely that of a goldsmith and worker in precious metals and jewels, a métier rather despised in this practical age, relegated to the rank of tradesmen, or little better; but he had, by the brilliancy of his skill, redeemed his neglected art in the public eye, and made his exquisite productions the mode.

The wonderful objects he designed and shaped were almost as much sought after as the fashionable portraits of Romney or Reynolds, and he was in a fair way to make as big a fortune as either of these famous painters.

To attend the exhibits he gave of his work became a usual diversion of the great world. Duchesses and statesmen were among his patrons, and he seemed likely to revive the days of the great Cellini when the Court of France had thronged the studio of the master-craftsman.

He stood now among his patrons, a modest, manly figure in his grey cloth suit, his face pale between the powdered curls, his long, brown eyes elated, his face eager yet reserved, and very likeable in its charming look of youth and strength.

The Lady Dorothy was watching him from under drooping lids. She loved him, and she had just heard of his betrothal to another woman—that was her tragedy.

As she looked at him, she was wondering what she should do with the rest of her life. Now he had gone out of it, she could see no purpose in living.

She had been one of his first patronesses, and it was largely to her that he owed his success. She had first been attracted by the beauty of his work, and then by the charm and power of the man himself, and for more than a year she had secretly loved him as it was in her noble nature to love—once only.

The distance between them had always been impossibly great—she the great lady, the wealthy heiress, the brilliant match, he the poor artist of humble birth—and his attitude to her had always been one of becoming reverence, gratitude, and devotion.

But she had hoped—ah, yes, the woman in her had hoped—that one day, when he had climbed more to her level, he might dare, for she had thought herself without a rival, and tremblingly believed that her love was returned.

And now, at a breath, these hopes and beliefs were shattered. There was another woman, and he was going to marry her, and his patroness had been to him only his patroness.

The Lady Dorothy's gentle heart was incapable of feeling rage or bitterness against anyone; she could think of his betrothed with kindness, but deeply humiliated for the love given unasked, great sadness for the love wasted, immense desolation and sorrow for a loss that could never be replaced. These feelings did overwhelm and bow her gallant heart.

She possessed one consolation—no one had ever been her confidant, her secret had been proudly kept inviolate, and never by look nor word nor gesture had she betrayed herself.

This helped her to endure the present moment. Afterwards, when she was alone, she might permit herself the relief of tears or prayers. Now she must stand calm and smiling before the crowd who so little guessed the truth.

An ancient beau joined her and told her again the news that was ringing in her heart.

"So Linton is going to marry? Your ladyship heard? One hardly thought that he would be so monstrous foolish."

"Why foolish?" asked the Lady Dorothy gently.

"Why, because it is a person of no account—a little miss from a boarding-school, a country parson's daughter!"

"You think that he might have made a more brilliant match?" smiled the woman who loved George Linton.

"By Heaven, I do, madam! He has a real future, and the time will come when he will regret his little cottage girl."

"You are very severe, Mr. Bentham. Have you seen the lady?"

"She is here—a creature without style or manners, without brains, too, I think."

"It would be a true love-match, then," said the Lady Dorothy, "and Mr. Linton is to be congratulated sincerely."

"Ah, that is what you ladies call romance, and cry over in the paper novels," smiled Mr. Bentham tolerantly. "What do you call it in a few years' time, when the prettiness and the love have worn away, like taint off a new toy, and the prosperous husband is ashamed of the silly, simple wife, and she is neglected and shrewish at home, while he is enchained to some woman of wit and culture?"

"Why, if that happens, I call it failure," replied the lady. "I admit Mr. Linton may do a foolish thing if he marries fair ignorance, but it's no use arguing about the matter, sir. Men do not look for brains in their wives' dowries—it is never pretty foolishness that is left to become an ancient spinster."

Mr. Bentham laughed.

"Well, I credited Linton with more sense, at least. And, mark me, this match will damage him. He might enter the beau mondeshe never can."

"He is successful enough to please himself," said Lady Dorothy, "and I do not think he cares for the beau monde."

"You have heard of his commission from the King of France?"

"Nay, what is that?"

"He is to design a new State sword for His Majesty, in which is to be placed the famous diamond, the Fleur-de-lis. It has been sent over by a special messenger. I asked Linton to show it to me, but he said he had sent it to the bank, and wisely done—the thing is worth a kingdom."

The others coming up broke the conversation, and presently Lady Dorothy escaped from all of them and wandered by herself through the suite of studios, or workshops.

The top light of a winter afternoon fell coldly on the pictures and tapestries and fine furniture, and on the shelves, cases, and tables where George Linton's works stood. He had experimented in most materials, and always brilliantly.

There were chalk and bistre drawings, portraits and landscapes in oil, statuettes in clay, terra-cotta, and marble, objects cast in bronze, goblets, candlesticks, clocks, trays and bells in gold, silver, and porcelain, vases in majolica, copied from those of Gubbio and Castel del Monte, and fine paintings on china. Hero, too, were cases of jewellery—caskets, sword hilts, rings, bracelets, coronets, watches, keys, combs, all wrought with a perfect taste and a superb workmanship worthy of the great Renaissance of craftsmanship.

In one corner was a wooden bracket, on which stood the lovely antique Nike, with wings bound to the noble head, one wing broken now, but the other still extended beyond the proud, dreaming face and the close, waving hair—a perfect copy that Linton himself had made in Italy.

The Lady Dorothy paused beneath and looked up at the serene stone face. The look of smiling, passionless calm soothed her aching heart. She gazed up into the marble visage as if it was the countenance of a friend.

And here George Linton came to her.

She was ready for this—she had known he must come to her sooner or later. She turned to him slowly and smiled.

"You have come to tell me of your betrothal?" she said. "I have heard of it. I am glad you are happy. Will you not bring her to me? I hear she is new to London; it might be I could be of use to her."

He stood erect before her and strangely flushed. "You overwhelm me with your graciousness," he answered. "I may not so trespass on your kindness, my lady. Miss Heriot will be more than grateful for your protection, for she is new indeed to town, and shall thank you with her own lips."

Dorothy Drummond was looking at him steadily and sweetly. She did not answer, and her long fingers played with the lace of her cravat, which heaved on her breast.

"And for myself I must thank you," added George Linton, "and from my heart, most earnestly, most gratefully, my lady, most humbly and sincerely."

There was a certain wistfulness in his words that startled her, that almost shook her delicately held composure.

"You owe me nothing," she answered rather faintly. "Thank, sir, your own merits."

"I owe you everything," he insisted eagerly. "When you gave me your help, your encouragement, I was in despair. Whatever success I have I lay at your feet—it is yours."

Despite her self-control she paled. How ironical his words were, when she had nothing of him—nothing!

"I believed in you as an artist, sir," she answered, "and your success has flattered my judgment, therefore I stand well rewarded for my venture; and you exaggerate my services, perhaps because you value your success now as you never did before, since it has enabled you to gain your lady. And now will you not, please, bring her to me?"

He hesitated a moment, looked at her intently, bowed and withdrew. While he was gone, Lady Dorothy gazed up at the Nike.

He returned with a young girl, who looked at the great lady with a half-defiant awe.

"This is Grace Heriot, my lady, and this, Grace, is the Lady Dorothy Drummond of whom you have so often heard me speak."

The two women were quick to take each other's measure.

Grace Heriot saw a lady of a finish, an elegance, an air that was quite beyond her judgment and her criticism; Dorothy Drummond saw a girl who was not the modest country girl she had imagined, but a creature only superficially pretty, rather impudent and bold, over-dressed in furbelows and silks. At the present moment, elated with an excitement she could by no means disguise, she laughed continually, and gave the impression that her betrothal, and the sudden importance she had acquired as the future wife of George Linton, had quite turned her foolish head.

"She will spend all his money on clothes and chariots and in aping the fine lady she can never be," thought Lady Dorothy, with a sinking heart.

Aloud she spoke sweetly, making the girl free of her house and her friends. And she meant what she said. For the sake of George Linton, she was prepared to champion his wife against all the smiles and sneers of London society.

Grace Heriot answered lightly, and, glancing at George with a simpering air of possession, told Lady Dorothy that he and she were old sweethearts, and had known each other from childhood in their native place in Northumberland.

"You must be very proud to see the position Mr. Linton holds to-day," said Lady Dorothy, "very proud and very happy, Miss Heriot. It is seldom such fine work so soon achieves success."

"Oh, la, as to that, I know nothing at all," smiled Grace Heriot. "I never held his cribbling and plastering of much account, but now it has brought him a fortune, I am pleased enough, of course."

"You do not care about his art, then?" asked the other.

"It don't seem to me a woman's business, ma'am," replied the bride-elect. "But what does it matter to me what he does, say I, as long as he keeps a fine house and gives me plenty of pin-money?"

So this was the woman he was going to marry! This was the woman for whose sake he was going to deny himself all other women's company, comprehension, and understanding! This was to be the lifelong companion of a man of an eager genius! Lady Dorothy could not understand. A kind of shame kept her from looking directly at him, but she was conscious that he was looking down and not at either of them.

"Please honour me at my next reception, ma'am," she said, and, with a curtsey, took her leave of both of them; she could not longer endure now the airs and foolishness of this country miss.

She moved away slowly, for a quick step was impossible to her heavy mind.

Why had he done it? Why?

Love must he his motive. There could be no other. Love! He, the man of such taste, discernment, refinement of perception and judgment—he had been swept off his feet by this comeliness of a milkmaid, this passing charm of country freshness!

Lady Dorothy turned into a little cabinet at the back of the studio, where Linton worked and kept his precious gems.

One of the assistants was there. She asked him if the peridots she was having reset were ready. The man hastened away to see, and she remained alone in the little chamber, the walls of which sparkled with cases of jewels.

"I must help him now more than ever," she thought. "I must buy all I can. He will need it, with that girl to satisfy. And I—what else have I to do with my money?"

She moved restlessly round the cases, gazing at the objects within.

One especially caught her fancy as her preoccupied glance was held by it—a small egg of silver gilt, the front finely carved into the likeness of a mask, with smoothly banded hair and sleepy eyes and smiling lips.

"Like me!" she thought. "My face is but a mask gilt with smiles. I will take this in remembrance of the day I heard of his betrothal."

The glass door of the case was unlocked. She took out the gilt mask and put it in her pocket.

The assistant returned. The jewels were not ready.

"It is no matter," said the lady. "Send them when they are completed. I have taken a little silver gilt ornament, tell Mr. Linton."

She took up her muff and fur scarf, and left the room and the house, descending with the November twilight that deepened over Leicester Fields, and entering her chariot, which waited, with other chariots and chairs, before George Linton's door.

And when she was inside, she drew up the leathern blinds, took from her pocket the little trifle his fingers had fashioned, and wept over it silently.


II.

LESS than a week later the Lady Dorothy, sitting in her splendid withdrawing-room in her mansion in St. James's Square, was told that Miss Grace Heriot wished to see her. It was yet early in the morning, an impossible hour for a visit.

"Something has happened," thought the Lady Dorothy. She bade the girl be admitted at once.

So they met again—the woman George Linton was going to marry, and the woman who loved him.

The lady rose, tall and fair in her white lace morning-gown, and held out her hand to her visitor.

Grace Heriot was finely dressed. She had already learnt the trick of paint and powder yet her face showed pale, almost distorted—she was openly agitated.

"This is not a fashionable hour for a visit, I know," she began, with a laugh that was more than half hysterical, "and I don't know why I should come to you at all!"

"You are in trouble? Please tell me. I will do anything I can."

"There is nothing to be done!" cried the other, "and I don't know why I came, unless to have someone to talk to, and you were always interested in him!"

She dropped on to a settee and twisted her hands together on her knee.

Lady Dorothy remained standing.

"It is about Mr. Linton?" she asked.

"Yes, about George. I was so happy, and now it is all over! What shall I do? Oh, what shall I do?"

"Please tell me," urged the lady gently.

Grace Heriot looked at her wildly.

"Well," she blurted out, "he is supposed to have stolen the French diamond—that thing he was to have put in the King's sword—and everyone believes it, and he is quite ruined! I doubt but they will put him in gaol or hang him at Tyburn!"

Lady Dorothy felt as if the world was breaking about her. She stood for a moment quite still, holding her heart.

Grace Heriot began to sob noisily. That roused the other woman.

"Hush," she said, "Hush! Tell me the whole story—tell me everything."

"There is nothing to tell, ma'am. George can't find the diamond, and they say he stole it."

"I thought he had sent it to the bank?"

"He says he gave it to his man to take, and the fellow delayed, and put the thing in some case, and, when they went, it was gone."

"It must be found."

"George searched two days, almost tearing the walls down."

"It must be found," repeated Lady Dorothy.

"Can you help?" cried Grace.

"I? What do you want me to do?"

"I don't know, but you are clever and powerful, and his friend."

"Poor child!" answered the other. "I am as helpless as you. He could replace the gem. I might help, true."

"Oh, ma'am," cried the girl frantically, "there ain't such another stone in the world! What fortune could replace it?"

Lady Dorothy knew that she was right—her own entire fortune would hardly make up half the value of the Fleur-de-lis—and she knew, too, that George Linton would never take money from her, under any disguise.

"It is somewhere—it must be found," she could only repeat.

"Meanwhile, George is ruined!" cried Grace Heriot. "And, if your ladyship can suggest nothing—why, I'll be going." She rose, dabbing at her face with a perfumed handkerchief. "So this is the end of the fine days!" she cried desperately.

"What do yon mean?"

"That I must get back to the country and find another husband!"

"You—you do not mean that you will forsake him?"

Grace Heriot broke out into violent defence of herself.

"Forsake! It is all very well to use fine words, my lady, but he is ruined and an accused thief, and he can't hold me to my promise; and if something can't be done, and the diamond isn't found, we shall go home. My people have always been honest, and I won't drag them into disgrace!"

Lady Dorothy stared at her in utter amazement.

"You—do not love him, then?" she stammered.

Grace Heriot tossed her head.

"I am going to marry an honest man!"

"Oh, you do not—"

Lady Dorothy broke off in a kind of terror.

"I do not know!" sobbed Grace. "George was always strange—you never can be sure of clever men!"

"Nor of foolish women! But you—you do not mean what you say? Of course, you will stand by him—of course, you believe in him?"

"Do you?" flung out Grace.

"Absolutely."

"Well, you ain't asked to marry him, ma'am, and I am. And unless he is cleared pretty soon, I will not be ruined and in this way!"

Lady Dorothy struck her hands together passionately.

"You must not!" she cried. "He needs you now more than ever! Do you not see it so? He is not ruined. I—I will help you both, only you must not forsake him. Promise me that, I entreat you. I plead with you to promise me that!

"Why, what is it to you, ma'am?" cried Grace, stepping back, for the other woman was nearly kneeling to her in the vehemence of her passion.

"I know he is innocent, and I cannot bear that you should break his heart—I cannot bear that you should do this hateful thing," answered Lady Dorothy.

"I'll act as I choose, ma'am," replied Grace Heriot. "And here is good-bye to you, and thanks for your good advice."

With that she flounced from the room.

And in this manner the Lady Dorothy heard of the ruin of George Linton.


III.

THE diamond was not found. George Linton could not produce it, nor amend his lame story of his careless assistant and the mysterious disappearance of the gem.

The affair became of international importance. The unfortunate artist was given a week in which to produce the jewel. If he failed, he would be tried as a thief—the French Ambassador would be satisfied with no less.

Grace Heriot and her parents left London, the betrothal was openly broken, and the girl's desertion set the seal on the blackness of the case against him. All fell away from him—his patrons, his friends, his acquaintances.

He might be a thief, and he was certainly ruined. In either case, the world that had once so admired and supported him no longer needed him. He was not worth a war with France. Besides, very few believed him innocent.

"Where will the fool sell the jewel?" they asked.

He was as swiftly, as completely ruined as a man can be. There seemed utterly no chance, no hope for him, no straw at which he could catch, no gleam of light to redeem the darkness of his overthrow.

Then she came to him—came one dreary afternoon, when the snow was falling without the studio windows, and he was sitting alone in the cold light, with his head in his hands.

He rose up in amazement when he saw her beautiful presence glowing in his deserted room.

She put down her white muff on his work-table and held out her ungloved hand.

"Mr. Linton, you must not grieve—the diamond will be found. And—and I have come to tell you that I am going into the country to bring her back."

"Bring her back?"

"Grace Heriot. You must not blame her—she is but a girl."

He broke in fiercely on her gentle voice.

"My lady, you mock me! I am glad she has gone—glad!"

"She—your betrothed!"

"There was some boy and girl promise between us. When she heard of my good fortune, she—they—remembered it. I had almost forgotten her. Now she has gone, let her go in peace."

They stood staring at each other. She grasped the chair-back behind her. His ruin had broken down many barriers between them; never had she spoken so frankly to him before.

"You never cared, then?" she asked.

"Did you think I could?" he demanded hotly.

The truth was forced from her.

"It seemed—strange."

He gave a half sob and turned his head away.

"I cared for another."

"Another?"

He looked at her again now, and his eyes were dark with pain and longing.

"My lady, do you think me a thief?"

"I know you arc not."

"I stand before yon ruined, my lady, the creature whom you raised up lies broken at your feet, and, as a man who has nothing more to lose, I can speak to you."

"Speak, speak!"

"As one on the edge of death I speak to you, my lady!"

"No; no—not death!"

"I am mad, crazed by my misfortunes! Listen to what I dare. I love you, my lady! I have always loved you—I have lived on my love for you! Forgive this from one who will live no more!"

She stretched out her hands to him and began to sob.

"My dear, my dear, I belong to you! Take me!"

He stepped back from her in awe, almost in horror.

"It is not possible!" he cried brokenly. "I am a beggar—dishonoured!"

She slipped to her knees before him, still holding out her hands.

"Make me your wife, if I am worthy! Look, the mask is off. I took this, when I was last here, to remind me—the little mask that you made—to remind me to keep my mask on." She drew it from her bosom and held it out to him.

Illustration

"You must not kneel—oh, my lady—and to me! I cannot believe it; it is not possible that I am so blessed. What is this?"

For, in raising her, he had seen the gilt mask.

"You took this—this, my lady?"

"Yes, the little mask, to remind me—"

His voice broke between sobs and laughter.

"Then I am no longer ruined! I have my honour again, and you, and you!"

He took the gilt mask from her.

"Yes," she cried, "it is off now—the mask!"

"You took this?" he stammered again.

"Yes. Did they not tell you?"

"By Heaven's grace, no one told me. And so she was tested, and you were found. Oh, my lady, I can hardly believe it!"

She wondered a little at his words, wondered through all her joy.

"Look!" he said.

He pressed the top of the gilt toy. The mask flew back and showed a hollow, where lay the gem in its curious case, the famous Fleur-de-lis!


Illustration


THE END

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