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The Owl and the Cuckoo

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The summer sun had burnt the mountains brown, and amid those sunstruck mountains, the hermitage lay like a great buff doe in the cradle of the valley. In the fields beyond, the industrious monks knelt to tend to the bean rows and raised their hands to the newly swollen grapes; the breeze stirred a faint, ghostly knell from the bell, and as it rang over the arched spine of the Pyrenees, all heads turned to heed it with reverent ears and open hearts.

Rosaline heaved a sigh and resumed fanning herself. Beside her, Katharine flapped the skirts of her simple habit about her legs, and Rosaline gave her a sidelong glance at the indecency. "Buzz, buzz--"

"Thou needst not quote the fly to me," snapped Katharine. "I'm well-acquainted with his droning speech."

"My ladies, do not quarrel!" said the queen, who fanned her sweating features languidly. She, more than they, had taken to the contemplative life; the black habit of the confined suited her mourning heart, or so Maria said. Maria, thought Rosaline, was simply enjoying the fine vintages of the hermitage. "When we vowed that we would spend a twelvemonth at our prayers, we did not mean to pen thee in with us."

"You are the fairest gaoler I could wish," said Rosaline--and here she drew in a breath of dry summer air--"But I have made no monastery vows."

"Then I'll employ thy gifts some other way," the queen replied. She beckoned Rosaline and Katharine closer (Katharine, whose expression well conveyed that she found their captivity no more congenial than did Rosaline), then whispered, "When we stood at the gate of Ferdinand, and begged him leave to lodge within his home, he there denied both knowledge and receipt of our one hundred thousand Frankish crowns. Our haste in leaving young Navarre's domain has left us now no nearer to the truth; we are no loose, reneging debtor queen, and neither was our father such a king."

Katharine cast Rosaline a thoughtful glance, which Rosaline did not deign to return. She had not learned to read looks as Katharine had, and she was disinclined to hold a conversation in glances alone.

The queen must have caught that glance, though, because something in her expression softened, and she laid one hand upon Rosaline's shoulder and the other upon Katharine's. "Thou two, my dearest ladies," she began. "The stalwart pleasures of my earthly days, and the best wits of all the court of France. I know no two whom I would better trust to find out where my father's money went. Wilt thou accept thy queen's most secret charge?"

Rosaline gripped the handle of her fan. Her sweat made the fine, delicate vanes of the feathers stick against her hand, and she longed more than anything for a cool bath to ease her misery.

The queen had known that Rosaline never meant to stay, and so she had offered that most noble of gifts: The opportunity to escape with dignity. "It is our lady's pleasure to entreat, and thus it is our pleasure to obey."

For a moment, Katharine looked as though she were about to refuse to spite Rosaline--then she turned to her queen again, and some unspoken understanding passed between them. She sighed and let her tense shoulders drop, then kissed the queen's ring. "But give us leave, and we'll be on our way."

- - -

When the Muscovite women came to Navarre, such a whispering arose from the towns as had never before been heard. "Is't true they come laden with mountain ice?" asked one washerwoman as she pinned up the day's laundry. She pressed her eye up to a hole in the bedclothes and regarded the coach with naked interest. "My husband, God save his soles, did run halfway from Aragon to make report--"

"Thy husband ran halfway from port to canary, and then he made re-port," her neighbor Jaquenetta laughed, offering Don Armado's stockings to pin to the line and wrinkling her nose at their unrepentant grubbiness. "In our hot Navarre, for want of mountain ice, the wild Muscovites will doff their furs and dance in chemises; see that your husband looks not to his soles, when they fling off their petticoats!"

"But look to their boyar! Wears he not a hat of fur--"

"By my maidenhead, he wears a hat like a badger."

"The cold is in their veins; they've a phlegmatic temper, by my troth."

"See where the lady alights! She sweats like a tankard."

"Such a black Muscovite she is! Did I know no better, I would take her for a Moor--why, if she's a Muscovite, then Muscovy is an Afric land."

"Hsst! Hsst, she'll hear--"

The women quieted as the boyar handed down the second woman, who was pale and fair and amber-haired; she wore a loose gown with fluted sleeves and a scarf about her throat and ears, and she plucked at the scarf as though it chafed. "Such a woman will run like a worm through her linens," said the laundress in a speculative undertone. "An we can make ourselves a pretty crown, I care not whether she comes from Muscovy or the moon. Get thee in their service, and we'll both be rich women by the time they leave."

- - -

As soon as the doors had been shut and the windows shuttered, Katharine collapsed on the nearest chair and began unpinning her scarf. "I know not which I wish to strangle more--the King of Muscovy, or Lord Boyet."

"With that cloth pinned so tight about thy neck, thou wilt not strangle any but thyself," snapped Rosaline. "These gowns, at least, are loose enough for thee--"

"Ha! Loose! Again, thou harp'st upon my girth--"

"No harper born could pluck at such thick strings," said Rosaline, with a snort.

An eerie pause pervaded the apartments, and in the dim light that crept through the shutters, Katharine and Rosaline regarded one another warily. The queen's pacifying interjections had become a part of their rhythm, like the tambor beating time beneath the steps of their dance; without her to quiet them, still they quieted. Rosaline could hear Katharine's breathing, her throat roughened by the dry air, and she watched as her chest rose with each slow inhalation.

The door opened, and Rosaline turned to greet the sudden, welcome light. "What word from Lord Navarre? Are we to be thrown out, to make our camp upon the green?"

Boyet doffed his enormous fur cap and smoothed back his hair; he was beginning to go bald at the temples, and at least half of that was the constant pressure of thumb and forefinger on the fragile hair that once had grown there. He smiled, though, and withdrew a missive from his jacket. "The King is quite content to have thee lodge at a remove from his retirement. No, Lady Rosaline, a greater man has made petition to send thee away." Here, he offered the letter, and Rosaline sat alongside Katharine so that they might read it together.

Great sovereign (it began), first among God's earthly surrogates, plenipotentiary of Navarre, my sole hope and refuge from a Carthaginian desolation, I do beg, and entreat, and implore you to give heed to my plea. In the early morning, it was very nearly the hour of seven, when villeins freight their humble yield on laden barrows, it fell to my attention that, my sheets bereaved of their sterling purity, I did require the services of a damosel, of unsullied virtue, to ablute and to absterge my linen. Having undertaken this purest transaction, this unbesmirched unbesmirching of linen, I then betook me to oversee the return of that materia lintea, or my bedclouts. The hour was about twelve, when Helios had driven his car to the zenith of its arc. There, upon the street, within the road--nay, directly in the way of transit!--stood a rude coach, a worthless conveyance like unto the cart of a ploughman, with a fur-clad barbarian, a base mongrel creature, a smirking MUSCOVITE within! As I did pass before him, the MUSCOVITE did give me a look that trembled the intestine parts of me; my liver clanged against my gizzard, and the two of them shook against my kidneys until they had wrung that organ to emptiness. Thus it is my request, and thus I humbly entreat, that you in your dread majesty do fling out the barbarous invader, who threatens a poor Spaniard in your realm. I am Thine, in eternal service and ardent attachment,

The clock struck one as Rosaline finished. "A swiftly-writ complaint."

"And swiftly sent--and swiftly then dismissed before the court," laughed Boyet. He took a seat at Katharine's feet, and she slid her hand into that thinning hair with a quiet laugh of her own.

When Rosaline had first met Lord Boyet, she'd thought him a smirking flirt who would stop at nothing to steal an unearned kiss (and with it, were she incautious, a maidenhood). As she watched him lean back into Katharine's touch, though, she recognized that there was no man with whom their virginity was safer.

Katharine smiled, scratching Boyet behind the ears like a hound. "No word, then, on our lady's missing gold?"

"No word but that 'tis missing, and 'tis gold, and little word on aught but penitence. In truth, the court's become a cheerless place since Ferdinand's three scholar-friends decamped. No guests but melancholy Spaniards here; Berowne's betaken himself unto the sick, Dumaine to chapel to tell off his beads--"

"And were Maria here, you'd offer up the whereabouts of her Lord Longaville," Rosaline laughed. "I am resolved to meet Berowne no more; thy hints and tokens boot thee not, my friend."

"And neither will I meet with Lord Dumaine," said Katharine, raising her brows as though she had been challenged. "What say you, Rosaline? Shall we exchange our suitors, and meet them as Muscovites?"

"My dearest Katharine." She pressed her lips so tightly closed that her jaw nearly ached; with a forced smile, she said, "Do not forget that we have come to seek our lady's crowns."

"And so we will! But would she chasten us, an we should find a hundred thousand one? What harm is there in making marriages for those who'd gladly marry, if they could?"

"Recall thy sister, heavy-grown with love."

Katharine's hand stilled in Boyet's hair; the barb had struck her deeply, and Rosaline immediately regretted it. "Perhaps 'tis for my sister's sake I wish to broker love in other women's stead. If one must love, will she or no, perhaps 'tis best that she love him at a remove."

Rosaline took Katharine's free hand in hers, pressing her soft palm once and then releasing her. "I'll ask thy lord Dumaine about the crowns."

Katharine turned a grateful look to her, and Rosaline knew that she'd accepted the offer as an apology. "And I, Berowne, an I can pin him down."

- - -

In a fall of quiet between services, Rosaline stepped lightly into the chapel. It smelled of resin and sandalwood, of old sweat and stone; as she knelt in that blessed coolness reserved to old stone buildings, she thought that the chapel smelled of home.

Whether Muscovites observed Catholic rites, she couldn't have said, but she suspected that Dumaine was no better equipped to answer.

"My lord is long at chapel," she observed.

"So he is," replied Dumaine, who did not turn on hearing her voice sound amid the pews. "And so he'll stay, whate'er your grace or charm. My heart is held by Katharine and God."

"By Katharine! Some Spanish maiden's name?" Here Rosaline took up her flowing skirts and crept along the aisle carefully. The thick, slick silk was damp beneath her palms.

"A saintly Frenchwoman, I'll have you know."

"Were she a saint, I'd put her on the wheel," said Rosaline beneath her breath; she smiled, then forced her face to pleasantness. Aloud, she said, "I've heard such news of France! Tell me, is't true that the late king hath debts to young Navarre--unpaid, for all his claims to constancy?"

"I trow, 'tis true," agreed Dumaine at once. He shuffled on his knees as though they ached--and well they must, if he told out his days with rosaries. "We have an honest king. An he be honest, we must trust his word, and he says that the French are in his debt."

"An you be honest--"

"He would vouch for me!"

At last, Dumaine turned to regard her, his soft eyes wide and guileless. His expression suggested that he had never met a logical fallacy that he hadn't loved with a pure, Platonic adoration.

It fell to Rosaline to play Socrates, then, and she conjured Katharine for a most appropriate Xanthippe. "But when my train passed through the Pyrenees, we stopped a while at a fine hermitage. There lodged a jewel of maidenhood and grace, a matchless, peerless patron of the French--I thought me, were she any less a maid than that new-crownéd queen of all the realm, then I should crown her for a lost princess. Alas, she said--this honest maid, and true!--that Ferdinand, the king of great Navarre, still claimed a long-paid debt had gone unpaid! A sum of some one hundred thousand crowns!"

Dumaine brought up his handkerchief, then coughed; a scent of musk-rose and sweet sandalwood perfumed the incense-laden air. Rosaline stifled a sneeze. "Ah--but the French have oft been known to lie! I doubt not your regard for such a queen, and were she Viennese or English, then ..."

"Are these your sentiments on honesty? Then pray not for your Katharine, my lord--for like that matchless queen, she, too, is French; a woman of dishonest temperament has other uses for a kneeling man." She rose to her feet, and she was gratified to watch him eye her waist with trepidation.

"Where did you come from, fair inquisitor?" he asked. His Adam's apple bobbed; his cheeks were pale as christening-gowns for cherubim.

"From Muscovy, that cold and gloomy court, where fashion above all is reverenced." Dismissing the inquiry, she pressed on. "To see the poor and honest French queen weep--"

"An she is poor, how can the queen have paid?"

"Perhaps she has grown poor from paying well!"

Dumaine climbed to his feet and brushed his knees; his hose were threadbare from long penitence. "There are two equal chances, neither good. Mayhap the French king did not pay, and lied, and so his daughter lied to you in turn; mayhap he paid, and lied to keep his debts. What man of reason, having paid his debts, then tells his creditor that he has not? 'Tis out of tune with business and with sense!"

"I have not heard this tune," said Rosaline. "What mean you, sir?"

Dumaine drew in a breath. "Some time ago, when France broke off its wars, we daily hoped that Holland's plundered crowns would fill our emptied coffers to the brim. Alas, King Ferdinand received a note entreating him to wait upon the crowns--and so he has, as faithful to his pledge as ever was a Jack unto his Jill."

At this new intelligence, Rosaline could only raise her brows and slip her hands into the broad sleeves of her gown. She had seen well enough that Dumaine's intellect was no better than Katharine had painted it; even a fool could stumble upon wealth, though, and she could not permit a single stone to go unturned. "Might one too forward lady-Muscovite request a glance at this strange manuscript?"

"If it will ease your sympathetic grief to see the French queen's perfidy writ large, then so you shall, at once, and by all means." He offered up his arm, which she then took. "By'r lady, such a swarthy Muscovite I've never seen in all my days abroad!" he muttered.

She let him suppose that she hadn't heard, and she plotted his demise with a tranquil visage.

- - -

A few month's quickening had swelled Jaquenetta's belly, and her gowns proclaimed the nascent curve; where once she had been slender as a reed, she sailed now like a galleon through the crowds of market-goers. Here, she considered a bolt of holland, and there, an early apple (still green--she could never abide a summer apple). "Thou hast a little apple of thine own, by my faith," the vendor said, laughing, and she turned so that he might see her in profile.

"From great apples, little apples come, or so my husband tells me!" she replied. "So praises Costard his seed, and it is no goodwife's place to gainsay him."

"Tell old Costard he owes me sixpence, and I owe him a sharp blow to either ear."

"Why, he should only say 'twas a fair trade, and an honest trade, that he should keep his sixpence and thou shouldst keep thy blows!" laughed Jaquenetta. "Try out some other means to fetch his coin. The constable will no doubt offer thee helps by the score for taking him to task."

"O, worthy woman, Eve's most dutiful daughter, thou wilt be an eternal plague upon thy husband!" said the vendor, but his apple-cheeks belied his scolding. He wagged a gnarled finger at her, and Jaquenetta brushed it away with a smile. "Such plagues are needful, where the law plagues not the wrongdoer. Until the Prince of Spain goes forth, the constables will do naught but walk up and down like clockwork men, and strike the bell, and call 'all's well!' Nay, Jaquenetta, I trow we'll have nor law nor order in Navarre until our king--god save him!--see the Spaniards off."

"I will be glad to see the Spaniards off," sniffed Jaquenetta, cupping her hands lightly about her belly. Don Armado's promise of a long engagement still stung like a slap, and when she considered the dubious but reliable charms of her faithful Costard, she could not forbear smiling.

She had the child to consider. Better a poor husband, and no gentleman, than no husband and no gentleman at all.

- - -

Almost at once, upon entering the hospital, Katharine had to press her pomander against her nose. She inhaled the heavy musks and resins, murmuring a brief prayer for strength against the sick-sweet smell of festering wounds. "Ah, me," she whispered thickly, looking round, "Such misery; I've never seen--"

"Then thou art surely blind, or newly made as Venus sprung from out the pounding foam," said Lord Berowne, whose face was swaddled well with a white scarf that hid him to the ears. "I bid thee welcome to this palace, this gold-fretted house for those most near to God--for surely none more worthy are to live in citadels of ivory and jade than those whom Jove has gathered to his breast."

The only ivory in the hospital was Berowne's white scarf; the only green, the bunches of sweet herbs that patients had strung about their beds. The only gold was ensconced in Katharine's purse.

She met Berowne's eyes, managing after a moment, "My lord is merry, for a surgeon."

"My keenest lancet is my wit, and thus I must employ it busily to heal," Berowne replied, and guided her aside. "Dear lady, an thou art not ill, thy hands are better put to other, simpler tasks. Thy charity we'll take, and with good will, but plainly put, a hundred thousand crowns would not remit the tenth part of our want."

"One hundred thousand crowns," said Katharine, her eyes still fixed upon a festering sore. She wished to scrub her hands against her skirts, but still she grimly held the pomander. "That calls to mind …"

A loud cough made her shudder. She released the pomander, which fell against her breast; in the sick man's racking cough, and the long shivers that rocked him as he pressed the back of his hand to his lips, she seemed to see her sister's final fits. She almost saw the foam-touched lips, and hands clenched up in agony--

"Let's walk a while outside, sweet Muscovite." Berowne affixed his hand at her elbow and pulled her toward the entryway, and she followed mutely. When they had escaped that dim, perfumed hospital, Katharine paused to breathe in the deep and ordinary stink of the streets. It made her feel almost herself again, to have that merciless sun on her shoulders.

Berowne unwrapped his scarf, in which he had secreted several pouches that crackled as though full of dried marjoram. "Thou didst not come to see a hospital," he said, and fixed her with a flat, unblinking stare. Some faint compassion lingered there, she thought, but she could not rely on his goodwill.

"I came to question thee about a debt," admitted Katharine, although it galled. "The French queen's debt, for which Navarre still holds a part of Aquitaine as surety."

"A strange concern, for one so new-arrived from Muscovy--what of the French queen's debt?" In his dark eyes, some trace of humor lingered.

"The queen insists that she hath paid in full; the king, that she hath paid but half her due. I do not think their majesties would lie, and yet this difference is unreconciled ..."

Berowne examined Katharine with new, fond eyes. She knew then that he recognized her face, and saw in it another woman's face; the fondness was for Rosaline alone, and yet some reflected kindness shone on her. "An you convey this token in my stead--" and here he pressed his scarf into her hands "--unto another, darker Muscovite, more fair than thee, who art exceeding fair ... why, then, perhaps, I'd have intelligence."

She folded the scarf and draped it over arm, where the scent would not remind her of her sister's last hours. "I will--what news hast thou upon the debt?"

"'Tis common, in Navarre, for excise-men to sample silks and spices entering; the wealth of Africa, the Persian pelf, waits at our gates upon their sufferance. They less remark the money coming in ... but watch with eagle-eyes that going out. If, by some chance, the French king's payment came, it has not yet left in a common way."

"I thank thee," Katharine said quietly. If her hands trembled still, they trembled less; she added, "And not for thy news alone. Thy kindness in the hospital--'twas more--"

"Who was it thou didst lose, in such a place?" He did not reach for her, or take her hand; she thanked him for that gift of dignity.

"My sister. She delivered up a babe, who cried one cry and never breathed again--she had forsaken all she knew for love, and lost both love and infant in a stroke ... and then she fell into a spate of fits that shook her all apart until she died."

"A heavy price, for such a heavy love," said Lord Berowne, with evident regret.

Katharine swallowed, then smiled until the corners of her lips felt strained. "See that thou keep my darker Muscovite so well, in love, that she is ever light."

- - -

When Rosaline and Katharine returned, their coach had vanished from the street. "What robbery is this!" cried Rosaline. She kicked a stone where once their coach had been, hands clenched at either side. "Must ladies walk from here to distant Muscovy on foot?"

"How else might ladies walk, sweet Rosaline?" demanded Katharine. She crossed her arms, a scarf tucked neatly over one broad sleeve. "No doubt our boyar has it well in hand; he would not let that Spanish cozener persuade the king to take our coach by force--"

"Indeed, my darlings, all is well! Fret not!" Emerging from their lodgings, fiercely arrayed in a fur hat and flowing Russian robe, Boyet took each of them by the hand and drew them toward the door. "The Spanish prince will soon depart Navarre, and hath declared our street for his parade; a constable--a Dull man, to be sure--requested that we move our coach from out the way. No cozening, no theft, no force at all."

"I am content," huffed Rosaline--discontent, but grown too proud to let her ire show. Inside, she asked, "What news from Lord Berowne?"

Boyet directed a meaningful glance at the maid, who had contrived to be at once ostentatiously gravid and practically invisible. "'Tis only Jaquenetta; I'll go on," said Katharine, with scarce a searching pause. "Berowne did bid me offer thee his scarf; do press it to thy face. What dost thou smell?"

Accepting the token, Rosaline drew it up for a delicate sniff. The gauzy cloth was rougher than she might have expected, from a courtier's neckerchief; it bore with it a sharp scent of herbs, and (very faint, beneath the herbal aromas) a lingering note of worn-copper blood. "I smell a hospital upon this scarf," she said. At that, she could not help but smile. "Then he's been true to me, for all these months."

"For giving thee his scarf, he told me this: That if the queen's crowns reached Navarre, 'tis sure that they remain, for the king's excise-men take note of money flowing out from here."

"Some good that does! Thou art too cheaply-bought, to take such payment for delivery!" The fire had left Rosaline's voice, though, as though marjoram and thyme were a nostrum for her ire. "Take this, which I got from thy Frère Dumaine!" She pressed a letter into Katharine's hands, and grinned, triumphant, as she read it over.

"I know this hand," said Katharine warily; she held the paper up to show Boyet, who leaned in close. "I saw it but today--"

"--in Don Armado's missive to the King." His face went hard, as though prepared for wrath. During the late king's wars, when the court had sued desperately for funds to retake the Dutch territories and the martial reports had rung a grim carillon over France, Rosaline had at times seen the same stony look upon Boyet's face. The mirth that she knew so well, and the peace that he imparted to her, had flown to some more temperate clime.

Like a thunderclap, understanding rocked her. "Is he not Spanish? Is this not the war that we had fought in Orange and in Horne? But now the territory is Navarre; this is not one man's simple thievery, but rather action of the Spanish crown--"

"--to steal French crowns beneath a flag of peace." Katharine's eyes had gone wide and dark in her pale face. "When Spain departs Navarre with all his train, no excise-man will search his cars for gold; we will enrich our solemn enemies--"

"Ooh, I knew he was no scholar! And to think I took in his linens!"

Rosaline, Katharine, and Boyet turned as one to Jaquenetta, who had by then given up even the faintest pretense of tidying their lodgings. "Dost know this Don Armado, Jaquenette?" asked Boyet, with his eyes narrow and keen.

"Ay, as Eve knew Adam," replied Jaquenetta. "And having been known, he cared not to know me farther."

"Then thou, perhaps, canst be of help to us," said Rosaline, with a slow-growing smirk.

- - -

As the Spanish train departed the town about the castle, passing over the hills where the hunters hallooed for their hounds, the seneschal paused to consider the lacework tracery of farm and forest. Navarre was, to experienced eye, a well-kept land, for all the boundary lines ran in curves over the uneven hills; he had been pleased to enjoy the hospitality of the land and her king, and he was genuinely sorry to leave.

"So much for that," he muttered to himself, and clucked to his palfrey to take him back along the train. He reined the horse in near the back of the procession, alongside an unassuming coach with a liveried man guiding the horses. Dismounting, he undid the latch on the coach door; he found himself wondering how the gold would glitter when exposed at last to sunlight.

A fragrant belch greeted him. It smelled of sack and apples, as well as whatever the vast, round man in the coach had eaten for supper. "Not gold," said the seneschal, stupidly. "Thou art not gold."

"It's me," the man replied in a genial voice, placing a fond hand on the two barrels to either side of him. "Signor Apple, Signor Sack, and me--Costard."

- - -

In her work-worn black habit, the Queen of France still looked at least thrice as regal as the King of Navarre--and perhaps he recognized that, for he knelt to her and kissed her ring as though he were her inferior. "My lady France, I've done a grievous wrong," he said. With one pale hand, she bid him rise. "When you did come to sue for Aquitaine, my willing pride made me infallible; I was deceived, and thought me undeceived. No doubt your ladies have explained this well."

The queen sat back upon her wooden chair as though upon a throne, hands in her lap. "They have. 'Twas fortunate we sent them forth."

"In penitence, I have made pilgrimage to offer up what long was yours by right." He swallowed; Rosaline suppressed a laugh. "My lady, do you take your Aquitaine. Your crowns, I have put into hospitals and schools for gentlewomen such as yours. Do take my haste in flying unto you as sign of that respect I bear for you--"

"And not as eagerness to see our face? For 'tis a fine, fair face, albeit veiled." She turned one veiled cheek to him, and then the other, with a faint smile touched with self-mockery. The day was cloudy, promising a later rain, and she scarcely sweated in the gentle heat.

Here Rosaline turned away from their reunion, meeting Katharine's eyes. "Come walk apart with me; the two must spar with neat addresses until one gives in. I do not wish to see the victory."

"Nor I; it hurts my heart to see men fail." With a low laugh, Katharine caught Rosaline's arm and walked with her over the sun-browned grass. The Pyrenees rose up around them, vast and dark beneath the lowering clouds. "Hast made amends with thy good Lord Berowne?"

"Nay--first I must make my amends with thee." Here Rosaline paused to enfold her hand about the curve of Katharine's waiting palm. "Thou art my dearest friend, sweet Katharine; although we tilt with words and cruel barbs--"

"We trust that loving spirit that we share." A dimple touched the hollow of her cheek. "I know thee black, and love thee better black than I could love an icy Muscovite--"

"And I love thee, my ample, winsome fair; I love thee better than the slender sylphs." Then, kissing Katharine's dimple, Rosaline smiled and pointed toward the distant rows of grapes. "Wilt walk with me, and speak with me, my dear?"

As the first drops of rain began to stroke the parched grasses, Katharine replied softly, solemnly, "I will--today, and all the coming year."