Lady Eleanore's Mantle

: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Lady Eleanore Rochcliffe, being orphaned, was admitted to the family of

her distant relative, Governor Shute, of Massachusetts Bay, and came to

America to take her home with him. She arrived at the gates of Province

House, in Boston, in the governor's splendid coach, with outriders and

guards, and as the governor went to receive her, a pale young man, with

tangled hair, sprang from the crowd and fell in the dust at her feet,
br /> offering himself as a footstool for her to tread upon. Her proud face

lighted with a smile of scorn, and she put out her hand to stay the

governor, who was in the act of striking the fellow with his cane.

Do not strike him, she said. When men seek to be trampled, it is a

favor they deserve.

For a moment she bore her weight on the prostrate form, emblem of

aristocracy trampling on human sympathies and the kindred of nature, and

as she stood there the bell on South Church began to toll for a funeral

that was passing at the moment. The crowd started; some looked annoyed;

Lady Eleanore remained calm and walked in stately fashion up the passage

on the arm of His Excellency. Who was that insolent fellow? was asked

of Dr. Clarke, the governor's physician.

Gervase Helwyse, replied the doctor; a youth of no fortune, but of

good mind until he met this lady in London, when he fell in love with

her, and her pride and scorn have crazed him.

A few nights after a ball was given in honor of the governor's ward, and

Province House was filled with the elect of the city. Commanding in

figure, beautiful in face, richly dressed and jewelled, the Lady Eleanore

was the admired of the whole assembly, and the women were especially

curious to see her mantle, for a rumor went out that it had been made by

a dying girl, and had the magic power of giving new beauty to the wearer

every time it was put on. While the guests were taking refreshment, a

young man stole into the room with a silver goblet, and this he offered

on his knee to Lady Eleanore. As she looked down she recognized the face

of Helwyse.

Drink of this sacramental wine, he said, eagerly, and pass it among

the guests.

Perhaps it is poisoned, whispered a man, and in another moment the

liquor was overturned, and Helwyse was roughly dragged away.

Pray, gentlemen, do not hurt my poor admirer, said the lady, in a tone

of languor and condescension that was unusual to her. Breaking from his

captives, Helwyse ran back and begged her to cast her mantle into the

fire. She replied by throwing a fold of it above her head and smiling as

she said, Farewell. Remember me as you see me now.

Helwyse shook his head sadly and submitted to be led away. The weariness

in Eleanore's manner increased; a flush was burning on her cheek; her

laugh had grown infrequent. Dr. Clarke whispered something in the

governor's ear that made that gentleman start and look alarmed. It was

announced that an unforeseen circumstance made it necessary to close the

festival at once, and the company went home. A few days after the city

was thrown into a panic by an outbreak of small-pox, a disease that in

those times could not be prevented nor often cured, and that gathered its

victims by thousands. Graves were dug in rows, and every night the earth

was piled hastily on fresh corpses. Before all infected houses hung a red

flag of warning, and Province House was the first to show it, for the

plague had come to town in Lady Eleanore's mantle. The people cursed her

pride and pointed to the flags as her triumphal banners. The pestilence

was at its height when Gervase Helwyse appeared in Province House. There

were none to stay him now, and he climbed the stairs, peering from room

to room, until he entered a darkened chamber, where something stirred

feebly under a silken coverlet and a faint voice begged for water.

Helwyse tore apart the curtains and exclaimed, Fie! What does such a

thing as you in Lady Eleanore's apartment?

The figure on the bed tried to hide its hideous face. Do not look on

me, it cried. I am cursed for my pride that I wrapped about me as a

mantle. You are avenged. I am Eleanore Rochcliffe.

The lunatic stared for a moment, then the house echoed with his laughter.

The deadly mantle lay on a chair. He snatched it up, and waving also the

red flag of the pestilence ran into the street. In a short time an effigy

wrapped in the mantle was borne to Province House and set on fire by a

mob. From that hour the pest abated and soon disappeared, though graves

and scars made a bitter memory of it for many a year. Unhappiest of all

was the disfigured creature who wandered amid the shadows of Province

House, never showing her face, unloved, avoided, lonely.