A MYSTERY IN SCARLET.

by
Malcolm J. Errym,

Author of "Holly Bush Hall," "George Barrington," "Edith the Captive," "May Dudley," “Sea-Drift," "The Marriage of Mystery," "The Treasures of St. Mark," "The Octoroon," "The Court Page," "Secret Service," "Nightshade," "The Sepoys," &c.


CHAPTER XXXIV.

AN ECHO OF DEATH.

Poor Bertha!

Very much poorer than she thought herself in her most humble moments, for even then there seemed to her a world of wealth and hope and joy for the future in her love for Markham.

To be sure, that future was dim, and presented no very clear outline to her young imagination; but it was full of roseate tints, and amid the glittering mist there ever loomed the shadow of the one being who had touched her first affections, and over whose remembrance the petals of her heart had closed for ever.

She loved Markham very truly, very dearly, and with all the warmth of a first passion, which at once took possession of all her nature, and was without the smallest particle of earth's alloy in it.

Pure gold—all pure gold was that young girl's heart, and her affection for her gallant and handsome preserver was a true and holy sentiment, such as might have rested without the shadow of a flutter on the breast of an angel.

The time was not weary for her, because she knew that she was near to him—much nearer to him than she would have been in those old chambers at Whitehall; and since she had seen him pass exactly that way into the palace, she felt assured that that way he would return.

And then she would spring out of her hiding-place, and fold her arms about him.

And then she would tell him how she had watched for him and had not been weary.

And they would go home together—home through that soft, warm misty rain, which was like a christening dew from heaven, sanctifying her affection.

Any place was home with him.

What to her was it that Whitehall had gloomy memories, and was deserted, as a place of the past, where men trembled to hear the echo of their own footsteps?

With him it was full of life. There was no gloom, no decay, no ruin.

With him the old gilding shone out afresh in more than its time-past splendour.

With him the dreamy old paintings and the sprawling allegories on the vast ceilings started again into life-like semblance, even as on the day when the limner imparted the last touch to the work.

Yes, that sunny misty future, which to the very young appears so vast—so infinite—was no region of doubt or of despair, for every separate atom of the mote-like gloom was irradiated by the sunshine of her love.

Hush! She hears something.

What is it?

A low beating noise.

Tap, tap, tap.

A muffled sound.

What mystery is there?

It comes nearer and nearer still.

There is that indescribable rustle or rattle, call it which you will, which is peculiar to military accoutrements, and everything is accompanied by that low tap, tap, beat, beat, which she could not understand.

Had the sound been clearer, more distinct, she might have believed that some one from very sport was rapping a drum to some notes of a melancholy dirge to while away some sentimental hour.

But the sound was not like that of a drum.

It wanted the resonance and echo of that warlike instrument.

But it was a drum—a muffled drum, of which Bertha knew nothing.

Tramp, tramp—beat, beat.

She shrinks back—as far back as she can get in the arched doorway.

Something is happening—something is going on—but what is it to her? What heeds she anything that may happen or go on that concerns not Captain Markham, for whom she waits—Markham, whom she admires— Markham, whom she loves—Markham, so brave, so good, so gentle—Markham, in whose arms she has lain with all the confidence of a slumbering infant—Markham, the slightest tone of whose voice leaves its echo in her heart as sweetest melody?

A soldier advances alone. It is the one who carries the lantern.

He looks about him anxiously, and then places it upon the glistening wet stones, about six paces from a blank portion of the wall, where there is no window no door.

The lantern gives but an inefficient light.

Perhaps Bertha had never heard of the expression of ‘darkness visible', but that was the sort of effect produced.

The four corners of the quadrangular space seemed to her to be in much deeper gloom now that this lantern was placed upon the flagstones than they were before.

And still came the measured beat of that strange sound, to which she had not yet given a name.

Then it suddenly ceases, with a kind of flourish, and by straining her eyes in the direction whence the sound proceeded Bertha was certain that she saw a throng of persons collected under that cloistered portion of the Colour Court lies to the right of the main entrance through the gateway. 

There were bright colours among this throng, and salient metallic points, which caught and reflected even the dim rays of the lantern.

There could be no doubt of the military character of the concourse of spectators, since it was the uniforms, the arms, and the accoutrements which in that dusky place made them visible.

There was a shade of uneasiness in the mind of Bertha; but only a shade.

She wished that Markham would come and take her away with him.

She felt no interest in that lantern, and those armed men, and the beat of that indifferent drum, if indeed it were a drum.

Why did he not come and take her away?

To be sure, he did not know that she was waiting for him there in the rain. Not that she disliked the rain. Oh! no; but she longed for him to come. She had so much to say to him—so much to tell him.


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The palace clock strikes the quarter past eight.

Then she hears a voice, a very strange voice, and it requires but little judgment to feel assured that that voice is speaking in strange and unnatural tones, as if to overcome some intense feeling or emotion.

"Forward! March! Prisoner, advance!"

Then came the dead beat again of that muffled drum, and the tramp of feet.

Spectral-like and dim, in the shadowy twilight of the place, there advance four men in a compact kind of mass, marching in each other's footsteps, even as one.

They are preceded, however, by a fifth man, who trails a pike, such as up to a very recent period indeed the sergeants of the guard used to be provided with.

They march directly for the lantern, which has grown dimmer in its place upon the cold flagstones, for the rain has trickled and gathered upon and about it.

"Halt! Right about face! March!"

The compact-looking mass of four men return as they came, and the sergeant who trails the pike accompanies them; but as they turn and slightly separate they leave behind them some one whom they seem to have carried forward in their midst exactly to the lantern and no farther.

His figure is tall and slender.

The sharp outline evidently betrays the dress of a military officer.

He stands immediately in front of the lantern, and a greatly enlarged spectrum or shadow of his figure is flung upon the flagstones, and then far away into the darkness.

There is an awful stillness.

The heart of Bertha shares in it, for it seems to stop in its pulsation, and a creeping horror pervades her frame.

What is it?

Who is it?

No! no! O Heaven! it cannot be.

Hush! The solitary man speaks.

"Here, with the fellowship of death, believing that I stand upon the threshold of that unseen, unknown region which can only appal the coward and the guilty, I aver that I am murdered! murdered!"

"Help!" shrieked Bertha. "It is—it is Markham! Awake! awake! Oh! awaken me, Markham! Father! Did he say murder? Murder to whom? Not to you, Markham, my life! my love! To me, to me, if there must be murder! My life! my life! my life!"

She sprang forward.

Too late.

Too late to die with him—too late to save.

"Make ready! Present! Fire!"

There was a roar and a boom.

The compact volley echoed from every angle of the palace.

Shriek upon shriek mingled with its mimic thunder.

And there stood Bertha, her hands lifted above her head, her face white as the coldest moonbeams; and at her feet, crushing the lantern in his fall, lay Captain Weed Markham.

"Ugh! ugh!" said a voice from one of the windows of the palace. "Ugh! ugh! It is done."

"Murdered! murdered! murdered! My love murdered! My life slaughtered here by fiends, not by men! O Heaven! are there no lightnings, no lightnings? Help! help! help! Murder! murder! murder! My joy! My hope! My life! my life! my life!"

Bertha tottered, swayed her white arms about her, and, with one [piercing] shriek, fell upon the body of Markham.

There was a strange cry.

A sort of hissing murmur among the soldiers.

And then the voice of General Bellair rose loud and hoarse.

"Recover arms! Dismiss!"

With his sword drawn, Bellair tottered across the courtyard towards that dismal spot where lay Markham and Bertha; but his heart failed him; he dared not approach them.

Twice he wheeled round, and twice, biting his nether lip until the blood started from it, he made an effort to advance and look upon his work; but he could not.

Shrinking and crouching, with a groan of despair, he hurried from the place, and the courtyard was left to its sad and silent occupants, and to the almost panic stricken sentinel who was there on ordinary duty.

The summer rain fell with a cool and pleasant splash still upon the old worn stones, as though no tragedy had been enacted within their gloomy precincts.

One—two—three minutes elapsed, and then a door in the quadrangle was hastily opened, and three persons reached the open air almost with a rush.

Two of them were attired in roquelaire cloaks and slouched hats.

The third was an officer in full uniform.

The cavalry sword he wore clanked upon the flagstones with a metallic ring.

"Leave all to me. Leave all to me, I implore. Leave all to me. Keep the way clear. I pray you to leave all to me."

The voice was that of the Marquis of Charlton.

Both the cloaked figures answered him confusedly in female voices, and one of them, bursting into tears, sobbed bitterly.

"Do you not trust me?" asked the marquis. "No tears—no tears; and trust me—trust me. Great Heaven! what is this?"

"What? Oh! what?"

"Look: I say 'Look!' and yet you can scarcely see. There is some one else. He is not alone."

"A girl?"

"A child?"

"Something of both. What can it mean?"

"These, then, were the shrieks we heard. Oh! this is death. This must be death indeed. Marquis, marquis, are you quite sure?"

"On my life! On my life! Hush! Take this child, or girl, call her which you will. Hers must have been the shrieks we heard."

"She is dead, marquis. She is dead."

"No, no, Lady Agnes, do not say that, although it may be that her young heart is broken, if hearts do break. Take her, both of you. Take her. You, Lady Agnes, you, Miss Kerr, take her between you, and leave him to me."

"But, marquis, marquis, why does he lie so still?"

"Think nothing of that, Lady Agnes. The bravest natures are the most sensitive, and when mere brute animal courage will scarcely feel a pang the higher nervous organisation realises even from itself what it has cause to believe. It is no stigma for the bravest man who ever lived to yield so far to our weak and common nature as to fall into a swoon which may last hours, after believing himself riddled by the shot of a firing party at twelve paces."

"Save him, marquis! Oh! save him!"

"Agnes," said Lucy Kerr, "you can manage this young girl alone. I will help the marquis."

"There is no need," replied Charlton. "I have the strength of ten men to-night. There, you see, I lift him easily. Forward, forward. How the rain patters down! Close the door. Where is the taper-light? Safe! safe! All is safe now."

The sentinel in the courtyard, with his musket sloped upon his shoulder, could never convince himself even in after life that he was thoroughly awake when all this took place before his eyes.

It was so like a dream.


CHAPTER XXXV.

BERTHA'S PERIL

The apartment in St. James's from which his most gracious Majesty had dimly witnessed the execution of Captain Markham was a sort of lumber room for faded upholstery and used-up finery.

The king closed the window with a slam that nearly sent its panes of glass shivering into the court below.

Then, turning, he faced Norris, who knelt somewhere about the middle of the floor, with his two forefingers thrust into his ears, and a look of abject terror upon his countenance.

"Norris!"

Norris was deaf to the royal appeal, for, although the stopping of his ears had not been sufficient to shut out the rattling echoes of the musketry in the court below, it was amply sufficient to exclude the low snarling tones in which the king spoke.

"Norris!"

There was still no reply.

The king gazed about him savagely.

The only object near at hand was a small dilapidated table on three legs, two of which still retained their castors.

A sudden push to this article of furniture sent it full upon Norris, who, in his kneeling position, caught the full force of its edge upon his head.

With a roar of dismay, Norris rolled over on the floor.

If the king had wafted a feather at him Norris would have thought it expedient and a delicate piece of flattery to fall flat, with every appearance of being seriously injured.

"Norris!"

"My gracious master?"

"Ugh! ugh! ugh! Norris, that's over."

"Does your Majesty wish it over?"

Norris laid his hand on the table.

"Beast! We mean that outside."

The king gave a jerk of his head in the direction of the courtyard.

"Yes, oh! yes, your gracious Majesty. That is over, as your gracious Majesty condescends to remark. That is over most satisfactorily. Hem!"

"Norris!"

"Your gracious Majesty?"

The king took out his snuff-box and tapped its lid.

"It's a remarkable thing, Norris, a very remarkable thing, that as a reward of merit we have given this snuff-box to several people, and yet it remains in our own possession."

"Ye—ye—yes, your Majesty."

"Some day, Norris, we shall give it to you."

"Your Majesty is too gracious —too good —too—too—"

"Hash! Silence!"

The king clasped his hands behind him, and, swaying the snuff-box to and fro in one of them, he paced the room as if in deep thought.

Norris always kept his eyes upon him. It was a wonderful piece of good fortune for the valet that court etiquette prevented him from ever turning his hack upon the king, for whether or no—that is to say, etiquette or not—Norris would not have done so for any money.

"Norris," suddenly exclaimed the king, turning and setting his back against an old dilapidated easy chair—"Norris, we feel that we can trust you. We trust few, but we have that kind of prescience and divinity which hedges a king that we are able to know whom to trust, and we trust you, Norris."

Norris pretended to weep.

"Peace! peace! We think, too, Norris, that you have wisdom— that sort of every-day worldly wisdom which keeps within its mark, and applies itself well to worldly matters."

Norris sobbed aloud.

"Idiot! No, we do not mean that, for we rely upon your opinion, Norris. What, then, do you think, Norris, what do you think of this strange revelation on the part of—"

The king gave a jerk of his head towards the courtyard.

"On the part of him who has left the world yonder in the midst of such a fume and explosion."

"The—the revelation, your Majesty?"

"Yes, the state secret."

"The—the state secret, your Majesty?"

"Exactly, good Norris. We had every objection to its remaining in his busy living brain, but we have none to you. Ugh! ugh! ugh! We call upon your common sense, Norris. What think you of it?"

Norris licked his lips feverishly.

"If, your Majesty, I had the slightest knowledge on the subject—which I have not; if, your Majesty, I had heard a single word—which I did not; if, your gracious Majesty, I really knew or could guess whether it was about the supremacy of the Pope, or a French invasion in favour of the Jacobites, I—I might humbly have an opinion; but I don't— I don't—"

"Tash! Bah!"

Norris kept his eyes intently fixed on the royal countenance.

Was he indeed more than a match in craft and subtlety for his "gracious master?"

It would almost seem so, for there was a doubtful expression on the face of the king, combined with a feeling of satisfaction gradually growing up in his mind, with the certainty (and it was now almost one) that the dangerous state secret, now known to the reader, was confined to his own breast.

Bertha's father was certainly no more—so, at least, reasoned the king with himself—and the only other human depository of the perilous secret certainly lay a corpse at that moment, as he fully believed, in the courtyard of St. James's Palace.

It might or it might not be that the young girl whom he had seen at Whitehall was likewise in possession of the facts of the case.

Upon that point the king could scarcely make up his own mind, for Captain Markham had not been very explicit upon that subject.

That Bertha, however, as the living representative of her father, was dangerous and troublesome, or likely to become dangerous and troublesome, there could be no doubt.

No further motive was therefore required for some kind of action on the part of the king.

We scarcely like to say that that action was developing itself even in that royal mind to the shape of murder, for, notwithstanding he had waded through blood, so to speak, to achieve the extinction of the troublesome state secret, even he was human, and he would scarcely have liked to confess to himself that the murder of a young girl, almost a child, held a debating place in his mind.

But that something must be done in regard to Bertha there was no doubt.

There was no doubt, too, that that something must be done at once.

That she was waiting in those gloomy and deserted chambers of old Whitehall for the return of Captain Markham the king believed much more firmly and truly than he believed many things concerning which he would have taken an apparently sacred and reverential oath.

The subdued bustle in the courtyard so immediately behind him as he leant his back against the window-sill bore no significance to him of what was really there taking place.

Those wild cries of Bertha.

Those shrieks of mental agony which echoed so drearily around the gloomy old building, puzzled him a little, but he had no means of connecting them with their real cause.

Perhaps, even, Markham was only badly wounded.

Perhaps, even, the courageous nature of the strong man had yielded for a moment to the physical agony of some one of the bullets levelled at him which had found its way to his heart.

Who knows?

The king had been in battles.

He had heard strange cries—cries that had been wrung from frail mortality at the moment of those terrible partings of the body from the soul when the former is torn, racked, and lacerated by human engines of destruction.

And so, as now all was still, that gracious Majesty never doubled not only that the tragedy was accomplished without any cir-


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cumstances that could give him the slightest uneasiness.

"Norris, what is the hour?"

Norris was about to reply, when the palace clock struck nine.

"Ugh! ugh! Nine o'clock. A busy hour, Norris—a busy hour from eight to nine. What is the weather, Norris?"

"The rain, your Majesty, still beats against the windows."

"Ugh! ugh! The rain still beats against the windows. It will wash away from the courtyard below—well, never mind what it will wash away. The word is an ugly one at the best. Norris, you remember on our recent visit to our ancient palace of Whitehall we saw a girl?"

"Yes, your Majesty, a young, slender, fair—"

"Tash! What is her youth, her slenderness, and her fairness to us?"

"Nothing, your gracious Majesty. Oh! nothing, but one naturally, your Majesty, feels—"

The king elevated his eyebrows almost to the edge of his wig, as he looked with astonishment and incredulity at Norris.

"What? what?" he yelled. "What is it you have the presumption naturally to feel?"

"Nothing, your Majesty—nothing, your gracious Majesty—nothing but zeal for your royal service."

"Ugh! We were afraid that even at the bottom of that receptacle you will call your heart there might be some shuddering weakness—some— some —no, we will not say tenderness. Ugh! ugh! ugh! Have you a wife, Norris?"

"I had, your Majesty."

"Had you?"

"Yes, your gracious Majesty; but she ran away, and from that time to time I have devoted my life to your gracious Majesty's service."

The king paced the room, clasping his hands again behind him, and at the same time holding the snuffbox in one of them.

"Norris, it will be necessary—it will be just—it will be in accordance with our kindly, gracious, and kingly feelings to provide for that young girl, who, doubtless, is some poor relation (for that man Markham was too young to call her his daughter)—we say, Norris, it will be congenial to our feelings to provide for her, now that in the course of justice he is no more."

"Your Majesty is ever good and gracious."

"Tash! Bah!"

"Your Majesty never forgets the meanest of your subjects."

"Bah! Bash!"

" Who but your Majesty, after shooting Captain Markham, would think of providing for the—the—the—"

"The what?" cried the king fiercely, turning short upon Norris.

"The destitute girl, who very likely is his niece, or his cousin—she looks like his cousin."

"Ugh! ugh! It matters not. But since, Norris, we would not have this thing talked about or noised abroad, and since we would fain that the tidings of what has happened in the Colour Court to-night were conveyed gently and considerately to that young girl, we will go to Whitehall yourself and see her."

"It's wonderful," said Norris—"it redeems human nature—it makes one in love with our species—to hear such noble sentiments."

"Tash! Tash! Get for us a plain roquelaire and common hat. We will go at once. Conceal yourself, too, Norris, as best you may, for we would not have any prying eyes watch our movements. Quick! quick! We will wait here for you."

Norris backed himself out of the room, and the king stood in the centre of it, slowly patting the snuff-box lid, as he communed with himself.

"It is not done yet—not done yet. The night's work not yet accomplished. I do not want her life. What is her life to us? Wherefore should I want it? But I am placed on such a height that I must cast down with such force as may belong to me all who attempt to climb the steep. She may know this secret, or she may not. It is just possible that neither of these men, her dead father or this dead Markham, has thought it safe or proper to burden her young soul with such a revelation; and if that be so she will go out into the wide world and lose herself amid the crowds of nameless humanity for all we care—for all we care. But if she has become possessed of the perilous secret, why, then—then—we shall see—we shall see. Hush! He returns—that thing of craft. Ugh! ugh! He is sick, ill, and will not live long—that faithful—ugh! ugh!—too faithful Norris."

The door of the room opened again, and in the stealthy quiet manner with which Norris always made his appearance—the top of his head being the first part of him visible—he returned.

The valet presented a curious appearance, carrying over both his arms a large dark-coloured roquelaire cloak, the ends of which reached the floor, as, bent exactly at right angles, he approached the king.

Perhaps it was as well for all parties at that moment; that is to say, when he was placing the roquelaire on the shoulders of the king—that the latter had no means of seeing the expression on Norris's face.

That expression was something terrific, for although there was ever an element of the grotesque about Norris, yet his face was fully capable of expressing the most malignant passions.

Hatred and fear.

Those were the compound expressions that were in every lineament of the valet's countenance.

There can he no doubt that this abject wretch was achieving all his purposes by thus remaining in the service of the king, who he knew had sought his life upon more than one occasion, and against whose casual malignity he had to use the greatest precautions.

But Norris was making a fortune.

Nothing came amiss to him in the way of plunder.

His legitimate gains were great—that is to say, if the many bribes he received on all hands might be called legitimate—but his downright robberies were greater still.

So Norris played his game something after the fashion of a daring marauder who goes through a campaign, content to share its dangers providing he escape at the end with his life and abundant booty.

"The private staircase," muttered the king, "and the door number two."

Norris bowed lower still.

After fidgeting for a time in what appeared to be a recess in the apartment, he emerged with a small lighted lantern.

It was not above four or five inches square, and it contained a small squat-looking piece of candle, which would readily burn for some hours.

Norris then, approaching a portion of the wall where no door seemed to be visible, struck a dull heavy blow with his clenched fist on the edge of the panel.

That blow had the effect of disclosing a mode of exit from the apartment of which no one could have expected the existence without previous knowledge.

The panel turned exactly on its centre, so that there was an open way on each side of it.

It was well that both Norris and the king were of the gaunt and fleshless order of beings, or through one of those narrow passes they could scarcely have made their way.

Norris moved backward, preceding the king, who with his own royal hands closed the panel.

A long devious narrow passage, the walls covered with damp cloth, and the atmosphere in which, probably from the decomposition of this cloth and the presence of thousands upon thousands of moths that inhabited it, had a sickly and depressing influence, conducted to another room of small dimensions.

A glance at this room, even by the faint light carried by Norris, was quite sufficient to show that it was fitted up as a Roman Catholic oratory.

There did not seem to be any exit from it, but Norris turned aside home old faded tapestry that hung on its walls, and disclosed a long narrow door, which seemed to be hung in such a fashion that it would swing open either way at a touch.

Through this doorway the valet backed, and then he seemed to be slowly sinking into the earth, like some stage apparition.

The fact was that he was descending a narrow flight of stairs, which led directly to the basement of the building.

Norris descended with great care, for he still went backward, and a false step would probably have involved a serious fall.

The king slowly followed him, with all the careless manner of a man proceeding on some very ordinary errand.

It was evidently, however, a relief to the royal lungs when, at the foot of that staircase, Norris opened a door, that, leading directly into the Colour Court, admitted at once a rush of cool night air, loaded with the pleasant freshness of that soft shower which had fallen during the whole of the evening, and which still continued to fall.

"Norris."

"My gracious sovereign?"

"Forget us."

Norris understood this order well.

The meaning of it was that the etiquette of walking backward and of showing him all the outward observances due to his kingly rank were to be dispensed with.

The valet therefore dropped back a few paces, allowing the king to precede him a little on one side, and as well as he could throwing the dim light of the lantern just in advance of the royal footsteps.

But what is the Majesty of England looking for?

Why are those wrinkled old eyes peering down so curiously upon the wet flagstones of the old Colour Court of St, James's?

What does he expect to see?

Rain? Nothing but rain? Or does he anticipate some mingled colour with the purer drops from heaven which shall speak of the terrible tragedy he fully believes to have been enacted on that spot?

But there was nothing.

Not a stain.

The king paused for a moment or two, and then bent a searching glance on Norris, as though he would have asked the question "How is this?" but he said nothing.

Wrapping the roquelaire more closely around him, he hastily left the Colour Court, and, followed by Norris, made his way across the park towards Whitehall by exactly the same route that Captain Markham and Bertha had from the opposite direction made their way to St. James's.


CHAPTER XXXVI.

ROYALTY AND DARKNESS.

Out through the Horse Guards and across the way towards old Whitehall went the king, closely followed by Norris.

The rain ceased by the time they got to that point, but the route across the park, short as it was, had been sufficient to load the roquelaire with moisture.

Both the king and Norris knew perfectly well how to get into the old palace, for it was a huge wilderness of a building, of many styles and of many ages.

There were mysterious little doors opening into moss-grown courtyards.

And there were long windows reaching even to basements.

And there were flights of steps, and terraces, and galleries.

In fact, a more confusing and incongruous building than the old palace of Whitehall could not very well exist.

It was more like a collection of independent structures jammed and jumbled together as convenience dictated, and without art or design, than anything else.

"Quick, Norris! quick!" growled the king. "Are we to shiver here in this night air?"

"If your Majesty will graciously ascend these steps, which doubtless illustrious feet have in old times often pressed—"

"Tash! Bah! You get old, Norris—old and garrulous. If illustrious feet have pressed these steps, they were not those of my ancestry. Quick! Quick! I say."

Norris unlocked a small door, and, by entering it backwards, holding up the light to guide the king's footsteps, it would seem as if he considered, now that they were once more under a roof, that the rule of etiquette was to recommence.

"Norris, you are well enough acquainted with this place to guide the way with all. convenient spied to that chamber where we last had the pleasure—ugh! ugh! ugh!—the pleasure of an interview with our son Frederick."

"I obey, your gracious Majesty."

"Proceed quickly."

"May the humblest of your Majesty's subjects venture to ask—"

"What? Ask what?"

"If—that is—what—why I mean—if your Majesty would deign to say or to declare your royal intentions in regard to the young girl?"

"Exactly. Where are we now, Norris?"

"This is the old banqueting room, your Majesty."   

"Humph! It is large and stately.

"And these portraits, your Majesty, in the panels, are of the various Stuarts."

"Ah! we see them. We have seen them often. The blind race, who, finding themselves kings, forgot that there were peoples. Ugh! ugh! ugh! And this, the last—the last—"

The king paused before a full-length portrait of Charles the First.

"Humbly praying your Majesty's gracious forgiveness," said Norris, "the second Charles is further on, and beyond that an unfinished portrait of him they called King James." 

"Tash! This was the last of their kings. The midsummer night's dream and frolic which is called the reign of Charles the Second was but a bubble, and James was but a name and a storm. Norris."

"My gracious master?"

"This young girl will be waiting—wailing for that Captain Weed Markham upon whom her eyes will never rest again. Norris, can you swim?"

"Swim, your Majesty?"

"We said swim,'

"In—in a boat, your Majesty."

"Bah! idiot! Listen to us. We are full of clemency—full of compassion and that tenderness which would not harm a fly. Ugh! ugh! Flies are not in our way. Let them buzz. But touching this young girl, Norris, we feel that she would be happier out of this kingdom."

"And—and," faltered Norris, "in kingdom come."

The king turned abruptly on him.

The royal laugh sounded fearfully strange and hollow in that vast gallery.

"You improve, Norris, you improve. That was a wise saying and a smart one.

"You improve, Norris, and yet they say that when people naturally dull become suddenly wise and witty the end is near—the end is very near."

Norris dodged round two chairs and a table.

"My gracious master, I am neither wise nor witty. I live but to obey your royal orders, and such poor wit and wisdom as I have are all expended in the wish to do you service."

"Norris, do you remember, when those self-elected privy councillors, who were dispelled and frightened in


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a room that must be somewhere very near about above where we now stand—do you remember, Norris, when those men counselled our abdication—"

"Oh! your Majesty—"

"Tash! Do not interrupt us. Do you remember, Norris, they spoke of a boat in the river by Westminster Stairs, and a galliot for the Hague only waiting for the tide?" 

"I do, your Majesty."

"Ugh! We will borrow a hint even from our bitterest foes. You will tell this girl, my good Norris, you will tell this young girl, whom doubtless we shall find here, that it is the wish of Captain Weed Markham she should join him on board that Dutch vessel."

"But, your Majesty—"

"Silence! We order. You will then convey her to the stairs at Westminster Bridge, and you will there take a wherry, accompanying her alone, and—and, Norris—"

"Your Majesty?"

"Accidents will happen."

"Accidents?"

"We said accidents. Wherries are swamped upon the Thames, and why not that one?"

"But, your gracious Majesty—"

"Well?"

"What would become of me?"

"Swim, man! Swim!"

"My royal master, I cannot—not a stroke."

"Idiot! He who would serve a king should do all things. You will then place her on board the galliot, or any vessel you can find, for she must not breathe the air of England, and when you come back to us, Norris, we shall be satisfied that you tell us she will trouble us no more."

Norris shook in every limb, and his teeth chattered.

"My gracious master, I—that is, she—I mean I—"

"Wretch!" screamed the king. "Do you doubt your reward? It will be ample—heaped up—heaped up. Can you doubt it? Humph! Ah! So must it be. There is no peace else, no conclusion, no safety. We have enemies abroad, but we will have none at home—none, domestic or particular. These people disposed of, and our dear Frederick's delicacy of health continuing—ugh! ugh! ugh! —we shall breathe at last—breathe at last. Lead the way, Norris."

"To—to that chamber, your Majesty?"

"Yes, even to that chamber."

"So full of direful recollections, your Majesty?"

"So full of hopes—so full of—Never mind. Lead on, and as you go—as you go, Norris, look about you for some weapon that may suffice to dislocate the locks and hinges, and to break, if needs be, into the minutest fragments that cabinet wherein we searched before for a state paper. Forward now, Norris, forward, and light us the way we are to go."

Norris, with strange ambling sidelong steps, took his route along the banquet hall, and the king, with his hands clasped behind him, and the long damp roquelaire hanging from his shoulders, slowly followed him.

Out of the gallery and across a stair landing, through two other rooms, in one of which Norris found an old halbert, doubtless the peculiar arm and property of some defunct yeoman of the guard, and then up a wide and handsome staircase, they made their way to the upper and principal floor of the palace.

The dim light of the lantern, the huge reflected shadows of the king and of Norris, the dull faint echo of their footsteps, and the awful stillness of the vast pile of building in which they were, might well have appalled a stouter heart than Norris's, and filled it with а thousand superstitious fears.

A door that produced a faint creaking sound upon its hinges conducted them to that very apartment in which Captain Markham and Bertha had found a refuge from the storm on the Thames.

Here was the couch on which she had slept for a time.

There was the table and the chair behind it on which Captain Markham himself had sat after extemporising a couch for Bertha by the fireside in the next room.

The king and Norris entered that apartment by the same door through which Markham had seen appear, or had fancied he saw appear, that most tangible apparition of the Mystery in Scarlet.

And now Norris held the lantern as high above his head as his arm would reach, but even that expedient did not suffice to shed the dimmest twilight to the furthest extremities of the room.

He only extended in a slight degree the sort of dim halo in the centre of which he and the king stood.

The king then suddenly laid his hand heavily upon the shoulder of Norris—so heavily, indeed, as to make his knees give way an inch or two under the pressure.

"Norris."

"Your Majesty?"

"You hear?"

"Something—something."

"Hush! She is there. Norris, you will leave this halbert with us, and wo will do our own work. Your mission is with her, good Norris, our faithful servant—we had almost said our friend (the servant of a king, by long association, Norris, may become his friend)—and when you return to us, telling us that, this young girl will trouble us no more, good Norris, we will think of your reward. And in the meantime this snuff-box—"

"Your Majesty is too good."

"Nay, nay, we give it as an earnest. You shall have it, Norris, you shall have it—when you come back. Ugh! ugh!"

"Your Majesty is too good."

"Tash! man. Tash! Go at once."

"The—the lantern?"

"Take it. We fear no darkness. Take it, but take it not with you when you leave the palace. We shall want it."

Dim as was that lantern light, it was sufficient to show how ghastly pale was the face of Norris, for he too well understood the terrible service he was expected to perform.

Trembling and shrinking, so that the dim shadow now cast by the lantern danced in wild grotesqueness upon walls and ceiling, he crept from the side of the king towards the door leading into the other apartment—that very door at which Captain Weed Markham had stood with his drawn sword in his hand, and given imaginary orders to the imaginary company of guards behind him, when the king's life was in something more than mortal jeopardy.

Deep shadows gathered about the outer room.

The king leant upon the halbert and assumed an attitude of intense listening.

It did not require much effort to hear what passed.

Had his gracious Majesty King George the Second plunged his head a fathom deep into the adjoining river, he must surely have heard the frantic yell that burst from the lips of Norris.

Then there was a crash.

That was the lantern.

Then a fierce rush and a bound.

That was Norris, who came through the doorway as though he had been propelled by some engine of war, which was determined to project him to the furthest end of that outer apartment, despite all obstacles in the way—over a table—over and entangled for a moment with two chairs—over the couch on which Bertha had slept—then with a dull thud against the opposite wall, where he uttered another yell that awakened many an echo in old Whitehall.

The king turned round three times, for his legs began to be a little wilful, and but for that halbert, with its stout eight-feet ashen staff, he surely would have fallen.

But his Majesty was made of sterner stuff than the valet.

He recovered himself, and that too with his face towards the doorway through which Norris had flown so ignominiously.

There was light there.

A faint light—but still light.

The lantern had broken by its fall, and the squat bit of wax candle had rolled out, righting itself, however, on its proper base, and burning all the same.

The muttered expletives that came from the royal lips were more numerous than select, and had Norris been near enough for the sweep of that halbert to reach him, there would certainly have been a vacancy in his Majesty's household.

Fear was knocking at his heart, and there was for a few moments a little irresolution.

Then, holding the halbert in an attitude of defence before him, the king slowly stepped forward, until he could see into the inner apartment.

Who—what was it?

An icy chill shot through the veins of the monarch, as exactly before him, not six paces on, upon the floor, he saw a tall ghastly-looking figure.

A figure in scarlet, one hand pressed upon the breast, the other carrying some garment, the shape of which could not be defined in the semi-darkness.

We have heard that Majesty of England boast of the royal peculiarity of never forgetting a face once seen, and too well he knew the pale countenance he now cast his eyes upon.

"The Mystery!" he gasped. "The Mystery in Scarlet! Help! Help! Not dead! Help! Help!"

The king made a rush forward, with the halbert at full charge, and, treading carelessly, he set his foot upon the wax light, and all was profound darkness.

{To be continued in our next.)

Published @ COVE

August 2021