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 XLVI.

THE HEART OF A MYSTERY.

It was impossible to suppress the shriek of overwrought excitement which burst from the lips of Bertha.

It was one of those natural cries which might be supposed to escape from human lips before language had become articulate and artistic.

It was not altogether a cry of despair. There was a thrill of hope even in its highest tone—the music of a new joy in its loudest echo.

"He lives! he lives!" she cried. "My father lives! Oh! Markham! Markham! This, after all, has been but a troubled dream, and we shall awaken to such abundant happiness. Markham! Markham! Markham!"

She rested her head upon his breast and sobbed aloud.

But the page of the back stairs looked scared and frightened.

The queen was trembling so excessively that she was fain to hold the back of a chair for support.

Agnes and Lucy, too, looked very pale; and, after all, it was reserved for Bertha herself to recover from the sudden flush of excitement that had come over her.

Those tears which she had shed upon the breast of Markham were all that was wanted to relieve her overburdened heart.

She suddenly sprang from him.

She confronted the queen with almost a defiant gesture.

"You will save my father," she said. "You are a queen, and should have power to do it."

Poor Queen Caroline only trembled the more at this urgent appeal, and then Bertha seemed to feel that already there was so much weight of obligation on account of the kind service the queen had rendered them that she could not be too grateful.

She sank down at the queen's feet and clasped her arms about her.

"You will pardon me-—I know you will pardon me," she said; "but I thought my father was no more—killed—murdered, and you know not—for nobody can know—what he has been to me. The terror and the grief of his death lay so deep at the bottom of my heart that, although I strove to cover it up and over shadow it by new feelings, new thoughts, and new duties, it was still there—ever there. Pardon me. I am grateful—I am thankful—but you see, madam, there is a hope that my father lives, and I knew not what I said."

The queen raised her gently.

"Be happy, pure young heart," she said, "be happy if you can. There is neither hope nor expectation in my breast, but I rejoice that there are both in yours."

Agnes and Lucy were looking in surprise at Bertha, for a great part of this scene was perfectly enigmatical to them.

They knew nothing of Bertha's father. They knew nothing of the terrible scenes which that young girl had gone through at the old mansion in Westminster, and subsequently on the river, and up to that evening, when she thought that Markham likewise was about to be snatched from her by a violent death.

Nor was the Marquis of Charlton better informed upon these subjects.

In fact, all these persons had been thrown together by a peculiar chain of events, and by an accordance of sympathies which wanted a great deal of explanation to be properly understood.

And now Markham, as he looked from one to another, saw that if there was not an urgent necessity for explanation, there was a great desire for some further knowledge as regarded Bertha, and his acquaintance with her.

There was no time, however, to enter into it just then—the terrible history of a period which might almost be counted by hours.

Bertha was again clinging to his arm.

"My father! Oh! Markham! My father! my father!"

He could not withstand that appeal.

He had no desire to do so.

Nothing in all the world, after his own life and that of Bertha, could be possibly so grateful to him as the thought that her father still lived.

It lifted a heavy weight from his heart.

Reason with himself as he might—seek to console himself with any sophistries as regards duty and the like—he could never have reconciled his own mind to the terrible remembrance that he had been the instrument of the murder of Bertha's father at Kew.

And now, as she clung to his arm, the young officer looked almost radiant in his happiness.

He was like a man emerging from many clouds into a brighter sunshine than ever he had known in all his life before.

He turned to Charlton.

"Marquis," he said, "will you help us?"

"With all my heart."

"And without asking why or wherefore?"

"I will ask nothing, Captain Markham, but the privilege of being of some further service to you."

"No!" said Bertha. "No!"

Markham looked astonished.

"No, Markham. You and I—you and I alone. There is danger—great peril. I feel and know that there is."

"But, Bertha—"

"And you know there is, Markham. Why and wherefore it is I know not, but there is some secret, some terrible secret, which makes this bad king of England seek my father's life."

The queen shrank back.

"Oh! pardon me. Pardon me once again," exclaimed Bertha.

"I will not again call him a bad king, for your sake, who have been so good to me."

The queen shook her head. "There is both truth and forethought," said Markham, "in what Bertha has just said, and I understand what she means perfectly well."

"I am afraid I do not," remarked the Marquis of Charlton.

"What she fears is this, that if you render us the


p. 242


assistance I have just asked of you you may seriously commit yourself with the king."

"If that is all," replied the marquis, "let it pass. I think that, with the concurrence of one who will have a voice in my affairs—"

He exchanged a beaming smile with Agnes. "Yes; I may say, I think, with the concurrence of that one, that the intrigues and ambitions of the court at St. James's will for the future concern me little."

"But your rank in the army, marquis?"

"Still, with the concurrence of that one, who I see ratifies my words by her looks, I may say that I intend resigning my commission in his Majesty's service."

"Oh! Markham, Markham, my father! my father!"

Bertha almost shook him by the arm in her agony to be gone.

"At once, Bertha, at once. Dick Martin, where are you?"

"Here, captain."

"You must come with us, my boy."

"Yes, captain."

Markham then looked tenderly at Bertha.

"Dare I advise?" he said. "No, Markham, no. I feel I know what you would say."

"But reflect a moment."

"No, Markham, I cannot reflect; I can only feel. You wish me to remain here while you search for my father."

"That was the wish."

"I cannot, Markham, I cannot. We will go together."

"Together, then, for ever," said Markham, in low tones.

They bowed profoundly to the queen.

"Madam," he said, "I can find no words to thank you, and the gratitude of one so humble as myself can never hope to show itself in deeds, as regards a queen; but while life remains to me I can never forget the events of this night."

"Say no more," replied the queen, in low weak tones. "Say no more, any of you, but provide for your own safety as quickly as you can."

"I am with you, Markham," said the Marquis.

"At once, then, colonel, at once."

"Mr. Osborn," said the queen, "I rely upon you to see them safely out of the palace. Lucy Kerr, and you, Agnes, have a right to be here and will remain with me. So Heaven protect you all!"

The queen's sadness and emotion were too great to permit her to say more, and she retired at once into the oratory, closing the door behind her, which was a sufficient signal that she wished to be alone.

Mr. Osborn, the page of the back stairs, did his duty well and discreetly.

He conducted Markham and Bertha into the courtyard, where the Marquis of Charlton, by virtue of his rank in the army, would be able to pass them easily, not only out of the precincts of the palace, but from the park likewise.

It was highly necessary that some one should be able to do so whose authority could not be questioned, for the hour was late, and the sentinels were apt to be fidgetty in allowing any one to pass their posts.

Dick Martin led the way, walking some dozen paces in advance.

Bertha leant upon the arm of Markham, and the Marquis of Charlton walked on the other side of him.

"I do not wish for a single moment, Markham," he said, "to intrude upon your confidence, or upon that of this young lady, but I have one question to ask."

"There can be no intrusion, marquis, from you upon us," replied Markham. "Ask any question freely, and we will answer it."

"It is a very simple one, and yet important."

The marquis looked rather grave as he spoke. "Is there anything, Markham, in what I do not know of all those matters connected with the Jacobite plots now so much in vogue and so much talked of?"

"Nothing whatever."

"That is a great relief to me."

"I am most sincerely glad, then, that you asked the question, Charlton."

"Then, although his Majesty has talked so much of treason," added the marquis, "it is a mere outcry, and there is nothing of the sort?"

"Nothing of the sort, nor the shadow of anything of the sort.

"I am so glad to hear you say so, Markham, for I am still a soldier of the king, although I shall not be so much longer."

"You must reflect again," said Bertha, "you must reflect again, sir, and you must not, because we have been unhappy and cruelly used, cast away from you what may be a bright future."

"I have achieved a brighter future than any I could cast away. I have no relish for this town life and for the intrigues and the cabals of the court."

"Nor I," said Markham. "I have a competent fortune and a fine estate for away from London, and there, as a country gentleman, I hope to pass my days in peace."

"Halt!" cried a sentinel at one of the smaller gates of the park. "Halt for countersign!"

The Marquis of Charlton stepped up.

"You know me?"

"Yes, colonel, but—"

"Pho; pho! man. Stand aside. You see we are officers of the guard."

The sentinel made no further opposition, and in a few seconds more the little party emerged in front of Whitehall.

How gloomy and dreary it looked!

The rain had entirely ceased, but the night was dark, and objects were only distinguishable against the clouds by being a little blacker still.

The few miserable oil lamps that lit even that important thoroughfare glimmered like very faint stars indeed.

But all Markham's attention was confined and concentrated on Bertha, who clung almost convulsively to his arm.

"Markham! dear Markham!"

"Yes, my Bertha?"

"He will not—you do not think he will strive to part us?"

"Your father?"

"Yes; my father."

"Assuredly not, Bertha. Why should he strive to part us? Has not Providence flung us together because it knew that we should love each other? You will tell him, Bertha, how I have striven to be to you the friend, the brother, before I was the lover; and I will tell him how you would have died for or with me. Oh! no, he will not strive to part us."

But Bertha still clung closer to Markham, for the idea had taken possession of her simple heart that she must needs leave him and commence anew that dreary and lonely life from which in truth he might be said to have rescued her.

And now they crossed one of the gloomy courtyards of Whitehall, and, preceded by the drummer, they made their way into the building through some of the inferior offices. There was a narrow passage, a winding staircase, then a large corridor, and the lantern which Dick Martin had lighted flung their shadows like grotesque phantoms upon the damp dismantled walls.

"Dick," said Markham, "are you quite sure you can lead the way?"

"Quite sure, captain, if I can once get to a room which I took particular notice of."

"What is the room like, Dick?"

"It is a large room, captain, and leads into another where there seems to have been a fire on the hearth not long ago, and there was a sort of sofa before the fire, and some cushions and other things on it, as if some one had been sleeping there."

"He speaks of what we may call our rooms," said Markham gently.

"He does, Markham, and I know the way. This gallery that we are now in I crossed when I followed you to St. James's, and I know every inch of the route, for I kept turning back to notice it, in case I should miss you somehow and have to return alone."

It was well that Bertha had made such accurate observations, for Dick Martin was evidently confused by the many suites of rooms, galleries, and corridors of the immense pile of building.

Still clinging, then, to the arm of Markham, she took the lead now, and in a few minutes they all found themselves in that apartment where she and Markham had first found a refuge from the storm on the Thames.

"This is it," said Dick Martin, "this is it. I stood here ever so long and tapped the drum, and then I went through that door yonder, and walked along a long narrow room with ever so many pictures in it, and at the end of that I saw him."

Captain Markham was about to say that he too had seen what looked like the Mystery in Scarlet during his brief sojourn in old Whitehall. But there was a strange creeping sort of fear at his heart which kept him silent.

He stood for a few seconds by that same table on which he had placed the lighted candle while he kept watch and ward over the slumbers of Bertha in the next apartment.

And there, in the dim distance, enveloped in shadow, was the door through which the spectral-looking image of the Mystery in Scarlet had made its appearance.

What if it were, after all, really a spectral appearance—an unreal mockery?

Might there not be such things?

That was not a very scientific age.

The march of modern scepticism had not yet thoroughly laid all apparitions.

And so Captain Markham felt a cold shudder pervade his frame as Dick Martin, pointing to the further end of the apartment, indicated the shadowy gloomy door, and said—

"Yonder is the way we must go, captain."



CHAPTER XLVII.

EVERY INCH A KING.

By an effort Markham roused himself from the gloom that was creeping over him.

"We will follow, Dick, we will follow. Come, Bertha, we will follow, and may Heaven guide us to a happy issue!"

"Amen," said Bertha, gently.

The tone in which she spoke seemed to linger in the air about them, as though it were repeated by some gentle invisible spirits who were accompanying them on this errand of love and mercy.

The drummer boy led the way, and, opening that gloomy-looking door, he turned, and, holding up his lantern, as a smile sat upon his face, he said—

"I thought the gentleman was a ghost at first, and was half a mind not to follow him."

"Oh! on! on!" cried Bertha. "Do not let us pause one moment now."

"Then here's the gallery with all the pictures," added Dick Martin, as he held up the lantern as high as he could. There was an air of rich faded magnificence about this gallery, which was owing to the thick clustering of the gilt frames of the pictures that entirely covered the walls.

Dust lay rather thickly on the floor, and there was no moveable furniture whatever in the place.

"You will see," said Dick Martin, as he held down the lantern to the floor, "that this is the way he must have come, and I too, for there's no end of footsteps through the dust."

This was perfectly true, and a moment's examination was sufficient to show that that gallery must have been a thoroughfare for more than one person.

At the further extremity there was a double door—that is to say, two doors, which when both closed formed a perfect arch above.

Dick Martin opened one of them without ceremony.

The apartment into which it led was crammed and heaped up with furniture of all kinds and descriptions, some of which had no doubt at one time belonged to the picture gallery.

"We go straight on," said Dick Martin.

And now so intense was the expectation both of Markham and Bertha that they did not exchange a word.

As for the young Marquis of Charlton, he was looking about him with such curiosity, during this march into the interior of old Whitehall, that he interposed no obstacle to the silence of his companions.

The drummer then suddenly paused in a room with a very high ceiling, that was either domed or artistically painted to seem so.

"He is in the next room," he said. The overwrought feelings of Bertha could be repressed no longer.

She tremblingly took the lantern from the hands of Dick Martin, and with short sharp cries, with which the word "Father!" was intermingled, she made her way through the open doorway that led to the adjoining apartment.

The first and most natural impulse of Captain Markham was to follow Bertha at once. A second thought restrained him.

"No," he said, in low tones, "let this first meeting between the father and the child be sacred."

There was a terrible silence.

And there was as terrible a darkness.

The light of the lantern had been but dim and uncertain, but the difference between that and the absolute gloom which surrounded Captain Markham, the Marquis of Charlton, and Dick Martin, as they now stood together, deprived of its feeble rays, was immense.

They could only just see each other like three black shadows.

Then they started, and a half cry burst from the lips of Captain Markham.

It was a cry that he found it very difficult to repress, for the voice of Bertha had come from the adjoining apartment, and the few words she uttered contained a whole history of hope for the future.

"You will live, father—you will live—and we shall be so very happy."

Then there was a softly-murmured reply, in which the words "My child!" were the only ones audible.

They heard Bertha then sobbing and trying to speak.

And then came the inaudible voice again, speaking soothingly.

Another moment, and there was a flash of faint light, as the door, which had nearly shut of itself, was opened, and Bertha spoke.

"Come here, Markham! come here, Marquis of Charlton! My father lives, and is strong enough to thank you both. Come here! oh! come here!"

The two young men immediately entered the adjoining chamber.

And there, by the light of the lantern, which Bertha had placed upon the chimneypiece, they saw lying on a couch a pale and somewhat ghastly figure—a figure attired in a scarlet coat—a face and figure which, although strange and utterly unknown to the Marquis of Charlton, came with a rush of recollection to the memory of Captain Markham.

It was the face that he had seen in the palace of Kew after the fall of that massive curtain which had separated the file of guards before they fired through it, and brought it down by the concussion of the discharge.

It was the face of the man whom he had pursued through the shattered casement of the palace and into the gardens.

It was the face of the man whom he had held in his arms faint and bleeding, apparently unto death.


p. 248


It was the same face upon which the gentle moon beams had lingered for a moment before the eyes seemed to close in dissolution.

There could be no doubt—no error for an instant.

Captain Markham felt that he gazed once more upon the pale, chastened, intellectual countenance of the man whose only name in his memory consisted of a sentence—A Mystery in Scarlet.

Then Bertha seized Markham by the arm and led him forward.

"Behold! father, behold!" she said. "This is my preserver, my friend, my protector, my second father, when you seemed gone from me for ever. Father, will you will not blame me that I love him?"

Bertha was resolved that there should be no doubt from this, almost the first minute of her restoration to her father, concerning her feelings towards Captain Markham.

She was too proud to dissimulate.

She would not give herself the pain of acting a single moment's indifference towards one so dear to her.

So, even with the tears of emotion in her eyes, and with all the excitement of that strange and unexpected reunion with the father whom she had thought separated from her by death, she encompassed Markham in her arms.

And again, with something of triumph in her tones, she spoke.

"With his life, father, he protected my life. He is good and brave, and truthful and noble. Father, you will not blame me that I love him?"

There was a flush upon the face of the Mystery in Scarlet.

He held out his hand to Markham.

He spoke slowly and with difficulty.

"Surely I know you, sir?"

"You should know me," said Markham.

He bent down more closely to that sad pale-looking countenance.

"I was the officer," he said, "who commanded the firing party at Kew."

"Ah!"

"You do know me now?"

"You did your duty, sir, and you performed your promise to me."

"I have striven to do so, and I have happily succeeded, so far that I have saved her. The performance of that promise has made me an outcast and a wanderer. It has taken from me every hope I had on earth. It has deprived me of the profession I loved. It has abruptly brought to an end a career in which I might have risen to rank and fortune."

"Alas! alas!"

Markham smiled.

He took Bertha's hands in both his own."

"But it has recompensed me," he said, "with a jewel of such priceless value that were the world bartered for its possession it were cheaply purchased."

The Mystery in Scarlet fixed his languid eyes upon the face of the young officer.

"Yes," he said, "you do love her, and I die content."

"No, father, no!" cried Bertha. "You will live—live to be happy with us for many and many a summer day to come."

"I would fain do so, but I am weak."

"I fancy, sir," said Markham, "it must only be from loss of blood; for had your wounds been mortal we should scarcely have had the happiness of hearing your voice this night."

"I thought myself killed," said the Mystery in Scarlet, "and yet I found that but one bullet had struck me of all that volley. It must have been turned aside on my very breast, and the shock and the loss of blood, as you say, brought on a mimic death."

"I thought I left you not until the last breath of life had departed from you in the gardens at Kew."

"No doubt it seemed so, and I know not how long I lay insensible; but I was awakened, as if from some troubled dream, by cool grateful rain splashing on my face."

"The rain set in immediately," said Markham, "after the—the —why should I scruple to call it by its correct name?—attempted assassination."

"I know not how long I had lain there," continued the Mystery in Scarlet; "but, feeling wonderfully refreshed and better, I staggered to my feet, and with great difficulty made my way to the river, where, weak and faint, I got a boy to row me up to London."

"A terrible disappointment awaited you."

"It did. I not only found the old house which I had occupied at Westminster burnt to the ground, but it had implicated in its destruction the Red Cap inn, which is now a heap of blackened ruins."

"And then, sir?"

"Then, with despair at my heart, I knew not which way to turn or what to do. Nothing possessed me but that Bertha had perished in that dreadful fire, and it was more mechanically than from any set purpose that I came here to die."

"Surely bounteous Providence, sir, directed you to the same abode where Bertha had found a refuge."

"It may be so, but I was familiar with this old palatial residence."

"Indeed!—"

"Yes; months ago I had made my way into it, and it pleased me with a dreamy kind of melancholy to wander through its deserted chambers, to linger in its ancient banquet halls, and to gaze in silent abstraction upon its faded pictures. I loved to think that possibly the time might come when, if my right were denied to me, yet my child Bertha might reawaken the life and light of the ancient pile, and that, as queen of this realm, she might make old Whitehall once again a scene of courtly splendour."

The voice of the Mystery in Scarlet had risen higher and higher as he spoke.

Exhausted then by the effort he had made, he closed his eyes and seemed to breathe with difficulty.

"What does he mean?" whispered the Marquis of Charlton to Markham.

The young officer was at a loss how to reply to this pertinent question.

"What does my father mean?" likewise asked Bertha.

She too was in as great a state of ignorance with regard to that important and tremendous state secret towards the revelation of which the words of the Mystery in Scarlet tended as the Marquis of Charlton.

Markham looked confusedly from one to the other of them.

He only replied ambiguously.

"He means what he says."

There was not much to be gathered from these words, but before any further questions could be asked Bertha's father again spoke.

"Yes," he said, "I felt myself at home here, and more than ever at home, since I hid beneath this roof the documents which prove me to be what I am, and which that false fickle murderous king sought to wrest from me with my life; but he is foiled—foiled—foiled."

"There is some meaning in all this," said the Marquis of Charlton, "which I cannot comprehend, or else—"

The marquis touched his forehead lightly as he spoke, and there was no mistaking that he meant to insinuate doubts of the sanity of the Mystery in Scarlet.

"No, sir, I am not mad. I do not know who you are, but you wear a soldier's uniform, and, being here, I promise you a dukedom, sir—a dukedom for your true allegiance to your true sovereign."

"Hush! oh! hush!" whispered Markham.

The Mystery in Scarlet partially raised himself up and glanced about him.

"It is time," he said, "it is time that she should know all. In a cabinet in one of the rooms of this old palace I hid the documentary proofs of my true birth and position, but I was worn out by hope deferred—that sickness of the soul—and I saw the man, the usurper who sits upon the throne of these realms. He offered me half a million in money and a German duchy, and I thought my child would be happier in that humbler and more secure haven than even on the throne of England."

"Good Heavens, sir!" exclaimed the Marquis of Charlton. "Who and what are you?"

"Your king!" exclaimed the Mystery in Scarlet, as he suddenly sprang from the couch and drew himself up to his full height, with his hands elevated above his head.

"Your king! Your king, sir! And every inch a king!"


CHAPTER XLVIII.

MR. NORRIS'S DISCOMFITURE.

"Father! father!" exclaimed Bertha, "what wild dream is this? Oh! look at me in your old way, and speak to me in your old way."

"My child."

"Father, father, do not look so wildly. Let us leave kings and thrones and princes to their own anxious days and sleepless nights. Father, father, why do you look thus? why do you speak thus? It is some dream that thus disturbs your fancy. Father, father, cast it from you!"

"A dream! a dream!"

The Mystery in Scarlet sank on the couch again and rested his head upon his hands.

"I should have starved," he said, "starved to death here, in one of my own royal palaces, but that, by some strange chance, Heaven only knows how it came there. I found some food in one of its chambers."

"That food was mine, father, mine. It was brought hither for me. Oh! grateful, grateful! Am I not grateful that it supplied your wants? Oh! my father!"

"But how? How?"

"He brought me here—he, my preserver. Look at him again, father. We escaped from the burning house at Westminster on to the river, and through storm and through tempest he upheld me and saved me. We found a refuge here, and it was food that he procured for my sustenance which has saved you. Markham, Markham, your devotion was doubly blest, for you saved the father as well as the child. Markham! my Markham!"

"This is most strange," said the Mystery in Scarlet. "I did wander into a room once and saw some one sitting at a table with a light."

"It was I," said Markham. "Alas! I was too confused and dizzy to know you."

"I was keeping watch over Bertha's slumbers in the adjoining room."

"O Heaven! and I missed the happiness of knowing that!"

"Lament it not, sir, lament it not. All is now well, and I have but one counsel to give you. It is a counsel which will be echoed by the dear voice of Bertha."

"Counsel? What counsel? True, true. You are right, sir, you are right. We make you a privy councillor. What have you to say to the king?"

"Sir, I have to counsel you to be happy, not great. Chance has placed in my hands great wealth, for in a secret recess of an old cabinet there was a hoard of jewels, to which without doubt your birth entitles you to the possession of. Let me, then, counsel you, sir, to leave this land with me and with Bertha for ever. We will make a fair and beautiful and happy home in an other and softer clime than this, and these vapours and dreams of ambition will pass away, while the old platitude that contentment is better than a throne will commend itself, for its very simplicity, to all our hearts."

"Yes, father," interposed Bertha. "It is not for yourself that you have coveted this crown—this an easy diadem that makes the head so ache that wears it."

"No, no; never for myself."

"For me, father? for me?"

"Yes, my Bertha, for you."

"Then, father, if I tell you how much happier I shall be without it —"

"No, no, no. You do not know."

"Yes, father, I do know. I begin now to divine I the secret of your life. There is something in your birth, something in your lineage, which makes you feel and think that the crown of England is your own by right."

"I know it!" cried the Mystery in Scarlet. "I know it! I am the son of—"

"Hold!" cried Captain Markham. "For your life's sake, hold! Hold, sir, for the sake of the peace and serenity of your after life! Not another word!"

"Sir?"

"Not another word, I say. Not another word!"

"Sir, what right!"

"Every right. I have passed through the peril. I have endured the ordeal and escaped, and I demand that you should not burden another soul with the perilous secret —a secret that left you weltering in your blood in the garden at Kew—a secret which presented to my lips the poisoned cup—a secret which brought me out to die, and would have left me in my blood, judicially murdered for an imputed crime which never crossed my imagination. No, sir, you shall not—you dare not burden another soul with it. It has gone far enough already. Let it rest with me. And as for you, Marquis of Charlton, believe that you have heard the ravings of a disturbed spirit which believed itself a king, and there an end."

The Mystery in Scarlet was about to speak again, but Bertha flung her arms about him and interrupted him.

"Markham is right, father, Markham is right. There has been peril enough, and there have been tears enough and anguish enough already, and more than enough. Oh! father, we will have no more. Fly, oh! try with its. we want but your consent that Toil should be peaceful, serene, and evermore happy."

"I dare not. I cannot. My heart cries out aloud. I am what I am. I cannot unking myself. Farewell, gentlemen, farewell! I ask not your allegiance, nor will I, as this brave and noble gentleman remarks, burden another living soul with the secret of the Mystery in Scarlet. Come to me, my child, and we will let them go—let them go."

Then Bertha clasped her hands.

Then she shook with a terrible emotion.

"Father! Markham! Markham! father!"

She turned to one, and then she turned to the other.

Then, with a cry like that of some affrighted bird, she flung herself upon Markham' s breast.

"With you, with you, whatever may betide! With you to the world's end for ever and for evermore! With you—with you for ever!"

The Mystery in Scarlet shook like a leaf in autumn.

"Alone! alone!" he gasped. "Go! go! Alone and desolate! life a pilgrimage! the world a waste!"

"Oh! sir," said Markham, "what are crowns and sceptres, and ermined robes, and cringing courtiers, and life, and lip-service, and all the hollow cheats—"

"Dreams!" shouted the Mystery in Scarlet. "Dreams and vapours! To my heart, my children! To my heart! I shall be yet a king—a king of your affections and your dearest loves. We will away at once. Away! Away! The papers! Where are the papers? Here! here! The secret of my birth, the evidence of my destiny, the lantern! the lantern, Bertha! Quick! quick!"

"Here, father, here!"

"To the flames! To the flames with them! So perish, once and for ever, the dream of a life; but the awakening is yet more beautiful. I may not be a king, but I am still a father."

There was a loud crashing noise at this moment


p. 244


somewhere in the lower part of Whitehall, and the four persons in that chamber started, and glanced at each other inquiringly, as the dull echoes of the sound reverberated through the building.

Then came a rap at the door.

They had all forgotten Dick Martin the drummer, and it seemed to bring them quite back to the common-place world again when they heard his voice.

"Colonel, there's an attack on the place."

"An attack?" The Marquis of Charlton flung the door wide open and admitted Dick Martin.

"What is it, Dick? What do you mean?"

"A dismounted party, colonel, of the king's Light Horse has just broken in at one of the old doors, and are making their way through the palace."

"Then we are indeed in danger," said Markham. "Who is with them, Dick?"

"Mr. Norris, I think, sir, the king's valet."

"That worst of villains!"

"Hush!" said the marquis.

There was another loud crash, and it was quite evident that the reckless troopers, having received some sort of carte blanche to make a raid through old Whitehall after something or somebody, were not particular as to the mode by which they passed from one room to another.

* * * * * *

We must perforce now return for a brief space to St. James's Palace, and to the queen's cabinet, which had been the scene of so much danger and of so much real feeling and heartfelt affection.

It will be remembered that her Majesty retired at once to her oratory, closing the door of communication behind her, after she had felt satisfied that she had done all she could for the safety of those persons who had thrown themselves upon her protection.

The terrible scene that had taken place between the king and his son Fritz, as he was commonly called, had so shaken the spirits of the queen that, although she had kept up for some time afterwards, as we have seen, now that she was alone she gave way completely and fell into a swoon.

Agnes and Lucy Kerr of course could have no notion of the state of their royal mistress, since the closing of the door was understood to forbid their further attendance, and they accordingly retired to Agnes's rooms.

Mr. Osborn was ushering down the back staircase the little party in whose fortunes we are interested.

The queen's cabinet, therefore, is silent and deserted.

But it was not so beyond a few moments.

From behind a huge old oaken cabinet, which one would scarcely imagine left space enough between it and the wall, there emerged a human figure.

A human figure, erect, defiant, and with such a malevolent expression upon the countenance as could belong to none other than Norris, the king's valet.

How he had contrived to secrete himself there was one of the mysteries of St. James's.

There may have been some secret entrance in floor or wall.

But there he was.

And there could be but little doubt that he had overheard the whole of the latter part of the conference that had taken place between the queen and her new friends.

Norris slowly rubbed his hands one over the other, and the noiseless chuckle in which he indulged had something perfectly fiendish about it.

"Which will be the best, I wonder," he muttered. "To side with her or with him?"

"Her" no doubt meant the queen, and "him" the king.

Norris then tapped the corner of his forehead.

"I might frighten her out of a good deal. If she hasn't much money, she has jewels. A-hem! Then, again, I might get a good price from him. What shall I do? That is the question. Bah! tash! as the king says, how can I be such a fool? Why, where are my wits? I'll make them both pay. Of course, make them both pay; and as my time has so nearly come—my time when I'm going to fly far away from England, and enjoy what I have scraped together, and what I still mean to lay hold of at the last moment—by one grand coup I will leave behind me the memory of a little trick which will make a nice page in the history of England."

Norris must have painfully practised the art of laughing without making the least noise.

He seemed now to go off into convulsions of chuckling at some idea that tickled his fancy amazingly.

"Yes," he said. "I'll make her pay to induce me to keep the secret of her complicity with these people, who are the king's enemies. Then I will make the king pay for telling him the secret, and he may murder the whole lot of them for all I care. I owe them a grudge. And then—why then—as his Majesty's waistcoat hangs in what is called the 'petty wardrobe,' I will—I will change the lozenges from one pocket to another."

Norris fell into silent convulsions of merriment again at this bright idea.

"Then, he said, "I will make a clean sweep of the King's jewels, and be off—off and away. There's always some Dutch vessel lying about the Medway which for a consideration will up anchor and hoist sail. They prowl about there in the service of the Jacobites. Yes, that will do, that will do. And now for the queen."

Norris rapped at the door of the oratory.

There was no reply.

"I'm sure she's there. Perhaps she's praying. I never pray. I'll rap again."

Still there was no reply.

Norris tried the door.

Yes, it was unfastened. He peeped into the oratory.

The queen lay upon the floor as if dead.

The valet was alarmed for a moment or two.

It might not be very pleasant to be caught with a dead queen.

Explanations might be difficult.

Perhaps he would have retired there and then but that a slight movement and a long-drawn sigh convinced him that her Majesty still lived.

Then Norris, bending himself double, became assiduous and cringingly attentive.

He assisted the queen to rise, and when, with a bewildered look, her Majesty said "Where am I?" he assured her that she was in her own oratory, and that he was one of her humblest subjects.

The queen drew back from him with ill-concealed aversion.

"Leave us," she said. "We have no occasion for your services."

"Ah! madam," replied Norris, with a candour that was very much at variance with his ordinary disposition, "ah! madam, I cannot think you would be so nasty in dismissing me if you were aware that I knew all that has passed in the cabinet for the last hour, and have nothing to do but to go to his Majesty, who will give a princely reward for the information."

The queen nearly fell to the floor again.

"You most vile and odi—"

"Yes, madam; I am vile and odious. Pray don't scruple to use bad language. I am used to it. His most gracious Majesty, whom Heaven preserve, sometimes indulges in it slightly."

"What—what," gasped the queen, "do you require?"

"A thousand thanks, madam. That is what I call business. Your Majesty has a secret, which I am in possession of. I can carry it to the king, and produce rage, confusion, and death!"

"Oh! horror! horror!" ejaculated the queen, as she passed her hands over her eyes.

"Exactly, madam. Plenty of horror. But I'm not unreasonable. I only want to be paid, and as I am vile and odious, I charge accordingly."

"What?"

Norris rapped the back of his hand on the table that wns between him and the queen as he said slowly—

"Five hundred guineas for being vile, and five hundred guineas for being odious."

"If I refuse?"

"Then I go straight to the king."

"You cannot be so base."

"I can. Five hundred guineas more for being base. I want fifteen hundred guineas of your Majesty, or their equivalent in any articles of value your Majesty pleases."

"Alas! alas!"

"Permit me to remind your Majesty that my time is precious, and that the hour is late."

"Fifteen hundred guineas?"

"The precise sum."

"If I do not pay them you will tell the king all?"

"Assuredly."

The queen shook her head and sighed despairingly, while Norris gave a silent chuckle at his immense success, and began mentally to blame himself that he had not asked more.


"No," said the queen, with the most simple air in the world. "I will give nothing, for I believe you are quite capable of going to the king afterwards, and selling the information to him likewise."

Now as this was precisely what Norris meant to do, it was excessively aggravating that the queen, of whose mental abilities he had a poor idea, should have hit upon it with such extreme happiness.

Norris actually stamped with rage, but the queen had touched a hand-bell, and Mr. Osborn had returned and stood noiselessly in the entrance of the oratory.

"Mr. Osborn," said the queen, "do you think you could turn this person out of our private apartments very quickly, and in a manner that will be a caution to him not to intrude into them again?"

Mr. Osborn upon this flew at Norris, and tore off his wig, and buffeted him about the head, and kicked his shins, and hustled him to the back stairs, down which he pitched him headlong in so very short a space of time that it was something wonderful to see.

(To be continued in our next.)

Published @ COVE

August 2021