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 XLIX.

THE ROYAL BEDCHAMBER.

Bruised, battered, bewildered, and presenting a ludicrous object, without his wig, Norris crawled into the bedchamber of the king.

His Majesty had retired to rest, for neither the cares of state nor the prickings of conscience, if there were such a thing in the constitution of that monarch, prevented him from enjoying repose.

The royal chamber was somewhat intricately situated in St. James's Palace, and only the habitués of the place could take their way to it with ease. In fact, it might be said that the king's valet and the page on night duty were the only persons who could make their way to the royal bedside. And most certainly they would not have been permitted to do so, or to have the power to do so, but that his Majesty was nervously apprehensive of fire.

There had been two or three alarms of that kind in St. James's Palace, and, owing to some radical defect in the flues, or of some decay incident to the ace of the building, coal and wood smoke would make their appearance most unaccountably in most out-of-the-way places.

His Majesty had therefore contracted a nervous terror of being burnt in his bed some night.

But for that consideration he would have locked his door.

It cost him a pang to leave himself exposed to the midnight visits of Norris.

But then, after all, was not Norris the creature of his bounty? Was he not dependent upon him (the king) for the very bread he ate, and for all the collateral advantages, legitimate and illegitimate, which he contrived to extract from his confidential situation about the person of the monarch?

Moreover, the successor of a king does not usually take on his predecessor's valet. And so, for all these considerations, his Majesty considered himself tolerably safe from any attempt on the part of Norris to create what is called in polite court circles "the demise of the crown."

And the valet would just as soon have thought of making his way into the den of an enraged tiger as of penetrating into the royal bedchamber after his Majesty had fairly retired to rest.

In fact, Norris usually went and enjoyed himself at some of the gaming tables with which St. James's Street and Pall Mall were at that time infested.

But if the suspicion or the occasion of a dire in St. James's would be sufficient to induce Norris to break the royal slumbers, he felt that the intelligence he had now to bring earned with it as full and complete a justification of the intrusion as if flames were catching the royal coverlet.

In the bewildered and dilapidated condition, then, which we have described, Norris made his way with a rush through the king's ante-chamber.

But he paused at the actual door of the king's bedroom.

Habitual caution—that habitual, slavish, cringing terror which always beset him on coming into the presence of his imperious master—overcame all other considerations even at that moment.

Norris placed his hand gently and timidly upon the handle of the door.

He listened. All was very still.

He had a well-grounded apprehension of entering abruptly the king's chamber, for his Majesty was in the habit of sleeping with various uncomfortable missiles handy to his grasp.

Something, therefore, might be launched at the head of the valet which would produce a decidedly uncomfortable impression if the king happened to be awake, and he (Norris) were to enter the room without due circumspection.

As gently as possible he turned the handle of the door.

There was no creaking of those well-oiled palatial hinges.

Norris opened the door about half a foot, and then waited.

All was well.

The king slept—surely slept, and slept soundly too, or some notice would have been taken even of this gentle opening of the door.

Then Norris ventured to peep into the room.

It was very dimly illuminated by the night-lamp that burnt upon a tall gilt tripod near the head of the bed.

Yes, the king slept—surely slept, notwithstanding all the agitating circumstances of the preceding day. That cold cruel heart and brain surely were at rest for a time.

Norris opened the door wider. He crept into the apartment. Then, closing the door behind him as gently as he had opened it, he dipped, or ducked, if we may use the expressions, low down three or four times, as though he were executing elaborate curtseys, towards the bed on which the king lay in sleep.

Norris had his suspicions.

The king might have an eye upon him, and at any stray moment something might be hurled at his head; so Morris resorted to this ducking dipping movement as a means of distracting the royal aim.

But all remained still.

The valet's apprehensions gradually faded away.

So noiselessly that no phantom could have approached the royal bedside with less note of wanting Norris made his way close to the gilt tripod.

He scarcely breathed.

He held one hand over his mouth, lest the slight disturbance of the air from his own faint respirations should disturb the king.

And there lay the Majesty of England—very un-majestic indeed—gaunt and yellow, an old silk night cap drawn over one eye, the other one firmly closed, and the royal countenance in its repose presenting something of an appearance between that of a mummy and an amiable ourang-outang in repose.

Norris was satisfied.

But now was his time to awaken the king—now was his time to yell the news which he brought into the royal ears—now was the time to tell story of his own exceedingly clever discovery of the little domestic plot in the queen's cabinet.


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But Norris did no such thing.

His own affairs, his own hopes, his own wishes were paramount.

The news which he brought the king could wait for a few minutes, while he accomplished another purpose—a purpose that had bit by bit and step by step grown into a fixed determination of his mind—a purpose that was to bring to an end the life of dissimulation, anxiety, care, and pain which he led in the service of the king, and to exchange it for one of luxury and enjoyment.

Here was the opportunity he had looked for so long.

Here was the chance which he had pictured to himself in his waking moments, and which had been the most delightful image of his dreams—the chance of being in the king's bedchamber with a perfectly legitimate excuse, and a story to tell which if the king should suddenly awaken would be ample warrant for the intrusion, and yet for the time being the king sound asleep.

Norris forgot all he had gone through—forgot the violent assault of the page of the back stairs—forgot the unprecedented manner in which he had been thrown from the top of those stairs to the bottom—forgot the loss of his wig, and the feelings of revenge that had been rankling in his breast—forgot every thing but that the opportunity had suddenly presented itself for carrying out two darling projects.

Robbery—robbery on such a scale as, in addition to his previous appropriations, would place him in a position of wealth and luxury.

Murder—murder on such a scale that he could ever carry about with him the consciousness that, in addition to producing a marked effect upon the history of Europe, he had paid off a hundred scores of slight, in dignity, oppression, and brutality.

The robbery and murder of the king.

Norris saw both those things now within his grasp.

In that room were jewels the value of which he was afraid even to appreciate—afraid to compute in figures.

He knew exactly the drawers in exactly the cabinets where they lay, hiding their lustrous beauty, and only waiting for him to drag them forth to the admiration of the world.

And there lay the king—so supine—so helpless—so great a thing in name and so little a thing in nature.

Why, it was but to place a finger and thumb upon his throat, and a hand upon his mouth, and there an end.

It was but to slip the pillow from under that old involved and wicked head and place it upon the face, so yellow, so wrinkled, so cadaverous, and there an end.

No. Oh! no. These were not Norris's modes of action. These would be the rough coarse vulgar modes of helping Prince Frederick to the crown of England, and sending its present possessor to consort with his ancestors.

Norris had a subtler intellect—a finer and more intricate spirit.

He would have chuckled, if he had dared to produce such a sound in its faintest expression within that still atmosphere.

He did chuckle, but it was inwardly, and with a spasmodic action, which, divested as he was of his wig, made him look like some hideous maniac seized with a sudden convulsion.

Five minutes.

He only wanted five minutes.

They would be amply sufficient for all that he had to do, and surely the royal repose would last that time, so quiet and so profound as it was.

There was a cabinet of blackest ebony.

It looked like marble in its exquisite polish.

The knobs of its drawers were of some rare agate, contrasting prettily enough with the polished ebony to which they were attached.

We have said that the light in the king's chamber was very dim, but it was sufficient to let Norris see what he was about, and it would have been sufficient, had any human eyes been there present to look upon the face of the valet, to show how ghastly pale he was.

More than once, too, he rubbed his hands together and over each other, in the hope of getting rid of the nervous trembling that possessed them.

The drawers in that cabinet were divided into small divisions, each of which might be looked upon as a well-padded velvet jewel-case.

There were various stars blazing even in that dim and inefficient light, with their rich incrustation of jewels.

There were foreign orders stiffened and rigid with diamonds.

And Norris helped himself freely, until he felt certain he carried about him a hundred thousand pounds at least in those precious gems, which must have something occult and mysterious in them to have been, and always seem destined to be, the fascination of mankind.

The robbery was complete.

One half of the project was carried out.

The other half only remained—the most terrible half, but perhaps the easiest.

The murder.

Norris slowly and cautiously closed the various drawers of the cabinet.

Then he stood with his back to it, and looked towards the bed on which lay the king.

How did he intend to do the deed?

Was there to be a rush, a short scuffle, and then would all be over?

No. There might be a cry, if only one—a yell such as bursts from a despairing heart in its last agony.

No. A violent effort such as that was not germane to Norris's notions of things in general.

There was a couch of purple velvet in the apartment, and at the back of it were some gilt rails, on which hung the suit of clothes the king had taken off, and which unquestionably he would put on again exactly as he had done the day before.

The genius of that monarch did not lie in gorgeousness of apparel.

The plain brown snuffy-looking suit that he wore one day he wore the next, and so on, until it became almost too shabby for him.

And that was very shabby indeed.

Norris therefore crept towards this temporary wardrobe, and laid his hand on the king's waistcoat.

It was one of those wonderful waistcoats then in use, with huge flap pockets reaching down nearly to the knees of the wearer.

Norris knew the contents of those pockets perfectly well.

Had he not on various provocations been offered a lozenge from one of them, while his Majesty amused himself with one from the other?

But always from the other.

Who shall say how many lives were contained in one of those pockets, and how many harmless circlets of paste and sugar in the other?

Norris did not trouble himself to care at that moment which was which.

The king knew.

All the valet had to do was to change the lozenges from one pocket to the other.

Change and change about.

It was easily accomplished, notwithstanding the shaking, the trembling of his hands.

They looked very much alike, those two sets of lozenges.

Wonderfully alike.

But there was a difference. Oh! such a difference! The difference as between light and darkness, fire and ice, the sparkle and the glow of vitality and the dull inertia of death.

Norris drew a long breath.

He had done it.

Robbery and murder.

He had done them both.

He had but to wait, and both were accomplished: and then flight—instant flight—flight and peace, and wealth and luxury, and state and dignity, and—and oh! what a tyrant he would be! what a despot!

How he would lord it over his fellow-men in some place far away, where no one could guess his antecedents, nor in their wildest dreams imagine he had ever been the crawling reptile he really was!

Yes; he had done it. He had reached the culmination of his career.

Robbery always.

Now murder.


CHAPTER L.

THE KING'S LIGHT HORSE.

The king coughed.

Norris had sat down on the sofa, feeling hot and cold, but now he slid at once to the floor in an agony of apprehension.

The king coughed again.

Norris crept to the side of the bed on his hands and knees.

He made a humming noise, as if some great insect of the mosquito order had invaded the sacred precincts of the royal bedchamber.

"What's that?" cried the king.

"Your Majesty's most humble servant."

"Eh?"

"The humblest of your Majesty's subjects and servants."

The king started up to a sitting posture. "What? what is it?"

"Your gracious Majesty."

"It's fire?"

"No, your Majesty, beseeching your royal pardon for the seeming contradiction, it is not fire."

"Get up."

The king might well say "Get up," for there was nothing visible of Norris but his back, and his posture altogether seemed indicative of a desire to crawl under the royal bedstead, and there hold a conversation with its majestic occupant.

"Get up."

"Humbly, yes, your Majesty."

Norris got as far as his knees.

The silk nightcap was drawn over one eye of the king, but the other shone with a lurid light as he glared at Norris.

"Your Majesty, unless the humblest of your subjects can show some good and sufficient reason for this intrusion upon your Majesty's repose, there is no penalty that—that—"

"Tash! What's the reason?"

"Oh! your Majesty, I scarcely know how I dare speak, for I have to tell your Majesty that you are deceived, and my respect for the personage who has—who has, I may say, deceived your Majesty, is so great that—that—"

"Bah! We don't require you to have any respect for any one but ourselves. What is it?"

"Your Majesty, I—I—"

The king evidently looked about for something to fling at Norris.

"Oh! your Majesty, I will tell all. It is my duty, my pleasure to tell all. I have too much sense of gratitude, too much love and admiration for your Majesty to hesitate. I will tell all, even though it implicate a personage who lives in the reflected light of your royal presence."

"Some rascality of Fritz's, we suppose?"

"Not exactly, your Majesty. I am most unfortunate in having to contradict your most gracious Majesty."

The king began to look vicious.

"Speak, idiot, boast, fool, and speak at once."

"Her Majesty the queen."

"Ah! The queen! Ugh! ugh! ugh! The queen! We know all about it."

"Your Majesty?"

"Ugh! ugh! ugh!"

"My royal master?"

"We know all about it, and my Lord Hervey is exceedingly welcome. Ugh! ugh! ugh!"

The king pulled the silk nightcap an inch lower over his eye, and was about to lie down again, when Norris interposed.

"No, your Majesty, it is nothing about my Lord Hervey; but, being ever intent upon your Majesty's service, day and night, night and day, I managed to hide myself in—in—"

""What? Where?"

"The queen's cabinet."

"Ah!"

"And I overheard something which your Majesty might wish to know."

"What?"

Norris licked his lips and seemed to hesitate for words in which to shape his next sentence.

When those words came they sounded rather enigmatical, and would have been quite so to any one but the king.

As it was, however, they made him give a bound up in his bed as he tore off the silk nightcap, and glared with both his eyes into the face of Norris.

"Your Majesty, I have found out where both the bodies are."

"The bodies? My two dead men? You have found out? You? you?"

Norris nodded.

"And the queen—the queen knew? The queen knows?"

Norris nodded again.

"Ah! Ugh! ugh! ugh! Ah! Go on."

"Your Majesty must know, then, that hidden in the queen's oratory adjoining the cabinet this evening there were several persons."

"Tash! man, tash! Stop! Well, name them."

A look of satisfaction came over the face of Norris, for here was an opportunity of doing no end of mischief, and involving three or four persons in a tolerable amount of ruin.

He had no idea of letting Mr. Osborn, the page, escape; and, in fact, at the present moment he was more intent upon being revenged on him than in implicating any one else in what might be called the queen's plot.

"I must commence, your Majesty, by stating that her Majesty's page of the back stairs, Mr. Osborn, is the ringleader and prime mover of the whole affair, and is in every respect a bitter enemy and traitor to your Majesty.

"Ah! ah!"

"Your Majesty will not fail to recollect him?"

"We don't forget."

"Indeed, if the humblest of your Majesty's servants might venture to suggest a memorandum, something to his detriment would be as well."

Norris was afraid one of the lozenges might take effect before the royal vengeance had time to fall upon the head of the devoted Osborn.

"Tash! Who else was there?"

"There was a young girl—"

"Tash!"

"By name Agnes Bellair, and another one, by name Lucy Kerr."

"Tash!"

"There was an officer—"

"Ah!"

"By name Colonel the Marquis of Charlton."

The king swung his thin legs out of bed.

"Traitors! traitors all! A nest of traitors! A cabal of traitors! Quick! Norris, quick! We will sleep no more to-night. And so—ha! ha!—the queen harbours traitors in her oratory? Quick! Help us to dress. Well, Norris, well? Who else was there?"

"Another girl, your Majesty."


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"Tash! How many girls haunt the royal oratory?"

"A girl, your Majesty, whom it might be well to look after. They name her Bertha, and already one fruitless search your Majesty has made for her, little suspecting that she was hidden in the private apartments of the queen, and that, by some jugglery which even I do not understand, her paramour—"

"Her what?"

"Her paramour, your Majesty, who was so justly condemned to death by the court-martial, escaped."

"Escaped?"

"Escaped, your Majesty. He lives, and was hidden with them all in the queen's oratory."

The king made two random blows at Norris's head, but missed him, in consequence of his dexterity in ducking to avoid them.

"Tash! man, tash! You are mad. We heard the volley."

"Yes, your Majesty, and so did the humblest of your subjects, but—but—"

"But what? what?"

"By some means, your Majesty, the Marquis of Charlton, who seems to be in league with them all, and who was hiding with them in the queen's oratory, must have had blank cartridges only fired at Captain Markham."

The king held his hands above his head as he shrieked out—

"Foiled! foiled! Cheated! cajoled! betrayed! Betrayed and foiled! No, no, no, no, no. There is time yet—time yet. What am I? Am I not a king? a king? Time yet—time yet. I—I will have them all—all—all."

He opened and shut his hands repeatedly, as though grasping something in the air, and then, as Norris had just helped him on with his waistcoat, he made a dive into one of its pockets for a lozenge. Norris's nerves were a little over-wrought, and he could not refrain from a strange hysterical laugh, which so fixed the attention of the king, beginning as it did abruptly, and ending with a startling sudden ness, that the royal hand remained in the waistcoat pocket without drawing forth the lozenge.

"What is the matter? Are you mad?"

"A pain—a sudden pain."

"Bah! How dare you have pains in our royal presence?"

"I have to beg your Majesty's gracious pardon, but it began, and went, and went.

Norris touched his head, and his breast, and his back.

"Tosh! You have more to tell?"

"I have, your Majesty. There was a consultation with the queen as to how this Captain Markham and the girl Bertha were to make their escape from England, and in the midst of that consultation there arrived a boy—a drummer of the guard—who seems to be a traitorous emissary of them all. He was introduced by Osborn, the page, concerning whom I hope your Majesty will leave a memorandum."

"Leave? What do you mean by 'leave?'"

That was a slip of the tongue of Norris's, and he fairly staggered as the king questioned it.

"Did I say 'leave,' your Majesty?"

"You did, idiot!"

"Just so, your Majesty. They wanted to leave England, and this drummer of the guard, who is some connection, of Osborn, the page—I think his brother (they are both thieves)—this drummer, your Majesty, came to say that he had been to Whitehall with his drum."

"Ah! with his drum? We heard him—we heard him. So much for the phantom drummer of old Whitehall. Go on, Norris, go on."

"He brought them the news that there was one there whom they thought dead, but who still lived, and who called himself A Mystery in Scarlet."

The king uttered a shout.

"The other body! the other body! I find my dead, but I find them alive. Both the bodies! both the bodies! And she knew it. The queen—the queen knew it. And they were all listening, and heard me offer to reward her. Duplicity! duplicity! Treason and duplicity! Well, Norris, well?"

"Your Majesty, Captain Markham then, with the girl Bertha, and accompanied by the Marquis of Charlton and the drummer, proceeded to Whitehall, from whence they intend all to escape, along with the man who calls himself the Mystery in Scarlet, to hatch treason against your Majesty at any continental court that will receive them."

"Quick!" yelled the king. "Quick! A guard—a strong guard, Norris—men upon whom we can rely."

"The palace guard, your Majesty?"

"No, no. Traitors all—traitors all. They know those men, Markham and Charlton, too well. We will have a dismounted party of our Light Horse. Quick! Norris, quick! Take our royal order to the Horse Guards. A sergeant's party. Bid them bring their holster pistols and a few carbines. Treason! treason! But we will crush it before the daylight. Quick! Norris, quick! Ah! our coat, our sword—our sword. We may need it yet to-night. They shall die, Norris, they shall die. One, two, three, four, five of them, you say. Five of them! We lost two bodies, but we will have five more. Fly! Norris, fly! Take our order. There. A sergeant's guard of the Light Horse. We will walk across the park and meet them at Whitehall. Our hat! our cloak! Now, Norris, go, go, and be assured that you will have your reward in good time—ugh! ugh! ugh!—in good time."

"I fly to execute your Majesty's commands, and if in the meantime your Majesty will make a memorandum dismissing the page Osborn, and stating it is for lying and dishonesty—"

"Tash! man, tash! There is time enough to hunt such small game as that. Away with you! away! We will meet you and the dismounted troopers at Whitehall."

Norris had no resource but to go.

The moment his back was turned a strange expression came over the face of the king.

"This wretch is useful," he said, "but he has condemned himself to death, and I will not reprieve him. Ugh! ugh! ugh! Kings should sleep with one eye open, as I did—as I did. Ugh! ugh! ugh!"

Slowly and deliberately the king changed the lozenges from one pocket to the other again.

"Ugh! ugh! ugh!"


CHAPTER LI.

AN HISTORICAL PERSONAGE.

Crash!

Another sound of alarm.

There could be no doubt whatever but that, perfectly regardless of all noise, uproar, or destruction, some persons were breaking into old Whitehall.

The report of Dick Martin that those persons consisted of a party of the king's Light Horse, dismounted, hut thoroughly armed, we have now ample reason for knowing was a correct one.

The situation of the fugitives—for we may well call them such—who were in the chamber of Bertha's father, was critical in the extreme.

They had no means of knowing exactly what had brought this sudden danger upon them, but there it was, and it required to be met both with energy and discretion.

Bertha flung her arms about her father.

It seemed so hard to be separated from him again, after he had come back to her across that dim chasm which to her mind had represented death. And what a heart-pang it was likewise to him to hear, in that tumultuous attack upon Whitehall, that there was danger to that dear child for whom he had sacrificed so much and suffered so much!

The Marquis of Charlton and Captain Markham exchanged glances.

"We can but barricade ourselves," said the marquis, "and fight."

Markham shook his head.

"Such a siege would not last long, especially if we are attacked by firearms."

"Oh! save him! save him!" cried Bertha.

"Think of some means, I implore you, to save my father. He is wounded and weak. Oh! Markham, do you not see?"

"I will live with him or die with him, Bertha," exclaimed Markham.

"Hush!" said the Mystery in Scarlet. We still so name him, although no longer a mystery to our readers.

"Hush! What is that? What is going to happen?"

"The palace is attacked, sir," replied Markham.

"Attacked by a dismounted party of the king's Light Horse," added the Marquis of Charlton.

"Then order them, in the king's name, to—to—no, no, that dream has passed away, and I am only king of the affections of those who love me."

"Oh! father, what shall we do? What shall we do? You, as well as all who love you, will now be lost. They will not let us live together, but it is hard to die in this hour of our reunion, when the sunlight of so much happiness had crossed our path."

"We will not die."

Another crashing sound, indicating the reckless manner in which the Light Horsemen were making their way through the old deserted palace, breaking down every door that opposed their progress with the butt ends of their carbines they had brought with them, echoed now throughout the entire building.

"Go, Dick Martin," said the Marquis of Charlton.

"Go to one of the back windows, and see if they have had the precaution to place a guard at the water-gate.

If not, we may yet escape them on to the river in the darkness."

The boy disappeared at once to perform this reconnoitring. Both the marquis and Markham drew their swords and stood upon the defensive at the door of the chamber, for they knew not any minute when the troopers might come that way.

It seemed, however, that they took another route through the immense pile of building, for, although they were still heard riotously making their way from room to room, the sounds were evidently further distant.

"Now, Dick, what news?"

"There are two troopers, colonel, at the water-gate on guard."

"Two?" said Markham.

He looked significantly at the Marquis of Charlton.

The latter shook his head.

"We should have to kill them, Markham—we should have to kill them; and I don't think I can bring my mind to that, except in self-defence."

"No," said the Mystery in Scarlet suddenly. "We will have no killing—we will have no more bloodshed. There has been enough, and more than enough, and, thank Heaven, it has been the blood of the innocent. Let the guilty be left to Heaven. It is better to suffer than to inflict."

"But, father, father," cried Bertha, "what shall we do?"

The Mystery in Scarlet staggered to his feet.

"I am too weak to fight for you or with you, and I have no power, as I should have, to protect you by words. I can hide you, however—hide you all until this search has passed away, and until the false king who seeks our lives shall give up in sheer despair his murderous errand."

"Where could you hide us, sir?" asked the Marquis of Charlton.

"I fear," said Markham, "that there are no hiding-places here that we can get at which may not be as readily found by our enemies."

"You are mistaken," said the Mystery in Scarlet. "You are all mistaken. I have passed a strange, dreary, and lonesome time in this ancient royal building, and I have made some strange discoveries beneath its roof. I would not take you whither I shall now conduct you except in the very extremity of our fortunes; but I made an accidental discovery, of which we will now avail ourselves. Follow me, all of you, and I will conduct you to safety."

The Mystery in Scarlet walked with difficulty, hut Markham flung his arm about him as he whispered—

"Once more, sir, let me support you, and this time upon a more grateful occasion than the last."

"Thank you, thank you. I am very weak, but with your help I can lead the way."

Through a very noble suite of rooms, and then down a short flight of stairs to another apartment, they went, directed by the Mystery in Scarlet.

There was not the slightest hesitation in his manner of guiding them, and it was more than probable that he had some practical acquaintance with Whitehall, either from the possession of some accurate plan of its intricacies or in consequence of some accidental visit to it. This room, which bore traces of having been a library, opened into the gallery of pictures, principally portraits, which had before attracted the attention of Markham. Dick Martin carried the lantern, which shed but a dull and dubious ray over the little procession of five persons. The Mystery in Scarlet whispered to Bertha—

"You will have courage, dear child, and you will not fear even some sad and poor memorials of humanity which may meet your eyes?"

"What mean you, father?"

"Do you not recollect what our great dramatist says on such a subject—'‘The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures?'"

"Yes, father."

"You will have to look on such a picture."

"I will have courage."

"We pause here, gentlemen," added the Mystery in Scarlet. He stopped opposite a full-length portrait of the first Charles, and even as he did so there came so sudden a crash, as a door was burst open immediately contiguous to the picture gallery, that they all expected on the moment to see the troopers who were in search of them.

They heard the voice of some one who was in command, and they could gather from what was being said that a sentinel was posted.

"Your orders will be to prevent any one from passing your posts, either up or down this staircase; and any attempt at force you will repel at once with a pistol-shot."

The time occupied in giving this brief order was the present salvation of our little party.

The Mystery in Scarlet, as though he had been actuated by some great anger against the portrait of Charles the First, dealt the edge of the panel on which it was painted as violent a blow as he could give it.

Then the whole panel started from its frame, revolving on its centre, so that the picture assumed a strange attitude, at an angle with the elaborate gilt framework about it, and showing a dark orifice beyond.

"Quick," whispered the Mystery in Scarlet, "or we are lost."

The recess behind the picture looked perfectly black and cavernous.

Any one might well have hesitated about stepping into it across the lower part of the frame, with a well-grounded apprehension that it might lead to unknown depths, and be instantly and fearfully fatal.

But there was no time for hesitation now.

Certainly the most imminent danger was behind them, and the Mystery in Scarlet himself set at rest all apprehensions with regard to the recess into which he was leading them by himself entering it first.

A few seconds more, and they had all pawed through the opening in the wall.

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Dick Martin was the last, and, boylike, he performed a rather practical joke at the expense of the king's Light Horse.

He rapidly lit a small scrap of paper by the flame of the lantern, and flung it down on the dark wood floor of the gallery.

There was a flare of light for a moment, and it just caught the eyes of the officer in command of the dismounted troopers.

"Fire!" he shouted.

It might be only that he intended to intimate that he saw a fire, but the troopers took it as an order, and, levelling their carbines, they discharged a volley from one end of the picture gallery to the other.

The noise in the confined space was tremendous.

The smoke considerable.

That was very much to the advantage of our fugitives, who under its cover got safely into their place of refuge, and forced the panel back into its ordinary condition, to which it fitted itself with some noise, which was, however, completely drowned in the echoes produced by the discharge of the carbines.

"We are safe," said the Mystery in Scarlet; "but we are not alone."

"Not alone?" exclaimed Markham.

"No. There is one here who has played a part in a great tragedy."

"Who, sir?"

"Behold!"

The Mystery in Scarlet had taken the lantern from Dick Martin, and had partially shrouded it with his hands.

He now, however, held it up, and they could see the full extent of the apartment in which they were.

It was a narrow slip of a room, not above six paces in width, but it was at least four times that extent in length. At its further extremity was a table, on which there appeared some books and some military accoutrements.

Seated on a very ancient-looking high- backed chair at that table was undoubtedly something that looked like a human figure.

Bertha shrank close to her father as she beheld this spectacle, and the two young officers gazed at it with a gathering accumulating awe.

"It is many a long year," said the Mystery in Scarlet, speaking in a low tone, "since the breath of life animated that poor form."

"Who is it?" asked Markham. "Perhaps you may guess upon a closer examination."

Bertha at these words clung to Markham, for she did not wish him to leave her side to proceed a step nearer to that object, at once so terrible and so sad.

The Marquis of Charlton took the lantern from the hand of the Mystery in Scarlet, and slowly approached the table.

The sight was a very curious one, apart from the kind of interest which was sure to attach to such an object.

The form, sitting in the chair, and with its head resting on the table, looked very shrunken and skeleton-like.

It was attired completely in black, but the principal peculiarity was that the face was completely covered by a black mask.

It needed but a glance at the books on the table to see that they were of a religious tendency.

There lay an open sheet of paper, likewise, partially held down by one of the skeleton hands of this mysterious figure.

The Marquis of Charlton held down the lantern with great curiosity, to see what was written on the paper, which evidently for many a long year had been held down by that dead hand.

But the dust lay so thickly upon it that all the writing was obscured.

The marquis felt a disinclination to remove the paper from the sort of custody in which it was held.

By successive puffs, however, of his breath, he succeeded in scattering the dust that had accumulated upon its surface, and then it would seem as if that dust had acted as a preservative to the writing that was beneath it, which stood out clearly and distinctly.

The words were written in an ancient style, but they were easy enough to decipher, and, to the great surprise and interest of the marquis, he read as follows: —

"January 30, 1649.

"The King Charles the First hat been dead half an hour. I am his executioner. I may have done my duty, and I believe that I have, but there is too much agony in the intense desire to know if I have or have not to permit me longer to remain in this world among men. I therefore seek the judgment of Heaven, praying to be forgiven if I seek unbidden and long before that time when I should have been summoned in the ordinary course of nature. My strength is fast fading away, and the film of death is upon my eyes. I therefore hasten to subscribe myself——."

There was a scrawl where a signature should have been, but it was completely illegible.

Indeed, the last line or two of the memorandum were written in so infirm and straggling a fashion that it was with great difficulty the Marquis of Charlton could decipher them.

He stepped slowly back to the little party, who waited for him.

"That is indeed," he said, "a sad memorial of a great event."

"Hush!" whispered Markham.

The panel containing the picture was not very thick, and, although probably its security was perfect, it sent a painful thrill to the hearts of the little party on the inner side of it to hear how close their enemies were to them on the outer.

The king was speaking.

There was no mistaking his high croaking passionate voice.

"Traitors! traitors all!" he cried. "A thousand pounds for every individual life! A thousand pounds each for them, dead or alive! But better dead—better dead."

Some murmured reply was made, which none of the fugitive party could catch, and then they heard the tramp of feet, as the troopers left the gallery.

It was a matter for curious inquiry, however, whether a sentinel had been placed there or not, and they all listened intently, in order to discover the fact.

Yes, with slow measured footsteps a sentinel paced to and fro, whistling a low popular tune to himself, probably in some measure to get rid of the loneliness of his situation.

(To be continued in our next.)

Published @ COVE

August 2021