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 XIII.

THE KING ON GUARD.

Backward still backward, stopped, or we ought to say reeled rather, that gracious monarch who had heard a word in three syl[l]ables the most ungracious in sound to his royal ear that the English language could present to him—Abdication!

Death to him was a word of terror.

Sickness, either to himself or others (for he had a selfish and constitutional antipathy to anybody who was not well), came to him as a word to be intensely disliked.

But abdication was the culmination of all that was detestable, and if it wanted a terror which did not actually belong to itself, that terror was certainly imparted to it by being uttered in the too well known accents of his Royal Highness Frederick Prince of Wales.

The king must have learnt to dance.

That was a matter of course.

That accomplishment must have belonged to the frigid German court to which His Majesty always turned with yearning and longing.

To be sure, the royal agility was somewhat impaired by years and infirmity, but the manner in which his Gracious Majesty made his way backward from that room in which Captain Markham and Bertha had found a refuge to the other apartment where Norris had waited for him had all the appearance of being a reminiscence of some elaborate dance movement long since forgotten in the limbo of deserted fashion.

Was it a fencing lesson likewise that rose up to the imagination of the king that injured those strange cuts, parries, guards, and passes with which he wounded the air before him?

It must have been so.

There was an evident method in them.

And his Gracious Majesty must have thought, likewise, that his enemies were to be intimidated like travellers in a jungle, for he kept up a continual hiss, as though he wished to lead them into the belief that, while he was prepared to fight them with the ordinary weapons of humanity, some deadly snake was at their heels.

Backward, backward still—coming into rude contact with a chair—rounding it, and then being nearly doubled backwards over a table—still with his face to the foe, until, with somewhat of a rude shock, he reached the wall.

Then the king stood at bay, still fencing with the long thin glittering sword.

"Yah! bah! hash! hiss! Treason! treason!"

"Treason!" said Norris, rubbing his hands one over the other and licking his parched lips. "Treason! It looks uncommonly like treason."

Norris drew a large armchair to a corner of the room.

He must have thought of that before.

The kind of barricade it made for him was too systematic to result from a momentary impulse, for, standing upon that chair, or rather crouching down upon it, he looked like the governor of some besieged city about to make terms with an invading host.

And all this passed so rapidly—so much more rapidly than it is possible to describe it —that the king's back was against the wall and the valet was securely entrenched before Captain Markham could make up his mind what was best for him to do.

He had just time to say "Hush!" to Bertha, for the rush of feet and the various voices had awakened her.

She lay very still in his arms, wrapped up in that old coverlet, as he crouched down with her behind the couch.

It was a strange sight then that met the eyes of Captain Markham as, glancing sufficiently upward to bring his vision above the level of the back of the couch, he saw what was going on in those ancient palatial apartments.

A kind of straggling procession, consisting of some ten or twelve persons, passed him rapidly.

And first and foremost there came a rather tall slender young man.

His face was pale, as far as human paleness could possibly go and yet preserve the breath of life beneath it. He was attired completely in black velvet, which perhaps helped greatly to give the appearance of attenuation to his general aspect.

His hair was flung back, certainly not to the advantage of the intellectuality of his face, for his brow was narrow and retreating.

In his hand he carried a sword, but it was sheathed.

There was no ornament of any kind or description about him, and his compressed lips, with a certain baleful light that came from his eyes, sufficiently indicated that he was on some desperate errand, that probably shook him as much with fear as it elated him with hope.

This was his Royal Highness Prince Frederick, son of the king, and the expectation—if not the hope—of the nation.

A tall portly man followed closely behind him, holding high above his head a silver candlestick, in which burnt a waxlight, the flame of which sent a flickering kind of radiance down upon the head of the prince.

Those who followed him again, in a straggling kind of way, were all evidently men of some note, perhaps with one or two exceptions.

And there was one striking peculiarity in their mode of progress—each seemed striving to be the last.

There never was surely such extreme anxiety on the part of seven or eight persons to give each other precedence.

These people formed what was called "the prince's party."

They were far from being a party in the entertaining sense of the word, but they were the political adherents of Frederick Prince of Wales, and consisted mostly of men of desperate fortunes, who looked for place and power on his accession to the throne.

Sweeping past Captain Markham and Bertha, this strange procession might—but for the more modern character of the costume—have been well mistaken for the phantoms of the long since departed denizens of that ancient royal residence.

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Here and there was a sparkling star, the glittering badge of some order, and the footfalls were light and had about them a certain timidity.

But it was the pale faces which gave the unreal and departed air to the procession.

Onward, with a faint rustling and a suppressed breathing, as though even the large space of that lofty apartment contained insufficient air for them, they swept.

And then there was a pause.

"Hush! Bertha. Hush! There is something taking place here to-night, not one word of which must escape me. Will you lie still and wait for me?"

"Yes."

"On the couch again?"

"Yes."

Another moment, and Captain Markham stood close to the gilt doors of communication between the two apartments.

Some one was speaking in a strange, high, cracked tone of voice.

"It is considered to be necessary for the welfare of the state, and for the progress of morals, religion, and the avoidance of scandal, and likewise for the conservation of the foreign relations of the kingdom, that the abdication of his present Majesty King George the Second should take place, in favour of the heir apparent, Prince Frederick of Wales."

"Treason!" yelled the king.

Then the tall burly man who carried the candle placed it on one of the tables and spoke in thick unctuous accents.

"Your Majesty must be well aware that a gracious and generous retirement from the cares of royalty will be acceptable to the nation."

"Hiss! hiss!" said the king.

"Nay, your Majesty, I speak to you as the head—"

"Bah! bo!" cried the king. "Your head, my lord! Your head, my lord! Your head!"

The burly man stepped back a pace, and something seemed to be wrong with the set of his cravat for a moment, by the uneasy manner in which he moved his neck.

"Your head!" then yelled the king, in furious accents. "Your head, my lord! and all your heads! I know you all! Wretches! thieves! I know you all! All your heads! Treason! Treason! Treason!"

He still fenced in the air with the long slender sword, and every time he cried "Treason!" Norris seemed as if acted upon by some mechanical contrivance, for he disappeared behind the back of the chair on which he crouched, and his head only came up again in the intervals.

Then Prince Frederick, advancing to a small round table, elaborately gilt and painted, dashed the sheathed sword he carried so furiously down upon it that the small piece of furniture was instantly shattered.

Stamping with his foot then, so as to raise a cloud of dust from the long unswept floor, he spoke with spluttering screaming vehemence.

"It has come to this! It has come to this! The nation—the—the state of affairs—the antagonism —the—the necessities of the times—it must be abdication, or—or—that is to say, abdication—or—or death! I mean you may kill me, gentlemen. Kill me—me, if you must kill some one. I am here! Let your swords drink my heart's blood. I am here! I do not call upon you to be my friends—my dear and excellent friends, upon whose heads I will place ducal coronets. No, gentlemen, you are friends of the king. But as I to-night I have heard the word 'kill' from your lips, and seen a lost life gleaming from your eyes, take mine! Kill me! for by my soul I am sick and weary of existence."

"Hash!" cried the king.

"No, no, your Royal Highness," spoke one of the parry, in low sneering accents. "No, no, your Royal Highness. I have a document here, to which his Gracious Majesty will attach his signature."

"And that signature once attached," added another, stopping forward, "vacates the throne."

"A coach," said a third, moving into the line of light—"a coach waits the retiring Majesty of England, who can then be called the Elector of Hanover—a coach which will convey him to Westminster Stairs."

"A boat," said a fourth, as he too stepped forward—"a boat will convey him on board a Dutch galliot lying now in the river, and within twenty-four hours his late Majesty may land at Rotterdam."

Upon face after face of these men the king gazed with fiery eyes.

He had left off fencing with the sword, but he held it straight before him, the point quivering in his nervous grasp.

"Treason! Guard! Treason! No coach! No boat! No ship! No Hanover! No abdication! We can fight, and we can die."

The meagre figure of the king, the old wrinkled wizened face, the cracked wretched tones of the voice—all these things, which spoke of physical and mental degradation, seemed at once to borrow a kind of lustre, a sparkle of dignity, from the courage which surrounded them, and which no one could deny formed an inherent part of the vindictive and sordid nature of George the Second.

He was no coward.

Assassination—murder glared forth from the eyes of those men about him.

He did not honestly think he had five minutes to live.

And with that thought, although perhaps the yellow colour of his face became a little more sickly, it seemed as if he had thrown off some of the weight of years that oppressed him, and gradually the point of the long slender glittering sword became steadier and steadier.

"Parricide!" he yelled, as he caught the eye of the prince. "Parricide!"

Frederick turned instantly.

At that moment it seemed as if the constitutional weakness which made the king's legs so vacillating and capricious had suddenly fallen upon the younger man, for he stumbled and tripped and seemed hardly able to control his movements.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I leave you. His Majesty objects to sign his abdication, and therefore I leave you. You must wait, gentlemen, for your ducal coronets and your broad acres until the regular demise of the crown. Gentlemen, I leave you. His Majesty objects—His Majesty objects."

"No!" cried the prince's followers, as with one voice.

"Make [him] stay! make him stay!" yelled the king. "Make him stay! parricide that he is! Treason! treason! treason!"

Then Captain Weed Markham, who, feeling like some man in a dream, had listened and looked with a shuddering horror upon the scene that was taking place, pressed his hands upon his brow and asked himself the bewildering question, what should he do?

Here was the man who had sought his life.

Here was the man who, by the most insidious and awful means—namely, by poison, under the mask of hospitality and friendship—had endeavoured to hurry him to death.

Here was the arch foe who, he felt, would never rest until he had washed away the very memory of the secret that rested in his (Markham's) breast with his blood.

Here he was, surrounded by bitter implacable foes—foes who had gone so far that it now became a question of the king's life or theirs.

What should he do?

Or, rather, what could he do?

What was his duty?

And that again resolved itself into, what was his power?

There was a strange sound in the room.

It was the concentrated faint clatter of the removal of some half-dozen swords from their scabbards.

Then Norris yelled out in frightened accents from his entrenchment behind the chair—

"No! no! not that! not that! not that! Give him—give him—let him take—that is to say, ask him to take—it will save time—a lozenge—a lozenge."

"Hash!"

Norris dropped immediately before the scathing glance of the king.

"This is puerile," growled the big burly man who had carried the candlestick. "This is puerile. If his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales chooses to step into the next apartment, perhaps, gentlemen, it will be as well, and we can inform his Royal Highness of his succession."

"Yes," cried the prince eagerly. "Yes. I have nothing to say, gentlemen, nothing to do here, since his Majesty refuses to abdicate."

The prince made a great effort and recovered the use of his legs.

With a rush, he sought to make his way into the adjoining room, and ran full against the very breast of Captain Markham.


CHAPTER XIV.

WHERE IS THE BODY?

The young officer had made up his mind. It did not form part of the nobility of his soul to see murder done, even upon the man who had sent him the golden cup of poisoned muscatel.

Fertile in resources, because brave (and the brave are always fertile), Captain Markham in the few brief moments that had clasped since he became fully convinced that the murder of the king was the object aimed at, had made up his mind to probably accomplish all by risking all.

One fleeting moment, and he lightly sprang back to the couch on which lay the young girl who no had no one on earth to look to but to him.

"Forgive me, Bertha, if you find that I desert you, and I will ask your father to forgive me likewise. It may be, or it may not be, that two spirits may be permitted still to watch over you. I am going into danger, and if I fall it will be because honour has called me to my death."

She did not cry out.

There was no scream nor shriek of despair.

But she held up her arms, slender, white, and delicate, in the faint light, and she folded them around Markham for a moment.

"Go," she said.

He did not trust himself to speak again.

His sword flashed from its scabbard, and with six strides he reached the door of communication between the two apartments, and then and there he encountered Prince Frederick, who reeled back with a cry of alarm that could not have been louder and shriller if he had already in cold blood murdered his father, and then and there on the threshold of that room encountered his bleeding apparition.

We must recollect that Captain Markham was in uniform—in full uniform, as a captain of the Guard.

Draggled and soiled, to be sure, besmeared with the rain and the dust of that old house at Westminster.

But there he was in full military panoply, and there was light enough from the fire and the wax candles to show him as what he really was.

He crossed the threshold between the two apartments.

His voice was clear, loud, and resonant.

"Halt!"

He glanced over his shoulder.

"Make ready!"

He still glanced into the outer room.

"Present!"

The king raised a yell.

"Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!"

That was the king.

Captain Markham raised his hand.

"My men, your Majesty, only recognise the voice of their officer."

There was a rush.

A clatter of swords.

Cries, oaths, even shrieks, for each moment the conspirators expected the deadly volley that would have left them maimed and bleeding on the faded tapestry of that old palatial chamber.

"Fire!" yelled the king again.

"Fire!" But still Captain Markham held up his hand.

"Wretches! Beasts! Fire! Curses on you all! Fire! I'll hang you all! Fire! Fire! Hash! Splash! Bash! Fire!"

Norris had left open the secret entrance to that room through which he and the king had reached it.
Blinded and bewildered by terror, the conspirators for a few minutes did not perceive this mode of exit, but when they did they fought with each other at the narrow entrance—fought, tore, bit, scratched, and yelled—for the king still called "Fire!" and then one by one they fell precipitately down the steep flight of steps.

The king rushed from his position against the wall.

He flew to the secret panel.

He flung a china vase through it.

A small reading desk.

One of the silver candlesticks.

And, with frightful yells for further vengeance, he stood by the dark narrow aperture, waving the long slender sword, and almost crimson in the face with passion.

Norris then leant so far forward in his entrenchment that the chair toppled over with him, and he rolled sprawling to the middle of the room.

The king was upon him in a moment.

Here was an object of vengeance that had not escaped him.

"Wretch! Snake! Viper! Toad!"

He seized Norris by the hair.

It was a wig, and came off. The king flung it, as another missile, however innocuous, down the secret staircase.

He seized him by the ears.

They were real and held on.

"Mercy! mercy!" shrieked Norris.

The king released one of his ears, but it was only to get one hand at liberty, and with that he dived into the large flapped waistcoat pocket.

Norris yelled.

The king produced a lozenge.

It was a last resource, and Norris kicked.

The royal legs were a vulnerable point, and Norris escaped.

The king had dropped his sword, and, looking for it, his eyes fell upon Captain Markham, who stood quietly and calmly in an attitude of saluting.

Norris was forgotten.

The king recovered his sword, and, rushing up to Markham, he shook it angrily in his face, as he cried, "Wretch! fiend! traitor! Why did you not let them fire?"


"Because—"

"Because nothing. There is no because. I ordered them to fire. Who am? what am I? Did I not cry 'Fire?' Why did they not fire? Wretch!"

"Because, your Majesty, I am here alone."

The king staggered back until he reached the wall again, and then he began to fence with the air even as he had done when first surprised by the conspirators and that terrible word 'Abdication.'"

"Alone? alone?"

"Yes, your Majesty, I am here alone, and I rejoice that, by a stratagem not altogether unknown in the tactics of war, I have, although alone, scattered your Majesty's enemies and saved your life."

The king slowly lowered the point of his sword until he, too, seemed to be saluting Captain Markham even as the captain was saluting him.

"And—and you did this?"

"I did, your Majesty."

"Alone? Quite alone?"

"Quite alone, more than alone."

"What—what do you mean by that?"


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"I mean, your Majesty, that I have more than my own life at issue on this stake."

"You mean that—that—"

"I mean, your Majesty, that in this chamber behind me there is another life, which without mine were indeed most desolate."

"Another?"

The king at once resumed his attitude against the wall and commenced fencing.

"Yes, your Majesty, a young girl."

"Don't like them—they're artful. Liked them very well twenty years ago, but don't now."

Captain Markham scarcely knew what reply to make to this sweeping denunciation, but as the king again lowered the point of his sword, it was tolerably evident that his fears wove diminishing.

"You are an officer of our Guard?"

"I have that honour."

"We don't know you."

"And yet," replied Markham gravely, and with a touch of sadness in his tone—"and yet it is said to be one of your Majesty's attributes never to forget a face you have once seen."

"But the face must be clear of smoke and smirch."

"True, true. Then I may call myself to the recollection of your Majesty by saying that my name is Markham, and that I was recently engaged at Kew on special service for your Majesty."

"Ah!"

The king retreated again to the wall and again resumed his fencing. "Norris, Norris, reptile, Norris, I say."

The valet slowly emerged from under a table on his hands and knees.

"Look at this man."

"My gracious matter, allow me humbly to approach your royal fort. Oh! what your humblest servant has suffered! but what a gratification it is to him, and will be to his descendants to the remotest generations, to know that he has saved your Majesty by the lucky device of speaking of the lozenges, so as to give Captain Markham time to come. Ahem!"

"Bah!"

"And I congratulate Captain Markham upon coming in time, although if he had not I had other devices. Oh! yes, other devices."

"Bo!"

"And at the last moment I could have said, 'Gentlemen, if you must kill somebody, kill me, but spare his Gracious Majesty—spare the Lord's anointed—spare! spare!—"

The king seized a chair, and, with more strength than it seemed possible for him to possess, he flung it at Norris. 

"Spare! spare! spare the—"

"Silence! We will think of some fitting punishment for you hereafter."

"I leave my reward entirely to your Majesty. I never was covetous, and will share it with Captain Ma[r]kham."

"Silence!"

Norris seemed to think it rather a good thing than otherwise to be somewhat entangled in the chair that had been thrown at him, and there being a sufficient orifice in the open carved hack of it for him to put his head through, he did so, and looked deprecatingly at the king.

There was silence now for some few seconds, during which the king's mouth, as he made several feints, as though he were about to speak, looked like some old dilapidated purse which was difficult to open.

"Captain Ma[r]kham."

"Your Majesty?"

"When you performed that special service at Kew for us we want to know—"

The king paused.

He glanced at Norris, and then slowly dived his hand into one of his waistcoat pockets.

The valet withdrew his head from the orifice in the chair, and immediately disappeared, but it was not a lozenge that George the Second produced on this occasion.

It was a snuff box blazing with jewels.

"We want to know—and, by the bye, Captain Markham, as we fully appreciate your good services, we present you with this."

The king handed the snuff-box to Markham, who received it with a bow.

"We want to know—and, as Heaven forbid that we should be ungrateful, Captain Markham, we present you with this."

The king took from his breast a jewelled badge of a Hanoverian order, and presented it to Markham.

"We want to know—Captain Markham, what—what you did with the body."

Markham started.

"The body, your Majesty?"

"We said the body."

"The body of—of—"

The king glanced at Norris, and then in a low tone answered Captain Markham's implied question by adding—

"The body of the Mystery in Scarlet."

Markham drew a long breath and sighed deeply.

All the terrible events at Kew rushed with full force across his memory—the fearful piece of secret service he had been called upon to perform—the blind sense of duty which had impelled him to its performance—the murder (for it was nothing else) of that Mystery in Scarlet—and those terrible last moments in the garden, when he had received from the now mute lips of the assassinated man the two legacies of danger and of affection.

"You do not answer, Captain Markham. We want to know what you did with the body."

"Nothing."

"Nothing? You say 'Nothing?'"

"Nothing, your Majesty. I left the dead beneath the night sky. Let those who compassed the death ask themselves, not what has become of the body, but where is the accusing spirit that shall one day testify against them before high Heaven."

"Ugh! ugh! ugh! Norris!"

"My gracious master? Oh! how I rejoice, and how unborn generations of Norrises will rejoice—"

"Silence, worm! What did you do with the body?"

"Oh! my royal master, look at these tears. Listen to these trembling accents, my royal master. Ill and faint as I am with the excitement of saving your Majesty's life—"

"Ill and faint?"

"Yes, my gracious master, yes."

"Have a lozenge?"

"No, no, no. I am better—better, much better— and as for the—the body, I think I have already had the distinguished honour of stating, your Gracious Majesty on a former auspicious occasion that I—I couldn't find it."

The king cast down his eyes.

"Captain Markham, do you ask or require anything of us?"

"I do. Heaven! yes, I do. I ask of you, sire, forgetfulness—I ask of you to cease to remember that any secret service was performed by me—I ask of your Majesty to forget that such a person as Captain Weed Markham exists, except in the muster-roll of your Majesty's army—and I ask of you to permit him to pursue his career as a soldier unnoticed, undistinguished, and unknown."

"Would you have us ungrateful?"

"I would fain be forgotten."

"We shall see. We shall see. Stay yet a moment. Let us think. Captain Markham."

"I listen to your Majesty."

"Did the Mystery in Scarlet communicate anything of special interest to you on that night?"

Markham was silent.

"I comprehend. Your silence is sufficient, and moreover it is prudent. We grant your request of forgetfulness, except so far that it shall be our constant effort to advance you in the profession you have chosen. And in the meantime—What is today?"

"Thursday, my gracious liege," interposed Norris.

"Thursday? Ahem! Ah! Captain Markham, you will attend us on Saturday at half-past six o'clock in the afternoon in our private cabinet at St. James's. The ruby ring which I perceive on your finger will be a sufficient credential. The page of the back stairs in the Ambassador's Court will pass you to our private cabinet. Fear nothing, and hope all things."

"That I fear nothing, your Majesty, should be and is but part of my character and qualification as an officer of your Majesty's Guard."

The king slightly inclined his head, and then, as if communing with himself, he muttered—

"Yes; to Buckingham House. They won't expect me there. To Buckingham House. It will be safer. But how to leave this place? To be sure. To be sure. I will take his escort. Captain Markham!"

"Your Majesty?"

"You will accompany us."

"Pardon me, your Majesty, I cannot. I have already said that I forsook a sacred duty to interpose between your Majesty and danger. That danger seems to have passed away, and I trust your Majesty will permit me to return to the duty I forsook."

"You spoke of a girl?"

"I did, your Majesty. I cannot leave her."

"Pho! pho! Is she more child than woman, or more woman than child?"

"She is— But it matters not. I cannot leave her."

"No, Markham," said Bertha, as she suddenly stepped forward, and twined both her arms round one of Markham's. "No, you will never leave me until you place me on my father's breast."

"Kneel! kneel!" cried Norris. "Young person, kneel! It is Gracious Majesty into whose presence you have intruded. Kneel, young person, kneel!"

Bertha looked at Norris rather as though he were some natural curiosity than a human being, but she gave not the slightest intimation of complying with the order to kneel.

"I will not leave you, Bertha."

"I know you will not, Markham."

The king pointed at her, and spoke in a low tone.

"She is—who?"

And now Markham asked himself if he dared say that Bertha was the child and representative of that Mystery in Scarlet whose virtual murderer stood before her in the person of the king.

"She is one," he said, "whom I love, and whom I will protect while life belongs to me."

"Norris," cried the king, "come. We will leave by the painted gallery. My cloak, my roquelaire, Norris! Quick! quick!"

Markham saluted the king as he passed him.

"Who is it?" whispered Bertha.

"The king."

"The king? The king?"

She followed him with her eyes as he moved slowly away, and then she shuddered.

"And that is the king? I seem to see him, Markham, through a mist—a ruddy mist, like fire, or—or blood. So that is the king?"


CHAPTER XV.

HOOPS AND PATCHES.

The Mall of St. James's Park is crowded.

Hoops are in fashion—not the crinoline of the present day, but real substantial hoops, forming an article of dress, if the word can be used with propriety, which surrounded every lady with a palpable barricade, examples of which may be seen in some of Hogarth's pictures.

And powdered hair was all the rage, for the queen had turned prematurely grey.

To be sure, there was a kind of club or society of young ladies who went by the name of the "Eccentrics," and who wore their own hair as Nature had kindly bestowed it upon them.

Patches—or beauty-spots, as they were called—were still in great use, for the Hanoverian dynasty was not remarkable for clearness of complexion, and apt to be—to use a common expression—pimply.

How beautiful the Mall looked!

The trees that now adorn it (and they do so even, dusty and deficient of their full luxuriance as they are) were but the young saplings of that time, planted in between others to fill up deficiencies.

The air of London, likewise, a century and a quarter ago was more favourable to vegetation.

We had no gas, and the great city was not a fourth of its present dimensions.

There was a peculiar brilliance of atmosphere on this morning, when we are taking our readers into the Mall of St. James's.

That was doubtless due to the recent squally character of the weather.

Continuous gales of wind had carried their invisible influence into every court and alley, every nook and cranny of London.

The dashing shower had washed away from the trees their coating of dust and soot.

The very sparrows looked fresh washed and full of life and smartness for the occasion.

And such a turn-out as there was in the Mall—such a crush of sedan-chairs—such a rustling of silk—such a Babel of voices—such a scattering of perfumes, sparkling of diamonds, waving of leathers and flirting of fans—as scarcely ever seen all at once, even in that half-mile of frivolity and fashion.

Crowds at the period of our story wore far more picturesque than they are at present, from the fact of almost every class of people—naval, military, ecclesiastical, or physical (as Lady Tantram, in the comedy, calls them) —being dressed in their own peculiar costume.

Swords were still worn by gentlemen, and altogether the scene was one most curious and interesting.

"Ah! General Bellair, I hope I see you quite well."

"Quite well, Sir Robert. Upon my life, we all look young again this morning, after the squally weather."

Sir Robert Walpole laughed.

"Are you fishing for a compliment, General Bellair?"

"Oh! no, no."

"Because I was going to tell you won't get it while your daughter Agnes is in the Mall."

"You are too good, Sir Robert, to my little girl."

"Not at all—not at all. My Lord Bute , I am rejoiced to see you."

"Did you hear, general," asked Lord Bute—"did you hear, general, that in the squall the flagstaff at Windsor Castle was blown down, and that exactly at twelve o'clock—almost indeed before St. James' had ceased striking—there came a furious gust of wind into the Colour Court of the Palace and demolished the royal standard before any of the guard could fly to the rescue?"

"Nonsense! nonsense!" laughed Sir Robert Walpole.

"Oh! but I had it from the Marquis of Charlton. Here, marquis! marquis!'"

"At your service, my lord."

"Were you not, now, on duty during the squall at the palace, and was not the royal standard blown down?"

"I certainly was on duty, and the standard was certainly damaged; but can tell you, gentlemen, that something much more remarkable than that happened."

"What? What?"

"I am not superstitious, but I can assure you—

"Make way, there! Make way! Now, gentlemen, make way! It isn't exactly courtesy to bar the way of the prettiest girl in all London, much us we would wish to detain her."


p. 68


"Who is that?" asked Sir Robert Walpole. "Who are you speaking of, Viscount Fitz-Simmons?"

"Why, here comes the Lady Agnes Bellair in her chair, and her celebrated sky-blue sac, that nobody can match the colour of, from some strange cause or another."

"The cause," said Sir Robert Walpole, "is quite clear."

"What is it?"

"The blue sac borrows a radiance, a lustre, and a colour from Lady Agnes Bellair's eyes, and as nobody else has those eyes, ergo nobody else has the sac."

"Gentlemen all," said the Marquis of Charlton, while a slight flush of colour came to his face, "I have the honour of saying that I hope before long to present to the fashionable world the loveliest of marchionesses."

"Oh! oh! Charlton! So you are to be the happy man, are you?"

All the gentlemen bowed to Lady Agnes Bellair, and, ordering her sedan-chair to stop, she distributed her smiles and glances in brilliant profusion about her.

"Why, Charlton," whispered Sir Robert, "she seems to take less notice of you than of anybody else."

"She is sure of me."

"Oh! that's it, is it?"

"Exactly, Sir Robert."

"I am quite sure," cried Lady Agnes, who belonged to the Eccentrics, and therefore was able to shake her pretty natural curls in everybody's face—"I am quite sure I heard something about superstition and a story to tell. Is it anything dreadful?"

"Oh! too dreadful," said the Marquis of Charlton.

"Oh! you tiresome man, is it you?"

"Agnes!"

"Eh?"

"Really, Agnes—"

"Now, don't—now, don't. You are stopping up all the window of the chair, and I am suffocated. Go away, do! There now, stand behind, or on the other side, or something."

The marquis bit his lips.

Sir Robert Walpole nudged him and laughed.

"Never mind, Charlton, she's sure of you, you know."

"Yes, but I don't like exactly—"

"What is it you don't like, you ugly man?"

"He means," said Sir Robert, "that it is impossible to like anything but yourself in the presence of your peerless beauty."

"Well, that would not be so bad if he had said it, but if he has got anything dreadful to tell, I suppose I must listen to him. Now, disagreeable, begin. What is it?"

"Agnes!"

"Don't call me Agnes. You put me in mind always of the 'Bleeding Nun.' Is it a ghost story?"

"Well, I should say I rather think it is. At all events, it puzzles and confounds me."

"Oh! that's nothing. That's ever so easy, you know. But, however, we'll hear it. So go on at once. Does it begin with 'Once upon a time?' Let's have it at once. Here I have my handkerchief in one hand, and my vinaigrette in the other."

(To be continued in our next.)



Published @ COVE

August 2021