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 XIX.

WHITEHALL AFTER MIDNIGHT.

Captain Markham shaded the candle-light with his hand—shaded it like some connoisseur intent upon the critical examination of a picture by artificial light.

And then there was that creeping sensation about his heart as though the circulation were becoming precarious and eccentric, and vitality were on the flutter to be gone, combined with a cold feeling about the roots of his hair, as though some chilling wind had blown across the upper part of his head.

But Captain Markham was a brave man.

He had not merely that physical bravery which will rush through fire and smoke, a flag in one hand and an ensanguined sword in the other, but he had the quiet silent courage which is of so much higher a quality.

And so, after his heart's beatings had prevaricated a little with their normal condition, and after he had felt his cheeks pale and that cool dampness about the roots of his hair, he gradually obtained control over himself, and would not be afraid.

He still shaded the light, and still kept his eyes fixed on the figure.

And then the light went out.

That was quite a phenomenon to Markham at the moment, although he found out afterwards that nothing could be more natural, for the candle was exhausted, and the last remains of the wick had dropped and become extinguished in a pool of molten wax.

There had been but a dim kind of twilight in the large apartment, and now there would have been absolute darkness but that the door of communication between the two rooms being partially open, there came from the firelight upon the hearth fitful flashes of light.

Confusing, on account of their intermittent character, they yet scattered the darkness, as now and then, when some little blue flame hovered over the nearly burnt-out wood, like a will-o'-the-wisp, there would come a brighter effulgence through the partially open door way, gleaming and glittering upon the old faded gilding of the walls and ceiling, and lighting up with a transient beauty the faded magnificence of the place.

And now Captain Markham, if he had been asked his opinion as to whether the ghostly appearance had seemed to be aware of or to regard his presence in any way, would have said no.

The candle had gone out so quickly, and the distance was so considerable to where the strange appearance had first shown itself, that, although he could not have come to any accurate conclusion on that subject, Markham would have been decidedly of [the] opinion that the apparition had taken no notice of him.

Moreover, the light, while it existed, was before him.

Weak and inefficient as that light was in the large space, it is doubtful if the kind of halo it cast about it did not entirely absorb and confuse Markham's outline.

But now that he was in semi-darkness—now that he had only those occasional fitful flashes of light from the other room to guide his eyes—he slowly placed the candlestick upon the table before him and crouched down so low behind it that he could only just look across its surface, keeping his observation upon the misty figure in the distance.

There seemed a long pause.

It was a straining of the eyes to pierce the gloom of that large antique chamber.

More than once Captain Markham thought that the figure at its further extremity was slowly disappearing, blending itself, as it were, with the surrounding shadows, and that he should see it no more.

When this effect ensued Captain Markham would close his eyes for a few seconds, and upon again opening them he would see the figure again, as though it had gathered its shadowy corporeality once more out of the darkness, forming its own outline out of the mist and the obscurity of the night air, and startling Markham by its resemblance to the human Mystery in Scarlet.

The figure was advancing.

He was quite sure of that.

Slowly advancing.

One of those fitful gleams of the Will-o'-the-wisp light from the fire in the next room suddenly, for a period during which you might have counted four, and no more, flung a brightness into the air, and Captain Markham crouched lower still, for the figure was within a dozen paces of him.

There could be no mistake now.

Either his eyes were—like Macbeth's when he thought he saw the air-drawn dagger

The fools of his other senses,

Or else worth all the rest.

There was the scarlet coat.

There was the pale face he had seen in the moonlight in Kew Gardens.

And spread with a tight pressure apparently over the left breast, a little above the heart, was one of the hands.

So minute was Captain Markham's capacity of investigation at that moment that he saw on one of the fingers the glitter of a ring containing some gem of value, and it seemed to him as though he could at some future opportunity recognise even its golden setting.

There was a confused wavy kind of movement on the part of the figure, as though it proceeded with difficulty.

And Captain Markham's imagination deceived him, or else there was a low moaning sound accompanying that devious movement, as though some one were suppressing the outward expression of intense agony.

Then the creeping horror came again over Markham, for the apparition (if apparition it was) came closer still.

It was an exquisite relief that it swept past the table, taking no notice whatever of Markham, who crouched behind it, and made slowly for the door of communication between the two rooms.

And now the observations of Markham became more confused, for those flickering little jets of flame that had come from the fire were the last, and the dull


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red embers fell together in a mass that sent forth but little light.

For a few moments only the dim moving figure seemed framed in the doorway, so to speak, and then it was gone.

But it had only passed into the next room—that room in which Bertha lay sleeping—that room in which she might awaken at any moment and receive a shock that might drive her young imagination to madness.

Captain Markham slowly rose from his crouching position.

He must follow the apparition.

He must keep upon its track and discover its purposes.

He must stand by Bertha, should there be any intention on the part of that shadowy form to bend over her, even with the exquisite sorrow of a departed spirit, who might not perhaps be able to appreciate the terror which its presence or its contact might inspire.

And Captain Markham, who had no faith whatever in the supernatural, found himself reasoning in this strange way, as though the existence of the shadowy immaterialisms of another world was a common everyday experience.

He trod lightly, he scarcely stirred the air with his breath, and he flung his damp hair far back from his brow as he followed the figure.

He had never lost sight of it for an instant.

Shadowy or more shadowy—distinct or more distinct— from the first moment that he had collected it out of the darkness into his eyes he had never lost observation of it.

What was it about to do?

Does it approach the couch on which Bertha breathes so softly and is sleeping so serenely?

Yes, it would appear so.

Markham quickens his pace.

Wore all the shadows, all the apparitions that another world could furnish to float before his path now, he would still nerve himself to stand by that young girl with what mortal force he might and assure her of his protection.

No.

The figure turns aside when near the couch, even as it had done when near the table under cover of which Markham had so silently observed it.

And now it pauses, turning slowly round, and again Markham thought he heard in the still air the low moaning sound that had before attracted his attention.

There is something in the apartment that seems to distress or perplex the vision.

But this lasts only for a few seconds.

Then it glides onward towards the windows.

And Markham recollects that the cabinet which had been so carefully examined by Norris at the command of the king no more occupied its ancient place in the room, for Markham himself had drawn it over the mirrored panel which opened on the secret staircase, as a further protection against intrusion.

There could be no doubt now that, very dim and obscure as everything was in the room, the shadowy figure had recognised the cabinet in its new position.

It moved onward.

Markham laid one hand on the back of the couch where Bertha was sleeping, and strained his eyes to watch the actions of the apparition.

There was a slight sound.

Markham could not exactly detect what it was.

He thought that it arose from something falling on the floor—something sharp, angular, and hard—but the sound of which was deadened, owing to the interposition of the faded tapestry carpet between it and the actual floor.

That sound was repeated several times.

And then Captain Markham began again to close his eyes at short intervals, in order to overcome the fatigue which they endured by gazing into darkness so intensely.

The faint dull red glow from the fire was fading away as the embers resolved themselves into grey ash.

Walls, floor, ceiling, furniture, all began to mingle together into one cloudy chaotic mass.

But still Markham saw the apparition.

Still he saw the scarlet coat.

Still the pale face.

But it was receding.

Passing away toward the upper end of the room, where there certainly was no egress for anything mortal. And then a yearning desire seized upon Markham to address his ghostly visitant.

It must have some errand there which, if anything human had the courage to inquire, might possibly be explained.

Who had so great a right as he to put the question to a supernatural visitant?

Was he not the protector, the friend, the loving guardian of the one creature for which that poor Mystery in Scarlet appeared to have lived and toiled?

The figure was fading away in the distance.

But Markham could not, would not, let it pass from before his sight.

Once, twice, thrice he tried to speak, but there seemed to be a kind of spell upon his utterance which denied him the power to do so.

By a great effort then he released his senses and his voice from the paralysis of terror that had enchained them.

"Speak!" he cried. "Declare your errand! Speak, and if it be possible for mortal ears to take in accents from another world than this, I will listen. Speak, I conjure you—I, who innocently was one of the instruments of your murder— I, who seek to atone even for that act by a lifelong devotion to your child. Speak! I charge you speak!

Captain Markham dashed forward as he uttered these words.

He reached the further extremity of the room.

He even struck himself against the piled-up furniture that he had placed against the only door there visible.

But the apparition was gone—vanished—resolved into the air, and left not a rack behind!

The sound of Markham's voice evidently mingled with the dreams of Bertha, or most probably produced at once a disturbed slumber that induced dreaming.

She moved uneasily.

She flung one of her slender arms across her face.

She uttered the word "Father!" and then "Markham!"

And then she awakened.

"Help me! oh! help me! It is fire."

Her first glance had fallen upon the decaying embers on the hearth, and her recollection no doubt flew back to the burning house at Westminster.

Captain Markham heard her cry out, and was by her side in a moment.

"Fear nothing, Bertha, fear nothing. I am here. There is no danger."

"Oh! save me! save me!"

"Hush! Bertha, hush! You are not awake. Open your eyes and look at me. There is light enough.

There, Ï stir the embers with my foot, and they brighten into a red glow again. You are safe— quite safe. Do not tremble, but look at me and assure yourself that I am here."

She partially raised herself, and, flinging her arms about him, she sobbed upon his breast.

"It was a dream, then—it was a dream."

"Surely a dream, Bertha, if anything alarmed you."

"Have I slept long?"

"Perhaps an hour or more."

"Was no one here?—no one but you?"

Markham hesitated я few moments, and then he said slowly and in low tones—

"There has been no living being near you but myself, Bertha."

"Then it was a dream—a dream in which I thought I saw my father."

"How? when? where?"

"I do not know. It was as though I saw him in a mist, and when I stretched my arms towards him he seemed to go far, far away from me; and when I no longer besought him to let me fling my arms about him he came nearer, nearer still; and so I was full of grief until I awakened."

"Be calm now, be calm. You see it was but a dream. Shall I pile more wood upon the fire? for you tremble."

"No, no, I am not cold; but my poor heart is shaken, and not all the warmth of all the fires that ever were or may be will bring back its lost peace, its lost joy, and its lost affection."

"Hush! Bertha, hush! You must not speak so. Be still and be calm. There, I will break up another of these royal old chairs, and we will have a cheerful blaze. Turn your eyes from it, and they will not be vexed by the glitter."

 "I will."

 "There now, all is well again. Sleep, dear sister Bertha, sleep, and I will watch the while."

"Kiss me, Markham."

"Say 'Brother Markham.'"

She spoke again.

"Kiss me, Markham."

But the word "brother" came not from her lips, and he would not vex her by a repetition of it.

Gently and tenderly he kissed the fair young cheek, and then her arms slowly relaxed their hold of him, and she slept again.


CHAPTER XX.

A MATRIMONIAL COMPACT.

The Dowager Lady Grumpsch was mistress of the maids, or, in other words, she was the confidential lady in waiting on the queen, and acted as duenna over the maids of honour, and made herself generally disagreeable to those young ladies.

She was of German extraction, as a matter of course, and her principal duties certainly were to fill the queen's snuff-box and to insinuate doubts regarding the minor morals of the maids of honour in particular, and everybody else in general.

"Lady Agnes Bellair, you will confine yourself to von room, where you shall reflect upon badness which is to you all way."

With this speech Lady Grumpsch took a powerful pinch of snuff and left Agnes to her reflection.

The first thing Agnes then did was to cry, and it did her a world of good, for she laughed immediately afterwards, and looked out of the window into the palace garden as if nothing in the world was the matter.

Half an hour passed quickly enough, but the next was somewhat slow, and then Agnes saw one of the royal pages crossing the garden, closely followed by her father, General Bellair.

Before these two had proceeded far they encountered the Marquis of Charlton, and after some conversation between the three the page bowed and retired.

The general and the marquis, in apparently serious conversation, were lost to the sight of Agnes round one of the angles of the palace.

Then the young girl communed with herself.

She pouted her lips.

She patted the floor with her foot.

"No!" she said, "no! I will not have him. I won't have any one, because I don't love—that is to say, nobody loves me."

There was a heightened colour upon Agnes's cheek as she spoke, and certainly the construction of her last sentence was somewhat ambiguous.

"Oh! it is cruel," she cried, "it is cruel! What has Frank done that he should be so treated? He is generous, and kind, and feeling, and brave, and yet my father acts and speaks towards him as though he were as bad as he is good. And he is good— I say he is good."

Agnes looked around her defiantly, but; there was no one there to dispute with her, and she cried out again, not much heeding the connected character of her ruminations—

"I won't have him, because I don't love him, and that's enough. I don't care if he were twenty marquises. I don't want to be a marquis—I mean а marchioness. I won't have him. There!"

The "There!" seemed to apply to the throwing out of window a very harmless-looking bouquet that lay upon the wide sill.

"No, I won't have him. I don't mean ever to have anybody that I don't love, and as—as nobody loves me, I won't have any one. Oh!"

The "Oh!" applied to the sudden appearance of Lady Grumpsch.

"You shall come downstairs with all badness to von fader."

Now Agnes Bellair understood the English of Lady Grumpsch tolerably well, and therefore she translated this speech to mean that, with all her sins upon her head, much as they were, she was to go downstairs for an interview with her father, the general.

"In von salon reception," added Lady Grumpsch, "with wilful badness. Come."

Agnes pretended to sneeze.

This was always a great offence to Lady Grumpsch, since she knew it was a kind of stock joke among the maids of honour to say that the atmosphere around her was so impregnated with snuff that it was impossible to avoid sneezing.

Indeed, on special occasions, when Lady Grumpsch had thought proper to assemble the whole of the queen's maids of honour for some maledictory speech or particular charge of levity, those young ladies as a body received the admonition with such repeated sneezes that Lady Grumpsch was fain to beat a retreat, being sneezed out of the field, in a manner of speaking;

"Vy you do dat?"

"I can't help it."

"Vy you can't help, ingrate?"

"It is snuff."

"Yah! bah! I shall tell von Majesty to you pack."

"I can't help it, Lady Grumpsch, but I should like to know before I go if it is time, what Lady Diana Kerr says, that you come from a place called Snuffenough."

"Yah! bah! I shall tell von Majesty, too, vat you call persecute, prosecute, and execute, and pack off. Yah!"

Agnes sneezed again.

In great wrath Lady Grumpsch preceded her down a staircase covered with scarlet cloth, and then, crossing a corridor, she tapped at a gilt door, which was immediately opened by a page.

Agnes shrank back a moment, for she knew that the door led to the private apartments of the king, and in shrinking back she trod rather heavily on the toes of Lady Grumpsch, who thereupon dealt her a blow on the back with the only missile she had at hand—namely, her snuff-box.

"You shall on go, minx and ugly badness."

"No, no."

 "Agnes."

It was her father's voice, and the next moment General Bellair appeared on the threshold of the room.

"Come here, Agnes. I want to speak to you."

"Are you alone, father?"

"Of course, of course. Come in. Thank you, Lady Grumpsch. I have the honour to be your most obedient servant."

"Yah! I leave you with badness most insolent, and I have von honour to be—"

Lady Grumpsch executed an elaborate curtsey in reply to the general's how, and then, suspecting a sneeze, from a glance at Agnes' s face, she darted from the door in rather an undignified manner.

"Come in, I say, Agnes, and sit down. I want to speak to you."

"Yes, father."

"You are an obstinate and wilful girl."

"Yes, father."


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"Do not speak to me in that way. If your mother were alive—

"Stop, father!" cried Agnes, holding up her hand.

"Remember you are never to speak to me of my mother. Her memory is not with you, and her name does not become—"

Agnes paused before she uttered the next two words, and turned completely from her father towards the window.

"Your lips," then she said.

"Hush! Agnes, hush! This is childish. Sit down, I say, and listen to me. I wish to speak of your brother."

"Ah! yes, of him. Let him look in your face, father. Is there regret for the past and gentleness for the future? Tell me—tell me now—what has Frank done that you should hate him?"

"He has been wild, dissolute—"

"But not wicked. Oh! father, these are lamentable things, but I have heard men laugh at them, and call them sins of youth, and indiscretions; and it seems so strange to me that the only heart in all the world that has grown cold and hard to poor Frank on account of them is that of his own father."

"Pho! pho! girl! Pho! pho! You know not what you say."

Agnes felt very much inclined to cry after this speech, but she restrained the impulse, and only clasped her hands very tight as General Bellair paced the room to and fro with long strides.

"Hark you, Agnes. The king—"

"The who?"

"The king, I say, takes a kindly interest in our fortunes. He promises me a barony, and the Marquis of Charlton the command of the Light Horse as soon as it becomes vacant. A most gracious king! A most gracious king!"

"But what has that to do with Frank, father?"

"You shall hear. You shall hear."

"Yes, yes."

"Look at me, Agnes. Have you not been shilly-shallying with the Marquis of Charlton, laughing at him, answering his most serious words by witticisms, keeping him at a distance with raillery and laughter?"

"What then, father?"

"Why, then, it must not be, and, in a word I tell you, Agnes, that the gracious intentions of the king and my pardon of and reconciliation with Frank all depend upon your immediate formal consent to become Marchioness of Charlton."

"No, no, no! Oh! no, no!"

Agnes clasped her hands upon her face, and rocked to and fro in grief.

"No, no, no, no."

"But I say yes. Are you mad, girl, that you stand in — in your own light, and my light, and Frank's light? What is there to object to? You cannot—dare not tell me that any popinjay of the court has crept into what you girls call your affections?"

"No, no."

"Then what is it?"

"Father, it is surely necessary that I should —should—"

"Should what, girl? What?"

"Love the man whom I marry."

"Stuff! romance! Here is a young man, noble, accomplished, brave, and in fayour with his sovereign. What on earth more would you have? And yet you hesitate. This is your love for your brother. I have been dinned—stunned by your entreaties on his behalf, and now I show you a mode by which we all become serene, contented, and happy together, and I get nothing from you but "'No, no, no.'"

"Father, is it necessary that you should sacrifice your daughter in order no longer to sacrifice your son?"

"Very well, very well. One word more, Agnes. We are all of us on the brink of ruin. My estates are passing from me into the hands of the money-lenders— there will be a reward of a couple of hundred pounds offered for the apprehension of Frank —the young officer who took your part in the park to-day so imprudently will be cashiered and ruined— while you—you—"

"Father! father! Spare me! Spare me!"

"I have done, Agnes, I have done. You make your election. Poverty, exile, ruin, despair, and death to Frank, for there is a charge against him of stopping the Duke of Bolton in Bloomsbury Fields and robbing him of his star and other valuables. I tell you this that you may know all, and now I will call Lady Grumpsch, and you may retire again."

"No, father, no. One moment. Oh! wait one moment! How is it that marriage with the Marquis of Charlton is to condone all those offences, and so to alter the whole tenor and aspect of our lives? How is it? Why is it, father?"

"Because—"

"Because," added another and sharper and more cracked voice, "because it will be his Majesty's pleasure."

Agnes started to her feet, and then sank into one of those low curtseys which were the fashion of the time, as the king suddenly stepped into the apartment from an adjoining room, the door of communication with which had been slightly open during the whole of this agitating interview.

Sir Thomas Bellair bowed almost to the buckles of his shoes.

"Yes," added the king, as he snapped his finger and thumb together in a very undignified manner,
"yes, it will be our pleasure, our special pleasure, and we are quite sure that General Bellair in command of our forces now quartered in London will do his duty."

The look that the king shot into the eyes of Sir Thomas Bellair was a something to think about. The general took refuge from it in another bow; but he was as pale as death.

"Now, young lady," added the king, "we receive your full and free consent to these little arrangements, ratified by our royal presence. General, we shall expect you at—at eight o'clock. Say eight o'clock. Norris."

"My gracious liege."

"Open."

Norris, who had answered from the inner chamber, flung the door open and dropped on his knees by the side of it.

"Ha! ha!" chuckled the king. "Snared at last. Snared at last. Ha! ha!"

"Agnes, you hear?"

"Oh! what will save me?"

"It is you who are to save us—all of us. Say but one word, tell me that you consent, and to-morrow Frank shall be by your side free and happy."

"I must. My heart cries no. Conscience, love, hope, all cry no. But I do consent. Perhaps, oh! perhaps he does not know how much I love him. He may forget me. No, no, not that—not that—not that."

Agnes sobbed ns though her heart would break.

"She consents," cried the general.

"She consents," said a voice from the inner room.


CHAPTER XXI.

HEART WHOLE AND HEART STRICKEN.

In five minutes more Agnes Bellair was in her own room again, for solitude was now more agreeable to her than society, and notwithstanding she was informed that it was no longer necessary for her to consider herself under arrest, she remained sad and solitary, resting her fair head upon her hands, and looking from the past to a dim future, which was all perplexity, all terror.

But what could she do now?

The die was cast—the election made.

The living sacrifice was wreathed for the altar.

It was not without a struggle, it could not be without a struggle, for one so fair, so young, standing upon the threshold of that existence which looks at the entrance of its many paths so full of flowers and sunshine, should be able without a struggle to reconcile herself to so much self-abnegation.

No wonder there were tears.

No wonder there were sobs and almost shrieks of despair.

This was the first storm that had passed over the heart of Agnes Bellair.

Of course we see that she loves—loves deeply, fondly, devotedly.

Negatively she has declared as much, for although she has several times uttered the lament that no one loved her, she has never yet ventured to say that she loved no one.

And now she moaned and murmured to herself—

"Perhaps he never thought of me—perhaps he never even saw me with that real seeing which is observing likewise sufficiently to remember me if he should look upon my face again. Let me think of the time, the place, and the hour he was here—here in the old palace, at the court ball on the queen's birthday—here, as captain of the Guard, on duty. And who looked so noble, so handsome as he? I know not if it be so, but they say affection is a something pre-arranged in heaven, and that, whether in a wilderness or amid the most crowded haunts of humanity, we never can doubt when we meet the one object that enchains the heart for over and for ever. He spoke to me. Oh! yes, he spoke to me. I can hear his voice now (there are some echoes that never depart), and he looked into my eyes as though he loved me, or might have loved me. Oh! this is folly! this is folly! Shame, Agnes, shame, to speak of love and a man who has never yet declared for you a moment's preference. But he did look as if he loved me. There was a gentle candour in his voice, a subdued sweetness in his tones, and, as for seeking me, he cannot seek me. How is he to seek me? He is too gentle, too noble, to be bold and forward, even if—if he should love me. And now what will become of me? So lost! so lost! Markham! Markham! Markham! I do love you. Hush!"

Agnes Bellair cried "Hush!" as though she wished to still and subdue the faintest whispered echo of the name she had pronounced.

And there was a faint flush of confusion and shame upon her face as she shrank from making even the air around her a confidant of her heart's dearest secret.

Then there was a light tap at the chamber door.

Agnes made a violent effort to look composed.

No doubt it was Lady Grumpsch again, with some order or remonstrance special and disagreeable in its character.

No. The young face that looked in at the door is almost as fair as Agnes Bellair's.

"Agnes."

"Lucy Kerr, Lucy Kerr, come in."

"Why, what is the matter, Agnes?"

"Everything."

"How very comprehensive, to be sure! Why you have been crying ever so. But that is nothing. I sometimes begin to cry in the morning and never leave off till night, except for my meals."

"Lucy! Lucy!"

"Agnes! Agnes!"

"I do think you love me."

"Of course I do. It is the only resource at present, for I can truly say that there is not a single one of the other sort who has yet laid a feather's weight upon the heart of Lucy Kerr."

"Oh! happy Lucy! happy Lucy!"

"Which means—"

"No, no; it means nothing but that you are so far happier than I that—that—

"Just so. That you have tumbled in."

"Tumbled in? What do you mean, Lucy?"

"Why, in love, to be sure. Have I not been two years a maid of honour? and was I not eighteen years old last month? And so is it possible that I could mistake the symptoms with such extended experiences? I have known at least fifty maids of honour in love, and they all cried and shut themselves up in rooms by themselves, and tumbled their hair, and made their noses red, and—"

"Lucy, Lucy, this is unkind of you. What is it the man says in the play? Romeo, I mean."

"A great deal of nonsense, I dare say."

"Perhaps, Lucy, but there is one line of sound and good sense."

"Let's have it."

"It is this—

He jests at scars who never felt a wound."

Lucy Kerr half shut her pretty eyes and pretended to look up at the ceiling in a brown study for a few moments.

"Oh! I understand. You mean that when I am in love myself I shall feel very different, and become as serious as Lady Grumpsch. But come now, Agnes, joking apart who is it? What has he done? What has he said? And what have you done and what have you said? And what is the trouble about? Is it parents, or guardians, arrivals, or settlements, or doubts or fears, or what? Or are there two of them, as in the case of Arabella Bolton, who had to make up her mind at last by getting some one to hold two straws, a long one and a short one, and then—"

"Lucy, Lucy, it is none of these things. I dare not tell you."

"Why not?"

"Because—because I had better not."

"Oh! there's no doubt about that, but next thing to falling in love I've always heard is the necessity of pouring the tender grief into some sympathetic ear.

"Oh! dear me!"

"Lucy, you go on so that I cannot speak to you. And yet—and yet I know that you are kind-hearted and true, and I would fain rest upon your better judgment, for I am very very unhappy."

"Poor creature!"

"Lucy, if you speak to me in that tone[,] leave me. It is indeed no sentimental distress that brings these tears to my eyes."

"Indeed, Agnes? Then, in Cupid's name, tell me all about it, and if I can help you you know I will. There! I'll lock the door. The queen is asleep and won't want you or me for ever so long; Lady Grumpsch is in the chaplain's closet testing some strong waters just imported from Holland; so we have time before us. Now, Lucy, now."

"I have consented to marry the Marquis of Charlton."

Lucy screwed up her mouth, and made as much of a grimace as her pretty face was capable of.

"But I do not love him."

"Did you ever?"

"No."

"That complicates it a little, because I believe when ever we make up our minds to the irrevocable step of matrimony we always begin to doubt if we love the he."

"You mistake me, Lucy, you mistake me. If I had been asked this morning concerning the possibility of my ever consenting to marry the Marquis of Charlton[,] I should have laughed the idea to scorn."

"But now?"

"Now I have consented. You know that my brother Frank has been on dreadfully bad terms with his father, and it appears that he has committed some indiscretion which they say endangers his very life. My father likewise states to me that, what with one embarrassment and another, his fortune is all entangled, if not lost."

"Well? Is that any reason?"

"You shall hear. It is proposed to me to marry the Marquis of Charlton, in order to remedy all this, and if I do the king will pardon Frank, give my father a barony and a lucrative appointment, a reconciliation will take place between the father and the son, and every one will be happy and contented but—"

"But you, Agnes? It's a beautiful arrangement[.] Who proposed it?"


p. 100


"My father."

"Oh!"

"And the king."

"The king?"

"At least he ratified it by his presence, and he seemed to rejoice over my consent."

"And what does your brother say?"

"I fancy he knows nothing of it."

"Just so. And what did the Marquis of Charlton say?"

"He was not there. I have not seen him."

"Ah!"

"Why, what are you doing, Lucy? You keep on tying your curls into knots and dragging them out again in the most extraordinary way."

"I was thinking. I must do something while I'm thinking. Here are four men—the king. General Bellair, the Marquis of Charlton, and your brother Frank. Two of them propose a certain arrangement. Now the other two, not being present, have nothing to do with it; so if I were you I would call another meeting of the whole lot. But no! Stop a bit! There is a fifth party."

"No, no, Lucy."

"Yes, yes, Agnes."

"I declare—

"Don't! A declaration with so red a face at the same time counts for nothing. Come, Agnes, if I am to be your counsel in this case, or your physician—no, not your physician, for that puts me in mind of something nasty to take—but I mean your counsel—if I am to be that, I must know all. Come, now, in the evidence you are to give to this court you are to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Who is the fifth party?"

"Nobody. He never spoke to me on such a subject."

"I should think not. I wouldn't have nobody for a lover on any account. But now, Agnes, who is Nobody?"

"Well, Lucy, you will see, and you will admit that there can be no harm in having a preference."

"Not the least, my dear. There are many innocent and harmless forms of idiotcy.”

"Lucy Kerr! No one can be accused of want of sense, or want of discrimination, who should admire, and—and—that is to say, who should admire Captain Markham, of the Guards."

"Hurrah!" cried Lucy. "Hurrah! Three cheers! as the wretches cry when they are drinking too much. Hurrah!"

A sharp rapping came at the chamber door, and it was so imperative and continued that Lucy Kerr turned the key in the lock and opened the door at once.

Lady Grumpsch darted an angry and inquiring glance round the room.

"Von voice cried 'Hurrah!' Who is here in von hiding? I heard von voice come to mine ear through von keyhole."

"Oh! Lady Grumpsch," said Lucy Kerr, "you have much to answer for."

"Vat you say?"

"The poor young man!"

"Vat?"

"The only way of escaping you was to jump out of the window. It's forty feet at least to the garden below, and he went smash!"

"Yah!"

Lady Grumpsch flourished her snuff-box.

"You call that von joke. I see von window. He is shut. Ha! ha! yah! I report you to a gracious Majesty, Lucy Kerr. You—vat you call it?—unmanlike—no, vat you call?—unladylike. You cry 'Hip, hip, hurrah!' Yah!"

Lucy sneezed artistically, and Lady Grumpsch departed, violently enraged.

"Agnes," said Lucy, "I have made up my mind. I shall go and ask the Marquis of Charlton what he means by his part in this transaction, if he has any."

(To be continued in our next.)

Published @ COVE

August 2021