Page images
PDF
EPUB

door. Lord Deverill drew back into the narrow passage.

It was quite dark out here, and there was no fear of his being seen, even if Alice brought the lamp to light her secret visitor downstairs, as she did presently. She stood at the top of the narrow staircase, with the lamp in her hand, till the door below closed with a grating sound, followed by the splash of oars as the boat left the shore. How lovely she looked, as she stood thus with the soft light of the lamp upon her face! Lord Deverill was startled by her beauty; it dawned upon him like a revelation, after the interval in which he had not seen her. There was something almost supernal in that fair radiant countenance, the highest charm of which was its look of perfect innocence. And yet she was false, beyond all measure false. He stood in the deep shadow of the narrow passage until Alice had returned to her room, and then crept softly to a door opening upon the gallery, which communicated with the principal rooms and with the grand staircase. All the house was wrapped in a half darkness, a solitary lamp glimmering faintly here and there. But there was light enough for Lord Deverill, who went slowly down the shallow stairs to his favourite apartment - a spacious library upon the ground - floor, a dark and sombre chamber, out of which there opened a little room wherein the secretary was accustomed to perform his daily duties.

The library was dark, but there was a light burning in the inner room, and here my lord found Algernon Mildmay, with a dingy-looking folio volume open on the table before him, reading studiously. He looked up with a start at the sound of his patron's footsteps, and was still more startled by the ghastly pallor of the dark face, in which there was wont to be a deep crimson glow, like the lurid gleam of a stormy sunset. But he said nothing. Only his heart beat a little quicker than usual, and a voice within him asked, “Is it coming ?'

• This is, indeed, a pleasant surprise, my lord,' he said in his courtliest tone. 'I did not even hear the bustle of your arrival in the hall without, and you came upon me like a ghost.':

• There was no noise in the hall. I let myself in with my own key.'

Intending to come unawares upon my Lady Deverill, no doubt. What a joyful surprise for her!'

· Yes, when we meet I doubt not that it will be—a surprise,' my lord answered with a diabolical smile, and a long pause before the last two words.

"You have not seen her yet, then ?'

We have not yet met. I have a fancy for keeping the surprise a little longer. I am in the humour for a jest, you see, Mildmay. Come,' he went on, flinging himself heavily into a capacious threecornered arm-chair opposite his young kinsman—come, sirrah, tell

6

[ocr errors]

6

me how my wife has beguiled her leisure during my absence. Has she been very gay, gadding about from house to house to air her diamonds, and display the last fashion in a brocaded robe or a flounced petticoat ?'

Nay, my lord, Lady Deverill has little taste for that kind of pleasure, as I think you know. She has, indeed, a strange love of solitude, very rare in one so young. And she has an ardent piety, which may seem a little overstrained perchance in the eyes of a man of the world like you or me, but is, nevertheless, a charming attribute in a woman. She has spent much of her time in religious exercises, I fancy, in your absence, and has been visited by her confessor every evening for the last fortnight.'

Her confessor! What, the old French priest from the queendowager's chapel ?'

No, my lord. This is a young man, a Frenchman also, I conclude ; for on the few occasions when I have met him on the stairs, he has spoken to me in that language.'

• Indeed! And he has been with my lady every evening? I did not think she had so many sins to confess. Has this priest been favoured with lengthy interviews ?'

Nay, my lord, I cannot answer for the period of his visits. He has used the water staircase. I have seen his boat waiting there sometimes, when I have left the house by that way myself.'

"At what hour ?'
'I have seldom gone away until ten o'clock.'

'A late hour for confession, truly. Perchance the holy father is with her now. I will not run the risk of interrupting their pious exercises.'

. But, my lord, your coming can hardly seem untimely, let it happen when it will. Lady Deverill must needs be rejoiced by your return.'

Perhaps, but it is my fancy not to disturb her. Besides, it would be but a meeting and a parting in the same hour. I am in England only as a bird of passage. I sleep in the City to-night, and sail for Antwerp at daybreak. I have business of moment to settle in the Netherlands.'

• Private business of his majesty's, my lord ?'

Of the king's—yes.' *You have been at Whitehall, then, to-night, my lord ?'

'I have received my orders, sir,' Lord Deverill answered sternly. • This mission is a matter that lies between his majesty and myself. I permit no one to play the spy upon my affairs.'

The secretary murmured a humble apology.

• Let me accompany you to your lodgings in the City, my lord,' he asked. I may be of some use to you.'

No, there is nothing you can do for me-except keep the secret SECOND SERIES, VOL. II. F.S. VOL. XII.

KK

6

of my presence here to-night. Not a word, mind, to Lady Deverill. I sleep at the Green Dragon-good-night.'

Let me see you to the door, my lord.'
No, keep your seat. I want no fuss or noise.'

The secretary waited, listening breathlessly till he heard the sound of the hall-door closed with a cautious hand. Then he crept through the dark library, and out into the hall where it was almost dark, and stood there behind a stone column listening intently. Yes, in the gallery above he heard the sound of a man's footstep, stealthy, but distinctly audible in the utter stillness of the house.

Algernon Mildmay crept up the staircase with light swift steps. He was just in time to see a figure disappear through a dimly-lighted archway at the end of the gallery—a tall stalwart form that was very familiar to him, the figure of George, Baron Deverill.

He followed, still very cautiously, and prepared to dart into the embrasure of a door, should his patron turn. He followed to the foot of the second staircase, and saw Lord Deverill mounting before him, mounting to the third story of that spacious mansion. On this third floor there was a range of bed-chambers rarely occupied, and above these the garrets of the servants.

Algernon Mildmay heard his kinsman open the door of one of the empty rooms, and close it after him. Then all was silent; and after listening on the dark landing for nearly a quarter of an hour, the secretary went softly downstairs.

So this is what his lordship meant by sleeping at the Green Dragon. There is a storm brewing, I fancy; a tempest which will sweep that fair-faced doll from the pinnacle to which my dotard cousin has elevated her. Is she false to him, I wonder ? Who knows? Enough for me, if he think her so. And that handsome young priest would serve to make a dozen middle-aged husbands jealous. A man has no business to marry at fifty years of age. 'Tis a deliberate wrong to his next of kin. And so he means to spend the night in hiding up yonder; and in that case how about sailing at daybreak for Antwerp? Has he seen the king to-night, and is he charged with any mission in the Netherlands ? No, I would wager my chances of the Deverill inheritance that those are lies. Had he seen those two, my lady and her priest, I wonder ? There was that in his face which meant mischief when he came in—a murderous look. Yes, I will lay my life he had seen them.'

And musing thus, Mr. Mildmay went slowly back to his little study, and sat there, brooding and listening till late into the night. There was a pale streak of daylight in the east when he left the house, and walked back to his lodgings through the quiet streets.

CHAPTER IV.

MY LORD AVENGES HIMSELF.

It was between nine and ten o'clock upon the night after Lord Deverill's return, and a night of storm and tempest, when a tall figure with a masked face took its stand in the narrow passage behind my lady's favourite chamber. There came the sound of voices from within-youthful voices which the listener knew too well ; but to-night he could not hear their words; for Alice Deverill and her companion were standing at the open window watching the storm, and the noise of the wind and rain drowned the low murmur of their voices.

There was a fragile rowing-boat moored to the lion's head below, but no boatman. The mock priest was skilled in the use of the oars, and had rowed across the river from his obscure Surrey lodging before the storm began. He was watching the sky now, admiringly rather than anxiously, and a cry of rapture broke from his lips every now and then when the vivid lightning flashed across river and city, with a tremulous blue light that gave a weird unearthly aspect to that familiar scene.

That masked listener, peering in at the lamp-lit room presently through the crevice in the door, fancied that Alice was pleading with her visitor, entreating him not to leave her while the storm was raging. She clung to him with pretty beseeching gestures—those tender winning ways the watcher knew so well—looking up at him the while. He smiled at her fears, laughed even, as if to reassure her, then bent to kiss the fair brow, snatched up his hat, and turned towards the door.

Nay, my sweet one, there is nothing to fear,' he said in a louder voice, with his hand upon the door. "I have been used to all weathers. I shall be on the opposite bank in five minutes, and safe at my lodging in ten.—Good-night, and God guard thee, pretty one. It may be long before you and I meet again.'

Ay,' muttered the figure lurking in the shadow of the wall, *thou sayest truly, traitor ; it may be long.'

Alice Deverill brought the lamp to the doorway; but the door below giving on the water was open, and there was a wind upon the staircase that would have extinguished twenty lamps. In a moment they were in darkness.

Go back and light your lamp, child,' said the young man, pushing her gently into the room, and shutting the door upon her.

He ran lightly down the stairs, close followed by the masked watcher. In the doorway above the river a powerful hand gripped him by the neck, and flung him round suddenly. It was too dark for him to see his assailant. He tried to draw his sword; in vain.;

6

that unknown enemy seemed to have a giant's strength. He gave one hoarse cry for help, and in the next moment was flung down into the empty boat, stabbed to the heart.

The assassin cut the rope with his dagger, and pushed the boat out into the stream. On such a night it was scarce likely that any one had heard that one half-stifled cry for help. The murderer's grasp had been upon the victim's throat when it was uttered.

He walked slowly up the stairs, wiping his poniard on the velvet sleeve of his doublet as he went. He opened the door of the little tapestried room, and went in, an awful figure, with the face hidden, and a dagger grasped in the strong right hand, the lace raffle torn from the bony wrist, and the velvet sleeve pushed upward to give free play to that murderous hand.

Alice Deverill was on her knees at a little altar when he entered the room.

She rose at the sound of the opening door, and turned her face towards it. At the sight of that ghastly figure, she gave a feeble cry, and recoiled, tottering to the opposite wall.

The intruder uttered no word. He strode across the little room and laid a heavy hand, his left hand, upon the girl's bare shoulder.

What, hypocrite,' he said, do you pray? That is indeed a blasphemy! You were praying for your lover's safety perchance ? Wasted breath, wench. He has gone upon the last long journey. Would'st like to follow him ?'

Lord Deverill,' cried the girl, recognising her husband's voice, altered as it was by passion; what madness is this! My lover! -I have no lover.'

• What, not the mock priest who left you two minutes ago! Nay, 'tis easy enough for such trash to lie. But I did not come to talk. Thy last lie is spoken, girl.'

He wound one powerful arm round the slender figure, took her to his breast in that last embrace, and plunged the dagger home to her heart as surely as he had pierced that of her late visitor.

• She would have won me to believe her lies, if I had let her talk,' he muttered to himself. 'I am weaker than water where she is coneerned.'

He held her in his arms still. He kissed the pale dead facenot once but many times—more passionately than he had ever kissed it in life, when he had been too proud to reveal the depth of his love.

He held the lifeless form for a long time, his mask flung aside now, looking down at the fair face with unspeakable woe, and yet some touch of pride in the thought that he had avenged himself. At last he roused himself from that profound reverie, laid his dead wife gently down upon a couch, and then began to make an end of his work.

He broke open caskets and cabinets, and crammed his pockets with their glittering contents. It was his business to make this deed

« PreviousContinue »