"Witness, tell the jury what occurred that night under the balcony of Miss Levison's apartments at Castle Lone."
Rose Cameron threw another vindictive glance at the Duke of Hereward, and commenced her narrative.
Now, as her story was substantially the same that has been already given to the reader, it is not necessary to recapitulate it here. Only in one respect it differed from the stories she had hitherto told to her landlady or housekeeper, Mrs. Brown, of Westminster Road; as on this occasion she reserved all allusion to any real or fancied marriage between herself and the nobleman she claimed as her lover, and then accused as the accomplice of thieves and assassins, in the murder and robbery at Castle Lone, on the night preceding the day appointed for his own marriage with its heiress!
It would be impossible to describe the effect of this terrible testimony on the minds of all who heard it.
The Bench, the Bar, and the Jury, whom, it would seem, nothing in this world had power to startle, astonish, or discompose, sat like statues.
Scarcely less immovable was the young Duke of Hereward, the subject of this awful charge, who sat back in his seat with an air of grave curiosity, and with the composure of a man who was master of the situation.
But the crowd which filled the court-room seemed utterly confounded by what they heard. Upon the whole, they either disbelieved this witness, or distrusted their own ears. Their young laird, as she called the present duke, was their model of all wisdom, goodness, magnanimity. Truly, they had heard a rumor of some little love-making between the young laird and a handsome shepherdess at Ben Lone, probably this same Rose Cameron; even these rumors they did not fully credit; but that the noble young Duke of Hereward should be the accomplice of thieves and murderers in the robbery at Castle Lone, and the assassination of Sir Lemuel Levison, on the very night preceding the morning appointed for his marriage with Sir Lemuel's daughter!
Oh! the charge was too preposterous, as well as too horrible, to be entertained for an instant.
Finally the prevailing opinion settled into this: that the young laird had probably admired the handsome shepherdess a little, and had left her for the heiress; and that, from jealousy and for revenge, the girl was now perjuring herself to ruin her late lover.
Would her testimony be believed? Would it have weight enough to cause the arrest of the young duke?
"Eh, sirs! what an awfu' event the like o' that wad be!" whispered one gray-haired clansman to another.
And all bent eager ears to hear the remainder of the testimony which was still going on.
After relating the history of her journey to London, with the stolen treasure in charge, she proceeded to tell of the abrupt flight of "the duke," with the bulk of the treasure in his possession, and of her own subsequent arrest with the stolen jewels found in her apartments.
She was cross-examined by the defence, but without effect.
Her testimony, if it could be established, would ruin the Duke of Hereward, but could in no way affect the prisoner at the bar.
When the prosecution perceived this, they realized that they had been, in common parlance, "sold."
They were to be sold again.
"You may stand down," said Mr. Keir, sharply.
"Na, I hanna dune yet. I hae mair to say," persisted the witness.
"Say it, then."
"I ken it is nae lawfu' for a wife to gie testimony against her ain husband," said Rose Cameron, with a cunning leer that marred the beauty of her fine blue eyes.
"Certainly not. What has that to do with this case?"
"It hae a' things to do with it."
"Explain yourself, witness; and remember that you are on your oath."
"Ay, I weel ken the solemnity of an aith. And I hae telt the truth under aith; nathless, maybe my teestimony suld na be received."
"Why no'? Why, gin a wife maunna teestify agin her ain husband, I suld na hae teestified agin the Duk' o' Harewood, who is my ain lawfu' husband!" said Rose Cameron, purposely raising her voice to a clear, ringing tone that was distinctly heard all over the court-room.
Had a shell fallen and exploded in their midst, it could scarcely have caused greater consternation.
"What said the lass?" questioned many.
"I dinna just ken," answered many others.
They certainly did not believe the report of their own ears on this occasion.
As for the Duke of Hereward, who was then engaged in writing a few lines on the fly-leaf of his note-book, he just looked up for a moment and was surprised into the first smile that had lighted his grave face since the opening of the trial.
The cool counsel who was conducting the examination of the witness, and whom nothing on earth could throw off his track, now proceeded to inquire:
"Witness! Do we understand you to say that you are the wife of his grace the Duke of Hereward?"
"Ay, just!" replied Rose Cameron, pertly. "Gin ye hae ony understanding at a', and gin ye are na the auld daft idiwat ye luke, ye'll understand me to say I am the lawfu' wedded wife o' the Duk' o' Harewood. Him as was marrit o' Tuesday last to the heiress o' Lone! Gin ye dinna believe me, I hae my marriage lines, gie me by the minister o' St. Margaret's Kirk, Weestminster, where he marrit me! Ou, ay! and I wad hae tell ye a' this in the beginning, only I kenned weel, if I did, ye wad na hae let me gae on gie' ony teestimony agin me ain husband. De'il hae him! But noo, as ye hae heerd the truth anent the grand villainy up in Castle Lone, I dinna mind telling ye wha I am. Ay, and ye may set aside my witness, gin ye like! But the whole coort hae noo heard it. Ay, and the whole warld s'all hear it, or a' be dune! And noo I am thinking ye'll een let the puir mon in the dock just gae free; and pit my laird, his greece, the nubble duk', intil the prisoner's place. Ye'll no hae to seek him far," added the woman, suddenly whisking around and facing the young Duke of Hereward, with a perfectly fiendish look of malice distorting her handsome face. "There he sits noo! he wha marrit me and afterwards marrit the heiress o' Lone! he wha betrayed me intil a prison, and wad hae betrayed me to the gallows, gin I had na been to canny for him! There he is noo, and he can na face me and deny it!"
The Duke of Hereward did not deign to deny anything. He passed the fly leaf, upon which he had written some lines, on to the old lawyer, Guthrie, who looked over it, nodded, and then rising in his place, addressed the Bench:
"My lord, we desire that the witness, who is now transcending the duties and privileges of the stand, be ordered to sit down."
"Oh! I'll sit down!" pertly interrupted Rose Cameron. "I hae had my ain way, and I hae said my ain say, and now I'll e'en gae—gin this auld fule be done wi' me."
"We have done with you; you can stand down," replied Mr. Keir, in mortification and disgust.
Rose Cameron stepped down from the stand with the air of a queen descending from her throne. In look and motion she was graceful and majestic as the antelope. You had to hear her speak to learn how really low and vulgar she was.
She darted one baleful blast of hatred from her blue eyes, as she passed the Duke of Hereward, and was then conducted back to the sheriff's room, where she was to be detained in custody until the conclusion of the trial.
Mr. Guthrie now requested that the witness Ferguson might be recalled.
The order was given. And the Lone saddler's red-headed apprentice took the stand.
Mr. Guthrie referred to the notes that had been passed to him by the Duke of Hereward, and then said:
"Witness, you told the jury that on the night before the murder of Sir Lemuel Levison, you were employed in your master's service up to a late hour."
"Ay, your honor; but I waur fain to see the wedding decorations, for a' that," said the boy.
"Precisely. But now tell the jury what was the service upon which you were employed to so late an hour that night."
"It wad be a bit wedding offering to our laird, wha hae always favored his ain folks wi' his custom. It waur a Russia leather traveling dressing-bag for his lairdship, the whilk the master had ta'en unco guid care suld be as brawa bag as ony to be boughten in Lunnen town itsel', whilk mysel' was commissioned, and proud I waur, to tak', wi' my master's duty, to his lairdship."
"Doubtless. Now tell the jury at what hour you took this wedding offering to Lord Arondelle."
"Aweel, it wad be about half-past nine o'clock. I went wi' the dressing-case to the Arondelle Arms, where his lairdship and his lairdship's feyther, the auld duk' were biding. The hostler telt me that his lairdship had gane for a walk o'er the brig to Castle Lone. Sae I were fain to wait there for him."
"How long did you wait?"
"Na lang. I was na mair than five minutes before I saw his lairdship coming o'er the brig toward the house. And sune his lairdship came into the inn, and I made my bow, and offered his lairdship the wedding-gift, wi' my maister's respectful guid wishes. His lairdship smiled pleasantly, and tauld me to fetch it after him up to his chamber. I followed my laird up-stairs to his ain room, where his lairdship's valet, Mr. Kerr, was waiting on him. His lairdship wrote a braw note of acknowledgements to my maister, and gie it me to take away. My laird also gie me a half-sovereign, for mysel'. I dinna tak' the note just then to my maister. I saw by the clock on the mantel that it only lacked a quarter to ten o'clock, sae I e'en made my duty to his lairdship and run down stairs, ran a' the way o'er to Castle Lone, for I war fain to see the decorations. I got to Malcolm's Tower just in time to hear the auld clock in the turret strike eleven, and to see the mon and the woman meet thegither in the shadows."
"Are you sure that you could not identify that man or woman?"
"Would you know either of them again?" inquired Mr. Guthrie, changing the manner of his question.
"Na! I tauld ye sae before. They were half hidden i' the bushes."
"You say it was a quarter to ten when you left Lord Arondelle in his room at the inn?"
"Ay, war it."
"And that it was eleven o'clock when you witnessed the meeting between the man and the woman at Castle Lone!"
"Ay, war it. And I had to run a' the way to do it in that time. It waur guid rinning."
"You left his lordship's valet with him, do you say?"
"Ay, I did. And the head waiter o' the Arondelle Arms, too, wha was just gaeing in wi' his lairdship's supper."
"That will do. You may now stand down," said Mr. Guthrie.
The shock-headed apprentice, who had done such good service to his Grace the Duke of Hereward, and such damage to the false witness against him, now left the stand and made his way through the crowd to his distant seat.
Mr. Guthrie once more got upon his feet to address the Bench, and said:
"May it please the Court, I move that the testimony of the Crown's witness, Rose Cameron, alias Rose Scott, be set aside as totally unreliable; and, further, that she be indicted for perjury."
Upon this motion of Mr. Guthrie there followed some discussion among the lawyers.
Finally it was decided to put the duke's valet, the hotel waiter, and other witnesses, on the stand, who would be able to corroborate or rebut the evidence given by the lad Ferguson, and thereby break down or establish the testimony offered by Rose Cameron.
James Kerr was, therefore, called to the witness-stand, sworn and examined.
He said that he had been in the service of the duke's family ever since he was nine years of age, first as page to the late duchess, but for the last three years as valet to the present duke; that he was with his master at the "Arondelle Arms" on the night of the murder; that the duke, who was then the Marquis of Arondelle, left the inn at half-past eight o'clock, to walk over the bridge to Castle Lone; that he returned at half-past nine, accompanied to his room by the boy Ferguson, who brought a handsome Russia leather travelling-case; that the marquis sat down to his writing-table, wrote a note and gave it to the boy, who immediately left the house.
"At what hour was this?" inquired Mr. Guthrie.
"It was a few minutes before ten. The clock struck very soon after the boy left. I remember it well, because his lordship's supper had been ordered for ten, and the waiter just entered to lay the cloth when the lad left, and his lordship sat down to supper at ten precisely. After the supper-service had been removed, his lordship went to his writing-desk and wrote for an hour, and then sealed and dispatched a packet directed to the Liberal Statesman. I took it myself to the Post-Office, to ensure its being in time for the midnight mail. It was then about half-past eleven o'clock. I was gone on my message for about five minutes. On my return I found my master where I had left him, sitting at his writing-desk, arranging his papers. But when I entered he locked his desk and said he would go to bed. I waited on him at his night toilet. And then, as the inn was very much crowded, I slept on a lounge in my master's bed-room. The house was full of noise; so many of the Scots were present, making merry over the approaching marriage of their chieftain's son. Neither my master nor myself rested well that night. I arose early to see my master's bath. The marquis arose at eight o'clock."
Such was the substance of James Kerr's testimony, which perfectly corroborated that of the lad Ferguson, and greatly damaged that of Rose Cameron.
The hotel waiter happened to be among those who had cast all their worldly interests to the winds, abandoned their callings of whatever sort, and come at all risk of consequences to be present at the trial. He was found in the court-room, called to the witness-stand, sworn and examined.
His testimony corroborated that of the two last witnesses, and utterly broke down that of Rose Cameron.
There was further consultation between the Bar and the Bench. Finally the testimony of the Crown's witness was set aside, and a warrant was made out for the arrest of Rose Cameron, otherwise Rose Scott, upon the charge of perjury.
The warrant was sent out to the sheriff's room, to which, after leaving the witness-stand, Rose Cameron had been conducted.
And now the crowd in the court-room, composed chiefly of neighbors, friends, kinsmen, and clansmen of the young Duke of Hereward, breathed freely.
The thunder-cloud had passed.
Their hero was vindicated. Truly they had never for an instant doubted his integrity, much less had they suspected him of a heinous, an atrocious crime. Still, it was an immense relief to have the black shadow of that bloody charge withdrawn.
There was but one more witness for the prosecution to be examined; that witness was no less a person than the young Duke of Hereward himself.
He was called to the stand, and sworn.
Every pair of eyes in the court-room availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by the elevated position of the witness-stand, to gaze on the man who had so recently been the subject of such a terrible accusation; and all admired the calmness, self-possession, and forbearance of his conduct during the fearful ordeal through which he had just passed.
He simply testified as to the finding of the dead body, the position of the corpse, the condition of the room, and so forth. He was not subjected to a cross-examination, but was courteously notified that he was at liberty to retire.
He resumed his former seat.
The case for the prosecution was closed.
Mr. Kinlock, junior counsel for the prisoner, arose for the defence. He made a short address to the jury, in which he spoke of the slight grounds upon which his unhappy client had been charged with an atrocious crime, and brought to trial for his life. The law demanded a victim for that heinous crime, which had shocked the whole community from its centre to its circumference, and his unfortunate client had been selected as a sin offering. He reminded the jury how the very esteem and confidence of the master and the fidelity and obedience of the servant had been most ingeniously turned into strong circumstantial evidence, to fix the assassination of the master upon the servant. The deceased, had entirely trusted the prisoner; had given him a pass-key with which he might enter his chambers at any hour of the day or night; and hence it was argued that the prisoner, being the only one who had the entree to the deceased's apartments, must have been the person who admitted the murderer to his victim. The prisoner had faithfully obeyed his master's orders for the day, in declining to enter his rooms before his bell should ring; and thence it was argued that he only delayed to call his master because he knew that master lay murdered in his room, and he wished to give the murderers, with whom he was said to be confederated, time to make good their escape. He was sure, he said, that a just and intelligent jury must at once perceive the cruel injustice of such far-fetched inferences. In addition he would call witnesses who would testify to the good character of the accused, and prove that the great esteem and confidence in which he had been held by his late master was abundantly justified by the excellent character and blameless conduct of the servant.
Mr. Kinlock then proceeded to call his witnesses.
They were the fellow-servants of the accused. Some of them were the very same witnesses that had been called by the prosecution, and were now re-called for the defence. One and all, in turn, testified to the uniform good behavior of the valet while in the service of Sir Lemuel Levison, deceased.
The presiding judge, Baron Stairs, summed up the evidence in a very few words.
The evidence against the prisoner at the bar was circumstantial only. It had appeared in evidence that some servant of the family had admitted the assassin to the house. It did not appear who that servant was. The valet John Potts, was the only one who had the pass-key to the apartments of the deceased. That circumstance had fixed suspicion upon him; had brought him to trial; the trial had brought out no new facts; the witness principally relied on by the prosecution had not only failed to give any testimony to convict the prisoner, but had certainly perjured herself to shield the real criminal, whoever he was, and to accuse a noble personage, whose high character and lofty station alike placed him infinitely above suspicion. On the other hand, many witnesses had testified to the good character and conduct of the prisoner, and the estimation in which he had been held by his late master. Such was the evidence, pro and con.
His lordship concluded by saying that the jury might now retire and deliberate upon their verdict, remembering that in all cases of uncertainty they should lean to the side of mercy.
The jury arose from their seats, and, conducted by a bailiff, retired to the room provided for them.
Many of the people now left the court-room to get refreshments.
But as the judges remained upon the bench, the Duke of Hereward kept his seat. He felt sure that the jury would not long deliberate before bringing in their verdict.
Meanwhile he turned to glance at the prisoner.
John Potts looked like a man without a hope in the world. We have already seen that an awful change had come over him since the day of his arrest, three months before. Now, as he leaned forward where he sat, and rested his head upon his skeleton hands, that clasped the top of the railing of the dock, his face, or what could be seen of it, was ghastly pale with agony, while his emaciated frame trembled from head to foot. He looked like a guilty man. And his looks were now, as they had been from the moment in which the dead body of his master had been discovered, the strongest testimony against him.
For all that, you know, they cannot hang a man merely because he looks as if he ought to be hung.
After an absence of about fifteen minutes, the jury, led by a bailiff, returned to the court-room.
The prisoner looked up, shivered, and dropped his head upon his clasped hands again.
The dead silence of breathless expectation in the court-room was now broken by the solemn voice of the Clerk of Arraigns, inquiring, in measured tones:
"Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon your verdict?"
"We have," answered the foreman, a jolly, red-headed, round bodied Banff baker.
"Prisoner at the bar, stand up and look upon the jury," ordered the clerk.
The poor, abject, and terrified wretch tottered to his feet and stood, pallid, shaking, and grasping the front rails of the dock for support.
"Gentlemen of the jury, look upon the prisoner. How say you, is the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty of the felony herewith he stands charged?" demanded the clerk.
"We find the charge against the prisoner to be—NOT PROVEN,"[A] answered the foreman, speaking for the whole in a strong, distinct voice, that was heard all over the court-room.
[Footnote A: "Not Proven"—a Scotch verdict in uncertain cases.]
On hearing the verdict which saved him from death, even if it did not vindicate him, John Potts let go the rails of the dock and fell back in his chair in a half-fainting condition.
"The prisoner is discharged from custody. The Court is adjourned," said the presiding baron, rising and leaving his seat.
While one of the bailiffs was kindly supporting the faltering steps of the released prisoner, in taking him from the dock, and while the crowd in the court-room were pouring out of the front doors, the presiding judge, Baron Stairs, came down to the place where the young Duke of Hereward still sat. He had known the duke's father, and had also known the duke himself from boyhood. He now held out his hand cordially, saying:
"I am very glad to see your grace, though the occasion is a painful one. Let me congratulate you on your marriage, I wish you every good thing in life. You have already got the best thing—a good wife. I knew Miss Levison. A finer young woman never lived. I congratulate you with all my heart, Duke!"
"I thank you very much, Lord Stairs," said the bridegroom, warmly returning the greeting of the judge.
"But I fear I must condole with you also. It was really too bad to have your honeymoon eclipsed at its rising, by a summons to attend as a witness on a criminal trial!—too bad! However, fortunately, the trial was a short one. And you are now at liberty to fly to your bride! I hope the duchess is well," added his lordship.
"She has never been quite well, I grieve to say, since the catastrophe at Lone," answered the duke, evasively.
"Ah, no! ah no! It cannot be expected that she should be so yet. It will take time! It will take time! By the way, where are you stopping, my dear Duke? I am at the 'Prince Consort!' Will you come home with me and dine?" heartily inquired the baron.
"Many thanks, my lord. But I am not staying in town. I must hurry back to Lone this evening in order to secure the midnight express to London. The most important business demands my immediate presence there," gravely replied the young duke.
"Ah, of course! of course! the bride! the duchess! Certainly, my dear duke. I will not press you further," said the baron, laughing cordially.
Neither of the gentlemen made the slightest allusion to the testimony given by the crown's evidence which had cast so foul and false an aspersion on the character of the duke.
By this time the court-room was nearly emptied.
The duke and the baron walked out together.
The crowd had dispersed from before the court-house.
The duke and the baron shook hands and parted on the sidewalk.
"Give my warm respects to the duchess. Tell her grace that I shall hope to meet her and present my congratulations in person, on her return from the Continent. That will be in time for the meeting of Parliament, I presume," said his lordship, as he was about to step into his carriage.
"Thanks, my lord. Yes, I hope so," answered his grace, as he lifted his hat and turned away.
The baron's carriage drove off to his hotel.
The duke walked rapidly to the inn, where he had ordered his post-chaise to be put up.
He partook of a light luncheon while his horses were being harnessed, and then entered the chaise, attended by his valet, and ordered the coachman to drive as fast as possible, without hurting the horses, to Lone.
He was most anxious to reach the "Arondelle Arms," to see if any telegram from Detective Setter had reached the office for him.
So long as the road ran through the Firwood, and was comparatively smooth and level, the coachman kept his horses at their best speed; but when it entered the mountain pass of the chain running around Loch Lone, he was compelled to drive slowly and carefully.
The sun set before they emerged from the pass, and it was nearly dark when the chaise drew up before the Arondelle Arms.
The duke got out of the chaise, and passed through the little assemblage of villagers who were standing there discussing the verdict of the jury. He hurried at once to the bar-room to inquire if any letter or telegram had come for him.
"Na, naething o' the sort," replied the landlord, who, seeing the disappointment expressed upon the duke's face, added: "But, under favor, your grace, there's time eneuch yet. Your grace hae na been twenty-four hours awa' fra Lunnun."
Without waiting to answer the host, the young duke hurried out, and walked rapidly off to the telegraph office, which was at the railway station.
"Ye see yon lad?" said the landlord to his wife. "He hanna been a day fra his bride, and yet he expects to hae a letter or a message frae her every minute. Aweel we hae a' been fules in our time!"
So saying the philosophical host of the Arondelle Arms gave his mind to the service of his numerous customers, who had come from the trial at Banff very hungry and thirsty, and now filled the bar-room with their persons, and all the air with their complaints.
They were not at all satisfied with the verdict. They had had a murder, and they had a right to have a hanging. They had been defrauded of their prospect of this second entertainment, and they were not well pleased.
Meanwhile, the duke hurried off to the telegraph office, to see if by any chance a telegram had been received there for him and detained.
When he entered the little den, he found the operator at work. He forebore to interrupt the man until the clicking of the wires ceased. Then he asked:
"Can you tell if there is any message here for me?—the Duke of Hereward," added his grace, seeing the puzzled look of the operator, who was a stranger in the country.
"Yes, your grace. It has only just now come," respectfully answered the young man, as he drew out a long, narrow strip of thick, white paper, upon which the message had been stamped by the instrument, and proceeded to select an official envelope in which to inclose it.
"Never mind that. Give it to me at once," said the duke, taking the strip from the hand of the operator and hastily perusing it.
The message ran thus:
"OLD CHURCH COURT, KENSINGTON, LONDON,
"October 31st, 3 P.M.
"To HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF HEREWARD, Arondelle Arms, Lone, N.B. She is found. Pray come to London immediately. It is important.
WHO WAS FOUND!
"She is found."
"Who is found? The lost bride, or that mysterious messenger who was with the fugitive an hour before her flight, who was suspected to have lured her away, and who might be able to give a clew to her whereabouts? Good Heaven! why could not the detective have sent a definite message?" thought the duke, as he studied the telegram.
Suddenly his face lighted up as he said to himself. "It is Salome who is found! Of course it must be Salome, since no one else was really lost. It is Salome, and that is the very reason why Setter spoke so indefinitely; for I remember now that I instructed him to avoid using the name of the duchess in any telegram. Salome is found! Ah! I thank Heaven! She is found! But—" he reflected with a sudden re-action of feeling—"how, where, when, by whom, under what circumstances was my bride found? Is she well or ill? Can she give any satisfactory explanation of her absence?" were the next anxious, soul-racking questions that chased each other through his mind.
"Oh, for the strong pinions of the eagle, that I might fly to her at once and satisfy all these anxious doubts," he breathed.
It was now but six o'clock in the afternoon. The first train for London would not stop at Lone until midnight, and would not reach London until eight o'clock the next morning—fourteen hours of suspense!
He could not bear that.
The telegraph operator was about to close the office.
The duke stopped him by saying:
"I wish to send a telegram to London."
"It is after hours, your grace," answered the operator, very deferentially.
"I will pay you whatever you may demand for your extra services, over and above your usual fee," said the duke.
The operator hesitated.
"That is to say, if there is no rule in your office to forbid it," added the duke.
"There is no rule to prevent it, your grace. My time is up, and I was about to go home to supper, that was all. I will send your grace's message, if you please," the operator explained, as he took his seat again.
The duke hastily dashed off the following message:
"LONE, N.B., October 31st, 6 P.M.
"To J.A. SETTER, Police Station, Old Church Court, Kensington, London: Shall leave for London by this midnight express-train. Is she quite well? Answer immediately. HEREWARD."
The operator took the message with a bow. The click of the instrument was soon heard, as the message, with the speed of light, flew on its errand.
"Will you remain here until I can receive an answer?" inquired the duke, as soon as the sound ceased.
"I should be happy to accommodate your grace; but if there should be no answer, say up to twelve o'clock?" suggested the young man.
"In that case I should not ask you to remain; as you must know by my telegram that I am to take the train for London at that hour."
"Certainly, your grace; but I thought it possible that you might wish the message taken to some other person in the event of your absence."
"Not at all. I want it for myself alone. If it does not come before twelve I shall have no use for it."
"Then I will remain here until midnight, if necessary; but it may not be necessary."
"And you shall set your own price upon your time," said the duke.
"Thanks, your grace; I am happy to be able to accommodate you; and would prefer to leave all other considerations to yourself," said the young man, very politely and—politicly.
Even while they spoke, a warning vibration of the wires was perceived, followed by the click, click, click, of the instrument.
"There is a message coming—most probably an answer to yours, though it is very soon to get one," said the operator, as he turned to give his whole attention to his work.
The duke looked on with breathless eagerness.
As soon as the sound ceased, the operator drew off the message and handed it to the duke, who seized it and hastily read;
"LONDON, October, 31st, 7 P.M.
"TO THE DUKE OF HEREWARD, LONE, N.B.: She is perfectly well.
"Thank Heaven! I breathe freely now!" said the young duke to himself, as he arose from his seat.
He liberally rewarded the telegraph operator, and then left the office and walked back to the inn.
The Arondelle Arms was all alive with excitement. More travellers had come down from Banff, and the inn was crowded, principally by men of the Clan Scott. Every room was filled, every window lighted up. The bar and the tap room reeked.
The duke was making his way through the crowd as best he might, when he was met by the landlord, who bowed, and apologized, and finally offered to conduct his grace by a private entrance to the parlor connected with the duke's own reserved suit of apartments.
"An' noo, what will your grace hae to your supper?" hospitably inquired the host, as soon as his guest was comfortably seated in his arm-chair before the fire.
"Anything at all, so that it is cleanly served, for which I can, of course, trust the Arondelle Arms," said the duke, smiling.
The landlord bowed and went out.
The duke leaned back in his chair, and stretched his feet to the genial warmth of the fire.
He was feeling very happy. An immense load of anxiety was lifted from his heart. She was found! She was perfectly well! In twelve hours he would see her, and hear her own explanation of her very strange conduct. Her explanation would be perfectly satisfactory. So great was his confidence in her that he felt sure of this.
She was found. She was perfectly well. There was nothing to prevent them from starting on their wedding tour as soon as they might wish to do so. They would, therefore, leave London by the tidal train for Dover on the next afternoon. The world would take it for granted that the wedding tour had been interrupted and delayed only by the trial. The world would never suspect Salome's strange escapade.
While these thoughts were passing through the mind of the duke, the waiter came in and laid the cloth for supper.
And soon the landlord himself entered, bearing a tray on which was arranged a choice bill of fare, the principal item of which was a roasted pheasant.
The duke who had scarcely tasted food during the twenty-four hours of his terrible anxiety, now that his anxiety was relieved, felt his appetite return, demanding refreshment at the rate of compound interest.
He sat down to the table. The landlord waited on him.
The honest host of the Arondelle Arms was "dying," so to speak, for a confidential conversation with his noble guest. For some little time his respect for the Duke of Hereward held his curiosity in check; but at length curiosity conquered respect, and he burst forth with:
"That wad be an unco impudent claim, the hizzie Rose Cameron tried to set up agin your grace, as I hear all the folk say out by—the jaud maunn be clear daft."
"It would be charitable to suppose that she is 'daft,' as you call it, landlord. It would be well if a jury could be persuaded to think so, as, in that case, it would save her from the penalty of perjury. But we will speak no more of the poor girl. Take away the service, if you please," said the duke, quietly.
The landlord, balked of his desire to gossip, bowed, and cleared the table.
It was not yet nine o'clock. There were more than three hours to be passed before the express-train for London would reach Lone.
The duke, refreshed by his supper, felt no sense of weariness, no disposition to lie down and sleep away the three remaining hours of his stay. His mind was in too excited a condition to think of sleep. Neither could he read.
So, soon after he was left alone by the landlord, he arose and sauntered out through the private entrance into the night air.
The streets of the village were very quiet, for the reason that on this night the men were all collected at the Arondelle Arms, discussing the events of the day; and at this hour the women were all sure to be in their houses, putting their children to bed, setting bread to rise, or "garring th' auld claithes luke amaist as guid as the new."
The hamlet was very still under the starlit sky.
The Arondelle Arms, lighted up and musical, was the only noisy spot about it.
The mountains stood, grand and silent, like gigantic sentinels around it.
The lake, the island, and the castle of Lone lay beneath it.
A sudden impulse seized the duke to cross the bridge, and re-visit once more the home of his youth, the scene of his family's disaster, the stage of that frightful tragedy which had shocked the civilized world.
He went down to the beach, and stepped upon the bridge. Now, no floral wedding decorations wreathed the arches. All was bare and bleak beneath the last October sky.
He crossed the bridge and entered on the grounds of the castle. All here was sear under the late autumnal frosts. He did not approach the castle walls. He would not disturb the servants at this hour. He walked about the grounds until he heard the clock in Malcolm's Old Tower strike ten. Then he turned his steps toward the hamlet.
Just before he reached the bridge, he overtook the tall, dark figure of a man, clothed in a long, close overcoat, in shape not unlike a priest's walking habit. The man tottered and stumbled as he walked, so that the duke was soon abreast to him. And then he discovered the wanderer to be John Potts, valet to the late Sir Lemuel Levison.
The young Duke of Hereward shrunk from this man. He could not bring himself to speak with one whom he could not, in his own mind, clear from suspicion.
He passed the valet, walking quickly, and gaining the bridge.
Then he heard footsteps rapidly following him, and the voice of the ex-valet excitedly calling after him:
"My Lord Arondelle! oh! I beg pardon! Your grace! Your grace! For the love of Heaven, let me speak to you!"
Thus adjured, the Duke of Hereward paused, and permitted the ex-valet to come up beside him.
The wretched man was out of breath, pale, panting, trembling, ready to faint. He tottered toward the bulwarks of the bridge, grasped them, and leaned on them for support.
"What do you want of me, Potts?" inquired the duke.
"Oh, your grace! only to speak to you!" gasped the man.
"What can you have to say to me?" sternly demanded the duke.
"This, your grace!" said the man, suddenly springing forward and falling on his knees at the feet of the duke. "This I have to say, your grace! Although the Court has not cleared me, I am innocent of my master's blood! I am! I am! I am! as the Heaven above us hears and knows! Oh! say you believe me, my lord duke!" cried the poor wretch, wringing his hands.
"Your words and manner are very impressive; nevertheless, I cannot place confidence in them," said the duke, coldly.
"Oh, my lord! my lord! Oh, my lord! my lord!" groaned the valet, lifting both his hands to heaven, as if in appeal from a great injustice.
The duke was moved.
"If you are guiltless, why should you care whether I, or any other fallible mortal, should consider you guilty?" he inquired.
"Oh," cried the man, clasping his hands with the energy of despair—"because every body thinks me guilty! No one believes me innocent, though I am guiltless of my master's blood, so help me Heaven!"
"The circumstances, though not enough to convict you in a court of law, where every doubt must go in favor of the accused, were still strong enough to lay you under suspicion, and open to a second arrest and trial for your life, should new evidence turn up," quietly replied the duke.
"I know it! I know it, your grace. But no new evidence against me can turn up! Lord grant that evidence in my favor might do so! But that cannot happen either. The circumstances that accused, but could not convict, nor acquit me, leave me still under the ban! Yes! under the ban I must remain! But do not you, my lord duke, believe me guilty of my master's death! Guilty of much I am! Guilty of neglect of duty, but not of my master's death! The Heavens that hear me know it! Oh, pray, pray try to believe it, my lord duke!" pleaded the wretch, still kneeling, still lifting his clasped hands in an agony of appeal.
"Get upon your feet, Potts. Never kneel to any man. To do so is to degrade yourself and the man to whom you kneel. Get up, before I speak another word to you," said the duke.
The miserable creature struggled to his feet and stood leaning against the bulwarks of the bridge, for support.
"Now, then, if you are not guilty, if your conscience acquits you in the sight of Heaven of all complicity in your late master's death, why should you feel and show such extreme distress—distress that has worn your frame to a skeleton, and stricken your life with old age?" gravely demanded the duke.
"Why?—oh, your grace! I loved my master as a son his father! He was more like a father than a master to me. And he was cut off suddenly by a bloody death! In the midst of my grief for his loss I was arrested and accused of murdering him—my beloved master. I have seen the gallows looming before me for the last three months. I have been shut in prison, with no companions but my own awful thoughts. I have been put on trial for my life. And though the jury could not convict me, it would not acquit me! though I am set at large for the present, I am subject to re-arrest and trial for death, if new evidence, however false, should arise against me. Meanwhile, no one believes me innocent. All believe me guilty. No one will ever speak to me. They made the inn too hot to hold me. My life is ruined—my heart is broken! Is not all that enough, lord duke, to have worn my body to a skeleton and turned my hair gray, without remorse of conscience?" impetuously demanded the man.
"No, Potts, it is not. Nothing but remorse, it seems to me, could so reduce a man," gravely replied the duke.
"Oh, your grace! you still believe me guilty of my good master's murder!" passionately exclaimed the man. "Ah, Heaven! what will become of me? I shall die unless I can have the stay of some one's faith in me!"
"Potts," said the duke, in a softened tone, "I do not now think that you had any active or conscious share in the foul murder of Sir Lemuel Levison. But not the less do I see that you are suffering from remorse. You are still keeping something back from me!" he added, very solemnly.
The valet groaned, but made no answer.
"That is the reason why I have no confidence in you," said his grace.
The valet wrung his gaunt hands, but continued silent.
"Now I do not ask you to confide in me; but I will give you this warning—so long as you hold in your bosom a secret which, if revealed, would bring the real criminal to justice, so long you will yourself remain the object of suspicion from others and the victim of remorse in yourself. Now, Potts, I must leave you; for I must get to Lone in time to catch the London express. Good-night," said the duke, as he moved away.
"One moment more, oh, my lord duke! for the love of Heaven! One moment to do a piece of justice," pleaded the ex-valet, tottering after the young nobleman.
"Well, well, what is it now?" inquired the latter, pausing and turning back.
"That poor, misguided girl, Rose Cameron," said the valet.
"Well, what of her, man?" impatiently demanded the young nobleman.
"Listen, my lord duke! You saw her committed to prison on the charge of perjury."
"A charge that she was self-convicted of."
"My lord duke, she was not guilty of perjury!" sighed the valet.
"What! What is that you say?" quickly demanded the duke.
"I say, Rose Cameron, poor misguided girl that she was, did not, however, perjure herself—intentionally I mean," repeated John Potts.
"Is she mad, then? The victim of a monomania?" gravely inquired the duke, fixing his eyes upon the troubled face of the valet.
"No, your grace, she was never more in her right senses."
"What do you mean? Do you dare—"
"My lord duke, I dare nothing. I never was a daring man; if I had been, the daring would have been taken out of me by the troubles of this last quarter of a year! But, my lord duke, I am right. Rose Cameron did not intentionally perjure herself, neither is she mad. Rose Cameron believes in her heart every word of the statement she made under oath in the open court this morning."
While the man thus spoke, the duke looked fixedly at him in perfect silence, in the forlorn hope of hearing some solution to the enigma.
"Rose Cameron was deceived, my lord duke—grossly, cruelly, basely deceived—not in one respect only, but in many. She was, first of all, deceived into the idea of being the wife of a gentleman of high rank, when, in fact she is nobody's wife at all. Next she was deceived into becoming an accomplice in a robbery and murder, of which she was as ignorant and as innocent as—as myself. She could not have been more so!"
"Who was her deceiver?" sternly demanded the duke.
"I beg pardon. I know no more than your grace! I only presumed to speak about it, so as to explain the strange conduct of that poor girl, and clear her of intentional penury in your sight," said the valet, meekly.
"Potts, you know much more than you are willing to divulge. You have, however, unwittingly given me a clew that I shall take care to follow up. Once more let me warn you to get rid of sinful secrets, and amend your life, if you wish to be at peace. Good-night."
So saying, the duke walked rapidly away to make up for the time lost in talking with the ex-valet.
It was after eleven o'clock when he reached the Arondelle Arms, yet the little hostel gave no signs of closing. The windows were all still ablaze with light, and the bar and the tap-room were uproarious with fun. Evidently the Clan Scott had been drinking the health of the duke and duchess until they had become—
"Glorious! O'er all the ills of life victorious!"
The duke slipped in at the private entrance and gained his own apartment, where he found his valet engaged in packing his valise.
He sent the man out to pay the tavern bill.
In a few minutes Kerr returned, accompanied by the landlord, who brought the receipt, and inquired if his grace would have a carriage.
"No," the duke said; as the distance was short, he preferred to walk to the station.
In a few moments he left the inn, followed by his valet carrying his valise.
They caught the train in good time, having just secured their tickets when the warning shriek of the engine was heard, and it thundered up to the station and stopped.
The duke, followed by his servant, entered the coupe he had secured for the journey.
Three nights of sleeplessness, anxiety and fatigue had prostrated the vital forces of the young nobleman, and so, no sooner had the train started, than he sat himself comfortably back among his cushions, and, being now in a great measure relieved from suspense, he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. This sleep continued almost unbroken through the night, and was only slightly disturbed by the bustle of arrival when the train reached a large city on its route. He awoke when it arrived at Peterborough; but fell asleep again, and slept through the long twilight of that first day of November.
OFF THE TRACK.
It was eight o'clock in the morning of a dark and cloudy day, when the duke was finally aroused by the noise and confusion attending the arrival of the Great Northern Express train at King's Cross Station, London.
He shook himself wide awake, adjusted his wrap, and sprang out of his coupe, while yet his servant was but just bestirring himself.
The first man he met in the station was Detective Setter.
"How is she?" eagerly inquired the traveller, hastening to meet the officer.
"She is perfectly well, and expresses herself as not only willing, but anxious to see your grace," replied the detective.
"Not only willing! that is a strange phrase, too! But I presume I shall understand it all when I see her. Where is she?" demanded the duke.
"At the house on Westminster Road. The address was Westminster, and not Blackfriars Road."
"At the house on Westminster Road! Did you find her there?"
"I did your grace."
"But why, in the name of propriety, and good sense, does she not return home?"
"Your grace, she is at home," said the perplexed detective.
"Just now you told me that she was at the house on Westminster Road!" said the bewildered duke.
"Beg pardon, your grace, but the house on Westminster Road is her home. She has no other that I know of."
The duke stared at the detective a moment, and then hastily demanded:
"Who are you talking of?"
"Beg pardon again, your grace, but I am afraid there is some misunderstanding."
"Who are you talking about?"
"I am talking of the woman who came to the duchess just before she disappeared," answered the detective.
"Good Heaven!" exclaimed the duke, with such a look of deep disappointment that the detective hastened to deprecate his displeasure by saying:
"I am very sorry, your grace, that there should have been any misapprehension."
"You idiot!" were the words that arose spontaneously to the duke's lips; but they were not uttered. The "princely Hereward" habitually governed himself.
"Why did you not tell me in your telegram who was found?" he demanded.
"I certainly thought that your grace would have understood. In the telegram dispatched at nine o'clock yesterday morning, I told your grace that I had a clew to the woman who had called at Elmthorpe House on Tuesday. In the telegram sent at three in the afternoon, I said—'She is found.' I certainly thought your grace would understand that the woman to whom I had gained the clew was found. I grieve to know how much mistaken I was," sighed Mr. Setter.
"Ah! that accounts for everything. I never received that first telegram."
"Your grace never received it?"
"Then my messenger was false to his trust. I was so indiscreet as to send it to the office by a ticket porter, believing the fellow would do his duty faithfully, after having been paid in advance. The more fool I. I am certainly old enough to have known better!" said the detective, with a mortified air.
"Well Mr. Setter, it is useless to regret that mistake now. Be so good as to call a cab. We will go at once to Westminster Road and see this Mrs. Brown. What information has she given you?"
"None whatever, except this, which we knew before—that she visited the bride on the afternoon of the wedding day. She declines to tell me the nature of her business with the duchess; but says that she will explain it to you; she further denies all knowledge of the present abode of the duchess."
"Then we must lose no time in going to the woman," said the duke.
As he spoke, the cab which had been signalled by the detective drove up, and the cabman jumped down and opened the door.
The duke entered it and sat down on the back cushions.
His grace's servant, Kerr, came up to the window for orders.
"Take my luggage home to Elmthorpe House. Give my respects to Lady Belgrade, and say that I will join her ladyship this afternoon," said the duke.
The servant touched his hat and withdrew.
"To Number ——, Westminster Road," ordered Mr. Setter, as he mounted to the box-seat beside the cabman.
The latter started his horses at a good rate of speed, so that a drive of about forty minutes brought them to their destination.
The detective jumped down and opened the door, saying,
"Excuse me, your grace; but, I think, perhaps I ought to go in first to ensure you an interview with the woman?"
"By all means go in first, officer. I will remain here in the cab until you return to summon me," answered the duke.
Detective Setter went up to the door and knocked, and then waited a few seconds until the door was opened, and he was admitted by an unseen hand.
A few minutes elapsed, and then detective Setter reappeared, and came up to the cab and said:
"She will see you at once, early as it is, your grace, I do not know what in the world possesses the old woman; but she is chuckling in the most insane manner in the anticipation of meeting you 'face to face,' as she calls it."
"Well, we shall soon see," said the duke, as, with a resigned air, he followed Mr. Setter into the house.
The detective led him up stairs to the gaudy parlor which had once been Rose Cameron's sitting-room.
There was no one present; but the detective handed a chair to the duke, and begged him to sit down and wait for Mrs. Brown's appearance.
The duke threw himself into the chair, and gazed around him upon the garish scene, until a chamber door opened, and Mrs. Brown, in her Sunday's best suit, sailed in. The duke arose.
Mrs. Brown came on toward him, courtesying stiffly, and saying:
"Good morning to you, Mr. Scott! It is a many months since I have had the pleasure of seeing you in this house."
The duke was not so much amazed at this greeting as he might have been, had he not heard the astounding testimony of Rose Cameron. So he answered quietly:
"I do not think, madam, that you ever 'had the pleasure' of seeing me 'in this house' or, in fact, anywhere else. I have never seen you in my life before."
"Oh! oh! oh! here to the man! He would brazen it out to my very face!" exclaimed Mrs. Brown.
The duke started and flushed crimson as he stared at the woman.
"Oh, I am not afeard of you! Deuce a bit am I afeard of you! You may glare till your eyes drop out, but you'll not scare me! And you may be the Markiss of Arondelle and the Duke of Hereward, too, for aught I know, or care either! But you were just plain Mr. John Scott to me, and also to that poor, wronged lass whom you have betrayed into prison, if not unto death! And now, Mr. John Scott, as you wished to see me (and I can guess why you wished to see me,) and as I have no objection to see you, besides having something of importance to tell you, perhaps you will send that man off," said Mrs. Brown pointing to the detective.
"No. I prefer that Mr. Setter should stay here, and be a witness to all that passes between us," answered the duke.
"All right. It is no business of mine, and no shame of mine. Only I thought as you mightn't like a stranger to hear all your secrets, and I wish to spare your feelings," said the woman.
"I beg you will not consider my feelings in the least, madam," answered the duke, with a slight smile of amusement; "and I hope you will allow Mr. Setter to remain," he added.
"Oh, in course! I have no objection, if you have none."
"Pray go on and say what you have to say," urged the duke.
"Then, first of all, I have to tell you that I know why you have come here. You have come to inquire about Miss Salome Levison, the great banker's heiress."
"You are speaking of the Duchess of Hereward, madam," interrupted the duke, in a stern voice.
"No, I'm not. I am speaking of Miss Salome Levison. She is not the Duchess of Hereward. I don't know but one Duchess of Hereward, and her you are ashamed to own," spitefully added Mrs. Brown.
"You are a woman, aged and insane, and therefore entitled to our utmost indulgence," said the duke, putting the strongest control upon himself. "But tell me now, what was your business with the Lady of Lone, upon whom you called at Elmthorpe House on Tuesday afternoon?"
"I went from your true wife, whom you had betrayed into prison, to your false wife, to let her know what you were, and to tell her that there was but one step between herself and ruin!"
"Good Heaven! you did that!" exclaimed the duke, utterly thrown off his guard.
"Yes, I did! And I showed the young lady your real wife's marriage lines, all regularly signed and witnessed by the rector of St. Margaret's and the sexton, and the pew-opener! I did! And there were letters in your own handwriting, and photographs, the very print of you, which I took along with the marriage lines, to prove my words when I told her that you had been married for over a year, and had lived in my house with your wife all that time!"
"Heaven may forgive you for that great wrong, woman; but I never can! And—the lady believed you?"
"Of course she did! How could she help it, when she saw all the proofs? It almost killed her. Indeed, and I think it did quite craze her! But she saw her duty, and she had the courage to do it! She knew as she ought to leave you, before the false marriage could go any further. So she left you. I do really respect her for it!"
"In the name of Heaven, where did she go? Tell me that! Tell me where to find her, and I may be able to pardon the great wrong you have done us under some insane error," said the husband of the lost wife, striving to control his indignation.
"Indeed, then," exclaimed Mrs. Brown, defiantly, "I am not asking any pardon at all from you, Mr. Scott. It ain't likely as I'll want pardon from Heaven for doing my duty, much less from you, Mr. John Scott. Oh, yes! I know you are called the Duke of Hereward; and no doubt you are the Duke of Hereward; but I knew you as Mr. John Scott, and nobody else; and I knew a deal too much of you as him. But as to wanting your pardon—that's a good one!"
"Will you be good enough to tell me where my wife, the Duchess of Hereward, has gone?" demanded the duke, putting a strong curb upon his anger.
"You know where she is well enough. She is in the trap you set for her!" spitefully answered the woman.
In truth, the duke needed all his powers of self-control to enable him to reply calmly:
"I ask you to tell me where is the Lady of Lone, to whom you went on Tuesday afternoon, with a story which has driven her from her home, and driven her, perhaps, to madness, or to death. I charge you to tell me, where is she?"
"Ah! where is Miss Salome Levison, the heiress of Lone, you ask! Exactly! That is what you would give a great deal to know, wouldn't you! You want to follow and join her, and live with her abroad, because you have got a wife living in England. You're a noble duke, so you are! Well, if this is what the nobility are a coming to, the sooner them Republicans have it all their own way the better, I say!" exclaimed Mrs. Brown, throwing herself back in her chair and folding her arms.
Detective Setter here joined the Duke of Hereward, and deferentially drew him away to the other end of the room, and whispered:
"I beg your grace not to remain here, subjected to the insolence of this mad woman, whose every second word is treason or blasphemy, or worse, if anything can be worse. Leave me to deal with her. A very little more, and I shall arrest her on the grave charge of conspiracy."
"No, Setter, do nothing of the sort. Use no violence; utter no threats. Now, if ever—here, if anywhere—is a crisis, at which we must be not only 'wise as serpents, but harmless as doves,' if we would gain any information from this woman," answered Salome's husband, as he walked back and rejoined Mrs. Brown.
"Will you tell me, on any terms, where the Lady of Lone is to be found?" he inquired.
"Humph! I like that! Aren't you a sharp? You can't call her the duchess, and you won't call her Miss Levison, so you call her the Lady of Lone, anyway!" exclaimed Mrs. Brown, with a chuckling laugh.
"But, will you, for any price, tell me where she has gone?" repeated the duke.
"As to where Miss Salome Levison has gone, I would not tell you to save your life, even if I could. I could not tell you, even if I would. I left her sitting in her bed-chamber at Elmthorpe House, on that Tuesday afternoon after her false marriage. She was sitting clothed in her deep mourning travelling suit, as she had put on again for her father directly the wedding breakfast was over. She looked the very image of sorrow and despair. She did not tell me where she was going. I don't believe she even knew herself. There, that's all that I have got to tell you, even if you had the power to put me on the rack, as you used to have in the bad old times!" exclaimed Mrs. Brown, once more folding her arms and settling herself in her chair.
The Duke of Hereward walked toward the detective officer.
"There is nothing more to be learned from the woman, at present, Setter. We have already gained much, however, in the knowledge of the base calumny that drove the duchess from her home. It is a relief to be assured that she has not fallen among London thieves. She has probably gone abroad. You must inquire, discreetly, at the London Bridge Railway Stations, for a young lady, in deep mourning, travelling alone, who bought a first-class ticket, on Tuesday evening. There, Setter! There is a mere outline of instructions. You will fill it up as your discretion and experience may suggest," concluded the duke, as he drew on his gloves.
"I would suggest, your grace, that we go to St. Margaret's Old Church, where this strange marriage, in which they try to compromise you, is said to have taken place, and which is close by," said the detective.
"By all means, let us go there and look at the register," assented the duke.
They took leave of Mrs. Brown, and left the house.
Five minutes drive took them to Old St. Margaret's.
They were fortunate as to the time. The daily morning service was just over, and the curate who had officiated was still in the chancel.
The Duke of Hereward went in, and requested the young clergyman to favor him with a sight of the parish register.
The curate complied by inviting the two visitors to walk into the vestry.
He then placed two chairs at the green table, requested them to be seated, and laid before them the brass-bound volume recording the births, marriages and deaths of this populous, old parish.
The Duke of Hereward turned over the ponderous leaves until he came to the page he sought.
And there he found, duly registered, signed and witnessed, the marriage, by special license, of Archibald-Alexander-John Scott and Rose Cameron, both of Lone, Scotland.
"The mystery deepens," said the duke as he pointed to the register.
"It is incomprehensible," answered the detective.
"That is my name," added the duke.
"Some imposter must have assumed it," suggested the officer.
"Then the imposter, in taking my name, must have also taken my face and form, voice and manner, for though, upon my soul, I never married Rose Cameron, there are two honest women who are ready to swear that I did!" whispered the duke, with a humorous twinkle in his eyes; for there were moments when the absurdity of the situation overcame its gravity.
The duke then thanked the curate for his courtesy and left the church, attended by the detective.
"Where shall I tell the cabman to drive?" inquired Setter, as he held the door open after his employer had entered the cab.
"To Elmthorpe House, Kensington. And then, get in here, with me, if you please, Mr. Setter. I have something to say to you," answered his grace.
The detective gave the order and entered the cab.
The duke then made many suggestions, drawn from his own intimate knowledge of the tastes and habits of the duchess, to assist the detective in his search.
"You may safely leave the whole affair in my hands, sir. I will act with so much discretion that no one in London shall suspect that the Duchess of Hereward is missing. For the rest, I have no doubt that we shall soon find out the retreat of her grace. A young lady, dressed in elegant deep mourning, and travelling unattended, would be sure to have attracted attention and aroused curiosity, even in the confusion of a crowded railway station. We are safe to trace her, your grace," said Detective Setter, confidently.
IN THE CONVENT.
Salome was tenderly nursed by the nuns during the nine days in which her fever raged with unabated violence.
At the end of that time, having spent all its force, the fever went off, leaving her weak as a child, in mind as well as in body.
As soon as she was convalescent the abbess had her carefully removed from the infirmary in which she had lain ill, to a spacious chamber, with windows overlooking the convent garden—a gloomy outlook now, however, with its seared grass and withered foliage, shivering under the dreary November sky.
The room was very clean and very scantily furnished; the walls were whitewashed and the floor was painted gray. The two windows were shaded with plain white linen; the cot bedstead, which stood against the wall opposite the windows, was covered with a coarse, white, dimity spread.
Between the windows stood a small table, covered with a white cloth, and furnished with a white, earthen-ware basin and ewer. On each side of this table sat two wooden chairs, painted gray.
In one corner of the room stood a little altar, draped with white linen, and adorned with a crucifix, surrounded with small pictures of saints and angels.
In the opposite corner stood a small, porcelain stove, which barely served to temper the coldness of the air.
There were few articles of comfort, and none of luxury, in the room—a strip of gray carpet, laid down beside the bed, an easy-chair with soft, padded back, arms, and seat, covered with white dimity, drawn up to the window nearest the stove, and a footstool of gray tapestry on the floor before it. These comforts were allowed to none but invalids.
The abbess came in to see her every day.
One morning Salome said to her visitor:
"Mother, I have left this affair with the Duke of Hereward incomplete. I must complete it, that I may have peace."
"I do not understand you, my child," said the abbess, in some uneasiness.
"I have left him as in duty bound. I must write to him to let him know why I left him; but I must not let him know the place of my retreat. I think I heard you say that our father-director was going to Rome this week?"
"Yes, my child."
"Then I will write to the Duke of Hereward for the last time, and bid him an eternal farewell. I will not date my letter from any place; but I will give it to the father-director that he may post it from Rome. You shall read my letter before I close it, dear mother. And now, on these terms, will you let me have writing materials?"
"Certainly, my child. I will send them to you; or rather I will bring them," answered the meek lady-superior, as she arose and left the room.
In a very few minutes she returned with the required articles.
Salome wrote her letter, and then submitted it to the perusal of the abbess, who accorded it her full approval.
"Now, dear mother, if the father-director will take that with him and post it from Rome, all will be over between the Duke of Hereward and myself! We shall be dead to each other," said Salome, as the abbess took the letter and left the room.
Then the invalid sank back, exhausted, in her easy-chair.
In this easy-chair by the window, with her feet upon the footstool, Salome sat day after day of her convalescence; sometimes for hours together, with her hands clasped upon her lap, and her eyes fixed upon the floor, in a sort of stupor; sometimes with her sad gaze turned upon the sear garden, as she murmured to herself:
"Withered like my life!"
Some one among the nuns was always with her; but she took no notice of her companion, seeming quite unconscious of the sister's presence.
The abbess had taken care to have books of devotion laid upon her little table, but Salome never opened one of them.
Apathy, lethargy, like a moral death, had fallen upon her.
The story of her sorrows, known only to the abbess, to whom she had confided it on the eve of her illness, was never alluded to.
Salome seemed to have buried it in silence. The abbess feared to raise it from the dead.
Not one in the convent suspected the real circumstances of the case.
All the sisterhood knew Miss Salome Levison, the young English heiress, who had been educated within their walls; all knew that in leaving the convent, three years before she had declared her intention to return at the end of three years and take the vail. She had returned, according to her word, and no one was surprised. Her sickness they considered purely accidental. They had no knowledge of her marriage. She was to them still Miss Salome Levison, who had once been their pupil, and was now soon to be their sister.
No newspapers were taken in at the convent, or the nuns might have seen repeated notices of her approaching marriage before it took place, as well as a long account of the ceremony and the breakfast, after they had come off.
The abbess tried many gentle expedients to arouse Salome from her moral torpor, but all her efforts were fruitless.
Salome had once been an enthusiast in music, and a very accomplished performer on several instruments. Her favorite had always been the harp, and next to that the guitar.
She was not yet strong enough to play on the former, but she might very well manage the latter.
So the abbess caused a light and elegant little guitar to be placed in her room.
Salome never even noticed it; but sat with her eyes fixed on her clasped hands that lay on her lap.
So November and a good part of December passed, with very little change.
The abbess, whose rule was absolute in her own house, had most solemnly warned the whole sisterhood that they were not to speak of "Miss Levison's" presence in the convent to any visitor, or pupil, or any other person whatever, or to write of it to any correspondent. The nuns had obeyed their abbess so well, that not a whisper of Salome's presence in the house had been heard outside its walls.
At length Christmas drew near.
The academy was closed for the season, and the pupils all went home to spend their holidays.
After the departure of their young charges, the sisterhood were very busy in making preparations to celebrate the joyous anniversary of our Lord's birth.
There were so many delightful little duties to be done; the chapel to be decorated with evergreens and exotics; the shrines of the saints to be decked; extra dainties to be made for the sick in the Infirmary; presents to be got up for the aged men and women of the "Home" attached to the convent; entertaining books to be selected and inscribed with the names of the boys and girls of their Orphan Asylum; doll-babies to be dressed and toys to be chosen for the infants of their Foundling; and, finally, a great Christmas-tree to be mounted and decorated for the delight of the whole community within their walls.
The sisterhood took so much pleasure in all these preparations for Christmas, that it occurred to the abbess she might be able so far to interest her unhappy guest in the work as to arouse her from that fearful lethargy which seemed to be destroying both her mind and body.
Salome Levison, while she had been a pupil in the convent, had never performed any services for the charities of the community except by giving liberally from her ample means.
Gladly would she have ministered in person to the needs of old age, illness, or infancy; but for her to have done so would have been against the rules of the establishment. The pupils of the academy were not permitted to hold any intercourse whatever with the inmates of the charitable institutions of the convent. This was a concession to the prudence of parents, who feared all manner of contaminations from any communication between their children and such miserables.
The convent was so planned as to effect a complete separation between the academy and the asylums.
The buildings were erected around a hollow square. They measured a hundred feet on each side, and arose to a height of four stories.
In the centre of the front, or northern, face, stood the chapel, a beautiful little Gothic temple, surmounted by a steeple and a gilded cross; on each hand, in a line with the chapel, stood the buildings containing the cloisters, dormitories, and refectories of the nuns and novices.
On the east front stood the Foundling for abandoned infants; the Asylum for orphan boys and girls, and the Home for aged men and women.
On the south end were the offices, kitchens, laundries, store-houses, gas-house, and so forth, for the whole establishment.
Finally, on the west front, farthest removed from the asylums, were the academy buildings, containing school and class-rooms, dormitories and refectory for the accommodation of pupils.
It was in these west buildings that Salome had lived and learned during the years she had spent at the Convent of St. Rosalie. She had never entered any other part of the establishment except the chapel, and on the north front, which was reached by a long passage running with an angle from the school-hall to the chapel aisle.
The square courtyard within the enclosure of these buildings was paved with gray flag-stones, and adorned in the centre by a marble fountain. But no footstep ever crossed it except that of some lay sister occasionally sent from the cloisters to the office, on some household errand. So no opportunity was afforded of making the courtyard a place of meeting between the "young ladies" of the academy and the poor little children of the asylums.
The academy opened from its front upon its own gardens, lawns, shrubberies, and other pleasure-grounds, the resort of its pupils during their hours of recreation.
Thus Salome Levison, with all her school-mates, had been completely cut off from all intercourse with the objects of the convent's charity during the whole period of her residence at the academy, which, indeed, covered the greater portion of her young life.
Now, however, since her return to the convent, she had been domiciliated in the nun's house on the right of the chapel, and possessed, if she pleased to exercise it, the freedom of the establishment.
On the Saturday before Christmas (which would also come on Saturday that year) the abbess went into the room occupied by her invalid guest.
Salome was seated in the white easy-chair beside the window, and near the porcelain stove. She was dressed in a deep mourning wrapper of black bombazine, and an inside handkerchief and undersleeves of white linen. Her pallid face and plain hair, and the severe, funereal black and white of her surroundings, made a very ghastly picture altogether.
The Sister Francoise sat there in attendance on her.
The mother-superior dismissed the nun, took her vacated seat, and looked in the face of her guest.
Salome seemed utterly unconscious of the superior's presence. She sat with her hands clasped upon her lap and her eyes fixed upon the floor.
"Salome, my daughter, how is it with you?" softly inquired the abbess, taking one of the limp, thin hands within her own, and tenderly pressing it.
"I am the queen of sorrow, crowned and frozen on my desert throne," murmured the girl, in a trance-like abstraction.
"Salome, my child!" said the mother-superior, gazing anxiously into her stony face, whose eyes had never moved from their fixed stare; "Salome, my dear daughter, look at me."
"'I am the star of sorrow, pale and lonely in the wintry sky.'"
"My poor girl, what do you mean?"
"I read that somewhere, long ago,—oh, so long ago, when I was a happy child, and yet I wept then for that solitary mourner as I am not able to weep now for myself, though it suits me just as much," murmured Salome, in the same trance-like manner, still staring on the floor, as she continued:
"Yes, just as much, just as much, for—
"Never was lament begun By any mourner under sun That e'en it ended fit but one!"
"Salome, look at me, speak to me, my dear daughter," said the abbess, tenderly pressing her hand, and seeking to catch her fixed and staring eyes.
Salome slowly raised those woeful eyes to the lady's face, and asked:
"Mother, good mother, did you ever know any one in all your life so heavily stricken as I am?"
The abbess put her arms around the young girl and drew her head down upon her own pitying bosom, as she replied:
"Have I ever known one so heavily stricken as you? My child, I cannot tell. 'The heart knoweth its own bitterness,' and one cannot weigh the grief of another. Salome, you have been heavily smitten; but so have many others. Daughter! I never do speak of my own sorrows. They are past, and 'they come not back again.' But I think it might do you good to hear of them now. Child! like you, I never knew a mother's love; but there were three beings in the world whom I loved, as you love, with inordinate and idolatrous affection. They were my noble father, my only brother, and my affianced husband. Salome, in the Revolution of '48, my father was assassinated in the streets of Paris, as yours was in his chamber at Lone. My brother, true as steel to his sovereign, was guillotined as a traitor to the Republican party. Last, and hardest to bear, my affianced lover—he on whom my soul was stayed in all my troubles, as if any one weak mortal could be a lasting stay to another in her utmost need—my affianced lover, false to me as yours to you, was shot and killed in a duel by the lover, or husband, of a woman, for whom he had left his promised bride! Daughter, did I ever know any one who was so heavily stricken as yourself?" gravely inquired the abbess, laying her hand upon the bowed head of her guest.
"Oh, yes, good mother, you have," murmured the weeping girl, in a voice full of tears. "Your fate has been very like my own—you, like me, were motherless from your infancy; you, like me, spent your childhood and youth in this very convent school. Your father, like mine, met his death at the hands of an assassin; your lover, false as mine, abandoned you for a guilty love. Ah! your sorrows have been very like mine, only much heavier and harder to bear." And Salome drew the caressing hands of the abbess to her lips and kissed them over and over again, as she repeated, "Oh, yes, good mother, much heavier and harder to bear than mine."
"I do not know that, my daughter; but I do know, if I had set myself down a grieving egotist, to brood over my own individual troubles, in a world full of troubles, needing ministrations, I should have lost my reason, if not my soul."
"But you came back to your convent, as I have come, for refuge," said Salome.
"Yes, I came here to give my life to the Lord; not in idle, selfish prayers and meditations for my own soul's sake; no, but in an active, useful life of work. And I have found deep peace, deep joy. So will you, my beloved child, if you take the same way. But you must begin by shutting the doors of your soul against the thoughts of your sorrow, and especially by banishing the image of your false and guilty lover every time it presents itself to your mind."
"Oh, mother! mother! I loved him so! I loved him so!" cried Salome, bursting into a paroxysm of sobs and tears, the first tears she had been able to shed over her awful sorrows.
The abbess was glad to see them; they broke up the fatal apathy as a storm disperses malaria. She gathered the weeping girl to her bosom, and let her sob and cry there to her heart's content.
When the gust of grief had spent itself, Salome lifted her head and dried her eyes, murmuring:
"Yes, I loved him! I loved him! but it is past! it is past! I must forget him, henceforth and forever!"
"Yes, daughter, you must forget him, for to remember him would be a grievous sin. And you must forgive him, though he meditated against you the deepest wrong," said the abbess, solemnly.
"I will try to forgive the wrong-doer and forget the wrong, but oh! mother, mother, it will be very hard to overlive it! Oh, I hope, I hope, if it be Heaven's will, that I shall not have to live very long," said Salome, with a heavy sigh.
"That is the way I felt in the first bitterness of my sorrow: but the feeling passed away in duty-doing. And now, although I know that in the next life every need and aspiration of the soul will be fulfilled, yet I find such peace and joy here, that I am willing, yes and glad, to live in this world as long as my Lord has any work for me to do in his vineyard."
"Tell me what I ought to do, and I will try to do it," said Salome, with another deep sigh; for her very breathing was sighing now.
"You know that this is Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas," said the abbess.
"Is it? I did not know, I have taken no note of time."
"And to-morrow is Sunday, the last Sunday before Christmas."
"Yes, of course."
"Daughter, you have not been to chapel once since your arrival among us."
"Ah, no! I came from the infirmary here, and I have not left this room to go anywhere since!" sighed Salome.
"That is not because you are not able to do so, but because you are not willing. You have allowed yourself to sink into a sinful and dangerous lethargy of mind and body in which you have brooded morbidly over your afflictions. You must do so no longer. You must rouse yourself from this moment. You must go with us to-night to vespers. To-morrow morning you will attend high mass. A fellow-countryman of yours, Father F——, an Oratorian priest from Norwood, England, will preach. He will do you good. Since the days of St. John, the beloved disciple, no wiser, more loving, or more eloquent soul ever spoke to sinners," said the abbess.
"But—coming from England!—If he should recognize me!" exclaimed Salome.
"Why, do you know him?"
"Oh, no, not at all; but then there are sometimes people with whom we have no sort of acquaintance, who yet know us by sight from seeing us in public places, or meeting us on public occasions."
"That is very true, my child; but you need have no fear of being recognized by the officiating priest to-morrow, whoever he may be, for you will sit with us behind the screen."
"Thanks, dear mother; I will go with you this very evening."
"You are a good and obedient child. Receive my benediction," said the mother-superior, rising.
Salome bent her head, and the abbess solemnly blessed her, and then withdrew from the room.
THE SOUL'S STRUGGLE.
That same evening, while the vesper bells were ringing, Salome dressed herself, and, leaning on the arm of the mother-superior headed the procession of the sisterhood as they marched to the chapel and took their seats in the recess behind the screen, which was so cunningly devised, that, while it afforded the nuns a full view of the altar, the priests, the interior of the pews and the whole congregation, it effectually concealed the forms and faces of the sisterhood seated within it.
Father Francois, the confessor of the convent, officiated at the altar.
A rustic congregation of the faithful filled the pews in the body of the church. They came from farm-houses and villages in the immediate neighborhood of the convent.
The vesper hymn was raised by the nuns.
Salome joined in singing it. She had a rich, sweet, clear soprano voice.
Many were the heads in the rustic assemblage that turned to listen to the new singer in the nuns' choir.
Salome saw them, and shrank back as if she herself could have been seen, though she was quite invisible to them, for the screen, which was transparent to her eyes, was impenetrable to theirs. She remembered this, at length, and recovered her composure.
The sweet vesper service soothed her soul, and when it was over, and the benediction was given, the "peace that passeth all understanding" descended upon her troubled spirit.
She left the chapel, leaning on the mother-superior's arm.
When she reached her room door she kissed the lady's hand in bidding her good-night.
"This has done you good, my daughter," said the abbess, gently.
"It has done me good. Thanks for your wise counsel, holy mother. I will follow it still. I will go again tomorrow. Bless me, my mother," said Salome, bowing her head before the abbess, who blessed her again, and then softly withdrew.
Salome entered her room and retired to rest, and slept more calmly than she had done for many days and nights.
She arose on Sunday morning refreshed; but it seemed as if her stony apathy had passed off, only to leave her more keenly sensitive to her cause of grief; for as she dressed herself, a flood of tender memories overflowed her soul, and she threw herself, weeping freely, on her cot.
In this condition she was found by the abbess, who was pleased to see her weep, knowing that the keenness of sorrow is much softened by tears.
She sat down in silence by the cot, and waited until the paroxysm was past.
"Good mother, I could not help it," said Salome, with a last convulsive sob, as she wiped her eyes, and arose.
"Nor did I wish you to do so. Thank the Lord for the gift of tears. Have you had breakfast, my daughter?"
"Yes, dear mother. Sister Francoise brought it to me before I was up. This is the last time I will allow myself such an indulgence. To-morrow morning, if you will permit me, I will join you in the refectory."
"I am rejoiced to hear you say so my child. Your recovery depends much upon yourself. Every exertion that you make helps it forward. And now I came to tell you that in ten minutes we shall go on to the chapel. Will you be ready to accompany us?"
"Yes, dear mother, I will come on and join you almost immediately," said Salome standing up and shaking down her black robe into shape.
The abbess softly slipped out of the room and left the guest to complete her toilet.
In a few minutes Salome passed out and joined the procession of nuns to the chapel.
As soon as they were seated in the screened choir, Salome looked through the screen, to see if the English priest was at the altar. He was not there yet; but the body of the little chapel was filled with an expectant crowd of small country gentry, farmers and laborers with their families, all drawn together by the fame of the great Oratorian.
Presently the procession entered—six boys, in white surplices, preceding a pale, thin, intellectual-looking young man in priestly robes.
The priest took his place before the altar, the boys kneeling on his right and left, and the solemn celebration of the high mass was begun.
The nuns sang well within their screened choir; but the new soprano voice that sang the solos, and rose elastic, sweet and clear, soaring to the heavens in the Gloria in Excelsis, seemed to carry all the worshipers with it.
"Who is she?" inquired one of another, in hushed whispers, when the divine anthem had sunk into silence.
"Who is she?"
No one in the congregation could tell; but many surmised that she must be some young postulant of St. Rosalie, just beginning, or about to begin, her novitiate.
At length the pale priest passed into the pulpit, and, amid a breathless silence of expectancy, gave out his text:
"GOD IS LOVE."
A truth revealed to us by the Divine Saviour, and confirmed to our hearts by the teachings of His Holy Spirit.
The preacher spoke of the divine love, "never enough believed, or known, or asked," yet the source of all our life, light and joy; he spoke of human love, a derivative from the divine, in all its manifestations of family affection, social friendship, charity to the needy, forgiveness of enemies.
And while he spoke of love, "the greatest good in the world," his tones were full, sweet, deep and tender, his pale face radiant, his manner affectionate, persuasive, winning.
He was listened to with rapt attention, and even when he had brought his sermon to a close, and his eloquent voice had ceased, his hearers still, for a few moments, sat motionless under the spell he had wrought upon them.
As soon as the benediction had been pronounced, the abbess arose from her seat in the choir, drew the arm of her still feeble guest within her own, and, followed by her nuns, walking slowly in pairs, left the choir.
She took Salome to the door of her room in perfect silence, and would have left her there but that the girl stopped her by saying:
"Holy mother, I wish to speak to you, if you can give me a few minutes, before we go to the refectory."
"Surely, my daughter," answered the abbess, kindly, as she followed her guest into the chamber.
"Sit down in the easy-chair, good mother," said Salome, drawing the soft, white-cushioned seat toward her.
"No, sit you there, poor child," answered the abbess, taking her guest kindly and seating her in the easy-chair. "I shall be well enough here," she added, as she sat down on one of the painted, wooden seats. "Now, tell me what you wish to say, daughter," she concluded.
"Dear mother, I have been very deeply interested in Father F. this morning."
"You should be interested in the message only, not in the messenger, my child," gravely replied the elder lady.
"In the message alone I believe I was most concerned; but the message was most eloquently delivered by the messenger," said Salome, as her pale cheeks flushed.
"Well, my daughter, go on in what you were about to say."
"Holy mother, that message, so earnestly spoken, has moved me to greater diligence in what I have purposed to do. You know that I have intended to take the vail in this convent, and devote my life and my fortune to good works."
"Yes, my child, I know that such has been your pious purpose. What then?"
"I wish to use all diligence in carrying out that purpose. I wish to enter upon my novitiate immediately."
"My good daughter, far be it from me to throw any stumbling-block in the way of such praise-worthy intentions; but the strict rules of our order require that a postulant should remain in the convent twelve calendar months, to test her vocation, before she is suffered to bind herself by any vows," said the abbess, very gravely.
"As if my vocation had not been sufficiently tested," sighed Salome.
"It may have been so, my daughter. This probation may not be necessary in your case, yet we can make no exception to our rules even in your favor. You will, therefore, if you wish, remain with us for one year, unfettered by any vows. At the end of this year of probation, if you shall still desire to do so, you may be permitted to take the white vail and commence your novitiate. In the meantime you need not, and ought not, to be idle. You may be as zealous and diligent in good works while a postulant as you possibly could be as a white-vailed novice or a black-vailed nun."
"Show me how I may be so, holy mother, and I will bless you," exclaimed Salome.
"I will very gladly be your guide, my child. Listen, Salome. Hitherto, you have been very charitable in giving alms. You have given liberally of your means; but you have never yet given your personal services to the poor and needy. That was not our Lord's way, whose servants we are. He gave alms, indeed, and he performed miracles to supply them, as in the case of the loaves and fishes; but most of all, better than all, He gave His personal ministrations; He taught the ignorant; He anointed the eyes of the blind; He laid His hands on the leper; He shrank from no personal contact with disease, however loathsome; distress, however ignominious; nor must we, His children, do so. We must give our personal services to the poor."
"Tell me what to do, and how to do it, good mother, and I will gladly obey your instructions. Tell me, for I am so very ignorant."
"To-morrow, the Monday before Christmas, you may go with me the rounds of our asylums and schools, and see for yourself destitute old age, destitute childhood and abandoned infancy; and you may choose your work among these poor, needy, helpless ones," said the abbess, gravely.
"And are laborers wanted in that vineyard, mother?"
"Then here am I, for one, poor one. I am longing to go to work."
"At first your work shall be a very bright and pleasant labor, dear child. This is the joyous week of preparation for the glad, Christmas festival. This week we are all, young and old, engaged in the delightful recreations of charity. Our Lord Himself, who, in His Divine benignity, blessed the marriage feast of Cana with a miracle, smiles on our recreations of charity, which with us just now consist in the preparation of Christmas gifts to gladden the hearts of our poor these Christmas times. To-morrow, if you please, I will take you to our work-rooms, where you may choose your own task."
"Oh, how willingly I will do that!" said Salome, earnestly.
A bell had been ringing for a few moments; and so the abbess arose and said:
"That is the dinner-bell. You promised to join us in the refectory, and I think it is best you should do so, my daughter."
"I will follow your counsels in everything, holy mother," answered Salome, sweetly, as she arose and put her hand on the offered arm of her friend.
The abbess led her protegee down a long passage and deep flights of stairs to the refectory, where, at each side of a very long table, running down the length of the room, stood about fifty nuns waiting for their mother-superior.
The abbess gave her guest a seat next to her own, then crossed herself and sat down.
The nuns all made the sign of the cross upon their breasts, and seated themselves at the table.
This was the first occasion upon which Salome sat down at the nuns' table; but it was not the last, for from this day she regularly appeared there, and, though she was given to frequent and violent fits of weeping, her health and spirits steadily improved under the regimen of the abbess.
On Monday morning the lady-superior took Salome through all the asylums on the east side of the convent.
They went first into the aged men's home, where, in a large, clean, well-warmed and well-lighted hall, furnished with arm-chairs, tables, and many plain and cheap conveniences, were gathered about thirty gray-haired or bald-headed patriarchs, whose ages ranged from seventy to a hundred years. Yet not one of them was idle. They were all engaged in plaiting chip-mats, baskets, hampers and other useful articles that could be made out of reeds or cane. The oldest man among them, a centenarian, was employed in plaiting straw for hats.
"They look very happy and busy," said Salome, after she had responded to their respectful nods and smiles of welcome.
"Yes, and they nearly half pay expenses by their handicrafts. Even they, aged and infirm as they are, can half support themselves if they have only shelter, protection and guidance."
"And there seems to be no sick among them," said Salome.
"Ah, yes," answered the abbess, gravely, "there are five in the infirmary connected with this home; but we will not go there now. Let us pass on to the aged women's home."
They entered the next house, where, in a large, warm, light room, plainly furnished, about twenty old women, from sixty to ninety years of age, were collected. They were neatly dressed in gray stuff gowns, white aprons, white kerchiefs, and white Normandy caps. And all were busy—some knitting, some sewing, some tatting.
They bowed and smiled a welcome to the visitor, who responded in the same manner.
"These, also, half support themselves by their work," said the abbess; "but the proportion of sick among them is greater than among the men. There are ten in the infirmary."
They went next to the orphan boys' asylum, where fifty male children of ages from three to twelve years were lodged, fed, clothed, and educated.
"What becomes of these when they leave here?" inquired Salome.
"We send them out as apprentices to learn trades; and we find homes for them," answered the abbess.
"Can you always find good homes and masters for them?"
"Yes, always. We do it through the secular clergy. Now let us go into the girls' asylum," said the abbess, leading the way to the next institution.
The orphan girls' asylum was, in many respects, similar to the boys' home.
"Do you wish to know what becomes of these, when they leave here?" inquired the abbess, anticipating the question of her companion. "I will tell you. The greater number of them are sent out to service as cooks, chambermaids, seamstresses, or nursery governesses. Some few, who show unusual intelligence, are educated for teachers. If any one among their number evinces talent for any particular art, she is trained in that art. My child, we have sent out more than one artist from our orphan girls' asylum," said the abbess.
"How much good you do!" exclaimed Salome.
"Let us go into the Foundling," said the mother-superior, leading the way to the last house of the eastern row of buildings.
Ah! here was a sight sorrowful enough to make the "angels weep!"
The abbess led her companion into a long room, clean, warm, light and airy, with about thirty narrow little cots, arranged in two rows against the walls, fifteen on each side, with a long passage between them. About half a dozen of these cots were empty. On the others lay about twenty-four of the most pitiable of all our Lord's poor—young infants abandoned by their unnatural parents. All these were under twelve months old, and were pale, thin, and famished-looking. Some were sleeping, and seemingly, ah! so aged and care-worn in their sleep; some were clasping nursery-bottles in their skeleton hands, and sucking away for dear life; one little miserable was wailing in restless pain, and sending its anguished eyes around in appealing looks for relief.
Four women of the sisterhood were on duty here, and each one sat with a pining infant on her lap, while there was no one to attend to the wants of that wailing little sufferer on the bed.
"Oh, merciful Father in Heaven! what a sight!" cried Salome, overcome with compassionate sorrow.
"Yes, it is piteous! most piteous!" said the mother-superior, in a mournful tone. "We do the very best we can for these poor, deserted babes; but young infants, bereft of their mother's milk, which is their life, and of their mother's tender love and intuitive care, suffer more than any of us can estimate, and are almost sure to perish, out of this life, at least. With all our care and pains, more than two-thirds of them die."
"Is there no help for this?" sadly inquired the visitor.
"No help within ourselves. But the peasant women in our neighborhood have Christian spirits and tender hearts. When any one among them loses her sucking child, she comes to us and asks for one of our motherless babes. We select the most needing of them and give it to her, and the nurse child has then a chance for its life; but even then, if it lives, it is because some other child has died and made room for it."
"Oh, it is piteous! it is piteous, beyond all words to express! Destitute childhood, destitute old age, are both sorrowful enough, Heaven knows! But they have power to make their sufferings known, and to ask for help! But destitute infancy! Oh! look here! look here! Can anything on earth be so pathetic as this?
"They are so innocent; they have not brought their evils on themselves. They are so helpless! They have not even words to tell their pain, or ask for relief! Mother! You said that I might choose my work! I have chosen it. It is here. And I begin it from this moment," said Salome.
And she threw off her hat and cloak, and drew her gloves and cast them all on a chair, and went and took up the wailing infant from the cot.