Part 1 out of 6
The Midnight Queen
by May Agnes Fleming
I. The Sorceress
II. The Dead Bride
III. The Court Page
IV. The Stranger
V. The Dwarf and the Ruin
VI. La Masque
VII. The Earl's Barge.
VIII. The Midnight Queen.
X. The Page, the Fires, and the Fall
XI. The Execution
XII. The Doom
XIV. In the Dungeon
XV. Leoline's Visitors
XVI. The Third Vision
XVII. The Hidden Face
XVIII. The Interview.
XIX. Hubert's Whisper
XX. At the Plague-pit
XXI. What was Behind the Mask
THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN,
The plague raged in the city of London. The destroying angel had
gone forth, and kindled with its fiery breath the awful
pestilence, until all London became one mighty lazar-house.
Thousands were swept away daily; grass grew in the streets, and
the living were scarce able to bury the dead. Business of all
kinds was at an end, except that of the coffin-makers and drivers
of the pest-carte. Whole streets were shut up, and almost every
other house in the city bore the fatal red cross, and the ominous
inscription. "Lord have mercy on us." Few people, save the
watchmen, armed with halberts, keeping guard over the stricken
houses, appeared in the streets; and those who ventured there,
shrank from each other, and passed rapidly on with averted faces.
Many even fell dead on the sidewalk, and lay with their ghastly,
discolored faces, upturned to the mocking sunlight, until the
dead-cart came rattling along, and the drivers hoisted the body
with their pitchforks on the top of their dreadful load. Few
other vehicles besides those same dead-carts appeared in the city
now; and they plied their trade busily, day and night; and the
cry of the drivers echoed dismally through the deserted streets:
"Bring out your dead! bring out your dead!" All who could do so
had long ago fled from the devoted city; and London lay under the
burning heat of the June sunshine, stricken for its sins by the
hand of God. The pest-houses were full, so were the plague-pits,
where the dead were hurled in cartfuls; and no one knew who rose
up in health in the morning but that they might be lying stark
and dead in a few hours. The very churches were forsaken; their
pastors fled or lying in the plague-pits; and it was even
resolved to convert the great cathedral of St. Paul into a vast
plague-hospital. Cries and lamentations echoed from one end of
the city to the other, and Death and Charles reigned over London
Yet in the midst of all this, many scenes of wild orgies and
debauchery still went on within its gates - as, in our own day,
when the cholera ravaged Paris, the inhabitants of that facetious
city made it a carnival, so now, in London, they were many who,
feeling they had but a few days to live at the most, resolved to
defy death, and indulge in the revelry while they yet existed.
"Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow you die!" was their
motto; and if in the midst of the frantic dance or debauched
revel one of them dropped dead, the others only shrieked with
laughter, hurled the livid body out to the street, and the
demoniac mirth grew twice as fast and furious as before. Robbers
and cut-purses paraded the streets at noonday, entered boldly
closed and deserted houses, and bore off with impunity, whatever
they pleased. Highwaymen infested Hounslow Heath, and all the
roads leading from the city, levying a toll on all who passed,
and plundering fearlessly the flying citizens. In fact,
far-famed London town, in the year of grace 1665, would have
given one a good idea of Pandemonium broke loose.
It was drawing to the close of an almost tropical June day, that
the crowd who had thronged the precincts of St. Paul's since
early morning, began to disperse. The sun, that had throbbed the
livelong day like a great heart of fire in a sea of brass, was
sinking from sight in clouds of crimson, purple and gold, yet
Paul's Walk was crowded. There were court-gallants in ruffles
and plumes; ballad-singers chanting the not over-delicate ditties
of the Earl of Rochester; usurers exchanging gold for bonds worth
three times what they gave for them; quack-doctors reading in
dolorous tones the bills of mortality of the preceding day, and
selling plague-waters and anti-pestilential abominations, whose
merit they loudly extolled; ladies too, richly dressed, and many
of them masked; and booksellers who always made St. Paul's a
favorite haunt, and even to this day patronize its precincts, and
flourish in the regions of Paternoster Row and Ave Maria Lane;
court pages in rich liveries, pert and flippant; serving-men out
of place, and pickpockets with a keen eye to business; all
clashed and jostled together, raising a din to which the Plain of
Shinar, with its confusion of tongues and Babylonish workmen,
were as nothing.
Moving serenely through this discordant sea of his fellow-
creatures came a young man booted and spurred, whose rich doublet
of cherry colored velvet, edged and spangled with gold, and
jaunty hat set slightly on one side of his head, with its long
black plume and diamond clasp, proclaimed him to be somebody. A
profusion of snowy shirt-frill rushed impetuously out of his
doublet; a black-velvet cloak, lined with amber-satin, fell
picturesquely from his shoulders; a sword with a jeweled hilt
clanked on the pavement as he walked. One hand was covered with
a gauntlet of canary-colored kid, perfumed to a degree that would
shame any belle of to-day, the other, which rested lightly on his
sword-hilt, flashed with a splendid opal, splendidly set. He was
a handsome fellow too, with fair waving hair (for he had the good
taste to discard the ugly wigs then in vogue), dark, bright,
handsome eyes, a thick blonde moustache, a tall and remarkably
graceful figure, and an expression of countenance wherein easy
good-nature and fiery impetuosity had a hard struggle for
mastery. That he was a courtier of rank, was apparent from his
rich attire and rather aristocratic bearing and a crowd of
hangers-on followed him as he went, loudly demanding spur-money.
A group of timbril-girls, singing shrilly the songs of the day,
called boldly to him as he passed; and one of them, more free and
easy than the rest, danced up to him striking her timbrel, and
shouting rather than singing the chorus of the then popular ditty
"What care I for pest or plague?
We can die but once, God wot,
Kiss me darling - stay with me:
Love me - love me, leave me not!"
The darling in question turned his bright blue eyes on that
dashing street-singer with a cool glance of recognition.
"Very sorry, Nell," he said, in a nonchalant tone, "but I'm
afraid I must. How long have you been here, may I ask?"
"A full hour by St. Paul's; and where has Sir Norman Kingsley
been, may I ask? I thought you were dead of the plague."
"Not exactly. Have you seen - ah! there he is. The very man I
With which Sir Norman Kingsley dropped a gold piece into the
girl's extended palm, and pushed on through the crowd up Paul's
Walk. A tall, dark figure was leaning moodily with folded arms,
looking fixedly at the ground, and taking no notice of the busy
scene around him until Sir Norman laid his ungloved and jeweled
hand lightly on his shoulder.
"Good morning, Ormiston. I had an idea I would find you here,
and - but what's the matter with you, man? Have you got the
plague? or has your mysterious inamorata jilted you? or what
other annoyance has happened to make you look as woebegone as old
King Lear, sent adrift by his tender daughters to take care of
The individual addressed lifted his head, disclosing a dark and
rather handsome face, settled now into a look of gloomy
discontent. He slightly raised his hat as he saw who his
"Ah! it's you, Sir Norman! I had given up all notion of your
coming, and was about to quit this confounded babel - this
tumultuous den of thieves. What has detained you?"
"I was on duty at Whitehall. Are we not in time to keep our
"Oh, certainly! La Masque is at home to visitors at all hours,
day and night. I believe in my soul she doesn't know what sleep
"And you are still as much in love with her as ever, I dare
swear! I have no doubt, now, it was of her you were thinking
when I came up. Nothing else could ever have made you look so
dismally woebegone as you did, when Providence sent me to your
"I was thinking of her," said the young man moodily, and with a
Sir Norman favored him with a half-amused, half-contemptuous
stare for a moment; then stopped at a huckster's stall to
purchase some cigarettes; lit one, and after smoking for a few
minutes, pleasantly remarked, as if the fact had just struck him:
"Ormiston, you're a fool!"
"I know it!" said Ormiston, sententiously.
"The idea," said Sir Norman, knocking the ashes daintily off the
end of his cigar with the tip of his little finger - "the idea of
falling in love with a woman whose face you have never seen! I
can understand a man a going to any absurd extreme when he falls
in love in proper Christian fashion, with a proper Christian
face; but to go stark, staring mad, as you have done, my dear
fellow, about a black loo mask, why - I consider that a little
too much of a good thing! Come, let us go."
Nodding easily to his numerous acquaintances as he went, Sir
Norman Kingsley sauntered leisurely down Paul's Walk, and out
through the great door of the cathedral, followed by his
melancholy friend. Pausing for a moment to gaze at the gorgeous
sunset with a look of languid admiration, Sir Norman passed his
arm through that of his friend, and they walked on at rather a
rapid pace, in the direction of old London Bridge. There were
few people abroad, except the watchmen walking slowly up and down
before the plague-stricken houses; but in every street they
passed through they noticed huge piles of wood and coal heaped
down the centre. Smoking zealously they had walked on for a
season in silence, when Ormiston ceased puffing for a moment, to
"What are all these for? This is a strange time, I should
imagine, for bonfires."
"They're not bonfires," said Sir Norman; "at least they are not
intended for that; and if your head was not fuller of that masked
Witch of Endor than common sense (for I believe she is nothing
better than a witch), you could not have helped knowing. The
Lord Mayor of London has been inspired suddenly, with a notion,
that if several thousand fires are kindled at once in the
streets, it will purify the air, and check the pestilence; so
when St. Paul's tolls the hour of midnight, all these piles are
to be fired. It will be a glorious illumination, no doubt; but
as to its stopping the progress of the plague, I am afraid that
it is altogether too good to be true."
"Why should you doubt it? The plague cannot last forever."
"No. But Lilly, the astrologer, who predicted its coming, also
foretold that it would last for many months yet; and since one
prophecy has come true, I see no reason why the other should
"Except the simple one that there would be nobody left alive to
take it. All London will be lying in the plague-pits by that
"A pleasant prospect; but a true one, I have no doubt. And, as I
have no ambition to be hurled headlong into one of those horrible
holes, I shall leave town altogether in a few days. And,
Ormiston, I would strongly recommend you to follow my example."
"Not I!" said Ormiston, in a tone of gloomy resolution. "While
La Masque stays, so will I."
"And perhaps die of the plague in a week."
"So be it! I don't fear the plague half as much as I do the
thought of losing her!"
Again Sir Norman stared.
"Oh, I see! It's a hopeless case! Faith, I begin to feel
curious to see this enchantress, who has managed so effectually
to turn your brain. When did you see her last?"
"Yesterday," said Ormiston, with a deep sigh. "And if she were
made of granite, she could not be harder to me than she is!"
"So she doesn't care about you, then?"
"Not she! She has a little Blenheim lapdog, that she loves a
thousand times more than she ever will me!"
"Then what an idiot you are, to keep haunting her like her
shadow! Why don't you be a man, and tear out from your heart
such a goddess?"
"Ah! that's easily said; but if you were in my place, you'd act
exactly as I do."
"I don't believe it. It's not in me to go mad about anything
with a masked face and a marble heart. If I loved any woman -
which, thank Fortune! at this present time I do not - and she had
the bad taste not to return it, I should take my hat, make her a
bow, and go directly and love somebody else made of flesh and
blood, instead of cast iron! You know the old song, Ormiston:
'If she be not fair for me
What care I how fair she be!'"
"Kingsley, you know nothing about it!" said Ormiston,
impatiently. "So stop talking nonsense. If you are cold-blooded,
I am not; and - I love her!"
Sir Norman slightly shrugged his shoulders, and flung his
smoked-out weed into a heap of fire-wood.
"Are we near her house?" he asked. "Yonder is the bridge."
"And yonder is the house," replied Ormiston, pointing to a large
ancient building - ancient even for those times - with three
stories, each projecting over the other. "See! while the houses
on either side are marked as pest-stricken, hers alone bears no
cross. So it is: those who cling to life are stricken with
death: and those who, like me, are desperate, even death shuns."
"Why, my dear Ormiston, you surely are not so far gone as that?
Upon my honor, I had no idea you were in such a bad way."
"I am nothing but a miserable wretch! and I wish to Heaven I was
in yonder dead-cart, with the rest of them - and she, too, if she
never intends to love me!"
Ormiston spoke with such fierce earnestness, that there was no
doubting his sincerity; and Sir Norman became profoundly shocked
- so much so, that he did not speak again until they were almost
at the door. Then he opened his lips to ask, in a subdued tone:
"She has predicted the future for you - what did she foretell?"
"Nothing good; no fear of there being anything in store for such
an unlucky dog as I am."
"Where did she learn this wonderful black art of hers?"
"In the East, I believe. She has been there and all over the
world; and now visits England for the first time."
"She has chosen a sprightly season for her visit. Is she not
afraid of the plague, I wonder?"
"No; she fears nothing," said Ormiston, as he knocked loudly at
the door. "I begin to believe she is made of adamant instead of
what other women are made of."
"Which is a rib, I believe," observed Sir Norman, thoughtfully.
"And that accounts, I dare say, for their being of such a crooked
and cantankerous nature. They're a wonderful race women are; and
for what Inscrutable reason it has pleased Providence to create
them - "
The opening of the door brought to a sudden end this little touch
of moralizing, and a wrinkled old porter thrust out a very
withered and unlovely face.
"La Masque at home?" inquired Ormiston, stepping in, without
The old man nodded, and pointed up stairs; and with a "This way,
Kingsley," Ormiston sprang lightly up, three at a time, followed
in the same style by Sir Norman.
"You seem pretty well acquainted with the latitude and longitude
of this place," observed that young gentleman, as they passed
into a room at the head of the stairs.
"I ought to be; I've been here often enough," said Ormiston.
"This is the common waiting-room for all who wish to consult La
Masque. That old bag of bones who let us in has gone to announce
Sir Norman took a seat, and glanced curiously round the room. It
was a common-place apartment enough, with a floor of polished
black oak, slippery as ice, and shining like glass; a few old
Flemish paintings on the walls; a large, round table in the
centre of the floor, on which lay a pair of the old musical
instruments called "virginals." Two large, curtainless windows,
with minute diamond-shaped panes, set in leaden casements,
admitted the golden and crimson light.
"For the reception-room of a sorceress," remarked Sir Norman,
with an air of disappointed criticism, "there is nothing very
wonderful about all this. How is it she spaes fortunes any way?
As Lilly does by maps and charts; or as these old Eastern mufti
do it by magic mirrors and all each fooleries?"
"Neither," said Ormiston, "her style in more like that of the
Indian almechs, who show you your destiny in a well. She has a
sort of magic lake in her room, and - but you will see it all for
"I have always heard," said Sir Norman, in the same meditative
way, "that truth lies at the bottom of a well, and I am glad some
one has turned up at last who is able to fish it out. Ah! Here
comes our ancient Mercury to show us to the presence of your
The door opened, and the "old bag of bones," as Ormiston
irreverently styled his lady-love's ancient domestic, made a sign
for them to follow him. Leading the way down along a corridor,
he flung open a pair of shining folding-doors at the end, and
ushered them at once into the majestic presence of the sorceress
and her magic room. Both gentlemen doffed their plumed hats.
Ormiston stepped forward at once; but Sir Norman discreetly
paused in the doorway to contemplate the scene of action. As he
slowly did so, a look of deep displeasure settled on his
features, on finding it not half so awful as he had supposed.
In some ways it was very like the room they had left, being low,
large, and square, and having floors, walls and ceiling paneled
with glossy black oak. But it had no windows - a large bronze
lamp, suspended from the centre of the ceiling, shed a
flickering, ghostly light. There were no paintings - some grim
carvings of skulls, skeletons, and serpents, pleasantly wreathed
the room - neither were there seats nor tables - nothing but a
huge ebony caldron at the upper end of the apartment, over which
a grinning skeleton on wires, with a scythe in one hand of bone,
and an hour-glass in the other, kept watch and ward. Opposite
this cheerful-looking guardian, was a tall figure in black,
standing an motionless as if it, too, was carved in ebony. It
was a female figure, very tall and slight, but as beautifully
symmetrical as a Venus Celestis. Her dress was of black velvet,
that swept the polished floor, spangled all over with stars of
gold and rich rubies. A profusion of shining black hair fell in
waves and curls almost to her feet; but her face, from forehead
to chin, was completely hidden by a black velvet mask. In one
hand, exquisitely small and white, she held a gold casket,
blazing (like her dress) with rubies, and with the other she
toyed with a tame viper, that had twined itself round her wrist.
This was doubtless La Masque, and becoming conscious of that fact
Sir Norman made her a low and courtly bow. She returned it by a
slight bend of the head, and turning toward his companion, spoke
"You here, again, Mr. Ormiston! To what am I indebted for the
honor of two visits in two days?"
Her voice, Sir Norman thought, was the sweetest he had ever
heard, musical as a chime of silver bells, soft as the tones of
an aeolian harp through which the west wind plays.
"Madam, I am aware my visits are undesired," said Ormiston, with
a flushing cheek and, slightly tremulous voice; "but I have
merely come with my friend, Sir Norman Kingsley, who wishes to
know what the future has in store for him."
Thus invoked, Sir Norman Kingsley stepped forward with another
low bow to the masked lady.
"Yes, madam, I have long heard that those fair fingers can
withdraw the curtain of the future, and I have come to see what
Dame Destiny is going to do for me."
"Sir Norman Kingsley is welcome," said the sweet voice, "and
shall see what he desires. There is but one condition, that he
will keep perfectly silent; for if he speaks, the scene he
beholds will vanish. Come forward!"
Sir Norman compressed his lips as closely am if they were forever
hermetically sealed, and came forward accordingly. Leaning over
the edge of the ebony caldron, he found that it contained nothing
more dreadful than water, for he labored under a vague and
unpleasant idea that, like the witches' caldron in Macbeth, it
might be filled with serpents' blood and children's' brains. La
Masque opened her golden casket, and took from it a portion of
red powder, with which it was filled. Casting it into the
caldron, she murmured an invocation in Sanscrit, or Coptic, or
some other unknown tongue, and slowly there arose a dense cloud
of dark-red smoke, that nearly filled the room. Had Sir Norman
ever read the story of Aladdin, he would probably have thought of
it then; but the young courtier did not greatly affect literature
of any kind, and thought of nothing now but of seeing something
when the smoke cleared away. It was rather long in doing so, and
when it did, he saw nothing at first but his own handsome, half-
half-incredulous face; but gradually a picture, distinct and
clear, formed itself at the bottom, and Sir Norman gazed with
bewildered eyes. He saw a large room filled with a sparkling
crowd, many of them ladies, splendidly arrayed and flashing in
jewels, and foremost among them stood one whose beauty surpassed
anything he had ever before dreamed of. She wore the robes of a
queen, purple and ermine - diamonds blazed on the beautiful neck,
arms, and fingers, and a tiara of the same brilliants crowned her
regal head. In one hand she held a sceptre; what seemed to be a
throne was behind her, but something that surprised Sir Norton
most of all was, to find himself standing beside her, the
cynosure of all eyes. While he yet gazed in mingled astonishment
and incredulity, the scene faded away, and another took its
place. This time a dungeon-cell, damp and dismal; walls, and
floor, and ceiling covered with green and hideous slime. A small
lamp stood on the floor, and by its sickly, watery gleam, he saw
himself again standing, pale and dejected, near the wall. But he
was not alone; the same glittering vision in purple and diamonds
stood before him, and suddenly he drew his sword and plunged it
up to the hilt in her heart! The beautiful vision fell like a
stone at his feet, and the sword was drawn out reeking with her
life-blood. This was a little too much for the real Sir Norman,
and with an expression of indignant consternation, he sprang
upright. Instantly it all faded away and the reflection of his
own excited face looked up at him from the caldron.
"I told you not to speak," said La Masque, quietly, "but you must
look on still another scene."
Again she threw a portion of the contents of the casket into the
caldron, and "spake aloud the words of power." Another cloud of
smoke arose and filled the room, and when it cleared away, Sir
Norman beheld a third and less startling sight. The scene and
place he could not discover, but it seemed to him like night and
a storm. Two men were lying on the ground, and bound fast
together, it appeared to him. As he looked, it faded away, and
once more his own face seemed to mock him in the clear water.
"Do you know those two last figures!" asked the lady.
"I do," said Sir Norman, promptly; "it was Ormiston and myself."
"Right! and one of them was dead."
"Dead!" exclaimed Sir Norman, with a perceptible start. "Which
"If you cannot tell that, neither can I. If there is anything
further you wish to see, I am quite willing to show it to you."
"I'm obliged to you," said Sir Norman, stepping back; "but no
more at present, thank you. Do you mean to say, madam, that I'm
some day to murder a lady, especially one so beautiful as she I
just now saw?"
"I have said nothing - all you've seen will come to pass, and
whether your destiny be for good or evil, I have nothing to do
with it, except," said the sweet voice, earnestly, "that if La
Masque could strew Sir Norman Kingsley's pathway with roses, she
would most assuredly do so."
"Madam, you are too kind," said that young gentleman, laying his
hand on his heart, while Ormiston scowled darkly - "more
especially as I've the misfortune to be a perfect stranger to
"Not so, Sir Norman. I have known you this many a day; and
before long we shall be better acquainted. Permit me to wish you
At this gentle hint, both gentlemen bowed themselves out, and
soon found themselves in the street, with very different
expressions of countenance. Sir Norman looking considerably
pleased and decidedly puzzled, and Mr. Ormiston looking savagely
and uncompromisingly jealous. The animated skeleton who had
admitted them closed the door after them; and the two friends
stood in the twilight on London Bridge.
THE DEAD BRIDE
"Well," said Ormiston, drawing a long bath, "what do you think of
"Think? Don't ask me yet." said Sir Norman, looking rather
bewildered. "I'm in such a state of mystification that I don't
rightly know whether I'm standing on my head or feet. For one
thing, I have come to the conclusion that your masked ladylove
must be enchantingly beautiful."
"Have I not told you that a thousand times, O thou of little
faith? But why have you come to such a conclusion?"
"Because no woman with such a figure, such a voice and such hands
could be otherwise."
"I knew you would own it some day. Do you wonder now that I love
"Oh! as to loving her," said Sir Norman, coolly, "that's quite
another thing. I could no more love her or her hands, voice, and
shape, than I could a figure in wood or wax; but I admire her
vastly, and think her extremely clever. I will never forget that
face in the caldron. It was the most exquisitely beautiful I
"In love with the shadow of a face! Why, you are a thousand-fold
more absurd than I."
"No," said Sir Norman, thoughtfully, "I don't know as I'm in love
with it; but if ever I see a living face like it, I certainly
shall be. How did La Masque do it, I wonder?"
"You had better ask her," said Ormiston, bitterly. "She seems to
have taken an unusual interest in you at first sight. She would
strew your path with roses, forsooth! Nothing earthly, I
believe, would make her say anything half so tender to me."
Sir Norman laughed, and stroked his moustache complacently.
"All a matter of taste, my dear fellow: and these women are noted
for their perfection in that line. I begin to admire La Masque
more and more, and I think you had better give up the chase, and
let me take your place. I don't believe you have the ghost of a
"I don't believe it myself," said Ormiston, with a desperate face
"but until the plague carries me off I cannot give her up; and
the sooner that happens, the better. Ha! what is this?"
It was a piercing shriek - no unusual sound; and as he spoke, the
door of an adjoining house was flung open, a woman rushed wildly
out, fled down an adjoining street, and disappeared.
Sir Norman and his companion looked at each other, and then at
"What's all this about?" demanded Ormiston.
"That's a question I can't take it upon myself to answer," said
Sir Norman; "and the only way to solve the mystery, is to go in
"It may be the plague," said Ormiston, hesitating. "Yet the
house is not marked. There is a watchman. I will ask him."
The man with the halberd in his hand was walking up and down
before an adjoining house, bearing the ominous red cross and
piteous inscription: "Lord have mercy on us!"
"I don't know, sir," was his answer to Ormiston. "If any one
there has the plague, they must have taken it lately; for I heard
this morning there was to be a wedding there to-night."
"I never heard of any one screaming in that fashion about a
wedding," said Ormiston, doubtfully. "Do you know who lives
"No, sir. I only came here, myself, yesterday, but two or three
times to-day I have seen a very beautiful young lady looking out
of the window."
Ormiston thanked the man, and went back to report to his friend.
"A beautiful young lady!" said Sir Norman, with energy. "Then I
mean to go directly up and see about it, and you can follow or
not, just as you please."
So saying, Sir Norman entered the open doorway, and found himself
in a long hall, flanked by a couple of doors on each side. These
he opened in rapid succession, finding nothing but silence and
solitude; and Ormiston - who, upon reflection, chose to follow -
ran up a wide and sweeping staircase at the end of the hall. Sir
Norman followed him, and they came to a hall similar to the one
below. A door to the right lay open; and both entered without
ceremony, and looked around.
The room was spacious, and richly furnished. Just enough light
stole through the oriel window at the further end, draped with
crimson satin embroidered with gold, to show it. The floor was
of veined wood of many colors, arranged in fanciful mosaics, and
strewn with Turkish rugs and Persian mats of gorgeous colors.
The walls were carved, the ceiling corniced, and all fretted with
gold network and gilded mouldings. On a couch covered with
crimson satin, like the window drapery, lay a cithren and some
loose sheets of music. Near it was a small marble table, covered
with books and drawings, with a decanter of wine and an exquisite
little goblet of Bohemian glass. The marble mantel was strewn
with ornaments of porcelain and alabaster, and a
beautifully-carved vase of Parian marble stood in the centre,
filled with brilliant flowers. A great mirror reflected back the
room, and beneath it stood a toilet-table, strewn with jewels,
laces, perfume-bottles, and an array of costly little feminine
trifles such as ladies were as fond of two centuries ago as they
are to-day. Evidently it was a lady's chamber; for in a recess
near the window stood a great quaint carved bedstead, with
curtains and snowy lace, looped back with golden arrows and
scarlet ribbons. Some one lay on it, too - at least, Ormiston
thought so; and he went cautiously forward, drew the curtain, and
"Great Heaven! what a beautiful face!" was his cry, as he bent
still further down.
"What the plague is the matter?" asked Sir Norman, coming
"You have said it," said Ormiston, recoiling. "The plague is the
matter. There lies one dead of it!"
Curiosity proving stronger than fear, Sir Norman stepped forward
to look at the corpse. It was a young girl with a face as lovely
as a poet's vision. That face was like snow, now; and, in its
calm, cold majesty, looked as exquisitely perfect as some ancient
Grecian statue. The low, pearly brow, the sweet, beautiful lips,
the delicate oval outline of countenance, were perfect. The eyes
were closed, and the long dark lashes rested on the ivory cheeks.
A profusion of shining dark hair fell in elaborate curls over her
neck and shoulders. Her dress was that of a bride; a robe of
white satin brocaded with silver, fairly dazzling in its shining
radiance, and as brief in the article of sleeves and neck as that
of any modern belle. A circlet of pearls were clasped round her
snow-white throat, and bracelets of the same jewels encircled the
snowy taper arms. On her head she wore a bridal wreath and veil
- the former of jewels, the latter falling round her like a cloud
of mist. Everything was perfect, from the wreath and veil to the
tiny sandaled feet and lying there in her mute repose she looked
more like some exquisite piece of sculpture than anything that
had ever lived and moved in this groveling world of ours. But
from one shoulder the dress had been pulled down, and there lay a
great livid purple plague-spot!
"Come away!" said Ormiston, catching his companion by the arm.
"It is death to remain here!"
Sir Norman had been standing like one in a trance, from which
this address roused him, and he grasped Ormiston's shoulder
"Look there, Ormiston! There lies the very face that sorceress
showed me, fifteen minutes ago, in her infernal caldron! I would
know it at the other end of the world!";
"Are you sure?" said Ormiston, glancing again with new curiosity
at the marble face. "I never saw anything half so beautiful in
all my life; but you see she is dead of the plague."
"Dead? she cannot be! Nothing so perfect could die!"
"Look there," said Ormiston pointing to the plague-spot. "There
is the fatal token! For Heaven's sake let us get out of this, or
we will share the same fate before morning!"
But Sir Norman did not move - could not move; he stood there
rooted to the spot by the spell of that lovely, lifeless face.
Usually the plague left its victims hideous, ghastly, discolored,
and covered with blotches; but in this case then was nothing to
mar the perfect beauty of the satin-smooth skin, but that one
There Sir Norman stood in his trance, as motionless as if some
genii out of the "Arabian Nights" had suddenly turned him into
stone (a trick they were much addicted to), and destined him to
remain there an ornamental fixture for ever. Ormiston looked at
him distractedly, uncertain whether to try moral suasion or to
take him by the collar and drag him headlong down the stairs,
when a providential but rather dismal circumstance came to his
relief. A cart came rattling along the street, a bell was loudly
rang, and a hoarse voice arose with it: "Bring out your dead!
Bring out your dead!"
Ormiston rushed down stair to intercept the dead-cart, already
almost full on it way to the plague-pit. The driver stopped at
his call, and instantly followed him up stairs, and into the
room. Glancing at the body with the utmost sang-froid, he
touched the dress, and indifferently remarked:
"A bride, I should say; and an uncommonly handsome one too.
We'll just take her along as she is, and strip these nice things
off the body when we get it to the plague-pit."
So saying, he wrapped her in the sheet, and directing Ormiston to
take hold of the two lower ends, took the upper corners himself,
with the air of a man quite used to that sort of thing. Ormiston
recoiled from touching it; and Sir Norman seeing what they were
about to do, and knowing there was no help for it, made up his
mind, like a sensible young man as he was, to conceal his
feelings, and caught hold of the sheet himself. In this fashion
the dead bride was carried down stairs, and laid upon a shutter
on the top of a pile of bodies in the dead-cart.
It was now almost dark, and as the cart started, the great clock
of St. Paul's struck eight. St. Michael's, St Alban's, and the
others took up the sound; and the two young men paused to listen.
For many weeks the sky had been clear, brilliant, and blue; but
on this night dark clouds were scudding in wild unrest across it,
and the air was oppressingly close and sultry.
"Where are you going now?" said Ormiston. "Are you for
Whitehall's to night?"
"No!" said Sir Norman, rather dejectedly, turning to follow the
pest-cart. "I am for the plague-pit in Finsbury fields!"
"Nonsense, man!" exclaimed Ormiston, energetically, "what will
take you there? You surely are not mad enough to follow the body
of that dead girl?"
"I shall follow it! You can come or not, just as you please."
"Oh! if you are determined, I will go with you, of course; but it
is the craziest freak I ever heard of. After this, you need
never laugh at me."
"I never will," said Sir Norman, moodily; "for if you love a face
you have never seen, I love one I have only looked on when dead.
Does it not seem sacrilege to throw any one so like an angel into
that horrible plague-pit?"
"I never saw an angel," said Ormiston, as he and his friend
started to go after the dead-cart. "And I dare say there have
been scores as beautiful as that poor girl thrown into the
plague-pit before now. I wonder why the house has been deserted,
and if she was really a bride. The bridegroom could not have
loved her much, I fancy, or not even the pestilence could have
scared him away."
"But, Ormiston, what an extraordinary thing it is that it should
be precisely the same face that the fortune-teller showed me.
There she was alive, and here she is dead; so I've lost all faith
in La Masque for ever."
Ormiston looked doubtful.
"Are you quite sure it is the same, Kingsley?"
"Quite sure?" said Sir Norman, indignantly. "Of course I am! Do
you think I could be mistaken is such a case? I tell you I would
know that face at Kamschatka or, the North Pole; for I don't
believe there ever was such another created."
"So be it, then! Your object, of course, in following that cart
is, to take a last look at her?"
"Precisely so. Don't talk; I feel in no mood for it just at
Ormiston smiled to himself, and did not talk, accordingly; and in
silence the two friends followed the gloomy dead-cart. A faint
young moon, pale and sickly, was struggling dimly through drifts
of dark clouds, and lighted the lonesome, dreary streets with a
wan, watery glimmer. For weeks, the weather had been brilliantly
fine - the days all sunshine, the nights all moonlight; but now
Ormiston, looking up at the troubled face of the sky, concluded
mentally that the Lord Mayor had selected an unpropitious night
for the grand illumination. Sir Norman, with his eyes on the
pest-cart, and the long white figure therein, took no heed of
anything in the heaven above or in the earth beneath, and strode
along in dismal silence till they reached, at last, their
As the cart stopped the two young men approached the edge of the
plague-pit, and looked in with a shudder. Truly it was a
horrible sight, that heaving, putrid sea of corruption; for the
bodies of the miserable victims were thrown in in cartfuls, and
only covered with a handful of earth and quicklime. Here and
there, through the cracking and sinking surface, could be seen
protruding a fair white arm, or a baby face, mingled with the
long, dark tresses of maidens, the golden curls of children, and
the white hairs of old age. The pestilential effluvia arising
from the dreadful mass was so overpowering that both shrank back,
faint and sick, after a moment's survey. It was indeed as Sir
Norman had, said, a horrible grave wherein to lie.
Meantime the driver, with an eye to business, and no time for
such nonsense as melancholy moralizing, had laid the body of the
young girl on the ground, and briskly turned his cart and dumped
the remainder of his load into the pit. Then, having flung a few
handfuls of clay over it, he unwound the sheet, and kneeling
beside the body, prepared to remove the jewels. The rays of the
moon and his dark lantern fell on the lovely, snow-white face
together, and Sir Norman groaned despairingly as he saw its
death-cold rigidity. The man had stripped the rings off the
fingers, the bracelets off the arms; but as he was about to
perform the same operation toward the necklace, he was stopped by
a startling interruption enough. In his haste, the clasp entered
the beautiful neck, inflicting a deep scratch, from which the
blood spouted; and at the same instant the dead girl opened her
eyes with a shrill cry. Uttering a yell of terror, as well he
might, the man sprang back and gazed at her with horror,
believing that his sacrilegious robbery had brought the dead to
life. Even the two young men-albeit, neither of them given to
nervousness nor cowardice - recoiled for an instant, and stared
aghast. Then, as the whole truth struck them, that the girl had
been in a deep swoon and not dead, both simultaneously darted
forward, and forgetting all fear of infection, knelt by her side.
A pair of great, lustrous black eyes were staring wildly around,
and fixed themselves first on one face and then on the other.
"Where am I?" she exclaimed, with a terrified look, as she strove
to raise herself on her elbow, and fell instantaneously back with
a cry of agony, as she felt for the first time the throbbing
anguish of the wound.
"You are with friends, dear lady!" said Sir Norman, in a voice
quite tremulous between astonishment and delight. "Fear nothing,
for you shall be saved."
The great black eyes turned wildly upon him, while a fierce spasm
convulsed the beautiful face.
"O, my God, I remember! I have the plague!" And, with a
prolonged shriek of anguish, that thrilled even to the hardened
heart of the dead-cart driver, the girl fell back senseless
again. Sir Norman Kingsley sprang to his feet, and with more the
air of a frantic lunatic than a responsible young English knight,
caught the cold form in his arms, laid it in the dead-cart, and
was about springing into the driver's seat, when that individual
"Come, now; none of that! If you were the king himself, you
shouldn't run away with my cart in that fashion; so you just get
out of my place as fast as you can!"
"My dear Kingsley, what are you about to do?" asked Ormiston,
catching his excited friend by the arm.
"Do!" exclaimed Sir Norman, in a high key. "Can't you see that
for yourself! And I'm going to have that girl cured of the
plague, if there is such a thing as a doctor to be had for love
or money in London."
"You had better have her taken to the pest house at once, then;
there are chirurgeons and nurses enough there."
"To the pest-house! Why man, I might as well have her thrown
into the plague-pit there, at once! Not I! I shall have her
taken to my own house, and there properly cared for, and this
good fellow will drive her there instantly."
Sir Norman backed this insinuation by putting a broad gold-piece
into the driver's hand, which instantly produced a magical effect
on his rather surly countenance.
"Certainly, sir," he began, springing into his seat with
alacrity. "Where shall I drive the young lady to?"
"Follow me," said Sir Norman. "Come along, Ormiston." And
seizing his friend by the arm, he hurried along with a velocity
rather uncomfortable, considering they both wore cloaks, and the
night was excessively sultry. The gloomy vehicle and its
fainting burden followed close behind.
"What do you mean to do with her?" asked Ormiston, as soon as he
found breath enough to speak.
"Haven't I told you?" said Sir Norman, impatiently. Take her
home, of course."
"And after that?"
"Go for a doctor."
"And after that?"
"Take care of her till she gets well."
"And after that?"
"Why - find out her history, and all about her."
"And after that?"
"After that! After that! How do I know what after that!"
exclaimed Sir Norman, rather fiercely. "Ormiston, what do you
"And after that you'll marry her, I suppose!"
"Perhaps I may, if she will have me. And what if I do?"
"Oh, nothing! Only it struck me you may be saving another man's
"That's true!" said Sir Norman, in a subdued tone, "and if such
should unhappily be the case, nothing will remain but to live in
hopes that he may be carried off by the plague."
"Pray Heaven that we may not be carried off by it ourselves!"
said Ormiston, with a slight shudder. "I shall dream of nothing
but that horrible plague-pit for a week. If it were not for La
Masque, I would not stay another hour in this pest-stricken
"Here we are," was Sir Norman's rather inapposite answer, as they
entered Piccadilly, and stopped before a large and handsome
house, whose gloomy portal was faintly illuminated by a large
lamp. "Here, my man just carry the lady in."
He unlocked the door as he spoke, and led the way across a long
hall to a sleeping chamber, elegantly fitter up. The man placed
the body on the bed and departed while Sir Norman, seizing a
handbell, rang a peal that brought a staid-looking housekeeper to
the scene directly. Seeing a lady, young and beautiful, in bride
robes, lying apparently dead on her young master's bed at that
hour of the night, the discreet matron, over whose virtuous head
fifty years and a snow-white cap had passed, started back with a
"Gracious me, Sir Norman! What on earth is the meaning of this?"
"My dear Mrs. Preston," began Sir Norman blandly, "this young lady
is ill of the plague, and - "
But all further explanation was cut short by a horrified shriek
from the old lady, and a precipitate rush from the room. Down
stairs she flew, informing the other servants as she went,
between her screams, and when Sir Norman, in a violent rage, went
in search of her five minutes after, he found not only the
kitchen, but the whole house deserted.
"Well," said Ormiston, as Sir Norman strode back, looking fiery
hot and savagely angry.
"Well, they have all fled, every man and woman of them, the - "
Sir Norman ground out something not quite proper, behind his
moustache. "I shall have to go for the doctor, myself. Doctor
Forbes is a friend of mine, and lives near; and you," looking at
him rather doubtfully, "would you mind staying here, lest she
should recover consciousness before I return?"
"To tell you the truth," said Ormiston, with charming frankness,
"I should! The lady is extremely beautiful, I must own; but she
looks uncomfortably corpse-like at this present moment. I do not
wish to die of the plague, either, until I see La Masque once
more; and so if it is all the same to you, my dear friend, I will
have the greatest pleasure in stepping round with you to the
Sir Norman, though he did not much approve of this, could not
very well object, and the two sallied forth together. Walking a
short distance up Piccadilly, they struck off into a bye street,
and soon reached the house they were in search of. Sir Norman
knocked loudly at the door, which was opened by the doctor
himself. Briefly and rapidly Sir Norman informed him how and
where his services were required; and the doctor being always
provided with everything necessary for such cases, set out with
him immediately. Fifteen minutes after leaving his own house,
Sir Norman was back there again, and standing in his own chamber.
But a simultaneous exclamation of amazement and consternation
broke from him and Ormiston, as on entering the room they found
the bed empty, and the lady gone!
A dead pause followed, during which the three looked blankly at
the bed, and then at each other. The scene, no doubt, would have
been ludicrous enough to a third party; but neither of our trio
could saw anything whatever to laugh at. Ormiston was the first
"What in Heaven's name has happened!" he wonderingly exclaimed.
"Some one has been here," said Sir Norman, turning very pale,
"and carried her off while we were gone."
"Let us search the house," said the doctor; "you should have
locked your door, Sir Norman; but it may not be too late yet."
Acting on the hint, Sir Norman seized the lamp burning on the
table, and started on the search. His two friends followed him,
"The highest, the lowest, the loveliest spot,
They searched for the lady, and found her not."
No, though there was not the slightest trace of robbers or
intruders, neither was there the slightest trace of the beautiful
plague-patient. Everything in the house was precisely as it
always was, but the silver shining vision was gone.
THE COURT PAGE
The search was given over at last in despair, and the doctor took
his hat and disappeared. Sir Norman and Ormiston stopped in the
lower hall and looked at each other in mute amaze.
"What can it all mean?" asked Ormiston, appealing more to society
at large than to his bewildered companion.
"I haven't the faintest idea," said Sir Norman, distractedly;
"only I am pretty certain, if I don't find her, I shall do
something so desperate that the plague will be a trifle compared
"It seems almost impossible that she can have been carried off -
"If she has!" exclaimed Sir Norman, "and I find out the abductor,
he won't have a whole bone in his body two minutes after!"
"And yet more impossible that she can have gone off herself,"
pursued Ormiston with the air of one entering upon an abstruse
subject, and taking no heed whatever of his companion's marginal
"Gone off herself! Is the man crazy?" inquired Sir Norman, with
a stare. "Fifteen minutes before we left her dead, or in a dead
swoon, which is all the same in Greek, and yet he talks of her
getting up and going off herself!"
"In fact, the only way to get at the bottom of the mystery," said
Ormiston, "is to go in search of her. Sleeping, I suppose, is
out of the question."
"Of course it is! I shall never sleep again till I find her!"
They passed out, and Sir Norman this time took the precaution of
turning the key, thereby fulfilling the adage of locking the
stable-door when the steed was stolen. The night had grown
darker and hotter; and as they walked along, the clock of St.
Paul's tolled nine.
"And now, where shall we go?" inquired Sir Norman, as they
rapidly hurried on.
"I should recommend visiting the house we found her first; if not
there, then we can try the pest-house."
Sir Norman shuddered.
"Heaven forefend she should be there! It is the most mysterious
thing ever I heard of!"
"What do you think now of La Masque's prediction - dare you doubt
"Ormiston, I don't know what to think. It is the same face I
saw, and yet - "
"Well - and yet - "
"I can't tell you - I am fairly bewildered. If we don't find the
lady st her own house, I have half a mind to apply to your
friend, La Masque, again."
"The wisest thing you could do, my dear fellow. If any one knows
your unfortunate beloved's whereabouts, it is La Masque, depend
"That's settled then; and now, don't talk, for conversation at
this smart pace I don't admire."
Ormiston, like the amiable, obedient young man that he was,
instantly held his tongue, and they strode along at a breathless
pace. There was an unusual concourse of men abroad that night,
watching the gloomy face of the sky, and waiting the hour of
midnight to kindle the myriad of fires; and as the two tall, dark
figures went rapidly by, all supposed it to be a case of life or
death. In the eyes of one of the party, perhaps it was; and
neither halted till they came once more in sight of the house,
whence a short time previously they had carried the death-cold
bride. A row of lamps over the door-portals shed a yellow,
uncertain light around, while the lights of barges and wherries
were sown like stars along the river.
"There is the house," cried Ormiston, and both paused to take
breath; "and I am about at the last gasp. I wonder if your
pretty mistress would feel grateful if she knew what I have come
through to-night for her sweet sake?"
"There are no lights," mad Sir Norman, glancing anxiously up at
the darkened front of the house; "even the link before the door
is unlit. Surely she cannot be there."
"That remains to be seen, though I'm very doubtful about it
myself. Ah I who have we here?"
The door of the house in question opened, as he spoke, and a
figure - a man's figure, wearing a slouched hat and long, dark
cloak, came slowly out. He stopped before the house and looked
at it long and earnestly; and, by the twinkling light of the
lamps, the friends saw enough of him to know he was young and
"I should not wonder in the least it that were the bridegroom,"
whispered Ormiston, maliciously.
Sir Norman turned pale with jealousy, and laid his hand on his
sword, with a quick and natural impulse to make the bride a widow
forthwith. But he checked the desire for an instant as the
brigandish-looking gentleman, after a prolonged stare at the
premises, stepped up to the watchman, who had given them their
information an hour or two before, and who was still at his post.
The friends could not be seen, but they could hear, and they did
so very earnestly indeed.
"Can you tell me, my friend," began the cloaked unknown, "what
has become of the people residing in yonder house?"
The watchman, held his lamp up to the face of the interlocutor -
a handsome face by the way, what could be seen of it - and
indulged himself in a prolonged survey.
"Well!" said the gentleman, impatiently, "have you no tongue,
fellow? Where are they, I say?"
"Blessed if I know," said the watchman. "I, wasn't set here to
keep guard over them was I? It looks like it, though," said the
man in parenthesis; "for this makes twice to-night I've been
asked questions about it."
"Ah!" said the gentleman, with a slight start. "Who asked you
"Two young gentlemen; lords, I expect, by their dress. Somebody
ran screaming out of the house, and they wanted to know what was
"Well?" said the stranger, breathlessly, "and then?"
"And then, as I couldn't tell them they went in to see for
themselves, and shortly after came out with a body wrapped in a
sheet, which they put in a pest-cart going by, and had it buried,
I suppose, with the rest in the plague-pit."
The stranger fairly staggered back, and caught at a pillar near
for support. For nearly ten minutes, he stood perfectly
motionless, and then, without a word, started up and walked
rapidly away. The friends looked after him curiously till he was
out of eight.
"So she is not there," said Ormiston; "and our mysterious friend
in the cloak is as much at a loss as we are ourselves. Where
shall we go next - to La Masque or the peat-house?"
"To La Masque - I hate the idea of the pest-house!"
"She may be there, nevertheless; and under present circumstances,
it is the beat place for her."
"Don't talk of it!" said Sir Norman, impatiently. "I do not and
will not believe she is there! If the sorceress shows her to me
in the caldron again, I verily believe I shall jump in head
"And I verily believe we will not find La Masque at home. She
wanders through the streets at all hours, but particularly
affects the night."
"We shall try, however. Come along!"
The house of the sorceress was but a short distance from that of
Sir Norman's plague-stricken lady-love's; and shod with a sort of
seven-league boots, they soon reached it. Like the other, it was
all dark and deserted.
"This is the home," said Ormiston, looking at it doubtfully, "but
where is La Masque?"
"Here!" said a silvery voice at his elbow; and turning round,
they saw a tall, slender figure, cloaked, hooded, and masked.
"Surely, you two do not want me again to-night?"
Both gentlemen doffed their plumed hats, and simultaneously
"Fortune favors us," said Sir Norman. "Yes, madam, it is even
so; once again to-night we would tax your skill."
"Well, what do you wish to know?"
"Madam, we are in the street."
"Sir, I'm aware of that. Pray proceed,"
"Will you not have the goodness to permit us to enter?" said Sir
Norman, inclined to feel offended. "How can you tell us what we
wish to know, here?"
"That is my secret," said the sweet voice. "Probably Sir Norman
Kingsley wishes to know something of the fair lady I showed him
some time ago?"
"Madam, you've guessed it. It is for that purpose I have sought
"Then you have seen her already?"
"And love her?"
"With all my heart!"
"A rapid flame," said the musical voice, in a tone that had just
a thought of sarcasm; "for one of whose very existence you did
not dream two hours ago."
"Madame La Masque," said Norman, flushed sad haughty, "love is
not a question of time."
"Sir Norman Kingsley," said the lady, somewhat sadly, "I am aware
of that. Tell me what you wish to know, and if it be in my
power, you shall know it."
"A thousand thanks! Tell me, then, is she whom I seek living or
"She is alive."
"She has the plague?" said Sir Norman.
"I know it."
"Will she recover?"
"Where is she now?"
La Masque hesitated and seemed uncertain whether or not to reply,
Sir Norman passionately broke in:
"Tell me, madam, for I must know!"
"Then you shall; but, remember, if you get into danger, you must
not blame me."
"Blame you! No, I think I would hardly do that. Where am I to
seek for her?"
"Two miles from London beyond Newgate," said the mask. "There
stand the ruins of what was long ago a hunting-lodge, now a
crumbling skeleton, roofless and windowless, and said, by rumor,
to be haunted. Perhaps you have seen or heard of it?"
"I have seen it a hundred times," broke in Sir Norman. "Surely,
you do not mean to say she is there?"
"Go there, and you will see. Go there to-night, and lose no time
- that is, supposing you can procure a license."
"I have one already. I have a pass from the Lord Mayor to come
and go from the city when I please."
"Good! Then you'll go to-night."
"I will go. I might as well do that as anything else, I suppose;
but it is quite impossible," said Sir Norman, firmly, not to say
obstinately, "that she can be there."
"Very well you'll see. You had better go on horseback, if you
desire to be back in time to witness the illumination."
"I don't particularly desire to see the illumination, as I know
of; but I will ride, nevertheless. What am I to do when I get
"You will enter the ruins, and go on till you discover a spiral
staircase leading to what was once the vaults. The flags of
these vaults are loose from age, and if you should desire to
remove any of them, you will probably not find it an
"Why should I desire to remove them?" asked Sir Norman, who felt
dubious, and disappointed, and inclined to be dogmatical.
"Why, you may see a glimmering of light - hear strange noises;
and if you remove the stones, may possibly see strange sights.
As I told you before, it is rumored to be haunted, which is true
enough, though not in the way they suspect; and so the fools and
the common herd stay away."
"And if I am discovered peeping like a rascally valet, what will
be the consequences?"
"Very unpleasant ones to you; but you need not be discovered if
you take care. Ah! Look there!"
She pointed to the river, and both her companions looked. A
barge gayly painted and gilded, with a light in prow and stern,
came gliding up among less pretentious craft, and stopped at the
foot of a flight of stairs leading to the bridge. It contained
four persons - the oarsman, two cavaliers sitting in the stern,
and a lad in the rich livery of a court-page in the act of
springing out. Nothing very wonderful in all this; and Sir
Norman and Ormiston looked at her for an explanation.
"Do you know those two gentlemen?" she asked.
"Certainly," replied Sir Norman, promptly; "one is the Duke of
York, the other the Earl of Rochester."
"And that page, to which of them does he belong?"
"The page!" said Sir Norman, with a stare, as he leaned forward
to look; "pray, madam, what has the page to do with it?"
"Look and see!"
The two peers has ascended the stairs, and were already on the
bridge. The page loitered behind, talking, as it seemed, to the
"He wears the livery of the Earl of Rochester," said Ormiston,
speaking for the first time, "but I cannot see his face."
"He will follow presently, and be sure you see it then! Possibly
you may not find it entirely new to you."
She drew back into the shadow as she spoke; and the two nobles,
as they advanced, talking earnestly, beheld Sir Norman and
Ormiston. Both raised their hats with a look of recognition, and
the salute was courteously returned by the others.
"Good-night, gentlemen," said Lord Rochester; "a hot evening, is
it not? Have you come here to witness the illumination?"
"Hardly," said Sir Norman; "we have come for a very different
purpose, my lord."
"The fires will have one good effect," said Ormiston laughing;
"if they clear the air and drive away this stifling atmosphere."
"Pray God they drive away the plague!" said the Duke of York, as
he and his companion passed from view.
The page sprang up the stairs after them, humming as he came, one
of his master's love ditties - songs, saith tradition, savoring
anything but the odor of sanctity. With the warning of La Masque
fresh in their mind, both looked at him earnestly. His gay
livery was that of Lord Rochester, and became his graceful figure
well, as he marched along with a jaunty swagger, one hand on his
aide, and the other toying with a beautiful little spaniel, that
frisked in open violation of the Lord Mayor's orders, commanding
all dogs, great and small, to be put to death as propagators of
the pestilence. In passing, the lad turned his face toward them
for a moment - a bright, saucy, handsome face it was - and the
next instant he went round an angle and disappeared. Ormiston
suppressed an oath. Sir Norman stifled a cry of amazement - for
both recognized that beautiful colorless face, those perfect
features, and great, black, lustrous eyes. It was the face of
the lady they had saved from the plague-pit!"
"Am I sane or mad?" inquired Sir Norman, looking helplessly about
him for information. Surely that is she we are in search of."
"It certainly is!" said Ormiston. "Where are the wonders of this
night to end?"
"Satan and La Masque only know; for they both seem to have united
to drive me mad. Where is she?"
"Where, indeed?" said Ormiston; "where is last year's snow?" And
Sir Norman, looking round at the spot where she had stood a
moment before, found that she, too, had disappeared.
The two friends looked at each other in impressive silence for a
moment, and spake never a word. Not that they were astonished -
they were long past the power of that emotion: and if a cloud
had dropped from the sky at their feet, they would probably have
looked at it passively, and vaguely wonder if the rest would
follow. Sir Norman, especially, had sank into a state of mind
that words are faint and feeble to describe. Ormiston, not being
quite so far gone, was the first to open his lips.
"Upon my honor, Sir Norman, this is the most astonishing thing
ever I heard of. That certainly was the face of our half-dead
bride! What, in the name ad all the gods, can it mean, I wonder?"
"I have given up wondering," said Sir Norman, in the same
helpless tone. "And if the earth was to open and swallow London
up, I should not be the least surprised. One thing is certain:
the lady we are seeking and that page are one and the same."
"And yet La Masque told you she was two miles from the city, in
the haunted ruin; and La Masque most assuredly knows."
"I have no doubt she is there. I shall not be the least
astonished if I find her in every street between this and
"Really, it is a most singular affair! First you see her in the
magic caldron; then we find her dead; then, when within an ace of
being buried, she comes to life; then we leave her lifeless as a
marble statue, shut up in your room, and fifteen minutes after,
she vanishes as mysteriously as a fairy in a nursery legend.
And, lastly, she turns up in the shape of a court-page, and
swaggers along London Bridge at this hour of the night, chanting
a love song. Faith! it would puzzle the sphinx herself to read
this riddle, I've a notion!"
"I, for one, shall never try to read it," said Sir Norman. "I am
about tired of this labyrinth of mysteries, and shall save time
and La Masque to unravel them at their leisure."
"Then you mean to give up the pursuit?"
"Not exactly. I love this mysterious beauty too well to do that;
and when next I find her, be it where it may, I shall take care
she does not slip so easily through my fingers."
"I cannot forget that page," said Ormiston, musingly. "It is
singular, since, he wears the Earl of Rochester's livery, that we
have never seen him before among his followers. Are you quite
sure, Sir Norman, that you have not?"
"Seen him? Don't be absurd, Ormiston! Do you think I could ever
forget such a face as that?"
"It would not be easy, I confess. One does not see such every
day. And yet - and yet - it is most extraordinary!"
"I shall ask Rochester about him the first thing to-morrow; and
unless he is an optical illusion - which I vow I half believe is
the case - I will come at the truth in spite of your demoniac
friend, La Masque!"
"Then you do not mean to look for him to-night?"
"Look for him? I might as well look for a needle in a haystack.
No! I have promised La Masque to visit the old ruins, and there
I shall go forthwith. Will you accompany me?"
"I think not. I have a word to say to La, Masque, and you and
she kept talking so busily, I had no chance to put it in."
Sir Norman laughed.
"Besides, I have no doubt it is a word you would not like to
utter in the presence of a third party, even though that third
party be your friend and Pythias, Kingsley. Do you mean to stay
here like a plague-sentinel until she returns?"
"Possibly; or if I get tired I may set out in search of her.
When do you return?"
"The Fates, that seem to make a foot-ball of my best affections,
and kick them as they please, only know. If nothing happens -
which, being interpreted, means, if I am still in the land of the
living - I shall surely be back by daybreak."
"And I shall be anxious about that time to hear the result of
your night's adventure; so where shall we meet?"
"Why not here? it is as good a place an any."
"With all my heart. Where do you propose getting a horse?"
"At the King's Arms - but a stones throw from here. Farewell."
"Good-night, and God speed you!" said Ormiston. And wrapping his
cloak close about him, he leaned against the doorway, and,
watching the dancing lights on the river, prepared to await the
return of La Masque.
With his head full of the adventures and misadventures of the
night, Sir Norman walked thoughtfully on until he reached the
King's Arms - a low inn on the bank of the river. To his dismay
he found the house shut up, and bearing the dismal mark and
inscription of the pestilence. While he stood contemplating it
in perplexity, a watchman, on guard before another plague-
stricken house, advanced and informed him that the whole family
had perished of the disease, and that the landlord himself, the
last survivor, had been carried off not twenty minutes before to
"But," added the man, seeing Sir Norman's look of annoyance, and
being informed what he wanted, "there are two or three horses
around there in the stable, and you may as well help yourself,
for if you don't take them, somebody else will."
This philosophic logic struck Sir Norman as being so extremely
reasonable, that without more ado he stepped round to the stables
and selected the best it contained. Before proceeding on his
journey, it occurred to him that, having been handling a plague-
patient, it would be a good thing to get his clothes fumigated;
so he stepped into an apothecary's store for that purpose, and
provided himself also with a bottle of aromatic vinegar. Thus
prepared for the worst, Sir Norman sprang on his horse like a
second Don Quixote striding his good steed Rozinante, and sallied
forth in quest of adventures. These, for a short time, were of
rather a dismal character; for, hearing the noise of a horse's
hoofs in the silent streets at that hour of the night, the people
opened their doors as he passed by, thinking it the pest-cart,
and brought forth many a miserable victim of the pestilence.
Averting his head from the revolting spectacles, Sir Norman held
the bottle of vinegar to his nostrils, and rode rapidly till he
reached Newgate. There he was stopped until his bill of health
was examined, and that small manuscript being found all right, he
was permitted to pass on in peace. Everywhere he went, the trail
of the serpent was visible over all. Death and Desolation went
hand in hand. Outside as well as inside the gates, great piles
of wood and coal were arranged, waiting only the midnight hour to
be fired. Here, however, no one seemed to be stirring; and no
sound broke the silence but the distant rumble of the death-cart,
and the ringing of the driver's bell. There were lights in some
of the houses, but many of them were dark and deserted, and
nearly every one bore the red cross of the plague.
It was a gloomy scene and hour, and Sir Norman's heart turned
sick within him as he noticed tho ruin and devastation the
pestilence had everywhere wrought. And he remembered, with a
shudder, the prediction of Lilly, the astrologer, that the paved
streets of London would be like green fields, and the living be
no longer able to bury the dead. Long before this, he had grown
hardened and accustomed to death from its very frequence; but
now, as he looked round him, he almost resolved to ride on and
return no more to London till the plague should have left it.
But then came the thought of his unknown lady-love, and with it
the reflection that he was on his way to find her; and, rousing
himself from his melancholy reverie, he rode on at a brisker
pace, heroically resolved to brave the plague or any other
emergency, for her sake. Full of this laudable and lover-like
resolution, he had got on about half a mile further, when he was
suddenly checked in his rapid career by an exciting, but in no
way surprising, little incident.
During the last few yards, Sir Norman had come within sight of
another horseman, riding on at rather a leisurely pace,
considering the place and the hour. Suddenly three other
horsemen came galloping down upon him, and the leader presenting
a pistol at his head, requested him in a stentorial voice for his
money or his life. By way of reply, the stranger instantly
produced a pistol of his own, and before the astonished
highwayman could comprehend the possibility of such an act,
discharged it full in his face. With a loud yell the robber
reeled and fell from his saddle, and in a twinkling both his
companions fired their pistols at the traveler, and bore, with a
simultaneous cry of rage, down upon him. Neither of the shots
had taken effect, but the two enraged highwaymen would have made
short work of their victim had not Sir Norman, like a true
knight, ridden to the rescue. Drawing his sword, with one
vigorous blow he placed another of the assassins hors de combat;
and, delighted with the idea of a fight to stir his stagnant
blood, was turning (like a second St. George at the Dragon), upon
the other, when that individual, thinking discretion the better
part of valor, instantaneously turned tail and fled. The whole
brisk little episode had not occupied five minutes, and Sir
Norman was scarcely aware the fight had began before it had
"Short, sharp, and decisive!" was the stranger's cool criticism,
as he deliberately wiped his blood=stained sword, and placed it
in a velvet scabbard. "Our friends, there, got more than they
bargained for, I fancy. Though, but for you, Sir," he said,
politely raising him hat and bowing, "I should probably have been
ere this in heaven, or - the other place."
Sir Norman, deeply edified by the easy sang-froid of the speaker,
turned to take a second look at him. There was very little
light; for the night had grown darker as it wore on, and the few
stars that had glimmered faintly had hid their diminished heads
behind the piles of inky clouds. Still, there was a sort of
faint phosphorescent light whitening the gloom, and by it Sir
Norman's keen bright eyes discovered that he wore a long dark
cloak and slouched hat. He discovered something else, too - that
he had seen that hat and cloak, and the man inside of them on
London Bridge, not an hour before. It struck Sir Norman there
was a sort of fatality in their meeting; and his pulses quickened
a trifle, as he thought that he might be speaking to the husband
of the lady for whom he had so suddenly conceived such a rash and
inordinate attachment. That personage meantime having reloaded
his pistol, with a self-possession refreshing to witness,
replaced it in his doublet, gathered up the reins, and, glancing
slightly at his companion, spoke again
"I should thank you for saving my life, I suppose, but thanking
people is so little in my line, that I scarcely know how to set
about it. Perhaps, my dear sir, you will take the will for the
"An original, this," thought Sir Norman, "whoever he is." Then
aloud: "Pray don't trouble yourself about thanks, sir, I should
have dome precisely the same for the highwaymen, had you been
three to one over them."
"I don't doubt it in the least; nevertheless I feel grateful, for
you have saved my life all the same, and you have never seen me
"There you are mistaken," said Sir Norman, quietly "I had the
pleasure of seeing you scarce an hour ago."
"Ah!" said the stranger, in an altered tone, "and where?"
"On London Bridge."
"I did not see you."
"Very likely, but I was there none the less."
"Do you know me?" said the stranger; and Sir Norman could see he
was gazing at him sharply from under the shadow of his slouched
"I have not that honor, but I hope to do so before we part."
"It was quite dark when you saw me on the bridge - how comes it,
then, that you recollect me so well?"
"I have always been blessed with an excellent memory," said Sir
Norman carelessly, "and I knew your dress, face, and voice
"My voice! Then you heard me speak, probably to the watchman
guarding a plague-stricken house?"
"Exactly! and the subject being a very interesting one, I
listened to all you said."
"Indeed I and what possible interest could; the subject have for
you, may I ask?"
"A deeper one than you think!" said Sir Norman, with a slight
tremor in his voice as he thought of the lady, "the watchman told
you the lady you sought for had been carried away dead, and
thrown into the plague-pit!"
"Well," cried the stranger starting violently, "and was it not
"Only partly. She was carried away in the pest-cart sure enough,
but she was not thrown into the plague-pit!"
"Because, when on reaching that horrible spot, she was found to
"Good Heaven! And what then?"
"Then," exclaimed Sir Norman, in a tone almost as excited as his
own, "she was brought to the house of a friend, and left alone
for a few minutes, while that friend went in search of a doctor.
On returning they found her - where do you think?"
"Gone!" said Sir Norman emphatically, "spirited away by some
mysterious agency; for she was dying of the plague, and could not
possibly stir hand or foot herself."
"Dying of the plague, O Leoline!" said the stranger, in a voice
full of pity and horror, while for a moment he covered his face
with his hands.
"So her name is Leoline?" said Sir Norman to himself. "I have
found that out, and also that this gentleman, whatever he may be
to her, is as ignorant of her whereabouts as I am myself. He
seems in trouble, too. I wonder if he really happens to be her
The stranger suddenly lifted his head and favored Sir Norman with
a long and searching look.
"How come you to know all this, Sir Norman Kingsley," he asked
"And how come you to know my name?" demanded Sir Norman, very
much amazed, notwithstanding his assertion that nothing would
astonish him more.
"That is of no consequence! Tell me how you've learned all
this?" repeated the stranger, in a tone of almost stern
Sir Norman started and stared. That voice I have had heard it a
thousand times! It had evidently been disguised before; but now,
in the excitement of the moment, the stranger was thrown off his
guard, and it became perfectly familiar. But where had he heard
it? For the life of him, Sir Norman could not tell, yet it was
as well known to him as his own. It had the tone, too, of one
far more used to command than entreaty; and Sir Norman, instead
of getting angry, us he felt he ought to have done, mechanically
"The watchman told you of the two young men who brought her out
and laid her in the dead-cart - I was one of the two."
"And who was the other?"
"A friend of mine - one Malcolm Ormiston."
"Ah! I know him! Pardon my abruptness, Sir Norman," said the
stranger, once more speaking in his assumed suave tone, "but I
feel deeply on this subject, and was excited at the moment. You
spoke of her being brought to the house of a friend - now, who
may that friend be, for I was not aware that she had any?"
"So I judged," said Sir Norman, rather bitterly, "or she would not
have been left to die alone of the plague. She was brought to my
house, sir, and I am the friend who would have stood by her to
Sir Norman sat up very straight and haughty on his horse; and had
it been daylight, he would have seen a slight derisive smile pass
over the lips of his companion.
"I have always heard that Sir Norman Kingsley was a chivalrous
knight," he said; "but I scarcely dreamed his gallantry would
have carried him go far as to brave death by the pestilence for
the sake of an unknown lady - however beautiful. I wonder you,
did not carry her to the pest-house."
"No doubt! Those who could desert her at such a time would
probably be capable of that or any other baseness!"
"My good friend," said the stranger, calmly, "your insinuation is
not over-courteous, but I can forgive it, more for the sake of
what you've done for her to-night than for myself."
Sir Norman's lip curled.
"I'm obliged to you! And now, sir, as you have seen fit to
question me in this free and easy manner, will you pardon me if I
take the liberty of returning the compliment, and ask you a few
"Certainly; pray proceed, Sir Norman," said the stranger,
blandly; "you are at liberty to ask as many questions as you
please - so am I to answer them."
"I answered all yours unhesitatingly, and you owe it to me to do
the same," said Sir Norman, somewhat haughtily. "In the first
place, you have an advantage of me which I neither understand,
nor relish; so, to place us on equal terms, will you have the
goodness to tell me your name?"
"Most assuredly! My name," said the stranger, with glib
airiness, "is Count L'Estrange."
"A name unknown to me," said Sir Norman, with a piercing look,
"and equally unknown, I believe, at Whitehall. There is a Lord
L'Estrange in London; or you and he are certainly not one and the
"My friend does not believe me," said the count, almost gayly -
"a circumstance I regret, but cannot help. Is there anything
else Sir Norman wishes to know?"
"If you do not answer my questions truthfully, there to little
use in my asking them," said Sir Norman, bluntly. "Do you mean
to say you are a foreigner?"
"Sir Norman Kingsley is at perfect liberty to answer that
question as he pleases," replied the stranger, with most
Sir Norman's eye flashed, and his hand fell on his sword; but,
reflecting that the count might find it inconvenient to answer
any more questions if he ran him through, he restrained himself
and went on.
"Sir, you are impertinent, but that is of no consequence, just
now. Who was that lady - what was her name?"
"Was she your wife?"
The stranger paused for a moment, as if reflecting whether she
was or not, and then said, meditatively
"No - I don't know as she was. On the whole, I am pretty sure
she was not."
Sir Norman felt as if a ton weight had been suddenly hoisted from
the region of his heart.
"Was she anybody else's wife?"
"I think not. I'm inclined to think that, except myself, she did
not know another man in London."
"Then why was she dressed as a bride?" inquired Sir Norman,
"Was she? My poor Leoline!" said the stranger, sadly. "Because-"
he hesitated, "because - in short, Sir Norman," said the stranger,
decidedly, "I decline answering any more questions!"
"I shall find out, for all that," said Sir Norman, "and here I
shall bid you good-night, for this by-path leads to my
"Good-night," said the stranger, "and be careful, Sir
Norman-remember, the plague is abroad."
"And so are highwaymen!" called Sir Norman after him, a little
maliciously; but a careless laugh from the stranger was the only
reply as he galloped away.
THE DWARF AND THE RUIN.
The by-path down which Sir Norman rode, led to an inn, "The
Golden Crown," about a quarter of a mile from the ruin. Not
wishing to take his horse, lest it should lead to discovery, he
proposed leaving it here till his return; and, with this
intention, and the strong desire for a glass of wine - for the
heat and his ride made him extremely thirsty - he dismounted at
the door, and consigning the animal to the care of a hostler, he
entered the bar-room. It was not the most inviting place in the
world, this same bar-room - being illy-lighted, dim with
tobacco-smoke, and pervaded by a strong spirituous essence of
stronger drinks than malt or cold water. A number of men were
loitering about, smoking, drinking, and discussing the
all-absorbing topic of the plague, and the fires that might be
kindled. There was a moment's pause, as Sir Norman entered, took
a seat, and called for a glass of sack, and then the conversation
went on as before. The landlord hastened to supply his wants by
placing a glass and a bottle of wine before him, and Sir Norman
fell to helping himself, and to ruminating deeply on the events
of the night. Rather melancholy these ruminations were, though
to do the young gentleman justice, sentimental melancholy was not
at all in his line; but then you will please to recollect he was
in love, and when people come to that state, they are no longer
to be held responsible either for their thoughts or actions. It
is true his attack had been a rapid one, but it was no less
severe for that; and if any evil-minded critic is disposed to
sneer at the suddenness of his disorder, I have only to say, that
I know from observation, not to speak of experience, that love at
first sight is a lamentable fact, and no myth.
Love is not a plant that requires time to flourish, but is quite
capable of springing up like the gourd of Jonah full grown in a
moment. Our young friend, Sir Norman, had not been aware of the
existence of the object of his affections for a much longer space
than two hours and a half, yet he had already got to such a
pitch, that if he did not speedily find her, he felt he would do
something so desperate as to shake society to its utmost
foundations. The very mystery of the affair spurred him on, and
the romantic way in which she had been found, saved, and
disappeared, threw such a halo of interest round her, that he was
inclined to think sometimes she was nothing but a shining vision
from another world. Those dark, splendid eyes; that lovely
marblelike face; those wavy ebon tresses; that exquisitely
exquisite figure; yes, he felt they were all a great deal too
perfect for this imperfect and wicked world. Six Norman was in a
very bad way, beyond doubt, but no worse than millions of young
men before and after him; and he heaved a great many profound
sighs, and drank a great many glasses of sack, and came to the
sorrowful conclusion that Dame Fortune was a malicious jade,
inclined to poke fun at his best affections, and make a
shuttlecock of his heart for the rest of his life. He thought,
too, of Count L'Estrange; and the longer he thought, the more he
became convinced that he knew him well, and had met him often.
But where? He racked his brain until, between love, Leoline, and
the count, he got that delicate organ into such a maze of
bewilderment and distraction, that he felt he would be a case of
congestion, shortly, if he did not give it up. That the count's
voice was not the only thing about him assumed, he was positive;
and he mentally called over the muster-roll of his past friends,
who spent half their time at Whitehall, and the other half going
through the streets, making love to the honest citizens' pretty
wives and daughters; but none of them answered to Count
L'Estrange. He could scarcely be a foreigner - he spoke English
with too perfect an accent to be that; and then he knew him, Sir
Norman, as if he had been his brother. In short, there was no
use driving himself insane trying to read so unreadable a riddle;
and inwardly consigning the mysterious count to Old Nick, he
swallowed another glass of sack, and quit thinking about him.
So absorbed had Sir Norman been in his own mournful musings, that
he paid no attention whatever to those around him, and had nearly
forgotten their very presence, when one of them, with aloud cry,
sprang to his feet, and then fell writhing to the floor. The
others, in dismay, gathered abut him, but the ne=t instant fell
back with a cry of, "He has the plague!" At that dreaded
announcement, half of them scampered off incontinently; and the