Part 3 out of 6
minutes. I cannot realize at all that you are a stranger to me!"
"Nor I; though, for that matter, you are not a stranger to me,
"Am I not? How is that!"
"I have seen you go past so often, you know; and Prudence told me
who you were; and so I need - I used - " hesitating and glowing
to a degree before which her dress paled.
"Well, dearest," said Sir Norman, getting from the positive to
the superlative at a jump, and diminishing the distance between
them, "you need to - what?"
"To watch for you!" said Leoline, in a sly whisper. "And so I
have got to know you very well!"
"My own darling! And, O Leoline! may I hope - dare I hope - that
you do not altogether hate me?"
Leoline looked reflective; though her bleak eyes were sparkling
under their sweeping lashes.
"Why, no," she said, demurely, "I don't know as I do. It's very
sinful and improper to hate one's fellow-creatures, you know, Sir
Norman, and therefore I don't indulge in it."
"Ah! you are given to piety, I see. In that case, perhaps you
are aware of a precept commanding us to love our neighbors. Now,
I'm your nearest neighbor at present; so, to keep up a consistent
Christian spirit, just be good enough to say you love me!"
Again Leoline laughed; and this time the bright, dancing eyes
beamed in their sparkling darkness fall upon him.
"I am afraid your theology is not very sound, my friend, and I
have a dislike to extremes. There is a middle course, between
hating and loving. Suppose I take that?"
"I will have no middle courses - either hating or loving it must
be! Leoline! Leoline!" (bending over her, and imprisoning both
hands this time) "do say you love me!"
"I am captive in your hands, so I must, I suppose. Yes, Sir
Norman, I do love you!"
Every man hearing that for the first time from a pair of loved
lips is privileged to go mad for a brief season, and to go
through certain manoeuvers much more delectable to the enjoyers
than to society at large. For fully ten minutes after Leoline's
last speech, there was profound silence. But actions sometimes
speak louder than words; and Leoline was perfectly convinced that
her declaration had not fallen on insensible ears. At the end of
that period, the space between them on the couch had so greatly
diminished, that the ghost of a zephyr would have been crushed to
death trying to get between them; and Sir Norman's face was
fairly radiant. Leoline herself looked rather beaming; and she
suddenly, and without provocation, burst into a merry little peal
"Well, for two people who were perfect strangers to each other
half an hour ago, I think we have gone on remarkably well. What
will Mr. Ormiston and Prudence say, I wonder, when they hear
"They will say what is the truth - that I am the luckiest man in
England. O Leoline! I never thought it was in me to love any
one as I do you."'
"I am very glad to hear it; but I knew that it was in me long
before I ever dreamed of knowing you. Are you not anxious to
know something about the future Lady Kingsley's past history?"
"It will all come in good time; it is not well to have a surfeit
of joy in one night.
"I do not know that this will add to your joy; but it had better
be told and be done with, at once and forever. In the first
place, I presume I am an orphan, for I have never known father or
mother, and I have never had any other name but Leoline."
"So Ormiston told me."
"My first recollection is of Prudence; she was my nurse and
governess, both in one; and we lived in a cottage by the sea - I
don't know where, but a long way from this. When I was about ten
years old, we left it, and came to London, and lived in a house
in Cheapside, for five or six years; and then we moved here. And
all this time, Sir Norman you will think it strange - but I never
made any friends or acquaintances, and knew no one but Prudence
and an old Italian professor, who came to our lodgings in
Cheapside, every week, to give me lessons. It was not because I
disliked society, you must know; but Prudence, with all her
kindness and goodness - and I believe she truly loves me - has
been nothing more or less all my life than my jailer."
She paused to clasp a belt of silver brocade, fastened by a pearl
buckle, close around her little waist, and Sir Norman fixed his
eyes upon her beautiful face, with a powerful glance.
"Knew no one - that is strange, Leoline! Not even the Count
"Ah! you know him?" she cried eagerly, lifting her eyes with a
bright look; "do - do tell me who he is?"
"Upon my honor, my dear," said Sir Norman, considerably taken
aback, "it strikes me you are the person to answer that question.
If I don't greatly mistake, somebody told me you were going to
"Oh, so I was," said Leoline, with the utmost simplicity. "But I
don't know him, for all that; and more than that, Sir Norman, I
do not believe his name is Count L'Estrange, any more than mine
"Precisely my opinion; but why, in the name of - no, I'll not
swear; but why were you going to marry him, Leoline?"
Leoline half pouted, and shrugged her pretty pink satin
"Because I couldn't help it - that's why. He coaxed, and coaxed;
and I said no, and no, and no, until I got tired of it.
Prudence, too, was as bad as he was, until between them I got
about distracted, and at last consented to marry him to get rid
"My poor, persecuted little darling! Oh," cried Sir Norman, with
a burst of enthusiasm, "how I should admire to have Count
L'Estrange here for about tea minutes, just now! I world spoil
his next wooing for him, or I am mistaken!"
"No, no!" said Leoline, looking rather alarmed; "you must not
fight, you know. I shouldn't at all like either of you to get
killed. Besides, he has not married me; and so there's no harm
Sir Norman seemed rather struck by that view of the case, and
after a few moments reflection on it, came to the conclusion that
she knew best, and settled down peaceably again.
"Why do you suppose his name is not Count L'Estrange?" he asked.
"For many reasons. First - he is disguised; wears false
whiskers, moustache, and wig, and even the voice he uses appears
assumed. Then Prudence seems in the greatest awe of him, and she
is not one to be easily awed. I never knew her to be in the
slightest degree intimidated by any human being but himself and
that mysterious woman, La Masque.
"Ah! you know La Masque, then?"
"Not personally; but I have seen her as I did you, you remember,"
with an arch glance; "and, like you, being once seen, is not to
Sir Norman promptly paid her for the compliment in Cupid's own
"Little flatterer! I can almost forgive Count L'Estrange for
wanting to marry you; for I presume he it only a man, and not
quite equal to impossibilities. How long is it since you knew
"Not two months. My courtships," said Leoline, with a gay laugh,
"seem destined to be of the shortest. He saw me one evening in
the window, and immediately insisted on being admitted; and after
that, he continued coming until I had to promise, as I have told
you, to be Countess L'Estrange."
"He cannot be mach of a gentleman, or he would not attempt to
force a lady against her will. And so, when you were dressed for
your bridal, you found you had the plague?"
"Yes, Sir Norman; and horrible as that was I do assure you I
almost preferred it to marrying him."
"Leoline, tell me how long it is since you've known me?"
"Nearly three months," said Leoline, blushing again celestial
"And how long have you loved me?"
"Nonsense. What a question! I shall not tell you."
"You shall - you must - I insist upon it. Did you love me before
you met the count? Out with it."
"Well, then - yes!" cried Leoline desperately.
Sir Norman raised the hand he held, is rapture to his lips:
"My darling! But I will reserve my raptures, for it is growing
late, and I know you mast want to go to rest. I have a thousand
things to tell you, but they must wait for daylight; only I will
promise, before parting, that this is the last night you mast
Leoline opened her bright eyes very wide.
"To-morrow morning," went on Sir Norman, impressively, and with
dignity, "you will be up and dressed by sunrise, and shortly
after that radiant period, I will make my appearance with two
horses - one of which I shall ride, and the other I shall lead:
the one I lead you shall mount, and we will ride to the nearest
church, and be married without any pomp or pageant; and then Sir
Norman and Lady Kingsley will immediately leave London, and in
Kingsley Castle, Devonshire, will enjoy the honeymoon and
blissful repose till the plague is over. Do you understand
"Perfectly," she answered, with a radiant face.
"And agree to it?"
"You know I do, Sir Norman; only - "
"Well, my pet, only what?"
"Sir Norman, I should like to see Prudence. I want Prudence.
How can I leave her behind?"
"My dear child, she made nothing of leaving you when she thought
you were dying; so never mind Prudence, but say, will you be
"That is my good little Leoline. Now give me a kiss, Lady
Kingsley, and good-night."
Lady Kingsley dutifully obeyed; and Sir Norman went out with a
glow at his heart, like a halo round a full moon.
THE PAGE, THE FIRES, AND THE FALL.
The night was intensely dark when Sir Norman got into it once
more; and to any one else would have been intensely dismal, but
to Sir Norman all was bright as the fair hills of Beulah. When
all is bright within, we see no darkness without; and just at
that moment our young knight had got into one of those green and
golden glimpses of sunshine that here and there checker life's
rather dark pathway, and with Leoline beside him would have
thought the dreary whores of the Dead Sea itself a very paradise.
It was now near midnight, and there was an unusual concourse of
people in the sheets, waiting for St. Paul's to give the signal
to light the fires. He looked around for Ormiston; but Ormiston
was nowhere to be seen - horse and rider had disappeared. His
own horse stood tethered where he had left him. Anxious as he
was to ride back to the ruin, and see the play played out, he
could not resist the temptation of lingering a brief period in
the city, to behold the grand spectacle of the myriad fires.
Many persons were hurrying toward St. Paul's to witness it from
the dome; and consigning his horse to the care of the sentinel on
guard at the house opposite, he joined them, and was soon
striding along, at a tremendous pace, toward the great cathedral.
Ere he reached it, its long-tongued clock tolled twelve, and all
the other churches, one after another, took up the sound, and the
witching hour of midnight rang and rerang from end to end of
London town. As if by magic, a thousand forked tongues of fire
shot up at once into the blind, black night, turning almost in an
instant the darkened face of the heavens to an inflamed, glowing
red. Great fires were blazing around the cathedral when they
reached it, but no one stopped to notice them, but only hurried
on the faster to gain their point of observation.
Sir Norman just glanced at the magnificent pile - for the old St.
Paul's was even more magnificent than the new, - and then
followed after the rest, through many a gallery, tower, and
spiral staircase till the dome was reached. And there a grand
and mighty spectacle was before him - the whole of London swaying
and heaving in one great sea of fire. From one end to the other,
the city seemed wrapped in sheets of flame, and every street, and
alley, and lane within it shone in a lurid radiance far brighter
than noonday. All along the river fires were gleaming, too; and
the whole sky had turned from black to blood-red crimson. The
streets were alive and swarming - it could scarcely be believed
that the plague-infested city contained half so many people, and
all were unusually hopeful and animated; for it was popularly
believed that these fires would effectually check the pestilence.
But the angry fiat of a Mighty Judge had gone forth, and the
tremendous arm of the destroying angel was not to be stopped by
the puny hand of man.
It has been said the weather for weeks was unusually brilliant,
days of cloudless sunshine, nights of cloudless moonlight, and
the air was warm and sultry enough for the month of August in the
tropics. But now, while they looked, a vivid flash of lightning,
from what quarter of the heavens no man knew, shot athwart the
sky, followed by another and another, quick, sharp, and blinding.
Then one great drop of rain fell like molten lead on the
pavement, then a second and a third quicker, faster, and thicker,
until down it crashed in a perfect deluge. It did not wait to
rain; it fell in floods - in great, slanting sheets of water, an
if the very floodgates of heaven had opened for a second deluge.
No one ever remembered to have seen such torrents fall, and the
populace fled before it in wildest dismay. In five minutes,
every fire, from one extremity of London to the other, was
quenched in the very blackness of darkness, and on that night the
deepest gloom and terror reigned throughout the city. It was
clear the hand of an avenging Deity was in this, and He who had
rained down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah had not lost His might.
In fifteen minutes the terrific flood was over; the dismal clouds
cleared away, a pale, fair, silver moon shone serenely out, and
looked down on the black, charred heaps of ashes strewn through
the streets of London. One by one, the stars that all night had
been obscured, glanced and sparkled over the sky, and lit up with
their soft, pale light the doomed and stricken town. Everybody
had quitted the dome in terror and consternation; and now Sir
Norman, who had been lost in awe, suddenly bethought him of his
ride to the ruin, and hastened to follow their example. Walking
rapidly, not to say recklessly, along, he abruptly knocked
against some one sauntering leisurely before him, and nearly
pitched headlong on the pavement. Recovering his centre of
gravity by a violent effort, he turned to see the cause of the
collision, and found himself accosted by a musical and
"Pardon," paid the sweet, and rather feminine tones; "it was
quite an accident, I assure you, monsieur. I had no idea I was
in anybody's way."
Sir Norman looked at the voice, or rather in the direction whence
it came, and found it proceeded from a lad in gay livery, whose
clear, colorless face, dark eyes, end exquisite features were by
no means unknown. The boy seemed to recognize him at the same
moment, and slightly touched his gay cap.
"Ah! it is Sir Norman Kingsley! Just the very person, but one,
in the world that I wanted most to see."
"Indeed! And, pray, whom have I the honor of addressing?"
inquired Sir Norman, deeply edified by the cool familiarity of
"They call me Hubert - for want of a better name, I suppose,"
said the lad, easily. "And may I ask, Sir Norman, if you are
shod with seven-leagued boots, or if your errand is one of life
and death, that you stride along at such a terrific rate?"
"And what is that to you?" asked Sir Norman, indignant at his
"Nothing; only I should like to keep up with you, if my legs were
long enough; and as they're not, and as company is not easily to
be had in these forlorn streets, I should feel obliged to you if
you would just slacken your pace a trifle, and take me in tow."
The boy's face in the moonlight, in everything but expression,
was exactly that of Leoline, to which softening circumstance may
be attributed Sir Norman's yielding to the request, and allowing
the page to keep along side.
"I've met you once before to-night?" inquired Sir Norman, after a
prolonged and wondering stare at him.
"Yes; I have a faint recollection of seeing you and Mr. Ormiston
on London Bridge, a few hours ago, and, by the way, perhaps I may
mention I am now in search of that same Mr. Ormiston."
"You are! And what may you want of him, pray?"
"Just a little information of a private character - perhaps you
can direct me to his whereabouts."
"Should be happy to oblige you, my dear boy, but, unfortunately,
I cannot. I want to see him myself, if I could find any one good
enough to direct me to him. Is your business pressing?"
"Very - there is a lady in the case; and such business, you are
aware, is always pressing. Probably you have heard of her - a
youthful angel, in virgin white, who took a notion to jump into
the Thames, not a great while ago."
"Ah!" said Sir Norman, with a start that did not escape the quick
eyes of the boy. "And what do you want of her?"
The page glanced at him.
"Perhaps you know her yourself, sir Norman? If so, you will
answer quite as well as your friend, as I only want to know where
"I have been out of town to-night," said Sir Norman, evasively,
"and there may have been more ladies than one jumped into the
Thames, daring my absence. Pray, describe your angel in white."
"I did not notice her particularly myself," said the boy, with
easy indifference, "as I am not in the habit of paying much
attention to young ladies who run wild about the streets at night
and jump promiscuously into rivers. However, this one was rather
remarkable, for being dressed as a bride, having long black hair,
and a great quantity of jewelry about her, and looking very much
like me. Having said she looks like me, I need not add she is
"Vanity of vanities, all in vanity !" murmured Sir Norman,
meditatively. "Perhaps she is a relative of yours, Master
Hubert, since you take such an interest in her, and she looks so
much like you."
"Not that I know of," said Hubert, in his careless way. "I
believe I was born minus those common domestic afflictions,
relatives; and I don't take the slightest interest in her,
either; don't think it!"
"Then why are you in search of her?"
"For a very good reason - because I've been ordered to do so."
"By whom - your master?"
"My Lord Rochester," said that nobleman's page, waving off the
insinuation by a motion of his hand and a little displeased
frown; "he picked her up adrift, and being composed of highly
inflammable materials, took a hot and vehement fancy for her,
which fact he did not discover until your friend, Mr. Ormiston,
had carried her off."
Sir Norman scowled.
"And so he sent you in search of her, has he?"
"Exactly so; and now you perceive the reason why it is quite
important that I find Mr. Ormiston. We do not know where he has
taken her to, but fancy it must be somewhere near the river."
"You do? I tell you what it is, my boy," exclaimed Sir Norman,
suddenly and in an elevated key, "the best thing you can do is,
to go home and go to bed, and never mind young ladies. You'll
catch the plague before you'll catch this particular young lady -
I can tell you that!"
"Monsieur is excited," lisped the lad raining his hat end running
his taper fingers through his glossy, dark curls. "Is she as
handsome as they say she is, I wonder?"
"Handsome!" cried Sir Norman, lighting up with quite a new
sensation at the recollection. "I tell you handsome doesn't
begin to describe her! She is beautiful, lovely, angelic, divine - "
Here Sir Norman's litany of adjectives beginning to give out,
he came to a sudden halt, with a face as radiant as the sky
"Ah! I did not believe them, when they told me she was so much
like me; but if she in as near perfection as you describe, I
shall begin to credit it. Strange, is it not, that nature should
make a duplicate of her greatest earthly chef d'oeuvre?"
"You conceited young jackanapes!" growled Sir Norman, in deep
displeasure. "It is far stranger how such a bundle of vanity can
contrive to live in this work-a-day world. You are a foreigner,
"Yes, Sir Norman, I am happy to say I am."
"You don't like England, then?"
"I'd be sorry to like it; a dirty, beggarly, sickly place as I
Sir Norman eyed the slender specimen of foreign manhood, uttering
this sentiment is the sincerest of tones, and let his hand fall
heavily on his shoulder.
"My good youth, be careful! I happen to be a native, and not
altogether used to this sort of talk. How long have you been
here? Not long, I know myself - at least, not in the Earl of
Rochester's service, or I would have seen you."
"Right! I have not been here a month; but that month hag seemed
longer than a year elsewhere. Do you know, I imagine when the
world was created, this island of yours must have been made late
on Saturday night, and then merely thrown in from the refuse to
fill up a dent in the ocean."
Sir Norman paused in his walk, and contemplated the speaker a
moment in severest silence. But Master Hubert only lifted up his
saucy face and laughing black eyes, in dauntless sang froid.
"Master Hubert," began Master Hubert's companion, in his deepest
and sternest base, "I don't know your other name, and it would be
of no consequence if I did - just listen to me a moment. If you
don't want to get run through (you perceive I carry a sword), and
have an untimely end put to your career, just keep a civil tongue
in your head, and don't slander England. Now come on!"
Hubert laughed and shrugged his shoulders:
"Thought is free, however, so I can have my own opinion in spite
of everything. Will you tell me, monsieur, where I can find the
"You will have it, will you?" exclaimed Sir Norman, half drawing
his sword. "Don't ask questions, but answer them. Are you
"Monsieur has guessed it."
"How long have you been with your present master?"
"Monsieur, I object to that term," said Hubert, with calm
dignity. "Master is a vulgarism that I dislike; so, in alluding
to his lordship, take the trouble to say, patron."
Sir Norman laughed.
"With all my heart! How long, then, have you been with your
"Not quite two weeks."
"I do not like to be impertinently inquisitive in addressing so
dignified a gentleman, but perhaps you would not consider it too
great a liberty, if I inquired how you became his page?"
"Monsieur shall ask as many questions as he pleases, and it shall
not be considered the slightest liberty," said the young
gentleman, politely. "I had been roaming at large about the city
and the palace of his majesty - whom may Heaven preserve, and
grant a little more wisdom! - in search of a situation; and among
that of all nobles of the court, the Earl of Rochester's livery
struck me as being the moat becoming, and so I concluded to
"What an honor for his lordship! Since you dislike England so
much, however, you will probably soon throw up the situation and,
patronize the first foreign ambassador - "
"Perhaps! I rather like Whitehall, however. Old Rowlie has
taken rather a fancy to me," said the boy speaking with the same
easy familiarity of his majesty as he would of a lap-dog. "And
what is better, so has Mistress Stewart - so much so, that Heaven
forefend the king should become jealous. This, however, is
strictly entra nous, and not to be spoken of on any terms."
"Your secret shall be preserved at the risk of my life," said Sir
Norman, laying his hand on the left side of his doublet; "and in
return, may I ask if you have any relatives living - any sisters
"I see I you have a suspicion that the lady in white may be a
sister of mine. Well, you may set your mind at rest on that
point - for if she is, it is news to me, as I never saw her in my
life before tonight. Is she a particular friend of yours, Sir
"Never you mind that, my dear boy; but take my advice, and don't
trouble yourself looking for her; for, most assuredly, if you
find her, I shall break your head!"
"Much obliged," said Hubert, touching his cap, "but nevertheless,
I shall risk it. She had the plague, though, when she jumped
into the river, and perhaps the beat place to find her world be
the pest-house. I shall try."
"Go, and Heaven speed you! Yonder is the way to it, and my road
lies here. Good night, master Hubert."
"Good night, Sir Norman," responded the page, bowing airily; "and
if I do not find the lady to-night, most assuredly I shall do so
Turning along a road leading to the pest-house, and laughing as
he went, the boy disappeared. Fearing lest the page should
follow him, and thereby discover a clue to Leoline's abode, Sir
Norman turned into a street some distance from the house, and
waited in the shadow until he was out of sight. Then he came
forth, and, full of impatience to get back to the ruin, hurried
on to where he had left his horse. He was still in the care of
the watchman, whom he repaid for his trouble; and as he sprang on
his back, he glanced up at the windows of Leoline's house. It
was all buried in profound darkness but that one window from
which that faint light streamed, and he knew that she had not yet
gone to rest. For a moment he lingered and looked at it in the
absurd way lovers will look, and was presently rewarded by seeing
what he watched for - a shadow flit between him and the light.
The sight was a strong temptation to him to dismount and enter, and,
under pretence of warning her against the Earl of Rochester and his
"pretty page," see her once again. But reflection, stepping
rebukingly up to him, whispered indignantly, that his ladylove was
probably by this time in her night robe, and not at home to lovers;
and Sir Norman respectfully bowed to reflection's superior wisdom.
He thought of Hubert's words, "If I do not find her tonight, I shall
most assuredly to-morrow," and a chill presentiment of coming evil
fell upon him.
"To-morrow," he said, as he turned to go. "Who knows what
to-morrow may bring forth! Fairest and dearest Leoline,
He rode away in the moonlight, with the stars shining peacefully
down upon him. His heart at the moment was a divided one - one
half being given to Leoline, and the other to the Midnight Queen
and her mysterious court. The farther he went away from Leoline,
the dimmer her star became in the horizon of his thoughts; and
the nearer he came to Miranda, the brighter and more eagerly she
loomed up, until he spurred his horse to a most furious gallop,
lest he should find the castle and the queen lost in the regions
of space when he got there. Once the plague-stricken city lay
behind him, his journey was short; and soon, to his great
delight, he turned into the silent deserted by-path leading to
Tying his horse to a stake in the crumbling wall, he paused for a
moment to look at it in the pale, wan light of the midnight moon.
He had looked at it many a time before, but never with the same
interest as now; and the ruined battlements, the fallen roof, the
broken windows, and mouldering sides, had all a new and weird
interest for him. No one was visible far or near; and feeling
that his horse was secure in the shadow of the wall, he entered,
and walked lightly and rapidly along in the direction of the
spiral staircase. With more haste, but the same precaution, he
descended, and passed through the vaults to where he knew the
loose flag-stone was. It was well he did know; for there was
neither strain of music nor ray of light to guide him now; and
his heart sank to zero as he thought he might raise the stone and
discover nothing. His hand positively trembled with eagerness as
he lifted it; and with unbounded delight, not to be described,
looked down on the same titled assembly he had watched before.
But there had been a change since - half the lights were
extinguished, and the great vaulted room was comparatively in
shadow - the music had entirely died away and all was solemnly
silent. But what puzzled Sir Norman most of all was, the fact
that there seemed to be a trial of acme sort going on.
A long table, covered with green velvet, and looking not unlike a
modern billiard table, stood at the right of the queen's crimson
throne; and behind it, perched in a high chair, and wearing a
long, solemn, black robe, sat a small, thick personage, whose
skin Sir Norman would have known on a bush. He glanced at the
lower throne and found it as he expected, empty; and he saw at
once that his little highness was not only prince consort, but
also supreme judge in the kingdom. Two or three similar
black-robed gentry, among whom was recognizable the noble duke
who so narrowly escaped with his life under the swords of Sir
Norman and Count L'Estrange. Before this solemn conclave stood a
man who was evidently the prisoner under trial, and who wore the
whitest and most frightened face Sir Norman thought he had ever
beheld. The queen was lounging negligently back on her throne,
paying very little attention to the solemn rites, occasionally
gossiping with some of the snow-white sylphs beside her, and
often yawning behind her pretty finger-tips, and evidently very
much bored by it all.
The rest of the company were decorously seated in the crimson and
gilded arm-chairs, some listening with interest to what was going
on, others holding whispered tete-a-tetes, and all very still and
Sir Norman's interest was aroused to the highest pitch; he
imprudently leaned forward too far, in order to bear and see, and
lost his balance. He felt he was going, and tried to stop
himself, but in vain; and seeing there was no help for it, he
made a sudden spring, and landed right in the midst of the
In an instant all was confusion. Everybody sprang to their feet
- ladies shrieked in chorus, gentlemen swore and drew their
swords, and looked to see if they might not expect a whole army
to drop from the sky upon them, as they stood. No other
battalion, however, followed this forlorn hope; and seeing it,
the gentlemen took heart of grace and closed around the
unceremonious intruder. The queen had sprung from her royal
seat, and stood with her bright lips parted, and her brighter
eyes dilating in speechless wonder. The bench, with the judge at
their head, had followed her example, and stood staring with all
their might, looking, truth to tell, as much startled by the
sudden apparition as the fair sex. The said fair sex were still
firing off little volleys of screams in chorus, and clinging
desperately to their cavaliers; and everything, in a word, was in
most admired disorder.
Tam O'Shanter's cry, "Weel done, Cutty sark!" could not have
produced half such a commotion among his "hellish legion" as the
emphatic debut of Sir Norman Kingsley among these human revelers.
The only one who seemed rather to enjoy it than otherwise was the
prisoner, who was quietly and quickly making off, when the
malevolent and irrepressible dwarf espied him, and the one shock
acting as a counter-irritant to the other, he bounced fleetly
over the table, and grabbed him in his crab-like claws.
This brisk and laudable instance of self-command had a wonderful
and inspiriting effect on the rest; and as he replaced the pale
and palsied prisoner in his former position, giving him a
vindictive shake and vicious kick with his royal boots as he did
so, everybody began to feel themselves again. The ladies stopped
screaming, the gentlemen ceased swearing, and more than one
exclamation of astonishment followed the cries of terror.
"Sir Norman Kingsley! Sir Norman Kingsley!" rang from lip to lip
of those who recognized him; and all drew closer, and looked at
him as if they really could not make up their mind to believe
their eyes. As for Sir Norman himself, that gentleman was
destined literally, if not metaphorically, to fall on his legs
that night, and had alighted on the crimson velvet-carpet,
cat-like, on his feet. In reference to his feelings - his first
was one of frantic disapproval of going down; his second, one of
intense astonishment of finding himself there with unbroken
bones; his third, a disagreeable conviction that he had about put
his foot in it, and was in an excessively bad fix; and last, but
not least, a firm and rooted determination to make the beet of a
bad bargain, and never say die.
His first act was to take off his plumed hat, and make a profound
obeisance to her majesty the queen, who was altogether too much
surprised to make the return politeness demanded, and merely
stared at him with her great, beautiful, brilliant eyes, as if
she would never have done.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" said Sir Norman, turning gracefully to
the company; "I beg ten thousand pardons for this unwarrantable
intrusion, and promise you, upon my honor, never to do it again.
I beg to assure you that my coming here was altogether
involuntary on my part, and forced by circumstances over which I
had no control; and I entreat you will not mind me in the least,
but go on with the proceeding, just as you did before. Should
you feel my presence here any restraint, I am quite ready and
willing to take my departure at any moment; and as I before
insinuated, will promise, on the honor of a gentleman and a
knight, never again to take the liberty of tumbling through the
ceiling down on your heads."
This reference to the ceiling seemed to explain the whole
mystery; and everybody looked up at the corner whence he came
from, and saw the flag that had been removed. As to his speech,
everybody had listened to it with the greatest of attention; and
sundry of the ladies, convinced by this time that he was flesh
and blood, and no ghost, favored the handsome young knight with
divers glances, not at all displeased or unadmiring. The queen
sank back into her seat, keeping him still transfixed with her
darkly-splendid eyes; and whether she admired or otherwise, no
one could tell from her still, calm face. The prince consort's
feelings - for such there could be no doubt he was - were
involved in no such mystery; and he broke out into a hyena-like
scream of laughter, as he recognized, upon a second look, his
young friend of the Golden Crown.
"So you have come, have you?" he cried, thrusting his unlovely
visage over the table, till it almost touched sir Norman's. "You
have come, have you, after all I said?"
"Yes, sir I have come!" said Sir Norman, with a polite bow.
"Perhaps you don't know me, my dear young sir - your little
friend, you know, of the Golden Crown."
"Oh, I perfectly recognize you! My little friend," said Sir
Norman, with bland suavity, and unconsciously quoting Leoline,
"once seen in not easy to be-forgotten."
Upon this, his highness net up such another screech of mirth that
it quite woke an echo through the room; and all Sir Norman's
friends looked grave; for when his highness laughed, it was a
very bad sign.
"My little friend will hurt himself," remarked Sir Norman, with
an air of solicitude, "if he indulges in his exuberant and
gleeful spirits to such an extent. Let me recommend you, as a
well-wisher, to sit down and compose yourself."
Instead of complying, however, the prince, who seemed blessed
with a lively sense of the ludicrous, wan so struck with the
extreme funniness of the young man's speech, that he relaxed into
another paroxysm of levity, shriller and more unearthly, if
possible, than any preceding one, and which left him so
exhausted, that he was forced to sink into his chair and into
silence through sheer fatigue. Seizing this, the first
opportunity, Miranda, with a glance of displeased dignity st
Caliban, immediately struck in:
"Who are you, sir, and by what right do you dare to come here?"
Her tone was neither very sweet nor suave; but it was much
pleasanter to be cross-examined by the owner of such a pretty
face than by the ugly little monster, for the moment gasping and
extinguished; and Sir Norman turned to her with alacrity, and a
"Madame, I am Sir Norman Kingsley, very much at your service; and
I beg to assure you I did not come here, but fell here, through
that hole, if you perceive, and very much against my will."
"Equivocation will not serve you in this case, sir," said the
queen, with an austere dignity. "And, allow me to observe, it is
just probable you would not have fallen through that hole in our
royal ceiling if you had kept away from it. You raised that flag
yourself - did you not?"
"Madam, I fear I must say yes!"
"And why did you do so?" demanded her majesty, with far more
sharp asperity than Sir Norman dreamed could ever come from such
"The rumor of Queen Miranda's charms has gone forth; and I fear I
must own that rumor drew me hither," responded Sir Norman,
inventing a polite little work of fiction for the occasion; "and,
let me add, that I came to find that rumor had under-rated
instead of exaggerated her majesty's said charms."
Here Sir Norman, whose spine seemed in danger of becoming the
shape of a rainbow, in excess of good breeding, made another
genuflection before the queen, with his hand over the region of
his heart. Miranda tried to look grave, and wear that expression
of severe solemnity I am told queens and rich people always do;
but, in spite of herself, a little pleased smile rippled over her
face; and, noticing it, and the bow and speech, the prince
suddenly and sharply set up such another screech of laughter as
no steamboat or locomotive, in the present age of steam, could
begin to equal in ghastliness.
"Will your highness have the goodness to hold your tongue?"
inquired the queen, with much the air and look of Mrs. Caudle,
"and allow me to ask this stranger a few questions uninterrupted?
Sir Norman Kingsley, how long have you been above there,
listening and looking on?"
"Madame, I was not there five minutes when I suddenly, and to my
great surprise, found myself here."
"A lie! - a lie!" exclaimed the dwarf, furiously. "It is over
two hours since I met you at the bar of the Golden Crown."
"My dear little friend," said Sir Norman, drawing his sword, and
flourishing it within an inch of the royal nose, "just make that
remark again, and my sword will cleave your pretty head, as the
cimetar of Saladin clove the cushion of down! I earnestly assure
you, madame, that I had but just knelt down to look, when I
discovered to my dismay, that I was no longer there, but in your
"In that case, my lords and gentlemen," said the queen, glancing
blandly round the apartment, "he has witnessed nothing, and,
therefore, merits but slight punishment."
"Permit me, your majesty," said the duke, who had read the roll
of death, and who had been eyeing Sir Norman sharply for some
time, "permit me one moment! This is the very individual who
slew the Earl of Ashley, while his companion was doing for my
Lord Craven. Sir Norman Kingsley," said his grace, turning, with
awful impressiveness to that young person, "do you know me?"
"Quite as well as I wish to," answered Sir Norman, with a cool
and rather contemptuous glance in his direction. "You look
extremely like a certain highwayman, with a most villainous
countenance, I encountered a few hours back, and whom I would
have made mince most of if he lead not been coward enough to fly.
Probably you may be the name; you look fit for that, or anything
"Cut him down!" "Dash his brains out!" "Run him through!" "Shoot
him!" were a few of the mild and pleasant insinuations that went
off on every side of him, like a fierce volley of pop-guns; and a
score of bright blades flashed blue and threatening on every
side; while the prince broke out into another shriek of laughter,
that rang high over all.
Sir Norman drew his own sword, and stood on the defence, breathed
one thought to Leoline, gave himself up for lost; but before
quite doing so - to use a phrase not altogether as original as it
might be - "determined to sell his life as dearly as possible."
Angry eyes and fierce faces were on every hand, and his dreams of
matrimony and Leoline seemed about to terminate then and there,
when luck came to his side, in the shape of her most gracious
majesty the queen. Springing to her feet, she waved her sceptre,
while her black eyes flashed as fiercely as the best of them, and
her voice rang out like a trumpet-tone.
"Sheathe your swords, my lords, and back every man of you! Not
one hair of his head shall fall without my permission; and the
first who lays hands on him until that consent is given, shall
die, if I have to shoot him myself! Sir Norman Kingsley, stand
near, and fear not. At his peril, let one of them touch you!"
Sir Norman bent on one knee, and raised the gracious hand to his
lips. At the fierce, ringing, imperious tone, all involuntarily
fell back, as if they were accustomed to obey it; and the prince,
who seemed to-night in an uncommonly facetious mood, laughed
again, long and shrill.
"What are your majesty's commands?" asked the discomfited duke,
rather sulkily. "Is this insulting interloper to go free?"
"That is no affair of yours, my lord duke!" answered the spirited
voice of the queen. "Be good enough to finish Lord Gloucester's
trial; and until then I will be responsible for the safekeeping
of Sir Norman Kingsley."
"And after that, he is to go free eh, your majesty?" said the
dwarf, laughing to that extent that he ran the risk of rupturing
"After that, it shall be precisely as I please!" replied the
ringing voice; while the black eyes flashed anything but loving
glances upon him. "While I am queen here, I shall be obeyed;
when I am queen no longer, you may do as you please! My lords"
(turning her passionate, beautiful face to the hushed audience),
am I or am I not sovereign here!"
"Madame, you alone are our sovereign lady and queen!"
"Then, when I condescend to command, you shall obey! Do you,
your highness, and you, lord duke, go on with the Earl of
Gloucester's trial, and I will be the stranger's jailer."
"She is right," said the dwarf, his fierce little eyes gleaming
with a malignant light; "let us do one thing before another; and
after we have settled Gloucester here, we will attend to this
man's case. Guards keep a sharp eye on your new prisoner.
Ladies and gentlemen, be good enough to resume your seats. Now,
your grace, continue the trial."
"Where did we leave off?" inquired his grace, looking rather at a
loss, and scowling vengeance dire at the handsome queen and her
handsome protege, as he sank back in his chair of state.
"The earl was confessing his guilt, or about to do so. Pray, my
lord," said the dwarf, glaring upon the pallid prisoner, "were
you not saying you had betrayed us to the king?"
A breathless silence followed the question - everybody seemed to
hold his very breath to listen. Even the queen leaned forward
and awaited the answer eagerly, and the many eyes that had been
riveted on Sir Norman since his entrance, left him now for the
first time and settled on the prisoner. A piteous spectacle that
prisoner was - his face whiter than the snowy nymphs behind the
throne, and so distorted with fear, fury, and guilt, that it
looked scarcely human. Twice he opened his eyes to reply, and
twice all sounds died away in a choking gasp.
"Do you hear his highness?" sharply inquired the lord high
chancellor, reaching over the great seal, and giving the unhappy
Earl of Gloucester a rap on the head with it, "Why do you not
"Pardon! Pardon!" exclaimed the earl, in a husky whisper. "Do
not believe the tales they tell you of me. For Heaven's sake,
spare my life!"
"Confess!" thundered the dwarf, striking the table with his
clinched fist, until all the papers thereon jumped spasmodically
into the air-"confess at once, or I shall run you through where
The earl, with a perfect screech of terror, flung himself flat
upon his face and hands before the queen, with such force, that
Sir Norman expected to see his countenance make a hole in the
"O madame! spare me! spare me! spare me! Have mercy on me as you
hope for mercy yourself!"
She recoiled, and drew back her very garments from his touch, as
if that touch was pollution, eyeing him the while with a glance
frigid and pitiless as death.
"There is no mercy for traitors!" she coldly said. "Confess your
guilt, and expect no pardon from me!"
"Lift him up!" shouted the dwarf, clawing the air with his hands,
as if he could have clawed the heart out of his victim's body;
"back with him to his place, guards, and see that he does not
leave it again!"
Squirming, and writhing, and twisting himself in their grasp, in
very uncomfortable and eel-like fashion, the earl was dragged
back to his place, and forcibly held there by two of the guards,
while his face grew so ghastly and convulsed that Sir Norman
turned away his head, and could not bear to look at it.
"Confess!" once more yelled the dwarf in a terrible voice, while
his still more terrible eyes flashed sparks of fire - "confess,
or by all that's sacred it shall be tortured out of you. Guards,
bring me the thumb-screws, and let us see if they will not
exercise the dumb devil by which our ghastly friend is
"No, no, no!" shrieked the earl, while the foam flew from his
lips. "I confess! I confess! I confess!"
"Good! And what do you confess?" said the duke blandly, leaning
forward, while the dwarf fell back with a yell of laughter at the
success of his ruse.
"I confess all - everything - anything! only spare my life!"
"Do you confess to having told Charles, King of England, the
secrets of our kingdom and this place?" said the duke, sternly
rapping down the petition with a roll of parchment.
The earl grew, if possible, a more ghastly white. "I do - I
must! but oh! for the love of - "
"Never mind love," cut in the inexorable duke, "it is a subject
that has nothing whatever to do with the present case. Did you
or did you not receive for the aforesaid information a large sum
"I did; but my lord, my lord, spare - "
"Which sum of money you have concealed," continued the duke, with
another frown and a sharp rap. "Now the question is, where have
you concealed it?"
"I will tell you, with all my heart, only spare my life!"
"Tell us first, and we will think about your life afterward. Let
me advise you as a friend, my lord, to tell at once, and
truthfully," said the duke, toying negligently with the
"It is buried at the north corner of the old wall at the head of
Bradshaw's grave. You shall have that and a thousandfold more if
you'll only pardon - "
"Enough!" broke in the dwarf, with the look and tone of an
exultant demon. "That is all we want! My lord duke, give me the
death-warrant, and while her majesty signs it, I will pronounce
The duke handed him a roll of parchment, which he glanced
critically over, and handed to the queen for her autograph. That
royal lady spread the vellum on her knee, took the pen and
affixed her signature as coolly as if she were inditing a sonnet
in an album. Then his highness, with a face that fairly
scintillated with demoniac delight, stood up and fixed his eyes
on the ghastly prisoner, and spoke in a voice that reverberated
like the tolling of a death-bell through the room.
"My Lord of Gloucester, you have been tried by a council of your
fellow-peers, presided over by her royal self, and found guilty
of high treason. Your sentence is that you be taken hence,
immediately, to the block, and there be beheaded, in punishment
of your crime."
His highness wound up this somewhat solemn speech, rather
inconsistently, bursting out into one of his shrillest peals of
laughter; and the miserable Earl of Gloucester, with a gasping,
unearthly cry, fell back in the arms of the attendants. Dead and
oppressive silence reigned; and Sir Norman, who half believed all
along the whole thing was a farce, began to feel an uncomfortable
sense of chill creeping over him, and to think that, though
practical jokes were excellent things in their way, there was yet
a possibility of carrying them a little too far. The
disagreeable silence was first broken by the dwarf, who, after
gloating for a moment over his victim's convulsive spasms, sprang
nimbly from his chair of dignity and held out his arm for the
queen. The queen arose, which seemed to be a sign for everybody
else to do the same, and all began forming themselves in a sort
of line of march.
"Whist is to be done with this other prisoner, your highness?"
inquired the duke, making a poke with his forefinger at Sir
Norman. "Is he to stay here, or is he to accompany us?"
His highness turned round, and putting his face close up to Sir
Norman's favored him with a malignant grin.
"You'd like to come, wouldn't you, my dear young friend?"
"Really," said Sir Norman, drawing back and returning the dwarf's
stare with compound interest, "that depends altogether on the
nature of the entertainment; but, at the same time, I'm much
obliged to you for consulting my inclinations."
This reply nearly overset his highness's gravity once more, but
he checked his mirth after the first irresistible squeal; and
finding the company were all arranged in the order of going, and
awaiting his sovereign pleasure, he turned.
"Let him come," he said, with his countenance still distorted by
inward merriment; "It will do him good to see how we punish
offenders here, and teach him what he is to expect himself. Is
your majesty ready?"
"My majesty has been ready and waiting for the last five
minutes," replied the lady, over-looking his proffered hand with
grand disdain, and stepping lightly down from her throne.
Her rising was the signal for the unseen band to strike up a
grand triumphant "Io paean," though, had the "Rogue's March" been
a popular melody in those times, it would have suited the
procession much more admirably. The queen and the dwarf went
first, and a vivid contrast they were - she so young, so
beautiful, so proud, so disdainfully cold; he so ugly, so
stunted, so deformed, so fiendish. After them went the band of
sylphs in white, then the chancellor, archbishop, and
embassadors; next the whole court of ladies and gentlemen; and
after them Sir Norman, in the custody of two of the soldiers.
The condemned earl came last, or rather allowed himself to be
dragged by his four guards; for he seemed to have become
perfectly palsied and dumb with fear. Keeping time to the
triumphant march, and preserving dismal silence, the procession
wound its way along the room and through a great archway
heretofore hidden by the tapestry now lifted lightly by the
nymphs. A long stone passage, carpeted with crimson and gold,
and brilliantly illuminated like the grand saloon they had left,
was thus revealed, and three similar archways appeared at the
extremity, one to the right and left, and one directly before
them. The procession passed through the one to the left, and Sir
Norman started in dismay to find himself in the most gloomy
apartment he had ever beheld in his life. It was all covered
with black - walls, ceiling, and floor were draped in black, and
reminded him forcibly of La Masque's chamber of horrors, only
this was more repellant. It was lighted, or rather the gloom was
troubled, by a few spectral tapers of black wax in ebony
candlesticks, that seemed absolutely to turn black, and make the
horrible place more horrible. There was no furniture - neither
couch, chair, nor table nothing but a sort of stage at the upper
end of the room, with something that looked like a seat upon it,
and both were shrouded with the same dismal drapery. But it was
no seat; for everybody stood, arranging themselves silently and
noiselessly around the walls, with the queen and the dwarf at
their head, and near this elevation stood a tall, black statue,
wearing a mask, and leaning on a bright, dreadful, glittering
axe. The music changed to an unearthly dirge, so weird and
blood-curdling, that Sir Norman could have put his hands over his
ear-drums to shut out the ghastly sound. The dismal room, the
voiceless spectators, tho black spectre with the glittering axe,
the fearful music, struck a chill to his inmost heart.
Could it be possible they were really going to murder the unhappy
wretch? and could all those beautiful ladies--could that
surpassingly beautiful queen, stand there serenely unmoved, to
witness such a crime? While he yet looked round in horror, the
doomed man, already apparently almost dead with fear, was dragged
forward by his guards. Paralyzed as he was, at sight of the
stage which he knew to be the scaffold, he uttered shriek after
shriek of frenzied despair, and struggled like a madman to get
free. But as well might Laocoon have struggled in the folds of
the serpent; they pulled him on, bound him hand and foot, and
held his head forcibly down on the block.
The black spectre moved - the dwarf made a signal - the
glittering axe was raised - fell - a scream was cut in two - a
bright jet of blood spouted up in the soldiers faces, blinding
them; the axe fell again, and the Earl of Gloucester was minus
that useful and ornamental appendage, a head.
It was all over so quickly, that Sir Norman could scarcely
believe his horrified senses, until the deed was done. The
executioner threw a black cloth over the bleeding trunk, and held
up the grizzly head by the hair; and Sir Norman could have sworn
the features moved, and the dead eyes rolled round the room.
"Behold!" cried the executioner, striking the convulsed face with
the palm of his open hand, "the fate of all traitors!"
"And of all spies!" exclaimed the dwarf, glaring with his
fiendish eyes upon the appalled Sir Norman. "Keep your axe sharp
and bright, Mr. Executioner, for before morning dawns there is
another gentleman here to be made shorter by a head."
"Let us go," said the queen, glancing at the revolting sight, and
turning away with a shudder of repulsion. "Faugh! The sight of
blood has made me sick."
"And taken away my appetite for supper," added a youthful and
elegant beauty beside her. "My Lord Gloucester was hideous
enough when living, but, mon Dieu!, he is ten times more so when
"Your ladyship will not have the same story to tell of yonder
stranger, when he shares the same fate in are hour or two!" said
the dwarf, with a malicious grin; "for I heard you remarking upon
his extreme beauty when he first appeared."
The lady laughed and bowed, and turned her bright eyes upon Sir
"True! It is almost a pity to cut such a handsome head off - is
it not? I wish I had a voice in your highness's council, and I
know what I should do."
"What, Lady Mountjoy?"
"Entreat him to swear fealty, and become one of as; and - "
"And a bridegroom for your ladyship?" suggested the queen, with a
curling lip. "I think if Sir Norman Kingsley knew Lady Mountjoy
as well as I do, he would even prefer the block to such a fate!"
Lady Mountjoy's brilliant eyes shone like two angry meteors; but
she merely bowed and laughed; and the laugh was echoed by the
dwarf in his shrillest falsetto.
"Does your highness intend remaining here all night?" demanded
the queen, rather fiercely. "If not, the sooner we leave this
ghastly place the better. The play is over, and supper is
With which the royal virago made an imperious motion for her
attendant sprites in gossamer white to precede her, and turned
with her accustomed stately step to follow. The music
immediately changed from its doleful dirge to a spirited measure,
and the whole company flocked after her, back to the great room
of state. There they all paused, hovering in uncertainty around
the room, while the queen, holding her purple train up lightly in
one hand, stood at the foot of the throne, glancing at them with
her cold, haughty and beautiful eyes. In their wandering, those
same darkly-splendid eyes glanced and lighted on Sir Norman, who,
in a state of seeming stupor at the horrible scene he had just
witnessed, stood near the green table, and they sent a thrill
through him with their wonderful resemblance to Leoline's. So
vividly alike were they, that he half doubted for a moment
whether she and Leoline were not really one; but no - Leoline
never could have had the cold, cruel heart to stand and witness
such a horrible eight. Miranda's dark, piercing glance fell as
haughtily and disdainfully on him as it had on the rest; and his
heart sank as he thought that whatever sympathy she had felt for
him was entirely gone. It might have been a whim, a woman's
caprice, a spirit of contradiction, that had induced her to
defend him at first. Whatever it was, and it mattered not now,
it had completely vanished. No face of marble could have been
colder, of stonier, or harder, than hers, as she looked at him
out of the depths of her great dark eyes; and with that look, his
last lingering hope of life vanished.
"And now for the next trial!" exclaimed the dwarf, briskly
breaking in upon his drab-colored meditations, and bustling past.
"We will get it over at once, and have done with it!"
"You will do no such thing!" said the imperious voice of the
queenly shrew. "We will have neither trials nor anything else
until after supper, which has already been delayed four full
minutes. My lord chamberlain, have the goodness to step in and
see that all is in order."
One of the gilded and decorated gentlemen whom sir Norman had
mistaken for ambassadors stepped off, in obedience, through
another opening in the tapestry - which seemed to be as
extensively undermined with such apertures as a cabman's coat
with capes - and, while he was gone, the queen stood drawn up to
her full height, with her scornful face looking down on the
dwarf. That small man knit up his very plain face into a bristle
of the sourest kinks, and frowned sulky disapproval at an order
which he either would not, or dared not, countermand. Probably
the latter had most to do with it, as everybody looked hungry and
mutinous, and a great deal more eager for their supper than the
life of Sir Norman Kingsley.
"Your majesty, the royal banquet is waiting," insinuated the lord
high chamberlain, returning, and bending over until his face and
his shoe buckles almost touched.
"And what is to be done with this prisoner, while we are eating
it?" growled the dwarf, looking drawn swords at his liege lady.
"He can remain here under care of the guards, can he not?" she
retorted sharply. "Or, if you are afraid they are not equal to
taking care of him, you had better stay and watch him yourself."
With which answer, her majesty sailed majestically away, leaving
the gentleman addressed to follow or not, as he pleased. It
pleased him to do so, on the whole; and he went after her,
growling anathemas between his royal teeth, and evidently in the
same state of mind that induces gentlemen in private life to take
sticks to their aggravating spouses, under similar circumstances.
However, it might not be just the thing, perhaps, for kings and
queens to take broom-sticks to settle their little differences of
opinion, like common Christians; and so the prince peaceably
followed her, and entered the salle a manger with the rest, and
Sir Norman and his keepers were left in the hall of state,
monarchs of all they surveyed. Notwithstanding he knew his hours
were numbered, the young knight could not avoid feeling curious,
and the tapestry having been drawn aside, he looked through the
arch with a good deal of interest.
The apartment was smaller than the one in which he stood - though
still very large, and instead of being all crimson and gold, was
glancing and glittering with blue and silver. These azure
hangings were of satin, instead of velvet, and looked quite light
and cool, compared to the hot, glowing place where he was. The
ceiling was spangled over with silver stars, with the royal arms
quartered in the middle, and the chairs were of white, polished
wood, gleaming like ivory, and cushioned with blue satin. The
table was of immense length, as it had need to be, and flashed
and sparkled in the wax lights with heaps of gold and silver
plate, cut-glass, and precious porcelain. Golden and crimson
wines shone in the carved decanters; great silver baskets of
fruit were strewn about, with piles of cakes and confectionery -
not to speak of more solid substantials, wherein the heart of
every true Englishman delighteth. The queen sat in a great,
raised chair at the head, and helped herself without paying much
attention to anybody, and the remainder were ranged down its
length, according to their rank - which, as they were all pretty
much dukes and duchesses, was about equal.
The spirits of the company - depressed for a moment by the
unpleasant little circumstance of seeing one of their number
beheaded - seemed to revive under the spirituous influence of
sherry, sack, and burgundy; and soon they were laughing, and
chatting, and hobnobbing, as animatedly as any dinner-party Sir
Norman had ever seen. The musicians, too, appeared to be in high
feather, and the merriest music of the day assisted the noble
Under ordinary circumstances, it war rather a tantalizing scene
to stand aloof and contemplate; and so the guards very likely
felt; but Sir Norman's thoughts were of that room in black, the
headsman's axe, and Leoline. He felt he would never see her
again - never see the sun rise that was to shine on their bridal;
and he wondered what she would think of him, and if she was
destined to fall into the hands of Lord Rochester or Count
L'Estrange. As a general thing, our young friend was not given
to melancholy moralizing, but in the present case, with the
headsman's axe poised like the sword of Damocles above him by a
single hair, he may be pardoned for reflecting that this world is
all a fleeting show, and that he had got himself into a scrape,
to which the plague was a trifle. And yet, with nervous
impatience, he wished the dinner and his trial were over, his
fate sealed, and his life ended at once, since it was to be ended
soon. For the fulfillment of the first wish, he had not long to
wait; the feast, though gay and grand, was of the briefest, and
they could have scarcely been half an hour gone when they were
Everybody seemed in better humor, too, after the refection, but
the queen and the dwarf - the former looked colder, and harder,
and more like a Labrador iceberg tricked out in purple velvet,
than ever, and his highness was grinning from ear to ear - which
was the very worst possible sign. Not even her majesty could
make the slightest excuse for delaying the trial now; and,
indeed, that eccentric lady seemed to have no wish to do so, had
she the power, but seated herself in silent disdain of them all,
and dropping her long lashes over her dark eyes, seemed to forget
there was anybody in existence but herself.
His highness and his nobles took their stations of authority
behind the green table, and summoned the guards to lead the
prisoner up before them, which was done; while the rest of the
company were fluttering down into their seats, and evidently
about to pay the greatest attention. The cases in this midnight
court seemed to be conducted on a decidedly original plan, and
with an easy rapidity that would have electrified any other
court, ancient or modern. Sir Norman took his stand, and eyed
his judges with a look half contemptuous, half defiant; and the
proceedings commenced by the dwarf a leaning forward and breaking
into a roar of laughter, right in his face.
"My little friend I warned you before not to be so facetious,"
said Sir Norman, regarding him quietly; "a rush of mirth to the
brain will certainly be the death of you one of these day."
"No levity, young man!" interposed the lord chancellor,
rebukingly; "remember, you are addressing His Royal Highness
Prince Caliban, Spouse, and Consort of Her Most Gracious Majesty,
"Indeed! Then all I have to say, is, that her majesty has very
bad taste in the selection of a husband, unless, indeed, her wish
was to marry the ugliest man in the world, as she herself is the
most beautiful of women!"
Her majesty took not the slightest notice of this compliment, not
so much as a flatter of her drooping eye-lashes betrayed that she
even heard it, but his highness laughed until he was perfectly
"Silence!" shouted the duke, shocked and indignant at this
glaring disrespect, "and answer truthfully the questions put to
you. Your name, you say, is Sir Norman Kingsley?"
"Yes. Has your grace any objection to it?"
His grace waved down the interruption with a dignified wave of
the hand, and went on with were judicial dignity.
"You are the same who shot Lord Ashley between this and the city,
some hours ago?"
"I had the pleasure of shooting a highwayman there, and my only
regret is, I did not perform the same good office by his
companion, in the person of your noble self, before you turned
A slight titter ran round the room, and the duke turned crimson.
"These remarks are impertinent, and not to the purpose. You are
the murderer of Lord Ashley, let that suffice. Probably you were
on your way hither when you did the deed?"
"He was," said the dwarf, vindictively. "I met him at the Golden
Crown but a short time after."
"Very well, that is another point settled, and either of them is
strong enough to seal his death warrant. You came here as a spy,
to see and hear and report - probably you were sent by King
"Probably - just think as you please about it!" said Sir Norman,
who knew his case was as desperate as it could be, and was quite
reckless what he answered.
"You admit that you are a spy, then?"
"No such thing. I have owned nothing. As I told you before, you
are welcome to put what construction you please on my actions."
"Sir Norman Kingsley, this is nonsensical equivocation! You own
you came to hear and see?"
"Well, hearing and seeing constitute spying, do they not?
Therefore, you are a spy."
"I confess it looks like it. What next?"
"Need you ask What is the fate of all spies?"
"No matter what they are in other places, I am pretty certain
what they are here!"
"And that is?"
"A room in black, and a chop with an axe -the Earl of
Gloucester's fate, in a word!"
"You have said it! Have you any reason why such a sentence
should not be pronounced on you?"
"None; pronounce it as soon as you like."
"With the greatest pleasure!" said the duke, who had been
scrawling on another ominous roll of vellum, and now passed it to
the dwarf. "I never knew anyone it gave me more delight to
condemn. Will your highness pass that to her majesty for
signature, and pronounce his sentence."
His highness, with a grin of most exquisite delight, did as
directed; and Sir Norman looked steadfastly at the queen as she
received it. One of the gauzy nymphs presented it to her,
kneeling, and she took it with a look half bored, half impatient,
and lightly scrawled her autograph. The long, dark lashes did
not lift; no change passed over the calm, cold face, as icily
placid as a frozen lake in the moonlight - evidently the life or
death of the stranger was less than nothing to her. To him she,
too, was as nothing, or nearly so; but yet there was a sharp
jarring pain at his heart, as he saw that fair hand, that had
saved him once, so coolly sign his death warrant now. But there
was little time left for to watch her; for, as she pushed it
impatiently away, and relapsed into her former proud
listlessness, the dwarf got up with one of his death's-head
grins, and began:
"Sir Norman Kingsley, you have been tried and convicted as a spy,
and the paid-hireling of the vindictive and narrow-minded
Charles; and the sentence of this court, over which I have the
honor to preside, is, that you be taken hence immediately to the
place of execution, and there lose your head by the axe!"
"And a mighty small loss it will be!" remarked the duke to
himself, in a sort of parenthesis, as the dwarf concluded his
pleasant observation by thrusting himself forward across the
table, after his rather discomposing fashion, and breaking out
into one of has diabolical laughter-chips.
The queen, who had been sitting passive, and looking as if she
were in spirit a thousand miles away, now started up with sharp
suddenness, and favored his highness with one of her fieriest
"Will your highness just permit somebody else to have a voice in
that matter? How many more trials are to come on tonight?"
"Only one," replied the duke, glancing over a little roll which
he held; "Lady Castlemaine's, for poisoning the Duchess of
"And what is my Lady Castlemaine's fate to be?"
"The same as our friend's here, in all probability," nodding
easily, not to say playfully, at Sir Norman.
"And how long will her trial last?"
"Half an hour, or thereabouts. There are some secrets in the
matter that have to be investigated, and which will require some
"Then let all the trials be over first, and all the beheadings
take place together. We don't choose to take the trouble of
traveling to the Black Chamber just to see his head chopped off,
and then have the same journey to undergo half an hour after, for
a similar purpose. Call Lady Castlemaine, and let this prisoner
be taken to one of the dungeons, and there remain until the time
for execution. Guards, do you hear? Take him away!"
The dwarf's face grew black as a thunder-cloud, and he jumped to
his feet and confronted the queen with a look so intensely ugly
that no other earthly face could have assumed it. But that lady
merely met it with one of cold disdain and aversion, and, keeping
her dark bright eyes fixed chillingly upon him, waved her white
hand, in her imperious way, to the guards. Those warlike
gentlemen knew better than to disobey her most gracious majesty
when she happened to be, like Mrs. Joe Gargary, on the "rampage,"
which, if her flashing eye and a certain expression about her
handsome mouth spoke the truth, must have been twenty hours out
of the twenty-four. As the soldiers approached to lead him away,
Sir Norman tried to catch her eye; but in vain, for she kept
those brilliant optics most unwinkingly fixed on the dwarf's
"Call Lady Castlemaine," commanded the duke, as Sir Norman with
his guards passed through the doorway leading to the Black
Chamber. "Your highness, I presume, is ready to attend to her
"Before I attend to hers or any one else's case," said the dwarf,
hopping over the table like an overgrown toad, "I will first see
that this guest of ours is properly taken care, of, and does not
leave us without the ceremony of saying good-bye."
With which, he seized one of the wax candles, and trotted, with
rather unprincely haste, after Sir Norman and his conductors.
The young knight had been led down the same long passage he had
walked through before; but instead of entering the chamber of
horrors, they passed through the centre arch, and found
themselves in another long, vaulted corridor, dimly lit by the
glow of the outer one. It was as cold and dismal a place, Sir
Norman thought, as he had ever seen; and it had an odor damp and
earthy, and of the grave. It had two or three great, ponderous
doors on either aide, fastened with huge iron bolts; and before
one of these his conductors paused. Just as they did so, the
glimmer of the dwarf's taper pierced the gloom, and the next
moment, smiling from ear to ear, he was by their side.
"Down with the bars!" he cried. "This is the one for him - the
strongest and safest of them all. Now, my dashing courtier, you
will see how tenderly your little friend provides for his
If Sir Norman made any reply, it was drowned id the rattle and
clank of the massive bars, and is hopelessly lost to posterity.
The huge door swung back; but nothing was visible but a sort of
black velvet pall, and effluvia much stronger than sweet.
Involuntarily he recoiled as one of the guards made a motion for
him to enter.
"I Shove him in! shove him in!" shrieked the dwarf, who was
getting so excited with glee that he was dancing about in a sort
of jig of delight. "In with him - in with him! If he won't go
peaceably, kick him in head-foremost!"
"I would strongly advise them not to try it," said Sir Norman, as
he stepped into the blackness, "if they have any regard for their
health! It does not make much difference after all, my little
friend, whether I spend the next half-hour in the inky blackness
of this place or the blood-red grandeur of your royal court. My
little friend, until we meet again, permit me to say, au revoir."
The dwarf laughed in his pleasant way, and pushed the candle
cautiously inside the door.
"Good-by for a little while, my dear young sir, and while the
headsmen is sharpening his axe, I'll leave you to think about
your little friend. Lest you should lack amusement, I'll leave
you a light to contemplate your apartment; and for fear you may
get lonesome, these two gentlemen will stand outside your door,
with their swords drawn, till I come back. Good-by, my dear
young sir - good-bye!"
The dungeon-door swung to with a tremendous bang Sir Norman was
barred in his prison to await his doom and the dwarf was skipping
along the passage with sprightliness, laughing as he went.
Probably not one of you; my dear friends, who glance graciously
over this, was ever shut up in a dungeon under expectation of
bearing the unpleasant operation of decapitation within half an
hour. It never happened to myself, either, that I can recollect;
so, of course, you or I personally can form no idea what the
sensation may be like; but in this particular case, tradition
saith Sir Norman Kingsley's state of mind was decidedly
depressed. As the door shut violently, he leaned against it, and
listened to his jailers place the great bars into their sockets,
and felt he was shut in, in the dreariest, darkest, dismalest,
disagreeablest place that it had ever been his misfortune to
enter. He thought of Leoline, and reflected that in all
probability she was sleeping the sleep of the just - perhaps
dreaming of him, and little knowing that his head was to be cut
off in half an hour.
In course of time morning would come - it was not likely the
ordinary course of nature would be cut off because he was; and
Leoline would get up and dress herself, and looking a thousand
times prettier than ever, stand at the window and wait for him.
Ah! she might wait - much good would it do her; about that time
he would probably be - where? It was a rather uncomfortable
question, but easily answered, and depressed him to a very
desponding degree indeed.
He thought of Ormiston and La Masque - no doubt they were billing
and cooing in most approved fashion just then, and never thinking
of him; though, but for La Masque and his own folly, he might
have been half married by this time. He thought of Count
L'Estrange and Master Hubert, and become firmly convinced, if one
did not find Leoline the other would; and each being equally bad,
it was about a toss up in agony which got her.
He thought of Queen Miranda, and of the adage, "put no trust in
princes," and sighed deeply as he reflected what a bad sign of
human nature it was - more particularly such handsome human
nature - that she could, figuratively speaking, pat him on the
back one moment, and kick him to the scaffold the next. He
thought, dejectedly, what a fool he was ever to have come back;
or even having come back, not to have taken greater pains to stay
up aloft, instead of pitching abruptly head-foremost into such a
select company without an invitation. He thought, too, what a
cold, damp, unwholesome chamber they had lodged him in, and how
apt he would be to have a bad attack of ague and miasmatic fever,
if they would only let him live long enough to enjoy those
blessings. And this having brought him to the end of his
melancholy meditation, he began to reflect how he could best
amuse himself in the interim, before quitting this vale of tears.
The candle was still blinking feebly on the floor, shedding tears
of wax in its feeble prostration, and it suddenly reminded him of
the dwarf's advice to examine his dark bower of repose. So be
picked it up and snuffed it with his fingers, and held it aloof,
much as Robinson Crusoe held the brand in the dark cavern with
the dead goat.
In the velvet pall of blackness before alluded to, its small, wan
ray pierced but a few inches, and only made the darkness visible.
But Sir Norman groped his way to the wall, which he found to be
all over green and noisome slime, and broken out into a cold,
clammy perspiration, as though it were at its last gasp. By the
aid of his friendly light, for which he was really much obliged -
a fact which, had his little friend known, he would not have left
it - he managed to make the circuit of his prison, which he found
rather spacious, and by no means uninhabited; for the walls and
floor were covered with fat, black beetles, whole families of
which interesting specimens of the insect-world he crunched
remorselessly under foot, and massacred at every step; and great,
depraved-looking rats, with flashing eyes and sinister-teeth, who
made frantic dives and rushes at him, and bit at his jack-boots
with fierce, fury. These small quadrupeds reminded him forcibly
of the dwarf, especially in the region of the eyes and the
general expression of countenance; and he began to reflect that
if the dwarf's soul (supposing him to possess such an article as
that, which seemed open to debate) passed after death into the
body of any other animal, it would certainly be into that of a
He had just come to this conclusion, and was applying the flame
of the candle to the nose of an inquisitive beetle, when it
struck him he heard voices in altercation outside his door. One,
clear, ringing, and imperious, yet withal feminine, was certainly
not heard for the first time; and the subdued and respectful
voices that answered, were those of his guards.
After a moment, he heard the sound of the withdrawing bolts, and
his heart beat fast. Surely, his half-hour had not already
expired; and if it had, would she be the person to conduct him to
death? The door opened; a puff of wind extinguished his candle,
but not until he had caught the glimmer of jewels, the shining of
gold, and the flutter of long, black hair; and then some one came
in. The door was closed; the bolts shot back! - and he was alone
with Miranda, the queen.
There was no trouble about recognising her, for she carried in
her hand a small lamp, which she held up between them, that its
rays might fall directly on both faces. Each was rather white,
perhaps, and one heart was going faster than it had ever gone
before, and that one was decidedly not the queen's. She was
dressed exactly as he had seen her, in purple and ermine, in
jewels and gold; and strangely out of place she looked there, in
her splendid dress and splendid beauty, among the black beetles
and rats. Her face might have been a dead, blank wall, or cut
out of cold, white stone, for all it expressed; and as she
lightly held up her rich robes in one hand, and in the other bore
the light, the dark, shining eyes were fixed on his face, and
were as barren of interest, eagerness, compassion, tenderness, or
any other feeling, as the shining, black glass ones of a wax
doll. So they stood looking at each other for some ten seconds
or so, and then, still looking full at him, Miranda spoke, and
her voice was as clear and emotionless as her eyes
"Well, Sir Norman Kingsley, I have come to see you before you
"Madame," he stammered, scarcely knowing what he said, "you are
"Am I? Perhaps you forget I signed your death-warrant."
"Probably it would have been at the risk of your own life to
"Nothing of the kind! Not one of them would hurt a hair of my
head if I refused to sign fifty death-warrants! Now, am I kind?"
"Very likely it would have amounted to the same thing in the end
- they would kill me whether you signed it or not; so what does
"You are mistaken! They would not kill you; at least, not
tonight, if I had not signed it. They would have let you live
until their next meeting, which will be this night week; and I
would have incurred neither risk nor danger by refusing."
Sir Norman glanced round the dungeon and shrugged his shoulders.
"I do not know that that prospect is much more inviting than the
present one. Even death is preferable to a week's imprisonment
in a place like this."
"But in the meantime you might have escaped."
"Madame, look at this stone floor, that stone roof, these solid
walls, that barred and massive door; reflect that I am some forty
feet under ground - cannot perform impossibilities, and then ask
"Sir Norman, have you ever heard of good fairies visiting brave
knights and setting them free?"
Sir Norman smiled.
"I am afraid the good fairies and brave knights went the way of
all flesh with King Arthur's round table; and even if they were
in existence, none of them would take the trouble to limp down so
far to save such an unlucky dog as I."
"Then you forgive me for what I have done?"
"Your majesty, I have nothing to forgive."
"Bah!" she said, scornfully. "Do not mock me here. My majesty,
forsooth! you have but fifteen minutes to live in this world, Sir
Norman; and if you have no better way of spending them, I will
tell you a strange story - my own, and all about this place."
"Madame, there is nothing in the world I would like so much to
"You shall hear it, then, and it may beguile the last slow
moments of time before you go out into eternity."
She set her lamp down on the floor among the rats and beetles,
and stood watching the small, red flame a moment with a gloomy,
downcast eye; and Sir Norman, gazing on the beautiful darkening
face, so like and yet so unlike Leoline, stood eagerly awaiting
what was to come.
Meantime, the half-hour sped. In the crimson court the last
trial was over, and Lady Castlemaine, a slender little beauty of
eighteen stood condemned to die.
"Now for our other prisoner!" exclaimed the dwarf with sprightly
animation; "and while I go to the cell, you, fair ladies, and you
my lord, will seek the black chamber and await our coming there."
Ordering one of his attendants to precede him with a light, the
dwarf skipped jauntily away, to gloat over his victim. He
reached the dungeon door, which the guards, with some trepidation
in their countenance, as they thought of what his highness would
say when he found her majesty locked in with the prisoner, threw
"Come forth, Sir Norman Kingsley!" shouted the dwarf, rushing in.
"Come forth and meet your doom!"
But no Sir Norman Kingsley obeyed the pleasant invitation, and a
dull echo from the darkness alone answered him. There was a lamp
burning on the floor, and near it lay a form, shining and specked
with white in the gloom. He made for it between fear and fury,
but there was something red and slippery on the ground, in which
his foot slipped, and he fell. Simultaneously there was a wild
cry from the two guards and the attendant, that was echoed by a
perfect screech of rage from the dwarf, as on looking down he
beheld Queen Miranda lying on the floor in the pool of blood, and
apparently quite dead, and Sir Norman Kingsley gone.
IN THE DUNGEON.
The interim between Miranda setting down her lamp on the dungeon
floor among the rats and the beetles, and the dwarf's finding her
bleeding and senseless, was not more than twenty minutes, but a
great deal may be done in twenty minutes judiciously expended,
and most decidedly it was so in the present case. Both rats and
beetles paused to contemplate the flickering lamp, and Miranda
paused to contemplate them, and Sir Norman paused to contemplate
her, for an instant or so in silence. Her marvelous resemblance
to Leoline, in all but one thing, struck him more and more -
there was the same beautiful transparent colorless complexion,
the same light, straight, graceful figure, the same small oval
delicate features; the same profuse waves of shining dark hair,
the same large, dark, brilliant eyes; the same, little, rosy
pretty mouth, like one of Correggio's smiling angels. The one
thing wanting was expression - in Leoline's face there was a kind
of childlike simplicity; a look half shy, half fearless, half
solemn in her wonderful eyes; but in this, her prototype, there
was nothing shy or solemn; all was cold, hard, and glittering,
and the brooding eyes were full of a dull, dusky fire. She
looked as hard and cold and bitter, as she was beautiful; and Sir
Norman began to perplex himself inwardly as to what had brought
her here. Surely not sympathy, for nothing wearing that face of
stone, could even know the meaning of such a word. While he
looked at her, half wonderingly, half pityingly, half tenderly -
a queer word that last, but the feeling was caused by her
resemblance to Leoline - she had been moodily watching an old
gray rat, the patriarch of his tribe, who was making toward her
in short runs, stopping between each one to stare at her, out of
his unpleasantly bright eyes. Suddenly, Miranda shut her teeth,
clenched her hands, and with a sort of fierce suppressed
ejaculation, lifted her shining foot and planted it full on the
rat's head. So sudden, so fierce, and so strong, was the stamp,
that the rat was crushed flat, and uttered a sharp and indignant
squeal of expostulation, while Sir Norman looked at her, thinking
she had lost her wits. Still she ground it down with a fiercer
and stronger force every second; and with her eyes still fixed
upon it, and blazing with reddish black flame, she said, in a
sort of fiery hiss:
"Look at it! The ugly, loathsome thing! Did you ever see
anything look more like him?"
There must have been some mysterious rapport between them, for he
understood at once to whom the solitary personal pronoun
"Certainly, in the general expression of countenance there is
rather a marked resemblance, especially in the region of the
teeth and eyes."
"Except that the rat's eyes are a thousand times handsomer," she
broke in, with a derisive laugh.
"But as to shape," resumed Sir Norman, eyeing the excited and
astonished little animal, still shrilly squealing, with the
glance of a connoisseur, "I confess I do not see it! The rat is
straight and shapely - which his highness, with all reverence be
it said - is not, but rather the reverse, if you will not be
offended at me for saying so."
She broke into a short laugh that had a hard, metallic ring, and
then her face darkened, blackened, and she ground the foot that
crushed the rat fiercer, and with a sort of passionate
vindictiveness, as if she had the head of the dwarf under her
"I hate him! I hate him!" she said, through her clenched teeth and
though her tone was scarcely above a whisper, it was so terrible in
its fiery earnestness that Sir Norman thrilled with repulsion. "Yes,
I hate him with all my heart and soul, and I wish to heaven I had
him here, like this rat, to trample to death under my feet!"
Not knowing very well what reply to make to this strong and
heartfelt speech, which rather shocked his notions of female
propriety, Sir Norman stood silent, and looked reflectively after
the rat, which, when she permitted it at last to go free, limped
away with an ineffably sneaking and crest-fallen expression on
his hitherto animated features. She watched it, too, with a
gloomy eye, and when it crawled into the darkness and was gone,
she looked up with a face so dark and moody that it was almost
"Yes, I hate him!" she repeated, with a fierce moodiness that was
quite dreadful, "yes, I hate him! and I would kill him, like
that rat, if I could! He has been the curse of my whole life; he
has made life cursed to me; and his heart's blood shall be shed
for it some day yet, I swear!"
With all her beauty there was something so horrible in the look
she wore, that Sir Norman involuntarily recoiled from her. Her
sharp eyes noticed it, and both grew red and fiery as two
"Ah! you, too, shrink from me, would you? You, too, recoil in
horror! Ingrate! And I have come to save your life!"
"Madame, I recoil not from you, but from that which is tempting
you to utter words like these. I have no reason to love him of
whom you speak - you, perhaps, have even less; but I would not
have his blood, shed in murder, on my head, for ten thousand
worlds! Pardon me, but you do not mean what you say."
"Do I not? That remains to be seen! I would not call it murder
plunging a knife into the heart of a demon incarnate like that,
and I would have done it long ago and he knows it, too, if I had
"What has he done to you to make you do bitter against him?"
"Bitter! Oh, that word is poor and pitiful to express what I
feel when his name is mentioned. Loathing and hatred come a
little nearer the mark, but even they are weak to express the
utter - the - " She stopped in a sort of white passion that
choked her very words.
"They told me he was your husband," insinuated Sir Norman,
"Did they?" she said, with a cold sneer, "he is, too - at least
as far as church and state can make him; but I am no more his
wife at heart than I am Satan's. Truly of the two I should
prefer the latter, for then I should be wedded to something grand
- a fallen angel; as it is, I have the honor to be wife to a
devil who never was an angel?"
At this shocking statement Sir Norman looked helplessly round, as
if for relief; and Miranda, after a moment's silence, broke into
another mirthless laugh.
"Of all the pictures of ugliness you ever saw or heard of, Sir
Norman Kingsley, do tell me if there ever was one of them half so
repulsive or disgusting as that thing?"
"Really," said Sir Norman, in a subdued tone, "he is not the most
prepossessing little man in the world; but, madame, you do look
and speak in a manner quite dreadful. Do let me prevail on you
to calm yourself, and tell me your story, as you promised."
"Calm myself!" repeated the gentle lady, in a tone half snappish,
half harsh, "do you think I am made of iron, to tell you my story
and be calm? I hate him! I hate him! I would kill him if I
could: and if you, Sir Norman, are half the man I take you to be,
you will rid the world of the horrible monster before morning
"My dear lady, you seem to forget that the case is reversed, and
that he is going to rid the world of me,", said Sir Norman, with
"No, not if you do as I tell you; and when I have told you how
much cause I have to abhor him, you will agree with me that
killing him will be no murder! Oh, if there is One above who
rules this world, and will judge us all, why, why does He permit
such monsters to live?"
"Because He is more merciful than his creatures," replied Sir
Norman, with calm reverence, - though His avenging hand is heavy
on this doomed city. But, madame, time is on the wing, and the
headsman will be here before your story is told."
"Ah, that story! How am I to tell it, I wonder, two words will
comprise it all - sin and misery - misery and sin! For, buried
alive here, as I am - buried alive, as I've always been - I know
what both words mean; they have been branded on heart and brain
in letters of fire. And that horrible monstrosity is the cause
of all - that loathsome, misshapen, hideous abortion has banned
and cursed my whole life! He is my first recollection. As far
back as I can look through the dim eye of childhood's years, that
horrible face, that gnarled and twisted trunk, those devilish
eyes glare at me like the eyes and face of a wild beast. As
memory grows stronger and more vivid, I can see that same face
still - the dwarf! the dwarf! the dwarf! - Satan's true
representative on earth, darkening and blighting ever passing
year. I do not know where we lived, but I imagine it to have
been one of the vilest and lowest dens in London, though the
rooms I occupied were, for that matter, decent and orderly
enough. Those rooms the daylight never entered, the windows were
boarded up within, and fastened by shutters without, so that of
the world beyond I was as ignorant as a child of two hours old.
I saw but two human faces, his" - she seemed to hate him too much